By the time Dahlia and her companions had reached Level G, the Security Team had already left. The Medical Team still loading their equipment into the transport. Half of the Hydroponics team were already sitting in the charging stations. There were decisions to be made that Dahlia didn’t want the responsibility for. Those decisions would be made after the teams debriefed back at Star Land and Citadel Security Central Command.

Dahlia, Leonard L, and Carter arrived before the other transports thanks to the advanced drive granted them by the squid-like alien Cresh who they had encountered a year ago. Upon disembarking, Carter requested a face-to-face meeting with Sven Svensson. “I’d like to personally interview him about the day he broke the vial,” Carter explained. “I wonder how much he remembers about that day.”

“That won’t be possible,” Dahlia replied. “At least, not the way you think.”

“I don’t understand. You said you have him in custody,” Carter was wracking his brain trying to remember what he had forgotten. “Do you, or don’t you?”

“We have him in custody, but sentence was executed. You wouldn’t be alone with him, ever. It’s hard to explain,” Dahlia was uncertain how to explain Citadel justice to an outsider. Sven thought that he was locked inside some fancy state room aboard one of the old generation ships. It would explain why there were no windows, but he still had access to food, water, and other amenities. It was comfortable enough. He knew that he would die in that room but not before he had served his purpose. Svensson’s continued existence relied entirely on his usefulness to Cit-Sec. “It would require special permission to see him. He is locked inside one of the old ships quarters. He is being held in isolation with limited visitation,” Dahlia lied.

“But he is allowed visitors? I could see him or at least talk to him?” Carter asked.

“We’ll see,” Dahlia replied as she sent his request along to the Incarceration Division of Citadel Security. “But first, we need to answer a few questions and tell people what we have been doing for the past few days.”

There was no way to prepare Doctor Carter DeHaven for the experience of a Citadel Security debrief. The level of interrogation would dig things up that the good doctor thought he had the strength to keep hidden. And Dahlia had already rummaged through his mind once, making her the logical choice to conduct the questioning. Leonard L had already sent his memory dump ahead of the upcoming debriefing of the non-Artificial team members. Both Science Division and Forensic Analysis had set aside quantum core space for the impending deluge of new information gleaned from the hidden citadel.

Carter had a lot of questions about the procedure to debrief. “How does this work, exactly?”

“That all depends on the level of hostility involved,” Dahlia was trying to determine if she was sensing fear or resistance. Fear was easier to deal with. “Hostile people would be restrained and interrogated. Everyone else usually just responds to prompts to discuss their experiences,” she explained. Carter relaxed but remained wary.

Dahlia’s video pinged with a request that she and her guest use the Special Debrief room. “Looks like a lot of people have questions about you, where you are from, what you observed, et cetera,” she smiled and snorted. “They have asked me to use the Special room.”

“What’s so special about it?” Carter waited for an answer before taking a step.

She motioned for him to follow, “You’ll see when you get there.”

Hesitantly, Carter followed Dahlia to the Special Debrief Room. In the center of the room were two seats facing each other. Each chair was equipped with a screen that would assist with the process. A small camera monitored facial reactions. Dahlia waited for him to choose one of the seats and then sat in the remaining seat. She smiled at his choice of what was considered to be the “power seat” because it faced the door. She knew the real power seat was the one between the subject and the exit. “Are you ready?” she asked.

Carter nodded in reply as the first question splashed across the screen. “What is your name?”

“Carter DeHaven,” he stated without hesitation.

“How do you occupy your time?”

“I am a micro-biologist. I study very tiny lifeforms, mostly viruses and bacteria.”

“How many years have you been alive?”

Carter thought the question was oddly phrased, but answered it, “Twenty-three years.”

“What is your place of origination?”

“I was born and raised in Bald Eagle Mountain Sanctuary.” Carter kept the rest of his reply in his head, but the thoughts flowed out onto Dahlia’s screen, “in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, in the United States of America, on the continent of North America, planet Earth, Sol system.” Dahlia stifled a laugh at his unspoken ending.

