It's evening in the town of Starcom. Edward
"Shark" Teeth collects orders for the North Whipsnade Irish-style whisky
crew -- it will add up to a hundred cases. Tonight he'll pick up the
rental truck and collect the whisky, and then transfer it to the ship in
a quiet spot in the countryside. The cost was agreed to a thousand credits a case (twenty
bottles each), and they figure they can sell it for an easy 150 Cr a bottle.
The allocation of cases is as follows: Shark, 37;
Callisto, 21 (including one for her whole use); Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead, 1; Kalida
Siena, 6; Mich Saginaw, 10; Vonish Kehnaan, 5; the ship, 20.
As for future plans, they discuss what to investigate
next. There are several Wonstar Development Corporation sites around
the world, and Misha Ravanos suggests visiting one or two of them openly.
As for cover, that's not so clear -- Kalida suggests their love of
scuba diving might be enough.
But tonight they're going to the bar to buy illicit
Shark drives everyone to The Last Cab -- a total
of six people. It'll be a strange looking bunch.
When they arrive, Shark tells them to sit down at a
table. The bar used to be a taxi station, and has retained the layout
of its former use. The bar is where the dispatcher used to sit, while
picnic table style seating is provided in what used to be the garage area.
Andy didn't show up last time until after midnight, so they've waited
until 11 o'clock to arrive tonight.
The place is fairly busy, a little busier than last
night. While the group settles at a picnic table in the middle of the
floor, Shark pulls up a stool to the bar. He's confident that his
companions won't cause trouble, having briefed them on fight etiquette.
Helia Sarina wants margaritas, of course, but the bar
only serves whisky, beer, and rum. The larian settles for a boilermaker,
but the whisky tumbler won't fit inside the beer glass. She pulls out
a bright pink eggcup, fills it with whisky from the tumbler, and drops it
in the beer. The beer foams over the side, but she's deftly arranged
it so it won't spill on her. Helia's picked an outfit she considers
appropriate for the setting, of course -- she's wearing her black leather
catsuit underneath a brightly covered patchwork vest, a backpack, and a very
brief bright red miniskirt, which with the sprayed-on fit of the catsuit
leaves nothing to the imagination. Her bright red button sandals have
The bartender -- Ben -- recognizes Shark, and asks
him which one is his boss, although he quickly realizes that Misha is in
charge. Misha is not wearing his sword, of course, since it's part
of the description of the person wanted in connection with the WDC killings.
Callisto looks the least out of the ordinary, while Kalida is noticeably
classier than everyone else here.
Kalida goes up to the bar and gets a beer each for
her captain and herself. Ben gives the whole group an extra round
on the house.
Shark waits for Andy, watching the customers from his
seat at the bar. Initially the clientele consists mostly of taxi drivers
coming in and out, but towards midnight business picks up. Shark notices
there are a lot of regulars from the previous night. Ben knows them
all by name. After midnight the entertainers filter in; one group is
dressed in the same style as Helia, and they exchange waves and smiles.
Shark walks over to the crew's table, and points out
that the entertainers have come in, and they'd be a very good source for
the scoop on recording companies.
"Who's our business manager?" asks Misha. The
group exchange glances and suddenly all look at Kalida -- she obviously looks
Kalida asks, "So all we're looking for is a recording
company, right? Not performers?"
"Well, you know," says Helia, "I am a star, after all."
"You look the part," says Kalida quickly.
Helia uncrosses and recrosses her legs the other way.
She is now getting the attention of the whole bar, getting second glances
from everyone who comes in. The rest of the table could have been
wearing clown outfits and no-one would have noticed -- with Helia around,
everyone else is inconspicuous. Now if Misha had been wearing his large
Shark returns to his seat at the bar.
At about 00:30, Andy comes in. He walks over
to his table; the people who were sitting at it get up and move elsewhere,
while someone brings a drink over to him.
Shark approaches Andy. They exchange greetings,
and Shark sits down to do business.
Shark says, "My colleagues and I are interested in
that business deal we were talking about."
"I was wondering if you could move a hundred units."
"That is certainly not out of the question. At
"Excellent. We have arranged for a truck. We
can bring it by. Cash at that time, or...?"
"Yes," nods Andy with a smile, "Cash at that time."
He pulls out a business card, writes something on the back, and hands
it to Shark. "That's the place. In about two hours."
Shark thanks him. He notes that the location
is different from the last time he visited Andy.
Andy continues, "Those your friends over there?"
"Yes, those are my... uh... employers. Flashy
"Who's the lady in the designer suit?"
"Her name is Anne Bonny. So you guys have some
"That's the real stuff she's wearing, isn't it, not
"Yes, it's the real stuff. Would you like me
to introduce you?"
