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?"
"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,
"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
"An android!" said Boor in amazement. "So that was it!"
"And what was your reaction to the murders, Mister Boor?" asked
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
Normington made his way back to the bridge.
"How are your investigations going, Mister Smart?" he asked as
"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
"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?" 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
"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
"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
"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?"
"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."
"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