This is the eight round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For these submissions, it’s the letter “H”.
Readers have until the publication of the next round of stories (about two weeks between rounds) to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on total votes received.
In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.
Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.
Here we go. Presented anonymously, the third of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “H” as submitted by its author.
Copyright 2020 — E. J. D’Alise
(4,310 words – approx. reading time: about 16 minutes based on 265 WPM)
The Celest Space Port was rife with rumors. No elven ship had ever docked here, and on this day, the good people of Celest awoke to see not one, but two elven ships on the long-term moorings. For the next few days, curious onlookers made Mokai’s life difficult. Everyone hoped to catch a glimpse of the elves, and that made security and traffic management around the Space Port a nightmare.
Eventually, interest waned, especially since there was no evidence of activity on or around the ships. Mokai welcomed the respite but knew nothing good would come of the ships visiting their corner of the Known Planets. Elves were technically a part of the Alliance, but Elves avoided contact with the other races, and least of all Humans and Orcs.
The other reason nothing good would come of this was because it probably related to the killing of a visiting elf by a local Orc. An Orc claiming it had been self-defense and an accident.
Brox, Mokai’s Chief Deputy and himself an Orc, knocked on Mokai’s open door as he leaned halfway in.
“Got the call,” he said. “They would like a meeting at one of the ships.”
“No,” Mokai answered. “If they want to meet, it’ll be here, in my office.”
Brox walked into the office and plopped himself down onto the beat-up sofa. He adjusted his duty belt, moving his service weapon to the more comfortable 3 o’clock position, and looked at Mokai for a few seconds before speaking.
“You don’t like elves much. Unusual that, for a human.”
“Not too unusual for a half-breed,” Mokai replied.
Brox grunted. A grunt Mokai translated into an expression of surprise.
“Mother raised me alone; I never knew my father other than I know he was an elf, and I only know that because of the blood I carry,” he said in the way of an answer.
“Hmm. Explains why you’re stronger and faster than most humans,” Brox said.
“Not as strong or as fast as elves, but I’ll grant you that.”
Mokai got up and grabbed the last of the coffee on the pot that was now already four hours old, doubling the normal amount of cream he added in an attempt to salvage some palatable taste from the near-burnt liquid.
“My mother waited and hoped for my father to come back to the day she died. She believed he loved her and would eventually return. I was twenty-three when I buried her, and no elf came to pay final respect.” He paused as he took a sip. “So, no, I don’t like elves much.”
“Because of one bad elf?” Brox asked.
“Because they are all arrogant and dismissive of other races . . . and my father was, or is, no different.”
“Fine,” Brox said as he got up. “I’ll send the response and look forward to the visit.”
Mokai watched the back of the Orc as he made his way to the comm room. He was never quite sure if Brox employed sarcasm, dry humor, or an unusual amount of naiveté with regards to social situations.
Truth be told, Brox was himself a bit of an odd sort. Not only did he have advanced degrees in engineering and law — unusual for an Orc — but his chosen profession in law enforcement went counter to the general Orc population, too many of whom ended up on the other side of the judicial divide. Not that Brox ever showed any preference or anonymity for other Orcs, or anyone; in all manners, Brox was as evenhanded with everyone.
~ 0 ~ 0 ~ 0 ~
The elven party, four individuals, arrived that afternoon. Thankfully, they opted for an automated transfer pod to travel between the ship and the station, eliminating the attention one of their vehicles would’ve drawn.
They now all sat in the conference room; four elves, an Orc, and a half-human, and Mokai was happy to wait for the elves to initiate the conversation. He’d taken notice of their behavior, deference to each other, and subtle clues that allowed him to determine who was in charge. Of course, the lone garish blue and gold outfit might have also helped; House of Veron, High Elf Council Member, and likely in line for membership, if not already a member of, the Known Planets Alliance. Despite himself, Mokoi felt a touch of awe; it had been a long time since he’s been in the presence of anyone of higher stature.
What little awe Mokai might have felt evaporated when one of the accompanying lackeys, the lone female, spoke.
“We need all the evidence, notes, and materials you have in connection with the death of Elemmírë Telperiën. We also want the suspect released in our custody; he will be tried by the High Court of the Known Planets.”
“And you are?” Mokai asked as he swiveled his chair to face her.
“My name is Cirindë Tinúviel, Head Legal Counsel for the House of Veron,” she replied with a slight bow of the head and a self-satisfied half-smile.
