Jason thought about it during the short drive to police headquarters. As they walked in they both nodded to familiar faces, friends, rivals, bosses and underlings of Jason's. Homer was "just" a consultant. Not quite one of them, but not quite a civilian, either.
"The dragon would be aware that the alt had ascended, wouldn't he?"
Homer shook his head. "Not if he was asleep. Not if the alt cleaned up well enough."
"And . . . would he remember? Would he tell the police?"
"Ah. Well, strong emotions tend to shift experiences into private memory space. And even ordinary memories, well, if you don't search for them, if you don't know they are there, you don't remember them. Once you find them, they're almost like remembering what you did yourself. As for turning one's alt in . . . the modern justice system hasn't a clue how to punish half a dragon, short of the death penalty. And while our switches tend to be regular, that doesn't mean that they are reliably exact."
"Still beats the old system." Jason pointed out, he rummaged in his desk drawers and found a small comb.
". . . Kill the whole dragon. Indeed" Homer's eyes brightened at the sight of the comb. He looked it over, pulled a tissue from the box on Jason's desk, wiped it off. Then he started combing.
"How often does Herod ascend?"
"Oh, formerly two or three nights running, right around the New Moon. Some times he'll leave a note. Generally he just reads. I go out of my way to keep a stock of his sort of books on hand, in hopes that he won't go out hunting." Homer must have caught the number of heads that suddenly turned his way. "Usually deer. But I wouldn't put livestock, or yappy dogs beneath him. But, as I say, he rarely tries to stay ascendant when the Sun's magnetic field is north oriented. He's been coming out for more days either side of the new moon, and staying all night, recently."
Jason's boss stalked up. "I hear your alt has shown up?"
"Oh yes. Poor Jason. I'll go make some calls, see if anyone knows anything about the new alts in town." He stepped away, patting his pockets again.
Most likely he'd head for the nearest mirror, first.
Captain Evens lowered his voice. "Diamond says he was very strange."
"Oh yeah. Down right scary, and immediately and clearly not Homer. Hell, I'm not sure I'd have recognized him on the street."
"Will he do for consulting? Or should I look for another consultant?"
"Homer doesn't think Herod will stay in the city. So we'd best find a new consultant."
"Right. What a damned mess. You wouldn't believe the number of calls we're getting, about dragons suddenly becoming rude or threatening, or insane."
Jason nodded. Dragon's alts were generally some slightly twisted version of a mirror image. A few characteristics might stay the same, but generally the cheerful would be grumpy, or vise versa. Friendly turned aggressive. Ambitious to subordinate. Chatty to quiet. But with the same degree of intelligence, the same knowledge, but not always the same talents.
Herod's athleticism had been completely at odds with Homer's clumsiness. Homer was a neat freak, and Herod had showered after changing, getting rid of the odors associated with compacting a dragon-size into a human-size. In theory when they changed up they drank mineralized water, and even used the humidity and dust in the air to bulk up their dragon shape. They lost a lot of water and some minerals when they changed down. Jason had seen some that were practically sweating mud when they were done changing. Homer had preferred to pick up as little dust from his environment as possible when he changed to dragon form. He hadn't approved of the fad of keeping finely powdered metals around, to give the scales a bit of extra shine. Talents? Homer's paintings were very popular, sold well.
Jason looked over as Homer returned. "Can Herod paint? Is he creative?"
Homer curled a lip. "He writes fantasy and adventure novels." The Dragon deepened his voice theatrically. "About the days of castles on mountaintops, and battles over territories. The days before the split, when babies were born without their two sides, their two bodies, and the ability to change back and forth among them." He sniffed and continued in a normal voice. "If you want to call that creative."
The Captain tried hard to look amused. "He likes the middle myths, rather than the ancient myths?"
"Oh yes. The thought that we started out human, made ourselves into dragons, and are now reverting to normal finds no lodging in his reality." Homer shrugged. "I'm going to go chat up a support group for dragons with violent alts. Hopefully I'll talk to you tomorrow."
The Captain watched him amble away. "I'm going to miss the prissy little snob. I don't remember the last switch being so bad. We had two dragons in my section, one friendly, the other standoffish. They swapped that, and the Alts both stayed on, took over the same positions."
"The City has doubled its population since then."
"And tripled the problems, and the dragons tend to withdraw, rather than jump in and help."
"The Wuss and second comers populations are growing. The Dragons are barely holding even. And most of them are loners. Even Homer. I thought Homer would switch gracefully, but I was wrong. I hope we put this killer away before Homer becomes the minority personality. I think I'm going to need a dragon expert for this one."
The Captain looked put out. "I was hoping to have the Ripper put away before dealing with these new immigrants worked down to my level. I think that that has just happened. I've got a meeting with the Chief, the Mayor, and the city council, and a slew of federal types in a few hours."
Jason turned back to his computer, and brought up the case notes. He'd already run the frequency analysis. All the killings that they'd been able to develop details about had been committed at night, hardly a surprise. All had been within a few days of the full moon. The first had been in December, the second in March, third in May, fourth in June. He'd skipped a month, hit again in August. Three days ago would have been the day before September's full moon. He'd requested extra attention on the bars and pickup joints, checked a few himself. Even Homer had volunteered.
In retrospect, that might not have been a good idea. What was Herod doing with the woman in his apartment. Apart from the obvious. Did I interrupt the Ripper before he killed again . . . surely not twice in two days . . . Not Homer. But that Alt. Herod. A popular name, after the last of the Dragon Lords, one of the good ones, the King's grandfather. The name overheard by a waitress, from a woman killed a few hours later. And the only description, a Wuss or Dragon.
