The tedious journey onboard the Sunwise Star ended up taking even longer than expected. It was only a chance conversation with the navigator a couple of days into jump that informed them that, as Avastan is a moon of a large gas giant rather than a planet, there will be another two days of travelling once they are out of jump. This information leads to groans all round, but they realize that there is nothing they can do about the situation. So everyone just knuckles down to carry on with their training during the day while attempting to get through as much of the ship’s supply of alcohol as possible at night.
The party members are having a late night session when the steward mentions that they will be landing in a couple of hours. They ask her to change the lame holovid that they are now watching for the third time for the forward viewscreen image. He rolls his eyes but then changes the channel.
Knowing that the mission here is to make off with a ship, everyone is keen to see what kind of traffic is in the system.
The small planet before them appears mostly white – it’s going to be another cold one by the look of it. There’s just a smallish strip of green, brown and blue around the equator. Fortunately this is where they are heading to.
They break through the atmosphere and can see the lights of Avastan City below them as dawn breaks over it. It’s a similar size to Newland City – around half a million, with some farms dotted around it. The city is located on the western coast of one of Avastan’s larger seas. The starport is to the west of the city, away from the sea. It’s built very close to the city, with the startown area merging straight into the downtown area.
The party members are more interested in the ships that are around though. Worryingly, the first ship they see is a Gazelle-class SDB in orbit over the city.
Getting closer, they see the starport below them. The rambling starport is relatively well lit. It appears as if the shipyards are to the south of the starport. There are around a dozen ships dotted around the starport, of which five are Far Traders. The Grisst Falcon could be any one of them. There are also a couple of Type-S scouts around plus a ship that none of the party members have seen before. A 200-tonner, it is flat and wide, looking a little like an elongated manta ray.
The Sunwise Star lands at an allotted bay at 0600 and the party members collect their baggage. A ground vehicle with comes to dock with the ship and two scruffy looking individuals enter the airlock. The stewards cycle the locks and the two guys enter clutching a bag of respirators.
“You will be needing these, senors and senoritas,” one of them says flashing a smile. “You no can breathe and you will die. Will not be nice welcome to Avastan!”
The two laugh.
“How much?” asks Max.
“To you, amigo, just Cr.500 each.”
“Cr.500,” Max exclaims. “You are ‘avin’ a bleedin’ laugh. They’re only worth a hundred.”
The guy shrugs and laughs. “But without them I don’t think you will get to the terminal.”
“I’d rather where me friggin’ vacc suit than pay you bastards Cr.500 for each of them.”
“OK, muchacho, I make it Cr.400 each.”
Max haggles a little and gets the price down to Cr.250 each for the respirators.
“Fuckin’ ’ell,” he moans as he keys the credits over. “We ain’t even got off the ship yet an’ I already ‘ate this fuckin’ planet.”
The party members don their overpriced respirators and leave the ship. The air is crisp, but the sun is only just creeping over the horizon so it should warm up later. The cold weather gear shouldn’t be necessary.
“I better stay ‘ere an’ sort the cargo out,” Max says. “I don’t trust these pillocks not to mess it up.”
“Or the thievin’ locals to nick it all.”
“So where are the rest of you goin’?”
“The only information that we have is that Captain O’Neill is under house arrest at the Miramar Hotel,” William reminds the others.
“We need to stay somewhere, so we might as well stay there,” he suggests.
No one has any other suggestions and so they head out of the starport. They are immediately accosted by a bunch of swarthy looking individuals.
“You need taxi, senor? I give you good price!”
“No, you come with me, senor.”
The taxi drivers start to jostle with one another. If it gets any worse, then a fist fight is going to break out.
The party members eventually agree to be bundled into a large, beaten up air/people-carrier and the driver sets off at such a speed that the G-forces push them back into their seats.
“Miramar Hotel, please,” William says.
They have been travelling for over half an hour. The city looks quite new, but it seems as if no one has bothered to maintain anything at all here since the day it was built. The cheap buildings are all crumbling; the roads either compacted earth or potholed. There is no sign of anyone on the streets, but it is still early in the morning.
The figures on the meter flashing so fast that it’s difficult to read them when Arvor realizes that they’ve pretty much been going around in circles ever since they left the starport, a fact that he mentions to Jie.
Calmly, Jie gets her laser carbine and points it at the taxi driver’s head.
“Si, si, senorita,” the taxi driver says, quaking with fear.
