Murder Beyond The Milky Way

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Chapter Forty

Allyson didn’t just tell Harry how to get to Mark’s; she took him there. He tried to dissuade her, but all she said was, “You’ll get lost.”

And he would have, too.

Mark Chapman had chosen a place towards the outer circle where the buildings were more like the townhouses of Earth Prime. Although built along the circle, the houses themselves faced various alleys with cul-de-sacs off the main road. Harry was sure that from above, everything looked well thought out. But from the street level, he was terribly confused. He felt like a test animal in a maze and was glad that Allyson had ignored his protests.

Harry and Allyson entered Mark’s place by the front door. It was wide open. There was a foyer and a hallway with stairs leading to the upper floors. Harry could hear movement upstairs. In the hallway itself, two technicians were sweeping the walls with some kind of ultraviolet light sensor. At the end of the hallway, Harry saw two doors. They walked down to them. The one on the right opened on to a large kitchen with breakfast nook and the one on the left opened on to a large living room. Inside the living room, Harry recognized Mr. Keith, Mr. Harlas, Turgenev and Huntington. There was a large, fat man hovering over Mark’s body holding one end of a table top like contraption. Quincey held the other end. Harry looked around. The place was two or three times as big as Quincey’s up on the inner circle, but it was sparsely furnished.

Keith nodded to Harry. Harlas and Turgenev ignored him. Huntington walked over to him.

“What’s happening?” Harry asked.

“Dr. Martinez is doing an in situ autopsy scan,” Huntington said. “Ever seen one?”

“No,” Harry answered.

“They are basically taking holographic readings so they can make a three dimensional golem for testing, if they have to. It will be accurate right down to the cellular level. They’ll be able to call up holographic renderings of any part of his body they want to study.”

“It’s standard procedure, here, for any death,” Allyson said. “It’s why we can recycle the bodies almost immediately without having to store them for an indefinite period of time. I saw them do it to my father.”

“If this is too painful...,” Harry began.

“Oh, no,” Allyson said. “My father’s remains have been re-integrated into our ecosystem. It’s like having him with me with every breath I take.”

“Why all the people?” Harry asked nodding to the others in the room.

“They are members of the Vigilance Committee. I’m surprised you didn’t know.”

“I keep telling everyone, I’m not Vigilance, but no one believes me.”

“Apparently, this place doesn’t get many murders,” Huntington said. “In fact, one a year is almost too much. To have that Somerset fellow and now Chapman killed within a day of each other is way out of the norm.”

“You don’t think they’re connected, do you?” Harry asked.

Huntington turned to Harry so that his back was to Turgenev. “The first question out of Turgenev’s mouth when he heard about the killing was if Mark had ever mentioned Somerset on the trip out. He didn’t to me. Did he to you?”

“No... and with the way he talked, I can’t imagine him not mentioning something about it especially with Jane Somerset sitting at the same table.”

Huntington turned away and walked back to Turgenev. As he approached, Turgenev lifted his head and subtly pointed his chin towards Harry. Huntington, equally as subtly shook his head, no.

Quincey helped Dr. Mendoza place the scanning devise on a low table in front of the sofa. Harry guessed that the machine was about four and a half feet long and two feet wide. Once the machine was on the table, Dr. Mendoza sat his bulk down on the sofa played with some dials on the side of the scanner until a holographic image of Mark’s rib cage appeared on the scanner’s upper surface. Several of the ribs were broken.

Harry walked over for a closer look. Quincey introduced him to Dr. Mendoza.

“What do you make of it?” Quincey asked Dr. Mendoza.

“Looks like he was crushed,” Dr. Mendoza said. “There is no other physical trauma. There is no bruising to his face nor to his hands.” He played with the dials again. “There are no toxins in his system. According to this, he suffocated.”Dr. Mendoza turned to Harlas. “You guys didn’t have an accident out at your mine that you’re not reporting.”

“No,” Harlas said. “We’ve reported everything. There’s no reason not to.”

“How did you happen to find him?” Harry asked.

“He didn’t show up for work this morning,” Quincey said. “Since he was the new man in the shop, his foreman figured he had gotten lost and sent someone to hunt him up after lunch. They found him here.” Quincey turned to Dr. Mendoza. “When did he die?”

Dr. Mendoza played with the dials again. “5:30 this morning.”

“That’s just about the time he would have been getting up to go to work,” Quincey commented.

