When Dr Hermann Gottlieb is invited to a hearing sanctioned by the remnants of the PPDC, he isn’t quite sure what to expect. (And he would use the term “invited” loosely).
He didn’t expect to be woken up at eight in the morning by a series of sharp knocks on his apartment door.
He didn’t expect two burly-looking, armed men to be standing the hallway of the apartment block, stating simply that he had to come with them.
He didn’t expect to be ushered into an office boardroom after an hour-long car-ride.
And he didn’t expect Jake Pentecost, Nate Lambert, Mako Mori and Liwen Shao to already be seated around the boardroom table. The door to the office is shut behind him and he’s left standing, staring around at everyone in the room. At the head of the table is a new face, he realises, but dressed as primly and official-like as any other person he’s seen inside in this building.
The man seated at the head of the table stands, straightening his suit jacket. “Dr Gottlieb,” he says, “good of you to join us.”
Everyone else in the room turns their heads to look over at Hermann, except for Jake. The Pentecost boy just stares at his joined hands, resting on top of the chrome table. With everyone’s gaze on him, Hermann’s grip on the handle of his cane tightens slightly.
He clears his throat. “Good morning.”
The man gestures to an empty seat at the table, to the left of Liwen. “My name is Kazuo Abe,” he says as Hermann takes his seat, “I will be conducting this hearing.”
Hermann takes a moment to look around the table. Both Jake and Nate sit to Kazuo’s right, while Shao and Mako sit on his left. Hermann’s own seat is directly across from the man, at the other end of the table. One of the walls of the office is iced-glass, obstructing a view out to other smaller offices outside. On the other side of the room is a wall of floor to ceiling windows looking out on to Tokyo. It’s only been a couple of weeks since the end of the attacks. With the breach closed again, the city is in a state of repair. The remaining skyscrapers stand among crumpled buildings encased in scaffolding and machinery. Above them all, Hermann sees the morning sun starting to perch itself in the sky.
He almost forgets where he is until Kazuo clears his throat.
“I’ve called each of you here for one reason,” he explains slowly, “and that is to ascertain a decision on what to do with Dr Gieszler’s...condition.”
Hermann straightens in his seat. Something heavy and cold drops to the very pit of his stomach, almost making him gag. He sees Jake’s hands tighten.
Kazuo casts a quick glance to both sides of the table. “Each of you will be interviewed separately at times which suit you. I want you to understand that everything stated in these interviews will be documented and reviewed by me and my colleagues.”
“And could we ask who they are?” Mako asks briskly. She sits ramrod straight in her seat to Kazuo’s immediate left.
A small smile curls along Kazuo’s thin lips. “Will knowing such information affect what you tell us?”
Mako is silent for a moment. “Possibly.”
Hermann has to stifle a laugh. Interactions between him and Mako have been few and far between, but any time he does manage to steal a few moments of conversation with her, he’s always impressed. He was impressed with her training and career under Marshall Pentecost. He was even more impressed with how she stepped into the role of Marshall with ease. Even now, she’s unshakeable.
Then again, Hermann thinks, she’s faced down kaiju.
Kazuo picks up a tablet that has been resting in front of him and quickly types out a couple of commands. From an orb in the centre of the table flickers a blue hologram. Among the streams of light, he makes out television news segments from around the world: all reporting on the end of the latest kaiju attacks. Some of them are in sleek newsrooms chatting fervently with apparent experts. Others are on the streets of various cities like Tokyo and Sydney speaking with passersby strangers. Cameras pan up to damaged buildings. Then images of weeping and distraught crowds. An image of a Tokyo orphanage full to capacity makes Hermann look down at the table.
“The situation is worse than last time,” Kazuo says simply. Everyone around the table looks at the holograms. Every minute or so something new pops up. “While our last attack concluded with news stations across the world heralding heroes, now, we have this.”
Kazuo taps at his tablet again, and new videos start playing.
Like the last time, Hermann sees immaculately dressed news reporters standing in front of orphanages, hospitals, and welfare offices – all of them packed to capacity. The expressions on their faces are dire. One report, though, catches his eye.
Half of the screen is a sour-faced raging man. A nametag on the bottom of the screen states that he’s a member of the Japanese government. On the other half of the screen is a picture of Newton.
Hermann swallows a thick lump forming in his throat. The picture they’ve used for the report is an old one. It was taken during Newton’s employment in the K-Science days. Hermann studies it. That’s the old Newton, not the one he met during this whole fiasco. Sure, remnants of him where there. But Hermann tells himself that maybe it was a front; maybe the Precursors let a fragment of Newton to surface to keep up appearances.
He shakes the thought away.
Kazuo spots him staring. “Certain officials such as Minister Tanaka are calling for Dr Gieszler to be put to capital punishment.”
The man is quick to interject again when he sees all of the others around the table suddenly jerk their heads towards him. “It’s extreme, and there’s only a handful actually backing this decision. But it’s being discussed nonetheless. Whether or not the Prime Minister listens to these discussions and accepts them, that’s to be seen to.”
Hermann’s leg starts to act up. He’s jostling the other one – a nervous tick that had really gotten on Newton’s nerves during their co-inhibition of the labs together.
“And that’s where you all and I come in,” Kazuo finishes. He reaches for his tablet again, swiping away at the news reports. Within a second, the blue glowing hologram retreats back into the orb and the room looks normal again. Kazuo taps at his tablet and clears his throat.
Beside Hermann, Shao leans forward slightly, resting her arms on the table. “You’re a lawyer of some description, aren’t you?”
Kazuo doesn’t respond to it for a moment. Shao goes to ask again before Kazuo casts a quick look up at her over the rim of his glasses. “Not exactly, Miss Shao. I’ve been employed by the PPDC and concerned bodies to understand the condition of Dr Gieszler.”
“And who exactly are these concerned bodies?” Hermann finds himself asking.
Kazuo idly waves his hand. “Of no importance for now. All you need to do is inform my team and me of what you know about Dr Gieszler’s condition.”
“Why do you keep using that word?” Hermann presses suddenly. “Why do you keep saying condition?”
Kazuo sets down his tablet. “Because that is the most accurate word to use at present, Dr Gottlieb.”
A silence falls heavily down on the table. Kazuo is the one to break it after what seems like hours.
“I understand you have put forward requests to visit Dr Gieszler, Dr Gottlieb?”
His name is Newton. “Yes, I have.”
“And all have been rejected.”
“Yes.” The word is difficult to get out. He has a stack of rejected visiting forms on his dining room table back at his apartment.
Nate snorts. “Jesus, I wonder why.” He suddenly winces when Jake quickly jabs his elbow into his side and settles him with a harrowing glare. Everything about the look states shut up.
Kazuo settles Hermann with an unreadable look. “Dr Gieszler is currently being detained by the proper services. Access to him is, at the moment, prohibited until all of our affairs are settled.”
Jake turns his head slightly “He’s detained by the proper services? Why don’t you just say he’s in jail?”
Hermann’s heart starts to hammer heavily against his chest. He fears that if it continues, it may just break through his ribcage and burst out on to the table in front of him.
“Because, to the best of my knowledge, he is not in jail, Mr Pentecost. He’s merely detained for this time period until our investigations are concluded. Then, he can start going through necessary treatment if it is required.”
And, lastly of ‘things that Hermann doesn’t expect’, he doesn’t expect to be told what necessary treatment means.