Khuminay and the Axe-Wielding Psycho
I never thought I would be a political issue, Khuminay thought.
Khuminay was a Minggi, a humanoid with beige-colored fur, a dark brown mane, and a brown tuft of hair at the tip of his tail. He wore red robes and golden jewelry. His ten-foot height forced him to crouch down in the back of the aircab.
Supposedly everything on CenterPort was "scaled up" to accommodate the taller races, but "scaled up" didn't seem to mean much in an environment built by the HeetenGrootLidta, who averaged half Khuminay's height.
The aircab's previous passenger had left the VV on. Khuminay had been about to switch it off when he heard his name mentioned.
On the screen, a male HeetenGrootLidta - short and squat, with a head wider than it was long and skin white with streaks of yellow, sat behind a tremendous desk of laser-carved rose quartz.
"CBC spoke with the Minister of Justice, Durc-Fanta-Deffulura, in his office. Minister, with the likelihood that the Nationalist Party will regain a majority in the upcoming elections, do you plan to retain the Minggi, Khuminay, in his present position?"
The tip of the Minister's nose lifted - a HeetenGrootLidta smile. "Detective Inspector Khuminay is a perfectly competent law enforcement officer. As long as he performs his duties adequately, there is no way I can dismiss him - certainly not for political reasons."
Adequately, Khuminay thought, amused.
The reporter said, "It was Khuminay who released the human serial murderer, Phil Pribanic, to his own race, rather than let CenterPort justice take its course."
"That was a matter of political... ah... politeness. The humans had outstanding charges against Pribanic as well, and in any case, he suffered the same punishment we would have given him: personality overlay. That's as good as execution."
"And it was under Khuminay that the Yenyan murderer, Rem hu Roffika, escaped custody. Some say that happened with Khuminay's connivance."
"There has never been any proof of that," the minister said.
Ah, not very supportive of you, Minister, Khuminay thought. Of course, there's no reason for you to believe I'm innocent. Especially since I'm not.
Rem hu Roffika's killing of his employer, Cloor ta Roffika, had been an accident. But there was no way Khuminay could prove it, so he had reconciled his conscience with his duty by arranging for the Yenyan to 'escape.'
"Elections are in three days," the reporter said. "If, as most simulations predict, the Nationalist Party wins a majority, will you consider terminating Khuminay so a more experienced and reliable HeetenGrootLidta can take his place?"
"Let me make my position clear," the minister said. "Unless something happens to show that Khuminay is unreliable, I have no legal grounds to dismiss him."
Not much chance of that happening in three days.
The aircab said, "Sir, we have arrived at our destination."
Khuminay switched off the VV. "Thank you."
Khuminay stood watching the airlock doors slide open. The alien craft was big, so big they'd had to use one of the largest bays, Bay 77.
It looked like only part of a spaceship: just a disk with four immensely long poles jutting out from what Khuminay presumed was the back end. The poles were shiny and perfect close to the disk, splintered and twisted further away.
As he watched, a square blue platform hovered up to a wide set of doors in the ship. The doors opened. Short, massive humanoids with gleaming, silvery skin came out: HeetenGrootLidta robots. The robots carried stretchers bearing more humanoids concealed in protective envelopes.
A HeetenGrootLidta in the white overalls of a CenterPort medic crossed the line into the docking bay. "There are beds waiting for them in Ward 46 of CenterPort Trauma Hospital. Take them there at once. Feed all medical records so far into the CTH database."
"Records have been transmitted," one of the robots said.
"Excuse me," Khuminay said.
The medic turned and walked up to him. "Ah, the famous Minggi."
"I am Detective Inspector Khuminay. Please, why was I called down here? I understand a damaged vessel was found in space with injured crew or passengers. I am glad CenterPort rendered assistance so quickly and efficiently. I understand none of the victims has died. But how does this affect security? I am a security officer; I know little of medicine."
"I called for you because a crime was involved."
"Come!" The medic walked toward the alien ship, motioning Khuminay to follow.
He did so, mystified.
Most of the robot stretcher-bearers had left. The medic stopped the last pair and turned to Khuminay. "Look here." He reached to open one of the body envelopes.
One of the robots grabbed his wrist. "Excuse me for interfering. This being is now in an atmosphere simulating that found in its vehicle. The atmosphere in this part of CenterPort is not an exact match. There is danger to the patient."
