Three women step off of the elevator and walk silently down a hallway. The lighting is dim, even by Gilkesh standards, and their footsteps echo against the rock walls. Except for Garris, Shihar, and Orizhend, there is no sign of life or habitation in this abandoned sector.
They are now several levels below the Security office. Orizhend has never seen this area; Chief Garris herself has seen it only rarely, and Inspector Shihar only once. Wordlessly, Garris indicates a doorway, seemingly chosen at random. Shihar thinks it's the same room as before, but she can't remember for certain.
The room is furnished with a plain table of steel and crystal with four chairs. They close the door and seat themselves, the empty fourth chair creating a feeling that a fourth guest is expected - or perhaps already present, unseen and unheard. Shihar spreads her notesheets and datapads on the surface of the table. Garris carries no note-taking equipment; Shihar knows she doesn't need it. Orizhend is still clutching the lesson plan to her chest, as if protecting the girls whose names appear there ... but one of those girls is already missing.
"Don't worry about Urkni," Shihar says, keeping her voice low because she's aware of how tense and oppressive the silence feels. "We've issued an alert and there are search teams already looking for her. The rest of your girls are being escorted back to their homes. I've already spoken to the Education Director, and she's going to arrange for counseling when they return to school. Nobody should have to see what they saw."
The schoolteacher nods wordlessly, not meeting Shihar's gaze. Shihar lets a few moments elapse. When she feels Orizhend is ready (or perhaps on an unspoken signal from her boss, she's never really sure), she goes on with the interview.
"Did you know the dead girl?"
"No. No, I told you already ..." She's still not looking up.
"Had you ever seen her before?"
"No." It is unlikely that this is literally true; the population of the colony on Planet 138 is very small. But it is plausible that the woman doesn't remember seeing the vicitm, which - for now - will do.
"Did you notice anything unusual in the period before the death? Have you seen or heard anything, well, out of the ordinary in the last few days?"
Orizhend shakes her head.
"Please speak up," Garris interjects, softly but firmly. "I need to be able to hear your answers."
Shihar goes on. "Were you anywhere near the airlock before the time you found the body?"
"No! I was with my class - why are you asking me that?" She's worried now that they suspect her of being the killer.
Shihar leans forward and touches Orizhend's arm. "Listen to me. You're not under investigation, okay? But we need you to help us with this. Because -" She can feel Garris' eyes on her, so she stops herself. "It's very important that you help us."
Out of the corner of her eye, Shihar sees Chief Garris nod imperceptibly, which she knows signals both approval (whew!) and that the Chief would like to ask a few questions.
"Miss Orizhend," Garris begins, using the formal, respectful title the schoolteacher is used to hearing from her students, "I really appreciate your taking the time to talk with us."
(She's doing it again, Shihar thinks. The Chief, who normally has the personality of a paperweight, can become a completely different person when doing an interview - inexorably dominating and irresistibly sexy - if that's what it takes to get the information she needs. It's the most disconcerting thing.)
"This is an unusual case," Garris goes on, "and at this point there's a lot more unknown about it than is known. Here's what I can tell you so far. We think we have an ID on the girl, but we're still awaiting positive confirmation on that - so I'm afraid I can't disclose anything more about that just yet. As you told our patrol officers when they arrived, there were no signs of a struggle. In fact, the security video shows her just walking into the airlock and opening the outside door.
"So it looks like a suicide. And I don't expect it will turn out to be anything else, but we do want to know as much as we can about the girl - and about her last hours in this world."
This is enough to put Orizhend at ease. There is much more that Garris hasn't told her. While homicides are rare on Planet 138, the same cannot be said about suicides. But in Garris' experience, people usually end their lives with drugs, or occasionally they'll cut themselves. Airlock suicides aren't unknown, but they are very rare; and they're the kind of thing Internal Security doesn't release details about, to prevent copycat activity. An airlock suicide is an unusual event. Two in the same year would be strange. Three in a single year would be bizarre - like corpses getting up and walking around.
This is the third airlock suicide in a month.
"So, tell me," Chief Garris says, "What was the most unusual thing you noticed in the last 24 hours?"
Orizhend thinks for a moment. "It was the whispering," she says. "The whispering stopped."