By 3.00am, the enormous bulk of Egypt fills the viewscreen of the bridge completely. It looks as inhospitable as the Library Data said that it would be – a crimson red planet which is partially obscured by noxious-looking grey clouds. Jie passes on the approach course given to her by the Port Authority. Finally, just 15 minutes before landing, they can see the MinCol outpost ahead of them through a break in the clouds appearing like a nest of child’s transparent snow-globes located next to one another.
Will safely bring the Princess down to land at the starport which seems larger than necessary for such a small colony. They then wait as the landing pad slowly descends into the ground on its anti-grav platform and watch the iris valve type roof closing on top of it. They then have to wait 20 minutes for the drones to spray down the hull of the ship thoroughly in order to remove any contamination from the hydrogen rich atmosphere. The drones finally stop their activities and depart as the bay’s lighting changes from red to green to announce that it is now safe for them to depart.
An SPA customs official is waiting for them along with a couple of sniffer drones to investigate the ship and to check for contraband. The official reminds everyone that only bladed weapons are allowed outside the starport – no missile weapons of any type. The passengers are allowed off quite quickly and say their farewells, with special thanks to the Horkalites for their hospitality onboard. Everyone promises to give the Princess a really good review on the forums. Will manages to arouse the HVAC engineer from his low berth without problem and he heads off on his way too. The Horkalites also make their departure in order to look through the markets for additional ingredients and also to see if they are able to make some new converts. Autumn promises to give Miranda a call once they know exactly when the Princess will continue on its journey to Mertactor and the Horkalites head off.
It’s a little after 6.00am by the time the customs officials and drones leave.
“So gang, what’s the plan ‘ere?” Max asks. “Just for me to do me tradin’ shit an’ then carry on as soon as we can? Or does anyone ‘ave anything special they want to do while they’re ‘ere?”
“I only stopped over here one night many years ago en route to Glisten,” replies Taeva. “So I fancy a look round if we have a bit of time.”
“Sure, let’s be tourists while the, er, minions do all the work!” jokes Will.
“Yeah, yeah – that’s right,” replies Max sarcastically. “You just go an’ have fun for three or four days while poor ole Max an’ Autumn do all the ’ard work.”
“Hot that there’s much fun to be ’ad on Egypt anyway,” he continues. “It’s another fackin’ shit’ole. Been ‘ere loads of time on business an’ each time is worse than the last. An’ watch out for them Jonkeereen – they’re a complete bunch o’ bastards, the lot of them.”
“Oh, Max, don’t forget to get everything on that list of replacement spares for those I used up at Parlek,” Grim reminds him.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m on it boss,” Max replies through gritted teeth.
While Max begins to call around all his contacts, the others get ready to leave. Apart from Arvor.
“I would like to track this company down” he says, taking out the fragment of flour sack with the Made in Egypt stamp and the fading manufacturer’s code on it.
He images the data and starts to initiate a yellow pages search on the local ’net.
Leaving Arvor to it, the others head off into the startown. As soon as they are of the terminal, they are swarmed upon by a seething mass of Jonkeereen and assorted muties, all trying to sell their wares which seem to consist of nothing more than tourist tat. They seem to be especially interested in Autumn, Jie and Taeva.
“Hello my new friends? What are your names? Where are you from?”
“Ah, that is one of my favourite worlds – not like those worlds that none of you come from – I don’t like those people at all.”
“You want to buy an amusing T-shirt/tacky souvenir/counterfeit software/a young girl/a young boy/a young grote? I am Ahmed/Mohamed/Sharif/Mohamed/Shady/Mohamed/Mahmoud/Mohamed/Islam/Mohamed and I am your new very best friend in the ’Verse. I am the most honest man you have ever met and ever will meet because there are no more honest people like me in the ’Verse. What you want? I get it for you and I give you very good price. And it will be the finest of all possible merchandise that will not fall to pieces the moment that you are in jump. I give you my word on this and, as I have already said, I am a very honest and reliable and punctual man so you need have no fear that I will let you down. No, not nothing at all.”
