Pendulum Ch. 33: Another One

What was his name again? Achim called up the team members’ roster and scrolled through the list of unpronounceable strings. Rodaidh O’Beirnei. Another tongue breaker from their Aes Sidhe partners, and, from his last name, a lurikeen. He gave the impulse to open the file, and it disappeared before his eyes. Achim stopped short. An alarm bell rang inside his mind; was this another case of…? He closed the roster and restarted the module, scrolled too hastily, and shot down the list in a hurry. He let out his breath, took a virtual step back, and tried the filter search. Not even the entry itself appeared on the list now. Out of his twenty-two still remaining members, only twenty-one were still there. He sighed, acquiesced, and wiped the list off his retinas.
Step one, call the—.
A notification icon popped up before he could even sort out the mess in his head. He accepted the connection request. A small feed opened and Branan’s round, bearded face appeared, way too big, way too close and way too pale, with eyes wide open and the beard in turmoil. The latter one confirmed his suspicion before the engineer even opened his mouth.
“One of our techs—”
“Yeah, I just noticed, too.”
The two men stared each other in the eyes, neither able to continue. Achim took a deep breath, and Branan wiped his already bloodshot eyes. Seconds that felt like minutes passed and both opened their mouths to speak again. Achim held off. The lurikeen wouldn’t have called him with no new info, no matter how shocked he looked.
“I gave the logistics drone control to someone else and shot a message to the captain. The name is gone from the system, but not from the—”
“Let’s not discuss this over a connection that could be monitored.”
Branan squinted and pressed his lips together. He nodded and closed the message window on his end. How many of them had been killed now? Three or four. Achim had stopped counting when his duties had taken over all his brain bandwidth; besides, murder cases were the job of Security. But there was no way to ignore this, with new dead bodies in his direct environment, within the already small society they had here on board of this exploration ship. Light years from home, with their FTL propulsion system wandering the surface of Gliese 667Cc on a mission he knew little about, they had no choice but to find out who was out to… yes, to do what exactly? What did anyone have to gain from killing members vital to their survival in this tiny can in space? Nothing made sense. There were only two commonalities between all the murders. One, they all were technicians, and two, whoever did it also nuked their names from all records. Almost all. A sardonic grin formed on his face and meshed with a deep frown he could feel all the way down the root of his nose.
“Entrance requested,” the Tuatha’s insufferably smooth voice announced. Cold ice shot up his spine and he bit back the command to open.
“Who?”
“Warrant Officer Branan Mccoys.”
He breathed out as his sudden spike of anxiety subsided.
“Open.”
The tiny man with the giant red beard stomped into his room and slumped into the single seat next to the retractable desk. Wild eyes that had been open for way too long and an exhausted body, strung along by tension and fear, made him look ten years older, and what used to be an immaculate, smooth beard now looked like seaweed on the chopping board.
“Did you send a message to Thornhill?”
Branan nodded and stroke the wild mess on his chin absent-mindedly. “Yeah, I sent out a short notice, but didn’t include any details. Just… the name of the victim and his disappearance from the roster.”
Probably from this world, too, but there was no need to remind him of that. Sometimes a snarky reply was fine, but this was not a fitting moment. Achim had to pull himself together, lest apathy would paralyse him and make their invisible predator’s job too easy. He bared his teeth.
“That’s all we can do right now. Who’s doing the logistics swarm?”
“Lowe. Not his field of expertise, but he should be prepared to handle it.”
Lowe sounded fine. A young man, no experience whatsoever, freshly graduated and on his first appointment, but there was no doubt of his brilliance. None of them were unqualified. Each life the murderer took cost them more than just a crew member, as if that hadn’t been bad enough already. Another notification sound directed his attention to the corner of his field of view. The high-priority transmission had overridden his settings, which meant…
The captain’s message was brief. “I sent a security detail.”
The footsteps of heavy boots outside his room just a heartbeat later confirmed, and he marked the message as read. There was no need for a reply.
“They’ve sent us guards. Can you believe it?”
The silence wasn’t awkward; it was uncomfortable, but the thought of breaking it felt even worse.

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