État de siège.
By Marina and Christopher Purnell.
Luthien, Jade Ward.
23 June 3064.
(9 February 2165 AST.)
Crickets began chirping early in the evening in the Imperial City, a sedate reminder of the ancient Terran environment that Coordinator Urizen Kurita had sought to consciously sculpt for his capital. That effort had been somewhat undermined by the Combine’s complete lack of environmental protection laws, which presently left Inspector Jacques Tabelard hacking his lungs out on the pavement instead of enjoying the relaxing music of the insects. He spat out a nasty, brown-bespeckled glob of phlegm onto the cracking pavement outside the Mashitomo Industrial Park, to the visibly expressed disgust of his partner. Her elfin features crinkled up in disgust as Tabelard straightened himself and tried to regain his composure and project a fitting image as one of House Davion’s elite investigators.
“They didn’t issue a smog alert,” he said lamely. His circulatory system, so used to the ultra-filtered air of Galax’s space habitats, had never really adjusted to the omnipresent pollution of the Black Pearl. Not for the first time he regretted ever signing up with the Luthien Gendarmerie, money be damned.
Inspector Rina Varden regarded her partner for a moment. With his diffident manner, crumpled uniform, and irreverent outlook he made a poor example for the liberated Snakes. Jacques stood a full head shorter than her, which made the comparison with her lithe figure and immaculately maintained clothes worse. “You should have a mask in the car,” she rebuked. “This is not the first time we have had to go to the Jade Ward to further an investigation and your allergies always act up here.”
He finished up a cough, ignoring his partner to scan around the area. The vast, sprawling factories of the Mashitomo complex were a maze of pipes and furnaces only partially hidden behind solid looking ferrocrete complexes. Streaks of rust were evident on every exposed steel surface, and the building exteriors were discolored by the batches of thick black smoke being belched into the air all around. The access gate ahead was closed, manned by privately employed security guards, locals allowed only to maintain stun weapons and truncheons. A lighter spot at the top of the gate showed where a plaque of the Kurita Dragon and inspirational worker slogan had been removed.
They continued walking up. Varden pulled her credentials from her coat pocket, flashing the bored looking Snakes her identification badge. “Luthein Gendarmerie business here. Open the gate and notify your superiors to send down a personnel manager to meet with us.” Her tone made it clear she would brook no delay.
Few citizens of the capital were unfamiliar with the ill-temper of the occupation authorities, and the guards at the gate scrambled to fill the orders. The security grille was lowered to allow them past, and one of their number, an ill-nourished looking teenager in a uniform a size too large for his body stepped out and bowed deeply. “Please follow me,” he said, in badly accented English with a voice so high that made Tabelard question whether or not he had hit puberty yet.
They nodded and followed the guard further into the park, toward one of the closer administrative buildings. This one still had an exhortation written in kanji across the board, which he roughly figured out was some kind of call for vigilance in production quotas. Workers in dingy jumpsuits walked, never particularly quickly, across the vast sea of concrete encasing the area, into buildings or to the ladders leading into the cavernous networks of steel rigging and pipes that stretched out above the skyline. The whole arrangement spoke of some kind of industrial nightmare, though the twelve hour days and omnipresent ISF supervision were a thing of the past. Orders by the occupation authorities kept the planet’s industry going, but more out of the desire to avoid adding millions of unemployed young men to the pool of insurgents rather than any need for their mostly obsolete products. New technology was being introduced to control the pollution of the planet and update the obsolete production, though the insurgency had obviously rendered the well-being of the Drac worker a lower priority.
The building they entered at least had functional air conditioning and filtration, Tabelard noted with relief once he stepped inside. They were brought to a reception area, where a bored looking secretary waited by a computer terminal. “Mr. Divecha is on his way down to meet with you,” she greeted them without looking up. “Our personnel manager,” she added in a sudden afterthought of explanation.
Fortunately for Mr. Divecha he arrived out of a lift shortly afterward. Varden’s eyes had already started narrowing in irritation, and the security guard had slinked out in fear of what was going to happen. As it turned out Mr. Divehca was a middle aged man of Indian extraction in a well tailored suit, who bowed deeply in deference at the gendarmes. “Personnel manager Kryat Divecha, at your service. I understand you have requested my presence?”
