Duke Wilberstone's office was always a mess. Many times his boss came by and shook his head with wonder how the detective could function with the piles of paper, trash and banana peels that covered his desk to the point where some of the piles had spilled on the floor. Nonetheless, he said nothing. Wilberstone was his best investigator and had saved the insurance company millions over the years. He had the deduction skills of a Sherlock Holmes; some trivial thing that others would regard as not worth their notice would lead Wilberstone to the heart of the matter, whether it was insurance fraud, suicide made to seem something else or the location of a valuable. That's why they gave him this important case which could cost the insurance company a lot of money and possibly have a chilling affect on the entire humbot industry.

Wilberstone leaned back on his chair with his feet on his desk reading one of several news blogs on his comp-phone. This was his way of getting into the investigation proper by going over every reporter's description of the incident. The particular new blog he was reading was posted on the Eridani City Chronicle. Since it was written by a reporter close to the scene, he felt it would be the most accurate. Under the headline, "Humbot Murders Exoarcheologist in Level Four Apartment," the article read, "Eridani City, Moon Four, Epsilon Eridani System. A domestic humbot was arrested today in connection with the shooting death of Gabrielle Martilonzo, a well respected exoarcheologist. At the time the murder occurred, her husband, Rick Martilonzo, had been away on a mountain climbing trip on the surface. He only learned of his wife's death after he returned to their Level Four apartment. The humbot, who had been named Newton by the couple, had shot Mrs. Martilonzo with an unregistered pistol. The humbot itself called the police, confessing its own crime. In a news conference, when questioned, the Eridani Chief of Police said, 'The investigation is not complete. Nonetheless, we're holding the humbot as a person of interest.'" The article went on to give particulars of the killing and the people and humbot involved. It said that when Mr. Martilonzo was questioned by the police, he broke into tears upon hearing of his wife's untimely demise. He professed no knowledge of the weapon used in the shooting.

The reason Wilberstone was given the case was that Mr. Martilonzo was suing Galactic Robotics for a defective product which he claimed caused the wrongful death of his wife. Galactic Humbots was insured by Universal Coverage Insurance, the company Wilberstone worked for. If it was determined by a civil court that the humanoid robot had a factory defect that directly led to Gabriella Martilonzo's death, both Galactic Humbots and Universal Coverage would stand to lose millions. The cost of losing the lawsuit was not the worst of it. If people began to worry that humbots were capable of committing murder, the consequences to all humbot manufacturers and even to society as a whole would be disastrous, especially on Moon Four where almost everything was done by automation and humbots. .

Galactic Humbots had issued a statement that they stood behind their product one hundred percent and that all humbots are tested thoroughly at the factory. They said that the only way that a Galactic Humbots humbot could cause the death of a human being was if it was tampered with. A company expert would be sent to the Epsilon Eridani system to examine the humbot accused of the killing.

Wilberstone scratched his head. He was under a lot of pressure to come up with an alternative explanation for the death of Gabrielle Martilonzo than the humbot shooting her in cold blood. He had been assured by several experts that humbots absolutely could not cause deliberate harm to a human being, unless of course the humbot was defective. The humbot involved had been in service for several years and had never shown any propensity towards violence. One possibility was that a circuit in its positronic brain had malfunctioned. Under most circumstance baring accident or deliberate damage, positronic brains lasted for hundreds of years. Had this one a factory defect that caused it to fail prematurely? Not only that, a positronic brain was supposed to be failsafe. If a brain circuit failed, the humbot was supposed to automatically shut down.

Wilberstone's instincts told him that it was not the humbot who murdered Mrs. Martilonzo, but her husband, who found a way to blame the humbot. In ninety percent of cases involving the murder of a woman, it turned out the culprit was a husband, a boy friend, or a lover or an ex-husband, ex-boyfriend, or ex-lover who did the foul deed, someone who knew the victim and had something to gain by the woman's death. On rare occasions the murderer turned out to be a jealous woman who was having an affair with the victim's husband or boyfriend. In ninety-nine percent of the cases he had handled the motives were jealousy, monetary gain or both.

The one who had the most to gain by the victim's death in this case was Rick Martilonzo, the husband. If the lawsuit went in his favor he would become a millionaire. There was also a substantial award from a life insurance policy that he had purchased the week before the murder and other valuable assets that he would inherit from his wife. Also, he had been overheard many times to curse his wife for causing them to move to the airless Moon Four. The man had wanted a career as a naturalist and loved the outdoors. It was likely that the only reason he took a job as a plant manager when he could not find work in his field was that he did not wish to be dependent on his wife for support,. As a result he was probably resentful that his wife's profession had taken them to a place where they had to live underground, away from the natural world he loved so much.

In Wilberstone's mind the only question was how Marilonza got the humbot to commit the murder. Marilonza had a perfect alibi. He was on the surface of the moon far from where his wife met her untimely death at the time the murder occurred. He could have sent a signal or given the humbot orders to murder his wife while he was away. But that seemed not possible either. According to everything Wilberston had read, a humbot in good condition could not obey such an order unless the husband tinkered with the humbot's circuits. According to the information Wilberston had received, Martilonzo knew nothing about electronics or robotics. In fact he was the type of person who hated technology.

It was a puzzler. And he had to solve it quickly, before the media sensationalized the whole thing, implying that any humbot could turn on its owner and kill him or her. Once the trial began there would be a media frenzy around the courtroom. Already, many journalists had left Earth for the Epsilon System.

 

Death on Moon 4 may be purchased at Page Turner Editions and other online e-book sellers.

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