Actions

Work Header

Low Town

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry, Castellan.”

Spandrell opened his eyes.

He suppressed a groan of irritation at the sight of the slight, black-robed figure standing in the office doorway: “Co-ordinator Kelner. I thought I had asked that my meditation not be disturbed?”

Kelner bowed obsequiously, the same way he did everything in the presence of a superior. Spandrell had it on good authority that his behaviour was much less self-effacing when he was interacting only with subordinates. “There has been an…incident, Castellan, requiring your personal attention.”

Spandrell decided to let the groan out anyway as he rose ponderously to his feet. “I see. Shobogans relieving themselves in the Panopticon again?” He picked up his gloves and donned them slowly, then eased his comm-ring onto his left hand.

Kelner maintained his façade of bland deference. “A somewhat more serious matter, Castellan.”

It was at moments like this that Spandrell wished Engin were still around. He supposed a seat on the Committee of Inquiry into the Resignation Day Incident was a step up from archive-keeping and administration for the Lord Castellan’s office, but the old Co-ordinator had been so perfectly suited to his duties here. He was sorely missed. Kelner was keen and efficient, but there was something faintly unpleasant about him. There had been no artifice about Engin. Kelner not only alternated between pomposity and servility depending on his audience, but also gave the impression of never saying what was really on his mind. He would, no doubt, go far.

Spandrell allowed the Co-ordinator to lead the way out of his private office and into the main Capitol security operations room. It was a shadowy, cavernous space, walls of shimmering green crystal arcing up and over to form a great vaulted ceiling. Beneath the elevated gantry where the Castellan and Co-ordinator’s own workstations were situated, Chancellery Guardsmen in red could be seen coming and going, while plain-robed technicians busied themselves at bright screens and twinkling consoles. The low buzz of half-heard communications drifted up to where Spandrell and Kelner stood:

“Control to Sector Six. All Guards in Sector Six stand to immediately! Reports of a disturbance at intersection of Pandad III Concourse and…”

“…theft of a ceremonial staff. Suspect is a Shobogan male, physical age…”

“Sector Nineteen routine patrol report. Relative timeband is…”

The typical bustle of another unexciting day guarding the Citadel from all threats internal and external, Spandrell thought. He did not mind unexciting days; on the contrary, he welcomed them. What was not unexciting was the large red icon flashing on the main situation map dominating the wall directly opposite the gantry.

“A Crimson Alert?” Spandrell suddenly felt a deep sense of foreboding.

Kelner inclined his skull-capped head again. “As I said, Castellan, a most serious incident.”

Spandrell glanced back at the map. “In Sector Eight-B? That’s the Prydon Academy Annexe. You called me out here for this?”

For a moment, Kelner visibly bristled at his superior’s peremptory tone, but only for a moment. “Castellan…”

“It’s not our jurisdiction,” Spandrell pointed out. “If the acolytes have been wassailing in the main hexangle, or whatever they get up to, it’s a matter for the Prydonian Proctors. The Lord Chancellor would have my hide if a member of the Guard dared set foot…”

“Well, Castellan, that’s just it. One of our men…”

“The Lord Chancellor’s men, Co-ordinator,” Spandrell corrected him. “We merely direct them on his behalf.”

“Yes, Castellan. One of our…that is, the Lord Chancellor’s men…behaved…precipitately in response to an incident.”

“Are you telling me a Guardsman has trespassed on Academy territory? Who is the fool? I’ll break him.”

“There were extenuating circumstances, Castellan,” said Kelner, and for the moment seemed content to leave it at that. He almost seemed reluctant to reveal more.

Spandrell found that there was no use in mincing words with the man: “Well, what happened?”

“A death, Castellan,” the Co-ordinator divulged eventually, as if discussing a particularly delicate and embarrassing medical condition. “The conditions at the scene are described as…suspicious.”

“Perhaps our unfortunate Guardsman deserves a reprieve in that case,” Spandrell admitted. It was perhaps the only extenuating circumstance he could think of that might justify such a breach of the protocols.

Kelner continued to squirm: “Worse than that, however…”

“Worse than a suspicious death at Prydon Academy?” Spandrell asked, incredulously.