"No, that's fine. But you might inquire if she's
interested in a bottle of something very special, in line with her income.
Or yourself, if you've got that much cash, you know, you can turn
this thing around. I just can't move it out."
"That would be a separate deal. I'm not going
to talk about that here. But you might ask if they've got a quarter
million to throw around for a bottle."
Shark nods. "Thank you. See you in a couple
Meanwhile, Helia and Kalida have gone over to a group
of musicians in the front corner of the bar.
Helia says, "Would anyone care for a candy?" She
takes a cloth containing several different pieces, and lays it out on the
table. Several of the entertainers take her up on it.
Kalida starts the conversation. "I've heard of
the recording company Greengrass records. What do you think of them?"
"They're pretty legitimate and selective, not heavily
into the mass market. Pretty decent," says one of the musicians.
"You can tell we're not from anywhere near here," smiles
Kalida, "But the group I'm with, we're interested in perhaps purchasing a
recording company. Would this be a good company to approach, or are
"Dunno. Do you want to make money, or further
the cause of music, man?"
"Yes," say Helia.
Kalida says, "Both at once would be best."
"Hm. Well if you want to further the cause of
music, it's a good one to do it with."
Helia asks, "You're talking quality acts?"
Kalida mentions some of the band names she found in
the music store. The man nods appreciatively. Kalida continues,
"Very different music than where we're from. I think it would cross
over fairly well."
"So where are you all from?" asks the man.
Helia replies, "Well, I'm from a hole in the wall place
that you've never heard of. We've all travelled long and far."
Kalida gets back to the subject: "Can you suggest any
other recording companies?"
"Yeah," says the man, "It would be great if you would
buy Black Hat. They produce decent music, but if you bought them you
could fire all the executives and put in some decent people."
Helia asks, "Are they your company? Are you signed
"No. We don't have a record deal."
"You don't? Do you have a demo?"
"No. We play every night at the Blue Parrot down
"We could see if we get a chance to go there."
Kalida agrees, "Yeah. We'd like to go listen to
The man smiles. "Sure, come on by! Hey,
we'll buy you drinks."
Helia says, "Can't pass that up. Do they have
margaritas at the Blue Parrot?"
"Blue margaritas at the Blue Parrot?"
"Um. I'm sure they could come up with something."
Kalida and Helia thank the musicians, say they'll try
to be by to listen, and go back to the table. The man gives Helia
a certain look as she gets up and leaves. Helia flirts back and walks
off with a smile.
On the way back to the table, Helia tells Kalida, "There
are only two types of men that appreciate me. One of them are creeps,
because they can't get past the part that I look like I ought to be 8-9-10
years old, and the other ones realize that I'm just a very short woman.
He was one of the second group, near as I can tell, so far."
Shark rejoins the crew as Helia and Kalida return to
the table. As he sits down, a whisky and beer arrive for everyone,
courtesy of Andy. Shark says, "I've arranged our first transaction
with Mr. Andy. He is, based on you..." Shark points to Kalida.
"...offering us a bottle of something very special for a mere quarter
of a million."
Kalida says, "A mere quarter million, eh?"
"Yes. He's unable to move it locally, and since
we travel about, he thought we might be interested, because obviously you
can afford it." He smiles at Kalida.
Helia is still stuck on the price. "A quarter
million for how much? One case?"
"One bottle," Shark and Kalida chorus.
"Oh. This special stuff?"
"Yes," continues Shark, "And we can discuss that later
if, say, you would like to accompany me on the pickup. Um. Captain?
It might be wise to have some heavyweight backup."
Helia says, "Is there any way he'd take a bank draft?"
"If you have a legitimate account under that name,
that would be no problem."
"He doesn't know what name I have. Helia wasn't
mentioned in the news."
Shark asks Kalida, "Do you know of anything that might
be worth that much?"
Kalida says, "We might want to discuss this in a more
private place, not in the middle of a bar."
It's time to leave anyway. Shark stands up and
says, "Shall I get the car, sir?"
Misha says, "Time to go?"
"You asked for a call at this time, yes," smiles Shark,
and leaves the bar.
The rest of the crew leave when the minivan arrives
outside the door. Helia is pleased that Ben rinses out her eggcup
for her, and leaves him a very large tip -- and gives him a lot of candy,
including some with some strongly alcoholic centers.
Once in the minivan, with the radio turned up, they
can discuss things freely. Roger Jolly and Anne Bonny will take the
truck and collect the shipment of 100 cases of whisky. Since they'll
be carrying 100,000 Cr in cash, Shark says he'll feel more comfortable with
some serious backup -- for example, Teri Cralla with appropriate armament.
