"…so I don’t know if that’s worth anything." Wolfe finally wound down. "The ship sounds real interesting, the President is actually coming up to dedicate it in person next week."
"I’ll see if Batt has anything on the Stuben woman," Chuck frowned, "It certainly sounds like Ori’s depending on her to a very unusual degree." The screen in front of him said exactly what it ought to about her. "This is ridiculously clean, birth and school records, nice and healthy, a few doctor appointments, not a single hospitalization, one traffic ticket in her entire life? I don’t believe it." He started hunting more records.
"Like, if she works so much in space, that would make sense, you know?" Wolfe fidgeted, "Can you get her travel records? Maybe what we need are OOO’s records, you know?"
"Got her employment records, she’s just a contract worker, well I shouldn’t say just, most of Ori’s personnel are contract, but usually not the ones at this level." He scrolled through the records, "She travels around a lot, but not back to Earth that often. Maybe I can see why she’s only had one speeding ticket after all. I wonder why she bothers with an apartment?"
"It may be one of those cubbyholes a lot of spacers have." Brooke inserted, blushing, and ducking her head, "Well, they’re nearly as cheap as rental storage and you can live there when you’re downside."
Chuck blinked at the thought of having so much stuff you couldn’t take it with you. "Right." He turned back to the screen. "She’s worked for OOO a lot, and a few other companies as well. I guess the frequent employment record explains why Ori puts so much trust in her. I’ll ask Batt, she might actually be a good conduit into OOO. Anyway, that was a good job, Wolfe. Gives us a real picture of how things work at OOO." He called up new data on the comp, "Which isn’t as quiet as usual, last week. Go read this report on the two embezzlers. A couple of his accountants seemed to have had an ‘accident’ just when it was discovered that they had been diverting funds into their own accounts. Not fatal, but it must have been close, judging by the agent’s report of their appearance. That agent is still at OOO at this time . . . Batt might actually let me talk to him or her." Chuck scowled at the comp. "Well, that’s it for now, I’m off, Baker you’re on the desk tonight?" she nodded.
This job, however far out of his experience range it was, was turning out to be reasonably interesting. He and Sergeant Tsau had split the day up between them, Tsau, strange fellow, was a morning person and had volunteered for the early shift. Woods overlapped with him and the privates rotated holding down the desk overnight, and called if something happened. So far no one had bothered to call either of them. He was slated to receive a dozen more people ‘soon’ according to Batt.
The Major’s reception at police headquarters had been brusque but polite, and he had left with the definite impression that one report a month was all the cooperation he was likely to get. Fortunately they were quite good, he could leave them to do their job with a quiet conscience.
The watch list had surprised him. He knew quite a few of the people on it. Apparently better than whoever had compiled the list.
Spider Johnny a subversive from the Asteroid Belt Confederacy? Good grief, half the Marines in space took their equipment to him to fix rather than deal with the paperwork involved with replacement. Besides, anything the Spider fiddled with worked better than spec when he was done.
Several organized crime syndicates were believed to be active, a bit of smuggling and a lot of industrial espionage, not too much sabotage out here, where working equipment was so necessary for life. Vigilante justice made it a non-paying proposition. The Space Navy was in charge of inspecting cargos, so most of the smuggling and tax evasion was their bailiwick.
The Chimpanzee Liberation Front was very active out here. Hardly surprising, ten times as many ichimps worked in orbital construction than in domestic jobs downside. They had to keep track of the twelve that worked steadily here at L4, as well as the horde currently under contract at OOO. His mind skittered nervously around more reports that a very unusual ichimp was the head of the CLF. Has to be a myth, he told himself, none of the ‘killer chimps’ escaped from the US Security raids. The ill fated Super Soldier project of an underground cadre of ‘patriots’, purportedly undertaken to counter the Chinese genengineered Red Guard had been raided, and all the ‘illegal experimental animals’ destroyed. The leaders had been prosecuted, and the scientists co-opted into the government program. Where they tried again with humans. Until the United Earth Treaty was passed, and the new order took power. Where the United States forces had killed all the chimps, the United Earth troops had balked at killing the infant supersoldiers, with their obvious human heritage. Not that they had needed to, the metabolic tinkering had interfered with proper liver function and killed nearly half the children before they could walk, and genetically induced overproduction of hormones had killed the rest of his siblings at, or before, puberty. Heart attacks and strokes had accounted for over half of them. Police had dealt with the rest. Major Chuck Woods knew full well that he himself depended on five separate implanted medical devises to keep his heart, liver and nervous system healthy, and his aggressive tendencies within the bounds of military usefulness. He had never married, and would absolutely never, ever have children. He was always up to date with his antifertility shots. Always. Taking a genetic sample from him was a felony, much to the annoyance of every Marine Doc he’d ever met. ‘Reg’s are, every marine…’ ‘Sorry, every Marine but one, and I’m him.’ He didn’t have a scar on his body and had been ‘fatally wounded’ four times. Could a Superchimp have survived? Probably he would never know. He dragged his attention back to the reports.
