Chapter 14.
Jack Normington was already in the Briefing Room when the rest of the senior staff entered very early next morning. Alfred Simpkins had recently become a regular in the group, although he was not usually involved in security matters, simply because he had an encyclopaedic knowledge, and Jack had found him to be a good lateral thinker. Jack welcomed Ensign Moulton and Ensign Black to the meeting, and asked Saviour Bliss to lead the agenda.
"First, we have a suspect," he told the group. "Brildan Furr has previously arranged with Doctor Bock and others to infiltrate the High Council, legally, as he calls it, because he knows something of enormous value on the planet. We are going to try to have him confess to Bock later today, but so far we have no idea how, if it were he, he did it."
"I have found something which may explain his interest," said Vad. "We have done some deeper scans of the planet, and have found some trace of reconditium."
"Reconditium!" exclaimed Bliss. "There is our motive! All we need now is evidence of how the murders were committed!"
"What's reconditium?" asked Serena with a mild embarrassment.
"It's a mineral that hardly exists anywhere," said Vad. "It has a stable element from the second actinide series. We used to think they would never exist, and for a while the only way they could be got was artificially. These amounts are unheard of."
"We have to consider whether there was only one murderer," Normington reminded him. "You had a theory that each group might have had a killer."
"That seems unlikely now," interposed Bliss thouhtfully. "The group which hoped to take control covered both groups of colonists, so unless there is another motive we do not know, it seems likely that Furr will be the culprit."
"Unless a second group has the same idea," said Vad. "Who else might know of the dilithium?"
"We have not accounted for all of the original crew of the science vessel," said Bliss. "None of them is among the colonists, however. They could have organised from afar. It still seems unlikely."
"I agree," said Vad. "It would have been difficult for any of them to infiltrate the colonists. They know each other too well. I wanted to raise every possibility, though."
"With luck this set-up will tell us what we want to know," said Serena suddenly. She had been quiet for a while, awed by being in the presence of the top echelon. "Brendan Bock is going to see what he can get out of Furr. He's going to pretend to be still onside, but wants to know what's going on."
"The play's the thing wherein we'll catch the conscience of the king," said Alfred to her, in an attempt to join the conversation, and to draw Serena's attention to his erudition.
"What?" said Serena blankly.
"A quotation from Hamlet," said Normington kindly. "Not entirely applicable in this case, I would say. Before your time perhaps?"
"Oh, he must be," said Serena with a grateful smile.
"It's a play by Shakespeare," said Alfred doubtfully.
"Oh, I've heard of him!" said Serena, seizing the chance not to seem an idiot.
Alfred sat back with a frown.
"What exactly is the plan?" he asked, and said, when they had explained, "It may be as well to be on our guard from all sides. If Brildan Furr did have an android killer, other than the panda, it may be guarding him."
"An excellent suggestion!" said Bliss with enthusiasm. "I believe we have the matter organised. If this fails, which I doubt, we can resume the interrogations tomorrow."
"To recap, then," said Normington. "Furr may be the killer, having used the Kritonian panda as his assassin. There is no evidence that there is any other android, according to a computer sweep, but Mister Bliss feels there is no harm in covering the possibility."
"If we have Furr confess to some of the crimes," said Bliss, "we will know which murder attempts remain to be investigated."
"There are problems with the motive," said Vad, "which the Mister Furr may not have realised, but they can be discussed later."
Alfred had been fidgeting, and he suddenly interrupted, "Ensign Moulton, is your daughter still aboard?"
"No, she's down in the camp," said Serena. "She's staying with her friends for the night. Why?"
"I would like to talk to her," said Alfred, "while the others watch the meeting."
"Why?" asked Serena, with a fleeting fear sweeping her heart. "Is she in danger?"
"She told me that she lies," said Alfred gloomily, "like the protagonist in the famous paradox, and she knows more than she should."
"I don't understand, Mister Simpkins, but I would be glad to have you with her. Look after her," said Serena. "Should I come with you?"
"No," he answered. "Let us first go and set up the trap."
Brendan walked to and fro in the camp, getting no more work done on his house. Illana came up to him and tapped him on the shoulder. He leaped in the air, then apologised.
"Setting up camp on a new world is exciting," she said sarcastically, "but that seems an overreaction. You're up early."
"I'm sorry," he said. "I have things on my mind."
Just then the security team appeared, walking casually into the clearing near them. Bliss came over.
"It is time to get organised," he said. "Let us go."
"Can I come?" asked Illana in surprise. "Is it a private party?"
"It would be best if you did," said Bliss, "but you will have to remain with us all morning."
"Well, I'm not too occupied," she said, her curiosity piqued. "What's going on?"
"You'll see," Brendan muttered, and she followed the group. They moved well away from the camp, and found a clearing, about a hundred meters from the falls, which she could hear thundering in the distance. They were in a glade, with leaves tickling their skin every time they moved. The low rays of the sun made every part of this area beautiful during the day.
