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2034-02-27 0800LT Called in for questioning

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Event: 2034-02-27 0800LT Called in for questioning

Scenario: The Time Before

Characters Locations
Dale, Brian, Syd, Rebecca, Kevin, Shauna, Dex, Bill Palace
Aspects
Caused By Cause Of
Simultaneous Events
On This Day

Author’s Note: These narratives are mostly character development, not finished narratives for the books.

Brian William

“Good morning, Mr. Willam,” Dale said. The faceplate on his armour was fully transparent to the well dressed man sitting across from him in the interrogation room.

“I guess we’ll see,” Brian smirked. “What would you like to know?”

It wasn’t his answer that raised Dale’s blood pressure. It was his attitude. Looking at him, it was clear Mr. William wasn’t just unconcerned to be questioned by the Royal Guard about a murder: he was absolutely delighted. Dale’s armour confirmed his eyeball-level assessment with a comprehensive biometric analysis of the man. Dale reigned in his frustration with practiced ease. He’d mastered the military bureaucracy. This little shit wasn’t going to phase him. “Describe your movements yesterday,” he said.

“Of course.” Brian sat forward, looking ernest. “I spent the morning in my BactaTank doing some work and then playing SRO. My team have a chance to win an amazing contract, so I’ve been…” He appeared to notice Dale’s expression. “But you don’t care about that. At noon I left the game and got myself ready for my 1300 meeting with Phil Bertrand. I met him at Umbra, had lunch, and then went down to the Vault at two.” He paused for a moment, appearing to realize something. “That’s why you were so familiar! You escorted the Duchess out of Umbra. You were there.”

Dale’s memory feed replayed the walk out of Umbra at just before. 1400LT. Williams and Bertrand were there in a booth, apparently enjoying drinks and each other’s company. “What happened next?”

“We went down to the Vault for our meeting,” Dale said.

Dale waited for Brian to continue, but he sat silent and still, smiling slightly.

“What was your meeting about?” Dale asked.

“I’m sure you understand that I’m not going to tell you about a private business meeting without authorization from Ms. Smith.”

“We are investigating a murder, Mr. William.”

“How is that relevant?” That smile never wavered.

Dale was convinced that Willam was actively antagonizing him. No one could be this irritating by accident. He made a note to follow up on Mr. Willam’s history in more detail. He had contacts in several of Earth’s law enforcement agencies. He would turn up something. “What did you do after your meeting?”

“I went home and back in my BactaTank to resume my SRO game. I don’t know what Phil did. I left him in the Vault when our business was concluded.”

“Where did Mr. Bertrand go after you left?” Dale found it odd that none of the people interviewed yesterday had any recollection of Brian leaving Umbra, but didn’t want to tug that thread yet. William was clearly visible on Umbra’s records.

“How would I know?” Brian asked. “I left him in a room designed to guarantee privacy in a building that promises privacy. For all I know he jumped off the parapet and swam into the biodome while I was walking home.”

“Do you have anything to add to your statement, Mr. William? Your cooperation in this matter is important.”

“I’ll continue to cooperate as much as I can,” William said, pushing back from the table. “You know where to find me if you have more questions. If you want to know more about my meeting, have the Duchess talk to Ms. Smith.”

Dale waved the door open, allowing William to leave. °°Mycroft, put Mr. William under advanced surveillance by order of His Majesty’s Royal Guard. Immediately report any anomalies or instances where Mr. William goes off the grid for any reason.°°

°°Understood,°° Mycroft said. A real-time location tracker appeared in Dale’s AR. °°Do you want enhanced tracking of the other persons of interest?°°

He thought about that for a moment, then shook his head. °°I will order it case by case. Can you put me through to D.I. Esme Ofstaadr at Scotland Yard?°° Starting a local call was usually a matter of saying the person’s name. Calling Earth was involved enough that Mycroft had to get involved. The dapper gentleman coalesced out of smoke long enough to bow, then whooshed away. While he waited, he sorted through the interview, looking for anything he might have missed in the moment. Nothing jumped out at him.

