Read on below for an extract from Philip Palmer’s energetic and innovative Version 43.
I was in a cheerful mood. The sky was a rich blue. The twelve moons of Belladonna shone, it seemed to me, like globes on a Christmas tree in the daytime sky. I could smell heliotropes, growing in banks beside the moving walkways, and orchids and lilies and peonies growing in baskets that hovered above the pedestrian boulevard.
I was one day old. I would, my database warned me, grow more jaded with the passage of time. But for the moment, life felt good.
It was a short walk from the spaceport to the crime scene. I was in constant subvocal contact with the Sheriff, Gordon Heath, and the crime-scene photos scrolled in front of my eyes as I walked. But the air was fresh, and the heliotropes and the orchids and the lilies and the peonies were fragrant, as were the roses and the summer lilacs and cut grass in the parkland that led off the boulevard. A woman was sunbathing naked on the grass, and I registered her distant beauty, and felt a faint stirring of remembered regret.
Then I walked on, another five blocks. Most of the citizens were using the moving walkways, twin rivers on either side of the pedestrian thoroughfare. Flybikes and flying cars zoomed above me, rather lower than was prudent or indeed (I checked this on my database) legal. The Belladonnans, I noted, dressed soberly but elegantly. Many of the men had grey or black waistcoats and ornate buckled belts and armoured jackets. The women tended to wear long silver or gold or scarlet dresses and high-heeled boots, apart from the courtesans who wore jewelled gowns.
“I’m Sheriff Heath.”
“I’m aware of your identity,” I said. I was now at the crime scene, and I filtered out my olfactory sensations to focus on the case.
“Pleased to meet you too,” the Sheriff chided, and I registered the hint of irony but decided it would be politic to ignore it.
The Sheriff and I were standing outside a twelve-storey hotel made of black brick. Police officers had cordoned off the area with holos proclaiming POLICE and MURDER SCENE – KEEP AWAY. The citizens on the moving walkways gawped at the sight, secretly thrilled (or so I posited) at the glimpse of terror that had passed them by.
“Sheriff, feel free to call me Luke,” I added, in a belated attempt to build a rapport.
In fact, “Luke” was not and never had been my name.
“Sure, I’ll do that. ‘Luke’.”
This time, there was open scorn in the lawman’s tone, but I chose to ignore that subtextual nuance also.
Sheriff Heath, I noted, looked shockingly old – too old perhaps for cosmetic rejuve? – though his body was fit and strong. He was bald, heavily wrinkled, with a grey walrus moustache and peering blue eyes. I had been impressed at the diverse range of his bio: soldier, pirate, artist, scientist and bartender. Now, he was Sheriff of the Fourth Canton of Lawless City.
The holograms of the crime scene didn’t do justice to its horror. Blood and human flesh spattered the walls and ceilings. A screaming severed head swam in a pool of blood on the bed. And inside the mouth, which gaped unnaturally large, was a human heart, squeezed and squirted. It was evident that multiple murders had occurred, and that the killings had all been frenzied.
I switched on my decontam forcefield and hovered back and forth a centimetre above the ground. I used my finger-tweezers to take samples of blood and flesh, and carefully counted and collated the scattered limbs and organs in order to make a tally of the corpses. (Final count: five, of which two were male, three female.) The chaotic dispersal of body parts at this crime scene was far from typical: I found two legs and all five livers in the wardrobe and a pair of hands and six eyes underneath the floor panels in the kitchen, and the entrails of all the corpses were enmeshed and interconnected to form effectively a vast colon. In addition, one set of lungs had fallen under the bed.
At one point I glanced behind, and was startled to see that the Sheriff was pale and looked nauseous.
“Murder weapon?” I asked.
“We found nothing. We don’t know what could have done this.”
“Plasma beam? Samurai sword?”
I looked closer. I’d assumed that the heart in the mouth of the severed head on the bed had been inserted by a psychopathic ritual killer. But an eyeball-tomograph told me that the heart was actually occupying the space normally reserved for a tongue, and was organically connected to the throat. I took pinprick microsamples and analysed the DNA, and found that the DNA in the head’s staring eyeballs didn’t match the DNA of the head itself, and neither was a match for the heart. I then performed a dissection of the heart, and found, inside it –
– an erect penis.
For the first time in many years, I wished I could desire to vomit.
“What is this?” I marvelled.
“Our best guess,” said the Sheriff. “These bodies were quantum teleported, and got jumbled up along the way. That’s why we called you in. A quantum teleport weapon, we ain’t never hearda such a thing. So we reckoned, must be banned technology, your kinda can of worms.”
“Amongst other things. Do we have any idea who these victims are?”
“I recognise this one,” the Sheriff said, gesturing at the severed staring head.
“Who is it?”
“It’s my son,” the Sheriff said, barely a quaver in his voice.
I processed that fact for a few moments, and decided not to comment on the horrific coincidence.
“His name?”“Alexander. Alexander Heath. We didn’t get on so well. He was a stubborn bastard, just like me.”
“What gang did he work for?”
“He was clean. He was a doctor at the City Hospital. Two convictions for violence as a boy, but they were gang-related mano a manos, and since then, he’s lived the pure life.”
“What about you? Do you have enemies?”“None. I’m corrupt as hell. No one could fall out with me.”
I processed this too; it tallied with all my data. I nodded.
“I’ve identified two men, including your son, and three women. Could they be colleagues?” I asked.
“Worth checking out.”
I checked it out, cross-referencing the DNA of the corpses against the City Hospital personnel records.
“They’re all medics,” I said, a few seconds later. “In addition to your son, the corpses are: Andrei Pavlovsky, Jada Brown, Sara Limer, Fliss Hooper. Know them?”
“Fliss was my son’s girl. Pretty as hell. He thought I was hitting on her; that was one of our fallings out.”
“In my dreams. She was a looker.”
“Did you love your son?”
I felt an emotion inside myself, and identified it, and marvelled at its richness and its power:
It was Rage.