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"See you tomorrow, Sylvia," Liz told her job partner, amused as the latter put on her coat; Sylvia's cheery excitement was contagious. “Did you choose your gift yet?”

“Its in my car, I got it this morning,” Sylvia replied, checking that her bag contained its usual mess.

“You think Ian will like it?”

“I'm sure he will; he's head over heels about the story of Frodo.”

"Me, its with Aragorn that I'm head over heels," Liz replied, and Sylvia chuckled at its hidden meaning.

"I have to go now!" Sylvia kissed quickly the cheek of her friend, and left the shop.

Once in her car, she checked in the back seat if the gift for her son was still there. A brown bag with an ornate sword handle sticking out of one end welcomed her worried glance. She sighed with relief as she started the engine; today was the 9th birthday of her son, and it was commonly known that the need for a hero was predominant around this age. So she knew that for Ian, owning a replica of Frodo's sword Sting would mean the world.
She carefully looked at the street before driving out of the parking lot; nowadays, the streets were full of crazy drivers.
As she drove on the left lane, passing the slow cars on the right lane, keeping a sharp lookout for suspicious driving, she let herself think of her family, patiently waiting her return. She knew her husband would've gone through the trouble of cooking for the event, and she thought of several ways to thank him later in the evening. But most of all, she was thinking of her son as he would gaze upon her gift. How his shy nature would fade for a moment, and pure joy replace it. Those were the moments that made life worth living.

"Hello, Sylvia."

It was two voices at the same time, one male and one female, speaking in unison. Sylvia's thoughts suddenly disappeared, to be replaced by a strange darkness. Sylvia felt suddenly as if she became two fragment. One screamed of pure horror at this simple sentence, and as the two voices kept on talking intelligibly, repeating her name. But she realized she was screaming silently, and then she realized she was watching herself drive. The other fragment of her, her physical body, was now tense, her stare completely blank, her mouth open.
"Wake up," Sylvia told urgently her other self, wishing she could shake herself by the shoulders.

The two voices kept on talking, louder and louder, still unintelligible.
Sylvia watched with horror as her physical self blankly turned the wheel of the car toward the right. As if in slow-motion, she watched, unable to stop any of it, as her car entered the right lane right in front of another car; the latter tried to break in time, but failed.

"Goodbye, Sylvia."

The ethereal Sylvia was suddenly taken back into her body, and she opened her eyes: one final moment of consciousness, taking notion of her hands firmly gripped on the wheel, desperately looking for a way out... the car behind her crashing at full speed with hers...


**********************

Ben Kramer entered his superior's office, and found him gazing at the view of the city from the 16th floor. In one of the guest chairs sat a stranger, who rose at Ben's entrance: tall, slim, clad in a silver grey uniform (it reminded Ben of a civil military uniform); his clear blue eyes were calculative yet calm, and his blond hair was neatly combed toward the back.

"You called, Chief?" Ben inquired, intrigued by the stranger.

"Ben, yes. Do sit down," the chief inspector welcomed him, his stoutness and his moustache reminding Ben of the inspector Dupont in the Tintin comic books of his youth.

Ben sat down, but felt slightly uncomfortable as the stranger followed his every move with his clear gaze but remained standing beside his chair.

"You can sit too, Mr. Fitzgerald," the chief said, sitting in his chair.

"Thank you, sir," the stranger replied with a distinguished British accent, before sitting completely straight in his chair.

"Ben, this's Detective Daniel Fitzgerald from the Columbus district; he'll assist you in the mission that I'm giving you."

"What about Catherine?" Ben inquired about his usual partner.

"I'm afraid she won't have the expertise that Mr. Fitzgerald will give you on this mission. Don't worry, it'll be the only time. Now, I suppose you're aware of the statistics of accidental deaths and homicidal deaths that the State gave us last week?"

"Yes sir. The rate of accidental and homicidal deaths rose from 13% to 21% from last year. I'm quite aware, since I arrested quite a few of those responsible for these deaths."

"Indeed. But the Columbus district recently came up with a huge mystery. Mr. Fitzgerald, if you please."

"As you wish, sir. In 78% of the homicidal cases, the murderer did not have a psychological profile nor a prior judicial case that could have lead to his or her actions."

"That's not rare, Mr. Fitzgerald," Ben argued. "Many murders are made on the spun of the moment."

"True, Mr. Kramer, but these were not the case."

"That's not all, tell him about the accidental ones," the chief encouraged.

"As you wish, sir. In 83% of the accidental death cases, the victim did not have a prior occurrence."

Ben looked at his chief blankly, then at the British detective.
"What do you mean by that?"

"He means that in car accidents, the driver didn't have prior accidents; in work accidents, the worker didn't had accidents," the chief quickly explained before the detective.

"That's not impossible, right? And surely they must've had more minor accidents?"

"Not impossible, no, but highly improbable," Daniel Fitzgerald replied. "A major accident is always more prominent in people with prior accidents. A major car accident is almost always preceded by minor but considerable car accidents. A work accident is almost always preceded by minor but considerable work accidents. A..."

"Okay, I get the picture," Ben interrupted. "But you're saying that the victims of those accidents had no previous incidences? In either homicidal or accidental cases?"

"Yes sir. In respectively 78% and 83% of the cases."

"How do you know that?"

"My district work consist of examining the brain of the suspects, the victims, and the victims' families to theorize a way of treating the psychological disorders that lead to crime," Daniel clarified. "A murderer has anomalies in the section of the brain that regulates morality and emotion. Such anomalies prevent his basic sense of right and wrong to activate when he plan to kill someone. They also deactivate part of his emotional response to such an action. These anomalies are always present in a murderer's brain, and old in age."

"But...?"

