Officers Egbert and Captor walked their beat through the gleaming city of Prospit, their eyes
carefully attuned to look for miscreants and ruffians. Sollux spied a young man, no more than 16, toss a piece of litter into the street. He rushed forward and pinned the kid against the wall of a nearby building and began yelling.
“Freeze criminal scum! You are hereby cited with the crime of littering, pursuant to Section 253 Article III of the city bylaws. Your signature is required to confirm receipt of the citation and is not an admission of guilt.”
Meanwhile, Officer Egbert ran into the street to grab to errant drink container and deposit it in a nearby trashcan. By the time he made his way over to Officer Sollux, he had to tear him off to get to the poor kid that had been smushed against the wall.
“Sorry about that sir! Officer Captor got a little carried away there. What he meant to say is that littering is bad, because it makes our city a less beautiful place to live, and it doesn’t make much sense, because our amazing mayor put garbage cans everywhere! So next time you need to throw something away, just look there! We’re going to let you off with a warning this time, but shape up or next time you might face a fine!”
The kid rolled his eyes at John’s speech and kept his eyes on Sollux. After backing up for a few seconds, he turned and ran.
“Sollux don’t you remember our talk about proper police behavior? Our motto is to protect and serve, not beat up kids and scare people!”
Sollux just huffed and began to walk away. Since Sollux’s breakdown and transfer from Homicide, John had been working his hardest to get Sollux accustomed to desk work and regular patrols through some of the more peaceful sections of Prospit.
The two returned to their patrol car, and as John opened the driver’s side door, the two-way at the front of the car erupted as the dispatcher’s voice filled the air.
“Calling all cars, we have a 505-alpha in progress on LOWAS Avenue, requesting any available squad cars for intercept west of Salamander Boulevard.”
John turned to Sollux.
“Hey that’s us! We could get pretty fast, with enough time to set up a barricade! Let’s get going!”
John grabbed the handset of the two way and spoke into it.
“Roger that Aradia, this is squad car 413, on intercept to the intersection of Turtle Street and LOWAS Avenue.”
It was at this moment that Sollux spoke up.
“You know John I could get us there a lot faster, you always drive so damn slow...”
John only laughed and slipped into the driver’s seat, careful to clip his seatbelt on.
“Sollux you know I promised the Chief that I wouldn’t let you drive until your psyche eval checked out! Especially not in a high speed chase like this one!”
Sollux groaned and slid into the passenger seat, buckling his own seatbelt in the process and quickly slouching down into his seat. John hummed to himself as he merged into traffic and made his way to Turtle Street. He looked over to Sollux and cleared his throat.
“Officer Captor would you do me the honor of activating the lights and siren?”
Sollux let go another sigh and flipped on the lights and siren, which immediately brought a goofy grin to John’s face. Though John much preferred being a PILLAR OF THE COMMUNITY and DESK WORK to high speed chases, there was something about the siren and flashing lights that made him feel like he was really truly a POLICE OFFICER, which felt awesome.
As the cars in front of the squad car pulled out of the way, John applied the acceleration and sped towards the intersection. When they finally arrived, the two officers set up barricades and laid down road traps to prevent the runaway vehicle from getting any farther. As the car barreled into video Sollux nudged John.
“John give me your gun.”
“No Sollux! The Chief said no guns until you cleared your eval!”
“The car isn’t going to stop, the barrier isn’t going to hold, let me take the shot!”
“The car will stop, don’t worry!”
As the car slammed into the police barricades, both of the officers winced, but the car stopped in its tracks. Sollux looked to John, who gave him an affirmative nod. He sprinted towards the vehicle and threw its doors open. After taking a moment to make sure the driver was unharmed, he slapped him into handcuffs and threw him into John’s custody. John took joy in informing the now arrested driver as to his rights as he secured him in the back of the police cruiser.
Back at the station, the Chief called them in for a special assignment.
John sat down in one of the chairs in Police Chief Equius’ office, but Sollux elected to stand. His eyes were red and puffy, as if he had been crying recently. Sollux and John flashed each other a look. The Chief was the strongest damn policeman Prospit City had ever known. Naturally, the two of them ignored the Chief’s obvious signs of distress. Equius was a proud man, and the best way his men could respect that was to just get on with the mission.