The Miramar hotel turns out to be only 2km from the starport. The driver points to the meter and says that the journey came to Cr.200. Jie offers him a deal – Cr.50 and none of his limbs get surgically removed by her carbine. He reluctantly accepts Jie’s offer.
The Miramar is 10 floors high, the shape of a three-pointed star. Arvor looks around. There’s a grav pickup parked opposite with a couple of bored looking heavies watching them and the entrance to the hotel. They pick up a radio and are calling someone.
The group heads through the simple airlock which keeps oxygen in the hotel. The hotel has seen better days. The lobby is empty apart from two more toughs carrying ACRs. They study the party members carefully as they come in, but don’t make a move.
There is someone behind the counter dozing, a trail of drool down one side of his mouth. Arvor rings the bell, startling him awake.
Six rooms are negotiated. The price is Cr.100 per night – too much for a shithole like this really, but no one can be bothered to start yet another argument over it, especially with the two heavies watching their every move. The receptionist hands everyone keycards and tells them that their rooms are on the third floor.
Everyone heads to their rooms to freshen up. William spends a little time on his handcomp getting a little information that will be of use for the mission.
An hour later and William calls everyone into his room so that they can discuss their options, not wanting the heavies in the bar area to overhear anything.
William tells them all that he has found out about Avastan in general.
He then shows them some satellite images of the starport, although they are not terribly high resolution. Launch pads and runways are in the centre of the starport; passenger terminal is on the east side; freight terminal on the north side; API’s offices and all of the administration on the west side, and the shipyards on the southside.
The shipyards are able to take ships up to 600-tons. The repair yards never seem to have really taken off though as most lines in the region prefer to make them in Collace. So the operators started working the same scam that they worked on Grisst – offering discounted prices and then upping the price so as to seize the ships when payment was not made. In the past they have only pulled this stunt on tramp freighters, knowing that the owner/operators would not have the resources to do anything about it. It seems as if they are upping their game though by taking on a small line like Grisst’s – or else they didn’t do their homework to find out how large a company Grisst Enterprises is.
The Grisst Falcon looks like she should be a nice ship – a totally standard A2 Far Trader which is around 20 years old – still pretty new for a ship. She has been regularly serviced throughout her history and passed all her tests – backing up what Ana Pyriem said about it being impossible that she needed so many replacement parts. She is armed with twin triple-turrets, each loaded with a beam laser/missile rack/sandcaster.
Captain O’Neill seems like he’s an excellent captain. He’s pushing retirement now – well into his sixties, but his resume is good. He’s repelled a few pirate boarding attempts in the past and received a couple of medals for his services to the Naval Auxiliaries during the Fourth Frontier War. He seems like the cantankerous sort who doesn’t suffer fools gladly.
William has found a small advertisement in a recent edition of the Avastan Reporter – that the ship will be auctioned on 140-1106 by API. The ad is such a small one that it looks as if they are deliberately wanting as few people as possible to know about it.
The party members discuss various ideas – they realize that they need a lot more information before planning any action. To cover more ground, they decide to split up – Jie and Grim will buy a bottle of cheap booze on the way and head to the grungiest part of the startown close to the API offices in the hope of chatting with some off duty members of the security division. William will head to the auctioneer’s office posing as an interested buyer. Taeva and Arvor will see if they can find out how to contact Captain O’Neill.
They agree to keep in commo contact and then meet up at 20.00 at a cantina which they saw a couple of blocks away from the hotel.
Under the pretense of going for a stroll, Taeva and Arvor look around the building. The two heavies in the grav/pickup are still parked on the opposite side of the street from the hotel, keeping watch.
They look up at the building. They see that trying to sneak in through a window is going to be practically impossible. Because of the thin atmosphere, all of the buildings in Avastan are sealed so that there is a breathable atmosphere inside. As a result none of the windows open. Although it could be possible to break a window with some force, the leak in oxygen would surely set alarms ringing immediately.
They head back inside and head for Arvor’s room where Arvor puts a call into reception:
“Hi, can I speak with Captain O’Neill, please?”
“No, senor,” the receptionist replies. “Is no possible. No one is to call with Capitano O’Neill.”
He puts the phone down.
He thinks for a moment and then calls Max. Max sounds very flustered.
“Is everything alright?” Arvor asks.
