The party members are woken up by the sound of the klaxon sounding at 0600 announcing that the Princess has emerged from hyperspace. The party members hurriedly get dressed and take up their positions.
With Glisten being a belt rather than a planet, it’s a short journey to Banfi Highport. Jie had positioned the ship a few hours out though as she has heard how tricky the approach is to the highport.
Will knows the system well, but he knows that, with the ever-changing position of the asteroids, it’s as if every time approaching the highport is his first. Together with Arvor carefully watching the sensors, they start to make their approach towards the asteroid belt.
Taeva is upstairs in the passenger section together with Max and Autumn. Agent Carter is up early and has a quiet word with Taeva.
“I need to get access to the ship’s radio to get a Special Services Branch Force into place for when the ship docks,” he says. “That was the deal for giving up my weapon. I need to make the call myself as I need to send a cypher to prove that it is truly a request from the IMoJ.”
He holds up his handcomp.
“Failure to comply with this request could lead to my booking you all for obstruction of justice.”
“That’s fine but we need confirmation from the MOJ," Taeva replies. "We’ve had our share of hijackers, conmen, assassins and crooks posing as passengers while we’ve had this ship – and we need to confirm you’re a genuine MOJ Agent booking a real crook-not someone pretending to be one railroading some poor sap.”
“I’ve recorded this very reasonable request by the way. So let’s confirm with the MOJ you are who you say you are.”
“You can radio your cipher through if that’s confirmed-but no passenger gets left alone on the bridge.”
Carter sighs with irritation. “I don’t need or expect to be left on the bridge alone. Shit, hold a loaded snubbie in my back if it makes you feel any happier. I’m just doing my job.”
“In the meanwhile, to cover ourselves, might it be worth our while putting her under restraint if she is as tricky as you claim she is?” asks Taeva.
“If you’re happy to do it, then do it.” Carter replies. “I’m trying to cause you the least disruption as possible because I know you have a business to run and agents running around cuffing villains is not what paying high passengers want to see.”
Taeva has a quick word with Autumn and Max.
“Maybe we should off to fly him straight to the MOJ,” Taeva suggests. “No question of mysterious unidentified ships boarding us in remote areas of the system then either.”
“The other passengers won’t be very happy with that,” comments Autumn. “It would add another half day or more to our journey to Banfi Highport.”
“I’m not sure that it’s a good idea docking at the MoJ base with Sunny in the hold either,” adds Max. “I’m not sure what they think of ihatei. Then there’s the danger of the Agent not being reverential enough to Sunny resulting in the Aslan challenging him to a duel – you know what an arrogant bastard Carter is.”
So Taeva agrees to accompany Carter onto the bridge, making sure she has her snubbie close at hand.
“Please switch over to channel 58,” Carter asks.
Arvor switches channel and a message comes up on the monitor saying ‘Restricted Channel – for Ministry of Justice use only.’
Carter puts his handcomp to the mic which transmits a cypher, unlocking the channel and broadcasting Carter’s details.
Those on the bridge listen in on the conversation. It seems genuine enough. Carter is asking for four plain clothes officers to be waiting at whatever dock Unguin’s Princess is allocated for berthing. He then gives a description of Chan and tells them that the agents should act swiftly, but cause the minimum of a disturbance.
The MoJ acknowledge receipt of the message and then Carter uses his cypher again to close the channel.
“See, that wasn’t too difficult now, was it?” Carter says a little snarkily as he heads back up to the passenger deck.
The Princess is nearing the asteroid belt now and the pressure is on for Will, Jie and Arvor – particularly Jie. Normally, docking with a highport just involves giving a trajectory and deceleration velocity once to Will. But here she is bombarded with information from the Glisten Coordinating Authority to augment the information that Arvor is picking up from the ship’s own sensors. Will relishes the challenge of the journey through the familiar asteroid belt – getting that old feeling back of really piloting a ship rather than simply being a fleshier version of an autopilot.
