The Ishtar Investigation
Chapter 3: At Home Reviewing the Case
As I left I decided to return to my pod for a short time. I had a small office there and over two years of working in Internal Affairs, I had developed a strong relationship with my AI. While it was still mostly a tool for running the machinery of the Confederation, my AI had become very good about linking communications for me if I wanted a quick answer. It was good as well in delving through the Confederation's data banks to find reports or memos that helped me in unraveling a case. The information that General Montgomery had provided me clearly pointed to my needing to visit Earth and the Diaspora headquarters, however I wanted to build a complete picture before I scheduled a ship.
My quick arrival back surprised my concubines, and Mio threw her arms around me, demanding attention. I held her and caressed her close, but released her after a brief kiss. "I'm sorry. While I'll gladly cuddle with you, I need to call up some reports and review a new problem."
Sarah had just walked in and looked at me. "What kind of problem? Can we help you solve it?"
I shrugged as I walked to my office and collapsed into the office chair I had set up. "I don't know," I replied as I turned to face the wall I used to display reports. "This one is almost certainly going to take me back to Earth for a visit to DECO."
"DECO?" Heidi asked as she walked in carrying a cup of coffee for me. She set it on the desk as she looked at me. "What's that?"
"The Director of Evacuation and Colonial Operations," I replied. "It appears that someone created a colony without proper approval."
Sarah had brought a cushion from the video room and threw it on the floor. "How did you get involved in that? I thought the call came from General Montgomery. Isn't he the commander of all the Marines in the military district?"
I nodded. "Yes, General Montgomery was the one who called. The problem is that the colony is in this district, but General Montgomery and Admiral Himmel didn't approve it. I happened to meet with the Admiral after leaving my meeting with General Montgomery and he was equally confused by the existence of this colony. They knew nothing about the colony beyond one voice communication each had made and two reports they had received."
I heard the gasp from Mara as she entered. Mio began reaching for the closures on my uniform, but I gently guided her arms around my neck and gave her a kiss. "Not yet," I whispered when she tried to rub against my crotch.
Mio sat in my lap and glared at me for a moment, but then gave me a gentle kiss. She twisted around so her butt was against my crotch. While I fought to push her out of my lap she spoke. "AI, can you help us out and display whatever information our master received from General Montgomery?"
I grumbled as the two reports were displayed side-by-side against the wall. My AI knew me a bit too well by now, and would accept requests from my concubines if I was in the same room and did not immediately countermand it. However, my attention immediately turned to the two reports displayed. My ladies looked at the reports in a confused manner and Sarah turned to look at me forlornly. Despite the hours I spent with her she struggled to read and the reports clearly confused her. Heidi however stepped up and scanned them quickly.
"Why these?" she asked. "Both are from some colony I've never heard of, and the first doesn't even reference Borneo at all. The second seems to have been sent to the General as an information copy, but the main direction of these was to Central Command and Naval Headquarters back in the Earth system."
I smiled. "AI, show a holographic display showing the locations of Borneo, Ishtar and Earth and then use a green sphere to show the limits on the Borneo Military District."
The room darkened a moment and then three lights appeared in the room. Borneo and Ishtar were relatively close, but Earth was on the opposite side of Borneo compared to Ishtar. I tried to judge distances and figured that Ishtar was more than five hundred light-years from Earth."
"Wow," Sarah said walking around. "So let me get this correct. The reports are from this light here, representing Ishtar," she pointed to Ishtar as a green field spread from Borneo and extended past Ishtar. Sarah watched and then nodded. "Heidi? Do those reports show any signs that Ishtar is aware they are in the Borneo Military District?"
Heidi laughed. "They are about as unmilitary in communication as I've seen in the two years we've belonged to Norm. Reading them I think the AI actually wrote the reports, although the first report is signed by someone named Timothy and the second by a Gina."
Mio giggled. "You read fast. What are the reports about?"
