Aftermath (Part 2)

by Simon Challands

an Élite story
     They emerged from hyperspace several days later. The planet Orarra was a scorched red-brown disc in the distance, burnt by its distant and hot sun. A few minutes later two more specks of light appeared. They slowly resolved themselves into Viper-class fighter ships, the escort for the relatively unprotected transport.
     The planet was reached without incident, and before long the task group was sitting in the quiet bar of the hotel where accommodation had been provided for them in the station Dodec Four. There were four stations orbiting the planet. One of the team would go to each whilst the fifth would contact the planetary authorities in the hope that they had any knowledge of what was going on. Not that there was much hope that they would have, but since only the space stations and not the planet were directly controlled by the Galactic Co- Operative the Navy had no official authority on the surface. Unofficial enquiries were only generally made after the gestures towards legality had been completed.
     Emily Barbeth was the member of the team to visit Orarra Station Three. Early next morning a shuttle flew her over. Moving away from the landing platform towards the information displays lining the walls at its back was a map of the station. The stations were built as a standard shell with the essential facilities included but the rest of the interior differed depending upon the local needs and resources. The headquarters of the Orarra Corporation, who controlled all interstellar trade at the planet, were located some distance away at the address of Carrock House, Sarros Square, Facet 4. Outside the spaceport and its jostling crowds of humans and aliens Barbeth found a taxi to take her there. The small autonomous vessel lifted off into the central void of the station. The walls and ceiling of the taxi were transparent and through them the interior of the station was an impressive, if dizzying sight. Straight above, three quarters of a mile distant the interior of the opposite face was a blaze of light in the sky. Curving around to meet it were walls no less impressive. The pentagonal facets of the station were difficult to discern under their covering of buildings, parks and farmland and the appearance was more of the interior of a sphere. The Dodo and Coriolis space stations found in orbit around all planets of the Galactic Co-Operative were more than just trading posts, they were small worlds in their own right.
     The taxi was heading towards one of the "walls". Since it was station daytime the whole interior was well illuminated, but the dense network of lighting still made the area ahead show up as being a largely built-up area. Numerous other taxi craft darted to and fro from the complex to the rest of the station, amidst them was the occasional larger bus or supply van.
     The taxi landed in a square in front of Carrock House. It was an imposing building as befitted the importance of the organisation it housed. Flags from poles jutting out the front proudly displayed the Corporation logo and its name was emblazoned above the doorway.
     Inside the building Barbeth was greeted with the usual unimaginative "How can I help you?" from the receptionist in the foyer.
     The permission to review the trading logs and more importantly the security video footage of the docked craft loading and unloading their cargo was obtained by means of a borrowed GalCop pass that Naval Intelligence had obtained for the job. It was unlikely that anyone carrying such a "hot" cargo would allow themselves to be seen like this, more probably they had left the system without going anywhere near the planet itself - if they knew what they had found.
     The man who arrived to assist her was smartly dressed, somewhat in contrast to his wild hair. He introduced himself as Darhil Peyers, one of the numerous managers of the Corporation. Bad publicity was something that they were keen to avoid and tried they usually tried to persuade someone reasonably high up in the organisation to deal with anything that looked like an official enquiry.
     Barbeth took his hand. "Nobody is checking up on you," she reassured him with a slight smile. "We just need to make use of your records to try to track down someone who might have passed through here."
     Peyers grinned back. "We just try to be of service as best we can. I'm here to help, not to put a good face on for what might be someone poking their nose into our business."
     "Should someone be?" Barbeth said.
     Peyers laughed. "Please come with me," he said, leading her into the heart of the building. "What is it you are looking for, then?"
     "Some salvaged scrap that might have passed through here recently. Anything that looks like it was just picked up from space."
     "You'll have a lot of searching to do then, I'm afraid," Peyers told her. The room they entered was equipped with a variety of computer interfaces. A couple of chairs were sat at a desk, a coffee machine stood in one corner. Barbeth looked at it curiously.
     "It's an antique," Peyers said. "It's not very valuable, though, and getting coffee for it is pretty difficult. I wouldn't bother trying it anyway if I were you. It's a traditional 'Makes undrinkable ditchwater' model."
     "Some things never change. I've got everything I need here. Thankyou for your assistance." She waved Peyers out, ignoring his slightly indignant expression at being so swiftly dismissed.
     The scrap merchant who had led them onto the trail of the debris had received it two months ago, and it would have taken a minimum of another four weeks for it to have reached him from here. At the other end of the scale the Constrictor had been destroyed two years ago. The amount of debris so far accounted for suggested that it had not had a chance to drift too far away from the place of destruction. So, anywhere within a twenty-one month period was the possible time-frame, probably nearer to the start of it than later. With hundreds of spacecraft passing through the system a day that was a dauntingly large time. The search parameters were entered into the computer. If nothing could be found she would know about it in an estimated three hours time.
