"Life is a rollercoaster. Try to eat a light lunch."-- David A. Schmaltz
The Far Trader Bonaventure has arrived on Regina with Max Rhys Fairfax, his partner (former and future fiancée) Amanda Wentworth, and Joe Brenowski (who has signed on as supercargo and medic). Up Port smells a tad funny, everyone is heavily armed, mostly hostile, it appears. Looks like all the stories about Regina are true after all. But - they need cargo. That means chat with the Ship's Chandlers, and in the local bars. Amanda knows how to deal with the ship's papers and STA, and sends Max off with Joe to arrange for cargo, to a local bar. There's the Dead Spacer, Brubek's, and others. Joe: "I am not taking you to Semper Fi." (Former Navy guy, Marine bar, high probability of a fight breaking out...) Amanda: "Hit them all. I'll meet you back here in eight hours." After a trip to Brubek's, which is exactly like every other Brubek's they've been to (only grubbier), they head to the Dead Spacer. After chatting up the bartender, he tells them that there's a man who's been speaking with pilots, and he points his table out.
Over at the indicated table is an attractive, slender male, unique only for the slightly pointed ears. A Darian. And he's with another Darian, who looks fairly older and has a layer of protective padding. (A plump Darian?) The younger man looks wrapped up, and lightly bruised. Max goes over to the table, followed by Joe (who's in big protector-guy mode). The younger Darian stands. Darian: "Ah, you must be a pilot. Do you have a ship available, by chance?" Okay, so Max is in a flightsuit, has shades in his pocket, and has "Property of Imperial Navy" stamped on his forehead. (Well, not really.) Darian: "Do you by any chance have a ship and are looking for cargo?" Max: "Yes, as a matter of fact." Darian: "Please, join me. I'm looking for a ship and crew to transport me to a particular place, and assist me in the recovery of some property. It would be an extended, exclusive contract, probably for several months, and I'm willing to pay above standard rate." Joe is watching Max's back, and some of the locals have taken an interest in the conversation, but possibly just because the conversationalists aren't locals. Darian: "So, tell me about your ship." Max: "It's a 200 ton Far Trader." The Darian, who introduces himself as Thiel, asks Max about his background - Navy, etc. Thiel: "Sounds ideal. Naturally, I will have people assisting me, so I will require that we be the only passengers. I will make your monthly payments, and I'll pay double guild rate, for you and your crew. Is that acceptable?" Max: "It sounds acceptable to me, but I do have a partner, and she would have to confirm it." Thiel: "Of course. I would not require the use of your cargo space, beyond that of equipment, so you can make whatever use of your cargo that you wish, as long as it doesn't interfere with my needs. I can be reached on my private communicator. I will need to know fairly quickly if the deal is acceptable, and I will want to depart within 48 hours. <he gives Max his card> We'll meet at the Snail for dinner at 8:00. Call me within an hour, however, if it's a go. If so, we'll meet tonight." Max and Joe leave.
Wankel Diesel (aka WD) is exploring Regina and checking out the newest issue of Engineering Monthly. There's a sign on the job board that reads: "Needed, desperately - Engineer. Come to Bay 27 immediately." WD reads the notice and decides that since some one needs an engineer, and he's an engineer, he should go help them. He heads over to Bay 27, and knocks on the main door of the Bonaventure. Amanda answers the door, and looks down. Amanda: "Oh, how cute! Are you selling cookies?" WD: "No, I'm an engineer. I'm a Pikhan." Amanda decides to humor the little guy. Amanda: "Okay, if you're an engineer, what's wrong with this?" She shows him to the injector block, he takes a look, and rattles off the specs, what needs fixing, etc. Amanda: "How much?" WD: "What do you mean?" Amanda: "I want you to work for me, be our engineer. How much money do you want?" WD: "Money?" <pause> Amanda: "Tell you what, how would you like to work on these engines all you want? I could really use your help. You'd have your own room, three meals a day, the run of engineering..." WD: "I'd need some tools. And a computer. Oh, and some cicadas." Amanda isn't exactly sure what 'cicadas' are, but it still sounds like a bargain. Amanda: "It's a deal! I'm Amanda Wentworth." She shakes his hand. WD: <indicating his 'bot> "Oh, and if you need a robot, I think he'd be really good at cleaning. Pity he's a scorpion." Amanda: "Interesting robot..." She leaves WD to get to work, and returns to the bridge.
Amanda calls Max, and she's very excited. Amanda: "I found an engineer, one of those Pikhans, and for cheap!" Max: "Great. I think I've found us a job. We're on our way back, and I'll tell you about it." Suddenly, a familiar-sounding voice calls out across the mall: "Hey! Yo! Yo, Max!!" Oh, great, it's Ezbeki. Ezbeki: "Hey, how are you doin'?" Max: "Fine. How are you?" Ezbeki: "Pretty good. I'm just on my way to talk to Geoff. I got us a job with some Darian guy. Well - see ya!" Ezbeki takes off, leaving Max with the thought of spending ten weeks on a ship with Ezbeki. Not a nice image.
Ezbeki locates Geoff, to tell him the good news. Ezbeki: "I found a job for us. Some Darian guy. He's looking for private security guys. Sounds like a soft job, and it pays double the guild rate!" Geoff: "People don't pay double guild rate for a soft job, haven't you learned that? Whenever some one needs a volunteer for something that sounds too easy.... Never mind, we do need the work." Ezbeki: "He needs some other people too, do you know anyone else? Should be easy, he just wants to pick up some stuff along the border." Geoff: "The border can be interesting. Have you forgotten Gvurrdon? that was supposed to be a simple training mission." Ezbeki: "Yeah, but that was taking the Emperor's Shilling. This is different." Geoff: "So, you think we can hire on with this man and just quit if we don't like it? Maybe you can, but I won't go back on my word." Geoff fails to dampen Ezbeki's enthusiasm about the 'easy job'.
