Chapter Three: Calisto Sets The Scene
“Don’t say, son. Whatever you do, don’t say, son…”
The person in front of Calisto did not seem happy to see them. Calisto was sitting in a recently reassembled tent, waiting for Chief Shepherd Úna. Sam, the person who had been tasked to keep Calisto company, was very agitated, thumping their foot against the ground impatiently as they waited.
This reaction was typical. Sometimes Calisto thought that nobody ever called them with good news. That was an exaggeration, of course. They had to remind themselves that their partner Nyx had phoned them just this morning about their family receiving a better housing assignment in the mishigami healthcare collective, which had a view of the Reformed Lakes and everything. Calisto had many things to be thankful for: a passionate partner, inquiring children, good health.
Their job, though, could be a challenge. People only called for an independent CRS when there was a problem. Only when herd relations had broken down, or, like what had happened in this case, when the herd didn’t have a choice in the matter.
A murder. They’d happen occasionally, but they were never pretty, and there was always trauma to unpack. It’s why Calisto liked to follow their training and take things slow. Wait for people to grow accustomed to them first — isn’t that what their mentor Sirius always stressed?
“So you’re the community repair specialist they sent?” Sam said at last. “The Confederacy,” Sam added, with perhaps a hint of judgment.
Calisto maintained a neutral face, but they were happy Sam had decided to talk. At least angry words revealed something interesting, though Sirius would chide that even silence hid something. Let’s see, they were frustrated. They clearly distrusted outsiders and were angry, presumably because of the murder. But also something else. There were probably other factors intersecting with this reality, buried beneath the surface.
“I am,” Calisto responded. “Murder is an incident the Confederacy thinks people from outside the herd should assist with. But don’t worry. I will be sharing responsibilities with your herd’s Chief Shepherd and CRS. This isn’t a takeover.”
Sam nodded at this. “And you are here to catch the trash who did this?”
There was a crack in Sam’s voice as they said this. Calisto could hear Sirius’s smugness inside their head. “See, Cal? See how much you can learn through the sheer act of waiting?” This loss moved Sam. It had taken them by surprise. Calisto filed them away as most likely not an initiating party but someone who needed care nonetheless.
Calisto replied: “I am here to gather a record of what happened. That’s all for now.”
“By Gaia, you sound like the other one,” Sam huffed.
“Are you referring to Strummer? Salem’s CRS?” inquired Calisto. An insider’s impression of Salem’s CRS — now that was something Calisto wanted to hear. There was only so much that reports could get you, after all.
“I just saw her. She’s trying to be calm like you,” continued Sam, “The Fallen-loving witch. I hate her for it sometimes. And I don’t like the Confederacy and exos like you being in our business like this. Why are you even here? We don’t need an outsider telling us what to do.”
Calisto opened their mouth but pressed down hard on their lips a second later and said nothing. They were used to being called an exo. The Confederacy was meant to be open to all, but in-group behavior hadn’t gone away. A part of them wanted to tell this defensive trash that trauma didn’t give them an excuse to dump on someone trying to help, but they could hear Sirius mocking them for this impulse already and thought better of it. More productive to let Sam sit on what they had just said.
“Sorry,” Sam said a few seconds of silence later. “I don’t know why I’m acting like this.”
“You’ve just experienced a loss,” Calisto said as neutrally as they could. “You have the right to feel unsettled by it. The right to be hurt about things left unsaid.” Calisto gave the smallest of smirks at this advice. Interactions like this made them feel like the bad calls were worth it sometimes.
Within moments of this comment, Sam’s emotional wall burst open. They bawled tears that streamed down their cheeks. “We dated, you know, Halden and me,” Sam cried. “It ended years ago, before his latest polycule, but I don’t know. I always thought….” They did not complete their thought, gasping for air in that way people do when the pain becomes too much.
It was around then that Chief Shepherd Úna walked in. She gave Sam a conciliatory hug, her large, muscular arms enveloping Sam like a blanket over a child.
Úna seemed too fine. Calisto could tell immediately that Úna was still in the period before grief, where you believe that if you could just keep moving fast enough, you don’t have to deal with your pain. Her cheeks were red but not puffy. “Boy is this one going to be a tough cookie,” they heard Sirius joke.
“You’re dismissed, Shepherd Azule,” Úna said softly.
Sam, unable to speak, nodded and scurried out of the tent.
“Working already, I see, Community Repair Specialist Calisto,” Úna said after Sam was out of earshot. “Go easy on them. They are new.”
