word held the key to everything: Fortinbras.
it was unfortunate that First Lieutenant Hamlet of the United Systems Starship Elsinore
had no idea what the word meant.
really think it’s meaningful?” Second Lieutenant Ophelia asked him as they
huddled together in a corner of the officer’s mess hall. “Maybe it was just
random word salad escaping from the captain’s lips in his dying breath.”
Hamlet said with certainty. “The captain was trying to tell me something before
he died. I’m sure of it.”
he consumed something called Fortinbras and had a bad reaction to it?” Ophelia
suggested. “A fatal reaction, I mean.”
studied the autopsy reports, and the toxicology tests were negative.”
if they weren’t testing for an unknown substance, such as something called—”
searched his quarters,” Hamlet said, shaking his head. “I didn’t find anything
called Fortinbras. Or any substance or item that I couldn’t identify.”
you have misunderstood what he said? Maybe it was ‘four timbers’ or ‘four tin
frowned at his attractive companion. “Four tin bras?”
know what a bra is.”
maybe he said, ‘For Timbras!’”
the hell does that mean?”
have no idea,” she admitted. “I’m reaching.”
obsession with this is getting on my nerves. The captain is dead, the ship’s
surgeon has declared it was natural causes—”
causes? The captain was in the prime of life!”
he was approaching retirement age, Hamlet.”
he was a fit man in good health.”
Ophelia agreed. “But even people in seemingly good health can have sudden—”
simply don’t know what killed him,” Hamlet said for the thirtieth or fortieth
time. “How can they not know? It’s the 25th century, for Gaia’s sake!”
come into contact with unfamiliar and predatory microbes on our missions,”
Ophelia pointed out. “The captain may have contracted something fatal that hasn’t
yet been identified.” After a moment, she added, “Oh, crap. If that’s
true, then we’re all in danger, aren’t we? I mean, he breathed on you, right?
He died in your arms, after all.” Hamlet had stumbled across the prostrate
captain, alone and dying, one night in the ship’s Full Sensory Experience
Recreation Chamber (FSERC). “And now you’ve breathed on me—and who knows how
many other crew members? But, in particular, you’ve breathed on me. In
fact, you’re still breathing on me! Stop it!” Lieutenant Ophelia jumped
out of her chair and backed away from their table.
grabbed her arm to halt her retreat. “Will you calm down?”
touching me!” Ophelia said in alarm.
did not die of random alien microbes.” Hamlet gave a sharp tug to pull Ophelia
back down into her seat. She landed with a soft thud and shielded her face from
his breath as he leaned forward and whispered, “The captain’s death wasn’t random
at all. He was murdered.”
frowned at him for a long moment. Then she sighed and, without lowering the
hand that shielded her nose and mouth from him, said, “Look, I understand this
is difficult for you. Captain Will singled you out for attention at the academy
and got you assigned to his ship. You’ve served your whole career under him. He
was your mentor and grooming you to command a ship of your own one day.”
wanted me to captain the Elsinore herself, when the time came.”
him so unexpectedly is a real blow for you. I appreciate that. But you should
drop this conspiracy theory right now,” Ophelia said firmly. “This is
not going to lead anywhere good.”
can’t drop it! I have to know the truth.” Hamlet took her hand and squeezed it
imploringly. “Will you help me?”
She withdrew her hand. “For one thing, I see no reason to disbelieve the ship
surgeon’s pronouncement of natural c—”
you see?” Hamlet said impatiently. “Dr. Polonius must be in on it!”
on what? Why would Polonius—”
fool is counting on a promotion!”
covering up the murder of a starship captain?” Ophelia said skeptically. “Oh,
come on. Who would promote him for that?”
gave her a meaningful stare. She stared back. After a few moments, Hamlet
wriggled his eyebrows. Ophelia continued staring. Hamlet jerked his chin upward
a few times and made some little grunting noises.
you quite well?” Ophelia asked.
you get it?” Hamlet whispered, leaning forward.
back,” Ophelia insisted, leaning away. “Just in case I’m right about the
had everything to gain from Captain Will’s death?”
one.” She shrugged. “Will was a childless bachelor who’d spent his whole life
serving in the fleet. He wasn’t rich, or heir to an empire, or...” Her jaw
dropped as she realized what Hamlet was implying. “No.”
