Inferno (Isaac Asimov's Caliban #2)

Chapter 9

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JUSTEN DEVRAY WATCHED as the death-black coroner's Office robots carried Governor Chanto Grieg away. "Burning stars," he said. "I don't believe it. I can't believe it. " He turned and looked toward the Governor's bed-the deathbed-where the Crime Scene team was still at work, doing a painstaking scan for any evidence that might have been hidden by the body itself. Corpses didn't tend to bleed much, but there was still enough blood, and the burn and scorch marks on the wall and the bedding were still horrifying enough, even if they weren't particularly extensive. "When you called to tell me, I didn't think of all this," he said to Alvar Kresh. "I didn't think about death, or about what all this is going to mean. I thought about turf wars, and that you were trying to win one."

"Well, I was trying to win a turf war," Kresh said. "But not because I wanted this for myself," he said. "There were other reasons. "

"Huthwitz," Devray said. It was not a question.

"Huthwitz," Kresh agreed. "It didn't seem much like chance to me. That wasn't someone blundering into him in the dark. It was too neat. Somebody knew exactly when and where a Ranger would be, exactly how to stalk him."

"Except if they knew exactly where my Rangers would be, why go out of their way to kill one? Why not just slip between the Rangers?"

"That occurred to me as well," Kresh said, his voice a bit too flat and even for it to be utterly natural. "Would there be any other reason to kill a Ranger? Maybe a reason to kill Huthwitz in particular?"

Justen felt a knot in his stomach. Kresh was not a man who missed much. "Yes," he said. "There might be. I'm not prepared to say more just now, but there might."

"You didn't recognize Huthwitz's name last night," Kresh pointed out.

"But Melloy knew him," Devray said. "She recognized him immediately. I still don't know about that. I checked with our Internal Investigation unit as soon as I left the Huthwitz crime scene."

"And they told you a thing or two you're not quite ready to tell me," Kresh said. "Even though we're standing here watching them peel incinerated bits of the Governor off the wall."

"Yes," Justen said, rather defiantly. Justen could not bring himself to tell Kresh about the evidence linking Huthwitz to rustbacking. Not yet. Even in the face of the Governor's death, he could not betray one of his own by confirming the report.

"You know, there are two reasons Melloy might have known who Huthwitz was. Either she was investigating him-"

"Or else she was in on whatever he was doing," Justen said.

"Beg pardon, sirs, but there is a third possible reason," Kresh's robot said. "They are both law enforcement officers who were involved in gubernatorial security. She could simply have met him in the course of her normal duties."

Justen took a good hard look at-what was his name-Donald? Justen normally wouldn't pay much attention to a robot-especially one who was offering a rather charitable interpretation of events. Justen's own personal robot, Genray, had gotten himself out of the way the moment they arrived at the crime scene. He had stepped into an empty wall niche and stayed there. But Justen had heard a story or two about Kresh's robot, and Kresh clearly took him seriously. "Do you think that is a realistic possibility?" Justen asked.

The robot Donald raised his arms in a fair imitation of a human gesture of uncertainty. "It is certainly possible. I have no way of weighing the probabilities. But it is my experience that rejecting the innocent explanations out of hand is as unwise as refusing to consider the possibility of criminal action. The fact that Huthwitz is apparently under suspicion in some other investigation does not preclude the chance of his meeting Melloy in the course of their normal duties."

"Point taken," Justen said.

"But it doesn't get you off the hook," Kresh said. "I need to know what your internal investigators were working on."

"Not yet," Justen said. "You'll get it, I give my word. But I can't give it up now-for the same reason you didn't call the Rangers the second you spotted the body. "

Kresh turned and looked him straight in the eye, and Justen squirmed inside just a bit. Kresh was not a man to trifle with.

"So you don't trust me, either," Kresh said.

"I trust you, sir," Justen said to the older man. "But I do not trust every one of your deputies, or the inviolability of all your communications equipment. Things can leak. " And I don't want to wreck Huthwitz's reputation until I know he deserved to have it wrecked.

Kresh's expression turned angry, and for a moment it seemed he was going to bite Justen's head off. But then he stopped himself, and even smiled, just a bit. "Much as I hate to admit it, you might have a point. Tonya Welton once flat out told me that the Settlers could read encrypted Sheriff s office signals. We've changed our encryption since then, but that's no guarantee. All right. I'll give you one day. Twenty-eight hours. "

"And if that's not enough time?" Justen asked.

