"Cui bono?" [To whose profit?]-- - Cicero, Pro Milone


On Menorb. A very fine place, with a C-class starport. And very careful customs agents.

Tavi is wondering if the customs agents have the right tech to actually find all the things that are illegal. She may be able to smuggle a body pistol in. Dragon's no worried about not being able to take her firearms onto the planet. Where there's mining, there's explosives. And where there's explosives, there's explosives gone astray. And Dee Dee is a very enterprising little anarchist.

Duane gets his hands on the most recent tourist information for Menorb. It has warnings to not go into the jungle, and tourists should exercise caution. Not that the government doesn't have the rebel problem well in hand. Phone book in hand, Tavi finds four Roberto or R. Escobars in the starport and it's environs; the problem is, the planetary cities are not covered. Dragon goes to the library to look up the microfiche library listings for the newspapers. "Rebel leader, Roberto Escobar eludes capture again." "Commandante Escobar stages another raid, vows 'We will fight until the end'."

A hero to some, but a wanted criminal to others. In fact, there is a reward of 1,000 Piasters (a local gold coin) - which translates into $100,000 credits. Hey! There are a bunch of other rebels on the wanted lists; this could be a great new revenue source. Roberto apparently pens some of the press releases himself (he's an educated man). He operates primarily in the southwestern area of the continent, or at least is credited for operations there. Duane does the same search for the other wanted terrorists. The areas of operations all seem to contain a mine or something else of value as a target. One of the mines that was taken was in Escobar's area.

Max has a list of stuff to procure for Amanda while she takes care of the ship. Sparrow needs to do more checking on Mr. Hardtford's estate, and the others are off working on their own nefarious plots. Except for Dwayne, of course. No one even wants Dwayne to say 'nefarious', let alone be it. There is no bus that goes right by Hardtford's estate, and Sparrow could rent a car, but she doesn't drive. She goes to the local humane society off port and volunteers to walk dogs for them. Since she has ID, and doesn't look like a Satanist, they'll accept her as a volunteer. Sparrow explains that she volunteers at home, and wanted to do this here as well. She gets a dog, takes a cab to Hardtford's neighborhood and walks it. A young woman out walking a dog - the perfect cover to case the place.

Randall Hardtford's estate is very large, and gated. There's a camera outside, but no guard. There are no "Beware of Dog" or "Danger: Fence Electrified!" signs. Sparrow doesn't know if the local law requires the posting of such signs, and will check on that later. She walks the dog, looks around, then returns the dog and goes back to the starport. Back to the local library to check for more information on Hardtford.

Dwayne will leave the stawpowt...uh, starport once he arranges for the disposition of his cargo, to do a reconnaissance, and visit the corporate offices. He has a letter of introduction to the company, and an excuse to ask embarrassing questions. He is able to find out that mostly things are fine - it's just some shipments that have been disrupted. It's just a matter of days before they round up the last of the rebels. "They're just a bunch of half-assed peasants from the woods." The local military should handle it, but if necessary they'll hire some offworld mercs. "Thanks for stopping by, nothing to worry about, here's this nice glossy portfolio we've prepared for you." Well, that's one version of the situation. Dwayne leaves, intending to get more than one point of view on this. He locates the foundation office, and arranges to speak to a rep. The Gama Foundation is in the city by the starport, and don't really know much about what's happening in the country. They avoid anything political. And they do have an excellent reputation for charitable work.