Hamlet said triumphantly. “So you suspect him, too!”
of course not. I just realized that you do. And, Hamlet, if you don’t have
any evidence, then this conversation could probably get us both thrown in the
brig. So think very carefully before you say anything else.”
murdered Will so that he could take over as ship’s captain!”
your voice down,” Ophelia whispered harshly, looking around to see if anyone
had heard. Fortunately, the mess was mostly empty at the moment and no one
seemed to have noticed Hamlet’s outburst.
leaned forward and said more quietly, but in growing agitation, “Claudius has
coveted the captain’s seat ever since he joined this crew! He has plotted and
schemed to get command of the Elsinore—”
Claudius was a capable first officer who was in line for promotion to captain
as soon as a position opened—”
got tired of waiting and created his own opening. On our ship!”
what exactly is your evidence for this claim?” Ophelia demanded.
still in the evidence-gathering stage.”
for the love of Shiva, that means you’ve got nothing, doesn’t it? Nothing but
rash accusations and hollow suspicions based on your...” She gasped as a new
thought occurred to her. “Oh, Hamlet, please—please—tell me this isn’t
all about Gertrude.”
he said stiffly. “Why would you even mention her?”
sighed. “I thought you were over that, but now I’m wondering.”
my goddess,” Hamlet blurted. “Have you seen the way those two carry on when
they’re off duty? Or even when they’re on duty? Did you see him squeeze
her ass during the engineering inspection the other day when he thought no one
you were looking, of course,” Ophelia said wearily.
she giggled,” Hamlet said in disgust. “Giggled, I tell you!”
got to let this go,” Ophelia said.
Gertrude was a red-headed beauty with an hourglass figure and long-lashed green
eyes—looks that had belied her crisp efficiency as Captain Will’s personal
aide, a position she’d held ever since joining this crew a year ago. She was
about ten years older than Hamlet and ten years younger than Claudius. Both men
had been attracted to her, but Hamlet’s bashful crush and incoherent ramblings
had been no match for Claudius’ bold courtship, and so youth had lost out to
age and experience.
had resented the first officer bitterly ever since. And although Ophelia
thought he should learn to accept a decision that Gertrude had made several
months earlier and move on, it could not be denied that since Captain Will had
died and Claudius had assumed command, the lovers were sometimes indiscreet
while on duty. This was a notable contrast to their strictly correct behavior
while Captain Will, who ran a tight ship, had been in command. And Ophelia had
already wondered how much it would get under Hamlet’s skin.
to send him spiraling into unhinged conspiracy theories, apparently.
Ophelia said, hoping to make him see reason, “if you intend to report to HQ
that Claudius murdered Captain Will, you’ll have to have irrefutable evidence.”
of course,” he said dismissively.
cannot discuss this with anyone else unless you can prove it. And if you can’t
prove it, then you must never mention it again.”
will get proof,” Hamlet said with certainty.
she asked with trepidation.
recruited an expert investigator from military intelligence to look into this
she asked. “How did you arrange that?”
know a guy who knows a girl who knows a guy.”
good, then it’s all perfectly official and there’s no need to worry this is a
reckless plan that will blow up in your face and destroy your career—along with
mine, if anyone finds out you told me about this.”
won’t blow up. This ‘droid is supposed to be the best there is.”
investigator is an android? Well, that’s comforting. Because, of course, they’re
completely reliable and absolutely nothing ever goes wrong when entrusting an
artificial being with human secrets,” said Ophelia. “Oh, wait, except for the
Dogstar War, caused entirely by an android routinely spewing United Systems
secrets as if they were song lyrics. And then there was that android that
unintentionally killed an entire crew last year by shutting down life support
systems in an effort to conserve power usage. Not to mention the android whose
too-literal word choices as an interpreter completely destroyed diplomatic
relations with the entire Rigel system.”
android is different.”
course it is. But I need to go apply for an immediate transfer as far away from
the Elsinore as I can possibly get,” she said. “So, sadly, I don’t have
time to meet it.”
over Ophelia’s shoulder, Hamlet said, “Oh, yes, you do. It’s just arrived.