"Then that will just be too bad, " Kresh said. "Twenty-eight hours. This investigation has to move. We need to get somewhere before the other shoe drops."

Justen frowned. "Shoe? What shoe?"

"You don't go killing the Governor because you're in a bad mood," Kresh said. "This was very carefully planned and orchestrated, maybe even over-orchestrated. A conspiracy. Somebody had a plan, and I don't think it's complete yet. Someone is going to try and make a move, seize power in the next few days."

"But the constitution," Justen protested. "There're the laws controlling the succession. No one could just walk in and take over."

"Constitutions only work when people believe in them, have faith in them. Otherwise, they're nothing but scraps of paper. Do you think there is enough faith in the system out there to keep someone from elbowing into the succession?"

"Sir, might I make an additional point?" Donald asked.

"What, Donald?"

"As you said, sir, this is a rather well-planned conspiracy. If, as you speculate, the assassins are planning to seize power, then they might well have co-opted the succession in advance. "

Kresh nodded and thought for a second. A strange expression came over his face. "Unless we're looking at this backwards. Maybe it's some band of civic-minded madmen who did this."

"What?" Justen asked.

Kresh gestured toward the bed. "He told me himself, last night, that he was close to being impeached or recalled. He was fairly optimistic about his chances of staying in office, but maybe someone else wasn't."

"So?"

"So the Governor's choice as successor doesn't get the job if he's removed from office by impeachment or recall. If the Governor is booted out, the President of the Legislative Council takes over. Shelabas Quellam. Maybe someone didn't want Quellam in the Governor's chair. "

"Is Quellam that bad?" Justen asked. "I hardly know the first thing about him. "

"That's about all there is to know," Kresh said. "He's as close to a nonentity as you would ever wish to meet. The trouble is that Grieg named Quellam as his Designate. Supposedly he felt the same man should take over regardless of the circumstances, for the sake of stability."

"Are you sure of that?"

"Reasonably so," Kresh said. "We'll find out soon enough. Right now, I'm more interested in who killed the man, not who takes over from-"

But Kresh was interrupted by a woman who came in at the door. Justen recognized her as Fredda Leving, the roboticist. What the devil was she doing here? "Sheriff Kresh," she said, "I've found something. " There was an excited glint in her eyes, an edgy sort of triumph. "Follow me," she said. She turned and left the two men standing there, not bothering to look behind to see if they were following.

"Ah, Dr. Leving is here at my request," Kresh said, answering Justen's question before he had a chance to ask it. "I wanted to pull in a robotics expert as soon as I could. "

It took Justen a moment, but then he understood. "The SPRs," he said. "How the hell did the shooter get past them?"

"That was my question," Kresh said. "Let's go see what she's found."

"There's not much that I can see," said Alvar Kresh as he peered into the recesses of the Sapper robot.

"That's because you're not in the business of dealing with these things up in Hades," Fredda said. "But you will be."

"Well, that sounds very dramatic," Kresh said, "but all I can see is what looks like some sort of broken-off attachment clip and a torn bit of flat cable."

"Let me have a look," Devray said. Kresh stepped back and let the younger man peer into the robot's interior. "It mean anything to you?" he asked.

Devray pulled his head out, a lot of astonishment on his face. "Burning devils. A restrictor."

"What?" Kresh said.

"A restrictor. A broken-off connection point for a restrictor. Someone took the restrictors off a batch of New Law robots, modified them somehow to react to a different control system, and plugged them into these SPRs."

Kresh opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. The SPRs shut down by restrictors removed from New Law robots? That was diabolical.

Every New Law robot had a restrictor built into it. In principle, at least, the idea was simple enough. The restrictors saw to it that any New Law robot attempting to leave Purgatory would be shut down as it tried to go. It was supposed to be impossible to remove the device without destroying the robot. No restrictor-wearing robot could function outside the area permitted by the restrictor-which was to say, the island of Purgatory. The precise workings of the system were a closely held secret. Even Kresh did not know exactly how it was supposed to work.

But he did know the operative word was "supposed," for the obvious fact was that the system did not work. Every rustback robot that left the island was a testament to that. That there was a traffic in them, a regular business, and that made it plain that it was not a question of occasional lapses or isolated violations. Rustbacking was more than just a business-it was a whole criminal industry, a highly sophisticated operation.

And one that was now tied into the assassination of the Governor. A gang of rustbackers hand found a way to tamper with the Governor's own security robots. How the hell could they trace that leak?

"You're sure that's a piece off a New Law robot's restrictor?" Kresh demanded.

