This is the rest of the story. Click here for the beginning
For five weeks nothing more happened. The story rumbled on but with no new victims other news took the spotlight. Carl sank lower and lower, becoming convinced the murders were linked to him somehow.
Then in the sixth week, while Carl was sleeping, the guard standing watch received an urgent call from the mansion’s security room. There was a family emergency, his daughter was critically ill after a flyer crash. He should get to the hospital immediately. Another guard was coming to replace him but he should go now, his daughter was badly hurt. Carl would only be unguarded for a minute or two and the door was bolted.
When the security guard reached the hospital they hadn’t heard of his daughter, had no record of her being brought in. He quickly phoned home and spoke to his wife who assured him everything was fine. He’d been hoaxed.
With a sinking feeling in his stomach he tried to contact the mansion but his call was blocked. He rushed back to the mansion, back to the door he had been guarding. It was unguarded, but was still bolted. He hit the alarm button, unbolted the door and stepped in. Found Carl stirring from sleep at the alarm.
The next morning Margaret McGann ran the story of another victim, murdered during the time Carl was unguarded. Somehow she knew he’d been alone, knew the times and could show he had been able to commit the murder.
Military hardened security cameras had been installed to watch the room Carl was in, the hallway outside with the guard and all entrances to the house. Two minutes after the guard had left all of them showed nothing but static, until a few minutes before he returned. There was also no trace of the call to the guard. It hadn’t come from the team in the control room. Someone had ripped through every security measure the mansion had. There was no evidence that he hadn’t left the house, nothing to prove he wasn’t the murderer. Once again the press called for his blood.
For Carl however it was a turning point. The guards were adamant that the door had been bolted, that there was no way it could have been opened from the inside. And the hoax call pointed to a set-up, even if there was no evidence left. The despair of the previous weeks gave way to a slow burning anger. Someone was setting him up. Someone was committing vile crimes and trying to lay the blame on him. He was determined to stop them.
Carl spent hours with his security team reviewing the tapes, trying to clean up the lost sections, trying to find something in the footage they did have. They found nothing.
Frustrated Carl sat back trying to ease the knotted muscles in his back, shoulders and neck. On screen a now familiar section was playing yet again, a split view showing his cell and the room outside as the guard opened the door to check on him, and to tell him of the hoax. Once more he watched the guard step to the door, unbolt it, open the door. Watched himself jerk awake at the alarms. Then it hit him. That wasn’t what he’d seen. It’s what he’d thought he’d seen.
“Stop the playback. Wind it back… further… there. Now watch. Tell me what you see,” Carl told Phil.
The big bodyguard sighed and focused on the screen. “OK. Max comes into view. He walks to the door. He unbolts the door then opens it. Then he…”.
“No!” Carl interrupted, grinning like a madman. “That is not what you see. It’s what you know happened. You know he unbolted the door because you know there’s a bolt. Watch it again and tell me what you see.”
As the guard once again approached then opened the door Phil’s eyes went wide. “Well I’ll be… you’re right. The picture is blurred, you can’t actually see the bolt on the door. It looks like he knocks on the door rather than unbolting it. Anyone watching would think you could walk out whenever you want. That getting rid of the guard would be enough to leave you free reign to get out and kill.” His expression darkened. “That means our systems have been completely infiltrated, not just temporarily corrupted. Someone has been watching, waiting and planning this. They’ve changed all that footage. And we can’t prove a thing.”
“I don’t care about proving it, we can make use of this. Whoever’s setting me up has been incredibly well informed. No wonder if they can access all of our hardware. And it’s not just us… the cameras always get fried wherever there’s an attack. Government, private, even these military systems have been taken out. But now we have an advantage. We know how they get their information. Which means we can feed them false data.”
And they had. It had taken time and patience but they’d placed false data, false meetings, false times when Carl would be alone. Using the camera problems as a pretext all of the cameras were replaced. The new cameras were carefully placed to leave dead zones. Police officers were smuggled in using the dead zones to sit unseen with Carl when he was supposed to be alone. The officers were sceptical at first but first one, then a second and a third murder took place while Carl was in their presence, supposedly alone and free to kill. It wasn’t conclusive, he could have had accomplices, but it was strong evidence that he was innocent. That he was being framed.
