Treasure of the Black Hole

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The Stuff that Dreams
are Made Of . . .

 

When private detective Rick Bailey is hired by theexotically beautiful and outrageously wealthy Princess Nora, he thinks it’ll beeasy money.  Escaping from herrebellion-torn kingdom, the princess has lost her handmaiden, Lores: the onlyperson who knows how to find the hidden royal jewels.

 

But when his search for the equally lovely Lores turnsdeadly, Bailey realizes that there is more to this case than it firstseemed.  When someone tries to kill him,he discovers that the roots of evil run deep.

 

With his own set of values and sense of honor, Bailey mustkeep one step ahead of murderous mobsters, secret government operatives, and agenetically enhanced Lores as he races across the galaxy in search of thetruth.  The only things he knows he cantrust are his eight-foot-tall ladybug-like girl Friday and a powerful weaponthat responds to his thoughts.

 

Will Bailey find the treasure of the black hole in time andwill he survive long enough to discover why it is something worth killing for?


Chapter One

The Princess

 

 

I trudged up the
stairs of the last five flights to my rented office on the fiftieth floor of
the Carter building, breathing hard, since the lifttube was perpetually broken.
Complaints to Mr. Carter only brought mumbles about the malaise of the building
supervisor and I arrived at my office hot and sweaty, took off my brown, felt
fedora, and fanned myself with it. It was aberrantly hot for an edge planet
today. I looked out the window to the horizon.

 

The baleful red
giant sun was hanging low in the sky of Hayek IV, as it always does, forever.
Hayek IV has a rotational period equal to its year and one side always faces
the inflamed-looking primary and the other side cold, harsh space and the
callous tapestry of stars. Civilization had settled in the narrow band between
liquid-tin hot and frozen-neon cold. The sun always appeared near the horizon
no matter the season or time of day, and the only weather developed from
movement of air from the hot side to the cold side to freeze there. Eventually
all the atmosphere would be locked up in the glaciers on the dark hemisphere:
about ten thousand years, the scientists say. The only reason this barely
inhabitable planet was settled was its strategic location near Malvalkian
space. Its remote location and backwater status suited me fine. Also, the
government was a little less tyrannical than average and certainly less so than
many jurisdictions.

“Good
morning, Mr. Bailey,” Rose called out too cheerfully from her desk,
shattering my thoughts.

I smiled at her.
“Good morning, Rose,” I replied. “I’m surprised to see you
here.” I hadn’t been able to pay her for a month. I couldn’t afford to
replace her with a bot, either. Too capital intensive and besides, I liked her.

“Where else
would I be, sir?” she asked. I had a feeling she was in love with me. I
had never agreed with her taste in men.

“Any
calls?” I asked perfunctorily, knowing what the answer would be.

“No, sir.
Sorry, sir. Not today, sir.”

“Thanks,
doll,” I said, and walked through the dilating door to my office. I could
hear the screech of yet another prospective Malvalkian opera singer being
trained at Madame Clop[click]shire’s Academy of Malvalkian Music in the office
next door. The poor singer was repeating the same scales over and
over—badly—and I could imagine Madame Clop[click]shire slapping the floor with
her webbed foot and mouthing “Again!” with her lipless oral cavity
and turning deep blue with frustration.

I had just
settled into my comfortable real artificial leather chair and gotten my feet on
the desk and my hat lowered over my eyes for a nice nap when Rose buzzed. She
did that when she was annoyed: her elytra and wings oscillating at a frequency
that cut through the skull. I sat up immediately and hit the com.

“Sir,”
she said before I could ask anything, “there’s someone here to see
you.” I knew it wasn’t a bill collector, unless they had a gun big enough
to cut through her exoskeleton.

“Who is it,
dear?” I asked.

She must have
leaned close to the intercom and whispered. “I think it’s a client,
sir.”

“Well, send
them in, fast,” I whispered back.

I sat back,
surveyed the room, realized it looked like it had never been used except maybe
to sleep in—which wasn’t too far from the truth—jerked open a drawer, pulled
out a file, and spread the plastic sheets and papers on my desk.

The door opened
and then in she walked. I looked up, tried hard not to stare, and failed
miserably. If all the great artists in the universe tried to envision the
perfect human woman, they couldn’t come much closer than the specimen before
me. Her skin was the color of honey. Not the artificial crap they sell to the
masses, but the real stuff only the very rich or very powerful can get (don’t
ask me where I’ve seen it, let alone tasted it; I’ll deny it). Her hair was a
deep golden blonde, her eyes sapphire-blue pools. Since those are both
recessive traits, I knew she came either from an isolated planet or from a
family lineage that did not interbreed and that most likely meant royalty. She
was tall (regally tall?) with long legs. Her slightly curled blonde hair
reached almost to her waist and seemed to have golden threads woven through it.
The expensive business suit of translucent non-woven cloth was not only the
pinnacle of current fashion, but seemed designed to enhance her beauty further.
I had a feeling she’d look good wearing most anything and probably best wearing
nothing at all.

