Two walls of the Brigadier General’s office were the total blank of switched off vid walls. Chuck Woods had always wondered if the General had south sea paradise scenes to play when the underground existence of the Lunar Base got too claustrophobic. Now he’d never find out.
"…going to miss you sorely, but good luck in your new assignment." The General wound up his parting speech. Chuck snapped a salute, about faced and marched out. In the outer office he slumped. Criminal Investigation! What the hell had he ever done that was so bad he deserved this!
His worldly possessions, such as they were, were already containerized and loaded. He scooped up his traveling kit and headed for the railhead. Some of his fellow officers had shaken off enough of the effects of last night’s party to show up and send him off with a few jokes about newly minted Majors being a step down in the world, but all too soon he was cramped into a shuttle seat and headed for the L4 station.
The prime space orbits of L4 and L5 held the biggest of the rotating space habitats. L5 had been monopolized by Oleg Ori Orbitals since early in the history space exploration. L4 was government owned and operated, but burgeoning growth of the commercial sector had reduced the actual government offices to a minuscule part of the entire chaotic complex. As the shuttle approached, Chuck studied the mess with growing horror. There were two wheeled habitats counter-rotating; from their mutual axel sprouted a quarter of the industrial capacity of space. And sprouted was a good term. Nothing comprehensively planned could produce anything like this.
The transfer shuttle slid slowly between one of the (mostly automated) micro gravity manufacturing complexes and one of the wheels, docking gently. The passengers swam easily out of the hatch, mostly retuning workers with lots of experience, they used the magnetic boots and metallic strip that marked the ‘official’ down direction only to push off, flying until they reached the hub of the wheels and the elevators.
The L4 Criminal Investigations headquarters were on a business level of the oldest wheel; he’d never actually been here, but everything was well labeled and he found the right elevator with no trouble. The first six levels of the torus were restricted entry; engineering spaces and residential areas, probably. The last two levels were also restricted, more engineering. The twelve other levels were all public access, and he got out on the top floor.
It bore a striking resemblance to a multilevel shopping mall, open atriums to lower floors, decorative plants and benches spotted around a central corridor lined with shops, restaurants and businesses. He strolled more or less aimlessly, gradually working his way downward. Not all the housing was in the restricted levels he realized, spotting the gated courtyards of apartment clumps, and rows of townhouses. He intercepted a good number of curious glances, but most of them focused on his uniform, not his physique or face. Enough spacers were tall, fat or muscular that he didn’t stand out as huge. The abnormalities of his broad shoulders, barrel chest, hard musculature and rigid slabs of his face usually didn’t register immediately.
Inevitably he worked his way down to the lowest level where the government offices seem to have gravitated. No use putting it off any longer. He’d heard all about rank creep in the ‘non military’ branches. He’d been a HQ Captain, to his disappointment, but if rumor was to be believed, the newly promoted Major was going to have fewer soldiers under him than he’d had as a Marine Lieutenant in the field. Hopefully more responsibilities. Hopefully involving skills he already possessed or could pick up quickly. He spotted the Space Division’s Crescent-and-Comet Symbol and walked in.
The pretty Corporal at the reception desk stood and saluted, much to his relief. Still run like military unit, he thought thankfully.
He returned the salute, "I’m Major Woods…"
"Oh yes, sir!" She jumped in enthusiastically, and with much apparent relief. His stomach knotted. "We’ve been expecting you, let me buzz Private Wolfe." Private Wolfe? He wondered, nodding permission. If I’ve missed the outgoing Major, shouldn’t I at least have a Captain?
The corporal busied herself with her board and after a brief wait the door to the right slid open and a figure tripped over some unknown and unseen object and staggered into a salute, "Major Woods, Private Sergio Wolfe, sir!"
Woods returned the salute woodenly, "Private Wolfe." He looked over the thin gangly figure. "Why don't you escort me to my office." I do have an office all my own don’t I? He managed to not ask it out loud.
"Yes, sir, this way sir!" Wolfe dived for his grip, and marched off. He
seemed to be trying to overcome the unfortunate impression his entrance
had just made. As he watched the private bounce off the doorframe,
Chuck rather thought it was a wasted effort.
Wolfe's briefing started enroute, as they passed bustling well staffed offices. "Security Battalion has stationed an entire company here, because of all the traffic. They take everything from Luna as soon as Lunar control hands it off and monitor it until it's taken by L5, L1, one of the LEO's or Johnson on Earth. And vice versa, of course. Everything coming here they keep handling, of course." They passed closed and air sealed doors down a side corridor, "And MB has a small unit here."
