Shortly after midnight, Gerald starts getting excited when he sees that there is some algae now appearing on the rocks.
“We must be getting close to an exit now,” he says confidently. “There is obviously moisture in the air which means that we are getting close to a water source. And if there is a water source, there must be a way up to the surface.”
Thus reassured that they haven’t spent the last eight hours trekking underground for nothing, they continue. As they do so, the narrow crevice that they have been travelling down starts to open up wider and wider. Another half an hour later and they stop in their tracks when they see that there is a large chasm right in front of them – and it must be huge as it extends further than their light sources. More importantly, the chasm is filled with slow-moving brackish-colored water.
There is a bank at the side of the chasm that goes up. They head in the direction of the source of the water, confident that this will lead to the surface, even if they may have to get at least their feet wet in order to get there.
After perhaps a kilometre, they see that there is an obstruction ahead – something strange seems to be wedged between the two side of the rock face. They come closer and, as they do so, more details of the object are revealed to them from the gloom.
It is one of the strangest objects that any of the party members have ever seen – and they’ve seen a lot in their times. Although obviously immobile, it looks more like a living creature, or perhaps an abstract sculpture inspired by some alien lifeform. There are no straight lines or symmetries, just curves and spirals. If it were some kind of a ship, Grim would judge it to be somewhere in the region of 5000 tonnes.
The upper half of the object is a mostly smooth expanse of greenish metal, pock-marked with the occasional strange barnacle-like structure or growth. As the party members come closer, they see geometric shapes on the hull, reddish squares and rectangles with fuzzy edges. A shimmering, semi-transparent energy field wraps around the upper section.
At the far end of the object, there is a twisted spire like a narwhal’s horn mixed with the organic complexity of a banyan grove. The lower section of the object is barely visible as it is mostly covered by the dark water. They can see, however, that it contains a tangle of silvery cords, wrapped around dozens of greenish-grey spheres. These spheres range in size from three to
fifty metres in diameter. Some of them show clear signs of battle damage; there are blackened scars along the hull, shattered hollow spheres, and twisted strands of the greenish hull metal trailing behind the wreck. Every few seconds, there’s a stuttering discharge of energy, as the energy field that is wrapped around the upper hull extends to the lower section. The extended field lasts only a fraction of a second before snapping back to its original configuration.
The party members continue their cautious approach. The narrow bank that they are travelling along leans right up against the upper half of the vessel and so they are now standing right next to it. All are somewhat wary of touching it, however.
Stian sends his drones around in order to investigate it fully and to look for signs of an entrance, but none are apparent.
The party members spend quite a while discussing what they should do about the vessel. Some want nothing to do with it. Gerald, however, is practically delirious with excitement, telling the others that this is quite obviously an artifact from the Ancients – perhaps the largest and most complete one ever discovered by Humaniti – most definitely the Holy Grail for any archeologist -there’s no way he is simply going to pass it by.
There is still the question of how to get inside it. While debating this matter, Jie trips over and falls onto the side of vessel, and promptly disappears, much to the alarm of the other party members. Before they have a chance to start discussing what they should do next, however, Jie’s head appears through the side of the vessel once more, looking somewhat surprised, sheepish and rather dirty as she fell into a patch of muddy water.
Having now learned how to enter the ship and that it is not going to kill them, the rest of the party head in after her. They find themselves standing in shin deep murky water – similar to a paddy field. There is an artificial gravity of 1G,their sensors are showing that the air is breathable and the shimmering energy shield above them sheds light and heat similar to a warm spring day on Earth. What is most strange about it, however, is that the area is substantially bigger than it appeared from the outside – impossibly so.
As they are standing around trying to get their heads around the strange sites, five large plant creatures rise up from the murky waters and attack the party members. The injured Gerald who is wearing little in the way of armor is an easy target for them and he is immediately taken down. The hapless Jie continues her bad run of luck and is also taken down before she realizes what hit her. Will has better luck, avoiding getting taken down. Fortunately the plant creatures aren’t moving that fast and, with the element of surprise now gone, they are quite quickly mown down by Taeva, Stian, Jie and Will before they can cause much more damage to the others.
Will immediately sees to the fallen while the others form a defensive perimeter around the injured. There are no more attacks, however.
