Before Landing (-610) In Justice's Hands
Summary: The shackled Cass "Boner" Bonheur recounts her truth, for the first and last time.
Date: 11/09/2016
Related: Follows Cassandra's Father's Day. Leads to everything.

Nearly 2 Years (610 Days) Before Landing — Prison Station Barracks

Content Note: This log contains non-graphic references to mature subject matter: child abuse; sexual exploitation. Please use discretion if you wish to proceed.

"Handcuffs, huh?" the seventeen year-old coyly mused, raising her wrist to rattle the chain that had her looped through a bar at the middle of the table. "Usually I charge extra for this."

The panel of guards across from her did not look amused. The thin line of Major Guiver's mouth conveyed his disgust, his forehead lined heavily by the terse arch of his brow. The others stood in silence, watching, comparing the figure before them to the case-file in Guiver's hand. The teenager reclined boldly in her seat, crowning it her throne, while the Major sat rigid in his. Though their table was narrow, they were miles apart.

"Ms. Boner…" the Major began. No change in the girl's expression gave away the fact that this was not her name, though a nameless Guardswoman smirked behind him, covering her mouth to repress the audible beginnings of laughter. He frowned, glancing back down at the file and then at his subordinate in silent reprimand. "Apologies: Ms. Bonheur." Ever smug, the serpentine coil of the suspect's smile lingered at the discomfited change in atmosphere; she was basking in her own denigration. "You will find that I don't take kindly to that kind of humour."

"Does your wife?" the teenager asked, determined to maintain the imbalance of power.

"I have a few personal questions for you as well," came the Major's dignified retort. He pushed the file towards her across the table, tapping the glass screen to display a series of photographs: a medicine bottle; an oxygen case; a water jug; ration bars. "Cooperation may save your life. You are seventeen, Ms. Bonheur. There is no call for you to be floated, although illicit trading is a Capital offence."

The impudent teenager's dark-eyed gaze flickered upon the photographs, then glanced back up to Major Guiver's, from behind a curtain of undrawn, black hair. "Am I supposed to be looking at something?" she silkily asked.

"We found these items in your quarters, Ms. Bonheur," he asserted in firm tones, with the kind of voice naturally born to wrest control of such situations. Hers was the opposite: placid, demure; deceptively so. It was the kind of voice that could call to mind the unexpected bite of a bullet-ant. "In your bag, specifically. Do you deny this is yours?" The Major's bag-boned finger tapped the screen anew, sliding into view the image of a frayed grey rucksack.

Ms. Bonheur glanced down at the new image for a second longer than she had offered the illicit goods. Silence hung between them, interrupted first by the scuff of an impatient guard's combat boots, as he stood restlessly behind the Major's chair.

"I didn't do it," she insisted, copying his sharper tone.

"Then these are your father's," the Major surmised, with a subtle yet badly-forced tone of surprise. These were not words meant to be believed, but to back the suspect into a corner.

"No," the suspect quickly, matter-of-factly dismissed. "There's no way he'd do that, and you couldn't prove it, even if he did."

"Ms. Bonheur." The way Mr. Guiver continued to push her name off of his overly large, pale tongue was starting to grate on her. She felt dehumanised, codified; made into a case-file with excess punctuation and facts, but no truth. Her eyes narrowed as she fixated upon the movements of his fat, plump lips, envisioning them in her mind as writhing worms. "If you do not cooperate, we will have no choice but to base our verdict on the evidence we have, and I assure you, it is sufficient," they burrowed on, enunciating each syllable with increasing pressure and clarity. "What you say or do not say will remain on record for your appeal in less than twelve months time, which I will gladly oversee myself."

Her name was Cassandra. Sometimes Cassie, Cass, but this was not whom Major Guiver, with his quarters in Alpha Station, could see before him. He saw a suspect, a Ms. Bonheur, a delinquent. When in doubt, she had learned to stay silent, and so she did so now.

"Who helped you?" he continued, attempting a softer tone. It did not work, but she had been trained for three years into calm pragmatism, in keeping a secret that should never have been kept. She copied him, meeting his clear blue eyes; beneath the surface, she was running down the list of alibis she could give. She could claim that a classmate had simply dumped the goods in her bag, but that would lead to only further investigations, and someone would have to bite the bullet in the end. Better someone who deserved it than her or her father.

"What's it mean if someone helped me?" she asked.

"You are seventeen. I doubt that even a girl of your calibre could have pulled this off alone," he replied, tapping the screen with an audible clack. "And yet here you are, with stolen, unmarked rations. A theft not from an individual, but from the system itself. Did you go to a Black Market, Ms. Bonheur? Alone? Or did you have help from a friend?" His mouth curled in brief disgust as he asked, "What did you offer in return?"

