Aphelion Issue 263, Volume 25
July 2021
 
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Chandra Medical

by Margaret Karmazin




Chandra Station Medical, shaped like a giant revolving can with spikes and named after the famous human epidemiologist Tanvi Chandra, rotated in the black of space around one of the ice planets of Proxima Centauri. Here civilizations loosely united in the Alliance shared medical knowledge. In the hundred and eight years of the Alliance, two civilizations had been spared from annihilation by plagues, another five from grave damage in one form or another and at least thirty more from serious interruption to their normal way of life. Chandra doctors and medical researchers worked round the clock to deal with unknown viruses, fungi, bacteria and prions and their resulting pandemics on various planets, moons, asteroids and ships. A job on Chandra was unlike any other in the known universe.

“Will you look at this?” said Dr. Lichi Trava to his assistant and wife, Mim, who was showing her usual signs of boredom in the artificial afternoon. He was peering through a quantum microscope at a virus resembling an octopus. “So this is the cause,” he observed.

“Of what?” said Mim dispassionately.

Dr. Trava glanced at his wife, his expression unreadable, though someone who knew him well would clearly grasp how he felt about her. Being Piorian, he was permitted the Piorian custom of having a second wife should he be stationed away and if the first one stayed on the home world. Which his first wife Crini did due to anxiety about living on a space station. But how he missed her long, lean blue body and her slanted brown eyes, the way she could annihilate him in a game of Bodge and her hilarious story telling. He missed everything about her and had grown to wish that the stupid Mim would walk out the nearest airlock. Divorce permits on Piori were not handed out like candy and he rued the day he’d been weak enough to fall for Mim’s shallow charms. Sometimes he allowed the thought of murder to flicker through his mind and he certainly would have biological ways of making that happen, but his early spiritual teachings by Piorian monks had insulated him against such behavior. Though once again he was entertaining these unworthy thoughts when an actual murder occurred on the station.

A lab assistant burst into the office, his arms flailing. “Oh my god,” he yelled, a human habit when excited that irritated the doctor. “Someone’s been murdered!
The normally lethargic Mim stood up straight. “Who?” she said in her flat voice.

For a split second, Dr. Trava entertained the wild and childish idea that his ruminations on murdering his wife had somehow caused someone else to succumb. “What happened?” he said.

“Gwyneth Wunner. Apparently, she was shot with one of our med darts, sir. Insulin, possibly, but tests are in order.”

Dr. Trava let go of the microscope. “Insulin? That’s not much used anymore. Do we even have it on the station?”

“I don’t know, Sir,” said the assistant. “The detectives are there now, already at work. I thought you might want to check out the scene.”

The doctor removed his lab coat, glanced at his unmurdered wife and darted from the room to follow the assistant.

The body had been concealed behind cartons in cargo bay. The seventy-two year old Distributor of Shipments lay face down as if she had just keeled over. The station’s Chief Inspector Brackmoor knelt over the body, touching it here and there with a gloved finger and commenting to her sergeant, Yocran. Known for his inappropriate sense of humor, he was a Bimorth, unisexual, short and chalk white with violet eyes and pink hair. He was two hundred and twenty earth years old, though over a hundred of those had been spent in hibernation on a generational ship. Bimorths lived a long time.

Dr. Trava entered the vast room to hear Inspector Brackmoor say, “She was probably shot in the neck there. See that little red mark there?”

“How do you know she didn’t just drop dead from natural causes?” said Yocran in his high pitched squeak, followed by a giggle.

“Well, according to my report here,” said Brackmoor, ignoring the laugh, “she had her three month physical six days ago. Everything was all right other than a slight elevation in monocytes. Her scans were normal. Nothing to indicate she would suddenly drop dead, but of course the autopsy will satisfy all curiosity is that area. You will also notice that she is drenched with sweat and her pupils are dilated, signs of insulin poisoning. And that mark I have seen many times from a med dart. There is nothing in her medical record about needing to receive an injection of any sort, is there, Dr. Trava?”

“Not to my knowledge,” said the doctor, “but insulin would be hard to come by.”

“Why is that, Doctor?” asked Brackmoor.

“Because we rarely use it anymore. We employ genetic therapy to rebuild the pancreas.”

“But you have it on hand?”

