Edition 12: Death in the Dust by Rie Rose
Caruthers has worked the Moon Base for a long time, but a serial murderer is pushing the older administrator. The seemingly unrelated crimes suddenly have a pattern, but are they chasing dervishes in the moon dust? SY
“There’s a body outside Airlock Two.”
“Bloody hell. What happened this time? Bad suit?”
“No suit. Stark naked.”
“Great.” Director Caruthers sighed heavily, shoved his chair back from his desk, and offered his full attention to his visitor. What the hell was going on around here these days? Whatever had possessed him to come to the moon? “Some kid on a dare? Damn twenty-nine second morons. Awful lot of faith to put in a stopwatch.”
“You wouldn’t catch me doing it. Not for a million credits.” Officer Parsons shook his head. “But no, no kid this time. Looks like one of the businessmen from Dome Nine.”
Caruthers closed his eyes and counted to ten. Some days it doesn’t pay to get out of bed in the artificial morning. “Take a crew and bring the body inside. Get him to Doc Harris as soon as possible. I need to know if there is any evidence of foul play.”
“Oh, yeah. There is,” Parsons replied without moving to obey.
“His head is sitting in the middle of his back, grinning at the airlock.”
“Be-au-ti-ful.” Caruthers ran his hands through what little hair he had left. This job will be the death of me yet. Maybe it’s time to retire. “Get him to the morgue. Take the back ways. We don’t want anyone to see it. Wait, strike that. I should see him in situ. Secure the area. I’ll meet you there.”
“Right, Boss.” Parsons turned and left the office.
Caruthers snagged his helmet, and buzzed Chief Osaka on the comm. “Satsuo, meet me in the morgue. I should be there in about ten minutes. We have a situation to discuss.”
“The dead guy?”
“So, you’ve heard.”
Jamming his helmet onto his suit, Caruthers keyed open the nearest airlock. Cutting across the exterior of the colony would save a bit of time. He stepped onto the lunar surface and glanced up at the Earth hanging overhead—a beautiful, blue-green jewel. Too bad it was so unlivable these days. At least if you liked movement. There were more people than places to put them. Boxy condo units everywhere, all jobs fulfilled by telecommuting, and no one really left their homes. He simply couldn’t stand the thought of it.
Not that the moon had been his first choice. He had wanted to apply for one of the generation ships, but the cut-off for volunteers was twenty, and he had just passed his twenty-first at the time. No amount of persuasion could induce the Colonization Board to make an exception for him, so he applied to the moon-base. In the next two decades, he had worked his way up to Base Director.
The body was as Parsons had described it—buck naked and headless on the gray lunar dust. The head had been placed on the back of the corpse, face set into a rictus grin and turned toward the porthole windows of the travel-way.
The base was comprised of fourteen interconnected domes set around a central command center. Housed within those domes, ten thousand people lived, worked, and played. And, apparently, died. This was the third body to turn up in the past two months with obvious signs of foul play.
There were two thousand residents under the age of ten. He guessed it was safe to count them out of the suspect equation, at least for the moment. But that still left almost eight thousand potential murderers. Shit.
Parsons and two of his fellow officers stood beside the body. Caruthers circled the corpse. There was no blood, of course. Any there might have been had boiled away. The head was cleanly severed—no hesitation to the wound. Whoever had done this was strong and determined. Though that didn’t necessarily rule out the women or the teenagers. You had to be of hardy stock to emigrate to the colony.
Caruthers gestured toward the airlock, and the officers picked up the corpse and carried it into the base. They managed to get to the morgue without attracting any unwarranted attention. Thank goodness for small favors.
Satsuo Osaka waited for them in the morgue with Doctor Sandra Harris. The Chief of Police was small and wiry, showing his Asian origins in his dark hair and sloe eyes. By contrast, the doctor towered over him at almost six feet, her blonde hair military short. Rumor made them bedmates. Not that it mattered to Caruthers.
“Put him down on the table,” Harris ordered. “We’ve got to stop meeting like this, Gordon,” she continued in her clipped accent. “I’ve got plenty of work on my own without these presents you keep bringing on.”
“Tell me about it, Sandy,” Caruthers sighed. “It’s obvious what killed him. Run him through the database. Let’s find out who he is.” Thank god for small favors. The small town population of the colony made it easy for the management to keep tabs on everyone. All of the moon base’s citizens went into the computer’s voracious mainframe within hours of birth or arrival.
“Give me a moment…” She picked up the handheld unit and ran it across the corpse’s hands, collecting fingerprint data. She glanced at the reading and drew in a sharp breath. “That can’t be right.”
With a frown of concentration, she ran the scan more slowly. Then she glanced up at Caruthers, her face white. “This is Foster Danbridge.”
