Literary Challenge #40 : Redux
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Join Date: Jul 2012
03-10-2013, 02:04 PM
Personal log: Tylha Shohl, officer commanding USS King Estmere, NCC-92984
It's a pleasant day. I stand on the quayside, the rolling grey seas to my left, the buildings of the city to my right. The buildings are old, made of black stone or dull red brick; centuries old, for the most part, rising no great distance out of the narrow cobbled streets. Taserion is that sort of world, proud of its heritage, old-fashioned, a little quaint. I've rather enjoyed this layover, while
's warp drive is being reconditioned in the orbital shipyards overhead. I'm almost sorry it's coming to an end.
I take a deep breath of cool, salt-tinged air. My antennae twitch in the breeze. I could grow to like this planet, I think.
My combadge chimes at me, breaking the mood. "Shohl here."
"Skipper." F'hon Tlaxx's voice sounds strained. "Have you got a viewscreen where you are?"
"No," I say. "What's wrong, F'hon?"
"I'll patch through the audio," my communications officer says. "You need to know about this -"
A click, and then a new voice sounds: a carefully-enunciated newsreader's voice.
"The actress Thiovil daCherdaki was found murdered at her apartment in Seri City earlier today. Her husband, world-renowned actor Antav daCherdaki, is said to be inconsolable and is in the care of his friends. A Starfleet officer, one Commander Anthi Vihl, was detained near the scene of the crime and has been charged with the murder."
a pleasant day.
I've never seen Anthi scared before. She's trying to hide it, but you can't hide from Andorian senses. I can sense her distress even through the thickness of the bulletproof glass that separates us.
"Tell me what happened," I say.
Anthi's voice sounds thin, attenuated, over the intercom circuit. The interview room is small and bare, on both sides of the glass screen. It looks like what it is: a cell. Anthi has already been issued with prison clothing, a simple jumpsuit in blazing scarlet; her blue face looks pale above it.
"I'm not sure where to start, sir," she says. "I - well, you know I enjoy, um, theatricals. So, well, I got to talking with some of the natives, and this actor, this daCherdaki, invited me to see a performance.
Elaan of Troyius
... he played the Starfleet captain." For a moment, her face loses its worried look. "He wasn't very good. But, then, I've always thought that part was hard to play; the guy is just a bit too perfect to be credible...." Her eyes regain their focus. "Anyway. I was supposed to meet him after the performance. I went into a sort of lobby, in the theatre... I waited there for a while, at least three-quarters of an hour, I think. He didn't come, nobody came. I was, well, a bit distracted - there was a display of memorabilia, I passed the time just, um, browsing. And then the local police came -"
She shakes her head in bafflement. "I don't understand it. They said - they said someone had been killed, and they
me. Sir, I haven't -"
"Of course not," I say, and I frown. "Did they not tell you
you're supposed to have killed?"
"Not at first. They said, later, it was the actor's wife - daCherdaki's wife." She shakes her head again. "I just don't
"It's got to be a mistake," I say. "I'll talk to the authorities, get it straightened out." I clear my throat. "Officially, of course, I have to inform you that Starfleet respects the laws and customs of this world, and accepts that you will be held, tried and - if convicted - punished in accordance with those laws."
I lower my voice. My eyes lock with Anthi's, through the glass. "Unofficially, that is
not going to happen
The Minister of Justice is called Raoven siDoanen. I take an instant dislike to him. It saves time.
We are in his opulently-furnished office, windows overlooking the sea. He leans back in an ornate chair and skims a piece of paper towards me, over what looks like several hectares of highly-polished desktop. He regards me through half-closed eyes as I pick up the paper.
"A print of a still, captured by the security camera," he says.
I look at the picture. It shows the front of some ancient-looking building, a stretch of pavement - and a single figure, walking by the building. I frown. There is light coming through an open doorway, enough to show white hair, something that might be antennae, a glimpse of blue skin -
"It's not very good quality," I say.
"That need not concern you, Vice Admiral," says siDoanen. "What matters is that that is undoubtedly an Andorian. And how many of your species are there, currently, on our planet?"