I was reading the reports myself and hissed, as I understood the contents. "My god. The first report was sent after a Sa'arm scout visited the system and shot at some of the repair infrastructure they have in orbit. It left after that, and the report was to inform high command of the encounter. No calls for help, just a report that the Sa'arm had come and knew the colony was there. But the second..."
Mio tensed as Heidi groaned. "I agree. The colony was attacked by a Sa'arm ship and reports successfully defending itself, but this report doesn't say how."
I coughed. "I think I know how. The General mentioned that the atmosphere was acidic, and that the colony has some defense lasers. The Sa'arm ship must have been destroyed by a combination of the lasers and the acid."
"Correct," my AI interjected. "The original report did include a note that the Sa'arm ship was destroyed while it was in the atmosphere, but the original reference was removed by one of the AI's working in Central Command."
I looked up. "Wait? Does that mean that there are two versions of this report?"
There was a long pause and then the copy of the first report was replaced. I looked over the display and realized that it was a copy of the second report, only with a paragraph detailing the fact that the Sa'arm ship was destroyed while in the atmosphere, and the fact that the defense lasers would be unusable due to acid damage for ten to fourteen days. The report the General had originally shown me did not contain this passage, and the header noted Central Command had re-sent it, superceding the copy containing the details.
I sat there silently, reviewing the two reports and looking for any other discrepancies. I noticed that the original did not contain any contact information, but the Central Command version included a footnote that James Rabb was the contact on Ishtar. Suddenly it was clear that information regarding Ishtar was being manipulated, although the reason escaped me.
Sarah was looking back and forth between the reports confused. "What changed?"
Heidi was shaking her head. "Not much. The two reports are nearly identical, but for some reason Central Command removed a paragraph and then re-sent the report, ordering the original ignored. It's like someone wanted the colony forgotten. I guess they were hoping no one would bother to call the planet, or that this James Rabb would somehow get them to ignore the situation."
Mio had a hand out and pulled Mara over for a hug while looking at the reports. Finally she asked the question I was pondering on. "Who is James Rabb?"
My last five major investigations had taken me away from the pod, and neither Mio nor Mara had participated in a group review of data before, but neither seemed surprised as the reports vanished from the wall, to be replaced by a photo and briefing for a man of about thirty four. The header indicated that this was the Confederacy's data on James Rabb. Heidi read it out loud for Sarah.
"Let's see. The data here doesn't show where or when he was picked up, nor where he is posted, but the information does confirm that he is no longer on Earth. Actually there isn't much in the briefing. I do find one thing interesting, his CAP score is displayed at seven point two, but I'm seeing six concubine names."
"Six?" Sarah said. "How did he get that many? I thought any CAP of seven meant you got four."
I was continuing to read the brief on James Rabb. None of the information made any sense. I had reviewed such briefs before and they always included information on the pickup date and location as well as training assignments and any promotions. The data for James merely showed that he had volunteered for the Marines and had been picked up. No information beyond that. I looked back over the concubine list and saw the six names Heidi reported, but no additional information.
"AI? Can you answer Sarah's question? How did he end up with six concubines? I get a feeling that they haven't exactly had access to additional personnel since they landed," I asked.
There was a long pause and the AI responded. "Information is limited. From the limited information available it appears that James selected concubines Bethany, Tina, Janice and Meiko during pickup. Concubine Brittany reached her fourteenth birthday about two weeks after James was picked up. This indicates that she would have most likely tested during transit, as it would take any transport about forty-five days at top speed to reach Ishtar from Earth. The biographical report on Brittany indicates she scored a four point three in testing. There is no note of when she was claimed, but most likely it occurred shortly after testing. Confederacy policy has adjusted to allow some individuals to have additional concubines over their original allotment, but there are no records of why the decision was made. I have found no record of a concubine Kitty directly attached to what little data is available on James. There are no records from the colony itself. I'm still trying to find any on the transit. None of the standard Aurora class ships conducted the transport to Ishtar, and I am trying to find out what ship did the transfer."
"Dear god," Sarah whispered. "It's like the colony doesn't even exist, nor its inhabitants. Do we know who else in on the planet?"
