Apart from the surprise of watching Captain Shaughnessy vs. the Lava Women, the journey to Overnale was quiet, pleasant and uneventful, with all of the passengers onboard behaving themselves and being easy to deal with.
At 15.00, the alarm sounds to say that the Princess has emerged from jump and the bridge crew head for their stations. As Overnale is a small planet a good distance from the star, it’s just a three and a half hour journey from jump distance to Lorton Starport and an easy one at that compared to having to dodge the asteroids entering and leaving Glisten.
As a result, by 18.00, the Princess is being guided down by Lorton Control as it follows the vector down to the starport. Will brings down the ship down on the central pad and is direct to dock at Bay 9, the only free bay as the small starport is packed to capacity.
Disembarkation begins at 18.45. Will successfully arouses the two low passengers departing at Overnale while the other party members assist the high passengers with their baggage. Customs inspectors come through the ship and go through the paperwork which Max has. They are pretty thorough during their search of the ship and demand that all of the party’s weaponry – all of it – is locked in the ship’s locker, which is then sealed shut. They also go through all of the containers of the parts that the ship is carrying, but find nothing untoward there as Max’s paperwork is all in order. It’s 20.30 by the time that the custom’s inspectors are satisfied and leaves the crew of the Princess to go on their way.
Max stands on the steps and breathes fresh, non-recycled air for the first time in a couple of months. He looks at his watch:
“Perfect timing,” he says. “It’s time for dinner. There ain’t much that’s special about Overnale apart from the food and drink. It’s supposed to be some of the best in the subsector, especially the steak. Time for a feed. It’s on me this time guys and gals.”
Everyone is quite happy to leave the ship for a while – the skies and clear and the temperature is warm and pleasant, so they head out of the starport and through the extrality gate into Lorton.
They haven’t walked more than twenty metres, however, when armed police seem to appear from behind every ground car, with each of them having an ACR pointed at one of the party members.
“Everyone put your hands in the air, slowly,” one of the cops calls out with a bullhorn.
The party members do as they are bid, sure that the cops have made some kind of mistake and that this will all be sorted out shortly.
Once all of the party members have their hands in the air, a section of cops moves in and cuffs everyone with their hands behind their backs. A Black Maria pulls up and the party members are rudely pushed inside.
“What’s going on?” says Max incredulously. “We ain’t done nuffink wrong.”
“Don’t worry,” the Sargent say. “There’ll be plenty of time to talk back at the station.”
The back of the van slams shuts and it then immediately drives off with sirens blaring.
The journey is a short one. Ten minutes later and the doors open again and the party members are jostled into the back of a local police station where they are immediately led into cells – Jie, Taeva and Autumn in one, Max, Grim, Will and Arvor in the other.
Max is getting rather pissed off now, demanding an explanation as to what’s going on and why they are being held, but the cops guarding the doors stay silent leaving the party members to speculate as to why this situation may have occurred. An hour later though and they still have not been able to come up with any kind of theory.
More conjecture is interrupted as the doors are opened and the party members are all frog-marched into an interrogation room. They are again forced to wait – another half an hour this time – before a stocky, balding man aged around 50 enters the room. He is silent for an uncomfortably long period of time while he fixes each of the party members in turn with a piercing gaze.
“Chief Julius Round,” he says with a degree of arrogance and self-importance. “Chief of Police for Lorton City.”
He folds his arms in front of him before he speaks once more.
“Let’s get straight to the point,” he says. “Tell me everything you know about Piotr Marriott.”
The party members look confused.
“Never ’eard of ’im, Chief,” Max replies. “Should we have done?”
“Don’t play games with me, son,” the Chief replies. “You know him well enough. You just brought him into the city.”
“Who is he?” Max asks again.
“Him,” the Chief replies, opening up a dossier with a mugshot – a mugshot of Ben Hammerstein, the musical instrument salesman who they brought with them.
“Ben Hammerstein?” Max says incredulously. “What’s he up for? Importation of dangerous woodwind instruments?”
“He’s not Ben Hammerstein,” the Chief snaps back. “He’s Piotr Marriott – one of the most notorious Ine Givar members in the subsector.”
“I checked his ID though,” Autumn pleads. “It checked out – it’s genuine.”
“I can assure you that it is not genuine, lady,” Chief Round replies.
He leans back in his chair.
“And ignorance is no excuse for criminal behaviour. You’re all accessories to a terrorist group and you’re all in a heap of trouble.”
“So failure to detect a forged ID is a criminal offense, officer?” Arvor replies. “Firstly, our ship will have holovid recordings of us following the correct identification procedures, as well as scans of all our passenger IDs as per Imperial Travel Documentation law – which – with a proper warrant, your people can verify yourselves. Secondly – your own immigration procedure is the real security for your planet. If you caught this ‘Pitr Marriot’ in immigration – why are you bothering with us, and if you didn’t – have you arrested your own immigration officers?.”
