Happy New Year, kids! I thought we’d kick things off with a new short story – or at least a continuation of an old one. In “True Believer, Part One,” Daniel Nova, intrepid alcalde of the Sylvanes prefecture on a far-off planet (although, as you may recall, not ALWAYS quite so far away) called Circe, discovered (along with his First Deputy, Chris Stewart) a gristly scene at an abbey standing deep in the jungle which gave the prefecture its name. It appeared that a group of local religious types – followers of a relatively obscure faith on Circe called Jesuism – had been mown down by a person (or persons) unknown, using a weapon neither man had ever seen before. When we last left our adventurers, they were riding back to base, contemplating the shitstorm that was sure to follow. In this installment, we pick up the next day…
Murcielagon Rodgers-Ramirez, known as “Murci” to his mother and “Moco” to everyone else, sat on a field bench in the abbey’s courtyard. The sun was approaching its zenith, and although his team had cataloged and removed nearly all the victims from the blood-soaked courtyard and garden, the humid air remained saturated with the stench of sun-bloated corpse. The mintha paste smeared thickly on his upper lip helped to blunt the worst edge of the smell, but between the corpses and the leavings from the huersos (said leavings consisting of tattered balls of hair, teeth and bones on one end of the courtyard, and massive piles of kill-marking excrement on the other), Moco was glad he’d opted to skip breakfast. And lunch. And, if the angry gurgling from his stomach was any indication, dinner as well. With a sigh, the young crime scene coordinator (the youngest, if one wanted to get technical about it, in Pyr’s history) rolled over the last body in the outer ring of the courtyard, wincing as the body gave a ragged belch and released the pent-up methane from its rapidly-decomposing innards. “Excuse YOU,” said Cali, his assistant, with a giggle. Moco rolled his eyes and pointed toward the far end of the courtyard “Hilarious, Cali. Just as hilarious as the other fifteen times you said it. Why don’t you go check the scat samples for artifacts? We still haven’t found any rounds, and if they’re anywhere, they’re in that mess.” Cali, who had grown up on a farm, smiled blandly and sauntered away, breathing deeply and commenting on how the fresh air invigorated her before muttering something about the monks not being the only ones full of wind. Moco shook his head and pressed the button on his recorder, the obsidian needle scratching his notes into the bonepaste cylinder inside as he spoke. “Victim number 23. Adult male human, approximately 45 to 50 years old; cause of death appears to be massive cranial trauma with unknown weapon or weapons; the same minor burn damage and cauterization as the other victims. Cranial entry wound occurs at the right frontal pate; exit wound occurs at the juncture of derectary and izquidary posterior sutures. Both tissue and bone are missing along the entire length of the wound; cauterizing effect appears to be limited to entry point. Death was not instantaneous, as evidenced by massive blood loss at the point of egress. Considerable post-mortem tissue damage and loss; intestinal trauma appears to be due primarily to animal consumption…”
Across the courtyard, Cali Santourno snapped on a pair of disposable gloves made of rubbery chomai, and added a fresh layer of mintha to her upper lip; just because she could tolerate smells that sent the other techs running didn’t mean she wanted to breathe bearcat shit fumes all day. Kneeling carefully on a clear patch of courtyard, her overalls a cautious foot away from the nearest steaming pile of huerso crap, she picked up a probe and started at the top, using a small hand rake to push away layers of offal as she sifted for evidence. Moco droned on in the background; he was cataloging the number of bite marks by (probable) species now, and Cali tried not to imagine the connective journey between his own work and hers. Wincing, she did her best to tune out Moco’s clinical observations and said a little prayer to Inri that she would find something useful sooner rather than later. Five piles and two hours later, exhausted and sweaty, she amended her prayer to focus solely on evidence of the mysterious weapon; bearcats were notoriously indiscriminate eaters, and so far she’d found two rings, four labrets, some spare change adding up to three Sols, two and a half chanq sandals, and what appeared to be the license placard for a drover’s wagon.
“Gods of sea and sky, Moco, do I have to search every pile? So far all I’ve found is some cheap jewelry and enough dentín to pay for the lunch I didn’t get to eat because I was flacking around Poo Poo Junction.”
Moco, his own work finished an hour past, was sitting in the shade of the monastery wall and sipping cold tea from his cantín. He smiled and took in the courtyard with a lazy sweep of his arm. “Come on now, Cali, we all have a job to do. Yours is checking this little patch of paradise for some hint of the weapon that killed fifty-eight humans, four caninos and my appetite.”He took a long swallow of tea, pulled his field hat down over his eyes, and settled back to take a nap.
Cali rolled her eyes and sighed, blowing a stray lock of coppery hair from her eyes. She turned back to the task at hand, raking angrily through the nearest of the final dozen or so piles.
“Sure, give the farm girl poop patrol. It’s not like I spent five years at the same school you did. It’s not like I was second in a class of fifteen hundred, second only because Siñhor Smarty blew us all away with his giant sunflower brain inside a head like a melon. Never mind that I scored a 2950 on my entry exams. Oh, wait, that’s EXACTLY what happened. Bossy little cavilon, always…”
“I can hear you, you know. Excellent hearing is one of the many gifts that come with a giant head like this one. And as I recall, you got a 2780. I took that exam with you, remember?”