Of the four unaligned nations, only Guyana had any commercial interests in L4, and no government rep here, although the file on all the employees of the two Guyanese companies was interesting. Three to watch from there.
Tut, tut, members of separatist movements from eight countries, a total of thirty two people. Most of whom probably hadn’t had a political thought since college, to judge by their records.
The Pure Gene Poolers. Eight people to watch. No kidding. They’d actually taken the UEG to court to try and have all genetically altered humans (such as himself) killed to prevent the destruction of the human race. The really interesting thing about that was that they considered ichimps to fall into that category. Two names he recognized and could vaguely put faces to. Former marines. Weren’t they just going to go ballistic when they saw him. And he’d make a point to be sure they did.
And a big fat file on Oleg Ori. He’d been slogging through it, a little bit every night. The man had had a hand in every important space project for the last fifty years, and he’d only had one rejuve. Insanely young when he’d gotten started.
"Enough," he told himself, and headed for his new home. He almost made it out of the office before Baker hailed him, wide eyed. "It’s Lieutenant Colonel Updike, sir. Real time."
"She doesn’t bite, Baker," he said, turning back to his office. Real time? Must be important.
Updike started without the usual courtesies, "We’ve gotten our hands on an NSU agent. Not very high up, but someone that knows what the organization is up to. It appears Oleg Ori has hired them. Unfortunately the agent doesn’t know what he wants them for. But, we understand their leader is on OOO station." She sat back in satisfaction to watch the shock hit him.
"No Such Underground." He heard himself say. You didn’t have to be career CI to know about the organization. And the wild speculation about its reportedly glamorous female leader. Mata Hari, the newsies called her, falling for the myth wholesale. Thanks to them, there probably wasn’t a teenager on Earth that hadn’t heard about her. Wildly exaggerated, of course, and a lot bloodier when you looked at the real history behind the myth. She sure as hell wasn’t Robin Hood. A tidbit from Wolfe’s report came back to him. "The President is due to give a dedication speech on board that exploration ship OOO’s building for the government. An assassination, this time, do you think?"
"That seems obvious from their history, possibly deceptively so." The Director was all business. "They usually create, or take advantage of, a diversion, then hit somewhere unexpected. The President’s speech could be the diversion. But what is the real goal? There is usually some political motivation in their crimes. Some fatalities, often not, but some of the fatalities have been quite definitely deliberate."
Woods nodded at that, "Not that ‘Red’ Roger didn’t deserve it, but I read the official autopsy…thirty-eight hours is a long time to spend dying."
"Quite. I just don’t see either a personal or a diplomatic reason to assassinate Bussard. I favor the diversion theory, myself." She frowned, "We have agents all over OOO. They haven’t noticed anything wrong beyond Oleg’s personal idiosyncrasies. Assuming this information is reliable. We’ve been wrong often enough, in our eagerness to get Mata Hari. But this time She. Is. Not. Going. To. Get. Away."
He whistled thoughtfully, "I’ve just been looking into an assistant of Ori’s. She the project supervisor on the outer system ship. Adele Stuben." He called up all the data he’d been reading just a few moments ago, and compressed it into a burst transmission. "I thought the file looked a little too clean to be real. Is this what you get when someone’s creating an ID and only living it part time?"
"Let me take a quick look at this, Major." Her voice was almost absentminded, and her eyes were staring off to the side, no doubt at another screen.