There was a pause. It lasted quite a while and then the AI spoke. "There is no record of the colony beyond three reports, and records of three voice calls placed to the planet. I should note that during the voice calls from General Montgomery and Admiral Himmel a more detailed after-action report of the Sa'arm was transmitted to both commanders, they have not released the data for your review."
"Three reports and three calls?" I asked. "I only have seen two reports and heard about two calls, the General's and the Admiral's. And I don't think we should worry about the after-action report. It might gave us some additional names, but my investigation is about how the colony was founded, not what they are doing to stay alive."
The screen changed to display a fairly standard Naval Memo. It reported that the planet of Ishtar was being colonized as a forward-repair base and should be operational in another week or two. I found myself laughing. "Wait, someone reported that the base was in place, after destroying all the records of the founding of the colony?"
"Affirmative," the AI said. "Although this report came out of the N4 section of the office of the Director of Naval Operations, all of the colony information would have come out of DECO."
Sarah giggled. "Even the Earth AI's didn't tell each other everything. I'm guessing that if it wasn't a standard ship involved someone had to request it and give a reason why, and the AI at N4 simply sent that memo as a follow up, not realizing that all other information on the planet was being erased."
"What about the missing call?" Heidi asked.
"I'm not sure what it is." the AI said. "The call appears to be from a corvette commander who was at Borneo Command dealing with a logistic issue the day the first report arrived there. He called Ishtar from one of the private briefing rooms, but while I can confirm that he made the call, there is no vocal recording of what was said."
"Mystery on top of mystery, although I think we can ignore that for now. I doubt he was involved and most likely wanted to complain about how a colony could calmly report a Sa'arm visit. Was it one of the older commanders?" I said.
"Affirmative, Commander Eugene Sykes. Picked up eighteen months ago and trained at Moreton. Became captain of the Corvette Hampton Roads after his first tour and has been in charge of her for nine months now," the AI said.
Sarah sighed. "We still don't know much. We know that James has two more concubines than he should, but not why, and other than that we know almost nothing about the colony itself. Not even who is there other than James and the other two named in the reports, but with no last names, we cannot find out much."
"Damn," I groaned. "The Admiral named another colonist when I talked to him, but I can't remember the name. We first need to figure out how the colony was founded. If we knew when the pickup was and what ship was involved it would help. At least we'd have a time period to check on when I visit DECO Headquarters."
Heidi nodded. "I hate to see you leave on investigations, but you'll need to for this one. I'm guessing that it will be like the time you found us Mio and Mara, it will be a concubine there who helps break the case."
Sarah immediately giggled. "And it's my turn to go along."
"Never again," I growled. "Not after what happened to Tanya. You mean too much to me. I won't risk one of you again."
Heidi and Sarah glared at me. Mio and Mara were looking down and finally Heidi nodded. "We knew that would happen. After Hayley died when the courier ship she was on hit an asteroid you started to worry too much. You fought against taking Tanya on that investigation, even though without her, you would never have been able to prove that Rahm Lewis was the one in charge."
I fought off the gentle hands of Mio and Mara as they reached for me. "That doesn't change the fact that both of them are dead! Protecting you is supposed to be my responsibility in exchange for having you part of my life and I failed. How can I allow one of you to put yourself in harm's way for an investigation again?"
Heidi smiled and walked over to kneel at my feet. "Because we aren't asking you to allow it. We are just asking you to accept the love we have for you." She turned to look at Sarah who nodded.
"AI." Sarah said. 'Please play Tanya's final message."
The room darkened for a moment and then a hologram of Tanya appeared. She looked exactly as she had the day we left for Darling Downs and the investigation into the concubine torture ring with her curly brown hair and lopsided smile. I needed a concubine who would be my entry into the ring and despite my protests that Hayley had died only a month before while returning from an investigation, my concubines had insisted that Tanya join. She stood in front of me in her white shift with her brunette hair flowing behind her and her two-month pregnancy just starting to show and smiled.
