Location: Miishakaal crew lounge, parked at the Limii Starport
The first work shift has come to an end and the rest period has begun. The
crew is taking advantage of this time to grab something to eat and drink and
mingle in the crew lounge.
Gvarokh and Chuck returned from their shopping expedition several minutes ago. The first officer relieves the captain from the bridge. He also informs her that a delivery of replacement equipment for the ship will be arriving from Kunsinan Supply House sometime in the next hour or two.
Although Gvarokh could technically make himself some lunch, as the ship isn't on any kind of alert and his handcomp would beep if something were to happen, Chuck does him the favor of sandwich making anyway.
Minutes later, Lakir returns to the ship. He makes eye contact with the captain and says aloud, "I'm going to write up my recon report," and makes for the lift to the upper deck.
Gvarokh looks rather perplexed at Lakir's manner of reporting, but lets it go.
Chuck hands Gvarokh a plate with a warm flank steak and cheese sandwich. Gvarokh thanks him for it as the aroma gets him salivating. He then scampers to the bridge, eager to take a bite.
The captain is unwinding from her shift in her room with a cup of coffee and
a romance novel that she downloaded on Larkarda. An empty soup bowl lies on her
Her comm chimes stating that she's got an email. It's Lakir's report.
First up is a sketch of the bar interior, with an enhanced one block plan view of the surrounding area, with areas suitable for concealment highlighted.
The interior of the bar shows booths along the back walls, tables throughout the floor area, 2 structural columns at least 3 meters (10 feet) tall in the center of the room. Location of the emergency and service doors are shown.
He has notes about wall screen art, with typical 'smile, we're on candid camera' displays. "The cam network seems to be very extensive throughout the complex. Any actions we take, are likely to be 'caught on film.'
He writes that the food is good and that there's probably a cover charge for the later day cycles.
Timings for transit time to and from the bar, by foot, amount to 20 minutes. Oda's apartment is about 10 minutes from the bar.
"Not much to add to the local plan view of Oda's residence. No cover for concealed approach or observation. Great women’s clothing store across the street, if you're in to the Vilani fashion."
"Recommendations: Observations while crossing the XT line rule out a snatch. Standard sensors will pick up her body mass. Unless she can be enticed into the ship of her own free will, we aren't getting her out by force or unconscious and hidden.
"No overt sign of counter intell on the bar or on her residence. If she's watched, it's probably via the cam network. It's tough to find good OP's in this burg."
And that's the end of report.
Shiraamer mulls this over for a moment then sighs. "Aww hell. Let's get this over with."
Over the comm she says, "Lakir, Chuck, we're headed out to meet with Oda. Bring what you think will be necessary but don't look suspicious. Vincent, head to the bridge and work with Gvarokh. I want you to hack into the security camera grid again and watch our progress. The rest of you be on standby in case things get hot. Questions?"
Gvarokh says, "Uh, not to be a complete mood-killer, but we might want to make sure we get the fuel bladder installation completed first. If we are going to run for it, said running will be far more effective with the bladder."
Shiraamer replies, "I understand that. But I don't want to just sit around for another 32 hours before Oda shows up at the bar again. I just want to meet with her and get a feel for her state of mind. If she's willing to just get up and go, we'll let her know that we've got the bladder installation to get through first and that she should continue with her regular routine. We can arrange a pick up later. I also think that will help alleviate suspicion in case she's being watched at the bar. If she leaves without us, the Bureau won't think that anything's up. We're just another info delivery for Mersshon.
"But I suspect that she knows her brother's family is being held captive and she won't leave without him, which makes things alot more difficult for us. But we'll cross that bridge when we get to it."
Vlad interjects, "Oda is female, yes? Instead of having what will obviously be a meeting of some sort on camera, with off-worlders, maybe the least ugly of you pinkies should try to... 'pick her up' and bring her back to the ship?"
"I'll do it!" Chuck volunteers.
Gvarokh stifles a chuckle.
Shiraamer sighs. "Vlad, I don't know how vargr are, but human women don't just hop on board a starship with a guy they've just met. At least none with any brains. Helloooo! It's way too easy for them to be kidnapped, raped, sold into slavery without anyone knowing what happened, even without a war going on. Let's stick with Mersshon's secret phrase - counterphrase set up.
