Louisa tugged at Dario’s body and pulled his inert weight to the floor. His mouth gaped and his breathing became laboured. An arm landed above his head, some scales on his hand blackened. Louisa hyperventilated as she assessed the severe stab wounds. Unsure what to do, she did the only thing that made sense - apply pressure. Before she could however, she was caught within the grasp of a green scaly hand who shoved her out the way. Several Gladovian guards armed with black gun-like devices circled, Dario’s body, their blood red eyes scanning the area, keeping constant watch.
Louisa groaned as she narrowly missed the carved wooden table. Bringing herself up she gagged as she placed her hand in the gooey green mess that had pooled from the table. Distancing herself, she looked up, two Askans invaded the circle of guards, carrying bags of green blood-like substance, strange devices and a floating stretcher followed behind. The circle of guards closed in on itself.
‘What’s happened!’ Dario’s brother entered with a dozen companions richly dressed, some bore their own circlets of varying metallic colours. One of the Gladovian guards saluted him and indicated for him to step into a discreet corner. ‘No! How is he?’ tears fell onto Dario’s brother’s cheeks, the guard struggled with his own emotions as the guard reached out. The brother threw the guard’s comforting hand away and collapsed onto his knees, overcome with grief. His fellow Gladovians began to argue with the Arianians who entered; each had lost their crimson colour and now a faint rose colour, their sole focus - the circle of guards.
Joive barged into the room, his penetrating gaze scanning the room as he tried to assess the situation, his two companions close behind. ‘What has gone on here?’ Joive asked, sighting the pool of green blood beneath the carved table, his two companions also roamed their sights around and landed on Louisa.
Frozen in shock and fear, Louisa looked away to the circle of guards Dario’s warning replayed in her mind. Uneasiness settled within her, bile rose and she gagged, thumping her chest she turned away from Joive and his company. She trembled as others started to pay her attention and then the circle of guards dispersed and formed two lines. The floating trolley took Dario’s cumbersome body away. His brother and other Gladovians followed. She went to follow them, hoping there would be a good time to tell someone - what Dario had told her. But twig like fingers clamped onto her shoulder, halting her. ‘I need to go with them,’ Louisa said shoving the hand off.
‘No you don’t, you need to come with us,’ Joive said, reclaiming his hold on her shoulder.
Directed away from the room, she froze for a minute as she passed a Gladovian who wore a black metallic head piece, like Dario. He held one Aranian up against a wall with a fist close to the Aranian’s cheek.
‘You can forget any peace talks now,’ he spat, eyes reduced to tiny slits, as a frill opened up around his head, bright red veins tracked to the very edges.
‘No please, this has nothing to do with us Arianions, some other race is responsible.’
‘Get out of my sight, let’s see how my cousin is, if he dies. I shall ensure all hell breaks out,’ the threatening Gladovian said.
‘Please stop this aggression everyone return to their quarters. Give the Gladovians some space, until we know how critical Dario is,’ Joive said, as a number of military personnel came; some wore a one-piece uniform every part of them covered, masks covering their faces. They began to spray white chemical fumes on the crime scene. With Joives’ instructions people began to leave the area, ‘Louisa.’
Louisa sniffed and glared at Joive and then his companions. A cold shiver crept up, and she turned her gaze to the floor, as soon as they leave me...I’ll go to find those Gladovians.
‘Louisa would you wait for a moment. I need to give some jobs to my colleagues,’ Joive said releasing his grip on her shoulder. Revealing a weak smile he walked off out of ear shot, as the three huddled round. After a moment, he alone returned to Louisa, his two colleagues separated. One returned to the crime scene.
‘Louisa, come with me, I will need you to answer a few questions.’
Louisa nodded as her hands trembled and struggled to stay still. The warning about Joive replayed in her mind.
Joive led Louisa through corridors heavily occupied by Askan military personnel dressed in one piece black uniforms, each saluted Joive as he walked past.
‘Is this room free?’ Joive asked reached an indent against the inner wall, the size of a door.
‘No sir, it’s free I shall ensure you are not disturbed,’
‘Thank you, but allow my fellow commanders to join us,’ Joive replied, allowing Louisa to enter a minimalistic, white washed, small boxed room. One tapestry hung along one wall. displaying a jungle its roots set in an ocean, where sea monsters like dinosaurs grazed eating vegetation floating on top.
