Aphelion Issue 220, Volume 21
August 2017
 
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Murder in a Fishbowl

By Michele Dutcher


Chapter 1

“When did they discover the body,” Elizabeth Miller shouted at the back of the tall man striding up the stairs ahead of her.

“Just over four hours ago,” answered the police lieutenant. “And the killer was within five feet of the corpse.”

“I’m certain you meant to say ‘the accused’ instead of ‘the killer’, Detective Darcy.”

Elizabeth’s small frame was causing her to run up the stairs, but she did so without much effort. She caught up with him, and they now stood on the Grand patio of Griffin Enterprises. Towering over them was a bronze statue of a man with a robotic dog by his side.

“Did you say she’s already been declared insane?”

The police lieutenant just nodded and smiled. “It wasn’t that difficult to come to the conclusion she was crazy, Doctor. She was discovered cowering in a freight elevator with the body of her boyfriend stuffed into a 1880s safe. And they still haven’t found his head.”

“How do you know it was her boyfriend?”

Detective Darcy looked away for a moment as though irritated by the simplicity of the question. “Murder is always about love or money. As a psychologist you should know that.”

“Well, if she did it, she certainly had a flair for the dramatic.” They began walking towards five revolving doors leading inside the six-story building.

The Lieutenant, a steady man in his mid-thirties, stopped and looked down upon her, as if ready to give her orders. “We need her sane and ready to stand trial by the end of the week. Senator Lampton, the press, and the public are all screaming for a quick resolution to this case.”

She stared up at him defiantly, meeting his courteous but steady gaze. “All this reeks of a rush to justice, Detective Darcy. In spite of what the public, and the press, and Sinister Lampton want…”

“I’m certain you meant to say ‘Senator Lampton’ doctor…”

“My point is: no matter what anyone wants, each mind takes its own time to heal. If I attempt to accelerate the process to meet some arbitrary schedule, it could push the accused further into her delirium.”

The Lieutenant decided to take a different tack. “This case is just so unusual. The Listeners have never been involved in any kind of scandal. And now there’s this murder, right under their noses, right inside this very building. And two of their best and brightest are involved.”

Doctor Miller started to respond, but the detective held up his hand to stop her momentarily. He touched a small, round device on the rim of his outer ear. Elizabeth noticed the auburn hair around the back of his neck seemed a little unkempt. “I believe they’re ready for us, Doctor. Shall we go inside?” The psychologist entered the revolving glass door first, with Detective Darcy sharing her glass enclosed slice.

Black and silver marbled walls shot upwards from the lobby floor for three stories. The left wall was a 30-foot-high pane of sound proof glass, and an eager crowd of tourists shuffled in front of it. The room behind the glass was commonly referred to as ‘The Fishbowl’.

“Excuse me for a moment, Detective. I haven’t seen this before.” Doctor Miller walked up to the glass wall and peered down upon the twelve people inside. They sat upon crystal-clear chairs, at crystal-clear desks, while talking over head-phones with starships. The only color in the room was incidental, although the holographic star charts and planetary maps over which their fingertips flew were neon bright. None of the employees paid attention to the bright colors, or the crowd - although they all knew the tourists were always there. The explanation of the employee’s indifference was not the result of a two-way mirror. You see, of course, all twelve employees were blind.

“Who would have thought it,” asked the Detective, stepping up behind Elizabeth, staring over the top of her braided auburn hair.

“Who would have thought what?”

“Well, that the blind would have become so important to the space industry so quickly. One day they’re eking-out a living like the rest of us, and the next day they’re earning millions.”

Dr. Miller shifted slightly. “It wasn’t really an overnight occurrence, Lieutenant. The blind were routinely using condensed speech recordings as early as the mid-twentieth century. They called it ‘double speak’. When starships began sending back audio transmissions condensed due to hyper-light travel, the blind population became an obvious resource.”

“I had no idea you were such an expert on the visually impaired, Doctor.”

“The mini-guide sensors implanted in their fingertips and toes were also a perfect fit with the electronic maps.”

“I understand the fingertips, but the toes?”

“They use their feet to shift the star charts, like someone playing an ancient pipe organ.”

“Your knowledge is very eclectic, Doctor. I stand impressed.’

“Oh my,” whispered Elizabeth, “look three seats back – there’s a Yangorian.”

“You haven’t seen one before?”

“No, never.”

“Well, they’re very secretive, of course – almost like a cult. On their home world they’re regarded almost as gods.” He leaned forward a bit. “You see the gem in their forehead, just above where their eyes should be?”

“Yes, I see it.”

“They wear that device to protect their sonar sight. When the first Yangorians immigrated to Earth fifteen years ago, the department had an all day seminar about them. It’s believed that, when the galaxy was seeded with humanoids, their race was placed below ground. Inside the shell of their planet, they were protected, and there were endless caverns, filled with water and food and warmth. Thousands of hot springs provided photosynthesis for plant growth. Eventually, others found their way to the surface, but the Yangorians decided to stay below – and their vision withered away to nothingness.”

“So how did they end up directing space traffic?”

“The above-ground race developed space travel over a century ago, and their below ground cousins proved to be as valuable to them, as the blind are to us.”

“I’ve heard their hearing is also amazing,” said Dr. Miller.

As if on cue, the humanoid raised his face towards the pair and smiled. The absence of eyes couldn’t waylay the feeling that the Yangorian was looking at them. Dr. Miller and Detective Darcy released their breath only after the humanoid turned away and returned to his work.

A thin woman in a modern, yet modest dress appeared at a doorway at the far end of the lobby. She motioned to the pair, inviting them to follow her inside.

“Doctor Miller, Detective Darcy, I’m Mary Griffin. I’ll be your guide.”

“Are you related to the Griffins who own the facility,” asked the detective.

“Why yes, Detective Darcy. I’m one of five brothers and sisters,” she answered politely. “As a blind community, we’re use to things being done a particular way, as our needs apply. This is why Griffin Enterprises opted to keep the accused under house arrest instead of releasing her to a sighted detention facility.” As Mary began leading the pair down a long white hallway, the detective noticed a fragrance he hadn’t smelled since childhood.

“What is that scent, Ms Griffin?”

“My perfume?”

“No, no, it’s something else. Wait a minute – it’s hand soap, isn’t it?”

The friendly lady in the patterned pleated dress turned away from them, the edges of her mouth beginning to harden a little. “You are absolutely correct, detective. I keep some in my office. It’s physically reassuring somehow to not use the germ zappers occasionally.” Doctor Miller noticed the doorways were unmarked. As they passed by, however, holographic globes jutted out at them, displaying room information.

Elizabeth tried to shift the conversation somewhat. “Yes, it is amazing the way some physical childhood objects can either calm down or ignite an adult. I enjoy actually putting pen to paper, for instance. It’s reassuring somehow and enables me to concentrate.”

Mary giggled nervously, throwing her head back enough that her tightly curled hair bounced about. “You certainly are the expert on that, Doctor. I’ve read some of your papers. It’s amazing how the past can flood into the present. Maybe that’s what happened with…”

“Please, Ms. Griffin,” Elizabeth interrupted, “no proper names. If I’m to successfully re-align this subject, she must be as anonymous as possible – at least at first.”

“Of course, Doctor. I wasn’t thinking,” shrinking away with another forced laugh.

Detective Darcy stepped forward, stalling the trio to a halt. “No harm done, Ms. Griffin. As we say in the business; no blood - no foul. I was noticing in the fishbowl, however, that there were no vacant seats.”

She thought for a moment before answering, taking off her glasses and placing them on top of her head. “We brought down two new Listeners from the third floor. We have a total of eighty Space employees online at all times.”

“It must be very important for Griffin Enterprises to keep up appearances,” observed the Detective.

Mary Griffin retook the lead. “It is indeed. My family has closing this case as our top priority, especially with the annual meeting coming up tonight. Any help that we can do to hasten the end of this mess, will be given immediately.”

“The Annual Meeting? What’s that,” asked Darcy.

“It’s our annual awards program and business meeting. We have trustees and honorees holographing and transporting in from all over this end of the galaxy. It’s sure to be a full house, especially with all this murder business going on.”

“It’s obvious, then, that Dr. Miller and I should be in attendance. It will be an excellent opportunity to study the framework of this organization.”

“I’ll make a note, Detective. Things get a little crazy around here while we’re preparing for the AM – but the dinner starts at 5:30. Chicken, fish or vegetarian?”

“I’m sorry. What do you mean,” asked Dr. Miller

“We serve only the best food at the meeting. We’ll have dirt grown vegetables and real animal entrees,” replied Mary.

“Real animals? I think I’ll stick with the vegetarian entrée,” said Elizabeth.

“I don’t know,” thought the lieutenant out loud. “I’ll try some meat. Kill me a fish.”

“I’ll relay your wishes to the staff,” said Mary. She ran her hand over a light in the wall and the door swished open. Inside was a small room enclosing a wooden table and two metal chairs. Upon the small table sat a device closely resembling a crystal ball.

“Excellent, Ms. Griffin. It’s exactly what I ordered, except for the second chair.”

“I was hoping I might be allowed to view the re-alignment, Doctor. I’m a huge fan of the process you developed.”

Elizabeth shrugged while answering. “The process is classified, I’m afraid. However, if the Lieutenant would like to view the re-alignment, I’m sure that would be okay.”

Without saying anything, Detective Darcy slid into a seat at the table.

Dr. Miller looked at Mary. “Has the accused been prepped?”

“She is prepped and sedated in the next room.”

“Has the memory implant been tested through this receiver,” asked the doctor, nodding towards the crystal ball.

“Not yet, but I’ll be happy to tell the surgeons you are ready to proceed.”

“Your help has been very much appreciated, Ms. Griffin,” said Elizabeth. “If you’ll also remind Simcha to establish audio between the two rooms.”

Mary left the room quickly, stepping into the make-shift laboratory in the next room. Just yesterday, the room had been an aseptically clean environment, for use as an electrical lab. Now it was empty except for a chair, two surgeons and the accused who reclined quietly while sleeping soundly.

As Mary got closer, it became obvious that the back of her head had been shaved. A section of her skull – about the size of a half-dollar – had been removed, providing clear access to the brain inside. It pulsed along with the heartbeat, through a blood vessel that was clearly in sight. A dozen pebble-sized devices clung to her scalp.

“Is she in pain,” she whispered to a surgeon.

