Saturday, July 26, 2014

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter VII: Intake

41 Spring, 1927

Lyta shifted slightly, centering her weight on the balls of her feet as Lukas stepped aside and Detective Gorash walked in. Her eyes scanned the room a split-second before his did, checking for incriminating evidence. At least on the face of it there wasn’t much, not unless littering indoors was considered an arrestable offense in the Humanist Alliance. Gabriel and Mads had crashed after their 70-hour rush to prepare the hardware for the TDI job, but operational protocols hadn't been too heavily compromised. Before resting, they had still managed to get rid of the spare parts that hadn't been used in the device’s assembly and the leftovers from Fennec's drone surgery. The white board had been wiped down, the papers disposed of or at least hidden away.

For a moment, no one moved. All eyes were on the detective, some wary, some suspicious, none friendly.

The silence was broken by a dozen POP in full gear, pouring in from the hall. Four hung back near the detective. The remaining eight spread out, each selecting a target. Lyta tensed as one approached her, anonymous in his armor. It wouldn’t end well if she had to fight him. Lyta guessed he was wearing at least medium flak, and there were no cracks where she could place Fennec’s dart-loaded pen to do any damage. Trying to fight him hand-to-hand with a dozen of his compatriots around him would accomplish nothing but make them mad. Lyta was fairly certain she didn’t want to see them mad.

He gestured toward the wall. Lyta allowed herself a quick glance at Lukas, but he was across the room, doing as he was instructed. Undergoing arrest. The thought made her bristle. Of all the places, of all the times… She exhaled slowly and walked towards the wall, no threatening gestures, nothing to give the POP reason to shoot.

When her back was pressed against the wall, the Protector held out his hand and waited. Hesitantly, Lyta placed hers into it, like a handshake. The Protector’s grip tightened, his gloved fingers around her bare ones. Instinctively, Lyta’s muscles went taut, her mind already racing to figure out how to escape his grip.

One of the POP left Detective Gorash’s side and approached her. Two on one would be harder than a solo fight, Lyta concluded, especially if her hand was trapped. He had the height and weight advantage on her. She would have to pull him down, maybe a throw…

“Please remain calm during the scan to avoid injury,” said the one who was holding her. His voice had an electronic quality to it as it was piped through the speakers outside his helmet. Lyta was not calm.

The one that had approached raised a hand-held scanner, pointed it at her, and surveyed the results. After a moment, he placed it in a side pocket and pulled out a large, clear bag. He stepped forward so that he was right in front of Lyta. He removed the sfika pen from her jacket pocket and placed it in the bag. He took the data glove from her arm, unbuckled the tool belt from her waist, and slipped the wallet from her pocket. All of them went into the evidence bag. Lyta gritted her teeth as he unfastened the top button of her jacket and reached for the chain hidden beneath her shirt, the one that still held her mother’s wedding ring.

“Don’t do anything stupid,” came a mutter from beside her, where she realized Radsley was undergoing the same procedure. “There’s 50,000 volts in that handshake. Wouldn’t want to make ‘em twitchy.”

Lyta forced herself to let the Protector remove her necklace. It was the Alliance, she reminded herself. They followed procedures. She would get it back. Or she would destroy the jail until she found it again.

Having removed everything that could possibly be used to any harmful purpose, the Protector shackled her hands. Only then did the one holding her let go. The edges of the cuffs were cold against her skin, but not sharp and not tight. Nonetheless, she chaffed beneath them.

Lyta realized she was one of the last to be processed – everyone else already had their cuffs on and had been released from their potentially incapacitating handshakes. With nothing else to do at the scene of the crime – or at least the scene of the arrest – the POP began leading them away.

Lyta lay on her bed and stared at the ceiling. None of it made any sense to her. If the POP knew, really knew, who they were, there wouldn’t have been any intake process at all. They would have all received a bullet between the eyes without any warning. She’d seen the lethal efficiency of the VDSS. If they knew that Lukas had killed someone in cold blood, let alone the various other crimes they’d committed in the Alliance, none of them would be alive right now. But they must have suspected something. Simple corporate espionage charges did not warrant a dozen POP and VDSS snipers at the ready. The whole thing confused her, and the confusion made her angry. Not that there was anything she could do about it now. The time for action had long past.