She was seventeen. And yet, rumours were rumours; it was not for no reason that she had been given the unflattering nickname 'Boner', nor was it unheard of for men and women to sell the only thing they could. A girl of her age in Agro Station could have little to trade, especially given what she had traded for; had she traded pharmaceuticals, they would have already accounted for the missing numbers at her father's work-station, and yet given the quantity of her stash, this had been going on for quite some time under the nose of the Guard.

"I meant for me," Cassandra clarified. "What's it mean for me?"

The Major straightened up in his seat, his expression lofty. Promising nothing, he repeated, "Your cooperation will be noted in your appeal, after your term is served in the prison station."

She held her silence for a moment longer, rolling her shoulder in its socket, exercising what little movement her bound wrists permitted. Her knees were spread, slouched wide, and she ran her tongue along her teeth behind pursed lips, taste-testing the notion of cooperation in her mouth. She could, it had begun to occur to her, simply tell the truth. Her fears of the consequences had already come to light and worse. A man would be floated for it, but why should he not be? The young Black Marketeer had no love for her co-conspirator.

"Mike Larson," she named him. The weight lifted off her heart like a stone when she spoke it. Now it was their turn to look shocked, and of all the things she could have said, certainly this was not it. Her tired gaze settled on the steel table, and she had no need to look up to feel the raised eyebrows around her, punctuating the silence.

"Michael Larson?" repeated a voice. It was not Major Guiver's, but a woman's. Cassandra looked up to tilt her head at the nameless, disbelieving Guard, a broad-shouldered figure with close-cropped blonde hair. The Major's subordinate sent a glance towards him, then to the others, before turning her attention back to the student to confirm: "Mr. Larson. Your Earth Skills teacher?"

"That's what I said," Cassie confirmed, striving to withhold the lack of respect from her tone.

"I'm sorry." A nervous laugh followed, as the fair-haired Guardswoman looked to the others with amusement. "I know Mr. Larson, and he has no criminal record, nor has he ever. Not in twenty years of teaching the subject, which allows him access to a wide range of medical equipment, rarities and medicinal plants."

Bully for you, thought Cassie. I bet I know him better.

Noting her superior's lack of objection, the nameless Guardswoman continued, "What did you offer Mr. Larson in exchange for the goods he provided you with?" Major Guiver had thinned his lips, and his lofty gaze had turned downwards. He tapped his stylus vertically against the table, feeling he would not like her answer. He was right.

"He fucked me," she replied. It had occurred to her to say something smarter, like nothing, but she was tired of games. Telling the truth, as seldom as she had, felt good, even if she would not be believed. What did she have to lose?

"To be clear, your meaning is that you exchanged… intimate relations, in return for rations?" the Guardswoman queried, her tone appalled. "Sir, if I may, I have known his wife and family for years, and he would never —"

"He doesn't have a wife," Cassandra interjected, her tone as sharp as steel. "They're separated."

"He has a nineteen year-old son!" the Guardswoman heatedly noted.

One more point for me, Cassandra thought. First person to get angry loses.

The Major had no intention of losing her game, and he raised his hand. "Enough," he said, in a clear, firm voice. The Guardswoman straightened her posture, chin lifted and boots pressed together. His stylus tapped against the screen, displaying Michael Larson's ID and confirming the student's knowledge as correct. Earth Skills Teacher; separated from his wife for five years; son, nineteen. Though it confirmed nothing of importance — yet — he was less inclined to readily believe a man's innocence based on his sparkling reputation. Having interacted with the Valentines, he had enough awareness that criminals of every stripe came in every guise. "In what way did he help you, Ms. Bonheur, and why?"

Cassandra parted her lips to answer, glancing from Major Guiver to the faces of the assembled guards. She felt less queenly now, upon her throne, bound to a table. She was aware that she would only get one chance at this, but that did not make jumping at it easy.

"Start at the beginning. Take your time." The Major's tone was patient, but his tense expression was not. Tap, tap, tap, went the sound of his stylus on the bare interrogation table.

