The murders, if that's what they were, came like clockwork.
Byron Echo is one of the smaller ‘population-overflow’ cities orbiting Earth so normally the police are pretty effective. However, despite the fact that the deaths were so gory, it took over a year for anyone to connect them. First to each other and then to a time scale. Every fifteen weeks. Nothing to do with solar flares or howling at the moon. Just every fifteen weeks.
At first, ‘Cash’ Nolan had resented his nick-name. It hardly inspired confidence in the forces of law and order but he was a good detective, perhaps the best. Detective Mikey Kanovic, his partner, had pointed out that it made it easier for criminals to remember and gradually come to fear him. As long as he kept catching them. Just after the third murder, they were assigned to the case.
They started with the information. Every computer detail was re-checked, matched and run through simulation programmes. The data was correct. The answers, no matter which simulation was used, came up ‘Not Applicable’. So the two men went back to scratch, re-questioning every person that the computer flagged up as being at the crime scenes during a period of thirty minutes before and after. The detectives were sometimes considered old-fashioned but they often found that face-to-face could reveal something, some little nuance, that all the technology of communication could not.
A week passed and there was nothing new although once or twice there had been some abuse.
“Why should we help you? You’re never here when we really need you...”
Blah, blah, blah...
“Nothing changes,” Cash said to his partner. “People were moaning exactly like this as far back as the twentieth century.”
He knew because he was an avid reader of the old stories. He loved Sam Spade in particular. After all, there was a master when it came to detection wrapped up with panache! At times, Cash dreamed himself into that era. In private mode, he would lean back, put his feet on the desk and blow smoke rings from his virtual cigarette...
Mikey ran the names through the system. No-one’s perfect. An unpaid litter fine, a noise violation. Overnight these people had bailiffs snapping at their bank accounts. They were as good as gold the following day, their memories not only restored but, in one case, functioning even better. But still not enough to help.
They re-visited the crime scenes but found nothing obvious to tie them together. No link to give even the slightest clue to the killer’s profile.
Back in the office, Mikey growled,
“What profile? There has to be something that we’re missing, some digit in the readout.”
They pushed back the times of their enquiries to one hour each way.
As before, the only name that matched was Mikey’s. He laughed.
“Well it would be, wouldn’t it? I was the Attending Officer.”
“That’s strange,” commented Cash, “How come I missed out on the second one?”
“You were Earthside. Remember? That ‘Dealing With Youth’ conference. The one where your “Smack-‘em-in-the-face” comment didn’t go down too well.”
“O yes,” Cash mused, that one...”
Both detectives grinned.
Minutes dragged, fused into hours. The clock on his screensaver just leered at him.
Cash slammed his hand down on the desk. The screensaver vanished.
“Damn! I hate it when...” His voice trailed away and he slowly began to chew his lower lip.
Mikey knew the signs.
“What is it?” he asked, excitedly. “What have you found?”
Slowly, Cash looked up, his eyes gleaming.
“When you enter a description in the computer and it’s not recognized what does it say? On the monitor. What answer do you get?”
“No Match,” answered Mikey. “Why...?”
“And if you run a simulation for a comparison crime and it’s not recognized, what do you get?”
“No Match,” answered Mikey again, bewildered. “I don’t understand. What are you getting at?”
There was a strange triumph in Cash’s voice.
“Then why does the computer keep saying...”
"Not Applicable”. They breathed the words together.
“We have a visitor, sir.”
The chief of police raised one crinkly grey eyebrow.
“Now? I’ve heard nothing.”
“No, sir,” murmured Mikey, “At least, we don’t think so.”
The chief raised the other eyebrow.
“Apart from the fifteen week timeline, the only other link is the 'Caucasus'; the weekly cargo ship.”
“Someone is coming up with the cargo every fifteen weeks, committing murder and then disappearing back to Earth? Seems a bit far-fetched! What about the surveillance cameras?”
“Nothing, sir and, even if it was wearing some kind of invisibility suit, it still couldn’t hide a sound signal. The computers have found nothing irregular."
There was a long pause before the captain asked,
“It? What are you trying to tell me?”
The silence was electric. Neither detective wanted to say the word.
The captain's cheeks ripened with blood as his anger grew.
“Get out of my office! Don’t come back with this kind of rubbish again! Do your jobs properly and stop trying to wriggle out of the fact that some human is actually outwitting you. Human, do you hear? Human! Now go!”
Despite this, Cash knew and trusted his gut feeling. And Mikey trusted Cash. So, at fifteen weeks, as the ‘Caucasus’ unloaded, the two heavily armed detectives waited behind a sophisticated sensor display.
Nothing. No readings. No alarms.
Gloomily, Cash walked away.
“I was so sure,” he muttered, “so sure it wasn’t human.” He stopped, turned, suddenly afraid of the answer. “Mikey, if you were the Attending Officer, how come you were at all the crime scenes before they happened?”
“Is it okay, now?” asked the alien.
“Sure,” answered Mikey. “You know it is.”
There was a brief puddle of light as the thing stepped through Mikey’s body from an alternate reality. It solidified, glanced round briefly then fixed its gaze on the petrified Cash.
“Ah... It’s so good to be back, Mikey.” Its fangs glittered. “Now, let’s go hunting...”