"So," Chuck had quickly dropped three quarters of his officer’s veneer over the last week. "Welcome to L4 Sergeant, I sincerely hope you knew what you were being thrown into." Judging by the still healing scars on his face and the tell tale featureless iris of his right eye, it would be a great deal safer than his last assignment.
Sergeant Robert Tsau, who had arrived late yesterday, seemed relieved by his relative informality, and appalled by the staff of three he had just been given. Officers could be as casual as they liked. Privates, however were entirely different. Woods predicted rough skating for Sergio, and was determined to find something ‘fun’ for him to do.
"I’ve posted most of these reports on the central comp. I recommend that all of you at least read the summaries, as orientation." He glanced at Sergio, "Wolfe, give us a quick overview."
The undercover-agent-by-choice had been vehemently against speaking in public, and Chuck had had to make him rehearse even this tiny bit. The other two privates, just back from medical leaves, knew all this anyway, but with such a small group Chuck wanted them all in on everything, and with virtually no chain of command, they all needed to know they could talk to him. Batt was promising him more people, but the sergeant was all they had sent immediately.
"Our area of responsibility is actually quite large, it comprises this station and all other facilities around it, all the L5 facilities, and all ships in transit under L4 Traffic Control." Wolfe appeared to be concentrating hard, probably trying to suppress an attack by raging ‘likes’ and ‘you knows’. "The civilian police department of L4 and the Oleg Ori Orbitals corporate security department take care of ninety-nine percent of the problems." He shuffled some papers, "This office receives their monthly reports. The small number of complaints we get from ships in transit form the bulk of our actual criminal investigation activity." He squirmed, "We also have a watch list of, at the moment, fifty-six people with links to organized crime, political movements or foreign interests. Err, that’s it, really."
"Thank you, private." Chuck turned to the Sergeant, "I’m afraid it’s a very small command, at the moment. I’m as new as you are, and still getting a feel for the situation."
"Am I correct in assuming that our main task seems to be taking the reports from the L4PD and OOOSD and padding them a bit to make ourselves look good." Tsau looked a bit sour.
"At first glance, yes." Chuck agreed. "I’m still looking into a lot of the details, especially the watch list. I am not very happy with our relationship with OOO. I think I may need to go over and talk to them, and see if everything is really as quiet and peaceful as the reports indicate. The entire organization seems almost opaque to government scrutiny. I’ll be talking to Batt and maybe find out if we’ve got people in place over there."
Tsau nodded thoughtfully, "I suspect you’re right. They do so much government work, they must be riddled with ops."
Wolfe looked wistful at the thought, "If not we could, like, try it ourselves."
"Sir," Brooke Baker, who looked too young to be serving, and had in fact just finished her first year, spoke up, nervously fingering the paper in front of her. "The daily brief from Batt was just coming in, and I spotted something and grabbed the top page on the way in here…" She looked guilty as her voice trailed off.
"Something interesting Baker?" Good God, the shy little thing does know how to talk!
"It’s political, not criminal, umm," she stared down at the sheet, blushing and probably wishing she’d never spoken. How had she gotten through Basic? In the Space Navy, of course, he reminded himself. CI drew from all services. "Yesterday OOO gave some VIPs a guided tour of the outer system exploration ship they’re building. That Reverend Vorp that’s on the watch list was there, and someone from ‘For the Children’ and the Secretary of State of Guyana and Heyo O of ‘Racial Ratios’, he’s on the watch list too."
"Yesterday?" Chuck thought quickly, "Where are they now? Is there any chance of talking to them?"
"Like," Wolfe squirmed, "I think they’re all on the UE watch list, not at our level."
"Yep, but OOO is our baby. Do you know," Chuck murmured, "I’m not sure but that their opinions of Oleg and his staff might not be of more interest than the reverse. I’d love to hear what the technophobe prophet thought of Oleg." He intersected several glances, "I met him once, he’s…abnormal in a way I’ve never seen before or since. I really can’t describe it."
