|Forum Home > Now This Ain't No Frak > Let's make a deal. (part 3)|
This was originally much longer, but I wasn't happy with the concluding bits so I'm going to see if I can spin them out into something that feels much better and more complete in order to finish this little flight of fancy.
The worst thing about being in jail was not the living conditions. From what James had seen so far, the accommodations were actually quite decent. His holding cell was clean, and the furniture was simple but comfortable. Maybe that was just because this was an ImpSec jail rather than one run by the Avalon City police. But still, it was no worse than James' cabin on the Resolve had been before he had the chance to decorate.
The worst thing about being in jail was not the other inmates. James had not seen any.
The worst thing about being in jail was not the fear of what would happen once the authorities finished their investigation and moved on to arranging a sentence. James was worried about that. Despite how often he skirted the law, he had never before actually been arrested for anything worse than some misdemeanor drunken mischief. Whatever James was accused of this time, it was certain that the penalty would be far worse than a mere fine. Yet that was not James biggest fear.
No, by far the worst thing about being in jail was what would happen once James' crew figured out he was there.
They were going to try to break him out. He'd known them all long enough to be certain of that much. It's what he himself would have tried to do if one of them had landed in the same position. Even if the Resolve's crewmen were uncertain of how they'd manage it, there was no doubt that they'd try. And Lieutenant Shrak's little squad of jarheads wouldn't hesitate for a moment before attempting an armed assault on an Imperial Security installation. They were not the kind of people who acted with an abundance of caution. If they had been, they never would have wound up on James' ship.
James knew they had enough weapons and armor packed away in one corner of a cargo pod to make a serious mess, too. But a mess was all they would make. This wasn't a backwater moon out on the colonial fringe. Eight ex-TI troopers weren't enough to take on a government security force in the middle of the Imperial capital. Even if they could overpower whoever was guarding the jail, they'd be surrounded by reinforcements within minutes. Or pasted by orbital platforms. The Holy Terran Empire did not screw around with insurrection.
James sighed and cupped his face in his hands. He was not sure how long he'd been here. After taking his possessions they'd locked him in the cell for a few hours. But then they'd dragged him off to an interrogation chamber and left him sitting alone on a chair. There was no clock, but he felt like he'd been in here for an hour or two already. He was supposed to have been on a shuttle back to the Resolve by evening. Which meant they already knew something had gone wrong. They'd probably try his personal comm, too. James didn't know what would happen when ImpSec followed that call back to its source. He groaned.
The door to the interrogation room swung open, its hinges groaning from the heavy metal weight. James didn't bother to lift his head out of his hands. He listened to the door closing again, and then to a set of footsteps which strode through the silence towards. Between his fingers, he saw the dark suit pants of the man stepping up to the table on which James was resting his elbows.
A plastic computer tablet clattered onto the tabletop.
"What the hell is wrong with you?"
James inhaled sharply at the question, and he looked up from his hands. The man standing across from him was young and handsome. Slicked black hair crowned a sculpted face whose only blemish was a field of freckles below both eyes. Those eyes were glaring at James, their brow folded in consternation and anger.
"Ian?" James' eyes bulged.
The man ignored him. "Enlighten me, because I honestly can't tell anymore. Could it really be that you're just the biggest jackass ever?"
"What are you doing here?"
Ian Samothrace balled a fist. For a second, it looked like he was about to slam it onto the table, but then he managed to get control of himself again and spread his fingers to merely support himself as he sat down in the room's other chair.
"I'm the case officer for this operation, Jim."
James screwed up his face in confusion, "Didn't you go to work for the Social Welfare Bureau?"
Ian's eyes narrowed at him for a moment, and he did not answer.
"You know, we have your mother over for dinner every month now," he said instead. "She thinks you're dead."
James opened his mouth to say something in response to this. But he realized he did not actually have a reply, so he closed it again. A sickening ache began to spread in his gut.
"So, I want to know," Ian tapped his fingers on the table, "what I should tell her the next time I see her, Jim."
"Oh Mrs. Welthammer!" Ian said, spreading his arms in mock excitement. "Guess who I saw last week. It was James!" His arms and face dropped suddenly, "He was arrested after we caught him smuggling state secrets to an enemy nation."
Ian smiled and shook his head, "No I don't know where went or why he never sent any messages. No, I don't know how he could sink so low as that, either. I'm sure he thought he had a good reason for all of it, though."