“We have. There are some questions we need answered. Best to head to your office.” Jacques did not make that a suggestion, but an order. The businessman shrugged, and bid them follow him up.
“May I inquire what this is about?” Divecha broke the silence as the lift creaked upward, clearly nervous. He hadn’t been asked for by name, which was good, but any interaction with the occupation authorities carried a degree of risk. He wanted to get this over with, and the Davion gendarmes out of the park, as quickly as possible.
Rina met his request with stony silence. Jacques simply shrugged his shoulders, the elevator was hardly secure. And letting him sweat a bit was useful. The Dracs had once been real big on pride, completely arrogant, convinced of their own superiority to everyone else. Now he was powerless in his own factory, and having him recognize that meant things would go so much more smoothly.
The lift came to a stop at the sixth floor, and Divecha led them out onto a well-maintained carpet, passing by a number of small offices before halting at his own. “Shall I order refreshments to be brought here?”
“No,” Rina said decisively. She had no intention of accepting hospitality or dissipating the impact of their visit. “We have urgent matters to discuss here and no time to lose on pleasantries.”
The Kuritan manager seemed to pale a little, but led them in. His office was smaller than might have been expected, and his desk included a clumsy looking, older monitor, a sign of the backwardness of the Combine before its liberation. Neither Rina nor Jacques bothered to wait to allow him to offer them a seat, instead pulling over a couple of chairs in front of his desk. Divecha accepted the slight with only a moment’s hesitation, before booting up the old computer. “What may I do for you, sir, ma’am?” He dreaded the answer.
“We’re looking for an individual who was listed as employed at this park before the liberation,” Rina began. “Kaji Doi, age 33, quality control specialist.” She pulled an identity card out of a pocket on her uniform, and handed it over to him. “Tell us everything you have on file for him.”
Divecha gave the card a cursory examination before entering in the serial number into the computerized archive system. A file dutifully popped up on his screen, and as he reviewed it his brow furrowed. “It seems Mr. Doi began his service with Mashitomo on January 1 3059, and was transferred to Luthien Armor Works on May 15 3062. Our records of his employment end there, but LAW was seized and shut down by the... new authorities shortly afterward.” Which was to say that their ‘Mech factories, producing such once-potent symbols of the Dragon’s might as the Panther and Grand Dragon, had been ceremoniously dynamited by the Davions.
“And where did Mr. Doi come to Mashitomo from?” The timing already looked suspicious to Jacques, and finding out where Kaji had come from might provide a further clue to follow.
“It seems he was assigned here directly by the Ministry of Wealth and Disbursing of Assets,” Divecha replied. There was no need to add commentary. In theory the Treasury had control over the Combine economy, including the assignment of inspectors to oversee quality of production. In practice the business community, dominated by wealthy nobles, had cultivated their own personnel; if an inspector was being directly assigned by the Ministry it meant there were either serious problems in a critical sector of production, or that he was an agent of the ISF.
Jacques and Rina looked knowingly at each other. The card had been recovered from a raid on a suspected resistance safe house and had been followed up as a potential lead. It looked as if it had paid off. As Jacques shifted his view back on the Snake manager he noticed the man looked confused, still staring up at the displayed screen at something. “Is there more?”
Divecha wavered for a moment about volunteering anything, but he knew the consequences of appearing uncooperative. “It seems that while all of Mr. Doi’s security clearances and access privileges were rescinded after his transfer to LAW, this card has been used to access our facilities multiple times in the past year. I’m not sure I can explain how that is. His access code was definitely eliminated from the computer’s systems, but there was no warning of unauthorized activity associated with these instances. I will call our chief of security...”
“Don’t.” Jacques stopped him then and there. “We’ll bring in our own people to examine your database. You are to inform no one of this situation until we tell you otherwise. Your chief of security and computer people may be complicit in this situation. Now, where has this code been used to gain access to?”
Divecha nodded, shaking a bit. He was caught in an unpleasant dilemma. If he refused to cooperate the occupation authorities would probably lock him away, possibly would torture him for information he didn’t have. If he did cooperate, and the insurgency found out about it, they would kill him. And he didn’t kid himself about the insurgency’s reach, knowing full well there were cells within the plant’s worker population though obviously not who. But these Davion agents were staring him right in the face, and his room as empty. “It has been used to get into the basement of this building, a janitorial and supply sublevel. There’s nothing of value down there, I’m sure.”
