Chapter 12.

Next morning Captain Picard found himself walking unaccustomed corridors as he came to the colonists' area. He had arranged for the remaining leaders to gather, and he found them together, anxiously waiting.

From the Ardurians there were Amerbrec Zatof and Etillia Braz, who had been on the original High Council, and a man named Fillat Bleek. Etillia introduced him as a temporary stand-in until proper elections were held. Picard looked at him with interest. From the Tolians he met Ambrasia Lattif and Ellis Boor, and two newcomers, Anders and Felicia Yerrow. They also were temporarily occupying places on the High Council.

"It may not be advisable to hold elections too soon," said Picard. "Whoever is doing these killings seems to be targeting the High Council. We have to presume that Felix was also a victim."

"We understand," said Anders Yerrow, "but the places must be filled. We note that your security has been effective. The killings all took place early, and later attempts have been unsuccessful."

"We have to worry about what happens after you leave," added his wife.

"That is the crux of what I have come to ask you," said Picard. "We have arrested a suspect, but we do not know for certain that he is the one, or indeed if there is only one. We propose, with your consent, to question each of the colonists."

"Why do you need our consent, Captain?" asked Ellis Boor. "Murders have been committed."

"We arrive at Regula IV tomorrow," said Picard. "It would be impossible to question everyone by then. We propose to set up on the planetary surface and do it there. It would be necessary for all two hundred to stay in the one spot for a few days, then we can take you to the other side afterwards."

The Elders looked at one another.

"I see no difficulty," said Etillia. "We are going to be here a long time. A few days will make no difference. We can get to know each other a bit better as well."

"As long as we can establish who is the murderer," said Picard, and they looked uneasily at each other.

"What if we cannot?" asked Bleek.

"Then I suggest you have the elections, and see who nominates," said Picard. "But the killings seem to have subsided. Perhaps all the targets are dead."

Etillia shuddered. "It seems brutal - impersonal - to think of dead friends as 'targets'. I hope we do find this killer soon."

Celeste gathered up her courage, and went to visit the Tolians. She was shy with Beryl and Belinda, but sympathized with Beryl, and endured a bout of weeping.

"What will they do when they catch him?" she asked Belinda.

"Who?" asked Belinda in reply.

"Whoever is responsible for these killings," said Celeste. "Will they execute him?"

"I suppose that if they catch him on board he'll go to prison," said Belinda doubtfully. "If they caught him on Regula, I don't know. If they'd caught him on Argonaut, there's a death penalty."

"He did commit murder there," said Celeste thoughtfully.

"We don't know that," said Belinda. "That one might have been an accident."

"It doesn't look like it now," said Celeste. She went home, very deep in thought.

Serena returned home, dead tired, and gave Celeste a brief review of what had happened.

"But it's true!" said Celeste. "Professor Lar is telling the truth! I saw him in the conservatory when Miss Borzovska was attacked."

"You were in the conservatory?" asked Serena in disbelief.

"I told Mister Simpkins when I went to class," said Celeste. "He'll remember."

"But Professor Lar said he was alone," frowned Serena.

"You know how kids are," said Celeste. "I was playing a game of hide-and-seek. I watched him, but hid. I like to watch people without being seen."

"It does sound like you should join Security," said Serena ironically. "Well, no sleep yet. Let's go see Worf."

She and Celeste walked down the corridor, and took the lift to the Security area. They entered an interrogation room, where Lar was wearily protesting his innocence. Serena explained what Celeste had said.

"But I was alone!" exclaimed Lar, torn between hope and his certainty that the conservatory had been otherwise empty.

"I was hiding," said Celeste. "It's like a game. You looked at the flowers and smelled a lot of them, and you picked one of the big golden ones."

Lar blushed.

Worf said drily, "Well, we will investigate this minor crime later. If this is true, we will have to apologise for our arrest, and look elsewhere."

"No, no, perfectly reasonable," gabbled the Professor. "You were certainly reasonable in suspecting me at the time. I do have the flower somewhere."

"Well, keep it for now," said Worf with a grimace. "You can go back."

Lar fled delightedly. The others looked glum, except Celeste. She was glad an innocent person had been spared a lot of trouble.

