A/N – There was a special commissioned interlude posted yesterday focusing on the 10 main prisoners of Gehenna. If you haven’t seen that yet, you can find it right here
The first murder, the one that wasn’t Valdean himself, had apparently taken place in one of the sauna rooms. As the elevator doors opened after another thirty-second trip, we found ourselves at one end of a hallway. The entire way down the corridor, on the right-hand side, were an assortment of doors, which apparently led to changing rooms for various sexes and species body types. Sitter led us through one of those locker rooms, which looked basically like any other though meant for only ten people at most, and with oversized benches and lockers that were clearly meant for beings averaging ten feet tall.
“What about cameras in this place?” I asked as we were moving through the room. “I don’t suppose it’s as easy as checking those?”
“Master Valdean did not put cameras in the vault,” came the answer. “He did not want his guests to feel as though they were being spied on.”
The rest of us exchanged glances at that. It was understandable, of course. But boy would it have helped right now.
“This is the one that poor Sir Mophse used,” the robot informed us a moment later, gesturing to one of the large lockers. “That is where he left his clothes, wallet, and watch. Master Valdean took the items out and examined them, but found nothing of interest. He put the items back so any future investigator could see them as they were.” His mouth lights shifted from light green to blue as he regarded us. “I suppose that would be all of you. Would you like to see his belongings, or visit the body itself first?”
Basically every single one of us blurted some equivalent of, “Let’s see his belongings.” Apparently despite our brave words about wanting to solve these murders, none of us were exactly eager to go and look at the body. Which might have seemed weird coming from some of us who had caused plenty of death already, but still. It just felt like there was a difference between killing someone in the heat of battle, mostly to protect ourselves or others, and seeing someone who had been coldly murdered. I especially didn’t like the idea of taking Dakota and Denny in a place like that. Not with their own histories. The second one of them said they didn’t want to be there anymore, I was planning on pulling them out. Hell, I felt guilty about even taking them this far. But they wanted to help, and it felt like telling them no would have made things worse. Besides, both of them had… well, some form of experience, even if it was second-hand in Denny’s case, with the whole murder thing. There might be something in one of the scenes that they noticed.
So, we all stood there and watched as Sitter input the code for the locker and tugged it open. Then we looked through the contents. As promised, it was just a pair of pants, a shirt, shoes, and underwear, along with a watch. There was nothing especially unique about them, aside from the fact that they were all meant for a man several feet taller than a normal human. We searched through the pockets and checked the wallet and watch for anything, but it was all just normal stuff. Comically oversized stuff, but normal other than that. He had some sort of identification card that was basically the size of a full sheet of paper. Turning that over, I focused first on his face. He looked like a goofy, friendly guy with slightly too big ears and a narrow face. His skin was light pink, with bright yellow eyes. And he had this silly smile. It sort of reminded me of Wyatt for some reason, which just… made me feel even worse about the fact that he was dead and I’d never get the chance to know him. Which was probably silly, to ascribe that much emotion to a picture, but there it was. It also made me even less excited to go in and see his body.
His name was listed as Mophse Kanter. He was apparently ninety-four Earth years old (it literally said Earth years), and next to that was a second number listed as seventy-five.
“What’s this mean?” I asked curiously, holding that up and pointing to the second number.
Sitter leaned in close to see what I meant, then his mouth lights turned bright purple. “Aha. Well, Lady Flick, the second number on those identification cards refers to what the age of majority for that species would be. The ahh, age of maturation. I believe in ordinary humans these days it is considered to be eighteen?”
That made me do a double-take. “You mean this guy was seventy-five before he was considered an adult, and he died at ninety-four? That’s like a human dying when they’re twenty years old. How long does his species normally live? The ahh–” I checked the card for the species name. “Olleypha?”
Holding those giant pants up in front of herself (covering her entire body in the process), Denny absently replied, “Average lifespan is four hundred and fifty years.” Then she stopped, lowering the pants so we could see her confused face as her head tilted. “Wait, how did I know that?”
