"Its easy to get good players. Gettin em to play together, thats the hard part. "-- - Casey Stengel
Dwayne Augustus Rupert Fairhaven has been asked to look into a little matter for his friends at the polo club. It seems production is down for the mining company they own stock in, and profits are falling. Do they need to go in and sack everyone or what? He has experience as an Imperial Marine, and can handle most anything, and he's not directly connected, so they think he's the perfect man for the job. Naturally, Dwayne agrees to go; anything to help out his friends.
A large corporation is looking for experienced professionals to eliminate a
potential problem. Individuals should basic combat skills and be able to
operate in a low-tech environment. The contractors are being hired to track
down a rogue employee and terminate their contract. The hiring party will
pay Cr50,000, half in advance and arrange discreet transportation. The
successful contractor has the possibility of further work and other benefits
from the contracting company.
Submit resumes to:
Very Big and Powerful Corporation
c/o General Delivery
The ad above comes out just when Dee Dee "Dragon" Callahan decides it's time to get off Regina and make a little money. Not that she wants to help the Really Big Corporation, but if she can divest them of some of the money they've sucked out of the lower classes so much the better. Duane Flett - formerly Sergeant Duane Flett of the Imperial Marines - is in need of employment, and he answers the same ad as the first step in his new career as a mercenary.
Dragon and Duane arrive at the pre-arranged meeting, and get a chance to check out the intermediary. He's in a business suit and represents a corporation that he would rather not specify. He does present his bonafides in the form of a suitcase full of money. His name is Roman Caramaya. Not marketing - a big, blunt, bluff of a man. But wearing a very well-tailored, very expensive suit. Dragon could eat for a year off that suit. He doesn't come out and say he wants them to kill the person, but Dragon wants something a bit more specific than "terminate their contract". Dragon: "In what fashion do you want us to terminate his-" Roman: "Her." Dragon: "In what way do you want us to terminate her contract? What sort of proof do you want that we've 'terminated her contract'?" Roman: "She has a chip embedded under her left arm. Bring it back and that will be proof enough. " Dragon: "Does this mean she can never work for this company again, or...?" Roman: "We'd like her to be retired. Find a permanent home in the earth. Whatever it is you do. We want you to take care of her." He's obviously very uncomfortable with this. Roman: "We want her to have a permanent accident. She not only stole some valuable technology, but has harmed the company in other ways, and set a dangerous precedent." Dragon: "Do you just want her dead, or do you want an example made of her?" Roman: "We just want her dead." Duane: "Where is she?" Roman: "We believe she's on Menorb. Her name is Carmen Escobar. We believe she has hooked up with her brother Roberto Escobar. He's some kind of local union organizer or something." A Cesar Chavez sort. He's the only family she has, and they've reconciled recently after she went all corporate. They know she at least travelled to Menorb, and her brother is there. Roman: "He's known on planet, if you find him, you find her and take care of her. No worries." Simple, right?
It's several jumps to Menorb, but they can relax on route. They'll travel by Tukera Lines to Boughene, along the X-boat route. Total of three weeks to and from Menorb. They'll retain the services of a discreet carrier to get to Menorb from Boughene. Roman: "Not that you'll be landing illegally, but you are independent contractors, and we don't want this coming back to the company." Perish the thought. Roman wants to know how quickly they can leave. Roman: "If you can't find the chip, I'm sure you can find some other acceptable means of identification.
They are asked to sign an agreement that's pretty vague, and through a holding company - Blanc-Noir et Cie. Dragon: "What's the point of this contract? If I breach it, are you going to take me to court because I didn't carry out your request to murder someone? Let's see, you're hiring me to go after someone who just pissed you off and kill them, and you think I'm going to be bound by a piece of paper? I figure if I back out of this you'll send someone to kill me." Duane: "And I'm not stupid enough to sign my name to something like that." Roman: "All right. Do you have bank accounts to transfer the money into?" Duane: "I'll take cash." Roman: "I anticipated that." He has the cash. Duane tucks his into his shirt. They also get manila envelopes with tickets, a number on Boughene to call about transport, a photo of Carmen, and a 10 year old photo of Roberto at a workers' rally. Nice looking, olive skin, dark hair - both of them. Carmen has taken off, and is on the run - nothing at work or her home to indicate she was there, or will be back soon. Duane: "You said she had information. Do you need that retrieved?" Roman: "No. She doesn't have anything physical, it's knowledge." They don't think she's passed it on yet, but if she has, she's still to be terminated.
