On the News

Characters: All
NPC: Chuck, Simrii & Lt. Mizepsharguliig
Location: Witness Protection Level - Maran Naval Facility
System: Maran

1126.2.7 - 07:50 Imperial Time, 7:50 Vilani Time

"It seems we've made the news," Darrurz states flatly.

The TNS logo appears for two seconds and is then followed by a human female reporter. "A system defense recon drone collided with a far trader today. There are very few details available at the moment but at 5:45 Standard Vilani Time, a system defense recon drone collided with a Garu class far trader as it waited in line to enter Meliva starport. There are no reports of any injuries at this time, but the ship had to be evacuated as the collision crippled the ship's fusion reactor."

Cut to video of Miishakaal being caught in the net.

"You can see in this video the drone is embedded quite deeply in the trader's hull. Authorities were able to capture the ship using a retrieval net before it could damage any other ships or the city itself."

Video returns to reporter. "The ship was then towed to the shipyard where an investigation is under way to determine the cause of the crash. Traffic Warden Arkugeshe held a brief press conference."

Video cuts to press conference.

Unseen Reporter #1: "Do you know why the drone attacked that ship?"

Traffic Warden Arkugeshe: "Not at this time. We hope to recover its data logs as well as the trader's sensor logs to determine what happened."

UR #2: "Is it possible that the trader was carrying explosives with the intent of blowing up the city?"

TWA: "No. All of the Navy's scans indicated that the cargo it carried was benign."

UR #2: "What was it carrying?"

TWA: "I'm sorry, I don't have that information."

UR #2: "Then how do you know, it wasn't a terrorist threat."

TWA: "I just told you. The Vilani Navy scanned the ship and said that its cargo was harmless."

UR #2: "But..."

TWA: "Look, if you've got some reason why I shouldn't trust the Navy, then please tell me. I'd sure love to hear it."

Silence.

TWA: "Didn't think so. Next question."

UR #3: "Were there any injuries?"

TWA: "None. The crew was safely evacuated. There were no passengers."

UR #1: "What was the name of the trader?"

TWA: "I'm sorry I can't release that right now."

UR #1: "Why not?"

TWA: "The ship is a crime scene. I don't want any of you snooping around."

UR #3: "Where's the crew?"

TWA: "They're being held in protective custody as persons of interest in an ongoing investigation."

UR #3: "Where are they being held?"

TWA: "Someplace safe."

UR #3: "Are you saying their lives are in danger."

TWA: "I'm not saying anything of the sort. The Traffic Authority and the Navy want them close by while we determine the cause of the crash. Maran is a world of 3 billion people. We wouldn't want them to get lost in the crowd. That's all I have for now. We'll release more information when we have it."

The video returns to the reporter. "TNS has since learned that the far trader's name is Miishakaal. Its distress call was picked up by several ships before a naval vessel, the Zasheshudnam, answered it."

Screen switches to transcript of distress call while the audio plays out. "GK, GK, GK. This is the RZSM Miishakaal under attack by forces unknown. Request immediate assistance. All vessels. I repeat: GK, GK, GK. This is the RZSM Miishakaal under attack by forces unknown. Request immediate assistance. All vessels."

Back to the reporter. "There's no word yet as to whether or not the ship is local to Maran. Sheila Buncovish reporting."

Legal Counsel

Characters: All
NPC: Chuck, Simrii and Lt. Mizepsharguliig
Location: Witness Protection Level - Maran Naval Facility
System: Maran

1126.2.7 - 07:55 Imperial Time, 7:55 Vilani Time

"Congratulations," a female human voice says. Everyone turns to look to see a short woman with dark brown skin and hair and gold eyes in Vilani Naval dress uniform. "Everyone's talking about you." She scans the faces of everyone, settles on Gvarokh and crosses the room to shake his paw. "You must be Gvarokh. I'm Lieutenant Mizepsharguliig. I'll be legal counsel for you and your crew while you remain in protective custody."

Gvarokh introduces the crew to her.

She gestures to the wall screen behind Gvarokh. "Is he a friend of yours?"

A picture of Ali Kergida is on the screen. It's a Murgimdingur Shugilii Enterprises PR photo.