"Do you know who I am?"
"You are Tarn-Garrekt-Ennosifta of CenterPort Trauma
Hospital. Excuse me for interfering. This being is now-"
"I have authority to override you."
"-sphere simulating that found-"
"As a physician I am better qualified to judge the danger than you, and in my estimation the danger is low. I override. Let go of me."
The robot removed its hand.
"A nice bit of programming," Khuminay said.
"That's something I'm good at. One has to be in a place like this, stupid AIs here, stupid robots there. Here now, look." The medic unzipped the body envelope. There was a loud blurt and a sigh of escaping air. Khuminay felt a wave of coldness. He smelled something that reminded him of snow.
The medic grasped the top part of the envelope and pulled it down to show the thin, naked humanoid within. It had dull, blue-gray skin, closed eyes near the top of its face, four vertical slits for a nose, a small mouth. One long ear curved all the way down its head on each side. Khuminay didn't recognize the species.
The medic widened the opening in the tent. The creature's left wrist ended in a stump covered with HeetenGrootLidta medical machinery. "You see that?" He unrolled more of the covering. "And that?" The creature's other hand was also missing.
"Some sort of accident?" Khuminay asked. "Falling machinery, a closing door?"
"There was only one being in that ship with both hands. He was carrying a rather large axe, perhaps on board as fire equipment, perhaps with some decorative or ceremonial function. There were seven others on board that ship, and this one apparently chopped all their hands off, then jettisoned them. Jettisoned the hands, I mean. At least, we did not find them on the ship. The other crew members ran and took refuge in closed rooms under beds. He sought out each one and chopped its hands off, then dragged them into some sort of freezer room or meat locker. Then the lighting failed, which perhaps prevented him from chopping off their heads as well."
"A gruesome crime. Was it necessary to bring me here to see this, rather than simply filing a security report?"
The medic was sweating. "I wanted you to see the effect of the crime."
"We can analyze the genetic structure of these creatures. No doubt we will learn how to grow new hands for them, as we would for one of ourselves with such an injury. That might make it seem to you like this crime was an essentially trivial act; the perpetrator perhaps not so bad a person." His expression was now openly challenging.
"I am insulted that you think so. I do not take such an act lightly."
"Don't you? You are famous for letting murderers go. The human serial murderer you gave back to the humans. The Yenyan killer who escaped - as some believe, with your help."
"That was my failure, yes. But I note that that killer has never resurfaced, and most likely has never again committed a crime."
"You care too much for killers and not enough for victims. Look. Look." The medic manipulated the circuitry covering one of the patient's wrists. It lifted partway off, showing the raw meat beneath, the temporary tubes grafted to blood vessels. "This is what that maniac did to these people."
"I will take charge of the prisoner and I will see that justice is done. I will remain impartial, as is my duty."
"I've done what I could." The medic replaced the wrist covering; began to reseal the body envelope.
"You have done more than you had to," Khuminay said. Let him take that any way he wanted.
The medic looked up at the ship. "They're taking him out now."
Khuminay looked up to see more robots escorting a figure from the wrecked ship, holding him by each bicep. His heart sank.
When Khuminay got back to the Justice Ministry, he visited the perpetrator in his cell. He knew the building AI would record the conversation, so he didn't bother taking his Pad.
In theory he should have gone in armed and made sure the prisoner was restrained. But even if the man attacked him, Khuminay didn't think he'd be in danger from a comparatively tiny human.
Khuminay entered the cell and sat down on the floor so their faces would be roughly on the same level. The man looked at him. The door swung shut and latched quietly into
place, changing from clear to translucent pink to show it was locked.
"All right," Khuminay said. "Tell me what happened."
"Happened is as happened does," the human said. He was young, pale of skin, with a dark mane, and stubble on his lower face. His build was thin and unimpressive. He wore an orange flight suit and slippers. "Happiness is a warm puppy."
Khuminay frowned. The last word hadn't been translated. "System, what is a... puppy?"
The building AI said, "A 'puppy' or 'pup' is an English word for a juvenile dog, a 'dog' being a pack carnivore native to Earth which is often kept as a pet. Slang usage in some dialects denotes young humans when they show ignorance or disrespect."
