Bewildering Stories

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The Soul Hunter

part 3

by Michael J A Tyzuk

“The Soul Hunter” began in issue 97.
Part 2 appeared in issue 98.

Alan and I were getting frustrated, and it was clear that the young lieutenant was somewhat disillusioned by the whole thing as well. He kept insisting that there had to be some other way that we could go about trying to find the Doctor, and Alan and I both had to patiently explain to him that this is the way things work. Richardson wasn’t entirely pleased with that answer, but he was willing to accept it as the truth.

Alan and I were about ready to call it a day but we were also kind of hungry and Alan knew about this wonderful Chinese place downtown and would I like to have dinner with him? Of course, you’re invited too, lieutenant.

So that’s how we ended up downtown in front of this Chinese restaurant just at the moment when we heard a frantic screaming coming from the alleyway.

Alan and I pulled our sidearms and sprinted down the alley at full throttle, with Richardson close behind us. We rounded the corner just in time to see a distinguished older looking gentleman in casual trousers and a summer weight jacket warily approaching a frightened young street urchin who was cowering in the corner formed by a garbage bin snuggled against the wall. The older fellow was holding something in his hand, holding it out in front of him like some kind of weapon.

Alan and I both assumed shooters stance and took aim. “Police!” I called out. “Don’t move!”

The gentleman turned away from the urchin to look at us.

I heard Richardson come around from behind me, heard his weapon clearing his holster. “That’s him,” he said as he stepped forward, his weapon leveled at the gentleman. “Turn and face me, Doctor Hunter,” he instructed. The Doctor complied. “Good. Now put the talisman on the ground and kick it over to me.”

Talisman? I wondered. What talisman? That thing that he’s holding, is that what Richardson means?

The Doctor shook his head. “I’m afraid that I cannot do that,” he explained.

Richardson took another few steps forward. Alan and I still weren’t entirely sure exactly what was going on here, but we knew that this was Richardson’s show and we were his backup, so we may as well back him up. “I’m afraid that you’re going to have to,” Richardson explained. “Now, put the talisman on the ground and kick it over to me.” The Doctor just stood there and stared at Richardson for a long moment before Richardson disengaged the safety catch on his weapon with a loud, audible click. “I’m not going to ask you again,” he warned.

Of course at this point the smartest thing the urchin could have done would be to scramble to her feet and leg it out of the alley. But she was just too scared to do anything, you could see it in her face, and so she froze. There was about a meter and a half of open space between her and the Doctor, and there was about ten meters of open space between us and the Doctor. As near as we could tell he wasn’t armed, and he was facing down three armed individuals, one of whom was a Navy officer, and all of whom had the drop on him. If he tried anything he would be burned down before he could take so much as a single step. The Doctor knew it, too. He calculated the odds in his head and you could see the moment of decision, the moment where he decided that he was better off surrendering to the inevitable. But them something flashed behind his eyes, and everything happened at once.

The Doctor knelt down slowly, moved the hand that was holding the object that Richardson had referred to as the talisman down to the ground.

Richardson started to step forward, his weapon aimed at the Doctor’s head.

The Doctor dived to the side, landed in a roll and reached out for the urchin, who screamed one last terrified, blood curdling scream.

Richardson fired, but the bolt from his weapon lanced over the Doctor and pelted the garbage bin.

Alan and I fired, but our shots fared no better than the lieutenant’s. The Doctor pressed the talisman against the street urchin’s chest.

There was a blinding flash of white light.

I heard the report of a pistol firing.

The light started to fade and I could hear the sound of booted feet legging it out of the alley.

The spots in front of my eyes cleared and I trotted forward, knelt down beside the urchin. She was quite dead. The really telling thing, though, was the look in her eyes. She had the same vacant look that the people I had found at the hostel the day before had worn. Only this time, she wasn’t even breathing. There was a hole burned into her chest, the mark of a direct hit from a particle bolt. I surmised that she had been killed by the last shot that had been fired.

I looked up at Alan, shook my head. “Call it in,” I instructed. Then I stood up and turned to face Richardson as I returned my sidearm to it’s holster. “You have some serious explaining to do.”

* * *

“You misled us,” I accused when we all got back to the station and were seated in Kevin’s office. “You misled us and you did it deliberately.”

I will give Richardson credit for this much, no matter what faults he has he is a reasonably intelligent man, intelligent enough to realize that he was in some serious trouble and the only way to get himself out of it with his hide intact was to come clean and put himself at the mercy of the court, as it were. “You’re correct that I misled you,” Richardson told me. “You’re also correct that it was done deliberately. However I would like to take this opportunity to point out that I was only obeying orders.”