"The required anomalies were not present in the brain of the 78% homicidal murderers. Nor did they had any prior crime, or any prior instabilities. Nor did they had sufficient issues with their victims to provoke such actions."

"What about if they suddenly snapped?" Ben asked, his brain reeling to find a solution for this unusual problem.

"Such an emotion would appear on their brain imprint; and no one snap without any prior pushing."

"Let me guess: they showed no prior push," Ben sighed.

"Correct, Mr. Kramer."

Ben rose and paced for a few steps, then suddenly turn to face Daniel:
"What if they unconsciously snapped? Their conscious mind doesn't register it, but it still happened?"

"It does not work that way, Mr. Kramer. The action and the psychological disturbance would still leave an imprint on the neurones. Not because they did not wish to acknowledge it means that it did not exist. An action, conscious or unconscious, leaves the same imprint on the brain. Not only that, but when the action was executed, the murderers registered a very sudden peak of emotional response, and morality response. Not only was it powerful but new: the sentiment of guilt, horror, and shock was strong, and reflective of a first time reaction. For them, and their brains concurs, it should not have happened.”

"And the accidental deaths?" Ben inquired, feeling the answer would be similar in nature.

"Most of the victims had no previous inclination to accidents. Their psychological profile were very careful people, either mentally or physically. Many were well trained in their profession, most of the car accidents were from drivers with no car accident records...."

"I heard enough," Ben interrupted, sitting back in his seat.

"You see?" the chief smiled weakly.

"You're telling me that all these murderers killed someone without actually doing it from their point of view (while leaving no imprint), and that all the accidents were by non-accident-prone people. So what you're suggesting that happened, exactly?"

"That's what you two must investigate," the chief ordered them. "I want answers, Ben. These incidents are rising steadily and we can find no reasons for them. I want to know why, fast!"

"Yes, sir," Ben acknowledged, rising from his seat. "I'll start right away."

Daniel Fitzgerald rose too and shook the hand of the chief, thanking him for receiving him, while Ben walked out of the office, his mind swirling with unanswered questions.


**********************

When Ben got out of the police station, he found his new partner standing perfectly still beside the police car. More he looked at him, more Ben felt that Daniel didn't fit as a detective. Yet, his background check revealed what the chief inspector said: a detective from the Columbus district. But his neat grey uniform, his lack of firearm, his neat hair... He didn't fit the type.
Ben shook his head; he already had one mystery, that was enough. He joined Daniel, and sat in the driver's seat, Daniel diligently sitting in the passenger's.

"Ready, partner?" Ben asked in a jovial manner; he didn't liked the idea of a new partner, but it was his moral duty to make the latter welcomed.

"Yes, Mr. Kramer," Daniel answered, staring straight out of the windshield.

"Call me Ben, okay? I'll call you Daniel, or Dan if I'm in a rush."

"As you wish, Ben."

Ben silently chuckled at Daniel's compliance, and started the engine.

"We'll start by interrogating the family of the latest victim. Who's that?" Ben asked his partner, as the car climbed up to join the lowest skylane, at 100 meters above the ground.

"Sylvia Tyler, Ben. 38 years old, lived in Vermon. Accidental death from car collision. Her surviving family is her 40 year old husband, Nathan Tyler, and her 9 year old son, Ian Tyler."

Ben sighed. Interrogating grieving families was not his favourite part of the job.

"Let's go, then," he said without much enthusiasm.


***********************


A doorbell rang inside the house. A young boy looked up from his book, and his father walked to the door. After looking through the keyhole, the father turned to his son:
"Ian, I'm about to have guests. Would you mind playing in your room upstairs?"

"Sure," the young boy replied as innocently as possible. He climbed the stairs, slammed his door, and, very silently, opened it just enough to crawl out and spy, through the stairs' railings, in the living room.

Nathan opened the door, and clearly showed that he was peaceful, for before him stood two officers, a tall slim Caucasian with a distinct air of calm authority, and an equally tall but stouter dark-skinned man, with a more relaxed countenance.

"Can I help you, officers?"

"Are you Nathan Tyler?" Ben inquired.

"Yes?..."

"I'm Inspector Kramer, this is Detective Fitzgerald. Can we ask a few questions about your late wife, please?"

"Umm, yeah sure, come on in," Nathan answered, stepping aside, letting them in. "Does my son need to be present? He's rather shy around strangers, especially since Sylvia's..."

"We don't need him, no," Ben reassured him.

As their host guided them to the living room, Ben made some polite comment on the house's decoration; it always felt like using a worn-out technique, but it always made people at ease.
They sat down, and Ben silently sympathize for the grieving father; it wasn't hard to see the grief in Nathan's composure.

"Can I ask why you're here for Sylvia? She died of a car accident…" Nathan asked.

"There's some anomalies in that statement; her insurance records show no previous car accidents, is that true?" Ben inquired politely.

"Yes, sir, Sylvia was an impeccable driver, if I might say so. She always insisted on driving Ian. Well, she missed one stop, about 16 years ago, but that was the only time. She hates... hated, sorry, distracted driving. Just a few years ago, a crash happened right under us, in the street below, and she has been extra careful ever since. Have you any idea how driving is dangerous nowadays? God, the accidents sometimes that..."

"Sorry to interrupt; but from what I hear, she would've been incapable of the accident that caused her death?"

Nathan hesitated, visibly troubled to doubt official reports.

"In all the years she drove, and you were with her, did she ever cut in front of another car, when she was in a hurry perhaps?"

"No... no, sir. On the contrary, she drove even more carefully when she was in a hurry, or looking forward to something. She didn't want to risk ruining that enjoyment by causing an accident, or being delayed for missing a stop or breaking the speed limit."

"I see. That's all I wanted to know; thank you for your time, Mr. Tyler," Ben said, rising to his feet, followed by Daniel.

