Something stirred in the gloomy shadows that seemed to be everywhere in this town. She wasn’t quite certain what it was but she was sure she didn’t want to find out. She reached into her jacket and withdrew a small black pistol. It fitted snugly into her hand and she felt safe having it with her. After three shots in the trash heap that protected the cowering animal, she felt assured that whatever it was, it was no longer a threat to anyone.

With four quick strides she reached the end of the alley where she looked round and returned the pistol to its holster. The sickly hot wind howled round the corner almost knocking her to the floor. In the process she stooped low enough for the light from a nearby streetlight to shine onto her bare left shoulder. Etched into the back of it was a tattoo of an elaborate red serpent. After bracing herself for what was to come, she stepped out into the street.

No sooner had she done so did she regret ever having come to this town. It appeared that the alley wasn’t as empty as she had perceived.

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Two shots. That’s all that it took to literally blow her mind, ensuring that she would never see the light of day again. As the steps of her attacker faded into the distance, a deathly silence settled on that dark alley leaving only a feeling of death as her body slowly began to decay. There it would remain for two days, lifeless, alone. But then, she was –

Part Two – The Mystery

“Freeze! Police!”

Two shots echoed down the alley and struck the attacker flat in the back of the head. She dark brown hair parted only a little to let the deadly bullet strike its target. The victim did not falter and she did not show any pain at the metal projectile that had shattered her fragile existence. Instead she stood lifeless as though hanging in the balance between what her life had been before and what was inevitably to come.

“There’s just something missing about this,” muttered Harris under his breath.

Paul Harris was about six foot three with short cut blonde hair and eyes that his friends informed him could pierce through anyone he interrogated, something that came in handy in his line of work.

He heard footsteps from behind him as he holstered his weapon but he didn’t turn to see who it was.

“Yeah, the third dimension!” shouted Edgar Willis, the armourer.

“You’re just saying that because you can’t believe that I shot that girl in the head twice from fifty metres!” replied Harris as he turned to face Willis. He felt a twang of guilt pass through his brain but quickly suppressed it before it could worm itself into his conscious mind – one did not do so well in his job if his conscience came into play every time he fired his weapon.

“You shot well but don’t get big-headed,” cautioned Willis as he approached the girl. When he reached where she stood he turned to Harris and said: “They sure do make these simulations life-like don’t they? I still can’t believe that it’s not real myself, and I’m supposed to be running this place!”

“If you’re supposed to be running this place then why’d you come down here to see a ‘lowly trainee’?” joked Harris.

“Not just to compliment you, that’s for sure,” grinned Willis. He liked Harris but he couldn’t quite work out why. He didn’t spend enough time with him to get to know him well but yet he still felt like a kind of mentor to the young agent. “The Director wants to see you in his office right now.”

“Oh great, another case. I can’t wait,” said Harris sarcastically as he turned towards the door, which had just appeared, to his left.

Willis strode towards the door and pushed a button on a panel beside it before walking through it. Harris followed him through and Willis grunted.

“You always enjoy them but yet you still make it seem like they’re the worst thing that could ever happen to you. Me, I’m stuck here all year without a hope of getting out and solving crimes like you,” sighed Willis as he started down the corridor, the alley behind them vanishing a few moments after the two had walked through the door.

“See you next week, Edgar,” said Harris before striding off down the corridor.

“I’ll be waiting,” muttered Willis under his breath as he set off back towards the door that he had come from.

“Sit down, Agent,” ordered the Director.

Harris did as he was told. The Director’s office was expensively furnished but only with a few items. The walls were hidden by glossy wood panels and aside from the odd side table or lamp the room was bare save for a large antique desk piled high with mountains of papers that looked anything but organised. Harris felt sorry for any secretary that had to attempt to bring order to such a chaotic workspace.

“What have you got for me, Sir?” asked Harris.

The Director spun around in his chair, got up and wandered over to a large flat-screen screen hung on the far wall. He pressed a button on the side of it, which activated the screen to show the bureau’s logo displayed in the centre of the screen. After a few seconds a picture of a girl with dark brown shoulder-length hair appeared on the screen. Harris couldn’t see the rest of her body – only her head and shoulders – but he had a nagging feeling at the back of his head that told him that he’d seen this girl before.

“A young woman was murdered last night in a back alley just outside Tokyo city centre -”

“Tokyo, sir?” Harris blurted out

“Yes, Agent, Tokyo in Japan. I know it sounds like it’s nothing to do with us but you’ll see why in a minute,” explained the Director. “Like I said, this young woman was murdered in this alley by an unknown assailant of which we have found no trace. This is the only picture that could be found of her and it’s only from a surveillance camera not that far from the alley where her body was found. The Tokyo police force have been working on the case since just after the incident occurred because they received a call from another unknown party telling them where to find the dead body. They’ve determined from forensic tests that the weapon used was of American origin – specifically from this very bureau – and what’s more is that they’ve tied it down to your weapon.”

“My weapon?” Harris almost screeched. How can it be my weapon? he thought, it’s been with me all the time!

“That’s nothing – wait until you hear this: it seems that there was a CCTV camera in the area and the Tokyo police have managed to grab a still from it showing a picture of the attacker,” he pressed another button on the side of the screen and another picture appeared – this time a very blurred photo of a young man in what appeared to be dark overalls or possibly a uniform. “It doesn’t look much at the moment but the tech guys have managed to computer enhance it and they came up with this.” He pointed to a new picture that had appeared on the screen. Suddenly a wave of nausea hit Harris’ body and he slumped back in the chair. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing but after staring at it for a minute or two he faced up to the fact that it was real alright: he was looking at himself.

