Delph warned me not to get involved with Cassie. He told me she’d get me locked up in an Ursan prison, or stranded on some lifeless rock staring so far down the business end of a venatici I’d be looking at its kidneys. Doomsday Delph’s best case scenario was she’d stick me with a needle full of lupus and leave me heaving out my own vulpecula. I didn’t bother arguing; we both knew I wasn’t gonna listen. Also, why bother arguing with Overweight Eeyore when I could be coming up with a logo for my next-band, Needle Full of Lupus?
So three months later when I got locked up in an Ursan jail cell, the absolute last person I wanted to call was Daddy Delph. But this far out in the Berenices, the only other people who’d be willing to saddle up when I yelled “Geronimo” wouldn’t be coughing up bail money. After I got my stuff back, I stepped out into the lobby to find Delph waiting for me with his midsection straddling a bench and his hands folded over his immense front-stomach. Two of his eyes were closed, but the third swiveled around on its stalk, monitoring its surroundings like a meth addict with a welfare check.
When it spotted me, his front legs loped forward. His middle belly slopped free from the bench and swayed beneath him as all four hind legs skittered over the bench. “Did they harm you?" he asked as his food hole came within an inch of my mouth. I swear, I will never get used to Antlian etiquette.
"Nah," I replied as I took a step back. "None of those ursies had ever seen a human before. Too scared of catching man-germs to come anywhere near me."
"That is good. But you did not listen. You would not have been incarcerated if you had listened."
“But this is done. Cassie is now deceased. She cannot beguile you again.”
“Cassie’s not dead. C’mon, Delph, you know her better than that.”
Delph’s upper torso bent into an "S" as his face pulled away from me, classic Antlian body language for confusion. “You were arrested for murder. I know that you would not do this thing and I would not provide the money to liberate you if I believed otherwise, but you would not have been arrested if she remained alive.”
“Nah, she faked it,” I replied.
“There was no body?”
“Nah, she faked it,” I repeated.
At this point, Delph’s antennae started twitching, as frantic as I’d ever seen them. Delph’s got his flaws, one of them being his soft spot for me. “They cannot arrest you without significant proof! The legal system will collapse if beings face incarceration without substantial evidence of their guilt.”
I grabbed him by the top half of one of his upper pair of arms and started guiding him to the exit before he stormed the intake guard and tried to force him to fix the system all by himself. “She set me up, Delph.”
“Why would she do this? Did you try to pawn her belongings too? Is she now unhinged?”
“Now unhinged? That bitch had more issues than a publishing company the day I met her.”
“I do not understand you, Leo. Why do you seek to become entangled with one you believe is not sane?”
We were outside now. All three suns had lined up for some giant asshole kid's magnifying glass so the four of them could see how long it would take me to burst into flames. “You bring your ship? I need to get gone.”
“You must stay within atmospheric boundaries until the tribunal reviews your case. It is one of the terms of your release.”
“Delph, I just need a drink or something. Food. Take me anywhere that isn’t south of Hell in August, right now.”
Delph inclined his torso toward the parking lot. “My ship is this way. You will tell me what happened.” I knew he meant it as a statement of fact, not a command, but goddammit I will never get used to Antlian etiquette.
Antlians aren’t built like humans, and neither are their ships. I won't get used to that, either. I wasn’t about to plop down on a bench with my knees jacked into my chin, so I opted to hunch over and stay on my feet. “So two days ago, I stumbled home from the best lyran night of my life, ended up winning like 800 serpens, so I was feeling pretty good. Walked in the front door, found a trail of Cassie’s clothes, all the way down to the underdrawers. I figured she was feeling pretty good too, and my night was about to get a lot better.”
“You expected to have intercourse.”
I groaned audibly. “Yes, Delph, I expected to have intercourse. Until I saw the spots on the floor. Light blue, so now I’m starting to freak out a little bit. It looked like blood, and it was still wet.”
“Where did the blood trail lead you?”
“The kitchen. Shit’s all out of sorts in there. Utensils on the floor, pantry doors flung open. Bloody knife on the counter, all that shit. The place looks like a goddamn murder scene. And that’s when I notice it. There was a sword – I shit you not, a fucking sword – stuck in the wall.”
“I still do not understand how you know Cassie is not deceased.”
“Goddammit, Delph, let me tell the story! I’m getting there. So I pull the damn thing out of the wall, and it starts screaming its head off. And, of course, that’s when the door opens.”
“Ah, Cassie. That is how you know.”
