A Time Travelers Guide To Solving Murder Chapter 8: The Price Of Fear
October 9th, 2020
Hera Jones only started to exist when she was 20 years old. She was someone else before, someone…less. Not existing had suited her for a long time. It was a comfort, something solid for her to fall back on should she need too. And then she existed.
The problem with existing when you didn’t exist before is that you had to find other people to exist with. Easier said than done while one is attending the most prestigious scientific academy in the world, and had rarely spoken to anyone outside her family before. She was a new name and a new face that rose to the top of her class within weeks, favored and fortunate, but alone.
A loose ceiling tile had delivered her Galahad. Wild and constantly climbing around places they shouldn’t be, they had quite literally fallen into her life. Existing wasn’t easy for them either; they only existed inside the Mannheim Institute and nowhere else. Galahad had led them to others, and existing became a little easier for her.
Then she had woken up on a flat metal table, all of time whispering in her ear and an arm that wasn’t quite right and felt the chilling fear as she realized that now, she would exist forever. It had gotten a little easier, as the years went on. She had Galahad, which was a mixed blessing, and various other people along the way, but they were always left behind.
Through the one way mirror behind the Interrogation room, Hera sees Johnston. His chin rests on his chest, his shoulder hunched, as Siobhan stalks around him. As she watches, she wonders distantly how long ‘Officer’ Johnston has existed. Not long, she guesses, if his half decorated apartment was anything to go by. The Police had found moving boxes scattered around, dishes half unpacked, clothes being pulled from boxes when they needed to be worn. Flipping the file in her hand closed, Hera left the watch room and entered the interrogation room itself.
Siobhan and Hera were matched in intimidation. Where Hera instilled fear through sheer emotionless cold, height and wild hair, Siobhan intimidated through brilliance. Confidence radiated off of her; she never had a dark hair out of place or a wrinkle on her jacket. She intimidated through the sheer willpower of having her life together better than everyone else.
The temperature in the room seemed to drop a few degrees. Johnston’s head shot up, his eyes locking on her’s and filling with horror. Hera’s face remained passive, save for the near imperceptible tightening of her jaw, as she walked to the front of the table and placed the file down.
Siobhan paused in her pacing, “Detective Jones.”
“Chief.” Hera inclined her head, and at a nod from the other woman, sat in the cold metal chair across from Johnston. The detective took in his appearance with a glance, the chewed down stubs of his finger nails, the wild, hunted look in his eyes, the grey tinge to his pale skin. He was a tool, nothing more, nothing less.
Johnston’s eyes darted around, to the door, then to the mirror, and then back to Hera. “Where’s the other one, the green haired one?” Hera had almost forgotten about Galahad’s little stunt, how it was their right hook that had put Johnston under.
“Not here.” She leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms, metal over real, “Chief, mind if I handle this alone?” Siobhan nodded once and left the room, although Hera knew she had just ducked into the watch room that she herself had been occupying earlier.
Flicking the file open, Hera rested her cold gaze on the man in front of her, “Hurting for money? My intern,” She would pay for that lie later she was sure, “tells me that you were promised a lot of money to kill me.”
“You have no idea.” Johnston let out a shaken laugh, his eyes still darting around the room. “He offered twice that for me to frame those two thugs once we got you out of the way. Could’ve done it, too, if you weren’t a freak of nature with your stupid green haired friend. Had it all set up to get them out of the picture and get paid until you ruined it.”
“My deepest apologies.” She said with no real feeling in her voice, “Why would you need me ‘out of the way’?”
“You were too close,” he snarled, “Too close to finding out who he is, too close to figuring it out.”
Hera raised an eyebrow, “Well maybe he shouldn’t leave kill a girl’s family and then leave her in a closet in the crime scene next time.” Johnston’s eyes fixed on her, two crazed pinpricks of blue, “How much do you know of him?”
“Nothing except what I’ve told you.” His voice had gotten weaker, almost like he was breathless. “Doesn’t matter anyway. I won’t be around for much longer.” Johnston laughed again, high pitched and crazed, spit gathering at the corners of his mouth. He was deteriorating, his eyes glazed over as his mind started to rip at the edges like an old painting.
“What do you mean?” She leaned back in her chair slightly, a warning feeling beginning to raise red flags in her mind. Johnston never answered.
