"Getting caught is the mother of invention."-- Robert Byrne
On Gardevilis, for two days. WD decides to stay on board the ship, so Joe goes out to stretch his legs. Nicolai manages to find tea, but no coffee [there is no 'substitute' for coffee (or chocolate)]. The tea is very flowery and scented, but not bad. Nicolai samples some of the local blends. "Starblaze", "Morning Tranquility", "Walk Softly with Slippers", and that sort of thing. He buys several of the 500 gram tins. A couple of women in the shop giggle when Nicolai buys certain teas. He's able to find out that certain teas are considered "women's tea". Nicolai: "Ah. Well, it so happens I was purchasing some of the tea for a female friend." Vendor: "Ah. Of course sir." Hey, it's for Carlin (now) - Nicolai doesn't want to be caught drinking any of that girlie-tea! He returns to the ship, and improves (or at least makes more foofy-smelling) the air quality by brewing up a pot.
Oakhtitl goes off the starport, and finds a large, warm rock in a game preserve to bask on. He needs to be out of sight of people, which he accomplishes. After a nice bask, Oakhtitl is almost run over by a small group of rabbit-deer. Oakhtitl looks to see what the prey is running from, and sees a large, open jeep with a bunch of drunken, armed yahoos in pursuit. Hunter: "Look at that cheeky bugger! He's wearing clothes!!" He shoots at Oakhtitl, who takes offense and fires on the driver. He misses the driver, but hits the jeep. The vehicle careens out of control, flies through the air, and crashes into a tree, sending the passengers soaring through the air. The tree creaks and falls over, revealing gleaming metal beneath it. Oakhtitl turns to go and ends up face to face with a hovering camera. Oakhtitl: "Did you see them shoot at me? <no response> They fired at me." A tinny voice comes out of the camera: "You. Remain where you are. This is the police. Do not leave, we will be right there." Oakhtitl, having done nothing wrong, sits down to wait, without reloading his rifle. Shortly thereafter a black and white grav vehicle comes flitting over the treetops and lands near Oakhtitl. Oakhtitl: "Greetings, officers." The police check out the crashed vehicle. Cop #1: "Hey, Sarge! It's Count Doernbacher, and he looks pretty bad. And the Chief [of Police]!" This is going well. Oakhtitl: "Those beings drove quickly towards me and fired at me. I shot their vehicle. You will notice there are many rounds. I can tell from the comments of the other man that I will need to go 'downtown'?" Oh yeah. Oakhtitl hears a couple of the police officers off to one side, discussing him. Cop #2: "Are you sure it's the same Aslan?" Cop #1: "Of course it's the same Aslan. Who would have thought he'd have the nerve to make another try?" Oakhtitl: "I have never been here before." Cop #1: "Yeah, tell it to the judge, buddy." Other emergency vehicles, and more police show up. It's becoming a circus. They show Oakhtitl a wanted poster with an artist's sketch of an Aslan referred to as "Commandante X", who is wanted for terrorism and murder, among other things. Oakhtitl: "That is not me." They don't really care, having captured an Aslan seems to work for them.
The media on the starport has gotten wind of the arrest. Anchor: "We've just learned that Commandante X, the Aslan terrorist, has finally been captured by the local police... murder of the Viceroy and his family...convicted in abstentia and sentenced to death...." Not looking good. Cop #1: "Yeah, this is car 50. You better have the riot police out in front of the station. It looks like word has gotten out about our prisoner." Nicolai hears the news and follows the riot to the police station, which is pretty easy. Anchor: "...his most recent crime was blowing up the Viceroy of Vilis..." All this stuff is from last year, but they'd have to prove that Oakhtitl hasn't been here, which would mean proving he was elsewhere, which would take time, and the cooperation of the authorities. There's a lynch mob outside of the police station, asking for the Aslan to be sent out so they can take care of it. The captain is a little concerned about the lynch mob, and by God they will not have any lynchings at his station! They'll be transporting Oakhtitl to the military prison, where he can await a proper execution. How comforting.
Nicolai does a little reconnaissance of the station, which is fairly secure, and overhears some of the locals talking. Man: "Do you think it's him?" Man #2: "Has to be. How many Aslans do you know that have stripes?" Man: "But the report I heard said that he had horizontal stripes, painted on his face." Man #2: "Hey - stripes are stripes!" Never send that man on a reconnaissance mission (or shopping).
Oakhtitl is taken to his cell and given a phone to use. He calls the ship. Geoff answers the commo unit. Geoff: "Yes?" He sees Oakhtitl in an orange jumpsuit, with manacles and bars behind him. Oakhtitl: "Do not believe what you hear on the news, but you need to turn it on." Geoff doesn't need to do that to figure out there's a problem, but he'll check. Geoff: "I'll get you a lawyer."
Max and Amanda are across the way from the Bonaventure at a tea vendor, when they see the crowd approaching the ship. Max: "Have you done anything to generate press that I'm unaware of?" Amanda: "No." Max: "Did we send for reporters??" The press is banging on the door of the ship, demanding to speak with the captain, or anyone. Geoff turns off the doorbell. Carlin turns on the news, and it's not good. All they know is that Commandante X was a local of Gardevilis who was trying to "throw off the oppressive yolk of Vilis", and among other things, he was responsible for the blowing up of the Viceroy and his family (along with a bunch of other notables) at a state dinner. Geoff: "WD, you need to sound the emergency recall for the rest of the crew." Everyone's beepers go off. There is one counter protestor, but he's a loonie revolutionary. Nicolai calls up. Nicolai: "Orders?" Carlin: "Where are you?" Nicolai: "Outside the police station." Carlin: "They're apparently planning on transporting Oakhtitl to another, more secure facility. Stay there and keep track of him if you can." Nicolai: "Fine."
Oakhtitl's lawyer calls him. His lawyer? Wow, Geoff is quick. Oakhtitl: "Hello?" Aslan: "Hey buddy! Bad luck, eh?" It's the real Commandante X, calling to gloat; what a jerk. Aslan: "Tough luck. I just wanted to let you know that thanks to you, I can kick back on the beaches of Cogri, and spend all that money I got from the government." Oakhtitl: "One way or another, you're a dead man." Aslan: "Yeah, yeah. Any way, I wanted to let you know that I've made sure that police will find more evidence. Bye bye!" Oakhtitl: <to the guard> "You did record that, didn't you?" Guard: "No, it's illegal to record privileged conversations." Oakhtitl: "That wasn't my lawyer." Guard: "Yeah, yeah. Nice try, but you're not going to get us to fall for that." Sigh.
