Chapter 5

An angry Janice Hardy was determined to get to the bottom of the altered navigational beam, which was her first blemish on an otherwise promising career. Her pride was hurt. Fancy falling for the runner not running? She must have been half asleep. Why had the absence of footsteps not alerted her? She knew she was fortunate he had merely hit her. As her once training instructor might have said, in combat situations mistakes like that lead to the long box. That probably meant the person who did it was not a real criminal, which reinforced her opinion that Stryker was the culprit.

She was following a risky strategy and she knew it. At first the Gamma Base commanding officer had forbidden this, but to her great surprise she was recalled for a tongue lashing for going over his head. She had not the slightest idea what had happened, and eventually her baffled expression must have registered.

"Did you go over my head?" he had roared.

"No sir!" Her face tightened as she had continued, "Why do you think I would even consider such an underhand thing?"

"Then why has Headquarters given me specific orders?"

"Well, if you think I've done something behind your back, go ask whoever gave the orders. I deny it, sir." She spat the 'sir', and was one livid Lieutenant.

Her commanding officer was stunned, then gave the weakest mumbling apology she had ever received. Janice was unresponsive and maintained a passive stance, staring straight ahead and not at her superior. Finally, he explained that the SCIB Director had personally contacted him given specific orders that if she wished to pursue this matter, she must be given all possible assistance. 

"I haven't the slightest idea how that came about," she had protested in an apologetic tone.

"Whatever. All I can say is, be very careful. Don't wreck a promising career, and don't forget, if a corporation gets irritated, your career will be on a very slippery slope without safety ropes."

That implied that the reason that stupid prosecutor commenced proceedings so quickly was corporate pressure. The incident was not just an accident, but some carefully planned act that misfired. They wanted a quick resolution, preferably with the easiest scapegoat. Stryker fitted that bill; he was not the actual pilot and he was too honest to lie that he had absolute knowledge of what happened. He would concede a "might have been", and thus be easy meat for a smart lawyer. Except he had a smarter lawyer who insisted his client remain silent, so the trap backfired. 

She was a fervent believer that the law should be even-handed to all, which meant the guilty must be exposed. She was determined, but at the back of her mind she could not help but recall and modify a well-known saying, If ye seek revenge, dig two graves. If ye fight the corporations, dig one grave: yours.Well, a determined officer would ignore trite sayings, especially modified ones.

Her first move was to take a computer expert to the control room, something she should have done much earlier. While the signal was operating properly now, what about then?

"Well?" she asked. This computer expert had been tapping away for nearly a quarter of an hour, and she was getting impatient.

"Patience!" The expert had a superior look on his face as he looked up, but when he saw Janice's fuming expression he jerked his head down and began tapping much faster.

After another ten minutes, "Have you found anything?" Her irritation level was rising.

A somewhat chastised expert looked up and gave a positive nod. "Interesting. The beam was altered eighteen hours before the incident, and corrected ten hours after it, hence a few hours before whoever it was that hit you."

"You're sure?"

"Of course." This was said with the 'how could you possibly doubt me' tone. "There's nothing on the display, which has been wiped clean, but it's impossible to remove all traces, and in this case, the backup was overlooked, so it was easy."

"And there's no way of knowing who did this?"

"Sorry. Not from the computer. However, you mentioned an exercise?"

"Yes, so you think it would be one of the training staff?"

"Nope!" This was said with a superior challenging grin.

"And why not?" she asked with a frown.

"Because there was no actual training exercise, there were no trainees, and more to the point, there were no ships available on which to do a training exercise. Look at this official schedule."

"You sure?" She leaned forward to view the screen, then scratched her head. Why had that lawyer raised such an exercise? Was it just a bluff? Or was it a smart move to trap the unwary? To open the door for all sorts of questions?

"Of course I'm sure. There's clear evidence." Now he turned to face her and he looked assertive.

"Wasn't Captain Stryker training Lieutenant Mitchell?"

"Mitchell had completed his official training." He paused, then added "The evidence clearly indicates Captain Stryker had no idea whatsoever that was going to happen."

"Then who, and why?"

"Maybe it was a genuine accident. Someone turned a switch the wrong way?"

