Wednesday, February 3, 2010

the seventeenth letter, part 32

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning click here

"go on, citizen."
lorna drummed her pencil on the front desk as tomboy told her about the fate of hurk. tomboy concluded by pointing out that country girl had claimed, after their arrival at the station, that hurk was actually unharmed.

lorna looked at country girl. "why is it always you, corporal? can't you get through a night without incident? what did the 1473rd do to deserve you?"

she shook her head. "did you tell this prisoner what she claims - that it was some kind of ruse or joke on your part?"
"yes - "
"so," lorna interrupted, "the best case scenario is - that you let a prisoner go?"
"yes, but he was my prisoner. and i thought -"
lorna looked up at the ceiling. "your - your prisoner?"

"please don't interrupt - "
"you are telling me not to interrupt - "

major dreyfus woke up. he checked the time. he still had hours to go on his shift, and he decided to walk around the building a few times to get some air. he picked up his stick and opened his office door and walked into lorna and country girl's discussion.
"what's going on here?" the major managed to smile.

lorna hesitated. "perhaps corporal gantry can summarize the situation best.

as she was the main actor in the little drama."
"corporal?" the major looked hopefully at country girl, who proceeded to recount the events at the waterfront yet again.
"i see. well, sounds like very ingenious police work to me. quite commendable. under difficult circumstances."

major dreyfus looked at lorna. "what were the two of them doing so far from home anyway?"
"sergeant giselle assigned them.

she said that captain kidd commended her for doing so."
"did he now?"
lorna considered. she was incapable of lying or shading the truth. "he at least commended her for sending officers to remote areas. that's what she told me to my best recollection."

"speaking of commendations," said country girl. "the sergeant out there, custer, seemed to think we did a pretty good job. maybe he sent something along?"
"yes, sergeant," the major nodded. "maybe you could check the message log."
"no need to check the log, sir," lorna answered.

"sergeant custer did in fact send a commendation, singling out - singling out corporal gantry - " lorna stared at leslie, who returned the stare - "for commendation."
"can i interrupt?" tomboy asked. nobody answered so she went on. "i tell you she drowned somebody and all you go on about is does she get a commendation? how about a medal?" she was ignored.

"but," lorna went on, "the commendation was before the incident in question."
"can i say something?" leslie asked.

"of course, officer," the major answered.

"we're leaving, and the prisoner says, i have a complaint. the sergeant tells her to shut up, she doesn't want to hear it. then the prisoner points to the corporal and suddenly, it's, oh, tell me all about it."
the major looked almost genuinely shocked. "is this true, sergeant?"

lorna looked down at the desk. "yes."
"i see." the major shook his head. "this is most serious. discriminating against a fellow officer - a fellow non-commissioned officer - in this manner is highly unseemly.

there is no place for vendettas in this unit. but i will let it go - this time."
tom started to laugh but was still ignored.
"yes, sir," lorna answered. "but perhaps they could both fill out 637's."
"i think the whole incident is best forgotten, sergeant.'
"yes, sir.'

"can we go now?" country girl asked the major.
"carry on, officers."
country girl and leslie headed for the locker room without looking back.

tom looked around. the front door was right behind her. after a moment's hesitation she returned to her seat beside james.

none of the other prisoners spoke to her.

major dreyfus hesitated at the front desk.

he actually liked lorna - he didn't care so much for giselle - although they both knew he would always take a human's side against her if he could. "an unfortunate episode, sergeant. perhaps we can all learn from it."
"no doubt, sir."
"you look a bit overtaxed, sergeant. would you like to leave early? i can find a corporal to take over." he looked around. "i see amethyst is here."

"thank you, sir. but i will be leaving shortly anyway. sergeant frederick agreed to relieve me early so that i could attend a training class."
"very good. carry on, sergeant." the major headed out the front door for his walk.

when they turned into the corridor to the locker room, country girl and leslie slowed down and looked at each other.

"i owe you," country girl laughed a little nervously.
"he wasn't going to do anything anyway."
"we might have had to fill out 637's." they both laughed.
"seriously, i owe you. big time. two for one. you can call on me." they bumped fists.

