After staying up into the wee hours of the morning recounting their individual exploits over the previous four weeks, the party members get up late and eat breakfast which Autumn prepared earlier. They then pack for their trip to the Planetological Forum which, in Autumn’s case takes hours. She is still deciding on which pairs of shoes to take with her when Will tells her that she needs to hurry up or else she will miss the flight.
Taeva, Arvor and Grim program the sundry prowlerbots and robodogs and then set them loose onboard the ship. “Maybe we better leave a note for Max in case he comes back early, goes onboard and gets killed by the robots,” says Autumn.
She writes the note for Max and then the party members set out for the shuttle docks.
“Shuttle Dock C13, this should be it,” says Will.
The large gathering of balding middle-aged men dressed in beige and plaid confirms that this is, indeed, the shuttle heading for The Grand Plaza Resort Hotel, Casino and Convention Centre in orbit over Was-hin that is the venue for the Forum.
The party members settle into their acceleration couches and buckle themselves in the 80-seater shuttle as it pulls away from Banfi Highport and then sets off for Was-hin at maximum-G.
Will sees a fair number of familiar faces on the flight and is soon reliving old tales from his time at GLIPS and discussing the latest theories. The other party members are already starting to wonder whether they’ve made a big mistake in coming along for the ride.
Just before 18.00, after a three hour journey, the shuttle is on its final approach to The Grand Plaza, a diamond-shaped resort. Already docked at the resort is a sleek-lined 1,000-ton passenger liner belonging to McClellan Factors.
The shuttle docks on the opposite side of the resort from the liner and the passengers start to disembark. As the passengers head into the small arrival lounge, they are required to pass through a metal detector and are searched by six surly looking security guards.
“Please hand over your weapons, ladies and gentlemen,” the head guard says. “No weapons at all allowed at the resort. They will be kept secure and will be handed back to you when you disembark. Thank you for your assistance in this matter.”
Unsurprisingly, most of the academics onboard the shuttle have nothing to declare and simply file through into the lounge.
The party members hand over their most obvious weaponry, but try and smuggle through their concealed weapons. All of the male members pass through security without a problem. As the three females stand out from the others though, they are singled out for more thorough examinations.
“I think the dirty old perv wants to rummage through our panties,” Autumn says under her breath to Jie and Roberta.
Autumn isn’t carrying anything so she is fine. Taeva’s weapons are so small and subtle that hers get through as well. The blade of Jie’s makeshift cutlass attracts the guards’ attention however and, despite her protestations, it is confiscated and locked up with the other weapons.
Arvor is the last of the party members to come through. There’s something about his confidence that makes the security guards suspicious and they pat him down, finding where he has hidden the weapon. They don’t make a big deal about it – they just gently ask him to hand it over. Arvor is similarly matter-of-fact about the matter.
“Sorry,” he says. “I just wear it as a matter of course. Forgotten that I had it on me. Take it by all means. It’s not as if I’m likely to need it here, after all.”
The party members file through into the arrival’s lounge. The place is already packed with the 80 passengers and 20 crew of the passenger liner and so, with the addition of the 80 passengers from the shuttle, it is getting very cramped in here.
It would appear that the passengers of the liner are getting impatient already as they have been waiting around for over thirty minutes already. The doors leading to the resort are closed and harassed looking officials are making apologies and trying to keep everyone calm telling everyone, apologizing for the delay and trying to reassure everyone that it won’t be long now before everyone can proceed to the resort.
One of the guests seems to be getting particularly irate from the delays.
“Don’t you know who I am?” the well-built and well-groomed man in his early-thirties bellows at the nearest official. “I am Baron Hasse von Harkhoost of Trin and I have spent the last month in transit to get here. I am not prepared to wait any longer.”
The official apologizes profusely.
“I am sorry, sir, but I don’t make the decisions here,” he says. “As I said, I am sure that we will be allowed to open the doors to the resort shortly.”
