The Headsman Excerpt

by Michael

I’m not sure how this will work out, but I figure why not.  Here’s an excerpt from my NaNoWriMo novel, now entitled The Headsman.  This is not the final draft, but it has been significantly revised since the first draft I wrote a little over a month and a half ago.  This is the first scene of the first chapter.  Enjoy:

It was a cold autumn morning late in the season and someone was dead.

More precisely, a young Nemurian male was dead, found half-submerged in the shallow banks of the River Samos with his head missing.  At least, that’s what the report had said.

They had told her when she moved from her home world of Zion that Ash was a quiet world.   This was the case despite its influential position as a planet located at the heart of several trading routes that connected the rebuilding Republic of Man and the much larger Genesis Accord, an intergalactic alliance of numerous species.  That wasn’t the only reason why the Republic viewed Ash as important though.  It was one of the first worlds settled after the purging of Earth and the subsequent collapse on the human race.  Despite the establishment of the planet centuries ago, most of the world was a verdant and untouched forest, with the tall alabaster spires of the human cities rising above the forest canopies.

Stifling a yawn, Detective Sarah Kirkland walked through the half-marsh park that rested alongside the Samos.  It was frequented by citizens looking to escape the artificial jungle of Noctuna, Ash’s capital city, and experience the planet’s natural beauty.  A cold breeze, catching the icy breath of Mount Lysander to the northeast, blew through the low river valley and sank it’s teeth into her exposed cheeks.  Luckily, she had a slight refuge from the cold winds in the steaming hot cup of coffee that she cradled in her gloved hands.  She kept her face close to the escaping vapors, and occasionally took a long waft of the smoky haze, thick with the rich smell of fresh hazelnut.

She was a member of the Ash Civil Legion, a quasi military and police organization that maintained order on the planet when the Republic’s Legions weren’t present.  For the most part, that meant that she acted as a glorified police officer, and was occasionally required to react to something more substantial, but those incidents were so infrequent that they were essentially nonexistent.  As one of the three members of the Alien Crimes division of the ACL, she spent most of her time following up with minor complaints and incidents involving the various alien species that tried to also call Ash their home.

As she approached the enclosed crime scene, the sensors built into the waist high plastic mesh detected her ID in her pocket and slowly opened up for her.  It was like watching a time-lapse of vines growing rapidly in reverse as the hooks of the yellow mesh unlocked and an opening was made for her.  She walked through, and didn’t even have to look back to confirm that the wall closed up behind her.

Once inside, she saw her partner, Alan Swift, at the edge of the crime scene.  He had a slight but still muscular build of medium height and an unruly head of black hair with a matching beard.  Beneath his outwardly stern face, he had soft brown eyes and a thin smile.  In the crook of his arm he held his slate, a powerful computer crafted into a near-monolithic black slab.  It was standard issue for the ACL and it helped the department stay coordinated by syncing reports and other documents in real time with the rest of the department.  A few rank and file members of the ACL patrolled the outskirts of the crime scene, making notes on their own slates while a medical examiner was kneeled over the body.

“Decided to finally join us, Kirkland?” Swift said when he finally noticed her approach.

“Had to get my morning coffee,” she replied.

“Long night?” Swift asked with a thin smile crossing his face.

She returned the smile.  “I don’t think what I do with my husband is any of your business.”

He shook his head.  “Always take it the wrong way, don’t you?”  He shrugged and waved Sarah to follow him.  “You actually didn’t miss too much.  I only just got here and it looks like a couple were on a walk through the park when they discovered the body.  The techs just finished up their holo-map, and Remus only just got access to the body.”  He paused.  “You ready for this?  It’s pretty rough.  The report didn’t do it justice.”

Sarah nodded, and the pair closed the distance to the body.  Once there, her stomach lurched in her chest, and she was glad that she had skipped breakfast earlier that morning.  The corpse was in surprisingly good shape, for what had been done to it, and there was a stark lack of blood around the body.  As the report had mentioned, the head of the roughly humanoid Nemurian was missing, but it was another thing to see it in person.  The turquoise flesh of the alien’s skin stopped abruptly at the neck.  She kept expecting to see the head, but it just wasn’t there.  The blow was clean, at least, and it looked like whatever had cut off the head had also cauterized the wound.

Swift looked down at his slate and made a few gestures on top of the glass screen.

“Prelim report from the techs looks pretty inconclusive, and it’ll be a few days before they get a full render up and running that we can poke and prod.  There’s a lot of debris and they’re worried it’ll take some time for the computer to fully simulate an image.”

Nodding, Sarah took a sip from her coffee, but instantly regretted it.  The black liquid was still scalding hot, a trademark of Ezekiel’s brewing, and it burnt her tongue.

“Sounds like their normal excuses.”

Swift shrugged.

She ran her fingers through her shoulder length brown hair, pulling her low bangs out of her face, and squatted down next to the body.  When she got close, she was hit by the odor of the decomposing Nemurian which blended with the aroma of the hazelnut coffee leaving a wet odor in the back of her mouth.  She had to turn and cough to dislodge the taste.

“Find anything?” Sarah asked Doctor Remus.