He then suggests using Nightshade as backup. Misha is
opposed to this initially, until he has been convinced that the ship itself
doesn't have to be exposed, just Teri ready to shoot from the cargo lift
with the ship stealthed.
Shark then asks Kalida what the quarter of a million
bottle might be.
Kalida says that she could no doubt find someone who
would be willing to buy it. She doesn't know exactly what it is, but
there are all kinds of things that are rare: "Maybe illegal, and have to be
run around blockades, things made in such tiny quantities that maybe you only
get one bottle a year, or a bottle a decade..."
Shark says that the next question is whether the ship
wants to invest in such an item, assuming it checks out, based on their
gunner's view of its worth. No-one else -- even Callisto, who's worked
as a bartender -- knows what it might be.
Kalida says that normally you'd only come across such
things in the "right" social circles -- unless you're into ordering 10,000
Cr glasses of wine with your dinner, you would probably never hear of such
bottles. You'd never find it at a bar or restaurant, only in private
clubs or in one's personal quarters.
Shark says, "Oh, by the way, Andy recognized your clothing
as the 'real thing.'"
"Well," says Kalida, "He has taste. I wonder where
"Another thing: Andy may know more about what's going
on around here."
Misha asks, "So, the question about this alcohol is
whether it's actually worth that much money?"
"That, whether it's worth it, and whether we want to
invest time in Andy as a potential source of information."
"That would be fine. I'm also willing to invest
that much money if in fact it's an investment and we're not just being ripped
off. And I'm willing to trust anybody if I know where they live."
"We know where he is every night. We haven't figured
out where he lives yet."
Misha laughs, "Well, find out where he lives."
"That requires surveillance."
"Or as long as you have a way to find him."
"We have someone who's good at surveillance and following
people. Information services, as I recall. Let's call on our
IS department." Shark is right -- Jaekovic Ils-Nevronne has more than
proved his ability to deliver on his promised skills.
Misha asks if they can take some sort of scan to pick
up a signature for Andy, and track him through sensors. It is explained
to him that they can do that to a limited extent, but it would probably
be quite easy for him to lose them.
Still, the priority right now is to get the whisky shipment.
Robert Morris is not too bad at driving a groundcar, but in general
it's a fairly weak point for the crew. Shark will drive the truck,
while Robert gets the minivan.
Shark moves on to a full mission briefing. Robert
is to stay two or three blocks away with the limo. Shark points out
the locations he considers likely sniper positions.
Robert drives the mission team to the truck rental.
Shark and Kalida -- Roger and Anne -- climb into the truck, and leads
to the address on the card. A street sign is an immediate casualty
of Shark's driving, as he pulls the articulated 18-wheeler out of the rental
place. Still, it looks like the sign has been hit before, and they
have no more problems reaching the address.
This warehouse is a couple of blocks from the previous
one. Shark updates the others as to where the snipers are located
-- right where he expected them to be. Shark stops the truck, gets
out, and goes up to the door. As he approaches, Andy opens it. Shark
pulls the truck in as directed.
Shark is out of practice with such a large truck, and
it takes a couple of tries to back it in correctly. There are plenty
of hefty guys around with sufficient forklifts, and they start loading the
truck immediately. The hundred cases are already stacked separately;
the warehouse contains many more such shipping crates.
Shark walks into the office with Kalida. He introduces
Anne and Andy, and they proceed with the transaction. Andy doesn't
count the money in the suitcase.
Immediate business out of the way, Kalida says, "Roger
was saying that you had something else that might be of interest."
"Yeah," smiles Andy. "Something that I can't move
around here. I got it in settlement for some deal I'd made. I
came by it legitimately, but it's not something I want to pay taxes on,
you know, not on such a large transaction. But there's no market for
it here. Around here there's some people with the money, but they
don't like this style."
"Depending on what it is, we might be interested."
"Have you ever heard of Blockade Bourbon?"
"That's what it is."
Shark is surprised that he's never heard of it.
Andy continues, "It's the hand-blown etched bottle.
Natural stopper, original stuff. A hundred years old. Now
I don't know the exact chain it came through, but I've satisfied myself
that it's genuine, the real thing."
Kalida nods. She know it's really cheap at Andy's
asking price. If they were to take it to Capital, they could
probably sell it to the Emperor's
household for five million -- and they wouldn't ask where it came from.
Andy continues, "Bourbon doesn't sell here. It's
all the Irish style. But you're obviously well travelled. I'm
sure you know people on Rhylanor you
might be able to sell it to."
Kalida answers smoothly, "I might be able to find someone."
