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A-to-Z Challenge — Letter N

April 17, 2015

Astraeus Earth Force Station, 2115 A.D.

Shannehey brought Jack Sparks up from the hole and left him sitting in Interrogation One. He’d been down there for days, but still hadn’t talked to any of Davies’ officers. The latest information on the man’s financials was leverage. Davies was hopeful the man would sing like a bird now. Davies left him in there for an hour with the heat turned up. He sat on the opposite side of a two-way watching the man. He was sweating and fidgeting in his seat. When Rourke arrived, he and Davies finally went in for the interrogation.

Rourke sat down across from Sparks and placed a tablet on the table. Davies stood just behind the man on the left, close enough to hear the man’s quickened breath. They were both silent for a while, with Rourke just staring and Davies practically breathing down the man’s neck. Rourke turned on the tablet and waved his hand, sending files into the air. One of the files was a video of Sparks purchasing the fruit from a hooded figure. Kerchev had discovered it on his sweep of vid feeds.

“Mr. Sparks, is that you in the video?” Rourke inquired.

“Captain Sparks,” he demanded.

Davies chuckled. “You are retired and you were practically court-martialed for your insubordination. We don’t have to extend military courtesy to you.”

“I was cleared of those charges!” Sparks insisted.

“The man who brought the charges against you quietly disappeared. Some say he was murdered into silence,” Davies continued. Sanchez had uncovered quite a bit of information on the captain in just one day.

“I had nothing to do with that. Maybe he just changed his mind,” Sparks persisted, a smug smile on his face.

“I will not be offering you military courtesy,” Rourke concluded. “Now I will ask again, is that you in the video?”

“Yeah, yeah. So what?”

“Those crates you are acquiring in that video are filled with contaminated fruit,” Rourke declared.

Sparks shifted in his seat. “I already said I bought the damn fruit! I didn’t know it was contaminated,” he contended.

“Who is the man in the hood?” Davies asked, pointing to the figure in the video.

“I don’t know.”

“Have you seen him on Astraeus before,” Rourke pressed on.

“I didn’t see him at all!” Sparks vowed as he turned in his seat and stared blankly at the wall.

“How is that possible, Sparks?” Davies urged.

“He always wears a black mask. We call him The Reaper down in the Caverns. He’s like a fucking ghost.”

Rourke was tired of the games. “Why would you deal with someone you can’t even see?”

“It’s not like we have many choices down there, Commander. We can’t go through the usual channels to purchase stuff. The Reaper offered his assistance and as a businessman, I took it.”

“An illegal businessman,” Davies retorted.

Sparks turned back in his chair to face Davies. “If you didn’t have such tight security up here, a man could make a decent living. I wouldn’t need to run an illegal establishment!”

“Fuck that! You don’t want to pay the tariffs! It would cut down on your precious bottom line,” Davies screamed at the man. He was losing his cool with him.

Sparks glared at Davies for a moment and then turned his attention to the Commander. “Sir, I do what I have to do. I run an honest place down there and the people who work for me are well-paid. For most of them, it is the only income they will ever see on this Station. If I paid those tariffs, I wouldn’t be able to pay my workers.”

Rourke understood the premise behind Sparks’ words. He knew most of the people who lived in the Caverns did so because they arrived on the Station without the proper paperwork to work an honest job. Millions of Earthlings had been shipped around the galaxy as undocumented workers, most worked near-death to pay off their passages. It was an age-old problem that apparently would never be solved so long as the wealthy corporations demanded cheap labor.

Rourke stood up and nodded for Davies to join him outside the room for a moment. When the two were outside, he whispered, “Maybe we can use Sparks to get to this Reaper guy.”

“I don’t know. I don’t like this guy. I think he is only looking out for himself.”

“True, but we need eyes down there and I am about to drop that ten million bombshell on him.”

“Okay, let’s give this a try,” Davies agreed as the two of them returned to the interrogation room.

Rourke sat back down and pulled a file up on his tablet. “Do you know what this is, Sparks?”

Sparks stared at the file floating above him. “Hey! That’s my bank account!”

“It is. And do you see that total? Do you want to explain to us where you got over ten million units from on a pension?” Rourke inquired.

“Shit!” Sparks cursed. “It’s not what it looks like, honest!”

Davies slammed his fist on the table. “Then tell us what it is!”

Sparks dripped with sweat. He fumbled with his hands for a moment and then came clean. “Those are the proceeds from the casino. I hid the units in my pension account so that no one would know how much was coming in.”

“That’s pretty stupid, don’t you think?” Davies assessed.

“Listen, Commander… Chief… you don’t understand how things work in the Caverns. I own my business, but I don’t own it, if you know what I mean.”

“Enlighten us, Mr. Sparks,” Rourke implored.

“Ah geez! You guys are going to get me killed!” Sparks cried, but he continued on with his confession. “For every unit that comes into my casino, I pay a loan shark sixty percent. He provided my initial start-up for the restaurant and the casino. He also provides security for me. Except, he doesn’t know that I skim the books ahead of time and deposit the money in my pension account.”

“How are you making deposits? We traced those deposits and they bounced all over the galaxy.” Rourke inquired.

“The Reaper helps me. There is a deposit box in Black Sector where I drop the units. It’s the only box I can use.”

“Why are you stockpiling millions of units?” Davies prodded.

“Like I told you, I help people down there and shit ain’t cheap when you have to go through the black market. That fucking loan shark would take every dime I made if it wasn’t for The Reaper!”

Rourke continued to dig for information. “Who is this loan shark?”

“Damn it, Commander! You really do want to get me killed. If I die, who’s going to help all of those people down there? Not the loan shark, I can tell you that!”

“You have to give us something, Sparks,” Davies insisted.

“Just not the loan shark, Chief. What else can I do?”

Rourke smiled. “I am glad you asked, Sparks. I want you to help us catch your Reaper friend.”

“Why would I do that? He’s the only one who helps us down there!”

“If you don’t help us catch The Reaper, information about your skims will be leaked down in the Caverns. I am sure that loan shark has ears everywhere,” Davies informed.

“Shit!” Sparks cursed again. He fell silent for a moment and stared at his hands. Finally, he looked up at the Commander. “Tell me what you want me to do.”

(more to come in the challenge!)

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