Sinclair looked down at Flume, feeling his chest tighten at the crestfallen, lifeless way she moved her limbs as they stepped into the airlock and she reached up to punch in an opening code. They both winced, eyelids narrowing against the sharpness of the sudden sunlight.
Sinclair felt a small sense of gratitude for that brightness; it was healthy and safe and natural, a powerful deterrent against so many of his own monsters. Flume, who had been so moved when she had first found herself upon the surface of a planet and under its glorious sun, was unmoved now. She looked tired down to her molecules, moving with the listless mechanic quality of a player who had been unwittingly enjoying his game until it was revealed his opponent had cheated.
Sinclair squinted through the sunlight, getting a look at the shiny, steel outer hull of the craft they had just exited, peering down through the grated ramp they walked down towards the dock. He hadn't spoken much to Flume since dispatching a bullet through the head of her friend.
Had it been a friend? He realized he didn't even know that much. It might have been a partner, or a pet. he looked down at Flume again, her dappled eyes fixed on the grate under her fingers.
They reached the bottom of the ramp and took their first few steps on to gravelly terra firma, which was when Flume finally looked up to find the source of the taste of satin and silk in the air.
Standing in a semi-circle around them were five people, dressed as mourners, holding clip boards or tear-dampened handkerchiefs. Flume's eyes narrowed.
The Thelvet lifted its black crepe veil to dab at an eye. "It is so good of you to come," she said, sniffling. "And on such short notice. But we all have the greatest faith in you; we know you will find who is responsible for the murder of poor, poor Smarmadine."
She and Sinclair stared a moment. Flume felt a red flick of anger. "It was Sinclair," she said. The Thelvet blew her nose.
Beside her, somewhat shorter and with her four wings crammed into some sort of blue uniform, was a Fetch. "I'll go ahead and turn the case over to you now, ma'am; you know what you're doing. Best we can uncover, the victim was shot to death through the head by a murderer who-"
"It was Sinclair," Flume said louder, feeling her teeth grind against each other. And intense fury was building in her chest; they were making one of their stupid plot clichés from this?
"Yeah, it was me," Sinclair said.
"-who fired the weapon at ten thirty-two p.m. The staff say they didn't see anyone strange on the premises; just the usual." She turned over a page on her clip-board, and the Geezle, dressed in some odd, servile raiment and clean paper wrappings, nodded, clasping its paws.
Flume glanced at the Thresher and Vooper, dressed to mourn, but they were evidently just there for consistency. "There is no case here," she said to the assembly, hearing the anger in her own voice, "Smarmadine was shot by Sinclair."
"Please make your way to the manor, constable," answered the Fetch in a business-like tone. "You'll have access to the whole place to conduct your investigation; I know you'll find your man. You always do."
"Because he's right here!" She jabbed a finger so sharply at Sinclair it accidentally poked him in the gut.
Sinclair flinched from it, feeling almost as wound up as she was. "What are they?" He asked.
"The tall one's a Thelvet; the others aren't things you would know," she said shortly. "And they're all stupid, made up, Book-born
"In the manor," the Fetch emphasized once again. "I trust you will find the murderer."
Flume glanced over her shoulder; to her general irritation the spacecraft had become some sort of asinine spaceship-mansion while her back was turned.
"I am not going in the manor," she snarled, "I don't have to find the murderer, because it's Sinclair, and he's standing right next to me!"
When she looked back, the assembled aliens were staring at her, and the air had a sort of self-satisfied quality to it. None of them argued and it took her a second to realize why. She looked to her right, and then spun around wildly.
Sinclair had gone. She turned back, slowly, to fix a look over the innocently silent watchers.
"Ah," she said, controlling herself.
There was nothing to be gained from screaming at these people. Throwing fits wouldn't make this go away. Stiffly, she turned her back on them, and walked back up the ramp.