Yes, living is easy when you operate a fleet of driverless passenger ships fitted out with automated navigation systems. After you've accepted missions by allocating passengers to cabins, the ships fly themselves and all I need to do is browse the screens in front of me showing profit and loss accounts – plenty of the former, not so much of the latter.
My world is all about turnover, expenses, working capital, internal rate of return, and a dozen other business measures that are far removed from the rigours and concerns of actual space travel. I skim the news feeds looking for changes in faction and system state that could lead to new opportunities – like transporting doctors and nurses to a medical emergency, or might have an impact on tourism – like the outbreak of war.
My communicator pings and I take the call from Tay, my assistant.
"Mr Linton," she says in a serious tone, "you'd better get back here."
Tay hasn't called me Mr Linton
since ten minutes after we first met back in Jameson; it's always been Andy
. I can almost feel the tenseness as she waits for my response.
"Tay, what's the matter?" I ask, knowing that something's not right.
"The police are here; it's about the wedding barge."
Ever since you could get a licence to perform marriage ceremonies, we – I count Tay as equal partner in the business – converted our Beluga so it could operate as a wedding barge. It's good business because people pay way over the odds for their "special day".
A 5B luxury cabin serves as the bridal suite with first class cabins for family and close relatives. There's a small business class cabin for the registrar and their assistants, and the rest is economy accommodation for the guests, the catering staff, and security.
Instead of a fuel scoop the ship has a medium-sized extra fuel tank. With the modules and engineering available in the Colonia region the Beluga tends to overheat on exit from supercruise so the ship needs to move away as quickly as possible from the primary. People not used to modern space travel are rightly nervous of fuel scooping, but then there's no great need to do it; wedding parties don't go on long expeditions; mostly they do a circuit of the popular tourist beacons and the more spectacular views.
There are downsides, of course. It seems to be generally accepted that "what happens on the wedding barge stays on the wedding barge". Medical evacuations of guests with alcoholic poisoning or other drug-induced comas are not as rare as I'd like them to be.
Chicken parties are the worst. Gangs of young women not used to alcohol and older women who ought to know better take the bride-to-be on a binge. Sometimes there are male escorts; sometimes there are female escorts, but the one constant is that, at the end of the party, there is always vomit. Vomit, the scattered detritus from frantic food fights, ribbons, glitter, underwear – it all has to be cleaned up and it can take two days to put the ship back in order. But that's okay because we charge them for three – on top of the normal fee for the trip.
"What about the wedding barge?" I ask, trying to remember the itinerary for the latest hire. I seem to recall that the ship was due back today.
There's a pause on the line then Tay's trembling voice.
"It's the newlyweds…they're dead."
Tay Getty – subdued, reclusive, sensitive to anything connected with death. I understand her completely. It was she who squeezed the trigger to deliver the ordnance that wiped out the Strang clan's fleet carrier and all on board. By ending the lives of hundreds of people, she undoubtedly saved the lives of countless thousands, but at some cost to her sanity. She sees only the first half of that equation and carries the guilt with her every moment. I keep her close so I can watch over her and keep her safe; that's why she works for Linton Travel when there isn't much for her to do because the business almost runs itself.
"I'm on my way," I say, knocking back the last of my drink as I stand up to leave the bar.
The headquarters of my business empire are in the penthouse apartment of a condo I own in the smart Braben District of Jaques Station. It's a brisk walk from the neighbourhood of Apostrophe
, the bar I was in, and I'm still out of breath – mostly on account of carrying too much weight – as I step out of the private elevator into the apartment.
I see Tay with two detectives. They step forward holding up their IDs.
"I'm Detective Larsen," the woman says, shaking my hand with a firm grip and keeping eye contact. I was a private detective myself, so I know she's sizing me up from my demeanour – after all, that's what I'm doing with her.
"Martinsson," the younger officer says as he nods a greeting and lowers his eyes. He has much to learn, I surmise.
I notice that Larsen is still holding my hand – longer than the social norms dictate. I look down as I hear the click of the cuff snapping onto my wrist.
"Andrew Linton, I am arresting you on the suspicion of murdering Jensen Foote and Bonbon Larousse," she says, deadpan, as Martinsson wrenches my free arm with unnecessary force behind my back to secure the arrest.
"What! What?" I splutter, "No, no, there must be some mistake."
Martinsson is bolder now that I'm shackled.
"We have convincing evidence," he says, and he projects a video from his wrist computer onto a wall of the apartment. The video shows a corridor in the wedding barge and I can see that it's the one outside the bridal suite. There's a clock running in the bottom left corner of the recording.
Nothing happens for about twenty seconds then someone emerges from the cabin – it's me. I'm carrying a long blade and I pause to look directly into the camera. Martinsson freezes the recording on that frame.
"That's you, isn't it, Mr Linton? " he says. "And there's more; look at these images taken by CSI."
The first image is the interior of the bridal suite. Tay gasps in horror and lets out a brief cry. The woman's body is sprawled on the blood-soaked sheets of the bed while the man is on the floor face down.
The next image is a close-up of Jensen Foote, more specifically his outstretched arm. Written in blood on the hard, faux-marble floor of the cabin are the letters L-I-N-T.
"I don't think Foote is asking for lint to dress his wounds or complaining about specks of fibre under the screen protector of his phone, do you?" Martinsson says sarcastically. "No, he's clearly spelling out the name of his assailant – and that's you, isn't it, Mr Linton?"
"That's enough," Larsen tells her junior. "We should be doing this back at the station."
"But that's not me," I insist. "It can't be, because I didn't do it."
"Like I said, we need to do this properly, by interview, under controlled conditions."
The detectives stand either side of me taking an arm each to lead me out of the apartment. I look over my shoulder at Tay; she looks forlorn and bewildered as her secure world seems to be falling apart; I fear for her.
"Tay, don't worry, it'll be alright; you know I didn't do this, don't you?"
"I…I don't know what to believe," she says.
"Do something for me," I have the chance to say before the elevator doors close. "Send a copy of that video to Vinny; it must be fake."
The doors close and I'm in custody. It's not the first time I've been arrested but never for anything so serious as murder. I know I've been framed but I don't know how or why. Spreadsheets of income and expenses are suddenly less interesting and I prepare to dust off my investigatory skills. I thought I was done sleuthing, but apparently not.