Special thanks to Joe Medina for NPCs
Dunstan Kordieh managed to make his way back through the colony without being followed — or even noticed. Smiling to himself, he boarded the Hayn’gok.
He moved quickly to the cockpit and in a matter of moments opened the publicly available data on the Mabuse-Marsh Planetary Combine. There was nothing wrong with it that he could see.
And that, all by itself, sounded an alarm. He ran his fingers along the edge of the healing cut on his scalp, trying to put words to the instinct. Then he snapped his fingers. “C’est trop propre,” he said. Too clean.
He allowed himself a grin as he opened an anonymous connection to the colony’s data net. Any outfit that perfect had to be hiding a flaw — and he was going to find it.
The office of the elected Colony Administrator — Morgan’s next appointment — was empty when she arrived there. It was a little larger and somewhat better furnished than Shelton’s office had been. But like his, it featured a large window looking out on one of the mine’s caverns.
She checked the time, to see if she was ahead of schedule, then paused to look out the window.
The door jackknifed open with a familiar whine. The colony administrator rushed in, wrestling with a hairband and a datapad. “Sorry, I didn’t expect anyone this soon. My secretary sent me a text. I came in ASAP.” He set the datapad down on his desk, scrambling into his seat while tying his hair back.
“Ie, well, I’m not one to waste time, when I’m on task.” She turned to look at him.
“Funny, that reminds me of–” He sat up, caught short.
That was when Morgan saw his tan face and grey eyes. It took her a few moments, after a number of years. “Ah.”
“I’ll be damned.” He leaned back in his chair, absorbing the situation, and finally chuckled. He tapped his name plaque on the desk. Jesse Guerra, it read. “No need for an introduction?”
“No, I shouldn’t think so. And you were as intent on getting elsewhere as I was, I think.”
“I might as well have stayed,” Guerra shrugged. “Still, I like a challenge.”
“Challenge is good, ie.”
“I knew I’d be talking to a Ranger, but…”
She shrugged a little. “They thought perhaps I would understand the situation better than another.”
“Then maybe you’ll understand my situation better,” Guerra said with a smirk.
The smirk made it nearly impossible to ignore the old dislike. He liked poking at boundaries, pressing his advantage, even when he didn’t have one. She frowned despite herself. “Ie, maybe. I am to listen to all sides.”
Guerra sighed. “Me too. But lately it seems like each side has been camping out right in front of each ear. Labor disputes have gotten really hairy lately.”
“That seems to go in cycles.” Without being invited, she sat in the chair opposite his, ready to listen, if less than willing.
“Well, yes,” he grumbled. “But if you look at the long term, you’ll see what I’m seeing. Those cycles are happening more and more often here, a lot more than other industrial colonies in the Earth Alliance.”
“Water is important. And scarce. And this is very good water.”
“A blessing and a curse,” Guerra smiled. “Ice mining is our only hope for improving our conditions here. Monetarily and politically. Shelton, the union rep, makes a good argument. Putting credits back into the colony.”
She nodded. “Ie, I have heard labor already. And it is a good plan.”
“But it’s becoming a more expensive proposition all the time,” Guerra added. “And the new industrial combine’s making it worse. They’re dying to turn this place into one big factory. And with all these raider attacks, our overhead gets a little bigger. Then MMPC’s on the link with yet another offer.”
“Ie. So to get away from both of those would be good.’
“Oh, if only,” Guerra sighed. “Shelton is tough, but deep down, we want the same things for Ondal. It’s the combine that won’t budge–“
Morgan’s link chirped. “Pardon me.” She answered it. “Ie?”
Kordieh spoke rapidly. “Cherie? Are you alone?”
“Not at the moment, no. Should I find a private place?”
Guerra smirked and got up. “You won’t find a more private place than here. I’ll go get some coffee. For two?”
She hesitated. “Ie, please.” Morgan waited for Guerra to go, shutting the door behind him, then, “Go ahead.”
“Whoever is handling the infotech duty for MMPC is either incompetent, or is not happy with their pay,” Kordieh began. “Their main Interweb presence is scrubbed pretty well.” He snorted. “But the local network .…”
“Ah. Good – we will need specifics.”