A door manifested in the wall, opening to admit D.I. Ofstaadr. °°Colour Sergeant in the Royal Guard now?°° she said. °°I fear for the Monarchy.°° Her avatar was cartoonish, and suffered from over a second of light speed delay, but her giant grin was every bit as sarcastic and gleeful as it had been when they’d been stationed together.

°°I have a favour to ask, D.I.,°° Dale said, ignoring her quips.

She sighed. It wasn’t that Dale was humourless, but when he was on the job there seemed to be no room for anything else. She sat opposite him resting her elbows on the desk and her chin in her hands. °°What do you need?°°

°°I have a person of interest in a murder, but don’t have enough to start pulling Boeing and NC records myself.°° He handed a virtual file to her. Brian William’s face was on the cover. °°Can you look into him?°°

She frowned, glancing through the file. °°For a senior exec at Boeing? I’ll need some time to find a plausible investigative connection to him if you don’t want this coming back on you.°°

He shook his head. °°We’ve had two murders inside six hours,°° Dale said. °°If he gets upset I’ll deal with it. He knows we will be investigating him.°°

°°All right,°° she said. °°I’ll let you know what I find when I find it.°° She cocked her head. °°The murders haven’t hit the news here yet. I assume you want that kept quiet?°°

He just looked at her. She grinned and nodded. °°Thanks, Esme. I have more interviews.°°

°°Hop to then, chap.°° She vanished.

Sydneous Balta

“Bring in Sydneous Balta, please.”

A minute later Syd walked in, looking timid and uncomfortable. Between steps his gate changed, becoming a little longer and firmer. By the time he pulled out the chair his anxiety was almost gone. °°Keep an eye on his lace activity, Mycroft,°° Dale said.

°°I can only see so much from outside his skull, Colour Sergeant. I would need to be quite invasive to tell you much.°°

°°I want to know if he’s using his lace to lie to me.°°

°°I’ll do my best,°° Mycroft said. From Dale’s point of view, Syd’s body gained a faint golden aura. °°Red indicates a likely lie. Green is a likely truth. Brighter means more lace activity.°°

°°Roger.°°

Syd looked across the table at the blank faceplate of the gleaming armour sitting easily on the other side of the table. He was already anxious about what the events at his Umbra would mean for his business. The Royal Guard did not help him feel more confident.

°°Tell me about your day yesterday.°°

Syd jumped slightly when the deep voice growled out of the armour. His lace identified the Guard as Colour Sergeant Dale Young, and that Dale had been at Umbra with as the Duchess’ escort and to investigate the… smoke. “Uh, well.” He called up his life-log as a guide. “I did the normal security scans and integrity checks before the Duchess and Ms. Smith arrived. I sent the results to your teams, who did their own sweeps. Everything was fine.” He paused a moment. “I had lunch with Kevin, who I thought was my friend. Phil arrived at 1302LT from the spaceport. Brian arrived at 1305LT from home, he said.” Syd commanded his lace to collect the Umbra security logs for these events into a file. In AR, wispy images faded into existence around Syd, only to be sucked inward to a point in front of Dale. “The logs are there.”

Throughout his narration, Syd’s aura had stayed green. It was bright, but that was to be expected of a person so well integrated with their lace. Dale reached toward the rapidly spinning metallic orb. It sucked in toward his hand as if magnetically attracted. He nodded as the files decompressed, entering the information into evidence. “Continue.”

“Um. Well, after you all left, Brian and Phil had the Vault booked. They went downstairs just after 1400LT. When they didn’t come out at 1500LT I gave them an extra five minutes, but then had to go check on them.”

“Was another client waiting?”

“No, but they only paid up to 1500,” Syd said. “When I went in they were gone, but the room had a greasy smoke in it. I didn’t know what was going on, so I did a security sweep. Then I asked Kevin to take a look.”

“Why Kevin?”