"My father's sick," Cassandra began. "Very, very sick. I don't know what's wrong, but he…"

No verbal interruption came, but the restless younger guard with the uncomfortable boots was audibly checking something on his handheld screen. He leaned down to show it to Guiver, who nodded his head over his shoulder. Someone in the room cleared their throat, and Cassandra continued:

"Mike was… it's not like you think. I wasn't a prostitute or anything. And I didn't bribe him for grades or anything. I was just good at Earth Skills, okay? Always have been. So we had a lot in common, at first, and I used to see him a lot after class. He said he'd help me, you know, get a good apprenticeship, maybe in Earth Monitoring station or something — I always figured, just 'cause I grew up in Agro Station doesn't mean I have to stay there. And I like botany, but I'm less interested in the science theory and more what can be done with it, you know? I’m not like my mother was. Application. So I'm asking, 'How do we know these plants we're growing today are going to be cultivable when we get to the Ground? Are there techniques to engineer them so we know? Can we take plants that exist on the ground, if we can figure what those are today after a century of evolution in radioactive dead-zone, and use them as they are? Mike really got that, at least I thought he did."

And there was Cassie Bonheur, the Earth Skills Nerd. Not Boner, not the friendless, snappy bitch, but the inquisitive young scientist she was supposed to be. The panel before her were not interested in inquisitive young scientists, and looked to her with thinning patience. Major Guiver struggled to follow, his eyelids flagging with boredom.

"Cut to the chase. Why did you steal pharmaceuticals, Ms. Bonheur?"

Hesitating, Cassandra said, "Well like I said, my father's really sick. And I didn't steal them."

"We have no record on here of your father being sick. In fact, he has not visited Medical in years." Gesturing for the wiry guard behind him, he took the dataslate and held it up before the displayed man's daughter: it was Fred Bonheur, a kind-eyed, dark-skinned black man, with a stubbled jaw and receding hairline. She felt a pang of adoration, and a rush of guilt at seeing his face on a guard's screen. The photo had been taken when he was younger, and in better health.

"He was afraid. He said he knew our station was running low, and that Medical wouldn't be able to help him. He didn't want to go and get told he couldn't work no more, in case they had to cut his rations because of it. Or would get laid up there instead of being able to do his job." Instead of being able to take care of me. Ms. Bonheur's tone had turned to the defensive. She was starting to lose the game.

"And how did Mr. Larson help you steal the goods?" the Major impatiently repeated.

"Well I was getting to that part. And I didn't steal 'em," Cassandra said with a frown. Benevolently, Guiver motioned for her to continue, and so she did. "Mike and I… we started getting it on when I was fourteen." Her expression darkened, tone bitter as her hands clenched around the chains. She could not pull them away to contain her posture, and so she let her fingernails scrape upon the rings.

"By 'getting it on', you mean, pursuing intimate relations?" Major Guiver clarified, lifting his brow with a lopsided scrutiny that would instill even Marcus Kane with pride.

"Yes," said Cass. She waited, but no further questions on that particular segue came. Did it really matter, after all, in which specific manner those relations were pursued? "He told me to come to his quarters to talk about some of my theories on terrestrial agriculture. Said it needed work and maybe we could put it to the test. He let me have some liquor, and by then I was half asleep when it happened. And then in the morning said we should keep it secret. Said it was a mistake and he wouldn't want anyone to think I was earning my grades in 'less than scrupulous ways' — those were his exact words, I remember 'em — or maybe decide I couldn't learn Earth Skills any more because of the 'indiscretion\.

"But then it kept happening. He said it was a mistake, but it became a thing. He told me about his wife and son, said he was going through a really tough time right now, that he'd fallen in love with me, 'cause my mum died so I understood what it's like not to have someone, right? Because we have so much in common. But then he got mean. Started threatening me. Got mad whenever I was spending time with other people, even my dad, my quarters."

Everyone in the room was uncomfortable now. The broad-shouldered Guardswoman's expression remained indignant with disbelief. The wiry young Cadet behind Major Guiver's face had turned sympathetic, and she hated that even more: he was looking at her like she was some kind of… some kind of victim. Just wait, she thought. I'll tell you what I do to men like you.

As for the Major himself, his expression remained inscrutable. "And what did your father think of this?" he softly asked, pressing his stylus into the table at a slower, but persistent pace.

"We didn't talk about it," said Cass. "He wasn't even in, the first time it happened. He'd been working late, fell asleep at his station. I wasn't gonna worry him when he came in, tired and stressed," like some kind of monster, her tone implied. And dare anyone question that she was not in charge of her own choices, or that her father — a better man than all of these uniformed schmucks put together — was doing less than his best, was in any way culpable, she clarified in a stern tone, "That was my choice." My choice.

The irritatingly sympathetic young guard behind Major Guiver nodded gently for her to continue, and so she did:

"When dad got sick, I'd had enough. I told Mike I wasn't gonna see him any more. That I had to take care of my father. That we were done, and he could fuck off. I wasn't gonna let him tell me what to do no more.

