Great! I'm Half-Fish!

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Chapter 30

The room wasn’t very large. It had no furniture and no windows. The only thing it boasted was a steel pole that was embedded in both the roof and the floor. Steel manacles were attached on either side of the pole, welded flush against its length. The captive’s wrists were locked into the manacles, which were near the top of the pole. If the captive were human, he’d be hanging very painfully from the manacles. The merman however was being kept afloat idle flicks of his tail. Still, by the taut line of his body, Sean didn’t think he was very comfortable.

Argan hadn’t given Sean much instruction except to talk to the prisoner about the murders. He’d given him a file too, a stack of kelp leaves that were pinned together, but of course Sean couldn’t actually read a word of it. He took it into the cell with him anyway.

Argan locked the cell door behind and seemingly disappeared down the corridor. Sean had no doubt he was extremely close by.

He smiled up at the prisoner and said, “Hey can you speak English?”

The merman focused his piercing black eyes on Sean and then said, “Yes.”

“Great!” Sean said cheerfully, “Because that’s all I can speak. I’ve haven’t learnt enough of mer-speak to hold a conversation.”

The prisoner narrowed his eyes and cocked his head. “You’re from the surface,” he said slowly. “You’re not one of ours.”

Sean was about to say, ‘duh’ when he remembered two things. One, the merman probably had no idea what that meant, and two, it was entirely possible that he could be a merman who’d chosen to wear his legs, no matter how improbable It might seem.

“Yes,” he said easily.

“You’re someone’s half-born get,” the merman said.

“That would be correct,” Sean said calmly.

The answer did not seem to please the merman. His eyes slitted and he hissed. “Does the Circuit of Teroceanican see this as a joke?! Is this what the justice of the great sovereign of Teroceanican has come to?!”

“Seeing that’s he’s ruled for longer than you’ve been smart,” Sean said dryly, “maybe you can trust him to know what he’s doing.”

The mermen pushed back his shoulders hunching as his tail coiled and Sean had no doubt that he wasn’t shacked, he’d have tackled him to the ground and probably put a good few claw marks into his body.

“Now,” Sean said, “You can either talk to me and help me to find the truth or I can leave and then you’ll be punished for crimes you say you didn’t commit. And I assure you that should you chose the latter, you’ll find out just how much the justice of Teroceanican does not lack.”

There was a long sub-vocal growl but the merman eventually stopped looking like he was about to kill Sean right there and then.

“I have agreed to submit myself to the justice of Teroceanican,” he said grudgingly. “I will not hinder the agents of the Sovereign of Teroceanican from doing what they must to correctly dispense justice.”

“Nice to hear it,” Sean said. “What’s your name?”

“Do you not know it already?” the merman asked.

“I do,” Sean allowed. “But I want you to tell me.”

“Ukendrel,” the merman said.

“Ukendrel,” Sean repeated. “Nice to meet you. I’m Sean or Shenaragle. You can use whichever one you prefer.”

“And what is your preference?” the Ukendrel asked.

Sean smiled. “Now that would be telling, assuming of course, that I have a preference. So, tell me about your accidental killings. How many merfolk did you kill without knowing?”

“Nineteen,” Ukendrel said, eyes shifting to stare at a wall.

“Over what length of time?” Sean asked, frowning.

“Several zeets, maybe five,” Ukendrel said.

Sean gave him a blank look and the merman looked annoyed but translated. “About eight human months.”

“So, you’ve been killing people for around eight months and you didn’t notice?” Sean said. “How exactly does that happen? As I understand killing people is a messy process and even if we do live in the ocean, blood doesn’t come off easily from everywhere. And better yet, you can’t hide the scent of blood easily either, even a little of it. That’s why tracking someone who is bleeding is so easy. So, tell me, how the heck didn’t you figure out that something was going on?”

“There was no blood when I woke,” Ukendrel said.

Sean processes this statement and then said, “So, you would wake up in the morning, perfectly clean of blood.”

“Yes,” the prisoner said, jaw tightening.

“Okay so all of the killings happened in the night,” Sean said.

“That would be correct,” Ukendrel said.

“And you know this how?”

The merman cocked his head at him. “I know it because the dead bodies would be reported in the morning when the, the victims had been alive in the evening. There was only one time it could have happened.”

“Okay,” Sean said. “So back to the blood. There was no trace of blood on your claws, caught under scales, in your hair or under the straps for your weapons or bags?”

“I have already told you, no, there wasn’t,” The merman said, eyes narrowing.

“So,” Sean said, “You would have had to kill someone, then go somewhere to scrub off all that blood and still somehow manage to both get to the place to scrub off the blood and scrub off all the blood without attracting someone’s attention. Which, I’ve been told is really hard.”

