As previously agreed, the party members meet for breakfast in the hotel restaurant at 08.00, now fully refreshed, their minor injuries sustained in the onboard collision now fully healed.
During a lull in the general conversation, Arvor clears his throat and addresses the others:
“I doubt it will come as any surprise to anyone here, that I have done some work for Naval Intelligence. What may come as a surprise is that I have been given an opportunity for us all to be involved on a mission of importance to Collace and the Imperium. It will pay well, but require absolute discretion and secrecy."
“Before I proceed, I must ask that anyone who has any misgivings please air them now. I cannot divulge any details of the mission until each of you have agreed to absolute secrecy about anything related to the mission (even this conversation), and accepted that you are indeed interested.”
“Naval intelligence, mission, and absolute secrecy,” says William. “What could possibly go wrong? I’m in.”
At Arvor’s words, Jie stops eating her 3rd helping of breakfast. Her life had always been a tug-of-war between feast or famine and last night’s dinner and today’s meal will probably have to hold her till the next pay check. (And if Djims harsh words were any indication, that next pay check may be a long ways off.) Holding a secret was nothing new to her, in fact, remaining quiet was an aspect of her personality that has rewarded her time and time again in the Marines. Both in and out of the field. She places both of her utensils by the plate and demurely wipes syrup from her chin with a well used napkin. Her other hand absentmindedly touches the trigger locking mechanism on her trusty Laser Carbine (Stupid Law!) With her eyes sparkling with the hope of new employment, she nods acquiescence to Arvor’s question then looks around the table to her fellow travelers.
Arvor adds, before Cornelius and Taeva respond:
“I can tell all of you something personal about myself. I am not originally from Collace. I was born on Pavabid. As some of you may know, Pavabid has very strict views on religion, and they neither allow outsiders in (beyond the starport perimeter), or allow Pavabidians out. I am therefore, an exception – an exile. My freedom and perhaps my life itself is forfeit if I step onto Pavabid without prior permission (which I do not see being granted). I commited no crime that would be recognized by Imperial Law – one could say that my exile was arranged for my own safety.”
“For the Imperium? I’m in,” says Grim between mouthfuls. “Hey Jie, you look famished. Can I buy you another helping?”
Turning back to Arvor, “All these religious wingnuts and their so called ‘charismatic leaders’ are an affront to the Emperor’s dignity, may his reign last forever, so get this stupid trigger lock off of my gauss and point me at the nearest holovangelist.”
“Yes, thanks Grim," Arvor replies. "I think I should tell you that most if not all of Pavabid’s citizenry are decent enough people, notwithstanding their strong views on religious matters and how they intersect with day to day life. However, we digress…”
“If there’s money I’m in,” says Taeva. “But if my experiences with Naval Intelligence are anything to go by half the rest of the planet will already know about your secret mission.”
“Thanks, Taeva – I am sure Imperial Intelligence will appreciate your confidence in their abilities," Arvor replies. “From my perspective, no organization is secure, but that they should trust us is either a vote of confidence in our integrity, or a measure of what they “know” about us.”
“However, once again, I digress. The mission in more detail is as follows:”
Arvor continues, assuming that (only) everyone who is “in” is now in the room…
“Recent exploration has pointed to the existence of a large deposit of Iridium on Pavabid. Iridium is extremely strategic for manufacturing, but would require outside expertise and capital to properly exploit. Some members of the clergy (Pavabid’s ruling elite) favour this, but their leader – Son of the Star, Thearch and Divine Ruler of Pavabid, Orobid, stands firmly against it.”
Those assembled note a certain ritual cadence as Arvor utters the official titles of Otobid. He proceeds…
“In a nutshell, the imperium has developed something that they believe will convince Orobid that it is God’s will to enhance the status and wealth of Pavabid by “using” the offworlders to exploit Pavabid’s riches – which were after all, given by God himself. It is our job to bring that “message” to Ovobid using stealth."
“What is in it for us is that we will have the full use of an 80 ton cargo hold for shipping and speculation. Any proceeds (a full cargo load return trip would pay about 160,000 CrImps) including those from speculation will be ours to keep. Also, we get to keep the special weapons they will be providing us.”
“If you please, I will proceed with a full mission briefing”.
“We will be taken to Pavabid aboard a Type-R tramp freighter making a routine jump. Except for the one spaceport, Pavabid is a closed world, but we must be put down near the current location of Orobid’s palace without being detected.”
