15. Admorsus

015admorsus

 

The Peace Officer station wasn’t much to look at, just a few open-air offices and a bullpen tucked away in an otherwise forgotten corner of Deck Four. It was a deliberate choice on behalf of the ship’s creators. The Ark had been designed from the ground up to have what they called a ‘limited authority presence.’ What that meant in practical terms was the fish in the aquarium had a higher energy budget than the Peace Officers ever did.

The small group of eight men and women dispersed around the Meeting Room made up the entire, active Peace Officer crew. They were waiting for Chief Inspector Raymond to update them on everything learned about the arm found in Storage. Nothing like this had ever happened on the Ark that any of them were aware of, and the room buzzed with rumors and taut nerves.

Nicolai sat at the back of the small room, quietly listening to his fellow Officers discuss things they didn’t know anything about. The only facts they knew for certain were that the arm belonged to a teacher, Baptiste Marlow, and that no one had been able to locate the Professor.

“No one reported him missing? Not even his students?”

“It was his day off.”

“And his father isn’t the most reliable-”

“A drunk.”

“-Been through three Detoxes and he keeps going back to the tap.”

“-Supposedly investigating a broken vent, but I don’t-”

“I wonder if he’s-”

“-Definitely dead.”

Nicolai’s partner, Kash, stood up from his seat to address the room, and Nicolai winced at what he would say. His partner didn’t have many friends in that room- or any other room for that matter- on account of his blunt approach to pretty much everything. Even Nicolai didn’t completely love the guy, but he’d learned to respect the man’s passion for his Vocation- even if it was often misguided.

“No one is talking about the most important thing here,” Kash said. The others quieted down to listen. “There aren’t enough of us to deal with this.”

“There’s one body and nine of us,” Officer Brigham replied, “I think we’ll be fine.”

“Don’t you guys get it? That fucking cult did this.” A murmur spread through the room. “You know it’s true. All these years we’ve been letting them grow in the dark like a bunch of fucking moldy bread. I’m telling you, this is only just starting. Soon they’ll be coming for all of us.” He looked at Nicolai, silently asking for backup. “We need to put these pricks down before it’s too late.”

Nicolai opened his mouth to say something- exactly what he didn’t know- when he was saved by interruption. “For the last time, Kash, we’re Peace Officers, not a goddamn SWAT team.” Inspector Raymond walked purposefully through the door, crossing to his usual spot at the front of the room. He was an older man with a goatee, white-haired and a bit soft around the edges, but still sharp where it mattered.

“I know that, sir, but Peace Sticks aren’t gonna cut it if the-”

“We don’t use weapons on passengers, and we certainly don’t risk punching holes in the hull,” he replied, shutting down Kash. He tapped on his screen, throwing images to the big board. The Peace Officers settled in, including Kash, who begrudgingly took his seat.

The first image was of Baptiste Marlow, the young teacher himself. “Alright. Based on the condition of the arm, and the violent nature of its removal, Doctor Hannigan has informed us that she believes Marlow to be…deceased.” The room murmured once again. “However, until we find an actual body we are treating this as a missing persons case and nothing more. I don’t want to start a panic by making people think a murder has occurred when we have no way of knowing that. Understood?”

Everyone agreed.

“Good. Now, from what we can gather, Marlow didn’t have much in the way of close connections, so our suspect pool is a bit on the shallow side.”

“Is it safe to say his father is at the top of the list,” Officer Wolfe asked, cracking his knuckles. When it came to testosterone, Wolfe accounted for half the room’s total. He was the kind of guy whose biceps liked to breathe.

The Inspector frowned. “I’ve known Randal Marlow for years. He’s troubled, but he loves his son. Also he’s barely able to hold his head up let alone make his son disappear. Still, we can’t rule him out.”

“What I want to know is, why was Baptiste on Seventeen in the first place,” Officer Trent asked. The short black man was the newest Peace Officer in the room, still trying to prove himself.

“It’s an excellent question,” Inspector Raymond nodded, “and all I can tell you is, as of right now, we don’t know. Nakajima has been going through his personal messages. Song and Eckstein turned his quarters inside-out. So far they haven’t turned up anything.” The Officers all took turns verifying what the Inspector had said.

“What about his tracker? Maybe we can see who he was with,” Trent suggested.

“That would be very helpful, if the Privacy Laws didn’t prevent us from activating them outside of an emergency.” It wasn’t the first time the laws had gotten in the way of an investigation, but that was the price for avoiding constant location tracking. Having one’s every movement recorded and filed didn’t sit well with people. They enjoyed their privacy, even if it meant not being entirely covered by the Ark’s electronic security blanket. Inspector Raymond threw the next two images to the big board: the arm, followed by the broken vent where it had been recovered. A few Officers squirmed in their seats at the sight of the injuries to Baptiste’s arm. Deep lacerations. Severed tendons and splintered bone.

