Dead men dont cry a shor.., p.3
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       Dead Men Don't Cry: A Short Story, p.3
 

           Nancy Fulda
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  Joseph Manuelo Rannen seemed older in death than he had in life. He lay covered with a sheet in the autopsy room, looking like a wax statue with the wrinkles edged deep. Wisps of hair swirled around his balding head. Kimball couldn’t shake the feeling that the dead man’s eyes were watching him from beneath their closed lids.

  “...coronary failure,” the autopsy technician said, concluding a rambling stream of medical jargon. “His heart just gave out.”

  “From tetanizer shocks?” Kimball asked dubiously. The default tetanizer setting delivered weaker current than a typical static shock after walking across a shag carpet, but with a pulse frequency that mimicked the neural triggers for skeletal muscles. Kimball could not believe that such weak stimuli had stopped Rannen’s heart.

  “Well, the subject was hit by several beams simultaneously,” the tech said uncertainly. “It’s possible that they — well, actually the muscle tension they triggered, not the beams themselves — put an increased strain on his heart. But we’re leaning more towards the theory that his heart had already begun to fail before he fired on the ambassador, that the two events occurred at the same time by coincidence.” The tech did not sound unduly convinced of his own hypothesis.

  Kimball frowned. There was missing information here, but he didn’t know what it was, and he didn’t know enough about medicine to even begin looking for it. So he used one of the information-gathering tricks he had learned as Rannen’s assistant: he kept his mouth shut, raised one eyebrow slightly, and stared intently at the tech for several seconds.

  The tech began to look uncomfortable, shuffled his feet, and broke eye contact. “Well, I know the probabilities are pretty weak,” he said, “but the subject’s medical record does show a history of heart problems. And since we couldn’t find a correlation for the left deltoid inflammation... ”

  “The left delta what?”

  “The inflammation I just told you about,” the tech said. He pulled the bed sheet down to reveal a small reddish patch on Rannen’s shoulder. To Kimball it looked like a coin-sized scrap of sunburn.

  “The healing analysis shows that this burn is recent,” the tech explained. “It might have been caused by anything — a brush against a hot water pipe, a cooking accident, a plasma-bee bite — but it’s consistent with the entry pattern for a high current tetanizer shot. Chief Sanderson already investigated that option, though, and so electrocution has been ruled out as a cause of death.”

  Kimball turned his practiced arched-eyebrowed gaze onto Sanderson. It wasn’t so effective on the security chief, who looked neither sheepish nor disgruntled, just annoyed. “If you had actually read my report instead of just flipping through it, Commissioner,” he said, “you would already know about the autopsy results and the gun check we did on the security guards. None of the weapons were drained enough to have been used at full power. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.”

  He left, and it was Kimball’s turn to feel sheepish. He had asked Sanderson to walk him back along the trail of the investigation because he had wanted to come at the information fresh, not predisposed by Sanderson’s stitched-together conclusions. But his approach had clearly backfired. He’d irritated his colleague and potential ally, and the autopsy tech — whose assistance he might need later — was now convinced that he was an ignorant doofus.

  Kimball stared at the dead man’s eyelids, unable to shake the feeling that they were mocking him. Could Sanderson be right? Could Rannen’s final act have been one of defiance? Might Kimball’s reluctance to sign the report be the result of a subconscious wish for the treaty attempt to fail?

  A shiver crept up his spine.

  This was not Kimball’s first experience with death, not even the death of someone close to him. But Rannen had been more than just a friend. He had been one of the last of the old timers, that nearly extinct group of colonists who remembered living in the cramped quarters of the generation ship. The last ones who knew what it felt like to step onto a new world — an entire planet — and claim it as your frontier: The place where you could undo the mistakes of yesterday, fulfill the promises of tomorrow and escape the overburdened, overweighted bureaucracy of your culture.

  Rannen had lived for that dream. He had watched it die when the Earth men appeared with their newly developed faster-than-light propulsion and began to wrap their fear-strengthened fingers around the colony. Step by step, concession by concession, the Council had let the dream be squandered by necessity. They’d allowed the overbearing presence of the Earth-men to intimidate them until the visionary hope of the first colonists was no more than a faint flicker in the hearts of old men like Rannen.

  Something burned, hot and stinging, behind Kimball’s eyes. Hurriedly, he clutched the somewhat battered report in both hands and fled the autopsy room.

 
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