On the whole, U’s trip back to the compound went quietly. He spent most of the time rehearsing his confession. At one point, several months ago, U had tried to write a confession so that when he finally killed the doctor, and the Stripes ran in, he could pour out a passionate and beautiful admittance of guilt. He had fantasized about the way they would all react and how the MediaStation controllers might report his compelling proclamation across the airwaves. But, after several drafts, U found the writing to be impossible. It would be best just to let it happen; just let his confession come out naturally.
When he arrived at the entrance room of the compound, Mr. Node was no longer tending to the green plants and the air felt uncomfortably calm in comparison to the excitement U felt. The metallic door shut behind U with a muffled sound. He stood facing the room and the hallway stretched out in front of him. “...04.03…” U’s rectangular PDA read.
“I don’t know why I thought anyone would be here, I’m 30 minutes early.” After say this aloud to himself, U briskly moved down the hallway towards his office. The image frames still held their position along the hallway, bringing vivid colors of light unto U’s path.
“I should take in all this while I still can. Once they punish me, there’ll be no more beautiful images from Earth to look at.” U thought with melancholy. He stopped and watched a particularly stunning frame which showed a field of yellow wheat. Golden red leaves and deep brown branches could be seen extending out from where the camera was set. The title of the frame read, “the tree house”. The wheat moved effortlessly with the silent wind which also blew the soft clouds above. The image frames were meant to give the compound a sense of Earthliness, and that is what U felt.
“U!” A female voice confidently echoed out in the long hallway. U turned to see a middle aged woman in a white skirt, which went well down to her shins, walking towards him. As she drew closer, U could see that she looked concerned. Her face always wore a look of heaviness upon it. Now, that weight seemed to have increased to an insurmountable mass. Not that she appeared old, for her features were pleasant enough; it was something in her mannerisms that revealed the weariness. U felt his blood quicken as she stopped a few feet from him.
“U, what happened today?” It was a question, but the firmness in her voice made him think she was making a statement.
“Are you going to answer me? I asked what happened today.” U looked at her, and a slow grin covered his face.
“What happened to whom?
“You know what I mean. What happened in your office today? I saw some Red Stripes running in there earlier. And Dr. Ortho never came by to check my work. There’s a Blue Stripe in there right now. Her voice had shifted while she was talking, rising from distress to panic, and finally ending sorrowfully. What did you do U?”
“I made a leap of faith Mrs. Gram. It had to be done, and now I must go deal with the consequences.” And with that, U turned from his co-worker and stole down the hall. He imagined her look of disbelief as he walked on.
“She said he’s already in the office,” U thought to himself, “what could he be doing? Collecting evidence or something I suppose.” He walked a little bit quicker, and a little bit lighter. He didn’t let the image frames distract from his walk anymore. Turning the final corner, U was confronted with the door to his office. His breath went still for a moment, which was broken only by a contented sigh.
“Finally, justice will be done. They will punish me and this will be over.” U stepped forward and the door swooshed open before him. When his eyes adjusted to the darker light, U could make out the shape of a man hunched over his computer. The man was facing the wall opposite of the door U had just come through. When that door shut, the man looked up from his typing. U could now just make out the man’s Blue Stripe uniform. The Stripe still faced away from U, but his head was perked up as if to listen.
“Yes, and you must be Mr. Hughes.” U felt a rush of blood and adrenaline as the conversation that would lead to his judgement began, but he tried to hide his excitement. He walked over to the desk. Mr. Hughes turned around and rose to meet U. He was a tall man, maybe taller than 6 feet. He wore his uniform with confident presence and the angular nature of his face made U think that he was able to counteract the forces of time simply by being assured of the present.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t have met over more pleasant circumstances Mr. U, but we’ll just have to make the best of this. My name, as you apparently know, is Mr. Hughes, I work for the Enforcement Center as the Chief Investigator. Please sit down Mr. U, we just have some formal questions to go through,” U and Mr. Hughes both sat down facing each other, “Before we continue can you please pull out your PDA. In order for this conversation to be legal we need a written record,” U complied with Mr. Hughes’ wishes. He selected the “Chat” button on his PDA, Mr. Hughes did the same. By doing this, the two men could record every word they said. It was a rudimentary system, which required each party to concentrate and visualize each word they said, but it was fairly effective in recording thoughts both spoken, and unspoken.
“Please set your PDA to the internal setting, I will be asking you a few questions that should not be answered out loud.” U did as Mr. Hughes asked, thinking to himself that the Blue Stripe was undoubtedly referring to the confession of the murder.
“In all cases of murder,” Mr. Hughes began to say out loud, “the eUnion has ordered that the System’s judgement be confirmed by a report from a Chief Investigator. This law was passed to ensure that whenever a member of the eUnion is facing a possible severe punishment, absolute justice is done. Of course, the System has yet to make a mistake in judgement and so my job is mostly a formality, but I’m sure you will feel safer knowing that your life is not treated lightly.”
When Mr. Hughes finished talking, U’s PDA lit up with text:
“Continue talking with me like normal, follow my cues…”
“The first question I have is how long you knew Dr. Ortho, please play close attention to your PDA as you answer so that we can record it properly,” Mr. Hughes said aloud.
Again the PDA displayed a message from Mr. Hughes: “You do not need to answer my verbal questions on the PDA, just give the appearance that you’re thinking about your answer. We must give the illusion that this is really an interrogation in case anyone is listening or watching. I need to talk with you Mr. U. You did something today which is out of order, and you were not punished. Do you know why?” U looked back down at his PDA in confusion, what did he mean “the illusion of an interrogation?” A quick bolt of panic spread through U. “This was not the way it was suppose to happen,” he said to himself.
“What is this?” U asked Mr. Hughes.
“Please Mr. U, use your PDA for all answers and comments so that we can properly record this interview.
U concentrated on his words: “I don’t understand what you’re talking about…what is this?”
“Good, I think that went through. Now, the next question is how was your relationship with Dr. Ortho before today?” Mr. Hughes said with a factual tone.
Another message appeared on U’s PDA: “I am a protector of the System, and it is my job to insure the integrity of it. The judgment of your action today presents a challenge to that integrity. We both know that you murdered a man, and that the punishment for murder is severe, yet the System allowed you to get away without any punishment at all. Don’t you find that a bit odd?” With a flooding pulse, U reread the message. “Maybe this man isn’t really a Blue Stripe,” he thought to himself, “No, that wouldn’t be possible, he would have to fool the System. But if he is a Blue Stripe, how can he question the judgment of the System?” U waited a moment before answering Mr. Hughes:
“Yes, I thought it was odd. I’ve just spent most of the day trying to understand why I wasn’t punished. But what I want to know is, who you are? You say you’re a Blue Stripe but you’re questioning the System. That makes no sense. I can’t figure out why the real Stripes aren’t swarming in to punish your doubt, but until they come, I won’t listen to your lies.” U believed little of what he said, but he couldn’t let Mr. Hughes’ words rest.
“Alright, that answer went through. I want to thank you for your trust and cooperation Mr. U, I assure you that these questions are for your protection. Now then, could you tell me how you felt about Dr. Ortho both personally and professionally?” Mr. Hughes’ verbal questions seemed like all the right ones. U wondered why he couldn’t just answer those questions and be punished.
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