Murder Beyond The Milky Way

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Chapter Thirty-Four

Standing at the corner where the Lehman alley met the main road, Harry wondered what to do next. He looked up and noticed the red sky darkening to a blood color with one or two stars beginning to show through the atmosphere. Even though he had had a good night’s sleep, thanks to his natural exhaustion from the STAR’s captain not arriving to match his passengers body clocks with that of the planet and the stimulant laced peanut butter bars Quincey had given him, Harry still felt out of phase with the world around him. A nap would be nice, he thought. He worked his way back to the Somerset estate. As he walked through the front door, the smell of a variety of foods replaced the almost overpowering smell of the planet.

Harry walked through the house to the room where he and Lydia had shared breakfast. As he walked down the hall, the aromas grew stronger. When he entered the room, he found a plethora of dishes laid out on the center table. Lydia, Jane and Fitz-Porter were sitting in an alcove whose bubbled Plexilum allowed them to sit outside and look out over the estate’s jungle to the LifeShield, yet still be protected from the rain that was scheduled to start in the next hour or two.

“Grab yourself a plate and come over and sit with us,” Fitz-Porter said. Fitz-Porter was sitting at the head of the table with Jane on his right and Lydia on his left.

Harry helped himself to some food and then went over to sit with them. The three of them made a pretty picture sitting in the alcove with the lush greenery and distant toxic planet making a backdrop of opposites. Fitz-Porter was wearing a clean jumpsuit. Lydia and Jane were dressed in similar white, sleeveless tunics, loosely belted at the middle with subtle floral designs embossed in white creating a ghost image on their clothing. On the surface there was something very domestic about this scene, but underneath it all, Harry sensed a current of unease.

On his way to the table he noticed that Lydia was not her usual self. She didn’t seem in control. It was as if she had relegated herself to the position of ‘guest’. Jane was also sitting at the table quietly as if most of her energy had been drained from her. Fitz-Porter seemed to have enough energy for the three of them.

“So, how was your day?” Fitz-Porter asked as if he were the patriarch of an extended family.

“Busy,” Harry answered. Okay, I’ll play along, he thought.

“Busy is good,” Fitz-Porter said with a smile.

“I take it yours was busy, too,” Harry said.

“How so?” Fitz-Porter asked.

“I ran into Mark Chapman and he told me the two of you had a nice conversation on the ride out to Number Six.”

“What were you doing at Mine-6?” Jane asked looking over at Fitz-Porter.

“Nothing of too much importance,” Fitz-Porter said. “I had to chase down a piece of equipment that was inadvertently sent to the Six and not the Two.” He turned to Harry. “That Chapman can sure talk...”

“Boy, I’ll say,” Harry said. “He kept up a one-sided conversation for the whole trip.”

“I wouldn’t hold it against him,” Fitz-Porter said. “Everything is so new to him, he can’t help himself.”

“Well I hope it gets old by the time I see him again, if I ever do,” Harry said.

“Find out anything new about the murder?” Fitz-Porter asked as he shoveled a fork full of food into his mouth and began chewing.

“I found out that Jane’s father loved her,” Harry said nonchalantly beginning to eat.

Jane put her fork down. “How could you tell?” she asked.

“It’s all there for anyone to see,” Harry said. “Your father was making contact with a mystery ship every thirteen days. He didn’t start that until after you told him you met a friend and were heading off together. I think you were being followed.”

“Just like dad,” Jane said with a smile and picked her fork back up. “You can’t imagine how protective he’s been over the years.”

“Your father loved you,” Lydia said. “No one can ever doubt that.”

“How much did you love him?” Harry asked Lydia.

“Is that important to finding his killer?” she responded.

“Might be,” Harry said seemingly to pay more attention to the food than the conversation. “Because I was wondering how willing you would have been to have seen him assassinated?”

Lydia, Fitz-Porter and Jane stopped in mid motion and looked at Harry who continued to eat nonchalantly.

“Are you accusing me of having him killed?” Lydia asked coldly.

“No. The timing of the messages you sent back to Earth Prime seems to clear you of ordering the killing. But do you think that the Directorate would have had him assassinated in order to cut the link you had with this planet?”

“It’s not... I mean, it wasn’t Steve that was holding me here,” Lydia said. It’s business.”

“Then, Somerset was a perk?” Harry asked.

“More than a perk, Mr. Salem. He made life out here... bearable.”

Harry shrugged. “Just asking,” he said.

“Why?” Jane asked.

“It crossed Quincey’s mind, and mine, that the Directorate might have sent an assassin to kill your father, if he was the thing that was holding Lydia out here. You know, cut her one tie to the planet, then that would have made my job easier.”

“And you don’t think that’s a possibility, now?” Jane asked.

“Well, it would mean that the killer is still on the planet for one thing. It would also mean that the killer had to come in on one of the earlier supply freighters. He would have had to replace someone who had already been hired to work here. He would have had to have the same skills. There are too many variables that have to line up in order for the plan to work.”

