The journey to the out-system is a rather uneventful one. Once they are outside the jump radius of Overnale, there is very little traffic on the sensors – just a few shuttles, traders and freighters shuttling the same route that the Princess is travelling on. The party members spend their time back in training.
It’s early on the morning of 116 by which time they have passed by the large gas giant of Eca and are approaching the moon of Eca IV. There is little traffic here, although they do notice a bulk trader in orbit over the planet, with shuttles going up and down, presumably loading it with ore.
As the Princess gets closer to the moon, a message comes through over the radio.
“Approaching A2, this is Eca IV Control. You are on course to enter a restricted zone – Eca IV is on long-term lease to the Mettalia Corporation. Please alter your vector immediately.”
Grim comes on the radio.
“Eca IV control, this is A2 Unguin’s Princess, we are having trouble with our thrusters. Requesting permission to enter orbit for a few hours to make necessary repairs and then we will be on our way.”
There are a few moments of silence.
“Very well, but be on your way as soon as possible.”
Grim acknowledges and then Will maneuvers the ship around to the dark side of the moon, away from Eca IV’s sensors. He pulls up a map of the moon from the Library Data and they find the location of Station 23, which is where Hannah Gravesen lives according the to letter that Taeva copied.
The party members tool up and then, leaving Will to look after the ship, they head into the AGC. Max takes the AGC straight down to the surface and then skims the surface of the moon to avoid detection, nimbly avoiding the crater edges thanks to his new and improved reflexes.
After a couple of hours, they find Station 23. It’s a pretty grim-looking place consisting of eight functional looking habitation blocks clustered around a simple landing pad. Enormous grav trucks haul their cargoes of black ore from an open-cast mine nearby.
Max parks up the AGC on the outskirts of the Station and they proceed on foot, trying to keep warm in the sub-zero temperatures. They get some stares as they walk through the Station area – in a small community on the edge of nowhere like Eca IV, strangers stand out like a sore thumb.
They reach Habitation Block 2 and see that the doors are closed. There is a buzzer with the name Gravesen on it. They ring it but there is no answer.
While they are deciding what to do next, a Metallia Corp. grav/van pulls up before them and an officious middle-aged man comes towards them. He seems irritated, but is not armed. He introduces himself as Governor Zak Carver. He asks who the hell they are and what they are doing there. The party members come up with a hastily made up story about making Hannah a surprise visit.
“More visitors?” the Governor replies. “That woman is popular in the days. There was another chap who came to see her a few days ago.”
“Well next time you come here, please get permission before arrival, for security, you know,” he says officiously.
“Hannah is on shift for the next six hours. It’s chilly out today. You’re welcome to wait in my office if you like.”
“No, that’s OK,” Taeva replies. “She told us to let ourselves in.”
“Very well then,” the Governor replies. “Just don’t be getting up to any mischief while you’re here.”
With that he heads off back to the grav/van and takes off.
As soon as the Governor has gone, Taeva breaks in. The electronic locks to both the hab block and the Gravesen apartments are both pretty good and it takes her a while, but eventually they are all inside. The small and functional-looking apartment proves to be completely empty, however. Arvor checks around for signs that someone else might have been staying here with Hannah and her husband. He finds some, but the evidence doesn’t look that fresh.
With nothing else to do but wait, the party members settle down to wait.
It’s mid-afternoon when the door opens to reveal Hannah and her husband. They are probably only in their early-thirties, but years of hard manual labour has added a couple of decades to their looks.
Initially they look shocked to see their lounge filled with uninvited guests. However, as the party members put their hands up to show that they mean no harm, Hannah lets out a sigh of resignation.
“You’re bounty hunters, right?” she asks. “Elliott said that you would probably arrive sooner or later. You’re too late though. He’s already left.”
