Chapter 8

The android became one with the computer. It was a heady feeling, almost addictive. It explored the workings of the ship. Amazing how everything was tied to the one machine. How vulnerable it made everyone!

It had done nothing yet, but explore. It became aware that some subtle traps had been laid, to detect invasion. It bypassed them simply. Now it became aware of where every person on the starship was at that time, and what they were doing. It searched out the personal files of everyone, and studied their backgrounds. It filed away the information, more from habit than for any intention to use it.

It found Illana Borzovska. She was conveniently alone. The computer was activated, and the android slipped quietly away. Down in Engineering a technician was startled to hear one of the transporters whirr unexpectedly to life. He frantically pressed an alert, and Geordi La Forge came running. They began to investigate, after notifying Security.

Illana was sitting reading a padd, with information, sketchy as it was, about Regula IV. She suddenly felt the tingle of a transporter beam, and was suddenly immersed in water!

The suddenness made her panic, but she pulled up her shirt, and revealed two rows of large gills. She fought to regain composure. A normal human would have been dead by now, but she was amphibious, and she did not immediately panic. In fact for a fleeting moment she thought it was some kind of practical joke. But she could tell after a few moments scrambling around that she was in a closed tank. The ship's water supply!

She was finding the water breathable, but if it was not exposed to air the oxygen would soon run out. She fumbled blindly and with increasing terror around the walls. Calm yourself! she chided herself. You have time still. But a sense of claustrophobia was overwhelming her. She swam frantically around the walls, finding small openings where water could leave, but she could not. If water can flow out, it can't be sealed, she thought. Maybe air is getting in. But how do I get out?

Suddenly the wall seemed to disappear. She realised she had become disoriented, and the roof of the tank had opened.

In fact, the ship's computer had saved her, although Security was mustering to find out what had happened. She had been identified as an impurity. An alarm was sounding to indicate serious pollution of the water supply, and technicians rushed to correct it. They found a half-naked woman swimming around with not enough strength to pull herself up through the opening.

Illana lay gasping on a metal walkway, covered with a worker's shirt. Worf and his security team soon appeared, with Celeste tagging secretly along. She had just come into Security to find Serena when the alarm had sounded, so she followed out of curiosity.

"What happened?" Andrew Black asked Illana. She was shivering, from terror rather than cold, and was unable to answer for a while. Celeste watched with a gnawing feeling in her stomach. She felt Illana's terror, and turned to go away.

To her dismay, she found herself facing Deanna Troi. But Deanna took her by the shoulders and said, "You're feeling such misery and despair it almost overwhelms me. But it's not your concern. You are just near it. There is no need to fear. Your mother will look after you."

Serena heard Deanna, and scolded Celeste when she saw her. "What are you doing here? This is no place for you. Go home!"

Celeste scuttled off, amazed that Deanna had read her feelings. She went back to the room, and went straight to bed, not even bothering to open her diary. After a while she realised she was supposed to be at school, and quickly dressed again.

"Celeste! Where have you been?" asked Mister Simpkins. Unexplained absences were rare on a starship, where everyone lived close enough for instant contact.

"I'm sorry, Mister Simpkins," she said. "I was in the conservatory, and then I went to see mum, and there was an emergency and I went along. It was awful."

"What?" asked Mister Simpkins, and the rest of the class froze in attention. "What emergency?"

"One of the colonists was transported into the water tank, but she didn't die. She could breathe underwater. But she was pretty scared. I didn't like her being scared."

She stood silently while the class broke into chatter. The teacher let them talk themselves out for a few minutes, then stopped them, and took them back to the subject. Celeste sat with a faraway look in her eye. Meanwhile, Brendan Bock arrived at the water supply, and ran to comfort Illana.

She had recovered some equilibrium by now, and had the coat properly on. She had told her story, what there was of it, and Brendan offered to escort her back to her room.

Worf had offered to have her beamed back, but she said, "No way!" She dripped water as they walked. Zelia was in the room when they returned. She grabbed Illana, and went to send Brendan off so that Illana could change.

"I'll see you in Ten-Forward," said Illana with a wan smile. He smiled, and went off.

"Well, now you see why I don't have too many beaus," smiled Illana as she changed. "Not many men want to marry a fish."

Zelia was silent, because she shared their supposed prejudice. She changed the subject.

"What was it like?" she asked.

Meanwhile the Security team, which currently included all the computer experts, were putting their ideas together.

"Geordi is tracing the command," said Worf.

"Couldn't this have been another pre-programmed computer instruction?" asked Serena.

"Apparently not," answered Worf. "In order to beam a particular person from one place to another, tracking must be done, which is difficult to program without laying a wide trail, and our adversary has left no trails so far."

"So it's not the bear?" asked Andrew.

"Not this time," said Worf. "It may have been the culprit before, and its accomplice has done this."

"Not another android?" asked someone.

"No," answered Worf. "We had a complete sweep of the ship last time. There are no other androids around."

"Could it have sent a radio signal from its box?" asked another. "It might have teed up the computer in advance."

"No," said Worf again. "The box is sealed against any transmissions. In any case, if they existed, we could detect them. It has been continuously monitored."

"In the time-honored detective tradition, however," said Data, "we are eliminating all the impossible scenarios, so that we will be left with the improbable, which must be true."

"If we can think of the improbable," muttered Andrew.

"Opportunity seems an open question at the moment," said Serena. "We don't know yet where it was done from, so we don't know who has an alibi. We have to look for motive. All of the victims have been from the colonists, so we have to assume it's not random killing. They are only about eight percent of those on board, so they must be being targeted."

