It is many hours before dawn. The copter
at the staging camp on the coast has been "seeded" with the recording devices.
Miss Franklin is due to arrive today. Nightshade hovers
over the coastal camp waiting for her arrival.
Helia Sarina is bored. She takes a break,
joining Vonish Kehnaan in the galley. They have great fun working
on new dishes and playing on the gravcraft simulator while drinking the
North Whipsnade whisky.
Edward "Shark" Teeth suddenly realizes that both
pilots are now drunk. Robert Morris, of course, is of the opinion
that the ship can fly itself. Misha Ravanos is particularly interested
in whether the ship can be operated without a pilot, and decides to try
Helia is surprised when Nightshade asks her
if it's OK to move. The ship tells her that the Captain is requesting
that the ship move. Helia asks where the Captain is, and rushes off
to the bridge to talk to him. She is astonished that there's no-one
in the pilot's seat; she asks Misha if he was trying to move the ship.
Misha replies that he did indeed ask Robert to move
Robert is at his regular hieroglyphic console, looking
relaxed and unconcerned.
Helia announces that the ship asked her for permission
to move the ship.
Misha is incredulous. He says, "Asked
"Well, yeah," says Helia. "It's my job. Do
you need to move the ship? I can do it."
Misha shakes his head and laughs. "I'd like
to see if the ship can do it by itself."
"Oh." Helia jumps into her seat and goes into
sparkly pink mode. She has a brief conversation with Nightshade,
the culmination of which is that while the ship can move itself, and maybe
even jump itself, it does everything better with a person in the loop--
especially Helia. Even slightly drunk, as she is now, it flies better
with her in control -- that's what Helia says the ship tells her, anyway.
Misha explains he does want to test the ability of
the ship to fly itself, starting with something simple like going up a
Helia explains that the ship can do well enough,
but again points out that it's not as good as with her, especially in case
of an emergency. Best is with a pilot in sparkly pink mode, second
best with a pilot at the regular controls, then third best is by itself.
She suggests that Nightshade might feel better about it if they
gave it some sort of limitation, so that it won't be asked to do anything
Robert explains that what he would do is ask the
ship to go from here to there, stealthily if that's the case, rather than
actually being any more involved in piloting.
Helia authorizes them to move the ship without her.
Robert asks it to head towards the island with the
Naval Base. Nightshade
turns and accelerates to the west.
Misha looks at him and mentions this doesn't look
like a klick up, is the ship doing what it was asked?
Robert nods silently. He muses to himself that
it isn't his fault that the captain communicates in ape grunts. Anyway,
the ship is clearly capable of flying itself, as he knew all along.
Helia flies up to one of her lofts on the bridge
and watches from there. She throws jelly beans at the Captain and
Shark, singing Mack the Knife and grinning broadly.
The ship is indeed doing exactly what Robert asked.
The main holodisplay shows the path from the origin to the Naval Base,
showing the current location of the ship, projected trajectory, and time
points along the path.
Misha is pleased. He asks Robert to take them
back, and asks if the ship could jump. "No, don't do
a jump," he says quickly, "I just want to know if it could."
Robert signs a symbol or two at the ship. It
calculates the jump parameters for him -- not as quickly as Helia does
it -- and Robert reports to his captain that indeed it seems like the ship
can jump itself.
Back at the camp, hovering again, something catches
Something Noticed by
Robert (Available to the crew after Robert
tells them about it later)
Meanwhile dawn arrives, and with it a large motor
yacht arrives at the dock. Two people disembark -- one man and one
woman, both carrying small metal suitcases. They walk directly to
the helicopter with purposeful strides. Two men in overalls hurriedly
dash over to the copter, open the doors to let the two people in, and then
get in themselves. The helicopter starts up, takes off, and heads
towards the desert site at about 200 kph.
Helia is back at the pilot's station. She slips
into sparkly pink and follows the copter in stealth mode. At the current
rate it will take around six hours to get to Project Rosebud.
The rest of the crew go off and do their own thing.
Misha and Shark go to the gym to train with their zacks, while the
others disperse through the ship.