“We’ll have to examine it.” Varden stood up, and indicated Divecha should do the same. “You will take us to this sublevel, now.” She was already going through the possibilities. The ISF could certainly arrange things so that their agents had continuing access to former posting sites while superficially allowing employers to believe they had removed it. Probably some agents among the computer technicians handled erasing the logs, but perhaps the one attached to Doi and Mashimoto had been killed or picked up or had just gotten lazy.
They went back down the lift, with Divecha using his own access card to bring them down to the sublevel in question. The door opened to a dingy, dusty concrete cavern, piled with wooden crates, pallet trays, and various containers of cleaning chemicals. Rina stayed by the lift with the manager while Jacuqes poked around in the poor lighting of the room. He pulled a miniature flashlight from his pocket and began examining around, looking for traces of recent disturbance. There were traces in the thin layer of grey covering the floor, most of it looking like innocent traffic by maintenance staff picking up or depositing supplies.
“Who’s there?” A voice prodded Jacques ahead, and he shined his flashlight in the general direction. An elderly Asian man in the grey jumpsuit of the facility staff stood there, gripping a mop and a bucket of soap. A badge identified him, though it was too dark to make out the name.
“Inspector Tabelard, of the Luthien Gendarmes. This is occupation business.” The caution seemed to startle the older man, just as he’d intended. “You, are you down here often?”
“Yes, it’s party of me duties, I’ve been working with Mashitomo for going on sixty years now.” He spoke with pride at his record at the company, a relic of the old Draconis Combine where non-noble civilians were identified with their profession and corporation. “Come down here every day, I do.”
Jacques brought the flashlight back down, sparing the man’s vision. “Alright, have you noticed anything strange in here for the past year? People who seemed like they shouldn’t be here, that kind of thing?”
That seemed to cause the old janitor a moment of consideration. “Well, I always reckoned that anyone who was down here had to have a cause, since they’ve got to have access to take the lift down here. But I’ve seen people coming down here in suits and such that seem a little too good for having cause to be here. And there have been a few packages I’ve never seen accounted for with the registers, that came and disappeared... usually in the corner back here.”
Tabelard followed the old man back, and saw a corner suspiciously empty and with a clearly disturbed square of dust underneath. Bingo, he thought. If it was just criminal, still, crime here in Imperial City was under the thumbs of the yakuza and no one would be stupid enough to piss them off by running an illegal operation without their consent. And the yaks were tied deep into the insurgency, so any progress against them would serve the overall security of the planet. And if it was the insurgency directly, so much the better. “When was the last time you saw such activity?”
“Oh, hmm.” The janitor scratched his bare head. “I’d say two... three days ago. A gentleman came by and took a bunch of containers from the corner, they was marked as cleaning supplies. Struck me as right odd, a man of his stature doing manual labor.”
“Thank you for your assistance.” Tabelard hastily dismissed the janitor, and went back to the lift. Rina raised an eyebrow questioning him, and he relayed the discovery. “We need to get a team in here too, looking for explosive traces like we found at the safehouse. I think Mr. Doi here was storing them here for a while and moved them once we hit his lair. And since he has ISF written all over him, the sooner we can bust him, the better.”
“I will call Major Simonson immediately and request the required teams be dispatched.” Varden turned her head to look at Divecha. “You will stay with us until they arrive, or face the consequences prescribed in the declaration of the state of siege.” The Snake paled, in a manner she found pleasing. She smiled lightly, a thin, humorless gesture of anticipation. “The hunt begins...” From the chipper and cheerful Rina Varden, the sentiment was simply emblematic of what Luthien had become, and what it had done to the soldiers of the House of Davion.
Luthien, Gold Ward;
Capitol District Headquarters.
23 June 3064.
(9 February 2165 AST.)
Wendy had picked up the habit of an afternoon siesta--to balance out only getting about five hours of sleep a night--back on Gilead, and it was employed to good effect here to check out for the most annoying part of the day and be available for as broad of a spread as she could. Seeing as she slept in the headquarters building, lived there, and spent essentially all of her time there, she had managed so far to stay on top of business quite well, settling for a meandering but constant approach to her job. She was, after all, genuinely interested in it, so it made more sense to be doing it all day, every day, but not put to much pressure on things. The mere endless presence of the Colonel, rather than having her off in the O-club, tended to make an office much more attentive anyway, and she found that she could stay on top of things without so much effort by virtually always being available to sign off.
