This is still story intro. April is introduced in the next chapter.
At the other end of M3 another agent of the USNA had also experienced some difficulty. He was in fact, one of the spooks Art had made in the shuttle coming up. Jon Davis, head of Security for M3 peered out of the clear shield of a biohazard mask examining the agent face to face so close most people would have found it very intimidating. Jon was a huge man with a bull neck and a sour expression on his face. The calm with which the agent ignored his scrutiny was due to the ballpeen hammer driven deep into the man’s forehead.
Finding a dead body on M3 was unusual. Finding two floating in the same maintenance space gave Jon indigestion. That one was a local really frosted him. He felt it a personal failure when one of his people came to harm. The strange dead guy was FBI, but there was no documentation on him to reveal that to Jon. He’d trained to do sneak and peeks years ago, and had loads of experience at them, but always as a team. He’d needed those team mates today in a strange environment but the expense of an orbital lift had made his bosses cut corners. He wasn’t leaking anymore. In fact he had contributed very little to the bloody mess of droplets floating in the air and wetting the walls. The other body, bagged and floating in the corridor now, had done most of the bleeding. Fortunately Security had responded and got the area sealed off fast enough they didn’t have to declare a biohazard emergency.
Jon’s assistant was busy vacuuming what blood wasn’t on the walls out of the air. He ignored her and was analyzing what happened here. Another team member was cleaning the wetted corridor walls already with antiseptic wipes and tossing them in a biohazard bag. They’d still run a check on the blood to make sure neither man was an unwitting bio-weapon.
The loose access panel had floated on the ventilation currents halfway down the corridor to the lift by the time they arrived. The recessed service space the panel covered was a massive run of parallel cables and fiber bundles. Most of them ran between offices and sections internally, but some went from here to various antennas and transmitters on the outside of the non-rotating hub. It was pretty safe to assume the dead man was responsible for a number of slim clip-on bugs installed over those cables, except for the one Jon found floating loose beside him.
“Margaret!” Jon called. “I want Eddie here – right now, and get us a couple freight boxes up here for these two,” his nod included the bagged shape floating beside her. “I don’t want people to see them on the way to the infirmary cooler in body bags and the news to get out before we have a handle on this.”
“Also get our police curtain down on the corridor ends when we’re clean and put up a maintenance barricade instead. Get Jack’s supervisor here to do that and I’ll break it to him his man is dead and ask for his cooperation to keep it quiet.”
“Sixty people will know it before the shift is over,” Margaret predicted.
“That’s fine. We won’t ask they keep it a secret forever, just ask them not to leak it Dirtside, and wait to tell the story around here for a couple days. The less you ask of people the more likely you’ll get it.”
“I’ll ask Denise to bring a helper too,” Margaret said, “and Maintenance can take them to the cooler. If anybody sees Security pushing a big box around it will raise as many questions as using a body bag. Does he have family on 3?”
“No, we lucked out there. Jack had no close family living, just some cousins and an older aunt down in Mexico. He was from some little town in the Baja and never was very close to them. I happen to know because he worked out with some of us Wednesday evenings and we’d chat waiting turns. Whoever this slime-ball is,” he indicated the corpse floating before him,” he probably never thought he’d be interrupted, and if he was he would have never guessed the fellow surprising him would be a hard case ex-Marine. Big mistake,” he enunciated sharply.
Margaret didn’t even bother to agree. The old fashioned sixteen ounce ball pien hammer half buried in the man’s forehead spoke for itself. His eyes were open and he just looked relaxed with his mouth slightly open like he had finished considering some question and might reply.
“I have all the visible stuff sucked up. I’d like to burn an Iodine vapor bomb so we can drop the curtain and turn the ventilation back on.”
“OK,” Jon approved, going through the dead man’s pockets and putting each item in a separate evidence bag as he had the gun and bug found floating free when they arrived. “Take a sticky pad and collect residuals off his hands and feet before we bag him. Be sure to label them right and left. I want him bagged before we contaminate him with the disinfectant.”
“My right and left or his right and left?” Margaret asked with a little edge in her voice.
Her sarcasm brought him out of his concentration enough to realize he’s spoken to his best detective like she was a six-year-old.
“Sorry, I know you know procedures. I’m kind of running my mouth on autopilot,” he admitted.
“You want a dust and pix on the hammer handle too?”
Jon took the time to look at her face to see if she was still needling him or serious. “Go ahead. I don’t think he shot Jack for his hammer and then smacked himself in the head, but you know – some idiot just may ask if we checked it down the road. Damn lawyers are great at bringing silly theories like that up in court. Or someone may suggest a third party was involved, which is more believable. After you image it go ahead and pull it. It would be damn awkward bagging him with it sticking out. I have pix of it in situ.”
At the end of the corridor there was a sharp whistle. That could only be one person. They both glanced. About forty meters away a man made a final check on his face mask and unzipped the flimsy bubble airlock in the plastic film barrier at the cross corridor. He gently pushed himself off the plastic to avoid damaging it and then launched himself toward them very aggressively from a take-hold on the wall. When he got near he propelled a couple broken down foam boxes to Margaret. They had old UPS stickers on them.
