The Nordia Incident

By James Savik


Alliance Senate

Naval Affairs Committee


20 May 2549

The sergeant at arms approached the podium, struck the gavel and announced, “This inquiry into the incident which occurred in the Nordia star system on or about 23 April of this year will now come to order. This is a closed session and I remind all present that these proceedings are covered under the Official Secrets Act. The honorable Senator Starnes, chairman of the committee presiding, all rise.”

All of the uniformed naval officers, senators and, their staffs rose. Senator Starnes approached the podium. The former attorney and judge from Lone Star approached the podium. He put a computer pad down in front of him and then looked up at the crowd. He said, “Thank you ladies and gentlemen. I appreciate your attention to this matter. Please be seated.”

He reached down to his computer pad and swiped a finger across its face and said, “I do hereby formally call to order this committee’s formal inquiry into the events that occurred on or about April 23rd of this year. Ordinarily proceedings of this nature would fall under the Judge Advocate General purview; however given the intense interest in this case and the political firestorm that it has provoked, I have asked the JAG’s office to convene their board here. This is a Fleet proceeding. The senators are advised that they are here only to observe.

The purpose of this inquiry is two-fold: first, we need to determine if the local naval commander acted properly and within the ambit of his authority. Second, we need to establish if the facts require further inquiry. This is a Ministry of Defense matter so, at this time, I hand the proceedings to Admiral William Jennings, Judge Advocate General, Fleet District 1.”

Jennings was the Alliance Fleet’s most senior JAG officer. It had been years since he had presided over a formal inquiry but from his bearing no one would have ever guessed it. He stood tall and ramrod straight as he began, “This Board of Inquiry having been called to order and all of the testifying officers and other Alliance personnel sworn is now convened.”

“Three Senior naval officers have been empaneled for this board: Rear Admiral Samuel Stewart, commanding CruRon 7, Commodore William Channing commanding officer of Parliament Station and Rear Admiral Chan Liao commanding DesDiv 12.

“I am the senior officer and will serve as the President of the Board. Captain Bradly Scott will serve as General Counsel. Captain Scott, you may begin.”

i. Richard Glenn

Captain Scott stood and said, “The board calls Commander Richard Glenn, commanding officer of the Raymond Callahan, DD-1023.”

Commander Glenn stood and approached the witness box. He stopped, stood at attention and snapped off a parade ground salute to the president of the board.”

Captain Scott said, “You understand that you are under oath?”

Commander Glenn replied, “I do sir.”

“Please take the witness box.”

Once Glenn was seated, Captain Scott asked, “Commander Glenn, please state for the record the orders that the Callahan was under at the time of the incident.”

“Per Op Order AF49-1023A, Callahan was four months into a six month presence deployment in the Nordia system.”

Scott asked, “Commander Glenn, please describe a presence deployment for the gallery.”

Glenn sat back in the witness chair and said, “Presence deployments are subsidized deployments of fleet units. The DESERD Corporation…”

Captain Scott interrupted, “For the record, please state the corporation’s full name.”

Glenn said, “DESERD stands for Deep Space Exploration, Research and Development; a TransStellar corporation based on Earth. They have an ongoing terraforming project and have had some trouble in the past. They wanted a fleet presence in the Nordia system so they contracted to cover our operating expenses for the duration of the deployment.”

Captain Scott asked, “Could you describe the trouble?”

Glenn said, “Nordia is relatively close to the Core worlds. A radical green organization opposed to terraforming caused a major disturbance some years ago. There was a bombing on Nordia Station and they tried to destroy one of the terraforming complexes on the surface with a kinetic projectile.”

Scott asked, “So is the Nordia system a trouble spot?”

Glenn said, “Not in my experience. I have been deployed there twice before and have a good working relationship with Alliance and DESERD personnel there. Our recent deployment in the Nordia System was busy with routine maintenance and crew training. The deployment was completely routine before the incident.”

Scott said, “Commander Glenn, let’s take it from the top. Tell us what happened that day.”

Glenn nodded and sat up straighter. “I used our deployment at Nordia to refresh our crew’s training with operational procedures. We were carrying two boot Ensigns and six newly minted Chiefs, so my XO and I decided it was a good opportunity for them to get their hands dirty. We made sure that all of our rookies got a chance to excel.

