Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Tunnels

The hole was about four inches in diameter, and my arm only went up it so far. But a murderer seemed to have made it all the way through. "What is this for?" I asked.

"It is for maintenance, Mr Talltree," replied Orsodia. Like most Burusians he reminded me of an alligator that stood on two legs and had lost its tail. "They did not want any service opening in a cluster of interrogation booths that a human could walk into. As you know, the clusters are designed so the interrogator locks himself into the main interrogation room and those to be examined are locked in the booths. The interrogator speaks by vid and uses whatever methods he deems appropriate. But the examined have no access to him. So they built these and use robotic arms to reach back in there and do repairs. They wanted to avoid incidents like this."

"I have read the reports, but tell me again what happened."

"Interrogator Famex was locked in his room and had four subjects in the booths. Famex was known for being hard core and good at his work. He had all four brought in at together on the theory that waiting  and not knowing when he would start on them helped break people down. He was giving his opening speech to all four at once, with hopes of starting the process. But he used pictures that were calculated to get to people. There was no visual recorded. Suddenly, there was the clang of the cover of the tunnel coming off and falling to the floor and a series of thuds. Later Famex was found dead, having been beaten to death by the horn of a wunbei beast from his home planet. He had killed the wunbei in a hunt in his youth, and he kept it in his interrogation room, claiming it brought him luck. The cover was left off the tunne,l suggesting it was the way of entrance. The covers in the subjects rooms were all in place, but the culprit had plenty of time to put one back. But I do not see how it could have been done."

"What type of persons were those being examined?"

"They were all aliens, each of a different kind. But they are all of approximate human size. There is, at the shortest distance, 100 yards of tunnel between the booths and the interrogation room. Far further then any of them should have been able to reach. We are continuing to investigate whether any of them could have an unusual ability to be able to do that, but so far we have found no evidence of one. We have also searched them and the entire cluster for any sign of a mechanical device that could have been used for this purpose and have found none."

"Who besides Famex could have unlocked the door to his room?"

"Only the commander of the base, the deputy commander, and the chief maintenance officer. But the clank of the cover coming off clearly preceeds the thuds of Famex being attacked. I cannot see him sitting there while someone removed the cover without asking what he was doing."

"Was Famex armed?"

"There was a blaster sitting on the table beside his chair. It did not look like it was ever moved."

The first subject was Cas-Rasmir, who was a bulbous head above a swarm of tentacles. He was thought the best suspect because of the tentacles, but they only looked to be about five feet, and there was no evidence they could stretch to 100 yards or that his head could fit into the tunnels. He had been arrested for placing a bomb in a public building.

"I have nothing to say to you, representative of an oppressive regime. You and your kind shall be swept away by the strength of the revolution. I did not kill the lackey of the regime, but would have gladly done so if I had the opportunity."

"Did you see any indication of who did kill him?"

"No, and I would not give the killer away to you if I had."

Lourama Wasinel was an insectoid. She was a tall, fragile-looking thing, all arms and legs. But the main body parts, though small, were too big to fit in the tunnel. She was there because her mate had been suspected of espionage and had been killed when they tried to arrest him. It was thought she knew something of his activities.

"Please let me go," she pleaded. "My children need me. I know nothing of spies. I just want to get back to what is left of my family."

"Do you know anything about who killed Famex?" I asked.

"I heard a clang and some thuds, and that is all I know. Please let me go."

Juddaredaffula resembled a giant slug. He was obviously too big around for the tunnels, though I found myself wondering if he could somehow elongate that amorphous-looking sack of a body so it was thin and long enough to pass though. There was no evidence his people were able to do this. He had been arrested as part of a protest against the Empire's taking a mount his people regarded as holy to use for a governor's palace. It was hoped that under interrogation he would reveal his co-conspirators.

"Do you know anything about who killed Famex?" I asked.

"I do not know anything about killing," he replied, "I do not want to kill. I do not want to be involved with killing. I just wanted to protect the sacred ground. The ground of my ancestors. No killing. It is what I said at the very beginning."

Derg of Mushaz seemed the least likely to fit in tunnels. He was humanoid, but stockier and slightly taller then a man normally would be. He had a hard time getting through a doorway, let alone into a tunnel. He and some of his friends had gotten drunk and gotten in a fight with some enforcers. He was here because his friends had escaped and he had refused to identify them.

"What is the deal?" he snorted. "If you are going to shoot me, shoot me. But let's quit all this dancing around. What is the trouble now?"

"Do have any idea who killed Famex?" I asked.

"I don't know and I don't care. Just go on with this, or let me go;"

I sat staring at Famex's records describing his past cases. I felt myself struggling. I was not sure whether to reveal Famex's killer or give him a medal. I struggled over what was the right thing to do. I could get away with it. Even if it came out later, no one would know I had figured it out. I would face nothing but a slight loss of reputation. But what was the right thing to do? I thought and prayed far into the night. Then I made my decision.

Orsodia put out the word that Lourama Wasinel Had been taken into custody having put forth some evidence that would reveal the killer.

I sat in a dark corner, waiting as the doors lock slowly opened. A dark figure stealthily entered the room and brought down a metal bar on the figure on the bed. And he winced back, the bar stinging his hands as it hit metal and not soft flesh. The lights came on, and Orsodia and his troopers charged and were immediately meet by a flurry of blows. The intruder was brought down by the first blaster shot. Seeing his obvious ferocity made me feel better about what I had done. 

"Pursa Boursa, Chief of Maintenance," blurted out Orsodia. "I do not understand."

"I am not a biologist, but I just could not believe anyone could get through those tunnels," I explained later. "But there was one person who could come in and remove that cover without even arousing Famex's curiosity, and that was the Chief of Maintenance. He must have arranged it beforehand, and Famex did not want to interrupt his speech by greeting him when he entered. He deliberately dropped the cover and then attacked Famex before he realized what was going on. The fact he knew the horn was there to be used for a weapon indicated someone familiar with Famex and his habits. Then he left, leaving us with the impression that someone had made it in through the tunnels."

"Why?" asked Orsodia.

"I cannot prove it, but Pursa Boursa was a Uroik'ian. There were two Uroik'ian brothers who were smugglers. One of them was taken and refused to give away the other. He died under interrogation by Famex. I suspect Pursa was the missing brother, out for revenge."

I stared up into the stars, thinking. What if Pursa had been someone who was clearly innocent prior to the empire interfering in his life. What should I have done? Was it ever right for me to take the law into my own hand by letting someone else take the law into their own hands? Or should I just say, a murderer is a murderer and as such needed to punished? I felt that taking the law into my own hands was never an acceptable option. But I prayed I never had to make that decision.


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