“Ahem, you are quite correct, Lady Denny,” Sitter assured her. He sounded curious too. “I do not know why you are able to answer the question, but yes, the average lifespan of an Olleypha is four hundred and fifty years here on Earth or on comparable worlds. They live slightly shorter lives on their own homeworld due to various environmental factors.”
Dakota was staring at Denny, offering a hesitant, “Those have to be memories from you-know-who, right?”
Denny, in turn, visibly flinched. “I–I didn’t learn it from anywhere else. I don’t even remember hearing the name of these guys, or seeing them before. But as soon as you asked how long they lived, I just… wait.” She reached out, taking the oversized ID before squinting at it intently. “Oh. Oh, I remember. There was an Olleypha who was in charge of this sporting goods store and I wan–I mean, I mean he wanted–Ammon wanted–” She stopped short, throwing the ID back to me before turning away with a visibly sick expression. Dakota moved to embrace her from the side and the two took a few steps to the side. Marina joined them, tugging the two further away to sit by one of the large benches to talk quietly. They were gonna need a minute.
Okay, so she had clearly gotten a memory of Ammon doing something horrific to one of these Olleypha people. Something told me my little brother wasn’t exactly short on victims. That would probably happen more than once. Which was just… just another reason to hate Fossor.
Sighing heavily, I turned to the others just as Sesh quietly spoke up. “What’s this?” She had apparently found a folded up piece of paper in the man’s enormous shoe. Unfolding it to its full, nearly two-foot-wide size, she showed us what it said. First, there was a short sentence in some language I couldn’t understand. Largely because half the letters just looked like completely random shapes. And the ones that did resemble the alphabet I was accustomed to had unfamiliar additions, like a capital Q that had a tail on both sides and a smaller circle in the middle. I was pretty sure it wasn’t any Earth language. Below that sentence was a date and time that actually were written in English. March thirteenth, four-thirty pm.
Sitter regarded that before promptly replying, “Assuming this was meant to be the same year as Sir Mophse’s death, that date would have been two days afterward.”
“Can you read the rest of it?” I asked, focusing on the unfamiliar language once more. “It’s probably Olleyphan language, or whatever they call it.”
Sitter, however, shook his head. “I assure you, I am quite fluent with all forty-three still-living languages from the Olleyphan homeworld. This bears no resemblance to any of them. Nor am I capable of deciphering it using any of the remaining five thousand, four hundred, and eighty-two languages that were programmed into me. I have no idea what this could mean.”
“I wish Avalon was here,” I muttered, “She’s got that language deciphering power from that guy on the prison world.”
Sesh was grimacing. “So hold on, he had a note in his shoe with a sentence in a language that even the super-translating robot dude can’t understand, and a listed date for two days after he was murdered. Wait, did Valdean find that note?”
“He should’ve,” I murmured. “You said he took that stuff out and examined all of it, and that paper wasn’t exactly hard to find. Did he show it to you? You know, so you could try to decipher it then?”
“No, Ladies Sesh and Flick,” came the simple response. “Master Valdean never requested that I attempt to decipher that note, nor did I witness him find it. But he did not search the belongings in my presence. He wished for me to attend to the still-living guests at the time, and assure them that everything would be fine. You are correct, however. I believe he would have had to locate the note with only a cursory examination. As I said, he put everything back the way he found it for any future investigation.”
Taking that in, I brought back a bit on my heels thoughtfully. “Doesn’t it seem like he’d want his robot assistant, who speaks over five thousand languages, to see if he could read what’s on that note? Unless–”
“Unless he already knew what it said,” Sesh abruptly put in, showing her teeth. “But how would he know what it said if Sitter here doesn’t understand it? He’s the one who programmed you, right?”
“Which would mean he speaks it but deliberately didn’t program you with the knowledge,” Marina added. She had come back with both other girls, who were standing slightly behind her. “Why would he do that unless it was something he didn’t want you to know?”
