Episode 405: Precipitate

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Air Date: 13 July 2010
Present: Kim, Maer, Terri, Andy, and Bobby

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Thursday, 26 Jun 2521
Lorngaard, Highgate
Blue Sun (Qing Long) system
2030hrs local time

Kiera and Nika leave Rina and Joshua sleeping off tranq patches in Arden’s care and take off for the bars of Lorngaard, ostensibly to find out what intel they can of the guard rotation at the holding facility where Mike Carter is being held. Kiera will be going into new territory for her, her contacts and comfort zone being mostly civilian and rarely military, and it is the military they are primarily targeting.

Lorngaard has roughly three categories of bars, the women find out. The PDF-friendly bars, the Independent-friendly bars and the everything-else bars. Even then there are little subgroups: Resistance-types who want to spread Blue Sun’s version of democracy to other systems on the Rim. Isolationists. Reconciliationists (not very popular, no surprise). The last group tends to stay away from the bars, congregating instead at Lorngaard’s coffee houses.

Even though this is a fact-finding mission for the holding facility, Nika also keeps an eye out on who’s buying tickets and where. Prices range from 1 credit for the nosebleed section and 10 credits up front from the scalpers. They’re also doing a brisk business at the ticket window and on the Cortex. Kramer already has tickets arranged for all of us, assigned to the preferred seating area. As a flag officer of the PDF, rank hath its privileges and being spared the chore of getting tickets in the crush apparently is one of them.

They case the stadium on their way to the bars, note that it’s a pretty generic outdoor venue, open to the sky and able to seat thousands. Anybody who can make it is allowed to attend. There are specialized voting centers elsewhere on Highgate and in the Blue Sun system, outfitted with special jury rooms set up like movie theatres wherein the trial is witnessed by the voters and voted upon. for trials that run more than one day, the voters are stamped with special inked stamps to allow them to stand jury duty and cast their vote at trial’s end. Only those who have attended and viewed the entire trial will be allowed to vote.

Before hitting the bars, Kiera also takes a sidetrip to acquire those pharmaceuticals she was hired to pick up for Byshek’s client. Nika decides to go along with, just in case Kiera needs a hand with … whatever. Kiera walks up to the pharmacist and asks for 300 doses of her target drug.

Pharmacist: I’m sorry, how much?
Pharmacist: Oh, what hospital are you with?
Kiera: Actually, I can list off a bunch of them.
Pharmacist: Okay. Which hospital are you buying for?

Kiera names the main facility at Meridian City, Meridian.

Pharmacist: We’ll just have to confirm with the hospital that you’re making this purchase. Won’t take long. We’ve got Cortex now.

Oops. Please don’t do that. Kiera pulls out twenty credits from her wallet and lays them on the counter. That would be the minimum going bribe to convince a pharmacist to risk his license.

Kiera: Could you on a second? You know, they’re going to have a hard time finding me on record since I’m more of a travelling surgeon with privileges.
Pharmacist: So you’re not buying this for the hospital.
Kiera: So I’m kinda wonderin’ if I could go on ahead and take it.
Pharmacist: Ah … I could lose my job if we’re audited and it’s found out that we’re … This is my entire stock.
Kiera: Oh, your entire stock? So what would make it worth your effort to put your job on the line? (a beat) I could lie to you. Or I could be honest.
Pharmacist: Well… (thinks it over) … Uh … I can’t do it right now. But if you come back tomorrow after hours, for a 100 extra I can do it. I need to change their expiration dates.
Kiera: Yeah, you don’t want to be sellin’ old medications.
Pharmacist: Well we just destroy it.

Destroy it right into Kiera’s hands, yes.

Kiera: Well we’ll talk to you tomorrow then. I appreciate you workin’ with me.
Pharmacist: That’ll be a hundred in platinum.
Kiera: Mm-hm!
Pharmacist: Okay.

Kiera walks out slowly, doing a quick case of the joint. When she gets outside, Nika cuts an eyeroll.

Nika: You ain’t too good at this game, are you?
Kiera: (cheerfully) No.
Nika: See, all you had to say was “Well, you know, all we have to give you is your restocking fee up front” and slide the credits across.
Kiera: Oh! Well, see? We can go to another pharmacy and you can do the talking.

Actually, Kiera didn’t go to just any pharmacy, she went to a distributing pharmacy where the meds are stored and shipped in bulk. If she went the corner store route, she’d be here for weeks gathering the meds one or two doses at a time.

Nika: Just a hint. Call it a restocking fee or an expediting fee. Just so it makes it worth his while to let us have his whole stock.

