Today's Reading



Nobody ever believed murders "just happened" around Mallory Viridian.

Not at first, anyway.

Before 2032, she figured she was an unlucky kid in that she'd been adjacent to two deaths, at separate times. In college, she witnessed four murders (unrelated) and, this time, helped solve them.

She began to worry after she solved her third and fourth cases: two unrelated murders while on a college trip. She wasn't trained in crime scene investigation and she wasn't even a big fan of mystery novels. Still, she was the only one to spot that the key clue to the murder of a room service waiter was not the shotgun, but a tacky, wet popsicle stick.

Despite this solve, the detectives were not impressed.

"I would have found it eventually," Detective Kelly Brady had barked, his cheeks still pink from being teased by a beat cop about the popsicle stick.

Even the investigators who accepted her help in solving cases didn't believe Mallory had done this before. She was twenty-two, a college dropout, and a civilian. What did she know about a murder investigation?

After she'd solved five cases, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation started getting interested in her.

Mallory knew what to expect when she pounded on Adrian Casserly-Berry's door at five in the morning local station time. He would crack the door, eyes slitted in suspicion; he would see her and relax, and the air of suspicion would ease and annoyance would take over.

And if he didn't come to the door, or told her what she didn't want to hear, she would have to figure things out on her own.

I could always run. The thought was always at the back of her mind.

But he would see her, she knew. Adrian tolerated her because she was the only other human he knew of aboard the Space Station Eternity, and even ambassadors got lonely. Even if he was missing only the superior feeling he got when he pulled ambassador rank on a civilian. He was important and had a job aboard the station, while Mallory was pretty much a leech on society, or a hobo at best. He had political power; she had nothing more than sanctuary.

Mallory had found that she could easily placate people like that by not threatening their power directly and reminding them constantly of their titles. "Ambassador Casserly-Berry!" she called. Then she pounded again.

She normally didn't ambush him early in the morning, but she'd been up to use the restroom and casually glanced at the news. After she'd translated the symbols, she ran down the station hallways in her pajamas to pound on his door. But the ambushing might work in her favor, she reasoned, since she usually could startle an honest answer out of him when he let his Important Ambassador mask slip.

He was taking a while. She wondered if he was coming out of a drunken sleep or wanted to get dressed before he answered the door. She guessed the former; few people stopped to get presentable when woken up early by insistent pounding.

It turned out it was both. The door finally slid open about four inches, and a bloodshot eye peered out. Mallory could smell vodka on his breath and took a cautious step backward. Adrian's eyes were thin with suspicion and barely concealed hostility. He saw her, relaxed, and then looked merely annoyed. But when he opened the door to her, not only was his hair combed, but he was wearing a dress shirt and blue trousers. A loose tie hung around his neck. Even hungover, he looked almost presentable, while she was still in the T-shirt and pajama bottoms she had slept in.

"Why are you dressed this early like you have a trust fund meeting?" she asked, baffled. "Hedge fund," he corrected automatically. He sniffed. "I have an early meeting with station officials. What do you want, Mallory?"

She looked past him, trying to focus. She hated that he had been the one to throw her off, using nothing more than a tie and a comb. Still, judging by his looks, his hangover was a big one, and she could use that to her advantage.

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