Eden’s End: Isolated Contamination
by J. H. Zech
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
A downpour drummed at the window behind Section Chief Ko, the colorful neon lights of the city blurred from the water like an early 2000s bokeh filter. Arthur wondered if her boss had purposefully designed the office as a microcosm of the city. Bright yellow lights from the chandelier drenched the blue carpeting, mint green walls and red couch.
“Have you gotten used to being ‘Arthur’ yet, Sephira?” Chief Ko asked.
“For the most part. It’s been a year since I integrated with this body, after all. In fact, it’s better if you just address me as Arthur from now on. Sephira is long dead.”
“I see...” He looked concerned. “If anything’s bothering you, you can always talk to me about it. I always thought it was somewhat cruel what they did to you, putting you in a male cyborg body.”
Arthur shook her head. “Project Arthur needed a guinea-pig brain to put in their anti-supernatural soldier, and I wanted to live. I made the choice myself, and both sides benefitted. I have no regrets. Besides, this body isn’t so bad.”
She closed the gap between her and the Chief’s desk in an instant. “Supposedly, the researchers developed this body using King Arthur’s DNA. Between that and the cybernetic enhancements, I couldn’t ask for anything better in terms of specs.”
Chief Ko gave an awkward smile. “If that’s how you feel about it, then that’s fine. I won’t ask anymore.”
“I’m sure you didn’t call me in so formally just to check up on me, though.”
He avoided her eyes and stroked his long white beard. “Well, yes. I do have business. We’re taking the Lala serial suicide case.”
“What?” Arthur blurted out.
“It’s the fourth child suicide this month.”
“But why us?” Arthur asked. “This isn’t a case of a demon or anything of the sort. Police jurisdiction clearly applies.” She didn’t want to sound too high and mighty, but she normally worked to save cities and nations. Not that she didn’t have any sympathy for these children, but the time spent saving these children was time not spent saving many others. Teho would call it cold, but heightened rationality came with the package of not being completely human.
“The case has been under police jurisdiction until now.” Chief Ko leaned forward, furrowing his brows, which accentuated the deep wrinkles on his forehead. Even a scrawny man like him had a certain presence when his expression grew so dark. “Hollow’s Board. Have you heard of it?”
“Yes. It’s a site where people with too much time on their hands read and post fake occult rumors. Why not refer this to the cybercrimes police unit?” she said bitingly. Arthur put her hands on her hips.
“It would be nice if posting rumors is all they did. I fear, this time, it may be real. I sent you a link.”
A round message notification popped up in the corner of Arthur’s view. She focused on it, and the message expanded into a post from Hollow’s Board. An image of a young child-like thing headlined the post. It appeared to be a ten-year-old girl with long, wavy, black hair. Except, her mouth stretched wide and upwards all the way to the side of her face. And black holes were where her eyes should be. “Lala the Zashiki Warashi, Who Plays with Children and Takes Them Away.”
“You’re saying this disgusting edition of a Playmate Apparition is real and making kids commit suicide?” Arthur said incredulously. Those things were as harmless as apparitions came.
“I don’t know for sure, but there have been some strange details regarding this case. Captain, I want you to take the Supernatural and Alien Forces Unit (SAFU) and investigate this thoroughly.” Chief Ko’s voice was firm.
“I understand that this falls under our area of expertise. And you are our boss. We’ll do it. But let’s be honest. Who was the fourth child?”
Chief Ko spun his chair and turned away. He squeaked, “The nephew of Senator Mun.”
“Of course.” Arthur rolled her eyes.
“We’re public servants. Don’t you forget that.”
“Yes, Chief.” She walked out of the garish office.
* * *
Arthur sent a message to her available team members while she walked down the grey hall. She entered the meeting room to wait for them. Unlike the Chief’s office, the rest of the building, including the meeting room, was plain. Nothing but a round grey table and a display on the wall opposite the door filled the metallic room.
Soon after, Teho, Markov, and Kohaku filed into the room.
“What case do we have this time?” Kohaku’s eyes were starry.