The Taserions are a humanoid-standard species - pink-skinned, externally distinguishable from humans only by some domed bony processes at their temples, an outgrowth of the aural tract. "But you must have more evidence, surely?" I persist. "I mean, you can't really make out the face in this - I suppose, with enhancement -"
"All such matters are being handled by the
authorities," siDoanen says, with a touch too much emphasis. He is tall, silver-haired, with a patrician air about him; he suits his expensive, over-furnished office. "You may go about your business."
I strive to keep my anger from showing in my face. "I'm required to make inquiries," I say, "regarding my officer's conduct... and welfare. I'd like to review copies of the evidence against her. My security team -"
"Ah!" His eyes open all the way at that. "
will certainly be impossible. Your security team - I have a note here - led by a Commander Bulpli Yulan, a Betazoid, I believe? Telepathic investigation is
forbidden by our planetary charter. I'm afraid your investigation can go no further, Vice Admiral."
"Commander Yulan is trained to respect mental privacy," I say firmly. Don't get angry, I tell myself, uselessly. "Minister, I have responsibilities here -"
"You may make diplomatic representations through the Federation Ambassador, if you feel you have been... unfairly restricted," says siDoanen in cold tones. "Meanwhile, Vice Admiral, this interview is over."
I stand, slowly. Federation Ambassador? That might prove easier than he thinks.
The head of the Taserion Government, the Supreme Minister, is a man called Setalvim Loag. His office is larger, but barer, than siDoanen's. He sits behind a plain desk and looks at me with tired, rather sad eyes.
In a chair beside him, siDoanen sits and seethes with obvious anger. I try not to fidget, to adjust the unfamiliar diplomatic uniform. I haven't worn it in - I can't remember how long.
"Well," says Loag in a mild voice, "your diplomatic credentials have been appropriately verified... Ambassador Shohl. How may the government of Taserion assist you?" A smile briefly quirks his long, otherwise doleful face.
"One of my officers stands accused of a serious crime, sir. As her superior officer, I am responsible for her welfare - and for her conduct. I'm required, as a Starfleet officer, to make inquiries into her conduct. If she
committed a crime, that would be a breach of discipline under Starfleet's code, in addition to any civilian, umm, consequences. And, of course, she
"Might". SiDoanen snorts.
"Well, this all seems very reasonable," says Loag, still mildly. "Come now, Lord Minister siDoanen, what's the harm in Starfleet reviewing the evidence? It will all be presented at the trial in any case, no?"
"I protest Starfleet interference in a purely internal matter," snaps siDoanen.
"But it isn't
internal, if it involves one of my officers," I say. "Sir," I remember to add.
"Merely reviewing the evidence is not really interference," Loag murmurs.
"The Vice Admiral just wants to exonerate her officer!" shouts siDoanen.
"No, sir," I say firmly. "I want her to be innocent. It's not the same thing. If she
guilty... then the law must take its course, naturally. But
need to be sure."
Loag nods slowly. SiDoanen sneers. "There remains," he says, "the matter of the telepaths in the Vice Admiral's security staff. Supreme Minister, this
be permitted. The Charter expressly forbids mental self-incrimination -"
"We don't prohibit telepathic species from the planet," Loag points out. "But, if you feel so strongly that the investigation would be compromised.... Compromise. I do like that word. Can we come to one, Ambassador Shohl?"
I nod in my turn. "I can carry out the investigation myself," I say. "My security chief can advise me on procedures by comm link from the ship.... As a matter of form, sir, I must protest this restriction on those of my officers who
stand accused of a crime."
"It is duly noted," says Loag gravely. "The government of Taserion is anxious to offer all
cooperation in this serious matter."
I shoot a glance at siDoanen. He doesn't look reasonable to me.
Another day, another office. This one is small and cluttered. It belongs to a harried-looking woman called Ivonil Otreg. She is the investigating officer in the case, and she is showing me the evidence. On her desk, a holoscreen shows Bulpli Yulan's face, her black Betazoid eyes narrowed in concentration.
Reviewing the evidence doesn't take long. "This is
?" I demand.
