The stunned silence grew almost to be a noise itself. In the midst of it there was another arrival at the Reidluum house. Jarod Reidluum, the master himself, was with the Lord High President, and Valena d’Arpexia, the young but able Inquisitor. The fact that Valena held that position struck Marion forcefully as the three of them entered the drawing room. Of course she was a social friend, but was it possible that she was here officially on this occasion?

The possibility clearly occurred to Ardine Amycus, too. His face froze in shock, and his hands gripped the chair as if he was about to launch himself out of it and run.

"We weren't expecting you, just yet," Mia commented as her butler brought liquor for Jarod and Kristoph and the maid brought herbal tea for Valena. 'is there news .. about... the murder? "

"There have been developments," Kristoph answered. Pol Braxietel is heading to Polafrey with a dozen of his men to try to arrest a suspect who may have fled there."

"A murder suspect?" Annice Amycus queried. "Who...."

"His name is Vortdat Goyl," Kristoph answered. "He worked within the offworld revenue and used his position to cover up what appears to be a massive eternal fraud operation. He made his escape just before the discovery of Arrette's body, strongly suggesting that he committed the murder as well as the financial crimes."

"Arrette was involved?" Ardine asked.

"Arrette may have been about to expose his scheme," Kristoph replied. "Certainly that is Pól's theory."

"It... sound plausible," Mia commented. "A man who can commit one crime could surely commit another."

"Indeed," Kristoph said. "If it proves so, it clears up the two crimes, certainly."

Marion looked towards Kristoph, then to Valena, noting that she was looking at Marea Arrette and her half brother. She looked around at them and noted an expression of relief on their faces.

Well, why wouldn't they be relieved? Knowing who committed the crime was closure of a sort. Relief was perfectly understandable.

But there was another reason why they would feel relieved, and even without being telepathic, Marion thought she understood what Kristoph and Valena were both thinking now.

Kristoph surprised everyone by suddenly changing the subject.

"Marion, my dear, what is your favourite Agatha Christie novel?"

"Murder on the Orient Express" she answered. "But what does that have to do with anything?"

Kristoph smiled enigmatically at her.

"Did I mention that Braxietel is very doubtful about catching up with Goyl? There are so many freighters coming and going from Polafrey every hour. He might already be beyond the cruciform - outside of the jurisdiction of the Castellan's office."

"If he doesn't catch him he can't question him about the murder?" Marion guessed, though she was still puzzled about the Orient Express reference.

"Guite so, though I imagine he will consider the case closed. the flight of an embezzler and the death of one who could expose the crime are too coincidental."

Again the expressions on three faces were of relief. Annice reached out and squeezed her son's hand reassuringly.

"But I cant help thinking Pol is being too linear in his thinking," Kristoph continued. "And I do have another theory I might as well share."


"Just a theory. nothing more concrete than that. It hinges on the passionate nature of the murder, and yet the unhurried manner of its execution. A man as desperate as Goyl wouldn't kill with such passion if all he wanted was to silence a witness to his actions. Nor is it likely he would have slit the victim's throat over and over and watch him die multiple times. with flight from justice time is of the essence."

He paused while his audience considered that point.

"Of course, we know that the killer used a time ring. The signature of such a device was detected on the stairs. He could give himself more time by stepping back several hours and making his escape before the fact. This is why Pol is doubtful of making an arrest."

"I thought such things were banned within the Panopticon," Marion pointed out.

"Unlicensed time travel is illegal within the cruciform," Kristoph answered, but a fraudster and a murderer would hardly care about such details. "

"Sooner be hung for a sheep than a lamb," Marion quoted.

"Quite so," Kristoph agreed. "And the same applies to the killers in my alternative theory. In this version of events there is a greater motive than fear of financial exposure but again breaking some minor laws of time becomes irrelevant in context."

"They?" Mia queried.

"Three people," Kristoph explained. "They each killed him twice."

He went on to explain how the regeneration elixir was used to bring the victim from the brink of death fve times before he was allowed to die.

"Three people hated Arrette enough that they all wanted to yield a death blow and they wanted him to suffer. The chief surgeon had confirmed that he was kept alive for at least three hours from the first cut to the last. It must have been agonisingly painful."

Jarod made a meaningful sound in his throat and reached out to his wife, whose only connection to this distressing situation was her offer of hospitality this afternoon.