“Well, Cirindë,” Mokai replied, using her name without the honorific, “the answer is ‘no’. Will there be anything else?”
Her smile faded, and Mokai took small pleasure from the fact she hadn’t prepared for the possibility of his response. She and the other two lackeys turned to look at the elf in charge. He was better at hiding his emotions, and his expression of bemused arrogance never wavered. If anything, he beamed even more bemusement and arrogance.
They sat in silence for about twenty seconds or so. Twenty seconds during which Mokai met and held the stare of the elf in charge. It was a small but significant victory when the elf blinked, smiled broadly, and broke the stare.
“Mokai Wintergreen, is it?” the elf asked and continued without waiting for an answer. “Half-elf and half-human, are you not?
“Yes, but I’ve come to terms with the shortcomings of my elven half,” Mokai answered.
Two of the lackeys stood, their hands on their sidearm, but the sound of Brox’s duty weapon locking on target had them reconsider and sit, their faces showing plenty of animosity through their supposed inscrutable visage.
The elf in charge laughed.
“Tell me,” he said, “what do you hope to accomplish by disrespecting us? And would your Orc friend really gun down two elves in cold blood?”
“I’m curious myself; what exactly were these two going to do after putting their hands on their weapons?” Mokai asked, and then continued because he didn’t expect an answer. “I’m sorry; I didn’t catch your name.”
“My name is Daeron Telperiën, the current head of the House of Veron, and a senior member of the Council of Known Worlds.”
“Ah, related to the deceased,” Mokai said, “I’m beginning to get the picture.”
“Do you?” Daeron asked. “I submit to you that you fail to grasp the gravity of the situation you’re in.”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” Mokai replied. “You’re not coming through official channels, so this is a private matter. A private matter, and yet you choose to come in a semi-official capacity even though we both know you don’t have the legal standing to interfere in this matter.”
“Now, I suspect you could bring a fair amount of pressure to bear, but the truth is I’m the duly elected head of law enforcement for this moon, and short of the Alliance declaring martial law, I’m not subject to intimidation or interference from outside agencies. They could press the matter and perhaps force me out of office, however, they have a lot to lose by interfering or removing me from office; more than anything I might face.”
Mokai leaned forward and joined the tips of his fingers as if wrapping his hands around a ball.
“So, why don’t we start over and tell me why you’re here?” he asked.
Daeron considered the question before responding. Mokai took the opportunity to refresh his cup of coffee.
“I’d like to respectfully request a representative of the House of Veron be allowed to take part in the investigation of the murder of Elemmírë Telperiën,” Daeron finally answered.
“Homicide,” Mokai replied.
“You said murder, but as of now, it’s a homicide,” Mokai clarified. “It may well be murder, but we’re still investigating the matter and have not charged anyone nor finalized a determination.”
Mokai stood to indicate the end of the meeting and continued, “I’ll accept the offer of a law enforcement officer from the House of Veron as an observer and advisor in this matter. They are not to actively pursue any investigative avenue independently of my officers. Speaking of which, I trust they will be able to provide all information regarding the deceased as it pertains to this matter. Thank you for coming. Brox, please escort our guest out and ensure they aren’t bothered as they leave.”
For a moment, it looked as if Daeron was going to argue, but he just stood, bowed, and led the way out of the room, followed by his lackeys, Brox bringing up the rear.
~ 0 ~ 0 ~ 0 ~
“You made a powerful enemy,” Brox said, stating the obvious and drawing a shrug from Mokai.
“And not for the first time,” Brox added.
Mokai looked up from the incident report he was reading.
“What makes you say that?” he asked.
“You’re overqualified for this post, you have contacts and connections that point to a more, ah, interesting employment history, and you aren’t worried about going up against someone as powerful as Daeron.”
Mokai studied Brox for a few seconds before looking back at the incident report.
“That’s a story for another day,” he answered. “What do we know about the Orc who killed Elemmírë?”
“Cagan Mar, twenty-nine, a journalist by trade but not currently employed. Says he’s a writer, working on an investigative piece,” Brox replied.
“Journalist? That’s unusual. What’s his history?”
“The usual,” Brox said, his tone changing as if he didn’t want to speak about such matters. “Found as an infant, taken in by The Orphanage Project . . .” Brox paused, looking down on his notes, “. . . one of the houses run by the Dugul Clan in Marina City on Apra, currently on the other side of the system. Transferred here nine years ago. He’s traveled off-moon twice since, once for six months and once for eight months. Currently on travel restriction as we investigate . . . ”
Brox was interrupted by a knock on the door.
