Credence Foundation
Author:Marco Guarda

Chapter Eighteen

The sky was overcast.

It was cold and a thin, insistent rain lashed down. A man could be glimpsed through the gray sheets of raindrops, kneeling on the patio flagstones of a beach house.

He was bent over the small, lifeless body of a little girl, his arms desperately pumping her chest, trying to revive her, but she didn’t react to any of the stimuli.

Trumaine went on pumping Maia’s chest for what felt like hours; impervious to the flogging rain, to the cold and to the gray, silent, mournful dolphin that kept circling in the channel a few feet away from them, like a broken record of times past.

Then, all of a sudden ... Trumaine stopped.

He looked up, toward the sky, pained and anguished but, this time, there was no horror in his eyes. Beyond all the helplessness and the despair, a sense of hard acceptance had finally found its way inside him.

The rain that was the tears he hadn’t in him anymore, washed away the sweat from his body. He lifted his fingers, touching Maia’s shoulder in one long caress, then he kissed her forehead, as if he was wishing her good night.

Trumaine stood.

He strode to the house, entering the living room.

He grabbed hold of his cell phone and dialed.

“Detective Trumaine ... I’m reporting the accidental drowning of a person. Yes. It’s my daughter ...”

He glanced back at Maia’s corpse through the glass panes of the French windows: she just lay there, like a fallen leaf or a twig snapped by the wind. If it wasn’t for the endless tapping of the raindrops, it might have been a black-and-white still.

“Yes. I’m sure,” he said. “She’s dead ...”

Trumaine hung up.

Exhausted, he shuffled his feet to the empty bedroom and lay down on the bed.

With a sigh, he closed his eyes ...

It was the same bedroom.

The rain had gone; now a bright sun shone through the window. Trumaine was still in bed. He wasn’t drenching wet anymore and wore a clean, unbuttoned shirt.

The picture of Maia had been momentarily removed from his self-sealing wallet: it sat on the nightstand next to him, along with the wallet and an old-fashioned alarm clock which read 10:59 AM.

As the minute hand hit twelve, the clock buzzed to life.

Trumaine snapped his eyes open, reaching out his hand to switch off the alarm. He sat up with a yawn, wiping his face with the palm of his hand, then he lunged for Maia’s picture. He stared at it for a while, before he put it away in his wallet and the wallet in his pocket.

He came out from the bedroom wearing the usual ordnance white suit, but the jacket was unbuttoned and the shirt underneath wasn’t tucked in. Now that he had shaven properly, he looked like the most relaxed man in the world.

He dropped the large suitcase he was carrying next to the entrance door then, as he was about to return to the bedroom, the doorbell rang.

Trumaine opened the door to meet the friendly gaze of a large, smiling man; Firrell nodded his head in acknowledgment, then stepped inside.

He looked about, recalling the familiar things his eyes perched upon.

“It’s been ages since I visited.”

“Yes. It’s been ages ...”

There was a long, meaningful pause.

After Trumaine had called his captain, telling him he had found out who the crawler was, Firrell had sent a squad car to pick up Faith and the toy doll.

For all the time it had taken for the cops to arrive, she had sat in one of the armchairs in the living room, without saying one word. She was angry and hurt by the way Trumaine had treated her. What did she expect—flowers?

The toy Trumaine had found in the chest under the ebony mask was proof that she was involved in the murder of both Jarva and his wife. How it all happened was still undergoing investigation, since Faith wasn’t cooperating.

All she kept repeating was that she didn’t kill them. All the same, there was no denying that she was involved in the case.

When, at last, the cops had taken her away, she had peered into Trumaine’s eyes, looking for mercy, but all he had given her was a hard, unyielding stare.

When they got back to the department, Firrell had been happy like a pup he wasn’t going to lose his job, after all. He had congratulated Trumaine for solving the case and had wanted to know how he made it.

Trumaine had explained him that Faith had been reading his mind since he first met her, at Credence’s canteen. Possibly unconsciously, she had borrowed one single line from those Starshanna had spoken in the feed. Again, unconsciously—or maybe just to tease him?—Faith had repeated that same line when they were on the beach; that was proof enough that she was the crawler they were looking for.

