Inferno (Isaac Asimov's Caliban #2)

Chapter 6

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TIERLAW VERICK WAS deeply annoyed to be in the same room with so many robots. For what seemed the dozenth time, he stepped out of the way of one of the SPR robots on random patrol. They were certainly necessary under the circumstances-he would be the last to argue that-but he did not have to like them. And Beddle's presence was even more intolerable. Sooner or later someone would have to do something about that man. Verick only hoped it was sooner. He didn't know a great deal about the man's politics, but he knew that Beddle was pro-robot, and that was all he needed to know.

Verick was a Settler, and hated robots with a passion rare even for that breed. But he was also a businessman, and he loved profit with a rare passion as well. Love of money, love of the game of business, had pulled him into all sorts of deals-and introduced him to all sorts of interesting, if unsavory, people.

He resisted the temptation to check his watch once again. The night would pass soon enough, and he would have his chance to talk with Grieg. And have his chance at enormous profit, as well.

It all went very well, Grieg thought as he watched the Ranger-waiters take down the last of the serving tables. He turned and went up the stairs to his office. Other than Beddle's shenanigans, and that spot of bother about the fistfight, the evening had gone more smoothly than he had had any right to expect.

When the host was the Governor, however, the end of the evening by no means meant the end of the night. Both tradition and practicality dictated that he now take the opportunity afforded to meet with those who needed a private word with him.

Now, after the party was over, was the chance to see old political allies with advice to offer, petitioners asking this or that favor of him, admirers who wanted nothing more than to shake the Governor's hand, people who needed to put a word in his ear but couldn't risk being seen doing so.

Grieg enjoyed the after-hours meetings. They appealed to the wheeler-dealer politician in him. To him, the back-room meetings represented the game of politics, the fun of it, the juice of it. They were the informal moments that served as a sort of social lubricant for all the official, carefully staged occasions.

The need to keep the various meetings private necessitated some connivance and juggling. This was one reason the Governor's office had more than one entrance, for those times when an exiting appointment A would not wish to encounter an arriving appointment B. People who did not want to run into other people could slip out the office's side door, which could be opened by hand-but no one could get in that way. There was a second door, down a short hallway. The first door would not unlatch if the second door was open, and neither could be opened from the outside. A visitor who left could not come back, and that was often a great comfort.

There were only four groups this evening. Well, that is to say, only four official groups. Grieg could only see delegation number five under the most unofficial of circumstances.

The first three weren't any real challenge. Grieg got through them in good order, each of them in and out in fifteen minutes.

Grieg checked his appointment log as soon as number three was gone. Next up: Tierlaw Verick, the Settler engineer here to sell Inferno terraforming equipment. Grieg skimmed the tickler file information on the man. Settler… native of Baleyworld… fancies himself a philosopher… virulently antirobot, even for a Settler… single… Suspected in smuggling plots, but no proof Hobbies: a student of ancient Earth peoples and myths, amateur theatrics.

None of that mattered. What was important was that Verick would want to know Grieg's decision. Who would get the job on the control system-Verick, or Sero Phrost's consortium of Infernal companies that wanted the contract?

The real question was a Settler system versus a Spacer system. The Settlers offered an automated system that would be under direct human control, while the Spacers, the Infernals, were, of course, offering a robot-controlled unit. There were political, philosophical, and engineering reasons on both sides of the argument. He had them listed out on a piece of paper, neat columns of pros and cons, full of the kind of intricate argument that Spacers delighted in.

On impulse, Grieg grabbed up a pen and ran an "X" across the whole page. He wrote in a new question, the only question, along one margin of the page. Which system would be best for the people of Inferno? The Control Center would be running the planet for the next fifty years, restabilizing the climate, bringing the whole creaky frailty of the ecosystem back under control. Grieg had made his decision a day or so before, but he had not revealed it yet. Not until he saw Verick and Phrost again. There was always the chance that one or the other could do something that would change his mind, that something would shift the equation. Give Verick another chance. Not that the corrupt old paranoid deserved it. But Grieg was interested in hardware, not personalities.

The annunciator chimed, and Grieg went to the door to let Verick in.