Excellent! We can begin the investigation immediately.”
here? Now?” Ophelia looked over her shoulder and saw Third Lieutenants
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern escorting an unfamiliar being into the mess. After
a moment, she asked, “That’s your ‘droid? He’s a bit... I mean, he’s sort of...”
android was definitely styled as a “he,” albeit a rather odd one. Apparently an
investigative ‘droid wasn’t supposed to blend in with the crew. Dressed in
elaborately formal civilian garb reminiscent of the style favored by the
first-ever human ambassador to Antares (Ophelia had seen a famous portrait),
the synthetic being had fair skin, dark eyes that darted rapidly around the
room, a stout form, and walked with mincing little steps. She noted that he
wore improbably shiny shoes and white gloves, and there seemed to be some sort
of implant directly above his oral orifice. Ophelia wondered what its function
rose as Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and the android approached their table.
said, “Lieutenant Hamlet, this ‘droid arrived a little while ago in a spacepod
and started asking for you as soon as it was activated.”
been expecting him,” Hamlet confirmed. “Thank you for escorting him here.”
bon,” said the android. “Do I now have the pleasure of addressing First
‘droid talks with a funny accent,” Rosencrantz said helpfully.
do you do?” Hamlet said to the android. “I’m pleased you arrived so promptly.”
me to introduce myself. I am Monsieur Achilles Piquant, Master Investigative
Prototype Android Model XZB-Q14.”
is that accent?” Rosencrantz asked. “I can’t place it, and it’s driving
who had studied linguistics before the resultant migraines drove her to switch
to engineering and physics, said, “I think it’s French.”
said Achilles Piquant. “Belgian, if you please.”
was manufactured and programmed on La Nouvelle Belgique,” said Piquant.
Belgium,” Ophelia said to Guildenstern.
small but charming planet in the Zeitgeist Union,” Piquant added.
heard of it,” said Rosencrantz.
that implant above your mouth?” Guildenstern asked, peering at the android’s
The ‘droid raised a gloved hand to its oral orifice, apparently searching for
the object of Guildenstern’s attention.
he touched it, Guildenstern said, “Yeah, that thing. What is it?”
Those are my moustaches.”
moustaches,” repeated Monsieur Achilles Piquant. “They are decorative and
thought to be aesthetically pleasing.”
that’s certainly one interpretation,” said Ophelia.
supposed to be facial hair?” Rosencrantz asked skeptically, leaning closer to
the android to take a good look.
what about this weird uniform you’re wearing?” asked Guildenstern. “Is
it a uniform?”
right, thanks for delivering the ‘droid to me,” said Hamlet, clearly dismissing
the junior officers.
task of the day,” said Guildenstern, ignoring the hint and taking a seat next
to Ophelia. “We’re off duty now.”
said Rosencrantz, taking the other spare seat at their table. “So what are you
guys doing now? Just hanging out?”
Ophelia. “In fact, I’m not even here, and you haven’t seen me.”
believe we should waste not another moment before discussing the details of the
murder, n’est-ce pas?” said Piquant.
and Guildenstern both whipped their heads around to look at the android.
murder?” Rosencrantz asked.
murder,” Ophelia said quickly. “There has been no murder.”
said Piquant, turning to Ophelia. “But I had understood that I was summoned to
investigate the murder of the captain of this vessel.”
shit,” blurted Rosencrantz. “Captain Claudius has been murdered?”
of course not.” Ophelia uttered a strained laugh as she shot a glare at Hamlet.
stared at the wall, his expression blank.
Claudius was not the name of the victim,” said Piquant. “It was—”
do you need to recharge your power supplies after your long journey?” Ophelia
asked the ‘droid.
you, no. That is most kind, but at the moment, I should like to absorb whatever
information is available about the murder so that I and my little gray
microcells may process it later while recharging.”
who’s been murdered?” Guildenstern wondered.
said Achilles Piquant.
