“Don’t be easily seduced by elegant theories for extremely complex problems.”
“I’m not being seduced by anything.” Lines formed on Detective Travis’ forehead as he turned away from Detective Soma Dan, his partner at both Helison’s police station and in currently commuting home in the little transit car. “I’m just telling you what the guy said. That a psychic told the guy you locked up to kill his girlfriend, and that’s why he did it.”
Soma shook her head, a thin strand of jet black hair breaking free from the bun tied behind her head. Her head was itching badly from her hair being up for fourteen hours straight. “Your tone implies that you believe him.”
“My tone? Dan, can you please switch off your lie detector mode when you’re talking to me. I don’t believe him. I’m just…I think it’s interesting. You’ve never been much for believing in supernatural stuff, though.”
“No, I haven’t.” Soma turned to look out the window of the shuttle car and past the reflection of frustrated lines around her oval eyes, baggy after the long day. Streetlights flashed by in a blur, houses moved past in a hurried walk, green hills behind everything sauntered by at their own, calm pace. Concrete, defined movements in her frame of view, following principles of optics. Observable, measurable, non-deceptive principles. “Police detectives don’t chase ghosts and demons.”
Travis chuckled. He shifted in his seat and looked back. They were near the end of this route, so the car was empty, just floating along in the grass-covered trough in the center of the road. Going where the transit system told it to go. Travis sighed. “I know your husband believes in some stuff.”
“He was raised in a home that believed in Seven. Then he grew up and left home and put away fairy tales about old gods.”
The car was silent a moment. Travis lowered his voice. “What fairy tales did you put away?”
Soma looked straight at his light gray eyes, shrouded in the light wrinkles of a grin.
A dull, mechanical voice crackled over the car’s PA: “NOW ARRIVING. AT H-TWO- FOUR-ONE, HOUSE SEVENTEEN.”
The car slowed and the door opened. Soma sighed and stepped out onto the widely-spaced pavers of the sidewalk.
Travis called out as she was about to walk off: “You’ve got a secret. Did you have a favorite old god growing up?”
She held his gaze a moment, then turned and walked to the path leading to her house. Behind her she heard the pill-shaped shuttle’s door shut and the electromagnets hum back to life. The hum faded as the shuttle moved away down the road.
As Soma approached her front door, irrational foreboding manifested in her. Things rarely went well with her husband and her two girls whenever she ended the day with an argument with Travis.
She was trying to think of something interested that had happened at work as she dug for her watch in her purse, which she didn’t wear while working. She couldn’t find anything in her head to think of, but she did find her watch faster than normal.
She pressed the watch face against the gearlock on the door and twisted, listening to the clicking of the tumbler magnets and then the hard snap of the deadbolt.
“Ignore worry, focus on now,” she whispered under her breath as she opened the door and walked in. She heard a one of those cheesy adventure shows her girls loved playing on the radio in the kitchen. This was one about a little girl that defended her home town from dragons. Or transformed into a dragon. Or defended dragons from her home town. She couldn’t remember which, but she liked the musical score.
It wasn’t even a big deal, having Travis get on her case. It was tiny. She always let little these things bother her. Swinging the door closed behind her, she let out a sigh and dropped her purse on a chair and set her watch down on the armrest next to it. “I’m home.”
“Has something been going on downtown this week? Tying up all the shuttles? You keep coming home really late.” Her husband’s voice came from the kitchen.
Soma bit her lower lip as she walked toward it, the radio getting louder. Alec was standing there, leaning against the island in the center of the room, looking bored and annoyed. Behind him, sitting at the breakfast nook, were their two daughters. The youngest, Melody, was doodling with an orange crayon in a coloring book. The oldest, Grace, was reading a book. Both were still wearing their school uniforms and both had their frizzy hair in stubby ponytails, which made Melody look like a miniature version of her sister. The cuteness of that thought did help calm Soma a little.
“No.” She brushed past Alec to get a glass from the cupboard. She felt him looking at her as she filled it with water from the sink. “The chief gave this long, boring lecture today because there’s some serial killer out in Lieutenia. Has the public spooked.”
“Why are they bothering you about that? That’s seven hundred kilometers away.”
Soma pivoted around to face her husband. “Because he wanted us to make sure we knew how to answer people’s questions about it. The killer is driving the police there crazy and the media is eating it up. Chief wants us to tell people that we won’t let something like that happen here. It’s just PR stuff.”
“It wasn’t my choice!” yelled the radio sitting on Melody and Grace’s table, then the show’s dialogue dropped back to more muted tones. Tense music was slowly building. Soma wondered how Grace was able to read with the show playing right next to her.