On the way, Robert tells Misha about the thing he's
noticed on a national television broadcast, on the Starcom TV channel.
After about six hours, the helicopter lands in front
of the warehouse at the desert. There had been no transmissions on
the way. All four people get out of the copter and go into the building.
It's a little after midday.
At Shark's request, Callisto brings up the NAS and
tracks the people into the building. Shark wants to know how far
down they go in the elevator. She brings it up on the command holodisplay,
but as the people get into the lounge interference makes their locations
fuzzy. At least two of them entered the elevator, while two others
remained in the warehouse lounge.
Misha has been considering the implications of what
Robert showed him. He asks Robert how far away they can be from
their bugs to trigger them and get the signal, but the communications officer
confirms they're only effective for a very short distance, about a hundred
meters. The bugs are too small to have much power.
The next question is for Helia: how long will it
take to get back to Starcom? She says it will take about two hours,
going stealthily but as fast as possible.
Misha tells Robert that he knows they're abandoning
the bugs, but they have to break off here for a while. The guests
generally have stayed here about three days, so they should be able to pick
up when they get back. If the copter isn't here, they can search for
it. He explains that the plan is to go to Starcom, drop off a team,
and the ship will then come back here to monitor the situation. The
Nightshade's part of the mission should be pretty safe, but in the
city they'd be wise to take Teri Cralla as backup and limit the team to essential
Misha then shows the report to Shark so that he knows
what's going on. The First Officer laughs and says that even his rookie
partner could figure that one out!
Time zone lag works against them. It's about
9 pm local time when they get to Starcom.
The taxi cabs are all independents, so there's no
shift change as such. The person in front of the camera was not Andy
Capp -- it was no-one they've ever seen. But the message is quite
clear that they're supposed to get to the bar for a meeting.
At this point, Misha shows the whole crew the broadcast.
(Now see box above)
Robert has -- at Misha's direction -- prepared a communications
box to enable the away team to signal Nightshade to come help them.
The box runs on ship's power, so will definitely have the range,
and has two messages set up -- come get us stealthily, or come get us now
we need help ASAP.
Teri is to be armed as she wishes within the constraints
of not looking too obvious -- she'll have to leave her suit on board. She
selects an Imperial
ACR, and no doubt has other objects distributed in her combat fatigues.
Shark selects his gauss pistol along with a more local style slug-thrower.
The zack wearers will wear their zacks, of course.
They will also need cash. They don't need a
lot now, just enough to get around the city and so on. They can come
back for more if they need it.
Misha will lead the team (without sword or cape),
with Shark to handle interaction with the denizens of Starcom. Teri
will provide backup, and Kalida Siena will dress in her business manager
suit and accompany them.
Helia brings Nightshade to the roof of the
Grand Imperial Regency Hotel, and the team goes ashore there. It's
a simple matter to access the roof staircase, and then walk down through
the hotel as if they're staying there.
As the team walks through the lobby, one of the staff
recognizes them and acknowledges them politely. They walk out into
the street, walk a couple of blocks, and then pick up a taxi to take them
to The Last Cab.
They arrive at the bar at about 10 pm. Business
is just starting to warm up for the night. As they would expect,
Andy is not yet here. Shark ("Roger Jolly") goes to the bar and chats
with Ben the bartender, who pours him a drink on the house while the others
sit down at their regular table. According to Ben, nothing much has
happened around here. There was a shooting outside between a couple
of cabbies last night, but no-one else was hurt.
At midnight, Andy comes in and sits down at his regular
table. He looks over at Shark. Shark goes over and sits down
Andy says, "Good to see you. I'm glad you got
the message. I'll be up front, because time is of the essence."
Shark says, "Should I ask my associates...?"
"Yes. Unless they don't want to hear anything
that might be a little... dodgy?"
"That won't be a problem." Shark waves the others
Andy continues, "Somebody from offworld has come in
to visit the Wonstar Development Corporation. We figure you'd be
interested in this. He came in with just a small amount of luggage.
The guy's a noble
from Mora. I
thought you guys would find it interesting. He's Marquis Vanderfield."
No-one recognizes the name.