"What do puppies have to do with this?" Khuminay asked the human. "Were the other astronauts disrespectful to you?"
"Respect, respectful. Everyone shows me great respect and I am a very respectful person, respectively. Respectfully yours, Richard H. Marble."
"Why are you talking like that? Are you ill?"
"Richard has schizophrenia. Schizophrenia has Richard."
"System," Khuminay said. "What does that word, the long word, mean?"
"'Schizophrenia' is an organic brain disorder of humans resulting from a defective suite of polygenic inheritance. Onset is usually in adolescence and is characterized by hallucinations, usually auditory in nature, delusions, and inappropriate affect and behavior. Schizophrenia is now rare on Earth due to retroviral gene therapy. It still occurs on some human colonies and space habitats, but even there is usually controllable with pharmaceuticals, therapy, and supervision."
"Does the prisoner have skitz... skitza... does the prisoner have this defect?"
"The probability is high but diagnosis cannot be certain without medical evaluation."
"I see," Khuminay said. That was as good an explanation as any - the human had attacked his shipmates because he was insane. And therefore not culpable.
"I see, and I take ten ccs of metaclozaril," the human said. "The metaclozaril ran out after the accident. Our module ran away. We ran a tough race, but I'm not a racist."
"Your medicine ran out," Khuminay said, "and your symptoms revived, and you mutilated your shipmates - is that correct?"
"Correct. Now I am subject to correction in the House of Corrections."
"You did chop off your shipmates' hands? You remember doing that?"
The human began to weep. "I'm the Green River Killer and the Zodiac Killer. I'm also Jack the Ripper and Baron Gilles de Rais, but I'm not Countess Erszebet Bathory, because she was a woman. She bathed in blood. I bathed in blood, the blood from the hands. I chopped off all the hands. It was a hand-off, like in football. I foot the bill. I'm born-again and my sins are forgiven. I'm washed in the blood of the Lamb."
"Thank you for talking to me," Khuminay said. He got up carefully, avoiding the low ceiling. "I will have food sent in for you."
"'Feed my sheep,' Jesus told Peter. Peter was sheepish."
"You will be all right by yourself?"
"You're right that I'll be all right. Right as rain. It rarely rains in the desert. The rain is reined in."
"System, watch this prisoner to see he does not hurt himself."
"That is standard operating procedure," the system said.
Khuminay wanted to go home. He told his secretary program to close up the office. He called for an aircab and went out to catch it.
A ring of beings marched around in a circle right outside the main entrance. In addition to the municipal night lighting, they had brought hovering lamps of their own.
Most were HeetenGrootLidta, but Khuminay also saw two willowy Feffinesta, and one of a species he'd never seen before, squat and fat and covered with red-gold scales. Each had a window floating above his, her or its head with a short phrasewritten in it. As with all such signs on CenterPort, the reader saw his, her or its own language. Khuminay saw Minggi printing.
One sign said, MORE JUSTICE, LESS MERCY!
Another: STOP CODDLING CRIMINALS!
And: FIRE THE MINGGI!
Khuminay growled and walked into the door, which disappeared. "Move aside!"
The protestors stopped marching and stood still, looking at him. A HeetenGrootLidta said, "CenterPort Law 116-954 protects the right of peaceable public assembly!"
"So it does. But it does not protect blocking public thoroughfares. People come to these offices for help ten decads a day and you are blocking access. Now move out into the parking lot and leave plenty of room for people to get in and out of the building, or I shall arrest the lot of you!"
At that, the protestors all sat down or squatted where they were. "We're not moving," the leader said.
"Very well," Khuminay said. He grabbed the being by the shoulders and lifted him into the air.
The HeetenGrootLidta screamed.
"What?" Khuminay said. "Have I harmed you?"
"You're squeezing me to death! You're a violent, out-of-control rogue police officer."
Khuminay was dumbstruck. The protestors were all looking at him. Just then he noticed news cameras, book-sized, self-mobile boxes, hovering amid the lamps. They clicked and whirred, taking still photographs and recording the scene on video.
"You're a liar," Khuminay said. "I'm not hurting you in any way whatever." He took the being into the building (the picket sign disappeared as his captive passed through the doorway) and deposited him in a holding cell. Then he went back for the next one. There were fifteen in all, and every one screamed or shrieked or insisted Khuminay was hurting them.
