Chapter 14.

Jean-Luc Picard was already in the Briefing Room when the rest of the senior staff entered very early next morning. He welcomed Ensign Moulton and Ensign Black to the meeting, and asked Lieutenant Worf to lead the agenda.

"First, we have a suspect," he told the group. "Brildan Furr has previously arranged with Doctor Bock and others to infiltrate the High Council, legally, as he calls it, because he knows something of enormous value on the planet. We are going to try to have him confess to Bock later today, but so far we have no idea how, if it were he, he did it."

"I have found something which may explain his interest," said Data. "We have done some deeper scans of the planet, and have found some emissions of dilithium."

"Dilithium crystals!" exclaimed Worf. "There is our motive! All we need now is evidence of how the murders were committed!"

"We have to consider whether there was only one murderer," Picard reminded him. "You had a theory that each group might have had a killer."

"That seems unlikely now," said Worf thouhtfully. "The group which hoped to take control covered both groups of colonists, so unless there is another motive we do not know, it seems likely that Furr will be the culprit."

"Unless a second group has the same idea," said Riker. "Who else might know of the dilithium?"

"We have not accounted for all of the original crew of the science vessel," said Worf. "None of them is among the colonists, however. They could have organised from afar. It still seems unlikely."

"I agree," said Riker. "It would have been difficult for any of them to infiltrate the colonists. They know each other too well. I wanted to raise every possibility, though."

"With luck this set-up will tell us what we want to know," said Serena suddenly. She had been quiet for a while, awed by being in the presence of the top echelon. "Brendan Bock is going to see what he can get out of Furr. He's going to pretend to be still onside, but wants to know what's going on."

"The play's the thing wherein we'll catch the conscience of the king," said Data to her.

"What?" said Serena blankly.

"A quotation from Shakespeare," said Picard kindly. "Not entirely applicable in this case, I would say. Before your time perhaps?"

"Oh, he must be," said Serena with a grateful smile. Data sat back with a frown.

"What exactly is the plan?" he asked, and said, when they had explained, "It may be as well to be on our guard from all sides. If Brildan Furr did have an android killer, other than the panda, it may be guarding him."

"An excellent suggestion!" said Worf with enthusiasm. "I believe we have the matter organised. If this fails, which I doubt, we can resume the interrogations tomorrow."

"To recap, then," said Picard. "Furr may be the killer, having used the Kritonian panda as his assassin. There is no evidence that there is any other android, according to a computer sweep, but Commander Data feels there is no harm in covering the possibility."

"If we have Furr confess to some of the crimes," said Worf, "we will know which murder attempts remain to be investigated."

"There are problems with the motive," said Data, "which the Mister Furr may not have realised, but they can be discussed later. Ensign Moulton, is your daughter still aboard?"

"No, she's in the camp," said Serena. "She's staying with her friends for the night. Why?"

"I would like to talk to her," said Data, "while the others watch the meeting."

"Why?" asked Serena, with a fleeting fear sweeping her heart. "Is she in danger?"

"She told me that she lies," said Data, "like the protagonist in the famous paradox, and she knows more than she should."

"I don't understand, Commander, but I would be glad to have you with her. Look after her," said Serena. "Should I come with you?"

"No," he answered. "Let us first go and set up the trap."

Brendan walked to and fro in the camp, getting no more work done on his house. Illana came up to him and tapped him on the shoulder. He leaped in the air, then apologised.

"Setting up camp on a new world is exciting," she said sarcastically, "but that seems an overreaction. You're up early."

"I'm sorry," he said. "I have things on my mind."

Just then the security team and Data appeared in a tingle of light, beaming into the clearing near them. Worf came over.

"It is time to get organised," he said. "Let us go."

"Can I come?" asked Illana in surprise. "Is it a private party?"

"It would be best if you did," said Worf, "but you will have to remain with us all morning."

"Well, I'm not too occupied," she said, her curiosity piqued. "What's going on?"

"You'll see," Brendan muttered, and she followed the group. They moved well away from the camp, and found a clearing, about a hundred meters from the falls, which she could hear thundering in the distance.

Worf gave orders to his communicator badge, and a small selection of electronic equipment appeared in the sparkle of a transporter beam. There was a video screen, and small recording blocks, with remote terminals. Worf switched on the remotes, and they rose into the air silently, drifting through the trees until they came out into the clearing near the falls. When they set themselves down, however, two of the three immediately rolled over and pointed at the earth, and the other only covered a small part of the available area.

