Chapter 5.

Shortly before the discovery of McNamon's body, Serena was in her quarters when Celeste came in, and sat and watched her for a moment.
"Would you like something to eat?" asked Serena.
"No, thanks, mummy," answered Celeste. "I'm on a diet."
"Since when?" asked Serena.
"Just today," she answered. Serena realised Celeste had been eating fairly small meals lately, and did not have as many snacks as she had been, but it did not seem something to worry about. She was still eating a reasonable amount. Not bulimia as well! she prayed.
"Why would you diet, darling?" she asked. "Is there someone you want to look like?"
"Miss Borzovska looks nice," said Celeste diffidently. "She's slim and beautiful."
"The best way to be slim and beautiful is to eat the right foods and get good exercise," said Serena. "But you'll probably be slim and beautiful anyway. Both your father and I were slim, and you're already beautiful."
"Mummy," continued Celeste, changing the subject, "how did you join the crew?"
"Because I wanted to see the universe, I guess," answered Serena. "It's a job which requires fitness and intelligence, and I thought I could do it."
"No, I meant, how," said Celeste. "How did you join?"
"I put in an application from school," answered Serena. "My grades were good, and my profile, so I got in."
"If someone like me wanted to join," said Celeste, "or just someone who didn't go to school any more."
"Well," said Serena, her spirits soaring, "you do go to school, so you'd just wait a few years, and if your grades were good enough, you put in an application. Your teacher would tell you, or I could help. But you have to do really well at school."
"If I decided later," said Celeste, "what would I do?"
"There's places you can apply, called Recruitment Centers," said Serena. "They are all over the big planets in the Known Worlds. You just go in and fill in forms."
"Can I come and see you work?"
Serena frowned. Saviour Bliss would not be keen, but she would ask. This was the first sign Celeste had shown of interest, not only of her work, but the interstellar navy in general. She pressed her communicator.
"Mister Bliss," she asked. "This is Ensign Moulton."
"Yes, Ensign," came the deep tones of her superior officer.
"My daughter would like to see what I do," she said. "Is it permissible to take her on my round?"
"She may accompany you to the wait room, and walk with you, but cannot accompany you on any emergency call," he said after a moment. "It's nice to know that she is interested."
"Thank you, sir," said Serena gratefully, and signed off. "You can come with me now, if you like."
Celeste hopped off her chair, and waited while Serena changed, and the two of them went down to the Operations Room, one walking, one skipping.
As they walked in the small group who were spread around the room, reading, gambling or gossiping, looked in surprise at Celeste. They knew her by sight, in some cases, and by her mother's descriptions otherwise, but a visit was unexpected. Andrew Black came over.
"Welcome to the Castle, Celeste," he said. "Have you decided to join your lovely parent in security?"
"She's come down to see what I do," said Serena, "but that doesn't include repelling boarders. This is Ensign Black, dear. And this is Ensign D'Xarth, Ensign Balk,.." She introduced Celeste to all the Security staff, who were glad of a break in the tedium, and made her welcome. She shyly refused offers to play poker, billiards or chess.
Celeste immediately detected that Andrew Black had more than a passing interest in Serena, and spoke vivaciously to him. Serena, who had been wondering at her sudden interest in the ship and Security, suddenly began to wonder whether Celeste had a crush on Andrew. She's only nine, she thought. What age do girls start getting crushes?
Matters had gone no further when there was a sudden call, and Serena said, "You'll have to stay here, honey."
"What is it?" asked Ensign Balk. The voice on the communicator replied, "Computer reports a dead man on Deck four. Cabin 4333."
"On our way," replied Balk, and he and three others, including Serena and Andrew, made their way quickly to cabin 4333. Celeste was left alone in Security, and decided to go back to her cabin. The medical staff had also been alerted, and Doctor Brill was already there.
"What is the situation?" asked Serena. It was normal practice for Security to attend any sudden death or injury, which were generally quite rare. Murder was not normally first thought of, for the simple reason that it was virtually impossible to commit a murder without being caught.
