Eden’s End: Isolated Contamination
by J. H. Zech
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Arthur left the station and called Galvin.
His voice came through to her head. “I’m still working on it.”
“I need you to do one more thing.”
“It’ll be quick,” Arthur pleaded. “I need you to look up the family records for the all the victims in the case. Check if anyone in their families committed suicide.”
“Fine.” A few moments passed. Galvin gasped.
“What is it?”
“T-this is one heck of a coincidence. No, is this even a coincidence?”
“Tell me already!” Arthur shouted in her mind.
“Arisu hanged herself, and her father hanged himself. Wonho drowned himself, and his older sister also drowned herself. Sora died from an overdose, and her grandfather also committed suicide by overdosing. Jehwu slit his wrists, and Jehwu’s aunt committed suicide the same way when she was a teenager!”
“Impossible!” Arthur exclaimed. “Each one of the victims committed suicide in the same way as another family member? That can’t be a coincidence.”
“I don’t know what to tell you. This is crazy. I’ll get back to you when I finish going through the CCTV archives.” Galvin hung up.
* * *
Arthur sat in the police car while it drove back to SAFU headquarters. She smiled a little. What had started as a trivial case pushed onto her by bureaucracy had turned into something big. Even though she an existence that was no longer human, the excitement of not knowing something, the innately human trait known as curiosity, remained in her. Teho took things too far, but she could understand him a little. She wanted to bring peace to the victims, but she also wanted to find the truth for its own sake.
The team discussed the evidence they had gathered once Arthur arrived. Galvin finally chimed in with the results of the CCTV.
“Nothing.” Galvin shrugged on the floating display.
The room went silent.
“Come again?” Arthur asked.
“Exactly as I told you. There’s not a single piece of footage of Wonho heading to the lake.” Galvin leaned into the camera. “But there is one troubling thing: I found footage of Mr. Bak driving to the lake.”
“Isn’t that to be expected?” Markov asked. “He would have to go to the lake to find that his son committed suicide before notifying the police.”
“I initially thought so and passed over the footage without a second thought. Then I saw another clip of Mr. Bak driving to the lake. I thought maybe it was a duplicate, but then I checked the date. It was a week before the other clip. He went to that lake twice.”
Kohaku gasped, and her lips trembled. “Are you suggesting Mr. Bak killed his own son?”
“As interesting as that would be, let’s not jump to conclusions,” Teho said. “It’s only a possibility. It doesn’t explain everything.”
Arthur clicked her tongue. “Wonho Bak. Nephew of Senator Mun. I can see why the higher-ups pushed a domestic matter onto us. Something is rotten, and they didn’t want a real police investigation, so they gave it to a unit whose work is secret.”
“What do we do now?” Kohaku asked.
“Call in the parents. We’ll do a brain dive on them to see if they’re lying. I’ve almost figured everything out, but my conclusion will depend on those results,” Arthur said.
* * *
The parents of the victims were gathered in a row of chairs in a room with a medical recliner. Wires connected to a helmet near the recliner. Lacusia sat at a desk monitoring the brain-dive output.
“What’s the meaning of this?” Mr. Bak, a muscular middle-aged man, asked.
“We think we’ve discovered the truth of your children’s suicides,” Arthur said, her arms crossed. “But first, we need to verify that the story you told is correct. We’ll call you up one by one and ask you some questions. The brain dive will verify whether you’re telling the truth.”
“If it’ll settle things, I’m willing,” Mrs. Ahn said.
Arthur called Mrs. Ahn into the recliner first and put the helmet on her.
“When did you first encounter Lala?” Arthur asked.
“The day after Jehwu lashed out at me,” Mrs. Ahn answered.
“When did Jehwu commit suicide?”
“A week after Lala appeared.”
“How did Jehwu commit suicide?”
“He... slit his own wrist.” Mrs. Ahn’s voice was pained.
Now came a key question. “How did your sister commit suicide?”
Her eyes grew wide. “What?”
“Please answer the question.”
“She also slit her wrist.”
