Issue IX -- Mysteries

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Read about the contributors to our ninth issue and see excerpts from each article or story.  

    Issue IX Contents

Tribute -- Kenneth Chiacchia

A priest from an order considered to have questionable loyalties to the state is asked to help solve a series of very strange murders.

Brain Spike -- Resa Nelson

Resa Nelson makes a welcome return to Oceans of the Mind with an intriguing mystery that focuses on how our brains work

The Coptic Cross -- Cherith Baldry

In a world that seems to echo England of several hundred years ago, Hugo Crichton has to find a murderer whose exposure may further complicate the ever present tensions between Church and State.

The Murder of Lawanda Smith -- Terry Bramlett

Phil Lutz manages to stop a lynch mob after a space station explodes, but will he be able to deal with the murder linked to it

Everyone Needs a Couch -- Suzanne Church

When Tank Lazier's girlfriend moves out and leaves him penniless, he takes a seemingly simple writing commission with very unexpected results. 

For We Being Many -- Paul Marlowe

In a future Vancouver, where the Police are just as likely to be Ministers, McHaffey has to balance the dilemma of having a foot in both camps as he looks to solve a series of strange deaths. I hope we'll see more of McHaffey in the future.

Demonstration Day -- Ian Creasey

Is Drake really at the convention to sell experimental supplies or does he know more about the disappearance of Professor Rankin than he's letting on. 

Tribute © 2003 Kenneth Chiacchia 

Idghe approached the corpse slowly, trying to maintain his dignity even as he fought to beat down his horror.

She had been a beauty in life, a flower of the nont'h people -- a maiden just shy of marriage age.  Her feather-strands were bunched together in a sleeping net, but Idghe could see from the wisps that escaped around the edges of her flat face that they had grown thick and lustrous, with a hint of silver to the gray. He could see the foremost of her triangular tooth-scales just sticking out from the narrow slit of her closed mouth, perfectly straight and symmetrical.

Idghe tried not to think of his own sister.  To help regain his focus, he looked out the window over the dead girl's bed.  He took a slow breath, watching the retrograde moon where it hung low on the desert horizon, meeting the warm glow of the rising sun.  Then he looked down again.

Although she had died without anyone touching her, Idghe could read the signs of violence in her death.  Her wide eyes -- frozen open by relaxation of the muscles and then rictus -- looked unseeingly into the room with big, yellow irises, the physiology of death widening the pupils to near-circularity.  Shiny patches showed on her skin where she had twisted so violently that the microscopic scales had rubbed off.  And though she lay now in the neutral repose of the dead, all muscles relaxed, the bedclothes wound about her body revealed her final struggle.

"Her uncle, the master of this house, finds her early this morning, my Lord Priest," Chief Constable M'mra said over Idghe's shoulder, presumably trying to sound nonchalant.  But he failed, because a hint of a whistling sound in his voice betrayed his fear.  "I wonder ..."

Idghe held up a hand, silencing the man.  Even the clarity of the Hcniton language -- which possessed only two tenses, for that which was and that which might be -- failed to offer clarity to one such as M'mra, whose entire life supported a lie.

She lay as they had found her, wrapped in expensive, fine-woven bedclothes.  Her left arm bore a bracelet that looked to be real gold:  This was a wealthy family, one of the few among the Hcniton community in the province who had retained their wealth in the face of the Ehrehnon Occupation.

That in itself marked them as probable collaborators.

Indeed, it had probably been the family's complicity with the invaders that finally forced the Constabulary -- the keepers of the Occupation's peace -- to admit that they were out of their depth, that something out of the ordinary was happening.  So after exhausting every other avenue at their disposal, they finally admitted they could not handle this crisis.

And contacted their enemies, the Church of Aplainong.

Would that they had contacted the Church sooner -- or perhaps a total of four girls would not now be dead.  This girl, like the others, had neither been murdered in the mundane sense of the word nor felled by illness.

She had died of a dream.