The questioning continued for several hours while he explained much of what the people asking already knew. Very little new information surfaced during the open question period. Even the unspoken thoughts didn’t provide much more than his desire not to start either a panic or a war over the Refuge having possession of lethal viruses. The subject of the contents of the purloined drive was never brought up. The Citadel Science Division had a collection of lethal organisms that overshadowed the meagre assortment contained within any of the two Sanctuaries. A large portion of them were brought back from the original colonies. And Carter had no clue just how invasive the interrogation was because he knew nothing about telempaths nor that he was being questioned by one.

After the debriefing was complete Dahlia introduced Carter to the underground tram system that connected the Citadels. The tram from Star Land to Astro Land was a direct line. “The trams haven’t been upgraded yet. They probably won’t be. People prefer to travel above ground these days. But they are automated enough that once told where to go, you can sit back and enjoy the ride,” she explained.

Dahlia entered the destination and took a seat, gesturing to Carter to do the same. Her video chimed with a second message from Connor for his family. She messaged him back to let him know they would be receiving both messages soon. Connor’s face appeared on the screen, “Could you wait for a reply? It’s important.” Dahlia nodded and dropped her video back into its uniform pocket.

The Rou colony was a short walk from the tram stop. Dahlia had been there once before after tracking a case of food. She was a curious teen at the time. It would take a while to find the right set of quarters. She knew better than to ask because Rou were wary of strangers and suspicious of Citadel Security agents. A man stepped out of one of the family dwellings and started toward another. He had something serious on his mind, and Dahlia was more than happy to help him.

“I have a message from Connor Trelayne,” she said. The man turned to face her. “Two messages actually. The first explains where he is and that he’s okay. I have no idea what the second one is about. He just sent it to me forty minutes ago.”

“You spoke to my Connor?” he asked.

“Yes, I have,” she replied. “He asked me to wait for a reply to his second message.” Dahlia raised her open palm to let him know that she was the telempathic half of a Cit-Sec team. “My name is Dahlia DeHaven. My companion is a visitor from Bald Eagle Mountain Sanctuary. His name is Carter DeHaven and I have no idea if we are related in any way.” Dahlia liked to dispense with the obvious questions because it saved time.

“You saved me the effort of putting together a search party. Thank you for that,” Connor’s father walked back to the door of his residence. “Come inside and share the messages. The sooner you do, the better his mother will be,” he motioned to the two visitors. Dahlia nodded and entered only to be met by a small shrill shriek from the youngest member of the Trelayne family.

Haydn and Marta Trelayne were the parents of five progeny. Connor was their eldest. The others were Dane, Lydia, Cody, and the young shrieker, Dina. Dina had made a run for the door expecting her father to enter. She found herself suddenly caroming into a large blue-clad stranger. Dahlia smiled at the little girl as she ran back to the safety of her mother’s arms. Haydn stepped through the door with a grin on his face. “Relax, it’s good news. Connor is safe somewhere, and they brought us messages from him.”

Marta Trelayne gathered everyone around the large dining table and invited the visitors to sit. Dahlia placed her video on the table and opened the messages folder. The image of Connor Trelayne’s head floated above it just before the message began to play. Dahlia adjusted the position of his face to allow his family to see his expressions as he spoke.

Connor’s smiling face addressed his parents, “Mom, Dad, it’s me. I’m safe, though I had a bit of a scare lately. That’s a story for when I see you again. I’m working in a hydro-garden again. Tell Dane that he should pay close attention, like his life depended on it, when he works the gardens. This whole citadel nearly died because no one knew how to grow food. I’m helping them get their food back. It will take some time. I have some good help here from the people who live here. Don’t worry about me, okay?”

Marta gasped, “Oh, thank the stars, he’s okay!”

Haydn rapped the table, “You said there was another one.” Before he could say more, Dahlia had the second message started.

Connor looked a bit more serious this time. “Mom, Dad, and brats, I miss you. I wish you were here to help. The Citadels are broadcasting their schools here now. You and Dane could help me in the hydro-garden. Meat and fish are being shipped in already. We could all have our own rooms and they’d be cleaned for us. And…,” another face joined his in the projection, “I have a girl here that I want you to meet. We are taking things a day at a time, honest, Mom. Anyway, I asked if Dahlia could wait for you to send a reply.” At that point, Dahlia wished that she had previewed the message before sharing it. Dahlia closed the message and rolled her eyes.

