After having a quiet evening the night before, everyone is up early in order to continue with their tasks for the day. Grim and Taeva start work on replacing the damaged armor, using the sheets of crystaliron which Max ordered the previous day.
Max heads out to try and track down some spiderbots and a prowlerbot and to look for some more goods to buy.
After 12 hours of hard work, Grim and Taeva are both pretty tired, having nearly finished the replacement of the armor. Max is also pretty tired after spending the day haggling with various Grotes.
“Let’s eat out tonight,” says Max. “No offence to your cookin’, Autumn, it’s lovely. But we’ll be stuck on this ship for another week or so soon and so it’ll be nice to ’ave a change of scenery.”
The others are quite keen for a change as well.
“On of my contacts told me that Siobhan O’Grady’s is the best place for a good feed,” Max says. “Let’s go there.”
So they head off to the restaurant. It’s not large compared to some of the other places at the highport and it’s very popular and so they have to wait to get a seat. After twenty minutes, they still haven’t got a seat, but Max bungs the Maitre d’ Cr.20 and a table is soon found for them."
They order their meals, and then Max gives them a summary of his activities for the day.
“No joy with the bots, I’m afraid,” he says with a sigh. “The Grotes aren’t that keen on them – they’re a bit traditional like that.”
“For upgraded vehicles, they have GUVs available here which will fit all of us in. Do we want one of them, or do we want to wait until we get to Glisten where we can get something more specialized?”
“I didn’t have as much luck as I’d hoped on buying trade goods either,” he sighs. “I got a good deal on some workable alloys at 70% of wholesale, but there were only 10 tons available. I bought some Grotean whisky as well as it’s very well-known. I couldn’t get it at any less than regular wholesale, but ’opefully I can move it a bit further down the line.”
“And if I can’t,” he shrugs, “then at least we ain’t gonna run out of drink any time soon.”
“Excuse me,” says Will. “I need to wash my hands before dinner arrives.”
Will returns five minutes later looking ashen-faced.
He speaks to you softly:
“I think you need to come with me to see what I found in the bathroom.”
Everyone gets up and, as inconspicuously as possible, all head to the Men’s Room.
“Here,” Will says, opening the door to the only stall in the small bathroom.
Inside, slumped up against the toilet is a well-dressed, middle-aged man in a business suit; a white carnation in his buttonhole. He looks as if he is either a businessman or an academic. He’s not a native Grote, as his skin is paler than the swarthy locals.
His throat has been cut very neatly, forming a pool of crimson bloody beneath him.
“The body is still warm,” Will says. “I would imagine that the murder took place around 10-15 minutes ago.”
Will quickly but quietly looks under the stall divider to check the adjacent area but doesn’t see anyone. Then, remembering his favourite holovids he looks up—nope, no vampire hanging from the ceiling:
“Why do I seem to find an inordinate number of people dead on or in toilets?” he asks the others.
Pulling out his handcomp, he snaps a quick couple of photos, including the carnation and the man’s fingerprints. His rusty investigation skills kick in and he quickly rummages through the deceased’s pockets, finding nothing. A quick check behind the fixture and inside the paper dispenser also reveals nothing.
“I suggest we keep away from the body and inform people-unless we want Will to become a suspect,” says Taeva.
Arvor also makes a thorough investigation. He checks that the carnation is real. Arvor thinks that this is definitely odd; not something that someone would normally wear for a business meeting. His shoes are classic black leather brogues, which could be found on any low or mid-tech world in the Imperium. They show very little signs of wear – as if they had been purchased in the last couple of weeks. He is carrying standard Imperial credits that could have come from any where. There is no room key in his pockets.
“We need to report this immediately, and closely observe local reaction as well,” Arvor says. “Presumably someone will “take ownership” of the man, and we will find out more.”
Before Arvor puts on the rubber gloves Jie puts a restraining hand on his shoulder.
