Aftermath (Part 3)

by Simon Challands

an Élite story
     There had been no record of the ship docking at any space station in the Tiriusri system. The most likely possibility was that it had destroyed its target and hyperspaced out again straight afterwards. There was a slim chance that the attack had been witnessed, though, and with this in mind Kalangu found himself with a pile of police reports for the day the missing ship disappeared.
     After a couple of hours of reading about mostly inconsequential encounters he came across a statement that sounded a little more interesting. A police patrol had noticed two ships on long-range scanners, both moving erratically as if in combat. The distance had been too great to determine the nature of the vessels and it was all over before the patrol made it into range. The report noted that the slower vessel had vanished from scanners first, followed a few seconds later by the other one. When they reached the site they found the wreckage of a Cobra MkI and the particle residue of a hyperspace jump. The hull IR signature of the victim had been partially destroyed and no definite identification was ever made. Just another pirate incident, and GalCop hadn't made any more than a cursory look into it. Murder was a serious crime but unfortunately far too common to be fully investigated due to the tiny chance of success. Unless you were rich, famous or influential the officials were unlikely to pay your death too much attention if it didn't happen in front of everyone's eyes, and the best you could hope for was an "Offender" tag on your killer.
     The interesting thing in this case was the remnants of the IR signature. There was about a one in three chance that they were the remains of the unfortunate trader who had found the Constrictor's remains, and the police had accepted that conclusion. The scrap from the Cobra had been collected and sold off, leaving only a few samples for the record. Routine analysis of these remnants suggested that the weapon used against the unfortunate Cobra was a beam laser, probably a powerful one. As might be found on a Fer-de-Lance. But so what? It all fitted the speculation, but provided no clue as to what to look for next.
     Kirrik was somewhat more doubtful if that was all there was to it. "If they wanted the cargo that badly, I can't see them destroying the holding vessel," he stated. "There wasn't time to scoop up all the debris from the Cobra, and there was no trace of anything unusual in what GalCop discovered. And a Fer-de-Lance hardly has enough cargo capacity to carry what the Cobra was holding."
     "So what do you suggest happened?" asked Kalangu. "That the Cobra had already offloaded its cargo?"
     "Probably bullied into jettisoning it, and then destroyed anyway. There must have been other ships in the area to take the cargo."