Otreg looks even more harried. "The security camera shows your officer leaving the theatre foyer, walking along the street to the adjacent apartment building, and entering the main door, shortly before the murder took place."
"Well," I say, "it shows an Andorian... probably.
can't make out the face - are you getting anywhere with software enhancement?"
"Our best match shows, ahh, a fit for Commander Vihl's facial features and general build... within an 84.3% margin of probable error," says Otreg. I stare at her. Bulpli stares, too.
"Effectively, meaningless," says Bulpli. "What about other security cameras?"
"There are none," says Otreg. "Master daCherdaki owns the theatre and the apartment building... he is a great believer in purity in the theatre, and the arts generally. He allows no imaging devices, no holo-recorders or holo-emitters, in the vicinity. We're... fortunate... in that he allowed that one camera."
daCherdaki," I say. "There's something going on here, isn't there? About those names - daCherdaki, siDoanen. I'm an ignorant off-worlder, Investigator Otreg, explain it to me, please."
"Hereditary nobility," Otreg says. "It's something of a historical relic, these days - especially since the last elections, when Supreme Minister Loag's party gained an absolute majority - but it's, ahh, traditional. Master daCherdaki is of the lesser nobility. Lord Minister siDoanen is of the high nobility. Though it doesn't stop
from being friends. They have a certain amount in common... both traditionalists."
"Okay," I say. I'm Andorian, I know about tradition.
"The nobility have, ahh, lost importance," Otreg continues. "In practical terms, that is. Some of them resent it... and they resent the Federation, for causing it. In their eyes."
My eyes widen. "The Federation doesn't interfere in local affairs," I say. "That's... the Prime Directive."
"It doesn't interfere
," says Otreg. "But, well, given a choice between working the land in a noble's estate, or taking a job with an off-world employer, which would
choose? Personally," she adds, "I'm all in favour. In the two generations since our world joined the Federation, the standard of living for the commons has gone up more than a thousand per cent. In my grandmother's time, I would have been a serf, bound to the land." She gestures around her modest office. "This is a
"Sir," Bulpli says, "perhaps we should go back to the matter at hand...?"
"Yes," I say. "All right. You have a film of -
- Commander Vihl going from the theatre to the apartments. Do you have one of her coming
? She was arrested inside the theatre."
Otreg shakes her head. "There are four rear and side exits from the apartment building," she says, "and, for that matter, six internal communicating doorways between the two buildings."
I stare at her. I can't think of anything to say.
Bulpli can. "Do you have the murder weapon?" she asks.
"Do you have forensic traces, DNA, that would put Commander Vihl at the scene of the crime?"
"What about motive? Has any been advanced?"
"The suggestion is... sexual jealousy." Otreg looks positively miserable. "The theory is that Commander Vihl became obsessed with Master daCherdaki and murdered his wife in order to take her place. Master daCherdaki says he has had, ahh, obsessive fans before -"
I find my voice. "But that's
. Anthi never knew this daCherdaki before a few days ago. And she's an Andorian
... I mean, I'm not saying it's
for her to be attracted to a binary-gender humanoid male, but -"
That, after all, is how the Troyians supposedly evolved. But I try to picture forbidden inter-species passions boiling behind my exec's calm professional face... try, and fail.
"This doesn't make sense," says Bulpli, thoughtfully. "Your world has a pretty standard adversarial-inquisitorial trial system... there is no way you could secure a conviction on this evidence, is there, Investigator?"
"No." Otreg looks wretched. "But Lord Minister siDoanen insisted on prompt and decisive action. And, ahh, still insists."
I eye her narrowly. "I think," I say, "you and I have interests in common. You want to find whoever
do this. And I want to find them, too... because I'm more sure than ever that it wasn't Anthi."
Otreg frowns. "But we still have one sticking point - the Andorian in the security record. We've
all the Andorians we know were on the planet - and that didn't take long. And with daCherdaki's insistence on no holo-technology, we can be sure it's not some holo-emitter disguise...."
"Okay," I say, "so that's something we need to think about. But where should we start? Bulpli?"