The Colour Sergeant’s flat baritone amped up Syd’s anxiety again, but his lace handled it automatically. “Kevin said he had knowledge about some politics and power plays with the MNCs. I thought he was credible, and that he might know what could have maybe turned two people into smoke?”

Dale was surprised to see the green aura intensify and dim at the same time. It looked like Syd was telling the truth and shedding stress at the same time. Or he’s a damn fine liar, he thought. “Did he have useful information?”

“He said he’d heard of ‘plasma immolation weapons’ that could do that, but that they were prototypes at best, and not practical.”

“According to your logs you had that information between 1510 and 1515LT, but we were not called until nearly 1700. Why?” Dale held the same even tone he always did, but Syd heard the question as dangerously intense. His aura spiked in intensity, but the colour stayed green.

“Uh, well, I was, um.” Syd cleared his throat. “Umbra is my… It’s part of me. When they disappeared I panicked. I called Rebecca for advice, but she was busy. Then Dex showed up in the Vault to tidy up. I… overreacted. Kevin tried to make Dexter out as a bad guy, but Umbra had sent him down on the regular ‘tidy up’ schedule. He had nothing to do with it. We all argued, but I realized that Kevin was trying to make Dex out as a bad guy, and that’s crazy.”

°°Mycroft, can you make sure Umbra wasn’t hacked to send Dex to the Vault?°° Dale made the request with his visor up and his speakers off.

°°My pleasure.°° Mycroft sounded almost obscenely delighted at the request. It wasn’t often he was officially sanctioned to root around in the mind of an independent AI under his care.

“We can talk about Rebecca and Kevin later,” Dale said. “Is that when you called Bill?” It was a minor trap. The call to Bill had been made at 1622LT. There was a lot of time for Dex and Syd to account for.

“Oh, no no. That was later. After we found the shaft to the steam tunnels.”

“You had good reason to believe someone had cooked at least one person into smoke, but you decided to look around instead of calling us?” Dale made his faceplate transparent. He was angry about that secret tunnel, and wanted Syd to see it. “My Duchess was in that room.” His voice was still calm, but his face made it very clear how upset he was.

Syd’s green aura spiked in intensity again, taking on a sickly yellowish hue, but it was nowhere near red. “That shouldn’t be there! That room is supposed to be secure! I have meetings there!”

Dale let some of his anger into his voice. “You’re damn right that a literal giant security hole shouldn’t be there! My Duchess was in that room!” He watched Syd struggle to get on top of his own anger and fear. It was an impressive effort: Syd’s brain temperature went up 0.8°C and his lace’s external unit hit 52°C. That’s a lot of power draw, he thought. “We found physical evidence of you and Dexter Lee in that tunnel,” he said. “No one else.”

Syd boggled at that. “I smelled Brian in there. Look!” Syd collected the olfactory sensory data he had from inside the tunnel, bundled it up, and passed it to Dale.

That surprised him. It was rare to have a person offer up an unfiltered sensorium feed without being legally compelled to do so. °°This appears to be a complete and accurate feed,°° Mycroft said. °°Someone has tampered with records that are supposed to be tamper proof.°° He pulled up the complete and accurate record of Brian Willam walking out of Umbra, across Victoria Village, and into his apartment.

°°One of them has been altered,°° Dale said.

°°Or both.°°

Dale grunted agreement. °°Seems most likely,°° he said. °°Syd and Rebecca are up to something beyond smuggling.°° He refocused on Syd. “Thank you for sharing that information, Mr. Balta. Your cooperation has been noted.” Syd seemed to deflate with relief, so Dale asked, “Now, who built the second tunnel into the Vault?”

Syd’s lace clamped down on his panic. “I… I don’t know.” His aura was tinged with pink now.

“But you suspect?”

“I don’t know who built the second tunnel,” he said again. That was a true statement, at least.

“Who built the first one?”

“That was arranged by The Squid,” he said. “You’ll need to ask him.”

Syd was now in a swirling vortex of red and green. Dale decided to hold onto that information for now. “OK, then. Mycroft, I’d like to speak to The Squid.”