With that in mind and a truly wonderful cup of coffee in one hand and half of a pastrami sandwich in the other, she was a bit to awkwardly encumbered to do more than breezily inform the personnel in headquarters that they were at ease--formality was not Wendy's strong suit, but fortunately neither was it one of a rather busily working Gendarmerie facility. She settled into her office, waiting for Anya who had somewhat admirably adapted to her schedule. The cup of coffee--a big handless navy mug--was set down and she continued munching on the sandwich while glancing at the papers that had accumulated. I wonder when the Gendarmerie will go completely paperless here, she mused, the coffee still waking her up.
Leftenant Doyle entered the office on her appointed schedule, with a chipper expression that gave no indication of being broken despite the odd hours of her commander and the difficulties of adjusting to her assignment. She had also adjusted to the informality of Colonel Richter after a period of awkward saluting and constant military bearing; she now breezed into the office, carrying a batch of folders in her arms which she laid out on the desk for her superior in a neat pile.
"The new interrogation reports, ma'am." She glanced up at the clock, checking the time. "Also we have Major Simonson of the Special Investigations Division due in fifteen minutes for a briefing on operations last night."
"Thank you, Leftenent," Wendy replied with a triumphant smile at her having conquered the use of Sir in formal language here. She already had everyone running around pretty hard but was also quite determined to spare no expense in making it feel like a genuine atmosphere of camraderie, especially aware of her own status as an outside. "I'll see how many of these I can get through before he shows up. Anything else pertinent?" She tossed the sandwich wrapper into a waste bin and, sipping her coffee, had her eyes down looking at the first as she spoke.
"Not for today," she replied, with an unspoken but. "The monthly budget review is next Wednesday and you'll need to start getting prepared for it." She gave her boss a sympathetic look. "The departments know to submit their paperwork to you by this Sunday. We've already received the figures from the Security Brigade, it looks like they've had a quiet month."
"I doubt that's a good sign, in the long run. Or perhaps I'm just adapting to Luthien." She smiled rather mirthlessly. "I don't see anything particularly useful in this batch of interrogation reports, though it is, of course, always probably the best way to tell the pulse on the street. Within reason. A bit harder to figure out the tenor of yakuza operations this way, though. I should start, I think, sitting on a few yakuza interrogations and possibly questioning them myself--there's a few signs you can pick up from their answers and tattoos and so on that aren't immediately available in these reports. But that will just be a diversion from the budget review...." Wendy shook her head and took another drink from her cup of coffee. "My only objection to the job so far is not having the same kinds of financial resources I'm used to. There's a lot we could honestly do in cracking organizations simply by lots of money for all the Yakuza like to make games of being highly honourable and loyal."
"You can submit a request for extraordinary operational funds with the review, I found out looking over the paperwork. But it would require a developed idea and personnel to execute it before the money can be disbursed. Maybe for next month? Unfortunately MIIO tries to monopolize covert operations against the insurgency whenever possible." She spoke with a hint of disapproval there; Doyle was learning to associate herself with her agency and her boss' agenda. "But if it's pitched as an organized crime investigation by the Special Investigations Divisions it may get under their radar."
"Excellent idea, Leftenent. I already have a rough idea of how this would go... But I'll need to outline it more later, I think. It would be very nice to actually crack some of the area yakuza, though," she concluded with a faintly delighted tone, sort of like it was a bit of a personal grudge--odd, for an outsider.
A knock at the door interrupted the budding plotting session. Anya left to go open it, and was confronted by the austere figure of Major Michael Simonson. The director of the Special Investigations Division for the capital district was a lean, rather cadaverous looking man with a perfectly tailored uniform and a disposition that seemed to actively drive people away. He took Leftenant Doyle's salute and then stepped in to present himself. "Major Simonson, reporting as scheduled to Colonel Richter." His clipped, upper class accent oozed well-breeding and arrogance, and reminded Doyle of the all too many times of Crucis March aristocrats who had looked down on her as a half-breed border rat.