Amanda and Max's commo units have gone off as well. Max: <to the ship> "We're across the street. What the hell is going on?" Carlin explains about Oakhtitl being arrested as a terrorist. Max: "And is he?" Carlin: "No." Max: "We'll try to get back to ship." The police have set up a barricade line, and are demanding to speak with whoever's in charge. Geoff answers the door but doesn't exit the ship. Chief inspector LaFleur is in charge, and takes the "we know you're just innocently involved, etc., etc." tack. Geoff: "You can talk to us through our attorney." LaFleur: "There's no need for that, we just want to ask you a few questions." Geoff: "You can ask whatever you want, once we have legal counsel." LaFleur: "If you're not guilty, why do you need a lawyer?" Geoff: "We're on an Imperial starport, that's our right. But, I can use the extra money for false arrest, so let's go." Carlin: "What are we being charged with?" Minor things like obstruction of justice for now, but they can always add charges if the group doesn't cooperate.
Oakhtitl: "I am not an Imperial citizen. I request that you contact the local Aslan consulate." His lawyer will have to do that. He doesn't' have a lawyer... Oakhtitl is being a nice, calm prisoner, just asking questions of the local guards, to sort of bond with him.
The police do a cursory search of the ship, so they don't find WD, Ezbeki (he was told to hide - he looks guilty of something), or the Darians. Neither Geoff asks the bail bondsman who the best criminal lawyer on the planet is. He tells him Arthur Holman is vacationing on planet, but he doesn't have an office. Geoff contacts a local attorney, asking that he contact Mr. Holman to request that he represent them jointly, should Mr. Holman agree. The local attorney tells Geoff that he understands they're being railroaded, but the local police have been led on a merry chase by the Commandante, so they're trying to make themselves look good. The reporters outside are talking about the execution. Reporter: "Hey, has anyone gone over to interview Judge VonGemigen?" They run off.
Max and Amanda see Geoff and Carlin taken off the ship. Neither Max nor Amanda think it's a good idea to identify themselves as connected with the ship right now, as that would probably just get them arrested as well. Obviously some of the crew was missed, which is good. Max contacts a criminal lawyer, and is told the group will be extradited (to planetary authorities), or at least the Aslan will be. Jonas Hasblot is a criminal attorney and a local, but he's licensed to practice Imperial law as well. He is available to see them in his office, in a couple of hours, at noon.
Nicolai waits an hour, then calls the ship. Ezbeki is very upset, as they've taken his Geoff. Ezbeki: "What are we going to do? Geoff hasn't done anything! Maybe if we give them the Aslan, they'll let Geoff go." Nicolai doubts this, and recommends against Ezbeki making that sort of decision on his own.
Max and Amanda go to see Mr. Hasblot, who serves them tea. Max gives the condensed version of the current disaster to the lawyer. Hasblot: "Normally, we could play the Starport Authority off the locals, but the senior administrator of the STA here was a close friend of the late Viceroy. Look, right now anything I could tell you would be just supposition, I'll have my people look into it. My suggestion would be to check into a hotel, and contact my office." Amanda: "Fine."
Oakhtitl is given lunch, and the guard tells him that the orders have been signed, and he will be moved to Bramble Military Prison. Oakhtitl is not angry with the police, as they're only following orders.
Nicolai is still watching the station. he calls the ship. Ezbeki: "Yeah?" Nicolai: "Who's this?" Ezbeki: "Who's this?" Nicolai: "Nicolai." Ezbeki: "Nicolai who? I don't know any Nicolai, and if I did, he wouldn't be stupid enough to be having this conversation over an insecure line." <click> If worse comes to worse, Nicolai can always work off some frustration by ripping Ezbeki's arms off.
Holman goes to see Geoff. He's taking the case, and believes he can have Geoff and the rest of the crew out of jail before bedtime, but Geoff would rather stay in jail if there's a lynch mob handy. Holman understands, and he's particularly concerned about Oakhtitl's safety, as Brambleford Prison has a reputation for prisoners being shot while escaping. And since they already have Oakhtitl on planet, in their custody, the Imperial authorities won't do much. Geoff: "Don't they have to have an identity hearing to determine if they have the right person?" Holman: "That's correct. We don't know what sort of proof they have of identity." Geoff: "Shouldn't some one point out that if they execute the wrong man, which they will be doing, the real Commandante will be able to just come out and identify himself, which will be more embarassing for the police?" Holman understands, but he's not sure the local authorities care much right now. The current Viceroy is the late Viceroy's younger brother - Henry Wysun, an old Solomani family (historically, not politically).
Later that day (early evening), the crew is released, without even being questioned. The planet has waived their right to extradition. Geoff asks Holman if "going to the press would help or make things worse?" Holman: "If we inflame the press, we run the risk of having the planetary government get extremely upset, and that certainly won't make things any better for anyone. And they can always re-arrest you."
Hasblot calls Amanda and Max, to tell them that "another member of your crew has managed to get Arthur Holman to represent him, and the charges against the crew have been dropped. However, you would do well to prevent your crew from crossing into planetary territory, as the local authorities are not in a forgiving mood, and might well decide to arrest all of you as accomplices." Ezbeki eventually lets Amanda and Max back into the ship, after asking Max several annoying questions to confirm his identity. Ezbeki is quite pleased with himself. All the crew (except for Oakhtitl and Nicolai) return to the ship. Nicolai is watching the ship, and waits for ten minutes watching for other people. He doesn't notice any one. He steps into a public terminal booth and radios the ship. He speaks with Max, who suggests he join the party.
At Carlin's suggestion, a computer search is done, and information on Brambleford is located. It was an old castle/fortress, and was open to tourists up until about 50 years ago, when the government decided to re-militarize the facility. So it's a prison surrounded by the barracks of an elite military force. The prison is actually about 1,000 feet below the surface. Lovely. WD sees it as a well-built place that's sort of like the residences at home. The travel brochures are interesting, but it's obvious why the place didn't draw in the crowds - it's really boring.