“It does seem a little odd that he’d program that many languages into you without adding this one,” I tentatively agreed, looking at Sitter directly. “Either he didn’t understand it and chose not to–wait, we’re being dumb.” My head shook. “He programmed you, so he’d know exactly what languages you understand. If he could tell this was a language he didn’t program into you, of course he wouldn’t ask you to decipher it.”
“That would follow logically,” Sitter confirmed, before adding, “Except I will say that he was not the only one to program languages into me. He did not speak all of them himself, and thus had much of that outsourced to others. My language database was transferred through three dozen experts in order to be prepared to assist with the needs of any guest who might have entered our facility.”
Marina shook her head with a glance my way. “It was a good thought, anyway.”
A heavy exhale escaped me. “Right, good thought. Except now we’re back to, ‘he could have asked Sitter to translate but didn’t, so he either knew what it said already, or he chose not to let his robot assistant see the note for some reason.’”
We didn’t get anything else useful out of searching the locker or his belongings. So we took the note and identification card with us while reluctantly heading to see the actual crime scene. Sitter led us to a doorway at the back of the room, leading to a separate hall parallel opposite from the first one. On the far side of the hall was a large set of double doors leading into a pool area. Or rather, pools. The doors were opened, and I could see six different varying sized swimming pools. The smallest was only about ten feet long and a few feet deep, the next one up was slightly over Olympic-sized, and they got bigger from there. The largest one would have been the equivalent of that second size for someone as tall as Mophse himself. Needless to say, the room itself was gigantic, stretching off into the distance. If Valdean had gone to this much trouble to have different-sized swimming pools for his guests, wow. This place was clearly meant to be comfortable for a lot of varyingly-shaped people. It was impressive, to say the least.
But that wasn’t our destination, so we just took a moment to look that way before continuing on down the hall. There were more doors further on, all of different sizes as well. These led to places like the saunas. Three of those had holographic symbols projected over the doors. Numbers, it looked like.
Seeing my attention turn that way, Sitter explained, “These are the saunas which were occupied when I established the time-lock. The numbers are how many are inside.”
“They’re not gonna be hurt, are they?” Sesh quickly asked. “I mean, that time-lock you’re talking about won’t let them be umm… you know, how you’re not supposed to spend too much time in the heat like that?” She flinched visibly with a quiet, “Dad killed someone like that before. He made me watch.”
Well, that was nice and horrifying. I felt my stomach twist in disgust while Sitter shook his head. “I assure you, Lady Sesh, the timer-lock freezes everything within the room, including any physical effects. When it is released, it will be as if no time has passed. Aside from all the time that has passed.” His head cocked a bit, like he was considering the words he’d just said, before focusing once more. “This way. Sir Mophse was relaxing in the furthest sauna that would accommodate one of his size.”
Yeah, I definitely wasn’t eager to see this. And from the look of the others, neither were they. Dakota and Denny were lagging behind a lot, while Marina kept pace with them. She had tried to tell both that they didn’t need to come along for this, but they insisted. There was clearly a lot of hesitation and fear, yet also firm insistence. They didn’t want to do this, but they were going to anyway. They both wanted to help figure this out. If anything, learning more about Mophse and seeing his face on that ID card had just made them even more determined.
As for the murder scene itself, I had certainly seen far more graphic deaths. I’d caused far more graphic deaths. When Sitter shut off the time-lock using some sort of wi-fi-like connection he had to the main computer and opened the large door, I just saw the man’s body lying there on an oversized bench on the opposite side of the room. He was wearing bright orange swim trunks that clashed horribly with his pink skin. And yet, somehow that just made him seem even more innocent. For a moment, it looked like he was just sleeping. Then I saw the way his throat was partially collapsed. It looked like someone had wrapped something around it to choke the man, crushing his trachea in the process before leaving the body there.