"Anyone else got an alternative plan they want to throw out there?"
Vincent offers, "Well, I could give it a try. If nothing else I can just go there and try and pick her up, see maybe if she'll invite me back to her place. I can let her know what's going on. Since I will not be needed to watch the cameras, then I can at least try. In the middle of trying to pick her up, I can always slide her a note about us being here, etc and see if she invites me back to her place to talk further, etc. I'll try anything."
The captain's disgust is hard to miss. "Ugh. You men are such pigs. If I wasn't so concerned about Makhidkarun, I'd go by myself. You men have your orders. Chuck, Lakir, meet me outside. I need some air. All the testosterone on this ship makes me want to gag. Shiraamer out." She shuts off her comm to emphasize her point.
Characters: Shiraamer & Lakir
NPC: Chuck& Oda Linnachre
Location: Igakhum's (Shiraamer, Lakir, Chuck, Oda) and Miishakaal (Everyone else)
A few minutes after her departure, the captain informs the rest of the crew
that they'll be able to listen in to her conversation with Oda at the bar as she
has her commdot hooked up. She's advised Lakir and Chuck to do likewise.
Meanwhile, Simrii and Vlad have suited up and armed themselves. Slade has done likewise but stationed himself in Engineering. Gvarokh and Vincent have weapons close at hand but they busy themselves with electronic gear. Vincent, in particular, hacks back into the security camera grid.
As they leave the starport via the "starship personnel" access corridor, Lakir points out that the lack of obvious screening equipment and guards is deceptive. "It's all hidden in the floor and walls."
They exit the starport and walk to the bar. There's more of a crowd than when Lakir was here. Many of the patrons are young Vilani, all of whom are dressed in their outlandish best. Others wear the uniforms of junior officers or senior non-comms of the Vilani military, scout, or merchant services. Several of the customers are wearing non-Vilani outfits. These individuals seem underdressed when compared with the young Vilani patrons, but they aren't barred admittance, which is good as Lakir and Chuck are equally underdressed. Shiraamer's is much better with her pink blouse covered with a long sleeved jean jacket (which hides her snub pistol well) and matching denim skirt.
As they enter the bar, a doorman stops them. He wants them to pay a 10 cr cover charge.
Chuck is about to try and talk him out of it but Shiraamer says that she'll handle it. Unfortunately, the guy doesn't budge. Shiraamer covers for all three of them.
Inside, Chuck and Shiraamer note that the bar is indeed an odd jumble of styles that Lakir described in his report. A holodisplay shares the patron's attention with a LCD stock ticker. Holoposters for classic holies compete for wall space with contemporary and vintage ads. The place is crowded and noisy, but it still retains a feeling of intimacy, thanks to the presence of low walls and planters which break up the room into smaller areas.
As they make their way through the crowd, they find an empty booth in the back near the emergency exit. They sit down with Chuck and Lakir facing one another and Shiraamer on the inside next to Chuck.
A waitress comes over and the group orders drinks to maintain appearances. Shiraamer orders a strawberry daiquiri while the men order Harod Pale Ales. The daiquiri is too sweet and the pale ales are too bitter, but it makes it easier to nurse them.
"Do you guys see her?"
Chuck and Lakir scan the crowd without craning their necks. Neither sees her.
"Too crowded," Lakir says.
"That's fine. We can wait here for a couple of hours if need be."
There's a zero-g racquetball game on the closest holoscreen. The three of them feign interest in it.
As they polish off their drinks, Chuck spies her. "Ahhhh, I see her at the bar. I think I got her attention."
The waitress is there too and thinks Chuck is calling her over for another round. They get the round anyway.
Just as the waitress walks away, after placing the fresh round of drinks on their table, Oda leaves her barstool with her drink and heads towards their table. She seems to be about Shiraamer's height with long blonde hair. Although she tries to hide her scar with it, knowing that it's there makes it easy for them to spot.
When she finally reaches their booth, she smiles and says, "Hi." To Shiraamer she says, "Is this your man?" indicating Chuck. "Because he was eyeing me at the bar."
"I was not!" Chuck stammers, obviously caught.
Shiraamer answers, "No, he's one of the crewmen on my ship."
"Oh, you're a starship captain?"
