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[2006: JAN-FEB] This Bitter Aftertaste


David Cody
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This Bitter Aftertaste

- by David Cody

Stardate 238010.04 – 12:00hrs

The hiss. David Cody [...]ed his head and listened, the oxygen that fueled the connecting corridor from the ship to the Mars Colony starbase and stopped in the middle of walking pedestrians to lift his head and sniff. Processed and pressurized Oxygen, with a faint tint of wetness. That meant water-based processing. A welcome relief from the recycled air which always left a bitter aftertaste.

Armed with a beat-up duffel bag, Cody hiked the rest of the corridor and left through the opened doors into the main bustle of Starfleet and galaxy commerce, ignoring most around him. His next stop was at a window, overlooking the sweeping red carbonized dirt that defined Mars, the slight whirls of dirt that blew off the ground revealed a slight wind (opposed to the storm tornadoes that ripped across the world, sometimes lasting up to months before settling off).

It was here, overlooking the planet through the window that Cody thought about what coming home meant. And he felt nothing, exactly the same feeling when he left nearly six years ago. Home, he had discovered, is where you are at any given moment. We are, ultimately, based on carbon and oxygen. He felt nothing else, and he knew he should, given the nature of why he returned.

He caught a glimpse of the boots, well-worth with hundreds of particles that mapped his journey. His hands clenched briefly, thinking of the worlds and trade routes Tvatec took him on in the past two years. He still could picture the Ferengi, grossly overweight and never without gold jewelry which overpowered the tattered cloak the Ferengi wore everywhere, the faint red outlines of the ears which distinguished Tvatec from other Ferengi.

A small smile broke. ‘Details individualize.’

Was he steeling himself for the inevitable?

Cody left the window and proceeded through the staff, tourist, and shore-leave crowd, weaving through as a man born to the land. His next destination wasn’t far. Starfleet Headquarters for Mars Colony compromised the upper levels of the Colony complex and the floor in particular was Floor 11.

Starfleet Medical Examiner’s Office

12:47hrs

She was beautiful, the earmarks of her Betazoid heritage wearing a doctor’s uniform. Cody caught the namebadge pinned to her blue coat: A. Kenzellete. Curly black hair fell to her mid-back as she led Cody through the Medical Floor and down one of the many stainless steel corridors.

He left his bag at the locker rooms, following while observing Starfleet Medical staff walking to and from closed door offices and examination rooms.

Chief Medical Examiner Kenzellete stopped at a door and glanced back at him. Dark, slightly oval retinas studied him. On the wall above, there was a sign: “Morgue”.

“Are you ready?” she asked, the tones of her accent suggested a region in the southern hemisphere of her home planet, Betazoid.

Cody merely nodded.

She entered the Morgue. Cody followed while the florescent lights snapped on in the entry. Clear tables of chrome greeted them. She proceeded for a wall of square metal doors and typed on a keypad for two of them. They slid open, silent as the room, with two white sheets laid over bodies.

Cody stepped up between the two beds next to Kenzellete and regarded each form. “Let’s see them,” he simply said.

Kenzellete pulled the white sheets off, revealing the bodies of a middle-aged couple resting with closed eyes. Nothing evidental on appearance. They could have been sleeping. The man bore a direct resemblance to Cody, being his father, Barnes Cody, with sheet grey hair and a smooth complexion.

The woman on the other bed, his mother Barbara Jennet-Cody, a smooth unbroken face known to a few worlds.

Cody nodded. “It’s them.”

Kenzellete typed in another command. The beds slid back into the wall to let the chrome squares slide back and lock. She turned to him. “I’m sorry, Mr. Cody.”

“What did the autopsy reveal?” Cody asked promptly, examining the room.

At this Kenzellete hesitated, a quick glance down at her feet. “The results were ultimately inconclusive to cause of death,” she finally admitted, squeezing past Cody and heading for a terminal. She typed a moment to bring up the file.

Cody came over to take a look, leaning past Kenzellete to read the summaries. “Nothing?” his voice dropped, obvious disbelief.

“No physiological symptoms, no foreign chemicals, no abnormal energy readings. They simply just died.” Even Kenzellete didn’t believe it. She ran the autopsy again, at least four or five times, unwilling to accept two normal, healthy people into their golden years simply passed away.

Cody snorted. “Impossible.”

“But not entirely improbable,” Kenzellete countered, watching Cody’s reaction. The man was stone cold, simply reading the reports. She expected an outburst, but he did nothing. It was worse than she imagined. A griever, she knew, would cope. She saw, perhaps more clearly than the Ferengi Tvatec, what kind of man Cody was and it made her shiver. ‘Please,’ came the sudden thought. ‘Get mad. Yell. Break things. Give me something that’ll make me feel better.’