Duane wants to check up on Menorb. Nothing overly thrilling. Menorb has a C class starport, impersonal bureaucracy, a law level of 8, and a tech level of 7 (and that's the highest tech on planet). The planet's primary industry is mining - zirconium and other unusual metals. The zirconium mines are what interests Dwayne, as they're very high-profile. Standard Imperial mix of races. There are some different ethnic groups who have isolated themselves, but that's all. Not much more information other than touristy stuff.
Dwayne does his own research on Menorb. Do they ride, what sports do they play, that sort of thing. There's a lovely Imperial Geographic article showing the happy natives and all that. Very nice. Dwayne finds some old vids of football (soccer) on Menorb. He checks them out of the library, along with another vid that Mrs. Perth filed with the other one because they're both about Menorb. It's in the un-cataloged section, and is decades old. Dwayne uses the old reader to check out the disks before checking them out, and it appears to be someone's school project. Rudolfo Gamo is one of the futbol players highlighted and seen at home in Villeta, where he grew up as a boy. He's come back to do something for the community. It's not hard to catch on to the basics of futbol, and get the sense of how popular it is on Menorb.
And so, Duane, Dwayne, and Dragon all end up on the same Tukera liner bound for Menorb. As the ship's manuevering out to jump, Duane hears a man in the bar, talking about his time in the "Impewial Mawines". That would be Dwayne Fairhaven, and Duane has met this damned foofy noble before. Duane bribes and cajols the bartender into selling him a bottle, which he takes to his room. He hopes Dwayne won't be on the next leg of the trip...
150 to 157-1123.
Duane manages to avoid running into his nemesis, and nothing bad happens to anyone. Dragon figures out that Duane is avoiding someone, and is really determined about it. She can't figure out who it is, but he's definitely acting like he's wanted or something. Dragon: "Who is it who's not supposed to see you?" Duane: "Oh God. Look, it's this really poofda noble who was on the same op I was on, and it was bad. If I see this, guy, I might just lose control." Dragon: "Okay." Duane: "And not only is he a friggin' noble, he's a friggin' officer!" Dragon: "Well, I'm sure he'll be getting off at Boughene." Duane: "Thank God."
157 to 164-1123.
Dwayne doesn't get off the ship, and continues to Boughene. Much to Duane's dismay. Perhaps he's being punished for something he did in a past life?
Elsewhere, Amanda Wentworth, the captain and co-owner of the Bonaventure, is given the opportunity to carry two passengers from Boughene to Menorb, and for a premium rate. She's made all the arrangements. And they have extra cabins, so they might be able to get another passenger or two.
Dwayne gets off the ship, picks up his luggage and checks into the TAS. He requests information on a ship to Menorb, and since he's travelling light he'
Max Rhys-Fairfax, Amanda's partner, receives a letter for the ship. It's on nice, expensive, cream colored stationery with a personal watermark on it. Beautiful handwriting, and lovely grammar. (Good thing Dwayne didn't dictate.) It's someone seeking passage to Menorb, with one extra ton of baggage. He's enclosed his calling card. Max lets Amanda know about the new passenger. Amanda: "Great! Even with a ton of luggage per passenger, that leaves two tons free." Max: "One. Our passenger wants an extra ton." Amanda: "Who has two tons of baggage?" Max: "I don't know, maybe he's taking presents home to his family." Amanda: "Like what - a tractor??" Max: "You could ask him, he sent his card." Amanda: "It's not important if he's paying. And if we can book the other five cabins we'll make a really good profit." Amanda suggests Max "go out and have some fun." They've been on board the ship together for quite a while, and it's time for a bit of space. Amanda will go do girl stuff. The ship's being serviced, so both Amanda and Max take off for a while. They have pagers if necessary.
Boughene is an A class starport, and has a corrosive atmosphere. Don't go outside. They spent a lot of money on the starport and other interconnected domes, so it doesn't seem crowded. There are lots of green spaces, and walkways. It's very important to not feel like you're inside a big bubble underground. The ceilings all look new, but that's because the inner layers are constantly being replaced from the inside, as the outside air tries to eat it's way in. Supervisors run the cities, and are sort of the local nobility. People seem quite happy with the lifestyle though. Running water, lots of facilities for entertainment, and everything is clean in an obssessive, Swiss sort of way.
After Dragon and Duane check in with their ship (yes, it's the Bonaventure), they find out they have time to spend a night on the town. The ship won't leave for at least 24 hours. Duane goes off in search of a place where he can drink and watch naked women. And maybe rent one for a while. Not a place a foofy noble would hang out. Dragon doesn't want to go to the strip club with Duane (obviously), and finds a dance club that's licensed on the starport. It's pretty big, very open and has multiple levels. Lots of young people, and a live band. She mingles and has plenty of invitations to dance and visit - mostly on-planet students.
