"The next best thing to knowing something is knowing where to find it."-- Samuel Johnson
On board a nice, but somewhat older 1,000 ton liner/cargo vessel. Thirteen passengers currently, and six crew. Goerrugz (pronounced Gvrougks, sort of, if you're a human) isn't working this trip, he's travelling first class. How posh of him. En route back to Regina from El Fahaz are Frank O'Malley and Emma Walsh, as well as Nicolai Volkov. The ship makes a scheduled layover on Extolay to refuel, drop off and pick up cargo and passengers. However, there's a delay.
The passengers get off the ship and go through customs/health, since they're scheduled to be on planet for twelve hours. It's almost back to being an A class starport, and there's only a trace amount of radiation left. Frank spots a guy in an IBI raid jacket, but he doesn't know him. Nicolai goes to check with the purser about how long they'll be in port, but the purser is talking to the IBI guy. Fed: "...Yeah, and this is an Imperial warrant. One more word and you're in the cell. Come on, hand it over." Purser: <handing over papers> "That's the entire list, sir. Passengers and crew." Hey, none of Nicolai's business.
Frank wants to go to a real bar - one without patrons with ties, one with a sticky floor. Not the ship's lounge. But, the fed's looking at the passenger list, so Frank wanders over to eavesdrop. The fed stops Nicolai. Fed: "What's your name?" Nicolai: "Frank Sinclair. Is there a problem?" Fed: <looking at a readout> "No sir, that's fine." Nicolai does notice the little silver boxes the size of dice on a couple of IBI guys. Psi-shields. Well, well.
There's a bit of a scene, involving a man using his title. Yelling man: "...I am the Marquis of Alliston. I am a personal friend of the Duke and I can guarantee you there are no Zhodani on board my yacht!" There's a Police Line Do Not Cross tape in front of his yacht's docking gate, and as the passengers leave the liner the tape is put up around their gate too. Frank: "I'd say we're going to be here longer than twelve hours." Emma: "What was your first clue?"
Just pass through this metal detector on the way onto the starport... What??? They don't appear to be stopping people for having weapons though. Shelly is asked to step off to one side while they check her hand luggage and send her through another scanner. It feels kind of weird when Goerrugz goes through the portal, he feels like puffing up. Urr? Shelly asks that some of her baggage be hand-checked, as she's concerned about what the scanners might do to the delicate electronics.
Fed: <to Nicolai> "Mr. Sinclair, you have identification?" Nicolai: "Yes." Fed: "Papers please." Nicolai hands them over. He does not have Frank Sinclair's ID, and a little red light flashes on the clipboard when they scan his ID. Fed: "I see. One moment, Mr. Volkov." An older man comes over. Senior Fed: "Mr. Volkov. Should anyone offer you money to get someone or something off planet, I would suggest you remember your tenuous citizenship issues. If someone contacts you, call me." It's not phrased as a request. A business card is handed over.
Will Delgado, heading back to Regina after a conference, is also now stuck going through this mess on Extolay. He hands over his ID when asked. Senior Fed: "Ah, an officer of the court. Dr. Delgado?" Will: Yes." Senior Fed: "Special Agent Schoern." [The other agents are much more efficient when he's there to watch them.] Schoern: "I apologize for the delay. We'll have you on your way as soon as possible." Will: "Not a problem. I'm on my way back to Regina after a business conference, I'm not in a hurry." He notices that this section of the port looks and smells very new. The artificial plants aren't even dusty yet. Extolay is still recovering from the influx of five and a half million refugees, then being fought over (literally) by the Imperials and the Zhodanis, and everything. On planet it's still a mess. The captain of the liner has joined the Marquis to protest, but he and the Marquis are carted away. Will leaves his pager number with the purser so he can be notified when the ship will be leaving.
Goerrugz: "Hey Shelly, let's go hit the bars." Shelly: "I'm game, if they'll let me go." They do, but only after she's been warned to contact them if anyone asks her to smuggle a person or object. Shelly: "I wouldn't do that, that's illegal." Yeah, with her "record for being rounded up and detained forty-odd times by Regina authorities, and no arrests...Right. Shelly: "What? I'm female and blonde, do the math!" She is so going to get Globber some day.
Everyone notices that the Departures board now reads Delayed. For all the ships. Oh-oh. Frank: "They're probably after someone. Whatever." He doesn't rile easily, does Frank. Good thing. And it's not like Frank or Emma have to hurry back to Regina for anything. Will: "Is there anything I can do to help?" Schoerne: "No thank you. The IBI has everything under control." [Run!!!
Nicolai finds a liquor store and asks for Créme de Violette. Nope. No, but it's on order. Nicolai: "How much are you expecting in?" Clerk: "Just one bottle, sir." They apparently need to have one bottle of everything on their list. They're very particular about that. Nicolai asks to reserve the bottle, but that would mean they would have sold the only bottle they had, and would have to order a new one...Well, okay. Maybe Nicolai wants to send Mr. Black a prezzie?
Frank notices Shelly on the port. He's seen her before, on the ship, but it's only now (off the ship) registered where he knew her from before that. He's seen her and that Vargr she's with before. Frank: <to Em> "Hey - take a look at those two. I've picked them up before. Let's have some fun, we'll see where they go." It's hard to give up being a cop.
Every so often the announcement is made that "The Imperial authorities have assured us that the delay is only temporary. There is no need to be alarmed." Uh-huh. Em calls to make a room reservation before all the displaced passengers hit the hotels. The lowest price for a decent hotel is $80 creds a night for single, king size bed. Emma: "I'll take it." Clerk: "For how many nights?" Emma: "Two, with an option to extend." Clerk: "Very good, ma'am." She goes off to find Frank, who continued on after Shelly. There are many people in the bar, conveniently located in the hotel.
Nicolai calls to find a room. Clerk: "What company are you with sir?" Nicolai: "SuSAG." Nicolai gives him a company name and an ID number when asked. Clerk: "Very good Mr. Sanchez." Another alias for Mr. Volkov.
