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Mystery Science Fiction Short Stories

Bent

(MYSTERY/SCI-FI) DETECTIVE NATE ORION was told the scene would be unlike anything he’d ever witnessed before. Rookies–he thought. Yet, when he arrives, he’s forced to agree. Orion’s investigation leads to a disgraced Professor and his former TA, Emilia Eaves. Together, Orion and Eaves try to track down Professor Müller, because the one thing they are both sure of, is that Müller will strike again…

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1

When they told him the scene would be unlike anything he had witnessed before, he hung up the phone and thought—rookies. But, he was wrong. Detective Nate Orion walked carefully around a large crater that took up part of the street and some of the sidewalk as well. It was clearly not the cause of an explosion as there was no evidence anywhere of debris having been expelled outwards. Also, the lines of the crater were absolutely perfect. The hemispherical chunk taken away was smooth and exact, like someone came in with a giant ice-cream scooper cutting through the asphalt, concrete, and earth like smooth butter. Two cars parked by the edge of the crater were missing portions of their front and back ends respectively, and in-between was a large enough gap for Orion’s imagination to picture where another car used to be. It was almost elegant, like a purposeful expression of art for the illustrious brownstones that looked down upon it. Then, the sounds all around him brought Orion back to reality, and the elegance faded. Cars and trucks, driving and honking, filled the air like an ever-present blanket over New York City; police officers interviewing witnesses; the murmurings of a growing crowd of onlookers; and, a woman crying hysterically from the inside of an ambulance.

There was no sense talking to the crying woman yet, so Orion moved to where an officer was interviewing the only other witnesses. An elderly couple were recounting their tale when he came over.

“Would you mind starting from the beginning?” Orion said. 

“Of course,” said the elderly woman. “We were just going for a walk. You know, it’s so nice today, and we try to stay active, but it’s hard through the winter months—”

“Dear…” said her husband.

“Right,” she said. “We were heading back home, we live on this block, just over there, the one painted white, and there was just a quick flash of light, I think, and then a whole part of the street—gone. Everything gone.” 

“Then there was this rush of wind that came right after,” said the man. “Like all the air was being sucked towards that spot.” He pointed to the crater.

“Oh, and then the poor dear,” she said. “That woman was somehow caught in it, and her… I can’t even think about it.”

The man put his arm around his wife and continued for her. “She was just leaning against that parking sign… well, there was a sign there. Anyway, the sign is gone, and a part of her along with it.” 

The elderly couple didn’t have much more to add, so Orion moved over to the ambulance to take a statement from the woman. She spoke through fits of tears and moments of hyperventilation, needing a minute to calm down before continuing, but overall her story was just as the elderly couple had stated. She had just finished a run, and was taking a moment to stretch, with one hand on the metal pole of a sign as her other hand pulled at her foot loosening up her quad. Then, there was a brief flash of light, and she was pulled towards the newly formed crater by a rush of wind like she was caught in a hurricane. Her foot slipped into the pit before she caught herself, but when she went to get back up she noticed, with great horror, that her left arm was cut off just above the elbow. A clean slice, with the slight hint of a curve to the cut. She passed out after that, and woke up with a tourniquet around her arm, thanks to the elderly man and his belt, and sirens filling the air.

Detective Orion walked back around the crater, looking for any subtle details, but there was nothing else he could see that could explain it. It was as he was told it would be:  unlike anything he had witnessed before.

2

Detective Orion stood outside a lecture hall waiting for the class to be dismissed. Not a minute passed noon, the scheduled end of the class, and the doors sprung open. A sea of students flooded out, talking to each other, or looking at their phones. Orion waited a minute and then shuffled passed the stragglers down towards the front of the lecture hall.
“Hi, Professor Eaves?” Orion said.

“Yes?” she said without looking up, continuing to pack her notes into a handbag. She was small and petite, her face hidden under a mound of bushy brown hair, on the verge of messy.

“I wonder if I could ask you some questions about Professor Müller?” 

She stopped mid action, seemingly surprised and startled, but then looked up at him with an expression of annoyance. Orion had his badge held up.

“I’m detective Orion,” he said. “Is there a place we can talk, Professor?” 

“Oh…yes, of course”—she shook her head like clearing away something negative—“I’m sorry detective—we can go to my office. And, please, call me Emilia.”

Her office was small. A desk, a couple chairs in front, and a bookshelf behind her. Without the small window, which let in a nice amount of natural light, it would have felt cramped. 

“Please—take a seat,” Emilia said, gesturing to the chairs in front of her desk as she sat down behind it. “I apologize for my initial reaction—Müller’s a bit of a sore subject for me.”