The ME's reports had all been similar. Technically the cause of death was loss of blood. In all cases involving evisceration by a single swipe of a dragon clawed hand. Some parts then removed by ripping, no sharp instruments involved. And finally, contamination of the corpse to disguise any DNA evidence left behind. None of the missing parts had been found, leading to rumors that the Dragon Ripper was eating them. The contaminating material had been linked to the medical disposal company behind whose facilities the first body had been found.
Probably a needless precaution, given that dragon DNA was of limited variability. Theories for that abound, but all involved a bottle neck with three surviving Dragons. Or the original creation of only three dragons. Mutations and interbreeding had produced mixtures, but duplications were frequent. Experts had suggested that the original Three were at least siblings, and the mythical Kasta and Pala possibly identical twins. The Mothers of all dragons, as Zeu was the father of all. Fallen to Earth with the seeds of the plants and animals, speaking of myths.
Not a bit of archeological evidence for it all. Or one could say the lack of fossil evidence backed it up. A late bombardment of asteroids and comets had completed the planet building stage of Earth's history, destroying most fossils. The expansion of life across the world, following the cooling of the surface, had been rapid enough to enable a dozen Creation Myths. Jason was firmly in the camp of those who thought a late burst of bombardment killed most land life and destroyed most of the fossils, so the few survivors that spread out afterwards only seemed to be rootless.
As rootless as his progress on this case. Six women dead, and not a suspect in sight. He banished the thought of Herod's blonde. The Ripper had struck two days before Herod had picked up that woman. Hopefully satisfying his appetite. If he started killing every few days the city would be in a panic.
Trouble Meyers eyed the art teacher. Homer again. Damn it all. Herod had been everything she'd expected from her research. A real dragon lord. She had the bruises to show for it. Well worth it, to have met a dragon who could live like one of the old ones. Or at least had the mind set. She could be wrong. She had no proof. Not even, really, a clue to the dragon's age. "Adult" or "Not really old" were as close as she could guess from appearances. I should have spent more time around dragons, when I was in school. Thinking back, there'd been several wusses with visible scales who might have grown into dragons. A bit late to think of cultivating them.
In the mean time, she had to deal with the ultra-civilized Homer. The only good thing about Homer was that he was nearly the sole adult who honored her wish to be called Trouble. The rest were stuck on "Trudy."
She could nearly forgive the dragon his prissy mannerisms and pop psychology bullshit analysis of their paintings for that. So all that remained to dislike him for was his snobby, superior, lofty attitude and constant chatter. At least today he was emoting over other peoples' work.
She started shading spots to increase the three dimensional aspect, she hoped. All things considered it was a bit big, blocky, and color saturated. An abstract stained glass vortex spiraling down into the darkness. A bit of pale yellow edging toward the top of the vortex, and opposite dark shadowing, both shrinking as they sank into the center . . .
"That's . . . actually very good." The chatty creature shut up and cocked his scaly head at it. She suspected that he taught class in dragon-form to intimidate the students. The first day, when he'd been in human form had been a bit out of control until he'd changed. In front of everyone. Which had been really cool. The matron had thrown a fit, of course. Homer had just sniffed and informed her that dragons sensibly kept their privates inside when not in use, so there hadn't been anything for the kids to see, by the time he'd taken off his trousers. The matron had turned a funny color, and Homer hadn't gotten fired.
The boy at the next easel stepped over and sneered. "What's it supposed to be?"
"My soul, suffering in this dark prison, spiraling down into despair."
Homer gave her a cynical look. "Stay up all night thinking that one up?"
"Nah, only took a few minutes, while I prayed to the God of the Second Coming."
He curled a contemptuous lip and turned to the boy. "And what horror have you inflicted on an innocent canvas, Jeffery?"
Trouble started cleaning her brushes. Call this one done.
"Don't forget to sign it, Trouble. I'll put it on display."
She eyed the dragon as he turned away again. Had he really liked it? It wasn't the sort of thing that was popular at the moment. And she'd just slapped it out, as an end of the semester project. Her landscape project had been deemed "adequate, nearly followed the instructions" and her portrait "stiff." Maybe she should stick to abstracts. She couldn't remember ever seeing any in Homer's Gallery. Of course, she'd been locked up for six months, this time. Maybe abstracts were becoming popular.
Not that she intended to be a painter. Gold mining was much the better idea. Or maybe she'd be a cat burglar. She ought to practice her lock picking some more. She suppressed a grin. Maybe she'd burglar Homer's Gallery, before she left for the Gold Country.
She signed the painting, and slid it into the rack. Finished cleaning the brushes and put them away and hauled the stand to the leaning line of them. The paints went back where they belonged, she cleaned and racked the easel, and hung the smock. Then she had a few minutes of blessedly open time. She dipped into her backpack and pulled out a book. She wasn't fooled by romantic tales, she knew the gold fields were damned hard work. What they also were, was far, far away from here.
Her right hand went to her left arm, to the long sleeve of the shirts she always wore. To cover the scales.
The world was getting dangerous for people like her. The Church of the Second Coming preached against dragons, denied that people like her were even possible. Half dragon. We really are the same species, or were recently enough to still sometimes cross. She gazed wistfully out the large, dragon sized door. If I could just fly away . . . And now these newest immigrants were threatening to tip the balance of the culture even further from dragons. She wished they would just go back to their dragon-free home and leave them—her—alone.