Greenwald leaned forward. “My client would like to exercise his Fifth Amendment rights.”
“No, it’s okay,” I said.
“Look, we never actually committed a crime.”
Jansen sneered. “Really? Sounds to me like a conspiracy to obstruct justice.”
“Things aren’t black and white.” I straightened to my full seated height. “I knew Johnson was trouble when I walked in. I needed to get him out of the office, and that was the fastest way to do it. I did not have any intention of actually dealing with him.”
“Explain to me how that works.”
I flexed my fingers. “See this? My cyberlimbs are controlled by RKC-supplied chips running on an RKC-developed operating system. If I said ‘no’ straight out, what would stop Johnson from activating a remote kill switch? Or planting a virus?”
“You were afraid of Johnson, then.”
“Absolutely. I was afraid he could sabotage my limbs if I’d refused.”
“Why didn’t you tell the police?”
“You know he got me into the morgue. What kind of pull do you think he has?”
Jansen snorted. “You really believe all that?”
Greenwald nodded. “If a megacorp can get a private individual into a morgue, what kind of power do they not have?”
“Then how do you know I’m not working for Johnson, eh?”
“Two reasons,” I said. “First, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. RKC wants to keep things quiet. If you’re in their pocket, I’d be walking.”
“And the second?”
“Subsequent events made RKC irrelevant.”
I don’t know how he did it, but Johnson arranged the autopsy for two in the afternoon. At the morgue, when I told the receptionist my name, she directed Alex and me straight to the changing room and the adjacent autopsy suite. Without a police escort, contrary to standard procedure.
The medical examiner was a Dr. Itzen Rosch. Achizotzes communicate emotions mainly through pheromones and ultrasonic hums, but I sensed the hostility behind her surgical mask.
“You the contractors?” Rosch asked.
“Yeah,” Alex said. “And you must be the medical examiner.”
“Yes. Which means I’m in charge here. What I say goes. This is my autopsy, and I won’t have civvies mucking it up.”
“We won’t get in your way,” I said.
“I also noticed there aren’t any cops to get in yours.”
“We’ll behave,” Alex promised.
Rosch snorted, and went to work. Switching on the digital recorder, she ran through a formal recital of time, date, people present, and other details. Then she pulled back the sheet covering the corpse of Gerald Vandemeer.
Kantun’s description was spot-on. Rosch sneaked a glance at us.
“Messy,” Alex said.
I snorted. “Meh. Inefficient.”
Rosch seemed disappointed, but Alex and I had seen and dealt harder deaths in the Near East.
“This is an official autopsy,” she said. “Kindly keep your comments to yourself.”
She picked up her medical instruments and went to work.
“The cause of death appears to be exsanguination through the neck wound, coupled with severe blunt force trauma to the skull. The other injuries were conducted postmortem, including removal of internal organs.”
She launched into a technical explanation that went over my head, before examining the fatal wounds.
“The neck wound appears to be caused by a right-handed individual slashing the throat from behind with a large knife. The head trauma suggests a strong right-handed individual smashed a heavy object repeatedly against the back of the occipital bone, cracking it open. These signs indicate that the murder was an execution.”
When she got around to opening the skull, I said, “The decedent has a neural chip implanted in his brain. Is it present?”
Rosch felt around. “No. In addition to the insult caused by the head injury, the brain has suffered tears consistent with the forcible removal of an implant. Like a neural chip.”
“Maybe the slicing and dicing was a way to distract the police from its removal,” Alex said.
Rosch lifted her shoulders and spread her arms wide, the achizotz equivalent of a shrug. “I’m not the investigator.”
Rosch moved on to Rowan’s autopsy. Same cause of death, but no neural chip extraction. As Rosch wrapped up, I said, “I need DNA samples from the bodies.”
She crossed her arms. “Why?”
“I want to conduct a séance.”
“You can’t do that without a court order.”
Alex grinned. “One court order coming up.”
He pulled his Apple iCast smartscroll from his pants pocket, unfurling it to its full length. He pressed his thumb against the home button, letting it read his fingerprint. The smartscroll chimed, and he brought it to Rosch’s eye.
She took the device, scrolled down the screen and returned the iCast with a human-like sigh. “Very well. Take your samples. The casting point is over there.”
She pointed at a metal tile in the middle of the room, its surfaces etched with generic mana-enhancement glyphs.
Extending my left metal-and-polymer arm, I passed my hand over the bodies, feeling for the lingering traces of a victim’s soul. Of their mana.
I couldn’t sense anything from Vandemeer’s corpse. With a body this damaged, I wasn’t expecting much. There was a time when I could conjure the souls of months-old dead from a fragment of bone, but that was before the surgeries. Before the blasts.
