Cold wind and mist of rain hit her face as she stepped back into Vancouver. To her right was a granite war memorial and empty parking lot. A white and yellow forensic tent was glowing brightly a few hundred feet away up a paved path lined with large bare maples. She pulled her identification from her inside jacket pocket and approached the tent.
Her position fell under a branch of the police called the Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams which went by the acronym, INSETs. INSETs was an initiative that formed after the September Eleventh attacks to increase the cooperation and information sharing between the various security branches operating in Canada. The teams included police, border security, and CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. It was a wide enough mandate to slip her in as a representative of The Duke’s Own, even if it was knowledge known only to a few high ranking individuals. The teams carried enough clout that if something diabolical was sneaking in from the Aether she’d have broad enough powers to deal with it. While she held a sanctioned position, she operated under the strict orders that the fewer people who knew about what she did, the better. The main thing though was that it gave her jurisdiction in Vancouver so that when the out of the ordinary did occur, she had the power to do something about it.
She showed a surprised-looking constable at the police tape her badge and identified herself. He glanced back and forth between her face and the picture on her ID where she’d worn her makeup.
“Friend’s kid is into the Goth scene, she gave me a makeover,” Aleph explained when it looked like the constable might be looking to make her someone else’s problem. “I didn’t have time to clean it off.” She put on her best smile and gave a helpless shrug.
Her explanation seemed to the trick because he returned the badge wallet and lifted the yellow tape for her to step inside the crime scene.
She was given a Tyvek bunny suit, gloves, booties, and facemask. She changed quickly and entered the glowing tent.
Inside the air was close and had a familiar metallic smell. The first thing Aleph saw was the body. It was that of a woman wearing a nylon beige trenchcoat and a 90s power suit. She was laying on her back on the soggy turf, her throat had been opened and the wet ground around her was a gradient of red fading out at the edges. Beyond her obvious wound, her body had a quality of stillness that no living thing could hope to replicate.
The corpse was in the process of being photographed by a forensic tech while another stood by to assist. They were just getting started, photographing the scene was one of the earliest steps in documenting a crime.
The tech looked up from her work as Aleph stepped in. “Can I help?” she asked, holding up a hand and blocking Aleph’s way to the body. She was a white woman in her late thirties with curly blonde hair, though most of that was covered by the hood of the Tyvec suit she wore.
Aleph identified herself to the tech who in return introduced herself as Marilyn Schultz. “INSETs?” Marilyn asked, “I can’t remember ever seeing you folks on a scene. Is this a terrorist thing?”
“Probably not,” said Aleph, but we need to examine the body in situ just to make sure.
“That’s what I’m doing,” Marilyn replied brusquely. “You can read the report when it’s done, just like everyone else.”
“I’m not here to take over,” said Aleph placatingly. “I need two minutes with the body and I’ll be out of your hair.”
“Absolutely not,” said Marilyn with finality. “Do you eve know what chain of custody means? It means I won’t be giving up this scene until I’m done documenting it.”
Aleph considered making a call up the chain of command but discarded the idea. She had a strong feeling that time was of the essence. Cold calling a Deputy Commissioner at this time of the night with no lead-up would have her on the phone for the next hour. Sometimes it was better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.
“Marilyn, go stand in the corner and be quiet until I’m finished,” she said, reaching out with her voice and giving probability a tweak. Marilyn Shultz might have obeyed the command one night out of a thousand, but tonight was going to be that night. Aleph was supposed to avoid doing this kind of thing, but the woman was being a harpy, if a well-intentioned one, and she had places to be.
Marilyn’s eyes looked abstracted for the briefest of seconds before she turned and did what she was told. Aleph noticed that even once she was standing in the corner, Marilyn still turned around to see what Aleph was doing.
“Am I going to have a problem with you too?” Aleph asked the assistant. He shook his head without a word. “Good boy, give me some room.” He did, stepping back until he was pressed against on the of the plastic walls.
The thing was, Marilyn was right. This woman, whoever she was, deserved to have her murderer caught. Aleph wouldn’t do her any favours by compromising up the scene or the chain of evidence in her case. The slightest fumble was all a good defence lawyer needed to introduce reasonable doubt in a murder case, and this woman deserved to have her murderer brought to justice.
Careful to avoid disturbing the scene more than she had to, she made her way over to the body and got her face right in close. The wound on the woman’s throat was probably deep enough to score the cervical vertebrae.
Carefully lifting a pallid hand, Aleph could feel the stiffness of Rigor Mortis in the woman’s limb. In this weather, that meant the woman had been dead for at least three hours. The purple-red stain of lividity on the underside of her wrists and hands made her think it was closer to five. She hadn’t been formally trained in forensics, but enough time around The Duke’s Own had given her a working knowledge.
