The New Order of the Imperium has its Penal Codes defining homicide as being the "unlawful killing of one humanoid by another." This has also been applied to both mutants and clones, but not (as of yet) to androids. Sometimes the term "with malice" is included. This concept serves to distinguish murder from the numerous other occasions in which humanoids deprive each other of life. There have been the two inter-galactic wars, where heroes were made and well rewarded for killing supposed enemies.
"Malice" in the Penal Codes does not have to be from hatred, nor even from ill will towards another sentient being. But it does refer to the deliberate desire to inflict serious injury or cause death. In such acts criminal homicide is often an intimate and personal affair. And indeed, most murder victims are killed by close relatives, friends or acquaintances. Other humanoids that they know well.
In the Terran Colony on Erda as many as ninety percent of all criminal homicides are solved. The assailant is usually identified and apprehended. And the finding of guilt or innocence is then up to the colonial court system. It is always personally rewarding to bring the guilty ones to justice. But the unsolved murders also include the ever so guilty attackers. Those males and females who remain alive and intact on the Erdan planet, unidentified, un-accused, unpunished and unbelievably unrepentant.
My name is Pearsen, and I’m one of those colonists who try to solve such crimes. I’ve worked with the Imperium Security, with the local Constabulary, and even with special investigators sent all the way from Planet Earth. In my years of time spent on the Terran Colony there have been many such crimes, but none has affected me the way that one in particular did. A young female colonist named Anya was murdered, and for absolutely no apparent reason. It was an occurrence that will continue to haunt me completely, forever and even afterwards.
It was the middle of the planets Winter Season, on a Sun’s Day, and I was still in my office. I’m something of a workaholic Terran, and was organizing itemized expenses and assorted business receipts for my Imperium Revenue tax returns. I’d decided it was time to do it all like a mature adult, instead of shoving everything in a box and delivering it to my accountant at the very last moment. I always try to be ready for taxes. But each galactic year, whenever tax time comes around again, I find that my financial records are once again in a total mess.
I was sitting at my desk in the room I rent as office space. The night outside was chilly by the usual colonial definition, which is to say ten degrees Celsius. I was the only one there at that time, with my little lamp of light, while the other offices remained dark and quiet. I’d made a mug of caffeinated tea to try to counteract the paralyzing stupor that afflicts me at the approach of any and all money matters.
I heard a knock at the entranceway and I lifted my head, a trained response from days/daze of my military service. It was nearly midnight, and I wasn’t expecting any visitors. I roused myself, left my desk, and moved out into the hallway. I turned my head towards the door leading out into the hall. The knock was repeated, slightly louder.
I called out, "Yes?"
I heard a female’s muffled voice in response.
"Is this Colonial Private Investigations?"
"We’re closed," I answered.
"What?" she asked.
"Please wait a moment."
I undid the lock on the door and opened it a crack, peering out at her. She was in her forties, and her outfit was of the typical colonial female: boots, tight trousers, and a fashionable tunic. She wore enough heavy jewelry to look like she would clink and clank. She had dark hair nearly to her waist, worn loose, and very natural. She spoke in a somewhat hesitant voice, but with a truly Terran accent.
"I’m sorry to bother you, but the directory downstairs says there’s an investigator up here in this suite. Is he in, by any chance?"
"Ah, well, more or less," I replied, "but these aren’t actual office hours. Is there any way you can come back tomorrow? I’ll be happy to set up an appointment for you once I check my schedule."
"Are you his partner?" she asked.
"I’m him," I answered. "Colony Investigations. My official name is Pearsen. Did you tell me yours?"
"No, I didn’t, and I’m sorry. I’m Yolenda. You must think I’m a complete idiot."
Well, not complete, I thought. She reached out to shake hands, and then realized the crack in the doorway wasn’t large enough to permit contact. So she pulled her hand back.
"It never occurred to me you’d be a Terran. I’ve been seeing the ’Colony Investigations’ on the board down in the stairwell. I come here for a support group once in awhile downstairs. I’ve been thinking I’d call, but I guess I never worked up my nerve. Then tonight as I was leaving, I saw the light on from the parking lot. I hope you don’t mind. I’m actually on my way to work, so I don’t have that long."
"What sort of work?" I asked, stalling.
