He hurt! God, he hurt! He hadn't felt this bad since he'd been a student, and drinking far too much. Some of those mornings ... But this was worse. More pain and less of a fuzzy head to mask it out. Why was he like this now? He wasn't a student any more -- at least he remembered that much. He could feel the pain, but his head still wasn't working right. What had he been doing last night? Where had he been? A conference. Yes, there was a conference in there somewhere. Reno as well -- he'd been in Reno yesterday. Reno? Was that right? The conference wasn't in Reno, the conference was somewhere else. Concentrate, man, concentrate. Ah, the conference was at Lake Tahoe. So where did Reno come into it? At least he remembered that Reno wasn't Lake Tahoe.
Forget Reno, he'd been a student. A long time ago, but he'd definitely been a student. He wasn't a student now, though. Certainly not. He worked. Office. Colleagues. Shops. Definitely shops. He didn't actually work in a shop though; that was where the office came in. Why couldn't he think clearly? Whatever had scrambled his brains must have done a very thorough job.
The pain was still bad, but he was becoming acclimatised. It was getting slightly easier to ignore.
Maybe he ought to open his eyes? Seeing where he was might help. He cracked one eye open slightly. Good, some subdued light. He remembered what bright light had been like on those hungover student mornings. Opening both eyes, he looked at the ceiling. Grey, and not a very appealing grey. A couple of lights recessed into opposite corners. Not too bright. Good, if this was a hangover then he didn't want bright lights. It didn't feel like a hangover though, at least it didn't feel like his memories of hangovers past. Maybe hangovers felt different when you got older? It had been a long time since his last one.
He looked at the walls. A cell! He was in a cell. Grey ceiling, grey walls, minimal furniture. No, not just a cell, a drunk tank. His bed was just a thin foam pad on the floor. No legs at all, so he couldn't injure himself rolling off; only three inches to fall. The plastic-covered pad could easily be cleaned. A quick check ensured that he hadn't thrown up, but he was naked. Where were his clothes? What had he been doing last night? The last time he'd woken up naked in a strange bed had involved a girl, and he suspected that there wasn't a girl involved this time. No, that was wrong -- Mary was in there somewhere. But she wouldn't ... No, not Mary.
Maybe he would try the door when he got up? Fat chance. This was a cell so it would be locked. Anyway, getting up would have to wait. The pain was still too much, though it was subsiding slowly. What on earth had he been drinking last night?
Back to Reno. He'd been at the conference in Tahoe. Then he'd been in Reno. Had he travelled? Yes! There was definitely a car journey. So, he'd been at the conference, and he'd driven ... No, scratch that, he'd been driven. Someone else was doing the driving. He'd been driven to Reno. He remembered a lot of bright flashing neon, presumably one of the casinos. Then there was a bar. Alcohol. Food and alcohol. That sounded more like it; he didn't usually drink except over a meal. Why was he hung over then? What had he done after the meal? Was there even any 'after the meal'? He couldn't remember anything later. Had something happened during the meal? Someone had been shouting. Who was it? It had been close, very close. He remembered the noise. Was there someone dressed in green? There was certainly green in there somewhere, but that was just before everything went blank. He decided to ask whoever came in to see him. If he waited, someone would have to come eventually.
Someone did come, dressed in a green uniform. Maybe the police here wore green instead of blue?
"Anthony Newbury?" the newcomer asked.
"You work as a supermarket supply chain manager in London?"
"You've done your homework, I see," Tony replied. "And you are?"
"I'm Ensign Holbeck, and I need to ask you some questions." The ensign stood about 1.75 metres -- say 5' 9". White. Short military-style hair. Early twenties and looking very fit. As expected, he spoke with an American accent.
"I'd like my clothes back, please," Tony asked. At least the ensign was male. Was ensign a police rank, he wondered? It sounded more naval than police. "And I'd like to ask some questions as well."
"Your clothes are in storage, Mr. Newbury."
"Call me Tony, please," he interrupted.
