The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 16, No. 1

On the Banks of Table River (Planet Lucina, Andromeda Galaxy, a.d. 2319)

by Rajesh Parameswaran

The body in question was impaled on the branches of a calthus tree, where uncleared jungle abuts the grassy track of the via. The time was earliest morning, not yet third dawn. The lights of my hovering hearse illuminated the unfortunate scene: torn wings, sprawling feelers, several legs at impossible angles. The body had belonged to Eth, an acquaintance of mine, a janitor at the Heavenly Paradise Resort, whose son had been one year behind my daughter in Academy.
     Down below on the via walked our human constable, Inspector Barhoeven, with his nervous underling, Palmena, sullenly striping the vines and thickets edging the roadway with the bright beams of their lamps, bending to retrieve bits of plastic and shards of pigment. The investigation, I felt sure, was largely a formality. A drunken hit-and-run, casualty one local resort worker, is considered less a crime here than a necessary part of life. Sure enough, as I exited my craft and flew down to him, the good inspector immediately began making his case.
     "Sorry to call at such an odd hour, Thoren."
     "Not at all."
     Barhoeven swept his five-fingered hand upward, the badges looped around his neck clanking against his bony chest.
     "Isn't it a crying shame?" His face had a stricken, pleading look, as if searching for divine explanation, as if he didn't see such corpses along the via at the rate of one per month. "Oughtn't she to have known better?"
     "You see, Thoren, I calculated the speed and distance she was thrown based on the angle and extent of penetration of the bough through her back and abdomen. The craft must have been proceeding at a moderate speed, when she passed directly across its path. Flying in the middle of the via! I thought Eth was a smarter being than that."
     A smile came to me, but I stopped it from reaching my lips. Clever Inspector Barhoeven—blaming poor Eth peremptorily, thus saving himself the time and trouble of tracking down witnesses, of embarrassing our planet's guests, of starting down that troublesome road. Or could he have been sincere? I must confess, I've never known how to understand humans such as Barhoeven, so analytical, so confident in themselves at close of day. Perhaps he really was the planet's most ingenious detective.
     "She should have bought a craft," he muttered, rubbing his tiny eyes. "She's too old to be flying by her own wings." In the dim light, I was surprised to see liquid beginning to streak Barhoeven's cheeks.
     "Eth took the safety of our planet for granted, Inspector."
     "So it would seem. We live in a city, Thoren. Not the damn countryside."
     I fluttered back up to give Barhoeven time to gather himself, and to give myself an opportunity to appraise the work before me. Eth's head was swollen to the proportions of a misshapen charlie fruit; her skull, a palpation suggested, was shattered into half a dozen pieces; her proboscis was torn, her incisors scattered into the grass or lost down her throat. And now it fell to me to untangle EthÂ’s body, to drain it, cake it, plump it, paint it, prepare it for funeral—to build it back more beautiful than it was in life.

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