Hannah’s husband makes coffee for everyone while Hannah sits down to talk with the party members. They ask her what Elliott told her. She tells them that Elliott and a work colleague of his were passing by Lazarczuk Storage when they heard signs of a scuffle and a scream from inside. They saw Lazarczuk there with a knife in his back. Thinking that he might be able to save him, Elliott pulled the knife out and was trying to give him CPR. That’s when the cops turned up to find Elliott standing over the body holding the knife covered in his prints and DNA. His colleague, Arran Kitzler, witnesses the whole thing – he knew that Elliott wouldn’t carry a knife, but he was not called as a witness at the trial.
Arvor nods sadly, seeing that Elliott is an unfortunate patsy in the whole set-up. he explains what he has learned to date and tells Hannah that the party members want to help Elliott by clearing his name.
Hannah is willing to do whatever she can to help. She tells the party members that Elliott really has moved on though. He got a job as a deckhand on a bulk freighter than left Eca IV two days ago. He hated life on Eca IV and didn’t want Hannah to get into trouble for harbouring a known fugitive. Arvor asks her about the freighter – what is its name and where it was heading, but Hannah doesn’t know. She tells them to ask the Governor as he would know the details. Only one freighter has left orbit in the past few days and so the information will be easy enough to find out. She tells them that the Governor’s office is on the landing pad. The party members thank Hannah for her help and assure her that they will clear her brother’s name.
The party members walk the couple of blocks to the landing pad. They notice that a ship has arrived since they orbitted the moon – an A3 Fast Trader which they see is named, The Medusa. Close by, they see the Governor chatting with a group of ten men, all with ACRs casually strapped to their backs. They have the swarthy complexions of Avastanis.
Cautiously they advance towards the Governor and the Avastanis.
“Ah,” says the Governor as he sees the party members approaching. “Here are those other chaps who were meeting the Gravesens.”
The Avastanis turn to observe the party members. You can cut the air of tension with a knife.
“Hola, muchachos, who de ’ell are you?” one of them asks.
“We are InterSol,” Grim casually replies, handing him a card. “Who are you?”
“We izzz da Famous Deglado Brothers, hombre,” the famous Delgado brother replies. He hands Grim a card in return. Grim reads it.
No questions asked
… or answered
“Why are you looking for Elliott Powell?” Arvor asks.
“Because el puta de madre, Cheef Round, ‘e take all our cargo an’ ‘e tell us ’e give it back an’ pay us Cr. 100,000 if we find-a ’im.”
Arvor nods knowingly. He tries to get the Delgado Brothers as allies so that they can join forces to find Elliott and work together to bust the Chief over the drug deal. Arvor tries his hardest, but it is obvious that the Famous Delgado Brothers trust InterSol as much as they trust them.
Eventually negotiations break down. The Delgado Brothers don’t want to share the reward money. They head back to their ship, and immediately take off.
“At least they don’t know where he’s heading,” snickers Jie.
“Elliott Powell?”the Governor says. “Yes, I told him that he took passage on-board the bulk freighter The Tregarn a couple of days ago.”
He looks at his watch.
“She should be jumping out to Callia any time now.”
This news is met by curses from all of the party members. Apart from Jie.
“Callia? Cool – I really liked it there,” she says.
“No, Jie, you’re thinking of Dallia. Callia is a horrible shithole of a desert planet.” says Taeva.
“Oh,” Jie replies.
Arvor sighs, but then tries to look positively. “Well maybe this situation will turn out to our advantage. Let the Famous Delgado Brothers run to Callia and back to bring him back while we save time in having to make the jumps so that we can have the conspiracy solved by the time they get back with him.”
“To the AGC, men.”
Having had enough of this icy rockball of a moon, everyone is happy to be heading out of it. They head back to where Max is waiting in the AGC and Max takes them back to where Will is waiting in the Princess.
“So what’s the plan then, guys?” Max asks. “Are we heading for Callia or Overnale?”
“Not to put the mackeral among the seals, but if we go back to Overnale Round will likely decide we’re just not trying-and at worst investigation him,” Taeva replies. “He’ll pick us up and that will be that.”
“The Delgado’s could easily have told him they were en route to Callia. Round still has us where he wants us, and as soon as we touch down we’ll be under scrutiny. It might be easier just to grab the guy before the Delgado’s put a couple of full bursts into him.”