Business concluded, Nika escorts Kiera back to our ship and then turns right around to hit the bars. She’s got 12 hours of downtime coming and the night isn’t getting any younger.

Back on the Gift, Arden’s sitting in the wardroom with the unconscious Rina and Joshua, reading a book with his feet up, his ears tuned to any changes in his patients. Rina wakes first. She sits up and bites back a groan. Her head’s killing her—headache reaction from the drugs.

Arden stands and puts his book aside as Rina slides off the wardroom bed. She’s a little wobbly but she can stand. Arden steadies her and says slowly like to one hungover:

Arden: Go. Take. A. Shower.
Rina: Yob tvoyu mat’.

Rina jerks free of Arden and stalks out, saying over her shoulder:

Rina: This is all your fault.
Arden: How is it my fault?

But she’s already out the door and gone, pissed off at the fast one pulled on her. Arden lets it go and returns to his book, to wait until Joshua comes to. Which he does some little time later. He pulls himself together and spends a moment talking to Arden.

Joshua: I’m really not sure why they tranqued me, Arden.
Arden: Umm… (really has no clue) … I guess it was because you were getting restless? I wasn’t there so I don’t know.
Joshua: Do tranqs and alcohol work well together?
Arden: Not usually. Did I ever tell you the first time I tranqued somebody aboard this ship?
Joshua: No. When was that?
Arden: When we first took it over. He almost died. Because he was allergic.
Joshua: Well, I guess I’m not allergic. That’s a plus.
Arden: If it’s Nika, though, use the green vial, not the red vial.
Joshua: I’ll remember that if I ever have to tranq her.

Friday, 27 Jun 2521
0430hrs local time

Nika comes back from her time off-ship in the company of four armed Naval SPs in uniform. They drive up to the Gift in their jeep and walk her up the airlock steps where they buzz our door. We answer their hail. They tell us they found Nika in a bar. She’s not quite sober.

Joshua: (taking Nika aboard) Thank you.
SP: No one’s pressing charges.
Joshua: Most excellent.
SP: But you might not want to head to that section of town anytime soon.
Nika: (slurring) He stardded dit.
Joshua: What section was that?

The SPs indicate roughly the southeast quarter of town.

Nika: He stardded dit.
Joshua: (to SPs) Excuse me. (turns to Nika) Captain.
Nika: Hands. On the girls.

She indicates her chest with cupped hands.

Joshua: Captain.
Nika: Tha’wazzit. We were done.
Joshua: Captain. (points) To your cabin.

She goes.

Joshua: Exactly. (turns to the SPs) Thank you.

The SPs leave and we go back to our respective bunks and our interrupted sleep.

Friday, 27 Jun 2521
0830 hrs, local time

It’s officially morning and the crew is dealing with it as best they can in various states of fatigue, hangover, and well rested-ness. Joshua talks to Nika over breakfast.

Joshua: (put-off) You tranqued me.
Nika: What?
Joshua: You tranqued me.
Nika: Me?
Joshua: Yeah. You. (points to Kiera) Or her. And I’m pretty sure it wasn’t her. (points to Rina)
Nika: I didn’t see anything. (Nope.)
Arden: I can neither deny nor confirm that rumor.
Nika: Which one?
Arden: That you tranqued him.
Nika: I don’t know what he’s talkin’ about.
Kiera: What’s a tranq?

Arden digs into his eggs and bacon. Not feeling at her best, Rina picks at it. Nika picks at her.

Nika: Did you have enough vodka?
Rina: That would have been my end.
Kiera: (to Rina) You tranqued him. How dare you?
Rina: (looks daggers at Kiera) No. You tranqued me.
Kiera: I don’t remember doin’ that, rightly.
Rina: (to Kiera) I hear percussive maintenance works wonders on the head.
Arden: Nika. Want some greasy eggs and bacon now?

He holds his plate under Nika’s nose and she goes a touch green.

Nika: I frakkin’ hate you.

Joshua hands her a mug of piping hot fresh java.

Joshua: Coffee.
Nika: Thank you.
Joshua: You’re welcome. I’m a forgiving soul.

And breakfast more or less continues without further incident and we get on with our day.

Saturday, 28 Jun 2521
Trial Stadium, Lorngaard
0800hrs, local time

There isn’t much left to do but wait for the trial and two days later, it finally opens. Everyone attending has to pass through metal detectors and, undesirous of trouble, Rina has left her weapons behind on the Gift.

