"No matter where you go, there you are."-- ?, Gallipoli
319 - 336, 1122.
Robert Shelzie has convinced Ariana to take the trip to Jenghe with him, so off they go on board a Tukera luxury liner, to the lovely planet of Jenghe. After a few days on board the ship with other people, Ariana starts to relax, and actually seems to enjoy herself in a public, social setting. Once on Jenghe, Robert looks up his uncle Adam, and tells him about the issue of the commitment papers; "I'm no more crazy than I've ever been", and the family didn't have anything to do with this did they? No, the other Shelzies are not trying to have Robert committed, and Adam will look into it. Robert is a bit vague about why he believes someone is trying to have him falsely committed, but then again, he's not actually sure who's behind it. The fake Count Barada? Or something completely unconnected? Maybe someone who's got a score to settle with the Shelzie family?
The other reason for the trip was to get Ariana on a nice, uncomplicated trip, and to introduce her to Robert's uncle. Both of these goals have been accomplished admirably. And Ariana has had time to think. She's not ready to completely give up on the Count Barada thing. It's not so much the money, but the people and her homeworld she doesn't want to just abandon. She wants to lease a ship (much cheaper than buying) on Regina, and go back to her homeworld. Just as herself, she feels she'll be able to sneak in, so to speak, and have a word with some trusted family retainers, and see what can be done. Ariana doesn't want to appear anywhere as the Count, or have Robert do so either, because as soon as that happens, the fake count and his people will be alerted. And Ariana wants to find out what the heck they were doing with all the medical technology they acquired.
Ariana and Robert go off in search of a ship to lease. They locate an extended Scout courier, with one hard point, and a triple laser. The ship has jump-4, maneuver-2. It's pretty good for this area of the Marches, since a jump-4 allows the ship to go into areas off the regular jump routes where they wouldn't be in direct competition with the main shipping companies. They want to at least look like a merchant ship, as a cover.
All they need now is an engineer. Robert goes in search of some recently discharged Navy guy with engineering. He finds some one he doesn't know personally, but they're Navy, not from Regina, and they're willing to sign up as long as the ship's leaving within the next 24 hours. (Something about a woman. And her boyfriend. And maybe her eight brothers.) He's hired. His name is Steve *^#$&$%. Hmm. Some sort of Vilani name. They'll just call him Steve (which isn't exactly his real name, but it sounds like Steve).
Robert calls ahead to let Ariana he's coming way back with an engineer. When Robert arrives, he's greeted by Ariana, who's just finished reading the contract she signed. Ariana: "Hey, I've got our first job already." Robert: "What's the contract?" There's a short blurb in the lease that states the owner has agreed to provide transport for several people into the Jewell subsector. It's not going to the planet Ariana wants to go to, but it's in the general area. Robert sees Cena's name on the contract, who he remembers from the bug hunt. That's cool, she's a doctor! That's the only actual name, along with "two to four others". Robert gives Cena a call. Robert: "Dr. Fitzpatrick." Cena: "Mr. Shelzie. How may I help you?" Robert: "I believe I hold a contract for transporting yourself and your party to Jewell." Cena: "Do you now? I seem to remember arranging this with someone entirely not you." Robert: "I've recently leased a ship, and it came with this contract." Cena: "I see. All right then. Is there anything specific you wanted to tell me?" Robert: "Just where we were." Cena: "Have you moved the ship?" Robert: "No. Not yet." Cena: "Fine then. Just be ready to go within the next 12 to 24 hours." Robert: " No problem."
Joe Lee, the new senator, has asked Ghaer to be his administrative assistant, or page or something. Ghaer doesn't really want the job, but he doesn't want to offend Joe. Maybe if he's just not there when Joe Lee comes by.... Besides, Ghaer is afraid the Sengi are going to show up with the ancient Therian rolled newspaper and want a little chat.
Cena, as payback for the spider hunt and recommending her to the Duchess, has decided to drag Ghaer into this little expedition, so she calls him. His phone goes off. Cena: "Are you at home?" Ghaer: "No." Cena: "Well, where are you?" Ghaer: "I'm at the chem lab." He's trying to bring up the number scratched off of Verlak's locker (for a tramline terminal on Regina Down) key. He is able to bring up the number, now he just needs to find the locker. Cena: "Are you currently engaged?" Ghaer: "No." Cena: "I'd like to speak to you." Ghaer: "Okay, where?" Cena: "I don't care. Your place? A coffee shop?" Ghaer: "A coffee shop." Cena: "I know, how about the Tea House? It's very nice since they rebuilt it." Ghaer: "That's fine." A time is arranged. Before the meet, Ghaer takes the tramline out to an industrial area, and tries the key at several stops. And if anyone bugs him, he'll be able to burn off some of the stress he's been under by pounding on them. No one bothers him, but he doesn't have any luck with the key.
