the absolute best of lies are those hidden between two two grains of what could only be truth
Adrian had a small office in the command section of the ship, just off of a central area shared by all of the security staff. He took all four of them there, leaving his partner to examine the wreckage of the kitchen.
There were a series of comfy looking chairs around the walls and a series of paintings hung along the wall. The set seemed to be one of each of Sol’s planets, hung in order outwards from the sun. Earth was a stunning view that Lillian recognized. It was a copy of one of the more iconic images in spaceflight–the first picture of Earth from the moon. Lillian flashed back to the last time she’d seen Earth looking almost exactly like that picture, back that night standing there with Jacobs.
When they arrived, Adrian turned to Quinn, “Do you mind if I speak to you first? In private?”
Quinn seemed a little shocked, but nodded and followed Adrian into his office. When the door shut behind him, both Madeline and Hans turned to Lillian.
Madeline was first to speak. “So, what do you think of him now?” she asked. Lillian had expected an edge to her voice or even a told-you-so tone, but she seemed to be more concerned than anything.
“I… I really don’t know,” Lillian replied. “I want to believe him.”
“But he has the right experience,” Madeline countered. “He would have known exactly what would cause that kind of devastation,”
Lillian thought for a bit before replying hesitantly. “But if he was responsible, then why would he tell us all that? We wouldn’t have known if he hadn’t told.”
“I’m sure someone could have put it together.” Jacobs was pacing across the room. “As he said, it looks like mining charges. I’m sure security knows he used to be a geologist.”
Lillian glared at him. It didn’t matter if what he said was perfectly true, it was still a bit of a leap. “If it was actually caused by mining charges.”
He stopped pacing and turned to look directly into Lillian’s eyes. “What else could it have been?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know the first thing about explosives. Do you?” She caught Madeline’s eye as well. “Do either of you?”
Both shook their heads, her immediately and him after a moment, grudgingly.
“Well then”, she said as matter-of-factually as she could muster, “all we have to go on is his word. And if he were guilty then I don’t think we’d even have that much.”
Jacobs sighed. “Fine. So he’s innocent for the time being.”
“Not guilty,” Madeline correct.
“Not guilty,” he agreed.
That’s quite a fine point they’re drawing, Lillian thought to herself. But she said nothing. At least for the moment, they agreed with her.
Jacobs was the first to break that pause after a long moment’s silence. “But then who could have done it?” he asked. He paused again, looking towards the paintings on the wall, but not really seeing them. “At least we know there’s another Sympathizer on the ship.”
Madeline shook her head. “It could have been the same Sympathizer that framed Jenkins,” she said. “Don’t make this out to be some sort of huge conspiracy.”
He smiled slightly, but the smile didn’t touch his eyes. “Touché. So now what?”
“Now we talk to security,” Lillian answered for all of them. It wasn’t like they were going to have a direct to play in all of this anyways. “I wonder why he wanted us all to come in?”
“We were the first on the scene,” Madeline answered after a moment’s thought. “I’m sure he just wants to get a good description out of us.”
Lillian considered it, but there was something more about the whole situation that was bothering her. “But you and I were there when the bombs first went off yesterday,” she said. “What if he thinks we did it?”
Madeline half got to her feet and raised her voice, “we did it?”
At some points Jacobs had resumed his pacing, but at the tone of Madeline’s voice he stopped once again, turning back towards the both of them. “Well it stands to reason,” he said, his voice entirely too smooth. “What’s worse is that you had easy access both times. And didn’t you have a service request for the oven earlier today?”
Lillian shrugged. “Yeah, we fixed it before lunch. Simple fix.”
Madeline, on the other hand, was livid. As short as she was, it was usually quite amusing to see her angry, but not often for the target there of. Lillian smirked at her, but made sure that she wouldn’t be able to see it. “But that doesn’t mean anything,” she said, grumbling. “It could have been either of the cooks, they were in the kitchen all day.”
“It could have been any number of people, everyone has access to both the hallways and the kitchens.” Lillian stood and walked over to Madeline, hands raised in what she hoped was a soothing gesture. “I’m just saying that we should be ready if that’s what Adrian is thinking when he calls us in.”
She batted away Lillian’s hands, but she did seem to be calming somewhat. At least her voice was back at a normal level and some of the extra color was leaving her face. “And then what?”
