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  1.   Prologue
  2.     I’ve done well, I suppose. Considering the circumstances, I’ve handled this better than I could have expected. I mean – how would you react if the boss suddenly changed the rules on you? Forget everything you learned in training, we’re starting over. It’s not exactly fair, but how do you argue with the person holding your existence in the palm of His hand? Exactly. I’m sure you, of all people, know how that goes. I’m sorry; you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. Let me explain.
  3.    When I joined the company, we did things differently. It was simple – if a client didn’t work with us, we deleted them from the system. Easy, right? I was great at it too. I could clear 20 or 30 in one day. I could do more if we didn’t receive any complaints, but the boss was never in much of a rush (drove me crazy, but I’ve always been the overachiever, I guess). It’s probably coziest job anyone could have – full benefits, paid relocating on a whim.
  4.    But times are changing in the company. We’re losing clients. Or better, the clients are beginning to ignore the terms of service. We can’t have that, no, but the boss is trying to redesign the way WE do things to better accommodate THEM. The ones who are not abiding by our rules. Apparently, the boss wants me to stop deleting the clients, let them remain in our system AND personally show them their mistakes and how not to make them again. Not part of the job description, if I remember correctly. I’m not certified for this crap.
  5.    Well, I still have a job, so I guess I’m doing alright. I still don’t agree, but I’m doing it the boss’ way. Mostly. Between you and me, I slipped up. One client just kept pushing – nothing I said made any difference, she didn’t understand the rules. I almost deleted her. It just came so naturally, common practice and all.  I could have been fired that day, all because of that one girl. These people just don’t get it. The rules are right there in black and white, what is so hard about that?
  6.    Nothing, that’s what. But what the boss says is law, always gotta remember that part. In a way, he’s the only reason we exist at all. But I won’t get all philosophical on you. The matter at hand is, if he says no more deleting, then no more. I can just hope that the cruise control doesn’t come back on. You know how it goes; sometimes it’s near impossible to forget your original training. And sometimes the sinners refuse to be saved and there’s really nothing else to do with them.  
  8.                         Chapter One
  9.    When Adam approached the door to Detective Kennedy’s office, he reluctantly pulled the ear buds from his head and took a deep breath. Today was the day. It was nearly two weeks ago that his Forensic Science professor had asked him to stay after class. This was strange to him, being he was never the type to volunteer to clean the classroom or take extra credit assignments, but apparently Mr. Davis was sure he was the right man for the job.
  10.    He’d nearly touched the door handle that Friday afternoon when Mr. Davis drew him back and sat him at the intimidatingly large desk at the front. Mr. Davis was silent for a moment, seeming to be at a loss of how to begin. Finally, after an excruciating eight seconds, Mr. Davis brushed a hand back through his newly graying hair and broke the silence,
  11.    “Adam, in the- how long has it been? Nearly two years? In the two years I’ve had you in my class, I’ve noticed something about you.”
  12.    He paused again, this time just long enough for Adam to consider that his professor may be a homosexual.
  13.    “Okay, let me get to the point. The police have recently contacted me because they’ve come across a case they can’t seem to handle on their own. I’d normally question the competence of our police force, but that’s irrelevant to my current problem. They’ve asked me to drive up to Detroit to take a look at some cadavers that they can’t figure out, but I’m quite obviously too busy to drop everything and do their work for them.”
  14.    Adam shifted in his seat and attempted to urge the conversation on, feeling that he had much better things to be doing at the moment,
  15.    “So…how do I come into this?”
  16.    Mr. Davis leaned back in his chair, seeming to be relieved that the conversation was almost over.
  17.    “Someone needs to go and you’re probably the next best qualified of anyone in the school. They’re not going to be pleased that I’m sending a student, but they’re just going to have to deal. Are you interested? You’ll be getting paid for your work and it’ll boost you to the top of your class as far as on site experience goes.”
  18.    Interested probably wouldn’t have been Adam’s word of choice for the situation, but it would get him some extra spending money, and so long as he had his laptop, being home or being in Detroit wouldn’t make much difference. Adam agreed, Mr. Davis provided the information he would need to get there, and two weeks later, he was in Detroit, one door away from his assignment.
  19.    Knocking politely on the door, Adam peeked his head inside the door to see Detective Kennedy lounging in his chair, doodling idly on the notepad.
  20.    “Um…Detective?”
  21.    “Oh! Adam, come on in. Sorry about that, I didn’t even notice you there.”
  22.    Adam slipped in and set his hand on the chair on his side of the detective’s desk, but before he had the chance to sit down, Detective Kennedy was out of his chair and collecting his badge and pen.
  23.    “Sorry to rush you Adam, but the guys downstairs have been pretty impatient. They don’t like being told to wait, so they’ve been calling me all frickin’ morning.”
  24.    Shuffling down the stairs, Detective Kennedy tried hard to make formal conversation, not that Adam was interested. His mind was on the gurneys downstairs, and what situation could possibly call for an out of town forensic scientist. Immediately his mind began to wander into tales of alien spawn bursting from the chests of the dead, and strange parasites housing within the brain, but the drab hallway outside the examination room brought his imagination to bay.
  25.    Detective Kennedy pressed a button near the speaker on the wall to alert the people inside of their arrival. A second later, a female voice responded in an irritated monotone,
  26.    “Sterilize please.”
  27.    Detective Kennedy seemed to take a moment to process this request before he turned and pointed to the sink behind them, accompanied by the blue coats worn by surgeons. At the sight of this, Adam began to doubt his ability to perform what ever task they might ask of him. He didn’t know the first thing about performing an autopsy; he hadn’t even dissected a frog in high school.