"Could be, but let's check first whether it could have been deliberate."

"Well, one of the few asteroid miners still left was scheduled to arrive in that time zone, but he didn't, so maybe someone really hates that pilot."

"Or someone who who's working some sweet deal with LL4 Corporation," Janice mentioned, more to herself than to her aide. LL4 Corporation was a small corporation that was managing the payment for the additional materials required by the engineers constructing the L4 Lagrange station, as well as doing some mining on the Moon at Aristarchus crater. The origin of most of the thick shell for bulk of the EM L4 settlement was basaltic rock thrown up from the Moon by giant mass drivers operated by one of the giant Earth corporations. Since the asteroid collectors, who were largely small contractors, might feel intimidated by such a giant, this LL4 Corporation had been set up to pay the asteroid collectors for what they delivered. On a personal level, Janice thought this had been a mistake. The giant corporation would be more interested in being a good corporate citizen, while she had heard a lot of bitter grumblings about LL4 Corp. Not that that was important now.

"You mean, stop the collector completing the delivery, then your ships step in to complete the deal?"

"Something like that. A deal with Mirkin provides you with the necessary information." 

"Perhaps." The aide was unenthused and clearly saw little value in this. "You want anything else?" The aide was agitated, and seemed to want to be somewhere else.

"Have there been any actual exercises with such changes before?"

"I'll get you a list, but I haven't seen any yet so maybe the answer is zip."

"Were there any card entries?"

"You don't need them here, but I can check the elevators."

"Do that, especially an hour before and after the changes to the Navbeam were made and in the hour before I used it."

"You want to find out who hit you?" This was said with a wide grin.

"I've got a pretty good idea already," she answered. Her lips tightened as she added, "One of these days, maybe I'll return the favour."

"Then you'd better be right. Otherwise some poor sod's in for a real problem."

"No worries. I'll be right. Now, how about you get on with that list?"

As she walked away she was fairly certain the lists would tell her nothing. She now believed there had been no such training exercises, ever, which raised the question, what game had Stryker's lawyer played? In retrospect, she was convinced he had used some secret knowledge to defend his client, but he had also been seeking answers to questions of which she was unaware. This replacement lawyer did an excellent job in getting his client free because she was sure Stryker was guilty of one of the charges.

The arrival of Stryker's ship was unexpected, so she was certain the beam switching was not aimed at Stryker. It was sheer bad luck he turned up when he did, made worse by the fact that the controller gave him the most convenient bay with a live beam at the time. She had interviewed the responsible controller, and she was sure that controller was quite innocent and had no idea the Navbeam had had its origin moved.

Her next move was to acquire a spacious room and interview everybody, one at a time, with obvious electronic recording gear running in clear view. She sat down and spread copious documents across the table in front of her. Most were largely irrelevant, more for show, but those she was about to interview would not know that. She hoped they would give the impression she had far more information than she actually had. She had the lists, but their usefulness was questionable. The first was zip; there was no training there, ever. No private citizens, including Stryker, had used the elevators around the night times. She called for the first interviewee. 

The day was not very enlightening. Everybody denied they were in the control room at the time she was struck, but they would. She then asked about the times they were at work.  Most showed annoyed irritation that they were suspects, while four showed clear nervousness. That raised her suspicion, but she was only too aware that innocent people could be nervous during an investigation, especially when there were only a few with the specialist ability that would have been required, and they were in that group. Then there was Nicholas O'Rourke. 

O'Rourke sat down in the interview room with a somewhat contemptuous shrug, as if he were better than anyone else. 

"Mr O'Rourke, because of that recent incident I am interviewing everyone who has access to the navigational control room." She paused, waited for an immediate reaction, but there was none.

Eventually there was a sigh and O'Rourke said, "That's where I work." An unemotional disinterested response.

"Yes. Now, at the recent incident, both the pilot of the ship so involved and its Captain reported that the NavBeam had been altered."

O'Rourke gave an indifferent shrug and said nothing.

"So, what do you know about that?"


Interesting, Janice thought, because everyone else had said something. Everybody had heard the widespread gossip and had offered unhelpful advice. "No thoughts at all? Everyone else has had something to say."

