Authors: Freddi MacNaughton
Daisy Wong, Space Marshal:
The Case of the Runaway Concubine
© 2012 by Freddi MacNaughton
by Soapbox Rising Press
illustration copyright © Tomasz Tulik | Dreamstime.com
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Daisy Wong, Space Marshal:
The Case of the Runaway Concubine
by Freddi MacNaughton
Lt. Daisy Wong, space marshal, despised Los Angeles, Mars.
She despised it this time around just as much as she had the
last time work had forced her onto the Red Planet. Her boss, Captain
Spaulding, had arranged a favor for the political higher-ups, and so here she
was, on Mars, doing the work.
Daisy hated doing favors for the higher-ups. However, in
this particular instance, Daisy had to admit that she would have agreed to take
on the case, anyway . . . even without Spaulding's
so-called request that she do so. The favor involved a member of Daisy's
family, and family is family, especially when it's part and parcel of some of
the most powerful criminal tongs in the Sol system. Besides, Mars was only one
grubby little planet and Los Angeles, Mars, was only one grubby not-so-little
Meanwhile, Daisy's partner, Officer Muffy Chatterjee, was in
the throes of open glee, had been since their shuttle had dropped into Mars
orbit. All the way through customs, her delight had not slackened. All the
way through the spaceport to the waiting line of taxis, her grin had not
faded. And now, on their ride into town from the spaceport, she was excitedly
watching the passing scenery—red and gray and grubby and plasticized and dirty
though it was. She was also keeping up a stream of dirt-side—that is,
Muffy's hometown was in the northern part of India, Earth,
and at the moment, she sounded as though she would have felt more at home in a
sari than in her uniform. Newbies. You had to love 'em.
Daisy listened to Muffy's stream of consciousness and tried
not to think about the pet-shop humidity, the stench of spilled food rising
from the taxi's floor mats, and the inescapable Martian grit. It had already
worked down in between her collar and her neck, where like sandpaper it abraded
The environmental systems inside Mars's domed cities were
supposed to keep the grit at bay, but they didn't. Of course. Nothing ever
worked quite the way it was supposed to. Once she and Muffy returned to
the LaGrange colony they called home, Daisy would have to send her uniforms to the
cleaners at least twice before they'd be really clean.
Above all, Daisy tried not to think about amounted to her
maternal uncle's summons, delivered through the higher-ups to Captain Spaulding,
who had delivered it to her. It was all very unofficial, all very designed to
have her unofficially assigned to a hush-hush case for which no files would
ever exist. The multiple ironies of the situation had escaped no one, least of
Muffy quit chattering the moment their taxi pulled up in
front of the Celestial Cybernetics and Robotics building. It was a tall, buff-colored,
Daisy paid the tab and asked the driver to wait. The extra cash
she handed him ensured that he might.
Muffy's mood descended from quiet to wary during their
elevator ride up to the offices of the Celestial Fraternal Benevolent and
Protective Association. The Association was an unabashed criminal tong and the
sole owner of the Celestial Cybernetics and Robotics Corporation, one of its
numerous fronts. Like a Hindu god, the Association had many faces and more
arms. Daisy's uncle, Zhaohui "Snakeskin" Wong, was the man in
Muffy watched the floor numbers light up in succession. Her
lips moved slightly as she counted off the floors. She reminded Daisy of a
condemned criminal counting the steps to the execution chamber.
Daisy wished she'd knock it off.
Muffy said, "Please be telling me again why it is we
are finding ourselves here?"
Muffy was just back from well-deserved vacation—a trip home
to India, Earth—and her accent was stronger than ever. It was so strong that Daisy
wondered whether or not her partner wasn't imitating her pre-space-dwelling
"You know as much as I do," Daisy said. "Somebody's
"Snakeskin was asking for you, was he not? And yet, we
are not here, not officially. It is most puzzling."
"Yeah, but look on the bright side," Daisy said.
"We get to spend a few days on Mars, the garden spot of the solar system."
The elevator slowed, stopped, and the doors opened.
