A Time Travelers Guide to Solving Murder Chapter 5: Theseus
October 6th, 2020
The Hotel De La Belle Chante
“It’s just like at Vietta.” Galahad’s face flickered on the thin sheet of glasslike material locked in Hera’s fingers, “Any security camera files have been moved, hard drives wiped, even the little sensors that pick up the sound of your voice have been disabled.”
“You have to have something.” Citali leaned over Hera’s shoulder, breath fogging in the cold air outside the Hotel. The bright flashes of ambulance and police lights mixed with the chatter of officers and bystanders around the building. She could just barely see the girl’s hunched figure wrapped in blankets near one of the ambulances, several EMTs hovering around her. More than anything Hera wished her watch was working. A simple redial, turning back the clock to prevent any of this from ever happening, would save this girl from so much pain.
The android sighed, running a hand through their bright hair, “I managed to pick up a tiny, faded voice clip that was picked up by the room next to theirs. I’m not sure you really want to hear it…”
“Play it anyway.” Hera brought her arm up so the screen was between her head and Citali’s. Galahad grumbled angrily in German and after a few seconds of typing the clip played, the voice faded and gravely like a bad Batman impersonator:
“Unfortunately I can’t kill you, you don’t fit my narrative.”
Hera lowered her arm again, “That voice doesn’t sound normal.”
Galahad raised an eyebrow, “No kidding, Sherlock. He’s using a voice modulator to hide his actual voice. And no,” they pointed at the screen, seeing Citlali move to speak, “I can’t just… unmodulate it. Without knowing exactly what settings he used I’d get millions of possible voices.”
Citlali sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, “Great.”
Hera held up a hand, fighting back a similar sigh of despair, “Let’s just work with what we know. This guy has some sort of ‘Narrative’ to fulfill, and he’s using these kills to show it.”
“He’s also rich, like ‘richest man in the world’ rich.” Galahad flicked around a few floating files off screen, “You should see the number of zeros on the paychecks he was offering those guys he sent to kill you.”
“I don’t suppose the actual richest man in America matches the killers description,” Citlali offered.
“Unless the killer is secretly Bill Gates, no.” Galahad let out a short laugh, “Although that would be a plot twist.”
“Yes, yes,” Hera wanted this conversation to be over. “Very funny I’m sure. So he’s probably using illegal money. Or money he doesn’t actually have.”
Citlali shrugged, “Black Market money is pretty easy to come by, so that’s more likely.” A long silence followed his statement, both time travelers just staring at him in a mix of worry and confusion.
He glared back at them, “I was an undercover agent. Do you all seriously have that little faith in me?”
Hera chose to ignore his question, “So the killer’s rich, he’s got some ‘narrative’ he’s trying to create with these kills, and he’s good with technology.” Siobhan had to believe her about the Serial Killer theory now.
“Speaking of this mystery narrative, I’m going to see if I can talk to the girl.” He clapped Hera on the shoulder and started towards the ambulance. Hera watched him go, knowing fully well that she would only make things worse. The only person who was worse at human interactions than her was Galahad.
Citlali approached the ambulance slowly, mulling over what he needed to say and how. Diplomacy was a strong point of his, and while he’d been in enough bar fights to know how to throw a punch he’d rather talk his way out of the situation. If he’d managed to talk a mob boss into trusting him with all his illegal resources then he should be able to talk to a girl who’d just witnessed the death of her whole family…
Finally, Citlali strode forward and showed one of the EMTs his badge. He relinquished the gun he kept tucked in the back of his belt and waited, flexing his toes against the leather of his dress shoes and rubbing his palms together impatiently, while one of them went to make sure the girl was stable enough to talk.
Finally the EMT returned and gestured with his head back towards the ambulance, “You’re all set, just be careful with her, alright?” Citlali nodded; he was always careful.
The girl was sitting near the doors to the Ambulance, shoulders hunched and arms curled around herself as she stared out blankly at the scene. If she heard Citlali approach, she didn’t show it. There was a thick grey blanket draped around her shoulders and the lower halves of her arms were swathed in bandages. Someone had taken the time to clean the blood from her hair and pull it back from her face into a loose ponytail.