“Yes, we did capture Piotr Marriott,” the Chief replies. “And we’ve caught his accomplices as well now.”
“Obviously you have some other reason for bringing us here,” Arvor continues. “Your time is precious, and you know damned well we haven’t deliberately transported an Ine Givar terrorist. You want something from us. Why not save us both a song and dance, and just tell us what you want?”
Chief Round is silent for a long while after this question, his piercing gaze fixing everyone as he seems deep in deliberation.
“Well now you mention it,” he says, “Maybe we can come to some kind of arrangement in return for dropping the charges.”
Max rolls his eyes.
“’Ere we go again,” he mutters under his breath.
“A convicted murderer escaped five days ago while being transported to jail,” Chief Round continues. “We don’t know where he is. He could be anywhere – any country. Shit, he could be halfway through jump right now.”
“We don’t know where he is. All we know is that he is a dangerous killer and he needs to be found as soon as possible.”
“Help me to find him, and we can ignore this whole nasty business about your being an accessory to the Ine Givar.”
He pauses for a moment for effect.
“So what do you say?”
“So – ignoring for a moment, the fact that we might be convenient in helping you resolve some collosal cock-up, and supposing for a moment that we have any interest in helping you in order to expedite shaking off these trumped up charges – which interest I might add would certainly increase if there were some positive inducement – "
He pauses for a moment, for effect, before continuing -
“I take it you sealed the starport, and are fairly certain he is still in-system – else why would you bother with the search?”
“No,” Chief Round replies. “It was at the starport that he escaped and because those ConTech idiots responsible for security at the starport aren’t under my control, it took a while before they were able to seal the place. He might have jumped onboard a ship or a shuttle and headed offworld or he might have slipped back into Lorton. We don’t know.”
“It’s just a fortunate coincidence that we happened to pick up some felons like you with their own ship who might want to bargain their way out of the big pile of crap that they have got themselves into.”
“I also take it that you have not publicized this cock-up, since you are willing to use outsiders on this task?” Arvor continues.
“Without asking the obvious question of just how long can you hold people here without laying formal charges” he continues, musing “and of course charges would then require an appearance before a court, which would inevitably mean publicity of this cock-up”….
“So, now we have established some facts – why don’t you tell us what is in it for us, what you know about your escaped killer, and what the ground rules are for us to hunt him down.”
Taeva folds her arms.
“Without some real cash inducment you’re wasting our time," she agrees with Arvor. "Our lawyers will nail your ass to the wall, and your own definciencies will be broadcast across the planet. The longer you impound our ship the bigger the Bill you’ll be blamed for accumulating.”
Chief Round starts laughing at this.
“Ah, I see we’ve caught us a bunch of ‘Liberals’.” He seems to spit the word out in disgust.
“Not that I should have expected anything else from a bunch of Ine Givar sympathizers and accomplices.”
“Obviously you’ve never been in Lorton before or else you would know that I AM THE LAW HERE.”
He reaches over and places a phone in front of the party members – an old-fashioned landline-type phone.
“Go ahead and call a lawyer. You have the right to. And why don’t you call the Lorton Times, WLBS and KLBS as well while you are at it and see how interested they are in your story?”
“It seems like every two bit world we land on has a bent cop who wants to blackmail us into doing his dirty work for him," says Taeva. "I guess you can’t read so I’ll read out what it says on Intersol’s Card. It says ‘business’, not ‘charity’.”
“Yes,” growls Max, “It sometimes seems as if the gods have run out of new and original ways of leading us into new adventures.”
He looks skywards and shakes his his fist.
“I am not interested in working for free, law or no law,” Arvor agrees. “I have no problem bagging an Ine Givar terrorist, or killing one for that matter, but other than your threats I see no reason to risk my skin to solve your problem.”
“Frankly, if you had simply informed us we had been duped, I would have gone after him just out of professional pride, but as it stands with the shit you are pulling, you can cuff me now and whistle for Piotr for all I care.”
Chief Round is about call for the guards to lead the party members back to the cells when Jie speaks up.
“Guns.” Jie says interrupting the 3-way debate. “Our guns and armour, all legal like with temporary licenses to walk around here with them with none of you dopey cops bothering us. Then we’ll get your man.”