Nathan rose too, but he showed confusion as he shook the hands of the officers:
"Am I to understand that something came up that would suggest Sylvia's death wasn't accidental?"

"We honestly can't tell you right now, Mr. Tyler, for we don't know ourselves. But due to some anomalies, we need to investigate nonetheless. I guarantee that when we know, we'll inform you." Ben shook once more Nathan's hand: "My deepest condolences for her death; it may be possible that we're chasing shadows and it was just an honest accident. Cherish her memory."

Daniel repeated the condolences; Ben spotted a small movement up the stairs. A thought crossed his mind, and he turned to the father.
"You mentioned Mrs. Tyler looking forward to events; was she by any chance looking forward to a special event that day?"

Nathan's face turned sombre upon recollection:
"Yes... We all were. It was Ian's 9th birthday."

Ben's face fell. He annoyingly glanced quickly at Daniel, who only looked back with a flat expression; Ben wished that Daniel would have told him about that.
"Can I go talk to him?" he asked.

"Sure. He's upstairs, but he's very shy around strangers, especially since..."

"No problem," Ben reassured him with a smile.

While climbing the stairs, Daniel dutifully following, he noticed a small shape run off, and a door was heard. Smiling, he turned to Daniel:
"Did you bring the ETM with you? I want to give something to Ian."

Daniel fished out a cube out of the small bag he was carrying, the size of two hands, and handed it. Ben typed a few instructions on the digital panel on one of its size, and while a small machinery sound was heard from the inside, he knocked on the bedroom's door.
"Ian, I'm Inspector Kramer; I was talking with your dad, and I thought I'd give you something. Can I come inside?."

As a small grunt answered, Ben opened the door, and walked into Ian's room, holding the cube; Daniel stood respectfully at the door entrance, for he hadn't been invited in. Ben knelt in front of Ian, a small dark-haired boy with smarter eyes smarter than his age made him look, and who was now looking at the Inspector with a mixture of suspicion and defiance.

"I heard that it was your birthday recently, so I got you something," Ben told him while the mechanical whirring inside the cube ceased. He opened one of the side, fished out a small figurine of a figure that looked like a typical old wizard, with a grey cloak and robe, a grey pointy hat, and a wooden staff, and gave it to the boy, whose eyes glowed with restrained joy as he looked upon the gift. "I know times are rough, and trust me, they'll get rougher as you grow up. But if you keep this, and you remember what it means, the world will never get to you. As long as fire burn in your heart, you will never feel the cold of the world, and you will light up the fire in the hearts of those around you."

Ben rose to his feet and shuffled the boy's hair, and told him as a goodbye:
"Take care of your dad, will you?"

Ian smiled brightly as he clutched the wizard figurine, and Ben walked out of the room, Daniel giving a goodbye wave before following his partner.

Once they got into the car, and Ben started up the engine, Daniel finally broke his silence by asking, confused:
"Why did you give Ian Tyler a figurine of the fictional character Gandalf the Grey, Ben?"

Ben wondered briefly if the overly long description of his gift was necessary, before replying:
"I thought it would be comforting for him. Gandalf's strength is to never give up, and to keep the fire in one's heart alive to fight off evil."

"It is an inaccurate meaning. A human heart cannot contain fire, nor can fire repel the abstract idea of..."

"Daniel... its a metaphorical and fictional hero! Didn't you had heroes when you were young?"

"No, Ben," Daniel flatly answered.

"Well, Ian has. Its what keeps him going, fighting. More than ever, with his mother's death. His heroes teach him to be brave and to keep going, and the figurine is a physical representation of that idea. And I wanted to help him keep that idea; it'll help him deal with Sylvia's death."

Daniel stayed silent while Ben finally embarked unto the nearest skylane, before asking:
"How did you know that Gandalf the Grey was Ian Tyler's hero, Ben?"

"Well, they found a plastic Sting sword in Sylvia's car. I didn't paid much attention to it until Mr. Tyler informed me that it was Ian's birthday that day. I realized then that Frodo's sword was most probably a gift for her son; and they are always based on what people like the most. It wasn't hard to figure out that Ian would like Gandalf. Aren't you supposed to be versed in psychology?"

"It is not my department, Ben. I am a detective of facts; this is why I require a second partner, who will investigate people."

"Oh.. Okay, what else would you suggest that we check out?"

"We could investigate the most recent murder case, Ben. It was committed 4 months and 16 days ago, by Lucien Stewart, 24 years of age, living in Alabama; Mr. Stewart fatally stabbed his older brother, Mark Stewart, aged 27, and their father, Jonathan Stewart, aged 53. He is the latest case in which the murderer lacked the psychological anomalies."

"Ask the Bureau that we need a pass to interrogate him," Ben ordered.

"Yes, Ben."

Ben waited while Daniel made the necessary calls and requests.

"We will meet him at the Bostonia Penitential Facility tomorrow at 13:00 hour, Ben" Daniel announced, closing his phone.

"Great. So, what must I know about this young man? You mentioned the father, but not the mother," Ben inquired.

"Victoria Stewart, maiden name McCarthy, aged 22, died from complications giving birth to Lucien; Lucien is autistic; as a result, he went to a private school for his first 6 grades, and after deciding to be an artist, his father engaged tutors to teach Lucien about art and music at home. After his studies, Lucien became a freelance artist, and remained at home to help his father while the elder brother became a travel agent. Everything suggest that the family had no personal issues capable to motivate Lucien's actions."

"And the day he killed them?"

"They were at a family reunion, according to Isabelle, the fiancée of Mark Stewart. According to her, there was no animosity at the prospect of the dinner. The timeline state that the murders happened within 45 minutes since Mark phoned his fiancée to let her know he was at the party."

