the outer rings of the universe consisted of prisons and interrogation centers. after finding his way to unspeakable crimes headquarters and reporting tania's disappearance, larry had been swiftly transported to an interrogation center in the third from outermost ring.
now he sat in a well lit but windowless room. he was not handcuffed or bound, and he had been provided with a can of cool strawberry and guava drink, which he sipped as he stared at the wall and waited for his first interview. interrogations were usually conducted by teams of seven, but he suspected his team might have more .
in the standard system, the first team member, the recorder, often a robot, would just take a statement from the prisoner, with few or no interrupting questions. but a statement had to be made and the questions, if any, had to be answered.
the second team member, the confessor, gave the prisoner the chance to confess to any and all charges. if this offer was refused, a token appeal to the prisoner's better nature was made to come clean, and if this was also refused , the prisoner then faced
the third member, the reminder, who brought in the prisoner's complete dossier and softened the prisoner up by recalling every humiliating and compromising detail of the prisoner's wretched existence. the reminder laughed a lot, either snidely or uproariously as the occasion seemed to warrant.
the fourth member, the expander, filled out the incidents of the prisoner's life with pointed questions on their most minute details. attitudes of impatience and simmering rage were standard for this interrogator.
these were the preliminaries. things got serious with
the fifth member, the pounder. with high ranking prisoners, and prisoners who were themselves police, the pounding was on the table with the interrogator's fist. if it could be arranged (and it usually could) the pounder was a colleague or superior or someone known to the prisoner. in any case, the prisoner's imagination and weaker nature were uncompromisingly appealed to.
the sixth member, the searcher, actually asked questions about the prisoner's offense. the searcher never got tired, and did not recognize the terms "innocent" or "alleged".
the seventh member, the closer, did whatever it took.
larry sipped his drink. he didn't know when he would get another one.
finally the door opened and a robot came in.
"interrogation postponed, boss." the robot said. "i am taking you back to holding."
"cool." larry was surprised but didn't show it.
"back to the holding cell," the robot repeated. "you get to bond with your siblings."
there were nineteen other prisoners in the long and narrow holding cell, all police. they sat on two long padded benches chained to the wall and facing each other.
there was plenty of room and nobody had to actually sit across from anybody else. larry counted thirteen women and six men, including two people from his class at police academy. no acknowledgments or recognitions were made by anybody.
there was a little table with croissants and sandwiches on it at the far end of the cell and larry walked down to it.
he picked up a sandwich and looked at it. "what is this?" he asked a thin dark woman sitting head down at the end of the bench. 'it isn't even watercress."
"motormouths at the other end," she answered without looking up.
larry looked down the cell. he realized that there was a kind of spectrum by noise, with the most talkative prisoners at the other end, less talkative ones in the middle, and the completely silent ones down by the sandwiches. of course none of them would actually be talking about their cases or about themselves. the ones who were talking just liked to talk. so they made things up, or talked about sports or shows.
larry took his sandwich and moved down to an empty space in the middle.
he sat down across from and to the left of an attractive young woman with a small rose in her long dark hair. she had translucent skin that continually changed from pale to dark and back again. as he leaned back it occurred to him that she might be a plant, but he didn't care.
"you a football fan?'' he asked her, after swallowing the first bite of his sandwich.
she gave him a pitying look, but didn't answer.
"it looks like south delhi 33 has got it together again," larry continued.
a heavyset blonde woman further to his right laughed at him. "you sure you're in the right place? the dumbbells are in a cell downstairs."
larry ignored her and took another bite of his sandwich.
"hey sib, come on down here with the friendly people," a man from the far end called to him. larry recognized him as the notorious elephant man, a big faced and big footed classmate from the police academy, and a member, or former member, of strike force 2, the kind of unit that was probably out looking for tania. was he a plant too?
larry shook his head and waved at him with a smile.
"i'm comfortable here," he called. he leaned back and closed his eyes. he stole occasional glances at the young woman with the rose and the shifting skin.
finally she caught him. she stared back at him, this time with less pity than before.
he gave up. he really closed his eyes and tried to sleep.
he dreamed he was the waiter in a small waterfront restaurant specializing in spicy olive and grape dishes and anchovies. mr alfred russel wallace was the headwaiter and he was standing at the door looking anxiously down the dark street and across the water for a party of popes and their friends who had made reservations.
sancho panza was the cook and busy in the kitchen. st james was the bus boy, sitting at the back door looking out at an endless desert. lord salisbury and lord palmerston were the only customers, seated together at a small table just inside the front door.
"waiter!" lord palmerston shouted to larry.
larry adjusted the towel on his arm and turned from the door. "sir?"
"my colleague and i have a dispute we would like you to settle, if you would."
"i'll do my best, sir."
"there are thirty-four passengers on a train traveling from marseilles to moscow..."