All of the passengers are now awake and enjoying the view from the vidscreen as the Princess makes its way through the Glisten Belt. It’s such a thrilling ride for them that they actually look quite disappointed when the massive form of Banfi Highport approaches and Will safely brings the Trader into dock with bay RG-57 around 0930.
As Autumn opens the airlock doors, a customs drone is waiting, which scans all of the manifests. A green light appears on the drone’s display and then the drone heads off to its next assignment.
The passengers start to head off – first the King and Queen of Faldor, then the Aki Naval Attache, then Veronique, who gives one last kiss to the heartbroken Max before heading off. Agent Carter hangs back in his stateroom waiting until Chan finally comes out and heads out of the ship into the bay. She is just 10m off the ship when Carter, standing in the doorway, gives the nod to the plain-clothes agents milling around the area and they all pounce upon her, taking her completely by surprise. The last the party members see of her is her being led away in cuffs by Carter and his colleagues.
Will revives all of the low-berth passengers apart from Renee. They all make it, much to Will’s intense relief and groggily head out to the highport.
The ship is now empty apart from the crew and Sunny.
“Well that journey went quite nicely for a change,” says Max. “I reckon it’s time we all went down the boozer and celebrated before we all go our own ways for a while.”
“What about Sunny?” asks Autumn.
“Let’s take ’im wiv us,” Max replies. “He can ‘ave a big saucer of milk or something if ’e don’t fancy a pint. It’ll be a laugh to see the reactions of the other punters when we walk around with the big, ‘airy brute. Least we can be sure that no one’s going to fack wiv us while ’e’s about.”
Sunny too is keen to leave the cargo hold, finding it still restrictive and leaving him pining for larger spaces.
And so the crew, accompanied by Sunny, lock the ship up securely and head into the throngs of people in the highport.
The odd group has not gone very far when Sunny stands bolt upright. He’s spotted another Aslan – the first one that he must have seen for months from what the party understand. Sunny is so excited that he charges towards the Aslan.
“Remind me to put the thing on a leash next time,” sighs Max.
The party catch up with Sunny in case he gets up to any mischief which someone can blame them for. Sunny seems to be getting on very well with the other Aslan – a female – who is doing a lot of bowing and scraping before him.
Sunny uses his own translator to translate from Trokh:
“May I introduce you to Astrogator Ftoulreisktoal of the trading ship Yaeukhtai which means Open Path to Heroism in your tongue.”
“Pleased to meet you all,” the female Aslan says in perfect Galanglic without the need of a translator. “My name means Star Cloud Climber in Galanglic. Most humans call me ‘Star’.”
“Nice to meet you, Star,” Max says. “We’re just takin’ Sunny down the pub for a pint. Fancy joinin’ us? It’ll be nice for Sunny to ’ave someone to chat with.”
Star thinks for a moment.
“Yes,” she decides. “That would be nice.”
The party members escorted by the two Aslan soon find a suitable bar – the ‘Shining Helmet’. The bar is almost empty at this time of the morning, but heads turn at the sight of the two Aslans along with the humans.
It’s not unusual for Aslan traders to pass through Banfi highport as it’s on the main trading route between the Hierate and the Imperium and so the bar caters for their needs.
The party members relax a little now that their journey is over and they are looking forward to taking a month off. Sunny and Star seem to be getting on famously. Sunny explains that Star is from the Aokholkhtyeilik clan which, like his, is another vassal of the Wahtoi clan. The Aokholkhtyeilik have managed to acquire land on Dallia in District 268 and use this as a base for trading. The Open Path is on its way back to Dallia now after a run to Mora.
Curious as to what the Aslan might be talking about, some of the party members flick their translator programs to voice-to-text mode and secretly listen in. Star is very interested in the party members, asking Sunny how he met them and what they are like. Although Sunny is rather evasive about the part of the story where he had to be pulled out from his wrecked ship, he is very complementary about his new human friends, saying that, for humans, they are very honourable, clever and kind. Star seems to be satisfied by this and their conversation turns to more trivial matters.
