The False Infinite (part 8)
Getting settled into the seat for takeoff seemed more difficult than usual, but Marceline couldn’t quite pin down why. She grudgingly admitted to herself that she didn’t have the energy or motivation to identify which of the many factors contributing to her stress was closest to the surface at that particular moment. In reality, however, she knew that it didn’t matter. She would grit her teeth and just get through this flight the same way she had with so many others up to that point in her career. There would be no one to attend to her (or any of the other passengers for that matter) and so Marceline unzipped the right chest pocket of her flight suit to fish out the snack gel she had stashed there just before boarding. She wouldn’t be able to eat all of her emotions away, but she was counting on the calories and the protein at least to help her fall asleep quickly.
It was only a few minutes after she closed her eyes (but well before she would otherwise have fallen asleep) that she heard someone stuffing a bag in the cramped storage compartment nearby. The bag didn’t seem to fit, but that didn’t seem to discourage this person from trying.
“There’s a larger one up front, you know,” she said, without opening her eyes.
“Heh. Well, how about that?” came the reply.
Marceline didn’t recognize the voice until she opened one eye and looked into the face of Paul Edson-Woods. “I didn’t expect to see you here,” she said before she had even realized it.
“I suppose I could say the same to you!”
Paul gave the bag one final shove, successfully cramming the bag into the compartment, and then slamming the door shut. He sat down across from Marceline and began buckling in before he started talking again.
“You know this is the Explorer, right? There’s not going to be a layover in the EU.”
“I know,” she said.
Paul merely raised an eyebrow in response.
“I know,” she repeated, “but there’s a lot of work to be done to set up the civilian judicial system before colonists start arriving. I still have some connections with the AU and they thought I would be perfect for the job.”
“I see. What about your case?”
Paul didn’t have to specify which of the many cases Marceline was, in effect, leaving behind. The Tellustria case was the only one that mattered to either one of them at this point.
“Left in the very capable hands of the other deputy prosecutors. It’s probably better if people who aren’t so . . . emotionally connected to the defendant take it over anyway.”
Paul nodded, but said nothing.
“We don’t have anything to worry about,” she continued. “Your deposition laid everything out so perfectly that even the unimpressive judges of the ICC have to admit the obvious.”
“I appreciate the compliment, but you can understand why I’m still just a little apprehensive, can’t you? Science I know and political theory I’m starting to get, but this legal system we have now just still seems obscure to me. More than obscure, really; impenetrable is probably a better word.”
“Well, if my professional assessment needs some bolstering, hopefully this will put your mind at ease: I have it on good authority that the case will not go to trial. There will be a guilty plea.”
“Huh,” Paul scoffed. “I’m sure I know far less about President Gonzalez than you do, but that seems, well, rather out of step with her character.”
“In a sense, yes, but not really. Erika is the ultimate politician, and is probably better at the foolish game than anyone in a century. She craves power at any cost and she’s willing to suffer a temporary setback if it means she can ‘take two steps forward,’ to use the ancient proverb. The case against her is airtight at this point and she must be counting on some attempt at throwing herself on the mercy of the court—or the threat of public outcry—for a lenient sentence.”
“That’s pretty cynical.”
Marceline snorted. “Oh, really? The man who soured on the idea of government itself has opinions about cynicism?”
A smile involuntarily crept over her face, signalling to Paul that the question was not malicious.
“Fair,” he said, holding up his hands as far as the harness straps would allow him, in a gesture of mock surrender. “But I could just as well ask you why you’re on a ship that’s about to shoot across the galaxy only to recreate the whole thing all over again, couldn’t I?”
“Oh no,” she replied, pointing a finger at him. “I’m not letting you out of the witness box that easily. I have my motivations, but you make no sense. You say that you’ve given up on the whole idea of governments doing anything and it seems to me that would include interplanetary scientific exploration and colonization missions, wouldn’t it? Yet you’re going back there. Why?”
“Hmm, well, I’d be lying if I told you I had it completely figured out even in my own mind. I suppose part of me thinks I can still ‘make a difference’ or ‘change minds’ or something like that. Part of me loves the work too much. I was born to do this kind of science and I can’t imagine turning my nose up at the opportunity.”
“Those are plausible reasons, but they don’t seem enough by themselves—not for a man of your . . . convictions.”
“Well, you’re not wrong, I know that—deep down I do, at least. Part of it, believe it or not, is the people. I can count on one hand all the people on Tellustria who will still say a kind word to me, but I dislike the thought of abandoning them. When you put it all together—the science, the people, the forlorn hope of making a change—it’s just more than the sum of its parts, I guess. But I knew that before I cracked open the first of those infamous books.”
A tone sounded over the ship’s intercom system and a pre-recorded message played, notifying passengers and crew that the launch procedure was in its final five minutes.
“Think you can explain yourself before that engine fires up and we ditch this dirt ball?” Paul asked.
“In less than five minutes? I doubt it,” Marceline replied.
“Maybe just the ‘executive summary’ then?”
Marceline laughed at the joke, though it was more of a nervous laugh than a reaction to the mild attempt at humor.
“Erika Gonzalez was my hero. I believed in everything I thought she stood for and that all came crashing down.”
She paused for a long time. A two-minute warning blared over the speakers before she continued.
“If it weren’t for you I would have been left with nothing to build on. You made me think. You made me question things I’d never thought about questioning. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to where you are, but I can’t live my life any more as if those ideas don’t exist.”
A red light turned on, drawing their attention upwards and notifying them that the launch was under way. A low rumble from somewhere beneath them was followed closely by what seemed like a huge, invisible hand that simultaneously sucked them back into their seats and pressed insistently on their chests.