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Murder Beyond The Milky Way

By EricRuark All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Mystery

Chapter Forty-Eight


When Harry awoke, the first face he saw was Turgenev’s. He took stock of where he was. He was in a private cable-car. He had a splitting headache. His chest hurt. His face hurt. His hands hurt. The knuckles on his right hand were swollen.

“How are you feeling?”

Harry looked to his left. Huntington was sitting in the chair next to him. “Like shit,” Harry answered. “What are you doing here? Speaking of ‘here’. Where am I?”

“You’re in my private car,” Turgenev answered.

“How did I get here?”

“Quincey called,” Huntington said. “He told us to pick you up and then make sure all the other members of the Vigilance Committee met at Somerset’s as quickly as possible.”

“Where’s Quincey? Where’s Fitz-Porter?” Harry asked.

“They’re in Quincey’s cable-car somewhere ahead of us,” Huntington said. Huntington mixed a packet of powder with some water and handed it to Harry. “Drink this,” he said.

“What is it?” Harry asked.

“Something to make you feel better,” Huntington said.

“It won’t incapacitate me, will it? I need to be sharp,” Harry said.

“No. It will just take the aches and pains away,” Huntington said.

“How long was I out for?”

“About an hour and twenty minutes,” Huntington said.

“Why didn’t you wake me sooner?”

“I wanted you to think you were dead,” Huntington said.

Harry looked at him.

“Quincey ripped me a new asshole for not going with you. Apparently, you forgot to tell me something,” Huntington said.

Trugenev looked at Harry with a cold, penetrating stare. Harry downed the drink and then sat in silence until they reached the Somerset estate.

Quincey was waiting for them at the cable-car dock. Fitz-Porter’s was standing next to him. His wrists were secured behind his back. His face was severely bruised. Harry hoped that the bruises were his doing and not something Quincey had done on the ride over. Quincey ordered them all inside. There was quite a crowd waiting for them in the living room. Harry immediately recognized Lydia, Karen Lehman, Jane, and Messers Keith, Rohl, Harlas and Dr. Mendoza. However, the other five men were total strangers to him.

“We are all here. Just as you requested,” Lydia said.

“Good,” Quincey said as he steered Fitz-Porter to a chair and forced him to sit. Fitz-Porter remained uncharacteristically silent.

“You didn’t cut his tongue out, did you?” Harry asked facetiously.

“No,” Quincey answered. “He’s going to need it.”

“Fuck you,” Fitz-Porter said.

“What’s this all about?” Seth Thomas asked.

“It’s about stopping trouble before it begins and making sure that the right man is punished for the crimes he’s committed,” Quincey said. Everyone stared at him. He had their undivided attention. “Lydia, I want to introduce you to the complete Magnum-4 Vigilance Committee, minus one.” Quincey walked over and leaned his back against Steve’s cigar case. He gestured towards the men standing on the opposite side of the room. “The Vigilance Committee is made up of the six individual mine owners plus Mr. Keith, Mr. Rohl and Dr. Mendoza. The missing member is Steve Somerset.”

“Steve was on the Vigilance Committee?” Lydia asked.

Quincey nodded. “Not only was he ON the Vigilance Committee; he was the head of it.”

Lydia’s poker face disappeared as she stared at Quincey in disbelief. “That was never in any of my reports.”

“A lot of things weren’t in your reports,” Quincey said. “A lot of disinformation was sent your way. The people here didn’t want the Directorate to know what was really going on.”

“And what is really going on?” Lydia asked.

“This whole thing began some 60-years ago,” Quincey said. “Steve was operating as a commerce raider under your direction. You were having him disrupt the shipments of various supplies in Conglomerate space in order to give the Directorate an edge in some business negotiations. On his last mission, he ran into a little more than he bargained for. Someone on the Conglomerate side second guessed you and sent three pursuit ships into the area where you ordered Steve to make his raid. His ship was shot up pretty badly but he managed to escape. On this side of the Directorate line, he put into the station where Huntington, here, was minding the store.”

“That’s right,” Huntington said. “He put in for repairs, paid me for my silence and left.”

“What happened after Steve left?” Quincey asked.

“A day or so later, three Conglomerate pursuit ships appeared in geostationary orbit right over my head.”

“What did you tell them?” Lydia asked.

“The truth,” Huntington said.“There was no way I could lie. Somerset’s engine signature was still all over the place. They knew approximately when he arrived and about how long he stayed and the general direction he headed when he left. I gave them all the information I had and they headed out after him.”

“Why didn’t they destroy you?” Lydia asked.

“They never told me. But I figured the last thing they wanted was a Directorate response team chasing them down on our side of the line,” Huntington said. “If they attacked us, the First Space Cavalry would have been ordered to intercept them. As it was, all I could report was that three Conglomerate pursuit ships were chasing a raider. As long as they didn’t attack me, no one back on Earth Prime was going to get too worked up over the loss of one commerce raider.”

