"Alpha Three to C&C. Coming up on 3000 klick mark."
"Acknowledged, Alpha 3. Calculated position of your target is in your sunward hemisphere. That's as close as we can get you. Spot your wild goose yourself."
Garibaldi smiled at the if-you-can't-tell-me-the-truth-make-up-a-d
He was really trying to find if he could ever trust Brother Theo again.
The monk didn't change expression as Garibaldi blew his top. "I can't believe you're asking me to cut her loose! We caught her in the act of killing him!" Brother Theo's calm helped the security chief settle himself. "Okay. I can buy self-defense if I don't ask what a 16 year old girl right off the ship was doing in Downbelow. I might even buy the vic being the one who'd killed those six lurkers. Except the MO of the murders matches someone with a Gothic or Satanic obsession and the vic had nothing on his person or in his room fitting that. Pretend I buy all that."
Theo waited patiently through the rant. Garibaldi leaned forward across his desk. "She was trying to mutilate the corpse! She'd crushed his head. It looked like a mushroom. She had a broken arm. And we grabbed her trying to mutilate him some more." Slow and level now. "She had a piece of wood she brought all the way from Earth for the sole purpose of mutilating the guy. That's clear proof of premeditation. If we'd been a minute later she'd probably have spread his guts all over the deck."
Theo replied, "If you'd been a minute later we wouldn't be having this conversation." Which made no sense at all. "Chief Garibaldi, is it such a terrible thing for a serial killer to die? If you or one of your men caught him you could have killed him."
"If we had to. But we'd take him in if we could. Criminals need to be tried and punished."
"They need to suffer to earn your forgiveness?"
"I don't forgive murderers." He pointed at the cross on Theo's chest. "And don't tell me you don't believe in suffering."
"You forgave Brother Edward." That was as painful for Theo to say as for Garibaldi to hear.
Finally Garibaldi said, "He earned it."
"Through the good works he did, or by being tortured to death?"
"Mindwipe is torture." Pause. "Why did you forgive him?"
"Because all of God's creatures deserve grace."
They matched glares, neither willing to budge. But Brother Theo had another concern. "Tell me, what did you do with the bodies of those lurkers?"
"The bodies? If they have no money and no next of kin we bury them at space."
"Oh, good" said the relieved monk. "And the 'vic'?"
"Him, too. Why--"
"Go look at the body."
"What? We spaced it yesterday!"
Now the monk was leaning across the desk. "Go look at the body. Then you'll know he's the murderer and that girl was only doing her job. Ask me your questions after that." He stormed out before Garibaldi recovered enough to say a word.
After a mental struggle he decided. If I don't go look I'll wonder about it for the rest of my life. Damn it. "C&C, this is Security. I need to check out a Starfury."
The radar search came up blank. Body bags don't reflect well. Garibaldi started narrow sweeps, alternating between the radar screen and staring at the stars himself. Finally he saw a star wink out for a moment and focused the radar on it. "TARGET DETECTED. TYPE UNCLASSIFIED. DEBRIS OR STEALTHED." He flew the Starfury closer.
The radar was still refusing to make a decision when he drew close enough to resolve it by eye. He'd seen it launched sealed tight. Now the body bag was open with a head and arm poking out of the shadowed side. He matched vectors close enough to make out the face.
Whatever it was, it was alive. When it saw the Starfury closing in the face lit up with hope and it waved frantically. And carelessly--the hand went into the sunlight and one fingertip burned off in a puff of smoke. The face twisted in agony.
Garibaldi recognized him. This was absolutely the same guy his men had pulled the teenager off of. Except the skull was back to a normal shape. And the fangs hadn't been there before. The rest of the face had changed to an almost bestial appearance. But it was the same guy, no doubting it. Stories his grandmother told flew through Garibaldi's mind.
"Alpha Three to C&C. Patch me through to Security. Zack, how's our teen prisoner behaving?"
"She's being no trouble, Chief. But that guy who claims to be a friend of hers is giving me the creeps. Just sits there watching me."
"Turn her loose."
"What, just let her wander around until the court date?"
"No, turn her loose, tell her we never want to see her again, and erase the records."
"Well, if you say so, Chief. Oh, you got a message from Brother Theo. He wants to know if he should meet you when you get back."
"Tell him no. Garibaldi out."
By now the guy in the body bag had figured out this wasn't a rescue. He glowered at his audience. Garibaldi thought over the punishments he'd imagined for the worst criminals he'd caught. With torture killers it was obvious. Just give them what they'd done to the victims. Kidnappers deserved something slow and scary. The rest he wished into an electric chair.
Earthforce didn't stint on the quality of its body bags. Garibaldi remembered using one as a firing range target during the war. It took three or four PPG hits to wear a hole in it. Vacuum would make it brittle and the sun would eventually erode it away. But that would take decades at least.
So who was the last guy I thought deserved thirty years in solitary followed by being burned to death a piece at a time? He thought about coming back in a month but that was ridiculous. He'd never find the thing again. Or would it be death by starvation? That's another new one. He'd gone down to the scene for each lurker they'd found dead. Not telling his team how to do their jobs. Just making sure they knew he cared. That they remembered a lurker is still a person.
Whether their killer was a person he didn't want to think about.
What's enough punishment for six murders? Well, probably lots more than six. He hadn't been followed here from Earth because of his looks. Maybe he does deserve a punishment like this. But Garibaldi would be the one passing the sentence. He thought a bit longer than armed the Starfury's pulse cannons. "I forgive you." He fired.