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Symbiotica: A Matter of Time

The sixth book in the Symbiotica Series


Copyright 2017 Alexander Nassau

Published by Alexander Nassau at Smashwords


ISBN: 9781370983513





All characters and names in this book are fictional and have no relevance to any real world individuals either living or deceased.



"For D.

Without you, Verish wouldn't be quite as barking mad."







Smashwords Edition License Notes

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Table of Contents



Prologue

Chapter One - Sleepy Town

Interlude - Laughing at Astronomers

Chapter Two - Filling in the Blanks

Chapter Three - Calculating the Odds

Interlude - Bad Case of Beans

Chapter Four - Rude Awakening

Chapter Five - Diversity

Interlude - Explosive Staring Competitions

Chapter Six - Needles and Haystacks

Chapter Seven - Ghosts

Interlude - Interdimensional Practical Jokes

Chapter Eight - The Impossible Island

Chapter Nine - A Matter of Time

Chapter Ten - It's Life Jimmy

Epilogue

Preview of Book 7 - Dystopia

Setting the Scene - The City of New Oxford

The Return of Symbiotica - Authors Retrospective

About the Author

PROLOGUE



Take a quick look at planet Earth and you will find it quite a beautiful world from space. With two thirds of it water, only broken by the various land masses, it shines in as a crystal blue sphere almost peaceful as it orbits the sun.

If you were to examine the continents though you would quickly realise this world is quite important in our galaxy in that it not only does it have life, but intelligent life although perhaps some could argue the intelligent part. Focus in on the Northern Hemisphere you will find a slab of land the local intelligent life call the United States of America.

In this United States of America, it is not hard to see that dotted around this mass of land are centres of population, sometimes referred to as cities and if you were to look a little closer you would find these usually centre around the coast lines of which there is quite a lot and on the left side of this slab of land is a place called California.

This California, from a visitor's perspective is a beautiful place with a diverse selection of life and terrain ranging from mountain to fields of plant life, deserts to forests and everything in between. It is why many of the local intelligent life enjoy this place. Looking down though you also start to realise just how they have managed to change that pristine natural landscape to their own purposes. Their cities centre around the coast lines, sprawling out with their geometric shapes and fascinating structures where they go about their business. Their influence does not stop there though as you see the tell tale signs of their feats of engineering, things they call roads that cut through nature and connect their cities together, place where machines stalk their way through nature carrying them to where ever they need to go.

This intelligent life refers to themselves as 'human' for the most part. Odd fleshy little creatures with a biped body and a sizeable brain often capable of far more than they realise.

Looking down and taking in this California, you will find these humans give names to the places they live. If you were to look almost in the middle of the state by the coast, you would find a city called San Francisco. It is certainly a very interesting place with so much to see, but not really the focus of where we want to be. Travelling north on one of their roads you will soon hit the land locked city of Sacramento, again a nice enough place but not where we want to be either.

Follow what they called Interstate Highway Five and keep going north through that blissful and beautiful countryside for quite some time and you will eventually see a sign for one of the lesser known Cities in California. A city called New Oxford.

That city is much like any other city, with buildings, businesses and a centre for the local human life to populate as they live their brief and usually uneventful lives. That city however has a secret.

Not all the intelligent life there is human or even from this world.

Of course these humans are so self assured in their superior beliefs that they could not fathom the fact that aliens were living in their midst. Humans would whole heartedly believe the moon is made of cheese more than they would the person who just walked past them on the street is an alien.

See why I said the intelligent life premise is up for debate?

While these aliens may be of interest, their exploits have already been fairly well documented. Refugee's from a long dead world, they have settled in to their lives on this world quite well and while really they shouldn't be here anymore having founded a new home world, they now see this strange world as their home and are most happy here.

They are only part of this story though and if you were to look down on the city of New Oxford and move to the north east a little, far beyond the limits of the city you will find yourself in beautiful open countryside mostly devoted to producing the human's food. Dotted around these expanses of agriculture are smaller cities often called towns.

Roughly eighty human miles outside of New Oxford there is one quite special town called Wyvern. In the grand human scheme of things it really does not amount to much. There are shops for the necessities, local amenities and recreational facilities and on its outskirts some industrial areas.

For humans travelling through to their destination, this town is unremarkable and easily forgotten, but it is unique for one reason. One of the human population believes the moon is not made of cheese and that there are aliens walking amongst us and to that end is making noises about it, attracting the wrong attention.

As for this moment though, that is where the story starts, but if you were to head to the outskirts to an industrial complex near the highway you would find yourself looking at a quite peaceful scene in the early hours of the morning.

Look closer you would find fairly generic businesses. Farming equipment suppliers, vehicle repairs and the a few other fairly faceless business centres. One such building would be a maker of human food, the Cupcake Emporium.

