I was surprised to see the door close between us, as close as I was behind him. Fighting panic, I walked right up to it, but it remained shut. I turned around and gave myself a head start and approached it again, walking at a good, confident pace, but it still didn't open. I stuck my fingers as far as I could get them into the crack in the middle, where the two halves were supposed to slide away from each other, and pulled as hard as I could, but of course it wouldn't budge.
It's probably just that I'm not heavy enough, I told myself with an effort. I placed both hands on the corner of the door frame, braced myself and pushed my feet hard against the floor.
"I apologize for making you wait."
I jumped, half-screamed, and wheeled around to see who had said that. Half a second later I felt the blood rush to my face. I had no reason to think I was really alone in here, and would stay that way, but now somebody had walked up and greeted me and I had made a fool of myself. It was a new guy, wearing the same grey uniform as the other two guys, and with the same scars on his face. But I was beginning to wonder if they really were scars after all.
"I didn't mean to startle you," he said politely. "My name is Craig Tommid, but you may call me Glenn." He had that same south-by-midwest accent.
"Nice to meet you, Glenn," I said, shaking his hand. "Faine Channing." He had a nice firm, confident grip.
"Not Glenn," he said, looking me in the eye. "Glynn."
"Oh, Glynn, sorry. Do you not like Craig?" I asked, taking this opportunity to get a good look at him. Whatever those things on his face were that looked like scars, he had them on his neck, too, and the ones on his neck couldn't be scars. They looked more like fins there, like the fins on the back fenders of some old cars. The others had had them, too.
"Who is Craig?" he asked, tipping his head slightly and giving me a quizzical frown.
"Why are you called Glynn if your name is Craig? Do you not like Craig?"
"My name is not Craig," he explained. "It's Kreg. You would spell it K-R-E-G. Kreg Tahmid. Glin is my title. It's a military rank."
"Glin is a military rank?" I asked, confused. Or maybe he was the one who was confused.
"Yes. Can I get you anything? Coffee, tea..."
"Water," I nodded. "Thank you." It was hot in this place.
"This way," he said gallantly, bowing slightly and gesturing toward an open doorway. "With lemon or without?"
"With, please," I answered, following him out of the small, rather plain room into a larger one, furnished with all sorts of things I didn't recognize. It would take me several minutes to take it all in.
"Ice, I assume?" he continued, walking to a small alcove in one of the walls.
"Ice water with lemon?" he asked again, standing in front of the alcove with his back to me.
"Hot fish juice," he said, still facing the alcove.
"No, thanks!" I laughed. "Ice water is fine." Maybe it was the power of suggestion, but I suddenly thought I smelled the stench of a fish market.
He turned around, my ice water in one hand and a steaming mug in the other. The smell was coming from the mug. He gave me the water.
"That was quick," I commented, and took a sip. It felt good, even if the fish smell made it taste bad. "What military is that?" I asked.
Glin Tahmid gave me a look like I wasn't fooling him, and answered, "Ours, of course." He crossed the room and I followed, preferring even his company to the feeling of being alone in this room full of strange objects. "Please have a seat." He waved his mug toward an odd-looking stool on the near side of what must have been a desk.
I sat, not wanting to be rude, but I had no intention of sitting for long. I was going to finish my water and leave.
He didn't immediately go around the desk and sit down, himself. For a moment he lingered beside me and briefly touched my shoulder. I heard a hissing sound and thought I felt a strange sensation in my neck, but I couldn't be sure.
"What was that?" I asked.
He ignored the question and walked to his own chair and settled into it. He drank from the stinky mug before asking, "Tell me your name again?"
"Faine Channing." My water was half gone already.
"Your business on this station?"
"Don't have any," I answered honestly. "Like I told the other guy, I'd be happy to get out of your way. I appreciate the water." I held up my glass. "But I don't want to take up your time. I can be on my way as soon as I finish this."
"On your way where?" He settled back in his chair, looking comfortable, and held his mug with both hands like he was enjoying its heat.