“We have inside knowledge of the override system. Technicians aboard the freighter will use this knowledge to override the defenses of the satellite that covers the area of the planet they’ll be penetrating. It will be fed false data that show nothing unusual happening.”
“We would drop down to the surface in a launch, landing in the wilderness at the beginning of the long Pavabidian night. (Pavabid has a 30-hour day, and it is late summer, so the night will last about 14 hours.) We will conceal the launch and fly the remaining distance by individual grav belts. These will be provided. We should fly at tree-top level to avoid being picked up by the palace radar. The group should reach the palace after flying due east for approximately two hours. Strict radio silence is to be observed at all times while on-planet.”
“Orobid’s palace is a floating building, suspended in the air by hundreds of null gravity modules. Anti-gravity is otherwise unknown on Pavabid, so the palace guards should not be expecting a silent infiltration from above. We could not acquire plans of the palace — we will just have to find our own way around. We should arrive at the palace one hour into the Pavabidian sleep period, so all but a few guards should be asleep. (Native Pavabidians live on a cycle of 10 hours asleep, 20 hours awake.) We must find Orobid’s sleep chamber, place the message device, activate it, and leave.”
“The real trick is that we must leave no physical evidence that we were ever in the palace. Anybody who sees or detects our presence must be stunned and taken along when we leave. To aid in this, each of us will receive an experimental stun carbine that is totally silent. Noisy weapons are not to be used in or near the palace.”
“Do you have plans of the facility?” Taeva asks. “I understand the infrastucture and engineering will be Hi tech gravitics. But what about the internal gittings ie doors, security systems etc. IR beams? Laser defenses?Alarms? Or are the fittings lower tech stuff. Or don’t we know?”
“I’ve never used a grav belt in my life. Has anyone else?”
“So once again, we were unable to obtain plans of the palace,” Arvor explains. “I suspect that the elites don’t really want the general public to get wind of how they live. As for internal fittings etc, we need to be prepared for anything, from local locks all the way to high-tech TTC equipment. However, it may be that security is lax since the entire planet is off limits to outsiders, and grav (and even flying) technology is unused on Pavabid.”
“That said, I think if we strike with speed and stealth, we will be on target before any defenses are even aware of the intrusion. Once we get to Orobid, the message will be a useful distraction that should help cover our escape. The message is delivered by a device which will cause clerics to believe that they are hearing the word of the Stars themselves – a message from God as it were. I suggest we disguise ourselves as Stellar Emissaries (angels) as an extra precaution. That way, any momentary or distant sightings of us could be explained in the context of the message. The entire mission will be during the night hours, but that will give us only about 4 hours at the palace for entry and exit, and I plan for us to use stealth unless all hell breaks loose.
I will also request a number of spare grav-harnesses to carry any prisoners we may take back to our launch.”
“Stealth landings, flying belts (of which Jie has never used also) and running around an un-charted floating city populated by fanatics with only a stunner for protection…now this was her kinda job!! Forget the badge baby-sitting crap. Guessing that she wouldn’t be dining at a place like this for a while, Jie takes Grim up on his offer and waves at the waiter to bring her a 4th helping.”
“Still like to bag me a genuwine handraisin’, sermonizin’, sanctimonious…‘Son of the Star’ my sweet…” says Grim, sotto voce.
Louder, “One question, Chief. Who do I see about pantry supplies for our group? I’ve smelled those type R’s from a distance when their kitchens’ venting and I think I speak for Jie, as well as myself, when I say I’d sooner trust a Vargr not to hump my leg after I’ve smeared peanut butter on my pants than eat the food those tramp freighter ‘chefs’ put out…”
Taeva turns her attention to the practicalities of the mission, starting to make a list of all of the items which might be needed in order to successfully complete the mission.
“Do we have satellite photos of the Rig? It might be that there are garden areas etc which might give us some indication of where Orobids (presumbaly best) lodgings are, if theres an upper deck arrangement.”
“I’m guessing the engineering and maintenance stuff would be on the lower decks?”
Arvor shrugs, “Unfortunately we don’t have any accurate images of the Palace, just some poor quality photographs. The Palace is circular with a diameter of around 50m. There is one lower level which is definitely where the power plant or plans are located. On top of that, there is a large 30m diameter dome. In front of the dome is a landing area where there is usually a helicopter tethered. Behind the dome are three or four more floors with a broadcasting mast on top.”
