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A-to-Z Challenge — Letter E

April 6, 2015

Evasive Tactics
Astraeus Earth Force Station, 2115 A.D.

Rourke and Davies leaned over the crates, removed the artifacts and cataloged them. In all, there were twenty-three statues, each one from different alien worlds and each one sacred. Rourke understood why these aliens didn’t want their religious relics owned by Earthlings. They were made from precious metals unique to the aliens’ home worlds and adorned with gems unknown on Earth. Earthlings had proven themselves to be greedy in the seventy-five years of intergalactic travel. Whole worlds had been exploited, stripped of natural resources and sold to the highest bidders among wealthy corporate leaders. Little regard was shown for the religious and historical significance of the artifacts. Instead, they were often melted down and stripped of their jewels. An intergalactic committee was formed, the IBI, which outlawed and put strict guidelines on the ownership of alien artifacts. Some alien worlds voted for the perpetrators to be put to death and others for steep fines. The mere presence of so many illegal artifacts on board the Astraeus could cause an intergalactic war.

“We need to contact a liaison in the IBI,” Rourke said as he sat down and wiped perspiration from his forehead.

Davies nodded. “You should contact Ambassador Amon. He has the clearest shot at dealing with the IBI. Did you call Katie?”

“Yeah, she is a mess. I booked her on the first shuttle here. She should be arriving later this month,” Rourke replied. “Did your team ever find out who owned that tent?”

Davies paced back and forth across the Command Center, his hands inside the khaki pants of his uniform. He stopped in front of Rourke’s desk and sat down across from him. “Not yet. Apparently it is a storage tent, but no one is talking down there. I was able to track when the crates entered the station… a month ago, according to the manifest. Kerchev’s name was listed as the recipient.”

‘Have you heard from that detective yet?”

Davies shook his head. “No, but he is thorough. He won’t get back to me until he has found out everything he can. I had Adams sneak into Tech last night and put a keystroke virus in their systems. I haven’t had time to check in with him on it, but if he flags anything, he will call.”

“Okay, keep me posted,” Rourke said and then leaned forward. “Charles, I want you to bump up security down in S&R. It’s going to be a real pain in the ass for your officers, but I want every ship searched, and every crate, package and letter opened before they even reach the docks.”

“I’ll get on it. Are you approving over-time?”

“Whatever it takes. We can’t afford anymore contraband on the Station. And Charles, keep your interrogators on the Caverners. Bribe them if necessary.”

Davies stood and walked toward the door. He turned, placed his hand over his heart and said, “Will do, Jeremy. We will get this guy, whoever he is and any accomplices he may have. This I swear!” Davies bowed and turned quickly to leave.

Rourke smiled at Davies’ theatrics and watched as his old friend left the room. Davies knew how to cheer Rourke up, no matter how bad things seemed. Finally alone, Rourke hunched his shoulders and sighed. It was days like this that he wished he was still a captain of his own ship, alone in space with only a small crew and no politics to bother him. When he took this job, he didn’t think about all the responsibility. He had foolishly believed that he had made the right choice. He gave up the Achilles for Astraeus in hopes of making a difference for Earthlings and their place in the Universe. And he had. For the last ten years they’d known peace with their alien neighbors. Diplomacy wasn’t Rourke’s strongest suit, but he’d prevented several wars, and Astraeus was well-respected.

“Computer, put me through to Ambassador Amon.”

Seconds later, a deep Katharian voice answered. “Commander Rourke, it is a pleasure to hear from you. How many I be of service?”

“Hello, Ambassador Amon. I wish this was a leisure call, but I need your services immediately. Can you come to Astraeus?”

There was a momentary pause and then the Ambassador replied, “I know you wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t an emergency, Commander. I will be there in three days.”

“Thank you, Ambassador. I will see you then. Ne me atok,” Rourke answered, his words meaning with deep respect and reverence in Kathari. Rourke ended the call and leaned back in his chair. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He craved sleep, but he knew sleep would have to wait. He sat up and reached into a desk drawer, pulling out a vial of green liquid –pure chlorophyll, a natural energy source approved by Earth Gov. Opening the vial, he drank the entire contents and waited for the effects.