"Very good," agreed Worf. "Which implies that the murderer is one of the colonists. That reduces our suspects to two hundred or so."

"And we can eliminate Illana for a start," said someone.

"Not necessarily," put in Data. "In the works of an early novelist, Agatha Christie, an unsuccessful attempt invariably led to the discovery that the attempted victim was in fact the killer."

"I doubt that in this case, because she was lucky to survive. If the tank had not rejected her we might not have found her in time." Worf added, "However, no possibility must be overlooked. I will note that."

"But the computer should not have allowed the attempt to be made," said Serena. "It won't let anyone be transported where they will be hurt. It's not as simple as lowering the room temperature. The computer is an integral part of the transport system itself!"

"Commander Data would have to correct me, perhaps," said Worf, "but I would guess that the killer gambled that the computer would allow the woman to be transported because it was an environment which would not be immediately fatal. She is amphibious."

"And he or she did not realise that the computer would then automatically open the tank because she was an impurity," added Data. "The killer may have gambled that the computer may not have realised that the environment would be fatal until too late."

"Well, while Commander Data and Commander La Forge investigate what can be found from the computers, we will question the colonists." Worf felt some comfort from what seemed a course of action certain to lead to a solution. If they knew the guilty party or parties, proof would soon follow.

"Two hundred is coming into feasible range," said Serena. "We can question each of the colonists with Deanna present to see if we can find anything. We can start by eliminating everyone with airtight alibis."

"Ensign Black, put together a list of all the colonists," said Worf. "We will then call each group together and go through the list. The rest, meet back here in two hours. We will see what we have by then. Ensign Moulton, contact Counselor Troi and explain the situation to her."

Serena rose stiffly from her seat. She was tenser than she had thought. She pressed her badge, and called for Deanna Troi.

"Troi here," came the reply.

"Where are you, Deanna?" asked Serena. "I'd like to talk to you."

"I'm in Ten Forward," replied Deanna. "Come on down, and I'll have a drink ready."

When she arrived, Deanna had moved to an empty table, assuming she had been with friends, and, as promised, had a drink for her. As she moved to the table she passed Brildan Furr.

"How are you, Serena?" he asked with a smile. "Are you involved with all the to-do?"

"Well, if the answer to the second question was no, I'd be a lot better." laughed Serena. "But otherwise I'm all right."

"And how is Celeste?" he asked.

"Have you seen her lately?" asked Serena in return, a mild suspicion reforming.

"No," he said. "Except I passed her in the corridor the other day, when I was off to talk with the Captain. Well, tell her I said hello."

"That's odd," said Deanna with a frown. "He was lying. Is he giving you some sort of trouble?"

"I don't know," said Serena. "It may be nothing, but I have the feeling he's.. interested in Celeste. But she says he hasn't been talking to her."

"Well, you're supposed to be in Security," said Deanna, "and he's one of the suspects. Why not have him observed whenever he is out of his quarters?"

"Why not indeed?" said Serena, brightening.

"How is Celeste?" asked Deanna. "I saw her briefly when they found the woman. Celeste seemed almost as upset as the victim. I suppose this is all very frightening for her?"

"Yes," said Serena. "She was staying with the daughter of the Dezics when they were killed, and now this. But she is a lot better otherwise. In fact she seems quite resilient. She seems to have warmed to shipboard life at last. I wondered if she had a crush on one of the boys or something, but the only boy she gets around with is a colonist. I even thought she might have a crush on Andrew, but I think she might be trying to pair him off with me."

"At her age, more likely a crush on the teacher," said Deanna.

"I hadn't thought of that," said Serena with a start. "I hope not."

"I wouldn't worry about that," laughed Deanna. "It's the norm. You probably had a crush on a teacher yourself at that age."

"Well as long as its not a crush on Furr," said Serena. "At least they'll all be off the ship in a couple of days. Which brings me to what I wanted to talk to you about. We've decided to question all the colonists."

"All two hundred?" asked Deanna glumly.

"Unless they've got really airtight alibis for the times," said Serena. "We'll check that first."

"That will be an interesting exercise in crowd control," remarked Deanna. "Has Celeste shown any change in her other habits?"

"She still doesn't like to be touched," admitted Serena, "but that isn't a problem. I know some people are just like that. And she's starting to diet so she can look like Illana Borzovska! But apart from that she's really good. She's started reading without being pressured at last. I was getting really worried about that."

"Well, it sounds like I'm going to be busy for a while," laughed Deanna. "I'll talk to her after we leave Regula, if you like."

They gossiped on, and then came the familiar beep of the communicator.

"Moulton here," responded Serena.

"We have a trace," said Andrew. "It's the same place. Professor Lar's computer. Meet you there."

They rose quickly, and with an apologetic glance at Guinan moved out at top speed. At Lar's room the force was already interrogating him. He was upset, and insisting he had not been in his room at the time. He said he had been in the Conservatory.

Worf called upon the computer, which said it could only confirm where people were at the moment. It had not been programmed to memorize movements. But a scan of the room indicated very little trace of movement within. It did seem that the Professor had just arrived, but he could have left and returned. Once again the computer was bare of fingerprints, but the Professor insisted that he had used it since their last visit. There should be some.

Drawing aside, Worf and his crew considered the matter. It was felt that he would have known from their last visit to clean the keyboard. He could not prove his alibi. He was one of the colonists. It was adding up, but like last time, there was a doubt. It was decided to put him under complete observation.

 

On to Chapter 9, a critical episode!, or don't.