In this continuation of the main OtherSpace storyline, Meriwether Station starts delving into the disappearance of data related to the lost expedition on New Amundsen:
Several crew working in the station’s security division have assembled in the corridor to await their turn facing questions by Longfur and other interrogators.
First up: a nervous-looking human male in his mid-20s with brown hair cut like an upside-down bowl. He takes a seat at the conference table, datapad at the ready, and fidgets as he awaits the investigation.
Longfur enters into the conference room, casually filing his claws with a nail file. “Ahhhh… nice and sharp. A sharp claw is important, you know. Personal hygiene is something you never want to neglect.” he says, brushing them gently against his jacket as he moves to sit at the table, setting down a datapad of his own. “Now then. Let us start with your name and position.”
“Todd,” the young man answers, lacing his fingers together. “I’m Todd Terwig. Associate information security server manager.” His eyes follow the arc of the Demarian’s claws. Sweat glistens on his forehead.
Longfur raises an eyeridge at the mention. “Information security, eh? Very interesting indeed, as we have much to discuss on that point.” he says, leaning forward slightly. “Have you noticed anything missing in the servers recently? Any discrepancies in the data?”
“Well,” Todd says, studying his hands for a moment, “we did lose the menu database for the new Zangali cuisine kiosk, but we had a backup on one of the secondary servers. I understand the ambassador wasn’t happy, but I’m sorta surprised a Demarian even cares…”
Longfur puts on a reassuring toothy grin showcasing his fangs. “Indeed. Prudent, to have backups. But I’m thinking more along the lines of sensor logs. Passive sensor scans, long range sensor scans, data of that nature. Any particular incidents regarding those?” he says, his ears twitching a bit.
“Oh!” Todd lets out a sigh of relief and allows himself a smile. “I don’t manage the sensor data. I’ve only got access to anything related to the Silk Road commercial hub.”
Longfur lets out a slow nod. “Indeed… we shall verify that, of course. But perhaps you could be helpful in pointing us to who would have that kind of access.”
Todd scratches his chin. “That would’ve been Beaumont’s department. James Beaumont. He, uh…” His voice trails off. “He was with the expedition.” He frowns. “I feel like I should take off a hat and hold it against my chest out of respect, but I don’t have a hat. Should I get a hat? They told me I was going to get a hat when I joined the crew.”
Longfur twitches an ear. “Unfortunate… and I’m afraid hats are not my department.” he says. “Anyone else you can think of that may have had sufficient access to that data? Even unofficially?”
A shrug from the human. “Mahoney, maybe. She’s Beaumont’s assistant.”
Longfur makes a note in his pad. “I see. Very well… you may go. Signal the next person to come in.”
Todd walks into the corridor outside the conference room. Looks around. Spies a middle-aged woman with reddish-orange hair worn in a tight bun. He approaches her and says, “Hey, Mahoney.” Jerks a thumb toward the conference room. “You’re next.”
“Waste of my goddamned time,” she mutters, getting to her feet.
“It’s a Demarian,” Todd notes with a somewhat conspiratorial tone.
“Yeah, Todd, my eyes still function. I saw him walk in.” She rolls her eyes and steps into the conference room.
Longfur looks up from his pad as Mahoney walks in. “Have a seat.” he says. “Name and position please.”
She considers the Demarian, knitting her brow, and seems ready to refuse the suggestion that she take a seat – her hands almost automatically shift behind her back to clasp fingers. But, in the end, she relents. She pulls a chair, sits, and states simply: “Andrea Mahoney. Assistant Manager. Meriwether Data Services.”
Longfur picks up on the hostility immediately, but only offers a slight grin. “Very well. Miss Mahoney, it has come to light that there are some discrepancies in regards to the retention of sensor logs pertaining to the planet below. We are trying to determine the source of these discrepancies. Your colleague indicated you are likely the best to answer our questions regarding this. Are you aware of any server mishaps, glitches, anything of that sort recently?” he asks, his tail slowly twitching from side to side.
A shrug. “I am aware of the commerce district database suffering a catastrophic deletion.”