"I can only offer you the usual general guidelines, sir." Bulpli's face is thoughtful. "In the vast majority of cases, murder victims know their killers...."
"So we begin with the dead woman's family and co-workers," I say.
"That would be the normal starting point," says Otreg. "Especially as many of them are the same people."
"All right. When can we get moving?"
"Now, if you wish." Otreg stands up. She runs one hand through her hair, a nervous gesture. "Ahh... Admiral. What if we find out your officer
do it, after all?"
My face turns grim. "Then... then I'll face up to that. But we need to
The theatre building is old and ramshackle; it looks to me as if it's fallen on hard times. Otreg makes her way through a side door, presents her identification to a gloomy-looking porter, leads me through a back-stage warren of narrow corridors and steep staircases. No modern amenities at all. No turbolifts, no intercom system... I don't know if this means daCherdaki is fanatically traditional, or just cheap.
The great man himself, it seems, is still closeted in his private apartment, unwilling to speak to anyone. We track down one member of the company, though, who more than makes up for it.
"My darlings," says Teliv Sherdran, "
a frightful time we've had, I can't begin to tell you. Dear Antav, of course, is
by it all. So
, though, that he has
comfort to fall back on...." The phrases are delivered with an arch intonation, and the actor gives us what's evidently a meaningful look.
"Calovil Tyan," says Otreg. "She plays the female lead, I think."
"The delicious Elaan herself, yes," says Sherdran. "
am merely the Troyian ambassador. I get stabbed in the second act. Such a
time to get stabbed, one barely has time to register one's presence on the stage. And of course there is the
." His glance darts at me. "You are
lucky to have it naturally, my dear; the blue just
into my pores, even with a thorough cleansing, I still look positively
after each performance."
The man's exaggerated mannerisms are starting to grate on me. There's obviously some cultural context for them, something I'm missing. I decide to ignore it. "What did you see on the night of the murder?"
"Oh, am I finally to appear in this investigation? How utterly thrilling!
try and get my name into the official record somehow, darlings, any publicity is good publicity." He pulls a face. "Especially in
company. No pictures! No recordings! Nothing but the purity of the dramatic art! It's all very well for those who've got private means to fall back on...."
"What did you see on the night of the murder?" Otreg repeats my question, patiently.
I could help, I really do, but as far as I can remember, it was a perfectly normal after-show. We all took our bows, and we got together for a little bit of a post-mortem, before we all sloped off to our dressing rooms. I was in mine for a
time, communing with the facial cleanser." He pulls another face. "I
hope dear Antav won't go on at the next performance. That way,
would get to step up and play the dashing starship captain. Not that
have any great urge to get into a clinch with little Calovil - not my type at
, darlings, if you get what I mean - but at least I would be in the
of the show, and I wouldn't have to be painted blue."
"How long did this - post-mortem - take?" Otreg asks.
"Oh, only a few minutes - Antav cut it short. He said he had a fan waiting for him.
a bore, being the leading man, having all the stage-struck beauties running after one... but, do you know, darlings, I think it's a bore I could cope with."
"And you went to your dressing room, to remove the cosmetics." Otreg makes a patient note.
, darlings, especially as I insist on full coverage. It wouldn't do to have any pink bits peeping out."
"No," I say, "I don't suppose it would." Something is falling into place, in my head. I stand up. "Thanks. You've been very helpful."
it, then, darlings, please! I'd like the whole
to hear of it! Or at least of me."
Otreg looks troubled, but she follows my lead. "Thank you," she says. "We will be back, if we need any further information... I hope we can count on your full cooperation."
Outside Sherdran's dressing room, Otreg says to me, "What now? You look like you've got an idea...."
I nod, and for the first time since this business began, I smile. "I think I know who did it," I say, "I'm
I know how it was done, and best of all, I think I know how we can
"I hope you're right about this," Otreg mutters as we stand outside daCherdaki's apartment door. "It's the end of a promising career if you're not.
"I'm right," I tell her. I wish I felt as confident as I sound.
Otreg purses her lips, nods once, raises her hand to knock loudly on the wooden door.
"No visitors!" a stentorian voice bellows from within.