"I figure this might be just the sort of guy you might
want to talk to." Shark nods, and Andy continues, "He's around town
with a company executive, who you also might like to talk to, and for a
reasonable fee I can arrange a meeting. In fact, you can have them.
The team look at each other.
"Obviously you don't have that on you. I know
you're good for it."
"When can you do this?"
"Some time in the next hour and a half. We'll
catch him when he comes out of a club."
Misha asks if he can make the meeting place "quiet."
"Yes. In fact, this is the place." He
hands Shark a card. It's a warehouse about three blocks in.
"We're car-less tonight," says Shark.
"See that guy over there with the flat cap? That's
Jim. Tell him I'm putting his taxi at your disposal. Why don't
you hang around here, and I'll give you the nod when it's done."
They return to their own table, and order some bar
food. Jim remains in his seat, sitting back and nursing his beer.
At about 1:30, Ben goes over and talks to Andy. Andy
gets Shark's attention. Shark gets Jim's attention, and they follow
the cabbie outside.
The cab pulls up to the warehouse. Jim indicates
he's going to wait for them -- he'll pull the cab inside.
The warehouse door opens, and someone says, "We've
got them in the lounge."
Shark says, "What is their condition?"
"They're unharmed, in good spirits, and have been
kicking back reading newspapers and magazines. There's two guards
with them, and two outside the door. There's been no fuss. Nobody's
been searched. Do you want our guards present when you go in?"
"I believe we can handle it."
"Do you want to take them?"
Shark looks at Misha. He turns back to the guy
and says, "We'll talk to them here first."
They are taken to the lounge. Inside (and outside)
are two guards in suits with submachine guns. The guards leave the
room at a nod from the guy escorting them.
There are two people seated in the room. There
is a man in his mid 40's who looks like a noble; he's dressed in good clothes
for a night on the town. There's also a woman who's smartly dressed
in local clothes. Neither have any obvious weapons.
After Marquis Korwin Vanderfield and Grace Wilhelm
have been there about 45 minutes, a group of four people come in and the
guards leave. The most obvious of them is a woman in combat fatigues
carrying an ACR at the ready. The other woman is dressed in very fine
clothes, probably designer originals -- not quite the style from Mora, but obviously
some major world; she carries herself like she knows how to wear them. The
rest of the group don't match her a-list image. There is a short guy
who's nondescript, wearing chauffeur clothes. The remaining man is
also middle-aged, wearing a loose-fitting suit.
The male prisoner has a hard chin, middle aged, with
a short crew cut. He's dressed in a fairly well tailored business suit.
The woman is younger, about 30, dressed in local business casual clothes.
The man breaks the ice first. "Drinks, anyone?"
Kalida, the sharp-dressed woman, sits down. The
"Are you guys waiting here too, or are you who I'm
Misha says, "You're who we're waiting for." He
breaks into a grin, laughs, "We are who you're waiting for."
"How can I be of assistance to you guys?"
"We're investors. We're interested in the Wonstar
"I'm not sure how I can be of much help there. I
know little of them myself."
"So, perhaps we were misinformed."
"I am the Marquis Korwin Vanderfield, of Mora."
"I am Edward Teach."
Kalida says, "I'm Anne Bonny. It's nice to meet
Korwin says, "Are you interested in attending our
seminar tomorrow on gravitics and their use in planetary defense?"
For the first time, the woman is looking concerned.
Shark watches her closely.
Korwin keeps a close eye on the woman with the ACR to
see if she gets itchy. There's no danger of that: Teri is calm as
still waters until she needs to move quickly. He does notice that
Grace is tense -- she didn't look threatened on the way over here, but
she does now.
The room goes quiet. Korwin continues to size
them up while waiting for them to tell him what they're really interested
Anne Bonny says, "So you travelled here specifically
to attend the seminar?"
Korwin says, "I'm presenting. That's what I
"Are you with the University at Mora?"
"No, I'm a retired Lt. Colonel with the Imperial Army.
And since retiring I've been travelling through the sector teaching
combat tactics using gravtanks. And of course, to the planets such
that doesn't have the technology to do that..."
Laughter drowns out what he said next. Everyone
seems to think the idea that he can drive a gravtank is hilarious.
