The iFactor Chapter 23

Chapter 23

The train that led to the canyon was slow but abnormally deserted. Still, Matt felt uncomfortable. When he, at last, reached the first canyon stop, he made his way out of the car as quickly as possible without raising Detective Rishards suspicions. She was already a bit skittish around him, and he wondered how far he could trust her if the shit ever hit the fan.

The light of Sirius Beta was fading at the edge of the dome that covered the canyon. The dimming sky allowed Matt to see some of the brightest stars. An old child’s rhyme came to him as he walked the path toward the farm’s administration building.

Starlight, star bright

First star I see tonight,

Don’t let me screw this up.

It was the first time he’d ever been in the agricultural division. He felt strangely at peace, even more so than he felt in the central park in the central dome. There was dirt under his feet for the first time in years, and even if it wasn’t the dirt of Earth, it felt good. The walk was almost enjoyable.

“I don’t know what you hope to get from these excursions,” Rishards said. “I don’t see that we’ve learned anything solid from the other two sites.”

“Probably not from this one either.”

“Then what is the point.” She complained.

“Cases are not always made with solid evidence. When technology fails, then we have to look for small discrepancies, unusual patterns, anything out of the ordinary then piece the facts together to form a picture.” Matt said.

“How can you ever be sure you have the right person?” She asked.

“You do the best you can, and then let the jury decide,” Matt said.

“Dales, on Sirius there is no need for juries. We give the judges solid evidence, and they decide the guilt and punishment.” She said. “Any uncertainty and the system would fail.”

“Not at all,” Matt said. “The judges will still have to determine guilt; it just won’t be as easy for them.”

“Then we’d better put together a strong case and hope that pressure to solve the case and fear will encourage them to do so.”

“Fear?”

“Yes, fear for their families, their jobs, even fear of losing their sense of security or control over the populace. People in large groups can be dangerous when they believe their government has lied to them. Disillusionment and fear are a bad combination. The judges know this, they won’t risk it they are likely to convict anyone we give them. So it is up to us to give them the correct one.”

“And if we are wrong?”

“Then an innocent man gets punished, and a killer goes free,” Matt said.

“I like our system better.” She responded.

“It does provide certainty, except when it doesn’t.” The two detectives come up to a large field scattered with machines and agricultural specialists. The soil was being excavated and moved out in trucks. “I thought the forensic investigation was completed.”

“It was.” Rishards walked up to one of the workers and inquired about the whereabouts of their supervisor. The tired technician pointed toward a mature woman standing in the center of the field.

“Yes,” the woman greeting them uncordially as they approached. “What do you want?”

“Just to ask a few questions and to look around?” Matt smiled.

“Be quick then, we have a lot to do here.” The woman responded.

“A man died here.” Rishards reminded her.

“Oh, and you think that’s the worst of it, do you.” The woman turned on her. “Look at this field.” She waved her hands.” Ruined, all of it contaminated by human remains. This wasn’t just a murder officer. It was an act of terrorism against the colony.”

“I’m sorry if this inconveniences you.’ Rishards continued.

“Inconvenience, no officer.” She took on an even more patronizing tone. “Preventing the entire colony from becoming cannibals is no inconvenience. Now, moving four acres of soil off the fields and preparing another four acres from the dirt of a dead, acidic world, making it fit to accept seeds and saplings so that the colony will have enough food next season, that is a bit of an inconvenience. Charlie! Where is the new soil shipment?”

“It should be here within the hour.” A worker called back. “They just finished excavating it.”

“I bet you think we just put the seeds in the ground like on Earth, don’t ya.” She turned to Matt. “Most of the people here have no clue what we have to do to make the soil ready. I have four Ph.D.’s dammit. I should be in an office reading soil analysis reports and crop yield projections.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Matt responded.

“Why haven’t you found this terrorist yet?” she barked. “This is Sirius; no crimes go unsolved here. Isn’t that what they say?”

“And no one will now,” Matt assured her. “But there are still procedures to be followed. And it would greatly aid our investigation if we could have a few moments of your time.”

“Yeah,” The old woman sighed. “I’m stuck until the new soil arrives anyway. What can I do for you?”

