The Ishtar Investigation
Chapter 14: Less than Innocent Remarks
Copyright© 2010 by Allan Joyal
Traci ignored everyone except Jennifer and dashed forward to stand by the bed. "Oh god!" Traci screamed. "I can't believe that such a thing could happen to you! Who did it! Why?"
I think everyone was shocked by this action. I was looking over at Traci and noticed that the collar pins she normally wore had changed slightly. The ark appeared the same, but the other was now co-joined women's symbols rather than the mix of male and female symbols from when I visited her office. I was going to speak when Sarah called out. "AI? Can you tell me what Traci's real age is?"
There was silence and Traci turned in shock as if just realizing we were there. Jason and Miles were glaring at my concubine. I said nothing at first, but moved to block the exit. As I did Traci's face drained of blood and became white.
"Concubine..." I then growled. "You ask the most puzzling questions, but this time I'll back you up. AI, what is Traci's age?"
The AI, which had remained silent when Sarah spoke replied immediately. "Citizen Traci Milosevich is forty-seven chronological years old."
"What?" Miles shouted. "I only brought her into DECO nine months ago when she was first picked up. She couldn't have been older than twenty-five. She looked like she does now!"
Traci smiled. "I didn't lie about that. I really did ask for almost no changes when I went into a pod. I've always looked a lot younger than I am, and it proved rather easy to have the few signs rolled back without any changes."
Miles then looked at me. "So she's a lot older than we all thought. What is your concubine blithering about? I have work to do."
I ignored him and looked at Sarah. "You were playing with the PDA. What do you suspect?"
Sarah shrugged and handed the PDA to me. It had the photos of Traci's four concubines from her pickup. Three were clearly models. The fourth was an extremely nerdy looking woman, complete with the coke-bottle horn-rimmed glasses. I looked at this and sighed. "AI, please tell me that none of Traci's concubines knew much about computers before the pickup."
Of course, the AI dashed that faint hope. "Traci's concubine Meredith was the IT director at Jones Modeling Agency. The woman has a master's as well as a doctorate in computer science."
Linda gasped. "So she would have known everything necessary to..."
I sighed. "Traci, do you want to throw yourself on the mercy of the court now?" I asked.
"What!" Miles screeched. "She's mine! You have no right to arrest her! Besides what crime has she commited? She might have a CAP less than eight, but she's still a valued and intelligent woman."
Linda shook her head. "She's also a lesbian. One who if I'm not mistaken made a pass at Jennifer and was rejected sometime after they were both picked up."
Jennifer looked a bit surprised and thoughtful, but before she could speak Fleet Admiral Tucker turned to me. "Can you explain what all this is about? It sounds like you have an arrest. Heck, I'm still not sure what the crime is."
Traci smiled at that. "He's got a point. You haven't exactly called out what crime I might have committed. And you are from a colony, how could you prove that I committed any crime out there? I have never left the Earthat system. My pickup brought me immediately to the Success and I was head of assignments a week later."
Miles looked uncomfortable when everyone turned to look at him. "Hey, we are just as understaffed as everyone else," he said with a shrug. "And until five minutes ago I thought we were doing a perfect job. What is this about a crime anyways? She didn't stab Jennifer."
Linda looked at the two men who between them pretty much ran the human part of the Confederacy. "This first question will likely make little sense to you. Have either of you ever heard of a colony called Ishtar?"
Both men frowned and Traci looked over at me. "I remember Commander Nelson asked me if I had any pickup requirements for Ishtar, but there are none in the queue. So what does this so called colony have to do with whatever crime you are investigating?"
I smiled. "AI? Please confirm the location of colony Ishtar and under which jurisdiction it should be at the moment."
There was a moment and the AI replied. "Information regarding the colony is sealed."
I looked at Traci who had grown pale in the face again. She stared at me as I looked over at the AI speaker and spoke again. "AI, I have with me Fleet Admiral Jason Tucker as well as Miles Chandler the head of DECO. Neither of them ever authorized that seal on the records, so unless it's from another Internal Affairs officer, I order that seal removed and the information given."