"There was another problem with the investigation," admitted Worf. "Geordi said the command to freeze the two colonists was a delayed one. Why would Lar use a delayed command on his own computer?"

"To establish an alibi?" asked Andrew.

"But he stayed in his room," said Worf. "He did not have an alibi."

"It would have had to be a delayed command last night as well, sir," observed one of the team. "The corruption of the replicator's files could have been done any time between last night and the previous time Counselor Troi drank chocolate."

"Perhaps the non-lethal drug was used in case someone else drank hot chocoloate?" suggested Serena.

"Do we interrogate the biologists now?" asked one of the team, after a pause.

"We are setting up on the surface tomorrow," said Worf reluctantly. "It is simplest to do all at once. Let us prepare."

Serena took Celeste back, and sank into a deep sleep. Celeste listened to her snoring for a while, and decided to return to Security.

When she arrived, two of the team were still sitting, gambling. They welcomed her in with a smile.

"How's mom?" asked one.

"She's snoring," said Celeste. "I thought I'd come down here until school time."

"When is that?"

"Oh, about an hour. It's quiet in here. I can read a bit."

"Not much for a kid to read in here," said one, surreptitiously removing an adult stereogram book. "Just a few technical manuals."

"I'll find something to do. Don't mind me."

"OK, but it'll be really quiet for you. We're just off on patrol. Lock the door when you leave?"

"All right." Celeste looked around the room, and began to poke around. She was still looking around half an hour later when Commander Data walked in. She closed the cupboard and said hello.

"Hello, Celeste," he replied. "What are you doing here?"

"Just filling in time until class. Mum's asleep, so I thought I'd come down here."

"Your mother often sleeps during the day when on night shift. Do you often come down here?"

"No, she just showed me the place a few days ago." Celeste smiled at him. "I'm just getting to know the ship after six months on board."

"So you come here to play?" he asked.

"Yes," she said sarcastically, "I like to come down here and muck about with the phasers. It's not a great place to play!"

Data was impervious to humor, as she had known, so he simply asked, "I believe you are using sarcasm?"

"I'm glad you noticed," she replied. "I'd hate to waste it."

"Did you enjoy the books?"

"They were a bit hard," she smiled. "I wanted to ask you. If you developed free will because you are so complicated.."

"Complex," he interrupted.

"Complex, what about the ship's computer? It's complex. Does it have free will?"

"An intriguing question," he said thoughtfully. "I think not."

"Why not?" she asked. "What's different about you?"

"It does not walk about, and learn," he said. "and experience. Also, it does not have many parameters of freedom. It only answers commands. It has shown imagination, however, in programming the holodeck. Perhaps it is sentient. What a thought!"

"Does it know right from wrong?"

"It has little opportunity to engage in moral behaviour," answered Data. "The question may have no application. It may understand the difference, but have no opportunity to implement it."

"So it couldn't be to blame for the murders?"

"Blame?" Data looked puzzled. "It was used as a tool. There is no blame."

"But if it was sentient it could have refused."

"Probably not. If someone put a gun in your hand, moved your arm and forced you to pull the trigger, because they were stronger, you would have no guilt."

"And the computer couldn't be just doing all this by itself?"

"Very unlikely," said Data. "I can imagine no motive."

"Oh, well, a silly idea," said Celeste. "But what I thought, if the computer suddenly knew it was being used for something wrong, and it was asked to kill someone, could it just not do it?"

"The computer is programmed not to harm any sentient being. Whoever has been committing these crimes has effectively cut the computer out of the process."

"If it knew it was being cut out, could it know that something wrong was being done?"

"I do not know whether the computer has that level of awareness."

"Awareness," said Celeste. "What a nice word. I was thinking, if someone had programmed the computer to kill people and it realised that was wrong, it might have deliberately failed. The computer would know that Miss Borzovska is a fish."

"That is a very good theory, Celeste," Data said. "Unfortunately there is no evidence to support it, but I will bear it in mind." He added, "Miss Borzovska is not, in fact, a fish."

"But if the computer did that," she persisted, "it would be good."

"If the computer were capable of doing such a thing," he replied, "it would be the correct thing to do."

"Thank you, you have been very helpful."

"It is gratifying to be told that," said Data soberly.

