by G. Glyn Shull, Jr.
I arrived at the scene to see that a shield had been erected already. There was also a small crowd clustered around it, even though they couldn't see in. Without pausing, I passed through and beheld the scene itself.
In the center of the cleared area lay the victim. He appeared to be a human male in his late fifties, early sixties. The only obvious wound was a 12cm hole in his chest. I keyed my implant to 25% and the victim’s data appeared in translucent letters above him. He was Mark Brekenheimer, age 57, Human. A young scanner tech walked over with his long wand and began to move it over the corpse. I knew that I would have to wait until he was done, so I straightened up and looked for my partner, Shorl.
He stood by the ghostly apparition of our Chief, who was back at his office. Chief said, “We've already found the suspect. One Henry Macaby. Works at the Gamer's Choice”—the local gamers club—“I've already ordered the enforcers to bring him in.”
Shorl said, “Great! What led you to him, Chief?”
“I can answer that,” I said. “George!” the AI's avatar appeared next to Chief.
He said, “Yes, Investigator Aren?”
“Show us the footage from just before the murder, please.” A window opened in the space between us and showed a thin young human in dark clothing walking towards the victim. No one else was present, other than the AI. Once he was within five meters, he pulled out a blaster and shot Brekenheimer in the chest. He put the weapon away and went about his business.
“Wow that's cold.” On a whim I looked back at the victim and saw the report hovering above him. It enlarged once I focused on it: Blaster wounds.
“How long, Chief?”
“Macaby is being apprehended now. Give it another thirty minutes and he'll be ready. Report to my office once your done with the interrogation.”
Shorl said, “Roger.” Chief's image winked out. “What do you think, Aren?”
“Stupid. Who shoots another sentient inside a wide open public walkway in the middle of the day?”
“Insane, drugged, hijacked, I don't know. Something feels wrong about this case.”
George said, “I have seen my share of crimes, and their punishments. I agree with your assessment, Investigator Aren. Something is not right.”
Shorl said, “Leave us alone, George. We can handle this.” George bowed and winked out.
“You could have been nicer about that, Shorl.”
“He's just an AI, Aren. Really, you spend too much time patronizing them.”
I shrugged. “It's good practice. Come on, we ought to wait for the suspect to show up.”
The White room, or interrogation room, was just that—white. Floor to ceiling, wall to wall white. Even the table and chairs were white. You'd be surprised how upset a suspect will get by the choice of color scheme. It was more than that, however, it was also an advanced sensor suite capable of detecting even the subtlest of lies and deceit. It didn't work on everyone, but most people could be read.
Shorl and I were seated behind the table facing the door. I brought my implant to 50% and engaged the White room's sensor suite. Data flowed through my implant and clogged my senses. With a thought, I switched from raw data to analyzed data. The data flow dropped down to a slow drip.
After several minutes, the door opened and a human entered. He was short and thin with black hair and dark eyes. The enforcer standing behind him nodded in my direction before closing the door. The human stopped cold.
I asked, “You are Henry Macaby, age 24, Human, who works at the Gamer's Choice?”
He hesitated. “Yes.” The data came back green: he was telling the truth.
Shorl said, “Then have a seat and we can get started.”
Macaby lifted the chair and pulled it out. The chair hit the ground with a soft thunk and Macaby flinched. He slowly took his seat.
I said, “Where were you two hours ago?”
“At work.” Green.
“One and a half?”
“Still at work.” Red.
Shorl snorted, and Macaby's eyes jerked to Shorl's face.
I said, “Look, Macaby, there's no use in hiding. You know you did it and we know you did it.”
Shorl said, “And the longer you keep us here, the rougher we'll be.”
“So let's just get it over with.” I waited for several breaths to see if he would speak. Shorl and I leaned towards each other a little. “Think we should show him the recording?”
“Yeah, show him.”
“George, show the murder footage, please.” Shorl rolled his eyes.
The scene materialized on the table. We watched as a miniature Macaby walked across the table and shot Mark Brekenheimer in the chest without pausing. The recording faded away. Macaby's eyes met mine. His expression seemed to plead for mercy.