He leaned back and tried to think while she read.
How many other projects was OOO working on right now? Better not limit his speculation to OOO, though, or even L5.He needed to check every shuttle leaving OOO to be sure Stuben wasn’t traveling. What other space structures, ships, projects, or whatevers’ theft or destruction would be worth NSU’s reputed price? What person, other than the President would be worth murdering? Oleg Ori? Could he be the target, rather than the client? Surely not, Ori had security checks that made the UEG’s look naïve. Stuben, one of his most trusted subordinates couldn't possibly be... Of course, Ori’s death would have incredible ramifications for space exploitation. Christ! There’s nothing in space he hasn’t got a piece of! The shit would hit the atmospheric recyclers for sure! He shivered a little, the magnitude of the possibilities overwhelming his sense of humor. NSU’s leader has been caught once in an eighty year long career in international mayhem. And she stayed caught for twenty-six whole minutes. Oh shit!
Lt. Col. Updike came back on, "Stuben’s taller than Huang is reported to be, and the facial contours are different, but that sort of thing can be arranged. All her finances are handled by her bank. All her income is accounted for and all taxes are filed and paid. She’s clean as a whistle and utterly invisible. If she’s inserted or removed data from Government Registration files, she’s done a seamless job. But we mustn’t focus exclusively on Stuben. May Huang has thrown us ringers before."
Chuck frowned, "May Huang? Do we actually know her name? I’ve only read the popular news stuff about her. Any hope of me getting the official records?"
"If you had any idea of the volume of data we’re talking about here you wouldn’t say things like that." She told him. "Plum Blossom Huang, AKA Mei Hua Huang, AKA May Huang, AKA Mata Hari. Born in Los Angeles, of mixed race, Chinese mostly. I’ll send you the most recently updated synopsis, it’s merely huge." She concentrated off screen for a moment, and his comp dinged as it digested a large lump.
"I’ll be sure and get our people actually on the ship. One’s there already, I think. Agent Kirby, whom we placed undercover on the ship’s construction crew, has been out of communication for two weeks. That may just be an artifact of the increasing security as we come up on the President’s visit."
"I hope so." Kirby eh? He should have realized that SD’s only ichimp would end up in CI. He’d met her in some specialist classes, and been impressed.
" . . . I will try to get a synopsis of her reports forwarded to you ASAP." continued Updike. "In the mean time, your newest transfers are on station and will be with you tomorrow." She frowned for a moment. "I think I’ll temporarily assign a squad of intermediate troops to you as well. Just in case you need them," she looked offscreen again, "I’ll have them for you next week, probably just about the time the President dedicates that ship." She frowned, "I’ll hustle them, in case you need them right then."
She tapped her fingers restlessly, then continued. "I know a source of information on May Huang…a medical research doctor working for the UEG…I’ll see if I can send her to you. She’ll not only be able to fill you in on Huang, I think she may well be one of the few people who could recognize her regardless of a disguise."
"Who?" he asked, almost reflexively.
"If the government OK’s her travel, she’ll tell you." She nodded firmly, "Goodnight Major." The screen went dark.
Chuck looked at the file size of the NSU report and decided it called for a recliner, and possibly a beer or three. He copied the file to a chip, pocketed it and headed home. This time he made it.
In retrospect, the school had turned out to be the easiest target. The ichimp staff (basic language lessons and janitorial duties) had been preparing for this for months. So it was just a standard evac drill just after bedtime when the nonresidential (human) staff had gone home and he’d given the rest an unplanned nap. All that was added was to get in the aircars. And the obedient, well-trained kids had done just that with nothing but a few doubtful looks. Ivan took note of those looks. Those were the kids he needed to talk to, to lead the other kids safely through this trip.
Once in the air, Ivan contacted the other groups. Livingston was practically stuttering over the situations he’d been forced to deal with, owners who didn’t think their slaves should be allowed out ‘to fornicate in those awful orgies’.
"I had to threaten them!" he was aghast at the memory.
"Did you get them all?" Ivan demanded.
"Yes, the East Coast is clear." He sighed.
"Excellent." He’d handled the few left in Europe himself three days ago, because there’d been serious problems there before. "I’ll see you at La Paz." He switched to another channel, which was answered after a long wait.
