Mother of Mars Sample Chapter
Dylan surveyed the charnel scene. Though a rare crime among Martians, the victims before him represented two-thirds of the murders investigated in a year.
The body of the girl disturbed him the most, and his stomach tried to turn over when he examined her. He could not imagine a person who could murder a child in cold blood.
He knelt to examine the adult’s body. The man was shot in the temple. He didn’t try to speculate on the calibre or kind of firearm used without the forensic analysis. Gingerly, he turned the head to reveal the exit wound. A glance up at the wall showed where the man’s brains had ended up.
“Do you think our fugitives are behind this?” asked Morgan. He stood across the room with a molecular scanner attached to his left wrist.
Dylan allowed his imagination to show him how the crime might have played out. “The male victim faced the girl when the shooter capped him at close range.” He assumed an imitative stance where he imagined the position of the killer. Assuming a firing posture, he aimed at the victim’s location, then turned and pointed in the girl’s direction.
“He wasted no time in murdering the witness immediately after.”
His attention drifted to the child’s mutilated face, and his arm dropped to his side. “He’s an expert. Someone who showed no hesitation in either killing.” Dylan turned to face his lieutenant. “None of our suspects are capable of this.”
Dylan held up a hand. Morgan closed his mouth and resumed his scan of the room with the molecular sniffer. The burly man shook his head. “Well, I’m not finding anything, sir.”
Dylan frowned and walked to the table near the window. It and the chairs served as the only furniture in the room. He ran his finger over its surface and turned it up to examine. He repeated the action on the back of the chair. “There’s dust on this.”
“Dust is everywhere on this fucking rock,” replied Morgan without looking up from his work.
“But there’s none on the table top.” Dylan’s eyes scanned the rest of the dingy interior. “In fact, it’s the only thing that isn’t covered in it.”
“You think your killer cleaned it?”
Dylan’s head snapped around to see who spoke. In the doorway stood a silhouetted figure. After a dramatic pause, a small man with distinctively Mediterranean features strode confidently into the room.
“Or perhaps a recent meal was served. There are many potential answers,” the stranger said, a hint of amusement on his face.
Morgan moved authoritatively to him. “This is a restricted area.”
Dylan signalled his man to stand down. “It’s all right, Lieutenant. This is Felix Altius. He works for Regis Mundi.”
Felix nodded to the younger man and approached the two bodies. He stood between them and took in the scene.
“Why are you here, Altius?”
“You know very well why I am here, Mister Hodgson. Your search for the assassins yields abundant excuses but little in the way of results. Your superior is concerned with your lack of progress and requested my assistance.”
“Your master hasn’t yet assumed his duties. You don’t possess any authority to take over this portfolio.”
“Please, Mister Director, there is no need to be defensive.” Felix smiled reassuringly. “I offer my services as a courtesy. I am a consultant, nothing more. Nobody plans to take over your case—yet.”
Dylan ground his teeth as he watched Felix move about the room, examining everything as he went.
“My investigation is proceeding just fine, thank you.”
“Really?” Altius did not look at Dylan but focused his attention on the blood-splattered wall. “A computer security breach confounded your surveillance operation, and now you are distracted by this sideshow.” He raised his hands to the wall and hovered his fingers millimetres away from it, as if he felt for something without touching.
“Murder is rare. I don’t believe in coincidences.”
“I’m gratified to hear of your thoroughness in such matters. One could so easily interpret these little asides as distractions that allow your lover to escape justice. Ah, there it is.” Felix pressed firmly to a spot and a latch clicked. A large panel slid aside to reveal a sophisticated computer interface.
Felix turned his head and favoured Dylan with a smirk. “It would seem that your instincts are still sound, Director.” He backed away to admire his discovery while Dylan approached and stood next to him.
Dylan’s eyes were riveted on the equipment when Felix leaned in and whispered into his ear. “You’re welcome.” He smiled again and walked to the door. “I’m glad I could help put your investigation back on track.”
Dylan called after him. “Where are you going?”
“Oh, I’m a consultant. I don’t wish to interfere. I am going to turn over some rocks that you haven’t yet looked under.”