  28.    Once properly dressed, Detective Kennedy pressed the button again but this time, before he could speak, the lock on the door clicked. Inside there was a male and a female dressed in the blue coats, the female’s coat covered in a brownish fluid. Detective Kennedy latched the door behind him, alerting the two to their arrival. The female shot the detective an annoyed look and proceeded as if Adam and the detective weren’t there at all, turning to her partner and pointing to a video camera on a tripod behind them. The male turned and inserted a new tape, pressing a few buttons on the side until a red light came on, to which he responded,
  29.    “Rolling.”
  30.    The female took a step toward Adam, reciting information to the camera as though she’d done it a million times before,
  31.    “April 21st, 13:47. Autopsy room four. Dr. Caleb Brown, and myself, Dr. Shelby Collins, will be performing the autopsy. Student Adam Bowman and Detective James Kennedy will be critiquing the autopsy in place of Dr. William Davis. Dr. Brown, will you please reposition the camera to the cadaver.”
  32.    Dr. Brown, who was standing behind the camera, turned it slowly to the left, where a sheet draped over a gurney stood. Dr. Collins positioned herself behind the gurney, where she continued her routine,
  33.    “The subject is Rachel Stright.”
  34.    She paused a moment to pull the sheet down, revealing the pale body of a young woman.
  35.    “Age 27, five foot six, 124 pounds. Place of death, Westbend county prison. Ms. Stright was arrested 3 weeks ago with one count breaking and entering in the first degree, one count assault and battery in the first degree, and one count murder in the second degree. She was found dead in her cell by on duty guard Jose Hernandez on the morning of April 20th around the time of 3:30 a.m.”
  36.    Dr. Collins turned to take a scalpel off the tray beside her as she continued,
  37.    “No signs of outward respiratory distress or bruising signifying strangulation or suicide. The skin seems virtually untouched aside from lacerations between the breasts, seeming to be made by animal claws. No signs of healing, entailing that the marks were made post-mortem. Now making the first incision.”
  38.    As soon as Dr. Collins touched the blade to the woman’s skin, Adam shut his eyes, his stomach now having the same doubts he’d had earlier. When he opened his eyes, Dr. Collins had made a cut from the collarbone to the ribs and was now announcing it as she reached to the tray for what looked like a small circular saw.
  39.    Adam closed his eyes again, knowing full well he was not physically prepared to see what she was going to do next.
  40.    “Are you having a problem Mr. Bowman?”
  41.    Adam opened his eyes to see the entire room looking at him.
  42.    “Um…n-no. No, I’m fine.”    
  43.    Dr. Collins brought her eyebrows together in frustration, seeming as though she were trying to kill Adam with just the venom in her eyes.
  44.    “Then please keep your eyes open, Mr. Bowman. You’re here for a reason.”
  45.    Adam knew at this point he had no other choice but to keep his stomach in calm state, so he tried to avert his gaze as Dr. Collins sawed smoothly through the bone of the young woman’s chest. When the sound of the saw stopped, Adam looked up to see Dr. Brown hovering over the body with the camera, and Dr. Collins was using another device to open the chest cavity further.
  46.    “As we can see here, similar to the other two cadavers found at the prison, the sternum appears completely unharmed, but the heart inside is unrecognizable.”
  47.    Unrecognizable? That’s no medical term Adam knew. Taking a step forward, he leaned in to see what they were looking at. Now, Adam was no anatomy major. The most he knew was what they had taught in high school biology, but they’d never very well covered how the inside of the human chest should look. A heart didn’t look anything like what you draw on valentine’s cards, but it sure didn’t look anything like what was inside this woman’s chest. Inside, there was nothing. There were no strings, no muscle, nothing. There were only fragments of bloody mess where her heart may have once been.
  48.    Adam looked over to Detective Kennedy, hoping some kind of answer might lie in his expression, but unfortunately the detective seemed just as confused as he was. What kind of disorder or murder method causes the heart to explode? Adam needed to know.
  49. Timidly, he approached Dr. Collins, who was now covering the cadaver again and pulling the mess she'd made back together.
  50.    "Um...Doctor, what...what happened to her?"
  51. Dr. Collins hooked a thumb under the rim of her glove and snapped it off; draping it swiftly in Adam's hand as though he'd offered to take it for her.
  52.    "That's why you're here, kid. This is your problem now."
  54. * * * * * *
  56.    When the autopsy was over, Adam and Detective Kennedy returned to the detective’s office, neither of them choosing to discuss what they’d just witnessed. Detective Kennedy, seeming to be less fazed by the ordeal than Adam, threw himself lazily into his brown leather office chair and began shuffling through a side drawer. Adam responded by lowering himself slowly onto the edge of one of the remaining chairs, keeping his sudden pessimism regarding the job to himself. After another minute, the detective pulled a file out from behind the desk and layed it carefully before him, using such care with the file that anyone would assume the man was handling porcelain. As he looked for what was probably a specific page, he explained to Adam in the best business tone he could achieve what had been discovered in this case so far,
  57.    “Dr. Collins already went through most of this, but I have to go through it again to make sure you got it all. Just…part of the routine, I’m sure you understand. The subject we’re dealing with is 27 year old Rachel Stright-“
  58.    The detective said as he held up a picture from the file of a young red haired woman who might have been exceptionally pretty, were the picture not a mug shot.
  59.    “Before Rachel was arrested, she was part of a local anarchy group who refers to themselves as the Children of Goetia. We don’t know anything about the group itself aside from the fact that their leader, some guy in his forties who calls himself King Solomon, isn’t keen on sharing his people’s whereabouts.”