She did a quick inspection of the body but could find no identification or signs that she was anything other than just another dead body. She eyed Marilyn and her assistant critically, they were both avidly watching her progress. She didn’t really have a choice with the next step, she needed answers.
Carefully slipping the face mask down over her throat, she gently sent her breath across the wound on the dead woman’s throat. Immediately, the familiar dry ice fog that she’d first seen on the knife in the alchemist’s lab formed and began streaming off the livid slash and the bloodless skin around it.
Both forensic techs made startled sounds.
“Well… shit,” said Aleph beginning to stand and peeling off her gloves. She froze as a faint odour tickled a memory. She squatted back down next to the body and put her face close up to the crook of the corpse’s neck and inhaled deeply. She smelled blood, dirt, hair products, and there, just at the edge of detection was the faintest hint of formaldehyde and alcohol. The woman had been a gin.
She carefully stepped back from the corpse and stood considering it. There was an inarticulate noise from the corner where Marilyn stood, her eyes now bugging out.
“Oh, you can talk now,” said Aleph negligently flipping her hand in the woman’s direction.
“Who are you, what do you think you doing to my crime scene!?” Marilyn asked, nearly spitting in fury. Aleph was impressed, most people lost their head completely when they encountered the supernatural for the first time. Marilyn had some backbone it seemed.
“Aleph,” she said, walking over and holding out her hand. As she got closer Marilyn’s eyes grew wide. With Alpeh’s mask down, Marilyn was getting her first good close-up look at her.
Aleph knew what she was seeing, pale ivory coloured skin, black lips, and solid-black eyes. To make matters worse, in the bright lights used to illuminate the scene, Marilyn would be able to tell that the colouration was completely natural. Not the most reassuring look she knew. That was the problem with zoomorphism, Aleph reflected, reading the horrified expression on Marilyn’s face, you just couldn’t fit in like you use to.
Aleph took back her hand and fished a card out of her badge wallet to give to her. “Listen, Marilyn, you caught me in a hurry tonight, if you have any questions, call me, but you should really talk to your staff sergeant. If it helps, I’m trying to answer the same questions you are, I just go places you can’t to get them.”
Aleph turned and walked out of the tent, “The scene’s all yours,” she called back over her shoulder, shedding the blue bootie covers and overalls as she did. Neither Marilyn nor her assistant followed her out. She was probably going to catch holy hell for that little indiscretion. Technically, she wasn’t supposed to use that kind of gross manipulation in front of the uninitiated. That was how religions started, and nobody wanted a new one of those starting up.
She walked back down the dark maple-lined path back toward the war memorial considering the new turn of events. Necromancy had been used here, just like it had with Elanor’s murder. This time though, the murderer was advertising the killing. It looked like Knox had finished in trying to recruit Stirling Haig, and was now looking to wash his hands of him. The only good thing about the situation was that she was able to inspect the body and identify it as a gin.
The gin were either an indictment of the Alchemist Guild or an endorsement. Even after a century of thinking about it, Aleph wasn’t sure which.
The gin were the answer to the question: What do you do when you can’t afford a dose of Panacea, but discover that someone you love has an incurable disease? In a lot of cases, you bet on the odds that a cure would be found later and pay the relatively low price to make your loved one into a gin.
The process of becoming a gin involved dosing a highly diluted mixture of Panacea to the patient, putting them under a general anaesthetic, then submersing them in a vat of preservative fluids.
The lungs filled, the heart stopped, and for all intents and purposes, the patient drowned. At that point, the weak dose of Panacea and the preservative begin to work together to keep the body balanced in a state of suspended animation, not living, but not quite dead either. The gin could stay like that for decades, be revived when a cure was found, or, as was more common, be woken up when the money ran out. It was playing for time, that was all.
Aleph didn’t envy the lab that would have to work up the blood on the corpse. It took months for a body to purge all the chemicals introduced through months or years of absorption. The diluted Panacea still prevented death, but during those months the smell of preservatives lingered as they slowly leached out.
The fact that Aleph could still smell the faint scent of chemicals meant that the murder victim had only been revived for a month or three before meeting her final end.
Unsurprisingly, Doctor Knox was one of the Alchemists who offered his services in the creation of gin. As an alchemist, he was one of the few with access to Panacea, and he could hide the whole ghoulish business behind the facade of providing a legitimate service, and be morally correct in doing so. It was an imperfect world, and he was simply providing a service to people who would otherwise have no hope for survival. The fact that he made a lot of money off the process was incidental.