"I’m a shift manager at The Tempest Tea Cafe on the Main Street. I work from Solar Star set to rise, which makes it hard to take care of any daytime appointments. I usually go to bed in the morning, and don’t get up again until late afternoon. Even if I could just tell you my problem, it would be a truly great relief. Then if it turns out it’s not the sort of work you do, perhaps you could recommend someone else. I could really use some help, but I don’t know where to go. Your being a fellow Terran might make things easier."
I hesitated, and thought about it. A support group? Not for alcoholism. That was cured genetically centuries ago on Earth. Illegal narcotics? Most of those addictions are merely treated with prescribed ones. Cancer? That was completely eradicated due to all genetics being scientifically controlled. STDs? No longer found, at least on Earth. All other evils like autism and nutritional deficiencies had also been eliminated centuries before.
There had once still been Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, Tay-Sach’s, genetic defects, diabetes, and all other diseases, but no longer. Everything wrong with anyone was automatically corrected using stem cells before birth. And almost no one died before one hundred Earth years of age. Many even lived to be half again that. It had to be some kind of an emotional/psychological codependency then? If this female was truly insane, I really wanted to find out why.
Behind her, the hall was empty, looking flat and faintly yellowish in the overhead light. The Terran Colony Investigations office takes up the entire second floor of the building, except for the public restroom. It was always possible she had a couple of others lurking in the hallway, ready at a signal to jump out and attack me. For what purpose, I couldn’t imagine. Any money that I had left, I was being forced to give to the Imperium Revenue anyways.
"Please enter," I told her.
I opened the door wide so that I could admit her. She moved past me hesitantly, a big bag in her arms. Her perfume was musky, the scent of Erdan blooming plants. She seemed ill at ease, her manner was a mixture of apprehension and embarrassment. The big bag seemed to be filled with documents of some sort.
"These were in my shuttle. I don’t want you to think I carry such things around with me, ordinarily."
"I’m in here," I replied.
I moved into my office with the female close on my heels. I indicated a chair for her and watched as she sat down, placing the bag on the floor. I pulled up a chair for myself. I figured if we sat on opposite sides of my desk she’d be able to see my creative accounting, which were none of her business. I’m well able to read upside down, and seldom hesitate to insert myself into matters that are not my concern.
"What support group?" I asked.
"It’s for parents of murdered offspring. My daughter died here last Springtime. Her name was Anya. She was found in her dwelling on the outskirts of the Northern Sector."
I said, "Ah, yes. I remember, though I thought there was some speculation about the cause of death."
"Not in my mind," she replied. "I don’t know how she died, but I do know she was murdered. It couldn’t have been anything else."
Yolenda reached up and tucked a long strand of loose hair behind her right ear.
"The Constabulary never did find a suspect, and I don’t know what kind of luck they’re going to have after all this time. Someone told me for every day that passes, the chances diminish, but I forget the percentage."
"Unfortunately, that’s true," I had to state.
She leaned over and dug into the bag, pulling out a portable holograph viewer.
"This is Anya. You probably saw this in the news reports at the time."
She held out the device and I took it, staring down at the young female form appearing. Not a face and figure I’d ever forget. She was in her early twenties, with dark hair pulled smoothly away from her face, and long hair hanging down the middle of her back.
She had bright hazel eyes with an almost Erdan-like roundness, and she had a wide mouth and a cute nose. She was wearing a transparent blouse with nothing on underneath, and a short tight skirt over her shapely hips and slender frame.
She stared directly at the holocamera, smiling slightly, her hands on her curvy hips. I returned the device and picture, wondering what in all the worlds to say under the circumstances.
"She’s very beautiful," I murmured. "When was that taken?"
"About a year ago. I had to pester her to get this. She was my oldest. Just turned twenty. She was hoping to be a model, but it didn’t work out."
"You must have been young when you had her," I remarked.
"I was twenty-one," she explained. "I got married because of her. Half way along, and I was as big as a dwelling. I’m still with her father, which surprises everyone, including me, I guess. I was older with my middle daughter Trinea, and then I had the youngest, Pentira. They’re both real sweet. Anya’s pregnancy was my first one. Do you have any offspring, Mister Pearsen?"
"Make it just Pearsen," I replied. "I’m not that much older than you."
Yolenda smiled slightly.
"Just between us, Anya really was my favorite, probably because she was the first born. Though I wouldn’t say that to either of the younger females, of course. We only wanted daughters, so I always had the embryo clinic pre-select their genders."
