Although Aki is a relatively small world, its proximity to the system’s secondary star means that the Princess had to emerge a fair distance from the planet and so the ship spends the best part of the day slowly heading towards the world as fast as the M-Drive will take her.
Arvor continues to monitor the scanners throughout the trip, but sees nothing out of the ordinary – just a few traders heading either to or from jump distance, as could be expected to be seen from a relatively off the beaten track world with a Class-B starport.
It’s late afternoon by the time Aki can be viewed through the viewport and Jie receives a final approach path to Aki Telmat downport. Seemingly completely covered in smog, Aki looks like a pretty uninviting world. As Will follows Jie’s flight path, the Princess passes into the world’s atmosphere and through the clouds of pollution. In places, there are breaks in the clouds revealing kilometre after kilometre of dirty, city sprawl which seems to stretch on forever.
Ten minutes later and Will has the landing lights of Telmat Down ahead of him and brings the ship down safely, before taxiing to the ship’s allotted gate.
Max and Autumn are waiting at the gates as they open to reveal a couple of bored looking customs inspectors. They glance at the passenger and cargo documents and then come onboard where one checks the passengers’ and crew members’ passports while the other accompanies Max down to the cargo bay. He asks Max to open a couple of containers up and peers in. Seemingly satisfied, he stamps the paperwork and joins up with his colleague, who signs off Autumn’s passenger manifest. They finish with a warning about no weapons being allowed on the world, wish everyone a pleasant stay on Aki and then disappear, allowing everyone to leave.
Will heads to the low berth area and resuscitates the occupants. To his relief, all of them make it through fine although, as usual, they are a little confused and groggy initially. One by one, the passengers collect their belongings, say their farewells to each other and the crew members and head on their ways.
“What shall we do with Renee?” Will asks. “Wake her up here or take her to Glisten?”
“Aki is a bit low-tech and not a particularly pleasant world to spend any time on,” Autumn replies. “Better to take her to Glisten where she can receive the best medical care and prosthetics in the subsector.”
The others nod in agreement and so Renee stays in the fridge.
“And who has got the Broughton videos?” Autumn asks. “Wasn’t the deal with Broughton that we release them into the public domain once we got off Weiss?”
Arvor is still curious about the unresolved antics aboard the ship during the journey.
“I want to follow Ceglarski to see what he is up to,” he says.
“I’ll come with you,” says Grim.
“Maybe someone should follow Bryan as well,” Arvor adds.
“Sounds like a job for you, girl,” Max says to Taeva. “As we all know, subtlety is not Jie’s strong point.”
Taeva nods. “I’ll keep an eye on him.”
It doesn’t take long for those who are following the leads to realize there is definitely something strange going on with the passengers.
Ceglarski hangs back a little, stopping at a newspaper kiosk to browse a while as the others go on ahead through the crowded passenger terminal. Once they are nearly out of view, he starts to follow them at a safe distance. Ceglarski is obviously an expert at this. He looks around constantly to make sure that he is not being followed himself and it is only Taeva’s excellent stealthy skills that keep her from being spotted.
The two other low berth passenger, Mikel and Ben head off away from the others heading for the bus station. David Chester, the engineer waves the other mid-passengers farewell and heads for the taxi rank.
The others – Bryan Fairbrother, Maria Chan and Colin Havers all head to the metro together. Despite the fact that Bryan had no contact with the other passengers during the trip because he was in the low-berth for the duration, it becomes immediately apparent to Arvor and Grim that Chan and Havers know him, because the three of them are obviously now travelling together and chatting amongst themselves.
It is therefore a strange procession heading towards the metro station. Bryan, Maria and Colin, being followed by Arvor and Grim, plus also Ceglarski following who is, in turn, being tailed by Taeva.
Taeva calls Grim in with the information. She can’t tell, however, whether or not Ceglarski has figured out whether the group is being tailed by Arvor and Grim.
The groups arrive in the filthy, overcrowded metro station, the stench of body odour permeating the entire place. As soon as the metro arrives, the threesome get on it. Grim and Arvor get in a carriage a little further back; Ceglarski a couple back from them, and Taeva in the last carriage.
The metro journey downtown is a long and uncomfortable one, with all the spies having to carefully scan the stations at every stop to ensure that the threesome don’t get off and get lost in the crowd.
Eventually the threesome get in a middle-class suburb not too distant from the centre of the massive city. Those following get off as well, and the trailing begins once again.
What might be classified as a middle-class suburb in Telmat is still a disgusting slum area on most other worlds; the sidewalks teeming with a mass of humanity. Everyone is hassled by beggars every few yards. The threesome walk for maybe 500m until they arrive at the Comfee Inn, one of the affordable, ‘capsule’ hotels where a ‘room’ is around the same size as a low-berth.
The threesome enter the hotel. Ceglarski watches them from around a street corner, almost totally hidden in shadows as it is completely dark now and there is little in the way of street lighting in the city. He appears to be waiting; smoking a cigarette while telling the procession of beggars to fuck off.
While Taeva still watches Ceglarski, Will and Arvor head into the reception of the hotel. There is not much to see in there, however – it has no bar or restaurant – just a small lobby area with an elevator and stairs which presumably lead to the rooms above. The threesome must have gone to their rooms already. While Will gets chatting with the receptionist, Arvor takes a look at the register. He sees that the threesome are using the same names as they used on the ship – the same names as on their passports.
With the threesome all locked up in their rooms now, presumably, Will and Arvor decide that there is little else that they can do, so they head out to meet back up with Grim and Jie. Arvor calls Taeva and tells her that they are taking a cab back to the ship. Taeva agrees, but decides to keep an eye on Ceglarski a while longer, telling the others she will meet back up with them later.
Taeva watches Ceglarski observing the party members getting into a cab and heading off. A couple of minutes later, he stubs out his cigarette and hails a cab himself. He speaks with the driver for a few moments and then the cab heads off – in a different direction from the party members’ cab so it is obvious he is not following them.
Taeva makes a note of the cab’s number and company. She then looks up the address of their offices, then hails another cab to take her there. She waits around for half an hour and then heads into the offices. After some ten minutes of flirting with the owner at the cab offices, she gets the information she was after. The cab dropped off Ceglarski at a bar called The Crooked Billet.
“What’s that place like?” she asks the owner.
“Facking shithole. Rough as hell,” the owner says with a frown. “Fights there nearly every night. Bunch of villains there. I’ll tell yer, love, if yer boyfriend is hanging out with the kind of folks yer find in a place like that, yer better off without him anyway.”
Having the information she needs now, she thanks the owner for his help and then heads out of the offices before catching another cab, which takes her back to the starport.
It’s pretty late by the time that Taeva gets back due to the vast size of the city and distance from downtown to the starport.
The party members have a debriefing, but see no benefit in spending any more time on this situation which seems to have nothing to do with them or the Princess – better to just continue on to Glisten as soon as possible. So everyone heads for their staterooms to get a decent night’s sleep.