Authors: Stephen Arseneault
Tags: #Sci-Fi & Fantasy
"When societal life becomes too easy, morals are often cast aside. Moral decay leads to corruption, which sets even the best intentioned of societies on a path that is a downward spiral towards destruction. If ignored, depravity and chaos will eventually rule the day. Only when defenders of freedom and right stand firm can the trend be broken. Take a stand and be counted amongst the free, for chaos is not all fun and games!"
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Copyright 2014 Stephen Arseneault. All Rights Reserved
For two thousand years, the Human-run empire known as the Alliance of Major Planets (AMP) brought peace and stability to the five galaxies surrounding the Milky Way. Advances in technology, and a strong set of fair laws, had allowed a peaceful expansion of Human ideals. Man’s influence had reigned supreme, trade had flourished, and all species had taken benefit.
The great expansion of Man followed the defeat of an android overlord, the Duke, who had previously ruled those galaxies for hundreds of thousands of years. Peace and freedom were Man’s legacy to the stars.
At its peak, membership in the AMP totaled more than two trillion citizens. Those citizens occupied twelve hundred established planets, ninety-eight hundred lesser colonies, and eight hundred massive security stations, all linked by wormhole portals allowing immediate and unlimited personal travel between them.
Life in the AMP was easy. No citizen had struggled for work, shelter, food, or care. Entertainment of the masses became king, and with that crown came a population that was all too eager to accept those who pushed the boundaries of societal norms. As morals declined, corruption settled in at the highest levels of government.
For years, the governors of the wealthiest, most prominent planets placed their cronies on the Council of Governance. The citizenry had gone about their daily happy lives, never realizing that their rights and freedoms were being stripped away at a slow and steady pace.
That all changed when a powerful group of governors pushed aside a weak Council of Governance and established their own alliance, putting in place their own code of laws. As the pace of local restrictions quickened, economies faltered, and riots became commonplace. The once-idyllic empire was now ruled by a dozen powerful families. Life in the AMP changed for the common citizen, and it was not for the better.
For decades, the Omega sector had been plagued with the occasional disappearance of entire colonies. Investigations were rushed, and the demise of the colonies brushed aside as "a mystery." Life and survival in the outer sector of the Triangulum Galaxy had become anything but easy.
In the ultra-wealthy Alpha sector, Omega was commonly joked about as a point of exile for those who butted heads with those in powerful places. After several high-profile exiles, the joke became less funny. Knog Beutcher, three-star veteran detective, a man of honor and integrity, struggled to balance what was right and fair with what would keep him employed at his prestigious Alpha sector job. His struggles had only just begun.
I prepared for a standard inspection search as I pulled the
alongside the ore hauler
, which had finally come to a complete stop. One of the newest haulers from the Betagen shipyards, the six-kilometer-long vessel was transporting iron and chromium ores to the space docks at Andreus IV. My long, sleek detective cruiser was immediately dwarfed against the
’s grand exterior as I set down in a docking bay just below the forecastle.
As I stepped out onto the deck, I was met by Alda Kondore, the ship’s manifest administrator. A Medorian, he struggled to reach a meter in height, and looked up at my two-meter-tall frame. "Mr. Beutcher, welcome to the
. I have prepared the manifest logs for your perusal. If you would like to follow me to our guest lounge, you may look over the logs at your leisure."
"I appreciate the offer, Mr. Kondore, but I prefer to walk the ship as I perform my investigation, or should I say inspection."
"If there is any way I can assist you, Mr. Beutcher," said Alan Kondore, "I am at your service."
I noticed a twitch in Kondore’s phony smile as he made his offer.
I held up my arm, with a holo-display of the
’s storage bay structure showing just above it. "I am most interested in the area underneath these two bays, Mr. Kondore. What can you tell me about it?"
The administrator had an uneasy expression on his face. "That’s for ballast, Mr. Beutcher. This vessel is capable of setting down on a planet’s surface if a sufficient water dock is present."
I nodded. "I understand that to be the function, Mr. Kondore. I would, however, like to see and inspect this space. Believe it or not, we have found it to be a popular hiding place for smuggled contraband."
