2951-11-29 – Tales from the Service: The Heist of Seven SRC
Duncan here. As Nojus seems to have told you all, I was on leave to see my family for the first time in several years. I found their impressions of The Sprawl and the Gap transit quite interesting, but it was good to see them all the same.
This week, we’ll be continuing with the account Nojus started about the Seventh Special Reconnaissance Company. Though he seems to have omitted this warning, I must stress that Naval Intelligence would not confirm this story’s veracity, and since the submitter is a member of Seven SRC, I find it highly likely that there are elements that are more than a bit embellished. On the other hand, if a bunch of F.V.D.A. commandos really did steal espionage hardware from their own attached intelligence unit, I doubt the intelligence people would openly confirm it even if it were completely accurate. That they scrubbed some details only proves that the sender was a member of Seven SRC at the time the account is placed, or in touch with a member at that time.
Arjan Marchetti followed Sergeant Levitt out of the barracks compartment and down the hall to the lift. They both knew not to speak outside the barracks, where the ship’s normal security system was recording their every move and every word. As long as the Navy crew of Olivia Maria didn’t have definitive proof of anything before Seven SRC boarded its dropships, all excesses of creative supply sourcing would be forgiven when they returned triumphant.
In the lift, Levitt slipped Arjan a piece of paper. Real paper was all but unheard of on Navy ships, but it was part of the standard F.V.D.A. field kit. Invariably, instructions passed on paper were those that were not intended for members of any other service to see.
“Lieutenant Turati really thinks this drop’s going to be a breeze?” Arjan stuffed the paper into his pocket without looking at it. “Intelligence really seems to want us all killed.”
“Nah.” Levitt clapped Arjan on the back hard enough to almost knock him to his knees. “When you’ve been in the services long enough, you see that Intelligence doesn’t want any of us killed. They just don’t really care much one way or the other. They do think we can complete the mission, at least.”
“Ah.” Arjan nodded. “That’s... reassuring, Sarge. I guess.”
“Caring about people living or dying makes a spook’s job harder.” The lift stopped on Deck Five and Levitt stepped out. “That’s why we’ve got to care. See you back at the racks, Marchetti.”
Arjan saluted until the doors closed between them, then ordered the lift to take him up to the observation gallery on Deck Three. Olivia Maria was a Navy ship, but she had started construction as a passenger liner, and she still possessed many vestigial features of this career that had never been. Seven SRC’s troopers spent much of their off-duty time in the observation gallery, since it was one of the largest pressurized compartments on the whole ship, and because the spacers of the ship’s regular crew seemed to avoid it as an embarrassing reminder of the lowly half-breed status of their vessel.
Only when he was standing in front of one of the big armor-glass windows did Arjan unfold the little piece of paper the sergeant had slipped him. As long as he was facing outward, no security system could see what was in his hands. Lieutenant Turati had tested this extensively in the first few weeks of the company’s presence aboard Olivia Maria, and strangely the ever-suspicious Navy crew had neglected to correct this problem. They probably figured that if they did, the Seventh would spend even more time scheming inside its surveillance-free barracks and even less time out and about in the rest of the ship where someone could see what they were doing, and it would be even harder to interrupt any creative requisition schemes than it already was.
Arjan expected to find a cargo-crate identifier or a compartment code scrawled on Levitt’s note, but instead he saw a name: “Marianne Nicolescu.” Below that name, a set of shorthand Frontiersman glyphs appeared, indicating a time and that this person was to be kept occupied by any means until that time. Checking his wristcuff chronometer, Arjan saw that the time was more than twelve hours away.
“Just how am I supposed to do that?” Arjan crumpled the slip of paper up and crammed it back into his pocket. Nicolescu was the name of the Naval Intelligence captain in charge of all the Intelligence goons on the whole ship. He’d never met her before, of course; he only knew that she existed because her imprint appeared on most of the official briefing material that was sent to his reader to be dutifully ignored before every mission.
Annoyed that he was to be the distraction rather than the actual thief, Arjan returned to the lift. When the doors opened, he was surprised by an attractive blonde woman in the blue-pinstriped-black uniform of Naval Intelligence striding out.
“Excuse me.” Arjan caught up with the woman’s hurried pace. “Where can I find Captain Nicolescu?”
The woman glanced sidelong at Arjan without breaking stride. “Where I’m going. Which SRC are you with, trooper?”
“The Seventh, ma’am.” Arjan smiled. “Is the Captain very busy?”
“That information is above a trooper’s pay-rate.” The intelligence officer smirked. “But she’d be a lot less busy if you buccanners in the Seventh weren’t aboard.”
“Buccaneers?” Arjan gasped in mock offense. “Is that really what you lot think of us?”
The blonde scoffed. “Oh, please. Turati’s methods get results, but don’t pretend they win any favors outside the F.V.D.A. What do you need to see Nicolescu about?”
