The spaceship arrives at a Vaadum Resort and Casino on fire, with some passengers already dead. Vaadum, the kind of place where vacationers go by accident, provides respite for the survivors.
Until someone starts picking them off, too. Can the crew catch the killer before he kills them all?
Killer Advice chronicles an adventure in the life of Misha, the hero of a novel which Rusch wrote under the pen name Kris DeLake, before he meets Rikki in Assassins in Love.
Chosen as one of the best novellas of 2011 by the readers of Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine.
•A true giant of the written word, Kris Rusch possesses influence and a reputation that span genres—though she definitely has a special flair for science fiction. A Hugo-winner for editing Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine and a frequent contributor to Asimov's Science Fiction magazine, Kris has deep roots in the speculative fiction genres. She is especially good at blending science fiction and mystery, as seen in her Retrieval Artist series and Killer Advice. This tale, chosen by the readers of Asimov's as one of the best novellas of 2011, brings us a thrilling murder mystery set on a space station, a crime that can only be solved by Misha, a hero who also stars in Assassins in Love. Reading Killer Advice is like taking a master class in writing science fiction mysteries, not to mention a highly involving and surprising escapist page-turner in its own right. You can't go wrong with anything written by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Killer Advice is no exception. – Robert Jeschonek
"In Killer Advice, the rundown Vaadum Resort and Casino in an ass-end part of the galaxy finds itself suddenly filled with guests, the result of a fire on the ship on which they were traveling. Despite the lucrative prospects of paying guests, hotelier Hunsaker soon finds himself regretting his good fortune, when a guest turns up dead.…What unfolds is a gripping tale with enough whodunit characters to make Agatha Christie proud."– Stainless Steel Droppings
"[Killer Advice is] not the sort of mystery where readers are challenged to discover the killer…The story is in the characters, watching them react to the situation, rising to it and failing to. But it's enough of a mystery to intrigue, with the outcome in doubt until the end. A good read."– Locus
"Killer Advice has a great cast of characters, a good story and lots of hooks for future tales at Vaadum Resort and Casino."– Mixed Bag Books
An Assassins Universe Novella
Sixteen minutes. Sixteen minutes was simply not enough time to prepare for an onslaught. One would think with the recent breakthroughs in interstellar communication that a simple heads-up would be in order. Yet no one thought to contact Hunsaker.
Of course, the communications problem wasn't with the Presidio, who barely got off a single we need help; we're docking soon communiqué before their entire communications array went down. No, the problem was with Repair and Maintenance. Some idiot there forgot to inform Hunsaker that his resort would soon be full.
Not that the Vaadum Resort and Casino was much of a resort. It was more of a Hail Mary Pass. If you were passing through the Commons System (which was what most people did in the Commons System—pass through) and for some reason you needed to exit your luxurious spaceship for some downtime and you couldn't wait the extra day to go to Commons Starship Resorts—which were real resorts, by the way, on full-size space stations—then you ended up at Vaadum Resort and Casino.
Hunsaker liked to think of Vaadum as a bit of a surprise. Vaadum was on the Vaadum Outpost, which predated the Commons Space Station by nearly two hundred years and looked it. Small, cramped quarters, a docking ring that couldn't accommodate most modern ships, a repair shop that was catch as catch can, a resupply warehouse that sometimes needed resupplying itself, and of course, the Resort.
Which, when Hunsaker bought it, was a seedy little rundown motel, operated by the repair crew, who learned (accidentally or so the histories said) that ships in distress often couldn't house their passengers. Better to place those passengers in a paying room than having them bunk on top of tables in the cafeteria.
Hunsaker was manning the front desk because sixteen minutes didn't make up for the six months during which he had neglected to upgrade the automatic check-in system. He hadn't cleaned the rooms in six months either—or at least, not all of them, nor had he checked the environmental systems.
He sent his entire staff—all two of them—off to dust, change linens, and ensure that each room had both oxygen and some sort of livable temperature while he scoured the entry, trying to make it somewhat presentable.
The Repair and Maintenance crew told him that the Presidio had twelve passengers and four crewmembers, so he would need a minimum of eight rooms, but it would be better to have sixteen.