Gvarokh looks at the screen for a moment, then turns his gaze back to Lt. Mizepsharguliig and states, "No. However, I am trying to find out if he is an enemy. On a related subject, what do you know about Murgimdingur Shugilii Enterprises?" After Gvarokh asks his question, he catches himself and says, "I am sorry. I am getting way ahead of myself. What can I do for you?"

"No, no problem. MSE deals in food products. Domestic and Imported. They're big here. Food is a big deal on a planet with 3 billion people and almost half of it is desert." She pauses. She politely states, "What you can do for me is explain why you're trying to figure out if Ali Kergida and MSE are potential enemies."

Gvarokh explains, "The last time we were on Maran, when we sold our speculative cargo, Mr. Kergida was particularly upset, even though arbitration vindicated us, and left us with threats. I just thought it would be worthwhile do diligence to see if he or MSE have the means to carry out something like this.

"I am not saying they were involved. I am not saying they were not involved. But it is the only real lead we have at the moment, so I figured we should check it out."

"Who did you sell your cargo too?" Mizepsharguliig asks.

Darrurz answers, "Hans Glubberfloten of Orem Imports."

"Well, it certainly gives him motive," Mizepsharguliig replies. "Orem Imports is MSE's number one competitor and competition has been fierce." She shakes her head and blinks rapidly. "Wait a second. Are you saying that you don't think that the recon drone's collision with your ship was an accident?"

Gvarokh answers with no hesitation, "We don't know. We do know the drone scanned us, shot us, then rammed us. That sure looks pretty intentional. We could have been the intended target. Or, we could have simply been a target of convenience in some larger 'grand plan' of some sort. We also don't know if that is even a real recon drone. It could have been a 'forgery' of sorts.

"But, assuming that your recon drones work like most military hardware I've had experience with, the actions the drone performed cannot be an 'accident'. Someone told it to do that."

Mizepsharguliig mulls that over before replying. "Ordinarily I'd dismiss that as conspiracy theory paranoia. However, your encounter with Kergida and MSE provides a motive. Actually, the political situation on Maran provides plenty of motive for just about anything bad that happens these days. Obviously, I'll have to track down the transcripts to back up your implied allegation."

Gvarokh is about to protest, but she raises a hand to stop him.

"I'm on your side, remember. Implied allegations are safe with me. Now, if the drone were a forgery, Traffic Authority would've picked it up pronto. Nothing moves around in Meliva space without them knowing about it. Kergida and MSE could not have pulled off any kind of attack with a recon drone on their own. They don't have the resources. But Kergida's uncle would."

"His uncle?"

She walks over to the screen and says, "Show Malik Kergida."

An older man with some resemblance to Ali appears on the screen. The man is wearing a military uniform with lots of colored bars and medals.

"Malik Kergida is the Defense Minister for the Principality of Murgimdingur. Now, the system defense recon drones are the property of the Navy and none of its personnel are local. The Igsiirdi have been quite upset with the deteriorating situation here. They ordered the Navy to transfer all personnel with any sort of local connection to maintain the Navy's position of neutrality. They even imposed neutrality on Meliva since it's home to the starport. Of course, that hasn't stopped the Marans from trying to overturn that edict." She pauses. "If Minister Kergida found a way to infiltrate the Navy with spies..."

"Or hackers," Slade adds.

Mizepsharguliig gestures agreement with Slade. "Or hackers, we're all in trouble." She sighs. "You gentlemen may have gotten yourselves caught up in a proxy war." She checks her watch. "I've got a lot of digging to do. Do you have any questions for me before I get to work?"

Darrurz looks at the Lieutenant with his head slightly tilted to the right and his ears fully standing. He barks to get the computer's attention. "Access trade dispute, Murgimdingur Shugilii Enterprises vs RZSM Miishakaal and Orem Imports. Meliva Downport 1125.35.6. Enlarge Judge's summary."

He paces up and down the room just wanting to do something, anything, his instincts are telling him to jump into action, but he can't as he is caged. He doesn't come across aggressive so much as restless.