Cursing, the Baron throws his hands up in resignation and storms away from the guard with an elderly butler gliding silently in his wake.
He looks around for someone to grumble with. The sea of academics seem to hold little interest to him, but his eyes light up when he sees that there are some females to flirt with.
“Ah,” he says. “Nice to see that it’s not a complete sausage-fest in this place.”
He introduces himself to the ladies with a kiss to the hand and gives each of the male party members a firm handshake.
“Well what a complete balls-up this is looking like already. Bloody academics, couldn’t organize a piss-up in a resort and casino complex.”
“Why the hell do you think it’s taking them so long to let us through?”
“Not sure,” Taeva replies. “The weapon search seems a bit over the top for an acaedemic conference. Maybe the organisers know something we don’t.”
“To be honest we only came along for the hospitality: our crewmate Will is the acaedemic, and he is supporting a former collegue at the Institute.”
“I’m just here representing my father,” the Baron replies. “He’s Honorary President of the Trin’s Veil Planetological Society, but he’s been a little under the weather recently and so he asked me to come.”
“Academia is not really my bag, but this little jolly makes a change, at least. Mind you, I did see on the agenda that some Joshey fellow has some preposterous views on Zhodani terraforming that I can’t wait to pull him up on. I spent five years on Chronor as part of an Imperial Trade Delegation and will take great delight in telling him that he’s talking out of his arse. I have seen advanced Zhodani terraforming techniques with my own eyes and the man’s theories are simply a load of utter rot.”
He sighs once again.
“But that’s for later. All I want to do now is get to my suite and have a nice warm bath with plenty of time to get ready for the opening banquet this evening.”
“I don’t really know," Taeva replies. "Mind you I’d watch what you say-these acaedemics are like kids when it comes to defending their views, and you don’t want an embarrassing claw fight.”
“Why don’t you speak to Will over there. He’s no fan of Joshey – some academic run-in earlier in his career I think.”
“Say Baron, I know Dr Van Donkersguud would be very interested in speaking with you about the matter," says Will. "Perhaps we could meet you for a drink if they ever let us in?”
“That would be excellent,” the Baron agrees. “I assume that you and the Doctor will be going to the Welcome Gala this evening? If so, I’m on table 7. Just pop over once all the tedious speeches are over and done with and it would be good to have a chat.”
Will shakes the Baron by the hand, then wanders off to find Van Donkersggud or anyone else he knows who might know more about Joshey. After going through everyone waiting in the arrivals lounge, he doesn’t find anyone currently working at GLIPS there and so he returns to join back up with the rest of the party.
Another ten minutes have passed since they arrived in the lounge and still there seems to be no sign of the guards opening the doors to the resort.
Arvor is getting suspicious now due to the delays and what seems like excessive security. He looks around for anyone who has positioned themselves strategically, or who appear to not be talking with academics.
As he does so, he locks eyes with a neatly-dressed woman in her late thirties, who is wearing a dark-charcoal business suit. She seems to be watching Arvor and the other party members as intently as he is watching her.
Arvor surreptitiously messages the group about the woman, and then makes to head off to mingle in with the rest of the crowd. As she sees him about the leave them though, the woman makes her way over to the entire party.
Her eyes flicker around the room. As Arvor follows her eyes, he realizes that she is glancing around at the security cameras dotted around the room. She covers her mouth with her hand as she says:
“So you’ve spotted that something looks very wrong with this picture too, have you?”
With her other hand, she reaches into an inside pocket and flashes a badge.
“Captain Lyn Ilkanii, Imperial Naval Intelligence.”
The badge looks genuine enough. Once all of the party members have seen it, she puts it back into her pocket again.
“Indeed, Captain,” Arvor replies. “I think we should cover any high profile potential targets. Something unpleasant may happen very soon. Are you alone?”
Lyn nods in agreement.
