Clue and the Shrine of the Widowed Bride (Wendie Nordgren)
Yellow light filled the small cabin and then disappeared to be replaced with a soft red light that quickly vanished leaving the compartment in darkness until the next holoboard’s big display came into view. I stared vacantly out of the smudged window counting the signs that provided the only illumination in the inky night. The creaking of the train car on the elevated rails had frightened me the first time I had ridden on them. Now, none of it seemed to matter.
Before she had died, my mother had given to me her meager savings and made me promise to leave the Eris Space Station. I could still see her tired, haunted eyes as she looked up at me from atop the crisp white infirmary sheets. The dark bags under her eyes and her hollow cheeks were much more evident now that her face was clean of all of her make-up. Momma’s dry cracked lips had begun to bleed as she said, “Clue, listen to me. You have to promise. You know I did my best by you, but I don’t want you living the same life I did. I want you to get passage on a freighter and head to one of the Earth settlements on Cassini. It doesn’t matter where. Go to school. Make something of yourself.”
Her hands were cold on mine, and I could feel her bones through her thin soft skin. Momma had named me Clue because she had no idea which of the strangers passing through the space station had been my father. She didn’t know which of them had given her the wasting sickness either. “I promise, Momma.”
She had smiled at me. I had been looking into her dark brown, glassy eyes as she had gone. I hadn’t needed the beeping of the machines to tell me that.
A week later, I boarded a ship with a backpack full of my things, a sealed silver canister full of powder that was all that was left of Momma, and the credits I had left over after paying my fare. I had taken the cheapest berth available on that freighter. Getting away from Eris Space Station and to Cassini while spending the least I could seemed more important than my comfort. At least I had kept part of my promise.
Enrolling in classes as soon as I had arrived on Cassini had been my main goal. After being accepted into the small college in Hyperion, I had found a cheap apartment near campus and had thrown myself into my studies. Being an investigator for the Protect and Serve Forces had been my dream for as long as I could remember. The inhabitants of Eris Space Station had teased me mercilessly about my name while growing up. Whenever something was lost, Clue had been given the task of finding it. Enjoying the attention, I had played along.
Unfortunately, Momma’s credits had run out. My grades were good, but not high enough for me to be awarded a scholarship. There was no way for me to attend classes for the next year. My earnings from my part-time job at the food market were enough to cover my food and rent, but that was all.
So, I stared out of the window at the blackness of the night that was lit by holoboard ads rather than stars. I continued to sit in silence after the train had stopped. Then, forcing myself up from the lumpy old seat, I trudged off of the train.
My building was as quiet and dark as usual at this time of the night. Only a few of us remained after classes had ended for the year. Hyperion would be an empty town for the next three months. I slid my key stick into the door, waited until I heard the magnetic locks release, and then pushed the door open. My bed and study materials were right where I had left them. Closing and locking my door, I kicked off my shoes, sat on my bed, and stared into the tiny kitchen listening to the steady drip of the sink.
Before I could fall into the depths of despair and hopelessness, the scratched surface of the apartment’s five-by-seven-inch wall-mounted communications device began to blink with a yellow light. Scooting off of my bed, I took a few steps over to the wall and pushed the answer button.
“Miss Forester?” an older man with grey hair and a slightly wrinkled suit asked.
“Yes, I’m Clue Forester.”
“I am Mr. Nixon, your uncle’s executor.”
“My uncle?” At my puzzled expression, Mr. Nixon continued.
With a sympathetic expression, Mr. Nixon explained. “I regret to inform you that Mr. Taylor has passed away.” From my obvious complete lack of recognition of the name or who Mr. Taylor had been, Mr. Nixon continued. “Mr. Taylor was better known as Winks to his friends.”
Finally, my eyes widened in comprehension. “Winks,” I said.
Winks had been one of Momma’s regulars and had brought me a new toy every time he had visited the station. I had brought Daisy with me in my pack from Eris Station. Winks had given the doll to me. She had blonde hair and a white dress with little flowers on it. Momma had told me that the flowers on my doll’s dress were daisies, hence the name. Winks had gotten his name from his reputation. If a person had something valuable and winked his or her eyes closed for a second when he was around, it would be gone.
“I remember Winks.”
Mr. Nixon gave me another sympathetic nob of his head showing me a glimpse of his bald spot. “Mr. Taylor owned an apartment in Scorpius which, as his only living relative, he has left to you.”
Excitement coursed through me. “Owned it? Do you mean that I could live there for free?”
Mr. Nixon spread his hands wide as he said, “Yes, should you wish to do so. However, the apartment in question is located in Scorpius, a city seldom frequented by the Protect and Serves.”
“I understand. What’s the location?”
“888 Honjo Street is the address. Previously, Mr. Taylor had set the apartment’s entrance scanner to accept your genetic code.”
Suddenly angry, I asked, “How the hell did he get that?”
Mr. Nixon laughed. “Mr. Taylor knew you would ask. He instructed me to tell you that he procured your genetic sample when he gave you the glass whatever that means.”