‘Now then, tell me what happened,’ he asked in a coaxing way, and walked to a piece of furniture that looked like a day bed.
‘I ... I don’t know... one minute I’m alone, the next, Dario storms in and staggers then collapses onto the table,’ cold tears escaped onto her cheeks, clouding her vision. ‘Then daggers flew in, stabbing him I...I wish I’d been imagining them ... but I saw everything...flipping heck... is he going to make it? Please don’t tell me he is dead,’ Louisa begged full of grief.
Joive walked over to Louisa and gave her shoulders a squeeze. ‘We don’t know yet, but we have the best people with him. They will do their best to keep him alive,’ he said, leading Louisa to the day bed, pushing her down to be seated, eyeing her. The door swung open and Joive’s fellow commanders came in; one held four tiny black boxes and a floating carrier box followed behind. A smile developed on Joive’s face, as the other colleague retrieved a tray of refreshments from the floating box.
A sense of uneasiness settled upon Louisa, ‘I need to speak to Dario’s brother,’ Louisa said. Several locks hung over her face, along with her dreadlock. With one reflexive gesture she pulled them to one side.
‘For what reason,’ Joive asked, his smile flattening, disapproval showing with his frown. Three pairs of eyes gazed down upon her, as each took a place on the day bed holding a hot drink.
‘I need to tell him what Dario’s last words were!’ Louisa said, determination in her eyes, his brother needs to hear the warning.
‘Louisa, I know you have good intentions, but I think it’s best to leave him alone with close friends and family. In the mean time, I’m not sure how close you got to the scene, but we better record your finger prints. So we can discount your DNA,’ Joive said, waving his colleague who wore the silver robe to come. A small thin silver rod appeared held in his hand projected a blue beam that travelled over Louisa’s hands as it scanned. He then then placed the rod within the floating carrier box and left the room.
A sudden feeling of uneasiness overwhelmed her, as she faced two pairs of eyes that resembled an abyss of suffocating darkness. But, they were Askans; they should have no reason to endanger her. Joive turned to his colleague with a somewhat knowing look. He helped himself to another hot drink, and some green triangle- shaped flat snack, that a sharp crack as he bit into it.
‘Go and tell Louisa’s school that she will be transported back to her research team tomorrow, after she has been questioned. She has gone through enough today. I shall take her to some living quarters, and leave you, to relay the necessary messages,’ Joive said. The colleague nodded and left in silence. ‘Come Louisa, I think it is best that you have an early night, so you’ll be ready to be questioned first thing tomorrow, whilst your memory remains fresh,’ he said, rubbing the crumbs from his hands.
Louisa found herself taken to corridors that had a more homely feel, their walls were ivory white and the floor shimmered a cream metallic colour. Pictures of different ships displayed on either side, with windows every two meters, their length covered the height of the wall and looked out to blackness where stars glittered in the back drop.
Indents in the inner wall came about every two to three metres, and small red lights gleamed. After walking for a few minutes there was a rare green light that flickered. Joive stopped and played with a control panel that lit up above the green light, after a shower of symbols scrolling down. The green light went red, and the cream door slid open to reveal a room similar to what she had at the base. A raised cushioned square that sat central to the room, and then a small sitting area separated by a curtain drawn by flamboyant ties. In the far corner a small archway sat and gave entrance of a sterile black room.
Joive made his way to the sitting area and played with some controls and the wall of the lounge changed into a beautiful picture of Earth, and the other planets within its solar system. ‘How do you like the background? Would you rather have something else?’ Joive asked, as he gestured to Louisa to take a seat on a sofa. Cushions scattered, each decorated with a symbol of several planets, colours that covered the spectrum of a rainbow woven together by silver strands of thread.
Sat in silence Louisa watched Joive take two drinks from one of the machines, surrounding the lounge area. Handing one over to Louisa, she faced Joive who sat opposite her and sipped at his drink. His eyes delved into Louisa’s, but would then draw away to focus on the picture of Earth.
She sighed, ‘did your colleagues update you with Dario?’ Louisa asked drawing in a nervous, but hopeful breath.
A sigh sounded as Joive stroked his bald head. ’Dario died from the injuries sustained. That is what I have been informed, and you are the only witness. You will have to stay with us here for a day or so, until we have further developments.
‘How long for?’ Louisa asked as her head rose suddenly, and her hair hung in despair.