When Max returns to the ship, there are a number of police officers outside, which is never a good sign. They're searching for a representative of the ship. Max identifies himself, and asks what the problem is. The officer in charge informs Max that they believe Captain Wentworth has been abducted, and they need him to make a positive identification. Max: "Excuse me?" Officer: "We'd like to discuss this with you in more detail, at the station." They go downtown and show Max some photos of a blonde female and several armed men in balaclavas. Yes, it appears to be Amanda. Detective: "What connections do you have with the local political situation?" Max: "None. We just arrived today." Detective: "They'll probably make contact with you to arrange for ransom." Max: "Where was she abducted?" Detective: "At a market just outside of the starport." Max: "Some one is abducted in broad daylight, in the middle of town, and you're acting like this happens all the time. What wrong with you people?!" Detective: <shrugs> "It's happened before. No planet is perfect. You are from where?" Max: "Rhylanor." Detective: "And there is no crime on Rhylanor?" Max: "I didn't say that, but they don't have people just grabbed off the street on a regular basis!" (Of course not - the Duke and Duchess would not approve.) Detective: "We believe she may have been kidnapped by the Golden Way." Max: "Who the hell's the Golden Way?" Detective: "A local terrorist group, although they consider themselves to be 'freedom fighters'." Max: "What are you doing about this?" Detective: "We're going to set up monitoring equipment on your ship, and wait for them to contact you about the ransom." Max: "And then what?" Detective: "Perhaps we can get a good trace, and we can send in the tactical team. I don't want to give you any false hope. Yes, they have done this before." Max: "Do they return the victims?" Detective: "They have given them back in the past, when the ransom is paid." Max: "So now you're going to just wait until they call?" Detective: "We are making inquiries, but we can't really do much more until they have made contact. We are not the enemy. I realize you are probably shocked by this sort of thing, but we are doing everything we can. In the mean time I suggest that you go back to your ship or hotel room."

They hadn't had the opportunity to get a hotel room yet, so a rather stunned Max goes back to the ship and lets in the police technician. When a call comes in a bit later, Max answers it. The cop has deployed his bulky equipment and is ready to go. The call is audio only. "This message is coming from the Golden Way. We have taken Miss Amanda Wentworth hostage, and expect to be paid $1 million credits for her ransom within two weeks. If we do not receive the money, we cannot be held responsible for her safety. We will contact you tomorrow at noon with further instructions." Click. It sounded like an electronically altered voice. Shit.

Dragon finds a LeMercenaire article on the 'rebels vs. the government' situation. The rebels have the support of the farmers and villagers, since the mining company has been screwing them left, right, and centre. When the company leaves an area, the environmental condition of the sites is so bad that the incidences of birth defects is one thousand times that of the cities. The military has been using the heavy handed approach which of course backfires completely, and just generates more support. It's guerilla warfare, lots of forests and jungle, and the mining camps are isolated and undermanned which makes them perfect targets for this sort of thing.

Duane, Tavi, and Dragon meet to discuss their clever plan. Or lack thereof. Duane checks to see if the mining company is hiring. Yes, for engineers, chemists, administrative people and the like. They have rent-a-cops, but most of their security is provided by the government. Duane isn't a chemist, or an engineer, he can type slowly and with two fingers, and he can't operate complex mining equipment - no inside job for him. At least not with the mining company.

Dwayne goes to a sports bar near the football arena. No game on the TV, due to the news flash. Reporter: "I'm standing outside bay 7, where the ship owned by recently kidnapped Amanda Wentworth.." Dwayne: <thinking> "That pooweh woman. I must call the fiwst officeh." Elsewhere, Duane and his people also hear the story. Tavi: "It might be useful to know if the rebels really did this or not." The picture switches to another reporter, at the bazaar where Amanda was snatched. Reporter: <to witness> "Tell us what you saw." Woman: "She was walking down the street, and a car came around the corner..."

Roberto's standard field of operations is several hundred kilometres away from the starport. Which means he might or might not be involved in the kidnapping. Dragon goes back to the Bonaventure. Duane and Tavi will head back towards the bay, looking for people - not law enforcement or press - who might be watching the ship. Dwayne will go back to the ship as well, but he's not looking for anything. Someone shoves a microphone in Dragon's face, to which she takes exception. The idiot won't back off, so she wraps the cord of his microphone around his throat. The other reporters zoom in on this. Dragon: <to the reporters> "You're next." She randomly grabs another one, but the police arrive to break things up with their clubs. They push the reporters back and set up a perimeter. The reporters will not go away, it's just too good a story: an attractive offworlder, not even involved in the politics of the planet - it's a TV movie waiting to be made. Tavi takes pictures of as many people as possible in the area around the ship. Just in case.

Max has been avoiding the news, especially the stories about how horrible the rebels are. The police carefully brief Max on what to do - keep them on the phone as long as possible, etc. Cop: "You should steel yourself to the possibility that she may already be dead. Don't send any ransom until you have some sort of proof of life." There's a cheery note.


