Inferno (Isaac Asimov's Caliban #2)

Chapter 17



"ALL GUILTY OF different crimes," Kresh said. "But guilty just the same. You were the one that did it, Cinta."

Cinta Melloy looked startled. "Me? Are you out of your mind? I might have a little dirt under my nails, but I didn't kill anyone."

"No," Kresh agreed, "you didn't. But you were the one who gave me the clue I needed. " And it did no harm at all to rattle you and everyone el. "e in the room by saying it that way, Kresh thought.

"What clue was that?" said Cinta.

"At the fire," Kresh replied. "You said something about not being invited, and showing up anyway. "

"That's your big clue?" Cinta asked.

"That's my big clue."

"I hardly see how those words are the basis for accusing anyone of murder," Prospero said.

"Oh, you and Caliban don't need to worry about murder charges either," Kresh said. "You are here precisely because I no longer suspect you. You have cleared yourselves of all charges-aside from attempted blackmail-without anyone realizing it."

"How so?" Caliban asked.

"By not connecting the term 'Valhalla' to a garbled rendition of its meaning, " Kresh said

"Alvar-Governor Kresh-for stars' sake stop playing games!" Fredda said. "Just tell us whatever it is you have to tell us."

"Be patient, Fredda," Kresh said. "We'll get there. " He turned to the robots. "Caliban, Prospero, you told Donald. Now tell me-and I would urge you not to hold anything back, if you value your survival. When you came here, to this office, to meet Grieg, what was your plan?"

"To threaten him with the simultaneous exposure of every scandal on this planet if he decided to exterminate the New Law robots," Prospero said.

"And you made this threat?" Kresh asked,

"We did, couching it in the most polite terms possible, " Prospero said. "However, he did not seem at all upset or perturbed by it. "

"I would go further than that," Caliban said. "He seemed rather amused by the idea, as if he didn't for a moment think we would carry it out."

"And would you have?" Kresh asked.

The two robots looked at each other, and then Caliban spoke. "We were to meet the next day and begin preparing our materials for release," Caliban said. "Then we heard that Grieg was dead, and of course canceled the plan. "

"How did you get your information. " Fredda asked.

"Slowly," Prospero said. "Gradually. The rustbacking network is full of tipsters and rumormongers. And there is an old axiom to the effect that those who would seek the truth should follow the money. We studied a great number of transactions, legal and otherwise. They taught us much."

"Tell me some of what was in that material," Kresh said. "No, better still, let me tell you. You had proof that Simcor

Beddle here was taking Settler money-perhaps without knowing that he was taking it. "

"But I-" Beddle began.

"Quiet, Beddle," Kresh said. "You're not Governor yet. Right now you'll speak when spoken to. " He turned back to the robots. "You also had proof that Sero Phrost and Tonya Welton were in the smuggling business together. " Another little stir of reaction, but Phrost and Welton both had the sense to keep quiet. "Proof that Tierlaw Verick's bidding group had been bribing government officials. Verick was also linked to the rustbackers-along with half the planet, it seems to me, but I doubt you would divulge that little tidbit."

"Now just a moment," Verick protested. "I did no such-"

"Quiet, Verick. " Kresh said. "And you also had proof that Commander Devray and Captain Melloy here were both in possession of proof of criminal acts in high places and were not acting upon that information."

Devray and Melloy seemed about to protest, but Kresh cut them off. "Not a word, either of you," he said, with enough steel in his voice to silence both of them. "Both of you did have such information, and both of you informed Governor Grieg of it. Justen, you told him about Tierlaw's bribery, and, Cinta, you told him about Sero Phrost smuggling Settler hardware and passing the proceeds to the Ironheads. I've seen Grieg's files. I know. Grieg didn't do anything about the information, either, for the same reasons you both kept quiet."

"And what reason would that be?" Phrost demanded, daring to speak.

"He was afraid that if he pulled on one thread, everything else would unravel, " Kresh said. " Arrest Sero Phrost, and Phrost would implicate Tonya Welton. Grieg needed Welton's support. Grieg also knew the Spacer bid on the control system would probably collapse without Phrost. Arrest Verick, and Grieg knew he would lose the Settler bid on the system."

Devray looked confused. "But wait a second. The robots just said that Grieg didn't seem to care if they blew the lid off everything."

"Exactly," Kresh said. "Because, on the night he died, he knew it didn't matter anymore. He had made his final decisions about the control system, and about the New Law robots. He was going to announce them the next day. What the robots were doing was threatening to sweep all his enemies out of the way, and threatening to do so at the exact moment he no longer needed to keep his enemies happy. " Kresh turned toward the robots. "He couldn't smear his opponents without making himself look very, very bad. But you two could. You were threatening him with the biggest favor of his political career."