‘Once we have got your witness statement we should be able to take you back to your research base. Yet, you should also be aware that this murder may have serious implications upon the Institute of Planets. One that may bring war, so every planetary member will endeavour to undertake, whatever, is necessary to maintain peace, and to keep the peace talks going between Gladiovians and Arianians. I would imagine that you may hold a key place with that,’ Joive said, his eyes gleamed as a secretive smile developed.
‘I’ll be more than willing to help. But, don’t forget I do have a home to go back to. The research team have already delayed their work and now this!’ Louisa said wiping away a stray tear from an eye.
A moan came from Joive, who turned away from Louisa in that moment, and then got up onto his feet. ‘I must go Louisa, but I have ordered your dinner to be delivered here, and then I would rest. I fear you shall have a long day,’ Joive said, without facing her and walked out of her accommodation.
Waiting five minutes, she ran up to the door I must find Dario’s brother and warn him! She touched the door and then a panel to the side - nothing happened. ‘No!’ she thumped on the doors and randomly pressed buttons on the panel that sunk into the wall. She searched for any other exit, but the only other exit was the window that faced out to space... it was no escape. She walked back to the sofa slumping into it, her head fell into her hands.
The door then opened and an Askan worker came to deliver a tray of food, who eyed her with interest, but distaste at the same time. Not a word, he came and left the tray on a table sat central to the lounge. He gazed for a moment on Earth and then began to leave.
‘Please, can you take me to Dario’s brother, his brother wanted me to say something to him.’
He laughed, ’you would be the last person he would want to see. You are to stay within your quarters, on Joive’s orders.′
She closed her eyes and heard the door click back into place. A salty smell like soy sauce drifted her way. She uncovered several steaming dishes that consisted of a soup, two meat dishes flooded by dark sauces, flat bread laid out on the side, chopped vegetable that sat as cubes of reds and browns and some form of mouse - butterscotch yellow.
She shoved the food away and retched. Grabbing some empty vase, Louisa brought up watery substance. Rubbing her hand over her mouth, she slid herself onto the floor, eyeing the room...her gaze resting on Earth, where she broke down and tears flooded.
‘Child, go to my brother we have traitor in the heart of our peace talks, that Joive and his followers have their own agenda. You must warn my brother, they are not acting for our good but theirs, but what they hope to achieve. I do not know.’
The same words replayed in Louisa’s mind. Confusion crept in, what does Dario mean by Joive and his followers having their own agenda? I can’t even get to his brother – heck will I even be allowed near him, if he so important to these peace talks. Who was Dario any way? Louisa pulled herself up and walked over to the cushioned bedding she lay there and stared facing the projection of Earth and its planetary neighbours – Mars, Saturn..., ‘will I ever get to go home?’ she asked aloud as she choked from her cries. There she huddled herself into a foetal position, her stomach sunk as there was nothing she could do. Well not yet, they will have to come for my statement... I could get the person who interviews me to pass a message onto Dario’s brother. Small hope grew within, her eyelids grew heavy and closed... sleep invaded. It was not until she felt her shoulders tugged that she returned to the present day. She faced a small collection of Askans, and other members to the Institute .
‘Louisa, wake up,’ one member of the group said, a being from another world she had not encountered. Her cream fingers coiled round her like a snake, and had an empty face with no humanoid feature, her voice came from a small opening in her neck, where strands of tissue stretched into chords, as the being breathed.
‘What is the matter, and what are you all doing here?’ Louisa asked shuffling herself backwards over cushions and gained space between them and her.
‘We need to take you to re visit the scene and you will have to tell us what you were doing and what you saw.’
‘Can I at least get up?’ She rubbed the sleep from her eyes.
‘We’ll give you half an hour, to find something that fits you and freshen yourself up.’
An Askan opened a cupboard that contained many outfits, and then left her room following the others. Walking to the sterile room Louisa, touched one of the bigger symbols displayed. Orbs began to float round and gave her pressurised wash - steam gathering round till she could not see her own hand before her. She looked down to her jeans and rubbed a hand against her dad’s polo shirt, she had stolen, just before she took his car- it was his favourite. She looked up and faced the clothes on display, but nothing could equal her dad’s top. Always look to the bright side of life... dad’s favourite words, she bet he wouldn’t have stuck to them, if he could see her now and the situation she was in. How she wished she had never ventured out of the hotel and all for a minor argument...she knew her parents only wanted what was best for her...but well no one likes to be told.