"Master daCherdaki? I am Investigator Otreg of the Seri Municipal Police. I am on official business. Please open your door."
There is grumbling and cursing for a moment or two, then the door is flung open. "Well?"
Antav daCherdaki looks like what I'd expected; tall, imposing, with a fleshy face that must have been handsome, once. The picture of a washed-up leading man. He looks down on us both and sneers. Maybe he went to the same school as siDoanen, they both have the same sneer.
"Master daCherdaki." Otreg is unfazed, thank goodness. "We need to conduct some forensic tests, in regard to the current investigation -"
"My friend Lord Minister siDoanen assures me that the investigation is completed," daCherdaki says, with a little too much emphasis on "friend". He has a good, loud, booming voice, the sort you'd want in the theatre.
"Nevertheless," Otreg persists, "some further evidence must be gathered. May we come in? I doubt you would want this business transacted on the landing -"
"You may have five minutes," daCherdaki declaims, "no longer." He steps aside to let us through.
The room within is comfortably furnished, but the furniture looks old, shabby and worn. A shelf runs the length of one wall, and it is laden with little statuettes and blocks of wood, stone or metal: awards, I think. A portrait of daCherdaki himself dominates another wall.
"Five minutes," the actor repeats. "Now, Investigator, kindly explain yourself. And explain what
is doing here." He raises his hand and stabs a finger at me.
Otreg moves smoothly and quickly, her forensic tricorder purring as she holds it to daCherdaki's outstretched hand. "Thank you, Master daCherdaki. That is all that is necessary." She consults the readings as the actor turns towards her, open-mouthed. She smiles. I feel relieved. "Interesting," she comments. "I understood you were playing the part of the Starfleet captain... and yet my subdermal scan shows traces of blue makeup. It sinks into the pores, I gather. Very hard to get out."
DaCherdaki bellows wordlessly and lashes out at her, his big hand catching the side of her head, knocking her down. He turns to me -
I block his clumsy strike. My fist sinks into his midriff, soft and flabby from years of high living. He folds up around it. I want to hit him again, very much. But there's no need, and I hold myself back. Otreg gets to her feet.
"You are under arrest," she tells the gasping man huddled at my feet. "Watch him," she adds, to me. Then she consults her forensic tricorder again; it hums as she scans the room. The actor groans. I watch him.
think," Otreg says, "to keep a thorough watch on the disposal chutes and garbage collection. So I rather hope... yes. There we are." She taps commands into the tricorder's interface. There is a series of bright flashes. A holo-imager, recording the scene in precise, authenticated detail. For the trial, later.
Otreg removes a paper-wrapped package from under a chair. "He must have been hoping to dispose of it when the hue and cry died down," she says. "Am I right, daCherdaki?" No "Master", I note. DaCherdaki coughs and groans.
Otreg opens the package. The knife is brightly shining metal, but I have no doubt the forensic scanner will find traces of his wife's blood. The white wig, that might have been a prop from the play. But the papier-mache fake Andorian antennae, those would be harder to explain....
I place the PADD carefully on Setalvim Loag's desk. The Supreme Minister looks at it with mournful eyes. By his side, siDoanen just looks furious.
"Really, it wasn't a very good plan," I say. "But then I gather that's true of most murders. As soon as Investigator Otreg was able to do her job without interference, she found, of course, that the one person who couldn't properly account for his movements was daCherdaki. The actors thought he was with Anthi and Anthi thought he was with the actors. In reality, of course, he was making himself up to look like an Andorian, walking by the one spot he
would be caught by a camera, and killing his wife. Then he simply went back into the theatre by one of the many internal doors, wiped off the makeup, and waited.
"His motives were traditional enough, of course - no weird inter-species romances needed. He wanted to trade his wife in for a younger model - this Calovil Tyan, who might or might not be involved in the plot. Our guess is, not. But a divorce would have cost him money he didn't have. That theatre of his wasn't run-down just for the sake of purity in art. He couldn't
modern amenities. Or a divorce case."
"It must have been a moment of madness," mutters siDoanen.
