Chasing the Dark Star

Asked and Answered

"Asked and Answered"

The door closed with a hiss and a thud, sealing the room to control the temperature. It wasn't out of place for rooms like these to be hermetically sealed to control the climate, especially at this height. Lin Beifong closed her coat and breathed into her hands, frowning at the steam from her breath. She always hated the server rooms, and the freaky little men who inhabited them. It was dark, very dark, save the pathways deeper into the floor lit by the lights of the servers. There was another thud and a whirring as the lift was pulled away from the floor. She sighed with a puff of steam, if anything were to happen she would be stuck on this floor for some time: the lift being the only way in or out as a matter of security. She moved deeper into the floor, following the blue lined pathways into the darkness. She was careful to be quiet, shuffling more than stepping in the thin layer of mist that never quite left the floor or the sides of the servers. She stopped at a wall and blinked a few times, trying to adjust her eyes to the odd lighting. Left, right and left again. She grumbled and turned left, trying to remember her way through the electronic maze to the central chamber. It was an agitating thought, stumbling her way through a floor she shouldn't be on. But this wasn't the first time Ms. Sato had given her clearance to investigate something that caught her eye. But this was the first time it involved a shipping manifest from a destroyed vessel and accessing the main terminal. The image was still in her mind, the streaks in the sky, the debris and the life pods both breaking up in orbit. She frowned for a moment, rubbing her hands together again. She didn't like to show emotion to those around her, she felt it to be weakness. But the thought of eighty crewman dying so harshly got to her.

She took another turn, trying to avoid the thing following her. She hated the guards on this floor, twisted things moving in the edge of her vision above her, bending in almost unnatural fashion. But she wasn't afraid, just agitated. It had only been a few minutes and she already longed for the open air. She felt her comm vibrate, she reached into the pocket of her long coat, but she stopped to listen to everything around her instead. They were trained to be silent, but this one had grown cocky in it's skills, she closed her eyes and waited. She felt the slight thump of it's weight hitting the floor, the sound of its feet barely touching the ground as it closed in, assuming she wouldn't know. She waited, deciding which way it would come from, her left shoulder or her right, what it would try to strike her with, where. She waited till it was almost on top of her before spinning around, pulling the comm from her pocket and shoving the bright screen into his goggles. His strike flew wide as she grabbed his still outstretched arm while he barreled past, twisting it and pulling it till it was locked behind his back and she shoved him into a server with a resounding thud. He groaned as she held the light in his eyes. She always felt their night vision goggles were a weakness in some cases. She pulled the comm away from him, throwing him to the ground and placing her foot on his chest, the mist billowing away from the disturbance. She pushed down and felt him struggle to breath. He tried to get away, squirming and trying to place the needed strikes on her leg to make it lose feeling but she simply stomped her foot on his chest and shone the light in his eyes again. He cried out and covered his face.

"Please stop! Don't hurt me, I'm just following instructions!" he almost begged and she lifted her foot, letting him scramble away. She looked back at her comm and clicked an icon, waiting for the line to open.

"So am I. Ms. Sato, I haven't reached the central terminal yet, I got... sidetracked." the comm was as long as her hand and as thick as her finger, all black with the Future Industries logo engraved in silver on the back. She lifted the comm in the air and looked around, the guard had slithered away and poked his head around a sever, looking at her, the name of her boss having got his attention.

"Sidetracked? I guess they don't appreciate my clearance there. I'm sorry to have interrupted you then, I'll speak to you after you find the manifest." the line went dead and Lin slid the comm back in her pocket and looked to the little man. He had stepped out from behind the server, understanding it was his best option.

"I'm sorry for attacking you, we don't get many authorized visitors here, and most of those call us to them, not wander around like you." she had a good view of him now: he truly was a wisp of a man, hunched slightly. His face covered by the goggles and a breathing apparatus with tubes heading behind his neck. His body covered in a tight neoprene suit of black and red. He rubbed his hands together lightly. He seemed nervous still.