Jennifer's eyes widened. "You can do that?" she asked.
It was my turn to nod. "No Internal Affairs investigator wants to do something like that, but in this case I feel it is necessary."
Everyone stood silently for several moments. Finally the AI spoke again. "Colony Ishtar is located within Sa'arm controlled territory. Its closest Confederacy neighbors are Borneo at one hundred light years away and Kelor at one hundred ten light years away. Officially the colony should be designated as a DECO concern as it was not properly handed over to the local district control after citizens were landed"
Fleet Admiral Tucker hissed. "Its inside Sa'arm territory? When was it founded."
Linda looked at me and at my nod spoke. "We aren't sure. Even with Commander Nelson's experience in dealing with the AI units, obtaining that information might have impacted our investigation."
The AI interrupted. "The first instructions to drop the colony center and terraform equipment were made fifteen months ago. Actual selection of colonists occurred over a two week period five Earth months ago."
"Who did the selection? And why?" Miles asked.
I had been watching Traci and noticing that with each revelation she grew paler and paler. By now I could see the knuckles of her right hand whiten against the rail of the gurney. I gazed directly into her eyes before I spoke.
"That is what I was sent to investigate," I admitted. "General Montgomery found out about the colony after a memo crossed his desk telling about a Sa'arm attack on the colony that was repelled. He was rather upset about a colony in the district's zone of control that he had not be properly informed about."
Fleet Admiral Tucker gave a harsh sounding cough. "Wait. Did I just hear you say the planet repelled an attack? We have major marine bases that all but collapse once the Sa'arm land. How many citizens are on the planet and how did they do it?"
Miles just sneered. "Yes, how did these citizens protect their illegal colony?"
I nodded for Linda to speak. Fate was now leaning against the wall looking confused as Sarah once again played with my PDA. Linda seemed to be smiling. "Well, I haven't visited to ask, but the after-action report detailed the use of some ground-based lasers. A talk with one concubine who apparently rode out to the planet with the colonists revealed that some of the citizens took their safety seriously and claimed one of the empty pods being carried out with them to be converted for use on the colony."
I could see the looks of disbelief on the faces of the two commanders and shrugged. "It might also help that Ishtar is a young world and has a very acidic atmosphere. The report only speculated on the reason the Sa'arm ship was destroyed, but did credit the atmosphere for doing additional damage after hits from the lasers cut into the shell of the ship. However, that isn't a concern to the investigation. The question I was sent to answer was who bypassed proper channels in setting up the colony and how they did it. I'm afraid that the discovery of who did it will be accompanied by multiple counts of murder and attempted murder."
"Murder?" Miles screamed. I could see Traci slump down slightly. "What do you mean?"
I looked right at him. "The colony was founded by sending out one hundred citizens. Since there was no proper authorization and the planet can rightly be called a potential death trap for anyone living there, even the AIs will support attempted murder charges."
"But they fought off the Sa'arm," Miles said. "So why should anyone be charged?"
I gave him a long look. "They fought off the Sa'arm because some of the people sent out decided they weren't going to be meek and allow their own slaughter. I'm sure that Admiral Tucker can tell you how many other colonies have ground-based defenses. There is no question that our culprit hoped that the colonists would quietly disappear. Or at least that was my initial thought. Now I'm not so sure."
Linda looked at me. "The lesbian scorned?" she asked.
I looked over at Traci. "I think so. Sarah, you have been playing with my PDA. Am I right that Traci has no male concubines?"
Sarah giggled. "Of course boss. But you've lost me now."
From the expressions on the faces of the two high command members they felt the same, but Traci was now staring at me with tears streaming down her face. "So I'm a lesbian, that's no crime in the Confederacy," she said quietly.
"No its not," I said, trying to smile. "But the comment Linda overheard about a lesbian being scorned helped me finally put the pieces together. I knew from my visit to your office that you definitely had the opportunity, but other than your habit of wearing a uniform to annoy the rest of the DECO hierarchy, there didn't seem to be a good motive for you to send one hundred citizens out to die."