Jimmy Fingers, Snakeskin's right-hand man, was standing in
the lobby to perform the meet-and-greet. His smile was real, as real as the
cameras and the blasters that Daisy knew her uncle's security people had concealed
in the ceiling.
"How was your trip out from
Jimmy Fingers asked.
"Long," Daisy said.
Jimmy fingers held out his hands, palms turned up.
"Hand 'em over," he said pleasantly. "You have your rules; we have
Daisy and Muffy handed over their side arms.
"And the backups," Jimmy said.
"Paranoid," Daisy said, half-teasing, half-serious.
"Alive," Jimmy Fingers said, flat-out serious.
Daisy and Muffy pulled their low-capacity shooters from
their ankle holsters and handed those over, too.
Jimmy Fingers checked the safeties on all four weapons and
tucked them into his waistband.
"You know, Daiz, you ought to move out of that
glorified soup can you live in," Jimmy Fingers said. He led them out of
the elevator lobby and into the offices proper. "I mean, Lagrange
colonies are fine, if you like that sort of thing, but there's nothing like a
real planet under your feet."
And real grit down the back of your neck
thought. Aloud, she said, "Real is good."
Doors opened and doors closed. Glass doors. Metal doors. People
looked. People looked away. Cameras tracked.
A wood-paneled door opened, and they entered Snakeskin's
It was a large room. Books and antiques lined the walls,
and the air smelled of incense and gunpowder tea.
Snakeskin Wong was at his desk, bathed in the warmth of a
trio of sunlamps. He was more naked than clothed.
He'd begun his life as an unmodified human being, but had
fallen for the decorative wiles of genetic engineering. At first, he had indulged
in little things: thicker hair, keener eyesight, a longer penis, a change in
his naturally sallow complexion.
Other horizons had beckoned.
As things worked out, the change to his complexion had been
the merest beginning. Nowadays, tiny scales, like a snake's, covered his
body. Rumor had it that every so often he shed his skin, just like a real
snake. The scales made patterns in a variety of colors: red, yellow, brown,
black, and white. Blue and green, depending. Over time, the patterns changed.
He looked a bit like a coral snake on steroids or a neon-hued cobra.
It was the ultimate tattoo, a living work of genetic art.
There were days when Daisy wished that somewhere in the
universe there were a peacock large enough to snap him up . . . or
a mongoose skilled enough to take him on and win.
Many had tried.
Nevertheless, he lived, leaving behind himself a long trail of
self-appointed mongooses, all dead.
And yet, Daisy genuinely loved her Uncle Snakeskin. As for
the ambivalence, she could do no better than acknowledge it and let it go.
Snakeskin looked up. His expression warmed, especially
around his eyes and at the corners of his mouth.
"Ah, my beloved niece, who makes her life among the
Gweilo. How are you? I see you've brought the lovely Officer Chatterjee with
you." To Muffy, he added, "It is a true pleasure to see you again
after so many months."
Snakeskin's voice was sibilant without actually hissing, but
since the last time Daisy had seen him, his eyes had taken on a new depth and a
new sadness. A new coldness.
Was it possible that he was slowing down, beginning to weigh
up the road behind rather than anticipate the road ahead?
Never. Not Snakeskin.
Muffy made thank-you noises and said what a pleasure it was
to be on Mars again.
Jimmy Fingers brought in tea and cakes.
"Our meeting may take a moment or two," Snakeskin
said. "Please, make yourselves comfortable."
It would have been difficult not to, given the quality of
the chairs. Genuine leather. Real wood.
The tea was Chinese, as in from China, Earth, not Chinese as
in from a greenhouse in New China, Mars.
They talked about life aboard
, about Captain
Spaulding's generosity in allowing Daisy to take a few weeks away, about
Muffy's vacation, about the myriad varieties of snakes in India.
Daisy set her cup down. "Enough beating around the
bush. Why are we here? Who's gone missing and why is it up to us to find
"You sound just like a red-haired monkey,"
Snakeskin said. He laughed and added, "How rude you have become."
Daisy caught a glimpse of her uncle's canines. They were
lengthening into fangs. Would he develop poison sacks and ducts as well?
