Bewildering Stories

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The Soul Hunter

part 1

by Michael J A Tyzuk

Tamara Tomson previously appeared in “Remote Control” and “Rude Awakening.”

Sooner or later Death comes knocking on our door, and when it comes for you it won’t take no for an answer.

Alan’s fate was sealed the day that so-called scientist that ran the facility where he was held as a prisoner of war inserted that remote controlled implant in his head. I wish that hadn’t been the case, but it was. There just wasn’t any way that I could save him, and I know it. But knowing that I couldn’t save him doesn’t make losing him any easier to bear. If there was one thing that the whole experience had taught me, it was that grief is even worse when you’re the one who pulled the trigger.

What do you do when the most important person in your life has been murdered and you don’t know how you’re going to get by without him? I didn’t know at the time, and I still don’t, and I wasn’t all that interested in finding out so I looked back into the storehouse of memories contained in my skull and I began to remember.

So gather round, Boys and Girls, and listen carefully as Mama Tamara tells you the story of how she met the one person who would come to mean everything to her. Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.

* * *

Once upon a time, many millions of years before the first primordial protein strains joined together to form the first life forms to inhabit Old Mother Earth, there was a world out by the outer rim of the galaxy, at the tip of the Orion Arm, and this world was home to a truly fantastic civilization. They were poets and thinkers and dreamers, all, and they wanted nothing more than to know and understand everything the Universe had to offer.

One of their number went by the name of Dorian, and he sought to know and understand the machinations of the soul, for he believed that knowing and understanding the soul was the secret to knowing and understanding the Universe.

For decades he toiled in a laboratory adjacent to the Grand Temple around which they constructed their Capital City. Finally, after more than fifty years of work, Dorian emerged from his self imposed isolation to put his theories to the test. He had constructed a talisman, with which he claimed to be able to make contact with a person’s soul. A curious few were brave enough to be willing to expose themselves to Dorian’s talisman, and they paid dearly for their curiosity, for when Dorian placed the talisman against them it proceeded to suck the soul out of them, leaving an empty but still living body behind.

Shocked and horrified at what one of their own had wrought, the ruling council met and decided unanimously to banish Dorian from their planet, never to return again. They believed that banishment would be sufficient incentive for him to change his ways. Alas, they were wrong.

Dorian left to wander the galaxy, looking for other civilizations, and when he found them he used the talisman on them and robbed them of their souls. On every world he visited he left death and deprivation in his wake.

It was not long before the other races learned who this hunter of souls was and, equally important, which world he had come from. With that information the other races banded together and formed an armada of unheard-of proportion. They journeyed to Dorian’s home world and issued an ultimatum: Either put a stop to the actions of this madman you have banished from your world or be destroyed.

Dorian’s people were not fools, and they knew they could not hope to survive against the combined military might of the other races. Task forces were sent forth into the abyss to find Dorian and bring him home. Eventually Dorian was captured and brought before the Ruling Council, who ordered that the talisman be used against Dorian himself. His soul was contained inside a crystalline orb and secreted in the Vault beneath the Great Temple, along with the talisman.

The Ruling Council signalled the Armada and informed them that Dorian had been brought to heel and would never plague their civilizations again. But they had not counted on the treachery of the allied races, who opened fire with all the weapons at their disposal and destroyed all the cities on the planet. Every standing structure was burned to the ground, all except for the Great Temple and the Vault secreted beneath it. As a warning to future generations, the allied races inscribed runes in the walls of the temple which told the story of Dorian the Soul Hunter, and his talisman.

Years passed, then decades, then centuries, and then millennia. The allied races left these spaces and moved out beyond the Outer Rim, seeking greener pastures in the unknown abyss between galaxies. Life on Old Mother Earth grew and flourished. Vast civilizations rose and fell, until the day came when humanity reached out towards the stars and established colonies. The Formation Wars were fought, after which mankind enjoyed the Peace of the Empire.

One day a mapping expedition encountered this ancient world. Sensor sweeps were performed and the readings indicated that the planet was once inhabited, but wasn’t any longer even though it was still fully capable of supporting life. The sensors also detected the presence of the Great Temple in the center of a ruined city.