“Hey girls, you want to come party with me? I promise that I will not put Rohypnol in your drinks and then take you back to my shack and rape you because I am the most honest man in the ‘Verse. So honest in fact that I don’t even know what Rohypnol is. It is just some random word I made up to make you feel more confident and safe.”
And so it continues. On and on and on and on with every step that the party members make, the hawkers never letting up no matter how many times they hear the word ‘no’. It is starting to become very tiresome.
Through the annoying throng, Will spots something:
“Oh, Grim, look, there’s a tattoo parlour, Pussy’s Prints.”
“Pussy is my best friend,” the throng says as one. “You want tattoo? I get you the best price. Come, come with me and I get you very special price.”
They start pulling at Grim’s sleeves trying to get him inside.
Grim, still fighting the urge to get a tweed wearing, pipe smoking three quarter portrait of Cap’n Will tattooed on his ass, also lets the good Captain know that Tattoo Parlours are for plebes: he prefers Dermatological Artistes.
Taeva looks around for the largest mutie she can see. Her eyes settle on some huge biogeneered brute who stands well over 2 metres tall. Much of the synflesh has fallen off his cybernetic limbs and one arm and one leg appear to have broken down completely.
“We don’t want to meet anyone’s brother, sister or pets," Taeva says to him tossing him Cr. 20. "Or visit their very nice Emporiums. Keep this lot off us and there’ll be a nice fat bonus at he end of the week.”
The brute grins and immediately clubs the closest of the Jonkeereen with his lifeless metal fist that knocks him to the ground.
Grim also chips in another Cr. 20 for Taeva’s mutie, but with specific instructions to the giant to quickly knock Will unconscious should he, Grim, begin acting more bizarely than usual.
The brute grins, just waiting for Will to make a move.
Meanwhile, Arvor continues to try and find the source of the grain. A search of the Yellow Pages doesn’t bring up anything under the reference number and so he has to try some other searches. After a couple of hours of searching, he finally finds something when he manages to get access to the customs records of outgoing freight. The number on the sack is part of a consignment that left Egypt on 059-1107 bound for Overnale. The ship that it travelled upon was an A2 called the Autumn Star and the customs documents were signed by Captain Royce Cain.
Arvor does another search for the vessel. He finds that Egypt is the vessel’s home port. It is currently here after returning from its last journey to Mertactor some three days ago.
Arvor passes on the news to the rest of his colleagues.
“I’m coming back to give you a hand,” says Grim, already tiring of the Jonkeereen, although watching them getting battered by the bionic brute when they step within clubbing range is quite amusing.
“Sorry old chap,” replies Will to one of the locals, “I only deal with people who have at least 14 brothers with conveniently situated businesses dealing in exactly what I want.”
And with that he returns to the ship to “help” Arvor, claiming there is nothing else to do. The others head back too, seeing that Max was indeed right – Egypt is yet another shithole.
Once they are all back, Arvor briefs them all with the information that he has uncovered so far.
“So how do you think we should proceed from here?” asks Grim.
“Hmm,” ponders Arvor. “If we shadow the Autumn Star’s purchaser, we could find the source of the ‘flour’ and discover if the drugs really originate here. If only we had a way to get some reward for tracking this down. Still – while we are here, I want to investigate. Grim and I can see if we can find out which ship’s officer handles purchasing for the Autumn Star. We could ask Max to ask at the chandlers who does the purchasing (and get any other background tid-bits).”
“Max is going to be tied up selling cargo all day,” Autumn interjects. “I can try and snoop around and see what dirt I can find on them though.”
“Thanks, Autumn – in hindsight you would probably get more info at the chandlers than Max," Arvor says. "I notice that people tend to underestimate you.”
“That’s both the blessing and curse of being a blonde,” Autumn grins.
“We might consider paying some locals to keep an eye on the Star’s people and report back to us," Arvor continues. "They probably won’t be noticed because so many of them are trying to attract attention! I don’t really know how wise that is, but I thought I would put it out there.”
“We can do that if they leave the starport,” Autumn says. “It looks like the SPA keeps the place free of the underclass. I guess it doesn’t give the place a very good first impression.”
“Anyway, give me a couple of hours and I’ll see what I can find out,” she finishes before heading out.