“On 20 April, a little after two in the morning, I was awakened by the watch officer and called to the bridge. When I arrived, the watch officer informed me that a ship had jumped into the system declaring an emergency.

“The comm watch told me that the ships transponder was squawking an emergency; actually, the code was echo-03 which translates to we have a fire on board.

“The first thing I did was send a message to the incoming ship: Callahan is coming to your assistance, ETA three hours. Do not approach Nordia Station until your condition is stabilized.”

Captain Scott asked, “Why did you warn her off of the space dock at Nordia Station?”

Glenn answered, “Fires on a starship are a nightmare. They can cause unpredictable results and lingering damage to critical systems. I didn’t want the damaged ship to explode close aboard the station and take half of it with him.’

Scott said, “Thank you, Commander. Please continue.”

“Once we got our message off I called my senior officers to their stations. I wanted my best team in place. Lt. Addison took over at tactical and Lt. Jacobs relieved the pilot.

“Once Addison took over he got an ID on her and specifications for her class. She was the Brisbane Maru- a Nakajima Industries model 3200 reefer of about 200Ktons registered out of New Hainan in the Corporate Sector.”

Captain Scott said, “For the record, please restate the type of ship.”

Glenn continued. “Reefer is slang for refrigeration ship. They are set up to carry fragile cargos that require very specific environmental requirements. The data we had on the model 3200 is that they have four big holds for modular containers that can be customized for temperature, humidity and even specific atmospheric gas mixes. That’s what got them in trouble. They had a leak in a liquid oxygen tank. It exploded and the fire took off from there.”

Captain Scott said, “That’s jumping ahead quite a bit in your narrative Commander. Let’s get back on point.”

Commander Glenn grimaced at the mild disparagement, then moved on. “Once we had the class and identity of the ship, we knew her characteristics and layout. I ordered Senior Chief Garnett, my senior enlisted man and Sergeant Mays, top kick of my Marines to prep a couple of damage control parties to board the stricken ship. Then I ordered our shuttles brought to ready five.”

Admiral Liao raised his hand and Captain Scott acknowledged him. He stated, “If I may address the witness, I would like to verify, Commander Glenn, at this point you had not spoken to anyone aboard Brisbane Maru. I see you were making preparations to board her. Was that your intention?”

Commander Glenn said, “No sir. I wanted to be prepared. I was pretty sure we would be boarding her at least to declare her reactors safe to dock at Nordia Station. Any station manager is within his rights to refuse docking to a ship that has a serious casualty and may endanger his station.”

Admiral Liao nodded and seemed satisfied with his answer.

Glenn continued with his narrative. “As we moved to intercept Brisbane Maru, we prepared for the worst. We drilled hundreds of times for approaching, docking and entering ships under emergency conditions. This wasn’t a training evolution, however. Real emergencies are a different matter than training exercises and, we didn’t know what we’d be facing but our crew was ready.”

“The next major development was when our sensor watch reported that Brisbane Maru had flipped ship and fired off a deceleration burn from her main engines. Shortly thereafter she vented her drive plasma into space.”

Captain Scott asked, “What was the significance of this?”

Commander Glenn shifted in his seat and said, “It told me several things. The most important was that there was someone alive on that ship and its systems were under some degree of control. Second, the crew of that ship had the presence of mind to dump some of their velocity—enough for a tug to hook her up. Last, they were concerned enough about the condition of their systems to shut down her primary reactors and go on emergency power.

“Shortly after their deceleration maneuver, we got a reply from Brisbane Maru. It was text only stating that the fire was out and that they had vented their atmosphere into space. They said they had causalities, requested assistance and a tug.

“The exact message is in the log.”

Captain Scott picked up his computer pad and said, “I will read it from the log so it will be entered into the hearing’s record: Callahan—our fires are out but our systems are a mess. We had to vent our atmosphere into space. Crew is all in suits and we have dumped our reactors. We request assistance with our casualties and we need a tug.”

The three senior officers of the Inquiry Board looked at each other and there was some whispering among the observing senators.

Admiral Jennings struck his gavel and said, “Order.” He looked around menacingly for a moment and said, “Please continue, Commander Glenn.”