Nicolai, on Regina to take some of the heat off his mission with Julie Blaelok (return the Solomani Confederation to the people, out from under the evil influence of SolSec, etc., etc.), and to annoy Mr. Black, has gone to the Bread & Bean for tea and a sticky-bun. The barista is surprised to see him again, and tells him that a couple of really big guys were in looking for him, and left something for him. It's just a verbal message, so Nicolai doesn't have to worry about it ticking. Barista: "They said I should tell you that you should enjoy that time you have left." Nicolai: "I've heard that before. I've said that before."
Oakhtitl is on Regina, with Nicolai's memories wandering through his brain (Nicolai, Oakhtitl, and Carlin Vankawa were once part of the crew on a Therian ship, which involves sharing memories), and ends up going into the Bread & Bean. Oakhtitl: <thinking> "It was important to him. It was an anchor of his existence. <spotting Nicolai> What the hell is he doing here?!"
The object of Oakhtitl's question is currently being approached by a weasel. Weseli: "A man could die of thirst around here, you know." Nicolai: "They don't serve alcohol here." Weseli: "Hey, it's early in the day yet. I haven't had my morning coffee." Nicolai signals to the barista, and the Weasel orders something hideously caffeinated. Then a deep voice asks "Is this person bothering you, Nicolai?" Nicolai: "Good morning, Oakhtitl." The Weseli looks way up, and says "Hail, mighty warrior", in perfect Aslan, and goes on about what a "great warrior you must be...". Oakhtitl: "Do you have a point to make?" Weseli: "Yes, I've just remembered. I have this ancient Aslan fighting staff, it's very old, and comes from a noble family. Perhaps you might be interested in it?" Oakhtitl: <beginning to get angry> "If it is not a forgery, then how did you come by it? Did you take it off an Aslan fallen on the battlefield?" Weseli: <oblivious> "Oh never. I would never go near a battlefield." He's telling the truth about that! Oakhtitl: "Let me see it." Weseli: "I don't have it here, but it's nearby. I can call my brother." Nicolai: <to the Weasel> "You said you had a message to give me?" Weseli: "Oh, right. Yeah." Nicolai: "Let me guess, they're wishing me good health for the amount of time I have left." Weseli: "No, that's the kind of information you get for free. They did mention a girl. But, hey, if you're not interested." He gets up, as if to leave, but Nicolai motions him back down. Weseli: "I figured you'd be interested. And I'd be happy to pass on the information, for the right price." Nicolai: "First the message, then we'll discuss the price." Weseli: "That's no way to do business. Haven't you read 'Wealth of Nations'?" Oakhtitl: "Yes, in it's original Aslan." Nicolai: "Tell me what you have, and I'll tell you what it's worth." The Weseli sets a small recorder on the table. Weseli: "If you want, I can just hit ERASE." Nicolai: "How much do you want?" Weseli: "The recorder alone is worth $200 credits. I figure the information is worth another $200." There is some discussion about whether or not the Weasel has to stay and wait for Nicolai to approve the deal before getting his money, but they do come to an understanding - the Weasel gets the cash, and Nicolai listens to the tape, and if the Weasel tries to dart off with his money before Nicolai's happy, there's not much doubt as to who can run faster than whom. Nicolai listens to part of the tape, of a couple of men with Solomani accents, discussing Nicolai and Julie Blaelok. They're planning on using Nicolai to take them to the brains of the operation - Julie. They can kill Nicolai any time. Nicolai shuts down the tape deck and tells the Weseli he can go. Oakhtitl wants to see the staff, but the Weseli can only bring him a photo, if he wants it right away. Oakhtitl agrees to wait for the photo. Nicolai doesn't want to wait in the Bread & Bean, as he's too well known, so he'll meet Oakhtitl in Wubchuk Groobia.
Nicolai heads towards the restaurant, and is approached by a man in a cloak. Man: "Nicolai Volkov?" Nicolai: "Yes?" Man: "I have been seeking you." Nicolai: "For what?" Man: "I've been told you are a man whose curiosity is not too large, and who can handle himself in bad situations." Nicolai: "Every day of my life." Man: "I also know that you have many enemies, and that you are alive and they are dead." A car stops where it can observe Nicolai and his companion. Nicolai: "Mostly." The man wants to meet Nicolai and discuss possible employment. Nicolai will be at the meet, and will bring an associate. The man in the cloak leaves, and Nicolai walks over towards the car, which slowly pulls away. Maybe it was Black, maybe it was just one of his minions on paranoia patrol.
Ezbeki wants Geoff to check out the Darian at the meal, since Geoff's good at that kind of thing. Geoff agrees, and spends the time getting equipment for the op, and checking on his stock portfolio.
Carlin Vankawa is visiting on Regina and drawn into the Bread & Bean by the wonderful smells they pump out through special ducts. Barista: "Hi honey, what can I get for you? Would you like some hot chocolate?" There's an Aslan snort from the corner; Oakhtitl knows better than to judge Carlin by her size and apparent youth. Carlin orders some obscure tea, and the barista goes to the back. An Aslan, one of the owners comes out to the front to talk tea. Aslan: "Ah, you want 'Rain Patter on Soft Clouds'!" Carlin: "Exactly!" Aslan: <as he's packing some tea up> "And I just got in a supply of something very rare and exotic, from the estate of some one who recently passed on - Stygian Bliss. It's exceptional, but you can only consume eight ounces in a 24 hour period, or it's very toxic." Intrigued (and unaware that the person who recently passed on was the oh so evil Christopher Blaelok), Carlin purchases an ounce of the loose tea for $500 credits. She gets the tea and a small teapot in a box, because the owner knows she'll appreciate it. Aslan: "It's very fine porcelain, all the way from the Rim." The teapot has a mark on the bottom, a symbol of two bones. Aslan: "It's bone China." Originally ordered for Blaelok - real bone China??