For all their flaws humans are quite creative and while cupcakes are nothing more than an indulgence food, the owner thought that they would embellish their business with a grand gesture in the shape of a ten feet tall giant pink cupcake on the roof. It wasn't a real cupcake as that would be silly. No, it was a fibreglass item designed to visually show what the business did.

And tonight, if you looked closely enough up to the roof of the building you would see a single lone figure working away in the dead of night. This is what humans would call a crime in progress as this figure was unbolting the said cupcake and preparing to steal it.

If you looked at this from a human perspective this was again unremarkable. Crime seemed to be quite prevalent amongst the human population which is why they employed people to investigate acts like this and bring criminals to justice.

However as this solitary figure freed the giant emblem from its mooring, disconnecting the light inside it, something quite unusual happened.

A large door appeared out of thin air, the room beyond it bathed in a blue glow. It was most peculiar as if you looked hard enough, you would realise the only thing you could see was the door, nothing more. It was like this door magically opened up in thin air.

You would then see this figure dragging the cupcake towards the door, pulling it a ramp and inside this phantom room. Then with one last glance, the figure walked over and pressed something before the door started to close until there was nothing there but dark sky, no sign of the door or the cupcake.

That would be what had happened, if anyone had been watching. There would be nothing to see on the various security cameras and the night watchman across the street was unable to comment because he was snoring although he would never admit that to his employers.

Humans would call this a mystery that defied explanation, but the truth was this was going to be insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

In less than a week, the town of Wyvern for most of its population would be pretty much as it had always been, but for one person, it would never be the same sleepy town again.

That is where this story really begins.

CHAPTER ONE

Sleepy Town





Opening the door to the station house, it was what you would expect on a Friday night. Jeff Towner was in the cells sleeping his short live drinking session off, there had been the regular call from Mrs Mullins about seeing bright lights in the sky which was of course a passing jet on its way to the New Oxford airport and the usual warning to Kyle Jacobite about taking photographs from behind the bins on the main street of the local women.

"Next time you are dealing with Mrs Mullins," she grumbled resting her hat on the stand glancing over to Jimmy playing with an elastic band at his desk. She had inherited Jimmy after Sheriff Lomax had retired and she really didn't understand how this idiot had been hired in the first place. If this had been city police he would not have lasted five minutes. In fact the only thing he was good at was firing a gun, which out here perhaps occurred twice a year.

As the clock on the wall did its familiar click on the hour, Jimmy stood up, nodded and grabbed his coat and left for the night leaving her to enjoy the ambient tones of Jeff's snoring. At first she had thought Jimmy was disrespectful and bitter about her getting the Sheriff's position, but the truth was he was a man of few words. Whether or not this was because he only had a few words in his head was up for debate, but she had so far had no cause to question his conduct.

She took out her phone, slipping in a headphone to one ear as she sat at her desk, the music washing over her, providing a far better sound track than Jeff' burbling.

Five years with New Oxford Police Department. Five years of murder, mayhem and the worst of humanity was enough to tear the heart from a person. The criminals she could deal with, it was what she had been trained to deal with. It was the victims that caused her the most pain. People going about their lawful business who, in a blind moment of someone else's ignorance ended up scarred for life, or worse. When she had left the academy she was full of hope and dreams over how exciting her career was going to be. She had risen through the ranks to the level of Detective, but as time went on, she had found herself fighting to get out of bed in a morning. When this vacancy had come up, she had snapped at the chance to escape and with a few kind words from her Captain, she had transferred to this sleepy town of Wyvern, eighty miles outside of New Oxford.

Going from Detective to Sheriff had been a shock to the system. In New Oxford it was all about quota's and management, turning people in to numbers and statistics in the most efficient way possible. She felt like someone in a fast food restaurant, mindlessly processing the work for the day until she could go home, the only excitement on offer was bullets whistling by her. Perhaps she was underselling her contribution. She knew how many lives she had changed, how many criminals she had put away and how many senseless crimes she had thwarted, but still as job satisfaction went, it left a lot to be desired.

Here though, she had a hundred square miles to cover, mostly farm land. The town had crime but compared to what she was used to, it seemed trivial. Her role here was that of authority, a single point for people to come to, be it lost kittens to stolen cars. It almost felt like a holiday, but as with any community, it had its flaws. Over the last month she had only handed out a few fines and the one incident of some criminals from New Oxford hiding out in a barn from the authorities.

Looking over to the cells as Jeff seemed to snort a little, she laughed a little to herself before glancing up at the clock. Another three hours and she could go home for the night, after dropping Jeff off at his home where she was sure his wife would be waiting with a rolling pin.

It was a different life, and she liked it.