“What orders were you obeying, Lieutenant?” Kevin demanded.

“My orders,” Richardson answered, “were to conceal the existence of the talisman and our knowledge of its function unless you actually witnessed the talisman in operation.”

“So, what happens now that we’ve seen what happens when the talisman is used?” Alan asked.

Richardson smiled a wry smile. “Now my orders are to tell you as little as possible. However there is some element of discretion built into those orders and I intend to use that discretion. I’m going to tell you everything that we know about what happened to the expedition, what the talisman does, and how Doctor Hunter got a hold of it.”

Kevin, Alan, and I all leaned back in our chairs and folded our arms across our chests. “We’re listening,” I said.

Richardson took a deep breath. “Doctor Hunter and his team were tasked with investigating the ruins of an ancient civilization which were discovered during a sensor survey probe in a star system along the outer rim of the galaxy. The sensor telemetry from the original survey team dated the ruins at over one million years.

“When the Doctor’s team made planetfall they discovered that the ruins were the remains of a technologically advanced civilization,” he continued. “All the buildings in the city had been destroyed in some kind of disaster except for a pyramid-shaped temple in the center of the city. The interior walls of the temple had runes inscribed in them, and the team set about the task of translation. What they discovered was that the civilization that had resided on that planet had been destroyed by a coalition of alien races in reprisal for something that one of their own number had done. However, before the civilization had been destroyed they had imprisoned the criminal in a locked vault beneath the temple.

“This is where things start to get a little confusing,” Richardson confessed. “According to the journals left by the expedition members there was some heated argument about whether or not the vault should be opened, given the fact that it apparently contained a convicted criminal who had been imprisoned there over a million years ago. Doctor Hunter seems to have been the only person who argued in favor of opening the vault. The journals left behind by his colleagues testify that the Doctor seemed to be obsessed with the vault and what it might contain. Doctor Hunter’s own journals verify his interest in the vault, and they report that from the first night they arrived on the planet he had been feeling somehow drawn to the vault, the way a sliver of metal is drawn to a magnet.

“After the rest of the expedition voted against opening the vault Doctor Hunter took it upon himself to do so, but he did it behind their backs, while they were asleep at night. He managed to decipher the mechanism used to lock the door to the vault and opened it. When he got inside he found more runes inscribed into the walls of the vault. In the center of the vault was a pedestal, and on top of the pedestal was a spherical crystalline orb with some kind of necklace, or talisman beside it. There were markings carved into the talisman, but the Doctor was unable to decipher them. The last entry in his journal stated that he was being drawn to the orb, and that he was going to try touching it. The next day the expedition failed to make their scheduled report, and we were sent in to investigate.”

“I think I can fill in some of the rest from here on,” I cut in. “When your ship reached the expedition site you discovered that all of the expedition members except Doctor Hunter were in the same kind of catatonic state as those people we found in the hostel this morning. You also discovered that both Doctor Hunter and the talisman were missing.” Richardson smiled. “Got it in one.”

“What is this talisman, anyway?” Alan wanted to know. “And why was it so important for you to get it away from the Doctor?”

“The talisman,” Richardson answered, “is a device that was designed and built by a scientist named Dorian for the purpose of extracting and trapping the souls of sentient creatures. When the leaders of his civilization realized what he had done they banished him. So he journeyed from world to world and took the souls of any sentient creature he came across. As you can imagine this kind of behavior attracted the attention of a number of the other races, who banded together and sent Dorian’s people a message: Either put a stop to this man and his activities or we will destroy your civilization and do it ourselves.

“It took some doing but eventually they were able to capture Dorian and use his talisman to imprison his soul in that crystalline orb, which they secured in the temple vault along with the talisman. The other races, however, decided that no knowledge of this kind of technology could ever survive and they destroyed Dorian’s people anyway.”

“So, let me see if I’ve got this straight,” Kevin put in. “You’re telling us that for the last million years the soul of this Dorian fellow has been imprisoned in a crystalline orb buried in a vault beneath a sacred temple of a long dead civilization.”

“That’s exactly what I’m telling you,” Richardson confirmed. “Now, this is where things really get confusing. We think that Dorian has been released.”

“What makes you say that?” Kevin demanded.

“It’s the orb,” I ventured. “It was destroyed, wasn’t it?”

