I stared at Gator for a long moment before speaking.
“Well,” I said as reasonably as possible. “Let’s reason it out. Right? Apply some logic. We know Sys and Mearr couldn’t have done it, they’re both bedridden.”
“Presumably,” said Gator.
“I’ve seen them,” I said. “There’s no way either of them could have gotten out of that bed, and there’s certainly no way they could have overpowered Chief. Same goes for me, I’m just barely recovering from letting Sys energy drain me.”
“And for both of these facts I have merely your word.”
“Cap was there,” I said suddenly. “He’s tending to all three of us. He can confirm our whereabouts.”
Look at me, I thought to myself. I’m starting to talk like a bad detective novel.
“And was Cap within your sight the entire time?”
“Well, no. He’s the captain. He has things to do.”
“So, for all we know, it could have been our captain,” said Gator.
“That’s ridiculous. Besides, the murder had to take place between the time I picked up the last bowl of food and the time I came back down for an extra one. There’s no way Cap could’ve made it down and back in the time it took me to make the same trip.”
“You did say you were weak. Tired. Moving slow. Maybe he outpaced you.”
“I didn’t see anything, Gator.”
Gator clicked his metal talons on the table in front of him. “And maybe there are hidden passages that neither of us are aware of. Certainly you’ve found some hidden nooks and crannies that are unknown to the rest of us.”
I had to admit, he had a point. If I knew more about the ship than Gator, surely the captain knew more about the ship than both of us.
“Still, though, Gator. You have to admit. It’s ridiculous to think that Cap would kill Chief.”
“Perhaps,” said Gator. “As I said, though. We must consider every possibility.”
“Well, what about you?” I said.
“What about me? What about you? Either of us is a prime suspect.”
“And so is Guhle,” I said slowly. The idea mulled around in my brain even as I spat out the words attached. “He was assigned to pilot duty, which puts him in a remote location relative to the rest of us, but still with a direct line of passage to the galley. He could have crept in, killed Chief, and snatched Tic-Toc, all before I managed to get back down.”
“Guhle also has the wide background experience required for such a feat,” said Gator.
“And he said, while we were inspecting the body, he chastised Cap for not recognizing the wound. He said Cap didn’t have enough experience with blades and bodies, and yet he couldn’t identify the weapon that would have caused the wound either.”
“Couldn’t. Or wouldn’t,” said Gator. “If he were the murderer and the only one who could identify the weapon, it makes sense that he would obscure its identity.”
“But why the hell would Guhle kill Chief?” I said.
“Why indeed,” said Gator. Though it was clear from the slow drawn out tone of his voice that he had his ideas already.
“Spill it, Gator. This is no time to hold anything back.”
Again, Gator clicked his metal talons on the table between us. “You remember what I told you about the silence. One of the first days you were aboard this ship.”
I nodded. “How could I forget? You terrified me. I thought for sure you had already snapped and we hadn’t even left the system yet.”
Gator laughed, though the noise sounded hollow coming through his voice filter. “You may often find that those who are maddest on land are sanest at sea.”
I leaned forward and tapped the center of the table, which was adorned with a starry motif, with my index finger. “We’re in space, Gator.”
“It’s still a legitimate sentiment.”
“So, what?” I said, leaning back into my chair and folding my arms. “Guhle snapped in the silence because Em died, so he takes it out on Chief and Tic-Toc?”
“Perhaps. It’s as plausible as anything else we’ve come up with, isn’t it?”
We fell silent for a moment. It all seemed too surreal. I was still adjusting to Em being gone. Now, with Chief’s body lying on the galley floor and Tic-Toc’s amiable-but-annoying presence missing…well, the entire ship seemed to be falling apart at the seams these days. I couldn’t think at all of what I could possibly do.
“By the way,” I said, remembering Cap’s commands. “We need to go clean up Chief off of the galley floor. We can’t let him rot there, not with all the food exposed.”
Gator nodded, but he didn’t stand as I rose from my seat. Instead, he turned his head almost imperceptibly to the left, to look up at me where I stood.
“You do realize,” he said slowly, “That all of the concerns we’ve raised about Guhle apply equally well to you. Right?”
I froze. Not for guilt. It hadn’t been me, after all. But for fear. Gator was powerful in more ways than one on this ship. If he truly suspected me, it would make the already unpleasant situation we were in even worse.
“What do you mean?” I said, playing dumb while my mind scrambled to think of anything I could say to rebuff Gator’s inevitable arguments.
“You have the same requisite experience. If your actions on the Farseer battlecruiser are any indication, one might argue that you’re even better equipped to perform a deed such as this than Gator is. We already know that you have a knife — one you didn’t tell any of us about when you came aboard. It is possible that its blade is more than it seems, and would leave an otherwise unrecognizable cut on a creature such as Chief.”
Gator steepled his fingers, turning his gaze away from me for the moment.
“You have the same mental stresses that Guhle has. Perhaps more. The situation with Sys and Mearr seems to gnaw on you more and more each day. Who’s to say you haven’t snapped in the silence? You’re also the newest member, which would explain why nothing of this nature has happened before. It would also perhaps account for you being affected by Em’s death. Seeing the next-youngest member of the crew fail to return from an expedition perhaps reminded you of your own mortality — and facing one’s inevitable mortality whilst traveling among the silence is certain to drive the hardiest of minds into madness.”
Silence descended between us. The low rumble of the ship’s engines below us filled the space, reminding us of our continual progress toward uncertain destinations.
Gator stood, and crossed to the entrance of the room. He stood with his back to me. Maybe he trusted me more than I thought. Or maybe he trusted his Farseer armor more than he feared my supposedly-magical knife.
“Do you begin to see the difficulty of this situation, hatchling? Anyone truly is suspect.”
“Even you?” I said when I found my breath again.
“Even me,” he said. As usual, the mechanical nature of his voice made it difficult for me to truly read him. But I thought I heard a hint of sadness there, a resignation, all the same.
“So tell me, boss,” I said. I figured deference was the best policy here. “What do we do now?”
“Now we work, and wait, and keep looking for Tic-Toc. If anyone can tell us anything about what happened to Chief, it’s him.”