FLY ME TO THE MOON | dianevallere

FLY ME TO THE MOON

Space Case Cozy Mystery #1
Paperback ISBN: 9781939197542
eBook ISBN: 9781939197535

Sylvia Stryker wants to explore the galaxy. A family scandal kept her from leaving home. Can a white lie help her change her future?

Sylvia Stryker used to help run her parents' dry ice farm, until her dad's arrest nearly left them bankrupt. But after finagling a job on board an outer space cruise ship, she's ready to explore all that outer space has to offer. With a private room in the staff quarters, her robot cat by her side, and the responsibilities of uniform management, Sylvia is thrilled to return to work--until she discovers the second navigation officer dead in the inventory closet.

Neptune, the head of ship security, finds Sylvia's presence to be the most suspicious part of the incident; that's what happens when you hack your way into a last-minute job opportunity! But despite his efforts to pin the murder on Sylvia, she won't accept how the clues are unfolding. And if Sylvia doesn’t expose the murderer on the cruise, then she’ll never learn the truth about her family.

Fly Me to the Moon is the quirky first cozy mystery featuring uniform lieutenant Sylvia Stryker. If you like unique characters, delightful plots, and cool space fashion, you’ll love Diane Vallere’s entertaining Space Case Cozy series.

Buy Fly Me to The Moon to blast off into out-of-this-world cozy adventure today!

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Excerpt:

1: Neptune

When Moon Unit 5 kicked off its inaugural trip from my home planet of Plunia, I expected the uniform closet to be stuffed to capacity. I just hadn’t expected it to be stuffed with a body. But here we were, light years from the space station where we’d departed, and instead of a closet of freshly laundered uniforms, I had a dead man. No matter how thoroughly I'd planned for today, I never could have planned for this.

Maybe he wasn’t dead. Maybe he was tired. Maybe he’d had a late night partying before today’s departure and crawled into my uniform closet to take a nap.

As unlikely as that explanation was, I wasn’t yet willing to accept the more probable reality. I knelt next to him and checked for a pulse on the side of his neck. His skin was cold to the touch, which was either due to his not-alive state or the twenty-degree difference between earthling temperatures (his) and Plunian temperatures (mine). In this case, it was both. No pulse, no breathing. A Code Blue.

Moon Unit Corporation ran a fleet of cruise spaceships whose mission was to provide relaxing getaways to one of our galaxy’s moons. Ever since I’d learned they were reopening after years of inactivity, I’d fantasized about working for them. The fact that I’d hacked my records into their system was a minor technicality. My job was to manage the uniforms during the moon trek, and as long as I did my job and avoided ship security, my fantasy would become a reality. But this was bigger than managing uniforms. Regardless of the risks to me, I had to contact the bridge.

I could send a general message over the staff communication network. I stepped away from the pile of spilled uniforms and shifted to the computer that sat above the console in the middle of the room. It was standard issue, a flat black folio with colorful buttons and a low-definition screen. Only the top members of the ship and paying passengers were given high-def equipment. For the rest of us, it was the bare minimum, Moon Unit Corporation’s way of making sure distractions didn’t surround us. To the right side of the computer was a clear plastic dome that protected a shiny red button that, despite learning about during emergency protocol training, I’d hoped never to have to use.

This was a button message.

I flipped the dome up and pressed the button. “Uniform Ward to the bridge. Lieutenant Sylvia Stryker reporting. There’s a situation in my ward.”

“What kind of situation?” asked a female voice. It sounded like my immediate supervisor, Yeoman D’Nar. There was no official reason for her to be on the bridge during departure, but senior officers of the ship were given an open invitation to witness the launch with Captain Swift. D’Nar was exactly the type to insert herself where she wasn’t wanted.

“I’m pretty sure it’s a Code Blue.” Pretty sure? I was completely sure. There was no doubt I was looking at a Code Blue.

“Don’t be reckless. A Code Blue is serious. I think you made a mistake.”

I bristled at her accusation but kept my voice in check. “It’s not a mistake. I memorized the codes last night.”

“I don’t think you have a Code Blue. Check the BOP and report in as applicable.”

The BOP—Book of Protocols—was a 237-page manual that outlined the proper method for handling everything from hydrating vacuum-packed meals to subordination expectations between low-level officers and high-ranking ones. Every ship in the galaxy had a BOP. Crew members were expected to know the rules and regulations of the ship, but the BOP existed as a backup when something unexpected happened.

I picked up a small hand mirror from the nearby uniform alterations station and held it in front of the officer’s mouth. No condensation.

Code Blue, alright.

I hadn’t been lying about having memorized the list of codes from the BOP. I’d bought a used copy of an old Book of Protocols from the black market and studied it from cover to cover. No doubt it was outdated. The Moon Units 1-3 had had their share of trouble, and the problems with the Moon Unit 4 were still classified, but I had to start somewhere.

I flipped through the pages of the Moon Unit 5 BOP, looking for an updated list of warning codes. Because my knowledge had come from the old BOP, I’d created a finding tool: a cross-reference of everything in the old manual and where to find it in the new one. I’d also had a copy of the BOP made and organized it the way I would if I were in charge of ship security.