  60.    The detective flipped through the file a bit more before he came up with another photo, passing it off to Adam as well, this time of a man, undoubtedly younger than Rachel, probably fresh out of high school,
  61.    “This is Rachel’s victim, Daniel Neilson. 19 year old kid with no familial, genetic or social ties to Rachel. From the look of the report, Rachel crashed through a living room window and beat the hell out of the kid and his girlfriend before stabbing him once in the chest and taking off. When the cops finally caught her, she waved Miranda to rant and rave about “Zagan” being a traitor. Sounds like some type of alien code to me, but I’m not the one following the case, so what do I know?”
  62.    After one more flip through the file, the detective sighed and shuffled the papers back into the file, pushing it across the desk toward Adam.
  63.    “I think you can handle the rest on your own. You’re probably more fit to figure this out than anyone in this building. Kids are just getting smart at a crazy rate these days. When I was your age- well, it’s not important. Take the rest of the day to look it over and be back here first thing tomorrow with what findings you might have, assuming there’s anything to find.”
  65.    When Adam got back to his hotel room, he dropped the file on the bed and set his laptop case carefully on the table in the corner, proceeding to follow the routine of hooking it up that he’d now become so accustomed to that he might very well be able to do it in his sleep. Adam knew that he should probably get a cup of coffee and get an early start on the file, but the room felt too empty without the glow of the LCD screen keeping him company. When his desktop image loaded and the face of his favored swimsuit model stared back at him, he felt at ease and lay down across the bed, kicking his shoes off as he opened the file. Inside the file were countless pages of legal jargon regarding motives and counts of laws broken, which had an almost instant effect of making Adam drowsy just by looking at the page. He quickly skipped past these pages until he came back to the stack of photos paper-clipped to the back of the file. At the top of the stack were pictures of people and various mug shots; each had a label at the bottom announcing each picture’s occupant. Behind those photos were photos of the blood stained knife, the smear left on the kitchen counter as Daniel fell, and the final result of Daniel’s still body lying on the linoleum.
  66.    Surprisingly, the last few pictures seemed almost irrelevant to the first murder case he was studying. The last pictures were of a jail cell, much nicer than most Adam remembered ever seeing. The walls, made of stone, showed no signs of dirt, and the bed in the back corner was newly made with pristine white sheets. Upon closer inspection of the photo, Rachel’s body, dressed in a bright orange prisoner’s jumpsuit, was propped in the corner of the floor.
  67.    Something about this scene struck Adam as strange from the moment he examined it. What type of prison is that well kept? And what type of murder, as violent and candid as her wounds had suggested, would leave her propped so neatly in the corner? Adam glanced at the bed again and strained to remember what time Dr. Collins mentioned that Rachel was found. Was it 2:30? 3:30? Regardless, any normal inmate would have already climbed into bed by that point in the night; the sheets would have been in disarray. Did she never sleep that night, or did she make the bed again? Everything about this scene screamed suspicious in Adam’s opinion, to the point that it was almost insulting him personally. With his first lead, Adam swiftly collected his laptop and the file and began his first expedition to the prison.
  69.    Upon arriving at Westbend county prison, Adam began to get the feeling that he may have been in over his head with this entire situation. He was about to walk into a place where he had no right to be, to prod for information he had no right to have. But he had to; if not for Mr. Davis or Detective Kennedy then for himself. He really needed the marks on his resume. So with a new sense of determination, he marched in through the front door, straightened his spine, and demanded to the woman at the front desk that she give him access to Rachel Stright’s file. The woman, who seemed more focused on the obnoxious snapping of the gum between her teeth, gave him a blank stare before casually pressing a red button at the edge of her desk and chiming into the attached speaker,
  70.    “Security~?”
  71.    While Adam waited for security to come and remove him from the building, he realized that he would need to go about this with a little more finesse. Quickly, he flipped through his file for anything that might help him get further into the prison before he came across the report filed by the prison guard who’d found Rachel. Jose Hernandez. Adam would need to speak to him. But what reason would they have to give him access to anything behind that desk? He didn’t even have a badge. This made Adam begin to wonder how Detective Kennedy figured he’d be able to accomplish any of this without some sign of authority, but when he saw the security guard come around the corner and in his direction, he began to panic.
  72.    Think Adam, think.
  73.    The guard stopped just about a foot away from Adam, where he paused to survey the
  74. situation. Clearly, Adam’s pale, thin physique posed no threat to the guard, so he looked to the woman behind the desk for explanation. Before she could demonize Adam any further, Adam cleared his throat loudly and began to speak to the guard,
  75.    “I need to speak to a…”
  76.    Adam paused to flip through his file for effect.
  77.    “Jose Hernandez. He seems to have a part in the Stright murder and I need to ask him some questions.”
  78.    The guard looked suspiciously at Adam before lowering his voice into a defensive tone,
  79.    “We haven’t had any murders around here, so you don’t need to talk to no one.”
  80.    Adam tapped the papers in the file back into the folder and nodded,
  81.    “Alright Mr…”
  82.    He leaned in toward the guard’s chest, eyeing his name badge in an over dramatic fashion,
  83.    “Mr. McMillan. I’ll be back this afternoon with a search warrant. Have a nice day.”
  84.    The guard’s eyes flashed in a moment of horror before he began to stutter an attempt at voiding the decision he’d just made,
  85.    “Um, well, hold on. Lemme see if he’s here today.”