The team set out their equipment. It was irritating that there was no clear space, but the only space nearby was the one they were going to bug. There was a video screen, and small recording blocks, with remote terminals. Bliss switched on the remotes, and they rose into the air silently, drifting through the trees until they came out into the clearing near the falls. When they set themselves down, however, two of the three immediately rolled over and pointed at the earth, and the other only covered a small part of the available area.
Bliss swore, and quietly moved through the brush. The scene at the falls was empty, so he quietly found the two remotes and placed them on suitable mounds of earth just inside the line of flora, and silently returned. With the remotes firmly grounded he was able to arrange them to cover the area completely.
"Did you ask Furr to come here?" he asked quietly.
"Yes," answered Brendan. "I left a message in his tent last night where he can't miss it."
Furr had just found it. He read, "I must see you alone. we need to discuss things Meet me at the falls, 0700 hours. BB." He pursed his lips, and looked at his watch. It was 0630. He picked up his stungun, which was still exactly as he had left it on his case, and tucked it into his belt. He would have set it on kill, but a stunner on kill is best not tucked into the belt. It was on standby. A flick of the finger would set it on kill.
He quietly moved out of the main camping area, and through the shadows of the trees, barely stirring the leaves as he approached the trysting place. There was nobody there, and he moved out into the open.
"Hello!" said Serena quietly, "what's this?"
Furr had appeared on the screens at the hideout, a hundred meters away. All of them stopped what they were doing. Bliss frowned.
"He has come to survey the place early," he whispered. "I don't think he can find the remotes quickly. He doesn't have sophisticated equipment. Let's wait."
They watched in silence as Furr walked around the clearing, peering into bushes, but the remotes were tiny, and hidden under the shadows of leaves. They could hear his breathing, and the shifting of debris below his feet. Alfred spoke.
"I think I'd better go and find Celeste now," he said. "And I suggest the security team shadow Mister Bock until he nears his rendezvous."
He had started to walk quietly off when he was interrupted.
"Look!" said Andrew, and they all turned. He pointed to the viewscreen, where Brildan Furr stood irresolutely. At the side of the screen a small figure had walked quietly in.
"There was just a short pulse of radio," said Andrew with a frown. He was monitoring the arrays. "It didn't do anything, though. I don't know where it came from."
Serena gasped as she recognised Celeste. "What is she doing there?" she gasped. "I'll get her."
She moved to go, but Andrew said, "There's no reason why he should hurt her. He'll just pass the time of day, and depart."
"I don't think so," she said. "I think he's been waiting to get her alone. I'm going after her. It will seem natural. I'm her mother. Furr will think nothing of it if I appear looking for her, and take her off."
As she began to leave, Alfred said uncomfortably, "I don't believe your daughter is in danger. I think we may learn something important."
She paused, not convinced, and looked doubtfully at him, but she stopped, and they watched.
Furr became aware of Celeste as she spoke.
"Good afternoon, Mister Furr."
He whirled, his hand moving towards his stunner, then realised who it was.
"What are you doing here?"he snapped. "I don't want to see you now!"
"It seemed like a good time," she said. She strolled over towards the edge of the cliff, and looked at the waterfall.
"I know you killed those people and I can prove it!" Celeste said suddenly and vindictively. "I'm going to tell on you!"
"My god, what's she doing!" cried Serena. "He'll kill her!" She ran off, and the others followed, except Alfred, who kept watching the monitor, which was recording everything. He had a sinking feeling in his stomach.
"What do you mean?" asked Furr, with a frown. He looked around uneasily, but still did not know if there were any monitors. "You can't tell anything."
"I'm going to tell everyone you were the one who had those people killed," Celeste said. But she was not looking at him. She was peering over the edge at the glorious scene below, with the frothing waters gouging a deep pool at the base of the falls straight below her.
Furr glanced desperately around. He thought of his stunner, but it would take time and fumbling to get it and ready it. While he was trembling in indecision, she bent over provocatively to see the waters churning below. He could not resist the chance, and quickly kicked her.
Celeste went over the falls dramatically. She flung her arms wide, and fell. She made a noise like "Eek!", but the recording instruments did not pick up her scream as she fell.
Brildan Furr was white as he stared down and saw the small figure hit the water. He suddenly became aware of the sound of running feet breaking the foliage, and turned to see the group running towards him. With a curse he pulled out his small weapon, set it to kill with a move, and fired at the oncomers.
Nothing happened. He saw with a sigh of despair the runners pulling their stunners to stop him, and waited for the jolt of the stun beams. Instead he was consumed in a flash of energy, twisting in a quick agony.
Bliss and the others had reacted to the sight of the weapon with well-trained reactions. The three Security people fired almost as one. What they did not expect was to see Furr die.
Serena did not stop to look at him. She fled to the ledge, and looked down in despair. A hand grasped her.
