All the Wonstar Development Company field locations
are now each patrolled by two Imperial Navy system defense boats.
On the positive side, however, the intrusion into the head office
in the town of Starcom seems to have gone unnoticed.
It is now the morning after the break-in. The
head office revealed itself to be not much more than a giant meeting room.
There is not enough staff, no offices for those in charge, and these
and various other clues suggest it is just a front. The computer
in the basement is a little larger than needed just to run the holodisplays,
but there's not much extra capacity. Purchasing and so on is handled
at the head office. There's no hook-up to the outside world -- the
images for the conference rooms are brought in on mag tape. It's
not even as if it's movies or something, just static images. And why
would they need six of these rooms?
Robert Morris tells them that the computer equipment
is about thirty years old, just regular Imperial gear -- albeit disguised
with false faceplates to look like local technology.
So what changed thirty years ago, around 1091? Marquis Marcus Crestworthy's
experience with the black ship would have been between 1096 and 1099. Perhaps
thirty years ago they discovered the black ships and set up the container?
The WDC's tax exempt status was assigned at the founding of the company,
about two hundred years ago. Wonstar
itself -- along with the rest of Five Sisters -- was put
under Imperial Navy administration during the Psionic Suppressions
Perhaps, says Misha Ravanos, the best thing to do
is actually to go out among the people of this world. They can buy
books on the history of the planet and the WDC, and case the official records
offices to see if they can break into them.
Down Port City is the capital of the world. The
head offices of the WDC are in another town, Starcom, which is a commercial
center about 60 kilometers southeast. That's where offworld businessmen
would go for extended work-related visits. There are no restrictions
on offworlder travel (aside from the Naval Base), so the crew should
be able to move freely wherever they want -- but to look like they've come
from the starport, they should rent a ground car to travel to Starcom.
So Helia Sarina takes Nightshade to Down Port
City, still in stealth mode. Edward "Shark" Teeth will go ashore and
rent a car (he can drive a ground car much more easily than a gravcraft),
and meet the ship again on the road between there and Starcom. They'll
then leave Vonish Kehnaan to fly the ship, while most of the crew form the
away team. As cover they will say they're looking for investment possibilities,
as they've recently come into some money. They'll take clothes and
luggage for a week-long stay and check into a hotel. To cover the
question of what ship they arrived on, Robert will fix the passenger manifest
of a liner that's just left. That way the ship won't be able to jeopardize
their story. He chooses the Shapeshifter, a Tukera Lines ship out of
and puts the away team on the manifest: Edward Teach (Misha), Belladonna
(Helia), Anne Bonny (Kalida Siena), Roger Jolly (Shark), and John Brunner
(Robert). The ship carries around fifty passengers along with substantial
cargo but arrived without a full complement of travellers, so there's plenty
of room to add the five crew members to the lists.
Mich Saginaw will stay on board with Vonish, Grand
Admiral Baron Bridgehead, Callisto, Sagan, Jaekovic Ils-Nevronne, and Teri
Cralla. That should be sufficient personnel to run the ship and to
mount a rescue mission if needed.
Shark goes ashore on the roof of a hotel. He
enters the building, goes down to the lobby, and arranges a car rental.
He then drives out of town towards Starcom.
Helia has taken Nightshade to a place out
in the country about halfway between Down Port City and Starcom. When
Shark arrives in his rented minivan, the away team goes ashore and joins
him. Vonish takes the ship up to a good height; Helia has already
set up the controls so it can automatically follow the ground team, and has
preprogrammed some other shortcuts to make the backup pilot's job easier.
They pile into the minivan, loading a suitcase each
-- two for Anne Bonny -- into the back. It takes a while to get used
to the ride in a vehicle that's in contact with the ground. Shark
turns on the AM radio and picks up some local music -- the staple style of
all farming areas in the Imperium, bluegrass and country.
Their arrival at Starcom is signified by a rail station.
The gas station next door is their stop -- they top up the car with
the alcohol fuel, pick up a map of the town, and check where the hotels
are located. All are conveniently situated by the light rail stations,
and also have their own parking. Shark takes the attendant aside
and asks for a good bar for himself, not the rich guys he's driving around.