Ben thought for some moments, while he noticed that Daniel was looking straight at him for all that time.

“Did the authorities found any motives? Was Lucien secretly in love with his Isabelle or jealous of Mark's freedom? Did he seem to resent his situation?” Ben finally asked.

“No, Ben, they found none. Isabelle was adamant that Lucien had no feelings of love toward her, and was very happy of her engagement with Mark. According to 14 witnesses and relatives reports, Lucien did not mind his situation at home. He loved art and considered external work conditions detrimental to the time needed for his passions. Since the mother died, Lucien considered it only logical that he should remain at home to both express his art, and take care of his father at the same time. According to these reports, there was no jealousy between the two brothers; it was considered as a very strong relationship, with both filling the qualities and flaws of each other.”

“That's very strange, Daniel,” Ben replied bitterly. “Surely there must be a motive of some sort. A murder like that isn't done on a whim.”

“That is why we are assigned to this mystery, Ben. Because with the results of Lucien Stewart's psychological profile, and his consequent depressive mental state, Mr. Stewart did not have a motive, nor the necessary state of mind to execute this crime.”

Ben sighed heavily, frustrated. None of it made sense.


***********************


Daniel Fitzgerald opened the record room's door, holding two steaming mugs in one hand, and found Ben bent toward the computer screen.
“The office open at 7 a.m., Ben. To uphold your healthy physical and mental state for tomorrow, I must remind you that you require 9 hours of sleep, and a minimum of 30 minutes for wakening procedures and breakfast. I must thus remind you that you have 30 minutes left before going to sleep.”

It took a moment before a puzzled Ben realized that Daniel was actually serious in his reprimand.
“I'm fine, Daniel, I do this all the time,” Ben annoyingly replied, taking the offered mug.

Taking a sip while he read the reports at the computer's screen, he then gulped down in shock, and stared at Daniel (whom was staring unblinkingly straight at him, his own cup untouched and dangerously lowering toward the floor), half-shocked and half-angry:
“Did you just gave me hot milk?!”

“Yes, Ben. With honey. Studies show that it promotes your metabolic sleep procedu...

Ben set aside his cup in annoyance:
“Forget it. Look at that instead.”

Daniel put down on the desk his own cup, just in time before its content poured on the carpet, and leaned to watch the screen.

“Look at this, Dan. Some of the crimes and accidents just don't make sense. I have 22 years of experience, and nothing like that ever happened. Everything always had a reason, even if bizarre ones.”

“I believe you, Ben,” Daniel answered.

“But this...” Ben sighed. “There's just no reason, mo motives, and that's not right, Daniel! That's not how it works, not in real life...”

Ben sat back in his chair, passing his hands across his head, trying to somehow make sense of what he was seeing. Even in worst case scenarios, accidents and crimes ended up having an underlying reason. But this last year… it was pure madness. He doubted the Columbus district reports, but districts across Norr Americae and Europa confirmed them. Ben shivered at this thought. If even Europa confirmed it, with their own localized incidents… then the madness suddenly overtaking these people was worldwide. How did one dealt with that, or got it stopped or prevented? Who was next?

“Ben? You have 10 minutes before sleep procedures. I suggest that you drink your hot milk and go home,” Daniel's voice cut.

Ben rolled his eyes to the sky; what was it with this guy?! Before Daniel spoke again, he rose from his chair; apparently, he needed to think at home if he wanted some peace and quiet.
“Good night, Daniel.”

“You forgot your hot milk, Ben,” Daniel reminded him, following him with the two cups.

“I drank enough,” Ben lied, quickening his pace toward the entrance door. “If you want, drink the rest.”

“As you wish, Ben.”

Ben sighed with relief as he heard Daniel's footstep stopping. Looking over his shoulder, he noticed with amusement that Daniel was drinking both cups in huge gulps. Ben shook his head with amused puzzlement, and walked out of the station. He realized with a small amount of wonder that he was actually missing his usual partner, Catherine. She knew how to lift his spirits up and when to leave him alone in his thoughts. And mother him, like a certain British detective seemed to enjoy doing.


**********************


When the car passed in front of the guard station, the latter looked suspiciously at the pass that Inspector Ben showed.
“Everything's in order,” the guard reluctantly acknowledged, lifting the barrier.

The car moved to a lot overlooking what could only be a correctional facility.

“Time to get some answers,” Ben cheerfully announced.

The clock chimed 13:00 when Ben and Daniel sat in front of a reinforced window pane separating them from a bland room with only a table and a chair. The room's door opened, and two guard brought a docile young man clad in the usual orange uniform of a convict, then left to stand at the door. The young man sat down and looked at Ben and Daniel with lifeless eyes, before lowering them and looking at his cuffed hands with an empty gaze. It wasn't hard also to see that he had regressed to his autistic state, and Ben suddenly felt sympathy. Steeling himself, he began to speak:
“Lucien, I'm Inspector Kramer, this is Detective Fitzgerald; we want to talk to you, because there's some evidences that suggest your innocence.”

The young man said nothing.

“Is there anything you can remember about that evening?” Ben inquired gently.

“I didn't kill them,” Lucien finally spoke, in a low and hurt voice, his eyes still lowered. “But it doesn't matter. They're gone...”

“It does matter, Lucien. Something happened to you, and if we can know what it was, we could stop any future person to do so again.”

Lucien made a sad, empty chuckle.
“Nothing happened. I killed them even though I never wanted to hurt them. Nothing to justify that.”

“Were you bribed or threatened?”

Lucien looked straight at Ben, his eyes like dagger:
“Nothing could have made me kill my brother and father, Inspector Kramer. I love them!”

“Then what happened? Why did you do it?”