She knew right then Cody would never let this go, and a secret part of her was glad, as well as sad. She had done all she could.

“How does two healthy indivudals simply just die?” Cody remarked, oddly clinical. He didn’t know how else to be. The shock discovering his parents were dead should have seized him, but didn’t. All he could think of is what kind of physical evidence was at the scene. He could picture it, he knew the room since he grew up in the house. A museum of artifacts; statues and paintings his parents collected as leisure from various parts of the galaxy. The room temperature was never above 58 degrees. “Any trace evidence?”

It was a term he discovered researching Earth’s history, paying particular attention to the 20th and 21st centuries in forensic research. A Vulcan scientist he met on one of Tvatec’s legitimate trade runs asked Cody how he managed to get from the Ice Rings of Hellard to the tropical gardens of Utez. Cody had blinked then laughed, asking how the Vulcan had known.

The Vulcan, one S’ven by name, pointed at Cody’s boots. “Solar ice particles are embedded in the boot print, the coloration of white-blue suggests ice rings. It became obvious you had, at some point, come into contact. Since ice rings of planets are abundant, I simply observed other evidence. Those, in particular, have a yellowish tint, which is more distinct to five ice ring planets. A tiny fleck of gold individualizes your particular ice ring. Hellard.”

Cody was impressed. “And Utez?” he threw out.

The Vulcan swerved his emotionless face at Cody, without a trace of a smile. “Simple. Your clothes have an aroma of the species aesoterraphim, which is only local to the soil of Utez within twenty parsecs.”

And examining the summery reports on his parents, Cody did not find a single fiber in or about the house, or on his parents, that suggested anything. Which was in itself a clue. Someone had taken the time to remove every single piece of trace evidence in the house. “They were killed,” he said softly.

Kenzellete whipped her head around on him, hair flying with eyes wide. “What makes you say that?”

“Locard’s Rule,” came Cody’s reply. “In every crime scene, there is an exchange of evidence between the perpetrator and the victim or the locale itself, however minute… or in this case, the lack of thereof.”

Recoiling, Kenzellete stumbled back, looking between her summery and Cody. “I can’t list that…” she said. “Not without some kind of evidence to suggest that possibility.”

Cody blinked at her, a complete mask. She couldn’t tell if he felt anything. He examined her for a moment and sniffed slightly. His eyes darted about her person before locking on hers. “The perfume is Solis, a hint of cherry blossom and poinette. Your hands are callosed. You didn’t accomplish that in Medical. You play an instrument, a string instrument… violin, I would think. You were married once, but it didn’t last. He left for someone younger. It’s evident the way the imprint around your left forth finger is established. It was yanked off.”

Kenzellete hit the other wall away from Cody and stared, wide-eyed, back at him feeling stripped. And she hated it… she felt a sudden urge to lash out at him, attack him! There was no cause to dissect her!

Cody nodded and strolled for the Morgue door.

Watching him go, Kenzellete muttered under her breath and tried to get herself under control. She was furious… and amazed, as much as she hated to admit it… and she bit the tip of her tongue as a grudging admiration settled in her stomach. Looking after him, “Wait…”

At the door, Cody twisted around to look at her.

Calming herself, Kenzellete stepped away from the wall and slowly approached. “I didn’t say I wouldn’t modify the report, but I need something more than lack of evidence, Cody. Gods… you’re probably right, though.”

“It doesn’t do any good either way,” Cody remarked, “unless there is a witness or information that could be obtained by listing it as a homicide.” He straightened to survey the Morgue. “’Pologize. Didn’t mean to put you on the defense.”

He let the door slide open and stepped through.

“Hey, Cody!”

He stopped and looked back at Kenzellete again, standing in the middle of the room. She had a habit of moistening her lips, he noticed. Nervous energy. This one’s important. “Yes?” he asked politely.

“…did… would you consider joining Starfleet?” she finally asked.

Cody blinked. He had just stepped off a Ferengi trader ship he bribed to drop him off here. Two years he felt was enough payment for a slip of the tongue. There was several reasons that leapt to mind to refute her request, at top the mystifying circumstances surrounding his parents’ death, and instantly regretted he didn’t find out when they died. But… despite what he might or might not inherit, the vast resources of Starfleet were known for their scientific research. It was… an interesting notion.

And sometimes Cody knew he had to act on notions, whether he agreed with them or not. He grunted, relaxing his posture. “Any particular reason?” he asked.

