It’s 08.00 and Autumn, Taeva and Grim are having breakfast with Autumn’s mother, planning the itinerary for the day when Autumn’s commo rings. She looks very concerned as she listens, finishing with the line.
“OK, calm down, I’ll tell the others. I’m sure that we can help you.”
Grim and Taeva look at Autumn waiting for an explanation:
“It was Miranda,” she says. “She was pretty hysterical. She says that there has been a terrible tragedy at the Horkalite Monastery/Restaurant while she was away. The place has been totally ransacked and the local police seem to be totally stumped as to who was responsible and what to do about it.”
“I promised her that we would help,” she says. “The place is only half an hour from here.”
Grim and Taeva are more than willing to help. She calls the others to explain what has happened. Max is not answering but Will, Jie and Arvor agree to help and say that they will be on the next shuttle to Daydah.
Autumn, Grim and Taeva are waiting with the AGC as the others arrive off the 10.37 shuttle from Searcheard. They all get into the vehicle before Autumn takes them on the short journey to the Horkalite Monastery/Restaurant, which turns out to be a vast cathedral building located in a large expanse of cleared jungle, filled with ornate herb gardens surrounded by greenhouses.
Miranda is there to meet them. She is not hysterical any more – she just appears pale-faced and numb.
Arvor instantly spots CCTV cameras around the building:
“Do you have footage showing what happened?” he asks.
She just nods and leads them to an ornate office – or at least what looks like it was previously an ornate office – there are empty places on the walls where it is obvious that artwork would have been. The room contains practically no furniture any more and so most of the party members have to sit on the floor to watch the footage.
The footage shows a black shuttle landing and also black clad figures descending from the skies using grav/belts. It’s hard to put a total number of the figures, but it looks to Jie like a company of 50+. The few security guards are quickly taken down by shots of laser fire. The other Horkalites who are unarmed are quickly taken out through gas grenades and tranq rounds.
Once all of the Horkalites are taken care of, the figures start to ransack the place with military precision. Large pieces of artwork, sculptures and furniture are quickly taken out and deposited in the awaiting shuttle. An unconscious form is also seen to be bundled into the shuttle.
“That’s the Connoisseur,” Miranda says, tears streaming down her face. “They took him away as well.”
After an hour, the pillagers have just about finished their looting. The local police force finally arrive on the scene just as they are finishing. A brief firefight ensues. Several of the police force are taken down, totally outclassed by the intruders, but they do manage to take down two of the pillagers.
“What happened to the two that were taken down?” asks Arvor.
“They were put in an ambulance and sent to Daydah,” Miranda explains. “But somehow they managed to escape as the wreckage of it was found in the jungle ten minutes from the city. All the ambulance crew were found dead and the guards seemingly disappeared.”
“Have the police managed to find out anything about them?” Arvor asks.
“Very little,” Miranda replies with a shake of the head. “They said that a Type-M was seen speeding for jump distance immediately after the intruders left. They are pretty sure that this is how they arrives and departed.”
“Who would have a motive to do anything like this?” Taeva asks. “Did the Connoisseur have any enemies?”
“Not really,” Miranda replies. “We went through all of his bookings over the previous year. He has been booked five times in the past year. Two of them were local and a third was an annual event on Overnale which went fine. There were a couple of jobs that the Connoisseur did not care for though.”
“One booking was on Trexalon about eight months ago. The Connoisseur said that the booking took place in a rather seedy part of startown – far from the-five star luxury surroundings he is used to. His client was a Mr. Gurrinkay Wrorble. The Connoisseur’s Aide said that Mr. Wrorble was no native of Trexalon and seemed like a rather unsavory character.”
“His last booking was also one that the Connoisseur did not care for as well. He was catering onboard a luxury Sky Cruiser travelling around Tarkine for a client called Mr. Kasrinknin. The Connoisseur was incensed that the client kept him onboard for an additional week. Although the client paid handsomely for the additional time, the Connoisseur was incensed at the lack of respect that was shown to him by this action.”
“The only other strange happenings is that we have been visited several times over the past year from unsavory looking characters trying to sell us a narcotic called Philatric, which enhances the sensitivity of the tongue. Naturally the Church of Horkalie wants nothing to do with such narcotics and they were sent away.”
“The police found a gauss pistol under the Connoisseur’s pillow,” she adds. “The Connoisseur loathes all violence and so he must have been really fearful of someone to have warranted buying a weapon.”
“What was the value of all of the items that were stolen?” Taeva asks.