It would be better to have all thirty rooms cleaned and livable, but really, where was the percentage in that? He had three functioning rooms at all times, and two of those were rarely full. The regulars that came through—and there were regulars, although not always the best of regulars—came for the casino, which had the only living breathing human dealer in the Commons System.
She was fifty percent fake. He didn't test the fifty percent theory or which part about her parts was rumor—although he did know that her breasts literally sparkled because she often dealt topless (hence the repeat audience).
She was a bit too vulgar for him. Vaadum Resort and Casinos was a bit vulgar for him, and quite low scale, and if someone asked him, he would have admitted that the entire enterprise had irritated him when he arrived, but didn't bother him so much now.
His standards had lowered, not because of the place, but because he didn't really deserve better.
He was just coming to terms with that.
The entry was the largest room in the Resort, not counting the restaurant or the casino. The entry had bench seats, no-die, regrow plants that he'd bought early in his tenure here and regretted ever since, and a large faux marble floor that, when he bothered to faux polish it, shined like a million bright stars.
He managed to clean the dust off the benches, prune the regrow plants so that their branches no longer took up most of the stairwell, and set up a make-shift computer system to handle the new guests, all in fifteen of his sixteen minutes. But he hadn't tried to clean the floor and he was grateful for that as the passengers of the Presidio pushed and shoved their way through the double doors.
All human (thank God for small blessings) and all sizes, the twelve passengers from the Presidio smelled—not so faintly—of burnt plastic. A few had smoke lines across their faces, and another few wore tattered clothing.
They also stank of sweat and fear and had that wild-eyed look of people Who Had Been Through It All And Weren't Yet Sure They Had Lived To Tell About It.
He had seen so many people like that over the years, and they were always distraught, always needy, and always demanding. He loathed demanding customers, even though his high-end education had prepared him for them. Once upon a time, he was the best at dealing with the most difficult of guests, back when he actually worked in a real resort that catered to the very wealthy, who, at least, were predictable in their very disagreeability.
He peered at the sea of humanity before him—well, all twelve of them anyway, which felt like a veritable sea to him, considering he probably hadn't seen twelve people all in one place since the last ship disaster nearly a year before. These people, with their untended hair and their air of complete panic, stared back at him as if he were their only savior.
He smiled unctuously—and he hadn't managed that expression in nearly a decade—and nodded his head to the first person in line.
She was a stout elderly woman, wearing a black business suit (now decorated with several rips to the right side) and matching sensible shoes. She even had a little hat perched on top of her graying curls. That hat looked like it was an afterthought—one of those things she had grabbed automatically as she fled the ship just to make herself presentable.
"Agatha Kantswinkle," she said with one of those operatic voices (complete with vibrato) that certain older persons cultivated. "I should like a single room."
She did not say please, nor did he expect her to. In fact, she raised her chin after she spoke to him.
She, at least, was a type he could handle.
"We only have a few rooms, madam," he said in his best toady voice. "You'd be more comfortable if you shared a double."
"I would not," she said. "I shall not ever room with any of these despicable people."
She leaned forward and whispered—as best an operatic voice could whisper, which was to say not at all—and confided, "There are murderers among them."
A middle-aged man in the middle, face covered with soot, rolled his eyes. A younger woman toward the back raised her gaze heavenward—if there were a heaven in space, which there was not. Still, Hunsaker didn't miss the gesture. Or the grimaces of dislike on the faces of the other passengers.
"Surely, it wasn't as bad as all that, madam," he said as he opened the file on the old-fashioned built-in screen on his desk. The comment was somewhat reflexive. He hated histrionics. But it was also geared toward the other passengers upon whom, he was becoming certain, he would have to rely to keep Agatha Kantswinkle under some kind of control.
"Not as bad as all that?" she repeated, slapping a palm on the desk, making his computer screen hiccup and nearly blip out. "Are you mad, man? When we left the Dyo System, we had fifteen. Do you think they stepped off the ship mid-flight? I think not."
Hunsaker raised his eyebrows and looked over her shoulder at the other passengers. The man with the soot-covered face shook his head slightly. The young woman had closed her eyes. A few others were looking away as if Agatha Kantswinkle's behavior embarrassed them.