Shorl said, “Was that you in the recording?”
I asked, “Did you kill Mark Brekenheimer?”
Shorl shot me a troubled look.
I said, “Wanna run that by me again, Macaby?”
“No, I did not kill Mark Brekenheimer.” Green
“But you were there. We just watched you murder Brekenheimer.”
“My body was there, but I did not do the shooting, something...else did.” Green.
Shorl asked, “Something, else?”
“Can you be more specific?”
I said, “I think you can. How were you not in control?”
“It was like watching a movie, or a cut scene in a game. I couldn't speak, move, or control my own actions in anyway. It was frightening to say the least.” Green.
“Were you at least aware of your actions?”
“Yes. I saw everything that happened to that poor man.” Green.
Shorl said, “Alright. In your own words, describe what happened.”
“I was at work. Business was light so I asked the boss if I could take off for a few. He said yes, so I went to the food court.” Macaby's expression grew troubled. “I never made it there, though. Instead I went behind the club and met up with a man I'd never met before. As soon as he saw me, he handed me a weapon…”
Shorl interrupted, “The blaster?”
“Y-yes. Next thing I knew I was headed down the corridor. Once Brekenheimer, I never knew his name till you told me, was in range, I shot him. Just like that.” Green.
I said, “For now, we're done. We're going to hang on to you till this investigation is complete.” As one, we stood and left.
The Chief was tall with the usual ears, hair, and extended rib cage that marks our race. His hair was a brilliant white that somehow added to his air of authority. Shorl and I sat down.
“I viewed the interrogation. Did he seem as sincere to you as he did to me?”
I said, “Yes, sir. I'd say that this case isn't going to be as open and shut as we hoped.”
“It wouldn't have anyway. The law is very specific here. You must play his advocates. Either of you have any idea how it could have happened?”
Shorl said, “From his point of view? I suppose his implant could have been subverted. Considering his work and off-work activities, I'd even say it's likely.”
Chief said, “Good. Go ahead and head that up, Shorl. Aren, I want you to question the victim's family. Maybe they can shed a clue.” I nodded. “Unless there are any questions...get to work.”
We left Chief's office and went our separate ways.
According to the victim's file, his only on-station family was his wife, widow, Martha. Thankfully, she had already been given the news and granted my request for an interview. The Brekenheimer home was furnished with a burgundy wrap around couch that hugged the right side of the living room and several wooden chairs set up opposite.
Martha herself had curly gray hair and deep smile lines. Her eyes were puffy and she was holding a handkerchief in her right hand. She had already let me in and offered me one end of the couch to sit on.
I said, “Mrs. Brekenheimer, I am sorry for your loss. Is there anything we can do to make it…easier?” In Konthra, these words would have been natural, but translating them into Human was harder than usual.
“No, no, but thank you,” she blew her nose, “It will take time is all.”
“I understand, ma'am. Would you mind if I asked you some questions? About your husband?”
“Go ahead, but you'll have to excuse the waterworks.”
“Okay. Did Mr. Brekenheimer have any enemies that you knew of?”
“Not as far as I know...other than the Terran government, but who isn't these days?”
“Could you elaborate, ma'am?”
“Christians, like my Husband and me, are banned from Human space. Your people took us in when we had nowhere else to go.”
“I see,” I made a mental note to research the subject later. “Anyone else that you know of?”
She held the handkerchief up to her mouth for a moment. “No. He didn't have any other enemies.”
I nodded. His file hadn't indicated that he would, but one never knows. “Moving along, we captured his murderer earlier today.” She gasped. “And we have him dead to rights. Now we're just tying up loose ends.”
“Who was it?”
“You mean that nice boy who works at the Choice?” On a station as small as this one, it can be expected that she would know him.
Dang, she even uses the slang for it. “Yes, ma'am. We have…”
“He'd never do something like that.”
“Ma'am, we have surveillance data that proves it.”
“What did he say when you questioned him?”