"It couldn't all be good for him," Melloy protested. "With that much mudslinging set loose, he would have gotten messed up a little himself. Someone would have tried to fight back."

"Fight back at who? The robots?" Kresh asked. "They were the ones about to release the material, not Grieg. But even if you're right-and you probably are-Grieg would have accepted any amount of damage to his prestige if it meant getting rid of Simcor Beddle."

"And you are saying Grieg no longer cared because he had made his decisions," Caliban said. "Might I ask what those decisions were, and if you intend to abide by them?"

"I do not wish to answer either of those questions, just at the moment," Kresh said. "I have a rather cryptic note Grieg made to himself. I believe it contains his answer. But I don't need to decipher the note. Tierlaw Verick here has done it for me."

"He told you what Grieg had decided?" Fredda asked. "When? I never heard it."

Tierlaw Verick opened his mouth to protest again, but then thought better of it.

"Good thinking, Verick," Kresh said. "If I were you, I wouldn't say one thing more."

"But what did he say?" Fredda asked. "What did I miss?"

"You heard everything I did," Kresh said. "And his reactions told me what Grieg's decisions were. "

"Then he was telling the truth," Caliban said. "When he came out of Grieg's office, he told Prospero and myself we were going to kingdom come. An archaic reference to the hereafter. He was telling us that Grieg had decided to destroy the New Law robots."

"And that scared the hell out of you, and you went into Grieg full of bluff and bluster and threatened him before he even had a chance to tell you he intended to destroy you. " Kresh shook his head. "A mistake. A very serious mistake on your part. "

"A mistake in what way?" Caliban asked.

"And you claim to be high-function beings," Donald said, speaking for the first time as he stepped down from his wall niche. "If you were true robots, human behavior would have been your constant study, and you would not have erred. Can you truly understand so little of human nature?"

"What do you mean?" Caliban asked. "Governor Kresh, is he speaking with your authority?"

"Donald is speaking for himself," Kresh said, "but he's getting it right for all of that. Go on, Donald."

"It might be logical to expect Governor Grieg to tell you his decision in the same way no matter what that decision was, but that is not the human way. It does not account for the Governor's personality. To expect him to act in such a way takes no account of the emotions of pleasure in bringing good news, or the embarrassment and sorrow humans feel when reporting bad news for which they are responsible. It would not be in Grieg's character to call you into his office and tell you he intended to wipe you out. You would have found out by seeing it on the news, or by written notice-or by getting a blaster shot through the head."

"What are you saying?" Prospero demanded.

"That you should have known his decision would be in your favor as soon as he asked to see you face-to-face," Donald said.

"And when Verick told you that you were going to kingdom come, he was just telling what Grieg had told him,"

Kresh said. "Except he got it wrong. Grieg had been looking for a third way, some solution between tolerating the current intolerable state of affairs and extermination. And he found it. He found it and told it to Verick."

"I still do not understand," Prospero said. "But now I do," Caliban said, sitting stock-still, staring straight ahead. "Now I do. Valhalla. Grieg told Verick he was sending all the New Law robots to Valhalla. To someone living on Inferno, that is a place name. It is the place to which all New Law robots wish to escape, a hidden place as far away from human interference as possible. But Verick thought the Governor was speaking in metaphor, speaking of the old Earth legend from which the name is derived. Valhalla, the hall of the gods, where those who have died in battle will live. The afterlife. Kingdom come. "

"So you threatened the man who had found a way to save you," Kresh said. " And threatened to do the thing he would most love to have done, but dared not do himself. And, at a guess, that appealed to his sense of humor. So he told you to leave and not come back, hoping to have the public hear all about friend Beddle's finances in the next day or so. The irony is that you had no motive for Grieg's murder, even if you thought you did."

"So you still have every reason to suspect us," Caliban said.

"On the contrary, I am absolutely certain you two had nothing to do with the murder of Chanto Grieg," Kresh said.

"It sounds like you've got this whole thing figured out," Melloy said, a bit grumpily.

"I do," Kresh said.

"So tell us about it," Cinta said. "If that wouldn't be too much trouble."