It's busy in the bar. Lots of people in transit, watching a thirty year old classic grav ball game, it's still boring. Will looks around for some one to gamble with. Nothing official, but there's a cribbage game going, for a credit a point. There's an attractive female talking to people and writing things down in a planner. Frank gets a table and sits down where he can watch Shelly. Nicolai also goes to the hotel bar, and up to the bar. He orders milk. Bartender: "What kind of milk, sir? Whole milk, skim milk?" Nicolai: "Whole milk. And tea." Bartender: "Yes sir."
Businessman: "...Well how long will this situation last? I'm already a week late!" Goerrugz doesn't order Vargr beer - he doesn't like Vargr beer (he wasn't raised by Vargrs). He does however like really dark human beer. Frank got the second best table, as the best tactical table has a couple of men in fatigues at it. Nicolai just grabs a table. Em catches up with Frank.
Drunk: <to Shelly> "So, what are you doing here?" It's a guy, he's had too much to drink, and he's checking out Shelly's eyes. Shelly: "They're up here." (And they're not brown.) Oh. He's bored, she's new and cute, and she's not with a really big guy, like Frank. Speaking of the cops, a guy comes in wearing plainclothes - cop alert. He looks around and leaves.
Man: "They still haven't found what they're looking for. Bloody hell." Second man: "It's an unavoidable delay, you're on an expense account, enjoy it!" First man: "That's fine if you're getting old, and don't want to make a name for yourself, and stay in the territories!" Ah, salesmen. Will gets into the crib game once a seat becomes available. He makes sure its not ten creds a point before he sits down.
Goerrugz starts juggling. This attracts attention - he's new! He's entertaining, and he's drawing in more customers so he's allowed to continue. Shelly provides accompaniment, and an open case for tips. (Card reader on one end.) And after he gets tired, Goerrugz switches to hit keyboard and he and Shelly can duel.
An STA cop shows up, in uniform. Man: "So officer, what do you hear..?" Cop: "Sorry, the IBI's in charge of that." Frank orders bar snacks. Em: "Ooh, chili fries!" Frank hates the fact that she can eat that stuff and still look like that. Not that this stops him from looking.
Will loses about $30 creds, and learns that the players arrived just before the IBI did. That was two and a half days ago, and more and more is being shut down. Guess it's going to be a much longer wait than anticipated.
Midnight. Frank: "Hey, Emma, let's follow them. Rotating tail." Emma: "Okay." They follow them to the hotel, and then about twenty people coming into the hotel lobby complaining about being delayed. Man: "...Well, if they're powering done the drives, we're going to be here for at least twenty-four hours." Young man: "We'll have to find something to - hello?" He's spotted Emma. Nice teeth, youngish man, no doubt considers himself a good catch. Emma: "Hello." Young man: "So, are you stuck on this dirtball too?"
No rooms left for Goerrugz and Shelly, and no drawers have been installed in the UpPort yet. Goerrugz: <to clerk> "No rooms? At any price?" Clerk: <looking at him> "They may be out of your...range, sir." Goerrugz I'm on an expense account, the McHeaths' will reimburse me." Clerk: "There is one suite left, at $500 credits a night.? Goerrugz takes it. It had better be a good suite for that price. Clerk: "Your luggage, sir?" Goerrugz: "Mostly on the ship, which I can't get to." Clerk: "Oh, you can have that delivered, sir." Goerrugz: "Cool." He and Shelly call for their clothing and stuff.
Nicolai goes over to say hi to Frank. Nicolai: "Hey Frank." Frank: "Nick!" He throws a friendly punch to the gut, which is intercepted.
Emma: "Yes, I'm stuck here too." Young man: "I see." He hands her his card. Whee. His friend is smiling too. Dream on.
Frank: "Let me buy you a drink, Nick. What are you drinkin'?" Nicolai: "Tea." Frank: "Tea is for wusses."
Everyone eventually ends up in their respective rooms. During the night, but before they go to sleep, the cops and an agent show up to search everyone's rooms. Nicolai opens the door then slams it shut. The pass key is used. Nicolai: "What are you guys looking for, maybe I can help?"
One of the men has a glowing, Imperial warrant. They've got their "in pursuit of Ine Givar terrorist" warrant. Nicolai: "Hmm, let me see. Do I have an Ine Givar terrorist in the room? No." They don't particularly care, and search his room any way.
The authorities are much more polite when they check out Dr. Delgado's room. When Will inquires, they tell him they're looking for someone who's been tracked to Extolay. A man named Zarhan - a known Ine Givar terrorist. And they're working off a very broad warrant. Will's heard about this guy, a leftover from the war, and he's very high on the wanted list.
The police get to Frank and Emma's room. Frank answers the door. Frank: "Sure, come on in. <to Em> You might want to throw something on." Cop: "Or not." Em tosses one of Frank's T-shirts on, she's getting used to this. It doesn't take long to search the place. Agent: "Please don't leave your hotel." Emma: "Tonight? Ever?" Agent: "Until you're advised that it's safe to do so." The IBI guy and the cop leave. Frank: "So, what do you think of our friends - poor entertainers, staying in the presidential suite?" Emma: "Maybe they've scored something recently, or they've got a patron." Frank: "Sounds like the Jenghe Fever [hah!] outbreak on Regina." Everyone goes back to sleep (eventually) until a more reasonable hour.
Will is visited by the IBI guys. Agent: "Doctor, could you assist with a DNA sample?" Will: "Sure, what do you want done with it?" Agent: "We need a confirmation, to preserve the chain of evidence." Will: "Sure." He's given a ride down to see a man on a slab. A sample is taken from the brain (just in case). Will runs the test, and the results show nothing weird, just the usual standard Imperial mix. He makes the desired checks for the authorities. Will: "Sorry, not your man." (No tags for latent psionics.)
The only thing that's different on the port today is that no ships are being allowed to dock, and no one is allowed out of their hotels. Sigh. After repeated, really good bouncy, Frank (a man with good endurance, who takes direction) and Em go to breakfast.
Nicolai goes in search of the gym. It's not great, it's very busy, and there's a line for the equipment. The line is out in the hall, as there's a heat signature limit. They'll start a sign-up sheet. Nick is getting really cranky.