"Take me to the central terminal, I need to access privileged information." he shook his head, his mask reflecting the lights of the servers.

"I'm sorry, but I doubt you have the clearance to get into the chamber, let alone access the terminal." he seemed happy with himself, trying to win in some way against the woman who heard him coming.

"I'm acting directly on the orders of President Asami Sato and have access to her clearance levels, show me to the chamber or I will take you down again," she reached into her coat and drew a pistol just enough to be seen, "with extreme force." he looked at her for a moment before nodding and pointing down another path.

"It's this way." was all he he said before moving down the path. She slid the pistol back into is holster and followed him, keeping her coat open just in case she needed to be quick. If she was even five years younger she wouldn't have to worry about him in any way: he was slow and weak compared to what she had been, but that was then. Now, she wasn't sure she could take quite so easily, but she refused to believe he could win. She had gotten older not old. She scratched the scars on her cheek absently as she followed him through twists of the servers. "I'm sorry for judging you so quickly, but you don't exactly look like the normal ones that come through here." she tried to ignore his comment, but she bit anyway as he turned again.

"And what is normal for this floor?" he chuckled and lifted his goggles from his eyes.

"Secretaries, assistants. Always people who made mistakes and need to access the files to change things around. Frightened little people in suits and ties trying to fix that they messed up. Not a raggedy old woman sporting a gun with high level clearance like you. No offense." she didn't take any, she knew what she was, even if she didn't like that she was aging she couldn't stop it. She new ignoring it would simply lead to her making a mistake, possibly a fatal one. "I'm speaking of the coat, naturally." he snickered and she reached and grabbed the back of his head, slamming him into a server. "I'm sorry, it was just a joke." she let him go and he rubbed his face, staring at her for a moment before continuing. "The Chamber is just ahead, just follow the light." he leaped on top of a server and disappeared back into the darkness. She cursed under breath and looked around, the severs and mist giving way to dimly lit hallways as she moved forward. She moved down the hallway, following the light, just like he said when she reached a door. Thick ballistic glass filled with white to make it opaque. A palm scanner sat waist high to the right of the door, covered in a small amount of frost and blinking red in several places. She placed her hand on to top of the scanner and it seemed an eternity before the lights turned green and the door clicked open. She took a deep breath and entered the chamber. It was warmer than the rest of the floor, considerably so. The room was small and brightly lit, her eyes taking a moment to adjust. It was a plain room, white walls and a slick black floor with a ceiling made of square lights. There was a simple work station with a monitor and a chair against the wall across from her. She scanned the room and pulled her comm from her pocket, clicking the same icon for before as she moved to the station. She set down the comm and took off her coat, draping it over the chair. It was a moment before the line connected and she readjusted her holster under her arm. It was old worn leather, just like the coat. And the pistol it housed was an old model, built for accuracy and stopping power unlike the higher capacity firearms most people preferred to use.

"What the hell am I doing in here Asami, I don't know what this is." she pulled the chair back and it creaked as she sat, Asami was silent for moment, the only sound being her sipping that damn tea.

"You found the main terminal?" she seemed preoccupied.

"If you mean the one monitor in the little room protected by the blast door, then yes. Now, what am I supposed to do here?" she slid her hands around the edges of the monitor, looking for a power button, or anything else for that matter.

"You are looking for files pertaining to the ship that was attacked, it's new so they shouldn't be hard to find."

"I'll do that, as soon as I turn the damn thing on. Maybe I should rephrase. How do I do use this?" she missed the days when everything was simple, when finding a file meant looking in a drawer and feeling the paper in her hands. But everything changed so fast nowadays.