I stood and
resisted bowing. If she were royalty, she was short about five retainers, ten
bodyguards, a couple dozen attendants, and fifty local dignitaries. Instead, I
extended a hand.

She ignored it
and looked about her. I could tell she didn’t like my office. “Are you Mr.
Rick Bailey?”

“Yes,
ma’am, I am.” I said with cringe-inducing enthusiasm.

“Is it safe
to talk here?” she asked, her voice one that could make Madam
Clop[click]shire turn purple with envy and polka-dotted with lust.

I wasn’t quite
sure what she meant so I said, “Of course.”

She looked
relieved and then glanced at one of the two chairs in front of my desk.
“May I?”

“Of
course,” I said again, not taking my eyes off her as she settled into a
seat with the grace of a cat trained by ballerinas, crossing her long, long
legs.

“Is it safe
to talk here?” she repeated.

“Yes,”
I said. I still wasn’t sure what she meant, but figured she was seeking a
positive response.

She gazed at me
with those astounding blue eyes. Rather than fall into them, I sat down.
“What can I help you with?”

She hesitated a
moment before speaking. “I am Princess Nora, Heir to the Eagle Throne, and
Empress of the Possessions at and beyond the Trojan Points.”

That explained
the breeding. If that was supposed to impress me, well, it did. “How may I
help you, Your Majesty?” I asked, suddenly feeling my office was shabbier
than usual. The burnt chrome and holographic images of mountains and meadows
were about ten years out of style. And some of the holo projectors were burned
out so behind me was probably half an image of Mt. Denali.

“I
assume,” she said, “that you will keep this in the strictest
confidence?”

“Of
course,” I replied, waving a hand dismissively as if to shoo away her
worries.

She smiled, but
not happily.

“You have
heard of the rebellion, of course.”

I gave her a
reassuring smile. “Of course.” Of course I had not. There are over
100,000 planets, federations, empires, republics, democracies, people’s
republics, corporate states, and loose associations in the small part of the
galaxy humans have managed to settle. They range in size from parts of planets
to the Core Empire (CE) with its thousands of cubic light years of territory
centered on the Sol system. I’d never heard of this princess or the “Eagle
Throne,” but to her it was the most important thing in the world so she,
mistakenly, assumed everyone should know about it. However, when she spoke her
name, words appeared before my eyes (right eye, actually):

“Princess
Nora, heir to the Eagle Throne. The Eagle Throne is the head of state of the
Kimball Hegemony, a three-planet empire based in a binary system. The principal
planet is Kimball with two lesser (and less hospitable) planets at the Trojan
points of the two primaries. Current occupier of the Eagle Throne is King
Dwrok.”

Then a menu
appeared. I scratched, seemingly absentmindedly, behind my ear, moving a cursor
until it got to “news” and there appeared a Galactic Press report
that “Capitalist rebels have seized the capital city of the Kimball
Hegemony, the royal family is rumored to have fled.” And that’s all her
personal tragedy rated in the great galactic ‘net.

The projector,
located on the side of my nose and which, under close examination, might look
like a slightly large pore, and the supporting technology were rare and
expensive and had been installed by the CE Intelligence Corps, which is why I
no longer live there and will never, ever go back. Or anywhere near it, if I
can help it.

“Capitalist
rebels?” I asked as if confirming what was common knowledge.

It almost
appeared as if her body shuddered. “Yes,” she whispered.
“Randians, actually, if you can believe that.”

I’d never heard
of that branch of Capitalists, myself. But of course details flashed before my
eyes (“Ayn Rand, a Twentieth Century philosopher who espoused a philosophy
of strict individualism and ‘objectivism’ . . .”), so I scratched behind
my ear and cleared my vision. If I decided I needed to learn more later, I
could look it up.

“And you
escaped, of course.”

“Of
course,” she said. “I and my coterie managed to make it to a royal
navy ship, the KHSS Invincible, and
flee.”

“And the
king?”

For the first
time her composure cracked just a bit. “He did not make it. I don’t know
if he’s dead or captured.”

“I
see,” I said, trying to sound concerned. “What may I help you
with?”

She hesitated,
scanning me with those eyes as if she were trying to pierce my soul. I think
she got close. “I managed to escape with the royal jewels: the pride,
fortune, inheritance, and legacy of the Kimball people.”

“I’m sorry,
I don’t do protection services.” I said it automatically before I decided
I might make an exception for her.

“No,”
she said, shaking her head. “I lost them.”

Now I was the
one to scan her, looking for any trace of deceit. “Lost them?” She
lost the family jewels?