Shelly is worried about paying the bills. Goerrugz is taking advantage of as many freebies that come with the suite. They come downstairs for breakfast as well.
Frank: "Since we're stuck here, want to stir things up?" Emma: "What did you have in mind?" Frank: "We could strike up a conversation with the young lady and her Vargr friend." There isn't anything interesting on the tri-dee.
By lunchtime, there is nothing fresh on the menu, like fresh meat, or veggies. Bugger. Nicolai eventually gets to work out on in the gym. He stays a long time, but he heads downstairs for food too, eventually.
Somebody's getting a lot of business - it's the nicely dressed woman who was in the bar before. She makes a lot of uh, appointments with gentlemen. On his way through the lobby Nicolai runs into a couple of policemen. (Not literally.) There are unhappy people in the lobby, complaining about being stuck there. Nicolai: <to cops> "Looks like you could use some help." Cop: "It's under control, sir." Nicolai: "Yeah, that's why I'm locked in my hotel." The rumor going around now is that the IBI is having the Navy pull up the grav plates. If the guy they're looking for does show up, the captives are going to give him such hell.... There is grumbling among the captives. Nick is feeling really cranky, and doesn't want to join anyone for dinner.
Frank, with Emma in his wake, goes over to join Goerrugz and Shelly. Goerrugz: "So, to what do we owe this pleasure, sir and ma'am?" Emma: "Emma." Goerrugz: "Emma. To what do we owe this honor?" Frank: "We thought, since we're all trapped here, and all..." Goerrugz: "Sure, sit down." They sit. Frank: "What brings you to Extolay?" Shelly: "It's between where we were and home." Frank: "Tips must be good, since you're staying in the Presidential Suite." Shelly: "Not bad, but it was the only place available." Goerrugz: "I'm on an expense account." No one at this table has a high enough social standing to notice the food isn't up to the hotels standards, so they have a fine meal.
It's entertaining when the Marquis shows up in an orange jumpsuit. He doesn't have a room, but one of his men does. But that would be completely inadequate for the Marquis! Sensing a good deal possibility, Goerrugz goes over to speak with the Marquis. Goerrugz: "It just so happens that I have a much larger suite than I need, and I'd be willing to trade rooms, for $1,000 credits a night." Marquis: "Pay the man." Whoohoo! Room exchanges are arranged. Frank: "I'd make sure the fixtures are still there before you swap."
Patron: "Shut that off!!" The announcement is running again. "..will be resolved shortly...." Yeah, right.
Nothing interesting happens until that night, when everyone's back in the bar again. Voices are raised in anger, a man grabs the arm of the woman with the planner. Man: "What do you mean? You've been peddling it all over!" He's hassling the working girl. Dummy. He's got a load on, and Frank's bored. Frank: "Is this guy bothering you, ma'am?" Nick is shadowing him, he's bored too. Jerk: "Yeah, your girl's costing you money." Emma: <from the table> "I am not!" Jerk: "Is she gonna be taking over for this rag?" Frank palms his ASP baton, unextended, and covertly punts the idiot in the gut, as Nicolai just hits the man (Nicolai has one nerve left and this guy's on it.) The drunk whacks Nicolai ineffectually up the side of the head. Frank shoves him away, gets in Nicolai's face. Frank: "Hey, I saw him first. Get your own drunk!" Nicolai: "What gives you the right to lay claim to every drunk?" Shelly is adding sound track music. Waiter: "Gentlemen, gentlemen!" Frank: <to Nicolai> "You should go back to your own f***ing part of space!" Nicolai: "It's a free universe. I can go where I like." Frank: "Yeah, there's one of you under every rock here. First you don't drink like a man, now you go poaching other people's drunks. With people like you it's no wonder we beat off the Solomani in the last war." Nicolai: "With breath like yours, you could fend off a Virushi." Cop: "Gentlemen, that's enough." He's wearing jack armor, not the usual. Frank: "Sorry about that officer, but this Solomani was bad-mouthing the Emperor." Shelly adds a confused note to the music. Cop: "All right, all right. I said that's enough." He separates them and checks on the moron on the ground as Frank and Nicolai glare at each other. More cops show up, ask questions. Will: "That man on the floor was drunk and starting trouble." There are plenty of witnesses to the intellectual inadequacies of the unconscious man.
A rather mousy-looking male approaches Shelly and Goerrugz back away from the fight. Man: "Uh, excuse me, miss? What is your name?" Shelly looks at him. Shelly: "My name is Shelly." Man: "And your companion, sir?" Goerrugz: "It's Goerrugz. What's your name?" Man: "My employer is Mr. Jones." Goerrugz: "That doesn't tell us your name." Man: "That's not important. I just work for Mr. Jones." Goerrugz: "Your name is....?" Shelly: "Let's call him Bob!" The little man leaves. Goerrugz checks for a reverse pickpocket routine. Sure enough, they've both been dropped very high tech envelopes. Goerrugz decides to pass them both on to Frank. This doesn't work. Something prevents the envelope from going in - there's resistance as it gets close to the pocket. Shelly pulls back at the last minute, but Goerrugz screws up. Oops. Goerrugz: "Hey, you dropped this, mister." Frank grabs his hand. Frank: "What are you doing?" It's a subpoena envelope, or at least Frank recognizes it as one. Frank: "Did that female orifice send you? Are you working for my ex-wife, you bastard?" He takes the envelope and it doesn't pop open like it should. Goerrugz backs away. Frank: "What the hell is this?" He hands it to Em, who looks at it. It looks just like the same kind that's in her pocket... Emma: "Party favors? What's up?" Frank: "We'll need to have a chat with that Vargr." He cracks his knuckles. Shelly has taken the opportunity to drop her envelope at the front desk, for a random room number.
Shelly's getting a headache, mostly from the calming music they've been playing on the sound system, over and over and over. They go to the lobby to play their own music. It's a public place, which Goerrugz wants, since he's ticked off Frank. There are a couple of the mercs sitting in the lobby, musing over why, after all they've been through, they're sitting in the lobby listening to a Vargr and a small blonde human. Shelly: "We take requests!"
