Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

There’s a gun lying at my feet. A real, projectile firing antique. I’ve never seen one. They’re archaic. Brutal. A weapons system from a century marked by inequality, violence and lies.

My eye tracks from the gun to a pale hand, stark against the pool of blood it lies in. It’s a gruesome scene: nine dead, all gunned down before being mutilated with a cleaver, regardless of whether they were dead or wounded. I may not have had to run outside to puke, but this place will scar my nightmares for a long time.

Detective Urman crouches amidst the carnage, eyes flicking faster than its phalanges flicking across the datapad on its elongated wrist.

“Drenden.”

I come to attention and remain silent, as my protocol software refuses to cope with Erglorian etiquette, let alone Erglorian Law Enforcement protocols.

“Our investigators are strictly informal, Drenden. We have found that military discipline in investigative hierarchies can be counterproductive. Therefore, call me Lagni. Also, you may consider me female for all purposes necessitating human gender labels. Now, shall we address this murder suicide?”

Looking about, I can’t see the suicide. Nine bodies, some in several pieces, but they all add up. We have a maniac with a penchance for twentieth century slaughter. I am thinking more of a metropolis-wide alert.

“With respect, ma’am, we should issue a warning.”

The not-quite-humanoid biped straightens up and tilts ‘her’ horned head: “An honorific. Something I would be erudilened for at home.”

“Eroodil- what, ma’am?”

“Nothing of relevance. Returning to topic: justify your assessment.”

“Nine down, all victims without affiliation bar family. We have an insane being with a thing for primitive human killing gear.”

“I disagree. We have nine victims, and a left hand from a tenth individual with no immediate connection. She wants us to think we have a roaming killer.”

I look at the hand in the pool of blood, then at the teenage body missing it.

“That is the conclusion we are expected to draw. Look at the dust.”

There is always dust stirred up by frenetic events. Like everything, it is subject to gravity. Which is why, now it’s pointed out, the prevalence of dark grey dust sprinkling the pool of blood is unusual. Unless –

“Nanocremator?”

Delicate horns dip in my direction: “That would be my deduction. Along with maniacal resolve.”

She’s right. Nanocremation is agonising. It is a favoured torture method of –

“Triarth.”

Lagni consults her datapad, then nods: “Valid. Next?”

I’m ahead of her. My datapad displays the sad story. Dead papa has a brother. Brother has a son. Son has just betrayed a Triarth smuggling route onto this world.

“Punishment killing by one of Triarth’s ‘Invisibles’- and nanocremation probably explains how they got that name. The execution would only be recognisable to those in the know. Law enforcement wastes resources looking for a non-existent lunatic. The severed hand will have a single-use nanocontroller in the index finger and the power unit at the base of the thumb.”

Lagni steps carefully across the mess with a disturbingly boneless stride.

Standing in front of me, she smiles: “I deduce from your tone when pronouncing ‘Triarth’ that seeking further culpable beings will be futile. Therefore, I propose that we submit our case closure reports from somewhere I can indulge in a selection of wonderful human edibles. You are welcome to assist me in doing damage to my expense account.”

I nod: “Detective Lagni, there are privacy booths at the Hawk and Star. Let me introduce you to the best restaurant west of Finugarl Spaceport.”

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