“I understand,” Orion said, sitting down opposite her. She looked tired, yet her overall demeanor was energetic and her eyes attentive and focused.

“So, what brings my old professor back to my door, so to speak?” Emilia said, leaning back in her chair.

“I’m investigating an odd… occurrence that happened yesterday morning on the upper east side. I’ve been trying to find an explanation for it—spoke with my contacts in the scientific community, and they have no explanation, but most kept telling me to look into Professor Müller. That led me to this video lecture”—Orion pulled out his phone—“the event I’m looking into sort of seems like his ideas put into action. I wonder what you think? Here…” 

Orion turned the phone towards Emilia and started playing a video. Professor Müller stood in the front of a lecture hall, like the one they just left, and he was beginning a lecture.

“Welcome, everyone,” Müller said. “Today, we change what is possible in this world, and uproot the very laws of nature we have been told are absolute.” 

“I know the lecture very well,” Emilia said, not looking too happy. “I was there.” She pointed to the screen, and sitting in the far corner, viewed on the video just over the professor’s shoulder, sat a younger Emilia with her bushy hair looking to her professor with wide eyes.

“I didn’t notice you before,” Orion said, leaning in. “You look… excited.” Orion looked up to Emilia with raised eyebrows that hinted at a question. 

“Of course I was excited,” Emilia said defensively. “He’d been telling me about this lecture for weeks. Hinting of its significance, but never sharing any details.”

“You were his TA at the time.”

“Yes, and he was my thesis advisor, my mentor, my… I was very excited to hear what—he said—would change the world as much as Einstein’s theory of relativity! Please, I don’t want to watch this”—she leaned away back into her chair—“I know it by heart anyway.”

Detective Orion paused the video and placed his phone on her desk. “No problem. The point of it, and why I’m here, is because my crime-scene might reflect what he said he could do in that video. That he could bend the laws of thermodynamics, that he—”

“That he could create energy from nothing,” Emilia finished, with a roll of her eyes. 

“Yes, but, I’m even more interested in the end of the lecture where he talks about how he’d do it—how he’d test it and build a working machine to put his theory into action.” 

Emilia looked more intrigued, and leaned forward, folding her arms on the desk. “You’re talking about how he’d create a way to teleport energy from one place to another—create a ‘wormhole vacuum’ in his words.”

“Yes,” Orion said, his fingers pointing at her excitedly. “Exactly. That part.”

“What exactly was this… occurrence you were talking about?”

“I’ll explain further,” Orion said, “but first, what do you think? Is it possible to do what he said? This wormhole vacuum? And what would it look like?”

“That part is… possible,” Emilia said. “Very unlikely, but in theory, yes. It would require more energy to accomplish the task than the energy you’d get in return though. Again, more thermodynamics at play. We can’t get something from nothing.”

“And what would it look like?”

“I have no idea…” Emilia sat back into her chair, looking off into space, thinking. “It could look like a black hole or something like that, maybe… The only thing for sure, would be that it would be a vacuum… so all matter would be sucked away. Every molecule and atom.”

“I see,” said Orion. 

“I see,” Emilia shot back with some sarcasm. “How is this not all sounding ridiculous to you? What happened that makes you take this seriously?”

“I just have one more question, Emilia.” Orion said, ignoring her questions. “Do you know where he is? Müller. It seems he’s been off-grid since he left the college. Almost twelve years.”

“You mean since he was fired, disgraced, and left me with the stain of his reputation to overcome?” Emilia said. 

“Do you know where he is?” Orion said more sternly. The room went silent for several seconds. 

Then, Emilia took a deep breath and said,“I don’t know where he is, but”—she bent down and pulled out an envelope from her bag—“he writes to me every so often”—she handed the envelope to Orion—“no return addresses, no stamps. I found that letter in my office this morning, and the tone of it is very different than his other letters. I tossed it up to him losing his mind. On his own too long, stewing in crazy theories. Then you show up asking questions about him, and describing strange… occurrences. Bringing up that lecture…”

“Have you kept the other letters?” Orion said. 

“Yes, they’re at my apartment. Sometimes they get delivered there, or, like that one, I’ll find it on my desk in the morning. I liked them. They felt like having my old mentor back in a way, but that letter there is very different. He sounds manic, and then that last line… read it.”

Detective Orion pulled the letter out of the already ripped-open envelope and read the last line of the letter aloud. “I do this for all of humanity, but I also do this for you, so you will see, so you will believe in me once more.”

