A Star Brigade short
Copyright © 2018 by C.C. Ekeke
“Five?” Sam D’Urso asked, disbelief outweighing horror. “At the same time?”
“Yes,” Ari Bogosian, former Galactic Union Chouncilor and current face of the movement to reintegrate Korvenites into Union society, answered wearily. In better circumstances, Sam had to admit that Bogosian’s strong-jawed face and dark eyes could convey welcoming warmth or stern authority.
At the moment, that face clearly had seen little sleep, and for good reason. Stubble from a new beard covered his jaw, his wavy black hair was disheveled, and those powerful eyes were ringed with circles that looked like bruises.
“Five Korvenites.” Bogosian slapped himself to keep awake. “All killed at the same time.”
“Christ,” Sam exclaimed quietly. She wore a faded army green twin-pocket shirt with long rolled-up sleeves and black denims, her butter-blonde locks pulled back in a tight bun. Bogosian donned an indigo collarless button-down and matching pants, more practical attire than during his tenure as leader of the Galactic Union. A masked Honor Guardsman followed them like a silent armored shadow, one of the handful which would guard the former Chouncilor for the rest of his life.
Sam and Ari marched with purpose through a cream-colored hallway with its halolights to the Medcenter, where the deceased Korvenites were being kept. Despite the warm lighting, she felt cold all over.
On the way to Agenor, Zeid’s tundra-like moon and location for this new living station, her mood had been euphoric. Sam had just come from another successful field mission, which were more addicting to her than actual drugs. She was visiting so that she and Ari could analyze potential candidates for Agenor Living Station’s Director of Operations.
Sam’s joy died swiftly when a visibly distraught Ari had met her at the station shuttle bay with the horrific news. Two months ago, the Ari Bogosian Sam used to know would’ve privately cheered at even one Korvenite death, his hardline views against the species’ rights well documented.
Before the Korvenite attack on Terra Sollus happened not two months ago, on the day the Galactic Union and the Kedri Imperium were to commence a historic trade merger.
Before Bogosian had been kidnapped and tortured by the now-deceased terrorist Maelstrom.
Before he’d seen the footage Sam had recorded from Union’s many Korvenite internment camps.
Everything surrounding that fateful day had caused Ari Bogosian to finally emancipate the Korvenites from nearly three decades of internment and pledge himself to their recovery. And that had been before he resigned as Chouncilor. Even more pleasing to Sam was his personal call asking for her to be a special advisor on this momentous project.
Bogosian had promised many things to Sam, first and foremost that these living facilities were temporary until a suitable planet was found to relocate the over one million Korvenite refugees.
Sam recalled that dialogue with sweet relish. “Only if you keep your word,” she had warned before accepting Ari’s offer. And Bogosian had been true to his word on everything, relocating the bulk of the Korvenites from those horrid internment camps all over Union Space to living facilities on the Terra Sollan moon Calliste.
More living facility space was soon needed, even before the inhabitants of KIF’s Monarch-Class cruiser Libremancer had been captured. And despite his reputation for taking a beating over the Terra Sollus attack, Bogosian’s influence got three more Korvenite living stations built within the Rynn System this past month alone. That included Agenor’s Living Station.
Sam and Ari finally reached a translifter, zooming down two floors then sideways to the left for a number of macroms. The former Chouncilor ran both hands over his face. The subdued neon blue of the rounded translifter walls highlighted how worn out he looked. “This isn’t how I wanted to christen a new Korvenite living facility.”
Sam scoffed. “No shit, man. Where’s the killer now?”
“In a solitary cell, on Level Two of the prison tiers.”
That news heartened her. “Nice! That was fast.”
Bogosian expressed a more negative reaction. “Only because the murderer immediately confessed his crime and surrendered without any resistance.”
“Oh.” Sam closed her eyes and rubbed wearily at the bridge of her nose. “I need a drink.”
Bogosian grimaced. “I need five.”
Sam gave him a sidelong look. “So that’s how you dealt with all the politics as Chouncilor!”
Ari folded his arms and put on his most Chouncilor-like face. “I can neither confirm nor deny that tactic.”
Sam snorted, right before a long and loud laugh burst from her lips. Ari clutched his gut, trying to stay straight-faced, only to finally double over in a fit of guffaws.
“We really shouldn’t be laughing,” the Star Brigadier admitted between giggles.
“If not now, then when, J…I mean, Sam?” Sam’s arched brow sobered Ari’s amusement on the spot. The former Chouncilor slapped his own face again. “I am so sorry. Serious lack of sleep.”
“Might wanna fix that,” Sam warned with a hint of steel.