“Once the Brisbane Maru slowed, it made our intercept solution much easier. It took us a little longer but we easily matched vectors and I sent my Executive Officer, Lt. Commander Andrew McCann, and a boarding party of fourteen render assistance. We saw that much of Brisbane Maru’s port side was blown out.”

Captain Scott asked, “Who besides your XO did you send on the first shuttle?”

“Our first boarding party was composed of four corpsmen and four engineers and the remaining six were a dedicated damage control team. Of course my XO was in command. I also sent gear to facilitate better communications.

“We had matched speed and velocity with Brisbane Maru and were standing off about five kilometers. Ten minutes after our first shuttle docked I got a call from Drew—excuse me, my XO. He said to go ahead and send the second shuttle. He was putting the worst of the wounded on the first shuttle. We launched our second shuttle and the first arrived a few minutes after. It was a horror show.

“Two of the wounded died en route on the shuttle. Two more expired in our sick bay before we made it to Nordia Station. Of the twenty-two crewmen five were killed outright, six more died of injuries and all the rest were injured. Their captain and first officer were killed fighting the fire. The second officer had become senior and was the last to leave the ship.”

Captain Scott asked, “Did anything else happen before Brisbane Maru was docked at Nordia Station?”

Glenn replied, “Even before the tug Nordic Lass arrived, we made a speed run to the station. My corpsmen are good but we had several critical cases and time was of the essence. We had to get them to a hospital or lose them.”

Captain Scott said, “I have no further questions of the witness at this time, but I may want to recall him to discuss subsequent events.”

Admiral Jennings said, “Commander Glenn, you are excused, sir.”

ii. Andrew McCann

Captain Scott said, “The board calls Callahan’s Executive Officer—Lt. Commander Andrew McCann.”

As Lt. Commander McCann approached the witness box Admiral Stewart pulled up his record on this computer pad. McCann had thirty-two years in the service. He had spent the last five with Glenn on the Callahan.

What would make a man who was not ever going to command a ship stay in two years past retirement? Another rarity was he was older than his skipper by a decade. As Admiral Stewart scrolled through the record, he saw it was full of commendations. Best rated training officer in his division six years running. Three fleet citations. Everything about the man was squared away.

Admiral Stewart looked at Admiral Liao and raised an eyebrow. Commodore Channing was also looking at his pad and nodding. They knew. McCann was a professional and he loved what he was doing. He was the sort of officer that was the backbone of a good wardroom.

Captain Scott said, “Lt. Commander McCann—you understand that you are under oath?”

McCann answered, “I do, sir.”

Scott said, “Please take the witness box. What did you find when you arrived aboard Brisbane Maru?”

“It was a mess, sir. The ship was dying. There were hot spots everywhere and control runs were burned out for the most part. We entered the ship through the starboard side airlock. The crew had evacuated the atmosphere to fight the fire but there were still hot plasma leaks from the manifolds.”

“Our marines are the best in the business at boarding ships in any condition. We had a portable airlock but we didn’t need it. The survivors were all in suits. God only knows how they were still functional. Their suits were charred and covered with soot. It was about as bad as it gets, sir.”

Scott asked, “Did you contact the senior officer?”

“Not immediately. Their second officer, a youngster named Hayakawa, was still standing his post at AuxCon—excuse me sir, that’s auxiliary control. The bridge was gone. It took me some time to work my way to Hayakawa’s station. My first priority was to get the wounded off that ship. I’m not a corpsman, but I could tell several of them were goners if we didn’t get them treated as soon as possible.”

Scott said, “So there was no discussion of what had happened or what the cargo was?”

“Sir, we were in a life or death situation. Our priority had to be taking care of the survivors. The ship looked like a write off.”

Scott asked, “Take us through what your team did when you arrived?”

“I had our people evacuate the wounded to the shuttle and called the Skipper to send the second shuttle. Then I made my way to Auxiliary Control to find the senior surviving officer.”

“When you found Hayakawa, what did he say?”

McCann paused for a moment and said, “The kid didn’t want to leave his post. He was injured and looked like he had been cooked in his suit. His ship was falling apart around him but the kid didn’t want to leave his post.”

Captain Scott said, “How did you get him to leave his post?”

“I told him that the ship was dead in space and drifting. He had done all he could. He still didn’t want to go.”