“So, what exactly was this occurrence, detective?” Emilia said.

“I need to see the rest of those letters.” Orion said.

3

Emilia’s apartment was on the other side of morningside park from the university, on the first floor of a four story building. Immediately on entering the apartment, there was a small library area to the right, with two built in bookshelves on either side of an old fireplace. Leather armchairs and small end tables mirrored each other by the fireplace, all sitting atop an ornate area rug of faded reds and blues. The only difference in the mirrored image of the room was that the armchair by the window had a neatly folded blanket draped over the top, and a pair of reading glasses rested on the end table.

“They’re in here,” Emilia said, walking into the cozy room. Orion followed. She moved towards the end table by the window, opened a small drawer, and pulled out a stack of letters and held them out for Orion. “That’s all of them.” 

“There must be… fifty letters here.” Orion said. 

“Probably,” Emilia said, looking nonplussed. 

“And you’ve kept them all?” 

“I don’t know why I keep them…” Emilia said, shrugging her shoulders, but Orion could see the emotion she was trying to play off.

“How did things play out after that lecture?” Orion said. 

Emilia’s mouth and body distorted and fidgeted in discomfort. “He didn’t get the reaction he wanted from the lecture, to say the least. No one seemed to understand, or agree, and I was sort of put in the middle of things, I guess.” Emilia looked down and played with her fingers while she spoke, the previously confident professor replaced with an uncomfortable kid. 

“You had to choose between your mentor, and everyone else?” Orion helped. 

“Sort of… it wasn’t really a question of science, I didn’t agree with his ideas either. I mean there were parts that made sense in theory, but…. In the end there were too many other gaping holes in his ideas. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that, but, in the end, that’s the choice I was sort of forced into. He became so adamant after the lecture, and really forcing his idea forward, or trying, and the university gave him an ultimatum:  stop talking about it, or leave. He never asked me to back him up, but I’m sure he was hoping I’d support him… but… I couldn’t. I wanted to, for him, but I couldn’t for every other reason… he was just…” 

“So, you feel guilty, like you let him down?” 

Emilia looked up from her hands. “I suppose, yes. Maybe that explains why I keep the letters.” She pointed to the stack in Orion’s hands and she shrugged. “I guess I get to believe nothing happened, and I’m having a chat with my old mentor—do you want a cup of tea or coffee?”

Orion looked at the letters, and then up to Emilia. “Sure, cup of coffee please.” 

“Take a seat, read away, and I’ll be right back.” 

Emilia walked through an open doorway into the kitchen beyond, and Orion sat down in the armchair opposite the window. He didn’t want to take her seat after all. 

At first glance through the letters, Orion thought they were very affectionate, and it was clear that Müller never blamed Emilia for her decision to not back him up. It was almost as if the event never happened, or just that complete and unconditional love and support a parent gives their child regardless of mistakes. The letters also seemed to be very general, describing his day to day activities. It was like Emilia was the only person in the world Müller communicated with—even if it was a one way conversation—and just needed to share something—anything—with someone in order to stay sane. He mentioned his furthering research a bit, books he read and his thoughts on them, and general experiences from his day or his week. Orion thought that maybe he could take some of those details and possibly narrow down a location where Müller was working from.

Emilia came back in with two cups of coffee. Orion took his, and Emilia walked over to the window, glancing out to the sunny day. 

“Did you ever try writing back to him?” Orion said, and Emilia turned towards him, swallowing a sip of coffee.

“I thought about it. I thought I could leave a letter inside my mailbox or something for him to find, but the letters always came at random times so it just seemed silly.” 

Orion nodded, and took a sip of coffee. “This is some good coffee,” he said, taking another sip. “Wow, seriously, this is amazing.” 

Emilia laughed sheepishly. “You can thank Müller for that.” 

“What do you mean?” 

“I was his TA for years, and he ordered his coffee beans from Austria. Hornig is the brand. No other coffee ever compared, so I order the same stuff still. Kind of sad right? I save his letters, drink his coffee… it’s been 12 years and I can’t seem to escape his shadow of influence.” 

“Understandable. I might have to start ordering this myself.”

“Detective?” 

“Yea?” 

“Are you going to tell me what happened?”

Orion put the letters on the end table, and nodded. Then, he explained the event of yesterday morning. He left out no details and watched her intently as he described. Emilia remained standing by the window while she listened. 

“The rush of air that they all described,” Emilia said, when he was finished. 

“Does that sound like a possible effect?” 

