2951-05-17 – Tales from the Inbox: A Midnight Search

This section of Noxolo Laska’s account will probably be the last we relay here. It has been interesting to see into the personal lives (or abortive attempts thereof) of the agents responsible for behind-the-lines security in this conflict, but the remainder of the story submitted is somewhat less than enthralling. It looks like details were excised by a second contributor, probably Damien himself (and I don’t think that’s his real name, even if Noxolo thinks it is).

The missing details relate to the actual discovery and disarming of the deadman-switched cargo. No doubt the contents are secret, but a thermite booby-trap is hardly top secret; something else about this section might have violated operational security on one of Damien’s other official investigations with BCI, but this is only speculation on my part.

I also do not know what became of this pair after the events described; the submitted account ends with a cursory note about the station being saved and the officials responsible for killing Damien’s partner being apprehended. This part would have been far more interesting in detail, but no detail was provided.

Noxolo tried to imagine the entire security apparatus of the station being so corrupt that they’d be willing to let people die to cover their tracks. Sure, she’d heard some of them were slow to report minor violations by their friends, but a smuggling ring worth enough to put the entire station’s population at risk in the coverup was something that seemed beyond the bumbling constabulary officers. Damien seemed to believe it, and sniffing out such things was his job. So was lying convincingly, but Noxolo either had to trust that he was telling the truth, or shoot him dead right now and spend the rest of the night trying to dispose of his body.

Damien, seeming to sense Noxolo’s doubt, placed his hands palms-up on the table and sighed. “If we’d expected this, Santi and I would have brought backup. But we didn’t. This was supposed to be a routine intercept.”

Noxolo nodded. “Okay. Here’s what we’re going to do.”

“Noxie, I should-”

Noxolo raised the scattergun in her hand and shook it, arching one eyebrow. “I have the talking wand, Damien.”

Damien scowled, then folded his arms and sat back.

“Here’s what we’re going to do.” Noxolo leaned forward, placing her elbows on the table, and rested her chin on the weapon. “I’ll make a list of places where they could get a thermite rigged crate in without having to bypass too many security sensors, and eliminate places where it would be too visible. Should take only an hour or two, and I can keep those searches from drawing any official attention.”

Damien nodded cautiously. “I can help-”

Noxolo arched her eyebrow again, and Damien once again fell silent. This time, his expression fell from a frown into a scowl and showed signs of going into a full-blown pout. He liked to have things his way, and that was part of what had made him so much fun two years prior, but it was also probably why he’d left like he did. They’d come to that point in any relationship where both people involved have to face a future of not always getting things their way.

“While I do that, Damien dear, you are going to sleep.” Noxolo smiled. “If you’re going to keep my home from blowing up, I need you at least halfway rested.”

“Sleep?” Damien sat bolt upright, as if in denial of the dark circles under his eyes. “I don’t think that’s a good-”

“I am quite prepared to sedate you.” Noxolo rolled her eyes. She certainly wasn’t going to get anything done on the terminal with Damien pacing in agitation behind her; he was positively adorable when he was agitated. “You look like you haven’t slept in five shifts.”

Damien held up his hand. “It’s been less than four shifts.”

“Then you’re getting older, and four is the new five.” Noxolo pointed her scattergun toward the corridor leading to the only bedroom in the tenement; the second space intended to be one was currently serving as a spare stock-room for long-shelf-life products for her shop. “If you don’t whine too much, the bed might still be warm when you get there.”

Damien looked like he was going to whine far too much, but he seemed to be struck with a rare moment of good sense. With a nod, he stood up. “Thank you, Noxie. I’ll make this up to you, I promise.”

“By making sure I’m not homeless tomorrow.” Noxolo gestured again. “I’ll wake you up when it’s time to go find your bomb.”

Damien crossed the room in a few steps and paused to look over his shoulder at Noxolo. For a moment, his eyes softened into a look that was just like old times.

Noxolo met his eyes, and an involuntary smile tugged at her lips. Even now, that look made her feel ready to follow him and make very certain that he didn’t get any sleep, but she had too much good sense to give in to such urges.

Damien grinned, but his grin was swallowed up in an involuntary yawn. With a groan, he headed for the bedroom.

Noxolo watched the space where he’d been for a few seconds before turning to the computer terminal in the corner. Her hands danced across the input keys as she queued up a few initial system requests, but her mind was elsewhere. There was a part of her that was persuaded, despite all reason, that things could be like they were before, assuming nobody exploded with the contraband shipment he’d misplaced. Of course things couldn’t be the same; she knew that no matter what he said, there was no forever. Even if he stayed, there would be another day when duty called and she found him gone.

With her queries still running, Noxolo got up and crept toward the bedroom. Damien was already asleep, of course; he looked to have barely made it onto the bed before the lights went out. She tiptoed past him to the drawers in the far bulkhead and picked out some tight-fitting, dark-colored clothes that would be ideal for burgling storage compartments. She tossed off her robe right there and dressed, heedless of his soft snoring. After all, even if he was awake, and he wasn’t, Damien had seen it all before.

Back at the terminal, Noxolo started cross-referencing results. At the top of the holographic display, a wireframe of the station that started out golden-yellow began to acquire patches of green and red. The red patches generally grew larger as she worked, while the green ones narrowed.

When she got as far as she could on public data queries, Noxolo switched over to making queries using the credentials of the station’s most junior maintenance tech. The poor girl had been far too trusting, and Noxolo had found it only too easy to lift her thumbprint and guess her passcodes within two weeks of her starting on the job. Having access to the maintenance system had all kinds of perks, few of which Noxolo had yet found a use for.

A few more queries came back, and Noxolo added them one by one to her diagram. The red areas grew, and the green ones narrowed, while a few more appeared.

Soon, a pattern emerged, and it was one that Noxolo didn’t like. The green spots created by the maintenance queries were almost all concentrating in areas of the station that normally she would have expected – areas that even a diligent investigator might fail to inspect.

Two hours later, Noxolo shook Damien awake. He was up in an instant, but before he could go anywhere, she pressed a synthfoam cup of coffee into his hands. “I’ve got a hunch about where your smugglers are hiding things.” She gestured back toward the room where the terminal still showed her map of the station. “How sure are you about the official connection?”

Damien glanced down at the steaming beverage. Too late, Noxolo remembered that he couldn’t stand spacers’ synthesized coffee; this time, he would need the caffeine. “It’s the only explanation. Why?”

Noxolo sipped her own coffee, then grimaced. “Come on, I’ll show you. We’re in for an interesting few hours.”