Nothing Ever Happens on Edelweiss
Up until yesterday, Lenni had what you’d call a “nine-to-five” job. In Earth’s terms, at least. Time on Edelweiss worked rather differently, and most inhabitants of the space station were not human, so “nine-to-five” wouldn’t have made much sense there. Anyway, it was a quiet, even boring position at the Bureau of Interplanetary Law Enforcement. BILE, as it was affectionately referred to, investigated celestial crime, and Lenni was the head and the only member of its Criminal Investigations Office on Edelweiss.
Edelweiss was a small research space station orbiting Janssen, a rather famous planet in the Cancer constellation. Back when Janssen (more commonly known as 55 Cancri e) was first discovered, the media dubbed it the “diamond planet”. Had the planet indeed been made of solid carbon, it would have been worth more than a quintillion Earth economies. The diamond theory soon went out of fashion thanks to a sceptical scientist at the University of Arizona, but was never completely forgotten. 800 years later, the Milky Way Federation launched Edelweiss, an interplanetary research mission tasked with exploring the planet’s composition. Unsurprisingly, it was the promise of wealth that the Federation was after. What it would do with all that money was a highly speculated question. The running joke suggested blowing up the Andromeda galaxy to avoid the impending collision with the Milky Way.
At any time, Edelweiss would house around 450 scientists and support personnel. As a general rule, scientist were a boring bunch, human or alien. The only topic they were truly interested in was their own research, usually something highly technical and indistinguishable from gibberish (“What’s your take on using the 6300 Å line for estimating oxygen abundances in cool metal-rich exoplanet hosts?”). And sometimes current affairs, which was even worse, as these were the affairs of far-off planets and species that Lenni had never heard of nor cared about. The last time he started a conversation in the station’s only bar with a scientist from Ross 128, Lenni had to pretend he’d passed out from too much rhabub three hours later, not a very respectable thing for a law enforcement officer to do. The scientist had had a literal hold of Lenni, masterfully deflecting all attempts to thank them for the conversation and leave.
Every space station with a population of 300 and above had to have a criminal investigator. That was clearly stated in the BILE Articles. So Edelweiss had Lenni. Lenni wasn’t convinced this was a good use of BILE’s money, as nothing ever happened on Edelweiss. Sure, every few weeks there’d be a fight in the bar: someone would drink too much, say something insulting, get hit. From Lenni’s experience, the insult would almost never be meant as such. His very first case concerned just such a brawl. A scientist from Luyten b observed that rhabub tasted a bit like akvavit, a curious ingestible they once tried on Earth. Unfortunately, their drinking buddy was a docking operator from TRAPPIST-1 where “aqua” was a contemptuous term used to describe anyone coming from the Aquarius constellation. Confused, taken aback, and a bit drunk, the docking operator slapped the scientist in the face with their tail fin. Alas, the scientist appeared to have quick impulses and a strong jaw. When Lenni finally arrived at the bar, the scientist was still clasping the unlucky tail in their teeth, and the operator was wailing in a loud, raspy voice.
Another “major” case Lenni had handled was investigating the theft of the master key to the station’s docks. Zwimbo, the superintendent of the docks, insisted that the key had been stolen rather than, say, misplaced after a night out (everyone knew Zwimbo had a soft spot for rhabub). Lenni would have liked to ignore Zwimbo and their lost key, but the docks master was very big, very loud, and very obnoxious. So Lenni opened a new case, spent a week playing Mahjong, then regretfully informed the alleged victim that after a thorough investigation the case was to be closed due to lack of evidence. In other words, nothing ever happened on Edelweiss.
But that changed yesterday. Lenni received a high-priority summon from Constable eKá at 27:07 55 Cancri e Time. The investigator had just fallen asleep when an alarm sounded in his ear. Panicked, he tried jumping out of his sleeping pod, only to hit the pod’s lid with his head. Sleeping pods were an amazing invention that gave their user complete control over temperature, lighting, smells, sounds, and visuals (Lenni’s current favourite was a theme called “At the Chocolate Factory”). They also had to be opened before attempting to exit them. Lenni was of course aware of that. It’s just that… He had never received a high-priority summon before. Dizzy, he slumped back, took a deep breath, acknowledged the summon, and opened the pod’s lid.
