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Thomas Isenberg drummed him fingers impatiently. Lieutenants Bin-Yi Xiong and Benjamin Franklin Dupree, the ship’s Intelligence Officer and Science Officer, respectively, were still poring over the log files Petty Officer Foster had extracted from the freighter’s computers. In addition to their current duty responsibilities, the first was an expert computer programmer and database management, and the other held degrees in criminal and inter-planetary trade law. Between the two of them, they could mine useful data even from the most creatively forged document; there wasn’t a better information-forensics team in the squadron. That did not mean, however, that they were the fastest data miners around.
Finally, Lieutenant Dupree turned to his commanding officer, “Either this is the best fakery I’ve ever seen, sir, or Captain Chavez doesn’t believe in cooking the books.”
“Or Foster was able to locate her private copy,” interjected the Intelligence Officer. Some freight masters would keep two sets of books: a real set they kept hidden and a doctored-up set to show the authorities. “At any rate, the logs appear reasonably accurate, although there are a few gaps where someone might have deleted some data. Give me a couple hours with their computer and I should be able to reconstruct it.”
“We don’t have time, Bin,” Isenberg dismissed the idea, “I have to make a decision now whether let them go or to take them back to Star Base with us. Ben, is there any evidence of illegal activity?”
Lieutenant Dupree took a thoughtful moment before replying. “No, sir. Nothing that would hold up in court. There’s a lot of cross-border trade into both Klingon and Kzinti space. That usually implies a smuggling operation, but in this case it appears more like a black market trade. Since they can’t take cargo directly from the Klingon Empire to Kzinti space, or vice versa, what they’re doing is shipping cargo into the Federation, repackaging it, and shipping it back out to dealers on the other side. Mostly, they’re running luxury goods, exotic items and personal technologies, but there’s no evidence at all of drugs, animals or slaves.”
It takes forever to get an answer out of him, Isenberg thought, but once he starts talking he doesn’t know when to stop. And he didn’t really answer the question at hand, “So, what do we have on them? What’s their destination this run? And what happened to the crates missing from Cygnus?”
Before the lawyer could formulate a response, the speaker activated. “Magnum
, Colt One-Five.” Isenberg told the Marine to report. “Sir, negative contraband found, except for a personal-use weight stash of zap. I had it jettisoned and am holding the addict for medical treatment. Have eyes-on confirmation of cargo manifest: over a thousand low-tech small-arms weaponry bound for the Rio Verde colony. Also, we have your material witness in custody. Standing by for your orders, sir. And Madre Chavez wishes to speak to you.”
“Acknowledge, Sergeant. Wait one. How about it, Ben? The Kzinti aren’t too happy to have ‘plant eaters’ settling in their space; they’ll have a conniption fit if it turns into an armed camp.”
“Well, sir,” Dupree started slowly, “a single shipping document won’t hold up in court, especially since the cargo hasn’t been delivered yet. Also, Rio Verde is technically outside Federation jurisdiction, and we don’t enforce Kzinti import regulations. Captain Chavez doesn’t need a dealer’s permit because slug-throwers are classified as collector items ... it’s a loophole in the law, but only energy weapons are controlled. We can charge her for aiding and abetting illegal exploitation of planetary resources, but the odds of successful prosecution are very low.”
“In other words, even if we do haul them in, we have no legal grounds to impound the cargo. The colonists on Rio Verde will get their hands on the weapons, or some other weapons, no matter what we do.” The commander rubbed the back of his head, noting that little bald spot was getting a bit bigger. “And just where the blazes is the zap we’re supposed to be looking for?”
Bin and Ben looked at each other, then the Intel Officer said, “On the Harmony
, sir, several hundred light-years on the other side of Cygnus, bound for the planet Meva.”
“What!” Isenberg bolted out of the command chair as if stuck by a needle. “But ... isn’t ...” he sputtered, “That is the Harmony
right there!” He pointed at the main view screen, “You said so yourself, Ben, that the ship was last seen leaving Cygnus six days ago. We homed in on her noisy impulse drive like a beacon.”
“No, sir, that’s the Santa Maria
,” Lieutenant Dupree said apologetically. “They put another baffle plate in the propulsion manifold to alter the sub-space resonance field. We’ve been ‘had’, sir.”
“You’re sure this time?”