Mycroft apparated into the room in a swirling cloud of colour and light. “I’m sorry, Colour Sergeant. I have no contact information for “The Squid” on record.”

Syd smiled nervously. “The Squid is a very private person. I can reach him in a private VR space that he set up for me, but I can’t tell you what he will do when he finds out you want to talk to him.”

“You do that, Mr. Balta.” Dale put on a humourless grin. “Umbra will remain a closed crime scene until this matter is resolved to my satisfaction.” He blanked his visor. “You may go.”

“But I live there!” Syd said.

“Then be sure to let us know where you are staying during our investigation,” Dale said.

Syd’s face went blank in a very creepy way. His lace has taken over control of at least some of his motor functions, Dale thought. He made some notes about subjects and approaches that could throw Syd off balance, and questions he would follow up on later.

Rebecca Blackburn

°°Send in Rebecca Blackburn.°°

The beautiful woman was poised and controlled when she entered the room. “Colour Sergeant,” she said. “How can I help?”

“Tell me about your day.”

Working from memory alone, Rebecca gave a fairly accurate accounting of her movements between the Office, Umbra, and the Ambassador Theatre. °°Her omissions and errors are consistent with a person using their brain to recall events,°° Mycroft said. °°There is no evidence that she is lying intentionally.°°

“What is your relationship to Kevin Cahn?” Dale asked.

“Ah…” For the first time she paused to think. “A long time ago we were a couple. He was a soldier, and I thought he had been killed. I moved on. Two days ago I walked into Umbra for a meeting with Shauna, and there he was.” She paused, her gaze directed inward. “I didn’t recognize him at first, but he recognized me.” She smiled in a self deprecating way, and gestured at her own body. “I look a lot like I did then. Appearances are important to actresses. I don’t do that anymore, but it’s a hard habit to break.”

“Umbra reports that you and Mr. Cahn had a meeting in the Vault with Mr. Balta. Mr. Balta went to his quarters while you escorted Mr. Cahn to the Spaceport.”

“Yes?”

Dale waited for her to continue, but Mycroft said, °°She will wait you out, I think. She is comfortable with silence.°°

Dammit, Dale thought. “What did you discuss while in the Vault?”

Her eyebrows went up. “You know I am not obligated to tell you that, Colour Sergeant.” She smiled and leaned forward. “I’ll tell you the broad strokes, however. Kevin said he was here to try to get a job with Boeing. He was concerned that he was in danger at his previous job.”

“Why did you go to the spaceport then?”

“He believed his presence put me in danger,” she said. “He always had good instincts for that sort of thing, so I believed him.”

“Can you explain how he has reappeared as a Boeing employee as of 1700LT yesterday, when the records show him leaving the spaceport the day before?”

“He got hired?” Rebecca seemed genuinely pleased. “He didn’t tell me!” Her voice dropped. “I have been a little busy,” she said quietly to herself. She smiled at Dale. “I can not explain how that happened, Dal… Colour Sergeant.” She looked like she wanted to add something, but held her tongue.

“What was your business with Professor El?”

Her smile faded at the abrupt change of subject. “Shauna was her Companion,” she said. “Their private dealings are their business. I have a sealed version of their contract, of course, but I can not open it without both of their permission.”

“Difficult,” Dale said.

Rebecca pursed her lips. “If Elsa gave permission for it to be unsealed with her death then Shauna can do so. Otherwise I do not have the keys to unlock the files.”

Dale nodded. That was a fairly common practice for personal services contracts that might include sensitive information. “In general terms, what were the nature of the services provided by Ms. Singh?”

“She is a Companion, Dale,” Rebecca said. “She is a skilled, well-educated and professional courtesan. What more do you need to know?”

“I follow the leads, Ma’am,” he said. “We will have additional questions for you.” He nodded toward the door.

“I like you a lot more off duty, Guard,” she said.

“Yes Ma’am.”

Shauna Singh

Shauna was the next in the chair. She was composed and calm, but with none of her usual radiant enthusiasm. After she recounted Professor El’s death from her point of view, Dale asked, “What is your relationship with the professor?”