Miles grabbed at me. "And that should prove she didn't do it! No member of the high command has any reason for that! Not even the bleeding hearts in the Navy that want to pick up every six point five scoring body on the planet. We should be worrying about the nines and setting up to recover in the future. We can't save everyone!"
I sighed but held up a hand to warn Admiral Tucker to refrain from coming to my rescue. "Miles, I don't deny that you are one of the more important men in the Confederacy right now, and that rescuing people with high CAP scores is important, but you have all the compassion of a starving rabid wolverine allowed into a henhouse."
He let go of me and a moment later I continued. "Yes, Traci doesn't appear to have a direct motive. At first Linda and I expected to find that one of the naval officers involved in pickups decided to act alone in an effort to silence complaints from the training base commanders. The initial analysis Linda and I performed on the citizens on Ishtar suggested that most would have been difficult to train. In fact at first I was sure it was Commodore Pruitt. He is young, earnest and in a position where he gets to hear all of the complaints that the training base commanders make. Fortunately for him, the attack on Miss Gates here proved his innocence."
"How?" Miles screamed. "You make it sound like he'd have a far better reason to send these losers away than Traci. You keep hinting at a motive, but you have none!"
"No?" I asked, looking at him for a moment. I then turned my gaze to Traci who was still slumped against the wall of the room. It was a long silence and finally she spoke up.
"What gave me away?" she asked, her voice barely a whisper.
"Same thing that proved Commodore Pruitt did not do it. The attack on his cousin Miss Gates," I replied.
Miles started screaming again. "But Traci did not attack Jennifer! You admitted that yourself at the start! Look she's in here worried about Jennifer's recovery. How can you claim she attacked her?"
Linda gasped and I nodded over to Sarah for a moment. My concubine was holding my PDA against her chest and I had to smile.
"Traci did not attack Miss Gates," I admitted. "But while I expect the idea of setting up a colony to dump rejects was pushed by Traci. She had to find a Navy officer to help her develop her plan. It was that officer who attacked Jennifer. I expect if we ask him, he'll reveal that he thought the whole idea was Jennifer's, and he wanted to eliminate her because my investigation was threatening his career."
It was Admiral Tucker's turn to snort. "A likely idea. But why would he do it? Its not like he could be bribed with money!"
I sighed. "Sarah, which of Traci's concubines was it?"
My concubine turned the PDA around to reveal pictures of a stunningly beautiful woman. In every photo she was wearing silk and lace lingerie and several photos had magazine titles. "Well, she'll have to tell us if I'm right, but Katya Karlova was the cover girl for all three major men's magazines in the three months before she was picked up. I can imagine a night with her would have been sufficient currency for most of the men on this ship."
I could see Admiral Tucker pale. "Damn, yes it would. Even with the nanotech treatments, any of my officers would love to be able to brag about fucking a real cover model rather than a concubine who just looked like one." The Admiral looked at Traci. "Which of my officers was it."
Traci had tears streaming down her face. "Commodore Franks," she whispered.
"What?" Miles screamed. "You mean its all true?"
Traci just nodded. I could see Jennifer turn to glare at her former friend as the tension in the room spiked and then it dropped as Miles almost deflated.
"Well, that ends my investigation I guess. We now know who did it, and I expect Traci is going to confirm that is was her computer-experienced concubine who helped with how to foil the AI's standard defenses. But I can handle that interview later. I do want to ask you two gentlemen a couple quick questions. First, Miles, what do you want to do with Ishtar? And second, what should be done for Jennifer? Its clear she's not happy in DECO."
Miles growled. "Quarantine Ishtar or bomb it, or leave it to rot. I don't care! It's an embarrassment to the Confederacy and we're better off without it. As for Miss Gates," his voice had turned almost shrill. "If that ungrateful bitch doesn't want to be part of those that will be setting the rules, she can join the Navy. She's no longer part of DECO."