“Excuse me, Chief, there’s a woman … er … elf here to see you. Says you’re expecting her,” the young officer at the door said. He was visibly disconcerted, and Mokai could guess why.
“Nice-looking, is she?” he asked.
The officer managed a bit of a blush and a relieved smile as the comment seemed to calm him somewhat. “That she is, Chief. Should I show her in?”
Mokai nodded, and Brox vacated the chair in front of the desk and stood by the side.
The age of an elf is a difficult thing to pin down, but this elf looked particularly young. Also, not as ethereal as most elves, the form behind the uniform looking more muscular and fit than most. And, if one adhered to the notion elves looked beautiful, she was strikingly elegant and beautiful. Mokai thought Elves looked more alien than beautiful, but he admitted to bias in such matters.
She came in, stopped on the opposite side of the chair from Brox, placed a memory card on the desk in front of Mokai, and stood back as she spoke.
” Ánië Telperiën, Investigative Officer, House of Veron, at your service,” she said.
“I’m Mokai Wintergreen, and this is Brox Lort, my Chief Deputy.”
Brox turned toward the elf and extended his hand. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Officer Telperiën.”
She rose a notch or two in Mokai’s estimation as she grasped the offered hand without hesitation and replied in kind.
“A pleasure to meet you as well, Brox, and you may call me Ánië,” she said, and then turned toward Mokai and continued. “And you as well, Chief Wintergreen.”
“Mokai will do, thank you, Ánië.”
“Is this the information on the deceased?” he asked.
“As much as I could gather, yes.”
Mokai looked up and looked at Ánië’s inscrutable face.
“That is a carefully worded response, Ánië.”
“Yes sir, Chief Wintergreen,” she replied without offering more.
“Please call me Mokai. Should I infer anything from it?”
“Just pre-empting possible questions regarding the completeness of the records. There’s a two-year gap in the record. It appears the missing data was lost,” she replied.
“I see. Thank you for the heads up. How about you and Brox go over the data we have and fill in as complete a picture as possible. We can deal with any gaps when and if we deem them of interest. You can also review the initial interview with Cagan Mar, the forensic evidence, and what surveillance footage we have.”
“Thank you, sir,” Ánië replied. She then turned toward Brox, smiled, and said, “Shall we?”
Mokai heard them make small talk as they left and heard Ánië laugh at something Brox said. He shook his head, thinking it would be hard to dislike her . . . and then remembered that might be precisely why she had pulled this assignment.
~ 0 ~ 0 ~ 0 ~
“So, where are we?” Mokai asked. He directed his question at Brox, but it was Ánië who answered.
“We need to interview Cagan again. There are details relevant to this case he left out of his statement.”
Mokai gave Brox a questioning look.
“Ánië has information we should follow up on,” Brox said.
After hearing Ánië’s information, Mokai agreed.
~ 0 ~ 0 ~ 0 ~
Cagan Mar was visibly uncomfortable with Ánië’s presence in the room.
“That’s a House of Veron insignia,” he said, speaking at Mokai. “Why is she here? Do I need legal representation?”
“She’s assisting in the investigation,” Mokai replied. “Do you want legal representation? We have some follow-up questions to your initial interview, but if you prefer to answer them with counsel present, we can arrange someone from Orc Judicial Initiative to be present.”
Cagan looked at Brox, then Ánië, and finally back to Mokai. “No, that won’t be necessary. Ask your questions.”
Ánië took a seat in front of the Orc and smiled.
“Mr. Mar, we’re interested in finding a possible motive for Elemmírë Telperiën’s attack on your person,” she began. “In your statement, you said you surprised Elemmírë in your apartment, and a struggle ensued. You mentioned he aggressively confronted you, demanding you to . . . ” she looked down at the statement in front of her, ” . . . ‘turn it over’. Do you have any idea what he might have referred to?”
Cagan appeared uncomfortable but repeated the same answer he had previously given, “I don’t know what he wanted. He grabbed my arm and kept repeating the question, and when I tried to break free, he pulled his ceremonial dagger. I grabbed his arm, and we struggled.”
“That’s when you both fell, and Elemmírë landed on the knife, causing a fatal wound,” Brox added.
“Yes. It was an accident. I had tried to get away, but he was faster and blocked my way.”