Citali cleared his throat softly and waited until her eyes had focused on him before speaking, “May I join you?” She blinked slowly at him, processing his question before she gave a small nod. With as much nonchalance as he could muster, he climbed up into the seat across from her. He was silent the whole time, resting his elbows on his knees and following her gaze out onto the police milling about. She needed to initiate conversation first, despite what TV might tell you, he thought. An interrogation would get him nowhere with the victim of a traumatic event.
Finally she spoke up, voice low and scratchy, “Who are you?”
“A detective. Kind of. It was an unclear promotion.” He gave a small shrug, “The name’s Citlali. You?”
“You’re one of the people who found me.” She blinked at him, wide-eyed before speaking again, “My name is Zoe.” She swallowed hard and looked at her feet, “I’m guessing you’re going to ask me about what happened?”
Citali smoothed out the edge of his shirt idly, “Only if you’re willing. It’s never pleasant to talk about these things.”
Zoe was still huddled around herself and her voice was still barely louder than a whisper but he had her full attention, “You’ve been through something like this?”
Taking a deep breath he ran a hand over his buzzed hair before responding, “My younger sister was killed by one of the upperclassmen at her school. She was only 16. My brother and I were both in college at the time, so we weren’t there when she died.”
Silence reigned between them for a while, until Zoe curled her arms a little tighter around herself and spoke again, “What did you do after that? I don’t know what I’m…” Her voice broke off and her gaze met the floor, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now.”
“You find a reason to keep going. Leave something small behind so you can move forward.” He repeated the same gesture from before, running a hand over his hair, “I used to have really long hair and my sister hated it. So I gave myself a week to mourn, then I buzzed my hair, dropped out of college, applied to work in the Police force and told myself to keep moving.” He let out a long sigh, “It sounds stupid to say out loud, but it worked for me.”
She drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her bandaged arms around them, curling around herself as she prepared to speak, “I don’t even know how he got in. My brother and I were getting ready to go to bed, when we heard my mother open the door and then muffled screaming. I told Mark to stay behind and run out, but Mother was already dead. He shot her through the head, and then turned and shot my father as he came out of their room. It happened so fast, I just tried to turn and run back into our room to call for help, but he grabbed my arm and threw me aside.” She pulled her bangs back from her forehead to reveal a purple bruise, “I hit my head hard on the table and blacked out. When I woke up, he had killed Mark and had finished… setting up. I tried to get up and run, but he had a knife.”
Her gaze fell on the bandages around her arms, “He attacked until I stopped fighting, then tied my hands and dragged me into the supply closet. Right before he closed the door he said something, but his voice was weird, like he was talking through one of those machines that makes you sound like a robot. He said: ‘Unfortunately I can’t kill you, you don’t fit my narrative. Better to have you rot on the side.’ ” Her voice died out and she turned her face away, hiding it in the crook of her elbow.
“Hera will find him,” The certainty in his own voice startled him, “If anyone can it’s her.”
Zoe just closed her eyes, “You sound like you really believe that.”
“You’d be surprised how far you can go on trust.” Citlali replied, getting to his feet, “Rest up, kid.” She didn’t answer him and he took that as his signal to leave. Hera was waiting to one side, her arms crossed over her chest and a strange look on her face like she had just swallowed something bitter.
Citali bit back a sigh, “You heard all that, didn’t you?” she gave a short nod, “Well, if you’re planning on saying anything about it, don’t. I’ve heard every version of ‘sorry for your loss’ under the sun.”
She regarded him for a few silent moments before her lips twitched sideways in what he swore was an attempt at smiling, “Was the tattoo because of your sister?” She inclined her head towards the black and red lines visible on the side of his neck.
He actually laughed a little at that, tucking his hands in his jacket pockets, “No, that was me making bad decisions in college.”
Now Hera was actually smiling.
She shook her head, somewhat fondly and somewhat vexed, “Anyways, I found something that might give us a solid lead.” After fishing around in her pocket, she pulled out an earbud and handed it to him, “To keep in contact with Galahad.” She tapped the one in her own ear and turned towards an alley beside the Hotel. Citlali followed her down the dark passageway, stepping over a gutter of murky water and the scraps of fast food wrappers. There was a chainlink fence at the far end, supposedly blocking access to the road beyond except for the fact that the gate was wide open. There was a strip of tattered grey cloth splattered with blood pinned in the fence gate.