We find our preferred seating, arranged for us courtesy of Kramer, and settle down to watch. Looking around we see the stadium is at near full, with about 20,000 people attending. There are numerous gigantic holoscreens to give everyone an up-close view of the proceedings. There are numerous air horns too, of the plastic and the pneumatic variety, and to combined din of the horns and the crowd is intense. The crowd also patches of color made by their clothing, denoting their affiliations and factions. There is no one color for the PDF. However, there is a tier with box seats and it’s there that the PDF rankers and the elite sit for the trial. Seeing the boxes reminds Nika of speculation she’d overheard the night before during her bar crawl, where some of the more paranoid wonder if the trial is nothing more than a lure to get the leaders, movers, and shakers of Blue Sun system collected in one spot for a tactical strike. It would only take a missile launched from a distance, maybe two, and the government of Blue Sun would be obliterated in one fell swoop. Nika also knows that it’s Kramer’s job to keep that from happening and it’s the reason Decatur is parked in orbit above.

Overhead is a force field deflecting some of the sun’s rays from the assembled spectators, but it doesn’t do much to affect the resulting heat. As the day wears on, it gets hotter in the stands and the drinks concessions are doing a land office business.

In the center of the stadium is the courtroom. It’s a shallow platform with a couple of tables and accompanying chairs for the accused and the advocates. Mike is led out into the stadium through one of the two tunnel entrances at the end. He’s shuffled to the platform under guard in leg irons and manacles. And not just any manacles. The manacles are more like bracers on his wrists and they connect to something rather like a metal vest on his torso, with a corresponding metal collar around his neck. Lights blink from various places on the equipment and it looks like the restraints can be operated by remote. Mike is given a data pad and a chair and his bracers are released from the clamps at his waist. The guards withdraw and Mike sits alone, facing a matching table and chair opposite.

The crowd perks up at this latest development but does not boo or hiss. Kiera eyeballs the guards as best as she can make them out, hoping to see if they are the five scruffy men she’d tailed while shopping. They are too far away for her to identify either way.

Major Michael Tanner, Junior JAG for the trial, shows up next and takes up his position at the table opposite Mike’s. Tanner doesn’t dither but takes the stage and over the PA system declares his job is to explain the evidence of the case.

He tells the assembled audience that Michael Carter was armed, that he was on the site, he is well-known to be a marksman, and a list of Carter’s other skills follows. He reads multiple testimonials of Carter’s accomplishments, many of them of selfless action and heroism during the War. Some of them are quite frank in their admiration of the accused. Tanner reads them all and when he’s finished, he warns the audience not to be misled by the haggard thin man before them. Make no mistake, Michael Cameron Carter is a killing machine, Tanner declares. Furthermore, Tanner is not here today to give the verdict, for that is the duty of the people of Blue Sun. He is merely here to present the evidence, to show how the accused had the means and the opportunity to commit the crime.

He cues security footage to the viewscreens and everyone sees shots of Mike entering the building using his key card. Tanner tells the audience that it’s clear that as far as the evidence shows, Mike was the only one the authorities know to be in the building aside from the victim. The only one the authorities know of, Tanner is meticulous to point out. He is here only to show that Carter had the opportunity to kill You Ge but that doesn’t rule out other people being present with opportunities as well.

Arden mutters under his breath that the reasoning behind the case is circular and makes no sense: Carter was the only one the authorities know of as being present so Carter is the only one they know of who could have done the deed because he was the only one they know of on the site. Circular!

Motive, Means, and Opportunity are the three elements that prove a crime case and unfortunately, the case can be made that Mike had at least two of the three. What motive would Carter have to kill the victim? And this is the big question before us today. What do we know of his motives? We know that he was of the Independence movement. Carter was something of a War hero in some circles (testimony to follow). We know that he had a rank of …

Tanner refers to his notes.

… Carter is a man with no rank but is a highly placed operative in Independents Intelligence. Carter continued working Intelligence after the War. The greatest part of this evidence came to light when Carter was captured by the Alliance on Beaumonde shortly after the explosion of the Blue Sun Chempliant chemical factory. Witnesses have corroborated that Carter was involved with that operation and they will come forward during the trial or have already given their testimony, some under secrecy.

Why would this activity make You Ge a target? Tanner asks. This much we do not know and perhaps Carter will offer some information on this. There are some possibilities. Since his capture, it has been some reasonably well established that he had been on the run from assassins, so perhaps a particular individual made a deal that if Carter killed You Ge, that individual would call off the assassins. Or perhaps Carter thought You Ge was responsible for assassins and killing You Ge would end the assassins coming after him.

