Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Servants

A scientific entrepreneur had been murdered. This would not normally be a case for John Talltree of the Terran Investigation Corps. But the murdered man had claimed to have invented a working universal teleporter. The existing teleporters worked perfectly well on inanimate objects (there was some question about plants), but for animate living things, what they produced at the other end, was an exact duplicate with no life in it. Some from my own Christian position had used this to argue that this proved a living being had a soul. The materialists, naturally enough, claimed it was a glitch in the process and expected it to be quickly resolved. But the bottom line was that a universal teleporter would be a highly valuable commodity, and the Terran empire wanted it, or at least to be sure an enemy did not get it. And the plans for it had been deleted off of the entrepreneur's vid. So I was on the job.

The entrepreneur, who was Qes, a Foermarian, was found dead in his office, with evidence suggesting a servant revolt. The Peinokazians had served (it was not clear if they should be fully classed as slaves) the Foermarians for many generations. The Foermarians were tall, thin humanoids (about a head's height taller than a Terran) with a fringe of tentacles around their heads. The Peinokazians were about half the height and looked like nothing so much as a Terran pig that walked upright and had hands and feet in the place  of hoofs. The Peinokazians were on the whole domestic servants or industrial workers. They claimed they were happy and were in a much better situation then when they had been living in mud huts. There was no consistent history of violence between the two races. But near Qes's body were pieces of Peinokazian clothing and traces of Peinokazian DNA, as if there had been struggle. Als,o two of Qes's Peinokazian servants, Bemzo and Fuwno, were missing. 

I entered into a room full of people. Geurnore, the governor, stood in the corner and said nothing. At the table in front of me were Tef, Qes' wife, and Par, his daughter and collaborator. Next was Oiroum of Laudig, a Click, surprisingly far from Earth, and Durponan, Qes' assistant. Next were Pok, Qes's backer, and Nou and Kaj, investors competing with each other to purchase the teleporter. Then there were Porlo, foreman of Qes's Peinokazian servants, and a couple of Foermarians in the back who I took to be security officers or police."I will have to ask you all to come forward with an alibi if you have one," I stated. "This is not a matter of suspicion, but just a matter of routine. The more people we can eliminate up front, the easier the investigation will be." 

Since no one seemed to be volunteering I continued, "Who found the body?"

"Mister Pok and I (Click),"stated Oiroum, "Mister Pok said he needed (click) to see Mister Qes urgently(CLICK), and we found him murdered (CLICK). We left everything the way it was (Click) and called the police."

"Why did you need to see Qes?" I asked Pok, "If you do not mind telling us."

"I was going to tell him I wanted him to quit dragging his feet in the negotiations," stated Pok, with a hint of suppressed anger. "I wanted some return on my investment."

"Did you ever see this teleporter work?"

"No, but Qes, Par, Oiroum, and a number of their assistants claimed they had seen it function and gave me detailed stories of what it had done. Their stories were all consistent."

I turned to Oiroum, "You have assistants?"

"Qes, Par and I (click) did all the real research," replied Oiroum. "But we have a crew of Durporanains (Click) who do technical work and run errands (click)."

"Are any of you capable of reproducing the plans for the teleporter?"

"(CLICK) Not without Qes (CLICK) or his plans."

"Who was the last person to see Qes alive?" I asked.

"Nou and I," stated Kaj. "We had come to say we both found his price unreasonably high. He claimed he had another buyer who had offered that, and we thought he was lying. In the end he agreed to consider our offer, and we left him, still quite clearly alive."

"How much time between when you left and Pok and Oiroum came?"

"We figure it was approximately sixteen Terran minutes."

I turned to Porlo, "Tell me about Bemzo and Fuwno and their relationship with Qes?"

"They were, as far as I knew, good Peinokazians," he replied. "I saw no tendency to rebel against their master."

"Were there problems between them and Qes?"

"There are always minor difficulties and rubs in life. But I know of no continuous problems."

At this point another Peinokazian wearing a strange costume came barging into the room. He looked at me and said, "I must speak to you in private."

As I began to rise, Tef jumped to her feet and yelled, "Get that outsider Peinokazian out of here. I will have no loose cannons in my house."

As the two Foermarian, who had been standing in back were dragging the interloper out, he turned to me and shouted, "The teleporter is a fake."