After 30 minutes, Sunny needs the bathroom. As soon as he has gone, Star addresses the party members:
“I need the assistance of some honourable humans,” she whispers quickly and quietly. “Our clan has a problem that would cause us great dishonour if any other clan was to hear about it.”
“Would you be willing to help me? I cannot speak in front of Sunny though. Someone would need to distract him for some short time.”
“He seems to have bonded most closely with Teava.” says Grim, nodding at her, “Maybe she could distract him? Oh, and not to put too fine a point on it, but how do you Aslan keep the air filters on your scrubbers clean? Ever since Sunny came aboard I’ve had to clean the hair out of those suckers twice a day…”
Star shrugs. “I’m afraid you’ll have to speak to our engineer about that. I only deal with astrography.”
“I think we’re ready to help out, aren’t we everyone?” asks Will.
No one objects to at least hearing what Star has to say.
“Let me take care of Sunny,” says Autumn.
A minute later and Sunny returns. Autumn addresses him in her normal formal style.
“Great Sunny, I humbly ask you for a request as we are in need of a brave and experienced warrior,” she says. “Max and I need to take care of our trading concerns. But I have heard that Banfi Highport can be a dangerous place – and Max is little better than a big girl in a man’s body. I don’t feel safe here with only him to accompany me. I would therefore humbly request your assistance to protect us as we do our duty.”
Max looks pissed, but Sunny’s chest swells with pride.
“My lady, I would glad to be of service to you in return for the fine care that you and your companions have provided me with.”
“We need to leave immediately,” says Autumn.
Sunny nods. He swaps numbers with Star and he tells her that he will give her a call once he has fulfilled his warrior obligations to the weak humans. Sunny and Autumn depart with a moody looking Max trailing in their wake.
“So,” says Will. “What is this all about?”
“My ship has suffered the loss of an extremely valuable piece of cargo which may be due to fraud or theft,” Star explains. "The exact conditions are not clear to me. This loss is not only financially painful but… also… dishonouring.”
She frowns deeply, her expression combining confusion, discomfort and perhaps anger.
“A local courier arrived at our ship just three hours ago with forms indicating he was to take away one displacement ton of valuable spice from our hold. I and the senior ship’s officers were away from the ship, securing other deals. In our absence, a junior member of our crew – you may call him Rock – signed over the spice to the courier. I think he believed that as the forms were in order, perhaps our purser – you may call her Seer – had organised the courier.”
Star’s claws flicker out before she clenches her fists and clears her throat with a threatening growl, perhaps an instinctive reaction to her concern at the loss of the cargo.
“As soon as Seer and I returned to the Open Path and discovered this error, we contacted the courier – a human enterprise called Blink-of-an-Eye in your language. They appeared to have forms filled in by our purser, Seer, to transport this spice to a Land-of-Spice in Glisten City which we determined to be a restaurant serving luxury foodstuffs. Unfortunately the Blink-of-an-Eye had already delivered the cargo nearly an hour before we contacted them and have all the proper forms signed… yet the restaurant owner whom we then called denied all knowledge of the shipment and said his business premise was closed until later this evening.”
She grimaces, showing a hint of sharp teeth.
“We called the port authorities but they say that, if the forms are valid and our own crew signed over the spice, then this is not a crime but rather a legal dispute and will involve the Glisten legal system since our goods are now outside the extrality zone of Banfi Highport. Yet we called the Glisten City law enforcement centre and they cannot see that a crime has been committed either because they say there is no proof that the courier has only acted on our apparent instruction.”
She shifts restlessly and waves one fully extended claw in the air as her voice rises in clear frustration:
“Both these great entities seem unwilling to do more than consider opening an investigation, if we fill in many forms and wait a great time and then I still have no belief they would find anything of use.”
Her claw slices through the air in an angry gesture.
“Understand that we feel they show us great disrespect. To lose this cargo is great dishonour. It must be recovered, by whatever means is necessary and as quickly as possible. It is with this task in mind that I have sought out investigators such as yourselves…”
“I take it that Seer did not fill out the paperwork?” queries Taeva.