  87.    Less than five minutes later, the guard returned and led Adam into one of the small visiting rooms, composed of 4 walls, a table, and two chairs. Already occupying one of the chairs was a young male, maybe only as old as 24, who seemed to become incredibly anxious when Adam entered the room. Immediately, he began to shake his head and speak frantically,
  88.    “I swear man, I don’t know anything about a murder. I just found her in there like that! I-“
  89.    While pulling the remaining chair away from the table for Adam, the guard looked the other man in the eye and spoke in a confidant monotone,
  90.    “Jose, calm down. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
  91.    Adam sat down and set the file down in front of him, flipping it open to help him decide where to start. When he didn’t hear the door behind him shut, he looked back to see the guard still standing there. Adam attempted to shoot him an annoyed glance (not that Adam had ever been very good at controlling his expressions) and turned away before speaking to him again,
  92.    “That’ll be all, thank you.”
  93.    A few seconds later, Adam heard the squeak of the unoiled door hinges and the small click of the door latching shut. Perfect. Adam knew exactly how to get the information he wanted out of this guard, not that it would be hard with how nervous and perhaps conscience-ridden the guard was to begin with. Adam just needed to play this out correctly.
  94.    First, he reached into the file and yanked the pictures from the paperclip before shuffling through them to the photo of the crime scene.
  95.    “Mr. Hernandez. Or, Jose, is that alright?”
  96.    Jose nodded, seeming to be physically struggling to keep his mouth shut.
  97.    “Alright, Jose. Is this how you found Rachel the night of the murder?”
  98.    Jose began to shake his head again.
  99.    “Would you stop saying that?! I didn’t kill anyone!”
  100.    Adam suppressed a smirk. This was going to be far too easy.
  101.    “I never said you did. I just asked you a question. Is this how you found her?”
  102.    Jose picked up the photo, his hands now showing his level of stress by their trembling. After a moment of surveying the photo, he put it back on the table and nodded.
  103.    Adam watched Jose for a moment, trying to gauge his reaction to the photo. That question had caused him to avoid answering verbally. It was obvious that Jose was a terrible liar, so somewhere in that picture was the lie. Adam just needed to find out where. He took the photo back and looked it over himself before retrieving another from the file. He leaned across the table and placed Rachel’s mug shot photo directly into Jose’s hand.
  104.    “This is the girl you found.”
  105.    Jose seemed to be avoiding looking at the photo.
  106.    “Yeah, that’s her.”
  107.    From what Adam could tell about Jose, he was a pretty clear stereotype. Probably not the best in school, which got him a job as a grunt in a prison. He might have even spent some time here himself. But from the sensitivity he practically leaked onto the floor, Jose obviously wasn’t all tough exterior. He probably had a large respect for his mother. Adam paused for a long while before continuing,
  108.    “She’s pretty, isn’t she? I sure as hell would’ve asked her to a dance back in school.”
  109.    Jose was trying to block out Adam’s rambling.
  110.    ”You don’t think she was meant to be here. Someone as pretty as her shouldn’t have been behind bars. She shouldn’t have been left bleeding on the floor, thrown out like garbage. She shouldn’t-“
  111.    Jose slammed the photo on table, flipping it upside down.
  112.    “Stop! Just…please, stop.”
  113.    It was clear by the tremble in his voice that he was trying not to cry.
  114.    “It was late. Past about midnight, I sit at the desk and screw around on the computer. By then, all of the inmates are asleep so there’s nothing much to do. But around 3 am, it seemed a little too quiet, so I decided to take a run by the cells just to make sure everything was okay. I came to her cell and it just…”
  115.    Jose stopped and brought his hand to his mouth, seeming to be trying to calm himself.
  116.    “She was on the floor. I still can’t figure out what happened. We’ve had inmates kill themselves or each other in various ways, with their clothes, with stolen silverware, sometimes with their bare hands. But…she was just…lying on the floor. I might not have even noticed her if her head weren’t turned toward me. You know that feeling when you know someone’s watching you? She was just staring out of the cell. When I went into her cell to try to see what happened, I didn’t find anything. She didn’t have any dangerous objects; nothing on her was broken or bruised. The front of her shirt was bloody, but I couldn’t really even figure out what that had come from. At first, I was afraid to touch her, they always say not to touch the body because people are going to want to come in and take pictures and draw the chalk outline thing. But I just…I couldn’t bear to leave her lying there like that, soaking in her own blood. So…I know I wasn’t supposed to, but I got her some new clothes and changed her out of the bloody ones. When I was changing her, I saw the cuts on her chest. I kinda figured that was what killed her, but it didn’t seem very deep. When I was a kid, my brother fell on one of those iron fences, ripped his arm wide open. You could practically see inside his arm, and all he needed was some stitches. These…these scratches on her chest, it didn’t even seem like she would have needed more than a bandage.”
  117.    Jose paused for a minute, clearly not finished with his story. He seemed to be eyeing the ceiling, where a camera hung above them.
  118.    “Well, one of the other guards caught me. I had finished dressing her and was about to lay her in the bed when Jake came over and asked me what happened. I couldn’t even think of what to say to him. Before I knew it, our supervisor was taking me out of the cell and into the break room. A few hours later, they told me to go home.”
  119.    Adam nodded and began to speak before Jose cut him off, seeming to want to say something quickly,
  120.    “When I passed by the cell on my way out-“
  121.    Jose picked up the photo of the crime scene off the table and pointed to it,
  122.    “They’d set her in the corner. They’d cleaned the blood off the floor. And the writing, the writing on the wall, it was gone. I took a picture before I left. I knew they would get rid of it; they wanted it to look like a suicide so no one would investigate because her cellmate escaped last week and no one tried to find her. They’re just trying to cover their own asses-“
  123.   Just then, the original guard came in and immediately began collecting Jose out of his chair.
  124.    “That’s enough, if you want anymore information, you can get a warrant.”