“Did you know the victim?” Rishards asked.

“No, never met him.” She said. “Look, we already went through this with the officers yesterday.”

“I’m sorry.” He glanced at Rishards. “The questions that I need to ask you are of a more practical nature.”

“Such as?”

“The victim was cut into pieces by a laser cutter.” He continued.

“Yes,”

“Do you have many of those lying around?” Matt asked.

“No, we only have a couple, we use them to dig out the large plants and break through hard patches of soil.” She answered. “And we don’t leave them lying around. They are secured in the tool shed.”

“The blood spot was behind the shed,” Rishards whispered in Matt’s ear. “That’s where the body was cut up.”

“Yes,” The woman said. “And if that wasn’t bad enough, the sociopath put the pieces into the automatic fertilizers. The machines spread the man over four acres of prime growing soil.”

“Our investigation showed that the tool locker is access secured,” Rishards said. “The victim was responsible for overseeing materials and therefore had access to the shed.”

“From what I was told he was a rep from one of the corps, checking on the condition of our equipment so they could put in a bid for the new batch. The man had no business on a farm, but they gave him access anyway. It’s no way to run a colony.”

“Are the fertilizer compartments of the spreaders locked?” Matt asked.

“No,” the thought that someone would use them to contaminate our food supply hadn’t occurred to us.” The woman answered. “I will, of course, immediately request that the equipment is upgraded with such security precautions. Are we done?”

“One last point.” Matt pressed.

“What?”

“The cutters do they require special training to use, are they heavy, or clumsy,” Matt asked.

“Not particularly.” She answered. “I could teach you to use one in a few minutes, but to use one well does take practice; it is not a piece of equipment you’d want to be careless with. If you’re fond of your limbs.”

“Thanks. We’ll just look around some then we’ll be outta your hair.” Matt told her. “Thank you very much.”

“Come back when we’re not in crisis mode, and I’ll give you a real explanation as to how this operation works.” She walked away as a truck full of soil rolled up. “Charlie! See that this gets to the mulch mixer first.”

The detectives left the woman barking orders and went to see the crime site. It wasn’t hard to find. It was one of the few buildings in the cavern. Matt examined the security panel on the tool shed.

“It doesn’t look forced.” He commented.

“It wasn’t; the victim opened it.” She said. “Or the murderer opened it after cutting the chip from his palm.”

“Why would he open the tool shed.”

“Maybe the killer was armed and forced him,” Rishards asked.

“The killer left the same message.” He said, half aloud. “Where is the public terminal?”

Rishards pointed to a building about a half Kilometer along the road. “Over there is a service building. It has one.”

“A laser cutter would cauterize the wounds; even so, there must have been some blood.” Matt looked around.

“The images of the patch of dirt behind the shed indicated quite a bit.”

“Well,” Matt continued. “It would be really difficult to keep one’s clothing free of it. If I were a blood-soaked murderer and I didn’t want to go all the way to the building, let alone back to the main dome covered in blood.”

“Agreed. The killer would have to have changed their clothing.”

“Then what would I do with my clothes, if they were soaked with someone else’s blood.” Matt started to walk around the building. The dirt all around was recently dug out, to be replaced. “They didn’t bury it, or it would have been found.”

“They brought clothing with them.’ Rishards commented.

“And took it back with them.”

“Which means they had to have been carrying a bag of some kind.” Rishards realized.

“Or a case,” Matt added.

“So, let’s go see if anyone remembers seeing someone during the early shift who was carrying a case or a bag.” Rishards headed back to the supervisor, Matt close on her heels.

“It seems as though the killer didn’t display this one.”

“Then maybe, the Christian killer theory is wrong.” Rishards sounded vindicated.

“Or they just changed, their MO.”

After wandering around questioning the workers, they learned that the victim was killed on the same day that many of the primary schools had been present to learn about colonial agriculture. There were over twenty classes full of children roaming the canyon at the time, all with backpacks as well as teachers and escorts. It was fortunate the body wasn’t discovered by a class full of children. The killer planned it well; no one would notice one bag more in that group. It was also the day that the return train had broken down. Matt wasn’t sure how that information could help, but it was one more piece to throw into the box.


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