“Not really. The brain has no pain receptors, and the entrance point itself is heavily anesthetized,” said one of the surgeons quietly. “She’s beginning the REM cycle, Dennis,” he told the other surgeon, noting the eye movements under the eyelids.

“Are you getting a signal, Doctor,” asked the surgeon behind the chair.

The soothing voice of Dr. Miller rang into the room. “Got it.”

In the other room, Detective Darcy and Dr. Miller sat facing the crystal ball on the table. Above the glass device hung a foot-tall holographic image.

“This is what she’s dreaming,” whispered the doctor. “Really, it’s the image originating from an implant located in her hippocampus, at the base of the cranium.”

Hands were setting a table. The kitchen table was chrome rimmed with six chairs. The hands went to cupboard and took two plates and two forks, sitting them on the table. In the center of the table appeared a bowlful of ketchup. The hands began scooping out the red liquid, sloshing it onto the white china plates.

“What are you doing,” asked Doctor Miller.

“I’m setting the table for mommy and me, for me and mommy, mommy and me.”

Suddenly the hands stopped, and the sound of birds chirping could be heard in the distance. A woman’s face appeared from out of the darkness. “The lovebirds are fighting again,” it told her harshly.

The focus turned and the kitchen became a hallway. There were four large men holding college pennants seated against the walls. They blew gently on her face as she went past and then shouted ‘Hoo-rah’.

A creature lumbered past, twelve feet tall, and looked at her for a moment. It had the body of a huge poodle, with a tube-like snout that hung to the floor. Its tail wagged but was short and hairless. “An elephant never forgets,” it told the dreamer. “An elephant never forgets,” it repeated before disappearing into the darkness.

By now, the lovebird’s chirping had turned into harsh screeching. The pitch had gotten higher and the chirping was accelerated and chaotic. The dreamer could see the birds clearly now, their claws swiping at each other inside a room-sized metal cage.

“The lovebirds are fighting again!” The dreamer was screaming now, deep inside her fog-like visions. “The lovebirds are fighting again!”

Detective Darcy looked at the doctor while she whispered into a small microphone banded to her wrist. “Dennis, three c.c.s of serotonin, please, followed with 1 c.c. of dopamine.”

Although Elizabeth couldn’t see the injection being performed, the surgeon was injecting the chemicals directly into the exposed blood-vessels. As the chemicals found their target neurons, the electrical signals jumping the synapses changed and the hologram over the table seemed to waver and melt.

The doctor was speaking now in comforting tones, at a conversational volume. “Look again. Look again. The birds are in a tree, building a nest.” As she spoke, the picture changed. Now there was a walnut tree shooting up out of the metal cage. The lovebirds happily flew in and out of their home built of twigs.

“Dennis, the endorphins please, at your discretion,” she whispered into her wrist microphone.

A swing appeared at the base of the tree and, through the dreamer’s eyes, the branches overhead began to sway near and far, near and far.

The hologram faded and was gone as the dreamer slipped happily into a deep sleep.

“Decidedly a good beginning, Dennis,” Doctor Miller said into her wrist. “Let’s schedule the first memory activation in forty-five minutes.” Elizabeth looked at the man across from her. “The technical name for the process is neurological re-alignment, but I like to think of it as dream and memory sweetening. We don’t actually re-invent what the subject remembers, we just modify it.”

“I thought the accused was blind,” said Detective Darcy.

“Ah. The obvious question.”

“I’m an obvious kind of guy,” he smiled.

Elizabeth took a deep breath and smiled back. “Individuals blinded before the age of about five report no visual imagery in dreams as adults. Whereas, those blinded after the age of seven are likely to retain visual images in dreaming. The accused must have been over seven but pre-teen when she lost her sight. The fact that she didn’t understand what an elephant looks like tells us she probably had never seen an elephant, so her mind made one up using forms familiar to her.”

Ms. Griffin knocked and re-entered the small room. Lieutenant Darcy quickly rose to his feet. “I hope your first session went well,” said Mary.

“It did indeed,” answered Elizabeth. “I’m ready to proceed to the second step in a few minutes, in fact.”

Detective Darcy extended his open hand towards Elizabeth. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Doctor. I’d like to sit in on another session, if you don’t mind.”

“I’ll save you a seat,” she told him, interlocking his hand with hers. They held the handshake there, over the crystal ball, for just a moment longer than either of them expected, before releasing it.

“Could you also make a recording of the sessions available to me on my holopod?”

“I certainly will, Lieutenant.”

The door swooshed open and Mary and Lieutenant Darcy stepped into the hall. From outside the door, the lieutenant took one more quick look at Elizabeth, who was making quick notes in a white folder.

“Would you like to see the crime scene, Detective? I can take you there,” said Mary in a chipper tone of voice.

“If you can just point the way, Ms. Griffin, I won’t bother you any further.”

“Oh I don’t mind, Lieutenant.”

“No thanks, Ms. Griffin. Please, just point me in the right direction.”

Mary hesitantly gave way. “All you need do is hold this mini-guide and tell it where you want to go. Sensors inside the wall will cause it to vibrate in the appropriate direction. If you get too far off course, it will cease vibrating completely.

The detective held the small cylinder close to his mouth. “Murder scene,” he told the device. There was no response.

“Freight elevator 2,” Mary said, turning away.

“One more thing, Ms Griffin,” he said, calling her back. “I noticed earlier that you placed your glasses on top of your head. You don’t need them then?”

“Not really, lieutenant. I had my eyes re-focused two years ago. I continue to wear glasses because it helps me feel a certain camaraderie with the people we serve. I’m constantly losing them, I fear.”

Chapter 2

Detective Darcy knelt before the huge black safe, awed by the elaborate floral decorations painted on its sides. ‘American Publishing House,’ shone in gold lettering above the opened four-foot doors. There was a tropical scene on the inside, complete with palm trees, a sunset, and dried human blood.

He looked around the crime scene. There were two policepersons, a maintenance man, and a young, slightly balding man standing with his back to him.

“Jim, how was the victim killed exactly.”

The older of the two police-persons stepped forward, pointing to the door of the freight elevator. “It appears that this metal grate came down first, trapping the victim by the neck, with the rest of his body caught outside the cage.”

“Yes, yes, I can see that.”

“Now if you’ll notice the walls, Detective, there are weights and counterweights that raise and lower these two, eight-inch thick, metal plates – causing them to meet in the middle.”

“Step inside, Jim. So I can see how that works exactly.”

The elder policeperson stepped in and pushed a button, holding it while the mechanisms were closing. The yellow grate came down quickly sounding a hollow ‘thud’ as it hit the floor. Then two metal plates began to move inside the walls - one from above the top of the elevator descending, and the other from below moving up. They met in the middle with a formidable pounding sound, closing off the shaft so no one would fall into it.

“I saw you holding the button the whole time, Jim. Is that really necessary?”

“Absolutely. If you don’t, the doors and gates immediately revert to the start of the cycle.” Jim had been pressing a button below the first, and the doors and gate opened.

“So if his body was outside the cage when those metal sheets came together, he must have literally been torn in half. Someone had to actually hold the button down the entire time the victim was being snapped in two…and then stuff it into the safe…and hide the head. Anger that strong sounds like love to me.”

“I can see your point,” said the policeman, opening the elevator door.

“There aren’t any directions on this elevator and the Braille has been filed down. How did you figure out how to run it?”

Jim pointed a finger at the young man still standing in the same spot. “He told me.”

The lieutenant looked over at the only civilian in the area. “Excuse me,” Detective Darcy shouted to the man. “How long has this mountain of metal been riding this elevator?”

“Can I be of service,” asked the young man cordially. As he turned, his obvious blindness caused the lieutenant to pause for a moment.

“I’m Detective Darcy,” he said, introducing himself.

“Michael McCarty.”

“Do you work in the Fishbowl?”

“Not at all. I’m in Field Services, I fear. I’m still eking out a livelihood down here on the bottom.”

“I certainly take your meaning, sir. Do you know how long the safe has been on this elevator, Michael?”

The employee smiled. “It’s been here for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been with Griffin Inc. for twenty years. I know it was made by Hall’s Safe and Lock in 1872 and originally cost the company $250.”

“I’m surprised the doors weren’t sealed shut. A child could have gotten trapped inside.”

Michael laughed slightly. “Oh, it’s safe enough. The owners installed powerful magnets between the doors and the frame. They repel each other.”

Detective Darcy ran his fingers around the edges. “I don’t see any magnets.”

Michael knelt beside him and began searching for the magnets with his fingertips. “That’s odd. They’ve always been there.”

“This may have been a crime of passion, but it was also pre-meditated,” the detective said under his breath.

“I’m sorry, Lieutenant. What did you say?”

“I was saying…” Then William paused. “How do you know my rank, Mr. McCarty?”

“You must have told me when you introduced yourself,” he stammered.

“Of course, of course,” he answered, backing down. “Where does this elevator go?”

“It goes up into the building a bit – just floors one through three. And it goes…” Michael stopped suddenly.

“Go ahead, Michael. Where else does it go?”

“Well, it goes into the basement, but we don’t use the basement any longer – except for storage.”

Detective Darcy paused for a moment. “I’d like to see the basement, Michael. Could you accompany me there?”

“Of course I could. We all want to help get this thing resolved as quickly as possible. But it’s not a good idea. You’re just wasting your time down there in the dungeon.”

“The dungeon? That’s an odd nickname.”

“That’s what everyone calls it. It’s so quiet and musty,” said Michael, continuing to stand unwavering.

“If you don’t mind pushing the button, Michael. The panel is right in front of you.”

“Well, okay, if you insist, Detective Darcy.”

“I do,” he said.

Michael’s hand found the control panel. The gate crashed shut, the metal plates met, and the cage began to descend.

“How can you tell which buttons to push, Michael?”

“Really, if you push the wrong button, the elevator won’t respond. And if you push the wrong button twice, it’ll make a blaring, honking noise.”

The yellow wire cage came to a halt at the basement and Michael began to open the gates on his left. Detective Darcy looked in the other direction. “I’d like to go the other way, if you don’t mind.”

“Well, if you insist.”

“I do.”

Reluctantly, Michael let the previous mesh gate slam shut and then slowly opened the door and gate beside the detective.

“You’ve been most helpful, Michael. I’d like to poke around a bit by myself, if you don’t mind.” The detective stepped outside.