“There don’t appear to be any gardens. The whole thing looks more like a spacecraft, which indeed it was as it was towed to Pavabid by jump tug originally, presumably.”
“Sorry folks,” says William, returning from a long bout in the head. “Bad breakfast. Wad’ I miss?”
After getting caught up, William nods and adds “I’ve got Cr.50k I can add to the outbound investment pot if I’m satisfied the return will be there. I assume this means I shouldn’t be purchasing any ‘party drugs’?”
“Well the Type-R we will be traveling with will presumably have a fully stocked med bay,” Arvor replies. “So there shouldn’t be any immediate need to stock up on medical supplies for this mission. We can revisit the situation after we’re back on Collace when hopefully our finances will be looking a lot healthier.”
“What about approaching our new BFF Mr Grist? He might be willing to loan us additional funds for a cut of the speculative profits?” suggests William.
“Yeah,” Max replies. “He seemed like a helpful bloke. He’s need a decent cut for ‘elpin’ us out – ‘e wouldn’t ‘ave got where ’e is today if ’e was doin’ people favors all the time, but if we made it worth ‘is while, ’e’d be stupid not to.”
“But anyway, with your 50k, my 20k and ‘opefully another 10k or so from group funds, we’ve got a fair bit of dosh available, so we might be able to do it all ourselves. I reckon that we should see what’s available first of all an’ then decide ‘ow much we’re going to take an’ ‘ow we’re goin’ to pay for it.”
He wipes his chin with his napkin.
“Are any o’ you lot any good at investigatin’, diplomacy or dodgy dealin’s wiv the underworld?” Max asks. “If so, you can be lookin for freight an’ mail while I’m lookin’ for trade goods.”
“Well, I was trained in investigation by the IISS, though I haven’t had to use those skills in a while. And, I grew up in the slums of the Pluvis Belt, so I’ll help if I can, Max.” says Grim persuasively.
“I have some experience with being diplomatic,” says William. “Years spent trying to get grant money teaches you how to grovel. I’ll help with the freight search.”
“Well then, that’s Will and I. anyone else want to go looking for trouble, er I mean ‘freight and mail’ with us?” laughs Grim.
“Nice one, mateys,” Max says. “Why don’t you, Grim, start lookin’ for freight, while you, Bill, see if you can track down any mail. You need to be a bit diplomatic when you’re lookin’ for mail as they are very fussy ’oo they give it to.”
“I have Investigation skills, and am I understand the deceptions commonly involved in trading," says Arvor. "And if you don’t mind, Max, I would love to be around as you search for speculative trade goods – to pick up some pointers. I have in mind getting a lot or two of medical supplies, so William’s expertise would be a perfect fit. Even Pavabid will probably except med. supplies, and Collace should be a good source of them.’
“No problem there mate,” Max replies. “There ain’t a lot to see when lookin’ for spec trade though on a high tech world like this. It’s just a lot of searchin’ around online and makin’ some calls to see ’oo’s in the right ballpark.”
“So anythin’ else we need to do now or shall we get crackin’?”
Everyone is pretty much ready and so everyone heads off to take care of their respective tasks – Taeva looking for gear for the mission, Jie finding out as much as she can about Pavabid, Grim looking for freight, William looking for mail, while Max and Arvor check for trade goods.
The party members spend the rest of the day on their respective task, meeting up at the hotel for dinner. Neither Grim nor William have made much progress.
“Don’t worry too much, mateys,” Max reassures them. “Prob’ly ain’t so much freight to Pavabid what wiv those nutters runnin’ it so it will take a while. Mail’s hard enough to get at the best of times – for Pavabid chances are that there won’t be nothin’ goin’ there.”
“Me an’ Arvor are doin’ alright though,” he continues. “Collace is a buyer’s paradise – they got every kinda gear here an’ for good prices as well. We got some meetin’s set up for tomorrow mornin’ so hopefully we’ll ‘ave somethin’ on the table by lunch.”
“Pavabid ain’t any kinda special world – not industrial, agricultural – nothin’. So I reckon we jus’ keep it simple an’ buy some basic industrial stuff what we can sell for a decent margin anywhere. Medical stuff is OK, but I reckon we can make more on the basics. If we were payin’ freight costs it might be different, but wiv 80 tons of space for free, weight ain’t goin’ to be a problem.”
The party members spend a while longer chatting after dinner and then have an early night.