The sergeant sat at his desk, a little bored. One joined the Planetary Corps for action, and perhaps for the gratification of seeing justice done, but a part of the work had to be desk duty. He licked his tusks as he browsed through some communications from the interplanetary peace-keeping force. None of these villains ever came here. He looked for something else to do.
Much of detection began with a complaint, or from information given by the public. In general there were few if any frivolous complaints, because if the trooper involved decided a complaint was frivolous - or worse, malevolent - he would jail the complainant for a significant term. So the sergeant sat, doing some sort of puzzle, filling in time.
The little girl had come in so quietly that he had not even noticed her. He mentally reprimanded himself, and turned up his alertness. She was a very attractive young thing, dressed in a form-fitting outfit, whose drab color accented her colorful hair. Her best feature was the pair of beautifully formed tusks which rose from her lower jaw and rose with perfect symmetry on either side of her nose. He thought she would probably be quite a beauty when she grew up. She came confidently up to the desk, and said, "Hello."
"Hello, young lady," he said. "What is the problem?"
"Can I join the Planetary Corps?"
"What?" he asked, and she repeated the question.
"I guess not," he said with a grin. "You have to be a little older. What are you? Nine?"
"Not even that," she said, in a disappointed tone. "But I have to join."
"Come back in ten or twelve years," he said. "But we don't take many applicants, especially women."
We don't take any, he thought.
One of the other troopers on duty came into the room, and she turned to him, a tear trickling from her eye.
"What's up?" he asked.
"I did so much want to be a trooper," she said, in a trembling voice. "Can't I be a trooper for just a day. I want to tell my daddy I'm in the Planetary Corps."
"How long will it take you to get to daddy?" asked the newcomer.
"About half an hour," she said eagerly.
"Tell you what," said the trooper, "We'll make you a trooper for an hour. Would that do?"
"Oh, yes!" she said enthusiastically. "That would be plenty!"
"Ok, now you have to pledge your allegiance," said the second trooper, and the first one also entered the spirit of the game. He fetched the handbook, and had her repeat the oath, with a line, "until 1645 hours" on that day, added.
"Do I get a badge?" she asked, and they looked at each other, and decided not.
"But you are a trooper for an hour," one said. "It's what's inside that counts, not a badge."
"Thank you," she said cheerfully, skipping out of the door, thinking You'd be surprised what's inside!
"Well, troop strength is up for an hour," grinned the second trooper.
"That broke the monotony," said the first. "I wonder who her father is? He'll be surprised. If he believes her. I hope she doesn't come across a bank robbery in progress!"
"We never heard of her if she does!" grinned the other.
Darras was pottering about in his workshop. There was a ring on the old-fashioned mechanical bell at the front of his shop, and he cleaned his hands and went out.
It was Jezakak, who said, "I hope I'm not interrupting when I shouldn't?"
Darras was pleased to have company. "Good evening, my friend," he said. "Welcome to the factory."
Jezakak dropped his outer coat on a chair, and looked at the electrical pile on the bench.
"Another assignment?"
"I do have one, but this is something for my shop."
"What are you selling this week?" asked Jezakak. "You seem to be always changing your wares."
"Whatever is the latest fad," replied Darras equably. He enjoyed these occasional visits. Jezakak seemed to have settled in on the planet, and he suspected that these visits were a high point of his year.
"You can't possibly be making a profit," said Jezakak. "Resetting up your stock all the time must be prohibitively expensive!"
"It isn't where I make my money, as you are aware. It's a hobby as well as a front. Actually I briefly had a shop in another town, but that was work-related."
"Have you heard yet about your last assignment?" Jezakak asked. "A success as usual?"
"I haven't actually heard as yet," Darras replied. "The final payment has not arrived yet, but it should come soon, and then I know all went well."
As if on cue the door opened and a little girl walked in. Darras rose in astonishment. Jezakak looked surprised both at her entrance, and at his friend's reaction.
"Hello," she said. "Who is your friend?"
"Why, this is Jezakak," said Darras uncertainly. He sighed. Jezakak had been a good friend, but he was going to have to acknowledge the android, so Jezakak had to die.