Thiel, fortunately, doesn't suggest cutting their losses and leaving Oakhtitl. Thiel: "We do not leave members of our group behind. I don't know what we can do, but we will not abandon him." Nicolai: "For all we know Oakhtitl could already be dead. Why would they have taken him to this military facility?" Carlin: "To keep him away from the lynch mob, in theory." Geoff contacts Holman, asking him to speak with Oakhtitl, and make him aware of what's going on.
Holman does get to the local jail before Oakhtitl is transferred. Holman: "Mr. Oakhtitl? I have been retained by your shipmates, specifically by Mr. Geoff Thompson, to act in your behalf...." introductions, etc., etc. Oakhtitl: "My lawyer already called, to inform me that he would make sure the police had additional evidence against me." Oakhtitl tells Holman about the phone call from the real terrorist. No way to prove it, unfortunately, but it does seem to confirm that the Commandante has some sort of official backer. Holman: "The important thing to remember, and keep foremost in your mind, is that the prison you are in has a reputation for prisoners being killed while trying to escape, so if you find your cell door open, don't do anything." Oakhtitl understands.
WD is asked to check the communication lines, and there are at least two, possibly three taps on the ship's lines. Carlin asks that Ezbeki's hideous head-banging thrash music be connected and hooked up to the system. This is so done. The lawyer calls in and informs Carlin that he has spoken with Oakhtitl, who is fine so far, and Holman is trying to arrange a visit.
Nicolai studies the plans of the prison, just in case, with Geoff. The prison is on a mountain cliff, considered the most difficult climb on the planet. It's perfect for the airborne unit based there, as they can just go to an edge and jump. Carlin can't get pictures of the base, per se, but she does find info on the unit, and some pictures of the troops show the prison in the background. Geoff considers the best time to mount some sort of assault, if this can't be resolved any other way, is when Oakhtitl is going to be executed, or when they take him out of the prison for a pre-execution hearing. If they do this.
The best hope is to get Oakhtitl out of this legally. Failing that, maybe they can find Commandante X and hand him over in a trade. Nicolai: "How did this all start, any way?" Max: "He left the ship." Carlin: "That's about it." Nicolai: "Oh, by the way, I have something for you." He gives Carlin the tin of women's tea, and tells her about the local custom of designating teas as male or female. Holman calls Geoff. Holman: "The identity hearing has been passed on to a secret military court. I don't think I can get any of us in there. It's my understanding that only a military lawyer can represent him in the military court." Geoff: "I'll represent him. You can be my legal advisor." Holman checks, and Geoff (as a retired officer of the Imperial Marines) can go, even though Holman can't. Holman: "I hate to even suggest this...We need to speak in person."
Holman comes to the ship, and he doesn't exactly look confident. Holman: "I'm not even going to suggest..." Geoff: "You're not going to suggest this is a lost cause?" Holman: "I'm not going suggest 'I'm a friend of Strephon's, here are 150,000 pictures of him'. I don't know that even that would work." It's grasping at straws time. Carlin has found out that Count VonGemigen is on the Viceroy's staff, and is very influential, maybe Amanda can speak with the Count? He did seem to like her. Carlin hesitates to suggest the use of feminine wiles, but. Amanda: "I don't know what you have in mind. Are you suggesting I sleep with him?" Max and Carlin: "No!" Geoff: "Well, I don't know, what's it worth to you?" Max: <standing> "What??!!" Ezbeki: "It's not like it has an odometer." Max and Amanda both turn on Ezbeki. Ezbeki: "Hey, women have been doing things like..." Max: "Look! No one is sleeping with anybody!" Nicolai: "That's a pity." Max glares at him. Nicolai: "Well, since the two of you are sharing a cabin..." This line of conversation is stopped before anyone is killed.
Back to research, now that everyone is riled up. The only reference in the library about Commandante X is a recent query as to the dosage required for a lethal injection of a certain substance. Not happy news. Geoff isn't available to help Nicolai recon, as he has to get ready for the legal proceedings. Nicolai: "May I borrow your Corporal?" Geoff: "Certainly. Just keep him out of trouble." Nicolai and Ezbeki head out onto the starport, hoping to get lucky, maybe find a lead on the real bad guy.
Geoff: "Can you find out who made the library query?" It was made by Dr. Suzanne Potowski, the pathologist in the starport hospital. She's one of the certified executioners, one of about one hundred, and was certified from the pool about a week ago. All physicians on the planet are forced, as part of licensure, to be certified as and complete a turn as the official executioner. It's not optional.
Nicolai and Ezbeki are wandering around looking in the departure areas for 7.5' tall Aslans. A man approaches Ezbeki, says "Here you go, get yourself a decent meal", and gives him a credit note.
In Brambleford, they take Oakhtitl out of his cell to weigh him. Medic: "Do you have any allergies?" Oakhtitl: "No." The medic needs to put a needle shunt into Oakhtitl, who wants to know why. Medic: "In preparation for the doctor." Oakhtitl refuses, and won't listen to their logical reasons. Guard: "What do you want for your last meal?" Oakhtitl: "I do not know, that will be many years in coming." Guard: "If I were you, I would plan my last meal soon, because they're flying in the doctor tonight." Oakhtitl: <to the medic> "Do you know anything about Aslan physiology?" Medic: "I've just finished reading Grey's Aslan Anatomy." Oakhtitl doesn't want a shunt, isn't going to be dying any time soon, and will not cooperate. Period. A higher-ranking member of the prison staff, an officer, enters the cell. Officer: "I have something to read you, Mr. Oakhtitl. This is a duly notarized warrant for your execution. The execution to take place at 12:01 AM tomorrow." Oakhtitl tries to point out that he's not that person, and that the Aslan hierate will become unhappy, etc. And Oakhtitl will not submit to the prep they want to do for the doctor. Oakhtitl wants, if they insist on killing him, to be shot like a warrior. Officer: "We don't shoot people any more, that's cruel. This is much better, really. You'll just get tired, fall asleep, and never wake up." Oakhtitl: "I am not your pet dog." Officer: "Look, it says right here, 'death by lethal injection'." Nope. Not having any. After a few minutes an officer with more pips shows up. Lt.: "I understand that you've refused the prep for IV?" Oakhtitl: "You have no reason to insert anything." Lt.: "Your execution order states -" Oakhtitl interrupts, explaining, yet again, that he is not the person for whom the execution order was written, has done nothing wrong, and has never been on this planet before. Lt.: "Look, for all I know what you're saying is true. I have my orders." Oakhtitl: "Why would you want to execute the wrong man?" Lt.: "That's not for me to decide. Look, if you don't cooperate, I can have you stunned and restrained. Let's preserve whatever dignity you have left here." Oakhtitl: "There is no dignity in this place. If you are going to kill me, it will not be with a drug." Lt.: "Okay, tonight at about 11:00 I'll have one of the guards leave your cell door open..." Oakhtitl: "So then I will be shot while escaping." He seems almost okay with this; Oakhtitl is obviously an Aslan in the Russian tradition of hopelessness.