Mizepsharguliig sighs some slight annoyance. "I had intended to look that up from my quarters." She gestures at the nearest chronometer. "It's mer ishuuna after all. Rest period?" She smirks in an effort to indicate that what she's about to say shouldn't be taken seriously. "Did you just jump here from Terra?"

Darrurz ignores the remark and barks again, "New holo, access RZSM Miishakaal trading transactions Meliva Downport 1125.35.6. Enlarge second transaction." Showing the sale of one ton (24,000) bottles of liquor for Cr 480,000. "That one probably rang a few bellls." Again instinctively Darrurz smells to catch the scent of the Lieutenant, and he stops mid-pacing to look at her.

The confusion on her face is evident. "Why are you showing me," she looks closer, "a liquor sales transaction? MSE isn't involved. Was there some other disgruntled trader involved in this transaction?"

Darrurz doesn't answer. Instead he tilts his head slightly to the left. "We came into the traffic pattern early in the dran and were scanned by a drone. We were held up from getting into the starport because of something unusual happening in the line in front of us. Chatter suggested it was a boarding action. An hour after we entered the pattern we were attached by another drone. We've only been in-system once before and that was 5 months ago."

"Conjecture: the Miishakaal is on someone's list. And that someone had access to the traffic control data. Not only that but they had the authority to hold up the line. Making enough time to send the second drone out." Darrurz nods to the TNS report "and now we are here. The only reason why we aren't dead is because the drone came in too close or they didn't think the hull was bonded superdense."

Mizepsharguliig's jocular tone has faded. "The hold up was indeed a boarding action. I don't know the details other than it was another suspected attempt to smuggle weapons to saboteurs on Meliva. I *do* know that it started at 02:30 and went on for some time due to a firefight. And from what *you've* just told me about your arrival time in the line, I also know that it was going on for a couple of hours before you got in line. So the hold up in the line had nothing to do with your arrival."

Darrurz doesn't reply to Mizepsharguliig's correction. Instead, he sits down and rubs the scar on his snout with his paw. "Good luck with your digging Lieutenant. If we are on someone's list then you need to stand downwind and watch for movement. Please let us know what you find out Lieutenant, because if we are on someone's list then they aren't going to make the same mistake twice."

"Gee, thanks for telling me how to do my job. What would I do without you?"

She makes her way to the door. With her back to the group, she says loud enough for all to hear, "See you in eight hours for your eyewitness interviews. Try and get some rest. Being cranky won't do you any good." With that she's out the door.

Simrii shakes his head as he gets up from his chair. He makes his way to the other room to find a bunk, but he pauses when he reaches Darrurz. His tone is even, non-recriminating, when he says, "A bit of advice, friend: you shouldn't go about making enemies of the people who are trying to keep you out of jail. It's a bit like pissing on your leg." He resumes his journey to find a bunk to take a nap.

Gvarokh quietly sighs to himself. Through clenched teeth, in a quiet but stern voice, he says, "I want to stress the point that we must cooperate with Lt. Mizepsharguliig and the Navy. We will not be hostile. We will not be rude. Regardless of what we think, they are probably our only way out of this, and definitely the only way we will ever get the ship back. Let them do their jobs and give them the information they need. I expect everyone's cooperation."

"And, as the first part of that, we should do as she advises and get some rest." With that, Gvarokh goes to his bunk and gets as much sleep as he can.

On With the Witness Interviews

Characters: All
NPC: Chuck, Simrii and Lt. Mizepsharguliig
Location: Witness Protection Level - Maran Naval Facility
System: Maran

1126.2.7 - 16:00 Imperial Time, 16:00 Vilani Time

Most everyone took a nap, grabbed something to eat, and read during the mer ishuuna (rest period).

Darrurz started it off by trying to cross reference the ships in port to their last visits and the frequency of visits, but his attempts were rebuffed as the computer informed him that that information is not available to the public. He growled at this and then searched the news feeds for anything that stood out in the shipping news, the markets or the merchants. Battle damage, pirates, smugglers etc. He found more than enough information regarding pirate activity outside of the Maran system (primarily coreward) but not in the system itself.