Lucien lowered his stare once more, and said nothing. Ben leaned against the window:
“Lucien, hundreds of others like you face the same guilt than you. People who killed loved ones, whom they never wanted to hurt. You've got to help me out!”

Lucien hesitated, but shook his head weakly.

“If you're worried that I won't believe you, let me tell you, I'll believe anything rather than you did it for no reason at all,” Ben challenged.

Lucien slouched weakly in his chair.
“I couldn't stop it... It was my body that stabbed my brother, but it wasn't me… I was floating in the air, outside my body, like in dreams, you know?”

Ben's rational mind sighed with annoyance at what sounded like a stupid excuse, but everything told him to shut up and wait. Lucien was now starting to cry as he recounted the incident:
“I watched hopelessly as my body took up the carving knife, and moved behind Mark… Father was too far… I screamed and screamed, and yelled to myself to stop, but it didn't, my body didn't stopped… My body turned to Father, and I saw his anguish and his horror, his pleading eyes... I tried to scream even louder… It was then that...”

Lucien sobbed even harder, and he shuddered.

“What is it?” Ben asked soothingly.

“In a fraction of moment, I was back into my body... just as I drove the knife down on Father… My God…” the rest was unintelligible as it got covered by wails.

Daniel leaned over to Ben, and whispered ever so softly:
“He was found unconscious by the bodies, his cheeks stained by tears.”

Ben wondered how Daniel could be so emotionless, as his own stomach reeled over imagining what must've gone through the young man's mind. But then, he caught a few words out of the mumbling mess.
“Calm down, Lucien, calm down. What did you just say? What was “they made...”?

Lucien continued to cry; Ben clicked loudly his fingers, and Lucien stood up, alarmed.
“Please Lucien, what were you saying? “They made...” what? Who's “they”?”

“… The… The voices… I couldn't stop the voices… They made me do it, and I couldn't stop them...” Lucien managed to say.

Ben slowly assimilated this new information with horror; he turned to Daniel:
“You didn't tell me about the voices! Surely your profiling picked that up!” he whispered accusingly to his partner through clenched teeth.

“Schizophrenia is a recurrent justification in many murder cases; but the brains showed no existing sequels. And schizophrenia is not a sudden disorder,” Daniel calmly whispered back.

Ben stared at him for a few seconds before returning to Lucien, who was trying to calm down.
“What exactly did they say, Lucien??”

Lucien thought for a moment, but he shook his head:
“They just kept saying my name; the rest was unintelligible… but it grew louder and louder, and whatever they said, they made me incapable to interact with my body, and it followed their wishes… But I couldn't understand, I couldn't stop them...”

“Who were they?”

“A man… and a woman… both spoke together, at unison.”

Ben's eyes widened in surprise, and he leaned toward the window.
“Would you recognize them?”

“No… no, sir. They had a strange accent… both seemed in their mid-thirties… It's hard to tell, they were in perfect unison.

“Just two voices?” Ben wondered.

“Could you replicate the accent you heard, Mr. Stewart?” Daniel spoke for the first time.

Lucien snapped his head at Daniel's voice, and his eyes turned fearful as he looked to the British. Ben looked at Lucien with surprise, then at Daniel.
“Lucien, Daniel was right; could you replicate the accent?”

Lucien reluctantly turned his eyes away from Daniel, and he looked fearfully at Ben as he answered in a small voice:
“Yes… Inspector… They had… they had your friend's accent...”

Ben's mind reeled in both suspicion and realization. He rose:
“Thank you, Lucien. I swear, I'll get this mystery solved, and I'll prove your innocence!”

Before either Lucien or Daniel could reply, Ben walked out of the visiting room.


Daniel tried to catch up with Ben, which brought him wonder as not many could walk faster than he, when he passed before a cubicle where released convicts received their belongings.

“Hello, Daniel,” a suave voice suddenly spoke.

Daniel stopped in his tracks. Turning around, his face showed no emotion but he felt something akin to shock and horror. Before him stood a small skinny man in his early forties. He had mischievous eyes that either glowed emerald or gold in the light, and bright fiery spiky orange hairs led to an angular face.

“Hello, Scott,” Daniel replied flatly.

“I see you're still following superior orders,” Scott said, cocking his head and widely smiling. “You still like that, do you? Can't yet make decisions on your own. You haven't changed one bit.”

“I serve a higher purpose, Scott. I do not follow one man's ambition. I follow ambitions that will bring utopia to humankind.”

Scott threw a piercing laugh.
“'Utopia'? Haven't you got it yet, Daniel? There is no utopia for humanity.”

Daniel looked sadly at Scott, and replied softly:
“Then you still do not see the world as I do now; I hope and I will not stop. Goodbye, Scott.”

Daniel turned away, chased by Scott's voice:
“'You hope'? Strange, Daniel… Its impossible for you!”

Daniel ignored him, and walked out of the facility to join Ben.


**************************


Daniel looked at a silent Ben, who has been so for 27 minutes and 14 seconds; he could tell by his facial expressions that it troubled him.
“What troubles you, Ben?”

“The voices.”

“Convicts often used schizophrenia as a defence for their crimes. Including possession. Yet, Lucien and the others convicts whom have claimed this do not possess the imprint of schizophrenia.”

Ben got out of the skylanes to park on a deserted lot. He needed to think straight; and guard against possible danger.
“Its not schizophrenia, Daniel. A schizophrenic can only hear one voice type: his or someone's known to him. Lucien had plenty of male relatives and teachers; but I checked while you were inside, and they're all Americans. Next, Lucien knows two women. Isabelle, but she's mid-twenties and American; and Lucien's mother, who died giving birth to him, so he can't know her voice; and she was American and young. So from whom could he have heard, beforehand, the voices during the crime?”