“That information is above a spook’s pay-rate.” Arjan arched one eyebrow and decided to hazard a guess. “But you aren’t just another underling. Without shoulder-insignias, Captain, it’s hard for a lowly trooper to know who to salute to.”
The woman smiled. “That is by design. If I wanted to be saluted, you would know it.”
“Lieutenant Turati is like that too.” Arjan shrugged. “When we’re out on operation, he turns off everyone’s rank insignias. Really, Captain, if you’re busy, I can wait an hour or two.”
“Tell Turati we don’t have Nate comm-spoofers.” Nicolescu massaged her forehead with one hand. “The answer doesn’t change no matter who he sends.”
“Comm-spoofers?” Arjan was only confused for an instant, but it made his reply sound all the more genuine. No doubt, this was what Levitt wanted stolen. “I don’t know anything about that.”
“Really.” Nicolescu stopped and turned to face Arjan. “Okay. What’s your name, trooper, and what is it that Turati was hoping you’d steal from me?”
“Marchetti, ma’am. Arjan Marchetti.” Arjan saluted. “And Turati didn’t tell me to steal anything from you. I was actually rather wondering if you had the forms for a transfer request.”
“You want to transfer out of the Special Reconnaissance Companies into Intelligence?” Nicolescu frowned. “Why?”
“During the briefing this morning, ma’am, I got to thinking. I’m too damned smart and too damned pretty to buy the plot in a shootout with Nate troops.” Arjan hoped this was interesting and convincing enough to at least pique Nicolescu’s interest. “Turati picked me up to do a bunch of his dirty work, it’s true, but I signed up for F.V.D.A to get out of the dirty work life.”
“Well, Mr. Marchetti.” Nicolescu smiled. “I have a posting open right this moment. Chief of Internal Security. It comes with a master-sergeant's pay rate, but it does involve mainly keeping the SRC troopers from stealing the fittings off this ship before every drop.”
Arjan feigned hesitation. “Well, I don’t know. That sounds awful nice, but the Lieutenant’s methods do work, you said it yourself. If I got in the way and people got killed...”
“If you got in the way and prevented the theft, Turati and the other SRC commanders would think of something less expensive to get the job done.” Nicolescu put an arm around Arjan’s shoulder. “Come with me.”
Arjan allowed himself to be led into a wardroom that he had never been in before. To his surprise, most of the officers of Olivia Maria were present, most of them boredly scanning data on their readers.
The scowling, mustachioed Captain Adams stood and placed his palms on the table as Nicolescu towed Arjan inside and closed the door.
“Sorry for the delay, Skipper.” Nicolescu led Arjan to a seat and sat down next to him. “Please proceed.”
“There is only one agenda item for this conference.” Adams fixed a disapproving glare on Arjan. “And it is an item which his presence disrupts.”
“Oh?” Nicolescu glanced over at Arjan. “How so?”
“If he overhears our preventative measures, then he will take that to his fellows.” Adams turned his glare on Nicolescu. “I thought you believed in information security.”
“Let me introduce Chief Marchetti, my provisional head of Internal Security.” Nicolescu gestured toward Arjan. “Formerly of Turati’s Seventh.”
Adams’s scowl deepened. “How formerly?”
“I’m still scheduled on this upcoming mission, Captain.” Arjan tried to sound helpful. “But I’m hoping to make it my last drop with the SRC.”
“Mr. Marchetti has been doing a lot of Turati’s dirty work already. You may recall his name from my report about the missing Puma parts, for example.”
“I deny that I was involved in any thefts.” Arjan folded his arms. “For the record.”
Adams sighed. “So we hire a thief to catch the thieves?”
“Catch them?” Nicolescu laughed. “Skipper, we don’t need to catch them. We just need to... Channel their energy a bit more constructively. Chief, how would you begin?”
Arjan smiled nervously and looked around, trying to look intimidated by all those Navy rank insignias. In reality, he thought them all pompous fools, but if they caught a whiff of that in his bearing, he was sunk. “Well, ah. This drop, you can bet the Seventh isn’t going to like relying on the flyboys to take out the triple-A around that landing pad. We-ah, they, will want to take that into their own hands.”
“They don’t trust us to get them there?” The squadron commander slapped the table with one palm. “Skipper, if they take my Pumas apart one more time-”
“Nicolescu, you and your Chief can go down to the hangar and keep those brigands from getting to anything.” Adams fixed a glare on Arjan. “And Marchetti, do be aware of exactly how provisional your new title is.”
“Y-yes, Skipper.” Arjan stood and saluted. “I know exactly where to start.” This, at least was true; Arjan had perhaps been more involved in the liberation of the nose cannons of three Puma interceptors than he would admit on the record, and could credibly secure the hangar against what he’d done that time. Stretching that into twelve hours would be the main problem.