Miranda shakes her head. “Well to us they are priceless – all commissioned from some of the greatest artists from the Spinward Marches over a period of 200 years. To a collector I would imagine that they are worth tens of millions.”
The party members continue to question Miranda, but she seems to have little additional information that is of use.
“What happened to the ambulance?” Arvor asks.
“As far as I know the wreckage is still lying where it crashed in the jungle,” Miranda replies.
“Might be worth our while taking a look at it,” Arvor replies.
The others agree, having few ideas where else to look for clues.
Autumn reassures everyone that she will call Miranda as soon as she has more information and that they will do whatever they can to help find the missing Connoisseur and their missing riches.
“The Connoisseur is a very generous man and I am sure that you will be well rewarded if you can bring him and our artwork back,” she nods.
Autumn gives her a reassuring hug and then they all climb back into the AGC.
The downed ambulance is not hard to find, having cut a swathe through the jungle some 200m from the main highway. Autumn brings the AGC down behind the wreckage and they all peer into the remains of the ambulance.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot to see inside, just some patches of blood. They clamber all over it, looking for anything of interest. Then, all of a sudden, Jie stoops down and picks up a small, ornate button.
She looks at it for a moment and then her eyes grow wide with realization.
“What is it, Jie?” Taeva asks.
Jie removes the top of her armor to reveal the armband that the others have noticed her wearing since the day they met. She lifts up the armband to reveal a jade teadrop which is attached to her arm by silver thread. It looks very similar to the object that Jie is now holding in her hand.
She grins: “Looks like it’s my turn next to return home – to Pagaton.”
The others just look mystified and so she explains:
“It’s a caste symbol from Pagaton,” she explains. “It denotes people’s rank on the world. We are a warrior-world and the system there is not far from Aslan or Vargr society where status is everything and gained by duels – either by power of will or force of arms – usually the latter.”
“Each of these symbols is very precious to us and totally unique. I can see that it denotes a rank of Armbreaker First Class. I’m guessing that someone like this would be some kind of mid-ranking NCO in a merc company.”
“Any jeweller anywhere on Pagaton would be able to tell which country it came from; any jeweller in that country would be able to tell which jeweller created it, and that jeweller would keep records as to who he created it for.”
“So all we need to do is get to Pagaton and, with just a little investigation, we should be able to trace it to its owner.”
She folds her arms in satisfaction, looking forward to a long-awaited return to her homeworld.
“I had better call Miranda and tell her what we have discovered,” Autumn says, flipping on her handcomp.
She has a brief conversation with the Major Savory before reporting back to the others:
“Miranda wants to come with us,” she says. “She will pay for her tickets. She says that it will be hard to identify what belongs to the Church if she doesn’t come.”
After checking the wreckage one last time to make sure that they didn’t miss anything, they get back in the AGC and return to the Church to collect Miranda. En route, Autumn calls Max. Eventually he picks up sounded tired and exhausted. She fills him in with what’s happening. The news that their stay on Mertactor is going to be cut short does not go down well with Max, whose initial response is a torrent of abuse.
It’s like water of a duck’s back to Autumn who continues to nag him until he agrees to cutting his vacation short.
“Bleedin’ ’ell, all right then,” he replies with a sigh. “But I’m bringin’ a bird wiv me – at least for the first leg. I’ll pay her ticket and for her to get back to … where we goin’? Pagaton.”
He brings up sector plans on his handcomp.
“It’ll take two jumps to get to Pagaton. Best to route via Dallia then – there’ll be fack all money to be earned if we went via Mellior or Binges. Them Aslan we helped out on Glisten have a base there. They owe us some favours so maybe there’ll give us a good price for some cargo.”
“Alright then, I’ll get started on buying some trade goods then. See you when you’re all back in Searcheard.”
By the time the party members arrive back at the Restaurant/Monastery, they find that Miranda is all packed and ready to go, discussing plans the Church’s other Major Savory who has been in command since the Connoisseur was taken.
Once Miranda is onboard, Autumn heads back to Daydah in order to see her mother. Both of them are obviously disappointed that they won’t be spending longer together, but Autumn promises to get back to Mertactor as soon as possible to spend longer with her. After a tearful farewell, they head back off to Searcheard, arriving early in the evening.
Miranda is emotionally drained from the revelations of the previous 24 hours and so heads straight to her stateroom. The others all assemble in the passenger lounge where Jie tells them all about what to expect on Pagaton. It sounds like a pretty dangerous place – like a more primitive watery Avastan. Knowing that Mertactor is the best place to buy supplies ready for their time on Pagaton, they spend the rest of the evening compiling a shopping list to give to Max the following day.