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A-to-Z Challenge — Letter J

April 12, 2015

Jackals
Astraeus Earth Force Station, 2115 A.D.

By 6:00 am, Davies’ team still hadn’t located the Makaa. Every tent had been tossed, the few “businesses” down there had been searched, but they’d come up empty. Davies and Rourke sat in the Command Center pouring over the blueprints of the Caverns. There had to be a hidden room or pipeline somewhere that wasn’t easily accessible. Rourke zoomed in on one section and, with a wave of his hand, sent it into the air, creating a 3-d version of it.

“This looks odd,” he said, pointing to a small section just west of what was now the illegal nightclub and casino they’d found days before.

Davies trained his eyes on it, studying it for a moment. “Looks like a small alcove of sorts. Bruin and his team hit that place hard. If there was a hidden room, they should have found it.”

“Did any of the contractors who worked on the Caverns remain on the Station after the project disbanded?”

Davies thought for a moment, running his fingers through his goatee. “Most of the contractors worked directly with Centrifuge, the company hired for the job. Hold on, let me check something,” he said, pulling out his tablet. After a few clicks, he looked up at Rourke and smiled. “Michael Chen. He was a structural engineer on the project. He took a job in Mechanics after everyone else left.”

“Structural engineer, eh? Sounds like he may know a few things that could help us. Can you get him down in the Caverns?”

“Sure thing. I will have him meet us there,” Davies said, tapping on his link-in and placing a call through to Chen.

Thirty minutes later, Rourke and Davies met with Chen at the entrance of the Caverns. Rourke had brought his tablet and opened up the blueprint files. He showed the anomaly he had spotted to Chen.

“Did you ever work in this section of the Caverns?” Rourke asked Chen.

“I did, sir. This area here,” he said, pointing to a small boxed-in area just north of the one Rourke had shown him. “This was supposed to lead to a security lift. We had most of the hallway built and the shaft nearly done when we were shut down. We were ordered to seal it so there wouldn’t be any mishaps in the shaft.”

“Do you think you can show us where that seal-off is?”

“Yeah, I am pretty sure I can find it.”

The three men entered the Caverns. They wound and twisted their way through the tent cities. The place smelled of urine and feces, rotten food and human sweat. Rourke covered his mouth and nose a few times and Davies chuckled at him. Dirty and rag-tattered men, women and children peppered the place, some lingering in the hallways, others sitting inside their tents, fear displayed on their faces. Their lives had been disrupted numerous times over the past week and they trusted no one.

When they came upon the area of the nightclub, Rourke pulled up the blueprints on his tablet again. The people living down there had made some modifications. Partitions, where empty spaces should be, had been built, creating a maze-like nightmare. Rourke looked up at Chen, squinted his eyes, a puzzled look on his face.

“What do you make of this mess?” he asked the Chinese-American engineer.

Chen glanced at the blueprints and then at the maze of partitions, over and over again. After a few moments, he began walking east. Rourke and Davies followed him. They twisted through the structures, sometimes going east, sometimes west until they came to a wall on the west side. A large metal shelf lined most of the wall. Chen began knocking on the plastered wall on either side of the shelf.

“It’s a false partition, sir,” he said as he began searching the shelf for a mechanism to open it.

Davies joined in on the search, scanning his fingers along the lip of each shelf. Chen lifted machine and computer parts and pushed other things back. Rourke stood on the left side and began shoving the shelf to see if it would move. When that didn’t work, he pulled on it. Nothing budged. Davies did the same on the right side of the shelf. Still nothing happened. The three stood back from the shelf, looking at it long and hard. Chen stepped forward and shown his light over all surfaces. He stepped back, turned and looked at Rourke and Davies, grinning.

“I think I know how they open it,” he said, stepping back to the shelf. He pushed a large object back on the first shelf, pulled another object forward on the next, and slid another object to the side on the third shelf. The metal shelf slid open to the right. ‘Eureka!” Chen yelled.

“How the hell…,” Davies exclaimed, his mouth wide opened, blinking.

“I followed the dust trails,” Chen said, still grinning.

Rourke patted Chen on the back. “Lucky fellow!” he exclaimed. “Let’s go!”

Rourke and Davies turned on their lights and followed Chen into the dark hallway. They shinned their lights ahead and could make out a couple of opened doorways, one on each side of the hallway. A faint light glowed from one of the rooms. Davies got out his laser and charged it. He motioned for Chen to get behind him. The three of them crept down the hall, their breathing barely audible. As he approached the door, Davies slowly glanced inside. Rourke held his breath.

“Damn it,” Davies whispered. “It’s empty.” He crossed the hall and shinned his light into the other darkened room. It was empty too.

The three men went into the lighted room. Along the back wall were three make-shift beds and scattered debris. A large hive of sorts had been created on the south wall, typical of the Makaa. In order to survive, they had to spend at least a couple of hours a day inside the hive where they gained nutrients that kept them and the hive alive, a symbiotic relationship. Rourke went over and checked the hive. It was well on its way to dying which could only mean none of the Makaa had been inside for at least three days. They’d been there, but had probably been moved when Davies’ team came down to rescue the sick three days prior.

Davies kicked one of the beds and then some of the debris. “Those bastards were here! Now where the hell are they?”

“Chen, are there anymore areas down here that you guys had to seal-off?” Rourke said, opening the blueprints again.

Chen began pointing at areas on the blueprints, finally he said, “Sir, there are probably ten or more areas that got sealed off. I didn’t work in all of them and they aren’t all on these blueprints. These are the originals. Modifications were made and new sections were being built before the shutdown.”

Rourke closed the files. “Who would have copies of those modified blueprints?”