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Brain Spike © 2003 Resa Nelson

Resa Nelson has sold over a dozen stories to Science Fiction Age, Aboriginal and several anthologies. She is also the TV/Movie columnist for Realms of Fantasy.

John's mother walked into the noisy Manhattan loft, filled with children and acrylic paint and canvases -- Caren's small, private art school.  Caren saw her and wished there were no such person as Phineas Gage.  She wished no one had to know about an accident that happened two hundred years ago.

Caren bit her lip with sudden realization.  She didn't know where Sooky was.

It was important to know where Sooky was at any given moment.

Caren wasn't just Sooky's aunt these days -- she was her legal guardian.  It was Caren's responsibility to take care of her.  To watch her.  To make sure nothing else happened.

John's mother approached Caren, starting a conversation that Caren superficially acknowledged.

Time froze for a moment.

Caren shut out every distraction surrounding her:  the words, the sounds, the sights.  She put the world on hold as she scanned for Sooky.

The room was bright and airy.  The wide, winding staircase and the loft itself were transparent.  It was easier for Caren and her assistant to keep track of their ten young and talented students.

Sooky had stalked past the floor-to-ceiling windows just minutes ago.  She'd paused, hands fluttering by her sides.  She'd reminded Caren of an indoor cat singing a quivering hunting song to a bird spotted outside.

There she is, Caren realized.  Sooky was back at the clay workstation where she'd made a one-foot square slab of clay yesterday.

But Sooky wasn't working at the clay slab.  She had an empty glass jar turned upside down.  She stared at it intently.

Caren relaxed.  Her world thawed back to normal.

"Don't you understand?" John's mother was saying.  "This isn't a bad thing.  It's good for John to quit."

Caren didn't have to wonder what part of the conversation she'd missed while she'd been scanning for Sooky.  The territory was far too familiar.  "Is it too late to stop treatment?"

"Stop the treatment?"  John's mother stared at Caren in horror.  "Have you lost your mind?"

"It's changing John's work."  Caren wished she could find a way to make John's mother understand.

She doesn't know, Caren thought.  She doesn't have an inkling what it's like to love your work with your whole heart.  What being gifted feels like.  She's never had to watch it all die.  "What's happening to John is worse than--"

"John has a brain spike," his mother said, her voice steady and full of conviction.  "I don't want him growing up to be a serial killer.  It's not worth the risk."

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The Coptic Cross © 2003 Cherith Baldry

Cherith Baldry was born in Lancaster, England and studied at Manchester University and St. Anne’s College, Oxford. After a time teaching, including lecturing at the University of Sierra Leone, Cherith is now a full time writer. Her novel, The Reliquary Ring is published by MacMillan this year.

Colonel Hugo Crichton paused outside the South door of the church and looked back the way he had come. To his left, the castle's bulk squatted, its mediaeval outlines defaced by the solar panels on the battlements. The flag was flying to show that Roger Esmond was in residence.

To Hugo's right, smooth turf stretched as far as the tumbledown wall of the churchyard. Beyond it he could just see the white sails of the local wind farm, lazily turning in the morning breeze. The air glinted clear; the sky was the blazing blue of summer, promising a hot day.

Reluctantly, not knowing what he would find inside, but well aware that he wouldn't like it, Hugo turned away from the bright morning and let himself into the church.

As he closed the south door softly behind him, he saw the Vicar of Lancaster walking down the nave towards him. The Reverend Jane Taverner was a tall, slender woman, moving with a swift, unconscious grace in her black cassock.

"Thank you for coming so quickly, Hugo," she said.

"It sounded...urgent."

"It is. Very. You'd better come and see."

Hugo followed the Vicar back up the nave until he stood at the foot of the sanctuary steps and looked down at the woman who lay sprawled across them. Although he bent to take her wrist and feel for a pulse, he did not need the chill touch of her flesh to know that she was dead. 

An elderly woman, her gray hair matted with blood. A trickle of it had crept into the sanctuary, its scarlet lost in the blaze of sunlight angling through the East window, lying in colored shards on the gray flagstones.