The back of the paddy wagon was more like a bus than a police transport, Lyta reflected. The seats were padded. A skylight let in natural light, or would have in the daytime. There were even seatbelts. Yes, it had taken the POPs enough effort to shut the door that Lyta was fairly certain it was armored, along with the rest of the vehicle. And she was willing to bet that it contained sophisticated locks and countermeasures to prevent them from leaving, if any of them were foolish enough to try. There were no windows other than the skylight.

Still, it was practically luxurious.

It was the first moment they had been alone since Detective Gorash had knocked on their door. The Protectors had retired to other cars or the front of the paddy wagon, leaving the prisoners by themselves.

None of them spoke. There was nothing to say, nothing that they’d want the POP overhearing, anyway. Mads looked like he was about to throw up. Lyta counted seconds and turns in her head, keeping track of where they were taking her, in case she needed to find her way back later.

The thing that irked her the most was that they should never have been found out at all. They were always careful, and their operational security had only gone up in the last half-cycle. The op at TDI had gone off without a hitch, at least as far as Lyta could tell. Of all the jobs they’d done, the multiple near misses, why now? This was the last job they had to do in the Alliance. They were sitting on a pile of money. They could take it and go back to the Badlands and live comfortably for the rest of their lives. So naturally this was when they were picked up. Because the universe hated her. That, or their operation still had a leak. Lyta wasn’t sure which of the two possibilities made her angrier.

She needn’t have bothered tracking. She recognized the building as soon as the doors to the truck opened: Thebes’ central precinct. She had passed it once, the first time they had been in Thebes. From the front, it was a bastion of public safety, its glass-and-steel facade a signal of the POP’s friendly and efficient role in Humanist society.

From the back, it was just as efficient but somewhat less congenial. The truck had pulled up to a loading dock in an enclosed, well-guarded courtyard. The intake door was already open and waiting for them.

One by one, the prisoners were escorted inside, two POP flanking each of them as they entered beneath a sign reading “Protector Plaza.” They walked through well-lit hallways painted cream and grey. There was practically nothing in them: no art on the walls, no cabinets, no benches.

They turned a corner to reveal a glass wicket. In front of it was a narrow ledge and a hand scanner. Behind it, a politely smiling Protector in full armor but without a helmet. A computer screen was off to his right.

They were queued up, the eight of them, with their POP guards by their sides. They moved forward in quick succession.

When Lyta reached the front of the line, one of her escort POPs put down the bag with her evidence – her dataglove, her wallet, her phone, her mother’s wedding ring – and passed it through to the other side. The Protector on the inside slipped her ID card out of her wallet. “Place your hand on the scanner, please.”

Lyta did as she was instructed, letting the device read her handprint. The Protector ran through a brief checklist – name, location of birth, date of birth – and entered her answers into the computer. He slid her ID card in a reader beneath the monitor. A half-second later, the computer beeped softly. “Your record of deviancy will be updated to reflect that you are using a false identification,” he said, as matter-of-factly as if he were noting the time of the next book signing at the local library. “Next, please.”

Before Lyta had a chance to object, the POP to her right placed his hand on her shoulder and led her away from the wicket.

She was the most sorry for Mads and Miranda. Mads had come down to the Alliance as a favor, missing his exams in exchange for an interesting challenge and a bit of money. He’d get out eventually; Lyta wasn’t worried about that. Sooner or later his mother would find out where he was, hire some high-priced lawyers to find whatever loopholes existed in the Humanist justice system, get him out on some technicality, and then ground him for the rest of his life. No doubt they’d never speak to him again.

Miranda she pitied for different reasons. The poor girl couldn’t seem to get a break. Everyone she cared for had died, and as soon as she started clawing her way back to some semblance of a functional life, it was snatched away from her. Lyta couldn’t help but feel that she was responsible for Miranda being in this mess in the first place. If only she’d been firmer that the girl couldn’t be part of an operational team, if only she’d explained the consequences better, perhaps Miranda would be on the road to rebuilding her life. She just couldn’t get her would-be apprentice to understand that following her and her brothers had never done anyone any favors.

The booth was small and windowless, perhaps two meters by three. The ceramic walls were the same cream color as much of the rest of Protector Plaza. The corners were rounded, and every surface was peppered with tiny perforations, larger on the floors than the walls. The door through which she had entered was little more than a seam in the wall behind her. Lyta wondered if this was the cell they were going to keep her in. It seemed unlike the Humanists to resort to solitary confinement, but she would be the first to admit she had little data to use in that assessment. She wondered how she was going to get out if they intended to keep her here.