“Theo said you needed these and I have a roll of tape too,” Eddie said muffled by the mask he wore. He stopped himself by hand and flipped over and took a toe hold while he patted his pockets to find the roll. By that time Margaret had the box folded open and looked dismayed. It was about a meter cube to hold a two meter body. I think you’ll have to bend him knees against his chest and tape him like that to fit him in,” he suggested looking at the body bag. “He isn’t stiff yet is he?”
“He isn’t even cold yet,” Margaret snapped suddenly angry.
“What happened? Who is this?” he pointed at the bag, knowing her anger was nothing personal, just frustration.
“Jack from maintenance. A young Mexican fellow, cable jockey, who’s been up about two years.”
“Crap, I knew him,” Eddie said, upset now too. “He played guitar sometimes when there was a party. Who’d want to hurt him?”
Jon swung aside to answer that, uncovering the corpse floating behind him. Eddie took that in and even through the mask his face looked sick.
“Exhibit B,” Jon offered. “Listen to Jack’s call.” He pulled his pad and spoke so softly to it Eddie couldn’t hear.
“Security I have a panel loose and somebody in restricted space.” Jacks indignant voice came out of Jon’s pad fairly loud.
There was a sheet metal sound and a ghost’s voice said, “Take your hand off the mic.”
“What the hell are you doing?” Jack’s angry voice demanded. “Oh shit,” and there was a soft cough and a thud of something hitting the corridor wall at the same time. Then a pause of almost a full second, and a grunt of great exertion that could have been either man, followed quickly by a sharp >Smack< sound. Then after another pause, “Got you too jackass,” Jack said in a barely audible voice.
“The way I make it,” Jon explained, “Jack saw the panel was out of flush a hair because the cam lugs were not turned down to draw it in like the others. He stopped and could hear somebody inside. Nobody legit would pull the panel back over them like that and work in the dark, and if somebody was here in the same section working they’d have told him when they sent him out. That’s a basic safety rule.”
“Instead of leaving and calling us from around the corner in a cross shaft where the guy wouldn’t hear him he just keyed his mike and called us right here. Not the smartest thing to do in hind-sight but he certainly didn’t expect an armed intruder. The fellow hears him call in and knocks the panel away and tries to stop him transmitting. As soon as he doesn’t submit the fellow here drew a gun to silence him.”
“Jack sees the pistol coming up too late, says ‘Oh shit,’ and gets hit high on the left chest with a frangible round that takes a big hunk out the back of his shoulder. He’s spun around, undoubtedly sees the huge mess on the wall behind him as he turns past and knows he’s a goner and has seconds to act.”
“His left arm is useless, but Jack was right handed and he pulls his hammer out of his tool belt and throws against his spin with everything he’s got. Throws it like a tomahawk, and gets it right the first time.”
“Sure did,” Eddie agrees, “this Earthie would have never believed somebody hurt and spinning in zero G could throw that accurately. He’d have put a couple more rounds in him as he turned if he’d had any idea. What the heck was he doing anyway?”
“I was hoping you could tell me, my techie friend. Take a look in here,” he invited Eddie. “It appears he had these all installed except this one,” he pulled the last slim wafer with a clip out of his pocket. “Are you familiar with how this kind of bug works?”
“No, this is beyond my level of expertise. I can’t imagine it stores the intercept. Even with the latest high density memory it couldn’t hold more than a few hours, and data intercept is perishable, it loses value hour by hour.” He took the device from Jon’s hand and looked at it silently and thinking.
“Got an imager that sees in the infrared?” he asked.
Eddie accepted the device from her and looked at the free piece, then at the ones clipped in the cables.
“They’re warm. They have an internal power source – isotopic probably. I’d say they perform a data mining operation and then transmit the nuggets at intervals. We’re talking big government agency stuff here too, not any private investigator.”
“How could they do that with traffic on the line?” Margaret asked.
“They can analysis the traffic and predict when there will be a pause. The error correction routines will cover if they interfere with an occasional packet. I could do the same thing without any deep analysis – just transmit at coffee break on the off shift and you’ll likely be clear of any live traffic. If you accidentally garble a vending machine reporting inventory or something it will just send it again.”
“But why not listen to our stream Dirtside where they have massive capacity and can process the whole thing?” Jon wondered.
“They probably do, but they’d want to hear our internal chatter too for certain critical subjects. If they diverted all our internal comm below it would double the bandwidth on external transmissions and somebody would notice.”
“So, you wouldn’t expect some other agent to come replace these or mess with them as long as they are transmitting as expected?”
“Not unless they are really paranoid about the fact this fellow doesn’t return,” Eddie indicated with a shift of his eyes. “We can put a camera here to catch anyone servicing them, but we had better install this last bug ourselves. As dependable as this sort of device is the agent having an accident and one of the bugs going bad might be too much to swallow.”
“Good, I want the people who did this to think they pulled it off clean and his death was unrelated. I want them to mess up and ID themselves. I very much want to know who invaded my jurisdiction and hurt my people. So we need to arrange a very plausible accident for this gentleman in about a day, and you need to decide on which feed the last device should be installed.”
“I need somebody from communications to help me pick the last cable, but we can do them one better,” Eddie offered. “I can install our own sensors beside their taps and tell what they are mining. We’ll capture their transmission when we know there is no traffic from us. That should be interesting don’t you think?”
“That might tell us who the players are even if nobody claims the body,” Jon predicted with an evil smile.