Prose Header

Port of Call: Mariner Point

by Antonio Bellomi

Part 1 appears in this issue.
to Scalo a Mariner Point


The Security Officer handed him a sealed envelope upon which in elegant Martian handwriting someone had written For Dr. Uriel Qeta.

“For me?” the planetologist exclaimed in surprise. He grabbed the envelope and weighed it in his hand. He looked perplexed. “Where does it come from? Don’t tell me—”

The captain nodded. “Yes. Lirna Kii stored it in the post office safe, with instructions to give it to you upon arrival at Mariner Point, if she had not retrieved it beforehand. When the steward discovered the body and ran to inform me, I happened to be in the post office, and the officer told me about this letter. Lirna Kii’s instruction sounded rather strange, as if—”

“As if she had wanted to leave a message in case something happened to her and she did not arrive alive at Mariner Point,” finished Uriel Qeta.

“I say we should look at the contents of this envelope,” the captain said impatiently, when he saw that the planetologist was hesitant. “There could be some important clue.”

Uriel Qeta winced. “Oh, yes, sure,” he said softly. For a moment he had been carried away, remembering how lively Lirna Kii had been, how she loved political intrigues. But now the game had become too dangerous, and someone who did not want to be identified had decided to silence her forever.

He tore the envelope open and drew out one slip of paper where Lirna Kii had written:

If this message is handed to you, it will mean that the Front spy aboard the Deimos has killed me. It will be up to you to stop him, but I don’t want other people to read the name that I am about to reveal you. You will understand when you have uncovered the name.

For this reason I am leaving you a clue that I am sure you, and only you, will be able to unravel, thanks to your induction ability. I am sure you will make good use of it.

I leave to you the choice of revealing the identity of the spy to the authorities you think appropriate. Good luck, my charming friend. A shame we could not conclude this adventure together.

Below, there were four names on four lines.

Van der Waals

Uriel Qeta showed the paper to the captain, who frowned. “These are all names of scientists, as far as I remember,” said Kerensky. “But what is this mention of a spy? What is your relationship with Lirna Kii? From this message it is apparent you two had a talk.”

“It is exactly so,” admitted the planetologist. “Yesterday she sat down in front of me in the main salon and told me something very confidential.”

“What do you mean? Would you be so kind as to explain yourself?” the captain asked drily. It was apparent he would not accept ‘no’ for an answer.

Uriel Qeta made a brief summary of the talk he had had with the Martian journalist. Now he could understand the meaning of the words Lirna Kii had said when she went away. In this case, the glory will be all yours. The journalist had given him all the necessary elements to detect the spy and, incidentally, even the identity of her murderer.

The captain listened to him till the end with an impassive face, without interrupting him. Only when the planetologist had finished did the captain say, “We could examine the passenger list and see if one of these names is on it. As for my crew, I am sure there is no one.”

The planetologist shrugged. “No, I don’t think the answer is so simple. Lirna Kii wanted to leave a message only I could understand. She did not want to write the name we want among the other names.”

“In any case I still don’t understand why Lirna Kii made things so difficult. It would have been much simpler if she had just spelled out the name,” said the captain, who looked annoyed. “It was an exaggerated precaution. Don’t you think so?”

Uriel Qeta shrugged. “It is clear she had a reason for it. Perhaps she was afraid that the contents of this envelope would become known to other people. Who knows?”

The captain shook his head, unconvinced. He made a gesture to his Security Officer who made a swift search. Though he was well trained, he didn’t find anything interesting. Lirna Kii loved to travel with light baggage, and she had only a big traveling bag with her.

When he had finished, Kadar came back to the captain and Uriel Qeta, and he spread his arms disappointedly. “There is nothing here that could help us,” he said.

“Very well, Mr. Kadar, we can go out then,” said the captain. “Seal this room and put the body in a cold storage cubicle. It will be the job of the Mariner Point police to unravel this mystery.” Then, as he turned to the paleontologist, he added with a forced smile. “Unless Doctor Queta will come out with a solution of the rebus Lirna Kii left him.”

