The Soul Hunter
by Michael J A Tyzuk
Part 1 appeared in issue 97.
The first thing I did when I got to the station the next morning was check on the results of our APB’s. I wasn’t at all surprised to find that there was no trace of our wayward hostel clients, but I was somewhat disappointed. So was Alan when he came in a couple of minutes later and I told him the news. He shrugged and said, “Somehow I get the feeling that this one isn’t going to be all that easy to crack.”
Alan and I had just poured (reasonably) fresh coffee into our mugs, (horrible stuff, police station coffee) and were about to head out to continue our manhunt when Kevin called us into his office. I was instantly curious, and also a little bit apprehensive. It was too early in the morning for him to be giving us hell for anything, but his traditional statistical disciplinary pattern had been broken before. There was nothing for it but to go and face the music.
When Alan and I entered the office we were a little surprised to find that Kevin wasn’t alone. A young man in the uniform of the Imperial Navy, with lieutenant’s stripes on the sleeves of his jacket, was standing with his back to us, his arms folded across his chest as he stared out Kevin’s window.
Kevin gestured to the uniformed stranger. “This is Lieutenant Michael Richardson of the INSS Vanguard,” he said.
Richardson turned around to face us as Alan and I sat down in the guest chairs, giving me a chance to get my first really good look at him. I said that he was young, but I guess young is a relative thing. He looked to be in his thirties, with short cropped dark hair and bright hazel eyes. There was a definite intelligence behind those eyes too, along with a sense of weariness that really didn’t suit him. He was about Alan’s height and build, stocky and muscular. The first thought in my mind when I saw him was fighter pilot.
“The lieutenant is seconded to Naval Intelligence for the time being ,” Kevin continued, “and has been tasked with locating a prominent scientist who appears to have gone missing.”
Alan frowned. “What does a missing scientist have to do with us?” he wondered.
Richardson picked up a data pad that had been laying on Kevin’s desk and tossed it onto Alan’s lap. “This particular missing scientist just happens to appear on the list of people that you’re looking for,” he answered.
“So, he was staying at the hostel that night,” I observed.
Richardson nodded. “That seems to be the case.”
“Is it possible that he may have had something to do with the assaults that we’re investigating?” I asked.
Richardson winced. “The answer to that question might be a bit more complicated than you think,” he told me.
Alan shrugged. “How can it be complicated?” he demanded. “It’s a perfectly simple question which requires nothing more than a yes or no answer. You Intelligence types are always complicating things,” he accused.
Richardson smiled. “I’m not an Intelligence officer,” he corrected, “I’m a Tactical Action Officer on a destroyer.”
“No matter,” Alan countered. “The Navy has a tendency to complicate things too.”
Richardson was grinning now. “You were a Marine, weren’t you?” Alan nodded proudly. “Marines do the dying, the Navy just does the flying.”
“I was a fighter pilot during the war,” Richardson said. “I’ve probably flown air support for you at one time or another.”
Alan was looking at Richardson with newfound respect now. “Complicated, you say?” he asked after a time.
Richardson nodded. “Complicated.”
“We’re all ears,” I said.
* * *
“The gentleman’s name,” Richardson began, “is Doctor Simon Hunter. He’s a noted archaeologist who does the occasional piece of work for the Imperial Science Command when he isn’t teaching at the Capitol University on Earth.
“Doctor Hunter was the scientific leader of an expedition that was exploring the ruins of an ancient advanced civilization that was discovered on a world on the outer rim. They had been on the planet for six weeks when the High Command lost contact with them. The Vanguard was the closest ship so we were sent to investigate. When we arrived we discovered that all of the members of the expedition had been assaulted in exactly the same manner as the people you found at the hostel yesterday.”
“All of them except for Doctor Hunter, I presume,” I ventured.
“That’s correct,” Richardson answered. “Where the other members of the expedition had been incapacitated, Doctor Hunter had somehow managed to elude that fate and leave the planet using the runabout that had been assigned to the expedition.”
“Naturally you think that Doctor Hunter is behind these assaults,” Alan said.