Guildenstern repeated blankly.
Weel,” Piquant confirmed. “The commander of this vessel.”
jumping Jupiter!” cried Rosencrantz, leaping out of his seat. “You’re saying
that Captain Will was murdered?”
is what I am here to investigate,” replied Monsieur Piquant.
rolled her eyes at Hamlet. “‘This android is different,’” she quoted.
and Guildenstern are dead?” Ophelia said incredulously. “How? When? What
not important right now,” said Hamlet, meeting with her on one of the lower
engineering decks, a place where they were unlikely to be monitored or
overhead. “What is important is that we’re getting closer to nailing Claudius
for Will’s murder.”
phrase ‘Fortinbras,’ which you say Captain Weel uttered with his final breath.”
Achilles Piquant was frowning thoughtfully. “You’re certain he was not saying ‘forte
didn’t speak French,” Hamlet said. “The word or phrase was definitely
Fortinbras. Not forte embrasse, or four timbers, or four tin bras, or—”
tin bras?” Piquant repeated.
know what a bra is, lieutenant.”
need to find out what Fortinbras means!” Hamlet insisted.
said, “No, first of all, I want to know how and why two healthy young officers
have suddenly died.”
right,” Hamlet snapped. “Captain Will shuffles off this mortal coil in
think ‘mysterious’ is an exaggera—”
no clear diagnosis of what killed him—”
imparting a vital clue to me with his dying breath!”
it was so vital, you’d think he’d have chosen a word that meant something to
you,” Ophelia snapped back.
that death doesn’t need to be discussed, let alone investigated, as far
as you’re concerned. Noooo. You’re perfectly happy to accept that death
without a pause. But a couple of half-witted junior officers die, and suddenly
you’re full of questions!”
yes,” she said. “So are you going to tell me what happened?”
reflection,” said Piquant while stroking his moustaches thoughtfully, “I
suspect the entire solution to this puzzle lies in ascertaining what Captain
Weel meant by ‘Fortinbras.’”
distracted, Ophelia asked, “Why do you think that?”
Piquant does not explain his thought process until the culmination of the
investigation,” the android said.
thought you were Achilles Piquant?”
why did you just refer to yourself in the third person?”
I find it necessary to separate myself from my own genius.”
course you do.” She turned back to Hamlet. “Well? What happened to Rosencrantz
went on a dangerous mission.”
very dangerous mission,” he said. “It didn’t go well.”
no.” Ophelia’s stomach sank as she realized the truth. “You’re responsible for
writing the duty roster for their department. You sent them on that mission,
knowing they were unlikely to survive!”
Hamlet waggled his hand. “I thought they might have a forty/sixty shot at
thirty/seventy if I’m being completely honest,” he confessed.
did you do it?” she demanded.
they reported my suspicions to Claudius, who ordered them to kill me.”
you’ve killed Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?” Ophelia said incredulously.
created circumstances to preserve my own life at the cost of their lives,”
do you know they were planning to kill you?” she challenged. “What makes you
think Claudius ordered it?”
overheard them discussing it.”
you hear this conversation, too?” Ophelia asked Piquant.
lieutenant. I was recharging my little gray microcells.”
anyone besides you hear this conversation?” she asked Hamlet.
you doubting my word?” he asked stiffly.
I’m doubting your sanity.”
one else heard,” Hamlet said grumpily. “And if you don’t believe the things I
tell you, then you can feel free to stop helping me.”
not helping you,” she reminded him. “And when you’re court-martialed, I’d
appreciate it if you’d be very clear about that fact.”
you going to turn me in?” he asked tensely.
thought about it, sighed, and shook her head. “Let’s suppose for just one
moment that you’re not lying or delusional. If you really overheard Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern plotting to kill you on Claudius’ orders—”
you may be right about his killing Captain Will. In which case, if I turn you
in while he’s in command of this ship, you won’t live to see a courtroom,
because he’ll have to get rid of you before you can make any public accusations
against him.” She paused before adding, “Come to think of it, I might not live
long, either, in that case, if he’s at all worried about loose ends.”
you’re not going to impede our investigation?”
yet,” she said with some reluctance.
clutched her shoulders gratefully and said, “Ophelia, you’re a brick.”
no more killings, Hamlet. No more deaths. I mean it. And you’ve got to
get evidence. Do you understand me?”
sűr,” said Achilles Piquant.
do you mean, ‘Polonius is dead?’” Ophelia demanded, trying not to gag as
the fetid fumes of their new secret meeting place filled her nostrils.
think you’re overreacting,” said Hamlet, holding a cloth over his mouth and
nose as protection against the stench in here.