"Tierlaw! Do come in. Thanks for being so patient. " He offered his hand to the Settler and shook it with the slightly too-vigorous enthusiasm of a politician.

"Oh, not at all, Governor," Verick said. "There's a Settler saying that you have to stay up very late if you want to see the dawn. There are rewards for waiting."

"Yes, yes, absolutely," Grieg said as he guided his guest to a chair and sat down opposite him. "Now then, let's get down to business. What is your control system going to do for me?"

In the depths, in the darkness, Ottley Bissal waited, struggling to be patient, resisting the urge to get out, to run, to hurry from the shadows toward the light.

His hiding place was pitch-black, absolutely devoid of light. He had known that it would be so, his briefers had made that clear. But he had not realized just how profound darkness could be-how dark true blackness was. It preyed at him, chewed at him, caught at him right in the gut.

He was scared, fear-sweat dripping off him, his imagination running wild.

Would he be able to do it? When the go signal came, would he be able to step from this hiding place and do what he had come to do?

Or suppose the go signal did not come? Suppose there was silence, or instructions to abort? What if his coconspirators determined that the moment was not right, that the danger was too great? What would he do then?

Ottley Bissal knew the answer.

He would carry out his mission, no matter what orders came.

Things between Verick and Grieg were not nearly as jovial by the end of the meeting. It was all Grieg could do to keep his temper under control. Verick's behavior hadn't surprised Grieg, but that did not make it any less infuriating. He fought down the impulse to throw the man out, cancel his bid, and throw the job to Phrost immediately.

But was Phrost any better? And what did Verick's tactics have to do with the one question that mattered-Which system would be best for the people of Inferno?

"You have heard what I have to say," Grieg said. "I have told you what I will tell the planet in two days time."

"It does not make me happy," Verick said.

"My decision is binding," Grieg said, his voice flat and hard. " And now, I must say good night to you. "

"Very well," Verick said, jamming his hands into his pockets, balling his hands into fists. "I will say no more about it," he said, and headed, not for the outer door, but for the inner door that led back into the Residence. The door failed to open at his approach, and he pulled his hands out of his pockets and grabbed at the handle.

Grieg sighed. Typical Settler. Determined to do things the hard way. Grieg pushed a button on his desk, and the door slid open.

Verick stomped out, the door shut itself again. and that was that. Thank the stars all his meetings were not that unpleasant.

One last meeting, he told himself with a sigh, and it's going to be just as damned tricky. No favors or rumors or backstairs gossip, no minor issue he could trade and dicker on, no preliminary meeting that was nothing more than pleasantries. No, this one might be worse than the one with Verick. This one went to the core of his most vital policies.

The door opened, and the last two petitioners of the night came in, precisely on time.

Grieg got up from his desk, stepped around it, and ushered the two of them in. "Come in, come in," he said, forcing a cheerful smile onto his face. "The three of us have a lot to talk about. "

Grieg perched himself on the corner of his desk as the two robots, Caliban and Prospero, sat themselves down.

Twenty minutes later the two robots stepped out into the still-wild night, the rain slamming down so hard as to bother even a robot. The footing was tricky, visibility was poor, and infrared vision was of no real use. But Caliban was in a hurry. He wanted to get away from the Residence as soon as possible.

In a world where everyone used aircars, there was no road back to town from the Residence for those who had no aircar, and Caliban and Prospero had to walk along on a poorly paved brookside path that was completely washed out in places. The going was treacherous. But Caliban knew that statement applied to more than the footpath. There were other dangers ahead.

"I have long thought there would come a point," he told his companion, "where I would no longer support you or assist you, friend Prospero. We have now come to that point. What you have done tonight-what you have drawn me into tonight-goes quite beyond the pale. No amount of logic-chopping or parsimonious interpretation of the New Laws can justify it. Even I, with no Laws to guide me-or control me-found it hard to stand passively by. It greatly distresses me to see you as a party to such things-let alone be a party to them myself."

