In the morning Celeste woke up to an unfamiliarly empty room. She knew that
Serena was not coming home for a while, and would only want to sleep then,
so she went to school.
As she walked the corridors she was aware of unusual scurrying about. No
doubt this was the prologue to the questioning of two hundred colonists.
She arrived at the schoolroom and moved silently to her seat, and observed
the others, as usual. She had a new feeling of excitement, a sort of freedom,
symbolised somehow by not having to have cereal for breakfast. She wondered
what Regula IV would be like.
During the lessons Alfred Simpkins was surprised by her perkiness, and she
socialised more with the others than she had ever done. When the lesson
was over he called her to stay back.
"You did very well in everything today," Celeste," he said.
"I'm glad to see you so cheerful. Things must be well with your mother
"No, not really," she said after a while. "Mum stayed up
all night guarding Miss Smith, and she has no idea who has been committing
the murders, so I suppose she's not too happy. But I just woke up feeling
cheerful this morning."
"So, you've decided to live on," he said.
She looked at him sharply.
"How did you know that?" she said with a frown.
"Your mother and I have been talking about you," he said. "Schoolteachers
like to know everything about their students. She said you have always had
a romantic notion that you would die young. I hope not."
"I think I may," she said, airily. "But I shall always be
remembered by those who discover, too late, that they loved me."
He grinned. "I think Serena already knows that she loves you. Everyone
who knows you loves you."
Well, that's a bit of a stretch, she thought with amusement. She realised
that she really liked him. She would miss him when she was dead. Well, she
should say, he would miss her. Did Mister Furr love her? she wondered. No
Would Andrew miss her? She thought about his attachment to Serena. Would
he marry her if Celeste were not in the way? Was she an impediment? She
sighed. Relationships were so difficult.
He saw her grin, and was reassured.
"How do you expect to go?" he asked. "Tuberculosis was very
romantic four centuries ago. But most of the romantic fatal diseases have
"I may die of love for some boy I will meet," she said thoughtfully.
"That would be nice. Drowning is romantic. Or I thought so before I
saw that lady."
"Dying isn't romantic," he assured her. "It happens eventually,
but it's something to put off as long as possible."
"But it can be convenient," she said. "In stories sometimes.
And sometimes it's.. justice."
"Justice?" he asked, puzzled.
"Whoever organised all these murders," she said. "They deserve
to be killed. They aren't really... human."
"They might deserve it," he said, "but they will be imprisoned.
It's best to try to reform people. You can't reform if you're dead."
"But if someone has free will and then just decides to kill for..nothing
really. Mum says there's no real reason for these murders. Just greed. That
person deserves to be executed."
"I feel that way inside," said Mister Simpkins, "but I know
in my head that's wrong. It's a primitive part of us that wants vengeance.
How did we get back onto this morbid subject? I was just asking how your
"We're both Ok, really," she said.
But Serena was not Ok at that time.
Outside there was a lot of hustle and bustle as the colonists were organised
for interrogation. But Carla slept on, and Serena began to wonder whether
she was supposed to wake her. She wanted to go to sleep herself.
She eventually shook Carla, and shouted in her ear. She realised that her
own alarm should have permeated Carla's subconscious and awakened her. Carla
was breathing very slowly, she realised. She rang sickbay.
"Hello," said one of the nursing staff, who was early on duty,
or had been there all night.
"Emergency," said Serena. "I can't wake Carla Smith!"
Serena and Carla were both rushed to sickbay, and the nurse began an examination.
Otto Brill had been alerted, and he came running.
The nurse ran tests on Carla's blood, while Otto checked her vital signs,
and finally isolated the culprit. "It's a compound called isotonin,"
she said. "The record says it won't harm Miss Smith, but she'll sleep
for about three days."
"Can't we wake her?" asked Otto, opening up his own terminal to
check the effects of isotonin.
"Not without interfering with her cortex, which is dangerous. Just
letting her sleep will allow the chemical to dissipate. Where would someone
come upon a rare chemical like that?"
"How did she get it?" asked Otto. "It would have been almost
immediate in its effect."
"It must have been in her chocolate," said Serena. "That's
all she had before she went to bed."
"So the food program made it?" asked Otto with a frown. "Our
phantom programmer is still at large!"
