The dark doesn't bother me. It's soft on the eyes and allows you to concentrate more fully on your other senses. When I walk into a room where I've been asked to perform an investigation, often I'll close my eyes and listen as the air currents move around the walls and sniff at the air. It's interesting how, with your eyes closed, the other senses translate themselves into a visual sort of representation. With my eyes open I can see with only my eyes, but with my eyes closed I can see with my ears, my nose, or the tips of my fingers.
I'm a detective for the Collected Provincial Administration, the CPA, which is in charge of loosely governing most of the outlying planetary systems in our region. I enjoy it because I get to travel around more than most planet-bound constables do, and since it's considered that I do an adequately professional job, I usually get to have my pick of the really interesting cases. Like the present case I'm on.
I rode a cargo transport from Brelton Hub to Janston five days ago and from there hired a small planet hopper taxi to ferry me out to a little backwater gravity well called Hooper's Point. My taxi driver only spoke English, like most of them do, so I couldn't make out much of what he said about the little sponge of a planet except that it had lots of green trees. That sounded good to me after having spent the last five months on a frozen desert planet investigating a series of rapes. I caught the guy but before we could get him to trial he somehow stepped outside an air lock without any warm clothing on. We found his naked body frozen to the lock handle still trying to get inside even in death. Most places I visit are like that. I find the bad guy and the locals take care of him in their own way.
My taxi driver (he said his name was Mike, but that's what they're all named) orbited Hooper's Point a couple times before dipping into the well, and I found myself looking down on a jewel of a planet. Blue oceans, small ice caps, and nine major continents all covered in green.
"Nice place," I said.
Mike nodded and said, "Jyeah."
I did my best not to smirk at him. I think I've been in too many taxis.
Once down, Mike wedged on a baseball hat, grabbed my luggage, and jumped out of the hatch. From the open door I felt a wet heat roll into the cabin with a musty green smell to it that spoke of trees, swamps, and masses of living things. The local constable was outside waiting for me, listening to Mike jabber on about unfair tariffs.
I paid Mike to make him go away, and the constable led me into a small reception and decontamination area.
"Name's Jaffey," he said. "Been here six years, almost since colonization."
I nodded and said, "Nice to meet you. I'm Chen Klein, CPA detective."
Jaffey nodded, "I've been expecting you. You heard anything about the case?"
I shook my head and answered, "Not much. Just that a bunch of women are either dead or close enough to it that it doesn't matter."
Jaffey nodded again and said, "I would say that those who died had it easy. It's the living that I feel sorry for. Feel sorry for their families even more."
I waited for him to go on, but he stopped and looked uncomfortable. He fingered his collar and turned a bit red, and then said, "Well, why don't I show them to you so you can see for yourself. "
I shrugged and said, "Lead the way."
We went to the morgue first. In my last job, bodies were just piled outside an air lock and within half an hour or so, they were frozen solid as a rock. But here in the warm, humid air, that would be a very stinky mistake. The morgue was cold and dry. Jaffey pulled open a drawer and wheeled out a very dead young woman in her twenties with long blond hair and a tight sexy little body. She was heavily bruised on her lower abdomen, and her crotch was shredded into ragged strips of skin. I winced at it, wishing I didn't have to see things like this. Her breasts were bruised, especially around the nipples, and on her face, where I expected to see an expression of agony, I found a look of ecstasy. She died with a smile on her face despite the damage to her body."
I asked, "Was she raped?"
Jaffey shook his head. "No," he said, "She did this to herself."
He looked uncomfortable. "Some of the dead have passed on quickly," he said, "but she was one that hung on for quite a while."
From there we went to the local planetary hospital to see some of the ones that were still among the living.
Jaffey stopped in the waiting room and introduced me to Dr. Shonka the physician attending the women. She shook my hand in the old fashioned way, and said, "Call me Mell. Dr. Shonka always makes me cringe." She was lovely. She stood just taller than my shoulder with long, wavy, auburn hair that framed a perfect face. Her eyes caught me. They were golden colored, almost metallic, and they sparkled as she moved them between me and constable Jaffey.
"Nice to meet you, Mell," I said, smiling. Working with her would be a pleasure.
Jaffey coughed. "You wouldn't mind, sir, if I waited down here? I'd rather not go up."
Mell patted him on the shoulder and said, "I'm sorry Jak, I know how hard this is for you. I'll take Detective Klein up."
Jaffey's shoulders hung and he mumbled, "Thanks."
"Call me Chen," I said as she led me into the hospital. "Why's this hard for him? Is he related to one of the victims?"
Mell nodded. "You'll see her in there. His sister was one of the first victims."