“As you can see, this was no clean removal- it was a vicious attack.”

“Whoever removed the arm didn’t want us to find the rest of him,” Officer Gadhavi suggested, and everyone nodded. That it was the arm containing Baptiste’s tracker didn’t seem like a coincidence to anyone.

“Then why remove it at all,” Nicolai finally spoke up. Everyone in the room turned around to see him. Inspector Raymond straightened up to address Nicolai.

“What’s on your mind, son?”

Nicolai paused a moment, gathering his thoughts. “It’s just…look, if someone really wanted Baptiste to disappear, why leave behind his tracker? They could have removed it. Shorted it out. Everyone on this ship knows how easy it is to destroy a tracker. Some of us have even done it by mistake, rough-housing as kids. Instead they leave it in a vent with easy access, with a trail of broken machinery leading right to it?” Nicolai looked around the room. “Even if someone hadn’t found it first, eventually Baptiste would have gone missing. We would have turned on the tracker.”

“What’s your point,” the Inspector prodded.

“That someone wanted us to find it.”

Everyone turned back to the Inspector to hear his response. “Alright. Clearly we have more questions than answers here- let’s start turning those numbers around.”

The meeting ended a few minutes later. After the Inspector had reiterated his orders to above all maintain calm on the Ark, every Peace Officer left determined to do his part in finding the missing teacher and, if necessary, punishing whoever was responsible. Nicolai headed back to his desk while reading Doctor Hannigan’s initial report. His face buried in his screen, he caught sight of someone waiting at the front desk out of the corner of his eye.

It was Erick Desanto, the Mechanic who had discovered the arm. He was also the man Nicolai and Kash had chased halfway across Deck Two before Kash decided to jam his Peace Stick in the back of the guy’s head- though to be fair, the guy was waving an electroknife. No one liked a coincidence, least of all Peace Officers with a possible murder on their hands, but enough people had vouched for Desanto’s whereabouts that he wasn’t at the top of the suspect list when it came to the case of Baptiste Marlow.

He also currently looked like shit. “You didn’t have to come in, we already took your statement,” Nicolai said as he approached the front desk. Desanto looked up at him with deep bags under his eyes, stress lines visible in the sunken sockets.

“There’s something I left out.”

“I’m listening.”

Desanto’s mouth shook as he got the words out. “I think I killed him.”

 

\^/

 

It had been a long day, and it was about to get longer.

Finding that arm had set off a five-alarm, three ring circus of people running around and panicking, calling Peace Officers, taking photos, telling each other what they’d seen and what they hadn’t seen and how they saw it and what they heard. The whole scene looked like a colony of ants that had discovered a lollipop dropped by some crying kid. At the center of it all, Desanto sat numb on a storage case and gave his statement while Gunnar promised him he wouldn’t let anyone pin it on him.

But Desanto knew the truth: somehow, in some way he wasn’t certain, he was responsible.

Desanto remembered the man sitting across from him. He was one of the two Officers who had hunted him like a dog the day he’d been thawed, though at least he had the benefit of not being the other one, Kash. Nicolai, his tag read. He seemed better than Kash, not as hostile, but Desanto still didn’t want to trust him. The Officer listened to Desanto recount his story, every bit of it, the chase, the pain, the screams, the dragging, all the things he’d stayed quiet on the first time around. At the end of the story, Nicolai simply told Sunn to stop recording and folded his hands on the desk between them. “I appreciate you coming forward with this,” he said, “there’s just one problem.”

“What?”

“You didn’t do it.”

Desanto paused. “What are you talking about?”

Officer Nicolai slid his screen across the desk. On it was a medical report, an update to an earlier one, time-stamped just a few minutes prior. “The Doctor’s analysis came in. Wounds on the arm weren’t done by any human. Those cuts you saw, the lacerations, they were tooth and claw marks.” He pointed out the corresponding sentences. Desanto caught sight of Doctor Hannigan’s name at the top of the report.

“But I remember-”

“A nightmare. We don’t punish people for bad dreams.”

Desanto read the lines again, shaking his head. “No. I’m sorry but I know I did this.” His leg was shaking now, his teeth grinding against each other.

“I’m sure it felt very real, but unless you can show me some fangs or a set of claws-”

“This isn’t a joke. You have to lock me up, if you don’t someone else will get hurt.”

Officer Nicolai took a deep breath, as if deciding what to do with Desanto. He stood from his desk and said, “Come with me.”

Desanto followed him out of the station and to the elevators. A few minutes later they were in the Medbay, in a specialized Coroner room not far from where Desanto had been thawed. Officer Kash had come along for the ride, much to Desanto’s disappointment. The shorter man had wasted no time being an irritating prick. He kept asking Desanto if he was a religious man, a fanatic, perhaps, but Desanto had no idea what he was talking about.

