|APAGear II Archives||Volume 3, Number 8||September, 2001|
1 Summer 1936
Lake Clearwater, 100 km southwest of Exeter
Roland gave the engine one last burst of power, easing his small motorboat up to the wooden dock. As the boat made contact with a thump, he jumped out and secured it to the dock. He bent to pick up his bag of notebooks and instruments and then turned inland with a smile on his face. As a professor at Exeter University, he'd been looking forward to some free time to work on his project. A cute hand-carved sign by the dock proclaimed, "Welcome to the Isle of the Stoneheads!"
As if it wasn't obvious.
A dozen of the massive heads loomed in the distance. The long shadows cast by the afternoon sun accentuated their features, giving them an ominous look--a collection of familiar gods frozen in a landscape. At his first glance, Roland saw that something was wrong. Their tall, proud faces were marred by indistinct patches of color, as though they were covered in patches of neon moss.
Roland broke into a run towards the nearest of the stoneheads. He let out a squeal of dismay when he saw what was. Graffiti. As his squeal turned into a low moan, Roland ran his hands across one of the stoneheads. He'd named this one Timmy, the smallest on the island. The dry paint felt cold and clammy to the touch. Roland nearly had tears in his eyes. How dare some heartless infidel harm his beloved stoneheads!
Exeter Police Station, Exeter
Officer Len Deighton reclined in his chair. His eyes and mouth were half-open. His body did not move at all, except for an occasional shallow breath and rumble of his gut. He'd reached the ultimate state of relaxation--not fully asleep, yet his mind drifted in and out of dreamlike states like a flying barnaby pulling a--
"Hey Len!" called out one of his fellow officers. "I've got something you might want to check out."
No. Not now. He wasn't ready.
The call of duty overtook his quest for naptime. Len slowly exhaled and opened his eyes. "What is it? This had better be good," he grumbled.
"I just got a call...some guy--Professor Roland-something--went to Stonehead Isle. He says there's graffiti all over the heads."
Still unwilling to move anything besides his face, Len tried to deflect the inevitable. "Huh. Ah...isn't this a tourist service matter?"
"Well, it's an act of vandalism on government property. That is illegal, you know. And he sounded quite mad about it. Ranting on about how ancient relics were being ruined so that the youth of the CNCS can't appreciate the wonders of the past, things like that. He wouldn't shut up until I told him I'd send somebody over. You're just taking up space over there, so I thought it would be a good idea if you--"
"OKAY, okay. You sure don't need any help around here?"
"Nope. You know how things have been around here." Tourism and its associated problems had tapered off dramatically after the assassination of Thor Hutchinson the cycle before. Exeter had always been virtually crime-free before anyway. "You're to meet the guy in the hotel at 2200. Room six."
"Six. All right, I'm on my way. See you later."
Len drove his patrol car along the southern edge of Lake Clearwater. The stoneheads he'd been called to investigate were on an island cut off from the mainland, but he didn't feel like taking a long boat trip. There was a small tourist town on the bank of the lake that offered transportation to the island, which was only a few kilometers offshore. He wondered what the fuss was about the stoneheads. In all likelihood, they'd never find out who painted them. The stoneheads would eventually be cleaned off, making the whole thing a time-consuming, expensive but relatively harmless affair.
After an hour of driving, Len arrived at the town, creatively named "Stonehead Village." Normally busy this time of year, it looked almost deserted. It wasn't much of a town now--just a few shops and restaurants--but it had been expected to grow rapidly. Well, that was before the assassination. And now there was trouble brewing in the South...it would be a while before things returned to normal. If ever.
Len quickly located the Stonehead Hotel. He entered the building and knocked on one of the room doors. A short, balding, white-haired man opened the door.
"Ah, hello. I'm Roland Choa. You're here to check out the stoneheads, is that right?"
"Yeah. I've got some incident forms for you to fill out. And I need to see the damages done sometime."
"Why don't we go see the stoneheads now?" asked the man, with a hint of pleading in his voice.
Len glanced outside. The sky was turning into a rich golden color as Helios set, but there was still plenty of light. "Sure, why not?"
Lake Clearwater was not particularly rough, but the small boat bucked in the waves as the two men made their way to Stonehead Isle. To take his mind off his heaving stomach, Len talked to Roland about the island.
"So, do you go here often?"
Roland nodded emphatically. "Oh yes. I've always loved the island. It's so beautiful, you know. I've been visiting more often now...I'm working on a project for the university. Proportions of the stoneheads relating to real human heads. Fascinating work, especially with precise instruments."
Len wondered if the stories about stoneheads being mind-control devices were true.
When they reached the island, Helios had set completely. As the glow at the horizon began to fade, Len and Roland walked towards the stoneheads. Roland was sputtering with anger at what had been done to them. "It's disgraceful! Absolutely horrifying! I don't understand why anyone would want to do this kind of thing!"
Len said nothing, turning on his flashlight to get a better view in the darkness. The beam illuminated some of the stoneheads and the graffiti painted on them. Len was not impressed. It wasn't even good graffiti, like some of the stuff he'd seen on the Trideo. This looked quick and crude...no real shapes or letters, just random squiggles of spray paint. What was all the fuss about? He moved in among the stoneheads, sweeping the flashlight beam across their dark shapes. Some of the stoneheads weren't even--
His peripheral vision caught a quick, bright flash as his ears registered a sharp crack. Crack, crack! Two more. Len automatically dove into the dirt, yelling "GUN!" He wasn't sure if Roland had heard him, but his senses were too overloaded for his mouth to say anything else. Awkwardly, he drew his 9 mm pistol from his side--his first time since the training range--and brought it up to aim. His detached brain tried to analyze the situation, but he could only focus on the gun...chamber empty, safety off, finger off trigger! He didn't know where the shots had come from--they had since faded away. He didn't know where to point the pistol. Still, he held it up in his outstretched arm for a long time...until he could only hear his own heavy breathing and the sound of wind blowing through the stoneheads.
To be continued...
|APAGear II Archives||Volume 3, Number 8||September, 2001|
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