Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Interview

This is chapter four of Luke Bellmason's Vonbek story:
When it rained on Vonbek, it was at its most Earth-like, thought Warbur as he trudged through the back streets that led up to the city police headquarters. The sky, which was normally as tinged with green as Earth’s was with blue, turned just as grey when the clouds shut out the sun. Condensed water vapour was the same colour the universe over. It was a shame though, that the gloomy days were the ones which Warbur felt the most like he was back home.
He wondered if he would ever see Earth again, and certainly knew that he would never see the Earth he’d left behind. The cultural impact of finding a whole new alien world must have been enormous. He’d tried to find out what Earth was like now from some of the new arrivals, but it was so hard to judge simply from the books, movies and news reports they’d travelled with. He sometimes even thought that the changes back on Earth might be so great that going home would be pointless, with the influences crossing so completely between the two cultures that either place became the other.
This police station was a good example, Warbur observed. It had been designed and built by the Corporation, with Vonbekian specifications in mind, but it still felt ‘human’. The many new buildings the Vonbekians themselves had started building were also starting to look more and more human, especially the official and government buildings. It was an architectural style as pervasive as that of the Greeks.
The room that they had brought the Separatist leader into was completely devoid of furniture, but this was not unusual. Warbur had become so used to this that he had long since stopped noticing it. He took his position, out of sight, behind the mirrored glass screen in the booth next to the interview room.
Since the aliens didn’t need chairs to sit down or tables to put things on, everything was on the floor. Their thick tri-pod legs were perfectly suited to folding up under themselves and their three arms were easily able to reach around the area around them. The recording equipment the officer was using to record the interview was a large cylinder mounted onto a trolley which had been pushed into the corner of the room, but Warbur knew Dita would be taking his own record of the meeting on something the size f a shirt button.
Dita had been brought along as the official translator, an employee of the Earth Government as part of their investigation, but unofficially he was more than that. Warbur had briefed him beforehand on the questions he wanted answers to and could pass written messages to him via another officer if he had any follow ups.
The basic round of questioning had already begun when Warbur had taken up position behind the screen. Confirming the leader’s residence, occupation and that she was indeed the leader of the movement she had started almost ten years before. There was no direct translation of her name, which in any case was a combination of her occupation – a minister at the local church – and the town where she lived. So the codename ‘Ysna’ was used by Dita for the benefit of the Earth records.
“Ysna,” went the printout in front of Warbur as the interview proceeded, “could you tell us where you were on the day of the seventh rising in the month of the second harvest?” Dates had still not been successfully assimilated into the Earth calendar but Warbur instinctively knew this was the day of the bombing.
“I was at my church, the same as every day up until today when you had me brought here,” Ysna said in her own tongue.
“And is there anyone who could confirm this?” went the questions.
“Ask my congregation,” she said, simply.
“Did any of your followers or members of the Separatist Movement travel to Tok-Cenb on the day in question?”
Warbur signalled to the officer in the room with him, hurriedly signalling that he wanted to write a note. This was all going far too slowly and it hadn’t been what he’d had in mind at all. He scratched out a simple ‘get rid of everyone, we’ll talk to her off the record’ on the paper, folded it and then wrote ‘Dita’ on the front of it.
The official disappeared out of the door behind him, then reappeared several seconds later in the interview room. Warbur watched Dita take the note, open it and read it. When he looked at the mirror, Ysna looked as well. There was some hurried chattering which the translation equipment couldn’t quite pick up and then everyone apart from Dita and Ysna left the room. The last one out wheeled the trolley behind him and closed the door.
Warbur waited until they’d all gone before he entered the room. He sat, crossed legged, between Dita and Ysna and was dwarfed by them.
“I know you’re involved in the bombing,” he said. “I can’t tell you how, but I know. I just want to know why. After ten years, why now?” Ysna looked first at Dita for the verbal translation and then at Warbur as Dita spoke the words.
“I don’t know what you mean?” she said.
“You, or rather someone in your organisation, planted that bomb. There are no other suspects.” Dita again translated the words, but hesitated over the last one.
“We don’t have a word for ‘suspect’,” he said, apologetically. “Maybe there’s another way of explaining it?”
“I didn’t plant the bomb,” said Warbur pointing at himself, “he didn’t plant the bomb,” he pointed at Dita, “You planted the bomb! Me and Dita are not suspects, you are.” Warbur waited for the translation and then there was a long pause.
Ysna took a deep breath and said a whole bunch of stuff, using all three arms to express herself. Dita tried to keep up with her, but couldn’t. At the end of it all, he summarised, “She doesn’t expect me to understand because I am not a follower of her faith, and she doesn’t expect you to understand because you have no idea of what the faith is. She warns us that every hour the visitors spend on our home brings our Ancestors yet more sorrow. Any action that removes that which pollutes our world and corrupts our people, is justified in the eyes of the Ancestors.” 
Warbur looked at Ysna with enquiring eyes, trying to fathom the meaning of her little tirade. 
“I think that’s as close to a confession as we’re going to get,” Dita added.
“We’ve got her on the run. I know she was involved,” said Warbur standing up and walking out.
In the corridor, Dita joined him as the police officers went back in to continue their interview.
“What can you tell me about this religion of yours?” said Warbur. Dita rolled his hands in an odd side-to-side way.
“Not my religion,” he said, bluntly. “I never really bought into it.”
“The Ancestors?” said Warbur.
“Yes,” said Dita, “we worship our Ancestors. ‘The ones who’ve gone before.’”
“You don’t believe in them?” Asked Warbur.