“Considering we were called in on such short notice, but not the other members on assignment, it must be urgent, but not too urgent,” Markov said coolly.
Teho sighed. “I get your drift. The Chief is wagging his tail for some bigwig.”
They all took their seats at the round table. Markov wore a black eye patch, and his broad shoulders and thick arms filling his black leather jacket gave him the impression of some mob leader. Rumor around the office was that he only wore the eyepatch for show and had a properly functioning bionic eye underneath.
Clad in a blue suit and scarlet tie, Teho sat with a calm smile on his face. His silky black hair combed to the side and his sharp chin cleanly shaved, someone seeing him for the first time would think he was a proper young gentleman.
Glancing at Kohaku, Arthur resisted the temptation to ask why she was wearing a frilly pink dress normally designed for kids half her age. Kohaku tilted her head as if she hadn’t the foggiest notion why Arthur would be looking at her. Without Kohaku’s dyed pink hair and dress, she would otherwise look like a typical young office lady with her long glasses. Alas, her choices gave a different impression of the meaning of special ops unit.
Arthur cleared her throat. “Chief Ko wants us to look into the Lala serial child suicide case.”
Markov groaned. Even Kohaku looked deflated.
“Out of our jurisdiction,” Markov said.
“Think of the poor children,” Teho said in an affected tone.
“I learned something just now,” Kohaku said. “Your enthusiasm for cases exceeds even mine. I thought I was the go-getter on this team.”
“Enthusiasm isn’t the right word,” Arthur said. “Sick pleasure is more like it. Don’t worry, Kohaku. You’re the most enthusiastic member of the team.”
Teho replied, “Hey now. I do my job properly. You shouldn’t be prejudiced just because our values are different. Even if I take a bit of pleasure in seeing the victims’ misery, that drives me to work hard and solve their problems. A lot of people in the police department care only about their paycheck and do the bare minimum. Wouldn’t you say I’m far better than those drones from the union?”
“Anyway.” Arthur rolled her eyes. On some level, Teho was right. The unit had hired him because he was talented and diligent. His personal motives never figured into it. Yet, she would never admit that lest she encourage more rotten behavior. “Four victims. Four of us. We’ll each go interview one of the families and reconvene. I’ve sent the existing case files to all of you. Let’s get it over with.”
Markov raised his fist into the air. “Yeah! Let’s get it over with.” He dragged his feet out of the room. Teho followed him outside.
Kohaku patted Arthur on the back. “Don’t worry. He wasn’t complaining about you.” Somehow, Kohaku’s encouragements were never very encouraging.
They left the office and headed their separate ways in police cars. Arthur gave Lacusia a call to ask for some analyses, and Lacusia promised to get back to her later with a pinky swear emoji. The black and white car drove itself through the rain.
* * *
The dribbling of the rain on the roof was the same as it had been that night. In her hot-blooded pursuit of justice, she — formerly known as Sephira — had died regretting her failure. She recalled the warmth of her own blood pooling from under her and the chill enveloping her body. The despair of being paralyzed yet awake, watching her comrades at the police station burn, she couldn’t forget. Her brain planted into a male cyborg body, she had risen from the dead, much like an apparition.
For that reason, Arthur felt she understood spirits. She could have ended her life at any time. Spirits could do so even more easily. To exist meant to wish to live, to desire something that could not be obtained without existing. Thus, spirits, by the very nature of their existence, had motives, violent spirits especially. Why did this apparition want to kill those kids? No, that was the wrong question. Why did this apparition want those kids to kill themselves?
* * *
The car pulled up in front of an apartment tower, and Arthur climbed out, unfolding her umbrella. Most of the windows were lit, and red lights blinked at the top of the complex. The rain drumming on her umbrella, she stepped past the sliding doors and into the apartment.
She took the elevator to the fourth floor. Arthur walked to unit 402 and pressed the doorbell. A middle-aged woman answered the intercom. “Who is it?”
“I’m Detective Arthur Velnought from the Shinra Metropolitan Police.” Arthur flashed her ID she used when dealing with civilians. To turn a foreign special ops agent into an official member of a nation’s police force, the World Federation backing the SAFU had a frightening amount of power. “I’ve come to ask some questions about your son’s death.”