The captain of the survey ship was on a tight schedule, so he made note of the readings in his log and then the ship came about and returned to the Empire. The Science Command was sufficiently intrigued by what the sensors showed that the decision was made to send an explorer expedition. A runabout class ship and a crew of two were given to the mission, which would be under the command of Doctor Simon Hunter, one of the leading anthropological minds in the Empire.

The expedition arrived and began to scour the remains of the city. They learned a great deal about Dorian’s people, about their culture and society. They knew that the Great Temple held some kind of special religious significance but they could not determine why the temple had been virtually untouched when the rest of the city had collapsed into ruins. Doctor Hunter decided to explore the temple, but the hour was late and the party decided to put off their expedition until the next morning.

The Empire never heard from the expedition again.

* * *

I, of course, knew none of this. After all, I was simply a detective who had just been promoted to sergeant and assigned to homicide investigation. I wouldn’t have any reason to know about lost worlds and giant temples with vaults buried beneath them, or legendary soul hunters. My only concern was dead bodies.

That particular morning I had eight of them, and all of them were found in the same building. That in itself was interesting enough, but paled in comparison to the revelation that those bodies weren’t actually dead. Not yet anyway.

The building in question was a transient hostel owned and operated by the local chapter if the IYMCA. It was a place where the staff could be relied upon not to ask too many questions. If you needed a bed, you were simply given one, as long as you could pay a small fee. It’s proximity to the spaceport insured that any number of unsavory characters could be found residing within at any given time, which was why we always started our investigations with the hostel whenever we heard of any unsavory types making planetfall.

The morning criminal intelligence brief had made no mention of any noteworthy new arrivals, and it had appeared as if this day were going to be one of those rare quiet ones, where nothing untoward happens at all and you can have a chance to catch your breath, prepare for the next wave. Then the call had come in about the bodies at the hostel.

I arrived at the hostel about half an hour after the first wave of uniformed constables. They had evacuated the building and cordoned it off. The Medical Examiner was already there, I noted as I passed through the front door and made for the bank of lifts that occupied most of one wall. I rode the lift up to the tenth floor, turned right, then right again, and stepped through the second door on the left.

The victim was laying on the floor, propped up against the wall in the corner of the room. He was still breathing, but that was about all he was doing. His eyes were vacant, empty, as if the lights were on and no one was home. A line of drool spilled from the corner of his open mouth and had formed a rather sizeable stain on his shirt.

The medical examiner, Doctor Gerald MacGregor, an old friend, was kneeling down beside the victim and waving a hand held medical scanner over him. I knelt down and gave Gerald’s shoulder a friendly squeeze.

“What can you tell me?” I asked him.

Gerald shook his head. “I’m not sure what any of this means,” he said, gesturing to the tiny screen on the scanner. “As far as his body is concerned, this poor fellow sprawled out here before us is in perfect health. He still has his appendix. Both of his kidneys are functioning. His liver is in good shape, as are his heart and lungs. The only real anomaly is the brain scan.”

“And what does that show?” I asked.

“That’s just it,” Gerald explained, “it doesn’t show much of anything.”

I frowned. “How’s that?”

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“Tamara, this man has no higher brain functions, no intellect, no personality. It’s as if someone reached into his skull and yanked it all out, left just enough behind to keep his body working.”

“What could cause something like that?” I wondered.

Gerald shrugged. “I don’t know. Certainly no technology that we possess could do this to someone.”

“Do you think that this was done to him deliberately?” I asked.

“When you consider that people don’t just wake up one day and become vegetables, then I would have to say that the odds are good that this was done to him deliberately.”

I nodded and gave Gerald another squeeze, left the room to go look at the other victims.

All of them were on the same floor, but they weren’t clustered in the same group of rooms. Rather they were scattered all over hells half acre. Other than that each and every victim was in exactly the same condition as the one I had viewed with Gerald.

The realization that someone could deliberately, with malice aforethought, do something like this to someone made me take a mental step back. I had seen a lot of bloodshed in my ten years on the force. I had been to the borders of hell and come back out again. I knew that people would do rotten things to each other at the drop of a hat, sometimes for no other reason than because they can. But this was something new. This was a whole evolutionary step above and beyond any kind of cruelty I had ever seen before. And it scared the hell out of me.