“What did you do to persuade him?”

“I said that it was his duty to remain at his station until relieved by a superior officer. I then pointed at my rank insignia on my suit and told him that he was relieved.”

“Then what did he do?”

“He retrieved the ship’s recorder from AuxCon and I had to help him to the airlock. He and I were the last to leave the ship.”

Scott said, “I don’t think I have anything further. You may step down, Commander McCann.”

McCann stood as if to leave the witness box and stopped. He turned to Captain Scott and said, “Captain, there’s one other thing that I would like to add.”

Captain Scott said, “What is that, Commander?”

“That young officer, sir—Hayakawa. He had a bad hand but he did everything right. He took care of his people, he got his ship stabilized, and he was the last man off. I just wanted that on the record.”

Captain Scott said, “Thank you, Commander.”

iii. Barinder Singh

Captain Scott announced, “The board calls Lt. Barinder Singh— Chief Engineer of the Callahan.”

Lt. Singh approached the witness box, was reminded that he was under oath, and Scott said, “Please be seated Lt. Singh. Could you tell us your part in the story.”

Singh said, “I was aboard Callahan the whole time sir. The skipper doesn’t let his chief snipe get out much.”

There were chuckles all around and Scott asked, “But you did play a significant role.”

“Once the XO took a communications relay over to Brisbane Maru, I was able to set up a remote telemetry link. I had access to her systems I could verify that the reactors were down and most of the hot drive plasma had been vented. I was also able to tell just how badly damaged she was.”

Scott said, “So it was your best judgment that Brisbane Maru was safe enough to dock at Nordia Station?”

“Yes sir.”

Captain Scott asked, “Once the survivors were in sick bay, Commander Glenn asked you to take a look at the flight data recorder. What did you find?”

Singh said, “Every jump capable-ship has a standardized flight data recorder. Its design and format are established by code. Once I had the FDR from Brisbane Maru, I had access to all of its flight data for its latest transit.”

Captain Scott said, “Please tell us what you found.”

“Brisbane Maru started her voyage at Pelenor in the Corporate Sector where she took on four large containers labeled complex organics. That is how it was written up on the manifest as well. The containers were all self-contained and required connections from the ship. The specifications for power requirements were included in the log: two hundred twenty volts and a draw about five thousand kilowatt hours per hour.”

Scott asked, “About how much is that in layman’s terms?”

“That’s enough to light up a modest suburb for about an hour or two. It sounds like a lot but given a ships reactor output, it was relatively minor.”

Scott said, “Thank you Mr. Singh. Please Continue.

“The four containers were installed and dogged down at Pelenor’s Bean Stalk Station— excuse me, at Pelenor’s space elevator. They had planned for a destination in the Corporate Sector that would require seven jumps. They ran into trouble on their fifth.

“The fire started in the container in the number two hold. It exploded and involved the container in the adjacent number one hold. It spread forward fast and forced the crew out of the bridge and down to auxiliary control. While the crew was fighting the fire forward, it spread aft into the three and four holds and their containers.

“Their Captain, First Officer and several other crewmen were killed when number three hold blew.

“Meanwhile, Hayakawa who had already been injured was in conning the ship from auxiliary control. He had been building up a charge in his jump capacitators. After the aft two compartments blew he knew he needed to be somewhere with assistance fast. He changed his jump orientation on the fly to the nearest available system which was Nordia at five light years.

“Hayakawa jumped the ship into the Nordia System and then vented atmosphere to put out the fires. He then executed a deceleration maneuver and did an emergency shut down of his reactors and vented their plasma into space.”

Captain Scott asked, “Was there anything else on the FDR?”

Singh said, “There was more data on the FDR but I couldn’t read it.”

Scott asked, “Was it damaged?”

Singh replied, “No sir. Those files were encrypted and none of my keys could make any headway decoding them.”

Captain Scott said, “Thank you Lt. Singh. I believe we’re done.”

iv. Rachel Ruiz

Captain Scott said, “At this time the Board calls Rachel Ruiz.”

A middle aged woman in a smart business suit approached the bench.

Scott asked, “Mrs. Ruiz, you understand that you are testifying under oath?”

“Yes, I do, Captain,” she replied.

“Please take the stand.”