“I don’t see how one could leave after Delgado, who has a faster ship, and somehow prevent him from doing whever he wants to Elliot,” replies Arvor.
“As I said – we are fully committed now to exposing Rounder. Being afraid to do the job isn’t going to get Autumn or our cargo back.”
“I might as well list the ideas I already have -
• Park the ship in orbit and make entry via the APC in stealth mode – or if that is impractical, land normally, and if asked, claim that the lead did not pan out and we believe that he is still on Overnale.
• I think we need surveillance on both Rounder himself, and his house.
• It would be good to tap his communications.
• We may want to check on the police evidence locker (but doing this would probably require an insider – and is definitely risky).
• We should contact Elliot’s workplace friends – they may be of some use or have some information."
“I never suggested a stealthy return because I don’t think it is realistic. Their tracking of airspace is pretty efficient, I would imagine. With a paranoid and focussed high law-level police force, absolute control and a decent tech level, they would detect our entry pretty darned easy on Overnale in my view.”
“This society is pretty much a Police State, and with Rounder in charge and being focussed on us I would suggest he has many hands and eyes at his disposal – skilled professionals. He is going to be watching us. Thinking we can run rings around the whole state apparatus and conduct our own secretive an un-noticed investigation is Pie In the Sky in my view.”
“With his no-doubt-pre-prepared press release he can have our pictures and Dangerous Ine Givar Terrorists at Large posters whipping up the population into a manhunt at the press of a button.
All this will achieve is pissing Rounder off.”
“Even if by some great fortune we get ‘The Goods’ I don’t see what benefit they will be to us in realeasing Autumn or getting our cargo back.”
“We had some sort of vague notion that ‘Maybe the Mayor is a good sort who will side with us and come down on Rounder.’ In fact we have no evidence of this. In my observation mayors fall into two main categories:
“1. Ineffectual Baby Kissers good for distracting the public and mouthing platitudes but for little else.
2. Political animals who want to hang onto their positions by any means.”
“Possibly I am too cynical.”
“Either way I don’t see why they would rock the boat by siding with a bunch of Ine Givar terrorists against a strong Police Chief. The best we could hope for is that they’d file the dirt away for use as some sort of future lever or advantage. I don’t see why that would help us and we’d be thrown to the wolves.”
“The Truth is only useful if anyone wants to hear it. I don’t think anyone does-the Mayor won’t and the Press are submissive.”
“I think the only point in returning to the planet would be to conduct a smash and grab raid to rescue Autumn and run. We would lose our cargo however.”
“I think we have two options.
1. Rescue Autumn somehow as above
2. Go along with Rounder”
“I understand that it is galling to be used in this way to scapegoat an innocent man, but frankly, rather him than us. We are in a difficult position.”
“As regards ship speed I think it depends how far out the jump point is to Callia. I don’t know the specs for a Fast Trader but I assume its M2? It might be that they only have a day or so on us and on a desert world he might be awkward to find.”
“I’m not saying the Callia option is great but for cargo retrieval I think its probably the only one we have: and then there is no guarentee Rounder will play ball.”
“We should not underestimate him or his resources however, or over estimate our own abilities. Taking him on at his own game, on his own turf when we are in his power anyway seems like asking for trouble to me.”
“Them A3 Fast Traders really are fast,” Max replies. “They are M-4 – the ship of choice for smugglers as they can usually get in and out even before people know what’s going on. They’ve got a good couple of hours start on us already. We ain’t going to keep us wiv ‘em, that’s for sure.”
“I think that we should go to Callia anyway to see if we can get him back before we return to Overnale,” agrees Will.
“Taeva does have some very fine points,” agrees Jie. “This is a well thought out and safe plan of action that I would usually side with, except for one thing. Chief Julius Round would win.”
