Case Files of Rolkahr Dholztra, Kuzdrohna Department of Public Safety:
[Editor’s Note: Read Episode 1, here.]
It didn’t take a degree in criminology to connect the dots. Nor did Dholztra feel any smarter for the diploma hanging on his office wall.
Idiots, he thought. What was it, he wondered, that made the bipeds think violence was any part of the solution? Or were they just creating mayhem for sport? Regardless, their aggressive behavior was the reason more and more civic leaders had recommended mass incarceration, neural implants, sterilization … or worse.
With the technology at Nolatre’s disposal, any of these options was depressingly possible. The issue in Dholztra’s mind, and that of a shrinking number of citizens, was whether anyone had the right to exact such fierce punishment on another sentient species. Surely, in time, they believed, The Human Question could be resolved peacefully.
Trouble was, when it came to Empathy, a recent downturn in the Nolatrid economy had totally skewed Supply and Demand. Phrases like “military clean-up” had appeared in the newsnets with alarming frequency in the past six months.
Thought we were past that, he told himself. Guess I’m just a sucker for daydreams, like everybody else.
But this was no time for philosophy. Nolatrids were hurting, and he had to take street-level action, pronto. Step one was cancelling his date with Treldraah.
“Like I’d let you anywhere near me with this stuff going on,” she said. “Get off the link and nail those creeps!”
She closed contact and Dholztra sighed. Treldraah was no Protnoak, but she was still one classy female.
One by one, he rallied his forces. Quality time with the kids? Poker night? Forget it. It was time to step up. Analytics about the composition of the explosives and their triggering mechanism had already streamed in from CityHive AI. At some point, the data pool would also include the names, faces and personal records of every poor soul murdered that night. But for now, they were nothing but faceless numbers.
Meanwhile Dholztra called up every staff sergeant in his district and organized his beat cops into investigative teams. Within minutes, he’d also coordinated with the Fire Department and the Emergency MedEvac team. Next up, with some trepidation, was the HiveCentral Bureau of Investigation.
The call to the latter took a solid half hour to go through. When his comlink finally rang him back, he was startled to hear the ethereally calm voice of Director Increalaar herself on the other end of the line.
“Think this could be it, Detective?” she asked.
“Well, Ma’am, in all humility,” said Dholztra, “I think you’d know that better than I.…”
“You don’t get it,” said Increalaar. “Have all the humility you want. It’s cute, even. But I need input from people on the ground I can trust. So tell me what you think is going on, and don’t hold back. I don’t give a handful of neutrinos whether what you know is corroborated. If you believe it, that’s good enough for me. Now: tell me who just caused a ten-block explosion in our capital city?”
Dholztra felt like he’d been sucker-punched in the abdomen. But after a halting start, he gave the Director of the HCBI his take on the data he’d gathered from “informants.” If he shaded the truth about exactly who his “informant” had been, it was only to make the larger Truth more credible.
“Huh,” said Increalaar. “Do you realize that your report flies in the face of every treaty we have with the Belanthrese?”
“Yes, Director,” said Dholztra.
“And yet you’re actually putting it out there,” said his superior, as if to herself. “Tell me this, I heard a report of a data ghost out in the neighborhood of the incident you described. You know anything about that?”
“Just … just that it implies someone with sensor-cancelling tech was on the scene,” said the Inspector.
“Someone?” asked Increalaar. “Or you? Don’t answer that. Just think about what’s best for the homeworld. And I hasten to point out that we can’t mention the Belanthrese in connection to this explosion, unless we can truthfully claim blind adherence to the rule of law on our end.”
“Understood, Ma’am,” said Dholztra.
“Good,” said the Director. “I’m glad we agree. Now tell me how you want me to coordinate our investigation of this bombing.”
To Dholztra, it was like waking up inside a dreamscape, in which every one of his insights was validated, his suggestions were implemented and his instincts were sharper than at any time in his career. Stranger still, the sound of the Director’s voice kept echoing in his mind, long after they broke contact. What was that sensation?
Only a jerk falls in love with appreciation, he scolded himself. Might as well start dating my service awards.
Increalaar was simply an inspirational leader who knew how to bring out the best in her operatives. Every one of her comments had the tone and intent of Apollonian justice, nothing more nor less. Her valuation of him was simply an honest testament to his skill and expertise — and was anything but personal. But though he acknowledged that line of logic, it nevertheless proved a tad too thin to rein in his wandering thoughts.
Fortunately, his tangled ego was soon spared further self-inflicted wounds. Because events swept on like a tidal wave and washed away every scrap of pointless longing from his mind. In mere days, his police investigation of the explosion gave way to an interdisciplinary effort to save lives and preserve as much of the existing infrastructure as possible. Thanks to state-of-the-art self-repair systems and CityHive’s extensive network of psychiatric social workers, the city of Kuzdrohna might have eventually moved on from the explosion’s horrific aftermath. That is, if the humans hadn’t struck again.
For it was only about ten days later that a network of ground-based lase canons had vaporized the Djalethan bridge. Somehow, militants had learned that the bridge’s magclad shielding was shut down to streamline structural repairs.