"Yes, I am. Captain Shiraamer Siirkasaare at your service." She extends her hand.
"Oda Linnachre." She shakes it.
"The quiet one is Lakir. The scammer is Chuck."
She shakes hands with both of them, though rather stiffly.
"I haven't seen you in here before. Is this your first time to Limii?"
"Yes, it's a little close to the border for us. As it is, we had a run in with pirates."
"I hear that Dorvan Island on Larkarda is nice this time of year."
Shiraamer recognizes this as the code phrase. She replies with the counterphrase, "Their clams have too much sulfur in them. The Shibuya Squid is much better."
Oda lets out a deep breath and is visibly more relaxed. "May I sit down?"
Lakir gets up and offers her the inside seat of the booth. She's now directly across from the captain.
"Is it safe to talk here?" Shiraamer asks.
"Yes, I use this place quite often."
Shiraamer isn't entirely satisfied but she decides to discuss the matter anyway. "Mersshon sent us here to pick you up and bring you back to him."
"You're not here for the usual?"
"No. You're job's been cancelled. He told us that you were an employee of Wellesmoor Diversified Products and that you covertly secured a bioscanner prototype..."
"But we know that was a lie. We've learned that you're really sending Vilani fleet info back to him. You're a spy and he wants you back."
"But I can't leave this system. In fact, I'm not even supposed to leave the city, except to go to the starport. The Vilani found out..."
"We know that too."
Oda bites her lower lip in an attempt to not start crying. "Then you know that they've captured my brother and his family and threatened to kill them if I don't do what they say."
"Yes, we do."
Now that someone knows her secret, Oda can't help but spill her guts. "Ever since they captured them, I've been sending misleading info to the Imperium, while passing as much useful data as I could back to the Vilani. I didn't want to do it. I had to. I couldn't let them murder Dyce. If it had been just me, I wouldn't have cared, but how could I be responsible for their deaths too?"
Oda's eyes begin to well up. "If I go with you, the Vilani will take revenge on them. I can't do that. I'm sorry but I can't go."
Shiraamer places her hands on Oda's in an effort to console her.
"We understand. Lakir, may I borrow your PDA."
He slides it over to her.
She types a message. "After you and Chuck look at it, please forward it back to the ship. I want them to answer it as well."
The message is:
While the replies come in, Shiraamer turns her attention back to Oda. "We have
to return to our ship to figure out some details. Do we have to meet you back
here or can we contact you some other way?"
"Does this mean you're going to help me?"
"Yes. We have to work some things out on our end first."
"Ok, ok." Oda is elated by this news. "Let me give you my comm number."
Lakir offers his PDA. "Don't say it out loud. Just type it in."
She does as she's instructed.
"Ok, we'll be in touch." She gestures to Lakir and Chuck that it's time to go.
Vincent gives an "all clear" on the outside security cameras.
Once they're out of the place, Chuck asks, "So we're going for it?"
"Not necessarily," the captain replies, "If I told her 'no' or 'maybe', I would've crushed her hopes. I couldn't do that to her. We might still bail, but she doesn't need to know that. We still have time to come up with a plan. If we don't, we'll sneak out of port without letting her know."
Chucks nods his comprehension.
Characters: Gvarokh & Shiraamer
Location: Miishakaal bridge
"Let's hear it, old friend."
Gvarokh turns to see Shiraamer at the doorway to the bridge. Since her meeting with Oda, except for announcing her return to the ship, Shiraamer has spent the entire time in her quarters. He checks the chronometer and notes that his shift is almost done.
Uncertain how the rest of the crew feels about the three choices presented to them by the captain, Gvarokh shuts the iris for privacy.
"I trust your judgment, Gvarokh," she smiles, "even when I don't follow your advice." She takes a drink from her coffee, "So, please tell me why you think we should forget Oda and high tail it out of here."
After closing the iris, Gvarokh smiles and says, "I thought that might get a reaction."
Returning to a serious mood he continues, "Do understand that this is just my opinion, and I will fully support and enthusiastically pursue whatever course is finally decided. My vote was merely an opinion, nothing more."
"You always do."
"But, for the opinion, my reasoning is that I really don't know that we can succeed. I have the greatest respect for you and the entire crew, but we are just a tiny far trader in a large Vilani empire.