When he had deposited the last one, he told his secretary, "Process them. The charges are blocking access and resisting arrest."
"Release them at random intervals between one quarter and one half decad apart."
Khuminay went into his apartment. "There is an urgent call from the Minister of Justice," the apartment said.
"Is this day never to end? Pick up!"
A window opened showing Khuminay's boss. "This is Durc-Fanta-Deffulura. Khuminay, I'm sorry to call you at this hour. Report to my office at once, please."
Khuminay stood in front of the enormous desk of rose quartz, feeling strangely small even though he was twice the size of the seated Minister.
"Khuminay, what are we going to do with you? Don't you know a set-up when you see it?"
The Minister sighed. "Sit down. Watch."
A chair rose up behind Khuminay. He cautiously sat down in it, curling his tail around his waist. The chair and the Minister's chair rotated so they faced the same way. A view window appeared on the wall to that side. "System, play back the article about the wreck."
The familiar face of Ranc-Hilly-Muntinuma, CBC's news anchorman, came on. "At five point five this afternoon, CenterPort SpaceWatch picked up a repeating signal from an object traveling just under the speed of light. An emergency rescue crew was sent out to recover it."
Cut to a view of space, with the disk Khuminay had seen earlier growing in the distance. "The object turned out to be part of a starship torn loose during an explosion or accident of some kind. Eight intelligent beings were found on board, and seven of them, all of a previously unknown species-"
"Unknown?" Khuminay asked.
"Their species hasn't been identified yet. Keep watching."
"-hands missing, separated from their arms by the impact of a sharp object." The screen showed the bloody axe. "This fire-axe or ceremonial axe was found near the eighth inhabitant of the unlucky craft - a human from Earth - in circumstances indicating he had violently attacked the other beings."
The anchorman shook his head. "Such horrible violence is typical of the Dawn Age species. This is just one more example of the ugly results of letting Probationary members of the Galactic Club infiltrate their primitive citizens into Galactic Club settings-"
"He makes no effort to be objective," Khuminay said.
"He's not supposed to," the minister said. "CBC is a Nationalist Party organ, you know that."
"Actually, I did not know that."
"You must be the only person on CenterPort who doesn't."
"I don't watch much VV."
"Perhaps you should."
The news broadcast now showed Khuminay confronting the demonstrators. "The Young Nationalists for Justice are filing suit against the Minggi for false arrest and assault. When will this erratic alien be dismissed and a competent HeetenGrootLidta be put into his place? This reporter, like the thoughtful viewer, would like to know the answer."
The screen went blank. The chairs rotated so Khuminay and the Minister faced each other.
"You fell right into their trap, Khuminay. Why didn't you have security robots arrest those dupes instead of doing it yourself? You came across as hostile and overzealous."
"The entryway was blocked. I am a law enforcement officer. I did my duty."
"Khuminay... Nobody knows what the story is with this bizarre mutilation incident. But the Nationalist Party was waiting for something like this to come along to bring up your alleged soft attitude toward criminals. At the same time, you treat legitimate protestors overzealously."
"I acted within the law."
"Yes, but you were thinking as a police officer and not as a politician. I can't fault you for that, obviously, but I am a politician and I have to think of these things." The Minister put his hands together. "At three point zero tomorrow you will hold a press conference to inform the public about the progress of the investigation. You will mention that the perpetrator is securely held and that he will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
"He may not be competent enough to be culpable. He has an organic brain disease, skitz... skitza..."
"It's irrelevant what he has. You know and I know that a judicial AI will take all that into account. You will simply announce what I tell you to announce."
"But I would be lying."
"Sometimes lies are necessary to lubricate the wheels of society."
Khuminay sighed and looked up at the ceiling.
"You are dismissed, Khuminay."
Khuminay looked back at him. "Sir, to lie, where a lie is not absolutely necessary, would compromise my personal honor."
"And which is more important to you, Khuminay? Your honor... or keeping your job?"
Khuminay blinked. "My honor, of course."
The Minister shook his head. "Three tomorrow, Khuminay. Be there."
Khuminay went home. There he took off all his clothing, folded it neatly and stacked it in a corner in his living room. Then he flopped down in the yellow carpet-grass with his back to the simulated tree trunk that was the room's main item of furniture. "Home, call my secretary, please."
