The City in the Sky

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Detective James Mulligan of the Ministry of Clockwork Affairs uncovers a conspiracy that may change the fabric of society in this steampunk mystery.

Scifi / Mystery
5.0 1 review
Age Rating:


It was still dark when the detective from MCA arrived at the Greenhouse District. He would have preferred to wait till daylight to begin but knew he faced the possibility of losing evidence should he delay any longer. He gave silent thanks that at least the building had been harvested. Searching for clues through bushels of crops in full bloom under the cover of darkness would only have made matters worse. And then there was the fog. Growing crops at this altitude was no small feat. The heating grates that lined the floors of the greenhouses pushed a constant flow of steam providing the zone with warmth, humidity, and the unfortunate by-product of a thick layer of fog. A criminal couldn’t ask for better cover and it was a wonder that the crime rate of these zones was relatively low. He hadn’t visited an agricultural sector since his childhood, but was not surprised that very little had changed about the area. The areas designated for food production have always had the same basic needs. Row after row of the low lying buildings created an odd juxtaposition against the skyline of the metropolis which stood shining against the night less than a mile behind him. Building 5 resembled an ant hill as a steady stream of officers entered and exited its main door. Like a moth to the flame, he followed the feeble light of the portable gas lanterns set up by the local Ministry grunts who now mulled around the sawhorse barricades.

“This way, Sir.” The voice of an officer standing around the makeshift perimeter beckoned to the detective. As he approached, the scene came into focus through the shrouded dark. The paltry lighting accentuated the horrors that had transpired there by casting long, flat shadows that melded into the surrounding murk. Even in this tenebrosity he had no doubt that this was the work of his man. The brass framework of the victim’s exposed skeleton lay sprawled out on the ground. The left leg was bent into a flexed position, one arm laid across the chest, and the other projected straight out from the body in the direction of a nearby barn as if the deceased were trying to point out his killer. Light glinted off the shiny metal and the fluids that still clung to it in some places. Underneath the prostrate body a puddle of oily gore drying on the ground twinkled cheerfully in the moonlight that filtered through the building’s glass ceiling. The detective noted the deceased’s newly flayed skin and underlying tissues arranged neatly around their corresponding body parts. Everything save the face and scalp which had yet to be located. He ignited his own smaller lantern and knelt down next to the metal skeleton. For a moment he found himself marveling at the intricacies of the machine. The lack of skeletal muscles, replaced by gears and pistons. A sharp sympathy pain in his knee brought him back to the task at hand. He forced his eyes to move upwards till they rested on the small boiler located in the center of the thorax. He slipped on his leather gloves and ran the tip of his index finger over the slippery metal surface until it successfully palpated what he was searching for: A tiny hole just to the left of the boiler’s center. It’s diameter was no larger than that of a pencil. Seeming satisfied with this information he continued his search in the superior direction. The brass skull with its still socketed eyes probed the depths of the starry firmament with an unblinking stare. The detective ran his hand around the top of the exposed metal and confirmed the thought box had been removed per his suspicions. He motioned to the tall Ministry grunt beside him who responded by pulling a small note pad and pen from his chest pocket. The detective began his dictation in a monotone voice making sure to enunciate to avoid having to repeat himself.

“Time of death was approximately three to four a.m. The victim, as of yet, still unidentified, was approached from behind. There is a single stab wound to the chest indicating the killer was left handed. The weapon was most likely a stiletto or similar small knife. Decompression in the victim’s boiler caused loss of motor function, which would render the victim helpless while the suspect skinned the victim. The victim’s ‘thought box’ has been entirely removed suggesting the killer had some anatomical knowledge regarding Clockworks. ‘Thought box’ removal ensured that death would be irreversible. All removed tissues have been arranged around the deceased save the face and scalp, which have yet to be recovered.”

The detective interrupted his commentary to inquire of a grunt who was intently dusting the area for prints if he “had found anything yet?”

The man just looked at the detective with bleary eyes, shook his head, and returned to his work. Suddenly yells of excitement erupted from the outside of the building. A young officer, his face wrought with surprise and terror came sprinting up to the perimeter.

“Detective!" he spluttered, “You need to see this!”

The detective rose quickly to his feet and followed his young guide outside to a storage structure not more than 100 feet away. When they rounded the building the first thing he noticed was a shaggy looking mass of dark hair that seemed to be floating in midair. As they closed the distance he could see it was not floating nor was it simply hair. They had found the victim’s missing face. The pale skin of the disembodied visage hung limply like a rubber mask on the handle of the pitchfork upon which it had been set. Its black voids for eyes stared at the gob-struck officers in disdainful mockery.

“Bloody hell...“, one of the cadets muttered in awe and disgust.

“Sir, have a look”, said another as he shined his lantern along the wall of the building standing behind the gruesome totem. The detective joined him and added his light. Large, streaky red letters glimmered in the torchlight.

“LIFE BELONGS TO THE LIVING”, read the officer holding the lantern. “What do you make of it, Sir?”

The detective didn’t answer. He ran his glove across one of the letters and scrutinized the residue that came away on his hand . It looked red and slick. Much like...

“Blood?“, asked the officer.

The detective shook his head. “Have a sample sent to the lab.”

A blinding flash of light burned his eyes and left black spots floating through his vision.

The Ministry photographer had set up his camera on its tripod and commenced with his duty just as the sun breached the eastern horizon. With antipathy the detective turned to cross the fields pulling down his bowler to shield his eyes from the onslaught of the new day.

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