The Ishtar Investigation
Chapter 10: More talks, few leads
The halls were a bit calmer. My journey to find Traci's office took me back to Colonel Newhart's office and I found him sitting somewhat peacefully. Since he no longer appeared hurried I stopped by.
"Your investigation going well?" he asked.
I pretended to ignore his comment. "I see that the emergency is over. I guess we could do that audit now."
Colonel Newhart laughed. "You aren't here for that, and you don't have to pretend for me. Everyone already is speculating on your real purpose, and I hear there are some people taking bets."
My glare must have been fierce because Colonel Newhart sat up a bit straighter. "I haven't placed any," he said defensively. "But you didn't really expect your cover story to last very long."
"No," I reluctantly admitted. "But investigations are always dangerous. Investigating people on the Success could mean that someone sees a career end, so I already feel like I've got a big target painted on my back."
The Colonel nodded at this. "You do if any of the scuttlebutt stories are accurate."
"What are they? I'd be interested to hear them. Then I'd know what to watch out for."
I schooled my face into impassiveness. I did not want to give away anything. Fortunately Colonel Newhart closed his eyes and spoke.
"Let's see. I believe there were five. First, that there is something wrong with marine fighters and you are checking on which factories produced the bad fighters. Second, that a training program has gone bad and you need to find the writer. Third, that you are a tool in the war between Tucker and Miles. Forth, that someone in pickups fouled up. And finally, that someone in Borneo is trying to shake down the industrial directorate in order to get more ships. With the losses I heard about, I could picture the last."
I shrugged. "Admiral Himmel might want more, but that man is old-school industry. He just tells his captains to make do with less and adjusts training programs accordingly."
Colonel Newhart nodded. "We don't hear about the various districts much, but Borneo has been rumored to be rather self-sufficient."
"For training and personnel yes, but not for shipbuilding. They only have repair yards. That's not my concern or department," I admitted. "Besides, most of that self-sufficiency is because they are at the far end of the Confederacy and the supply chain. Worse is that their neighboring district, the Leo District, is slowly falling to the Sa'arm and it looks like Borneo will be cut off from the Confederacy in about five years."
With that I stood up. Colonel Newhart nodded as I did and waved towards the exit. He had already turned back to a view screen and was muttering something to the AI as I stepped out of his office.
The halls remained quiet. Occasionally I would encounter a lieutenant or ensign running on an errand, but it seemed like the entire ship had gone on an afternoon break. I wandered down a couple halls before finding the office of Traci Milosevich. At my knock I could hear her call out. "Enter."
I stepped in to find a beautiful red haired woman sitting at a simple unadorned desk. She was wearing what looked like a military uniform although the collar tabs were an ark and conjoined male and female symbols. She noticed my look at the collar and smiled.
"It pisses off everyone. The military hates it cause they think I mock them, and Miles and his crowd hate that I look even this much military," she said.
"I can imagine," I said. "Doesn't sound like you have a pleasant life though, if you are angering everyone."
The woman shrugged, a motion, which caused her chest to bounce. She noticed my look and her smile turned into a slight smirk. I saw this and tried to swallow a laugh. "Yes, you are devastatingly beautiful and know how to take advantage of it," I admitted.
She gave a coy giggle. "And I had to do little. I was a model before I was picked up. However, I'm sure that's not why you are here."
"Why not? Its not often I get to speak to a beautiful woman who remembers the trials of growing up beautiful. You are far more comfortable than many of the concubines I meet. They often seem to fear their own beauty," I confessed.
Traci looked at me. "Now I know you aren't DECO or regular military."
"How so?" I asked.
She pointed at me. "Miles has been growing increasingly selective for DECO. To him concubines aren't supposed to be made pretty, but molded into high CAP baby making machines. The fact that you know concubines who have been given cosmetic improvements tells me you aren't one of his disciples. And most regular military guys on the Success see concubines as playthings and toys."
"I've met a few very capable concubines," I said. "But if you aren't part of Miles crowd, how can you still be in DECO?"