"Oh, sorry, the architects take a lot of freedom on those floors. There should be a small slot on the desk somewhere, slide your comm into it." she could hear the sound of the tea cup lifting from the plate over the line as she felt around the desk for the slot. It was shaded to be almost indistinguishable from the rest of the slate surface and she had to feel it before she could see it. She slid her comm in and the monitor lit up, passing through a series of automated checks before a simple inquiry bar filled the screen.

"What exactly do I type here?" there was another damn sip before she responded.

"Just start with recent cargo shipments, find the one that was attacked and dig from there." she sounded like it was so simple, and to her it most likely was. But to Lin it was a puzzle, and she hated puzzles. She sighed and closed the line, not wanting to deal with her accidental condescension. The girl didn't mean it, and in the last few years she had never treated Lin like anything but an equal, or maybe a friend. And that was one of the few reasons she got up in the morning. Her job was to help the girl and keep her safe, even if it meant doing some things that weren't exactly... okay. She touched the inquiry bar and a keyboard filled the bottom half of the screen. She felt herself age as she spoke to the monitor, speaking out what she typed.

"Okay, recent shipments to Shen station. Completed shipments, no, incomplete shipments to Shen station, recent." it took her a few minutes of trying different searches to find the ship. Most people who entered this room knew what to do, or knew exactly what they were looking for. But she just had the knowledge of a destroyed ship that had yet to be put in the system. "Most recent shipment to Shen station was an agricultural ship from a harvest planet. Four hours behind scheduled dock. That's it. Okay, type, Class two cargo vessel, seventy-six personnel, hold full of food and parts." she rubbed her eyes and opened the line back up. "It was a simple cargo ship, nothing important on the manifest, at least, not unless the raiders were looking for food and station parts." Asami made an audible hmm as she thought of something mid sip.

"Check personnel, see if their was anyone important. Cross reference their files with key figures in the database for matches, maybe it was a someonethey were looking for, not a something." Lin did as she was instructed. She tapped her fingers on the desk as each crew member was checked and compared for any inconsistencies. But that too was a bust.

"Nothing, every crew member checks out, no flags." she read over the specs of the ship, its haul, and the reports from its last refueling when she noticed something. "Asami... the ship was running heavier after its last fueling than before, close to four tonnes. Human error can account for some, but not that much weight."

"Okay, then something was added. But what? And why? What station was it fueled at?" Lin didn't understand the line of logic Asami had most definitely latched onto, but she checked.

"Ox station. Four hundred employees, it's just a fueling station with a public dock. If you want me to try and access the logs from the station, I can, but even I know that would take serious time to dig through every person on the station at the time." she scratched the scar on her cheek again.

"Ox station... that's a mid station between the Core and the Rim. Part of a line of stations." her voice was contemplative

"Yes, any ship traveling from the Rim would need to stop at that station, or one of the others in the line. Unless they wanted to risk the Trader stations."

"Lin, scan the records for all ships that docked in the two days before ours came through." Lin, again not understanding the desire to search for a piece of hay in a haystack, did as she was told. She set the parameters for the search and waited, reading the names of the ships and their descriptions.

"Nothing stands out, lots of private ships and lots of cargo haulers, but..." Lin stopped as a ship caught her eye.

"But you found something I figured you'd find."

"Your fathers personal vessel fueled up at the station a day before our ship did. Your father personally checked records and upcoming schedules for all cargo haulers. There are several reports of him in the system before they were wiped. I'll send you the files." Lin copied the files to her comm and pulled it out of the slot, having found all she was going to find in this system. She had probably raised several flags as it was. She sent the files to Asami and grabbed her coat, rushing to the door and down the hallway to the server maze. "What do we do now? We can't have long before he finds us snooping." Asami drank her tea and waited a moment as the files transferred to her terminal.

"For now we stay calm, I'll sift through these and see what I can find. In the meantime there was a report of a life pod landing somewhat intact in the city, near the edge of the entertainment district. I'll send you the location, they found a body inside and a lot of blood that wasn't his. Speak to the first officer at the scene, Changpu, and ask him what he saw. I don't think his story matches the truth too well. Talk to me after." the line clicked and Lin cursed under her breath as she rushed back the way she came. It was cold and long but she found the lift doors and sighed in relief as they opened and she stepped inside. The little guard was standing on the other side of the door way, almost waving.

