The gentle hum of turbines lulled the passengers of the CW-48 space lift to sleep. One of them, Robert Smart, struggled with fatigue. He spent the first part of the journey to the Finesia space station studying the report prepared by the investigators. Torn from his comfortable bed at half past five, he drove straight to Europol headquarters in The Hague, where his immediate superior gave him his orders.
“You will go to the space station Finesia. Take the documents. Departure in two hours from the Bosphorus lander. You will investigate the death of Jens Bogatoff, the owner of the station”.
“As you wish, boss. I only wish you had let me sleep. To the dead man, my rage and a few coffees drunk in his honour are no longer helpful.”
“Stop joking, Smart. I had to get up earlier than you, in fact I didn't go to bed at all.” Bogatoff was a very well-connected man. Contacts in the United Nations and the European Commission. “You know how it is... get to work!”
Smart rested his head against the headrest of the chair. The cabin emerged from the Earth's atmosphere. This allowed passengers to admire the beautiful starry sky. There was a view of other such facilities around the lift. The area was literally dotted with space lifts. Dozens of them had already risen above the Earth. Interconnected by special tunnels, they gave the impression of a spider’s web surrounding the Blue Planet.
Robert smiled. He had already worked for nearly fifteen years in the police, five of them at Europol. How much it has changed during his life! It used to take several hours by plane to get from Frankfurt to New York. Now all you had to do was get into one lift, move along a corridor to another, and that was the end of the journey. He disliked this form of travel as much as he hated being in space stations. Each lift connected the Earth's surface to some city in the orbit around the Earth. Laboratories, institutes, landing pads for spaceships and space shuttles, as well as factories and housing estates, were all located on it and brought their owners huge profits. One of the tycoons in that industry was Jens Bogatoff. The owner of fifty-two per cent of PA-48 Joint Stock Company shares, European Union citizen, aged fifty-six. The mystery of his death was the reason that Robert Smart, a forty-two-year-old Europol commissioner and homicide specialist, had just flown in.
“Hello,” a short, fat man held out one of his sweaty palms to greet Robert. “How was the trip?”
“Thank you, good.” The commissioner reciprocated the stranger’s forced smile.
“Vince Burke, Commander of Station Finesia,” he introduced himself. “You don't have to introduce yourself to me, I was sent information about you. We had better get to work.”
Robert nodded. He swept his eyes curiously around Bogatoff’s office. Stylish paintings hung on the walls, the interior of the study was filled exclusively with antiques. The evidence of wealth made it clear who was the most important and powerful man at the station. The Commissioner went to the window. He looked down. The PA-48 chairman’s office was located at the very top of the tallest building on Finesia. Bogatoff had countless skyscrapers, factories and airstrips within his range of vision. All this certainly increased his standing.
“Impressive, isn't it?”
“Yes, I can’t deny.” Robert turned and sat down opposite him in the armchair. They found themselves alone in the study.
“You see, it may be an unnecessary precaution on my part, but I am pleased that one of the best specialists in Europol has been sent...”
“What cause of death has been preliminarily established?” He was interrupted by Smart. He wasn’t going to waste a whole day listening to a fat man’s squeaky voice. He didn't like people who didn't look you straight in the eye, but looked nervously from side to side, as if thinking how they could benefit from the situation.
“Heart attack? And that is why you are involving Europol?”
“You see...” Burke got up and started walking around the room. “Mr Bogatoff is not just anyone.” He not only had many friends, but also many enemies. There were all sorts of rumours, you know... That's why it's better to have his death explained by someone from the outside, sorry, what I meant to say was someone from Earth. I need to switch off. I will assign my best man to help you. He is a highly promising graduate of this year’s New York Police Academy.”
“Where was the body found?”
“Here, behind his desk. It was lying on the countertop. And one more thing. A heart attack, but... He had a transplant last year. He replaced the old heart with a new one grown from stem cells. The risk of having a heart attack after such a procedure is one in a million.”