Worf swore, and quietly moved through the brush. The scene at the falls was empty, so he quietly found the two remotes and placed them on suitable mounds of earth just inside the line of flora, and silently returned. With the remotes firmly grounded he was able to arrange them to cover the area completely.

"Did you ask Furr to come here?" he asked quietly.

"Yes," answered Brendan. "I left a message in his tent last night where he can't miss it."

Furr had just found it. He read, "I must see you alone. we need to discuss things Meet me at the falls, 0700 hours. BB." He pursed his lips, and looked at his watch. It was 0630. He picked up his phaser, which was still exactly as he had left it on his case, and tucked it into his belt. He would have set it on kill, but a stunner on kill is best not tucked into the belt. It was on standby. A flick of the finger would set it on kill.

He quietly moved out of the main camping area, and through the shadows of the trees, barely stirring the leaves as he approached the trysting place. There was nobody there, and he moved out into the open.

"Hello!" said Serena quietly, "what's this?"

Furr had appeared on the screens at the hideout, a hundred meters away. All of them stopped what they were doing. Worf frowned.

"He has come to survey the place early," he whispered. "I do not think he can find the remotes quickly. He does not have sophisticated equipment. Let us wait."

They watched in silence as Furr walked around the clearing, peering into bushes, but the remotes were tiny, and hidden under the shadows of leaves. They could hear his breathing, and the shifting of debris below his feet. Data spoke.

"I think it best if I go and find Celeste now," he said. "And I suggest the security team shadow Mister Bock until he nears his rendezvous."

He had started to walk quietly off when he was interrupted.

"Look!" said Andrew, and they all turned. He pointed to the viewscreen, where Brildan Furr stood irresolutely. At the side of the screen a small figure had walked quietly in.

Data felt a quick burst of a radio pulse, but it was so fast he had no idea what it meant. It was harmless.

Serena gasped as she recognised Celeste. "What is she doing there?" she gasped. "I'll get her."

She moved to go, but Andrew said, "There's no reason why he should hurt her. He'll just pass the time of day, and depart."

"I don't think so," she said. "I think he's been waiting to get her alone. I'm going after her. It will seem natural. I'm her mother. Furr will think nothing of it if I appear looking for her, and take her off."

As she began to leave, Data said neutrally, "I do not believe your daughter is in danger. I think we may learn something important."

She paused, not convinced, and they watched.

Furr became aware of Celeste as she spoke.

"Good afternoon, Mister Furr."

He whirled, his hand moving towards his phaser, then realised who it was.

"What are you doing here?"he snapped. "I don't want to see you now!"

"It seemed like a good time," she said. She strolled over towards the edge of the cliff, and looked at the waterfall.

"I know you killed those people and I can prove it!" Celeste said vindictively. "I'm going to tell on you!"

"My god, what's she doing!" cried Serena. "He'll kill her!" She ran off, and the others followed, except Data, who kept watching the monitor, which was recording everything.

"What do you mean?" asked Furr, with a frown. He looked around uneasily, but still did not know if there were any monitors. "You can't tell anything."

"I'm going to tell everyone you were the one who had those people killed," Celeste said. But she was not looking at him. She was peering over the edge at the glorious scene below, with the frothing waters gouging a deep pool at the base of the falls straight below her.

Furr glanced desperately around. He thought of his phaser, but it would take time and fumbling to get it and ready it. While he was trembling in indecision, she bent over provocatively to see the waters churning below. He could not resist the chance, and quickly kicked her.

Celeste went over the falls dramatically. She flung her arms wide, and fell. She made a noise like "Eek!", but the recording instruments did not pick up her scream as she fell.

Brildan Furr was white as he stared down and saw the small figure hit the water. He suddenly became aware of the sound of running feet breaking the foliage, and turned to see the group running towards him. With a curse he pulled out his small phaser, set it to kill with a move, and fired at the oncomers.

Nothing happened. He saw with a sigh of despair the runners pulling their phasers to stop him, and waited for the jolt of the stun beams. Instead he was consumed in a flash of energy, twisting in a quick agony.

Worf and the others had reacted to the sight of the phaser with well-trained reactions. The three Security people fired almost as one. What they did not expect was to see Furr die.

Serena did not stop to look at him. She fled to the ledge, and looked down in despair. A hand grasped her.

"Don't jump," said Illana. "You couldn't survive!"

Serena paused irresolutely, knowing it was true. Knowing Celeste could not have survived. But Illana ignored her own advice and dived from the cliff.

