Chapter 10
Jack came into the meeting room, called the others to stand easy, and moved straight into the matter at hand. Those present were the senior officers, Saviour Bliss, Doctor Brill, Derek Smart, Alfred Simpkins, Vad Arres and Carla Smith.
"Progress, Mister Bliss?"
"It seems probable that the killer is associated with the colonists. All of the victims have been members of the High Council of Regula IV, which gives the obvious motive that someone else wants to be on it. The unsuccessful attempt was a diversion from the pattern, although she is still a colonist.
"This indicates either that the killer may want to divert our attention from the pattern, or that she knows something that might lead to the killer. I have questioned her, but she can think of no such thing. Our next step is to question all the colonists, after we eliminate those with perfect alibis.
"It seems impossible at the moment that the android panda could have been involved in this last attempt. It is possible, however, that it was responsible for the other deaths aboard, and that this last was done by the person ultimately responsible. We do know there are no other androids aboard."
"Mister Smart, what is your opinion regarding the android?" asked Jack.
"It is surprisingly sophisticated for a toy," Smart replied. "It is capable of speech, and could walk about. Its neural net, however, does not seem to be sufficiently complex for it to be able to subvert our computer system."
He paused. "I have just had another thought. If the panda is involved, it is unlikely that its creator arrived instantly at such a level of complexity. If we have a person who is capable of creating android creatures capable of murder, it is likely that there are similar instances recorded somewhere. I recommend we have a look through the history files to survey all the sector, or as much of the galaxy as we can, to see if there are other instances of android killers. That is, if that is what we have."
"I will see to that myself," said Jack, making a note. "An excellent suggestion. What is your opinion of the Professor? I find it hard to imagine such a famous person could be involved. The motive seems so puny."
"That is another problem," said Saviour Bliss. "What is the value of being on the High Council? At first glance, it seems to be like wanting to be on the Council of a tiny village. The number of visitors is not likely to be large, and no obvious advantage can be seen. It will be a very small business. It may be worthwhile examining the surveys to see if they hide something."
"If that is the case," observed Jack, "the number of suspects would be greatly reduced. As far as I know only Mister Furr was on the survey."
"Or someone else from the survey has worded up one of the colonists," added Riker. "At least Furr wasn't involved in the death of Lattif. He was talking to me when it happened, and I got the impression he was astonished."
"He was," interposed Carla.
"And he was with me when McNamon was killed," added Jack.
"If he was making use of an android," observed Alfred, "it would be sensible, and classically correct, to have watertight alibis for all the murders."
"This isn't one of your detective novels, Mister Simpkins," observed Jack drily, "but we will certainly consider that. Your suggestions have been quite useful already. We have two days before we make planetfall. It will be difficult, but let us get started."
Alfred did not point out that the insight had actually come from Celeste.
"Once we arrive, and the colonists leave the ship, we will have no jurisdiction," said Saviour Bliss. "We cannot delay indefinitely. I suggest we approach the remaining leaders and obtain their permission to continue the investigation on the planet if necessary. Unloading could then continue while we investigate."
"Very well, a good idea," said Jack. "I will approach them myself. It is quite late now. I suggest we begin interrogations first thing tomorrow."
The meeting broke up, and Saviour Bliss returned to the Security room where he advised his group of progress. They in turn returned to their quarters, except for those on routine patrol.
Celeste was playing a computer game on the computer when Serena arrived home. She seemed to be absorbed in manipulating the joystick, but asked, "How is the mystery going?"
"We think it has to be one of the colonists," answered Serena wearily. "We're going to question the lot over the next few days. Carla is going to be really tired."
"All of them!" said Celeste. "Won't that take weeks?"
"We'll start with the main suspects," said Serena. "Professor Lar, Brildan Furr, Brendan Bock, Illana..."
"Why are those the main suspects?" asked Celeste. "They all seem quite nice."
"Because they are intelligent, and they might know something about the planet we don't," answered Serena with a sigh. "It has to be something to do with the planet. All the victims were from the High Council."
"What's that?"
"It's the people who decide what's going on. They run things, make the laws and so on. Most of the people are just farmers, so whoever is running the place is actually in a very powerful position. But what's the value in being powerful in a farming village? Or a tourist town way off the beaten track?"
"What's the beaten track?"
Serena was about to answer when she realised Celeste was so preoccupied with her game she was just responding mechanically. She went on with some reading.
"Are there any murder mystery games in the computer?" asked Celeste suddenly. She had shut off the arcade game.
"I guess so, honey," said Serena. "They have just about anything. But they usually need a lot of reading. You might find it a bit hard. But I suppose it would be good for your reading. I'll find you one."
Serena hunted quickly and expertly, and found a simple game.
"There you are," she said. "That one shouldn't be too hard. If you get really involved, one day Mister Smart might let you try one of his simprograms, now that you're his friend."
She suddenly realised that she was quite cheered up that Brildan Furr would be occupied most of the time until they landed, and would be tailed discreetly by members of Security. She had no such qualms about Smart.
Celeste pored through the program for a while, then suddenly turned to Serena.
"Mummy," she said, "do the people know Counselor Smith is going to question them tomorrow?"
"She's just going to listen while someone else questions them. But I think they have been told."
"But she's sure to find them out, if they are guilty. Won't they try to kill her tonight?"
Celeste stared at her for a moment. Her daughter continued to surprise her. Great things might await her yet. "You're right, dear," she said grimly, hitting the communicator badge. "Commander Bliss? We should keep Carla under constant surveillance tonight. They might try to kill her!"
"Excellent suggestion, Ensign!" said Saviour Bliss. "Go to her."
"Damn!" she exclaimed mildly as she switched communication off. "The one who thinks of the job always gets it. I'm sorry, I'll have to leave you alone tonight, Celeste."
"I'll be Ok, mum," said Celeste. "I'll just play for a while, then go to bed. I won't let anyone in."
Serena contacted Carla.
"Where are you, Carla?" she asked.
"I'm in sickbay," replied Carla, "with Doctor Brill. What's up?"
"Celeste suggested you might be in danger," said Serena.
"Celeste?" asked Carla in amusement. "Is she on the team now?"
"She should be," replied Serena. "It's just a chance, but we thought we should keep a guard on you all night. I'm female, so I guess that's why I got the job."
"I wouldn't have argued," laughed Carla. "Depends on who they chose. Why am I in danger?"
"Because you're the only one who can catch out this man," said Serena.
"This man?" asked Carla.
"I have a suspicion who it is," said Serena. "But it was just a slip of the tongue. Could still be anybody."
"I'll wait for you here," said Carla.
Serena got her stungun, and swept quickly to sickbay. Otto Brill was there, and said, with a smile, "I've kept the guard until you got here."
Carla and Serena walked back to her quarters, gossiping. They passed Brendan Bock, and Carla turned to look after him in surprise.
"He's one of our major suspects," said Serena.
"He's terrified!" breathed Carla. "Not just a bit scared. Terrified. He's sweating!"
"We'd better start with him in the morning," said Serena, with a glance after him. "But I guess we'd better look after you for tonight."
Serena opened Carla's door first, and looked around. Nothing was to be seen, though she had no idea what she might have been looking for. Something out of the ordinary.
"Has anything been moved?" she asked.
"No," said Carla. "I don't think so."
Serena could not help noticing how much more comfortable Carla's room was than her own. Of course, Carla had more seniority, and, perhaps more to the point, had been years on the ship.
"Well, I'll try not to get in your way," she said, after she had done a sensor sweep of the room, and found nothing. "I'll sit in a chair over here."
"You can use the bed in the wall," said Carla. "I don't think it's ever been used. We can watch some films for a while. I enjoy the company, so don't worry."
"I won't sleep," said Serena. "I'm on guard. I'll catch up tomorrow. But I will watch films with you."
"Do you really think I'm in danger?" asked Carla curiously.
"No," said Serena, "but it's a chance not worth taking." She curiously picked up a magazine from the coffee table. "Star Gossip? Really?"
"I love gossip," grinned Carla. "So what?"
"But all these people are probably in old age homes by now," said Serena. "We've left them behind in the past."
"I still see them in the holosoaps," replied Carla with a toss of her head. "The images are still chasing us, so they still seem contemporary to me. I follow who's marrying who, who's divorcing who. We don't have enough weddings on the ship!"
"Well, don't look at me!" laughed Serena.