"Major Simonson, if you'd please have a seat," Wendy gestured somewhat cordially. "Want any coffee?" There was, nonetheless, a hint of iron in her voice and her extremely fit body which contrasted with a rather easygoing demeanour. As Colonel Barrett had first noticed when meeting her, she was tough, wiry, while still being lithe, and had the air of a mongoose about her--someone who had killed before, the experienced combat veteran had immediately known--and thus the decisive sort of personality which could command respect without formality. It might be less obvious to the aristocratic disposition of Major Simonson, on the other hand.
"No thank you, Sir," he said, declining the offered refreshments while taking the offered seat reluctantly. Doyle found it expedient to remain standing, and moved out of the way behind the Major and the door. If he noticed, he paid it no mind. "The purpose of my visit is to provide an update on last night's raid of a suspected insurgency safehouse in the Ivory Ward. While we missed our quarry, we have turned up evidence that suggests it was being used by resistance, or possibly ISF personnel, and was being used to house a considerable quantity of explosives. We have men out following up on the leads we have obtained from the operation."
"Go on, Major," Colonel Richter answered as she flipped open a security-grade perscomp palm device and started taking notes with it, her hazel eyes following the Major attentively as she wrote without any difficulty from memory, and tagged it as urgent. "Evidence summary first, if you would, and then the leads."
"An anonymous tip was received about suspicious activity at 1192 Yoguchi Avenue in the Ivory Ward. Usual sort of people coming and going at all hours of the day with packages and so forth. As you know," he began, in a tone suggesting she did not, "the Ivory Ward is the main middle class residential zone of Imperial City and as such this behavior was striking, as was the lack of children and family at the house. We sent a scouting party which described a traditional wooden frame Japanese house, seemingly unoccupied, and a yard that looked poorly maintained compared to the neighbors. Records indicate that the property-owner, one Aizen Sachiburo, had been reported dead in the liberation of Luthien and that inheritance documents had not been filed. As the taxes were being paid regularly out of an account at the People's Prosperity and Savings Bank no one had seen reason to investigate the matter before. Forensic analysis of the transfers suggested the money had been deposited by the Kuritan Treasury Ministry eight years ago."
"Further surveillance seemed to indicate the house was being entered by a number of young men at night, normally around 2300 or later, and evacuated before 0500 hours. With that in mind I authorized an entry team for last night at 0200 hours, but no activity was reported at all in the time leading up to it. A soft entry was effected and found the house deserted, empty of any articles of furniture or other signs of habitation. Forensic investigation showed that the house had been swiped down heavily but hastily with bleach, which ruined our chances of obtaining fingerprints of DNA traces. However, remnant traces of pentaglycerine were discovered in a room at the back of the house as was the entrance to an underground tunnel leading into the Ward sewer system. An examination of the grounds turned up an identity card linked to Mashitomo Heavy Industries, a local producer of steel, military grade armor, glass, and chemicals."
"Based on the best present assessment, did we just miss them when they were moving out of the house permanently, or did we interrupt a regular explosives smuggling conduit?" Wendy flipped through her computer and brought up the information on Mashitomo Heavy Industries, of course, glancing to Anya very briefly to let her know she'd probably be needed after this, or even sooner.
"Probably abandoning it. I'd feel better about the prospect of their not being a link if a review of files from before suggests that a week of activity followed by long lapses may have been conducted at this site before. If there are any suitable surveillance records from the area they should be checked out. Otherwise, I would indeed tend to assume that they have some sort of source which warned them of the investigation, and we will certainly proceed under that assumption. Carry on..." She tapped in a few other notes, not at all surprised that Simonson was making the assumptions that he had. He doubtless did not think of her, and certainly nobody here realizes I've worked for yakuza before, she thought mirthlessly. It had been another time, and universe, but it was a strange coincidence indeed that she was putting that knowledge to work now.
"Unfortunately the ISF surveillance cameras were taken down after the liberation of the planet and as a residential neighborhood there were no businesses in the area requiring them as anti-crime measures." It was a pity, too, the omnipresent surveillance equipment that marked developed Drac cities would have been invaluable for a counterinsurgency effort. The inhabitants of Imperial City, and many others beside, had wrecked the infrastructure in between the collapse of the Snake defenses and the occupation of the cities.