Richardson nodded. “The Doctor is our primary suspect.”
“What makes you think that he’s here?” was my question.
“We’ve been tracing the runabout that was assigned to the expedition,” Richardson explained. “That runabout is currently grounded at the Acheron city spaceport.”
“Surely if the Doctor was responsible for these assaults he would have abandoned the runabout in favor of using a different vessel that you can’t track so easily,” I pointed out.
“Under normal circumstances that is exactly what I would expect him to do,” Richardson agreed. “In this case, however, on every single world that runabout has visited since it left the expedition, local police have reported assaults similar in nature to the ones you encountered at the hostel.” I felt my eyes go wide. “How many other worlds?” I wondered.
“At least a dozen,” was the answer.
Alan whistled appreciatively. “Jumping Jesus Christ,” he breathed, “the good Doctor does get around, doesn’t he?”
Richardson snorted. “With a Navy runabout at his disposal he can go just about anywhere he wants. There’s not a single civilian spaceport in the realm that would deny him clearance to ground. As long as he steers clear of any kind of military installation he’s home free.”
“Then why come to Acheron City?” I wondered. “Why come to the Proxima system at all? Everyone knows that Proxima Station is a stone’s throw from Iskander, and everyone on Iskander knows that there’s a Marine garrison outside every major city. Furthermore, that kind of information is available in the public domain, it’s all there and all someone has to do is look. If this Doctor of yours is anywhere near as intelligent as I think he is then he has to be aware of all of that. It makes coming to Iskander a very dangerous risk to take.”
Richardson shook his head. “We’re still trying to figure out the logic behind how he appears to be doing what he’s doing,” he explained. “Why he’s doing it and why he’s going where he’s going have been deferred for the time being.”
“That’s a mistake,” Alan pointed out.
“How so?” Richardson wanted to know.
Alan cocked his head. “Well, it seems to me that all of these questions are linked. How he’s doing what he’s doing and why he’s doing what he’s doing are two sides of the same coin, and as soon as you get the one you can figure out the other. As for why he’s going where he’s going, as soon as you figure out the how’s and why’s of the actions he’s taking, then you’ll be able to see the pattern in where he’s going.”
“If there is a pattern,” Richardson cut in.
I shook my head. “There’s always a pattern,” I explained. “You might not be able to see it at any given moment, but it’s there, and it’s waiting to be found.”
“And so is he,” Alan said. “These criminal types, they always want to let the world know why they’ve done what they’ve done and why. They’re looking for an audience, all the time. Some of them are even downright proud of their actions, and especially proud of the attention they get from those actions. It seems to me that for your Doctor to be doing something this public that he must have some kind of point to make, some kind of agenda. These kinds of things don’t just happen for no reason.”
Richardson regarded the two of us for a long moment, and I could swear you could see the wheels turning behind his eyes. He was sizing us up, evaluating us, tasting us to see if we were worthy. One the one hand it made me angry that this spit-and-polished Navy puke would have the balls to do something like that in front of me, on my own turf. On the other hand I could also see it from his point of view. It was obvious that there were things he wasn’t telling us, and I wondered if maybe he was testing us to see what he could and couldn’t get away with revealing to us.
On the gripping hand, of course, it really didn’t matter. What was to come would come, what was to be would be. We do not have the power to change fate and we never would, and maybe that was a good thing.
But that’s a discussion for another time.
Finally, Richardson just nodded. “All right, you guys are the experts,” he said. “I will leave the criminology to the two of you. All I ask is that, as part of your continuing investigation, you help me find this fellow and take him into custody.”
Kevin opened his mouth to answer, but then he caught my eye and thought better of it. He turned to face Richardson. “Lieutenant, could you excuse us for a moment?”
Richardson nodded. “Certainly,” he said and left the office.
As soon as we heard the door close I looked Kevin in the eye. “He’s hiding things from us.”
“I agree,” Alan said.
Kevin nodded. “Okay, I can accept that,” he responded. “Hell, I even agree with you. That means between the three of us we have to answer one very important question: is the information that the Lieutenant is hiding from us going to impede this investigation?”