“And then we tell the truth,” Lillian replied. “We didn’t do it. Heck, you almost got blown up yesterday.” She thought back to the panel in the hallway–if not for that flash of intuition, they might be having a funeral right now, instead of a conversation.
“I guess that’s true.” She sat back down, her arms folded across her chest. Lillian returned to her seat as well.
“So what do you think that means for…” Jacobs started, but he was interrupted by the door to Adrian’s office. Quinn came out, followed by Adrian. They were laughing about something. Adrian looked up, still chuckling, and called out, “is everything okay out here? I thought I heard someone yelling.”
The three of them looked at each other; Madeline shook her head ever so slightly. “We’re fine,” Jacobs replied.
Adrian looked from person to person, but after a moment he shrugged. “All right then, could I see Lillian next?”
Lillian’s eyes widened. “Me?” There really wasn’t any reason she could see to be at all worried, but still she could feel her pulse quickening.
“The one and only.” He turned slightly to the side where Quinn was waiting patiently, still laughing softly about something. “Quinn, you’re free to go.”
Lillian gulped and followed him into the office.
The office was every bit as inviting as the room outside had been. There was a large–well, large compared to the size of the room anyways–desk with a number of shelves behind it. On the opposite wall, a number of small portraits hung along the wall. Lillian grinned when she recognized them–each of the captains from the old Star Trek vids. Her father had been a fan and she’d seen them each what felt like dozens of times growing up.
Adrian took his chair behind the desk. As he did, he followed Lillian’s gaze up to the portraits. “Well before I was assigned to the Borealis, my sister came to visit. She was so shocked at my bare walls that she decided to liven them up a little. She sent me these just before Borealis left.”
“They’re quite good,” Lillian replied and she meant it. From where she was standing, they looked more like pictures than paintings, completely lifelike.
“I’ll be sure to pass along my compliments next time I talk to her.” He gestured at the chairs opposite him. “Please, take a seat.”
She sat, immediately sinking into the thick padding of the chairs. They were every bit as comfortable as she had thought they would be.
He waited for a moment, apparently enjoying the expression on Lillian’s face before going on. “I bet you’re wondering why I asked you in here.”
“Yes sir,” she replied in a small voice.
He shook his head, laughing quietly. “Oh, you don’t need to do that, call me Adrian.”
“Yes si…” She caught herself mid-word. She paused for a moment to allow her brain time to process. “Adrian.”
He was still smiling. “You don’t have to worry, I just wondered what you knew about the explosion. You were on the scene so quickly.”
So he did suspect us! she thought to herself. She choose her next words carefully. “We were playing cards in the Observation Deck.”
“That’s what Quinn said,” Adrian said. If he sensed the turmoil in Lillian’s head, he didn’t mention it.
“Yeah,” Lillian replied. “Just the four of us.” Then she realized that she was rambling–probably not a good sign if she was already under suspicion. She shut her mouth with a faint snap.
He ignored that as well. She really couldn’t tell if he really didn’t notice how suspicious she felt she must be acting or if this was all some sort of ruse to get more out of her. “Was anyone else there?” he asked.
She thought back. She really hadn’t been paying much attention. “A bartender. I’m not really sure who it was. Maybe one or two other customers, but I really don’t remember.” She paused. This was probably just making it worse. “Then again, I didn’t look around that much when we were leaving. An explosion is kind of distracting.” There. That sounded like she didn’t have anything to do with it.
He chuckled at that. “So just tell me what you heard. And what you saw when you got there.”
When Lillian put her mind to it, she really did have a pretty good mind for detail. Remembering people was harder, but remembering places and events was never something that she had any particular issues with. She told him everything that she remembered as quickly and succinctly as she could. He seemed to soak up everything she said, only occasionally twitching his fingers as he took notes on his personal computer.
As she finished, he had another question for her. “So what do you know about Quinn?”
She felt her eyes widening slightly at the sudden jump in topic. “Quinn?” she asked.
“Yes,” Adrian sounded patient, but there was an undercurrent of something in his voice–Lillian wasn’t quite sure what though. “I understand that he’s knew on the station, but you’ve met with him twice.”
“That’s right,” she said, a little warily. “We ran into each other last night and had a drink. He told me that he liked card games, so we arranged to play tonight.”
“Where were you when he ran into you?”
