Sunday, 01 Oct 2519
Mid-bulk freighter, Space Otter
New Melbourne, Red Sun (Zhu Que) system
1600 hrs, local time
Our tea party is on and important people from the Guild, Alliance, and Civilian factions arrive. These are the movers and shakers of our immediate world and they arrive in style: limos and bodyguards in attendance.
The first party to arrive is a civilian one. Robert Gates and his wife, Lissa Gates-Mann, pull up in their hover limo. Gates is New Melbourne’s version of Allyne Stone. Gates is a fixer. He’s from an old established trading family, one that has been there since New Melbourne’s founding. As such, the man is seriously connected, including having ties to Sihnon in the Core. He exits his vehicle with a bodyguard in attendance. The driver stays with the limo and parks it off to the side of our ship.
Stone and Verity greet them at our forward ramp. Stone does the gentleman’s handshake and the lady’s hand-kiss, and escorts them personally to the ship’s lounge where Oksana is waiting with the tea and food. Verity stays behind to greet arrivals. Gate’s bodyguard accompanies his employer inside. He’s a non-descript looking man: brown on brown, average height and build, disappears right into the woodwork.
Two minutes later, a luxurious wheeled vehicle pulls up and three really big burly guys with earpieces haul out. One opens a passenger door while the other two flank it. A absolutely stunning woman slinks out in a body-hugging sparkly black dress. (Think Jessica Rabbit from that old pre-Exodus movie.) She’s a Hispanic bombshell and just oozing charisma. And she knows it. She saunters up to Verity and introduces herself as Dame Trudy Tudor. Up close and in person, she’s even more stunningly beautiful—dark haired and dark eyed, flawless complexion, graceful and curvy in all the right places.
Stone returns at this point and Verity hands her off to her Captain. Two of her human Rottweilers follow her inside and one of them stays behind on the ramp, guarding the cargo hold. Stone takes Tudor to the Lounge and announces her in Old World style. She knows Robert Graves and greets him on a first name basis. Her bodyguard takes up a position to guard the room. Unlike Graves’ bodyguard, this guy is built like an extreme professional wrestler: taller than average, built like a tank, blonde on blue with an intimidating manner.
The next to arrive is a very nice hover vehicle sporting the Merchant’s Guild arms. Two guards get out and help the passengers out. A redheaded gentleman, normal looking in every way, gets out first. He’s Bill Ramsey and Allyne Stone’s Guild contact for setting this party up. Next out is an attractive woman with long blonde hair. She’s introduced as Violet Heath, the personal assistant to the Guild Master Ryan Harthell, who exits the car last.
He’s a portly individual, with a jolly open mien and tastefully tailored attire. The medallion of office gleams on his chest and his smile bids fair to outshine it. He greets everyone heartily and goes right on up. One guard follows Harthell to the lounge and the other stays at the ramp, taking a flanking position with Tudor’s man.
The last to arrive are the Feds. An Alliance vehicle, sleek and vaguely menacing as only the Alliance can manage it, glides up to our ship. Five men in uniform get out. Two are clearly Privates and they are clearly on guard duty. One stays behind on the ramp and the other slots himself behind his superiors.
Those superiors are, in descending order: Cmdr. George Smith, Lt. Captain Vance, and Sgt. Thurman. Handshakes and names are exchanged and Stone makes a point of showing the Cmdr. our surveillance suite on the bridge. The Fed looks over our camera feeds and seems satisfied. They join the party in the lounge as we close up our ramp. The Private on the ramp remains outside, leaving the civilian bodyguards in the cargo hold.
When Stone joins the others, he finds Harthell firmly ensconced as the life of the party. Meeting and greeting. Pressing the flesh. Networking. Praising the food. It’s all very jovial, really. The women are a little more subdued and Dame Tudor is actually a little arch. But she’s the closest thing this planet has to royalty and she knows it. Harthell sees Smith arrive and booms out the man’s name across the room: GEORGE! How’re you doin’?
They have a history.
Luckily it seems a good one. Harthell knows Dame Tudor too and she gets her share of his bon homie.
It looks like the party is off to a great start. The crew circulates amongst the guests (or in the case of Xiu, stands near the buffet table and enjoys the food and stays out of trouble). Stone mingles with conversation. Oksana circulates with trays of food and tea and drink. As they do so, they learn a few things.