Hera knelt by it and pinched it between two of her metal fingers, “Cheap sweatshirt material.”
“Think it’s from the killer?” Citlali ventured, “Don’t suppose we could borrow a dog from the canine unit back there?”
Hera shook her head, “Killer yes, dogs no. We don’t need one.”
“Finally!” Galahad said, “I’ve been wondering when you were going to use this.”
Hera turned her arm over, taking hold of the silver ring around the outside of the watch face in the metal and twisting it two notches to the right. Red lines like molten lava spread up the lines between the metal sheets into her wrist, then her palm to gather at the ends of her fingers. Hera pulled the piece of cloth free and it was washed in a red haze the second it touched her hand. It dissolved into a storm of miniscule red squares, stacking together to form a bird’s eye view of the city; a winding path of roads and alleys were highlighted in white.
The smugness in Galahad’s voice was overwhelming, “Welcome to the future, LaRoche.”
Citali felt a headache starting behind his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, “Oh good, more crazy science. Do I even want to know how that works?”
“Being an infiltration unit, I have sensors in my eyes that let me track where people have gone based on the imprints they leave behind in space and time.” Galahad explained, “Murders leave a very distinct trail because they’re constantly affecting different paths of ‘fate’ so they’re easy to track; like a fancy GPS. I reverse engineered those sensors so that it would work with Hera’s IT watch. Luckily she managed to get that part back. She’s still missing the actually important time travel part but that’s another story.”
Hera narrowed her eyes at Galahad’s last comment and Citlali sighed, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but: you can use this piece of bloody cloth to track a criminal because he leaves behind an ‘imprint’ in time?”
“Yes,” The android answered, although the confidence was starting to trickle out of their voice, “There’s…Really no way to make this easier for you to understand without prior knowledge.”
Hera cut into their conversation, “Do you know the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur?”
“Sure, Theseus was going to be sacrificed to the Minotaur, but King Minos’ daughter fell in love with him and gave him a magic ball of thread that lead him to the center so he could kill the beast.” Citlali shrugged, “I did go to school for history before I became a police officer.”
“We’re Theseus, and the killer is the Minotaur. We’re using his DNA as the ball of yarn to find him in the labyrinth, which in this case is space and time.” Hera finished, using two fingers of her other hand to zoom in on the map in her palm. Citlali mulled it over in his head and gave a short nod, finding that version easier to wrap his mind around.
“I’m going to have to archive that one,” Galahad commented as the two started to follow Hera’s trail, “That’s a good way to explain it.”
“I try.” She replied, voice dripping with sarcasm, “I’m sending you the coordinates, Galahad. See what you can get.”
Hera turned to Citlali and gestured through the gate with her free hand, “Come along, Theseus. We have a minotaur to catch.” The alley turned a corner and then ended at a main road bustling with people. Hera curled her fingers around the image to hide it from view and wove through the crowd. People parted quickly in front of her; a perk that came with being over 6 feet tall and constantly wearing an expression of ‘get out of my way now’. Three turns later and another dark alley, the two detectives found themselves looking up at a dark, abandoned mill building.
“There are tons of these buildings in the bay area, but I thought they were under constant surveillance.” Citlali craned his head, trying to see if there were lights in any windows.
“Most of those camera’s aren’t actually monitored.” Galahad answered, “They’re just there to encourage people not to break in.”
“Well, we’re going to take that encouragement to heart and ignore it.” Hera moved towards the boarded up door.
“Wait!” The android cut her off frantically, “I’m not picking up any heat signatures from inside, but this building is practically covered in security and cameras. Also the door is locked and alarmed. Uh… there should be two loose bricks to your left, ten bricks up from the ground. There’s a panel behind it that requires a passcode to disable the trap on the door.”
Hera followed Galahad’s instructions. The bricks came away easily, revealing a passcode lock far too new for the old building.
“The code is…” Galahad paused, mumbling a few things to themself under their breath, “1242.” Hera entered the code and the pad let out a long beep, the small light on its panel turning green. Citali pried the boards off the door and nudged it with one foot. It swung open silently into the dark building.