“That may not be a good idea. Your remote won’t help you down here, because the walls don’t have sensors. You might get lost.”

“I’ll take my chances.”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” said Michael, holding down the button to close the yellow mesh door.

“One last question: what is that humming sound?”

“Oh that? It’s the fans,” Michael said as the elevator began to rise. “They keep the boxes cool.”

“Oh, right- the fans,” echoed the Detective, finally assured that he was on the right path.

Chapter 3

Doctor Elizabeth Miller sat before a crystal ball making notes in a white binder. “Are we ready to proceed, Dennis,” she asked the air around her.

The surgeons in the next room stood in back of the accused who was continuing to sleep peacefully.

“Simcha and I are ready anytime you are, Doctor.”

“Good, good,” she said, laying the notebook on the empty chair across from her.

“Computer, show me the Subject’s neural map.” An image appeared over the small table’s crystal ball showing the chemical circuits on the surface of her brain. Even at rest, the cortex was glowing with activity. Eight of the highest trafficked neurons clusters glowed brightly, like large lighted cities glowing against the backdrop of a nighttime planet. These memory centers had been charted earlier and pebble-sized voltage regulators had been placed directly over them.

“Neural center eight seems to have been recently accessed, let’s see what’s in there. We’ll start with an activation voltage of 70 millivolts, and build slowly from there.”

The image over the crystal ball changed from a cerebral cortex to an out of focus series of changing shapes and sounds.

“Increase the voltage by 10 millivolts,” she ordered as the image grew sharper.

“Ten more,” she said as the hologram became sharp enough to see boulders and rocks passing by. The dreamer’s feet were running up a hill in the dark. A giant crystal cliff glistened in the distance with the reflected light of a planet’s satellite. “We have it, Dennis,” she whispered.

“Dreamer, where are you,” Elizabeth asked.

“I’m on my home world. I need to find a place to hide from my aunt. She’s really angry.” The movements of the rocks became less jarring as the girl slid into a pit on the mountain of stone.

Suddenly there were voices. “That child is as stupid as a pail full of warm, wet snails,” said a harsh female voice.

“And as useless as a bump on a log,” answered a man’s voice. The darkness in the shallow pit became deeper as the dreamer slipped back further into a corner of the crevasse.

“Why are they looking for you, dreamer,” asked Elizabeth.

“Shhh!” insisted the dreamer.

“They can’t hear me,” said Doctor Miller. “Just answer me in your mind.”

“Okay. My aunt was having a Brockaloo party and I ate some of their sweet breads.”

Suddenly there was the sound of footsteps not five feet from the dreamer’s hiding spot.

“I work like a dog to help that girl, and look where it gets me,” said her aunt. “Why I ever agreed to keep her after my sister died is beyond me.”

“You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, Grace. You’re a good-hearted woman, that’s all. If you weren’t my uncle’s daughter, I would have…”

The dreamer shifted nervously in the pit.

“What was that, cousin? Did you hear something?”

Through the girl’s eyes, Dr. Miller could see her look down at her arms and legs. What looked like shiny black stones glistened in the moon’s light, moving up and down her legs.

“Bugs,” the dreamer shouted in her mind as they wriggled on her arms. Her hands began to swipe at the slithering insects, knocking some of them to the pit’s dirt floor.

“Come on, honey, come on out. Your Auntie Grace ain’t mad at you no more.” The voice laughed mockingly. “Like hell I ain’t. I’m gonna beat that child like a swayback mule on a Sunday morning.”

“Spare the rod and spoil the child is what I always say,” said her cousin.

“Right you are Lumas. As right as rain.”

Down in the pit, the dreamer was still swatting off bugs.

Her aunt’s voice cackled through the night air. “It’s as cold as a witch’s tittie out here, Lumas. I say we just leave her out here all night. We’ll come back tomorrow and see what’s left of her.”

“Serves her right cousin. Serves her right.”

“She’ll be as crazy as a bedbug, Lumas.”

“As crazy as a bedbug,” the man echoed. There was the sound of footsteps descending down the rocks. The wind began to pick up and carried with it the sound of moans and screams from somewhere further up the mountain. The monsters lived up there. That’s what people in the village had told her.

The dreamer’s hands began to dig into the pit’s clay walls. The fingernails clawed upwards, one hand at a time. “I’ve got it,” she whispered to herself as her fingers felt the edge of the pit. Then she was sliding backwards, like a tiny mouse trapped in a teacup. The pitbugs were upon her again, crawling up her feet, getting under her clothes. The hands were slapping them off as quickly as they could, but there were too many of them.

In her safe, well light cozy room, Dr. Miller signaled Dennis to begin a precise injection regimen of mood-enhancing chemicals.

“Where are you dreamer,” asked Elizabeth’s voice.

“I’m in here! I’m in the pit!”

“No you’re not,” she hushed. “Take another look.” The scene began to change, shimmering for a moment. “You’re playing Crackers with your friends – a lovely game of hide-and-seek. It’s a sunny day and you’re in back of a tree, hiding and giggling.” As the scene shifted, it became exactly as the Doctor described. The dreamer could see other children looking for her. There was a blonde girl with sunken cheeks, frolicking with a three-foot-tall Meerkat. A dark-eyed boy ran in back of a cottage looking for her, leading around a stuffed squirrel on a string. A girl blurred by a fog also delighted in the game, running among the flowers. Black insects floated by in a non-threatening manner.

“Do you see the stairway, dreamer,” asked Elizabeth in a marshmallow tone of voice.

Out of nowhere, a double marbled stairway appeared at the center of the garden. “I do see it, I do!”

“Climb to the top, dreamer. Climb up the staircase.”

“No, I’ll stay here if you please. Here is fine.”

“It’s better up the stairway, dreamer. Trust me, you’ll see,” said Elizabeth.

Tiny feet began walking then running up one side of the stairway. At the top of the stairway was a patio, upon which sat a pastry cart. The dreamer began to sample the sweet breads, eating as many as she pleased.

The hologram faded. “That’s eleven and a half minutes, Doctor. We’ve set that as our limit.”

“Exactly right, Dennis.”

“Did she decide to climb the staircase, doctor?”

“She did indeed. This was, once again, an excellent session. I’m very impressed by the resiliency of the subject. Let’s allow the subject the rest of the day off.”

“Could I talk you into a late lunch, Dr. Miller? Simcha and I are going to Cunningham’s.”

“You most certainly could. I’ll be with you in five.” Elizabeth returned to working in her notebook.

Chapter 4

Detective Darcy saw two of the fans as soon as he turned away from the elevator. There was little light in the ‘dungeon’. A series of thick block windows, each a foot high, were set into concrete where the foundation met the new building. Small hills of neatly stacked boxes rose from floor to ceiling. They were still exactly as their publishers had left them when every blind child routinely began receiving microdots in their fingertips. Twelve steps from the elevator, a six foot fan blasted air into his face.

“That’s one,” he said under his breath.

Seven steps further and a ceiling fan pushed air down from overhead. “Two.” He could hear a third fan in the distance, but couldn’t see it. Overruling his fear of the dim light, the detective walked past cardboard boxes, doors marked ‘Not An Exit’, rows of empty lockers. He passed small pine boxes – two feet by three feet – which looked like infant caskets. In reality, they were merely sturdy boxes used to transport the metal sheets used in decades past to imprint Braille books. Five steps forward and two fans blasted air at him, one at his face and the other rotating on a stand at chest level.

“That’s three and four.” He took a few more steps until he came to an open space in the box towers.

The lieutenant looked around, blinking quickly, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dim light. He observed the stone walls, glazed concrete floor, and drop-tiled ceiling. “No clues here,” he mumbled, spinning around slowly. Then he saw something. It glimmered in the dim light. He knelt down, resisting the urge to pick it up. The object was a woman’s black-rimmed glasses. “The lovebirds are fighting again,” he whispered. He tapped the side of his forehead, taking a picture of the scene with a camera embedded in his blue bionically-enhanced eyes.

Something behind him shifted. It was the elevator beginning to descend. A gate clanged open and two metal doors slid up and down.

“Detective,” shouted a man’s voice. “Detective Darcy.” Two sets of footsteps began coming directly towards him as he noticed the mini-guide he was holding begin to vibrate emphatically. He placed the device on a box and slinked away.

As the men came into the open space, the small device began to beep.

Detective Darcy was hiding now, silently moving towards a staircase.

“It’s just his guide,” said Michael McCarty.

“Maybe he left it behind accidentally and then went back upstairs,” said the other man.

“Or perhaps he is still here. Shut off those two fans,” he ordered.

Darcy could hear the click click of two switches being thrown. The fans slowly wound down and stopped. The men were listening now as he held his breath.

“Okay, Tim, throw the fans back on and I’ll get the box. It’s right here next to shipping.” Footsteps coming close, too close. Michael was feeling along the edge of one row. “I’m not finding it,” he said in frustration. “Can you find it?”

“Are you sure it’s still down here, Michael? Maybe she already got it.”

“Oh, no. She was very clear that she wanted me to bring it up. Someone’s moved it, that’s obvious. Boy, is she going to be angry.”

The detective heard the sound of footsteps moving back towards the elevator, then weights and counterweights being used, as fans resumed their lonely watch. He stood and walked into a bathroom off the main room. He could see soap dispensers over each white ceramic sink. As he began walking quietly up a staircase, he could tell the dust on some of steps had been recently smudged.

The lieutenant dusted himself off and began walking through the building upstairs. He saw Michael McCarty talking with a woman who was obviously agitated. It was Mary. She turned as he walked up.

“Oh, Detective Darcy,” she smiled. “We thought you had gone already.”

“I was just about to, Ms. Griffin.” He held out his dusty hands. “I hope you don’t consider this impolite, but could I use your bathroom to just wash my hands. I’ve been downstairs, you see, and it’s very dirty down there.”

The lady laughed nervously, her tiny feet shifting about inside her high-heeled shoes. “Why of course, Detective. My office is right through this door.”

“Please, continue your conversation. I can find my way,” he told her.

Inside the washroom, lights flooded the mirror over a small dressing table. At the golden sink, the germ zapper hung at the ready. He placed his hands under the facet and felt the warm air run over his hands, blowing away the dirt. He then lifted his arms before the zapper, the old cells hanging in the air for a moment before evaporating. He stepped back. On the sterile, white countertop, he could see make-up and clean towels and hairspray…everything but a bar of soap.

