The Cosmic Codex
The Cosmic Codex
Download “An Illicit Mercy”

Download “An Illicit Mercy”

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“Playtime metropolis” by Brian S. Pauls, 2023; Digital illustration created using Midjourney

My novelette, An Illicit Mercy, is now available in ebook format with a free subscription to The Cosmic Codex.

Sometimes justice and the law aren't one and the same.

Infants in the Martian outpost of Basin have been plagued with birth defects for years—until recently. Corporate has dispatched Siwela and her team to find out why. What she learns will have profound implications for her job—and for who she wants to be.

Here’s a short excerpt:

An Illicit Mercy

By Brian Scott Pauls

The first thing I notice is the smell. It’s always the first thing I notice when I enter a new hab—especially a contract hab. This time, at least, it’s not sewage, or garbage that has sat too long, or a half-dozen other forms of decay. It’s actually quite pleasant—the savory scent of a mid-day meal, probably cooking on an electric burner in a community kitchen somewhere. The odor of want, but not of destitution.

I hear Kekoa sniff behind me. “Cabbage,” he says, “and sausage. Wonder where they got that.”

I realize he’s right. There’s a meaty undercurrent that reminds me of bratwurst—when the commissary has it. Maybe not so much in want after all.

I hadn’t realized Kekoa’s sense of smell was so sharp. I make a mental note to check it out later. The corresponding reminder appears in the lower left of my corneal display.

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I ping Ourada. The view from the cam on the airship’s console appears on the right side of my display, showing her in the pilot’s seat.

“We’re here,” I say, “Helmets off, inner door released. Any word where Soto is?”

Ourada’s gaze goes momentarily blank as she checks her own corneal before responding. “He messaged he was running a couple minutes behind, but he should be there by now.” Her voice vibrates in my bone implants, clear to me but inaudible to anyone else.

As she says it, I hear footsteps approaching. I feel the familiar tingle up the left side of my spine, the one I usually get right before a contact with civilians.

“Thanks, Ourada. Siwela out.”

The heavy door is standing open against the wall of the corridor outside, where it had swung automatically as soon as the airlock in which Kekoa and I are standing had finished cycling. A small man, with black hair going gray, enters carrying a tablet.

“Corporal Siwela. Officer Kekoa.” He nods to each of us. “Welcome to Basin.”

We nod in return, and I reply. “Thanks for meeting with us, Dr. Soto. Did you get a copy of our dispatch?”

“Certainly,” he answers, making a small gesture with his tablet. “But it wasn’t very clear why you’re here.”

“I’m sorry.” I shake my head in a manner perfected by seven years on the force. “You know Corporate. They like to keep the forms general, so they can use them in a variety of circumstances. Anything to avoid extra work.” I give a wry smile; he returns it. At least Soto’s not trying to make trouble—so far.

“There should have been a warrant attached,” I continue. “Did you receive it?”

“Yes,” he nods, but his smile falters as he raises his eyebrows slightly: “Perhaps you can be clear, where the forms weren’t.”

“I wouldn’t be too concerned,” I tell him, as Kekoa opens the case we brought from the airship. “It’s a pretty routine inspection. You know our government charter requires periodic assessments of the conditions in our contract habitats.”

Soto nods and says nothing further.

I hear a whir and glance over at Kekoa. He has the drones out of the case, and has activated them so they hover about him, roughly a meter off the floor. The eight black disks are mostly batteries and fan-blades, but each also packs enough sensors, memory, and transmitter equipment to make it a powerful investigative tool.

Kekoa flashes me the ready sign in my corneal; I send him the go-ahead. The eight disks pass in a line through the doorway and whir off down the corridor. Kekoa follows them, telling us, as he leaves, “I’m gonna set up in the middle of the hab.” For Soto’s benefit he adds, “Better signal there.”

As he walks away, I flash him a reminder of our other assignment. It’s unnecessary—Kekoa knows his job—but it calms my nerves. He merely returns an acknowledgment and keeps going.

I turn back to Soto.

“Let’s talk. Your lab?”

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Cover illustration by Brian S. Pauls, 2023; Digital illustration created using Midjourney, modified

A previous version of this story was originally published in Boundary Shock Quarterly 12: Lawmen & Crime Fighters. The novelette version has been revised and slightly expanded.

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