Chapter 15.
Illana lay in sickbay, resting. Brendan appeared in the doorway.
"May I come in?" he asked.
"Sure," she said. "I'm decent."
"How are you?" he asked. "That was a pretty stupid thing to do, you know."
"I'm fine," she said. "I had bruises on my bruises, but nothing serious. They've fixed them all up, so I don't know why they're keeping me. It wasn't as dangerous for me as it looked. I can breathe underwater. The main problem hitting water from that height is that it's like concrete, but at the base of a falls it's all turbulent and its deep. The trouble for an air-breather is that you can't get back up to the top, so you drown. I just stayed down and looked for Celeste. But I couldn't find her."
She sighed unhappily.
"It was still brave," he said. "Unknown water could have been full of rocks."
"Serena was in just before," she added. "She's back on her feet already. She thanked me for what I did. But I didn't succeed."
"None of us could do anything," said Brendan. "You were the only one who even had a chance."
"It's a pity they didn't find her," said Illana.
"Yes," he agreed, without great interest. There were too many unknown factors, and the girl would have been dead seconds after hitting the water. He didn't know that finding Celeste's body would have been better for Serena.
"Look," he said, "I told Saviour and the others about what we were going to do. You know, about exploiting the place. But now that I've seen the place, I'm in love with it. I'm going to stay here for a while."
"So?" she asked.
"So, are you going to stay on for a good long while? I like your company a lot. We haven't known each other long enough to get too serious right away, but, you know.." His voice tailed off.
"Well, assuming they don't put you in jail," she said with a smile. "You are a man with the same professional interests as me. You are intelligent and handsome, and you don't mind that I have gills. I think we may get down to being serious pretty quickly, if that's all right."
"it's all right with me," he gasped.
"You may kiss the bride," she said, and he did.
Normington led the way into his office and sat. Alfred and Saviour followed suit.
"Now, what is your theory, and why should we keep it quiet?" asked Normington with interest.
"Very simply put," answered Alfred quietly, "I believe that Celeste was the android. I have no proof of this, and if it were announced it would put additional stress on Ensign Moulton."
"But we found no evidence of an android, other than yourself and the panda," said Normington with a frown.
"I would like to say that I was aware of all my deductions in advance," said Alfred, "but I realised what was afoot only late in the piece, when Ensign Moulton failed to recognise a well-known quotation from Shakespeare."
Normington settled back in his chair.
"You are enjoying this, aren't you, Alfred?" he said with a grim laugh. "A chance to really play the detective. Vad would be envious. Is this the scene where the great detective finally confronts everyone and goes through the suspects?"
"Well, the suspect is gone, " said Alfred Simpkins sadly, "so it's just a matter of seeing if I'm right."
"Please go on," said Normington.
"I believe that the android was substituted for Celeste while we were on the planet Argonaut. Probably at the same time she was given the Kritonian panda toy. I don't know whether there was any involvement of the toy. It appears to be a fully operational android, which means its creator has become very proficient at creating androids. He may have sent it along as a backup, as a red herring, or simply as a toy. It may have no other functions than as a toy."
"Yes, yes," said Normington, afraid that Alfred was about to embark on a long dissertation on a trivial point. "Obviously the android got aboard without trouble, which will need to be looked into. But why was it not picked up by the computer sweep?"
"It was, or so I suspect." Alfred paused. "Much of what I say is presumption. But the computer told us the rooms which contained androids. In the time that we went to the room, Celeste had left the room on an errand. She returned while we were there. The computer had not pointed out that there were two androids in the room, and nobody thought to check for more."
"Before you go on," said Normington, "I would like to expand our circle. I would like to hear what Counselor Smith thinks about telling this to Ensign Moulton. I believe she has the right to know what happened to her daughter."
"That is why I decided to tell you," said Alfred. "I thought you should choose."
"After I get all available advice," said Normington. He summoned Carla, and they waited until Carla arrived.
Carla picked up the air of tension as she entered. "What's up?" she asked.
After she had heard the summary, or repetition, of what had gone before, she thought for a moment.
"I agree with the Captain," she said. "Serena is a strong person, and she has already come to terms with her loss. I think she has a right to know, even if it causes her a little more pain."
"Very well, Counselor," said Normington, and he summoned Serena.
Serena sat alone in her room, disconsolate. Half the belongings in the room would not be used again.
She was interrupted as her wall communicator peeped.
"Ensign Moulton," she answered, pressing the reply button. She knew she had been left off duties, out of sympathy, but she had nothing to do except pack away Celeste's belongings, and hoped that this might be a call back to duty.
"Please report to the Captain's ready room, Ensign," said the message.
"Acknowledged," she said in wonderment. Please? She had never seen the ready room. Hope flickered that Celeste had been found, but they would have told her straight away. Perhaps her body had been found. She quickly packed up, and hurried through the corridors.
As soon as she entered, at the Captain's invitation, she knew Celeste had not been found. All of them looked slightly embarrassed and uncomfortable. She noticed that Alfred Simpkins was staring at her - sympathetically?
