Lydia Thompson sat on the far side of the living room sofa, as far away from the door to the outside as she could. She sat in an uncharacteristically prim pose, not moving as she reconstructed in her mind the time line for the day.
The sun had risen and its light had reflected off the planet’s red-ore surface filling the bedroom with a crimson glow. She and Steve had awakened gloriously late in the morning. This laziness was getting to be a habit, a totally decadent one that she could easily get used to. She had marveled how virile Steve looked propped up on the pillows with his thick, muscular chest tapering towards his waist where the defined muscles of his abdomen stood out in relief. In Magnum-4’s red glow, Steve looked like a statue carved from the planet’s red-ore. He was naked and aroused. The morning air was warm and the covers were at the foot of the bed. She straddled his body and took him in her and used him to absorb his strength. She felt like a succubus only he would not allow her to make him a victim. He had laughed when he realized how she was using him and as she readied to climax, he rolled her on to her back, grabbed a handful of her hair and possessed her with all the force of his animal magnetism. And she allowed it. She dropped all her defenses and for one brief moment, she allowed him to lift her to a new level of ecstasy where she wasn’t Lydia Thompson, 3rd Prime of the Directorate, but simply a woman in the arms of a powerful man being used by him as she had intended to use him.
After their lovemaking, they went down stairs to Steve’s primitive kitchen where he made them breakfast using cast iron pans over a flame-generated heat like someone out of an historical novel. Unlike the other men of power and place on the planet, he did not have a household staff. He said he like to do things himself, but she soon realized that it was one way that he covered his back. Twice a week, he allowed a vetted domestic crew to come in and clean his residence. When they were there, he was not.
Over pancakes and eggs, she asked him if he wanted to accompany her to the meeting with the mine owners. “Would you like to watch me in action?” she had asked.
He had laughed and said, “No. It would sincerely pain me to witness their unknowing humiliation. And my presence might make them more obstinate. Why don’t you take Quincey.”
“If you take me, you might be diluting your power over them. If you take Quincey, they will be intimidated, but for the wrong reason. That way, when you bend them to your will, they will be kowtowing to you and not to any fear they might have of me. And anyway, I have some things I have to take care of tonight.”
Lydia had smiled. Steve knew exactly where he stood and why. She had had her reports about him and had been angling to enter into exactly this relationship when she arrived on Magnum-4. Her running into Quincey and having him introduce her to Steve had been a fortuitous accident that had made becoming his lover all that much easier. According to his dossier, Steve Somerset had been every inch the rebel that Lydia expected him to be. Only, whereas she worked in side the law, Steve had lived his life making up his own laws. If she believed even half of the unsubstantiated rumors about him, he was a man who fought his battles with out mercy and prospered along forbidden paths. His enemies had a way of disappearing as completely as if they had never been born in the first place.
At the time, Lydia had not paid much attention to his comment about having something to do that evening. She went about her preparations for the meeting with the mine owners and practically ignored Steve who had seemed content with being left alone. It was only now, sitting in the living room with his body at the bottom of the stairs not 40 paces from where she sat that she realized that he, too, had been making preparations. He was planning to meet someone at the house while she was out. He never said as much, but she could tell. Sitting there, surrounded by the subtle trappings of wealth and power that had been her lover’s, Lydia Thompson clenched her fists and made a silent vow to see that whoever killed Steve was going to pay for it in the most humiliating and inhumanly painful way possible.
When Quincey arrived, he showed up with a crew of ten men, only one of whom Lydia recognized… Ethan Allen, the owner ofthe Number 3 mine north of the city. The men walked in with Quincey in the lead. They had not bothered to knock or announce themselves in any manner. She thought it strange that they should presume so much especially in Steve’s domain. There should have been some kind of hesitation at the door.
Quincey walked directly to the living room and asked, “Where’s the body? And what happened to the lights and scrubbers?”
“At the bottom of the steps to the garden,” Lydia replied pointing the way with her chin. One of the men, an extremely heavy man, several years older than Quincey stepped away from the group and left the room in the direction Lydia had indicated. Two men, carrying a table-top like object, followed him. “As far as the lights go, they’ve were off when I got here.” Lydia stopped talking and looked around her. “Who are all these people?” she asked. Her voice was cold and commanding.
