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Tangled Threads, Tangled Strings

by Michael J A Tyzuk

Table of Contents
Part 2 appeared
in issue 148.

Tamara Tomson, detective extraordinaire of Acheron City, has had a few successes in the recent past, but they have been earned at the cost of some terrible losses. Now, she awakens every morning a mess, not sure how many bottles of wine she drank the night before. Her dissolving life must be put on hold, though, when a set of simultaneous murder sprees occur throughout the City.

Tamara is assigned to the case along with her partner, Jeremy, who may care a bit more for Tamara than he does for the case. As the connections between these murders become tangled like a puppetmaster’s strings, Tamara realizes that while her problems may have been suppressed, they can come back to haunt her.

part 3 of 11

* * *

Transport of the corpses from the Acheron City Morgue to the Rising Star was easily arranged. Mike even called ahead and made certain that Doctor Cynthia Geller, his Chief Medical Officer, was present on the flight deck when they arrived.

Cyndi Geller was an interesting lady. A little over five feet tall, she weighed less than a hundred pounds soaking wet. She wore her shoulder length chestnut brown hair down. Her dark eyes were intelligent and inquisitive. She looked something like an Elf out of a fantasy story. Cyndi was much loved by the crew for her friendly, open nature and her ready smile. Those same crew members were also deathly afraid of crossing her, so when Doctor Cyndi told you to do something you just did it and didn’t argue. And God help you if she caught you violating Doctor’s orders.

The hatch on the side of the shuttle opened and the side party came to attention. A boatswain piped Mike aboard as he stepped off the shuttle. He turned to his right and saluted the Imperial Flag that had been positioned beside the hatch. Then he walked down the line formed by the side boys and stopped in front of Cyndi. “Welcome back,” she said with her ready smile.

“Thank you, Doctor,” Mike said and gestured to the guests that had followed him off of the shuttle. Introductions were performed, the side party was dismissed, and the corpsmen began the process of unloading the shuttle.

Cyndi and Mike escorted everyone to sickbay, where the bodies were positioned beneath diagnostic scanners. Cyndi showed Gerald how to handle the scanner controls, while a corpsman went from body to body, making sure that each one was adequately positioned beneath the scanning field. The scanners were then engaged and the two doctors gave the display screens their undivided attention.

It was at this point that Mike decided that the whole autopsy process would go considerably faster with fewer people looking over the doctor’s shoulders, so he invited Tamara and Jeremy on a tour of the ship. Both detectives had been quite taken with the outward appearance of the Rising Star when they first saw her from the shuttle, and Mike was eager to show off his baby to his visitors. Jeremy was certainly interested in seeing the ship, but he was also interested in seeing what the more advanced medical equipment in Rising Star’s sickbay would turn up, so he declined to take the tour and concentrated on staying out of the doctors’ way. Tamara opted to take the tour.

Mike took Tamara on a walking tour of the ship. He showed her the various laboratory facilities that had been incorporated into the ships design. He showed her the crew lounges and the recreational facilities. He showed her the VIP accommodations, which were only slightly larger than the officer’s quarters. And then he took Tamara to one of the lookout stations and showed her what Iskander looked like from orbit.

Tamara stood before the over-sized portal, her nose less than a centimetre away from the transparisteel. Her eyes were wide with wonder. “You know, this is the first time I’ve ever been off planet,” she said.

Mike lounged casually against the bulkhead with his arms folded across his chest. “Really? Funny, I thought by this day and age every human being would have made it up to space at least once in their lives.”

Tamara shrugged. “I guess I just never got around to it,” she said. “I was born in Acheron City, and I guess I just never managed to find a reason to leave.”

Mike smiled. “I was born and raised on Earth, in San Francisco,” he told Tamara. “When I graduated from high school I followed in my father’s footsteps and enrolled in the Imperial Naval Academy at New Annapolis.”

“What’s Earth like?” Tamara asked. Her eyes were still focused on Iskander.

Mike shrugged. “It’s a lot like Iskander, actually,” he answered. “There are parts of the planet that are just spectacular to behold, and there’s also parts of the planet that are simply hideous, grim reminders of all the rotten things that humanity can do to each other.”

“Why is that?” Tamara wanted to know.

Mike shrugged again. “The last World War, the one that lead to the formation of the New United Nations, was fought with nuclear weapons,” he explained. “Whole cities were destroyed in the blink of an eye. Hundreds of millions of people were killed in an instant. The Earth herself has managed to recover from the scars that war left behind, but the ruins of the cities that were destroyed are still there. Some of them are still radioactive, and will be for a few hundred years yet. The ones that are safe have been declared historical preserves. They’re a tourist attraction to show all of us just how low our species is willing to sink when the mood strikes us.”

Tamara shook her head. “It’s a wonder that we ever made it off the planet.”