“I am alone at the moment,” she whispers in response, her hand still covering her lips. “But I am here to meet Count Gustav von Stern, CEO of Sternmental Horizons for the Spinward Marches and the Primary Benefactor of GLIPS. I guess that he would certainly be what you would consider a ‘high profile potential target’. His yacht is en route and due to dock in a little over 30 minutes.”
“So what are you suggesting?” Taeva asks “We are being held here out of the way so a kidnapping can occur? i.e. these Guards are not genuine?”
“Something like that,” Lyn nods. “Some of the guards don’t seem genuine – they are not usually so strict here with weapons checks. But some of them look too confused to be fake.”
“It’s the fact that they are not allowing anyone to leave that makes me particularly suspicious,” she adds. “My guess is that there is something happening outside this area that they can’t allow anyone to see without revealing that something is very wrong here.”
Will calls Dr. Van Donderguud on his comm to find out if the good doctor knows what’s going on with the delay and why security is so tight.
The Doctor answers, but he is still in his apartment on Was-hin making the finishing touches to his notes.
“I’ve no idea what’s going on up there, Will,” he says, sounding a little hurried. “I’ll be up there in a couple of hours, just in time for the Welcoming Banquet.”
Will calls around a few of his other old contacts from GLIPS. He finally manages to find one who checked into the Grand Plaza earlier in the day, his old research assistant, Mariella Iskander. She tells him that she will check if she is able to get to the arrivals lounge. She tells Will that she will call him back later, but it might take her a while as the Grand Plaza is a big place.
Will informs the others of the situation.
“We can’t wait that long,” Lyn says. “Time is pressing.”
Grim casually takes up a position where he can back up Jie if need be, meanwhile reconning the situation while Arvor is engaged in conversation; noting guard postions, loadouts, NCOs, and additional egress points to the area.
He hears Will behind him comming, “Dr. VD? Dr. VD?” and thinks ‘Physician, heal thyself.’ Then he finds himself wondering how the prince of geeks got laid in the first place?
His eyes dart around the room before alighting on an unguarded door marked, “STAFF ONLY – NO ADMITTANCE.”
“Is Count von Stern’s yacht likely to be docking here?” asks Taeva.
“No,” Lyn replies. “They have a separate bay for VIPs. I am pretty sure his yacht will be docking at the VIP bay.”
“Aren’t there some official or organizers here already on the resort that you could check with?” Taeva asks.
“I could try,” the Captain replies. “But the resort is a large place and every minute some academic spends trying to act like an Intelligence Officer is a minute less before the yacht arrives. I can’t take the risk. I need to act fast and decisively.”
“Well I’m up for a spot of adventure,” says the Baron, who is still with the party members. “Anything is better than standing around here for any longer.”
“We should get to the Bay then,” agrees Taeva. “Is there any chance of you flashing your ID at these Guards to get our weapons back?”
“It was the guards checking for weapons that aroused my suspicions to start with,” says Lyn. “If I flash my ID at them and they’re imposters, then we would lose the element of surprise.”
“Are we going to have to go through them or is there another way in?” Taeva asks.
Grim nods in the direction of the unguarded door marked ‘NO ADMITTANCE’.
“That looks like the only way out of here that isn’t guarded or locked off,” he whispers.
“There are security cameras covering this entire bay,” Lyn adds. “I think we’d need to create some kind of a diversion before heading through it.”
“I like that – so what do you think, Baron?" Arvor asks. "How are your acting skills – I think this delay is enough to trigger one of your famous apopleptic fits, don’t you think? I can see the rage building already – and it could go badly what with your weak heart.”
Arvor winks at the Baron.
“I know where you’re coming from, old chap,” the Baron replies. “But I rather fancied myself as a bit of a pugilist than an actor. Can’t let you have all the fun now, can we?”
“I’ll take care of the diversion,” says Autumn. “This dress is brand new and it cost Cr. 2,000. I don’t want to get any blood on it – especially not my blood.”