The medical examiner looked up from the body.  It was Doctor Ericka Remus, a thin woman in what appeared to be her late thirties, which was an ultimately useless measure with the current state of anti-aging treatments.  She had a gaunt face, piercing brown eyes, and neat black hair tied back into a simple ponytail coiled under a mesh cap.  Sarah’s relationship with her was almost strictly professional, but she never really reached out to many people in the ACL besides people in Alien Crimes.

Doctor Remus pulled down the plastic mask that covered her mouth and let it hang around her neck.  “I finished what I can out here.  I need to take it back to the morgue to do some more extensive testing and to work out the identity of the body.”

“You can’t identify the body here?” Swift asked.

Remus shook her head, and motioned for the pair to follow her hands.  She lifted the right arm of the Nemurian and turned the hand over so that Sarah and her partner could look at the palm.  It was blackened.  Similar to a human’s fingertip, each Nemurian palm had a unique pattern of grooves and fissures that made it easy to identify a unique individual.

“No,” Remus said.  “Whoever did this was thorough.  Besides taking off the head, the killer also went to great lengths to cover up the identity of the victim.  And given what Nemurian DNA is like, there’s no way I’ll be able to narrow it down to something substantial out here.  I’ll have to take it back to the lab and do some testing to hopefully narrow it down to at least a specific brood.”

“Will you even be able to do that? He looks young.  Maybe he hasn’t been gene-melded to a brood yet?”

Remus nodded and sighed.  “Let’s hope not.”

“Can you tell us anything else about the body?” Sarah asked.

Remus nodded.  “At first I suspected that the body was beheaded post-mortem, given the lack of blood present, but at this point it looks like the beheading was the COD and the wound was cauterized nearly immediately.  The wounds and burns on the hands and arms were caused when the Nemurian was alive as well.”

Sarah looked at the medical examiner.  It sounded like she wasn’t saying something.

“Doctor Remus?”

“This sounds preposterous, but I’m just going off of what I can put together out here.  If I had to guess, the person was cut by a heated blade.”

“A heated blade?” Swift asked.  “Who would do that?  Wouldn’t you just ruin the blade?”

Remus nodded.  “Which is why I was hesitant to admit it, it’s a very peculiar practice, but it fits with the evidence.  Even if the killer picked up, well whatever he cauterized the wound with, right after decapitating the Nemurian, there would be signs to suggest that blood was flowing, however it’s just not there.  It looks like it was cut and cauterized almost simultaneously.”

“Perhaps a laser or a similar energy weapon?” Swift asked.

Remus shrugged.  “Maybe, but it’d be unlikely, at least not with tech currently available to humans.  The wound was caused by something extremely fine, like a sharpened blade, rather than an energy weapon.  I can test for radiation poisoning in the nearby flesh to confirm it either way, but if I had to guess now, it’d be a heated piece of metal.”

“Also,” Remus continued, gesturing towards the neck with her hands, “whoever did this was strong.  The neck of a Nemurian isn’t as tough as a human’s, roughly around eighty percent of the tensile strength of a comparable human, but it is still tough.  Whoever killed this person did so with a single powerful stroke.  There are no signs of tearing or jagged edges that would suggest multiple, uneven cuts.”

Sarah took a sip of her coffee.  “Perhaps a killer used a machine?”

Remus nodded.  “That’s what I was thinking.”  The doctor shifted in place.

“Additionally, in order to confirm that the decapitation was the COD I ran a preliminary toxicology report.  It came up blank.”

“So given the burns and the defensive wounds, he was awake when he was beheaded…” Swift guessed.

“And he felt everything.” Sarah finished for him in a hushed tone.

Remus nodded.  “That’s it for now.  I know it’s not much, but I’m hoping I’ll have something more concrete by the time I finish the full autopsy.  Any other questions?”

The detectives shook their heads and Remus stood up and walked towards a pair of techs from the morgue who stood waiting at the edge of the crime scene.

“Pretty sick stuff,” Swift muttered as he took another look over the body.  “It’s one thing to kill, but to take the head?  That seems just wrong.”

Sarah could only nod.

“I hate to be the one to say it…” Swift began.

“Don’t,” Sarah interrupted.  “I know what you are going to say and I don’t need to hear it.”

Tensions in Noctuna, and throughout all of Ash, were at an all time high when it came to dealing with the alien species that lived on the world.  As per order of the commanding body of the Genesis Accord, the Council of Voices, wanted to better integrate the Republic into their fold, but humanity was slow to adapt the change.  While  there was no evidence to suggest that there had been physical violence, the tension was there and all it needed was a catalyst to turn the whole plan upside down.

“We’re going to have to keep this quiet.  The last thing we need is this blowing up in our face and people taking this the wrong way,” Sarah said.

Swift nodded.  “Agreed.  But we should consider the possibilities.  You don’t cut off someone’s head with a heated blade in a crime of passion.  This screams premeditation.”

Sarah shook her head.   “We cannot assume.  Not with this case.  There has to be a reasonable explanation for what’s going on.”

Despite the fervor of her words, she couldn’t shake the feeling that Swift was right.

Hope you enjoyed it.  Feedback would be appreciated.  Feel free to leave comments here or e-mail them directly to me at mdista@gmail.com

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