"Yes," I say, "in which he cultivated the friendship of a Starfleet officer, lured her into his theatre, and disguised himself as one of her species in order to plant the blame on her. Rather a
moment, though, wasn't it?"
SiDoanen says nothing. "The only thing which
have made it work," I continue, "was Lord Minister siDoanen's behaviour. Faced with a choice -" I raise my voice to drown out siDoanen's indignant outcry "- between investigating a personal friend, or placing the blame on an off-worlder,
you picked the option you thought easier."
"Are you accusing me of
?" siDoanen yells.
"It's entirely possible," I snap. "Or daCherdaki might just have known you well enough and counted on your reaction. And he was right, of course. You couldn't possibly have convicted my officer, not on such feeble evidence, but you could have had a field day whipping up prejudice against aliens, and in the meantime daCherdaki could have found some opportunity to dispose of the rest of the evidence."
"Yes," says Loag, in his mild voice. "I have received other representations, from Investigator Otreg and her immediate superiors... protesting over the unwarranted high-level interference in this case."
"You have another protest there," I say, indicating the PADD. "Besides my application for Commander Vihl's immediate release, it contains an official complaint from the Federation, over the way a Starfleet officer and Federation citizen has been unjustly accused due to the incompetence and prejudice of a government official. If it hadn't been for the intelligent cooperation of a junior official, she might even have been unjustly convicted. That
the official wording, and I
cleared it with my superiors."
SiDoanen's face is congested with rage.
"You seem to have concluded," Loag remarks, "that Lord Minister siDoanen is incompetent and prejudiced, based on this one incident...."
"Outrageous!" siDoanen shouts, at last.
"I congratulate you on your perspicacity," Loag continues smoothly. "It took
nearly two weeks to reach the same conclusion. Please, inform the Federation that the Taserion government takes this matter extremely seriously, and that we see no alternative but to dismiss Lord siDoanen from his position as Minister of Justice, on the grounds of misfeasance in public office."
" SiDoanen's face is changing colour rapidly. Loag rounds on him, and his mild voice is suddenly strong, shouting, with that hoarse edge of a voice unaccustomed to shouting.
"I have had
," he says, "of the remnants of the aristocracy! I have had enough of wheedling voices telling me that such-and-such a post must be held by 'the right sort of person'! Well, from now on,
be held by the right sort of person - someone who is competent to do the job!" He takes a deep breath. "The alternative, Ambassador Shohl has already shown me. Protest, and you will be arrested as a possible accomplice of your friend daCherdaki. The case against you is stronger than yours against Commander Vihl! And, even if you are not convicted, you will find that being acquitted for lack of evidence is
the same as being found innocent."
Loag's voice has grown mild again, but there is real menace in it. SiDoanen looks at the floor for a long moment. "I... accept... your decision, Supreme Minister," he says slowly.
I stand, and salute Loag with my best military formality. "Thank you, sir. I will so inform my superiors."
Loag nods. "Your officer will be released within the hour," he says. "Please, convey to her my heartfelt apologies."
's bridge is a welcome relief. The viewscreens are busy, the readouts show optimum levels across the board. We are ready to depart.
Anthi is standing by her console, looking crisp and professional... Starfleet uniform suits her a lot better than a prison jumpsuit. "Thank you, sir," she murmurs to me as I pass.
"You were never in any real danger, you know," I say.
"Still, sir, it's better to be... cleared." There is something in her eyes.... Loag was right, acquittal for lack of evidence isn't the same as being found innocent. And Anthi, with generations of Imperial Guard in her family background, would feel that, and feel it keenly.
Traditions. We all have our traditions. Some of us don't let them blind us, though.
"Welcome back, Number One," I say.
She flashes a quick smile. "At least I've learned something," she says. "Something I should have learned a while ago - about not accepting invitations from strange men to go to the theatre!"
on the holodeck in future," I say.
Anthi shudders. "If it's all the same to you, sir," she says, "could I go back to jail instead?"
Then her earpiece chimes, and she is all efficiency again. "Departure clearance received. Assigned outbound vector one-one-six mark two four."
"Confirmed," I say. "Helm, lay in course, full impulse. Engage."