Richardson nodded. “We think that Dorian had been communicating with Doctor Hunter, and that’s what drew him to the vault and the orb. We also think that when the orb was broken the soul of Dorian went looking for a new host. Doctor Hunter was the closest sentient being, so he drew the short straw.”

Kevin stood up in his chair and stared daggers at the lieutenant. “So, what we have here is a rogue Imperial scientist who has been possessed by the ancient spirit of the soul hunter, who has been imprisoned for a million years and, now that he’s released, seems to be picking up right where he left off. You’ve been tracking this man ever since you found out what happened and followed him here. You knew who and what he was, you knew what he was capable of, and you stood there in front of me, in front of us, and told us nothing!” Kevin roared. I had never heard him so angry.

Kevin had good reason to be angry, I thought. I was pretty angry too. If Alan and I had known what we were dealing with from the beginning we probably wouldn’t have acted the way we did when we faced Doctor Hunter. We probably would have given him that one chance to surrender himself, and then shot him outright when he refused. Too many lives were at stake to handle it any other way.

Now that we knew what Doctor Hunter, or Dorian, or whoever the hell he happened to be, was capable of doing we had to ask ourselves one very fundamental question: Were we actually capable of stopping someone like this? Were we capable of taking this man on and coming out on top? Or were we going to end up as trophies for his ever going collection of imprisoned souls?

And while we’re on the subject of imprisoning souls, why was he doing this at all? I mean, he had to be deriving some benefit from the whole thing, didn’t he? That’s usually why people commit crimes like this, because they derive some kind of benefit from the act. Professional killers take lives because they derive a benefit from doing it: In other words, they get paid. But what kind of benefit does a soul hunter derive from the hunting of souls? Do they sustain him, make him stronger?

Oh, hell. That’s it, isn’t it? “He’s feeding on them, isn’t he?” My statement brought an immediate halt to what had been a pretty heated argument. Kevin and Richardson both turned to me at the same time and looked at me as if I was nuts, and then I saw Richardson’s face change as his mind tracked onto my train of thought. “Bugger me,” he whispered. “That’s it, isn’t it?” “What are you talking about?” Kevin demanded.

“That’s the only way that any of this makes any sense,” Richardson observed.

I turned to Kevin. “Why do people commit crimes? Why do professional killers take lives? Because they derive some kind of benefit from the action. They get something from doing it. In the case of professional killers they receive money for taking life. In the case of thieves they derive the emotional satisfaction of having deprived someone of something that they obviously didn’t need to keep badly enough to protect it.”

“In the case of Dorian,” Richardson cut in, “he had to be getting something out of the deal when he went out into the universe and started taking souls. Well, what if he discovered that he could channel the energy from those souls into himself and grow stronger because of it? That would make him a formidable threat, would it not?”

“Oh, hell,” Kevin whispered.

“Jumping Jesus Christ,” Alan agreed.

“It certainly explains how he was able to survive being imprisoned in that crystal for over a million years,” I said. “I’ll wager that he was using the energy from the souls he had already taken to sustain himself for all those centuries. Now that he’s out he’s hungry again, and so he’s feeding, trying to make himself so strong that he can’t be defeated.”

“A logical supposition,” Kevin agreed. “Now, assuming that you’re correct in your assumptions the question becomes, how do we go about stopping this guy.”

“The talisman is the key,” Alan answered.

“How do you know that?” Richardson demanded.

“Because it has to be,” I answered. “I’ll bet you even money that just destroying the orb wasn’t enough by itself to transfer Dorian’s soul to Doctor Hunter’s body. He probably had to be holding the talisman against the orb for the whole process to work. I’ll bet that the orb wasn’t even destroyed until after the transfer was complete.”

“Besides,” Alan cut in, “you yourself told us that the talisman was the means by which he was taking souls from those people. Tamara and I witnessed the operation in action. We saw it happen. Therefore, the talisman is the key to his power and therefore the talisman must be dealt with before we can bring Dorian, or Doctor Hunter, whoever he is now, to heel.”

“And in a case like this,” I interjected, “the best way to deal with a device like the talisman is to destroy it. Better to destroy it than to allow it to be used again.”

“Assuming,” Alan added, “that it can be destroyed. We don’t know that for certain at this point.”

Richardson regarded the two of us for a long moment, then grinned and arched his brow. “Have the two of you ever considered a career in Military Intelligence?”

“Isn’t that an oxymoron?” Alan wondered.

“No,” I answered, “but it’s a job for morons.”

“What about the oxymorons?”

“Them too.”

To be continued...

Copyright © 2004 by Michael J A Tyzuk

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