***

Detective Darcy stood in front of one set of double doors leading into the Grand Marriot’s Ballrooms C & D. “Detective Darcy,” he said and the doors disappeared briefly, allowing him to step inside. The grand room was filled with sixty round tables covered by crisp white tablecloths. He was half an hour early, and the wait staff were busy hovering over the square china plates and crystal water glasses gracing the tabletops. He walked over to a set of windows that allowed a spectacular view of the Louisville Skyline. Being this close to the Ohio River, it was easy to see people walking through the three arboretums spanning the waterway. Each park was named for the bridge it had originally been: the I65, the 2nd Street, and the L & N. Up river, he could see monorail trains entering and exiting tunnels under the river.

“Lieutenant, I thought I’d find you here,” said a soothing female voice.

He didn’t have to look to know it was Elizabeth – but he looked to his right and smiled anyway. “Good of you to join me.”

They began to skirt the outside of the room. “Do you see the cubes the wait-staff are putting by the cups,” asked Dr. Miller. Darcy nodded yes. “The ivory ones will display menu choices of people actually in the room. The silver ones are receivers for holographic guests.”

A spat suddenly broke out between two waiters at a corner table close to where they stood. “You should know better,” the elder one whispered loudly to his subordinate. “You never sit a human with a Yangorian. The Yangor delegation would take it as an insult and refuse to attend.”

The younger man bent forward, removing the silver cube. “But the humans won’t even be here – they’re just images. And we need the extra seats. We planned for 328, and two more were added at the last moment.”

The elder waiter shook his head again furiously.

“Excuse me,” said Detective Darcy approaching the waiters, “but we couldn’t help but overhear.” The lieutenant broke into a wide smile, in an effort to soften tempters. “I believe my lady friend and I are the source of your troubles. I’m Detective Darcy and this is Dr. Miller. We certainly wouldn’t mind being at a table by ourselves – perhaps over there in a corner.”

“Thank you for your courtesy and understanding, sir,” said the eldest server, bowing slightly. “My staff will be certain provide you excellent service.”

Dr. Miller and Detective Darcy stepped away. “That was nice of you, Detective,” said the psychologist.

“Why thank you, but I really wanted an unimpeded view of the diners.”

An hour later, 330 guests were seated, conversing politely.

A tall gentleman with a jovial face that seemed to say ‘Talk to me, I’m friendly’ stepped up to the podium. After a measured amount of time, he began tapping a symbolic crystal glass with a silver butter knife. “Ladies, gentlemen, and gender neutrals: welcome warmly to the 197th Annual Meeting of the American Publishing House for the Blind.” The crowd merrily returned his enthusiasm with a round of applause. “My name is Tuck Griffin, and I’ll be your MC for the evening. I’m delighted to report revenues are up – so we can all relax and enjoy this delicious meal set before us.” Taking one step to the right of the podium, he reached down and picked up a six-year-old blind boy who was standing there. The child happily shouted to the crowd – “Let’s eat!” Representatives from a dozen different planetary systems laughed before beginning to do just that.

“Tell me what you see, Detective…” inquired Elizabeth, sipping her soup lightly, “…as a trained observer I mean.”

Darcy studied the room for a moment. “I see the Dom-powells are ingesting only water.” He nodded towards a table of eight.

“They have some food on their plates,” retorted his companion.

“Yes – but they won’t eat it. The Dom-powells are a military race. Over a century ago, they began having processed nutrition packs implanted in their digestive tracts. As they drink water, nutrients are released into their blood, eliminating the need for their troops to carry food supplies.”

“That seems like a drastic step,” said the Doctor.

“It also eliminates any need for latrines, since there’s no solid waste. Very efficient and it makes their troops more difficult to trace.” The detective took a bite of his fish fillet and seemed to enjoy it. “What do you see Doctor…as a trained observer.”

“I see the Yangorians in all their state. Notice the red sashes tied where their eyes would be. They seem to be very proud of what they don’t have.” The lieutenant glanced towards their table where four males were present holographically. A Yangorian woman also physically sat at the table. She wore layered robes which completely concealed her form, but her face was kind and elegant. “I believe the male is the Yangorian we saw in the fishbowl.”

“Have you seen the female before?”

“No I haven’t. But she is stunning, isn’t she. I’ve heard that her name is Lystria.”

“But why the red sashes? Are they afraid they’ll offend us?”

“It’s more likely the Yangorians wear the sashes because they see themselves as perfect, while those of us who have eyes are flawed somehow. The males, at least, seem very satisfied with themselves.”

“Perhaps,” said the detective, taking a sip of his beverage.

“Why do they shimmer like that?”

“Like what?”

“Wait a minute – you’ll see.” True to form, the holographic image of one of the Yangorians seemed to blink off for a moment. Darcy gasped. “They’re piggy-backing messages on their holo-signal. It’s not illegal – but it’s more than a little rude.”

Suddenly the female at the table stood up, tore the red sash from her face throwing it onto the table, and rushed out of the room. The males only chuckled slightly while glancing briefly at the humans at other tables.

“I wonder what all that was about,” said Elizabeth.

“I have a feeling I’ll find out, given enough time,” said Darcy, drinking deeply from his wine filled stemware. He turned slightly, motioning to a uniformed officer behind the small table. “Follow that Yangorian woman. I’ll need a full report on her movements first thing in the morning.”

As the couple returned to their entrees, a tall, elderly man at a table close to the podium stood, excused himself, and exited the ballroom discretely.

***

Lieutenant Darcy floated thirty feet above the summit of Gorilla hill. The Louisville Zoo’s cages lay in ruins on the ground, and hundreds of children swarmed from hillside to hillside, happily playing tag with peaceful, freed animals. Zebras, pumas, snow leopards, and more all frolicked in the sunshine with children decked out in Halloween costumes which were more fantasy than scary.

“Detective Darcy, you need to wake up,” sighed a feminine voice.

He looked towards his left elbow and found Doctor Miller was floating amongst the clouds with him.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” he mumbled.

She turned to face him. “You need to rise to consciousness,” she told him, her volume rising.

“I’d rather stay right here…” he began.

“Lieutenant Darcy, wake up!”

The detective sat straight up in bed, shaking a little. A globe of light floated in front of him.

“Lieutenant, I’m sorry to disturb you,” said a man’s voice, “but I find I need your assistance.

He recognized the voice now: it was Private Anheiser, the policeman he had instructed to follow the Yangorian female. Darcy drew the covers up over his chest before touching the ball of light.

“That’s okay, Andrew,” he said as the fuzzy globe became a foot tall holograph of the policeman. “Tell me about it.”

“I’ve been watching Lystria since the dinner, but SkySpy just confirmed that I’m not alone in doing so.”

“Not alone?”

“Exactly right – someone else is also watching her.”

The detective was racing around his small room now, throwing on his clothes.

Fifteen minutes later, Darcy was walking the last block towards the St. James district at Magnolia and 5th. Originally built as the city’s first suburb during the 1890s, preservation societies had thankfully saved three hundred Victorian mansions from the death grip of ‘progress’.

“I’m here,” he quietly told Andrew while skirting the ring of soft light surrounding a gas lamp.

“I thought maybe I was just paranoid – I’m not use to these flickering period pieces – but SkySpy confirmed there’s a human in a mobile who has been here as long as I have.

“I won’t look now – but where is he?”

“Behind you and two houses up. He’s parked by the fountain, on the other side of the divide.”

“Well, let’s shake the rabbit from its briar patch, shall we?”

“What?”

The lieutenant drew a deep breath, noticing how crisp the night air seemed to be. “Give me time to alert WinStar and I’ll approach the mobile from the back while you approach him directly.

Five minutes later, Policeman Anheiser crossed the green, heading straight towards the mobile in question. “Don’t be alarmed,” he shouted, “I’m a policeman. I just want to talk with you.”

As he got within five feet, the vehicle thrust three feet into the air, beginning to hover. “I’m a policeman,” he shouted again while displaying his neon globe-badge.

Suddenly the mobile shot away from the curb, bouncing Andrew aside with its tiny force field – only to jerk to a stop just as suddenly.

“Why do they always run,” gasped the Lieutenant as he raced to the mobile’s side. “WinStar, open the door,” he instructed a satellite via his wristband. The door opened and a lanky, elderly gentleman folded out onto the street.

“I apologize for attempting to flee,” he said with an air of open honestly. “I suppose it’s merely instinct.”

“I’m sure you’re right, Mr…”

“Doctor, actually. Doctor Will Evans.” The statesman extended his hand, a handshake ensuing between him and the Lieutenant.

“Is that title a bestowed honor, or are you really a…”

“Oh, no, no, no. I am a medical doctor,” he answered almost jovially. “I’m an obstetrician, specifically.

“If you don’t mind my asking then, Doctor Evans – why would an obstetrician be sitting on a public street till 4 AM?”

The doctor scratched the palm of his hand nervously. “May I see some identification, officer?”

Darcy held out his arm, touched his sleeve, and a ball of light appeared, floating a few inches beyond his palm.

“Thank you, Detective Darcy.” The steady, graying man looked down and away before finding the confidence to even whisper his reply. “I’m guarding one of the aliens.” The brazenness of the response surprised both policemen. “Truly. I’ve been following a Yangorian woman to ensure her safety.”

“Perhaps we should all go upstairs and talk to the lady,” Darcy said as he took the obstetrician’s elbow, nodding at Andrew to lead the way.

Lystria resided in the third floor flat of a home built for a wealthy family of nine. The street façade was that of a 17th century English Countryside house, built of river stone. The sides and back of the building were simple red brick.

Andrew cranked the restored doorbell, knowing full-well the action had set in motion a much more complicated series of technologies than the simple ‘ring ring’ would suggest. “Police,” he told the air above the welcome mat.

A light came on over the door jam, revealing that someone was home and watching the odd trio. “Identify yourselves,” ordered a computer-enhanced voice. “Detective Darcy and First Private Anheiser.” The two policemen held out their palms, presenting their globe-badges to the security device.

“And the third person?” As the policemen broke rank so the third man could be seen, a woman’s startled voice rang out. “Dr. Evans, is that you?”

“Yes, my child, it is I.”

Stepping into the apartment, Darcy asked the obvious question: “Would you mind turning on the lights?”

“Of course, Detective. I tend to forget little niceties like that. Forgive me.”

As the lights came on, Darcy couldn’t help but be impressed at the lavishness of the décor. “Is it all original?”