His shoulders jerked upwards once, his hands straining against their restraints before his eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed to the table. Hera lunged forward and grabbed the front of his shirt as his body began to convulse. Foam and spit overflowed from his mouth and in one last burst of movement, he wrenched free from Hera’s grip and slumped motionless to the side. Siobhan burst into the room, officers on her tail and numbly, the detective backed away from the table to give them room.
One of the officers pried Johnstons mouth opened, revealing the chewed remnants of a blue capsule stuck in his back teeth.
“Cyanide.” Hera supplied, mouth twisting into a frown, “It must have been leaking into his stomach while we were talking.”
Siobhan crossed her arms and regarded the scene that was beginning to get cleaned up, “Think his Boss put him up to it?”
“Doubtful.” She moved towards the door, fighting back the sour taste that was rising in her mouth, “If Johnston knew more about it I would guess it was the killer, but he knew almost nothing.” She didn’t want to deal with the mess Johnston had just caused, selfish as that may seem, there were more important things for her to dedicate her time too.
“So he killed himself?” The chief followed Hera to the door, lingering there while the other woman continued down the hall, “Was he that afraid of going to jail?!”
“He wasn’t afraid of us,” Hera reached out and grabbed her jacket off the coat hook beside her, “Rather, he was a afraid of what would happen to him when his boss decided to make him pay for his failure.” She continued walking, mind already moving on. Siobhan watched her go, a determined, complicated sort of twist to her mouth.
Hera’s mind worked easiest in straight, analytical lines. If she came across a problem she reduced it to its most basic ideas and then solved it in the most efficient way without flitting around occupying herself with trivial things. She had learned very early in her career that hobbies and excess emotions got in her way. Liabilities were unacceptable, mistakes lead to disaster, and happiness lead to pain. She had taken these things and wrapped them around herself like a second skin, learning how to talk, how to see, how to solve better than anyone else could so that there would be no liabilities or mistakes.
Losing the Timepiece had been a mistake that was costing her dearly.
Bringing herself back to the present before she got lost in a useless train of thought, Hera zipped up her jacket and stepped into the cold. Officer Johnston had been the first item on her list and with that more or less checked off, it was time for item two: Galahad.
Setting off towards home, Hera checked her phone. There was nothing from Citlali, which was odd since he was supposed to be keeping her updated on what he found in the alley, and one message from Galahad.
Added a new room for that project I started, it read, last door on the right, I’ll be in there if it works.
Since it wasn’t bound by any of the laws that normal buildings had to conform too, Hera’s apartment could contain as many rooms as it needed to at the time. She didn’t quite understand the science behind it, but then again, she didn’t need to. Every room had a panel on the wall beside the door that kept it anchored to the rest of the rooms, displayed its name, and controlled a few other aspects if one was willing to spend time messing with the settings.
Stepping through the door, Hera found the living room empty. She ditched her coat by the door and started down the hall, ducking quickly into her room to grab something. Dealing with Galahad tended to involve a lot of bribery in order to get them to do what she wanted. If they were mad or in a foul mood, they dug their heels in and refused to budge until given enough of a reason to.
Hera knew she has brought it on herself, with having essentially added a layer of cold to all of their conversations a few thousand years earlier. The two of them had fought almost constantly, and in the end she had driven the android into the Continuum for almost three hundred years.
That bond was a slow healing process with a few more permanent cracks.
Biting the inside of her cheek, Hera ducked into her closet and approached a small, squarish machine sitting on a table at the back, behind rows of earth toned turtlenecks and leather jackets. The machine had no official name, but it could make any article of clothing in a matter of minutes. Hera had brought it into semi-existence through the Continuum when she had gotten tired of cutting the left sleeve off all her shirts to accompany her prosthetic. She placed her metal hand onto the pad at the front and told it what she wanted, the machine whirring to life inside its metal shell.
It deposited a dark blue jacket and a small enamel pin into her arms a minute later. Over the years it had gotten easier to know what sorts of things would get the android back on her side. With her bribes in hand, Hera left her room and walked down the hall.
It was easy to find Galahad’s new room since they had named it “Galahad Does Science™” and the door was their hair’s very distinct shade of pale green. At the very bottom, about an inch up from the floor, there was a second, dog sized door. Rolling her eyes, Hera shouldered her way inside.
And entered a room even more impossible than everything else in her life.
