Recording AngelBy Victoria Martin
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You know, I never really believed in an afterlife. Sure, we have all sorts
of myths and legends about what happens after death, some we share with most
of the rest of the galaxy, some are all our own, but I doubt if many
people actually believe in them.|
More fool us, evidently.
So it's distinctly ironic to find myself here, sitting in front of a computer screen, definitely conscious and apparently in my own entirely intact and rudely healthy body, instead of a collection of rapidly dissipating atoms smeared over half the solar system. I can't even feel that bruise on my jaw where I was so ungallantly socked just before the ship blew up.
Anyway, I'd better get on with it, I suppose. What do the instructions say again?
This is Recording Angel One. Although your categorisation is prima facie self-evident, we have reason to believe there are possible mitigating circumstances in your particular case. In order to assist us in assigning you to your appropriate destination, you are requested
Requested. That's nice.
to inform us, in full and from your own perspective, of the events leading up to your death. This is your sole opportunity to present any factors you wish to have taken into consideration. You are reminded that we are already fully apprised of the facts of the case and that any attempt to conceal relevant information will be penalised. Examples of the kinds of evidence you may wish to present are your thoughts and feelings about your actions, and your motivation in carrying them out.
Not much point, is there? Obviously I'm guilty, guilty as guilty can be. I killed three people, none of them in self-defence. What am I supposed to say? I'm sorry? I wish I hadn't done it? Of course now I wish I hadn't done it. I might have felt differently if I'd got away with it, though. Hmm, I seem to be shooting myself in the foot here. Well, I never was a very clear thinker under pressure. Wait, there's more coming up on the screen.
There is one particular death you may wish to discuss.
Oh, I see. This is about Mandrian, isn't it? I didn't plan to kill him, you know. I didn't plan to kill any of them, at least not at the beginning. I'm not the kind of person who commits murder -- oh dear, that does sound silly. Obviously I am that kind of person, but I never thought of myself like that, I just took things one step at a time and somehow I found myself a murderer. But it honestly didn't cross my mind that killing would be part of the brief when I started out. When I say 'I', I mean 'we' -- I was hardly the brains behind the operation. Sonovapour isn't easy to come by, and I know absolutely nothing about navigation - biochemists don't, in general. I wouldn't have known where to arrange the liaison or when to stop the Ortega without Kendall. If I had known something about piloting, I might have been able to switch on the navigational instruments and then I'd have seen that the buyers' ship hadn't arrived, wasn't docking, and then I'd never have fallen for that ludicrous trick with the gunshots. Then it might all have been very different. But the way Kendall described it, it seemed simple enough and it ought to have worked. They should all have just woken up to find us and the neutrotope long gone. It was a terrible shock finding Rafford awake -- if it hadn't been such a shock I don't think I could have done it, but I was scared almost out of my mind when he turned round and spoke to me. It's amazing how easy it is to kill someone, the human skull is very fragile in places, I didn't even have to hit him all that hard. And then Dortmunn -- that was another shock. It was Kendall who suggested putting the body in a life rocket so it would look as if he'd fled with the neutrotope, but we ran out of time, the airlock was too far and the others were waking up, so in the end we stowed him on top of a cupboard in the storeroom and rushed off to pretend we were unconscious. We weren't thinking straight, of course - Levett might have found him down there, if she'd tried to fix the navigation equipment and needed spare parts, but we did at least think to blow the lighting system so it would be dark. It was all self-defence, really. I was in a panic about being found out, especially once Blake came aboard. Actually, at first that was a relief -- I thought now it was all over and we'd just have to give up our dreams and take the neutrotope back to Destiny, like good little saviours. Only then Blake offered to deliver it and Kendall voted to accept the offer -- I couldn't imagine why, but I went along with what he wanted, and then he sent me off to retrieve it, and I knew at once what he meant. I wasn't supposed to know the code for the safe, or have access to the key, and he would never have taken the risk of letting that information slip if he hadn't thought it was worth the gamble. My nerves were jangling so hard, I was afraid I'd start hyperventilating when Blake took the box, but by some amazing stroke of luck he didn't open it, just shimmered off in that magic teleport machine they have.