"I am surprised to hear those words from you, Caliban," Prospero said. "Of all the beings in the world, surely you can understand the importance of our cause. "

"It is your cause, not 'ours. ' " There was an edge of vehemence that was startling in a robotic voice. "There is no reason I can see why I should consider it mine. New Law robots are more a danger to me than to anyone else. The more you transgress, the more I am harassed, and suspected by association."

"And do you fear being suspected in tonight's actions?"

"I fear far more than suspicion, " Caliban said. "I fear being vaporized by a law officer's blaster."

The path ahead dipped down, and the brook had risen to engulf it altogether. But the only way out was forward, and there was no going back. Caliban stepped out into the water and forded across.

Donald turned the aircar into a descent pattern as they arrived at the hotel complex. He eased the car down into a landing next to Alvar's guest villa and rolled the car forward into the villa's covered garage.

Kresh thanked the stars he had rated at least a modest private villa rather than having to settle for one of the low-end three-room suites in the main hotel building. The island was so filled to bursting with visitors that even some of the higherranking guests had to sleep with two or three other parties on the same floor. But there were no such crowds for Kresh to contend with tonight, praise be. Like most Infernals, and most Spacers in general, Kresh did not care to have his quarters in close proximity to anyone else's.

Thank the stars as well for a covered garage. Kresh did not much care for getting caught in the rain.

Just before the party, Kresh had overheard some Settler terraform tech explaining to a member of the Governor's staff why they could not shut off the field that was shifting the wind and causing the rain just for the reception. Something about the windshifting project being in a delicate transition state, or something.

At least this weatherfield generator was working. There were four other such force field generators placed at strategic points on the planet-but all of them were centuries old, and none of the others were functional at the moment. They had been much used near-antiques when they had first been brought to Inferno for use during the original, inept, pennypinching attempt to terraform the planet.

The hatch sighed open and Kresh disembarked. Donald came out after him, then scooted out ahead of him to get the door to the villa itself.

Alvar Kresh followed the robot inside, moving almost more mechanically than Donald. He was tired. He reached his room and breathed a long, hard sigh of relief. It was over. The reception was ended, the guests had gone home, and the host was alive-if, perhaps, none too well pleased with Kresh. Well, if Grieg was annoyed and alive, that was better than having him satisfied and dead. Tidying up after a slightly undiplomatic performance at a party was a devil of a lot easier than dealing with the aftermath of a political assassination.

Am I being paranoid? Kresh asked himself. Are the dangers as great as I think?

The answer to that was that the dangers might be real, and that was all that mattered to a policeman.

Governor Grieg was leading a revolution from above, and a lot of people didn't like it. Revolutions made for complicated politics, caused fortunes to be made and lost, changed friends to enemies, enemies to friends. Shared assumptions turned into points of controversy during the night. The invaluable turned worthless, and what had been common became rare-and priceless. New ways of making a living, new ways of committing a crime, suddenly sprang up-and often it was hard to tell one from the other.

But none of that concerned Kresh. Not directly. Not tonight. What did bother him was another fact about revolutions: it was exceedingly rare for the people who began them to survive to their conclusions. Even a successful revolution often killed off its leadership.

Kresh did not even agree with most of what the Governor was trying to do. But it wasn't his job to agree. His job was to maintain stability and public safety. Protecting the person of the Governor was part of that job. But in the capital city of Hades, Kresh had the power and capabilities, the resources, to protect the Governor effectively. Not here on the island of Purgatory. Here no one knew who was in control, who was in charge of what patch of turf at the moment.

Alvar removed his gun belt, hung it over the back of a chair, and sat down on the edge of the bed. He pulled off his boots, loosened the rather severe collar of his dress tunic, and flopped back on the bed, exhausted, glad to be alone.

Alone. Back before the Caliban crisis, it was unlikely that Kresh had ever in his life spent more than an hour at a time after him, fussing over him, attending to his every need and wish, including some wishes he had never needed to ask for-or, in fact, truly desired.

But solitude. That was something a robot could never give you, except by giving you nothing. Alone, without the slightest thought of how anyone-or anything-might react to your behavior. No need whatsoever to look over your shoulder, no sense at all of a robot worrying endlessly over your safety, no concern that some look or gesture or muttered word might be interpreted as an implied order. No moment when it was easier to cooperate with the wishes of a bothersome servant, rather than argue or negotiate past whatever imagined fear or perceived order the robot was determined to deal with. Grieg had had a point, talking to Donald about the tyranny of the servant.