He looked at the planetologist as if he were waiting for a quick answer, but Uriel Qeta could not give it. Those four names were reminding him only of four famous scientists at the moment, nothing more.

“I must think it over,” said Uriel Qeta.

* * *

The ship was four hours away from Mariner Point. Uriel Qeta stopped in front of the door of the stateroom. Captain Kerensky had summoned him, and he knew what he would be asked for. But he also knew that his answer would displease the captain.

He knocked. A steward opened the door, let him in and then went out, closing the door behind him. Inside, Captain Kerensky, First Officer Weber, Security Officer Kadar, and Petty Officer Lopez were sitting around a table. The captain’s face was strained, and he looked at him sternly. He was obviously furious and did not dilly-dally.

“Doctor Queta, I was expecting a report from you about the mysterious message from Lirna Kii before debarking,” he said. “I’m sure you have already decrypted it and I would like to solve this case before we arrive at Mariner Point. This is my ship, and I like to have our problems solved by ourselves.”

Uriel Qeta sat down at the table even though he had not been invited. What the heck, he thought, the captain liked to bully him as if he were one of his underlings. But he had agreed to investigate this case just as a favor. Nobody could have imposed upon him to do it.

“It is true,” the paleontologist said. “But before reporting, I wanted to be absolutely certain about my conclusions. However, I would have come to you within half an hour at the utmost.”

The captain shot a glance to the clock on the wall with the standard space time. “I give you a quarter of an hour, no more,” he said drily. “Then I’ll have to take care of the docking and debarking procedure. So, please, make it quick.”

The other officers looked uneasy at the captain’s imperative, not to say discourteous tone, but nobody opened his mouth. Captain Kerensky was noted for his bullying manners, and everybody was used to them.

Uriel Qeta decided to take it easy. Let the cantankerous old man shout his head off if he wanted too. Qeta knew he had the upper hand at the moment. “I actually think I’ve solved our little problem,” the planetologist said, smiling amiably. He took Lirna Kii’s message out of the folder he was carrying with him and set it onto the table for everybody to see.

“The answer we are looking for is in just these four names, as the journalist wrote. And since they are all scientists’ names, it is clear that the mechanism that leads us to the solution must be a scientific one,” said Uriel Qeta.

The captain just grunted “Go on,” but the tone he used implied that these two words really meant “Hurry up and get to the point.” He patted nervously the folder he had in from of him, with the heading Passenger List.

However, Uriel Qeta was in no hurry. This was his moment of glory and he wanted to enjoy it to the full. He was already imagining the face that the captain would make in a few moments.

He pointed to the four names on Lirna Kii’s sheet. “As I said, they are the names of four famous scientists. But how can they help us identify the name of a person who is aboard?”

“I already ran a check, and none of these names matches the name of a passenger,” Captain Kerensky growled. “So...”

“So we can only find a shared characteristic among these names,” the planetologist concluded with a subtle smile. “The first name is Rydberg, a famous physicist noted mostly for his studies on gases; he is honored in science with ‘Rydberg’s constant’, which is a fundamental constant in spectroscopy and appears in many mathematical equations.”

His finger pointed to the following name. “Boltzmann. Another famous physicist, noted for his studies on gases, who generated the Boltzmann’s constant for perfect gases, which is also linked to Rydberg’s constant.”

The planetologist paused for a moment. First Officer Weber asked: “And Van der Waals...?”

“Another famous physicist who made important studies on gases. He wrote a formula of the state of real gases that, once again, contains Rydberg’s constant.” Uriel Qeta raised his eyes and scanned the faces of the officers. The captain was hardly containing his impatience, but he said nothing.