“I suppose so,” the merman said.

“Can you do that?” Sean asked.

Ukendrel cocked his head at Sean and frowned. “I don’t understand what you are asking.”

“I mean, if you actually killed someone because you wanted to, do you have the skill to kill them and get rid of all the blood undetected?”

There was a pause and then Ukendrel said, evenly, “I’ve never tried. All my kills before have been sanctioned or with purpose. There was no need to hide.”

“Hmm,” Sean said. “Well that’s a lie isn’t it?” He continued before the enraged merman could try to launch at him again. “Because if what you say is true, that you were killing people without knowing it, then at some point you must have realized it right? I’m betting you notice murder when you’re covered in someone else’s blood.”

Ukendrel, who had been straining at the handcuffs, swallowed hard and forced himself to calm.

“You are right,” he allowed. “I came to awareness on the night of the last murder covered with my victim’s blood. I was not far from their home. People had already gone to investigate; others were already tracking me.”

“So, tell me how you did it,” Sean said. “How did you get away?”

“I…used sand and sound,” he said. “Sand to scrub off the worst of it, sound to get off the rest.”

“How did you use sound?” Sean asked.

“I bounced it off a rock, went straight into the blast, it ripped the blood from off me.”

“Okay,” Sean said, “That would buy you time, make the trail fainter but it wouldn’t manage to take off all of it.” He was guessing of course. For all he knew it was possible, but he was pretty sure that the circuit would have mentioned it if it truly were that easy.

The black-scaled merman eyed Sean and then nodded. “You are correct.”

“Now why hide that fact?” Sean asked.

The merman inhaled water and spilled it out through his gills in a sigh. “Because I don’t know how I did it.”

“You don’t remember?” Sean asked incredulously.

“I remember,” Ukendrel said, “I don’t know, how I know what I did know.”

Sean looked at him and then sat. “Alright. So, tell me what you did. We’ll get to that particularly interesting point afterwards.”

“Artae,” Ukendrel said simply. “I used artae to strip the blood off.”

“Okay,” Sean said, “I actually wish I were more surprised. But unpack a little more for me. If it were easy to use artae to strip oneself of blood, I’m pretty sure killers in all the oceans would be doing it and living happy lives. Only they’re not, so…explain.”

“This isn’t like what you think. It isn’t just using artae as a, a scrub brush. What I did, was search out each drop of blood, only blood and lift it off my skin and then scatter the droplets of blood so far, so distant from each other that they couldn’t be noticed again. That level of control, that level of competency isn’t simple. I’ve never done that before. I never knew how to.”

“Were you capable of using artae that complexly before?” Sean asked.

“I’ve never tried though I am considered talented in that area. But use that refined is taught and I never was.”

“Why not?” Sean asked. “If you were considered talented.”

“I had no need for it,” Ukendrel said simply.

Sean absorbed this and then asked, “Do you have a profession?”

The merman seemed suspicious about the change in subject but answered none-the-less. “Yes. I am a hunter. I hunt food for those who are too busy in their other professions to do easily. I am paid for this.”

“Hmm,” said Sean. “So, you’re good at hunting.”

“Yes.”

“And you’re paid for it.”

“Yes.”

“Did someone pay you to kill those people?”

The rage that filled Ukendrel’s face couldn’t quite be described. Sean dearly wanted to run but held his ground on the floor of the cell and hoped his face didn’t give away his utter terror.

The merman strained at the cuffs and when he failed to escape them, resorted to spitting what Sean was pretty sure were some very nasty phrases at him in merspeak. When Sean didn’t react, the water in the cell shivered. Sean felt his hair stand up and then the ocean was humming. It all shut down in the next breath. Ukendrel slumped, handing from his cuffs and breathing hard.

Sean took in a shaky inhale of water and let it out his gills slowly.

“Dramatic,” he said and winced at the wobbly little edge his voice had. “I was wondering why you hadn’t done that before. Seems like there’s someone on the outside this cell keeping you in. But let’s keep the hissy fits to a minimum alright? You’re less likely to convince me of your mental involvement.”

Ukendrel hissed at him. “Leave me,” he snapped. “Teroceanican’s justice is not served with your presence.”

“Teroceanican’s justice won’t be served without it,” Sean said, voice strengthening. “We already went over this.”

“I am no assassin,” Ukendrel said. “If I were, why would I be here? I could have been safe and undetected and you never would have found me even if you’d searched a hundred years!”

“Point,” Sean conceded easily. “But there are reasons I can think of so your innocence is not proven.”

“Give me your points,” Ukendrel said, “And I will show you why I am innocent, child of the land.”