“Somewhere, I suppose. Once in a blue moon, before genetic therapy can begin, as in a child with sudden and unexpected signs of diabetes, you might require it, but we don’t often have children on Chandra and since genetic repair in the womb is usual, we haven’t needed it.”

Brackmoor nodded and stood up, towering over her sergeant. She was half human and half Piorian, a race closely related to humans, leading exo-anthropologists to promote the seeding of planets theory. Her height was a hundred and eighty-three centimeters and her mixed race skin pale violet. Her thick black hair was pulled up in a utilitarian topknot like that of a Japanese sumo wrestler. She wore dangling disk earrings and elaborate rings on her twelve long fingers. The rest of her was covered in a gray and black bodysuit that showed to advantage her slender, athletic figure. Dr. Trava could not but help but enjoy the view, though he knew better than to allow anything in his expression to show that. The last male who tried to mess with her ended up in his operating arena.

“Who do you think would want to see Gwyneth Wunner out of the picture?” she asked the doctor.

“I have no idea,” he said, genuinely puzzled. “The woman was a gem, well known on several planets and more than one space station. Her record was impeccable, which is why our CEO hired her. I never heard anyone complain about her other than that character Duaga’s cohort Adinn.”

The inspector looked at the doctor intently with her big, slanted eyes, which reminded him of Crini’s back on Piori and he felt a stab in his gut. If he didn’t love his job so much, he would quit in a day and head home, sneaking out without Mim knowing. Let Mim search for him in the jungle area of Piori where Crini’s people lived along with their two children – she would never find him. But that was assuming she’d even want to.

“What’s the deal with this Duaga and Adinn?” said Inspector Brackmoor.

“I like Duaga; most people do. He’s a real character, like a swashbuckling pirate, though he’s a good medical runner. He gets the meds to their destination with happy reports back, which in some cases have involved ship maneuvering on his part worthy of a seasoned military pilot. Or so he tells me. The only blackmarks on his record involve the complaints of females since he tends to be a lothario and brags about his conquests, true or not.”

“Isn’t he a Ragoon?” said Brackmoor. “I somehow find it difficult to believe that he succeeds much with the females unless he restricts himself to Ragoons.”

“Well, not really, no,” said Trava. “Some Ragoons, in spite of their unusual looks, give off a certain pheromone that affects several races. I dare say even you would-“

She cut him off. “I doubt it,” she smirked. She waved a hand and her wrist unit opened a screen in front of her face. A few commands and she had a holo of Duaga in front of her. There the runner stood, about a hundred and seventy-two centimeters tall, skin bright red, a muscular body with four arms, two smaller and thinner than the other two and slightly in front of them. At their ends were three fingers and a thumb. His face was almost human, his eyes an emerald green and his elaborately braided hair jet black. He wore a roguish smile and a mischievous expression. His outfit consisted of shiny, fitted black pants, a wide leather belt and form fitting T-shirt of glittery steel-blue fabric. In his belt were two guns of some kind and a scary looking dagger. Trava thought that the inspector looked at the holo unnecessarily long before clicking it off.

“Interesting,” she said, but did not elaborate and he didn’t dare ask. “I think I’ve seen him around.”

“This Adinn? What’s his story?”

“Adinn,” said Trava, “is perpetually angry. About politics on his home world, travel conditions, the state of Duaga’s cargo ship, Duaga’s lack of concern about the state of his ship, and about everything on this station. He hates everything.”

“Did he hate Gwyneth Wunner too?”

“Maybe you should ask him,” said Trava.

The inspector studied the doctor’s face for a moment and took him aside to whisper, “I heard something to the effect that you have a way of making people tell the truth.”

The doctor said nothing.

“I know that using such things is against protocol but I’d be willing to turn a blind eye. Using such a device should I need it would certainly save me a bit of time and aggravation. I’m sure you’re well aware of the top notch lying capacity of some alien groups, I’m not mentioning who.”

Was this a trap? The last thing Trava wanted was to lose his much coveted position and possessing a device like that could get him more than thrown out; he could end up on some dank prison moon somewhere.

“I understand your reluctance to divulge such information, Trava. You understand that if I got caught using it, I would be joining you in the prison you probably just imagined. A source told me you took the device from a fatally injured Martian who had stashed it up his ass and the reason I never looked into it further is because I suspected that one, it might not be true or two, a time might come when I might need it. It is possible that it won’t be necessary, but I just want to know that if it is, you’re there for me.”