"Very well, Tony. You can ask your questions later, if you still have any. For now I'll get you something to wear." He walked to a hatch in the wall, something that Tony hadn't noticed before, and took out a bright orange jump-suit. "You can wear this for the moment."
Tony hurriedly dressed and followed the police officer out into a corridor. At least the walls were white, instead of that dull grey. Through a door near the end was an interrogation room, also in white. Just a table and two chairs. Tony had vaguely expected to see a one-way mirror on the wall, but that would have been too much of a cliché. These days there would be a small video camera recording everything.
"How much do you remember?" the ensign asked once they were both seated. Tony noticed that he hadn't given his first name.
"You didn't read me my rights," Tony pointed out.
"I don't think it would make much difference to your answers, would it?"
"Probably not," Tony agreed. He'd assume that everything he said would be recorded anyway, it would be safer that way. He didn't have anything to hide, at least nothing that he could remember. The officer repeated his question.
"I don't remember a lot," Tony replied. "We were eating a meal somewhere, in a casino I think, then something happened -- shouting and someone in green. Not you, they were taller than you. After that it all went blank, and I woke up in that cell. It is a cell, isn't it?"
"It is," the ensign confirmed.
"What did I do to end up there?"
"That's what we're here to find out." The officer paused. "Let me show you a picture, that may help you." A screen built into the wall lit up and showed a still picture of the casino's restaurant with Tony and three others eating together. "Describe what you're seeing please, Tony."
"I'm in a booth, with Morgan King and Mary McLuskie from the conference I was attending in Tahoe. We'd decided to visit Reno..."
"Who suggested Reno?" the ensign interrupted.
"Morgan suggested it. He said it would be a good way to relax after the conference. I had a bit of spare time, so I agreed. He was right. I did enjoy it, at least up until this last bit. What did happen?"
His interrogator ignored Tony's question. "Who is the fourth man at the table?"
"Some friend of Morgan. We met him in the casino and Morgan introduced us. He's called John something, Smith maybe?"
"John Smythe was the name he used."
"Yes, that seems right. Are you saying that wasn't his real name?"
Again, Tony's question passed apparently unnoticed. "You hadn't met John Smythe before going to the casino?"
"No, I'd never seen him before. He knew Morgan, like I said."
"Why do you think Morgan asked you to go to Reno with him?"
"I don't know. You should ask him."
"We will." Tony noted that 'we' for future reference.
"Why were you at a conference in the US? Both you and Mary are English."
"I don't know about Mary, but I did very well at work last year, so this was a reward. A conference combined with a freebie holiday. The company paid for a week's stay in Tahoe for a three-day conference."
The green-uniformed police officer continued, "What did you and Morgan talk about at the conference, before you left for Reno?"
"I assume you don't want the work-related parts," Tony surmised.
The ensign nodded. "I'm more interested in casual conversations, the topics you were discussing between each other before Morgan suggested Reno."
"We talked about a lot of small stuff: families, colleagues, mutual friends and so on." Tony paused, "He did talk about politics quite a lot. He wanted to know how things were in the UK, with the Earth First government. He was comparing it with California's Confederacy-free policy..."
Tony froze momentarily at the word 'Confederacy'. Perhaps some part of his brain had used that word as a trigger to unscramble itself. This man in front of him was wearing a green uniform. There had been men wearing the same shade of green just before everything had stopped. Those men in the casino had been bigger than the ensign. A lot bigger. He probably wasn't being held by Reno police. He likely wasn't being held by any police. This Ensign Holbeck could well be a Confederacy Marine. What the hell had happened in the casino? The ensign hadn't read him his rights. Something else to show that this place wasn't an ordinary Police Station.
From the other side of the table, Glenn had seen Tony pause. It had been too much to expect that the man wouldn't work out who was holding him. He pretended not to notice, and continued with his questioning. "What do you think of the California policy?"
"I'm British, not Californian. California's policy is up to Californians to decide. None of my business."
"Is that what you told Morgan?"
"Pretty much." Tony didn't want to get too far into that area until he was more certain of his situation.
"What about the British policy?"
.... There is more of this story ...
Science Fiction /