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The Rats, the Bats & the Ugly: Chapter Twenty Five

       Last updated: Wednesday, August 4, 2004 23:15 EDT



Inside the Office of the Colony's Chief Scientist, in the remaining frontal section of what was once a mile-long sub-lightspeed spaceship. It is here that the technical heart of the colony still beats, using equipment brought from Earth. This is adjacent to HARIT, the Colony's leading technical university.

    "Dr. Wei, understand this clearly," said Sanjay Devi. "You did not see Dr. Evans killed. You have amnesia about the entire incident."

    The small, plump oriental man shook his head, stubbornly. "She was murdered. I saw it happen. The Korozhet killed her, Dr. Sanjay, and nothing you can say will stop me telling everyone I can. You would have to kill me first."

    "You damn fool!" snapped Liepsich. "That's exactly what they're planning to do. We're trying to keep you alive."

    The biologist blinked, and shook his head. "This is a free country," he said, stubbornly. "It's not right that her murderers should get away with this."

    "At the moment," said Liepsich slowly, "the Korozhet blame the murder on your hairy four-armed 'guest,' which they call a Jampad, and claim that it has projective telepathic capabilities. I don't necessarily believe that, but how can we be sure?"

    Wei snorted angrily. "Why would a projective telepath be unable to give us a clue to what it wanted to eat? Look, Dr. Liepsich. Dr. Devi. My work is dietary requirements. I've watched literally hundreds of animals 'selecting' foods. We brought everything we thought an arboreal brachiating creature could fancy—from meat to fruits, bark, nuts. I know. Wrong planet, wrong biology. But without being too intrusive, we had established that it was a carbon-based kilotherm, with a hemoglobin based circulatory system. The proteins from the wound dressing we examined were familiar, at least to some extent. Compared to the Magh', or even the Korozhet, that thing was our first cousin. We had to be cautious not to offend a sentient alien by treating it like a lab animal. We thought that we might get some feedback. As a joke I put some prawns from lab three in there. I've seen animals react to food stimuli. When it saw those, I knew we'd found something which is similar to whatever it eats. Its dentition, Mari-Lou said, confirmed it was like our piscivores. And now you're telling me that a creature which is a good enough projective telepath to fake that scene in the passage couldn't even tell us what it needed to eat!"

    "We don't doubt you," said Sanjay Devi. "Or at least, I don't. Nonetheless, the official story is going to be allowed to stand." She glared at the Chinese scientist. "I am still the colony's Chief Scientist, Wei. It's a ship-board rank they decided to perpetuate to keep me quiet and sweet. As such, in time of war, I have formal authority over all scientific personnel in this colony. If need be, I'll pack you off to a moribund research station in the arctic regions, with a year's fuel and dry rations. Today, if need be. We're trying to deal with this situation. Having you yelling your head off about Mari-Lou Evans being murdered by the Korozhet would complicate things immensely."

    "You mean you're going to let them get away with this?" he demanded, incredulously.

    Liepsich heaved himself up from his chair. "I've been patient and polite for long enough, Wei. If I hadn't seen your IQ scores, I'd think you were a moron. Now I wonder if that gas left you brain-damaged. Haven't you heard a word Sanjay said? If you open your big yap we're all dead and so is research into—“ He ground his teeth. "Look, Wei. Let's say you want to neutralize a powerful acid, and all you have is a bucket of water. Do you pour water into the acid or acid into the water?"

    Wei was equally aggressive now. "Don't speak to me like that!"

    "Answer his question, please, Dr. Wei," said Sanjay pacifically. "You know what Liepsich is like. Impossible. But clever."

    Wei grimaced. Liepsich's rudeness was legendary. So was his ability as a scientist. "Acid into water, of course," he said sourly. "Every first-year undergraduate knows that."

    Dr. Liepsich put his hands on his hips. "You, and I, and everyone here are water. You, at the moment, are wanting to jump into the acid. And we are trying to persuade you, by brute force if need be, that that will get you killed and the rest of us burned with acid. We've got to bring the acid out and slowly, gradually, add it to the water. And we need more water. That's what I've been working on for nearly two years now. That's why I didn't even raise more than a token squall when the Korozhet loaded up all my newly-acquired Magh' equipment. Because there is a time to squall. And a time to sit tight."

    "You gave them all your new material?" asked Wei, incredulous despite the circumstances. Liepsich had a reputation for clinging, limpet-like, to the smallest scraps of research material.

    Liepsich nodded gloomily. "Everything we had in the lab."

    Wei shook his head. "Everything?"

    "Everything they could find," said Liepsich, with saintly earnestness. "They said it was booby-trapped. They would have to explode the traps. But they did promise to return what was left afterwards. Oddly enough, I haven't seen so much as a scrap."

    Dr. Wei bit his lip. "It's still not the honorable and right thing to do, acting as if they had done nothing."

    "As one of Mari-Lou's closest friends, and a fellow thespian for many years, that is what she would have wanted you to do, Dr. Wei," said Sanjay. "We are all just players, of a kind. And the play is the thing..."

    Her brown eyes were suddenly brimming with tears.

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