As we walked the half kilometer toward the ballast compartments, Alda Kondore became increasingly nervous. I laughed to myself at how bad the common citizen often was at concealing the fact that he was breaking the law. It was the cool and collected, hard-core criminal that I feared. A man in control of his emotions was a man who would take unanticipated and severe action when cornered. Three inspectors had recently found that out during the previous twelve months in the Alpha sector. One of them, Mar Hougis, I had known for twenty-seven years.
As we walked, a call came over my comm.
"This is Beutcher. If this is not an urgent need, I would prefer to return this call after my inspection is complete."
It was the dispatcher, Hela Gruend. He had been with the communications office for fifteen years. "Sorry, Mr. Beutcher, the Captain wants you to drop what you are doing and report to his office at once. He says it is important."
I stopped. "Tell the Captain I’m in the middle of an inspection. I will return as soon as I’m finished."
Hela pressed a button on his console that set off an alert on my holo-display. "Sorry, Knog, the Captain insisted that you come now, as in immediately. Inspector Hambrik will be following up with the
I let out a grunt in frustration. "You tell Hambrik to make sure he checks the ballast tanks under bays five and six!"
I looked over at Kondore and took notice of an expression of relief. The contraband, whatever it was, would be hidden away elsewhere or jettisoned into space long before Hambrik arrived.
I spoke into my comm. "Scratch that last thought, Mr. Gruend. Just ask Hambrik to be thorough."
I stepped close to Alda Kondore and scowled downward at his upturned face. "Looks like it’s your lucky day, Mr. Kondore. I have been called away. Just keep this in mind, though, as you move around whatever it is you are hiding. I am out here 24/7, I now know this ship, and I know your name. I’ll be watching for you, Mr. Kondore. Have a good day."
Shortly thereafter, I arrived in the Captain’s office. Captain Paq Wendell was a fair man. Now a bureaucrat, he had risen through the detective ranks because of his hard work. He was one of the few officers of the Detective Corps that I had respect for.
The Captain said, "Knog, have a seat. Coffee?"
I moved to a chair, "Yes sir on the coffee. I have been having trouble finding it in the stores. I’m running out of it on the
As the Captain poured an extra-deep cup, he spoke. "Price of this stuff has gotten outrageous. I think these new alliances between the families have a few trade kinks to work out. I don’t know about you, Knog, but I have a hard time functioning without my morning shot."
I looked around the Captain’s office. His walls were covered with merit awards and news articles of some of the arrests he made as a junior detective. His favorite article was from the bust of a ring of smugglers who were sneaking Garronet carrots into the colony at Meloso Prime. A cargo bay had exploded due to a methane buildup from rotting carrots. A subsequent news photo of a star shower over the colony, caused by the carrots, sat in a gold frame that his coworkers had put together for him. The Captain was well liked, and his sense of humor only added to his popularity.
"The crew of the
was smuggling, Captain. The administrator—"
Paq Wendell held up his hand as he handed me a cup. "I’m doing you a favor here, Knog. The
belongs to the Motlin Corporation. And the Motlin Corporation belongs to Governor Salton’s grandnephew Pietrus. You cause trouble on one of their boats, and you run the risk of a career-ending mistake."
The Captain moved back behind his desk and sat in his chair.
I blew the heat off the top of my coffee, "Captain, the Governor’s family should not be above the law, Sir. If their crews are knowingly running contraband, they need to be caught and brought before the courts."
The Captain set his mug down on his desk as he leaned back in his squeaky, high-backed chair. "The Saltons are the law now, Knog. They own the courts."
Paq leaned forward and lowered his voice. "We have to face reality here. AMP is dead, and it is not coming back. The Saltons own the Alpha sector and all who reside here. You are the best at what you do, Knog, but you need to wise up and play the game, or at least pretend to, or your ass is going to end up out in the Omega sector with Calloway and Hollerhan. Heck, Calloway lost thirty-six years of pension because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut!"