“I thought he looked familiar,” Parsons murmured.
“Refresh my memory. Danbridge is…?”
Osaka replied, his face grim. “He’s the stepson of the Governor.”
“Bloody hell,” Caruthers swore. “This will bite us in the ass. Satsuo—this is top priority. We’ve got to figure out who killed him yesterday. Tell me about the other two recent murders. Is there anything that connects them?”
Osaka checked his wristcomp, tapping information into the keypad. “The first death was Carter Nelson, age twenty. He worked in the hydro-gardens of Dome Three. He was found under a tree in the garden with a slit throat. Next was Harrison Green, age twenty-three. He was a custodian in Dome Six. They found him stuffed into the recycler unit near his supply closet with his head nearly severed.”
“Hang on—” Sandra checked her own records. “Danbridge is twenty-six, and he worked in Dome Nine. Satsuo…am I crazy, or is there a pattern here?”
Osaka frowned, keying in more information on his unit. “You may be on to something, Sandy…twenty/three/minor wound; twenty-three/six/nearly severed head; twenty-six/nine/decapitation. They are moving through the domes in threes, every death a man three years older, and escalating the violence of the murder. But how can you escalate from a severed head? And why these three men? How is the killer choosing his or her victims? Are they related? Are they all the same killer?”
Caruthers exhaled loudly. “Great questions. How the hell are we supposed to catch this bastard?”
“What about a set-up?” asked Parsons. “If the pattern holds, the next victim will be twenty-nine and work in Dome Twelve. Can we put out a Judas goat? Find a volunteer on the force who will make themselves a target?”
“Will it do any good until we can figure out what connects these men? This pattern is too detailed. It’s insane. Something caused the murderer to choose them, and if we don’t match that pattern he definitely won’t take the bait.”
“What’s the time between the murders? Is that part of the pattern too?”
“Looks like three weeks exactly between incidents. Since Danbridge was found tonight—Sandy, he was killed tonight, wasn’t he?”
“The evidence seems to bear that out.”
“So, we have no more than three weeks—but hopefully, we do have three weeks to sort this.” Caruthers ran his hands through his hair again. “Three years apart in age, three domes apart in residence, three weeks apart in death. What is this? Some kind of trinity reference…? Osaka, look for a solid connection of some kind between these three men. Sandy, figure out what killed them…weapon-wise. Parsons, talk to the men and see if you can find someone on the force who fits the pattern of victims—just in case three aren’t enough for him. We’ve got to stop this crazy. Now, let’s get to work.”
By dinnertime, Sandra Harris had determined that all three men were murdered with the same sharp weapon—apparently some sort of sword. Caruthers stared at the report in his hand. Bloody hell, who keeps a sword in these enlightened times?
Some heirloom, he supposed. Who might have an heirloom like that? Japanese emigrants like Osaka—in fact, he could remember seeing a matched set of ceremonial samurai swords in Satsuo’s quarters. Maybe the Chief could talk to his compatriots.
There might also be a few claymores from the Highlands…but swinging one of those in low-grav might be problematic. Assuming that Danbridge was killed where he was found and not in the base…killing him inside would have presented its own problems.
Who else might have a sword? He should have put that into the database. They tracked the projectile weapons, but never thought of logging the exotic weapons. He’d have to send someone door-to-door, he supposed.
Caruthers made a note.
Two weeks later, Caruthers was ready to pull what was left of his hair out of his head.
Osaka had wracked his brains nearly to the bursting point, but he still couldn’t determine any relationship between the three dead men. As the pattern date neared, Caruthers was worried that they might not catch the bastard before he could commit another murder. He keyed the comm to Parsons. “Steve, have you come up with a volunteer for next Thursday?”
“Not yet, boss. No one on the force quite meets those specifications.”
Caruthers allowed himself a sigh. Bloody hell, not one single man on the force was twenty-nine years old? That seemed unlikely.
“Keep trying,” he ordered, turning back to his own copies of the crime scene reports. Something here had to break the case. Carter Nelson, Harrison Green, Foster Danbridge. Three young men with seemingly nothing in common. They were from different social strata, they worked in different parts of the base, and yet a niggling itch at the back of his brain said he was missing something here.
Wait a minute…
There wasn’t a lot of crime on the base. Most days, administrating this place was a walk in the park; probably why he had stuck it out so long. But a couple of Earth months back, there had been an incident, a child, what were the details? A young girl, found beaten and terrified. Three young men accused, but acquitted for lack of evidence. There must be a file here somewhere…
He found the report he was looking for and spread the pages in front of him in a fan. “Hang on a minute.” He frowned, bending closer to the papers and scanning down them with his finger. “Holy hell.”
