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Murder on the Mars Express: Chapter 11

Chapter 11:

The Game’s Afoot

Captain Crawford found Nick with his hands in his pockets staring out the window into space.  The captain scratched his closely cropped head as if he suffered from lice and paused.

The view was a slowly rotating perspective of the stars.  If you knew where to look, you could see Earth, but it was so distant by now that it was little more than a bluish star.  To call the dark star field view a window was something of a misnomer.  The view was a screen separated by no less than five meters of rock as a radiation barrier.  A number of small cameras were mounted on the exterior of the bus to provide the passengers with the views.  Company psychologists thought that the passengers would be more relaxed and calmer if they could see outside.  Even those would would not identify themselves as claustrophobic would begin to show symptoms of long-term emotional stress after weeks beneath the rock that protected them from solar radiation.

The captain sighed and walked away.

Heart 2

Nick was far away at that moment.  Very far indeed.  With the autopsy records in hand so to speak, Nick was cross referencing the data.  What kind of tool or weapon was used to make the incision?  What psychological motives were there for taking the poor woman’s organs?

Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his own son, but was stopped by an angel at the last moment. No angels spared Karen Nagana.  Io sat at the desk making notes while Nick paced from corner to corner in their berth.  The pacing helped to relieve the headaches that accompanied heavy use of his cranial link.

The Phoenicians and Carthaginians both sacrificed children according to Roman sources.  They’re likely biased, Nick thought.  Both were rivals for Roman power in the Mediterranean, and Karen Nagana was no child.  Aztec’s practiced heart-extraction, tlacamictilztli,  believing the heart to be the source of the divine in man.  Each person had a shard of the divine within their heart.  In the Aztec ritual the priest would make the incision with a flint blade in the abdomen.  This is consistent with the wounds suffered by the victim, Nick thought.  The priest would reach up into the chest cavity and reputedly tear out the heart with his bare hands.  The festival of Etzalcualitztli required a heart-extraction sacrifice at midnight.  This fits the probable time of death, Nick thought, but this doesn’t account for the removal of the other organs.  Human sacrifice could be used to sanctify a new temple.  Perhaps the killer is looking on the transport and not simply Nagana’s berth as a temple for further ritual killings.

What if the murder wasn’t human sacrifice?  What if the organs were removed for use later?

Nick paused in his pacing with his back to his wife.  The autopsy records were of little help.  Karen Nagana had died from a single blow to the base of the skull.  Her brain, heart, liver, half the left kidney, and the pancreas were all removed.  Nothing new there.  Io looked up from her writing.  She could almost feel his brow furrowed in concentration.

“I need you to talk to the captain.”

“Again?”  He turned sharply.

“Yes, we need the Corinthians released from their confinement.”

“Why?  You said they’d be safer locked away before.”

“Yes.  Now we need them free.  After he releases them-”

“Which I doubt.”

“You can be persuasive.  Afterward start questioning them.  All of them.”


“I need more data.  The body will only tell us so much.  And more importantly, if it isn’t out already… it soon will be… that we’re sleuthing after the killer.”

“Is that even a word?”


“Sleuthing.  It just sounds odd.”

“Which one of us teaches English literature?  Now shoo.”


About Rob Sterner

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


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