“If only it were. On Yangor I studied human history and this was my favorite period. These three hundred houses were the central reason I jumped at the chance to be a listener at APH.”

“This is a marvelous stained glass window,” said Dr. Evans while striding across the hardwood floor to look at it more closely. The window was rectangular, at least eight feet high by six feet wide, with a floral motif surrounding three people entering a tomb.

“It’s a reproduction of ‘The Miracle of the Resurrection of Bobby at Rochester.’ The original is in London I’ve heard. I can’t see the colors, of course, but with my sonar sight I can appreciate the difference in the variance of the hues.”

“Is it the purpose of this clear oval in the center to allow light into the room?”

“No, no,” she began to explain with obvious pride. “That piece of lead glass was inlaid so the riverboat captain who built this house could watch the paddleboats on the Ohio.”

“It’s a shame that all you can see now is the apartment building across the street.”

“That’s progress for you,” shrugged Lystria. Turning towards the Lieutenant standing in front of the tile-encrusted fireplace, Lystria began the conversation. “What is this all about, officer.”

Before Darcy could answer, Dr. Evans was upon her, taking her hands in his. “I fear for your safety, my dear child.”

“But why doctor? This building is secure enough, and noone can get through that door without my approval.”

“You are no match for the Vag-gai-nooze,” he whispered hurriedly.

Lystria’s face went pale and Andrew helped her to a high-backed chair in the corner. “How do you know this name, Doctor?”

“Yes, Doctor Evans, why don’t you tell all of us,” insisted the Detective.

The elder gentleman sighed before beginning his explanation. “We humans have been told that citizens from the planet Yangor began coming to our planet just over a decade ago.” He paused, looking into the female’s eyes. “But some of us believe this is simply not the truth.”

Lystria quietly nodded ‘yes’.

With this affirmation, the obstetrician began to pick-up-steam. “I am a member of a small circle of friends, with its origins centered in Scotland. We believe the Yangorians have been checking in on us throughout human history. The Hebrew Scriptures talk of a time when the Nephreum walked the earth. These were giants among men who fathered children who later become the great heroes of old.” He paused, giving the statement a moment to sink in. “Some of these giants had mankind’s best interest at heart. Imhotep, for example, may have been one of these visitors – he’s shown in some etchings with a vale about his eyes. He introduced humanity to astronomy and architecture – hence, those serving him may have founded the Order of which I am a part.

“0But there were others – as there always are – who chose to hide behind the scenes, pitting one nation against the other, profiting off the wars and misery which resulted. They fashioned themselves as gods. They were taller and stronger than humans, with two hearts – a spare that took over if the first was destroyed. Their sonar sight and their hearing also made them superior – except when a human hid.”

“I’m lost,” said Andrew, “what does hide and seek have to do with it?”

“Let me put it like this: When you were a child, did you ever dream that something huge was chasing you?”

The policemen nodded yes.

“And then you hid behind a chair or a rock – anything that completely covered your shape? This dream is archival – its how to escape a Yangorian assassin because his sonar can’t actually see through objects. What else will a small child do when hiding?”

“Hold their breath,” asked Andrew.

“Right! A Yangorian can hear your heartbeat but he can’t tell the direction its coming from unless he actually hears the breathing.”

“Good to know, Doctor,” said the detective appreciatively. “Good to know.”

Lystria took up the tale now. “This carnage is why laws were passed on Yangor to place distance between Earth humans and ourselves. These laws allowed mankind to grow up. Intermarriage between our groups became looked down upon, but the love between Byron and me was too strong to be bound by these rules.”

“Lystria, as your doctor I can’t tell these men the truth. You must do that. They are here to protect you – as am I.”

She drew a breath, rose from her chair, and turned towards the window. “I’m pregnant,” she sighed as though hopeful but heartbroken at the same time.

“It will be the first human-Yangorian baby in…”

At that moment, the stained glass window exploded inward. Years later Darcy would remember how time seemed to slow to a point where he could see a dozen shards of colored light shoot past Lystria’s form. Given the density of the layers of clothes she wore, she could probably have survived the shards that punctured her face and hands – had it not been for the assassin that followed them into the room.

Before Andrew or Darcy could complete their lunges, the Yangorian male had Lystria in his arms. The brightness of the shards of flying glass were nothing in comparison to the brilliance of the female’s red blood as he drew a knife across her throat.

Years later, the detective would take courage in the thought that Andrew’s sacrifice was not in vain, for his flying body knocked the knife from the assassin’s hand. But a sacrifice he was as the giant in the living room swatted Andrew away as a child might swat a mosquito – propelling him out the hole created by the window’s absence.

Lystria’s body slumped to the floor, falling from her murder’s embrace. He looked around the room but the other humans had disappeared. He listened and heard the loud thumping of their heartbeats. He began systematically overturning the furniture. The wing-backed chair in the corner. The dining room table. The 1920’s buffet.

By the time he got to the couch, Darcy had the knife in his left hand and sprang like a jack-in-the-box, expertly plunging the blade into the soft spot below the giant’s left rib. The assassin only grimaced and then smiled, knowing he had the fly in his web. And then the policeman pulled out the blade only to plunge it into his flesh once, twice, three times, a fourth… On the fifth stab the assassin’s face seemed to turn to stone, his body falling backwards.

The Lieutenant stood over the body, knife in hand, for what seemed like an hour but was only about a minute and a half. “Doctor Evans, are you alright?”

“I’m here, detective,” he answered quietly – crawling from behind a sofa. The doctor was obviously in shock.

“Doctor Evans – Will – we can’t save Lystria, but you can save her baby.”

“Yes, yes you’re right, detective. At least there is that possibility.”

“I’ll see about Andrew, Doctor,” he said firmly – while placing the Yangorian’s bloody knife into the obstetrician’s hands.

Chapter 5

Sunday, Nine A.M.

Three officers approached the mountains of boxes in the APH basement with a unified resolve. Detective Darcy led, with the policeman and policewoman following closely.

“Our task is simple: find the needle in a haystack. We’re looking for a box big enough to hide a man’s head. We need to find it before the killers do. Stacie, you take the right. Lawrence, you’re on the left, and I’ll take the center aisle.”

“What do you want us to do if others come down,” asked Lawrence.

“Just hide and observe. Maybe they’ll lead us to it.”

Within five minutes of the time the trio had begun their search, Lieutenant Darcy could hear the counter-weights inside the elevator shaft beginning to fall. He could only hope his assistants were as aware of the elevator’s descent as he was.

“Detective, Detective Darcy,” shouted a man’s voice. Silence. Silence. There was just the whirling of the fans.

“I think he’s still upstairs, Michael.”

“You’re probably right. Let’s just find this blasted thing and get out of here before she goes crazy.”

There were the heavy thumps and thuds of boxes being shifted and moved for the first time in decades. As he listened, he heard something else – something like fingernails on a chalkboard, only muted. The sound was clawing on cardboard, at the end of his stack of boxes. Something inhuman had joined the party. He began crawling towards the noise. It stopped. Whatever it was knew he was down here, invading its territory. Detective Darcy moved closer, closer. The sound was coming from inside a room with the door slightly propped open. A sign on the grey door proclaimed, ‘Every Machine Inside This Room Is Dangerous’. He was on his hands and knees as he peered into the room. The clawing sound had begun again. In the dim light, in the corner, was a box out of place. It was two feet high.

He swallowed his fear, crawling into the room. He could see holes torn in the box, with small brown rats coming and going. On the edges of the holes was a dark, caked liquid. He couldn’t be certain, but odds were good that he had found the victim’s head.

“What was that,” asked Michael.

“What? I didn’t hear anything.”

Darcy shouted “BOO!” and all hell broke loose. The rats scampered, Lawrence and Stacie jumped up, Michael and his cohort began to run towards the sound of the Lieutenant’s voice.

“There he is,” shouted Michael – but their objective was already halfway up the stairs, running at full speed with the box tucked securely under his left arm.

By the time the Detective reached the 1st floor landing, the four people in the basement were dispersing in two directions – each pair running up a separate staircase.

***

Monday, One P.M.

“Requesting Entry,” said a mechanical female voice.

Elizabeth Miller stopped writing, laying aside her tablet. She cringed for a moment thinking it might be a reporter or a civilian. She was seated at the same small table, complete with crystal ball and extra chain.

“Identify person making request.”

“Detective William Darcy,” said the voice with obvious indifference.

“Entry allowed,” the Doctor acquiesced, smiling slightly for no obvious reason.

The door to her small room slid open and the Detective stepped inside, his six-foot-six frame completely blocking the entrance. He touched the back of his neck nervously and Elizabeth noticed he had trimmed his hair.

“I trust you weren’t already in progress, Dr. Miller,” he said, taking the seat opposite her.

“If I had been, I would have refused entry, Lieutenant. The process is very specific and can’t be interrupted.” She paused for a moment and almost giggled. “The computer called you – William. As in William Darcy?”

“My mother was a huge fan of Jane Austin. I believe the original name in the book was ‘FitzWilliam.”

“Quite so, Detective. I fear that I cannot tease you about that then, Mr. Darcy.”

“And ‘What a shame, for I so dearly love to laugh,” he answered. They both laughed for a moment, remembering for a moment that it felt good to laugh.

“Wow. A man who knows his 19th century novelists. I am impressed.”

“I was hoping I could take you up on your offer to sit in on another session, Doctor.”

“Of course, Lieutenant. We’re about ten minutes out.”

“Is the subject responding well to treatment?”

“She is. In fact, she ate dinner on her own last night.”

“She wasn’t doing that before?”

“No. The first twenty four hours she refused food completely. And then she allowed herself to be fed. Whatever happened on Sunday, she’s allowing herself to heal somewhat.” Dr. Miller looked at him directly. “Are you still certain she’s the killer, Detective?”

He breathed deeply before answering. “I can tell you that I have a gut feeling some of the employees aren’t as helpful as they’d like to appear.”

“As a physiologist, I have very much the same impression.”

A man’s voice interrupted. “Dr. Miller, we’ll be ready in about two minutes.”

“Thank you, Dennis. Keep me appraised.” She looked at the man across the table. “We’ll be delving into another memory today.”

“Yes. I replayed both the dream and the memory from Saturday.”

“We have no idea what we’ll be privy to. Both good experiences and bad have equal value on a neural map. So we’ll have to wait and see.”

“Will she get to the point where we can see the actual killing?”