"I take it you were never here?" he asked, lowering his mask and smiling with crooked teeth.

"That depends, do you like having internal organs?" Lin said forcefully. His smiled widened, showing off his yellow mouth.

"Question asked and answered." the doors shut as Lin clicked a floor button. The lift whirred and tugged as it climbed the dozen floors to the shuttle garage. It slowed and stopped and the doors opened with a hiss and Lin made her way to her shuttle. It was a plain civilian model, nondescript in appearance. It's long, curved cockpit and boxed rear blended with the other shuttles one would find. After she climbed in and set the course she rested her head against the seat as it took her to where she needed to be. She looked at the window and watched as the tall towers gave away to factories and heavier traffic. She passed the border to the entertainment district and the buildings lowered and changed from bleak factories belching smoke to colorful buildings covered in neon signs. She counted club after club and bar after bar as she passed through the district. Again the buildings started to change, from the dirty clubs to the residential high rises. She sat up in her seat when she saw a tower with a gaping hole in the middle, smoke still poring out of several floors where the pod tore through. She took manual control and slowed the shuttle, pushing lower to the floor of the city, following the damaged buildings where the pod bounced from one to the other. After a time she reached the ground, crowds having formed and riot forces standing in a line while detectives dug through the trail of destruction behind the nearly destroyed pod. She set the shuttle down outside the scene, kicking up bits of dust and debris as the engine whined and shut off as it connected with the ground. She stepped out and looked back at the path the pod took. It had torn chunks from building and torn holes in other before ripping up the pavement, creating a rift at least a hundred meters long.

"I don't think anybody made it out of this one." she moved to the crowd, pushing through the people, all trying to get a better look at what destroyed their homes. She made it to the line set by the security forces and tried to pass when an young officer stopped her. He wasn't large, his ego coming from the badge and the gear rather than his skill.

"Sorry ma'am, no civilians beyond this line so go to the back with the rest of the rabble before I make you." he had a slight smile. He enjoyed his job, but he was like most of the public forces in the Sato Security Force: deranged cowboys looking for a reason to be violent. He flung open a collapsing baton and pressed it to her chest. She kept her composure and looked past him to the pod. It was burnt to a crisp and most of the external parts were missing as it sat in a pile of torn up pavement. But she needed to see inside and she couldn't do that from where she was. She looked back to the man, opening her coat and flashing her badge and gun, perks of her job. He looked at her badge for a moment.

"Get out of my damn way before I beat you with that thing" He collapsed the baton against his leg and stepped aside, keeping his mouth shut. "Good job." she passed him and made her way through the trail of destruction to the pod. Detectives and forensic personal were sweeping the area as she climbed the small pile of rubble to the pod. She looked inside and found it to be flipped over, a man dangling from his seat. She frowned at the sight and backed away, grabbing the arm of one of the detectives. He spun and looked at her, spotting her badge and giving a nod. He was younger, but old enough to have enough years on the job to learn to hate it and still see the value in it. He eyed her for a moment, the peak in his black hair waving in the wind and his brows furrowed over narrowed, almost orange, eyes.

"Can I help you ma'am? I'm detective Mako." he tone was respectful, but rushed with a hint of distrust. But she had expected that.

"Yes, detective Mako, you can. I'm looking for the first officer on the scene, Changpu. I need to speak with him." he looked back to the pod and rubbed the back of his neck.

"Sorry ma'am, he was dismissed when I got here. If you need to talk to him I'm sure you won't have much trouble finding him." he turned and made his way back to the pod.

"Great," she pulled her comm from her coat and opened a line to Asami, "Ms. Sato, another problem." Asami sighed.

"Of course."

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