“As I understand it, the Guardsman in question was passing the entrance to the Annexe on his routine patrol route when he was alerted to the discovery of the…the mortal remains. He acted to secure the scene while calling for immediate assistance, without giving due regard to the jurisdictional boundaries, which in turn led to a…I think I’m right in calling it a confrontation…with the Academy’s Proctors. The Guard Commander who responded to the incident report…”

“And who is that?” Spandrell demanded.

“Commander Andred, Castellan.”

“Ah, the new boy.” Poor Hilred’s replacement. “They say he’s sharp.” Hilred, by contrast, had been a semi-competent clot, but he had not deserved an end like that.

Kelner continued: “Commander Andred reports that the Lady Provost of the Prydonian Chapter is now personally at the scene, and he feels that…”

“Yes, yes.” Spandrell waved a dismissive hand. “He feels that we need somebody down there who outranks the Provost, to defuse the situation before it gets worse. Maybe he really is as sharp as they say. Fetch me my gown, Kelner. I’ll need to look official, I suppose.”

Again, Kelner seethed for the briefest of moments, no doubt telling himself indignantly that he was nobody’s valet, before going and doing as he was told anyway.

“A suspicious death at Prydon Academy.” Spandrell slowly shook his head as Kelner helped him on with the glittering ceremonial garment. “Do you remember the days when we didn’t have murders on Gallifrey?”

“Indeed I do, Castellan.” Kelner actually sounded sincere for once. “They were not so very long ago, after all.”

“Nevertheless,” Spandrell told him, “at this precise moment I’m feeling rather nostalgic for them.”

* * *

Spandrell felt as if he were falling, falling forever through an abyss of blinding light and fear. Then he heard a soft snap of displacing air and the transmat pad was solid beneath his feet again and he could see the polished metal walls of the booth enclosing him on all sides. Transduction through the Vortex was hardly his preferred method of transport, but sometimes urgency had to outweigh comfort.

The booth doors slid noiselessly aside and he stepped out into what was widely acknowledged as one of the Citadel’s most salubrious sectors. He found himself in a broad, brightly lit public concourse lined with statuary and tastefully maintained plant life. The floor beneath his feet consisted of white marble and black onyx flagstones stretching away in a chequered game-board pattern. Far, far above, the crystal dome of the Citadel glinted in the molten light of Gallifrey’s glowing orange sky. The grand portal of the Prydon Academy Annexe loomed before him, flanked by tall, austere stone figures representing the personifications of Wisdom and Knowledge. By contrast, the dozen or so Chancellery Guards gathered around the entrance warding off curious passers-by seemed like dolls arranged around the statues’ feet.

A tall figure clad in an immaculately tailored red and white uniform was waiting in front of the booth, and now came smartly to attention: “My Lord Castellan.”

Spandrell gave a nod of acknowledgment. “Commander Andred, I presume.”

A rather less imposing individual wearing familiar striped cream and beige robes was also lurking in the vicinity of the transmat booths, and now approached with recording device outstretched: “Castellan, Public Record. Do you have any comment on the developing situation at…?”

“None,” Spandrell replied. “And what is your name, Commentator?”

“Ransell, sir,” the man replied. “Now, may I ask…?”

“Commentator Ransell.” Spandrell gave the man a penetrating stare. “Good. Now I know who to send the Guards after if I hear any whisper of these events in this evening’s PR videocast. Good day.”

He turned and set off for the Annexe entrance, leaving Andred to loom over the Commentator and send him on his way: “You heard the Castellan. Leave. Now.”

As Ransell slunk off, seeming understandably cowed, Andred fell into step alongside Spandrell. The Castellan’s shoes and the Commander’s high boots clattered on the hard, smooth paving.

“Commander,” said Spandrell, “perhaps you could brief me on this most unpleasant series of events?”

“Of course, sir.” Andred consulted his comm-ring; Spandrell saw glowing text scrolling across its tiny screen. “The initial incident took place at timeband increment six point two relative.”

“Not very long ago.”

“That’s correct, sir.”

“And who is the deceased?” Kelner, for all his efficiency, had not seen fit to share that particular datum.

“An Academician Jelpax, sir,” Andred replied. “A Prydonian, of course. He was a lecturer in applied historical sciences, whatever that is.”

“And who discovered the body?”