“No it ain’t alright,” Max says angrily. “That facking dickhead of a purser facked up the facking paperwork for some cargo of fruits they were carrying and so the Port Authority has seized the whole cargo – most of which is ours. I’m trying to sort it all out, but it ain’t easy because they’re all a bunch of thievin’ shysters.”
“Ah,” Arvor says. “I was hoping you could rustle up a pizza guy’s uniform and some pizzas.”
“You should be able to ’andle that yourself,” Max replies. “Everythin’s for sale on this planet it seems. Order some pizza and then off ‘ooever comes to deliver it a month’s salary for ‘is uniform. Tell him to tell his bosses that ’e was tumbled on the way. If ’e still don’t want to do it, then tell ’im that you really will tumble ’im for it.”
Arvor puts the plan into action and a pizza delivery boy arrives within the hour. As Max suggested, Arvor offers money for the uniform. The boy is worried that he will get into trouble. But the offer of Cr.300 he decides is worth being shouted at for a while. The pizza boy departs and Arvor gets dressed in the uniform.
Arvor starts searching for some heavies from the top floor working down. He finds what he is looking for quickly, on the 9th floor. There are a couple of goons lounging around outside the door to one of the rooms, dressed in cloth with SMG’s.
“Hey, hombre, you no allowed ’ere. This floor is closed.”
“I have pizza for El Capitano,” Arvor says.
“Is no possible,” the guard says. “He no have phone in there.”
“Mr Jiminez sent it for him. And some for you two also.”
The guards look at one another. They seem to find it odd. They shrug.
They beckon Arvor to come closer and ask for the pizzas. They look over them carefully, checking to see if there are any messages hiding under the pizza, but find nothing.
“OK, senor. We take it in for him. No one allowed inside the room with El Capitano. You can go now.”
Meanwhile, William takes a cab to the address given for the auctioneers. He’s dropped off some 20 minutes later outside a dingy looking office block. He studies the nameplates outside. Most of the offices here belong to lawyers. He goes through the airlock and makes his way to the address of Domingo & Cruz S.A – the company handling the sale.
After waiting in the lobby for half an hour, he is led through to the dingy office of Manuel Domingo. Manuel is not exactly overly welcoming.
“So Senor, you are the gringo who is asking about the Grisst Falcon. Why you wanna buy her? She big lump of turd. Everything is a wrong with her. You use her – you misjump – you end up in middle of star and burn to death like my wife’s chimichanga. Is-a this what you want?”
William humors him, saying that his company only has a small budget and is looking for a fixer-upper. He asks whether it would be possible for his engineer to take a look at exactly how bad she is.
Manuel shrugs and is silent for a moment. He seems to be looking for an excuse to say no. But he can’t find one.
He shrugs again:
“OK, si,” he says. “She sitting in maintenance bay dos.”
He scribbles something down on a piece of paper, signs and stamps it.
“Give this to Head of Maintenance and he will let you and your engineer take a look at her.”
“Have you got any other ships for auction currently?” William asks.
Manuel shakes his head. “No, just this uno. You come back in another month or so and maybe we have another.”
“Is the Grisst Falcon secured in any way?” William asks.
Manuel studies William carefully. He didn’t like that question at all.
“Why you ask that question, senor? What is it to you?”
Meanwhile, Jie and Grim ask the taxi drivers where people go for a good time in the startown. The taxi driver delivers them just 3km away, just a block away from the main admin building of API in the starport.
They’re in the right place – on this street every building is a bar, a tacky looking disco or a bordello. But it’s still morning and so it looks like a ghost town. They head to a cafe to drink some coffee while they wait for the place to start to come to life.
A little after midday and the shutters to a couple of the smaller bars open and the pair of them wander inside. They order a couple of cervezas and wait until there’s a bit of trade. A handful of security types in scuffed navy blue cloth armor come in and take their respirators off.
Jie sits at the bar trying to look slutty. And easily succeeds.
“Hola! Niña! You want come sit with us? Your pimp – he can come too!”
Jie and Grim sit with the guys and make small talk. Grim clicks his fingers and asks the waiter for a bottle of tequila, which the guards willingly help them to drink.
As they get more and more drunk, the pair of them tap the guards for information.
They learn that the CEO of API is Jiminez Garcia, but most people on Avastan call him ‘The Pigeon’.
Why ‘The Pigeon’?" asks Grim.
“Because every three months he fly here, he shit on everything and he fly out again!” the guard says, the others laughing loud.