The local recommends a place called The Last Cab and marks
its location on their map.
Shark pulls up in front of the Grand Imperial Regency
Hotel. A flunky in purple uniform steps up to park the car, and is
instructed that their luggage is to be taken to the "Teach rooms." Shark
hands out the first of what he expects to be many tips -- as driver and
general valet to Mr. Teach, he'll be expected to handle that. He tips
enough to be well appreciated, but not ridiculously over the top.
The "businessmen" go on into the lobby. Edward
Teach asks for five rooms, and the attendant suggests two luxury suites
on the top floor. Bridgehead would like this place -- it's right about
his level of posh. Misha, when requested, produces his Imperial ID
to set up the account. He sighs at having had to leave his sword
on the ship, but it would have made him an immediate suspect in the death
of the two guards a few days ago. Likewise his cape has been left
behind in favor of appropriate business casual -- over his zack.
The suites have a wonderful view of the city. The
hotel is at the center of a block, with its own gardens, and every block
surrounding it is a park. The staff are clearly set up to handle offworlders
-- they'll take electronic payment here. Shark of course tips in cash.
The rooms are good for the tech level of the world.
Shark checks over the suites for bugs before they get into any sort
of conversations. He pronounces the rooms clean.
There is a balcony outside all the way around both
suites -- they are the tallest building around, and they can see the WDC
head office six blocks away. There are no SDB's in sight. Shark
looks over the edge of the balcony and notes that the building is readily
scalable. The stonework is carved and in good condition, providing
excellent handholds. On the other hand, it would involve climbing
Shark has scanned the city map into his hand computer,
and now checks the location of the courthouse. It's about eight blocks
away. He plans to look up the records of a random company, just to
check out the security and layout of the establishment.
But what sort of business are they in? It has
to be something the staff would need to go look up, and something an offworlder
would be interested in. They peruse the telephone directory for ideas.
They settle on music -- Shark will look up a small recording company,
chosen from the phone book.
At the courthouse, the staff happily fetch the records
for the company Shark requests. The man walks into a back room and
takes a file from among a large number of cabinets. There are armed
guards in hte lobby, and the doors and windows are alarmed. Passive
security systems are evident to Shark's trained eye. Apparently making
notes on his hand computer, he actually takes pictures of the entrances.
These should be useful for whoever will be doing the break-in, although
he is pretty sure that these low-tech precautions will not present any problems
to high-tech intruders.
Misha has been sleeping to get ready for whatever
night-time activities might be required.
Helia organizes a shopping trip -- bookstores, candy,
pastries, and of course music stores. Kalida joins her. They
take a cab, asking the driver to find them a good music store and bookstore
next to each other. They arrive soon at a central shopping area, about
four blocks from the hotel -- they can walk back. Helia goes on into
the bookstore; Kalida starts with music, and will join the larian later.
Helia picks up some children's books, but also her
usual stuff: history, technology, cookbooks, supernatural sciences. The
closest she gets to the supernatural "sciences" is a book of ghost stories
-- she buys it anyway.
Kalida first looks for music on Greengrass Records,
and then picks up some pleasant instrumental music for herself. Then
she goes back to the bookstore and looks for her usual interests. Much
to her surprise, she finds a book that is directly relevant.
Helia has finished her book shopping and retired to
a restaurant in the same block. It has baked goods and a candy store,
and that's a good start for her. She asks them where to find a shop
with the widest variety of local candies, and they say that she should go
to the town of Seaview, 150 kilometers away on the coast. In this
city, the best candy store would be Walkertons, a few blocks from here but
within walking distance. She has her purchases sent back to the hotel,
and then stays for a while, sampling their selection and praising them. Leaving
the store, she looks for Kalida, first in the music store and then in the
bookstore, where she finds her and immediately tells her they have to go
A short cab ride takes them to Walkertons. It
does indeed have a good selection, although there's nothing unusual here.
