Chapter 13.
The remaining Elders were the first to be questioned. In fact, Elder was a title formally used only by the Ardurians, but it had seemed good enough to use for the new High Council. The reasoning for questioning them first was that these were the most intelligent of the colonists, and also those with something to gain from the murders. They would be in a position to control the Council from the start.
The whole thing was very inconvenient, of course. Over two hundred settlers were having their first moments on a new planet, their home for the foreseeable future. Half of them were champing at the bit to get out their possessions, set out their own little squares of land, and begin to make farms. Instead, they were hanging around, dwelling on the whims of a ship's Security leader. Those who were setting up shops began to put up the prefabricated buildings, and part of a town began to appear. But for the temporary residents, accommodation was in tents. Where they were putting up buildings it was generally necessary to clear jungle. The various clearings turned out to be a small covering of earth on solid rock. Not impossible to build on, with electrical tools to help, but more trouble.
Saviour was aware of their feelings, and attempted to put the settling-in in motion. He had a roster printed on a sheet, and told those not in the first thirty names they could go about their business. Since all of the camp's leaders were in the first thirty names, this was difficult, but they sighed, and set about doing what they could.
The landscape was all beautiful. Trees grew in every variety of shape, but so did flowers. Instead of the small delicate flowers which normally grew in the wild on earth, huge beauties grew to heights of several meters, the result of having no predators, and of having to compete for the low rays of the sun.
There were small mountains, but nothing really big. There had been little evidence of tectonic activity in the survey, and it seemed the planet had a stable crust. The sky had a brilliant blueness to it at this time, without a cloud around. From the profusion of flowers, however, it must be deduced that rain was common.
In the middle of what would be soon the main street a small box stood on a small stand. It was an insect repellent, working on sound. The sound was inaudible to human ears. From the surrounding forests, however, could be heard the buzz of a million wings.
The interrogation tent had been set up in a small clearing away from the main activity. Saviour organised all the setting up, but did not intend to lead the questioning. He had subordinates who specialised in interrogation techniques, and he would simply observe.
Serena and Andrew were the experts, and they settled themselves in comfortably. Serena sighed as she looked at the view. The tent was simply an overhead awning, exposed on all sides. Behind her was a wall of giant fern leaves and to the sides something like bamboo, but with flowers at its top. The interviewees had to come along a small path from the main area, and had a small but comfortable chair facing the table behind which sat Serena and Andrew.
Celeste had been left to her own devices, and found the colony children had been set to work. The other crew children were mostly still aboard, with their parents, and she did not mix much with them anyway. She walked into the jungle.
In the trees she felt like an invisible watcher. The foliage had no paths, and she had to force her way, but the leaves yielded easily to her pushes. However, she did not move far away from the edge of the clearing. She was in darkness, and was confident those in the bright sunshine could not see her. She watched the bases of buildings being put down, and walls being slowly constructed by machines. This was to be the home of the Tolians, so they were building, while the Ardurians were content for a day or so to erect a tent city.
Illana Borzovska was single-handedly putting up a tent of some sort, but she was spending so much time looking at the plants around her as she did that it seemed unlikely she would have much done by the time she was called.
Brendan seemed to be working very slowly on his accomodation, too. He paused to think often, apparently deeply troubled.
Celeste drifted quietly around to watch Brildan Furr. He had erected a closed tent already, and she moved closer, and stepped on a twig. He was among a small line of similar tents, but most had elected to leave theirs open for the time being, and had gone to join the main group. It was warm and humid. Furr jumped to the front of the tent, and said, "Who's there?"
"It's only me, Mister Furr," said Celeste. She emerged from the shrubbery and smiled. "Can I come in?"
He looked doubtful, and looked around. Nobody was in sight, so he said "Yes, all right," and she followed him in.
Furr was aware that the tents were not able to stop sound. He hesitated to speak, although he would have liked to have seen her more privately.
"Very nice," she said, looking about. "Is that a stungun?"
"Yes," he said. "I like to have it handy. We may need them if we see these giant insects. Most of us have one. Er, what did you need to see me about?"
"Nothing," she said sweetly. "I'm just watching everyone, seeing where they are and what they're doing. It's fun."
"Well, don't watch me," he said. "Watch the others. Go away now."
She obediently left, and he thoughtfully went on unpacking. Celeste drifted back to the interrogation tent, and settled in to eavesdrop. She found a comfortable spot, and lay down, and closed her eyes.
Etillia came in first. She sat down in the chair with a straight back, and smiled at them.
"Good morning, Elder Braz," said Serena. "We thought we would start by letting you tell us more about the set-up on this planet. How will the planet be run now?"
"Now?" Etillia frowned. "The same as we intended in the first place."
"What will happen about replacing those who died?"
"We will have an election quickly," she said. "They will be a loss, but there are plenty of others able to replace them."
"Who do you think they might be?" asked Andrew. "Just your guess."
