The briefing was short and boiled down to a simple truth, the powers that be were freaking out. No one in the Governor’s office nor the corporate boardrooms was happy with the lack of progress the department had made on finding the serial killer. The last killing was hard to hide, they tried to pass it off as an accident, but several witnesses, including Jill, had seen too much for that. The populace realized that the man had been killed. The governor, every CEO, and representative wanted something done immediately; they wanted the people to see something being done. The Governor was going to have to make a public statement soon.
Until that declaration, the department needed new tactics to protect the people. Detective Rishards came up with the plan. The killer always sent a message via the public communications panels, then during the next blackout, an officer would be stationed at each public access terminal. They would watch each carefully. They may not be able to stop the next killing, but the killer’s compulsion to send calling card would lead to their apprehension. It would soon be over. Matt was not ecstatic with the thought of ‘giving’ the killer another victim, especially when that victim could very well be Jill. There was also another problem; there just wasn’t enough manpower within the department to protect the people and cover every station, when faced with no choice the killer might decide to wait until the surveillance ended to send the message.
Rishards had thought that through also, and the chief agreed. He called in every member of the department to guard and patrol. To assist in watching the public terminals, high standing members of the colony would also be recruited. These members would have to be pulled from those segments with a stake in maintaining stability and the status quo. These people wouldn’t have to know the whole history of the case, just enough to realize when they saw the killer leaving their message. Each one would be issued an old-style radio communicator. There would be static on the line because of the solar radiation present during a blackout, but they would work well enough.
Matt felt that the plan was the best one they’d had. It might just work and only cost a human life. For his part in the operation, he and Detective Rishards would be co-coordinating the teams and maintaining contact with all groups, governmental and civilian, during the blackout. Each observer was ordered to be contacted every ten minutes. Four officers assigned to them to keep calling the volunteers.
From the moment the “blackout” occurred, Matt became the messenger for every bored executive and homemaker’s call. They saw culprits in anyone that wanted to access the city com system. It would have made the situation easier if they could forbid the use of the system for the duration of the event. To do that, however, the government would have to notify the public and declare martial law. It had never happened in an off-world colony, and the governor of Sirius didn’t want to make history.
By their sixth false alarm call, Dales and Rishards were exhausted. The chief told that it was going to be a long blackout, ninety-seven minutes long. Matt looked at his chronometer. He never knew time could move so slowly; false alarms continued to jam the lines. Thus Matt and Rishards were nearly insensible when the new officer approached them with a concern ninety-one minutes into the blackout.
“Ma’am,” the officer addressed Rishards instead of Matt. He was pacing and obviously not in the mood for another false alarm. “I’m not sure if this is important. I haven’t had contact with one of our volunteers for over twenty minutes.”
“Twenty minutes?” Rishards yelled. “Why did you wait?”
“She said she was going to the restroom. When she didn’t answer the first time, I assumed she was still in there. I got worried when she missed the second call ten minutes later.”
“So you haven’t heard from a volunteer for almost thirty minutes.”
“Which volunteer?” Matt demanded.
“One from the executive’s.” The officer’s voice was weak.
“Which one?” Matt yelled at the officer.
“Mrs. Travis. At box seventy-nine.”
Matt was running as fast as his tired legs could carry him. It was doubtful that the killer could have predicted the exact one volunteer out of a hundred who would abandon her post to go to the bathroom at the exact time they were hunting their next victim. Was it possible that they set someone up as a victim? The patrols were watching civilians, not observers. They wouldn’t have been in a position to hear her screams. Vivid images of a dead woman splayed on the ground flooded his imagination as he ran. He ran until his side hurt, and the breath burned his lungs. He could hear Rishards panting just a few paces behind him.
The two detectives rounded the corner at full sprint. Matt nearly collapsed, he settled instead for bending half over, struggling to catch his breath while viewing the bloody scene with a tilted head. The body lay flat on the ground. The woman’s expensive black silk dress was cut down the front from top to bottom and left open to display the open chasm where her organs once resided. The organs now decorated the ground around the body. Her open palm still bleeding from where her identification chip had been removed.
“Adria Travis.” Detective Rishards indicated to the woman of Matt’s dreams, sprawled out as he had seen her in his vision. “Wife of Mikael Travis,” She stopped to take a few deep breaths. “Executive vice president of ES Mining Corp, she was our volunteer, and we couldn’t even protect her. Dammit, we served her up on a platter. What do we have to do? This thing, it’s not human Dales, it’s not!” Rishards put her face firmly into her hands so as not to see the spectacular demonstration of her failure on the ground before them.
“This just happened,” Matt observed. His skin crawled with the feeling that the killer, at that moment, could be watching them. He scanned the area looking for anything moving; unfortunately, the crowds of police officers and observers were moving all over the city. How could he tell what was out of the ordinary when everything was?
All of the activity had obscured all the footprints. Perhaps, Matt reasoned, he might have better luck if he tried to track back to the communications panel. It was on the side of a multi-level building about twenty yards from the body, he moved slowly toward it, scanning the ground as he did so. Three steps and he saw the small bloody device, lying on the ground at the base of the wall that held the terminal. His stomach turned as he saw the device. They were powered by micro fuel cells powered by the person’s body temperature. The power on this chip had not yet faded. “Rishards, I need an evidence bag.”
A shadow crossed over the chip.
“Thanks.” Matt held his hand up to receive the clear plastic bag.
“Hold on, Dales,” Rishards’ voice met his ears from a distance. His partner was still at the body.
Matt looked upward. For a microsecond, he saw a shadow move on the balcony above. He was on his feet and running. There was no way he could have known, but still, he was sure. The shadow belonged to the killer. “He’s on the balcony!”
Matt reached the top floor and ran onto the balcony. He’d seen no one along the way, and the balcony was empty. He was pacing back and forth over the surface when Rishards arrived. “I missed him, I saw him, and he was watching us. He’s getting more brazen.”
“What did he look like?”
“Don’t know, the sun was in my eyes.”
“I was in his shadow. Damn, he moved fast. It was him, I know it.” Matt walked around. “We need an evidence crew up here, now. That bastard just made a mistake. We’ll get him.”