After a sleepless night, the call comes. Voice: "The price has gone up. We want $10 million credits in two weeks, or we will kill her. As proof of our intentions, there is a package at general delivery." <click> No chance for Max to keep them talking, or even try to reason with them. And how the hell is he going to get $10 megacredits in two weeks??

Sparrow doesn't view Amanda's abduction as a possible part of her master plan (not being a member of the corporate hit squad), but she is genuinely concerned about what's being done about it. She decides to check on the other kidnappings, to see if she can get any useful information. Of the previous victims, three were returned, and seven have never been heard from again. The targets have been couple of offworlders, and wealthy locals. She gets all the information, tabloid and otherwise, makes copies, and takes it back to the ship. The local cops and military aren't really well trained when it comes to things like this. They treat each kidnapping as completely separate, and the police rotate who's in charge of these cases. Sparrow is horrified by this level of incompetence. She tries to get information from an earnest young police officer at the station, discreetly inquiring if he would be receptive to a "contribution", but he tells her "it's against the law to bribe an officer of the law. You're under arrest." Sparrow: "I didn't bribe you." Cop: "That's for a judge to decide. Assume the position." Sparrow: "No." The cop draws his weapon, and Sparrow books outside. Cop: "Halt! Police!" There's a bang above her head, and Sparrow keeps going. She ducks around a corner, and sees a couple of cops getting out of their car as they heard the shot. Sparrow dashes up to them and yells "My God! There's been a murder! You've got to help your friend!" They dart off around the corner, Sparrow continues to run, and then three cops come out of the alley after her. Tavi catches the last bit of this, as Sparrow runs past. Sparrow darts around a corner, into the crowd, takes off her jacket, reverses it to the other color, puts on her cap, and walks.

Another police officer pulls up, gets a briefing, and he steps out with his police dog Rex. Tavi takes the opportunity to bump into several cops to slow them down. That's all she can do without drawing attention to herself. The cops slow and fan out. Sparrow heads back to the police station. She does the reporter doing background research thing and is told she needs to talk to the PIO. Okay. He's an older cop, with a good smile and marketing hair. He's very polite and tells her absolutely nothing of any real use. Sparrow tries to carefully sound him out as to his openness to a "bonus". Either he's stupid, or he's ignoring her. He does give her a press kit, which contains nothing of any real use. Damn.

Max needs to go to pick up the package, although he doesn't want to. Sparrow has returned, and doesn't think Max should go by himself. Dwayne is the only other person there. She asks Dwayne to look through the paperwork she brought back, as he's very well educated; she'll go with Max. There is a small package for him in General Delivery; it was mailed from within the city. He takes it back to the ship, not wanting to open it at the post office. Sparrow: "This is just me being paranoid, but is there someone who can check it for demo?" Max: "It would be pretty stupid to blow up the person you want to give you money." He's got a point.

They return to the Bonaventure. The cop on the monitoring equipment asks about the package. Nothing that Sparrow or Max have seen has made them overly trusting of the local police. Max: "There wasn't one." Cop: "Damn." Sparrow: "Maybe they were just watching to see if one of you guys showed up to get it." Cop: "That's true." He goes back to resting his eyes.

Max and Sparrow go into the crews' common area and Max opens the package. Paling visibly, he recognizes the ring, and the finger attached to it. (Amanda had finally agreed to accept the engagement ring again, as long as she didn't' have to agree to a set date.) The finger was removed with some sort of wrench or cutting tool. Max hears the bridge whispering. He covers the box up, and goes to the bridge. There's something coming over the commo, and he hits record. Over commo: "Hector, over here! What's this?" Voice 2: "I don't know, better show it to the commander." <click> That would be Amanda's communicator. Max replays the tape (which started several seconds before he hit record, due to the ship's security measures), and can hear a clack noise, like something dropped. Then people talking in the distance, something rolling past, then the conversation. Max can get an accurate direction, but no distance. The device works mostly line of sight, but atmospheric conditions can effect this. A good guess is no less than 100 clicks away and no more than 200. It's a place to start. Max doesn't care about the money as long as Amanda is returned safely, but there's no way he can get them $10 million credits (they appear to be under the misguided impression that owning a ship means you're wealthy). Max can't sell the ship to raise the money, since he's one partner and Amanda would have to agree to the sale in writing, and he's too far from home to get money sent back in two weeks. He wraps and stores Amanda's finger in the freezer (not knowing what the hell else to do), after carefully removing the ring for safe-keeping.