"I cannot in good conscience recommend, or even condone, a snatch. It would likely result in the deaths of her relatives, and probably ruin her. That is the most pragmatic course, but I feel it would be immoral.
"Freeing her family could not be done secretly. They would know who did it. Even with a headstart, we are not fast enough to outrun them to the border. The Vilani empire may not be terribly efficient, but they are thorough, and they would have an excellent chance of catching us. They will also know about the bladder, and so that would provide no real advantage either.
"It just seems to be a very high risk with minimal chances of success. Our only real hope (assuming the un-kidnapping of Oda's family succeeds), is that the Vilani as a whole don't really care about Oda and don't pursue that hard. Or that we are somehow not identified during the operation.
"If, on the other hand, we just leave and head deeper into the Vilani empire, we should be relatively safe and still have plenty of opportunities. Mersshon should be fairly irrelevant; if he can't project influence here to pull his operative, how is he going to influence much even deeper into Vilani space."
Gvarokh pauses for a moment. He has been somewhat animated during the explanation, but still relatively calm. However, he relaxes and sighs, and finishes, "I am probably being too negative on this whole thing. Again. But I thought I should still offer a counterpoint."
She smiles. "And I thank you for it." She drinks some coffee and then continues, "It's always nice to know that your first officer is on the same wave length as you are. I figured those would be the reasons you would give since those are also the reasons I'm hesitant to do it. But you're not alone in your reluctance.
"Chuck couldn't keep his eyes off of Oda throughout the meeting. I don't know if it was his desire to rescue the 'damsel in distress' or get her in the sack, but he later admitted to me that as much as he wanted to help her, barging into the prison seemed like a death wish unless we had the firepower to back it up.
"Vlad was a bit more blunt, calling the prison rescue 'idiotic' and that we were 'easy prey' since we lacked 'the legs and the claws' to pull this off."
She chuckles soberly at this last thought. "I've made my decision. I'll notify the crew shortly. As soon as the bladder gets installed and the cargo is loaded, we'll take off. In the meantime, we need to start looking at different routes and worlds and hopefully we'll be able to continue to fly the skies. I think we should head spinward or rimward and put as much distance between us and Mersshon as possible. I don't think that the Imperium is going to be a safe place for us for a while."
Location: Miishakaal crew lounge
The captain has called a meeting to explain her decision to the crew. But
before she discusses it, she proceeds with status report style questions.
"Slade, how did the fuel bladder installation go?"
"It was fine," he answers. "It was all a pretty routine to those guys so they had no problem setting it with our system."
"Good. Is it fuelled up?"
"Yeah. I can't purify it though. The way the pipes are set up, the bladder feeds into an auxiliary pipe that feeds into the fuel line that runs to the power plant. Once the main fuel tank is empty, I can pump the bladder fuel there and do a reverse feed into the fuel purification plant to clean it up. I know that sounds convoluted but it's the safest way to do it with the space we've got."
"Then that's what we'll do when the time comes. Thank you, Slade. Lakir, how did cargo loading go?"
"Just fine, cap'n. It's a tight fit, but Simrii, Chuck, Vlad, and I were able to maneuver the aluminum and electronic parts into place with some leeway against that bladder. Though, it bears mentioning that if we get into combat and the hold is hit, that bladder's gonna go."
"Thank you, Lakir. I don't think you're going to have to worry about combat today, though."
The crew exchange confused glances.
"Vincent? Any luck cracking the prison's computer network?"
Vincent hides his face in his hands. After a few seconds he pulls them down so that everyone can clearly hear him. "No. I thought that it they might be using a Miishushlada algorithm on the encryption, being that they're Vilani, but that was totally wrong. I'm thinking of trying a Lamdisugagmii series next."
"Thank you, Vincent. That won't be necessary." She takes a sip of coffee before continuing. "Thank you all for your input. Simrii, I understand that you strong silent types just follow orders and don't say much." She winks to let him know that she's just kidding. "I really do value your opinions. I know that some of you really wanted to do the right thing by Oda and rescue her family from that prison. We don't know what we're up against down there. Eventually, Vincent would crack their codes and get in and let's say we disable their comm systems and render them helpless, we'd still likely have a firefight. I don't know if we've got the firepower. But even if we do, poor Miisha here isn't fast enough or strong enough to outrun the Vilani navy which is parked right next to us. The chance for success just seems to small here.