Once both Jie and Gerald are back on their feet again, they decide not to spend any longer in the paddy field than they need to, and head for the closest object that rises up from the field, which is just a couple of hundred metres away.
This turns out to be a four-level stepped ziggurat. The steps are three metres tall and sheer, making them an impossible climb without assistance. At each level, the walls are decorated with strange symbols. Gerald recognizes them as being somewhat similar to droyne, but not so much that he can understand their meanings.
Taeva fires off her grappling hook and is easily is able to get to the top of the ziggurat. She helps the others until they are all up. At the top of the ziggurat is a solid cube of metal, three metres to a side, which is also decorated with glyphs. After a while, they start to press the glyphs at random until three of the four sides melt open, allowing access to the inside of the cube. Inside is an opaque haze. They step inside it.
Inside the cube, the party members find a dull grey panel, like a door or full-length mirror, attached to the rear wall. Next to the panel is a circular control, composed of five small buttons, one large one, and a trio of medium-sized stones.
They stare at the controls for a while wondering what to do with it. Taeva guesses that it is a teleporter and presses a couple of the buttons, which causes the grey panel to flicker and turn silvery, which is accompanied by a distinct change in air pressure in the cube.
Stian decides to send a drone though. It easily manages to enter through the screen but, as it does so, the display on his screen turns to static and he loses control of it. Stian decides to head in to see what is behind the screen first-hand.
Much to everyone’s relief, he reappears a couple of minutes later holding the drone. He tells the others that behind the portal is a sphere some 5m in diameter which is totally empty, with three iris valves coming from other sides.
Taeva presses a different combination of buttons to see what happens. This time all of the party members decide to head in after one another, with Grim leading the way.
As they enter through the portal, they find themselves in another sphere that seems virtually identical to the one that Stian entered before. The only difference is that this sphere has one iris valve which is welded open. This in turn leads to another similar sphere.
And so the party members have four iris valves to investigate. They check them out one by one. Grim leads the way into the first room, closely followed by Jie and Taeva. The sphere contains a multi-faceted metre-tall crystal, inset into a hexapodal stand. Three of the stand’s legs are broken and appear to have been cut with some sort of laser.
Grim is the first to look into the mirror. He looks confused and somewhat alarm as he studies it. He looks more surprised and alarmed still when the crystal is suddenly occupied by a small visible holographic duplicate of him. The duplicate seems to be trying to communicate with Grim, gesturing and beckoning to him and seems to be reacting to events outside the crystal. Jie and Stian also look into the mirror, but there is no reaction.
Visibly spooked by what he has seen, Grim decides to vacate the room and the others follow him.
They check out the next iris valve which leads to another sphere. The upper half of this capsule is taken up by the ship’s self-repair system, a complex web of microassemblies and atomic
transmuters. Examining the machinery, the party members can see a spinneret in the ceiling weaving strands of a delicate black gauze that hangs from the ceiling. Another device reels in this black gauze a millimetre at a time and annihilates it with a disintegrator beam. Upon investigating the process carefully, Grim realizes that the machinery seems to be stuck in a loop and that disabling the spinnert or the disintegrator would free up more of the ship’s resources. All of the party members are nervous of touching anything, however, and so decide to leave it alone and to move on.
Having exhausted the iris valves leading from the second sphere, they go back to the first to check out the iris valves from there.
They check out the first and see that it contains four small winged humanoids, somewhat similar to droyne, which are floating at the Zero-G point in the middle of the sphere. The humanoids are silvery in colour and are made out of metal. It doesn’t take long to realize that they are robots. Not wanting to risk waking up the robots, the party members decide to leave them alone and instead investigate the last room.
They head into the last of the rooms accessible from these two adjacent spheres. The room just turns out to be damaged and empty, however.
Having now exhausted all of the possibilities from the two spheres, they head back through the portal and find themselves back in the grey cube from where they started out from. Knowing that the first combination of buttons arrived at a relatively safe destination,they decide to search that one rather than risking teleporting into anywhere that could potentially be hazardous.
As Stian discovered, they are back in another of the connecting spheres and start to investigate the iris valves off it.
They start with the first one. The iris valve to the first one is scratched. What can have caused this is a mystery as the material seems impossible to mark with anything.