“The Vigilance Committee and tech crew.” Quincey said.
Lydia did her best to keep her poker face in place. Magnum-4’s Vigilance Committee was the most feared group of men on the planet. She had read the reports about them. On Magnum-4, justice was quick, vicious and totally blind. They literally had power of life and death over everyone. They were a star chamber: judge, jury and executioner for any and all lawbreakers.
As the tech crew moved around the house looking for clues, three of the men stood by Quincey and did nothing. “Well, aren’t you going to introduce me?” Lydia asked.
Quincey turned to each man in turn. “Allen you already know. This is Leon Turgenev. He runs the R & R concessions near the terraforming plant…”
Lydia nodded to Turgenev. Unlike the wraith-like Allen, Turgenev was tall and angular with a definite military bearing.
“... this is John Rohl,” Quincey said. “He’s the planet’s flight controller…”
Lydia remembered that Steve had mentioned something about this man owing him a favor or two. He was several inches shorter than Quincey and looked more like someone who spent most of his days behind a holoscreen.
“… this is Robert Keith. He’s the planet’s Director of Transportation...”
Lydia nodded to a broad-chested man with thick arms and legs who looked like someone who was used to hard manual labor.”
“… Dr. Mendoza you have yet to meet. He’s out with the body.”
“I want to thank you gentlemen for coming so quickly,” Lydia said.
“You said that Steve Somerset was murdered,” Ethan Allen said. “We had to get here before that kind of news got out… especially if it’s true.”
“Are you calling me a liar?” Lydia moved towards the little man who did not back up or act the slightest bit intimidated.
“That’s not what I’m saying,” Allen said.
Lydia could sense that Allen had drawn a line in the sand almost as if to say, “this is the Vigilance Committee and I don’t care who you are.”
Quincey quickly stepped between the two. “Why don’t we wait to see what Dr. Mendoza has to say?” he said. “First things first. Let’s get some light on this matter. Where is the electrical box?”
“It’s in the hall, but I’ve already tried it,” Lydia said.
Allen grunted and backed away and walked towards the Plexilum wall. A few moments later, Dr. Mendoza returned to the living room. He was immensely fat and out of breath from having had to climb the steps to and from the body.
“Murder,” he said.
“What have we got?” Allen asked.
“He’s only been dead a couple of hours. Rig hasn’t even begun to set in.” Dr. Mendoza turned to Lydia. “What time did you find the body?” he asked. She told him. “You probably got here within a couple of minutes of the killing.”
“What was he killed with?” Trugenev asked.
“A silicon shard,” Dr. Mendoza said. “About a foot and a half long. It was driven into his stomach from the front and then ripped upwards practically cutting his heart in two. It’s still in him. Unbroken.”
“A shard?” Lydia asked.
“That range of high hills to the southwest of the city is a silicon outcropping,” Quincey explained. “The wind driven red-ore makes it break off in long shards about the size of man’s arm. They are incredibly sharp and somewhat flexible. They make natural blades that are sharper and more deadly than metal ones.”
Lydia looked at him as if he were speaking a foreign language.
“The silicon is a stone. When it’s sharp edge cuts into human flesh, there is no friction as there would be with a metal like steel. It’s like a hot knife going through soft butter.”
“It also doesn’t read on a metal detector,” Turgenev said. “When I took over the R&R, the miners like to use them for personal defense. They caused me no end of Hell, but no one has used one of those in years.”
“Are you saying that a miner did this?” Lydia asked.
“It would be a good place to start looking,” Trugenev said. He turned to Dr. Mendoza. “When we get the body back to your office and remove the shard, Allen should be able to tell us what part of the ridge it came from. Quincey you stay here and see what you can dig up.”
“I didn’t know you were on the Vigilance Committee?” Lydia said turning to Quincey.
“He’s not,” Trugenev said. “But we figured there was no way we could stop him from looking into this and if he wants make Steve Somerset’s killing a vendetta, that’s fine with us. Either way, justice is served.”
Lydia turned to Quincey and stared into his eyes. He smiled and nodded. “Justice,” he said.