Previously in Only Slightly
Geraldine was assigned a mystery to solve, although
no mention was made of what the mystery actually
was, leaving her in a rather difficult situation.
Bidet and Fridgara succeeded in reopening the
spatial tear through which The Geraldine
disappeared, but found only several cubic miles of
Buckminsterfullerene. Bill and Elizabeth set off
for New Earth to follow up a lead on The
Geraldine's location, but just before they entered
hyperspace Elizabeth was briefly possessed by some
kind of entity which suggested that Bill may never
come back. Just to add to the suspense, the
narrative will now change tack
Linda stretched herself out on her beach towel
with a luxuriant sigh and closed her eyes against
the glare of the sun directly overhead. Gir-Aris
was a planet famed for its beaches, and now she was
here she could certainly see why - in two days on
the planet she'd been to several, and although this
one was her favourite of those she'd seen, they
were without exception clean, sun-drenched and
breathtakingly beautiful. This one, however,
definitely had the best location, being only a
short walk from her hotel.
'Sometimes,' Linda said absently, 'it's almost
possible to believe that someone built this planet
'Like the Magratheans?' Linda's successor on the
Chair of Mina, Anneka, was extremely familiar with
the work of Douglas Adams. It was he who had
founded h2g2, which had over time developed into
the basis of Earth's culture.
'They were fictional,' Linda pointed out,
opening her eyes again to look over at Anneka. She
was a Japanese girl, only in her mid twenties, with
long black hair of the kind every woman would like.
Like Linda, she usually wore skin-tight leather,
but in deference to the beach and the sun Anneka
had changed into a tight black leather bikini,
which was decorated with highly polished sharp
stainless steel spikes.
'True,' Anneka said, 'but you might almost have
thought Douglas Adams came here and got the idea
'Maybe this is Santraginus V,' Linda
They lay in the sun for several companionable
and content minutes, then Linda became aware of an
'Excuse me,' she said, getting to her feet.
She headed up the beach and popped into a handy
public convenience. The humans who'd settled this
planet about seventy years ago were all genetically
engineered to withstand large quantities of heat
and sunlight, the local brand of which contained
quite high levels of ultraviolet radiation, and so
they rarely bothered to put cooling systems in any
building that wasn't explicitly designed for
off-worlders to stay in. Therefore the toilet was
extremely hot and stuffy, although thankfully not
smelly thanks to some custom-designed
microorganisms which were added to the flush
After washing her hands and re-applying suncream
to them, Linda made her way leisurely back to the
beach. On the way she spotted an ice cream stand,
so bought two large cones of blueberry flavour.
Then she had to run back to Anneka, so they didn't
melt in the heat before they had the chance to eat
Once the ice cream was finished, they sunbathed
for another hour before a beeping noise issued from
Anneka's bikini. She twisted one of the steel
spikes adorning the top, and the beeping
'Time's up,' she said, rising to her feet. Linda
did the same with a sigh of regret, but to stay
outside any longer would risk serious skin cancer
and she had to admit that she had built up quite a
nice tan since they'd arrived. They gathered their
towels, shook the sand out of them and went back to
the hotel, not dawdling too much now for risk of
over-running the safety margin Anneka had
programmed into her anti-sunburn device (far more
sophisticated than a mere timer, it measured
exposure to ultraviolet radiation and based its
warnings on that, combined with the known
properties of their suncream). The hotel was a
small building only one street back from the beach,
with a courtyard in the middle, overlooked by two
levels of balconies. An L-shaped pool took up about
two thirds of the courtyard, the rest being
occupied by a seating area ideal for reading, and
part of the hotel's restaurant. The whole affair
was shaded by a large bubble which sat atop the
building and filtered out 100% of incoming
ultraviolet radiation. It was safe, but you
wouldn't get the slightest hint of a tan unless you
left the building.
Linda and Anneka left their towels by the
poolside and dived into the pool, working off the
afternoon's laziness on the beach with a good fifty
or sixty lengths which set their appetite up nicely
for their dinner. They ate in the courtyard,
looking up at the sky as it darkened and stars
began to appear, in patterns so entirely different
to those seen from Earth that Linda found them
enthralling in a way she had never found the stars
at home. Anneka, clearly not so impressed by the
night sky of another planet, had activated another
one of the gadgets she'd had concealed inside those
numerous steel spikes on her bikini, and was
reading the news from Earth on a holographic screen
which floated in front of her.