Many assumed they had just started working together. Both Sam and Ari made no attempt to amend said rumors. In truth, they’d known each other years before she joined Star Brigade.
A lifetime ago, she recalled aloofly, when I had a totally different life.
The translifter came to a stop, dropping Sam and Ari off at the largest of this living facility’s three Medcenters. Two enormous white-walled floors were filled with the most cutting-edge medical tech, over seventy active doctors, one hundred nurses, and twice as many medroids on assignment from the UComm MediCorps Division, part of the team dedicated to the patient care of the 7,000+ Korvenite residents and the near 2500 non-Korvenite residents working here.
The two humans strode through the first floor with its laboratories, sickbay rooms, and beds. Ari led Sam through the scurrying bustle of medroids and multi-species medical professionals toward the morgue. The taint of these murders left a palpable cloud hanging over the Medcenter workers. Despite the dark turn her visit had taken, Sam took in her surroundings with pride. She only hoped that her adopted daughter Tharydane would finally feel comfortable enough to visit at least one of these facilities and reconnect with her chosen race. I started helping the Korvenites because someone had to. Now I help them for Tharydane. Sam’s adopted daughter had lost her actual family years ago; she would not lose the remnants of her race as well.
“Here we are.” Ari’s voice pulled Sam from her musing and toward the Medcenter morgue at the end of the massive first floor. The morgue with its grayish-brown ferroment walls and open-spaced atrium had become a makeshift crime lab. Half a dozen beings, mostly Galdorian, dashed about between the massive holoscreens displaying information on the deceased.
In the next room to the right, all five Korvenite corpses had been laid on a connected floating table. A forcefield surrounded the corpses, preserving them post mortem. Three males, two females. The oldest one must have been no older than thirty years old. Up close, their colorless faces looked peaceful, their bodies virtually undamaged save for some scars on one of the males. They could’ve been sleeping for all anyone knew.
What a waste. Sam had to look away, battle-hardened as she was.
Rounding the table was a Galdorian in a white lab robe with the usual stalked eyes, rubbery mauve skin, and beaked mouth. He conferred rapidly with a copper-skinned Kudoban in bright green robes. The telepathic species with their egg-shaped head, three mouths, and overly long necks could be recognized anywhere. On the far end of the table, Sam spied a smooth black-furred Kintarian standing as tall as Star Brigade’s own V’Korram Prydyri-Ravlek, decked out in light beige combat armor. He stood like a perfectly carved statue, pointy ears pricked up attentively as his counterparts prattled on.
A kaleidoscope of holoscreens in varying sizes surrounded the group, all displaying holovids, images, or data pertaining to these killings.
Bogosian place a hand on the small of Sam’s back, directing her through the holoscreens toward the assorted group. “Samantha, meet Dr. Heuffeje, a xenobiologist specializing in Korvenite physiology; Counselor Makko’mau’liri, who works extensively with the Korvenite residents; and D’Liom Oleth-Yurlii, one of our security chiefs on Agenor Living Station.”
Sam shook hands with the Galdorian, the Kudoban, and the Kintarian respectively.
“Call me Liri,” the Kudoban requested during the greeting. If not for her name and feminine voice, Sam wouldn’t have guessed the androgynous Kudoban’s gender.
“What’s been the reaction from the other Korvenites in residence?” Bogosian asked.
“Mood sucks,” growled D’Liom brusquely. “The Korvenites want answers, and are getting incensed cause none are coming. I’ve instituted a night curfew and posted extra security throughout the safe zone just in case.” Each living facility had a sprawling “safe zone” environment designed like a small township where the Korvenites could move freely between their homes, recreation areas, dining areas, and schools for the children and actively use their psionic abilities. Per Sam’s ardent request, every safe zone resembled the rolling green grasslands in Terra Sollus’s Oklorada Basin. In the same vein, every high ceiling above replicated the sunny days and dark, starry nights of the Union capitalworld’s twenty-five-orv diurnal cycle. Agenor Living Station followed the same model. As a safety precaution, dampening fields suppressed Korvenite abilities once they exited the safe zone for any reason.
“And who is our friendly neighborhood killer?” Sam asked.
Liri pointed at a large holo, which flew into everyone’s line of sight. The mugshot of a young Korvenite appeared, twenty-one years old as his records stated. His ovular face was long and ordinary and unsmiling. His head was shaved almost to the scalp, leaving only even violet stubble. He faced the screen with sullen eyes, bright golden pupils on pitch-black sclera like all Korvenites.