Back in the old days, Kresh never could have allowed himself the luxury of collapsing in a heap at the end of a long day. The luxury of being alone, without the need to worry what anyone-flesh and blood, or metal and plastic-might think. Even in front of Donald, there had been a certain sense of reserve, of caution.

Alvar Kresh was proud of being Sheriff, and he took the office and his duties very seriously. He had definite opinions about the way a Sheriff should behave, and he was determined to live up to that standard. Part of it was an act, and he knew that. Theatrics were part of being a leader, even in front of the robots.

In the days when Donald had dressed him and undressed him, Kresh had not given the matter a conscious thought. Now he often thought about it. What was it Grieg had said? Something about modifying his own behavior to keep his robots happy. When the robots managed your every action, when they chose your clothes and your meals and your schedule for the day, and you developed the habit of accepting their choices, who was the master and who the servant?

Before Caliban's advent had turned so much upside-down, Alvar always knew that if he had collapsed back into bed with his clothes still on and his teeth unbrushed and so on, Donald would have seen it and started to fuss. He would have cajoled him one way or the other to get up and take care of himself, get to bed properly rather than risk dozing off in his clothes without bathing first. And so Alvar had never done it, conceding the battle before it had even been fought.

So there was a certain pleasure, yes, a certain luxury, in being alone, in permitting himself a moment or two of relaxation without a robot fussing about, worrying that it might be harmful to his health if he accidentally dozed off in his clothes.

Luxury. What a strange idea that not having robots around could be considered a luxury.

Did Simcor Beddle fear that all the people who had been deprived of their robots would discover the absence of robots to be pleasant? Even if you granted the implausible assumption that Beddle was sincerely concerned with anything beside power, that was a silly idea. No one had been deprived of all their robots. Certainly twenty per household was far more than enough. Kresh only had five back home, aside from Donald. Maybe Beddle feared that people would make the simple discovery that it didn't take fifty robots to care for one person, that most robots spent their time doing little more than getting in each other's way, making work for themselves.

No rational person could believe that it could possibly take as many as twenty robots to run one household-and yet the entire populace was up in arms over the hardship caused by having only one chauffeur per car, or only as many cooks as there were meals in the day.

Still, the uproar was not as loud as it should have been, and it had died down sooner than Kresh had expected. Could it be that he was not the only one to find luxury in a moment of private, robotless relaxation?

Of course, he really ought to get up now, get to the refresher, and get properly ready for bed. But perhaps it wouldn't do any harm to rest his eyes, just for a moment…

Alvar Kresh dozed off, fully clothed, with the lights still on, slumped over in an awkward position half on and half off the bed.

The annunciator chimed, and Alvar's eyes snapped open. He sat up, winced at the stiffness in his back, and lay back with a slight groan. There was a bad taste in his mouth, and his feet were cold. How long had he been out? He felt disoriented, confused. Maybe there was something to be said for the smothering attentions of a robot nursemaid.

"Yes, what is it?" Kresh asked of the open air.

Donald's voice came through the door speaker. "Beg pardon, sir, but there is a matter requiring your attention. "

"And what might that be, Donald?" Kresh asked.

"A murder, sir."

"What?" Kresh sat back up on the bed, all thought of his aching back and cold feet suddenly gone. "Come in, Donald, come in."

The door opened and Donald stepped inside. "I assumed that you would want to know about it as soon as possible, sir."

"Yes, yes, of course," Kresh said. "But just a minute. I want to be awake enough to follow this. " Feeling vaguely ashamed at Donald having caught him at not getting himself to bed properly, Kresh stepped into the hotel room's refresher. He peeled off his tunic, rinsed out his mouth, splashed some water onto his face, and grabbed a towel. He rubbed his face dry and stepped back out into the room. Donald had produced a fresh tunic and a cup of coffee from somewhere. Kresh pulled on the shirt and took the coffee gratefully. He sat down in a chair opposite Donald, ready to listen. " All right, " he said. "Go."