_____________________________________________________________

Adams sat at a desk in the Security Center studying the latest data on his tablet. Murphy had been sent back to Mechanics, but no one knew that Adams wasn’t still in the hole, so he couldn’t go back to work. Instead, Davies had him monitoring keystrokes from Tech. There were twenty Techs to watch, including Kerchev, but so far Adams hadn’t discovered anything out of the ordinary. He rubbed his head and then his eyes. He’d been at this all day and had developed a headache. He reached into his jacket pocket and took out a bottle, and then glanced around the room. No one was watching him. He took two pills. If Davies found out Murphy had given him ESP, he would get thrown back into the hole, along with Murphy. An officer walked by and Adams quickly hid the bottle. He waited until the officer was out of range, eying him suspiciously the entire time, and then went back to monitoring the database in front of him.

Suddenly a red light began flashing across the screen. Someone sent an email from the Commander’s account, but it was not from the Commander’s computer. Adams began a trace, but whoever sent it was using evasive tactics; the email bounced from servers as far away as Earth. Adams checked the keystroke database, but it showed no one in Tech had used a system there.

Adams turned on the intercom and called Davies. “Sir, someone sent an email through the Commander’s account,” he said, still trying to trace it.

“Did you trace it?”

“No sir, it’s bouncing. Wait a minute!” Adams continued clicking on the tablet and then muttered a string of explicatives under his breath. “Sir, the email was sent from a computer down in S&R.”

“Whose computer, Adams?”

Adams cleared his throat and then replied, “My station, sir, but I haven’t been down there in two days!”

“Can you tell if the computer is still operational?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Call me back if it shuts down. I am on my way there now,” Davies said, ending the call.

_____________________________________________________

Davies slammed his fork down on the table. This was his first real meal in days and now he wasn’t even going to get to eat it. Damn it, he muttered. He placed a call to his lead officer and one to Rourke, then headed for the lift. He had to catch whoever had sent that email. When the lift opened in Mechanics, he met up with his lead and two other officers. A few seconds later, the lift opened and Rourke came out to join them.

“Adams said the email came from his station,” Davies told the officers. “Tomas, you circle around to the back of the shop. Martin and Hicks, you come with me and the Commander.”

Tomas headed off to the left. He was the team’s best sharp shooter, just in case they needed the fire power. The other four proceeded up the main thoroughfare and into the offices where the computer stations were located. When they got to the entrance, Davies peeked around the doorway. He motioned for the men to arm themselves and then went inside the office. The four men walked quietly down the hall to the computer terminals. Tomas was on the other side of the room, waiting for orders. The room was empty, but the terminal was still on.

“Damn it!” Davies said, then slammed his fist down on one of the tables in the room.

Rourke put his laser back into its holster. “I want that terminal scanned for fingerprints,” he said to the two officers. He was tired of being jerked around by this hacker. Whoever was responsible had already caused more than enough trouble the last few days. He turned to Davies. His friend’s face was red and his jaw clinched. “See if Adams can figure out who that email was sent to and what’s in it. I am going up to Command.”

Davies stared at Rourke for a moment, shaking his head. Then he straightened up and composed himself, his anger subsiding. “Okay. I will call you if I hear anything.”

Rourke left and Davies instructed the officers to do as the Commander had ordered. “Find some damn fingerprints on that thing!” he exclaimed.

Davies headed for the lift. He’d never been so pissed off and frustrated in all of his forty-nine years. When he got back to Security, he sat down across from Adams.

Adams looked up from his tablet. “Did you get him?”

Davies shook his head. “The bastard was gone. The Commander wants to know if you can track where that email went and what’s in it?”

“That’s what I’ve been doing since you left, sir. The reason it was bouncing around servers on Earth is because it went to New York.”

“New York? Why there?” Davies asked as he stroked his goatee.

“I don’t know, sir. I cannot retrieve the email, but it landed at Stony Brook University.”

“Any one specifically?”

“No one specifically, sir, but it landed in the Anthropology Department’s queue,” Adams said, turning his tablet around and showing the results to Davies.

Davies stood and walked behind Adams, patted him on the back and said, “Good job, Adams. I will let the Commander know what you discovered. In the meantime, keep monitoring Tech.”

“Yes, sir!” Adams replied, a crooked smile on his face and his eyes glassed over.

(more to come in tomorrow’s challenge!)

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