A swoosh sounded along with a collection of footsteps. A few raised eyebrows, ‘you will have to stay in those clothes, we cannot give you any more time, come human,’
Tugging at her jumper she drew a deep breath and followed where she entered an area bursting full of guards. Eyes followed her, and left when she entered a room that was dark with a sole spot light peering down onto a table. Directed to a seat she faced an Askan, a Gladiovian and an Aranian. They gave blank faces, the Askan tapped his fingers upon the table, and the Aranian tilted his face, showing black scars and tattoos set against crimson skin. The Gladiovian clicked his fingers individually as a thin forked tongue escaped his mouth for a second.
‘Why are there so many security guards?’ Louisa asked as she took her seat.
‘We are in the middle of peace talks a great number of important diplomats are staying within the Institute. Plus, we have the investigation for the murder of Dario; no one is to leave the Institute, until we have a suspect,’ the Aranian said.
Louisa tilted her head, ‘is my class still here then?’
’No, people that had no access to the high security areas are being allowed to leave, but those who were present at the time of the murder will be questioned. Now we have spoken to Joive and his commanders they each have given us in depth statements; that correlate. All we want from you is to know what happened when you left your school trip and entered the high security area.
‘Ok...,’ she drew a hand to her mouth as lines on her forehead deepened. ‘Right, Joive and his two commanders took me directly to some peace talks. Joive took his seat whilst I stood at the back along with his colleagues, it is there that Dario’s brother got in an argument with another person and he eventually stormed out, and Dario soon followed him to diffuse the situation ... I guess..’ Louisa said lifting an eyebrow, and returned her gaze to those who listened with most care. ‘After Dario left, the talks were ended and so Joive decided to walk me to a room that held some original peace treaties. We spent some time there, at a guess, ten- fifteen minutes before Joive was called away, by his colleagues who had left him after the peace talks ended,’ Louisa said, scratching her cheek as she re-lived the memory with those who interviewing her nodded in agreement. ‘And then...’ Louisa started blowing of a deep sigh. ‘A short while after, I heard lots of footsteps outside the room, there were hushed voices, but one held much fear. When the voices disappeared the door flung open and Dario just...just staggered in. He struggled for his breath before he collapsed onto the desk.’ Louisa said pausing for a moment her breathing became a little faster. ‘But he was still able to speak...he asked me to warn his brother against Joive and his companions and begged for me to go directly to his brother...’ Louisa paused for thought, not wanting to look up to see the faces of those who interviewed her. What has Joive and his colleagues said in their statements
‘Go on...’ a voice said.
‘And then... two daggers flew in on their own and stabbed Dario in his back they killed him...he lay motionless, bleeding...I...I... shouted for help pulled his body down onto the floor applied pressure to where I thought he was bleeding.’ Her eyes gleamed with moisture as she rested her gaze upon those, whose faces were masks. ’After a while people flooded in, and Joive came and took me away with his colleagues, but they were sent to do some work. I was taken to a small lounge, refreshments were brought in by one of Joive’s colleagues, the other held some tiny black boxes, and had some floating carrier.
‘Black boxes, where are they?’ one of the interviewers asked, each sat up their eyes lit as though they had discovered gold.
‘You would have to ask Joive,’
The interview panel flicked looks between themselves ‘and then you were taken to you accommodation is that true?’
Louisa nodded, and remained in silence as the interviewers spoke in hushed voices. One left as the other two returned their focus upon Louisa. Silence prevailed for an endless time or so it felt, shifting occasionally on her chair Louisa sighed.
’Dario wanted me to pass a message onto his brother... can I? She asked with a nervous gulp.
‘I don’t think he would have free time to see you,’ the Gladiovian said as he spread out his four scaled fingers upon the desk. ‘But, I’ll be able to pass the message on, if it is off any importance.’
‘Dario...he...he warned me about Joive and his colleagues...he said they had their own agenda...,’ Louisa’s voice staggered to silence as the Gladiovian’s frill opened ever so slightly, but the Askan next to him planted a hand on his arm. He sighed, sadness filled his eyes and his frill rested, and returned to clicking his fingers.
Louisa looked round guards stood round positioned at the corners of the room. Her sight returned to her interviewers. She sighed, as they remained silent both sat in silence staring at her. A nervous gulp came, and she looked to the floor paying attention to the metallic tiles. What are we waiting for? Those black boxes? What was so important about them...if they find them will they help get me home?
