On his way back to the boat, Jackson radioed his scant findings in to his wife. Audrey had much better luck. “It's Jennifer Machate,” she informed him.
“Are you sure?” he asked her. Kevin was a friend. He would be devastated.
“Pretty sure. Linda Harrington-Carter claims that she's the one who has it in for Zinta. I'm inclined to believe her. I've already called Kyle to meet us up there.”
“Okay. I guess I'll meet you at North Node Island.”
“We'll wait for you at the house.”
Kevin Machate and his wife were both astronauts, and they shared the ISACC Mansion with Kyle and Nathalie Cassiers and some of the other ISACC hub personnel. Jackson and Audrey lived nearby in the Captain's Mansion, which they shared with Audrey's secretary, Kasia Serafin.
Audrey and Kyle Cassiers were both already at his house when he arrived. Jackson just parked the boat at the island, planning to return it to Anchor Lake once the matter was settled. Audrey smiled slightly at his entrance, although her face was still resolute. “Was the chief upset?”
“Not as much as I thought he would be, but he says Zinta is required to do something to defend her honor. She doesn't seem perturbed in the slightest.”
“I see. Well, shall we go retrieve Jennifer?”
Jackson sighed. He didn't like the sound of that. “Sure.”
“Buck up, soldier.”
She led them briskly out the door, preferring to walk the stone path that led down to the ISACC manse. Kyle and Jackson followed after nodding briefly to one another. Kyle looked as sick as Jackson felt. They were all friends and neighbors. This wouldn't be easy. Jackson knew that gambling was a favorite past time of many military personnel, and he wondered who had won the bet on first crime. He himself didn't gamble, but he knew Audrey had placed one. It amused her to play against the other crew.
Audrey radioed ahead to Kevin before they arrived, and he met them out on the porch. At first he smiled to see them, but then he saw Kyle, and the grim faces, and became concerned. “What's the problem, Captain?” he asked, all formality.
“I'm afraid there's been some graffiti damage at the school, and we have reason to believe that Jennifer may have been involved,” Audrey said as gently as she could.
Kevin looked shocked and shook his head, frowning. “My girls wouldn't do such a thing.”
“Nonetheless, we have multiple sources who say Jennifer is the culprit. As this is harassing graffiti aimed against another crew member, I sincerely hope that you're right. However, I'm afraid that we have to take Jennifer in for questioning.”
Kevin's frown remained, but he nodded. “All right. I'm coming with her though.”
“You may come to the correctional center with us, but you may not accompany her to questioning.”
“You're taking her to the jail?”
“I'm taking her to the correctional center for questioning. If she is indeed guilty, lock up will be one of several options that I consider. Jennifer is fifteen now, is that correct?” Kevin nodded. “She is old enough to be treated as an adult, and, I'm not going to lie to you, Kevin, she needs to be if this is true. You know we can't have that kind of behavior on the ship. I have to take care of it.”
Kevin's shoulders slumped. “Come on in.” They followed Kevin inside. This mansion, like theirs, was made of stone. While theirs served as more of a museum, except for their private quarters, the ISACC Mansion was actually more of a castle. This is where visiting dignitaries would stay during Akupara's construction, and it housed most of the HUB personnel, which were those people who worked in lower or null-g portions of the ship. People in those positions were all housed near nodes, and ISACC Akuparan personnel were generally located on the North Node near the captain and administration center.
The ISACC mansion had a den much like theirs, with many halls branching off into different wings. Kevin led the way down to his apartment, which was located on the outer wall near the gardens. He invited them in, although they preferred to wait in the doorway. Jackson could see Bonnie inside cooking dinner on their wood stove, something which the houses had that the dorms did not. Their home had several wood stoves as well, but Audrey and Jackson were both normally too busy to cook. They did use it for heat at night, when the winter evenings made their little apartment to cold for sleeping comfortably.
“Jennifer!” When he saw that they weren't coming in, Kevin yelled for his youngest daughter. She came running down a smaller hall and stopped short when she saw the committee at the door. “Get your coat. We're going with the captain.”
Jennifer didn't ask any questions. Mutely, she sat on an ottoman and began lacing her boots up. They both grabbed a heavy coat from the wall hooks by the door. Jackson saw Kevin bite his lip and shoot Bonnie meaningful looks. Jennifer's unquestioning obedience obviously spelled guilt, and Kevin saw it too.
Jackson caught Bonnie's eye and waved at her. He hated tension. “It smells real good in here, Corporal.”
“Thank you, sir. I'd invite you to dinner, but you seem a bit busy.”
“I appreciate the thought and the smell anyway,” he said, nodding as he turned to follow the others. “Sorry to disturb your evening.”
Jackson brought up the rear behind Jennifer and her father, who were following Audrey and Kyle. Jennifer kept shooting looks at Kevin, who just shook his head and kept frowning. It was obvious that she wanted to talk, but when she looked like she might try, Kevin gave her a look that kept her walking meekly with her head down.
They walked all the way to the correction center, which gave Jennifer plenty of time to stew. They had to cross the Outer North Node Bridge and head into Ellis City. The jail – or, as Audrey preferred to call it, the correction center – was past the cafeteria, on the other side of Town Hall. The main entry doubled as an office and holding cell. Jackson wasn't sure how many people noticed, but it was actually modeled off of the one in the old Andy Griffith Show. Built further back into the wall and lower basement sections was a heavier duty facility, for future generations where a higher crime rate might be expected. That was where the questioning and solitary confinement rooms were located. Although, technically speaking, since no one worked at the jail full time, the basic holding cells were pretty much solitary confinement on the ship.
Once inside, Audrey pointed to the bench set up across the wall. There were a few magazines on the table, something of a luxury here on the ship. “You can wait here for us, Kevin.” She went to the print scanner against the back wall and opened up the titanium door that led to the inner rooms. “Jennifer, if you will...”
Jennifer looked wild eyed between the captain and her father. Kevin's face remained impassive as he met his daughter's eyes and jutted his chin towards the door. She turned and, trembling, followed Kyle in while Audrey kept her hand on the scanner to keep it open. Jackson hurried through after Jennifer, and then Audrey brought up the rear, leaving Kevin to sit in Mayberry while they took his daughter down into the cold bowls of the spaceship and left her to sit a bit in a six by six cell with bright florescent lighting.
It was a dirty trick, but Audrey was determined to make an example of her, exactly as he'd foretold to Louis. Audrey hadn't been tactful in her questioning of Linda Harrington-Carter and Ged Harrington-James, and she knew that gossip would be flying through the ship already. When Jennifer reemerged, she would come bearing tales to keep the other children in line.