CONTENT IS A WORK IN PROGRESS. POSTED SECTIONS MAY UNDERGO EDITING. YE BE WARNED.
In A Starship's Wake
By Stephen Schamber
Chapter 35: Last Details
Tyrone and Justine visited Orson Station’s lower levels every time he was home, and they discovered some amusing peculiarities during those visits. They were the narrowest part of the station, and almost every business there had windows looking out into space. It was set up to accommodate visitors to the station. Since most of them were accustomed to living on a planet, there was a conscious effort by businesses to duplicate the layout they would have on the surface.
Tyrone smiled, recalling how he learned about that practice. He noticed a spot on one level that couldn’t be accessed from any of the surrounding hallways. It bothered him enough that he asked their server that night about it. In most parts of the station everything was laid out on one level, but hotels in the lower levels wanted to have several floors, as they traditionally would on the surface. The inaccessible space was an upper floor of one, and could only be reached from the floors below. Strange as it seemed, Tyrone realized it was exactly what he would have expected if he walked into the lobby. He had grown up on the surface, after all.
“There’s Parello’s,” Justine said. The familiar restaurant had just come into view around a corner. The couple had eaten there several times, but instruction to meet a PICTA representative there had come as a surprise. Tyrone wondered whether the place was heavily involved with the group or it had just been a convenient location. If it was the former, they could have sat feet away from dozens of PICTA’s operatives in their year on the station and been none the wiser.
“What are we expecting in here?” Justine asked. “You had a chance to talk to Joseph before we left, I was still getting ready.”
“You were doing your hair.”
She smacked his shoulder. “Which is part of getting ready!”
“Just being specific.” He laughed and squeezed her hand. “He said he gave his account again and then answered a bunch of questions. I’d imagine the format for us will be pretty similar.”
“What kind of questions did they ask?”
“He said they were less about the events and more about the places involved. We didn’t get into much beyond that, there wasn’t a lot of time and he was a little distracted.”
Parello’s was still closed, so one of the employees had to let them in. She said very little, only led them toward the place where the PICTA agent was sitting. Joseph had not described him, and the bald man was not what Tyrone had pictured. He knew the organization was far more than just some private military group, but he still expected a warrior, armored and armed.
The man sitting at the table looked much more like a clerk. In the time since Joseph’s departure he had cluttered the table with notes and papers, and his clothing was office attire. A long, vertical scar on the right side of his head was the only thing that contradicted that image. It could well be a combat scar.
As they approached the man cleared off the table, most of the items going into his briefcase. He stood to shake their hands and indicated for them to be seated. “Mr. and Mrs. Barret, thank you for meeting me on such short notice. I’m Peter, PICTA asked me to interview you all. Did Mr. Essert warn you what to expect?”
“We discussed it a little, but we were leaving just as he returned,” Tyrone said. “PICTA doesn’t want you providing your surname?”
“They generally recommend that we use only our first name. We’re allowed to use our surname instead, but strictly prohibited from using both.”
“I see. Joseph didn’t mention that detail.”
“It came up, but we didn’t really discuss it the same way. I don’t think your partner was very fond of me by the time he left. You may not be either.”
“What makes you say that?” Justine asked.
“Past experience.” The scarred man’s mouth twisted in a wry smile. “The questions I ask make people think about things they would prefer not to. Even when they come to talk willingly and with a good understanding of the benefit like you three, often they would prefer not to do it again.”
Tyrone nodded. “It’s a serious topic, and serious topics aren’t a lot of fun. Was Justine supposed to come with me? Your message didn’t say, so I brought her along.”
“Of course, I probably won’t be able to add much. I wasn’t with them on this adventure.”
“Better that you came anyway,” Peter said to her. “You didn’t have to or I would have requested it, but you could have insight to offer. Even if not, you have a right to hear the discussion.”
“How is this going to work then?” Tyrone asked. “I’m sure you’ll want to be finished by the time Parello’s opens.”
Peter laughed. “That would be best, yes. First I want your uncontaminated account of the events with Allison on Temorran. I won’t ask any questions while you provide that, and I’d ask that Justine not either. We can follow up afterward. After that I have a long list of things to ask that should help you remember details related to the gang’s operations. As long as you are alright with it, I’ll record our conversation from here on.” Both Barrets murmured that it was fine with them. “Alright. Mr. Barret, please start when you are ready.”
It was funny, Tyrone thought as he spoke, how events so stressful in the moment could be related with so few words. He told of the man that followed him and Allison as they shopped and Terrence’s attempt to board Garden Variety Animal. He also told of how they later expelled their stalker, who had stowed away, from the ship. From beginning to end, the story took only a few minutes. Peter and Justine asked a few questions each to clarify some details, and that was the end of it.
“That was fairly quick,” he observed when it was done.
“Well, we’ve already been over the story a few times.” Peter opened a list of questions on a notescreen. “We want to hear everybody’s version, but the events themselves are past and everyone involved is already about as safe and settled as they can be. All the ones we want to keep safe and settled, at any rate. The rest of my questions will hopefully help us address the others.