"Maybe one day I'll work with you on a starship," she said suddenly. "I'd like that!"

"You will no doubt have changed so much that I will not recognise you," he said. "You must introduce yourself."

"Who knows?" she said. "But there could be a problem. 'I have a journey, sir, shortly to go; my master calls me, I must not say no.'"

"You know Shakespeare?" Data asked in surprise.

"My mother loves it," said Celeste. "She's always quoting him. 'To be or not to be' and so on."

"You seem to have a morbid fixation with death," observed Data. "I hope you are not contemplating some foolish act."

"I have no intention of killing myself," she said with a smile. "I just feel I'm not long for this world. Perhaps some fairy prince will save me. Or at least be there to say 'Goodnight sweet princess' to me. Or kiss me and wake me up."

Data was reassured by her airy attitude. She did not seem to be suicidal, although he had no experience to help him. He did have some knowledge that young children often had depression at the concept of eventual death, and resolved to read a volume of child psychology that afternoon.

"Our conversation has been interesting but I came to collect a padd left here for me by Worf," he said. He picked it up. "I shall leave you here alone."

"It's time for class," she said. "I have to go anyway. I have to lock up."

"I believe that you can leave that task to me, Celeste," said Data. "It seems one should quote some appropriate exit line from Shakespeare."

"He has too many," said Celeste. "I'd like to play Malvolio when I grow up." And she laughed and left.

Data filed away the conversation with all the others he had had, and locked up the room.

Class was a little less formal than usual, as they were about to have another 'holiday' for a few days during planetfall. Celeste sat quietly, humming as she did her tasks, and answering questions as they were asked. They were given a large stack of homework, to cover the week they expected to stay, and she considered going straight home and doing the lot. No point, she decided.

Brendan and Illana met in the corridor, and she cheerfully invited him to go to Ten Forward for a drink. He readily agreed, and they strolled there in animated conversation. They settled in with their drinks, and began to gossip.

"You know, you're different since the.. since you were in the tank," he said.

"How about, The Incident," she said. "I've been different since.. The Incident. How?"

"You were so reserved and stand-offish before, and now you're sort of.. flirting with me all the time."

"I always had the fear that men would know I was.. a fish," she grimaced. "Now they know, so I don't have to pretend. I'm a freak."

"You can live among all the different life-forms on the Enterprise, and call yourself a freak?" He laughed.

"But they're all some sort of life form," she said wistfully, "and they're normal for that life-form. I'm a human, but I'm a freak human."

"Well, if all freaks were as beautiful as you, freak would be the fashion," he said. "I don't believe I just said that, and I haven't even started drinking yet!"

"It's all right to look nice, but would you want to date a fish?"

"Well, the simple answer is 'yes'. The only worry might be that if I hugged you round the waist I might strangle you."

"Only under water," she smiled. "In air I breathe through my mouth."

"Let's think about building a house by the sea," he said.

"I'll drink to that," she said. "If we get along all right, I might even come and live in it!"

"It'll have a great garden," he said.

She sipped her drink, and said softly, "You know, it's kind of liberating. I've always dreaded anyone knowing, since it would stop me having friends. So I didn't have friends. Now people do know, and I do have friends."

She thought about asking him about his problem, but to do so might jeopardize her new friendship, so she forebore to do so.

Picard was on the bridge when Brildan Furr appeared hesitantly at the door.

"You sent for me, Captain?" he said nervously.

"Come in, Mister Furr," said the Captain. "You know Commander Riker and Commander Data. The bridge is a bit understaffed at the moment because Counselor Troi is incapacitated, and Commander Worf is busy with Security matters."

"Oh/" said Furr, noncommitally. "I won't be much help there, I'm afraid."

"No, no," said Picard with a laugh, which was more diplomatic than heartfelt, since Furr was one of the main suspects, "I wanted to pick your brains a bit more over Regula IV."

"Oh, how can I be of help?"

"There it is on the viewscreen," said Picard, after pressing a button. "Tell me what you found, again. Someone thinks there is something worth murdering for there, and I want to know what it is!"

"Worth murdering for?" Furr wrinkled up his nose in puzzlement. "It has plants and mysterious buildings, but we don't know enough about them to know if they're worth anything yet. We haven't even begun to explore the oceans. The first scan shows the oceans to be empty of life, but we haven't followed it up yet."

