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Dirty Little Secrets

Posted on Jan 30, 2018 @ 9:36pm by Lieutenant Commander Cade Foster
Edited on on Jan 30, 2018 @ 9:36pm

Mission: Bramatine: Truth, Justice and the Federation Way

“Dirty Little Secrets”

(Continued from “Hunting for Evidence”)

*******************************

Location: ACAMAR III
SD: [2.18] 0128.2235
Scene: Hungry Pits
Time Index: 2 hours after Xana Bonviva arrives.

~*~

My God it stunk down here.

It smelled like sulfur and piss and blood and death. The cloudy air was filled with the moans of dying children, something that grated on Cade Foster’s ears.

Some of them were tiny. The youngest he estimated at five or six, the eldest were in their teenage years. So many of them were dead and the ones that weren’t suffered malnutrition at the very least. He had been very busy his first few hours down here, setting up triage and treating the worst cases.

But now the area was flooded with nurses and a set of functional cots were set up and everyone who could be saved was in some sort of treatment. It was a pitifully small number compared to the amount of bodies that were being identified, tagged and prepared for some sort of respectful burial. It was the least these frightened tiny miners deserved after a lifetime of suffering.

And still something nagged at his brain. Child labor, overlook - it was chilling and completely senseless. The Acamarians overlooked at as simply a part of their culture. ‘Oh, too bad the mines collapsed, but if they hadn’t this would all be perfectly OK.’

OK Cade’s ass. These children should be playing or in school. There were other Acamarian children out there that lead normal lives so what was different about these children. How were the miners chosen?

He really didn’t want to know, but curiosity killed the Cade. Looking over the rows of cots he selected one of the teenagers, one he had treated for a broken leg and a host of internal parasites - but one who was overall in good health all things considered. Taking up a bowl of replicated but hearty soup he headed over and offered up a sympathetic smile along with the bowl.

“Hey, saw you just woke up. Are you hungry?”

The Acamarian girl eyed him carefully. She only vaguely remembered this strange man pulling her from the rubble. But the food smelled delicious. She was hungry and sick, but still hungry. Slowly she nodded an assent.

Cade settled himself beside her, offering the bowl and a spoon. Immediately the girl started slurping greedily, it was clear that these miners had not been fed enough to compensate for growing bodies. “Whoah. Whoah... slow down.” He murmured. “You’ll make yourself sick if you eat too fast.”

She paused and took in a breath and then forced herself to eat more slowly. When she was finished with the bowl she fixed her big brown eyes on him and asked in a plaintive voice “Can I have more?”

Cade nodded an assent. “You can have as much as you want, but I want you to eat this second bowl slowly, with the spoon. You need to listen to when your tummy tells you to stop eating.” Rising, he fetched a second bowl and grabbed a medical tray that could be used as a lap table.

She accepted the spoon and started to shovel the soup into her mouth in a more controlled fashion. As she finished the second bowl she slowly looked up towards Cade. “You’re the one who pulled me out from the tunnel?”

“Yeah.” He nodded. “I’m Cade.”

“I’m Kamina.” She replied before offering a weak but heartfelt. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I wish I could have done more.” He admitted.

Silence fell between the two for a few very long seconds before Cade coughed and looked back at the girl. “Kamina, can I ask you a few questions?”

“Yes.” She agreed. He had helped her and given her food, he seemed OK in her book.

Cade let his finger drift across the visible children, the survivors in the beds, trying to avoid looking at the horrific pile of bodies. “Kamina, who are these children? Where do they come from? Where do you come from?”

She took in a long, slow breath. “I come from Artoa province. My father was a miner. When he died my family, we owed the Korvosi tribe much money, and I offered to repay them. I didn’t expect to be brought here.”

Cade frowned. Kamina was older than the majority of the other miners, but still that was a devil’s deal. At least it seemed she had a family to return to. “And the others?” He pointed around.

“Most are victims of clan conflicts. Some have no parents, some do not understand why they were taken from their home. Most are poor.” She trailed off and her eyes went towards a darkened tunnel leading deeper into the mines, one of the few structures that was still standing.

“Most but not all?” Cade queried gently, sensing an edge to this mystery.

