Thursday, June 15, 2017

Body from Nowhere

An unidentified body appearing suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, was not generally considered enough to call for me, John Talltree of Terran Investigations. But when that body appeared in the control room of a top secret government facility, it was a different matter entirely. Soutateruios on the world of Caltus was utterly top secret (I have learned it is better not to ask the reason for the existence of such facilities), and only a very few even knew of its existence. But someone had caused a dead body to appear there.

"So was there a security system in place?" I asked Pemitia, governor of Caltus. The governor was a frog-like being, a little shorter than a man, who clung to the wall from suction cups on his hands and feet. His ability to turn his head almost totally around to look you in the eye from that position was very disconcerting.

"Yes," he replied, "one of the finest, and only a very few had the codes to alter it. It was not supposed to let anyone in whose DNA, retina, and fingerprints were not on file. This individual's clearly was not.  We checked on the computer and there was no one registered there."

"Could someone bring in a guest?"

"Yes, but they have to register them on the computer. There is nothing registered on there."

"Looks like someone has messed with the computer."

"That is our best guess, but they would have to know or figure out the codes and be enough of an expert to reprogram it. I have our computer experts working on how this might have been done and what, if anything, can be recovered. But they have not gotten very far yet."

"I would like to interview the various members of the project staff and see if I can learn anything from them."

"It will be arranged."

The first person I talked to was the security officer, Ann Paulsen. She was a short Terran  woman with brown hair and a scar down the side of her face. "The body appeared at 11:17 p.m. Terran time."

"Out of thin air?" I asked.

"Based on the security record, that's what it looked like. One second it was not there, the next second it was, with no indication how it had come to be there. But the computer people tell me they are missing even the normal things that should be in the record in the time before the body appeared. It's like someone deliberately scrubbed the record."

"Who would be capable of doing this?"

"The only people with access to the codes other than me are the two project managers, Joe Emerson and Claudia Crowley. None of us have the skill to do this type of reprogramming.The only ones capable of reprogramming the computer are the computer techs, who do not have the codes to access the computer on that level."

"Who has access to this facility?"

"There are seven permanent personnel who are checked and rechecked before they are hired, but anyone can go bad. There is also a maintenance crew who covers for all the things the robots don't do, but they do not enter the place until the computer is locked down. Besides, they do not have the passwords to even log onto the computer, let alone reprogram it."

"Have you been able to identify the body?"

"It is no one that is in our computer. The is no ID or chip on the body. We have sent his DNA, fingerprints, and retina scan to records to look for a match. But this is a right to privacy planet and does not require universal record keeping. So whether he will be identified is up in the air. But the interesting thing is he is a Butopian and is wearing the colors of the blacksmith's guild."

"Is computer programing seen as under that guild?"

"No,  but some of the hardware associated with computers falls under that guild."

"How did he die?"

"Knife to the heart. We figure he must have trusted his killer because he was stabbed from the front, with no signs of a struggle."

Joe Emerson was pacing up and down his office nervously. "Did you pass on the codes to anyone?" I asked.

"No, I did nothing of the sort," he replied.

"Were they written down somewhere?"

"No, one of the qualifications for this job is that you are capable of memorizing the codes by heart and do not need to write them down."

"Do you know of any of your personnel who were acting suspiciously or who you have reason to believe would be interested in selling government secrets?"

"Not that I know of."

Claudia Crowley confirmed what Joe Emerson had said. Also, she was in charge of hiring and confirmed that all the personnel were clean, with nothing suspicious in their past.

The conversation with the computer techs I will not even try to reproduce. Most of it was so technical that I understood very little of it. But what I did understand amounted to the following. It certainly was possible to wipe the tapes, but there were so many fail-safes and protections involved that they very much doubted it could be done by a civilian. Even if someone had succeeded in wiping the record, it generally would be possible to recover it. They would very much like to know how eliminating the record so totally was done. But unless someone was a secret computer whiz, it was hard to see who could have done it
The computer techs also denied knowing anyone who was suspicious or who wanted to steal information from the project. I was beginning to suspect that if any of these personnel knew anything to indicate who might be behind this, they would not tell me.

The last two  members of the personnel were scientists, who I suspected were the heart of the project. Dr Susan Masters was an older woman, with black hair which I guessed  was artificial. "Do you know any one of the personnel who was acting suspiciously or who would try to leak information from the project?" I asked.

"It is not my place to hobnob with the rabble," she returned. "I know nothing of them, and they know nothing of me. It is better that way."

The last member was Dr. Karen Smith. She was younger, blonde, and lively. "I have been working so hard, I have not had much of a chance to get to know the rest of the personnel," she replied. "Dr. Masters is something of a slave driver, and I had no time for getting to know people."

I felt to some extent I was being stonewalled. This is  not surprising. Even innocent people can be reluctant to turn their friends and co-workers in to the police. The question was how could I get past it. Or possibly they were all telling the truth. Which brought up the question of how the culprit had covered their tracks so well.

That night I was thinking and praying to God, and the answer hit me. I went out to check a few things out and to get a report together. Sometimes the empire was a strange mixture of the new and the old.

The next day I got Pemitia, Joe Emerson, Claudia Crowley, and Ann Paulsen together. I took them down a maintenance corridor on the outer perimeter of the project. I came up to a place where four large conduits went into the wall. "You have a state of the art security system, but this is where the power goes in to run it."

"There are supposed to be back-ups," remarked Emerson.

"There are four conduits and four back-ups, from four different sources. But they all come in through this same opening. If you come closer, you can see where these conduits have been cut and spliced together again."

"You mean they did not reprogram the  computer, they just pulled the plug?" responded Crowley.

"But who were they?" asked Pemita.

"The maintenance crew," I replied, "They were the ones who would be working in these corridors. They had the skill set to do what was done here. They were obscure enough that no one even bothered doing a thorough background check on them."

"But the murder?" asked Paulsen.

"There evidently was some sort of falling out," I replied. "The victim was probably an outside tech they hired to help them out with what they wanted to do. He objected to something, and they killed him. They must have got the wind up and fled, leaving the body. But I if you want all the details, I suggest you get that from them."

But they found that the maintenance crew had already fled. They immediately sent out a crew of searchers to find them and bring them back, I never heard whether they ever caught them or not. But I was convinced that even something as big and powerful as the Empire could not ignore the obscure people or the little details. For God often used those to work His will in the universe.

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