The question sounded innocent enough, but Lillian paused. Did he know? What had Quinn told him? She decided on an abridged version of the truth. “I was over by the storage rooms. I’d just gotten off work a bit before that.”
He nodded. Apparently it was enough of the truth to satisfy him. “And you went out with him?”
Lillian breathed a quiet sigh of relief. Although his choice of wording was puzzle-ling. “Basically. We had a few drinks and he told me about growing up on Io.”
He smiled again. “Crazy place.” She could hear the amusement in his voice. The saying always went that those who lived on Io either started out crazy or got there within the month. She nodded her agreement.
He went on, “Background in geology? That would explain his knowledge about explosives.”
She thought for a moment about denying it, to protect Quinn somehow, but that wouldn’t do at all. Adrian already knew, as she’d expected. So instead she kept nodding. She was beginning to feel like one of the bobble head dolls that had been making one of their periodic comebacks on Mars last time she’d visited.
“Fair enough,” he said. His head was following hers in its up and down pattern. Most likely it was a subconscious gesture. “Anything else you want to add?”
She thought for a moment. “Nope.” There really wasn’t anything else that she could add. There was the thought of that white briefcase, but that really had nothing to do with Quinn directly. Other than that, it appeared that Adrian already knew everything about Quinn that Lillian herself knew which, come to think of it, really wasn’t much.
“All right then,” he said briskly. “I think that about wraps it up. I’ll be sure to call if we need anything else. You’re free to go.” He paused to think for a moment. “Do you think you could call in Madeline next? I need to write a few things down before I forget them.”
I wonder what came up that he doesn’t want to forget? Lillian thought. But she couldn’t very well ask him. So instead she stood and walked back out to the waiting room. Jacobs had resumed pacing, back and forth in the same pattern. Madeline was watching him, turning her head from side to side much as Adrian’s had been going up and down. Quinn was no-where to be found. Lillian assumed that he’d left while she was talking to Adrian, although she couldn’t think why.
“Madeline,” she called out, raising her voice a bit to make sure she could cut through whatever they were thinking about so intently. “You’re next.”
She jumped a little at the sound of her voice, but immediately relaxed when she was that it was only Lillian coming out of the office. She stood and walked to meet Lillian in the center of the room.
“What’d he want?” she asked.
Lillian shrugged. Come to think of it, Adrian’s questions hadn’t be nearly as intensive or interesting as she’d thought. At first she’d thought he must be suspecting her and Madeline and then that he was suspecting Quinn, but really there was nothing concrete. “Just as I thought. We were close so he wanted to ask about what we’d heard. And he wanted to know what I knew about Quinn. I don’t think he suspects him though.”
“Oh?” Madeline brightened visibly. “That’s nice.”
“Something like that,” Lillian agreed. “I think I’m going to head back to my room. I’ll see you there?”
It took a second for Madeline to remember. “Oh right. The br…” Lillian hissed at her, cutting her off with a sidelong glance at the still partially opened door to Adrian’s office.
“Exactly,” she whispered back. Madeline shook her head, a faint blush rising presumably in response to what she had almost done.
With nothing left to say, Madeline nodded and went into the office, shutting the door behind her.
Lillian turned to Jacobs, but he seemed to be off in his own little world. She could actually see a faint trace of the line he’d been walking in how the carpet was laying. He seemed too distracted to get anything worthwhile out of, so she just shook her head and left without saying a word.
She stepped out of the door and turned towards her room and almost collided with Quinn, who’d been standing there, apparently waiting for her.
“Quinn,” she said, some of her surprise creeping into her voice.
“Lillian,” he countered, perfectly levelly.
“Quinn,” she said again, still surprised.
“Lillian.” He put up a hand and she swallowed yet another ‘Quinn’ she hadn’t even completely realized was there. “And before this gets out of hand, shall we?” He gestured down the hallway. Lillian followed his gesture and he fell into step beside her. Then headed in the opposite direction of the kitchen, towards the storerooms and instead. She took a breath, willing her heartbeat getting back to normal.
“So what did Adrian want to talk about?” he asked as they’d started out.
She kept looking straight forward as she answered him. “The explosion.”
“Figured,” he said matter of factually.
“And you?” she added without missing a beat.
His step faltered for a second, “Me?”