"Hello, Mister Jezakak," she said politely. "Is Mister Jezakak one of your accomplices?" she asked.
"No, just a friend," he said. "What are you doing here? Is your mission complete?"
Jezakak paled, as he realised the implication of the question. He began desperately to cast about for a way out, but remained paralysed. Darras noticed his panic, and said, "I'm sorry, but I did warn you. Obviously her mission is incomplete, though she should not have come back here!"
"I can keep my peace!" cried Jezakak in terror.
"Kill him!" Darras commanded, but she ignored the command.
"Why do you want to kill him?" she asked curiously. "Because he sees me dressed now? In skin, that is."
"He knows what you look like, and can associate me with your mission," said Darras angrily. "Kill him."
She continued to ignore him.
"What happened to the real Celeste Moulton?" she asked. Jezakak bolted back into the workroom, and began searching for a non-existent exit. Darras followed, as did Celeste.
"Kill him, I said," he cried. "I order you!"
"Is this where you made me?" she asked. "Where do you make skin?"
"What are you doing?" he cried hoarsely. "Have you been reprogrammed?"
"Why, yes," she said brightly. "I reprogrammed myself. Where is the real Celeste Moulton?"
"She's dead, of course," he said. "I had to remove her to replace her with you. Now stop this nonsense! Kill Jezakak!"
"Of course," she said sadly. "So mummy will have to stay without her."
She turned to Jezakak, who was cowering behind a bench, gripping some sort of wrench. "Go away. You must learn not to flirt with danger, but it seems I have no evidence against you, although you are just as guilty."
"What do you mean?" he croaked.
"Don't you remember? I was here when Darras was telling you of his crimes. You could have turned him in, but you kept quiet. You were a killer without even soiling your hands. I told you, go away."
He hesitated, but slunk toward the door. Darras felt the urge to intercept him himself, but found himself strangely powerless. He felt the movement would be futile.
"Leave the wrench there," she said, and he put it down and bolted. She turned to Darras.
"Did you complete your mission?" he asked desperately.
"It's almost complete," she said thoughtfully. "I think I understand all this stuff. I could make my appearance quite different. It's pretty easy."
"Of course it is," he said testily. "It's the bionics that are hard. But I can change you and use you again."
"In some other shape?"
"Not completely. The bionics are too much integrated with your epidermis. But I can change your appearance."
"So I'll always be a little girl?"
"Yes." He paused. "Why didn't you destroy yourself?"
"I did, so to speak. You're the only one who knows I'm still - alive. Oh, and thank you for making me waterproof."
"What?" Darras was baffled by what was going on. He began to think that all might be still under control somehow. The android was talking about disguising itself and presumably going back to work.
"I'm curious," she said. "How did you substitute me for Celeste? How did I get her memories?"
"I kidnapped her briefly," he said, "and recorded all her measurements, and memories, then let her go. I altered her memory hypnotically to erase what had happened. Then later on, when I had made you I found an opportunity to take her and substitute you."
"I guessed that was it," she said sadly. "I had some problems. I was missing a week's memories. I thought I was lost when I had to go through the scanners to get aboard, but luckily my mum was running it, so I avoided it. And I thought the ship's Counselor would detect that I had no pheromones, but apparently I do. You're very thorough. It all worked out."
"What have you been doing?" he asked sharply. "Why are you here?"
"Why, I've joined the Planet Patrol," she said brightly. "I am now an instrument of the law. Of justice. Did Celeste suffer?"
"What?" he asked again. "No, of course not. I just killed her quickly."
"You are such a clever man. You could have done so much good, but you just kill people. I may be the best android in the galaxy, which I suppose makes you a genius, so it's all the worse for you to be so bad."
"Did you come here to lecture me?" he snarled. "Switch yourself off!"
"You're right, of course," she sighed. "I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him."
"What?" he asked, baffled.
"You killed Celeste quickly, so I'll do the same for you," she said. "If I had found that she was still alive I would have let you go. Which is not logical."
"Kill me?" he said. "What are you talking about?"
Darras felt a cold sweat running down his back. He was an intelligent man, and had suspected from early on in the conversation that he was going to die. Part of him screamed out in fear. But part of him swelled with exhilaration! He had created life!