"It depends on who stands," she said. "We don't have too many people with leadership experience, but it will develop. Perhaps those who were going to be the opposition will accept the reins."
"I don't understand this 'opposition' business," said Andrew. "What do you mean?"
"We want to develop a two-party system of government," said Etillia. "As yet we have no notion of the policies, so it would be a formality for a start. Their job would be to question all the government's decisions, but they wouldn't have the numbers to actually stop anything. Their job is to make the government think about things, and they would be an avenue of approach for anyone with a grievance."
"Who are they?" asked Serena.
"Brildan Furr and Serio Triff," she answered. "Professor Gramm had intended to be on it, but he was killed recently in an accident. We'll have to replace him, too. I don't think you know the other two."
"I thought the scientists were just here for a year or two?" interposed Saviour. "Can they be on the government?"
"The Professor had decided to stay longer," Etillia answered. "But anyone resident here can be elected. They will all still be here for a while. We don't expect another ship for well over a year, and that's the only one we have organised."
"And they are highly intelligent," said Serena thoughtfully. "I suppose a colony of farmers might not be highly skilled in administration?"
"Our people are somewhat simple in habits," said Etillia, "and not skilled in many ways, but we are talking of a small colony. By the time we grow, better leaders will have appeared."
After Etillia had been questioned about more routine matters, such as where she was at the time, and so on, she was allowed to go. She had no idea why someone should think the planet valuable enough to commit murder for. The others considered what they had been told as they waited for the next interviewee.
"It sounds to me as if this place would be wide open for a small group of smart operators to take it over and run it for themselves," said Andrew. "But why? It's just going to be a backwoods hick town! Tourists won't give up all the things they know just to come out here."
Celeste dimly took in the conversation. She watched the cameraderie between Serena and Andrew, and smiled. Maybe they would get together soon.
The other Ardurian and Tolian leaders had very little to offer. They had some suggestions as to who might be likely to stand for the Council, and those few suggested were pushed ahead to the top of the list of interviewees, but nothing was learned, except that the remaining Elders besides Etillia Braz and Anders and Felicia Yerrow were not the material of leaders. They were at best bureaucrats, at worst, not bright.
"I still think it has to be Lar," said Andrew, moving stiffly in his seat. "He's been a center of suspicion already, and he was the only one who could have killed Gramm."
"Are you adding Gramm to the list of victims?" asked Serena in surprise.
Saviour broke in. "I agree. If so many others had not been killed it might be unrelated, but we do need to regard the probability of a connection. If he was a victim, then Professor Lar remains a suspect." He pressed his communicator.
"Captain," he said, after contacting Normington, "I request information on the death of Professor Gramm. Could his death have been caused by Professor Lar?"
"I will try to access the information for you," said Normington. "You will be pleased to know that Carla is half conscious, and should be able to join you in a day or two."
"That's good," said Serena. "Is it worth putting off the rest of the questioning until then?"
Saviour thought a minute.
"I believe we may as well continue with the main figures. We can recall them if necessary. We will leave the ordinary colonists whom we have no reason to suspect until tomorrow."
The next to be interviewed was Illana. She was asked questions about whether there were valuable plants on Regula which might be worth murdering for, about her own past and future, and whether she had intentions of standing for the Council. She did not have any information of use to them.
"Miss Borzovska," asked Serena eventually, "you arrived early on Argonaut. Why was that?"
Illana found being addressed as Miss Borzovska by someone who usually called her by her first name amusing, as well as somewhat unsettling.
"I had the time, and I love exploring new worlds, so I thought I'd do some walking in the jungle there."
"Did you see anyone else while you were there?"
"Brildan Furr was doing some walking. I saw him while I was swimming in a lake. I was a good way off, but I have excellent eyesight, so I'm sure it was him. I didn't call out, because I was naked, and I was somewhat anxious to hide my gills at that time. I didn't know him all that well, and we had both presumably gone out to be alone."
"Thank you, Illana, that will be all," said Serena with a smile.
"What was that all about?" asked Andrew curiously.
"Tell you after this next one," said Serena.
Brildan Furr was next. He smiled as he sat down, and sat easily, although he licked his lips. They took no notice of that. It was normal behaviour for an interviewee, no matter how relaxed he tried to seem. Celeste came to attention.
"You seem an intelligent man, Mister Furr," said Serena, "but you did not try to be elected to the High Council. You did accept a position on the Opposition, though?"
Furr considered. He had been expecting questions about movements, alibis, and so on. "I don't like boring jobs," he said at last. "Running a bureaucracy would destroy me. I may not even stay here long. I came to help, because I talked my people into coming here, so I thought that entailed some obligation, but I am a wanderer. I like to see new worlds."
"We heard you were the brains behind Arduria's bid," said Andrew. "What was so good about this place?"
Furr paused again. He thought before answering. "I think there is a great mystery about this place. These buildings are going to reveal some great archaeological mystery. But even if they don't, I believe investigators will swarm to it. In the long run, I think the planet has enormous potential as a tourist venue."