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The Murder of Lawanda Smith © 2003 Terry Bramlett

Terry Bramlett is a Mississippi science fiction and fantasy writer. He has been published in Speculon, Elysian Fiction and contributed The Bubble Bursts to our first Mysteries issue last Fall.

The space station exploded. Phil Lutz watched the monitor, his mouth open in shock at the loss of life. The bar around him sank into silence. The announcer explained the explosions were continuing in a fuel bay of the station. They called it a terrible accident, but Lutz knew. He forced his eyes away from the screen and glanced around at the patrons.

The bar served human and Kakrillian. A dozen Kak sat in the front part of the bar. A few used their chameleon quality and faded to the color of the chairs and couches around them, leaving a puff of orange hair exposed that resembled a Kakrillian flower. They avoided Lutz’s stare. Lutz nodded. They understood. One Kak did not fade. He held Lutz’s gaze, until a cheer came up in the rear.

“Let’s get the bastards,” a human voice swelled over the cheer. The Kak ran for the door, but were stopped by the crowd of humans. “Kill ‘em.”

Lutz stood. Didn’t they realize that as many as twenty thousand humans died in that attack, just so the Human League could make a statement about Kakrillian dominance? Lutz grabbed his blaster and walked to the door, pushing people out of his way until he reached the surrounded Kak.

“He’s got a blaster,” the leader of the mob said. “Shoot them.”

Lutz smiled as he grabbed the leader’s collar and pulled the man toward the muzzle. “How about I just kill you? Maybe then this senseless crap will stop. All you’re going to do is breed more stupidity.”

The leader stared at the muzzle. “Somebody get this guy.”

Lutz laughed and surveyed the humans. He saw fear, not jubilation in their eyes. “No one is going to get me, and you are going to allow these Kak to leave.” The leader opened his mouth and Lutz pushed the muzzle to the back of the man’s throat. The man gagged as he nodded. Lutz pushed him away. “Make a path.” The crowd parted and the Kakrillians ran through the door.

Lutz took out his ID card with a bronze badge displayed. “Now, go back to what you were doing. The revolution has not begun.” Lutz glanced at the monitor. “After this, we may be lucky if they don’t kill all of us.”

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Everyone Needs a Couch © 2003 Suzanne Church

“Crap.  Double crap.”

I stood there, mouth hanging open, door ajar, jacket in hand, staring at what was left of my couch.  The left half looked normal--stained, ratty--but normal.  The other side was gone.  I thought back to an image I’d seen of the sinking of the Titanic, after the hull had cracked in two.  Its insides were exposed for the world to see, along a jagged, horrific tear.  My couch, like the Titanic, foundered.

I never should have given Lorna a key.  

I dropped my jacket on the floor and went over to my couch.  I touched the only intact cushion, testing it out for strength.  After a pause, I gingerly sat down.  It held.  Thank you God, I still had a place to sit down.

I glanced over at the vid.  The message envelope flashed crimson in the corner.  Probably a “kiss-my-ass” letter from Lorna.  I debated whether to open it, but my desire to further humiliate myself won out.  I went over to the counter and pressed the icon.

Dear Mr. Lazier:

Thanks for your recent submission to Impact Quarterly.  It does not suit our current needs.

“Just what I needed, more rejection.”

The envelope icon was still flashing, so I pressed it again.  Five credits have been withdrawn by “Impact Quarterly” for message delivery charges.  Your account is now below zero.  Unless a deposit is made in two days, your status will change to off-world.

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For We Being Many © 2003 Paul Marlowe

Paul's interest in the interplay of technology, politics, and ideology prompted him to take degrees in political science and physics at university, and later led to him writing fiction. He also found the job description for 'writer' attractive, as it did not include the phrases 'team player' or 'fast-paced.' He has discovered, however, that there is a lot of overtime to put in.