I leaned back, “That's the odd thing, ma'am. He admits to doing it, but claims that he wasn't in control of his own body at the time.”
Her face assumed a troubled look, “Are you saying that he was possessed?”
I dove into my implants data stream and queried the word. “Yes ma'am, I suppose so.”
Her eyes widened as she said, “There's a demon loose then!”
Back to the data stream. “Really ma'am, I doubt that.”
“Doubt or no. You should check that out. Here.” She snatched her purse from the floor and rifled through it. “I know it's here somewhere. Ah! Here it is.” She handed me a business card. I let my implant absorb the information and handed it back.
“Your religious leader, ma'am?”
“Yes, my pastor. You should speak to him on the subject. He knows more than I do.”
“Okay...I'll contact my Chief and let him know.”
I stood to leave. After shaking her hand one last time, I left. Somehow, I didn't think this investigation was going where I thought it was.
After leaving Mrs. Brekenheimer's home, I went to the food court. The noise and crowds there always calmed me somewhat. The smell of fresh? food and warm coffee permeated the air. The thought of coffee almost dropped me cold. I'd quit cold goose, is that the Human saying? Regardless, it hasn't been easy, but I know better than to report to Chief hung over or worse yet, home. My wife would not forgive me after giving my word. No, I couldn't take that route.
Finally I settled for a Kafu, a non-caffeinated drink. I picked an empty table and sat down. A thought later my implant engaged at 100%. The world around me faded and I stood in a white expanse that represented the un-searched network. I contacted my Chief and found myself in his office a moment later.
Chief didn't even look up when he said, “Report.”
“I talked to the widow, Martha. She has an…alternate idea.”
“Hold on, Shorl wants to join us.” I looked in the chair beside mine and found my protégé seated and ready. “Aren was just telling me that the widow has an alternate theory. Go ahead, Aren.”
I cleared my throat. “As I was saying, Mrs. Brekenheimer has an alternate theory. Either of you hear of demons before?”
Shorl said, “Aren't they some sort of Earth myth?”
I said, “That's what's on the net. Mrs. Brekenheimer suggested that I look into that. Frankly Chief, I haven't any other clues.”
Shorl chuckled. “Surely your not serious?”
“We should cover all the angles.”
“Yes, but delving into myth? What next? The Grimworl?” Think bogeyman but worse.
Chief cleared his throat before speaking, “Gentlemen, surely we can leave the comedy at home. Shorl, what's your report?”
Shorl said, “So far it's a bust, Chief. Implant hijacking used to be common, but with modern security suites it's almost impossible. I'm still checking into it, though.”
“Excellent work, both of you. Shorl, continue with your project. Aren, go ahead and follow this demon lead.” Shorl smirked. “It may be false, but it's the only thing we have.”
“Yes, sir!” in unison. I logged out.
I spent the rest of the day trying to research demons or spirits. The data was scarce. The Terran government had gone through and removed all the Christian documents, data, files, and more from the web. This bothered me more than I'd like to admit. No government, regardless of how big or powerful, has the right to dictate beliefs. Yet here it was, staring me in the face. No wonder the Brekenheimers had come here. Finally, I gave up and went home, it was quitting time anyway.
The next day I went straight to the address Martha had given me. The nameplate read Joseph Cardigan. I leaned forward and pressed the call button. From above me a male voice said, “Yes?”
“Mr. Cardigan, this is Investigator Aren. I'm investigating Mark Brekenheimer's murder.”
“Come right in, Investigator.”
The door slid open to reveal the neat office/apartment. Hard bound books lined the walls in ornate shelves. The living area had a comfortable couch set arranged on either side of a small coffee table. On the other side of a half-wall was the kitchen.
Joseph Cardigan was a small, 40ish man with thinning blond hair. He wore a simple suit and tie with polished shoes. He said, “Can I get anything for you, Investigator?”
“Some water, thanks”
He walked into the living area and gestured toward the couches. I picked the one on my right. When he came back from the kitchen, he handed me a bottle of water and sat opposite me. “How can I help you?”
