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When I’m dead and gone to the great beyond, somebody at my funeral, as my body slides into the great recycler, will say, “Jude Demarco was a nobody, but he was the best damn private detective Nicodemia ever had from Hallow to Heavies. He was the bulldog who tracked down every lead and never let go until the bloody truth died dripping in his jaws. That man would never stop till he saw the way things really were, even if it meant someone got hurt. Even if it got someone killed. There was something we could all admire in Demarco, just as well as there was always something to hate. He saw the good in people, even if deep down he always believed that that same good would eventually lose out against greed and vice.”
More likely they’ll stop at “Nobody.”
I sat alone with dark thoughts and a glass of cheap bourbon, drowning one in the other while the shadows of my unlit office swallowed me whole. An old blues tune played on my music rig, the guitar solo taking a sweet eternity chasing away the loneliness of the empty room. It wasn’t a nice office by any means, but I’d had worse. It had the prerequisite desk and an uncomfortable chair. There was a stained red sofa, which was where I did a fair amount of my sleeping. Through the glass storefront, I watched the pulsing life of the city rise and fall and pass me by. A sign affixed to the window read: Demarco: Detective. Medic. Handyman. All things found. All things fixed.
At least, it was supposed to be in my window. With a sigh, I crossed the room, picked up the sign, and propped it where it would be seen. A new crack ran right down its center, but I didn’t bother with it. Just one of the dangers of setting up shop in an abandoned storefront. Nothing was permanent.
While I stood near the window of my darkened office, the lights outside shifted. A pedestrian spotted me and flinched. Heavy Nicodemia wasn’t the safest place, and a man my size tended to intimidate. Maybe the streets of the other two beads of this giant rosary of a station were safer, but I hadn’t been to either in years. Rumor had it that Onegee Nicodemia—named for the one G of gravity its spin provided—had the lowest crime of all the beads. Hallow Nicodemia’s crime was all embezzlement and money laundering. Soft stuff. That was the kind of crime that didn’t scare folks in the slick underbelly of the long night. Heavy Nicodemia’s attitude was a glower and a clenched fist.
I glowered. I clenched my fist. I took another swig of bourbon.
Outside, black shadows pooled against static gray stone in the dim light of false stars. There in the Heavies, shadows of nighttime marked a drop in the quality of clientele, but not the quantity. The bustle and swell of crowds through the lower district dragged on long after the false skies grew black. The city breathed deep of recycled air all night long and never, ever rested.
As I settled back into my uncomfortable chair, a delivery boy entered, rolling right into the shop on a battered skateboard. He had a wisp of white-blond hair and thick-rimmed glasses that made his face look tiny under the wide expanses of glass.
“It’s a job for you,” said the kid, offering a slender tab of white datasheet.
“Legit?”
He shrugged. “Nick said it’s a good one for you.”
Nick Sully. Nothing good ever came from Nick. “Why won’t the client come down here?”
“Fella’s too legit to go asking around for some excommunicated medic.”
“Medic?” I looked down at the datasheet. It was rare anyone came looking for my skills with medical tech. Rarer still that they tried to do it discretely. Trinity took care of medical needs, with the help of trained, registered medics.
The kid let the room fill all the way up with awkward silence. Finally, I tossed him a dime, and he rolled on his way.
The guitar solo finally finished so I gathered the disparate parts of my music rig. The device was my only valuable possession, and it fit in the pocket of my trench coat with room to spare. After fetching my fedora from the garbage can and my glasses from the bookshelf, I stepped out of the office, not bothering to lock the door. Above, the darkened sky was dotted with sharp pinpricks of light. I let my eyes unfocus and felt a visceral instinct settle deep in my soul. I’d never been on a planet. Even though the Trinity generation ships had long since found their destination solar system, most folks still stayed on ship. No reason to go planetside where colonies were as harsh and unforgiving as the worst parts of old Earth.
“It’s funny how you all stare at that fake sky,” said a woman trolley car' down the street. Her accent drawled in a way I couldn’t quite place. “It’s like you’ve never seen the real thing.”
“Who’s to say what’s real?” I said.
The woman’s glasses caught the false starlight like a shattered mirror. Hair the color of communion wafers stuck out at odd angles, chopped like it’d angered the wrong kind of barber. Her long, indigo coat almost touched the fiberstone cobbles, and one eyebrow arched dangerously high to contrast the narrow cigarette dangling helplessly from the suicide cliff of her lip.