While Lenni had never been urgently summoned before, it was his job to always be ready for the unexpected. He pulled on a blue investigator’s jumpsuit (Lenni was not required to wear a uniform at work, but he had been issued a onesie he knew would come in handy one day), grabbed his toolkit, and was out the door in what clearly had to be a record time. His scooter was waiting for him outside, and started moving the second he fastened his seat belt. According to the map he had just pulled up, he was going to the station’s docks, and would arrive there at 27:19 55CeT.
Constable eKá was waiting for Lenni at the entrance to the docks. Next to him (at least Lenni had always thought of eKá as a “him”) stood a grumpy-looking toad-like creature in a night gown.
“Zwimbo,” grunted Lenni, disembarking from his scooter. Zwimbo’s face was radiating dislike.
Constable eKá almost ran to Lenni, grabbed his arm, and dragged him to the gate. Zwimbo opened the gate, let the two officers in, barked something, and disappeared in the dock master’s cabin.
The docks were very small, even for a station the size of Edelweiss. In fact, saying Edelweiss had docks was probably a bit of an overstatement. It had exactly one porthole that was used for loading and unloading both passengers and cargo. The loading area was separated from the rest of the station by a concave glass wall, with entry and exit controlled by the docks master.
Constable eKá had still not said a single word to Lenni.
“Alright eKá, calm down now. What’s happening?” asked Lenni, trying — and failing — to wriggle out of eKá’s four-armed grip.
Constable eKá was Lenni’s best friend. Sure, Lenni was a human and eKá was a mere aqua. Other humans might have frowned upon their relationship, but there were few humans on the station, and none (including its captain) had shown any interest in Lenni. And anyway, Lenni and eKá shared quite a few interests: they both engaged in amateur astrology, were fans of jetpack races, and loved cooking. When they first met, Lenni was very suspicious of eKá’s skills in the kitchen. His methods where unorthodox, and his ingredient choices eccentric. Yet it only took Lenni one taste of eKá’s hawt eyeball stew to realise that Earth’s culinary output was bland and hopelessly out of date.
eKá suddenly stopped. Confused, Lenni looked around. The only thing out of the ordinary was a paper napkin lying on the floor. eKá bent down and gently pushed it aside.
Lenni dropped to his knees. The docks were dark, but he had had the good sense to pack a flashlight. Excited about finally, finally being able to use his tools, Lenni carefully opened his investigator’s kit, found a flashlight, a pair of investigative gloves, and a portable inquirer (a digital device with hundreds of useful functions, such as magnification, photography, particle analysis, DNA sampling, and even facial recognition).
With the flashlight on, Lenni looked at the spot again. Indeed, something was there. A drop of rhabub? A piece of squished avocado? Green paint? Lenni stood up.
“What is this, Constable eKá? What am I looking at? And why am I looking at it?”
eKá shifted his weight uneasily and curled his tentacles. eKá was Lenni’s best friend on the station, but truth to be told, that was mostly because the rest of its inhabitants were either mortally boring or terribly proud. eKá, on the other hand, didn’t speak much, was a very good listener, and openly admired Lenni’s intelligence. Lenni thought eKá was a bit slow, and sometimes found him annoying, but what can you do — he was, after all, an alien from TRAPPIST-1d, and anyway it wasn’t his fault.
Lenni’s head was beginning to hurt, he wanted to pee, and his sleeping pod was waiting for him. eKá didn’t reply.
“eKá!” snapped Lenni, maybe a bit louder than intended.
eKá jumped, flexed his tentacles again and said, in his slow, deep voice:
“Murder. This is ḥayya of Wolf 1061c. ḥayya is dead. ḥayya is a maintenance worker.”
“This apple puree is why you woke me up?” he demanded. “Surely, you must be joking.”