“It’s doubtful, I’m afraid. It depends upon her inner strength – her foundation, if you will.”

“Here we go, Doctor,” said Dennis.

The globe on the table began to glow as a hologram formed over it. There were blurry shapes and forms that seemed to be moving around the dreamer. “Can we get this image any clearer, Dennis?”

“I can increase the wattage to 80 milivolts, but I’d hesitate going any higher.” The image grew a little brighter, but the forms were still as blurred.

“Back it down to 70, and ask Simcha to increase the audio, please.” She whispered to William, “this is obviously after she went blind.”

There were men and women talking now. “Desperate times call for desperate measures and all that…”said a male voice trailing off at the end.

“If only the rains had come, Simon. The crops are dieing in the field. The livestock are refusing to eat the stubble left behind.”

“Better for one child to…well, you know…than the whole town starve.”

There was a cry of pain, and the forms crowded around the subject. “She’s having another contraction. Come one, sweetheart, you’ve got to push or the baby will die inside you.”

“The focus went to black. “I’d rather the baby die inside me than allow you psychos to have it.”

“Desperate times, my child…” began a man’s voice again.

“Yes, I know,” the dreamer screamed, “desperate measures.”

“Push, love, push,” comforted a female voice.

The dreamer’s voice began crying and pushing at the same time.

“I can see the crown of the head,” said a man’s voice. “Good job…now just one more push…”

“One more push, and it’s over with,” begged the female’s voice again.

A baby’s cry filled Dr. Miller’s small room.

“It’s a boy,” proclaimed a man to the applause of the small crowd. Scordia will be pleased. The firstborn son of a blind girl…He will honor our sacrifice.”

A man whispered nearby. “Give her something, Andrew. Something to knock her out.”

“I can’t. She’s lost too much blood already. She’s just going to have to endure it. What you can’t change – ya gotta live through.”

“Give me my baby,” she shouted only to be drowned out by a rising chanting.

“Scordia will be pleased,” shouted one voice. Another voice was repeating, “Our god be praised.” A third chanted, “Bless your followers with rain. Bless your faithful with abundant life.”

The baby’s crying grew fainter and fainter as if being carried away.

“Give me my baby back,” sobbed the dreamer.

Dr. Miller sat back in terror as the hologram dimmed and the sounds slipped into quiet sobs.

“Dr. Miller, are you okay,” whispered Detective Darcy, leaning forward.

“Who’s there? Who’s there,” asked the dreamer.

Dr. Miller took a deep breath. “I am. I am here with you.”

“Make them bring back my baby.”

Elizabeth pushed a button her wristband to inform the surgeons to begin a controlled influx of chemicals. “They haven’t taken your baby. It was some other girl’s baby. You were walking down a path and came upon a girl giving birth.”

The colors on the hologram began to brighten.

“Oh, yes…you’re right. I remember now. I was walking to the village when I heard a girl giving birth. And there were people all around her.”

“That’s right. There were people there who loved her and were helping her,” said Elizabeth softly. “And when the baby was born, they took him away to wash him, and dress him, and put him into a crib.”

The hologram was bright now, with colors resembling clouds floating past. “What was I so upset about,” asked the dreamer. “I’ve forgotten by now.”

“I’ve forgotten also,” said Dr. Miller. The hologram shimmered and faded, and was gone.

“Dennis and Simcha, another good session,” said Dr. Miller loudly.

“We are on a roll,” answered Simcha.

“Let’s set another session for 3 PM,” instructed Elizabeth.

“I wonder if it helped.”

“If what helped,” asked Dr. Miller.

“The rain – I’m just curious if it came,” said the Detective.

Elizabeth’s hands flew over her holo-pad. “According to the records available – the planet Kimgee did have a drought around the time the subject was 16. The rains eventually came, however, flooding the towns around the Great Crystal Cliff in particular.”

“Perhaps they should have been building reservoirs instead of wasting time sacrificing children.” Detective Darcy stood and began to leave, albeit reluctantly.

“I was hoping,” began Elizabeth, “that I could watch you at work sometime. Obviously, you’ve observed me.”

“I’d like that very much,” William smiled. “I’ll be going over some recordings tomorrow morning. They’ve set me up in a room just down the hall.”

“How will I find you?”

“I picked up a new mini-guide, and you can use it, if you’d like. I know the way.” As he handed it to her, Elizabeth could feel the tips of his fingers glance off the palm of her hand. “Just speak to it and it’ll guide you. Ask for William Darcy.”

Chapter 6

Tuesday 9 AM

“Entrance requested” said the feminine mechanical voice.

“Identify,” ordered Lieutenant Darcy.

“Dr. Elizabeth Miller.”

“Really,” said the Detective, beginning to snicker slightly. “Entrance granted.”

The door came open and Detective Darcy was still chuckling a bit. “Miss Elizabeth. How good of you to come.”

Dr. Miller smiled and began to chuckle as well. “I thought I had told you my first name, Mr. Darcy. How did you find out?”

“I’m a detective – remember?” He pointed to the door. “I’m lying. The computer told me when you requested entry.”

Dr. Miller sat in a chair beside Lieutenant Darcy. “What are we looking at,” she asked, motioning towards a flat image hovering over a table, perhaps five feet by four feet.

“I’m having Sky Spy review its recordings of the last two weeks.” On the image, the five rooftops of Griffin Enterprises stayed constant as people scrambled in and out in fast forward.

“Are you searching for the accused?”

“As a secondary program, yes. I’m really watching the victim.” They waited for a moment and a white dot appeared with the label V1. It exited the dormitory, went up the stairs of the Main Building, and disappeared inside.

“That was the victim going to work on Wednesday morning at 9:30.”

“How does Sky Spy identify people, detective? All I see is the top of people’s heads.”

“That is exactly what the program uses, in fact. It measures hair density to identify people.”

“Hair density?”

“Well, first it eliminates most people by hair color – blonde, brunette, or redhead – then it takes into account the shape of the hairline – obviously eliminating men who are balding.” The pair watched the image as the white dot V1 exited the Main Building and entered the activities building. The detective touched a virtual box on the hologram in the lower right hand corner. A counter in the corner turned over to ‘three’. “From there it counts the number of hairs on an individual’s scalp and measures the distance between the hair follicles.”

“And all of this happens from two miles in space,” Elizabeth whispered in awe. “He knows the number of hairs on your head…”

“Yeah, God and Sky Spy. It’s useful in establishing patterns.” He glanced at Elizabeth briefly before returning his full attention to the screen. He seemed content to know she was there, beside him. “SS: search for any individuals entering building three multiple times within fifteen minutes of the victim designated V1.”

“Two subjects found meeting the search parameters.”

“List and Label as secondary programs,” said the detective.

“Michael McCarty - two times, human …and Female Yangorian Lystria…three times.”

“Mark female Yangorian Lystria as a secondary subject.”

“Secondary subject 4 labeled and tracked.”

People could be seen coming and going. Evening, night, morning. Elizabeth pointed as dots and people ran up and down the stairs. “Who are the other secondary subjects, detective?”

“Well, there’s Mary Griffin, she’s S2 – she just seems nervous about the ongoing investigation. And there’s Michael McCarty – her ‘familiar’ for want of a better word. He’s S3.”

“And who’s S1, detective. If you don’t mind me asking,” asked Elizabeth.

William looked away from the screen and drew a deep breath. “The other labeled subject is at a remote location,” he informed her, quietly. “Here we go again. Friday morning – people coming to work, 7 AM, 8 AM, 8:30 – there’s the victim – right on time. Out the dorm.” They watched the white dot V1 as it descended the steps and got halfway up the stairs leading to the Main Building before turning moving the bottom of the screen. “He’s headed towards the gardens. Focus at 30 feet.” Four seconds passed before the dot V1 intersected with blue dot S4.”

“The victim and the female Yangorian are standing in the gardens together,” said Dr. Miller.

“Focus at six feet above, SS, remove dots and reproduce original picture.” Now the lieutenant and the doctor could see the couple as if floating six feet above them.

“They’re talking together. They’re a couple,” said Elizabeth.

“How can you be so sure?”

“By the distance between them and the way they hold their hands behind their backs – as though having them in front would produce too great a temptation to touch each other. And by the way they sway – it’s all part of a subconscious, evolutionary mating dance. It’s unmistakable if you’ve studied people enough.”

“Secondary subject S2 approaching V1 and S4,” said the hologram.

“Expand Range until S2 shows,” ordered Detective Darcy.

The focus floated upwards a few feet until Mary Griffin could be seen standing within earshot of the pair.

Dr. Miller leaned forward. “They don’t know she’s there listening. Lystria has her back to Mary and Byron can’t see her. She’s hiding in plain sight.”

The unlikely trio stood in the garden for a full five minutes until the victim and the Yangorian walked away in opposite directions. Mary finally left after the two were inside different buildings.

“Mary is far too curious just to be an indifferent subject,” said the detective. Sky Spy was continuing forward as days and nights were run through from a god’s eye view above Griffin Enterprises. The victim and the female Yangorian continued to enter the same buildings from different directions at the same time. Friday night, the victim dot and the Mary Griffin dot met in the garden.”

Evening, night, morning. “Here comes Saturday,” said Lieutenant Darcy. “Eight AM, 8:30, 9 o’clock.” By 9:30 all three dots (the accused, the Mary dot, and the victim) were all inside the main building. The outside of the building seemed oddly serene as a murder was happening deep within its bowels.

“I want to listen to the dream holo again,” said William as an aside. The images before them continued playing.

Suddenly Elizabeth pointed to the picture. “Oh, look, that’s you…” and she stopped mid-sentence. William was striding up the stairs followed by a blue dot labeled S1.

William fidgeted with his holopad. “End program Sky Spy,” he stammered. The image immediately went blank.

“I apologize,” said William.

“Am I a suspect?”

“Not at all, Dr. Miller,” he told her without facing her. “I use multi-billion dollar systems to watch smart, beautiful women.”

“It’s not a problem,” she whispered touching his sleeve for a moment. “Thanks for the compliment. Now let’s see the dream sequence again.”

William relaxed and pressed a button on the table. The pair now saw and heard the plates being placed on the table, the walk through the fans, and the bird’s fierce fighting.

“Entrance requested,” said the computer.

“Identify,” said William, turning off the holopad.

“Yakasium of Yangor,” announced the computer.