The door clicked and opened. The woman, dressed in a black nightgown, let her in.
“I’m Mrs. Ahn. How may I help you? I already did an interview with the police previously,” she said, in a tired voice.
“I’m sure the first interview didn’t pay serious attention to the supernatural component of this case. I’d like to hear more about that,” Arthur said.
Mrs. Ahn gestured to the sofa. “Please, have a seat.” She took a seat opposite on the couch.
Arthur sat down and observed Mrs. Ahn. She didn’t seem very happy. That much was natural for someone who had lost their child, but her expression had only grown worse when Arthur mentioned the supernatural component. Ordinarily, people would rejoice that someone would listen to them after ordinary police dismissed their concerns. It wasn’t as though Arthur had joined the SAFU for praise or gratitude, but she did enjoy seeing people’s relief when a crisis ended. “Your child’s name is Jehwu Ahn, correct?”
“When did he first start exhibiting strange behavior?”
“It was about a week ago.”
“What exactly did he do that struck you as strange?”
“He yelled at me and hit me out of the blue. I was so shocked!” Mrs. Ahn cried.
“And when did your son first have contact with Lala?”
Mrs. Ahn studied Arthur carefully. “You’re going to believe me?”
“As much as I would any other testimony. I specialize in supernatural occurrences, so there’s no reason for me to discount your word merely because something supernatural is involved,” she assured her.
“It was the day after he yelled at me,” Mrs. Ahn said. “I was worried about his behavior, so I checked up on him in his room. I saw Lala.”
“In the display.”
Arthur scratched her head. “You mean on the Internet? While I don’t disbelieve in the supernatural, an image of an apparition is still just an image. It can’t hurt you.”
“No! It wasn’t just an image. It was literally in the display.”
“Explain in more detail.”
Mrs. Ahn gestured to Arthur to follow her into a room. Judging from the broken toys strewn about, it was Jehwu’s room. She pointed to a computer monitor and navigated to a video online. “This was the video he was watching.”
A stick of dynamite blew up a cartoon cat as a cartoon mouse laughed. “Where’s Lala?” Arthur asked.
“It’s not there anymore. But I saw it with my own two eyes. While he was watching this video, it appeared inside the video and told Jehwu to join it on that side.” A look of terror spread across Mrs. Ahn’s face as she recounted it.
An apparition that infiltrated computers wasn’t unusual. A computer was just an object like any other, after all. What was concerning was the method of infiltration. The screen turning to noise or a whisper coming out of the speakers. That was how it would usually go. Hacking a video feed and inserting itself so neatly felt simply absurd.
“Did anything else strange happen after that?” Arthur asked.
“He was very quiet after that for a few days. He didn’t even answer me when I knocked on the door. He wouldn’t come down to eat either. I heard its whispers coming from his room though. I put my ear to the door once, and it said, ‘Come here. Come here to this side.’ I was terrified. I opened the door, but nothing was there.”
Something was off. If the apparition showed itself so brazenly on the display the first time, why did it choose to conceal itself all the other times? “And how did you discover your son’s death?”
“As usual, he didn’t answer when I knocked on the door. I opened it and went inside. He was dead. He had slit his own wrists. I couldn’t bear the sight,” Mrs. Ahn sobbed.
Arthur couldn’t think of anything to say to comfort her. She asked, “One last thing. You said your son wasn’t answering you. Did he at least show up for meals? Any interaction at all? Even something small would help.”
She shook her head. “No, he didn’t even come out for meals, so I left them on his desk. He’d usually have eaten them by the time I checked back in.”
Arthur felt a few pieces of the puzzle were missing, but she had asked all she needed of Mrs. Ahn. “Thank you for your cooperation. I promise we’ll find the truth behind Jehwu’s death.”
“Thank you so much,” Mrs. Ahn said warmly.
Arthur left the building, and the police car waited on the sidewalk. She climbed in and punched in the address for headquarters.
* * *
Copyright © 2019 by J. H. Zech