Smuggling seems to be preoccupied with ruining the neutrality of the Meliva and gaining control of the starport. The situation on Maran has deteriorated with border skirmishes now quite common. There are over fifty countries divided among five factions. MSE and Orem Imports are in separate nations that typically spar with one another. Outright warfare is held in check by the threat of the Vilani Navy punishing the aggressor.

After reading this material for a while, Darrurz got drowsy and took a nap. When he woke up four hours later, he looked into CargoNet and PassengerNet to see who wanted what and where they wanted to go. There seems to be a dearth of people looking to go coreward. Any freight destined to go coreward is typically either weapons, parts for vehicles and ships, or food and medicine. Freight in the other directions is typical.

After taking a nap, Gvarokh researched what he could about Ali Kergida, MSE, and Malik Kergida. He isn't too happy with what he found. Malik Kergida is a ruthless character and his position as Defense Minister grants him unquestioned access and control over the Principality of Murgimdingur's military. The only person that outranks him is the country's leader, Prince Kharlim, but according to political commentary journals, Kergida seems to have his ear.

Gvarokh made an effort to research the legal proceedings for situations such as theirs. Fortunately, the military takes an empirical approach to its judgments. Gvarokh actually feels confident that the sensor logs will clear them of any wrongdoing.

Lt. Mizepsharguliig arrives promptly at 16:00 looking refreshed. She informs everyone that the witness interviews will be easy so long as everyone cooperates with the investigators. She casts a sidelong glance at Darrurz as she says this. All they are is an account of the incident from the witness's point of view. Mizepsharguliig will be there to make sure it doesn't turn into a fishing expedition.

All goes well with the witness interviews. In turn, each of the crewmembers is led to the Interrogation Room where they sit at a nondescript table with Mizepsharguliig at their side. Three people (2 men and 1 woman) sit across the table. One man does all the talking. Each crewmember is asked their name, position on board the Miishakaal, and what they saw and heard from when they entered the system to when they were picked up by the Zasheshudnam.

Since everyone cooperates, the interviews go quickly and smoothly.

After The Interviews

Characters: All
NPC: Chuck, Simrii and Lt. Mizepsharguliig
Location: Witness Protection Level - Maran Naval Facility
System: Maran

1126.2.7 - 20:00 Imperial Time, 20:00 Vilani Time

Thirty minutes after the last interview (Gvarokh), Lt. Mizepsharguliig returns to the room. "There's an old Terran expression, 'I've got good news and I've got bad news.'"

"What's the good news?" Chuck asks.

"Your sensor log backs up your story. You're free and clear of any wrongdoing."

A cheer goes up through both rooms.

"So, what's the bad news?" Simrii asks.

"Figuring out why the drone attacked you is proving to be difficult. Plasma from your power plant melted the computer core and the sensor and comm logs were lost. However, based on the evidence at hand, one forensic engineer boldly stated that the drone didn't malfunction. The others aren't willing to say that yet."

"What's he basing this on?" Slade asks.

"The drone's weapon system was burned out. Overloaded. As the engineer explained in his report, the drones aren't designed to do that. There are safety protocols the drone's AI is supposed to adhere to. One of them is to operate its laser weapon within the design parameters. It is the engineer's belief that the safety protocols were overridden in an effort to inflict 'immediate catastrophic damage.' For what it's worth, the drone shouldn't have been able to inflict as much damage to your ship as it did with one shot. Since your ship survived the shot, the drone was then told to ram you, once again, in an effort to inflict catastrophic damage. Weapon overloading and ramming are not approved tactics for use with the drones. They cost money. Maybe before the war when the economy was in great shape they would've been considered disposable, but not now.

"Unfortunately, it's going to take longer to figure out where those instructions came from. The investigation now moves to the Recon Drone Operations Center. They'll try to determine whether or not any commands were sent from there to the drone.

"I told the investigative committee about your past run in with Kergida and MSE and gave them all of the pertinent info to back up the allegation. They weren't happy. I think they'd prefer a malfunctioning drone over espionage."

"So what's the drill now?" Lakir asks. "While the quarters are nice here, we've got a wounded ship, repairs to assess, and a living to make, as well as an insurance claim to initiate. Plus somebody around here, with some serious pull, wants us dead. That pisses me off, more than any of the other components of the puzzle. Low profile, don't rock the boat, everybody lives to draw a pay check. But kick 'em in the nuts, when the other side don't wanna play nice. Always been my philosophy LT," he offers a sad smile, "not sure how that plays out in the current slag fest you've got happen' round these parts."

