It is early morning as Edward "Shark" Teeth collects
"Anne Bonny" and "Edward Teach" for their breakfast meeting with Andy
at the Black Moon Diner. Part of the plan is to figure out
where he got the bottle of Blockade Bourbon -- Shark thinks it's related
to the Wonstar Development Corporation, but everyone else thinks that's
rather a stretch. Kalida Siena also wonders where Andy is from --
he seems to recognize the top-end Rhylanor designer
clothing all too easily.
Kalida then addresses the question of getting a
detailed provenance for the special bourbon from Andy. She says that
for this bottle the pedigree wouldn't add any value, because it never really
exists. This is an illicit product -- the person who gets it from the
grower/bottler is not going to want to be identified. There's not
going to be a trace going back to the person who originally obtained it.
The only thing that's important are the actual physical tests of the
bottle. It's not worth paying Andy to provide a provenance.
Misha Ravanos asks if his source might have more bottles
of this bourbon.
Kalida tells him that's unlikely. Blockade Bourbon
is very rare. Of course, anything's possible...
Shark has obtained Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead's truth
blabbing cocktail in case they decide to go through with kidnapping and interrogating
Andy, along with something that should cause a blank in his memory.
Shark summarizes what they're doing here in this system.
They're here to track down the Wonstar Development Corporation and
the people at the WDC, first of all to see if they're into black ships; then
to find out why they're into psionic stuff. He says that this would
be a perfect place to put an Imperial Research
Station to investigate psionics
secretly -- it's right at the edge of the Imperium.
Misha says they could have set up the research outside
the Imperium, and avoided the issue of whether it was legal or not. They
know that the Imperial FarSpace Service runs research facilities outside
the Imperium, after all. He acknowledges that they did indeed come
here originally to investigate the WDC, but they have run into a lot of
Shark and Misha discuss the original WDC site, where
there's a whole small town set up. They would need a reason to go
there -- and they would have to either fly, or take a boat to the coast
and drive a long way inland. Perhaps they could get one of them hired
on as an employee of the WDC, and infiltrate that way?
In general, they're not known to the company. They
do know that the WDC is on the alert for a man with a cape and a sword, but
that's all. Shark points out that the personnel of H.M.S. Third Eye are probably
known to the people funding Marquis Marcus Crestworthy's missions; Kalida,
Callisto, and Jaekovic Ils-Nevronne are not known.
Roger drives Edward Teach and Anne Bonny to the Black
Moon Diner. It's raining hard. Anne and Edward take a seat
in Andy's booth, while Roger walks over to the counter and orders coffee.
Andy has almost finished a substantial cooked breakfast.
He calls over a waitress for Anne and Edward to make their orders
-- they eat a much lighter meal.
Edward starts chatting to Andy to try to loosen him
up on the origin of this bottle. Andy says again he got it from a
guy in settlement of debt -- he doesn't know where that guy got it from.
He does loosen up quickly under Edward's skillful light conversation,
and reveals that the person isn't on planet anymore. The debt was
relating to a transaction that was not managed correctly by the other party.
Andy ventures that the person probably bought the bottle himself,
and doesn't have any more of the whisky. He says the man probably came
by it as the result of being presented with the opportunity, rather than
seeking it out. He was the sort of person with enough resources that
he might buy it, but he no longer is. Andy reiterates that the bottle
is definitely the genuine stuff.
Edward tactfully draws out Andy on the subject of the
price, and whether he'd be taking a loss as it stands at a quarter of a
They talk around the subject for a while, but it becomes clear that
Andy has essentially written off the debt, and just wants to get something
out of it -- he wants to move it, and salvage something out of the loss.
That's why the price is where it is. He doesn't want to have
to continue to store it on the off-chance that someone rich comes along.
Andy's business card simply says, "Andy Capp, entrepreneur."
That seems to suit his business.
Edward works the conversation again to try to figure
out what he knows about the WDC. Andy mentions several companies when
asked about the major players here, but none of them are the WDC. One
of those companies does food service and supplies food to the Naval Base, but the other
large companies don't have naval contracts. There is a company that
handles certain shipping for the Naval Base, but it's not particularly large
-- and Imperiallines
has a majority shareholding.
As for the WDC, Andy says you could think of it as a
technology company, or research organization, in that they're doing research.
They have a number of sites, and are doing some sort of research --
they have to be doing something with their money. They're always well
supplied, but it's not quite clear what they're selling, so they must be pretty
well funded. They're not publicly traded, and Andy apparently can't
find out who owns them. They seem to be involved in agriculture research
-- fishing, crops, trying to grow specialty crops in strange places. The
keep themselves to themselves, and they're hard to infiltrate. They
only hire regular laborers, all from this system -- at least, they aren't
recruiting offworld. As far as he can tell, it's locally owned, with
no offworld interests. Andy says he has noticed them sending out and
receiving couriers every now and again, although they don't seem to export
Andy then says, "If I really had to guess, just throwing
a wild idea out there, they could be some sort of spy organization, spying
on the Imperial Navy here. That's my guess, just a wild guess, and
you wouldn't have heard that from me of course."