Dr. No was brief and monosyllabic. "I have them all." He switched off.
Ivan chewed his fingernails, wondering what No had had to do. But this was it. The last ichimps on Earth. They weren’t leaving a single one behind to be cloned and their slavery continued. He ran his eye over his own cargo. He hoped to hell there was no glitch at the La Paz Rail. Things could get messy with over two hundred ichimp kids. He checked again, yes the freighter was still standing by at LEO3, ready to head out as soon as they got there.
The school staffers had the kids quiet and strapped in. There were a few rows of empty seats up front and Ivan headed that way. As he went he picked out the five kids that were watching the proceedings with questions in their eyes, and took them with him. The youngest was about five, but the others were older, ten or eleven, about to ‘graduate’ to slave work.
"Do you all speak fairly well?" he asked, hands palm up and questioning.
"I do, sir." The little one answered first. The others nodded, cautious but not uncomprehending.
"You’re not farm raised are you?"
"No sir, but my…owners…went bankrupt and I was considered a valuable asset and appropriated and sold." Ichimps matured much faster than humans, but even so this was a bright little girl.
"What do you think," he spread his gaze and question around to the other kids, "about all the ichimps in the entire world flying away in a space ship to a new planet all their own. Where there will be no humans and everybody is free?"
The oldest boy frowned in disapproval, "Don’t you talk like that. We’ll be punished for even thinking about that."
The others shuffled nervously, but the little girl bounced happily. "That is an excellent idea!" she exclaimed, "Are we going to your space ship now?"
"It’s a little more complicated than that," Ivan said. "We’re going to the La Paz Magnetic Accelerator Rail. We’ll take a shuttle up to a space station and then we’ll get on my ship."
"Okay." She said, looking back at all the kids. "We’ll be monitors and help keep the little kids in line." She glared at the bigger kids. "Right." It was a command, not a question.
They gulped as one, but apparently they all knew her, because they were nodding. God of Chimpanzees, thank you for this child!
He threw her a mock salute. "OK, Sergeant Little, you’re in charge."
She saluted back.
Doctor Livingston was waiting quietly with five ichimps, they came and met him, four of the ladychimps reaching out and touching the children like they were a gaggle of holy symbols. And perhaps they were. These women hadn’t been allowed out in season and probably had little or no contact with other ichimps at all, let alone children. One ladychimp looked lost and frightened, touching nothing and no one. Probably house raised, and had never met another ichimp. A couple of the Europeans had been like that. At least she was here.
Doctor No’s entrance was a great deal more flurried. He carried one sleeping child and was followed by a stressed looking ladychimp with the other. Ivan jumped to his feet, "Where’s the other woman?"
"In the car," he answered, "Asleep, so to speak. She didn’t want to come." He looked at his watch, "take these kids and Cindy here and get them aboard as soon as you can."
Ivan called up the schedule on his comp, "they’ll start loading in a few minutes, Gate C345. Can you get her there?"
"If her kids are onboard." Dr. No said, "she’ll come."
"Okay," He turned to the horde of small bodies, and his young assistant jumped in and took over.
"Let’s line up, buddy system, everybody hold hands, and off we go." Bemused, he brought up the rear as she marshaled them into line and they followed Doctor Livingston deeper into the maze of the station. Doctor No headed back the way he’d come.
At the Gate, an officious man suggested that a field trip for future space workers could wait for a later flight, but one of the teachers simply mentioned that the kids were getting a bit cranky and might start getting noisy and they were hustled on board quickly. Ivan hung back, watching worriedly. Dr. No and an obviously furious woman ichimp came charging up to the gate. Ivan handed over the last three tickets and hustled on board as the ready lights started flashing.
The woman snatched her baby from the woman holding him and tried to juggle the toddler at the same time. "How dare you!" she turned on Ivan, "How dare you kidnap my children and me!" She stepped up close to him, and hissed between bared teeth, "Get out of my way. We are leaving." His fist moved so fast it was nearly invisible. As she crumpled, he grabbed the kids, handed them off, and then lifted the woman into an empty seat and strapped in beside her. The shuttle lurched as it started out toward the launch track. Step two. Check. Now for step three…