Andred checked his notes again before replying. “A former pupil of his, apparently. She said that she had decided to pay him a visit in his rooms, which are just inside the entrance over there, and came across his, well, his remains. She seems to have run out past the porter’s lodge and more or less collided with Guardsman Maxil, who was on his rounds at the time.”

“An unfortunate coincidence,” Spandrell commented.

“Yes, Castellan. I have…spoken to Maxil about his decision to enter the Academy premises and view the body in place.”

“And there will be more speaking to Maxil to come,” Spandrell assured the Commander, “but that can wait until we have the present situation under control. Do we have the witness secure, at least?”

“She is in the porter’s lodge now, sir, under guard.”

“Under our guard?”

“Of course, Castellan.”

Spandrell nodded, approvingly. “Good work, Commander. And where is the Lady Provost?”

“Inside the Annexe,” Andred reported. “She seems reluctant to leave Academy territory.”

“So much paranoia about these days.” They were at the cordon of Guardsmen posted across the entrance now. “Very well, I will speak with her on her own ground if that is what she wants.” He glanced up at Andred’s earnest face. “By the way, what was Guardsman Maxil’s first impression on viewing the remains?”

Andred hesitated for the briefest of moments before replying. “He seems fairly sure that the cause of death was a staser bolt, sir.” One of the very few ways to kill a Time Lord outright without triggering a regeneration.

“No chance that it was self-inflicted, I suppose?”

“Maxil didn’t see any weapon at the scene, sir.”

Spandrell sighed. “No, of course not. We don’t have such luck.”

Leaving Andred with the line of Guardsmen, Spandrell went on into the Annexe alone. The concourse’s chequered floor pattern continued the length of the narrow, marble-lined tunnel beyond the outer portal and his footsteps echoed in the enclosed space, creating an uncomfortable sensation of being followed. He passed an open archway halfway along the left hand wall, almost certainly the lodge the Commander had mentioned, and approached the other cordon of guards he could glimpse at the far end of the tunnel, where there was a suggestion of another great open space.

They were the mirror image of the Chancellor’s men; even their uniforms were of a similar design, except flame-orange in colour rather than red and white, and instead of stasers at their belts they were armed with iron-shod staves as tall as themselves. He could see them eyeing him suspiciously as he drew closer, waiting for an order from the severe, slender woman who stood behind their line, gloved hands clasped before her. She was simply dressed in an unadorned scarlet gown, her only decoration the bejewelled chain of office she wore around her neck. As he drew nearer still, he saw that the medallion suspended from it was a depiction in gold of the Great Seal of the Prydonian Chapter.

Spandrell halted a good ten paces from the row of orange-uniformed Proctors and bowed courteously before their leader: “My Lady Provost.”

The Lady Provost gave him a grave nod in return. “My Lord Castellan. I take it that your Guard Commander asked you to come down here?”

“As I am sure your Proctors asked for you. They did not feel qualified to deal with a question of such import at their own discretion.”

“I do not blame them,” she said.

Spandrell allowed himself a wry smile before continuing: “My Lady, I extend my most sincere apologies for the misunderstanding that has occurred here today, and ask your gracious permission to approach, that we might discuss how best to resolve this impasse.”

“Please do. As you say, there is much for us to discuss.” She waved the Proctors aside and gestured for him to enter the hallowed grounds they guarded.

“You know,” said Spandrell, looking about as he emerged from the entranceway, “I do not believe that I have ever been in here. It is certainly a most impressive sight.”

He offered this opinion quite sincerely. The main hexangle of the Prydon Academy Annexe was easily as large a space as the Panopticon itself, its six sheer walls towering nearly as high as the dome far overhead, its white stones washed golden by the light of the sky. Staircases and balconies wound their way up the sides of the great well, layer upon layer, studded with doors and windows. At ground level, where the Castellan stood, the game-board stone floor of the passageway branched and branched again to form an intricate network of paths running between formally laid flowerbeds and topiary sculptures. The air was sweet with the scent of blossoms. There were manicured lawns of blood-red grass, twisted bushes hanging heavy with ornamental fruits, and at the very centre of the space a stand of tall, mature trees with velvet-black trunks and pointed silver leaves, blazing like a bonfire in the reflected light from above, casting a million motes of fiery luminescence onto the plants and walls around them.