Swallowing hard, I stepped inside and moved to look down at his face. Even in death, he looked like a fun, goofy guy. It made me clench my hand tightly. Who could have done this? Valdean had taken these people in and cared for them. He protected them and gave them this whole place to live and relax in. Who would have murdered Mophse at all, let alone like this? This hadn’t been simple. He wasn’t poisoned and someone didn’t shoot him in the head or even stab him. This seemed personal. This meant that someone had come up behind, wrapped something around his throat, and held it until he died. He would have been thrashing, kicking, fighting to get free or to plead for his life. Whoever had done this had clearly been unaffected by all that. This person was a stone-cold murderer.
With a soft sigh, I closed my eyes and reached out with my Necromancy. For over a minute, I tried to sense any ghost at all, but ended up with nothing. There was no sign of Mophse’s spirit, or anyone else’s.
Dakota silently stepped closer once I told the others I had nothing, staring down at the body from just beside me. I could see the emotions twisting their way through her expression. She was clearly lost in memories of her own family’s night of terror and violence. Finally, she spoke in a soft voice. “They were shorter than him. The… the way the throat’s collapsed, it’s pulled down. Whoever was behind him held the thing up around his throat and pulled back and down on it. It’s–” She blanched, folding her arms tightly across her stomach before quickly turning toward Marina as the older girl came up behind her to embrace the girl tightly. She couldn’t say anything else.
Denny, meanwhile, stepped up on my other side, staring at the body as well. “I think he trusted the person. Look, there’s two towels on the rack over there.” She pointed that way. “One of them looks like it’s big enough for him, but the other one’s smaller, more human-sized. And they’re a little bit apart. Not like one guy taking two towels, more like two guys with separate towels.”
She was right, of course. Two towels, one clearly meant for Mophse himself and the other meant for a human-sized person. Taking that in, I murmured, “And if he was sitting in a sauna with a person like this, it was someone he knew.” My gaze turned to nod in agreement with Denny’s assessment. “It was someone he trusted.”
Sesh, meanwhile, had stepped that way to run her finger close to the very edge of the smaller towel, without actually touching it. “Can we get like umm, DNA or whatever off this? Maybe whoever it was had it wrapped around themselves. It could tell us who they were. Or at the very least, which species they are.”
Unfortunately, Sitter scanned the towel before shaking his head. His mouth lights dimmed to a very soft orange. “I am sorry, the towel is clean aside from Mophse’s own fingerprints. It seems he was the only one who touched it since it was taken from the clean supplies at the far end of this corridor.”
“Probably grabbed the towel for his friend,” I muttered. “The friend who killed him.”
Well, that certainly didn’t do a lot for the mood. We also didn’t find anything else of interest for the moment. And we all wanted to get out of that room. Not that our next destination was going to be that much better. Planning to come back and check the place out again later, we went to see the body of Valdean himself.
As Sitter had told us before, that took us to one of the kitchens. Apparently there were three of them, and this was the smallest. It was the one the guests had used the most when they were just getting something for themselves. Even then, however, the room was about three times the size of the kitchen I’d had back at my family’s house in Laramie Falls. There were four different stoves and five microwaves.
Oh, and the body, of course. Valdean was lying on the floor in front of the enormous silver refrigerator, on his side. Unlike the clear choking wounds of the other body, he had a single gunshot in the back of the head. From the sight of that, as well as the tray of food scattered along the floor, it looked like he had been getting a midnight snack or something when someone stepped up behind him and just… shot him. It was far less personal. Maybe they didn’t want to take the time it would require to actually choke him out? Or maybe they were afraid an old Heretic would be able to survive that and even beat them. Speaking of which–
“Did he have any powers that would’ve told him someone was behind him?” I piped up. “Or, uh, you know, should’ve let him survive being shot in the head by a normal gun?”
“It’s not a normal gunshot,” Sesh informed me. She had already stepped over to kneel next to the body, staring at the wound intently. “This is from some sort of powerful laser. Probably bypassed any defenses he had.” Her voice softened. “Dad used those sometimes.”