After I viewed the bodies I had a little discussion with some of the constables and I learned a few things. As soon as the bodies had been discovered the building managers had ordered the building evacuated, but had herded all of their tenants into a restaurant across the street so that we could interview them. When I asked if the interviews were in progress I was told that they were, however a number of residents had checked out by the time the bodies had been discovered. Building management had provided us with a list of those residents and constables had been assigned to the task of finding them.

That having been accomplished I decided to go back to the station, on the grounds that there really wasn’t much that I could do at the scene. In order to go any further with this case I needed the reports from the forensics teams, the medical examiner, and the constables handling the interviews. Besides, there was always paperwork, and the sheer volume of paper that I was required to push seemed to quadruple after my promotion to sergeant.

I had just stepped out the front door and was descending the staircase at the front of the building when a familiar unmarked police speeder grounded at the curb and two men climbed out. I only recognized one of them, my division lieutenant, Kevin Dubois. The other one was unfamiliar to me.

Kevin motioned me over so I stepped over to them and stopped beside the speeder. He gestured to the stranger who wasn’t in the uniform. “Tamara, this is Detective Sergeant Alan Morris, just transferred over from the drug unit,” he said. “He’s going to be working with you from now on.”

I was thoroughly disgusted at the thought of having to deal with a partner, but when the powers that be hand you an accomplished fact then all you can do is nod your head and smile and go with it. I looked my new partner up and down. He was a head taller than I am, which isn’t saying a whole hell of a lot, stocky and muscular with deep set piercing eyes and a weathered face that looked older than it probably was. For some strange reason he reminded me a lot of my late father, who had been a Ranger in the Imperial Marine Corps. Or maybe he reminded me of some of the men my father served with. Either way I liked him almost immediately, and I couldn’t for the life of me have said why. I reached out and shook hands with him. “Pleased to meet you, Alan.”

“And a pleasure to meet you,” Alan returned. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Lies, all of it,” I asserted. “Besides which, I was exonerated.”

Alan grinned. “What a coincidence?” he said. “So was I.”

I was quite pleased to discover that my new partner had a sense of humor.

Having completed his introductions, Kevin climbed into his speeder and took off. I took a few moments to brief Alan on everything I had learned, took him back into the hostel so that he could see the bodies for himself. His reaction was very similar to mine: on the one hand he was fascinated that something like that could happen, but on the other hand he was shocked at the idea that someone could willingly, maliciously, do something like that to another human being. He took the idea well, though, just like a professional police officer. “I guess it takes all kinds,” he commented after we left the last body.

“You sound like you’ve seen a lot worse than that,” I observed.

Alan shrugged. “I don’t know if I would call what I saw when I was in the Marine Corps worse, but it was certainly bloodier.”

I cocked my head at Alan. “You were in the Marine Corps?”

Alan nodded. “Enlisted man,” he answered. “Went in as a buck private and came out a Gunnery Sergeant.”

“You sound like my father,” I said. “He was career military. He finished as an officer, but he earned it the hard way. Started as a buck private, made Gunnery Sergeant a few years later and then one day his division commander offered him officers training. Naturally he said yes. He was a lieutenant in short order and a captain when the Rangers were first commissioned. He volunteered for Ranger training and commanded one of the first Ranger companies to go into active duty.”

Alan smiled a wan smile. “I remember fighting with some of the Rangers,” he said. “I was always glad that they were on our side.”

* * *

We spent the better part of the afternoon canvassing speeder rental agencies, halfway houses, hostels, and hotels throughout Acheron city, asking them if they had done business recently with any of the names on our list of hostel customers who were as yet unaccounted for. The answers at all of them were the same. No, that name does not appear in our client records. No, we have not seen anyone matching his description. Yes, if we do see or hear from him we will make certain that we call you immediately.

Of course we didn’t really have any hope of finding any of those people. The hostel was located in the downtown core, and there was a wealth of public transportation options readily available. Inasmuch as it was clear that whoever assaulted those people that way had been staying at the hostel, it was also clear that they were now nowhere to be found. They could be anywhere in the city, or they could have left the city entirely, and there are plenty of places in and out of Acheron city where a person could easily lose themselves if they were so inclined.

After a long day of searching, Alan and I returned to the station and wrote up All Points Bulletins for the names on our list. We distributed those bulletins to the uniformed constables who were coming on duty for the next watch, and then we called it a night.

To be continued...

Copyright © 2004 by Michael J A Tyzuk

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