- There are rumors that Lissa is Robert Graves’ enforcement arm.
- There are also rumors that Graves had sown quite a few wild oats in his youth.
- Dame Trudy Tudor is pretty much as she presents herself, the total femme fatale and celebrity. She’s not shy to capitalize on it, either.
- Master Harthell is just enthused about everything, and like Tudor, is pretty much as he appears.
Most of the talk is normal. However:
- The Alliance security measures mandating ship inspections and scans before landfall will be permanent.
- The Guild is not happy with this development, as it delays trade and incurs expenses.
- The Civilians are not happy about this either, for the same reasons
- The Alliance is annoyed at the extra effort and bureaucratic paperwork. Surely they have better things to do than go poking through people’s closets.
Dame Trudy finally sees the cake on the buffet and is in absolute raptures over the real chocolate shavings on it. She takes a slice and delicately picks each shard and curl off the frosting and savors them. She’s quite a sight to see, purring like a cat over cream.
Lissa watches everything but doesn’t mingle much. She does talk to Violet and asks what the woman does. Violet tells her that she’s Harthell’s attaché and his admin assistant. As such, she knows everything Harthell’s doing.
The sole Private in attendance pulls out a data pad to type something on it.
Xiu listens and watches the party for news of her fathers. She’s nervous over being recognized as their daughter. She doesn’t want to bring any repercussions upon them as an Academy fugitive. Luckily, no one seems to have recognized her and she relaxes a little. She actually enjoys herself—the men in uniform are fit and clean and sharp. Oooh, she so loves the nice-looking men in uniform. Yum!
One and half to two hours into the party, Sgt. Thurman compliments our cucumber sandwiches. Stone tells him with justifiable pride that they were grown in our garden on board. The Sgt. is instantly intrigued and asks for a tour of our garden bunk. Lt. Captain Vance seconds the motion, saying the Feds have nothing this fine aboard their ships. Stone escorts them down to the cargo deck for a private tour of our garden space. Cmdr. Smith remains in the lounge.
Oksana circulates with another round of refreshments and overhears the Private mutter “please check it” on his comms. She comes up and discreetly offers her assistance. He turns her down, saying the military will handle it. Oksana doesn’t press the matter but takes note of it. She goes to Verity and tells her what she was told. Would Verity check our surveillance cameras, check out what’s going in?
Violet and Lissa are conversing again. They look unhappy and their tones are low. Violet sniffs and goes back to Harthell. Lissa is left standing alone and Oksana drifts over with a discreet inquiry: Is everything all right? Does she need assistance?
No, thank you.
Oksana smiles and assures her guest that she is here to serve. Please do not hesitate to ask for anything she needs.
As she did with the Private, Oksana doesn’t push the matter but makes a mental note of the incident.
Meanwhile, Verity is at our surveillance station on the bridge and notices that the guards at the cargo ramp inside aren’t at their posts. In one camera feed, one guard is leaning at an odd angle on the bulkhead. That leaves only Dame Tudor’s guard on duty. Verity comms the Captain on our internal personnel channel: Sir, we are down to one guard in the hold.
Okana hears this in her earpiece and excuses herself from the party. She hustles for her med bag and makes tracks to the hold via the lift nearest medbay. Stone makes his way to the bridge via the lift nearest the garden bunk while the Lt. Cpt. and the Sgt rejoin their commander in the lounge. Stone arrives on the bridge just in time to catch sight of Tudor’s guard going down on the cameras.
What the hell?
When Oksana gets to the cargo bay, the first guard is completely down on the deck and the second has just been shot by something. Both are shot cleanly through the heart. Death would have been near instantaneous. The entry wounds are small, with cauterization evident inside the wounds. The exit wounds are bigger than the entry wounds, suggesting not a laser but some other method. Plasma weapons would drill with some heat, yet expand going through the target before exiting. Working very quickly, Oksana is able to determine the angle of fire on the bodies. She can tell it came from the overhead catwalk behind her. She looks. There is no one visible. She adds two and two together.
Armed intruders + Chameleon suits = Trouble!
She comms Stone on her earpiece and gives him her findings as she makes a final check of the two shot men. Nope. They’re gone.