At this Kenzellete flashed him a tightly controlled smile. It was a complex response, in Cody’s eyes. Both professional, and he suspected something else. “I was just thinking you’d make one hell of a scientific investigator,” she replied.

13:58

It stood among the shops, the carnies, the fragrances, the exotics among the strip along Junction J-2G. There was no sign, no prominence, glass or glitter. It was a simple office unit of mirrored glass displaying trade rates throughout the systems.

Cody studied his reflection in the mirror and watched the colors of life pass by on errands, zipping to and from. He knew he had to go here, even though it was a bitter aftertaste. Logic leads from one point to the next, and reflecting on what Dr. Kenzellete remarked to him back in the Medical Examiner’s office resonated with him. oO One hell of a scientific investigator. Yeah, right. Oo

He stepped up to let the doors slide open and proceed into the office unit, the tan brown carpet, the marbled walls and leather couches to give it that extra ‘special’ touch to leave the impression every person mattered… ‘and they did.’ Remarkably, nothing seemed to have changed.

He spotted a black haired razor, a striking blue-eyed runway model he expected to find on a holo-vid seated at one of the stations. He counted five, five holographic windows with trade delegates shouting through the interfacing. He studied her face, feeling entranced. She wasn’t a beautiful woman on second glance. The angles of her ridge were off-set, the nose, hooked. Little imperfections that made her all the more real to him… Cody never believed in the “perfection” progression.

Before he moved, the woman swung around to him. Five different mics poised near her mouth as she continued. Pulling one away, those hawkish blue eyes pierced him. “Welcome to Jennet Trade Securities Corporation. What can I do for you?”

Cody shrugged. “Came to take a look at the file, take care of the pleasantries, I guess you’d call it.”

The woman slid her chair back eyeing him, a roster nearby on the desk. She gave it only the briefest glance. “Do you have an appointment?”

“Yeah, I guess you call it that.” Cody offered his hand. “Name’s David Cody.”

The woman in the chair blinked, half-rising out of her seat as her mouth dropped. She suddenly leaned over and hit the transmission link. All five screens winked out at once. She tore the mic set from her head and turned on him. “…oh my, God… we… we thought you were dead!”

Cody closed his eyes. Images of star dust trails and blinking tundras of stars flashed in the memory, all the worlds he traveled to and representatives, faces of hundreds of races, men, women and children. No matter where he traveled though, it was never his dime. ‘The true irony is mom would have loved me doing it.’ The thought stung him, a horrid wretch in his gut. His expression, however, remained unchanged.

Finally, Cody offered a tight-lipped smile. “I get that occasionally.”

The woman offered her hand. “Deborah Turow, Securities Investigator.”

He shook it when the first sensation took hold. A bitter acid that stung at his eyes. David closed them and backed a step, feeling the strange, almost dry tears break the surface of his skin and scorch a trail. He couldn’t remember the last time he cried. He couldn’t remember this bitter aftertaste, or the sudden hole where his heart should have been.

Leaning forward, Cody scrunched his face as the tears fell, a man not used to crying. Deborah took two steps forward and braced him in strong, firm and smooth arms sliding around his back. He heard a noise… where he didn’t know. All he could feel was this quick lightning searing that didn’t want to stop… he didn’t want to show. He wouldn’t show it, not here… not at the company his mother founded.

“Shhh…” Deborah’s whisper penetrated. “It’s okay… let it go.”

He suddenly knew where the animal noise came from: it was him… and he felt it coming, gurgling from the bottomless pit where darkness reigned and shooting up through the esophagus into his throat. He felt Deborah’s hands pull him tighter and his knees on the tan carpeted floor.

For one brief moment, he heard himself scream. “NO!”

And Deborah’s whispering voice, soothing him. Her hands, brushing through his hair, her body firm against his, rocking him. “It’s okay… it’s okay, Cody. You’re home… you’re home now. That’s all that matters.”

Breaking down in tears, Cody covered his eyes. Images of his mother: a sharp-jawed financial wizard who would take him to the Port County Fair and buy him the taffy foam, stealing a bit for herself. The tall, guant engineer with criss-crossed eyes who sat his son on the other side of the shuttlecraft in the garage they were rebuilding, to suddenly lean back and slide him a beer. The races… the demon wind storms that chained the house, the roasted smell of coffee in the aftershave, the pearl earrings, the hint of a smile on his mother’s lips, the barking laugh his father made…

It all came roaring back as David cried into the stranger’s shoulder. He hated showing emotion.

“I’m sorry,” Deborah’s voice came. He felt her lips against his cheek, soft, wet, comforting and warm. Things he hadn’t know for the past ten years. “I’m sorry you had to come home to this…”

Edited by FltAdml. Wolf
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