Issue V -- Mysteries

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Read about the contributors to our fifth issue and see excerpts from each article or story.  

Issue V Contents

A Better Place                 Richard Paul Russo

In the novel Destroying Angel, Richard Paul Russo introduced both Detective Frank Carlucci and Louis Tanner. Here they are re-united to solve a murder in a San Francisco that may not be as far in the future as we think.

Never Convicted             Ryck Neube

A new world. A new career. A new life, but no matter how hard you try, sometimes the past you tried to leave behind is something you need in that new place.

The Three Bananas        Larry Tritten

What happens when the everyday things we take for granted -- such as bananas -- disappear from our lives? Larry Tritten provides the answers in another future view of San Francisco with a private detective from the same mould us Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.

The Genome Mines        Richard Bradford

An art theft, a death, a double cross and revenge. Richard Bradford packs them all into this story set in a Europe where corporations rather than politicians set the rules.

The Bubble Bursts         Terry Bramlett

When first contact becomes old news, it takes the death of the Evolian scientific liaison to renew interest and with both his, and his bosses careers on the line, Doug Banks has six hours to find out how and why.

A Better Place by Richard Paul Russo © 2002 Richard Paul Russo

Smoke rose from the ruins of a shack now burned to the ground; smoldering embers glowed red and orange in the darkness.  Carlucci stood a few feet away, listening to the oddly peaceful quiet, unavoidably inhaling the stench of charred flesh.  Human flesh, if he wasn’t mistaken.  He was certain they would find the bones of a man within the burned shack, the bones of an old man named William Eko.

Lieutenant Francesco Antonio Carlucci was alone in the vacant lot, sweating in the summer evening heat, the sky a stunning black-purple above him.  Just over six feet tall and a bit stocky at two hundred pounds, he stood surrounded by rundown abandoned buildings, windows lit from within by candles, lanterns, and other makeshift sources of light.  Abandoned by their owners, yet inhabited despite the lack of electricity or running water.  Interviewing the residents of this neighborhood would be pointless.

William Eko had never hurt anyone and certainly didn’t deserve to die like this, but that didn’t count for anything in this world.  Shit.  Sometimes Carlucci got so tired he wanted to take his wife and two grown daughters and leave San Francisco, move into the mountains where he could spend his days napping beside a clear flowing stream, and never again be a police detective, never again think of the word “homicide.”  That was a fantasy, though, and he knew it.

I’ve got something for you, William had told him on the phone.  Something important concerning a place in the DMZ.  They needed to talk, William had said, and he had something to show Carlucci.  They’d set the meeting, and Carlucci had come a little early, but it wasn’t early enough.  He wondered what the chances were that whatever William had wanted to show him was still intact, preserved somehow in those dying embers.  Just about zero.

“Hey, Lieutenant.”

The voice came from behind him, not too close.  Familiar.  Carlucci’s hand went inside his slick-coat to the Browning in his shoulder holster, and he casually drew it as he turned.  A short, thin figure crouched in the darkness at the edge of the vacant lot, but he couldn’t make out any features.  A hand came up, as if warding him off.

“It’s just Skeets,” she said, standing up.  As she picked her way among the piles of trash, he holstered the gun and watched her approach.  Except for the dark forest green fishing vest with its numerous bulging pockets, Skeets wore, as usual, all black – T-shirt, skirt, and tights (all meticulously patched), black leather belt and riding boots.  Her long, dark hair was streaked with gray, and draped halfway down her back.  Both wrists were heavily bandaged; two old scars intersected just above her left eye.  She claimed to be thirty years old and graying prematurely, but she also sometimes claimed to have been born in the first year of the new century, which would put her closer to forty.  The latter seemed nearer the truth.

“You’re here to see William,” she said, half statement, half question.

He shrugged, and she barked out a humorless laugh.

"Not much left of him to see," she added. "Buy me a couple of beers and I might tell you what I know about it."

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Never Convicted by Ryck Neube © 2002 Ryck Neube

Ryck Neube was recently asked to describe himself in three words. No one was surprised when he answered 'reincarnated pork product.' This year his fiction has been published in Asimov's, Tales of the Unanticipated, and Speculon.com. He tells us his novels continue to elude publication.

Haf Nelson opened the cabin's door, peeking into the hovercraft.  The curtains shrouding the partner bunks were open, no one hid there.  He checked the bathroom.  No one.  Returning to the cabin, he pulled the door shut.  The click of the lock thundered.

"What the de'il is wrong with ya?"  Pru sat on the edge of the bed, unsealing her boots.  Donning silk gloves, her long fingers probed callouses and caressed the network of scars she sported in lieu of toes.

Only a Martian, mused Haf, could transform the exercise into an erotic display.

"Haf?  What is it?"

Never a tall man, the stoop of his shoulders, the exhausted angle of his spine, transformed Haf into a cartoon troll.  His lips brushed her long ears before he whispered, "It wasn't an accident.  Sally was murdered."