A window opened up in mid-air, centered on the face of a female Minggi, Khuminay's secretary program. "Noble Lord?"
Khuminay described the mutilation case. "The whole thing bothers me. Since the CenterPort Killer, humans have had a bad reputation. Yet these aliens hire one, and not only that, they hire a mentally unstable one."
"The species of the victims is unidentified. Possibly they are unfamiliar with humans."
"I don't believe in unknown species."
"Contrary to popular belief, there are many unknown species in the galaxy. Colonizer species hiding in ark fleets speciate and new species achieve intelligence on devastated worlds. The number of known and registered free habitats in the galaxy is approximately 16 million, but estimates in the literature of the number unknown and unregistered range up to 1.3 billion. There is considerable uncertainty involved."
"Still, this case feels wrong." Khuminay shook his head. "I wonder if we have translation yet. Check that for me."
"Please be more specific, Noble Lord."
"The mutilated aliens who were brought in from the wrecked spaceship: Do we have translation yet? Can we talk to the victims?"
"No translation logic has been found for the species in question, Lord."
"But it's been decads already! That's an eternity of processing time!"
"The victims completed check-in at eight point two last night and elapsed time since then is two point five decads."
Khuminay sighed. "No translation, after an eternity of processing time. Without that, we cannot interview the victims. The perpetrator is psychotic. We have no records from the wrecked spaceship, or partial spaceship. I suppose they will have to work out translation from scratch." He sighed and stretched his arms in the air above his head. "Is it possible to locate some professional linguist, some expert with the knowledge of... Oh."
"Please be more specific, Noble Lord."
"I have an expert," Khuminay said. "There is one person currently on CenterPort who knows more than anyone else about the alien patients." Khuminay sat up and sprang to his feet in one fluid motion. He went to his clothing and hastily began to dress again. "Tomorrow I have orders to give a false report at a press conference. If I can learn more tonight, I may be able to avoid that."
Khuminay went into Richard Marble's cell again. "Mister Marble. Forgive me for waking you. May we speak? It is rather urgent."
The human thrashed in bed, opened his eyes, gasped at
Khuminay. "Don't hit me!"
"I will not hit you, I assure you. I only want to talk."
"Everyone hates Richard. He's an awful person."
"I do not hate you. Will you answer some questions?"
"People are taking thoughts from my brain all the time. Why not just suck the thoughts out of my brain? Like the rain in Spain!"
"I would need a psychic probe for that, and I would rather have your cooperation. Please. I only wish to ask a few questions."
"Richard wants to cooperate. He's a very good person."
"No doubt. Now, about the people who hired you. Can you speak their language?"
"The Pantinu are Pantastic. They say 'Iliu spetta nar' and 'hap tenkas, Richard-silla'."
"Pantinu is their name?"
"Pantinu, from Pantin. They hired Richard because he's such a good person. They don't know how awful he is. They said, 'awww,' because he's so awful. They're in awe of him."
A window opened with the face of Khuminay's secretary
program. "Note: That name is known."
Khuminay looked at her. "What?"
"The name 'Pantinu' is the collective-form for the species inhabiting two planets and at least 19 space habitats in the Perseus Arm. Their major language is known as kayo-Pantinef, and combines an artificially regularized inflection system with tonal-"
"Their language is known?" Khuminay said.
"Yes, Noble Lord."
"But you told me no translation logic existed!"
"That is not correct. I stated that no translation logic had been found."
"Can we talk to them, or can't we?"
"Not at present."
"You make no sense! Look, place a call to one of them. The first one found awake."
"Dialing. The CTH AI has picked up. It reports that no patients identified as Pantinu are present."
"The patients that were brought in today! The mutilation victims from the wrecked spacecraft!"
"The CTH AI reports that the species of the patients specified is unknown, and that no translation is available for their speech."
"System, do you know Pantinu?"
"If you are referring to the language, kayo-Pantinef, I can translate speech to and from Minggi."
Khuminay bared his teeth in a wide grin. "You mean it's only the CTH AI that doesn't know about Pantinu!"
"That is a logical conclusion."
"A bug...? But why that particular bug? Or is it deliberate sabotage?"
"The sabotage of translation for hospital patients in acute care is a felony under CenterPort law. If you suspect such a crime has taken place, Noble Lord, it is your duty to investigate."