“He’s the male we saw in the fishbowl,” Elizabeth wrote on a notepad.

“Entrance granted,” said William.

The door slid open and the Yangorian stepped through, being a whole six inches taller even than William. He was magnificent, an ideal of masculine beauty even without eyes.

“I heard an argument going on in here,” he said. “I thought two humans were getting ready to kill each other.

“You heard it? Through the walls,” asked Elizabeth.

“Of course I did,” said the Yangorian, crossing his arms.

“It wasn’t people, it was just a recording. It was just two birds chirping…”

Dr. Miller stopped him. “Can you interpret what was being said?”

“I can make out most of it. It’s very speeded up.”

Detective Darcy gave the order to replay the hologram, slowing the audio, and the Yangorian began to translate.

“You’re seeing someone else, I know you are…All you care about is your endorphin chip…You must end it with that girl – that thing…I won’t do it, I’m leaving you…Don’t turn your back to me or I’ll - I’ll kill you where you stand…”

The hologram ended.

If the Yangorian had eyes, the humans before him would have seen them fill with distain. “It seems obvious what happened, Lieutenant…even obvious for a human.”

Elizabeth stiffened at the remark.

“Do you believe you are the only beings who look down on others,” asked the Yangorian proudly. “I don’t believe in wasting time on civility with inferiors. I’ll leave now.”

He exited quickly, leaving Elizabeth and William holding their breaths once again. “I believe we have a new secondary program,” said William quietly.

***

Tuesday 9:30 P.M.

Like the majority of important structures built after 2015, Griffin Inc had a flat, grass rooftop. To state it clearly, it was a garden minus the trees, with flower beds and vegetable patches precisely positioned between small fountains and artificial streams. The turf of the design insulated the top floors of the building, while the plants shoved oxygen back into the Louisville atmosphere. It was environmentally friendly. It was also a nice place to just sit on a bench, or host a wedding, or have a memorial service.

Darcy was currently involved in the last endeavor, along with three dozen others.

“Doctor Evans”, he said quietly to the tall, elderly gentleman standing about ten feet from the chairs in the center of the garden.

“Detective Darcy,” he answered without turning his head towards the speaker. They now stood shoulder to shoulder, facing opposite directions. The two were far enough from the rest of the group that others were left to assume they were quietly using their communicators to talk with people not on site. This assumption was helped along by the dim light of the night service. There were only the candles alongside the small streams to give off a soft glow.

“Was there any trouble glazing over the subject’s end?”

“Not at all, my friend. The Order to which I belong has been tidying things up for 3000 years. Cremation of the vessel is, of course, the obvious first step, followed by an accidental death report. Have you made any discoveries about Bryon’s killer?”

“Not yet, but it’s still early in the investigation.”

The good doctor stopped for a moment, obviously restraining himself from patting his companion on the back. “Don’t give up, my friend. Don’t quit until you find the truth…for her sake.”

Darcy touched his right ear, turned slowly, and said something about the weather. Doctor Evans stepped away, rejoining the seated group.

“It certainly is a beautiful evening,” observed the detective as he approached Elizabeth Miller. “May I,” he asked motioning to the seat beside her.

“Of course,” she answered from behind a slight veil that swept casually across her face. She was dressed in a traditional black dress, the hem of which fell just below her knee. “I thought you’d be here.”

“Yes, with two deaths in one week, even if the last one was accidental, I felt obliged to attend.”

“It’s nice that you cared enough to come,” she said softly.

“Actually, I’m eager to see who else shows up. If you want to find a man’s killer, just look into the faces at his funeral.” The detective drew a deep breath, crossed his arms, and looked heavenward. “The stars certainly are ablaze tonight.”

“The viewing of the stars are necessary for the Yangorian ceremony,” Elizabeth told him. “I’ve never actually seen a service, but that’s what I’ve read.”

“Once again, Doctor, your knowledge is very eclectic. Even through the veil, Darcy could see the hint of a shy smile. He was also encouraged slightly by the way she shifted in her chair.

“Who do you see, detective – since you’re certain the killer is here?”

“Well, I see you, Doctor Miller – but I’ll give you a free pass.” The chairs were arranged in three circles, radiating from an orb in the center. Darcy looked around quickly, but discretely, before allowing his gaze to rest again on Elizabeth. “I see Tuck and his wife…I see Mary Griffin and Michael McCarty…I see the Yangorian delegation, perhaps a dozen of them, in white robes and red eye sashes.

In the center of the circle, a Yangorian elder rose to her feet. “I invite you to stand with me, facing Lystria’s homeworld – the blessed planet of Yangor.” The leader turned and raised his arm, his hand pointing towards a star in the Pegasus constellation.

The group rose solemnly, turning their backs on the brightness of the Milky Way.

“Lystria of Yangor, reveal yourself and join us,” shouted the cleric, cupping her hands around her mouth. The crowd waited a moment respectfully.

Now Jody was making an announcement over the intercom. “Lystria of Yangor, please report to the roof of the main building.” Thirty seconds passed in complete silence before Mrs. Tuck Griffin coughed softly into her white glove.

And then, from the four corners of the Publishing House property, the theme welled up sounding like a combination of human voices and the blowing of conch shells. “Lystria of Yangor, reveal yourself and join us.” Ten seconds passed in respectful meditation before the cleric opened her mouth to continue.

Suddenly a wind was upon them, ripping over the garden wall, tearing blooms from delicate stalks as it raced towards those gathered on the rooftop. Women tended the hems of their skirts and men held up an arm to protect their face, but Inspector Darcy couldn’t look away and it roared into the heart of the Yangorian delegation. In spite of his size, the detective saw the Yangorian male from the fishbowl take a step backwards, as if shoved by the pedals and leaves that shot up from the garden into the sky. The commotion disappeared as quickly as it had come.

All eyes turned to the center of the circles. The elder regained her composure and resumed the ceremony without commit. “I invite you to turn with me towards the blaze of the Milky Way, towards the new worlds enveloped therein.” She caressed the glass orb in front of her and it began to glow, rising off its pedestal. “This ball of light contains the ashes of our friend. We release her now into the life of young stars exploding from the center of our galaxy.” The orb was shining now like a small sun, as it continued to rise. “We release you now to find your new life, new pain, and new joy.” Suddenly the globe of light shot into the atmosphere, it seemingly paused momentarily to choose a direction while over the Ohio, finally disappearing into the night sky over the Knobs of Southern Indiana.

“That’s a sight I won’t soon forget,” whispered Elizabeth to the Inspector as they began to collect their jackets from their chairs.

Chapter 7

Wednesday 11 AM

The boys brought this up,” said the lab technician while thumping the side of a 2-by-2 foot box.

“What’s in it,” asked William.

“Ah- the obvious question.”

“I’m an obvious kind of guy.”

“It’s an illegal device used to modify the amount of Endorphins flowing from a bio-chip.”

“Can I open it,” asked the detective.

“You can look down at it, if you’d like,” said the tech while handing the lieutenant a pair of gloves. Inside the box was a glowing array of switches and neon tubes. “Bio-chips planted within the penal gland slowly sift a specified amount of endorphins into the cranial cavity. The process is used to modify the moods of people diagnosed with depression.”

Detective Darcy stepped away from the thing in the box and pulled up a wooden stool. “And people use this machine to do what, specifically?”

“This device allows the chip to put out more dorfs than prescribed. Someone was probably using the machine in the basement of Griffin Inc, away from the prying eyes of cameras on the main floors. The result of abusing dorfs, is usually death.”

“How does that happen?”

“It’s a fast process, really. The penal gland begins to shrink from overuse, and eventually fails. The abuser often commits suicide. It’s hard to know how many lives this machine has already claimed.”

“Tell me about the other box,” said the detective, pointing to the freezers.

The two men walked the ten steps to four dozen metal doors embedded in a metal wall. “DNA confirms the head matches the corpse in the elevator.” The tech pulled open a small door, behind which sat a frozen head inside a glass cube.

“How was it severed,” asked William, looking over the ice-encrusted head of a Caucasian male in his mid-twenties.

“Well, it wasn’t chopped off, or sliced off, or sawed off…”

“Get on with it, Ernie. I haven’t had lunch yet.”

“It seems to have just popped off. A blunt metal object, two inches thick, chocked him until all the tissues and blood vessels and spinal cartilage was crushed – and the head simply popped off.”

“Was it the fatal wound?”

“Oh, yeah. When your head pops off you’re pretty much dead,” said the tech while snickering a little.

“Ernie – please – my lunch, remember.”

“Okay, okay. He was alive before that happened.”

“What's wrong with the eyes? Is that just a refraction of the ice cube?”

“Oh, no, that's not an illusion. His eyes are gone. Someone gouged them out – probably after the victim was dead. Find the eyes – find your murderer.” The tech pushed the head back into its small frozen tomb.

“Thanks, Ernie, enjoy the rest of your day.” The detective began ascending the three stairs leading out the morgue door.

“I will,” answered Ernie happily, returning merrily to dissecting some corpse’s thigh.

***

Dr. Miller sat in the empty cafeteria, within the activities building of Griffin Inc. She listened to the slowed audio recording of the accused’s dream sequence. “You’re seeing someone else, I know you are…All you care about is your Endorphin chip…You must end it with that girl, that thing…I won’t do it, I’m leaving you, Mary…” After replaying the session for the fifth time, the words were finally beginning to make sense. “Well then, fine, lover – I give up. There’ll come a time when you’ll want me back and I’ll be with someone new. You just wait and see. I wash my hands of the whole train wreck” Footsteps were walking away. There was a soft sound in the background now. It was water running.

Elizabeth took another slurp from her cup of java, waiting for the final curse preceding the fatal blow. Waiting. Waiting. “Computer, please advance to the end of this section One-E please.”

“That section is complete,” said the computer methodically.

“It can’t be.”

“Section One-E complete,” the computer repeated without any trace of emotion.

Elizabeth grabbed her holo-pad and ran out the door.

Chapter 8

Detective Darcy sat in his office at the police station. On the table in front of him, his holopad replayed the parts of the past two weeks involving the primary and secondary subjects. He watched as Mary, the Accused, Byron, Michael and Yakasium went about their lives like rats aboard a ship. Their daily routines ebbed and flowed without much change – until the Thursday night before the murder.

“Slow down to real-time speed,” instructed William as the holopad showed the lovers in the garden. Mary could be seen with her back turned to them. “Okay now – so Mary is a dorfhead, but that doesn’t make her a murderer. What am I missing? What is it?”

