Mitchell sat in his small cabin aboard the UEEN Long In The Tooth, a Bengal-class carrier and the flagship of the naval group operating around Ferron III, known as Asura. The world had fallen into poverty and neglect, and the UEE had begun trying to clean up some of the drug trafficking operations in the area. Mitchell had taken an interest in the operations, and so he’d found himself embedded for one month, collecting information and creating a story around the courageous Marines and their operation to help clean up the dirty streets of this once-great planet.
As he put the finishing touches on a final paragraph, Mitchell was reminded of the data he’d downloaded during the previous operation, a major raid on a drug manufacturing operation. These drugs were being shipped off-world to other trading hubs and spread across the galaxy, and creating a dangerous trafficking ring surrounding the trade and distribution. The UEE was determined to cut off the head of the ring by going right to their source, and they were closing in on the criminals and organizations bankrolling the drug-manufacturing operations.
Mitchell’s Mobi-glass comm unit beeped once, alerting him to an incoming call. He answered quickly, recognizing the Admiral’s name almost immediately. “Admiral Quin, a pleasure to hear from you, sir.”
“Thank you, Alvarez. I trust you got what you needed from the last operation?” The admiral was a hard-case with slightly greying hair at the temples and deep wrinkles from too much exposure to solar radiation. He looked leathery, and sounded like a bear that had learned to speak.
“Yes, Admiral. I think you’ll be very pleased with the piece I’ve got going,” Mitchell said with a smirk.
“Excellent. You’ve been doing wonders for the morale of the men and women under my command. Exemplary work.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“In fact, your work has been so exemplary, that the higher-ups are considering passing along some information on the bigger picture to you. A list of names that, once published, could shake up the criminals of this world and let the people know who the real bad guys are. We’ve been getting pushback from the locals, as you’re aware, and this could go a long way towards making them appreciate our presence.”
Mitchell’s face lit up. “A list of names?”
“Very high profile.”
“I’d be honored, sir!” Mitchell said, beaming.
“Very good, Alvarez. We’ll get that sent to you on a secure data stream within a few minutes,” Admiral Quin said, his mouth twisting into a leathery approximation of a smile.
“Thank you, Admiral! I’m looking forward to this next piece.”
“Excellent. I’ll be looking forward to it.” Admiral Quin disconnected the call without further comment, leaving Mitchell to ponder the offer he’d just been given. A list of names?
Mitchell activated his data pad again and pulled up the file he’d downloaded off the criminal’s data pad during the raid. A list of names, just as promised. As Mitchell began to peruse the list, a secure data packet was sent to his data pad. Mitchell opened it, and smirked. Another list, with names. He’d apparently been one step ahead of the game in this case.
Or… had he?
Mitchell squinted at the data pad and pulled up both files simultaneously, looking at the list of names on each. The second list, the one sent by Admiral Quin, was shorter by about a dozen names.
Frowning, Mitchell began to look up the missing names from the list he’d recovered, and his eyes slowly widened as his searches returned very interesting results.
“The lieutenant-governor of the planet, and several other high-ranking officials?” He murmured quietly. His scowl deepened as he looked between the two lists, conflict rising slowly. On one hand, he’d been given almost the same list. High-profile citizens, a few dozen business owners, and some others featured prominently, and it would be an incredible story… but, on the other hand, he had a journalistic opportunity of a lifetime to expose payments going into the pockets of the politicians of this planet from the drug runners.
He had the opportunity to expose a greater truth, at the expense of the stability of a poverty-stricken planet on the verge of collapse.
Mitchell sighed rubbing at his temples, and switched between the two lists of names. The weight of the decision he faced was almost palpable, settling on his shoulders. “Truth and upset, or the lie and stability?”
He thought of the marines he’d been working with. The danger they’d have to face if the planet’s people rose up in open revolt over the scandal. He thought of the fact that the altered list had come from their very own commanders, people that they entrusted their lives to daily. What would they think? How much would it shake them to know that their commanding officers were covering up the truth?
The datapad clattered to the decking as Mitchell dropped it, groaning. “Damn it. Why can’t it just be a damn patriotic fluff piece and then move on with my life? Maybe the admiral and the UEE are handling the scandal outside the public eye, dealing with it on their own terms?”
Mitchell briefly considered calling the Admiral back and explaining the situation. Would he get in trouble, then? Would they tell him the truth? Or would he become a liability?
There was no easy option, except one. Mitchell swallowed, tapping the data pad, and he began to write with shaking hands.