Duane and Tavi hit the non-touristy bars around the area where Amanda was kidnapped. They're looking for information or sympathizers of the Golden Way. Tavi: <to Duane> "If you're so good, you should be able to go out into the jungle and show your fieldcraft by finding them." They split up outside, entering the bar separately - Duane to the bar and Tavi to a table. Tavi notices one of the girls is darker skinned, darker haired, and has a slightly different accent. She comes over to Tavi and asks if she can get her anything, rubs Tavi's shoulders, gets really friendly. Tavi chats with her, buys her a drink. Rosa is interested in Tavi because she's an offworlder - Rosa wants off of Menorb, and a way to Regina." Tavi: "Trust me, the street of Regina is no better than the street here. As a matter of fact, it's worse." Rosa knows what Regina is like, she's seen Major Case Squad! Oh boy. Tavi tries telling Rosa that she needs skills or talents or money or friends. Rosa: "Maybe you know someone? I would be willing to work for passage..." Tavi: "I have a difficult time imagining anything a person could do that would be worth several passages. However..." Rosa: "You obviously have something in mind, let's hear it." Tavi wants an introduction to people who could help her get her hands on items of value. A bit too nebulous. Rosa: "Hey, I know what entrapment is, cop." Tavi laughs and swears at her in Zhodani. Duane is given the warning, passed through the bar, that there's a cop in the place. That would be Tavi.

Dwayne has been researching, using the information Sparrow gave him. These people kidnap the right kind of targets, but they've run up against companies who have a policy of not paying ransom. Oh well - that explains all the non-returned victims. The ransom demands have tended to be reasonable (so to speak) for the targets. Dwayne figures they've really screwed up this time, and don't have a clue as to the ragged margin of error for a small ship's captain.

In the bar, Duane is Rosa's next target. They chat, he buys her a few drinks. She's amenable to providing companionship for a reasonable fee, by the hour or night. She's good at what she does, and makes it almost sound like she's flirting for personal reasons. Duane doesn't turn her down, and continues chatting to try to get some information about her. She grew up in a farming village, but wants away from the place permanently. Duane steers the conversation to the rebels and the kidnapping. Rosa: "Well the rebels, that's nothing new. That's been going on for years. The kidnappings happen every so often. But I heard it was some rich ship owner." Duane: "Probably." Rosa: "Her family will either pay the ransom and she'll be released, or..." She shrugs. Duane: "Tell me, where would a recently arrived offworlder find a place to sleep?" Rosa's place is down the street, or there are a couple of good hotels nearby. Duane: "A good hotel." Rosa can show him where the hotels are if he likes. Duane: "We'll take a cab." Rosa: "Okay."

Tavi goes back to her hotel, and makes a call to the Bonaventure. Max: "Yes?" Tavi: "This is former passenger Tavi. I understand there's been a bit of a problem." Max: "Yes, that's correct." Tavi: "You now have a standard offer for dinner where I'm staying, if you can get away or want to." Max: "There's nothing I can do here." Tavi wanted to get on tape the issue of her having been a passenger on the ship, for the sake of any taps on the line. Dwayne lets Max in on what he's been able to piece together. Dwayne: "These people are mistaken, and wuthless. I'm afwaid you may have to take action." Dwayne is horrified about this whole situation, and will do whatever he can to help. Max is grateful, he just isn't sure what to do.

In his hotel room, Duane gets the story of his companion's life. Rosa Escalera was raised poor, and when the army came through and destroyed half the village, she decided to leave. She came to the city with a soldier. She had no intention of staying in the muddy farm and marrying a pig farmer. She wants to go to Regina and become a movie star. She's not a bad person, but she doesn't want to be a farmer. Duane manages to get the conversation back again to his primary interest: the rebels. Duane: "I hear they're hiring offworld commandos to train them." Rosa: "Not really." She's heard that some offworld do-gooders volunteered. She goes off about the rebels being "stupid, and never going to accomplish anything, and how the stupid idealists just go off and leave their girlfriend, and take off into the hills..." Hmmm, sounds like she's got a particular person in mind. From Rosa's point of view the government does treat the original settlers like annoying sub-humans, but the government is going to win, so why kill yourself over it? She's had more mileage than the average person her age - 35 years of experience in her 22 years. After some non-verbal interactions, Duane nicely gets her to leave, but with an opening maybe for later. She knows where he's staying. She tells him she really enjoyed his company, and he knows where to find her. She will not take the proffered money.

