Third installment in the ongoing Olovom Strain story arc, and a direct followup to the previous one.
Date: 63 ASE
Thiro Gakoneid awoke to the sound of his own pounding heartbeat. Taking his first agonizing breaths, he attempted to rise from the cold, metal slab he lay upon, but found that he was too weak with sickness to do so. A harsh fluorescent lamp on the ceiling illuminated the chamber around him, which Gakoneid found to be a lifeless gray. Forcing his head to rise, Gakoneid noticed a looming figure seated at the room’s far wall. The peaked cap set on the desk before it told him everything he needed to know.
“Good evening,” the Directorate Intelligence Network agent greeted. Gakoneid, clammy beneath the hospital garb he was left in, fought the pain of keeping his neck up, too paralyzed to break eye contact. The agent looked around the chamber, as if admiring the sterile metal sheets it was formed from, giving Gakoneid an opening to recline his head. “Site Olovom-04,” he remarked, and Gakoneid’s waking mind fought to recognize the name. “I’ve heard good things about this place. An exemplar stronghold at the fringes of the Directorate.”
Gakoneid’s clammy form coursed with terror. The Tunnels, he realized, and every tale he’d ever heard about the dreaded prison surged through his aching head.
“Of course, I wouldn’t be doing its reputation any justice by neglecting to do my work here, would I?” The agent mused, and retrieved a bar of plastic from within his coat. Gakoneid heard the unmistakable zwee of a data slate being opened.
“Thiro Gakoneid,” the agent began. “You stand accused of complicity in the crimes of a planetary smuggling ring. You are charged with engagement in unsolicited commerce, trafficking stolen goods, unlicensed distribution of medical supplies, unsolicited occupation of municipal grounds, and…”
The agent paused. “Interesting. You are also labelled a person of interest in regards to the Echoing Stream.”
I’m a dead man.
The agent pocketed the data slate. “As you may know, any and all information regarding the Echoing Stream, its members, or its operations constitute a matter of highest priority to the Directorate Intelligence Network. Naturally, when my superiors caught wind of its ties to smuggler activity amidst this planet’s ongoing pandemic, they elected to pursue further investigation. Black market connections found beforehand by Olovom Law Enforcement eventually led to you. By then, you’d already been collected from the streets of Hadakork by emergency services, making our task significantly easier.”
Gakoneid’s memories passed in a blur. He never saw an Echoing Stream member in person. The same went for his “colleagues.” But, from the way the brass always seemed so on top of things…
“I know what you’re thinking,” the agent said as he rose, right hand planted on the desk. “You may feel as if you’re already beneath the proverbial guillotine. The Directorate has worked up a vicious reputation among its own people, and I will concede that its cutthroat, uncompromising methods make the criminal world more appealing to many.”
Gakoneid’s life passed before him. He’d started as a clerk at the heart of Velompet, processing grants and transactions that often went beyond Olovom. However, his entire wing had been dissolved after the manager had been caught in a laundering scandal, and the municipal committee decided that starting over from scratch was easier than launching a formal investigation. Jobless and all but disbarred, he had been thrown a lifeline by the employment secretary, who sent him on his way to Hadakork, where some middleman smuggling outfit needed another hand managing inventory and sales. As illegal as it was, it seemed like a second chance.
“However, Gakoneid, I have a challenge for you. Can you say that organized crime is any different?”
His new niche in goods trafficking saw his first real experiences with death. He’d forgotten how many times a regular supplier was never heard from again, how often his boss filled them in on a gang shootout that had killed one of their close dealers. He learned that the Directorate’s blindspots were confined spaces that everyone wanted to be in the center of, and that meant eliminating rivals and their connections. “Criminals” were no nebulous force for Olovom Law Enforcement to tango with, but a writhing nest of independent actors against each other as much as the Directorate. Gakoneid counted himself lucky that he’d joined a fairly secure band of rogues, but the thought of some well-armed inner world cartel setting its eyes on Olovom never left his mind.
Through labored breaths, Gakoneid realized that the agent was now looming over him. "Consider everything you’ve seen, and imagine it with the caveat that you now hold history with Site 04. This is no regular prison, no detention center where felons can hope to relay information with each other and the outside world. There are no connections stretching beneath the Hihis Mountains that the Directorate does not hold for itself, and the calculating minds of criminals are well aware of this. Your past superiors are bound to declare you a pariah, and word spreads quickly through the underworld - especially thanks to the Echoing Stream.
“Contrast this with the Directorate. My superiors see you as an asset, not a liability. It’s in our best interests to keep you in good health, quarantine or no. I don’t think either of us would like to see my superiors be disappointed in this regard.”
With this, the agent had implied his demand for a testimony. Gakoneid ruminated on what the agent had posed to him, and on his own experiences. I’m about as motivated by survival as anyone else, he decided. Besides, what in the Galaxy is worth dying for?
“I…” Gakoneid began, and the agent stared intently. “The outfit I was part of… Plans could change on a moment’s notice. Like a - like there was an informant.” Rather than feel the weight of confession leave him, Gakoneid felt as though he’d let someone down.
The agent nodded in approval. “Go on.”
“We were based in a railcar assembly plant in Sector 3. Its basement, I mean. We had a deal with the owner.” Gakoneid stopped to clear his throat, then took a ragged breath. “We just got orders a few days ago to head for the outskirts and get ready to - to leave, since the Strain would probably spread to Hadakork soon, and… It would be better to leave sooner than later.”
“I can imagine,” the agent said. “And, as for where the orders came from…”
Gakoneid nodded weakly. “We all thought the Strain was only spread by dust storms, and Hadakork never gets them. Not to mention it’s far from where the outbreak started. Some of us wondered why the brass thought the Strain would spread there soon.”
The agent nodded. “I think you’ve said everything we need to know for now. For the record, I’d like to thank you for your compliance.” The agent put on his cap and left the cell, and the featureless metal door closed behind him. Gakoneid was left alone, with only an uncertain future before him.