Longfur narrows his eyes a bit. “Hrrrr….That is not the question I have asked.” he says evenly with a low growl. “Perhaps you are not aware of the situation. Allow me to educate you.” he says, putting his paws on the table, claws extended quite visibly. “We have missing people. Actual lives, in danger, on the planet below. We know for a fact they took detailed scans of the planet prior to their departure. Those scans are no longer present in the system. Now unless you are operating substandard equipment and have been lax in your maintenance, that data was purposefully deleted.” he says, his tail twitching violently, and his ears laying back. “Given your current flippant attitude, you are making yourself looking very much like you are trying to avoid the question and cover something up. So, I will ask you again, more directly…. what happened to the sensor data.”
The woman clenches her jaw, then chuckles before she locks eyes with the Demarian. “You’d have to ask James Beaumont. I wanted to help with the New Amundsen project, but he shut me out. I’ve got two decades of experience working systems like this from my Vanguard days, but he saw fit only to trust me with monitoring solar windstorms and tracking potential anomalous stellar signatures. Everything related to the planet below was walled off from me, by his edict. So, if the data’s gone, safe to say that was done by his edict too.”
Longfur relaxes a bit. “I see. That will need to be verified, of course, but I’ve been informed Mr. Beaumont was part of the expedition. Besides him, was there anyone else that he permitted to access that data? Someone who didn’t get lost on the planet?”
“Not that I know of,” Mahoney replies. “I wouldn’t describe the man as trusting, exactly. But thorough? Yes.” She laces her fingers together atop the conference table. “It may interest you that in my examination of the sensor data servers, I expected to find information loss scattered throughout, indicating some sort of physical damage to the storage unit or a destructive virus behaving indiscriminately. However, this seemed surgical. The damage stopped at the borders of the New Amundsen file sectors and crept no further.”
“Which suggests that the perpetrator knew precisely where it was stored and targeted it with surgical precision. Hrrrrrr…” Longfur says, his tail giving an agitated twitch. “Only someone with a very intimate understanding of the system could accomplish it… like Mr. Beaumont.” he says leaning back and putting a paw to his muzzle. “It points to a data bomb written by Beaumont himself, set to go off after their departure, targeting the specific sectors in the storage unit to erase that data. Whatever it contained, he wanted it gone.” he says, looking up to Mahoney. “In my experience data isn’t always permanently deleted… there are ways to recover it unless they were clever enough to do a data shred. Would you be willing to see if there is anything left?”
“I’d need higher access authorization to perform data search and rescue,” Mahoney says. “My current clearances won’t let me override Beaumont’s lockout.”
Natalie enters the corridor and walks up beside long fur data pad in hand “Anything. I can do to assist?
Longfur nods. “I’m sure that can be arranged. The evidence is piling up that there is more to this than just a missing expedition.”
Mahoney inclines her head toward the Demarian. “Once it’s done, I’ll run deep scans of the repository. If nothing else, I should be able to determine the general nature of the lost information, even if it’s not all of the specifics. I might even find some signatures of the deletion algorithm.” She looks toward Natalie and says, “I’m going to need coffee. A lot.”
Natalie hms “I’ll make coffee. Perhaps we should start questioning people who had personal or professional connections of beaumonts. See if anybody noticed odd behaviors, see if we can get any kind of personal data trail started somehow. What data of his can we get access to?”
Longfur says “Even a partial recovery is better than nothing.” he says. “The more we can find out about what they may have been looking for or what they may have found the better.”
The data specialist nods and says, “On it.” She links her datapad to the conference room holoviewer and a user interface for accessing station data blossoms above the table. “Long night ahead.”
Natalie returns with not one but two puts of coffee. “Can we get any access to personal correspondence. Bank accounts, anything of that sort that might indicate what was on his mind?” she takes a seat.
Longfur visibly relaxes as they appear to be making progress towards finding answers. His ears stand more upright and his tail twitching slows to a slow content swish back and forth. “I’m used to long nights. I had many in the Guard, watching from the guard posts of Alhira.”