Anne asks, "What would lead you to that guess?"
"There's a big Naval Base here. The WDC sites
scattered around the world, places with low background light, they could
run simple passive observations of naval activity. They send couriers
in and out. There's only two things couriers with little baggage carry,
and that's information and money. There's nothing else here to spy
on. Now if you learn more, I'd be glad to know it. You know
where to find me."
Andy waves for a refill of the coffee pot. The
waitress leaves her obviously most enjoyable conversation with Roger to do
Edward says, "I think it's time we closed this deal.
I understand you offered two-fifty. That's acceptable. Do
you have a place you'd like me to come?"
Andy pulls out a business card, writes something on
the back, and says, "midnight tonight."
Edward gets up to leave, and Anne follows. They
part on very pleasant terms -- Edward says he'll let him know if they get
more information. Andy compliments Anne's taste in clothes. Andy
pours himself more coffee as the offworlders leave. Roger breaks off
flirting with the waitress and leaves with his boss.
On the way out, Edward hands the card to Roger, and
says, "We need to case this place."
Shark nods, pulls the van over for Teri Cralla to slip
in from her place in the shadows, and drives them out to case the rendezvous,
an address about 10 km south of Starcom.
On the way, Misha explains to Shark that Andy doesn't
know a lot about the WDC. "His theory is that Wonstar is spying on the
Navy. Obviously money is going one way and information the other, but
he has the flow backwards. It seems clear to me that they're not spying
on the navy, since the Navy's covering them."
Shark muses whether the WDC has their records in orbit.
There are several orbiting stations, and Shark is willing to bet that
one of them is the real headquarters of the company. The SDB's here have
clearly been in service for some time -- the Imperial Navy equipment doesn't
seem out of line in terms of being especially new or fancy. The SDB's
were carrying Imperial Navy insignia, which isn't surprising considering they
run all naval activity in this subsector. What is surprising is that
after a guy with a sword killed two guards at their head office, suddenly
the WDC has the Imperial Navy running patrols over all their sites. Clearly
Wonstar has pull with the Navy at least, and it's relatively public pull at
that. On the other hand, nothing has appeared in the local media about
The location they've been given for the exchange is a
farm some 10 km south of town. The place is fairly remote. It
occurs to them that it would be easier to case it from the air -- according
to Callisto up on Nightshade,
the farm buildings are nestled at the bottom of a wooded hollow. A
sign where the road turns off for the farm says "Higsons Farm." It's
clearly a working farm, and seems to be farming cattle.
Misha and Shark laugh that Andy probably acquired the
farm the same way he did the Blockade Bourbon.
Shark pulls the minivan into a secluded spot for Teri
to board Nightshade. She'll be in position on the ground tonight,
dropped off in a place of her choosing well before midnight. As Teri
boards, Shark collects a satchel of cash for the transaction tonight, with
an SMG on top of the money.
They drive back to the hotel.
Misha has decided against having Jaek apply for a job
with the WDC -- they have other avenues to investigate, and that is too much
of a commitment right now.
Kalida reminds them that Miss Franklin is due to arrive
at Rosebud (the desert site) in a few days time. That might be their
As midnight approaches, a small group leaves the hotel
to perform the transaction at Higsons Farm. Shark drives the minivan,
with Misha, Kalida, and Helia on board. Teri has already taken up her
chosen position at the farm, in full battledress with FGMP-15 and ACR. Nightshade
hovers over the farm in stealth mode, ready to intercede should the deal turn
sour. Helia is in the role of Kalida's bodyguard; the larian warns her
charge not to step in front of her if something happens, especially if she
sees Helia's necklace outside the suit. While Kalida has watched some
zack practice, she hasn't seen one used in anger.
As they approach the farm, the road starts winding through
the woods. Shark is driving very carefully, especially considering Robert's
mishaps with the van the other night.
The farmhouse itself is well lit. There is a groundcar
parked outside. As they pull up, a man gets out, leaving the door open.
It's not Andy. He's carrying what looks like a trumpet case.
Helia hands the satchel to Kalida, and stands ready to
rip off her backpack and take flight.
Kalida and the man walk towards each other and exchange
The man turns his back, and walks over to the car. He
throws the satchel on the passenger seat, and gets in. No words have
Kalida gets into the van. She opens the case. There,
in a cut-out in foam, is the bottle.
"Do we get to open it now?" says Helia.
Shark shakes his head. "We don't get to open it,"
The bottle looks right to Kalida. She says, "Pending
further testing, it looks good so far." She closes the case.
The man has pulled out a newspaper and remains seated
in the car, reading.
Shark asks Nightshade to follow the car. He
wants to know where the money is being delivered. He drives back to
The other car has driven into Starcom and into the same
warehouse that contained the North Whipsnade whisky.
