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Murder In Shusoran

Part III


Some of the guards on the lines had changed, Dayne noted as he emerged from Shusoran Castle with Mieu. Commander Brenton was no doubt rotating in fresh troops so that the fervor of the protesters didn't wear down the guards' physical or mental stamina.

"All right, people, cool it!" Dayne barked. "I've got something to say." Predictably, no one stopped the screaming and sign-waving.

"If I may?" Mieu offered.

"Be my guest."

The android stepped out ahead of him and shouted deafeningly, "Silence!"

This managed to get everyone's attention. Probably would have broken a few windows if the houses were any closer, Dayne thought, his ears still ringing.

"Thank you, Mieu," he told his partner. Then he turned his attention to the two opposing packs, swiveling his head back and forth from Layans to Orakians as he spoke, making eye contact with hate-filled gazes. For two groups that hated each other so much, it was surprising how alike they were in all the ways that counted.

"Now listen up, all of you. Some of you know this already; by now you probably all do, but I'll say it anyway. A man named Abel Godley is dead. He was an Orakian, and if someone hadn't stabbed him, he'd have been out here now, yelling obscenities with the rest of you. From where I stand, that makes you the most likely suspects."

He paused to let that sink in, but only for a moment. Any longer and they'd have been howling again, probably accusing each other of the murder.

"Any way you look at it, Laya's Law has been broken, Orakio's Law has been broken, and the laws of Shusoran have been broken. Prince Lyle isn't too happy about this. Since the victim was an Orakian, he felt it might be better to have an Orakian investigator working with the Guard, and so Mieu will be assisting me in finding the killer. I can't think of anyone more Orakian, myself, than a cyborg who actually knew Orakio personally a thousand years ago." He threw that last in as a dig to Ballard and his type in case they started complaining that a cyborg who served "the traitor Rhys" was essentially a Layan in android's clothing. Which they probably would.

"Now, this is how it's going to work," Dayne continued. "Mieu is going to talk to the Orakians and I'm going to talk to the Layans. We'll be asking questions. You'll answer them. If you'd rather crack wise then give us the strait truth, we can have you tossed into the dungeon for impeding royal justice. Once we're done you can go back to your sign-waving and scream yourselves hoarse, but for now, you're ours. Got it? Good, let's get started."

Dayne caught more than one grin on the faces of the soldiers on watch as they saw their nemeses temporarily cowed. Too bad it wouldn't last.

"All right," he said, going over to the Layan side, "who's the leader of this mob?" There were around twenty of them, men and women, young and old, poor and well-off. Hate, it seemed, crossed all boundaries.

"We are all equals here," said one older man, his silvery-blue hair shot through with gray. "Free Layan souls, one and all, who have seen the truth that you do not, the truth that the Orakians have concealed from Prince Lyle with their vile deceptions. This marriage, this so-called peace, are all but a prelude to their true plans. Once our defenses are down and they can come and go freely, their spies will sabotage our forces, and their cyborgs will attack."

"Lyle's no victim," another fanatic corrected him, this one a woman with stringy brown hair. "He's a traitor, gone over to the Orakians will full knowledge of their plot."

"Now, Cara, you can't know that," another chimed in.

"Can't I? What true follower of Laya would give a machine the authority to investigate a crime? Lyle's been more than just deluded; he's been corrupted inside and out." She turned to Dayne and said, "Here you are, Sergeant, a Layan warrior, yet serving Orakian whims. You're their pawn, no more, for so long as you take part in this farce."

"Save it for someone who cares," Dayne snapped back at her, then fixed his gaze on the blue-haired, bearded man. "You opened your mouth first, so you get to be the spokesman. What's your name?"

"Merak Le Disan."

"Merak. All right, then, what do you know about Abel Godley?"

"Absolutely nothing. If, as you say, he is one of them--" He directed a poisonous glance at the Orakians that was completely at odds with his well-groomed appearance and urbane voice. "--then I shall shed no tears over his death."

"I'm surprised that you don't think more kindly of them. After all, they agree with you about breaking up the alliance."

The man sighed heavily.

"Sergeant, it is clear that you do not truly see the nature of the Orakian threat." His manner seemed almost fatherly, like a wise mentor about to explain some difficult concept to an apprentice. "While the spies of Agoe, led by Rhys, are insidious foes striving to destroy our city, the Orakians who are our opposite numbers are the most virulent in their hatred. They are so steeped in their evil that they cannot even pretend friendship for self-gain. If anyone would kill another person, it would be them."

"If," another one added, "there is such a thing as Orakio's Law. I hardly think those worms would have such a civilized standard."

"Yeah," said a third, "those scum probably kill each other all the time."

Dayne scowled at them.

"When I want your opinions, I'll ask for them. Now, while you may assume that Godley was killed by one of his friends, it strikes me that someone might have seen him as a threat, being among the most dangerous of the Orakians, and all. Godley's writings advocated breaking Orakio's Law, killing Layans in defense of the Orakian way of life. This man was a clear threat, and you people don't strike me as the kind to trust your government to deal with the problem."

The woman who'd spoken before spoke up again.

"I'd have done it myself," she said proudly. "Destroying someone like that was good work, whomever did it."

"Whatever happened to Laya's Law?" Dayne asked.

"The extermination of subhuman vermin isn't murder," the fanatic replied hotly. "Laya's Law is a commandment not to kill people, not vermin."

"And you'd be happy to do that exterminating."