Trava swallowed while visualizing his life sliding down the waste facility, but managed to whisper a yes back. “And you can keep it then,” he said.

She nodded. “Now I need to question the cargo bay crew, so I’ll get back to you on that later.” She hesitated and then stepped back. “Are you having a busy day, Doctor? If not, would you like to accompany me? You’re familiar with the physiology and idiosyncrasies of different races on here and you might be good at spotting inconsistencies.”

Feeling trapped, Trava agreed. There was currently a lull in the number of patients in the clinic and he had adequate coverage. He could get a break from his idiot wife and he was curious. He was also anxiously interested in learning who had betrayed him. For indeed it was the case that he had broken all Alliance rules by keeping the damned gadget that he’d removed from the Martian corpse, a hapless former Earther who had, on a very short visit to Chandra, died of a painful poisoning. The object, a tiny disk, was now sterilized and worked by simply placing it on the skin of the subject. It was extremely sensitive and picked up any change in flesh composition on pretty much any known humanoid species, though probably not reptilian races since their outer layer was often scaled. The device had been declared illegal among the Alliance since an incident on one of the worlds where it was used for torture. Currently, the disk was inside the pendant hanging from a palladium chain around his neck. This pendant was Earther Chinese and only Trava knew how to open it. He didn’t know why he’d ever kept the damned thing – taking risks of that magnitude wasn’t normally part of his cautious Piorian nature.

A quick visit to the clinic before he followed the inspector told him everything was under control; current patients were sleeping or reading and his assistants were at work on files. Mim watched a holo while rubbing cream into her admittedly gorgeous azure skin instead of classifying viruses in the lab, which was supposed to be her official reason for being on Chandra. Trava long since having given up trying to motivate her, sighed and headed back to the crime scene.

“She said to tell you she is in HQ now,” said Sergeant Yocran, his pink haired, pumpkin shaped head nodding eagerly. He waved an arm for Trava to follow.

Inspector Brackmoor already had the lecherous cargo runner, Duaga, sitting in her interrogation chair. He looked at ease and even grinned in his rakish way.

Brackmoor motioned for Trava to sit beside her desk. “So tell me, Mr. Duaga, what would be your reason for finishing off Gwyneth Wunner?”

For a moment, Duaga looked like a deer in the headlights. “I have no idea what you mean, woman,” he said. “A very attractive woman, I might add. Your skin is probably the most beautiful I’ve ever laid eyes on in the galaxy and believe me, I’ve seen many, if you know what I mean. Pale violet, just beautiful. You’re half Earther then?”

“Cut the shit,” said Brackmoor in a low voice.

Though the doctor caught a twinkle in her big brown eyes. He supposed Duago’s famous pheromones were snaking their way toward her nostrils.

Duaga smiled slow and lazy. “I liked Gwyneth quite a bit. In fact, I was a regular customer of her famous homemade hooch. Some kind of berry, she used, and it was strong enough to wipe out every microbe in your body.”

“Hooch?” said Brackmoor. “Where did she concoct this illegal crap?”

“Never you mind now, what does it matter? She’s gone. I’m just saying that she and I were good friends. If I could pick my own mother, she’d be it. Of course we were not the same species, but you know what I mean.”

“Well, Mr. Duaga, wouldn’t she have cramped your style? Being chief of distribution and all? I mean nothing you tried to smuggle would have got past her.”

“What makes you think I smuggle?” He sat up straight and fixed her with his intense black eyes. “Look at my record. I follow every rule you Chandra people set up. My reputation is without blemish. Though not in certain areas having nothing to do with meds.” He chuckled.

Brackmoor couldn’t argue with that, though as a seasoned cop, she knew that no sentient being in the galaxy followed every rule, unless they were some kind of ascended being and she had never yet met one of those.

“Okay then, Mr. Duaga, would you know of anyone who might be happier if Ms. Wunner weren’t among us?”

“Well, she was meds distributor,” he said. “She had a lot of power. She could decide the fate of worlds now, couldn’t she?”

