By Samuel O'Slaine
Storytelling is an art. It is the art of entertaining an audience by creating a narrative. We’ve decided to try an experiment with this upcoming serial, and that is to include the readership in the narrative process. We’ll be telling a story as a serial; we encourage suggestions that we can include in later episodes of the story, and we’ll try to incorporate these if that is possible.
With one exception, the story is aiming for plausible, without supernatural or magical interventions. We’ll not be including impossible suggestions, and we can’t guarantee inclusion of the implausible. Still, we’ll do our best.
We’ll take note of the suggestions in the first week after publication, and write the next part incorporating those suggestions in the second.
Put simply: you’ve a week to get your suggestions into the comment section.
A World Apart, Part 6.
Moon rock on the inside of a moon-suit. That was impossible. The whole point of a moon-suit was that it was vacuum tight, and he had checked that ensure that there were no tears in it. The only way for a rock to have got inside was if the moon-suit was removed. But removing a moon-suit outside would be instantly fatal.
The rock had got inside. It wasn’t possible for it to have got inside the moon-suit within the base, and it wasn’t possible for it to have happened outside.
However, at least he could be fairly sure that no-one had used this moon-suit since then. Moon-suit number 5. That meant that there was something significant about when this suit was last used. The suit was one of the smaller ones; it would have been one suitable in size for Fochs. Who else might be able to use it? He ran through the crew in his mind.
Edith and Josephine; Mikhail and Sumner. Gregg, Hercule, and maybe David. Christof, Lawrence, and Pietr. Possibly Randolph at a stretch. He would ask each of them when they last used moon-suit 5. Not that he expected them to remember.
Someone putting a rock into the suit in here made no sense. The only way that the rock could have got inside was if it was outside, and no-one was wearing it. He sat down, so that he could think without distractions. The only way to take it outside was by someone wearing it, or carrying it, and carrying it would have raised questions from the other people going outside. The moon-suit had to be taken off outside, which meant that Fochs had to be dead when that happened, because otherwise he would have struggled, and that would have damaged the suit.
Take the suit off of him, and bring the suit back, and the rock slipped inside on the way back.
John considered the scenario. It raised one awkward thought. People went out in groups of three. That meant that if Fochs died outside, at least two other people would have known about it. That meant, what did that mean? It meant that two people are involved. Did it? If three people went out, and only two came back, and neither of them said anything, it must do.
He needed to check outside again. That gave a problem. Going outside to look for a body by someone who was responsible for putting it there, that was a risk. He would have to talk this over with Edith.
Means, motive, and opportunity. If he was right, the means had become clearer. Killed while outside, suit removed, and left out there.
That meant that whoever was involved had to be someone comfortable with going outside. He would make a list of the people who had been outside more than others, and of the people who never went outside. He snorted. On that basis, he would be a prime suspect. Perhaps he should start asking himself some questions.
If he was right on the method, then he could discount Mikael Stark. He didn’t like going outside at all, and was very uncomfortable when outdoors. He’d said that he liked being indoors, even on Earth, and that he disliked being in open spaces.
He would ask Edith if she knew who went outside a lot. He smiled. Outside was the only place they could get much privacy. The Moon was the best chaperone in the world.
He sighed. Unfortunately.
Opportunity. That would depend on when the death occurred. Motive was the one that was troubling him.
Motives. There were possible unwanted attentions towards the ladies. If these had become seriously unwanted, that might be a motive for someone courting the lady. There was the possibility of a professional rivalry, of some form of personal grudge, of some international dispute being played out, of some assessment that he was not needed for the base, and was just using valuable water.
A thought struck John. What if someone was using the base as a psychology experiment? There were German and American experiments on group thinking. Putting a group in a situation like this under tension could reveal some aspects of the human psyche. He couldn’t believe that anyone would do something so lethal as an experiment, but then, some scientists regarded science as more important than human life.
Perhaps science and psychology could help him here. He’d read somewhere that different people think in different ways. Perhaps if he tried to imagine how a motivation developed to killing Fochs, This might give him some ideas.
He tried to imagine how someone who was courting a lady who had been improperly approached by Fochs might react. That wasn’t very difficult. He tried to imagine how he would react if he had learned Fochs had made unwanted advances towards Edith. He clenched his fists, and his jaw tightened. He’d react with anger, and confront him. If that didn’t work, he’d assault the man.