"Absolutely," said Fredda Leving. "It was what I was looking for when I started checking the Sapper robots."

"But I don't understand. We're still on the island. Why should restrictors turn off the security robots?"

"They must have been modified in some way, " Fredda said. "Clearly they weren't working on a geographic basis, because the Sappers were working fine during the party. My guess is that they were modified to deactivate the robots on some sort of signal. Hyperwave, or maybe even old-fashioned radio. No one uses radio anymore-but that fact right there would make it perfect for this sort of job. The signal would be undetectable with any sort of modern equipment. Clearly the restrictors have been modified not only to shut down the robots in some different way, but also to be removable in a hurry. Except this restrictor didn't come out quite as easily as it was supposed to."

"But where the devil did they get the restrictors to put on the SPRs?" asked Devray.

There were times it was more than clear to Kresh that Devray did not think in terms of crime and victim and criminal. He was better suited to forest management than murder investigation.

"The spare parts bin," Leving said. "Obviously, they used restrictors they had peeled off New Law robots. Rustbackers did this. No one else could have."

"Well, one thing is for sure," Kresh said. "Whoever did this worked in a rustbacker lab at some point. He or she knew how to get these things out, and do it in a hurry."

"A rustbacker," Fredda said. "Maybe that can point us toward a motive for the murder."

"Maybe," Alvar said. "At least now we can get started."

Donald 111 was in a very slight state of shock, and it was with a great sense of relief that he found that his duties required him to be alone.

The SPRs had been tampered with. They had been shut down, useless for security work. Kresh had comforted him with the knowledge that Grieg had died with fifty robots to protect him. One more could have done no good. But the fifty had been useless, meaningless. One functioning robot could easily have made the difference. Worse, it was the deployment of the SPRs that had doomed Grieg-and Donald had urged their deployment.

Robots on the planet Inferno had always been built with extremely high First Law, and had been known to freeze up on occasions such as this, when they learned they could have prevented harm to a human. But Donald knew better than that. Yes, he could have saved Governor Grieg-if he had been possessed of information known to no one but those who killed the Governor. He could have saved him-if he had been here, at the Residence, instead of many kilometers away, with Kresh, performing his normal duties. He could have saved the Governor if a half-dozen impossible things had happened.

No. No. There was nothing he could have done outside the world of if-only. Here, in reality, it was never possible to avoid all risk, all danger. It was never possible to defend against attackers with as many resources, with as much willingness to take risks, as the killers of Governor Grieg.

But still, he needed to calm himself, to talk himself down from the idea that he could have done anything. So it was just as well he had work to do, and the need to do it in private.

There was a great deal more to a major investigation than discovering clues. It was, in many ways, as much a management operation as anything else, as Donald 111 had reason to know. There were all the logistical questions of bringing in robots and human personnel and all sorts of equipment. There was an evidence center to set up, where all the data could be stored safely, and the physical evidence protected from tampering and made available for examination. There was a press center to establish, accommodations for the investigation team and the press and the hangers-on and the VIPs who would inevitably arrive.

There were those, and a thousand other details, to deal with-but then, Donald had been quite literally made for the job. Though he was obliged to devote a lot of his time to duties as Sheriff Kresh's personal assistant, his primary responsibility was to Sheriff Kresh's office, to the efficient handling of the detail work-and that work he could only do when the Sheriff did not require him to be present-such as at the present moment. Donald barely dared admit it even to himself, but there were unquestionably times when it was a distinct relief to get the Sheriff out from underfoot so he could get on with his main task of managing the Sheriff s office.

Management was in large part a matter of communications, of contacting the proper robot and relaying orders, of locating the proper equipment and arranging for it to be transported to where it would be needed. Most, if not all, of it could be handled via hyperwave, which in turn meant that Donald could be remarkably productive while standing stock-still, with little or no outward evidence that he was even switched on, let alone extremely busy.

Donald had learned the hard way to keep a low profile when so engaged. There were more than a few humans who objected, as a matter of principle, to the sight of a seemingly idle robot. It offended them to see Donald standing stock-still. They would give near-useless orders just for the sake of getting him busy. For that reason, he preferred to make sure he was safely out of sight somewhere before he started making his calls. In the present case, Donald was hiding in a broom closet as he worked. He was aware of the fact that many humans would find that extremely humorous, but that did not much matter to him. The whole point of it was to stay out of their view in the first place-and they could not be amused if they couldn't find him.