“No, it wasn’t Cassie! It was Detective Draco Dipshit. How do you not know by now it was gonna be Detective Dipshit? Every damn story I tell ends with Detective Dipshit anymore.”
“There is no Detective Dipshit within the Ursan system. Do you mean Detective First Class Draco Eridanus?”
“Yeah, like I said, Detective Dipshit. You gonna keep interrupting with questions you already know the answer to, or are you gonna let me finish my story?”
“I wish to hear the conclusion of the story. I still do not know how you can be sure Cassie is not deceased.”
By this point we were whizzing through the Auriga district. “Go faster,” I said. “Anyway, so Dipshit tells me to drop the weapon and get my hands up, so I do. And as soon as I drop the sword, it starts yelling for help.”
“Officer, get me away from him! He killed her! He tried to use me to kill her!”
“The sword was confused,” Delph said.
“No, the sword was a liar,” I replied. “What do expect from a singblade? Every last one of ‘ems an asshole. Guarantee you Cassie put the little bastard up to it.”
“You cannot generalize like this, Leo. No whole race is made up entirely of assholes. If I had listened to Antlian opinions of humans, I would have left you for dead when I found you.”
“Yeah, so, yeah, whatever, so Dipshit hears this, and he’s as happy as a Doberman munching on top sirloin. Tells the goon squad to cuff me. Tells me I’m under arrest for the murder of Cassendory Camelopardalis. I tell him I just got there and found the room like that. He pulls a pair of pants out from behind his back, covered in blood. He says they got to them before I could finish burning the evidence, and sure enough the goddamn things are still smoldering.”
“But you told him of the lyran parlor. You gave him your alibi.”
“Of course I didn't. Nobody in that place was gonna vouch for me. No way they’d risk getting arrested or give up the location of a lyran parlor run by the Octans. Not for my pink ass. But I did tell him no way those were my pants. You could fit three of me in those things. They were Fornax-sized for god's sake.”
“But you were still arrested. Surely this was enough evidence to free you,” Delph said, his antennae twitching again.
“Not for Dipshit. ‘You’re finally going to prison,’ he said. ‘I’ve got you this time. Five years, at least.’” By the way, for any humans listening to this story who are thinking five years and bail sounds pretty light for murder, you have to understand that for a society centered completely around reincarnation, murder isn’t nearly as serious a crime to them as it is to us.
Delph’s eye stalk swung back and forth solemnly. “Five years. In five years, you would be as withered as your people’s raisins. A veritable lifetime.”
“Yeah, not really,” I replied. “Please," I said. "No way you pin this on me." At that point, Dipshit got right in my face. His suckers were actually touching my lips. So I held my breath.
And he just kept talking, taking his victory lap. “You think you’re a genius. You think I can’t touch you. But I’ve got you. No wriggling your slimy little self free this time. I have your pants. I have the weapon."
He pulled his face away from mine and picked up the knife from the counter. I took the opportunity to gulp in as much precious air as I could. Cassie’s hair was on the knife.
“All the evidence you have provided thus far indicates she is deceased.”
“Goddammit, Delph, shit, I am telling you, she’s alive. Let me finish!” Delph was setting the ship down by Triangulum Entangulum now. Good choice. I could practically taste their horologium, and moved closer to the door. “So Dipshit asks me, ‘You know what that makes you look like?’ So I responded with, 'No, but it's gotta be better than what you got going on. You look like your face got fucked by a knife.' He didn’t like that. My stomach didn’t like any of the four fists that ended up in it next.”
“He assaulted you?” Delph asked. “That is an unwarranted use of physical force!”
“Calm down,” I replied. “I’m fine. Anyway, so he loads me in the back of his transport, and as we’re taking off, I look up at the window, I don't know, like three floors up or something, and there was a woman standing there, Octans, I figured, since no part of her was exposed. But then I noticed her headcover. It was stained. It was still wet. It was actually dripping, in fact. It was blood. And it was blue blood.”
“You must be mistaken, Leo. Octans do not have blue blood.”
“Exactly, Delph! It was Cassie. That's how I know she's alive. That’s how I know she set me up. She wanted to make sure I got caught, but she couldn’t afford to be seen. Pretending to be an Octans was the perfect disguise. No cop was gonna ask her to remove her headcover. Not a chance.”
“She is cunning. But your trial will find you innocent, and you will go on, free from her influence.”
“Nah. I, I gotta find her.”
"Because she tried to ruin my life. She wanted them to lock me up for murder. Now, I'm gonna give 'em a reason to."