Somewhere on the ship the Client's computer screen lit up. The image of the old man appeared. He ran to sit at the console.
"I thought you may want to speak with me again," said the old man.
"I certainly do!" said the Client. "You botched that last job!"
"You didn't tell me the subject was amphibious," observed the image reasonably and calmly. "The fact that the water tank rejected her was also a surprise."
"But if you were going to trap her, why not trap her in a cargo hold and shoot her out into space?"
"The cargo hold has a fail-safe," said the old man. "It can't be used for exit during travel. You can only get out to the hull through special hatches."
The Client had no idea if this was true, so he said, "At least she hasn't said anything. I have a more pressing problem. We are all going to be questioned tomorrow. The psychic will undoubtedly be there. Kill her tonight."
"It is becoming very difficult to continue killing on board. Security has become very tight. Even personal communications of this type may become under surveillance. I was planning on doing my last executions on the surface of a planet."
"She has to go tonight. Tomorrow I will be questioned."
"She's not really a psychic. It's a parlour trick. She picks up subtle cues."
"I don't want her questioning me. Kill her."
"It is not necessary to kill her. The killing of a senior crew member will lead to too deep an investigation. I will remove her from consideration."
"Are you disobeying me?" rasped the Client.
The image appeared to consider for a moment.
"My first directive was to protect you and my creator," it said. "I will do what I must."
The screen went blank. The client bit down a curse. The android linked again with the ship. It found what it wanted. How handy that Darras had programmed into it such an extensive toxicology.