“Yes, sir. We cross-checked the registration on file to her Brass Plate and all the serial numbers.” It would have been nice to have that bit of information earlier. “According to Captain Chavez’s comm-logs, she received a sub-space signal from the Harmony
two days ago requesting she pick up some Kzinti spiced rum. They talked business plans for twenty minutes. We have Harmony
’s tentative schedule for the next three months.”
The commander sat back down with a perturbed harrumph. Yes, they had been had. He re-opened the channel to contact the boarding party, “Sergeant, stand down and come back home. We found what we needed to know. Pass my regards to Madre Chavez, please.”
“Aye, sir. The lady would like a word with you. We’re beaming over now. Colt One-Five, out.” Isenberg closed the link, and then indicated to the main viewer when the hail came in.
Rosalina Chavez’s image appeared on the screen, as beautiful as before even though she was on a tirade. “Are you quite satisfied, Commander? You chase my ship down like a band of pirates; then you force a platoon of apes on board. They harassed my crew, tore the place half apart, invaded my personal ....”
“Harassed your crew?” the Cutter’s captain interrupted. “Was there a problem in the way my Marines conducted themselves, Madre?”
She was obviously taken aback with that question. “And if there was?” she asked with a devious little smile.
“If there was, I shall have a nice, long talk with Sergeant McKendrey,” he told her with all seriousness.
After a long pause, she replied with a smile, “No, Commander, they were perfect gentlemen, every single one of them. Unlike yourself, what with making a lady wait forever. Don’t you know that the man should wait for a woman, not the other way around?” She put her hands on her hips in mock indignity. “I invited you to come over personally, and instead you send a bunch of storm-troopers.”
“Well, you know how it goes, Madre -- procedures and all. A ship’s captain has the least amount of freedom of any of the crew, you know.”
“Only in Star Fleet, which is why I got out,” she answered, which surprised Isenberg to no end. “Well?”
“Oh, you’re free to go. But you should know that your impulse drive is out of whack. I’m going to file an RPI on it, so you’ll have to have it back into factory specs by the next time you dock at any Federation facility.” Just as with Health and Safety Inspections, the Police took the relatively minor regulation covering Repair and Present for Inspection tickets and turned it into a useful tool to combat smuggling and other illegal activity. With the RPI on file, the Federation Police had a legal reason to inspect this ship any time it should dock at a Federation facility for the next three years. And of course, any evidence that they might find ‘in plain sight’ would stand up in court.
“What? No chocolate bonbons? Or a bottle of wine? Not even a rose for the fair lady?” She pouted. He melted.
“No. I’m sorry, but we don’t keep alcohol onboard. And I try to stay away from sweets,” he patted his belly. “Besides, we must be on our way. We have to go hunt down some real criminals. Perhaps some other time?” He really hoped there might be another time.
“Oh, Thomas, you didn’t apologize for stealing two of my crewmen,” she said with a devious smile, “that’s going to cost you dinner.” She blew him a kiss, and the screen went dark.
Commander Isenberg felt like every pair of eyes on the bridge were staring at him. “Shall I plot a course for Meva, sir?” He thanked the Maker for Chief Guzman.
“No, Chief, we’ve been recalled to Star Base Thirteen. We have to be there by noon tomorrow.”
“Aye, sir, plotting the course now.” It took a minute or so to finish the calculations. The transporter operator reported in: all personnel had safely returned to the ship. “Wow. We’ll have to hustle to get there in time. I make it Warp Factor eight point eight-five, sir.”
“Shouldn’t we contact the authorities on Meva to be on the lookout for the other freighter?” asked Ensign Tillman.
“No, Stephanie, it’s not going to Meva,” Isenberg replied. “Take us to Warp, please.” She nodded and worked the controls.
“They’re not?” asked Lieutenant Xiong. Then he thought about it. “No, I guess they wouldn’t, would they? Meva is in the Dragon Cartel’s territory ... there’s no way the Daven Cartel would risk a turf war for such a small shipment of drugs.”
After a long moment of silence, Lieutenant Dupree spoke, “Well, perhaps we should send out an All Points to be on the lookout for that ship. Someone else should be able to home in on that noisy engine.”
The commander sighed. For such smart people, they don’t think things through sometimes. “Ben, the Santa Maria’s impulse drive was rigged intentionally, no? I’ll bet you a dollar to a doughnut that there are at least three other freighters out there rigged up the same way, and not one of them is the Harmony
Dupree made a silent “oh” as he thought about it. Ensign Tillman leaned over and in a quiet voice whispered, “Chief, what’s a dollar?”
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