“Your deductions are excellent, Ben,” Daniel complimented him; Ben smirked before continuing:
“The second most common schizophrenia is hearing multiple discordant voices. Discordant, not in unison as Lucien described; and multiples voices, not two specifically. Basically, one should hear these voices like when you hear a radio ghost frequency. But that's not what Lucien and the others described. Every “schizophrenic” convicts cases described a male and female voice, in unison; the voices were all in their mid-thirties, they said unintelligible things only at the moment of the crime, and they repeated the names. I'm betting my career that the victims of the strange accidents heard these exact same voices. And in all cases, the voices had… a British accent.”

Daniel sensed the accusation behind Ben's words.
“You can verify my entire whereabouts with my superiors, Ben. I have not been in contact with the convicts or the victims, neither do I have a female British partner.”

“Don't assume that I take your words as gospel,” Ben warned.

“It is a wise procedure, Ben. May I offer a theory to explain this mystery?”

“You're welcome to try, Daniel,” Ben accepted; he now knew Daniel why was odd. And just why did he took so long to walk out of the prison; what was he doing?

“You are accurate in your deductions; I had merely followed my superiors' take on the schizophrenia explanation, but with your detailed explanations, I realize that we have missed the single most important clue of the mystery.
>>Are you aware that some metal dentures wearers, and guitar amplifiers, could detect a radio or tv signal?”

"I've heard of it..." Ben acknowledged, not understanding its relation with the case.

“Such a transmission would leave no trace of its passage; and yet, it was received anyway. The metal dentures would not have a trace of the transmission, yet, the wearer heard it.”

Ben frowned. It didn't made any more sense than before, but Daniel impassively continued:
“The theoretical solution to our mystery is the following: our victims, either accidental victims, or innocent convicts, received a transmission that took over their brain functions. Just like Professor Delgado made a charging bull stop by sending it a special frequency transmission.”

Ben rose an eyebrow:
“That's a bit far-fetched, wouldn't you say? Someone out there would need to choose a victim, know that victim's name, get close enough, fire that transmission, and make that person kill itself or someone else? Why the hell go through that trouble?”

“Because it is the only extermination plan that no one can blame on someone else than the victims/convicts themselves. One would not need to be close to send the transmission. A frequency can be carried throughout the atmosphere without stopping; all you need are strong receivers. The transmitter would not need to know the names of the victims; it gets picked up when received. A person's name is the strongest underlying thought of a brain. By amplifying the new transmission so it gets processed by the brain, it also process the name within that transmission. It is akin to say out loud: 'Daniel, process this information'. By processing that order, the brain not only process the external information that is asked, but also the information of the name. Which, with special coding, is then merged with the incoming external information. Think of it like a computer game, which has the exact same transmission for anyone, but its coding adds a player's within itself once the player inputs it.”

Ben thought about it, and he secretly had to admit that it was the theory that matched the facts. But it didn't hinder his suspicion of Daniel.
“And 'they', whoever they are, would go through that trouble just to kill off a few thousands persons? Why, Daniel?”

“It is just a catalyst, Ben. Kickstart a problem, and leave the clean up to humanity's own actions toward itself. One only need to make humanity appear mad, and leave their prejudices and their eternal need to 'shoot first then ask questions', to end it.”

“What's 'their' plan? Wipe out humanity then…?”

“A blank canvas for another try at humanity's most powerful ambition: a superior being, either human or...”

“And you? What's your role in it? Distract me, or any other investigators; eliminate us if we find the answer?” Ben challenged Daniel, discreetly moving his hand to his gun.

The subtle movement did not escape Daniel's notice, however, who made for the first time a weak and sad smile.
“I am surprised you waited that long before shooting me, Ben. I respect your self-control. Do not fear, I cannot stop you from doing so.”

Ben looked at him suspiciously.
“What do you mean by that?”

“I am forbidden to harm you, even in self-defence. And you have now all the clues needed to solve this case; I am thus no longer obliged to ensure my survival for the benefit of humanity. You can do so on your own, now.”

Ben hesitated; he had met many cunning opponent, but Daniel was nothing like them. And he didn't liked shooting at someone without any provocation.
“How do you know of that plan? What were your intentions toward it?”

“I suspected that plan only 38 minutes and 47 seconds ago, when I encountered a member of the Shiakar Paradigm Society. Originally convicted for participating in the 2037 incident, when that Society attempted to enslave Norr Americae, I found him being released this afternoon, 26 years before the end of his sentence. It was only logical to deduce that someone powerful got him out… at the exact same time that thousand of people suffer from a madness. There is only one society that approve of actively disseminating humanity.”

“And they're British?” Ben wondered with amusement.

“The founders were, yes; they were direct descendant of a noble bloodline that had a history of manipulating politics from the shadows. But I can assure you that they are alone in their endeavours, and non-affiliated with actual British politics.”

“How do you know that?”

Daniel hesitated.
“I had dealings with the SPS.”

“If you don't want me to shoot at you, or take you in as a mole, you need to be more specific than that.”

“I was the bodyguard and assistant of one of the founding members of the SPS,” Daniel revealed.

“And…?”

“The SPS had the ambition of making the world a better place. I found out, belatedly, that it came at the price of 97.5% of the population. My purpose is to help humankind in its whole, not a portion of it. At SPS' dismantlement, I joined the authorities to help against their damages in any way I can.”

“How can I trust what you just said?”

“If I went against my purpose, my brain would encounter a paradox and shut itself down,” Daniel replied.

Ben looked at him with an amused puzzled expression at Daniel's strange yet honest answer; but the detective was truthful. He had behaved accordingly to a genuine detective wishing to protect (minus the odd things like mothering him about getting his sleep, or continuously staring at him).

