CONTENT IS A WORK IN PROGRESS. POSTED SECTIONS MAY UNDERGO EDITING. YE BE WARNED.
In A Starship's Wake
By Stephen Schamber
Chapter 12: Outside Interest
Tyrone was doing pull-ups in the small corner of the cargo bay carved out to house their exercise equipment when a console near him started beeping, indicating an incoming message for him. He did one more, then dropped to the floor and frowned at it. He recognized the sender as Gary, their Immigration case officer. Had something gone wrong?
He grabbed a towel and wiped some of the sweat off his face, then mashed the accept icon. “Good morning Gary. Should I go find the others?”
“I don’t think it’s necessary. I’ll send all three of you the same information in text after we’re done, and they can call me back with any questions.” The case officer looked at what he could of the cargo bay. The camera angle from the console Tyrone had picked showed the vast garden of potted plants they had on board, but Gary didn’t comment on them. “I actually expected to find them with you.”
“Joseph doesn’t work out the way I do,” Tyrone said with a grin. “I do it for fun, he does it to keep from getting flabby. No idea whether Allison does it at all. We weren’t expecting a call from you yet. Did we overlook something?”
“No, not at all.” Gary shook his head, speaking in a reassuring tone. “The opposite. Among other things, I was actually calling to tell you Allison has been granted refugee status.”
“Oh. That was fast.” Tyrone raised his eyebrows in a questioning look. Immigration procedures weren’t something he’d dealt with before, but he knew this kind of speed wasn’t standard.
“I don’t know how long it takes elsewhere, but at the Couradeen office we don’t mess around.” Gary drew himself up in mock-pomposity as he made the statement. “Also, we bumped her case up the queue a little,” he admitted, dropping the superior attitude. “It did include a wealth of information about a potential security threat to the station after all. The police force appreciates it when we take time to look into that and pass it along.”
“It would be directed at her primarily, possibly exclusively.” Tyrone was uncertain it was really that helpful to station security. Especially considering it was a threat that wouldn’t exist if they hadn’t been bringing Allison to the station. He carefully didn’t mention that.
“Maybe, but gangsters and organized crime can cause plenty of incidental problems.” He awarded a dark glower to a file on his desk. “It isn’t as though they’re well-behaved outside the specific crime they show up to commit. It’s best to know when they’re coming.”
“Well, thank you. We aren’t trying to kick her off the ship at Couradeen Station, but we wanted her to have the option of staying there.”
“You’re welcome. Even without a security threat, when there’s a good reason for haste we try to make the time.” Gary gave him a heartening smile. “Forgetting to file your application until the last minute doesn’t earn much sympathy from us. When someone’s suddenly forced from their home with a criminal enterprise after them, we try to give them a little victory. As long as their story checks out.”
“You were able to verify some of ours I take it?”
“More than enough.” The case officer made a disgusted face. “All of Allison’s personal information that we needed, eventually. The pertinent details of that little altercation on the docks.”
“How did that go? You almost make it sound like a bad thing.” Tyrone would have expected a more positive reaction to being able to confirm the most important details of their story.
“It was interesting, to say the least. I usually expect personal information to be easy to verify and particular events more difficult. The first is largely public information and most planets centralize it all somewhere, and the latter relies on talking to the right person. Someone who was there or the law enforcement agency that wrote a police report, and those may or may not match what I was told. This case was the opposite.”
“That’s because it was easy to get a hold of the dock foreman.” Tyrone waved away the reversal with a smile, but Gary shook his head.
“That helped matters, yes, but I had a lot of trouble verifying basic information about Allison. Date of birth, parent’s names, home address and so on.”
“What was wrong with her background?” For a brief moment Tyrone wondered who they had brought on board, but caught himself. His own experience with Allison all but ruled out trickery on her part, and there was no motive. Not to mention what a convoluted mess of a conspiracy that would have been; she couldn’t have planned for Joseph to see her in a diner and offer her a ride.
“Ultimately, nothing. She’s exactly who she says she is. I discovered that the Temorran Kindred has some reach in the government of the region she’s from. They had started rewriting her history from day one. The official record listed Terrence Reed as her father.”
Tyrone’s surprise quickly gave way to outrage. Treasonous little wretch! They shouldn’t have let him leave the docking bay.