"But why? Why? What's the motive?"
"Medicine. Mutilation. Translation. It's all connected somehow. Let me think." Khuminay held his head.
"You can have some of my thoughts," the human said.
"The human chopped off their hands, then put the beings in the on-board freezer. Why?"
"Information on serial murder among Dawn-Age species suggests the possible motive of preservation for later cannibalism or necrophilic sexual contact. However, the crime in question appears to have been a mass mutilation, rather than part of the criminal career of a serial murderer, so this interpretation is, at best, tentative."
"What happens to a being when it gets cold? A large being, a sentient, an air breather."
"Physiological reactions usually include shivering or other involuntary physical activity to generate warmth, behavior to cover the self or retreat to warmer surroundings, peripheral vasoconstriction-"
"Do you see it? Do you see it now?"
"Please be more specific, Noble Lord."
"And I think I know why. Yes. I think I know why." He turned back to the human, who had watched the whole conversation, bewildered. "Mister Marble, will you come with me to visit your Pantinu friends in the hospital?"
"Note: Allowing the perpetrator of a crime of violence to have physical access to his/her victims is illegal except for identification purposes or other actions supporting a criminal investigation."
Khuminay nodded. "I know. That's what I intend. I think I understand what is happening here, secretary. Yes, I think I do."
Khuminay held his breath. He reached into the patient's darkened hospital room to flick the light-switch on. Then he let Richard Marble enter the room ahead of him, ready to grab the human if he made a threatening move toward the patient.
The blue-gray humanoid in the hospital bed opened his eyes and looked up as the human entered. His mouth opened wide.
Was that horror? Terror?
The patient stretched out his arms toward the human, the ends still covered in medical hardware where the hands should have been. The human went to the patient and bent down, embracing him.
"Richard is sorry," the human said. Tears dripped from his eyes.
"Iliu spetta nar, Richard-silla, firio renta nar, ya homen firio hotu nar. Richard-silla iliu ya eenem."
Khuminay followed the human into the patient's room. Now the patient registered unmistakable alarm. "This is the policeman," the human said. "He's the cat on the beat. He didn't beat me. I'd tell you his name, but he'd beat me to it."
"I am Khuminay." Khuminay raised an open hand, letting the patient know he wasn't threatening him. "System."
"Standing by," the hospital AI said.
"A question related to the diagnosis of this patient. Was there a qualitative difference in the wrists relative to the rest of the body - a difference other than that caused by the mutilation?"
"The patient's wrists were highest in disrupted cells and cellular lesions possibly of a precursor type to tumor growth."
"This disruption - what caused it? Not just the trauma, surely. A disease, a gas or liquid, some poison?"
"The patient's wrist lesions are consistent with exposure to neutron radiation."
"Neutrons!" Khuminay said. "Yes! That makes sense!" He turned to the human. "Mister Marble, I am going to take you back to your cell now."
"I have to go to the cell because I caused cellular damage?"
"You may not have to stay there long."
Khuminay stood in the hallway outside the apartment of the medic he had met at the docking bay. "Building, wake Doctor Tarn-Garrekt-Ennosifta, if he is asleep. This is a police investigation."
In a few minutes the medic opened the door. He was sleepy and naked and furious. "You again! Why are you harassing me?"
"I am not harassing you. I am arresting you. Get dressed first, if you like."
"Arresting me?" The medic's mouth worked soundlessly. "I... I haven't done anything wrong!"
"Remember, you claimed earlier today to be a good programmer. And as a medic at CenterPort Trauma Hospital, you have access to the CTH AI."
"Sabotaging computer translation for patients under acute care is a felony. I am charging you with seven counts of endangerment. And facilitating a false arrest, that is an eighth charge. And obstruction of justice, that is a ninth."
"No... I haven't - it wasn't me!"
" CenterPort's judicial AIs are very tough on sociopaths. You could be in line for personality overlay."
"I'm not a sociopath! I'm a patriot!"
Khuminay said nothing.
The medic blanched, realizing what he'd revealed. "No one has died!"
"Not yet," Khuminay said. "But consider the one or ones who gave you your orders. Faced with admitting to setting this plot in motion in the first place, and obliterating all traces of it by having you scapegoated as the only real criminal involved - which do you think they will choose? I ask your opinion, as one who is likely to know."