The sphere behind the door looks as if it is some kind of a locker area. It is mostly empty. However, as they look through the lockers, they discover six small silver disks around 5cm in diameter. The party members spend a while examining them but there are no buttons on them to activate them and so their purpose is not obvious. The party members take them and stow them away for further analysis.
They go through the next door. The sphere inside seems to be damaged and empty. The party members head in to check it out, but find that it is not as empty as they originally thought as they are immediately attacked by a bunch of sentient plants who try to pierce the party members with their stingers.
Once again it is Jie who continues with her run of bad luck as she is immediately pierced by one of the stingers through one of the holes in her armor. The remainder of the party members avoid taking any damage and are able to fight off the remainder of the plants without too much difficulty as, once again they are slow moving, even if they are a lot harder to kill than regular beings. Jie continues to take the worst of it as the stinger embedded in her side continues to sting her even after the plant that it came from is dead. Eventually she manages to yank it out and the pain stops.
There are two other iris valves accessible from the main chamber they teleported into.
“This ‘ship’ we’re on gives me the heebeejeebees,” says Stian. “It’s impossible to know where the teleports are taking us, could be 10m, could be 10 parsecs. Someone remind me what we’re here for please?”
“What are we doing exploring this weird alien ship that’ll probably kill us!” replies Will. “We’re ADVENTURING damn it! This is exactly what Will signed up for. Onward and upward I say! Let’s get this puppy airborne.”
Gerald gives his full support to Will.
“We’re making history, that’s what we’re doing,” he adds. “Does it not excite you to know that this … whatever it is … has been laying here for 300,000 years and we are the first to enter it? Our names will be famous in making the most remarkable archeological discovery in all Imperial history. If it costs me my life, then it will still have been worth it.”
“Archaeological fame is of no interest to me," comments Taeva. “But we should at least cull the wreck for information/ artifacts we can make money on.”
“Unlike the eggheads here who are quite happy to activate ancient battle robots and get us all blown away by them in the name of Science, I disagree.”
“Caution and our safety are paramount. Your big discovery will be pointless if we’re all killed by stupid schoolboy over-curiosity.”
Jie, armour eaten away by the creatures she has named The Dribblers , pieces of flesh torn away by the carnivore plants she has named Maw-Mums and punctured by quasi-sentient thorn flinging flowers she has named Prickles, has had enough.
“We came here for this guy.”
She grapples Gerald by the scruff of his dirty coverall collar and gives a good shaking:
“We got him. I vote we find the simplest, easiest, least damaging path out of here and take it. We’ll return to civilization as heroes which will undoubtedly increase the value of that rock in our cargo hold. We sell it and blast away from this hell hole!”
Jie then quiets down fast, ashamed that her rising (slightly hysterical) voice may have notified yet another human-hungry alien monster to their presence. She looks all around her with paranoia in her eyes, not fear…no not that, just a healthy dose of skittishness. She lets loose Gerald’s collar and for the tenth time re-checks her Laser Carbine power core.
Stian listens to both Taeva and Jie and suggests an option:
“If this ship has been here for 300,000 years as the Prof says, what makes anyone think it’s going anywhere soon? If the damage we saw on the outside is what’s stopping it from moving, we’ve no reason to think it’s going anywhere. If the Droyne discovered it (why did they move a mere 200km from it?) they’re the only others who know about it. We don’t know if they’ve notified anyone about it or what their reaction to it is. There was no evidence of violence in the Droyne village, what freaked them?”
“And, whatever freaked the Droyne and had them up stakes and move, who’s to say it’s not capable of freaking us?”
“We should be really careful.”
“I vote that we leave now,” Stian continues. “Get better gear from the Princess to allow us more time to explore this thing and come back. We have very little food and water with us, how long can we actually be here?”
“With all that said, I still don’t like being here…”
“The Droyne have an in-built fear of all things Ancient,” Gerald explains. “It gives them the willies. 200km certainly puts them at a safe distance from it then – it’s not as if any of their young are likely to stumble over it again.”
“I very much doubt that they have told anyone about it,” he continued. “I interviewed them at length as to why they moved and would not answer the question or even to give any hints. They probably don’t want anyone else to find it.”