“Yes, that happens when a vacuum is created. The air has to rush to fill the space and it happens rapidly”—she snapped her fingers—“and then, everything disappearing as you said…. It sounds like he did it. He made his wormhole vacuum.” 

“Help me out with this thought,” Orion said. “I thought you said that he would use the vacuum to absorb energy? Not concrete, or a part of a person?” 

“All matter holds a great amount of energy. So, it absorbed everything. The street, the air, and unfortunately, that poor woman’s arm. My god—” Emilia turned away and stared out the window. “If he’s done it, it’s going to get worse… it’s going to happen again.” 

“That’s what he described in his lecture.”

“Yes, according to him, once he creates the vacuum, he would need to calibrate it. The question being, how can you open a wormhole to go exactly where you want it to go in space-time? It’s like triangulating your position based on the stars. He’ll do this again, two more times probably, and then… he’ll try for the end goal. To pull energy from the very edge of creation itself.” 

“That’s why I need to find him,” Orion said, standing up himself, walking towards Emilia. “Before this happens again.” 

“I might be able to help, but…” 

“But, what?” Orion stepped closer, an urgency in his voice now. 

“I don’t want him getting hurt.” 

“The quicker we find him, the better chance of that happening—of things ending before they escalate. A woman already lost her arm—the next event could be someone’s head.”

Emilia looked at Orion with a determined look. “Ok… I can definitely create something to help us identify when and where another event occurs to start. Maybe I can even trace the energy signature of the wormhole from one end to the other. Almost follow the tunnel back to the source. Then, you’ll have him…”

“What do you need to do this?” Orion said.

Emilia looked deep in thought. “I’d need to analyze the original scene. Collect some data. And then… unfortunately, we need another event to occur. Another wormhole to follow back to the source.” 

“Then, let’s get movin’. Grab what you need, I’ll be in the car. I have a phone call to make.”

4

They arrived to the crime-scene, and Emilia immediately started getting to work. Orion watched her carefully. She plopped a bag on the concrete sidewalk, and pulled out what looked like a radar gun. Then, she connected it via a cable to a chunky looking laptop, and moved to the middle of the street. 

“Come stand behind me,” Emilia said, and Orion, who was leaning against a brownstone moved to her side. 

“What are you doing?” 

“Scanning the whole area, mapping it in 3-d onto my laptop. This thing”—she held up the radar gun device—“also detects various forms of radiation and emission particles. It’s far after the event occurred, but there’s a chance to get enough data.” 

“Scan away.” 

Emilia began turning very slowly in a circle, and moving the device up and down to the tops of the buildings and to the bottom of the crater. Orion stepped with her, staying out of the site of the device. 

“Can I ask a question?” Orion said.

“Anything.”

“Can you explain his theory to me. I watched the lecture, but can you dumb it down a bit? He creates this wormhole vacuum thing, and then what? Didn’t you say it would take more energy to make the wormhole than what he could get back from it?” 

“Ok…” Emilia said, taking another step turning in a circle. “The main question he posed was this—Is the universe infinite or is it finite? If it’s finite, or limited, there must be some kind of edge to it, but that seems ridiculous, right? Most physicists agree the universe is infinite. So, in Müller’s mind, this means that if we approached the end of the Universe, the Universe itself would sort of create more of itself forever and ever, always a step ahead, so we could never reach an end. Müller thought he could use this wormhole vacuum to reach this theoretical edge of the universe where he can absorb purely created energy from the universe itself.”

They were silent the rest of the time after that. It took several more minutes, but when she was done, it felt anti-climactic.

“That’s it?” Orion asked, as Emilia started packing everything up.

“Yea,” she said with a shrug. “The real work begins now, but I have all the data I need from here.”

“I’ll take you back then… your apartment—the school?” 

“I have enough stuff at my apartment to start with—it’ll be mostly on the laptop anyway. If I need anything, it’s a short walk to the campus.”

“Ok, and just so you’re aware, I’ve assigned officers to keep a watch at your apartment and at the university in case Müller tries to drop another letter to you. They should be in position already.”

“Makes sense.”

When they arrived back at her apartment, they checked her mailbox just in case, and then Orion went outside to clarify his instructions to the officers stationed out front. Back at the precinct, he took all the letters from Müller and delivered them to forensics. 

“I need whatever you can tell me,” Orion instructed. “DNA and fingerprints, but also any trace elements that might narrow down a location where they were written. Thanks, Gene.” 