"Yes, sir," Donald said. "A member of the Governor's security detail, an officer in the Rangers, was posted as a perimeter guard during the reception. He failed to report back to his station at the close of his shift, and a search was made. He was found, dead, at his post. "

"Dead how?"

"Strangled, sir. Or perhaps, more accurately, garroted. "

"Lovely. Jurisdiction?"

"As you might expect, sir, that is more than a trifle unclear. His duty post was on land ceded to the Settlers, and thus under the jurisdiction of the Settler Security Service. However, he was of course a member of the Governor's Rangers, but at the same time-"

"He was on duty as part of the Governor's security detail, and therefore under the Rangers' authority," Kresh finished. " Lovely. So we all get to bump heads. Any other facts as yet?"

"No, sir. Not even the victim's name. That is the sum total of my information. "

"Wonderful," Kresh said. "Let's get over there and find out more."

The two of them headed for Kresh's aircar, parked outside the guest house. Kresh got in after Donald, and sat down in his accustomed chair.

Donald rolled the aircar out of the garage and lifted off, up into the rain that was still thundering down, buffeting the car around once or twice before Donald could compensate. Kresh was barely aware of any of it, his mind focused on other matters. The Welton attack, the phony SSS guards, and now the death of a Governor's Ranger. What the devil was going on?

The Governor. What about the Governor? Kresh thought to ask Donald, but then didn't bother. No matter what Donald said, Kresh would feel obliged to check for himself. Kresh turned in his seat and switched on the comm system. He punched in the crash scramble code, the direct line to the Governor. He had used it exactly twice before in his career, but never felt more need of it than now.

The screen snapped on to show Grieg in his ceremonial office, at work at the big formal desk. There were papers scattered about, and Grieg was still in his formal clothes, but his hair was mussed and he was starting to show a bit of stubble. "Good evening, Sheriff," he said. "I see I'm not the only one working late. "

"No, sir. I wanted to call personally and confirm that you were safe. "

Grieg set down the papers he was working on and frowned. "Safe? Is there some reason I shouldn't be?"

"No one has informed you? Sir, one of the guards on the perimeter around the Residence has just been found dead, killed on duty, at his post. "

"The hell you say," Grieg said. "What more do you know?"

"That's all I have, sir. I am en route to the murder scene now."

"Very well. Keep me informed."

"Ah, yes, sir," Kresh said. "I'll keep you posted. " He switched off and frowned at the screen. Why the hell hadn't anyone informed the Governor? Just how muddled was the security operation? He shook his head. Never mind. Other things to worry about just now.

They were almost there.

A dead-white face stared bug-eyed at the sky, its rain-filled mouth open in shock.

Raindrops splattered on the corpse, the scene lit in the harsh, shadowless glare of high-power portable beam lights. The dead man's hands clutched at his neck, as if he were still struggling to pull the cruel, hard wire from around his throat. The corpse was in a small depression in the ground, tangled up in scruffy bramble, surrounded by a scrubby, anemic forest of small, elderly trees.

Lightning flashed and thunder blared, and Alvar Kresh stood over the corpse in the driving rain. The Crime Scene robots were already at work. Not that they would do any good. The CS robots could measure and sense and detect all they wanted, but there were no answers here. They could go back to their labs and come up with a time of death, perhaps, but that was going to be about it.

Alvar Kresh looked down at the dead man and sighed. He had been in this business for a while, and experience taught you things. There were times when you knew enough to know you weren't going to know any more. Sometimes the scene of a crime spoke volumes. Other times-right now, for example-it was plain to see that prodding at the corpse was useless. What had once been a man was now a meaningless bit of grotesquerie, as impersonal, as anonymous as a crumpled-up food wrapper.

But you went through the ritual all the same, because it was part of your job, because there was the faint chance that your instincts just might be wrong, because it was expected of you, because it was standard procedure. But you knew that there was no real point.

It was clear, to Kresh's eye, that whoever did this job had not done it with the simple goal of killing. He or she had taken on the job of killing undetected. It was a careful, professional job. A garrote, for example, was not going to show any fingerprints. A rainy night would insure that a lot of clues would be washed away. Besides, anyone who could slip through a perimeter of Governor's Rangers, kill one of their number, and get away undetected was not going to be stupid enough to leave a calling card behind.

