saturn night fever
Space Case Mystery #3
Paperback ISBN: 9781939197528
eBook ISBN: 9781939197511
A secret message hidden in her robot cat leads Sylvia Stryker on a rescue mission to Saturn.
Sylvia Stryker is making up for lost time. Picking up where her formal education left off, she turns to unlikely sources to train her for simulated physical combat and mental strategy (while wear-testing a new, prototype uniform!). When an empty space pod lands by her training site and the body of a space courier is discovered inside, her simulated training goes to the test.
Sylvia and her mentor hijack a spaceship, assemble a crew, and take on space pirates. But there’s more to this mission than expected. Sylvia’s focus on bringing a murderer to justice might lead her into a trap. Between the truth and the lies is a galaxy of questions.
Can a rogue operation help Sylvia become the woman she’s destined to be?
Saturn Night Fever is the third wacky mystery adventure in the Space Case mystery series. If you like humorous mysteries, unique characters, and spacey fun, you’ll love Diane Vallere’s entertaining, interstellar series.
When Neptune said I fought like a girl, I did the only respectable thing. I hit him. That’s not to say it’s a good idea for dropouts from the space academy to strike their newly-appointed superiors, but in this case, he deserved it.
In the two versions of the story that will be told of the incident, at least one will contain the fact that technically, I was in training. Technically, the only reason we were on the helipad on the corner of Neptune’s property was because the helipad was a convenient place to practice. Technically, I was being paid a small sponsorship fee to test the durability of new uniforms designed for Moon Unit Corporation, and technically, the only way I could fully know if the uniforms were durable were to see how they held up when I threw a punch.
Neptune’s version might include slight variations.
“In case you haven’t noticed, I am a girl,” I said.
Neptune was bigger, older, and more experienced than I was, and he probably had more important things to do than spend the day teaching me defensive maneuvers. But never graduating had left me with relatively few channels to advance my learning.
After Moon Unit 6 returned from Venus, Neptune contacted me via the comm device implanted in my ear and offered me free room and board in exchange for lessons to pick up where my interrupted education had left off. I’d dropped out when my dad was arrested so I could help my mom with the family dry ice mines. Neptune’s offer to teach me gave us both something of value. I’d accepted, more for me than for him. I’m selfish that way.
“You know why you were almost incapacitated on our last moon trek?” he asked. “Because you dropped your guard. You thought size and skill were enough to beat your enemy. You fought fair. You fought like a woman.”
“Oh, so now I’m a woman?” I countered. “I grew up fast.”
It wasn’t that Neptune treated me like a girl or a woman. He treated me like a student. And most of the time I was okay with that. But the voice in my head that I didn’t want to listen to wondered why someone like Neptune spent time training someone like me. It was a voice that hadn’t had much to question since my dad was arrested.
Any attention paid to me usually had strings attached. Retribution for my dad’s crimes, or the novelty of my half Plunian background in a world where lavender women were now rare. More than once I’d fended off advances when I saw where they were headed. I developed a thick skin and narrowed my social circle to a very tight group.
But despite the fact that Neptune was a muscular wall of taciturn authority, or maybe because if it, I was attracted to him. I doubted it was the black military-issue cargo gear he wore (did he buy his clothes in bulk?) or the intimidating stance he’d perfected long before I met him (arms crossed, feet shoulder-width apart). I’d never been attracted to men in power—in fact, power was a pretty tried-and-true turn-off. I didn’t know what it was about Neptune that made my lavender skin glow at the least opportune times. I only knew it was important to me to prove to him that I was different. Today, different meant throwing a non-girly punch.
He grabbed my wrist and closed my fingers into a fist. His hand was twice the size of mine—tawny against my lavender coloring. “You have to toughen up, Stryker. You’re smart, and you learn information fast, but instincts don’t come from a book.”
“I learned how to fight by an accredited Hapkido master. Or have you already forgotten that I dropped you with a sweeping kick because you underestimated me?”
He let go of my fist and pointed at me. “Don’t let that go to your head. Success is built on failure. If you learn anything from these lessons, learn that. Failure is your friend.”
“I thought failure wasn’t an option? The flight director of Earth’s space shuttle program said it, right? His biography was required reading.”
“You didn’t read the book. That’s a made-up quote from a movie script. The flight director liked the line so much he used it for the title of his biography. Lesson number two: check your source. I thought you knew that by now.”
