31 August 2009

Another Day, Part 14


Security officers on a starship work in an environment that has more in common with Andy Griffith's Mayberry sheriff than most law enforcement types; while the ship is indeed leaping through the limitless cosmos -- or at least the Earth portion of the Hidden Frontier (less the worlds settled from France and China and, mostly, the two hardline ex-Soviet worlds) -- a starship between planetfalls amounts to a small town with no roads out. Additionally, Security answers to the Captain and ultimately to the Starship Company, not a Mayor and Town Council.

As a result, Security is more inclined to wait situations out and the officers are encouraged to apply logic and common sense instead of no-tolerance rules, to de-escalate instead of arrest, confrontation or other ways of bothering the Security Director. All of which goes to explain why there was not a lot of shouting and shoving; John stepped to one side of the opening through which he'd entered, saying, "Keep your hands where I can see 'em, Mister," adding, "--Alan, hang back," while keeping his attention on the seated man. "All right, whoever you are, we're going to take you out of here. 'S that a problem?"

"'Vill,' please, and I shall come along quietly. Do be careful of the urns."

"Stand up, slowly, hands in sight, do not move until I tell you; it's gonna be a lot easier getting back out if I don't have to cuff you - - Er, '...Urns?'"

"Surely Katrina has told you...? There was a procedure if it was found out."

"I have no idea what you're talking about. Here's my procedure: my buddy will lead the way, I will follow him facing back at you and you will follow me, maintaining our present distance. Got it?"

Through this speech, Vill's expression had changed from one of bemused concern to genuine alarm and he replied, "Yes, but --"

"'But,' nothing. Unless there is an immediate hazard," John gave him a hard look and Vill shook his head, "keep it 'til we're out of here. When we get through that cargo can, you will turn to face it, hands behind you, and you will be handcuffed while we figure this out. Is that a problem?"

Vill shook his head again.

John called out, "Alan, we're movin'," then said more quietly, "Mister, come on. Slowly!"

Their intercom "radio" mikes had been on the whole time and when it comes to comms, Lupine and her sister ships are state-of-the-art: Good communications systems are a life and death matter for any critical ops. Usual operation is in "partyline," mode, in which every live mike is heard by every receiver on the system. So as soon as John set his prisoner in motion, T acknowledged and rearranged the rest of her crew. Alan stepped out and cleared the hatch, moving out of his fellows' lines of fire as John emerged, followed by Vill, who turned and was cuffed according to plan.

T gestured to her Auxes muzzles down, hold position and walked over to John, Alan and Vill, who immediately asked, "You're in charge here? Am I under arrest?"

"It amounts that. --What are you up to, anyway?"

"Didn't Katrina tell you already? Secrecy is moot at this point! The plan was, if either of us were caught--"

"Whoa, there. As far as I know, we haven't caught any Katrinas and all I know is what I see. So, once more: what's going on?"

His eye got very wide, then narrowed: "But-- You don't? The Eld- Um. No. I must not say more."

T was about as impressed as you'd expect, which would be not at all. "Fine, buddy. You're in a lot of trouble and you know it. Okay. Here's the fine print: You are being detained, presently charged with being in an area prohibited to passengers. There may be additional charges against you, of which you will be informed. You have certain rights and responsibilities, to which you agreed as a condition of your travel contract and of which you have already been informed. They may differ from those (if any) established on your planet of residence (if any), so pay attention. Anything you say or do will be recorded for our use. Your location will be monitored at all times and you may be confined if the Captain or his representative finds it necessary. You have right to representation of your choice of your choice as available on this ship and per provisions the Agreement of 1989 you may, for all except capital offenses, request deportation to your home planet or ship in lieu of hearing but you remain liable for any actual damage to this ship. You may not be held in secret. You have the right to know the offense or offenses with which you are charged within 24 hours of their being filed. Do you understand these rights and requirements, which do not include any that may additionally be imposed by your home planet or ship?"

He blinked. "Well, I-- Yes."

T smiled. "Good boy." She turned to Alan, "'Book 'im, Danno.'"