She smiled, tightly. “Contractually protected and private.”

He waited.

“I’ll help you as much as I can, Dale, but you must understand that I don’t want to talk about our relationship. Would you expect a reporter to give up a source? A doctor to talk about a patient’s medical history? She has children and a reputation. So do I. Those matter. Even if her estate authorizes it, I’ll need a good reason to expose her and myself to public scrutiny.”

“A better reason than her dying in your arms?”

Shauna looked stricken for a long moment. “You know part of our training is assisting our clients with end of life?”

Dale was surprised. “I did not.”

“I’m the first one to have a client die, not the last.” Her eyes were full of tears. “I wish I could have saved her, or at least eased her dying. I hope she knew that she was in the arms of a friend when she went.”

These questions are not going in the direction I expected, Dale thought. “According to the communication logs, you arranged to meet Ms. Blackburn at Umbra immediately after receiving a call from Professor El. Why?”

Shauna dabbed her eyes with a cloth and smiled thinly. “She’s my boss. We had business to discuss.”

“And the nature of that business?”

“You know I won’t answer that.”

“I still have to ask,” he said. “What did you make of Ms. Blackburn’s meeting with Mr. Cahn?”

Her smile got bigger. “Honestly? Hilarious. I’ve never seen her off balance like that, not even drunk. She doesn’t talk about her past much, so I enjoyed getting that glimpse.”

“What was your impression of Mr. Cahn?”

“I didn’t get a chance to get to know him at all,” she said. “I wouldn’t have guessed he was her type, though.”

“What do you know of Professor El’s work?”

“She’s a geneticist of some sort. I don’t know what she’s… she was working on. She was in the super secret part of the facility.”

“Describe the relationship between Ms. Blackburn and Mr. Balta,” Dale said.

She blinked at the change in direction. “She likes him,” Shauna said. “I mean, I like him too, but she’s also protective of him. He’s a strange man, but harmless.”

“Do they have any shared business interests?”

“Not that I know of,” Shauna said. “I know the Office and Umbra have some of the same clients, but that’s no surprise. He did some work for Rebecca when she was setting up the Office. He is the privacy expert.”

This was unsurprising, but Dale noted it for follow up. Private contracts were not registered with any authority until they touched on some regulation or law. Providing privacy consulting to lawyers, doctors, and other regulated professions required proof of privacy preparation and audits. The Office and Companions were not regulated, so their contract with Balta was a private matter.

“I understand Mr. Balta is your personal client?”

“He is.”

Dale’s lips made a thin, fleeting smile. “Anything you’d like to add?”

Shauna shook her head with a wry look, then paused. “Actually, yes, there is something I’d like to add.” She leaned forward. “Find out who did this and nail them to the fucking wall. An outside wall.”

Her ferocity was a bit surprising, but didn’t seem out of character for her. “Thank you for your time. We will have more questions later.”

Dexter Lee

Dale found Dexter Lee almost as frustrating as Brian William. The first round of colonists were skilled or rich or both. Lee was neither, yet he had a lace and a cushy indentured worker contract transferred from Boeing to Umbra. And why couldn’t Mycroft tell if the guy was lying or telling the truth?

°°Some humans are very hard to read,°° Mycroft said. °°Mental illnesses are often the cause. Professional magicians and some actors are a problem as well.°°

Dale took a breath and relaxed his jaw. Part of the problem was that the handsome man across from him was so affable, so charming, so easy to like. There was no way he was being honest. He sighed. It had been a long day. “What are you leaving out, Mr. Lee?” Lee’s record from Earth showed an interesting collection of unusual jobs, but nothing that raised any flags.

“Leaving out?” Dex looked genuinely confused – but then he looked genuine about everything. “I mean, a lot, I guess? I’ll tell you whatever you want as long as it doesn’t break a contract. Bill isn’t the only one who felt queasy about inhaling corpse-smoke, you know. I want to know what happened.”

“Why did Boeing sponsor you as a colonist?”