“Thank you. That’s all.” Arthur looked at Lacusia.
“She told the truth,” Lacusia said.
Arthur called up Mr. Wu, and the questioning proceeded similarly to Mrs. Ahn. He was also telling the truth. Next was Mrs. Yi.
After the common questions, Arthur asked, “Why is your mountain-climbing rope so clean? It almost looks new.”
“I like to keep things clean.”
“Why did you have a rope in the first place? Your husband committed suicide by hanging. Ordinarily, a person wouldn’t want to be reminded of the tool that took their loved one’s life.”
“I... I don’t know. I just did,” Mrs. Yi stammered.
Last was Mr. Bak and, after the other questions, Arthur asked, “Why did you go to the lake a week before your son’s suicide? Going by the date, this would be the day after your altercation with Wonho.”
“What are you talking about? I didn’t go to the lake that day. I went a week later, after he went missing,” Mr. Bak yelled indignantly.
“He’s telling the truth,” Lacusia said.
The other SAFU members stood dumbfounded. They were no doubt thinking the machine was broken after it read such an obvious lie as the truth.
“You can return to your seat,” Arthur said. Her suspicions had been confirmed. Chief Ko had forced something troublesome upon her, but she had to do it.
Mr. Bak sat down, and the parents were all sitting in a row with one seat between each of them. Arthur stepped forward and faced them.
“Thank you for your cooperation. Thanks to that, I’ve been able to solve this mystery. The reason your children died is...” Arthur pointed the finger at them. “You.”
“Me?” Mr. Wu cried, his rotund face going pale.
“All of you. Each one of you killed your own child!” Arthur screamed.
“What?” They shouted and rose to their feet.
“I even went through that fancy lie detector!” Mr. Bak pointed to Lacusia.
“Oh, there’s no doubt about that,” Arthur said, her eyes cold. “You told the truth, or at least, what you thought was the truth. This machine doesn’t know if you’re telling the truth. It only knows what you’re thinking.”
They looked at Arthur askew, confused.
“I’ll start at the beginning. For each of you, a day after the fight with your child, Lala appeared. According to the autopsy records, that’s also the day they died. Yet you all claim and believe that your child died a week later. That’s when the police found them. What happened during that week?”
Arthur walked back and forth slowly. “You all continued to see and hear Lala influence your child until they committed suicide. You all live alone, so there are no other witnesses. Yet your child was already dead. In other words, the ones seeing and hearing Lala, the ones who encountered the ghost, are none other than you.”
“Impossible! If I dreamt of Lala whispering to Sora, then why did she commit suicide?” Mr. Wu countered.
“That’s simple. She didn’t commit suicide. She was murdered. By you.”
Mr. Wu fell to his knees. “No. That can’t be. I would never—”
“You each had a fight with your child. They each died sometime between that night and the next day, the same time you all encountered Lala. But why would Lala show up to convince a child to commit suicide, when that child is already dead?” Arthur stared them down. “The medical report also shows signs of abuse. When you talked about a fight with your child, you meant you were beating them. I wouldn’t be surprised if they fell unconscious at one point.”
Arthur asked, “Now how would a child commit suicide? It’s different for every person. A last-ditch effort to make the pain stop, an act that lays bare the individuality of that person. And yet each of the victims chose a method that another family member had chosen. All of them. Do you really think I can believe in such a ridiculous coincidence?”
Lacusia brought up images on the wall monitor. A slit wrist. Pills. A figure hanging by a noose. A lake.
“When we mentioned the word suicide, this is what your brains pictured,” Arthur said. “If we asked you what’s the first method of suicide you could come up with, this would be the answer. The methods of suicide were not chosen by the victims, but by the parents.”
Arthur tapped her forehead. “Now let’s think. Let’s say you beat your child unconscious for the first time. It looks like they’re dead. What’s the easiest way to cover up the crime? Tossing a body? You live in the capital city. There’s CCTV everywhere. Self-defense? Who’s going to believe that from an abuser? But what if, what if, your child committed suicide? You’d have sympathy from the investigators rather than suspicion. There’d be no witnesses or footage to contradict you. And what’s the first method of suicide you would think of?” She pointed to the monitor. “The ones you’re most familiar with.”