It’s clear now that we have a situation on our hands and we immediately change gears. In addition to her medical report on the guards, Oksana quickly tells Stone of the two incidents she’d noticed in the lounge. Stone acknowledges her and comms Xiu to calibrate our sensors to scan for plasma weapons and chameleon suits. Xiu gets right on it.
Stone returns to the lounge to find the military have already gotten wind of the situation and have drawn their weapons. Stone takes this in stride and tells them to get the guests to safety in our shuttle. Our elevator access is secure. It has only two means of ingress and both are bottlenecks that can be defended with small arms.
Oksana leaves the cargo hold and comms Xiu to scan for extra life signs: look for heat signatures and heart beats. We can track down the chameleon-suited ninjas that way. Xiu tells her that she spotted a flicker of a signature in med bay before it disappeared. Oksana acknowledges and tells her that she’ll investigate.
Meanwhile, Stone gets the military personnel and the guests safely into the shuttle … just as the power goes out. Red emergency lighting flickers to life and in their bloody glow, Stone advises them to hold their position and he will go down to investigate. The Cmdr. and the Lt. Cpt. go with him. The Private stays behind to guard the civilians.
It’s at that point that we realize that Lissa Gates-Mann is missing. Where did she go? Was she kidnapped by the intruders? Or is she hiding somewhere on her own?
Meanwhile Verity is checking our computer systems on a hunch—has anyone messed with them? Yes, yes they have. Our computers are not responding to our commands as they should. She can tell we’ve been hacked.
Oksana checks out the medbay, sneaking into it from her quarters. She takes a few steps inside and is grabbed from behind in a sleeper hold. A chloroformed rag is clapped over her face. Knowing she’s got only seconds, she slips a trank patch from her pocket and slaps it hard against her assailant’s thigh—reckoning that he would not expect it to be her target. (Most people in that situation go for the eyes or the groin and the assailant would be alert for that move.)
She hits her attacker square and the patch’s nanobot-guided needles do their job … but the bastard’s wearing padded armor under his suit and the needles fall short. Oksana loses consciousness and she’s at her attacker’s mercy.
Verity starts searching the bridge to find out if the override is there.
Just as Stone is hustling guests to safety aboard the shuttle, Xiu runs to the engine room to find out if anyone’s screwed with her baby there. Nothing seems out of place. The lights over the entire ship go out and then flicker back on in emergency red. Xiu goes right into the air vents and starts crawling.
Xiu finds the override component between the engine control conduits and the bridge. She comms Verity for assistance.
Meanwhile, Verity spies a distortion like a heat shimmer in the corner of her eye. Knowing that chameleon suits might be in play, she shoots at the distortion (going for center of mass) and manages to hit the intruder’s suit controls. The suit fizzles out and she sees someone in something like ninja body armor.
Knowing the gig is up, the ninja dashes into the bridge elevator and crawls through the ceiling hatch, escaping into the elevator shaft. Verity shoots but misses and he gets clean away. Hearing Xiu yarking in her ear, she comms back and together she and Xiu managed to disable the override, allowing for complete shutdown. All the hatches and doors slam shut, including the elevator shaft hatches … cutting the ninja in two.
Stone makes sure the compartments across the ship are locked down and moves to flood them all (minus the shuttle and the compartments our crew are in) with Halex gas. Halex is a new generation of Halon, used for depriving fires of oxy during onboard fires. It can also knock people out in a pinch, assuming they don’t have their own air supply. Stone also orders the shuttle to take off. They say Lissa is still missing.
If she’s found by the ninjas who knows what they’ll do to her. If she’s one of them as the inside man, we want her apprehended. Stone belays releasing the Halex. He doesn’t want to injure Lissa and orders another life scan of our ship, taking a head count and nailing everyone’s 20.
Thanks to the scan, Oksana is found in medbay. Stone goes to her, checks her out. Nope. Out cold. Strong pulse. Cloth near her head has a funny smell. Stone bags it, comms Xiu the locations of the crew and shuttle, orders her to scan for others. He carries Oksana to the nearest bed to sleep or revive on her own.
When the results come in from the scan, we find one heat signature in two pieces straddling a closed shaft hatch—the ninja who attacked Verity.
Lissa cannot be found. Either she’s escaped the ship or managed to hide her heat signature. We hail her comm and we get no reaction off her comm device or even get a signal off it. It’s like she’s never been on our ship.