Uncomprehending grey eyes stared at Lenni for a second, unsure how to react. Finally, eKá said:
“A murder is an unlawful killing of an intelligent being.”
“eKá, are you citing the Interplanetary Criminal Codex to me? I’ve read it, you know.”
“Then murder,” concluded eKá.
This was ridiculous. A worm got trampled in the docks, and now Lenni had to deal with it. It’s a wolfie, for God’s sake, they are bound to get stepped upon! And what was that wolfie doing in the docks anyway? Clearly looking for trouble… Lenni sighed.
“Look, eKá, I understand you think some wolfie — ”
“ḥayya of Wolf 1061c!” interrupted eKá heatedly.
“Alright, alright, just calm down. I understand you think that ḥayya of Wolf 1061c was murdered. But just think for a moment — it’s clearly their own fault, and even if I do find out who did this, the perpetrator will say they were doing their job at the docks, or disembarking from a spaceship, or, you know, just taking a walk. And yes, I might be able to prove they squished ḥayya. But that’s it, it was an accident, why go and ruin somebody’s day now?”
eKá was visibly upset now, his shade turning from light pink to dark purple.
“I will tell everyone you are a bad crime investigator!” exploded the constable, flapping his tentacles erratically. “ḥayya of Wolf 1061c was kind and brave! They were murdered because they found out that Andromeda has a spy on Edelweiss!”
“They did what?” gasped Lenni, taken aback. “That changes everything, why didn’t you say so right away, eKá?”
Lenni got to work immediately. He carefully placed yellow evidence markers on the floor, number one next to the squished mass, and number two next to the napkin. He used the inquisitor to take photos of the evidence and the surroundings. By the time Lenni gets to the office, the inquisitor will have produced a lovely three-dimensional model of the crime scene, allowing Lenni to do his work from the comfort of his chair.
He also asked eKá to go to the docks master and get the port’s entry and exit records for the past three days. ḥayya of Wolf 1061c had probably only been dead a few hours, but you never know where you’ll find the next lead. No, better too much information than too little.
Lenni fiddled with the inquisitor, finally finding the right setting. What he wanted was another set of pictures, this time using the ultraviolet light. Lenni knew very well that being human was a serious drawback in crime investigation: our senses are rather primitive, so we must always use all tools at our disposal to discover evidence that would be immediately obvious to most alien species.
That sensory inferiority was why Lenni had not done great at school. By the time he had finished scanning for evidence using the inquisitor’s hundreds of functions, everyone else would have solved the case already and gone for lunch. That’s also why he was working on Edelweiss: no serious crime investigation unit wanted a human, so he ended up in a backwater of the universe. At first, Lenni resented his situation. But he now had a more philosophical outlook on life. He was well paid, he was comfortable at work, and he could spend most of his time on astrology and jetpack racing. And there was still a good chance that Janssen was indeed made of diamond. If so, sooner or later his fortunes would be made.
Presently, however, Lenni was worried that he wouldn’t find anything useful in the ultraviolet photos. After all, this was a dock, and beings and things passed this exact spot hundreds of times every day. What was the chance of discerning the murderer’s trail from all those other trails that had every reason to be here? And yet something caught his eye. The shape that Lenni saw in the photo looked very much like a boot print. The killer’s boot print? He was getting somewhere!
After documenting the crime scene, Lenni leaned closer to the… corpse. It was weird to be calling that mass a corpse, but it technically was, so here you go. The corpse was tiny, the size of his fingernail, and formless. Lenni knew it had had a form before its untimely demise, but he could not have guessed what it had been. Using the inquisitor’s magnification function, Lenni explored the mass. It was very green and probably rather sticky. In other words, it was very likely that the murderer still had particles of ḥayya attached to them.
Excited, Lenni set up the inquisitor to search for the stray articles that were once ḥayya of Wolf 1061c. He remembered reading about how humans had used sniffer dogs in the past, and wondered for a second how one could prevent a dog from licking the evidence. His thoughts were interrupted by eKá.
“Oh, here you are.” said Lenni, having completely forgotten the constable. “What took you so long?”