"They must have transferred to and from shuttles at OOO station, nothing’s allowed to go straight to the ship." The third private, John Herring, had his hand comp out. "There are transfer shuttles to L1 every two hours, and directly to LEO3 every 4 hours. And the VIP shuttle to LEO2 once a day." He peered at Brooke’s print, "Does it give any times? No?" He frowned at his comp. "I don’t see how they could have come in on the VIP, gotten a tour and still have caught the VIP outgoing. Most likely they’re on today’s run, right now." He glanced at his watch, "Which will dock at LEO2 in about eight hours." He tapped some more, everyone silently watching him, as he started grinning. "There’s a fast mail pod from here to there that will leave in thirty minutes and gets to LEO2 just ahead of them."
Wolfe turned pleading eyes on Woods, who consulted his own hand comp. Huh, he had a pretty good travel budget. "OK Wolfe, grab your civi’s and get." Wolfe sketched a salute and bolted.
He saw the Sergeant frowning, and said, "I need to check things out, get enough different frames of reference that I can see what might really be happening." He shrugged, an impressive gesture, "Probably nothing to be gained with this, but this office, sorry," he nodded to the two privates, "has apparently been a pathetic joke for at least two years now. Even running around on wild goose chases and making stupid mistakes is an improvement." He glanced at his watch, "I have an appointment shortly with the Chief of Police, and will no doubt get in everyone’s way over there with a VIP tour of my own."
Baker bit her lip nervously, and gulped, "You may get treated like, umm," she faltered.
"Something that crawled out from under a rock and needs to be stepped on." Herring finished for her. "Don’t expect good will, it all got used up a couple of years ago."
"I see." Chuck thought about asking for details, then decided not to. Easier to ignore hostile reactions, if you were ignorant of their causes. Maybe.
The last delivery truck that would be coming to the Jefferson Davis Foundation for a week was ushered through the gate with a minimal inspection. Ivan vaulted over the fence while the live guards’ attention was on the vehicle, and slipped into the attractive landscaping. He knew it was the last delivery truck, because he had rescheduled the rest of them himself. And he had disabled the security department’s direct line to the nearest police station while he was in the system. Among other things. And he only had to cover his tracks for a week. He felt minimally guilty for what he was going to do to the families of everyone that worked at this house of horrors. For the workers, he felt no more guilt than a housewife dealing with cockroaches. Ding Dong. The Exterminator is here.
Some employees were still shifting the boxes just delivered. When their backs were turned, he slid quietly in, around and past them. Jeeze, their security was lax. Complacent fools. He was halfway to the security department’s office when some one noticed him on the vids spotted all over the place.
Hasty footsteps proceeded their owners around the corner behind him. "Hey Fuzzy! Back in the cage." He stood there in sheer disbelief as two men walked right up to him armed with… a cattle prod? No, the second man at least had a stunner in a closed holster. He watched first one’s expression start to change as the details of this particular ichimp started to register and snapped a hand to the man’s neck, stepped past him and grabbed the second one and smashed his head against the wall. He left them there, picking up speed he rushed the Security department. They were incredibly slow, he arrived just as the first squad was exiting and literally walked over the first man through the door, being careful to crush his trachea as he did so. He snatched the laser pistol from the second and serviced all the targets in sight, switching guns as needed. He shut down the alarms, scanned the vid monitors and went hunting.
Two hours later, there were no humans left alive in the building. The gate guards had come running to help secure the internal security breach and had been added to the body count. The ovens that disposed of all medical waste here in this high tech slave pen were already hot; he fed them everything biological he could find anywhere. He segregated the comm computers and automatic message center then restored the outside lines. All other computers, science or business were scrapped. Thoroughly. It took all day to be sure. As expected, the second shift, mostly security and a few techs to mind the shop, showed up in the late afternoon. He ambushed them outside the gate. So convenient, the Foundation wanting such privacy.