  125.    Adam quickly stood up and blocked the doorway.
  126.    “One more thing.”
  127.    Jose ripped his arm out of the guards grip and stopped to listen to Adam.
  128.    Adam shuffled through his pocket before pulling out a slightly crumpled looking business card and handing it to Jose.
  129.    “If there’s anything else you can think of that might help us figure out what happened, feel free to call me,”
  131.    20 minutes later, Adam was sitting in the nearest internet café, trying hard to calm his nerves after the ordeal at the prison. He felt that he’d succeeded to some extent in getting a few clues as to what really happened, but the entire thing had had him on edge the whole time. Just the tapping of the keys on the keyboard was making him feel ten times better. But just as he was about to hit Enter on the last post on his forum, his phone began to vibrate off the table. He rushed to catch it, just barely saving it from hitting the floor. Flipping the phone open, he tried to figure out who could be calling him, since his phone hadn’t received a phone call since Detective Kennedy called him a few days before to discuss when he had to appear for the autopsy. Even more strangely, it was a picture message. Upon loading it, the text “I’m so getting fired for this” loaded more quickly at the bottom of the screen than the picture did. Adam decided by that that this must be Jose. Finally, the picture cleared to show the rough prison wall on the inside of Rachel’s cell. In red, written on the wall was the sequence,
  132.    E 20:13
  133.    Below that, written in script, were the words,
  135. Censura itituo vos
  137. Iam nos precor.  
  141. Chapter Two
  142.    Midnight had struck Evan the same way it did every night since he’d been sleeping behind the cast iron bars. Every night, just the same as the first, the clock dragged to the right – 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock, midnight. And Evan watched as it did, never able to sleep voluntarily. Past 9 p.m., he found the need for the clock to be on the wall outside his cell, rather than any of the other dozen on that floor, to be more insulting to him than any of the other injustices that had followed him here. Past 9 o’clock when the guard stopped pacing the cells and there was no movement or sound throughout what seemed like the entire world, the clock only served as a marker, to let Evan know how many days it had been since he’d had his medication. 4 months and three days. 3,012 hours. 180,720 minutes. Doing this type of math was the only thing that calmed Evan these days. “You know, I was a pretty smart guy on the outside” was his favorite line to recite to the guys. He knew they were getting pretty fed up with the same story, but he didn’t care much anymore. “When I was a kid, I didn’t want to be a fireman. I wanted to be a mathematician. But you know what the career director in high school told me?” Here, he would pause for dramatic effect. “He told me there were no careers in math these days. At least not at my level. Like I wasn’t good enough or something. And my deadbeat parents couldn’t afford college, no scholarship people wanted to sponsor a math major because of the drop out rate. So you know where I ended up? A bank!” In this variation of the routine, Evan would pause here to let the shock set in, were his audience listening anymore. “A fuckin’ bank. ’Six, twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, seven. There’s near three times what I make, fucker. Now go spend it on hookers like you do every week. See you next week Mr. Johnson.’ They stick an elite math genius behind a fuckin’ counter to count out twenties to the scum of the earth.”
  143.    Evan never got any further into his story before being threatened by his irritated prison mates, or before being shuffled back into the perspective cubes they called home. And tonight, in his bed within his own personal three walls, he counted the tics on the clock like he always did. By tic number 2,147 past midnight, he began to feel drowsy, but it was then that he realized that he felt something else as well. That strange feeling that people get when something they can’t see is near them. A small sixth sense left over from a feral period perhaps. History clearly wasn’t Evans strong point, so he forced that topic from his mind and began searching for the source of the feeling. He looked to the side to see if maybe a guard was checking to see if he was asleep yet. Most nights, if he wasn’t asleep by about 3 a.m., a guard would come in and give him a sedative, but it was only 12:35 by this point. And there were no guards to be seen. Slowly, Evan began to survey the floor of his cell, nervously counting the floor in 5” squares as he looked at it.
  144.    One…one two three four five…two…one two three four five
  145.    He got about half way across the cell when something entered his peripheral vision. Flesh colored. No…Eggshell. The html would be #FCE6C9. 1” x 1 ½”.
  146.    This second equation threw off his counting. Did he stop at the 28th set or the 29th? He would have to start over. But now he didn’t just feel something, he heard something. Breathing. He could hear his inner monologue telling him to just look, but he would never be able to tell where to start. Who knew what square the sound came from? He couldn’t just start at any old spot. The variables were insane. Maybe if he started from the edge of his bed.
  147.    One…one two three four five.
  148.     286 seconds later, he laid his eyes upon the form of a woman. She was lying on the floor in the corner of his cell, variable number one. She was nude, variable number two. He didn’t know who she was, variable number three. She seemed asleep, unconscious, or dead, variables number four, five and six. But the sight of this woman, this bare, vulnerable shape of a thing in his cell stopped his counting. It was another feral instinct. But this one he didn’t welcome, it made him remember what the numbers kept away.
  149.    Evan decided he needed to start eliminating the variables. Number four, five, and six were the easiest, so he leaned out of his bed onto his knees on the floor and crawled slowly across the floor until he was beside her. He remembered that the best way to tell if someone was alive was to feel for a pulse. He brought his hand up toward her neck and placed two fingers on the carotid artery, one of ten pulse points on the body. One goes into ten ten times. There is one number one in the number ten. No, there’s no time. No time, zero amount of seconds to waste on this.