"Back home," I shrugged. I'd need to pick up my suitcase from Connie's first, but that wasn't something to bother Glin Tahmid about.
"Where is home?"
"New Hampshire." I could have my suitcase shipped, if necessary. There was no point in complicating matters here.
"And where is that?"
"New England," I answered. "North of Massachusetts, west of Maine."
"A colony, perhaps?"
"Yes, actually. New Hampshire was one of the thirteen original colonies." So this fellow had an interest in history, then. I hoped I wouldn't be around long enough to find that bit of trivia useful.
"You admit that you have no business on this station," he continued. "Why are you here?"
"I didn't mean to be here," I said truthfully, realizing how lame that must have sounded.
"Transporter malfunction?" he offered.
I opened my mouth but didn't know what to say. It wasn't that I didn't understand his words, it was just that if you thought about it, those words didn't exactly mean anything. It was an official-sounding way of saying that my transportation screwed up. "You could say that," I agreed at last.
"And where did you transport from?"
Back to history again. "Nope, Illinois was never a colony."
"Chicago is on Illinois, then?"
Oh, great! I thought. This guy is nuts. I'd been suspecting that ever since he'd said Glin was a military rank. "Chicago is in Illinois, yes," I answered patiently.
"Tell me about Illinois."
"Well, it was settled by the French, I think. The name comes from Illini. I guess the Illini lived there originally. I don't know much about it, to be honest with you."
"Honest with me is what you should always be," he answered. I wondered if the menacing edge in his voice was really there, or it was just my nerves, imagining it.
"Of course," I smiled, forcing myself to meet his eyes. I finished my water.
"Where is Illinois?" he demanded.
Does this mean I'm no longer in Illinois, or even close to it? I thought. No, it just means I'm locked in a room with a crazy person. Aloud, I said, "West of Indiana, south of Wisconsin, east of the Missisippi River and north of..." I shook my head. "Gee, I don't even know what it's north of."
"I see you just want to play games," said Glin Tahmid. "Guards!" He took his eyes off me, for once, and focused somewhere behind me.
I turned and saw two more guys walk in through the same doorway that we had, again with the grey uniforms and the facial scars, or whatever they were, and the neck fins. They marched right up to me and stood on either side of me, and I began to stand up. Each guard grabbed one of my arms, and they pulled me the rest of the way to my feet. One of them took my purse away and set it on the desk, and the other one produced a long metal oval. While I was still trying to figure out what it was, they'd locked my wrists in it. How foolish I'd been to think I was going to be able to leave when I'd finished my water!
The guard on my right let go of my arm, and the one on my left pulled me away from the chair. I stood there on the open floor with my hands in the strange oval handcuffs, and looked at Glin Tahmid. All at once it occurred to me that he may not be crazy after all. All those stories about secret government research programs, of genetically engineered humans and all that, might just be true after all. Not that that would explain how I'd gotten here.
I cleared my throat, hoping that would keep my voice from squeaking. "Glin," I said, "I don't want to play games with you. I just don't know how to answer your questions."
"They're simple enough questions," he replied. "All I want is the truth."
"I'm, um, not in a position to argue," I said, hoping to get back on his gracious side, then added, "obviously."
"Obviously," he agreed. "So, if you're feeling cooperative, tell me, where were you born?" He made a small signal to the guards with his hand.
"New Hampshire." I couldn't help feeling like we'd just started the whole bizarre conversation all over again.
"The problem," he answered in a superior tone, "is that I have no idea where that is, or what that is. Is it a city? A plateau? A continent? A planet?"
"Oh," I said, "it's a state."
"A state. A sovereign political entity?"
"No," I answered, "just one of the fifty American states." For a split second I wondered if my little 'transporter malfunction' could have taken me to a foreign country, but then I dismissed the thought. Glin Tahmid and the first two guys all had American accents. He was playing dumb, then, and playing some sort of head game with me. And as I had said to him, I wasn't in any position to object.
"American," he repeated. "At last, a name I recognize. Would it be accurate to say that you were born in a region of North America called New Hampshire?"