“I often like to walk here when faced with particularly difficult questions,” the Lady Provost replied. “I find it quite clears my mind.”

“Perhaps you would like to walk with me a while?” Spandrell suggested. “Although I cannot promise your mind will be any clearer after speaking to me.”

“Of course.”

They set off along one of the pathways, passing a short flight of steps off to the left of the entrance, where two Proctors stood sentry outside a half-open wooden door.

“Is that where…?” Spandrell began.

“Yes,” the Lady Provost answered, curtly.

Spandrell also noticed what appeared to be another high-ranking Prydonian, this one wearing academic regalia, standing near the doorway in the company of a third Proctor. He seemed deep in thought, giving little indication of noticing the Castellan and the Lady Provost as they passed him by.

“And who is that, my Lady?” Spandrell asked.

“Academician Hedin,” she replied, and left it at that.

“And was he, too, a witness to the discovery of Academician Jelpax’s remains?”

“I am not at liberty to confirm that at the present time.”

“Ah. If my office does indeed end up investigating this matter, I should very much like an interview with him in any case.”

“I understand your men have a witness too?” the Lady Provost inquired. “The Time Lady who discovered the crime?”

“Or who may in fact have committed the crime,” he pointed out. “If indeed a crime has been committed. I do not intend to prejudge this inquiry. And an inquiry there must surely be, in one form or another.” He had spent many years perfecting the particular, rapid yet monotonous, tone of voice he used for these sorts of conversations. It never failed to wear his interlocutors down eventually, as slowly and surely as an iron rasp.

“I would need to question this other witness myself,” said the Lady Provost. “For my report to the Lord Rector of the Academy.”

“I’m sure we can agree some form of reciprocal arrangement,” Spandrell suggested.

They passed one bed where it was evident that some gardening had recently been in progress; there was freshly disturbed soil, some spotting the otherwise pristine flagstones of the path, and a roughly-woven basket containing several uprooted bedding plants sprouting from clumps of the same rich, dark substance. Spandrell paused a moment to examine them.

“You must know, my Lady,” he said, “that whatever the jurisdictional difficulties may be, I cannot in all conscience, or dutifulness, ignore this apparent crime. Any death under such circumstances, particularly that of a Time Lord and Academician, is a very grave matter that must be investigated at the highest level. And with all due deference, the highest level in this context would be my office, not yours.”

“I know that very well,” she retorted, acidly. “Do not think that I am trying to be needlessly obstructive, Castellan, but there are certain customs and protocols that must be respected in these matters. It is a question of precedent, and of maintaining the constitutional independence of the Academy and of my Chapter.”

“I understand.” They continued on their stroll in the direction of the hexangle’s central copse.

“I have sworn a solemn oath,” the Lady Provost informed him, “to safeguard the faculty, student body and physical and intellectual assets of Prydon Academy against all external interference.”

“As I have sworn a solemn oath to protect the security of the Citadel and the High Council of Time Lords against all threats, foreign and domestic.” Spandrell paused again to inspect one particularly gnarled shrub that stood near the edge of the path, its deep maroon foliage exuding a sickly sweet perfume.

“A carrion-bush,” the Lady Provost commented. “It attracts small flying creatures by smelling like a week-old carcass, and then…” She touched a gloved finger to one of the broad, hearts-shaped leaves and it instantly folded in two, gripping the digit with surprising firmness. “It’s a carnivore, you see,” she explained as she pulled free from the plant’s embrace. “Hiding in plain sight.”

“There are many carrion-bushes growing in the Citadel, then,” Spandrell observed dryly.

“There are, Castellan. I assure you, there are.”

“Let me put it this way, my Lady,” said Spandrell. “How many cases of murder have you had to investigate during your tenure as Prydonian Provost?”

“None,” she replied, “as you well know. And how many have you investigated?”

“Over the course of my long career, half a dozen or so.” He did not, of course, mention that all of those had been the responsibility of the same perpetrator, or that all had been committed within hours of each other, not so very long ago.

“Including the assassination of the late Lord President.”

“Yes.” Spandrell glanced back at the row of Proctors still loitering near the entrance. “Do you think your Proctors have the facilities or the expertise to investigate such a case, were it to be left to them?”

She let out a breath, loudly, her annoyance clearly audible: “Castellan…”

“Did you know the dead man, Jelpax?” he asked her, abruptly. “As a fellow Prydonian?”