Jie and Grim learn that the expression ‘while the cat’s away, the mice will play’ most certainly applies to API. It sounds like a complete shambles of an organization. Although it owns well over half of the assets of everything on Avastan, every division of the company seems to be out for what it can get, constantly trying to out do one another to feather their own nests.
The company has entered a vicious cycle. It’s been corrupt since day one and so profits were never as good as they hoped they should be. API tried to cut costs by reducing salaries, which led to greater and greater corruption as everyone tries to make a living.
“He who does not steal from API, he steals from his family,” laughs another of the guards.
Jie and Grim get the idea that pretty much everyone is for sale on Avastan. But whether they stay bought and don’t doublecross their buyers is another matter completely.
A little while later, Grim gets a call. It’s William. There’s a strange click on the line and then Grim answers: “What!” in a very loud voice. William hears salsa music in the background and thinks he detects Jie belting out a tune with an all-male chorus.
“We’re all set to visit the ship so you can check it over. I, ah, take it that you’re, um, engaged right now? I’m a bit worried that the brokers, a law firm called Domingo & Cruz, might change their minds. They didn’t seem too happy to have a potential buyer. I think we should act fast. Are you sober? No, scratch that, can you pretend to be sober?”
“Roger ’dat, Perfesser Dingle Pants. Commencing Operation Sober, er, Soberiety?” Grim chuckles. “Yeah, that’s right. Hey Jie, come say hi! The geek is on the phone…what? No, keep singing then…wait, I’m fergettin’ something…oh, yeah…”
There is the sound of a medicine bottle cap being unsnapped, pills shaken out, a hard swallowing noise follwed by the sound of liquid being gulped. A long pause, then a still slightly slurring voice…
“Roger that Will, good thing I brought some AlcAway pills at the liquor store. They won’t make me sober but they weaken the buzz pretty good. These boys are almost out for the night. Let us say our goodbyes, then I’ll get one of these pills into the lounge singer formerly known as Jie and we’ll meet up with you. Damn, says here on the label that the price of using these things is “an extraordinarily strengthened hangover”…
“Meet me in front of the passenger terminal in thirty minutes,” Will says.
Grim and Jie say farewell to their new friends and leave the bar. Jie heads back to the Miramar to meet up with Taeva and Arvor while Grim gets a separate taxi to meet up with Will. Once they are together, they head to the southern entrance which leads to the maintenance yards.
A couple of hours later and they return to the hotel. They head to Arvor’s room to reveal what they discovered.
William brings up a satellite image of the starport and fill in the blanks as to what buildings are what.
Grim then goes into more detail:
“The south side of the starport has a high fence around it – it looks electrified and there’s razor wire on the top as well. There are guard towers every couple of hundred meters with a couple of guards in each of them, one of which has an LMG. They didn’t seem too alert though.”
“Entry to the maintenance yard is through a gate located between the drydocks and the fuel tanks. There’s a squad of five on guard here, armed with ACRs checking documents of everyone who comes in.”
“The Grisst Falcon is in the second of two pairs of drydocks. There’s plenty of cover around in these things. There were two squads of five guarding the ship – one squad inside the ship and one squad outside, again armed with ACRs.”
“The ship looks spaceworthy. There’s some fuel in the tanks – maybe half full. It’s easily enough to get us to the gas giant, but not enough to make the jump.”
“The only way that they’ve immobilized the ship by the look of it is to take out the fusion plug for the maneuver drive.”
This news is met by looks of confusion from most of the party members.
“They are like spark plugs on a ground car,” he explains. “You need them to jolt the M-Drive into life when you start it.”
“They are glass tubes about 1.5m long and about 30cm wide. They are fragile so need to be kept in padded boxes. The tube and box together weight about 10 kilos.”
“Are they easy to get hold of?” Arvor asks.
“Yes most ships would keep a spare as they burn out after a few years. New ones cost around 10k a-piece.”
“How long to put one in?” asks Taeva.
“Five to ten minutes roughly,” Grim replies.
“The API barracks are on the southside of their office block, maybe 600m from the dry dock” Grim continues. “We didn’t see much sign of activity while we were there. But there are vehicles parked outside – we saw a couple of G-carriers and five semi-armored air/rafts.”
“Any more questions?” he asks.
Max arrives back, looking not at all happy.
“Bastards,” he shouts. “Absolute facking bastards.”
“They won’t release the cargo on the Sunwise Star. The idiot purser on the ship screwed up the paperwork for some consignment of fruit that they had on board – only 10 tons of it – and so they’ve seized the whole cargo – 60 tons of which is ours.”
