Time passed slowly for the next year in the Mercy house hold. Although occasionally, links would come through indicating that “Federal Security Services are doing their utmost to find the culprits and bring them to justice,” Mr. Mercy was able to ascertain more information from his connections in the Settlement Magistrate. Despite the investigation being coded as “Open,” it was apparent that nobody was actively assigned to the case.
Meanwhile, Lambast and Kaisla worked in secret. They had spent the last year evaluating multiple different plans. Kaisla would think up a plan and then Lambast would review it and tear it apart systematically. Lambast meanwhile, secretly hacked into her Father’s data feed and would stay up late to poke through the feed to find known criminal activity at Cleve and trends in the Eravate markets. As windfalls of money came and went, Lambast would again, pop into the feed and pull up as much information as she could on the person that made or lost large amounts of currency. She started identifying troubling trends. Although most people had some kind of past where there were indications of petty thievery or ship wrecks, she noticed that several of the money movers on Cleve and neighboring hubs often had perfectly clean backgrounds. Not even drinking/flying charges or petty theft. As she found these individuals, she kept meticulous records and association diagrams. It took the better part of seven months but eventually she had a very thick diary including biographies, associates, suspicious deaths and ties to factions throughout Eravate and all the neighboring systems. She would sit and stare at the data for hours while Kaisla sat next to her, well into the early mornings thinking up ideas on how best to get close to these people. Eventually, one nugget of information fell into Lambast’s lap.
“Kai, look...” Lambast passes her slate to Kai.
Kaisla stares at it for several seconds, “I don’t get it? What am I looking at?”
“Look at these large sums of money transfers that are reported on the market trends. They coincide with harvest seasons. Although, all the money completely bypasses the normal agricultural market. So...what the numbers say is that at each harvest, these people are getting huge sums of money but the farming market is maintaining about the same net income that they have for the last several years. Although, based off what I see from my Dad’s records, there should be fluctuations in the agricultural market based on the Federally-mandated tax income that’s collected from the farmers.”
Kaisla continued to stare at her friend. “Uh...what?”
Lambast rolled her eyes, “Okay simple right? Farmers take their product to harvest, veggies, plants, livestock right?”
“Yeah...” Kaisla responds, “Every six months.”
“Okay,” Lamb continues. “Each farmer is taxed to support the farm industry in system. That tax is supposed to go back into the agricultural relief program. Basically, the taxes go to supporting the programs that help farmers.”
“Sure,” Kai said, “Makes sense.”
“But its not. The same percentage of tax that is being taken out, is suddenly showing up in these peoples Federal returns. So, everyone pays taxes to the Federation. The Farmers’ tax increases year by year but these specific individuals all stay the same. With the exception of deposits made to the Federal holdings - that shows here on this graph - those numbers are the same as what the Farmers are reporting on their income returns. It took some math but it shows this:
Farmers are reporting they made this much (she indicates a number) off farming. But just looking at the loss and gains from *our* settlement indicates that Farmers are loosing this much (another number) each year. That number coincides with what the business market is reporting.”
Kaisla rubs her eyes, “LAMB! This is too smart for me. Break it down simpler please.”
“Kai!” Lamb explains, “Its simple. It shows that Farmers are paying way more in their tax bracket than what they should for their income. Then, however much their paying goes to these specific organizations who then report it on their ledgers to the Feds.”
Lamb shifts to another set of graphs. “What that means is that whatever the Farmers are paying to these people isn’t getting to them, its going to these people instead. And that’s what you said your dad was talking about before he got killed. The other guy was asking him where his money was for his loan.”
“Yeah but that was cause my dad borrowed money.” Kai explains.
“Right, from the same people that are showing this extra mysterious income.” Lambast indicates the slate again as if it had the answer sitting right on top of it. “That indicates to me that these people are stealing money from Farmers and then reporting it as extra income to the Federation. I’m willing to bet those are the same people responsible for your dads death.”
The light finally clicked on for Kaisla. “Ahhh...so those are the people we go kill?”
“No,” Lamb emphatically stuck her hand out, “It means we take this information so someone who can confirm it. Then we kill them.”
