Wednesday, April 11, 2018


That Face.  
by Alan Mark De Luzuriaga

(Photo from Hubble Space Telescope) 

Inspector Supervisor Barret didn't know what to make of it. Of all his years as lead officer,Homicide Division of the Mars Planetary Police Force, he had seen his fair share of unusual crimes. But this one baffled him. 

Exo-Archeologist Supervisor Rupert Jones, arrived from Earth a week ago. It's kind of funny, he thought, that they share something in common ... the same rank. What's not funny is Jones is dead.... while he doesn't have a clue why. 

Jones, who he found out was called "Indiana" by his team (supposedly based on a reference from an old documentary film on archaeology), was on an exploratory mission.

He was sent by the United Earth Federation to look into the suspected disappearances of some settlers in a camp ninety kilometres from the Mars Alpha Settlement.  

The Alpha settlement, set up around three decades ago, was the first, and currently, the only populated settlement on Mars. Two more settlements – Beta and Charlie- are being prepared for coming migrants in the near future.  

The camp that Jones was assigned to investigate was inhabited by early Mars settlers who refused to join the official UEF sanctioned Alpha settlement group that started developing the planet's terrain decades ago. He himself was assigned here just twenty years after the settlement started, as a rookie Planetary Cop (although he had a few years with the UEF force in NYC). In the years that passed, he rose up to the rank of Inspector Supervisor, answerable only to the Mars Planetary Police Chief (and technically, the Mars Governor). 

“Indiana” Jones was the leader of the exo-arch team who went into the camp,on sector 17,Mars Terrain. Twenty four hours later, he's dead. 
Barret's investigation turned from an ordinary homicide, into a most interesting one, the moment he arrived at the "crime scene". Jones lived in a 3rd story flat, a few blocks from where he himself lived. He got the call from the station just as he was finishing his breakfast, and he went straight from his home to Unit 3-D, Trump Apartments, Tijuana St., Alpha Settlement. 

On the way, Barret felt like it was going to be one of those ordinary days. He was even humming his favourite song – “That Face”, from a very old musical titled “The Producers”. Barret had a thing for old musicals. 

Hmmmmm..hmmm.. Barret felt so good this morning that he actually sang a part of it while climbing up the steps...

"That face, that face, that dangerous face...I mustn’t be unwise. Those lips, that nose, those eyes.... could lead to my demise..." … hmmmm...hmmmmm

It was a good thing he had a small morning meal, cause he would have risked embarrassing himself once he saw the body. 

Jones was slumped, seated at his desk chair, obviously dead. What made the sight horrific, was Jones's eyes were burned and empty, as if someone held a blowtorch directly into the sockets. 

What made it even more strange than the many gruesome murders he has seen in his life, is that Jones was smiling. Not just any smile, but his face showed a sense of happiness that was so pure, that you cannot help think that he actually died “happy” ... happier even, than anyone, like himself,  would ever live for the rest of one's life. 

He shook that feeling off, removing that strange thought from his mind, and started to go to work. 

He did all the usual stuff, checked for signs of an attack or a struggle, checked for prints, interviewed the neighbours, and turned everything in the flat upside down. 

They came up with zilch. 

He ordered the forensic staff to take the body to the labs and examine it thoroughly, and carefully bag all the evidence . There were a bunch of photographs next to a printer on the table, and some were scattered on the floor. He also found a voice recorder on the desk, and had the team collect it and sent to the station.

He was about to leave when he was called by Ruiz,one of the new young guys on the force, and asked him to take a look at something. The kid told him he finished bagging the evidence, but that he found something else.  

What he found was interesting , but not unusual for the exo-archeology types like Jones. It seemed that Jones set up a small darkroom inside his apartment. 

Darkrooms were a very old set up of processing non digital photographs. Many decades since digital photography was invented, there were still a small group of people who insisted to take pictures the old way, through photographic film. 

It was a cumbersome and expensive way to take a photograph. Aside from the equipment, which costs dozens of times more than the usual cameras, one had to know someone who knew how to process it. 

They were taught about this stuff,in the academy. You had to load the thing called a film roll, which contained what they called “exposures” or the number of photos you can take, into a film camera, and after the picture was taken, you had to remove the film from the canister, in a room without any light (since the film was sensitive to it, and could be ruined if exposed before being developed)... hence the term Darkroom. 

In almost total darkness, one had to dip the film into some chemicals until the images appear on the film. After that, you insert the film into some sort of projector where it will cast the image to a piece of photographic paper. You then had to dip the paper into chemicals, again. Only then would you have a print. 

There was a table filled with trays that had some pungent smelling chemicals on it. Above it appeared what looked like a clothesline, with some clips.  On the table, a spool of film, and near it, was an empty, popped open canister. At the far end of the table was a projector like device...sort of like a hanging flashlight. He ordered Ruiz to bag all the stuff and have it analysed. 

And then he went home. 

That was a week ago. So far, they had nothing to explain how Jones was killed, and who may have done it. There were no signs of entry inside his flat, which was locked from the inside. It was only when his teammate picked him up that morning, and was not answering the door, that the police were called, and his body discovered. 

There were no reports from the neighbours of any sound or unusual thing that would have indicated an intruder or attacker. 

All his team could tell him was that they had just returned from the camp site, and found nothing but what seemed to be remains - bones and ashes, of the early settlers who lived there.

Stories were told about how this group, who, after setting up their own camp, established a religion based community. This was not a strange thing to happen, as history has shown that many groups of people tend to gather based on common beliefs. Some were branded as cults, but some just wanted to live by their own set of rules. 