The medic waved his hands back and forth. "No, I, no, you can't... He wouldn't! Not me, surely! Would he?"
"The only thing that might save you now is some gesture of responsibility, late though it might be."
"But if I - if you think he - but if he'd do that, then he'll..." The medic shut his mouth and breathed in heavily through his nose. "If what you say is true, he will surely kill me if I talk."
"He'll kill you to prevent you from talking. Once you've talked and the information is public, you're safe. But stay quiet and he'll shut your mouth as soon as he can to make sure you never open it again."
"I... For gods' sakes, you have to protect me! It's not my fault! I'm a little man! Him! He made me do it!"
"I can protect you," Khuminay said. He began purring.
Khuminay sauntered into the ministry's press room. Robot cameras filled the air, and reporters and spectators filled the rows of seats.
Durc-Fanta-Deffulura, CenterPort's Minister of Justice, looked at Khuminay sadly. "Khuminay, I found out what you did last night. I can't imagine any reason for confronting those poor victims with their attacker. It was a highly irresponsible thing to do."
"I will just give my statement."
"You're terminated, Khuminay. I'm sorry, I really am, but under the circumstances I have no choice. Go home now, please."
"Termination takes time to process, Minister; you know it can't be done on the spur of the moment. And CenterPort Law 116-954 protects the right of free speech. I will just give my statement."
Khuminay turned to the audience. "Yesterday, a module from a damaged spacecraft or habitat was rescued by CenterPort Emergency Services. Seven aliens of a species called Pantinu were on board, all with hands chopped off by an eighth being, a human from Earth, by name Richard Henry Marble. In the absence of his usual medication, Mister Marble has reverted to a psychotic state. He is diagnosed with," and Khuminay pronounced the words carefully, "'paranoid schizophrenia.' This is an organic brain disorder characterized by audio hallucinations, impaired thinking, inappropriate affect and behavior, and delusions of persecution."
"And was it this state that caused the attack on the other beings?" a reporter asked.
"No," Khuminay said. "It was not. The amputations were the cause of his current psychotic break, not the symptom. At the time of the amputations, Mister Marble was still very much in control of himself. He performed a distasteful task very well, even though, being an essentially gentle and benign person, it repelled and frightened him."
The room buzzed with talk, the reporters and spectators conversing among themselves. "Are you going to tell us this mass mutilation was not a crime?" asked one.
"In the circumstances in which it took place, no, it was not," Khuminay said. "These particular people inhabit a fleet of slower-than-light interstellar habitats. They are so primitive, they still use nuclear reactions to generate municipal power. The disaster that damaged their vehicle was nuclear in nature. The module recovered by CenterPort Emergency Services was an engineering module; the beings on board nuclear fuel handlers. Richard H. Marble was on-board as an emergency medic. When the accident occurred, and the hands of the operators were contaminated, he performed emergency amputations, thus saving the lives of the personnel involved."
Khuminay waited for the roar of reaction to die down.
"Naturally, they were not eager to have the procedure performed. This race is very gentle; their culture such that it is very hard for them to take violent action, or suffer it, even when they understand the need intellectually. That was why, in case of such an accident, they deliberately hired a person from what they considered a violent, Dawn Age culture.
"But it looked like a crime. And certain elements in the Ministry of Justice thought it an ideal opportunity to have me dismissed - if only the real story could be concealed long enough for the public to become disgusted with my apparently criminal-coddling actions. To ensure its concealment, they had someone sabotage the translation logic at CenterPort Trauma Hospital, despite the possibility of endangering the very same victims they professed such concern over."
Half the reporters were frantically talking on their Pads, calling the news agencies which employed them.
"Fortunately," Khuminay said, and he waited until the reporters were listening again. "Fortunately, one of the conspirators has been captured and has done the socially responsible thing by revealing his partners in crime."
"Ha, well, how very interesting," the minister said. He was sweating heavily. He wiped his massive neck with a synthosilk kerchief. "It seems you won't have to be laid off after all. This individual, he's been talking, has he? You have an idea who hired him?"
"I do," Khuminay said. He gently took the minister's wrist, then took hold of the other and brought them together behind the man's back. A pair of glowing force-field handcuffs winked into place. "You are under arrest."