Murder on the Bohemian Express, Pt. 2
I felt for the light switch and turned it on. The room was almost identical to mine. Same wall and double doors separating the sleeping and living side. Same lush sectional in the corner of the room in front of a large viewscreen window. Same large kitchenette area, stocked with snacks and a small fridge. All the same.
... save for the body face-up on the floor.
My room didn't have that.
"Watt: Crime Scene."
Watt opened a compartment and dropped a pair of latex gloves into my hand, then spun around and took a full scan of the room. I could use the data later to reconstruct the scene. With the room documented, Watt floated to the doorway. Yellow and red lights dotted along its body pulsed, the word "CRIME SCENE" displayed on its screen.
I slid the gloves on and kicked off my shoes at the entrance. Stepping carefully into the room, I knelt beside the body–
// Gather information via Sleuth
+2 (wits) => 8 vs 3,4,6. All Strong hit!
+2 momentum 
How did Roland die? Action+Theme, 32 89: Defy Time.
“Heart attack” is what they’re gonna say. But that’s obviously not how he actually died.
How did he actually die? Action+Theme, 69, 84: Persevere Strength.
... my first thought is strangled????????????????????
Roland's face was frozen in agony. Heart attack. The scream could have been him in his final moments. I sighed heavily. Roland had thought he was going to be murdered, only to die from a –
On his neck, a thin discolored line. And he was cold, stiff.
I did some math in my head and cursed silently. I didn't have my black iron on me, but this feeling was strong enough that I was willing to swear without it. I could place the vow into the iron later.
I swear I will solve this crime, Roland...
// Swear an Iron Vow
+1 (heart) => 7 vs 1,3. Strong hit!
+2 momentum 
"The hell is going on in here?" a deep male voice asked from the entryway. The one I had identified earlier as the Peacekeeper was trying to push his way past Watt with very little success. I threw the gloves by the door and introduced myself. His brow raised at my title.
"The guy in this room... He's dead."
He introduced himself as Booker Lux. Booker was about my height. Six-even, maybe six-one. He had hair like the handsome gentleman from dinner, but Booker's didn't smolder. Still attractive even in his haggard state, though he'd already rubbed me the wrong way. I could work with him but only if I absolutely had to.
Only if he wasn't the one who killed Roland.
I thought back to the conversation earlier at dinner. Anyone on this ship could have done it. Even Christa.
Christa. Was she still alive? I shifted past Booker and banged on her door. "Christa? Are you awake?"
Nothing. I knocked a few more times before I felt a tap on my shoulder. Booker gestured to the steps.
Christa met my gaze, drink in hand. Her lips parted, about to speak, then she noticed Roland's room was open. Her eyes widened and she rushed inside.
The sound of shattered glass and screams created a truly haunting discord that echoed throughout the metal walls.
I rolled Action+Theme for each person to figure out the alibi they gave. Whether it's true or not remains to be seen.
Christa, 21 31: Clash Enemy.
Talia Vega, 62 39: Locate Greed.
Archer Cassidy, 14 99: Bolster Weapon.
Annora Kei, 96 29: Transform Dream.
Ragnar Blackstone, 4 68: Affect Protection.
Edris Gray, 77 57: Remove Nature.
Hal Takara, 20 17: Charge Cure
Brian Kerra, 5 76: Aid Rumor
Booker Lux, 91 21: Support Decay.
I introduced myself to Captain Annora Kei and filled her in on what I'd found.
"A dead body, Mr. Holmes?"
She was less than thrilled.
Roland had been right: the crew was extremely small. Edris Gray, our bumbling server from earlier, was the newest waitstaff and Annora's nephew. It was his first venture with his aunt. Brian Kerra, who I'd seen behind the bar and in the kitchen, rounded out the crew. The three of them handled everything their A.I. couldn't.
Edris tried to calm her down but she put up a solitary finger to halt his attempts. This was Annora's livelihood. Having a murdered guest could be bad for business, especially if it went unsolved. Her ship, her business – not on loan, not for some huge cooperation. She took great pride in the Bohemian Express. I felt comfortable eliminating Annora from the list of suspects for now. She had been preparing for the jump to FTL well before the scream. She had too much to lose if she was the murderer. If evidence pointed to her later, I would revisit.