Their business here is done. All investigation
of the WDC here has been most disappointing, but they have picked up some
salable goods, as well as a good supply of whisky for the ship. It's
time to follow up on other leads elsewhere.
When morning arrives, they check out of the hotel and
drive out towards Down Port City. At the usual secluded area, everyone
except Shark boards Nightshade. Shark continues on to the starport
and drops off the rental car. He makes his way up to the roof, and quickly
boards the stealthed black ship.
Helia flies up into orbit and starts a tour of the space
stations. As she does so, Callisto performs a detailed scan of the planet
for neutrino emissions, to try to locate any more concealed fusion plants.
There are four space stations in orbit around the world.
Three of them have military craft docked at them, and are obviously
Imperial Navy stations; the other one does not. That fourth one has
a small ship's boat docked at it.
Shark asks Helia to bring them in close to that fourth
station. From the communications that Robert intercepts, it's quite
clear that the locals are running a global weather station from here. It's
definitely not a corporate headquarters.
The navy stations are mostly observation posts. There
are no apparent facilities in orbit capable of handling large ships; presumably
there would have to be something around the moon, or in the asteroid belt.
Callisto's scans are pretty conclusive. She picks
up the one at Rosebud, one at the starport, and the others are all at the
navy island. Some of the naval ones are shielded.
Shark suggests storming the base at Rosebud, two kilometers
underground. He really wants to know what's down there. There
are two SDB's on station; Bridgehead estimates that it would probably take
about an hour for the navy to back them up with relief forces. Still,
Shark rejects the idea because it would reveal that they have an undetectable
Misha expresses doubt as to whether the WDC are actually
worth the effort, even whether they're actually bad guys.
Shark replies, "They're an unknown quantity, which makes
them a bad guy until you can prove they're not."
Misha is still not eager to go shooting down SDB's.
Shark continues, "But they're more and more of an enigma.
The more I don't know about them, the more I want to know about them.
And I don't know an awful lot."
Misha says, "The other thing is, they occasionally send
out these couriers, right? So if we knew one of these couriers was leaving,
we could just follow him."
Mich Saginaw points out that following a ship through
jump is pretty much impossible. He muses that if he and Helia were
to work together with a full sensor log, maybe they could reach the point
where they could figure it out in a week or two.
That leaves the people who visit the facility in the
desert. Shark comes up with an idea -- he wants a dart that can be
fired into someone's clothes, records, and then when it receives a signal
will spring off and can be recovered. He initially thinks of a gauss
pistol dart, but the caliber and velocity aren't suitable.
Kalida suggests a blowgun; either that or a crossbow
would probably work best. What about something he might step in and
get on his shoe?
A brief brainstorming session comes up with another idea
-- don't try to get the thing to drop off, just broadcast an encoded burst
on command. That makes it much simpler -- Mich and Robert can build
those easily. Then, if they know where the helicopter is coming from,
they can arrange to place it on the person before the chopper takes off.
It's a good bet that this Miss Franklin will be flying
in from the small camp at the coast -- which is slated to become Paradise
Gateway when it's developed. Shark says they can plant the recording
devices in the chopper, on the seats, so she's bound to pick up one or two.
The devices will be ready by the time they arrive at
the coastal camp.
In the meantime, they can perform the tests on the bottle
of Blockade Bourbon to make sure they haven't been ripped off. The only
catch is that there is no information in the ship's data banks on what tests
to perform, or how to tell if the bottle conforms.
First of all Shark wants to run some forensics on the
bottle, looking for fingerprints or DNA samples. The bottle is scrupulously
clean except for one spot, where he manages to get a DNA sample. Even
allowing for that one tiny slip-up, the bottle has been cleaned by an expert
who knew what he was doing. The DNA turns out to be consistent with
someone of Andy's description; comparing it with samples from Andy's business
cards, it's an exact match. Shark even manages to get a fingerprint
off one of the cards. He would have preferred to have worked with the
sample bottle of North Whipsnade that Andy gave them, but it has already been
finished and thrown out.
The lack of data for tests isn't a problem for Kalida,
however -- she takes the bottle to the lab, and after a day of testing eventually
announces it's definitely genuine.
Miss Franklin is due to arrive tomorrow. The helicopter
is sitting on the tarmac, apparently unattended. Of the eight people
at the camp, two of them are guards alternating night and day shifts. The
small number of people here makes it impossible to sneak in as a worker, so
it will call for stealth -- which means Misha or Jaek.
They wait until night before planting the "seeds." Helia
brings Nightshade down some distance from the paved area, where Misha
drops onto the ground and flops into cover on the rough ground.
Given the lax security, it's a routine operation to crawl
up to the helicopter. Once there, Misha opens the door, plants the seeds
on the seats, closes the door, and slips back into the night right under
the nose of the guard. He waits for a quiet moment, then gets back
on board the invisible ship.
All is ready for Miss Franklin's arrival tomorrow.