Ben relaxed, and sitting back more comfortably in his driver's seat, he stared at the outside world. Two pieces of the puzzle had been found: the why and the who. Now was left the where to find the culprits, and the how to stop them. And he had a gut feeling that it wouldn't be as easy as he would've hoped.

“So where are they, and how do we stop them?” he asked his partner.

“I do not know, Ben. They have centuries of practice in hiding. And until we find the transmitter, we cannot stop the madness.”

“I had a feeling you would say that...” Ben grunted, before starting up the car. “I guess we'll keep on looking and following the few clues we'll get.”

“It is a good procedure, Ben,” Daniel approved.

The police car rose to the nearest skylane, and merged with the late afternoon traffic.

“Daniel, I'm sorry that I suspected you.”

“On the contrary, Ben; I was the most logical suspect. I applaud your diplomacy in this particular situation.”

Ben smiled. He was stuck with this strange detective for some time, it would seem. It was the first time since their meeting that he didn't mind it, and even looked forward to it.
6,994 words

My entry for :iconwriters--club:'s Writing Tournament, under the prompt "Mystery".

Inspector Ben Kramer and Detective Daniel Fitzgerald must investigate a strange issue: none of the 2041 accidental deaths were really accidents, and none of the homicidal deaths were actually perpetuated by the convicted.

I admit its a genre that I'm not used to write, but I hope I did a relatively good job at it. I had no prior experience in this style; so the style is a bit inspired from Isaac Asimov's investigation stories. And the mystery's theme is inspired by a great thought-provoking idea from Soul Eater.

I wish I did more character development, and that I extended further the suspense, but the limit of 7000 words restrained me from writing more about that, and the second part would have finished faster than the first one. :(  If you like the story, I will be more than happy to write another version and add more meat to it. Come to think of it, I might just as well do that anyway. ;)

My original story was about 7,900 words, so I had to take away 900-ish words, but the depth and feel is exactly the same, to my great surprise. Its a wonder how much words one can shave off when making word contractions (except in Daniel Fitzgerald's case, where his wording is quite... literal, so I couldn't make contractions). Some sentences were also modified to fit, but nothing major.

Daniel Fitzgerald is my one of my top 5 favourite character to write, and I was glad to make an entire story with him all the time. He's just so fun to write.
As you will notice (or did notice, if you're reading this after), Daniel has quite a shady past. If you are interested to know more about it, you may travel back in time, and read all about his past in my novel The Shadow Paradigm: Doomsday; the first 20 chapters are up, and you can just click on the link to be taken to the first one. :)  

The events here are 4 years later after the events in the novel.

My only personal critique is that the ending ended rather fast; I was running out of words. I hope it doesn't show.

I also wanted to make the sci-fi elements feel natural. Many, including myself, write science-fiction elements as if its the first time the reader reads them, or meets that world. I decided to try rather to write the sci-fi elements as if they've always been there, that this futuristic world is actually as mundane as our own. I hope it works. (ETM, btw, is Energy To Matter; in order words, its a replicator. :D )

I hope you enjoy, and feel free to critique. I do have a few questions (I'm mainly asking you, :iconsteve-c2:, since Mystery and psychological thriller has always been, in my opinion, your forte ;) ) such as:

- how did you found the atmosphere; did it kept you reading? Was it worthy of the Mystery genre?
- Despite their lack of in-depth character development, did you enjoyed Ben and Daniel's dynamics?
- Was the story credible?
- Were the secondary characters relatively okay in their behaviours?
- Was Daniel Fitzgerald odd, in a subtle (not always subtle, though ;) ) way, enough to make you wonder who he really is; and at the same time, did you feel you could trust him anyway?
- Is there any flaws, and what would they be?
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:iconsteve-c2:
Critique by Steve-C2 Steve-C2/critique/1429678251">Oct 22, 2016, 7:00:06 PM
I actually did want to comment on this earlier, because how you handled it caught my attention.

One comment. "Many murders are made ..." should read "Many murders are committed on the spur of the moment."

The beginning of the story caught my attention. Someone running an everyday errand, and something completely unexpected happens. It's a widely used trope, and your execution was well-done. You described their thought process and what they went through during the event right to the end.

I admit I skimmed through most of the statistical development, but I did get through at the end that whatever was happening, was highly unusual. People were committing crimes and getting into accidents without having any form of lead-in to it. I don't know if the statistics you cited were valid, but based on the efforts you usually invest in a story, I'm going on the assumption that they are.

I also admit that I got a little bit lost in the explanation of events, vis-a-vis how transmitting an electrical signal bypasses other stuff and doesn't leave a neural imprint in the same manner as other things might. However, I'll attribute that to my lack of understanding of the brain. What I did get out of it was that someone had found a way to "hack into" metal hardware that's worn by people, probably some pretty common stuff, and then cause problems.

Daniel seems different, and his interactions with people make me wonder if he's something other than human (or if his past left such "programming" on him if you will that he'll always be different regardless). The comment that Daniel didn't have heroes when he was younger would make me lean in that direction. Although I'm biased and would say that in part because I know what you've read, and I've read it too. ;)

What I'm always impressed with is your effort to make something seem supernatural, then bring it down to a nice scientific ground. At the beginning, the woman heard voices. Then she seemed to have an OBE. Now, I'm not sure what would make someone look at their own reality as a third party observer, though I think also that maybe the mind is imagining things quite vividly, and perhaps the reality is the person didn't actually feel like they were watching from far off, but that would be the best way to describe it. I would imagine that to be a stress response? I'm not sure, but that does make sense.