* * *



"Morning," she chirped waving to old man Dyson across the screen as she carried her coffee. It was the one thing she missed about the city. Proper coffee. Jessie's did a fair approximation, but it wasn't fresh roast with proper foamy milk and cocoa sprinkles.

Looking around the street it all seemed lively for a Saturday morning. Families with their kids getting groceries, cars passing through the high street. It was another beautiful warm day, blue sky above and bird song filling the air.

Wyvern was not a big town. Two bars, a supermarket, a bank, hardware shop and a several restaurants. Just beyond on the periphery of the town were the usual fast food joints near the main highway, some industrial factories, gas stations which then led you to more rural scenes with fields of corn and ranches. Big enough to be interesting, yet small enough to be personal.

Walking over to civic building it really said a great deal about the town. It served as everything, from the home for the Mayor's office to her own stationhouse, all under one roof. It was probably one of the oldest buildings in the town, quite grand it is appearance with sandstone pillars and ornate fixtures. Entering the large wooden doors she made her way through.

"Morning Jimmy," she announced finally entering the stationhouse glancing around.

Jimmy looked up from his work and did his usual nod. He had taken the morning shift starting at the crack of dawn.

"Anything new?" she asked putting her hat down on the stand glancing over to his unusual activity.

"Yup."

She frowned at him as she put her coffee down on the desk.

"And?"

He stopped his work looking up at her with a little confusion.

"Report of stolen property from the Cupcake Emporium on Cleeves industrial park. You know the giant cupcake they have on the roof. It got pinched," he reported to her surprise. That thing must have be ten feet tall. You could see it from the highway. How anyone had managed to get that down, let alone escape with it was beyond her.

"Mrs. Mullins called in. She says an alien ship landed in her back garden during the night and has laid a giant pink egg," he continued in his monotone voice. "Funny thing. She says it looks like a cupcake."

She rolled her eyes. Either this was his way of being funny, or someone was messing around. That said, Mrs. Mullins house was ten miles outside the town. It seemed a bizarre practical joke. Either that or the joke was on her.

"Oh. Sudden death too. Cleaner came in to Doctor Garnier's place this morning and found a body. Got the County pathologist and scene of crime coming out. Should be her in half an hour if you want to go meet them," he continued much to her surprise.

"Scene of crime?" she asked pensively. "It was either a sudden death or foul play. Which is it?"

"Dunno."

"What do you mean dunno?" she sighed frowning at him.

"Well," he said sitting back in his chair looking very thoughtful. "You seen that film The Mummy? It's kind of like that, but in Doctor Garnier's living room and none of them black bugs running around. I don't like bugs."



* * *



Pulling up the drive way she knew where she had been here before. Doctor Garnier was a wealthy scientist that worked in New Oxford most of the time. He had popped in to the stationhouse as her first customer, her first day on the job and asked if they could keep an eye on his place as he was going to be out of town for a month.

Jimmy had shown her round and she had been true to her word, popping by every other day to just give the place a once over. He had a maid that looked after the place and she was the person who had found the body this morning.

What bothered her was as she left the station last night she swore she had seen Doctor Garnier driving back in to town and true to form his expensive sports car was parked up neatly on the driveway.

Trying to get Jimmy to part with information was like trying to get blood out of a stone, but looking around she could see that he had been efficient as always. There was scene of crime tape on the doors and he had looked after the maid and come back in to town to file the report with the pathologist.

But this whole Mummy thing seemed rather farfetched. She had seen all sorts of horrors in her time, but never someone who had been mummified.

She decided to double check the property though, walking around the perimeter of the house, checking for anything untoward and finding very little as she rounded back to the front door. She pushed under the tape, the door opening with a creak as she walked inside. There was a most odd smell in the air of this beautifully finished home. On the walls were degrees and awards, the Doctors keys on the side and a suit case sitting almost out of place in the hall way.

There were no signs of a struggle or foot prints in the immaculately set hallway. She walked in a little deeper checking the luxurious and well set kitchen. There was a mug next to the kettle, a teabag inside. Obviously refreshments after his trip that he never got to enjoy.

She glanced over to the living room and it was then she realised just what Jimmy had meant.

On the floor in the centre of the room was the body, but nothing like she had ever seen before. The whole area surrounding the body seemed to be blackened and foul, the corpus looking like a shrivelled prune, its skins dark and leathery, its hair almost dusty.

She ignored the body and quickly checked the room for any signs of evidence before walking in a little more until she found herself face to face with the deceased. Jimmy had been right. The remains were desiccated. Whoever this was, a visual identification was not going to be possible.

"It's the air conditioning," a quite posh voice said at the hallway door." Has a nasty habit of removing the moisture from a body, but never seen anything that advanced before."

She looked up to see a man standing there in a smart suit, case in hand, already wearing gloves.