Besides which, there was nothing funny about the present situation. There were any number of points that Sheriff Kresh and the other humans had not even begun to address. Even now, there was vital new information coming in-along with vital new questions. Donald, however, knew enough not to point out such things to Sheriff Kresh and the others yet. It would be counterproductive to break their concentration just as they were corning to terms with the basic facts of the case. Humans, Donald knew, often required a great deal of time before they were able to deal with changed circumstances.

Governor Grieg had been murdered, and that was most unfortunate. Donald grieved his loss, inasmuch as any robot could be said to grieve. But the plain fact was that the man was dead, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. One always had to deal with the available circumstances, and Grieg's death was now one of them.

Humans, of course, saw it differently. They indulged in "denial," a ritual Donald had never entirely understood. It seemed to involve an attempt to reshape the world into a more convenient state by a sheer act of stubborn will, generally by insisting that some bad thing had never happened. It had never worked and never would-but it seemed that humans always had to find out if it would work, just this once. There was no point trying to move the Sheriff, Commander Devray, and Fredda Leving forward until they had at least accepted the facts of the situation.

In the meantime, let them deal with theories, with the corpses of humans and robots. They were best suited to that sort of task, just as Donald was best suited to making arrangements for a field forensic lab to be set up.

Donald was in the midst of an intricate five-way linkup with various logistical offices when he heard something in the hallway outside. Under normal circumstances, he would have ignored it as part of the normal background noise of everyday life. But these were far from normal circumstances. It sounded very much like someone in bare feet walking slowly-and a bit unsteadily-down the long, wood-floored hallway.

It was not Sheriff Kresh or Dr. Leving or the Commander. Donald would have recognized their walking rhythms. It certainly was not any of the deputies. Their uniforms included heavy boots, and none would move at such a leisurely pace while on duty. But the footsteps were rather loud for all of that, considering they sounded unshod.

Donald cut off his comm links in as quick and orderly a fashion as he could, and waited, motionless, in the darkness of the closet until the steps had moved past him and were moving away.

Donald silently opened the door and stepped out into the hall, determined not to make a sound. He looked down the hall, not quite sure what he expected to see.

In any event, he did not expect to see a bald man in rather loud blue-checked pajamas and a clashing red-and-white-striped robe padding barefoot down the hall.

Tierlaw Verick-or at least the person calling himself that sat in his unfortunate sleepwear, looking most ill at ease. He was perched on a hard-backed chair in the center of a room with no other furniture in it save the interrogator's chair. Verick's chair had been placed so his back was to the door, with the deliberate intent of making him just that bit more uncomfortable.

Half the Residence seemed never to have been used. The place was filled with fully stocked, well-maintained bedroom suites with everything a guest might need, and never mind that Infernals did not care to have overnight guests. The Residence had any number of handsomely appointed sitting rooms no one had ever sat in, gleaming kitchens that had not served a meal since Kresh had been born. A sad commentary on the grandiose attitude of Inferno's architects, and on the wasteful nature of a robot-based economy, but it did mean there were ample facilities for interrogation. In fact, it had taken a little doing to find a room barren enough to serve as a suitable interrogation chamber, from the psychological point of view.

Fredda Leving sat in the chair facing Verick, while Justen Devray leaned in a corner and Kresh paced the room. Donald stood, unobtrusive as ever, in the room's only wall niche, facing Verick, on the far side of the room from the door. He was, of course, recording everything, but Donald could do one better than that. When Fredda Leving had first built him, years before, she had equipped him with the sensors to let him serve as a lie detector. He was monitoring Verick's heart rate, respiration, pupil dilation, and other physiological factors that provided an estimate of stress levels. Verick didn't know that, of course, and no one was going to tell him.

Not that Verick knew much of anything, to hear Verick tell it. Verick was an older-looking man, thin-faced, pale-skinned, with not a single hair on his head, aside from heavy brown eyebrows and lashes. His eyes were piercing blue, and quite expressive; his face was lean and hungry-looking. The skin over his skull gleamed, a healthy pink, shining as if it had been polished-as perhaps it had. It was baldness so thoroughgoing and absolute that it had to be an affectation, a deliberate choice in his personal appearance that had to be as carefully maintained as the most elaborate coiffure. Either he shaved his head at least daily, or had himself depilitated on a regular basis.

In Kresh's experience, men who put that sort of effort into their appearance-and chose such a startling one as absolute, perfect baldness-were rather aggressive and assertive types, and Verick fit the bill. Other men arrested in such silly-looking sleepwear would have acted sheepish or apologetic. Verick gave the sense of a man who didn't like being kept waiting.

