“Professor, we have a problem!” Carl announced, trotting into his office.
Batesworth looked away from the schematics on his walls. “What is now, Carl?”
“Jo’s killed an Engineer!”
Batesworth slumped slightly. “What? How?”
“She took a bunch of people on the roof—“
“I know, she was down here a few hours ago looking for volunteers. You took back the ones on the canyon floor not too long ago. The rest were on the roof making repairs.”
“The wind came up,” Carl said. The corner of his mouth curled. “She threw one of them to his death.”
“‘Threw’?” Batesworth’s eyebrow crested like a wave. “Jo’s not one to throw people, even at her worst.”
“She left him to die.”
“That’s different than ‘throw’, Carl,” said Batesworth.
“You’re missing the point, Professor!” Carl pressed. “Someone’s dead and it’s Jo’s fault!”
“I understand your concern, Carl, but I need more details. What exactly happened?” Batesworth stood and scanned Carl’s face.
“The group was on the roof, the wind picked up, and Jo left one behind. Intentionally.”
“She knowingly left someone out there in the windstorm?”
“And you were there to witness this, yourself, with your own eyes?”
Carl hesitated. “No, I was back in the tunnels when—“
“And you know what happened, how?”
“Dawn told me,” said Carl. “She was there. She saw the whole thing. She can vouch for everything I’ve just told you!”
“Anyone else see this?”
Carl chewed a moment. “There’s that guy that’s been hanging around with her, her assistant,” he said grudgingly.
Batesworth nodded. “Do you know the name of the deceased?”
“I thought you knew the names of all the Engineers, Carl.”
“He was … an Apprentice, I think.”
“That’s an important detail, hmm?” Batesworth returned to his chair. “Jo led a team to the roof, which included her assistant, Dawn, and some Apprentices. The wind picked up, and Jo intentionally left someone outside. That’s your statement?”
Carl nodded. “Yes. Intentionally killed someone.”
“How is it that you’re always the one to come in here and tell me that the Engineers are committing horrible acts, Carl?” Batesworth took a deep breath and let it slowly back out. “Where is Jo now?”
The lowest point of the ARCH was on the downward slope of the canyon floor, a crawlspace under Block 9’s bottom floor as it spanned over boulders. The outside wind caused just enough of a draft through the multitude of gaps to keep the dark void dusty. A lone figure lay in a well-used patch, curled up in the dimness, her back turned against the small world behind. The wind was little more than a low moaning, the high-velocity winds affecting only the older, upper options of the structure.
Despite all efforts to the contrary, the figure would not be left alone long.
“Jo,” called a voice near the void’s mouth. “Come out. Talk to me.” With an apparent lack of response or motion, Erik sat down on the ground and peered in. “I know you’re in there. As much as you think you can hide away, you can’t. I know your places, even this one.” He waited a few moments for any kind of acknowledgement. “I can’t say I know what you’re going through. I don’t. I’ve not done what you’ve done — wait, sorry, that wasn’t… I don’t know how to do what you do, how you see things and their effects. You saw the problems before anyone else, you’re the only one who spoke up about them. You saw the value of the wind having died down before any of us were … were willing to do anything about it.” Erik looked for movement. “Going outside is risky, too many of us are terrified of what could happen that we never think about alternative.”
“Carl did,” said Jo, her response muted and echoey. “He thinks I’m too stupid to think of the risks.”
“Yeah, he mentioned something like that to me,” Erik nodded. “You know what I told him?” Erik waited for a response that didn’t come. “I told him that you’re the only one brave enough to go outside. The only one smart enough to know the risks of going outside. People followed you because they trust you, Jo. They know what you’re capable of. It doesn’t matter what Carl thinks or says. He’s so afraid of you that his mouth speaks before his brain thinks and he just looks worse every time. You did what needed to be done, the only one courageous enough to open the door and step outside.” He stopped looking into the void, brought his knees to his chin and stared off across the space. “People trust you, follow you. That’s way more than … well, pretty much more than the rest of us can say. People listen to us, but they don’t believe us, not me or Rich or Carl or Bonnie or Francis. When you speak, they believe you.”
Jo appeared at Erik’s side. “Do you believe me?”
Erik smiled. “Always.”
Slowly, Jo reached out and touched Erik on the shoulder. “Gracias, cariño.Yo necesitaba eso.” She sidled up next to him like cat. “Te necesito.” Hesitantly, Erik moved his arm around her. She pulled his arm all the way around her, encouraging a tight hold. “Te amo,” she whispered.
“Have a seat,” said Batesworth, tapping a chair he had brought into his cramped office. Jo, her arms wrapped around herself tightly, looked at Batesworth, then the chair. She looked back towards Erik, who stood out of Batesworth’s view. “I just want to talk, Jo. We have to talk.”
Jo tentatively stepped into the room and slowly sat on the front part of the seat, her arms still in place. She looked at a random diagram on the wall, not registering anything else about it. “I killed someone,” she said softly. “I killed Henry.”