Nicolai looks around as the mercs look quizzically at their envelopes. Does everyone have one but him? Nope, he has one in his pocket too. He's seen them before, but why isn't this one keyed and opening? Will finds one and calls the IBI. After forty-five minutes they show up to talk to him. Agent: "You touched it and nothing happened? It didn't open?" Will: "I took it out of my pocket, but I didn't try to open it. It's not mine." Agent: "You don't know where it came from?" Will: "No."
This bears further investigation, and Frank is questioned. Agent: "Have you seen anyone suspicious?" Frank: "Oh yeah! In fact, one of them tried to plant this <the envelope> on me." Agent: "Really? Can you describe him?" Frank: "Vargr, five four maybe..." Emma: "Wearing a kilt." The cops pick up Goerrugz and haul him off, along with Shelly. He's fingerprinted, skin cells are taken, and he's sat down in an interview room. Agent: "How do you open it?" Goerrugz: "Open what?" Agent: "The envelope." Goerrugz: "What envelope?" Agent: "The one that you tried to plant." Goerrugz: "Oh, you mean the one the guy from Regina dropped?" Agent: "Did he?" Goerrugz: "Yeah, he dropped it, and I picked it up, told him he dropped it and he thanked me and took it." A slightly modified version of reality. In another room, Shelly on the other hand gives a description of the little mousy guy.
Nicolai opens his envelope. There's a bit of a charge and he has fine graphite ash in his hands. Oh well. He tosses it into the disposal.
Frank decides to check out Shelly and Goerrugz's room, since they're busy. They try the "we've left our key in the room" routine, after Frank undoes a few buttons on Em's shirt. It works. They put on gloves and check out the room. Nothing weird. Frank wires the room. Everything in the room is brand new, which means it's a bit hard to find a simple hiding place, but it's placed. Not the best coverage, but oh well. Emma: "How come I'm the one who always ends up with buttons undone?" Frank: "We should get out of here, we could get caught. On the other hand, it does add a certain element of danger..." He's just kidding.
Nicolai gets the public works channel. A lot of chatter, protests, posturing. Nicolai: <to himself> "When is Dick Salamander going to show up?" Nothing thrilling, or useful.
After six hours, Shelly and Goerrugz will be let go. They are given a ride back to their hotel by the local police, since there is still a curfew under effect.
There's this very soft chirping. Like a soft electrical alarm. Coming from near the door. Someone pounds on Nicolai's door. "Shut off that damned alarm!!" Nicolai, who hasn't set any alarm, gets up and pounds on their door. On his way back into his room, he spots the envelope that had been pushed under his door. Oh. Nearby, Shelly hears the chirping too. She locates the source - the mysterious envelope. It has now popped open and reads: Room 712, 2:00 AM. Please.
Emma eventually gets Frank awake. Frank: "What?" Emma: "The envelope is open. It was chirping. It seems to be a party invitation." Frank: "Well I'll go for that - I'm going to go up there and beat the crap out of them. Oh what the hell, we've got nothing better to do." Everyone gets dressed and heads up there.
Nicolai, Frank, and Emma all arrive at pretty much the same time. They're joined by Will, Shelly, and Goerrugz. Frank pounds on the door. The mousy man opens it. Frank shoves the guy back with a finger to his chest. The person behind him in the glass and steel box looks like even less of a threat. To Will, it's TL 14-plus life support. To the others, well...
Frank: "Who's the guy in the terrarium?" Mousy guy: "That's Mr. Jones." The man certainly does not look like the photo Shelly was shown of the terrorist. He's not Zhodani, and he looks really, really bad. Frank: "Right. I want answers, and I want them right f***ing now." A questioning metallic voice says "Mr. O'Malley? You'll forgive me, I don't see too well." Emma: "Frank...<nudge> Dead guy talking...." This is way advanced life support from Will's perspective. Goerrugz: "Why didn't someone make you a new body instead of a box?" Jones: "I can't go, I'm not done." Goerrugz: "No, no, a new body." Jones: "My people cannot land, I must have something done very quickly." He wanders a bit, and the mousy guy brings him back on track. Jones: "I want a box." <uncomfortable pause> Emma: "You've got a box. <to mousy guy> Haven't you told him?" Jones: "The box is 35 centimeters cubed, and it weighs 7.5 kilograms. It fell on the planet 5 days ago." Goerrugz: "So why don't you tell the police? What's in it for us?" Jones: "The police seek their own demons." Shelly: "Like my partner said, what's in it for us?" Jones: "A way home. Remuneration." Frank: "Now you're getting to the point." Goerrugz: "You'll pay us, how much? Each." Jones: "Mr. Wainwright, how much do we have left?" Wainwright: "We have $248,000 left." Goerrugz: "You're willing to pay us a quarter of a million to get a box and bring it back to you? That's it?" Jones: "That is correct." Goerrugz: "Works for me." Frank: "How come we're the lucky ones?" Wainwright: "Oh, I distributed quite a few invitations, Mr. O'Malley. Apparently you were the only ones who decided to respond."