Even at Rhylanor
or Mora, they could
move it quickly for two or three million.
Shark is a little startled at Andy carefully naming
a specific world, as if it were significant to Kalida, but he know it isn't
But Andy is looking only at Kalida. He says, "Obviously
I don't keep it here, but if you're interested we can arrange a meeting..."
"I'll need to talk to the rest of the group," says Kalida.
"You know how to reach me. It is a pleasure doing
business with you."
Shark and Kalida walk back out into the warehouse and
climb into the truck. This time Shark has no problems maneuvering
the big rig. He tells everyone else that they're heading out of town.
Vonish is piloting Nightshade. Shark tells
him to meet them at the rendezvous, and continues out of Starcom into the
In the middle of nowhere, Shark brings the truck to
a halt. He looks all around with his PRIS binoculars, using all his
skill to try to see if they're being observed. He sees no-one, except
Robert pulling up behind them in the minivan.
Vonish lowers Nightshade's main cargo lift and
locks the ship in position. Shark backs the truck up to the lift perfectly,
and offloading takes place.
Now that they're secure, Kalida tells the others that
it's Blockade Bourbon, and if it is indeed real it represents a massive
investment. Almost no-one else on the crew has heard of it, not even
Vonish, and it's mentioned in none of Helia's books. The Grand Admiral
alone has heard of it -- he knows it's very desirable, but he's never seen
To prove it's real, says Kalida, is a matter of accumulating
physical evidence. First, the bottle is very distinctive; performing
chemical tests on the glass and etching is the next step in determining
authenticity; the stopper is sealed with a wax that can also be tested.
This particular bottle does not have a provenance, only leading from
the person Andy obtained it from. If the tests say it's genuine, it
can be assumed to be so. The facilities are available on Nightshade,
but according to Robert there is no record in the data banks of what tests
Obviously they'll have to buy it on faith and then test
it. Robert points out they essentially did the same with the North
Whipsnade whisky they've just brought on board. They run a densitometer
scan of the crates, and the readings are consistent with them all containing
the real thing. Still, Helia insists they should perform a taste test,
too. Kalida suggests they just take some bottles back to the hotel,
and do the taste test after driving back into Starcom.
Shark has no trouble driving back to the rental place,
but Robert is not so lucky. He's finding it hard to follow the unmarked
road at night, and drives into the drainage ditch at the side. Fortunately,
no-one is hurt. Shark looks over the situation, and says they can
either try to get it out, or call a tow company -- after all, they have
rented it. Robert opts to drive it out. He almost succeeds,
but it will take quite some physical effort to help the limo out of the
ditch. They can't manage it -- while Robert's doing all the right things
behind the wheel, the others just can't apply enough strength to get it to
They call in Teri. Vonish flies the ship over,
and Teri hops out in battledress. She easily helps the truck out of
the ditch, and then pulls herself out of the soft ground. She steps
back into the invisible ship, and the ground convoy continues into town. Shark
offers Teri a bottle of North Whipsnade from his private stash in thanks,
and she gracefully accepts.
The journey is still tough for Robert. This time
he drives off onto the shoulder, but just saves it before sliding into the
sharp ditch. Shark and Kalida, safe in the large truck, make snide
comments. Robert slows down, and gets to town safely.
Even when they aren't flying gravcraft, this crew still
ends up crashing...
Back at the hotel, they discuss the quarter million
bottle of illicit hooch. Shark asks what Kalida thinks the Archduke
would pay for this -- it might get them out of trouble for the black ship.
It would be a great big chip in their favor.
Misha suggests just sending it to the Archduke under the
name of Akim Gavrolovitch.
That, however, wouldn't buy them any favors.
Robert suggests that they could send it to Marquis Marcus
Crestworthy to give to the Archduke, and then call in favors through him.
The Marquis could give it in the name of the captain and crew of Nightshade.
Shark laughs, and says that if and when the Archduke
hears about the black ship, it will probably include the information that
they're calling it Nightshade. That would not, however, cancel
out the time lag in communications, and would probably not be enough to save
With that final thought, they party until dawn...
It's the afternoon before the crew stirs.
Shark says that the first item on the agenda is how
to approach Andy to purchase information, and what information do they tell
him? He won't ask why, but they need to have a why in mind. They
want to know who is currently behind the Wonstar Development Corporation --
who is the leadership? The question is how to get that information out
of him without applying thumbscrews and fish oil. "Actually," says Shark,
"The Admiral can probably give him an injection so he'll babble all night
and not remember any of it." He calls up Bridgehead on the commdot.
The Baron says, "I have something better than that.