“Mrs. Lehman, why don’t you tell us what happened next,” Quincey said.

“How should I know,” Mrs. Lehman said.

“Because you were there,” Quincey said.

“How could I be?”

“When Mr. Salem and I first spoke with you after Steve’s death, I asked you how long you had known him. Harry, tell me what she said?”

“She said, ‘Been on this planet 18 some years and last night was the first time I ever had call to talk to the man.’”

“That was a nice piece of misdirection. It was the absolute truth. In your 18 years on the planet, you had never talked to Steve Somerset. But what about before? So let me rephrase the question. Before you arrived on Magnum-4, did you know Steve Somerset?”

Karen Lehman looked around the room. Harry thought he saw Mr. Keith give a little nod. Mrs. Lehman threw her shoulders back. “I was his navigator on the MYRMIDON.”

“The MYRMIDON?” Harry asked.

“That was the name of our commerce raider,” Mrs. Lehman explained.

“But that would make you over 100 years old,” Harry said.

“135 to be exact,” Karen Lehman said.

“In order for their plan to work, they’ve all had at least one Youth Treatment,” Quincey said. “Only when Mrs. Lehman had hers, instead of asking to be reborn as a good-looking woman with the remanufactured body of a 20 year old, she asked to be turned into a frumpy woman who no one would look at twice. Then, she came out here and, things being the way they are on a mining planet that is mostly populated by males, Mr. Lehman fell in love with her and married her. They had two children, a son and a daughter...”

“Allyson’s black hair and blue eyes,” Harry broke in. “Recessive genes coming to the surface because of the mother’s genetic manipulation during the Youth Treatment.”

“Exactly,” Quincey said. “So, Mrs. Lehman why don’t you tell us what happened after you left Huntington.”

Karen Lehman looked around the room and then with a sigh of resignation said, “We knew that we were being followed by three Conglomerate ships. They were smaller and slightly faster than we were. We had already given each other a good going over on the Conglomerate side of the line. One on one, they would have been no match for us. We out gunned them. But three together? Steve figured that we could get two before the third got us. However, dying was not part of his plan. So we inflicted as much damage as we could and then crossed back into Directorate space. They followed us across the line. Steve knew an isolated little spot where we could make emergency repairs. Once done, we headed out into the uncharted territories. We discovered this huge void with one lonely star about a third of the way across. We figured that if we could reach that star, maybe we could hide behind it. It was a gamble. The pursuit ships were still following us but we hoped that they wouldn’t follow us into such an empty expanse so far from their home. I was taking a reading on the star when I noticed a slight wobble indicating a planet. Steve jumped for it.

"When we got here, we found this place. It didn’t take us long to realize that this place was utterly unique in the whole of the explored galaxy. That’s when Steve concocted his plan to mine it. There was more than enough wealth for everyone for as many life times as we wanted. Our immediate problem was the Conglomerate ships. We couldn’t shake them, so Steve decided to invite them to join us.”

“And they agreed?” Lydia asked.

“Why not. Why work for a pittance when, with a little effort, you could become the richest men in the galaxy after a Youth Treatment or two?”

Quincey looked over at Lydia. “You’ve been played. May I introduce to you the Captains and First Officers of the Conglomerate chase ships. You already know them as Seth Thomas, Ethan Allen, Cotton Mather, Thomas Bradshaw, Nathaniel Green, and Albert Harlas, the owners of mines one through six.”

“Wait a second,” Turgenev said. He turned to Harlas. “You’re Conglomerate?”

“Was,” Harlas answered.

“But our deal....?”

“Was dead in space before it ever got off the ground,” Quincey said. “Turgenev, you’re second generation. These men brought you out here to keep their workers happy. There was no way they were going to let you take over. When you started to flex your muscles, they brought you on to the Vigilance Committee in order to keep a closer eye on you. They wanted you to think that you were getting on the inside when in reality all they wanted to do was find out what you were planning. Everything was rolling along smoothly until you hired Huntington and sent him out to Mine-6 to have a talk with Harlas.”

“Yeah, you can imagine my shock when I came face to face with one of the Conglomerate pursuit ship captains that I thought was going to kill me all those years ago,” Huntington said.

“You were surprised? Can you imagine how I felt?” Harlas asked. “Chasing a commerce raider, we follow him to a way-station on a planet in an isolated section of the galaxy and then sixty years later, from all the terraformed planets and moons in all the explored galaxy, the leader of the team on that way-station steps into my office and recognizes me. You can’t even compute those odds.” He turned to Huntington. “I was surprised you remembered me.”

“Let’s see... you interrogated me for nearly 24 hours, inflicted a serious amount of physical pain while threatening to remove various body parts... of course, I remembered you.”

“And you kept up the deception all these years?” Lydia asked directing her question to the mine owners in general.