“The alarm is off, right?” Hera replaced the bricks and joined Citlali by the door.
“Yes…?” They sounded less than confident.
Their voice was quiet, “Just… be careful. With the amount of money this guy has, there could be DNA sensors or even shielded alarms that I can’t see.”
“Joy.” Hera pulled her gun from its holster and clicked the safety off, “Well, it’s not a good case until your life hangs in the balance.” With that, she stepped into the dark.
Nothing started beeping or flashing and the door stayed wide open, so she took that as a sign that it was safe to move. Citali followed her in, gun in one hand and a flashlight in the other to light their path. The inside walls were half crumbling messes of cement and bricks, scraps of wood and metal piled into the corner in a messy attempt at keeping the main floor clear. There were holes in the ceiling, leaking a modicum of light in from the boarded up windows on the upper levels. Thanks to the thick layer of dust covering every surface, a set of footprints was clearly visible on the floor.
Galahad’s voice was muffled and underlaid with static, “There’s a sensor on the far doorway, two inches off the ground – be careful.”
“You’re cutting in and out.” Hera hissed back, her voice still echoing around the space.
The android cursed in German under their breath, “The cement’s interfering, let me see what I can do.”
Avoiding the trap Galahad warned them about, the detectives moved further into the building. The footprints led them to a rickety staircase in a side hallway, then up into a room that was almost identical to the one below.
“Wait.” Citali grabbed Hera’s shoulder, his eyes trained on a spot on the ceiling, “Do you hear that?” She cocked her head, ears straining for whatever sound he was talking about. After a few seconds she heard it, a low humming noise that buzzed in her ears.
“Machinery.” She whispered back, scanning the room for another staircase, “Hard drives and things like that. Galahad makes that noise, too, if you really listen.”
“There’s- staircase on the far end of- can’t see- sensors.” The further into the building they got the more Galahad’s voice cut in and out. Hera exchanged a look with Citlali, who just shrugged helplessly. Taking a deep breath, she continued following the footprints and hoped that Galahad had said ‘can’t see any sensors’ instead of ‘can’t see a path without sensors.’ They made it to the next floor without incident, the doorway to the open room blocked by a tarp. Hera readied her gun and carefully pushed through, breath hitching in her throat at the scene beyond.
The small room had been tarped off and lit by a dim orangish bulb that illuminated the rows of computer monitors across the far wall. Each one showed live camera footage of a different part of the city, the insides of shops and buildings, even footage of Vietta Cliff. A printer churned away in one corner, spilling papers onto the floor from its full tray. The pictures were dark, their ink smudged and streaked as they piled up on the grimy floor. There was a table pushed against one wall holding a few boxes of tacks, some spools of yarn and a bundle of bloody clothes. On the corkboard above the table there were a slew of pictures pined and linked with string.
Pictures of Hera and Citlali included.
“Oh good.” Citlali whispered into the dusty air, eyes scanning the scene, “A true sociopathic serial killer.”
Hera swallowed hard and moved towards the table, trading her gun for her phone to take pictures, “The Chief needs to see this.” she whispered. Citali moved to the printer, toeing through the photos on the ground after Hera had gotten a picture. They were photos of Laurel’s death he realized after a sickening moment, mixed in among the new ones featuring the hotel murder that were still constantly printing. He kept riffing through until he found one that made him pause.
“Hera…” He said over her shoulder, “You need to see this.” Gingerly picking it up, he stood and held it up so she could see it. It was a photo of her, standing on Vietta cliff. Scrawled across the photo in shaking script was the words: ‘Too Close.’
“Too close to what?” She muttered, taking the photo from him.
He shook his head, “No idea, we don-” He was cut off my a painfully high pitched noise and suddenly Galahad’s voice cut through, clear and loud and panicked.
“You need to get out of there!” They yelled, “That place just started broadcasting a signal, he knows you’re there! I don’t know how he’s doing it, but I can’t stop him- you need to get out!”
Hera grabbed Citlali’s arm and ran, her partner at her heels. If Galahad says run, it’s not a suggestion. The two skidded down the stairs, shoes slipping in the dust and grime as the alarm continued to blare above them. It grew progressively louder and faster.