Frank lights up. Will: "Don't blow us up. There might be a leak. Besides, I have to breathe this air too." Frank puts it out. Frank: "It's a big planet." Goerrugz: "How are we going to get out of the hotel?" Frank: "We can do that, but how do we find it?" Jones: "It looks like this." A hologram (very crisp) appears. Nicolai wonders briefly if it's a psionic projection, but it's not. The box is grey. A grey that is almost there. It looks slick. Frank: "Very pretty. Just get to the goddamn point, okay?!?" Jones: "Get the box and return it to Mr. Wainwright." Frank: "Do you know where to look?" Jones: "We know where it is. My men cannot land." Goerrugz: "I can just stay here and collect a $1,000 credits a night. It wouldn't take long to make that forty grand." Jones: "Until the police decide to take you away." Goerrugz: "For what?" Jones: "They've taken away one hundred and eighty-six people. So far." Shelly: <to Frank> "Boy, your brothers in arms have been busy." Frank: "They were probably guilty of something." Goerrugz: "Yeah, breathing." Shelly: "Why not just have the authorities get it?" Jones: "They might open it." Goerrugz: "What's in it?" Jones: "I do not know." Emma: "What do you mean you don't know?" Frank: "What does it matter? It's not drugs, is it?" Jones: "I don't know." Emma: "What if it opens up, or if it's been damaged?" Frank: "Who cares?" Will: "I think I know where she's going with this. Would the contents pose a danger to anyone if it were to open by itself, or because of damage?" Jones: "I do not believe so." Logistics are discussed, including transport for the group to and from the planet. Jones mentions a very old model spacecraft. Wainwright: "Uh, no sir, we'd be taking a slightly more modern craft." Jones: "Really? But they were so elegant..." Will: "Excuse me, Mr. Jones, I'm a physician. How old are you?" Jones: "I'm not sure. Mr. Wainwright?" Wainwright is able to give an approximate birth date to Will. It translates to 270 years. This is by far the oldest man Will has ever seen, or even heard of in the Marches.
Jones goes off about Bartholemew, and violets and stuff. Wainwright brings him back on topic. Frank: "So if we can do this, it's 40K each, plus transport off this rock in spite of the embargo?" Jones: "Yes." Goerrugz: "And how do we know you've got the money to do that?" Frank: "Look around. That terrarium wasn't cheap." Goerrugz: "True." Frank: <sotto vocce> "Wain, so I'm curious why you don't just pinch off the guy's tube and take the money?" Wainwright looks confused, like this never even occurred to him. Frank: "Never mind. So, who is Mr. Jones?" Wainwright: "You don't know who Mr. Jones is?" Frank: "No...." Wainwright: "Why he invented..." It's something technical, but obscure, from about one hundred years ago.
Frank takes Em off to one side. Frank: "So, what do you think?" Emma: "I don't know. But I'm not sure I want to stay here with the way everthing's going." Frank: "Yeah I don't like this." Wainwright: "You need to decide soon." The group agrees to go, so he shows them an indicator. Wainwright: "If you point it down at the planet, there's a faint glow on the edge." Frank: "I hope it's a bit more specific when we get down there." Wainwright: "It will be more precise when you are on the planet, yes." Shelly: "So how do we go about getting down onto the planet?" Wainwright: "I will provide the transportation there and back." Goerrugz: "Wain, if this isn't on the up and up, I'm going to kill whatever he <Frank> leaves."
They go back to their rooms to pack, etc. Frank checks out what the local clothing is downport. Pretty normal. The local planetary law level was A, but now it's warlords and chaos off the port. There are nicer, normal looking areas, and there are places that look like Beirut. It's winter on planet, with an average temp of 4 Celsius. Dress warmly. Emma starts layering clothes on. Frank: "Hey, you didn't tell me about these! Have you had these all the time? That won't do much to keep you warm." Emma: "They're silk..." But it is going to be really cold, so she checks the catalog and finds the hotel shop has warm tights. She goes down and is stopped by a cop. Cop: "Excuse me, miss. Where are you going?" Emma: "To the hotel store. We're sort of running out of clothing..." Cop: "All right then." She rushes off, buys tights, goes back upstairs.
Then it's back to the odd guy's room. Goerrugz compares weapons and is concerned about the lack of really long range guns. Nicolai: "So let me get this straight, now you want me to bring a big gun?" Frank: "If you want to bring along a big gun, we understand if you have to compensate for your shortcomings." Nicolai glares. Witty banter about getting shot at, Goerrugz's sword (sword?), etc. Emma shares the extra tights with Shelly. Nicolai has in fact brought a rifle, which makes Goerrugz feel better.
Mr. Jones' box light is lower, and there's soft music playing, he's in sleep mode or whatever. Goerrugz: "So Wain, what's the plan?" Wainwright: "It's Wainwright. I'm supposed to take you to the auto-shuttle and reprogram it." No one bothers the group as they take the back ways and servants' entrances. No one bothers them anywhere along the route, well, at least this part seems to have been well planned. Wainwright: "Ladies, gentlemen? Into the auto-shuttle." Goerrugz: "Seat belts, seat belts are good." Will: "How will we contact you when we find the box?" Everyone gets a high tech radio. Small, with one button only. Hard to screw up. Snacks are served, then naps are taken on the trip. Emma: "Bathroom breaks before we go." It's cold, and peeing in the woods is going to be more challenging. Goerrugz: "Oh yeah!" Will takes some toilet paper, just in case. Nicolai breaks the whole roll off. (He has superior needs.)
The shuttle lands on the outskirts of a town, in what probably used to be nice suburbs. Wainwright: "You're near a city near Markham." There are shells of buildings. Wainwright leaves quickly. It looks like this area is mostly unlived-in, except for scavengers, of several species. Frank: "Man, it's bad enough dealing with the brain spiders and the mutated rats on UpPort." Goerrugz: "That's not as bad as the people who hunt them for food." Frank: "Yeah, but it's not as bad as Fritz's casserole." Emma: "Oh God, the lima beans and wieners..." Then they move on to Grandma's cooking for a while.
Nicolai: "We have a heat source a few hundred metres away. Could be a door." Emma: "So? We check the locator and see where and how far the box is. We're not here to sell cookies door to door or anything." The box is towards the city, not the door. Nicolai gives Emma one of his personal commo units, in case he has to separate from the group. They move out.
Nicolai has point. Will "Hey, guys, do not drink the water. If we have to, boil it. Has everyone had their shots?" Shelly: "What shots?" Will runs through the list. Shelly may need a booster, but the cops have had shots for things you don't get anywhere else in the Marches. Goerrugz: "You know, we'd get there faster if we had a vehicle. " Frank: "I can drive. I can even hot wire one. We just need to find one that's working." Nicolai: "Emma. Vehicle coming our way. Four people, mounted gun maybe searchlight." Frank: "Emma, undo a couple of buttons." Shelly: "Does your boyfriend always try to pimp you out?" Nicolai: "Every chance he gets." Shelly: "So we try to look small and helpless." Emma: " The point is to look harmless and um, friendly." Nicolai: "It's cold, that shouldn't be difficult." He's not looking at the females' eyes when he makes that comment.