But to nail her for good, Trumaine needed real evidence; something that could link her beyond any possible doubt to the Jarvas’ double murder. The evidence was Faith’s toy doll.

In fact, it was perfectly reasonable to think that in the moments when she was convincing the believers to grant her access to Jarva’s bunker, bits from her most fond memories had migrated to their minds. The toy must have been one of those bits and that was how the doll had found its way into the bunker.

As for using it, either Faith hadn’t noticed it was her toy, which was decidedly odd, or—and that was an idea that had come to Trumaine’s mind in the last few hours—she had an accomplice who killed the Jarvas on her account.

What still needed a lot of explaining was why they were killed, how Faith had planned it all and who helped her.

That would come by further questioning her, had said Firrell, but he would handle that. Even if Faith was determined not to say anything, a couple of weeks in the slammer would soften her.

Firrell had then relayed the good news to the Feds and the TSA. Within hours, they had revoked their ban over Credence and now that the real feed was again being administered to the believers, the intergalactic flights were being scheduled for departure.

The first ships to take off would be the cargos with the water supplies for the outposts.

Firrell fished out a yellow plastic card from his pocket and handed it over to Trumaine.

“This is for you.”

Trumaine turned the card around. Below his own picture, it read: CHRISTIAN TRUMAINE - AQUARIAN - FIRST CLASS.

He was overwhelmed.

It wasn’t like the Feds to walk out on a deal, but interceding for citizenship was something that would have to go through a lot of decisional levels and they just might get stuck at some point.

He looked up at Firrell, his old friend; there was so much he should tell him, so much he should explain, so much he should thank him for—possibly too much.

“Thank you,” just said Trumaine.

“No. Thank you,” replied Firrell. “You did a good job—everything is getting back to the norm. The farthest outposts in the galaxy are getting their supplies. Thirty minutes ago, the TSA got a transmission from the Hibiscus. They were diving into Canis Major—they’re safely to their destination now.”

Firrell grinned, then he realized that something wasn’t quite right with Trumaine. He could tell there were still unanswered questions rambling about in his head.

“You don’t look too happy. What is it?”

“We still don’t know why Alveraz murdered Jarva. We don’t know who stole the punch card and what purpose the card served. Also, we don’t know if someone else helped her.”

Firrell smiled. “There’s enough evidence to nail her, believe me, that’s all that matters. Don’t worry about that, she will talk. And when she does, we’ll pick up her accomplices too. You’ve done your part, Tru, let us do ours.”

“Sure ...” agreed Trumaine.

Firrell glanced at the suitcase sitting at Trumaine’s side.

“I see you’ve made up your mind ...”

“I’m going back to her. There’s little left for me here.”

Trumaine retrieved his blue detective badge and offered it to Firrell, but he didn’t take it.

“Keep it,” said the captain. “A little memento of the time we have spent working together.”

Even if Firrell was happy that Trumaine was finally going back to Starshanna, he was also a bit sad for being deprived of a former pupil.

“Will you say good-bye to Starsha for me?”

“I sure will.”

For a while, Firrell didn’t move, as if he couldn’t resign to the fact that nobody would be there in that house to open the door for him anymore.

He swallowed hard.

“Good luck on Aquaria,” he said.

With a bit of regret, Firrell turned on his heels and shut the door behind him as he left.

Trumaine had walked out to the patio. This was his good-bye to the house and he wanted to remind himself of it as much as he could.

This was the house he and Starshanna had lived in, the house in which they had loved each other. The house where the offspring of their love had grown and flourished like a beautiful flower, before it was too soon—he couldn’t finish the sentence ...

By leaving, Trumaine would leave all this behind.

He glanced at the roiling ocean, as if he could sound its impenetrable secrets ... and, as once before, the ocean peered back, washing away in his irises ...

Trumaine looked into the empty channel, at the discarded bucket sitting in it, then shifted his eyes on the lonely and weathered deckchair on which Maia had once lain.