The doctor thought about this. When pandemics or diseases unique to particular worlds hit, Gwyneth had had control over the lives of billions. With one wave of her finger over a list, desperate people on one planet would see their end coming while those on another would survive. Power that some individuals might covet to madness. But Gwyneth Wunner had never let it go to her head. Born with an autistic brain and choosing to keep it that way growing up, she simply added up the facts leading to the best choice of destination for various meds and set that into motion. She did not dwell on dying children or the collapse of cultures; she chose who should get what with the cool manner of someone playing a game of chess. Such sangfroid was needed in this business. But clearly, the woman would be not much appreciated in some places.

Brackmoor checked her wrist monitor and looked at Duaga. “You’re in the clear for now,” she said. “I just had your ship searched and yes, nothing amiss. And your record is indeed clean, though why do I feel let down at this? It was more fun to imagine you as a reprobate. But I need to see your assistant Adinn. I hear he continually carries a grievance.”

Duaga stood up with obvious relief, one of his two smaller arms reaching up to scratch his head. “Yes, he does, but he didn’t totally hate Gwyneth, which was saying a lot since he despises everyone, including me.”

The morning continued with more interrogations, including that of Michelson Koptic, Inspections Manager who had worked closely with the deceased. He was a hyper human also from Mars Colony who had few friends since he found it difficult to stop talking. “Shut up,” Inspector Brackmoor finally barked at him and held out a warning finger when he revved back up. “I will throw you in the brig. One more word not in direct answer to my questions and off you go.” He shut up but Trava could see he was having trouble holding it down. “How was your relationship with Gwyneth Wunner?”

Brackmoor began and he was off on another long ramble, which amounted to that he respected her but didn’t like how she cut him off rudely when he was speaking. Brackmoor found nothing in his record or spiel to suggest a motive for murder. And he had a backed up alibi for the entire “night” before.

Trava took a break to eat and check on his patients, underlings and lazy wife. The assistants were still at work on their files, one of the patients had been discharged and Mim was standing by a porthole looking out into the starry black. She made a lean, elegant figure in her purple lab suit with her shiny brown hair twisted up into an elaborate design. Her beauty continued to astound him, though beneath that was empty space. It was his life’s tragedy that the work he so enjoyed forced him to leave his planet and everyone he loved. But since he had needs, like most humanoids, and since his culture severely frowned on extramarital relationships, he had taken on this moronic second spouse. To add insult to injury, she was no longer interested in sexual relations and seemed to dislike any kind of touching. There were other strange things about her that Trava had chosen to ignore. She hardly ate and when she expelled waste products, she disappeared into a firmly locked bathroom and took forever. And not once had she consented to a physical.

It hit him for the first time him how really odd this was, especially for someone working in a medical station. He had the wild idea that possibly she wasn’t a real Piorian and had undergone some kind of genetic manipulation. What did he know about her after all? They had met on the station. She claimed to be an independent lab assistant for some obscure company he never heard of and that they took care of her medical exams, though he was not privy to the results. In reality, he knew little about her. He would, he decided, obtain one of her hairs or somehow a skin scraping and run tests on it. With that in mind, he returned to the interrogation room.

“Good to see you, Doctor,” said Brackmoor with a cocky smile. She had undone her topknot and braided her hair in one long tail down her back. Removing her feet from her desk, she stood up and motioned to Sergeant Yocran to let in the next suspect.

This was Puhgram Ipassa, an impressive looking Kreeda medical runner from the Orion system. He was way over two meters tall with purplish-green, scaley skin, a slight muzzle on his head and long, evil looking orange eyes. His sidekick, Lubrida, a Kreeda female rumored to be a nymphomaniac, accompanied him and stood silently inside the door, as motionless as a statue. Trava had heard the stories about her and so, apparently, had Brackmoor who kept shooting her amused glances.

“All right then,” said the inspector, who did not seem the least intimidated by these two. “It seems you’ve had two violations on your records – one involving a stop off to Lichton Asteroid on the way to your official destination and the other a missing container upon arriving on Biro III. I understand your explanation for Lichton but I’m not fully satisfied with your other account. And yet, my predecessor let you off scot-free. Do elaborate on that.”

The doctor could easily see from the Kreeda’s deportment that his personality did not fit his terrifying appearance. He seemed easygoing, even shy though his partner was anything but. That one was already eyeing the doctor with probable debauchery in mind. “Well, since she’s dead now, I guess I can say.”

Brackmoor leaned forward.

“I didn’t want to get her in trouble.”