Captain Scott took a brief look at his computer pad and said, “Mrs. Ruiz, could you tell us your occupation?”

“I am a senior maritime incident investigator for Federated Securities and Casualty. I head a team of five specialists and we respond to incidents within thirty light years of our home base on Evergreen.”

Scott asked, “How long have you been an investigator and what is your training.”

“I have been an investigator for twenty-seven years and I hold a Master of Science degree in Forensic Science from the University of New Granada.”

Scott asked, “How were you brought into this case?”

Miss Ruiz said, “As soon as Brisbane Maru was moored, Nordia Station’s Director, Dr. Van Dorn, shot off a message by StarComm to our office on Evergreen. My team jumped into the system the next morning.”

Scott said, “How did you proceed with your investigation?”

“We started on the flight over. We called up the specs of the Ninja Model 3200…”


Ruiz grinned and said, “Sorry. Ninja is a common nickname for Nakajima products. Usually, it’s pretty good stuff.”

“Please proceed.”

“We studied the specs and blueprints for the class. The Model 3200 is relatively new and well-appointed. The 3200 class are built-to-order and there are forty-six of them in service. We looked but couldn’t find any similar incident reports with ships of the class.

“When we arrived at Nordia Station, I checked in with the Director Van Dorn who handed us off to his yard boss. We suited and went aboard Brisbane Maru to make our initial inspection.”

Scott asked, “Could you step us through your inspection?”

Ruiz said, “Brisbane Maru was in bad shape. The station had a standard mooring line hooked up but wasn’t feeding her power, air or water. We were able to interrogate her systems remotely to get a read on her damage but most of the ship’s network was unavailable. We decided that we would have to suit up and go aboard to inspect the damage.

“I had my team break up into three pairs: my team would inspect the forward spaces, bridge and back to frame thirty. I sent the other two teams to inspect the cargo holds and engineering.

“We made entry on the starboard lock and got inside. Red emergency lights were on—that was the extent of what was running. We broke up and went to the sections we were supposed to inspect.

“I started at frame thirty, just forward of the number one hold. I could see that the force of the explosion inside the hold had blown out the seams in the container and a volatile liquid, later identified as a flammable hydrocarbon had leaked out spreading the fire forward. As I worked my way toward the bridge, I could see why so many systems weren’t responding. One of the main conduits for the control runs from the bridge had broken open and the cables inside were melted together.

“I was taking pictures of what was left of the bridge when I got a call from Bob, who was inspecting the holds and the containers. He couldn’t get into the containers. The access points were warped and some were even appeared to be welded shut. He asked permission to use his plasma torch to cut his way in and I agreed.”

Captain Scott asked, “Bob was one of your team members?”

Ruiz said, “Yes. That’s Bob Yarborough. He’s an experienced yard-dog—I mean ship-fitter. He’s got a great eye for looking at damage and figuring out what it will take to fix it.”

She paused, anticipating a follow up question. When none came she continued, “When I finished up front, I went back and joined Bob, as he worked his way through the containers in holds one and two. We got inside and it was a mess. The only thing left intact was a metal lattice work. The fire had burned so hot in those two containers that almost everything had melted and was pooled on the floor—glass, wires cables, plastics—everything. It was the sort of fire that would have smoldered for days if the atmosphere hadn’t been evacuated; the heat transfer was murder on the ship.

“We found the point of origin for the fire in the number two container. The one and two containers were oriented back to back with some sort of equipment immediately adjacent in both containers. In fact there was a conduit with cables and pipes running between the two containers. We identified pipes and pumps but had no idea what the equipment was. However, all the indicators pointed to that equipment as the point of origin.

“Bob suggested that it was some type of cryogenic system and that the explosion had been caused by a pressurized liquid oxygen tank exploding. I had to concur because of the heat of the fire, its intensity and fragmentation patterns we found in the wreckage of that equipment.

“Things changed significantly when we entered container number three. Number three caught on fire but it didn’t burn as long or as hot as number one or two. There was less wreckage there than containers one and two and that’s where we started finding bones.”

Investigator Ruiz paused at that point. The entire courtroom was silent. It took a few moments before she was able to continue. “Container 4 was where we found the bodies. There was very little fire damage in four and almost everything was intact. What we found were racks and racks of tanks with a humans inside. Everything had been exposed to space and frozen solid. We didn’t know what we had found but it was way beyond anything we were insuring. I did a quick count on the tanks. They were stacked ten high in two rows of ten off the center aisle. There were twenty rows. All told I think there were four thousand per container.”