Under the fertility and population balancing regulations of the New Order, gender selection of all offspring could be done if the Imperium approved. In the Terran Colony on Erda, with its overwhelmingly male population, pre-selecting females was thus permitted. And doing so was even encouraged by greatly reduced taxes, bonus credits and exemptions from close monitoring. She put the holograph back in the bag.
"Anyway, I know what it’s like to have your heart forever broken. I probably look like an ordinary female, but I’m not. I might even be going a little insane. We’ve been going to this support group . . . someone suggested it, and I thought it might help. I was ready to try anything to get away from the pain. Walun - he’s my current husband - went a few times and then stopped. He couldn’t stand the stories, couldn’t stand all the suffering there together in one room. He just wants to block it out, get rid of it, get clean away. I don’t think that’s possible, but there’s no arguing the point. To each his own, as they say."
"I can’t even imagine what it must be like," I expressed.
"And I can’t describe it, either. That’s the hells of it. We’re not like regular humanoids anymore. You have a child murdered and from that moment on you’re from some other planet. You don’t speak the same language as others. Even in this support group, we seem to speak different dialects. Everyone hangs on to their pain like it was some special license to suffer. You can’t help it. We all think ours is the worst case ever. Anya’s murder hasn’t been solved, so naturally we think our anguish is more acute because of it.
"With some other family, maybe their child’s killer got caught and got reprocessed and rehabilitated. But with our daughter he’s somewhere here in the Colony. And that’s what we have to live with - knowing someone’s alive and free, out and about, having a good old time every Saturn’s Day night while our child is dead.
"Or her killer’s in the prison for some other crime, and will be there for life, but warm, well fed and safe. He gets three meals a day and new clothes. He might be sent to a penal planet, but he’ll never be executed. Hardly anyone is nowadays unless they assassinate the Emperor or something similarly heinous. How can they be? All those layers of lawyers go to work. The new system’s set up to keep the criminals all alive while our offspring are dead for the rest of time."
"It’s painful," I expressed.
"Yes, it is," she replied. "I can’t even tell you how much it hurts. I sit downstairs in that room and I listen to all the stories, and I don’t know what to do. It’s not like it makes my pain any less, but at least it makes it part of something. Without the support group, Anya’s death just evaporates. It’s as if no one cares. It’s not even something anyone talks about anymore. We’re all of us wounded, so I don’t feel so cut off. I’m not separate from them. Our emotional injuries just come in different forms."
Yolenda’s tone throughout was almost matter-of-factly. But the dark eyed look she gave me then seemed all the more painful because of it.
"I’m telling you all this because I don’t want you to think I’m insane . . . at least any more than I actually am. You have an offspring murdered and you become somewhat crazed. Sometimes you recover and sometimes you don’t. What I’m saying is, I know I’m obsessed. I think about Anya’s killer way more than I should.
"Whoever did this, I want him punished. I demand closure! I want this laid to rest. I want to know why he did it. I want to tell him face-to-face exactly what he did to my life the day he took hers. The counselor who runs the group, she says I need to find a way to get my empowerment back. She says it’s better to get angry than go on feeling heartsick and defenseless. So. That’s why I’m here. I guess that’s the whole of the matter, Pearsen."
"Taking action," I stated.
"Yes, indeed! Not just talking. I’m sick and tired of talk. It gets you nowhere."
"You’re going to have to do a bit more talking if you want my help. Do you want some tea?"
"I know that. I’d love some. Erdan regular is fine," she answered.
I filled two mugs and added flavoring to mine, saving my questions until I was seated again. I reached for the blank paper on my desk, and I picked up a pen. Even in an era of total tech communication, I still prefer the ancient method of writing things down.
"I hate to make you go through the whole thing again, but I really need to have the details, at least as much as you know," I told her.
"I understand. Maybe that’s why it took me so long to come up here. I’ve told this story already hundreds of times, but it never gets any easier."
Yolenda blew on the surface of her tea and then took a sip.
"This is really good tea. Earth grown. Strong. I hate drinking tea that’s too weak. There’s no taste. Anyway, let me think about how to say this. I guess what you have to understand of Anya is she was an independent little female. She did everything her way. She didn’t care what others thought, and she didn’t feel what she did was anyone else’s business.
"She’d suffered from allergies as a child and ended up missing quite a bit of school, so she never did well in her classes. She was very smart, but she was out half the time. Poor thing was allergic to just about everything on this gods forsaken planet. She probably would have been better off back on The Big E.