At the Tea House, Ghaer meets with Cena. Cena: "I've ordered tea and cookies." Ghaer: "That's nice." Cena: "Guess who I had lunch with the other day?" Ghaer: "I have no idea. St. Jerome and a bevy of angels." Cena: "No. Not even close. The Duchess." Ghaer: "Of?" Cena: "Here." Ghaer: "How's she looking?" Cena: "Pregnant. Healthy." Ghaer: "Am I being served this wonderful tea because of that meeting?" Cena: "She wanted to thank me for helping out with the feral senator thing." Ghaer: "Well, you did do a good job." Cena: "Yes, and now she's decided that I'm qualified for another job. A really entertaining one. And I've decided that since you got me into it, maybe you'd like to come along?" Ghaer: "Off planet?" Cena: "Yes." Ghaer: "I'm in." Cena: "It's probably going to be...interesting." Ghaer: "Will there probably be something to hit?" Cena: "Oh yeah." Ghaer: "Dirt or Up?" Cena: "Don't know yet? It's a personal issue for the patron, a family matter. Someone's gone missing." Ghaer: "Somebody who due to her age might take up wandering? They do that when they get old." Cena: "It's some one of advanced age, yes. It also involves, apparently, certain issues covered under the Imperial Secrets Act. And potentially spending the rest of our lives on a prison planet. Oh, and Hunter's coming along." Ghaer: "Then I'll have to bring air freshener and a rubber chicken." Cena: "Okay. I've got expense money." Ghaer: "Where, when?" Cena: "In twelve hours. Docking bay 47 Blue." Hunter: "Anybody else besides the nearly married respectable man, and myself?" Cena: "No. We've got an extended Scout chartered to take us to Louzy, at least to start with. That's where she was last seen." Ghaer: "She went to Louzy??" Cena: "Theoretically on route to Jewell." Louzy is so....lousy a place to go to, the mind boggles. Ghaer arranges for one ton of bottled water, to use as trade goods. Or just as personal supplies.
Hunter goes shopping before the trip. He doesn't know exactly where they're going, or what it's going to be like, so he buys up a bunch of extra equipment, just in case. He may never take it off the ship, but at least he'll have it.
Robert would dearly love to have some modifications done to his new ship, like increasing the maneuver, making the controls more responsive, etc. Steve informs him that he can't do any of that. The ship is functioning within parameters, and anything else Robert will need a shipyard to do. Damn.
Supplies are purchased for the ship - food, etc. And for the engineer, who evidently came equipped with nothing more than the vac suit he's wearing. No underwear, no toothbrush, no razor, nothing. Hmmm.
The Scout Courier, the Ruby, has four cabins. Ariana and Robert get one cabin, the engineer gets one, and the other two Robert leaves to the passengers to divvy up as they see fit. Since Hunter is now married, and hasn't had a discussion with Angela over her expectations about his social behavior, Cena will get the single cabin. Besides, after the honeymoon, Hunter really doesn't even want to think about sex right now.
When Robert opens the door to the ship in his Junior Birdman, old-fashioned flyer's helmet (a Naugahyde replica from Old Sarge's, since he couldn't find an original). Cena: "I didn't realize it was fancy dress!" Robert: "That's okay." He waves at Hunter and Ghaer. Hunter just figures "he's Navy - they're all nuts." Cena gives Robert the coordinates for the trip to Louzy, and they maneuver out, Robert testing the ship's capacity by going at 'maximum acceleration'. Not that anyone in the ship can tell. Then it's a smooth jump, and a week en route to the first stop - Whanga. Hunter is, of course, spending the time packing his pack, checking his list and equipment repeatedly.
Ghaer is spending most of the trip hitting a bag. Once they're in jump, Cena fills Ghaer in on the other details of the op. Ariana is quite friendly, and while Cena doesn't discuss anything in front of the crew, Ariana and Robert do come out and fraternize with the passengers. Cena: "No adverse effects?" Ariana: "Hmm?" Cena: "The, uh, spider incident?" Ariana: "Can we change the subject?" Cena: "Sure. No problem." Hunter <looking at Ariana>: "Two hundred, two hundred and fifty a night. Minimum. And I know what I'm talking about."