Meanwhile Brendan Bock walked around to the room where Illana was staying. She called out for him to enter and the door slid open.
"Where is Zelia?" he asked.
"Off socialising," she said, swinging around from the computer, and smoothly shutting it down. "Why? Do I need a chaperone?"
He blushed. "No, of course not."
"Tch, what a pity," she said. "What can I do for you?"
"I didn't mean..." he paused.
"Oh, some hope," she teased. "But let's forget that. What do you want?"
"I need to talk," he said. "I'm scared, but I have to say something."
"Why me?" she asked.
"If he has the whole ship bugged, he'd be listening if I went to any of the officers. I don't know what to do."
"I don't know that I'm really the best one you should approach about this," she said slowly. "We land tomorrow. You can approach anyone then."

Serena and Carla were watching a particularly funny holostory. They were making their own comments as well as laughing at the show, and Serena began to feel that this assignment may have been just what she needed. She was sorely lacking out-of-hours social companionship. Carla said, "Time for bed, I guess. I'll have a chocolate drink. What would you like?"
"A gentle stimulant," said Serena. "Coffee is good for a start, but then you suddenly get tired."
"Coffee actually keeps you awake because it drugs the part of your brain that should tell you to sleep," remarked Carla. "I'll get you a real stimulant, that will give you eight hours' energy, then let you sleep tomorrow."
She called up some name that Serena did not quite catch, and filled a glass with a blue-coloured liquid. It was delicious.
"Wow!" exclaimed Serena. "Nice-tasting medicine!"
"It's not medicine," said Carla, "it's a popular drink back home. But I'll stick to hot chocolate to make me sleep."
She ordered her usual hot chocolate, and a stream of steaming liquid poured into the cup she had placed there. She sighed with pleasure as she drank it. Serena enjoyed her drink, too, and then settled into a chair as Carla undressed and went to bed.

Professor Lar sat staring into his computer. He finished whatever he was doing, and took out his handkerchief and carefully cleaned all the keys.

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