Max accepts dinner with Tavi, since he has got to get out of the ship before he goes crazy. On the way to the hotel, Max passes an electronics store with the local news on. "Randall Hardtford was gunned down today in a hail of bullets. Intruders burst into his house and shot him to death. It's believed to be the work of the terrorist group known as the Golden Way." They have been busy. Dinner is fairly quiet. Tavi discusses the crème brulée, but nothing more serious unless Max brings it up. He doesn't. Sparrow is stuck on the Bonaventure with Dwayne, who's desperately trying to figure out a clever plan. Dwayne: "I have a letter from stockholders, and the mining company is vewy important hewe. Perhaps..." Dwayne: <looking at Sparrow> "No no, we'd have to put you into something more, Armani I think. We need clothiers."

After dinner, Tavi broaches the unpleasant subject. Tavi: "At the risk of being indelicate, I can fly your ship. If, for example, you needed to go a few hundred kilometres away." Max: "I'll keep that in mind. The police are fucking useless." Tavi: "Do you have a negotiator yet?" Max: "A negotiator?" Tavi: "Sure. Having dealt with these sort of people before, not as a negotiator mind you, it's not impossible to get them to agree to a lower amount. I don't know what you're funds are like, but....". She details haggling. Max: "They haven't given me any way to contact them." Tavi: "They'll have to contact you again, if for nothing more than their ego, to show they've got power over you. If nothing else, you may be able to get more time." Max: "I may have an idea where she is on planet, or at least where she was recently." Tavi: "That's a start." Max: "I don't even know if she's alive; I do know they've already hurt her." Tavi: "Whenever they next call you, and it will be soon, try to get something. More time, whatever." Max agrees, and returns to the ship.

Sparrow: <to Max> "Do you happen to have Amanda's fingerprints on file?" Max: "No. I have a retina print, and basic DNA information for identification." Sparrow: "Okay, this is a gruesome suggestion, but you might want to check and see if it really is her finger. They might have taken her ring, and cut the finger off of someone else." Max: "I don't know how to do that." Sparrow: "It would mean telling the police that you got the package. It might at least help to know for sure. You might be able to sleep at least once you know." Max agrees and calls the police station. Max: "May I speak with Detective Green?" Officer: "I'm sorry, he works day shift." Max asks if there's anyone there now he can speak with about the kidnapping, and is transferred to a Sergeant Cristobal, who's apparently eating doughnuts or something, and isn't terribly interested or helpful. Max: "Perhaps I should just come there." Cristobal: "Suit yourself." <click> Sparrow: <to Max> "He could come here, but he'd have to leave his food." Max: "Maybe I should call back and just ask if they have anyone competent." He decides he'll wait until the morning, rather than going tonight and making matters worse by throttling some idiot cop.


Dwayne wants to get Sparrow duded up to act as his security consultant. Sparrow suggests Tavi instead. Since Max knows where Tavi is staying, Sparrow calls and asks. Tavi is willing, but she does have another job to do here, and this would delay her. Sparrow: "Well, tell us what you want." Tavi: "To start with, perhaps free passage back." Sparrow: "I can't promise that." Tavi decides to go along with the plan any way, banking on Max's cooperation later. (Hell, if necessary, Tavi can fly the ship and force Max to do the nav stuff - at gun point if need be.)

Since it's now day shift, Max goes with a nicely dressed Sparrow to the police. Det. Green is very friendly and attentive. Max sets the package on the table. Green: "For me? You shouldn't have." Max: "No, it was for me." Sparrow: "We went there again this morning and the package was there." Green opens the box, and Sparrow explains about wanting to have the finger tested to confirm identity. Green: "Isn't it hers?" Sparrow: "Probably, but we want to make certain." Green: "Well, we could have it sent off for testing, but it would take a week or two." Sparrow: "A week or two isn't terribly helpful." Green: "We're doing everything we can." Sparrow: "Are you?" Green: "We have other cases we're working on too. And we don't have the facilities to run that sort of test in less time." Max: "Is there anybody, any company who might have high enough tech to help?" Green: "You might try talking to someone at the mining company. If anyone has the technology, they will." Max: "Do you have a contact number?" Green: "Sure." He gives Max a number. Green: <to Max> "These things usually work themselves out." Sparrow: "According to the papers, it usually works itself out in either death or capitulation, and since we don't have $10 million credits..." They leave.