After ten seconds of rapid thought, a neutral female voice filled the room, coming from no direction in particular. “Deviant, please remove your clothing and place it in the receptacle.”

As the voice finished speaking, a compartment slid open in the wall, revealing a plastic bin.

Lyta hesitated. Cameras could be positioned in any of the wall’s many perforations, and it would be foolish to think they weren’t monitoring her every move. The thought of being naked in the middle of POP headquarters made her skin crawl. Escape would be far more difficult if she had to do it without clothing. She would be an immediate target. And that was just the practical concerns.

“Deviant, please remove your clothing and place it in the receptacle. Compliance is requested within the next thirty seconds.”

The voice shocked her out of her thoughts. She realized she had no desire to see what happened if she didn’t comply. Swiftly, she removed her operational clothing – the maintenance worker’s uniform and her custom-fitted flak suit underneath – and placed it in the plastic bin. She slipped off her underclothes and placed them on top.

The door to the compartment slid shut without a sound, until it was invisible once more.

Lyta shivered.

“Deviant, you will now be cleansed for forensic particulates. For your safety, please close your eyes. Some subjects have reported that this procedure results in mild discomfort.”

Lyta shut her eyes and was immediately drenched. It was like someone shooting her with a sand-blaster. She had no idea water could be so sharp. She wanted to scream, but opening her mouth would drown her. She tried to cover herself with her arms, but there was too much water and no matter where her arms were, there was always more of her being deluged with diamond-sharp jets.

She tried counting in her head, but her count kept getting disrupted somewhere around six or seven. Her fingernails dug into the palms of her hands, barely any more painful than the water jets.

Then, as abruptly as it had started, it stopped. Her skin was pink and shiny. Whatever traces of disguising makeup Lukas had put on her before the op were undoubtedly long gone, along with some of her hair and most of the top layer of her skin.

Lyta stood shivering, but not for long. The jets activated again, this time not with water but with low-heat air, drying her like a sandstorm. She was glad for once that she had maintained the pixie cut she’d sported since last season. She could only imagine the havoc the swirling winds would have played on the long hair she used to wear.

When she was completely dry, the jets stopped and another panel opened in the wall. A set of dark blue scrubs lay neatly folded on a shelf. “Deviant, please dress.”

With nothing else to do, Lyta put on the scrubs. They fit her exactly. The fabric was lightweight and comfortable, but contained no zippers and no fasteners, nothing that could be salvaged to any purpose other than its intended one: to mark the prisoner and keep her clothed.

As she pulled the shirt over her head, a door opened at the far side of the room from the one she’d entered. Lyta licked her lips. This wasn’t her cell, then. There would be more.

Radsley would have the worst of it, Lyta concluded. Everyone else had mitigating factors: Lyta and her brothers, Fennec, and Mads were all foreigners. No doubt they’d eventually be deported, never to enter the Alliance again. But the Humanists couldn’t assume that they knew what they were doing – Lyta had seen the condescension lurking beneath the surface of Humanist society. They didn’t expect anyone else to live up to their idealized standards. Gabriel had only a minimal part to play in everything; he’d get off with a slap on the wrist, or whatever the Humanist equivalent was. Miranda was too young to understand the real consequences of her actions. Lyta wasn’t sure what would happen to her, but she’d reintegrate. She had her whole life to become a productive, efficient citizen of the Alliance.

Radsley was a different story, a Humanist career criminal. Lyta didn’t know what Humanists did to their career criminals. She had barely met any of them. Most of the criminals she’d met in the Alliance were foreign expatriates. Lyta wondered, for the first time, whether the processing she had gone through and no doubt would continue to go through was the reason there were practically no Humanists who made their lives on the wrong side of the law. Sooner or later they were caught, and their punishment would no doubt be more severe than for the uncultured hicks from across the border who could not be expected to know any better…

It was more like a doctor’s waiting room than a prison. Three sofa chairs lined the cream-colored walls. Lyta did not sit. She barely held herself back from pacing. The tingling in her skin had faded from her ‘forensic cleansing,’ but she didn’t want to think about what else the intake would involve.

A door at the far end of the room, with no handle on the inside, slid open to reveal two men: Detective Gorash in his uniform, and a shorter man in a charcoal suit. They took seats on two of the sofa chairs. “Hello, ExtrA,” said the detective in a mild accent. “This is your case worker, Mr. Pemberly.”

