The Voyages of the PS Nones
Chapter 23, Capturing the Murderer
In the day that has passed since we arrived at Martshayla Port we've:
Not bad for a day's work. We sleep the sleep of the just. Or at least the sleep of those who've put in a hard day's work.
In the "morning" the Nones announces that a pair of Gargians came by four hours ago. When they found that we'd retired, they'd curled up outside the gangtube for a nap. We ask the Nones to show us a picture of a Gargian, and discover that they are the silver caterpillars who are the local medics and forensics experts. We invite them in as we sit down to breakfast.
The lead Gargian patters up to us and announces "We have some lab results that you may be interested in. I must preface my remarks by stating that cell fragments and other cellular traces are rare in the concourse since most sentients are wearing airslips. We have found traces of 18 distinct Threenaleen. The traces of seven of them are reasonably fresh. However, genetic scans show that none of the 18 could have yellow tentacles.
Morniesul drains his morning's glass of juice and replies, "Salimar was able to get an image of thick pink tentacles holding Umbra when the Aerna was killed, so we pretty much suspected that we were after something masquerading as a Threenaleen, anyway. Have you had any luck identifying what species might have been wielding the sword?"
"We have made a cross-species computer search. Although there are three possibilities from the Ecumen, the best match is an unnamed species from the Authority Zone."
"It was said that the murder victim had been going through some records, just before it's death," Morniesul says. "Have you ascertained what these records were?"
"My regrets, sentient. We have not investigated that side of the case. My colleague and I investigated the biological evidence. Officer Kwaf would know more about the records."
"Are there any of these species on the station?"
"Are there any stories of this species having high psi skills?"
"No, but it's generally accepted that the species that occupied the Authority Zone had a very high technology."
We ask a few more questions, but the Gargians don't have anything more to tell us. After refusing an offer of jelly donuts, the Gargians depart.
Kate asks the Nones to do a net search for species of the Authority Zone. After a moment, a screen lights with the requested information. There are nine species shown. There's one which is lavender, roughly humanoid, no arms, one heck of a trunk with thick tentacles. No tail. There are two records of encounters with members of this species in the Authority Zone. On the first occasion, the sentient who encountered it was told that it was to be off the planet by local sunrise, and on the second occasion, the sentient was not allowed into a particular crater. Both sentients obeyed and reported the incident. It's not known if there have been other incidents which did not end peaceably.
As we're absorbing this information, the Nones informs us that Liaison Office Keefkeef has come for a visit. We tell the Nones to let it in. Keefkeef patters into the hold and scans the assembled company. It looks at Dafnord. Too big. Kate. Too small. Robbie. Too plastic. Looks at Markel and asks, "Are you Morniesul?"
Markel replies, "No," and points to Morniesul, who comes forward. Keefkeef hands him a letter. In return, Morniesul offers it an egg. Morniesul opens the letter to find a script that he can't read. Fortunately, Salimar can. The letter is in a very archaic and formal dialect of KaiSenese. As Salimar reads the letter, Keefkeef sits down and fluffs it's tail.
When she's done, Morniesul asks, "What do you think of this?"
Salimar replies, "This is a close as you're going to get to an apology. I haven't seen a formal Writ of Reconciliation except in history books."
"I suppose that one could hold out for some sort of punishment of the misbehavior, but that would be petty."
Dafnord suggests, "We should acceptance of the Writ conditional on the Investigator promptly sharing any information on the murder."
"That would be reasonable. If you would, convey to the Aerna that, in consideration of the mannerliness of this Writ, and its prior and continued investigation, we would be pleased to accept the Writ. And the Consulate should inform all the necessary parties that the pragmas of "the" Morniesul include one of extreme mannerliness, which it must insist upon in the future."
Keefkeef pulls a pad from its tail and copies it down. "I'm sure that that will be agreeable. You know that we don't know much about the Aerna."
"I don't suppose that it's significant that a fairly large number of us aren't conspecific."
Keefkeef looks up from it's pad, "You're not? I'm afraid that we're the ones that led the Aerna to believe that you were conspecific."
"Oh. Well, thank you very much for acting as intermediaries with the Aerna."
"Happy to be of service." Keefkeef picks itself up and turns to depart, then pauses. He reaches into his tail and pulls out the egg that Robbie gave him earlier and hands it to Morniesul, "Oh, and have an egg," and patters off.
We return to our breakfast. Robbie eats the egg that Keefkeef gave him. It tastes rather acidic. No one else has eggs. As we eat, we discuss how to continue from here. Robbie asks the Nones for more information about the lavender species from the Authority Zone. The nearest planet that the species has been seen on is about a day's journey away. Martshayla, the planet we're orbiting, is also a largely forbidden planet. Perhaps we should go visit and try to meet one of the species that act for the Authority.
Before we go on any side trips, we decide to see what else we can find on the station. We have two copies of the Map of Here, which can detect when the murderer pulls its time tricks. Morniesul notes that he's got a witchpath locator and compass. Perhaps they can also detect traces of the creature's passage. He also has X-ray spectacles. Given that our suspect is probably disguising its species, maybe he can use them to look for apparent Threenaleens and see if appearance matches skeleton.