Equius reached into his desk and pulled out two folders. One he slid across the desk to John, the other he tossed to Sollux.
“Homicide’s had a case they’ve been working on for a few weeks now, real scumbag. Serial murderer. Uses some kind of high caliber weapon, leaves his victims with huge holes in them. ”
Equius turned in his chair to look out the window at the setting sun. For a moment, he was totally lost in thought.
“He struck again last night, got one of our own. We’ve been keeping information on a need to know basis, as much as for morale as any other reason.”
John and Sollux flipped open their folders, and there clipped to the top was a picture of a body, a gaping bloody hole in the middle. At the same time, John and Sollux realized who the victim was. John did everything he could to stop himself from vomiting, and ended up just slumping down in his chair, head in his hands. Sollux punched the wall he was standing next to and then completely lost himself. He grabbed a nearby chair and threw it across the office, leaving another dent in the wall.
The body belonged to Lieutenant Leijon, head of Homicide.
“The bastard, excuse my language, must have realized she was getting close. Got her just as she was getting home last night. Everyone else is stumped, we need your expertise Captor. I don’t need to tell you this just got personal, for every darn officer in Prospit. Leijon was a darn fine officer and the best darn friend I ever knew, and we’re disgracing her memory if we don’t send this monster to the chair.”
John and Sollux only gave the Chief a respectful nod and walked out, Sollux in the lead. Sollux walked towards the armory and asked John for his key.
“Come on Egbert, do you really expect me to go on a murder investigation tracking a bastard who took down one of our finest with no fucking weapon?”
“Sollux you know that Equius would have my head if I let you have a weapon before your eval. But here’s what we can do: I can put in a good word for you with the station psychiatrist, we’re old friends. If everything goes right I can probably get you a probationary weapon by tomorrow. In the meantime let’s get down to the ballistics lab and see what they dug up!”
Sollux grumbled in agreement, but John could tell that under his pessimism and gruff demeanor, he appreciated what John had been doing for him.
An hour later, Sollux was seated across from Rose Lalonde in one of the conference rooms of the station.
“Naturally everything you say here will be kept in the strictest confidence. Though I am preparing a report for the Chief, it will include only the opinions and conclusions that I have reached regarding your service here. This evaluation is voluntary, though necessary to secure full status on the force again.”
Rose looked across to Sollux, who grunted in acknowledgement.
“To start, tell me about the incident that placed you on probation. Tell me what happened from your perspective. Why did you feel that behavior was necessary? Do you feel that you would take the same course of action today? Do you have any regrets?”
Sollux gritted his teeth and leaned forward to respond.
“I know you’ve got the report on it in front of you, why should I bother repeating it?”
Rose shook her head slightly.
“Because what you did isn’t important. We all know what you did. Why you did it is the more important part. I need to know if you’d do the same thing again in similar circumstances.”
“Why does anyone even give a shit about what I did? It wasn’t even that big a deal!”
Rose could see that her tactics weren’t working and decided to switch gears.
“Cut the crap Captor. You assaulted two people in broad daylight in uniform. You are an officer of the law, not a fucking vigilante. You want to ruff up perps go somewhere where people don’t have rights. But here, in Prospit City, it doesn’t matter how confident you are of someone’s guilt, you don’t attack them and you certainly don’t attack their attorney. You let the courts figure it out. You want to pass judgement? Find another damn career.”
Sollux was absolutely stunned. He had never heard a psychiatrist talk like that, and it was the first time someone had been honest about the incident a month ago.
“Now they cut you a break because you’re the best damn cop Homicide ever had, outside of Lt. Leijon, God rest her soul. But you need a level head if ever want to work again. Now I need you to tell me why you did it, and tell me if you’d do it again.”
After taking a minute to collect himself, Sollux spoke up.
“I did it because I thought I had to. I did it because I didn’t think anyone else would. I wanted justice Dr. Lalonde. The way that slimeball and her client walked out of the courthouse that day, I could tell by the looks on their faces that they were going to get an innocent verdict. That trial was a mess and you know it, the judge was a total clown and the jury was totally mindless, that attorney had them under her spell the whole time.”