“Mrs. Brekenheimer tells me you know about demons.”
“I do, but not as much as you might want.”
“At this point, anything would help.”
“Okay, here's what I know. Demons are the cast out Angels of God. They serve the greatest demon of all, Lucifer or Satan. Some can influence your decisions, alter your emotional state, even cause you to lie. The worst of them can take over a person’s body. I take it your interest is in the latter?”
“Yes,” I drank from the bottle and put it down.
“Investigator, you’re getting into the realm of Spiritual Warfare. We, as mortals, can't do anything about demons at all, but Jesus has given us authority over them, once we find one mind you. You see, it's His blood, His sacrifice that allows us to communicate with Him and request assistance or, in this case, authority.”
I fidgeted. This talk of blood and sacrifice was unnerving. “How can I tell if someone is, or was, possessed?”
“Look for memory loss, loss of control, odd emotions or urges, that sort of thing.”
I filed it all away. No data should go to waste. “Thank you Mr. Cardigan.”
“Please, call me Joe.”
“I…” My implant kicked on and my chief's voice sounded in my head, 'Aren! Get to corridor niner zulu. There's been another murder.'
'On my way' Out loud I said, “I have to go. Duty calls.”
“Certainly!” We stood and walked over to the door. When I was almost outside, Joe said, “I'll be praying for you. Just call if you need anything.”
I grunted and left.
I arrived on the scene to find the scanner tech already there. The scene itself was eerily similar to the last one. Lying on her back was an aged human female. Her face was framed by gray curly hair and her face was wrinkled around the eyes and mouth—smile lines. I couldn't imagine someone wanting to hurt a person like this, much less blow a 12cm hole in her chest.
The scanner tech was an older Konthra female. When she finished I said, “What's it look like?”
She eyed me like I was some kind of moron. “Close range blaster wound. Rest is uploaded.”
Okay, maybe I deserved that. Maybe I didn't. I brought my implant up to 25% and the stats levitated above the victim. Her name was Gwen Rogers. She was 84 years old. Only family on station was a granddaughter.
From behind me Shorl said, “Due to get a nanite treatment tomorrow, too.”
I shook my head. “Why would someone do such a thing?”
Chief's image materialized on the other side of the body. After reviewing the scene for a moment, he said, “That's your job to find out, Aren. Enforcers have already apprehended a suspect. Same thing as last time, but this time the perpetrator is Kie'Ha.”
My heart rate tripled. Even after 20 years, we all still remembered the threat that the Kie'Ha had posed. The war with them had cost millions of precious Konthra lives, not to mention the lives lost by our allies. It was the Humans that had convinced us to stay our hand and allow them to join us as equals. Mrs. Rogers paid the price for their kindness.
“AREN!” I jumped at the sound of my name. Chief was speaking. “Aren, pay attention. They've captured the suspect and she's waiting for you. Be careful though, she's a full-grown female. Even if she does seem docile at the moment.”
I said, “We're on our way, Chief.”
We stood outside the white room's door. Our implants gave us a ghostly image of the occupant inside. She looked like she was three and a half meters tall. Taller than me, anyway. Her massive scaly frame dwarfed the chair and table. Her long neck swung low with the weight of her head and muzzle and, perhaps, her conscience. Her tail seemed to be cramped in the chair behind her. The enforcers had bound her arms to her tail to keep her immobile.
I looked at Shorl. “You ready?”
He said, “Yeah, let's go” He opened the door and stepped inside. As I stepped through, I set my implant back to 25%. Shorl took the left chair, I took the right; our backs were to the door. Once seated, I tried to make eye contact with her, but she looked away. Was she ashamed? I had no idea.
Could I try to outsmart her? Lead her around in circles before nailing her? Or could I take the gentle approach and see what happens? Finally, I leaned forward and said, “Want to talk about it?”
Why I picked those words, I had no idea, but her head whipped around and her eyes bored into mine. I maintained a steady, unblinking stare till she looked at the table again. Her voice, deep and melodious, finally sounded, “I was not in control of myself.” Green.