Mike grinned. “It is at that,” he agreed. Then his expression turned serious. He walked up to Tamara and came to a stop a metre or so behind her. “I heard about what happened to Alan,” he said, “what the implant that Doctor MacGregor found in his head made him do. I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry.”

Tamara shrugged. “What do you need to be sorry for?” she wondered. “You’re not the one who killed him.”

“No, I’m not,” Mike agreed. “But I know how you felt about him. No one deserves to be hurt like that.”

Tamara turned away from the portal and faced Mike. “You’re right; no one deserves to be hurt like that. Yet it happens all the time. The fates like to play with us. They feed us a little happiness every now and again to keep us content, and then the pull the rug out from under us and laugh while we try to regain our balance.”

Mike nodded thoughtfully. “I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.”

Tamara cocked her head. “So, how do you look at it?” she wondered.

Mike stared out the portal for a long moment and collected his thoughts. Finally, he turned back to Tamara. “I was a fighter pilot, once upon a time,” he said. “The instructors at the Academy saw the potential in me and so they manoeuvred me into flight school. I didn’t complain. I rather enjoyed the freedom of it. When I graduated I was assigned to a fighter squadron and posted to a carrier. I had just finished my first tour of duty and was starting my second when my commanding officer took me aside and informed me in no uncertain terms that I was being booted from the star-fighter corps because there wasn’t any room in a fighter cockpit for the son of a traitor.”

Tamara’s hand went to her mouth and she gasped. “Oh, my God,” she whispered. “What did your father do?”

Mike shrugged. “I don’t know,” he answered. “I can’t get anyone to tell me what happened. All I know is that, along with a colleague of his, my father made a decision and took some actions that changed the course of the last phase of the war. Within a matter of days after the fact I was told that he defected to the other side and that because of what he did I would never be promoted again, so why don’t you just retire now and save us all the trouble of having to look at you?”

Tamara frowned, confused. “When we met you were a lieutenant. Now you’re the captain of a starship. There have to be at least two promotions in there somewhere. How did you get them if the High Command was arrayed against you?”

“Simple,” Mike said. “Not all of the High Command agrees that my father is a traitor. See, the records from the event have been lost and so no one really know what happened or why. They think that the other faction is just jumping to conclusions. And every now and again one of those people gets a seat on the promotions board and decides to force the board to promote me based on individual merit and my fitness reports instead of denying me because of their fear of my father.”

“You think that they’re afraid of him?”

“I know that they’re afraid of him,” Mike answered. “I know Admirals and Commodores who have claimed in my presence that they live in abject fear of the day that my father and Cale Sandorsen return to the Empire to finish what they started.”

“You don’t even know where your father is?”

Mike shook his head. “I haven’t seen him for twenty years,” he said. “And God knows that I would love to. I’d love a chance to find out the truth about what happened that day, and I still have enough trust left in me to believe that he would tell me.”

Tamara surged forward and enfolded Mike in a tight hug. “I’m so sorry that happened to you,” she whispered into his neck.

Mike held onto Tamara and brushed his fingers through her hair as he nuzzled her. “I didn’t tell you to make you feel sorry,” he whispered. “I told you because I wanted you to know that I understand some of the pain that you’re feeling. You’re not the same person that you were when we met, and I kind of miss the old Tamara. I guess that I was just hoping that if I told you all that you would come to trust me enough to talk to me about what you’ve been going through.”

Tamara pulled away and looked up into Mike’s eyes. “It’s kind of you to do that for me,” she said. “I just don’t think that I’m ready to talk about it, not yet.”

Mike nodded his acceptance. “Fair enough.”

The intercom grid chimed for attention. “Commanding Officer, Sickbay,” the speaker said.

Mike let go of Tamara and stepped over to the opposite bulkhead, tapped the intercom control. “Richardson here.”

“Doctor Geller here, Captain,” the speaker said. “Doctor MacGregor and I have finished our examinations and we have a preliminary report for you.”

“Very well,” Mike answered. “Tell Commander Kyle to assemble the senior staff and our guests in the Number One Conference Room. Detective Sergeant Tomson and I will meet you there.”

* * *

Jeremy, Gerald, and Cyndi were waiting in the Number One Conference Room when Mike and Tamara arrived. Also present were Matt, Maureen, and the rest of the senior staff of the Rising Star. “All right, what did you find?” Mike asked as he took his seat at the head of the table.

Cyndi tapped a series of commands into the wall panel and the display screen mounted on the bulkhead came to life. An instant later an image of the original implant, the one that had turned Tamara’s former partner into a killer, appeared on the screen. “This is the original implant that was discovered in Detective Sergeant Morris,” Cyndi said. “As you know, the implant was installed against the cerebral cortex. The micro-fibre wires that blossom from the implant are designed to carry micro-electric currents whose purpose is to stimulate certain centres of the brain.”

