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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesUnwise Child - Chapter 23
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Unwise Child - Chapter 23 Post by :traffic-tart Category :Long Stories Author :Randall Garrett Date :May 2012 Read :1931

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Unwise Child - Chapter 23

Captain Sir Henry Quill, Bart., stood at the head of the long table in the officers' wardroom and looked everyone over. The way he did it was quite impressive. His eyes were narrowed, and his heavy, thick, black brows dominated his face. Beneath the glow plates in the overhead, his pink scalp gleamed with the soft, burnished shininess of a well-polished apple.

To his left, in order down the table, were Mike the Angel, Lieutenant Keku, and Leda Crannon. On his right were Commander Jeffers, Ensign Vaneski, Lieutenant Commander von Liegnitz, and Dr. Morris Fitzhugh. Lieutenant Mellon's seat was empty.

Black Bart cleared his throat. "It's been quite a trip, hasn't it? Well, it's almost over. Mister Gabriel finished the conversion of the power plant yesterday; Treadmore's men can finish up. We will leave on the _Fireball in a few hours.

"But there is something that must be cleared up first.

"A man died on the way out here. The circumstances surrounding his death have been cleared up now, and I feel that we all deserve an explanation." He turned to Mike the Angel. "Mister Gabriel--if you will, please."

Mike stood up as the captain sat down. "The question that has bothered me from the beginning has been: Exactly what killed Lieutenant Mellon? Well, we know now. We know what killed him and why he died.

"He was murdered. Deliberately, and in cold blood."

That froze everybody at the table.

"It was done by a slow-acting but nonetheless deadly drug that took time to act, but did its job very well.

"There were several other puzzling things that happened that night. Snookums began behaving irrationally. It is the height of coincidence that a robot and a human being should both become insane at almost the same time; therefore we have to look for a common cause."

Lieutenant Commander von Liegnitz raised a tentative hand, and Mike said: "Go ahead."

"I was under the impression that the robot went mad because Mellon had filled him full of theological nonsense. It would take a madman to do anything like that to a fine machine--therefore I see no peculiar coincidence."

"That's exactly what the killer wanted us to think," Mike said. "But it wasn't Mellon that fed Snookums theology. Mellon was a devout churchman; his record shows that. He would never have tried to convert a machine to Christianity. Nor would he have tried to ruin an expensive machine.

"How do I know that someone else was involved?"

He looked at the giant Lieutenant Keku. "Do you remember when we took Mellon to his quarters after he tried to brain von Liegnitz? We found half a bottle of wine. That disappeared during the night--because it was loaded with Lysodine, and the killer didn't want it analyzed.

"But, more important, as far as Snookums is concerned, is that I looked over the books on Mellon's desk that night. There weren't many, and I knew which ones they were. When Captain Quill and I checked Mellon's books after his death, someone had returned his copy of _The Christian Religion and Symbolic Logic_. It had not been there the night before."

"Mike," said Pete Jeffers, "why would anybody here want to kill Lew thataway? What would anybody have against him?"

"That's the sad part about it, Pete. Our murderer didn't even have anything against Mellon. He wanted--and _still wants--to kill _me_."

"I don't quite follow," Jeffers said.

"I'll give it to you piece by piece. The killer wanted no mystery connected with my death. There are reasons for that, which I'll come to in a moment. He had to put the blame on someone or something else.

"His first choice was Snookums. It occurred to him that he could take advantage of the fact that I'm called 'Mike the Angel.' He borrowed Mellon's books and began pumping theology into Snookums. He figured that would be safe enough. Mellon would certainly lend him the books if he pretended an interest in religion; if anything came out afterward, he could--he thought--claim that Snookums got hold of the books without his knowing it. And that sort of muddy thinking is typical of our killer.

"He told Snookums that I was an angel, you see. I couldn't be either hurt or killed. He protected himself, of course, by telling Snookums that he mustn't reveal his source of data. If Snookums told, then the killer would be punished--and that effectively shut Snookums up. He couldn't talk without violating the First Law.

"Unfortunately, the killer couldn't get Snookums to do away with me. Snookums knew perfectly well that an angel can blast anything at will--through the operation of God. Witness what happened at Sodom and Gomorrah. Remember that Snookums has accepted all this data as _fact_.

"Now, if an angel can kill, it is obvious that Snookums would not dare attack an angel, especially if he had been ordered to do so by a human."

"Just a minute, Commander," said Dr. Fitzhugh, corrugating his face in a frown. "That doesn't hold. Even if an angel _could blast him, Snookums would attack if ordered to do so. The Second Law of obedience supersedes the Third Law of self-preservation."

"You're forgetting one thing, Doctor. An angel of God would _know who had ordered the attack. It would be the human who ordered the attack, not Snookums, who would be struck by Heavenly Justice. And the First Law supersedes the Second."

Fitzhugh nodded. "You're right, of course."

"Very well, then," Mike continued, "since the killer could not get Snookums to do me in, he had to find another tool. He picked Lieutenant Mellon.