'Can't you leave the job behind for a moment?'
Linda asked when she saw what Anneka was
'It won't leave me behind,' Anneka
replied. 'While we were on the beach today, I had
four calls from people on Earth wanting advice
about things they shouldn't even be talking to me
'They're still doing that?'
'I'd have thought that would have died down by
'Far from it. You took the lead during that
business forty years ago, and far from happily
returning to their own business afterwards,
everyone seems to have come up with the idea that
they need to run things by you - or failing that,
by me - whenever they're unsure about what they
should do. Which,' she added with considerable
distaste, 'seems to be just about all the
'And did you take those calls?'
'Of course not! I have a rather good auto-reply
message on at the moment, which they were treated
to after being kept on hold for five minutes. You
want to see it?'
Linda nodded. Anneka poked her holographic
screen. It collapsed into a set of controls, which
she poked a few more times before they were
replaced by a holographic image of Anneka's
'Hello,' said the recording, 'you have reached
Anneka, Sitter on the Chair of Mina. I am currently
on holiday, and thus unable to take any business
calls. I will be sunning myself on another planet
for approximately two weeks, excluding travel time.
During this time, if you feel unable to make
decisions by yourself, please refer all queries to
my assistant George, who will be happy to assist
you as best he can. Please, have an exceptionally
The head vanished, and Anneka grinned. Linda
'Oh, George! I've got a picture of him.' Anneka
poked the holographic controls again, and a
projection of a rather obese goldfish appeared.
'This is George. He lives in a large tank behind my
desk and likes nibbling on the various plants I've
put in there.'
'You referred them to your goldfish?'
'Why not? If I can get them into making their
own decisions again, maybe I can get some kind of
return to the kind of job this Sittership is
supposed to be.
'Well, good luck to you,' Linda said. 'I
couldn't manage it, maybe they'll take it from
'I certainly hope so,' Anneka said vehemently.
'Now, would you like a game of chess?'
They had barely got the (holographic, projected
from more gadgets in Anneka's bikini spikes) board
and pieces set up to play when a shrill scream
echoed from the balconies. Linda was on her feet
instantly, but Anneka was already three feet off
the ground, and in moments she stood on the
first-floor balcony from which the scream had come.
Linda ran indoors and took the stairs, along with
several other guests and a couple of members of the
hotel staff. When they reached the first-floor room
to which the balcony belonged, they found the door
in pieces in the hall. Linda pushed her way past
the suddenly-hesitant crowd and picked her way
through the wreckage to the room, where Anneka
stood looking at something concealed behind the
sofa. Another young woman was crouched in a corner
with tears streaming down her face, sobbing
incoherently. Linda moved across the room to see
what was on the floor.
'He's dead,' Anneka said when Linda had seen the
man lying on the floor. 'But not for very long,
he's still warm.'
'How?' Linda asked. Anneka shook her head.
'No idea, but I don't like it. He looks fine.
Somebody call the police! There's a dead man in
here!' She shouted out into the corridor. There
were a number of screams, and the sound of feet
shuffling around as someone ran off. Linda frowned
at the body.
'Who's she?' she asked, inclining her head at
the sobbing woman in the corner.
'His daughter, I think,' Anneka said. 'She
didn't say much, but I think she said something
about her father being dead. I'm guessing that's
'Right. Well, we don't have any authority
'You're not suggesting we just leave this?'
'I was going to suggest we offer our services to
the local police,' Linda said tartly. 'You should
have thought of that yourself.'
'Oh. Yes, of course,' Anneka said, sounding
quite abashed. 'I'm sorry, it's not every day one
finds a dead man in a hotel.'