The glass was a gift that Winks had given to me at least five years ago. Winks had bent down and messed up the top of my hair as he had placed the long thin box in my hands. I had flinched when one of his rings had caught and yanked out a strand or two of my hair. “Sorry about that, Clue. This here is a spyglass,” he had said as I had opened the gift as he smoothed my hair back down. “Use this glass to scan your surroundings so the PS’s don’t grab you. Don’t you ever trust the PS’s, girl.”
Then, he had slapped Momma on the butt and disappeared with her into her room. I still had the spyglass. However, the memory made me realize that Winks hadn’t been my uncle. I frowned at the knowledge.
“Again, Miss Forester, I am terribly sorry for your loss. Good evening to you.” Then, Mr. Nixon was gone.
That night as I held Daisy in my arms and tried to fall asleep, my curiosity kept me wide awake. In frustration, I threw off my blanket and got up. I turned on the light and packed everything I owned into my backpack. Then, I got dressed, closed the door, and made my way to the train. I slept on the way to Scorpius.
Several hours later in the pre-dawn hour, I arrived near the city. Once I made it to street level, I checked a map. Honjo Street was a few miles away. I hefted my pack and started walking. A few transport drivers were parked along the street, but I had no intentions of spending my carefully budgeted food credits on a ride. Walking at a brisk pace, I jumped when I heard a loud whistle. I turned my head scanning the tall dark buildings and alleys around me. A cat screeched in the distance. Across the street and facing me, I saw someone lift an arm from his or her seat on a motorcycle. Then, the person rode toward me. Turning around and pulling to a stop a few feet away from me, the rider pulled off his helmet. He had shiny black hair, brown eyes, and an innocent expression. I didn’t believe the innocent look any more than I now believed that Winks had been my uncle.
“You need a ride?”
“Yes, but I need to eat more, so I’m saving my credits.”
He grinned at me. “Where to? I’ll give you a good deal.”
Looking at him skeptically, I said, “Honjo Street.”
He snorted. “Get on. I’m going that way. I’m done for the night and live a few blocks from there.” When I hesitated, he said, “No charge.” He unfastened a helmet and handed it to me. I smiled and put it on.
“Thanks. Um, what do I do?” I asked as I looked at the black bike.
“Have you ever ridden on a cycle?”
“Just sit behind me and put your arms around my stomach.”
Throwing my right leg over the seat while bouncing up on my left foot, I managed to do as instructed. The black helmet wobbled around on my head as I snapped the chin strap into place. Then, I put my arms around his black leather jacket. He revved the engine, and the bike darted forward causing me in my fright to clutch the man even tighter. The road was a blur to either side of us. I closed my eyes and rested the front of my helmet between his shoulder blades. My legs began to tingle from the vibrations of the bike which turned into more of an itch as he slowed and rolled us to a stop in front of a grey concrete two story house.
“888 Honjo Street,” he said.
“Is this an apartment building?” I asked as I removed the helmet.
“It was until the owner remodeled.”
“Hey, thanks for the ride. What’s your name anyway? I’m Clue.”
He lifted his chin in some kind of reverse nod and said, “Cosmo Lenox at your service.” I handed Cosmo back his helmet, and he sped away down the dark street.
In Scorpius, no holoboards flashed in the early morning sky. However, all along the street, lighted signs chased shadows from the doorways of various businesses. 888 Honjo was austere and unadorned. Stepping toward the inset door which would provide shelter from either inclement weather or prying eyes, I lifted my hand to the scanner pad that was embedded in the grey metal door. I jumped at what sounded like at least twelve lock bars sliding inside of the door as it released and opened.
“Hello?” I called out as I stepped inside and closed the door behind me. I heard the bars sliding back into place.
In the dim illumination of the entranceway, I made out a small black button that was set into the grey concrete wall. Pushing it, light filled the entire space from at least twenty feet above where fixtures had been placed at regular intervals along the rafters of the wood beamed ceiling. My “hello” echoed back to me.
The loft space was huge. The grey concrete walls went straight back. I walked forward a few feet. To the left, the space opened up even more to a kitchen. I went to the white sink and turned on the water washing the train ride from my hands. I took a white hand towel from a stack on a wooden shelf under the concrete counter. Above the counter, more wooden shelves held sets of plain white dishes. To the left of the sink was a grey cold storage unit which I opened and found empty.
A doorway in the wall beside the cold storage led into a laundry and storage room. One of the room’s walls created the short hallway leading from the front door. There wasn’t any food in the pantry either. I went to the sink and drank from the faucet before continuing to explore my new home.
Opposite the kitchen was a small round table with four chairs that appeared to be made of the same kind of wood as the kitchen shelves and the floors. When I walked past the kitchen, I found a small restroom shared its side wall and made immediate use of it.
The far wall of the cavernous space hosted a large fireplace constructed of red bricks. In the far back right corner was a curving staircase of the same polished wood as the floors. Its side was enclosed in plasti-glass for safety. A single long white couch was in front of the fireplace. There were no windows, pictures, decorations, or personal touches of any kind.
