An Excerpt from Arctic Adagio

When your job is to babysit the richest people in the world, being able to keep a straight face is as important as being able to recognize an armed anarchist. The Yefimovs were straining my straight face to the limit with swimming costumes so tiny they may as well have been naked. The heated pool produced a cloud of vapor where it met the Arctic air, but not enough of it for my liking.

I could still see the Yefimovs.

“Global warming is a truly marvelous thing,” Arkadi Yefimov was saying to me. “To think only a few decades ago, the sea beneath our hull was solid ice.”

The aurora sent reflections chasing across the pool, staining their mismatched bodies across the spectrum. He looked like an elderly hippo, too bloated and arthritic to do anything but wallow. She acted the role of the trophy wife, long limbs wrapped around him and her blonde head nodding in time with his words.

“It must have been such a waste,” she said. “What would be the use of a solar storm if we couldn’t get to the best place to see it?”

“Exactly,” he said. “The wisdom of my grandfather’s generation wasn’t appreciated in his day, but we can pay tribute to it now.”

I huddled in my parka. “Yes sir.”

Before I was head of security on board the Ayn Rand, I’d spent twenty-six years in London’s Metropolitan Police. The Met had taught me the value of those two words.

“But I didn’t ask you here to discuss my family history,” said Yefimov. “My son wishes to fire a Rarden on his twelfth birthday.”

“I… Well… A thirty-millimeter cannon isn’t a toy, sir.”

“You will make sure he is safe.”

I should have seen it coming. We had the Rardens because a ship full of trillionaires who refused any nationality offered a tempting target for pirates. If our guests had seen them smash a few skiffs to matchwood, it only made their children more eager to play with them.

“When’s his birthday, sir?”

“Next week.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

Yefimov returned his attention to the dancing sky. I’d been put out of his mind.

“See you do, Superintendent Harme,” said his wife.

No woman marries a man half a century older than her unless she’s jumping a few social classes. Lydia Yefimova’s glare showed she’d yet to get the hang of authority. People born to it, like her husband, didn’t bother reminding me of it.

My comm chirped.

“Excuse me,” I said.

“We’ve lost the cameras on decks three, five and six.” I couldn’t place his voice, so it must have been someone new.

“Lost? What do you mean lost?”

“Lost… I mean, they’re dead.”

Tech wasn’t my department, so there was nothing I could do about it, and Surveillance could keep me informed on the comm.

Yefimova looked as if she had more to say.

“I’m coming down,” I said.

I left the Yefimovs to the aurora that generations of carbon baron Yefimovs had opened to them. The moment I entered the superstructure, the Ayn Rand hit me with a blast of heat. I stripped off my parka as I waited for the elevator.

In Surveillance, a barrage of obscenities told me the IT head was already at her station. Since joining the Ayn Rand, Fern Hanway had gained more than the couple of kilos that proper meals put on most of us. I thought they suited her but kept such observations to myself. The Ayn Rand could take no credit for a vocabulary that would have set laziest constables I’d ever bollocked to scribbling notes. She’d learned it a few miles down the River Thames from my own patch.

Fern seemed to think she was swearing under her breath, but the duty officer was devoting far more concentration to the wall of screens than was warranted when half of them were blank. Nguyen, that was his name. It had been his voice I couldn’t place on the comm. He’d only joined us three weeks ago, when we visited Haiphong. His English was as excellent as it needed to be for anyone who wanted to climb out of the precariat, but by his expression, Fern was introducing him to meanings he’d never before contemplated.

Fern broke off to look at me. “I sodding well told them this would happen.”

“Yes,” I said. “You did.”

“Wire up a ship like a cat’s cradle and go watch the pretty lights.” She turned back to the screen. “Oh no, we’re rich, we can pay off a solar storm…”

“Would you like a coffee, sir?” asked Nguyen.

I didn’t, but I accepted because his embarrassment hurt to watch. Nguyen was in his mid-twenties, about the same age as Geoff. Was it my curse that every superficial resemblance reminded me of the son I hadn’t seen for two years? Nguyen’s eagerness to please was nothing like the resentment that had furrowed Geoff’s face the last time I saw him.

I told Nguyen to put the feed from the cameras that were working on the screens. Most showed empty corridors. Some were tinted blue and green where they picked up a little of the sky.

Surveillance was part of the compromise the Kurata Corporation offered its guests. They wanted to buy absolute liberty for themselves but unless they could afford the whole ship, they would have to share their liberty with people they had no reason to trust. That was why the residence contract was so comprehensive that it had a clause prohibiting cannibalism, and why the Ayn Rand’s cameras covered everything but the cabins.

“Thanks, Nguyen.” I took the coffee he offered me. “I don’t need to tell you our guests don’t need to know about this. We wouldn’t want to worry their pretty heads with our problems, would we?”

“I understand, sir.”

Fern stood. “Right, spanners and screwdrivers time. Nguyen, stay here and keep an eye on what we’ve got left. Sir, would you call a couple of electricians? I’ll start at port thirty-two on deck four… What?”

Nguyen was waving at a screen showing one of the Rarden ports. The psychedelic sky silhouetted the twin barrels while the wide-angle lens bent the edge of the hull into a curve. What had got Nguyen’s attention was the figure in a hooded parka carrying someone across his shoulders.

Fern and I both looked at the door control console.

“The door to number four Rarden’s open,” she said.

The hooded figure threw the body over the side.

I hit the general alarm. The siren usually meant a pirate attack, but it would send everyone to their cabins or duty stations where they could be accounted for.

Nguyen was already on the comm to the bridge. “Man overboard! Port side!”

I was on my own comm, trying to sound calm as I diverted securitati running to their posts to the corridors around number four Rarden.

As the engine vibration faded, I knew it was pointless. Whoever went over the side would have been sucked under the hull. The only mercy was that the Arctic Ocean was cold enough to kill them with hypothermia before they drowned. Meanwhile, Nguyen was throwing switches, looking for a live camera that covered any of the corridors near number four, but the screens stayed blank. Whoever had thrown the body had anticipated the search and planned an escape route, so I wasn’t surprised when none of the securitati reported anyone scurrying down a corridor looking furtive.

“Nguyen,” I said.

“Sir?”

“Next time you see a murder in progress, you have my permission to interrupt your superior officers. In fact, that’s an order.”

This is an excerpt from Arctic Adagio, by DJ Cockburn. Buy it now to keep reading.

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