I shook my head. “We can’t answer that one right now,” I answered. “We just don’t know enough about what’s going on.”
“And the one person who does know the whole story isn’t talking,” Kevin observed.
“Maybe he doesn’t have a choice in the matter,” Alan suggested.
“What do you mean?” Kevin demanded.
“Well, I was in the service myself once upon a time,” Alan explained. “Granted I was only a ground-pounder, but we had our fair share of dealings with Intel pukes. They were always withholding information from us on the grounds that it was classified, or that we didn’t have any Need to Know. Sometimes that was alright, we were able to complete our mission with what we were given. Sometimes that damned Need to Know ended up biting us on the ass. We lost a lot of good people that way. I’m willing to be vital parts of someone else’s anatomy that the good Lieutenant has an Intelligence oversight officer looking over his shoulder, telling him all the things that he can and can’t do.”
I grinned. “Someone else’s anatomy?” I repeated. “Show’s how much faith you have in your own conclusion.”
Alan returned my grin, shrugged. “It has nothing to do with whether or not I have faith in my own conclusion,” he protested, “it’s just a simple realistic precaution. What if I’m wrong? I would dearly like to live and learn from the experience and I can’t do that if the Live Organ Transplants people are coming to take away my liver.”
I shook my head. “They can’t take it away if you’re using it,” I pointed out.
“That’s what I said. They just told me not to worry: no one has had their liver taken out by that lot and survived.”
Kevin waved his arms in front of us. “Excuse me? I am still in the room, you know.”
Alan looked at Kevin, then turned back to me. “He is still in the room,” he agreed.
“Yes, he is,” I seconded.
Kevin made a dismissive wave. “Oh, for God’s sake, just get the hell out of my office. And while you’re at it, try not to get yourselves killed.” As it turned out that was very good advice.
* * *
On our way out of Kevin’s office Alan and I collected our newest companion and made for the garage. We took Alan’s speeder, which suited me just fine as I really didn’t feel like driving.
Alan and I had talked about it the day before, and had painted ourselves a picture of just how daunting this task ahead of us was. There are thousands of places in Acheron City alone where a person can, for all intents and purposes, fall off the face of the planet if they really want to. The police know the locations of some of those bolt holes, but not all of them. Really, how could we know where all of them are? No matter how big or how well organized your department is, some of them are always going to slip through your fingers.
The bright side of this whole situation is that most of those bolt holes are located in the Inner City, the zone where the poorest and most destitute residents have been herded in an effort to contain as many of them as possible in one location. I’ve never been in favor of those zones myself, but their creation was a matter if Imperial policy, and I was never asked for an opinion. Come to think of it, most people were never asked for an opinion, but that’s what happens when you live in an Empire.
Most of the bolt holes were rooming houses and hostels whose practice it was not to ask a lot of questions. If you needed a bed then you needed a bed and that’s all that mattered. Some of these were run by various religious organizations, all of whom were most zealous in their protection of their resident’s privacy. Since most of the people working at these places were various forms of clergy they had a tendency to repeat that tired old mantra that even talking to us was technically a violation of their customer’s confidentiality.
Look, before you have a chance to get started with me, I’m all in favor of the idea of priests and clerics keeping the secrets of the people who confess to them. It gives the person confessing a strong sense of trust and security, and that as much as anything else can mean the difference between whether or not you’re going to live through the tough times ahead. The pastor at the church my family used to attend was instrumental in guiding through my grief after my father’s death. He was immensely proud of me when I entered the Police Academy and told me on the day of my graduation that he believed my father would have been proud of me too. I remember that one little comment meant the world to me just then.
Reverend Hawks meant the world to me too. I was devastated the day he died. He had been a good man who had died before his time, but I suppose that was God’s will, as the Reverend would put it. All I really know is that the good ones are always the ones who go before their time.
We visited a lot of these hostels and shelters and boarding houses that day. All of them told us the same thing. No, I’m sorry, there just isn’t any way that we can help you. I wish that we could. Have a nice day, and God be With You.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by Michael J A Tyzuk