The Worshippers and the Way
It was purple. It stood taller than any ordinary man, and its muscles had been pumped up to obscene dimensions by long dedication to that brutal form of exercise known as pumping iron. Its hair was heaped up upon its head in a monstrous topknot, for that hair had been uncut through all the days of its life. It wore long, flowing robes of a purple which matched its skin, and as it entered the dim-dark of the laboratory it looked for all the world like a High Priest of one of the Wild Tribes entering upon the bloodstained gloom of some obscure temple of torture.
But this purple-bruted thing was no creature of the Wild Tribes. No. This muscle-pumped bodybuilder was Asodo Hatch, a student of a Combat College which had been designed to produce Startroopers for the Stormforce of the Nexus.
Asodo Hatch had graduated from Combat Cadet to Startrooper at the age of 30, and now at the age of 31 he was pursuing Higher Level Studies, concentrating on those areas in which he had proved to have special aptitudes – linguistics, law, theocratic sociopolitics and xenopolitics. Therefore know him from the start as a scholar, an intelligent man with a well-developed understanding of politics and religion – a man who was not so much a creature of his own time as a rightful citizen of any time which could properly claim to be civilized.
Unfortunately, we come upon this muscle-bruted purple creature in a time which was not civilized at all. We come upon it in the Empire of Greater Parengarenga during the reign of the wizard of Ebber then known to the world as Plandruk Qinplaqus. We come upon this Frangoni warrior during the days of a great Age of Darkness, when the great Khmar of the Yarglat had yet to bring a uniting discipline to the anarchic continent of Tameran, and when the high-visioned dreams of Aldarch the Third had not yet brought a similar uniting vision to Yestron.
We come upon this purple-skinned thing at a time when it was cautiously entering the laboratory – the shadowy, unoccupied cavern at the rear of the Combat College. It had come there in response to an anonymous word-processed invitation which it had found stuck to his door with a piece of chewing gum. The chewing of 'chewing gum' is one of those commercially-inspired compulsive behaviors typically associated with financially dynamic high-tech civilizations; the habit had been ubiquitous in the Nexus itself, and still survived in the Combat College, even though that College had been isolated from the Nexus for over twenty millennia.
So Asodo Hatch entered the laboratory, and in that laboratory he found a corpse. Of this, much might be made, were it a unique or unusual experience. But, quite apart from his studies in the Combat College, Hatch had been for seven years a soldier of the Empire of Greater Parengarenga, and in those years he had devoted a great deal of time and effort to the production of corpses from the basic living material, and so the discovery of one extra and additional corpse lying about the planet did not unduly distress him. He was however surprised to find that the corpse was that of Hiji Hanojo, the Ebrell Islander who was the Combat College instructorship; for amongst the students of the Combat College it was widely believed that the long-missing Hiji Hanojo had been mugged and murdered near the Hot Mouth, and that his body had been discarded into the depths of that hole.
Such was the length of time which had passed between Hiji Hanojo's disappearance and his discovery that Hatch initially made that discovery by olfactory means. In the usual course of events, nobody made the trek to the laboratory, since it was an extensive but utterly empty chamber at the end of a long and barren tunnel driven into the heart of the minor mountain of Cap Foz Para Lash. Hence the nondiscovery of that corpse.
But obviously someone had known it was there, since someone had left the anonymous chewing-gummed message which had first compelled Hatch to make the long and uninviting walk to the laboratory.
Asodo Hatch did what was necessary.
He reported the death to Paraban Senk, the unembodied Teacher of Control who ran the Combat College. Senk ordered that the body be removed to the cure-all clinic for autopsy.
To help him with that grisly task, Asodo Hatch requested and received the assistance of his brother Oboro Bakendra Hatch, who was the older of the two, and who was three years his senior. The two then won the assistance of the Pang female named Shona, who was a strong-stomached and imperturbable specimen of womanly warriorhood. These three then press-ganged the services of the short and scuttling Ebrell Islander who went by the name of Lupus Lon Oliver, who proved exceedingly reluctant to assist, for he had scant acquaintance with death-in- the-flesh, and was in no hurry whatsoever to acquire any.
These four then carried out the grisly task of removing the corpse of Hiji Hanojo to the Combat College cure-all clinic, which, despite its name, was quite incapable of curing anything so radical as death.
Once the corpse was in the cure-all clinic, the unembodied Teacher of Control who went by the name of Paraban Senk performed a careful autopsy by means of remote-controlled instruments. On autopsy, Senk found that Hiji Hanojo had been murdered. He had been choked with a plastic bag, an item which Senk recovered from the throat of the rot-stench corpse. Inside the plastic bag was a sample of semen, which proved on analysis to be that of a dog.
Who had the capacity to commit such a crime?
Paraban Senk surveyed the psychological profiles of all 502 people then training in the Combat College to see which of them might have been capable of such a crime. The answer? All of them! This was not surprising. Murder is one of the universal human crimes, a crime of which virtually everyone is capable; and those who trained in the College were systematically tutored in the arts of slaughter.
Furthermore, as a part of their training for war, the students of the Combat College had all been tutored in the most sophisticated of all psychological techniques to allow them to survive full-force interrogation, which made it unlikely that Senk would be able to trick one of them into making a confession.
Who then had an alibi?
Since Hiji Hanojo had been dead for an uncomfortable number of days – a very uncomfortable number of days in the opinion of Lupus Lon Oliver, who had thrown up thrice while helping to remove the body from the laboratory – nobody had an effective alibi.
Who then had a motive?
The obvious motive for killing Hiji Hanojo was to supplant him as instructor. The instructorship was lucrative; there was only one such job; and virtually everyone in the Combat College wanted that job. Senk recalled a time – well over a thousand years ago, now, but the memories of the unembodied Paraban Senk were imperishable – when instructors had been systematically assassinated at a rate of twenty a year.
Senk did not want to see a repeat performance of such mayhem.
Accordingly, Paraban Senk announced that all students whose training was due to terminate in less than three years were disqualified from contention for the instructorship; and, furthermore, that the competitive examinations required to select a new instructor would not be held for three years. Senk also made it clear that a similar policy would be enforced should the next instructor also meet with a violent end.
This ban and the accompanying delay constituted a kind of rough justice designed to cheat the murderer from all possibility of immediate profit, and to deter any future would-be murderers by removing the temptation of the possibility of quick-gain profits consequent upon a killing. Now, even if Hiji Hanojo's unknown murderer was the person who ultimately won the instructorship, at least that person would be denied the immediate profits of that instructorship.
This was very important, for most crime is committed to seek a quick gratification; and there are few people who would take great and murderous risks to win the uncertain chance of securing the prize of a job some three years in the future.
And whoever had killed Hiji Hanojo, it was certain that the securing of Hanojo's job was uncertain, for there were at least a good half-dozen elite students who had a serious chance of winning that position in competitive examination. The half-dozen in this elite group consisted of the Frangoni warriors Asodo Hatch and Son'Sholoma Gezira; the Ebrell Islanders Lupus Lon Oliver and Sefton Ten Guy; the Pang male named Darius Flute; and the immigrant from Shintoto who went by the name of Scorpio Fax.