Murder In Shusoran
News of the so-called secret trade conference was definitely out.
Not one but two groups of angry protestors huddled in front of the
castle gates, shouting curses at each other, at the castle walls, and
at the rows of guards who held them back. Most of the time, they
respected the ranks of steel-armored soldiers, but every so often they
would surge forward and have to be forced back with the long staffs the
guards carried. Dayne passed between the ranks and under the raised
gate bearing the sign of Laya, entering the castle of Shusoran.
Commander Brenton of the royal guard was in the throne room,
according to the first servant Dayne collared. That was good; this
murder probably needed the attention of the crown, anyway.
The throne guards were on duty outside the closed doors, stern-faced
in their formal armor.
"Is the Commander in there?" Dayne asked.
"Is the conference in session yet?"
The throne guard shook his head.
"No; it's set to open at ten-thirty."
"Good, then I won't be interrupting," Dayne said, and before either
of the guards could make a move, pushed the door open and strode in.
The rakishly handsome Prince Lyle sat on his father's throne; he was
the King of Shusoran's nominated representative at the trade talks and
the King had left on a hunting trip in order that no one could try to
undercut Lyle's authority by consulting him. A massive hardwood table
had been set up in the center of the room, surrounded by high-backed
chairs with cushioned seats. King Rhys and Queen Maia of Cille already
sat at the table. Burly Commander Brenton was talking with a
red-haired woman wearing a scarlet unitard and white boots and gloves.
In the background stood a black-haired man who appeared to be wearing
heavy steel armor from neck to toe.
"What is the meaning of this, Sergeant Rathman?" Brenton barked,
seeing his subordinate enter unbidden. "You are interrupting an
important planning session for the conference."
"I have important news that Prince Lyle should hear as well." Dayne
bowed to the prince as he spoke Lyle's name.
"That is my decision to make," the Commander said. "We have a chain
"Let him talk," Lyle said. "This interests me, and besides, he's
"Thank you, your Highness. As you're probably aware, there are
Layans and Orakians both protesting this conference and the peace
between races right outside the castle gates right now."
"Yes, I am aware of that."
"We all are," snapped Brenton. "It's why we have special guard
arrangements in place, to keep the delegates safe."
"Well, someone isn't safe," Dayne said. "This morning, I was called
to the Windward Inn because the innkeeper found one of her guests dead,
by which I mean murdered."
That one caught everyone's attention. The commander's huffiness
vanished at once; he at once became the professional military man.
Lyle leaned forward on his throne, while Maia flinched and shuddered.
"The dead man's name was Abel Godley; he was one of the reactionary
Orakians," Dayne continued. "His pals are outside the gate now, and
will probably start hollering about the killing sometime soon. He was
killed by a single knife thrust, so there's no chance of it being a
natural death." He gave a short summary of the doctor's findings.
"Do you have any prime suspects?" asked the Commander.
"It could be a Layan fanatic, but I don't have any proof of that."
Lyle glanced at Rhys.
"We have to act fast," he decided. "The reactionaries could use the
opportunity to discredit our honor, suggesting that Shusoran is letting
the killer get away because of whom the victim was. They'll make this
Godley a martyr to their cause." Lyle's deductions followed nearly the
same lines as the sergeant's had. "We have to find the murderer, and
"Lyle," Rhys interrupted, "there's one other point. What if the
killer turns out to be Orakian?"
The prince's handsome face twisted in a snarl.
"You're right, Rhys. That opens up some nasty trains of thought."
"We won't change the minds of the fanatics, not with logic, not even
with undisputable proof. To them it's an article of faith that Layans
are evil. The ordinary people, though...they'll see an Orakian zealot
murdered and a Layan government accusing another Orakian of the crime.
It wouldn't look good. A lot of people would be suspicious that you
engineered a frame."
"I can see why," Lyle said. "The idea of an Orakian killer is as
illogical that I didn't even think of it. It wouldn't matter how fair
we were or how much proof was available. Some people would still be
sure we were up to something."
"What you need," Maia suggested in a soft, lilting voice, "is an
investigation by Orakians and Layans both."
"You're right, cousin. That wouldn't convince the zealots; like
Rhys said, nothing could. It would keep them from adding to their
ranks with their twisted conspiracy theories, though." He paused,
clenching his fist in frustration. "I just can't give police powers to
guards from Agoe, though. My own people would resent it--our own
reactionaries would see it as letting the enemies loose in our camp."
"Why not a cyborg?" Rhys suggested.
"Wren or Mieu, you mean?"
The new king of Cille nodded.
"That's right. No cyborg is susceptible to Layan influence;
the people of Agoe trust them. Frankly, they trust them more than they
trust me. It would almost be like Orakio himself siding with Layans as
a betrayal--the fanatics could never sell it to the people."
"Whereas," Maia contributed, "the Layans know that Wren and Mieu
serve Rhys, and are therefore our allies. They aren't from Agoe, which
Shusoran has fought for centuries. There will not be quite so high a
level of distrust."
Lyle grinned rakishly.
"I like it," he declared.
"If I may offer a suggestion," said the armored man in a monotone
voice that made Dayne realize with a shock that he was the Wren
cyborg they had discussed.
"Of course, Wren."
"I would advise that Mieu be the one assigned to this task."