Sometimes-like right now-when it was obvious there was nothing to be learned, crime scenes devolved into little more than macabre social occasions. Kresh didn't get to see his opposite numbers in the SSS and the Rangers all that often. But tonight it was old home week. Devray of the Rangers and Melloy of the SSS were both here.

That in itself was interesting. Neither service was in the habit of dispatching its highest-ranking officers to a murder scene. It was clear to Kresh that neither side wanted to concede a centimeter of ground in the endless turf war between the two services. Kresh was glad he had nothing at stake in this one. Let the two of them duke it out.

Kresh didn't have much faith in the SSS or the Rangers. The Settler force was nothing more than a bunch of bullyboys, a goon squad given official sanction. Cinta Melloy's SSS was little more than a band of hired thugs.

The Rangers were a decent enough group, and good at what they did. Kresh was more than willing to grant that. The only trouble was that security was not what they did. Their usual line of work ran toward guarding trees, not people. Their primary jobs were search and rescue, wildlife management, ecological maintenance. Their tasks had been seen as dull, plebeian, low-status jobs in the past. These days such work was all-important, high-profile stuff. The needs of the day had vaulted the Rangers out of their previous obscurity.

And yet, here they were, guarding the Governor for no better reason than that their charter said it was their job. Never mind that the charter-writers had been talking about ceremonial guards. Back in those days, no one had ever dreamed that the Governor would require actual protection against real threats, let alone that humans would be expected to do the job.

Kresh could make the case that their inexperience in such matters meant that having the Rangers on the job actually endangered the Governor. But the Rangers were insisting on the prerogative of their service even though Kresh's deputies–or perhaps even the SSS-could do a better job of it.

The Rangers had not been trained for security work. They had spent their lives being protected from all harm by robots. At the end of the day, they were Spacers, and Spacers tended to assume that a situation was safe until they learned otherwise. A good security officer had to do just the opposite.

Commander Justen Devray of the Rangers crouched down over the corpse next to Kresh, peering at it intently in the rain, as if he would be able to spot some clue the Crime Scene robots had missed. Devray was a tall, muscular man, with tousled blond hair and blue eyes, his skin tanned and supple. His face was still youthful, but a life in the outdoors had lined it, shaped it. He was gentle and careful in his movements, the way big men were sometimes. He was a good thinker, if not always a fast one, but he simply was not a detective. He had made his way up through the scientific side of the Rangers' ranks. An arboriculturist, if memory served. An expert knowledge of tree sap was not going to be of much use in the average murder investigation.

"Have you picked up anyone?" Kresh asked of Melloy.

She just shook her head. She made no move to squat down and examine the body, or even show much interest in it. She knew there was nothing here. "We've done every kind of sweep we can think of. No unauthorized personnel here now, and no sighting-and that's strange, right there. I had teams beyond the security perimeter, doing scans. Someone should have seen something. " She nodded toward the corpse and raised her voice a bit. "Not going to get much out of him, Justen, " she said.

"I suppose not," Devray agreed in his slow, careful voice. "But I couldn't know that until I got a look at him."

Devray stood up and turned toward Melloy. "Do you see much of anything?"

"I see Ranger Sergeant Emoch Huthwitz dead," Melloy replied, a bit curtly. "Killed by someone who knew where he was and how to get at him without making a sound."

Security Captain Cinta Melloy of the Settler Security Service ought to have been of more use at a murder than a tree surgeon. She had served in trouble spots throughout the Settler worlds. But not to put too fine a point on it, Kresh didn't trust Melloy. There was something about the woman didn't sit right with him. Even now, there was a tiny alarm bell ringing somewhere in the back of his mind.

"I see a bit more than that," Kresh said. "This man was on the Governor's security detail, on duty, with the Governor not two hundred meters away. I don't think we can start out assuming that it was-ah-"

"Huthwitz," Donald said, quietly prompting Kresh.