“Get who in trouble?”

“Gwyneth. But since she’s gone, she won’t mind now, will she?”

“Go on.”

The creature shifted his long legs and sat up straighter. “She had family on Gera Outpost, which was on the way to Biro III. A nephew she cared about. He had volunteered for some kind of geology job there and she was worried about him because, she said, he has some lack in his blood defense system. When Therbe flu broke out there, she said he was as good as dead if he didn’t get the vaccine. She’d done me favors before and I owed her.”

“So, you didn’t think about the resulting dead people on Biro III because you veered off to that asteroid?”

“I thought about the potential dead people on the asteroid. And about Gwyneth.”

“You do realize that Therbe flu treats different species differently. Most likely, the vaccine was being sent to your assigned destination over Gera Outpost since the inhabitants consisted of a more susceptible species?”

He lowered his head.

“Well, that was then, this is now,” said Brackmoor. “Maybe you’d like Ms. Wunner out of the way so she could never report what you just told me?”

“Well, I just told you myself, didn’t I?” said the runner with a flare up in his orange eyes. “Aside from that, this happened long ago and why would I suddenly get concerned over it?”

“Maybe she suddenly got religion or something?” said Brackmoor. “Wanted to clear up her conscience.”

“No sign of that,” snapped the Kreeda. “Gwyneth Wunner wasn’t the little angel you seem to believe. She was like any of us and she was the kind of person I respect.”

“Where were you last night?”

“I was in Fuma’s Bar. Drank too much, passed out and Lubrida here (he waved a clawed hand at his partner), picked me up once she was done ravishing whoever she was ravishing and took me to our ship to sleep it off.”

Lubrida grinned a scary smile. The doctor shuddered and unconsciously rubbed his pendant.

“Okay then,” said the inspector. “I’ll find you if I need you.”

She called in Duaga’s underling, the perpetually sour Adinn. Did he too possess the stimulating pheromones of his boss?

By the inspector’s steely expression, Trava saw that she detected at once that Adinn did not share those fatal charms, though he was more refined and better looking. Trim of figure, even with his four arms, and without Duaga’s twinkle in his eyes, Adinn regarded his interrogator’s face without expression.

“Your relationship with the deceased?” began Brackmoor.

“She could be a bitch,” Adinn said.

“Are all females bitches?” retorted Brackmoor.

Adinn shrugged. “Probably.”

“I take it you don’t engage in romantic relationships then.”

“Not if I can help it.”

“Seriously,” she said, “how does anyone stand you?”

“How professional of you,” he retorted.

“I can see now why you reportedly hate everyone. Probably because of your attitude, everyone hates you first.”

Trava felt a need to step in and he would have sworn that Brackmoor shot him a look of gratitude. “Why did you think Gwyneth Wunner was a bitch?” he asked.

The obnoxious Ragoon stuck his chin in the air. “Because she once accused me of miscounting the merchandise when I had done no such thing!”

“I see,” said Trava. “But had you miscounted after all?”

“No, I certainly had not! I never do. I recount three times; it is my usual practice. She was wrong and eventually learned that I was right.”

Brackmoor sighed and Trava wondered how Duaga bore traveling with just the two of them enclosed in a cargo ship.

“Where were you between twenty-two and twenty-three PM last night?” resumed Brackmoor.

Adinn snorted. “I was with a sex workers. Ki-Ki, the human one with the three breasts who copulates upside down. Have you experienced her?” He looked at the doctor.

“What? No, you idiot!” said Trava.

Brackmoor raised a warning finger. She signaled for an underling to go check on the sex worker alibi instead of sending Yocran who was standing by.

“Now then,” she said, after Adinn was gone, glancing at Trava and causing his two hearts to speed up. “Sergeant,” she said to Yocran, “go see if they’re finished with the autopsy,” and the little Bimorth scampered out.

She ordered the door to shut and lock. “We’re all alone, my sweet,” she said in her smirky way. “Time to show mama the device.”

His hearts pounded even more. Was she recording this? Of course she was.

“Ha,” he said, “hardly with your cameras on.”

She waved a hand and the room darkened.

“Infrared,” he said.

“Come here,” said Brackmoor. He stood by her desk. She opened a box resembling a jewelry display, which had a light inside, then commanded all cameras off. “Put it in here under the tilted lid,” she said. “We can look at it without a chance of it being seen. Even if I did just turn off recording.”