Dragon is quite the hit with the local kids. She's from off planet, and she's got an exciting, dangerous edge. She's invited to Rick's house for a party. His mommy and daddy are on a trip off planet. They have money. They're supervisors. Ooh! He gives her a ride in his lemon yellow Denzetti, on the way to the house on the lake.
Boy, is this a nice house! Architect designed, right on the artificial lake, with woods between it and the neighbors. The other friends come over, music is turned up, and alcohol is consumed. Dancing, partying, and suggestions of other activities as well. Dragon is the exciting, exotic woman. And just a bit dangerous. (A bit? They don't know her very well.) Rick is cute for entertainment, but a bit shallow. On the other hand, she's only going to be on planet for 24 hours, and
She comes out alone, and there's some comment. Rick's supposedly a ladies man, and an athlete. Dragon: "And who told you that? Rick?" Well he is an athlete. Dragon: "Oh come on! He may be athletic vertically, but when he goes horizontal he's just average." Oooooh!
By two in the morning, most of the people are unconscious or gone. Dragon manages to track down a wild female and a quiet male who are still awake and fun. The guy has been acting very shy all night, and Dragon views this as a challenge! Dragon: "Wanna go for a ride?" Tim: "Uh...okay. Is your car here?" Dragon: "It's in the driveway." She has Rick's car keys and they go off in the yellow Denzetti. The car isn't built for racing, but it's got great power and it's damned quick! Dragon: "Want to drive?" Tim: "I really don't drive much. Isn't this Rick's car?" Dragon: "You better just ride then." While zipping around town at a high rate of speed. They head for the starport, and find an open and happening club - the same one they were in earlier.
Dragon talks to Tim and finds out he drinks very little, doesn't smoke, and his life has been mapped out for him by his parents, who are supervisors. Dragon: "Oh that's just wrong!" Tim: "You don't understand, Mom would be hurt. She has this look." Dragon can't stand it. A few more drinks, and Tim gets a bit looser. Tim: "I've never met anyone like you before." His parents have done everything up to choosing his future wife. Dragon: "Are your parents home?" Tim: "No, they're off-planet for a few weeks." Dragon: "So you're home all alone?" Tim: "Well, no. My uncle is staying with me." Dragon decides that's a no-go, and drags (okay, tugs) Tim to a hotel across the street. She's going to take advantage of this poor young thing.
After a time, or several times...after the people next door are pounding on the walls, Dragon decides she has to rest for a bit. She wakes up hours later with Tim asleep and snuggled up to her. And he's not just interested in snuggling. Tim may be new at this, but he picks it up quickly, and boy does he have stamina!!
After more time passes, with an occasional "Get your own!" said to the people banging on the wall, the physical activity slows down enough for a bit of conversation. Dragon: "Have you ever thought about not just going off planet to college, but going off planet on a real adventure, one that's not scripted by your parents? Sort of a passage into adulthood?" Tim: "Up until now, no." Dragon: "I'm planning on taking a little trip off planet. On a private ship. I wasn't planning on sharing my cabin, so I have room." Tim: "How long is the trip?" Dragon: "About 3 weeks. When are your parents coming back?" Tim: "In about 4 weeks." Dragon: "Perfect!" Tim: "I'll have to leave a note for my uncle." Dragon: "Absolutely. You want to make sure he knows you're safe." Tim leaves, and returns a little while later with his suitcase.
Tavi took the contract from the Really Big Corporation on a nearby planet, and was told to meet up with the other members of the party on Boughene. She calls the number she was given and is told the ship, the Bonaventure, will be leaving tomorrow evening. She takes the time to research Menorb, which has a law level of 8 - no edged weapons over 6" long, and no firearms. A lot of the planet is jungle, and there were three waves of settlers - originally farmers, then industrial, then the miners. The latter hasn't really cared about the environment, or the indigs. A section of the population of the same ethnic background has tried to separate themselves from the "new comers", to preserve their way of life. There's a group of self-proclaimed activists and freedomfighters, the Golden Way, and they're "fighting for the freedom of the people". They've been sabotaging or attacking a lot of the mines. The mining process is to find a bubble of ore, drop in everything that's needed, then ship it off. This means isolated mining camps that the Golden Way can attack from the jungle. They've been able to take over a number of camps and send it's ore off planet to fund their cause. The army sends out big groups and can't find the rebels. The army sends out small groups and they're never seen again. When Dwayne was doing his research he tried to find someone who does safaris on Menorb, but it's too dangerous; the locals have been known to kidnap offworlders for ransom.
