by Edward M. Erdelac -
Inspector Considine experienced the same feeling he’d had when he’d first met the Peacekeeper dispatcher whom he’d only known by voice as a rookie on Avenir. He had conjured a face to go with the voice he’d heard day in and day out, and he’d been far off the mark when at last they’d met.
Almer Croix was like that. He didn’t speak the way he looked. He looked a wreck, barely able to manage a bar of soap let alone string words together coherently.
But his tones were measured, his speech refined, despite the limitations of his throat, scarred by years of living on the surface.
He couldn’t place the accent either, which was strange, as he’d always had a good ear for that sort of thing.
Croix raised his slashed and purpling eyebrows, waiting for a response from Considine, when he himself hadn’t answered one of the inspector’s queries yet.
“Space is cold, and dark, and dead,” said Considine. “Like the sea. And you breathe canned air, the same as you do down here.”
“Oh but the sea isn’t dead, Inspector,” Croix smiled. “Not by a sight.”
“Feel like talking now do you?” Considine asked.
“Back to the matter of the detonite then.”
“Oh not about that,” he said, waving his hand. “Tell me about Avenir. Are there very many people? Why did you ever leave there?”
“Mr. Croix,” Considine said, losing his patience. “You’re looking at a spot in the Penal Labor Force on Sheba if you don’t start cooperating. A lot of hard, thankless work in tight spaces interspersed with solitary confinement. The gravity’s always on the blink. Have you ever tried to sleep in intermittent gravity? You rise and drop several times in the middle of the night. All your dreams are of falling. The crumbs of anything you’ve eaten winds up rattling in the vent over your head, and God help you if it happens while you’re on the toilet.”
Croix was smiling at him.
“Tell me about dreams. And about God.”
Considine pursed his lips. Had the man’s brains been shaken too hard?
“Six years, Croix. That’s the minimum penalty. Think you can hold out six years?”
“Oh, Croix won’t live six days, Inspector Considine.”
“I won’t live six days.”
Superb. A lunatic. He’d be put on suicide watch then, no shoelaces or belts, no shaving.
“Why? Are you ill?”
“Croix cannot sustain me.”
“What are you talking about?”
Croix smiled and looked up at the ceiling.
“I should have liked to have seen space.”
“OK, last chance. Who supplied the explosives?”
Croix closed his eyes, still smiling.
“What were you going to do with them?”
He only smiled.
Considine stood up and went to the door. He rapped on the hull, heard the wheel groan as Jelly Galveston swung open the door.
Over the big enforcer’s shoulder, the doctor in the white coat peered suspiciously in.
“All yours, doctor,” he said, and went past him outside.
“Jelly,” he said, when the doctor had re-entered and shut the door behind him. “Stay here till the doctor finishes up. I’m going to arrange for his transfer to the psych ward.”
“He a loony?”
“As loony as they come.”