“For this part of the questioning I’ll ask you follow up questions if I have any or move to the next question as soon as you stop talking. If you think of something not directly related to the question, mention it after you finish your answer. If you don’t know a definite answer to something but you have some speculation, please say it is speculation and provide it. Mrs. Barret, interject anywhere you have something to add.”
Joseph said this was the larger portion of his interview, and it held true this time as well. Peter’s list of questions was interminable and covered everything from the makes and models of the cars Terrence and his men used to what Tyrone knew of the port’s procedures. For a good portion of the questions, Tyrone couldn’t understand the value in knowing the answers at all. Justine had more to say this time around, and frequently reminded Tyrone of details he’d mentioned to her in passing. By the time they were done, opening time for the restaurant was approaching fast and more employees were arriving.
“Well, that’s everything I have for that.” Peter set down the notescreen.
The end of the questioning took Tyrone by surprise. “I was starting to think that list didn’t have an end. You weren’t kidding when you said it was long.”
“Not even a little. I mentioned to your partner as well that until Allison’s story came to our attention, we weren’t aware of any human trafficking activity on Temorran.”
“I remember the immigration officer working with us saying that,” Tyrone said. “It’s not the kind of business someone would just spread word that they were starting.”
“Not in this part of the universe anyway. We’d like to make sure it stays that way.”
“What do we do next?” Justine asked. “If we stay too much longer someone way come to take our orders.” Both men chuckled.
“Well, the most important things are out of the way now,” Peter said. “I do have one or two things I’d like to ask the two of you personally that don’t fall under intelligence-gathering, so they weren’t on the big list. Now would be a good time for you to ask any questions you have for me as well, although as Mr. Essert learned I may not be able to answer them.”
“What did Joseph ask that you couldn’t tell him?” Justine asked as Tyrone tried to think of any questions of his own.
“He asked what happened with the Ventalian Mafia ship that was to collect the other girls Terrence was selling.” Peter was very good at hiding what he thought, but a slight tightening of his voice gave away his anger this time. “As I said to him though, I can’t tell you if I know what happened, let alone the events themselves.”
Tyrone did not need to ask why Peter couldn’t say. It was undoubtedly to do with security. Necessary of course, but he regretted that he wouldn’t get to learn that answer. He skipped ahead to the second question that had come to mind. “I’ve been wondering about it since we got here so now I’ll go ahead and ask, what gave you that scar?”
Justine gave him a reproachful look, but Peter only laughed. “It was a sword.” He rubbed the scar.
“I thought it looked a little too long to be a knife wound, but it didn’t look industrial either.”
“Definitely not industrial,” Peter agreed. “I was in the Teton Sector Military when I got that. My squad was chasing some enemy infantry in mountain terrain, and we picked the wrong spot for a rest. The men we were chasing jumped us. I had my helmet off to take a drink, and the one with the sword tried to capitalize on that. The helmet was still in my hand, and I used it to block the first stroke. He got me with the second, but there was a lot less power behind it. Then my squad leader shot him. I still have the sword hanging in my living room.”
“I bet that’s quite the conversation piece.”
“It is. The sword that nearly killed me. I got pretty lucky on where the hit landed too, a little more to either side and I could have lost an ear or an eye. One question I have for the two of you, which I also asked your partner, is why didn’t you contact PICTA directly? It was Immigration that reported Allison’s story to us.”
“Our answer is probably the same,” Tyrone said. “It didn’t occur to us to do it.” Justine nodded beside him. “The first time I thought about it was when Immigration mentioned it, and of course it was already done. I knew what PICTA was the moment he said something, but until then it hadn’t crossed my mind.”
“It’s not the first time I’ve heard that kind of thing. We tend to act as though we were sitting on all the nation’s secrets. Maybe we aren’t doing a good enough job of reminding average people what we do and how to contact us when we’re needed.”
“Maybe not, people do need to know how to get in touch,” Justine agreed. “They also need to recognize the importance of knowing though, and I didn’t until after this happened. You do have plenty of secrets to protect.”
“That’s true, we do.” Peter nodded, and for a moment seemed to disconnect from the conversation. “I mentioned to your partner as well, this organization isn’t just soldiers and psychologists. There are a lot of everyday folks like you that do things for us as well.”
“I actually did know that.” Tyrone wondered as he said it whether the owners of Parello’s were in that category. “I can’t remember how I picked it up.”
“A lot of people could have told you.” Peter gave a short laugh. “We try not to spread it around, but we don’t actively keep it secret. Too many people already know for that. You two could get involved if you wanted, we have plenty of tasks we need freight ships to take on, but I suppose you’re planning to start a family soon? I recall Mrs. Barret saying she was moving aboard ship when we talked, and that would fit in with what Mr. Essert said about purchasing a new ship.”
“Yes, we are,” Justine said.
“Most couples at that stage of life don’t want to invite the danger. I can’t say I disagree with them.” Peter slid a card with PICTA’s reporting information on it to each of them. “If you run into human trafficking again, even if you don’t get involved yourselves, let us know what happened.”