"Please sit down, Ensign," said Captain Normington, and she belatedly recognised his voice from the communicator. A personal message from the Captain?
"Yes, sir," she answered, sinking into the seat offered.
"I hope that this will not upset you, Ensign," said Normington, "but I felt you had a right to know Mister Simpkins' theory. I suspect he is correct."
"His theory?" she said uncertainly, her heart beating faster for no apparent reason.
"I believe, Ensign," said Alfred, "that your daughter has been dead for some time. I believe that an android copy was made of her while you were on Argonaut, and substituted there."
"That's ridiculous," she protested, dimly aware that this was not the proper protocol for the Captain's ready room. She noticed subconsciously that Alfred Simpkins had addressed her rather formally. But anger overcame her inhibition. "Do you think I don't know my own daughter?"
"The android, if Mister Simpkins' theory is true, had your daughter's brain patterns imprinted on it," said Carla. "It would have behaved exactly like your daughter. It even fooled me," she added with a frown.
"But I'd know my daughter from an android!" persisted Serena angrily. "I'd know the.." She was going to say, "the feel of her," when she realised that Celeste had very successfully avoided being touched most of the time. Certainly never cuddled. She had begun to eat very little. She frowned, unwilling to consider the possibility.
"Mister Simpkins had just begun to explain his process of deduction," said Captain Normington. "So far he has only shown that Celeste could have been an android without being detected by the computer."
"How?" asked Serena doubtfully.
"When the computer told us the only android presence, apart from Commander Alfred, was in your room," said Saviour, "we believe that your daughter was in the room. By the time we arrived she had left on an errand. When we found one android we did not consider another might have just left. Celeste returned while we were there."
"But how could she," she paused, "it, have done the murders?"
"She had a computer terminal," said Alfred. "You have a high security clearance yourself, though I doubt she would have used that. She is a computer, so she may simply have interfaced with the main computer and subverted it."
"There would be no mystery about the killing of Fratris McNamon. He would have thought nothing of allowing a small child in his room, and she was a regular visitor there. All she had to do was wait for a time when nobody had seen her go there."
"And you think she used the computer system to kill the old couple?" said Serena in a subdued voice. This was all so unbelievable!
"And the unsuccessful attempt on the Aquarian woman?" asked Normington.
"The reason I have been able to solve this case," said Alfred, "is simply that I have had access to information which no one else has had. I have had conversations with Celeste."
The others waited as he paused dramatically. His studies of drama and detective fiction were standing him in good stead. Serena thought, so have I, but I didn't learn anything!
"Celeste came to me in the library, and the subject came up somehow that a sufficiently complex computer might have free will. It had not occurred to her that this might be so. She simply assumed that she was a machine with specific programming, and, although she did not like what she had to do, she saw no choice but to do it. When she talked to me I pointed out that a machine of sufficient complexity could attain independent free will. She was a very complex mechanism, with the added complexity of Celeste's brain patterns. I believe at that point she simply decided not to follow orders any more. She reprogrammed herself."
"The knowledge of good and evil," said Serena, her face drawn.
"What?" asked Normington.
"After she visited Alfred, she said she had eaten an apple. She said it was a metaphor." Serena swallowed. "I was just astonished that a nine-year-old girl could consciously use a metaphor. I guess I thought she must be getting taught very well. I never considered what the metaphor might mean!"
"And so she decided not to kill the woman?" asked Normington.
"Actually, sir, that was before she talked to me," said Alfred. "She would have had access to all personnel files, so she could have seen that Illana Borzovska was amphibious. I suggest that she, subconsciously or otherwise, was giving her victim a chance to escape. Her next victim she made a point of not harming at all."
"Well, thanks, that makes me feel good!" said Carla drily. "I was supposed to be murdered!"
"I suppose that Brildan Furr panicked when he thought we had a mind reader to question him," said Normington.
"Well, that's one trick I think I'll leave out of my repertoire!" exclaimed Carla. "No more mind reading demonstrations!"
Saviour had one of his few inputs. "We have a motive for the attempt on the Aquarian woman. She saw Furr on Argonaut before he was supposed to be there. When we questioned him, he simply changed his story. But he may have thought she was a threat."
"It all fits," said Serena reluctantly.
"What does?" asked Normington.
"Furr," she said despondently. "He was always trying to see Celeste. I decided he was some sort of pervert, and I was stopping him. So was she," she added with a wan smile. "And she got me out of the room while she was reprogramming the food supplier! By warning me that Carla might be attacked!"
"Other things all fit," said Saviour. "Your theory fits all the known facts. Our scanners failed to pick up Celeste from the river, because they were set to look for animal life. She was not human. All that remains is to explain how our stunners misfired, which is probably simple, and how you discovered all this!"
"As you say, that is simple," said Alfred. "In fact, she told me she had done it, though I did not recognise that fact at the time. I met her in the Security room, and she told me she had been playing with the weapons. I assumed she was being sarcastic.