“I think that when Brisbane Maru burned, she took sixteen thousand people with her.”

Captain Scott asked, “What did you do after you discovered the bodies?”

Ruiz said, “We weren’t sure what we had stumbled on. In the early days of interstellar travel, sub-light ships used cold sleep, but I hadn’t heard of anyone using it in a couple hundred years. There were always fatalities then and there’s just no reason to use it anymore.”

“All of those dead bodies! I knew that we had a red hot potato in our hands and I wanted to hand it off to Alliance Authorities as soon as possible.

“We wrapped up our investigation and went back to our ship. I very quietly made arrangements to meet with the local Alliance Customs and Commerce representative and the senior naval officer in the system.

Captain Scott said, “That would be Commander Glenn of the Callahan and Sandra Hughes of the ACC.”

“Yes sir.”

Scott said, “What was the result of that meeting?”

Ruiz said, “No one was happy about it. Both were extremely concerned but neither were in a position to act on their own. Commander Glenn suggested that we bring in Special Agent Anthony Burrows of the Alliance Bureau of Investigation. Ms. Hughes agreed. I didn’t even know the bureau had an agent assigned to Nordia Station.”

Scott asked, “Once Agent Burrows was involved, how did he proceed?”

Ruiz replied, “Burrows didn’t have the forensics support that he would have in a full-fledged field office. He asked for our cooperation in support of his investigation and he didn’t waste any time getting started. Two hours later we were suited up, back aboard the Brisbane Maru collecting evidence and samples.”

Captain Scott said, “Than you Mrs. Ruiz. We appreciate your taking time to appear here. I think we’re done with your testimony.”

v. Anthony Burrows

Captain Scott announced, “The board now calls Special Agent Anthony Burrows of the Alliance Bureau of Investigation.”

A solid looking man in his late-fifties stood and approached the bench. Captain Scott said, “Agent Burrows, you understand that you are under oath?”

He answered, “Yes sir, I do.”

Scott said, “Please take the stand.”

As Burrows took the stand, Captain Scott took a quick look at his computer pad and then at his watch. Apparently he was satisfied with what he saw.

Once Burrows was settled in the witness box, Captain Scott said, “Agent Burrows, could you please tell us how an agent as senior as you would be assigned to a post like Nordia Station?”

Burrows grinned wryly and said, “When I discussed retirement with the bureau, we made a deal. I would open a bureau mission on Nordia Station and stay on for five years. Once Nordia starts taking colonists, the bureau will open a field office there.”

Captain Scott asked, “Once Mrs. Ruiz brought you into the case, how did you proceed?”

“We kept the investigation very quiet. I knew from the photographs the insurance investigators took that a bucket of snakes had landed in my lap. I wasn’t sure exactly sure how poisonous those snakes were but I knew that I needed help to proceed. I sent a message to our main office on Parliament requesting that a team be sent and requested assistance from the investigators. My first move was to go aboard Brisbane Maru with Mrs. Ruiz’s team to collect evidence.”

Scott asked, “Why did you feel the need to collect more evidence?”

Burrows replied, “There were two reasons. First, Mrs. Ruiz’s team, are good but they are civilians. I needed to collect evidence and establish a clear chain of custody of that evidence if we were ever to take this to court. Second, my investigation had different objectives than that of the insurance investigators. They were interested in the cause of the fire. I was interested in the people who died in those containers.”

Scott asked, “What evidence did you collect?”

Burrows said, “Tissue samples from the corpses found. I was familiar with a scientist working on genetically modified organisms for terraforming on the planet. He had the expertise and equipment necessary to look at some of the tissue samples I brought out.”

Scott said, “That was Dr. Frank Altman?

Burrows answered, “Yes.”

Scott asked, “How was he employed by DESERD Corporation?”

Burrows said, “Dr. Altman’s title is Chief Genetic Engineer for the Nordia Project. I doubt that any court would have any trouble certifying him as an expert.”

Scott asked, “What were Dr. Altman’s findings?”