At that moment a tall, handsome blond man in a grey station security uniform entered Bogatoff's office.
“Michael Kunst, pleased to meet you.”
“Hello,” Robert reciprocated his handshake.
“Now that you have met, I can leave. I have presented the details to Mr Smart. Good luck!” Vince Burke left the office and the investigators alone.
“Have you come up with anything Kunst?” Robert poured himself the fifth cup of coffee from the thermos that day.
It was approaching midday. Despite the tinted windows, the sun beat down on the study mercilessly.
“To be honest, I don't know... a heart attack after a transplant? Strange indeed.”
Robert nodded his head. It looked as if it was going to be a longer stay at the station. Suddenly, the conversation was interrupted by the sound of a holophone. The Commissioner opened it. A three-dimensional image of the guard appeared on the wrist of his left hand.
“Sorry to interrupt, but there's a guy here. He says his name is Peter Riedl and that he has an appointment with Mr Bogatoff. What should I do?”
Robert looked questioningly at Michael.
“He is the owner of CW-12, the closest lift and platform to Arcadia, the space Las Vegas,” Kunst explained.
“Let him in,” Smart decided.
After a short while, a slim but not very tall man dressed in an impeccably tailored suit entered the office with a confident step. He introduced himself and, without asking permission, sat down in the chair behind the desk.
“I will ask you briefly and to the point: what is going on here?”
“Allow me to introduce myself: Commissioner Robert Smart, Homicide, Europol, and this is my assistant, Lieutenant Michael Kunst from Station Security. Don’t you know anything?”
“About what?” asked the visitor suspiciously. “I had an appointment with Mr Bogatoff for a business meeting. You say you're from Homicide?”
“Tonight Mr Bogatoff was found dead. He was sitting right there.”
Riedl sprang back as if he had been scalded.
“So it is after all,” he muttered to himself, then said aloud: “Would you be so kind, Commissioner, and come with me to my office? It's only an hour's corridor flight to the neighbouring station. I will show you a document of interest.”
Outside the window of the CK-48/49 horizontal lift cabin, stars twinkled. Under the passengers' feet, the continents quickly flew by. The world seemed to have no limits or time differences. This was a dream come true for all those in power: all business and important matters could be dealt with over the heads of the people concerned. The vacuum corridors connecting the space lifts wrapped around the globe like a huge spider’s web. The world has truly become a global village. Or rather a suburb for the centres of social life - space stations built on top of the human quest for perfection.
Robert Smart mused. In his jacket pocket was tucked away a copy of probably the most valuable document in this part of circumpolar space today. Bogatoff’s Last Will. Handing it to the Commissioner, Riedl did not fail to comment.
“As you can see, theoretically I should be the one who cares about Bogatoff's quick demise. His wife, children, relatives will get nothing. Even if they wanted to invalidate the will, I could afford to pay their claims. I will admit to you that we have long been planning a merger of our companies. However, this is not easy to do when the future partner's wife's family is closely allied and friendly with the mighty of this world, down there. You understand, there was no choice but to bequeath the entire estate in the event of death.”
The commissioner was puzzled by Riedl's words: ‘There was no other option.’
After Bogatoff's death, his heir became the largest space tycoon in the world. After the acquisition of the deceased’s shares, his market share was, on a conservative estimate, seventy or even eighty per cent. To this had to be added know-how, laboratories, factories and other minor assets such as mines on Mars. He was the largest shareholder... but was he really the only one?
Smart's musings were interrupted by a buzzing around his wrist area.
“Yes?” Robert answered the call. A hologram of Michael Kunst appeared on his wrist.
“I would like to report, boss, that we have discovered something extremely interesting in Bogatoff's office. When can you be expected?”
“I am already flying to Finesia. I will be there in fifteen minutes.”
On Bogatoff's desk stood a cage. It was divided into two chambers. In one, a small rat was nervously pacing around, sniffing everything. The other also contained a rat, the only difference being that it lay dead. Both mammals were at first glance identical, white with black spots.