“I did.”

“And what was he like?”

“A brilliant mind,” she said. “A good man and a great scientist. I wouldn’t have counted him as a personal friend, but I’m sorry he’s dead.”

“And if it came down to a choice between respecting the customs and protocols or ensuring that his killer was held to account, my Lady? What then?”

The Lady Provost took a very intense interest in the carrion-bush for several long moments before speaking again. “I have certain responsibilities,” she said.

“Of course.”

“Even if I were to order my men to stand aside and allow you to investigate,” she told him, “I am duty bound to make a full report of what has transpired here to the Lord Rector.”

“I would expect nothing less,” said Spandrell.

“And he in turn will for a certainty bring the matter to the attention of the Lord Cardinal, with particular emphasis upon the behaviour of your Guardsmen. I feel you should know this in advance.”

“The Chancellor’s Guardsmen, but I appreciate your concern,” said Spandrell, and meant it. “However, I am willing to accept whatever consequences may come my way. Bringing a murderer to justice is my only concern right now.”

The Lady Provost nodded: “Very well, Castellan.” She turned to the Proctors guarding the gate, raising her voice to be heard across the intervening distance: “Stand back! Let them in!”

“You’ve made the right choice,” Spandrell told her, quietly, so as not to be overheard.

She looked at him. “You might not be saying that tomorrow, Castellan.”

* * *

Beyond the wooden door that the Proctors had been guarding there was a short hallway paved in the same black and white pattern as the entrance passage and hexangle.

Spandrell paused at the entrance, noting the sturdy bolts and chain on the inside of the door, in addition to the large ornate lock with its convolutedly-shaped keyhole. Old-fashioned, but secure. Either Academician Jelpax had been in the habit of leaving his door unlocked when he was in his rooms, or he had opened it to allow his killer entry.

Or the bolts and chain were unfastened and his killer had a key…?

Further doors led off the hall into living quarters, a laboratory or workshop of sorts, and finally an office or study. It was here that the dead man lay.

“Holy spack!” Commander Andred backed quickly out of the last doorway, allowing Spandrell to enter in his stead. Spandrell noticed him making the sign of the circle, the ancient Gallifreyan ward against the goddess Death. That would be regarded as an indication of superstitious or plebeian leanings in the upper tiers of Time Lord society, the Castellan thought. “Apologies, Castellan,” Andred muttered, weakly.

Spandrell refrained from judging him, all things considered. Death was encountered so rarely within the rarefied confines of the Citadel, with regeneration so prevalent, even if conditions were somewhat different in the Shobogan settlements, and even more so in Outer Gallifrey. Violent death was even rarer. As for a death like this one…

Jelpax, Spandrell would have been willing to wager, had almost certainly seen better days. He had clearly been a tall, powerfully-built man in this incarnation, while alive, but not anymore. His body lay curled up in the middle of the tiled floor, halfway between the door and the ornate desk that stood against the far wall; a wizened, blackened mummy wearing the remains of a simple scarlet cassock without jewellery or insignia, a silk sash cinched around its waist. There was a toppled chair beside the body, decorated in the same baroque style as the desk, and a musky, burned smell hung in the air. The corpse’s limbs were twisted, the shrunken skin stretched tight over brittle bones like charred parchment. Almost certainly the result of a staser’s regeneration-aborting zygma radiation if Spandrell was any judge. The face beneath the wine-coloured skullcap was a skeletal ruin, two deep pits of shrivelled skin where Jelpax’s eyes had once been.

“Holy spack indeed,” Spandrell agreed, turning his attention to the floor around the corpse. “What’s this, Commander?” he asked, pointing to one of the white flagstones near the threshold of the study. “Who has been in here since the body was discovered?”

“Nobody, Castellan, as far as I know,” Andred replied, “apart from the witness who found the body and Guardsman Maxil. I suppose one of the Proctors might…”

“No, the Lady Provost confirmed that none of her people had entered the rooms. She also confirmed that there is no electronic surveillance in the hexangle. They cannot spy on noble Academicians and their acolytes as if they were common Shobogans, apparently!”