“You killed them to make it look like suicide.” Arthur continued, “Mrs. Yi, the mountain-climbing rope was so clean, as if it were new. That’s because it was. You wouldn’t keep something that reminded you of your husband’s suicide. You bought it to use for the staged suicide.
“Mr. Bak, Wonho was never seen heading to the lake. What was seen was your car driving to the lake the day the autopsy said he died. Wonho was there in your car. You drowned him, took his corpse back home, and drove there again a week later to drown him again.
“Mr. Wu, all you had to do was put the pills next to your daughter a second time. And Mrs. Ahn, you put the blade in Jehwu’s hand before the police arrived.”
Mrs. Ahn protested, “No! No! I would never do that! The autopsy has to be wrong!”
Arthur sighed. “Putting aside the autopsy for a minute. You told me that Jehwu didn’t respond to you. He didn’t show up for dinner. You were the only one that went in and out of his room carrying food. You heard Lala whisper things, but you never heard Jehwu’s voice in that room the day after the fight. Does that sound like a living person to you?”
They fell silent.
“Short of outright possession, an apparition can’t make someone commit suicide by talking to them any more than a person can. Gwen told me that Lala was born from a rumor. It’s an apparition that doesn’t necessarily make children commit suicide, but rather embodies that idea.
“Now why did you stage the suicides twice? The first time you each did it to cover up what you thought was a murder. But after that, you didn’t want to believe that you had killed your own child. Lala manifested from your own guilt. It was easier to believe that it was a spirit’s fault.
“In order to live out that fantasy, you took their corpses and lived with them for a week, forgetting that they were dead, then staged the suicide again all the while believing your child committed suicide themselves at the behest of Lala.
“The apparition is indeed the one that erased your memories and allowed you to maintain your delusion. You forgot the first staged suicide and believed that the second was real. But ultimately, Lala showed you only what you wanted to believe. You forgot because you wanted to forget. To erase your own sins.”
The parents sunk into the chairs. They had been utterly defeated.
“Minus the details about Lala’s memory manipulation, I’ll be turning your case back over to the police department,” Arthur said. “Chief Ko will probably scold me for causing such a fuss involving a senator’s relative, but it can’t be helped. Even as a cyborg, something this heinous still makes me sick.” She turned her back to them. “Get them out of here.”
Markov, Teho, and Kohaku ushered the lifeless parents out of the room.
* * *
Arthur lay down on the recliner and sighed.
“What are you going to do about Lala?” Lacusia asked.
“Nothing. That apparition can’t harm anyone. It doesn’t try to convince people to harm anyone either. Only those who killed see her out of their own sense of guilt. And since she was born from a rumor, Lala will fade as the fad passes from people’s minds.”
“All the loose ends are tied up, then. Satisfied?” Lacusia asked.
“Not really. Fighting horrors is more pleasant than looking at human depravity.”
“But you didn’t look away.” Lacusia smiled.
Arthur blushed, embarrassed. “Hmph. If I looked away, how could the victims ever rest?”
“That’s my Sephira.”
“Stop calling me that,” she pouted. “I’m Arthur now. Beat cop Sephira is long dead.”
Lacusia chuckled. “Even if you’re a different person, you’re still you. That hero of justice side of you hasn’t changed at all.”
“I don’t think in such grand terms anymore. It’s just... We can change our bodies now, and we’re always a part of the Net. Yet a person is still always alone. A rumor spreads across society, but the victim is always an individual. In the cases we work, the victim is alone, forgotten, at the periphery of society’s consciousness like the apparitions we deal with.”
Arthur reached out to the ceiling. “Even if my main task is to deal with threats to the world, I want to do a little something, every now and then, even if it’s trivial, so that they’re not completely alone, like I was.”
Lacusia clasped Arthur’s extended hand and smiled gently.
Copyright © 2019 by J. H. Zech