Friday, November 02, 2007
Trust & Treachery *NOT* a Story by Jane Austen
Here it is, boys and girls. Chapters five and six of the El Capitan/Phoenix writing project. Enjoy!

If you are catching this late, Chapters One and Two and Chapters Three and Four can be found at the links.

Trust & Treachery *NOT* a Story by Jane Austen

Chapter 5 by El Capitan

As the door slid shut after Jane Steele's departure, Major Creighton stepped over to the divan and extended the probes on his bioscanner. He glanced up as the door opened again, admitting Lord Wrenwroth.

"Please have a seat, Your Grace," said Creighton, concentrating on the streams of data crossing the pad's screen. "This won't take but a moment."

Lord Wrenroth perched upon the ottoman recently vacated by Sir Peters-Howe & Miss Fortson. He leaned back and watched Major Creighton, a sardonic look on his face.

Creighton slipped the scanner back in its belt pouch, then pulled out a small aerosol container. He quickly sprayed a fine mist over the divan, being careful to include a section of carpet directly in front of where Jane Steele had been seated. He then repeated the process on the body of Charlotte Brandon.

Finishing his task, Creighton sank into an overstuffed leather armchair facing Wrenroth. Digging inside his tunic, he withdrew a small pack of cheroots. Taking one between his teeth, he offered the pack to Wrenroth. On Wrenroth's refusal, he shrugged, snapped a lighter to the cheroot, and exhaled a wreath of smoke as he crossed his tall leather boots in front on him.

"So, what shall we discuss, Your Grace?" asked Creighton.

Lord Wrenroth chuckled and asked, "What in the name of Creation is iocaine powder? That one slipped by me in Biochem class."

Creighton's eyebrows arched in surprise. "Lady Steele didn't have time to share notes with you... I can assume there's an Extra Ear hiding in the room?"

"You can," replied Wrenroth. "Tucked in the cushions of the divan. It seemed the proper thing to do at the time."

"And you have the appropriate permits for that sort of device?" asked Major Creighton. "I doubt Lord Dunwoody would appreciate unwanted listeners in his private study. Duels have been fought over much less..."

By way of reply, Wrenroth leaned forward and extended his right hand. Flicking his thumb against a heavy gold signet ring slid back a concealed lens cover, and he brought the ring close to his face. A barely perceptible beam shone into his right eye, and reflected back into the ring. A second beam projected a small hologram in the air next to Wrenroth's face.

Creighton watched the holo of the retinal scan and a rapid printout of Lord Wrenroth's bona fides. It ID'ed Wrenroth as one of the Angels, elite investigators for the Ministry of Justice. They were known as Angels due to the simple reason that they could go anywhere, see and speak to anyone, and carried the power of the Kingdom to dispense as they saw fit.

This is starting to get way over my pay grade, thought Creighton. If possession of unlicensed Extra Ears incurred the displeasure of the authorities, falsely claiming to be an Angel would cost you your head, one small spoonful at a time. Wrenroth was who he claimed to be, without a doubt.

"Well, I suppose this takes you off the short list of suspects," said Creighton. "Will you be taking over the investigation?"

"Not at the moment, no." said Wrenroth. "Let's see where this takes you. I'd prefer to stay in the background if at all possible. Now, what's all this about iocaine powder?"

Creighton grinned as he took another pull on the small cigar. "I'm surprised you've never heard of it. It's derived from the same secret location where we harvest unobtainium, hush-a-boom, and upsidaisium!"

"Major, you've lost me. And I so dislike being lost..." said Wrenroth, his expression darkening.

"In short, Your Grace, I tossed a red herring at Lady Steele. Iocaine might indeed exist somewhere down on Io, but I pulled it from an old flat-dee comedyvid." explained Creighton. "I need her to think there's a murderer still lurking about."

"Because you thought the killer was myself, and she was innocent?" asked Wrenroth.
"Oh, no!" replied Creighton. "She's guilty. Guilty as a gut-bulged monkey sitting in a pile of banana peels." He held up the scanner. "Every bit of evidence I've gathered so far conclusively puts Lady Jane Steele as the wielder of that knife."

Lord Wrenroth leaned towards Creighton, his brow furrowed. "So, Jane Steele has no idea she's murdered Charlotte Brandon?"

