At 14.30, Unguin’s Princess safely emerges from jump and Jie plots the course to the surface of the planet, which is some seven hours journey away.
The ship is 60 minutes from planetfall when they are hailed from an Imperial transponder bearing small warship, identified as the INS Bright Spear, a 400dton Gazelle-class Close-Escort, order them to slow to a halt for boarding and Custom’s Inspection.
“Unknown Vessel, this is Lt. Gaerwen Eulis of His Imperial Majesty’s Navy aboard the INS Bright Spear. Please cut your drives and set yourself to a halt for your Pre-landing Custom’s Inspection. All Passengers and Cargoes will be checked—in that order. Please respond.”
Realizing that the Unguin’s Princess has little chance of fighting off a Gazelle even if they wanted to, Will slows the ship and Autumn tells all of the passengers to prepare for inspection.
Dr. Ekaterina Schloss cheerfully lends a hand to speed things up by awakening the low passengers while Will takes care of the ship. Ms. Iskander is a little reticent, while Jan and Valencia both look very apprehensive as do the grieving couple. Ms Davies-Jones covers hers by the old fashioned method of drinking adult beverages. The six students awakened from Low Berth while groggy, have everything from looks of resentment to resignation.
The Bright Spear dispatches its 20dton Gig for this task, aboard which are two ratings (Pilot & Engineer), the Bright Spear’s Executive Officer, Lt. Commander Gaerwen Eulis, and two Marines in Battledress with accelerator rifles.
The Lt. Commander is very courteous and polite, but also very efficient. This time around, the crew members Imperial passports don’t get them any special treatment and the ship is searched thoroughly for contraband or stowaways.
She briefly gives Dr. Schloss a hard time about her volunteered bio-samples of DNA from the Dallians and the students as “improperly secured bio materials” for example. At Ms. Iskander’s Passport and ID check she renders a salute and a handshake for “Good Luck,” before finishing with Mr. Huss, Ms. Davies-Jones and the grieving couple.
Eulis then checks the Travellers’ ID’s and Licenses, finding them to be in order. Next, she asks to inspect the cargo hold and its contents. Max opens up the cargo bay and she goes to check. See that there are 45 tons of cargo aboard, she realizes that she doesn’t have time to go through everything, so just passes over everything with her NBC sniffer wand while a couple of small drones investigate the outside of the ship.
After an hour, the Lt. Commander seems to be satisfied:
“On behalf of His Imperial Majesty’s Navy, I apologize for this delay to your landing and your business. Be advised there is a system-wide Amber Zone coding here, Captain,”
Lt. Commander Eulis apologizes to the passengers, and party members as she concludes her onboard inspection.
“Please follow all local laws and customs on Talchek during your visit here, and if I were you, I’d stick to the Downport’s environs and avoid becoming embroiled in the labor troubles outside if you can help it.”
“Why’s that?” Max asks.
“The former owners may have sold out their shares and pocketed the change, but half of the worlds involved left their prison inmates here as well," she replies. "You can guess what the New World’s Corporation has to deal with on a daily basis. A limited form of martial law is in effect as well as a curfew in the warrens; no firearms at all allowed. You won’t be allowed to carry arms beyond blades once you leave Drop-Dead Downs, and only the Mercenary Security Forces have that authority.”
With that, the Lieutenant Commander reboards the gig with the marines and the Unguin’s Princess is free to continue to port.
Unguin’s Princess, this is Drop-Dead Downs Port Authority Traffic Control. Please follow the transponder landing beacon down at 1G speed. Atmospheric conditions currently are fair, winds out of the North-Northwest at 15kph. Your landing pad bay is One-Alpha. Upon landing, shut down to auxiliary power, and we’ll lower you inside. For your health and safety, please remain aboard until the all-clear is given. How copy, over?”
“Copy,” confirms will, “Over.”
The Unguin’ Princess then makes its final descent.
As the ship breaks through the orange-reddish hued thick clouds and descends down to an approach altitude of 2000m over the Ammonite Sea. Following the landing beacon, the world’s stark colors of dull yellow, gray ash and black basalt features emerge like a mythical beast through the mists. Crossing the shoreline over the placid deadly sea they see that Talchek, a murky world from orbit, is on visual close up a forbidding, unforgiving harsh world. Arvor’s sensor scan detect the secondary beacons for the subsidiary port landing fields of two D-class facilities, one east and one west of their main heading. These show up on his display screen as “Restricted Airspace, New World’s Corp. Authorized Flights Only.”
As they get within several kilometers of ‘Drop-DeadDowns’, Downs’, they see off in the distance dimly in the hazy atmosphere the glint of sunlight off the towering megamachines used by the NWC to separate the Ammonia and Chlorine. Below them as they move closer to the port, they can make out the starfish shaped arrangement of landing pads about the fortress like Control tower, a pitted heavy metal tower thrusting to the sky from an arroyo of basalt. The only movement seen outside across the landing field is a handful of robots scuttling about.
