Getting the slice of data wasn’t complicated, but the amount of data the one-point-three-three milliseconds Koz selected proved daunting.
Soon after Koz uploaded the segment of a day in the life of Cerberus, everyone aboard, including Dorothy, was skimming through reams of records, activities, and—to Ray’s particular irritation—provisions orders.
Some seven hours into the group study session, Mollin eased back from the primary comp station. He’d been digging through the Sapient Resource Department’s files, and the staggering number of complaints those files contained had left his eyes blurring and his feet numb.
Time, he decided, for a break.
With a quick toe wiggle, he launched himself from the chair and angled around the holographic screen hovering in the middle of the lounge that Harry was studying.
Mollin passed Harry and entered the galley, winding around the table to program a cup of coffee and, because they were there, grabbed a handful of the freeze-dried protein chips Ray had dug from out from the emergency stores few hours earlier.
While his mug filled, he took a look at the table, over which hovered another holo-screen displaying the prison’s supply intake and usage for Jessyn and Ray’s review.
Or rather, Jessyn’s, as Ray was slouched back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest and eyes closed.
He appeared relaxed, but to Mollin, it was the kind of relaxed one might see in a hunting cat, before it pounced.
Taking a sip of coffee, he leaned back against the counter to take stock of the rest of the team’s progress.
Harry, he noted, had ceased staring at his holo, and taken to pacing the deck, only occasionally glancing back at his screen, which held the security system schematics and protocols, before commencing his round again,
His motions put Mollin in mind of the Terran lupines he’d seen during a visit to an Eco-Sanctuary in the Sol sector.
The wolf to Ray’s hunting cat, he thought, and almost smiled at the imagery as he turned to where Mo sat on the couch, skimming the station medical records on a palm comp. She, of all the party, appeared genuinely relaxed.
But then, this sort of research would be familiar to Mo, who, under her nom de guerre of Duchess, ran a crew of grifters. Knowing her marks, inside and out, would be the foundation of any successful con.
He blessed the universe that Koz had found a friend in Mo.
And on that thought, at long last, his gaze shifted to the AD. He had long since returned to his favorite patch of deck, comp in lap and eyes flicking from point to point on the three holoscreens he had active in front of him.
No one, Mollin thought, could shut out the Known and focus on a subject the way Kozamir could as, having been the subject of the AD’s focus on numerous occasions, Mollin knew better than most.
With a soft-throated hum, he took another slurp of coffee, which had the benefit of sending a spike of heat from his heels to his skull and he thought that maybe, just maybe, he could bear another hour of Sapient Resources.
“You gonna eat those?”
At Ray’s question, Mollin blinked, realized he’d he still had a few protein chips in his hand. “Yes,” he said, shoving the remaining bits into his mouth while Ray shook his head and commenced a spine cracking stretch that had Jessyn looking over.
Before Mollin even finished swallowing the nutrients, Ray’s expression—changed.
Seemingly regardless of witnesses, his eyes and body angled towards Jessyn. Then her expression also changed, and Mollin felt a sudden, desperate urge to be anywhere else.
Following that urge, he stepped out of the galley and into the lounge, just in time to see Harry, who’d widened his circuit, come up short at Koz’s side.
Harry glanced at the screens, then at Koz, whose expression had taken on a layer of concern.“What are you looking at?” he asked
Koz continued to skim the screens in front of him. “I’m running through the slice we took of Libra’s financials, government contracts, and headcount of the inmate population.”
“Cerberus has financial access?” Mo asked, looking up from her comp while Harry crouched next to Koz.
“As far as I can tell, Cerberus has access to everything,” Koz said.
“And what are you seeing in the Libra financials, government contracts and inmate population?” Harry pressed.
“That they don’t add up.”
“Lay it out for me. Please,” Harry added when Koz tensed.
“Right.” Koz nodded, straightened and rubbed his palms over his slacks. “Right,” he said again. “So, what I’m seeing is, there’s cash flowing in from the various governments who outsource their convicts to Libra.” He pointed to the top left holo-screen.