And then the part he had been dreading. He entered the room where the Foundation’s ‘breeding stock’ lived. He knew their names, knew the prototypes had all died years ago, knew Conan was the only survivor of the ‘first generation’ ichimps, knew that there were three ‘second generation’ ichimps still alive, and that the twelve ‘third generation’ ichimps were, thanks to reproductive sciences, the parents of every ichimp the Foundation had ever sold.
"OK," he spoke loudly into the large room. The sixteen cages were large, and surrounded by lush greenery in pots. "We’re going on a trip." The ichimps blinked nervously at him, they’d been treated like animals, punished for acting like anything but animals for all their circumscribed, deprived lives. Just looking at the room made him sick and furious. He could feel his metabolism revving, and took a deep calming breath. He cut open each door, and swung the doors wide. Might as well find out what they’ll do now, he thought. The old thin male came out first, then the two that had cages on either side joined him, huddling close. One of the old ladychimps snuck a look at him, and surprised him by speaking. "Where we going?"
"Far away, where there will be no humans, only ichimps." He answered, wondering if any of them had ever been in a car, let alone a plane or spaceship.
"No such place." Another male left his cage, then they were all out, touching each other, hugging.
"Come with me," Ivan led off, and to his relief they all followed. The Foundation had a bus, larger than he needed, which he had already loaded with everything they’d need for the trip. The novelty of the seats and free access to what was obviously unusual, and very tasty food kept the ichimps occupied while he activated a few surprises he was leaving behind, then he locked the doors and rolled out of the bus bay. The chimps all rocked at the movement, grabbing and holding on, then exclaiming in wonder over the nightscape. And a very good start indeed Ivan thought, as he turned onto the highway, in three hours he’d turn these guys over to some friends, who’d take them on from there. Step one, check. Next, the Jefferson Davis Foundation School for ichimps.
"We've got mechanical engineers in droves, and the hard sciences are reasonably well covered. Where we’re weak is in the biological sciences, especially medicine. Some more qualified spacers would be good, too. And soldiers." Richard Beringar hunched over his comp, scowling. "And now I have too many women."
Ms. Stick, who had been studiously ignoring his grumbles, looked up at that. "I need to get my ears checked," she said dryly, "I would have sworn . . . " She strolled over to look at his list.
"I know, I know, it doesn't have to be perfect." He leaned back with a sigh, "It just seems like, with only three thousand people, the gender ratio should be close to equal." He looked at the list and felt the butterfly stirrings of doubt. "What if they don't want to go?"
"Then you’ll be going with only your core group. With the pure gene stocks, it will work." Ms. Stick glanced at the list on Beringar's console. "I really think you should eliminate a few of those, umm, extremely attractive, but not exactly . . . pioneering types. I really can't see Maribella being anything but a burden. You won't need a drop dead gorgeous receptionist."
"Yeah, but she smiled at me, yesterday."
"Thus short-circuiting your brain? Richard, once she manages to access your bank balance, she'll be looking for a new job. She's not a good choice."
He glared half heartedly at her, then glumly realized that yet another attempt to kid her had failed miserably. He removed Maribella and four more similarly unintelligent beauties from the list. What's wrong with adding just a few really pretty ones? He snorted to himself. Ms. Stick was pretty, although not spectacular. But she had this . . . aura. Even men that didn't know her history shied away from her.
"Ah, you're just saying that because you don't like her."
"I just wish she were at least subtle." Stick shut her mouth with a snap as the lady in question walked in without knocking.
"Oh, Richie!" she cried, "Those awful picketers are back, I just can't face them! How am I going to get home?" She managed to wail and look alarmed while showing a great deal of cleavage and leg. Amateur! Did she have any idea of how many women had made passes at him in the past?
"I'm sure Ms. Stick will be glad to escort you through the picket line." Both women glared at him. "And since I'm leaving Earth soon, I want you to take a month's vacation. I'll call when I get back from Venus."
"Venus! Oh that sounds so exciting!" Bright eyes rounded and eager, maybe he should have let her get a glimpse of the slim pickings of his financial situation. Every penny he owned was sunk in this project. And more than a few borrowed as well.