Orion then sat at his computer, with a crappy cup of coffee and started searching for the brand Emilia mentioned—Hornig. Not to order it for himself, yet, but to see who else was buying it. He had a suspicion that if Müller was getting these letters delivered without postage, he probably lived somewhere in the city. And, according to Emilia, his obsession with that Austrian coffee brand was unlikely to waver. He put an email out to the company, to see if they’d release any data, and then switched to google while he waited for a reply. 

He found some stores who actually sold it in the city, so there was a chance Müller went there and paid cash. Orion could flash his picture around the shops to see if they recognized him. If he’s been off grid for 12 years, he probably wasn’t buying overseas directly anyway. He’d want to pay cash. Orion wrote the addresses down in his small pad. He would check them out soon.

Last idea to run down was about power itself. He called a contact to look into any possible surges in power usage around the city. If Müller just transported all this energy to himself, he would have to use it somehow—he thought. But, nothing panned out there. No surges. Time to buy some coffee—he thought.

5

Orion had no luck at the shops, and spent the rest of his evening pouring over copies of the letters sent to Emilia. She was right. The newest letter, left at her office at the University, was remarkably different in tone. As Müller’s other letters sounded like an old man desperate for a little communication, this last letter sounded like he was out to prove something to Emilia and to the world. It was shorter than the other letters too, with the one goal:  announce to Emilia that he was going forward with putting his plan into action to earn his mentee’s approval again. All Orion really got from the letters was just the psychology of the man. How he was clearly not going to stop.

In the morning, he made his way back to Emilia’s apartment to relieve the officers stationed there for a while. As he pulled up, a mail truck was parked just down the block, and the mail carrier was leaving her building. Ten seconds behind, Emilia came bursting through the front doors waving a letter in her hand. Orion parked the car with a skid, grabbed a pair of gloves, and he and the other officers were out of their vehicles crossing the street. 

“Stop him!” Orion called to the officers, pointing towards the mail carrier. 

“It’s another letter,” Emilia called out. As Orion reached her she said, “he’s never written this frequently before. It was always weeks or months in between.” Emilia looked worried. 

“May I?” Orion said, putting a pair of rubber gloves on. Emilia held it out, and he grasped it at the corners inspecting it closely. No stamp, addressed only to Emilia in a fancy script. Just like the other one. The officers returned to the front of the building with the mail-carrier. 

“Man, what is this all about?” the mail-carrier said. 

“Did you just deliver this letter?” Orion said. 

The man inspected the letter. “No. There’s no stamp, or address.” 

“This is serious,” Orion added. “Did someone pay you to deliver it?” 

“No. Can I go back to my job now?” 

Orion questioned him further, trying to find any holes in his details, but there were none. If he delivered it, he didn’t do it intentionally. Orion let him go, and then he turned on the officers. He interrogated them to see who might have slept on the job, or if there was any moment where they might have missed something. They were adamant they missed nothing.

“Are there any other entrances to the building?” Orion asked. 

“No, I would’ve told you,” Emilia answered. 

“Then… Müller must have slipped the letter into the actual truck. Buried it between your other mail so the carrier wouldn’t have noticed it. He knows you’re being watched.”

Emilia looked around, startled. 

“Let’s go inside,” Orion said. “We can open the letter.” 

Sitting in the kitchen, Orion opened the envelope slowly with a knife. Inside was just the letter. No dangerous looking powder or anything ominous that Orion was checking for. He opened the letter and began to read. It was very short: 

Emilia, 

I know you are working with the police, but you must not burden yourself. There is nothing you can do. Phase 1 is complete, and Phase 2 and 3 will happen. It is inevitable. 

You will soon see who was right all along,

Your Professor. 

They finished reading, and Emilia kept staring, reading one more time. Then, a beeping noise issued like a warning from Emilia’s phone. She pulled it in front of her in a rapid motion, and then ran into the other room coming back swiftly with her clunky laptop. 

“There’s been another event.”

6

“Alright—Carmine,” Orion called to one of the officers standing out front of Emilia’s building. “Take this”—he held out the envelope and letter that was now sealed in an evidence bag—“back to the precinct and forensics. Make sure they put a rush on it—I’ll be calling ahead too.”

“Got it,” Carmine said, and he took off. 

“Todd,” Orion said to the other officer. “Stay here and keep your station until someone comes to relieve you.” 

“Emilia,” Orion turned back to her. “Let’s go.”

In the car, Emilia had her laptop open, looking at the data, while Orion made the call to forensics, and then to his Captain at the precinct. 

“This is spiraling,” Orion said to his Captain. “We need to call in the FBI or whoever else if there’s any chance they can help… right… yea, we’re lo0king for another event either in…” Orion turned towards Emilia.