"Am I clear to examine the body?" he asked diligently. "And I don't believe we have met. I'm Doctor Lassator, County pathologist."

She looked around again just to make sure. This was perplexing, but she could not see anything of relevance.

"Come over," she replied as more footsteps sounded in the hall way, scene of crime arriving and setting to work.

"Well, I think I can confirm he is dead," the doctor quipped somewhat obviously. "Cursory examination would suggest the body has been here for at least six months, although that does not explain the desiccation of the remains. I can tell you this person died in extreme pain though. Look at the hand position clutching the head and the foetal position. This was a violent death. Clothing appears to have fused with the skin although from what I can see we may be able to get finger prints. The tips seem to be very well preserved however I will run dental to ensure positive identification."

"That would rule out the home owner then," she sighed bluntly. "Could the body have been put here?"

"Not the slightest chance. This blackening around the corpus is indicative of microbial activity as the body decayed although the pattern is somewhat unusual. This is quite the puzzle you have here Sheriff..."

"Lofthouse," she said realising she hadn't introduced herself. "Sellie Lofthouse."

"Ah, the joys of none biodegradable materials," he commented pulling a pen out of his pocket and poking under the bodies posterior. "Credit cards by the looks. Name on the card look like a Darren... no... Doctor R Gar.. something."

"Doctor Richard Garnier," she muttered, unable to believe what he was saying. "And I saw him last night. Or at least I think I did. I saw his car and what looked like him driving it coming back in to town."

"Looks like we have a mystery on our hands then," he exclaimed standing up, straightening his jacket.

She looked at him and raised an eyebrow before walking back in to the kitchen and over to the two scene of crime officers setting their gear up.

"Can you do a full run through on the house. Start in the living room, standard murder scene procedure," she ordered, her training clicking back in to place. "When you are happy let the pathologist know they can remove the body. There is a mug in the kitchen. I want it dusting, as well as the keys in the hall wall, and door handles and frames. Also I want Doctor Garnier's car sealing and taking back for forensics to go over. Check for finger prints and DNA inside and out, trunk as well."

The two officers nodded before setting to work immediately, most likely wanting to get back to their weekend as expediently as possible. Walking back down the hall way she glanced in at the Pathologist looking thoughtfully over the body.

"When do you think you will be able to give me the results of a post mortem?" she asked breaking his train of thought.

"Normally I would say within a day or so, but usually I deal with people who somewhat fresher than this. I was just thinking I may have to call in a friend of mine from the University. This is more forensic anthropology than it is forensic pathology."

"You have my email address. Keep me apprised, but I am for the moment treating this as suspicious."

"No arguments from me there!"



* * *



"Doctor Richard Garnier. Thirty Nine years old, no criminal record, not even a speeding ticket. Life long bachelor, never married. No debts, no money troubles. High paid position working on next generation medical imaging technology. Two Doctorates behind his name in Applied Physics and Engineering. Employed by a well known and well respected Biotechnology and research company on the outskirts of New Oxford called Terok Industries," she mused looking over to her deputy.

"So you think he was murdered?" he asked bluntly.

"Assuming that was Doctor Garnier, I am considering that. What is bothering me though is I have all the fact about his life, but I can't seem to find much out about the man," she sighed. "I have talked to everyone in town. Elsa, his maid cleaned his house twice a week. She confirmed she got a text message yesterday evening asking if she could come and do his laundry today. Beyond that the best she could say was he was a very nice man, if quiet. I have checked with everyone around town and all I seem to get is was that he was really nice."

"Well he was."

"How long did he live here. Ten years? In that time I thought you and Sheriff Lomax would have got to know him," she snapped a little angrily.

"We did. He helped out in the community when he could, gave money to town events and everyone liked him. He kept himself to himself though," Jimmy replied a little more talkative.

"I'll think I will head over to this Terok Industries on Monday morning. It seems the doctor was married to his work and we really need to find out where he has been for the last month. If it was his body, there are a lot of things not adding up," she said backing down, she shoulders slumping a little.

"Must feel like old times for you this. Don't get much out here other than natural causes," he replied.

It did feel like old times and she didn't like it. Barely a month in to the job and she had a suspicious on her hands.

"Not much more we can do for the moment. Forensics and pathology should have something by Monday. I think I will do a patrol," she said standing up. "Saturday night and we will probably get the usual suspects."

"Okay," Jimmy said flatly. "Oh. Mrs. Mullins rang in again. Says a strange alien was mooning at her from the field behind her house."

"Oh come on," she muttered. "You would think if aliens did exist that the last thing they would be doing here is pulling childish pranks on some batty old woman."



* * *



It was a good fifteen minutes drive out to Mrs. Mullins house and although she didn't really want to stop off again, this whole cupcake incident had left her partly curious.