"Actually, it's boring, nothing but space construction in orbit. Have a nice vacation." His voice was firm and impersonal, so with a disappointed pout she allowed Ms. Stick to usher her out.
He checked his list again. Everyone going with him next week was in the know, but no one at the Venus station had been told, he just hoped the personal profiles were accurate, and as useful at predicting human reactions as its designers claimed.
He frowned uncertainly at the last item on his list. Insurance. Did he need it? Or was this a very bad move? He tapped fingers on the desk uncertainly, then tapped in a comm code.
"Dr. von Monkenstein, glad to catch you in." he greeted the ichimp that answered the comm with false cheer. Damn ichimp, had to be a hybrid to be that smart.
"Mr. Beringar! A pleasure and a surprise. What can I do for you?"
"As you know the ram scoop is on its way to Venus orbit. I'm leaving next week to see it installed, personally. I'd like you to come, as well. I understand you're in the middle of the semester, but your teaching load isn't large this semester, is it?"
The shrewd simian face eyed him, "Richard, you know perfectly well I'm not teaching this semester, so's to finish up the tests on the magnetic couplers. The full scale models showed some fascinating effects, nothing we can't avoid for your project, but with immense ramifications in the future. Did you read the report I sent you?"
"I scanned it, that's one of the reasons I wanted you to accompany me to Venus. Meet us at the La Paz accelerator, Thursday. We're taking the 2200z shuttle to LEO3." Beringar leaned into the comm, "We really need to talk."
"OK, Richard, but you're losing all right to complain if the mag tests are late." Von Monkenstein warned him. "Hmm," he looked aside at another display, "I think I'll go up early, I have friends working orbital construction I'll visit as long as I’m passing through. Are you taking your company shuttle from there?"
"Yep. I'll see you in LEO3 on Thursday, then." Beringar signed off with satisfaction, then looked defensive as he caught a glare from Ms. Stick. "I didn't know you were back."
"Richard, don't even think about threatening the NSU, especially not her." Ms. Stick's voice was flat and grim. "Don't. This is one hostage you don't want to take."
"Ms. Stick, you may be older than me, all right older than anyone, but I have dealt with criminals before. I know what I'm doing."
"Mister Beringar," Ms. Stick was exasperated, "I lived with criminals for twenty years. On Death Row after that unfortunate accident on my wedding night. Don't break covenant with a professional. Especially not this one. The organization has a reputation of complete professionalism. And ruthlessness when needed."
"Look, I really want to trust the organization, but most of the people on the job work directly for them, not me. They don’t believe. Hell, I think a lot of them are ichimps, makes me sick to think that the ship has been built with their labor." He scowled, trying to articulate his gut feelings. "There's no reason for them to just hand the ship over to me. If she decides not to, there's not a thing I can do about it. But with Monkenstein on board, she'll have to at least pick us up. It's literally the only leverage I have."
"Richard, this is not just any criminal we're talking about. Do you have any idea of the reputation she's got? The organization itself is bad enough. You do know that it was formed by all the Old US Federal agents who escaped the purge? From what I’ve heard, she has resources well beyond them." she looked closer to upset than any of his silly jokes had ever managed.
"That's just it. Her organization. A good part of it's going to be on board. Trust me, we need a lever, even if we never look like pulling it. I know we probably won't. But a bit of insurance never hurt. You'll see." As he turned back to his screen he said, "And call Vorp, tell him to limit the demonstrations here, they’ve had the desired PR effect and are just a nuisance now."
"Have you thought about checking his organization for recruits?" she asked, "He’s got just about every sort of person imaginable."
"God no!" He looked at her in horror. "They’re weak minded gullible fools, every one of them, not suitable breeding stock at all."
She shrugged, "You know many of the best are hounded and oppressed out of jealousy. If you are seriously short of some specialties, you might check there."
He scowled, suspecting she was manipulating him. But she was right. "If I need to," he said.