"It is beautiful," agreed Serena. "But it is a long way away, and there are plenty of beautiful planets."
"All right," he conceded. "But I think it will be an archaeological treasure trove. And we can't lose, because it will always be a beautiful place to live, even if nobody came!"
He answered questions about his whereabouts at the times of the various crimes for which they had a time, in spite of the fact that they knew his movements already. Never any harm in asking again.
"You told us you arrived on Argonaut the day we were leaving," said Serena suddenly. "Is that correct?"
"No, as a matter of fact," he said with a smile. "It was the first time I had been in the town, but I had actually been on the planet earlier. I did a little bushwalking. It's a passion of mine."
"Did you see anyone?" asked Serena impassively.
"No, no," he said. "I can't prove it. Does it matter?"
"Probably not," said Serena, keeping the disappointment from her voice.
"Thank you," said Saviour eventually. "We may have to call you back tomorrow."
"What was the point of that, Ensign?" asked Saviour curiously.
"I knew he lied when he said he had just arrived on Argonaut," said Serena. "Illana asked him how he enjoyed his trip, and he said he had. I thought that was a possible motive to have Illana killed, if he wanted his presence a secret. But his story is reasonable. If someone asks have you just arrived, you could take it to mean 'here', rather than on the planet."
"Nevertheless, an important point," said Saviour. "Presumably the killer had some contact with the maker of the android, so he or she might have to have been on the planet earlier."
As Furr left, attended by an escort from the corps he passed Brendan Bock, who looked at him uneasily, but said nothing. Brendan sat down and fidgeted as his escort sat down to watch.
"Mister Bock, can you suggest any reason from a biological point of view that this planet might be somehow a treasure trove?" asked Serena. Saviour noted the unusual discomfort of the biologist.
"No, I haven't really studied it in any depth yet," said Bock. "The only way plants can be treasure troves that I know of is from medicines or drugs, and the plants haven't been investigated to any depth yet."
"How long do you intend to stay on Regula, Mister Bock?" asked Andrew. "Do you have any political ambitions?"
"Not now," muttered Brendan.
"What?" asked Andrew sharply.
"I had spoken to some of them about maybe being on the council or the opposition," said Bock, "but not now. This place scares me."
"Before her accident," said Serena, tight-lipped, "Counselor Smith passed you in the corridor, and she said you seemed terrified. Terrified, not nervous. What makes a man like you terrified?"
"What do you mean?" he whispered.
"Were you afraid of discovery and execution?" interposed Saviour. "We don't execute murderers on the Enterprise. If you were tried on Argonaut, perhaps. But if we had already tried you in interstellar territory you would serve your sentence there."
"Tried?" he cried hoarsely. "I haven't killed anyone!"
"Then why were you terrified?" asked Serena gently. He buried his head in his hands.
"I think I may know who did it," he said in a muffled voice. "But I can't see how. I was terrified because whoever it was seemed to have control of the whole starship. If I said anything anywhere I might be overheard. I guess I should be safe here."
"Who?" asked Saviour.
"Brildan Furr," said Brendan in a whisper. "He had found something on the planet which could make him rich, so he wanted to get together a few of us to go on the High Council. We'd soon be running the place, he said. But we were going to do it legally. We were going to just do a good job as Opposition for the first session, then stand for the Council itself. We're smart and young, and there would be just enough of us to run things."
"What was it he found?" asked Saviour.
"He wouldn't say. He said if we didn't know we couldn't betray his secret."
"Who else is there?" asked Saviour.
"There was going to be Professor Gramm, but he died. But there was still me and Furr, and Toreal Bligg, he's with the Ardurians, and Ellis Boor with the Tolians. He was a friend of Furr, so he dragged his people in. But we were going to do it legally!" Brendan had recovered some aplomb. He had spoken, and had not been mysteriously struck dead.
"And when the murders started you realised Furr was speeding up the agenda," said Saviour.
"Yes, at least I supposed so. I thought I was safe, because he needed me, but I wanted to come forward and tell. But he seemed to have the whole ship itself working for him!"
"But how?" said Saviour with a frown. "We have a strong suspect, but we need a method."
"Would you help us?" asked Serena.
"Yes," he said hesitantly. "I'm in for a penny, in for a pound, I guess."
Saviour said, "Arrange for to meet Furr in some lonely place. We will record the meeting, and see what comes out of it. We will supply you with a personal force field in case he has a weapon. It will give you some protection, and we will be near."
"All right," he said, exhaling. "Where and when?"
"By the falls would be a good place," said Saviour. "It is open, and there is room to manoeuver. Make the time 0700 hours. We will set up our recording devices a short way away."
Saviour waited until Bock had moved off, and contacted the Captain. He went off with Serena and Andrew, and they brought Normington and Vad Arres up to date.

To Chapter 14, or back.