She forced her instinctive revulsion to one side. Were
fangs any worse than scales? Were scales any worse than the thousands of other
ways in which people adorned themselves?
Daisy said, "I sound like a cop with better things to
do than traipse halfway across the solar system to drink tea."
"I understand," Snakeskin said, and offered a
polite nod of his head, more than an acknowledgement but far less than an
apology. "Very well. Some months ago—"
"How many?" Daisy asked.
"Ten," Snakeskin said. "Ten months ago, Meizhen
Fitzgerald and I fell into a silly row. I—"
"One of my newer concubines. You've never met her.
She's not one of your Aunt Hester's favorites." Snakeskin shook his head in
regret. "Sadly, Hester has a point, but then she has always been most
perceptive. Oh, Meizhen is a charming-enough girl, but she's also somewhat vain
and prone to flashes of temper. There is little extra room in her universe for
anyone other than Meizhen."
"I see," Daisy said. "Was she an active part
of the household?"
"Oh, yes, of course. She had her duties and she discharged
them flawlessly, as far as I'm aware."
Daisy tried not to show her disapproval, or her bewilderment.
The domestic ways of the Martian tongs, of the Martian Chinese in general,
seemed utterly out of kilter to her. Yes, she'd grown up in a tong family, but
they'd lived way out on the fringes of the Asteroid Belt. And out there, women
were at a premium. Any of them would have fed her husband's balls to the dogs
if he had dared to add a contract mistress to his establishment.
"What about the 'silly row'?"
"Ah, yes. The row. I did my best to make amends, but without
success. Meizhen and I went our separate ways for the evening."
"And then?" Daisy prompted.
"And then in the morning I learned she had packed her
belongings and left my house. She'd placed her cancelled contract on her bed
for me to find."
"What did you do?"
"Nothing?!" That seemed impossible.
"My house is not a prison."
"Then I don't see your problem. She got angry and
skipped. So what?"
"At first, I saw no problem, either. As I said, she is
a hot-tempered girl. I expected her to sulk for a few days. To teach me a
lesson. That sort of thing. You're well aware of how these games are played."
He left the slightest of pauses. "But the days stretched into
"Six. I admit I let the matter slide for far too
long. I was about to begin a search when I heard from her. Meizhen said she
was staying at one of the lunar resorts."
Jimmy Fingers stepped in and handed Daisy a slip of paper.
It had a New Telluride address scribbled on it.
"Thanks," Daisy said.
"It's a fake," Jimmy Fingers said.
"Too bad," Daisy said. Turning back to Snakeskin,
she asked, "Why did she get in touch?"
"There were funds owed on her contract. She asked me
to deposit them in a special account, not the one she normally used. It seemed
a trifle odd, but I did as she asked. I had no reason not to."
Business is business.
Snakeskin sipped his tea. "I'm on cordial terms with
most of my former concubines. Birthday and holiday greetings. Exchanges of
gossip. Idle talk. Infrequent, true, but steady. But from Meizhen, since
then, I have heard nothing. It's most strange."
"Eight months and not a word," Jimmy Fingers put
"Four months ago, I began a determined search,"
Snakeskin said. "But I haven't been able to locate her."
Which explained his call to the space marshals for help.
"What have you come up with, if anything?" Daisy asked.
"Hints. A few retail transactions, a spattering of
likely hits on the security grid, but nothing solid. They're scattered
throughout the solar system. Will-o’-the-wisps."
"Why would you be wishing to find her?" Muffy
"Ah, Officer Chatterjee," Snakeskin said. "A
most perceptive question on your part. For one thing, I do like to keep
track. A man in my position cannot afford not to. It would be most unwise to
allow a former mistress to become a current enemy."
Daisy could almost hear the other shoe hovering above the
floor. "Go on," she said. "What's happened? You didn't start
searching out of the blue, Uncle."
"No, I did not. There were rumors."
"What sort of rumors?" Daisy was beginning to fear
the worst: that her Uncle Snakeskin had wet work for her to do. If he did,
would she have the courage to tell him to go to hell, or would she, ever the
reverential niece, bow her deepest bow, smile her sweetest smile, and get on