Dylan turned to regard the strange machine, then back to the departing Altius. “Do you know what this is?”
Felix stopped in the doorway, wearing a sly smile. “I’m sure your technical experts will confirm that it is a Cortical Implant programming interface. I surmise your assassin came here to cover his tracks and then eliminated the only witnesses. Good hunting, Director Hodgson.” He turned on his heel and vanished into the alley.
“Damn it!” Dylan knew Glynn Tennant would call in help from Mundi. He’d hoped he might be able to stave it off for at least another day, but this unrelated murder drew too much attention upstairs. The coincidence of its occurrence right under his nose while he hunted for the fugitives could not be ignored.
“What does this machine do? I never knew such things existed.” Morgan stood beside him and admired the discovered technology.
“They aren’t supposed to.”
The cortical implant was intended to be the ultimate personal identification device. Once installed at birth, a CI was a permanent brain enhancement, unremovable and unalterable. A scan of one eliminated any doubt of a person’s identity. “There are rumours of something like this available on the black market.”
“How did that guy know what this thing is? How the hell did he find it? I scanned that wall three times,” said Morgan.
Dylan didn’t know how Felix did it. His abilities were frighteningly inhuman. Somehow he had sensed the machinery behind the panel. Without the synthetic man’s help, Dylan doubted his people would have located the interface behind the shielded panel. He wondered what other hidden talents Altius possessed and what information he didn’t bother to share.
“Get in touch with our tech people on Olympia,” ordered Dylan. “They can figure out what it was used for.”
Despite the time spent working the case, he could show little for it except this room and the bodies. Although the delays in the investigation had been engineered by him to allow Mel time to escape, he could no longer offer her that luxury. He now found himself in a race to find her before Mundi’s people.
There still existed no way to connect Mel with these deaths, and Dylan was desperate to prove them unrelated to her. It would be far easier for Mel to defend herself against one set of charges. Three murders would all but ensure her execution, especially if Felix Altius found her first.
He stepped out for a breath of fresh air. He needed time to think of his next move. His latitude diminished by the minute, and he would soon be in no position to help Mel. In the absence of any evidence, Dylan could still believe in Mel’s innocence, a circumstantial victim of unfortunate association with Talus Varr.
He looked in the direction of the vid camera on the connecting street. The bug planted in the surveillance software would be cleared out shortly. In a few hours, if she stayed in the settlement, she would be spotted. The hacker showed exceptional ability beyond what he knew Mel possessed. The fact that the hack was designed to hide her whereabouts did nothing to support his faith in her.
He paced the length of the alley, lost in thought. If he had absolute proof of her involvement, could he arrest her?
He shook his head. Don’t think that way. She’s innocent. She has to be.
Still, he couldn’t help but question his resolve and devotion to duty when it came to her. Were his protests of devoted allegiance to Mars just a bill of goods he’d sold Tennant? He justified his actions by giving Mel the benefit of the doubt, believing his investigation would exonerate her. But what if it didn’t? What if the accumulating evidence demonstrated her guilt beyond his ability to deny? What would he do?
A drying puddle near the wall of the building captured his attention. Rainfall was impossible, and the waste of water by dumping it into the street unheard of. An unmistakable gastric odour assailed him. Someone had vomited.
Dylan recalled his pathetic reaction following a firefight after he first joined the military. Pirates had seized a corporate freighter inside Mars’s jurisdiction, and his squad was assigned to recapture it. He killed two of them during the rescue and puked his guts out after, right on the boots of his sergeant.
Mel was an experienced physician and witnessed the horrible deaths of the crew of the Helios at the hand of Erik Dunn. He doubted she would vomit after witnessing the murders inside, but then he remembered his response to the sight of the dead little girl.
He turned to examine the ground in the alley, resuming his pacing, but with a slower step and hawk-like attention to what lay beneath his feet. He stopped beside another, much smaller pool of something that had dried up hours before. Bending low, he wondered if it might be blood. It would be simple to confirm by calling Morgan to bring his molecular scanner. It would reveal the DNA profile of the owner.
Dylan stood and stared at the patch of discoloured ground. He dragged dirt with the toe of his boot and covered the bloodstain.
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