The Soul Hunter
by Michael J A Tyzuk
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?”?u∞