“That is correct,” Star confirms. “The order was a complete fabrication, this I know. The question is who created the order, why they did it and where the spice is now.”
After a few words are exchanged among the group, it’s decided they’ll take the job.
“I guess there are three ways of moving forward from here,” Taeva starts. “We should interview Rock and anyone else who interacted with the courier, then we should check the courier to see who he handed it to, and then check out the restaurant.”
“I suspect we’d have to do all this while keeping Sunny in the dark,” Jie adds. “If a classy Aslan Scout ship like the one he broke is only handed out to powerful clan Warriors, then it’s obvious why Star waited till he was gone. Autumn may be on permanant kitty-doody…I mean duty.”
“I am hoping that this job only takes a few hours,” says Star nervously. “If it takes much longer than that, it will be impossible to keep it quiet and avoid the dishonour that will come from people finding out about the loss.”
Turning back to Star, Grim says, “I’ll check out the Land-of-Spice in Glisten City and see if I can’t find out more on that end. Anyone want to join me?”
Taking a cue from Grim, Jie pipes up “I can assist anyone who wants to interiga…talk to the courier. I’m sure that they have some kind of bullshit code that forbids them to talk about their transactions. I suspect that this code is only superceded by the fear of having their fingers twisted off. “(Melee, unarmed+0).
Jie downs her Spiced Rum and juice and reorders another. Out of habit she scans the crowd to see if anyone is focused on her group and what the best areas are for escape and defense in case a fight breaks out, but no one seems to be taking any interest in the party.
She then returns her attention to the group:
“I know I don’t have a lot a fancy training in being social and all, but I’ve found out that folks just naturally tell me alota things when they’re in a choke hold.”
“I think that it’s better if we all stay together,” says Arvor. “Glisten City is a vast area and it will take us a while to get there.”
He turns to Star. “How quickly can you arrange for us to speak with Rock and whoever else was around at the time that the courier took the consignment?” Arvor asks.
“I can get them here inside 15 minutes,” Star replies.
“Then let’s start there,” Arvor says. “It should take no time at all and we might be able to cut out some other stages of our inquiries.”
Star nods and opens up her commo. The party members hear her voice soften into the more polite and submissive tones that female Aslans use when addressing males.
“They will be here inside 15 minutes,” Star confirms.
Thee party members order more drinks and wait for Star’s fellow crew members to arrive.
Right on the dot, they arrive.
The party members can tell by their larger frames, greater muscles that the two arriving Aslan are both males, the fluffed-out manes and just slightly bared teeth adding to their dramatic appearance. The first has shiny gold crescents secured into long braids of mane which hang over his shoulders almost like epaulettes. He wears a similar red and gold tunic and kilt to Star’s but this is supplemented by a metal chest plate, its surface covered with intricate calligraphy. The second male has similar clothing but somewhat less impressive, using mostly silver rather than gold decoration.
“These are my two honourable crewmates who were defrauded of our cargo a few hours ago," Star explains by way of introduction. The first, who dealt with the courier you may call Rock. The second, who was also on duty at the time and helped load the cargo may be called Catch. Please ask what you will but be factual and do not hypothesise blame or ignorance to the actions of either male… it would not be taken well.”
She quickly looks meaningfully at each of you.
Rock almost appears to be a clone of Sunny – proud and arrogant, yet slightly dim. The style of his clothing suggesting that, like Sunny, he is quite high up the Aslan social scale. Catch is a little different, not quite as arrogant, not quite as proud, but not quite as stupid either.
“So please can you ask Rock to explain exactly what happened?” Arvor asks.
Star nods and Rock starts to explain, with Star translating into Galanglic:
“Well it all happened while Star and Seer were out doing their female business and Captain Hunter was asleep after his meal and so I was acting captain at the time,” Rock starts.