"We're not going to rescue Oda's brother and his family. And we're not going to smuggle her out either. Oda seemed too adamant about not leaving without her brother. I'm afraid that she'd resist us which would force us to drug her. Then we'd have to find a way to get past customs. Lakir's inspection of the customs corridor revealed that smuggling a body wouldn't be too successful. If we get caught, then the Vilani will charge us with kidnapping and Oda would surely back them up."
"Are we gonna tell her?" Chuck asks.
"Yes, just before we jump out of here. To use an old Terran phrase, we're gonna 'take the money and run.' If we stay out of the Imperium, Mersshon shouldn't be able to get us."
"Where are we gonna go?" Chuck asks.
"I thought that we'd stay in Vilani space for the short run, at least long enough to sell that spec cargo I purchased."
"Well so long as we don't head into Dulinor's turf. I hate that prick. He's the one who started this whole mess." He pauses and brightens his disposition. "I hear the Spinward Marches are pretty cool."
Shiraamer placates him with a, "I'll consider it," then addresses the rest of the crew, "If anyone has suggestions, feel free to bring them forward. For right now, I'm going to look for a place either spinward or trailward to sell our cargo.
"Anyone have anything else to add or ask?"
The room is surprisingly silent. Vlad nods his head clearly indicating his approval of Shiraamer's decision.
"Ok, then. We're going to head deeper into the Ziru Sirkaa. We haven't broken any laws yet and we're not working for Mersshon anymore so the Vilani have no reason to harass us. Our first stop is going to be Shishaldin. I think that we'll have some luck selling our cargo there. Unless someone's got something to say about that, let's get Miisha ready for departure."
Lakir raises his hand.
"Did we check the cartridges for the filter masks? Make sure they're compatible with Shishaldin's tainted atmo?"
"Good question. I don't know if the guys did but Shishaldin's atmosphere is also very thin. We would need respirators in addition to the filter masks, which we don't have and I don't think that they're necessarily worth the money. If we need to go outside on Shishaldin, we can use our vacc suits.
"I don't plan on leaving the starport. Over the years I've done most of my business at the starport or in cities where I don't have to worry about the air I'm breathing. I typically only go outside, if it's nice out." She smiles.
Everyone is at their assigned posts as the ship departs from Limii City. Once
outside the city, the departure corridor is less constraining than the one in
that Gvarokh flew through. Shiraamer has no problem flying out.
Theton is a large world and thus has a deep gravity well, as far as terrestrial worlds go. Shiraamer burns the engines for 2 hours and 45 minutes before cutting them off. Shishaldin is less than a third of the size of Theton so Shiraamer wants to make sure that she had plenty of time to decelerate before landing there. She opts to cruise from here out to safe jump distance. It should take another 3 hours and 15 minutes to get there.
"Watch the sensors," she says to Gvarokh, "I don't expect any problems, but if someone starts heading our way I want to know about it. I've got a call to make."
She fires up the radio and inputs Oda's comm number. Oda's face soon appears on the comm viewer.
"I didn't expect to hear back from you so soon."
"Well, I've come to a decision."
"From the tone of your voice it doesn't sound good."
"Not from your point of view, no. We're not going to," the captain decides to speak in code in case someone intercepts the transmission, "go out to that restaurant you recommended."
Oda's face mirrors her feelings of dejection, but she gets the hint. "I understand."
"It seemed too risky and I didn't want to subject my crew's stomachs to that sort of risk. Perhaps if our friend, Mike, had recommended someone with iron stomachs, they'd be more up to the task. I really don't think we are and I'd hate to ruin everything for everyone."
"I know you were really looking forward to it."
"I was, but I don't blame you. What are you going to tell our friend, Mike?"
"I don't know that we're going to run into him anytime soon. If we do, I'll just tell him what I told you."
"You're leaving now, aren't you."
"Yes, we are."
"I wish you well."
"Take care of yourself, Oda."
She terminates the call.
"She took that rrrrather well," Gvarokh offers.
"Did she? She put on a brave face but we built up her hopes and then dashed them to the ground. I don't feel so good about that."
The ship makes the leap to jumpspace without incident.