The members of the crew on the bridge stared at the planet which had just come within viewing range. It was certainly unusual. From where they were they could see a single large continent with a circular area of building on it. The area was huge, to show up at this distance, but the rest of the continent was free of cities.

Furr pointed out the continent.

"We call that the Northern polar area," he said. "For the sake of a name. It's a bit bigger than the South Polar area. The planet has a number of peculiarities. Its axis is perpendicular to the plane of its orbit, for one thing. It has abundant plant life, but no animal life except insect life, although the insects have mutated to fill a number of niches. The ocean has no life, but is not toxic."

"So all the evidence points to some form of terraforming," said Riker.

"Right," said Furr. "It couldn't have evolved that way. Of course, there may be some way we haven't thought of that all the animal life except insects was annihilated. But more likely the insects were brought with the flowers to cross-pollinate them. If you have flowers you need insects."

"Minerals?" asked Picard.

"You have the report," said Furr. "Normal deposits for a planet of its class. Nothing worth mining this far out, although enough to make the planet well worth developing for ourselves."

"I can't help feel," said Riker sotto voce to Picard, "that it has to be something to do with the strange plant life, and that makes the biologists our main suspects."

"The thought had occurred to me, too, Number One," replied Picard. He addressed Furr again. "How many were on the original expedition, and where are they now?"

"We had a small science vessel," Furr replied. "There were eight aboard. One was Professor Gramm, whom you know was later killed on another expedition. There were two Tolians, but neither joined the colonists. They no doubt influenced their planet to tender, though. The other four I don't know much about since. Gramm was the archaeology man, I was the mineralogist, B'Toth was the engineer, we had a botanist, a navigator, and the other three were non-specialists. I've actually forgotten their names. It's amazing. You know these people so well for a few months, then you can't remember their names. I'd know them again by sight, though."

"If they still look the same," commented Riker.

"We have excellent equipment on the Enterprise," said Picard. "We can do another thorough scan of the planet."

"Hardly necessary, Captain," said Furr. "We had a state-of-the-art vessel. We found nothing out of the ordinary mineralogically speaking, and we could not penetrate the buildings. It would be a waste of time and resources to do it again now, when we will have teams of specialists arriving later."

"Of course," agreed Picard. "I hope you will contact me if you think of anything else, no matter however trivial."

"Of course," repeated Furr, taking this as a dismissal, and backing out.

"Well, repeating all their scans would be a waste of time and resources," began Picard.

"..but let's do it!" finished Riker.

"Make it so!" said Picard.

The scan was held up for a while, however, as they arrived. For convenience, a lot of the colonists' stores had simply been left in the shuttles, and these were first sent out.

There had been some thought given as to whether the colonists should be allowed to go down at all, pending the outcome of the investigation. However, it was virtually impossible for anyone to flee successfully. The Enterprise's scanners could locate a person anywhere on or below the surface.

In fact, if it had not been for pride, the Enterprise could simply have left the investigation with the colonists, since it was obviously an internal matter. But because the crimes had been committed aboard, Picard would not rest easy until the matter had been resolved. Some time had been allotted for the Enterprise to remain while the colonists settled in, and this would give them something to do in the time.

There were open areas, which were native grasslands. The area of the first expedition's camp was already overgrown, but easily cleared. The shuttles all settled on the southern continent, near the sea but within reach of the mysterious buildings by air. Soon an industrious community was spreading itself out, erecting houses and plotting out the streets. All of the Security team beamed down, and Celeste came with them. Once again she entered tensely, clutching onto Serena, and once again everything went smoothly.

Serena moved into the room which had been quickly erected for her and Celeste.

"I'm going to have to be busy for the next few days, Celeste," she said. "Stay with the Enterprise crew, or the other children. Don't wander off alone."

"I won't," said Celeste, "but it's perfectly safe here. There aren't any animals."

"How do you know that?" asked Serena sharply. Celeste grimaced.

"Everybody on the Enterprise knows that!" she said. "It's news! We talked about it in class even."

"But there are some very, very big insects," said Serena. "We don't know much about them yet."