The head of DECO turned to leave. Linda called out one last time. "What about Traci? Do you want to be involved in the rest of the investigation?"
Miles turned to look at the woman who had been intimately involved in pickups and personnel allocations for the last nine months. "She never wanted to be in DECO either. Punish her as you will. I'll make sure that her replacement doesn't embarrass me again."
With that the man walked out and the door closed quietly behind him. Once he was out of the room Linda spoke. "Did he really just dump the problem just like that? And what will he do now that Jennifer and Traci are both no longer part of his organization."
Admiral Tucker gave a short laugh. "He'll find replacements quickly. He might have to accept slightly lower CAP scores for a time, but there are always people being picked up. Its not the first time one of his high CAP protégé's has proven to be less than ideal."
Jennifer gave a sigh. "What happens to me?" she asked.
We all turned to look at her. I wanted to say something, but it was Admiral Tucker who spoke up. "It means retraining, but we can always use officers. However, we need to get a few more important answers first. And that means I have to ask Traci here, why?"
The woman looked crushed, with the tears streaming down her face, but she sighed. "I never thought about the people being picked up and dumped. It was just a reaction. Miles stuck me in that hellhole of a job. I didn't even understand what I needed to do, but Jennifer was so understanding and helpful. I guess I started to see a romantic connection with her. I mean, I enjoy being with my concubines, but they all made it clear they were escaping the Sa'arm and not that they were coming because of strong feelings for me. I needed to be loved and needed. Miles didn't need me except to perform a job he disdains. Jennifer appeared to offer me what I wanted, but when I made a pass at her she turned me down."
"I did?" Jennifer asked. "I didn't even know you felt that way about me, although I'm afraid that I'm a bit to hetero to feel a romantic love for you. But back when I was helping you I was also lost in the misery of being rejected by the Navy. Your pass never registered with me."
Traci nodded again. She wiped the tears from her eyes and continued. "Well, there I was, miserable in a job I barely tolerated, working for a man I despised, and turned down by a woman I lusted for. I decided to try to get revenge on him and wanted to do it in a way to embarrass him as much as possible. I overheard Commodore Pruitt, well Major Pruitt back then worrying about all the complaints from the training base commanders. Once I found out that Commodore Franks was a former associate of several of the commanders an idea took shape."
"Not a very good one," Admiral Tucker said with a snort.
"I never said it was. I guess deep down I always knew it was wrong, but when I first thought of it, I just wanted revenge. It took months of work by Meredith to put together a basic program, which would allow the AI to issue the commands necessary to start the colony without alerting anyone. After that it was simple to request one of the pod transfer ships to Earth to make the pickups. I didn't even try to conceal what I was doing. I think I wanted to be caught, but I was trying to set it up so Commodore Pruitt would be blamed..." her talking paused. "Wait? How did you know he didn't do it?"
I looked over at Jennifer as Linda spoke. "Jennifer, why would Commodore Pruitt avoid doing anything like that?"
Jennifer's eyes lost focus as she thought for a moment. "I don't ... Oh god! Tom! That's right, he was attending my promotion party too. Is he still on the Success?"
Linda nodded. "Yes, and I guess Traci decided to try to use him as a stalking horse for her scheme. She figured that he'd be the obvious villain."
Jennifer blushed. "He'd never do anything to embarrass me. He'll struggle and even do something that he knows will fail if he thinks it will protect me."
I turned to Admiral Tucker. "Linda and I found that out just before we came here to interview Jennifer. At that point I was pretty sure of who was involved, but not why. At least now we know."
Admiral Tucker nodded. "Yes. Now I have to ask, what was the real damage? I mean you admit that the one hundred citizens sent to Ishtar were not strong candidates for officerhood. Was the Confederacy hurt by this?"
"Well, my trainee over there is definitely going to be biased about that, since some of the people on Ishtar saved her brother's life I understand. But at the same time General Montgomery pointed out that we did lose one hundred soldiers without a shot."
"Could we take the citizens off and move them elsewhere?" Admiral Tucker asked.