Serena watched in horror as she hit the water. The others were immediately at her side, holding her.

"Don't worry," whispered Brendan, trying to convince himself, "Illana can breathe water. She'll find her."

"If she survived the fall," said Andrew dumbly.

Worf had quickly hit his communicator.

"Enterprise, acknowledge,"

"Picard here," said the captain.

"I need a transporter to lock on anyone in the river near the camp, and beam them aboard to sickbay," said Worf.

"I heard that Captain," interrupted the voice of the transporter operator.

"Do it" said Picard.

"I've got one," said the operator. "There's no sign of any other life in the river. It's the woman. I'll beam her straight to sickbay."

"Can't you pick up the girl?" asked Worf. "She will be dead, but we may save her if we are in time."

"Nothing animal, alive or dead, in the river, or anywhere down there," said the operator.

"Not caught under a rock?" asked Worf. "She may be a distance downstream."

"We can penetrate this rock about five hundred meters," said the operator. "She's not there, or in the two kilometres downstream."

Serena knelt by the edge, sobbing. Andrew stood awkwardly, wondering how to comfort her. Data came up. He looked down and softly said, "and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."

"It would be best for all of us to beam up to the ship," he said aloud. "Ensign Moulton needs attention for shock, and we need to learn what has happened."

"Yes," agreed Worf, who had not understood the events of the past few minutes himself. "Let us beam up with what remains of Mister Furr!"

On the starship Serena was taken by Deanna Troi to sickbay. Deanna was still tired, but she heard the discussion, and immediately went to the transporter room to meet the group.

"I'll go with her," she said to Worf. "You can report."

"Ensign Moulton was very distressed," said Worf. "But she will also need to explain why she allowed herself to breach regulations."

"What?" asked Serena dazedly.

"You should not have set your phaser to kill," he said, "even if your daughter was in danger."

"I didn't," she gasped. "I thought it was one of you!"

They all drew their phasers. All were on stun.

Worf said, "I will take all of the phasers and have them examined. I will see you when you have.. recovered, Ensign."

"I will walk with you for a moment, Counselor," said Data. Deanna was surprised, but had no objection.

Deanna and Serena left. Serena was weeping, but able to walk steadily. Her training enabled her to bear up under what should have been an intolerable strain. Deanna encouraged her to cry, and to talk as they walked.

"It is the most traumatic thing," said Deanna, "to see your own child die. Don't run away from it. I'll help you work through this as much as it can be. I know you'll never completely recover, but we'll work together."

"They couldn't find any trace," said Serena suddenly. "Do you think she was perhaps beamed away suddenly, somehow?"

"We're the only ones around with transporters, I'm afraid," said Deanna. "I don't see how that is possible."

"I am sorry to have to say that I am sure your daughter is dead, Ensign," said Data sadly. Deanna looked at him sharply but said nothing. She would ask later.

Worf meanwhile took the phasers, and tested them. On stun they blasted targets to pieces. All of them, except Serena's. He took them apart and studied their innards. A glow of admiration flowed through him as he looked at the delicate microcircuitry that had been altered. There was a tiny radio receiver that reacted to a radio pulse, and switched the phasers to kill.

But who had done it, and why? He took the recordings, which he had had beamed up, and looked through them. How had Celeste known that Furr was the villain? He considered for a moment the question of why Furr had pushed her instead of shooting her, but realised instantly that that was far more risky. The phaser would be heard, perhaps, although the sound of the falls would mask it. But if the girl's body were found it would be easy to recognise how she had died, although finding the culprit might be harder. But a fall could be an accident.

The case had been resolved, and the recordings would remove any doubts that justice had been done, but many puzzles remained. The shooting of Furr would be an embarrassment, and he had no idea how it had been achieved. It seemed there might still be another conspirator.

Data thought this unlikely.

"I believe that the case is concluded," he said, as the senior officers met to discuss the affair. "I also believe that I may know something of how it was accomplished, but I do not wish to make this public until I am sure of it. I will tell the Captain and Lieutenant Worf my theory, and let the Captain use the information as he pleases."

Worf was reasonably satisfied, though he itched to know Data's theory. The fact that they had solved a mysterious murder series was a feather in his cap, even if its solution was going to be kept secure.

"Can you ever be sure whether you are right?" asked Captain Picard. "We are unlikely to get any new evidence now."

"I may meet someone one day who will tell me more," said Data. "Otherwise I will never know for certain."

He followed Picard and Worf into the Captain's ready room, and told them his theory.

 

What is his theory??, or who cares?