The Federal Department of Criminal Investigation had its headquarters a block behind the Parliament building. They handled, or coordinated, criminal investigations that crossed jurisdictional or state borders. And had a raft of lawyers to interpret the practical application of the Parliament's output. And a cutting edge forensics laboratory that the various regional, state, and city police could tap at need.
Herod swooped in and landed on their front steps. Two men walked down to meet him.
The older one grinned. "Got the timing right. It's been a while, Herod. When you're done here, the king wishes to speak to you."
"Johnny Sierra, indeed I don't think we've met for a dozen years." Herod eyed the younger man.
"Herod West Plateau, this is Kevin Big Bay. Kevin is their expert on the Church of the Second Exodus, and their adherents."
"A pleasure." The fellow stuck his hand out to shake. Moderate fingernails, not a dragon, but tall and black haired. From a dragon family, though, with that name.
The poor Wuss looked impressed, Johnny must have told him too much about Herod.
"I thought you'd appreciate an immediate report on this incidence, and I need to know several things."
The Wuss nodded. "Certainly sir. I have collected my usual working group for problems with the Second Comers. We'll help you as much as the law allows." His eyes slid over to the King's personal representative. "We are a law enforcement government department."
"Ha!" No problem not flaming, he'd burned off a lot of acid scaring the priests into abject submission. "Never fear, you are not being asked to divulge private information, nor take illegal action. Do I need to add that I do not have any plans to descend flaming on the Church, no matter the fantasies I may indulge in, mentally?"
The Wuss flushed a bit. "Sorry, sir. Your reputation . . . "
"Is well deserved, no doubt, by modern sensibilities. But the details are mostly fictional."
Big Bay looked embarrassed. Cleared his throat. "Why don't we adjourn to the incident room . . . "
His team had two Second Comers on it. Herod glowered, and told himself that of course only a Second Comer would be a true expert on the Church, and able to investigate without being shut out as an outsider.
". . . so do you have any updates, while I was flying back?"
"No. The local police are sending in samples of the body they found for genetic analysis and hopefully identification. They are carefully excavating other areas of disturbed ground, and have dogs trained to find cadavers en route."
"Right." Herod eyed them all. "What I need to know, or rather, what the king and Parliament need to know is whether this is a nation-wide . . . phenomenon, or a local aberration. Local prejudice taken to a murderous extreme, or a sanctioned church policy." He looked over at the Second Comers. "I suspect the former, as a wide-spread conspiracy is impossible to keep so secret. But it needs to be dragged out into the open, so all church members are aware of what their leadership is doing. Or hopefully not doing. They need to realize that hybrid dragons are possible. And they all need to think about the possibility that they are not demons, and that killing them is murder in the eyes of the law, and possibly a sin in the eyes of their god. They need to correct themselves. Do you have any more questions for me?"
He rather thought they were delighted to be freed of his presence.
He took off from the steps and soared the two blocks to the palace. They had a proper landing area on the roof, where he was known and recognized and sent off without escort to a private audience chamber.
The boy had grown up so equitably that even he couldn't quite tell which dragon was ascendant.
The king looked him over sternly. "Seven dead priests? Couldn't resist adding to the mythos, Grandfather?"
Herod winced as the king broke into a grin.
"I'm glad to see you're uninjured." His gaze dropped to Herod's scraped wrists; the grin widened. "By your standards of 'injured' of course. Is Homer all right?"
"Oh yes, he's artistic, not a hypersensitive emotive."
The king laughed aloud at that. "How true. My childhood attempts to shock him never worked . . . So, having ignored your advice a century ago to keep the Second Comers away, what am I to do with them?"
Herod shrugged. "I do not think this specific action is widespread. But a tool to defuse the situation may be at hand. Homer and I have met several of these new people. They look like Second Comers, but they apparently have multiple religions, and many of them are not religious at all. They all rub along well and are tolerant of each other's beliefs or lack there of. They might prove to be a moderating influence and keep this situation from escalating."