The other party members pop out to AstroBurger to get some brunch while they’re waiting. Having now become used to Horkalite cuisine, it all tastes pretty revolting in comparison.
Jie, meanwhile, is still out roaming the streets of Egypt alone:
‘Egypt…a shit hole? Never!’ Jie thinks as she is wholly un-disturbed by the throngs of poor clingers-on. They eventually blur into the back ground as she walks the streets of this way station planet. The fact that every 20 seconds she has to stop a prepubescent thief from picking her pockets only hones her reaction speed. When she has to fend off indecent proposals from genetically altered men showing their engorged crotches (Max would be shamed) she finds new ways to intimidate, a skill that could come in handy right before a fire fight.
Jie finds herself walking the expanse of the rubbish filled, overcrowded dome with her personal bodyguard that she has come to call Mr. Danby. Eventually she winds up in a “Dee-lux” hotel next to the wade pool on the open deck of a penthouse that is two stories taller than all the other squat buildings around it. The height gives her a good view of the junk fires as smoke rises to the exhaust vents on the roof. A small army of servitors cater to her every whim as she bathes in the artificial lighting of the Dome. She suspects one of the gigantic bulbs has a fracture in it and is letting too much Infra-red out. Her tan should be nice in a few minutes. Two groveling Jonkeereen females massage her feet as they apply a new coat of ruby red polish to her toes immune to the extra heat. A series of very sub-par food stuffs and incredibly strong alcohol are given as samples for her perusing by waiters. In the background, she can hear a bunch of maids clean and fold her clothes. Just then a Cyberneticly enhanced man comes over and pulls open his chest cavity, reaches in and pulls out a phone to hand to Jie. She has one of her many lackeys hold the wet phone to her ear.
“Jie Okasawa, Queen of Egypt. How may I help you?”
“Jie, it’s Arvor. I’ve been doing some research into the flour transporter and have come up with some ideas. You may want to return to the ship.”
Jie looks around at the desperately devoted labor fawning over her every whim. She sighs deeply then says, “Sure, whatever.”
She nods to the lackey to return the phone to the cyber-man. She spies the bell boy next to the owner of this hotel and waves him over.
“Hey, how much do I owe you guys for all this?”
“25,065 Yentills, Great Lady!” the Bell Boy replied.
“How much in Credits?”
“Er…5 and a half Imperial credits, Great Lady”
Jie reaches into her back pack. Mr. Danby starts to stop her with a solid thudding to the head then slowly realizes she is the one paying him so he relaxes and lets her take out a 10 credit coin.
“Keep the change.” Jie says dismissively as she prepares to leave the life of super cheap excess.
The Bus Boy looks at the coin in astonished awe. He then turns and walks briskly to the owner whereupon he spits right in his face.
“I will buy a new sheet-hole hotel, Momaar!!! Screw yu!!” he cackles, then runs off.
Just under two hours after she left, Autumn returns with news:
“Seem as if ‘Captain’ Royce Cain is pretty much a one-man-band,” she says. “He doesn’t seem to be terribly well liked here. He seems to have a very high turnover of crew according to what people say. It seems as if most of his crew don’t stay more than a few jumps before they jump themselves. He seems to have a rather chequered past according to the rumours – booted out of Mercantile Academy in Mertactor. The Autumn Star, I’ve been told is a bit of an old heap and he’s constantly struggling to keep up the mortgage payments. The ship has a bad name so it’s very rare that he takes passengers – he has to survive on freight alone most of the time plus a little speculative trading.”
“He lives onboard the ship while he’s in port to keep costs down, so I’ve been told.”
The party members discuss the situation for a while:
“Just pass the info to the Authorities,” Taeva says. “Not our business, and no profit in it. More enemies are not what we need.”
Although Arvor is still keen to follow up on the situation, most of the party members side with Taeva, showing little interest in creating more problems for themselves.
Having little desire to go through all the hassle of wandering around Egypt again any time soon, they return to their training activities for a few hours before reassembling in the passenger common room for dinner.