“And why were you so sure that he was guilty?”
“Because I had seen the evidence! Heard the facts! I couldn’t stand to watch a man I knew was guilty get away with blinding the DA and almost killing Aradia! And you know Aradia’s never been the same way since!”
“So you’ve given me motive. But you know as well as I do that motive’s not enough. What caused you to take the extra step, to act on your impulse?”
“She played me Dr. Lalonde, that damn attorney played me like a fiddle. She taunted me throughout the proceedings, made me watch as she destroyed our evidence and led the jury every step of the way.
“And then she made me think that maybe justice could be taken outside of the system. While she was taking with one hand, she was offering with another. She knew that I would take things into my own hands, that I couldn’t resist the temptation to dole out the justice when the system failed.”
“I see, so where do we go from here? Can we trust you to leave your judicious impulses on the sidelines, or do we have to worry about you ruining another case by refusing to let the system do its work?”
Sollux looked to the ground in shame.
“You can trust me.”
“Well usually I’d like to do a more thorough evaluation and perhaps a follow up, but given the grave nature of our circumstances and the glowing recommendation you received from Officer Egbert, I’m inclined to allow you back on as a full member of the force. Though my full report won’t be on the Chief’s desk until tomorrow, expect to pick up your gun tomorrow. Have a good day Officer Captor.”
With that Rose stood up, shook Sollux’s and walked out.
When Sollux walked into the hallway, he found John waiting outside for him
“How’d it go?”
“It went well, at least I think it did.”
“Fantastic! Dr. Lalonde is the absolute best isn’t she? Well let’s get down to the lab, Ballistics had some new information on the case.”
As the pair walked downstairs into the concrete basement that housed the shooting range and ballistics lab, John called out for the in-house firearms expert.
“Dr. Harley? Are you in? We were looking to get that new information on the serial case!”
Jade poked her head up from beneath a workshop bench.
“Oh hey John! Officer Captor! Good to see you guys! Yeah, I’ve been working on some ballistics analysis, and I’ve got some pretty strange results! I won’t bore you with the details, but I don’t think the holes in the victims were made with a firearm at all! I found traces of cauterization, and some weirdly high radiation levels. Plus since there’s no energy burns outside the wound site and if we assume this guy is living to kill again, I’d have to guess that we’re looking for some sort of long-range energy weapon, something we’ve never seen before.”
John looked at Dr. Harley with a look of clear confusion.
“An ENERGY weapon? You’re trying to tell us that there’s some crazy guy running around our city with a giant laser beam?”
“Strictly speaking, no, a laser the result of a stimulation of protons, this weapon is much more radioactive, possibly involving gamma rays or some other type of emission.
If it’s any consolation, such a weapon would require a massive energy source and generate a massive amount of noise when fired.”
Sollux finally spoke up.
“All three of the murders took place during thunderstorms.”
John perked up immediately.
“We’ve got a clear forecast for the next two days before the storms move in! We have just enough time to crack the case!”
Sollux nudged John.
“Oh right! Hey Dr. Harley do you think we could recertify Sollux real quick?”
After Jade nodded in agreement and led the officers to the shooting range, Sollux held his hand out for a gun. John placed his standard issue in Sollux’s palm.
In the blink of an eye, Sollux ejected the clip, checked for a bullet in the barrel, reloaded, and turned on the safety, placing the gun on the bench of the range facing the targets. Then he grabbed a pair of goggles and earplugs, and after John and Jade put in their own earplugs, he started firing. Second later, after the noise and smoke of the powder had faded, John and Jade looked over the targets of the range. Each one had two holes in it, through both of the eyes of the person-shaped targets.
Dr. Harley collected herself and shut her jaw long enough to fill out the paperwork granting Sollux certification and give him back his service pistol.
“If you could get someone to toss an H&K with scope and a geiger counter into patrol car it’d be appreciated. Let’s go John, we got crime scenes to analyze.”
As John and Sollux walked back upstairs to the Chief’s office, John finally spoke up.
