At some point, Stan's withdrawal symptoms grew so severe that he could no longer coherently answer any questions. Neither Leland nor his strike stream possessed the required medical expertise to counteract the effects, and trying to return to the man's home to grab his brain pills took too long and risked exposure.
Ves and Leland stepped out of the interrogation room. Ves looked disappointed while Leland adopted an expression of distaste.
"Incidents like this are all too common. The important point is that we're not dealing with amateurs. Anyone who is able to distribute enoncolantis-3 in Bentheim won't be so careless to leave a direct trail to their actual identities. It could be the BLM, but it could also be the Blood Claws or even the Peace Association that supplied Stan with the brain pills."
"So there is no way you can follow up on the source of the pills?"
Leland shook his head. "Whoever has been supplying Stan with the pills will probably lay low and disappear as soon as word of his disappearance and subsequent death spreads."
Damn. That meant that investigation that channel was a dead end.
"There are other mech technicians at the KNG with the same traits."
"One incident is a coincidence is enough. Another incident that follows close to the previous one will definitely alert the KNG and a number of other organizations. I won't authorize another kidnapping. I'm sorry Ves, but this line of inquiry ends here. If you want to follow up on this case, then you'll have to do so in another fashion."
With Leland closing the door to questioning another addict, Ves had very few options left if he wanted to uncover the identities of the suppliers.
Besides, there wasn't that much point to investigating the suppliers. Flashlight wanted to find evidence of deliberate, high-level collaboration with the Bentheim Liberation Movement.
Even if the BLM hooked up a dozen mech technicians with brain pills, so what? The KNG could always throw them under the aircar argue that they were clueless victims to the BLM's nefarious schemes.
What Ves needed to do was to paint the KNG as traitors instead of victims!
"Let us suppose the BLM is gathering intel on the Ansel Complex through the use of informers." Leland said. "This shows that it's unlikely they have a man on the inside at that site. While it might be possible that they do have their own man inside and that they are merely gathering information from other sources to verify the information coming from their agent, it's too much of an effort. It seems much more likely that the BLM is merely fishing for information to plan for a future terrorist attack."
Ves couldn't argue with his logic. Even he believed this was the case. "So all of this was a waste of time?"
"Well, you could always use that to back up your case that the KNG is in cahoots with the BLM." Leland grinned. "If you present the addicted mech technicians as separatists instead of informants, then you'd likely be able to strengthen your case against the company."
That entailed fabricating an accusation that Ves knew wasn't true. He didn't want to resort to this option if possible, so he merely shook his head and said nothing more of it. Instead, he turned to another subject.
"How will you take care of Stan?"
"The other members of the strike team has already prepared a cover story. We'll put him on his daily commute and shoot it down. His death won't attract too much attention among the dozens of other occupants going to to work. We'll blame the attack on Vesian agitators trying to destabilize Bentheim. They've already staged hundreds of random attacks like this to terrorize the populace, so one more attack will hardly seem unusual as long as we leave behind the right traces."
Ves regretted hearing this answer. Lots of people boarded air transit every day, and the biggest vehicles fitted hundreds of people.
Knowing that Flashlight did not shy away from dragging innocent people to their deaths just because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time sat very poorly with Ves. As he stared at Leland, Ves figured the intelligence officer deliberately divulged this information.
For what reason? To test him? To try and see if Ves would still be committed to working together with Flashlight?
It might be all a lie. Ves didn't know. As they exited the construction site via their discreet aircar, Ves constantly pondered on the consequences of his actions.
He continued to do so once the aircar dropped him off at the military base, whereupon he showed up in public again and went to work in a normal fashion.
Once he arrived at the Ansel Complex, the news had already reached them. One of their colleagues had been killed in an air transit accident!
"Stan is dead!"
"Over thirty people got killed!"
"It's the Vesians again! Their spies are everywhere on this planet!"
Work at the Ansel Complex inevitably slowed as everyone couldn't help but become affected by this sudden tragedy. One of their own had been killed in a terrorist attack!
Ves watched wide-eyed as he tuned into a Mosville news portal reporting live on the event. The crash site of the air transit not only killed its occupants, but also crashed into an office building, killing several workers inside!
Leland hadn't bluffed at all. He truly did manufacture a tragedy to take care of a loose end. Over thirty people died, which was a truly excessive number of casualties just to silence a single person!
The only consolation to Ves was that the investigation on Chief Nyquist's drinking buddies bore fruit. The strange thing was that one of them slightly panicked when he saw the news and hastily ran to a suspected safehouse while being followed by an agent of Flashlight!
That evening, Leland greeted Ves as he tiredly returned to his quarters with the good news.