At around 21.00, Max returns after a hard day of bargaining with the Egyptians to sell the cargo. Everyone immediately notices that his eyes are as wide as dinner plates and he has a maniacal grin on its face. It is quite obvious that he is stoned out of his tree. Again.
“I’m a fire engine!” Max shouts out excitedly as he runs around the lounge. “Dee-dur-dee-dur-dee-dur.”
“Oh look, there’s a fire. I need to put it out with my enormous hose.”
A look of horror comes over the other’s faces as he produces his ShagMeister Superchunky DeLuxe XL and proceeds to urinate all over the couch.
Max’s face grimaces in terror:
“THE FIRE!” he screams. “IT’S NOT GOING OUT!!”
He starts running around the lounge in a mad panic.
Grim sighs with the feelings of deja vu, then draws his snubbie and shoots Max in the butt with a tranq dart again.
Max falls to the floor as before. However, rather than simply slipping into a coma, Max starts convulsing, froth and vomit spewing from his mouth.
Will and Autumn both look at him in alarm. This is not normal. They both rush over to him and see that Max’s condition is serious.
“Help us get him into the Med Bay,” Will says and the others immediately rush to lift Max up and rush him up to Will’s room.
Will and Autumn run him through the Mediscanner. His vital signs are all over the place and he flatlines at one point before Will gives him a jolt with a defibrillator which brings him back to life.
“If that happens again, then he could be a cabbage for the rest of his life,” Will says with concern as he works over Max.
“Maybe that would be an improvement for him,” Autumn replies blackly.
The pair of them fight to keep him alive. After half an hour, his vital signs are back to normal. But Will still seems concerned.
“He’s in a coma,” he tells the others. “A very deep coma – one that I don’t see him coming out of any time soon. We really need to find out what he took and then we can find some kind of remedy.”
Arvor starts going through his pockets. As well as his handcomp, he soon finds a small transparent plastic baggie with a few grains of black powder in it. He hands it to Will who starts to investigate the narcotic substance under a microscope.
As he does so, Arvor goes through Max’s handcomp and looks at his call list. He sees that the last call was to an ‘Ahmed’ at 18.07.
They discuss what to do. Taeva gives the number a try from her own commo, hiding her number.
“Hello? This is Ahmed. Who is dees?” the voice says.
Taeva chats with Ahmed for a while. He is very flirty but doesn’t reveal any useful information and so Taeva gives up on the task.
Meanwhile, Will has investigated the substance:
“I don’t know what it is,” Will sighs. “It’s mostly cocaine – that much I do know, but there is some other compound in there that I can’t reverse engineer.”
They discuss what to do. They talk about trying to going to one of the hospitals to see if they can analyse it better, but realize that this may require their having to answer some awkward questions. They discuss what they should do and decide that they need to hit the streets and see if they can find this Ahmed.
They head off, exiting the starport and find ‘Mr. Danby’ waiting outside in the hope of making a few more creds by acting as the party’s fixer while they are in Egypt. They ask about narcotics and whether he knows anyone called Ahmed.
“Yes, I think I know diss Ahmed,” Mr. Danby replies. “He work out of the basement of Club Alchemy.”
The party members immediately hail a couple of beaten up old ground car taxis and Mr. Danby gives the driver directions to the club. Not surprisingly it’s in a pretty rough part of town – after all, pretty much all of Egypt is the rough part of town, but Club Alchemy looks less rundown than most of the surrounding buildings.
The follow Mr. Danby down the steps to the basement and the giant raps on the door. A viewing slit opens and there is a brief exchange in Egyptian before the thick steel door opens and they are allowed entrance. Inside, through a haze of cigarette smoke, they see that the basement is a small club that is half-filled with vacant looking Jonkeereen who are spaced out, listening to loud techno while a huge holoprojector displays pirated soft porn. In the corner, they see a swarthy looking man sat behind a desk which has bundles of cash on it. He is gabbling excitedly into his commo, shouting over the sound of the techno.
Taeva goes up to him and asks him if he has any gear. Ahmed smiles broadly revealing several gold teeth as he starts to flirt with her again. She hands over a fistful of credits and gets a couple of grammes of coke from him.