At the broad cathedral doors, the Bishop was squeezing his departing parishioners for contributions to his latest scheme, a renovation of the church’s seating arrangements. Amid the gentle solicitations, and the not so gentle handshakes, a wrinkle of consternation marred the Bishop’s brow as he recognized Father McHaffey at the end of the queue, passing the time there by tempting his dog with a waggling biscuit.

The line stuttered slowly forward, like a slow motion belt of bullets through the breech of a machine gun, with the Bishop firing off the faithful one by one toward the ferry quay. At the point of embarkation his assistant, Reverend Wight, with his portapayer, received the flock and their cash cards.

Soon, the inexorable advance came to an end. "I hold before you an open door," McHaffey announced, quoting Revelations and the church motto. His outfit, combining a clerical collar with body armor and a pistol, was not assembled to upset the Bishop, but McHaffey didn't entirely regret the effect it had on him.

“And you are welcome to go through that door. Really McHaffey, if you’re going to suddenly begin attending my sermons, you could try to arrive suitably attired, and on time. It’s no good showing up in the last five minutes to see how it ends.”

“Sorry Bish, missed the ferry. Had to take a tour boat over.”

The Bishop winced at the epithet, as he always did.

“And one generally does not bring dogs to church. Please try to remember that in future, McHaffey.”

They’d used German Shepherds in the police for a while, as a cheap alternative to more cops, putting surveillance gadgets on their collars. Inevitably, some change in management scrapped the program, and the dogs were due for euthanasia when McHaffey took one. It was lonely on patrol, and worse at home when work was over. He had tried to think of a name to replace the dog’s ID number, when he realized that most of the time he only saw its back end as it ran one way or another. So he settled on calling him “Tail”, and the name stuck.

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Demonstration Day © 2003 Ian Creasey

"Roll up, roll up!  Get your antimatter here!  Gravitons, superstrings, Higgs bosons — all going cheap.  Every proton has a lifetime guarantee!  Buy caloric, aether and nebulium while theories last.  Special offer on orgone and vril!  Dried ghosts, astrographs, universal meters.  Superconductors and Bose-Einstein condensates.  Athanors and alembics.  Test tubes and Bunsen burners, if anyone still uses them."

I switched on Markor's Domestic Star to spotlight the stock.  It had taken all afternoon to set up the booth, and I didn't want to have to take everything home again.  As the scientists began walking in, I mentally assigned a sales target to each experimenter.

Pale from lack of sun, or tanned scary colors from exposure to strange rays, the early arrivals stared at each other as if they'd forgotten what other people looked like.  Their expressions told of the despair of failure, or the voyeuristic exhilaration of uncovering the universe's secrets.  Only a few remained unmarked, as if they'd discovered an anti-ageing drug, or been silently replaced by a robot they'd foolishly made in their own image.  I recognized most of the arriving scientists, but one face was missing.

"Any sign of Rankin?" said Audran, who'd been browsing my stock of entangled photons.

"No," I said.  "You think your device can find him?"

He looked hurt.  "You saw it at Demonstration Day last year.  Given the right input, it can find anything.  Grab one of those tables and I'll set it up."

Let the sleuthing begin, I thought.  Audran had been nagging me to stock his latest device ever since he invented it, and this would be a good test of whether it worked in the real world, as well as in carefully contrived demonstrations.

"I need something close to him," he said, returning with his laptop computer.

"That's the problem: all his personal stuff disappeared with him — notebook, everything.  But we do have this."  I reached into one of my cases and brought out a dead dog in formaldehyde.

He burst out laughing.  "Is that the best you could do?"

"Don't laugh.  Occam here was his constant companion in the lab, and acted as point man in his experiments — or point dog, you could say."

"What experiments?" asked Audran, curious.

"No-one knows, not even his daughter; only the dog, and he's not talking.  Margaret reckons he died of a broken heart after Rankin disappeared, but I think lack of food and water might have had more to do with it.  Anyway, she preserved old Occam in case her father wanted to do any tests when he returned.  But he didn't come back.  And so —"

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