Batesworth leaned forward, resting his elbows on his chair. “I’ve heard. I don’t suppose you want to talk about what happened?” Jo fiercely shook her head. “We can’t ignore this, Jo. It’s happened. As much as you might want to forget it, you can’t change what was done.” He leaned back to sit upright. “I won’t ask if you think you’re responsible. You take responsibility far more seriously than most.” He looked at Jo’s unmoving expression, her eyes locked on a point many yards past the picture on the wall. “This isn’t something we can’t sweep away, even if it was one of us. You know that, right?” Jo nodded slightly. “We will have to convene a tribunal.”
Jo stiffened. “I … they … if I’m convicted … you’ll banish me.” Tears erupted and rolled down her cheek.
Batesworth watch the drops seep down her skin, falling loose from her chin, onto the floor with a light pit sound, forming a tiny mud puddle from the dust. “It’s a possibility,” he nodded. “If you are convicted, the Council has the right to pass judgement, which includes the potential for banishment. But I don’t think the Council will—“
“Carl hates me,” said Jo. “He banished Robert. He hated Robert, too. Frank will say what Carl says.”
“Carl is opinionated, no less than you. You fought for Robert’s clemency, as I recall, very vehemently.”
Jo faced Batesworth. “I’m on trial, Rich. I don’t get a say.”
Batesworth leaned forward again, nodding. “True. That is true. In fact, we’ll probably have a stalemate. We’ll have to include another person for quorum.”
“Dawn,” said Jo.
“Perhaps,” said Batesworth. “Francis might have a few words to say about that.”
“When?” said Jo.
“Francis? Well, I haven’t talked to him yet—“
“Oh. Not at least for a day or two. We’ll have to prepare, talk to witnesses, you know the process. I have to find Agatha and make sure she’s still willing to participate.”
“Jail?” Batesworth asked. “You?” He shook his head. “Jail … locking you up in a room doesn’t help anyone right now. You’re not on a murderous spree, you do not pose a risk.” He scratched at his chin. “If anything, I would say putting you in jail is a risk to all of us. As I recall, you’re working on that reinforcement in the greenhouse.”
Jo nodded slowly.
“How much work is left?”
“I … I’m not sure,” said Jo. “We … um, we have mould blocks. We, uh, have to carve them… then the workshop can cast. If that goes well, maybe … three days? I think?”
“Erik!” Batesworth called. Erik appeared at the doorway. “We will be conducting a tribunal to investigate the death of Apprentice Henry … last name?” Batesworth looked at both Erik and Jo.
“Sorry, I didn’t even know his first name,” Erik said. Jo shook her head.
“We will ensure to get that detail,” said Batesworth. “In the meantime, Ms. De Leon is on suspension until the tribunal. If anyone asks, she is being isolated from the population.”
“And in reality?” Erik asked.
“Saving the ARCH.”
“I’m going to die,” shuddered Jo. “Carl will make sure of it.”
“Carl can stuff it,” said Erik. The two of them walked down the hallway towards the stairs that would take them to the greenhouse. “Carl thinks he’s the King of the ARCH and his rule is law. I wouldn’t worry about him. Besides, the tribunal won’t convict you.”
“How do you know?” asked Jo through a sob. “Carl will make sure Rich only hears lies. Agatha doesn’t even like me.”
“She doesn’t like any of the Engineers,” said Erik. “But she knows what we do is important.”
“She doesn’t like me,” Jo repeated. “Two to one.”
“You’re assum—,” Erik cut himself off. “Sorry, I … this isn’t the right time to be cute.”
Jo stopped. “Siempre eres lindo,” she said through a thin smile. “It’s okay. I might have laughed at it.”
“No, you wouldn’t have,” said Erik. They arrived at the door and he let her go down first. They descended the stairs slowly, Jo taking each step with a confident suspicion. They said nothing until they reached the bottom.
“Ellas me van a rechazar,” Jo said, looking at the gardeners.
“They know,” said Jo. “They’ll hate me.”
“Why would that do that?” asked Erik. “You’re about the only person in this place who recognizes them. You know their names, where they came from.” As if in response, Jo’s name burst from within the plants. Heads popped up immediately behind the verge. whose arms were caked in dirt. Over a dozen leaped up, frantically rubbing the dirt from their hands and arms, and ran across the floor to Jo, all crying various things that Erik couldn’t understand. As they approached, Jo cringed defensively. “You know their life stories, Jo,” he said to her ear. “You’re a part of their family.”
Anita was the first to arrive. “¡Que el amor de Dios te proteja, Jo!” She wrapped herself around Jo and held her tightly. “Lo que necesites, solo tienes que preguntar.”
One by one, all of the gardeners held Jo and spoke. Erik stepped away as the crowd grew too large for him to remain near. With each person, Jo slumped a little less, smiled a little more. When the last had offered condolences and love, Jo looked at each of them, her face wet.
“Gracis, todos. Sin ustedes, soy nada,” said Jo. Her smile wavered and cracked, her face folded, and her strength fled. Jo fell to her knees and burst out in a wail that echoed throughout the cavernous space. “Soy nada!” she continued, as her friends gathered, surrounding her completely.
Donner approached Erik. “Is she … okay?”
“No.” Erik held his arms around himself. “I don’t know if any of us will be.”