She’d been expecting the reaction, but it really didn’t mean anything. Innocent or guilty, he would likely have reacted the same way. “Nothing much. He knew that I saw you last night and was just wondering what I thought about you?”
“And what did you say?” On the surface, the question was straight forward, but Lillian could detect the hint of a deeper question behind it.
“Oh nothing much,” she said. She tried to sound as innocent as she could, but it was hard. No matter how much she tried to convince herself that he was innocent, there was still that nagging voice in the back of her head going but who else? “I told him you’re a nice guy from Io and that we were just playing cards when the explosion went off.”
“Oh.” He nodded. He smiled over at her. “Fair enough.”
“So what’d he ask you about?” she asked him, trying to get him talking rather than thinking deeper about her suspicions.
He shook his head. “He wanted to know what else I knew about explosives. I told him that all of my experience was with mining charges. They’re really the only thing we dealt with on Io.” He made it sound like he was apologizing for something, but Lillian couldn’t for the life of her figure out what.
All she could think of was to keep him talking. “Oh yeah?”
Taking that as interest, he launched into a description of the mining practices on Io. She listened with part of her attention, but most of her thoughts were already turning ahead to the silver briefcase. She just knew that it was lying there on her bed, waiting for her.
“I’m not boring you am I?” he asked suddenly.
“No, not at all.” She frantically thought back to the last thing he had said. “And I think that it’s absolutely fascinating how you can use the computers on site to rebuild the three dimensional structure of rocks even after you’ve blown them up.”
“Really?” he drew the words out like he didn’t really believe her.
Strictly speaking, it was half true. She did think it was interesting. It was just that the briefcase was more interesting. “Well, I guess not fascinating. It is interesting though. I just have something else on my mind right now.”
He smiled at that. “At least you’re honest.”
She didn’t really have anything to say to that. If only he know that my friends secretly suspect that he might be a Sympathizer. With that, she suddenly realized that they had reached her room. She turned to Quinn, “Well, here we are.”
“Here we are,” he replied.
“I had a nice night,” she said, and meant it.
He raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “We barely got in half a game.”
Which was entirely true. Although on the other hand, it was one of the more interesting evenings that Lillian had in quite some time. “We’ll have to try again sometime.”
“Definitely,” he smiled. He had a nice smile.
“I think I’m going to turn in early,” she nodded to the door.
Again, he seemed on the verge of speaking. What in the world is he trying to say? she thought, but she refused to ask him. If he was going to say something, than he should just be man enough to say it. Otherwise it obviously wasn’t that important.
He struggled a minute more, but finally shook his head. “Good night Lillian.” That definitely wasn’t whatever he’d been about to say.
“Good night Quinn,” she said with a sad smile. She’d been hoping…
She watched him turn and walk back down the hall. He’s certainly an interesting character, she thought, I think I could stand to get to know him a little better. She turned back to her room and opened her door.
A scene of absolute chaos greeted her eyes.
The usually impeccable room had been torn inside out. Her clothes were lying on top of the mattress which was lying on the floor. Her books were in a rough pile in front of the bookcase–luckily, none looked damaged. Worst of all, the briefcase was nowhere to be seen.
“Well crap,” she said to herself. “Now what?”
The briefcase missing really bothered her. So far as she knew, the only person that knew that she had it was Madeline and she’d never have stolen it. Other than that, who could have possibly known it was there? I guess it could just have been a random theft, she thought to herself, but then why take it? And nothing else? She looked around to be sure, but everything else was there. She really didn’t have enough material possession that she wouldn’t notice if some were missing.
Thinking back to the interviews, she decided to call up Adrian over the ship’s intercom. She keyed in his office and heard the buzz that indicated a waiting connection. After a few moments, the line went active.
“Lillian?” Adrian’s voice came through loud and clear. “Did you think of something else?”
“No,” she said. “Well at least I don’t think so.” Her room probably didn’t have anything to do with the explosions… Did it?
“Okay…” He sounded puzzled and who could blame him.
“Someone ransacked my room,” Lillian continued, she could feel her throat getting tight just from the sheer tension of the moment. If nothing changed, she wasn’t going to be able to speak soon enough.
“What?” she heard both Adrian and what she thought was Madeline’s voice in that. Adrian sounded calm enough, but Madeline sounded rather more bothered by the pronouncement than Lillian would have expected. She’s still talking to him? Lillian thought. That’s strange…
She took a deep breath, then another. After a moment, she was at least able to speak. “I got back to my room and there were things scattered about.”