Overreacting?” Ophelia sputtered. “You’ve killed the ship’s surgeon!”
was spying on me.” Hamlet coughed a little as the fumes assailed him. “He was
about to go report to Claudius that I was recruiting Gertrude to our cause.”
do you mean, ‘our’ cause? I am not part of this,” Ophelia said
truth,” the ever-composed Achilles Piquant informed her with apparent sympathy,
“since you have already withheld information about the deaths of two junior
officers, I fear you are deeply involved in this, mademoiselle.”
she corrected morosely, realizing that the New Belgian android was right. Her
decision not to report Hamlet for plotting the deaths of Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern had made her an accessory after the fact. Now that Polonius was
also dead, she was in this mess up to her neck. She felt her eyes watering and
didn’t know whether it was due to the fumes or to the desperation she suddenly
caught Polonius hiding in Gertrude’s dryshower,” said Hamlet. “Eavesdropping on
me while I convinced Gertrude that Claudius killed Captain Will to achieve his
own promotion—as well as to throw off the inconvenient shackles of propriety,
decency, and good taste in his relationship with her! Did you see the
two of them heavy-petting under the table like horny teenagers yesterday during
the admin-and-supplies meeting? It was disgusting! How she can let that slimy,
grinning, strutting buffoon fondle her like that, when—”
we could focus for a moment?” Ophelia prodded. “You’re sure Polonius is
a hole in his chest that’s twenty centimeters in diameter?” said Hamlet. “Yeah,
I’m pretty sure.”
used your service weapon,” Ophelia guessed. “Which means this incident can be
traced directly to you. Though I suppose that’s irrelevant, since you killed
him in front of a witness.”
won’t talk,” Hamlet said with certainty. “She’s on our side now.”
side,” Ophelia repeated grimly. “All right, please tell me you have at
least learned the truth about Claudius, Will, and Fortinbras while killing off
three officers in the course of your investigation.”
calculate that we are very near to discovering everything,” said Achilles
Report Claudius to HQ,” Ophelia said to Hamlet. “Now. Immediately. Before
anyone else gets killed.”
I can’t yet,” he said. “I need more evidence. I’ve got to be sure.”
not sure?” she blurted. “You’ve killed three people for this, and you’re
still not sure Claudius has killed one?”
me a little more time,” said Hamlet.
enough of this vacillation! This cannot continue,” Ophelia insisted. “Either
you contact HQ and formally accuse Claudius of murder right now, Hamlet, or
else you turn yourself in for killing three officers. Choose!”
can’t,” he said anxiously. “Not yet.”
does it,” said Ophelia. “I’m contacting HQ myself and telling them everything.
It’s the only way I might get out of this mess with a dishonorable discharge
instead of a prison sentence.”
grabbed her arm. “No! Wait!”
go of me,” she said tersely.
said Piquant. “My audio sensors detect footsteps on this deck. We are no longer
alone, mes amis!”
stomach dropped as she, too, heard heavy footsteps approaching. A moment later,
the sealed steel doors swished open, and six members of the ship’s Security
Team entered the room, all them pointing their weapons at Hamlet, Ophelia, and
Ophelia blurted in confusion when she met the gaze of the team’s commanding
he said incredulously.
stared at each other for a moment. Then they both looked away, feeling awkward.
they are acquainted,” the razor-sharp android investigator surmised.
had a thing for a while,” said Hamlet, letting go of Ophelia’s arm. “Followed
by a bad break-up.”