Mollin heard the scrape of a chair, and a moment later, Ray and Jessyn came up alongside him.
“There’s also,” Koz said, “a lot of cash coming in from the private enterprises who purchase the ioprine processed on the station.” He pointed to another swatch of data. “They turn quite a profit on that, but the thing is, even with the incoming capital from the government contracts and the profits from the ioprine, there’s still too much money moving through the prison’s accounting system and out to its managing corporation.”
“So Libra has another source of income?” Ray asked.
“That’s what I think,” Koz said. “They also have a population problem.” Now he swiped a third screen, which Harry leaned closer to study. “They’re losing prisoners.”
“Ioprine’s a pretty hazardous substance to work with,” Mo said, then winced and looked at Jessyn. “Sorry.”
“Never worry,” Jessyn said, though Mollin suspected she, herself, was very worried.
“It is dangerous,” Koz agreed with Mo’s assessment. “But the thing about Libra is—“
“That the losses are occurring at the same time as the extra influxes of cash,” Harry cut in, staring at the multiple screens floating in front of Koz. “Not just losses,” he added. “This last group?” He indicated the columns of prisoner names and ID numbers. “That’s over twenty people in one day. How likely is that?” he asked, glancing at Koz.
“Not very,” Koz told him. “Given there were no processing incidents, no fatal decompressions, no riots or massive system failures recorded at the time those prisoners supposedly died.”
“They could have been paroled,” Mollin pointed out.
Kos shook his head. “The parolees are all on record, and discoverable on the Outside. And I know because I’ve discovered them,” he added before anyone could challenge the statement.
“Not paroled,” Harry echoed the statement, studying the screens.
“No visible cause of death listed,” Koz added.
“And sudden influxes of cash at the same time,” Harry concluded.
As Mollin watched, Harry looked at Koz, who met his gaze and, watching the two men, Mollin thought perhaps there was another form of telepathy happening, as he could swear the two were having a conversation that no one else could hear.
It was Harry who broke the silence, first. “They’re selling—” he began
“—the prisoners,” Koz finished, with him.
For a moment, everyone was silent, while the impact of Koz and Harry’s supposition struck home.
“That’s—horrible.” Jessyn, in a trembling voice, finally spoke what everyone was feeling.
As she would, Mollin thought.
“Yeah,” Mo agreed, glaring at the holo screen. “It is horrible. It’s also perfect.”
“Perfect?” Mollin asked, appalled. “How?”
“Because before, we were just trying to break someone out of a maximum security prison,” Mo said.
“Now we’re going to break someone out of a corrupt maximum security prison,” Harry concluded.
“What he said,” Mo flicked a hand Harry-ward.
“I don’t see how that’s better,” Ray griped as Mollin stared at Harry and Mo, who both wore a similar, distant expression.
Like a pair of mad scientists, Mollin thought, about to push the big red button.
“Koz…” Harry said, breaking from the mini-trance. “Can you move your data to the central screen?”
“Oh. Yeah.” He did as Harry asked and, in moments, the security intel Harry had been studying was replaced with the names, prison ID numbers, and images of the missing inmates.
Koz flipped another screen over, and the financials sprang up next to the biographical info.
“That is quite the operation they’ve got going,” Harry observed as he studied the numbers.
“Not to mention the talent pool,” Koz said, staring at yet another screen floating over his comp.“It’s very—specific.”
“How so?” Jessyn asked.
[Dr. Kosterlovovich is referring to the pre-incarceration activities of the missing individuals.]
“Break it down for the team, Little D,” Harry said.
[Harry, what have I said about calling me by a nickname?]
“That it’s an endearing quality and sets me apart from the average Human?”
[Except the term I used was ‘irritating,' and I also asked you not to do it.]
“I thought you were joking.”
[You were wrong. However, in the interests of preserving time—]
“Too late,” Ray said.
[—all of the individuals on the doctor’s list possess areas of knowledge well outside the usual criminal skill set.]
