Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and seventeen.
Tonight we present Joe Monk, Emperor of Space: Cold Blooded Murder, Part 1 of 1
This week’s episodes are brought to you by Shadow Publications
Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.
Tonight Joe Monk, eventual interstellar king, finds himself fishing for a murderer.
Joe Monk, Emperor of Space: Cold Blooded Murder
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
Years before his rise to the galactic throne, Joe Monk found himself responding to an unexpected summons to the edge of Crumf, a binary system with no planets. As an odd side effect of not being killed by the Spinesians during a recent sticky diplomatic situation, Monk had been given an Extrasolar Deputyship – a title he’d considered largely ceremonial till the grinding bleat of an incoming message had interrupted one of Macbeth’s repeated attempts to teach the last human proper maintenance of their ship’s engine.
Joe had been pleased with the break from his craboid teacher’s prodding claws and scrutinizing eye-stalks, at least until the viewscreen filled with the barely-fading-from-memory visage of the Spinesian Ambassador who’d appointed him.
The ensuing debate had ended when the alien informed them “whoever is the closest law,’ that is our way.” The sudden hang up that followed had prevented any further argument.
Now Monk and his scuttling companion were aboard a Spinesian whaler, staring through the thick transparent doors that held the ship’s atmosphere within the loading bay. It was the freighter’s sole window, and its only room large enough to double as a courtroom.
The First Mate had briefed him in the Captain’s quarters, a cramped closet with a folding bed and walls covered in images that Joe would have recognized as pornographic if he’d held a deeper knowledge of exotic anatomies.
“The skipper was murdered, sure enough,” the second-in-command had told him, “hard to say who it was though – Cap was the kind of fellow to make more enemies than sandwiches.”
Considering the motley crew, Joe could believe it. The ship’s AI had provided a listing of recent complaint reports – a compilation that had required several hours just to skim through – and it had simply proven that not a being on the vessel was without reason to have killed their Spenisian commander. Had it been Goarth, a mantis-like giant who’d nearly fallen unconscious while in vacuum after rushed orders had had his environmental suit’s air mix accidentally replaced with that of Mylonx, a stout carbon breather? Was it Mylonx himself, who’d nearly been sliced in half by a cutting laser when the captain had demanded an abrupt angle change before checking that the area was clear? Both lives had only been saved by warning klaxons from the mainframe’s safety systems.
Worse, there were twenty-five shipmates and each had a similar grievance. At least the work team of ten that were currently in cold space could be discounted – they’d been busy meat-mining when their leader’s skull had had an access hatch repeatedly closed on it.
Through the transparent panel, the reluctant lawman eyed the glitter of energy beams as the underpaid labourers danced across the ebony skin of the moon-sized pseudo-beluga. Soon, he knew, the bay they were occupying would be filled with the shavings of pre-cauterized gourmet flesh, and yet he was no nearer to a solution.
As if it had anticipated his thoughts, the computer informed the gathering, “fifteen minutes till re-entry, at current harvest speed. Operations proceed at optimal levels.”
Macbeth, who seemed to have no interest in the fishing expedition beyond, leaned close and said, “I think it was your friend, the next in line to take the helm. Promotion is as likely a motive as the rest.”
Joe nodded, but he wasn’t sure he agreed – even if he did, how could they prove it?
“Wait,” he said loudly enough to startle the assembled workers on their makeshift crate-chairs. Using the same voice, he asked, “What are your main job priorities, computer?”
There was no answer.
“Call him Ishmael,” suggested the First Mate.
“Ah – Ishmael, what are your main job priorities?” repeated Monk.
“Ship navigation, the safety of the crew, and the collection and delivery of the galaxy’s finest whale cutlets.”
“Yeah,” continued Joe, “on that middle item: How’s your accident record?”
There was a pause before the machine responded, “There has been one casualty this expedition, bringing the total to five in our last trio of outings.”
“Would it be fair to say that your dead skipper was responsible for the first four?”
There was a second silence, then a flat “yes.”
“Okay, and would it also be fair to say that your dead skipper was the greatest threat here?”
The system’s hardwired logic couldn’t avoid providing an answer. “Yes.”
“Ishmael, did you repeatedly attempt to close the hatch to access port five when you knew it was obstructed by the captain’s skull?”
Macbeth’s claws gave three quick snaps and Monk knew his mentor was impressed – for his own part, however, the human simply wanted to return to the comfort of his considerably less talkative ship.
Monk’s discovery of the murderous mechanism – which would go on to be labelled a system bug – would later be lauded as theoretically saving millions. Dour faced statisticians, however, would often be quick to point out that he may have also theoretically killed billions more.
Whatever the case, it was yet another step completed in Joe’s rise to power, and the beginning of his renown as a lawman.
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