“That was pretty much my reaction,” Gary said, watching Tyrone’s face.
“I’d suggest not mentioning that to Joseph,” Tyrone advised when he remembered how to form coherent speech. “He’s the volatile one of the two of us. He might burst a vein or something.”
“Noted. That particular move was sloppy on their part. Reed isn’t old enough to be her father. It didn’t take me long to figure out he was eight when she was born, but I wound up having to contact the hospital where her mother gave birth to get a clear record.”
Tyrone twisted the towel in his hands as he processed that information. That the Kindred had government workers in their pockets was not a surprise. The capability to falsify someone’s basic personal information was unexpected, and a little frightening. It also took time to work someone in far enough to have that access, which meant...
“This wasn’t a throwaway scheme we interrupted then. Terrence didn’t just suggest on impulse one morning that they give it a try. They’ve been planning to move into human trafficking for a while, building the ability to cover their tracks.”
Gary nodded in solemn confirmation. “I don’t think they intended to claim she was Terrence’s daughter, ultimately. I think you caught them off guard and they changed it to make her background more difficult to look into. In that they succeeded, but it wasn’t enough.”
“It’s still a lot more than we thought they could do.”
“It came as a shock to me as well. I wound up collecting as much or more information about the Temorran Kindred than about Allison. I’m still not sure what I’m going to be doing with it exactly, beyond referring it all to PICTA.”
That startled Tyrone. “We haven’t contacted them at all yet. To be honest it never occurred to me that they would want to know about it. Probably not to Joseph either, or he would have mentioned it. Is this something they’ll act on?” A series of half-remembered news stories about the counter-trafficking organization flashed through his mind, none of them recent.
“I’m not sure. I don’t know much more about how they operate than you probably do. I have the access to check some of their databases, but that’s about it. We do report any instances of human trafficking to them, confirmed or suspected. I think we can label this one ‘confirmed.’ From what I know the grooming they were doing to Allison is the most common method in this part of space, and as Joseph noted in his statement, a long-standing tradition.”
“Well, if they got rid of the Temorran Kindred altogether it would take a lot of the uncertainty out of our future.” Tyrone was already weary of worrying about the adjustments to he and Joseph’s plans. “I’m guessing it won’t be that easy.”
“Nothing ever is. I wouldn't count on it, but PICTA are the experts on human trafficking. If anyone can do anything about it, it’s them. They’re the ones who know best how to fight it. All we can do is tell them what’s going on. That and do our best to help Allison and any other victims that come our way.”
“Well, I’m happy to do that. No matter how much it inconveniences me personally later.” He thought again about Joseph’s offer to take Garden Variety Animal. It was seeming like a better idea all the time, even though he didn’t want to do it.
“PICTA will probably want to talk to her at some point, as well as you and Joseph. You may want to mention it to her. She’s had enough surprises for a while.”
That was the understatement of the year in Tyrone’s opinion. “I’ll make sure she’s expecting it.” He was curious what the organization might want to know from Joseph and him. It was really Allison’s story, the starmen were just in it. Like the statements for Immigration, perhaps it just helped to have multiple versions of the story.
Gary’s comment about having access to the PICTA databases roused his curiosity. He and Joseph would need all the information they could pick up about the Temorran Kindred and the Ventalian Mafia. “You said you have access to PICTA’s databases, did they have anything you can tell me about the two gangs?”
“There was a little that might be useful.” Gary spun his chair slightly to look at a different computer screen, calling up information. “They had exactly nothing about the Temorran Kindred. The gang was a complete non-entity in their database.”
That was more or less what Tyrone had expected. From what Terrence and the fighter pilot told them this was a new type of crime for their organization. Based on Allison’s account the club Terrence ran already qualified as a human trafficking operation, but it was low-profile. PICTA wasn't omniscient, and there couldn't be much reliable law enforcement data from Temorran.
“So until now nobody has reported them to PICTA?” Tyrone asked.
“Right. That applies for the whole planet. They rate the activity level for Temorran as negligible, which basically means nothing has been reported to them. I don’t get access to the underlying data, but I’ve used the system enough to know that if they get even one report, it’s rated as ‘low’ or more.”