“Not how you left it, I assume?” Adrian said, his voice simultaneously dry and concerned.
She could definitely hear Madeline in the background now. She was too far away from the system to hear clearly, but Lillian could distinctly hear her snort.
Both hearing his tone of voice and hearing Madeline’s snort helped Lillian to regain some semblance of calm.“No,” she said, every bit as dryly as he had been.
“Anything stolen?” Adrian went on, a little more feeling in his voice. There was also an edge to his voice. He was bound to be interested in the answer–he was on the security detail after all–but this was just a little bit different.
Lillian paused and looked around. She didn’t officially have the briefcase, and nothing else seemed to be missing. But with a sudden dawning horror, she looked in the cabinets under her bed. Double crap. Jacobs’ binders were missing as well. But she couldn’t very well report those either.
Adrian’s voice came over the comms, a touch of hesitation in his voice. “Lillian? Are you still there?”
“Yes, I’m here,” she replied. “And no. I don’t have anything to report stolen.” She didn’t like lying to Adrian, not at all. He was going to find her out, she just knew it.
Adrian paused. “Do you want me to come down and take a look?” He sounded earnest enough.
“Would it do any good?” Lillian asked. She had a feeling she knew what the answer would be.
“Most likely not.” Bingo. “I can call up the video footage from the day and see if the security cameras in the hall picked up anything. But we’re really not equipped for this kind of thing.” He had a point. Theft of any kind was rare on the gateships. It really wasn’t worth it, particularly in such a small community.
Lillian sighed. “All right then.”
“Hey Lillian,” she heard Madeline loud and clear. She must have leaned over the desk to get that close to the microphone. “I’ll be right there.” Her voice shifted, “Are we done here?”
Adrian’s voice took over. “Huh? Oh, yes. Go ahead.”
There was the sound of a chair sliding against the floor, followed by footsteps than the unmistakable sound of the sound of the door opening and then shutting again. She really wasn’t wasting any time; Lillian was thankful for that.
“I’ll check those videos,” Adrian said after a moment. “I’m really sorry that there isn’t much more that we can do. You let me know if you see or think of anything else, all right?”
“Sure,” she said, only half paying attention any more. He disconnected without another word.
She wasn’t sure what she had expected when she’d called Adrian, but she’d expected more than that. Perhaps for him to come down with some sort of little kit and dust for fingerprints. Or anything really. He’d only even sounded half interested. Oh well.
She sat down on her bed, dislodging several of the papers that had been strewn there. “How in the world did they even get in here?” she muttered to herself. “No one knows my access codes. Jacobs said he swung by earlier today and tightened up my security.” She flung herself back and stared up at the ceiling. After a moment, an idea came to her. “I wonder if he put anything extra in while he was digging around.”
She turned back to her comm, this time calling for Jacobs. After a moment, there was the tone that signaled a successful connection, “Hey Jacobs.”
“Lillian,” he sounded otherwise occupied.
“Are you free to talk?” she asked.
“Sure,” he seemed to focus, but only half way. “Madeline just took off like a bat out of hell, Then Adrian came out looking all distracted. He said I could go. Didn’t even bother to ask me any questions. Crazy.”
Lillian actually smirked at the mental image. For just a moment, her worries about her room seemed to fade away. “I might have had something to do with that.”
“Oh?” His voice lifted in surprise.
Of course that brought them all crashing right back down. “Someone broke into my room.”
“Impossible,” he replied, every bit as sure of himself as she’d been sure he would be.“I redid your security myself.”
Yet the impossible had happened. She didn’t really want to disabuse him of that notion, but it had to be done. “And yet someone was in here. My stuff is all over the floor. And things are missing.”
“Things?” he asked. There was a note of uncertainty about his voice.
“Things,” she said. Most likely he would take it to mean his binders and leave it at that.
“Ah.” Just the way he said it made it clear that was exactly what he was thinking of.
She gave him a moment to digest the idea before going on. “So apparently it’s not as impossible as you think it is.”
It took him a moment more before he responded, but when he did, he didn’t sound nearly as upset about the whole idea as she’d imagined he would. “Apparently not. Well, at least we can check if used your code to get in.”