  150.    And by this point, he’d already spent 3 seconds considering this. There was a steady bump beneath his fingers; she was still alive. Okay, next was variable number two. Evan stood up and looked around the cell for what might have been her clothes, but there was nothing but empty tiles all over the floor, all the same shade of grey, #EEE9E9 to be specific. Variable number two could only be solved by giving her his own clothes which would cause him to be nude, which would cause even more equations to be figured on his part.
  151.    So he moved to variable number one. How had she gotten there? First he checked the lock on his cell. Still latched. Next he would see if she had a set of keys on her. But once he turned back to her, he realized her eyes were open. Only…they weren’t. The eyelids were pulled back, but there were no eyes there. Just empty sockets that seemed to stare at him just the same. This startled him, so he started a count of seconds in the back of his head in attempt to calm himself.
  152.    One…two…three…
  153.    She didn’t move, so Evan decided he could solve the variables by speaking to her,
  154.    “Um…excuse me…I-”
  155.    Suddenly, she shot up; seeming to have skipped most of the steps it would take for someone of her height and weight to move herself from a lying position into a standing one. This thought made Evan’s head ache. But before he could put anymore thought into this, she was standing before him holding her hand out. In her palm were eight small blue pills. Evan would have known those pills anywhere. A moment of excitement took him, completely distracting him from the amount of pills in her hand. Eight, there were eight pills. But before he could think of how to react to this, the woman closed her hand, completely disintegrating the pills.
  156.    Evan panicked. They were gone. Thousands of grains of blue sitting in the palm of her hand. Evan had no choice in the reaction; there was no logic in grabbing her by her arms and shaking her. He shook her as hard as he could, her head falling back and forth as if her neck had never held weight in the first place. The numbers were gone, as was the resistance that her muscles should have delivered. He had no idea how long he shook her before she abruptly stiffened and he felt something more than rage. It was pain. But where had pain come from? Evan looked down to see four sharp metal rods shooting from her arms into his and extending from the other side into his shoulder.
  157.    Immediately, he pulled away. Another feral reaction. There was blood. How do you count blood? His mind raced for something to measure, something to count.
  158.    One…two…three
  159.    The woman leaned back and howled in a deep tone seeming as though it couldn’t have come from her, another set of metal spikes shooting from her back and shoulders. Evan would have guessed the spikes to be about 28” long, but it was hard to tell when they retracted into the open wound and then back out again. He tried to count how many there were, but it was impossible.
  160.    Six…three…four…one…seven
  161.    Evan couldn’t count, he couldn’t move, he couldn’t think. The spikes moved in and out of her skin at such a sporadic rate, he couldn’t even tell if they were there, or if they were a visual echo of the ones that were there before. Then, the woman bent her arm and impaled the spike extending from her elbow into his neck, puncturing his airway. And the carotid artery. He had two minutes to bleed out.
  162.    120…119…118
  163.    It seemed like an eternity of the spikes piercing him in various places.
  164.    78…77…76…
  165.    He knew there was no point in fighting back, so he only tried to count. For a while, he tried counting the places she pierced him, but eventually he lost track and went back to counting the seconds it took for him to finish bleeding.
  166.    20…19…18
  167.    Evan had never really considered death until now. The closest thing he could remember at the moment regarding death was the joke his cousin had once made about Evan’s number obsession. He’d said that if Evan were a religious guy, he would believe that God was pi.
  168.     7…6…5
  169.    Evan never really wondered if there was a God, or an afterlife. He thought that maybe now would be the best time to consider it, had he the time to do so.
  170.    3…2…1
  171.    But nothing happened. Evan was drenched in blood and being impaled over and over. He should have died by now. …or maybe he’d counted wrong. Maybe he lost track somewhere and didn’t realize it.
  172.    -1…-2…-3
  173.    She’d punctured his airway. He was pretty sure having no air in your lungs would kill you faster than bleeding out. How long did that take? Did he even know?
  174.    -57…-58…-59…
  175.    Had he been off by that much? Or was there a reason he wasn’t dying? He wasn’t exactly the philosophical type, but was there something you had to do before you died? He’d heard of stories of people who didn’t go to said afterlife until they accepted death. He knew he was going to die, what else is there?
  176.    -378…-379…-380
  177.    Why am I not dying? Why is it not ending?! If she didn’t end this quickly a guard would come and there would be so many more variables to deal with. The thought made Evan tired. And as if answering his thoughts, the woman retracted all of the spikes. The wounds on her body healed and she moved her head as if she were looking at him. She smiled warmly and reached up to brush the blood and hair from his eyes. Then, in an almost affectionate motion she laid her palm against his eyes and in the darkness, Evan could see the numbers again. For just a moment, he was relieved. Maybe this would end up okay. Maybe this was just a test and he passed and now he could go back to the numbers.
  178.    1…2…3
  179.    The last spike took his eyes and it was finished.
  181. * * * * * * * * * * * *
  183.    Tuesday. For the first time in several days, Adam considered what day it was. It was Tuesday. Day five on the case and he’d found practically no leads whatsoever. He admitted he’d put out quite a bit of effort, he’d driven to the prison, he’d stopped at the print store to get a hard copy of the picture message, he’d gone back to the autopsy room to add to the visual archive. But he hadn’t found anything. Nothing pointed to a suspect. No actual leads whatsoever. For nearly an hour now, he’d sat at his usual place in the internet café, observing the photos he laid out before him on the table. There was the writing on the wall. That was the closest he’d gotten to the murderer, but the writing meant absolutely nothing to him. Then there was Rachel herself, who’s only notable enemy was already dead. Adam supposed it could have been someone close to her victim, but that seemed like a dead end, being Rachel had only been in prison for… Adam knew it hadn’t been very long, but he figured it would be a good idea to check. Upon opening the file, which was now beginning to become frayed on the corners, he found Rachel’s papers right on top. She’d been arrested on March 30th, so it had been a little over three weeks. Barely enough time for an angry family member to break into the prison and exact revenge.