Things went from bad to worse after that. The tension was almost intolerable -- I bit my nails till my fingers bled, and I have no idea how Kendall kept his cool, especially with those two from Blake's crew poking about and asking questions. On top of all that Mandrian kept hassling me -- he'd found the homing beacon and got really suspicious. I don't know why he didn't turn me in; perhaps he hadn't quite worked it out, or perhaps he didn't want to work it out. I suppose what it comes down to is that he loved me. And I suppose I loved him, at least I thought I did. Until he caught me sawing through the filter. Then I had no choice but to kill him.
I really didn't have a choice. I'd gone so far by then. It wasn't just Rafford and Dortmunn, I'd betrayed my whole planet out of sheer greed. Kendall wouldn't have tried to help me, either. He'd have let me swing. I doubt if I could have implicated him. He always was a clever, cold-hearted swine, he'd have covered his tracks. Though I think perhaps that computer person of Blake's was on to him. Oh dear, I'm breaking out into a sweat just thinking about that moment, how he marched into the room and said he knew who'd done it; and then he went over to Kendall and put down that perspex sheet in front of him. I'd caught a glimpse of the writing on it and my heart was pounding so loudly I thought everyone must be able to hear it, but Kendall just said '54124?' as cool as a cucumber, even with that man staring right into his eyes, willing him to admit it. I couldn't move for ages, it took forever to get my gun out, but Kendall kept a poker face the whole time and the others were focussed entirely on him, so in the end I managed it. I tried to sound as cool as Kendall when I was threatening them, but the second I got out of the door I raced for the flight deck as if all the hounds of hell were after me and locked myself in. I was shaking so badly that I nearly dropped the neutrotope when I got it out, and I spent several minutes stroking it and thinking about what I was going to do with all that wealth, trying to calm myself down. I think I knew even then that it wasn't going to work, but I hoped it would, oh how I hoped, so of course I fell for the trick with the gunshots, because I was so desperate for them to have come, and I had absolutely no idea what to do if they didn't. It was horrible seeing the others lying dead on the floor, though. Even if I was a murderer three times over by then, it was still horrible. I'd started this off thinking no blood would be spilled and now it looked as if the entire crew had ended up dead. I was in no state to notice anyone sneaking up on me, and I'm not really built for physical combat anyway, but it's a source of considerable satisfaction that I managed to get in one good dig in the ribs before he almost knocked me out. I bet he can still feel that.
And that's the end, really. Blake came back a few minutes later, sooner than expected (he'd discovered the box was empty; I'm still surprised it took him so long), and we were all supposed to teleport up to their ship, but I managed to wrench the bracelet off at the last minute. Can you imagine what would have awaited me if I'd gone with them? Kendall would have made sure I took all the blame, he'd out-thought me all along, and I'd have been brought back to Destiny, the greatest traitor in the history of the planet. Frankly, I consider myself lucky.
All right, I realise I haven't said anything about Mandrian. What is there to say? He loved me, and I killed him. I didn't want to, I never wanted to, but I was so scared, and I knew he was on to me and I had no way out. So when he said 'I knew you'd be here,' and turned to face me, I had no choice. I didn't even think about it, I just did it, and he looked so surprised, so surprised, and just fell to the floor. I think he tried to say something, but I'm not sure, he was dead so quickly, and there was so much blood. I cried afterwards, though, when Pasco found him. I cried and cried. I think Kendall was impressed, actually, that I could act so well.
I don't know what you want me to say. Was it worth it? No, it wasn't. Sitting here, in relative tranquility, no longer driven to desperate lengths to save myself, I can honestly say it wasn't. Even when I was locked in with the neutrotope I already knew that. What's the use of even wealth beyond imagining if you can't share it?
So, Recording Angel, what do you say? What's my destination? No, don't say anything, I already know the answer.
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