"Norm, if you are seeing this I did not survive the investigation, and you are fighting with my sisters over their helping you again. Dear heart, I know the dangers of this investigation. I've seen the reports you have reviewed detailing the mangled and tortured bodies of more than fifty concubines discovered on Darling Downs in the last four months. If I go, there is a chance that I will become another one of those bodies. But, never believe that I regret going," the hologram began.
Tanya's hologram shrugged its shoulders and looked down for a moment. "Norm, you claimed me after my Earth husband and original sponsor Rick died in that training accident. I got to spend two weeks in the concubine barracks, and learned a lot about how much I dislike being alone. You gave me more than a place to stay. I have had three sisters who I love very much. We all know that you cry yourself to sleep because you miss Hayley, and our hearts break that we cannot take away the pain. You care when so few do anymore. This military life is hard and harsh, as humanity faces an enemy that never seems to sleep or pause. We know that if you failed those concubines, and did not capture the leader of the ring, you'd blame yourself for every one that dies in the future. He must be stopped. If I have to sacrifice my life to prevent you from forgetting your own humanity, I do so because of my love for you."
"My love, do not regret what happened. I went with you willingly and happily. Our three months together have been special. My only wish is for you to continue to be the man you are today, and help others find the goodness left inside them."
Tears filled my eyes as the hologram faded away. I could feel the gentle hands of all four of my concubines surround me as I finally mourned the young lady who had given her life hiding the two children who had witnessed Rahm Lewis taking Ensign Forbes into a backroom and murdering the young man. It had been their testimony, which had finally broken open the case and brought the ring down, but her sacrifice still hurt. I sobbed in the arms of my concubines for several moments, accepting their kisses and caresses until the AI spoke.
"I believe I have identified the Kitty who is now James' sixth concubine," the mechanical voice said.
"What have you found?" I asked.
"I checked into the pickup records, but not the individual ones for each citizen. I was reviewing the details of each pickup action. I have found a ship the Will-o-Wisp, which was conducting pickups about fifteen weeks ago. In one pick up James and fourteen others were pulled from a small concert. I can only find individual pickup records for eleven of the individuals involved," the voice said.
"But that doesn't identify this Kitty," I replied.
"One of the four whose record is missing is a Dennis Lanter. He had two concubines, Juliet and Kitty, both fifteen-year-old girls."
"So James took Kitty away from Dennis for some reason?" Mio asked.
There was a very long pause again and the AI replied. "Unlikely. This did not happen aboard the Wisp as I have found the copy of the ship's logs in the Central Information database's last update, and it appears that it took the colonists to Ishtar. Also while information is fragmentary it appears that Dennis is not part of the same faction of colonists James belongs to. If the colony dropped per the agreement reached during the outbound journey there would have been no contact between them once on the planet."
"What?" I shouted. "I remember General Montgomery telling me that there was some kind of schism when the colony landed. Did it happen before they landed?"
Again there was a long pause. I could see Heidi and Sarah looking at me in wonder at the delay before the AI finally spoke. "Many apologies. Due to the sealing of original records and the erasure of others, information regarding Ishtar is hard to find. What few records I can access do indicate that there were problems during the outbound trip, but I am unable to break the security and review the records without setting off a number of alerts."
Sarah seemed more interested. "Should we call Ishtar?"
The AI immediately spoke. "I should note that in attempting to access the records regarding the colony I found an unsecured order for the Ishtar AI to report any communications back to the DECO AI. It is likely that this order was created by whoever founded the colony."
I sighed. "In other words, if we do call Ishtar, the officer who issued the command will know he's being investigated. This is a disaster."
Heidi nodded and turned to me. "Norman, this is big. To do this someone had to have direct access to the AI computer that monitors pickups. How else could he make a bunch of picked up citizens vanish. That's the only way for the pickup record on James to be missing."
"AI?" I asked.