“Zwimbo didn’t want to help,” replied eKá curtly.
“I hope you managed to get what I asked for,” said Lenni. Entry and exit records would be central to his case.
“Yes, a copy of the records has been sent to your office.”
“Nicely done!” beamed Lenni and patted eKá on the head. “Now, there’s nothing more you can do here. I will be wrapping up soon myself. Go get some sleep.”
eKá visibly relaxed — Lenni knew the docks master was an ass. Maybe he could pin ḥayya’s murder on Zwimbo… Lenni giggled to himself.
“I am sorry I shouted earlier. You are a very good investigator, Lenni,” said eKá.
“Forget it, pal,” smiled Lenni, “and thanks for summoning me. By the way, how did you find the body?”
Lenni turned on the video recorder that was integrated into his cornea. Civilians could sport similar mods, but theirs had to beep and blink when in use. Law enforcement could shoot covertly. Anyway, all cases must have recorded statements from material witnesses. Lenni would ask eKá more questions tomorrow, but there was no point in him repeating the story if Lenni could document it now.
“I… I… I was to meet ḥayya of Wolf 1061c in the docks tonight.”
It didn’t seem like eKá was planning to continue.
“And…” prompted Lenni.
“And… and so I went there and of course couldn’t find them and then noticed the napkin and… and… and I picked it up and it was ḥayya!”
eKá was hyperventilating, black tears streaming down his large, kind face.
“It’s alright, eKá, it’s alright. Breathe now… Good boy.”
Lenni waited for eKá to calm down. The constable continued to sob, but now softly, under his breath.
“Why were you meeting ḥayya of Wolf 1061c? And why here, at the docks? You know ḥayya would need a permit to enter.”
“ḥayya thought they were in danger. They sent me a message earlier today. They were hiding from somebody. They wanted me to help them.”
His voice quivered again, but he continued:
“They wanted to show me something. They thought they could enter the docks unnoticed. And I could use my constable’s badge to request entry.”
“Do you know what ḥayya of Wolf 1061c was going to show you?”
“They wanted to give me proof of Andromeda spying on Edelweiss. I think they also knew who the spy is.” said eKá. “I don’t know what I would have done with that knowledge anyway.”
He broke down again.
“And did you see the proof?” asked Lenni.
eKá shook his head.
“But you believe ḥayya of Wolf 1061c was telling the truth.”
“Who else knows about this?”
“Thank you, eKá. And I am sorry I upset you. Go get some sleep now.”
Lenni looked on as eKá walked slowly towards the gate, each step heavy and miserable. ḥayya of Wolf 1061c got to know something they were not supposed to know. So they got squished. And who cares, really. Well, eKá cared, and now Lenni was involved as well. eKá would have told somebody else had Lenni refused to investigate. But now that the case was open, Lenni was not sure if he wanted to be looking for answers. Because, wolfie or not, somebody just committed a murder to keep a secret.
“Investigator Liu,” said a calm, quiet voice behind Lenni.
Lenni wheeled around and found himself nose-to-nose with Abarran Amin, the captain of the station. Amin was human alright, but he had never even stepped on Earth. Born in the Hydra constellation, he was as good as alien to Lenni. A couple of paces behind the captain, a soldier stood waiting. Captain’s personal security detail.
“Captain Amin!” blurted out Lenni, feeling an ice cube sink down his stomach. He couldn’t explain why, but he was petrified. He hadn’t done anything wrong, so why did he feel so guilty?
“I was talking a walk and noticed a lonely light in the docks. It’s unusual for anyone to be in the docks at this time of day.”
He noticed Lenni’s puzzled look and explained:
“I don’t sleep much. But I love walks. Walking helps me reflect on this day and plan the next one. Edelweiss is small, so I unavoidably visit every corner of the station every evening. I know when the last worker leaves the docks, when Zwimbo takes their evening tea, when Constable eKá goes to bed…”
Something beeped, waking Lenni from his daze. At the captain’s feet, the inquisitor stood blinking. Understanding came slowly and in waves. ḥayya of Wolf 1061c said there was an Andromedan spy on Edelweiss… ḥayya of Wolf 1061c was about to tell eKá who the spy was... ḥayya of Wolf 1061c was murdered… Captain Amin’s boot murdered ḥayya of Wolf 1061c.
