Title: Redstone Chapter 18, Part 2.
By the time Tamara found out what Wyl had done, she’d already sent the encrypted data from the Warden’s computer on to Sir. In the chaos of the prison riot, every alarm echoing through the halls of Redstone and people distracted and afraid, she had run to her quarters, built her communicator and transmitted everything she had, every tiny terabyte of data, until she had confirmation that it had gone through to Sir. She thoroughly destroyed the hardcopy, then sat on her bed and just…waited. Waited and worried. Wyl had been so intent, and ZeeBee had been so fast, and then there was just…
Waiting. Wondering. Tamara tried to contact Wyl via Morse code once but got no reply. She didn’t bother trying again. He’d get in touch with her when he was ready. Demarcos was safely out of the way for now, although Tamara knew she owed him a major explanation. She’d already asked about giving him more to go on, and had been given authorization. Now she just had to find a time for them to be alone and out from under the probably hyper-watchful eye of Warden Harrison.
Then the announcement came over the prison comm system, and all of Tamara’s preconceptions went straight to hell.
“Attention all personnel: there has been a breach of security in Redstone Penitentiary. I repeat, there has been a prolonged breach of security in Redstone Penitentiary. A minimum of four suspected fugitives have been identified, in addition to two faculty members who may or may not have collaborated with them. You are confined to quarters for the immediate future as repairs are made and a door-to-door search is conducted. Any lack of cooperation may be met with lethal force.”
Oh, no. No, he hadn’t…he couldn’t. Could he? Wyl had been terribly distressed when ZeeBee had taken off, leaving the infirmary directly after. Had he done something? Had ZeeBee? What had happened to Robbie?
Tamara couldn’t risk reassembling her illicit communicator, not when someone might charge into her room at any point and start asking her questions. But she could fall back on her primary job, which she needed to do anyway. Mind made up, Tamara steeled herself, then called up President Alexander’s personal number.
She got his assistant’s voice, but not his image. Well, it was better than being shunted to Alexander’s holobox. “Remian, put me through to the president.”
“He’s busy and you’re off your schedule, Carson.” Remian’s voice was rather terse. “It can wait—”
“It can’t wait!” Tamara insisted, pushing a little more anxiety into her voice. “There was a riot, and a prison break, and nobody is telling me anything but I’m worried about what could have happened here.”
Remian abruptly appeared in the device. His imperturbably flat forehead was creased with an unfamiliar wrinkle. “A prison break? At Redstone?”
“That’s what they said over the comm system.”
“Not just a riot? Because riots are only to be expected in a cesspit like that place.”
Aaand thanks for leaving me here so long, assholes. “No, they distinctly said a prison break! We’re on mandatory lockdown, no one is allowed to leave their rooms! It’s been this way for hours!” Less than two, but whatever, she was making a point.
Remian kept frowning. At this rate he might actually sprout some genuine lines in a century or two. “Let me get back to you on this.” He ended the holo call and Tamara sighed, but really, it was about what she’d expected.
What she hadn’t expected was the wait that happened next. For twenty hours, her calls, her comms and her banging on the door all went unanswered. She couldn’t raise the president or his secretary, she couldn’t risk putting her secret comm together again, and as tempting as it was, she couldn’t break out the Morse to check on Demarcos either, since he had no way of answering even if he heard. That left catching up on her sleep, cleaning up and packing all of her things as distractions, all of which she got done in half that amount of time. For the rest of it, she fretted until she couldn’t bear it anymore, and then settled herself into a lotus and tried to meditate.
Meditation was something that Sir had insisted all the operatives who trained through the Academy spend some time studying. He said it was for its proven stress-relieving functions; Tamara thought it was because it gave Sir an excuse to get away from his day job for a while and spend some time meditating himself, as he liked to lead the sessions. It had been hard for Tamara, far harder than the engineering classes, but eventually she’d learned enough to pass muster. It helped that he modified things for her, and taught her a system that was less reliant on silence and let her use a mantra instead.
Her mantra today? “Fucker.” It might not be the most calming word choice, but it satisfied on a visceral level.
Eventually, after even meditation lost its novelty value, a knock finally came on the door. Tamara leapt to her feet and opened it.
A man she’d never seen before stood in the hall, in a uniform similar to one of Redstone’s guards, only in blue and grey instead of black. “Miss Carson?”
“Yes?” she said cautiously.
“It’s time for your debriefing.”
“Finally,” she said with a sigh, the very picture of a put-upon bureaucrat who just wanted to get off this rock and get back to civilization. “So I need to bring anything with me?”
“Just be sure there’s a way to identify yourself.”
“I’m in the log,” Tamara confirmed as she started to shut her door.
“Um…that may not suffice.”
She frowned. “Why not?”
“Because the computer system running Redstone has been infected with a virus. So far it’s only damaged the internal and external camera systems, but it has led to some confusion when it comes to reconciling people with profiles, since the cameras can’t check for a match.”
“Ah.” Tamara nodded calmly, her mind racing at lightspeed. “I’ll just bring along my badge, then. And my personal ID.”
Wyl, what did you do?