Amanda gets a luncheon appointment with Count VonGemigen. Amanda: "Okay, I don't know how long this will take." Max: "If he offers you champagne, don't take it." Amanda: "Look, I'm just having lunch with him." Max: "Two words: slip, hangover." Amanda: "All right, all right. I'll be careful."
Geoff arrives at the prison, for the hearing. He lands on the austere spire of grey rock jutting up from the landscape. It's sleeting at a 45 degree angle, hard. Officer: "Hell of a day, huh?" Geoff is escorted into an anteroom, where he waits, then eventually into the actual chamber. It's explained as he enters that the officer, Major Geoff Thompson, is here to present evidence as to the identity of the accused. The court has already established his identity, so the burden of proof is Geoff's. Geoff can't bring witnesses, and he won't be shown the court's evidence, so he's pretty much screwed. Geoff: "I believe that Oakhtitl will be able to provide evidence that he was not on the planet when these crimes were committed, if he's given the opportunity. You have him in custody. He's not going anywhere. Execution is a final, permanent decision, that can't be taken back. If you at least give him the opportunity to prove his identity, you lose nothing in the long run. If you let out the news that you've executed the guilty party, the press and the locals will be appeased, and since you believe you have the guilty party, all you'd be doing is granting him a temporary stay, and can execute him later, quietly. My petition to the court is not only to send some one to verify my client's identity, but that you release a statement saying that you've executed him."
Geoff is taken outside of the courtroom to wait the decision, and the office who brought him in takes him to the O Club for a drink. The officer brings them their drinks, and looks around. Officer: "You seem like a decent guy, and you didn't hear this from me, but let's say the current Viceroy, the younger brother of the late Viceroy, made a deal with Commandante X to get rid of the former Viceroy so he could take over from him, and that Commandante X in return was promised he could retire without people hunting him." Geoff: "So they needed some one to take the fall, and Oakhtitl just happened to be the first available Aslan." A runner comes into the club to inform the officer that Geoff needs to return. The announcement is not good news. "The finding of this court is that while the evidence may cast some doubt, it is not enough. The execution will proceed as scheduled. We thank Major Thompson for taking time out of his busy schedule." Damn. Twelve hours to go.
Geoff returns to the Bonaventure. Geoff: "Do we have any nobles on board?" Max: "Yes, why?" Geoff: "We may have to blackmail the current Viceroy. Our petition was denied, but I was given some information. The current Viceroy made a deal with Commandant X to get rid of his brother. My suggestion would be to tell the Viceroy we know he made these arrangements with Commandant X, but we're willing to go along with it, if he plays along with us. We have the execution take place as planned, at least as far as the public is concerned, then we sneak off with Oakhtitl. The Viceroy gets his execution, we get Oakhtitl, and the local authorities don't have to deal with a large embarrassment." Max: "This person has had his own brother killed." Geoff: "And now he's going to have an innocent man killed." Max objects, as they have no proof, and have no way of knowing how arrogant this man is, and he's just as likely to have Oakhtitl and the rest of them killed to prevent them from saying anything. WD tells the group there are geologic inspection tunnels at the base of the mountain, at the back side. The tunnels were sealed, but may still be there, so they could go in and break Oakhtitl out.
Nicolai suggests setting all the plans into play. Nicolai: "Amanda can work on the Count, Max can go blackmail the Viceroy, Carlin can make contact with the executioner/doctor, and the Pikhan and I can check into the tunnels." Carlin: "How in the hell are we going to be able to talk to each other?" Nicolai has secure (in theory) commo for everyone. Geoff: "We can come up with a set of code words, so even if people are listening, they won't know what we're talking about." Carlin: "If Max can get in to see the Viceroy." Max: "Shouldn't be a problem." Carlin (and most of the others) was unaware that Max is a Marquis. Oh. WD uses the geological survey info to make up a tunnel map. There's a spiral tunnel that goes from just under the lowest level of the prison, all the way down to the bottom of the mountain. It's apparently a drainage tunnel. A grav vehicle could get them at least to the location, and WD can design something to take them up the spiral.
Max, with Thiel and Tal along as 'retainers', goes to pay a courtesy call on the Viceroy. He's shown in. Servant: "The Viceroy would be honored to receive you." Wysun: "Ah, please come in, welcome! I was just about to have a late lunch, will you join me?" Baron Wysun reminds Max of a worldly Buddha. He's quite sleek, and has recently had his head waxed. He's reclined on a lounge, and has had one brought in for Max. Max: "Thank you, Baron. I will have to request a different chair, however. Back injury." The Baron makes sympathetic noises, and sends a couple of servants scurrying off to fetch a straight-backed chair.
Carlin has located Dr. Suzanne Potowski's apartment, and knocks on her door. Voice: "Go away! I'm not going. I won't do it!" Carlin: "I wanted to discuss that with you." Voice: "I told you, I won't do your assassination for you!" Carlin: "I'll do it for you." That gets her attention. She opens the door and ushers Carlin inside. Suzanne: "You're with the resistance, aren't you!?! I wish I had the nerve to make a blow for the proletariat like you are!" Carlin tells the doctor as little as she can while offering to go in her place. Carlin: "This way you can get past the requirement, and it will be out of the way. It's for your own safety that I don't give you any details..." Suzanne: "Power to the people!" Carlin: "Uh, right. How long do we have?" Suzanne: "The car's supposed to pick me up at 8:00 tonight." Carlin gets the other details. The credentials were sent ahead, and will have to be modified, as the doctor is blonde and blue-eyed and Carlin is neither. The doctor is given $500 credits, and told to go to a nice hotel for the night. And don't use her card or anything.