Back to point, however. I've seen this in your writing previously, and I like the way it engages the brain. I get the feeling of "see how we can explain this?" coming on later in the story; the results that you've provided have been thoughtful and interesting. I also like the way that you present it, is not in a manner intended to say those who claim to have spiritual experiences are wrong. It's presented in a manner that takes something unusual, and offers an explanation based on the conditions of the story. I guess I'm saying I don't get the feeling you're using your story as a soapbox.

I would ask, on the other hand, if you enjoy making your readers think. :D Because I get a sense that you do.

So I noticed.

The name Daniel. Wouldn't have been inspired by R. Daneel Olivaw, would it? :)

Ben ... Both Elijah and Benjamin are OT Jewish names. I think one of Elijah's descendants was named Ben? I don't know. A Ben seems to have been involved.

Anyhow. This reminded me of Asimov's robot novels; Olivaw working with Elijah, Elijah coming to terms quickly with his partner after having suspicions, and such. You also touched on something that the robots struggled with in all of Asimov's work: sacrifice one to save the many, or save as many as you can? I recall reading in I, Robot: the last short story involved people having to step away from long careers with the state after some shortage was found involving mismanagement done by the people responsible. It was later hinted that the machines themselves were taking top people off their post in the gentlest way possible, because the machines were trying to do better for everyone.

Now with that said I'm going to say just a few more things. I think you did well with this. I think there's likely room for improvement, but it's hard for me to say what that may be. Overall, I'm sticking with "you did well."

More importantly though, I don't know how much you were trying to write like Asimov. I feel like there was a bit of effort in this, to write like Asimov. I'm curious, am I right? If I am, I won't call foul. What I will also say is that if you are trying to write like Asimov, don't forget to write like Samantha. :)
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:iconsteve-c2:
Steve-C2 Featured By Owner Oct 23, 2016
What I forgot to mention in my critique, was that I really enjoy it when I learn things from a short story.  I had never heard of the Professor Delgado and his research, so after I read the article I saw how you were arriving at the electronic signals that were making people do things.  I was just "Oh hey I'm learning something!" :squee:

:)
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:iconclara-01:
clara-01 Featured By Owner Oct 26, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Hehe. Cool!

So, what did you think of Delgado's researches? 
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:iconsteve-c2:
Steve-C2 Featured By Owner Oct 26, 2016
Scary. :o
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:iconclara-01:
clara-01 Featured By Owner Nov 3, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
I know, right... :(  It makes you wonder if there isn't someone that would like to test it for a bigger application... :(

Speaking of mysterious deaths, there is a psychological thriller anime that you must absolutely watch one day. Its simply awesome, it has great graphics, great music, the atmosphere is dead-on; I had only watched 10 episodes out of its 37, and I already began to make it watch to my brother, but he got hooked so fast that we had to stop watching until I got all 37 episodes, because otherwise, the cliffhangers would have been too much to wait. :lol:
Anyway, its called "Death Note", and its about a Death God that drop his Death Note, a notebook that kills whatever name you write in it, and a young man who decides to use it to "clean" the world of all the evil people. But he gets cocky, so a super-detective decide to stop him, as no man should pass judgement on others, and the story is a really awesome game of cat and mouse, with lots of psychological warfare, where two mind genius have to outwit each other.
Its simply amazing. You once encouraged me to watch Last Exile and Clannad for their brilliant story, and now, I encourage you to watch Death Note, because I have yet to see a Western psychological thriller beat it, in the way the writers thought of every single movement and processus of the villain and the detective as they try to outsmart each other. Its like a Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty show on steroids; only tenfold better. :D
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:iconsteve-c2:
Steve-C2 Featured By Owner Nov 9, 2016
I'm sure there are people, and I'm sure they can find ways of doing it, as long as they have the right connections ... and that's part of what makes it scary.

Speaking of scary, I've heard of Death Note and part of me is a little reluctant to watch the show since it seems a bit ... scary.  The concept of the death god dropping a book down and whoever has their name written in it will die.  Yikes. :o
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:iconclara-01:
clara-01 Featured By Owner Nov 10, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Indeed. :(  

BTW, Don't get me started on the election results; I'm still in a numbed position. ;)

Oh right... I forgot that this story might be a bit shocking to most people... Well, in all honesty, there is no actual blood or stuff like that. There's less bloody deaths than in Soul Eater, and you recommended that one to me. :)  Most of the deaths are heart attacks.
I can't honestly say how shocking it would be to you, since I don't know your limit. I guess that you should see at least two episodes, and then see (two, because you have the basis of the beginning of the evil versus good fight). Its just that its a really good psychological thriller. Its mainly psychological thriller between a megalomaniac, superego/God personality villain, and the genius detective.

But don't worry, I understand if you don't want to watch it; I just didn't thought about your limit on such subjects. :D
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:iconsteve-c2:
Steve-C2 Featured By Owner Nov 11, 2016
The shocking part is the notion that someone can write a name in a book, and then the person who has their name written will die in a sudden, unexpected manner.  I mean, it's one thing to realize that strictly speaking, it could happen to anyone, but it seems creepy to have a person and a god behind it.  :o

Which of course illustrates the point of it being a psycho-thriller.  :)
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:iconclara-01:
clara-01 Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Oh... I didn't realized it sounded that shocking. :D  For me, it was more like: "COOL!! I've got to see how that detective will catch such a twisted villain!!"  :lol:  :lol:

Don't worry, its a Death God, not God himself. ;)  So its just a sort of devil-oriented story, with people trying to right things out against all odds. :D 

But I understand if you're too uncomfortable. ;)
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:iconflamingodancer123:
flamingodancer123 Featured By Owner Oct 21, 2016
Thanks you so much for submitting and sharing your work with :iconsharpenededge: much appreciated and good luck!!! :)
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:iconclara-01:
clara-01 Featured By Owner Oct 21, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Its always my pleasure. :heart:
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