“Oui. Would be a series of messages between the MMPC rep on Ondal and a known organizer of the Red Storm raider gang be specific enough?”
Morgan sat up and paused, turning that over.
Morgan and Kordieh entered Rebeca Bassel’s office, heralded with an underwhelming backhand of a welcome.
“Rangers! I thought you’d given me the slip for good.”
Bassel’s office was fairly small, but as polished and fashionable as its owner. Other offices Morgan had visited had windows offering a view of Ondal’s ice caverns. This one had an oversized vid-screen instead, a wall panel of fractal patterns morphing and swimming at eye level. As Morgan thought, this Bassel woman was in her own little world of facts and figures. Now they were in it too.
Bassel stood up from her desk, moving and gesturing toward a small conference table. “Please, have a seat! Can I get you anything?”
“No, thank you,” Morgan replied. Kordieh shook his head, smiling, then ducking under the table as if to pick up something, glimpsing the screen controls underneath.
Bassel’s shoulders shifted in an almost imperceptible shrug just before taking her seat at the table. “I take it, then, that you’ve had your opportunity to hear from some of the other representatives of the colony?”
“Ie, yes. Now we are here to listen to you.”
“I’m so glad I finally have the chance to let you in on the MMPC side of things,” she began. “I’m sure you had quite an earful from Mr. Sheldon and Mr. Guerra. And of course all three of us share a common goal, really — to make Ondal the best, most prosperous world it can be. We simply have a few… slight misunderstandings about how we’re going to get there.”
Morgan and Kordieh nodded, seemingly in agreement. Under the conference table, Kordieh pressed the first of several commands into his link.
“Honestly, I’m sure the Interstellar Alliance has Ondal’s best interest at heart as well. But I don’t think the Alliance really understands the situation here, ‘on the ground,’ as it were.”
The door chimed. Bassel blinked in surprise, then said, “Come in.”
Sheldon and Guerra stepped right in, each giving her a nod and a cordial smile. When they approached the table, Bassel could only gape.
Her mouth worked silently for a moment before she said, “Good afternoon, gentlemen. With respect, you should have already spoken with our Ranger friends. I don’t think you were invited to this meeting.”
“Oh, but we were,” Sheldon said, grinning.
“I invited them, Ms Bassel.” Morgan kept her expression neutral, a well-practiced skill.
“You did? But why?”
“Because you speak a good game, but there are certain undisclosed facts that would be of interest to the gentlemen.”
“Well, I … I’m not sure what that could possibly be, but I’m sure I would want to know too.”
“You think so, huh?” Sheldon asked, sitting at the table and nudging the last empty chair with a foot toward Guerra.
“I’d like to hear it myself,” Guerra said.
Morgan nodded to the two men. “Ms Bassel, would you agree it’s best for all parties to act on a level field?”
“Well, of course.”
“Mm.” She turned to Kordieh, gave him a nod. Time for proof. “Would that include messages between your company and the Red Storm?”
Bassel blanched, while Guerra gasped audibly.
“The raider gang?” Sheldon cried. “The one that’s been harassing us for months?”
“I … I find it difficult to credit such a thing,” Bassel said, looking quickly from one face to the next around the table, and finding sympathy in none. “That would be highly unethical. To put it mildly.”
“As you say. Dunstan?”
Kordieh keyed the final command into his link. The fractal patterns on the vidscreen faded to a series of slides — images of text messages, the vibrating sound waveforms of audio recordings, and the transcripts to go with them. In several cases, one voice was clearly Bassel’s own.
Time code 13:11:32:3102. “Look, if we go in too hard, we’ll frag the cargo.”
Time code 13:11:34:5707. “To hell with the cargo. We’re paying you to wreck those freighters, not to haul ice–“
Rebeca Bassel moved to leave the table. Kordieh stood up and blocked the door.
With each new slide, Bassel’s face lost more of its color. Guerra’s and Sheldon’s got steadily darker.
Guerra glared at her. “My God.”
“This … it’s some kind of a trick,” Bassel said faintly. “I assure you –“
Sheldon wasn’t listening. “People got hurt in those raids. Some of them died,” he said. “Good people. With families.”
Morgan just watched – all she had to do was offer the information. The rest was taking care of itself.