She was in her late fifties, not old by any stretch of the imagination. She was a retired teacher, her husband having passed away five years before leaving her with a sizeable insurance payout. The term crazy cat woman had been bandied about by several of the locals when it came to her and considering she had fourteen cats, it was perhaps accurate. According to her, one of the cats was the reincarnation of her husband, Billybob, which was weird in its own way as most people knew the cat in question was a girl.

At some point though something must have happened to her and she had become obsessed with UFO's and aliens. Like all obsessions it had started harmlessly enough, visiting conventions, going to Area 51 sightseeing and holding paranormal coffee mornings. That however had now progressed to her running a website which posted alleged UFO sightings, telescopes in her back garden and in one case had ended up with Police in New Oxford arresting her after she went nuts and claimed a random stranger who was just going about their business was an alien.

Back at the Station, Mrs. Mullins took up three entire folders of reports, complaints and accusations and her obsession was becoming the stuff of legends. Her website was a particular cause for concern as it seemed to bring more than a few crazies to their quiet town.

Pulling up the driveway she was greeted by Mrs. Mullins immediately running out of her house shaking her stick at her angrily.

"God damn Alien!!! Get off ma land!" she was shouting over and over again as she stopped the jeep and got out.

"Good evening Mrs. Mullins," she said at the old woman squinted at her through the glasses so thick they could have been double glazed. "It's Sheriff Lofthouse. I have come about this cupcake someone put in your back garden."

"Thought you were those rotten aliens again," she muttered, shuffling back. "Come on in then."

Entering the house the smell of cats and their various bodily functions assaulted her senses as dotted around randomly, high and low cats seemed to stare at her, following the woman through the hall way to the kitchen, then on to the rear veranda.

It was just starting to get dark, and she laughed quietly to herself looking at the ten feet tall cupcake randomly placed in the back garden. The little white base and pink swirly top. It was staggering to believe that someone would play such a daring practical joke on her. It almost felt like a student prank like the time she had been called to a car theft which turned out to have been a group of students picking up their lecturers car and moving it to the opposite side of the car park.

"Well Mrs Mullins. I can assure you that is not an alien egg. It is a fibreglass cupcake mascot from the Cupcake Emporium. It was reported stolen sometime last night," she said reassuringly.

"Well, my eyes are not so good," she muttered waving her stick around. "I saw that alien over the other side of my bushes. Pulled its pants down and did a right dance at me showing me its alien butthocks not two hours ago."

She glanced at the cupcake, then to the far edge of the garden, nearly twice as far from their position. If she couldn't see it was a giant cupcake, there was not chance she could see anything at the bottom of her garden.

"I will let the Cupcake Emporium know we have found their missing item and they can arrange to recover it with your permission," she said bringing things back on track as she took a photo of the cupcake for the record.

"As for your mooning alien, I can't see anyone down there now Mrs. Mullins. I am guessing they have gone back to Uranus or where ever they came from. I do have to be honest here though. You do remember that Judge Hinderson warned you that if you keep calling the police ever day you will end up having to be arrested and maybe spend some time in prison. Sheriff Lomax got rather annoyed with you over it and while I know I am the new Sheriff, it is called wasting police time," she said trying to be firm with her.

"No need to be rude about it Sheriff! I thought you were supposed to protect and serve?" she muttered glaring at her with those magnified eyes.

"That is my job, but I have many other people who I need to be there for and having to come out here four or five times a week is not in the people I serve interests. We have other more serious incidents that need my attention."

"Yeah, heard about the Doc," she grumbled walking back in to the house. "Wouldn't be surprised if that was those rotten aliens."

She ignored her as she made her way back down the hall to the front door, the old woman standing on the porch staring at her as she walked back to the jeep.

"I will give you a call on Monday Mrs. Mullins and let you know when the Cupcake Emporium will be coming to collect their property," she said trying to be polite, only be met by muttering.

She got in the driver's seat, the sky now going a darker shade of red as she started the engine, turning around back towards the road. She was barking mad, but fractionally endearing in a deranged way.

As she reached the end of the road she breathed a sigh of relief before slamming the brakes on, her heart thumping in her chest like she had just had the fright of her life.

She looked up over the fields. It was just the sky looking like it had every single night she had been here. Sparse clouds catching the red of the setting sun, stars flecking the sky in the growing darkness. There was something there though. She could feel it, like a weight pressing down on her.

She stared in to the sky trying to reason what it was that was unnerving her.

She sighed, looking in her mirror back to the old house. Mad old woman was starting to make her wonder now. She shook it off, turned left and headed back to Wyvern.

INTERLUDE





Memo to Seleke Science Council



The universe is a vast place. So vast that if you could imagine just how vast it really was, you would barely scratch the surface of its true immensity.

