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Murder on the Mars Express: Chapter 7

Chapter 7:

Symbols and Signs


“Yes, sir.  It’s on.”

“State your full name.”

“Doctor Nicklaus Jacob Kolthammer.”


“Professor of Literature.  I am to be a guest lecturer at the University of Jupiter.”

“Describe how you came to find the body of Karen Nagana.”

“I take a walk every morning before breakfast.  I was on my second lap of the outer corridor when I noticed one of the crew’s cabin doors was open.”

“Did this somehow strike you as odd?”  The captain asked.

“No, not in the least.  It was only on my third lap when I saw the door yet remained ajar that my curiosity was piqued.”

“Wha-?” The security officer piped in.

“I became curious.”


“I went down the corridor and looked inside the cabin.”

“Describe it as precisely as you can, Doctor.”

“Miss Nagana lay face down on the floor between her bed and a small built-in desk.  She appeared to have no external injuries, and I could see no blood.  That is, at first.”

“Did you touch the body?”

“I thought she might just have passed out… so, yes.  I bent to check her pulse and rolled her over.  A small blot of blood came off the back of her head and onto my hand.

“I then noticed blood had seeped through her blouse, but had been obscured to me when I stood at the door by her company utility vest.”

“Was she still alive then?”

“I checked her carotid pulse and found none.  She also had no breath sounds when I listened to her chest.  I then opened her vest to check the wound.  No one could have survived that.  However, it was not the death blow.”

“Now how in the hell-”

“This is a formal interview.  How did you ever get to be-”


“The interview is recommencing at 14:40 hours.  Please continue, Dr. Kolthammer.”

“Where was I?”

“You thought you knew the cause of death.”

“Yes, I’m certain your doctor will shortly tell you that the poor woman died of a blow to the back of the skull with a sharp object.  Probably… eight or more centimeters long, square body… likely made of something rather strong… steel, titanium.  It also had a handle which left a circular bruise due to the force involved.”

“That sounds like a tool of some sort.”

“No doubt.  Something rather like a hex-driver I should think.  The weapon penetrated the posterior of the skull, that’s the occipital bone, and a bit south of the superior nuchal line.  It did great damage to the cerebrum or the brain stem.  Either way she died quickly.”

“That’s cold comfort.”


“See how cool he is while he lays it all out in his fancy talk.  There’s our killer!”

“Kirby!  You are relieved of duty! Return to your quarters until I call for you.”

“Now what the hell did I-”

“Out!  Or do I have to have you removed, officer?”  A long pause.  The sound of a metal door opening and then closing.

Two hours later Nick was back in his quarters.

“I didn’t want to say any more for fear of having the captain think I knew too much about the murder,”  Nick had to sit down.

“You were only in there a few minutes before the galley cook happened by,” Io sat down on the bed beside him, “how much more could you have found out?”

“This was a most gruesome crime.”

“The killer was allowed to enter Miss Nagana’s room.  The door showed no signs of forced entry, although someone could have overridden the key pad’s lock code.  Upon entry the killer somehow got behind her.  As there are no defensive wounds, she must have also allowed this.  With the tool I described to the captain, the killer drove it into her brain killing her almost instantly.”  Nick spoke quickly and paced the room.

“The order of the next part is unclear to me.  I shall lay out a possible order to the events.  First, the killer cut her chest.  Not to disfigure her, although in his or her haste and inexperience did so, but rather to remove an organ.  I did not have time to check which, but the most likely candidate is the heart.

“There is great symbolic significance in the heart.  There is love and emotion, but also hatred, vice and all that is base in humanity.  Perhaps the killer thought her to be without a heart.  A jilted lover?  Or felt she had no use for her heart?  Or had broken someone’s heart?  There is still some meaning to the killer in this act.

“This butcher had to rush as there was so much else to do.  Through one of her nostrils a tool, perhaps the same one to strike the mortal blow, was inserted and used to knock a hole through her skull to gain access to the brain.  A piece of wire or other thin flexible instrument was then inserted through this hole.  To what end?  Our killer wanted to remove her brain.  I could tell as her head felt far too light when I lifted it to check for a pulse.

“I rather suspect the brains ended up down the disposal chute.  Or perhaps they were burned or incinerated.  Or even eaten.  Again there are a great number of symbolic inferences we can draw from this.”

“Nick, dear, I think you need to sit down for a minute.  Let me get you something to drink.”  Io scurried for a glass and water.  Nick perched on the edge of the chair.

“You see I’ve never seen a dead person before.  Well, not dead like that.”  She handed him the water, and he sipped it absentmindedly.  His mind was elsewhere.

“So you did some research then?”

“What?  Oh, yes.  Well, I’ve got this link in my head,” Nick rubbed the back of his head, “I- I think I over did it a little.  It’s just there’s someone on this rock capable of…” Nick paused and breathed in and out in quick succession twice then continued, “I got hold of everything I could find on murder, forensics, blood, tools used by the crews onboard this bus, and those used by the people who built her, the symbolism of the parts of the body in every religion ever recorded, the nutritional content of human organs…”


“Yes.”  He looked up at his wife.  She took his hand, and he rose his feet and followed.  They entered the bedroom, a spare rock hewn cell with a large bed and little else.  Io paused and closed the door.  She leaned in and kissed Nick’s cheek and whispered into his ear.

“Let the outside world stay outside tonight.”  She pulled him toward the bed.


About Rob Sterner

English teacher, Film buff, Filmmaker, Writer, Musician, Photographer, Runner, Taoist, Thinker, List maker...


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