“As to leaving and coming back later, I don’t see what we have to gain even if the vessel is not likely to move or be discovered by anyone else. We’ve been investigating it for less than an hour – surely you’re not exhausted yet? And going out and back again means three potential additional encounters with the isopods rather than just the one.”
“I vote that we finish it now.”
“We won’t have better gear than we have now, and we may not get back," agrees Taeva. "This is probably a one off opportunity. Once we leave this place and El Presedente finds out about it, you can bet the surface will be surrounded by armed guards so that he can make some kind of deal with the site to the highest bidder. I’d be surprised if they weren’t there when we emerged anyway if we were watched at all. We won’t even figure on the checklist regarding this site.”
“I agree with the scientists to the extent that it’s now or never. There’s a time to act and a time to pontificate- I’d have hoped that lesson was learned on the Overbluff’s airship. The opportunity is Now.”
“Prof, tell me about your relationship with your brother. From what we’ve learnt in a very brief meeting with your niece and wife it’d be best to know what we’re getting into by helping you out with this,” he says gesturing to the ship around them.
“This is definitely going to get us all into Zos’s good books,” Gerald says excitedly. “The greatest archaeological find in the history of the Imperium? This is really going to put Flexos on the map in a big way. The isopods were interesting enough from a sector perspective, but this is in a whole different league. He will be quick to realize the enormous profits that will come from this find – the huge increase in tourism that it is sure to lead to.”
“No,” he says confidently. “Zos is going to be very happy when we tell him about this. Is someone getting all of this on holovid so that we can show it to him?”
Grim, listening to the ebb and flow of the arguments, waits for a lull and then says:
“I vote, with some misgivings, to continue exploring the vessel, if indeed it turns out to be such. Let’s go into the areas we haven’t explored, and then, if nothing pans out, we can leave if we want.”
Pausing for a moment, Grim adds, with an uncharacteristic hesitation in his voice:
“If all else fails, we could go back to the sphere with the crystal. So far, aside from the rather vicious flora and fauna, and of course this control panel, it’s the only thing that seems to interact with, er, any of us…”
Jie looks incredulously from one crew member to another. Have they so soon forgotten the wailing death scream of this Ex-Marine as a pseudo-tentacled stinger dug its way slowly towards her rapidly beating heart? Or when a muck monster slithered from the murky shallows and nearly lopped off her head? Or how she was almost digested alive as she stood her ground and bought time for the demolitions to be placed? Obviously not.
With a half shudder/half sigh, Jie realizes that the others think putting their collective heads in a 300,000 year old noose is more exciting than finishing the mission. She composes herself for her imminent doom:
“Once I get killed by some critter, these bastards better name it after me!” Jie mumbles under her breath as she cinches the tattered remains of her crew uniform around her waist like a skirt and tightens Stian’s loaned Flak Jacket around her bosom.
Stian casts his mind back to the time he was idly thumbing through the Spinward Sun, bemused by the tales of Elvis being found alive and kicking on the 3rd moon of the gas giant in the Nakege system and remembering how the law states that any Ancient relics and artifacts are property of the Emperor with no exceptions…
He then remembers that Flexos is not part of the Imperium – yet at least – and realizes that the Emperor has no jurisdiction here. So who does? Only Zos, presumably.
Stian thinks to himself "hmm, there was I forgetting my geography…
Still, if this Zos character proves sticky, we can see about popping a spanner in the works with the Baronet, am sure the 3I would take an even greater interest in this shit hole if there were Ancient artefacts to be found…"
And with that Stian gets back to the job in hand of staying alive, checks his chamber and mag, and moves on…
So with the decision having been made, the party member decide to continue onwards – at least for a while longer and head for the next of the iris valves, with Grim bravely leading the way as he did earlier while Jie decides that she would be better off in the rearguard position.
The size of this latest sphere is the same as the others and, as with the others, it is mostly empty. Stacked neatly on the far side,however, is a stack of unattached teleport portals but without associated control consoles.
There is also a device floating in the centre of the sphere that resembles a metal starfish that projects a constellation of lights, 29 of them in total. Four of these lights have data tags associated with them.
Stian approaches the starfish to check it more carefully. He tries to see what is written on the data tags, but it is the same incomprehensible glyphs as they have seen everywhere else.
