(17) Who Were They?

The Mora Campaign (315-1119)

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315-1119 : Resten / Lunion / Spinward Marches

    Back on the ship, Misha Ravanos asks Mich Saginaw, "Were those guys from the Archduke?"
    "That's what I thought," Mich replies, "But they could be anyone I guess.  Most people would give pause to Imperial orders coming like that from a Marquis, but these guys didn't.  They may not want the Duke's involvement known.  Once we got to a more private area they might have admitted they were working for him."

    Misha then turns to the Captain of the H.M.S. Third Eye Marquis Marcus Crestworthy.  "That guy, Shark Teeth, says he's working for a friend of yours."
    "Unfortunately there's too many people that fit that description," says the Marquis.
    "Mich thinks those guys might have been from the Archduke Norris."
    "If they were official, if they had official ID, then they should have given it to them.  They would have known I was on board, so if they weren't giving a reasonable ID... I still don't think they were, but..."
    "I'm not worried about repercussions."
    "No, neither am I.  So what we need to do is find out where the ships that were down that passage came from."  That of course is a matter of public record, in the arrivals/departures list; what ship docks where, and it's home planet, is in the records, but the last port of call might not be.  If it's a military ship, it might just say "military ship," or "Naval vessel."
    "Did Mr. Shark say which friend?" the Marquis continues.
    "No," says Misha, "The way he spoke it was like you would know."
    "Well I don't.  Do any of you have a picture of him?"

    While Mich gets cleaned up, the others remain on the bridge.
    They do have a picture, from Teri's suit.  They in fact have pictures of all the men involved.  Robert runs an ID match of all of them, hacking into the records of the local police to do it.  The driver of the taxi is indeed a licensed taxi driver; the others are not known.
    Robert checks up on all the ships that were docked in that arm of the starport.  Even the ships' computers are unlikely to have pictures or descriptions, but you never know...  As Misha points out, if they can get easy access to all the information on board, it's probably not the ship they're interested in -- they need some way to narrow down the list of suspects.
    At that end of the starport it's basically all cargo ships.  They have all arrived from Lunion, Capon, or Fosey, all regular trade route ports of call.  They've all been in Resten for at least 14 days -- it's a long term docking area.
    But first, Robert tries to check the badge number, 761.  The Marquis says it's definitely not a local police number, it doesn't have the right format.  No-one got a good look at the badge the man flashed at them.
    Back to the ships: they're all in the range 200t to 1500t.  All are probably capable of carrying passengers.  Misha suggests that any ship that's actively seeking passengers is unlikely to be the one they're looking for -- but Robert confirms that none of these ships is taking on passengers.
    Marquis Marc wonders which ship has been here for 1-1/2 months or more: none of them.  None are advertising for cargo.  They have all been here between 2 weeks and a month, so they've all arrived since the Third Eye had left.  It's normal in a large starport for this for there to be some long term stays.  Marc suggests checking to see if any of these ships don't have a good reason for waiting here.

    So Robert breaks into the ships' computers as necessary, while Marc runs the search of public records.  In order...

  1. Hadrian, from Rhylanor / Rhylanor, 200t free trader.  The ship's logs indicate that it has a mechanical failure in the air recirculation system.  It's a very old model, and there's a record in the log that "Damn, we have to send for parts from Glisten for this thing!"

  3. Sunburn, from Thanber / Querion, Close Escort.  It's privately owned, waiting for the owner to return from vacation.  The registry indicates that the owner is Wilbur Yurt, currently on vacation.  He left here as a passenger a while back to Lunion.

  5. Lobe Ranger, from Lanth / Lanth, 200t free trader.  It's waiting for the Captain, Harry Gretchen, to be released from jail.  He's in jail for 30 days for drunk and disorderly, assaulting a police officer, and discharging a firearm inside a police station.  He'll be released in a couple of weeks.