"I do it quite well, too."
Shark says, "We don't. We don't take them out
of the hanger because they crash them. Or they get eaten by a fish."
Korwin starts on a war story about a large fish jumping
up to eat his grav tank.
Shark patiently interrupts him, "Who invited you here?"
"Wonstar. The WDC." Korwin quickly glances
over to Grace. She remains nervous.
Misha lets Korwin finish the story, then says, "What's
the WDC's interest in gravitics?"
"They've not had any specific interest other than
to bring me here for the conference. I think they're probably interested
in purchasing some gravitic defense vehicles."
"Is Wonstar a
particularly dangerous place?"
"I don't know. This is my first time here."
Misha directs his question to the woman. "What's
the WDC's interest in planetary defense through gravitics?"
Grace replies nonchalantly, "We're just sponsoring
the conference, that's all."
"We're interested in all aspects of development. Anything
that might help the local industries."
"So what other conferences have you sponsored recently?"
"This is the first one I've been involved in."
Shark asks, "Where's it to be held?"
"It's at the hotel. The Grand Imperial Regency."
Kalida asks, "How many presenters do you have?"
Korwin hands out pamphlets to everybody.
Grace continues, "The Marquis is our only offworld
presenter. Certainly our most distinguished presenter. If that's
all, can we go?"
Misha says, "No, not yet." He looks around at
the others. He then turns to the woman, and asks, "What's your role
at the WDC?"
"I'm just in publicity. I make sure our guests
are well looked after, that's all."
"And does the WDC do a lot of advertising?"
"Do they do a lot of publicity at all?"
"We do a lot of publicity for things."
"Give us an example."
"You probably wouldn't have heard of it. So
what's your interest in the company?"
"Deep, and well defined."
"What do you mean?"
"We're closely associated with one of the WDC's suppliers."
"We're more interested in perhaps arranging a closer
relationship between our organization and the WDC."
"I... don't think that's possible."
Korwin says, "Certainly having us here under duress
is not a good way to foster relationships between your organization and
the WDC. Just an observation."
Misha says, "In fact, this is an improvement in our
Grace says cautiously, "In what way? You're
not associated with the guy with the sword, are you?"
"We know people with swords, yes."
Shark asks, "What guy with the sword?"
Grace says, "The guy with the sword who attempted
to break in."
Misha asks, "Attempted? You have a security
"Apparently not. Apparently our security works
fine. Wasn't that what you found? Well, you didn't get in."
"We haven't got in yet, no, we're still asking questions."
Korwin looks from one to the other and says, "You
know each other?"
Kalida and Grace chorus, "No, we've never met."
Grace continues, "But I think one of these people
here has met two of our ex-guards. So where else have you been on
Shark says, "Where should we have been?"
"I am asking the questions here. Where have
Misha asks, "So why isn't it possible that we could
arrange a closer relationship?"
"You have to ask? Well, like the Marquis said,
this is not the best way to..."
"What would be a better way?"
"You could go away and leave us alone. That
would be a better relationship. Who do you work for?"
"You tell who you work for, and..."
"I work for the Wonstar Development Corporation."
"We work for the WDC's suppliers."
"No you don't. Which one?"
"Which part of Wonstar do you work for?"
"We're in acquisitions."
"Yeah. Acquisitions and explosions, eh?"
"That was unfair."
"But accurate? Look. This really isn't
getting anywhere. You have nothing to ask. I have nothing to
give you. Why don't you just let us go?"
Misha sighs. "I don't know."
Kalida asks, "How large is your publicity department?"
Grace says, "We don't need a very large department."
"Are you in charge of it?"
"I couldn't possibly answer that."
Shark recalls that he hasn't seen her come or go from
the WDC headquarters building. He's not certain, but he doesn't think
so. Korwin recalls that her communications just had her name, no
title; he notes that she is still tense.
Shark and Misha step outside for a quick word.
Misha says, "I think we have to take them."
Shark says, "I'll make the call." He adds that
he can shoot them with tranq darts, which will solve the problem of getting
them on the ship.
Shark adds that the problem is that once they've taken
them, they can't let them go. That environment is too easily identifiable.