What would he do if he wasn’t strong enough to deal with Fochs? He’d have to use cunning, and lure him outside. But if he couldn’t deal with Fochs inside, how could he deal with him outside? He’d have to use the lethality of the moon.
The trouble was that there wasn’t a mark on the moon-suit. If he was angry, then he would have struck, and there would be signs of that on both moon-suits. Unless he’d thrown a rock or a knife, which would have left unmistakeable signs on Fochs’ suit, but would have left the killer’s moon-suit intact.
Of course, throwing and hitting in the moon’s gravity was a lot harder than it seemed.
Ignore for the time being how he killed without leaving a mark on the moon-suit, what sort of a person would do it this way? Someone athletic, but not overly strong. Someone who got angry easily, but could not only keep their temper in check and plan rather than act immediately, and could hide that anger from Fochs. Someone comfortable with being outside.
He’d have to ask Edith whether any of the other ladies were courting. That would give him the possible suspects for this particular motivation. He guessed that, for the record, he’d have to demonstrate why he couldn’t have done the deed. Speaking objectively, he had to be considered a suspect. He wondered how often a murder mystery turned out that the investigator did it.
He had to talk to her on progress on the mining as well. The Old Man would want to be kept informed about progress. Did Sumner fit the profile of someone with this motivation? John couldn’t imagine Sumner losing his temper. He was the sort of person to nurse a grudge for a long time, and then take deliberate action to resolve matters. He wasn’t the sort to be courting in the first place. If nothing else, he knew that he was in charge, and that the ladies worked for him. He had been very hot on not abusing positions of power.
Maybe that was a motivation. Fochs had a reputation that he did court ladies who worked for him or who he taught, and Sumner would have found that incredibly distasteful.
But then Sumner could have just told Fochs to desist. John thought about that for a moment. Discipline and regulations weren’t as clearly defined here as in the Navy. Sumner could have told Fochs to desist, but would Fochs have done so?
John could see Sumner losing his temper under such circumstances. Yes, he could see Sumner as a possible suspect under the right circumstances. John started to worry that everyone could be a suspect under the right circumstances.
Then there was whatever was going on down on Earth. Some people took their politics seriously, and international conferences to resolve disputes were becoming a regular occurrence. They’d just finished the Copenhagen conference when they’d left Earth. That conference was trying to work out what was acceptable behaviour by diplomats, and what diplomats could be tried for under national laws. And all because of Prohibition in America.
That was one of the reasons why they were here in the first place, as an experiment in seeing if people from different nations could work together.
He would think more on this later. For now, he had to speak with Edith. She had been taking notes of discussions, and was looking downhearted. She smiled on seeing him, but it was a worried smile.
She explained that the scientists had looked at digging a pit rather than a simple shaft. “It will work. The only problem is that it would be finished six months after we’re all dead.”
John wondered how he could tactfully approach the question of whether Fochs had made unwanted advances towards any of the ladies, and whether any of the ladies were being courted by someone else on the base.
“Apart from me?” she asked.
John sighed. He was going to have to demonstrate and prove that he wasn’t involved. “Apart from you.”
It turned out that there was some courting going on.
“Josephine is being courted by Gregg and Yves, and she can’t decide, but is rather hoping that Pietr will start courting her, because she doesn’t want to be forward and initiate things. She’ll have to, because Pietr is courting Marie, with considerable success, I might add. He also tried courting me before you became involved. Hercule was courting Anne-Marie, but Anne-Marie said no in no uncertain terms. Obviously. Lisette is being courted by Mikael and Yves. I’m being courted by you, obviously, and Aimee is hoping you’ll start courting her, but she hasn’t noticed Yves trying to court her. Of course, Uwe wasn't exactly courting, as such.”
John thought this through. “Could you draw me a diagram? So, Yves is courting Josephine, and Lisette, and Aimee?”
“I think he has a very high albedo. He is French.”
“No, he isn’t. He’s German. Alsace is part of Germany. And why is it obvious no-one’s courting Anne-Marie?”
“I would have thought that was obvious.”
“It’s something we don’t talk about.”
John thought again. “Pietr. He tried courting you?”
“Yes. I rebuffed him. I knew you would soon be courting me.”
John was feeling out of his depth. He wanted to ask how she knew, and wasn't confident he would like the answer. “And when you say he’s courting Marie with considerable success?”
“That’s something we don’t talk about.”
John sighed. “Do the ladies have any time to actually get some work done?”