Burrows answered, “He discovered markers in all of the tissue samples showing patented human genes.”

Captain Scott asked, “What are the implications of that discovery?”

Burrows answered, “It implies that someone in the Corporate Sector is violating the Human Genome Act on an industrial scale.”

The gallery erupted in surprise. There was a sudden cacophony of voices as people started talking and shouting.

Jennings struck his gavel and used his voice masterfully. “Order in this court. The next person to speak out of order will be ejected from these proceedings.”

Captain Scott asked, “How can you make that statement from a few tissue samples?”

Burrows replied, “I couldn’t make that conclusion with the tissue samples alone. However, that conclusion is obvious when you add it to the totality of the evidence and the history associated with the Human Genome Act.”

Captain Scott said, “Please describe the rest of the evidence.”

Burrows said, “The next day a full forensics team from the Bureau arrived. We set them up in a vacant lab on Nordia Station and I handed them evidence that I personally collected and signed for. They reached the same conclusions as Aultman.

“Before the Human Genome Act regulated genetic engineering of humans a decade ago, artificial genes were patented. The holder of those patents was a company named HumGen. When the Human Genome Act put them out of business, a holding company named the New Nippon Group purchased the company and its assets including patents. That company is owned by Nakajima TransStellar.”

This time an angry buzz made its way through the gallery. Again Jennings pounded his gavel. “If there is any further disruption, I will clear the gallery. Captain Scott, please proceed.”

Scott said, “Agent Burrows, you made the rather stunning allegation that someone is violating the Human Genome Act on an industrial scale. Could you please explain your statement?”

Burrows said, “I believe there is sufficient circumstantial evidence to make that charge. Those cargo containers were purpose built for the task. Each one carried four thousand people. According to her log Brisbane Maru has made the run from Pelenor to the HG 8180 system some thirty-six times this calendar year alone.”

Scott’s voice asked quietly, “What is the significance of the HD 8180 system?”

Burrows said, “The HD 8180 system contains a super-earth planet. It is located in the Corporate Sector twenty-two light years from the Nordia System. The planet was discovered before interstellar flight. When it was surveyed, it turned out to be a mineralogical treasure house, but no one could operate there because it’s a heavy gravity world. Its gravity is over three times standard.”

“All of the scientists that have looked at the genetic data have concluded that the people who died in the holds of the Brisbane Maru were engineered specifically to live in work in a high gravity environment. It is my opinion that Brisbane Maru was the modern equivalent of a slave ship.”

This provoked a small riot in the gallery.

Jennings pounded his gavel for order and said, “I was not kidding. This is my last warning. I will clear the gallery unless order is maintained.”

Captain Scott said, “One more question, Agent Burrows. Where did those pictures in the media come from?”

Burrows said, “The Alliance News Network had a team aboard Nordia Station. They were doing a special on Nordia as it is the next planet that will open up for colonization. Apparently they got wind of what was going on and sent a team over to Brisbane Maru. That is where those horrific pictures in the media came from.”

Captain Scott said, “Thank you Agent Burrows. Given the hour, I move that we adjourn for lunch.”

vi. Summation

When the board convened after lunch the gallery was smaller. The Senators staffs were not present.

Jennings pounded his gavel and called the proceedings to order.

Captain Scott stood and said, “Many tall tales have been told about the Nordia Incident.

“In one of those tales an Alliance Navy Officer boarded a corporate chartered freighter in the Nordia System for no apparent reason and seized the ship.

“In another one of those tall tales, one interstellar corporation used uniformed Alliance personnel to trump up trouble against one of its competitors.

“Today you have seen the facts and evidence of the case and, it is my contention that none of these tales are true.

“The facts in this case and the evidence which has brought by the personnel involved, who have all testified under oath, are substantive. Now it is up to the board to decide the pertinent facts in this case and its outcome.

“We are here to decide two questions. First—did Commander Glenn act properly?

“Our second question is, do we have sufficient cause and evidence to forward this case to the Criminal Investigations Division of the Alliance Bureau of Investigation for further investigation and possible legal action?

“I respectfully request that the board take all of the testimony and evidence into consideration and render a decision.”

vii. The Board

Rear Admiral Chan Liao, Rear Admiral Samuel Stewart and Commodore William Channing entered the conference room in order of seniority. They were attended by a navy steward in immaculate whites who left a pot of coffee and cups on a side table.

