THE AMBASSADOR’S LIMO SWOOSHED down the main avenue of the budding metropolis of Jannah, sharing the six lanes of perfectly poured pavement with sparse few other vehicles. The city construct was comprised of but a small crosshatch of wide avenues that went nowhere, the six lane thoroughfares merely vague promises of a future of fast and efficient commuting. For now they ended abruptly in barricades of flashing warning lights with only desert beyond. The city planners were optimistic. They foresaw a time when these roads would connect the whole of the planet in a bustling of superhighways.
Feeling the eyes of the driver on him in the rearview mirror, Drinkwine gazed out the window at the blur of industry. Everywhere he looked construction cranes were in motion. Jannah was a metropolis being born out of the oblivion of the vast Martian landscape. The clatter and stamp of hydraulic hammers resounded through the steel canyons with the imperious cry of progress. An urgent pace busily crafting a city out of the desert to accommodate the coming settlers of the red planet. From the arid, barren plains, skyscrapers of glass and steel were rising up, coaxed out of the nothingness, a strangely incongruous patch of modernity among the oceans of sand and rock. Armies of workers, mostly white, like him, toiled in tasks of physical labor on the open floors. The sparks of welding on the upper levels cascaded the structures like white-hot waterfalls pouring into canyons of concrete and steel. In the passing slivers of space between the buildings the red sands of Mars were visible just beyond the pale. The majestic structures met the undisturbed sands of Mars in an abrupt collision with antiquity.
“Look, Detective Drinkwine,” Kurian spoke, his delicate hand gesturing proudly the view of the advancing metropolis, “the future.” He smiled broadly, repeating enthusiastically, “The future,” as he snatched the air with his delicate hand, his perfect white teeth clinched with pride.
Drinkwine’s gaze drifted back onto the burgeoning city. It was impressive, no doubt. He considered the immense gambles of corporate fortunes being poured into the red planet to secure a foothold in this new frontier. He considered the hopes of so many humans that would make the costly, dangerous trek across space to find new lives here. There was a great deal riding on this. The grand experiment of the Moon had long been eclipsed by the sad realities of its close proximity to Earth, being too easily attained by too many. It was already showing signs of bursting at the seams. And the Earth? The Earth had suffered the changes that had long been predicted and was struggling under cataclysmic overpopulation. Twenty billion inhabitants and growing. Humanity, spilling out over onto the Moon, into every conceivable patch of lunar ground. Twenty-five billion humans in total, all in search of a life. The next logical step was Mars. The powerbrokers were betting on it. And they were intent on not repeating the mistakes they’d made now on two previous planets.
Find a new life on crime free Mars. That’s what the marketing materials were so ardently proffering. Life, Drinkwine thought to himself. It’s what all of this reaching into the cosmos was about. However, it was the circumstance of death that had brought him here. The unfortunate incident threatened to undo a lot of the utopian promise that was being orchestrated. Intrinsically, Drinkwine knew there was brewing concern behind many boardroom doors about how the news of a murder could undermine their folly, their fortunes, the ‘future.’ He knew they would be watching him, his every move. He also knew that this man beside him, this Kurian, with his overly pleasant demeanor and accommodating manner, had in fact been dispatched by the powers that be to keep an eye on things, and certainly to report back to them. His every movement, his every action was certain to be conveyed to others.
“Your book precedes you, Detective,” Kurian said, brushing an invisible piece of lint from his aqua silk trousers. “I understand that between the Moon and the Earth there are more than three million copies in circulation. That must have made you well, hmm?”
“The majority of copies in circulation were pirated,” Drinkwine responded dryly. Adding, accusatorily, “The same way they were pirated here.”
“Well,” Kurian began with a chuckle, “being that there are no copyright laws on Mars, you can hardly accuse us of piracy.”
The car continued down the avenue, the tires humming against the pavement, filling the quiet. Mention of his book stirred Drinkwine’s thoughts. It had been said that he had authored the most comprehensive study of the modern era on the mind of a killer. The book had become a bestseller, enjoying multiple re-issues each time a new murder fascinated the public. The homicides—provided they possessed some unseemly brutality or unspeakable perversion—always sparked the public’s interest, the murderers themselves enjoying their own celebrity, sharing the same kind of popularity as that of pop stars and video games. The more gruesome and hideous the murder, the greater the celebrity.
Faddish nature of the public aside, his book, The Alchemy of Murder, was a respected Bible among law enforcement and criminal pathologists. The book was a first-hand study of the nature, mindset, and motivation of a murderer, putting forward the theory that modern man had evolved past primal impulse. Modern man had reasoning. Therefore, each murder was bound by some construct of reason, arguing the perspective that there must be motivation, however substantial or brutally trivial. But behind each murder was a calculated motive.
“Hmm,” Kurian broke the long silence, returning to his previous train of thought. “The Alchemy of Murder,’ I suppose most believed it to be a murder mystery. Not a tome devoted to the dryness of forensic science.”
Drinkwine understood then that Kurian had read his book. He purposely didn’t indulge the opening to more conversation, feeling the Ambassador’s eyes on him.
Kurian was still trying to assess the stranger. “You contend that modern man has evolved past the base, primal responses of his nature, is that true?” Crossing his legs and turning his slight body to face him.
Drinkwine was not a man given to banal conversations, choosing instead to play his cards close to the chest with a good deal of silence. “Ambassador, I’m here to solve a crime, not discuss the psychology of man.”
“Yes,” Kurain spoke with a hint of bewilderment. “Tsk, tsk, tsk. Our first crime.”
The comment surprised Drinkwine. “Surely you’ve had crimes perpetrated here, Ambassador.”
Kurian looked out the window at the blur of heavy industry that was raising the grand towers into the sky and responded smugly, “No, none.” The little brown man saw that Drinkwine was not believing him. “Yes, it’s true. There has been no crime on Mars—not among the decents anyway. You see, Detective, by preventing the introduction of alcohol, pornography, and guns to Mars, we prevent the seeds of unsocial behavior from being sewn, and by not allowing the tools of violence, we eliminate the incidence of violence.”
Drinkwine studied Kurian as he stared out the window of the limo at the rushing scenery, wondering if he truly believed what he was saying. He turned and looked out his own window at the blurring landscape.