"No, Mrs. Welthammer, I'm afraid you can't see him. You see, I had to order his execution for high treason."
Ian's face eased into a blank expression as he looked at James again, but the coldness in his dark eyes could not be hidden. James couldn't meet his old friend's gaze for more than a second or two before he had to look down at his lap instead.
"You don't know what it's like out there," he mumbled.
"I'm quite sure I don't," Ian said. "But I'm equally sure that you don't have any idea what's it's like on this side of whatever rebellion fantasy you've been living."
Now James gritted his teeth and balled his own fists upon the table.
"Are you seeking to overthrow the Emperor, Jim?"
"No!" James glanced up at Ian for a moment without turning his head. Then he sighed and relaxed his hands.
"Well that's good," Ian said. "At least you're not completely insane. Did you know what was in the package you accepted from Lord Darrow?"
"No," James shook his head. "I didn't who he was, either."
"Did you know that you would be delivering this mystery package which you had surreptitiously received to agents of the K'Nes Llan?"
"Er…" James made a strangling noise in the back of his throat. But denial seemed pointless at this stage. "Yes. That I knew."
Ian said nothing for a minute or two, but drummed his fingers on the table.
"What did you think was in the canister?" he asked eventually.
"I didn't know. Didn't want to know." He looked up again, "Are you going to tell me what it was?"
"I am not," Ian said flatly.
They both looked at each other in silence for a while longer.
Finally, Ian said, "I don't want to kill you, Jim."
"Well good!" James exhaled deeply. "I don't know what the hell's happened to you, Ian, but I’m certainly glad it hasn't made you want to murder me. I half thought that maybe you'd—"
"I'm not the only one who gets to make that decision," Ian cut him off. "You are a traitor to the Empire. However ignorant or misguided your actions, that is now fact, and you don't get to just walk away from that."
James sucked on his lips. "Okay," he said. "So then what happens now?"
Ian looked up at the ceiling. "Two options," he held up as many fingers. "I turn you over to my superiors in the Bureau, with a personal recommendation that you not be executed. They'll decide whether to interrogate you for more information; which they probably will, but may or may not be interested enough to torture you. Then they'll ignore my recommendation and kill you."
"I don't like that option."
"Then your second choice is to work for me."
"I'm sorry?" James blinked.
"The only thing better than shutting down an enemy spy ring," Ian explained, "is turning it to your advantage. In exchange for my protection, you'll make your delivery as planned. Only you'll give the K'Nes the package I prepare for you. And then you'll keep us informed of similar operations in the future."
James gaped. "You don't mean work for you. You mean work for the Empire!"
"Yes. I believe you just said that you were not seeking to overthrow the government?"
"I'm— I'm not!" James' hands shook with exasperation. "But that doesn't mean I like you guys! Come on, have we met before?"
Ian's eyes narrowed, "This isn't your schoolyard fantasy anymore, Jim. I'm an agent of the Emperor, and you've been caught engaging in espionage. Now you can die for your petty righteousness, or you can take the deal I'm offering.
James opened and closed his mouth a few times, he was breathing hard.
"I… you're asking me to nark on the Cats, Ian!"
The other man quirked an eyebrow, "Is that any worse than what you were doing for them?"
"That's not the point! They'll—"
"You cannot possibly be more scared of them than you are of us. The K'Nes, Jim? The little floating furballs?"
"Ian! They…" James searched around for the best way to explain himself. "They cut the head off a Horadrim ambassador and sent it to the Emperor in a box!"
Ian snorted, "You shouldn't believe everything you read in the tabloid press. Anyway, nothing they might do to you can be worse than what will happen if you do not cooperate with us. So what's your answer, Jim? Time to take some responsibility."
James just looked at his friend for a while, knowing that he could not hide the desperation in his eyes. Ian met his gaze calmly, waiting for him to make his own choice.
He hung his head.
An enjoyable read as always. Just like Part I, you could theoretically end the story here... but I do hope you continue it. I'm curious about what's in the package, and what James will do next.
Yeah, I intend to explain the package contents in the concluding segment, once I've worked out how to put it together.
As for Freak, I'm leaning towards him not being on the Resolve, at least at the moment. Last we saw him, he was with Izzy's Golden Ticket party, and I don't think I want JW to intersect with that bunch for a while to come, if ever.