On return to the ship, there's a message on the machine. Voice: "You shouldn't have seen the police. Now you only have eleven days, and there'll be another package for you." Sparrow goes to general delivery and stakes it out. There are quite a few deliveries, but she takes notes on people who leave packages at General Delivery, their cars, etc. She calls back to the ship, and ask Max to call in and check. He does, and yes, there's a package. Max heads over, and picks it up. He and Sparrow return to the ship, and open the box. There's another finger, the small finger of the same hand the first finger came off of. There's also a note: "Eleven days, eight fingers left." Sparrow: "My God. These people are horrible."

While Max is trying to collect himself, Sparrow checks on the license plates she wrote down. One vehicle is registered to Easy Mail, and the other is a common carrier that delivers mail. Sparrow calls first one, then the other. She explains that she received this package, and was supposed to return part of it, but the address is blurred and she can't read it. Could they help? Of course. One package was sent by Hugo Gerspacher, and one by John Smith. She takes a cab to the Smith address, figuring Smith is the most obvious fake name. It's a little tiny shop stuffed between two buildings. Smith and Sons Fine Watch Repairs. Oh. She tries the Gerspacher address, and it's the office of the Menorb Mining company. She goes to a public phone, calls the mining company, and asks for Hugo Gerspacher. He's on the phone, but they can put Sparrow through to his voicemail if she'd like? She'd like. Hugo: "Hi, you've reached Hugo in Engineering. I'm not available..." She hangs up.

Tavi is certainly willing to let Dwayne spend money on her new clothing. Dwayne: "And I shall wear an ascot. <conspiratorially> People always mistake you for a foofy noble if you wear an ascot." They go to the police station and Dwayne demands to see the chief. He's told he'll have to wait and fill out a form, and is dismissed. Dwayne won't wait, he just storms past. First the sergeant intercepts him, then the captain. But the raging noble isn't being calmed down. The PIO person is sent down, and is very calming. He can't just let Dwayne's "personal assistant" loose in the files, but she is given pages with some information blacked out. The basic MO for the abductions is several people armed people driving up and ordering the victim at gunpoint into the car. The cars are stolen, then burned or dumped in the ocean. They don't have much evidence at all really. They did debrief the released prisoners, but they weren't helpful. They were kept in a hut, hooded and fed. Yes, a couple of them did have bits cut off. There have been a couple of times when they kidnapped someone and then let them go within hours, apparently having discovered they weren't good candidates for ransom. Tavi: <to Dwayne> "If we find evidence that the locals can't handle, there are Imperial authorities on the starport. Maybe we can get them to deal with it." Dwayne: "Short of us staging an attempted kidnapping on the starport, I don't know how we can intewest the Impewium. The local police haven't asked for help. If she was someone weally impohtant, Max would have said something. And we've waited too long to make heh sound important, unless there weally is a Navy ship in owbit." This is discussed at length.

Duane looks into renting a rotary wing craft. And checks into skydiving in the area. The other one, Dwayne, makes his delivery of the donation of football equipment, and this time he doesn't want to be anonymous. He's formulating a clever plan.

Max decides to make a phone call, but not from the ship. Max tells Sparrow what he's doing, and tells her she can come along, which she does. He takes a copy of the radio broadcast he taped, since there's a part in Spanish he can't understand. Before calling the number Green gave him, Max looks up information on the mining company. The executive VP, a man named Hardtford, was recently assassinated. The CEO is on planet, but he's from Regina. He's a corporate guy, Rufus McCloud. He's an older man who leaves most of the day to day stuff to the executive VP. There are four or five Veeps that are probably running things now. The executive secretary of the VP of operations seems to be the person to talk to for what Max wants. (All that admin experience pays off.)