Jie says this tiredly. As Taeva observed, this is not the first time this band of adventurers has been choke-holded into doing someone’s dirty work and Jie thinks she knows how this game is played. She believes herself able to face off against Chief Round and cut this whole ‘detention’ routine short. However this time Jie has underestimated her opponent. The Chief with his decades of experience can see right through Jies intentions. He suspects (correctly) that it is the ex-marines plan to do nothing for the next few days except to get a nice sun tan and fake an investigation then say the murderer has left planet to go to the next planet on the Princess’s trade route. Her lack of interest in what’s legal and any payment are a dead giveaway that she intends to break her part of the deal.
Jie, ever un-socially wise, uses the proffered telephone to order a local pizza.
“Shit, Jie,” Max says. "You shouldn’t have wasted that phone call. “I was going to call 1-900-HOT-CHIX. That shit usually costs me Cr. 5 per minute.”
“OK,” says Chief Round. “Now we are getting somewhere.”
“So this is what I will do. I will give you documents that provide you with limited official powers. I will allow you to carry concealed weapons and armor. I will give you a free tank of gas for the ship and recharge your life support. I will pay you a reward of Cr. 100,000 if you can bring him in – and let all of you off the charges.”
“However, you need to know that you are all just out on bail. I will be taking your cargo as a bail bond.”
He points at Autumn.
“And, as she was the one who didn’t check the terrorist’s ID correctly, she is staying under house arrest.”
Autumn is about to explode.
“I’ll put her up at the Hyatt Regency at the city’s expense.”
Autumn calms down.
“Oh, well that’s not so bad then. I could do with a break. And they always have those nice fluffy bathrobes there.”
“OK then. Now we’re talking,” agrees Arvor. “Let’s have a full history of your man – who he is, what he had done, who he has done it with. Then we need to interview the folks who were ‘supervising’ him when he escaped, and we need any camera footage of the escape.”
“Good, I am glad that we are finally able to see eye to eye,” replies Chief Round.
“The perp is Elliot Powell. He murdered a businessman by the name of Ambas Lazarczuk, the owner of a warehousing company five months ago. He was caught redhanded – literally – he still had the knife in his hand when my men apprehended him. He was rightly found guilty in the court of law five days ago. Unfortunately, on his way to jail, he managed to evade his guards and made good his escape. He was last caught on security camera heading into the starport. Unfortunately those clowns at ConTech lost him when he disappeared into the crowds at the starport.”
Chief Round shrugs.
“So he could be anywhere by now. He could have slipped straight back out of the starport, taken a flight to a different country, gone into the outsystem or could be halfway through jump to another system by now. I never said it was going to be easy.”
Arvor spends a while asking more questions, everything that he can think of that might help in the hunt for the man, finding out his employer and his home address.
Time is getting on now and Chief Round is getting impatient and starts to hint that he wants the party to get moving and so the party decide to head off. They say farewell to Autumn for a while as she is led off to the hotel by a couple of guards.
It’s pretty late in the evening already, but rather than dashing from one place to another, they decide to do as much research as they can online. They’re hungry and need to eat anyway.
Over an excellent meal, Will surfs the net to find out what information he can find that might be of use. Although Powell’s trial was covered extensively by the media, there are no mentions of him online before – he had no previous – seems to be just an average blue-collar worker with a young wife and a couple of small kids. His lawyer was a guy called Kal Persalis, a Legal Aid lawyer appointed to those without the funds to hire a better lawyer. Upon checking, they see that it appears that the lawyer has never won a case.
They check on details of Round too. There is not a bad word to be said about him, but they get the feeling that there is probably a lot of censorship of the Web on a world with such a high law level. They discover that Chief Round reports to the Mayor, Joran Parkes – again there is no dirt to be found on him online.
Now fully-fed and having exhausted all their online routes of inquiry, they take a cab back to the starport, some 8km from the city. Here they collect their concealable weapons and then start to make inquiries. ConTech, who has the security contract for the starport are relatively helpful – it’s obvious that they feel a little stupid at having lost him. They show the party members the footage they have of Powell heading into the starport five days ago. Unfortunately though, there are few cameras inside the starport itself and many of those they did have were not working or else they accidentally over-wrote them.
They check the records for departures from the starport over the 24 hours following the sighting of Powell. They soon realize that it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack, however – he could have gone to a hundred different destination in that time as so many aircraft, non-starships and starships departed during that period, not to mention the fact that he could have slipped out again on foot. They wander around the complex looking for potential hiding places, but Lorton Down is a large Class-B port which sees quite a lot of traffic and so there are just too many places where he could be hiding in the unlikely event that he is still hiding out there after five days.
“This is useless,” Max says in frustration after several hours wandering aimlessly around the starport looking for clues. “Let’s try a different tactic. I fancy ‘avin’ a word wiv ’is missus.”
“She might be a MILF, after all,” he adds with a wink.
The others sigh, but they are all getting tired of the fruitless search as well and could do with some sleep. So they call off the search and head back to the Princess to get some sleep.