Kai looked confused, “Okay, but who can we go to that is going to tell us if we’re right or wrong? Do you think these guys are just going to admit they’ve been stealing from the settlers?”
“No, we take our findings to Johnston.” Lamb shifted her sitting position on the floor, “Look, you said he warned you that there were people in the system government that couldn’t be trusted. Maybe he just needs proof to provide to the Feds so they can do the investigation themselves. He obviously can’t do it because his bosses will be watching him. That will just get him in the same situation your dad is in.But if we provide him the proof, he can get access to records that my Dad’s feed can’t see and maybe he can, I don’t know, provide it to the Federation Investigative Branch and get a promotion or something?”
“Or....” Kai continued, “He could provide us the names and addresses and then we go kill them.”
Lamb rolled her eyes, “Kai, I know you want revenge...I would too but you have to approach this intelligently. Those are well-connected powerful people. Its not going to be as easy as you just knocking on their door and then cutting their throats. These people are rich, powerful and likely paranoid. Plus, they have friends. Its not going to be as easy as you think.”
“Are they all men?” Kai said leafing through her portfolios Lamb had constructed on their ‘suspects’.
“What’s that got to do with anything?” Lamb asked, frustrated.
“Well, if they’re all men...” Kai continued examining the booklet, “Then they all have the same weakness. Sex.”
A puzzled look crossed Lamb’s face. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Okay, my turn to explain something to you, if these guys are all criminals and gangsters, then chances are they cheat on their wives as much as they cheat on their finances. So, I pose as a prostitute and that gets us close to them.”
Lamb became outraged. “No! Absolutely not! You can not have sex with these people just to get closer to them to kill them! You are not a prostitute!”
“Nobody said I had to actually have sex with them.” Kai said with a sly look on her face. “That’s just the cover to get us in.”
“Okay, so possibly..” Lamb interjected, “But first, we take this information to Johnston and see if he can do anything through Federal channels. That’s our first step. I know you want revenge but if we can get these guys without you laying down with them, then that’s our first course of action.”
“Deal,” Kai confirmed.
It took a week to setup but finally, Johnston agreed to meet with the girls. With some convincing, Lambasts father agreed to let the girls take the Adder to Cleve to go do some shopping. After toying around in the different shops, the two girls made their way to the cafe that Johnston had directed them to be at. He was adamant that they couldn’t meet at the Security station because it would be under surveillance.
Finally, settling down in the little cafe, the girls ordered some drinks and waited. Nearly an hour passed and the girls thought he would be a no show until he started weaving his way through the tables to get to theirs. Kai gave him an appraising look, “Mr. Johnston, I haven’t seen you out of uniform. Not bad.”
Johnston glared at her. “This is not wise ladies.”
Lamb extended her hand, “We didn’t think you would show.”
He looks at her extended hand and ignores it. “This is a bad idea, if I got caught being seen with you two, I could lose my job or worse yet, get a lot of un-necessary attention.”
Lamb retracts her hand and becomes curt. “We’ll keep it short then.” She slides the slate across the table. “We think these people are part of an over-all criminal organization running out of Cleve and we think they’re responsible for the death of Kaisla’s parents. We politely request you submit these findings to the Federal Security Branch and have them launch a full investigation.”
Johnston almost lost it, trying to cover the slate up and turning it over, screen down. His voice lowered to a harsh whisper. “Yeah no shit they’re part of a criminal organization. Everybody knows that.”
Lamb looked shocked. “Well, if everybody knows, then why do they tolerate it?”