are you doing here?” Laertes demanded, looking at Ophelia again. “And with him?”
always been touchy about her friendship with Hamlet.
do you mean?” she replied, panic rising. “I’m not... ha-ha-ha!... with
Hamlet. I just happened to be strolling through here.”
looked around for a moment, then back at her. “We’re in the secondary
processing chamber of the sewage recycling system. Who strolls in here?”
can do what I want,” she asserted.
this time,” said Laertes. “Hamlet is wanted for questioning in the murder of
Dr. Polonius, and he’s suspected of a conspiracy to mutiny against Captain
Claudius. I think you’d all better come with us.”
cried Hamlet. “I will not be taken alive!”
said Ophelia in horror. “No! Stop!”
took a flying leap at the security guards. One of them punched him in the face,
and he collapsed with a soft grunt and fell to the floor.
down at him, Laertes said, “Boy, did you back the wrong horse, Ophelia.”
Hamlet, their armed guards escorted Ophelia and Monsieur Piquant to the bridge,
where Claudius awaited them, surrounded by his senior officers and attended by
his personal aide, Yeoman Gertrude.
sorry to see you involved in this unfortunate business, lieutenant,” Claudius
said to Ophelia.
as sorry as I am, sir.”
was revived by the efficient ministrations of a medic. Then, with his voice
still a little groggy, he insisted, “Let me go. I demand my right to accuse my
seems a bit addled,” said Captain Claudius.
I said what I meant.” Hamlet rose to his feet. “I accuse you, Claudius, of
murdering Captain Will!”
dare you?” Claudius scowled at Hamlet. “How dare you, sir?”
Horatio, the new first officer, said, “Captain, I recommend that we put
Lieutenant Hamlet in solitary confinement, under armed guard, and leave him
there until we can offload him at a penal colony.”
penal colony?” repeated Yeoman Gertrude. “He hasn’t even been charged yet, let
alone tried and convicted. You can’t imprison him on your own authority.”
is mutiny,” said Horatio.
what about his accusation?” Gertrude persisted. “I can’t believe the officers
and crew of this ship will simply ignore the possibility that its current
captain may be the murderer of its previous one. Surely Hamlet’s story must be
heard back at HQ?”
blinked, realizing that his lover was advocating that the offensive accusation
against him be treated seriously. “Excuse me?”
have to tell the truth!” Gertrude cried to the room at large, backing away
slowly from Claudius. “I’ve had my dark suspicions, but I tried to ignore them
because of my personal attraction to you.”
said Claudius, looking baffled.
Officer Horatio gave Gertrude a quelling look. “No one asked your opinion,
Yeoman, and no one wants it.”
that so, monsieur?” said Achilles Piquant.
that’s so. And who in Hades are you?”
with military intelligence,” Hamlet said triumphantly. “The spooks have got
questions about what’s going on aboard this ship.”
intelligence?” Laertes and Horatio blurted in unison.
that is so.” Piquant entered a code into the digital implant on the inside of
his left wrist. A moment later, he showed them all the small screen there which
now displayed his identity file as an investigative android for United Systems
Military Intelligence. “We have been monitoring this vessel for some time,
aware of several suspicious incidents that have occurred during top-secret
missions entrusted to the Elsinore.”
go on top-secret missions?” Ophelia said blankly.
question is above your security clearance,” said Horatio.
said Achilles Piquant. “For instance, the Elsinore was assigned to
provide safe transport for an exiled rebel leader secretly returning to
Aldebaran; she disappeared without a trace. This ship was authorized to smuggle
food and medicine to Orion, yet somehow the shipments arrived with weapons,
instead, leading to renewed warfare. The Elsinore had instructions to
capture the notorious interstellar terrorist known only as Federico, who was
trapped on an asteroid; instead, he made his escape in a spacepod stolen from
the Elsinore and got away.”
was staring in astonishment at the android. “Monsieur Piquant, do you mean to
say that all these things have been going on aboard the Elsinore while I’ve
been doing physics and worrying about microbes, and I never even suspected?”
looked at Hamlet. “Did you know?”
above his security clearance, too,” said Horatio.
