Over the course of April 20th and 21st, 2105, a conspiracy to extort a corporate citizen and pin it on another corporate citizen was under way. Run by Rise Rapport [SIC: Rise, Xotic] and aided by Hope Laine [SIC: Laguna, Bus-T] and Tabitha Phlox [SIC: Night], the events that set this plot in motion began months ago.
Untrustworthy mixers will doubtlessly betray their partners in crime, stepping over each other to either be the first to cash in, or the last to fall. Some attempt to profess that they're innocent, while others show up willingly to confess.
And so it was that Hope Laine came forth to tell her impression of the truth to the Globe in an exclusive interview.
A strong opener. The way Laine emphasized "Rise," her voice coated with venom, I could tell we were in for a ride. The other names Laine dropped referred to Nefret Miller [SIC: Cinnabar] and Jo Zhou [SIC: Tigress], two mixers. The former is at large, actively seeking new allies after repeatedly chasing off her followers. The latter fled Withmore.
It's a painful thing to understand how someone so close to you could betray your trust. Even worse is to learn how easily they'll do it. That was the picture Laine was attempting to paint: a repeated victim of betrayal. Whether she believes that or not, the matter still stands: Rapport and Laine were Judged with possession of a prohibited weapon and conspiracy to defame a corporate citizen, and were sentenced to clone death. They were also fired from their jobs at Korova Milk Bar and TSX Motorsports, respectively. Phlox was Judged with trafficking illegal weapons, incurring a fine of 25,000c.
It's April 22nd, the day after their Judgment. I'm sitting across from Laine in a small booth, typing down our words as I read her body language. The bold strip of long crimson hair sprouting like a mane rests to the right side of Laine's head, contrasting with her broken demeanor. Her fresh sleeve is less than a day out of the vat. She looks tense as she huddles in her seat, shaking.
"Months� Months ago, I tried to come up," Laine explains, starting from the beginning. "I was tired of Red. Tired of the violence. I wanted to be productive. During that time, I was attached to Rise, and I didn't want to just abandon her. I'm not good at abandoning people that didn't do me wrong." It's difficult for her to get each sentence out. She stammers every two or three words. "So I told her what I wanted, and asked her to look for a way [into topside employment] so we could do it together."
I asked her to get to the point.
"I think Rise sabotaged me to keep me to herself," Laine hissed through her teeth.
"What happened? What did she do that makes you feel that way?" I asked, fully aware of the surrounding events of the time.
It's important to hear how a story is retold. It gives an opportunity for the teller to lie, or stretch the truth, or simply embellish something seemingly unimportant. One small misstep can lead to an avalanche of questions.
"[Rapport] told my plan to certain topside individuals that she knew would let it leak to the mix," Laine answered. "Afterward, Maksim [Morozov, a mixer criminal] offhandedly said that Rise was an idiot for approaching it the way she did. I didn't have the context then that I have now."
"That's correct," I revealed, "Morozov made sure that pubSIC heard him gloat about having caught you trying to turn your life around and escape the mix." My choice of words was intentional. Grant the concession; dangle the rope: "...trying to turn your life around and escape the mix." It's to see if the interviewee clings to it. A salesperson wants to close the deal, after all. If you're buying their version of the truth, the seller is getting what they want. They're going to express it.
Instead, the mocha-skinned woman before me just moved right on. "So I continued to live in the mix, struggling to survive. Time passed, and the violence wasn't getting better. Things were going to shit. And then Rise� disappeared."
At the time, Rapport managed a club in central Red Sector called Carnal Desires. She was taking a lot of heat from external sources, and fled the district.
"I was hurt by this," Laine said, sounding more interested in getting her story out than convincing me it was true, "I felt abandoned and alone, and the only person down there to take care of me was [Tabitha] Phlox."
THE CAT AND THE BOMB
Tabitha Phlox, a feline splicer, owns the aero known as Freedom's Wing, with the license plate FREEDMWNG. She's a Chex mechanic, having fallen from corporate graces years ago.
"Since Phlox works on Gold, I had a chance," Laine continued about her attempts to reach topside employment "I started making plans and moving things around. I got rid of all of my questionable goods, but while I was cleaning my office I remembered I had an ethicol timebomb. I had purchased it as defense during the war between Mia [Romano], Cinn, and Maksim," referring to three large influences in Red Sector at the time, "But it was still valuable, so I didn't want to just throw it away."