He opened his pendant and did as directed.

“Such a tiny thing,” said Brackmoor.

“Yes, it is,” said Trava. He thought he might upchuck.

“And it was up the rectum of a human from Mars Colony. How did he get hold of it and why was it up his ass?”

“I suppose he was hiding it, rather inexpertly. I just happened to find it when examining the body after he expired. We never spoke about it or anything else.”

“He died in the clinic?”

“Yep, right on the table as soon as he got there. Passed out in Dordu Tavern and a couple of people carried him in. I turned to pick up the scanner and just like that, he was gone.”

“I assume you eventually learned what killed him.”

He nodded. “Poisoned from drinking Kreeda liquor. Humans can’t handle it. He didn’t know that.”

“Where did he get it to drink? The bartenders all know the rules.”

“Apparently he picked up a shot that some Kreeda left sitting on the bar for a moment and downed it. Thought he was being funny. The bartender said he’d gone to the restroom or he would have stopped the guy.”

“No cure for that, I take it?”

“Well, if you get to the patient within seven minutes but that usually doesn’t happen.”

“Okay, so when you pulled out this device – we won’t even utter its name – why didn’t you immediately turn it in?”

Trava looked away. “I-I don’t know,” he said. “I really don’t know what came over me.”

“Did you ever have cause to use it?”

“No,” he said. “I have a question though. Who told you I had it?”

She smiled. “Ah. We come to that. Who all knew you removed it from the body?”

Long pause while he went over it in his mind and then his eyes widened. “The human nurse assisting me and….and my wife!”

“Hmmm,” said Brackmoor. “This nurse. Did he or she have some kind of issue with the dead guy? Or maybe with you? Not satisfied with their job description perhaps?”

“Not that I know of,” said Trava. “But anything is possible.”

“Well,” broke in the inspector, “how would he have known that you weren’t planning to turn the item in like a good little doctor?”

Trava was thoughtful. “He wouldn’t have.”

“So the only person who knew you didn’t turn it in was your wife. Mim, she calls herself.”

“Why do you put it like that – ‘she calls herself?’”

Brackmoor smiled. “This is what I like about you, Trava. You may be very knowledgeable about diseases and medications, but…well, you’re so trusting. Naïve, I would say.”

He was silent, his mind darting everywhere. Where was this going?

“Who are you implying I should not be trusting?”

She chuckled. “Seriously, Doctor, who do you think I mean? Hint – it’s not the nurse.”

He stood up. “Come right out with it. Stop playing with me.”

She motioned for him to sit back down. “Calm down. I really don’t want to cause you pain, but I’m afraid I have to. Mim, as you think of her, is not what you believe. Unless maybe you do suspect something?”

She studied him but he held his tongue.

“She is not Piorian. Not even as much Piorian as I am and that’s fifty percent. This woman you foolishly took for a second wife, and I need to comment here that I think this Piorian custom of no sexual relations outside of actual marriage is ridiculous and I thank the Universe daily for my human half to cut through that bullshit – anyway, this Mim is actually named Junté LeGrange. She is part android and the rest living tissue created to look Piorian. Did you ever run any routine tests on her? I’ll bet not. She would claim her company takes care of all that, right?”

Trava did not respond.

“That company is a crime organization. We’ve been watching it for weeks.”

He was embarrassed. She must think him an idiot. But wasn’t he one? More than a year with that…that female and he’d never grown suspicious enough to use his brain?

“Don’t feel terrible for being a kind person,” said Brackmoor. “It is a characteristic required of a good doctor. Not of a cop though.” She laughed, stood up, tapped her wrist and spoke into the air. “Sergeant, reroute. Take backup and arrest Trava’s wife. Use the interrupter if she kicks up. Yes, the one for AI.”

“Why on earth did she marry me?” he asked, but he knew the answer. To keep an eye on incoming meds and have access to them. But why had she told Brackmoor about his little infraction?

To the doctor, Brackmoor said, “Don’t go anywhere. I have my suspicions. I want you to enjoy this.”

“What makes you think I’ll enjoy it?” he asked.

She smiled. “Everyone knows you’re not happy with her. Plus Piorians and humans are easy to read and it’s an advantage to me that I’m both.”