The bait is set. Screech. Driver: "Well, better search them." Crunch of beer cans, back opens up. Everyone exits out of the vehicle, with flashlights. Frank whistles to Em. She and Shelly duck into the wind as Frank deploys the pepperspray. "Ah, get the gun!" "Nerve gas!!" Cough, choke, gasp. One of them runs blindly at the Vargr. Goerrugz steps to one side, kicking him in the shin as he passes. Ow.
Frank goes for the driver's seat. There's a drunken man in the way. Nicolai goes to the rear, he's not sure what he's looking at, but it's not a machinegun. Could be a flamethrower. Em and Shelly duck around to the far side. Nicolai is interested in the three men who took off, all three bolted in opposite directions though. Frank puts his shoulder into the car door, slamming it into the drunken man, very hard. He ends up on the ground gasping. Frank ignores him and goes for the vehicle. He sits on something when he gets into the cab. There's a big paddle wired into the trucks ignition - it's already been hotwired. He starts the vehicle and checks out what he sat on - it's a rifle. He bats it to the floor, then moves the truck away from the capiscum cloud.
Nicolai checks out the thing in the back, which is apparently a water cannon. Everyone in, and away they go. Frank and the girls up front, the others in the back. Radio: "Bravo 2. Come in, Bravo 2." Frank keys the mike, says "Come on girl, let's party." He pokes Em to elicit a feminine squeal. Radio: "Come on, Charlie, cut it out. Get back in here, there's some noise out there." There's a lot of chatter on the radio for a few minutes. Then "Pipe down! Official traffic only!" Frank: "Which way?" Shelly shows her the locator. Em: "There." They turn.
Nicolai: "Heat signatures." Small, darting figures. One pauses and apparently tosses something. It's a kid throwing a rock at the government truck the party has borrowed. They ignore the kids. The truck continues. Frank turns on the radio. One channel only. In the back, Nicolai is looking at the sprayer. It could be for water, or maybe something else. The tank has Store above freezing painted on the side. No flammable symbol. But there are markings for Markham City Police. Oh, it appears to be a dye cannon for rioters.
Frank: <to Nicolai> "What about you? Beer? Cigarettes?" Nicolai: "No thank you." Frank: "Pornographic magazine? It's all we have." Nicolai: "No." Frank: <to Emma> "I'm in the heated cab, with the two women, and he's <Nicolai> the superior being?? I think not."
Nicolai hears "in position" over his radio. He radios Em. Nicolai: "Emma, hold." She has Frank stop. Nicolai: "There's a blacked out vehicle up ahead. I'll go check it out." Frank parks the vehicle, and sits there with the short shotgun on his lap.
A new voice is heard over the radio. "Hey, Charlie? Hard ass is gone. Did you find the chicks? Come on man." Frank turns on the dome light, turning his face away. "Hey 3, I think Charlie's got some chicks and he's not sharing." Rude comments over the radio and one voice is cut off in mid-word. There's a loud boom outside (muffled in the cab). Frank turns off the dome light and moves. The blacked out car continues onward, perpendicular to the way they're going. Lots of gunfire, but no one is shooting at them. Frank moves then stops to make sure he hasn't lost anyone. Goerrugz leaps gracefully into the back. Goerrugz: "Go! Away from here. We'll pick him up on the radio later." Frank: "Nicolai, get your ass up here if you want a ride!" Frank shuts off the lights and heads away from the gunfire, but he has to slow down. Goerrugz huddles in a corner with his shotgun. Nicolai intercepts. " Nicolai: "I'm coming up behind you." Emma relays the message. Frank: <to Em> "What's with this radio only you and Nicolai have? Is there something I should know? So, is he really superior?" Emma: <grins, mouths> "Nahh..." Frank: "Oooh. So Shelly, what's the deal with you and Goerrugz? Are you an item?" Shelly: "No, we're just buds." Goerrugz: "Oh locatrix, what do you say?" Shelly checks. Shelly: "Oh bugger, I think somebody's got the box." It's moving, and they aren't. Emma: "Then we should go find them and take it away from them." Frank: "I'm going, I'm going."
Frank knocks down a barricade. Voices on the radio, panicking. "They're on Parker Street!" Three sets of lights come up, heading away. The locator indicates they need to follow them, onto the paved road. Frank takes a cut across people's lawns, or whatever, to get that way. Fortunately, there are no abandoned swimming pools in their path.
The three vehicles are moving, then another set of headlights shows up to follow the three vehicles. Frank dodges swingsets and comes to a chainlink fence. "No hitchhiking beyond this point." Down a gentle slope, then a rear tire blows. They're still moving, and it appears the vehicle has double rear tires. Occasionally, there are red flashes as tracer is fired past the truck. Frank: "Ooh, that's kind of cool." City boy. Frank: "Hold the wheel for a sec." Em grabs the wheel as Frank leans out and passes the carbine back. Goerrugz takes it. Frank: "Take this and shoot at that vehicle in front of us." Goerrugz tries to find the safety. Nicolai grabs it and gets it ready and chambers a round.
Frank: "Shelly, shoot their tires off." He hands over his shotgun. Emma: "Frank! They're too far away. " Frank: "When we get closer..." Shelly: "You might want to give this to someone who knows how to use it." She holds it very carefully and trades places with Em. Goerrugz is having fun firing the rifle. Radio: "Somebody's shooting at us! Not us, them! Who's shooting at us!!" All of a sudden one of the three vehicles, the one in front , takes a right turn and goes right up the embankment and keeps on going. Emma: "Shelly, check direction." The box has not gone over the embankment. Good.
Much more radio chatter. "We got one, we got one!" "Where's our blocking force, where's our blocking force?" "Uh sir, I can't find Charlie..." "Oh my God, the blood..." "Alpha 7, come in....Alpha 7, come in."
