Thud. Thud. Thud.
I bolted upright, sitting rigidly in our tiny fold-out bed. I was wide awake, panting heavily and utterly drenched in sweat. I’d had that same nightmare again, the one I’d been having for months now.
Turning my head, I witness a breathtaking sight, and it calms me down. My wife; Anna, she had her back to me, but the way that it arched when she slept was beautiful, as was the way that her long brown hair was shining, even under this dismal fluorescent lighting. The way that she snored was adorable too; I could lay here with her all day if given a chance.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
‘Are you going to get that?’ Anna yelled. ‘I have to be back at work in a couple of hours.’ She added, burying her head under one of the fluffy goosedown pillows.
It took a tremendous effort to roll out of bed, and I couldn’t help but wince as my bare feet touched the ice-cold steel floor. Space stations these days nearly always lacked such things as carpets; it was a mystery to me, even after six months of working here on Aethis.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
‘I’m coming dammit!’
I cycle the ancient metallic hatch open with force, whatever this person wanted, it had better be important. As the door’s hydraulics hiss and the stagnant breeze born of beer and poor hygiene reaches my nose, I struggle to hold back vomit.
The putrid stench forces me to look down, and I stagger backwards at the gruesome sight before me. There was a square patch of white plastic sheeting, splattered with crimson red blood, and in the centre was a deep puddle where something was weighing it down. The object was about the size of an apple, only misshaped with severed oozing valves clinging to the outside.
I had to look twice because I couldn’t believe my eyes; It was a human heart.
The first thing I did was dart over to our bedside cabinet; I’d always kept my spare pistol there. Sliding the drawer open in a panic, and snatching at the firearm, the whole thing toppled to the floor.
‘What are you doing?’ Anna snarled, throwing a pillow at me. She was furious.
I didn’t reply. Holding my palm out, I tell Anna to stay where she is. She must have seen how terrified I was because she didn’t listen. Not that I could blame her; this shitty apartment belonged to both of us after all, and she wasn’t one for taking orders. It was yet another thing that I loved about her.
My training kicked in right away, as I start to check every darkened corner of the room for hidden threats. Tucking in against the wall, I got as close to it as I could manage, attempting to avoid standing out like a sore thumb. Anna was following my every move, no doubt brimming with questions until she looked down.
‘What are we-’
The scream had barely left her mouth when I reach over to hold her. Looking her in the eyes, I press my index finger firmly against my lips. Whoever did this could still be right outside.
I rest the barrel of my gun against the metal frame of the door, steeling myself to lean outside. One, two, three.
There was no one there, though. Peering through the gaps in the rusty walkway beneath my feet, I couldn’t see a single person on the lower floors either, everywhere was just as deserted. If you were to ask any resident of Aethis Station, they would agree that Ricknall Heights was not famous for its bustling foot traffic on a typical day. There wasn’t anything routine about this situation, though, there still should have been someone present, even one of several engineers that I’d seen working here last night.
It was one of the oldest sections of the station, one of the cheapest as well, which was probably why most people called it Rickety Heights. Everyone who could afford to live elsewhere had long since moved.
We came to Aethis looking for a fresh start, and until our savings grew enough to purchase somewhere better, the asshole of the station was where we’d have to stay.
I picked up my work phone, dialling digits that I’d come to know by heart.
‘Good morning Sir, this is an early start, even for-’
‘Dawson, I need officers and the forensics team at my apartment on the double. Get a perimeter set up, and then after that, I want you to start canvassing for witnesses.’
‘S-sir?’ Dawson stuttered.
‘My apartment is a crime scene, get up here now.’ I yell, hanging up the call.
It only took ten minutes before Rickety Heights became the busiest that it’d probably ever been. Approaching me, I see my second in command, Dawson, staring wide-eyed at the bloody gift I’d received.
‘Detective Dawson, status?’ I ask impatiently.
Dawson sighed. ‘Captain, there were no witnesses, and even the cameras are still offline. We can’t find fingerprints or anything else at the scene either. Whoever did this; they’re good at it, really good.’
I stare straight back at Dawson; my head was boiling with pent-up rage. I still couldn’t believe that ‘the scene’ in this case was my home, barely a few feet away. ‘Can you at least tell me who that belongs to?’ I ask, pointing at the mutilated heart.
She shook her head, hesitating to deliver more bad news. ‘The blood has trace matches to at least eight different victims,’ She replied, staring at the ground. ’The heart belongs to Adrian Clark though, do you know him, Sir?
‘Isn’t he that outspoken prick who thinks that women are useless?’ Anna interrupted.
As soon as she said it, the man’s face came to mind. ‘I’ve heard of him. I think he was a lawyer on the station; why would someone deliver his heart to our door, though?’ I ask Dawson.
‘Sir... You are the police Captain, the one person in charge of law enforcement throughout the entire station.’
When looking at it that way, it made sense.
‘So, they were sending me a message,’ I remark, pacing back and forth. ‘I heard someone knocking at the door, maybe two or three times, then as soon as I went to look, they were gone.’ I spat, trying my best not to punch the wall.
‘What’s going on, Ethan?’ Anna asked.
She’d been unusually quiet, but this was my area of expertise after all. Hers was in the station’s hospital ward.
‘Have you ever seen anything like this before Mrs Fawkes? Anyone strange come into work?’ Dawson asked, walking over to her.
I sigh and move out of the way. Despite knowing that she had to ask these questions, I also knew that Dawson was about to get a piece of my wife’s mind.
‘I work as a Nurse, Detective, not a Coroner, not a surgeon, not a murderer...’
Dawson was taken aback by my Wife’s outburst. ‘I meant-’
‘I’d just quit while you’re ahead, Detective. I haven’t seen anything like this before, and I used to work homicide back on Earth. Let’s secure the scene and get out there. We have to catch this bastard.’
Three hours later, the forensics team were hastily packing away. They clearly didn’t want to upset the Captain anymore than they had to. We were still stood in our pyjamas, not having had the luxury of time to get dressed, when alarms start blaring throughout the station.
I could already hear the echoing cries of the wounded coming from the ground level. The entire station was rattling, as rippling explosions tore down the length of the port side and aft bulkheads, and the ground beneath us felt as though it was about to fall apart.
‘Get down!’ I yell, tackling Anna to the floor.
I must have hit my head; the officers scurrying about in our tiny room were starting to look like mere blurs of washed-out colour. They sounded like they were talking underwater as well, with their words becoming more nonsensical with every fleeting second.
Another explosion took the wind out of me, throwing us both across the floor, and in a heart-stopping instant, my entire world turned black.