Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter V: Kitchen Bill

“Are you secure?” Ti asked Tom Chambers, checking his displays. The Hermes72 trideo link was encrypted and running through a dozen proxy servers. Content, sender and receiver all secure.

“Yes on my end. Bradwick broke. It's as I suspected: he was programmed by an NEC operative using second gen hypno-training. He’s Terra Novan, he was recruited in Peace River during the war, sold out to the NEC. He was placed in Prince Gable in 1918 to oversee WestCorp. His contact there was a woman named Nanda Devi, but she’s dead now.”

Ti nodded again. “I know about her. Did Bradwick say who they worked for?”

“A guy called Vitushkin, he was the cell leader. I got the name of two other operatives. One is a bad hat called Arens. I came close getting him a few cycles back but lost him back in Peace River. When Bradwick was shipped out to Prince Gable, he had contact with another member of that cell in KAD affiliated with the Kolsons.”

“Let me guess,” Ti interjected, “Marius Wallcraft.”

“You got it. Wallcraft and Devi were old chums, and all of them in bed with this Vitushkin fellow. Since she died he’s been continuing his thing, occasionally attending meetings at WestCorp, but the day-to-day operations were handled by the president.” Tom looked through his notes. “Bachat Ismad,” Ti offered helpfully. “Yeah, him. Bradwick was activated by a dead drop a few weeks ago and told to shut down the whole WestCorp operation and liquidate everyone associated with it. So what does that all mean to you?” Tom was fiddling with a cigar, the image of it coming in and out of the trideo frame. Now a match came into view and Tom puffed it into life. Ti could almost smell the cigar and felt a sudden rush of nostalgia for days when he and Tom did this kind of thing all the time.

“Westcore was the business side of the Tantalus project. Vitushkin needed to bury it for a while after the war, so he bought WestCorp with help from a northern company that lent him cash against equity and used it to hide Westcore in the paperwork.”

“Which northern company?” Tom asked.

“I don’t know We’ve just retrieved transaction records from a trader who bought WestCorp outright and used it to buy Westcore. The cash was secured on a loan from a northern bank -- so northern company -- but we don’t know which one for sure. What I do know is what was used as collateral for the cash: 12 million Peace River dollars worth of Paxton stock.”

“That’s a pretty penny. You know what the northern company is, I can tell, Ti.” Tom said with a grin.

“I suspect. I’m using the data we stole from the Governor's Palace to track where the 12 million came from in case that’s helpful. Anyway, the point was to get control of Westcore, which held the records of camp 9a and the labour projects at the mines where they did the Tantalus research. WestCorp hid all that and then folded a few weeks ago, destroying its records and merging its stock with WestRim, not surprisingly, a company listed in the UMF.”

“I might be able to help there. I’m making some headway in my current scheme and I should be able to get some banking information for you if you give me some specifics.” Tom said beaming, Ti knew what that meant: the Doc was plotting something big and probably profitable.

“What I don’t get is what this is all about. Why the subterfuge, the money to hide Westcore in WestCorp, why not just destroy all this stuff 7 or 8 cycles ago? Tantalus doesn’t work anyway.” Tom leaned out of trideo range and came back with a tumbler and carafe. Titan hesitated a moment. He had not been sharing all his information with Tom and the Nexus since Port Arthur, but it was time he trusted someone with what he knew.

“Tom, Tantalus was originally a legitimate research program. Before the end of the war, the CEF realised the invasion had failed and they changed tack. They scuppered the fusion project that would power their overt military campaign and started something else under its guise, using the same resources and scientists. Tantalus became a cover for something called Project Jezebel. Whereas Tantalus was aimed at supporting the invasion of 1916, Jezebel is about infiltration, presumably laying the ground for a future invasion.”

Tom was appropriately quiet given the gravity of what Ti had just said. After draining his glass he spoke again. “What else do you know and why haven’t you told me before now?”

Ti raised his hands towards the trideo image of Tom in a sign of appeasement. “Hold on, Tom. We agreed I’d run this on my own. Also, I just got a big piece of the puzzle today. We’ve been working on some anomalies in data we recovered from WestCorp. It turns out it was a code or more precisely a coded log. It was compiled by a prisoner at camp 9a who was later sent to a Westcore mine. He saw what they did, the tests performed, and kept a record that he hid in grocery lists and larder accounts. We’ve been calling it the kitchen bill.”

“I want a copy of everything you have, Ti. If this is as big as you say, we can’t afford to have all this intelligence bottled up in your operation.” Tom was speaking with that authoritative tone which inspired or annoyed depending on one’s mood or disposition.

“Tom, hear me out. If this is as big as I think it is, we can’t afford to let it go any further than my operation. I trust you and Bill and a handful of others, but I have a cohesive and hermetic team that I can direct to pursue this one end with clarity and focus. Tom, the Lelland kin and I have been an organization with a deep sense of commitment but no objective. We knew we were here to help the Badlands, but it wasn’t until I saw this and knew what the Jezebel Project was about that I realised what the Lelland foundation was for. We were meant for this, Tom.”

Tom Chambers puffed on his cigar pensively and as he exhaled a smile grew out of the smoke. “You’re right. I trust you, Ti. Do what needs to be done. Just remember, I can help. Oh, and let me know if we’re on the verge of Armageddon.”

Ti smiled too; it felt good. He felt so isolated. Lyta had left for KAD the day before and things with her and her brothers had been tense since they had gone up north. Things with Tom had been tense since Port Arthur. Since Oscar had shown him the decoded Kitchen Bill, Ti had felt renewed resolve but even greater isolation.

“Fair enough, Tom, and thanks. So what was in the biohazard case that Bradwick had?” Ti asked, as Tom took a sip of what was very likely scotch.

“Oh, yes, the case. I had some people over at the Meredith Foundation look it over. It was blood samples. According to the genotypes, badlanders with a strong concentration of Sand Ryder samples.” Tom said between sips.

“Sand Ryder blood?” Ti asked, a knot forming in his stomach.

“Yes, there is significant genetic drift between them and the rest of the badlanders, actually between them and the rest of Terra Novans. It’s really quite fascinating. Ti? What is it?”

Tom could see that Ti was frowning and absorbed in his own thoughts. 

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