Nicolai: "Screw this. <to Will and Goerrugz> Give me a hand." They pinch off the hose, tie it off, and toss out the dye cannon. Then the tank. Will almost goes over the back when they're pushing the tank over. Nicolai and Goerrugz grab hold and pull, hard. Up front, Shelly looks up and sees a small hole in the windshield, just above her head (if she were a supermodel, she'd be dead). Shelly: "Someone's shooting at us." Nicolai: "Emma, which truck do you want taken out? The rear vehicle seems to be on our side." Emma: "Front or middle then." Long shots, unfortunately.
In the back, Nicolai switches to full auto and fires. There are a few tiny sparks, then the front of the truck directly in front explodes. Okay then. The flaming truck slows down. Nicolai: "Frank, don't hit the flaming truck..." Emma: "Frank, don't hit the flaming truck." Frank: "What? Hit the flaming truck? <looks ahead> Holy shit! A flaming truck! Hold on." Squealing tires, but no crash. The windshield starts to crack. Frank: "Great. Are we making any progress?" One of the vehicles ahead, the nearest one, is smoking. The farthest one is drifting a bit. Frank: "All right, I'm running out of ideas here. This piece of crap isn't catching up." Radio: "There's another one. Got any more grenades?" Nicolai: "Oh, hold it steady..." Nicolai tries launching a grenade. Nicolai: "Emma, they've apparently got grenades." Emma: "Frank, they have grenades." There's a bap-bap-bap, and explosions in front of the front vehicle. Radio "Shit! Not us, we're in front, we're in front!"
They're coming up fast on the smoking vehicle. Very fast. Frank: "Hold on!" According to the locator, the box is very close, and to the front. Goerrugz fires on the smoking vehicle, some one starts shooting at the good guys. The smoking vehicle swerves off to the side. Emma: "Which way?" Shelly: "Them! It's the one that swerved off." Emma: <to Frank> "Them! They've got it." They go after the smoking truck. The other remaining truck starts to turn that way, but Nicolai fires at them to discourage them. Three round burst, one did hit. Good shot. That truck continues onward, not turning.
Off the freeway. They easily follow the smoking vehicle. Radio: "It's the goddamn truck! Shoot it shoot it shoot it!!" They have apparently not set their sights correctly. Good thing, as they're firing full auto from about 50 metres away. Frank: "Hey, they're only 50 metres away, Emma, shoot out their tires!" She stares at him. Frank: "It's scimitar!" Oh, well that's different.
Additional headlights, all of a sudden. A new player. Who's side? Emma fires on the truck. There's a bang, the vehicle starts pulling to the right as it's going downhill. It's gonna roll! Nope, they go over onto their side, slide, and then disappear. Frank: "Which way?" Em points. Shelly: "Do we maybe want to turn on the headlights??" Frank: "Oh, good idea." He does. Darkness up ahead. Frank stops before they drive off the edge. It's about four or five metres down to the river, and a 30 degree bank.
Frank: "Shotgun!" Emma hands over the shotgun, Frank replaces the fired round, attaches his flashlight to the shotgun and gets out. There's a vehicle coming at them, firing. Emma turns off the lights. Frank: "Everybody out of the truck!" They go out and down over the edge. The locator indicates the box is in the truck, stationary. Splashing noises. "I can't swim! I can't swim! I can't swim!" Drifting away.
Frank gives Emma back the shotgun, takes off his coat, and goes into the incredibly cold water. Yikes!! He wades out to the truck, and is grabbed by someone. Frank: "Shit!" Emma: "What?" Frank: "I've got a drowned man here." He gets the guy up high enough for a breath. Frank: "Wait here, buddy."
Nicolai is worried those idiots are a hazard to themselves and others, even if not on purpose. Nicolai looks for an officer, or officer-substitute. He finds a man in the back with a bullhorn - close enough. He fires on him, hits something. There's a "Shit!" over the speaker, calls for "overwatch, overwatch", then a gout of flame from just behind the cab of the vehicle. Their old truck is hit, and deflects the missile.
Back in the river, Frank dives into the water. He's trying to get into the truck and find the box. Meantime, Nicolai is assembling his demo gun. There's a flat crack! and Nicolai is hit in the middle of the chest. His armor has just saved his life. He tumbles over, desperately wanting air. He's able to fire off the shoe-mines onto the road, but boy does that hurt his damaged ribs. There's a pop, a scream, a cry of "Fuck!" over the radio, and Nicolai calls for a "medic", very faintly.
Frank finally finds the box. He's really cold. He sees a doughnut go by. A really small doughnut. Maybe it has sprinkles. Frank doesn't like the kind with sprinkles...Emma can see Frank's legs. She goes in and manages to get his head up above water so he can breathe. Then the truck shifts and Emma goes down. Frank is able to breathe, but Emma is pinned under the truck in the muck. Shelly goes in and gets Emma up. Much gasping for breath.
The bad guys' truck eases forward, setting off shoemines. Will goes over to help Nicolai. Will: "Take a deep breath." Nicolai: "No! Will punches him, it feels like, and Nicolai takes a deep breath past the razor blades. Goerrugz lobs a grenade from Nicolai's stash at the bad guys, then takes cover. Goerrugz is sure it's defective, since the movie grenades normally go off right away. Then there's a bright red flash, and screaming, and fire falling from the sky onto Frank's shoulder then bouncing onto his hand. He's awake now. Frank knocks the fragment of the device off his hand, which helps, and his shoulder is only sort of smoldering.
No one up top is trying to kill Goerrugz, which he likes, as he takes out people with the shotgun. Frank, Shelly, and Emma are having problems getting out of the water. Nicolai sends Will after the cold people. Will: "Oh shit!" He can pick up Shelly and Emma and carry them out easily. Frank is able to stumble up on his own power, mostly, still clutching a sack with the box and some other stuff in it.
There's a brief ripping sound and a plume of water comes out of the water. Probably not a Polaris submarine. Actually, a 16mm mortar round. The Vargr is packing like crazy. Frank is put into the back with Nicolai and Will. Emma and Shelly are in the cab with the heater on high, and Goerrugz driving. Goerrugz: <thinking> "Two cold females and me. Now, who's superior..."