"They don't know nothin'."

Interesting double negative, she thought. She leaned forward, and there was no mistaking the firmness and harshness as she said, "But you do, don't you!" 

There was a stunned silence, then, "I dunno what you're gettin' at."

She had said that to shake him up. The usual response to such a sudden accusation would be an instant denial, while some gave an aggressive assertion that she was way off-beam. That was not true, but an innocent person would think that. O'Rourke was different. He had reacted exactly as a guilty person would; he twitched as if struck by a stun gun. How could she know anything?

"Someone tampered with that beam, and restored it after the event."


"So you were in the control room. You did it."

"Nonsense. I work there."

"Then what exact job did you at that particular time?"

There was an irritated shrug. "I don't recall. Just general housekeeping."

"Isn't that automated?"

"Yes, but do you trust that?"

A clever answer. "Then tell me why you were there?"

"I'd lost my reader, so I thought I must've left it there."

"And that took half an hour?"

"No." This was said with a crafty look, as if you are not going to catch me out on that one. "It wasn't there, but it took me half an hour of looking to not find it."

She was suspicious, but she still had no evidence. "I know you didn't do this on your own, so now is the time to cut a deal."

"Done what?" This was said with a challenging scowl.

"If that's the best you can do, then I'm afraid your future is not very bright," Janice said. "Last opportunity. Cut a deal now or leave, but next time –"

"I haven't done nothin'," came back the almost contemptuous sneer, "and you ain't got nothin' either."

He likes double negatives, she thought, but he was correct that she had no significant evidence. She waved him away, and off he went. She had a strong feeling he was guilty, but how could she prove it? 


*   *   *


The Space Station housed a small number of Space Corps officers, and a small number of general workers, and her authority over the latter was tenuous. The Corporate Manager had required them to cooperate, and so far most of them had, except O'Rourke. That made her suspicious, but it made her next move difficult. She checked the financial accounts of those she had interviewed since "follow the money" was often the most productive approach. She was reasonably sure she had a good suspect, but jumping to early conclusions often led to trouble. 

The money trail was anything but pretty. Quite a number of the Space Corps officers on the station must be taking significant untaxed gratuities. The information for the corporate workers was more difficult to get, but when she did, there were no signs of irregularities. When she came to O'Rourke there were absolutely no hints of unexplained income, and the expenditure was quite modest. The total absence of irregularities was in itself suspicious, but not damning. O'Rourke was even saving, and avoided the small casino, which, with its high stakes poker games, would be a good way to launder bribes, or payments for illegal services. This information was probably a serious effort at laundering, which explained the significant delay in presenting it to her.

The other thing that struck her was that these accounts were so regular and so tidy. No late payments for anything and no web shopping. No obvious and expected payments for anything from Earth. Most people had some form of saving or investment, and almost all luxuries on the station had to come from Earth. All O'Rourke did was work, according to these clearly fictitious accounts. So who made them up? That suggested O'Rourke worked for a rather large organization, and that made O'Rourke a very interesting suspect. 

Some discreet enquiries were required on Earth, which unfortunately was outside the SCIB jurisdiction. The only way to make progress was to go down to Earth and use some contacts she had. Going to Earth would be good. This space station was pleasant enough, but some open spaces, grass to sit on, flowers to smell, and numerous other things were what she always dreamed of.

This required planning, because unplanned visits tended to leave her stuck in a city with only concrete, and additionally, it would take time to do a proper investigation down there. She was due for some mandatory updating to her training. She would go for that and fit in some leave. 

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Nice chapter Ian. I liked the way Janice interacted with O'Rourke. His contempt for Janice is well captured through his dialogue and your description of his attitude. I wonder if he warranted a bit more description in terms of features and gestures. Just a thought.

Another thought you say the aide was agitated. "The aide was agitated, and seemed to want to be somewhere else."

Why does Janice think this? What is it about what the aide is doing that gives this impression?

Ian - I love the storyline, it still captivates me and I am not a Sci Fi person.  I look forward to the day it is a published book, so I can sit down and read it from beginning to end.  Keep at the good work.

love this story.