He says that Andy probably wants them to do something permanent with
them, and if not, he will.
Misha says, "Before that, let me try a slightly different
"OK," says Shark, "Just give me the nod."
Kalida has been chatting with Korwin, asking who he
"Ling Standard Products,"
"You just go out on the lecture circuit?"
"Yes. Usually they follow up with sales and
stuff after that. I'm not really involved on that. I just talk
about combat tactics and things like that to clue them in why gravtanks
are a wonderful idea."
The two men come back in.
Misha now tries to intimidate and frighten Grace.
He explains that they're in pretty desperate need of certain information
they are hoping that she can provide. "I am the gentleman with the
Grace says, "Oh. Are you also the gentleman
with the sleeping gas?"
"Yeah, that was me too. So..."
Korwin says, "So you guys do know each other."
"Apparently, better than we thought."
"Not in person," says Grace. "You know, you're
getting in way over your head here."
"You think? Tell me."
"You're over your head. You're into stuff that's..."
"What kind of stuff?"
"You just want to leave, quietly."
"I'm afraid that's not going to be possible."
Shark says, "Why would we be worried about a backwater
development company on a backwater world?"
Grace says, "I don't know. You attacked the
"But you tell us we are over our head. Why are
we over our head? With a backwater development company on a backwater
"Why would you be interested in the first place?"
Misha says, "We are actually one of you contract suppliers.
Shark says, "Employed through the University of Mora.
Whom you fund quite well."
Grace says, "I have no idea what you are talking about."
Both Korwin and Shark note that she is not as genuine when she says
that as she would no doubt like to appear. Korwin knows he hadn't
heard of the WDC when he was at UoM.
Shark gets the nod from Misha. He quickly pulls
out his gauss pistol and shoots Grace with tranq. She slumps in the
Korwin says, "That wasn't very nice."
Shark tries to shoot Korwin too, but misses. Teri
has been covering him, but doesn't need to get involved. Korwin is
Korwin says, "There's no need to drug me. No need
to shoot me. I'm the innocent one here, a third-party bystander."
"OK," laughs Shark, and shoots Marquis Vanderfield anyway.
The noble tries to fend off the effects of the drugs, but fails.
Nightshade is back over the desert site when
they get the call to return to Starcom. Helia takes the ship up stealthily,
as requested, and will take about two hours to fly to the far side of the
Shark asks their host if they can have the warehouse
to themselves for a few hours, but is turned down. Instead, they will
go to Higsons Farm. The two unconscious captives are shoved into the
taxi, and everyone else piles in too. While Jim drives them to the
farm, Shark tops up the tranq dose with a longer term drug.
Kalida says with a smile, "This is a new low for us."
Shark discovers to his shock that Grace is already dead.
They'll take the body back for the Doc to try to treat, although she'll
already have been dead for two hours by the time they can get her into sick
bay. Shark doesn't have anything to help preserve her, so they'll
just have to hope that Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead can do something.
Nevertheless, Shark searches both captives. Korwin
has a gun, an autopistol of Imperial manufacture in a holster at his back;
he has Imperial ID which agrees with who he said he was. He also has
an Imperial concealed carry permit for the gun, some cash, and night glasses
of the kind that Nightshade's crew uses regularly. Shark then
ties up the unconscious Marquis in case the tranq doesn't work as long as
At the farm, Jim drops them off and leaves them outside
the farm building to wait. Shark has already called Robert and told
them to meet them where they bought the expensive bottle of whisky. The
farm is clear of cameras or other surveillance equipment. Once the
taxi's left the area, they are apparently unobserved.
Helia has arrived very quickly, impressively so. She's
really getting the hang of flying in atmosphere, apparently using the ship's
dynamic aerolift to great
effect to improve efficiency and stealthiness.
Callisto locks in on the folks on the ground, while
Helia brings the ship in where they can easily board.
As Nightshade's coming in, Shark tells Bridgehead that
they have a dead body, and they need to get as much information from the person
as possible. The Doc says he can't work miracles, but he'll have a
go -- while he is getting the hang of the equipment on the ship, the body
is two hours old and it's unlikely he can resuscitate her.