Tavi goes to the Starport Authority. Surely there is someone there with respect for an SEH holder. She's sure they find what goes on locally rather entertaining. Tavi: "I'm sure you have some equipment that can track transmissions." Marine: "Sure." Tavi: "I'd like to borrow it." Marine: "You're not going to use it for any illegal activity?" Tavi: "Your officer can attest to it. I represent other... security departments. I was sent here on an emergency, to help an Imperial citizen." They won't let her take it, but she can use it here. She gives them the info on the call they expect tomorrow, not saying specifically it's from the kidnappers. She leaves a case of good booze, and sort of promises a shipment of Jenghe Rana beer at a later date. The tech is young and just out of the academy. Tavi knows how to be real friendly.

Duane invites Rosa to lunch. She shows up - he's not unattractive, and he has money. He invites her Duane: "You want to go to Regina?" Rosa: "Yes." Duane: "How badly?" Rosa: "What does that mean?" Duane: "I want to meet some people." Rosa: "What kind of people?" Duane: "People who tend to shy away from the city." Rosa: "Lots of people prefer the country." Duane: "You know who I mean." Rosa: "I don't know anyone in the Resistance, but I know some people who might." Duane: "Introduce me to them." Rosa doesn't have phone numbers, but she can maybe make some arrangements. It will mean leaving the city. They rent a car, get some bottled water, a small backpack, a folding shovel, a hatchet, a couple days of food, and a really good sleeping bag and hammock with mosquito netting. And parachute cord. And black boot polish. Duane does the shopping. They leave the city.

Dwayne contacts the local polo club. It has reciprocal agreements with his club, so he arranges for a little soirée to raise money for Gamas' foundation. Yes, he's trying to get himself kidnapped. He calls Sparrow. Dwayne: "A twanspondew." Sparrow: "A what?" Dwayne: "A twanspondew! Something to twack on the wadio. I've stawted in pwogwess a cleveh plan." Sparrow: "You're trying to make yourself a target." Dwayne: "I've got to do something!" Sparrow: "I'd like to contact Tavi, she probably has more experience with this." She eventually tracks down Tavi, but Tavi doesn't have electronics training. Tavi: "Let me see what I can do." <click>

Max gets through to the executive secretary, and explains about his fiancée being kidnapped. Secretary: "Oh, that's simply awful! I'm sure the authorities are doing the best they can." Max: "The authorities don't have the technology do deal with this." He explains what he needs done. Thank God for liaison, and the fact that the secretary can tell how emotionally distraught Max is. Of course she'll make arrangements.

Then it's a trip to the Menorb Mining offices, where the technician runs the quick test, using the DNA information Max had in the ship's records. The two "parts" came from the same person. They can't say for sure that the DNA matches Amanda's, but the odds are a billion to one that it's her, and since there aren't that many people on Menorb... Unfortunately, the technician then decides to provide even more information, to demonstrate his expertise. Tech: "Now this finger here was ripped out. The tool was fairly dull, and..." He continues on in a really graphic fashion about the bones being crushed, the nerve damage and pain it would have caused... Max: "Please stop. Thank you." He arranges to have the DNA results sent to Detective Green, along with the properly (medically) preserved physical evidence. He makes a stop in the men's room, before heading back to the starport.

Speaking of the starport, Tavi is chatting with her new friends in the STA about the kidnappings. Tavi: "If I had a friend, and he thought he fit the profile of the people who'd been snatched, and was willing to help out..." Marine: "Believe me, we've thought of that, we've even suggested it to the locals. They don't want our help." Tavi: "But if he were to do this, and wanted to have some sort of transponder or locator so he could be found, where could one be acquired?" Marine: "Not here. If we wanted to do that, we'd have to get it from Boughene." Another clever plan shot down in flames.

The press release about the donation hits the newswires. "Dwayne Fairhaven... member of a noble family....local children..." and on, and on, and on. Dwayne comes off as a true philanthropist, someone who isn't concerned with politics, and honestly just wants to do good work.