“We can?” That sounded useful.
“Sure,” he replied, as if it where the most obvious thing in the world. “All of the doors keep access logs. Just hit that little button that looks like a star.”
She walked over to the panel. Sure enough, in the bottom corner there was a little button marked with a star. “Huh. I never noticed that before.”
She could almost hear the shrug. “Not many people do. It allows access to a lot of the administrative functionality.”
She tapped the star. A box came up asking for an access code. She keyed in her own, but all she got for her efforts was a stern sounding beep.
“It won’t let me access it,” she said. She knew that she must sound petulant, but couldn’t help it. This wasn’t helping things at all.
“You need a security code,” he said brightly.
She paused for a moment. Was he really suggesting what she thought he was suggesting? “Which I don’t have…”
“Oh, right. Here.” He rattled of a series of digits so fast Lillian could barely keep up. But when she’d finished the code, there was a short, much happier sounding beep and a new menu popped up.
“Cool,” she said. Apparently he’d been suggesting exactly that. One of these days she was going to have to ask him how he’d gotten that particular code.
“It is,” he said. She could hear the smile in his voice. “Get the access logs.”
She scrolled down through a few options until she found the logs. The display was a simple list of times and dates of when her door was open, closed, and when an access code was entered. She could see the security code she’d entered–“That was Adrian’s code,” she hissed. His reply sounded entirely too innocent “Is that whose it was?”–her own code with a red mark beside it and her own code again when she’d opened the door above that. Further up, nothing since she’d left in the morning.
“Nothing,” she reported back sadly. She hadn’t really realized it, but she’d really been hoping that finding out who had taken the briefcase–and the binders–would really be that easy.
“Hmm,” there was the background sound of him tapping something into his computer. Wonder what? she thought. He didn’t say, thought, just asked another question. “There’s not even a record of the door being open.”
She checked again, but just as she had expected, nothing had changed. “Quite literally nothing,” she replied.
“That’s interesting,” he said, sounding more distracted than interested. She could hear the sound of his tapping growing more insistent.
“Well,” his reply was slow. It was obvious he was only giving his words half his attention–maybe less. “Either your thief can walk through walls or he knows the security system well enough to erase his tracks.”
That sounded logical enough. Real worlds thieves would often try to hide the fact that they’d been somewhere, just so it took longer to call them cops. And when they were called, it would take longer to find any evidence to start the actual search for the perpetrator. “Is that hard?”
“Not really,” he replied. She paused for a moment, waiting for a bit of an explanation. But when none was forthcoming….
“Oh.” She’d been hoping for a little more detail than that.
“Well, not really for someone like me. Not impossible for anyone else.”
“I wasn’t joking.”
She really wasn’t in the mood for banter. “Fine. So how can I figure out who did it?”
“From there?” He thought for a moment before continuing. “I don’t think you can. I can try to get into the central system and see if this mysterious thief left any fingerprints in the system.”
“Could you?” she asked. It sounded like just the sort of thing that would come back to haunt him some day down the line.
“For you? Sure.” The way he said it, without hesitation made Lillian smile. The way they’d met had been sure to form some bonds between the two of them and since then, they’d always been particularly close.
He signed off without another word–as he often did–just as Lillian heard a knock on the door. That’d be Madeline, she thought and swung the door open. It was, in fact, Madeline, but she wasn’t alone. She’d apparently stopped to get Jacobs on the way. Perhaps that explained why he’d sounded so distracted on the phone. It was just like him to completely neglect to mention the fact that he’d been on the way over.
“It looks like my room,” he said, stepping over a pile just inside the door. Madeline followed him in. They each took the same seats they’d taken the night before.
“They’re gone?” Jacobs asked. She didn’t have to clarify what she meant.
Jacobs sighed. “Well, at least now we know that there’s another Sympathizer about.”
“I think the explosion told us that,” Lillian replied.
Jacobs looked up at her with an oddly thoughtful look on his face. “You know, that’s actually a little weird. What do you think the two events have in common with each other? Why in the world would they want to destroy the kitchen?”
“No idea,” Madeline answered. She was kicking lightly at the piles of books on the floor. Lillian glared at her, but she didn’t seem to notice. “And Adrian is just as puzzled as we are.”
“Adrian?” Jacobs asked, looking confused again. He turned to Lillian, “Did you report this?”