Linda nodded. She was fairly sure this was the
first corpse Anneka had seen, so on the whole she
was coping remarkably well. The dead man himself
was rather unremarkable - pale-skinned with large
eyes that suggested he came from one of the
low-light worlds Linda knew had been colonised over
the centuries. His daughter had the same enlarged
eyes and skin, which definitely added credence to
A commotion in the corridor disturbed Linda's
thoughts, and a few moments later two police
officers burst into the room, closely followed by
two medics. They set to work on the body
immediately, although the looks on their faces said
they knew he was beyond saving. One of the police
officers, a woman with the extremely dark skin that
marked her out as a native of Gir-Aris or a world
much like it, went to talk to the daughter. The
policeman turned his eyes on Linda and Anneka.
'Who are you?' he asked.
'I am Anneka, Sitter on the Chair of Mina, from
Earth,' Anneka said. 'This is Linda, my predecessor
in that role. We are on holiday here.'
The policeman nodded, although clearly he'd
never heard of the Sitter on the Chair of Mina.
Linda found that obscurely disappointing, given the
role she'd played in the reunification of the human
'You are on holiday here?' he asked.
'Yes,' Anneka confirmed. 'We were about to have
a game of chess down in the courtyard when we heard
a scream coming from this room. I flew up to the
balcony to see what it was, and Linda came up the
stairs with everyone else.'
'You flew?' The policeman sounded rather
'It's a little trick I can do,' Anneka
explained. 'Surely you've heard about all the
things we can do with magic on Earth.'
'I have heard, yes,' the policeman said. 'So
what did you see when you entered the room?'
Anneka explained everything she'd seen and done,
and Linda then did the same. The policeman took
'So you have no previous connection to this
'None at all,' Anneka said. The policeman nodded
'Well, thank-you for your time, ladies,' he
said. 'If we want to know anything more we'll be in
touch. How long are you on the planet for?'
'Five more days. Is there anything we can do to
assist you? We are not strangers to investigations
of this kind.'
'I think we can manage. If you'll excuse
Linda and Anneka exchanged looks, then stepped
out of the room and made their way towards their
two-bedroomed suite one floor down. From their
balcony doors they could see the balcony of the
dead man's room, and occasional glimpses of
activity inside as more people arrived to examine
the scene and take away the body.
'What do you think?' Anneka asked
'I don't know,' Linda replied after a moment. 'I
really don't know what to make of it.'
'I don't like it,' Anneka said. 'Something
doesn't feel right.'
'You think it was murder?'
Anneka grimaced, as if struggling with some
'I think it was killing,' she said. 'He
didn't drop dead by himself - but somehow, murder
doesn't seem like the right word.'
'Murder is murder, Anneka.'
'It is, but not all deaths are murders.'
Linda nodded, then found herself wondering what
she'd actually agreed to. Anneka seemed to think
the matter closed, and eventually they ate and
started the game of chess, sitting out on their
balcony. After the first thirty moves or so, when
Linda was busily exterminating Anneka's pawns in
order to escape from the trap which had been set
for her king, they became aware of shouts and
exclamations from the room where the dead man had
been found. A few moments later, there was a knock
on their door, and the policewoman who they'd seen
earlier entered without waiting for an invitation.
Several other officers followed her.
'What's going on?' Anneka asked, rising from her
'My colleague, Officer Derin, has been murdered.
Due to the circumstances of the murder and your
admitted unusual abilities, you are the prime
suspects in this matter. You will come with us to
the police station for further investigation.'
Linda also rose to her feet. 'What? You can't
'I know precisely what I can think,' the
policewoman replied. 'And at the moment, I think
you killed my colleague. I want to know why, and I
want to know how. You will accompany my colleagues
to the station peacefully, or you will be forced to
go. Your choice.'
'I'm not going to stand for this!' Anneka said.
Linda put a hand on her arm.
'Let's not do anything precipitous,' she
cautioned in a low voice. Turning back to the
policewoman, she nodded. 'We will come with you.
Please inform the Earth Ambassador of this matter;
we request legal advice as is our right under your
The policewoman eyed them for a moment, then
gestured to her colleagues.
'Take them to the station.'
Will Linda and Anneka manage to talk
their way out of this sticky situation and discover
who really killed two people in the space of a few
hours in the same room? Does this have anything at
all to do with the rest of the story, and what's
happening to everyone else while Linda and Anneka
are sunning themselves? Read Only Slightly next
week and find out...