“We got to decide fast what we’re doing here. If we’re going to ‘keep away from this’ as Taeva suggests then we should not touch a thing and immediately tell the local law, claim innocence and distance ourselves from this. If we are to get into the very middle of this deadly situation (as usual) then by all means, please examine away. All I’m saying is we should decide now, run or stay.”
Jie lets go of Arvor and looks at the team inquisitorially.
Will then exits the washroom and quickly approaches the maître de. “I’m afraid you’ve got a murder in your mens’. I just found a fellow dead on the toilet with his throat cut. Do you have a police force for this sort of thing? Do you have video surveillance in the john?”
“Oh begorrah an’ bejazus!” exclaims the Maitre d’. “Bajazus an’ begorrah! No, we can’t be doin’ wit’ none o’ these new-fangled video t’ings. No-one would be such an eejit to be messin’ wit’ de Clan an’ all. I better to be speakin’ t’ me manager an’ all.”
The Maitre d’ hurries off to fetch the Manager, whose reaction is the same. He hurries off to the rest room to see the sight for himself and then comes back also looking very pale-faced.
“Don’t be causin’ an alarm nor nothin’ now, fellas,” the Manager says to the party members. “That wouldn’t be good for business nor nothin’.”
The Manager gets on his commo to someone to report the crime. It’s not immediately apparent who he is speaking to, however.
Jie positions herself outside the bathroom door and gently detours anyone from entering. Also she discreetly takes as many pictures of staff and patrons as her watch station allows. She suggests to Max that he combs the premises with their cameras and do the same.
“I’ll get on it,” says Max.
While the Manager is on the phone, Arvor scans the room which is still packed with diners, all of whom seem to be unaware of the commotion in the bathroom.
His gaze alights on a well-dressed business woman in her late-forties who is sat alone in the corner. She is also an Impie rather than a Groat. Arvor watches her as she looks around the room, constantly looking at the door and constantly looking at her watch. More interesting to him, however, is the fact that she is wearing a white carnation in her buttonhole.
Arvor approaches the woman, and catches her eye before sitting at her table. “Madam, I have some very bad news. I believe you are waiting for someone – a amn, who just went to the washroom?”
“Please, take a drink. I am afraid something horrible has happened.”
The woman looks surprised and a little nervous when Arvor comes over.
“Yes, I am waiting for someone,” she says. “Wh-what has happened?”
“I’m afraid that he is dead, madam,” Arvor replies.
The woman eyes open wide in surprise and horror. She is silent for a moment and then she puts her head in her hands.
“Oh God no,” she says shaking her head. “This really is more serious than I ever could have imagined.”
“Please, as soon as you can, tell me who your companion was," Arvor says. "Why you are here on Groat. Who have you been dealing with?”
The woman looks around to make sure that the two of them are not being overheard, and then she speaks to Arvor in a whisper.
“To be honest with you, I have no idea who he is,” she replies. “I didn’t even know if I was waiting for a he or a she until you told me.”
She sees Arvor’s furrowed brow and realizes that she needs to give more information.
“I suppose that I better start from the beginning,” she says. “My name is Dr. Karolina Apfelbaum and I’m the Chief Health Inspector for the Imperial Prison Service – Spinward Marches Sector, based out of Mora.”
“Three months ago, I got a highly encrypted email. It was completely anonymous and none of our experts could determine where it was sent from. All the message said was that ‘something terrible is going on at the Imperial Prison on Mithras’ and that the sender wanted to meet with me in person to tell me what is going on there. The message just gave the date and time for the meeting, the location and said that he or she would be wearing a white carnation as identification.”
She shakes her head and sighs.
“That really is all that I know about him and the reason why I came here.”
She pauses for a moment before she continues.
“We have had our suspicions about Mithras for several years now,” she continues. “There have been a lot of unexplained deaths there and the prisoners’ bodies have never been available for autopsies – they were always buried under rockfalls, escaped and disappeared into the wilderness, were too badly burned to be identified, etc.”