"Yes, it would."
"Good. And are you currently living in New Hampshire?"
"Good. When did you come to Terra Knorr?"
"I...don't know what Terra Knorr is," I said hesitantly.
"This station. Perhaps your government calls it by a different name, but we call it Terra Knorr. When did you come to this station?"
"Oh, just a few minutes ago."
"On what ship?"
"I don't know," I answered nervously, then added quickly, "I was unconscious."
"You were transported unconscious to keep you from knowing about your travel arrangements?"
"That's right," I said. It sounded like a plausible explanation, at any rate.
"Who made those arrangements?"
"I don't know that, either."
"Well, then, who was your contact?"
"I...it may have been a guy named Derek Dellinger. At least that's the name I knew him by."
"I'm sorry, I don't understand the question."
"Is Derek Dellinger a member of Starfleet?"
"I couldn't tell you that," I answered, then quickly explained, "I mean, because I don't know. What is Starfleet? I'm not familiar with it."
Tahmid signaled the guards again, and the one on my right said quietly, "Hold still." The left guard held both my arms, above the elbows, and the right one reached up and took a hold of the neck of the top I was wearing. It took me a few seconds to realize that he had a knife, and was cutting it off me. Soon after, it fell to the floor, and for the second time that day I wished I had chosen a thicker, more modest bra. But I didn't have much time to dwell on that, because as soon as he was done with the top, the guard started cutting my slacks. He must have had a very sharp knife and a lot of practice, because all it took was two quick, neat cuts down the sides and the slacks had joined the top on the floor. I was left standing in my shoes and panties and bra and the strange handcuffs that held my wrists about shoulder-width apart.
Tahmid gestured to the guards again, and asked me, "Is Derek Dellinger a member of Starfleet?"
"As far as I know he's not," I answered, "but I'm not even sure if that's his real name."
"Is Derek Dellinger human?"
A flag went up in my mind. I'd heard of this technique but never seen it in practice. The idea was that they ask you several questions in quick succession, all of which are easy and innocent and take yes answers. Then in the same tone of voice they ask you to confess to a crime, hoping you'll answer yes without thinking and incriminate yourself. I took my time and repeated the question in my head before answering. "Yes."
"What's the last thing you remember before Terra Knorr?"
That wasn't a yes or no question, so he must have picked up on my hesitation, realized I was onto his game. That gave me a fleeting sense of victory, until I realized that he had just read me. Interrogators, of course, are supposed to be very perceptive, but I had been subconsciously hoping this one wasn't. I made a mental note to try not to lie. "I'd just gotten out of a cab in Chicago," I answered.
"What kind of cab?"
"A licensed yellow Crown Vic."
"Explain the term 'Crown Vic'," he said, seeming relaxed again. "I'm afraid there are many details of your culture I'm still not familiar with."
"You're not - " I began, then cut myself off. "I'm sorry," I said, "Crown Vic stands for Crown Victoria. It's a Ford model, and it's used, a lot of times, for police cruisers and taxis."
"A vehicle, then?"
"What were you going to say?" he asked. "I'm not what?"
"Oh," I answered, "I was just surprised to hear that you're not American. Your English is so good, I thought you were."
He laughed, a dry, cold laugh, and said, "Oh, you thought I was American. And now what makes you think that I may not be?"
"When you said," I paused, trying to recall his exact words, and gave up. "Something about not being familiar with my culture."
"How perceptive of you," he sneered. "I am not American." He signaled to the guards again, and almost immediately a strong hand smashed into my face. "In the future you will refrain from sarcasm in this room," Glin Tahmid ordered.
"Yes, Glin," I answered breathlessly, hoping to prevent any further blows. I wondered what I'd said that he'd taken as sarcasm, and decided to leave the subject of nationality alone as much as possible. Warm liquid trickled from my right nostril to my lip. It was blood.
Tahmid leaned back in his chair and looked up at me. "What's your birthdate?" he asked cheerfully.