“Either upper Harlem, or lower manhattan,” she said, sounding apologetic, and Orion translated to the Captain. There was a long pause.

“Got it,” Orion finished and hung up. “Dispatch has a call in that sounds like what we’re after. The address is in Harlem.” 

“So, the other spot is where Müller must be,” she said. 

“I thought you said you could narrow this down?” Orion said, a tinge of anger in his voice.

“I have,” she answered. “At least we know Müller is somewhere in lower manhattan. That’s a quarter of the island instead of the whole thing. The wormhole just closes too quickly—that’s the best I can do. Hopefully I can get more data here since we’re arriving right after.”

“Let’s hope.”

The second scene looked similar to the first, except, instead of the street and side-walk holding a crater, there was a spherical chunk taken out of the side of the apartment building three stories up. They were the first on the scene, and Orion started talking to, and moving away, a crowd that was forming. 

He looked over his shoulder to Emilia, who was watching him. “What are you doing? Get going.” 

Emilia immediately snapped back to reality, and unpacked her bag, and began her scanning process. Officers were soon on the scene and took over for Orion, blocking off the street and keeping people back. Orion watched Emilia, and finally fully looked up at the damage to the building. The chunk from the building was split between two floors, easily seeing into both apartments. Items of furniture were neatly cut into pieces where the edge of the sphere reached. He didn’t know how long he was staring, thinking, when Emilia’s voice brought him to the present moment. 

“I’m done collecting data. There’s definitely more this time than before.”

“And what can you do with it?” Orion said. 

“I have another idea, but I don’t know if I can even do it.” 

“Explain. Fast.”

“Well, first is if another event happens, I can overlap the signals I get over the last one from lower manhattan, and hopefully narrow the search down further for you. But, maybe before then, I can sort of plug up the wormhole. Stop one from forming in that area of lower manhattan. Like a frequency jammer, but for wormholes. Totally theoretical, and I wouldn’t count on it, but it’s possible.”

Orion looked in deep thought, and turned away from Emilia to think. It didn’t hurt. He should be hearing back from forensics soon, and in the meantime, if all his efforts failed, perhaps this Hail Mary could save the day.

“Ok,” Orion said, turning back to Emilia. “Explain to me first, how his final experiment is going to go? What’s going to happen?”

“Even he doesn’t know what’s going to happen,” Emilia said. “This is why he was fired. It’s one thing to take energy from a place you know where there’s energy. But, trying to take energy from the edge of the Universe! So many things can go wrong.”

“Like what?”

“Like, he absorbs way too much energy, absorbs a black hole instead, accidentally turns the vacuum around and we get sucked away to the unknown reaches of space.”

Emilia’s phone beeped in warning again, and together, Orion and her looked at each other with defeat in their eyes. She moved over to his car, and opened the laptop on the hood. 

“Another event—the third. He might have all the data now… I don’t know how long it will take him to calibrate and try for the main event.”

“We have to move, fast,” Orion said. “Do you have everything you need?”

“If I had more data, it would help.”

Orion turned around, “Hey! You! Come over here.” An officer jogged over. “Officer…”

“McGonnal,” she said. 

“McGonnal, I need you to take Emilia here to another scene like this. Call the Captain at the 29th precinct, he’ll help you find the location. Emilia’s going to collect some data, and then you’ll take her back to her place by Columbia University.”

“Yes, sir,” said McGonnal. 

“Emilia,” Orion said. “Do what you can.”

“What are you going to do?” Emilia said. 

“Forensics has to have something by now, or very soon. I’ll see what I can get from those letters and see if the FBI has called in with any insight. Good luck, and let me know if you figure anything out. Get going you two.”

7

“Whata you got, Gene?” Orion said, desperation in his voice. 

“Some interesting stuff,” Gene said, getting up from his stool. “Come on.” 

Gene walked over to a table against a far wall, where Müller’s letters were displayed. All the old letters were stacked together, and the two new ones together as well. 

“Ok,” Gene said. “All these”—he pointed to the old ones—“have two sets of prints on the letters, besides your own. Positive matches for Professor Gregory Müller, and Professor Emilia Eaves.” Orion nodded and Gene continued. “The two new letters are interesting as there are only prints from Eaves and you on the first one you gave me, and no prints at all from this one that just came in. It’s completely clean like it was written while wearing gloves. And no DNA on the envelopes. No one licked them closed.”

“That’s weird,” Orion said.

“Yea,” Gene agreed. “And there’s another difference too.”

“Don’t wait for me, keep going.”

“Right. These old letters are…. well… older. I estimate at least two years old.”