“I did,” she answered. “But I couldn’t very well report anything stolen.” Her thoughts turned back to the briefcase, but she knew his would go straight towards his binders.
“I guess not,” he said after a moment. “But why Adrian?”
Lillian shrugged. “I don’t know anyone else in the security staff that well.”
“You know Adrian?” he asked. There was a touch of an edge to his voice.
But why? she thought. Do the two of them even know each other? Out loud, she heard herself saying, “well, not really, but I’d just talked to him.”
There was a pause that seemed to stretch on longer and longer. “So now what?” Madeline finally asked.
Lillian’s head sunk into her hands. “I have no idea.”
“Well, we can keep our eyes peeled,” she said. She still sounded cheerful, despite all that had been going on. And it wasn’t like she had anything to worry about, neither of the things stolen had been hers. “It can’t be that easy to hide a bunch of binders and a silver briefcase.”
Lillian’s head popped up, just in time to see Jacobs turn to Madeline. “Briefcase?” he asked, “what briefcase?”
“Oops.” She was already red as red as a Martian sunset.
Lillian sighed. “I guess we might as well tell him.”
He was looking back and forth between the two girls, clearly confused. “Tell me what?”
“You’re not the only one keeping secrets on this station.” She paused for a few moments to collect her thoughts. “Do you remember when we first met?”
He smiled a sly smile, but it quickly softened into one more sad than anything.“It’s kind of hard to forget.”
“Do you remember how I had a silver briefcase with me? When I first got on the Squill?” She could remember it herself, as clearly as if it had been yesterday. Helped most likely by the dream she’d had just the night before. And actually seeing the briefcase so recently. She had held it in her hands!
“Vaguely,” he replied and shrugged. “That one guy fastened it in for you. The mechanic. What was his name again?”
It was Lillian’s turn to shrug. She could vaguely recall that he had had a name tag on his jumpsuit, but couldn’t for the life of her remember what had been on it. She’d never seen the man again, so far as she knew. And in any case, it wasn’t the man that was the point of the whole story anyways.“Yes, yes,” she said, impatiently. “Well, when we got to the station, I never got it back.”
“I thought you got your luggage back,” he said after a moment.
She shook her head. “I got my clothes. The staff said they’d never seen a silver briefcase.” They’d been helpful at first, but not for long. They were just too busy, trying desperately to process everyone. To get an accurate record of the few that had lived and the billions who had died.
“Did you file a complaint?” he asked.
She rolled her eyes. “I tried. But they didn’t exactly want to take a little girl seriously. Especially when I couldn’t even tell them what was in it.” She still didn’t know what was in it, and that was what really stung. She had been so very close.
“Okay,” he said. “So you lost the briefcase.”
She glared at him. “I didn’t lose it!”
“Fine, it got lost. And?” He made a circular motion with his hands.
Fine. If she wants a short answer, I’ll given him one, she thought. “And I found it again. Here, on Borealis.”
“What?” He sounded adequately surprised. “How?”
“It was in that storeroom. The one where Jenkins…” But she couldn’t finish the thought. Just saying his name had suddenly brought home the fact that he was gone more painfully than she would have thought possible. She hadn’t really known him that well, but everyone had enjoyed his cooking.
Jacobs seemed to understand. Both where she had found the briefcase and why she had stopped. “No way.”
Lillian found her voice. It was easy enough with the topic having moved on–at least partially. “Yes way. Madeline and I broke into it right after the first set of bombs had gone off.”
“You broke into the storerooms?” Now he really did sound shocked. Lillian wasn’t sure why, it’s not like they hadn’t broken scores of rules while they’d still been on the station in Earth’s orbit. Or once they’d started school on Mars together.
“Well, technically my access code opened the door.” As if that made it better. It was still technically against the rules.
“And the briefcase was there,” he said, jumping ahead to the heart of the story.
“I never saw it,” Madeline cut in. Lillian actually jumped slightly at the sound of her voice. She’d been so uncharacteristically quiet that Lillian had nearly forgot that she was there.
“It was,” she insisted. “I know it was.”
“You went all spacey on me,” Madeline said levelly. “And when I finally got your attention, there wasn’t a briefcase.”
“That’s true enough,” Lillian replied. “It had vanished.”
Jacobs had been swinging his head back and forth between the two girls. “Wait, the briefcase can vanish?”