“Indeed,” Sitter confirmed. “Though Master Valdean would have been aware of someone behind him, he likely would not have seen them as a threat. Even after the murder of poor Mophse, Master Valdean remained quite fond of all his guests. It tore him up to think that one of them could have been Mophse’s killer. He spent a long time attempting to find out if anyone had somehow broken inside. Which, of course, should have been quite impossible. And yet… he wanted to believe that was the answer.”
Right, even after this poor guy had dealt with the murder of one of his guests by another guest, he still tried to believe in them. And what had been his reward for that? Being shot in the back of the head.
Once again, I tried to reach out for any ghosts, especially Valdean’s. But just like the other room, there was nothing. If there had been any spirits here, they were gone by now.
Denny was staring down at the body, clenching her hands tightly. Her voice was quiet, yet firm. “Can we talk to the guests now? I want to find out which one of them did this.”
She was angry, I realized. She had taken in everything we did, learned everything we did, and now she was mad. She wanted to find out who could have betrayed an obvious friend like Mophse, and a nice guy like Valdean, who had taken them all in and cared for them.
So, Sitter turned off the time-lock in every room, and sent a message summoning everyone to the main meeting hall. He made sure to keep the doors leading other places locked and closed off, funneling the whole population of this private vault that way. As far as we knew, none of them would have any idea that this much time had passed. That was going to be a pretty big bomb to drop.
In any case, we took the elevator to the grand meeting room ourselves. It was a theater, basically, and our path took us to the stage itself. Which left our little group standing there next to Sitter, facing an audience of what had to be two or three hundred beings of all shapes, sizes, and colors. I saw some of the same sort of species I had previous experiences with, but also a lot that I didn’t. This was… this was a lot of very unique people, all sitting in chairs that had clearly been carefully designed for them.
They were also all talking amongst themselves, very confused. Especially when they saw us. That prompted a few shouts about Heretics, and a couple of the larger people moved to cover the others, clearly protecting them.
“It’s okay!” I called quickly. “It’s okay, we’re not here to hurt anyone! You’re okay, you’re–” Fuck, I couldn’t say they were safe. Not with an unknown murderer wandering around among them. We really should have planned for this. I’d forgotten what it was like for people who didn’t know the Rebellion was a thing. Or at least didn’t know much about it.
At least these people had spent time around another Boscher. They seemed to accept that easily enough. Which, to be fair, there probably weren’t many loyalist Boschers who would bother to reassure them before going straight to the attempted murder.
Either way, a few shouted out questions about who we were and where Valdean was. Which made me grimace.
Finally, Sitter made a microphone rise from the bottom of the stage, speaking up in front of it so his voice was projected throughout the room. I also heard it echoed moments later from speakers along the walls in various other languages so they would all understand. “Friends! I am… I have arrived with an assortment of terrible news. First and foremost, I am sorry to say that our founder and benefactor, Valdean Ecclestone, has… been murdered.”
Okay, I would’ve chosen to be a bit less blunt about it, personally. Needless to say, that started a huge uproar with most people leaving their seats, shouting questions, and basically demanding to know what had happened. Looking to Denny, I whispered, “Now, before they have a chance to leave or do anything drastic.”
She looked hesitant, of course, but quickly moved that way. Sitter promptly stepped out of the way, as everyone in the room stared at her. Several hundred sets of eyes all staring at her. It had to be a lot of pressure.
And yet, Denny’s voice sounded remarkably clear as she spoke into the microphone. “H-Hello. My name is Denise. If you had anything to do with the murder of Valdean Ecclestone or Mophse Kanter, please do nothing to harm anyone or try to leave the room, and raise your hand.”
I was prepared to get no reaction, in case the person responsible wasn’t actually here. I was also prepared to see one person raise their hand against their will, giving away the truth. What I was not prepared for, however, was what actually happened.
Every single person in the audience raised their hand.