I didn’t tell Neptune that I hadn’t read the book because the course took place after I dropped out. I’m pretty sure lesson number three is to keep your weaknesses to yourself.
“Repeat it back to me.”
“Blah, blah, check your source.”
“Repeat what I told you about failure.”
“‘Failure is my friend.’”
“Remember that.” He turned around and walked a few feet away from me and then turned back. “If you think you can fight because you dropped me—once—then you’ll get complacent. Don’t forget what happened the last time you got complacent.”
How could I forget? I almost died. It didn’t help that the fight had been four against one or that my oxygen supply had been cut off, rendering me helpless. My opponents knew my weakness and used it against me. Nothing fair about it. I didn’t want to admit it, but Neptune was right. I’d falsely assumed I could defend myself without too much effort, and my false sense of confidence had worked against me.
“Go again,” he said. He bent his knees slightly and prepared for my attack. I swung my arms forward and backward, giant half circles to limber up my shoulders, and felt a seam tear. “Hold on. Uniform malfunction. Moon Unit Corporation thinks they can cut corners by using a different supplier, but the last six uniforms I tested fell apart.”
I turned and pointed to where I’d felt the split. “What am I supposed to tell them this time? ‘Looks good but you can’t throw a girly punch’?”
I felt Neptune tug the split fabric together. Even though I wasn’t looking at him, just the graze of his fingertips against my shoulder blade made me flush.
“Why are you wasting your time with uniforms?”
“Someday the name ‘Sylvia Stryker’ will be synonymous with space uniforms. After our trip to Venus, the publicity company who planned the hype around the Moon Units contacted me to wear test their prototypes. It’s a little cash on the side between treks and all things considered, I can use the money. I can’t crash here forever.”
I knew Neptune wouldn’t pursue the conversation. He understood my predicament: no planet, no family, no home. He was with me the night space pirates destroyed everything I’d ever known. The only reason I agreed to train with him was because there’s a certain security in spending time with someone who prioritized silence over small talk. I could learn a lot from Neptune and I knew it.
He could learn from me too. I wasn’t sure he knew that. Yet.
Neptune’s loner lifestyle suited him, but I was glad that he begrudgingly allowed me to coexist on his property. Not one to mooch, I made sure to bring what I could to the table. Enter Mattix Dusk, space courier (and my Hapkido instructor) who traveled between the thirteen colonies under Federation Control, to pick up and deliver anything that needed to be picked up or delivered. I introduced the two men and they worked out a mutually acceptable deal. Mattix had use of the helipad and a place to crash while on the Kuiper Belt. Neptune had access to Mattix’s courier contacts and suppliers. And for the foreseeable future, I had not one but two mentors who could further my education.
Where Neptune was tall, tawny, and solid muscle, Mattix looked like a piece of worn leather in loose-fitting castoff clothes. Tanned skin, bleached hair worn in a ponytail, and ragamuffin clothes suited him. His job as courier put him in front of shady characters, and he passed along his two most important pieces of advice: look like you have less than the other guy and learn to take care of yourself.
Whatever direction my lesson was supposed to go was interrupted by a swiftly approaching space pod. I looked at the sky and watched it glide toward us. It was the Dusk Driver, the space pod that belonged to Mattix.
I smiled and waved while backing up so he could land. As his space pod drew closer, alarm bells rang out from the nearby towers. His speed was too fast. He was going to crash. And if I didn’t get out of the way, I’d burn up in the wreckage.
Neptune reached the same conclusion before I did. How do I know? When I tore my attention from the incoming space pod to tell Neptune something was wrong, I saw him charge toward me. The impact knocked me to the ground.
Either Neptune knew what was happening and wanted to save me, or he was trying to make a point.
From the bank of dirt alongside the helipad, the space pod jerked to a halt and then hovered two feet above the ground. Mattix knew better than to approach at the speed he had, but he’d compensated for the potential accident by activating the ship’s invisible buffer: a two foot “bumper” of static electricity that kept the exterior from contacting another surface. It operated much the same way as two magnets held in close proximity. The dueling forcefields pushed away from each other, making it impossible to touch. Mattix wouldn’t have activated the buffer shield unless something was wrong.
I scrambled to my feet and, keeping my center of gravity low, approached the space pod. Mattix wouldn’t allow anyone else to navigate the ship without reason, which made what I saw even scarier.
The ship was being flown on autopilot.