We don’t know, Tanner says. However, Carter had Means and Opportunity. Whether he had Motive or not, it is uncertain. But the evidence from the crime scene show that the ballistics on the single bullet to the back of the victim’s head matches the personal firearm issued by You Ge to Mr. Carter. The style of the kill is consistent with someone highly trained and highly accurate. The victim was shot from approximately from twenty feet away. Tanner goes through the crime scene evidence: DNA, fingerprints on the scene prove Carter was in the room, and he was apprehended just outside the house leaving the vicinity when the authorities received word of the crime.

That said, Tanner goes on, there are several odd things about the crime. There was no sign of resistance on the part of You Ge. However it is noticed that he wasn’t holding anything. He had a drink. He had a datapad. Both were set down on the table before he was killed. Maybe the assassin waited for that moment to happen so as not to cause a mess. There are no eyewitnesses, so we do not have testimony by eyewitnesses to corroborate as to that. And there is no evidence—no one has come forward as a co-conspirator and Mr. Carter has not implicated anyone as of yet. But perhaps at the end of this testimony we will find out.

Of course, the description of Tanner’s presentation is far shorter than the presentation itself. It takes Tanner hours to lay the evidence in front of the people of Blue Sun. Tanner has to take the time present testimonies for and against Carter, to show and explain photographs, charts, and graphics, read document after document from Carter’s war record—with redactions liberally peppering the text.

During the proceedings, Kiera sounds out the spectators to the left and right of her.

Kiera: Do they think the authorities are setting up a hero of the War? Because it’s all circumstantial.
Spectator: It’s not circumstantial if he’s in the building, right? They have the vids of him walking in.
Kiera: Well, yeah, but your DNA will be on that seat, but you’re supposed to be here. But if somebody dies while we’re here, then your DNA’s as good as anybody else’s. Cuz you belonged here.
Spectator: Why isn’t he testifying?
Kiera: I don’t know. Strange. I think he’s being set up.

In fact, Kiera wastes no opportunity to tell everyone she meets that very thing: she thinks the defendant is being set up. After all, Kiera was the one who noted that a defendant on trial in Blue Sun needs a PR man as much if not more than a lawyer and she does what she can. She knows that people are voting on the verdict and people like heroes and they tend to be suspicious of government. Especially here in Blue Sun where recent bad blood with the Alliance government is still a fresh memory. So if Kiera can get enough people thinking along the lines of war hero done wrong, it might help Carter’s case.

At one point in the presentation, Tanner offers Carter an opportunity to defend himself. Carter says nothing. Tanner persists: is there anything that you believe to be not factual or that he wishes to correct? Carter assents to all the factual information, that he was there at the scene of the crime and all the rest of it.

Immediately after this there is a brief tribute to You Ge—the Angel of Blue Sun.

Kiera: (playing it to the hilt) The cola company?

No, the system! People shush her to better hear the tribute.

You Ge—so the tribute declares—financed the shipments of food that kept people alive during the Quarantine. He was responsible for stealing a Long Bow patrol cruiser out from under the nose of the Alliance using his guile and wits. He outright bought Pericles Station, a converted Tohoku class cruiser, the better to facilitate bringing independence to Blue Sun.

Basically, the whole hero thing. You Ge’s activities are widely shown in a good light.

Kiera: Hey, he blew a deal that I had … !

But then, a dark cloud forms on the horizon (as the tribute intones to the audience) as some people believe You Ge did all these things for nefarious reasons. At every interview where people begged him to become something more than just a speaker of the people, he would resist. No, no, my vote is no more important than anyone else’s, he is widely recorded as saying. He was merely the president of his company, You Go Enterprises. He was also the president of the MZC party in Blue Sun, which was the organizational structure that allowed democracy to happen.

The tribute is a eulogy to the deceased. If Carter is going to be described as a War hero—and testimony has been given to that effect during the presentation—then it behooves Tanner to show the crime was not just some random hit on an insignificant guy, but the victim was responsible for independence in Blue Sun.

Arden is openly skeptical of the entire business and during the tribute he snarkily holds aloft a lighter and sways with it. Rina makes no comment. Her attention is focused on hearing the evidence.

Many people wanted to put forth their ideas, Tanner says to the audience. Put forth their theories why this happened, what happened, and what really happened. All the testimony is available in the Cortex Datavault. However because of limited time, we’ve decided to limit testimony to people who may have particular interest.