“This is an extremely interesting discovery?” There's nothing unusual about someone breeding pet rats,” remarked Robert Smart, as he got to grips with his jammed coffee machine and poured himself a cup of the life-giving liquid. He was tired. The whole story was beginning to resemble a bad thriller. A rich, powerful businessman has died. Various social and business circles are trying to use this event for their vested interests. They want to snatch as much as possible from the deceased’s estate for themselves, while sinking the competition.
“Well, I know, boss, it's nothing ...” Kunst turned red. He was not used to this kind of teasing. He had been a top student at police school, and as a result, he believed that his decisions and discoveries had irrefutable value and were the only ones possible. “However, I discovered this here, behind Bogatoff's desk, take a look.”
The young policeman approached the wall in question behind the desk. He gently tilted the picture hanging on it. The wall noiselessly slid open, revealing to Smart a small room filled with mirrors, computers and two glass cubicles. Robert moved towards the room. As he crossed the threshold, his assistant tugged on his arm.
“You'd better not do that," he said emphatically. “When I went in there, the equipment started working. I stepped back and then saw a cage of rats on the floor.”
“Were you frightened that computers would generate a monster that would devour you?”
“No kidding, Commissioner.” The assistant wrinkled his forehead. “I think this is really serious. This device is a transponder.”
“Do you mean the teleportation device? They don’t exist. I mean, I wanted to say, they are only in the testing phase.”
“We are not on Earth, Commissioner. Admittedly, European Union law applies in Finesia, but things may look a little different from down there. These two rats, for example. They are the same.”
“Well, true. They look very similar.”
“They are the same," Kunst repeated emphatically.
“Not really... our geneticist, after a cursory examination of them, told me that they are just the same. That is all.”
Robert sat down in the chair behind Bogatoff's desk. He looked at dozens of devices with flashing lights crouching like a tiger in the jungle about to leap on its prey. What is this all about? A transponder that has no right to exist. Two similar rats hidden in the office of the CEO of the largest company operating space lifts and stations. Finally, the top competitor who claims that the deceased handed over his empire to him, disinheriting his family in the process. Something does not add up here.
“What do you advise, Kunst?” The commissioner took a large sip of coffee. Caffeine certainly came in handy for him now. He has to do a lot of analysis.
“The largest hi-tech, or new technology, laboratory is based here in Finesia. Space Time Industries Ltd. Have you heard of it?”
“Of course, it’s the reason we have space lifts for everyone and holophones after all.” Smart waved his hand.
“Well, yes, I am sorry. No offence, but up here we look at the Earth and its problems differently...”
“Just like provincial buffoons incapable of thinking on a universal scale, right?” The commissioner smiled. There was something in the young assistant's words. Space lifts and the opportunities they gave humanity were changing the world even faster than the IT and telecommunications revolution did at the turn of the 20th century. The communities living on the stations became increasingly isolated from their earthly roots.
“Well, no, not like that,” Kunst grunted. “Going back to the subject, the CEO of Space Time Industries is, or rather was, a friend of Bogatoff. I suggest a meeting with him. This will probably help us to solve the mystery of the tycoon’s death. After all, nobody on Earth has a transponder, except maybe the military.”
“Interesting... you say: a dead rat together with a live one in the same cage? A fascinating story. I just don't know what I have to do with it...” Frederick Wolfhart, CEO of Space Time Industries, sat back in his chair.
He was a fifty-year-old man with a distinctive tone of voice. He owed it to a larynx transplant and hormone treatment. Besides, he was a slim, balding representative of the upper class of circumpolar society. So he did not feel obliged to hide his irony or his reluctant attitude towards the police commissioner interrupting his important business meeting.
“I do not know whether you were kind enough to notice that I raised the issue of Mr Bogatoff having a transponder. I don't think it's entirely legal.” Robert Smart leaned more comfortably against the back of the chair he was sitting in. “Driving here, I checked the regulations on the subject. European Union directives clearly prohibit the possession of transponders by private individuals. Let alone experimenting with transmitting particles at a distance without a special licence.”