It was a huge grassy field at least half the size of a football field, dotted with tall grass and clumps of wildflowers. Sigi bounded around, barking excitedly and snapping at stray pieces of grass being blown around. A patch of dense forest sat to her left, leaves blowing gently in the warm breeze. The sky, or at least it looked like the sky, was cloudless and brilliant blue and while there was no visible sun, the whole room seemed like it was bathed in sunlight.
“Like it?” Hera ripped her eyes away from the scene to find Galahad sitting on the ground a few paces in front of her, their knees curled to their chest. They looked exhausted and drained, their hair pulled messily away from their face. She had to commend the engineers at the Mannheim institute, they certainly made their androids lifelike.
Lacking any better words to describe the situation, Hera moved to stand beside them, “How?”
“I’ve been messing around with relative dimension theory for a while now.” They shrugged, “Anything’s possible in the Continuum, y’know, since there are an infinite number of different universes where anything could be possible, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I only just got it to work.”
“It’s impressive.” She admitted, watching Sigi chase a butterfly, “Sorry about earlier, with Deputy Wright.”
“Eh, guy seems to have it in for you,” They craned their head back to raise an eyebrow at her, “What’s the deal with that?”
Hera brushed a stray curl from her face, “When I joined the police force I essentially took over his spot as detective. He got demoted to deputy and didn’t take kindly to it.”
Galahad harrumphed, “Hey, hiring someone with three thousand years of experience is an opportunity you really can’t pass up. Also, uh.” They rubbed the back of their neck, “Thanks for sticking up for me against him? I guess?”
“You’re welcome,” Hera inclined her head, “I guess. Besides, I think Citlali was about to punch him if he misgendered you one more time.”
Shrugging again, they turned back to watch Sigi roam, “I can’t really expect everyone to understand. I know I never really fit into a box back when I was human but… I’m a robot, and without any memories to help sort that out, I’m genderless by default.”
“Well,” Hera said, “I have something for you that might help clear the air with other people.”
Standing, Galahad picked a few pieces of grass of their jeans and then crossed their arms, “Alright, what do you need done?” There was something sad under their voice, an unspoken ‘so this is what our friendship has become?’ They had accepted that Hera only ever gave them stuff when she needed something from them, and at the moment they lacked the synthesised effort to try and pretend there was any other reason for it.
Hera forced herself not to feel the sting of regret and flicked the pin to them, “Accept them first, and then ask questions.”
Galahad ran their thumb across the pins silver surface and looked up with a hint of amusement in their eyes, “Easier to just make it obvious from the start, huh?” The pin said ‘They/Them’ in curled black letters, big enough to be read easily but ‘not in your face’ print. Hera just shrugged in response and held out the jacket. It looked exactly like the one they had grabbed from the back of the Police Cruiser, except under the TCPD patch on the sleeve there was a second one with the symbol for the Mannheim Institute: a black triangle inside of a gold circle.
Taking it carefully from her hands Galahad turned it around, taking in the wide white lettering that spelled out “Holtzmann’ across the back. They shrugged it on, pinned their new pin to the front and then tucked their hands in their pockets.
“Ok.” Their expression remained even and controlled, “Now what?”
“I know you’re not a fan of being on actual crime scenes, but you’re known to everyone else as my intern now. While it was a split second decision, it would be good for you to get out of here sometimes.” Galahad raised an eyebrow, prompting Hera to cut to the chase, “I’m suggesting we work together. Again. I know our… disagreement was mostly my fault, but I’m hoping we can move past that.”
The bright haired android’s mouth quirked into a sideways grin, “What did Talston City do to you, Hera? First you take on a partner, now you’re asking me for help and admitting that you messed up?”
Hera rolled her eyes, mouth twitching into an almost smile, and held up her arm at a slight angle across her body, “Partners?”
Galahad stared at her for a second like they were seeing her for the first time, then raised their arm and bumped their forearm against hers, “Just like old times.” Hera nodded once and then crossed her arms, falling back into a stoic quiet. The two of them stared out over Galahad’s impossible room in silence.
“Y’know…” Galahad started gesturing vaguely with one hand to everything around them, “You haven’t asked me to explain how this all works.”
Hera shrugged and turned towards the door, “Gives you more time to think of an explanation that Citlali can understand.” She started walking, taking long strides towards the green door.
“Wait!” Galahad jogged after her, “Where are we going?”
“A detective’s work is never done. There are always suspects to be spoken to, clues to be found, evidence to be filed, deductions to make, etcetera.”
“I take it back, I don’t want to team up anymore! That sounds like a lot of work.”