"Missile Battalion? They have missiles here?" Woods asked.
"I can neither confirm nor deny that, sir, mainly 'cause, like, they just
sorta' like look at you when you ask, you know?"
Woods nodded, not trusting himself to speak as Wolfe turned into an
echoingly empty suite of offices.
Wolfe marched straight back to a spacious well appointed office with,
of course, utterly blank walls. Chuck looked around hopelessly.
"Wolfe, have I got a staff? Have I got anything?"
Private Wolfe pulled himself upright and tried to radiate...something.
Then he gave up and collapsed. "Me. At the moment," he added hastily, "there’s a couple of other grunts out on medical leave, I told them, like, they ought get well really quick now."
The new minted Major sagged into the big posh chair behind the desk,
and pointed to another chair. "Sit. What is going on here?"
Wolfe squirmed a bit then started cautiously. "Major Stevens had
relationship difficulties. She, umm, wasn't really well qualified for this
position?" he offered tentatively.
"Well, after there were so many grunts getting section 15's or
requesting transfers or not re-upping, Batt OK'd the hiring of civilian
contractors, but they never stayed past the expiration of the contracts.
"Then there was the problem with Lieutenant Fonseca, even though the
court marshal cleared him, they transferred him out, and then Captain
Trinity got married and requested transfer over the Major's objections
and it got way unmellow and, well…she transferred. And then I guess Batt finally figured out maybe there was one problem person, not dozens and yanked the Major's butt back to Earth."
"Leaving one private holding the bag?" Chuck asked quietly.
"Yeah, well, see, it's only been a week, they knew you were on the way and didn’t figure actually talking to Major Stevens would help. There's a lot of reports on your computer, and a briefing and such." He said helpfully. Apparently he could either read Woods' immobile face or maybe he was just making an easy guess, "This isn't a real hot bed of crime, you know. There's a civilian police department for this station that's, like, pretty good for ordinary stuff, and L5 is one hundred percent Oh Oh Oh, uh, you know? Oleg Ori Orbitals?" at the major’s nod, Wolfe continued, "they’ve got their own security department. We just watch a few grody types on the hot list that live here, respond to crimes off the station and co-ordinate with the civ's. The only fun stuff is the industrial espionage and sometimes sabotage."
"Yeah," a wistful note entered his voice, "I, like, you know, really like
"Is that why you keep forgetting and start talking like a refugee from, like, the Pacific Rim California fad?"
"Oh, yeah, like, you know, it's tough to change speech patterns and
not make mistakes, so like, even when I'm not undercover, you know, I
keep talking like, you know, this."
"So, why aren't you infiltrating the Malibu Bangers?"
"Oh, like, I did that last year, and, you know, until my face change is,
like, totally done, man, I, like, gotta not show it anywhere." Sergio looked
innocently at him, "It was worth the surgery to trace the makers of all
those ripoff rejuve drugs. That stuff kills people." Grin. "Like, you know." Wolfe eyed him curiously, "Umm, Sir? May I ask where you’re from?"
Noticed something did you? "I’m from the Federal Research Laboratories, Roanoke, Virginia. I don’t know if I’m the only kid the UEG took out of there that’s still alive, I haven’t been encouraged to research the matter," he finished dryly.
"Oh," Wolfe was blank and silent, but not for long, "So, like, what do you think about the reports that the Chimpanzee Liberation Front is led by a," he squirmed, apparently starting to doubt the diplomacy of the subject.
"By a Killer-Super-Chimpanzee?" the Killer-Super-Semi-Human finished for him. "It’s been over fifty years and there’s been only one incident that might mean that some of the killer chimps escaped." He shrugged, "I don’t think it’s possible." Given the bloody takeover of the old United States’ tangle of espionage and security departments by the UEG military after the ratification of the United Earth Treaty, it was nearly miraculous that the Roanoke infants hadn’t been killed on sight. On the other side of the continent, the illegal militia’s superchimps, fully grown, trained and armed, hadn’t had a chance.
Wolfe nodded, looking relieved, and grabbed a new subject, "Hey, Sir? We got time, like, you know, to eat? I'm hungry. I know this, like, great place, like, on level B. There's this, like really gorgeous server there and I've got, you know, good vibes, like she might kind of, like, you know, like me, too. And I was, like, wondering..." He looked like a man who knew he shouldn't be saying what was coming out of his mouth. "How much wood . . . "
"Stop right there," Chuck interrupted, "Let's go eat. Then I need to find a place to live."