Verick's story was simple, if utterly implausible. He was a Settler businessman, here to try to sell a Settler-model Control Center to the Inferno Terraforming Authority. He had been a guest at the reception the evening before. He had, by prearrangement, stayed after most of the other guests had gone to have an after-hours meeting with the Governor. Likewise by prearrangement, he had stayed the night after the meeting, sleeping in the west wing of the Residence. He had awakened to hear voices and people moving about, and had gotten up to see what was going on-only to be taken into custody by Donald as he set foot in the hallway.

It would follow that he knew nothing about Grieg's death, having slept through the whole thing, and his behavior was consistent with that state of affairs. Either he did not know Grieg was dead, or he was doing a first-rate job of acting like he didn't.

Kresh was not about to tell him. If a man who claimed to know nothing made a slip that demonstrated that he did know something, that could be most informative.

But the irritating-and baffling-thing about his story was that it seemed as if it might check out. Donald confirmed that there was a Settler businessman by the name of Verick on the guest list. That was a start, anyway. But how the devil had Kresh's deputies missed him when they searched the house?

Kresh was too old a hand not to know there were lots of answers to that one. Human error could explain it in a dozen ways, any of which might be true-and none of which would sound the least bit convincing to outsiders.

There had not been many robots available when the first search had been performed, and those had been put to work either on specialized work or general heavy lifting. Human deputies had performed the search. The place had at least a hundred rooms, and Kresh could easily imagine a hurried deputy not being sure which room he had checked, or just opening a door to peek into the ninth or tenth obviously empty room in a row-and missing the motionless lump under the covers. Verick might have locked his door from the inside, and the deputy searching that section might have intended to come back later with the keys, and then forgot.

His deputies were only human, after all, and all of them were in one degree or another of shock. It was, after all, their Governor who had died this night. It was the head of their nation, their planet, who had fallen to enemies unseen.

But even so, it was the sort of foul-up that could easily dog this case for all time, if it were not put right immediately. Kresh could imagine the board of inquiry already. Kresh had set new teams of deputies to work to search the place allover again, just to see what else they might have missed-and, this time, with some sort of Crime Scene Observer robot accompanying each deputy. Later, if it came to that, Kresh was prepared to take the whole Residence apart, brick by brick. Nothing could be permitted to threaten the integrity of this investigation.

But Verick. If his innocence seemed implausible, so too did his guilt. For if he were a member of the elaborate conspiracy, then why in Space had he remained behind in the Residence? Why had he allowed himself to be arrested in his pajamas?

In the main, it seemed to Kresh, Verick's story seemed more plausible than any attempt to tie him to the crime. But they were damned short of suspects and motives at the moment, and Kresh saw no reason to turn his back on one. Besides, stories had held together in the past, only to crack later on under sufficient pressure. " All right, Mr. Verick, let's try it again," Kresh said. "From the top."

"Can't you tell me what all this is about?" Verick said. "Can't you tell me what's happened?"

"No," Kresh said, his tone as clipped as his reply.

"It's important that we not tell you too much just yet," Devray said, clearly playing good cop to Kresh's bad cop. "We want to know what you know, without muddying the tracks."

"I want to speak to the Governor," Verick said.

"I can promise you that the Governor does not want to speak to you," Kresh said. True enough, if more than a bit misleading. And it seemed to have the desired effect of unnerving Verick. "From the top," Kresh said again-

"All right, all right. " He hesitated long enough to take a deep sigh and slump down in his chair, and then began again, his eyes staring out. "My name is Tierlaw Verick. I live on the Settler world of Baleyworld. I represent a firm that sells highly sophisticated control equipment. We've sold a great number of our systems to Settler terraforming projects, and I was sent here in hopes of selling one of our systems to the terraforming center here. I attended the reception last night, and afterwards had a meeting with Governor Grieg. Knowing that accommodation was very tight in town, and that I had come a very long way, he very kindly offered to put me up for the night. "

"You and you alone?" Fredda said. "Of all the people here last night, you were the only one who stayed the night?"

"Hmmm?" Verick looked at Fredda, as if he were surprised by the question. "I don't know. I didn't notice anyone else, one way or the other. I don't see why I should be the only one. There's certainly plenty of room here. But to the best of my direct knowledge, yes. I must say that surprises me in a house this size, though. Back home, every one of the guests at the reception would have been an overnight guest. But are you telling me there was no one else here?"

"No, there wasn't," Fredda said, to Kresh's annoyance. Rule number one of interrogation was never to answer the suspect's questions. The more Verick knew, the more able he would be to craft his answers.