“So where do we start?”
“Means, motive, and opportunity, as always. I’d like to double check the crime scenes to see if Homicide missed anything, maybe try to figure out where he fired from, now that we know what kind of weapon he’s using. From there we should figure out how the victims are connected. Leijon was onto something, but I don’t believe in coincidences, and serial killers don’t make mistakes like killing a cop unless the cop was on the list to begin with. Then we just wait it out, catch him in the act.”
As the officers climbed into the squad car, John couldn’t help but feel a surge of exhilaration. Though he had always been sure he didn’t have the skills or nerves for Homicide, here he was, on track to catch a real murderer!
When they reached the first scene, it was obvious to John they wouldn’t find much at all. The body had been removed days ago, and even the scant traces of blood had been cleaned up. When John looked over to Sollux, he saw that he was already deep in thought, mentally analyzing the photos from the folder and the scene itself. John himself was stumped.
Sollux flashed a toothy smile.
“I sure do Egbert. Take a look at this wall. See the scorch mark here, where some of the brick has been removed? I have a hunch that if we checked it with the counter, we’d get some residual radiation.”
He went silent for a minute, tracing a line from the scene through the missing chunk of brick of the wall’s corner.
“Grab the counter and after you check this wall, meet me at the top of that building there.” he said, pointing to a distant abandoned apartment building.
Sollux’s suspicions were confirmed a few minutes later, when both locations had abnormally high levels of radiation, consistent with the victims. After a few mental calculations, Sollux was able to estimate the effective range of the beam weapon.
Two hours later, John and Sollux were standing before Chief Zahhak’s desk again, evidence in hand.
“I have a few ideas concerning motive as well. Nitram ran the pound, Maryam was in the arts community, and Leijon was obviously one of us. But all three were involved in politics. And all three received the funds they asked for in the last budget. I think we should look for our next victim among the parties that benefitted from the last city budget, and look out for our murderer in the groups that were slighted.”
The Chief nodded his head.
“Darn fine work Captor.”
As the sun set over Prospit City, the officers prepared to go home.
“So who do you think is next?”
“I’d rather not say.”
“Oh come on Sollux! We’re partners! You can share with me, I don’t even care if you’re wrong!”
“I’m not afraid that I’m wrong, Egbert, I’m afraid I might be right.”
The next morning, the officers paid a visit to Prospit University on a hunch. A series of interviews and record checks confirmed their suspicions: the university’s research budget had been slashed in the last year, and many of the professors were unhappy about the interruption to their work. But time and time again, one name kept coming up: Dr. Ampora. Apparently his work on a portable nuclear generator had been cut short due to cost and safety concerns, and he hadn't been seen in days. When John and Sollux went to check his lab, they found nothing: no notes, no equipment, and no results.
While Sollux stayed behind to see if anything else could be found in the lab, John went to interview Dr. Ampora’s students. When he returned, he had a litany of complaints and suspicions from the student body.
“Turns out this guy didn’t have very many friends! Ever his TA’s called him ‘demanding’ and ‘sociopathic’, and everyone agreed that he spent way too much time down in his lab. Plus there were rumors he would hit on students after class, but I couldn’t find any proof of that. Does that help any Sollux?”
“It just might. I’m going to take what I could recover back to Dr. Harley at the station lab, maybe we can figure out where he’s keeping this thing.”
The next two days were quiet and uncomfortable at the station, with everyone working as hard as possible to get the data Sollux needed to make his next big breakthrough in the case. With the Ampora trail cold, Sollux realized he had no choice but to try to catch him in the act.
Just before closing time on the last day before the storm, Sollux took John aside.
“Storm’s moving in tomorrow. Dr. Harley couldn’t figure out how to track this Ampora character, which means we catch him tomorrow, before he kills again.”
“So who’s he going after?”
Sollux dropped his voice low, as if what he was about to say next was so profane he wasn’t comfortable speaking it.
“Peixes. Feferi Peixes. Head of the teacher’s union and the one that ordered the research cuts to help keep the teachers employed.”
John’s face went totally white.
“But weren’t you guys...”
