Thursday, September 1, 2016

Death of a Governor

I woke up, shaking off the effects of the anti-G drugs. These were necessary for quick courier ships. Like all ships, they traveled using a gravitational distortion, an artificial wormhole. But to do this, they had to reach near light speeds, and they were required to get there as quickly as possible. Hence the anti-G drugs.

 "John Roundtree, welcome to Torrelis," said the pilot, a tall lanky woman with brown hair and a nameplate that read Pam Stockton. "Let me show you around the place." I really did not want a guide, but it was dangerous to argue with a quick courier pilot. They were generally not very stable. While I got to sleep through it, they had to stay awake, barely able to move through the entire trip. Also, due to the relativistic effects, they saw every person and thing they knew grow old before their eyes.

"Governor  Sqantis is dead, murdered?" I asked.

"Yeah, a major do-gooder. Helped out all sorts of refugees from neighboring sectors. Maybe one decided to kill him for his pains."

"Lead the way. Let's hear what the new governor has to say about it."

Governor (formerly Lieutenant Governor) Burantim was waiting for us outside the ship, on the landing platform. He was basically humanoid, with purplish scales and a bit of a snout. "I hope you will be able to help us in this difficult situation," he said.

"Who would have wanted Governor Sqantis dead?" I asked.

"Governor Sqantis was a good man, admired by most. But he did get into continual fights with the finance minister, Doranthis, who felt that the empire's welfare system should handle things. There was also a young bureaucrat named Orubim, who wanted to marry the governor's daughter, but he was against the match."

"How was he killed, and who found the body?"

"He was found by the cleaning people at about 200 hours. He was in the corridor outside his office, apparently going home after a long day. His secretary said he was still in the office when she left at 1900 hours the previous day. He was blasted in the back with an unidentified blaster at about 2800 hours (the Torrelian day has 30 hours). The building has permeable doors; after 2000 hours they will not allow anyone in without a code, but anyone can leave provided they were not carrying government property. No one entered between lock-up and the cleaning crew."

But anyone could have hidden in the building, killed the governor, and simply walked out.

As we approached the vehicle, a female Torrelian rushed out to meet us. (The females were smaller then the males and had a tall crest that ran across the top of their heads.) "I am Kerashis, the wife of Sqantis. I must speak with you." She led us around the corner of a building. "Is Burantim suspected?" she asked.

"We have nothing particular against him," I responded, "but he is a obvious suspect."

"He could not have done it," she replied. "He was with me at the time."

"Can you prove this?"

"I have the receipts for the dinner and the hotel. And there should be witnesses. But I have to ask if this can kept confidential. You Terrans are fairly cavalier about such things. but on Torrelis, Burantium being involved with the previous governor's wife would be a scandal and would cripple his ability to govern. It would also tarnish my husband's memory. Surely it is in the empire's best interest to suppress such information."

"I will need to speak with my superiors, but unless it is necessary for evidence, I think this little piece of information can be kept quiet."

As she left, I turned to Pam. "If you really want to help with this investigation," I said, "you can take the vehicle and check this out. I want to know how well their alibi holds up."

" 'Their alibi'?" she asked.

"The wife is also an obvious suspect. Especially a wife who was cheating on him."

I hired a public vehicle and asked it to take me to Orubim's office. I saw no immediate need to visit the governor's office. The police had done a through job of searching the place and had found nothing. They had also checked out, as far as possible, all movements of the office personnel and cleaning crew, and while many were without alibis, there was nothing suggestive. No one had admitted to being in the office as late as 2800 hours.

Orubim stated, "Yes, Sqantis objected to my marrying his daughter. The truth is that Karthim and I were planning to wait till she finished her education and then get married anyway. We thought Sqantis would simply accept it. But if he didn't, we would sneak off to another sector."

"What were his objections to the marriage?"

"I was once in the imperial security force. I was involved in a number of interrogations and necessary liquidations. He thought I was too cold-blooded."

"How does Karthim feel about this?"

"She needs someone strong-willed like me to handle her, but she'll be all right."

"Who do you think would want to kill him?"

"He was rigid and up-tight, but I can't imagine anyone who would bother. Except for Burantim. He wanted Sqantis' office and his wife. You should have seen the way he stared at her, but she was having none of it."

"Where were you at 2800 hours on the night in question?"

"I was at home in bed. But I had no reason to kill him. I would have gotten Karthim anyway."