"Dr. Leving," Kresh said, "I think it would be best if you let the Commander and myself ask the questions, and if you did not supply any answers yourself."

Leving looked toward Kresh, a bit startled. "But I-oh," she said, about to protest and then thinking better of it… Forgive me, Sheriff."

"No harm done. In any event, it's a very minor point," Kresh said, hoping that he was telling the truth, now that Verick's attention had been drawn to it. "But you weren't the only one to meet with the Governor last night, were you?"

"No, no, of course not," Verick said. "There were a number of other people waiting their turn before me. Eight or ten of them altogether, but in twos and threes. I had to wait until they were done, but I didn't much mind. After all, I didn't have to fly home afterwards-and besides, by being the last one in line, I had the chance to stay a little longer. No one was waiting behind me. "

And you've just told us you were the last one to see Grieg alive, Kresh thought. He stole the tiniest of glances at Devray, and saw the point had not been lost on him, either. "So what did the two of you talk about?" Kresh asked.

It was plainly obvious that Verick's patience was running thin. "I have told you and told you. About my desire to sell him a control station. He seemed most interested in it, for a number of reasons-mostly because it wasn't a robotic system."

"I beg your pardon?" Kresh asked. That was the benefit of repeated questioning. Verick hadn't offered that little tidbit in the previous go-rounds.

"Our Settler system is not robotic," Verick said. "I did what I could to point out the advantages of that to the Governor. That was mostly what we talked about. He seemed quite receptive."

"Why would he be against a robotic system?" Fredda asked.

"Too conservative for a situation as far gone as Inferno," Verick said. "Hook a robot-brain control unit up to the terraforming system and it will avoid all potentially risky operations, for fear of doing harm to human beings, or some damn thing. " He was warming to his subject, obviously going through the arguments he had used on Grieg. " A robotic control system would do all it could to avoid all risk during the terraforming process-almost certainly delaying completion, and possibly causing the project to fail altogether. Even if it succeeded in terraforming the planet, its goal would be to create an utterly risk-free final environment when the reterraforming was complete. There are Spacer worlds that are virtually nothing more than planetwide well-manicured lawns. I don't think it's any coincidence that those are the worlds where the populations have fallen asleep-or vanished completely. "

That was a low blow. Solaria. No Spacer liked to be reminded of-or think about-the collapse of Solaria.

Verick looked around and saw that he had scored a point. "A robotic system, obsessed with risk avoidance, would lead to a very bland sort of world here. As I told the Governor, not exactly a fit environment if you want future generations to be able to deal with challenges."

"All right," Kresh said, not having to try much in trying to play the part of the rude cop. "That's enough speeches for now. So you talked to the Governor. Then what?"

"Then we said our good nights, and he said he had some other things to attend to, and so he saw me to the door of his office. We shook hands there, and I stepped around the robots in the hallway and went on my way. I'm afraid I got a bit turned around in the hallways and walked around in a bit of a circle. After a bit, I realized that I was going to end up right back where I had started, at the door to the Governor's apartment. I thought of asking the two robots I had seen by the door for directions, but by then they weren't there anymore. I suppose they had already gone in. "

"Gone in?" Kresh asked. He had assumed the robots Verick had mentioned by the door were SPRs on sentry duty. But sentry robots stay where they were. "Where did the robots go?"

"To tuck him in for the night, I suppose. I've heard you Spacers can't even get undressed without a robot to help."

Fredda seemed about to respond to that, but Kresh stepped forward and put a hand on her shoulder. It did no good at all for the suspect to find out he could bait the inquisitors.

"Some of us can manage on our own," Kresh said, a bit of steel behind the soft words. But the sentry should not have left its post. And there should have been one robot on door duty, not two. Kresh had a feeling he knew the answer to his next question. "These robots," he said. "Can you describe them?"

"I don't have much time for robots," Verick said. "I don't like 'em and I don't trust 'em."

"But you can see them," Kresh said, his voice hard-edged. "What did the two robots look like?"

Verick looked up at Kresh, visibly annoyed. "There was a very tall, angular-looking red one. Shiny red. I wouldn't want to mess with him. The other was shorter, and shiny black."

Justen Devray and Fredda Leving both looked from Verick to Kresh, both of them understanding.

The last two beings to see Grieg alive were Prospero and Caliban. New Law and No Law.

One robot whose internal Laws did not require it to prevent harm to a human.

And one who had no Laws at all. Who could harm whatever humans it liked.

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