“Get into position and throw me a wink when you’re ready,” she adds, then disappears into the crowd.
As casually as possible, Lyn, the Baron and the party members saunter towards the door marked ‘NO ADMITTANCE’. They manage to reach it without anyone paying too much attention to themselves.
Once everyone is next to the door, Arvor throws Autumn a wink. Autumn immediately swings into action. She lets out a high-pitched squeal and then slaps the geekiest-looking academic she can find across the cheek with an almighty blow.
“YOU DIRTY OLD MAN!” she screams at the academic. “HOW DARE YOU?!”
Naturally, all eyes on the room are now on Autumn and the very confused-looking Planetologist.
Taeva swiftly opens the door and disappears behind it, with the rest of the group following hot on her heels.
“DON’T ACT ALL INNOCENT NOW, YOU FILTHY PERV!” Autumn continues, rubbing her behind. “THAT REALLY HURT!”
Arvor at the rear of the group, swiftly closes the door behind them. The group pauses for a moment, nervous that their departure was seen and that armed guards will be through any moment. However, it appears as if the plan worked as the door remains closed.
Lyn starts to lead the party members through a labyrinth of corridors. As they pass, Grim notices the body of a guard lying in the floor of a deserted office. The party stop to investigate. The guard has been stabbed in the back before his body was tossed into the office in what looks like a rushed attempt at hiding it. The guard’s snub pistol is missing.
The group carries on, seeing a couple of other dead guards on their journey.
Taeva brings the group to a halt as she spots a map of the area.
“We need to decide where we go first,” she says. “I’d like to get to the communications room to see if I can get a message to Count Von Stern’s yacht to tell them not to dock. The bridge would be an obvious target for the hijackers as well – and the Security Office they must have taken for sure too. That’s where cameras for the whole resort feed into.”
“So which one do you think we should try and take out first?” she asks.
The party members have a quick discussion as to which of the important areas to head for first and decide that the Security Office is the best choice as this is where all of the security cameras will be monitored from.
They manage to navigate the labyrinthine complex of corridors without incident and arrive outside the door of the Security Room. The door is electronic, so there’s no easy way to peek inside it – the only option is to go in with all guns blazing (what few guns they have at their disposal anyway). Arvor is the first through the door. He sees that there are five guards sitting around the room in front of monitors, although they don’t seem to be watching them too diligently. Arvor fires at one of them with his body pistol, but it only wounds him. Taeva is in right after him and soon finishes him off. Grim is next through the door, taking down another one of the guards before he manages to bring his shotgun to bear. Jie, now clad in her Mighty Morphin’ Power Suitcase, rushes over to take on two more. Three more guards emerge from another room, swarming around Taeva. She starts to stab her way through them. Grim has picked up the shotgun now and is blasting away at another of the newcomers, who is firing his snub pistol at Grim in response. Arvor, crouched behind some desks exchanges fire with another of the guards. The body pistol’s low penetration power means that he is only wounding the guards though, not dropping them.
While Will and Lyn guard the corridor in case of reinforcements, the Baron enters the room and crouches down next to Arvor, looking for a dropped weapon that he can use.
Jie continues to slug it out with a couple of the guards. She is no expert with the borrowed weapon, however, and neither of her opponents seems to be much more competent with theirs either, leading to a stalemate.
Grim and the snub pistol firing guard continue to trade shots until a tranq round manages to find a way through his armor and he falls unconscious. Hoping to try his luck, the Baron leap over to where Grim fell in order to pick up the shotgun. Before he manages to bring it to bear, however, he too is shot with a tranq round by the guard. With no armor to protect him, he quickly crumples to the ground on top of Grim. Taeva is slowly making her way through some of the other guards, her needletto just not having the penetration to take down her opponents quickly.