Snorting scornfully, Spandrell stooped to examine the large, dirty footprint that marred the stone’s milky surface. “On the big side for a Time Lady, wouldn’t you say? And that’s not the tread pattern of a Guard boot.” He examined the moist, dark particles of which the print seemed to be composed, thinking back to the basket in the hexangle, the uprooted plants… “Commander,” he said, straightening up, “find out who maintains the garden outside, and where they can be found right now.”

“At once, Castellan.” Andred saluted and bustled off down the hallway, no doubt only too glad to be out of the dead man’s presence.

Spandrell remained where he was, taking in the scene, looking for any detail, however small, that might constitute a clue. There had possibly been a struggle, he thought. The chair had been toppled, but the position of the cadaver did not indicate Jelpax had been sitting in it when it had. Maybe he had knocked it over when he fell, or when he was fighting in vain for his lives.

Too many maybes already, Spandrell; confine yourself to the facts!

There was a computer terminal built into the desk, its screen shattered, circuits visible behind the smashed glass. The control panel beneath had been pounded as well, dented sufficiently to be coming away from the desktop, dislodged keys littering the floor next to the chair. The same was true of the desktop transmat dumbwaiter off to one side, its transmitter pad broken clean in two, gleaming components strewn around it. On the desk blotter there was a finely-crafted comm-ring, bent completely out of shape, its small round screen ground to powder. He might have put these acts of destruction down to a struggle too, except that they seemed so thorough. Effort had gone into this, repeated blows with something hard and heavy.

Looking around, he spotted a small golden statuette, some sort of academic award, lying on its side in the far corner of the room. Even from here, he could see its polished granite base was chipped. An impromptu hammer? And the room was long but narrow; if Jelpax and the fallen chair had already been in their current positions, blocking access to the desk, then where would somebody stand to wield it? The only possible space he could see was at the corner of the desk nearest the ruined transmat. He saw that the flagstone beneath that corner was cracked from side to side, as neatly as if struck by a mason’s chisel. The statuette could have been dropped when the work of smashing was done and fallen there, Spandrell theorised.

And rolled over to the corner…? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Is it even heavy enough to break marble like that?

As he took a step further into the room, Spandrell felt something crunch beneath his foot. Glass, he decided as he crouched again to get a closer view. There were tiny fragments littering much of the study floor, as bright as diamonds now that he was seeing them from a different angle. Jelpax was lying on top of them; they had hit the floor before he had.

Spandrell patted a hand against the tiles, letting some of the fragments adhere to his glove, peering closely at them. Not glass from the computer screen or the transmat pad, he decided; these shards had a delicate greenish tint. He also detected a faint aroma that he could not quite place. Curious; one of the larger ones he could see seemed to be stained with a gleaming waxy substance, rose-pink in colour. He carefully pulled a kerchief from the pocket of his robe, brushed the glass pieces from his glove into it and folded it before pocketing it once more.

He turned around to examine the walls on either side of the doorway, invisible from the hall. Shelves, for the most part, displaying antique scrolls and books as well as row upon translucent row of more modern and practical data-discs. There were also examples of older storage media and some of the machinery required to access them; antique wire reels, blocky info-cartridges and even sparkling strings of ancient micromonolithic holo-crystals. There was a small side-table standing next to the door, identical in style to the desk and chair. There was a silver tray upon it, and upon the tray a tall fluted decanter of delicately-tinted green glass, half full of some dark liquid, as well as three matching glasses and room for a fourth.

Well, that explains the fragments. If only all mysteries were so simple…

Beside the tray lay a pair of long-wristed gloves. Spandrell could see that they had been made for somebody with larger hands than his own. That and the fact that their heavy velvet fabric matched the purple-red shade of Jelpax’s headwear and sash suggested their likely ownership.

Time Lords sometimes remove their gloves during judicial proceedings or formal meetings, as a symbol that they have nothing to hide… And sometimes they remove them when…

Spandrell gingerly unstopped the decanter and inclined his head to sniff its opening. He smelled the tart bouquet of fine Arcadian wine; old Engin’s favourite tipple, in fact. If it were drugged or poisoned his nose could not detect it. He confirmed that two of the tall, narrow glasses were dry, with a few particles of dust showing that they had not been used in some time. The third smelled of wine like the decanter and retained a reddish smear at its bottom. He realised now that that was what he had smelled on the broken glass as well.