That statement must have cost her dear. A Kie'Ha admitting to not being in control was paramount to submission. Females do not submit easily. Shorl's expression was incredulous. I wondered what he was thinking. I said, “What happened?”
“I wasn't feeling well, so I retired to my rooms. When I came to, I was outside, walking the corridors. When I saw her, I remember thinking that she looked kind, even gentle. Before I could stop myself, I drew the blaster and shot her. I don't even know where I got it. I could've killed her with a single blow, yet I resorted to that weapon.” Green.
I opened a silent channel to Chief, 'Did we ever find the weapon?'
'Yes, she still had it on her when we found her.'
'Where was she?'
'A block away. She was just sitting on the deck, rocking herself.'
She sighed. 'She's got the same story as the last one. Did word get out about his claim?'
'Negative. He's been locked up tight and kept quiet. No one else knows.'
Out loud, I said, “Your honesty is appreciated. Thank you. Is there anything else you can tell us? Anything useful?”
Her long head swung side to side. I said, “Alright. One last question. Do you have any family, close friends, anyone here?”
She didn't even look up. “Yes. My first mate and I shared rooms here. His name is Tssha.” Green.
'We’re done for now, Chief. Want us to come to your office?'
'On the way'. I stood, the chair scooted behind me. I heard Shorl's chair shortly after.
“You will be placed in a secure holding cell till the investigation is concluded. I'll make sure to put in a good word for you.” With a nod to Shorl, I walked out.
On the way to Chief's office, Shorl was abnormally quiet. His expression was grim and set. Normally, he was happy, outgoing, even loud, for us. Maybe the case was getting him down.
Chief looked up at our entrance. A wave of his hand gestured us to our seats before his desk. The normal clutter had expanded to include the floor beside it. A coffee mug sat on the corner of the desk.
He said, “Aren, I have your thoughts. What're yours, Shorl?”
“She's lying. I know that the White room disagrees, but I think she's lying.”
“Why do you think that?” Chief asked what I was thinking.
“She's Kie'Ha. Who can know why they do what they do?”
“That's not a reason and you know it. Why?”
“All right. For now, stick with questioning her first mate and see what he says. Then I want you two back on your original research. Assuming that Tssha doesn't have anything new that is. Oh. And talk to the victim’s granddaughter, too”
I said, “Just one thing, Chief. Kie'Ha can't have implants.” That basically invalidated Shorl's research altogether.
Chief's eyes lost focus as he looked it up for himself. “You’re right. I still want you two to investigate both avenues just to be on the safe side. I'll meet with you two tomorrow for lunch.”
On our way to the docks, I looked up Tssha's file. His picture and stats overlaid the real world where I could still see where I was going. Plus Shorl kept an eye on me. He had no red flags anywhere—no crimes, no suspicions, not even a history other than working this one ship. I closed down my implant.
I said, “Nothing. He's clean.”
Shorl said, “So's she. I don't get it. No flags at all. Even I've got a flag, yet these two have been doing business with us since the war ended.”
My eyebrow raised. “Why do you have a flag?”
“I'd made the mistake of excepting coffee from a stranger.”
“Ah.” The docks were just ahead. A screen on the wall read, ‘Birth 14 - Sssre'al.’ The smooth gray decking was littered with cargo being off loaded. Several Kie'Ha were manhandling massive crates from the hold. It reminded me of how strong they were. I searched until I found a dark gray male with a tablet in his hands.
As I approached, I was careful to be seen by him. No use in getting pummeled just because he couldn't hear me. His voice was gravelly and hoarse when he said, “What?”
I said, “I need to speak to your exec.”
He nodded and checked off several items on his tablet. “Just go to the hatch and tell the guard.”
We made our way between boxes and bodies till we stood in front of the large hatch, and large guard. She was a shimmering opal color that was somehow complimented by her green uniform. She was covered in weapons and armor to boot.
Her gaze took us in and ignored us: no threat. I looked at Shorl.
He said, “Excuse me.” She ignored him. “Excuse me, we need to speak to your executive officer.”