“What’s he saying?” Marta asked.

“That’s he’s got a girl and that he wants us to come live there,” Haydn replied.

“I’m sure that he’ll understand if you need time to decide,” Dahlia stated.

“What’s to decide?” Haydn replied. “They don’t need me in the hydro here anymore. Not much to pack up except maybe a toaster.” Dahlia shook her head. “No toaster?” he asked.

“The kitchen is fully equipped. All the living spaces are fully furnished. Automatic Maids clean the spaces. Only thing they might be short on is clothing.” Dahlia looked around their cramped quarters, “You’ll still be underground, but you’ll have more space to live in.”

“How soon can we leave?” Haydn asked.

“It will take a few days to make arrangements,” Dahlia replied. “We can’t just start shipping people over there. We need to confirm that the transfer won’t cause any problems. Someone from Cit-Sec will get back to you.”

Dahlia connected her video to Connor’s to allow his parents to talk with him. Between his parents and his siblings, Dahlia couldn’t get in a word edgewise. Throughout the entire encounter, Carter sat quietly stifling laughter. Dahlia seemed to be the only one who noticed his bemused face, but she was also the only one responsible for him and his actions.

After the excitement died down and all the ‘goodbyes’ were said, Dahlia explained what Connor needed to do on his end of the move. She then sent in a request on behalf of his family to emigrate to Hawk Mountain. “It was nice to meet all of you. The proper requests have been made. It will take time, a few days at least, before you can actually make the move. Until then, don’t burn any oxygen that you don’t need to.”

“Bridges,” Carter corrected in a barely audible voice. “It’s ‘don’t burn any bridges’.”

After stepping outside and closing the door behind them, Dahlia asked, “Why would I set fire to the control room of a spaceship?”

Carter was at a loss for words. He followed her back to the tram station in silence trying to decide if she didn’t understand or was just playing with him. After sitting in silence for a while, he found the courage to ask, “You understood, didn’t you?”

“Yes, but they wouldn’t have,” Dahlia replied. “They live where they do because it reminds them of the generation ships they were shipped off world on.”

“Some of my relatives were on one of those ships,” Carter had a solemn look on his face. “We might be related.”

“Why do you think my little brother insisted on meeting you?” Dahlia answered her own question, “It was because he thought you might be family. DeHaven is a rare name in the citadels and there are only a few of us left out there among the stars.”

Just as the tram carrying Dahlia and Carter returned to Star Land, her video pinged. Ed Just was fully recovered and would be released into her custody. “Unbelievable!” she exclaimed. “As if my dance card isn’t already full.”

“What’s wrong?” Carter asked as she rushed off the tram as soon as the doors opened. He had to run to catch up with her as she headed toward the lift up to the Healing Center.

Ed Just was still in his room sitting in a chair waiting for her. “I want to go home,” he stated sounding more like a homesick child than a grown man.

“That can be arranged,” Carter stated, “as long as it’s in a body bag.”

Ed glared at Carter, then turning to Dahlia, “He’s still here? I’d have thought you’d sent him back where he came from by now.”

“You have family at Bald Eagle, don’t you?” Dahlia asked. “But that isn’t the home that you want to go back to. I think we have a problem, don’t you?”

“I miss ‘em. Don’t go thinking I don’t. But I can’t go back and they won’t leave.” He pointed at Carter, “Ask him why.”

Dahlia looked at Carter, who stood silent. Despite Carter’s silence, Dahlia was able to glean that returning Ed Just to Bald Eagle was a death sentence. “Maybe we can work something out,” Dahlia suggested to Ed.

Carter’s request for an interview with Sven Svensson had been approved by Citadel Security provided that Dahlia would act as his guide. Dahlia had experience dealing with unstable personalities. Leonard L was more than happy to keep Ed Just entertained while Dahlia shepherded Carter and Sven.

Dahlia led Carter to a room in the Incarceration Unit that had a sign on the door that said “Interview”. The inside of the room was sparsely furnished. Dahlia told him to sit in the only comfortable chair in the room. After he was seated, she walked over to a console. Then, she removed a small rectangular object from the wall behind her and placed it into a slot on the console. She placed a small headset on her head and flicked a switch that connected her to Sven Svensson.

