“Murder on the Orion” in Cosmic Crime Stories

My short story “Murder on the Orion” was published in the March 2022 issue of Cosmic Crime Stories, edited by Tyree Campbell. You can buy the issue if you’d like to read my story and the other content listed below.

Cover image for the March 2022 of Cosmic Crime Stories

Contents

The Jungle by James Dorr
Small Town, Strange Case by DJ Tyrer
Enhanced by Al Hagan
Murder on the Orion by Karl El-Koura
A Way With Words by Rosie Oliver
The Difficult Death of Auguste Henri Vincent by Gustavo Bondoni

And now a sneak peak at my story:

Murder on the Orion

by Karl El-Koura

In his grand designs for Pip’s Planetary Tours, Pip Sritz had not given much thought to security. He’d felt that ZAK, the gleaming chrome robot who had cost almost as much as the Orion itself, thereby almost doubling the debt Pip had taken on to get his latest business venture off the ground (literally), could handle anything on a five-cabin ship of tourists.

On the second day of their journey, however, the only single passenger, Mr. Alp Gilper, had asked Pip for a private meeting. They met in the Captain’s cabin, a small room with an imitation-wood desk, one chair on one side (Pip’s) and two chairs opposite. Pip always had his robot with him when he met clients, but ZAK preferred to stand.

Gilper didn’t waste words on pleasantries. “You do security screens on everyone? All the passengers?” His large frame overflowed the chair, and his voice took up as much space as the rest of him: loud and booming, so that it sounded like he was yelling, though Pip was sure—relatively sure—that the big man thought he spoke in normal tones. A rough bristle of hair grew on his cheeks and neck. That was the overall impression he gave off—unshaved roughness.

“Of course, Sir,” Pip said, softening his own genial host’s voice even more than usual.

“Anything interesting come up?” Gilper was leaning out of his chair now, elbows on the table, in part to accommodate his extra weight but, it seemed to Pip, also to watch him more closely.

Pip spread out his hands over the desk. It was a disarming gesture, but also a signal to ZAK to begin recording the meeting. “Of course not,” he said. “Should there have been?”

Gilper shifted in the seat uncomfortably. “Well—anyone bring aboard a weapon of any kind?”

“I wouldn’t allow that.”

“Anything that could be used as a weapon? Ceremonial sword, hunting rifle, something like that?” Pip was already shaking his head, so Gilper went on, “Chemicals? Special vials full of liquid or powder—anything like that?”

“Nothing that causes me or my security team”—well, ZAK was security, and he cost as much as a team—”any concern.”

As if he’d read Pip’s mind, Gilper’s glance snapped to the impassable robot. He rubbed his stubbly chin while scrutinizing ZAK, then looked back at Pip. “I know a thing or two about computer systems. You don’t mind if I examine it, yeah?”

“Him,” Pip corrected reflexively. “And I do mind.”

“I won’t cause it—him—any damage. I just want to satisfy—”

“You’ve received your answer, Mr. Gilper.” Then, speaking quickly, before the other man could pursue a line of inquiry that Pip felt would lead to a serious disagreement between them, he said, “If you have information about the safety of this ship or its passengers, you are under a moral obligation to share it with me. I will treat everything you say with the utmost seriousness—and discretion.”

Gilper looked even more uncomfortable and his beady eyes rolled in their sockets, almost guiltily. His gaze settled on Pip again and he said, “I don’t know anything. I simply wished to assure myself—” Gilper stopped himself. “Well—tell me about the other passengers. Names? Occupations?”

Pip was shaking his head again, although mentally he did a quick run-through of the ship’s manifest. Seven passengers, three couples and Gilper himself. The honeymooners, who had eyes only for each other and spent most of their time in their spacious cabin; a couple who’d listed their occupation as “entertainers”—a small-time magician act, he’d discovered since his curiosity had been piqued; and two elderly ladies, spending their retirement time by spending their retirement money.

“I respect my client’s privacy, Mr. Gilper,” Pip said, allowing a note of annoyance to enter his still-polite tone. “Now I ask you again, if you have reason to suspect—”

“No, no. I am carrying—well, valuable cargo.”

“Ah, I see,” he said. “Your belongings are perfectly safe, I assure you.”

Gilper stopped moving, as if he’d decided to drop a certain pretense. “Please ask your robot to stop recording this conversation.”

Pip nodded to ZAK.

“I’m very serious about protecting my . . . assets,” Gilper said. “And I’m willing to pay you—say, my fare over again—for information that could be helpful to me. Anything you have on the other passengers—”

Pip held up his hands to stop the man. The offer was too tempting. The first instalment on his debt was due by the end of the week, and he’d need to fill the ship for the return journey to Earth to meet it. It’d be nice to have the cushion—very nice, which was why he couldn’t allow himself to hear anymore. “I’m afraid I have other business to attend to,” he said, standing up.

Gilper didn’t seem convinced that their meeting was really over, but Pip kept standing. When the other man finally grunted and struggled to his feet, Pip helped him out the door and offered to have ZAK escort him back to his cabin, an offer the big man shrugged away. As he watched him lumber down the hallway, though, Pip had a feeling he’d be hearing more about this in the three days before they reached Nova, the enormous space station orbiting Jupiter.

He was, optimistically speaking, half-right. Very early the next morning, before anyone else was awake, Mr. Gilper’s bloated body was discovered by ZAK, floating face-down in the ship’s pool, his large heart as still as the starscape beyond the ceiling-spanning windows above the water.

 Read “Murder on the Orion” by buying your copy of the March 2022 issue of Cosmic Crime Stories.

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