The police decided to set a trap to try and lure out the killer, have Carl alone for a short while in an isolated place. But someone let information slip to the press and within hours everyone on the planet knew of the plan.
Carl was called to the station for final questioning and to be formally excluded from enquiries. Once finished he had sent the flyer off without him and climbed into the ground-car.
Carl opened his eyes again, glanced around. Something was wrong. By now he should be out on the motorway but instead he was passing through some kind of industrial area. Punching up the route and map on the cars display sent a cold shiver down his spine. The map bore no resemblance to the reality outside his windows, it showed him cruising down the motorway. Something had infiltrated the car’s electronic systems. He put a hand in his jacket to reassure himself. Yes… the security alarm was still there. And so was the gun. He hadn’t been sure this would happen but he’d had a hunch it might. Settling back he waited to see where the ride took him.
It wasn’t a long wait. A few minutes later the car turned into a dingy, dirty dead end alley and stopped. Carl climbed out of the car. Concrete and metal walls crowded in on both sides, and at the alley’s far end. Networks of pipes ran over the walls many of them spilling steam into the alley, making it hard to see clearly. This was clearly where he was meant to be. He slowly started walking, straining his eyes. There was an industrial sized garbage skip near the alley’s end and someone standing besides it, though he couldn’t see who clearly.
At about twenty paces away a gust of wind cleared most of the steam and he recognised the waiting figure. It stopped him dead in his tracks. Margaret McGann, the reporter. What the hell was she doing here?
She moved towards him, smiling. “Surprised?” she asked, in the lilting voice he’d come to hate from the newscasts.
“A little,” he growled back. This wasn’t what he’d expected. He’d been expecting to face the killer, not the reporter. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh I got a tip off. Someone told me there’d been another murder, and that the killer would be coming back to the scene. I was a little sceptical, but here you are.” She smiled sweetly.
“I’m innocent!” Carl shouted, hands balling into fists and voice raising. “Haven’t you been watching the feeds. The police have cleared me of suspicion.”
“I know. But here you are. And…” She walked to the skip and threw the cover back. “… here’s the victim.”
Carl reluctantly stepped forward. She was right. Another victim. Body ripped open, organs ripped out. At least a few weeks old by the state of it. He’d seen more than his share of dead and dying soldiers during the wars but this turned even his stomach. Fighting the reaction he moved an empty box to reveal the woman’s face. She looked familiar, though the damage made it hard to tell. And then it clicked. It was Margaret McGann. Heart pounding he leapt back from the skip, spinning to face the woman.
“Who are you?” he demanded. “Are you a twin? A clone? Why do this?”
“I have to eat!” protested the woman facing him with in a girlish voice. “As to who I am?” She grinned a wide smile that seemed to keep growing larger, looked more and more wrong. Her mouth continued to grow, lengthening into a leathery brownish snout with hundreds of wicked teeth. The rest of the body followed suit, rippling and changing into something reptilian looking, even the clothes fading into the creature itself. “Do you like what you see?” the thing asked, still using the piping little girls voice.
Carl backed away a few more steps, reached into his jacket for the security alarm, talking to distract the creature.
“An alien? A shape changing alien? How long have you been doing this?”.
He pressed the alarm button, help would be here soon. If not soon enough to save him then they could at least stop this thing, this creature.
The creature laughed, a deep unpleasant sound. It had dropped all pretence at humanity now. “Your alarm won’t work. Haven’t you worked it out yet? I can control anything electrical, subvert it or disable it. Nothing electronic within a hundred metres is working right now. That’s how I set you up so easily. I monitored your diary, your calls, your security cameras. I knew what you were doing before you did.”
The creature moved a few steps closer to Carl. It wasn’t particularly large, little taller than him, but its bulk and the way it moved suggested immense strength, its skin looked armour plated. Wicked claws and teeth would make mince meat of him if he tried to grapple. He took a deep breath, trying to fight down not just the fear but a dangerous, dreamlike feeling. He was having trouble coping with the reality of what faced him.
“So I’m the next victim? I’m no use as a decoy now so you kill me, leave my body for them to find?”
“Oh no.” The creature almost purred its answer. “I won’t do that. Thanks to your ingenuity you’re now free of all suspicion. I will kill you. But I’ll take your form for a few weeks. Ironic really. Having just been cleared Carl Stevens will become the murderer.