The long pause was no surprise this time, but it still seemed unusual. Normally the AI responded immediately to requests for information, which made the pauses seem much more sinister. Finally it broke the silence. "There is no question that tampering has occurred, but I am unable to determine the extent without alerting the DECO AI that I am investigating the records. My earlier surface level scans of databases which discovered the pickup that involved James Rabb only worked because I ran a comparison with the group pickup records. I expect the only reason the group records were untouched was the presence of others who were not sent to Ishtar, as someone might check their records in the future."
"Wow, this seems like it was an organized move. What ship did the pickup?" I asked.
"The ship designation is Will-o-Wisp. Indications are that she was rated for one hundred and eight pods. There is no other ship of her size in use on pickups."
"Bingo!" Sarah replied. "I'll bet she was normally used to transport pods when someone transferred. That would explain why logistics knew about the move. I bet our mastermind offered some explanation of a desperate need to run a ship with minimal empty pods and convinced logistics to loan him the ship for one run. With transfers a major issue recently anything more would have required official orders, and prevented the colony from remaining secret." Sarah was referencing a couple of investigations I had performed after a couple of district commanders began using transfers as bribes to certain preferred officers. The process had disrupted the operations of a major training facility. The major break in the case occurred when I hitched a ride on a small pod transport and ran into a grizzled gunnery sergeant who was being transferred in order to open up slots in one colony. The information he provided had led to a Commodore being transferred to Fleet Readiness and the temporary closing of a training center while the staff was shuffled to new posts.
I nodded at that. "So we have a ship never before used on pickups showing up and taking one-hundred colonists away. The records of the individuals picked up were erased as much as possible, and I bet the Wisp is now back on pod transfer duties."
"Affirmative," the AI said. "Transport Will-o-Wisp is currently in-route to Azaharat with some ship-builders out of the Frikat system."
I sighed. "Well, that answers one question I had not thought to ask, but now seems important. Did whoever set this up know he was breaking regulations? I think we can say by the attempts to hide the evidence that someone knew this would not go over well."
"Why?" Mio asked. "I mean, I know the colony obviously wasn't approved, but the efforts to hide it seem a little haphazard and incomplete. I don't see the whole picture."
I turned her to give her a kiss and then looked up. "AI, shrink the holo display of the galaxy to a region of space centered on Ishtar and extending one hundred twenty light years. Then use a red field to show the area under Sa'arm control."
The light display in the room changed and Mara gasped as the red field surrounded Ishtar. Some areas of red flashed, apparently indicating areas where Sa'arm control was not absolute, but Ishtar was a lonely blue light in a sea of red. "A colony within Sa'arm space? That's suicide!"
I thought for a moment. "AI, based on the first report, we should know how long the system went undetected if we assume that Wisp left shortly after James was picked up and know when it returned to Confederacy space after the drop. Can you compute that?"
There was a pause and the AI responded. "You are aware that colony ships usually run the out-bound at a slower speed to allow the households time to bond before the sponsors must report for training. It's possible that the Will-o-Wisp returned in much less time than it took to arrive at Ishtar."
"Understood, but I just want to get an idea of what happened. How long was it?" I responded.
"The time between the pickup of James Rabb and the others in the pickup where the records were tampered with and Will-o-Wisp reporting at Frikat was about nine weeks. Interestingly the first report from Ishtar regarding a Sa'arm ship visit was received at Central Command before the Wisp arrived at Frikat," the AI reported.
"The colony didn't stay hidden for long," I growled. "Anything else from that?"
There was a pause and then the AI spoke. "Do you want a rabbit?"
"What?" Heidi cried. "Don't joke about pets. The Confederacy never picks up any animals from Earth."
I was looking at Mio and Mara in shock as the AI responded. "I'm just reviewing the records I can find. When the Wisp showed up at Frikat one of the Marines that was on board had a new concubine Brenda. The concubine was accompanying eight adult rabbits and an unspecified number of baby rabbits. There is a reference in the ship's log for the Wisp that hint at the possibility that one pod carried by Will-o-Wisp contained more than fifty rabbits when the ship reached Ishtar. The Wisp had no pods when it arrived at Frikat."