September 6th 2016
It still pains Khalil Carr to speak about the incident. The Lead Engineer of Androtti Racing turns to his office window overlooking a massive hangar filled with custom built racing rigs in various states of repair. Located in a non-descript warehouse deep inside a New Austin industrial park, there are no signs, billboards or indications broadcasting the famous racing team working within. The anonymity is intentional, as both Carr and Chief Mechanic Jan Saperstein know their operation is under constant scrutiny.
“Sometimes it’s diehard fans just hoping to catch a glimpse of the action,” said Saperstein. “Most of the time it’s our competition trying to get an advantage in the next Cup. We learned a long time ago that security could only protect you so much; it’s also about deception.”
For the previous six months, Carr devoted time to a project even most members of his team didn’t know about — modifying a competition-grade Hammer Propulsion HM 4.2 engine to make it both lighter and more powerful. Preliminary controlled tests in the Androtti hangar were promising, but it needed real world testing, so Carr hatched an elaborate plan.
“Saperstein took most of our crew to Goss to test some ships and components,” said Carr. “It’s a team bonding thing we do every year, but I played sick. Two nights after they left, I boarded a commercial Starliner bound for Ellis with our test engine. It took a lot of planning and misdirection on our part to set it up.”
With the modified HM 4.2 in the cargo hold and Carr in a sleeping quarter, Starliner Flight 1289, operated by Meridian Transport, broke atmosphere above Terra at 22:03 SET and left the system not long after. It passed through the Stanton and Magnus systems without incident, but when it entered Ellis, something strange happened. The ship’s cargo hold opened and started spewing its contents into space.
What was first believed to be an unfortunate technical malfunction proved to be something much more sinister. The Starliner swung around to see a Caterpillar using a tractor beam to pull the Androtti engine into its cargo hold.
Since the incident, Androtti Racing has hired security expert Cassius Thornton to conduct an independent investigation. Thornton was not surprised by the well-executed plan, which involved a passenger sneaking into the hold, opening the hatch to free the cargo and then EVAing into a waiting ship.
The Ellis Protection Force, a local militia, were first to respond to the distress call. Their members had already suffered heavy casualties when Advocacy officials arrived. Even though they now outnumbered the outlaws, the authorities had little luck preventing them from snagging all the remaining cargo they could carry before escaping into the black. Still, Thornton was taken aback by the outlaws’ behavior once the EPF arrived on the scene.
“They didn’t run,” he said. “Even though they had secured the big score, they slugged it out with the militia and even the Advocacy until they had collected everything they could. Think about it for a second. How much value could that personal luggage really hold? Not much when compared to the engine. It’s almost like they stayed to fight just because they wanted to.”
The aggressive action taken by the outlaws has convinced Thornton that this isn’t just another case of high-stakes corporate espionage. “In the past, I could usually sniff out a corporate job pretty quickly. They were cleaner, and there was a concerted attempt to limit collateral damage,” said Thornton. “But recently I’ve worked an alarming number of cases similar to this. Some of them are corporate jobs; others just brazen outlaws looking for a big score. To be honest, I don’t know what’s worse, that corporate espionage tactics have gotten more aggressive or that more and more outlaws won’t hesitate to fight militia.”
It’s no secret that crime has been on the rise around the UEE over the last decade. The Advocacy’s Travel Safety Advisory System (TSAS), which collates crime data from every UEE system, then assigns each system a Threat Level ranging from ‘minimal’ to ‘extreme’ danger,’ clearly charts a steady rise in criminal behavior in almost every corner of the Empire. According to the last TSAS annual report, more crime occurred in 2945 than any other year this century, and 2946 appears poised to break that record.
David Golovkin, Assistant Director at the Advocacy’s Office of Public Affairs, doesn’t deny the statistical trend, but insists the Empire is safe, “If you look at the annual TSAS reports going back the past hundred, hundred-fifty years, you’ll notice that the crime rate constantly ebbs and flows. I have the utmost confidence that the past few years are nothing more than a cyclical uptick in illegal activity, not a new standard.”
Not all within the Advocacy share Golovkin’s view. A number of Advocacy sources, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, expressed a growing unease within the agency. Complaints ranged from understaffed field offices, overwhelming caseloads, and a systemic aversion to field work due to outlaws becoming better armed and equipped. All together the grievances made it abundantly clear that many within the agency believe they lack the staff and equipment needed to properly address the problem.
The current situation also has Charmaine Alvarez, a Professor of Criminology at Terra University, worried. “The last time this Empire faced such a steady and steep increase in crime was roughly 2792 to 2805. Many credit that surge to the chaos created after the disintegration of the Messer regime. It took a few years for Imperator Toi and the new administration to restructure the government, but once she did, she had to immediately pour a lot of credits into getting crime under control. Considering our economic situation, I don’t see the current government undertaking a similar initiative any time soon.”
Alvarez is concerned that emergency discretionary funds traditionally designated to the Advocacy or local law enforcement are instead being allocated to the UEE’s ongoing campaign against the Vanduul. “In the minds of many politicians, those credits are still being spent protecting the Empire, but there have been a number of studies showing that funding anti-crime initiatives within the UEE does more toward improving people’s everyday life than spending that same amount of money on the military.”
Back at the Androtti hangar in New Austin, Khalil Carr just shakes his head in disbelief over the entire situation, “I understand the mindset behind stealing the engine. I’m shocked by the lengths they went to get it, but I understand why. But luggage? Why was that worth killing for?”
Carr sighs, then looks out over the hangar floor again, “Maybe I’m overthinking this. Maybe they just did it because it was easy or fun. I don’t know. Guess it doesn’t make any difference why they acted that way. It only matters that they did.”