She stayed where she was, but her gaze shifted to me. I said, “Please?”
A thin smile played across her face. She pressed a stud on her helmet and hissed and spit into the mike. With a nod, she stepped aside. I lead the way into the dim interior. The walls and ceiling were dark green while the floor was black. Used to the stark white of our own corridors or gray of the human's, I found myself having trouble discerning one thing from another. From the hatch, we turned right, the only turn we could make. After a few minutes we passed an open mess on the left and were almost to the bow when we spotted the captain's office. After knocking on the doorframe, I went inside.
First Mate Tssha was dwarfed by the gargantuan size of the desk he sat behind. He had dark blue skin and wore the green one-piece his species favored. His eyes seemed to blaze through us. Somehow, I knew that he blamed us for his captain's actions.
I said, “Tssha, I am Investigator Aren and this is Investigator Shorl. We'd like to ask you some questions concerning your captain and her recent...actions.”
He gestured towards the seats bolted to the floor and said, “Be quick.”
Shorl said, “Tssha, what can you tell us of your captain?”
“She is a good captain. Strict but just. She did not do this thing that you accuse her of.”
I said, “But she confessed!”
“Under your coercion I am sure”
Shorl said, “No, we simply asked her what happened and she did the rest.”
“Then what do you want with me?”
I said, “We just wanted to ask you about her character and if you knew she was going to do what she did.”
“Her character? Easy. Strong and agile. Beautiful as only one of my kind can be. Just and fair, a good captain willing to sacrifice for her crew. She kept us all in check. She also hired me when no other female would countenance a male first mate. As to her actions, I still say she did nothing.”
Shorl said, “So you’re doubting the word of your captain?”
“No, I doubt your word,” his tongue flicked out, “and you honor.”
I leaned back in the seat and thought. Even through the insults, it was obvious that he loved his captain. It was also obvious that we weren't getting anywhere. I opened a private channel to Shorl, 'What do you think?'
'Take him in. He'll talk...eventually.'
'I don't think he's lying. Somehow, it fits. Let's go.' Out loud, “Thank you then, Tssha, for your time.” We stood.
“Release her soon, Investigator, she did not do this thing.”
“Trust me, we are checking into every avenue.” We both bowed and retreated.
Our next stop was the second victim's family. As far as our records went, Dorthy Rogers, her granddaughter, was the only relative on station. It took us twenty minutes to traverse from the docks to the living quarters.
Standing before Ms. Roger's door, I pressed the chime. Several seconds later a voice sounded above our heads, “Who is it?”
“Investigators Aren and Shorl, miss. We're investigating your grandmother's murder,” Shorl said.
The door whisked open. Before us stood a towel clad woman with bright pink hair and dozens of visible piercings. “Well, come in.” She walked away.
Before entering, Shorl and I shared a look. Once inside the apartment, I saw that her stuff was everywhere. A pile of books near the door, clothes on the floor, under my feet, and draped over chairs. My nose picked up the unmistakable smell of rotten food. This time, we remained standing.
I said, “First of all, let me extend my condolences. I know that losing family can be rough.”
“Aw, it's nothing. We didn't really get along, you know?” she replied.
Shorl said, “Did she have any enemies?”
Dorthy snorted. “Sure! The whole frick'n Terran government for one.”
“The Terran government?”
“Yeah. She was in some kind of cult or something that's been banned. That's why she lived here in the first place.”
I said, “She was a Christian then?” My mind reeled. Both victims followed the same faith. Both were killed by different beings. I was seeing a pattern that I didn't like.
“Do you know if she was due for a nanite treatment soon?”
“Come to think of it, she was. She mentioned it when she called about two weeks ago. Why?”
Shorl said, “There's another murder that's similar to this one, that's all. There's no connection, though.”
I jerked my gaze to Shorl's face. How could he even make a statement like that when the connection is obvious? Why would he lie to her? Or could he believe what he said? I shook my head to clear my thoughts.