Pemberly smiled. “Hello. I’m here to help you mitigate your correction, should you have any additional information to offer before the inquest.” He gestured to the third sofa chair with a welcoming expression.

Lyta made a quick calculation that there would be nothing to gain by standing. It wasn’t like she could knock out the two of them and leave – there were no exits to the small room. She tried to parse Pemberly’s statement, the unfamiliar technical terms in Intralingua unclear as she mulled over them.

She had promised herself that she would not speak to anyone. Any information she revealed would only be used against her. She had been through this drill before. But she didn’t understand what was going on. If Pemberly was appointed to help her, she didn’t want to miss the opportunity. “So you’re a lawyer?” she asked after a pause. “Shouldn’t we have some privacy?”

Pemberly’s friendly smile did not waver. “No, I’m not an advocate. One has already argued for you before the judge at the hearing to issue your warrant. I’m here to help you navigate the inquest and ensure you are not overwhelmed or misrepresented at the sentencing.”

Lyta was not a lawyer. She had no experience with any of Terra Nova’s justice systems beyond what she had watched on trideos. But even she was able to tell something was wrong with Pemberly’s description of how things were going to happen. “What do you mean, ‘sentencing’? What about a trial?”

“The trial is over. You were found guilty. That’s why you were arrested. It would be unfair and inefficient to arrest innocent people.” Pemberly spoke gently, as though addressing someone with learning disabilities. “Now we must make sure that your rehabilitation is appropriate to your level of deviancy. We wouldn’t want you to be unduly treated.”

He paused, allowing Lyta to digest this. When no answer was forthcoming, he prompted her. “If you have any additional information that would mitigate your correction, I highly recommend that you tell us.”

Lyta sighed. There was nothing more to say. Pemberly was not a lawyer; he was not there to help her. Not in any useful way, at least. Pemberly and Gorash waited a moment, then exchanged a glance. Gorash nodded. “Very well,” he said. “Someone will be along shortly to escort you to your cell.”

Of everything that had happened, of all the worries she had, the one that kept coming back to Lyta’s mind was that she would miss the Imti’qhaan. She missed Junira Loresh. She missed Jonas. She missed running the B’Ti. And she had been training, really training, for the first time in cycles. She was certain she could complete the thirteenth course this summer, maybe even the fourteenth. She wanted to meet with the other runners and share tricks and techniques, like they had after Jireni completed the nineteenth.

But the Imti’qhaan began in three weeks. It would take at least two weeks to gather her equipment and travel to the heart of the desert. And no matter how efficient the Humanists were in their processing, Lyta could not imagine that she would be out of jail in a week. She had already been found guilty, she reminded herself. There would be a sentence. No doubt it would be longer than a week. Her fingers traced the seams on the bed as she wondered how long it would be before she was let out.

They might have called it a cell in the Humanist Alliance, but anywhere else on Terra Nova it could have been mistaken for a mid-range hotel room. There were two beds, more comfortable than many Lyta had slept in, with sleeping bags and fluffy pillows. Two desks with two light plastic chairs. Three of the walls were blank – the door having disappeared into the wall with only a small seam to mark that it had ever been present. The fourth wall was a bay window overlooking the rear courtyard. Few people were out walking this late in the evening, but there were benches and trees, tended flowerbeds, and a fountain in the middle. The only thing that marred the otherwise luxurious setting was that the furniture was bolted to the ground, and there was no obvious way to get out.

The lights had been dimmed to low illumination for the night. Lyta was not sleepy.

Fennec had arrived before her and was already lying on her bed, her red hair poofy from its involuntary blow-drying. Her eyes were closed, though Lyta wasn’t sure if she was actually asleep, and didn’t particularly care.

She spent the first few minutes of her unlikely confinement searching for cameras, and it was only when she had practically given up and lay back on the bed that she realized the entire ceiling was a lattice of aesthetically disguised trideo recorders, completely encompassing the room.

She sighed and closed her eyes. There was nothing she could do about the situation now, nothing but hope that Lukas had some bright ideas. She certainly didn’t have any.

She rolled over onto her side and tried to let the sound of Fennec’s breathing lull her to sleep.

[Author’s note: The forensic cleansing isn’t particularly painful for anyone other than Lyta. This is where ‘acute sense: touch’ becomes a flaw rather than a merit.]

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