The stalemated combat between Jie and the two guards finally comes to a halt as the snub-armed opponent manages to find a chink in her armor and she too departs for the Land of Nod. Arvor gets a little payback by taking down one of her opponents.
With only Arvor and Taeva still standing, the party members are out-numbered again. Leaving Will alone to guard the corridor, Lyn rushes in but, before she is able to grab a dropped weapon, she too is brought down with a tranq round. Taeva manages to finish of the last of her opponents and Arvor finishes of the last one that was hassling Jie as well, leaving the party members in control of the security room, finally.
Will rushes in and looks around for a medipack. He quickly finds one in the guard’s lounge and is relieved to see that there are several shots of adrenaline in there. One-by-one he starts to revive them and they all come around, feeling groggy but otherwise unharmed. While Will is seeing to the downed, Taeva check the monitors. She sees that there are just a couple of guards in both the communications room and on the bridge, but there are eight more in Arrivals Bay 4. Taeva checks the rest of the office. Locked in the brig, he finds two people who he finds are the Station Manager and Head of Security. They have both been tranqed too and are also groggy when they awake.
Lyn comes around and Taeva updates them on the findings.
“Bay 4 must be where they have instructed the Count’s yacht to land,” says Lyn.
She looks at her watch. “It’s is due in less than ten minutes. We’d better head there straight away or else we’ll be too late.”
“I’ll go and get some of the hotel security guys and take care of the Bridge and Comm Centre,” says the Head of Security. “You take care of the Bay.”
The party members, now feeling wide-awake again grab themselves some shotguns and snub pistols then follow Lyn as she leads the group towards the Bay. Once all are ready, they kick the doors open and come in, guns blazing. Now that they can match the guards in terms of weapons and, in most cases, outclass them with armor, this is a lot easier fight for the party members as they also have the element of surprise. Although there are four other guards hiding in one of the rooms, the party members gun them down with little effort taking only a few minor wounds in return.
As Arvor finished off the last of them, the airlock doors open, revealing a couple of dark-clothed agents who are leading Count von Stern into the Bay. Immediately that they see the carnage that the party has left in the Bay, they draw their autopistols and push the Count back into the safety of the airlock. Lyn flashes them her badge, however, and tells them that the party members are the good guys and that the potential problem has now been resolved.
The Count offers his thanks to the party members, but he is ushered away by Lyn and his minders into the hotel and his private suite in case there are any other rebels still operating in the place.
Used now to not getting the glory that their heroic actions truly deserve, the party members clean the gore from their armor and then head back to their own bay in order to reclaim their baggage and Autumn, while the Baron collects his ancient butler. The line is moving through into the hotel now under the watchful eye of the Head of Security who now has some more ‘real’ guards at his disposal. He apologizes, but tells the party members that they aren’t going to be able to keep the shotguns and snubbies (although says that he will turn a blind eye to their body pistols and knives). He also brings them to the front of the line so that they can check in quickly. Ten minutes later and everyone has arrived at their rooms for the duration of the Forum – nothing too glamorous, but better than sharing a starship stateroom in any case.
After the delays caused by the hi-jacking, the party members have just a little over an hour to get showered and put on some clean clothes before it is time for them to head down to the main Ballroom for the Welcoming Banquet. It’s full of the same geeks as were in the bay, plus a thousand or so others who took the shuttle up from dirtside just in time for the reception.
The Dean of GLIPS, Chouan Nath, welcomes everyone to the Forum and then invites Count von Stern to officially open it. Fortunately his speech is a relatively short one and everyone can get started on the food, which is pretty good considering the large numbers that they are catering for. Once the sit down meal is finished, the geeks start mingling with one another. Will finds Dr. Amrish Van Donkersguud and introduces him to the Baron. They spend the rest of the evening talking Zhodani terraforming while the rest of the party members take advantage of the large quantities of some pretty decent wine that the helpful waiterbots keep providing them with. By midnight, everyone has had enough and manage to stagger back to their rooms.