Helia asks what particularly local candies there might be that are
unique to Wonstar.
The clerk says that these are all local; his personal favorite is barley
sugar. Helia asks them to send her purchases to her hotel. She
tries several different candies, and keeps thrusting stuff at Kalida for
her to try. Eventually she notices that it's time for lunch, so they
return to the hotel.
Also in the morning, Robert visits the library looking
for computer textbooks. He does find some, all detailing the primitive
technology of this world. Telephony books confirm his findings on the
wire systems here, and fill in some of the details.
Also of interest to him is the history of the world
for the last fifty years or so, although there isn't much that actually
happens here. Politics toddle along without much interest or incident
in this representative democracy. It's all geared towards the farming.
GNP has improved steadily, without any sort of jump
thirty years ago. That means that all the money the WDC brings in
is funneled back out, without making an impact here.
All meet at the hotel for lunch from room service.
Shark shows Misha the results of casing the courthouse and suggests
surveillance locations, while Helia passes around bagels. The books
have not yet arrived.
Shark announces he'll visit The Last Cab tonight.
All the reasons he says why Helia shouldn't join him -- it's a low-class
bar, it'll cramp his style, and so on -- are met with delighted interest.
Helia intends to go too -- she'll get a good chance to talk with the
They'll have to wait for the books to arrive before
they can expand on history other than Robert's research. At the end
of lunch, however, the candies arrive.
Helia calls the bookstore to find out when to expect
the delivery. The store says they'll go out in the afternoon shipment,
which should arrive at the hotel by 2:30 pm.
Shark checks the phone book, and finds a recording
company near the WDC. It's one that specializes in what would be brass
band music, except the instruments are made out of steel. It'll make
a good conversation opener with a cabbie to lead in to talking about the
Helia returns to the shopping district. This
time she's interested in clothes. There are lots of cute country girl
outfits in her size. She buys some with lots of fringe, a fringe vest,
and so on. As usual, she'll have her purchases sent to the hotel. Her
browsing leads her to a jewelry store, where she looks for something like
a flying themed necklace. She finds one of a winged fairy, very nice
indeed, in iridium -- the wings are studded with tiny diamonds that gives
them a delicate filigree look. It's a one of a kind piece, a mere
When they hear where she's staying, they even offer to charge it to
her hotel account. As soon as Belladonna presents her Imperial ID,
they let her wear it from the shop. She also looks for a new backpack
of the right size and shape, but doesn't find anything as good as she has
Back at the hotel, the books have arrived. Shark
is disappointed to find that there are no law books among Helia's selections.
He makes a short trip to the bookstore himself and picks up a small
multi-volume set. What he's looking for is personal injury consequences
-- if he kills someone, how much trouble would he be in? The legal
language in the books is somewhat obscure, but he does manage to interpret
it. If someone were to shoot at him, he would be perfectly within
his rights to shoot back. All he has to do is make sure it looks like
the other person fired first. The details are more complicated, but
that's the gist of it.
Then he checks the legal section of the local paper.
The legal system is geared towards being fair. Trials are very
soon after charges are pressed, and a jury of seven determines the verdict
by majority vote. Jury pay is good, and it's supposed to be a pleasurable
experience as well as a civic duty. Once convicted, punishments are
harsh. For murder, executions are the rule. A good lawyer undoubtedly
helps, but it shouldn't be necessary. There are not very many offenses,
but the laws pertaining to each are complicated. Don't do someone else
any harm; don't take stuff that's theirs; the rule of thumb laws are fairly
simple. In terms of what actually constitutes self defense, for example,
the law is rather complicated. So in a bar fight, make sure there
are plenty of witnesses that the other guy swung first.
The plans for the evening are determined. Shark
is going to sleep until 9 or 10, then grab something to eat and drive to
The Last Cab -- in his own car. Misha is going to stake out
the courthouse. Helia and Kalida are having a hot tub party. Robert
wonders idly whether the hotel have their billing records on computer --
they do, but he'll have fun in the hot tub first. Helia insists that
the jewelry shop must get their money; Robert agrees.