I extended a hand. “Well, miss, we need to go. We've got a lunch appointment.”
“Alright.” She ignored the hand and walked us to the door. “Good luck”.
Shorl and I were seated at a corner table in the food court. Both of us had decided to try an Earth delicacy, the hot dog, in an attempt to understand them better. People streamed across my vision. A Human mother and child, a Kie'Ha and her husbands, a Konthra child, or Kithren, and his mother and father. There was even a Human telepath pair. If only they knew that any one of them could be a murderer, and not even know it till it happens.
“You look thoughtful.”
I looked up. Chief took the chair across from me. He had opted for a hot dog also. Chief said, “Have you two tried one of these before?”
I said, “First time.”
“They're good, but aren't dogs a pet animal?”
Shorl said, “Yep.”
Chief took a bite, chewed, and swallowed. “I thought so. I wonder why they would eat them, then.”
In moments, the hot dogs were gone and Chief said, “All right, report.”
Shorl said, “The Kie'Ha was a waste of time. He knew nothing. The Rogers woman was trash and had no real relationship with her grandmother.”
Chief said, “Do you think there's a connection between the two murders? “
“Are you kidding? All we have connecting them is a similar weapon.”
“I disagree. Both victims were Christians, both were due for nanite treatments, both are connected to Joe Cardigan, and both were in the middle of a vacant corridor at point blank range. How are they not connected?” I said.
Chief said, “All right, calm down. Shorl, I want you to continue your research into implants, it may still explain the first one. Aren, talk to Mr. Cardigan and see what he has to say about all this. If necessary, bring him in.”
I asked, “Are you thinking he's involved?”
“I don't know, better to gather too much data than not enough. Shorl, go ahead and start your research. I need to talk to Aren.” Shorl nodded and left.
Chief waited till Shorl was out of earshot. “What's with him?”
“Something about this case bothers him, I think.”
“If he doesn't fix his attitude soon I'll fix it. Understand?”
“Now, back to the investigation. What happened with Tssha?”
“We were welcomed inside, more or less. He told us that there's no way that she murdered anyone. Every time I mentioned it, he said I was wrong, flat out.”
“And the girl?”
“Dorthy was…odd. She seemed unconcerned about her grandmother's death. It took some work to get anything out of her.”
“Thus your earlier comment?”
“Everything but the bit about Mr. Cardigan. That's a guess.”
“Sounds like a good one.” Chief stood. “Continue your investigation.” He started to walk away, but stopped and said, “Oh, and talk to Shorl about his attitude problem.”
Joe's door opened five seconds after I chimed. His eyes were sunk into deep pits. His hair and clothes were disheveled. He greeted me with a listless ‘hi’ and led me inside. We sat on the couches facing each other. An uncomfortable silence ensued.
After several minutes, Joe said, “So your here about Gwen?”
“Do you still think it's a demon?”
“More now than before.”
“Are you okay, Joe?”
“No. No, I'm not okay. I’ve just had two of the greatest prayer warriors I've ever met shot within a day of each other, my brothers and sisters are terrified. I'm terrified. All because of a demon.” He buried his head in his hands.
“How do we catch it?”
“How do we catch it?!”
“You...can't. The only thing you can do is banish it. You can't hurt it, you can't kill it, and you certainly can't capture it.”
“Okay then, how do we banish it?”
“Once you find it, it's a simple matter of ordering it out in Jesus' name. But how would you find it before it's too late?”
“Hmm. Who in your group is due nanite therapy soon?”
“Oh, that's Martha she...you don't think…”
“Yes, I do. Anyone else?”
“No, everyone else is young. Well, young looking anyway.”
I stood. “Then we know who to watch.”
“If only we knew who it's inhabiting now.”
I headed for the door with Joe following. “I have an idea there, too.” I went out into the corridor.
We sat in Martha's living room. Joe sat next to me and Martha sat on the other wing of the sofa. She looked confused to see us both there. After a short silence, she asked, “What's going on?”
I inclined my head to Joe, who said, “You were right Martha, it's a demon. It's already killed your husband and Gwen.” She gasped. “Now we think it's coming for you.”