"Scan shows a blow to the head caused death," replied Brill. "He may have fallen and hit his head on something. We'll know soon."
The crew of the Sieve were chosen for stability and intelligence, so that the chance of sudden attacks or fights was negligible. However, the colonists were just passengers, so the possibility existed that some sudden fight had occurred.
Otto Brill continued to examine the surroundings.
"It looks like he hit this shelf," he said at last. "There's blood and hair on the corner. It matches."
"Computer," said Saviour Bliss, who had joined them by now, "was there any person in this room with Elder McNamon before his body was discovered?"
"Specify time constraints," replied the computer smoothly.
"How long has he been dead?" Bliss asked Otto.
"About an hour," Doctor Brill answered. "He must have lain here undetected for a while."
"How can you remain dead, undetected by the computer?" asked Andrew, puzzled.
Bliss specified the previous hour and a half, and the computer replied that no persons had been in the room during that time.
"None?" asked Otto. "He didn't have a visitor all morning?"
"He was visited by Elder Jarran Dezic three hours and fourteen minutes ago," replied the computer.
"It looks like an accident," said Otto Brill, "but I'll do an autopsy."
"Computer, why did you take so long to report the death?" asked Andrew.
"I reported the death as soon as I detected it," answered the calm voice of the computer.
Otto had the body taken down to sickbay, and followed. The others returned to Security.
"This group is unlucky," said Andrew quietly. "Two dead in a few days."
"Yes," observed Bliss. "It makes one wonder whether the dead of Felix Lattif was an accident. Unfortunately that is both impossible to investigate now, and outside our jurisdiction."
"Yes, the crates would have everyone's fingerprints on them by now," said Serena.
"No they would not," remarked Bliss in surprise. "They were handled only by machines, including their opening. I doubt that the killer would have used bare hands, if there was one, but we will examine the crate involved."
The group split up, to go to their individual investigations. Andrew and Ensign Balk stayed on guard. Serena and Bliss returned to Security.
"Making any progress with your wooing?" asked Balk cheerfully.
"We had dinner together on Argonaut," said Andrew. "She brought Celeste, but it was a pleasant evening. I think Celeste might like me, anyway!"
"Did anything else happen afterwards?"
"A gentleman never tells," said Andrew proudly.
"But you would," observed Balk, "so nothing happened."
"It's a step in the right direction, though," said Andrew philosophically.
Bliss and Serena arrived back in Security. Celeste was waiting there again.
"What happened?" asked Celeste when she could speak to Serena.
"A man fell and died," said Serena. "His name was Elder McNamon. Did you know him?"
"Oh, I just met him yesterday!" cried Celeste. "He spoke to us while we were playing. Doctor Brill was there, too. Did he hit his head?"
"It looks like it," said Serena. "Doctor Brill is investigating. What did he say to you?"
"He offered to explain Tolian politics," said Celeste with disgust. "As if!"
Their discussion was interrupted by the arrival of Vad.
"You've heard about the death?" asked Andrew.
"Commander Bliss advised us," replied Vad. "Until the results of the autopsy we'll keep the room sealed. It seems all right, but two deaths in such a short time is a big coincidence. I've sent word to the Captain."
There was an air of excitement in Security. Not a lot happened out of the ordinary, and many were secretly hoping that a murder had been committed, so they could practise their craft.
A communicator beeped, and Vad answered.
"Commander? This is Brill. It's not an accident. The blow was with something small and round, not the sharp corner of a shelf. It's murder, by the look of it. I've told Captain Normington. He and Carla Smith are coming down."
"Carla Smith?" asked Celeste.
"She's invaluable in investigations," said Serena. "She can tell when anyone is lying, so we have her around to question suspects."
"If the Captain's coming I guess I'd better get out of the way, then," said Celeste reluctantly. "I'm not supposed to be here, and he doesn't like kids. I'll wait in the room."
