Voices/Future Tense

An Orions’ Arm E-zine

Short Fiction Entry: Ghostkill

When you get the Call, you have to go. Even though he was busy clearing the area and directing the medics and socos, Muligan was called away from the crime scene by a summons from Representative Éimear’s autosecretary. He had to attend in person, apparently; the Representative was holed up in a pavilion behind the ceremonial proscenium arch erected for the arrival of the Ambassador, so she wasn’t too far away. Muligan was tempted to send his virtual avatar, but that would have been seen as disrespectful; after all, the Representative was paying the Invicta Corps to act as security at this gig, and so far they hadn’t made too good a job of it.

Representative Éimear was seated at a temporary table in the backroom; the thin woven graphene walls of the tent-like structure allowed enough hablight in to show that she was angry. In the warm environment of this tropical habitat, humans needed only minimal shelter, a thin wall of translucent woven graphene to keep out the infrequent rain; other species needed even less.

“What are we paying you for, exactly, Zar Muligan?” she fumed. “I invited the Ambassador to this habitat hoping to forge a new trade agreement, and he ends up in the automedic after an assault by one of our local psychopaths. An individual which, I might add, you have signally failed to apprehend on several occasions in the past.”

Muligan used his cyberhalf to reply, as he generally did when speaking in formal situations. His artificial half spoke with a deep, rich, even voice, and could be used to impress or intimidate as the occasion required. Now he merely sounded apologetic, but hopefully sincere. “We engaged the suspect, and terminated his activities before the Ambassador could be assassinated. This can be viewed as a successful outcome in many ways.”

“Yes, I saw that your attempt to terminate his activities. Quite the show of force. But you do not seem to have been completely successful, if at all, judging from the fact that a virtual copy of the attacker was clearly seen running away. I assume that he had a backup ready to make his escape; you will need to find that backup urgently before it does any more damage.”

Muligan remembered the surprised look on the virtual’s face. “I’m not so sure that is what happened, Ma’am; it seemed as much of a shock to him as it was to us. But I’m confident that we will neutralise the copy, if indeed it does pose a threat.”

“Just get it, will you? Intact and responsive, preferably. We would like to know what the reasons for this murderous attack were; and so do the Vedokiklek, I’m sure. I’ve got the second-in-command here, and I don’t think je’s very happy, though it’s hard to tell.”

“With your permission, Ma’am, I’d like to interview the second-in-command if I may. Je might know of some reason for this attack. There is even a remote possibility that this is some sort of conspiracy among their ranks, and this individual might know more about it than we do.”

“I suppose you better had. There’d only be questions asked if you didn’t. You won’t get much joy out of the ‘Klek, though; practically no-one can understand them as it is. Best take Academician Andeson along with you to the interview; he’s our best – our only – expert on the species.” The Representative touched the lapel of her green suit-jacket. ” Academician, would you please join us?” She slumped back in her chair, clearly unhappy with the day’s events.

Muligan continued to stand in front of the Representative’s desk as he waited. Standing was generally a lot easier to manage than sitting, given his unusual bodyplan; almost all his limbs were double jointed in one way or another, but sitting on a chair could look a bit ungainly and undignified. Better to stand up in a formal situation like this, he thought.

On the desk was an antique black-and-yellow paperback book. Muligan’s human eye, which was facing the seated woman, could not read the title at this angle, but his cyberhalf quickly scanned it for him. Ascension for Dummies. Of course; there was a power vacuum to fill; no doubt the Representative would like to become the next transapient in this hab. Muligan felt sure she was not the only one.

At length the ‘expert’, a young-looking human male in academic robes, entered the room through the doorflap. He looked at Muligan curiously.

“How are the ‘Klek reacting to the news, Academician?” asked the Representative.

“It’s very difficult to say- they show no major changes in behaviour, but they display an increased level of maxillo-labial twitching without accompanying verbalisation. I don’t think they are happy.”

“I see. This is Zar Muligan of the Invicta Police Corporation, who is handling the investigation for me. He needs to talk to the Second Sibling for the purposes of that investigation; you had best accompany him, to act as cultural interpreter.”

“I’ll do my best,” said the academician in his thick Edenese accent. “But this species is not well understood; my interpretations might not be of much help.”

“See what you can do,” said the Representative, and dimissed them.

The Academician led Muligan into an adjacent chamber, filled with the peculiar scent of the Vedokiklek. Six or seven individuals were huddled together in a corner like giant locusts. One, identical to the rest, moved forward half a metre; jer head barely came up to Muligan’s waist. The body of the creature was covered in a keratin shell, but je seemed to have a bony endoskeleton as well; je breathed visibly presumably using lungs rather than spiracles. To Muligan it seemed that jer resemblance to an insect was quite superficial.

Andeson spoke. “Second Sibling? I have someone who would like to speak with you.”

The Vedokiklek’s voice sounded like a hundred bees all humming at once. “This is acceptable.”

*****

More about the author, Steve Bowers, here.

Please rate this story, and the other stories in the Short Fiction contest, http://kwiksurveys.com/s.asp?sid=p7vf8sw315mq47u53526>here.

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