Once the ship has settled down onto the pad, the entire pad sinks and is covered by a giant iris valve overhead. The ship is now 20m below the surface in a hangar built to hold a 400-ton sized vessel.
Once the toxic gases have been purged twenty minutes after the surface iris valve has shut, they receive the “All-Clear” message from Port Authority, and two foot traffic airlocks and one ground vehicle airlock open. From the side closest to the ship’s outer airlock they are approached by the six-man SPA berth maintenance team to secure umbilical power connections. From far side tunnel emerges the SPA Customs Inspector’s team, and 25 mercenary security troops. From the vehicle tunnel emerges a small vehicle convoy of electric ground vehicles: three vans for crew and passenger luggage and a fire suppressant truck and its crew.
The crew members say goodbye to the passengers and then Max speaks:
“The sooner that we’re off this shithole of a world, the happier I’ll be.”
The others agree, also wanting to be out of here as soon as possible/
“So let me call this Dvorcek bloke, arrange delivery of the gear, get the Bill of Lading signed and then we should be out of here.”
He calls the number that he was given by Jeri and is soon answered.
“He wants us to meet at a restaurant called the Golden Oases,” Max says.
“No, better that he comes to meet us here,” says Will.
Max gets back on the commo.
“Fine, he says that he should be here within the hour.”
Sure enough, just under an hour later and Dvorcek arrives. He is a man of his middle fifties, dressed in a TL9 HEV suit, his helmet tied off at his belt with his gloves inserted there.
“We’re pleased you made it here intact,” he says. “I … we were worried there would be a greater delay with the Port Authorities. Thousands of people’s lives here on Talchek depend on the installation of those atmospheric scrubbers.”
“Fine,” says Max. “So when are your vehicles coming to collect the gear then.”
“Oh,” Dvorcek says. “Were you not told that the deal was for you to assist in the installation of the machinery as well as the freighting of it.”
“No we weren’t,” says Max, sounding annoyed now.
“While the cargo fits inside your starship, the life support machinery is too large to be moved through the vehicle tunnels, nor is there an electrically powered ground vehicle capable of moving such heavy machinery even if they were."
“Additionally,” he adds, “the machinery resides on the surface, and must be emplaced there after removal of the old aging machinery. For all of those tasks, we need your starship before you depart.”
The party members are initially totally against helping with the installation, fearing that Dvorcek might be trying to steal their ship of them or renege on the deal. Eventually, however, they agree to the job when Dvorcek offers them an additional 100k in return for their assistance for the two days it will take to install the machinery – half at the end of the first day and half at the end of the second day together with the signed bill of lading.
The party members are still a little unsure about the deal, but accept the offer.
“Very good,” Dvorcek says. “I have arranged two pods with cranes to assist you with this who will lead you to the site.”
“I will be back in touch with you within the next 24 hours.”
With that, he heads off.
The party members don’t want the rest of their cargo to get in the way and so Max arranges them to be stored in a warehouse while they are away. Once Max has arranged this, they decide that they need a drink, and so they head out into the starport.
On the way to the bar, they observe four of the security force troopers detaining a teenage youth with a book bag style backpack. Scattered on the deck as they flex cuff his hands behind his back are a messy pile of pamphlets. One of the troopers scoops up the back pack and its remaining contents. As they march him away, he defiantly looks about and hollers at any onlookers, “Workers of Talchek Unite!” He is then halted, gagged, and summarily pushed into an electrically powered Security ground vehicle, and then driven off. The Security Troops while quick to arrest, are not as efficient on picking up all of the protesting student’s pamphlets, and a few remain on the decking. The rest of any passersby move along about their business after the van departs.
Jie scoops up one of the pamphlets to take a look at it. On the cover is a 2D graphic image of a disabled Imperial mining robot, and atop it raising their fists are three human workers. In their downward hands are firearms of various technology levels. Across the chests of their Hazardous Environment Vacc suits in red are the letters “W-L-F”. The pamphlets contain the rhetorical exhortations for the “oppressed masses” of Talchek to “rise up against the Imperials and their machines,” through any means possible, “be they passive resistance, active resistance, or violent revolution.” Included as well are the insurgency’s articles for unionizing labor against “an oppressive Managerial class, opening technology to the rest of the world, and “to throw off the shackles of being kept as second-class citizens, or indentured slaves.”
They arrive at the bar which is full of off-duty security forces and have a drink. They discuss Dvorcek’s deal as they drink. They agree that there is something dodgy about it and discuss whether or not they should go through with the deal or call it off. They are still debating the issue when they head back to their ship later on.