"Too much trouble was exactly what it was," Kresh said. "Fredda pointed that out. The plan was too intricate, too theatrical. That's what I should have seen from the start. The plan had too many people in it, too many moving parts, too many bits of complicated coordination and timing-especially with someone as unreliable and plainly expendable as Ottley Bissal at the center of it. The plan required an assassin willing to do what he was told if the paycheck was big enough, someone willing to perform a despicable act-and yet someone foolish enough to trust the plotter who intended to kill him. Those are not job requirements that produce quality applicants. Whoever took on the job was bound to be someone who made mistakes, who got sloppy. Someone like Bissal. That should have told me something. It should have told me the plan wouldn't work. And sure enough, it didn't."

"But Grieg was killed," Fredda protested.

"Not in the way the mastermind intended," Kresh said. "Not in the way Tierlaw Verick planned."

Verick jumped up, and was halfway to Kresh before Donald could intercept him. Donald pinned the man's arms to his side and dragged him back to his seat. "It was the basic problem of the whole case," Kresh said. "We knew, even once Fredda spotted Bissal, that we didn't have the real killer. Bissal was so obviously someone else's creature. But whoever had sent him-and sent all the other conspirators along-had done a good job of staying hidden. It could have been anyone with access to the right sort of technology, and the wrong sort of people. It could have been anyone in this room. It could even have been me, I suppose. But it was you, Verick."

"You're crazy, Kresh," Verick half shouted. "How could I have done it? I didn't even know Grieg was dead until one of the guards on my room told me."

"And it must have been a relief when the guard made that slip," Kresh said. "You could stop acting. It made it that much less likely that you would make a slip. Good as you were, you knew you could not keep it up forever. And you were good. You even managed to fool Donald's lie-detector system-and that requires some impressive training. Our files said you dabbled in theatrics. We did not know just how good an actor you were. The trouble was you'd made your slip already. One you couldn't avoid."

"And what slip might that be?" Verick demanded.

"You said there were two robots standing in the hallway when he came out of this office. Not three."

"But there were only two," Caliban protested. "There was only Prospero and myself."

"But then where the devil was the door sentry robot?" Kresh demanded. "It was there, standing in front of the door, shot through the chest, when I checked the upper floor after discovering Grieg's body. SPRs on other duties move around, but a door sentry robot does not go off post. Not unless it received orders to do so, from someone in authority to give orders."

"So Tierlaw didn't notice a robot," Cinta said, who seemed to have taken it upon herself to defend her fellow Settler. "So what? You Spacers always ignore robots. That's not enough to convict a man of murder. "

"Tierlaw is not a Spacer, but a Settler," Donald said. "He has a pronounced aversion to robots, and very definitely noticed the other two standing outside the door. He gave a detailed and accurate description of Prospero and Caliban."

"So what are you saying?" Devray said.

"I'm saying that Tierlaw ordered the Sapper, the SPR sentry robot, to be out of position. But a Sapper won't take orders from just anyone. He-or a subordinate, more likely-must have gotten to the robot sometime before and used some rather sophisticated order giving to convince the sentry that orders from him, from Tierlaw, took precedence over everything else, even guarding Grieg. "

"Is that possible?" Devray asked.

"Yes," Fredda said. "If the SPR did not believe Grieg was in any particular danger, so that First Law potential was reduced, and if it saw Tierlaw as its owner, thus enhancing Second Law potential, then yes, Tierlaw could have given the order for the sentry to clear off and come back later. "

"It's thin," Cinta said. "And I don't see what it has to do with anything. "

"It is thin," Kresh admitted. "I knew that as soon as I figured it out. I knew I needed proof-and I found it. But there is more. Caliban and Prospero were witnesses that Tierlaw came out the inner door to Grieg's office. After-hours visitors to his office always used the outer side door. But Tierlaw needed to let Bissal in. So he got Grieg to open the inner door somehow."

"But he did not let Bissal in. He let us in," Caliban said.

"And why would he let Bissal see his face?" Cinta demanded.

"He wouldn't let Bissal see him," Kresh said, heading over to his desk. "He didn't. " He unsealed the evidence box and pulled out a pocket communicator, and a thin piece of black metal in the shape of a flattened triangle. "I found these in your room, Verick, the one you stayed in the night of the murder. You're good at hiding things. The room had been searched twice before I went over it. But I knew what I was looking for-and that makes a great deal of difference. And before you can protest that these were planted, a Crime Scene Observer robot witnessed the search and recorded it."

"I recognize the communicator, but what's the other thing?" Fredda asked.

"It's one of these," Kresh said. He went to the inner door of the office and used the scanner panel to open it. Once it was open, he took the piece of metal and set it in the frame of the door. It stayed there of its own accord. Kresh stepped back, and the door closed-but not all the way. There was a barely discernible crack between the frame and the sliding door. Kresh got his fingers into the crack and pulled. It took a bit of effort, but he managed to get the door open. Kresh took the door wedge out of the frame, crossed the room, and put it back in the evidence box.