“Because it makes money,” Johnston continues, “And they’re well connected. Look, I know you girls are out of your depth here but there are at least eight different factions operating at this station at one time. Most of them, we know are dirty but anything criminal is circumstantial. We can’t prosecute on circumstantial evidence. It will get thrown out of court. Beyond that, the criminal factions bring a lot of income and resources to the stations. Half the resources that the farming settlements rely on are here are because of the same organization that’s responsible for your dad’s death,” Johnston indicates Kaisla with a nod, “So you see, its not as black and white as, ‘they’re bad, don’t do business with them,’ as you think it is. Part of what makes this station thrive is the business - all of it - that occurs here. Don’t kid yourselves ladies, the FSB knows full well of the rampant criminal holdings on this station and all of the stations within its jurisdiction. The problem is, the justice system is overwhelmed as it is and couldn’t possibly be bothered with one piss-ant faction on a backwater hub out in Eravate. Not to mention, its those same organizations that most of the Federation leadership cut their teeth on coming to power. Those organizations put their shining stars into positions of leadership precisely because it gives them a bid for power and free-reign out here in the hubs. Even Hudson comes from a background of very powerful crime lords.”
Lambast and Kaisla were aghast. “Stop giving me that look,” Johnston continues, “Its not that nobody cares, its just that those guys usually leave the small guy alone to sell his salvage, profit off his crops or cruise around relatively safe, space lanes. They actually do a lot to curb piracy in the bubble because that affects business.”
Lamb became agitated. “Oh, what? They space some pirates and suddenly they’re the good guys?”
“That’s not what I’m saying!” Johnston hissed. “I’m saying that they’ve embedded themselves into the fabric of Federation business. The particular organization you’re talking about - included. They’re too connected and move too much money for anybody within the legal system to want to action against them.” Johnston leaned back in his chair. “The best thing for you ladies to do is mourn the death of your father, go home and try heal. What happened to you sucks - but its not isolated and its not a simple fix.”
“I can’t just go home and forget about what happened to my father.” Kaisla stated flatly.
“What I’ve been telling you,” Johnston continued, “Its not something you gals are going to be able to tackle. Even if I did know who your parents killer was, I wouldn’t be able to arrest him. He’s too well connected. He would be out in a few days doing the same shit.”
“Oh, I didn’t plan on having him arrested.” Kai said staring off in the distance, suddenly serious.
A range of emotions crossed Johnston’s face quickly, “What you’re -“ he lowered his voice and leaned in, “you’re not considering murdering him are you?”
Kai’s focus suddenly snapped to Johnston, staring directly at him. “Yeah. I’m going to kill him.”
His whisper became more intense as he leaned closer to her, “Are you fucking crazy? I’m a law enforcement officer. You can’t go walking around, admitting your going to murder someone and just expect me to let you walk away! That’s pre-meditated. Its my *duty* to arrest you right now.”
Kai thought about this briefly. “Well, what would you do in my situation?”
Johnston’s face blanked out. Suddenly he was acutely aware of the young woman sitting in front of him and the mess of emotions this situation had inflicted upon her and how that had turned her life upside down. Up to this point, it had been limited to, “Ah that poor girl, that must be terrible for her.” Now he was glaringly aware of how little thought he had put into the situation and how terrible it must be.
He leaned back in his chair, rubbing the back of his neck, “Well...yeah, okay. I guess I can see where you’re coming from. But that puts me in a bad situation. Even trying to explain why you came to me in the first place would bring up some uncomfortable questions. I still can’t let you go off with the idea your going to kill someone though.”
Kaisla did her best to make herself look cute, innocent and attractive, “But pretty please? What if we don’t leave a mess?”
“The answer is still no. What makes you even think the two of you can figure out who it is, track them down and get close enough to them to do any harm?” Johnston asked indicating the slate, loaded with research, on the table.
Kaisla looked down at the slate. “I wasn’t going to be choosy. I was just going to take them out as I went.”
Johnston suddenly became quiet. He was glaringly aware that he was sitting at a table with at least one girl who was severely unbalanced and contemplating a pre-meditated massacre. Now he was working in damage control and trying to ascertain as much information as he could in an effort to hopefully figure her plan out and be able to stop her before she actually committed a crime.
“Yeah but that still doesn’t explain ‘how?’” He finally asked.
Lamb cut in, knowing the direction of the conversation. “I guess you’ll find out when it happens, c’mon Kai, he’s not going to help us, lets go.” The girls gathered up their things and left some credits on the table, standing up to leave. Johnston just sat there dumbfounded and weighed down with the moral debate raging within.