An automated signals monitor on a BES satellite sent Kilel more information via her minds-eye. A live video feed was operating on the edge of the wildlife refuge. The monitor gave a GPS location, and Kilel eyed the refuge in the direction of the coordinates. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary. The video feed was set to update on a new priv-chan, and Kilel could not see what was on the feed. Kilel ordered a scan of com company records, and the scan reported that Anne Penn had purchased the priv. Kilel cursed silently; the com companies were in a constant battle with BES over encrypted private channels. Enterprises bought them to protect trade secrets and negotiations. Individuals bought them to hide everything from illicit affairs to criminal conspiracies. BES regarded the channels as subversive and a nuisance, though they were perfectly legal, provided they weren’t used for banned activities. Abuse was rampant. The channels were also expensive, and Anne Penn wouldn’t have spent so much money unless she had a reason to hide something. She’s lying about communication with her father. Why else would she buy a priv?
Kilel stared at Anne. “What’s going on in the refuge?”
Anne swallowed. “What do you mean?”
Kilel struggled to keep a wave of contempt from showing on her face. I ought to arrest Anne Penn as an accessory to an environmental crime, but I don’t have backup and Mike Schmidt’s reaction is unpredictable. Kilel started for the GPS coordinates of the video feed’s origin. Anne and Mike followed. A dusty haze hung a inch or so off the burned ground of the refuge, still marked with small evidence flags. Kilel followed a path of beaten grass used by Anne and Mike. Movement in a tree on her right caught her eye. She gaped as a male Klamath magpie with its red breast patch flew across her field of vision, screeching in alarm. “What in hell…”
“It’s the male from a nesting pair,” Anne said. “It’s the only pair that survived the fire.”
“Do the refuge biologists know about it?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen them since the fire.”
Kilel’s step quickened. The last remaining nesting pair from an endangered species. More precious than all the gold on earth. She ignored the puffs of ash that settled on the legs of her crisp forest green uniform. Her minds-eye kept track of her progress toward the source of the video feed until she came to the snag of a dead pine. A ladder leaned against the snag. Kilel turned on Anne. “Is this yours? What in heaven’s name are you doing?”
“Nothing! I know these birds. I’ve watched them for years.”
Kilel ignored Anne’s pleading and climbed the wobbly ladder. The male magpie stooped over the BES agent as if she were a predator. As Kilel neared the nest opening, the female began screeching, though she was not visible. The male swooped closer to Kilel’s head, but the agent ignored the animal. Her eyes focused on a fingernail-sized camera at the top of the nest’s opening. “What is this?” Kilel’s tone was accusing.
“It’s just a video camera,” Anne said. She was frantic. “There’s two eggs in the nest. Mike and I wanted to watch over them.”
Mike spoke next. “They’re the only magpie eggs left from the fire! We’re trying to help them.”
“Knowingly interfering with a natural process in a protected area is a crime.” Kilel was livid. She rarely caught environmental criminals red-handed, and finding an illegal wildlife camera so soon after a devastating fire unhinged her. She tore the camera from its mount and held it out to Anne. “This is why the earth is in so much trouble. People like you have no sensitivity for nature. You never let anything alone. You never let nature take its course. When will you stop trying to make nature into something it’s not?”
Anne and Mike stepped back, fear in their eyes. “It’s just a camera,” Anne said. “We’ve done nothing wrong.”
Kilel gawked at the tiny device as if it were a weapon and caught her breath. So much death and destruction in the last centuries. If only the industrial revolution had been put down. If only the steam engine hadn’t been invented. If only coal was never used as fuel. If only oil was never refined and the internal combustion engine was never invented. Then we wouldn’t have the carbon problem and the Warming. If only Martin Scribb and his company hadn’t caused the methane spike. If only, if only, if only… The earth would be whole and we wouldn’t need the carbon laws and the species laws and the Bureau of Environmental Security to protect and defend what’s left. And for whom are we protecting this planet? Morons and rejecters and deniers!
Kilel did not voice her rage. Her professionalism kept her from spitting at Anne Penn for the girl’s interference with nature’s order. Kilel took a breath and reached into her breast pocket. She pulled out a small manila envelope imprinted with the word “Evidence.” She dropped in the camera, and returned the envelope to her pocket and realized she had more leverage over Anne than before. She could charge Anne Penn with an environmental crime, if she chose. But she would not, for now.
Will a new class of laws arise that punish environmental criminals?