Before another rush of painful memories submerged him, Trumaine turned his back to his past and went back into the house.

The taxi buzzed along the seaside highway.

Trumaine had left the unmarked car assigned to him in the garage of the department. He had turned down Firrell’s offer to accompany him and he had called a taxi.

The taxi driver was a sullen young man with a crazy hairdo who didn’t seem to mind that Trumaine wasn’t in the mood for talking. It seemed perfectly fine to both that the however short journey to the spaceport should be as quiet as possible.

Trumaine had stared out of the window for the whole time. For the first time in his life, he had the feeling that everything he glanced at—the vehicles in the traffic, the buildings, the City in the distance—looked suddenly old. The fact that he was leaving for good was estranging him from this world. Everything started to look a bit flimsy, a bit fake, as if it was Trumaine’s care for the things in the world he had lived in up to that moment that made it real. And now that he didn’t care anymore, the world had started to flicker like an illusion, before vanishing forever.

When they were close to the City, the taxi left the freeway and headed toward the shiny metal complex seen in the distance that was the spaceport.

The metal structure of City Spaceport coiled around the launch pads in a vague horseshoe shape that opened toward the ocean. It was in that direction that all spaceships took off regularly, flooding the launch bay with the bizarre, ever-shifting, diaphanous shapes exhaust vapors take as they billow through the air.

Basically, any piece of airtight junk that had a rocket attached underneath was capable of traveling long distance, good enough even for the galactic routes. While most cargos looked exactly like that—enormous metal boxes ugly as hell and mounted with odd-and-old fuel cylinders ending in the characteristic cone-shaped booster nozzles—the vehicles used for transporting civilians were quite different.

Depending on the class of the vehicle—which wasn’t determined by its size anymore, but by the quality of the service offered aboard—one could find a variety of spaceships:

The bulky and slower corvettes of the pre-Credence era, hardly used anymore if to resupply faraway terraforming stations on forgotten planets. The slimmer intra-system charters. The shuttles that brought day commuters back and forth between the major business planets of the galactic network. The ultra-streamlined “privateers” belonging to the big corporations and the majestic ships reserved for politicians and diplomatic corps.

However, there was one ship that wasn’t anything like that; one ship that belonged to a class of her own, unsurpassed by any other space vehicle for speed or beauty—she made the route for Aquaria and her name was Neptune.

Designed to be the best ship ever, with a keen eye to representing Aquaria’s uniqueness, the Neptune was famous for her many luxury decks, her three plush restaurants—each one serving otherworldy specialties depending on which month of the year one was going to travel—and the excellent service her crew would offer. The Neptune wasn’t cheap; a bit like the old ocean liners that used to sail and sink around the world a couple of centuries before, traveling aboard the Neptune was both expensive and exclusive, and Trumaine and Starshanna had spent considerable amounts of their hard earned wages to book a spot on that superb ship.

As the taxi approached the spaceport, the Neptune showed off from the distance; her slim, tapered body protruded from the launch pads like a purple-and-silver finger.

The hull was plated with the latest technological find; a most peculiar material that kept shifting and throbbing in waves under the sunlight, as if it was made of water.

It was a dreamy and fleeting sight.

Soon, the taxi slipped underneath the curlicues of the spaceport structure, hiding her from view.

Trumaine put his case onto the baggage detector.

A blade of green light flashed briefly, scanning its contents, then the case slid under a roller which fastened a small acceptance tag to it.

A conveyor belt whirred to life, swallowing the case; it would carry it through the many bowels of the spaceport, finally storing it in a massive, central baggage deposit. Only when its owner had bought a ticket for whatever destination in the universe, would the case be retrieved and associated with that terminus. It would then be picked up again and redirected to the proper launch pad for loading.

With a silvery ding, the machine spit out a receipt tag that should be used for baggage retrieval from a similar machine found at the arrival spaceport.

Trumaine pocketed his receipt, then walked along the crowded hall of City Spaceport.