“The local inspectors have spent a lot of time investigating the operations, but have found nothing untoward going on there. Although no Imperial Prison is a holiday camp, the conditions on Mithras are no better or worse than any other prison in the Marches.”
“If the informant has just been murdered, then it certainly adds weight to his information that there is definitely something going on there that someone wants to keep quiet at all costs. But the question is what, and how do we find out more about it?”
“Hmm. I am sorry for your troubles, Madam,” Arvor replies. “If you have a budget to proceed with an investigation, perhaps we can help you?”
“I have been authorized for payouts of up to Cr. 400,000 by my superiors if I can provide evidence of any wrong-doing within the prison system,” Karolina replies.
“Then perhaps we can be of assistance,” Arvor says. “We – my colleagues and I – have from time to time worked succesfully on Imperium contracts that require delicacy. Let us go to a quieter place and discuss how we can bring our talents to bear on your predicament.”
“I could certainly do with all the help I can get right now,” Karolina replies. “Let us head off to somewhere more private.”
Arvor speaks to the rest of the party to update them on what he has learned.
“You all go off with Karolina,” Will says. “I will stay with the manager in case he has more questions about the murder.”
Arvor leads the rest of the party back to the ship where everyone can be sure that they can speak without fear of being overheard.
Once all are back, Arvor speaks again:
“All I know is that at one time, Mithras had a reputation as being a model for prisoner rehabilitation. Clearly there is something wrong – whether on or off Mithras, and whoever is working so hard to silence the message is an important question.”
“Cutting someone’s throat is a very ‘personal’ way to kill someone – clearly a message – one which says ‘keep your mouth shut’. Someone does not want whatever word was being sent to get through.”
“I take it you did not use any special precautions regarding the message that was sent to you – do you have a list of everyone who had accesss to it? It may not be obvious – but perhaps your office was the source of the leak that had your informant murdered. At the least, we must assume you are being followed, and anyone who associates with you could be targets.”
“Well there were quite a few people inside my office who I showed the message to,” she replies. “Obviously my superiors know about it and also our IT security people as we tried to (unsuccessfully) determine who sent it. But all they were able to find out was that it was definitely sent from Mithras itself.”
“However, as the murder took place right at the last minute, I would have thought it more likely that the leak came from the sender’s side rather than my side as being the recipient.”
“But it’s true that, if someone is prepared to murder to keep these ‘secrets’ from being heard, then I agree that I could be in danger now.”
“As for Mithras and the unexplained deaths/missing bodies etc – can we somehow profile all deaths at the prison over the last few years?” Arvor asks. “Perhaps in an overall sense, the prison is excellent, but something specific is going on placing specific people at much greater risk?”
Karolina shakes her head:
“We have had the data on the deaths analyzed, but no one is able to find any patterns. The missing prisoners seem to come from a wide variety of backgrounds – they are from different planets and are in for a wide variety of crimes from murder to fraud – thugs to geniuses – from a wide variety of worlds – street punks to minor nobility – lifers to those inside for less than five years – those due for release in a few months up to lifers.”
She shakes her head again:
“No patterns at all – they are all seemingly totally random.”
“Madam – if you would care to deputize us as imperial agents pro-tem, we can do some small follow up investigation here – determine where this man was registered and check out his room. Doubtless the killers have already done this – since there was no room key on the man, but they may have left some mark there.”
“I would be glad to do this,” Karolina replies. “I came here alone. It was thought that it might scare off the informant if we arrived as part of a large group.”
“I have the power to appoint you as Imperial Prison Service employees if this would make matters easier for you.”
“Does the lady have any suggestions as to how to handle this when we take it … the investigation … to Mithras itself?” asks Grim. “What are the usual procedures, duties, and powers accorded to and exercised by duly deputized Imperial Prison Service Inspectors?”