“He was still alive when you called for an ambulance. Did he say anything before he died?” Mokai asked.
Cagan looked down at his hands without answering.
“Let me ask you a different question,” Ánië said. “Three years ago, you were off-moon for nine months. It’s not in your records because it was dismissed, but you ran into a bit of trouble while on Apra. Can you tell us what happened?”
Cagan looked at the three of them before answering. “I want legal representation for the remainder of the questioning.”
~ 0 ~ 0 ~0 ~
The three of them waited outside the interview room while Cagan and his appointed counsel met in private.
“This could be big,” Mokai said, addressing Ánië. “It’s the kind of thing that could get you into trouble.”
Ánië looked at him for a few seconds before responding.
“It’s the kind of thing you didn’t shy away from when faced with it,” she replied.
Mokai considered the young elf. The implied level of knowledge put her in a much higher status than her present position and her age would indicate.
“Who are you working for?” he asked.
“I’m not at liberty to say,” she replied.
Brox looked from one to the other before speaking up.
“So, I’m right here, I can hear the words, but I’m obviously missing a lot. Would anyone care to explain?”
Ánië looked at Brox, then back at Mokai, giving him a one raised eyebrow look.
Mokai sighed before turning to Brox.
“Brox, this might be uncomfortable for you to hear because it’s specific to Orcs, Orc history, and . . . and where you come from.”
Brox looked confused and was about to ask more when the interview room door opened and the legal counsel indicated they were ready.
~ 0 ~ 0 ~ 0 ~
“Let me repeat the question,” Ánië said. “Three years ago, you were off-moon for nine months. It’s not in your records, because it was dismissed, but you ran into a bit of trouble while on Apra. Can you tell us what happened?”
“I had gone to visit my mentors at Dugul West and wanted to make a contribution to the orphanage. They ran the Fiscal Identity app; I entered the amount, approved it, and then I left. Two hours later, I was pulled from an interview with the head of the Dugul Clan and arrested for fraud.”
“What was the charge?” Mokai asked.
“The amount I donated to the orphanage was withdrawn from a different account than mine. I explained there must have been a mistake, but I was told the new FI app employed multiple markers to confirm the identity of the payer,” Cagan said. “They accused me of hacking the system.”
“But the charge was dismissed,” Ánië said.
“But you didn’t forget about it, did you?” Ánië asked.
Cagan sighed and looked at his counsel, who nodded.
“No, I did not. I made some discrete inquiries and found out the FI app matched two of the four markers it checks for identity, and that was enough for approval of the transaction. One was a genetic profile, and the other was a new identity marker just introduced. That marker checked underlying bone structure to identify unique facial characteristics.”
“Homophyly,” Ánië said.
Cagan nodded, even as his counsel spoke up, “Homophyly?”
Mokai looked at the Orc. “Yes, homophyly. Do you know what it means?”
The Orc looked offended as he answered.
“Of course I know what it means!” he said.
“I suspect you are a macroverbumsciolist,” Ánië said before turning her attention back to Cagan.
“The newly added marker, which has since been removed, checked for resemblance due to common ancestry. It was intended to expand the ability of the app to identify members of a given family to avoid the necessity for individual accounts,” Cagan clarified.
“But that’s not what they told me when they let me go,” he continued. “They said it had been an AI error and apologized. The maker of the app even paid for my hotel and the travel back home.”
“That’s when you quit your day job and started your investigative work,” Mokai said.
“Yes,” Cagan confirmed.
“Who financed you?” Ánië asked.
“I don’t know,” Cagan replied. “I received anonymous donations for my investigative proposal. I tried tracing the donations, but they covered their tracks well.”
Mokai was watching Ánië as Cagan answered and picked up on subtle clues others might have missed.
Ánië continued with the questioning.
“You eventually tracked down whose account was erroneously charged, yes?” she asked.
Cagan hesitated and then softly answered.
“Yes . . . it was Elemmírë Telperiën’s account.”
“Why didn’t you mention this before?” Mokai asked.
Cagan looked at his counsel again, who again nodded.
“I was afraid of how this would look, and . . .”
“. . . and?” Mokai asked.
“. . . and I was scared of what it meant.”
“What do you think it means, Mr. Mar?” Mokai asked.
“I’d rather not say,” he replied. “I’ve already destroyed my research and informed my backers I’ll not be publishing the results. I offered to pay them back, but I’ve not heard from them since the accident.”
“What are you really afraid of, Cagan?” Ánië asked.