Answers were scarce, but Dholztra’s money was on a silent, dissident faction in CityHive. Only somebody close to the Kuzdrohna Corps of Engineers could have offered that piece of candy to the terrorists.
“Who’s behind this?” asked Commissioner Olithcraz. “Don’t bother, everybody has an unsubstantiated theory. By the way, Director Increalaar thinks highly of you. Keep it up. If we live through this you might be headed for better things than hanging around with street scum informants.”
At the moment, however, “if” was the operative word. For now, reports of an organized army of a good twenty-thousand humans were coming in from every direction. Some images flying across the newsnets showed automatic particle-gun fire augmented by drone support and transmat bombs. None of those weapons were among the wreckage the humans had left behind when they fled.
So where in the moons of Ventral had these heavy arms and munitions come from? Certainly not the human homeworld. Word was, internal strife was throwing the humans backward at the Speed of Stupidity. Despite his years on the force, Dholztra couldn’t fathom what made the bipeds so self-destructive.
In any case, whatever had sparked the recent uptick in violence on Nolatre, one thing was clear. Only a tight-knit faction of traitors could have supplied the humans with so many shiny toys. No way even the slickest Belanthrese could have sneaked a cache of lase cannon past spaceport security, even with transmat tech. By the look of it, Nolatrid anarchists had infiltrated every branch of government, from his local ward on up. That meant that a significant cadre of anarchists within SWARM had recently flipped over from Armchair Radical to Full-time Lunatic.
In a situation like this, the detective was forced to wish he would find no more clues. Because even if he stumbled on a motherlode of incriminating evidence, who could he entrust it to?
But as much as he wished to opt out of the fray, it wasn’t meant to be. Trouble found him, as it always did — this time in the form of a trembling supplicant.
It was after another long day of fieldwork, supervisory badgering, and gruesome morgue duty with the forensics team that Dholztra heard human footsteps following him home for the first time. His eight limbs trembling, he put his right front hands on the pair of lase pistols he kept in separate holsters and spun around in the cold, dark air.
“What’re you after, Biped?” he snarled. But the voice that greeted him was soft, civilized — anything but threatening.
“Please, wait,” said the voice.
Dholztra’s multifaceted eyes tingled in the glare of the crude LED light his follower had switched on — to reveal a young human female. Unlike most bipeds the detective had seen, this one was clean and wearing fresh clothes that Dholztra assumed were in the style of the human homeworld. How was this possible? The Red Disk affixed to her khaki blouse, above her right mammary gland told the whole story. This was, in theory at least, one of The Good Ones.
The Disk also explained why she spoke halfway decent Nolatrid. Between the lessons the Red Disk program had given her and the chance to come out of the shadows, she’d obviously come a long way.
“Are you Dholztra?” she asked.
“What if I am?” asked the Inspector.
“Halfoorn told me you’d say that,” the young woman said.
“How do you know Halfoorn?” asked Dholztra.
“Does it matter?” asked the human. “I have intel on the bombing and Halfoorn said you wouldn’t believe it coming from him.”
“It matters, if you expect me to believe you,” said Dholztra. “You have a name?”
The young woman brushed a shock of reddish brown hair out of her eyes.
“Sorry,” she said. “I’m Imogen, Nyles’ sister — the man you asked Halfoorn about.”
“The one who’s accepting contraband weapons from the Belanthrese?” asked Dholztra. “Nice family. What’s your cut?”
Imogen’s eyes misted over.
“You don’t … it’s not like that,” she said. “Nyles is in over his head. He thinks he’s a rebel leader but he’s just … well, do you have puppets on your world?”
“Familiar with the concept,” said Dholztra. His limited contact with humans made her hard to evaluate. Were the tears a sign of genuine emotion, or of a cynical deception? The phenomenon was unknown to Nolatrids, who lacked tear ducts altogether. His kind showed their emotions through a complex language of scents too subtle, he figured, for Imogen’s ugly nostrils.
For some reason he was inclined to trust her, but the case-hardened detective in him knew it was too early for that.
“Nyles …” said Imogen. “He’s been out of his head ever since our father was killed by a CityHive patrol unit. Trouble was, Dad liked his freedom. He insisted on hiking around like he owned the planet. He ended up in a restricted area by mistake and … anyway, now Nyles thinks teaming up with the Belanthrese will get him some kind of justice. But the Belanthrese he’s dealing with.…”
“They have their own agenda, I take it,” said Dholztra.
“Halfoorn says they’re a fringe group,” said Imogen. “They want Belanthrese to stay ‘pure’ whatever that means and, I guess, break off all interstellar treaties.”
“Starting a war is one way to do it,” said Dholztra.
“Maybe,” said the human, “but I don’t give a rat’s ass about politics. I only care about Nyles and … and they’ve promised to take us all back to Earth if he does what they ask.”
“You think they would?” asked Dholztra.