“We’ve tried sending in Prison Inspectors before and it didn’t work,” Karolina explains. “There are hundreds of different mines across the surface of a vast planet and so it is very easy for them to show us only what they want us to see.”
“So I think that the only way that we are ever going to find out what’s really going on there is to perform an undercover operation is for it to be completely undercover so as not to arouse anyone’s suspicions that someone is checking on them. I have the power to issue you paperwork for you to become regular prison guards … or regular prisoners.”
“I’m happy to leave the details to you. Just tell me what paperwork you would like me to provide you with – and anything else that will help you on your mission, and I will provide it if I am able to.”
“Before we go to Mithras, let us see if we can gather any more information on the deceased while we are still here,” says Arvor. “For your own safety, I would suggest that you stay onboard Unguin’s Princess where Autumn will take care of you.”
“That’s fine,” Karolina agrees. “If someone could just pick up my things from my hotel. I was staying at the Gypsy Caravan Hotel.”
“Very good,” Arvor agrees. “We can start our search for more information on the deceased there too.”
Just as they are heading out of the door, they meet up with Will who has just arrived back.
“Looks like we are on our own trying to find out more information on the deceased,” he says. “There is no police force on Grote. The manager just reported the murder to his Clan Elder. They seem to be totally clueless as to how to handle the situation though – assassinations just don’t happen among Grotians – they think that it is simply too cowardly.”
Arvor asks Will to edit the photos that he took of the deceased so they aren’t too shocking and then they head off around the different hotels to see if they can get an ID on the body.
There are not so many hotels on Grote and so it doesn’t take too long to get a positive ID. The second hotel they try is the Wexford Arms.
“Yes, Sor,” the receptionist says. “That’d be our guest, Dr. Winston Boardman, so it would.”
“Do you have a copy of his ID from when he checked in?” Arvor asks.
“That I would, Sor,” the receptionist replies.
He spends a couple of minutes searching through his files and hands Arvor a print out, which Arvor studies:
“Dr. Winston Boardman,” Arvor confirms. “An Imperial citizen, originally from Glisten. Last address, 15 Ridgemont Parade, Circle City, Mithras. Checked in on 340, so he has been here for 10 days.”
“Can we check his room?” Arvor asks.
“Certainly, Sor,” the receptionist replies.
He rings for a bellhop who escorts the party up to Dr. Winston’s room.
They spend quite a while investigating the room, but there is little unusual to be found there. There is no pocket book there and no papers.
Arvor questions the bellhop further.
“Can you remember what the doctor was carrying when he checked in?” Arvor asks. “Was he carrying anything other than his suitcase?”
“Aye, that he was, Sor,” the bellhop replies. “I remember that he were carrying a slim, leather portfolio. He didn’t want me to be carrying it along with his suitcase.”
“Thank you,” Arvor replies. “You’ve been very helpful.”
The party members leave the hotel and make their way to the Port Authority. Here they quickly discover that a Far Trader, the Empress Xuxa, arrived at Grote on 340 from Mithras and Dr. Winston was one of the passengers onboard. The Empress Xuxa returned back to Mithras on 345.
“Could you match the incoming passengers’ details against exit records to see who is still on Grote and which left?” Taeva asks.
The Port Authority worker checks his records.
“Two returned back to Mithras on the Empress Xuxa while two are still on the station,” the SPA worker says.
“The two who returned were off the highport a long time before the murder, so they are clean,” Arvor says. “We should check out the other two though.”
The SPA worker gives them the names of the two suspects, James Smedley and Ilona Klaus, and they head off to check them out.
They find them registered at the Gypsy Caravan hotel. Arvor asks to speak with them and they are led through to the bar, where the pair have just returned after an evening out at Murphy’s Bar. They were out with business associates all evening. Taeva goes to Murphy’s Bar with pictures of them and she gets it confirmed that they were both in the club all evening.
By this time, it’s pretty late in the evening and the party are out of leads and so they decide to call it a night, so head back to the ship.