Back in the opulence of the Viceroy's apartments. Wysun: "So, what can I do for you while you're visiting our little world? I'm sure it's not what you're accustomed to, but we do what we can." With very little prompting, Wysun goes on and on about all the privations he has to endure, being forced to make do on this backwater little world, so far from the civilized worlds of, say, Rhylanor. The more he says, the less Max likes this man. Max brings up the news of the capture of Commandante X, and his imminent execution. Wysun: "Would you like to watch? You're a guest - of course! Nothing like seeing justice being done. I attend all the executions. Pity there aren't more." Max: <thinking of Wysun> "I couldn't agree more." Wysun: "It's so gratifying to speak with some one other than the local soft liberals, and the way they try to generate sympathy for the criminals. 'Oh, my life was so hard'..." Max: "It is terribly sad when people don't appreciate how good their life is." Obviously, Wysun isn't getting Max's drift, but that's probably just as well. Max requests to speak with Wysun about "a rather delicate issue." After the servants are sent out, the conversation turns to the Aslan, and the fact that he's, so to speak, Max's, and then Wysun takes a gun out and makes comments about "how terrible it was that the Commandante made a break for it and unfortunately killed an Imperial noble in the process, before being killed himself. Tragic." He's about to shoot Max when Thal shoots Wysun. Thiel grabs Max's arm and says "Run!" They run out, get outside, then walk into the crowds. Thiel: "Pity about poor Tal. I'll miss him." Max: "What?" Thiel: "Tal stayed to cover our escape." Damn. Max and Thiel can't go back to the ship, so Max phones. Amanda is back from lunch. Amanda: "The Count suggested that something could be arranged, but it would be expensive. A million credits was mentioned. Oh, and the Count felt that for his part in this, he wanted certain other 'recompense'...." I think not! Max: "Well, lunch went badly." Carlin: "Badly, or catastrophically?" Max: "The latter, except for the next person in line for the viceroy position." Carlin needs some one to work on her ID, and Max hears her ask about forgery, which he has. (Naval intelligence. No, really.) Carlin meets Max and Thiel, and her ID photo is easily replaced. Max and Thiel will go to Down Port to wait for Carlin in the hospital she'll be taking the body to, and Amanda will take the ship down.
Geoff, Nicolai, WD, and Ezbeki head for the foot of the mountain, using the ship's grav vehicle. They find a painted steel cover over a concrete cap that covers the tunnel, but the lever still works and the cover opens. There are internal emergency lights, and some covered equipment, crates, etc. - boring equipment and the like. There's a tinny "Halt! Who goes there?" WD has robotics, and after a few tense moments he reprograms the robot to accept him and the humans. Then the sled is unpacked for the trip up. WD underestimated the thrust of the sled, so it's going faster than he expected, and hitting the baffles is a real pain in the ass. At least down should be faster.
Carlin arrives, in spite of the blinding sleet, although it was touch and go for a while. Carlin asks the Major if "the request from the hospital for the body has come through?" Major: "I haven't heard anything about that." Carlin: "We so rarely get a chance to examine an Aslan body." The Major isn't too keen on that, given his orders to cremate the body immediately after he's declared dead. Carlin will have to work on him.
Thiel and Max get DownPort, and are by the hospital (an easily located landmark for their rendezvous), when they see a number of men in military uniforms escorting a woman. Potowski: "You can't handle me like that, I'm a doctor!" Officer: "You'll still have to come with us, Dr. Potowski." Oh-oh. Thiel approaches one of the officers. Thiel: "Excuse me sir, I can't help but notice the uniforms. You're members of the local military, are you not?" Officer: "Yes sir. The 2215th Airborne." Thiel: "Ah! You must be the lads stationed at the castle!" Officer: "Yes sir, we have that honor. If you'll excuse me sir, I'm on duty." Thiel: "Oh of course, of course. Thank you." He rejoins Max, after overhearing the men discuss the problem with the doctor. Thiel: "The bad news is the phone lines are down to the castle. The good news is the phone lines are down to the castle." The officer comes striding down the hallway with his subordinate. Officer: "...We'll have to warn them. We'll have to go there. Get that bird up." Corporal: "Yes sir!" So much for them not being able to warn the castle. Thiel suggests they borrow the LifeFlight helicopter and try to get there first. Max, repenting the development late in life of a misspent youth, reluctantly agrees.
At the prison, the cell door is left open accidentally. Oakhtitl does not just run out to be shot, but toys with the guards and tosses out his rolled up mattress, etc., until he gets bored. Just before midnight, Carlin is fetched from the warm commissary and her coffee. Guard: "Okay, doctor, it's time to go down to the patient." Below the lowest floor, Nicolai and places the charges to blow an entrance into the floor above, and they settle down to await the signal from the doctor.
The guards show up at Oakhtitl's cell. Oakhtitl: "Did you enjoy your target practice?" Guard: "Ah, it broke the monotony." Oakhtitl: "Glad to have helped." Carlin: "If you get him to sit down in a chair, that would be fine." All the guards go into the room to handle the Aslan, leaving Carlin alone briefly to use her commo and give the signal. Signal received, and charges are blown.
A hole is not opened in the floor. The entire floor of Oakhtitl's cell and those of a couple of nearby cells collapse. The guards disappear into the hole, and are handled by WD who uses his net gun on them. Ezbeki is going to kill the guards when Geoff says "No." Ezbeki: "Ah, medic?" Only one guard has been stabbed, but he will need medical attention. Oakhtitl was sitting on his bunk, which is attached to the wall, and does a controlled drop at his leisure. Nicolai tosses out a grenade as a parting gesture, and Carlin quickly slaps a patch on the stabbed man on her way down.