Duane is off on his trip with Rosa to meet some people. Rosa warns him that the tavern they're going to is a bit rough. Duane: "Whatever." After a couple of hours, they stop at the Cantina del Toro on the outskirts of a village. It's a real dive. The chimney isn't properly vented, which means there's a rather cloudy atmosphere. They step in and every head turns. Duane steps up to the bar and orders a beer. It's poured, and Duane puts down a $5 credit note. Bartender: "What am I supposed to do with that?" Duane: "I hear the exchange rate is pretty good." Rosa explains that the locals feel that paper money is tracked by the government, and that they can hear what you're saying or even monitor your thoughts through them. Argh. Duane picks up the $5 credit note says "Fuck you!" into it and puts it down. Duane: "All I want is a friggin' beer." Rosa gives him some local currency, then fades back. A couple of men come over and sit to either side of Duane. Local: "We hear you've been poking around looking for information?" Dumb local: "Yeah." Duane: "Looking for work." Local: "What kind of work?" Duane: "Training." Local: "What are you, some kind of instructor?" Dumb local: "Yeah." Duane draws his wrecking bar incredibly quickly and slams the dumb guy in the ribs before he or his friend can react, then steps back from the bar. How rude! The other guy moves towards Duane and gets whacked right in the groin for his troubles; he curls into a ball. There's a clack-clack from behind Duane. Man: "Put down the crowbar." Duane sets the bar down then turns slowly. It's the bartender with a short shotgun. Then someone uses a baseball bat to slam Duane in the kidneys. He goes down, losing consciousness. He has the feeling of being dragged across the floor.

Meanwhile. After a cab ride back to the ship, Max arrives to find a couple of men looking over the ship, measuring it. Max: "Excuse me, what are you doing here?" Man: "Are you connected with this vessel?" Max: "Yes." Man: "We heard it was for sale." Max: "What gave you that idea?" Man: "Well, one hears things." Max: "One hears things from where?" Man: That's not important. I can make you a good offer." Max: "In order for me to sell this ship, I would need my partner. She's unavailable. Why don't you leave me your card?" Man: "All right." He leaves, Max goes into the ship. And without having strangled anyone. Such restraint.

Duane is awoken by cold water. He's handcuffed, and his feet are tied, and he's surrounded by men in balaclavas. Man: "You wanted to meet with the rebels. Why?" Duane: "I was looking for work." Man: "You're lying." Duane: <sarcastically> "Right." Man: "You're a professional mercenary. You know we're not paying any outrageous sums, and you don't look like an idealist." Duane: "Because you can use my help." Man: "Uh-huh. Who sent you?" Duane: "Who sent me?" Man: "Yes. Why are you here? You're not from this planet. You probably hadn't even heard about this planet." Duane: "I read about what's going on here. In Le Mercenaire." Man: "We have no money to pay for mercenaries who are here looking to make a lot of money." Man: "I'm not looking to make a lot of money." Man: "Then why are you here?" Duane: "Let's just say the mining companies have more than you as an enemy." Man: "We will think about your offer and make contact with you. <to one of his men> Take him back to the bar." He's hooded, then pushed into what he figures is a car trunk and driven over very rough roads. The car stops, he's pulled out, his hands uncuffed, then the car screeches off. He doesn't turn around, just removes the hood and unties his feet. It's been several hours, but Rosa is still at the bar. Duane: "Ready to head back?" Rosa: "Did you find what you were looking for?" Duane: "Yes. Let's go - we have to arrange for your transport. You drive." She manages to drive, just, but Duane doesn't care. They get to the starport, he gets his bag out of the locker so he's armed, and then goes to the local trauma center. He gets treated, and gets medication that helps a bit. He's told to come back in a week for a check up.

Duane gives Rosa his high passage for the month (he's a TAS member), to use to go to Regina. She leaps up, wraps her legs around him, and gives him a full body kiss that makes him feel like it would be almost worth going with her. On some planets this would mean they're engaged. Rosa: "Come and look me up on Regina." Duane goes to a messenger service, and sends a message to Tavi telling her where he's staying and that he needs a doctor. Tavi gets it eventually, and asks Max if he knows anyone with medical. Max: "Here? No." Turns out one person in the party does have at least some medical training: Dwayne. Oh no. Tavi takes Dwayne to see Duane, who is not thrilled. One shot of Regen™ later though, Duane feels much better. Now Duane owes the foofy noble. Or maybe Duane considers them even now. He asks to speak with Tavi alone, and tells her he's made contact with the rebels. Tavi: "It looks like they made contact with you." Duane: "I made them an offer, but I'm not much of a salesman." On the other hand, they did say they'd think about it.

To be continued...