“Good in a way, but there could be a lot going on that they just haven’t heard about. I keep thinking of Terrence’s club.”
“Exactly. Few on Temorran would know to report that kind of thing to PICTA. They’ve never even heard of them. Anyway, the Ventalians don’t have the same record. I’ve got a good-sized report for them. PICTA has been keeping an eye on them for a while.”
“Joseph and I have heard of them before today.” The Mafia was Tyrone’s big concern. The Kindred, ambitions aside, had little strength outside their home system. They certainly didn’t have the resources to waste pursuing the two starmen. The Mafia was another matter entirely.
“They’re a little more serious.” Gary unknowingly echoed Tyrone’s thoughts. “They aren’t a big player, but their operation must be fairly well-established, because their ships are on PICTA’s ‘engage on sight’ list. They haven’t been involved in any serious dust-ups yet, but PICTA has picked off a ship or two of theirs. They’ve had enough run-ins that they should know to stay away from the Teton Sector. That’s the highlights, do you want me to send you the whole report?”
“If that’s allowed, I’d love to give it a read, yeah. I didn’t think those were for public distribution. I’m sure Joseph will be interested as well.”
“I’ll send over a copy. In the eyes of their information-gathering arm you aren’t ‘the public’ anymore, you’re a source. They give sources information that will help defend them from retribution.”
“Alright. Thanks Gary, I’ll let the other two know the good news.”
“Let them know the rest of the news too.” Gary mashed his keyboard a little harder than was necessary as he closed the report. “Allison may need to change some of her plans, you mentioned she still has a bank account at home. If the Kindred can get to her birth record, they might be able to get to that too.
“Oh, I almost forgot to ask, has she contacted her parents at all yet? I didn’t, but they could have heard secondhand that someone was asking about her. They might have friends at the hospital or something.”
“She called them yesterday finally, yes.” Tyrone grimaced with remembered annoyance.
“You weren’t impressed by them I take it?”
He shook his head. “They were appropriately relieved to hear she was safe, I should acknowledge that. I did think they spent entirely too much time on recriminations. Allison is well aware of the mistakes she made by now. But, as I said to them, we aren’t the family police. They were not very happy with us for taking her off-planet instead of making her go home.”
“I think in the long run you made the better choice.” Gary’s face was grim. “The Kindred might well have hunted her down at home, and who knows what they might have done to the rest of the family? This way their attention is focused elsewhere.”
“Right, instead we have to worry about their retribution.” Tyrone spread his hands in acceptance. “Try telling a parent that though. As far as they’re concerned the safest place for her his home. I can’t blame them for that, even if they’re wrong.”
“Absolutely. How did Allison take it?”
“A few tears during the arguing.” Tyrone actually thought she’d handled the conversation quite well. “She was upset, but it wasn’t anything she hadn’t expected. Joseph and I were able to cheer her up afterward. We pointed out that at least Terrence had been wrong about them. Not only would they have let her come home, they were angry we’d given her another option.”
Gary laughed. “It’s always good to know you’re wanted. Alright, I’ll send you that report and a summary of the rest. God Bless.”
“You too Gary.” The screen went blank.
Tyrone sighed and looked back at the lifting equipment, weighing whether to finish his workout before finding Joseph and Allison. He didn’t have much left anyway. He went back to the pull-up bar.
It would also give him time to settle all the new information in his mind. PICTA was involved in their case now, or at least aware of it. If anyone had told him this would happen when he left home, he’d have laughed at them. It was more far-fetched than the worst of the dire predictions from the hidebound old codgers in their hometown.
He didn’t even know that much about PICTA, he thought as he pulled his chin above the bar again. They were a bit secretive, determined to protect the victims they’d already helped and absolutely unwilling to compromise their ability to find more. The “CT” stood for “Counter-Trafficking.” He thought the “A” was “Association,” but he couldn’t recall the “PI.” He’d have to look it up.
It didn’t seem likely they would wind up as part of the organization, but the reminder of their existence was comforting. Joseph and he had been counting on the protection of Tetonite space, which was significant. It was good to realize they had some active allies as well. PICTA was a Tetonite organization, but it didn’t limit itself to operating in Tetonite space. If they found themselves in too much trouble to keep operating as they had, perhaps PICTA could find work for them.