As for the other two, Brian had been at the bar with the tattooed woman at the time of the scream. Edris was the easiest to place, as I learned it was him that we actually heard scream. He had been in a storage closet on the level above our rooms. Two mice caught in a trap surprised him and he had begun to dispose of them when he heard Christa scream next.
Blackstone – the tattooed woman – had been busy trying to get information from Brian. She had asked a lot of questions about each of the guests. From her scars and the way she carried herself, I could tell she was a fighter of some kind – probably a bounty hunter, specifically. Was she looking for someone here? Once I mentioned strangulation, she insisted on helping but I wasn't looking for any assistance.
Booker did the same. He was traveling to see a sick family member on New Bohemia – in fact, that's who he was communicating with when Edris screamed. To get a discount on the trip, he agreed to be hired as a guard, stationed on the Bohemian Express for the crew and passenger's protection. Their previous guard couldn't make it and the stars aligned for Booker.
Hal Takara, the father, was the most impatient. I couldn't blame him. His daughter, Sage, was still sleeping in their room. He'd been making sure her mechanical ventilator was working properly at the time of the incident. He was worried that the FTL jump would interfere with the device and was in the middle of making preparations when Edris screamed. I took my notes from him quickly and let him go.
Talia Vega – Ms. Purple-and-Pink – did not make it easy on me, either. She let me know how disappointed she was that I did not recognize her.
"My face is on practically every magazine across this galaxy! My brands are in every store!"
I rolled my eyes and took her alibi, which wasn't much: she was looking for someone on board. I raised a brow. "Is that it? Would you mind telling me who? Not many people here."
"Miss! Vega!" We were gathered in the dining hall, so it didn't take much for Annora's voice to carry. Talia flinched. "Answer the damn question so we can move on! I have a jump to make and if we miss our window, that'll be another three day's travel. Answer the detective or I will drop you off at the next damn asteroid!"
Talia rolled her eyes with a huff, and said, "Fine. I was looking for him." She gestured to the handsome gentleman.
I cleared my throat. "Uh, why were you looking for him?"
"Thought he was cute. Had a question." Right. I let her go, with a note to circle back later.
I wanted to know this man's name.
As I approached, his face lit up and he licked his lips. "Oh, a detective. Is that why you've been staring at me? I'm Archer Cassidy. And you are...?" His voice sounded like honey.
OH, SO SWEET. WHY DON'T YOU TASTE HIM?
Fuck. I felt for my internal charge: I wasn't low, but I wouldn't hear these whispers if I was fully topped up. Without a full charge, my mood shifted constantly and I would more easily succumb to my desires, my vices. Solving a murder wasn't going to help my stress level, either. If I got any more depleted, I'd make a lot of bad decisions.
Case in point: Archer Cassidy, the smoldering-hair gentleman standing before me, licking his lips seductively, with the voice of deep, sweet honey.
Wait, were his eyes emerald?! Or was that turquoise?
I pushed my desires deep down – Stars, he smells good. – and focused on the task at hand.
To my surprise, Archer said that he was talking to Christa when Edris screamed. "I was letting her know a few things, and... she let me know that she did not appreciate those things. That's all."
"Things like what?"
"I'll let her tell you that." He never once took his eyes off of me. I quickly became self-conscious and let him go. "I'm in room 4, by the way, if you have any more questions. Stop by anytime."
I couldn't get to Christa fast enough. She was in a corner, distraught. I shoved the thoughts of Archer from my mind.
"Mr. Holmes, you can't think I did this."
"No, no, of course not." She wasn't at the top of the list, but she wasn't eliminated yet, either. "Mr. Cassidy said he was talking to you, though. About what?"
"I... I don't want to say."
"Mr. Holmes," Annora moaned. She kept glancing at the ship-time on the wall. "Do you have what you need for the night? Don't touch my alcohol, Mr. Cassidy! Put it back and go to your room! Detective!"
I was nowhere near done, but we needed to get moving. We all received two bottles of water and a prepared meal to hold us over, and we were sent to our rooms.
// Progress on the murder mystery
We've got a lot of alibis and a lot of clues. [2/10]
// Ticking the travel clock, 1/10
Not much can happen. This tick didn't happen as a result of a miss, but we're losing time anyway. Such is life.
// Story Clue
Story clue, 83: suggests a history of similar incidents.
This was such an easy one to spring off of. We have an ENTIRE bounty hunter on board...