“Before you worry, I’m not accusing you because it’s obvious that this can’t be you. We checked the cameras in your apartment and you were asleep in bed when all of this,” he gestured at the screen, “happened. Now you can see why this concerns us and I have decided to put you on the case. You’re scheduled to leave tomorrow night on a direct flight to Tokyo. I expect an answer to this little mystery because otherwise I’m going to have Japan’s senators breathing down my next neck for the next three years. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir. I’ll solve this mystery if it takes me that long.” Despite the fact that Harris’ mind was still racing he still managed a small smile.

“Let’s hope it doesn’t take that long. Dismissed.”

With that, Harris got up and left the office. As he walked down the corridor towards the car park where his car was parked, he pondered what the Director had told him. If I was at home the whole time how could I be in another country murdering someone at the same time? he thought, and more to the point: who was it that I ‘killed’? He was sure that he’d seen her somewhere before but despite thinking about it throughout the whole journey home, he just couldn’t remember where nor could he recall any information about the mystery woman. He was almost home and still following this line of thought, did not notice that his car was veering into the side of the road. In fact, he didn’t notice the lamppost that his car was fast approaching until it was too late.

He awoke from his trance just long enough to see it but he didn’t have time to correct his course. His car careened into the post but went straight through it, the post waving slightly as though not there – it was a hologram which Harris now remembered had replaced streetlamps recently due to accidents such as that which had nearly happened to him. Then a thought occurred to him and for no apparent reason he swung his car back onto the road but in the opposite direction to that he had previously been travelling in – he was heading back to the bureau. As he drove he expanded on his idea until it had become a fully-fledged theory – enough to make an accusation.

When he got to the bureau he parked his car and went straight up to level 2 where the sim room was located. He opened the door and went straight in, not bothering to touch the panel beside the entrance to activate the simulation. He headed across the room to a small door at the far end of the long firing range part of the simulation. Its walls were covered in semi-translucent foil that glittered in the artificial light provided by huge neon strips hung high above him in the artificial ceiling. Harris knew from previous discussions with Willis, the armourer, that those foil panels were the holographic arrays that produced the 3-D simulation when activated.

He opened the door, which was marked “Armourer’s office” and walked straight up to the large wooden counter behind which Willis sat on a stool reading this morning’s paper. He didn’t seem to notice that Harris had walked in but Harris was about to change that.

“It was you, wasn’t it?” questioned Harris with a dark note of urgency in his voice.

“What?…” said Willis a look of bewilderment washing over his face and then he smiled. It wasn’t a normal smile of affection but instead one of evil with a touch of dementia. “So you figured it out? Well done. I really didn’t expect you to work it out so soon. I knew it wouldn’t take too long when I heard that the Director wanted to see you but I thought that you’d at least make it to Tokyo – I figured I’d kill you off when you were out there. I suppose you want me to tell you the specifics?” Willis sighed. It was clear that his amusement at the situation had worn off and he now realised that he wasn’t going to be a free man for much longer. An attempt to frame an FBI agent wouldn’t go down well with Willis’ superiors and it was sure to spell at least some jail time. Harris wondered why he had done it but Willis never let on as to why, only how, for the time being.

“You may as well since you’re not going to leave this room free,” Harris said whilst waving a pair of handcuffs that he’d unclipped from his belt as though he was reinforcing what he had just said. Willis slumped in his chair now that the full repercussions had sunk in.

“You’ve probably already guessed this but I may as well tell you the specifics – I might not feel so bad if I get it all out,” said Willis. His face had now acquired a weathered look that hid his true age – instead of looking the forty years that he was, he looked more like sixty. He took a deep breath as though bracing himself for the truth, before continuing: “It was basically a holographic simulation like the ones we have in the sim room. I borrowed one of the spare emitter arrays and sent it to a friend I have in Tokyo. He installed it in a rented room by the alley and set it up so that the CCTV camera would pick up the simulation as though it was real. Then all I had to do was transmit the simulation I had prepared.”

“That’s why I recognised that woman. She was the woman from my target practise simulation!” cried Harris, excited that he had solved that little mystery.

“That’s right,” continued Willis, “in fact I had recorded one of those very simulation sessions and that is what I transmitted to the holographic emitter so that the attacker appeared to be you.”

“But that doesn’t explain why the police found a body,” said Harris with a puzzled look on his face.

“That’s the clever part. I rigged the emitter so that as the bullet left the barrel of the gun it actually materialized and hit the woman as a real bullet. The woman, by the way, was a hired prostitute that my friends…well, ‘acquired’. She was a piece of scum and not worth the life that was taken away.”

“Its still murder and I’ll make sure your punished for it,” said Harris angrily. He was ashamed that he had anything to do with such a psychotic murderer. “I have one other question though: why?”

Willis chucked before answering: “Now that, I will take to my grave.”

“Oh, I’ll get it out of you before that happens,” threatened Harris. By now he was teeming with anger at what Willis had done for apparently no reason.

“Somehow I doubt that. For you see, I’m not really here…” and with that Willis…well…


Part Three – The Crime?

The sky was scorched crimson as the blackness of night forced the light of day below the horizon. Two shadows danced in the shadows as its two matching figures walked hand-in-hand down the dimly lit back alley. Gone was the trash heap but the stench of downtown Tokyo clung to the walls as though it had been burnt in by the hot sun of many scorching days only to be cooled by the sticky hot nights that hid all manner of dark and devious deeds. As the two figures passed under the soft orange glow of a nearby streetlight their faces emerged from the darkness that had previous smothered their features. One was a man and one was a woman. The man was in his forties, although he looked sixty-odd, and the woman had dark brown shoulder-length hair and…a tattoo on her left shoulder of an elaborate red serpent.


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