Stella Rowan’s body was something else. A slight spark ran down my dead fingers, touching the remains of my soul-body. Elves tended to have a greater affinity for mana. Like most elves she was likely a Tier Five, a sensitive. Enough to sense mana and derive passive magical benefits, not enough to pass an Academy entrance exam, much less use magic. There was enough mana left in her to call her back.
I borrowed a pair of scissors and snipped off a few strands of hair, gingerly placing the hair in the central glyph of the casting tile. I stripped my gloves and washed my hands at the sink in the room. When I was ready, I charged the circle with mana, creating a barrier that mere shades could not cross.
Settling into the lotus position, I placed my palms on my knees, lifted my head and said, “Stella Rowan! I call to you across the Void! Stella Rowan! I seek your last words on this Earth! Stella Rowan! Come to us in peace and deliver your testimony!”
With a flash of light, she returned. Pale and translucent, dressed in a white frock, the soul of Stella Rowan gasped, looking around the room.
“Where am I?” she asked. “Who are you?”
“My name is Dominic Lee,” I replied. “I’ve been hired to look into your murder.”
“Murder? I…I…” She sighed. “It really happened, didn’t it?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“I thought…I thought it was just a nightmare. One I could wake up from. But I didn’t. Where, how, I—It’s cold. Dark. I—”
“Focus, Stella. Look at me.”
She did. A tear trickled down her cheek. “I’m…dead. And there’s no Summerland. It’s so…dark. So—”
“Stella, listen. The Summerland exists, you just took a wrong turn. I can send you there, but you have to help me.”
“Tell me about your murder.”
She shrieked. Rosch winced and recoiled, her hands flying to cover her ultra-sensitive ears. Alex did, too. I tried, but I heard her voice full-force in my mind, jarring my insides.
“Those bastards! Why did they kill me?!”
“Stella, that’s what I want to find out,” I said soothingly, adding a touch of compulsion magic. “Help me find them.”
She blinked, wiped her eyes, and nodded. “What do you need to know?”
“Tell me the first thing you remember.”
“I was with Gerald,” she said, straightening, her chin jutting out. Maybe she was daring me to comment. “We were on the bed…but that isn’t important. I remembered hearing the door unlock. When I looked up I saw four people enter my apartment.”
“What can you tell me about them?”
“Two were werewolves. Male. There was a…a troll, too. Female. They were all cyborgs; their auras were…dim. Like yours. And the last…he was a human. Gifted. His aura shone.”
He was likely the one I’d sent the sylphs after.
“What else do you remember?”
“They had…they had guns. Big ones.”
“What kind of guns?”
“Handguns.” She threw her hands up. “I don’t know, I’m not an expert.”
“That’s fine. What else do you remember about them?”
“I…I don’t know. It was too fast.”
“You’re doing fine. What did they do after they came in?”
“They pointed them at us and ordered us off the bed. Gerald told them to go fuck themselves.” She grinned. “The troll said, ‘You have something we want. Just hand it over and we’ll leave.’”
“Did they know each other?”
“No, not really. Gerald said, ‘Who are you?’ The troll replied, ‘I work for Mr. Gramzin. He wants his property.’ Gerald got mad, but he said, ‘Don’t hurt Stella. She’s not involved in this.’
“Gerald got off the bed. I was going to, but one of the werewolves grabbed me and pushed me to the floor. I looked up and saw Gerald hand over his briefcase to the troll.”
“What’s in the briefcase?”
“His laptop. He always carries it around.”
“Okay, what happened next?”
“The troll gave it to the human. Then she said, ‘See? That wasn’t so difficult. You should have played ball when you had the chance.’ Gerald said, ‘So what happens now?’ The troll walked around him and said, ‘Close your eyes and look down. We’re leaving.’
“I had this…sense that she was lying. I tried to look at her, but the werewolf forced my head down. He told me not to move. Then I heard this…horrible…gurgling sound. I wanted get back up again, but I felt a sharp pain in my throat. Then blood spilled all over me. Next thing I knew, I was…well…”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’ll find them. I promise.”
Her voice dripped venom. “Make them pay. I want…I want them to die. You understand? For what they did to me. And Gerald.”
“I understand.” Standing up, I took a full, deep breath. “Stella Rowan, thank you for your testimony. Our time is done. Go now in peace. The Summerland awaits.”
I spread my arms and fed more mana into the glyphs. A rift between planes opened behind her, spilling warm light. Stella smiled, made a small wave, and the light engulfed her. The portal closed with a sharp CRACK.
“Where’d she go?” Rosch asked.
“A better place.”
For more tales of magic, fantasy and high tech, check out my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.
To stay updated on my latest stories, news and promotions, sign up for my newsletter here.