I knew something was rotten on the Elsinore,” said Hamlet. “Why
was there no investigation after that spacepod went missing? Why were we going
to places like Aldebaran and Orion for no apparent reason, orbiting briefly,
and then leaving?” He nodded. “I knew there were more things occurring on this
ship than were dreamt of in your philosophy, Ophelia.”
she said. “So I gather your point, Monsieur Piquant, is that—”
is an imposter aboard the Elsinore!” the android declared. “A spy. A
double agent. A traitor. Someone who deliberately and skillfully undermines the
delicate secret missions assigned to this vessel.”
exclaimed Hamlet, pointing accusingly at Claudius. “And he killed the
most certainly did not!” Claudius said in outrage.
Will suspected you,” Hamlet said with a sneer, “and so you got him out of the
way and took over the captaincy.”
not!” thundered Claudius. “I am a good soldier, a loyal officer, and a lifelong
servant of the United Systems. I would never—”
mon capitaine. Of course you would not. Achilles Piquant does not suspect
frowned at him. “I thought you were Achilles Piquant?”
don’t ask,” said Ophelia. “Let’s just keep going.”
Hamlet sputtered. “Piquant, I don’t understand! Are you saying Claudius isn’t
course that’s what he’s saying, you mutinous, half-witted upstart,” said
you ordered Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to kill me!”
did no such thing! They said you were planning a mutiny, so I told them they
were authorized to use deadly force to prevent one, if they found it necessary.”
not what they thought.”
were idiots,” Claudius retorted.
got you there,” said Ophelia.
also had Polonius spy on me!”
course, I did,” snapped Claudius. “You got Rosencrantz and Guildenstern killed
right after they warned me you were plotting a mutiny!”
wasn’t! I was planning to expose you as Captain Will’s killer.”
mon ami,” Piquant implored. “Who deliberately cultivated a close
relationship with Captain Weel, in order to access the most sensitive
information aboard the Elsinore while remaining above suspicion?”
first officer!” Hamlet again pointed accusingly at Claudius.
on, Ophelia said to Hamlet, “Who else, you idiot? Open your eyes!”
gasped as he realized whom Piquant was implicating. “No! Oh, no...”
said, “Upon discovering that she could only get so far with Captain Will, who
would never dream of dallying with one of his own crew members—”
who was, moreover, beginning to suspect her,” added Piquant.
cultivated an even closer relationship with his first officer.”
Claudius said sadly. “Oh, my dear, please, say it isn’t so.”
beautiful redhead backed away from the assembled group until she bumped lightly
into a navigation console, where she stopped and held her ground.
Hamlet bleated in surprise. “She’s the killer?”
said Piquant. “And once she realized that Weel suspected her, she knew she must
get rid of him.”
replace him with someone too besotted to suspect her,” said Ophelia.
good Captain Claudius was to be her asset,” said Piquant, “enabling her to
continue sabotaging the Elsinore’s secret missions. Until, that is, she
learned that Hamlet suspected Captain Weel had been murdered. Oh, she is a
clever femme, that one! Rather than risk trying to cover up the murder
once it was suspected, she instead chose to implicate Claudius, whose ambition
would be seen as an obvious motive for killing his superior officer.”
fiend!” Claudius shouted at his now-former lover, who was staring at Piquant
with a murderous expression.
it was Gertrude all along,” Hamlet murmured.
Yeoman Gertrude,” agreed Piquant. “Or, rather, should I say Madame...
Gertrude gasped and flinched.
tin bras?” Horatio asked with a puzzled frown.
