A-to-Z Challenge — Letter B
Astraeus Earth Force Station, 2115 A.D.
Chief Davies ordered the arrest of Adams. He hated this part of his job, putting innocent men into the hole just for doing their jobs. He had no choice though. If he wanted to keep Adams alive, he had to put him in protective custody and on Astraeus that meant the hole. He also made the necessary calls to Earth Gov to have Adams’ family put into protective custody. Every one of their lives uprooted over some damn spare parts.
Davies and Rourke sat in the Command Center planning their next move. If they went down on Kerchev too soon, they could spoil the entire operation. Kerchev couldn’t be working alone. Sure, he’s a smart guy, but not smart enough. He had to know he couldn’t keep Adams quiet indefinitely. Someone else had to be in on it. They would just have to wait it out. They would also have to keep Kerchev in the loop so not to arouse suspicion.
“I say we continue investigating the other two departments. Maybe by then, Kerchev will screw up and we will nail him and his accomplice,” Rourke said as he searched the Killion 2100 for more reports.
“Sure thing, sir. I can do a sweep of the Galley this evening. Just make it look like a routine inspection.”
“Did your guys find any unsanctioned parts in Mechanics?”
Davies took a sip of his coffee and shook his head. “No, but Kerchev has probably moved all of those parts by now. We are at least two to three months behind him.”
“Okay. I want your guys to…” Rourke began but the door buzzed and interrupted him. “Enter!” he shouted instead.
When the door slid open, Kerchev stood on the other side. He entered and placed several computer binders on the desk. He still looked disheveled, Rourke noticed, and nervous. He really hoped that Kerchev wasn’t on to them.
“What is it, Kerchev?” Rourke asked.
“Sirs,” Kerchev said, nodding at both men. “We’ve unencrypted more codes. This time from the Galley’s files.” He opened one of the computer binders and a display popped on to the screen. “Here and here, sirs,” he noted with a point of his finger at two places on the screen.
Rourke waved his hand over the screen and the display chart floated into the air before him. He studied it for a moment and then cursed under his breath. He had all sorts of military knowledge and stratagems in his head but he couldn’t make heads or tails of computer speak.
“What was hidden in the encryptions?” Davies asked.
Kerchev clicked on the binder and another file opened. “More acquisition files, sirs.”
This time, Davies waved his hand over the screen and three files floated into the air before them. Davies turned to look at Rourke, wide-eyed. “These are for Damask Exotic Fruits,” Davis said.
“Yes, sirs, they are. And if you will note,” Kerchev said, pointing to a time stamp on the forms, “two of the files have been used within the last thirty days.”
“We stopped dealing with Damask a year ago when some contaminated fruit got on to the station. Thirty people died from that fruit!” Rourke yelled, his anger getting the best of him again.
Kerchev closed the files and then opened another one. “That isn’t all, sirs.” He displayed the other file into the air. “This is an unencrypted bill of sales. Someone has already bought some of that illegal fruit.”
“There aren’t any names on the file,” Davies noted. “Are you sure this isn’t just another unused form?”
Kerchev pointed to the form and it zoomed in on the bottom with a time stamp. “As you can see, there is a signature, sirs, but not one that our data base could denote as coming from Chef O’Reilly or any of his staff. The fruit was sold three days ago.”
“Bloody hell!” Rourke screamed. “First we have defective spare parts loose on the station and now possible contaminated fruit! Did you ever find out who bought those spare parts, Kerchev?” Rourke asked, throwing a glance at Davies.
“No, sir. They went through Mechanics, but I haven’t been able to trace what parts they were or who in Mechanics is using them.” Kerchev removed the file from the air and closed it.
“Any festivals going on this week where that fruit might be used?” Rourke asked Davies.
Davies took out a small tablet from his shirt pocket and tapped on it. After searching for a moment, he said, “None that are registered, sir, but they have unregistered events down in the Caverns all the time. It’s almost impossible to track anything down there.”
The Caverns consisted of a mile long hold in Black Sector 5 that had never been completed due to budget cuts from Earth Gov. There was no electricity or heating there, which is why its inhabitants called it the Caverns. It was a cold and barren place filled end to end with unsavory characters – men, women and children who were destitute, lawbreakers of various sorts, thieves, and even a few notorious murderers. Chief Davies and his crew had little to no effect on anything that went down in that sector. Davies had a few spies living down there who reported on serious crimes, but for the most part, he had no eyes on the place. If anyone bought contaminated fruit down there, an epidemic could sweep through that place in a matter of days. And if Kerchev was in on this too, he would have the blood of thousands on his hands. His betrayal was adding up to some serious criminal charges.
Rourke dismissed Kerchev and slumped down in his chair. These small random acquisitions were spiraling out of control. How many lives would be affected? How many deaths? Rourke looked over at Davies who was now standing at the view window. He looked deep in thought with one hand resting by his side and the other combing through his goatee. Rourke had seen that look many times over the last 35 years. He’d known Davies when he was a rookie military cop on Ganymede. He was a good man, but a deeply troubled man too. He saw whole families destroyed by rogue insurgents trying to steal minerals from the mines. He watched his own fiancée slaughtered before his eyes because Davies wouldn’t rat out a loyal congressman to an intergalactic corporation. And he witnessed firsthand the carnage let loose by the Makaa. Davies was no stooge to Death. He’d stared Death in the face and defied it. When Rourke needed a security chief, he never hesitated to bring Davies on board.
“You think you can get some men down in the Caverns, Davies?”
Davies turned around, his eyes blank. “Yeah, sure. Not many though. Those bastards down there know most of my men, but I have a few who’ve never been near the place. They won’t mind going undercover.”
