A Study in Scarlet
Lesley L. Smith
I was dying of boredom when I smelled it: blood. Fresh. Hot. Healthy. Human. Mouth-watering, delectable blood. Immediately, my fangs got ready for action. Down, boys. Sadly, even in the twenty-second century, vamps were not accepted in polite society. And I was sick of the bland synthesized blood I'd created.
"Your move, Mr. Doyle," Mr. Stamford said.
He and I were playing chess in the plush lounge for the umpteenth time. Can you blame me for being bored? Even the overstuffed chairs and thick carpeting were getting on my nerves.
Then, the alarm klaxons rang and the artificial gravity went off. The chess pieces floated up into the air.
"Oh, no," I said, clutching the armrests of my chair. "It looks as if the game is over, and I was so enjoying it."
He narrowed his eyes at me. "I know you have an eidetic memory, Mr. Doyle. The game doesn't have to be over."
I let go of the armrests and pushed myself up gently. "Oh, my." I pretended to be in distress as I floated away. "Goodness me." I made a big, but ineffectual, show of scrabbling for the chair.
The purser, Ensign Lester, had activated his magnetic boots and clomped over to us. "Are you gentlemen all right? Do you require assistance?"
"Oh, no." I covered my mouth as if I were about to vomit. "I, uh, think I need to go strap into my bunk immediately." I needed to go find blood. It was too delicious to resist.
Lester frowned. "All right, if you must. Do you need help to your quarters?"
"No, thank you. I, uh, think I can make it." I made a big show of grabbing one thing after another and holding onto it as I made my way to the door.
Behind me, I heard him mutter, "Damn planet-huggers." But he turned his attention back to the other damn planet-huggers in the lounge.
As soon as I made my way into the hallway and the door closed behind me, I deduced the coast was clear. No one could behold me, so I pushed off and swam in search of it: the scarlet sustenance, the elixir of my so-called life.
I didn't look it, but decades of space-travel had made me an expert in getting around in zero-g. I looked much younger than my true age.
I followed the scintillating scent all the way to Engineering. In Engineering there were even more annoying klaxons and alarm bells, and I observed an inordinate number of red lights.
The blood bouquet was strong here, but I couldn't quite detect the source.
One of the pressure doors had closed. I peered into the section via the tiny window. What had been the Chief of Security, Drebber, floated around, pumping out blood like a geyser from a massive chest wound.
It had been a long time since I'd had hot fresh human blood. This was a dream come true, but did I dare imbibe? I studied the immediate vicinity. No one was around. I didn't see any security cameras either. I cautiously opened the door and breathed in deeply. Ahhh.
Then, I couldn't help myself; I stepped into the room, closing the door behind me. I was mesmerized. It was beautiful. It was delicious. It was dinner.
I jumped into the air opening my mouth, and captured a perfect round scarlet bead. "Ahhh." I may have climaxed.
I continued to zoom around the room, scooping the streams and balls of blood into my mouth. Zoom, scoop, chomp. Zoom, scoop, chomp. It was nirvana. I continued in that delightful manner for some time.
"What is the meaning of this?" Captain Pyke's feminine voice thundered throughout the small space.
I froze. This could get awkward. "Ah, Captain. How do you do? I don't think we've formally met, yet. I am Mr. Doyle. It's nice to meet you."
"What the hell did you do to Drebber?"
"Me?" My eyebrows rose up my forehead. "I didn't do anything to him. I was trying to help the poor fellow. Yes, that's it. I was attempting to administer first aid."
A security officer next to her said, "Yeah, right, he's covered in blood."
"An unfortunate side-effect," I said.
"He must have killed him," the officer said.
"Gregson, take him into custody," Captain Pyke said.
I managed to bow--not easy in zero-g. "As you wish, Captain. I'm happy to help in any manner I can."
Gregson restrained my hands with plastic ties (as if they would hold) and started leading me away.
"If I'm the killer," I asked, "what happened to the murder weapon?"
Quite some time later, after the gravity had been restored, Captain Pyke came to visit me in the brig. "Well, Officer Lester says you were in the lounge at the time of the murder, so I guess you're off the hook." She frowned and stared at the floor.
She seemed to be mourning the man. "I'm sorry for your loss, Ma'am."
"Yes, he was a very good man," she said. "And an excellent security officer. He'll be missed."
"Is there anything I can do..."
"No, not unless you can bring him back from the dead--"
I scrutinized her face. Did she know what I was?
"Or solve the damn murder," she added. "Gregson, let him out." She pointed at the cell.
Gregson let me out.
He still smelled of Drebber's blood, as did the Captain, and me, for that matter.
And in all likelihood the murderer. But that wasn't my problem. I hadn't lived for almost two hundred years by sticking my neck out.
I nodded to the Captain as I departed. "Ma'am."
She half-heartedly nodded back.
Gregson scowled. He must still suspect me.
After I'd removed all traces of scarlet from my person and garments, I made my way back to the lounge. But I hesitated in the doorway. Could I really stand yet another game of chess? Could I endure another interminable conversation with Stamford?
Stamford saw me standing there and stood up and waved. "Ah, Mr. Doyle. Join me."
Suppressing a sigh, I did so.
I was purportedly playing chess, but truly recalling my lovely floating feast, when I got a whiff of blood--Drebber's blood to be precise. I could identify blood better than a bloodhound.
My head whipped up towards the smell. Captain Pyke stood in the doorway with another officer. It was this unknown officer from whom the odor originated.
I stood and walked towards them.
"But, Doyle, where are you going?" Stamford called after me. "It's your move."
"Captain Pyke," I said, approaching them. "It's lovely to see you again." I examined the mystery man. Yes, there on his sleeve, was a small spot of blood.
"Mr. Doyle," the Captain said. "Do you know Officer Hope?"
"Doyle," Hope said, holding out his hand for a shake.
"I do not shake hands with murderers," I said.
"What?" Captain Pyke asked.
Hope froze like he couldn't believe what was happening.
"Officer Hope has blood on his sleeve." I pointed.
"That's crazy," he finally said.
But Captain Pyke's head was bent over Hope's sleeve. "He's right. That's blood."
Hope's whole body tensed.
"Officer Lester," the Captain said, "restrain Hope."
"Yes, ma'am." Lester enthusiastically obeyed his order.
Hope didn't even put up a fight. Of course, in deep space, where could he go?
"Thank you for your assistance, Mr. Doyle," the Captain said. "I don't suppose you'd be interested in helping security some more? You seem to have a real flair for it."
The only flair I had was for blood, but apparently that could be helpful in some circumstances.
"Yoo hoo!" Stamford yelled to me. "It's your move, Mr. Doyle."
"Your friend seems to be calling you," she said. "Do you need to go?"
The thought of sitting here in the lounge day in and day out for the rest of the journey was not appealing.
"Mr. Doyle?" she asked. "What do you say? Can I count on you? What if we have another murder?" That seemed rather pessimistic. "Please?"
I thought back to that lovely study in scarlet, ribbons of red flowing through the air as if they were alive.
Plus, first crack at all the fresh corpses would be a very nice perk. Very nice. It would definitely counteract the ennui. "Who can resist a lady in distress? Not I."
I smiled. "We have a deal, Captain."