The coffee that Oakhtitl felt compelled by the smell to purchase is an Aslan mix, and it's great. Oakhtitl purchases some of the coffee beans, and a sampler pack, and a French Press coffee pot. He doesn't know where exactly life will take him next, but they may not have good coffee.
The Aslan owner calls to Oakhtitl that he has his order ready, and Carlin notices him. Carlin: "Oakhtitl!" Oakhtitl: "Doctor." The Weseli never shows back up at the Bread & Bean, so Oakhtitl asks the owner "where would I find the little ferret boy who was here talking to Nick?" Owner: "I don't know, they all look the same to me." Oakhtitl: "I want to find out if it was lying. It said it had an Aslan artifact." Aslan: "If it's lips were moving, it was lying." Oakhtitl: "Then I will rip it's tongue out." Carlin: "So....what have you been up to?" Oakhtitl: "Learning. On Birabates." Carlin: "You decided to take a break?" Oakhtitl: "They said I should renew my spirit." [Proper translation of what they said: We're concerned you're not getting any, and the humors may be building up, so go off and find a female.] Carlin: "This is a good place to do that." Oakhtitl: "I have met Nicolai. That is a good start." Yes, meeting up with Nicolai is almost always the start of something.
Max is called to by a delivery person, who needs some one to sign the delivery form for the big container marked "Craftsman". Max is a bit confused, but he signs and goes into the ship. Amanda: "Max, I'm glad you're back. The engineer has been really busy since he got here." WD has been busy ordering tools and a laptop on the terminal, cleaning the engine room and getting stuff ready.
Oakhtitl has gotten tired of waiting, so he leaves with Carlin. A few minutes later, Oakhtitl spots a young man in a suit, and approaches him. Oakhtitl: "Are you a Weseli?" Detective James Weseli: "Yes sir." Oakhtitl: "I'm looking for the Weseli who was in the Bread & Bean a few minutes ago. He said he would return to sell me something, but he has not returned as promised." James: "If he was trying to sell you something and changed his mind, I can't really help you sir." Oakhtitl: "Where would I be likely to find him?" James: "Well sir, besides my brothers and sisters, I also have several cousins, but if you would like to leave me your card, sir, I'll see what I can do." Carlin hands him her card, and explains about the Aslan artifact. James will call if he gets any information for them. Oakhtitl: "I am going to the bread place. Would you like to come with me?" Carlin: "Sure." They move on.
Max passes on the bill of lading to Amanda, who looks at it and starts to hyperventilate. Amanda: "$10,000 credits!!" Max: "Breathe, breathe..." Amanda: "How can anyone spend that much money on tools??" The engineer comes out, and is rather perplexed by all the fuss; after all, he just did what she said to do: order the tools he needed. Of course he didn't think about the cost, what's money? Joe: "Boss, boss, these little guys had their money sense removed and they're fix-it sense increased." Max calms Amanda down and they go to the bridge to discuss the potential job. Max explains about the Darian's offer. Amanda: "Well, we really need this job now, since we've got a $10,000 credit tool bill." Max: "And we can use whatever cargo space they don't need for equipment. Any how, we're supposed to meet for dinner to finalize things, tonight at someplace called the Snail. I'll have to look that up." Max calls the Darian to let him know they accept the offer.
Joe helps WD unload, set up all the tools, and get things fixed up. Also, WD takes the opportunity to re-lube and maintain his robot, Stinger. The Pikhan has been looking at the drives, and they need some work. WD would like to replace some parts, but Joe manages to convince him that it would be better and faster (he doesn't mention the cheaper aspects) to repair what they have for now, unless a replacement is warranted for safety.
Oakhtitl and Carlin get to Wubchuk Groobia. It's packed with patrons, mostly Martels, who all tense up and check their weapons briefly when the big carnivore comes in. Oakhtitl and Carlin join Nicolai, and Oakhtitl orders a number of different loaves of bread to go, as well as a snack for everyone. Nicolai: "Nice to see you again doctor." Carlin: "Nice to see you. I didn't expect you to be on Regina." Nicolai: "I have to show up occasionally, or Mr. Black gets bored." Carlin: "A bored Black is a bad thing." Nicolai tells Carlin about the potential job, and invites her along. They discuss local gossip and mutual friends, and Carlin asks about Mikie. Nicolai: "Ah. Mr. Griffin. He is no longer with us." Oakhtitl: "Did he die fighting?" <pause> Nicolai: "He died well I think. Things went badly for him after his wife died." Oakhtitl: "He will be stronger in the next life. Is there a need to avenge him?" Nicolai: "I don't believe there's any of them left alive." Oakhtitl: "Ah. Good."
Joe has been on Regina before, and knows where the Escargot d'Or is. Amanda wants Max to go and deal with the people. (She's been a bit uncomfortable around people since Gvurrdon; this worries Max.) Joe will go along, and Amanda will stay on board the ship to work with the engineer.