“Is there any sign of a struggle?” Harry asked. “If he was killed here, how did the killer get in?”

“No one locks their doors. No need,” Dr. Mendoza said. “If he was killed here, the killer probably walked right in unimpeded.”

“What do we do now?” Harry asked.

“That’s up to you,” Dr. Mendoza said. “He listed you as his contact/next of kin on his personal data.”

“You’re not serious,” Harry said.

“It’s right here,” Dr. Mendoza said holding out his medical PCD.

Harry shook his head. “What am I supposed to do?”

“Dispose of the body,” Dr. Mendoza said.

Harry looked around totally lost for words. He had absolutely no idea of even how to begin.

“I’ll help you,” Allyson said, coming to his rescue. She had walked up behind Harry and was looking at the holographic image of Chapman’s broken ribs.

Dr. Mendoza readjusted the holographic image to include all of Mark’s upper skeleton. He then typed a command into the scanner and red dots appeared about midway down both of Mark’s humeri.

“He also has hairline fractures on both upper arms on the same plain as the broken ribs,” Dr. Mendoza said. He turned to Harlas. “Was he at some other mine this morning?”

“He wasn’t supposed to be,” Harlas said. “He was scheduled to work outside the dome with one of the collection crews re-calibrating the hydrogen consumption on the team’s compressor. But like I said, he never showed up for work.”

Dr. Mendoza turned to Quincey. “I’d stake my reputation that this young man got tangle up in a hose or something that pulled tight around him and he died before he could get free.”

“Maybe he died somewhere else and his body was transported back here,” Quincey suggested.

“That makes more sense than his dying here,” Dr. Mendoza said. “There’s nothing in this house that I’ve seen that could do this to him.”

Harry and Quincey stood by while Dr. Mendoza finished the initial survey of the scan. When he was satisfied that he had all the material he needed, Dr. Mendoza ordered the body-techs to remove Mark’s corpse. They bagged it and placed it on a gurney and took it via public transport to the terraforming plant. Harry and Allyson went with them.

On the trip to the plant, Harry was amazed by the almost total lack of interest generated by the presence of a bagged, dead body on the cable-car. Only one man asked what had happened and Allyson had quickly responded, “Natural,” leaving the man to assume that Mark had died from natural causes. Once people heard that it was a natural death, they ignored them.

Harry whispered to Allyson, “On Earth Prime, this would have generated a small mob of the morbidly curious.”

“Everyone here lives in fear of a dome collapse,” Allyson said. “We may not voice it, but it’s there. If we lost the dome, we would all be dead within 72 seconds and there’s nothing we could do about it. Accidents happen. They are rare and they happen mostly out in the mining domes. Sometimes, here in the city, someone will get hit by a cable-car or a couple of miners will get into a fight over something. But, now-a-days, even those fights are very rare. However, people die. It happens. It doesn’t happen often since most people who have reached an age when they can’t work are paid off and sent off world to either enjoy their final years or undergo a Youth Treatment. But when someone dies from natural causes, their assigned contact does just what we’re doing. The body-techs are called and the contact escorts the body to the terraforming plant for recycling. Everyone who had seen this body is happy knowing that by the morning, his essence will be nourishing those of us who are still alive. It comforts us.”

Harry didn’t find it comforting at all. Mark was dead. He had been murdered. Somewhere in the domed city of Nova-3, the person or persons responsible were sitting down to dinner. And after they ate, they could get up and do it again.

At the terraforming plant, the techs took Mark’s body out of the bag, undressed it, washed it and ran it through a processor that removed the water from the flesh and reduced the remaining husk to 35-pounds of organic nutrient and minerals. The nutrient was mixed with the Magnum-4 dirt and delivered to Harry in a 50-pound bag.

“Now, what do I do with it?” Harry asked.

“We find a nice spot, someplace that you think he might like, and we spread his remains out in one of the greenways,” Allyson said. “That way, what’s left of him can nourish the plants that supplement our oxygen and thereby improve our lives.”

“Well, then, why don’t we take him to your favorite spot,” Harry said.

“We could spread him out where we spread father. It’s near the outer wall by the LifeShield over up on the north side of the dome.”

“Sounds good to me.” Harry hoisted the bag of nutrient rich dirt that was once Mark Chapman on to his shoulder, and he and Allyson walked to the nearest cable-car stop to wait for the next car.

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