Before Mizepsharguliig can say anything, Gvarokh speaks up, "I can understand the preference for a malfunctioning drone, but given the evidence, that isn't the case. Besides, tell them to look at another way: someone foolishly revealed their capabilities by attacking an irrelevant target instead of using it effectively. The Navy has been given a free pass. You now know this can be done, so you have a chance to stop it before something catastrophic happens. Your saboteur completely screwed up.

"If we are correct in who did it, then they totally wasted their surprise shot for revenge instead of effect and utility. If we are wrong, then they are even more stupid. Either way, their element of surprise is totally gone. Even if you can't pin the saboteur, you know they exist, which still gives you an advantage you didn't have before this."

Mizepsharguliig has been chomping at the bit to reply. "Yes, yes, they realize the implications of all this. It is quite possible that you were a test case. If all went well, the organization behind the sabotage would've tried for something larger in scope. Whoever the saboteur is, they're most likely covering their tracks as best they can at this point. I know that the committee will be investigating Kergida, but they can't move against him until they get evidence. Right now, all they have is motive, but that's enough to legally justify surveillance."

"Um, since our story is correct, and that really is a sensor drone, will we get our ship rebuilt? After the full investigation, of course."

Mizepsharguliig goes silent, carefully considering her words. "Lakir mentioned filing an insurance claim. Do you have insurance?"

Gvarokh sighs. "No, we don't. With the war, rates are..."

"Through the roof. Yes, I know." She pauses, bites her lower lip, then continues. "It may be a long time before the investigation is completed."

"How long?"

"Weeks or even months. And I wouldn't rule out a year."

"A year?!" A collective groan goes out from the crew.

She winces as she says, "Since malfunction is likely to be officially ruled out in favor of sabotage, the Navy isn't legally at fault for the damage to your ship."

"Does that mean we have to stay here the whole time the investigation is going on?" Chuck asks.

"No," Mizepsharguliig replies. "In fact, you have to leave in the morning."

"Kicked to the curb then," Simrii says.

"There are plenty of hotels and apartments on Meliva."

"Not exactly fortifiable locations when someone wants us dead," Lakir adds.

She nods. "I know, but considering they were unsuccessful in their first attempt, I think they'll lay low for a while."

"Maybe," Simrii replies, "or maybe they'll try something less exotic, like bullets."

She sighs. "There's really not a whole lot I can do. I'll talk with my CO, maybe he has some ideas. In the meantime," she types at her handcomp and the wallscreen refreshes with 'file uploaded,' "here's the forensic engineer's inspection video from your ship. It'll save you a trip over to the shipyard. Delete it when you're done." She heads for the door.

Slade interrupts her departure. "Won't we need to get to the shipyard anyway, to get our stuff? All of our stuff."

Gvarokh adds, "Yeah, thanks for trying to save us the trip, but we still want to visit the ship to get our belongings. If we are going to be stuck here for weeks to a year, we are going to need our stuff. And if we already know that someone is going to try to kill us, we need our weapons."

"That's going to be a problem. Due to the current political situation, no weapons are allowed on Meliva, outside of the starport section that is. And even there, unless they're on your ship, they have to be checked into the Weapons Storage Space."

Finally, just as the doors open to let her out, Gvarokh asks, "Oh, one more thing. As we both know, the moment we set foot in public space, the media is going to be hounding us for information. Is there anything we are legally not allowed to say?"

"Technically, you can say anything you want. But if you say anything that jeopardizes the investigation, you'll only prolong it, which means you won't get reimbursed for the damage done to your ship any time soon." She pauses. "If it were me, I wouldn't want to stick around in a place where someone tried to kill me any longer than I had to."

"Well, considering we are going to be here for a year anyway, I don't see where extra time is going to reduce our chances of getting killed. However, point taken, especially if we will get reimbursed for the damage done to our ship."

"Good dir, gentlemen." And with that to chew on, she's off.

Next: The Offer