“Naturally I checked that the human courier had authentic paperwork indicating that the spice was to be taken off the Open Path and everything looked fine – like every other order that I’ve every seen. So I reassured myself with the assumption that Seer and Star had made a worthwhile deal for the spice today and their customer had wanted to make the exchange promptly.”
“When the courier asked for payment for the shipping, I was still a little unsure but put my personal authorisation into the courier’s handcomp.”
“The courier left with the spice and I waited for Star and Seer to return to tell them that they should be pleased that I did such a good job in handling the delivery for them.”
Arvor nods as he makes notes. He then asks Star to ask Catch about his role in the operation.
Catch just shrugs.
“It was not my place to question any decision that the mighty and noble Rock may have taken,” he says. “I just helped load the spice onto the courier’s grav/van as instructed to do and then, once the van was loaded, I retired to my cabin.”
There is a long pause.
“So does anyone have any other questions for either Rock or Catch,” Star asks.
“Yes," Taeva replies. “Can you give a description of the courier or couriers, or did perchance your ship security cameras record them so that we can get an image?”
Rock and Catch both shrug at the same time:
“All you humans look pretty much the same to us,” Star explains. “It was a male, he was short, skinny, weak-looking and a pale pink colour – just like the rest of you.”
“I might be able to get an image of the courier from the onboard cams though,” Star says. “Wait a moment.”
She takes out her handcomp, connects with the computer onboard the Open Path and spends a while searching through the images.
“Here we are,” she says and then beams the best still she can find to all the party members’ handcomps.
The courier seems real enough – late-forties, balding, a little bit chubby, wearing the functional brown uniform with the Blink-of-an-Eye animated logo on it. The courier looks somewhat bored, as if it’s just another boring collection on another boring day in a boring job. There’s no evidence there to suggest that he’s some kind of criminal mastermind who planned this all along.
“Where was the cargo supposed to go?” asks Will. “Do you normally pay the destination delivery charges?”
“Captain Hunter hadn’t decided what to do with the spice yet,” Star replies. “Seer and I were finding out what sort of prices we could obtain here and report back. In any case, most of it is to go back to our main base on Dallia for trans-shipment into the Hierate.”
She speaks to Rock again in Aslan. Once she has an answer, it is obvious from the tone of her voice that she is now even more frustrated.
“It would appear that the great and might Rock also agreed to pay Glisten’s import duties on the spices,” she replies through gritted teeth. “So now we have not only lost the spice, but a quite substantial amount of money along with it.”
The party members are pretty sure that one of the Aslan is responsible for this situation, but they have no idea which one it might be. They also realize that the Aslans might take exception to being accused without some concrete evidence.
With no more questions, the party members decide to move onto their next lead, which is the courier company. They swap commo numbers with Star and tell her that they will let her know when they have some more information. Star tells them that all of the crew will be remaining onboard their ship until the matter is resolved.
Will searches for the head office of Blink-of-an-Eye and finds that it is located in the warehouse district of the highport. They take a grav tube which takes them to the area in just a few minutes.
A rather bored Duty Manager is stood behind the counter. Although he is quite helpful, albeit a little irritated now by the fact that he is still getting questioned on this delivery even though he explained everything to Star over the commo. He says that it is against company policy to give out the personal commo numbers for any of their staff members, however. A word from Grim together with a couple of hundred creds makes him change his mind though, and soon the party members are in possession of his number.
Arvor gives him a call saying that they have a small parcel they would like him to deliver. Initially the deliveryman refers him back to his Head Office, but the promise of a couple of hundred creds makes him change his mind. They arrange to meet him at the Shining Helmet after he comes off his shift at 18.00.
The deliveryman arrives a little after the appointed time. He looks like a Regular Joe – the same Regular Joe that they have the picture of receiving the delivery. He doesn’t look much like a criminal mastermind. He is quite nervous about the meeting saying that he’s not going to get involved in anything illegal no matter how good the money might be.
The party members soon reveal the true reason why they wanted the meeting. The deliveryman sighs, having already been questioned at length about the delivery by Star.