Someday, I would be. When people stopped judging me by what my dad had done before they arrested him and took him away.

But today wasn’t someday, and even though the bridge blew off my call, I still had a problem that had nothing to do with uniform management.

I studied the deceased officer. Who was he? A quick assessment of his uniform indicated his position and rank: red shirt, two bands circling his cuff, standard issue black pants, and gravity boots. Second navigation officer of Moon Unit 5.

There were no visible wounds to indicate how he’d died. He wasn’t wearing an air purification helmet like I was, so I disconnected my inhalation tube from the oxygen tank under my uniform, held the tube in front of his mouth, and sniffed. Cherries and menthol. I reconnected the tube and then put my hand under his chin and opened his mouth wide. His tongue had a stripe of bright red down the middle like he’d been sucking on a throat lozenge. It was common practice among crew members during takeoff because frequent swallowing kept ears from plugging up.

“What are you doing?” said a voice behind me. I turned my head and bumped my protective fiberglass bubble helmet on the closet door. My helmet bounced off the surface. I blinked a few times and then looked up.

 

Uh-oh.

Even if I’d been face to face with the man in the uniform ward, he would have towered over me. He had a bald head and dark, pointed eyebrows that shielded dark eyes. Long, straight nose and lips that were drawn in a line and turned down on the sides. His arms crossed in front of his body, and his biceps bulged below the hem of the short sleeves of his dark blue jumpsuit.

My mind flashed over a series of facts and images I’d memorized before my official first day, and I reached one conclusion. This man was from the maintenance crew. My know-it-all boss must have told him I called in the wrong code and sent him here to clean up whatever mess I’d caused.

“I’m Sylvia Stryker. I spoke with Yeoman D’Nar about a Code Blue. Did she send you?”

He looked over my shoulder at the body. “Move,” he said.

I stood quickly. The action triggered a bout of vertigo. I put my hand on my counter just behind where I’d left the open Book of Protocols. Yikes! If this guy saw that I’d torn apart and rearranged the protocol manual, he’d report me to ship security without a second thought. I moved a few inches to the left and turned around to block his view of the counter.

“They must have notified you. You’re with maintenance, right?”

His expression didn’t change. “I haven’t heard anything about a Code Blue.”

“Oh.” I looked over my shoulder to where I’d moved the body. “Maybe the bridge was busy with takeoff.”

Unlike my uniform, the muscular man’s didn’t have the Moon Unit insignia—a silver number 5 surrounded by circles on their axis like the rings around Saturn, all contained in an orange patch edged in black thread. It was the same insignia on my ID card and woven into the carpet in the employee lounge and on the cover of the BOP and every single uniform in the inventory closet. But it wasn’t on him.

Still, the deceased officer deserved to be in a more honorable location than the inventory closet and I needed help moving him. But since there was the tiniest chance that ship security would uncover the fact that I hadn’t indeed been hired through proper channels and might be viewed as a stowaway on board the ship, I’d planned to lay low until we’d cleared the breakaway point in our moon trek. Maybe Yeoman D’Nar’s lack of urgency was a blessing in disguise.

“He’s dead,” I said.

“How?”

“I don’t know. He was inside the uniform closet when I got here. I checked for a pulse but couldn’t find it.”

“You need to notify the bridge.”

“Well, duh,” I said. “I probably know the ship protocols better than you do. I contacted the bridge and told Yeoman D’Nar I had a Code Blue, but she didn’t believe me.” I looked at the body over the large man’s shoulder. “Can you help me move him? I have to prep for departure, and I can’t do that while he’s blocking my inventory.”

The man’s back was to me, but he turned his head to the side so I could see his profile. His eyebrow raised again. He slipped his arms under the officer’s neck and knees and then stood up and lifted him like he was lifting a bag of potatoes. Plunia was filled with potato farms, and when I wasn’t working in the ice mines with my mom, I’d often played in the potato fields. I was pretty sure Plunian potatoes weighed a lot less than the second nav officer.

The maintenance man set the body on the reclining bench alongside the inside wall of the uniform ward. He draped a dressing gown over him, covering his face and red shirt. The dressing gown was only so long, though, so the officer’s bottom half still showed.

“Your ward is off limits,” the maintenance man said.

“No!” I said. “I mean, this is my job on the ship. I expect today to be slow because everybody is probably wearing their best uniform, but still, if I don’t open the uniform ward, the crew will ask questions.”

“Do you have something to hide?” he asked.

I crossed my arms over my magenta uniform. “You ask a lot of questions for a janitor.”

He seemed surprised, and then his lips pressed together, and the corners of his mouth turned up. “Why do you think I’m the janitor?”

“I don’t recognize your uniform, and I know all the different ones on the ship. The only people on the ship wearing uniforms that don’t come from my ward are the janitorial crew.”

The cabin doors swished open and a man in gray walked in. “Neptune, Captain Swift is waiting for you in engineering. He says the crack isn’t sealed.”

“Neptune?” I asked. I looked back and forth between the new guy and the one who’d been asking all the questions. “I thought Neptune was the head of Moon Unit security division?”

“I am,” the original man said.

Oh, no. I’d heard about Neptune. He was the one person I’d been hoping to avoid.

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