"i just didn't want to fill out a 637."
"let's get out of here."
"i got to catch up with my man knuckleball. you should come with me."

"so, what it comes down to," said james, "is they took her word against yours.

which is about what we expected."
"not exactly. they just didn't care. it was just about their own agendas. the robot didn't like her. then the old guy didn't like the robot. or something." tom looked down at the floor. "it was worth a try."
the woman on tom's right spoke up. "did you tell her about the filthy thing she said to you?"

"no, i forgot all about that," tom answered her.
the woman lowered her voice. "why don't you tell the robot now? you said the robot didn't like her."

tom shrugged. 'it wouldn't make any difference. i could just feel it. trust me."
"why don't you tell the robot?" tom asked the woman. "you heard her too."
the woman jerked her head forward and bit her lip. "i'm too scared."
"well, we're all scared."
"but we're just sitting here like it's the most natural thing in the world."

"what's your name anyway?," tom asked her. "i've seen you around, i don't think we've ever spoken."
"it's a pleasure meeting you, antonia."
"thank you."
"who knows, we might be together for a long long time."
"or not. maybe they'll send us all to different places on jupiter."

"it's supposed to be a big place."
'i hate to interrupt this fascinating discussion," james whispered to tom. "but do you think we can consider making a run for it? what have we got to lose?''
"you saw what happened to him." tom nodded toward the young man in the corner.

'"he had handcuffs on. and there was only one of him. with no cuffs, and two of us -'"
"it's not nearly good enough. let's wait, for a better opportunity."
"how many people do you think have sat here, looking for a better opportunity."
"if we try to run now, we're just giving ourselves up. it's that simple."

they fell silent.

the ingoing police shuttle pulled up behind the 1473rd. swan had allen asleep and schweik, sitting behind her, shook the back of her seat.
"where am i?"
"home. your real home. let's go. this guy is not patient."

it was schweik's regular bus. swan usually took a different one, from her own apartment.

"coming off!" schweik shouted to the robot driver. "coming off! wait!"
"then come off, officer, come off," the driver answered.

schweik grabbed the back of swan's jacket as unobtrusively as possible and hauled her to her feet.

she stumbled ahead of him to the front door and out of it and almost fell down when her feet hit the pavement.
schweik smiled at the driver as he exited behind her. "thanks for your patience, sib."
the driver didn't answer and roared off.
"simply disgraceful," schweik said. "every one of the dedicated police officers on the bus probably thought you were drunk or doped."
"i wish i was drunk or doped." she had fallen into a deep sleep on the bus after spending most of the night in schweik's apartment, talking .

"let's get a nice can of orange drink into you."
"orange drink. great. "
"let's go. one foot in front of the other."

"yeah, i'll go with you," country girl told leslie. "i'm headed that way anyway."
"you are?"
"i want to check up on my sweetie. i just have to see her."
"whatever." leslie smiled. "we'll see. we might find something at knuck's to hold you up a while."

"so what do you think?" antonia asked tom.
"about what?"
"the young man who got thrown in the water. did you believe - her?"

"she was probably telling the truth," said the young man on antonia's right. "especially to the robot. if she really killed him, she would have just denied everything. this way, they could check up on her story - if they wanted to."
"i don't know," said tom. "i just don't know." she looked across antonia at the young man who had spoken. "and you are?"

"buckaroo. but my friends - my sibs - call me bucky." he had a round flabby body and short thin arms and he folded them across his chest as he looked over at tom.
"well, mr bucky," said tom, 'if you don't mind my saying so, you don't seem too distraught at your situation."
"i'm not. i'm surprised they didn't get me a long time ago. i've been living on borrowed time."
"that's a good attitude."
"the best."
"look there," said james. "it looks like we have a new keeper."

sergeant fred had taken over for lorna. he yawned and stretched and looked out the front door. he glanced briefly up the line of prisoners, then turned his gaze back on the darkness outside.
lorna headed for the side door. she didn't look over at the prisoners.
the man sitting on james's left, who hadn't opened his mouth since he had been arrested, began to laugh.

the seventeenth letter, part 33

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