“I applied to be a colonist when they announced the program two years ago. Mycroft and automation can do a lot, but people need people. I’m that kind of person.” He grinned broadly. “I made a decent living busking and bartending, but the chance to be one of the first colonists up here?” His gaze went far away and his grin got bigger.

“What is your reading on Mr. Cahn?”

“Kevin?” Dexter considered. “Well, I thought he was only posing as a tourist. I mean, he did touristy things, but it really seemed like he was at Umbra for something other than drinks and conversation, you know? People tend to open up to me a bit when I’m behind the bar, but I don’t think I could tell you much beyond his name and that he was visiting from Earth.”

Dale filed that away. Mr. Cahn was going to be an interesting interview, and that was surprisingly helpful. “What happened when you were in the Vault with Mr. Cahn and Mr. Balta?”

Dexter’s face darkened. “I don’t know what Kevin was trying to do, but he accused me of being a spy. He even tried to grab me! Kevin kept trying to convince Syd that I was out to get him! Syd’s a bit of a delicate flower, you know, and if he thought Umbra was a possible crime scene? Well, he was freaking out. Kevin kept poking at him, getting him riled up, to the point where Syd said he would revoke my contract!”

Dex appeared to be angry now, and for the first time in the interview, Mycroft’s scans agreed with what Dale could see. °Interesting,° he thought. His armour picked up the subvocalization and tagged that part of the interview for further scrutiny. “What did you do about that?”

“Well for one thing I stayed away from that big ape,” Dex said. “For another I talked to Syd, talked him down. I’ve worked for him for months. I’ve seen him in a panic before and helped him down.”

“What happened then?”

“Syd told Kevin to leave. He was still pretty upset. I think he called Rebecca, but if he did it was over his lace, not out loud.” Dex sat back in his chair, still feeling the echoes of that stressful encounter. “That’s when Syd shut down the place and asked me to help him look for anything out of place.”

“What did you make of his meeting with Ms. Blackburn?”

“That was a shitshow for both of them,” Dex said immediately. “I have seen a lot of breakups and unexpected reunions. Whatever character he was playing? She shocked him right out of it. Same for her, really. I’ve never even heard of her being caught off guard like that.”

His team’s initial searches pretty much agreed with Dexter’s assessment. Dale caught himself actually wanting to believe Dex. Mr. Lee, he said to himself. Not ‘Dex’. Mr. Lee. That pissed him off. Whether he meant to or not, Mr. Lee was manipulating him. He sighed again. “Did your busking include magic tricks, Mr. Lee?”

“Mostly cards and sleight of hand,” Dex said. “Here.” Dex sent a link across the table. “This was when I was in Krakow. The family just had so much fun…” The video had been composited from at least six cameras and turned into a 3D AR view of Dex doing a series of card tricks for tourists in a large public square. The performance was quite good. Dale made a note to have Mycroft explain the tricks later. “How did you find the control panel in the Vault?”

“The hidden handle?” Dexter looked a touch confused. “Syd asked me to help him look for anything out of the ordinary or out of place. Other than the smoke, I mean.” His gaze turned inward. “I thought maybe there could be a bug of some sort in the fiddly bits on the walls. When I got to that part it popped open. I’ve been in that room a lot to tidy up and reset it for meetings, but that was the first I knew of that panel.” He paused. “I don’t actually know what it’s for…?”

“That’s a matter for you and your employer,” Dale said. He settled back into his seat. Dexter Lee was a puzzle, but there was nothing about him that connected him to either murder. “I will have more questions for you, Mr. Lee. For now you can go.”

He was already thinking about what he wanted to follow up on with Mr. Balta as Mr. Lee left.

Author’s Note: Dex didn’t quite con Dale, but he did manipulate him to think he was not a priority.

Bill Jameson

Dale looked at Mr. Jameson’s physical again. The man looked like he was short, fat, and out of shape – but his employee file showed that most of the ‘fat’ was actually bioengineered organs. The man could handle full vacuum for ten minutes based on his spleen alone, and the things his liver and kidneys could do were frankly amazing.

