Chapter Forty-Eight

CODA

In a maximum-security prison on Aegis, inmate Gustav Inness was being escorted from his cell to the visitors' area. It was not a normal visiting day, and even if it were, it was long past visiting hours. He was at a loss as to who might actually want to see him. Nearly two years had passed since his arrest, trial and subsequent conviction for his part in the abduction, imprisonment, and torture of Crown Prince Jason. In all that time, no one other than his attorney had been to see him.

He entered what he thought was the deserted, partially lit visitors room, thinking his visitor would arrive momentarily. It was not until he took a seat at one of the tables that he saw the man across the room. He was standing in front of a large window, the shadows in the room having obscured his presence. Inness waited several minutes for the stranger to speak. When he did not, the puzzled inmate said softly, "They said you wanted to see me." The figure at the window stiffened visibly when Inness spoke, adding to his bewilderment.

Without turning around, the man responded, "Well, that answers one question. Obviously your surgery was successful."

Inness scowled, wondering how this stranger could possibly know of the surgery that had returned his voice. An anonymous benefactor had made it possible, arrangements having been made through intermediaries. Granted his voice didn't have the same power as before, but at least he could speak. "Are you the one I should be thanking for arranging it?" he asked.

The stranger turned, his face still obscured in darkness. His eyes seemed to glow as they fixed themselves on the increasingly uneasy Inness. "Yes. You have an appeal coming up soon, I believe. I thought you might appreciate being able to actually speak in your own defense."

"I do, but… Why me and not some other more deserving person? I'm nobody."

"That's not what the Vid-News services say."

As the only survivor of Legrand's research team, Inness had taken the brunt of the public outcry when all the facts surrounding Prince Jason's abduction came out. His whole life was suddenly considered news, and a media circus ensued, driving away the few friends he had. He had only been spared from a death sentence through the intervention of an unknown third party. Rumor had it that Legrand's unknown financier had been behind it. In fact, even his own attorney, who was the best and most expensive on Aegis, had been hired and was being paid by someone else. "The Vid-News," he snorted. "They're a big—" Breaking off, he asked, "Did you hire my lawyer, too?"

"Yes. And before you ask, I'm not the one who was financing Dr. Legrand's work."

Relieved to hear this, Inness observed, "You're a very important man, though, aren't you?"

"What makes you say that?" came the amused reply.

"Well, first off, my lawyer wouldn't've taken my case unless he knew whoever hired him could pay his outrageous fees. And since that suit you're wearing probably cost more than I used to earn in a year, I've not doubt you can afford him. They don't let just anybody in here on off visitors' day, especially this late. You're obviously not my lawyer, so you must be a very influential person."

The stranger nodded his admiration at these obviously accurate observations. "That's what they tell me." As he spoke, he moved out of the gloom and came to stand before the inmate, whose eyes grew wide as saucers when he finally saw his face. It was Crown Prince Jason.

"Your Royal Highness!" Inness gasped, almost falling from his chair in disbelief.

"I wanted to talk to you privately," the prince said as he sat across from the stupefied inmate. It had been more than a year since they had last seen one another, this being when the Alterran had testified at trial. At that time, Jason was still recovering from the events surrounding his abduction. He looked considerably different now. It was obvious that he was in the peak of health, his eyes clear, his voice strong, and his body whole.

Inness was suddenly very, very afraid. "I still don't know anything!" he blurted out. "I was just an underling, a peon, a cog in the wheel!" He tried to push back from the table and was prevented by Jason who reached out and took him firmly by the arm. "I know that," he said just as firmly. "I was there, remember?"

"But why are you here? Come to gloat?"

Closing his eyes, the Alterran gave an involuntary shudder. "No, that's Curtis's department, not mine." Looking up, he said, "I don't know what he told you you were supposed to be doing, but…I just…" Drawing a deep breath, he said, "I guess first I wanted to thank you for saving my life when you stopped that sensor program. There's a lot of what went on that I don't remember. But that I do. Quite clearly."

Inness was starring open mouthed at him. He's thanking me! After all I did to him, he's thanking me! Finding his voice at last, he stammered out, "I don't…I don't…" Rising to his feet, he clamped his hands over his ears. "You should hate me! It's been two years and I can still hear you screaming! Why don't you hate me?"

The prince remained passive, asking calmly, "What would that accomplish?"

"What does sparing me from a death sentence with some high powered lawyer accomplish? Or paying for my surgery?" Inness countered in as forceful a tone as he could manage. "You can't possibly have a guilty conscience over of what happened. You were the victim!"

Jason sat back and gave him a thoughtfully look. "Mr. Inness, we're both victims. Damaged goods, you and I, no thanks to Curtis. I know what he did to you, and more importantly, I know why. It doesn't excuse what you did up to that point, but it is telling.I'm not a vindictive person, but I wouldn't even attempt to stop the judicial system from punishing you for your involvement in the Lazarus project. Conversely, there's no reason you should be blamed for what Curtis did after he went over the edge."

Still unable to think of a suitable reply, Inness was silent for several minutes before finally saying, "Your Highness, what do you want from me after all this time? An apology? I've already—" He broke off when the prince held up his hands and said, "No that's not why I came."

"What do you want from me?"

Jason drew a deep breath, and rose to his feet nervously pacing back and forth. "I have… questions about what happened. And you're the only one who can answer them." Turning, he admitted, "It's taken me this long just to get up the courage to come here. I keep telling everyone that I don't want to remember, but that's a lie. I need to know what happened."

Throwing a glance back at the door, Inness informed, "Your Highness, everything we say in here is recorded. And, as you've already said, I have an appeal coming up."

Jason gave him a knowing smile and sat down. "You remember about my bio-electric field? The fact that it's different than humans?"

"Of course. You have a silicon-based…" The former technician's words trailed off and he stared at the Alterran as if seeing him for the first time. "You can do that?" he gasped.

"A trick of the First Circle. They'll never know what went wrong. Freak electrical wave pulse is the usual conclusion," came the amused reply. "Now, will you tell what I want to know?"

"With no recriminations?"

"None. I want information, not to lay blame." With a small smile, Jason added, "Believe it or not, I am on your side."

Inness sat down and poured himself a glass of water. Drawing a deep breath, he asked, "How much time do you have?"


AUTHOR'S NOTE:

The story continues in Part 4, A Different Kind Of Guardian, in which we learn exactly what did happen after Turlough and "his" Doctor left the others. This story is also a sequel to The Guardian; story 6 in my 4th Doctor companion arc.