  7. Hyudenforth, 600t trader, from Gram / Sword Worlds.  The ship is under quarantine pending vermin clearance.  It has an infestation of womp-rats.  The port authority's computers indicate that they have indeed sealed the bay for this reason.  (The zoologists on board insist that it's important not to let a breeding pair of womp-rats on board.  They can beat up on ship's cats.  ...but they would give the jackalope something to hunt...)

  8. Tortuzza Horronoy, 1500t trader, from Egypt / Glisten.  The ship is waiting for a cargo connection for Captain Peter O'Toole.

  10. Gathra, 800t yacht, from Flammarion / Sword Worlds, owner Sir Lawrence Edwards.  Marc hasn't heard of him, but he's documented as a noble of Flammarion.  He is around 80 years old, and was knighted for service in the Imperial Navy.  His picture does not match any of the men, and he has not been mentioned in local news services.  Marc asks Robert to hack into the local hotels and check their guest lists: there are two good 4-star ones in orbit, but only one 3-star on planet.  He's not registered at any of them.  The phone directory gives the number for the ship.  A call there is answered by machine, the message saying that no-one is available to take the call; they leave no message.

  12. Ithacorn, 200t free trader, from Strouden / Lunion. It's impounded while the engineer is under arrest for smuggling.  His lawyer has requested a continuance, and he's sitting in jail in the meantime.

  14. Adenoid, 400t yacht, from Duale / Mora.  It's waiting for parts -- fuel conduit junctions, on back-order from General Products, LIC.  General Products indeed is the manufacturer of that ship.

  16. Marigold, 1200t trader, from Mirriam / Five Sisters.  It's retained on courier service.  There's no record of who it's a courier for, but when Robert digs into high security areas he finds it's Archduke Norris who's retained the Marigold's services.  While it's registered as a trader, the secure records indicate that the actual cargo capacity is smaller than announced, and that the engineering section is substantially more capable.  Robert's experience with hiver computers helped him dig into the very high security systems on this ship.

  18. Baba Yaga, 1000t yacht, TL-14, from Vilis / Vilis.  Unlike all the other ships, this one's logs are secured.  Robert digs into the secured logs, and finds it's actually a military ship.  It's operated by the Secret Service of the government of Vilis.  The last port of call was Fosey, and the records indicate it followed the trade routes from Vilis (not Mora, as the Marquis suspects).  Now Vilis is the opposite direction from where the Anastasia's crew was picked up, but it is the subsector that's been experiencing piracy recently.  Perhaps it's the Berlin?  The Captain is Corrine Elliot.  No news items or articles have any pictures of the crew.

  20. Hunka Junka, 250t trader, from Carse / Lunion.  The entire crew are in jail for assault.  Police records confirm this.  No passengers are listed.  The bay is sealed by the starport authority.

  22. Great Nookie, 320t trader, from Sharrip / Lunion.  The entire crew are in jail for assault.  Again, police records confirm this, and that the day of arrest was the same as the Hunka Junka.  The Great Nookie arrived the day after the other ship.  Both ships came from Lunion, and did leave there on the same date.
    So it seems there are two strong contenders, and two weak ones...  Robert hacks back into the Marigold, to check for the whereabouts of the crew members.  He finds that all crew members are currently on board, and that the ship is prepared to take off at three hours notice.  He reports this to the Marquis.
    He does a similar check on the Baba Yaga.  It's operational status is not as ready as the Marigold:  it's in shore leave mode, with the crew on call and on rotating watch.  Their personnel records contain the bare minimum.
    Marc checks public financial records on Wilbur Yurt, to see if the reason his ship is still here is that he can't afford to fly it.  None of his bills have been registered as delinquent.  The bay is sealed, and no crew on board.  He checks details of when it arrived, and finds that the crew was disbanded on arrival.  There's no lien on the ship.
    Marc then asks Robert to check the three sealed bays.  Robert verifies that indeed no-one has been in and out.  This doesn't of course prove that no-one did, but they'd have had to modify the records if they did access those ships.