She took a deep,
sad breath. “We were pursued by rebels. I knew I had to hide the jewels.
So I did.”

“And?”
I prodded, ignoring that the KHSS Invincible
apparently wasn’t very invincible.

“After
hiding the jewels, a rebel ship ambushed us. I was afraid we were going to be
captured. To ensure the safety of the jewels, I used Memorlete to clear the
memory of where the jewels are from all on the ship, including myself.”

Memorlete is
illegal in most places. Except for use by governments which, of course, define
what is illegal in all places.

I looked at her
quizzically. “You didn’t anticipate the problem of not being able to find
them again?”

She glared at me
with defiance in her eyes. “Of course I did. I allowed one person to
retain the knowledge, the one person I thought the rebels would least likely
interrogate.”

“And who
was that?”

“My girl,
Lores.”

“Your
daughter?”

She laughed
bitterly, “No, of course not. My girl. My handmaiden.”

“And let me
guess,” I said. “She’s missing.”

“Yes,”
the princess whispered, her voice laden with frustration.

“How?”

She took a deep
breath—which did wondrous things to her bosom—and spoke at length: “Our
ship was damaged in the fight with the rebels but we managed to get away.
Unfortunately, we lost navigation, and we stumbled around blindly until we
landed here, on this planet. More accurately: crash-landed. All of the crew
were killed by the crash. Only Lores and I survived, having been in the
survival pod. When we emerged, we walked to the nearest city—this city. But
when we got here, she disappeared into a crowd.”

The script
before my eyes said that a search for news of a spaceship crash came up with no
results. “How long ago was this?” I asked.

“About two
weeks. I searched for her myself but no luck. After that I decided to come to
you.”

“How have
you survived that long?”

“Do you
have a standard credit plate?” she asked.

“Of
course,” I said and pulled out the small, card-like device. She pressed
her thumb against it, and after the DNA analyzer finished its job, it beeped. I
looked at the display. I’d never seen so many digits in an account balance.

“The entire
off-planet wealth of the empire,” she said smiling.

I doubled, and
then tripled my fees. But I didn’t want to seem too anxious. “I have a lot
of important cases I’m covering right now,” I said indicating the papers
on my desk.

She picked one
up before I could object and studied it. “Shopping List” was the
title at the top. “Such as this?”

I smiled
sheepishly. “I need a description or, better yet, a holo of Lores. I need
to know exactly where you last saw her and what she was wearing. I need to know
if she has any family and/or friends on this or any other planet. I need a way
to contact you, and I need six thousand per day, plus expenses. I have to tell
you, two weeks is a pretty cold trail. She could be half-way across the galaxy
by now.”

She looked
crestfallen. “With my family’s treasure.”

“Yes,”
I said. “However, she’d need allies. I doubt she could buy a ship. Did she
have any plast?”

“Excuse me,
‘plast’?”

I smiled.
“Sorry, money.”

She shook her
head.

“So she is
quite probably still on Hayek IV.”

“Thank
you,” she said, and it sounded sincere.

“And I need
a day’s advance pay.”

“Of
course,” she purred.

**_**

With the princess’s
advance (six times my usual fee), I paid the rent on the office, most of Rose’s
back pay (she cooed her thanks), and had enough left over to actually eat that
night. If this case lasted long enough, I might be able to refurbish the
office, including soundproofing. I hate Malvalkian opera.

Princess Nora
supplied the requested information, right down to a holo of Lores. The
handmaiden rivaled her mistress in beauty, except with raven black hair,
emerald eyes and skin so white and clear it seemed almost translucent as the
glaciers at the edge of the dark side of the planet where snowfall is
perpetual: more recessive traits. However, that gave me an advantage. A woman
that beautiful would be remembered.

According to the
Princess, Lores had no family or friends off the Kimball home world. She seemed
to think the idea absurd. I got the feeling the handmaiden was little more than
chattel to Princess Nora.

The one thing
that troubled me, though, was the lie about crashing on the planet. Any crash
in the inhabitable belt would be noticed at the very least by the meteor
defense grid, and probably by Space Watch. And any crash outside the
inhabitable zone would be a death sentence. Just to double check, I contacted
an acquaintance in the Space Watch and she confirmed, no spaceship crashes on
Hayek IV for a couple of years, at least. And that baloney about the damaged
navigation system and wandering around blindly until they ended here was the
worst. The odds of a ship without navigation finding an inhabitable planet were
about nil. It meant I couldn’t believe a thing Princess Nora said until I’d
confirmed it myself. She’d come to this planet on purpose, and probably had a
very capable ship somewhere and wanted me to look for this girl for some reason
she didn’t want to tell me. But, hey, for six thousand a day, I’ll give it a
shot, I decided.

Meanwhile, I sent some inquires out onto the ‘net. One
was for a picture or holo of Princess Nora.


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S. Evan Townsend

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