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The Europa Goodbye: Chapter 6

Updated: Jun 30

Europa - 2351


The artificial lamps were starting to dim for night as Darius walked back outside the Ward Six precinct. There was a lot on his mind. He turned up his collar against the chill clawing at his neck before heading for the nearest tram station. He had to get back to his own precinct and start crunching data, pronto.

Stepping off the train in Ward Four, he paused just long enough to re-read the code he’d scrawled on the piece of paper now clutched in his hand like a winning lotto ticket. 76A-6V3-13Q-BV8-PRU-51C. It certainly looked like a data node access command sequence. He pondered that all the way back to the front steps of his home precinct, where he was surprised to find Lieutenant Hoskins waiting for him. “’Evening, Lieutenant. What’s the situation?” He tried to sound casual, but he knew something must have gone sideways.

Hoskins was absently scratching his chin as Darius approached. He looked up with a directionless scowl that Darius had come to expect as par for the course. “Let’s get inside,” he said. 

He turned without another word and ascended the steps. Darius hurried to catch up, a familiar sensation rising in the pit of his stomach. Inside the station was a buzz of activity, with agents and patrol officers flitting this way and that like harried worker bees. Armed officers in combat gear were doing last minute functions checks on their weapons. One officer, a big man with a nasty cut over his eye, was being fitted for an arm sling, while another was being carried in on a stretcher. 

Darius looked around. “What’s going on, boss? Place looks like a war just broke out.”

From the way Hoskins looked back at him, Darius felt like he wasn't too far off the mark. The fear that the escalating turf war had  gone hot hung over them all the way up the elevator.

They arrived at the precinct’s main conference room, having been informed of the operation to root out the syndicates a scant ten hours earlier. Had it only been that long? Darius felt like the tiny moon was spinning faster under his feet than usual. That, or the bad feeling in his stomach had gotten worse.

Inside, a few clusters of mid-level J-Sec operatives were gathered, quietly discussing whatever had the entire place in such an uproar.“ All right,” said Hoskins. “Find your seats, and we’ll begin.”

Everyone dispersed to take up seats around the table. Hoskins dimmed the lights and walked around to stand at the head of the table. “We’ll be linking up with central HQ for an all-hands-on-deck meeting.”

He set up the terminal on the dais before taking his own seat to its right. The line hummed with static for a second before a face appeared from the digital fuzz and took shape in midair over the table. It was Major Greg Pritchard, head of the Jovian Security Force counterterrorism task force. The expression on his weathered and heavily jowled face spoke to the gravity of the situation.

His gravelly voice fuzzed over slightly with static as he spoke. That was the cost  of radio comms so close to Jupiter. “Less than three hours ago, intelligence operatives working the line received preliminary intelligence of a planned act of terror against the Tanaway station orbital shipping port.” He paused, possibly for effect. “Special Tactics officers moved in on a safe house in the Asterius Linea, where they found a stockpile of unconventional high explosives, along with intelligence on J-Sec security protocols for the shipyard.”

He paused again as the line crackled with static. “Half the four suspects were known affiliates of the Red Nova syndicate.” A wave of murmurs swept through the room around Darius.

Pritchard went on. “We suspect these were assigned as a response to the killing of Regis Pulaski. The shipyard is officially owned and operated by affiliates of Interplanetary Dynamics, it is also a prime currency cleaning exchange point for the Callistan Dawn’s  underground activities. Current intel suggests this attack was an act of vengeance against the Dawn in advance of the coming turf war.”

No one spoke. Darius’ mind was racing, though. Something about it seemed off, even before Pritchard had finished giving his assessment. How had the Novas moved so fast against the Dawn, regardless of the intensity of their anger over the supposed assassination of one of their leaders? 

The syndicates maintained active paramilitary units, but even if the Novas had a cell ready for the go order, the idea that such an act could be carried out on such short notice was dubious at best.

Then there was the question of how J-Sec had known to act so quickly. Intel would surely have been monitoring the situation for a long time beforehand, but that didn’t add up either.

Darius’ mind was racing, filled to the brim with questions. Was bombing a port really a proportional response to a high-level cell commander getting knifed? Didn’t the Novas realize it would result in overwhelming retribution, not just from their enemies, but from across the security apparatus of Solar Space? Or was some breakaway faction carrying out an act of overt terror without the approval from higher-ups? If that was the case, it could be the first overture in a new era of Draconist Wars violence.

Darius realized suddenly that Commander Pritchard was still talking. “–forces will be dispersed to prevent further acts of retaliatory violence, as the ongoing turf war continues to develop.” He paused, and appeared to speak with someone outside the camera’s focus. After seeming to meet the eyes of the hundreds of officers watching his presentation each in turn, he let out a deep breath. 

The holo-image of Commander Pritchard nodded slowly, as if agreeing with his own decision. “Keep your heads on a swivel and keep a close eye on the local population, people. The wounds of the Jovian Civil War are still raw out here. There’s no telling what these folks will do when they’re pushed.”

Except we know exactly what they’ll do if and when we start to lean on them, thought Darius. It's the same damn thing humans have always done when they’re squeezed. And the same thing the people out here did for twenty years after the last time the ICA put the screws to them.

The Commander took one last look at the assembled agents via the proxy connection. “Pritchard out,” he said, and nodded to someone on his end. With that, the connection fuzzed over and snapped off. 

As the lights came up and the group parted, Darius hung back. Before Hoskins left the room, he got his attention. “Hey, you got a minute?” Hoskins eyed him wearily, but nodded. The two of them walked toward the main lobby as Darius laid out his latest development. “I got some information from one of the suspects in that incident from Sixth Ward. He was pretty coy, I got him to cough up this much.”