“You get eyes down there and have some men comb through the Galley. I will alert Dr. Agarwal and her team of a possible outbreak. I swear if this gets out of hand, I will personally strangle Kerchev!”
Rourke met up with Dr. Agarwal in the Medic Labs. She was a petite woman with long black hair, large brown eyes, and an infectious smile. She had more compassion than anyone he’d ever met. He stood in the doorway of the Labs for a moment watching her bandage a teenager’s leg. When she finished, she turned and smiled at Rourke, motioning for him to enter.
“So good to see you again, Commander,” Dr. Agarwal said, placing a hand on Rourke’s forearm. “I am finished here. Why don’t you join me in my office?”
Rourke followed the doctor into a small office with computer binders stacked on one wall and various artifacts from India on a bookshelf along another wall. The furnishings were sparse – a wooden desk, a small black executive chair behind it and another cushioned chair on the other side of the desk. The desk held only her Kellion 2100 and an intercom system. He waited for her to sit before he did so.
“What do I owe for such a visit today, Commander?” the doctor ask in her slow diction.
“It’s come to my attention that there may be some contaminated fruit from Damask down in the Caverns, Dr. Agarwal. As you know, the last contamination caused many deaths.”
Dr. Agarwal put a hand to her mouth and inhaled. “This is terrible news, Commander!”
Rourke nodded and continued, “Have you noticed any undocumented Caverners seeking medical attention in the last couple of days?”
“No, but then we rarely see them in the Medic Labs. Dr. Martin and one of his assistance offer a free clinic down there once a week, but their last visit was four days ago.”
“We could already have some sick folks down there, Doctor.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” Dr. Agarwal noted, then hit the intercom. “Dr. Martin, please come to my office, immediately.”
A few moments later, a tall African doctor entered the office. Rourke had seen him around a few times. He had prominent features – a sharp angled chin, a full brow and a muscular physique. He’d heard rumors that Dr. Martin was quite the lady’s man and he could understand why. He was a strikingly handsome black man. He also noticed that Dr. Agarwal seemed quite fond of Dr. Martin by the way she smiled warmly at him as he entered the room.
“Dr. Martin, the Commander was just filling me in on some contaminated fruit down in the Caverns. We don’t need another outbreak like we had two years ago. Can you assemble a team to go down and check on this situation?”
Dr. Martin nodded at Rourke and then turned his attention back to Dr. Agarwal. “Indeed, ma’am. I will get them down there immediately,” the African doctor said in a voice deeper than Rourke had expected.
Rourke watched the doctor exit the room and then smiled back at Dr. Agarwal. “He seems like a competent sort.”
“Oh, he is a fine doctor, Commander, but you mustn’t judge him on the rumors I am sure you’ve heard.” Dr. Agarwal grinned at Rourke and tilted her head to the side in a playful manner.
Rourke stood and leaned across the desk, placing a hand over Dr. Agarwal’s hand. “Ananda, you know I don’t run on rumors.” He whispered, winking at her.
“Of course not, Jeremy,” she whispered back.
Rourke stood upright again and walked toward the door. “Keep me posted, Dr. Agarwal.”
Davies’ team had spent the better part of the day tossing the Galley, but came up empty. If there was any illegal produce down there, it was well hidden. Davies sat at his desk in the Security Office going over some files on his computer. He’d already sent Shannehey and his team to the Caverns and was waiting on reports. He opened a secure link to Earth Gov’s database and did a search on Kerchev. He noticed the usual background check sanctioned by the government, but he needed deeper information. He opened a channel to Sanchez, a detective he knew back on Earth, and sent him a coded message: I need a thorough sweep on Anton Kerchev, ITT Technical Engineer, Astraeus Earth Force Station. Within minutes, he received a confirmation message from the detective and closed the channel.
Davies rubbed his chin and leaned back in his chair. The sweep would take at least a day, maybe more. He didn’t know how much time they had, but hopefully Sanchez would come up with something to help. Davies closed his eyes. He was bone-weary tired and hadn’t slept in two days. He was just about to drift off when the door buzzed.
“Enter!” he shouted and sat up in the chair.
Murphy, the man Davies and Rourke had interrogated earlier in the day, walked in holding a tablet and stood close to the door. His whole body covered the entrance and for a moment Davies wasn’t sure if he should ready his weapon or not. The man looked menacing.
“What is it, Murphy?”
The man cleared his throat and said, “Sir, I just thought you should know. I received an email asking me to encrypt some files. After what happened to Adams, sir… I don’t want to end up in the hole too!”
That big man looked horrified. Davies stood and waved his hand for Murphy to enter and sit down. “Show me the email.”
Murphy turned on his tablet and called up the email manifest. After he opened the email, he pushed the tablet over to Davies. “This is it, sir.”
Davies studied the email. There was no return address. Just a message for Murphy to encrypt an attached folder. He opened the folder. Inside were five files, each one acquisition forms for various companies that were no longer sanctioned by the Station. Two were for mechanical equipment, two others were from various food vendors and the last one was from an excavation company that dealt in stolen artifacts.
“Can you trace who sent the message, Murphy?”
Murphy lowered his eyes and then whispered, “I already did, sir. Which is why I came to you.”
“Tell me, Murphy!” Davies was losing his patience.
Murphy tapped on the screen and opened a tracking file. Pointing to it, he said in a low voice, “It came from the Commander’s office, sir.”
Davies bent over the tablet, looking at the tracker with disbelief. He’d known Rourke for most of his life. This was not possible.
“You keep this to yourself, Murphy! Do you hear me? If you so much as utter a single word I will have you down in the hole so fast you won’t know what hit you!” Davies yelled, slamming his fist on the desk.