This caused Traci to laugh. "I'm in charge of Personnel Allocation. I'd be the one who had to order the replacement for me. Besides, none of his followers wants this position. I have to deal far more closely with N4 than any of them can stand. I just get directives from him about the latest plans he has for pickups and coordinate with the Navy about who goes where."
"Makes some sense. Do you get messages about what personnel requisitions are open or is there some kind of list?" I asked.
"You interested in how it works?"
"Sure," I admitted. "After all, part of why I have a trainee this trip is that the Borneo district didn't receive two new inspectors they requested through N4. They decided to have Lieutenant Jackson trained as a inspector instead."
"That sounds unfair," Traci said. "I can understand some training, but she was picked up for one job and now is being completely retrained. Worse, you have to take time from your job to retrain her. Is there a manual you are using? Or an approved program?"
"You sound like some corporate HR guru rather than an ex-model," I said with a smile.
Traci blushed. "Jennifer was an HR consultant, and at first we were good friends. She helped me get settled in ... but that was before..."
I nodded. "Sounds like she was a nice lady at one time. I will say that she could be quite beautiful if she relaxed."
Traci laughed. "Maybe once the political fight about saving everyone on Earth ends. The Navy knows that can't save everyone, but at least they are going to try."
"Well, they do need personnel if they are going to field enough ships to slow the Sa'arm down, and even more to stop them. Right now Earth is the only place to obtain reinforcements. And even if we manage to pull ten million people off Earth before the Sa'arm come, we still are going to be at a huge disadvantage when it comes to numbers," I replied.
Traci nodded. "I know. I see the lists. You were right that as each need is reported to HQ, I get it in the form of a list of priorities. I try to make sense of it and then build the selection trees the AI's will use during the pickups."
"Do you know which ships are going where?" I asked.
"Yes, but it's limited information," she admitted. "I don't have a large staff. Just myself and seven non-coms who input and cross-check the requisitions coming in from the colonies. Most days I'm just trying to keep up with the needs list and make sure that any priorities are covered."
"What about the special pickups for high CAP people. I know they often end up collecting additional people," I asked.
"Usually they just go to whatever planet the high CAP person has been pre-assigned to. I usually don't even know about those until after they are completed."
"A whole ship ends up at a planet because one high CAP pickup was made?" I asked.
"Sometimes. Here, take a look at how it works." Traci hit a key and the wall to my right lit up with a display listing the current high priority personnel needs.
"I'm supposed to get those filled as quickly as possible," Traci said needlessly. "As you can see that list contains requirements for fifteen hundred people to be delivered to nine different military districts and almost twenty colonies. And that's just the priority ones. Right now I believe we have a backlog of over one hundred thousand empty slots that I'm supposed to fill."
She hit a couple keys and a second display showed up. It was a shorter list of three Aurora class and two Kilo class colony ships. "Those are the ships currently in the system either making pickups or preparing to. I can designate one or more priorities to one of those ships and the AI will try to filter the personnel to fill the priority first, and then any level two or three priority pickups for the same colony and district. Originally the plan was for each colony ship to make one stop after pickup before returning to Earth, but increasingly they have to make two or three."
"Do you have many cases where one ship picks up for multiple colonies?" I asked.
Traci shook her head. "As I said, its becoming more common, but its still rather rare. There have only been a few so far. Fortunately the pods can shift between the various colony ships on their own thrusters if it's decided that they need to go to a different colony than the one where the ship which picked them up is going to drop its cargo. Miles said that doing that slows the outbound leg too much and he only wants that done if it's a DECO priority."
I decided to take a chance. "Ever see a pickup for a colony called Ishtar?"
Traci looked at me for a moment and then spoke. "AI, list any pickups of any priority for colony Ishtar."
The screen flickered, and then turned off. Traci shrugged. "Doesn't look like I have any record of one. Do we have a colony by that name?"
I shook my head. "I know of no official colony by that designation, but I wanted to see how it works. Why don't you show Kelor?"