It was quite an impressive view: more than a hundred feet tall and wide, it curved around the launch bay in a wide semicircle, embracing the many giants of metal that waited to be flung past the atmosphere into space.

It was exactly at that moment that a cumbersome cargo with a metal patchwork for a hull took off; it rumbled like thunder as its rockets engulfed the spaceport in vapors, propelling the ship out of gravity’s greedy fingers’ reach.

The bright exhaust cloud lingered for a while in the launch bay, whirling lazily, dissolving gradually, revealing another ship ...

The diaphanous shroud fell off the Neptune the same way a snow-white mink would drop from the shoulders of a gorgeous diva ... until she was naked, and she was haughty and proud and beautiful.

Trumaine moved to the boarding hall assigned to the Neptune which, contrary to the rest of the boarding gates, was on the upper level.

Exclusive and expensive as the Neptune was, the hall displayed the latest fashion in matter of design objects. From the chairs, to the low tables, to the lamps, to the partition walls, everything was smooth, polished and had that peculiar translucent finishing that made objects look like they were made of water.

At the moment, only a tall businessman wearing a double-breasted suit sat in the waiting hall, reading an electronic newspaper he held in his hands. He looked up with a bored glance at Trumaine, then went back to reading.

Trumaine approached a wide desk standing beside the boarding corridor. The boarding officer behind the desk looked dashing in his neat, tailored uniform; he glanced at Trumaine and he seemed to acknowledge him from the many times he had previously embarked.

“Good day,” said the officer, decidedly friendlier than his fellow countryman at the Aquarian embassy.

“Where to?” he asked.

“Aquariana,” said Trumaine.

Aquariana was Aquaria’s capital city. Starshanna’s house was half a dozen miles away from it, on the west coast of the long island that cut the planet from north to south, which was named Meridian Island.

“One week return ticket, as usual?” asked the officer. “I shall need to see your visa, sir.”

The officer had an excellent memory. If he didn’t, he probably wouldn’t have been chosen for that job. The Aquarians had a fondness for showing off; they belonged to a new, thriving planet and they needed to show the rest of the universe they could not only manage it, but that they could do it better than anybody else. It was an attitude that had driven Trumaine mad in the past, but he had now sort of gotten used to it.

“One-way ticket,” he said.

It wasn’t easy to catch an Aquarian off guard, but when that happened, it made Trumaine’s day.

The Aquarian smiled patiently, as if he was dealing with an inattentive boy.

“Due to immigration restraints, I’m afraid visa carriers are not entitled to single tickets.”

Trumaine didn’t say anything, he just searched his suit pocket, retrieving the yellow card Firrell had given him. He slapped it down on the officer’s desk as if it were a poker of aces.

He had to fight hard to maintain a stony face and not dance around jeeringly, sticking out his tongue and shouting unpleasant words at the befuddled officer.

They stared into each other’s face for a long while. It was a battle for the best stony face and the prize was one’s idle pride—It ended when the supercilious face of the officer fell off suddenly. In the time it took him to grab the card, check it with the computer and realize it was genuine, his face had turned ashen.

“I—I couldn’t imagine—”

He bowed deferentially, then punched the keys on his console, until a golden ticket was deftly released through a side slot.

“Your documents are in order, sir. Here’s your single ticket for Aquaria’s Aquariana. The ISS Neptune will take off in exactly ten minutes; if you would be so kind as to step along the corridor, your flight assistant will be more than happy to show you to your seat. Have a nice stay on our beautiful planet, sir.”

He said all that without drawing one single breath.

With a faint smile, the officer motioned Trumaine over and kept looking after him with wide eyes, until he was gone.

The corridor reached over and around the Neptune through a glass drawbridge that looked like thin ice. As Trumaine walked along it, the shuttle grew in size to the point that he could almost touch it. It was as close as his dream was to being fulfilled, he thought. A few more hours and he would be with Starshanna forever.

His pace quickened. He wanted to march. He wanted to run and shake hands with the flight officer and invite him to dinner and let him talk hours about his beloved Aquaria ...