“The Captain of the Sunwise Star is saying that he can’t pay or won’t pay the fines and so there’s a stalemate going on. I don’t know what to do about it.”
“This bloody planet – should never ’ave come ’ere in the first place.”
The others discuss the options for getting into the starport. Arvor suggests that taking out the generator should be a key part of the plan. Grim explains that it can’t just be taken out with a single RAM grenade. It’s going to mean getting inside the generator building and planting a significant sized charge.
He tries to pick up the Port Authority radio messages and is able to pick up the channel within a few minutes and can listen in to the chatter. There doesn’t seem to be a lot happening there at the moment.
He gives some thought to the problem of the SDB in orbit overhead, very much aware that it would make light work of the A2. He suggests a diversion.
Max nods in agreement. “At least there’s only one of the fackers. If we can arrange for it to have already been sent off on some mission and is well away from the starport when we go in,then we should be OK.”
“It will need to be a long way from here though. They’ve got a Gazelle. All we’ve got is a lumbering old cow. And it will take us days to get to the gas giant and then out to jump distance again so we need a bloody good head start on them.”
William is concerned about the danger of harming the guards, worried that it will make their actions criminal.
“This ’ole bloody planet is corrupt,” counters Max. “If I ‘ad a nuke I’d wipe the ‘ole bloody thing off the map. API ain’t the most popular company in the subsector because of all of the stunts they’ve been pullin’. I don’t reckon that we’ve got nothin’ to worry about as soon as we’re out of the system.”
Max stifles a yawn, remembering that no one got any sleep the night before due to the Sunwise Star’s arrival in the night. He looks at his watch.
“I need to head down to the starport again,” he says. “The ship that’s carrying the other 30 tons of Nobble Leather should be arriving soon. I need to be there to check all the papers carefully so we don’t ’ave problems with that one as well.”
“I’ll see you all for breakfast tomorrow. Don’t expect me too early though – I reckon I ’ave a long night ahead of me.”
Max heads out and grabs a taxi back to the starport.
“I want to head back to the bars where we were earlier,” Jie says. “It was too quiet at lunchtime. The place should be more lively now. Anyone else want to join me?”
Having nothing else better to do and realizing that there could be more useful information to obtain, the others decide to all head with her.
Jie was right. The place is completely packed now, full of off-duty security guards plus spacers from the adjacent port.
They head for one of the busiest bars – it’s heaving with patrons and girls of the night, dancing to the sound of a mariachi band. The party members all grab bottles of cervezas and watch the entertainment. After half an hour though, the mariachi band takes a break and the entertainment changes to a live donkey show.
Everyone in the room is transfixed by the show and so there’s no point in trying to engage anyone in conversation until it’s over.
Once it has finished, Jie smiles at a table full of drunk guards and is invited over to join them. They don’t seem to mind when the others join them too, especially when they order a couple of bottles of tequila to share with them. Everyone is feeling pretty chatty.
“What’s with that ship in the port?” Jie asks one of them. “The one that looks like an elongated manta ray? I’ve never seen a ship like that before.”
“Eez good you no see ships like that before,” the guard says with a grin. “Eez Pirate Interceptor, Black Panther belonging to Captain M’tanga Bulawezi. You see that ship out in midspace and eet one of the last things you gonna be seeing, senorita!”
“Have you any idea where Captain M’tanga might be staying?” asks Arvor.
“No, senor,” the guard replies, “But he is sure to be around here somewhere enjoyin’ the fun of the startown. He is very easy to spot. His skin is black like ebony, he has long dreadlocks and his mouth is full of gold teeth.”
Arvor nods and thanks their new friend for the information.
“Let’s split up,” Arvor suggests. “This area is not so big and he does stand out by the sound of it.”
The party members split up and start searching the bars for M’tanga. Arvor’s hunch was right – it takes only ten minutes before Taeva calls in to say that she has spotted him in the Lucky Lucky Club. Everyone meets up again and then they enter the Club. It says ‘Disco’ on the sign, but inside it’s obviously a bordello. There’s a dozen in M’tanga’s gang – an evil-looking bunch who seem to be spending money fast and furiously by the amount of bottles on their table and the attention they are getting from the girls who are hanging all over them.
The party members continue chatting with their new friends for several more hours until tiredness and drunkenness get the better of them and they head back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.