    The Marquis calls Sagan on the Extraordinary Circumstances, and asks him about the name "Baba Yaga."  Sagan digs into all resources sie can find on the name, and comes up with some legends from the Solomani homeworld of Terra.  It refers to a mysterious old woman who is said to have had iron teeth, and to have flown around in a mortar by beating it on the side with a pestle, and had a house that ran around on chicken legs.  It is apparently a pre-spaceflight myth of a region once known as Russia.

    While Sagan has opened up a communication channel with shore facilities, Robert dives into the hiver ship's computer.  This time enlightenment is his reward: the systems are very strange, but very sophisticated.  It is no surprise to him that he didn't think of it before, but it is quite a surprise just how sophisticated hiver computers really are.

    Edward "Shark" Teeth had arrived at the Red Moose early.  He's been nursing a beer or two and snacking on pretzels, waiting for someone from the Third Eye to arrive.
    Misha also arrives early, but after Shark.  He's already checked information he can find on Shark; he worked on intelligence stuff, but nothing specific.  He has no recorded family.  He is on a pension, with no recorded occupation.
    Shark watches Misha walk into the bar with Teri.  She's not in full armor, but is carrying a gauss rifle.  Shark notes that it's an Imperial military issue weapon; he guesses that she was the one who earlier was wearing the Imperial Battledress (which is not available to civilians).
    Misha walks up to the bar and orders a mixed soda.  While the bartender is putting it together, he casually checks out everyone in the bar to see if they're relevant.  There's one couple sitting at the bar who are keeping an eye on Shark -- but appear to be on his "side."  He mentions them to Teri as they go over to Shark's table.
    Misha introduces Teri to Ed Teeth.
    Misha asks, "Any problems with the cleanup?"
    "No," replies Shark, "A surprise or two.  They had no communication except for one very special watch that was a tracker and communicator.  That was it.  Three of them had no communications equipment.  No ID's at all.  The badge was a child's toy.  Standard Imperial off-the-rack clothes, shoes, belts, lethal ammunition.  The watch is not a standard intelligence item, but something like that would only be issued for very special missions."
    "Any clue about who they work for?  Do they work for the Imperium?"
    Shark shrugs.  "Nothing that says they work for the Imperium, just they've been in the Imperium."
    "Did you save the commdot?"
    "It is in a shielded container with some of my friends."
    "Spy equipment?"
    "I'll see what they say."
    "Who are they?"
    "My co-workers before they fired me; although I retired."
    "Who were they?"
    "You've heard the line, 'I'd tell you but then I'd have to kill you?'  I just don't want to do that.  I'm retired from a, um, specialized branch of government service."
    "So what's your role in this mission?"
    "I've told you.  A friend of the Marquis asked me to keep an eye on him."
    "Your friend works for this government service?"
    "It's totally separate."
    "Yes.  I'm now private."
    "Why does this agency want to help you?"
    "When you work for the company for 20 years you get markers.  Calling in a few markers."
    "Who's your employer?"
    "Baron Pitchforth from some planet near the Core.  He contacted some of my friends in the service, they said they couldn't do it, but they knew somebody who could.  He hired me.  Never met the guy."
    "And the wording of your contract?"
    "He was worried about the Marquis and his crew and requested that I could rely on you to help out with any situations that might arise."
    The Marquis does confirm about Baron Pitchforth.
    Shark continues, "So, there are about a dozen ships down that hallway.  Did you do any poking around about them?  No?  Well I did a bit... my friends did.  I think that there's a ship down there... The Baba Yaga is a ship from the planet of Vilis -- actually military -- and the crew has a few ex-military, and you have several fairly technically significant people, including Mich, that someone might want to kidnap.  I don't know why Vilis would, but they're the best choice of all the ones that I saw out there.  Don't know what you want to do about that, given Mich didn't complain.  Have you heard any official fall-out?"
    "No-one's knocked on our door," says Misha.
    "Well," continues Shark, "I would assume the commdot was open at the time, and that they've heard all the communication.  How should we proceed on protecting your crew?  I don't think it's going to be a localized issue."
    "It's a Vilis ship.  Vilis isn't a member of the Imperium, are they?"
    "They are.  They're a military planet with internal strife at the moment, they're from the subsector where there's a lot of piracy going on, they're pretty close to that report on Robin Sherwood.  This would be a good place to off-load stolen properties.  But if that is a pirate ship, or a military ship, what are they doing so far away from home?"
    "I thought you'd told us.  They're here to pick up Mich.  I think the facts speak for themselves.  Why they want to pick up Mich is a mystery, though."
    "Can you walk to the Marquis, tell him what I've been hired to do, and ask him if I can continue my employment once you guys decide to leave?"
    Misha seems to think something can be arranged.  He then stands up, looks at the tourists at the bar, then back to Ed Teeth and says, "Are the tourists with you?"
    "OK.  Well, they've been watching both of us."
    "I see that.  Why don't we leave at the same time and whoever they don't follow, will follow them."
    Misha and Shark stand up and leave, and go different directions.  The tourists remain seated at the bar.  No-one else seems to be following them either.