Two glasses of wine, both drained because there is no puddle on the floor. One dropped and broken, one carefully replaced after use. Jelpax and his killer shared a drink before things turned violent? Mere supposition!

The stain on the intact glass, he satisfied himself, was not the same as the waxy substance on the shattered piece.

Poison in one of the glasses rather than the bottle? No, you’re getting ahead of yourself again. No real evidence of anything other than death by staser.

Spandrell had been putting the final task off until last. It was not going to be pleasant. Crouching again, he took a firm grip on the deceased Academician’s arm and heaved. He prided himself on being stronger than he looked, and had little difficulty in turning the corpse over. That did nothing to make him any happier about the smell, or the small crackling, rustling sounds as the artificially-decayed flesh moved.

Nothing.

He stood up, looking down at the floor where Jelpax had been lying. Nothing but broken glass and the game-board pattern. He had been half-hoping for a used staser or a suicide note, preferably both.

We don’t have such luck, he reminded himself again.

Spandrell emerged back into the daylight to find the Proctors still loitering about in an unwelcoming manner, now joined by half a dozen Guards. Andred stood at the foot of the steps leading up to Jelpax’s rooms.

“The Lady Provost is in the porter’s lodge questioning our witness as you permitted, Castellan,” the Commander confirmed. He appeared to be on the point of saying more, but held his tongue.

“Speak freely, Commander,” Spandrell urged him.

“I just hope the Lady Provost isn’t helping the witness…well, to get her story straight, as the Shobogans say. They say the Prydonian Chapter looks after its own.”

“The thought had crossed my mind,” Spandrell confessed, “but having spoken to her I believe the Lady Provost is as sincere in her desire to see justice done in this case as I am in mine.”

Andred consulted his comm-ring: “Technician Rodan and her assistants will be here shortly to take charge of the evidence.”

“Excellent.” Rodan was assigned to the Castellan’s office on an Academy internship and was, Spandrell considered, one of his sharpest people. “I will want the scene fully documented in place, and then all physical evidence catalogued and moved carefully to our laboratory in the Capitol for further testing. The…the deceased should be taken to the crypt beneath the Panopticon. I will request that the Surgeon General perform a complete post-mortem examination there.”

“Very good, Castellan,” Andred acknowledged. “And I checked with the Academy Bursar’s office regarding the identity of the gardener who was working here today.”

“And?”

“A Shobogan, sir, name given as Gilbas, claims to be resident somewhere in Low Town.”

“Of course,” Spandrell quietly observed. “You can’t have noble Academicians doing their own gardening.”

“He hasn’t worked here at the Annexe for very long,” Andred reported, “but he has a Level Three Work Permit.”

“So he is considered reliable and hardworking on the basis of his past appointments.”

“Yes, Castellan.” The Commander bowed his head to look at the comm-ring once more. “It says here that he’s had three Citadel residency applications denied, but that’s not unusual given the accommodation shortages since the Resignation Day disaster.”

“Again, you can’t have noble Academicians turned out into the corridors to make room for mere hardworking gardeners.” Spandrell realised his sarcastic asides were sailing well over the top of Andred’s shiny red helmet, so supposed he had better desist.

“He entered the Citadel by the Other’s Gate at timeband one point seven relative,” the Commander continued, “well in time for his work-segment starting, and has permission to remain within the Citadel until nine point nine. However, as you can see, he seems to have absented himself already.”

“And taken his tools with him,” Spandrell murmured, glancing in the direction of the disturbed flowerbed. Only the basket seemed to have been left behind. “Commander, I want you to run a sector by sector trace to find that permit, and hopefully also its owner if he’s still inside the Citadel. I think he may well be our third witness-cum-suspect in this case.”

“And alert Guard leaders to stop and search all gate traffic in case he tries to leave?” Andred asked.

“Yes, Commander.”

“I’ve already taken the liberty of issuing orders for both those measures, Castellan.”

Spandrell gave a brief chuckle. “Remarkable; a Commander who actually commands! Something of an innovation as far as the Chancellery Guard is concerned, but a welcome one all the same. I think we will get along very well, Andred.”

The Commander tried hard not to look pleased with himself. “Thank you, Castellan.”

“And now,” said Spandrell, “I must question our suspects. I mean, our witnesses.”