Although a matter for some debate in the scientific community, there is a tentative estimate that there are two trillion galaxies in the Universe. It's a big number, and one that is probably wrong. That's the trouble with Astronomers. They always underestimate things.

Let's just put this in perspective though. If you were to start counting right now, none stop, night and day, it would take you over sixty thousand years to count to two trillion.

Our own galaxy, which is just one of the two trillion, has one hundred billion stars, but as usual you get the astronomers arguing the facts on this. Simple fact is they really don't know but it is a very large number.

I could continue this assassination of how wrong astronomers are, but the simple fact is, astronomy is the hope that someone can reason and order what is the reality of the universe.

This of course would be a good venture, except for one horrible fact. Astronomers like to see what they want to see, often not what is there.

Take our world for example.

For over one thousand years, our greatest minds tried to reason why our star was causing such issues. For a thousand years, they confidently said to our people that our star was undergoing an increased cycle of violent activity, most likely caused by an as yet undiscovered dark gravitation object passing close to our system. They confirmed that our star would return to normal, and that this cycle could not last forever.

It was conjecture based on a flawed premise. They saw what they needed to see.

It took a deranged and clinically insane woman to see the truth.

Our star was on the brink of collapse, its hydrogen reserves were reaching a critical tipping point and from that point, the forces of gravity at work within the star would overpower the force of the fusion explosion at its core. Our star will collapse in to a dwarf star, and the resulting implosion would hurl a plasma storm in to our world and end all life.

Even then they would not believe it, attempting to debunk the idea until the sheer weight of the facts forced them to relent even if by that point it was too late.

To this end I would like to make an official recommendation to the Science Council.

We should designate a specific day within our yearly calendar to "Hit an Astronomer with a stick Day". If the Council feels this perhaps too violent, I would settle for a "Point and laugh at an Astronomer Day."

Of course it could be argued that I have somewhere down this road lost my mind but time, sweet time will tell.

CHAPTER TWO

Filling in the Blanks





It has been a quiet Sunday thankfully, a day off for both for herself and her deputy, even if they were on call. A day where she could indulge in her favourite TV shows, binge watch box sets and put her feet up. She had even gone in to the bar for a beer in the evening. The locals were still not sure on a woman Sheriff who liked to wear a dress when she went out, but they were small town people with the equivalent mindset. Still nice to watch the game and knock back a few. Her thoughts though had been elsewhere.

Walking in to this amazing facility she was about as far as she could get from Wyvern. Polished metal, glass everywhere and a receptionist who had a perfected smile, above her head the refined and pristine logo of Terok Industries.

"Doctor Weylan will see you now," she announced as a door opened to their side. The security guard stayed with her as they walked down the brightly lit corridors, the walls festooned with science posters showing the companies many achievements until eventually she was ushered in to a conference room.

The guard waited diligently outside. Biotechnology company perhaps, but the level of security here screamed far more.

"Apologies for the delay," a tall man said looking a little flustered as he bumbled in to the office extending his hand. "Peter Weylan, managing director."

"Sheriff Lofthouse," she replied extending her hand, noting his firm grip before he motioned her to a seat.

"Not often we get law enforcement visiting us," he mused sitting down opposite. "I hope none of our employees are in any trouble."

"Actually I have come to see you about Doctor Richard Garnier," she said sombrely. "I am sorry to say we believe that he was found dead in his home on Saturday morning."

"Richard? Goodness me, that's terrible," he exclaimed in shock. "I have had my secretary calling him all morning. I was a little concerned when he didn't come in to work. He is always so punctual."

He paused for a moment eyeing her questioningly.

"You said you believe it was him?"

"It was very difficult to identify the body. It had been desiccated. Preliminary evidence points to the body being that of Doctor Garnier though," she replied glancing around the office. "If you don't mind I have a few questions regarding the Doctor and his work for your company."

"Of course. Anything you need, within security reason."

"I understand he had been away on a business trip for the last month. I take it that was part of your work here?"

"Oh, Richard was a great humanitarian. Our company creates some of the finest drugs and technology available. We have an outreach program for the developing world, giving them access to advanced medical technologies that we take for granted here. He had been out installing imaging technology."

"Considering what happened, was there any chance he could have contracted something that could have caused the unusual state we found him in?"

"Highly doubtful. Our staff all undergo detailed health checks when arriving back in the States, not to mention we have full series of jabs before going. Richard was a stickler for this kind of thing."

"In that case could it have been something he was working on here? I hope you understand we are simply looking for an explanation for what happened and trying to rule out foul play."

"Much of our work here is classified," he stated with a sigh. "Richard has been involved with several projects although most of his time has been spent on the Neutrino Imager system. It is a next generation medical imaging technology that will be widely available in roughly ten years. Makes MRI's look old hat. However that system would not cause anything like you have described."