Everyone congregates at the Escargot d'Or. The Darian knows at least some Aslan, and uses a formal greeting. Thiel: "Hail and well met." Oakhtitl: "Dude." Nicolai introduces Carlin and Oakhtitl to Thiel. Thiel has investigated the backgrounds of the people he contacted earlier, but not the new ones yet. They discuss, although not in specifics, the mission. Thiel: "...If all goes well, we will travel there, obtain what - " Geoff: "We? You'll be travelling with us?" Thiel: "Yes. We will be discussing the mission in detail once we have departed. I'm concerned that others are also interested in the artifact. This object has significance to my people. I come from a family that was it's original protector, and it's location has been passed on to me. As I said, I don't want to discuss this here; the walls have ears." Oakhtitl: "This object of undiscussed nature, if you don't get it, some person will sell it?" Thiel: "To the highest bidder." Oakhtitl: "Then we could buy it." Thiel: "My resources, while adequate for now, would not allow me to outbid the sort of people who would be interested in the artifact." Carlin: "How high would you expect the bidding to go?" Thiel: "Probably a megacredit, maybe more." Ouch.
Nicolai: "I know Oakhtitl and Dr. Vankawa, and I have adventured with them before." He doesn't mention that he's been on a Therian ship with them, so they've been about as close as individuals can be. Thiel: "Excellent. It has been my experience that when adventuring in foreign parts it is advisable to bring a doctor." Nicolai: "It has been my experience that when adventuring any where it is advisable to bring a doctor." [In Nicolai's case, it's advisable to have a doctor if he's at home in his living room.] Thiel: "Where we are going was once a Darian settlement. There may be other artifacts there as well, in which I have no interest. Possibly artifacts with medical application." Carlin: "Haven't most of the Darian sites been excavated already?" Thiel: "The information I have is that the place the artifact was kept has been so far undisturbed." Carlin: "That's good news." Thiel: "As you know, other Darian caches that have been uncovered have made the discoverers very wealthy. I have no interest beyond the one object, which means this could be very profitable Bonaventure for all of you." Oakhtitl wants to find out more about the Darians so he will know what to look for when they get to their destination. Carlin: "'Treasures of the Darian Empire', by VonGruder, Volumes I through III. Great detail, but a bit dry..." She could go on for some time on the subject. Fortunately, she doesn't. The crux of the matter is that Thiel is after a specific item, and if the group can find anything else of value in the cache, Thiel is not adverse to them taking it.
Then the discussion turns to the actual trip itself. Thiel: "In order to save time, the ship we have hired, which Mr. Fairfax is representing, will be taken by ore-carrier to Gardevilis. Then once a route is decided upon, we will travel under our own power to our final destination." Geoff: "How long a trip are we talking about?" Thiel: "Five weeks." Geoff: "And will we be paid for the return trip?" Thiel: "Once I obtain the artifact, you will be free to return." Geoff: "Yes, but double guild rate one way, and five weeks away from Regina is not a good deal." Thiel: "You will be paid for the trip back as well." Oakhtitl: "Are you the leader of this mission?" Thiel: "As far as acquiring the object is concerned, yes. In other areas, I will defer to whoever has the expertise." At least he's being bright about that.
An agreement is reached to accept the offer of employment, and specifics will be given to the crew once the ship is in jump, for reasons of security (or paranoia - pick one, or both). Thiel: "Please, enjoy dinner as my guests." Thiel and his servant leave. Oakhtitl: "He does not want to eat with us." Carlin: "I think it was kind of a gesture towards building team spirit, not having the boss around while we discuss him. Besides, he probably needs to get some rest, considering his condition. At least he's gracious enough to pick up the tab." Nicolai: "See, I take care of my friends. I get you work, I get you dinner..." Carlin: "You make sure you have some one along to fix you up..." Waiter: "Good evening, my name's Ted, and I'll be your waiter. Do you folks need more time to decide?" The Escargot d'Or has lots of food, and plenty of it. Max calls Amanda and ask if she'll at least join them for dinner. Amanda: "Yeah, all right. I'll get cleaned up. The engineer is really going at it - there's all sorts of noises coming out of the engine room." Max: "Then it's best to just get out." Joe goes to meet her, and walk her back.
Nicolai takes Carlin off to one side to let her know about something that isn't on his med-chip, and that he doesn't really want on it - he has a Vigilante. Ah. Understood. (Carlin has one herself.) Carlin: "You haven't been poisoning yours, have you?" (Vigilantes don't like alcohol.) Nicolai: "Not that I'm aware of." It's not like he got a manual with the blasted thing.
Oakhtitl tells the group that before leaving Regina he intends to go to the library and get information on the Darian culture. Geoff does not tell the group that he will do what he does at the beginning of every trip - steal Ezbeki's bag, and have everything washed and pressed. Directly after dinner, Oakhtitl wants to go off in search of the errant Weseli. Nicolai and Carlin will go along to try to prevent Oakhtitl from getting into too much trouble. Although the idea of Nicolai doing anything other than attracting trouble is pretty funny. Nicolai: <to Carlin> "Perhaps Mr. Thompson and his companion will go with us? I believe his small friend has taken a shine to you." Carlin makes a "yeah, very funny" face at Nicolai.
A good meal is had by all, and nothing explodes, or bursts into flames. As the party leaves the restaurant, a car pulls up, very nearly running into Nicolai, and a man gets out of the car. Man: "You. Volkov. We want a word with you. <to the others> Take a walk." The man is only 5'10", but he has that "I'm dangerous" look. Man: "I understand you're working for a guy named Thiel. I have a message for you: don't." Nicolai: "And why should I care what you want?" Man: "The boss has an interest there, and you don't want to cross him again." Nicolai: "Your boss can have all the interests he wants. That is not my business. If your boss wants to talk to me, he can do it himself." Man: "Yeah, I've heard about you, Volkov. I've heard you're a tough guy, but you've got to sleep some time. We're not stupid enough to try to take you on in a fair fight, and you can't stay awake forever." Nicolai: "Oh, I have some information your boss might be interested in. Tell him the big sharks are back." Man: "Whatever." Nicolai: "Tell him. Please." The man gets back into the car, followed by his partner. They drive off, forcing Nicolai to step aside or be run over. He steps aside.