"The kid fell off a cliff.  Ya Nokkers are paranoid from womb to tomb.  I--"

"How does a 'sharp rock' make a puncture wound inside her ear, then put her helmet back on?  Sally's throat had mottled burns, proving somebody pulled off her helmet while she was still alive, and stabbed her through the ear with a frigging screwdriver."

He went to the window and cranked the shutters open.  Years of acid rains had grayed the outer glass, distorting the stark scenery of the Libby Range.  Before God created hell, sayth the pundits, God built the Libby for practice.  In the distance rose the plumes of Viceroy, Camel, and Marlboro -- first time in recorded history all three volcanoes erupted simultaneously.  Today, their ash blew due west.

A wind screamed through the Upper Blight.  The sound reminded him of his old office.  Old work.  Old deaths.

"Why didn't ya tell me before the bloody funeral?"  Pru's Martian drawl grew thicker as her gloves fisted.  Lines appeared around her mouth.

"I had to confirm your alibi first," Haf muttered.

Martians preferred their reality blunt.  It had taken years to deprogram himself from the ever-conciliatory, sugar-coated comity of his home planet.  Of course, Martians also tended to punch things.  He yelped and rubbed his upper arm.

"Elitist," she hissed, her face contorting at this most Martian of pejoratives.

"You threatened to strangle Sally, if she didn't stop pestering you.  Had you killed her, I would have covered it up."

"Idiot!  If I killed everybody that got on my nerves, ya would be scattered over half the Blight.  Me, murder a child?  So I spiked her oatmeal with laxatives.  So what?"  Her mouth gaped, revealing stainless steel teeth -- Pru's single compromise to fashion.

For years Haf had denied his training, his first true love, burying it beneath this new life as a prospector.  Now resurrected, old instincts raced.  You never got out of the classroom, hissed the inadequacy lobe of his brain.  Command never allowed you the opportunity to become a detective, replied the ego lobe.

"You hated the kid, darling, therefore you were an obvious suspect."  The knot in his throat felt like a cactus.  Haf should have gone with his first instinct and not told her.  "Then I had to check where Beth was when it happened."

Twhack!  He yelped again.

"Ya suspected OUR Beth? Yer a hard case, Citizen Nelson. Forget that secret police dross, SIR!"

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The Three Bananas by Larry Tritten © 2002 Larry Tritten

Bananas. Nobody even remembered what they were. That was the ironic part. Banana was a word like "puttee" or "condominium" or "jogging". It was part of the past. Oh, sure, there were a few old timers here and there who dimly remembered them and still made an occasional wistful reference to them, but the word wasn't really a part of the language any more. The average person wouldn't have had the slightest idea what you meant if you described Zeon Doon as a top banana or if you said that a disc of dreamol made you go bananas. Bananas had been gone for seventy-five years. All of the world’s fruit had been destroyed forever in the Wars of Commerce and the Wars of Commerce were remote history, like World War III½, the Oil Wars, or the War of Janet's Pants. Bananas had been a little bit harder to kill than most of the other kinds of fruit; they had lingered on in a few countries for a couple years after the initial blights wiped out apples, peaches, cherries, and the rest, but in the end all of it was gone, and it hadn't seemed to matter much since there were so many new and zany kicks to make up for the loss: a whole spectrum of fulgurant drugs that played the central nervous system like a pin ball machine and all sorts of mind bangers and sensibility stingers.

The world had forgotten all about bananas. But some of us were just about to start learning.

It all started with a phone call. It was one of those cold dark San Francisco days featuring a sky the color of wet ashes and the kind of aggressive wind that slaps you around like a sparring partner and I was entrenched in my Irving street office tippling snifters of rocksauce and trying to forget about unpaid bills and unfulfilled dreams.

The phone rang and I caught it in the middle of the second ring, not because I had any interest in talking to anyone but because I figured the sound of a ringing bell would be more annoying than someone's voice.

I was right. The party on the other end said something in an undertone so soft and inconspicuous it was like listening to the voice of my conscience.

"You'll have to play that again," I told him. "Then maybe we can turn this into a dialog."

The voice registered a bit more clearly this time but it still sounded like someone in the wings delivering a stage whisper. "Is this Rad Sway speaking?"

"It’s Sway speaking," I said. "Who's this listening?"

"This is Isham van Bourke," the voice said. It was a hesitant voice, the customary style for clients with confidential stories to tell. A private investigator is a professional confidante, like a priest or a psychiatrist. They all get to hear lots of hair-raising tales about sex and money, the two most favorite topics in every culture sophisticated enough to have income taxes and birth control.

I waited for Isham van Bourke to tell me something that would stimulate my interest, and he did.

“I would like to retain you," he said, loosening up a little as he forged on. "At your usual fee – uh whatever that is. . ."