He leaned back in his chair. Now it all made sense. He keyed the comm, “Parsons. I need you. Now.”
“On my way.” Steve Parsons was a good officer. He was methodical, precise, and really cared for the position. He wanted to make the police force his life. This might test that decision.
Caruthers checked his findings again. There was little chance of mistake.
Parsons knocked on the doorframe. “You wanted to see me, boss?”
“Come in and shut the door.”
The young officer did as requested.
“Have a look at this and tell me what you see.” Caruthers pushed the incident report across the desk, and Parsons sank into the chair opposite. He scanned down the pages as Caruthers had done.
Caruthers saw the precise moment it hit him. Parsons started like a racehorse struck by a crop. “Oh my god.”
“She was nine. I don’t know how we missed this earlier. It’s right there in black and white. We were looking for a connection, but we had the wrong man searching. How did this slip past me?” He ran a hand over his face. “I’m really too old for this job.”
“Don’t be silly, boss. It was easy to miss. Here her name is anglicized, here in kanji, and here it’s romanized. Still, I should have thought of it. Double-checked the chief. I’ll turn in my badge if you need it.”
“No reason you should have thought of that. With Sandra backing him up, it was easy for them to manipulate the investigation. Bringing up that pattern, you know—I just checked, and Harrison Green was thirty. The pattern was a lie, but no one checked the data. Satsuo and Sandra were beyond reproach. Sloppy of me.” Caruthers held up a hand. “No, Steve. If anything, you will be getting a promotion out of this. I’ll need someone I can trust in that position…after. Shall we get it over with?”
Parsons nodded grimly.
He met them at the door. “I’ve been expecting you.” Osaka stepped back from the opening. “Come in, please.”
They followed the Chief into his living quarters. Huddled in one corner of the seating unit was a tiny girl bundled into a heavy quilted coat despite the fact that the quarters were rather over-heated. “This is my daughter, Aiko—Alice in the formal records.” He stroked her hair, and she shrank back against the cushions of the sofa. “She’s all I have left since her mother died. She hasn’t been out of the house since that night.”
“What happened, Satsuo?”
“She was playing in the hydro-garden with her friends. It was time for her to come home, and she was hurrying because she was going to be late for curfew. They stopped her just inside Dome Six as she cut through. Green let them into the custodian’s office, and they, well, you can guess. Then they forced her out airlock two and ran. Thank god, someone was passing through the travel-way and saw her out there before it was too late. The good Samaritan brought her home and she recognized all of the men who attacked her from their citizen ids, but the Governor hushed things up. She thought that I could be bought off. I took her money to give Aiko a chance at a future. But I made sure those bastards got what they deserved.”
“You know we have to take you in, Satsuo,” Caruthers murmured with a frown.
“Hai. Aiko will be going back to Japan on the next shuttle to live with my sister. I hope that she will come back to life eventually.”
“I understand your reasons, Satsuo. I do. But I have to—”
“I know.” Osaka held out his wrists. “Parsons, I am ready.” He glanced over at Caruthers. “May Aiko stay with Sandra until the shuttle comes?”
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible. Sandra had a part in this.”
“Will you take her then? She knows and trusts you. And you will understand her nightmares.”
The question startled Caruthers. He had no experience with children. Still, the next shuttle was only two days away. He could do this.
“Of course.” It was the least he could do.
Osaka said something to his daughter in Japanese, and she stood, shyly shuffling to Caruthers and holding out a tentative hand.
All of this because three young men couldn’t keep their hands off a child. Maybe it was time to return to Earth too. He could resign, take the child to her aunt, find himself something new to do. Right this moment, a faceless cubicle in a nameless condo block sounded like a really good idea.
Parsons led Osaka away, and Caruthers scooped Aiko into his arms. “Everything will be all right, Aiko,” he murmured to the child. Maybe he’d move to Japan.
Rie’s short stories currently appear in numerous anthologies. She has authored five poetry chapbooks, and collaborated with Marc Gunn on lyrics for his “Don’t Go Drinking With Hobbits” CD. Yard Dog Press is home to humorous horror chapbooks Tales from the Home for Wayward Spirits and Bar-B-Que Grill and Bruce and Roxanne Save the World…Again. Mocha Memoirs published the individual short stories “Drink My Soul…Please,” and “Bloody Rain” as e-downloads. Melange Books carries her romantic fantasy Sidhe Moved Through the Faire. Zumaya Books is home to The Luckless Prince as well as her newest novel, The Marvelous Mechanical Man. You can find her at http://www.riewriter.com/ and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rie-Sheridan-Rose/38814481714.