The group had spread out, and Geoff looks around for Ezbeki, who's chatting with a working girl across the street. Ezbeki: "Fifty credits!?!? What, is it gold-lined or something?" Another vehicle was parked across the street, and a man was taking pictures of the group, while leaning on the roof of the car. Geoff walks over that way, and the man tosses the camera into the back seat. Geoff: "Excuse me, I think you have something of mine. <pointing to the back seat> In there." Man: "I don't think so." Geoff: "I don't like people taking my picture." Man: "Tough. Take a hike before I hurt you." Geoff: "Right." Driver: "Come on Frank, we don't have time for this shit. Get in the car and let's go." Frank: "I don't have to take this shit from a grunt. I can take him." Geoff reaches into his pocket, Frank draws his gun, Geoff pulls the pin out of the grenade...
Elsewhere, Max, Joe, and Amanda get back to their ship, and it sounds like there's road construction going on in engineering. They go back to check, and the Pikhan has disassembled the drives. Good grief. After informing WD that they need to leave in about 36 hours, he states that he can probably get the drives back together and functioning by then, if he doesn't sleep. This doesn't seem to bother him much, and Joe has promised to help with what mechanical or lifting he can, and to keep an eye on things. Amanda and Max decide to go to a hotel for some peace and quiet.
Back with the grenade, gun, way too much testosterone crowd. Driver: "Frank...." Frank: "I'm sure we'll run into each other again." He gets into the back seat, carefully, and they drive off. Geoff: <to Nicolai> "You know them?" Nicolai: "Not personally." Geoff: "Not personally?" Nicolai: "Probably either Regina Security or the IBI. <pause> Or reporters." [Regina: Our reporters can beat up your reporters.] Now that the bad guys have been run off and Geoff has put the pin back in the grenade, Ezbeki reappears from behind a large planter across the street, as does the female. Ezbeki: "Seventy-five!? I thought you said fifty!!" Tacky, and cheap.
Oakhtitl wants to locate a Weasel, and one is near at hand, as usual. Once Oakhtitl ascertains that this particular Weasel was not the one in the Bread & Bean earlier, Oakhtitl wants him to locate the one who was. Weseli: "How would I know which one it was?" Oakhtitl: "If you don't, you're stupid, and I don't deal with stupid people." Oh! He said the 'D' word! Weseli: "Okay, I'll call him." The Weseli uses a public phone, and calls. Weseli: "Yeah...Right, a big Aslan....Uh-huh....<click> He'll be here as soon as he can." Oakhtitl: "The sooner he gets here, the more money you make." The Weseli eventually shows up, and it looks like he's been thrown down a flight of stairs, repeatedly. A couple of big bruisers picked him up outside of the Bread & Bean, and wanted the Aslan weapon. They started beating up on him right off the bat, then they said they'd stop beating him if he coughed up the artifact. He tells Carlin when she asks that he doesn't have anything broken, but Nicolai offers to "have my doctor look at you if you show us where the artifact was hidden. She's a very good doctor. Really." They go to a locker area where the artifact had been hidden up in the lighting, and Carlin checks out the Weseli. He does have a couple of broken ribs, several broken fingers, and a (mostly) dislocated shoulder. Carlin does a fine job of patching the man up, and she is a very good doctor. Weseli: "Hey Doc, that feels great! Here, I've got something for you." He puts a diamond tennis bracelet on her wrist. Nicolai: <whispers to Carlin> "I wouldn't wear that too long if I were you." The Weseli tells the group that he was in the Dead Spacer with some old Scout, drinking. The Scout was going on with his boring stories, but he was buying drinks for the Weasel. Weseli: "Then he tipped back his glass and just kept on going. He was stone dead when he hit the floor." Oakhtitl: "So you robbed him." Weseli: "No, no. I checked him out, to make sure he was okay, and I took his key so I could make sure no one messed with his stuff. Really." Oakhtitl: "If you were any dumber I'd eat you." That might bring down Oakhtitl's IQ by several points though, just by osmosis. Carlin: "When did this happen?" Weseli: "A couple of weeks ago." The rent was paid up for a month, so yes, the old Scout's stuff is still there. Weseli: "Hey, you aren't going to tell anyone are you? I'd have to move. And pay rent." He takes them to the incredibly neat little apartment, although there isn't much of recognizable value. Oakhtitl examines the case, and finds a handwritten note. "Jens - Here's the Hkalrstalr. I know with your friendship with Rous of Clan Essfiyl, you'll find a way to return it with no dishonor." Carlin: "Oh, don't rip his tongue out." Oakhtitl: "The men who took it from you, they were human?" Weseli: "Yeah." Oakhtitl: "Did they tell you who they were working for?" Weseli: "No, mostly they said things like 'How do you like that?'" The signature on the notes is Thiel's. Maybe it's a common name. Really. Carlin has been digging around and finds some pictures. There's a picture of a rugged-looking man in a Scout uniform, along with a second Scout who is very familiar looking - Thiel. Carlin takes the picture. The Weseli agrees to find out who the big humans are, in return for a mid passage to Jenghe. Nicolai: "Done." They'll meet him in two hours, in the general departure area on Up Port.
Oakhtitl locates the Aslan Consulate, and talks to their human consul. Oakhtitl shows the photograph to the consul, and tells him "This is here, and it belongs to the hands of the people." Consul: "That would depend on to which clan you belong." It could be used to embarrass the clan to which it belongs, as they lost it to a bunch of humans. Oakhtitl's clan is so far removed from the clan the artifact belongs to that there is no rivalry at all. It's an Aslan thing. Oakhtitl wants to get members of that clan together, and the consul is able to tell him that they have a female representative on Up Port. He dials the number for Oakhtitl, and the phone is picked up then immediately hung up. Not a good sign. Oakhtitl: "Where can I find her?" The consul writes down the address.