We decide that Robbie and Salimar will go to the consulate to meet with Officer Kwaf and see what can be found in the data that the murdered Aerna was searching. Brunalf and Morniesul will go to the level where the pseudo-Threenaleen emerged from its accelerated time and try to use the witchpath detector. Kate and Markel will go with the dragon to wander about the station and see if they can sight the creature. Dafnord will go interview the Threenaleens to see if they've seen our quarry. Gannar will walk around with his platforms in tow, seeing if they can pick up a difference between the visual and infrared signatures of the creatures he passes.
Before we leave, Morniesul pulls out his copy of the Map of Here and examines it. There are no new signatures. We leave his copy of the Map with the Nebbish (and the Nones) watching it for new signatures.
Salimar and Robbie arrive at the consulate to find lots of Jai underfoot. When Salimar asks to see criminal records, we're shown into the office of officer Kwaf. He tells us that he's been researching this problem since last night. There hasn't been any unusual criminal activity until now. Sure, there's the usual problems with the Blenari, squabbles among the humans and the like, but nothing unusual. However, he has found an interesting angle by looking into root of the Blenari riot. It all started about 1024 periods ago, when a Blenari of the Algis clan was found strangled at an archeological site on Stev Pren, another planet in the Authority Zone. Approximately 256 periods later, another Blenari was found strangled at Mo Holding, on a moon of Stev Pren. 128 periods later, another Blenari was found stabbed at Mo Holding. Almost 512 periods ago, a Blenari was found garroted on an Algis ship on its way to Martshayla Port from Mo Holding. 256 periods ago, a Blenari was fou! nd strangled aboard an Algis ship docked here. Shortly before we arrived, another Blenari was found stabbed.
Salimar asks, "Can you think of a motive?"
"Not a complete motive. It might be a member of an Authority Zone species who is violently xenophobic. It may have a political reason to force the Ecumenical species out of the area. It might be deranged, but that's not exactly a motive. The speed with which it has arrived here suggests that perhaps it was trying to escape from some thing else (but then why call attention to itself?) All in all, I have not found it fruitful to guess at motives at this point. Motives in interspecies crime is extremely tricky."
When Salimar asks about the murdered Aerna, Officer Kwaf reports, "The Aerna was studying publicly available information on Ecumenical species drawn off of our local network. It doesn't appear that it was studying anything related to the Authority Zone."
Officer Kwaf sums up his researches by saying, "I have spent most of my time since our last meeting assembling the timeline I just described, as well as calming the Blenari. It says something about the Blenari that they're calmed by news that they're being victimized by a serial killer instead of their traditional enemies."
Kate, Markel, the dragon, Morniesul and Brunalf journey through the station to the alley where the murderer ended it's dimensional flight. Markel has the dragon try to smell for a trail. It picks up lots of interesting smells, but nothing it can do much with. There's not a lot of air, and even less water to carry an odor.
Kate, Markel and the dragon start to wander around the level looking at the passing parade as Brunalf scans the alley. He has the ability to see (but not walk) witchpaths. He can see a trace of a disturbance of some kind in the space-time continuum. He's not sure what it is, but it doesn't look like any witchpath he's seen before. Morniesul's witchpath detector can't find anything to latch onto.
Brunalf tries his sense of smell. He finds the most amazing cocktail of faint odors. As he tries to follow one out of the alley, he sees a Threenaleen with yellow tentacles in the middle distance and raises the alarm over the net. Morniesul quickly dons his X-ray spectacles and examines the "Threenaleen." The internal structure of the creature doesn't match its external structure at all. Gannar starts heading towards the level with his platforms and Robbie tells Officer Kwaf that we appear to have located the murderer.
Morniesul puts on his mask, which was last set to the appearance of a small golden Blenari. Brunalf climbs back into his egg and lifts above the crowd for an aerial view. Officer Kwaf seals off the level we're in. Unfortunately, he was unable to silence the alarm system, so the level is suddenly filled with blare of sirens and flashing lights. The assorted creatures look at each other in shocked silence. The "yellow tentacled Threenaleen" attempts to blend in with the crowd.
Robbie asks Officer Kwaf for a PA system. It points to the console. Robbie announces in his best official KaiSenese, "This is a test. This is only a test. If this had been a real emergency, you would have been directed to..."
The aliens are now very confused There's never been a test like this before. Everyone is babbling to each other, to themselves and jamming the communications system with calls to the consulate and their companions.
Kate is the nearest to the "yellow tentacled Threenaleen." She pulls out her sonic stunner and shoots it. Unfortunately, the thin air doesn't carry the signal well, so nothing much happens, besides alerting the creature that it's under attack. It turns around to confront her, raises its tentacles wide, and grabs for her. Kate sticks it with her knife.
Suddenly, the net drops.