While Dorothy spoke, Koz sent another screen to the central holo. “I looked into the backgrounds of a few of the inmates listed as deceased,” he said as a good dozen names appeared, along with images of the individuals from their pre-incarceration days, and brief biographies.
“You ran checks on all of those people?” Ray asked. “Just now?”
Koz blinked, looked up. “I just said that. Didn’t I just say that?”
“He really is that fast,” Mollin assured.
“That’s not always a good thing,” Ray muttered.
“Preach,” said Mo.
“Anyway,” Koz said, “the bios I’ve pulled up so far give us a high-level robotics technician, a chemical engineer, a botanist, a quantum engineer, two concert musicians—oboe and peria-harp respectively—a sculptor, a geneticist, and… well… more of the same.”
Mollin, with Ray and Jessyn, stepped into the lounge and considered the group.
Not only were their professions highly specialized, he noted, but there was a wide mix of ages and, shallow as it may seem, visual appeal.
“Looks like Libra’s not operating your usual flesh trade, here,” Ray surmised.
“I don’t know,” Mo said, studying the gallery. “I think a high IQ can be pretty hot.”
“We have to blow the whistle on this,” Koz said.
“We can’t,” Harry told him, still staring at the biographies.
“Sure we can,” Koz countered. “Look at this data. We have enough here to set every sapient rights lawyer in the CFLU on Libra’s ass.”
“You don’t understand.” Harry turned o the young AD. “What I mean is we can’t blow the whistle, yet. Not while Siane’s still in there.”
“Koz,” Jessyn stepped into the conversation. “Think. Libra is located in a Rasalkan system. If we bring the authorities in now, there is a chance the Rasalkan Matriarchy will learn that Siane Breeshandra—a woman they ordered executed—is alive aboard that station. And if they find her, they will kill her.”
“We can’t take that chance,” Harry concluded.
“We have to,” Mollin said, though he spared an apologetic glance for Jessyn before turning to face Harry. “I understand how you feel about this, but we can’t allow the safety of one sapient to stand in the way of justice.” He glanced over at Jessyn. “I would not, for all the worlds, hurt your family,” he began.
“What about hurting Jessyn?” Harry cut in, his voice calm, though his eyes, when Mollin met them, were anything but.
“What do you mean?” he asked, ordering his feet to remain still.
“Yeah.” Ray echoed from Mollin’s side. “What does he mean?”
Jessyn glanced at her father, then sighed, then turned to Ray and Mollin. “He means, if Siane’s existence is revealed, the Matriarchy will also discover that Lady Fayla did not execute my mother, as she was ordered to do. And when that happens, not only Fayla, but all of House Szado, will be seen as complicit in that crime.”
“Including you,” Ray said, his voice almost a growl.
“Very like,” Jessyn agreed.
“That’s pretty draconian,” Mo observed.
“The Matriarchy can be,” Jessyn agreed. “There are even a few who view me as little more than poisoned fruit, borne of a poisoned tree.” She looked at her father. “My sorrow.”
“Not mine,” he said, then both turned where Mollin stood. “We’re not going to blow the whistle until Siane is in the clear.”
Mollin’s toes curled, and he knew, were he a normal Cherrii, his pigment would be shifting like a kaleidoscope as emotion, and personal loyalty, warred with duty.
But then he looked at Kozamir, who was watching with a kind of wry understanding.
At last, he let out a quick huff of breath. “Very well,” he said, sounding huffily formal, even to himself. “But the second she’s clear…”
“We blow the whistle,” Harry said.
“So, what comes next?” Ray asked, leading Jessyn to the sofa, where they both joined Mo in looking up at the massive screens.
“Let’s start by determining how often these alleged sales occur,” Harry said.
“Alleged?” Koz asked, already pulling up another screen on his comp.
“Everything is alleged, until we have hard evidence,” Harry explained.
“Ever the cop,” Mo said, and Harry smiled absently.
[I can look into that] Dorothy said.