He decided to ignore the woman, which meant getting her away from his desk as quickly as possible. "We have a single room, madam," he said, "but it's tiny. The entertainment system needs upgrading and the bed—"
"I'll take it," she said, handing him a card with her information coded into it, a method as old-fashioned as she was.
He charged her twice the room's usual rate and felt not a qualm about it. First (he reasoned to himself), the Presidio's parent company would probably pay for the extra stop. Secondly, the woman had already shown herself to be an annoyance, and he'd been a hotelier long enough (even at a disreputable place like this one) to know that customers often showed their true colors from the moment they walked in the door.
He was simply adding a surcharge for the difficulties ahead.
He finished adding her information to his file, resisted the urge to wipe his hands on the constantly sanitized towel he kept beneath the desk, and gave her his best fake smile.
"Your room, madam," he said with a nod, "is up those stairs to the left. It is the only room off the first landing."
Because it used to be a maid's room, back when the resort had actual dreams of grandeur, in the days just after its first construction, long before he was born.
She did not thank him and mercifully did not ask him how she would unlock the door. He handed her the door's code, but it was a mere formality. The lock had broken long ago.
As she made her way toward the stairs, he processed four other passengers—real, sane, sensible people. They had all of their information coded into their fingertips like proper human beings, and they were solvent, which was good, since he debited their accounts immediately, although he didn't overcharge them (too badly) like he had Agatha Kantswinkle. People who were in a hurry to get to their rooms, relax and try to forget whatever it was that brought them to this godforsaken place.
Hunsaker was beginning to think that the rest of the check-ins would go well, when the soot-faced man approached the desk. He was taller than Hunsaker, but bent slightly, as if embarrassed by his height—which Hunsaker could well understand, since so many distance ships were not built for the egregiously tall.
"Sorry for the old lady," the man said as he extended his index finger, the only clean one on his hand. "We're really not that bad a bunch."
The finger, touching the screen, identified him as William F. Bunting, Bill for short, who began his journey in the Dyo system just like Agatha Kantswinkle. His occupation listed varied, which usually meant unemployed and searching for work, but he had nearly two dozen stellar (no pun intended) recommendations, so perhaps his occupation truly was varied and he had traveled from job to job as he traveled farther and farther from home.
"Sounds like you've had a difficult trip," Hunsaker said, offering the platitude the way another man would grunt with disinterest.
"You don't know the half of it," Bunting said. "If you had any other ship docked here, I'd request a transfer."
"Perhaps one will arrive while yours is being repaired," Hunsaker said, debiting Bunting's account, which looked full enough—especially for a man who had listed "varied" as his occupation.
"Please God," Bunting said, and sounded serious, which caught Hunsaker's attention.
For a moment, their gaze met. Then Bunting said, "I know you don't have a lot of single rooms, but you probably should give me one." He swept his hands toward his shirt. "These are the only clothes I have, and even I can smell the smoke on them. In a closed space, I'm not going to be someone people want to be around."
Even now, in a not-quite-so-closed space, Hunsaker could smell him. Hunsaker had figured the stench was the accumulated odor of all of the passengers, but maybe it wasn't. Maybe it was Bunting all by his egregiously tall self.
"We have a boutique," Hunsaker said, as if the little room stocked with clothes others had left behind really qualified as a fancy store. "I'll open it in two hours. I'm sure you'll find something to accommodate you there."
He made a note to go to that little room and run the clothing through the automatic cleaning equipment yet again. He had no idea when someone had last picked through the material. At least he'd figured out that he should display it all, and that no one would know that it had been previously worn.
"Thank you," Bunting said, and pulled forward a slightly pudgy balding man. "In that case, we'll share a room."
The slightly pudgy balding man didn't seem disconcerted by this. He looked grateful, in fact. Hunsaker took his information, also stored properly on his index finger—Rutherford J. Nasten—and sent both men to the best-ventilated room in the entire wing.
Hunsaker kept processing until he got to the young woman in the back, who, luck would have it, got a single room simply because Agatha Kantswinkle had demanded a single room and there were only twelve passengers.
