is outside the warehouse building at "Rosebud," the Wonstar Development
Corporation's installation in the desert. It is very early morning
in ship's time. They have picked up what they deduce to be psionic testing inside the
building. Their investigations inside, however, have not revealed
as much as they wanted, and the plan is to move to another part of the world
to take a different approach.
Misha Ravanos has suggested that they go to the
starport, where Robert
Morris can tap into any records about the company. They can then
to investigate the head office. In the absence of any other ideas,
that's what they indeed do. Helia Sarina lifts the ship into the
air and flies them halfway across the planet to Down Port city.
Just in time for breakfast, Nightshade has
arrived at the downport; here in local time it's about 2 am. At
Robert's request, Helia positions them above a berthed trader so he can
hook in through them. The trader is a normal civilian Imperial ship, and Robert
very easily subverts their link to the starport net.
The first thing he reports is that there is a new
item from the TNS. Dated
243-1121, it states that the
Duke of Adabicci has announced
his commission to resolve the problems on Ianic. Helia
reads the list of people, and asks if anyone has heard of them.
Mich Saginaw has heard of one of them. He
says, "That must be NoName. He was a crew member on the Anastasia.
He was training Chiang Ho in the arts of the Black Things That Spit.
Some sorts of martial arts training. If we've got time, we
can head over and see NoName."
Kalida Siena says, "He's in an interesting position
Robert adds, "The other interesting thing is that
the starport may be upgraded by the same company. The ownership
of that company is strongly tied to be Imperial spies, so it's setting
up Ianic as another
Imperial spy base."
News is not, however, the main reason to be tapping
into the trader's comm. Robert quickly hacks through them into the
starport network. Unfortunately there's not a lot of local information
on the network -- virtually nothing about the Wonstar Development Corporation,
just a directory entry with head office location and a contact phone number.
It is noted that payments to the WDC can be made through the starport,
as they have an account at an on-offworld bank so transactions don't have
to go through the local banking system.
Robert hacks into the on-offworld bank. There
are not a lot of transactions through here -- most are to buy passage for
people. Tickets are return and one-way in both directions. No
destinations are named and neither are the passengers. Fees are normal
-- apparently there's no money laundering going on via the tickets. Funds
for Marquis Marcus Crestworthy's research are clearly not going through this
bank. Tickets are usually for one passenger, but sometimes as many
Kalida suggests they might be sending the funds through
a courier in order not to leave any traces.
The payments are made to various ships or shipping
companies. In most cases it's to regular commercial shipping companies.
None of the companies are local or have a local office; all payments
are made via the ship doing the transport. Half a dozen companies
are represented; most of them are local to Five Sisters, but there
are a few for Imperiallines
This seems to be pretty much a dead end. There
is really no more information to be had from the computers in the absence
of any worldwide network. The main office computers certainly don't
talk to the ones at Rosebud, or they would have discovered it already.
Anything from here on will require physical action.
There are three other field offices, plus the head
office sixty kilometers southeast of here. It might be time to visit
the head office and either do some more breaking and entering or just knock
on the door.
Helia flies Nightshade towards the town of
Starcom. They arrive there at 4 am local time, 10:00 ship's time.
They plan to wait until night before sending out an infiltration
team. Robert suggests that in the meantime they find a phone booth
so he can use it to phreak into the system and monitor the WDC's head office
The town is probably around 60-70 thousand people.
It's mostly office buildings in the city center, with residential areas
in the perimeter. There's a well developed light rail network. The
downtown area is scattered with parks.
It's in one of these parks that Callisto spots an
isolated phone booth that suits their purposes. At 4:30 am local
time, there's no-one around to see them anyway. Helia puts Nightshade
down beside the phone booth.
Robert makes up sign that says "Out of Order" to hang
on the phone, and along with the equipment to do the radio relay he heads
for the main cargo lift ready to leave the ship. Edward "Shark" Teeth
accompanies him, and Teri Cralla stands by on the cargo lift in case they
It's a really warm night. Robert and Shark disembark
and go over to the phone booth. It takes Robert very little time to
hook up the relay; as a final act he hangs the sign on the phone so it will
remain undisturbed. They return to the ship, and Helia takes them up
into the sky -- they don't want an early morning jogger to run into them.
Nightshade hovers over the trees in the park.
It's now about 5 am local time. There's no air traffic, but
Helia keeps watch to avoid any birds running into them. She makes
sure that Jaekovic Ils-Nevronne knows when the ship is going to move, in
the hope he'll react by looking out of the window.
Robert has access to the phone system. He starts
phreaking. Unfortunately the communications here is as primitive as
the computer networks, and there isn't much information available that way.