The steward asked if the officers needed anything and excused himself when they declined.

Liao said, “What was it that Bureau Agent called this—a bucket of snakes?”

All three chuckled but there was a tone of bitterness in their laughter.

Stewart said, “Most appropriate I think. We are damned if we do and we’re damned if we don’t.”

Channing sighed and said, “If we find against Commander Glenn, we break faith with our men.”

Liao said, “If we do find his actions appropriate and force a major investigation aimed at a big TransStellar…”

Stewart asked, “Could the Corporate Sector… are they crazy enough to force a Civil War over this?”

“I don’t know Sam”, Liao said. “If they are mass producing people, there is no telling what they’ve got out there. There were sixteen thousand people on that ship and there are forty-six of them in service. How many do you want to bet are transporting the same complex organics?”

Stewart said, “How many such complex organics have already been transported?”

Commodore Channing said, “I don’t know about you but I got the distinct impression from the political types that they want us to make this all go away.”

Stewart said, “I did too Bill. When the story first broke in the media, there were a lot of fire-brands beating the drum. Then when the implications of just how big a shit-storm this is, they started urging restraint and floating alternate theories.”

Liao said, “I don’t know about you but I have to find for Commander Glenn. He acted in the best traditions of the service. He did everything right, everything by the book. Do we all agree?”

Stewart and Channing both nodded.

Stewart said, “The other question. That’s the one that has the booby trap attached.”

Channing laughed and said, “I suppose we are the boobies that got trapped with it.”

Liao thumbed through his pad and quoted: “do we have sufficient cause and evidence to forward this case to the Criminal Investigations Division of the Alliance Bureau of Investigation for further investigation and possible legal action?”

Channing said, “The way I see it, the two questions are linked. If Glenn acted properly, we can’t ignore those findings. I can see no fault in Glenn’s actions.”

Steward said, “I have never been comfortable with the Corporate Sectors charter. A whole sector set aside for the Corporations to act unregulated? That’s just asking for trouble. They are already arguing that the Human Genome Act doesn’t apply in their space.”

Liao said, “It is my understanding that the entire rationale for the Human Genome Act was to prevent just this sort of abuse.”

Stewart sighed and said, “I was a junior officer when the act was passed. Outlaw labs were making sex slaves and there were experiments that would make a Billy Goat puke. It was Senator Kelly’s idea that really sold the idea. He argued that genetically modified humans could cause humanity to diverge as a species.”

Liao said, “That and a large dose of fear. People were scared Sam. They were scared that they would have to compete with perfect people. It was a mess then and it looks like an even bigger one now.”

There was silence for a moment. All three officers had been serving when the HGA was passed and had witnessed the controversy associated with it.

Channing said, “That Bureau Agent put it in perspective. What did he say—the modern equivalent of a slave ship.”

Stewart said, “It sounds like we’re all in accord?”

Channing and Liao both nodded.

Stewart said, “Then we have to draft a statement.”

Liao smiled and said, “I think I know just the right person to deliver it.”

viii. The Verdict

Admiral Jennings struck his gavel and brought the Inquiry to order. The gallery quieted and all attention focused on the board.

He said, “Gentlemen, do you have a verdict?”

Admiral Stewart stood and said, “Yes sir, we do your Honor. I will be speaking for the board.”

Jennings said, “As to question one, how do you find?”

Stewart said, “We find that Commander Glenn acted in the best traditions of the service in coming to the aid of the Brisbane Maru.”

Jennings said, “As to the second question, how do you find?”

Stewart replied, “We believe that all the involved Alliance personnel and civilians acted in good faith and that their findings require further investigation.

“These finding are extremely troubling and we cannot in good conscious ignore them. We owe it to the honor of our service and the people of the Alliance not to shirk this duty.”

“We have all sworn to uphold the Constitution of the Alliance. We cannot shirk that duty on denigrate the Constitution by looking the other way from something as ugly as the specter of slavery.”

ix. Epilogue

A week after the verdict, the entire Corporate Sector seceded from the Alliance and formed a political entity called the Consolidated Federation.

Within the month the Corporate War, the civil war that everyone in the Alliance dreaded, had begun.

~The End~