“Thank you, Dorothy,” Jessyn said.
“And, while Dorothy starts building a case against Libra, we need to keep moving on the Siane front,” Harry continued. “Koz,” he turned to the AD, “I’d like to see any information you can pull up on Bree Sandran.”
This, Mollin knew, was the alias Siane had been living under at the time of her arrest. “The lady Fayla said she was brought in on smuggling charges,” he pointed out.
“Which was probably all the Lady could access without calling attention to her interest,” Jessyn supplied. “Even in her home, and among her most loyal, she would be risking much in seeking information about my mother.”
“Am I looking for anything in particular?” Koz asked, fingers already on the move.
“I’d like make sure she’s not scheduled to go on the auction block. Alleged auction block,” Harry said.
“Got it,” Koz said, even as Mo took Jessyn’s hand in a gesture of comfort.
“I’ve got the public arrest records which, hey, public— and I have a hit from our Cerberus slice.” As he spoke, he highlighted a large vertical swatch of text on his comp and tossed it to the central holo, from which he read, “Bree Sandran, captain of the Sh’tani … what?” he asked as Harry let out a pained laugh and Jessyn let out a soft, “Oh.”
“Sh’tani means ghost in Sima,” Harry explained.
“And?” Ray prompted.
“Sima is the primary language of the northern continent of Rasalka Majora,” Jessyn explained.
“She always did have a warped sense of humor,” Harry murmured.
“Okay.” Koz cleared his throat, shrugged. “Well, public records indicate she and the Sh’tani were placed in custody following a hot pursuit, during which the Sh’tani disabled several ConFed law enforcement ships. No fatalities,” he added.
“Nice shooting,” Ray said.
“But here…” Harry crossed over to the holo, his hand tracking to the holo-screen that carried Libra’s data stamp. “According to the prison records, Bree Sandran wasn’t convicted for smuggling contraband. She was sent up for the transport of an illegal life form, and aiding and abetting said illegal life form, with destruction of law enforcement property and resisting arrest tacked on.” His eyes narrowed. “Fayla didn’t say anything about Siane moving illegals.” He glanced back at Jessyn, who shook her head.
“She said nothing to me.”
“What was the fugitive’s name?” Mollin asked, glancing at Koz. “The illegal?”
“Hang on, it’s cross-referenced,” Koz said, tapping at his comp and flinging the screen up to join the others mid-room.
“Dr. Kaylin—” Harry started to read.
“Tsosi,” Koz cut in, reading as he moved forward. “It’s Tsosi.”
“Mothering hells,” Mollin said, almost dropping his half-empty cup on spying the dark-eyed female hovering over the living area.
“Who?” Mo asked.
“You know her?” Harry asked at the same time.
“She’s one of us,” Koz said.
“An AD,” Mollin clarified. “I met her, once.”
“Kaylin is a brilliant geneticist,” Koz continued. “She has several papers published on the risks and benefits inter-species reproduction, single-species genetic degradation, and the possibilities of genetic coding.”
“Is that so?” Harry said, then, as Mollin watched, looked at Jessyn, who met his gaze with a blank stare as he asked, “Do the public records list the Sh’tani’s intended destination?”
“Ahhh.” Koz tapped in a command. “Ship’s nav system had them heading for Vir-22.”
“That’s the same sector as Libra,” Ray observed.
“It’s also within Rasalkan space,” Harry murmured, still looking at Jessyn.
At last, Harry blinked, and looked at the crowd in general. “I need a minute,” he said, turning and striding towards his quarters.
“Wait. Where are you going?” Ray asked.
He stopped at the door, but it was Jessyn he spoke to when he replied, “I need to talk to Fayla.”
She nodded, as if expecting this. “Should I join you?”
Harry looked tempted, then shook his head. “Not yet.”
[Wait] Dorothy echoed Ray as the door opened. [Don’t you want to know what I found out about the timing of the auctions? Alleged auctions?]
The door slid closed behind Harry.
“Guess not,” Mollin said.