Ghaer: "Since we're sharing information and not holding anything back that could get us killed, Ming-Na had a deal with the Solomani consul, a man named Blaelok, so she may have made a deal with the devil." Cena: "Great." Ghaer: "They may still have an interest, and they may still have an influence. The Solomani she was dealing with was SolSec." Cena: "This is just getting better and better." Ghaer: "Yes. She also has political clout." Cena: "Did I mention I'm on this trip because of your recommendation?" Ghaer: "That's because you're such a good doctor, and can think on your feet." Right. Flattery. Good thing he's so soft and cute.
Hunter figures Cena can deal with any of the semi-spook kind of investigation stuff, since she was REACT. Hunter will help brief Ghaer, but then he'll read a magazine or something. Cena was able to find nine Tattler articles and one Free Thoughts article on the triangle of disappearing ships. The theories are that it's either a secret Zhodani base, or a dwarf star. Or a giant star goat that's eating ships. The Free Thoughts article states there's a planet populated by psionic clams (i.e., Cohogs) that want off planet, and they're being suppressed by the Imperium. Ookaay. Or it could be a giant alien ship that exploded out of Ruie. (Okay, so that last one's true, but it has nothing to do with the Black Zone.) Or does it? Ruie is at one point of the triangle...
A brief stop to refuel on Whanga, then a rough jump out of system. Hunter goes up front, muttering something about "there had better be a cockpit on the other side of the door when I get there. Hunter bangs on the door. Hunter: "This is one third of the passengers on board, and I'd like to know if you guys ever take the time to calibrate, or warn people or something? What about an acceleration alarm?" Robert: "We weren't accelerating." Fine. On the way to Louzy. Yea.
Everyone is in their vac suits when the ship comes out of jump. Louzy is not, in fact, a large pile of floating debris. The ship gets a window to land in five hours. Cena requests copies of newsfaxes, which are not thrilling. The contract only stipulates the transport to Louzy, with an option to extend if the charterer requests, but then further costs will have to be negotiated. Cena discusses this with Ariana, who agrees to wait, as Cena isn't sure just yet if they'll need the ship for the return trip or what, but they need to do some business first. Ariana: "That's okay with me, but the meter's running." Cena: "Not until we land, it's not." Agreed.
Ariana and Robert will be going on to the planet to check on the possibility of other cargo, refueling, and the like. Cena has requested that they refuel as soon as possible (just in case). Steve, the engineer, is all scrubbed up and ready to go visiting. Robert is concerned that Steve not screw up on this planet, and force Robert to bail him out. Robert: "Don't make me come bail you out." Steve agrees, and then gets out the phone book and writes down a number, in ink, on his hand. (The name of a lawyer? Bailbondsman? House of Joy?) Robert gives Cena the ship's pager number, in case they need to leave soon.
The non-crew need to go to the bar Ming-Na was last seen in, the Holey Spacesuit, and also get in touch with Ming-Na's retainers. Yes, her yacht is still on Louzy. That may be very good, or very bad. Off to the Holey Spacesuit! The inn is a thriving metropolis of trade. It's a large bar, and it's packed with people. Of course, everything on Louzy is packed with people, the planet is a desert world, with tens of billions of inhabitants. The H.S. is definitely a working-class spacer bar. No tables available, but there is space at the bar. There are spacers, lower end corporate types, merchants, etc. Business deals are being made, quick lunches are being eaten from lunchboxes. Drinking is obviously a major pastime on Louzy. And the sign above the bar reads "Louzy jokes will result in lousy service." Darn.
This place is obviously a major hub of business on port. Ariana and Robert have been told that one of the major brokers on planet has a regular booth at the Holey Spacesuit. They head in there just as Cena, Ghaer, and Hunter leave to go the Ling docking section to make contact with Ming-Na's retainers. When they're back talking to the broker, Ariana sniffs her beer and asks Robert "if they use chloroform to make the beer". It's not chloroform, its' some kind of plant substance used in making the local "spruce beer", which is, um, icky.
The broker doesn't have anything specific for cargo for them right now, as they don't know where they're going next, or when, but they'll probably be busy for the next couple of days. The broker gets their pager number, the info on how much cargo they can take, etc. Since it's a jump-4 ship, they have a number of possible destinations. Robert and Ariana head back to the Ruby, allowing Steve to get off the ship to shop and whatever else his little heart can afford.
And in the next exciting adventure, maybe the Ling lackeys will have some useful information to contribute.