Motive

“Before I talk to him, why don’t you tell me what you know?” Cal handed his uncle a cup of tea, surprised by his own calm. 

Some of that was due to the message he had just recieved, of course. Wyn had arrived at the med center and was still breathing. The lab had already identified the poison in her blood. The antidote would be administered and was expected to work quickly. Unless there were complications, she would survive. Stilll, long-term damage was a possibility.

And there was a would-be murderer in the storeroom next door.

“You’ll know their history from their files,” Max rasped. He took a swallow of tea and sighed. When he went on, his voice was clearer. “They’re twins. Both geniuses in the field. They’ve always worked together by their own choice. Seemed more comfortable that way. They’re pretty quiet, Wyn even more than Ny. She can get worked up over a new discovery, but otherwise, she just watches and listens and lets her work speak for itself. Ny likes to explain things, a habit that annoys the hell out of most other scientists, but when it comes to personal matters, neither of them has much to say. If Jorg hadn’t come along, I don’t doubt the two of them would have lived in their childhood home forever. Still, Ny seemed happy for his sister when she married. He and Jorg used to play bocce every Friday night. When Jorg died, and Wyn was left alone with little Xi, Ny moved in and helped out. That was 13 years ago. Their parents passed last year, within a week of each other. It was a tough time, but I didn’t notice any trouble between the two of them.”

“You said you had idea what might have caused this.”

Max took another long drink of tea. “I’m getting there. Data only makes sense in context, boy.”

Cal thought of reminding his uncle that he was the colony’s governor, not an apprentice astrophysicist, but he knew the petulant urge would only contradict his point.

“About five weeks ago, Wyn came to me with something new. The two of them have focused their studies on Dua for most of their careers. I’ve encouraged it. Our job is to make sure we know enough to colonize off-world when the time comes, and Dua is the most likely first candidate. Makes sense for my best astronomers to study it. The delicate relationship between Una and Dua is another reason. The fact that these two came to orbit each other so closely without crashing is so statistically unlikely as to almost be labeled a miracle. If anything shifted, even a little, it would be the end of us all. I liked knowing brilliant minds were keeping an eye on that. Still, it’s a wide universe, so most of my team was on other projects, and we left Wyn and Ny to do their thing.”

“So she came to you with something new?” There was no questioning the sharpness of Uncle Max’s mind, but his sense of urgency had apparently disappeared with his waistline. 

“They’d been tracking weather patterns on Dua, and she had an interesting theory about its occasional windstorms. The atmosphere of Dua is thick, which keeps the sun’s heat trapped and the surface warmer than ours here on Una. The ocean is small, and there’s no other surface water we can find. That means some clouds, but likely not much rain. Mostly just near the edges of that ocean.”

“I’ve read the reports. That’s part of the reason we settled here instead of there.”

“Part of it, yes. What Ny and Wyn had discovered is that from time to time, wild windstorms sweep across the continent. Wyn had a theory about those storms. I’m not going to get into all the details–yes, I can see your impatience—but before you go in the next room, you should read the entire report.”

“Are the details relevant to this case?”

“I’m pretty sure you’ll find that Ny thinks they are.”

Cal made a note. 

“I told Wyn to go ahead and put together a team, pulling in meteorologists and geologists and whoever else she might need, to develop her theory. Then I sent off a message to Ny letting him know she’d have a special focus for a while, and he should continue their other Dua studies with Xi to help him. An hour later, he burst into my office, red in the face.”

“He didn’t like that plan.”

“More. He claimed that Wyn’s theories were actually his. Not just the theories. Every word in her report. He said it was outright plagiarism, that he’d been obsessed with this new project for a while, and that she only got on board later, and now she was stealing all the credit and the project along with it. I’ll admit the whole thing surprised me. They had collaborated on dozen of reports in the past, and also submitted reports individually, and nothing like this had ever come up.  But I looked into it. Scientists are territorial about their work in general, so we have a procedure in place for things like this, always bring in another Head to confirm our findings. I got Orn for this one. You can verify all of this with him. We asked Ny for proof that the report was originally his, but he had none to offer. Still, he kept insisting, and his emotion seemed genuine. We went through every file on every device from their team. If he had come up with those theories before, there was no record that he’d written them down. Meantime, Wyn seemed baffled. She freely admitted that the project was his in the beginning and that she had only come to share his obsession later, but she said the theory came to her without ever talking to him, and that she wrote the report entirely on her own. Xi could confirm that last part, as she had seen her mother at work. I didn’t find it hard to believe that Ny really had come up with the same theory, or even that he had thought of it in similar words, since the two of them were so tight. It seemed like a pretty simple case of two people having the same idea at roughly the same time. It happens more often than most people know.”

“So how did you resolve it?”

“Wyn offered to share the project with Ny, but I was worried about them neglecting all the other work to focus on this one obsession. I was also worried about Ny. His distress over not being believed was completely out of proportion. He seemed like someone who had pushed himself too far. I told him to take a week off and rest. Then he could come back and be a part of Wyn’s team, but he was to take a minor role that would still allow him to supervise Xi and the other projects. He was furious, but he took the week. When he came back, he seemed calm again. Now it seems like that might have just meant that he had a plan.”

“You really think that this one event was enough to make him want to kill his twin sister? His roommate and workmate of 42 years?”

Max shrugged. “Maybe it was just the tipping point. Maybe things had been bad for a while. No one knew their private life well enough to know, except maybe Xi.”

“I’ll be talking to her next.”

“Go easy. She’s a sensitive girl, and this is already been a terrible day.”

Cal just looked at his uncle until the old man waved an impatient hand.

“Okay, okay, I know. You’ve been doing this job for a while, and you’re damn good at it. But Jo treats that girl like a sister, and that means she’s another granddaughter to me, so I’m not apologizing.”

“I’m not going to interrogate her. Just learn about her life.”

“Well, that’s fine then. But don’t be surprised if you don’t learn much that helps. If I had to guess, I’d say no one knows what’s inside that man’s head.”

“He does.”

“Maybe. Ask your wife about the brain, though. It’s pretty good at deceiving itself.”

“His motives are only one factor in the decision of what’s to be done. We’ll be calling a gathering tonight to announce the trial, once I’m sure I have enough information to be accurate. Our three judges are nearly at the end of their term, and we’re going to deal with this while they’re still holding the office. They’re a level-headed group, and if I have to entrust a turning point in our colony’s history to anyone, I’d like it to be them.”

“Jer’s a friend from my nursery days. Smart man. He’ll help steer them right.”

“Sanj was Jul’s mentor. She’s capable and she knows how to stay calm. Kyr is young, but he’s the best long-term thinker I’ve seen in a while. They’ll get us through this.”

“Better you than me, boy. I think I screwed things up badly enough already.”

“Sounds like you did the best you could, actually. Doubt I could have done better.”

Max laughed, and the sudden burst of sound made Cal realize that his head was throbbing. “Sure you could have. You’re about to prove it.”

Cal hoped his uncle was right.

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