The Coroner facilities looked brand new, like they’d barely been used. It should have been a comforting thought to know that death rarely visited the Ark, but any comfort was fleeting considering the nature of their visit. Doctor Hannigan stood next to the specimen freezer, her red hair the only touch of color in the otherwise gunmetal room, and repeated her findings to the three men. She seemed shaken, as if her logic, her scientific thinking were being strained. Hannigan hesitated with her finger on the screen as she glanced back at the dread-filled look on Desanto’s face. “Are you sure about this,” she asked, understanding it might be difficult for him.

“It’s alright, Doc,” Nicolai urged her on.

“Nothing he hasn’t seen,” Kash added. She frowned at the inconsiderate Officer and pressed a few buttons. Desanto had spent so much of the day thinking about that arm that it had taken on a life of its own. He half-expected the limb to crawl out and come after him on leg-like fingers, so he was relieved when the specimen freezer’s drawer opened and the contents simply stayed where they were. Frozen. Dead.

“As I said initially, the nature of the injuries suggests an attack of some kind, especially the way in which it was separated from the body. It was, for the lack of a better word, messy.”

But that wasn’t the most telling aspect. Cleaned of blood, the strange markings on the arm were striking, a collection of deep, piercing cuts applied with incredible force, according to Hannigan. They were without a doubt not the result of a human attack. Desanto felt a pull of relief at the words, especially coming from Doctor Hannigan, but the truth of what he’d seen still lingered in his mind’s eye.

“What could have done this,” Officer Nicolai asked.

“I had Sunn come up with a few models based on the wounds.” Hannigan pulled up the file on her screen and projected the holograms. An incomplete picture floated between her and the men: four, massive claws, two with serrated edges and two without. They were, she explained through the light, rendered to scale.

Nicolai spun the closest claw, watching it dance in place. “Sunn,” he called, “what animal on board has claws this size?” Sunn appeared to their left. Desanto was sandwiched between his two least favorite people- though person was a bit of a stretch for either Sunn or Kash.

“There are no matching animals on board,” Sunn replied succinctly.

“What about one that isn’t on board?”

Sunn tilted his head. “I do not understand the question.”

“Regardless of the Ark’s population, what has claws like that?”

He processed the inquiry. “Inconclusive.”

Nicolai turned to Kash. “We need to check the environments,” he said. Kash shrugged, annoyed to have to do more work, especially work that seemed to follow a theory he didn’t agree with. Ready to leave, Nicolai turned to Desanto. “Are you satisfied?”

He wasn’t, but he nodded just the same.

“Not everyone would have turned themselves in. Remember that,” Nicolai said. He turned finally to Hannigan. “Thank you, Doctor,” he said, and exited with Kash. As they walked down the hall, Kash could be heard bitching about the need to arm themselves.

Doctor Hannigan smiled weakly at Desanto. “You’ve had an eventful few days.”

“Tell me about it. I keep hoping to wake up in your bed.” The moment the words left his lips, he realized what he’d said. He got flustered and added, “In the Medbay, I mean. Like it’s all a dream.”

Hannigan seemed amused by his flub. She pushed the hair over her ear and moved on, sparing him from further embarrassment. “Have any more of your memories returned?”

“Just a few flashes. Some details from work.” He paused. “Other things. Doctor Dubicki cleared me for work, so that’s good.”

“Work isn’t everything. You do have a life.”

“So I’m told. I was trying to get on with it until…” He trailed off, nodding to the frozen arm.

“Try again,” she said, “and keep seeing Dubicki. That’s Doctor’s orders.”

Desanto promised to pay a visit to the Psych Doctor, even if he doubted its usefulness. Before he left he decided to broach the subject he’d been meaning to for a week now. “I don’t know what they have in the way of drinks on this ship, but I could really use one. How about you?”

A faint blush crossed her face. “You’re my patient. It might be considered inappropriate.”

“Isn’t everyone on board your patient?”

Hannigan shifted on her feet. “Well, yes.”

“Then by that thinking you’re never allowed to do anything.”

“I took an oath to put the passengers of this ship first.”

“I’m told work isn’t everything.”

She smiled. “I’ll take a rain check. For now,” she added.

It would have to do. Suddenly Desanto realized someone else was in the room with them. They’d forgotten about Sunn, the hologram watching them silently from the other side of the room through their entire conversation. “Don’t you have a bed to hide under,” Desanto asked him.

“I do not understand the question.”

Doctor Hannigan chuckled. “That’ll be all, Sunn,” she said a little more diplomatically. Sunn faded away, glancing at Desanto one last time as he went.

It was time for Desanto to leave, too. “See you around, Doctor,” he said.

“Yes. Hopefully under better circumstances.”

“I’ll drink to that,” he replied- though he doubted better circumstances were coming any time soon.

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