On top, the alarms have gone off, and men are firing on the LifeFlight vehicle, so they take off and go over the edge headed for the bottom. The rest of the break out crew take off in the sled, going like bats out of hell down the tunnel, several of the party hanging on to the rear. Oakhtitl uses a guard's shield as a backup for the sled, in case he loses his grip, which he does, hitting Nicolai behind him. Nicolai, who's triggered, grabs onto Oakhtitl, so now it's double luge! Oakhtitl moves forward using the ropes. They get down the tunnel, to the bottom, and in mostly one piece. Oakhtitl and WD move the grav generator out of the sled and into the grav vehicle. Nicolai fires his demo gun into the elevator full of guards in combat armor. WD reprograms the robot to prevent people from leaving after the group. "Warning! Targets are attempting to bypass robot." The plasma gun is deployed. Ouch! Bright actinic flash, and the grav vehicle shoots outside.
Max manages to land the grav-chopper and not crash onto Nicolai, who bounds into the vehicle and attempts to commandeer the ship, not realizing who was in it. It's a mad dash through the cliffs and valleys, bad guys in pursuit, and Max shuts down as much as he can in the chopper, flying completely on instruments, no lights. Ezbeki: "There's a ship behind us, and they just got the other group! <looking up> If you let me live through this, I swear I'll go to church every week." The 'other group' isn't hit, just running dark when a missile goes through the middle of LifeFlight, and the military chopper (think Hind) isn't able to compensate quickly enough, crashing into the cliff with a loud boom! The rendezvous is made with the Bonaventure, both crafts are brought on board, but the LifeFlight chopper is badly damaged, so it's dumped. There is some unexpected good news: Tal made it on board, slightly shot up, but functional. He played dead and snuck out the back way. After a quick run out of atmosphere, the ship jumps out of system.
Jump into the Zeta -2 system, locate and pick up the water Thiel had cached there, then jump out again.
Dead space. Recalculate, jump again.
Dekalb. Refuel, breathe real air. No Imperial starport - no longer in the Imperium. Do ship's business. Half the cargo is disposed of here, some additional cargo (20 tons of small arms ammunition) for Faisal is taken on, along with enough fuel to jump in and back without refueling on Faisal. Nothing has really changed on Faisal according to the news on Dekalb, just the usual shooting each other with small arms. The trains aren't even running, because they kept getting shot up.
Follow beacon in, land. People in grubby clothing come up, and are pushed away by armed people in slightly better clothing, followed by a jeep and a barrel-chested man with a large cigar and an ornate (if eccentric) uniform. That would be Generalissimo Miguel Sortierno. Sortierno: "You have weapons? Playbeing? I will take all your cargo, and you will be guests at my villa!" Much whooping and firing into the air. A tall woman with short hair, wearing what looks like a dress tunic with fancy epaulets, an olive drab tank top, and boots. That would be Colonel Laura Visconti. She looks cleaner, has all of her teeth, is wearing a Marine cutlass, and gnawing on a cheroot butt. Joy. There's a brief stare down, and then an argument over which villa the crew will go to. Flip a coin? The cargo is divided in half, and a tidy profit is made. Amanda: "We have flipped a coin [not, but why tell them] and the Colonel has won. But we will visit the General's villa tomorrow." Joe, Ezbeki, and WD will stay with the ship.
Customs Agents board to check for contraband, collect the landing fee, etc. The personal firearms, except for shotguns, are illegal. The CAs go through the ship taking liquor, and all they feel they can get away with (nothing personal). The customs people leave. Agent: "Friendly reminder - when you take off, lift vertically. Some of the locals have gotten their hands on TAC missiles and they've been shooting at anything in the air then running over to see if anything good survived the crash. We lost a grav vehicle last week." If it flies, it dies.
An older gentleman from one of the other ships (an old Far Trader) stops by the Bonaventure to chat. Trader: "You don't by any chance have an electrostatic convertor? I've been stuck on this rock for a month." They can help him. There's another ship in the field, a much nicer looking one, and the trader is asked about it. Trader: "They touched down about a week ago, but they haven't left their ship. The customs guys went on board, but nothing since then." Ezbeki, Geoff, Joe, WD, and Tal will stay with the ship. A truck shows up to take the group to the villa.
There are a lot of different species here - Darian, Vargr, human, you name it. After a very dusty ride of 50 clicks, to the villa (fortress, more like). It's very dusty there too, red dust. It's early evening by the time they arrive. The house majordomo: "Ah, you must be tired, and in need to clean up." Carlin: "Yes, that would be lovely." A hand basin. How effective. Carlin will have to wait for her shower. Visconti swaggers in. Visconti: "Greetings my friends! Welcome to my villa. It is nice, no?" Carlin: "Very nice." Visconti offers cigar-like things, but they are declined, except for Oakhtitl who figures some one should accept for politeness' sake. The tobacco is very good, but improperly rolled. Hmmm. Oakhtitl: "This is fine tobacco. May I go cut off the hands of the fool who so improperly rolled this for you?" Visconti: "You're right. <to her guard> Have that imbecile Pedro brought in!" An older man is dragged in and dropped to the ground in front of Oakhtitl, cowering. Oakhtitl has the man take him to his shop, and show him how he rolls. Oakhtitl imparts as much information as he remembers about the technique, in an attempt to improve the job. He does better than Pedro. It does need a good sharp knife, which Pedro doesn't have, but Oakhtitl provides a bayonet and sharpens it. Pedro: "Why do you come to Faisal? You are not merchants. I have seen merchants, and you look more like mercenaries." Oakhtitl: "My captain is a merchant." Pedro: "Have you come here to dispose the warlords?" Oakhtitl: "That is not my job."