He does however put a tap on the WDC's three phone lines. Directory
information is available, but it is not automated. No phone records
are available over the system, although obviously they'll have records of
everything while their tap is in place. As a distraction, Robert programs
the computer to talk to people over the phone in their own voice. It
would freak out the crew to have it talk to them in their own voice, so he
saves them from that excitement.
They discuss means of finding the WDC building. They
know the address -- One Enfield Plaza -- but they don't know where that is.
They don't know where they are for that matter, so they can't call
up the company and ask how to get there. The plan they decide on is
for someone to hail a taxi outside the park, and take it to the WDC head
office. They can follow him -- Shark volunteers for the task -- and
pick him up later.
Shark dresses appropriately for the world, and sneaks
out into the park to wait for a taxi. He picks one up about an hour
later, and takes it to One Enfield Plaza. Callisto tracks him on the
sensors as Helia follows the taxi with the Nightshade.
The office building is about three blocks from the
park. It has six floors, and the Wonstar Development Corporation apparently
occupies the whole building. Helia brings them over the top to they
start a long densitometer scan. They figure the active scan is worth
the risk of being picked up, especially since the desert site didn't seem
to detect them.
Apparently it's a normal office building, six above-ground
floors and two basement levels. They'll spend the day watching the
building and fine-tuning the scan, and tonight they'll send in the physical
Shark continues to observe the building during the
Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead says he should go in
with his genuine Imperial ID as an Imperial Noble and ask to be shown around.
About mid-day, a phone call goes out to another building
in the town of Starcom. The caller discusses an order of wheat seed,
in terms of quantity, delivery date, guarantees, penalty clauses, and so
on. A couple of hours later, and on another line is someone calling
his girlfriend in Down Port city. It's a very personal call and goes
on for about an hour. Later that afternoon are other apparently above-board
Kalida comments that the Baron's idea is sounding promising
right now. If the company is pretending to be legitimate, they can
send in a legitimate reconnaissance. Shark, however, raises the issue
that the Baron is supposed to be dead; but they do have ID's which should
work fine at this tech level. Someone with a title would probably have
a better chance of getting in, but their fake ID's don't have anyone with
Bridgehead again expresses his irritation that he has
"lost" his noble status. He mutters that he could just show up at the
Naval Base and tell them that it's a mistake. Robert and Kalida discuss
the likelihood of the Baron being called on his being dead, and agree that
he could always back out by showing he's not dead and saying it's a mistake.
And if necessary, they have Teri and several others to extract him...
The command crew, however, consider that's a bit risky
at this point, although they may consider it later. Kalida and Robert
are all for the Baron going in, but for the time they are overruled. They'll
send in the intrusion team tonight, and if they draw a blank perhaps the
Baron can do his stuff tomorrow.
Robert finds it odd that there are only three phone
lines for a building of this size. He finds that very suspicious. Their
observations of people coming and going indicate that there are about fifty
people working here -- again, small for a building that big.
The intrusion team plans to move out at about 1 am
local time. It is mid-morning ship's time, and the whole crew have
had plenty of time to rest. For this mission Misha agrees to have
Jaek accompany him. The plan is to break into the building and start
looking for interesting materials.
The building has one large main entrance, with glass
doors at the top of the wide shallow steps leading from the street. The
building is on the corner of the block, and is isolated from the other buildings
(three stories high) around it by alleys. There are plain door entrances
on either side of the building, and a loading dock and delivery entrance
at the rear accessed from the alley. The side entrance in the alley
offers the most cover, and that's chosen as the entry point.
There isn't room to bring Nightshade into the
alley beside the building; Jaek has a grav belt, but Misha would have to
rappel several stories. In the absence of traffic on the street, it's
decided that Helia will bring the ship down on the street in front of the
building, and they'll simply walk out when they're sure they're unobserved.
Misha and Jaek move quietly out of the cover of the
stealth bubble into the street and quickly enter the alley. The pair
is rigged with cameras and commdots, and that'll let the crew know the team's
location inside the building based on their densitometer map.
The team proceeds silently to the side door. There
is a mechanical keypad for the door. Misha takes a look, and reckons
he can easily bypass the mechanism and open the lock. He does so. He
opens the door quietly and carefully peers in.
Misha is looking up the barrel of a submachine gun.
This is not good. He closes the door and the team breaks for
the ship. Misha runs while Jaek takes to the air -- "People never look
up," as an ancient Solomani
leader once said. Fortunately it's not far to the street.
The street is quiet. There's some passers-by
several blocks down, but here it's clear. Invisible Nightshade
is ready to go, cargo lift on the ground. Teri is ready on the lift
in full battle gear.
Teri's job is to provide backup. Her orders are
to protect the Captain, and she does so. As the first guard steps out
of the door and raises his gun, Teri fires. There's no need for overkill,
so she just uses the built-in laser -- which doesn't work, stopping at the
edge of the stealth bubble. Reacting immediately she flies up rapidly
to get a clear shot and lets loose with her weapon of choice.