"He figured that Mellon was in love with Leda Crannon. Maybe he was; I don't know. He figured that Mellon, knowing that I was showing Miss Crannon attention, would, under the influence of the lysurgic acid derivative, try to kill me. He may even have suggested it to Mellon after Mellon had taken a dose of the drugged wine.

"But that plan backfired, too. Mellon didn't have that kind of mind. He knew my attentions and my intentions were honorable, if you'll pardon the old-fashioned language. On the other hand, he knew that von Liegnitz had a reputation for being--shall we say--a ladies' man. What happened after that followed naturally."

Mike watched everyone at the table. No one moved.

"So the killer, realizing that he had failed twice, decided to do the job himself. First, he went into the low-power room and slugged the man on duty. He intended to kill him, but he didn't hit hard enough. When that man wakes up, he'll be able to testify against the killer.

"Then the killer ordered Snookums to tear out the switches. He had made sure that Snookums would be waiting outside. Before he called Snookums in, of course, he had to put the duty man in a tool closet, so that the robot wouldn't see him. He told Snookums to wait five minutes and then smash the switches and head back to his cubicle.

"Then the killer went to my room and waited. When the lights went out and the door opened, he intended to go in and smash my skull, making it look as though either Mellon or Snookums had done it.

"But he didn't figure on my awakening as soon as the switches were broken. He heard me moving around and decided to wait until I came out.

"But I heard him breathing. It was quite faint, and I wouldn't have heard it, except for the fact that the air conditioners were off. Even so, I couldn't be sure.

"However, I knew it wasn't Snookums. Snookums radiates a devil of a lot more heat than a human being, and besides he smells of machine oil.

"So I pulled my little trick with the boots. The killer waited and waited for me to come out, and I was already out. Then Chief Multhaus approached from the other direction. The killer knew he'd have to get out of there, so he went in the opposite direction. He met Snookums, who was still obeying orders. Snookums smacked into me on his way down the hall.

"He could do that, you see, because I was an angel. If he hurt me of his own accord, I couldn't take revenge on anyone but him. And there was no necessity to obey my orders, either, since he was obeying the orders of the killer, which held precedence.

"Then, to further confuse things, the killer went to Mellon's room. The physician was in a drugged stupor, so the killer carried him out and put him in an unlikely place, so that we'd think that perhaps Mellon had been the one who'd tried to get me."

He had everyone's eyes on him now. They didn't want to look at each other.

Pete Jeffers said: "Mike, if Mellon was poisoned, like you say, how come he was able to attack Mister Vaneski?"

"Ah, but did he? Think back, Pete. Mellon--dying or already dead--had been propped upright in that narrow locker. When it was opened, he started to _fall out--straight toward the man who had opened the locker, naturally. Vaneski jumped back and shot before Mellon even hit the floor. Isn't that right?"

"Sure, sure," Jeffers said slowly. "I reckon I'd've done the same thing if he'd started to fall out toward me. I wasn't even lookin' when the locker was opened. I didn't turn around until that stun gun went off--then I saw Mellon falling."

"Exactly. No matter how it may have looked, Vaneski couldn't have killed him with the stun gun, because he was already either dead or so close to death as makes no difference."

Ensign Vaneski rather timidly raised his hand. "Excuse me, sir, but you said this killer was waiting for you outside your room when the lights went out. You said you knew it wasn't Snookums because Snookums smells of hot machine oil, and you didn't smell any. Isn't it possible that an air current or something blew the smell away? Or--"

Mike shook his head. "Impossible, Mister Vaneski. I woke up when the door slid open. I heard the last dying whisper of the air conditioners when the power was cut. Now, we know that Snookums tore out those switches. He's admitted it. And the evidence shows that a pair of waldo hands smashed those switches. Now--_how could Snookums have been at my door within two seconds after tearing out those switches_?

"He couldn't have. It wasn't Snookums at my door--it was someone else."

Again they were all silent, but the question was on their faces: Who?

"Now we come to the question of motive," Mike continued. "Who among you would have any reason to kill me?

"Of the whole group here, I had known only Captain Quill and Commander Jeffers before landing in Antarctica. I couldn't think of any reason for either of them to want to murder me. On the other hand, I couldn't think of anything I had done since I had met the rest of you that would make me a target for death." He paused. "Except for one thing." He looked at Jakob von Liegnitz.

"How about it, Jake?" he said. "Would you kill a man for jealousy?"

"Possibly," said von Liegnitz coldly. "I might find it in my heart to feel very unkindly toward a man who made advances toward my wife. But I have no wife, nor any desire for one. Miss Crannon"--he glanced at Leda--"is a very beautiful woman--but I am not in love with her. I am afraid I cannot oblige you with a motive, Commander--either for killing Lieutenant Mellon or yourself."

"I thought not," Mike said. "Your statement alone, of course, wouldn't make it true. But we have already shown that the killer had to be on good terms with Mellon in order to borrow his books and slip a drug into his wine. He would have to be a visitor in Mellon's quarters. And, considering the strained relations between the two of you, I think that lets you out, Jake."