No, no, no. There had to be another explanation. Captain Amin was talking a walk, just like he said. He noticed a light in the docks and came to investigate. Captain Amin didn’t know this was a murder scene, and somewhere along the way stepped into the remains of ḥayya of Wolf 1061c. Yes, that must be it.
Lenni lifted his eyes from Captain Amin’s boots. Amin’s facial expression was unreadable.
“Captain…” started Lenni. “There’s been a murder…”
He was at a loss at how to proceed.
But of course, he’d learned it all at school! He turned on the recorder again and asked:
“Captain Amin, could you please explain why your right boot has traces of the diseased?”
Here, that felt good. He will get to the bottom of this, that’s what law enforcement was for.
A split second ago, the soldier was standing behind the captain. Now, they were towering over Lenni, who was already on the floor, having received a serious blow to his solar plexus. Stars appeared in his vision, and for a few long seconds, Lenni couldn’t breathe. The soldier inserted a cable into the back of Lenni’s head. Extracting the recordings, thought Lenni. He was sure that if there had been such a thing as a memory wiper, they would have used it on him right about now.
Without moving, Lenni tried accessing his communications equipment. Should he call for help? Warn eKá? All good ideas, but of course he was cut off from the network. What was he expecting.
Once the soldier was done fiddling with his head, Lenni looked up. His stomach hurt badly, and he was pretty sure he was about to throw up, but at least he could breathe.
“Pay attention now, Lenni. Here is what’s going to happen: you will complete your investigation, and you will bring the perpetrator to justice. There is no place for criminals on Edelweiss, and we will deal with the murderer according to the rules of the Interplanetary Criminal Codex. You have always been a reliable crime investigator, don’t disappoint me now.”
And Captain Amin walked away, leaving Lenni on the cold, sticky floor.
Lenni had a strong case. There was a docks entry record, DNA on the napkin, boot prints by the body, and even a recording of the murderer placing himself at the crime scene at around the time of the victim’s death. The only part that was giving him a hard time was the motive.
Why would eKá want to kill ḥayya of Wolf 1061c? The claim that Andromeda had a spy on the station was unsubstantiated, and Lenni was determined to erase any mention of it.
After hours of deliberation and hundreds of ideas, Lenni was down to two options.
He liked Option A, but it was clear that eKá was not bright enough to pull off such an elaborate scheme. So Option B it was. And when you think about it, it was brilliant. eKá, a kind, respectable if a bit slow constable of Edelweiss falls in love with ḥayya of Wolf 1061c, a hard worker and a newcomer to the station. Romance flourishes quickly, but then eKá learns that ḥayya of Wolf 1061c does not believe in monogamy (wolfies indeed didn’t, Lenni did his research), and eKá kills them out of blind rage.
The story had a few holes (for example, Lenni could not come up with a good explanation why the couple decided to meet in the docks), but he counted on the station’s general population focusing on a far more incendiary issue. Interplanetary relationships were frowned upon, but this — this was something else. An interspecies affair!
The local media took the bait. The entire first page of the 55 Cnc e Weekly was devoted to the love that was not meant to be. Humans on Edelweiss joked about Romeo and Juliet going terribly wrong, and aquas were enraged. Wolfies ended up being abused so badly by other species that Captain Amin decided to cut the Wolf 1061c mission short amid fears of station-wide unrest. And Lenni was interviewed by the national TRAPPIST-1d news service.
EKá was pushed out to space a day after the investigation was complete. Lenni observed the execution. eKá sobbed quietly, but never said a word. Never looked at Lenni. And then he was no more.
With the case closed, Lenni’s job became “nine-to-five” again. A new constable arrived a week after eKá’s execution. And Lenni could again say that nothing ever happened on Edelweiss.