"No," replied Creighton. "She doesn't know she did it anymore than Charlotte Brandon knew why she came alone to the library and willingly received multiple lethal stab wounds without making a sound."

"How do you explain the lack of bloodstains on Jane's gloves and her gown?" asked Wrenroth.

"The same way I explain their incomprehensible actions," replied Creighton. "Neither one was in control of their mental or physical functions. The same mechanism that drove Steele to murder her childhood nemesis also stilled Brandon's vocal cords and jelled her blood."

Wrenroth sat back, his face now gone pale. "You're talking about a nanobot infection, aren't you?" he asked. "They were both dosed with nanites sometime this evening, and someone else was pulling the puppet's strings once the concentration in their systems reached optimal levels... I think I'll take that cigar now, if you don't mind..."

Creighton nodded as he handed over one of the small cigars and his lighter. "I'd hoped for some other outcome, but we've got to accept the fact that there's someone loose with the ability to infect and control others." Creighton pulled on his cigar as he somberly reflected on how easily nanites could get out of control, and the havoc they could wreak. Barely a decade past, half the population of Ceres Station had literally melted away by an accidental release of carbon-digesting nanobots, over 4000 souls quite literally gone inside the space of a day.

"We're fortunate in this case that whoever's behind this atrocity has built in some safeguards," said Creighton. "The nanites in Brandon's body are already devolving into their component materials, and the 'factory' controller she either ingested or was injected with has disappeared completely. Jane is throwing off deactivated nanites with every breath, and they'll be slowly jumping ship and dying off for the next few hours as she perspires and eliminates. The fixative I've sprayed over the divan and Mis Brandon's body should catch a few of the nanites before they devolve completely. We might not be able to get a good signature off what remains, but we'll do what we can."

Wrenroth nodded. "You're obviously comfortable dealing with a situation of this magnitude, then," he said. "I'm not at liberty to disclose why I'm here or what I'm investigating, but I can let you know it appears we're working along parallel lines."

"I wouldn't go so far as to say comfortable, Your Grace, but I can cope." replied Creighton. "I'll need to go supervise the V-K teams as they begin interrogations. Would you mind keeping an eye on Miss Steele?"

"Not at all, Major," said Wrenroth. "Do be aware, sir, that perfect discretion is its own reward, n'est-ce pas?"

Creighton nodded, dropped the stub of his cigar in someone's forgotten champagne flute, and left the room.

Lord Wrenroth stood and walked slowly over to the corpse behind the divan. Peering down at the already glazed eyes of his former lover, he sighed. "Charlotte, my sweet... Whatever have you gotten yourself into this time?"

Chapter 6 by Phoenix

Peering over Charlotte’s dead body, knowing not for which he was looking, Lord Wrenroth let his mind wander to possible motives. Lady Charlotte did not lack for enemies, to be sure, but was the targeting or drafting of Lady Steele as the murderer done of convenience or was there a more sinister plot afoot? Was it possible that Lady Jane and Lady Charlotte shared an enemy?

Lord Wrenroth’s thoughts sought out the possibilities but this train was derailed suddenly when he spotted the locket. It was not around her neck as was Charlotte’s habit, but was peeking out of her glove. Had she been wearing it as a bracelet, or had she stowed it in her palm, out of sight, for safety? Either way, it was something to bring to the attention of Major Creighton.

Lord Wrenroth moved to the door and asked an Ensign to fetch the Major. Lord Wrenroth continued to study the room and Charlotte’s body as he waited, noting nothing more out of the ordinary. He was just stubbing out his cheroot when Major Creighton returned.

“Wrenroth, what the devil! I was in the middle of an interrogation.”

“You have my deepest apologies, Major, but I had to bring this to your attention before her body was claimed by the team and moved, else the evidence might be suspect.”

The Major had calmed slightly at the news of more evidence, but he was still perplexed. “Wrenroth, my examination of the body was comprehensive…”

“Yes, Major, comprehensive in all ways save one: did you actually search her person?”

“No, my Lord, procedure dictates…”

Interrupting again, Lord Wrenroth cut off Creighton’s train of thought. “To hell with procedure man, this is the sort of evidence that can go missing. Check if you must, but I have not touched the body.” Creighton cued the bioscanner and quickly confirmed what Wrenroth said. “Do you see that glint hanging out of her left glove there?”