"And he told me, 'Well, we've talked about this. You want to stop, that's fine, but when I tell people, you won't get an apprenticeship. And you're seventeen now, so you won't find work. You'll probably have to work in Factory Station, or even Prison Station, because people will know you can't be trusted. And your dad will be disappointed, you said he was proud of how well you were doing.'

"And I said, 'Oh yeah? Fine. I will tell everyone, and I don't care any more.'

"And you know what? He lost his shit. Practically pissed himself. Was like, 'Come on, you don't know what you're saying, you know I care about you, I'm sorry.' And right then I knew I was right.

"So I made a deal. I told him, 'You're gonna help my father. You get me these medicines, I'll stay. I won't tell anyone. We can keep on.'

"And he did."

By the time she was finished, no one in the room remained sympathetic in countenance. Major Guiver's brows were lifted high upon his head, and the wiry Cadet behind him looked shocked. The fair-haired, tidy Guardswoman's nostrils were flared, her jaw clenched, and even Cassie's dark skin had turned flushed. Notably, the girl was not crying; though her words were venomous, and full of conviction, there was no doubt left in them that this was no mere victim. She gripped her chains, internally screaming in the silence, I am in control.

"What about the water, the food, the oxygen? Did your father need those too?" Major Guiver asked, lifting up his screen to show the full array of goods that had been found in the seventeen year-old's bag. "There was quite a lot of it."

"He needed whatever he could get to recover," said Cassandra. Beyond that, she thought, Why shouldn't I? By a certain point, once she'd realised how easy it was to continue getting what she wanted, she had no further regard left for the man who had threatened, lied to, manipulated, screwed with her for years. It was her turn to get what she wanted, she felt; she took all she could without a moment's guilt.

Tap, tap, tap, punctuated the stylus.

"And did you continue?" asked the vaguely judgemental, once-sympathetic Cadet, gesturing towards the manipulative Black Marketeer curiously. "With your… intimate relations?"

How is that relevant? thought Cass, looking up towards him with a raised brow. "Yeah," she admitted. "That was the deal. I did what he said. He did what I said." It made Michael behave better when he knew he was still getting something out of it. She could not fathom why the Cadet suddenly looked so much more appalled, as if this additional fact suddenly made all the difference to her potential status as a fiend from hell versus an angel from heaven. She allowed herself a brief daydream of her fist smashing his face, though she had never physically hit a soul in her life.

"Can you prove any of what you just said?" came Major Guiver's stern interruption. His stormy eyes fixed hard upon hers, searching for a sign that she would waver.

"I told you the truth!" Cassie replied, igniting with anger.

"That is not proof," said the Major, exacting but calm.

The girl narrowed her eyes, but now she had nothing to offer.

"Even if what you say is true," the Major clarified, lifting a finger and canting his head, "you are still admitting, to be clear, that you committed a crime. You did trade in Black Market goods, which is theft, and you are now also admitting to blackmail. Those are two serious offences."

And what Mike did to me wasn't? "I did what I had to do," came Cassie's cold reply, her muscles tense with quietly controlled rage. "It was the only way I could make him stop. The only way I could take back control."

Frustrated, the Major let out an audible exhale through flared nostrils. "We will question Mr. Bonheur and Mr. Larson next," he decided, turning to the Guardswoman with close-cropped blonde hair. With a nod, he glanced at the time on his dataslate and added, "Search Larson's quarters before you bring him in. He should be returning to his class within the next forty minutes; wait until he has gone, and do not alert him first. In the meantime, arrange for Ms. Bonheur to be transferred to Prison Station."

"Sir," the blonde woman replied, maintaining her formality despite the fervency in her voice. "If I may, I've known Michael's wife and family my entire life. There is no way that any of what she's saying is true, and she said herself she can't back it up." She pointed an accusing finger towards the seated criminal, who stared up at the hand impassively. "None of what she's saying sounds like anything I have heard Mike say or do. Please consider letting me talk to him first, before we disrupt his quarters and classroom — on the word of an admitted criminal."

"Enough," Major Guiver repeated, an edge of irritation creeping into his own voice. He opened his mouth to continue, but the quiet voice of a seventeen year-old girl beat him to the punch.

"You'll find his bedsheets tucked at the base, but not the top," said Cass, eyeing the panel sullenly. "His desk'll be clear, save for his pens. He always has three blue pens on the tabletop. He's got a brass compass hung up on the wall and a little globe on the dresser. And if you're looking for proof, look under the bed. He keeps a little box wedged between the frame and mattress.”

The full panel stared at her, and she averted her gaze, reclining in her chair.

I hope he floats, she thought.

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