I said, “I'm afraid so, Ma'am. Shot, just like your husband.”
“But a different killer?”
Impressive. “Yes. Same circumstances...same weapon.”
“Amazing. What can I do?”
Joe said, “We want to set a trap. So far, it's used a solid method of operation. I doubt it will break with that.”
I nodded and said, “There will be an element of danger, but we will be nearby the whole time.”
A little smile formed on her lips. “I think Mark would be proud of me for saying this, but I accept. Stopping this thing is more important than any single individual, namely me.”
Joe spoke up, “Now don't go and martyr your self, Martha! We still need you.”
“Joe, you've always been kind to me, but I'm nothing but an old woman. If I'm called home, I'll go.” I assumed that by ‘home’ she meant the after life. Interesting that she would so name it.
“Here's what we want you to do, ma'am...”
In the upper left corner of my vision, Martha appeared to walk alone through the corridor. Everything seemed perfect for the creature to strike. Not knowing what to expect, I was afraid. We—Joe and I—stood at the corner of an intersection just behind her. Every second, she got further away.
I heard the clop clop of Martha's shoes on the floor and the faint rustling of her blue flower print dress. She looked ridiculous in it, yet her dignity could never be questioned. Panning my view ahead of her, I saw Shorl round the corner. My pupils dilated at the site of one I had trusted for so long.
Grabbing Joe's arm, I ran into the corridor behind Martha. Shorl froze mid stride. Our eyes made contact and I could almost feel his soul screaming to get out. Turning on his heel, he ran.
Martha's voice sounded loud and clear as she said, “Hold, Demon!”
Shorl stopped in an awkward position. We all ran up to him. Joe said, “What is your name, Demon?”
A sick chuckle came out of my friend's lips. “We are murder, Human.”
“Murder, in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Savior of the universe, I bind you and banish you”—Shorl doubled over as though punched in the gut—“to the pit!” A long wail escaped Shorl's lips as he sank to the ground. When all was still, Shorl whispered, “Thank you,” and fainted.
The courtroom was packed. I sat behind the defendants on the right side. The prosecution sat on the left. Both sides were nervous. Justice was about to be done. In all honesty, these cases could, and probably should, have been tried separately, but the judiciary combined them because the testimony was so similar. I leaned forward and patted Shorl on the back. Macaby and SSStsha sat on Shorl's left with the Advocate on Shorl's right. A bell tolled and the room stood. In total silence, the judge walked up to the dais and seated himself. We all sat down.
The judge looked tired, haggard as he regarded both sides. Finally, he spoke, “I thought long and hard about this case. It drove me wild, insane, mad. Three people who committed identical crimes, or tried to, with no connection other than the weapon found on each of the accused. Shorl, even as I look at you, I have no idea if my decision is the right one. Really it's the only one.”
“The accused will now stand as I pronounce my decision. On the counts of Murder, Murder, and Attempted Murder, I find you all guilty. However, due to the extreme circumstances of this case, I hereby sentence you all to exile. Not one of you may enter this station again. However, you are not banned from other Konthra worlds or holdings.”
“You must be gone by tomorrow at the latest.”
The room sat in stunned silence. His verdict was everything we hoped it would be, yet it seemed almost harsh considering what these people had already been through. The room came alive and the guilty departed. I followed.
I never saw any of them again after that. I just couldn't bring myself to see them off. A week later, I stood at Joe's door. His face lit up when he saw me. “Aren! Come in, come in.”
We sat in his comfortable living room. I noticed a painting of a cross behind him. Funny how I never noticed that before. “What can I do for you, Aren?”
“Tell me about Jesus.”
© 2007 by G. Glyn Shull, Jr.
Original fiction debuting at Residential Aliens.
Glyn Shull, also known as the Original Christian Soldier, blogs from Iraq where he is deployed. He joined the Army in 2002 and upon his return in February will get married. As far as writing goes, he has a few short stories self-published on his site. For more information, go to GGlynShull.com
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