Once again the team gathered. Serena was tired, but adrenalin kept her going.
"Oh, damn," she said. "Celeste! I'd better let her know where
She contacted Alfred Simpkins, who promised to tell Celeste, and went out
"This is getting embarrassing," said Andrew Black. "The killer
is playing with us."
Saviour was feeling particularly aggrieved, as he felt it a particular personal
insult, but he maintained discipline.
"That is the most peculiar part of this," he observed. "We
have had some killings which were quick and simple, followed by two unsuccessful
attempts which were unnecessarily complicated."
"This was not a murder attempt," said Doctor Brill, who had joined
them. "The chemical would not kill her. In fact, the killer has gone
out of his way not to kill her. As you say, in a complicated way."
"I suggest that we continue as we would have gone," said Saviour.
"We will continue with the interrogations, and hope to find something
with technology and finesse, instead of Carla. Derek can investigate this
new corruption of the computer."
"It does tell us something, though," said Otto. "This is
a very rare drug. Our killer is very knowledgeable about chemicals. Especially
"So the most obvious suspects from the colonists, that we know about,
would be the two biologists." Serena frowned. "One of them was
an attempted victim. Vad says that could still leave her a suspect. I don't
know. I thought she looked terrified when we found her. Maybe she expected
to get out more easily."
"It was an awkward way to murder," said Saviour. "It would
have been easier to simply trick the victim into an area like the core.
Radiation would kill her immediately. Or a vacuum area."
"Or outside the ship," offered another.
"No easy way to do that," said Saviour. "During travel you
can only get out by a set of hatches."
"It's almost as if the killer was giving her a sporting chance,"
"Or she did it herself," said someone.
"Derek did say that the computer would not allow anything which would
obviously kill a sentient being," noted Serena.
"It appears from Derek's latest investigations that the killer was
able to cut the computer out of the operation completely," said Saviour.
"He or she is very able at programming."
"What about the other biologist?" asked Andrew.
"We passed him last night, Carla and I," said Serena thoughtfully.
"She said he was terrified. Maybe it was the thought of interrogation."
"Has anyone considered the possibility that there could be two killers?"
asked a young woman suddenly.
"Two?" asked Saviour.
"Yes," she said. "It seems that there is some reason why
this planet is very valuable. There are two groups of colonists. Why couldn't
there be some sort of gang struggle between them? One group might have organised
the android panda, the other might have a human assassin."
"That does fit," said Saviour thoughtfully. "The panda was
a simple killer, but the other is not. He or she merely puts victims out
of the way if they are not the main target. Thus Carla was not killed."
He was distracted by a sudden call from the Captain.
"Bliss here," he acknowledged.
"Saviour, this is the Captain," came Jack's voice. "I did
come up with something. I'll download it for you. Briefly, it does seem
that there is a pattern of killings by androids throughout the area. A number
of assassinations have been carried out by androids made to resemble real
people. In most cases they have committed the crime and disappeared. In
two cases we know of they have been cornered, and simply turned themselves
off, completely erasing all programming. The androids were quite lifelike
- enough to fool people into thinking they were real people!"
"Thank you, captain," Saviour replied. "I will examine the
information as soon as I get it."
"This does not fit the pattern, then," observed Serena. "The
panda did not turn itself off."
"Maybe it can't do that until its mission is finished?" said Andrew.
"Here's something else to throw into the mixture," interrupted
one of the men, who had been looking through the night's recordings. "We
put a watch on Lar's room just in case. Look."
They gathered around and watched as Lar turned off his computer terminal
and carefully wiped the keys clean.
"I always do it," said Lar, a few minutes later, wiping sweat
from his brow. "It's a habit. I like everything to be clean. I didn't
mention it because I knew you suspected me already, and it had thrown suspicion
off me again. I didn't do anything. I was in the conservatory when the woman
was transported, but I can't prove it."
"Another crime was committed last night," said Saviour. "Where
were you all evening?"
"Another crime?" he said in confusion. "When? I can't prove
anything. I was here all night, looking up records on the computer, and
"We know you were here," said Andrew. "And we know you were
using the computer. But that was the weapon."
"And the Captain has given you great access to the computer,"
added Saviour. "I believe we have sufficient evidence to take you into
Lar wept as they escorted him from the room, and sealed it.
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