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For descriptions of each episode, check out my Show Notes at the top of the page. This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to real people or events is purely coincidental.

WARNING: Some of the language may be offensive, but no worse than you would expect in an R rated movie.

Special thanks to NASA for the image of the galaxy.

Podcast of the novel BETWEEN EARTH AND ARCTURUS

Chapter Six



What can I find for Julie to do that will keep her away from the son of a bitch? Elisa was asking herself when the son of a bitch showed up even earlier than usual.

Fisher stood in the center of the room, ran his fingers through his limp blond hair and cleared his throat. “Is everyone here? Good. I have an announcement to make.”

Elisa’s co-workers gathered around like obedient dogs. She sat on the corner of her desk behind the others.

“Yesterday, I met with Vice President Batastia and other top officials. They’re very pleased with how I’ve managed the Department of Design Review and feel that I’m ready for greater responsibilities.”

It didn’t escape anyone that he said nothing about them doing a good job. Apparently, his reason for making the announcement was to let everyone know he’d met the vice president.

“Some of our new work,” Fisher continued, “will be…uh…evaluating certain manufacturers’ financial status, which we’ve already touched on with the Hanno report, but we’ll be going far beyond that in the future.

“Another thing we’re going to become involved in is the staffing of starships. This is new to us, but it’s not that complicated. I will personally start the effort by taking a good look at the crew requirements of the Starship Hanno.”

Something weird was going on. Elisa expected the Hanno report to put the whole construction effort on hold, which would give Stokes a chance to get more funding to fix the problems, but there was no mention of it.

“That’s all I have to say for now.” Fisher turned to go to his office. “Julie, I want you to help me with some files. You can use the computer in my office.”

Elisa didn’t see Julie again until lunchtime, when the young woman hurried out of the Admiral’s office. Elisa followed her to the ladies washroom.

“Are you okay?”

“Hi, Elisa. Yeah, I’m just going to wait in here until he goes to lunch. You know, he wanted to take me out to a restaurant, but I said I had other plans. Then he asked me if my other plans were more important than he is.”

“You didn’t tell him what other plans you have, did you?”

“No. I didn’t have any plans for lunch.”

“Good. If you told him something, he would’ve checked to see if you were lying.”

“My God. Why is he like that? I’ve got to get a new job. I can’t stand this.”

“Good for you. Say, I’ll go see if he’s gone, and then we can have lunch together. I know a little place where no one will bother us.”

During lunch Julie mentioned that she was setting up some kind of personnel file, but she didn’t know what it was for.

Near the end of the day, Elisa managed to tap into the admiral’s computer and copy everything onto a button disc. As she put on her coat, she slipped the tiny disc between the buttons of her uniform and tucked it into her bra where only a determined search would discover it.

A steady stream of government employees emptied out of the building. The shops and services in downtown Wichita were ready for the after-work crowd. The 13th Street station had additional trains standing by, and that’s where Elisa was when she saw Julie and Admiral Fisher get into a taxi.

“Oh, great!” Elisa spat. “He got to her. Damn.”

Elisa felt sorry for Julie—and more than sorry—worried, too, but there was nothing to do about it until tomorrow, when she would see the young woman again.

Tomorrow came and Julie didn’t show up for work. Elisa tried calling her, but there was no answer.

Admiral Fisher didn’t come in until after nine and didn’t do his usual walk-through. A half-hour later he loudly asked Elisa if Julie had called in.

“No, Admiral. Perhaps I should call her.”

“Uh-huh.” He seemed like he wasn’t listening.

Still no answer at Julie’s apartment, Elisa suspected her friend was out looking for another job. She was wrong.

Just before noon a man showed up. He flashed an I.D. that said he was a cop. He asked Admiral Fisher to come down to the city coroner’s office and identify a body.

“The next of kin is unavailable,” the man said, “and we wanna wrap this up.”

“No!” Fisher snapped, then pointed to Elisa. “I’m very busy. Ensign Santino can identify her.”

Her? Elisa’s spine became ice. She glanced at Julie’s vacant desk.

Everyone was quiet as she left with the cop. She turned to look back at Fisher, and instantly regretted making eye contact. The anxiety in his face confirmed that he’d done something awful, and he saw something, too. He saw that she knew.

She said nothing on the way to the morgue.

It seemed unreal, walking into the coroner’s office to identify a friend. Maybe it wasn’t her. Elisa couldn’t know for sure. She followed the policeman to the elevator, crossed her fingers and tried to believe it might not be Julie.

The morgue was in the basement of the building, just like in the movies, and it was cold, or maybe it just seemed cold. More and more unreal it felt, until they stopped at a wall lined with big drawers.

When the cop pulled open one long, narrow drawer that rumbled on its rollers like far-away thunder, everything became unbearably real. Her dread grew huge. Her mouth became a desert. A trickle of sweat rolled down her spine. The white sheet was thrown back to reveal the still form. Someone said something. Maybe it was a question.

“Julie.” She moaned as tears began to flow. “It’s Julie Klein.”

Julie’s naked body had bruises and welts that stood out on her snow-white skin. Her wrists had marks like rope burns, but on her face was the peace that only the dead know.

Elisa was led back to the elevator and up to an office, where she signed a paper that was just a formality. Identifying a body in the twenty-eighth century didn’t require a person who knew the deceased. Current technology was far more accurate. It was just a cruel tradition as far as Elisa was concerned.

Now they’d start asking questions, and she’d make sure the son of a bitch got what he deserved.

“We’ll inform the next of kin,” the cop told her.

“She has a brother.”

“Thank you, Miss Santino.” He had a practiced but insincere tone. “I know this hasn’t been easy for you. You can go now.”

“Don’t you want to ask me any questions?”

The cop’s eyes left the form she’d signed to look at her. “Like what?”

“Well, aren’t you going to try to find out who did this to her?”

“Did what? Julie Klein died of a drug overdose. Happens all the time.”

What the hell? A dull pounding filled her head. She tried to maintain control, not knowing if she wanted to scream, or just cry.

“What about all those bruises?”

The cop had no problem with self-control. He leaned back in his chair and faced her with less emotion than a snake.

“There were no bruises. This was just a suicide. Now I think you should go back to work, Miss Santino, and don’t let your imagination get carried away.”

Tears streamed down her cheeks on her way back to the office. At the 13th street station, she looked out of the train at the building she worked in.

She couldn’t go back in there. Not yet.

She stayed on the train until it went all the way through town, through Spaceport, and back into town. It was a forty-minute look at New Wichita, and it gave her time to realize something.

Fisher knew that she knew. If he could make the police cover up one murder, he could get away with another.

When the train returned to downtown, she got out and walked back to the office, pretending she didn’t see Admiral Fisher looking down at her from his office window.

None of her friends said anything when she came into the office, told the admiral that Julie had died of a drug overdose, and then asked for the rest of the day off.

“The rest of the day? Aren’t you feeling well?”

He was nervous. Otherwise, even he wouldn’t ask such a stupid question. She could hear it in his voice. He was scared; scared that his sins will be laid bare for public inspection; scared that the tiny woman in front of him might destroy him.

And she would, she swore silently, but not today. Today she had to save her own life.

“I’m very upset, Admiral. I’ll be in tomorrow.”

“Of course, Ensign Santino.”

By the time she got home, she had the creepy feeling that someone was following her. She locked her door and peeked through the blinds covering the kitchen window.

Help. She needed help.


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