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Chapter 3 – After Action

Look, this is all digitally time stamped, right, so there’s no real reason to read out the date and time like that, unless you’re trying to play into people’s expectations, like a police procedural. It intimidates them. I wrote a paper on it if you want to know more.

Draxis is one of the many hub-systems to the Great Races of the Galaxy. Its many bright and glittering orbitals teem with industry, commerce, and culture. On the galactic scale, it is not far from all that commotion we just left, although I would not want to walk it.

Near Draxis c is an orbital which, within its false but cheerful blue-sky dome, houses a rather drab, featureless gray obelisk amid the generally more bright and creative structures. It does nothing to call attention to itself apart from simply being so dull by comparison, but any inquiry quickly reveals why: this is the District 37 headquarters of Interstellar Trade and Transit. One can understand, perhaps, it is necessary to have a bureaucracy police the spaceways of a galactic culture, but are they so boring that they can’t stand a little artificial natural light? No! From the inside, the outer walls appear completely transparent, as are the walls and cubicles within, making the offices bright and roomy despite still being administrative hives. In one such office sat two humans, a woman with tan skin and hair the color of ancient living Earth coral, and a pale blond man with anxious posture.

So, how are we going to do this?

“Robin?”

“Mmh?” The redhead had been staring out past the walls to the brightly lit outdoors and thinking of a time when she was much younger, like her counterpart was now. “Sorry Bruce, what?”

“Did we get ballistics back from the concourse yet?” Fun fact: ballistic weapons were pretty rare these days, but it was still called that. Tradition. The same tradition that dictated that someone got chopped when a fuckup this big happened. It was most likely going to be the two of them, but Bruce was desperately trying to find something in the piles of supporting files and evidence and reports that now cluttered the surface of and space above the table between them.

When you’re interrogating me– fine, interviewing. When I’m stuck here and forced to answer your questions. Is it just my responses abstracted from context and edited to–

“Sorry. No, the yokels are dragging their heels.” She leaned back and stared out the window again. “Specifics about their weapons might have helped us identify out smugglers now that we don’t have any recordings, and we can’t bolo a Coba, a mentat, and a shell.”

Not to be deterred, Bruce began reshuffling the projected displays and physical files, which were sticky with condensation from his glass of iced tea. They were little more than handholds for clusters of digital files in the local network, though– empty plastic sheaths destined for recycling when they wore out. “It has to be here, though.” He took a sip of tea. “There’s so much that doesn’t add up to anything. Let’s start from the beginning…”

“Oh God, for the twentieth time, Bruce? This meeting is in less than 2 ksec!” She cut through the air and pointed at the door, and the motion caused a few diagrams to momentarily fuzz.

Cynical? Please, at my age it’s called a positive outlook.

“Well, after that meeting you can retire to your comfy estate and live on royalty checks, while I’ll be hotbunking and wearing paper gowns in the common dorms. So I’m sorry if I’m fighting for my life here.” It came out clipped and quiet. Bruce was usually very reserved around her, so this passed for furious. She realized they were both angry at this idiotic situation. She let out a breath she didn’t realize she’d held.

“I’m sorry Bruce. Okay, let’s review our presentation.”

Okay, my involvement in this whole thing started with a sting that went horribly wrong.

Bruce grinned, cleared the space in front of them with a few swipes, and, twirling his finger at his palm a few times, opened the annotated schematic of the station. Robin straightened in her chair and sipped a bulb of water.

“As you may know, synthetic dairy-starch, or ‘puffs’ on the street, are traditionally enjoyed by many species as a tasty snack, but are prohibited in some territories, including significant portions of this district, due to euphoric and addictive qualities.” As she began to speak, the presentation automatically took cues from her voice and advanced the animation to display evidence-room images of a cheese-puff from various angles, followed by morgue-images of a Drayduk’s jellyfish corpse hanging limply from a scaffold, deflated and colorless but for sickly emerald streaks.

“We’ve known for some time that the Positron Fist outfit has been moving synthetic dairy-starch out of the Corixon Six orbitals, and we recently acquired a CI with the connections to arrange a sting. We learned from this informant, Aloysius Zhnoz, that Positron Fist preferred to trade drugs for off-the-books fuel bricks, so we acquired an abnormally large brick to use as bait. For us, this was a two-for-one. Narcotics and illegal fuel sale.” The images advanced to display a map of Positron Fist’s likely territory in the orbital, a scan of the ill-fated brick, and an image of the informant, a Bradian with the typical ear-tufts and long snout.

It was Bruce’s turn. “The setup was simple. Zhnoz arranged for a transaction with his contact in the market level. We could wait for the transaction, grab the soldier, and use him to expose the rest of the network. If there were any witnesses, we could sequester them, and we were filtering comms on the deck.” A wireframe of the orbital zoomed and rotated until it displayed the market level. Zhnoz’s stall was set up away from the walkway, assets were scattered to surround the likely target.

“Unfortunately, there were several assumptions that undermined and ultimately doomed the entire operation. First: we assumed our confidential informant wasn’t a complete fucking idiot.”

The schematic of the market grayed and fuzzed somewhat as a list with one item popped up in front of it:

1) CI was a complete fucking idiot

Bruce continued. “He had neither established nor adhered to a strict protocol for the exchange with his contact, allowing what we are now assuming to be a trio of bystanders to blunder into the entire thing.” Incredulous, Bruce raised his voice as he emphasized each word. “Moreover, he did not know what his contact would look like or whether they would be accompanied.” After a slight sigh, he continued. “This may speak to some amount of secrecy on the part of the Positron Fist’s soldiers but we are skeptical.”

“Second,” Robin said, “we severely underestimated the capabilities of the group that would become the perpetrators.”

1) CI was a complete fucking idiot
2) We fucked up

“Their assets included a Coba Warrior of undetermined skill but at least 5th tier, who immediately began to neutralize assets in the market and appeared to be a capable sled-driver. Second was a shell of undetermined class or origin that was at all times heavily armed. If the occupant was not always skilled with their weapons they made up for it with sheer power. Third was a mentat about which nothing else is known, except we might safely assume that they are responsible for the data wipe that removed all trace of the party and their ship from every system on the orbital.”

The list shrunk somewhat to to allow the wireframe to slide out. It now showed the approximate path used to escape the market, as well as the telemetry for ITT and station security in their attempts to intercept.

“These three were able to hold off our assets in the market long enough to break security into maintenance access where they stole a gravsled . Here, in the cargo sorting area, a pursuing team was thrown from their sled by what they guessed was a high-powered temporary force shield deployed from the shell. They continued to the docks and managed to evade and finally lose security.”

“Third,” Bruce concluded, “their ship appeared to be camouflaged as a poorly-maintained freighter. As our interceptors were closing in, they shed the disguise to reveal a profile more consistent with a high-powered luxury vessel, and promptly ate the minimum distance to jump. We couldn’t keep up with them.”

1) CI was a complete fucking idiot
2) We fucked up
3) They had a magic ship

After delivering their presentation, the two of them looked out at the seated bureaucrats before them in the conference room that really felt more like a meeting hall. “A full report with all details is available to you now. Let us conclude by adding that while the identities and affiliations of the trio of perpetrators are unknown, it is unlikely that they are Positron Fist, meaning that the primary goal of this operation was a complete failure.”