“So, the professor goes completely dark for two years before all this?”

“I just give you the facts,” Gene said with a shrug.

Orion went up and touched base with the Captain. He filled him in on what Eaves was up to, and the Captain relayed that the FBI were on their way, but that’s all they’ve got so far. Orion sat at his desk feeling defeated, and exhausted. He leaned back in his chair, and stared at the ceiling, thinking over every detail of the case. Why wear gloves, and be careful not to lick the envelope, but then sign your name?—he thought. 

“Jesus…” he muttered, sitting bolt upright in his chair. “Because he never wrote them.” He shimmied forward towards his computer and began typing, bringing up the video lecture of Professor Müller. This time, he moved the playhead to the end, but focused on Emilia in the background instead of the professor. When Müller finished, Emilia stood up clapping, beaming at her professor. She bought every word of it. The old letters to her were affectionate like she never betrayed him… because she never did.

“She wrote the last two letters,” he said aloud. “That’s why she’d want to leave no prints or DNA on it. And the only reason she would have to… is if Müller wasn’t alive anymore…” It made sense, but his head spun from the idea. No one was sneaking letters into her mail. Emilia “delivered” them to herself. It also explained the difference in tone of the letters… because they were written by different people!

Orion shot up and started shouting orders around. He picked up the phone to call dispatch, who patched him through to officer McGonnal.

“I just dropped her off at the apartment like you said, detective.”

“Go back, and wait there, I’m bringing back-up.”

As Orion drove, more pieces began to fit together. Details he missed that now clicked into place. The reading glasses and blanket on the armchair by the window. They weren’t Emilia’s glasses, or her blanket. It was Müller’s chair. Orion remembered how she never sat down in that seat.

Because I was sitting in hers—he thought. The coffee—his mind raced on—it was there, because Müller also lived there. That’s how he stayed off the grid… at least for some of the time.

Orion punched the steering wheel out of frustration. He wasn’t sure if it all made sense yet, but he knew for sure that Emilia Eaves was running the show now, and Müller was most likely dead. Orion had let Emilia into the crime scenes, and she was collecting all the data she needed. He was helping her with the whole thing. Orion punched the steering wheel again, and he hoped it wasn’t too late.

8

Looking over his shoulder, standing just outside the front door of Emilia’s apartment, the four officers behind Orion nodded to him. Orion stepped back and then kicked the door open and stepped through, weapon drawn and ready. He stepped right to clear the sitting room, his eyes catching the pair of glasses on the end table causing his eyes to narrow in anger. Another officer stepped in right after him, and then the two of them stepped through to the kitchen. No one was there, and they moved further to a larger living room which was also empty. 

“Clear,” a voice shouted from the other side of the apartment, and Orion echoed the same sentiment. 

They all met together by the back of the apartment. 

“Two bedrooms over there, nothing out of the ordinary,” said one of the officers. 

Orion’s mind went to the energy signals that Emilia picked up in lower Manhattan, but they were definitely just a lie. She has to be here—he thought. 

“Look for a basement access,” Orion said, and they all scoured the floor. They soon found another door, near the kitchen, hidden behind an ornate tapestry. It wasn’t locked. There were steps leading down to a basement level and together the five of them moved down cautiously, illuminating flashlights as they went.

The basement was large and open, and the walls were covered with tower-like machines arranged in stacks one after the other, from floor to ceiling. It looked like a massive data storage bank, each tower with small blinking green lights throughout. Against the far wall, Emilia stood alone, looking over an orb-like machine, four feet in diameter, hiding most of her body from view. She ignored Orion and the other officers who were baring down on her.

“Emilia, step away!” Orion called as he continued forward, gun drawn.

Emilia didn’t look up. The machine looked like a giant metal brain, with dozens of cables outstretching to the computer-like towers on the walls. Next to the brain on a small table, was a lamp without the shade, its wire connected to the brain as well. The single lightbulb was dark. Orion and the officers had to step over the many cables snaking outwards as they got closer. They were ten feet away now, and Emilia finally looked up, but she didn’t look scared. She looked happy. 

“Don’t!” Orion called, but her hands moved up and he pulled the trigger of his gun. 

Emilia was hurtled back into the wall behind her, the bullet hitting her in the shoulder. The machine started running. It hummed, and the computer-like machines on the walls lit up with red lights one by one like the giant brain was sucking energy from them. They were batteries, Orion realized on closer inspection. The brain was absorbing energy, and he knew the next step. The brain would create its wormhole vacuum and suck energy from somewhere. He looked around desperately, as Emilia slumped to the floor clutching her shoulder, her eyes fixed upon the dark lightbulb. 

