The answer lay, rather unusually, in the quality of the chocolate.
Hooper was running out of time. In less than three hours the favour Hooper pulled, to make sure that their apparent death was a falsehood and Hooper was actually alive, would be posted to the department. Just before that the statistics for computer research time, and artificial intelligence usage, would be revealed. The vast amount of data crunching that Hooper had been running would be visible. Anyone with a moderate level of access would be able to drill down a level or two in the statistics and see how it was being used. If his quarry had any sense they would notice this and be gone. It was an even chance they had fled already. It was a certainty that they would have flags in the system.
Hooper had, naturally, made sure to keep a monitor running on the shuttle ports. All of the routes onto the satellite; civilian, legal, maintenance and supply. But, there were a large number of vessels that came to Justice Central every hour. There were tens of thousands of vessels each day. Probably millions of inbound and outbound objects to track. Hundreds of thousands of them were organics or intellects.
The quarry had a good chance to slip past sensors and detection equipment as they had some ability to affect them. They would have some pre-programmed escape route and cover so they could make their way off base. Hooper was certain of these things. Hooper had to keep watching, but also entertain the possibility they may escape.
The scans of sensor readings and video footage was taking too long. Justice Central was utilised by the entire collection of legal and governmental departments related to law and enforcement. There were thousands of officers in the department of justice and corrections. Then there were penal officers, solicitors, civilian contractors, prosecutors; and that was before the many criminals, plaintiffs, witnesses, court officers and government or business personnel were counted. In total more than one million people came either onto or left the satellite each day. Some of them by vessel. Some of them by maglev from the accommodation blocks and remand centres outside of central but on the satellite.
The sheer weight of video that had to be processed to coincide with every suspicious sensor reading was immense. That was before you accounted for the fact that much of the sensor reading was a false trail and the video had to be triple checked for the same level of alteration. The system was less than eight percent through the matching. It had found thousands of anomalies and had reported these for further examination. Unfortunately that further examination took time and diverting resources to forensically analyse them reduced the chances of finding something in the feeds. It was a tough balancing act to do at speed. Where did you optimise? Hooper knew that was needed.
It would help if the computers had a suspect. Just a single organic, as they could use their readings to help pattern match and find how the feeds had been altered. If you have a base point of information then you could extrapolate what would have to be changed, and therefore look for those changes.
Hooper was close to grinding teeth together into a fine white powder. Taking a deep breath they reopened the data files and went back to the original clues. The coffee and chocolate particles were the only piece of concrete evidence that there had been manipulation. Unless that day someone had a Mocha. A thought ran quickly over Hooper’s brain and tickled. Chocolate particles and Mocha.
Hooper opened the analysis and looked at the particulate data. There were clear indications of both coffee and chocolate particles on the filter. They were distinct from each other however. Running a trace analysis confirmed that the coffee particles had not attached chocolate and vice versa. There was no evidence that it was a mixed drink. In fact there was clear evidence that it was actual beans. Hooper sat bolt upright.
Chocolate drinks served on the station, whether as a milkshake, iced drink, in a coffee, or just heated with cream, were usually prepared from a syrup. If you were desperate enough to have them from the machines they were from a gel or a powder. If you were really desperate they were from chemical vats and ‘expertly mixed’ to make your taste buds rebel and flee your mouth. This, though, was actual particles. Particles implied the original product. Not chemical. Not ersatz, not processed to muck.
There were only two places that served real chocolate beans. They were expensive. There were only five places on the satellite that beans were used to make real coffee. Two places. Only one of which served hot chocolate.
Hooper pulled up the video feed for the coffee shop and paused all other intensive processing work. Then Hooper reassigned all the computer processing power to analysing the sensor feeds and video data from the coffee shop to the storage lockers for the entire of that day.