Oakhtitl, with his merry band in tow, heads off to find the Aslan female. They make a brief stop at Nicolai's weapons locker for a few things. Carlin: "Why are you looking for this person?" Oakhtitl: "So that she can attend to this matter. I do not have the time." They go to the address, which is on a lower level. Oakhtitl knocks on the door. Aslan voice: <in Aslan> "Go away." Oakhtitl knocks again. Aslan voice: <in Aslan> "Fuck off!" Ezbeki and Geoff understood that! Oakhtitl knocks again, and the door is opened. Female: <in Aslan> "Do you have a problem understanding Aslan?" Hair is matted, eyes red, smell of urine. Female: "What part of 'fuck off' do you not understand? Goddamn males, think you can boss everyone around." Oakhtitl turns to leave. Oakhtitl: "She is not worthy." Geoff: "There may be a reason she's using drugs. Like maybe she lost the honor of her clan." Oakhtitl stops, turns back to the now closed door. Oakhtitl: "Do you wish to regain your honor?" The door opens again. Oakhtitl shows her the photograph of the staff. Oakhtitl: "The humans who have this. I will be finding them in an hour and fifteen minutes. Will you be there?" Female: "Yes." She looks at a vial on her kitchen counter, then backhands it off. Oakhtitl: "We will wait outside while you change. We will leave in fifteen minutes." She comes out in about fifteen minutes, with the matted hair cut short around her face, in an 'off to regain the clan honor and not planning on coming back' kind of way, but cleaned up and in a tunic. On the way up in the elevator, Oakhtitl introduces the group by first names (except for Ezbeki), while the female looks focused and slides her dewclaws in and out. She's mumbling something under her breath. Carlin: <quietly> "I wouldn't get in her way." Nicolai: "Right." Ezbeki: <to Geoff> "I wouldn't get too close to her, boss. That's the prayer before death she's saying. For herself." Not good.
The group meets the Weseli in the departure area. Weseli: "I did some checking. I heard from a friend of mine, and apparently they're hanging out on level 6. They're at an apartment building in Gray 17." That's Old Port. Oakhtitl hands him $400 credits, for expenses, and a ticket. Oakhtitl: "How reliable is your source?" Weseli: "Very reliable." Nicolai: "Do you know who they are?" Weseli: "No." Geoff: "You said they were big. Bigger than me?" Weseli: "About the same size, give or take a couple of inches." Nicolai: "Did they have accents?" Weseli: "No, they had tri-dee anchorman non-accents." No more questions, so he picks up his jock-bag and heads up the ramp to the ship.
They head out. The female doesn't want Oakhtitl to risk himself, as it's not his fight. Oakhtitl doesn't want anyone in the group to feel obligated to take part, but welcomes the back up. Ezbeki is willing to help, if Geoff is. Discussion ensues for a few minutes, people's species is brought up, Ezbeki takes offense at something Geoff says... Geoff: "That's not what I meant." Ezbeki: "Oh come on, I know what you say behind my back. 'he's not really evolved', 'monkey-boy'." Oakhtitl: "Whatever you are going to say, say it later." Everyone settles down and returns to the business at hand. First they find the building, then they case it. It's really quiet. Nobody on the street. Nobody in sight. The apartment complex is partially disassembled and gutted. Carlin: "Great. I hate urban assaults." Nicolai: "It's what I specialize in." Oakhtitl: <to the female> "Once we know where the staff is, it's your job to get the staff, get to the Consulate, and see that it gets to where it has to go." The site is checked out, as are the possible exits. It's decided to drop in a smoke grenade, and yell fire, which they do. The alarm goes off, the bulkhead doors shut, and some foam drips down from the couple of fire-suppression heads that actually try to turn on.
No one comes out of the building. Carlin is peeking out from behind hard cover, way out of the line of fire. (She doesn't fight if she can help it, being a doctor.) There's a sort of explosion, and a blue ball of actinic light slams into the big industrial dumpster Carlin was hiding behind. A plasma weapon of some sort has been fired from the building, and the others look over and decide that if Carlin was there, she's dead. Nicolai notes where the weapon was fired from in the building. Carlin is not dead, but for a few seconds she doesn't know who she is, and she's been overheated on one side. Not far enough out of the line of fire.
Oakhtitl fires into the area the shooter was, in theory, with his large bore hunting rifle. Nicolai goes into the building and when he's in a darkened corridor he hears the shoe-mine go off in front of him. Nicolai fires ahead of himself, at the shoe-mines. He takes a step, then another, then there's a bright flash from down the hall. Nicolai hits the floor, just as the plasma bolt goes over top of him, and out the front. It misses all the people, and detonates against the far wall. Nicolai is only lightly singed and irradiated. He triggers. Nicolai sees something moving up, really fast - even in his current state. He gets out the grenade launcher. Oakhtitl and the female go in a side entrance.
Nicolai heads up a level, past some gear in backpacks. Satchel charges, he figures, heading past them quickly. Oakhtitl and the other's hear the loud explosion up above (Good guess, Nicolai!), and part of the building collapses. Oakhtitl and the female go up quietly, covering each other. Nicolai gets to the top level, and sees a shadow duck into a room. Nicolai uses his SURF gun to make himself a new door. It's a flimsy building, so it doesn't take much to tear open the wall, and Nicolai does a dynamic entry, rolling through and coming up, as he sees a figure diving out the window. Geoff and Ezbeki see something go flying out the window, and fire on it, but can't tell if they hit it. Nicolai stops just before he follows out the fourth floor window. He untriggers and reloads his SURF gun.