Something administered in food or drink, that makes someone want
to tell everything as well as tell the truth. I'd have to mix in some
sort of cocktail that would make him not remember. That would be tricky,
but I can do it."
Mich laughs. He remembers the babble cocktail.
Misha and Shark agree, however, that not only is inviting
Andy to some sort of party to question him not straightforward, but it's
downright unfriendly. Shark would never be able to drive a taxi here
Shark reminds them why Andy might be a useful source
of information. He says, "He seems to be somewhat connected with not
only the underground, but the elite. He says he got the bottle from
someone in settlement of a debt. That's one heck of a debt. So
he knows someone with means, is in a position to collect and is surely actively
collecting rumors of anything illicit going on in his turf."
Misha says, "So we want to ask him a question that will
get him to talk about the WDC without actually asking about the WDC. If
we actually ask about the WDC, it'll put him on his guard. OK?"
Shark nods. "My interrogation skills run out at
Kalida says, "If we could steer the conversation along
so we could idly wonder about the shooting at that building, that at least
gets the WDC into the conversation. But I don't know how we'd steer
that into what we need to know."
Shark smiles, "Pump him and dump him, and leave on the
next ship -- our ship -- out. But assuming that he gives us some information,
we may have to keep him for a day or so while we talk to other people. Then
we dump them all together. On an island. Without clothes." He
laughs, then continues, "So what can we do other than a snatch and grab
and drug and dump?"
Misha asks, "Well, what have we told Andy about why
we're here? Nothing? Good. The best I can come up with
on the subterfuge thing is something like there's a company that we're interested
in buying, but we discovered that it's indirectly owned by a company that's
a front for Wonstar, and just pretend like we're totally ignorant -- who's
this Wonstar? What do you know about Wonstar?"
Kalida says, "That would give us a good reason to ask
Shark says, "And as our business manager... come
on, you dress the part, I'm just a chauffeur, I can't do that!"
Misha says, "So, make up a fictitious company that is
a front for Wonstar."
Callisto says that there might actually be one.
Shark suggests using an offworld company as the
front, and say that they came here because it's the corporate headquarters,
and that's why they're really here. He adds, "I don't want to use
a company he might know about, or know that there isn't such a company."
Kalida suggests using a company from Jewell, that she
can say is owned by Wonstar.
Misha points out that puts them right back where they
didn't want to be -- saying they were here to investigate the WDC. "But
let's just do it. Let's invite him up here, and just tell him that
in the course of our investigation we've come across the name Wonstar Development
Corporation. What does he know about it? We can even come up
with a couple of other names of big companies, and throw them at him too."
"Fine," says Shark. "You find companies, and I'll
go get him and invite him to brunch tomorrow or a late dinner." Consensus
favors the latter, even though it won't be until after midnight. Shark
continues, "We'll invite him over to finalize the purchase of the bottle,
and we can bring this up during conversations. And you want to do
it tonight? OK. Just in case, would the Grand Admiral have his
cocktail ready -- and I'd like to study your notes on it later, Baron."
Shark heads to The Last Cab. About midnight,
Andy comes in and sits in his usual place. Shark goes over to him,
and says, "Anne and Edward would love to talk to you further about that collectible
"Yes," says Andy.
"Would you like to join us for a late dinner at our
"Actually," he says, pulling out a card and writing
something on the back, "How about breakfast tomorrow?" He hands Shark
"I will pass this along."
Shark tells the rest of the group what transpired with
Andy, and on the way back he drives past the address -- as a good driver
should, to check out the place, he tells himself. It's about twelve
blocks away, a block off the main drag just like The Last Cab. It's
an all-day all-night place, called the Black Moon Diner. Plate
glass windows, lots of stainless steel. It's fairly quiet right now.
Across the street is the back of some nightclubs. There's a hardware
store and an auto repair shop in the same block, with a gas station in the
next block down. He takes a photo to show the others back at the hotel.
In their rooms at the Grand Imperial Regency Hotel,
Shark tells everyone about the meeting with Andy the next morning. He
says that he told Andy that Anne and Edward wanted to meet him, and as driver
he will probably have to stay with the car.
Misha says that as Shark's paranoid streak is running,
he wants full backup -- the ship hovering above, and Teri on the ground.
Shark drives the ten miles out of town, and brings Teri
back to the hotel. Obviously this needs to be done during darkness,
as Teri is to bring her full gear. The minivan is big enough for her
to suit up in the back.
Shark drives by the Black Moon Diner several
times at random intervals, and together they pick out a good spot for Teri
to hide nearby. Teri installs herself in hiding, and Shark returns
to pick up Edward and Anne. No-one else will be along this time.