Visconti: "So tell me, what brings you here? And I know it's not trade - some of you dress far too well for traders." That would be the former Navy people from Rhylanor, although they really are trying to be traders. Thiel: "We have come here on a ritual of purification, to purify myself in the desert...and I saw a vision...and God spake to me..." He goes on, and on, and on, and on. Visconti gets the picture. Thiel: "Do you know of the Devil's Tree?" Visconti: "Oh yes, everyone knows of the Devil's Tree. It's at the base of the mountain, about 150 kilometres that way. But no one goes there." Carlin: "Why?" Visconti: "Because there are evil spirits there that take the souls of those who wander there at night." Carlin: "Ah. Only at night?" Visconti: "But you are my guests!" Drink is brought out, and there is much quaffing and the like. Visconti: "Is it true that they have chamber pots that have water rushing through them?" She doesn't get out much. Oakhtitl returns with newly wrapped cigars, which Visconti approves of. Oakhtitl: "Pedro made them. He now has value for you, so I have given value to you." Visconti tries to buy Oakhtitl, then asks Pedro "Is this true?" Oakhtitl: "Do you doubt my word?" A major incident of honor is narrowly avoided, and no blood is spilled.
The group sits down at a huge table with Visconti's officers. Lots of food and drink, quaffing, etc. Nicolai stays in his mode of bodyguard, not drinking. Many toasts are made. Visconti: "And we thank you for your cargo of ammunition. With this we will raid Sortierno camp..." Followed by much posturing, more drinking, and eventual nodding off. Time to sneak off.
Geoff, who was supposed to pick up the party in the grav vehicle, is contacted. There's a small problem. Geoff: "I'm okay, but the grav vehicle has seen better days. Some idiot with a TAC missile shot me down." Great. He went low and slow, and got shot down about two clicks from the ship. The Pikhan thinks he can fix it, but it's going to take time.
Time is something the party does not have a lot of, so they borrow a truck, and head out. They get to the foot of the mountain just as the sun is starting to rise. The Devil's Tree is just as easy to identify as Visconti said. It's huge, and looks like some kind of hideous creature with it's mouth open. It looks like the big brother of the scary tree in everyone's childhood nightmare. Thiel is excited. They park near the tree, but not too near. The group checks around the tree, around the roots. Nicolai and Oakhtitl get grabbed by the spines on the trees. Painful. The limbs bend down whenever anyone steps on exposed roots. This becomes like searching in a minefield. Several human skeletons are found. There's a section between roots, sort of round. A rock tossed onto it, and it makes a sound like hollow metal would. Nicolai then tries to jump in first, just in case. He makes it over, and looks for trips or wires. Appears fine, just covered by dirt. He checks, and there's about an inch of dirt, then something hard and grey. Thiel leaps over next to Nicolai, and starts digging out the seam rather frantically. Thiel: "Help me look. There must be some kind of lever or handle." Nicolai: "I will, but we will do it carefully." The door (hatch, portal, whatever) is irregularly shaped, but is unearthed. Thiel: "There is some writing on the door." It's the usual thing about "only the pure being allowed to enter, the others suffering a horrible death. There's a slot in the word 'death'. And another one here." Max: "What does the second one say?" Thiel: "Purity." Max: "I'd go with that one." The key is used, the door opens, with a waft of stale air. No one is immediately disintegrated. It's dark down the hole. Nicolai shakes up a red cylum stick and tosses one in. There are shapes, but nothing moving. Metallic stairs going down. Thiel goes down to the bottom of the stair first, being the pure one. There are the husks of what used to be some sort of tigers or something down there. Nicolai follows down, then Oakhtitl. Thiel: "Interesting. Their corpses weren't reduced to bone, so there's no bacteria in here." Amanda stays up top to keep watch.
There's a big, dark pillar in the centre of the room. Thiel puts on his goggles, and everyone else doesn't look as he manipulates the pillar and it opens. Max picks up a bit of reflective metal, and watches the reflection of the odd multi-hued bronze thing as Thiel puts it into his box. Now it's safe to look around. There's some sort of device that looks like it should have stuff plugged into it's side in the middle of the room, and it's giving off a certain amount of heat and thrumming.
The group does a quick bit of hunting around. There's some cool jewelry of an alien design which Oakhtitl scoops into a small chest and picks up. The device is thrumming louder now. Time to pick up a few baubles and go back up. Thiel: "We did it!" There's a crack, and Thiel is shot through the chest, dropping like a rock. Max grabs the case, Nicolai grabs Thiel. Carlin starts the door closing, Oakhtitl tosses the key into the room as the door is closing (no one's getting in there with that key again). There's another crack and Amanda is hit in the leg. Max helps get her and the case into the back of the truck. The truck gets the group around to the far side of the tree from the shooter. Thiel has been hit in the heart, and is bleeding profusely. Amanda has been shot through the leg - nasty, but not life-threatening. Carlin medics her, but there's nothing she can do for Thiel, not out in the middle of nowhere, so she uses neuro-stasis on him and hopes for the best.
A voice yells out to the group at the truck. Man: "You, down below! We only want the object. Give it to us, and we'll let you go." If Max believed that he might be inclined to give them the damn thing, but he doesn't. Out of the truck, send it down the hill by itself to draw fire. Oakhtitl and Nicolai off separately through the gullies and brush, to stalk the bad guys. They have their commo, but the units are being jammed by something so the group can't talk to each other or the ship. Nicolai is shot in the arm (breaking at least one bone), rolls into a gully, wraps his arm, and triggers. Oakhtitl hears whispers of the bad guys as he stalks them with his knife - he's been wanting to hunt something! He is almost run over by a man with a rifle, but it's too close for a rifle shot. The man behind him is carrying a large set of binoculars. Oakhtitl goes for the rifleman, and guts him with a dewclaw. There's an inhuman roar, a human scream, intestines everywhere, and Nicolai runs that way. The man with the binocs is back peddling and trying to bring up his gun. Nicolai is approaching, very fast, when Oakhtitl pounces but misses. another shot rings out, just missing Nicolai. Hey! There's another sniper! The man with the binocs hits Oakhtitl in the bicep with an assault rifle. then Nicolai leaps into the gully, and heads around the bend. Oakhtitl attacks again, slashing the man's chest. this is too much for the guy, who stops struggling. Nicolai comes around the corner in time to see Oakhtitl finish off the two wounded men. Nicolai picks up the binocs, hoping to find the bad guy.
The other shooter (same side?) has the drop on the remainder of the group near the tree, and threatens to shoot Amanda and Carlin unless Max turns over the object. Max takes the box, tells the others to not look, lays the case on the ground so it opens towards the approaching gunman, and unlocks it. Shooter: "Open it. Carefully." Max looks away as he opens it, closing his eyes. Shooter: "Oh my God, it's beautiful..." Max is not looking, but he sees a bright white flash through his closed eyes and his hand. A vaguely man-sized briquet falls over. Max flips the lid closed and secures it. Okay, so it's not all just a legend.