"I'm not sure whether the person we tailed is part of the cell or group that's responsible for supplying the mech technicians working at the Ansel Complex with enoncolantis-3. Perhaps word of an attack on a KNG worker has spooked our person of interest due to other reasons. Nonetheless, his haste and lack of precautions has given us a firm lead of suspected BLM activity."
"Who is the person of interest and why are you so sure he's related to the BLM?"
Leland handed him a data pad with a record of the man in question. "Delten Swan is a former ship rating from the Sparky Nuts. These days, he works for an industrial company based in Mosville. He married once but he divorced after a few years. We suspect he is a member of the BLM from the way he gained entry into the safehouse and what little we managed to observe of what transpired inside. As long as we prepare more listening devices to record Delten's subsequent meetings, we can firmly prove that Delten is a specialist."
"Yet that's not enough, is it?" Ves remarked. "Delten Swan doesn't even work for the KNG."
"It's good to see that you have a bright head on your shoulders, Ves. You're right. Our target is the KNG, not Delten and not this Chief Nyquist. Therefore, it's not enough to prove that Nyquist is aware of Delten's association with the BLM. We need to provide evidence that Chief Nyquist is part of the same cell, and even then we need to prove that he's more than an informant."
When Ves began to list what he needed to do, he became depressed. "You're asking for a lot, but there's not a lot of time left. From what we've learned, it's possible that Chief Nyquist is working for the BLM, but it might be that he's just feeding information to them instead."
Leland nodded in agreement. "I've looked into Chief Nyquist, and he's a careful and experienced man. There's a high chance he'll lower his head and do absolutely nothing that could draw suspicion on him. The BLM may be contemptible in many ways, but they are very competent in training their assets to blend in with the environment."
If they could just take Chief Nyquist into custody in an official and aboveboard fashion, they would be able to learn the truth. Yet such an act would also increase the chance of exposing Flashlight, so Leland would never go along with such a measure.
Again, Ves felt as if his hands were tied behind his back. The demand that this investigation needed to be done fast but quietly continued to stymy him over and over again.
Yet having spent some time with Leland, Ves became a little more familiar with his mindset, methods and priorities. Leland and by extension Flashlight wasn't above resorting to drastic actions as long as they didn't risk exposure!
Ves gave Leland a speculative look. "If I may suggest something. It's better to present genuine evidence of seperatist collaboration, right?"
"Then why not take advantage of what we've found out to stir the pot and agitate the BLM even further?"
"Oh? Do you have a plan, Ves? You know that it's very risky for us to make a move right now, especially right after a terrorist attack."
From the clues they gathered about Chief Nyquist, they learned that he lost someone he loved to the war. They also learned that he associated himself with what appeared to be a core member of a BLM cell in Mosville.
Putting those two clues together strongly suggested that Chief Nyquist wasn't merely an informant like the recently-deceased Stan, but a true man on the inside.
Ves increasingly became more assured of his suspicion that Chief Nyquist was up to no good at the KNG. Yet even if Ves and Leland reported their current findings, the KNG would still be able to paint themselves as victims.
Whether real or not, Ves needed some way to tie Chief Nyquist's suspected affiliations and purpose to the higher ups of the KNG. A single chief technician, while holding a substantial amount of responsibly at his workplace, was not a representative of the company.
Leland knew this as well, so he wondered what Ves wanted to suggest to prove whether such a tie existed.
What if it didn't exist at all?
On this, Ves already resigned himself to bending the truth a bit if it came down to it. In any case, BLM involvement seemed extremely likely now so he did not have to fabricate a complete lie.
"A chief technician is not important enough, but if the presiding mech designer turns out to be a seperatist as well, what then? Every mech designer assigned to supervise the operations at the different complexes are directly handpicked for the job by Mrs. Kadar or Mr. Neyvis. An Apprentice Mech Designer called Carl Stoddard is currently in charge at the Mosville Complex. It would be a severe failure on the part of the founders and leaders of the KNG if they directly picked a separatist to be in charge of one of their four major complexes."
"How do you suppose we do that?"
"We know where one of their safehouses are, right? We also know who frequents that place. Couldn't you employ one of your operatives to plant some fake evidence there that suggests that Carl Stoddard is one of their own men?"
"It's possible." Leland said with a thoughtful but not entirely encouraging expression. "It's also exceedingly risky in many ways. I don't like this plan of yours. It's too much risk for too little reward. Even if we manage to implicate Mr. Stoddard, he's not the big fish that Flashlight is hoping to catch. The KNG will be able to weather the storm as long as they pay a price."
Ves knew this. Therefore, what he said next surprised even Leland. "What if I tell you that I'm convinced the KNG is facilitating the supply of mechs for the BLM at their Mosville Complex?"