"I said so, didn't I? If Prince Lyle was truly the champion he claims to be and not the tool of the Orakians, he'd take the army and raze Agoe and Rysel to the ground, finishing the good work of a thousand years ago." She paused, and her eyes narrowed. "As I also said, I didn't perform the deed. I was with my fellow members of Pure Vision, preparing our strategy for ending today's farce of a conference."

"What's Pure Vision?" Dayne asked. The woman didn't answer him, though. It was Merak who spoke.

"There are two groups of Layan loyalists who believe in preserving the true way of our people. I speak for my brothers and sisters of one, the Crusaders of Laya. Pure Vision is the other. Cara, here, is one of the principal members."

"We have no leaders," Cara corrected him. "Each of us is equal, for our only true leader is Laya herself."

"Too bad she's not here to tell you what she thinks of people who break her orders," Dayne said. "All right, people, since this isn't getting us anywhere, I'm going to go down the line. I want names, addresses, and alibis. I hope for your sake that you've got someone besides each other to vouch for your whereabouts last night." He didn't want to have to arrest a Layan for this, but from the way they talked, he couldn't rule them put.

Still, there was nothing hidden about their hatred. They were open and direct about it, spewing their bile to all who'd listen. Slipping up to a room at night and stabbing a man, then sneaking away in the darkness, was a furtive crime, more...secretive. On the other hand, it was perfectly legal to hate Orakians, so there was no reason for the fanatics to hide their feelings. Murder was the worst of all crimes and could not be done openly, so even those who were honest about telling their feelings towards the victim wouldn't want to be open and obvious in the killing.

It took him a little under an hour to finish with the reactionaries. Dayne occasionally asked questions when their stories were weak, but he came up with nothing concrete to use against them. He was glad to get away by the time he was done. He himself didn't like Orakians. The truth was, he'd been suspicious of Shusoran allying itself with its ancient enemy. It was all too sudden, too easy.

Now, though, after facing the angry rhetoric of Cara and the smooth, reasonable-seeming poison of Merak, sentiments that their fellows had echoed, the sergeant was finding himself a wholehearted supporter of the alliance...and a good deal ashamed of his previous thoughts. The hatred of his own people was the same as the hatred he'd read in Godley's papers, a hatred spawned of fear.

It's true, he thought. I was afraid of the Orakians, afraid that they were out to destroy us. Afraid like a child cowering under the covers from the monsters he believed were under the bed.

He wasn't happy when he rejoined Mieu; from the look on her face, she wasn't either."

"Any luck?"

"No," she replied. "They are certainly willing to kill, especially their leader, Ballard, but they all claim to be innocent. Godley was an important man to them, a writer of manifestos and tracts they used to spread their creed to other Orakians, though not formally one of the Sons of Orakio, their group. Their alibis, however, largely depend on one another and upon the testimony of innkeepers--and sneaking out of an inn-room is not often difficult, particularly if one expects to return.

"I've got pretty much the same thing. Most of the Layans are local, so they have family members to vouch for them some of the time, but those family members would have been asleep for part of the time, so none of them has an airtight alibi."

"So," Mieu concluded, "we have no proof, either of innocence or of guilt."

Dayne sighed.

"That's about the size of it." He hooked his thumbs into his belt. "Well, let's take a look at some of the hard evidence. Maybe that'll give us some help that the people won't."

"You have an idea."

"Not much of one. I found a bottle of something in Godley's bag. Dr. Le Malisk was going to see if she could find out what it was. I thought we could go see if she'd come up with an answer."

Mieu agreed, so they went to the hospital. Nyla's office was on the second floor of the large building; the first floor was taken up by the chapel of the healer-priest who used his skills to deal with the near-dead, providing last-chance emergency treatment. The doctor kept her office glisteningly clean, allowing nothing that might add to the chance of infection. The hospital beds were thankfully empty, as was the examining table. The green-haired doctor sat in the corner of the room, amid her chemical equipment.

"Hey, Nyla," Dayne greeted her.

"Such an enthusiastic hello," she replied dryly. "You must not be having much luck." Catching sight of Dayne's companion, her eyes widened. "Wait a second--is that Rhys' cyborg?"

"My partner on this case. The powers that be wanted this to be a joint investigation between Layans and Orakians."

Nyla nodded.

"That makes sense. That way, no matter who the killer turns out to be, it won't look like one side or the other picked someone to frame for political purposes." She paused, then said, "So, are you going to introduce us?"

"What? Oh, yes, of course. Doctor Nyla Le Malisk, Mieu. Mieu, Nyla."

Mieu smiled at the doctor, rolled her eyes, and said, "Men," in that long-suffering tone that, live or artificial, was entirely female.

"It's nice to meet you. I've never spoken to a cyborg before."

"You should try it more; we're great listeners," she replied with a smile.

"Good, because I have something to tell you."

"About that liquid?" Dayne asked.

"Yes. I performed a couple of tests, and the results were suggestive, so I looked in my oldest medical compendium. It turns out that it's not poisonous, unless you drink a half-gallon of it or so at once. On the contrary, it's a very powerful medicine called amestin."

"I've never heard of it," Mieu remarked, "although my data memory on medical matters is limited to battlefield injuries and poison cures."

"That explains it, then; this is quite a bit more exotic. It functions on the nervous system, acting in much the same way as Trimate does for the whole body, only the effects are ongoing instead of being a single event. It's used to treat degenerative nerve disorders."

Dayne blinked.

"Wait a minute. That sounds serious--as in, fatal."

"Precisely. Whomever the murderer is, he or she could have saved the trouble. Godley couldn't have live more than a few months longer."

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