In her ear -- and all the other Security and Auxes -- Mike's muttered "Very funny," was all too clear. Security may make as many as five or six actual "arrests" a year and most of those are crewmembers, for whom the procedure is considerably simpler even after the Agreement came into force.

* * *

T didn't tell me all that at the time, of course; just the broad outline, ending with the arrest. A search of the container found very basic living quarters for one, showing evidence of a long stay by a female occupant, which ruled out Vill twice over. The urns, 378 of them, all but 26 marked with nine-digit numbers, proved to contain ash; Doc Poole took about ten seconds to pronounce it "likely human."

Mike and the Turk had watched the arrest and promptly turned their attention to an argument-discussion about access to the cargo bays and how a passenger had gotten in. Old as Lupine is. large as the ship is and as much as she's been modified since launch, the impromptu conference ended with both men poring over 3-D renderings and blaming one another for the inevitable lapses and overlooked maintenance accesses. Once past the hatches (far too many to suit Sheriff Mike) that separate "downtown" and the passenger accommodations from the working parts of the ship there are, for safety's sake, few barriers that cannot be easily gotten around.

By this point in our tale, it was my morning and, nerve-wrackingly, I'd been called up to Dr. Schmid's office along with the Chief, where things got even more interesting.

So I was sittin' in Dr. Schmid's compartment in Officer's Territory, passing up an offer of coffee and wonderin' what I had messed up. Vill, meanwhile, was taken to the Security office and processed in by Alan, John and the lone officer on duty there. After the whole thing blew up, he authorized releasing the statement he made at that time, so rather than try to paraphrase it, I'll just quote his own words:

"My name is Villem Braun and I am a citizen of Lyndon, resident of the town now called New Alamos. My family has farmed in this area since 1947 or '48, the chronology was a little scrambled; my maternal grandfather was a life-support technician, the life-support technician, on Glocke 38 and I am not ashamed of that. He never spoke of his life before landing, not around me. Of course, my earliest memories are after the Second wave landed, the ones who were abandoned by what you people call 'Far Edge.' The ones who landed didn't call themselves much of anything until the first elections, when they formed the Linden Unity Party . Yes, this is germane to my situation.

"I grew up in the chaos of history: the self-described First Government, when Star City was built to replace the original capital at Limetree, followed by the Panic and the Occupation, and the Second Government, the Rebellion of '63, the Re-establishment and-- but Lyndon's sad history is well-known. I never saw the worst of it. New Alamos is at edge of the coal fields, essential and far enough from Limetree and Star City to miss the mobs. There are farms enough nearby that, other than six months during '75, we never got hungry or had much trouble, at least not compared to Star City, Limetree or Pitty, not even in '73 when the People's Collective seized all the coal and tried to nationalize the mines. That was when Pitty burned and Pitty Under mine is burning still. I was away at Star City by then. I had managed to get a decent education and was working in civil service, trying to make things better and becoming increasingly skeptical of the Collective, when FCS -- the Far Edge -- first contacted me.

"'Federation of Concerned Spacemen' is still what the ruling body of the Far Edge calls themselves. They are often referred to as the Elders and the right word isn't "rule;" the settled planets that side of the line answer to no one and even among the starships, compliance with FCS is voluntary. Custom is, however, strong; unyielding Nature is their highest law and the lessons it teaches are indelible.

"Where was I? 1978 it was, over a decade before the Agreement. There was no official contact between any part of the Far Edge and the settlements that had followed. What we knew, what the governments of Earth at least some of them knew had been learned from people here on Lyndon and Blizzard when they were rediscovered, and from prisoners taken on Ganymede. Still rewards were posted for the original FCS members; by then the Unity people had come forward and been granted amnesty, mostly. Abductions and 'cattle mutilations' were still happening on Earth and even Kansas II. I suppose even Lyndon. So any such contact was...unapproved. Risky.

