Chapter 16.
Vad Arres ceded command of the bridge as Normington returned with Alfred. He waited in vain for Normington to detail all the findings of the meeting, but knew he would be told later.
"We have a few days left before we leave the colonists," said Normington. "Let's see what we can find out for them about their planet before we go."
"What about the information gathered already by the survey ship?" asked Vad. "Do we have that?"
"I suspect that what information is available from that ship has been altered," said Normington. "Brildan Furr was chief surveyor on the expedition, and there is nothing in his records to suggest anything of outstanding value on Regula IV. We have already detected reconditium crystals. Let's see if there is anything else."
"A correction, Captain," said Derek, who was studying a viewscreen in the room. "The reconditium is not in the form of crystals. It is metallic in structure."
"Metallic?" frowned Vad. "I haven't heard of metallic reconditium. But reconditium is so rare we don't know all that much of its occurrence."
"There is a problem with its occurrence that Brildan Furr may not have considered," remarked Derek. "It seems to occur at a depth of about three thousand kilometers."
"That would be right down in the core," exclaimed Normington. "Impossible to mine!"
"By any current techniques," agreed Derek. "Their surveys must have detected it, but Furr may not have realised it was so inaccessible."
"Have you completely surveyed the planet otherwise, Mister Alfred?" asked Normington.
"We have logged in all information on its size, surface features and minerals, and deep scanned for other minerals. The metallic edifices are resistant to probes."
"Resistant to probes," echoed Normington. "What metals can they be? Have you studied the information yourself, Mister Smart?"
"Not yet, sir. I will now do so. It is a very unusual planet."
"When you have done so, report your findings to me. I am returning to the surface to tell the Elders what we have learned. You have the bridge, Vad."
"Aye, aye, sir," said Vad. He showed a blank face which hid the thought that there were more interesting things to do than occupy the bridge of a starship which was doing nothing. A holovid might fill in the time. He was still waiting to be told the outcome of the investigations himself, but he was sure he would hear all that from Alfred in the next few hours.
Normington went to the shuttle station, and soared down to the village.
In the confusion, no one had told the colonists that there had been a conclusion to the murder investigation. Those who had been organised to be interrogated waited in impatience and irritation.
Normington decided to simply make an announcement.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "I am pleased to tell you that our investigations have been successful, and the perpetrator of the murders has been found. I will communicate our findings to our leaders, and they will tell you. You may go back to your labours."
The colonists did not want to go back to their labours until they learned more, but there was not much choice. They gossiped amongst themselves as they reluctantly moved off. The leaders waited in anticipation to learn what had happened.
Normington gathered them in one of the nearly completed houses. The small group found seats, and grouped themselves around him.
"First," said Normington, "the murderer was found to be Brildan Furr. When we approached him he pulled out a weapon, and our Security people fired back. Due to some sort of malfunction, the stunners killed him. We have taken his body back to the Enterprise, but if you would prefer to bury him here we will return him here."
"You have evidence?" asked Etillia in amazement.
"It was a very circumstantial case," said Normington, "but when we cornered him he gave us to understand that he was guilty."
"I understood that he had a good alibi," said Ellis Boor nervously. "He was with the Captain when the first murders occurred."
"He used an android," said Normington. "The android has been neutralised."
"An android!" said Boor in amazement. "So that was it!"
"And what was your reaction to the murders, Mister Boor?" asked Normington grimly.
"My reaction?" said Boor helplessly. "I don't understand.
"Fear, hope, optimism?"
"Optimism?" gasped Boor. "What do you mean?"
"Our information came from someone whom Furr suborned into joining him in trying to subvert the government," said Normington. "He realised Furr was the guilty party, but was too afraid to say anything aboard ship because he feared Furr."
"And what does this have to do with me?" asked Boor, licking his lips.
"The others he named were you and a Toreal Bligg," said Normington.
"He's one of our science experts," said Etillia, in surprise. "He has nothing to do with administration."
"The idea seems to have been that Furr had gathered together a group who could take over the government of the planet, and control the profits made here."
"Here?" said Etillia. "Profits? We're not even sure we haven't been sold a pup. We may just live our lives out as subsistence farmers, catering for a small number of tourists or scientists."
"You may be right," said Normington. "Furr was wrong in his assessment. There are deposits of reconditium in the planet, but they are too far down to be accessible to modern technology. They are down in the core."
"reconditium?" said Boor. "Was that what it was?"
He realised immediately that this was more than he should have said.
"So you knew he was the killer?" said Ambrasia Lattif ominously.
"No, I didn't suspect anything," said Boor desperately. "When Felix died I thought it was just an accident. I guess I started to suspect something when Jarran and Arandnia died, but what could I do?"
"We believe that Furr acted alone," said Normington, "but all of his colleagues must have had an inkling. I suggest that Mister Boor should not be elected to any High Council position."
"Not even dogcatcher!" said Ambrasia grimly.
"Even if we get dogs," added Etillia, with a twitch of her lips. "If you choose to stay, Ellis, I think life may be hard."
"I'll go!" he said. "I'll seek passage back, if I can."