Up to the top and about ten feet down the hall, from behind him, Oakhtitl hears a clacking noise. He's shoved from behind and goes down. There's a loud noise and a bright light as some one runs a blow torch up and down one side of his body. He realizes he's on fire, and since he'd already dropped, he rolls to put himself out. As he does, he sees an Aslan boot burning and without a body above it. Oakhtitl also sees a man in big, bulky armor. Oakhtitl turns the rifle on the man, who is standing there with his weapon on his hip, making the smug 'come on', motion. He wasn't expecting the elephant gun Oakhtitl is using, and when the man is hit in the leg he's rocked back and falls down the stairwell. It sounds like some one is bouncing a Volkswagen down the stairs. Oakhtitl goes after him, and manages to flip the guy further down. The big man fires on the Aslan again, but misses and takes out part of the wall.
Nicolai can't see the staff in the room he's in, so he heads towards the sound of explosions. Speaking of which, Oakhtitl is in mid leap onto the man who's trying to kick him. The man misses, kicks the stairwell hard enough to break it, and the metal stairwell swings down. Oakhtitl hits the stairwell just above the gunner, and holds on. The man in the bulky armor is flung through the air, hits his jump-jets, and accidentally slams into the floor, then careens into the bulkhead wall at high speed. There's a lot of sparking and then power arcs. Well, he's suppressed. Oakhtitl wants to disable the plasma-gun, so he staggers that way, finds a four inch piece of rebar and shoves it into the barrel. Now let's see them shoot him with it.
Oakhtitl heads back to the building, and sees a vaguely man-shaped thing jump up and into the fourth floor of the building. Ezbeki and Geoff fire on it, but can't tell if they hit it this time either. Nicolai feels the vibration of something hitting the floor in the room beside him, and triggers again. He'll be paying for that later.
Carlin is still dazed, and pretty confused. She saw some kind of car go barreling out of the building, hit the wall and explode, then something that might be an Aslan if you barbecued it lightly staggered over, bent down briefly, then staggered back towards the building. There is a vaguely human-shaped lump over by where the care exploded, but it's in heavy armor when she goes to check it, and that means it's not one of her people. (Good thing, as he's quite dead.) She goes off in search of better cover, after taking some Anarad and pain kill. As she moves she sees something drop down off the building. It's another person in heavy armor, and he lands nearby and starts to move in the same direction she's going. Oakhtitl looks down and fires at the person, hitting him in the back. The man doesn't slow down, but he does fire up at the building. The plasma bolt hits next door to Nicolai, bulging the wall in, and sending another one of those backpacks, on fire, into the room with him. Nicolai grabs the pack and tosses it over the edge. The TDX charge goes off at about the second floor, which is above Carlin, but below both Nicolai and Oakhtitl. The latter two suddenly find themselves surfing the debris as their floors collapse. Oakhtitl manages to grab onto something and stop himself about 6 inches above the ground. Nicolai ends up in a little nest, surrounded by rubble, and partially protected by rebar.
Oakhtitl looks over the lip of the rubble and spots the bad guy peeling open the cover of a large junction box. Oakhtitl shoots him, with the large handgun he recovered from the Aslan female's body, and hits the man in the knee with flechette rounds. This does not do much except make the man hesitate before removing the staff from the box and walking away. He goes by Carlin, who had to worm her way into a second junction box, under the "WARNING! Extremely high voltage!" sign. Oakhtitl fires again, and this round is HE. He misses the man, but has his attention. Ezbeki and Geoff pop up and fire on the bad guy, Ezbeki firing about ten rounds right into his visor.
Oakhtitl's next shot, also HE, misses the man again and almost hits Carlin. It does cause a high-voltage line to break and start snaking around behind the bad guy, who's tilting his head to try to see past the starring on his helmet. Nicolai draws his Solomani gauss rifle, checks it quickly, and decides it's safest to not use the electronic sights as they may be a bit damaged, what with the plasma bolts, falling building and all. Oakhtitl finally hits the man, blowing off part of his leg. He's just starting to tip over as Carlin steps out behind him and uses a plastic two by four to flip the 1.5 mega-volt line into the bad guy, where it sort of welds itself to his armor. Nicolai is looking that direction when the battledress becomes all incandescent and then explodes. It's rather spectacular, and since the plasma-gun blows up (not a catastrophic failure, fortunately), all the lights in this section go out. Now it's completely dark. Nicolai uses his electronic sights, which he'd removed, to find his way towards Carlin once he crawls out of the debris. Oakhtitl also crawls out of the rubble. Carlin is off to one side, about ten feet further away from where she started, and has stopped twitching. She seems to be blind, but she knows that's probably temporary flash blindness. She's really creeped out when some of the fleeing rats crawl over her on their way to an escape hole.
Everyone ends up together, shouting at each other. Ezbeki and Geoff have lighters, Nicolai eventually remembers he has Cylum sticks, and Oakhtitl locates the only slightly singed staff. Ezbeki: "We've got to get out of here! The oxygen is being burned up by the fires!" They go down the hole after the rats, some of them more easily than others. Geoff and his large shoulders are the biggest problem, with Ezbeki making birthing jokes. They tether their gear, and go down into the superstructure of the level below. Ezbeki: "Whatever you do, don't look down." They're above the area that the Pikhans have gutted out, and it's a long ass way to the bottom. They get to the side and out into Old Port. They head to the slidewalks, where no one bothers the heavily armed, smoldering people. They are undisturbed on their way to the ship.