"She didn’t have very many friends. She couldn’t spend the night at anyone else’s dwelling because other little young females always seemed to live with pets or dwelling dust, mold, or whatever. She outgrew a lot of that as she matured, but she was always on medication for one thing or another. I make a point of this because I think it had a profound effect on the way she turned out.
"Anya was antisocial, hard headed and uncooperative. She had a streak of defiance, I think because she was used to being by herself, doing what she wanted. And I might have spoiled her some. Offspring sense when they have the power to cause you distress. It makes them tyrants to some extent. Anya didn’t understand about pleasing others, nor ordinary compromises.
"She was a nice female and she could be generous if she wanted, but she wasn’t what you’d call loving or nurturing. Probably far too selfish and self-centered for her own good."
"I don’t know how I got off on that. I meant to talk about something else, if I can remember what it was."
She frowned, blinking, and I could see her checking some interior agenda. There was a moment or two of silence while I drank my tea and she drank hers.
Finally her memory clicked in and she brightened, saying, "Oh, yes. Sorry about that."
She shifted on her chair and took up the narrative.
"Allergy medication sometimes caused her insomnia. Everyone thinks antihistamines make you drowsy, which they can do, of course. But it isn’t just the REM sleep you need for ordinary rest. Anya didn’t like to sleep. Even when grown, she got by on as little as short naps sometimes. I think she was afraid of lying down. Being prone always seemed to aggravate her wheezing. She got in the habit of roaming around at night when everyone else was asleep."
"Who’d she associate out with? Did she have friends or just go out on her own?"
"Other night personages, I’d guess. The radio station announcer for one, the fellow on that all-night folk music station. I can’t remember his name, but you might know if I said it. And there was a nurse on the night shift at the Base Medical. Kindrena. Anya actually worked for Kindrena’s current husband at the Water Treatment Facility."
I made a note to myself. I’d have to check on both of them if I decided to help.
"What sort of employment?" I asked.
"It was just part-time . . . afternoons for the facility administration office, doing clerical work. You know, computer data and filing, answering the cell phones. She’d be up half the night, and then she could sleep in all morning if she wanted."
"Part time employment isn’t much," I stated. "How could she afford to live?"
"Well, she had her own place. A little dwelling at the back of someone’s property. It wasn’t anything fancy, and the rent was cheap. Couple of rooms, with a bath. It might have been some kind of gardener’s dwelling to begin with. No insulation. She had no central heating and not a lot of kitchen to speak of. Just a microwave oven and a two-burner hot plate, refrigerator the size of a little box. You know the kind. She had electricity, running water, and her cell phone. And that was about the extent of it.
"She could have fixed it up really nice, but she didn’t want to bother. She liked it simple, she said, and besides, it wasn’t all that permanent. Rent was minimal, and that’s all she seemed to care about. She liked her privacy, and everyone else learned to just leave her alone."
"That hardly sounds like an allergen free environment," I remarked.
"Well, I know, and I said as much myself. Of course by then she was doing better. The allergies were more seasonal than chronic. Anya might have an occasional attack after exercise or if she had a cold or she was under stress. The point is she didn’t want to live around others. She liked the feel of being in the outskirts. The property wasn’t all that big, with a little gravel road coming in along the back. I guess it gave her the sense of isolation and quiet.
"She didn’t want to live in some apartment building in the Colony with tenants on all sides, bumping and thumping and playing loud music. She wasn’t friendly. She didn’t even like to say ’Hail’ in passing. That’s just how she was. She moved to the outskirts, and that’s where she stayed."
"You said she was found at her dwelling. Do the constables think she died there as well?"
"I believe so. Like I said, she wasn’t found for some time. About a dozen days, they think, from the condition she was in. I hadn’t heard from her, but I didn’t think much about it. I’d talked to her on a Thor’s Day night and she told me she was taking off. I assumed she meant that night, but she didn’t say as much, at least not that I remember.
"If you recall, the Spring Season came late last year, and the allergenic count was high, which meant her allergies were acting up. Anyway, she called and said she’d be out of the Colony for a dozen days. She was taking time off from work and said she was driving up to the mountains to see whatever snows were left. The mountain regions were the only places she found relief when she was suffering. She said she’d call when she got back, and that was the last I talked to her."
I’d begun to scribble notes.
"When was this?" I asked.