"An interesting possibility. I'll ponder that, while I try to pry the funds out of Parliament for some basic needs in the Gold Country."
"I am thinking of heading that way, myself. It sounds like my sort of place. Until you over-civilize it."
The king grinned again. "Indeed. Poor Homer."
" . . . could have gotten us both killed!"
Trouble just rolled her eyes and ignored Gail yelling at their mother, who was sobbing.
"Murdering people!" Mom wiped at her reddened eyes.
The stepfather had gone off to work, swearing that he was then going to go home and leave "these hysterical women to hide behind the police." But he'd hugged them both before he left.
Which had nearly reduced Trouble to tears. What did I used to be like? How does anyone, how do dragons figure out which personality is the dragon, and which is the alt? I remember having temper tantrums as a little kid. But I didn't hate. I think. Is my sharp nasty side the alt? I keep thinking of it as "me" but maybe it's not? I need to talk to Herod. Or Homer.
Gale stomped off toward her bedroom, and Mom started clearing the table.
"Trudy, could you put these things somewhere else?"
Trouble looked over. "Oh, the police left those. We told the police none of them was the Ripper." She leafed through the pictures and stopped at Homer.
Her mother glanced over. "They give me the creeps. Dragons . . . " her voice trailed off, looking at Homer.
"They're just people, Mom. A bit more different than some, but . . . well, what about my father? You found him interesting enough."
She doesn't recognize Homer, does she? Couldn't be. I need to get my imagination under control.
Her mother stiffened. "I'm certain he was not a dragon. A Wuss was bad enough, but I was angry, after my first husband dumped me . . . I got pretty wild for a while. Then I realized I was pregnant and . . . well. Gail wasn't even two years old yet, and I was living with my mother. I turned nineteen two days before you were born. I suppose if you'd been born in the hospital there would have been a fuss. But you came so quick the midwife barely got there in time. She was properly horrified. We swore her to silence, and then we moved as soon as I was back in shape enough to look for a job." She sighed. "And found another good-for-nothing husband."
"Well, I think you finally found a good one. Try and keep him, eh? Kick Gail out, she needs to grow up. And I'll be eighteen really soon, and I'm going to the Northwest continent to mine for gold."
Mom shook her head. "Women don't fare well on frontiers without a husband. You'll be a whore, not a miner."
"I'll be a miner. You'll see."
". . . and the next morning Homer the Artist, back in human-form, minced into Headquarters to make a statement about how he'd been kidnapped. Herod hasn't been seen since, although I gather that Homer knows how to switch over to him." Scarlet sat back to watch the recipients of her report digest it. She'd headed straight for the embassy when they got back to Sa Nafro, and was back to update her report and repeat it to the next higher levels of authority.
Captain Howard had flown in, bringing Lieutenant Standish, the chief exobiologist. Gerard Saunders, Governor of the frozen colonists, elected before they embarked, was probably here to talk to the government, but he'd been brought into this meeting as well.
Now he gave her a resentful glare. "I don't believe in magic, Lieutenant."
"Neither do I. This fast metamorphosis must have an actual causal mechanism. Possibly due to genetic engineering. Possibly something the native fauna was all capable of." She looked to the Exobiologist.
"No. It has to be genetic engineering. If hybrids are possible, then the dragons are engineered humans. Two thousand years ago, well, we've almost got more myths than histories, ourselves. We know there was biowarfare, deliberate engineering of super soldiers, as well as consumer fads, said to have gotten quite bizarre among the decadent elites. Mostly they were destroyed in wars, cleansings, pogroms, lynchings . . . perhaps these three mythical first dragons escaped the madness, terraforming the planet and forgetting their past."
The Captain nodded. "So. They are just very odd people. Your artsy friend Homer on one extreme, and this Ripper on the other. Unless they're the same person. Or same body, at any rate. I trust they're watching him?"
"Yes, sir. Twenty-four hour surveillance. We realize that the episode with the Church Fanatics doesn't change the Ripper situation a bit."
