It was the strangest crime scene Danka had ever seen, and she’d seen more bizarre ones than should be possible on a measly space station. She’d always get the call at the last minute before her shift ended, making it impossible to get home in time for supper. According to Jela, her wife, it was important to eat supper together, but as the space station’s most experienced security investigator, Danka almost never made it home in time. This time was no different. She’d got the call 15 minutes before her shift ended.
She’d stopped right at the threshold of the tiny quarters, normally rented out for travelers staying for just a few days and needing somewhere to sleep. She knew these quarters well because they were common crime scenes, their temporary nature inviting shady dealings. This one, fortunately, had been unoccupied.
The standard set of bed, table with two chairs, and a minuscule kitchenette were burned to a crisp. She’d seen nothing so devastatingly destroyed by fire. The smell was obnoxious. Thick, acrid, and kind of sweet. Her throat felt rough, even though she hadn’t set foot inside yet. It smelled like burned plastic. Her thoughts spun round in her head, never landing, her questions unanswered. If everything was so completely burned, why did the walls look shiny new, as if they’d just been repainted? Why hadn’t the fire spread beyond the quarters? Thank goodness it hadn’t. The space station was filled with flammables. An uncontrolled fire would be devastating. This scene made no sense.
When she put her fingers on the wall, the surface was surprisingly smooth. With the thin gloves, she’d feel every roughness. The gloves’ sensor readings also made no sense. The composition of the surface didn’t match any known material on the space station. She ordered a cross-reference once again to make sure, but the result came up blank.
She turned her boots on and stepped inside. The boots gathered every tiny particle she stepped on and had sensors as well. No way was she going to contaminate a crime scene by neglecting to turn them on. Far too many security investigators just didn’t give a damn. No matter how fed-up she felt about her work, she’d never fall that low. In her opinion, experienced shouldn’t be a synonym for neglect.
Something was nagging her, and she stopped in the middle of the room right beside the heap of black debris that was all that was left of the table with the two chairs. She’d never have guessed what it was if she hadn’t known it. She held her breath for ten seconds. It was silent. Way too silent. She couldn’t hear the air conditioning. Impossible!
There was no way to turn the air conditioning off. It should be audible everywhere. She looked out into the hallway. Nobody but her had entered the tiny quarters, so both concierges stood in the doorway peering in.
“Shut the door for 10 seconds,” Danka said, “and don’t forget to open it in exactly 10 seconds.”
“But…,” the tall lanky one said.
The shorter one, with a potbelly, nodded and shut the door. Danka almost didn’t have time to hold her breath. She strained her hearing. Nothing. No whooshing air conditioning. Not a single sound. Strange.
The temporary quarters were not soundproofed. It was a source of conflict and usually led to violent altercations between neighbors. But in here, she couldn’t hear anything. A chill traveled down her spine. Danka shuddered. Somebody walked across her grave, as Grandma used to say. She didn’t like this crime scene.
This was the first scene in the short story Arson. It’s the first story in my Descansar Universe. If you want to read more, you can check out my Kickstarter featuring Arson.