"And so what? By then even my Post Office job was risky. It was the one good thing we had and People's Commissioners here and Gauleiters there were interfering, opening mail, stopping our carriers, cutting phone lines. What worse harm could come from listening to these shy outsiders?

"The answer was and still is 'None,' I think. I was soon passing minor bits of information to them and inserting messages untraceably into the mails. Things got worse before they got better but improve they did; within five years, the Unity/Social Democrat coalition had ousted both the Collective and the "Sixth Reich" in the hills and even kept the old capital at Limetree from being destroyed. Some criticize the accomplishments of our coalition government but for fifteen years, right until the money collapsed, it was the best my home ever had.

"Like many of us, in the economic troubles I lost everything I had saved for retirement. My involvement with FCS had dwindled after Agreement '89, of course (have I mentioned I am almost certain I carried The Roglaski Letter that started all that?) but I was still in touch; when they contacted me this past September with an unusual request, an unusually _well-paying_ request, I was ready to help. When my own government -- yes, we do still have one, powerless and impoverished though it is -- quietly made it an order, there was no other honorable path.

"...You know of the 1989 Agreement. No one missed the end of worrying that Earth or the Far Side would attack each other. But you may not know of items left unsettled. The most important to the FCS was, their founding leaders were not given amnesty. Your own United States government and their NATO allies refused to consider pardoning the men who stole their Lunar missile base. Ready though they were to forgive their children and grandchildren and so on, ready though they were to ignore the furtive..."borrowings" of genetic material and technology as long as they came to an end, that one thing remained unresolved.

"By last Summer, time had itself solved the problem: the last member of the original conspiracy passed away. They had long wished return home and the current FCS leadership was determined that they should. The increasing amount of cargo shipped between the Far Edge and Earth-based worlds made it simple enough; rather than risk breaching the Agreement by making direct contact, they smuggled the cremated remains of their founders to Blizzard, had their agents assemble it into a series of standard containers with a few...changes and consigned it to Earth. It ended up aboard your vessel, with a 'Space Marine' to stand watch and ensure proper dispersal of the ash upon arrival. Unbeknownst to me, some of the oldest members of the Social Democrats had intelligence of this effort and to it, wished to add the remains of some of our own First and Second groups of settlers. Yes, yes, even the First. Some of them were evil men but they are now dead, dead after privation and risk and even bravery and it is time they went home; and maybe their ilk will bother my world less once they have.

"I digress. Too much history, too many dashed hopes. When your Lupine took the container and half-dozen others, all seemed settled; when you filed new course plans on departure, adding this excursion across the Line to Frothup, there was great consternation. Even now, there is not much trust. What if their cargo was suspected? What if our addition was? And so I found myself, um, activated, revealed, retired, briefed, suddenly on the inside of events within my own government and the Far Edge, helping the Social Democrats -- I have always been a Unity member, all my life -- and prepared to leave the planet. They even had a cover; the, um, facilitator -- and covert observer -- of a touring Edger had fallen ill and I was to take his place. Of course, the "tourist" was George Welles. FCS has a great horror of popular movements of any sort and I have the impression anything resembling a new religion is watched with great care.

"How it was all arranged is mere detail; I will of course outline how I evaded your security systems -- I was provided with the keycard you have taken from me, I do not know how your codes were breached. I boarded, the remains of our First came with other cargo and once the ship was underway, I made contact with Katrina.

"And of Katrina, is she not in your custody as well?"

Sometimes things are simple; Vill identified our mystery corpse from photographs as the missing Katrina -- "Hulinsky, I think."* It didn't help explaining why or exactly how she was killed and if you're not thinking Vill wasn't first-and-only on the list of likely suspects, you haven't been paying attention.

* * *

Meanwhile, up in officer's territory (I said I'd get back to it), all hushed voices and fancy carpet, Dr. Schmid was taking an interminably long time to get to the point. Coffee service was cooling on a corner of his desk, the Chief was sipping from a tiny porcelain cup that looked incongruous in his hand, and the 2/O himself was averring his enthusiasm for our modern age.

* With a long u, as if it were spelled "Hoolinsky."