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?"
Tony thought carefully. Was he really sure that the ensign was with the Confederacy? He wasn't two metres tall, like the stories said, and anybody could get hold of a green uniform. He decided to play it safe for the moment. "The government was properly elected, and has a majority. It's up to them to decide national policy."
"That's not a very clear answer."
Tony just stared at his interrogator. "No comment." He wanted to be on firmer ground before he talked more about that subject. If some of his real thoughts got back to the UK...
Realizing that he wasn't going to get any more for the moment, Glenn changed his line of questioning. "What did you think of John Smythe?"
Tony relaxed a little, this was a subject he could talk about safely. "The man was an idiot; fixated on the evils of the Confederacy. He said you had stolen his wife and children." Tony carefully observed the ensign's reaction to the word 'you', or rather his lack of reaction. Another piece of data collected. "He went on and on about it. I can understand someone being angry if his family suddenly disappears, but he was boring and tedious about it -- obsessive, even. I suspect he'd had some issues in his marriage. He was talking about what his wife must have done at the pick-up to get herself selected. He imagined that she had done lots of things that she wouldn't let him do at home. All fantasy of course, he wasn't actually there at the extraction. That probably made it worse for him -- his imagination was making things worse than the reality would have been. I don't know what Morgan saw in him."
"What about Mary McLuskie? Did she suggest Reno as well, or did Morgan invite her?"
"He invited her. I was talking to Mary after one of the conference sessions. I wanted to check over a few points from her presentation. Morgan joined us and suggested the Reno trip."
"Did you discuss politics with her?" Glenn asked.
"You are very interested in people's political opinions, aren't you? Is that related to whatever happened that I can't remember?"
"Did you discuss politics with her?" Glenn repeated.
"No comment. You could always talk to her." Tony decided to continue stonewalling that line of questioning. He wanted to be more certain of his current situation before going further down that route. Stalling now would keep a wider range of options open for the future. At the very least, he needed to find out what was missing from his memory. "I still have questions about what happened in the bar."
"Your questions will have to wait."
"When will you be releasing me?"
"Later," Glenn told him. "I have something else to do now, so for the moment, I'll put you back in your cell. You can get water and food from the replicator."
"That's where you got this from," Tony said, indicating his orange jump-suit.
"Yes. The AI will hear you if you speak. Though I'll warn you, the menu is very limited."
Back in his cell, Tony checked the hatch in the wall. It was a replicator, as the man had said, and could provide water or a few basic sandwiches. The AI would respond to voice commands, but would not talk to him. Would an ordinary Police Station have replicators in the cells? They were more common in the US than in the UK, but surely they weren't that common, not for prisoners anyway. If this was an elaborate scam, then green uniforms were easy. Replicators were not so simple. Yet more data to think on.
He still couldn't remember exactly what had happened at the casino, but large men in green were definitely involved. That might well mean that whatever had happened involved a Confederacy pickup. Reno was in Nevada, not California, so it wasn't under the Confederacy interdict. Ensign would be a Confederacy rank then; it certainly wasn't like any American police rank he'd ever seen on a TV show or film. The interrogator's lack of reaction to his 'you' was another indicator. He was probably being held in some Confederacy prison. No doubt because of what had happened at the presumed pickup. Why couldn't he remember?
The questions about politics were interesting as well. Both Morgan King and Mary McLuskie were anti-Confederacy. Back in the UK, he'd made the expected anti-Confederacy noises as well, just going along with what others said. John Smythe, or whoever he was, was obviously very anti-Confederacy. That probably explained why his interrogator asked all those political questions. All four of the group appeared, at least on the surface, anti-Confederacy. The way that John Smythe was going on, he could even be an Earth First terrorist.
Tony's heart suddenly started thumping in his chest. If John Smythe really was a terrorist, then did they suspect him as well? Oh shit! This might be very serious. The Confederacy could move extremely quickly from interrogation to execution for terrorists. This was probably a lot more dangerous than he first thought. He might not get out of this alive! How to deal with it? Probably best to tell the truth. Confederacy technology must have some excellent lie-detectors. Had he been truthful so far? He couldn't remember any outright lies. He'd evaded a few questions, but his other answers were all true. Unfortunately, his evasions might only have increased any suspicions they had.
Best to be honest, and take the risk about things getting back to the UK. That was less immediate than the danger of being executed by the Confederacy. Being beaten up by Earth First thugs would be bad, but not as bad as winding up dead. He also needed to confirm that he was really being held by the Confederacy, and not enmeshed in some elaborate scam.
Glenn saluted Lieutenant Cooper and sat down. "What did you get from Tony Newbury so far, Glenn?" she asked. They tended to drop much of the military formality between the two of them, despite Sarah being Glenn's superior.
"I feel relaxed about him. He's probably just what he seems to be. The AI confirmed that all his answers were true, though he evaded some of the more political questions."
"Why do you think he did that, Glenn? Was he hiding something?"
"I don't think so. Given the attitude of the UK government, anyone even slightly in the public eye has to be very careful about what they say; some nasty things might happen if it got back to England."
"We can probably confirm things with that old BBC film," Sarah pointed out. "Going through what he said there will let you probe his politics more deeply, and he won't be able to evade so easily."
"Yes, that should work. We need to find out if he really believes that stuff or if he's just making noises to keep their government off his back. On another subject, have we confirmed the real identity of 'John Smythe'?"
"Yes." Sarah gave a big smile. "He's Artie Zossen with a face job and no fingerprints."
Glenn punched the air, "Yes! We've got him!" They had been after Artie for a long time.
When his interrogator came to collect him for their next session, Tony decided to try the direct approach, "Are you Confederacy?"
"You don't fit the stereotype: two metres tall and beefy."
"No, I don't. Would you be happier if I did?"
"It would help. So far all I have seen is you, my cell and this corridor. Nothing that is exclusive to the Confederacy."
"There is the replicator in the cell," the ensign pointed out.
"There are replicators on Earth as well.
Glenn paused, with a distant look in his eyes. "OK, I think we can show you more." He turned round and led Tony to the other end of the corridor, away from the interrogation room. Through a secure door, they met a more typical Confederacy Marine. "Mr. Newbury, Private Shaw. I think she is more what you expected."
Tony smiled up at the tall women, "Indeed. Hello Private." Her sidearm looked vaguely familiar, as if there was another of his lost memories trying to surface.
"We need her with us since you are outside the holding area. Regulations, I'm afraid," Glenn explained.
Tony nodded his understanding, and Glenn led them off through a maze of passages to a large room. "Stay behind that red line marked on the floor," Glenn warned. "This is an airlock, and the red line marks the force-field that keeps the air in this part of the room." As he finished speaking, a siren sounded and the far wall opened onto space, giving a view over the curve of the Earth. Tony almost panicked, but the view distracted him. A bright crescent to one side, with most of the Earth in darkness. Lights from the cities along the coast outlined the curve of Brazil, with darkness over the South Atlantic.
"A very impressive demonstration," Tony acknowledged. "Thank you, Ensign."
Back in the interrogation room, Tony settled in his chair with the ensign sitting opposite. He still didn't know the ensign's first name. The name tag on his uniform just read, "Holbeck".
Glenn opened the questioning, "Mr. Newbury, how did you vote in the last election?"
"I voted Green, which I suppose was a vote for the government. It was certainly a vote against the last lot."
"The Greens are a part of the coalition?"
Science Fiction /