Cali stuck out her tongue and threw an undigested bit of coconut shell at her boss, who didn’t even bother to dodge; the shell bounced harmlessly off the wall two meters to his left. Cali was brilliant, but there was a reason she wasn’t asked to play on the squad’s pelaton team. Cali took a deep breath (a move she regretted almost immediately) and ran her rake over the next pile in a desultory fashion. She had a date scheduled for later that night; it would take forever to get the sour reek of huerso crap out of her skin, even with the special lemon-tomato soap the department used to remove it, and she didn’t fancy explaining to Touca why her new perfume smelled like death and spoiled entomate sauce. The sun was already at four hands; she had only a few hours ’til moonrise at best, and even if she scrubbed with pumice she was pushing it. Disgusted with the day’s turn of events, she threw the rake at the largest of the piles, a fetid monstrosity leaning haphazardly against the monastery’s obsidian guardwall. For once her aim was true; the tool turned over twice in the air and then planted itself in the outer layer of the pile with a soft plurp! Cali groaned and rose, her knees popping like spring ice after hours in a walking crouch. She walked over to the pile and pulled the tool free, then stopped; near the spot where her rake had landed, the obsidian wall – impenetrable to just about anything when set in interlocking blocks, even if it was brittle as glass when made into blades – was melted. Stripping off her gloves, Cali set the rake aside and pulled her shovel from her belt, scraping off the top meter of fecal matter. Cursing under her breath, she put on a pair of fresh gloves and popped open her own cantín, using the almond tea to wash the wall clean. At first, she couldn’t make sense of what she was seeing; the obsidian wall, streaked with clear layers in the pattern the old-timers called “Coyolqi’s Tears,” seemed to have been drilled with a cooper’s bore in a loose spray, each hole surrounded by a ragged trail of molten rock, frozen now in gemstone drops and streaks that threw rainbows in the late afternoon sun. Such a drill did not – could not – exist, of course; obsidian was used for the most powerful spells, the sharpest weapons, and almost all writing, sacred and jejune alike, but while it could be flaked, chipped, shaped and set, it could not be drilled without shattering either stone or bit, and it certainly could not be melted like candlewax. “Inri’s Teeth, what could do such a thing?” she half-whispered, crouching to peer into the highest of the holes. Beyond the point of entry, the hole became a twisting, smooth-edged tunnel just large enough to let her slip a hand inside. Reaching back, she was surprised to find that the tunnel extended at least a meter into the black godstone, ending in a small chamber; at its end, her questing fingers discovered a strange cylindrical object embedded in the stone itself. Knowing it would do absolutely no good, she braced her feet and gave the cylinder a hard tug; to her surprise, it came free immediately, the obsidian surrounding it crumbling to powder. Cali stumbled backward with a surprised yelp and landed in the gigantic pile of bearcat shit, sinking in to her waist. Screaming with disgust, she managed to drag herself out as Moco sauntered over, stifling a yawn with one hand while fanning himself with his hat with the other. “Ew, Cali, what the flack are you doing? I know you like to get immersed in your work, but this is a little…”
Cali silenced him with one upraised finger.
“Not one word, Moco. Here, I found this in the guardwall; apparently whoever murdered these poor bastards is using some sort of crazy magic that melts godstone and burns holes in people.” She dropped a chunky cylinder of some lightweight metal (aluminum, he thought, or maybe the strange silvery lupotecto metal the mountain folk used for their gliders) into Moco’s hand. One end was smashed into a bent flower of twisted metal, and the rest was threaded like a wagon bolt, but it was obviously a projectile of some sort. Ammunition for a gun, if one so fantastic as to defy reason or even the most advanced technology. “Cali, this is good work, but did you say the wall was…”
His assistant was already halfway across the courtyard, stripping off her coveralls and throwing them into the firebin with a sneer of disgust. “Gods, it’s in my HAIR!” she screeched. “Melted, Moco, yes, that’s what I said. And when I pulled it free, the stone around it broke like old adobixo. I don’t know what that thing is, or who made it, but I do know that they used it to kill all these people.” Cali threw her gloves in after the coveralls and walked toward the mobile shower unit, calling back over her shoulder, “If Touca tells me I smell like the zoo again, I’m putting huerso crap in your hat, cavilon!”
Moco nodded absently, turning the cylinder over in his hands. He walked over to the wall, running his hand over the bizarre streaks and blobs of obsidian dotting the surface. He held the rod up to the sun; there was strange script on the base – hard, blocky characters that resembled the text used by the North Islanders; he made a mental note to ask Tommy Wilson, one of his techs whose people came from up that way, if he knew what an US ARMY was. In the meantime, there was work to be done, and Moco was, after all, a professional. He flicked on his recorder, comforted as always by the scritch-scritch of the godstone needle on bone, and began to speak. If he noticed the shiver that ran up his spine despite the afternoon’s heat, he did not find it worthy of mention in his report.