"Don't jump," said Illana. "You couldn't survive!"
Serena paused irresolutely, knowing it was true. Knowing Celeste could not have survived. But Illana ignored her own advice and dived from the cliff.
Serena watched in horror as she hit the water. The others were immediately at her side, holding her.
"Don't worry," whispered Brendan, trying to convince himself, "Illana can breathe water. She'll find her."
"If she survived the fall," said Andrew dumbly.
Bliss had quickly hit his communicator.
"Captain, acknowledge,"
"Normington here," said the captain.
"I need a rescue team down at the river now," said Bliss. "Two people are in the water."
The team arrived within minutes. They had been on a general alert, it being a new planet, although no obvious danger existed. A hoverer quickly sped across the surface of the water, looking for signs of life. Their instruments could pick up lifesigns only feebly through the water, but they found Illana quickly, and a team dived in. She was not injured, but desperately scouring the bottom of the deep pool for Celeste. They pulled her out despite her protests. She was too exhausted to resist.
"Can't you pick up the girl?" asked Bliss. "She will be dead, but we may resuscitate her if we are in time."
"Nothing animal, alive or dead, in the river, or anywhere down there," said the operator, looking at a screen on his hoverer.
"Not caught under a rock?" asked Bliss. "She may be a distance downstream."
"We can't see that well in the rough water," said the operator. "We can see pretty well in the quiet water. She's not there, or in the two kilometres downstream."
Serena knelt by the edge, sobbing. Andrew stood awkwardly, wondering how to comfort her. Alfred came up. Standing apart, he looked down and softly said, "and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."
"It would be best for all of us to go up to the ship," Vad said at last. "Ensign Moulton needs attention for shock, and we need to learn what has happened."
"Yes," agreed Bliss, who had not understood the events of the past few minutes himself. "Let's go up with what remains of Mister Furr!"
On the starship Serena was taken by Carla to sickbay. Carla was still tired, but she heard the discussion, and immediately went to the shuttle deck to meet the group.
"I'll go with her," she said to Bliss. "You can report."
"Ensign Moulton was very distressed," said Bliss. "But she will also need to explain why she allowed herself to breach regulations."
"What?" asked Serena dazedly.
"You should not have set your stunner to kill," he said, "even if your daughter was in danger."
"I didn't," she gasped. "I thought it was one of you!"
They all drew their phasers. All were on stun.
Bliss looked taken aback, but only said, "I will take all of the stunners and have them examined. I will see you when you have.. recovered, Ensign."
"I will walk with you for a moment, Carla," said Alfred. Carla was surprised, but had no objection.
The three left. Serena was weeping, but able to walk steadily. Her training enabled her to bear up under what should have been an intolerable strain. Carla encouraged her to cry, and to talk as they walked.
"It is the most traumatic thing," said Carla, "to see your own child die. Don't run away from it. I'll help you work through this as much as it can be. I know you'll never completely recover, but we'll work together."
"They couldn't find any trace," said Serena suddenly. "Do you think she was taken away suddenly, somehow?"
"We're the only ones around, I'm afraid," said Carla. "I don't see how that is possible."
"I am sorry to have to say that I am sure your daughter is dead, Serena," said Alfred sadly. Carla looked at him sharply but said nothing. She would ask later.
Bliss meanwhile took the phasers, and tested them. On stun they blasted targets to pieces. All of them, except Serena's. He took them apart and studied their innards. A glow of admiration flowed through him as he looked at the delicate microcircuitry that had been altered. There was a tiny radio receiver that reacted to a radio pulse, and switched the stunners to kill.
But who had done it, and why? He took the recordings, which he had had brought up, and looked through them. How had Celeste known that Furr was the villain? He considered for a moment the question of why Furr had pushed her instead of shooting her, but realised instantly that that was far more risky. The stunner would be heard, perhaps, although the sound of the falls would mask it. But if the girl's body were found it would be easy to recognise how she had died, although finding the culprit might be harder. But a fall could be an accident.
The case had been resolved, and the recordings would remove any doubts that justice had been done, but many puzzles remained. The shooting of Furr would be an embarrassment, and he had no idea how it had been achieved. It seemed there might still be another conspirator.
Alfred thought this unlikely.
"I believe that the case is concluded," he said sadly, as the senior officers met to discuss the affair. "I also believe that I may know something of how it was accomplished, but I don't wish to make this public until I am sure of it. I will tell the Captain and Lieutenant Bliss my theory, and let the Captain use the information as he pleases."
Bliss was reasonably satisfied, though he itched to know Simpkins' theory. The fact that they had solved a mysterious murder series was a feather in his cap, even if its solution was going to be kept secure.
"Can you ever be sure whether you are right?" asked Captain Normington. "We are unlikely to get any new evidence now."
"I'll never know for certain." Alfred was certain, though.
He followed Normington and Bliss into the Captain's ready room, and told them his theory.

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