Which is impossible, as we all saw her walk aboard.
The rest of our guests and the military personnel are locked down in the shuttle. Stone unlocks the override on it and offers the military the job of taking control of the situation. It’s gone wider than the bounds of our ship—most likely—and Stone has no authority beyond our bulkheads.
Robert Graves, Lissa’s husband, is oddly calm over his wife’s disappearance. We question him on it and he explains that Lissa’s disappeared before. It’s a thing between them. She always comes back though.
We question Violet over her argument with Lissa. She tells us it was about the fees and the tariffs incurred with the Fed mandated inspections. The Guild can leverage for more favorable terms but non-Guild civilians like the Graveses are stuck paying 100%. Lissa was trying to broker a deal.
The Feds say they’ll take over the inspection and investigation from here. After they’re done, we will be free to leave. Until then, stay in town. They’ll need to get our statements.
We try one more time to flush Lissa out. We announce over our all-ship PA that Otter is secure, that it’s safe to come out of hiding. Graves himself gets on the horn and calls for his wife. She doesn’t show.
Oksana’s revived by this point and as we’re all scratching our heads over how Lissa could have gotten off the ship, the doctor offers up her own take on it.
She thinks Lissa could have figured out where the blind spots in our surveillance was—the ninjas certainly knew it.
How did Lissa or whoever was involved get the schematics of our deck plans and systems?
Easy, Oksana says. We have been scanned and inspected before making landfall—twice in the past month. We already know that in at least one instance where we were inspected that the Feds were dirty. Who’s to say that our plans and schematics hadn’t been passed along by them to other parties? Or if the Feds haven’t been hacked on New Melbourne so as to allow access to their inspection scans?
Even if Lissa wasn’t the inside man, how did she get off our ship? How come we didn’t see her on our scans?
Oksana has the answer for that too: Lissa could have hidden her signature by letting the shuttle guests overlay hers. She could have used the reactor and engine signatures—those that would run some heat even at rest—to mask her own. Hell, for all we know, she listened in on our private comm channels and knew what we were doing every step of the way, further aiding her evasion. Oksana also suggests checking the access logs on our ship hatches and doors. If Lissa used any of them to get off, the door would be flagged in our system.
Just sayin’. Cuz she’s Russian and paranoid and that sort of tactical thinking comes naturally to her.
Sure enough, the hatch on the starboard gimbal access shows it had been opened. We’d neglected to check the gimbal space in our search of the ship’s compartments. The outer hatch to the hull (usually for maintenance purposes) has also been opened.
Now we know that someone—most likely Lissa—got off our ship that way. Perhaps the ninjas got aboard that way too.
None of that matters now: we have a missing woman to find. We have two dead guards and a military-led investigation on our hands. We aren’t arrested but we are not free to leave until the matter is cleared up.
We also have to worry about our reputation—what was supposed to be an elegant tea party has been ruined by death and mayhem. What will our important guests think of us now?
Guild Master Harthell thinks this was a brilliant success—a tea party and a murder mystery theatre thrown in? Brilliant! Wait, it wasn’t staged? It was real?! AWESOME‼!
Harthell tells Stone that we should do more of these in the future, only without the blood and gore and for-real deaths. Seriously, Harthell is sincere in his enthusiasm for the evening.
His assistant Violet sighs and rolls her eyes. The man’s unflappable.
Dame Tudor is less enthusiastic and gets out of there as fast as she can saunter out.
We are sorry to see her go. Well, it was a nice party … until the shooting started anyway.
The Commander and the Lieutenant Captain, of course, have their investigation to deal with.
Despite what we’ve learned and speculated, some things still aren’t clear:
- What was the objective of the attack?
- How did the ninjas get aboard?
- Plasma weapons and chameleon suits are not cheap. Whoever is behind this has money. Who?
- Was it an inside job? If so, who’s the inside man?
- Where is Lissa Graves-Mann?
- What is her involvement in all this, if any?
- Is the Fed infrastructure hacked? Does someone have access to plans of our ship—or any other?
- If so, how far does the infiltration go?
The crew stops and takes a deep breath. We could speculate til the cows came home and get no closer to the answers. It is still too early to know. The investigation’s barely started. There are things we can do, however. There’s still a body to get out of the elevator shaft and minor damage to the ship to repair.
We roll up our sleeves and get to work.