No sooner has she taken the narcotics off him though than there is an almighty explosion and the steel door flies open. Four cops burst through the door with stunsticks and snubbies. Ahmed shouts out an order in Egyptian and then proceeds to start stamping on his handcomp while the other Jonkeereen surge towards the cops. Although they are mostly armed with only bottles and random objects, the Jonkeereen seem to have super-human strength as they swamp the first of the cops, easily beating them to the ground.
Taeva immediately drops the baggie so as not to get caught with it and look for ways of escape. She sees that there is a high window above them. The party members see that Ahmed’s two bodyguards are reaching for some serious weaponry, with one of them having a gauss pistol while another has an AK-47. Arvor quickly takes down the one with the gauss pistol and grabs it, but Jie fumbles as she tries to take down the one with the assault rifle. In return, the bodyguard gives her a full blast from the weapon. Without her backpack armor to protect her, Jie immediately falls to the ground stunned. Grim immediately gets some retaliation by taking down the other bodyguard and grabbing his gun.
Meanwhile, at the entrance to the club, a grenade flies through the door which stuns several of the swarming Jonkeereen. This is followed up by the arrival of more cops. This time they are SWAT Team members armed with gauss rifles and they are shooting to kill.
With the Jonkeereen more worried about fighting the SWAT Team, they ignore the party members as they make their escape through the window. Taeva easily smashes the window and hauls herself up. She then gives Arvor a hand up and, together they haul up the others. Grim drags the limp form of Jie up to the window and, together, Taeva, Arvor and Will all manage to pull her up, with Grim following close on her heels.
No sooner have thee party members managed to escape from the basement than they hear a voice calling out to them:
“EVERYONE PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR. WE HAVE YOU SURROUNDED.”
As they look through the darkness, they see that seemingly every rooftop, corner and car has a SWAT Team sniper on, around or behind it, all of whom have their gauss rifles trained on one of the party members.
The party members look at one another for a moment but, with Jie down already and the SWAT Team both out-numbering and out-gunning them, they realize that they have little choice but to obey the order.
Grim looks around at his fellow InterSol™ members, while holding Jie, to see if they have any bright ideas? When he sees that they don’t, he gently lowers Jie to the ground, carefully throws down the Gauss pistol he’d grabbed in the nightclub, and slowly raises his hands.
“Hey I surrender," agrees Taeva. "I only went in for the ambience and decor.”
“I surrender too," adds Will. "I thought it was an academic gay bar! At least, that’s what my friends promised.”
“We’re sorry we lied, Will," says Grim. "It was the only way to get you to come.”
Once Arvor too has surrendered, the unit commander calls a squad of the SWAT Team to come forward while the others cover them. They remove all of the party members’ weapons and then cuff each of them securely, apart from Jie who they bundle into an awaiting ambulance.
“OK, take them down the station with the others,” the unit commander barks before the party members are unceremoniously bundled into the back of a police van. There is a slight delay while some of the Jonkeereen at the club are also piled into the back of the wagon. Once there is no more space inside, a couple of the cops jump in with them and secure the doors behind them, before banging on the side of the van to tell the driver that he can go.
The party members try to ask the guards what they are being taken and what they are being charged for but the guards aren’t in the mood for conversation:
“You’ll get plenty of time to speak at the interviews back at the station,” the sargeant replies gruffly.
“For now, keep quiet,” he adds with some menace as he points his stun baton in the party members’ direction.
It takes a little over ten minutes before the van pulls out up outside the station. Several other vans are already there and it appears that all of the occupants of the club are being led inside. This leads to a long wait until the party members are processed, being checked for weapons, strip searched and then given orange jump suits. They are then led into the small prison which is attached to the police station. The prison is not designed to hold such a large number of inmates at any one time and so it is a squeeze to get everyone inside. There is no women’s only section and so Taeva is thrown into a mixed cell together with the remainder of the party members. Plus another ten Jonkeereen thrown in for good measure – far in excess of the maximum number than the cell is designed for. It’s a tight squeeze and uncomfortable for everyone inside.
Through the bars of the cell, the party members can see that some of the Jonkeereen are being taken for questioning, a few at a time. They are gone for a long while. The party members settle down for a long night inside the cells.