"We have begun rigorously interrogating the neighbors of the house for clues to the pattern of activity there, and I anticipate results from that shortly. I have also dispatched two agents to the Mashitomo industrial complex to follow up on the identity card, and am having the neighborhood and surrounding blocks swept with chemical explosives detectors. Unfortunately the environment of the sewers rendered the machines useless for following the trail of the pentaglycerine back to its source, if it came in that way."
"Probably. I'll want the report from those agents who've been sent to Mashitomo, or any other developments on that front. As for the sewers, do we have full maps of the system, Major? I would not count it above the yakuza to have arranged for certain sections of the system to have been removed from public record, long before we even arrived on this world."
"We have the public chart available at the infrastructure and utilities departments for the cities. If there are secret channels to the sewers they would have been mapped by the ISF. We can search through the surviving documentation for them. I have no confidence, if such charts existed, that they survived the destruction of records." The metsuke had been very thorough about destroying anything of use to the invaders.
"You're certainly right. We'll do the documentation search, and that's pretty much all we can do--wouldn't have enough manpower for regular patrols if we tried to search the sewers in anything less than a year," Wendy answered. "Though in light of the Duke Arthur's visit it might be worthwhile to do a sweep in the Gold Ward sewers to be finished before his arrival. The Capitol brigade was performing rather poorly before my arrival and I'm sure the motivation of avoiding such an assignment will get some of the shirkers out of their complacency."
"Undoubtedly so, Sir." The idea of punitive assignments to sewer mapping duties would be useful. "I expect to hear back from the agents investigating Mashitomo in a couple of hours, and the interrogation reports of the neighborhood will be batched as usual for you. Is there anything else?"
"That would seem to cover everything, Major." She glanced to Anya. "Tag the interrogations from this operation with the highest priority for me when they come in, Leftenent," she ordered to get it out of the way before looking back to the Major. "Good luck and good hunting on this assignment, Major. You're dismissed."
Simonson stood, gave an efficient looking salute, and exited without further words. He pushed past Anya without even seeming to notice her, and closed the door to the Colonel's office behind him. Leftenant Doyle looked relieved to see him go when she responded to Richter's order. "Yes ma'am, highest priority to those reports. I'll have the mail room notify me immediately when they come in and bring them right to you."
"Of course." Wendy was silent for a moment. "Leftenent, if anyone around here gives you any trouble over anything, don't hesitate to report it to me immediately. You're my eyes, ears, and extra set of hands and if you face the slightest bit of contempt or disrespect, unbecoming the treatment of a commissioned officer, you report it to me instantly even if your first inclination is to take it. Disrespect for my Adjutant is disrespect, and a hindrance, to my command, and I will treat it as such."
Anya hesitated for a moment, before nodding her head sharply. "Yes ma'am, I will. I haven't had any problems like that, honestly. But it was hard in the old Draconis March. People would look at me like I was the enemy. Simonson, though... is just like that with everybody."
"I imagine he is," Wendy answered. "And I don't expect him to even give his trust to me easily, or quickly. But consider it useful information in the future, and I suspect that there is a lot of borderline racialist sentiments due to the violence of the occupation. Good to hear that the men under my command haven't shown them, but if you have any problems, we'll get them dealt with." In truth Wendy thought Anya reminded her of the daughter she might well have had at a few points in her life had she not been so singularly unlucky in cosmic roulette.
"Thank you, ma'am." She had faith that Colonel Richter meant well, but didn't want to seem like a whiner. And the Federated Suns was better than a few bigots here and there. Still, it was reassuring that her superior trusted her that much. "I'll report any problems that I see along those lines."
"I doubt it will be substantial. You have a good bearing, Leftenent, and you've done well so far. Carry on with your regular assignments and get that budget report to me soonest. I learned a long time ago to just get financial stuff out of the way... Unlike everyone else who says that and then procrastinates anyway." She grinned and laughed softly at the sentiment, and turned back to her stack of interrogation reports. "You're dismissed." It would be easy for most to dismiss the idea that she'd killed before in cold blood.
"Yes ma'am. I'll bring in the budget reports to you as they come in." Anya left, feeling a little bit better about her position than when she had entered the office.