Instead, he slowed down and stopped. What was wrong with him? Trumaine wondered. Now that his wish had been granted, why did he stop?

He looked back at the entrance to the boarding corridor and saw a wizened old couple walk in; they crawled along so slowly a snail could outrun them to the shuttle.

Trumaine stood aside and waited for them to pass.

The old woman and her old husband reached out their quavering hands; when they clasped them, the flutter steadied and subsided—together, they were stronger.

As they proceeded toward the Neptune’s hatch, they smiled warmly at Trumaine, nodding at him.

Trumaine’s feet didn’t move, not even then—they had become as heavy as lead. But there was something else that was moving, spinning faster than an overloaded electrical engine—it was his brain.

Thoughts started to chase around in Trumaine’s head and they weren’t about Aquaria, or Starshanna, or Maia, or all the Aquarian clerks in the universe who sneered at him. They were about the case he had so brilliantly solved.

Trumaine watched the couple arrive at the hatch, where a young uniformed woman welcomed them ...

Suddenly, a voice rang about in his head. It was Faith’s voice and it was repeating the words she had told him when they had first met at the canteen of Credence.

“Jarva developed Pistocentrism to change the world. If we were only given the chance, we could reshape it as it was in the beginning.”

“You mean all green and flowery—without traffic? I’d love that,” said another voice—it was Trumaine’s.

“I mean ... without evil ...”

Faith’s words alighted in the air like a fog that wouldn’t go away.

Trumaine’s brain kept whirring, when a neat image formed in his mind, replacing the sight of the towering Neptune: it was an illustration he had seen in an old book, an ancient Bible that had been sitting on Jimmy Boyd’s desktop and it portrayed the forbidden tree at the center of Eden.

Its painter had taken one too many liberties, since he had depicted not just Adam and Eve, but a throng of young and old people as well; they had all joined in a merry spring dance around the tree, celebrating it, until the tree wasn’t a forbidden tree anymore—it had become a flourishing tree of life ...

But there was a third forgotten memory that awaited to be summoned. Trumaine’s brain had chewed on it since the first moment it had recorded it, without being able to digest it. It was a memory that had meant nothing until now when, put in the right context, it made a world of difference.

The memory was a fragment of the conversation Trumaine and Samuel Diggs, the medical examiner, had in Jarva’s bunker.

Trumaine was kneeling next to Jarva’s corpse, inspecting it; a few paces away, Diggs was typing away in his electronic pad, but he was denied access with a buzz. He tried once again; another buzz.

“Damn computers,” swore Diggs.

“What is it?” asked Trumaine.

“I’m issuing the death certificate for the woman,” said Diggs. “Computer says she died five years ago ...”

When he had first heard that, Trumaine had shaken his head, assuming, as everyone else in that room did, that Raili couldn’t possibly have died twice—it was just a mistaken entry. But now that he knew more about the case, he wasn’t so sure anymore.

For, suddenly, another scenario was taking shape before his eyes; a vision so crazy and so far removed from any conceivable thought and physical rule it sounded impossible.

Trumaine had to dribble the impervious blocks of his rational mind to imagine the most tremendous belief a Credence’s believer could believe. Just the thought of that one, absolute belief made his legs wobble, clogged the words in his parched throat and covered his forehead in sweat beads ...

If what Trumaine was thinking had the slightest chance of being true, Faith could never kill Jarva, because they were both accomplices in the most extraordinary plan man could ever conceive.

If Faith hadn’t killed Jarva, then she was being unjustly imprisoned. It was that thought that shook Trumaine from his reverie.

Once again, he found himself in the boarding corridor of the Neptune. The Aquarian shuttle rose in front of him in all her majestic beauty, calling for him like a tempting siren.

He watched the young woman standing by the spaceship’s hatch, waiting for him to board. A few yards more separated him from his dream; a few yards more and he Starshanna would reunite forever ...

His feet started to move again. They made one step. Another. Then another. Trumaine started to jog. The jog became a run. He must be running in the wrong direction, he thought all of a sudden—because he was getting away from the Neptune ...