“I can see that you are well-versed in the subject.” Wolfhart put down his glass of whisky, got up and went to the window. “You know, it's not the same here in orbit as on Earth. The regulations do not match the pace and level of life in space. Bogatoff was my friend. Together we created Finesia. We believed in the possibility of progress, humanity going into space, new technologies. What we got in return were greedy wives, bloated partners and a bloated bureaucracy. I'm not surprised Jens finally couldn't stand it and did it.”
“What did he do?” Robert also rose from his chair. He tried not to let it show, but the interlocutor's words intrigued him. However, something was behind Bogatoff's death.
“You mentioned two rats in a cage. Identical.”
“Excuse me?” Smart did not understand.
“Reflection. Moving matter is less complicated than everyone thinks. We have come to the point where we break down an object into atoms and copy them.”
“Something like cloning?”
“Let’s say. The transponder creates a matrix which it duplicates. It then sends the copied atoms to two different locations. Do you understand?”
Robert rubbed his eye. “Copying and cloning in one? A rat moved to two places at once?
“All right, but...”
“Take it easy.” Wolfhart put his hand on his shoulder. “You'd better sit down.”
Robert sat down on an armchair.
“We managed to move things, still life. Jens got the idea to try it with living beings. We tried first with bacteria, then with multi-cellular organisms. Always with the same result. We moved the organism to two locations. However, it has never happened that both organisms have lived in both places. At least one of them materialised dead. Isn't this proof of the existence of some kind of life force, a soul? It cannot be duplicated. It follows the heart, as one of our scientists aptly put it. And Jens died of a heart attack...”
“Do you ...”
“I know what you want to ask. No, we haven't tried with humans or even mammals. I will tell you, however, that the key to solving the mystery of Bogatoff's death lies with rats. And a transponder.”
Commissioner Robert Smart sat alone in Jens Bogatoff's office. He needed to focus. Wolfhart's words rang in his head. The solution to the mystery has to do with rats and a transponder. Robert approached the device. He swung the door open. The gentle hum of machinery meant that the machine had started to work. He came in. He sat down in a chair standing in the middle of the small cabin.
Brightness. That's all he felt. A glow of bright light crept softly through his eyelids. Then came the noise. The sea? Yes, the smell of salt water reached his nostrils and filled the lungs. He opened his eyes.
“Hello, Commissioner.” A smiling man helped him up.
“Take it easy. It is the shock of materialisation. It will soon pass, please breathe deeply.”
Robert made an effort and looked at the man. He knew that face from somewhere. No, that is not possible! Bogatoff?
“Surprised? You know, it's fun to watch the investigation into your own death, the dance of the relatives over the estate. The poor fools, they don't even know they're not getting anything....”
“What is this place?”
“Don't be frightened.” Bogatoff helped Robert to sit down on a wicker chair. “You are not dead, this is unfortunately not paradise, although some people think so. It is just my private island in the boundless waters of the Pacific. Well, I guess we are doomed to be with each other... but soon we will bring your family too. The accountant that is your wife will come in handy in my new company. You, on the other hand, will make an excellent head of security. What do you say to that?”
Pavel Drietl, commissioner of Europol's homicide division, stood on the platform of the CW-48 space lift. He silently cursed his boss, on whose orders he fought the wind and rain over the Bosphorus. A journey to the space station Finesia awaited him. He was due to investigate the death of his colleague Robert Smart. Smart's body was found in Jens Bogatoff's office. Interesting, thought Drietl. Is it possible that the person conducting the investigation died in the same circumstances as the subject of the investigation? From a heart attack... The commissioner breathed in deeply the sea air. A long investigation awaited him...
Author Notes: Adam Ostaszewski is a lawyer by profession who lives in Poland. He is an author of novels and short stories. He is also a fan of historical, science fiction and political fiction literature.