"Why is that?" Rhys asked. "I'd have thought your technical skills
would be useful in gathering evidence."
Had Wren been human, or equipped with emotions, he might have shaken
his head or made some other sign of dissent, but Wren was not
programmed to use human mannerisms.
"On the contrary," the cyborg stated, "I am not equipped for
forensic analysis. Moreover, as the purpose of employing a cyborg
investigator is to enhance public relations, it would be more efficient
to utilize Mieu. Her personality, possessing an emotional capacity, is
more sympathetic and attractive to the population, while not generating
a drawback with respect to investigative capacity. In fact, she may be
a more competent criminal investigator due to her enhanced
understanding of human psychology and motivations."
"Thank you, Wren," said the red-haired woman with a shy smile.
"All right, then," Lyle decided. "Mieu, you will aid Sergeant
Rathman in your investigations--unless, Commander, you would suggest
another officer from our Guard?"
Brenton shook his head.
"Rathman's good at hunting criminals. That's why he's on the call
list when there's trouble."
"Very well, Rathman it is. Sergeant, Mieu, you will report to King
Rhys, Commander Brenton, and myself." He turned to Dayne and said,
"Don't let me down, Sergeant. Peace between Shusoran and Agoe has been
too long in coming as it is."
When a man's prince puts his trust in him...well, there was little
one could say.
"I will, your Highness."
Mieu walked forward towards Dayne, extending her white-gloved hand
in greeting. The guard could see the recessed blades of her claws
glinting in the back of her hand and imagined what kind of fearful
damage they'd do to flesh and blood.
"Hello, my name is Mieu, as you've heard. It's a pleasure to be
working with you."
Dayne hesitated for a moment, then extended his hand and took hers.
Mieu's grip was firm, yet surprisingly soft, like a person with a
strong grip rather than a machine, a piece of metal.
"It's good to meet you," he said, though he wasn't sure of that at
all. Still, orders were orders, and he had a killer to catch.
"Thank you." She smiled. "Why don't you tell me what you've
learned so far? That way you can get more used to working with a
cyborg. I'm sure it's a new experience."
"Yeah, you could say that. I mean, I've commanded monsters before,
like the Orakians do their cyborgs, but you're nothing like those
"Yes, technically I am an android, not a robot, although the people
of both Landen and Aquatica employ the term 'cyborg' for both types of
The two of them left the throne room and headed through the twisting
halls towards the front gate.
"What does 'android' mean?"
"A type of independent, self-willed machine crafted to appear human
and possessing an artificial intelligence with full sentience." She
broke off and chuckled merrily. "Oh, no, now I'm sounding like Wren.
All I mean is that I look and act like a person."
"I can't deny that; I didn't realize you were a cyborg until Wren
said that you were."
"I'm glad...to be honest, it gets, well...tiring always being
thought of as different. Wren doesn't mind, with no emotions he can't
feel frustration, rejection, or any of that, but..."
Dayne supposed it must be hard. Orakians and Layans each had many
others of their own kind, and their opposite numbers were at least
human. Mieu and Wren, though, were apparently the only two of their
kind, and as the only one of the two who could feel emotions, Mieu was
The guard sergeant found it extremely strange that he could feel
pity for a machine. This apparently was a day destined to open his
eyes to new ideas.
"I'm sorry; I suppose that the idea of murder must be taking me
off-stride. You wouldn't think a combat android would be bothered by
death, but, oh, it's different somehow from killing in battle. Not for
the dead, of course, but it is for the living."
For a moment, Dayne's gorge rose at the idea that Mieu would count
herself among the "living," but he shoved the thought down into the pit
"I agree. Laya may have given us Laya's Law to keep us from killing
the Orakians, but murder is still a violation of it."
"Well, before there was Orakio's Law, murder was still a crime, so
the intolerance for it is older than the ban on killing."
"Older than Orakio's Law?" Dayne gasped. "Mieu, how many years ago
"Orakio's Law was pronounced nine hundred and eighty-nine years
He knew, of course, that the Laya-Orakio wars had been a thousand
years ago, but to actually hear it discussed casually from the
android's lips, it made his mind reel. He was actually talking to
someone who had been alive (or perhaps "in existence" would have been
more accurate) while Laya herself and her arch-enemy had.
"You look good for a thousand-year-old woman," he said flippantly to
cover the awe.
"Oh, thank you. Everyone says I don't look a day over seven
Dayne grinned. No, Mieu was most certainly not what he had
The humor vanished from both of their faces, though, when Dayne
began giving the details of the killing. He described the crime scene,
the doctor's findings, and his encounter with Ballard.
"The last thing I did was to check the ground outside Abel's window
for footprints. The ground was fairly hard, and I couldn't find any."
"Perhaps I should take a look. My vision is superior to a human's
and may be able to detect traces your eyes could not," Mieu offered.
"Yeah, that's a good idea."
As they neared the front gate, Dayne could hear the rumbles and
shouts of the two opposing protestors.
"You know, Mieu, more than likely the killer is someone from one of
those two packs of bigots."
"Zealotry," she agreed, "easily turns violent."
"Well, you're a combat cyborg; you're used to taking on your enemies
face-to-face, and I'm that way too. Why don't we roust those fanatics
and see what shakes out?"