Not at all someone I would want to marry my daughter, and I hoped Karthim would come to her senses before it was too late. But he might not have been as sure as he claimed. So he stayed on my list of suspects.

 Doranthis was the height of imperial dignity. "It was a waste of money to use it on refugees," he stated. "Only makes them dependent. Let the welfare system take care of them, I say. And I constantly told him to get a better security system and to quit working and letting other people work odd hours. See what comes of it. If we had some real restraint and discipline around here, nothing like this would ever have happened."

"Do you have any idea who would have wanted to kill him?" I asked.

"There were three people: Theoris in security, Wogathim in accounting, and Botherim in welfare, who he fired for being too hardhearted. They might qualify as suspects."

Doranthis seemed more like a chronic complainer than a murderer. But something could have caused him to snap.

In the lobby I ran into Pam. "Were you able find anything?"

"Yeah, lots; they checked into the hotel at 2200 hours. The hotel has three permeable side doors set to prevent entry, but anyone can leave You can't get back in except through through the front door, which is set up with a retina scan to identify those who have paid. The front door does not record either Burantum or Kerashis reentering. But either one or both could have left. They were seen in the morning having breakfast at the hotel cafe. But once that hotel was open, it would have been easy for them to sneak back in.'

"So they are both still clearly on the suspects list."

"But there is more. There does not seem to be any evidence of a romantic interest, at least on Kerashis's part, prior to that night. But she does seem to have a taste for luxuries which Sqantis would not allow. There are indications that she was skimming money out of Sqantis's charity funds for this purpose. If Burantim found out about it, he may have blackmailed her into providing him an alibi. I suggest we have a talk with Mr. Burantim."

It was late, and Burantim had already left for home, so we headed there. He was still walking up his entry path when we arrived. Before I  had the vehicle fully stopped, Pam jumped out her side and ran after him. By the time I got the vehicle stopped and my blaster out, I was too late. Pam had caught up with Burantim and pulled a blaster from her side pack, yelling, "Stop where you are." He turned and she blasted him. There was no sign of any weapon in his hand.

I walked toward her, blaster out, as she turned her blaster on me.

"Going for a third murder?" I asked her.

"What do you mean?" she asked, opened mouthed.

"Sqantis and Burantim and I make three."

"How do you know?"

"You were good. Much too good. You are supposed to be only a regular quick courier pilot. But you know all sorts of things about this planet. You came up with all sorts of useful evidence way too easily. A normal pilot would not have come along at all. So why did  you do it?"

"There are folks back in Central who do not like people to be helped outside the system. They want them all properly registered so that they can keep them under control and trace malcontents. Sqantis had to be eliminated."

"What about Burantim?"

"He probably did blackmail Kerashis, but for more usual purposes. I doubt either of them left the hotel that night. But he makes a good scapegoat. That's why I picked that night to do the deed."

"And me?"

"There are also people at Central who do not like you. They say you are too hard to control.  By the way if you're counting on that blaster, don't. I had the ship drain it when you were asleep. You talk too much. Good..."

"So do you," I mumbled, as she fell down in front of me. My mini-blaster in my left pocket was in a hidden compartment in my luggage where the ship's scanners could not find it. I am ambidextrous, but at this range it really did not matter. Now I had to buy another new pair of pants.

But the question was, how as a Christian was I supposed to report this? I could probably come up with enough evidence to implicate Pam. Her blaster could probably be identified as the murder weapon. But it would only alert my enemies in Central that I was on to them and make them try harder to kill me. Pam was probably planning to do a plant. Put the murder blaster by Burantim, make it look like we both died in a firefight. But honesty forbade my trying to pull something like that, even if I could. What if I just told them the truth, but left out my little discussion with Pam. If I told them my quick courier pilot had killed Burantim and tried to kill me, they would not be surprised. They might jump to the conclusion that Burantim was guilty. I did not want to blacken the memory of even a blackmailing adulterer, but they would probably cover it up to spare the empire. But I would encourage them to put it down as one of my failures. I walked away, shaking my head, still wondering if I was doing the right thing.

Before I left Torrelis, I visited Sqantis's grave. "Sqantis, I do not know what you believed," I mumbled, "but I have to respect anyone who tries to do what is right in this mess of an Empire. I am sorry I was not here soon enough to do you any real good." It is a shame when the system is more interested in control than in really helping people.


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