“Actually,” Sean said, “I’ll keep them to myself.” He gave a toothy smile at the captive mer and found himself wishing for the first time in his life that he had the sharp teeth of the mers. His own blunt teeth didn’t give off the same effect. “Now, you said you killed nineteen of the merfolk of Nailecta. Why do you think these nineteen are your kills? What makes you believe that you were the one who killed them and not someone else’s?”

Ukendrel head jerked up. “You think someone else killed them?”

“Why not?” Sean said, “If you can black out and kill someone, why can’t it happen to someone else? Or for that matter, why can’t someone kill eighteen mers and you just happened to trip and kill whichever poor sod you killed two days ago? There’s nothing really that says you killed them all.”

“But the methods are the same,” Ukendrel said. “The hunt was performed in the same way. We don’t have the training of the circuit of Teroceanican but there are many here who can track. The claw marks were of the same size. The wounds were made by someone of the same or similar strength. The killer entered the homes in the same way for almost all the homes and in those that had variations it was because the homes themselves had extra measures that had to be taken into account. And there was no blood trail for any of them. That, if anything, is the biggest indicator that it is me. Not many people have the same level of talent or competency as I have.”

Sean really, really wished that Argan would appear so that he could confirm the validity of those statements. Of course, no Argan appeared and Sean couldn’t read any of the notes.

“Well you clearly did some research before you handed yourself in,” Sean observed.

“Everyone knew,” Ukendrel said. “Murders like this are not common. Everyone was on edge.”

“I see,” Sean said thoughtfully. That surely made the job harder. If everyone knew the details it was possible for there to be copycat murders hidden in the midst of their set of serial killings.

He expelled water through his gills, practically feeling oxygen flow into his blood. There was something else. “If it were a matter of claw marks and hunting patterns, you’d have been caught by now,” Sean said feeling his way through. “Which means those aren’t as definitive as you’d like me to believe. Which means that you have another reason for thinking that all of these murders are your unwitting handiwork.”

The merman clenched his jaw but then said, “I was tired, the morning after every murder. It didn’t come to my notice until…until I realized that it might have been me. When I checked back, I realized I couldn’t remember what exactly had happened those nights. I couldn’t remember going to sleep in my home, only that I woke up there in the morning. I seemed to have lost chunks of time because sometimes I’d be heading home and then the next thing I do remember is waking up. I can’t remember exactly but those incidences all seem to coincide with the murders.”

Sean, watching him carefully, came to the conclusion that the mermen in front of him was young. Not very young, true, but similar to a 25-28-year-old. He appeared younger than most of the circuit and lacked the gravity of experience that they carried.

“Alright,” Sean said carefully, “That is something to note.” He paused and then said, “One more thing.”

“What is it?” asked Ukendrel.

“Why’d you do it?” Sean asked.

Ukendrel frowned. “I told you I don’t remember. How could I tell you why?”

“I don’t mean that, Sean said waving away his words. “I mean, why did you give yourself up when you realized that it might have been you?”

The merman gave him a strange look. “Because it was the right thing to do. Because I didn’t want to kill anyone unknowingly again.”

Sean studied him and then nodded. “Thank you for your time. No doubt we’ll be speaking again but for now this interview is over.”

He stood up and went over to the cell door. Argan appeared and let him out and then closed back the door. He drifted silently down the corridor and Sean followed him.

They made their way out of the jail, locking the outer door behind them and then Argan turned to Sean.

“That,” he said “was terrible.”

“Thanks,” Sean said dryly, “It would have helped if you’d actually given me some background.”

“I doubt it, child,” Argan said. “You approach an interrogation as if it were possible to hammer the truth out of a person.”

“I thought I’d leave the subtleties to you,” Sean said. “Besides didn’t you want that whole interrogation done in English so you’d catch what undertones he chose to hide when he translated?”

The Circuit’s second in command shot Sean a surprised stare and then his lips spread into a pleased smile.

“Very good,” he said approvingly. “It seems like there might be some worth to dragging you along after all. I’d begun to despair.”

Sean snorted. “You wouldn’t have been torn up about it at all.”

Argan gave an unconcerned shrug. “You didn’t ask about his victims.”

“And I’m sure you did,” Sean said. “You already asked him everything I did.”

Argan gave the mer shrug this time, rippling his whole body. “I wanted to see what you would have asked.”

“Well now you know,” Sean said. “What do we do now?”

“You do know of course that you can’t trust anything he says,” Argan told him.

“Obviously,” Sean said, “But it does give us some things to check out.”

“You’re not wrong,” Argan said. “But I suppose you want that background now.”

“It’d be nice,” Sean agreed. He paused. “Do you think we can expand the language lessons to reading lessons too?”

Argan gave him an unreadable look but then gave him a short nod.

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