I stared at Laine in bewilderment. The bad logic behind possessing an illegal weapon just because it was 'valuable' was incredibly short-sighted.
"Phlox tucked it away, and we basically forgot about it," Laine added.
"Phlox encouraged you to keep the ethicol timebomb?" I asked, questioning the motivations. If someone's lying, they'll want to lie about the smallest things. Shift the blame a little bit.
"No, she didn't want to," Laine corrected me, "It was my idea to keep it. It was expensive. Like I said, I didn't want to just throw it away. I figured we could find a buyer and be done with it."
I briefly exchanged words with Laine about how nothing good can come from possessing or selling bombs. There are legal means of self-defense, and selling a bomb only puts it in the hands of people who wish to cause harm to Withmore.
LET'S RUN AWAY TOGETHER
"Fast forward a bit," Laine illustrated once the lesson was over, "I'm settling in at my new job with TSX. I'm happy and adjusting. And Rise suddenly pops back up. So she starts running crates and living in Hab-X and making it look like she's going to move topside too. She starts hanging out with the people I hang out with and puts on this big show of being sad when I won't engage with her."
Now we were getting to the meat. I fired off rapid questions.
Picot: "Do you know how long she had been back before getting in contact with you?"
Laine: "Less than a day."
Picot: "Which associates was she mingling with?"
Laine: "Before she got the job at KMB, she was hanging out with Phlox and Trey. Autumn I think. Someone named Morgana."
Picot: "And after?"
Laine: "Afterward, Rise gets hired and Cream says Phlox is untouchable, so Rise and Phlox stop interacting. But Rise starts calling me crying more and more, saying she's lonely, so I end up sitting with her, and driving her to run crates."
Picot: "Rise and Phlox spent periods of time together before Rise was hired?"
Laine: "What do you mean?"
Picot: "For it to be notable that they 'stopped interacting' indicates that you noticed significant interactions between the two prior to then."
Laine: "There was some. Tabi wouldn't let her on the ship for the most part, but they would talk. I wasn't really present for that so it's hard for me to speak on, because I didn't want to see Rise. After Rise got hired, they wouldn't even be in the same room though."
Picot: "Tell me about the interactions you and Rise had while running crates."
Laine: "I would pick her up in my car and she would load it up with crates, then I would take her to Green to deliver them. The interaction was basically just that. Afterward we would go hang out at Bizou or she would ask me to hang out with her while she fell asleep. Sometimes she would call me and ask me to just stay on the line while she passed out.
Picot: "Did she ever say anything to you that struck you as odd or unusual?"
Laine: "Odd or unusual for a normal person, or for Rise?"
Picot: "Incongruent to the topic at hand, perhaps."
Laine: "She would often try to steer the conversation in a way to emphasize that she had been sick and the victim and she had to leave and that it wasn't her fault that she abandoned me."
Picot: "She said she wanted you to come back to the mix with her?"
Laine: "Hai." [Tr: "Yes."]
Picot: "Now, two days ago--"
Suddenly, the interview was interrupted by a phone call by Rise Rapport.
TWO FOR ONE DEAL
The call was brief. After having established that it was Rise Rapport on the other line, the conspirator-turned-ringleader dropped fragments of a bombshell in my ear. "Well, Miss Picot. It seems my plan failed pretty hard. Have you figured out what it was?"
It was a good thing I was already typing.
"I'm still trying to piece things together myself," I answered, lobbing a softball to get Rapport talking.
"I said that you told me to do it. Do you know why you were chosen?" Rapport quizzed with a tone of superiority.
Rapport has a history of talking in riddles and jumping from point A to point G. I paused to consider asking Laine what Rapport was referring to, but decided against it. We'd get to that part eventually, and I'd be able to assess any differences.
I asked for clarification from Rapport. Instead I got an earful of cursing and pseudo-religious babbling about how I was destined to be lonely forever, licking unmentionables, and so on. We were getting nowhere, so I told her off and hung up.
As I was resuming the interview with Laine, my phone rang again. Rapport's number.
I answered. Rapport hung up and immediately called me back.
I answered. Same song and dance.
I answered a few more times, seeing how long she'd play this game. For quite a while, apparently.