°°He dealt with very bad toxic waste and biohazards, and he is a cautious man,°° Mycroft said. The slender man was lounging in an overstuffed armchair beside the interrogation table, sipping a dark amber scotch from a crystal tumbler.

“What’s that?” Dale asked, pointing to an amber note on the scan.

°°He had a carve out for alcohol built in,°° Mycroft said. °°He can get drunk on a single shot or guzzle a gallon of scotch without feeling a thing.°° He tossed back the tumbler, which was still full when he brought it back down. °°A neat trick.°°

Modern soldiers like Dale were all augmented one way or another, but this was new to him. “I had no idea this was even possible.”

°°You are cleared for this only because of this investigation,°° Mycroft said. °°I expect you will be cleared to know much more in the near future.°°

Dale filed this away. In his experience ‘knowing more’ and ‘living dangerously’ were closely related.

“If there’s nothing else I need to know, send him in.”

°°Need to know? I can’t help you there, old boy. There’s nothing more I can tell you, though.”

Dale rolled his eyes just a little bit.

°°I do suggest you step out of the armour for this one, though. Bill is an informal chap.°°

Dale looked sharply at Mycroft. The AI’s behaviour was far outside the norm. “Are you drunk?”

°°Of course not!°° Mycroft pushed himself out of his chair and to his somewhat unsteady feet. °°I’m Mycroft, not some dandy!°° He swayed slightly.

Dale stared.

The AI avatar straightened up, straightened his waistcoat, straightened his jacket, and cleared his throat. °°Are you quite satisfied?°°

To Dale’s eye the AI appeared to be a sober, dapper, somewhat dour man again. “You will explain that later,” he said. “For now, send in Mr. Jameson.”

Dale’s armour was still opening up to release him when Jameson rolled into the interview room, just clearing the door with his bulky belly. He settled easily into the chair and flashed a smile. “A relaxed debrief, eh, mate? You read my file, I expect.”

“Parts,” Dale said, sitting down. He still wore the AR suit that provided his interface to the armour’s sensor suite, but the audio and video feeds were gone. He was well versed in the tap codes that the ski suit could provide, however, and he could always review the feeds later. “Why did Mr. Balta call you?”

“’Cause I know my shit, is why,” Bill said. “’Course I wasn’t expecting dead man smoke, now was I?”

Dale struggled to place Bill’s accent. He knew the man was an Irish citizen of the NC, but there was Australian, Yorkshire, and Scots in those words too. Dale was pretty sure Bill was enjoying his struggle. “What do you think happened in the Vault?”

“If it wadn’t a conference room, I’d say someone got hit with an afterburner, to be honest,” Bill said. He looked a little queasy for a moment. “That or a plasma bottle letting go on someone.” He shuddered. “I saw that at the Sydney Fusion Reactor breech in ’25. Six men ended up as a thin greasy film on the walls.” He paused. “I thought I knew the smell, but the sensors… Well, you have my logs and report.”

Dale had glanced at the report. It appeared to be quite thorough.

“Do you want us to take Mr. Balta’s actions up with the Judges?” Forcible confinement was not taken lightly by the Duchess. There wasn’t much of a case against an indentured employee like Mr. Lee, but Mr. Jameson was a free colonist.

Jameson’s eyes bugged out a bit. “The twat panicked about dead man smoke! Once Dex calmed me down enough Syd told me he’d had to contact some clients – like Her Grace I wager. I’m still getting my night of drinking out of Umbra – and I can drink quite a lot.” He slapped his belly, smiling.

Punishment enough I suspect, Dale thought. “We will contact you with further questions when we have completed our interviews. I have noted your thorough and helpful report in your Royal Record. Thank you for your service.”

“Kind of ya, mate,” Bill said, levering himself up. “I hope you’re still welcome at Umbra when this is done. I like yer attitude.”

Dale shook his head at the man’s retreating back, eyebrows slightly raised. Of course he does.


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