There's a rifle shot from somewhere, going through the back of the truck but not hurting anyone. Frank feels something being wrapped around him. Are there constrictors in this place? Nah... Will has gotten out the emergency blanket that heats up. Very nice.
Nicolai hears "Do not fire explosives! It will damage the jewels!" over the radio. Jewels?? A nice ATV comes out, stops jerkily after having all the tires blown off in the shoemine field.
Shots are fired at the truck, missing the two people huddling in the wheel well trying to get warm, and Goerrugz squinting and driving. Nicolai passes his CES hood through the now broken little window, so Goerrugz can use it to see - what with the missing windshield. More shots are thunking into the truck, but in the back and there's no one hurt.
The barest glint of light from false dawn is starting. ATV's are trying to flank them on the opposite side of the river, but it's hard considering the rough ground and the irrigation ditches. Bounce! Thump!!
Just like Moon Patrol, only no jump button.
The radio crackles to life. "Hello the truck." Goerrugz: "If someone wouldn't mind answering that..." Nicolai: "Yes?" Radio: "Let's make a deal. I won't use these mortars, you leave the jewels. You can even keep the cash. " Nicolai: <to Em> "What do you want me to say?" Emma: "What jewels?" Nicolai: "What jewels?" Radio: "The box is full of jewels." Nicolai: "It is?" Radio: "The Crown of St. Mary's is in the box! Don't play funny with me. Franz, give them a warning." Nicolai: "One problem - you're on the wrong side of the river, and we can keep you there." There's a rurrff! and the engine stops, billowing smoke. Goerrugz: "Everybody out!" Nicolai demos the truck up. Nicolai: "Fine, you win. We're leaving everything in the truck. We're out of here." Nicolai leaves the demo kit, Goerrugz empties the bag into his backpack (not wanting to leave the money and jewels that were loose in the sack) and off they go.
Frank is able to wrap the heating blanket around his torso, cover it with his leather jacket, and still walk. He's just a bit confused due to the hypothermia. They scramble up the bank to get away from the river. They need to get away from the mortars before calling for pickup. Some one stands up on the crest of the bank and says "Freeze!" Frank: "Already there." He brings up the shotgun to fire it one-handed at the guy, but the other man fires into the ground near Frank. He misses. There's a bang! Frank's shotgun hits the ground, and the man goes over with a shredded foot. Man: "You f***ing bastards will never get that lanthanum off this rock without me!" What lanthanum?? Shelly: "I think these guys are very confused." Then the shockwave from the exploding truck knocks half of them onto their asses. The engine, flaming, lands a ways ahead of them.
They pick themselves up and continue through the fields. They drag Mothboy O'Malley with them, in spite of what he wants. Fire bad, tree pretty. Nicolai: "We need to find a place to rest." They head for the poplar trees. Shelly and Emma take turns using the other heating blanket, once someone remembers it. Nicolai passes Emma a big flask. She takes a drink - it's hot tea. Great!
They decide to try to summon the pickup, and discover Frank, Emma, and Goerrugz have lost their radios. Shelly pushes the button on hers. There's a feeling of being watched, then a shooting star. From behind, they feel air, then a low thrumming sound and a splorch. They turn around. It's their shuttle. Wainwright is trying to unroll something - the boarding mat. They don't wait, and stagger onto the shuttle. Emma: "Go please." Wainwright: "Oh yes, we're going. Would anyone like hot coffee?" Shelly: "Yes!" Emma: "Could you turn the heat up onto high, please?" Wainwright: "Of course." He heads for the bridge.
Nicolai calls Emma over. Nicolai: "I'm going to go to sleep now. Don't let them throw my body off the shuttle. Emma: "Okay." What an odd man. Nicolai goes into survival mode.
Frank: "Well, Shelly, I guess I owe you an apology. I guess you're all right." This is after he gets a look at Shelly shucking out of her wet clothing before getting into the blanket. Emma ignores the comment as she does the same thing. Frank isn't really concerned about anything other than being warm and making sure little Jimmy and the Twins haven't frozen off. Goerrugz launders the bloody money, he ends up with $800 cash, and a couple of thousand in average jewelry. Frank: "Hey, how much for the jewelry?" Goerrugz: "We'll split it up, I'm no thief." Frank: "I don't care what they say about you, Goerrugz, you're okay."
Frank is huddled under his blanket, with the two women, in front of the heat exchanger. The shuttle gets UpPort, then they're asked to wait. After a while, Wainwright brings on board their luggage from the hotel. Warm dry clothing!! Much happier. Wainwright: "Miss Shelly? I took the liberty of tendering your resignation to your employer." Shelly: "Thank you." They leave, are weightless briefly, then not, then they dock with a big, blank, tube. The docking tube for a larger ship. Goerrugz: "Wain, buddy, where is this tub going?" Wainwright: "The ship is going to Regina, sir." Goerrugz: "Thank you for clarifying that. What kind of ship?" Wainwright: "A mixed passenger/cargo ship. Larger than the one you were on originally." Goerrugz: "The word is sold! And thank you." Wainwright: "Mr. Jones is very grateful." Envelopes are provided to the party members, with the agreed upon payment in it. Wainwright leaves with the shuttle and the box.
182 to 189-1123.
It's a 50,000 ton ship, and will get to Regina in a week. Everybody thumps after getting warm drinks and not killing the perky cruise director. At one point on the trip, about half way, Goerrugz throws a $900 credit party for the group. It's free money, so what the heck? Frank likes Goerrugz more all the time. Good idea!! Frank: "So what about you and your girlfriend?" Goerrugz: "She's not my girlfriend. We play music together occasionally." Frank: "Oh, sorry. I just assumed." He's just hassling the Vargr in a friendly fashion.
After the party, at which Emma has way too much to drink, she wakes up in bed, praying it's Frank in there with her. It is, but he's in someone else's shirt. Frank's just glad he woke up with someone he recognizes. And of the appropriate gender.
Arrival on Regina, safe and sound.