“Finding and identifying the original implant happened almost by accident,” Gerald piped up. “When Detective Sergeant Morris was brought into the morgue I performed the traditional physical autopsy in the hopes that the results would help us determine just why he started to kill people. As you know, the physical autopsy turned up nothing, so on a hunch I ordered a brain scan. The scan identified an anomalous mass pressed up against the cerebral cortex. I performed an exploratory surgical procedure to see if I could locate and remove the anomaly. That turned out to be possible, so I removed it and began my analysis. The results of that analysis can be found in the briefing packages that you and your officers have already read.”

“We mention this because we want you all to understand the process that we followed to get the results that we’re going to present to you now,” Cyndi continued. “When Doctor MacGregor began his autopsies of the bodies involved in the most recent wave of killings he conducted the same brain scan that he had performed on Detective Sergeant Morris last year on those few corpses that still had their heads. The scans came up negative. When the bodies were brought aboard the Rising Star we performed the same kind of scan using the diagnostic equipment in our sickbay. Using our sensors and our interpretation software we were able to identify specific anomalies inside the brains of each of the perpetrators.” Cyndi tapped another command into the wall panel. The image of the implant was replaced with an image of a similar device, but this one was much smaller, much more refined. “We believe that this is the source of the anomalies.”

“The implant that you see on the screen functions exactly like the original implant that we removed from Detective Sergeant Morris,” Gerald picked up. “The implant contains a small scale transceiver which, when it receives the appropriate signal, triggers the implant. The implant then begins generating a micro electric current which it uses to stimulate the brain into producing an imbalance of specific chemicals. This chemical imbalance creates certain feelings or sensations, depending on the nature of the imbalance. The victim is typically given some kind of instructions to carry out when they start feeling those sensations. In the case of Detective Sergeant Morris, we believe that he was programmed through a course of hypnotic conditioning.”

“Okay, so you’ve identified a similar implant,” Mike interrupted. “My question is why did our scanners detect it when your scanners at the Morgue didn’t?”

“The scanners in the Medical Examiner’s Office in Acheron City didn’t detect the new implant because they’re not designed to,” Cyndi responded. “For starters, the redesigned implant is extremely small, and the ME scanners simply don’t have the resolution to pick up anything that small. The only reason we’re able to do it is because our scanners have been modified as a result of the Empire’s research into nanotechnology.”

Cyndi tapped the panel again and the image on the screen changed to show a tiny little metallic robot with two arms, two legs, and a boxy little head. “We detected several of these at the same time as we detected the implant,” Cyndi explained. “This is a nano, a tiny microscopic creature which can be programmed to perform a specific range of tasks and then introduced into the victim’s bloodstream. The nanos start working almost as soon as they hit the bloodstream. The Imperial Science Academy has been experimenting with specialist nanos in a healing capacity. The specialist nanos are programmed to perform repairs on the cellular level, and to ensure an unobstructed flow of nourishment to the cells during the course of the repair. The act of repairing the cell, combined with the act of ensuring the flow of nourishment to the cell, stimulates cellular division, or reproduction. This cellular reproduction is an important part of the natural regenerative process. Studies have shown that the use of specialist nanos on severe injuries has accelerated the repair and healing process by as much as fifty percent.”

“What we think happened is really very simple,” Gerald cut in. “The nanos, encased in a bio-degradable capsule filled with a non-lethal silicate suspension solution, were introduced into the bloodstream of the intended victim. Once there and free of the capsule they came to life and made their way to the cerebral cortex. The nanos then started breaking themselves down and used their own components to build the implant and run the wires into the various parts of the brain. We believe that the nanos we discovered in the vicinity of the completed implant were specialist nanos tasked with a kind of caretaking operation. They were there to make repairs in the event that the implant began to show signs of malfunction.”

“Has the nano technology filtered down to the civilian level yet?” Maureen wanted to know.

Cyndi shook her head. “The technology is still considered experimental,” she answered. “Laboratory trials have been promising, but there’s been very little in the way of field work done. The military has been given clearance by the Surgeon General to use the technology for serious wounds, but civilian hospitals don’t have the technology yet.”

“The original implant that was discovered in Detective Sergeant Morris was installed surgically, yes?” Matt asked. Gerald nodded. “Okay, so if the original implant was installed surgically, then how was this implant installed in its victim?”

“Further scans of the body revealed the presence of a near microscopic puncture at the base of the victim’s neck,” Gerald answered. “We believe that the puncture was caused by a micro dart. The dart was launched at the victim, and when it struck its target it administered the nano capsule into his bloodstream.”

Proceed to part 4...

Copyright © 2005 by Michael J A Tyzuk

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