Author : J G Pelling

My bedfellows’ laughter had followed me out of the room when I’d first mentioned my idea for a new career. Smarting, I’d gone to my appointment with Sirin. She hadn’t laughed. She’d spouted a bit of guff about ‘transferable skills’ post-navy, but she hadn’t laughed. And I need the money. I really, really need the money. Otherwise who’ll look after Thom? He can’t retrain, not like me.

And there were a few others who hadn’t thought it was an insane idea either, so here I am on Echo Station, going to meet a director for a chat. My exoskeleton leg is hidden by a passable suit and I’m carrying a portfolio of research under my arm, along with an essay I had a bash at (hardest thing I’ve done in the past year apart from, like, surviving).

I march down the corridor and turn right at the gravity drop, trying not to stumble. It seems the exoskeleton’s balancing mechanism isn’t quite bedded into my inner ear yet. Sitting down outside the director’s office is a relief.

“Warrant Officer Gresham?”

I stand up and just about resist the urge to salute. If he notices, he doesn’t say anything. We shake hands. “I’m Dwayne Smith – I head up the local team. Come on through: I have some stuff to show you.”

The room beyond is somewhere between a regular office and the bridge of a ship, all big screens and data. The staff look surprisingly normal: not that I’d expected them to be little accounting trolls or anything, but they’re not exactly weedy. Maybe a few are re-trainees from the war too; I’ll have to find out.

Smith leads me into a huge office and offers me a coffee from a shiny espresso machine. I nod, and while he’s making it he points at the screen on his desk. “What do you think of that?”

I walk over and start to scroll through the data. It’s a manifest from some station way out in the Oort Cloud. At first glance it all looks normal, but there’s something nagging at the back of my mind. Smith brings the coffee over just as I work it out. I look up. “He hasn’t bought a single oxygen filter for that base in six years.”

“Which means…”

“Which means,” I reply, thinking quickly, “either he’s getting them buckshee for services rendered or he pays for them out of another account. The former’s probably more likely.”

“Exactly. He’s a producer, grows meth-6 in the low gravity. We followed the breadcrumbs and got him last month.”

He points at a glossy brochure. “And what does this one look like to you, Mandy?” We both sit down at the conference table in the middle of his office while I sip the coffee – real coffee! – and have a read.

“Looks like a boiler room scam on exploration companies. A pyramid scheme. Get in early, you get your money back. Get in late, you’re screwed. Nothing new under any sun, it appears.”

He gestures at the wall of screens and the rather quaint piles of papers and folders. “Enjoying this?”

I nod. “Catching bad people with an overlay of maths and logic problems. Definitely.”

“Any questions?”

“Yes–” I somehow manage to avoid saying ‘sir’ again, “I guess I qualify for an interview. Who’ll be on the panel?”

He laughs at that. “I am the panel.” He sticks out his hand. “Welcome to Extrapol Customs and Crime.”

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