Cagan looked to each in turn, but settled on Brox when he answered the question.
“I’m afraid that I accidentally killed my father,” Cagan said. “You asked me what he said before he died. I can tell you; he said, ‘I’m sorry’ as he died in my arms.”
Turning to face Ánië, he continued.
“I’m afraid that Orcs are the products of recessive regressive genes in the elf genome that occasionally result in male offspring with regressive characteristics; evolutionary throwbacks, if you will. It’s why there are no female Orcs. It’s why the major contributors to The Orphanage Projects are predominantly the Elf Houses, as are most programs aimed at providing opportunities for Orcs once they pass through the orphanages. I’m afraid . . .” Cagan stopped and looked down at his balled fists.
“. . . I’m afraid of what would happen to Orcs, to Elves, to society if any of this came out,” he finished.
The room was silent, and no one moved until Brox headed to the door and walked out.
Mokai looked at Ánië and motioned for her to go after him.
~ 0 ~ 0 ~ 0 ~
Mokai was in his office when Ánië came in and sat on the sofa without asking for permission.
“How is he?” Mokai asked.
“Shaken up. It’s one thing knowing one is abandoned; it’s another finding out by whom and why.”
Ánië hesitated before continuing.
“He’s also upset at both of us; Brox figures we knew about it before this. He feels betrayed and lied to by people he considered friends.”
“You’re his friend?” Mokai asked.
“I make fast friendships,” she replied.
“I caught the question about the funding,” Mokai said. “You wanted to make sure your employer’s ass is covered in this matter.”
“You’re an astute person, Mokai,” she replied. “I’m curious; just how old are you?”
Mokai leaned back for the nearly empty pot of coffee and poured what little old coffee was left atop the cold remnants of his previous refill.
“I’m old enough that I can make a pretty good guess about your employer,” he replied
“You should know there is a growing resistance to the Abandonment practice. That resistance, me included, is looking for an opportunity to stop the practice altogether,” Ánië said.
“No, they are not,” Mokai answered, “and you are naïve to think your employer’s motives and yours are aligned.”
Ánië face hardened.
“Spare me the insulted look,” Mokai said. “That ‘resistance’ could end the practice by any of them, any one couple, deciding to keep and raise their regressive offspring. They don’t need permission from anyone.
“Instead,” Mokai continued, “they’re happy to play the game for political gain within the Houses.”
“That’s not true,” Ánië replied.
“Tell me, the incomplete records of our victim; do they match the gestation and delivery period of female elves? Yes, they do. Now, stop and think; I’m betting someone on the Council of Houses assigned you to the House of Veron when this matter broke. Veron House had no choice in the matter, even as they knew the risk they faced trying to cover it up. And now? Cagan’s records are destroyed, the offending app is modified, Elemmírë Telperiën body has been already reclaimed, the death will be ruled accidental by me and countersigned by you, and things will go on except for the usual rumors and speculations about the origin of Orcs.”
“We have a credible witness, and we can build a case,” Ánië said with a bit less conviction than before.
“It’s all circumstantial and speculative, and Cagan already indicated he’s for keeping it quiet. Plus, there are at least seven other credible rumors about the origin of Orcs. These other rumors?” Mokai said, “Financed and spread by the elves themselves. I can guarantee that when you make your report, it will be decided the evidence is not strong enough to warrant action without proof. And so it goes.”
“But to what end?” Ánië asked.
“Daeron Telperiën, the current head of the House of Veron, and a senior member of the Alliance of Known Worlds,” Mokai replied.
It took a moment for Ánië to mesh the gears.
“Leverage. The Council of Houses will use this incident to keep Daeron in line with their wishes,” she said.
“You almost got it, but not quite. It’s not the Council of Houses; it’s factions within the Council of Houses, and all have skeletons in their closets.”
They sat there in silence for a few minutes, each lost in their thoughts.
Finally, Ánië got up.
“It’s been nice meeting you, Mokai Wintergreen,” she said and headed for the door.
“One thing,” Mokai said.
“Tell your employer I want them to increase the funding for The Orphanage Project and subsequent Orc career and training support by at least a third,” Mokai said.
Ánië looked at him for a few seconds and nodded.
“I will,” she said, ” but I can’t guarantee they’ll do it.” Ánië closed the door as she left.
“They will, just like they did before,” Mokai said to the empty room.
He put down his cup, got up, and went in search of Brox. He had bridges to mend.
That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.
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