Cautiously, I went up the stairs. The same wood flooring continued on the second floor. The first room was an empty bedroom complete with a bathroom and closet. The bathroom was a combination of white and plasti-glass. The second door led me into a bedroom that was almost as large as the living room below. Centered against the back wall was a large simple bed with white sheets, blankets, and pillows. A wooden bedside table was to either side of it. The interesting design aspect of the room was the angled wall stretching out from the entrance directly to my right. I walked along the angled wall to the doorway and found a triangular room containing a large, deep, oval soaking tub set at an angle in the corner in front of a wooden corner case that was full of towels. Against the angled wall was a sink and a waste unit. Climbing into the tub, I could just see over its edge.
“Indoor pool. Cool.”
In the bedroom, there was a large walk-in closet with a wall safe. I pulled my pack off of my back and put my clothes on the shelves. I carried Daisy to the bed and propped her against one of the pillows. I put my spyglass on the bedside table nearest the bathroom. Then, I kicked out of my shoes, slid off my jacket and pants, and turned out the lights plunging the room into darkness. I crawled under the covers and held Daisy as I fell asleep.
I woke up disoriented. Remembering where I was, I got up and turned on the lights. My stomach growled angrily at me. After a sniff of my armpits, I decided on a bath and change of clothes before heading out in search of food. While pulling my brush through my shoulder-length auburn hair, I thought about the fast motorcycle ride with Cosmo Lenox, and I realized that I hadn’t given him the apartment number just the street. Laying my brush down on the counter, I went to the closet and dressed in pants and a shirt.
Curious, I placed my palm against the scanner on the wall safe to see if anything would happen. It clicked open. “Shit, Winks.”
There were stacks of gold credit chips. Taking one, I slid it into the pocket on the inside waistband of my pants. Looking around inside of the safe, I was disappointed to not find a note or anything from Winks. Had Winks been my father? Why else would he leave me this house and however many credits were in the safe? I locked the safe.
Then, I grabbed my jacket from off of the floor, put on my shoes, and kissed Daisy on her forehead. Carefully, I made my way down the stairs. Since I hadn’t seen a vid-screen in the place, I had no idea what time it was. Once I made it outside, I realized that I had slept through the four or five hours of sunlight that Cassini enjoyed each day. Taking a left, I walked toward what appeared to be the busiest area.
Soon, the conversations of strangers, ringing of door chimes, and tinkling of bicycle bells greeted my ears. The train was too distant to either see or hear from Honjo Street. Up a few blocks and across the street on a corner, I spotted a diner. The top portion of its walls were made of plasti-glass allowing passersby a view of the customers who were eating and drinking at the tables inside.
I waited for a group of men riding hover boards to pass before I crossed the street. When I pushed the diner’s door open, chimes tinkled, and a lady wearing a pink uniform and pink lipstick smiled and approached me.
“Well, welcome, sweetie. Are you meeting someone?”
“No, ma’am. I can sit anywhere.”
She smiled and grabbed a menu and some napkin-rolled silverware. “Right this way,” she said as she walked toward the last booth on the Honjo side of the diner.
I scooted into the booth seat that placed my back to the wall and gave me a good view down the street the way I had come. She placed the silverware on the table, handed me the menu, and put a glass of water in front of me. I picked it up and thirstily drank.
“I’ll give you a minute to look that over and be right back.”
I nodded that I understood. I hadn’t eaten since I had left Hyperion and was starving. She returned with a glass of plum juice and a pitcher with which she refilled my water. I ordered the breakfast platter. When she returned a short time later and placed the platter of food in front of me, I ate a piece of bacon before I remembered my napkin and unrolled it as I chewed.
After my bacon and eggs were gone, I gave the stores along the street a good look through the diner’s window. Five storefronts lined the block. Across from me was a Hover Currier Service since communications and transport services hadn’t seemed to have progressed much in Scorpius. There was a General Store, Pharmacy, Doctor’s office, and Salon all with bright flashing signs above their doors. Other than the diner and the stores, nothing else of interest was on the block. I needed food for my house. I finished off the spinach and potato sauté that had filled the center of my plate, paid, and left.
Turning off of Honjo Street and onto Cherry Street, I noticed out of the corner of my eye the waitress as she watched me. What was her problem?
Cherry Street had restaurants spaced intermittently between apartment buildings. The next street was Swan and was home to clothing stores. However, on Frog Street, I found a grocer and a farm supply store. The next street over, appropriately named Wharf, butted the ocean, and as I turned onto Frog, I could see the tops of a few masts.
Once inside the grocery store, I took a basket and slowly walked up and down the aisles. Broccoli, carrots, potatoes, raspberries, salt, tea, shampoo, and waste paper would be enough to get me through a few days. I had not enjoyed washing my hair with bar soap. The cashier smiled as he placed my purchases into a reusable pink bag with “Big Bubba’s” printed in yellow on each side of it. I handed him the gold credit chip from my pocket.
As he scanned it, he said, “Bring this back with you next time and get ten percent off, Miss.” His front teeth showed when he smiled at me, and I noticed that they were chipped.
“Thanks,” I said as I took the pink handles and carried my bag outside where Cosmo Lenox waited for me.