    Shark heads off to a new safe-house, since his first one has probably been compromised.  Misha doubles back and follows him, seeing if anyone is following.  Nobody follows either of them, so Misha continues to trail Shark back to an apartment.
    Misha calls up Robert back on the Third Eye to find out who owns the residence.  It's a rental property management company; hacking into their computers reveals that the renter is one Henry Wilcox.  The phone records confirm that; other information is that he's listed as an employee of the spaceport.  The personnel records list him as an electronic technician, second class; he's been employed by the spaceport for three years.
    Misha then calls the Marquis and tells him about Shark's request.  Marc suggests they have Shark bring the commdot here to the ship, and then he can be interviewed.

    Shark is disappointed to find out that the dead bodies had absolutely no identification marks at all.  His friends have come up with no new information, except the absence of information.

    Back on the Third Eye they discuss the potential kidnappers.  The Baba Yaga is registered as owned by a citizen of Vilis, but is actually run by the government.  So if they did come to kidnap Mich, how would they know he would be here?  There were probably half a dozen worlds that they could have gone to from Gorram, but Resten is the obvious place to go on a direct route on the way back to Mora.  Now if they were really after them, there might be other ships covering other worlds on the way back.  They did know where Mich would be on the planet because Brandon Asu told them in his "Bullfinch" message.
    So why didn't they just waylay the Third Eye on Mora, or along the way in space?  The Marquis' ship is almost unarmed, and not designed for fighting.
    The Marquis asks Mich, "Why would they want to kidnap you?  What knowledge or abilities do you have that they can't hire at any major university?"
    "I know how to create anti-matter with a net gain in energy."
    "In Galanglic that means...?"
    "I can make free energy."
    "OK.  Now we know why.  How many people know this?"
    "The Duke, his technical staff, the professor on Brod -- he knows, but it was his theories I proved correct.  He worked on it 25 years ago."
    "Has he been kidnapped, has he died...?"
    Misha breaks in, "I'll ask the simple question again.  Would anybody on Vilis have found out about this, and would this have applications for the Vilis military?"
    Mich replies, "All transmissions to the Duke were secured, all information stored in the database was secured."
    Marquis asks, "Robert breaks into other peoples' data bases, is it possible that someone broke into those transmissions?"
    "Probably, but the majority of the people who could, would have the same looks on their faces at the content as you did when I told you."
    Misha asks, "Would the Duke go about it this way, or would he send somebody to say the Duke would like to talk to you?"
    Mich replies, "That's pretty much what they did.  They wanted to get me alone in a believable fashion, in an area here where it's quite common for crew to be arrested.  The only time I've been summoned, the GrandAm told me we were both wanted.  Of course, we were on the same planet at the time."
    The Marquis disagrees.  "The Duke could have sent a ship into the Red Zone, where no-one else would be watching, and told us."
    "But then you would have known, and if it's something he wants secret from everyone else, this was more believable."
    Mich adds, "Keep in mind that if we're ever being chased, there's a very good chance we can jump with relative safety from the bay.  I can keep the engines in the safe zone if we do that.  I don't recommend it, but if we can calculate the appropriate jump, and they're almost on it, we can go."