Alec mumbled something and walked over to look at what Melody was drawing. He looked down at his daughter but addressed Soma. “Alright. I guess it’s not as bad as how it was a couple years ago. We only got to see you for maybe an hour every weeknight.”
Soma’s eye twitched. She took a drink from her glass as her forehead tightened. That wasn’t a good memory. “That’s not going to happen again.”
“It will if your chief actually is worried that a killer like that will show up here.” He snorted a chuckle. “You be thrilled to have a problem like that to solve.”
Soma, her grip on the cup becoming very tight, forced herself to lower it to the kitchen island very slowly and gently. “That’s…why do you say things like that?”
“No it’s not. I’m not some freak.”
“I didn’t say you’re a freak. Just…obsessive about weird things.”
“How is that any better?”
“Look, stop turning this into something it’s not. I’m just saying—”
“I don’t like having murderers in our city. You’re not saying it, but you’re implying it. Stop it.” The room went silent. Soma looked at her daughters. The older kept reading, as if she’d heard nothing. Melody kept drawing, as if she’d heard nothing.
Soma looked down, her eyes watering up. This kept happening. She kept having these stupid arguments. Apparently, they were so common that her children just pretended they weren’t happening. She was one of those parents now. She was turning their home, the place that was supposed to be safe, into a place where at any moment harsh, selfish words would be thrown out in anger. Forcing children to learn how to pretend to be strong.
She walked out of the room, rubbing her eyes. She leaned against a wall and forced herself to breathe as she listened to the protagonist on the radio sob out a poorly acted complaint. “I trusted you. And you lied to me!”
She shut her eyes and clenched her teeth, but forced herself to breathe as strength drained out of her. She had to apologize. She didn’t even clearly remember what she was just angry about. It was something about…it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter who was right or who was wrong. She was going to go in there and make peace right now. She wasn’t going to be one of those parents. She was going to lay aside what she thought she wanted and needed in order to prevent evil from existing in her house. From hurting her children for no reason.
She drew in a breath more easily as she stood up straight and opened her eyes. Clearing her throat, she headed back into the kitchen.
No one was there.
She frowned. She hadn’t heard anyone walk out. She saw the book Grace had been reading, sitting on the table next to the radio.
“Make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the next episode of The Dragons of Angeles, releasing every Thursday morning data dump! Brought to you by—”
Soma turned off the radio, flooding the kitchen with silence. She looked out the glass sliding doors that lead to the yard but saw no one out there. She looked through the door on the other side of the kitchen, leading to the small guest suite. No one was in there. She turned back and looked at the kitchen.
“Melody? Grace?” She said the names louder, a bit of annoyance getting into her voice.
No one replied. She looked down at the orange crayon sitting on the coloring book. Melody had been coloring a heron with it. Soma stepped over and picked up the crayon.
She searched the entire house. The bathrooms. The storage room with their bicycles. The bedrooms upstairs. Alec had left his watch sitting on the nightstand, so she wouldn’t be able to find him that way. She checked the closets in the bedrooms. She checked the cluttered, messy, funny-smelling office that no one except Alec ever went into.
No one. Anywhere.
She ran outside.
Silence. It was late and a Tuesday and no shuttles were humming by right now. The sky was fading from orange to blue and she couldn’t hear any children playing outside.
She ran to a neighbor. They hadn’t seen anything. She went to another. They hadn’t seen her husband or her daughters. She went to another and another, systematically going to every house within two houses of her house. No one had seen anything.
Her forehead tight with frustration, she returned to her deathly silent home. She was hungry and needed to make dinner. Or she needed to ask Alec if he’d already ordered to have something delivered. Or she needed to ask what Grace wanted, because she was eternally picky about her food. She couldn’t eat until she talked with them. With all of them. And she was tired. If she spent the whole evening running around looking for them, she’d be exhausted at work tomorrow.
She searched every room in the house again. Each time she went into a room she felt an odd expectation. She rehearsed in her head how she’d yell at them for hiding from her. But she’d only be upset for a few seconds, then she’d finally be able to relax. Another room, another blip of stupid, stubborn hope. Until there weren’t any more rooms left.
“Why would he just…run off without saying something?” she said as she came back into the living room. The room didn’t answer back. She had been the one who was irritated during the argument, not Alec. He wouldn’t have snapped and taken off with the girls over that. It didn’t make any sense.
Silence continued. She still held the orange crayon in her right hand, turning it over and over and turning the inside of her index, thumb, and pinky fingers all orange. She looked down at her purse and watch. She sighed and picked up the watch with her free hand. She tapped the face twice and held it up in front of her. “Emergency. Police Override. This is detective Soma Dan of the Helison PD. I need to file a missing-person’s report.”