Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

Saturday, March 22, 2014


So, I’ve been away from here for quite a while. Sorry about that – life has been getting in the way, and I keep meaning to do a catch-up post, and that job keeps growing, because there is more every week to catch up on, and ...

So, yes. I’m still here, I’m fine, I’m busy.

Work has picked up the pace somewhat in this second semester: the beginners’ book has run out – finally – which means I need to provide texts and notes and glossaries. And that’s fine, but a glossary for, say, a handful of smutty Catullus poems *ahem* took me a whole day to make. 
And thus the blog writing suffers.

Anyway, I’m checking in to let you know I’m still here, and I do intend to get into posting regularly again. No, I am not going to promise anything, no timeframe, because then I’m only going to feel guilty if I don’t make it. I have a couple of things I want to share, and I will.

Enough waffling: I have something for you today.

As mentioned before, I write microstories for two monthly contests in writing groups on LinkedIn. In February, the required elements for the sci-fi story were:
a crime,
a reference to a favourite author (or several),
and a first person narrative.
As usual, the whole story has to fit into one comment, so the limit is 4000 characters, around 620 words.

This is what I came up with to fit inside those parameters:

by D C Mills

‘Cause of death is obvious,’ I concluded, pulling off my gloves. For the record, I added, ‘Severe head trauma as well as a broken neck. Skull fractured, brain dispersed, spinal cord severed.’

The man’s body had been found lying crumpled at the bottom of one of the steep ladders going between decks. The cause of the fall was another matter.

It wasn’t my job to investigate this: I was the ship’s medic, and with the autopsy, my duty was done.
But I was curious. Besides, didn’t I have some obligation towards the general wellbeing of the crew? If the ladders were dangerous, I was the right person to point it out to the Captain.
And if Alvarez had been pushed – well, in that case we had a murderer onboard. Another potential health risk.

I went to my office next to the surgical theatre to address the database of the onboard computer system. The mainframe was a model 2.21-B, which had led to the inevitable nickname.
People, particularly people placed on a ship in the cold, dark void several light years from their home planet, have a need to give familiar names to their surroundings. And this one was apt.

‘Sherlock,’ I said, ‘show me your surveillance images from levels 4 and 5, by the cargo hold. Start with the time between 2100 and 0100 hours.’
‘You have calculated time of death to around 2300 hours,’ the computer said in its almost-human voice. ‘Why concern yourself with actions taking place several hours before the fall?’
‘Alvarez was on duty in that period. I want to see who he was talking to,’ I explained, as if to another person. ‘If he quarrelled with anybody.’
‘You are looking for a possible murderer,’ Sherlock said, ‘as well as a possible motive. I see.’

I knew he was filing away this information along with the vast amounts of data he already stored: Sherlock was built to be a learning machine, forever expanding his knowledge and understanding of humans. His proficiency at interacting had become quite remarkable and often made one forget that he wasn’t, after all, human.

Several images appeared on the screen, in separate windows. Not many people were moving about, and I quickly spotted Alvarez.
I observed the man during the last hours of his life. He chatted with one, then another, of his mates. Everything seemed calm.

‘I changed the lighting in your bathroom,’ Sherlock broke in, ‘deducing that the uneven state of your shaving was a result of poor light rather than a conscious choice.’
I felt my cheeks and jaw line; the left side was significantly more stubbly than the right. ‘Thank you,’ I said.

On screen, the end of Alvarez’ life drew near. The person who shoved him was indistinct in the dim light above the ladder; only height and body structure were discernible.

I gave the Captain a short list of suspects matching this information, who could have been nearby at the time. Only three: Singh, Adams, and Percy, all midshipmen like the deceased.
They were called in for questioning and subjected to further scrutiny: Sherlock was able to monitor them closely, as he had done with me, to detect changes in pulse rate, breathing, skin temperature.

Singh seemed only remotely concerned.
Adams wept throughout and was barely coherent.
Percy was aggressive and rude.

After the interviews, Sherlock and I conferred: my impressions versus his objective measurements compared against a database of symptoms.
We agreed on the conclusion.

It turned out that Percy had attacked Alvarez out of jealousy; this also explained Adams’ tears, as she was the object of the quarrel, though preferring neither of the two men.

No matter how advanced human technology is, it seems that humans remain human, with the same fears and loves and weaknesses as we have always had.

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