Seconds after Galahad’s voice, the room above them exploded. Hera threw her arms over her head, shielding herself from the onslaught of debris that showered from the ceiling. Chunks of cement started to fall free and, consequences be damned, Hera reached out with her metal arm and stopped them in their tracks. They froze in place, caught in the grip of time.
The drawback was the burst of pain that seared from her shoulder across her chest, making her vision dance with black spots. She let out a hiss of pain and Citlali doubled back, casting a concerned glance at the frozen rubble before helping her straighten. With his help, she managed to keep running, feet carrying her down the stairs and into the last room. There was a second explosion, from practically under her feet and in the back of her mind Hera recalled the sensor on the door.
Hera reached out again and pulled time backwards, like a magician pulling a tablecloth out from under a place setting. The world rewound back to just before they stepped through the door, and fighting through the searing pain she managed to get a warning out.
The explosion never happened.
The last stretch to the door was a blur for her, her head swimming and arms shaking violently. Slumping to her knees she forced herself to breath, the frigid air actually easing the pounding in her head.
“Note to self,” She coughed, pressing the side of her hand to her nose and wiping the blood off on her pants, “don’t use that programming without the correct pieces.”
Sometime between getting out and Hera trying to breath, Citlali had sat down next to her. “You weren’t kidding. You really can stop time.” He shook his head and pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes.
“You’d be surprised how far trust can get you.” Hera mumbled back, “And also how much trouble it brings you. Things like this is why I work alone.” Pushing herself unsteadily to her feet she closed her eyes, waiting until the world stopped spinning. Citlali stood up as well and had to half lunge to steady her as one step almost had her face down in the dirt.
Citlali let out a sigh, “We should get you home. We can figure out how to cover this up later.” Hera mumbled something in agreement and with Citlali’s help managed to walk in a relatively straight line back to the main road. They got a few weird looks as they walked, being covered in dust and bits of stone. The walk back seemed to drag on, until they were finally in front of Hera’s building.
A flash of green darted from the doors and suddenly Galahad had their arms around both of them, “Oh my god I was so worried! When the room exploded I lost your signal and-” They had pulled back and finally seen the state Hera was in, “What did you do?”
Hera winced, “Had a little fun with time, we can talk about it later because I really need to sit down.”
Galahad draped one of Hera’s arms over their shoulders and nodded at Citlali, “I’ve got her, you should probably get home.” Before he could answer they shouldered the door open and helped Hera inside, hitting the elevator button with their elbow. They might have felt bad for abandoning Citlali if they hadn’t been so worked up.
Once inside they let out a long sigh, their shoulders dropping, “I thought you guys had died.”
Hera raised an eyebrow, offering a half smile, “You can’t get rid of me that easily.”
They chewed on their lower lip, “Well, clearly you’re trying to test that. You know what happens when you try and use those programs without the Timepiece.”
“I know, I know. But better to drain my lifeforce than to have us both die.” She replied as the doors opened and they started towards her door.
There was a twinge of bitterness in their voice, “Since when have you cared about other people?”
Silence reigned between them until Hera dared to speak again, “Regardless, I think I might actually get a full night of sleep tonight.” Galahad didn’t laugh, just kept worrying at their lip. They had to lean her up against the wall to unlock the door but once inside she managed to make her way to the couch by herself. After disconnecting her arm with a roughness that sent a shock through her chest and dropping it on the table, they moved to get their tools.
A short series of beeps from a spot on their arm stopped them in their tracks, “Hölle,” They turned the alarm off and glared at the closest window, “Out of time.”
“It’s fine.” Hera told them, kicking her feet up on the table, “You can fix it tomorrow.”
Their mouth pulled sideways, “You sure?”
“Yeah.” She leaned her head back and closed her eyes, “I don’t need it right now.” There was silence from where they stood, then some mumbling about how the explosion must have messed with her head before footsteps moved towards the window. The window yanked open with a horrible scraping noise and Galahad sat on the edge, frowning at Hera. After a few moments of the window not closing she opened her eyes and looked at them.
“You’ll solve this.” Galahad said, one leg dangling into the void beyond, “You always do.”
“I know, I will,” Hera met their green eyes and they froze, seeing worry laid bare in her gaze, “I’m just afraid that for once in my life I’ll be too late.”