"Ok, dear," said Serena, kissing her on the cheek. "If you feel a bit cold, put up the room heat."
"I'll be all right," said Celeste crossly. "Why do you always treat me like a baby?" She stormed out.
The Security team, accompanied by Vad Arres, met Normington and Smith at the room. Bliss took command, as it was his responsibility.
"The room must not be entered any more than it has been," he said. "All those who have been inside will have to have their DNA checked against residual molecules inside, later. Our experts in this area are Ensigns Moulton and Black. They will take charge of the investigation."
Serena and Andrew both had a surge of adrenalin. It was very rarely that a security team had a chance to use their training in investigative techniques, simply because not many serious crimes were committed on a starship. They sealed off the room, and had their instruments record all traces of beings inside the room. These were traced, and in each case the person involved was found to have had an alibi for the time of death. Carla Smith was present for each interview, and verified their claims to innocence, as far as she could determine by their reactions.
The computer was consulted, but was firm that no one had been with McNamon at the time of his death. The security team repaired back to their headquarters, with Vad and the Captain. Celeste had been hanging around the area, and slipped into the room. Serena saw her, but did not stop to rebuke her. She was too preoccupied.
"We haven't had a murder before," she said worriedly. "There is a perception that the technology makes it impossible to escape capture. But if the perpetrator has the technology, they may use it to escape detection."
"Expand on that, Ensign," said Vad.
"If he or she has some weapon which kills at a distance, nothing would have been disturbed in the room. But this appeared to have been a simple case of assault, and some of the victim's blood and hair was found on a corner of a desk. So the perpetrator would seem to have had to be there, to have put some of the blood and hair there. But we found no record of another heat signature in the room, nor any evidence in the air, so nobody has been there recently but the deceased. But what if someone has a tool which will artificially erase that signature?"
"What if someone on the Sieve had access to the computers, and programmed them to ignore the presence of that person?" asked Andrew.
"It would require a very high degree of expertise," answered Bliss. "I don't know that we have a programmer of that expertise aboard. However, there was still no trace of a heat signature."
"Would that apply if the murderer was an android?" asked Vad.
"An android?" asked Bliss with a frown. "That would be possible."
"Except that all the androids are accounted for," said Vad. "Only one has been activated recently. The others are all in storage."
"That is a suggestion, though," said Serena. "Can the computer be investigated to see whether it has been reprogrammed? There is the added problem, as pointed out by Ensign Black, that the computer did not report the death until some time after it occurred."
"Certainly," answered Bliss. "However, someone of that level of expertise, even an android, would presumably have erased such an alteration."
"You couldn't find a trace?" asked Andrew.
"It is always possible to trace an alteration," replied Bliss. "However, if the system has been returned to its original state it may not be possible."
"Well, it should be possible to scan, then, for other life-forms including androids," said Serena.
"What do you think of all this, young lady?" Vad suddenly asked Celeste, who was standing half behind Serena. She was startled.
"It seems silly to me," she said. "If something could control the computers it wouldn't have to go and hit someone to kill them."
"The child is right," said Bliss, approvingly. "However, it will not hurt to run a scan of the computer, and then the personnel. I have a complete manifest of shipboard personnel, so I shall run a complete check to see if anyone is invisible to the computer. I shall do so after the meeting."
"I thank the young lady for her pertinent contribution," said Vad, with the mock formality that adults often accord children, "but I do not feel comfortable with her remaining. We may have to discuss forensic material."
"That's Ok," said Celeste shyly. "Can I tell about this meeting in my diary, or is it a secret?"
"You may record that you attended, but no details," answered Bliss.
"Perhaps even that would not be a good idea," interposed Andrew. "If someone does have unlimited access to the computer, they might come across the entry, and place the young lady in danger."
Celeste left them to their endeavours, and hurried back to her room. Her panda was sitting stiffly on the computer seat, so she hoisted it off, and took its place. Her brow wrinkled as she opened up the file.


To Chapter 6, or retreat in disorder.