"I am sorry. this is not a pleasant story, but we need not dwell on the gory details. All I really need to add is that the three used an illegal time ring to facilitate the murder and give themselves alibis for the perceived time of the murder. They lured Lord Arrette onto the stairwell, then pulled him back in time along with them to a point when they knew they would have the time to commit their murder. They used the time ring afterwars to escape without leaving footprints or coming within range of any of the citadels security cameras and, of course, when the murder was committed they all had iron clad alibis."

"Doesn't a time ring use leave a trace upon a person for some time afterwards?" Jarod asked.

"Yes, it does, " Kristoph confirmed. "The three might easily give themselves away under a simple scan. That is why they haven't attempted to leave the capitol, yet. Even the ordinary security doors in a shuttle port might be triggered. But I am forgetting that this is just a theory. After all, why would three people plot to kill such an obscure clerk as lord Arrette?"

"Don't toy with us," Lady Amucus protested. "You know he was a cruel monster who had made Marea suffer for years. I loved her like a real mother and it hurt to see her so miserable and know I could do nothing to help her. My son tried and that cruel man only hurt her more."

"Mama, don't say anything more," Ardine warned.

"What is the use? He knows everything."

"I don't know anything," Kristoph contradicted her. "I just have a theory... a colourful story worthy of Mrs Christie herself."

"Ohhhh." Marion gasped as the literary reference fell into place.. "Oh... I see."

She sad no more. Kristoph didn't want anyone to say what they thought just yet.

"sir... please be plain," Ardine begged. "what do you mean to do with this 'theory'?"

"That is the problem with theories," Kristoph said. "Quite often there is nothing to be done with them. My father has a dozen theories about black holes that he developed before I was born. He expects them to be no more than theory long after he has joined his mind with our ancestors in the Matrix. As for this one, it depends whether Pol catches up with Goyl and whether he admits to the murder."

"Why would he admit to something that would get him vaporised?" Marea asked glumly.

"We shall have to see," Kristoph admitted. He sat back and sipped his drink. Valena d'Arpexia turned carefully so that she could look directly at him but nobody else could see his face. It was quite obvious to everyone else that the Inquisitor and the Lord High President were communicating telepathically and that it was of official and important matters.

They had just finished that secret conference when the Reidluum butler brought a message to Kristoph.

"Goyl is dead," he announced. "He was cornered by the Chancellery Guard and tried to fight it out. They fired back. He was killed instantly."

He paused to let the information sink on.

"A time ring was found in his possession. Its ion signature matches the residue found at the murder scene. Of course, it is just possible that he stole it from those who committed the killing in order to flee the unconnected fraud that the murder incidentally brought to light, but that is stretching a theory a bit TOO far."

"Says the man whose father writes theories about black holes," Marion remarked.

"Says the man who knows more about murder than anyone else on this planet. I also know that Ardine Amycus would never make a CIA operative. His mental barriers are so weak a baby could read his mind, let alone an able inquisitor like Valena d'Arpexia. He all but confirmed the details of my theory as I was speaking."

"You idiot," Marea called her brother. Annice gasped in horror. Ardine snapped back at both women.

"Enough, " Kristoph said in a tone that chilled the very air around him. "In a moment Jarod's butler is going to see you all out. I think you have long outstayed the hospitality of his home. I understand you two intend to leave Gallifrey. Do so quickly. Madam Amycus, you should go with them and contrive a way to stay away. Your husband will be dismayed, but that is better than being shamed by discovering that his wife, son and daughter are all murderers."

Annice gasped again. The terrible realisation that she was to be an exile from her home was perhaps worse than being called a murderer to her face.

The butler came and escorted the three out of the house. When they were gone, it was as if a taint had gone from the very air, but there was a silence that remained as everyone struggle to find a word to say.

"I don't understand why you are letting them go unpunished," Mia said finally.

"Exile is a punishment. It will weigh on them all. Should they return to this world the case will be re-examined. For now, let it be understood beyond this room that Arrette was killed by a desperate thief. Our society understands greed better than it understands passion."

"Killing him was wrong - especially that way,"Marion admitted. "But he did treat Marea cruelly. Is that why you were lenient?"

"Partly," Kristoph admitted. "But partly because you were right earlier. There ought to be easier ways to deal with marriages that go wrong. I promise I will try to do something to change that. Meanwhile, Mia, my dear, isn't it time your lovely children came down to the nursery for us all to admire. Let their laughter drive away the last vestiges of darkness from this company."

"I think you are right," Mia answered, reaching for the nursery bell. "One last thing, though.... Murder on the Orient Express.... What is that, and what does it have to do with ANY of this?"

"I'll lend you my copy," Marion answered. "You'll understand when you read it."