“Apparently,” Lillian said, echoed closely by Madeline.
“So how did you get it?” he asked.
“Well, I didn’t see it again until last night,” Lillian explained. “I was trying to open it when Quinn walked by.”
“Quinn?” Jacobs broke in. He sounded amused of all things.
“Quinn.” Madeline confirmed, giggling a bit.
“Well, I guess he’s nice enough,” he said, carefully. “But we really don’t know the first thing about him.”
“Sure we do,” Madeline argued.
“What do we know?” he asked. “All that I know is that he was a geologist on Io and that he likes playing cards.”
“The first and second thing,” she smirked at him.
He sighed. “Fine. So you with Quinn. Can we get back to the briefcase?”
Madeline was smiling in entirely too wicked of a manner for her own good, so Lillian was more than happy to switch topics. “Well, I couldn’t very well grab it then, so tonight before going to play cards, I went back.”
“And I assume you grabbed it,” he said. At times he had a habit of jumping ahead in people’s stories when he’d already figured out what the next part was going to be. Most of the time–like now–Lillian didn’t mind, but occasionally it could get on her nerves.
“Yup,” she replied. “And I brought it back here. I figured with your extra security, this would be a safe enough place to hide it until later this evening.” She hadn’t intended it to be a dig at his abilities securing his room, but it seemed he had taken it that way. His face darkened slightly.
“Not so much,” he said, shaking his head. “That’s quite a story.”
“Almost as crazy as yours,” she said lightly.
He made a sound halfway between a grunt and a chuckle. “I guess that’s true. So now we have have a missing briefcase and missing binders.”
“And no idea on who took them,” Madeline said sadly.
“Well, Adrian said he’d check the cameras.” The thief may not have left a log entry, but surely they wouldn’t be invisible as well. She turned to Jacobs. “And you were going to check the central computer logs. See if the thief left a trace behind.”
“I doubt it,” he said. “If this thief was good enough to get around my security, they really would have to be pretty good with computers.”
She smirked at him, “Uh huh.” Although from what she knew about computers, he probably wasn’t being immodest, it might just as well be true.
“So that leaves us where?” Madeline asked.
Before she could reply, Lillian suddenly yawned. She looked at the clock. The thief had left it at a crazy angle, making it hard to read the the time. Her eyes grew wider, it was quite a bit later than she’d thought it was. “Sleeping on it,” she said. “There’s not much else we can do tonight.”
“I guess that’s true,” Madeline said. She was yawning as well.
“Hopefully something will come up tomorrow,” Lillian said. At least to her own ears, she thought that she sounded hopeful.
“Hopefully.” Jacobs didn’t.
He stood. Madeline walked with him to the door. She turned as she followed him out. “I’m sure we’ll find it,” she said. She always sounded hopeful, tonight was no exception.
“How can you be so sure?” Lillian asked. It was all well and good to sound hopeful, it was another thing entirely to truly feel it.
“Because I’m dying to know what’s inside.” With a roguish grin, she shut the door behind her.
How does she do it? Lillian thought. Always so positive…
There was nothing else to do, so she busied herself cleaning up her room. No matter how tired she was, she couldn’t go to sleep with her room looking like this. Not if she expected to actually get a decent night’s rest. At least it looked like nothing had been damaged. Even the books were fine, not a turned page or torn cover on them. “Thank goodness for small favors,” she muttered to herself.
Getting ready for bed, she couldn’t help but think of the silver briefcase again. What was in it? Why would someone go through all the trouble to break into her room, just to steal it? Although to be fair, they had also taken the the binders from Dark Sun. Was the briefcase as important as those binders? Does whoever has it now know how to get it open?
She sighed. She had been so close. So close to unlocking one more piece of her past. For the most part, all she had was memories, and precious few of those, growing dimmer over the years. The briefcase was the first real tangible link she’d had to her parents she’d had in years, feeble as it was. Thinking to herself, she made a silent oath: I will get that briefcase back. I will get it back and I will open it. Even if it kills me.
As she started to drift off, her eyes fell on her books. She’d only managed to take half a dozen, but each of them was among her most precious possessions. Whenever she read them, she could hear her mother’s voice reading to her from when she was very young. She thought back to her first game of Euchre; it had been the same fall that her mother had been killed.