"Grieg was supposed to be killed right here," he said. "In this office. Verick would set the door wedge on his way out-with a little practice, they're easy to set surreptitiously. Tierlaw would order the office door sentry robot back into position, and then signal Bissal, waiting in the basement, to turn on the range restrictor signal that would deactivate the SPR robots. Then Tierlaw could simply walk out of the house, unobserved, while Bissal came up out of the basement, came into the office, and shot Grieg. Bissal would remove the door wedge, and go on with the rest of the plot-destroying the robots to hide the restrictors, and then escaping to the warehouse, where he would hide until things cooled off-except the food left for him there was poisoned. He must have died within a few hours of Grieg."

"That's the craziest plan I've ever heard," Cinta protested. "It could never work."

"And it didn't, " Devray said. "It was crazy, Cinta, but think what we would have found if it had worked. Grieg dead behind a locked door, fifty wrecked security robots, and an assassin who simply vanishes without a trace. A few days later, a warehouse blows up and bums down, and no one ever thinks to connect the two. Things are bad enough as they are. People are scared. Just imagine the panic, the chaos, if the murder had been as smooth, as perfect as it was supposed to be."

"But things went wrong," Kresh said. "Things went wrong. The two robots are waiting outside the door, so you can't set the door wedge, could you, Verick? And you couldn't use your communicator in front of the robots, either. So you slip into a vacant room and contact Bissal from there, telling him what had gone wrong. You tell him to go to plan B, killing Grieg in his room.

"But then you realize that you couldn't leave the vacant room. At a guess, one of the sentries on random patrol takes up a post in the hall. If you leave the room, that would raise the alarm. So you had to stay there, in that room, until the robots left, until you heard Grieg go to bed. You could signal Bissal. Then Bissal activates the range restrictor signal, and the sentries go dead. But even then you can't leave, because Bissal has come up into the house. Suppose he saw you, and knew who you were? He'd have a hold over you. Suppose he tried to blackmail you instead of going off to eat his poison at the warehouse? No, you could not risk that. So you decide to wait until you heard Bissal leave the house.

"But Bissal had wasted most of his blaster's charge, and he realizes he isn't going to have enough power left to be able to shoot all the robots. So Bissal decides to remove the restrictors from half of them by hand, and it takes forever. At long last he is done, and destroys the blaster and the Trojan robot in the basement, and heads off on his way. At last you can go.

"Except suddenly you can see the sky is full of police vehicles of one sort or another. The police have discovered Huthwitz's body. You still can't leave. Then I arrive, and rush up the stairs. Grieg has been discovered long before you expected.

"Suddenly you hear new footsteps in the halls and realize they are searching room to room. You hide under the bed or something during the first, cursory search. But you know they will search again, or at the very least stumble across you. You can't hide in the one room forever. So you very cleverly brazen it out.

"You hide the incriminating door wedge and communicator, and then dress in the pajamas left in the room. Maybe you can talk your way out of it. It's a long shot, but the only chance you have. You wander out into the hallway, and pretend you're a house guest who's slept through the whole thing. Donald here snatches you up. And you very nearly got away with it. Until Cinta Melloy here decided to look into whether Grieg ever had overnight guests-and found out he never did. We never thought to check the other side of the point, by the way. Did you have a hotel reservation in Limbo City? If-or rather when-we do find one, how will you explain it?"

Verick opened his mouth and shut it again, and swallowed hard, and then at last the words came out. " And what was my motive supposed to be in this lunatic scheme?" he asked, his voice tight and calm and strained. "What was all this supposed to accomplish for me?"

"Profit," Kresh said. "Huge profit. Money. Not a motive we Spacers cops are used to. I didn't even consider it at first. Money hasn't meant much for a while, though it's started to again. You went into that meeting with Kresh to find out if he had accepted your control system design. If he told you he had chosen your system, you would not signal Bissal, there would be no attack, and Bissal would slip away when he could. If Grieg told you Phrost had the job-well then, a terrifying assassination of the Governor might well sow just enough distrust of robots that a new Governor would not go with a robot design-or else it might be easier to bribe the new incumbent. You might even already know Beddle wasn't above taking Settler money. You might even have had some dealings with him. Did you offer Grieg a bribe, by the way? He was half expecting that you would. "

Verick screamed and lunged, and Donald had to struggle a bit to hold him down.

"I'll take that as a yes," said Governor Kresh. "Commander Devray, perhaps you could take this man into custody."


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