Before Traci could ask the AI reacted and the screen started scrolling through a list of needs. Traci read along. "Command staff for a small task force. Crew for two Asian class cruisers. Three different requests for crew for a Goddess class battlecruiser. Maintenance crew for a small repair and refit setup. And a priority three need for a civil service officer. Not a large list. I'm surprised they aren't requesting more corvette crews. Its easier to get two corvette crews and then mothball the ships when you replace them with a cruiser than get cruiser crews."
"Why?" I asked.
Traci shrugged. "It's a function of all the politics and fighting going on over the allocation of higher CAP people. Some of the six five people prove very good from what I hear once they are off Earth and trained, but it's the ones with a score of eight and higher that usually get the instant promotions to O-5 and higher. The AI figures that cruisers are going to have an O-5 commander and won't fill the requisition for the rest of the crew until after it finds a commander."
"Well, without a commander the ship isn't going anywhere so I guess that makes sense," I said.
I wanted to say more, but the AI spoke. "Traci, Miles has just called a meeting of all department heads." She stiffened and turned to me, but I waved my hands before she could say anything.
"Duty calls," I said making my tone understanding and gentle. "I should go as well. But if you are interested in lunch tomorrow and I'm still here, perhaps we can talk some more."
I stood up. Traci did was well although she was turning away from me to pick up an old style clipboard and some papers. When she turned back to look at me sheepishly for using paper I winked and walked to the door, leaving as soon as it finished opening.
The news from this visit was unsurprising, but a bit disappointing. It was clear that whoever had orchestrated the creation of Ishtar had managed to somehow bypass the standard allocation of personnel. It was something I expected, but there was always some hope that the trail would be easy to find. Now I needed to either get deeper cooperation from Jennifer or Traci, or I was going to have to make someone nervous enough to talk.
My mind pondered the possibilities as I made my way back towards the stateroom. Linda had named two rear admirals, but at the moment I could not remember their names and asking the AI openly seemed unwise. I was concentrating on this and was approaching the final turn to in the halls to reach the stateroom when I heard Linda talking to someone. She sounded a bit breathless and giggly so I put my back against the wall and peeked around the corner.
Linda was standing in the center of the hall. Her attention was on a short man with a military haircut. I could see the collar rank pin over his right shoulder and the man was a colonel. What surprised me was that Linda had her right hand on his shoulder and was teasing her own hair with her left as she spoke.
"Really? That sounds so important! Tell me about what you do!"
The colonel shook and put his hands on Linda's hips. "Damn girl," he hissed. "Its just making sure the training programs are followed, that's all."
Linda had stepped into his body as his hands grasped her hips. She turned him slightly and I could see that she was wearing a uniform top that seemed cut almost to her navel and left much of her cleavage visible. Seductively she dropped her left hand to the colonel's rear and pulled his crotch tight to her own. "It still makes me so hot to think you can make all those marines and naval cadets train. I so love seeing a man with muscles like yours run. Although some pushups are even better, if the right location is chosen."
As I watched Linda leaned back. The motion had the effect of causing her and the man holding her to fall against the wall. He groaned. "Oh wow. It's not that complex. I take the information from the training bases on how each batch of recruits performs and then provide that to the AI so it can help develop a matrix of what score patterns do best."
"Oh wow, but I thought everyone with a six point five or higher was supposed to be easy to train," Linda said. She nodded to me to turn away and I leaned back against the wall, just listening to the conversation.
"They should be, but the CAP lets through a few lemons," I heard the colonel say. "Oh do I hear about that once the training is done."
"How? It's not like the training commanders come to visit," Linda responded.
The colonel growled. "They are all friends. Most come from US military training bases. After all they were good at training soldiers on Earth. Central Command decided it was logical that they should be good training marines. Even if marines have equipment that makes most of the old tactics completely obsolete and if the dickheads ruin the other half."
"But you don't sound like you are a friend," Linda said.
"Friend?! Hell no. I was a personnel manager for one of those multi-national manufacturing companies. My job was to do pretty much what I do now. Monitor all of the training programs and make sure that ones that start performing poorly receive the help they need." The man said.
Linda purred. "Oh, those military men must hate that."