  184.    Adam was just beginning to become discouraged when something on the page caught his attention. The Children of Goetia. He considered this for a moment and figured the best way he’d get any information on this group was through the internet. Flipping the laptop open again, he opened an internet browser window and typed “Goetia” into the search bar. Each link that followed was either an ad for books and jewelry, theories on aliens, or predicted popular names for the 22nd century. Dead end. Maybe if he narrowed the search… Adam then added “The children of” to the beginning of his search and tapped Enter. This time, at the top of the page, he found the official Children of Goetia website.
  185.    From all outward appearances, this very well may have been a sister site of a neighborhood fundraising group. There were articles on group meetings regarding restoring buildings and volunteering at shelters. There were photos of members on the front page, all of which were posed in an office like setting. What part of this scene was maniacal? Adam leaned on his elbow and considered this, casually thanking the coffee shop waitress in the green apron that came to refill his cup.
  186.     This wasn’t doing any good. Where was he even supposed to start? Rachel. Rachel led him to this point, so maybe he could track her by moving backwards. Clicking the search bar at the top of the Goetia’s page, he typed in Rachel Stright. After a moment of intense searching, the page decided his search was a lost cause, but instead offering, “Did you mean Murmur?”
  187.    Nooo...I didn’t mean Murmur, Adam’s inner dialogue retorted as he clicked Yes, hoping the computer knew better what it meant. This click took him to a page with Rachel’s face right at the top. In this photo, she seemed completely healthy and happy, not a hint of a murderer in the grin that seemed to be caused directly by the bold print below the photo that read Assistant Event Coordinator.
  188.    Below this part of the site was the link for an event, which led to the page titled Murmur Zagan Memorial Service. Adam looked over the page dedicated to Rachel and Daniel before returning to the page with Rachel’s personal information, or, as little as the site provided, on it.  He still couldn’t quite put together what Murmur and Zagan meant, but he figured noting the perspective titles next to Rachel and Daniel’s names in the file might be helpful later.
  189.    Another dead end. He sat and stared at Rachel’s picture, hoping she might just come out with it and tell him what went on. Below her picture was pictures of other members – Leraje, Sitri, Paimon…wait. The photo above Leraje’s name, the Goetia’s Main Event Coordinator, struck Adam as familiar. A young blonde girl, probably just out of high school, if not younger, with a small green stud piercing the left side of her nose. The stud was shaped like a clover. That was the familiar point, Adam realized. He’d seen the piercing and wondered how this girl’s parents could have ever allowed her to do such a thing. But where?
  190.    Just then, like a scene straight out of an after school sitcom, the green apron, accompanied by the clover nose stud came over to his table to refill his cup. In that split second of utter shock, Adam couldn’t calculate what to do next. Was he supposed to tackle her and demand an explanation for Rachel’s death? No, that’s too forward, even he knew that. How do you start conversation like that? What was her name? He couldn’t refer to her as…whatever it said on the page. Finally, he was torn from the moment of frantic by the girl leaning down and touching his shoulder,
  191.    “Sir, are you okay? You look like you’re gonna to be sick.”
  192.    Adam looked up and nodded deliberately, his jaw practically slack from the sheer stupidity of his reaction.
  193.    The girl cocked an eyebrow and giggled a little, the same almost mocking snicker Adam remembered the girls in high school making as he walked by their table in his braces and knee socks.
  194.    Then, without thinking, Adam’s hand shot out and took her wrist in a last attempt at seizing this opportunity before she could walk away.
  195.    “I’m…I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
  196.    In a swift defensive reaction, she ripped her hand away, grabbed her name tag, and held it close to his face.
  197.    “Jill.”
  198.    Then she was gone.
  199.    Fuck was the only condolence Adam’s inner dialogue could offer at that moment. Not only had he totally blown his chance to question her, he’d even managed to creep her out beyond repair in the process. While part of him cursed Detective Kennedy for never giving him a badge, he struggled to think of another way around this. He wasn’t trying to ask her out, he was just trying to ask her about her friend. But clearly, the members of the Goetia weren’t big on talking. He’d have to go about it another way. She worked in the coffee shop he was presently in, so he had that over her. She couldn’t just disappear, so he had a little bit of time. Not that time was going to help him if he couldn’t think of what to do.
  200.    Fifteen minutes later, Adam still sat frozen in his chair while she cleaned the unoccupied tables around him. He’d gone over multiple tactics in his head, most of which would be misconstrued as stalking, but it was then that he decided he would have to act faster than he was.
  201.    So, working on intuition alone, Adam slapped his coffee cup off of the table. The Styrofoam cup collided with the floor and the content exploded across the tile. He stared stiffly at Jill, who turned and glared at the mess before reluctantly grabbing her rag and dropping to her knees next to his table.
  202.    Success.  Adam then waited until she was about halfway done cleaning before he used the toe of his shoe to gently poke her knee, gaining her attention. He swiveled his laptop toward her and pointed to Rachel’s picture.
