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Cultural Exchange - Part 6

"We need to check out the supply warehouse."

He said it so matter-of-factly that I didn't even look up. Roary peeked over her news printout ( the comics section ). I glanced over because the crunching noise from her side of the table abruptly ceased. She looked funny with drops of milk clinging to her muzzle. She loves 'Berry Blast' cereal ... who knew?

"I said: We need to check out the supply warehouse. Didn't anyone hear me?"

"Give it a rest, Fred. That broken part is old news. It's fixed and we're resting on good old solid tarmac. Who cares where that part came from. I only care that its not anywhere near this ship anymore. Everything's fine." I really didn't believe that, but you just don't go sticking your hands down into holes hoping to find poison snakes in 'em. My partner can be a right obnoxious pain in the ass sometimes.

"And you aren't even just a little curious to find out where it came from? Or why it got put on our ship? That wasn't no bit of bad luck! It had to've been done by design."

"No! I am not curious one bit! All I know is that we're back on schedule with drives due in a week with lots to do before they get here. Besides, it was just a lowly rating's fault. You saw how he screamed at 'im when he found out about it. Kugi's got a short fuse when mistakes reflect badly on him. Made the poor second class go and degrease the gantry runners right then and there. Even kicked him in the butt to make him run faster."

"Don't care....We need to check out the supply warehouse."

Roary had been listening by swiveling her ears back and forth like watching a netball match. Very distracting. She seemed pretty chipper at that. I suspect that she didn't know what to make of our conversation. Like nobody would do something like that and she's watchin' some tri-vid show about crazy people and conspiracy theories. All I could picture was a cheerful little puppy dog, all happy and bouncy, getting whacked by a newspaper in the head and thinking that its all just part of some fun game.

"Excuse please, sirs.... might you look on supply list inventory for where the part went?"

A nice suggestion but the serial number was gone so we can't trace that particular part too well. But at least she's thinking.

"I already did that, Tuvi. That's why we have to look inside the warehouse."

"Did you find your part, Mister Stracker?"

"No, Tuvi, I lost one."

An evil smile crept across Fred's face. He's cookin' up a scheme. I know that look. He's goin' searchin' for poisonous snakes sans gloves...

"I don't understand, Mister Stracker. Teach me your meanings, please."

"Tuvi, how many gear shock strut mounts were there in stock when we ordered our replacement?"


Poor little puppy ... I can already see the newspaper coming...

"And how many are there today?"

I especially hate trick questions...

Fred handed her a commlink. I guessed that he already had the site listing up for inventory queries. Why can't I be a happy little puppy...

"There are 15 pieces in stock at this time, sir. What does it mean?"

...because I can see the newspaper coming.

"Excuse my questions, Mr. Stracker, but how does that mean we must see the warehouse for parts? If the part you need to see is not there..."

Rortuvu's voice trailed off to silence in her confusion. I must admit, that I was curious for Fred's reasoning. What was there to be gained for breaking into the supply building just to see something he said wasn't even there? He must have a decent idea, though, else he wouldn't be pressing on about it.

"Well...", Fredrich started. "The broken gear part was Imperial made, not Zho. So it was not original to this ship and it had to come from somewhere. Also, the new replacement came from the supply department. That makes 2 parts. The same as the inventory now says were used. Hmmm ... but where did the damaged part come from and why was the bushing new? And where did the original Zho part go? Maybe there will be clues to all that in the warehouse."

He seemed proud of himself for that line of reasoning and it did sound pretty good, but I didn't want to be caught breaking into our own depot. I don't particularly feel like sneaking around and I especially didn't want to get caught! Trying to explain what we were doing would be embarrassing and make us lots of enemies on the base. I had a better idea. If what Fred suspected were true, then there'd be a pretty clear paper trail to follow. Good enough to see if he's on the right track at least. Time to put my two creds in.

"Instead of breaking in, why not check the inventory trail first on the base's network? That oughta tell us where things went and maybe where things came from. There's not that many ships that use those type of shock mounts stationed here, so the transaction list should be pretty short."

"That's a restricted area. Only maintenance department and management can access it. What're you going to do? Crack your way in?"

"Nope. Scolpino's going do it for us......you still have those passwords you lifted don't you?"

Fred snapped his fingers, ending the motion with a flourish and practically leapt from his seat, rushing to his cabin. I stood and went to my own room to retrieve my lap-terminal; a plain vanilla unit with no identifying files or programs on it, a standard IISS machine that I rarely used except for things like this. I guess it could still be traced by chipset numbers or some such, but no sense making it easy for anyone trying to catch me. As I reached the doorway, I asked Roary to clear off the table so that we could all see the display clearly.

I pulled up the login and typed Scolpino's name and passwords into the system. Ghostly digits glowed in the air above the table in the dimmed galley. I had the display set on group viewing mode so we could all watch. Both my shipmates had linked their commlinks to my system to trade data and record stuff for the future. I am actually in legitimately, so no tripwires so far... well only as long as senior dickhead doesn't log on himself. I set a script to kick us out if that happens.

"We're in. Here's the inventory database. We can follow parts and links to different repair orders from here. Give me the part number and serial numbers."

After a few moments a list of transactions appeared. I cross-checked them with ship types that had the same design part; there was a type SX-R scout ship, 180 dtons that required gear repairs about a week after we were assigned to this ship. It was one of 7 that were loosely attached to this base... long range couriers/extended range.

"Ooo yeah... that looks promising... what d'ya say to that?"

"I'm lookin'."

"What is so important about that ship, Mr. James?" Fred explained so that I could concentrate on digging some more. Let's see if there was a new bushing used but not used if you get my drift...

"The SX-R scout is 180 dtons empty, but that gear strut is only rated for 200 dtons for safety. That doesn't leave a lot of leeway for harder than normal landings. Pilots hate it because you have to bring her in straight and light to land her ok. If you don't, the gear'll fold up like broken toothpicks. No matter what, there's gonna be some awful wear and tear on the gear systems from that ship. You know.... like hairline cracks? So you got bushings, Ishmael?"

"Yep... 4 were used. Kinda funny since there's only 3 legs on her. You thinking the number was filed off ours to hide that it came from here? Then where did the original go? I'm checking the repair history of our ship from when it was assigned here, before we got it... Damn. That's it folks. We were kicked out. Scolpino must be online now."

Rortuvu chirped up, "I got it Mr. James. The log shows the work requested by yourself; the strengthening of the acceleration frame and the gutting of most major systems. Other than that, just an annual check-out of operating systems, mostly life support, and little else. I see nothing about a gear strut change."

"Thank you Roary, but there wouldn't be any record of it if such a job was meant as sabotage, now would there, mmm?"

"There's no need to be so sarcastic with her, Ish. She was quick enough to catch that repair data for us. Think anyone caught on to us?"

"I don't think so. It depends on if and when someone actually reads the port logs. We should be safe since it was a proper account and I didn't do any illegal snooping. Now what? Its not like we have any real solid proof, ya know. You sure you're not just being paranoid?"

"Positive... even if I'm wrong about us being the target, there sure is something screwy going on and I still think its aimed at us."

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