The shouting behind Misha stops suddenly -- or was
it drowned out by the violent explosion? Whatever, there's no incoming
fire anymore, and he makes it to the ship unharmed. Jaek is already
there with an odd expression -- perhaps he's never been that close to a
firing FGMP-15 before.
Teri's back on the deck in a moment, and the lift starts
to retract even as Helia rapidly pulls Nightshade up a kilometer or
Jaek and Misha are not pleased, but unhurt. Teri
says she confirms two casualties as the result of her supporting fire; she
quietly apologizes for using a major weapon, and explains that the laser
doesn't pass out through the stealth bubble. She believes there were
no other witnesses.
It will be interesting to see the response to this
attack and to see the news reports tomorrow.
Robert is disturbed that their team was intercepted
at the door. The footballs didn't register anything, so they either
ran into bad luck or they didn't get the right guard positions worked out
from their scans. He says, "Plan B. Send in the Grandam. He
can say he's heard they have some security problems..."
Kalida was thinking that the Baron would express interest
in the agricultural aspect of the company. In that case, going in right
after the attack might not be the best timing. Robert's idea has merit,
provided it shows up as a news item. Robert sets up to record local
news broadcasts and search them for relevant content. There are four
TV channels and about a dozen AM radio stations.
With Nightshade parked comfortably over the
town of Starcom, and with no more activities planned for the night, Helia
hands around beer and margaritas for the whole crew.
After the incident there are FM radio emissions from
the building, probably from a handheld unit. It's a guard reporting
to a superior, saying there was an intrusion at 1:10 am, two guards down,
shooters repulsed, full report to follow in the morning.
The reply comes from a building about a kilometer and
a half away. It says to hold on and they'll send somebody out. He
asks for casualty details, and the response of "Two guards dead" gets a more
serious reaction. Apparently someone's coming out right away.
Ten minutes later an armored car and a wheeled APC
arrive at the WDC. About twenty troops pile out and secure the perimeter.
Helia takes the ship over to the building where the
radio response came from. She holds the ship really still while Shark
goes into sparkly pink on the sensors, and gives them a view of the front
of the building. It turns out to be Starcom Town Police Headquarters.
They return to the WDC area.
So the security guard called the police. The
APC and the troops are therefore police. It's an unusual response,
Robert suggests, a very large show of force. He'd expect just a forensic
team, who would of course say that the shot was fired from the third floor
of the building across the street.
Kalida is amused that it will cause someone there some
grief. She adds that the WDC must look legitimate, or else they wouldn't
call in the police to have them poking around.
Robert says that if it's really the police, and not
another part of the conspiracy, they've probably never dealt with an FGMP
blast. The news reports -- if there are any -- should be interesting.
The police, meanwhile, have reported the area secure
and will remain there overnight. The question remains as to the guard
disposition -- they can spend some time trying to work that out with more
densitometer scans. As for now, police forces have taken up positions
on the ground and on the roof. They don't seem to be investigating,
just guarding. The two bodies are not in sight. There's a report
every half hour or so saying that everything's clear.
Callisto is working the densitometers constantly. Six
hours of refining the scans takes them until the next morning. It becomes
clear that -- at least now -- there are permanent guards at all entrances,
and patrols inside the building covering most areas. There are at
least twenty guards inside the building; the police remain outside. So
this place is always well guarded.
Robert smiles. Now they know it's well guarded,
it must be an interesting building. They're going to have to
come in a different way, though -- either the roof (after the police leave),
or somewhere even less straightforward.
As morning approaches, news reports start coming in.
They mention that a shoot-out at Wonstar Development Corporation has
left two guards dead, and police responded to guard the building overnight.
One suspect was seen carrying a large sword on his back, but there
are no details or description.
At 8 am local, the police leave. Building guards
take over some exterior guard positions, doors and roof all around the building.
There are two guards at each of the four entrances, and four on the
At 8:30 am the building gets a phone call from the
police informing them how much they'll be charging for security overnight.
There has been no sign of investigations, and no mention of such on
Another call from the WDC is to send telegrams to the
other company locations on the world, telling them to step up security after
intruders killed two guards here. They're to be on the lookout for
a man with a sword, and to expect offworlders involved. There's an explicit
warning to watch out for heavy weapons.
As Kalida says, now might be a bad time to send in
Mich suggests going in again very soon because they're
probably not expecting another intrusion right away. Perhaps they could
flood the building with gas through the ventilation system in the basement.
There are no guards stationed at the lower basement at the sewer system
-- they could get in that way. All they need is enough knockout gas
to flood the whole building, working on skin contact. The Doc says
he can't provide enough of what they want -- or anything, really, not to
flood the whole building. So it's back to thinking up ways to get in...