Inside Sven’s cell, the screen flickered on and a woman appeared. It was the woman who had brought him in for questioning about Ed. “Well, now, what can I do you for?” he asked.

“There is someone here who wishes to ask you a few questions,” Dahlia replied. “He’s from Bald Eagle Mountain Sanctuary. If you don’t object to being interviewed, I can make the connection now.”

The screen in front the comfortable chair flickered on and Sven Svensson’s face appeared. He narrowed his eyes into a scowl and demanded of the stranger facing him on his screen. “Who… who are you?” he demanded. And what do you want to know?”

“I’d like to talk to you about that small piece of glassware that you broke when you were a child,” Carter replied.

“I don’t know what yer talking about,” Sven retorted.

“We found the surveillance recording of the incident in your father’s lab,” Carter replied. “It shows you handling the vials before being startled and dropping one.”

“I weren’t s’posed to be there,” Sven replied. “I got myself gone afore I got in trouble,” he explained.

“The auto-maid cleaned up the mess and carried the contents through the sanctuary,” Carter said. “Your father didn’t report the missing vial even after your mother died. The pathogen spread quickly through the population resulting in the death of your parents. If he had said something, we could have saved them and everyone else. We had an antidote, a cure way back then.”

The revelation stunned Sven. “So, it ain’t my fault is what you’re saying,” Sven was almost happy to be absolved of the death of so many. It wasn’t going to earn him his freedom. He was still responsible for the deaths of the owners of the caravans that he stole.

“It’s still your fault,” Dahlia said. “You knew that you weren’t supposed to be there.” She wasn’t about to let Carter plea for Svensson’s release. “And let’s not forget the men you killed out in the Wild. You are still accountable for their deaths.”

“Do you have any more questions, Doctor?” Dahlia pressed.

“Mr. Svensson, are you comfortable where you are?” he asked.

“Oh, yes. I get to eat whatever I want to whenever I want to. There’s plenty to entertain and sometimes I get visitors. And the bed is real soft.” Svensson smiled, “Only thing I miss is the company of the fair kind if you get me.”

Carter sighed. “I guess I don’t have anything else to ask. Before I leave, I want you to know that your former home is being brought back. These people have been busy getting all the systems back on line, especially the gardens.” He hesitated, then said, “It was nice to meet you.”

Dahlia shut down the screen and removed the solid-state drive from the console, placing it back into the space in the wall behind her. “He isn’t what you were expecting, is he?” she asked.

“No, he isn’t. He seems crude, uncivilized. I suppose it’s a good thing that he isn’t able to inflict violence against anyone else. What did he mean about getting visitors?” Carter asked.

“He doesn’t get all that many, trust me. But every so often he will be checked in on to see how he is doing. Isolation is difficult for some.”

“Is there any possibility of parole?” Carter asked. Dahlia furrowed her brow. “Will he ever be released from custody?”

“No,” Dahlia replied. “He committed a capital crime without remorse. There is no coming back for him.”

“No chance for rehabilitation? That seems rather harsh. Surely he will earn his way back into society someday.” Carter was trying to understand how such a progressive society could be so absolute in their judgment. Dahlia wasn’t about to explain a system based on telempaths and economies of space travel.

There had been no room on board a colony ship for murderers, but murders rarely happened in secret on board the ships. Just was swift and cold. Telempaths out of necessity had developed an open society. Secrets could not be kept around them. The existence of non-telempaths kept them from developing a hive mind. When the different colonies sent ships back to Earth to reestablish mankind’s claim to their beloved planet, it became necessary to integrate their strengths.

None of the prisoners in the Interview room would ever be allowed to meet with the others. Their existence was essentially suspended when they weren’t being interviewed. And they could only be accessed from that single console disconnected from the massive communication network of the Citadels. Dahlia wasn’t about to explain all that to Carter, instead she said, “Svensson is guilty of multiple murders; his terms are to be served consecutively. Based on his current age, he wouldn’t be alive sixty years from now.”