I sipped at my cup of coffee for several seconds before responding. "I appreciate what you are doing for me, Captain, but I can’t turn my back on the law just to save my skin. The law, even under the Saltons, says that all cargoes must be inspected, and all items not listed on the manifests are considered contraband. If the Saltons don’t want me rousting their ships and crews, they need to change the laws."
The Captain rolled his eyes as he held up his hand. "Fine, Knog, you go do whatever you want to. Just keep in mind that your actions also reflect on those around you. Actions have consequences, even when you are doing the right thing. Just don’t be so pigheaded that you end up taking others down with you."
I set my half-full cup down on the edge of the Captain’s desk. "Is that all you have for me, Sir? If so, I would request that I return to duty."
The Captain scowled as he pressed the comm button on his arm pad. "Major Dentor, Mr. Beutcher is heading back out on patrol. See to it that he doesn’t have any Motlin ships on his schedule of inspections."
The Captain looked up at me as I stood. "We go back a long way, Knog. If you make my life difficult after we just had this talk, I will not be there to back you up if you get in a pinch. Chief Detective Jamia has already let it be known that she has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to perceived harassment of Motlin ships or crews. If she brings down the hammer on you, know that she will be swinging it hard."
I walked out of the Captain’s office with a poor attitude. So... this was it? This would be life under the Saltons? I had spent my entire adult life keeping order. It was a mission I enjoyed and a mission that I looked forward to doing every day. I would not be compromising my principles for some self-appointed dictator and his family. This was my sector and I played by my rules, the rules of right and the rules of common sense.
As I stepped back up into the
, another call came over my comm. "Mr. Beutcher, your next assignment is to inspect a Hargrave salvage trawler. The
is on its way to the Thalimus colony."
A salvage trawler heading to Thalimus? I wondered if this was what I could expect going forward. It was an inspection that would normally go to a detective who had not yet earned his first star. I looked down at the three stars on my shoulder patch and wondered, why had I earned them? What were they worth now? A pay bonus? They certainly had not earned me assignments out to Thalimus. It barely qualified as a colony anymore. A decade of riots had stripped it of all productivity.
I replied, "Thank you, Hela. I’ll be expecting a data packet with information on the
Hela was silent before his response. "I’m sorry, Mr. Beutcher. We have nothing on the
except its registry. She hails from the Gamma sector, Sir. The Morden family runs that now, and they no longer release ship records. You will have to wing this one, Sir."
I shook my head and offered the deckhand on Bay-8 of Security Station V an indignant look as the ramp-way pulled shut and sealed.
After a short taxi out into space, I brought Portal Transfers up on my console. "This is Beutcher, F4558992-34, sweep me out to Thalimus Colony, please. Authorization code is VX722-B0KK."
A transfer portal swept across the
, leaving me fifty thousand kilometers from Thalimus and in line for an intercept of the
. I picked up my mug and stared at the empty bottom.
I grunted. "Well, mug, at least we still have our coffee, even though it is running low. How about I fill you up and we do a records search for the
for public documents. I don’t like boarding a ship blind. And you, you couldn’t care less; you're just a mug."
Ship inspections could be a lonely job. I often found it would break the monotony if I had fake conversations with inanimate objects. With my third star, I had earned the right to bring my family aboard the
. The ship was one of the newer cruisers in the fleet, and the accommodations were first rate, but deep space was no place for a family, especially when the criminals I chased were sometimes hostile. Besides, with a wife and eighteen Grunta offspring, the
just wasn’t big enough.
A search for the
returned 115 items of interest. One hundred twelve of those items were nothing more than transition logs when jumping from the Alpha to the Gamma sector, or when coming through to Alpha from the other way. The three search items of most interest were from prior inspections.
Two of the inspections were for minor infractions. Crew members had smuggled aboard banned items in their personal gear. A Pelomoni skull, the smallest of the Alliance’s species, was found in a hygiene container, and a lizard-like creature from Deltan VII was kept in small box under a bunk. The Kexa, when cut in half, would grow into two such animals. They were voracious breeders and eaters. Within a year of their introduction on two new colony planets, the colonies had to be abandoned due to the destruction of their environments. Without foliage, oxygen levels on those planets had begun to fall. The third inspection yielded a result that caught my attention.