“Do you believe in ghosts?” said Dita. “I was brought up with this stuff, but as soon as I started to learn about science, about you guys, well that was something real. I didn’t have to believe in it; I could see it.” 
Warbur nodded. 
“So do you think she did it?”
“One of her followers did, yes,” said Warbur, “but they didn’t do it alone. It doesn’t fit the profile, terrorism. I’m convinced it was the work of a human."
“Maybe they read the Earth history like I did,” said Dita, “figured out a way to fight you on your own terms.” 
Warbur thought about this for a moment but then dismissed it. “No, I think I need to keep digging. Let the other investigations run their course; I need to go back to the fleet.”
He bid farewell to Dita and left him with the team at the police station, then he took a taxi to the airport, and from there on to the makeshift spaceport the Earthers had built out on the edge of the main continent.
* * *
The Earth fleet was spread out in high orbit around one hemisphere of Vonbek. The station was in the middle with Corporation ships on one side and Earth Government ships on the other, with the small contingent of ELIJA ships sitting between them.
Warbur headed towards the Corporation’s medical ship and docked his small shuttle in the visitors' bay. He wanted to find Selina Taylan and was surprised to see her as he entered the reception area. She looked better than he had expected and apart from a small cut above her eye was relatively unscathed.
She saw him and there was a flicker of recognition on her face, but Warbur could tell she didn’t remember him.
“Victor Warbur, Earth Government. We met on the shuttle down, before the explosion.” He gave her his best attempt at a smile.
“Ah, yes. Sorry, a lot happened that day,” she said, shaking his hand.
“I was hoping to catch you,” said Warbur. “Are you going back to your ship?”
“Yes, I’ve been discharged,” she said.
“Ah, then would you let me give you a lift? My shuttle is parked in the bay.” Taylan nodded and mumbled something about not caring much for the inter-fleet transit system.
They walked to the elevators and Warbur keyed in the deck number.
“I must say I wasn’t expecting to see you up and about so soon, it’s scarcely been two days.”
“I was lucky,” said Taylan, “very lucky. My friend sitting next to me took most of the impact.”
“Ah, Mr. Le…” Warbur pretended to have difficulty remembering the name.
“LeVant, he was here a few hours ago, he went back to work.”
“LeVant. Is he okay?”
“Well, not okay, no,” she tilted her head to one side, apparently trying to focus on the display inside the elevator. “Considering his injuries, he’s very lucky.”
“Rather sudden for him to be going back to work, don’t you think?” asked Warbur.
“Oh, it’s marvelous what these Corp doctors can do,” said Taylan, pointing to her own scar. “I think the technology’s even more advanced here than back home.”
The elevator doors opened into the small ante-chamber of the shuttle bay, where a sort of waiting room, reception area housed the nominal security staff. Transparent walls separated the passengers from the shuttles, with a uniformed attendant checking people in and out. They cleared the check-out station and walked across the coated-steel deck to Warbur’s parked shuttle.
“Has there been any news on who planted the bomb?” asked Taylan.
“Too early to tell much,” said Warbur, “but it seems a small militant faction of the Separatist Movement is the likely culprit.” They each did up their harnesses and Warbur powered up the drive.
“What do they want? Everyone to leave?” Taylan questioned.
“Something like that, probably, though personally, I think there’s more to it.” They pulled away from the Medical ship and entered the traffic pattern which took them around the outside of the fleet.