“As you’ll remember from what I said earlier, I was at first very vocal in just getting Elliot and handing him over, no questions asked. But as we tracked him down and learned more about this fugitive the more endeared I have become to his plight. He was just some poor suck who tried to do the right thing at the wrong time and ran afoul of a petty, corrupt madman. It’s a sad fact that power hungry sociopaths like Round dot the Imperium like a pox on Man’s greatest achievement and the acts of a few heroes like us can’t stop them all. But we can try to stop one. We can fight the good fight. We can protect the innocent. Failing that, we can avenge.”
“It won’t be easy. We do have a few advantages though.”
“1. Lorton Starport has an extraterritoriality agreement that can hold off Round’s grasp on us as long as we stay within the perimeters. That gives us a little time to plot.”
2. Overnale is a balkanized world of many nations. Therefore Round’s grasp only reaches to Lortons boarders, hell, maybe only to the city limits itself.
3. The drug deal went bad. Someone out there is out a LOT of cash because of Round and if we find out whom, we may have an ally who can aid us in the drugs retrieval. (Yes, drug retrieval . Nothing would kick Round in the nuts more than us stealing his stolen drugs. Max will not be invited on this one however.)
4. Lastly, We are the heroes. Round is the bad guy. It’s pretty simple."
“I can hang out in Long Jumpers, it’s a bar/restaurant frequented by Free Traders, there should be someone who knows about the shipment of Berrozine from Egypt, and the consignment number, 57894/896. That shit didn’t grow here and had to come out of Lorton Starport, and most Starship crews hang out at Long Jumpers.”
“I don’t disagree with anything Jie’s said, she makes some very excellent points.” replies Grim, “But why can’t we go to Callia first and get Elliott, then go after Rounder? We’d just have more chips to bring to the table that way. Hell, we could even use him to bait a trap, if need be, all while agreeing not to give him up. Besides,” Grim continues, holding up the Delgados business card for all to see, “have you looked at the crappy graphics and layout on this shit? These guys deserve to be shot. For god’s sake they used WingDings as their font!”
Grim pauses for a moment and then continues:
“If Elliott doesn’t jump ship at Callia and try to fade away, he’ll be giving ‘fugitive patsies’ everywhere a bad name. Of course the Delgados might catch the The Tregarn before it reaches Callia (though, as fast as the Delgados ship is, the merchant has a bit of a head start on them as well), then the Delgados could make their names live forever in infamy as pirates for attacking an Imperial flagged merchant in Imperial space. Well, maybe they’d just trail The Tregarn down and try to grab Elliott before he could disappear into the crowds?”
Jie taps some information into her navigation computer:
“Because Eca, the gas giant that Eca IV is a moon of is so vast, it will have taken The Tregarn a couple of days to get to jump diameter. That ties in with what the Governor said – that The Tregarn is going to be jumping out around now. At M-4, The Medusa will be able to get to jump diameter in a day. They certainly won’t manage to catch The Tregarn before she leaves the Overnale system and will be a day – minus a few hours – behind her arriving at Callia. We, in turn, will be a day behind The Medusa in arriving there.”
“We really need to upgrade our Manaeuver Drive to be able to keep up,” he moans.
“You ain’t using up any of my valuable cargo hold just to put some bloody extra speed on ’er,” Max counters. “It’s that bloody cargo hold that makes most of our money.”
“Look – I think I have established that we can’t get to Elliot first,” Arvors says with irritation. “We can’t even get to him second. Delgado will get to him and do whatever he chooses. If you guys want to try – go ahead, but I am out.”
“It depends on what our focus is,” Jie says.
“If we want to play Rounders’ game by Rounder’s rules, then let’s spend our fuel going to Callia and fight off other well-armed dupes that rounder has blackmailed to bring an innocent man back to an unjust legal system then fight Rounder after he’s had weeks to clean things up and cement his position.”
“If we want to ally ourselves with a hither-to-unknown interplanetary drug cartel and bring Rounder down with their resources before he has a chance to react then I say head back to Overnale.”
“Upon further review, I vote we go to Overnale.”
“Thanks for clarifying (and agreeing with) my position, Jie,” Arvor replies. “The only downside is we eliminate the (tiny) chance of getting to Elliot before Delgado. We can only hope that Delgado is under some obligation to bring him back alive.”