“I’ve told everyone already that all of the paperwork was in order,” he says wearily. “It was signed for by a Mr. Ron Jeremy of Land of Spice restaurant. I have his retina and thumbprint and his photo.”
“Did you cross-check his retina and thumbprint against the database?” Arvor asks.
“No,” the deliveryman replies. “We don’t usually do that when delivering to a physical location. I can do it now though.”
He runs the retina and print through the database. His eyebrows raise.
“So the person who signed for it wasn’t a Mr. Ron Jeremy at all. They actually belong to someone called Garth Frix.”
Pleased that they are getting somewhere, they get a picture of Ron/Garth and pay the deliveryman off for his help.
They head for the shuttle docks to take them to the closest port at Glisten City to the Land of Spice restaurant. There are shuttles leaving every ten minutes – they run like buses throughout the Glisten Belt and so, within an hour, they are disembarking at the Sector 7 docks. It then takes jut another 15 minutes by mag-tube to get to the location of the restaurant.
Land of Spice is a quite expensive looking restaurant in an up-market upper level of the arcology. They try and smarten themselves up as much as possible and then enter, asking for a table. The restaurant is nearly full, but they manage to get one of the last tables where they order some very expensive real steaks that came from real living cows. They gently ask their waiter if they could meet with the manager, but they are told that he is too busy at the moment.
Once the food arrives, Grim tries a different tactic, asking Jie for a long, dark hair which he places in his meal. He then starts to complain loudly. The tactic works and the manager, Jules Torpen is quickly summoned to help resolve the problem. The party members then tell Jules of their real agenda, which makes Jules angry. Once again he has been contacted by Star and has told her that this must all be some kind of joke because everyone know that Ron Jeremy is the name of a porn star.
Grim holds up the picture of Frix.
“But maybe you have a Garth Frix working here.”
This silences the Manager.
“Yes, we do have a Garth Frix working here and he was working on the early shift which was when the Aslan told me the good were signed for.”
“He signed for it as Land of Spice,” Taeva reminds the Manager. “It is your liability.”
This scares Jules.
“I always knew that Frix was going to be trouble. I never should have hired him. Well he’s fired now. You can tell him that I never want to see or hear from him again.”
“What is his address?” Grim asks.
Jules checks his handcomp. “145/c Arlington Building, Route 143c, Quadrant Yankee, Sector 7.”
The party members thank him for his help, wolf down the rest of their expensive dinners and then head off to find Frix’s residence.
Frix’s residence is not far from the restaurant, but it is straight down – into the more rough and ready parts of the city. They find the Arlington Building, looking like it is overdue for demolition.
The party members are starting to discuss how to approach the building when the doors to the building open and a character emerges. He is stark naked, laughing maniacally with eyes as wide as saucers. A quick look at the photo reveals that it is Frix.
Jie charges after Frix, which sets him screaming and running away. She tries to rugby tackle him to the ground, but he is fast and gets away. Grim and Arvor both fire their stun guns at him and he eventually falls to the ground as Grim’s shot hits.
The three of them pounce on him. Just as they do so, however, a police grav/van arrives with several cops standing over them at gunpoint. The three of them try to come up with excuses as to what they are doing there, but the cops tell them that this matter will need to be resolved at the station. So, despite their protestations, the three of them are placed in the back of the van and driven for five minutes to the local station, where they are locked in a holding cell while they interview Frix first of all.
Taeva and Will, meanwhile, were able to hide as soon as the cops arrived and so weren’t taken. Once the cops have gone, they head up to check out Frix’s apartment. It’s a simple enough exercise for Taeva to break into it. The apartment is a complete mess – little more than a squat. The walls are daubed with graffiti, much of which reads ‘SHARKS4EVER’. In the living room, on top of a packing crate that serves as a table, they find around 50g of dustspice together with several empty bottle of cheap potato vodka. Searching some more, they also find Cr. 260 in cash.
Having now made sure that they haven’t missed anything, they head for the local police station to wait in the hope that the threesome manage to get out.