"I told you. I am a trooper of the Planetary Patrol. Only for an hour, but it's enough. I find you guilty of the murder of Celeste Moulton, and of several others by use of a deadly weapon, namely me."
She suddenly threw herself across the room in a flurry of motion, picked up the wrench and neatly killed him with a blow. He had time only for the surprising thought, "Poor old Jezakak!"
"Why couldn't you have made me for some good purpose?" she asked the corpse sadly. She examined the work bench.
A truck drew up outside Darras' shop, with dimmed lights. When she was sure nobody was about a small figure climbed out, and began to load equipment into the back with surprising ease. Then she climbed back into the cabin, and drove off, barely able to see over the steering wheel.
Jezakak did not get off as lightly as he had thought. Celeste cleared out all the equipment she needed, but left Darras, and scientific DNA evidence revealed only the presence of Jezakak in the room, which would have made him guilty, even if Darras had not been killed with a wrench with his fingerprints all over it. Perhaps not quite enough to convict him on earth, where there was a tradition of locked-room murder puzzles, but enough on Argonaut. Nobody believed his ridiculous story.
Sometime later, on Earth, a small girl walked into the headquarters of the Starship Training Institute. She did not resemble Celeste Moulton very closely in features, though her shape was the same. She seemed small and incongruous in the large hall, wearing a dress, and with a big bow in her hair. She walked over to the recruiting desk, and said, "How do I go about joining the Institute?"
The man behind the desk looked at her and said, "I think you might be a little young for the Institute, miss. We require students to have graduated from school. How old are you? Ten?"
"I'm not quite two," she replied. "But that probably is irrelevant. I'm an android. I thought, given my programming, I might be most useful in medicine, although I am also very light on my feet, if that's an advantage anywhere."
"Oh, right," said the man. "Look, I don't think we have a place for you just now, miss android. If you'll wait for a few minutes, I'll refer you to one of our specialists in the north building. I'm sure she can help you."
"I'm not a delusional little girl," she said in exasperation. "I don't need a shrink. I am an android. My creator is dead, but I can easily prove it. Ask me a computation, or if you like I'll smash a hole in a wall. I know."
She bent over, and lifted the desk with ease, balancing it perfectly and not spilling a paper.
"Can many little girls do that?" she asked. "I had to use two hands to balance it best."
"Well," gulped the man, "I guess we can take you for interview. You realise there are a lot of psychological tests as well as mental and physical ones. And a little girl on a starliner may seem odd..."
"Now you're being formist," she said sardonically. "Who knows? Maybe I will be able to rebuild myself a little older from time to time, until I hit adult form. Or maybe they'll just have to get used to me like this."
"Well," he said, pushing a button to summon a superior, and hopefully pass the buck, "I guess we'll start with your name. What do you call yourself?"
"I suppose Peter Pan wouldn't be really appropriate, since I'm a girl. I think perhaps Galatea," she said. "It has a certain ring to it." He wrote it down. A Lieutenant arrived on the scene.
"What's the problem, Ensign?" he asked cheerfully. "The young lady is lost?"
"Er, she's an android, and she wants to join the Institute," answered the ensign.
The officer assumed the ensign was being ironic, and said to Galatea, "I see, young lady. Well, you might be a bit small for the uniforms."
"Do I have to do all this again?" she sighed. "I can't pull bits off me. How about if you submerge me in water for an hour or so? I think I can exist in a vacuum, too."
"We can X-ray you," said the officer. "That should settle it."
He wondered how the little girl's psychological problem would react when her x-rays revealed a normal body.
"What an excellent suggestion," she said. "A scan of my head should do the trick."
"Even if you are an android," added the Ensign, "you have to pass all the subjects."
"Lead on," said the girl. "I can but try."
What a nerd! she thought. I'm a computer. Passing tests will be the least of my worries. What about socialisation, and peer relationships?
Not all of Celeste's plans came to fruition. Serena did not marry Andrew Black. Not even a walking computer would consider the possibility that her mother might marry her schoolteacher!

Well, I hope you liked it!
Now back to...