“And now,” Uriel Qeta went on, “let’s take the fourth name, Maxwell. A Scottish physicist who also studied gases, namely the kinetics of gas, but who is noted primarily for his studies on electromagnetism. He is the author of the theory that unifies light waves and electromagnetic waves. He was honored by giving his name, Maxwell, to the unit of magnetic induction. And this is the discordant name among the four names written by Lirna Kii. It clearly is the key to solve the rebus of the mysterious identity.”

Captain Kerensky jerked open the folder with the passenger list, but closed it immediately. “There is no Maxwell aboard,” he grunted. “Where are you getting at, Doctor Qeta?”

A wide sly smile appeared on the planetologist’s face. “To the solution, Captain. To the name of the spy of the Front, who is aboard this ship. But Lirna Kii did not want to make things easy for me. Or rather, she wanted to make things difficult for everybody else. I don’t know. Certainly she was a very intelligent and capable woman.”

“Maxwell may be not the right name, after all,” Petty Officer Lopez interjected. “Perhaps the solution is somewhere else.”

“Oh, no.” Uriel Qeta shook his head. “Lirna Kii was very clever. She left a kind of control clue in the message.”

He took the message written by the journalist and read: For this reason I leave you a clue that I am sure you, and only you, will be able to unravel, thanks to you induction ability.

He glanced at the officers. “‘Induction,’ sirs, not ‘deduction.’ Why would she ever use a wrong word? Lorna Kii was a famous journalist, she must have known the difference between ‘induction’ and ‘deduction.’ If she wrote ‘induction,’ she wanted me to think of Maxwell and magnetic induction.”

“What a devious mind,” said Kadar, the Security Officer.

“But very precise,” countered Uriel Qeta.

Captain Kerensky shot a glance to the wall clock. “Your time is about to expire, Doctor Qeta. No more of these tricks; the moment has come to give us the name... provided you have really identified it.”

“Oh, about that, there are no doubts,” the planetologist replied. “You see, the unit of magnetic induction, Maxwell, belongs to an old system of measurement, the CGS — centimenter-gram-second — system, which went out of use a long time ago. Now we use the International System, in which the unit” — he turned his head toward the First Officer — “is called the weber, just like you, Mr. Weber.”

The First Officer sprang furiously to his feet. “How dare you...” he blurted, but Kadar, the Security Officer, quickly moved behind him and forced him to sit down, pushing on his shoulder.

Captain Kerensky’s eyes shot darts of flame. “Mr. Weber is one of my officers, not a passenger,” he pointed out drily.

“And Lirna Kii did not specify that the spy was to be among the passengers. That was our mistake. I thought so, myself, at the beginning, believing that the spy was among the passengers that would later embark for Enceladus.

“But Lirna Kii’s exact words were: If this message is handed to you, it will mean that the Front spy aboard the Deimos has killed me.

Aboard, she said, captain, and aboard a spaceship there are the passengers and also the crew. This is the reason she did not want to write the name in clear in the message. She did not know who would read it. Or she may have thought there would be reasons not to divulge it immediately. In short, she left me the choice.”

“You’ll have to prove this charge with stronger evidence, Doctor Qeta,” Weber protested, his face white with fury.

Uriel Qeta looked at him peacefully. “That is not my task, Mr. Weber. But I assure you, when one knows where to look, something will always turn up. My intention was only to decrypt Lirna Kii’s message and hand her murderer over to justice.”

Captain Kerensky rose to his feet, his face a mask of hardly repressed rage. He considered it a personal offense that his First Officer might be a spy of the Interplanetary Front for Independence and have betrayed his trust.

But when he turned to the Security Officer, his voice was cold and detached. “Put Mr. Weber in the brig. We’ll deliver him to the authorities at Mariner Point. After that, it will be their business to manage the problem.”

Then he turned to the planetologist with a sour smile. “And thank you, Mr. Qeta, for your assistance in this disgraceful situation, even though I can’t say the solution makes me happy.”

But Uriel Qeta had already foreseen his reaction.

Copyright © 2014 by Antonio Bellomi

Proceed to Challenge 570...

Home Page