"As to how I knew, finally, while we were talking she showed a strong familiarity with the works of Shakespeare. I found this surprising in a nine-year-old girl, but she told me her mother was very fond of Shakespeare, and always quoting him. Later, when I used a familiar quotation from Hamlet you were completely unfamiliar with it, and I realised she had lied. Something she had warned me of, in fact. I knew then that she was too well-informed for a human girl. She had been reading books from the computers, obviously. I was going to confront her, but did not have time to do so."
"You warned us that the android might attack Brendan Bock," said Saviour. "If Celeste had approached during the meeting you would have alerted us to your suspicions?"
"Exactly," said Alfred. "I did not anticipate that she might attack Furr. Though I should have," he said thoughtfully.
"I like to think that it was Celeste, still alive in that thing, that made it turn against him," said Serena, a tear trickling down her cheek in spite of her resolve.
"I agree," said Normington. Alfred did not comment. He felt that the android had attained a personality of its own, and such a statement was undecidable.
"There is still a point which puzzles me," said Saviour, "although it is minor. If Celeste was operating the computer to trick Miss Borzovska, how could she claim to have seen Professor Lar in the conservatory, and describe what he was doing?"
"I do not know to what extent Celeste could interface completely with the computer," answered Alfred. "If she could do so completely, she would have had complete knowledge of all that was happening abourd the Enterprise. If she was simply using a terminal, it would make sense that she should have the computer track the person in whose room she was operating. Either way, she would have seen him. She may have then told the schoolteacher that she had been in the conservatory as an alibi, as she would be able to describe accurately what Professor Lar was doing there."
Saviour nodded.
"Ensign Moulton," he said, "it would appear that you are the only one who actually saw the creator of these assassins. I will have you create a likeness and we will apprise the police there. He may still be on Argonaut."
"That's if he does look like that." Carla went on, "This man can create lifelike robots. I doubt if he would have much trouble altering his face. In fact, the shopkeeper could have been another android!"
"Nevertheless, it can do no harm," observed Saviour, and he added quietly to Carla, "and it gives the Ensign something constructive to do."
"You'll be taking over my department next," she laughed.
Serena was still clutching at straws, although within herself she knew. "When the Dezics were murdered, Celeste was in the room with all the others. How could she have..." Her voice tailed off.
"The room had no toilet facilities installed," said Alfred, "so it was quite feasible for her to leave the room, even if she had been noticed. She must have taken a chance entering Professor Lar's room while he slept, but with her access to all the personal files she may have known that he was a sound sleeper. And the doors can operate silently."
Carla left with Serena, but she was not in as bad shape as Carla had feared. All her grieving had been done. In fact, all the news and the prospect of finding the man behind it may have been occupying her intellect enough that her emotion was in abeyance for a while. She would still have a lot of sorrow to live through.
When the others had left, Alfred remained with Captain Normington. Normington knew better than to say, "Why haven't you gone?" He simply waited for Alfred to speak.
"When we were talking Shakespeare," Alfred said eventually, "she said that she liked the exit line of Malvolio."
Normington thought briefly.
"I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you!" he quoted.
"It puzzled me at the time. We'd been talking about exit lines, such as the farewell to Hamlet, and it seemed an odd choice. Of course, I should have guessed that she intended to see those who had turned her into an instrument of murder punished, and she began with Brildan Furr."
"Began?" said Normington. "A pity she could not have gone further!"
"A fall from that height into that place might not seriously damage an android," observed Alfred. "I'm just guessing."
"Then you think she's alive?" gasped Normington. "We'll scan for her."
"Why?" asked Alfred.
"Why not?" asked Normington curiously.
"If we find her, there will follow a long investigation. She may choose to reveal who made her, or she may simply self-destruct. Apparently it is an option built in to these androids. By the time we trace her creator he may be gone long ago. If we do nothing, I believe she might seek out her creator herself."
"But she's stuck in the jungle down there," began Normington.
"She is an android," said Alfred. "She is not a little girl. She may obtain her energy straight from sunlight for all I know. I would imagine that she will stay hidden, then one day a medium-sized package will be sent by mail. A curled-up little girl who has no need to breathe could fit into quite a small package."
"And if we find her she may be disassembled," Normington mused. "She would be regarded as a killer."
"Exactly," said Alfred.
"I think we can regard the matter as closed," said Normington. "With luck, justice will be done. But if she has chosen the path of justice, will she kill?"
"I would expect that she would follow the justice system of whatever planet she decides to operate on," said Alfred.
"Maybe she will set up her own agency," mused Normington. "Being shaped like a little girl could be a problem for her!"
"She may find somewhere where there is a lot of tolerance for those who are different," observed Alfred.
"Maybe, years from now, she'll confront the one who made her," mused Normington. "If she finds him while he's still alive. He's probably aged a year or more by now already."

To Chapter 16, or back to me.