The focus was hanging about forty feet above the odd trio. “Expand radius of focus, Sky Spy.” The view began to widen, as if the viewer was floating upward.

Suddenly a dot appeared next to the main building. “S6” seethed Detective Darcy. “We got him! All I need to do now is put Yakasium in the basement at the time of the murder!”

“Lieutenant Darcy,” said a small, feminine voice. Elizabeth Miller stood in the doorway. Her tiny frame seemed out of sink with the busy people surrounding her.

“Elizabeth,” he said, jumping to his feet with surprise.

“I hope I’m not intruding, but…”

“Please, it’s a pleasure to have you here.” He pulled out a chair beside his desk and motioned for her to sit down.

“I needed to tell you something about the case,” she began.

“Go on.”

“I was listening to the lovebird’s quarrel in the dream sequence. I slowed it down, of course…”

“Of course…”

“ …and the Yangorian wasn’t quite…well, I believe he altered his interpretation to fit his own agenda.”

“You mean he lied about it.”

Dr. Miller breathed a sigh of relief. “I wasn’t sure you’d agree with me so quickly.”

“By now I honestly believe she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Is she doing better?”

“Oh yes. I believe Herron is well enough to where – if I was in the room – you could interview her.”

“Excellent.” Detective Darcy pointed towards a wall in his office. “I was going to go over the images on the main floor, right before the murder. You’re welcome to stay, if you’d like.”

“I'm surprised you haven't done that before now.”

“I finally received the visuals from Griffin Inc. Private Lawrence had to pry them out of Mary's clutching fingers.”

“I heard she resigned. Maybe now she can get the help she needs.”

“I’m sure she will – at some cushy spa by the ocean frequented by the wealthy,” he replied mockingly. “Computer, search and play second floor exits, Saturday September 20th, 2 PM.” The wall seemed to dematerialize as people walked within five feet of the staircases. “Include elevator,” instructed William. A fifth and sixth scene appeared on the wall. He pointed to the image in the middle. “Here we go. There’s Mary going down into the basement, probably to dorf-up.” Three minutes passing. “That’s Bryon, the victim, heading into the basement.” Seven minutes passing. “Herron, the accused – that’s her name, Elizabeth – opens the elevator door, steps inside, shuts the door, descends.”

The pair sat entranced by the events being played out in front of them.

“Freeze frame,” shouted William, slamming his palms onto the table. “There he is!”

In the stairwell stood the Yangorian, carrying a small satchel. He turned as if checking behind him. He began his descent. One minute, two.

Dr. Miller pointed to the middle image again. “There’s Mary. She’s rubbing her hands against her dress.”

“Computer, tighten focus on E7 and freeze frame.” Her hands enlarge to fill the entire screen. “Analyze liquid on hands.”

“Perspiration, water, hand-soap,” answered the computer dryly.

“That explains the sound of running water I heard in Herron’s dream.”

“Mary’s not our murderer. Computer, continue. Let’s see who comes up next.” Five minutes, seven, ten, fifteen.

The Yangorian appeared at the top of the stairs.

“Something’s different,” said Elizabeth, leaning forward.

“Computer – side by side point of entry and point of exit.” Now it was perfectly clear – even to a human: he had changed his clothes.

“He must have brought the clothes with him. Once again, that is premeditation,” said Dr. Miller smiling.

Chapter 9

“He has already left the campus,” said the receptionist. “Something about a death in the family.”

“Why doesn’t that surprise me,” answered Elizabeth.

“He must have sensed we were getting too close. He’ll be on a flight back to Yangore within the hour – and they don’t extradite their own.”

“I’ll bet I know someone who will eagerly help us catch him,” smiled Elizabeth. “All I need do is ask her.”

“Private Stacy – toss his room. I want the eyes he gouged from the victim’s face.”

***

Herron sat in the fishbowl with William, Elizabeth, Jim and Dennis surrounding her. Over the desk in front of her, hung a neon Earth, surrounded by brightly glowing starships. Night and day silently chased each other over the surface of the planet. “Eliminate virtual commercial flights,” she instructed. Two-thirds of the starships disappeared. “Eliminate virtual flights holding more than five passengers.” All but eight neon flights disappeared. “Eliminate all flights outside of a one hundred mile radius of Louisington, Kentucky. One neon blue dot hovered above the globe. Herron’s thumb pressed on it, seemingly trapping it within the planet’s atmosphere.

“I’ll hold him while you go get him,” whispered Herron to William, but he didn’t hear her. The men had already raced out the door.

Elizabeth drew a deep breath. “I’m still here.”

The blind woman remained at her station, holding the spaceship under her thumb. “I want to thank you for bringing me out of my delirium, Doctor Miller.”

“I need to explain something to you, Herron. The memories I’ve implanted in your mind will only hold up your sanity briefly. I’m afraid your rediscovered stability is only temporary.”

“You mean I’ll be crazy again soon?”

“Unfortunately, the mind is like a tree: the roots must be strong and deep in order for it to stand on its own. All I was able to do was to prop your mind up long enough to help us catch this fiend.”

Herron shook her head in understanding. “How long do I have?”

“Perhaps a week, perhaps more. But I have no doubt, you’ll eventually recover completely. Any woman capable of walking out of the hills of Kimgee, and making a life for herself, certainly has my admiration.”

“Thank you,” whispered Herron sadly. The neon light below her thumb blinked out. “There, they have him. I’ll have to tell my son about this adventure…wait a minute, I don’t have a son, do I.”

“I’m here for you, Herron,” said the doctor, touching her hand.

***

Friday 3 PM

The Yangorian male remained seated and unshaken under the bright lights of the interrogation room. Elizabeth’s holograph was seated behind Darcy, while the Chief Inspector was dead center. Both were capable of interacting with the detective and his prisoner. A uniformed officer guarded the interrogation from a corner.

Detective Darcy stood behind him with arms crossed. “I have proof you committed this murder. You had opportunity and access…Herron will testify that it was you who killed Bryon in front of her. And I have this...a pair of eyes in a bottle – found in your room.”

“You only found one bottle” he asked, snickering.

“Duly noted,” said the Chief Inspector’s holographic image.

“Herron? Was that the name of the female huddled in the corner of the cage, shaking like a freezing rat? I listened with pleasure as the male’s body snapped in half. And when I saw the human’s head had popped off and landed in her lap, I laughed before taking it out of her hands.”

William fought against his instinct to show emotion. “The only thing I don’t understand is the motive.” He halted suddenly, looking at the alien before him. Yakasium was taller than most humans by a full foot. His physique and intelligence was so far above a human’s – more like a Greek god than a flesh and blood individual. “I’m just a stupid human, Yakasium. I’ll never figure this out. Could you please enlighten me?”

The Yangorian seemed to puff up, as if getting ready to hold court.

“Certainly. I’ll be glad to help. I followed Lystria to your disgusting little world because she was my chosen one.”

“You were married then,” asked Elizabeth.

“Of course not. When a Yangorian male chooses his mate – he doesn’t gravel, asking for her attention. He demands it.” Yakasium drew a deep breath, as though a thought had knocked the wind out of him. “When I arrived, she turned me aside.” Silence. Silence. “I could have overcome this setback – but for the object of her affections: a human. A human and a Yangorian have never married – and they never will.” He sat as if lost in sadness, then boosted himself back into the limelight. “Who chooses an insect over a god!”

Lieutenant Darcy encouraged him to continue. “Tell us why you count yourself among the gods, so that we might learn.”

Now Yakasium was the lecturer. “Humans believe our planet discovered space travel just two hundred of your cycles ago. This is not the truth. Your race believes that we lost our sight because we lived too long below ground. This is not the truth. Have you heard that looking into a starship’s ion trail will blind you?”

“Yes I have,” said Darcy.

“We were the ones who learned that first, the Yangorians. We knew it a million years before we whispered it into your ears. Embedded within our collective subconscious is the memory of the day we sent a thousand ships into the stars to seed the galaxy with humanoids. If only I could have been there to see them blast into glory. But those who controlled the starships, eventually lost their sight - so they wrapped their eyes to show their pride in themselves. Eventually, they moved into the caverns and developed other senses, never forgetting their glory. Have you heard of Scordia?”

“I have,” said Doctor Miller.

“He was my great-grand-uncle.” He stopped for a moment, as if using his sonar sense to explore the faces of his small audience. “Lystria was about to disgrace our planet, by lowering herself to wallow around with a human. I would not allow that to happen. I would kill that human again, if I had the opportunity.”

“Aren’t you afraid of prison, Yakasium? How can you speak so freely,” asked William.

“We live for 1000 of your years. When you convict me, I will hibernate for the decade or two that I am under your control. What is twenty years in the face of a millennia? What is a millennia in the summer of a sun?”

“Ah, I see that you are a philosopher, sir. Perhaps you are aware of one of our poets who said: To sleep – to sleep: perchance to dream. Ay- there’s the rub.” William looked at his police captain, who nodded back from behind a glass wall. They had his confession. “Take him away,” William said to the officers waiting nearby.

***

Dr. Miller and Detective Darcy stepped into the mild sunshine of an autumn afternoon. “I was hoping you’d accompany me home, Miss Elizabeth? I – I have a new puppy you might be interested in seeing.”

“Is that true? Male or female?”

“Definitely female, and raising a racket at all hours of the night.”

Elizabeth thought for a moment. “What’s her name?”

“Lystria – named after her mother.” The doctor stopped waking.

William Darcy took her elbow, gently moving her forward.

“I’d love to see your new puppy, Mr. Darcy,” she answered, nodding yes. “So you were right about the motive, after all. The murder was all about love gone wrong.”

“I’d have to say the real motive was prejudice – the unjustified belief that one person is better than another by divine right.”

“If you prick us, do we not bleed,” quoted Elizabeth.

“And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge”.

As they walked into the city swaying, talking, and laughing, they passed six concrete columns that had once supported an overpass of some long forgotten expressway. Spread over the faces of the six columns, someone probably long dead had painted in red:

             We       Family        Stop            Black            Brown             White 

            all                           the     

                                           hate

The End


©2008 Michele Dutcher

Michele Dutcher's stories been published in AlienSkin (Moving Day and the Odd Pets of Deacon Walters), Bewildering Stories (Five Silver Pieces) and Aphelion (A Pocket Filled of Posies).

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