I could hear the man snort. "Of course they do. And there are a few military men in my department and others on the Success. That's how I hear about the problems. The military men complain back and forth and eventually I get some snot-nosed Lieutenant who used to be a fry cook back on Earth telling me that the training program on planet X isn't really doing poorly, but has been receiving substandard recruits."
There was a noise down the hallway and I heard Linda gasp. "Oh no! We shouldn't get caught together."
Both of them began whispering and moments later Linda dashed past me, obviously heading towards one of the cafeterias. I turned into the hallway from my hiding place and walked over to the stateroom. The colonel was standing against the wall, looking at his hands. I said nothing to him, but did spot the name Pruitt, stenciled on his uniform.
Entering the stateroom I could hear the soft moans I immediately recognized as Sarah building towards an orgasm. I stepped in to find Sarah lying on the bed as Fate knelt beside it and licked my concubine's pussy. Sarah's eyes opened as the door closed and she smiled at me.
"I think she'll do fine once she rebuilds her confidence," she said before moaning again.
Fate stopped licking and leaned back, her back suddenly perpendicular to the floor. She looked at me and I could see the fear in her eyes. I decided to try to put her at ease and stepped to the side of the door and then sat on the floor my back against the wall. "Stay calm, Fate," I said. "You have nothing to fear."
Fate still looked frightened. "But you can send me away, or recycle me. I already failed one mistress. And I'm pregnant and the baby isn't yours."
Sarah sat up and slid to the floor next to the young girl. She gave her a hug and then spoke. "I've tried to tell you many times. Normie isn't like that."
"Normie?" the brown haired concubine said.
I smiled, although Fate was not looking at me so the gesture was wasted. "It's the nickname my concubines gave me. My real name is Norman Nelson."
Fate turned to stare at me in shock. "But! You are a citizen? Shouldn't you be lord and master over your concubines?"
Sarah giggled. "Oh he is all that. But he's not like that witch who was outside earlier. Normie understands that our being concubines works better if he doesn't force us to be anything other than what we are."
Fate squirmed a little. "What about sex?"
"Anytime you are ready and willing, but never when you are not in the mood is what I try to work with. With Sarah and Heidi almost always willing, it hasn't been a problem."
"Almost?" Sarah screamed. She crawled over Fate to jump into my lap. "Better remove that word from your vocabulary Normie or I'll leave you covered with hickeys tonight! It's always and you know it!"
Fate gasped as Sarah gave me a long and lusty kiss, I could hear her shocked "Sarah?"
Sarah relaxed her kiss and turned slightly. Her motions shifted her head so it was lying on my chest. "What?" she asked.
"You're? Is he?" Fate stammered.
Sarah giggled. "Like I said, he's my lord and master. But its not just because the bloody Confederacy has its rules about concubines and how those under a six five CAP can only leave Earth if they are basically taken along as the belongings of a citizen." She paused to take a breath and then looked up at me.
"He's my lord and master because I know he'll protect me forever and that he values me for who I am. I can't explain just how much that means to me. He is the center of my universe and the one I want to spend the rest of my life with."
"Just me?" I asked giving Sarah a lick on her cheek were some of Fate's juices glistened.
Sarah giggled. "Fine! I do enjoy a tender moment with Heidi, Mio and Mara. But they are no different than I am. You always come first even if you are making sure that it's us who cum first."
I could see Fate blushing and looked at her. "Surprised?"
The girl nodded. "Very. You've met Miss Gates and I'm sure you've heard a bit about her and the others in DECO. It's actually frightening. I heard them at one of their evening galas where they had me working as a server. Like most of the other concubines there I ended up hearing most of their talk."
"Boring!" Sarah sang out. "I've never been to one of those, but I can just imagine it. I can't imagine wanting to be part of something like that."
Fate giggled. "Well, I can't speak for the others, but I know Miss Gates hates them. She'd spend the whole day before one of those meetings complaining and driving all of her concubines extra hard demanding that we take all the tests we had to pass for her improvement training. And when we finally arrive back at the pod after one, she always demanded that her male concubines attend her."
"For sex?" I asked.
Fate shrugged. "I think so. It could have been just for a massage, but she always was a bit more relaxed the next day."