Tanner calls the first such individual up and Rina recognizes who it is. He’s Michael Carter’s commanding officer during the War. The man steps forward. He is of average height and dark skinned, with grey beginning to frost his temples and beard. His round face is as yet unwrinkled save at the corners of his eyes and mouth, and his dark eyes are still observant and bright. He has a bit of a limp, possibly from an old war wound and though he’s wearing thoroughly civilian clothing, his military bearing comes through loud and clear. Murmurs rustle through the gathered audience as a dull roar: Who is this guy? Where is he from? What’s his connection to Carter?

The man shakes Carter’s hand then turns and delivers his testimony.

Man: I have to apologize. You’ll have to excuse my manner here. Saying my name in front of twenty thousand people, on camera before a Cortex of millions of people, possibly people from the Alliance—

Booo! goes the audience at the mention of that government. The man waits for the spectators to settle.

Man: … And others I may have dealt with in the past, is a bit on my nerves. I haven’t been out in public for some time. My name is Ted Winfield and I worked with Mike Carter back in the War and after the War as well. I won’t bore you with going back over the list of his accomplishments …

And Winfield lists Carter’s accomplishments in detail.

Winfield: But there’s two things I want to focus on. The first has to do with the set of rumors going around that somehow this trial is not about the death of You Ge or the present things, but a trial of his betrayal of Resistance agents when he was captured after the Beaumonde incident as was just described. What the law hasn’t spoken of was the circumstances under which this has happened. While we don’t know the extent of any torture that may have been used, I will say this:

And Winfield pauses significantly.

Winfield: It’s our policy in the field that Mr. Carter and I am in is to tell, to talk about these things. If he did under torture, it’s what he’s supposed to do. Of course, he’s supposed to lie but eventually he’s going to say the truth. And the hope is that the lies cover up the truth. Any of you who thinks it’s supposed to be different are living in a world where you just don’t understand the way these things work.

He lets this sink in for a moment.

Winfield: The second is, we’ve known for some time—all of us, we’ve seen the vids. The Colchester Wave and others, demonstrating without a doubt that Blue Sun and other Alliance-based industries have been using mind-altering drugs to do this. I know from direct experience that Mr. Carter was under the influence of these things when any information that he may have divulged was released. It was impossible for him not to do anything.

Winfield stands a little straighter.

Winfield: Now, you might say that doesn’t matter. That he did it and he must be punished and perhaps that is what this trial is about. But I will say that on the matter of those sleeper cells, it was not something that he could have done differently. And I know if he could have, he would have. Because, as I’ve told you, I know the sort of man he is.

Michael Cameron Carter looks a touch embarrassed by Winfield’s endorsement but refrains from action or word.

Winfield: Now, the second thing that needs to be discussed is what Mr. Carter was doing there when this all happened. Looking around this stadium I see many banners. Many of whom I’ve worked directly with during the War and afterwards. We’ve got together against the Alliance and its tyranny. And then after the War when things changed and different people had different strategies, the hope of keeping the spark of Independence alive was dwindling. I’ve spoken to General Nguyen and others about the release of the information that Mr. Carter was working to bridge the gap, to end the schisms between the factions when the unfortunate incident happened on Beaumonde. And I say unfortunate, because he was captured. The deaths of those people, while tragic, did highlight what Blue Sun and the Alliance was doing. Not on Ariel. Not on Londinium. But on Beaumonde, out here on the Rim. They were building drugs to turn us into mindless obedient sheep. And of course, from Miranda we know perhaps much much worse than that.

He pauses for effect and then goes on.

Winfield: So … if anything, if anyone has a claim to hold the Independent movement together, Mr. Carter does. Now, the fact that we’re all able to have this … trial, is a testament to the successes of Mr. Carter and the others. And we should think very carefully before we shut the door on the people who made this possible. The fact that there is not an Alliance garrison manning this stadium or ships overhead waiting to bombard us for even discussing this …

Winfield’s expression darkens.

Winfield: Now, I don’t know what’s going to come of all of this, but there are things that I’m guilty of that would make this little action seem pretty mundane in traffic court. You all out there have probably done things in the day equally bad. But if we’re gonna make this claim, we got to stand together as we did many years ago and take us as we are.

He falls silent and then shuffles off the platform, erect and dignified.

Kiera is of a mind to go to the concessions stands and take a reading of people’s sentiments in the wake of Winfield’s testimony.

Kiera: (rising) Anybody want popcorn? Nope? All right.
Nika: I’d like some water if you don’t mind.
Kiera: No problem.

At this point, the trial has stretched on into the evening, it’s getting on toward dark, and the trial is adjourned until the following morning.

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