“I quite liked Lord Homer. Very civilized chap. Didn’t realize he was a dragon.” The Ambassador fiddled with his comp. “Interesting report. It explains a lot that baffled me, the way everyone talked about the dragons.”
The captain nodded. "This shouldn't change much, Saunders. We'll need to warn people about the Church, though."
"Yes. I'll make sure some Priests, Rabbis and Imams are in the first groups down and form their own congregations quickly, so people who are believers won't get sucked into that church. Funds, I'll have to find . . .”
“Their Federal Police are investigating the Church as a whole. I shudder to think that more than one set of Churchmen are going around murdering half dragon children. But the Church is going to be defensive, for a while.” Scarlet shivered a bit. Last she’d checked, the Sheriff’s people had found five bodies, all tiny. And they were still digging.
“I wish they'd catch this Ripper, though. People aren't going to be happy about moving in, just now." The Governor gave Scarlet a nod and walked out.
"I should get back, sir. The Ripper hasn't struck for weeks, but if he's more likely to ascend near the full moon, the likelihood of him hitting again is starting to climb."
"Dismissed, then. Thank you Lieutenant."
Standish nodded. "Thank you for this, especially. Should be fascinating." His hand closed protectively around the bags of swabs. Dragon, Wuss, Hybrid, second comer. She couldn't wait to find out what he thought about it.
She took a cab to Police Headquarters, and sought Jason's office. Homer was already there. Jason's casual herringbone sport coat contrasted with Homer's dark gray suit, lavender shirt, and a tie that looked like a slice of an impressionist painting. In completely different ways they were both very attractive men. Although "man" might not be accurate for Homer. How do dragons . . . She pulled her mind back to business.
"I had a thought, this morning." Damn it, should we be letting Homer in on the investigation?
Jason raised an eyebrow.
"One of those priests said something about another demon. And there was a name. De something, wasn't there?"
Homer, who had been examining his fingernails, straightened. His eyes unfocused for a minute. " . . . then we just have to find Desota." He quoted from memory.
Jason started typing on his computer. "Couple hundred matches. I'll pull the ones with obvious dragon names . . . although if he's a hybrid like Trouble . . . "
Homer raised his head. "What?"
"Guess you missed that part." Scarlet filled him in while she watched Jason typing away.
"How very strange. The Wingless, some of their sons are dragons. I've never heard of a second comer having a dragon child. I haven't seen the mother. I wonder if she might be a mixture of Second and Dragon or Wingless?"
"We've been living together for six generations, now." Jason pointed out. "Any Wuss child with that much scaling would be assumed to be a dragon. I think she needs to be in the special classes. Eighteen isn't even late for a dragon to bloom."
"Bloom?" Scarlet looked back and forth between them.
"Change for the first time. It's, umm, a fairly painful process, and not one that should come on one unexpectedly." Homer wrinkled his nose. "I'll talk to her, once we've got the Ripper, and she's not hidden away somewhere."
“How do you prepare for that? Err, begging your pardon, but it looked painful. Were your parents wusses? I, umm, noticed you didn’t have anywhere near as much scaling as Trouble.” She could feel her face warming.
“The prep is stretching exercises, mostly.” Homer scowled. “My parents were dragons, and because of my modest scaling, assumed they’d—oh, horrors—had a wuss baby. And I was a late bloomer. My little brother was flying before I realized I was also a dragon. I ran away from home before I ever changed. Humph, that was a long time ago. No wonder Herod’s being so nice to the child. I didn’t think he knew how to sympathize.”
“Was that before your personality split?” Scarlett turned her curiosity loose.
“In retrospect, half of my rebellion was caused by confusion over my emerging interests in art and fashions and so forth. Earlier, I’d been all boy, and usually in trouble.”
Jason grinned. “And here I’d thought Herod must be the alt. Getting nice Homer into trouble.”
“Oh no. We did everything backwards. When we started going artsy, our father accused us of homosexuality.” Homer shook his head. “We really ought to have run away about a year earlier, Herod would have had a much smaller chip on his shoulder. I’ll see what I can find in the way of books that might help Trouble.”