He calls Jie over:
“Could this be a star map?” he asks her.
“I doubt it,” she replies. “There are just too few lights to make a good map. And 29 is too many items to be planetary bodies in the system either.”
Grim plucks up courage to touch the prongs. Doing so, he soon manages to figure out how to switch the lights on and off. Not really understanding the purpose of it though, he decides that it is best if they leave them alone and continue onwards.
Checking out the next room, they enter a large capsule which echoes with an alarming grinding noise. The available space in this sphere is only a fraction of its full volume, as most of the capsule is walled away. They can see that the capsule is sucking in water from the river that the vessel is lying in and extracting minerals from it. At random intervals, there is a loud report from inside the machinery and the teleporter in the room flickers on and off for an instant.
Having exhausted all of the iris valves from the last nexus, the party members return to the main teleporter room. Grim is keen to retrieve the crystal that contains the replica of himself and the others agree to head down there with him. It is still there, still trying but failing to communicate with the 3D Grim. Grim decides to take it with them and so Jie cuts the remaining legs from the crystal and they lug it back to the teleporter room.
They continue to investigate all of the spheres that they can find. The next nexus that they enter has four iris valves coming from it, one of which is locked with no obvious way of getting in there – the first of the iris valves which have been closed. They continue to make their way through the remaining spheres one by one. For the next hour, they investigate the rooms one by one – some of the rooms are partially destroyed, some are empty, a few of them are confusing, while a few more the party members are able to figure out the purpose of, but rarely can they figure out what good it would do them to start messing with it.
During the journey, the find several alien artifacts either stored or lying among some discarded junk. Among their finds are three pistol-like weapons which they are able to figure out are disintegrator pistols. They find another bandolier with green crystals attached, two small malleable ovoids with no obvious purpose and another of the flat silver disks. The hapless Gerald once again nearly gets hit by a stinger coming from a hidden killer plant, but the party members are quickly able to take it down without anyone suffering any more damage.
They continuing punching buttons and heading through portals. After a while, however, they keep visiting the same destinations over and over again. Although they haven’t been keeping an exact count, it appears that they have visited everywhere, or pretty close to everywhere.
Only the locked door remains out of bounds to them and, by being locked off, it looks as if it could hold the key to the vessel. After discussing their options, the party members decide that the starfish could very well be the device which allows or denies entry to each of the portals. They head back down there and then rewind the DDR and enlarge the glyphs above the locked door. Sure enough, they eventually find that one of the prongs of the starfish – the only one not showing a light, has the same glyph on its data tag. They switch on the light and then head back.
Much to their delight, the door is now unlocked. Even more to their delight, the sphere inside definitely looks like a bridge, with the walls of the sphere completely filled with glowing glyphs. In the centre of the sphere, a small seat floats at the Zero-G point. A voice is speaking to them in a language that they cannot understand, repeating the same sequence over and over again. Gerald and the party members spend a long while trying to communicate back to the voice, but without luck.
Gerald is starting to look very tired now as the adrenalin of the find wears off. He tells the others that he wouldn’t mind if they left now as the vessel is not going to be going anywhere and, with some time spent investigating the ancient artifacts, they might be able to unlock the remaining mysteries of the ship.
Needless to say, Jie is delighted at the thought of getting off the ship as soon as possible and immediately agrees with Gerald’s suggestions. The others agree to and so stow the artifacts that they have found and head back to the teleporter room. Together Grim and Jie lug the crystallized Grim away from the ship.
They exit the ship without too much of a problem. Gerald is still fairly sure that, if they continue to follow the pathway, then they will eventually come up to the surface. The others agree to give it a try, not wanting another encounter with the isopods if it can possibly be avoided.
Gerald’s theory was correct. It takes them another three hours of making their way up the pathway through cracks in the rock, but eventually they find themselves back on the surface, some 3km north of the droyne village. Not wanting to walk, Taeva calls Max, who is very glad to hear from her. Five minutes later and Max brings the AGC to land next to them and transports them back to the ship.