She paused for a moment looking around the room before glancing back at the security guard in the hall way.

"Military projects I take it?"

"Most certainly not!" he replied sternly. "Terok Industries are a pacifist company. Our drugs and technology are designed for the betterment of mankind, not to see its end. I am sure you can appreciate though that we are asked to produce items that are not suitable for public knowledge though. Doctor Garnier was not involved with any project that could have caused this desiccation you have described though. "

"I must apologise however I have to ask these questions," she said apologetically. "Did Doctor Garnier have a girlfriend, or anyone you may consider a competitor or enemy?"

"Richard had one love in his life, his sports car. As for scientific rivalry or enemies, I think you could ask anyone here and they would agree that he was simply one of the nicest, most giving people you could ever wish to meet."

She looked at this man trying to reason any other questions that could be pertinent to her investigation, however she was coming up short.

"Well, I think that is all I need for the moment. I would appreciate it if you did not mention this until we have formal identification. This is my card," she said pushing it over the table. "If you can think of anything that may be pertinent, please do not hesitate to call me."

"I wish I could have been of more help however I will consult with his team to see if they may be able to shed some light on this," he said as she stood up.

As the guard escorted out of the facility she knew Weylan was not telling her the whole truth, but the fact was she was grasping at straws and as he said, some of the work they were doing was classified.

Perhaps the Coroner's office would offer more enlightenment.



* * *



"How are things going Doctor Lassator?" she asked walking in to the well set if somewhat macabre office. She had been to the County Coroner's building many times before when overflow had found its way here from the city's office. It was a place she never really liked because for most of the residents, this was their final stop in life. It was in her eyes a sad place where tears and grief lived.

Lassator looked up from his work raising an eyebrow as he paused his effort of turned a walking human being with a life, friends and a family in to nothing more than a file, a statistic added to the ever growing mountains of data.

"Ah, Miss Lofthouse. Glad you could pop in. Your Deputy said you were in town," he said welcomingly, motioning her towards a seat. "I think as I said to you on Saturday morning, this is quite the perplexing mystery you have stumbled upon."

She sat down, taking her hat off as he surprisingly sat motionless at his desk.

"In what way?" she asked a little off put by his lack of animation.

"Well, I had a friend come over this morning from the University. The corpus was more akin to what an anthropologist would work with so I treated it as such. We did the autopsy as planned. First, the good news. We confirmed it was Doctor Richard Garnier from his finger prints and dental records. We also confirmed he died of natural causes, although in this case perhaps unnatural causes would be a better description. He died of old age."

"Old age? But he was only in his late thirties."

"Very true, but looking at his skeleton, the condition of the organs he had the body of a ninety year old at the time of his death, ergo why I said unnatural. My colleague also commented that he had never seen anything like this and if this body had been found under any other circumstances, he would have estimated it was over four hundred years old, if not considerably more."

"What could cause a body to end up in this state after only a matter of hours?"

"Only thing we could come up with was flash freeze drying, but even then with a human body and the right equipment, it could take weeks. Sadly I am at a loss from my end."

"You said that was the good news?" she sighed feeling none the wiser.

"You will probably have noticed, I have not been referring to my notes," he stated in a quieter and far more serious tone. "The reason is I don't have them, nor the body. Two city officers arrived with two individuals in black suits with a court order only an hour ago. The officers had been sent by the Commissioner and Judge Rybach had signed the order. They said that State police were taking over the investigation and that they required all notes, sample and of course the corpus. Outside of what 's between my ears, there is nothing more."

"What?!"



* * *



She had phoned back to the stationhouse as she had driven in to New Oxford. Bad enough that all evidence had been removed from the Coroners offices, but they had already turned up at stationhouse and Jimmy had no choice but to give them all of the files and evidence she had collected for the Garnier case.

It was not often she found herself at City Hall, but she needed answers as she stormed in to the Commissioner's office, his secretary flustered as she ignored her entering his stately office.

"Could you give me five minutes," the elderly gentleman said glancing up to her briefly, his guests shocked at her surprise entrance.

Ushering them out, he closed the door frowning at her.

"Sit down Sellie," he ordered, making his way back to his desk, the look on his face troubled.

She sat down, looking at him questioningly as she held herself back.

"The Garnier case is closed," he stated firmly. "Officially the case has been recorded as death by misadventure. There are no more details than that and State has taken over the formal proceedings."

"Due respect sir, but I think we both know that is a crock," she grumbled. "It seems odd that this morning I visit Terok Industries to question their Managing Director about Doctor Garnier and a matter of hours later the case is swept under the carpet and covered up. I would like to formally request that I be assigned to the case, if only as professional courtesy."