“They were all Unlinked at the time, the perpetrator and the victims,” Liri explained in her serene triple-tenor voice. “The killer employed a type of psychic lightning, but at a lethal level to fry his victims’ synapses at once.” She touched on one holoscreen with both hands, only to abruptly throw her long arms back outward. The screen split into five, showing the five deceased Korvenites alive and well in different parts of the facility, interacting with other Korvenites. At the exact moments of death, some stiffened, others convulsed, one crumpled. Timestamps on each holovid confirmed that all died at the same instant.
“The bodies are physically unharmed,” Dr. Heuffeje announced with a croaky Galdorian lilt. He pressed on a smaller holoscreen, bringing up an image that resembled a pink misshapen blob. “Except the brain matter, which has been near-liquefied like so in all five victims.”
“You’re sure it was him?” Sam asked, gesturing to the killer’s holo.
“His psychic imprint was all over their brains,” Liri said. “He didn’t bother covering it up.”
“Holovid footage sees him interacting with Thraco on two separate occasions.” Oleth-Yurlii tapped a small holoscreen with a clawed finger to expand it, showcasing the slim Korvenite youth speaking with Thraco, a tall and burly member of the deceased.
Sam took a closer look at the bodies. “What about these particular Korvenites made them targets?”
“Perhaps he wanted vengeance on those five for failing Maelstrom,” Heuffeje offered, scratching the top of his beak with a webbed hand.
Oleth-Yurlii glowered at the Galdorian with flattened ears. “We don’t have a conclusive theory.”
The inference landed on Sam like a meteor strike. “They were Retributionaries?”
Heuffeje nodded. “Some of the ones found on Libremancer. The killer was in Kumakiri, an Earth-adjacent internment camp in the Regulus Systems. According to other former Retributionaries from the Libremancer, Maelstrom had planned on liberating Kumakiri.”
“But thanks to Star Brigade’s constant interference,” Bogosian added, “he never got the chance.”
Sam allowed herself a satisfied little smirk when hearing this, but her mind was rooted in this case. The revelation of all five Korvenites’ ties to Maelstrom gave these murders many more wrinkles. “Never visited Kumakiri. Anything noteworthy about it?”
Bogosian filled in the gaps here. “Several Maelstrom followers from the first Korvenite Uprising in 2398 were imprisoned there.”
“Our killer was part of Maelstrom’s original terrorist cell,” Liri said. She touched the Korvenite’s holo again and a brisk scroll of data appeared next to his photo. “From what we know, he wasn’t a Retributionary, but a…” She swallowed hard before stating the Korvenite’s title, “A ‘divine inquisitor.’”
“A torturer,” Sam assumed without uncertainty. “Did anyone ask him why he killed other KIF members?”
Oleth-Yurlii bristled. “The cub hasn’t spoken since he gave himself up. We tried traditional interrogation, sensory deprivation as well as psychic interrogation. He got some strong psychic defenses even with his telepathy inhibited. “
“Some had considered more aggressive tactics. But,” Ari Bogosian added upon Sam’s angry look, “that’s in complete contradiction of why I emancipated the Korvenites in the first place.”
Oleth-Yurlii’s contemptuous snort revealed his stance on that notion.
Sam turned back to the holo of the Korvenite. “Does he have a name, or are we just going to call him ‘the killer’?” she finally asked, annoyed.
“The only data we got when scouring his Kumakiri records was a designation,” Liri said. “011361.”
Sam’s mouth tightened. Less than two months ago, Korvenites living within Union borders had been confined against their will to horrid internment camps for the better part of three decades, stripped of their freedoms, their culture, their homeworld, even their names.
All thanks to a dozen idiotic Korvenite protesters who fucked things up for everyone, Sam fumed. “We know anything else about him?” she asked, idly rubbing the back of her neck.
“Other than what we told you, no.” Liri shook her egg-shaped head. “Since he’s come here, he has kept to himself and had nothing to say. His internment-camp records were pretty barebones as well.”
Ari took Sam aside from the larger group. He had over half a foot on her in height. “Under different circumstances, I’d want to find out why he killed five of his own, particularly five fellow KIF devotees,” the former Chouncilor said quietly, scratching his head in a thoughtful way that reminded Sam of Habraum. “But between relocating all the internment-camp Korvenites and the ones found on the Libremancer, I’d rather just ship him off to a penal colony and be done with it.”
Sam settled her gaze back on the five corpses. Ari’s solution was the easiest avenue to travel. The killer admitted guilt, and they had video footage of him with the victims before their demises. But something about this whole scenario didn’t add up, and Sam did love herself a good mystery. “I’ll make him talk,” she decided.
To be continued in the Star Brigade Books 1- 4 boxset!