He reached back into his jacket pocket and retrieved the innocuous scrap of paper. He showed it to Hoskins as he spoke. “I’m no data tech, but that looks a helluva lot like a retrieval node command key to me. If I’m right, we might be able to figure out what the Red Novas have been up to.”

Hoskins eyed Darius shrewdly, his expression hard. “You better start making sense, Maroney.”

Darius nodded. “I’m getting there. Look, the intelligence Pritchard just gave us doesn’t add up at all, if you want my opinion. How could the Intel division know about that terror plot within just a few hours? Ops like that take a while to prep, sometimes years. The whole thing stinks bad.”

They were now at the lobby, where officers and agents were still hurrying every which way in the midst of the new troubles. The sobbing had died down, and a man was yelling at someone over the phone. Darius tried to ignore it. Something about a custody battle which he had neither the time nor the emotional resources to pay any attention to. Hoskins stopped walking and turned sharply to face his subordinate. “You trust the intel you got handed by a Draconist bag man over your own intelligence apparatus?”

Darius nodded firmly.

Hoskins stared at him for a few long moments, then sighed again. He rubbed the bridge of his nose as he spoke. “All right, Maroney. I want to see this evidence you’ve picked up.” He raised a finger and brought it to a few inches in front of Darius’ face. “But listen up: I’m giving you half a Europa-standard day to turn up some good leads, or else I'll reassign you to the ground operations task force for the anti-syndicate operation. What happens from there is outta my hands. Do I make myself clear?”

He cracked the faintest ghost of a grin. “Good luck, kid.” Then he turned and headed deeper into the building, leaving the door open for Darius to chase his lead to the ends of the frozen wasteland.

Darius looked down to re-read the code for what he felt was the dozenth time, then headed for the data processing center without another moment’s pause. Along the way he passed everyone from analysts rushing off to crunch their own incoming data to special tactics officers already wearing the inner layers of their riot gear, all moving about in anticipation of the rapidly deepening crisis.

In the processing center, he sat at a terminal in the corner and set the paper down on the desk next to the device. He used his departmental ID to log into the intranet and navigated to the proper data access suite, then began inputting the symbols McEwan had scrawled on the ragged little scrap of paper.

To his surprise, the system spat back an error: “Warning – Unaffiliated Data Packet.” Darius frowned and worked the system controls to get past the warning, which he knew was little more than an advice that he was attempting to enter a third-party access point, thereby leaving the relative safety of the departmental intranet and entering the murkier waters of the open Network.

The Network was basically an interplanetary cloud computing system, which meant you had to prime the information pathways with a specific access point matrix or you’d get nothing but jumbled noise.

A few moments later the error message disappeared and the system clicked over to the ‘Net. Data scrolled across the screen in waves as the algorithmic processing system dialed him into the preferred method of information transfer for Solar Space. His terminal was merely the tip of an iceberg composed of countless qubits worth of real-time data, but there was only one direction Darius wanted to go. He selected the access point McEwan’s code had primed and clicked on the ENTER key on his terminal.

For a moment, the system seemed like it was about to give him what he wanted. Then the access point flickered and a second error message popped up onscreen: “Warning: the selected data packet has been encrypted at a Level 01 security directive. This is a notice of mandatory cessation of access.

Now Darius was truly stumped. While it was certainly possible that the syndicates might use encryption to protect their sensitive data—in fact he would have been more stunned if they didn’t—it was the nature of the encryption used in this particular instance which left him puzzled. Level 01 data encryption was usually reserved for only two kinds of systems: military databases and confidential corporate networks. So what in the hell were the members of an underground criminal enterprise doing using it?

He waited in tense silence as the system processed his query. Then, it spat out another unexpected result: “Assessment: data suggests this encryption software package can be sourced to an Interplanetary Defense Corps Intelligence Command transfer officially declared missing as of 11.03.2342.

That sent a chill up Darius’ spine. J-Sec knew syndicates had acquired a substantial amount of military hardware during the Jovian Civil War. In this case, the reality was much worse than stolen rifles or explosives. No, apparently the Red Novas were now using Level 01 intelligence software. 

He signed out of the terminal, careful to cover his tracks before he shut it down. Then he walked out of the data processing center and headed for the squad room, where his cube was located.

When he arrived, he found his desk in the same sad state he’d left it. Loose files and reports were scattered across the scratched surface of the composite fiber desk, as were a handful of candy and other snack wrappers and a half-empty beverage can. He’d have to deal with all that at some other time.

In the next cube over, another detective was on the line, carrying on in an obnoxiously loud voice as he argued with what must have been a confidential informant. “I can’t pull you out now. We’re about to move in on the Novas and you’re my best-placed contact inside their command structure.”

Darius wasn’t really listening, though. Something had just occurred to him. He stood and leaned around the corner toward Ferenc and tapped him on the shoulder. “Hey, mind if I talk to that C.I?”

It took him five minutes to plan his next impromptu operation, and another half hour to cross the distance to War Seven. The Ward was on nighttime quiet mode by the time Darius got back into the field. He agreed to meet with C.I. at a Red Nova hangout called the Rockhopper’s Pride. Aside from being a front for Nova operations, it was also one of the roughest clubs in the city. The sort of place cops only went when they had the numbers to really intimidate the muscle which congregated there.

Truth be told, the whole Seventh Ward was a place where J-Sec operatives usually avoided going unless absolutely necessary. Rumors about the number of cops who’d disappeared from there over the years were on Darius’ mind as he stepped onto the tram. He’d left his credentials back at the precinct. Hopefully he wouldn’t need them. Best not to think of what might happen if things got so out of hand that he did.


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