Von Liegnitz nodded his thanks without changing his expression.

"But there was one thing that marked these attempts. I'm sure that all but one of you has noticed it. They are incredibly, childishly sloppy." Mike paused to let that sink in before he went on. "I don't mean that the little details weren't ingenious--they were. But the killer never stopped to figure out the ultimate end-point of his schemes. He worked like the very devil to convince Snookums that it would be all right to kill me without ever once considering whether Snookums would do it or not. He then drugged Mellon's wine, not knowing whether Mellon would try to kill me or someone else--or anyone at all, for that matter. He got a dream in his head and then started the preliminary steps going without filling in the necessary steps in between. Our killer--no matter what his chronological age--does _not think like an adult.

"And yet his hatred of me was so great that he took the chances he has taken, here on the _Brainchild_, where it should have been obvious that he stood a much better chance of being caught than if he had waited until we were back on Earth again.

"So I gave him one more chance. I handed him my life on a platter, you might say.

"He grabbed the bait. I now own a spacesuit that would kill me very quickly if I went out into that howling, hydrogen-filled storm outside." Then he looked straight at the killer.

"Tell me, Vaneski, are you in love with your half sister? Or is it your half brother?"

Ensign Vaneski had already jumped to his feet. The grimace of hate on his youthful face made him almost unrecognizable. His hand had gone into a pocket, and now he was leaping up and across the table, a singing vibroblade in his hand.

"_You son of a bitch! I'll kill you, you son of a bitch!_"

Mike the Angel wasn't wearing the little gadget that had saved his life in Old Harry's shop. All he had were his hands and his agility. He slammed at the ensign's wrist and missed. The boy was swooping underneath Mike's guard. Mike spun to one side to avoid Vaneski's dive and came down with a balled fist aimed at the ensign's neck.

He almost hit Lieutenant Keku. The big Hawaiian had leaped to his feet and landed a hard punch on Vaneski's nose. At the same time, Jeffers and von Liegnitz had jumped up and grabbed at Vaneski, who was between them.

Black Bart had simply stood up fast, drawn his stun gun, and fired at the young officer.

Ensign Vaneski collapsed on the table. He'd been slugged four times and hit with a stun beam in the space of half a second. He looked, somehow, very young and very boyish and very innocent.

Dr. Fitzhugh, who had stood up during the brief altercation, sat down slowly and picked up his cup of coffee. But his eyes didn't leave the unconscious man sprawled across the table. "How could you be so sure, Commander? About his actions, I mean. About his childishness."

"A lot of things. The way he played poker. The way he played bridge. He never took the unexpected into account."

"But why should he want to kill you here on the ship?" Fitzhugh asked. "Why not wait until you got back to Earth, where he'd have a better chance?"

"I think he was afraid I already knew who he was--or would find out very quickly. Besides, he had already tried to kill me once, back on Earth."

Leda Crannon looked blank. "When was that, Mike?"

"In New York. Before I ever met him. I was responsible for the arrest of a teen-age brother and sister named Larchmont. The detective in the case told me that they had an older half brother--that their mother had been married before. But he didn't mention the name, and I never thought to ask him.

"Very shortly after the Larchmont kids were arrested, Vaneski and another young punk climbed up into the tower of the cathedral across from my office and launched a cyanide-filled explosive rocket into my rooms. I was lucky to get away.

"The kid with Vaneski was shot by a police officer, but Vaneski got away--after knifing a priest with a vibroblade.

"It must have given him a hell of a shock to report back to duty and find that I was going to be one of his superior officers.

"As soon as I linked things up in my own mind, I checked with Captain Quill. The boy's records show the names of his half-siblings. They also show that he was on leave in New York just before being assigned to the _Brainchild_. After that, it was just a matter of trapping him. And there he is."

Leda looked at the unconscious boy on the table.

"Immaturity," she said. "He just never grew up."

"Mister von Liegnitz," said Captain Quill, "will you and Mister Keku take the prisoner to a safe place? Put him in irons until we are ready to transfer to the _Fireball_. Thank you."

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Leda Crannon helped Mike pack his gear. Neither of them wanted, just yet, to bring up the subject of Mike's leaving. Leda would remain behind on Eisberg to work with Snookums, while Mike would be taking the _Fireball back to Earth. "I don't understand that remark you made about the spacesuit," she said, putting shirts into Mike's gear locker. "You said you'd put your life in his hands or something like that. What did you do, exactly?" "Purposely abraded the sleeve of my suit so that he would be in a position to repair it, as Maintenance Officer. He fixed it,
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Captain Sir Henry Quill scowled and rubbed his finger tips over the top of his shiny pink pate. "Your evidence isn't enough to convict, Golden Wings." "I know it isn't, Captain," admitted Mike the Angel. "That's why I want to round everybody up and do it this way. If he can be convinced that we _do have the evidence, he may crack and give us a confession." "What about Lieutenant Mellon's peculiar actions? How does that tie in?" "Did you ever hear of Lysodine, Captain?" Captain Quill leaned back in his chair and looked up at Mike. "No. What is it?"
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