That was far from the last confusing thing to happen to her that afternoon, either. Instead of being taken to Warden Harrison’s domain, Tamara was led to the tiny prison port, where a makeshift office had been set up along one wall. Along the other wall sat a long row of Redstone employees, everyone from guards to medics to a few lone repairmen, all of them collared with isolation fields over their heads. Tamara glanced at them but didn’t let her gaze linger; it only took a moment to verify that Robbie and Wyl weren’t among them.
Tamara was directed to sit down in front of a stocky, red-haired woman with what seemed like a naturally grim expression. “I’m Commander Grace Graves,” she said without ceremony as soon as her man had backed up. “Warden of Caravan Penitentiary, currently Acting-Warden of Redstone.”
“I’m Tamara Carson, President Alexander’s liaison here.”
Warden Graves’ eyes narrowed. “Overseeing his brother’s incarceration.”
“As best I could,” Tamara allowed.
“Yes. Warden Harrison didn’t make things easy. Don’t bother to look for him,” she added as Tamara twitched. “He’s currently in solitary confinement, and will be until I get to the bottom of the mess he’s made of things here.”
“It’s nothing for you to concern yourself with.” Warden Graves’ voice was as hard as diamond. “Now. We’re going to go over the log of your activities since your appointment here, and you’re going to correct any discrepancies between what the computer recorded and your own recollection of your time here. You’re also going to answer any questions about your conduct that I choose to ask. Clear?”
“Is that legal?”
Warden Graves smiled coolly. “This prison is currently under system-designated martial law thanks to so many cockups I can’t even fit them all into my implant. According to President Alexander’s own rules, that means I have full autonomy to act in the best interest of this facility and its vulnerable populations. So yes, your cooperation is both legal and required by circumstance. Any prevarication can and will be met with suspicion of collaboration, and subsequent isolation until a lawyer can be brought to you. Clear?”
Amazing. Tamara had finally met a scarier version of Sir. “Translucent.”
“Good.” The warden proceeded to detail every time Tamara had opened or shut her door in the week—had it truly been just over two standard weeks? Was that even possible?—that she’d been here, asking Tamara to explain her actions. She’d replied calmly, and for the most part it was very simple. The questions didn’t get complicated until the very end.
“You briefly shared a room with a man named Wyl Sinclair just before the riot alarm went off. What did you speak about?”
“Not much.” That was regrettably true. “He seemed very concerned about someone called Robbie. There was a bot, I think he’d done something to customize it…it rolled off at top speed, and that was when he got concerned.”
Warden Graves pursed her lips. “And did you see this man or his bot again?”
“No, he left shortly after that…is he okay?”
“I have no idea, as he isn’t here anymore.”
It all crystallized in Tamara’s mind. Oh, Wyl. “And Kyle Alexander?” Tamara pressed daringly. “My employer hasn’t been able to tell me if he’s still incarcerated here or not.”
Warden Graves looked at her in silence for a moment, her folded hands tightening minutely. Finally she shrugged. “I suppose you need to hear this, and it might as well be from me. No, Kyle Alexander is no longer in Redstone. The circumstances of his removal are completely opaque. There are two ships missing from this bay, and one of them belonged to Wyl Sinclair’s husband, who’s also missing. The other was broken into. We’re looking for them, but Redstone’s tracking systems are completely offline.”
Two ships…who had the other one? “Who else escaped?” Tamara asked. Please be Magpie, please be Magpie…
“I have no more information for you at this time, Miss Carson, and no more need for you. The embargo on arrivals and departures will be lifted soon, so I suggest you ask your patron for a lift out of here.” Warden Graves looked back down at the small screen in front of her, and Tamara took her dismissal and left. At least this time she wasn’t escorted.
Demarcos was waiting for her outside her door. “You talked to Graves?” She nodded. “Kyle is gone.”
“Tell me you know where he is.” The strain in Demarcos’ voice hurt Tamara’s heart. “Tell me he’s still alive.”
It was time to read him in. Tamara led the way into her room, locked the door behind her and sat down on the edge of her bed, pulling her disassembled communicator to her. “I think he’s alive,” she told Demarcos.
“Where is he, then? What happened to him, what’s going on?”
“Before I can answer any of that, you need to talk to someone. And before I can let you do that, I have to know you’re not going to…” Betray me. “Talk about this to anyone else. Because what you’re about to hear could be construed as high treason, and I don’t want to bring you into that unless you’re prepared for the consequences.”
“Do you always talk in fucking riddles?” Demarcos asked bitterly before shaking his head. “Fine. I don’t care what’s behind it, I want to know what’s happening to Kyle. And you can trust me, you know you can. Have I failed to cover for you yet?”
“No,” Tamara admitted, her fingers automatically seating parts and turning pieces until they fit together. “You haven’t. Don’t start now.” She pushed the linkage that should connect her to Admiral Liang.
“What are you…” Demarcos went silent as the communicator lit up.
“Hummingbird, are you all right?”
“I’m fine, Sir,” she said. “But I’m not alone. Kyle’s lawyer is here with me. Have you been apprised of the situation at Redstone?”
“Peacock contacted me about it.”
“Ah.” If anyone knew what was going on, it was Garrett. “Then, maybe you wouldn’t mind filling us in? Both of us?” she emphasized.
“Are you confident, Hummingbird?”
Tamara glanced at Demarcos. He looked right back at her, and Tamara took a deep breath and hoped she wasn’t making the biggest mistake of her life.
“I’m confident, Sir.”