She led me along a hallway, stopped at a doorway, and turned back to me. She was biting her lower lip and considering my face. "This'll be pretty intense," she said. "If we can't figure this out, some of these women will die. These are all good women, most of them my friends. Chen, be kind to them please."
She pushed open the door, and I was met by a wall of sound. All the voices were of women in ecstasy. Moans and sighs and cries of pure pleasure were all mingled together into a tapestry of erotic music. The floor and walls were padded, and covered with naked women writhing and slithering against each other. Mouths and tongues and fingers and toes were madly rubbing and pounding crotches and breasts. It was a thirty woman orgy. All of them were young and pretty. All of them were covered in bruises, self inflicted, or caused by a hands or mouths of other women as they gave each other pleasure.
Mell pointed to a pretty girl, tall and lithe, with nice large breasts that she was tweaking while another woman licked and chewed on her pussy. Her eyes were closed, and her mouth was open wide as she cried out in orgasm. "That's the constable's sister, Jerah. Go touch her on the shoulder and see what happens."
I waded through the room, careful not to step on any bare body parts and touched Jerah on the shoulder. Her eyes flew open, and she screamed out something intelligible. She let go of her nipples and grabbed the woman licking her by the hair and mashed her face into her pussy. The woman sucking her redoubled her efforts, licking and nibbling, sucking and kissing Jerah's pussy lips.
Mell was right about this being intense. I felt myself getting hard as my vision was filled with naked women having sex. Mell must have noticed that I was reacting, so she led me back out into the hallway where we sat down on a bench.
"This isn't a virus?" I asked, "Or some kind of drug or chemical imbalance? Could it be a native fruit they're eating or an insect that bit them? Why am I here, Dr. Shonka?"
"It's not a virus," she answered. "It's not something they ate or something that bit them, although it could be some kind of drug. If it is a drug though, it hasn't left any trace in their system. According to all of our tests, those women in there are perfectly healthy and fine. Their only symptoms are their sexual activity and their state of catatonia otherwise. Their skin seems to be in a state of hyper sensitivity. That's why I had you touch Jerah. None of them would have noticed you otherwise."
"What about the dead ones?" I asked, "What did they die from."
Mell shrugged and shook her head. "Maybe they wear out, and die from exhaustion. Maybe it's something that kills them. The ones that die usually go into a frenzy much more intense than what you saw in there just before they collapse. I'm still working on figuring out the mechanics of this. Your part, the part we need you for, is to find out what they have in common so we can pinpoint the cause."
I nodded. "I'll do what I can, but this isn't something that I normally deal with. I'm mostly just a police man like your constable."
"You come with very high recommendations though, Detective Klein." Her smile was sad and tired.
She gave me the list of names and addresses of the women and led me back down to constable Jaffey.
"Let me know how you get along, Chen, and I'll keep you up to date on my work." Mell smiled and shook my hand again. "I'm glad to have met you."
"My pleasure," I mumbled, and kissed her hand in the proper fashion. I think she blushed. Well, different places have different styles.
Jaffey took me down to the constabulary office and we went over the list of names together.
"The doctor said that your sister was one of the first." I said gently.
Have you found any connections between her case and the other women?
He sighed. "The only thing that seems to be a common theme is that they're all young women who are generally considered to be pretty. None of them are younger than seventeen and none of them are older than thirty-two. Considering their symptoms, I've asked questions about their sex lives, and all of them seemed to be healthy. None of them were virgins before this happened. None of them showed any signs of being overly preoccupied with sex, and most of them either have boyfriends or are married. They were all normal, healthy and happy women before this happened. Fifteen are dead now. The only good news about any of this is that we haven't had a new case for about ten days. Up till then we were getting two or three new ones a day.
"One other interesting thing," he said, "is that as this thing progressed it seemed to get stronger. The first to show symptoms are all mostly still alive, but the last five girls only lasted a day or two before they died.
"It stopped ten days ago?" I asked
"You've checked the shipping logs? Entrances and exits?"
He nodded again. "No pattern that I could see. Nobody has left the planet for the last thirty days, and all cargo shipments were transferred up in orbit automatically. You and Mike the taxi pilot are the only ones who have come dirtside in the last sixty days."
"Does Mike come often?"
"Just when he brought you."
We went over the list of women and picked out the first five to show symptoms. "We'll start on these tomorrow," I said. Two were dead, but the other three were still alive having sex back at the hospital. One of them was Jaffey's sister.
Jaffey dropped me and my luggage off at the visitors lodge and promised to meet me there early the next day. I flopped on my bed and rummaged through the visitor pamphlets. Visit Hooper's Point! they shouted. Come see the Cloud Waterfall. Hike through our virgin forests and hunt for Shigger beasts. A Shigger beast it seems is a fat antelope like animal with large brown eyes and vicious teeth that tastes just like beef but better.