  203.    “Do you know her?”
  204.    Jill looked at it for nearly .2 seconds before going back to the spilled coffee.
  205.    “Nope, never seen her.”
  206.    Adam knew this was a lie. He didn’t quite understand the game she was playing with him, but he knew she wasn’t going to play fair. Scrolling down the page, he stopped at Jill’s picture and poked her again, restarting the process.
  207.    “Do you know her?”
  208.    Jill glanced up for even less time before barking,
  209.    “Nope.”
  210.    Adam stared at her for a moment, quickly becoming frustrated with this.
  211.    “Look, Lo-rah-je. I’m investigating Rachel’s murder. One of the Goetia’s members killed another and this shit has been thrown into my lap. Now, I’d be eternally grateful if you wouldn’t screw with me, and just tell me what you know about it.”
  212.    Adam’s proverbial spines were up and he intended for this to set her off guard and into informational submission. But before he could even begin to plan his line of questioning, she was on her feet and gripping his chin through the coffee-soaked cloth.
  213.    “Look, CHILD. You’re getting into something bigger than what you can handle, and I’d be eternally grateful if you’d scurry back to your commanding officer and tell him that I said to back off. We have it under control. Got it?”
  214.    She then threw the wet rag into Adam’s lap and announced to the back of the shop, “I’m going on break!” before disappearing out the front door.
  216.    Several hours later, Adam was dozing in the front seat of his car, having decided he’d rather surf the internet from his car than in the coffee shop. It wasn’t until a large flashlight gently tapped his window that Adam woke from his unplanned nap. Still groggy, he rolled down the window and tried to clear his vision enough to see who was knocking.
  217.   “Um…son, could you…get out of the car? Just want to talk to you for a second.”
  218.    Sounded like a cop. This shoved Adam forcefully back into full consciousness while he fumbled for the door handle. Once successfully out of the car, he realized there were two people standing outside of his car – Jill and a large man in what sort of resembled a police uniform.
  219.    The cop crossed his arms either as intimidation, or for sake of having nothing else to do with them, and began questioning Adam,
  220.    “So what were you doing sleeping in the parking lot?”
  221.    Adam rubbed his eyes and stumbled into an explanation,
  222.    “I didn’t mean to fall asleep, I was just messing around on my laptop and I fell asleep.”
  223.    The cop, who seemed at a loss of how to deal with this situation, scratched the back of his head while he spoke,
  224.    “Well, Jill here seems to think you were stalking her. Is this true?”
  225.    Adam shot Jill an irritated glance before answering,
  226.    “I wasn’t stalking her. I tried to ask her a simple question earlier and she practically chased me out of the coffee shop. You see I’m working with Detective Kennedy on a case and-“
  227.      The cop held up one hand as it asking for permission to speak, but ended up continuing without.
  228.     “Detective James Kennedy? I know the guy; I’ve had to work with him before. So you’re working on the newest Westbend case?”
  229.    Adam’s jaw went slack again, which made him wonder if this was as comical to watch as it was in the cartoons.
  230.    “Um…yeah. I’m here in William Davis’ place.”
  231.    The cop leaned over to Jill and elbowed her in an affectionate manner, though she seemed to be having none of it.
  232.    “Jill, don’t worry much about this kid. I heard some guys down at the station talking about him; he’s a pretty obvious greenhorn, if you understand.”
  233.   Jill rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.
  234.       “I don’t care what you’ve heard, Droma, I’m filing a complaint.”
  235.    The cop she referred to as Droma shrugged.
  236.    “Sorry Jill, sleeping in your car in a parking lot isn’t a crime before midnight. You have nothing on him, other than being offensive to you.”
  237.    Clearly livid by this point, Jill slammed her fist onto the hood of Adam’s car and pointed accusingly at Droma.
  238.    “And if it wasn’t for your boss, I wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place!”
  239.    As if trying to make a dramatic exit, Jill stomped off, stage left.
  240.    Neither Adam nor Droma dared to speak until she’d completely left the parking lot. After she was out of sight, Adam had to ask,
  241.    “People at the station are talking about me?”
  242.    Droma scoffed.
  243.    “No, I don’t even go down to the station. I’m just a security guard. But I know enough to parade around as a cop to anyone who doesn’t know the system.”
  244.    This opened up a myriad of questions for Adam, the most important, why?
  245.    “But…why would you lie for me? I could have been stalking her for all you know.”
  246.    Droma shook his head.
  247.    “Nah, not you. You seem like a pretty honest person. You asked her about the Goetia, didn’t you?”
  248.    Adam laughed. This guy was pretty good.
  249.    “Yeah, I did. I’m investigating a murder within the Goetia and figured she would know best.”
  250.    Droma nodded in agreement.
  251.    “And she probably does. She’s not going to spill though. Not until you get a little bit friendlier with her. She doesn’t react well to force, but she’s pretty easy to mold once she gets to know you. She needs someone to confide in and she’s not exactly picky about who.”
  252.    Adam was in awe. On some level, he wished Mr. Davis had recruited this guy instead.
  253.    “How do you know all of this?”
  254.    Droma shrugged, his attention seeming to be on the doors of a shop across the parking lot.
  255.    “Eh, I’m around enough, I just learn these things. Anyway, I’ve gotta walk the boss to his car. But I’m sure I’ll see you around…Adam?”
  256.    Adam nodded, now trying to figure out how Droma knew his name. Discarding the thought, he shuffled the keys in his hand, and before leaning into his car, he caught site of the clunky college keychain ID tag. In bold print across the tag were the words Adam Bowman.
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