“Yeah, well,” Mahoney slips a silver-hued bud into her left ear and a blue-white holographic monocle extends on a beam of light to cover her left eye. “Someone higher on the payroll’s going to need to contact the banks for any of Beaumont’s personal financial information. But I can dig around in his emails, see if he left anything interesting.” She pauses, scanning through data, and then a short while later, announces: “Looks like he scrubbed his outgoing emails pretty thoroughly. But someone sent him an email after the expedition vanished. It’s from someone who calls themselves Asterisk. I tried to trace it back to the host server, but the address is a black bag – the sort of thing my father used when he worked in Consortium intelligence.”
Natalie hms “Can you tell if it was opened and/or read by someone other than yourself of course. If it was opened from a datapad,or somesuch we may be able to confirm if beaumont is still alive or at least have an inkling. Someone will need to pick griffin’s brain about who had an interest in seeing this mission go sidewise or why his father found New amundson of interest in the first place
Longfur nods. “We’ll see about getting that access. But as for ASterisk… that is disconcerting.” he says, his ears tilting back a bit. “This is looking more like a concerted effort to either hide the true goal of the expedition or ensure that it failed.”
Mahoney nods. She taps her fingers in sequence above the tabletop and soon renders a holographic image of the email in question. It reads:
“To: Beaumont, James
AMPERSAND WAYPOST. WEDGEWOOD. CHAMBER POT ISOLATION WEIGHT.”
Mahoney sighs. “Gibberish, unless we find the cipher. Which is probably hidden in the lost sectors.”
Longfur nods… “Gibberish indeed… but something to go on. I will make some attempts at the cipher. This is not, as the humans put it, my first rodeo with espionage.” he says, grabbing his data pad and beginning to run some trials and algorithms against the message.
natalie hms “WellThe letters indicated are likely shifted from the letters in the message which as mahoney says depend upon the key.Otherwise we could be here a long time” She pows herself another cup of cofee
<FS3> Natalie rolls Intelligence: Success (8 6 4 1 1)
“I think we have it,” Mahoney announces, after taking into account the suggestions of Longfur and Natalie. “Not much, but it’s something, I guess. The decrypted message appears to say ‘Message received. Proceed. Notify if situation changes.'”
“Can you tell if it’s been previously openedd? ” Natalie asks.” As it was sent after they went down, it would indicate Beaumont is still alive and kicking. What authority would we need to contact about bank records. We could potentially try to draw the contact out by pretending to be beaumont but we’d likely be found out quickly as we likely don’t know enough about what he was up to to pull it off. Any other ideas?
Longfur puts a paw to his chin. “Now that we have one message, can we trace this message to others, perhaps finding links in a chain that would give us a bigger picture?”
Mahoney shakes her head. “I don’t have links to anything else yet, but I can tell you that Beaumont never opened this email. It arrived after the team departed for New Amundsen.”
Longfur puts a paw to his chin and leans back. “Odd. It begs the question if there are more than one agenda at work here… Beaumont may be a pawn of one, but has fell to the fate of another.” he says, narrowing his eyes a bit, his ears giving a twitch. “Given our proximity to the Line of Pain, and that this is a Consortium aligned station, that very well may be the case. Especially since the Nalls are so… ‘concerned’… they have sent their own representative.”
natalie frowns “I was thinking he might have opened it remotely via datapad but no such lunk. Is it just it’s position that garners interest or something else. Why build a station here in the first place so close to “hot zone”?
“You might have to talk to Griffin Bright to find out why his father put the station here, but I always got the impression he saw a lot of potential in a terrestrial planet that hadn’t yet been fully explored and settled,” Mahoney replies. “At least, that’s what the recruitment holo kept going on about when he brought the first bunch of us on board. New frontiers, new opportunities, all that crap.” She looks toward Longfur. “I was worried about the Parallax taking too much of an interest from Day One. The boss shrugged it off. Now they’ve parked a battleship on our front porch.” She takes a sip of coffee. “I’m going to put together a sweep-and-scour algorithm. At the very least, I should be able to figure out how much data we’re not seeing. Maybe even what kind of data.”
Longfur nods to Mahoney. “The more information we can gather the better. I would much rather not go to the planet blind.” he says, his tail giving a quick twitch. “Especially since Nalls are involved.”