I let it ring. Rapport kept calling.
Laine hugged her knees to her chest, staring toward the phone with a haunted expression.
Pointing to the phone, I told Laine, "This is obsession."
Laine nodded. "Because of her I was fired, and now I� I don't know if any corporation will ever hire me."
I pulled out a burner phone, had it call my public line, and answered. Silence.
The interview proceeded uninterrupted.
TWO DAYS AGO
Two days prior to this interview, Rapport took her position as ringleader.
As Laine recalled, "Rise contacted me in a panic. She said she wanted to take a photo of an apartment, but that she needed to put some contraband in it. But she didn't have any. She said it was to stage a photo to try and make someone look bad. I asked her if an ethicol bomb would work. She said yes."
"Did she say who her target was?" I asked.
"No. She said she was very low on time, and needed me to bring it up to her right away. So I brought it up to green and parked in the parking lot under Krakeon. She got in, I handed her the bomb. She went up, and then came back a little while later and handed the bomb back, and told me to hold onto it. So I went back to the ship and gave it to Phlox to hide again."
"How does Phlox tie into this plot?" I inquired, "The three of you were spotted repeatedly at her sexboat. Surely her hands aren't clean of blood."
Laine didn't take the opportunity to shift blame. "Like I said, I stored the bomb on Phlox's ship, and she gave it to me. I don't know if she was involved beyond that."
I nodded as she moved on, "Yesterday she said she needed a bomb again. I got it to her, and she hopped on her motorcycle and drove off, telling me she's going to go into the tubes and turn around and fake a panic attack and SIC [Judge Grimaldi] and tell him that she was picking up some old papers she bought, and found the bomb. So I go and sit in Bizou, and a little while later I get a SIC from Rise telling me she is going into interrogation."
The papers in question, Laine explained, were issues of The Red Report, an old mix newspaper I ran back in the day. Laine claimed that Rapport claimed she was going to say that a corporate citizen put her up to framing someone. Her decision on who to blame changed over and over. The existence of my old works likely influenced her decision to finally implicate me. Regardless, Rapport wanted to harm the megacorporations Laine was supporting, or fail, bringing her lover back down to the mix with her. It was unclear which she desired more.
I let these realizations settle in while Laine wrapped up her story. "Hours pass and I hear nothing. Finally, I'm summoned by Judge Grimaldi, but I haven't heard from Rise yet, so I go and update. And then I woke up in the vats. Judge Grimaldi told me my charges, and that I was punished by clone death. And TSX fired me like, right after."
We were getting close to present-day. "Tell me about the aftermath. Where did you go? What happened?" I prompted.
"Well, I went to [ViriiSoma] to check for DCD. When I came out, I heard that Rise jumped off the skywalk," Laine recounted. Phlox had retrieved Rapport's corpse and corpse-cloned her. "We all met back up at Genetek, I slapped Rise and yelled for a bit, then got on the ship, went below and hid under blankets. They came down to talk, but I just went to sleep."
Then Laine woke up and headed down to confess her complicity.
HOT TIPS ON HOW TO AVOID COMMITTING CRIMES
I ran Laine through a series of questions, prompting her to express her feelings.
Picot: How do you feel right now? What's going through your head?
Laine: I feel� used. Lied to. Exploited. Preyed upon. Like with the context of everything Rise has done in the past, and me not wanting to come back with her, I can see she set me up to try and break me from topside and keep me to herself.
Picot: How do you feel about your involvement in her schemes?
Laine: Guilty, remorseful, misled. I was just trying to help�
Picot: By pocketing a bomb and handing it to someone who is mentally unstable and obsessed with you.
Laine: She was so frantic. I didn't have time to think about it. She kept rushing me.
Picot: You're aware that this interview doesn't absolve you of your complicity nor of your Judgments? Not in the eyes of the WJF, the Law, NLM, or any other body, correct?
Laine: I know. I did what I did. I'm not trying to get out of it. I just want to move forward and try again. I will prove myself a good citizen eventually.
Picot: Do you have any words for someone who may be treading down the same path as you? How can one break from this destructive cycle of blindly misplaced trust?
At this point, Laine paused, as if unsure what to say. After a few moments, she nodded to me, looked me in the eyes, and spoke clearly and seriously.
Laine: Obey the Law.