I read an amusing account of a hunting party where four off worlders were lost in the forest for six days before finding their way back tired and sore. The moral of the story was to hire local guides at 15 credits an hour or you might end up just like them.
Finally I settled down to a nature book cataloging the local flora and fauna of Hooper's Point. It was mostly trees and things that lived in, around, under, or over trees, like birds and fungus, and Shigger beasts and burrowing cats and other things. I fell asleep in the middle of a description of a scaly yellow bat that ate bird eggs.
When Jaffey arrived in the morning, I was up and ready to go. He handed me the list and I read through it as he drove.
Mishey Tenkons, age 23.
Kallin Jeppeson, age 18. Dead.
Jerah Jaffey, age 26.
Hephre Jeppeson, age 23. Dead.
Denne Kinderoff, age 20.
"Are Kallin and Hephre related?" I asked.
"They were sisters."
"Are any of the other girls related?"
"There's one other set of sisters. Other than that, no, none of them are related."
"Hmm," I said. "Lets go see the Jeppeson family first.
Hooper's Point was only an eight year old colony with a population of about 46 thousand. Most of them lived locally in or around the town called Hooper's Point. All of the sick or dead girls were local. We drove through town and out into the trees to a small homesteading community where the Jeppesons lived. They had a log house, nice and trim, with a neat yard and a big garden out back.
Jaffey knocked on the door and Mrs. Jeppeson let us in.
We asked lots of questions. When did they get sick? Who were they with? Did it happen suddenly or did it gradually appear? Poor Mrs. Jeppeson sent her girls off to clean the barn, and when they didn't come back, she went looking, and found them rolling around in the hay in a tight, grunting, slurping sixty-nine. They stayed that way for a day and a half before she could bear to even tell her husband about it. She was intensely embarrassed, and now she was intensely sad.
"If only I'd known from the beginning that this was something wrong and not my girls being bad, I would have done something sooner, and then they might still be alive."
We gleaned a few nuggets from her.
Hephre had a boy friend, and they both had gone to visit him the day before they went crazy. His name was Mike Willson, an English that for once wasn't a taxi pilot.
We found him at home setting up a satellite dish next to his log cabin. He invited us in and handed out drinks. My glass was full of something orange that smelled sweet and looked syrupy. I watched Jaffey, and he didn't seem to recognize it any more than I did.
"What is this?" I asked.
"Jana juice from the Jana tree," he said. "It grows out past the Cloud Waterfall. My friend Jemmy Perce brings them back in his carryall and we make juice out of it. Try it. It tastes great."
I sipped mine and found that while the taste was delicious and light, the texture of the stuff was a bit too slimy for my liking. When I swallowed it, I felt it tingle all the way down. I set mine down on the table and left it there. Jaffey liked it though and drank his all the way down.
Mike said, "We've been thinking of marketing it, but it's too hard to gather, and there just aren't very many of the trees around. We pretty much gave up getting rich from it."
Jana juice. Could it be?
I asked him, "Before the girls got sick, did they drink any of the juice?"
"Yeah", he nodded, "They were both over here the day before, and they both had some. I see where you're going. Like maybe it's the juice causing all this, but I don't think so. My kid sister has been drinking this juice for the last year, and she hasn't had any problems at all."
"Make a list for me of all the people you might have given this to just in case, and I'll take some back with me and have Dr. Shonka take a look at it.
Back at the hospital, Mell looked tired. I handed the Jana juice to her, and she said, "I've heard of it, but never tried it."
"It tastes good, but it's a little slimy. It also might be what's causing this thing, so don't drink any."
She looked at it sadly, and then sat down. "Another one died today. You saw her yesterday. She was the one doing things to Jaffey's sister."
I lifted her chin and smiled at her. "I have a couple more interviews today, but afterward would you like to have lunch with me?"
Her face brightened, and her eyes filled with tears, but she nodded yes.
Jaffey and I went out again and interviewed the family of Mishey Tenkons. She was newly married, and we found her husband bitter and angry.
"Well, I'm glad she's not dead at least. I was out working in the field with a friend of mine, and we both came inside to get something to eat and found Mishey naked on the living room floor rubbing herself as fast and as hard as she could. When she saw us she jumped up and attacked my friend. She threw her arms around his neck and humped her legs up around him and started rubbing her pussy against his crotch. I yelled at her and peeled her off, so she sat down on the floor and had an orgasm in front of us."
I mumbled something empathetic to him and then asked, "Do you know what Jana juice is?"