Moments before Morniesul and Brunalf can fire, both Kate and the "yellow tentacled Threenaleen" disappear. Salimar reestablishes the net as the Nones notifies us that there's a pair of signatures that just appeared on Morniesul's copy of the Map of Here. They're the same as the signatures we saw at the Aerna encampment. The first is where Kate and the "Threenaleen" disappeared. The second is a streaky signature that goes from that point to each of the exits in turn. Fortunately, they're all blocked. The signature stops by one of the gangtubes. Morniesul, Brunalf, Markel and the Dragon converge on the spot where the signature ends. The dragon picks up a scent and is able to follow it back to where Kate and the creature disappeared.
Robbie asks Officer Kwaf how long we can keep the doors closed. The Naza responds, "That is a political question. At the maximum, until someone's life-support starts to give out."
Robbie then asks if there's a way to seal off an area around the point where the trail ends. Officer Kwaf replies, "Yes, and we can use one of the gangtubes as an airlock, to guard against escape." Salimar unrolls her copy of the Map of Here and shows it to Officer Kwaf, pointing out the signatures we followed yesterday and the new signatures.
Morniesul pings Robbie: <The creature we're looking for looks like this (at least from the inside). See if Officer Kwaf can identify the species>
Robbie mails the image to Officer Kwaf, who runs a computer extrapolation over it. Once "clothed," the creature bears a strong resemblance to the lavender alien we examined earlier.
Morniesul is pacing back and forth by the exit. He glances across the level and sees terror-stricken Blenari keeping as far from him as the level will allow. He suddenly realizes that he's still got the mask on and appears to be a small golden Blenari. All of the Blenari that were in the concourse are huddled at the farthest possible portion of the concourse, regardless of clan. Their eyes are very wide and they're sketching assorted symbols in the air. Unfortunately, there's no way to drop the disguise discretely now. Every Blenari eye is firmly on him.
He is also being watched by another creature -- a burly being in an encounter suit that causes it to resemble a pile of white laundry with a shiny black visor somewhere near the top. A glance through the X-ray specs shows it to be very approximately humanoid, deep down in there, and Salimar telepathically informs him the creature is a "Voit."
Morniesul arranges to have Kwaf's computer-image of the murderer displayed on a nearby screen, then tells the Voit that he is looking for THAT, and it is very dangerous, and the Voit should tell him or the authorities if it sees it. The Voit agrees. And now the Blenari spare some of their dread for this Voit who consorts with the Little Golden Ones.
Sighing, Morniesul pulls out his book and pages through it. He reaches into a page and pulls out a box, then puts the box away. Opening the box, he tosses out six birds in quick succession. There watching crowd applauds. Morniesul bows, then hands the box lid to Brunalf, who'd much rather have had the birds. On it can be seen six screens showing birds-eye views.
With a grating sounds, one of the heavy doors sealing the gangtubes opens. Four Naza march in carrying a pile of metal sheets, followed by a group of Gargians. We've got a construction crew, who quickly erect a cage around an empty spot indicated by Brunalf. Once the first one is finished, a second one is erected at the spot where Kate and the murderer disappeared.
Shortly after the construction is complete, one of the Blenari comes over to the Naza farthest from Morniesul and asks if they could please be allowed to leave. This is the start of a slow exodus from the deck. Morniesul insists on examining everyone who leaves. The Blenari aren't pleased with this, but do it. They quiver with relief when he indicates that THEY'RE not the Blenari he's looking for. Once things were reasonably empty, Morniesul ducks into a vacated booth and takes off his glamour mask.
An Aerna arrives. Morniesul bows to the Aerna. "Greetings. I assume that you've been informed that the murder was here and may still be."
"Yes, we have shared data with Officer Kwaf."
"Do you have any evidence that the stasis period will be the same as last time?"
"We have no information one way or another, but our prescients expect something to happen at 86 periods from the initiation of the stasis."
Morniesul thanks the Aerna, and we set in to wait.
At T+85 periods, the Aerna splits into 2 very large, green Aerna, with a cheerful disregard for the conservation of mass.
Morniesul sets his mask to tune to the Naza, and puts it on. He now appears to be a Naza. He sees one of the Aerna morph a big mothering gun out of its hand] He says politely, "The creature has one of our party captive." The Aerna clicks the gun down to maximum stun.
With twin claps, Kate and the "yellow tentacled Threenaleen" appear. Kate appears at the originating place, the "Threenaleen", now in its native form -- a tentacled pink alien -- appears at the terminus. Both are inside the cages. Everyone around the alien's cage fires their stunners, and it falls over. Morniesul who had seen it via his X-ray spectacles, confirms that this is the same creature.
Salimar tries to contact it telepathically. She can only get bare-bones presence. It's alive, but very out of it. One of the Gargians puts many, many layers of psilence on the creature. The Naza then weld a bottom on the cage.
The two green Aerna come together and merge into a single, smaller brown Aerna. The merge occurs with a swirl of scintillating dots, much like their transport tubs.
The air doors open. Kwaf comes in, followed by Foozhap. Morniesul asks Foozhap to send a Voit to tell the Blenari that "The agent of their discord has been identified and captured." Perhaps that will calm them down.
Last Updated: 7-Oct-06
©2004 Barry Tannenbaum, All Rights Reserved