"I don't think so," Barbeth said. "The Fer-de-Lance followed the Cobra here, and certainly left on its own. There wouldn't have been any time for it to call for other forces to meet it here."
     "That doesn't matter," replied Kirrik. "It could easily have sent a cargo ship to collect the junk when it reached wherever it was going. That works out quite well, actually. The pick-up ship would probably have arrived fairly soon after before the debris dispersed, so it must have come from somewhere fairly close."
     "The original debris had had plenty of time to drift, and that was picked up," Barbeth pointed out.
     "That was found by chance. We aren't talking about people who leave much to chance."
     "There's no record of Tebay appearing in any registered settlement, or the Fer-de-Lance."
     What this meant was almost certainly a deep space outpost. System space was too well-monitored around civilised stars for a hidden base to remain so for long. In the immediate vicinity of Tiriusri the least stable system was Esgebi, but there there an even greater watch was kept on every planet, asteroid and comet as the various powers there watched each other.
     Finding a deep space location was no easy job, which was exactly why they sometimes existed. Safely hidden in the vastness of space such a base was all but undetectable. The time taken for any careless radio transmissions to reach civilisation would provide ample time to move the base. Transmission via Witchspace would certainly not be made as it would very likely be picked up by relay probes sitting in the hyperspace channels. The Fer-de-Lance had probably not sun-skimmed at Tiriusri, otherwise it would have lost its prey. The distance between Orarra and Tiriusri was 2.7 lightyears. That left nearly six lightyears worth of fuel in an unmodified Fer-de-Lance. An impossibly large volume of space in which to find anything. The proverbial needle in a haystack was simplicity itself compared to space.
     Unless it survived in complete isolation, though, contact must be made with civilised space occasionally. That was the weak link.
     "I think it's time to investigate the affairs of this mysterious Jersisallam again," Jalsa said. "He used to have ships going to and from all over the place. A good candidate for supplying a hidden base."
     "More sifting through countless records. Wonderful," sighed Kalangu.
     "OK, we're leaving back for Orarra straight away," Williams announced.
     Searching through the records on Jersisallam was indeed a tedious and time-consuming task. As would be expected with his dubious reputation much information was missing, and much of it was doubtless fabricated. More reliable were the logs of ship departures and arrivals at various nearby systems, all of which had to be collected and correlated. On top of that it was considered wise to include as many ships that had, or were believed to have had, frequent contact with Jersisallam or anyone associated with him. Even with significant computing power at their facility, it was still over a week before the Naval team had any results.
     "We've several possible candidates for supply vessels," Jalsa told them one morning after he had looked through what the computer had reduced the data down to. "There was a handful of Pythons and an Anaconda freighter that often arrived at their destination a little later than would be expected. During most of these delayed journeys they were still carrying almost a full hold of registered cargo, though."
     "And nobody had much to say about these delays?" Kalangu enquired.
     "They weren't great, a few hours at most. Could have been due to pirate attack or equipment problems."
     "Or a diversion to a base just far enough away not to be detected," Barbeth added.
     "The same thought had crossed my mind. It's even less of a coincidence when you consider that about two-thirds of these delayed vessels were flying from Esdi."
     "If they were nearly full of registered cargo, and it was there at the other end, there wouldn't have been much room for supplies and equipment for a base," Kirrik reminded them.
     "They could have increased cargo space by leaving out some of the standard compliment of landing craft and shuttles," Williams pointed out. "Removing five Worms from an Anaconda gives you quite a bit of extra cargo space."
     "True. Unfortunately all those ships and their most of their crew disappeared with Jersisallam," Jalsa said.

"And the crew that didn't?" asked Barbeth.
     "All dead bar one. She was arrested for supplying convoy information to pirates and then hijacking an escape pod when they attacked. Unfortunately for her the pirates were intercepted by the police, and this Natalia Marchero is now sitting in prison. She's had two assassination attempts on her since then. Lucky to be alive, really. Probably would have been dead by now anyway except that she wouldn't say a word when questioned about Jersisallam's disappearance. She's kept under high security right in this system."
     "In a local or GalCop prison?" asked Kirrik.
     "GalCop. Does it make any difference?"
     "Only that we've no authority over the local one. We could arrange something for her if she's being looked after by GalCop," Kirrik pointed out.
     "They won't want to let her go, Kirrik," Jalsa replied. He looked at Kirrik enquringly. "What were you thinking of instead?"
     "Release into a low security facility if she won't co-operate. She'll probably be dead within a couple of months then. We might want to offer a change of identity when she's released if she is helpful."
     Williams smiled grimly. "If she was working for them then it serves her right."
     "I don't approve," Jalsa said. "However, I've no better ideas."
     "I'll see her tomorrow then."
     "Not on your own, Williams. I think I'll come with you," Jalsa informed him.
     Williams half rose. "You don't trust me?" he demanded, half-way to a shout.
     "You've had the same training as the rest of us. You know what the rules are when you've been personally involved in a case," Jalsa reminded him.
     Williams stayed half-stood. "I've never met this woman before. I've never had anything to do with Jersisallam before. How am I personally involved?"
     "You were attacked by the Constrictor. Your grudge against the pilots of that ship, and everything to do with them, is fairly well known. You know what the Constrictor's destroyer said about your opinions in his debriefing."
     "I think calling that thing a 'son of a bitch' was quite justified after it nearly killed me. But point taken," he said, sitting back down with a hint of a smile on his face.


Williams is one of the people who had been sending you messages during Mission One in the game, although not the one who sent the one along the lines of "Oh dear me yes, a frightful rogue with what I believe you people call a lead posterior shot up several of those beastly pirates and jumped to wherever it was".
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Part 4