As I was leaving, Par came up to me and said, "I was unwilling to mention it in public, but I do have an alibi. I was with my lover, Bol. My father objected to him, but I saw him in secret anyway. Even though my father is gone, I am unwilling to mention casually what I did. But if it comes down to a murder accusation, he will support me. Also, there are members of his household who can swear they saw me come and go."

"Is there some way I could speak him, purely off the record? If this all comes out I would like to be able to tell my superiors I followed up on your story."

"I will ask."

I was entering my rented room, wanting a chance to think about the case, when everything went black.

Being hit on the head is never fun. And this time I woke up to shaking and words, "Get up, you lazy Terran. I am not going to carry you. If you cannot  walk, I am leaving you here." Coming into focus, I saw a light brown snout and vaguely remembered it belonged to a Pie-something-or-other. I also had some memory of someone with that face and those clothes being forced out of a room.

"Give me a second," I yelped. "You must have a hard head, if they knocked you out too and you have recovered this fast."

I sat up, which proved a mistake. But after the world stopped spinning and the pain subsided, I looked around. We were in a desolate desert place, with a few scrub bushes and a number of large rock outcroppings. It seems someone had left us out to die.

"You can find the way out of this wilderness?" I asked.

"Yes," he replied, "the safe-house is north by northwest."

"You know directions from here?"

"So Terrans are like the Foermarians? Unable to read magnetic lines?"

"I have many fine qualities, but that is not one of them."

"Well, mister soft-headed, magna-blind alien, can you make to shelter?"

"So much for the fabled Peinokazian politeness and subservience."

"When you get to the safe-house, you will be given a choice. Swear to reveal nothing of our location and plans, or be put to death. If you take the oath, you are a friend and friends do not talk servant-speak. If you make the other choice, it will not matter."

"Well, with your permission, I will put that decision off until I know more. But could I have just a few minutes to look this place over for clues."

"Once the detective, always the detective."

"It is in my blood. But the way I look at it, someone tried to kill me. And if we can work out an agreement where you let me live, I would like to know who else is standing in line. Did you notice anything about the guy who clubbed you?"

"Only that the blow seemed to come from high up. Probably not a Peinokazian."

"Mine did not seem to come from below, but that is easier to fake. Do you think it was done by one person?"

"It could have been, but Nuo, Kaj and Pok all have bully boys they can use to do the hard work. You do realize it was probably one of the people in that room where I did the shout out. Stupid of me, I know, but I had no better plan."

"That will help if I ever come up with some suspects that were not in that room or closely connected to someone who was. Is what you said true or merely intended to get my attention?"

"The whole thing is a fake, intended to allow Qes to make money off of the successful buyer. Porlo and his people will support me in this"

I got up off my hands and knees and nearly had my head explode again. "Well?" he said.

"Standard off-road air-car, probably of the Sarkian make. No footprints, probably just tossed us out the back door and took off. If I had a full lab, I might be able to tell more. But I figure, by the time I can get the instruments here, the wind will have blown everything away. Lead on, mister hard-headed, magna-detector."

"Maybe we should share names," he suggested as he walked off. I stumbled behind him as best I could, but it it did console me a bit to see that he was also stumbling a little as he walked.

"I am John Talltree," I responded, "I do not stand much on formality. Any reasonable combination will do."

"I am Dorino of Madegon, though the second half is illegal in public, and mine, especially mine. I am descended from one of the old royal families dating before the Foermarians came."

"Does that put you in charge of this shooting match?"

"Sort of, though I have very little real enforceable power. Also there are five others like me, but they are on different parts of the planet."

"And what is this thing you are in charge of?"

"It really is true we are better off under the Foermarians than we were before them. But we have made a behind-the-scenes organization to work for Peinokazian interests. It helps that the Foermarians tend to think we are substandard mentally. We also try to restrain hotheads from causing trouble prematurely. We hope someday to acquire enough of  Foermarian technology to take over or at least leave and find our own planet. But we do not want to show our hand too early."

"But do the Foermarians never mistreat you?"

"They believe it is bad luck to mistreat a Peinokazian. Bad things tend to happen to people who do such things."

"Some of which might be deliberately engineered?"

"It is a possibility."

"What about Qes?"