“Yes. What is that?” Creighton leaned down to examine the hiding glimmer of gold, then eased it out from under the glove. A golden locket, still attached to a pearl bracelet, shone under the light. “It appears to be a regular woman’s locket.”

“Oh, that’s no regular locket, you can be sure of that.”

Creighton rose again and leveled his gaze into that of Wrenroth’s. “Am I to understand that you know something of this locket?”

“Yes, Major. That locket is the bane of a great many people’s existence. I suspect that it will also offer a more likely list of suspects than childhood pranks will.” Wrenroth took a deep breath and told his tale.

“Lady Charlotte Brandon is – was - a blackmailer. An exceptionally talented blackmailer, but a blackmailer nonetheless. That locket, that locket is where she keeps her secrets – always close to hand – and always safe upon her person. She usually wears it around her neck, I’m not sure why she’s moved it, but I recognize the thing.”

The Major dropped to his knee and removed Charlotte’s glove and then the bracelet from her wrist, rising again to cradle it in his palm and display it for Wrenroth’s review. With his other hand, Creighton brought to bear his electoscan from his belt and scanned the locket’s properties. “The scanner indicates that there is nothing unusual.”

“Well, it wouldn’t. The locket is an undetectable secret-keeper. Very rare, only a handful exist. And, this is the only secret-keeper I’ve ever known to be fashioned into a piece of women’s jewelry. Despite this, I can assure you that it has secrets to reveal.

“If you press the pad of Charlotte’s right thumb to the back of the locket, it will open. If she is up to her old tricks, we’ll know very soon.”

Major Creighton leaned back down again and pressed Charlotte’s cold finger to the much warmer metal of the locket. Instantly a seam appeared and the locket opened silently and glowed from within. Moments later, the glow projected upward into the room and a menu appeared in hologram.

Major Creighton viewed the menu with a gleam in his eye. Lord Wrenroth, however, was less pleased to be proven right and even more concerned with some of the names on the list. The menu read as a who’s who of Society. Lady Olivia Sefton made the list, as did her grandson Nigel. Sir Percy Fitzhugh was listed, not surprising given his sudden jilted of Lady Steele and quick engagement to Charlotte. Merriweather Grange, Heavenly Stubben, Isabelle Prentice, and Marjorie Hempstead all had files as well. Lady Jane Steele was notably absent.

Among the peers, Lord Wrenroth identified a Duke, an Earl, and half a dozen Viscounts. But, one name popped from the list and the possibility of the secrets held within excited Wrenroth. At the very bottom of the list, with an indicator lit to identify it as the last file opened, was an entry for his nemesis and the target of his own investigation: Admiral Westley Warren.

“There’s a lot of information here.” Major Creighton now seemed impressed with the little locket and was examining its interior.

“I’m going to have to get authorized to read you into my investigation, Major. The target of my investigation is on that list. I’m going to have to ask you to refrain from accessing the information until I can get approval from the Minister. I’m also going to ask you not to let that piece of evidence out of your sight, nor make its existence known to your team.”

Major Creighton had the uneasy suspicion that he was about to find his investigation superseded and voiced the question. “Are you going to pull rank on me and take over the investigation?”

Wrenroth took a deep breath, expelling the air slowly. “Not if I don’t have to, Major. I’ve got enough to do with my own investigation. If it were not a matter of State Secrets, I wouldn’t even ask you to wait. But, not yet knowing what the file contains, I need to hold off on giving you a clear field. I apologize, I do, but I would appreciate if you could give me some latitude until such time as it is made clear how much our cases involve each other.”

“How long will it take to get authorization? I have a houseful of suspects to interrogate and I doubt that Lord Dunwoody has any desire to house 300 people overnight.”

“Point taken. I will attempt to reach the Minister now and you can return to your duties. I will send the Ensign again when I have information. Does that suit you?”

“Very well, indeed.” The Major slipped the little locket into his breast pocket and the hologram disappeared. He walked with purpose from the room leaving Wrenroth to his task.

“State secrets” he thought to himself, pleased with the slap of his high polished boots on the tile. Maybe he’d end up with a promotion out of this investigation. He smiled to himself at the possibility of a raise in pay grade and the opportunities it presented.

Maybe this time next year he’d be a guest at this sort of party…


posted by Phoenix | 11:33 AM


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