"Yeah, sure, I got some from Mike Willson. He's my friend that Mishey jumped on."
"Really," I said, feeling a rush go through me. "And did she every have any of the juice?"
"Mishey? No, she wouldn't drink any. She said it looked and smelled like thick pee."
Later, as Mell and I sat at a table eating lunch, we talked over the details. The day before the Jeppeson girls went crazy they both had Jana juice with Mike Willson. Mishey Tenkons, never drank any, but her husband was a friend of Mike and liked the taste of Jana Juice. When we interviewed Denne Kinderoff's family we found that she had tried some Jana juice a two weeks before she went crazy and was found running around naked chasing the family dog trying to get it to service her. Neither she nor her boyfriend new Mike Willson, but her boyfriend got his supply of Jana juice from a mutual friend.
Mell said that she had run some tests on the juice and had found an interesting mixture of acids and sugars, but nothing that jumped out as obviously threatening.
We talked together for a long time, and I found myself enjoying the way she phrased things and the way she formed her words. She had a slight accent that I couldn't place, and her eyes were captivating.
Customs are very important where I come from. One of them is that when you eat with a female guest, you cut her food for her. My parents told me it's an old custom from before there was space travel. Who knows where it comes from, but when used properly it can be a pretty erotic thing.
The trouble was convincing Mell that she should let me. It seemed to embarrass her, and she blushed very prettily. I paid attention to her, cutting three or four pieces at a time and watching as she ate and enjoyed her food, and then cutting a few more. She tried cutting my food, but I told her it wasn't proper, so we talked and ate, and I cut. By the end of the meal she was really warming up, and even touched my hand for a couple of brief seconds, feathery light and smooth. I felt my head spin slightly as her gold flecked eyes gazed into mine.
"Mell," I said, "Have you every tried Jana juice? You've really got to, it tastes wonderful."
Mell sat back in her chair and her expression changed.
"Are you feeling ok, Chen?" She asked.
"Never felt more alive in my life," I said. "I think I'm in love with you, by the way." I stood up from the table and tried to spin myself around, but I tripped over a chair, crashed into a neighboring table and ended up lying on the floor looking up at the ceiling. Things went a bit hazy after that.
I woke up in the hospital feeling horribly embarrassed. I could remember everything I did and everything I said, but for the life of me, I couldn't remember why I did it. Yes, I found Mell attractive, but I went far out of line with her.
When she came into my room and stood by my bed, I apologized to her, asked her forgiveness, told her I was a worm, and hoped she didn't think I was horrible.
She laid her hand on mine and said softly, "Chen, up to the point where you started spinning around the room, I had a wonderful time. I don't think I'd mind too much if you fell in love with me." She lifted my hand and kissed it.
I was speechless. Didn't know what to say.
Mell smiled and asked, "Do you have any idea what happened at the restaurant?"
I shook my head and said, "No clue. Maybe the Jana juice?"
She looked thoughtful. "Maybe. When I looked at it, I checked it for poisons and didn't find any, but I'll have to check it for other things."
"If it was the Jana juice, I wasn't the only one that tried it. Constable Jaffey drank his whole glass while I just sipped mine." I got up off the bed. "I better go check him."
It took some work to find him. He wasn't in his office, and the secretary there couldn't reach him on his radio. She finally checked out a patrol car to me and gave me his home address. I bumbled around the suburbs for half an hour and finally found his house at the end of a shady, tree lined road. Jaffey was laying out in his front yard naked and snoring like a log.
I got one of his arms around my neck and dragged him inside his house, found a blanket and covered him up, and then got some coffee to wake him up.
He looked up at me with bleary eyes and said, "I'm an idiot."
"That's funny," I said. "I was just telling Dr. Shonka the same thing."
He sighed and said, "Either my girl friend is now my fiancé or she's never going to speak to me again."
He wouldn't tell me what happened although he said it was horrible. "I was watching myself do and say things that I knew I shouldn't but I couldn't control myself. I've never felt anything like it before."
"Get dressed," I said. "I think we need to pay Mike Willson another visit."
Mike was out in his back field mending a fence. He saw us park in his driveway, and waved us back toward him. "Do you mine if I work while we talk? I had Shigger beasts tearing up my field all night last night. I've been trying to grow Jana trees here in the field, but the Shigger beasts keep eating them."
"Mike," I said, "I had a reaction to the Jana juice you gave me. So did constable Jaffey. Did you know it would happen? Why didn't you warn us?"
Mike laughed. "Oh yeah, I forgot. The first time you drink it, it'll make you a bit dizzy, but it's only the first time. After that, you're body gets used to it I guess."
"When the Jeppeson girls got sick, was it the first time they tried Jana juice?"