Kamina looked back towards the elder human, frowning deeply. “It is customary in for my people that should a parent fall thier children will step up to support the family even if they are young. I would say most of the miner here were far too young, but it is accepted.” She seemed to insinuate that she was not too young to mine. Cade would heavily disagree. “But there were some that were brought here even though no parents had fallen. They were taken down to the bottom of the mines and we never saw them again.”

Alarm bells went off in Cade’s head. It was bad enough that the Pangeos Pathways had exploited a backwards, cruel tradition in Acamarian culture to use child labor to mine this bedamned Bramantine, but it was looking like the Acamarians were taking this one step further and using the mines as a way to blackmail or possibly put leverage on enemies. Maybe he was being paranoid.

The problem with his paranoia was that he was frequently right.

“Thank you, Kamina. I’m going to go check something out. If you need more to eat or drink...” He pointed towards one of the Betazoid nurses. “That’s Nurse Paj Lami, he’s my personal friend and he’ll take good care of you, OK?”

“OK.” She nodded gently.

Cade squeezed her shoulder gently, reassuringly before getting up and striding with confidence towards Jake Crichton. “Jake we got a problem on our hands, and when the shit did Xana get here?”

“About two hours ago.” She replied with a less than genuine smile towards Cade.

Had he just completely missed the fact that those two were arguing? Oh yes. Typical Cade, not giving a damn. Oh well, there were more important things.

Xana looked weepy. Then again they were surrounded by the corpses of innocent children. If he were her he would probably be weepy too. Cade was too much of a calloused jerk to be weepy - but it did hit him how terribly wrong the scene was.

“A bigger problem than sorting through nearly a hundred dead children and trying to find the families of the few survivors?” Jake queried with a terse edge. Must have been a good conversation he was having with Xana.

“Yep.” Cade replied unrepentantly callous to Jake’s previous conversation. He started towards the remaining tunnel, waving them forward, picking up a tricorder on his way. “I was talking to one of the miners. She said that the majority of these kids lost a parent or two. I guess in the Acamarian society this means the kids need to step up to help fill the place of the parents - they work and contribute to the clan. Now I think that’s total bullshit, but it means that this whole upper operation is condoned by the Acamarian traditions.”

“Disgusting traditions.” Xana intoned darkly.

“I’m not disagreeing.” Cade was quick to answer. “Still if this is on the up and up with the planet’s laws, why did the CAIRO fail to provide aid for three days? Why are we here and not them? They have doctors, they have nurses, they have triage equipment - that shit’s standard on Starfleet ships.”

Jake was hustling to catch up with Cade’s long legged stride. “They didn’t want anyone to find out about the child labor going on here.”

“No, stupid plan. Their inability to act only raised our suspicions” Cade replied. By now they were alone, heading across the wreckage and crossing the rubble. If there hadn’t been a small opening ahead Jake might have though the older doctor mad.

“You think something else is going on here.” Xana guessed.

Cade nodded, whipping out a tricorder. “As I said, I talked to the miners. One told me that some of the kids brought down here were taken to the lower levels and never seen again. Kids who didn’t fit the profile of low class laboring families.”

That got a bit of stunned silence from Xana and Jake and suddenly all three of them were moving faster.

The tunnel was dark and choked with rubble. Jake took point, poking around to see if it was passable as tricorders whirred. “This tunnel is pretty well blocked, Cade.” He frowned, checking other scans. “And I’m not getting any lifesigns from beyond this block.”

“Can we clear it?” Cade asked, pushing forward with urgency.

“I’m not sure we’ll find anything.” Jake countered.

“Don’t be chicken, we should look.” Xana thrust her chin upwards with confidence.

Jake’s expression fell, getting the feeling that no matter what he said Xana might take the opposite stance. There was still a simmering conflict between them, which might be far more entertaining were Cade not standing in between them.

The doctor took a step forward and eyed Jake. “You’re the engineer. Can we disintegrate one of these rock and get a hole big enough to climb through?”

“Easier said than done, Cade...” Jake trailed off eyeing Xana and then looking back at his tricorder. After several moments of silence he added, “Yeah, I can do it.”

A little bit of phasering here, a bit of digging there and they had a small, somewhat treacherous path to crawl through. Cade grabbed a handlamp and lit the blackened tunnel beyond.

“I’d like to officially state that I think this is crazy.” Jake added, watching Cade. “I’m going to allow this ... whatever this is... to go on for an hour and then we’re coming back and finishing up with cleanup.”