“Probably Centrifuge, sir.”

“Do you have any contacts there?” Davies asked.

“Screw contacts!” Rourke yelled. “I will call up the head engineer… hell, the CEO, if I have to. I am getting tired of these games going on around here. Chen, stay available in case we need your help again.”

Chen nodded. “Yes, sir.”

Rourke turned to Davies. “If it takes all day, I want your team down here with sledge hammers, knocking on walls and busting through partitions. If you need more men, get them from Mechanics. I want the Makaa found!”

_________________________________________________________

Rourke spent the next half hour getting the run around from Centrifuge. The Mars based company lost most of its Earth Force contracts after its shut down on Astraeus. Earth Gov had lost confidence that the company could finish projects within budget. In fact, they’d been billions of dollars over-budget on Astraeus. Probably from those modifications, Rourke surmised. He bet they were unsanctioned, but why? He was still pondering the possibilities when Carl Johnson, the Head of Engineering, came on the call.

“Commander Rourke, how may I help you?” the man said.

“Mr. Johnson, it has come to my attention that modifications were made down in Black Sector 5 before the job was terminated.”

“That is correct, Commander.”

“And you sealed off most of those unfinished sections?”

“We did.”
“Mr. Johnson, I need the modified blueprints sent to me.”

Johnson cleared his throat. “I am afraid I cannot do that, Commander.”

Rourke let out a heavy sigh. “And just why not?”

“All of our plans were confiscated by Earth Gov after they terminated our contracts. I am afraid if you need those plans, you will have to ask them.”

“I don’t understand. Is that usual practice?”

Johnson paused for a moment, and finally said, “No, sir. It is highly irregular. Normally we keep all plans, even from terminated projects. This was… a unique situation. I suggest you contact Admiral Chase. He sanctioned this.”

“Thank you, Mr. Johnson. I appreciate your candor and the information. Good day,” Rourke said, ending the call.

Rourke immediately put a secure call through to Earth Gov in Switzerland but was told that the Admiral was out of the office, but they would have him contact Rourke when he returned in a few hours. He ended that call and threw the intercom across the room. He was beyond frustrated. He was damn well furious. Obviously there was something hinky about those modifications. And why the hell would Earth Gov cease everything dealing with Black Sector 5? This was his damn Station. He should have been alerted to any unusual activity on it.

His link-in buzzed. Rourke sighed and answered. “Yes… what is it?”

“Sir, this is Officer Bruin. We found another hidden room.”

“Anyone in it?”

“A man and woman, sir. The Chief has them in interrogation. He said to call you.”

“Thank you, Bruin,” Rourke said and ended the call.

Rourke made his way to Security and stood outside the interrogation room. Davies was hammering away at the man and woman. The man appeared to be about thirty with strangely black hair and a full beard and mustache. The woman could have been in her mid-twenties with long matted brown hair and a weathered face. They were both dressed in thread-bared clothing. It was obvious that they’d been living in the Caverns for some time. Rourke knocked on the door and Davies came out.

“So what is it with this pair?” Rourke asked.

“They are bloody jackals!” Davies replied. He pulled Rourke over to another room and pointed to a long table filled end to end with junk. “They scavenged from all over the ship. From what I’ve gotten out of them, they’ve been living in that hidden hole for over a year now.”

“Okay,” Rourke said, his voice sounding rough, “so they are scavengers. What does this have to do with the Makaa though?”

Davies noted Rourke’s irritation. “The guy claims that he saw the Makaa two days ago. He said his father fought in the Makaan war and had pictures of them. That is how he recognized who they were.”

“Does he know where they are now?”

“I was just getting around to that when you knocked. Do you want to ask him?”

“I sure as hell do!”

Rourke walked into the interrogation room followed by Davies. He leaned over the table and looked straight at the man. “You say you’ve seen the Makaa?”

The man nodded. “Yes, sir. Three of them.”

“Where did you see them?”
The man stared at Rourke for a couple of seconds and finally answered. “They were in the Rotunda, sir.”

Rourke straightened up and tried to process the information. The Rotunda was where they held parties and conferences. It was also where they were planning a celebration to welcome Ambassador Amon later today. He looked at Davies and could see him processing the information too. Were their worst fears coming to fruition?

“Did you see anyone else with them?” Rourke asked.

“A man, sir.”

“Have you seen this man before?” Davies asked.

“Yes, sir,” the man said, hesitating for a moment. He looked at the woman sitting beside him and she nodded at him. “I saw him late one night in Tech, sir.”

“I won’t even ask why you were in Tech,” Davies said. He went to his computer and pulled up personnel files from Tech. He waved one of Kerchev into the air. “Is this him?”

“No, sir.”

Davies waved another file into the air, this time a picture of Marshall. “Is this him?”

“No, sir. I didn’t get a clear look at his face. He had dark hair, though. I recognized him because he has a silver watch that I was interested in.”

Davies scratched his head. It could be anyone then. Half of the men working in Tech had dark hair and silver watches. This was getting them nowhere. He looked at Rourke, a question on his face that read what now?

Rourke and Davies left the interrogation room. Once in the hallway, Rourke said, “They obviously know nothing. Let them go back to their hole.”

“What about all that junk?”

“Hell, give it back to them. It’s all worthless stuff anyway. I want you to tighten security around the Rotunda for this evening. If we don’t find the Makaa before Ambassador Amon arrives, we may have an assassination in the works.”

“I will get right on it,” Davies said.

“Meet me in the Galley for lunch in thirty. We need to strategize.” Rourke said and Davies nodded. “Okay, see you then.” He patted Davies on the shoulder and walked away toward the lift.

(more to come in tomorrow’s challenge!)

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