“And you don’t think the Directorate is capable of such a thing?” Fitz-Porter asked.

“It’s not that their not capable... it’s just that they would have had to begun the planning long before Lydia got here. They would have had to have known that after her business coup on Emerson-5 that she would have retreated out here to rest up for her next move.”

“Is there a next move, Mr. Salem?” Lydia asked. Her voice was flat with inherent threat.

“Of course there is a next move,” Harry said sitting back in his chair. “You’re Lydia Thompson. You’re planning the most involved business move in a millennium. Emerson-5 was just the beginning, the beach head, so to speak.”

“And you know this because...”

“I had a very good talk with Harrison Hill back on Emerson-5. He thinks you’re planning to form a new corporation built around the red-ore power of Magnum-4”

“And you think the Directorate or the other Corporations will allow this?”

“They are in no position to stop you,” Harry said leaning forward and resuming eating.

Lydia smiled. “I think you grant me too much power,” she said.

“I don’t grant you anything,” Harry said. “You take what you want and the Directorate, itself, is too far away to do anything about it.”

“And when you go back without me,” Lydia said. “What are you going to tell your superiors?”

“It won’t matter what I tell them,” Harry said. “By the time they organize a response, it will be too late. It boils down to a matter of time and distance.”

“Time and distance?” Lydia asked.

“Hill talked about dinosaurs that were so large they needed a second brain. Well, the Directorate is like that. So are most of the other Corporations. The location of this planet gives you the advantage of placement in the cosmos.”

“And you don’t think they will try to stop me?”

“Oh, they’ll try. They might make an attempt or two, but they will not want it to affect their bottom line. That’s where the distance comes into play. To try to stop you will mean that they will have to divert a large portion of their profits to the effort. To them, it won’t be worth the money.”

“But Magnum-4 is money.”

“Which you are sitting on,” Harry said. “The Directorate has no idea what’s out here. I’m pretty sure that’s why they sent me. They don’t expect me to return with you. But they do expect me to return with information. What I say, or rather, how I say it will affect their next move.”

“Why do I have the feeling that we’ve just been privy to something universe shattering,” Fitz-Porter said leaning into Jane.

“Hardly universe shattering,” Lydia said trying to make light of the conversation. “And really nothing more than hypothetical game playing.”

“Well, I have something that’s not hypothetical game playing,” Fitz-Porter said. “Jane and I have decided to get married as soon as possible.”

“That’s wonderful,” Lydia said. “When is the happy day?”

“I thought in a week or so,” Fitz-Porter said.

“Isn’t that a little too soon after father’s death,” Jane said.

“It’s perfect,” Fitz-Porter countered. “We’ll get married. I’ll take you away from all this, then in five or six months we can come back.” He turned to Lydia. “You and Salem are perfectly welcome to stay until we return.”

Harry put down his fork and looked up. He wanted to see how Lydia played this hand.

“Of course, if that’s what you and Jane want,” she said calmly. “After all, it wouldn’t be the same without Steve.”

“No, it wouldn’t,” Fitz-Porter said. “Jane has been under the aegis of her father. With our no-work/no-eat code and her father gone, there’s no place for her here unless I assume the role of protector. As my wife, she can stay.”

Lydia looked over at Jane who looked down rather than meet the other woman’s eyes. “Well, I guess that settles it,” Lydia said. She stood up. “I’m sure I can come to some agreement with one of the other mine owners for a place to stay.”

“Maybe you should talk to Turgenev,” Harry suggested.

“And why would I do that?”

“He’s positioning himself for some kind of power move. He might be very interested in having you as an ally.”

“For someone who’s just arrived on this planet, you sure are catching on fast to what’s happening here,” Fitz-Porter said.

Harry noticed Fitz-Porter’s body language. He had stopped eating and had placed his hands like fists on either side of his plate. Harry smiled. “Faster than you think,” he said. “Like I noticed that your request for personal time, Jane’s note to her father that she ran into an old friend, and her father’s messages to a mystery ship are not three seemingly random events.”

“What are you implying?” Fitz-Porter asked.

“I’m not implying anything,” Harry said. “I’m just wondering if your running into Jane was a coincidence, that’s all.”

“Does it make a difference?” Fitz-Porter asked.

“Probably not,” Harry said. “But I’ve got so much information sloshing around in my head, I’m just trying to make sense out of the various data streams.”

“Maybe some of those data streams are none of your business,” Fitz-Porter said coldly.

“And maybe you folks are just too close to see for yourselves,” Harry answered ignoring the other man’s veiled threat.

“That might be the case, Mr. Salem,” Lydia said as she stood up. “In any case, I didn’t realize Mr. Turgenev was reaching beyond himself. Walk with me around the garden and let’s talk about the matter. You’ll excuse us,” she said turning to Fitz-Porter and Jane. Fitz-Porter nodded and Lydia left the room.

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