Damnation! He hated when that happened. Made it look as if he didn't know what he was doing. "I don't think we can start out assuming it was Huthwitz who was the primary target."

"But the Governor survived," Melloy objected.

How do you know that? Kresh wondered. The Governor didn't even know anything had happened. No, that was too paranoid. Melloy probably checked in with the security robots. "The security plans were changed, beefed up, at the last moment," Kresh answered. "Maybe an assassin got this far, but no further."

"Possibly," Melloy said, not sounding very convinced. "But why kill Huthwitz if you were after the Governor? It could do nothing but increase the risk of detection. The Rangers weren't using any sort of detection grid, just Rangers lined up around the perimeter of the Winter Residence, on watch. Why go up against a Ranger when it would have to be easier to sneak between two Rangers in the line?"

"Maybe the killer tried to sneak between Rangers and came upon Huthwitz by accident," Kresh said.

Melloy pointed to a toppled-over camp stool by the body. "Maybe Huthwitz was bending a reg or two by sitting at his post, but you can see by the way the stool was positioned he was looking out, toward the exterior of his perimeter, the way he was supposed to. Whoever it was who killed him had to get inside the perimeter, then head back out toward him. Besides, there aren't any signs of a struggle. Even after three hours of rain like this, we ought to be able to see something."

Kresh had noticed the camp stool, but had not put it together to figure out the attacker had come from inside the perimeter. It irritated him to have missed that obvious a clue. "Maybe you've got a point, Melloy, but I have the Governor to think about. You work this any way you want, but I have to work on the assumption that this was an attempt on Grieg's life."

Melloy shrugged. "As you like."

Devray was listening, but still staring at the corpse, as if he had never seen such a thing as a murder victim before. Well, maybe he hadn't. "You know, Melloy, you're making an assumption here yourself," he said. "Perhaps not a valid one."

"And what might that be, Commander Devray?" Melloy asked, not making any special effort to keep the contempt out of her voice.

If Devray noticed the disparaging tone, he chose to ignore it. "The direction," he said. "You pointed out the murderer had to come from behind, from inside the security perimeter. "

"So?"

"So there were a lot of people who wouldn't need to go past your scanners or sneak between two of my Rangers to get inside the perimeter and get behind him. People who wouldn't show up on your scanners. "

"Wait a minute," Kresh protested, suddenly understanding.

"All the people at the party, " Devray said, his voice so soft and quiet Kresh could barely hear it over the rain. " Anyone of them could have come out here, done the job, and then gone back. A quick step into a refresher to tidy themselves up and get their clothes dry, and no one would ever know."

"All right," Kresh said. "Maybe so. But why the hell would anyone want to kill Huthwitz?"

"That one, I don't know yet," Devray said.

Kresh sat in the copilot's chair and let Donald do the flying. There was a lot to think about here. Things were not fitting together they way they should have. Melloy and Devray both seemed to be following agendas that just didn't hold together.

A man-a guard-killed two hundred meters from the Governor he was guarding, and neither of them seemed the least bit interested in the idea that the killing might be politically motivated.

And another thing. Melloy had been the one to volunteer the victim's name. That was the thing that had been bothering him. Devray hadn't even seemed to have known the victim.

"Donald-the first call-in you got did not have the victim's name. When was the first general police band hyperwave call with that information?"

"There has been no such call as yet, I presume as a security precaution. I was alerted by a private call from the Governor's Rangers Operations Center. "

"Hmmph. Check in with whatever traffic control centers would have it. We got to the crime scene last. Of Devray and Melloy, which got there first, and by how much?"

"One moment, sir. " Donald was silent for a moment as he ran the query over his hyperwave links. "Limbo Traffic Center reports that Captain Melloy landed first, with Commander Devray arriving five minutes later, approximately two minutes before we got there."

"So Devray had maybe one minute, maybe three, tops, with Melloy, before we actually got out of our aircar and got to the scene. When we got there, the two of them were not exactly in the midst of warmhearted conversation. The name of the victim is not going to be the first topic of conversation."

"I'm not quite sure I follow you, sir. "

"Even if you assume Devray knew the victim well enough to recognize him, it just doesn't follow that the first thing he would do upon arrival at the scene would be to tell Melloy the victim's full name and rank."