Silence invaded once again until the door whooshed open and the third interviewer re – joined his colleagues and shook his head at the others.
‘Do you know what a camera is?’
‘Where are the camera recordings for the room and surrounding corridors?’
‘Huh?’ Louisa asked in confusion.
‘This act is very convincing ...you could have tried harder to cover your tracks though.’
’What?’Louisa’s head shot up.
‘You’re DNA and fingerprints are all over the murder weapons, and on Dario himself, the security recordings are missing. I asked Joive, if he did indeed recover the recordings, but he along with his two commanders deny anything of the kind. Their stories match up as well.’
’But how? I did not even touch the knives. I approached Dario to see what help I could give him - there was little I could do. And as for the security footage... do you honestly think I’d know where to look, yet alone retrieve such footage?
‘True, but all the evidence we have is pointing to you my dear, now why don’t you tell us, what really happened. So we don’t need to try to work out how you murdered Dario.’
‘But...but, I didn’t murder him, I swear on my life...’ Louisa said bringing her knees up, tears falling onto her face.
‘Be careful what you swear on, for your life, is no longer yours to command, it is for us to decide what shall become of you.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘We mean that you are charged with the murder of Dario.’
Louisa’s mouth dropped open, ‘No! I didn’t kill him...I swear,’ Louisa shouted, as the chair she sat on was thrown backwards. Shock took over, the accusing words replayed in her mind. ‘No... this cannot be happening.... I’m innocent...I did not kill Dario you have the wrong person... please believe me.’ Louisa begged as she sunk down onto the floor floods of tears, and hiccups. ‘Joive and his colleagues had a number of black boxes. They are the ones who have the security recordings you want... they are the ones Dario warned me against. Search their quarters... they are a threat to you people... believe me.’
’Believe you... with the evidence that points to you? If you’re innocent then you must have a twin roaming around in this ship... one who must share the exact DNA and fingerprints. And considering the research team only brought one human to Askar and there are no other humans within the Institute of Planets. You must be the killer... now tell us where you got the two knives and why? Let’s hope Joive will steady the peace talks, and as for you; why don’t you tell us the truth. We may be a little more kind on you when we pass sentence.
‘I did not kill him. I had no part ,whatsoever, in his murder,’ Louisa replied her hands shaking and her voice trembled with the occasional hiccup, as she remained absolute in her confession.
’We are getting tired of this ‘innocent act,’ that you are playing. Now tell us what really happened,′ the Askan asked with a frown.
‘I have, I will not plead guilty for something I did not do!’
‘We are not going to get anywhere like this, so why don’t I give you a version of what we believe happened Louisa. You took the dagger from a nearby room where the murder weapons were on display. And then for fun, or out of boredom began throwing them at targets unfortunately, Dario was at the wrong place. Perhaps, by accident you managed to hit him, so you chased him back to the room trying to rectify the harm..unfortunately you left it too late. So you shouted for help and played a convincing innocent act for everyone to watch. Except our technology has exposed your guilt and your monstrous ways. Already reading the report based on Earth raises concerns, how have your people gained those spaceships hidden in underground bases? Your technology is so basic compared to ours. We shall have to monitor your people most carefully.’
‘I’m innocent...’ Louisa choked out, fresh tears running down her cheeks, ‘I swear, I did not kill him, by intent or accident. Dario said that Joive was a traitor to your cause in regards to the peace treaty,’ Louisa said her voice diminishing until silence remained. Three pairs of eyes remained fixed on her face.
’I will update the progress on the murder of Dario to his Majesty, and the other Planetary Heads. We shall then have to release a press statement, now if you plead guilty Louisa, you may hold enough respect to walk away with your life. If you plead innocent with the evidence we have against you, you shall be a laughing stock.
‘But I am innocent,’ Louisa said, watching the door close her in again and left alone with the Askan and Aranian who continued to mask their expressions.
‘Come, you will be escorted to a cell, where you shall wait to have the court summon you,’ the Askan said, several guards marched into the room and caught hold of Louisa’s arms and marched her to a blackened room with soft padding for the floor, a blanket folded up in one corner with a jug of water, and tucked away a sterile room no bigger than a small cupboard.
Gathered in one corner, Louisa hugged her legs right up to her chest and she looked out onto a clear invisible force field. Guards lined up staring with the same distaste that people wore as they past her cell.