Commander Sykes was dead.
Crewman Jab and the rest of the Custodial Service’s team didn’t bother attending the memorial service. It was being piped over the Inanna’s internal comm-circuits anyway.
"Why are we watching this crap?" asked Church. He was new, recruited from some dull as dishwater farm-world, fresh out of Basic.
"We got no choice," said Jab, pulling the tab on a fake-beer and taking a sip. It tasted like recycled cat piss, but boozing it up on-duty was the one rule kept hard-and-fast all over the ship.
"It’s on every comm-circuit," Ensign Drury explained.
Most of the custodial crew was gathered in Drury’s office. Everyone had been encouraged to watch the memorial service, unless you were working essential services. It was a tight fit, but nobody minded.
Any excuse to slack off, thought Jab.
On the monitor, the captain was reading the standard memorial speech as prescribed by Spaceforce Command. It was the usual nonsense and Jab was pretty sure Quid could have skipped it and just fired the coffin-torpedo into the void. That was the only reason anybody was in the shuttle bay in the first place, to make sure Sykes was dead and gone.
"How’d the commander die anyway?" asked Church.
Glances were exchanged among the custodial crew.
"There was an accident in one of the playrooms," said Ensign Drury.
Jab was sure Drury believed Sykes’ death was really an accident. If the kid thought someone had killed the commander, Jab was pretty sure Drury’s head would have exploded from shock.
"Beer’s gone," Crewman Tora announced. "Who wants to make a run to the duplicator?"
"I’ll go," said Jab. "Church, gimme a hand."
Church slouched out of the tiny office, following Jab. The corridors were quiet and still, down here on Z-Deck.
Jab glanced at the younger man. "You really want to know how Sykes died?"
"Sure," said Church.
"He was killed by a faulty robo-whore."
Church gaped. "Really?"
"That’s the official story," said Jab.
"What’s the unofficial story?"
"Somebody rewired the robo-whore to kill him."
"Holy crap! Who?"
Jab shrugged. "Most people think it was Lt. Commander Mahendra."
Church frowned. "Which one is he?"
"The chief engineer," said Jab.
"The guy with the artificial ears?"
"Why would he kill the commander?"
Jab snorted. "If you met Sykes, you wouldn’t be asking that. That guy was seriously fucked up. Half the crew would have shoved him in an airlock while the other half fought to press the purge button."
"He was that bad?"
"But, if he was killed, why isn’t there an investigation?"
"Because, everybody’s glad Sykes is dead," said Jab, bluntly. "Especially the senior officers. They had to work with him every day. Poor bastards. We’re all pretty sure they’re covering for Mahendra."
Church stared at Jab. "But that’s . . . "
"Standard operating procedure," said Jab.
"Are you serious?"
"Serious As an attack of space-crabs."
Jab patted Church’s shoulder. "Welcome to Spaceforce."