"I don't quite see why not, sir. It is a valuable piece of information. "

"Maybe so, but it's just not in character. Devray wouldn't tell you the sun was coming up tomorrow before he sat back and thought it through-and Melloy's hardly the first person he'd confide in. The two of them are barely even on speaking terms."

"It still would seem reasonable to me for him to tell Melloy the victim's name."

"I don't think Melloy or Devray are exactly reasonable toward each other. Besides, Melloy rattled Huthwitz's name off as if she were familiar with it, knew it well. I agree with you that there is no logical reason preventing Devray from knowing the name, but I tell you it doesn't make sense as a piece of human behavior. " Kresh thought a moment or two longer. "Of course, I'm assuming Devray knew who it was in the first place, but he didn't act as if he did."

"What actions revealed he did not know Huthwitz?" Kresh shook his head. "Nothing distinct enough for me to point it out. But there was something detached about his actions. Not like he was dealing with a friend or an acquaintance. No. I'd bet whatever you like that Melloy knew Huthwitz and Devray did not. But how the hell would Melloy come to know a low-ranking officer in a rival police force?"

"It seems a minor point, but surely we could resolve the issue by calling either Devray or Melloy and asking."

Kresh shook his head. "No. I don't want to do that. I don't want to tip my hand. "

"Sir, I am confused. What is it you wish to conceal?"

"I don't know yet, Donald. Maybe just the fact that I think something doesn't smell right. I don't want anyone rushing around with disinfectant until I find out where the odor's coming from."

"Sir, I'm afraid I still do not understand. "

"Me neither. I can almost see Devray being worried more about having one of his officers killed than the politics of the situation-but that doesn't explain Melloy. It's almost as if she already knew it was nothing to do with the Governor. " Or, he could not help thinking, as if she already knew that it was.

Wait a second. Wait a goddamned second.

Kresh turned back toward the comm panel and punched in the crash scramble again. The Governor reappeared on screen again. Still at his desk. Still working on the same papers. Still in his formal clothes. "Sheriff!" he said. "Is there some further news?"

"Governor, I was wondering. Could you remind me-what did you send me on my birthday last year?"

"What? What the devil are you talking about?"

"What present did you send me last year?"

"Kresh, how the devil should I know?"

"You should know quite well, sir. You sent nothing at all."

"You called me at this hour to ask me that?"

"No, I didn't. " Kresh cut the connection, his heart pounding. "Donald. Back to the Residence, full emergency speed."

"Yes, sir. " The aircar made a hard turn and rushed back the way it had come, gathering speed. "Sir, I could not help overhearing, and I am greatly confused," he said, his voice steady and level. " According to my recollection, the Governor sent a memo to all the top government officials as soon as he took office just over two years ago. He told them he was ceasing the tradition of gubernatorial birthday gifts to them effective immediately, as it tended to promote favoritism."

"And just by chance, the memo arrived on my birthday," Kresh said. "I didn't feel much like a favorite that day. I remember, Donald, I remember. But why didn't the Governor know?"

But Kresh already had the answer to that, even if it scared him to death. The aircar landed hard, and Kresh was out the hatch and running through the rain toward the front door before it had stopped moving. There should have been an SPR on duty at the front door, but instead the door was wide open. Kresh rushed inside. The SPR robots were there-but motionless, inert. And if the security robots were out-he ran upstairs to the Governor's office, almost toppling over another security robot standing uselessly in front of the door-with a hole shot through its chest. He slapped his palm on the security panel. The damned thing was supposed to be keyed to his handprint, but was it? He had never tried it. The door slid open and he all but dove into the room, not daring to think what he would find. But the lights were off. He could not see a thing. Kresh pulled his blaster.

The lights switched themselves on as they sensed someone in the room. And the room was empty. No one was at the desk. There were no papers spread out to be worked on.

Kresh rushed back into the hall, heading for the Governor's bedroom, dodging past two more dead security robots on the way. The bedroom door was wide open. He went inside. And stopped.

The Governor was there.

Sitting up in bed.

With a blaster hole the size of a man's fist in his chest.

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