As Warbur negotiated the lanes, steering past navigation bouys, Taylan looked outside at the slightly skewed constellations.
“Computer,” she said, “Where’s Earth?” When the reply from her ever-present assistant didn’t come as usual, she rummaged around in her bag for a small shiny brown case. “They took this out while I was unconscious,” she remarked, holding up the contact lens which provided an ocular link to her personal computer. 
Warbur reached across and put his hand over the case. “Not just yet if you don’t mind,” he said. “I need to talk to you in private.” 
Taylan gave him an odd look.
Warbur set their flight path and then checked some readouts above his head. The shuttle was equipped with scanners which could detect signals across all frequencies. He could see from the readings that Taylan’s little device was not transmitting.
“What about?” Said Taylan.
“Selina, I have a request to make, and I’m afraid it’s not a small request, nor is it one you’re going to like.”
“What on Earth are you talking about?” She said.
“I’m talking about your new friend in the Corporation,” Warbur explained. “I’ve spent the last two days investigating the attack at Tok-Cenb and I’m now convinced that the Corporation’s behind it.” He looked at her, studying her expression intently. Taylan moved uncomfortably in her seat.
“If you have any evidence you should take it through the proper channels,” she said.
“If I had any evidence I would,” said Warbur.
“Then what makes you so sure the Corp’s behind it?”
“Because I know the Separatists did it, but they didn’t do it alone. We didn’t do it and ELIJA didn’t do it, so that only leaves one suspect, doesn’t it?” He could tell, Taylan wasn’t buying it.
They passed the lane that led to the Station and Warbur turned towards the ELIJA fleet at the back of it. He pointed out of the starboard window. “Earth,” he said. 
Taylan looked out to see the tiny yellow dot of the Sun, then she looked to their left, some kilometres off from the Station itself, at the shipyards. 
“I need someone on the inside, someone I can trust,” said Warbur.
The ship Taylan had arrived on was already being stripped down at the Corporation’s shipyards, its engines disassembled and repurposed for the new ship, the one which would make the first voyage back home. It was a vast project which wouldn’t be completed for years, but it was the only way any of them would ever see Earth again.
“I have to stay out of all this, I’m meant to be neutral,” she said.
“That’s what they want,” said Warbur, pointing outside at the Corp fleet. “They’re banking on ELIJA staying out of it, not taking sides. You can tie us all up for years in your rules and procedures while the Corp does whatever it’s planning.”
They made the approach to the half-dozen ELIJA ships parked in orbit.
“Even if I could do anything, I’m not in any position to…”
“You’re being sweetened up by LeVant for something, I know a play when I see one,” interrupted Warbur. “Just find out what you can and let me know. I’ll be in touch.”
“But what?” Said Taylan.
“Something’s changed, something’s happened,” said Warbur emphatically, “there’s been a shift in the Corporation since the second wave arrived. Find out what that is and we’ll have our answer.”

1 comment:

  1. High, girl!
    Wouldn’t ya love an endless eternity of aplomBombs
    falling on thy indelible, magnificent, vigilant cranium?
    An XtraXcitinXpose with no
    with an IQ much higher than K2,
    and an extraordinarily, sawcy, rowdy victory??
    Here’s what the prolific GODy sed:
    (what could be MOE exciting than the 3-Stooges??)

    “Faith, hope, and love,
    the greatest of these is love -
    jumpy into faith...
    and you'll see with love”
    Doesn’t matter if you don’t believe
    (what I write);
    God believes in you.
    God. Blessa. Youse -Fr. Sarducci, ol SNL
    Meet me Upstairs, girl, where the Son never goes down…