"That we should have done something so totally incompetent would be incredible. We have experts who handle these things. There was no real black mark against the Qes family. Tef is a little hard-headed, as you saw. But it is the kind of thing one laughs about over a hot mug of gloutin in the evening. I had hoped the death of her husband and the presence of a Terran investigator would calm her down, but I proved wrong. But it would have been unjust and stupid for us to move against them like that."

I shivered a little bit that Dorino seemed to consider the slight to his competence more important than the justice of the matter. "Could Bemzo and Fuwno have simply lost control and responded to something Qes did?" I asked.

"Bemzo and Fuwno were good Peinokazians," he explained, "and there is no record of any bad blood between them and  Qes. But if something like that happened they should have run off to a safe-house. We have handled the disappearance of Peinokazians before. They turn up on a different part of the planet with another name. But Bemzo and Fuwno did not show up. We think that someone killed them as part of a plan to frame them for Qes's murder."

"Then you have as much stake as I do in solving this murder."

"How devoted are you to the empire?"

"I am a Christian. I believe in doing what is just. In some cases that means upholding those who are the appropriate governing authorities. But not always. As for my opinion of the Empir,e to say anything about it that is not positive will get me in a heap of trouble; therefore, I prefer to remain silent."

"Then I will be frank with you. This whole thing looks to us like a potential disaster. It could produce a war between us and the Foermarians. A war we are unprepared for and unlikely to win. But worse, it could bring the empire down on us, with their not uncommon policy of wipe everyone out. Ye,s we could use help in this investigation."

We came into a tunnel in the side of a rock outcropping that looked like the other outcroppings to me. "How did you know this was the one?"

"We build our safe-houses in places with high concentrations of magnetic ores," he replied. "Sticks out to us like a sore thumb."

We were met just inside by a young Peinokazian with a vid. It showed an underground advertisement of a teleporter for sale. I turned to Dorino and said, "Now you will have to decide how much you are willing to trust me."

The warehouse was dark, and the only light was in the center of the room. My leg was starting to cramp when several figures in black walked into the center of the room. "Hold it right there, came a voice from the darkness. Four went for their guns, but fell down dead. Some Peinokazians, however docile, were crack shots with a blaster.

But the chief figure in the center was already running away back into the shadows. "Hold it right there Oiroum," I yelled. "I know who you are and will hunt you down if I have to."

He turned, ripping off his mask and yelled in anger, "How in the (clickety, clack, clack) do you know who I am?"

"Sixteen minutes is plenty of time to murder a man, spread some false evidence, and delete some files, if you know all the passwords and codes and other requirements to get into the files. But I could not imagine a scoundrel like Qes leaving his files unprotected, especially since one look would blow his fraud. So either one of you was an incredible computer expert, which none of you looked to be, or the culprit had already been given access and knew the procedure. That meant you or Par. Par had an alibi, which was not unbreakable, but it made sense. That left you. But why?"

"We were tired of being Clicks doing all the Terrans hard work," he said (somehow he seemed too agitated to click). "We did not want to be servants, we wanted to be masters. But we knew Qes would vanish into the woodwork, leaving us with what he felt was our share, maybe nothing. I wanted it all. So I killed him and was planning to sell the plans myself and keep the full price. Then that meddling servant came in and said the plans were all fake and caused the obvious buyers to want to back out. So I was reduced to this. I tried to blame the whole thing on the Peinokazians because I thought their acquiescence to service disgusting. And now I do not regret it.'

"Glad to be of disservice," remarked Dorino from the darkness.

I rounded up Oiroum and his remaining accomplices to turn over to the authorities.

Then came the moment of truth. "I cannot agree with all the things you do or might do. But I did not come here to seek you. And you have been of great help to me in my real quest. Also, the idea of seeing the empire on another killing spree does not appeal to me at all. So while I cannot even guarantee we will be on the same side next time we meet, I am willing to swear I will not give away your secrets. Is that acceptable?" I asked.

"Given the difficult nature of the situation, we accept it." replied Dorino.

And I walked away with a really bad taste in my mouth. Was I now responsible for whatever they decided to do? But all I could see was large numbers of little piglets being blasted for, however misguidedly, trying to produce a safe place for themselves in a dangerous galaxy. So I walked away sad, but I walked away.         

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