"All I have is a room we call the Crow's Nest," Hunsaker said. "It's small, but it's at the top of this part of the station and it has portals on all four walls."
"That sounds good," the woman said tiredly.
"Sounds like the trip from hell so far," he said, actually interested for once, partly because she was so reticent and partly because she had been so expressive earlier.
"You don't know the half of it," the woman said, touching his screen with her left thumb. She was security conscious, then, not willing to follow the norms on how to behave.
It took a moment for the screen to display her information, almost as if it were tired of doing all the hard work, and for a moment everything blurred. Or maybe that was his eyes. He was unaccustomed to dealing with people any more, and even less accustomed to the level of tension he had felt since the passengers had arrived.
"Breakdowns can be stressful," he said, as he monitored the information in front of him. The light above hit her face just right so that it reflected into the screen, making it seem like her information had come up superimposed over her image.
Susan G. Carmichael, daughter of Vice Admiral Willis Carmichael of the Dyo system. Hunsaker tried not to raise his eyebrows at her pedigree. A woman like this should have been upset at the meager nature of his resort, yet she didn't make a single complaint. Maybe she would make up for Agatha Kantswinkle.
"The breakdown was terrifying," Susan G. Carmichael said, her voice soft. "There was actually a fire."
That caught his attention. Ships had come here that had suffered melting in the systems, ships that had filled with smoke in an instant, ships that had lost power, but none had suffered from a fire. Fires were relatively easy to kill. All it would take was a momentary shutdown of the environmental system. No oxygen, no fuel; no fuel, no fire.
"A bad one?" he asked.
Her gaze met his. Her eyes were a shade of goldish brown that he hadn't seen before. He wasn't sure if it was natural.
"They didn't catch it right away," she said.
He stopped processing her information. "How could they miss that?"
"Apparently systems were already malfunctioning." She swallowed visibly. She was clearly still terrified and covering it up by pretending to be calm. "We were lucky that you were so close."
He hadn't realized—well, how could he have realized anyway, when he only had sixteen minutes to take a nearly empty (neglected) resort and turn it into a place where people could sleep somewhat comfortably.
"Do they know what caused the fire?" he asked.
"I'm not sure they know anything about anything," she said as she squared her shoulders. "What do I need to get into my room?"
Finally, someone asked the logical question. Perhaps the others had been too traumatized to think of it, or too overwhelmed to care.
"Just touch the door," he said. "I keyed it to your fingerprint."
Not that it mattered. He really did have to get the locks fixed first.
"Thank you." She slipped away from the desk, then stopped. "I heard you mention a boutique…?"
He shrugged, feeling honest for the first time that day (maybe the first time that year). "It's more of a whatnot shop. But we do have clothing."
"Anything is better than what I have," she said, and gifted him with a small smile before heading up to her room.
He stayed in the reception area for another few minutes, staring up the stairs. The hotel felt different with people in it. He'd often thought of the hotel as a chameleon, coloring itself with the attitude of its guests.
Which meant that the hotel was shaken, terrified, and a little bit relieved. He made himself take a deep breath. The air down here still smelled acrid. He set the environmental controls on scrub, not wanting to smell smoke and sweat for the next week.
Then he tallied up his single day's intake. More than he'd made in the last three months. If the repairs took another two days, which was the average time for repairs on this station, he would make most of his year's operating expenses. If the repairs took longer (and it sounded like they might), he might make a significant profit for the first time in nearly a decade.
But he would have to endure the mood, and he would have to stay one step ahead of these people. He had to get the clothes ready, open the boutique (such as it was), roust his one remaining chef to work the restaurant, and get the staff to clean a few more rooms just in case the living arrangements didn't quite work out.
Not to mention the fact that the ship's crew had yet to arrive and take their rooms.
He sighed. He had become even more cantankerous than he had been during the last big shipping disaster nearly three years before. It wasn't good for him to be so isolated.
Or maybe it was. Imagine how cantankerous he'd be if he had to deal with these types of personalities each and every day.
The thought made him smile. Then he continued planning his evening, realizing that to do things properly, he would get very little sleep.