“Merely having a conversation,” Calisto said matter-of-factly. “How are you holding up, Úna? You know you don’t have to be the one that does this.”
“No, we are not doing that. I want you to find the Fallen piece of trash that did this, not psychoanalyze me.”
Calisto had to stop themselves from grimacing at the outdated term. Corrections did not work on people processing grief or, in Úna’s case, suppressing it. “I shall respect your boundaries. Can you show me where you found your son’s body?”
Calisto could tell that the word son had hurt Úna there. “Say nothing,” Sirius advised. Úna paused for a moment, looking like she was about to express herself, but she went back to placing it inside. “This way,” she said.
They made their way to a patch of empty grass weighed down, presumably by the pressure of Halden’s corpse that had been there. Halden was on top of a burial pile of sticks several feet away to satisfy the funeral ritual of Gaiaverse, the herd Salem’s dominant religion.
“Sorry,” Úna said, embarrassed. “I know we weren’t supposed to move it. Things progressed quicker than I could manage them.”
“These things happen,” Calisto counseled. “Will Mrs. Strummer be joining us? I pinged her, and she hasn’t gotten back to me, and I could really use her perspective on this….” — Calisto had to stop themselves from saying the word “murder” — “…situation.”
“Strummer’s a little overwhelmed at the moment,” Úna replied. “Most of the herd’s therapists are, well, they were at a conference. She and the junior CRS are handling backup until the therapists return later today.”
“No matter. I’ll coordinate with her later. I’ve already read the initial victim report she prepared. It says footsteps were leading to and from the body.”
“It’s the center of camp. Footsteps are everywhere.”
”Fair enough. And the note, the suspected murderer wrote, it was found in their hand?”
Calisto looked at Haldan’s dirt-stained fingertips. It still did not get any easier to see someone so young dead. His skin had still not yet given way to the decay of death. Haldan’s expression was one of terror. Every breath had been forced out of his body as the poison passed through his system. His stiff, muscular hands looked like they had been holding onto the paper for dear life. The killer must have had a hard time slipping the note inside.
Calisto had read the message beforehand. Strummer had archived it in her initial report. “He won’t be the last.” It was not written in his handwriting.
“Whoever the killer or killers were, they wanted us to know about it, clearly.”
“The trash,” Úna said angrily.
“No one saw him collapse? No one recognized him?”
“Everyone was so busy preparing to leave. I think people assumed whoever was there had been napping,” Úna said. She looked sad as if the weight of the moment had suddenly hit her.
Calisto ignored it. Úna was apparently someone who didn’t appreciate prodding. “So someone poisons him. And then moves the body in the center camp, in a way that avoids outside suspicion.”
Calisto tossed a small sphere into the air. It was a droid that floated there like gravity did not affect it. A bright blue, shimmering aura was pulsating around it. “Sirius,” Calisto ordered, “Begin Standard Victim Scene Analyze.” The droid did not say anything, but its blue light started scanning the ground for various foot impressions and other discrepancies.
“You named your droid after a star system. An amateur astrologist, are you?” Úna chided.
Calisto smirked. “After a friend, actually. He passed away not too long ago. Does the name bother you? I can change it for the duration of my mission.”
“No,” Úna said coldly, clearly bothered by the reference to death.
“Besides, I do love space,” Calisto continued. There was silence at this remark. Calisto pressed on. “So, Strummer indicated poison in his bloodstream. Cyanide. I am not intimately familiar with Gaiaverse traditions. Will I be violating your burial rites if I examine your…”
“Don’t say, son. Whatever you do, don’t say, son,” she heard Sirius advise.
Úna, still uncomfortable, said, “No. As long as part of him is touching the sticks, he’ll be…fine. You’re not going to cut into him, are you?” She said this as if trying to pose an indifferent question, like giving orders as Chief Shepherd on any normal day, but her voice was cracking, and her eyes were now indeed watery.
“No, we hardly need to nowadays. I’ll scan him gently, examine his skin, and that will be that.”
“That’s good,” Úna gulped.
Calisto started to undress Halden, cutting his clothes off with a pair of tiny, precision scissors that emerged from their suit. Úna grimaced at this, having to turn away. “If you’ll excuse me, I…I have work to do,” she stated, doing her best to stay strong.
“Of course,” Calisto said calmly as they snapped pictures from a camera on their suit. “Oh, before you go. If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to assemble the herd for a meeting tonight to explain the timeline for my mission. Could we coordinate after I do the examination?”
Úna simply nodded and scurried off.
“Okay, Sirius, my friend,” Calisto stated warmly. “Let us begin.”
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