Sparrow, the cat burglar (literally and figuratively), is unaware of all this. She's just read about a platinum, emerald-encrusted cat statue that came out on the market after having gone missing during the 6th Frontier War. It was purchased by Randall Hardtford, one of the executives of the Menorb Mining Company. There are pictures of him in his swank house in the country, with the Silver Siamese and his real cats. Yes! The perfect job for Sparrow. Now she just needs a ship. First some research. Hardtford's company mines elemental ores, and he's one of the bigwigs. Lovely, very descriptive photos of his home. Very useful. And there's a ship leaving for there tomorrow, with an available cabin. She does some more digging and finds an old Achitectural Digest with an article on Hardtford, with plans and more pictures. Cool.
Duane had looked for information on the rebel group on Menorb. The fact that they've captured two mining camps means the rebels are very organized, and their raiding parties are made up of about two dozen people (a tactical guess). There are also some individuals with wildcat claims. The corp tried to get rid of them, but to no avail. There is some debate as to whether they're helping the rebels, or just have to go their own way.
Max is out on the town on his own. Not getting into trouble. And not hanging out in strip clubs. Nice starport here. Very neat and tidy, rather like Rhylanor in that way. After weeks in the ship, Max goes to a nice restaurant for a good meal. Nothing out of a food processor. On the other hand, Duane's little trip to the dancer bar goes well. A couple of hundred credits and he can go to a back room and get a little aerobic activity. No muss, no fuss, no entanglements.
Tavi pokes about the starport and environs looking for quaint shops and odd weapons and the like. There's lots of weird flotsom and jetsom. She gets a locker to check her weapons mostly. It's a very polite starport. Very polite people - they have the constant threat of the atmosphere leaking through and killing everyone.
After hours of research in the library, Sparrow realizes it's five o'clock in the morning. Whoa. She of course hasn't printed out anything, because that can be traced. She gets a drawer and some kip.
Dwayne picks up a bunch of deflated soccer balls and goal nets. He'll be taking these to Menorb as gifts for the native children, or peace offerings, or something like that. He reports early to the Bonaventure to check in with the steward, and investigate the wine list. He meets the captain (an attractive female - how lovely!), but the steward apparently isn't immediately available; perhaps he's out buying wine. Or not.
Everyone gets to meet each other, including the lower echelon suits that make up the remaining three passengers. (A full ship - yes!) Dwayne: "Why Sewgeant Flett! I haven't seen you since Wavensbeak. Awe you still in the sewvice?" Duane: <thinking> "Oh my God! He's following me!" Duane blinks, but the apparition doesn't vanish. Duane: "What the hell are you doing on this ship?" Dwayne: "Oh, I'm going to Menowb. Looking into a few mattehs." Duane: "You didn't join the Navy?" Dwayne: "Ha ha! Always the kiddeh!" Tavi: "So, Dwayne, how far back does your family go?" Dwayne: "Oh, it depends on who you listen to. Of couwse it all goes back to Tewwa and the Golden Empiweh..." Max: <thinking> "Oh, this is going to be a wonderful trip."
Dwayne asks about the gymnasium, and finds he can't even work out in the cargo hold, because it's full. Jam packed full. He'll just have to jump rope in his room. And there's no steward. Well, not really. Max performs the steward function, with the help of a very good, commercial food processor.
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During the friendly card games, Duane sits behind Dwayne and wears his reflective shades. Dwayne doesn't notice, and wins quite a few antes. No fights break out, thank heavens, at least in part because Dwayne appears to be blissfully unaware of any antipathy from Duane. It's all part of some sort of hideously unfunny cosmic joke that these two even know each other.
Coming out of jump, the ship hits some space debris. Nothing too bad, but the ship will need repairs. This means probably a two week layover to get the work done in the C-class starport. Amanda and Max can take some time on planet.
At the customs entries, tan uniformed customs inspectors very carefully going through all the luggage. There are big signs up detailing what is illegal - most weapons, some armor, anything of a military nature. It's gotten quite a bit more strict since the problems with the "freedom fighters" began. Tavi's lawman weapon permit is valid on the starport, but she'd have to get approval from the governor's office to take a firearm on planet. That would take 6 to 12 weeks. Never mind. She'll get a locker on the port for her stuff, after a good look around in case Carmen Escobar is some where on the starport. That would make Tavi's job much easier.
There are differing opinions about the Golden Way. They blow up banks, corporate offices and the like, but so far they've been very careful about their targets and they always call in a warning. The press releases are sent anonymously, and there is no official spokesman for the group. Damn - no recent news of Roberto. There are two to three hundred Escobars in the phonebook. They could just look for Roberto or R. Escobars. It's a thought, just not a terribly efficient one.
Dwayne looks up Gama. He's still alive, although suffering from a debilitating illness similar to arthritis. He's still active though, encouraging children to stay in school and the like. He's very much non-political. Pity. Either side would probably love to have him as spokesman.
Many things to accomplish, and a lot of plans to make.