I didn't plan on solving a murder during my trip, so I didn't bring my sticky notes and string. I would have to deal with a projection from Watt. We were sequestered to our suites for the jump, so I had ample time to go over all the evidence. I got comfortable on the couch in the living area of my room and looked over all the information available to us.
I knew from my initial findings that Roland died well before Edris's scream, at least a few hours prior. Rigor mortis had already set in when I found the body. The alibis I'd gathered were specifically for the time of the scream – none of them had an alibi for the actual murder. I didn't want to let them know this, though. I wanted them to let their guards down, catch them in a lie. The more cards I kept close to my chest, the better.
Speaking of close to their chest...
It took a few rings, but Christa eventually answered my video call. She sat up on the couch in her living area, pushed a blanket off to the side, and wiped tears from her eyes. There was an almost-empty bottle of bourbon on the coffee table in front of her. "Yes, Mr. Holmes. How can I help you?"
"I'm sorry to bother you, but it would really help the case if I knew what you and Archer were discussing."
She paced the room and ran a hand through her hair. "This can't get out, Mr. Holmes." She waited for me to acknowledge her, but I dared not promise anything. She seemed to understand because she continued. "Archer had some dirt on Roland. He was letting me know that once we landed, he planned to release it to the public. I... I tried to pay him to stop but he wanted more."
"What was the dirt?"
"He may be dead but I don't want to go around tarnishing his name. Look, the man did some shitty things in his past. He's affected everyone in this sector in one way or another. But he is– was different now."
"How long were you two talking?"
"Twenty, maybe thirty minutes. He caught me on my way back to my room from the dining hall. Eventually, the staff at the bar – Brian, was it? – told us that we'd have to leave soon because of the jump. Mr. Holmes, I don't know what to do." She fell back onto the couch, head buried in her arms.
I spent the new few minutes reassuring her that I would capture this murderer. I had a hard time believing that all of these emotions from her could be faked. If she was the murderer, she was a damn good actress. I didn't want to think too much about it, though. I chose, for now, to believe her tears.
// Develop relationship with Christa
Remember, she's the Connection we rolled up. She's going through a lot. Whether she ends up being the murderer or not, this moment was nice. [3/10]
Business, not pleasure. Business, not pleasure.
My next call was to Archer.
He was sitting in bed, back against his pillows and the headboard, one leg hidden beneath the covers while the other was bent with his foot on the mattress. I hid my hand behind my back as I realized he was completely naked. Electricity popped and danced between my fingers. He put down the book he was reading, face lit up once more at – what I could only hope was – the sight of me.
"Good evening, Detective. To what do I owe this honor? Sorry I'm not dressed. It's a little hot in here."
HE'S WAITING FOR YOU... INDULGE A LITTLE, DETECTIVE.
"It's no problem. I was just calling to get more information about what you and Christa talked about last night. She told—"
"We should have this conversation in person, Detective. Then we can talk all night long, perhaps over a drink. Though, you'd have to bring a bottle with you. Afraid I wasn't allowed to snag any."
The battle raging inside me was intense. That prison planet hellhole Avam was where I'd found the love of my life and I hadn't seen him since. In the chaos, we did not get on the same ship. I haven't known companionship since then. The brand on my back made the fear of being outed far too great. It stopped most encounters before they even started.
I didn't want it to stop them all forever.
But, I needed to focus. I could control my urges. For the greater good, or whatever I had to tell myself to get by. "Archer, were you trying to extort Roland?"
"Yes, I was."
Well, that was easy.
"I had stumbled onto some damning information and felt like sharing it with the Salvi Pass. A man's gotta eat, Detective. I guess the world's not going to care about a dead asshole now, though. Can't say I'll miss the man. Is that all? I'm serious about that drink."
"I'll have to pass, Archer. But..." This brand, my past, was not going to ruin my life forever. "Maybe after I solve this case." It wouldn't be the first time I climbed in bed with a questionable individual.
Archer smiled. "I look forward to it." He hung up.
I knew I would probably back down, but the rush I felt for even saying something resembling a "yes" felt good. My emotions danced back and forth between excitement and fear, joy and pessimism, lust and sadness.
An incoming video drew my attention. I answered it without checking who called, hoping it was Archer again.
"Detective," Blackstone said, pacing in her room. I cleared my head and stood up straight, giving her my full attention. "You said Roland was strangled right? Did you find what the murderer used to do it? Rope, necktie, bare hands...?"