Moves were being made in that direction. Brendan and Illana addressed a gathering of the whole two hundred colonists, gathered for their first meeting.

There were a few speeches, long because everyone recognised that this would be a historic moment for the planet, and they all wanted to get their faces and voices into history. Brendan and Illana were going to be only temporary residents but they did not pass up the opportunity.

"You know we're here basically to investigate the insects and flowers," said Brendan. "The main thing we need to know first is what is poisonous, and what insects are deadly. Our guess is that the insects which are smallest will have the stings, because they are prey, and need a defence. The bigger ones may have them to kill their prey, so we'll start looking quickly."

Illana in her turn said something similar about the flowers. They existed in profusion, and might prove valuable food products, medicines, or be poisonous. Each would need to be investigated before it might be of use. Until then they would have to grow their own food, or use replicators. It could be that the flowers were the reverse of earth flowers at the molecular level, in which case they might not be poisonous, but useless for nutrition.

The site had been chosen with some care. It was flat and, like most of the planet, fertile, but there were a few fast-flowing rivers nearby, and a couple of magnificent waterfalls useful for generating electricity. They were apparently in deep winter, Picard thought, as the sun had risen only a small way into the sky, and would sink later, but the weather was comfortable. If it was this warm in deep winter, how hot would summer be? But Picard supposed the colonists had considered all that. The climatic records were not something he had looked at, as it was not something he needed to know.

He made a remark of this nature to Commander Riker, who pointed out that the weather may never change. The axis of the planet was at right angles to the plane of its orbit, so every part of the planet had equal day and night all year. Riker had not asked how long a day was, but presumably if the weather at the pole was this bearable, the equator must be quite unpleasant.

"Of course," said Picard. "I should have realised that. That may be why they chose to build at the poles. The equatorial regions may have been unliveable."

"The poles are still pretty cold, Commander," said one of the colonists, who had overheard them. "That's why we've set up house near the sea. And there will be seasons of a sort. The orbit is quite elliptical."

"But if they lived in completely sealed homes, that shouldn't matter," said Riker in puzzlement. "You know, I've thought since I saw this place that it reminded me of something. I think it's like a giant applecore. The seas hide that. I'm guessing that whoever it was dug out all the equatorial regions to get the minerals to build the structures at the poles."

"You could be right," said Picard with a frown. "The planet reminds me of something, too, but it's not an apple core."

He grew even more in the belief that the planet posed a greater mystery than the murders. It was fascinating in its own right, and he began to wish they were staying longer.

Etillia Braz showed Captain Picard and some of his senior crew the sights nearby. They came to view a magnificent waterfall about two kilometers from the camp. It was glorious in the slanting rays of the low sun, which happened to be shining straight up the canyon at that time.

All of them stood watching for a few minutes in silence.

"It seems a crime to think we would be building on this to make electricity," sighed Etillia. "But it's just one of hundreds of gorgeous falls. This whole continent is superb."

"Whoever designed these gardens must have been a genius," said Picard. "So big yet so beautiful!"

"We don't know yet how long ago the planet was abandoned," said Etillia. "This may all be just natural erosion. We don't know how long all the flowers and insects have been evolving on their own."

They were on a small section of grass which led onto an outcropping of rock. Picard stood out on the edge, looking down at the water boiling below.

"I'd step a bit carefully, if I were you, captain," said William Riker with concern. "This isn't some tourist spot. We don't know the rocks are stable."

"No, I suppose not," said Picard softly. "But it is superb."

He stepped back carefully, but not hurrying. The place itself was beautiful, a small island of space in the forest around it. Some of the trees were the small gnarled type he knew could be hundreds of years old.

"How long is a year here?" he asked suddenly.

"I don't know," said Etillia, "but they would have measured all that on the first visit. It'll be in the records."

"No doubt Data will have all that at his fingertips by now," smiled Beverley.

"I'll be sleeping aboard ship," said Picard to Etillia, "and so will the senior officers, except Doctor Crusher, who feels she may be more use down here. Commander Worf's team will be starting the interrogations soon, so we'd better go back. I hope you will forgive us, but you will have to be asked a few questions also."

"We understood that when we gave permission," said Etillia, with a bleak smile.

 

on to chapter 13, or retire ungracefully.