Cade was already crawling through the hole, offering a hand to Xana to pull ehr through. “Come on twinkle toes. Quit yer bitchin’ and get over here.”

“I am not twinkle toes!” Jake protested.

Cade just grinned.

It was dark beyond. Dark and dry and it smelled like dust highlighted with a metallic tang. The tunnel had obviously been crafted - dug and leveled into the rock rather than a natural passage. There were no bodies along this tunnel or in the cave in they had passed. It was eerily empty.

It didn’t take an hour to reach their destination - instead it was perhaps five, maybe ten minutes of walking until they hit a decidedly unnatural gunmetal grey wall with a single seam. Bulkhead doors of some sort.

“That’s not normal.” Cade offered helpfully.

Jake was already moving forward, running his fingers along the seam and taking readings from his tricorder. “This isn’t Acamarian build.” He frowned looking at the tricorder scans. “Shit. These doors are lined with plasticized tritanium mesh...”

“What mesh?” Cade queried.

“I was about to ask the same thing.” Xana admitted quietly.

“Plasticized tritanium mesh.” Jake repeated darkly. “Popular with the Orion Syndicate because it prevents scanners from penetrating it.”

Cade turned towards Jake, thrust his chin upwards into the air and gave the most shit-eating smile he could muster. But, in his defense he did stay quiet.

It was Xana who asked the important question. “Can we get the doors open?”

Jake nodded slowly. “Yeah, the bulkhead itself is a duranium alloy. But I can cut through the seams with a phaser.”

“Go get ‘em, cowboy.” Cade patted Jake on the back.

Crichton frowned, but pulled his phaser out anyways. There was silence as he flicked it from stun, past kill and to the highest cutting setting before directing a laser-precise line down the seams. They could hear the click s each lock was severed. Finally Jake finished, dialing the phaser back down, holstering it and moving forward. He shot a glance at Cade. “Help me push.”

Both men took a door, straining to slide them open. The doors groaned and then relented, jumping open several centimeters in one lurch.

Immediately the smell of vomit, feces and fear rolled out. It was overwhelming, enough to bowl all three backwards. Cade covered his mouth and started to cough. He took a step forward and shined his hand-lamp inside and immediately wished he hadn’t.

The room was a plain one with chairs and a few partitions - some sort of intake area. It lacked decoration or personality, it was completely utilitarian but it was punctuated by a small pile of dead bodies a few paces from the door.

Small in many ways. Children.

These were not dressed like the miners. They were dressed in deteriorating clothing that was once quite nice. That wasn’t the only chilling thing about the dead.

Not all were Acamarian.

The eldest one was. As the officers squeezed into the doorway Cade moved forward, kneeling down to the corpse. The Acamarian teenager sported a vicious burn mark on his back indicative of an energy weapon discharge. He was holding a dead infant Acamarian in his arms. Nearby there were the corpses of two others - a Bolian child of about eight and a Vulcan who was no more than three - both showed signs of beatings and head trauma.

“What in the name of the Gods...” Xana’s jaw dropped.

Cade was already scanning. “Disruptor wound and three blunt force trauma deaths.” He fell quiet as Xana and Jake moved closer to one another trying to process it all.

“Where the hell are we?” Jake asked.

“Obviously a place we were supposed to overlook and one we weren’t supposed to find.” Xana replied in hollow tones.

“We have a problem.” Cade’s dry voice cut through the chatter.

“More of a problem than we already have?” Jake asked incredulously

Cade nodded solemnly. “You remember about two years ago when there was that big news story about Bolian delegate Valoru’s son being kidnapped?” Cade pointed to the corpse at his feet. “I found him.”

“What?!” Xana gasped, rushing forward.

“There’s more...” Cade felt like he was suddenly the bearer of very bad news. “I’m reading about twenty lifesigns, of at least eight different species - all very faint.”

Jake closed his eyes feeling a horrible headache coming on. “We have to find them.” He paused and added “Captain Kane is going to love this.”

~*~
NRPG - Surprise? Hope this works well! I had been thinking about this twist for a long time, but was having trouble getting time to write!
~*~

Jamie LeBlanc
Lt Commander Aerdan Jos
Chief Medical Officer
USS PHOENIX

"Why do we fly? Because we have dreamt of it for so long that we must"

~Julian Beck

 

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