“If Elliot is bright, he will jump again withing 24 hours of landing on Callia – working his passage for at least three jumps before settling.”
“If he is stupid, then Delgado will catch him quickly.”
“Of course the truth may fall in between, but there are far more ways it could go badly for us than ways it could succeed, even if we perform very well – whereas succeeding against Rounder would depend mostly on our own performance, rather than factors outside of our control.”
Will, ever the logical analyst, turn to Max:
“How much does it cost us to go to Callia (presumably without cargo or passengers) and back (assuming we find Elliot)? What if he’s moved on? Do we continue to pursue?”
“Well the mortgage on the Princess costs us the best part of seven grand a day – that’s our main expense,” he says. “We have another mortgage payment due in four days actually which is going to wipe out the majority of our petty cash.”
“Life support and provisions are good for another jump back and forth which was paid for by Chief Round. We would need another tank of gas when we get to Callia – but that’s only going to be around five grand so it’s small beer.”
“Anyway – talking in round numbers, the opportunity cost of going to Callia over Overnale from here works out at about Cr. 80,000 for us.”
“If he has moved on from Callia, then it’s going to get really expensive for us.”
“Callia is a crowded, poor backwater with a class E starport,” states Grim. “The chance of Elliott jumping before the Delgados show up and quietly occupy the lone tarmac that serves as a starport is rather small. However, I am, as always, willing to go with the majority decision and so, if we opt for Overnale, then so be it.”
“I vote Callia,” says Taeva. “Extra bargaining is essential and I don’t really see any future in a duel of detective work vs. Rounder. We are already in his gunsights and appearing on a planet with a shitload of informants/ security/ enemy detectives/ cameras without being spotted running an investigation is beyond our capabilities.”
“Being heroes/Round getting his way are not really relevant, Jie. The galaxy isn’t perfect – our only option is to survive as best we can.”
“Chasing a competing pirate crew will hardly be safe by the way -it runs all sorts of risks. They’re just ones we can plan for where the enemy doesn’t hold all the Aces.”
“We could make our landing at another country’s starport, and use our Grav APC transport to Lorton, where we can pick up the investigation,” Arvor continues.
Max brings up the library data for Overnale.
“So Lorton is one of the city states that comprises the Sea League,” he reads. “Maybe Chief Round’s jurisdiction covers the few surrounding towns that make up the city state, but it certainly won’t extend to any of the others in the League.”
“Says here that the neighbouring country of Parlek actually has the largest starport on the planet, but it’s only Class-C as there are no repair facilities and is used mostly for cargo rather than passengers.”
“So I reckon that we could land the Princess there and then take the AGC to Maraksport. Then I think we are going to have to leave the AGC and rent a minivan. That thing will stand out like a sore thumb and Round will know about us the second we turn up at the city limits driving that great thing.”
“Rounder may not be all that good a cop,” Arvor continues. “He is certainly arrogant, but that does not mean good. His sloppiness is already evident in the investigation he made to find Elliot himself. He is certainly dangerous though – and we should take all possible steps to stay out of his gunsights.”
“There are several avenues to explore with him on Overnale.
1) Rounder – stake him out, tap his communications, follow/track him.
2) Talk with the other witness – the friend from work. He may have noticed things at the warehouse. He may have something that will give us a lead to the drugs.
3) Make underworld contacts re: drug cartels on Overnale – find possible buyers.
4) Further research into Ambas Lazarczuk – we may discover who he dealt with, shipped “wheat” to.”
Jie looks to the Captain from her astrogation consol. Her fingers ready to type in the code for the destination.
All eyes are upon Will to make the casting vote. He thinks for a long hard moment before he gives his final decision.
“To Overnale,” he finally says in a decisive tone. “Make it so.”
“Aye-aye, Cap’n,” Jie confirms as she types in the coordinates for the long journey through the blackness of the outsystem to return to Overnale.
Will and Arvor heads for their post and, as soon as Jie gives the confirmation that she has input the route back, Will pulls back on the throttle, bringing the Princess out of orbit, heading for Overnale.