Once on board, Grace's body is rushed to sick bay, while
the unconscious Marquis Vanderfield is taken there at a more leisurely pace.
The ship has no brig, and no locks on any of the doors, so there's
really nowhere else to confine him.
Helia again flies up and again takes Nightshade
back to the desert site.
The Baron has been working on Grace, but announces that
he can do nothing for her. She's been dead too long. Cause of
death was biting down on a poison capsule in a tooth -- she killed herself.
The style of the capsule is Imperial, but could be any intelligence
organization or any of the less legal competing organizations in the Imperium.
As Kalida says, "All our answers are dead."
Grace had very little on her. She had an Imperial
ID, a Wonstar Development Corporation ID, and cash. Anything else
is suspiciously absent -- she is obviously carrying nothing that could reveal
anything. The WDC ID has just her name, no title. Robert starts work
on the card to see what their security is like, and is upset to discover
that it is of the quality of an Imperial ID. When he checks out Marquis
Vanderfield's ID, he finds that indeed it is genuine -- as is that of Grace.
All they can do now is question their prisoner. First,
they check with the Baron, who hasn't heard of the Marquis. In the
database, they find that the Vanderfield Estates are on Mora, in North Lumanence
Township. It's an inherited honorific title. Socially he is
of exactly the same rank as Marquis Marcus Crestworthy of Pallique. Shark
does find a reference that in his youth, Korwin was quite a successful gravcar
racer: "We should apologize and hire him!" he says.
Back to the sick bay... the Baron feeds Korwin
the babblejuice right before waking him up, so they can question him right
away and don't have to mess around tricking him to drink.
Marquis Korwin Vanderfield wakes up, and is immediately
"That wasn't supposed to happen," says the Baron, "He's
just supposed to get a hangover after it wears off. Let me check my
supply of this stuff -- I've had it for years. It might have gone
Shark starts to introduce the Doc to Korwin, but the
Baron takes over. He says, "Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead. Let
me give you something for that. Here, drink this, it'll settle your
stomach. Well, I guess we'll have to go back and get some more of that
stuff. If I can find the lady who gave it to me. I might have
to have sex with her again. It's a long story..."
Korwin has heard of Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead.
He's recently been reported dead in a starship accident. "You're
supposed to be dead," he says.
"Yes, well, that's a long story too. Actually,
it's not very long. The ship was blown up a little..."
Shark says, "Everyone one of your ships recently has
"No! Oh. Hm. You have a point. Well,
this one hasn't."
Shark says, "Shall we go to the lounge?"
Korwin says, "Are you going to shoot me again? No?
Good. Can I have my stuff back?"
Shark nods and hands him his personal property -- except
The Baron says, "Give him the gun. Just don't
let him have any ammunition. You can't take a man's gun away."
Shark argues the point, but does hand over Korwin's
Korwin thanks him, and says, "And my escort, Grace?"
"She committed suicide," says Shark.
"Why would she do that?"
"She didn't want to be... talked to."
Shark says he's welcome to check the medical records.
Korwin declines, saying he trusts them -- if they'll shoot straight
with him, he'll shoot straight with them.
They walk towards the lounge.
This is not a normal ship. The doors are extremely
thin, while there is just way too much space on board the ship. The
sick bay is enormous, and even the corridors are too wide. Considering
Korwin hasn't seen the outside of the ship, he has nothing to relate it
to, but it's clearly wasting a lot of space. The corridor outside
the sick bay runs a long way forward and aft -- this is no small merchant
ship, or even a mercenary
They walk forward to a large area with a cargo lift.
They drop down one deck, and arrive in a large open area. Where
the wall of the ship would be is a clear opening, extending back to a spacious
lounge. There's a great view of the planet below, as they're in ballistic
transfer. The corridor going forward from here is an outrageous six
meters wide. This ship looks strange, with way too much wasted space.
The lounge is very comfortable. A crew member
Korwin has not seen before produces an excellent meal.
Shark grabs a whisky, then goes forward to clear out
everything from his stateroom. He'll have to find somewhere else to
sleep for a while.