Before taking off, they discuss what they should do next. Gerald, naturally, wants to get back to Lomburing to tell Zos what they have found. The party members are a little nervous of Zos from what they have heard, but don’t have any better suggestions. They also discuss what to do with the artifacts with Gerald. They find that Gerald is fairly reasonable to deal with. Although the artifacts are incredibly valuable, they are insignificant compared to the worth of the vessel itself and so he is happy for the party to take most of what they have found. He does, however, ask for one of each item – a bandolier with green crystals, an ovoid and a silver disk so that he can research them – the remainder he is happy for the party members to take. The party members agree and safely lock all of the artifacts away in the Ship’s Locker.
Will then pilots the Princess back to Lomburing and, in a little over half an hour, they are back at the downport. Immediately that they have landed, Gerald firstly radios his wife to tell her that he is alive and back in Lomburing and then phones Zos.
“Zos will see us in a little over an hour,” Gerald tells them.
They leave the downport. With Gerald along with them, the party members have little trouble in getting through what little security there is there and they are soon in cabs speeding them to the town centre, heading back to the same area as the Museum was located in.
On the journey, Max asks Gerald if he will buy the artwork that was the entire point of their coming to Flexos in the first place. Gerald knows the piece well and normally would be very excited about the possibility of getting it back were it not for the fact that it seems almost irrelevant compared to the value of the ancient artifacts.
Gerald says that he is sure that they can come to a deal and the pair of them start haggling over the price. Max seems to have met his match in Gerald, who is just as skilled at the art of negotiation as Max is. After ten minutes of haggling, Gerald says that the best he can do is Cr. 2.55 million. Max is not terribly impressed with the figure, but realizes that it is better to unload it now rather than dragging it halfway around the galaxy in the hope of getting a slightly better price for it.
It is early in the afternoon by the time the taxis pull up outside the Town Hall. Gerald leads the party members inside, receiving crisp salutes from the few guards who are on duty. He speaks with Zos’s secretary who tells them all to wait a while for Zos.
It takes half an hour before she tells them that Zos will see them now in the sitting room. Gerald escorts them into the room where they see that Zos is already seated. He seems a rather dour character. Gerald introduces everyone to him and Zos shakes each of them by the hand, although his face does not crack a smile. There seems to be little brotherly love between the pair of them and the two speak with one another formally.
Rather than try and explain everything, Gerald decides to let the moving pictures do the talking. He takes his copy of the DDR and pops it into the holoprojector, then sits down with a smug grin on his face while he watches Zos’s reaction.
As Zos starts to realize what he is seeing, his eyes go wide and his jaw hangs slack, but he doesn’t say a word. He just watches the events unfold in front of him. As the movie continues, all can see that he is deep in concentration. Although his eyes are on the movie, he doesn’t seem to be concentrating on the details. He starts to look concerned, but it is a long time before he says anything.
Eventually, after watching two hours of the unedited footage, he says, “Enough.”
Gerald switches off the holoprojector:
“So what do you think, Zos?” he says with a grin.
There is no delight in Zos’s voice as he replies, instead there are traces of fear.
“This is big, Gerald – too big, I fear,” he says slowly. “If word of this find got out, every power block in the Marches would be ready to rip the planet apart to find it and take it – the Imperium, the Darrians, the Sword Worlders, the TTC, Collace … even the Zhos and the Aslan.”
He shakes his head:
“Hell, a decent band of pirates could take it if they tried hard enough. You know our resources, Gerald, despite all that I have done here, they are still tiny in the grand scheme of things.”
He falls silent.
Taeva speaks coolly:
“There is only one solution,” she says. “You must pick one partner to work with and only one.”
Zos thinks about this and nods:
“Yes, you are right. It’s the only way forward.”
He looks at the party members, as if noticing them for the first time.
“Who are you all, anyway?”
“WE’RE INTERSOL!” they all say at once, presenting him with their cards all at once.
He studies one of the cards carefully.
“So, of the power blocks, your loyalties lie with the Imperium?”
The question is met with nods.
“So you’re no supporters of the TTC?”
“That’s correct,” the party members say as one.
Zos goes quiet again, thinking carefully before he speaks.
“I have a problem that I need some help with and I think that you could be the ones to do it,” he starts.
The party members listen intently.