"We are not returning that way," said Normington, "but you may come where we go."
Boor slid out of the room, and Normington began to discuss what the Sieve could still do to help their settling in. Eventually he said, "I am an amateur archaeologist myself. I would very much like to look at the ruins myself."
"So would we all," said Anders Yerrow. "I suggest an expedition in the morning."
Normington agreed, and Anders and Felicia walked back with him to the clearing.
"You know, I can't help thinking," said Felicia, "that there would have been more killings. If he wanted to clear the way for him and his pals, there were still a few in his way."
"I agree," said Normington. "Our guess is that the android revolted, and refused to go on."
"Revolted!" said Anders in surprise.
"It's only our guess," said Normington. He left them flabbergasted as he climbed purposefully into the shuttle, and soared aloft. Anders turned to his wife.
"Imagine that," he said. "That toy panda having that much gumption!"
Normington made his way back to the bridge.
"How are your investigations going, Mister Smart?" he asked as he entered.
"The planet is very unusual," said Derek again. "I have some anomalous results as well. I must study them further, but it may be that the colonists may have to leave again. The planet may be dangerously unstable."
"That seems unlikely," said Normington. "There's no evidence of seismic activity, and it would be an extreme coincidence if the planet were suddenly involved in some cataclysm while we were here, after millenia of sitting idly."
"I agree, sir," said Derek. "I will study the readings further overnight."
"I am going on an expedition to look at the ruins tomorrow," said Normington. "Vad, would you like to accompany me? You haven't had much opportunity to get off the ship so far."
"It wasn't worrying me," lied Vad. "The planet didn't seem all that exciting. But then I missed all the to-do. Yes, I'd like to come."
As the two of them left, leaving Derek in charge, Vad remarked, "We don't know anything about this civilisation. What if they left the place boobytrapped somehow?"
"Boobytrapped?" asked Normington with a frown.
"Yes," said Vad thoughtfully. "Once someone lands here some sort of chain reaction starts."
"Derek didn't seem too concerned about anything sudden happening," said Normington doubtfully. "I'll contact him when I reach my cabin and discuss your theory. It is reasonable, though."
When he arrived he poured a whisky, switched on his computer screen, and contacted Derek.
"Commander Vad has posited a theory that the original inhabitants may have set up some sort of booby trap," he said after initial pleasantries. "Is that possible?"
"It is a feasible idea," said Derek Smith. "But I don't understand what is occurring. There seems to be no immediate danger, as the planet is not changing. The instability in the center is mysterious. I will report further in the morning."
"Very well," said Normington. "I wonder if we are doing the right thing in not hunting for Celeste? We might have learned so much from her construction."
"We do have an android made by the same hands," reminded Alfred. "It is safe in a box. It also has no human psyche melded to it."
"We assume," said Normington.
"It exhibited no human attributes," said Alfred after a moment.
"I was joking, I think," said Normington.
"Oh, I see, sir." Alfred blushed. He was ill at ease with adults, which was why he tended to be somewhat solitary. "When we open the box we must not give the panda to understand that the mission is over. If it is one of the killer androids we've been told about, it may self-destruct. I will have to speak to it myself when the time comes!"
"Do that," said Normington with a smile. The thought of Alfred in animated discussion with a toy panda amused him until he fell asleep.
In O'Riley's, Brendan Bock sat with Illana, still gossiping into the late hours.
"I don't know if they will still want me now," he said. "I'd like to investigate the plants still, but I mightn't be too welcome."
"If they throw you out, they'll throw me out too," she said. "That would leave them with nil botanists. I think they'll let you stay."
"I've been so involved with this murder thing I've been neglecting my work," he said. "I haven't even looked at the plants."
"Hey, we've only been here one day," she replied. "I haven't got past putting up my tent and making the bed and unpacking."
"Because you spent the day looking at the flowers."
"Oh, a spy!"
"Just happened to notice."
"So I was one of your suspects?"
"Huh?"
"You were occupied all the time with the murders, and you spent all day looking at me. That makes me a suspect."
"A potential victim. Someone had tried to kill you. I was watching out for you."
"You made that up fast!"
He grinned. "Quick off the mark. Always ready with an answer. You'll have to get used to it."
She sobered up slightly.
"You know I like you, enough probably to marry you. But I hope you're not too.. egotistical."
"Egotistical?" he said with a frown. "Why?"
"I heard about your arrangement," she said quietly. "The group of you assumed you'd be able to pull the wool over the poor dumb settlers. You assumed they wouldn't be smart."
He blushed.
"They may be farmers," she continued, "but they're the ones who are ready for the great adventure, the entrepreneurs. They may not have a lot of education, but they're not stupid."
"I know," said Brendan. "Now that I've met them I see that some of them are going to be good leaders. And a lot of them are actually specialists in various areas. People who are grabbing the chance to find a peaceful haven and live out peaceful lives."
"Can you do that?"
"I don't know," he said, "but with you at my side I'll be there a long time. The only problem I can see is that there's so much more sea than land. You'll never be home!"
She threw a cake at him.

On to Chapter 17, or back to me