These settlers, who volunteered for the first few trips to Mars, was said to have done so, in search of their "God". It seems that they felt that Earth was so drowned in so called "sin" , that "God" would have deemed its inhabitants hopeless and leave Earth. 

This group of settlers, who called themselves "The Seekers", felt that Mars, or any other “unspoiled” planet away from Earth, would be their best hope in their search to see their "God". 

The authorities branded them as harmless fanatics, and thought that they even made perfect volunteers for the Mars expedition. 

During those days, there were not a lot of people who would want to make the trip and relocate to Mars. And, establishing a large enough population was a key objective for the UEF. 

It was only when there was no contact for the last few years with "The Seekers", that the Mars Authority decided to request, for a team from Earth, to investigate what could have happened to them. The authority of the Mars police was limited inside the settlement, and the Governor felt it prudent to send an Earth based exo-archeology team, who was properly trained for this purpose. With the Earth authorities breathing on his neck on the preparation of the Beta and Charlie settlements, he did not want any untoward incident to spook future migrants in making the trip to Mars. 

Together with the voice recorder found in Jones's flat, where he spoke of what he found in the  "The Seekers" camp, the statements of Jones's team members gave a puzzling picture of what happened to that group. 

When they found the camp, they saw signs of dwellings.... makeshift tents, beds and tables, storage boxes, and other living necessities. But,the camp was empty. 

What they also found were pieces of what seemed like human bones, as well as ashes, probably from dead bodies. 
They found no records or any information that may explain what could have led to the disappearance or death of the settlers. 

For sure, it was not because the area was uninhabitable. During the early days of exploration, the UEF was able to implement Genesis Bombs all over the main areas of the planet, that stimulated and developed the conditions that made the area liveable for humans. 

Even the team of Doctor Rupert Jones, Senior Supervisor of the UEF   Exo-Archaeology Division, entered the encampment without any life support systems. The air was a bit heavy, but not toxic. There was ample water supply in the streams, and the area had lush vegetation and trees. 

In fact, the team reported, that the area was actually very well developed in terms of flora, with vegetables and fruits all around. One of them even jokingly said, that it looked like the  f*$%#@* biblical garden of Eden. 

One of the more interesting finds that Jones and his team recovered was a non-electronic Nikon Film Camera. It was one of those very old camera models.  

According to Jones's voice notes (reviewed by the lab and transcript sent to him), inside the camera was an undeveloped film roll. It had the markings of the film manufacturer - Kodak, with a label saying ASA 400 – 25 Exposures and ID# 387-760. The number and other markings matched the cannister found in the darkroom at Jones's apartment. 

Jones was very eager to get the film roll back to his flat, and spent the next few days setting up the Darkroom from equipment they brought with them from Earth. 

Jones was supposed to process the film that night before his body was discovered. He messaged his team just around 10 pm (Mars time), that he had already finished developing the film, and was soon going to make prints. That was the last they heard of him. 

He had just gotten the report from forensics,saying that they could not scientifically be certain how the burn marks in Jones's eyes were inflicted. There were no other signs or indicators that may explain the cause of death. Its just seemed that his heart stopped beating, around the same time his eyes got incinerated. 

He tried to get some information from the lab about the roll of film. It seemed that they didn't have the equipment to examine it or make prints. All they could gather was, with the exception of one, all exposures of the film was just blank (meaning, it wasn't used to take an image). One exposure or "shot" contained an image that looked like a burst of light. They cannot be sure what it could be until they find the equipment, materials and chemicals that could come up with a print. 

Unfortunately , such resources was not available in Mars, and the archeological team had already left for Earth yesterday, together with the body of Jones (to be returned to his grieving wife and daughter) and all their equipment. 

Inspector Barret wasn't sure if he wanted to proceed with what his gut was telling him. All he had was a mysterious killing, in strange circumstances, with a roll of film taken from a group of God seekers. 

He decided to have the roll of film sent to Earth and have the NYC police have prints made of that one exposure of bright light image, and send one to him. He bagged it, labelled it accordingly, and dropped it off at the front desk where it will be picked up later and sent on the next ship back to Earth. 

The next few hours, he decided to sit back and accept that there was nothing else he could do unless new evidence pops up. He was about to call it a day, when he noticed an evidence bag on his desk. This was the first one bagged by Ruiz, the rookie, and he realised that it has been sitting there all week, instead of being in the lab where it should have gone through analysis. 

These newbies, Barret thought, you have to spell out everything for them. 

He grabbed the bag and in it was a bunch of papers, and a stack of printed images. 

He was about to read the notes, when one of the printed photos caught his attention. It was not flat like the other photographs. He could see that the other prints were images of the camp site, probably printed from Jones's printer. This other one however, was curled up, like it was not printed out of a machine....but.... possibly developed and printed the old way...from the roll of film found with "The Seekers". 

He brushed away the photos taken by Jones, and saw the curled one facing upside down. The back side was blank, meaning that any image that may have been printed from that one and only exposure on the film, is on the other side. 

Slowly, Barret took the photograph, and flipped it over. 

Mars Police Inspector Supervisor Mark Barret smiled. 

So this is what happened. The Seekers did find what they wanted. To see their "God".

And who would have thought, one of them even had the audacity to take a photo using an antiquated film camera. 

They were able to see the face of "God". 

And Jones had seen it too. 

There and then, Barret's mind, and heart, filled with so much happiness at the face he was seeing on the photograph. 
And as his eyes burned and melted, and his heart started beating so fast it felt like bursting, he could not help but recall his favourite song, with a smile filled with so much joy.....

"That face, that face, that dangerous face...I mustn’t be unwise. Those lips, that nose, those eyes.... could lead to my demise..."