“I made an agreement with the Trexalon Technical Consortium a while back,” he starts. “I gave then the rights to build a small starport on one of the minor moons of the gas giant. The money was good and I thought that they were far enough away from Flexos so as not to get up to any tricks. However, we have recently learned that they have decided to abandon this project and instead construct one clandestinely on Flexos itself. Construction has proceeded rapidly with prefabricated parts, and there are now basic refueling and repair facilities inside one of the fissures on the far side of the planet – not too far from where you discovered the ancient find, although the TTC base is in the northern hemisphere rather than the southern. I decided to let them finish building it. Before too long I was intending to make a deal with the Imperium anyway and so I thought that it would be useful to have the TTC finish the base before we took it from them as a second starport would be a useful thing for Flexos to have. Unfortunately though, now
the new port is approaching completion, privateers in the employ of the TTC have landed two former Sworld Worlds 300-ton Patrollers at the site to provide protection. Crewmen from the ships have been staying in lower Lomburing for the past week, carousing in the tourist taverns and generally making a nuisance of themselves while trying to recruit new crew members.”
He pauses before continuing:
“So my proposal to you is this – to take over the base either by infiltration or assault – or a combination of the two. If you need assistance, then I can lend you my best squad of Aslan mercs – they call themselves the Aslandables – who will pose as offworld ihatei.”
“After you have taken over the base, then I need you to take one of the Patrollers over to Walston. There are some Vargr pirates there who will pay for it. Then come back by scheduled flight and your reward will be the remaining Patroller. It’s up to you as so what you will do with it – keep it or break it up for parts – I don’t care.”
“Naturally this entire mission is totally off the record and I will disavow any knowledge of it as it will cause one hell of a shitstorm with the TTC if they didn’t think that the attack just came from a bunch of pirates/mercs.”
“So what do you say? Any questions?”
The party members ask Zos a number of questions regarding what he knows about the base and Zos gladly reveals all that he knows. He answers a fair few of the questions, but there are still several that he has no idea about – the party members will need to find out the answers for themselves.
Once they have obtained all of the information that they can from Zos, they ask if they can be left alone for a while to discuss the matter privately before they make a final decision. Zos agrees and heads off with Gerald, leaving them alone in the conference room. Taeva puts a finger to her lips and monitors the room for bugs. The sweep comes up as a negative, but they decide to converse in whispers just in case.
Stian is the first to speak, saying that he is very suspicious of Zos, saying that he doesn’t trust the info they’ve been given and wants proof himself.
“It could be that Zos is finding himself out of his depth and therefore looking a little shaky but it could be a play.”
Grim nods in agreement:
“I also agree that Zos seems untrustworthy,” he says. “I would pretty much insist that he deposit both the funds from the cave art and a ‘good faith’ sum into our account before we do the op. We could refund the ‘good faith’ sum after we get back if we decide give the second ship to the Aslan. Now Stian’s worst fears might be realized if it turns out that Zos is not just trying to rip us off, but is setting us up to ‘eliminate the pesky offworlders who know about my multi-billion credit alien ship’, as well as potentially currying favor with the TTC, but that’s a risk we’re agreed on taking, no? We can always remind Zos that we’ll broadcast a highpower signal containing evidence of the find to the entire system as we die anyway, just to remind him that killing us won’t keep the secret…”
The others are in agreement with Grim’s plan and so Grim gets up and tells Zos that they have reached their decision. Once Zos and Gerald have returned, Grim tells them that they agree to the mission providing that Zos buys the cave art from them immediately and also deposits an additional security bond into their account, to be released once they are in possession of the TTC ship.
Zos has no problem in buying the cave art from them. The security bond involves a lot more haggling between Max and Gerald. Eventually they agree on a figure of Cr. 350,000. Once they have shaken hands on the deal, Zos immediately wires Cr. 3 million into the party’s account. Max nods as he gets notification.
With negotiations having been concluded, Zos gives everyone his mobile number and shakes everyone by the hand. Gerald leads them all out.
Once the adrenalin of the find and the negotiations have worn off, the party members realize that they have not slept in 36 hours – they are in no fit state to start infiltrating the TTC today. Instead Gerald arranges suites for them at The Excelsior, the best hotel in Upper Lomburing – at Zos’s expense (but he won’t cover minibar and holovid-on-demand services).
The party members head to their rooms, arrange to meet up for breakfast the next day and then get some well-needed rest.