“Yeah, she’s my ex, and yes I still have feelings for her. It won’t get in the way of my job, so don’t bother asking. Let’s get out of here, we’ve got a long day tomorrow.”
But Sollux didn’t sleep a wink that night. He couldn’t stop thinking about the Vantas case, how he didn’t crack it until it was too late and the revolutionary made good on his promise, how he failed the DA and Aradia, and how he ultimately just played into Vriska’s hands.
And then came the visions of Feferi: the reminders of his failed marriage, the sting of loss when she told him that she simply wasn’t interested anymore, and the constant longing for her that he felt every day, underneath it all.
When the sun finally appeared behind the Prospit skyline, Sollux felt drained and tired, but he didn’t have any choice but to get up and face the day, a storm was coming.
He had John call Feferi and warn her not to leave the apartment that night, that her life was in danger. Then he assigned every available officer to her building, watching every entrance. Sollux himself canvassed the area around the building, looking for anywhere that Dr. Ampora could set up his weapon.
As the clouds rolled in, Sollux set up his rifle and a set of binoculars on the roof of a building near Feferi’s building, slightly closer than the effective range of the beam weapon. Meanwhile, John was standing inside Feferi’s apartment, guarding the door.
As the rain started, Sollux gritted his teeth and settled in for a long wet night. When the first crash of thunder and flash of lightning appeared, Sollux jumped and radioed in to check with John, who assured him everything was still okay. For three hours, Sollux sat in the rain, remaining vigilant.
And then it happened in an instant. Sollux saw a flash a green lightening cut across the sky, arcing toward’s Feferi’s building. As he radioed in to John to warn him to keep Feferi away from the windows, the crack of the loudest thunder he had ever heard filled his ears. The next few moments happened in slow motion. He saw the glass pane of the apartment's windows smash, half-melted by the past, and he heard her familiar voice, twisted into an inhuman scream.
Sollux twisted his body towards the source of the green lightning. Though the whole ordeal took only four seconds, he feared he was already too late. His guilt and sorrow took over, crushing him from the inside. Then John’s voice cut across the two-way.
“Officer Captor, I need you to listen to me. I need you to be a cop right now. This isn’t about judgement, this isn’t about revenge. You need to catch this guy, no more no less. Clear your head and take the shot. Nothing else matters.”
Something in John’s words caught Sollux, and triggered something deep inside him. As he lowered his eye to the scope of the rifle, he was totally automatic, there was no feeling, nothing at all.
The first shot missed, striking the brick behind the figure, who immediately turned to run towards the apartment's rooftop entrance. The next instant was a cacophony of noise: the single heartbeat in Sollux’s chest, the single breath he gave himself, the click of the next bullet cycling into the chamber, the wail of the ambulance coming for a doomed Feferi, and yet another peal of thunder.
As Sollux breathed out, he steadied the scope and took another shot, just as the figure was running through the doorway, the bullet passed through his leg, knocking him down the flight of stairs. Completely monotone, Sollux announced on the radio that the suspect was downed in the apartment building on LOWAA Street, and ordered all available units there immediately.
From there, everything was a blur. Sollux felt himself collapse on the rooftop, utterly overwhelmed. He lost track of time as the steady drip of rain, the crash of thunder, and the flash of lightning made a rhythm that utterly consumed him. His face was so soaked with rain and tears that he couldn’t tell where he ended and the storm began.
An eternity later, Sollux felt John’s hands on his face. The two sat there in perfect silence, letting the storm do the talking for them. As John lifted Sollux to a seated position, the two locked eyes and continued to say nothing. When John finally did speak up, he didn’t offer any words of congratulations or consolation, because he knew it wouldn’t help.
Instead he just reached out, one officer to another. As he hugged Sollux on that drenched rooftop, John tried to communicate everything he needed through that single embrace. He tried to tell Sollux that everything would be okay now, that Sollux was the best damn cop he had ever seen, and that Sollux had put a serial murderer behind bars. He hugged an extra bit that tried to say that he was deeply sorry about Feferi, that he had never felt loss like Sollux did and he couldn’t hope to understand.
And maybe, somewhere, Sollux understood all that, and he hugged back.