Joe answers the pounding on the door, and lets the unhappy people inside. Nicolai: "Mr. Brenowski. Medic Carlin first." He takes a look at her, and lets her know that she has no obvious gross damage to her eyes, although one of her eardrums has ruptured. This explains the lack of hearing. Joe does what he can for her, then turns to Oakhtitl. He has to shave off the remains of Oakhtitl's backpack, using medical depilatory cream before putting burn foam on him. That takes care of the most heavily damaged ones, so Nicolai is next. Carlin has already warned Joe about the radiation problem, so she advises Joe about the Anarad and what doses to administer. Geoff and Ezbeki weren't near the plasma-guns, and their dogtags have radio pegs, so they know how much radiation they received. Nicolai writes a note for Carlin: "I'm going to a cabin to get some <<**sleep**>>." Carlin understands what that means (survival mode). Joe also gives Carlin some muscle relaxant to deal with the twitches. Time for everyone to rest. Joe leaves the fresher lights on in their freshers, and makes sure they all have a pitcher of a Gatorade-esque fluid. Joe packs Carlin's damaged ear, with help from the Pikhan (who makes an insert to Joe's specs).
The Pikhan has removed two to three hundred pounds of contaminant sludge from inside the engines. All the inner surfaces have been polished to a mirror surface. Although that level of contamination would have been fine for average use, now they should be able to get a couple of percentage points more thrust. Joe helps the Pikhan get the sludge washed off him, and puts him to bed, then Joe sets up a big chair and keep his shotgun handy.
The night passes, no one on board the ship dies. Ezbeki has made breakfast hash, in military quantities. Carlin's vision is mostly back, except for the very center of her field of vision. She checks on Nicolai, who's out of survival mode, and is doing much better. Oakhtitl is waking up, clutching the staff, and puts his Therian robe on, since it won't stick to his back. Oakhtitl: "I must deliver this." Carlin: "To whom?" Nicolai: "After breakfast."
After a calm night and a nice breakfast at the hotel, Amanda and Max arrive back at the ship just in time to hear Ezbeki yell "Breakfast!", amid the smell of burnt Aslan. Good thing they're not hungry. Joe: "Good morning Captain, Max. Most of our passengers arrived somewhat beat up last night, and the engines are mostly reassembled. The passengers have received medical attention, but will need more. And your morning paper has arrived." There's not much you can say in response to that. Ezbeki has made breakfast, and the Pikhan opens a hatch on the robot and removes a cold thermos of orange juice. The Gatorade kind of stuff is mixed up again, and a large container will be kept in the fridge.
Oakhtitl still wants to go to the Aslan Consulate to return the staff. He puts the staff in a rifle case, so it's not just out in the open. Geoff will go with him. Nicolai and Carlin discuss what went on, and the fact that last night's little adventure may or may not be related to the job with Thiel, but that Nicolai had been "warned off about Thiel." Carlin: "Warned by whom?" Nicolai: "By Regina Security." Carlin: "Did they warn you about working for him, or taking this particular job?" Nicolai: "Both." Carlin: "I wouldn't think that Regina Security would be running around in battledress, would they?" Nicolai: "Not usually, but they do hire people with battledress." Like Nicolai.
Oakhtitl tells the Consul what happened to the female. Consul: "She's fighting on in another dimension, I hope. Did she die well?" Oakhtitl: "Yes. Is there anyone I can contact about the staff?" Consul: "No one. I can give you the area that clan Essfiyl is hunting in, but it's 1,000 hectares. It's going to be quite impossible to contact them for another week." And Oakhtitl can't wait to complete a matter of honor. The Consul does tell Oakhtitl that there is an ancient and venerable Aslan on Regina, studying at the university. Oakhtitl goes to see him, and with his background in archeology is able to peek the Ancient One's interest, so he gets a meeting. Oakhtitl has never seen an Aslan this old before. Oakhtitl is moving at about the same speed as the Ancient One as they have tea, due to injuries. Oakhtitl explains that it's a matter of honor to contact the clan, and that's all the Ancient One needs to know. He makes some calls, and arranges for a pilot to convey Oakhtitl to the place where the clan holds it's ceremonial hunts. Oakhtitl goes off, after giving the Ancient One a chip containing the paper he's currently writing, and telling him he'll be back in a couple of months. Ancient One: "You going on a trip? On clan business?" Oakhtitl: "No. On other business that I thought was unconnected, but might be after all."
Geoff waits on the port, as this is Aslan business. Oakhtitl is able to see the elder Aslan, Yaskhawatas, and give him the staff, which of course cannot be theirs, since that would imply that they'd lost it, but Oakhtitl tells him that he and the Ancient One were studying this particular staff, and they thought the head of the clan should have it back now, since he's on the hunt. Yaskhawatas: "The hunt will be over soon. When it is, in the future, come to me. Ask what you wish, and if it is in my power, I will make it so." After more formal Aslan stuff, Oakhtitl leaves the dead female's personal belongings with the elder (she may have lost her honor, but she regained it in death) and goes back to the Consulate, where he asks if he can get some reloads for the Aslan pistol. The Consul has already been called by the clan elder, so he's ready to do whatever he can for Oakhtitl. He can provide another ten rounds for the pistol, and he asks Oakhtitl where his ship is docked so other material can be sent to him.
Nicolai goes to MilTech to get his gauss rifle checked out. The cosmetic damage isn't the problem, but the electronic sight is. Kelly suggests Nicolai speak to Marder, since they have a computing gun sight for their gauss rifle, and it might work for Nicolai's rifle. Kelly is able to make the sight work better, and it will work with dumb grenades. Also, they clean and refinish the weapon so it won't have problems down the road. Nicolai sights in the rifle (electronic and non), and restocks on the dumb grenades, and picks up a new set of combat armor before he goes.
By the end of the day, a large crate shows up at the ship for Oakhtitl. It's Aslan combat armor. Practical, but very ornate. Oakhtitl isn't going to wear it, but he appreciates the gift, and he will take care of it. He'll never need it. Really.