"I can't divulge too much information. Sorry, Black–"
"I think it's Amari Wade."
Amari Wade was a hired hitman, infamous throughout the Salvi Pass. No one ever saw them in person unless you were on the wrong end of their contract. I looked over the list of everyone on board. Shit. It really could be any one of them. Gender, sex, age. All of it was unknown. For all I knew, they could have been Hal's daughter, Sage.
Amari Wade never stuck to one method of murder for too long, but lately, they'd been a fan of strangulation.
Strangulation via fishing wire, to be precise. I had Watt pull up a reconstruction of the crime scene and I zoomed in on the markings. Could definitely be fishing wire.
"I've been tracking them. I got a tip that they'd be on this vessel. That's why I was talking to Brian, trying to get the lay of the land. Brian's a gossip, my favorite kind of person. He saw most of them coming and going from the dining hall all night. That's all I'm willing to divulge, though."
Impressive. "Thanks for the tip."
"Be careful, detective. Amari Wade is elusive. They could be anyone here. I'll stay out of your way, just stay out of mine. We're both still suspects to the other."
After our call, I stared at the photos of the passengers and crew.
I wasn't getting any sleep that night.
// Progress on murder mystery
Lots and lots of good stuff here. [4/10]
// Gather Information via Sleuth
+2 (Wits) => 5 vs 1, 6, 6.
Well. Fuck. That means, 5 vs 6,6. Miss + match. And I only have 6 momentum soooo... Gotta up the rank of the mystery.
Hmm. Unlikely that this happens... 25 or less... I rolled a 2. lmfao
I roll for this next thing and...
I had lost sleep in vain; nothing revealed itself to me throughout the night. When we slowed down from the jump the next ship-morning, only a few of us headed to the dining hall to get food: Hal and Sage, Christa, Blackstone, Archer, and myself. As if by some unwritten rule, all of us had forgone getting completely dressed. Most of us were in some variation of our sleeping wear, as if eager to get back to our rooms and hole up away from danger. I remained in the same attire from last night.
All of us sat spread out as far as possible, making Edris's job a bit harder. He eventually took our orders and punched them into the screen at the bar so the back of the house could begin cooking, and brought each of us coffee. The aroma stirred me briefly, but I figured I would need the entire pot to become fully alert.
As I went over my handwritten notes, Archer sat in the seat opposite me. Archer wore deep green sweatpants that made me remember his eyes and a black long-sleeved shirt that hugged him just right. He smelled like sweet liquor and a touch of cologne.
I should not have been paying attention to the way Archer Cassidy smelled.
"So, Mr. Detective. How'd you sleep?" He sipped his coffee.
Suppress it... "Fine, mostly. Was looking over the details of what happened, trying to figure things out."
"I've been trying to figure you out." Archer leaned in closer. "You asked all of us what brought us to this vessel. What about you? Who can I thank for introducing us?"
"I got a tip for another case I'm working on. Met with Christa and Roland and they convinced me to pick this ship."
"Well, I guess I'll thank my lucky stars." He smirked.
YOU SHOULD SHOW HIM HOW LUCKY HE IS, DETECTIVE.
Archer was calling to me, literally. The ship – perhaps it was the Forge itself – was calling to me, figuratively. If I didn't charge up or consume something soon, I was going to get sloppy.
"Any idea where our food is?" Blackstone asked, annoyed.
"Uh, Brian should be here by now. But... Uh... Let me check in the back. Maybe he got held up." Edris disappeared past a pair of metallic swinging doors.
. . .
I was running before the sound registered.
I never wanted to hear Edris scream again. I turned a corner as the screaming continued, the others behind me, and came to an abrupt stop by the walk-in freezers.
Edris was on the floor, backed into a wall. He pointed to one of the walk-ins, arm trembling and tears streaming down his face.
Brian Kerra was dead.
// Result of Gather Information
The murderer has struck again. And Locke is already under enough pressure. So, let's Suffer -1 Spirit. And, because I like seeing him squirm, we're not going to attempt to Endure it.
-1 Spirit 
// Progress on murder mystery
Well, with another suspect dead, that technically counts as progress, right?
Right? [5/10; Formidable]
One less thing to worry about...
// Author's Note
It was right after I rolled the Miss+Match for Gather Information that I rolled randomly for the murderer and the second victim. So, everything before then was not influenced by prior knowledge.