Oakhtitl brings up the binocs to find he's looking directly at the sniper. There's a thud and a crack, and Oakhtitl is hit in the shoulder. Nicolai uses the scope on the rifle to try to find the sniper's position. He can see a section of grass that's thicker than the other, so he shoots in that direction, further damaging his injured arm. There's a puff in the earth near where he was aiming. The cat and mouse game continues.
Max checks in the direction the shooter came from, and finds a tan military Hummer. There's a big electronic box in the back, which Max turns off, and all of a sudden there's no more jamming on the commo units.
Oakhtitl tries firing this time. Damn that thing's got recoil. Fire and move. a couple of minutes of cat and mouse, then Nicolai hits the bottom of the slope where the shooter is. stealth rather than speed. Oakhtitl sets up the gun in a new position, ready to fire, and waits for Nicolai to be a distraction. About 50 yards from where they thought he was, a man in camo becomes visible, aiming at Nicolai. That's what Oakhtitl was waiting for. Nicolai fires the SMG, getting his attention, but not hitting him, apparently. Oakhtitl fires, then moves, not assuming there isn't another bad guy. He hits the sniper in the forearm, just as the sniper fires on Nicolai, hitting him in the hip. Nicolai charges on the injured shooter, hitting him. The man drops under the SMG fire. Nicolai makes sure the man's dead (with a few more shots), and finds the spotter - deader than hell. Nicolai untriggers and takes the dead man's canteen.
Nicolai checks the commo, which is now working, and calls Max. Nicolai: "Two down. Need help." Max: "Bad guys?" Nicolai: "Down. Four down." There is some movement up on the hill, but it turns out to be local people with packs leading donkeys. Not a threat. Oakhtitl goes towards Nicolai. Max: "On my way, have transport." Nicolai: "Transport is good." On route, Max spots a second Hummer. He locates Oakhtitl and Nicolai. Max: "Somebody showed up at the tree." Nicolai: "That would explain why you have a Humvee." Max: "Two, actually." They decide to take both vehicles, and all the weapons. Nicolai strips all the men of their gear, and two of them (the second team) have a fleur-de-lis tattoo, but no one in the party knows what that means. Medicking takes place, and there is food and water in the vehicles (Yea!), then back to the villa.
Colonel Visconti isn't too happy about her truck being taken and her guests running off, but she is interested in the sniper rifles, offering to trade for them. Nicolai: "You do not have enough tequila or gold coins for this rifle." They give her the assault rifles off the spotters, but not the sniper rifles. And she can have both vehicles, as long as she provides transport back to the landing field. A condensed, somewhat sanitized version of what happened is given to the Colonel. Visconti: "Ah. Watch out for devils with the fleur-de-lis tattoos." Nicolai: "Why?" Some of her men encountered those guys, and were tortured. Carlin: "Do you know who they were?" Visconti: "No, but they were off-worlders. One of my men was still alive when we found him, and I found out as much as I could. They were from Regina, if you know where that is." Oh yeah. The clock is ticking on the neural stasis Carlin used on Thiel, so it's a mad rush to the ship where it's found he does have brainwave activity. What he needs is an artificial heart, which can and is made. They boost, while Carlin attends to the injured.
As the ship maneuvers out to jump point, WD comes up to the bridge. He's taken the Darian jump drive component out of its box and fitted it to the drive. Max: "What??" WD: "The Darian jump drive. I assumed that was why you brought it back. It doubles the jump capacity of the ship." Geoff: "So you've used one of these things before, right?" WD: "No, but I've seen one hooked up, and the other engineer said that the weird side effects weren't that bad." Max: "What weird side effects??!" They jump. The weird side effects are that the whole crew becomes really irritable, and cranky, gets very little sleep, and none of it restful. Between jumps they sleep, but then they have to jump again. Very, very ugly things are said between Amanda and Max. Tension is mounting between Geoff and Ezbeki, and everyone else on the ship as well. The engineer locks himself in the back and doesn't come out. Good thing too, Mr. "I'm sure the weird side effects were exaggerated"!
Zeta 2. In and back out. If the crew doesn't manage to stay out of each others' way, they'll probably come to blows.
Frenzy. Get Thiel medicked in a hospital. They fit him with a temporary heart. He had some brain damage, but not too severe. Then it 's back on the road.
Denatan, briefly. Still no murders, but if ship doors could slam...
Dinom. Nicolai gets off, gets passage to Jenghe, then high passage on a luxury liner to Rhylanor. He's the bright one.
Regina. The Darian thing is taken off the fucking ship, thank you! The parting was very bitter. Even the Pikhan was bitchy. Amanda and Max have had fights that could peel paint, and their parting is about the same. Amanda: "If I never see you again, it will be too soon!" Max goes to a hotel room to get away from Amanda.
On his way to Rhylanor, Nicolai listens to the entire tape, and it's just SolSec talking about how they're going to follow Nicolai to Julie, and to any other ex-pats who may give them aid, so that they can explain about SolSec's reach. Charming people.
Max goes back to Gardevilis, feeling obligated to straighten things out. He takes a fast liner back to speak with the new Viceroy, who's a no-nonsense kind of administrator. Luckily, Max has a lot of admin experience and they are able to come to an understanding. The real Commandante X was found a few days after Max's party left, and has been executed. The Viceroy understands that his predeccessor was a disgrace and a fool, and aside from the fact that Tal had better not return unless he wants to face murder charges (it doesn't help he's an alien), everything is smoothed over. Max returns to Regina.
On returning to Regina Up, Max goes back to the Bonaventure, where a very worried Amanda meets him. Amanda: "I've been going frantic! You just fell off the face of the earth, and I didn't know if something had happened to you, or if you'd killed yourself!" Max: "I'm sorry. I left a note... Or at least I meant to. I'm sorry." Good thing he didn't leave a note; considering his state of mind at the time, it probably would have started "Dear Bitch". But, with the Darian mishap behind them, they can kiss and make up. Back to what passes for normal around here.