“They didn’t have a choice,” Jane said before any one of them could answer. She stood up and walked over to Quincey. “Excuse me.” Quincey moved aside. Jane opened the cigar case. She took off the necklace that her father had given her and inserted the narrow end of the pendant into one of the interior designs. “It’s called a ‘key’,” she said. “It’s archaic but no one, today, would think of a mechanical lock accessed by such a device.” She opened a hidden shelf and removed a notebook. “My father told me that if anything ever happened to him, I was to get this book and read it. Well, something happened to him and the other night while you and Harry were sleeping, Lydia, I came down here.

“It’s all here,” she continued. “It’s a will of sorts in diary form. It explains his decision to make a stand here. After all, there was no other place to run. Father decided to tell the Conglomerate pursuit ships what he found. Since it was too far outside of their home space to be of any use to them without him, he suggested that they form their own business enterprise and run it the way he ran his commerce raider. Every man was to get an equal share of the bounty. There was enough red-ore, here, to insure that no one would want for anything. All anyone had to do was ask... from the mine ‘owner’ on down.

“Father noticed with his raider that as long as everyone got an equal share there was no fighting over the spoils. He thought that if he could eliminate greed and envy, he could construct a near perfect society where, as long as you did your job, you were rewarded with wealth beyond your wildest imaginations. They founded Magnum-4 with only two basic rules: if you didn’t work; you didn’t eat and if tried to take advantage of the others or tried to beat the system, you would feel the wrath of the Vigilance Committee. It’s all there in my father’s own handwriting.” She handed the book to Lydia.

“How did you get on to us?” Seth Thomas asked Quincey as Lydia thumbed through the book.

“Harry told me what Huntington told him on board the ORION’S STAR. I already knew that Steve had been running from someone before he disappeared as a commerce raider and reappeared living in luxury on an isolated planet in the outer reaches of explored space but I didn’t know who. I was specifically brought in to keep you mine owners in line and protect his interests. I’ve always wondered why there were adversarial feelings between the six of you and him. Mr. Keith, here, has always been a Somerset supporter as has Mr. Rohl and instead of going through the mines with his personal orders, Steve filed his requests through the Lehman firm.

“As part of the investigation, I checked into Mrs. Lehman’s personal history. She didn’t quite fit the profile of the kind of odd-man-out type of characters that seemed to gravitate to Magnum-4. So I stopped by Keith’s office after Huntington told me about Harlas and checked all of your records. The same thing that was true of her background was also true of yours. Everything prior to your coming here as heads of the various mining operations was pretty thin. Steve was planning something that might have given any one of you reason to kill him. When Huntington told me who Harlas was, everything fell into place. Including the attack on Harry when he tried to retrieve Steve’s log book from Emerson-5.”

“What did that have to do with this?” Harry asked.

“These men were terrified that someone would find out who they really were. It was all in Steve’s log. They kept a man on constant watch should anyone try to get it. I’m guessing Steve wanted it because it probably listed several asteroids that he could have used on that other clandestine adventure he was planning.” He turned to the mine owners. “I don’t know which one of you has it, but since it no longer matters because we already know who you are, just have someone drop it on Jane’s doorstep. Don’t make me come looking for it.

“Now, if Mrs. Lehman, here, was Steve’s navigator, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Keith and Rohl were his First and Second Officers.” He turned to the two men who were standing off to the side.

“I was his Field Operations Officer,” Keith said. “Rohl, here, was his Chief Engineer. Our XO was killed in our initial engagement with the Conglomerate pursuit ships.”

“The question, now, is what do you intend to do about it?” Seth Thomas asked.

“Nothing,” Quincey answered.

“Then, what was this for?” Turgenev asked.

“To keep you from getting killed,” Quincey said.

“ME?”

“Yes, you.”Quincey walked up to Turgenev. “Don’t you get it. You’re the odd man out. You thought you could use whatever information you’ve been gathering to hold over the heads of these men to take over Steve’s position on this planet. You thought you could play one mine owner off against the other. But can’t you see... they’re a team. They always have been. Even Steve knew enough not to go up against them with only one ship.”

“But Somerset is dead,” Turgenev said.

“Steve is. However, Jane looks very much alive to me,” Quincey said. “I haven’t heard her say that she was willing to give up her father’s position.”

“I don’t intend to,” Jane said.

“So it’s business as usual?” Thomas asked.

“Do any of you want to shake things up?” Quincey asked. “It seems to me that things have been working out very well for all concerned. None of you want for anything. And I have the feeling that if you stick around, before your next Youth Treatment, you could find yourselves in an even more unique and enviable position than you are now.”

“What do you know that we don’t?” Thomas asked.

“Maybe you should talk to Lydia when we’re through here,” Quincey said.

“You mean we’re not through?” Thomas asked.

“We still have the murders to take care of,” Quincey said. “Harry... why don’t you tell them what you’ve discovered.”

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