"Denied," he snapped firmly, staring her down. "This case is out of our hands and you would do well to forget about it. These are the kind of people you don't cross Sheriff. I have seen them before and I know well enough not to interfere."

"So it's an order, sir?" she questioned, backing down.

"Most certainly," he replied in a dark tone. "You are a good officer Sellie and you have a good town under your jurisdiction, the kind of town that is coveted by many of your fellow officers. A case like this if handled with disrespect could easily break an officer in the eyes of her peers, and I have seen your record. Forget the case ever happened, go back to Wyvern, have a beer and put your feet up."

As he stood up, she knew this meeting was over as she collected herself and walked towards the door. She glanced over her shoulder at the Commissioner as he gave her a stern look that chilled her before turning to his guests, inviting them back in to continue their meeting.

As the door closed firmly, she straightened her hat and sighed.

It was a long drive back to Wyvern and she had some soul searching to do.



* * *



It was now late afternoon, she was tired, frustrated and seriously considering the Commissioners suggestion of just having a beer. Getting out in to the humid air she glanced down main street almost a picture postcard of it usual everyday view, except for one thing. Sticking out like a sore thumb was an expensive German luxury SUV parked outside Bessie's Guesthouse.

For a moment she considered its presence before shrugging her shoulders and ignoring it.

On her way back she had considered ignoring the order to leave this alone. She didn't like the fact that Doctor Weylan had played her, hiding facts from her and after protesting that Doctor Garnier had not been involved with any dangerous research and that he was medically fit and cleared, out of the blue a wide reaching cover up swept everything away.

However with no evidence, no scene of crime photographs, no forensic information and no Coroners report or even a body, there was very little she could do. The only thing would be to try and find out who these men in black were, but she had not seen them.

The case was at a dead end, and perhaps the Commissioner was right. If she continued to poke around it would draw unwanted attention from darker forces and considering how easily these individuals had covered up her case, they would have little trouble making her life miserable.

As the door to the office opened with a creek, the only possible lead she had would have been Jimmy. He was here when they collected the case and maybe he had been diligent enough to get a description or plates from the vehicle they arrived in. Scanning around the room though, it was silent. She frowned walking over to her desk, a single note sitting on her keyboard. She picked it up.

'Gone out to Mrs Mullins. May want to get here when you are back.'

She sighed and locked her jaw shut, picking her keys back up.

It had been a rotten day, she was tired and frustrated and this time, she was going to throw the book at that mad old woman.



* * *



On the drive over she had rehearsed exactly what she was going to say to Mrs Mullins before she threw her in the back of her jeep. She had warned her enough times about wasting police time but as she stood in the living room, for once the mad old woman wasn't wasting her time.

Sadly she would never waste anyone's time ever again.

"Who discovered the body?" she asked surveying the hauntingly familiar scene as Jimmy stood stoically by the door.

"Roddy Tomlinson. She was the organiser of the local paranormal activity society and it was her turn to host their monthly meeting. He is outside feeling rather ill," Jimmy stated being surprisingly more articulate than normal caveman guise he portrayed.

"Guessing you've called the Coroner and scene of crime?"

He nodded as moved deeper in to the room examining the scene in more detail.

It was both unexpected and unwelcome. Lying in the middle of the living room surrounded by several of her cat was Mrs Mullins, her body looking like it had been desiccated in almost the same way as Doctor Garnier. It was of course in much the same state he had been, barely recognisable in its mummified condition, the cats around her also exhibiting the same gruesome fate.

If there had a choice over dropping the unexplained death of Doctor Garnier, now she couldn't. Two mysterious deaths in a short space of time where the victims were mummified had moved from a puzzling mystery to what may be murder.

She looked over the scene trying to find clues, but it was much as it had been with Doctor Garnier. There was a tray on the table with a teapot, the television on and the computer still running. No evidence of a break in, no sign of a struggle. It was like she just dropped to the floor in agony and died in a way that defied explanation.

"I'm going to go have a chat with Mr Tomlinson," she said walking back out in to the hallway, the remaining cats seemingly terrified as they peeped out of their hiding places watching her fearfully.

Back in the evening air she took a deep breath before walking over to the visibly shaken young man. Roddy was a typical twenty something that never really grew up. Street wear, his jacket festooned with silly badges relating to alien hunting, the largest says 'I believe' on it with a cow being kidnapped by a UFO.

"I understand you found her," she said as he looked at her, his face sheet white as he seemed to tremble.

"Came to help her set up for the meeting. Get the tea and biscuits out," he stammered out looking like he was about to throw up, obviously in shock.

"When did you last talk to her?"

"Saturday evening. I called her to check if everything was still on for today," he stammered, his voice breaking. "It's those aliens. She said she had found something major when I talked to her that would confirm the truth. They are walking amongst us!"


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