     As expected the Orarra government was not particularly helpful. Ahcal Jalsa had spent four hours being told that the matter would be under the jurisdiction of some other department until the planet's more senior authorities dumped the problem onto their local police force. This was not a helpful start since planetary police were usually relatively small organisations, their influence extending no further than the world's surface, having little to do with interplanetary issues. As the local expert he had expected no less.
     The inspector who talked to Jalsa was clearly unhappy at being thrust into meeting with a Co-operative official, and began by insisting that there was very little chance of him being in a position to provide any information. To be fair to him his department had been quite thoroughly scrutinised at the time of the original incident.
     "Then give me everything that you gave us last time," Jalsa told him. "And see if anything else has happened." The policeman gave him an exasperated look and passed the orders on through his intercom.
     "Give me your number and I'll call you back when I'm done," he said. Jalsa did so and terminated the link.
     It was whilst he was waiting that three of the group returned, having found nothing. Barbeth arrived back half an hour later.
     "Some debris from the Constrictor definitely passed through here," she informed them. "It looks like the scavenger who found it had no idea what he was carrying and tried to sell it in the general market."
     "Any luck in tracing the purchaser?" asked Kirrik, the Disian.
     "Yes and no. She left for Tiriusri but never made it. She could have been the victim of a random pirate attack. Tiriusri's listed as a feudal state."
     "It's an unusual place," Jalsa intervened. "It's much safer than most such worlds. The ruling family has a history of being keen on working for the planet and kept good order before it even became a member of the Co-Operative. I think such an attack could easily be more than coincidence."
     "Perhaps." Barbeth continued with her information. "There's more alarming news, though. In amongst the debris was more than just pieces of hull plates and bulkheads. Nothing was complete enough to identify from a visual recording but there were several bits that could have been critical technology."
     "We'll have to find out what as soon as possible," said Erain Kalangu, the final member of the group.
     "All in good time," replied Barbeth. "Tiriusri might be the next place to look at, though."
     "Chasing around after hints?" said Kirrik. "That didn't get us very far originally, and I can't see it getting us anywhere now. We need something substantial, as soon as possible, not just flying around to see what we can pick up."
     Kalangu looked over at him. "So what do you suggest?"
     "We've still to wait if Jalsa's police can dig out anything. Furthermore, we still do not have any idea who may be behind the whole scheme. Find that out, and we find the Constrictor."
     "To find them we have to find the Constrictor," retorted Kalangu. "A vicious circle if you approach it in that manner."
     "Only to a certain extent. So far nobody appears to be suspicious enough or powerful enough to be implicated. That leaves someone we don't know about."
     This statement was considered more seriously than might be expected. In so large a universe the old rule "expect the unexpected" was the only reliable guide. Some powerful group, hiding their tracks and biding their time... It was not a completely unreasonable hypothesis, but one that would be very difficult to follow up on.
     Kirrik continued, "I'm not suggesting that we waste time on pure speculation, but I would suggest we don't dismiss anything slightly unusual we might find."
     From another room an "Incoming Message" tone sounded. Jalsa stood up. "Excuse me, please."
     As expected the message was from the police. "There's one bit of information I've found for you," he said. "Garhan Jersisallam."
     "Didn't him and his business vanish after the Constrictor's destruction?" asked Jalsa.
     "Yes. No trace of him ever found, but about eight months later a James Tebay, an employee of his, appeared briefly. Boarded a ship with a few others who had arrived with him and left but to where I haven't any idea. There's no record on the people with him, but they must have been crew for the ship."
     "What sort of ship was it?"
     "I don't know. You'll have to check System Records," came the unhelpful reply.
     "When exactly did he appear?" demanded Jalsa.
     "Third of March by Co-op dating. I've nothing else, I'm afraid."
     "Thankyou for being of help. Goodbye." The inspector looked relieved as he closed the link.
     Jalsa hurried back into the main room where they had been meeting. "When did the scrap turn up here?" he asked.
     "Second of March," Barbeth replied. She looked up at him. "What have you heard?"
     "Another coincidence that probably isn't one." He told them the news.
     "I remember the name of Jersisallam from the enquiry," said Kirrik. "He'd been suspected of dealing in experimental technology acquired by dubious means and selling it to those who probably shouldn't have it. We put in a lot of effort trying to find him but he's vanished completely."
     "It looks like nobody put two and two together when this Tebay appeared," said Jalsa. He sighed. "That's the problem with the bureaucracy of this place. No two departments talk to each other that much and information from one has to filter through to another in its own time."
     "I'll see what System Records has to say," said Williams. "We might as well head for Tiriusri, unless anyone has any better ideas?"
     Nobody had. "We'll meet you at the ship, then," said Kalangu.
     Williams caught up the the group as they were boarding the ship. It was a modified Ghavial, large enough to accommodate them and contain an impressive array of weaponry. As well as its two-man crew they had further accompaniment in the form of three Navy Iguanas, set up as heavy fighters with hyperspace capability. Whilst this flotilla was leaving the station Williams told the others what he had learned. Apparently Tebay had acquired a second-hand but well-maintained Fer-de-Lance Lightspeeder, a potent weapon in the hands of an experienced combateer. GalCop had no record of it either being destroyed or abandoned (although a deserted ship in deep space was never likely to be found again). What, if anything, could be found at Tiriusri remained to be seen.

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Part 3