"That is ex:penses and ten bucks an hour, cash in advance, no stamps, food coupons, i.o.u.'s, heartfelt promises or hot merchandise," I said, wanting to get that straight from the outset. I once spent two weeks tumbling down stairs and dodging bullets for a blonde in Mill Valley who paid in horizontal favors, which was great except that I subsequently had to hock everything but my hat and mattress to keep my practice afloat.

Van Bourke was upset. "I always pay cash," he said quickly and firmly. The knowledge warmed me considerably.

“Do you want to talk about this on the wire?” I asked. “Or do you want to pull your collar up around your neck and meet me in the shadows somewhere?”

“I'll be in your office in fifteen minutes," he said. “If that’s all right with you."

"That's fine," I said, and hung up.

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The Genome Mines by Richard Bradford © 2002 Richard Bradford

Richard Bradford describes himself as an overworked, middle-class, engineer – Dilbert with kids.  He grew up in Massachusetts in a converted barn in a family of twelve, with one bathroom. After achieving his lifelong dream of owning a house with four bathrooms, he turned his hand to writing. This is Richard’s first professional publication.

“Sécurité!”  Claudia’s warning broke the silence inside Grayson’s helmet.  Jabbing the release, he dropped through the final three meters of darkness onto the solid parquet floor, rolling to limit the impact.  Frantically he sought a blank space but every wall was covered with paintings.  Damn it, the guards had kept the same routine for two weeks.  Why did they have to change tonight, minutes before he would have held her? Footsteps halted outside the door.  There - a gap just to the right of the prize. He sprinted.  The door handle creaked.  He spun and backed against the wall, cloaking just as the lights blazed to life.  Inside the suit, his clear view became a restricted, low-res image.  His chest tightened.  Floodlights from the roof outlined the skylight on the floor – along with Claudia’s shaded form.

“Cloak!” he whispered.  Grayson had designed the helmet to absorb a shout, but the slightest murmur would alert the guards. He held his breath.  Months of planning and now this.  Their timetable had been flawless but the unexpected footsteps drew closer.  A guard entered the room, a slicer swinging from his waist.  A slicer.  Louvre security issued standard automatics, easily deflected by his Kevlar, but a slicer would cleave through him like a round of Brie. Grayson’s camosuit felt entirely inadequate and he wanted to run, fight or anything but stand there - but for the suit to work he must remain perfectly still.

Claudia Jardin’s face appeared in the corner of his visor, her short-cropped black hair framing her oval face.  The low resolution hid the scarred upper lip where surgeons had repaired her cleft palate. “Calm down Monsieur Grant.  Your biometrics are out of the scale.  The guard cannot see you.”

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The Bubble Bursts by Terry Bramlett © 2002 Terry Bramlett

Terry Bramlett is a Mississippi Science Fiction and Fantasy writer, an oddity in that bastion of conservatism. He has been published in various magazines and in addition to Oceans of the Mind has recently sold stories to Speculon, Elysian Fiction and the Bay Laurel Ebooks anthology Why I Hate Aliens

The Evolian’s bubble burst and I watched as the alien I called Bob gasped for air, unable to compensate in Earth’s atmosphere. He screamed, eyes bulging, pleading for help.

“Bruce!” I yelled.

“Yes, Mr. Banks?” The melodic tenor of my computer answered.

“Get first aid in here, now,” I said. The computer did not respond, since it was programmed to recognize the stress of an emergency. I ran from my desk to Bob. His knees hit the ground. His green skin turned purple as he struggled to capture enough of whatever gases he needed to survive. He did not find them in my office.

Bob’s arms shot out, grabbing my shirt, pulling me toward him. The smell of Evolian air lingered. What the hell do I do now? I thought, panic taking control. I took a deep breath, trying to relax. A bell chimed in the distance, reminding me of a pager sounding its alarm. Air from the heating system rushed around the room, scattering the remnants of the Evolian atmosphere. I felt detached from the scene.

Bob jabbered and though we had been speaking English a moment earlier, he had lost the use of his translator. The intelligence agent in me filed the information as interesting and maybe significant. How much did their technology depend on the bubble that protected the Evolians from Earth’s dangerous atmosphere? We assumed the belt around the waist controlled the bubble. Bob’s grip loosened from my shirt and he slid to the floor as the paramedic burst into the room.

“He’s dying,” I yelled. The paramedic just stared. “Do something, damn it!”

“What the hell you want me to do?” The paramedic screamed back. “I don’t know how to treat these things.” He stood, gaping in amazement at Bob who lay unconscious on the floor. “We could give mouth-to-mouth, but I don’t think that will work,” the paramedic said.

I sat and watched Bob’s chest heaving for breath; and then, he lay still. Bob died. An ambassador of the first alien race to visit Earth died in my office. Oh shit, I thought. Now, I gotta do the paperwork on this. “Get me the Director,” I said.

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