Orion poured over every inch of the giant brain. “How did you turn it on?” Orion shouted over his shoulder to Emilia. 

“It’s automatic,” she said through painful grunts. “There’s nothing… you can do.” 

Orion turned back to her, and knelt before her. “What’s going to happen?” 

“It will be over in a moment,” she said, excitement in her eyes. “All the energy in the batteries will be absorbed, it will create the vacuum, and absorb the energy from the edge of creation itself!” 

“You don’t know that!” Orion said. “You could be absorbing from a planet with other life forms, or from a families home down the street!” 

Emilia laughed. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. The experiments are over. I have all the data I need, and this is now the end. Ah, look!”

Orion turned around, and the lights of the batteries started turning green, filling back up with energy. He could remove the plugs, but then what would happen to the energy? He was out of his depth, but it had to stop, somehow. Orion scanned the floor of the basement, and found a pile of debris in a far corner and ran to it. He was back a moment later with a small metal pipe. He reared back and swung down hard on the metal brain. Nothing. Again, and again he swung, but nothing. Orion kicked the brain, and it rolled to the side a foot to reveal a slight opening in the bottom where all the cables emerged from. All the battery towers were almost all green, and he took one last shot, shoving the metal pipe into the center of the brain.

The hum died, and from the inside of the brain itself they all heard and felt a small explosion. 

“You idiot!” Emilia shouted, clutching her bleeding shoulder. “If I didn’t choose to create just a small amount of energy, you could’ve killed us all!”

I could have?” Orion said angrily. “How many people have you killed with this machine?”

“Only one,” Emilia said, looking slightly upset about this. “The last location, a man was practically cut in half, but it doesn’t matter in the end.”

“You’re crazy,” Orion said. 

“As my mentor would respond—crazy is just a perspective of those without imagination!”

Orion shook his head, “What happened to Müller?”

“He died,” Emilia said, looking sad and triumphant at the same time. “Two years ago. I had to bury him under a false name, but he won’t be forgotten now that I’ve finished his work!”
“How long was he living with you?” Orion needed to understand everything now.

“Since the University, and the whole scientific community for that matter, turned their backs on him!”

Orion thought for a moment. “Then, why was he writing you letters if he was living with you the whole time?”

Emilia smirked, like a cunning thief, and then her face turned angry. “He was stuck in my apartment, like some criminal. He was bored, and he would write them to me and hide them”—a smile appeared on her face—“It made me happy to find them on my pillow or by the coffee. It was just a game. A game that proved useful to throw you off long enough”—her smile turned cold—“I write a couple new letters, pull them out of my pocket, and you go chasing after a ghost.” She started laughing, but then stopped, wincing from the pain in her shoulder—the smile remained.

Orion didn’t want to hear anymore, especially not of his own failure. “Time for prison, Emilia.”

“Ha! That’s quite alright. I’ll accept my Nobel prize from prison… if I ever go.”

“If you think you’re not going to prison, you’re nuts. ”

The lights from the officer’s flashlights showed Emilia’s face, and it was steady. “You were too busy to notice, but that lightbulb lit up for a moment.” She pointed to the lone lightbulb on the small table with her good arm, and then clutched her shoulder again. 

“So, what?” 

“That means,” Emilia said, “my machine brought back more energy than it put in. It filled the batteries up”—she waved her arm to gesture towards the towers around the room, all lit with green lights—“and it had some more left over to light the bulb! I’ve done it. I’ve finished Müller’s work. We’ve bent, we’ve broken, the very laws of thermodynamics!”

“I didn’t see the lightbulb light up,” Orion said. “And it doesn’t matter. Even if you did. You changed a woman’s life forever, and you killed someone, not to mention property damage. Enough of this”—Orion gestured to the officers—“take her away.” 

Emilia laughed again, and spoke while the officers placed cuffs on her. “Do you really think the FBI or some other government agency isn’t going to come to collect what I’ve done? Do you really think they’ll let me sit on death row, when the answer to pure unlimited energy sits in my brain? Before long detective, you’ll be told to forget what you’ve seen here, and you’ll never see me again. But, I’ll be back at work! Free as a bird!”

Orion didn’t know what to say, except:  “The lightbulb didn’t light up.” 

Emilia laughed again, as the officers started walking her towards the stairs of the basement. Orion heard her talking to the officers. 

“You saw it right?” Emilia said. “It was just a flicker, but you saw it… right? I saw it. I know I saw it…”

The End


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