It wouldn’t do for your body to turn up. I’ll keep it safe though, don’t worry. Just like I did for her.” It gestured with a clawed hand towards the body in the skip.
As its gaze flicked where it gestured Carl stepped back and grabbed the gun from under his jacket, pointing it at the creatures chest. He was pleased his hands didn’t shake. The old training still served him well. He’d been hoping for shock or fear from the creature. Instead he got laughter.
“You really are stupid aren’t you. I’ve told you already, nothing electronic will work. The gun is dead. No power cell, no guidance system, no focus. Nothing.”
Carl pulled the trigger several times in desperation. Nothing happened. He cursed as the creature started to move closer.
“Why?” he demanded. “Why do it? Why humans?”
“Why not? I could eat animals. I’ve done it a few times. But humans are more fun. They understand what’s going to happen to them. They cry, beg, run, fight. So much fun.”
“So that’s it? You’re from a race of killers? Sick murderers? How many of you are there?”
The creature was pressed up against the barrel of the useless gun now. It stopped before Carl had to back up again. “Others?” it hissed, eyes blazing. “Others? That bunch of cowards. Of do gooders. They don’t understand the power they could have. No. I’m the only one to see the light. They just visit, observe, blend in. Cowards.”
Carl’s breathing was ragged now, heart hammering. Swallowing he managed to speak.
“Just you. That’s good. Very good.”
“Why?” The creatures expression seemed puzzled, head tilted to one side. Carl wasn’t sure if that was a holdover from impersonating a human, or its natural behaviour. He didn’t care.
“It means I won’t be starting a war,” Carl said softly, flicking the gun’s safety off and pulling the trigger. The recoil nearly knocked him off his feet. The creature was thrown backwards, a gaping hole in its chest spewing reddish blood and other fluids. Carl stepped forward again, pumping three more shots into its body then firing at its legs and arms until all the bullets were gone. He didn’t want to kill it yet, but he certainly didn’t want it capable of moving.
Ejecting the clip and loading another he studied the creature taking care not to get too close. It looked badly wounded but who knew what it could do. The creature was taking rapid shallow breaths and its eyes were fixed on Carl. An acrid chemical stink from the weapon made Carl cough. His security alarm beeped, coming back online.
“You weren’t expecting that, were you?” he shouted. Calming a little he carried on. “Thought you were so smart. No power means no weapon. Every weapon we use is based on power cells and electronics. No one remembers that a gun can be different, it’s been so long. But this beauty is something else. It’s old, very old. A friend gave it to me during the war. It’s so old it’s from Earth, from the times when our race first started to leave the planet. No electronics. No power packs. Just chemicals and metal. And a creature stupid enough to get close and talk rather than go for a clean kill.”
The alien tried to speak, coughed up blood, then continued in a weak voice.
“Use your alarm. Get me help. Your human medics can still save me. I know so much. There are so many secrets, so many advances. Save my life and they’re yours. Artificial gravity. Faster warp drives. Teleportation. And so much more.”
Carl stared at the creature. The offer was tempting. No advanced alien race had been encountered in the hundreds of years humans had been in space. Even if it was lying the knowledge gained from studying it, interrogating it, would be invaluable.
But it was a monster. Images of its mutilated victims flashed before his eyes. What if it got loose again? Staring at it bleeding and helpless he realised there was only one thing he could do.
“I don’t care how vile you are, what you’ve done. I can’t let a sentient creature lay there bleeding to death. It’s wrong.”
The creatures eyes lit up, a smile hovered around its grotesque muzzle. And faded again as Carl levelled the gun at its face. its last puzzled expression was blown away as Carl emptied the gun into its head.
For a few minutes he stood over the ruined body, mind overwhelmed by what he’d seen, what he’d done. Finally he roused himself enough to activate his security alarm, took a few steps away and sank to the floor as the shakes hit.
In minutes police flyers were landing in the alley, heavily armoured police charged down the ramps towards him. Being rich and famous had some benefits it seemed. Pushing himself to his feet Carl waited for them to arrive and the questions to start. He had a feeling they would go on for a long time.
He knew which question was going to be asked most. “Did you have to kill it.” He smiled grimly to himself. He new the answer to that one. Yes. Beyond any shadow of a doubt, yes.