Fortinbras,” said Ophelia.
code name,” said Piquant with a firm nod, noting Gertrude’s reaction. “The
phrase has surfaced before, and we had shared the information with Captain Weel
when warning him we suspected there was a traitor on board his ship.”
never said anything to me about any of this,” Hamlet muttered.
old chap,” Horatio reminded him.
knew the phrase was important, but we didn’t know what it meant. When I learned
that it was been Captain Weel’s dying utterance, and I started matching the
timeline of the suspicious incidents on this ship with the service records of
the crew...” Achilles Piquant shrugged. “Eh, bien, it soon became clear
to me that the problems had begun shortly after Yeoman Gertrude joined this
crew and made herself indispensable to the captain. And so the killer is
couldn’t have mentioned this down in the sewage recycling area?” Ophelia said
little gray microcells did not yet have all the data,” said Piquant. “The final
piece of the puzzle was Yeoman Gertrude’s attempt, moments ago, to implicate
Claudius in the murder. This confirmed to Achilles Piquant that she is indeed
Fortinbras, the master spy and devious traitor.”
said, “Mr. Laertes, if you and your men would be so good as to escort her to
the brig, we can report to HQ that we have captured Fortinbras.”
sir.” But a moment later, Laertes cried out and fell to the floor, bleeding
from a gaping wound.
so fast, Claudius!” Gertrude was pointing a small but deadly laser gun at the
rest of them. “Did you seriously think I would be unprepared for this
possibility, Monsieur Piquant?”
be a fool,” Piquant said urgently. “Where do you think you can escape to? We’re
on a starship.”
take my chances in a spacepod,” said the notorious Fortinbras. “My allies will
receive my signal and pick me up before the Elsinore can trace me. But
first, I’m afraid, I’ll have to eliminate all of you. I must give myself a good
head start, after all.”
say!” Horatio rushed forward. “Villain!”
Gertrude turned to blast him with a deadly flesh-rending ray, Hamlet jumped her
and knocked her to the ground. The two of them struggled, Hamlet grunting and
straining as Gertrude kicked and punched. Uncertain of the outcome, Ophelia
picked up a portable communications amplifier and bashed Gertrude over the head
thank Gaia,” Hamlet panted as Gertrude went limp. “I wasn’t going to last much
ordered the guards to remove Fortinbras to a secure cell before she woke up and
caused more trouble, and then he summoned emergency medical personnel to the
bridge to assist the medic who was already working on the unconscious Laertes’
said to Hamlet, “I rushed her without thinking clearly. You probably saved my
life, old man. In fact, you may have saved all our lives.”
does not mitigate his murder of three of my officers.” Claudius said sternly to
Hamlet, “I order you to the brig, where you will await charges.”
moment, mon capitaine. Young lieutenant Hamlet is too headstrong, yes, but
you should be aware that he killed traitors, not loyal officers.”
are you saying?”
and Guildenstern were minor smugglers, in league with Fortinbras for the sake
of profit, though they did not know her identity.”
Polonius?” Hamlet asked.
used inside information to help get Fortinbras assigned to the Elsinore
at the right time and in the right role. And after Gertrude murdered Captain
Weel, to prevent him from exposing her true identity, it was Polonius who
covered it up by falsely claiming the poor man had died of natural causes.”
I told you so,” Hamlet said triumphantly to Ophelia.
you did,” she admitted. “And I suspect I’ll never hear the end of it.”
can prove these accusations?” Captain Claudius demanded.
course,” Piquant said crisply.
captain sighed. “In that case, you and I and my security chief should retire to
the briefing room to prepare a preliminary report on this mess for HQ.”
as Piquant turned to exit the bridge, Ophelia stopped him. “I thought you were
just another android wreaking havoc when you arrived. The way you carelessly
blurted out that you were here to investigate the captain’s murder—a subject so
volatile it should never have been mentioned aloud...” She smiled. “Or so I
thought at the time.”
Piquant smiled, too, making his synthetic moustaches quiver a little. “And now?”
I realize you did it to startle the conspirators and draw them out into the
open. Well played, monsieur.”
bien, I could do no less. I am, after all, Achilles Piquant, Master
Investigative Prototype Android Model XZB-Q14.”
day, lieutenant.” The dapper New Belgian investigator gave her a little bow and
followed Captain Claudius off the bridge.
his autobiography, the late Christopher Hitchens described a dinner at which he
and his companions wondered how the thriller writer Robert Ludlum might have
titled Shakespeare’s plays. For Hamlet, Salman Rushdie proposed The
Elsinore Vacillation, which stuck in my head.