Eventually, they heard Sergeant Yorcran and his backup approaching with the outraged Mim jabbering like a lunatic. “Now let’s use this little gadget of yours, Doctor, and see if it works on a half flesh being.”

To see his wife squirming with her arms clamped behind her back was unsettling but it gave Trava a perverse satisfaction.

“Bind her tight to the chair and tape her hand to the desk, Brackmoor said to Yorcran, “and then leave us with the interrupter.” When he was gone she ordered Mim to stay perfectly still. “Don’t try anything or I will have to use the interrupter again. And every time I do, more connections in your, um, brain, will burn out.”

Trava hoped and assumed the cameras were still off while Mim, looking wildly beautiful, did as told.

“Do not move a millimeter,” said the inspector as she laid the tiny metal disk on Mim’s hand.

“So, did you kill Gwyneth Wunner?”

Mim’s eyes clouded over. “Mmmrrrrrrhhhhht,” she said, then shuddered and convulsed. Trava jumped to help her but Brackmoor raised her hand. “Sit down, Doctor. She’ll try this as a defense mechanism. We will continue.”

“Why did you kill Gwyneth Wunner?” she asked again. In total, she would ask ten or more times without an answer from the android. “Why?” Brackmoor calmly persisted. Mim, meanwhile continued to convulse.

Trava, not fully convinced that Mim was anything other than a Piorian female, felt his ire rise. “For the sake of all creation, answer the freaking question!” he yelled at her.

Mim’s head turned to look at him, her eyes rolled back into her head and all signs of life left her. A machine that turned off. She slid from the chair, her hand still attached to the desk. All her lights had gone out.

Trava himself, with Brackmoor and Yocran watching, attempted an autopsy, though after performing a scan and beginning to cut though a thick layer of flesh, he ran into the machinery of a well-constructed android. His feelings were wildly mixed and his mind reeling.

“You’re a free man now,” said Brackmoor. “Though of course there’s the wife on Piori.”

Trava ignored that. “We still don’t know why Mim murdered Gwyneth.”

“Oh, while you were having lunch, I made called in some favors.”

She had that sharp look in her eyes that he found disconcerting. “And?”

“Mim’s company – Valencia Therapeutics. Not so therapeutic but a cover for covert operations such as substituting fake meds for the real thing, then selling the real stuff at scary prices. Desperate planets will pay what they have to.”

“How did they do that? On Chandra, I mean.”

“Well, apparently your wife did it. Or helped. She had access to any lab on board. My job now is to round up her accomplices on the station. But you can bet the switching took place in the cargo hold and poor Gwyneth Wunner caught Mim or her friends in the act. They had to take action then.”

“But insulin?”

“Well, who better than Mim to have learned where the seldom used stuff was kept? And probably she thought no one would recognize such an archaic way of taking someone out. I guess she didn’t count on a half human/halfPiorian cop being a fan of old Earth murder cases.”

“One more thing,” said Trava. “Why did she tell you I kept the device? Wouldn’t it go against her best interests to get me in trouble?”

Brackmoor shrugged. “I don’t know everything, doctor. Maybe androids have more feelings than I credit them for. Maybe she knew you were dissatisfied and thinking of getting rid of her and she wanted to jab you first. Were you thinking of getting rid of her?”

He didn’t answer that one.

She smiled. “Too bad,” she said, “you’re so deeply entrenched in Piorian moral codes. Otherwise, you could have a nice affair here on the station with no strings attached. Instead, I mean, of having to take on a burdensome second wife.”

He gave her a long speculative look and said, “Yes, too bad about that,” and left for the clinic. He’d think about what she was implying, though knowing himself, would probably never do anything about it. His susceptibilities to misconduct tended more to keeping unusual alien devices rather than to sex.



THE END


© 2021 Margaret Karmazin

Bio: Margaret Karmazin’s credits include stories published in literary and SF magazines, including Rosebud, Chrysalis Reader, North Atlantic Review, Mobius, Confrontation, Pennsylvania Review, The Speculative Edge, Aphelion and Another Realm. Her stories in The MacGuffin, Eureka Literary Magazine, Licking River Review and Mobius were nominated for Pushcart awards. She has stories included in several anthologies, published a YA novel, REPLACING FIONA, a children’s book, FLICK-FLICK & DREAMER and a collection of short stories, RISK.

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