“Why would they bother,” asked Imogen, “once Nyles and the others give them what they want? Besides, I hate to say it, but I don’t think EarthGov wants us back at this point. Last time anybody got through to our homeworld, they got a pretty cool reception. Rumor is, the defeat you handed us pretty much wrecked our economy. Each one of the ships you destroyed cost us a fortune. Well, it’s not like we didn’t deserve it.”
Dholztra looked up from Imogen’s soft, human eyes which, despite how alien they were to him, were strangely moving. He took a deep breath in the night air and suddenly realized, he’d been standing out in the open for several minutes with a human fugitive he should have arrested for breaking curfew.
Just lucky the streets are empty this time of night he told himself.
“Let’s get some cover.” he said.
“No,” said Imogen. “I can’t stay out much longer — and I don’t want you getting in trouble. I just need to know: can you help me bring Nyles back to his senses before he does something really horrible?”
“Like blowing up ten city blocks or disintegrating a bridge?” asked Dholztra. “Too late for that. Look, Miss, even if I believed the story you’ve laid out with no evidence, what do you expect me to do about it? I’m not running this planet, and the worse this situation gets, the less I’m even running my own department.”
“But I’ve told you….” said Imogen.
“Nothing,” said Dholztra. “Nothing I can use. Most I can do, is keep my eyes open. But here’s the thing. If your brother’s out to blow stuff up, supposedly to make a point, there’s not too much anyone can do to talk him out of it. Do yourself a favor. Get back to Humantown before the patrol finds you out this late. And tell Halfoorn not to bother me unless he has some hard evidence. Can you do that?”
Imogen bowed her head and her shoulders shook in a gesture Dholztra found particularly alarming. Was she about to explode? Instead she looked up again at him, sobbing, and held out a data cylinder.
“Halfoorn … he said you’d say that too,” she said. “So here. Here’s the data he gave me. I don’t even know what’s on it, except he told me it would give you enough evidence to arrest Nyles. Maybe … maybe if he’s in jail he’ll stay out of trouble until this is over.”
Dholztra stared at her for a minute and then reached out for the cylinder.
“OK,” he said. “I’ll take a look. But you listen to me: Nothing is ever over. What your brother started is going to play out for a long time. A lot of humans are gonna get it in the neck no matter what I do. Understand?”
“Yeah,” said Imogen. “I know. Thanks. Halfoorn said you’d be fair. Guess I owe him one.”
“So how can I reach you?” asked the weary detective.
“Found you the first time, didn’t I?” asked Imogen. “You’ll see me again when there’s more to say. I can’t be seen with you too often and expect to live. Although, come to think of it, I’m not sure it matters anymore.”
She spun around on the soles of her canvas shoes and ran off into the darkness.
“Crazy,” Dholztra muttered. “What the quark do I care about a crazy human?”
All the same, he turned back to his precinct station, flashed his badge at the AI-controlled sensor array and rode the maglev lift up to his fifth-floor office. He lit up his work station, dropped in Imogen’s data cylinder and hit PLAY.
The video that scrolled across his holosplay was grainy, but clear enough to a practiced eye. It showed a night time rendezvous between a human and a Belanthrese similar to the one he’d witnessed himself days before. Only this time a third party lurked in the background. But … it couldn’t be.
Dholztra smacked his ovoid head with all four hands. Was that really Commissioner Olithcraz?
“Can’t believe this!” he shouted, in spite of himself. The next second his comlink buzzed like a micro fusion pile on the brink of a meltdown.
“Believe it, Detective,” said a decidedly human voice on the other end of the line.
“Who the spinning pulsar are you and how did you bug my office?” asked Dholztra.
“You’ve been bugged?” said the voice. “Ain’t that just adorable. Now listen, you two- quark loser. Your investigation’s over. Increalaar is as good as dead. And if you’re smart you’ll take the next colony shuttle out to AstroNest 3 and start a new life for yourself. Your girlfriend’s already waiting for you.”
“You … You’ve got Treldraah?” asked Dholztra.
“Only one way to find out,” said the voice. “When you get there, just tell them Brian sent you. You can thank me later. Things are gonna get hot around here real fast.”
The comlink went dead and Dholztra’s heart sank. If the humans could tap into a secure CityHive comlink and wire his office for sound, they were getting help from the top echelons of Nolatrid society. If the detective had been a mammal, he’d have been sweating bullets. As it was, he nearly jumped out of his own exoskeleton when his comlink buzzed again.
“Dholztra? It’s me, Halfoorn,” said Dholztra’s main informant. “You better get down here. That Red Disk I sent you got herself cut up real bad.”
Five minutes later, the seasoned detective was back out on the street hurtling down to Bak Reltoor in the upgraded ground car he’d recently acquired from Headquarters. This time, there’d be no data ghosts and, if Imogen was dead, no mercy.
Mark Laporta is the acclaimed author of the Changing Hearts of Ixdahan Daherek series and the new novel, Probability Shadow, which was published in October by Chickadee Prince Books, available now in paperback or ebook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or at a bookstore near you.
Design by Steven S. Drachman, from an original image from BeFunky.