I produced a thin lighter and obligingly offered flame.
“It’s a nice city you have here,” she said through a fresh haze of clove and spice.
“I hadn’t noticed.”
She gestured at a noodle cart someone had set up in front of the local noodle restaurant. Their respective owners had started an argument that I wasn’t sure both would walk away from. “It’s colorful,” she said.
I cast her a dubious look. She had a bit too much fashion to walk through the lower shopping district, and the sparkle in her blue eyes said she knew it. It wasn’t any of my business, but a I couldn’t let her blunder through the worst of the city unaware. “Hallow Nicodemia might be more to your tastes. The gravity down here in the Heavies is hard on the knees and worse on the temper.”
She bobbed up and down a little with a sideways grin on her face. She wore sky blue high heels that looked like they might surrender to gravity at any second. “Is it true they made three copies of the same city?”
“You’ve never been to a Trinity ship?”
“My boss brought us here straight from Earth. Didn’t even bother to stop at the planets.”
Newer than I’d thought, then. Earth was a five year trip for the fastest ships, and not somewhere someone visited for fun. “Fresh off a long freeze.”
“You could say that.” She held her cigarette between two immaculately painted fingernails. The paint on her forefinger caught starlight with an iridescent sheen in the shape of a intricate Celtic cross.
I gestured for her to follow and took her across to the station’s central hollow a few blocks away. Once we were there I crossed the trolley tracks and stepped right up to the railing overlooking the city. The central throughway spiraled up from a point far below, rising far above. We were just below the widest part of the spiral that made up the city, and high above, misty clouds blotted out the false stars. Everywhere, the bustle of the city swelled like a disturbed anthill.
Across the inner space, a cacophony rose from the crowded streets. Police lights flashed: just the blue in pursuit of their quarry. Above, fast transports flashed, disturbing the stillness of the night sky.
I said, “Heavy Nicodemia isn’t the kind of place a person wanders alone, miss.”
“I’ve been worse places.” She dropped her cigarette and ground it out with the toe of one shoe.
“Trinity doesn’t care much for litterers.”
“The ship?”
“Trinity is the A.I. that manages the ship and its passengers. Body, soul, community.” Every school-age kid learned the A.I.’s three-part mandate. “It enforces logic lost through the generations.”
“It’s the god your ancestors built you.”
The comment hit a little close to home. “Don’t let the wrong people hear you say that.”
“Are you the wrong people?”
“I’ve been known to be.”
“And which one is littering?”
“Excuse me?”
“Does littering violate body, soul, or community?”
I scratched the stubble on my chin. “Is there a reason you’re here, ma’am?”
The woman backed away from the ledge, smile on her ruby-red lips. “My name is Charlotte. Charlotte Beck.”
“Demarco,” I said reflexively.
“I work for Violet Ruiz.”
People only name drop for two reasons: to impress a potential contact or to get the measure of someone based on their recognition. I wasn’t impressed by the name Violet Ruiz, and if Charlotte Beck wanted to measure me based on who I knew, then she wasn’t going to be particularly impressed. She watched me with those piercing blue eyes.
“It’s been a pleasure, Beck,” I said, sweeping off my hat and giving a slight bow. “But a fella’s got to get some work done if he wants a decent meal.” With that, I hopped the spiral trolley as it passed, letting it sweep me upward and away.
As I left, she said, “Maybe I’ll see you around, Jude Demarco.”
It took me a whole half turn of the station to realize she’d used my whole name, and by then she was gone.
But Heavy Nicodemia was a city full of saints and sinners. Nights lumbered forward through the thick gloom. The hundred miles of steel cord that spun us around the artificial star had spun as long as anyone’s ancient great grandmother could remember. Lot of folks around here breathed the slick atmosphere of this bead as if it were the only city in all existence. To them, it was. A city was a city, after all, and no matter if that thriving metropolis was a blight on a green planet or a pit in the gut of a once-majestic generation ship, it would live its own life. It would have a personality all its own.
Sinners, saints—they were all the same in Nicodemia.

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AWEichenlaub

Bio: Anthony W. Eichenlaub's short fiction has appeared in numerous publications, including Little Blue Marble, On Spec Magazine, and the anthology A Punk Rock Future. His novels range from pulse-pounding technothrillers to the adventures of irresponsible scientists on a colony planet. In his spare time he enjoys woodworking, video games, and working in his garden. Support him at: https://www.patreon.com/AWEichenlaub

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