Our Cast of Players:
- Alexei Makarov (Ian): Human Expert – Technician/Adventurer, level 1.
- Christian (Craig): Human Psychic – Adventurer/Psychic Researcher, level 1.
- Hilton “Hiltie” Jones (Max): Human Expert – Biotech Crew/Pilot, level 2.
- Jonah Priest (Alan): Human Warrior – Security Crew/Ground Forces, level 1.
- Lazarus Morgenstern (Dave): Human Expert – Noble/Adventurer, level 1.
- Munroe (Ricky): Human Warrior – Soldier/Merc, level 1.
You spend the next few days at Brightside Station wrapped up in the day to day mundaneness of life on a remote mining station. Hiltie assiduously carries out the preparation of the plan for the testing of the disaster recovery procedures for Director Dutta. Priest continues to report to the refinery on a daily basis for his issue of manual labour. The rest of you meander around, going to the Heavenly Hash for your allotted three meals a day, taking in the occasional film showing at the cinema, rolling in and out of the Midnight Sun for a drink, and so on.
In the meantime, you discuss in a leisurely way what you might do next. Get more involved in the political intrigue perhaps, pay a return visit to the Bronze Tomb to see what has befallen the Ushans, or maybe just stay quietly in your quarters waiting for the next novium transport to arrive? Eventually you decide that you have heard enough people mention Empty Graves, the artists’ colony, that it may be worth a visit, if for nothing else than a change of scenery. However, there is also the intriguing information that Roland Lomax has made several journeys out there recently.
You seek out Ranse Hardlee at the Midnight Sun and sound him out about shuttling you out there. For once he is reluctant and awkward – he has clearly not entirely forgiven you for besmirching his reputation when you tried to get him to smuggle the attaché cases for you. He also tells you that Roland Lomax has been pestering him a lot recently to take him out to Empty Graves and that if Lomax is involved in something then Ranse wants nothing to do with it. He runs an honest business, he informs you, with some degree of wounded pride.
It takes a great deal of persuasion and several rounds of drinks before you are able to convince Ranse to take on the charter, but eventually he does. You are left with the distinct impression that you had better not be needing any urgent favours from him in future as he is likely to be less than forthcoming. You set about laying in supplies for the trip straight away, purchasing ration packs, a handful of the essential lazarus patches, and some spare shells for the combat shotgun.
All packed up and ready for as many eventualities that you can think of, you embark aboard the Leadbelly, entering the spartan drone retrieval bay which now seems to you like your home from home. Every trip you find it harder to deal with the mind-numbing tedium of the two day journey to the outer debris rim and you all earnestly hope that Empty Graves will live up to its interesting reputation.
When you get within visual sight of what Ranse assures you is the charted location of the artists’ colony you can see that it is a rather small rocky body. As with the previous sky tombs you have visited, it has an airlock protruding from the rocky surface. Although looking technologically on a par with the others you have seen, this one lacks any of the elegant decorations you have previously come across, being somewhat bare and utilitarian in appearance.
Ranse extends the umbilical docking tube and you all suit up, checking weapons and other equipment. Artists can be temperamental at the best of times and you are taking no chances. You enter the airlock and wait patiently while it cycles before allowing you entry into the colony itself. On the other side of the airlock is a square chamber carved out of the rock of the asteroid. Most of the walls have been daubed in graffiti and there are two visible exits, both covered by sliding doors. In the centre of the room stands a stocky man dressed in a baggy smock covered with what looks like red paint. He is clearly waiting for you and has a holstered semi-automatic pistol at his side from which his hand never strays far.
He enquires gruffly what your business at Empty Graves is and your non-committal replies about different schools of art seem to serve only to annoy him. He urges you to get to the point – are you here to buy or to sell, or simply for a good time? Lazarus takes the lead and engages the man in banter before reaching an agreement with him that the best place to start might be over a drink in the saloon the man mentions.
He leads you along several corridors tunnelled out of the rock of the asteroid, passing many sliding doors along the way until you come to one that has the work “Playroom” sprayed onto it. The man touches a control next to the door and it slides open to reveal a large rectangular room with chairs and tables scattered around. There is a makeshift bar in one corner and right in the centre of the room is a crystal sarcophagus, very similar to the one you retrieved from the ice tomb. It has an Ushan body in ceremonial robes within and stuffed between its lips is a cigarette. It is being used as a card table by three men sat around it, who look up from their hands and stare as you enter. All of them seem to be armed with pistols.
The man who led you in here asks what you want and you settle for whisky. He retrieves half a dozen shot glasses from behind the bar and slops brown liquid from a bottle into them, before relieving you of half a credit each. It is actually surprisingly good. You sit yourselves down uneasily at one of the tables and the three other men eventually go back to their card game but you get the distinct impression they are all watching you out of the corners of their eyes.
The man that brought you in here leaves and you are left wondering what to do next. A couple of minutes pass while you converse in low tones with each other, trying to decide how to play things. This seems a decidedly odd setup for a supposed commune of reclusive artists. You do not have to think about it for much longer though as the door slides open and a large, thickset, bearded man enters the room, pistol held casually in one hand, pointing downwards. Three other tough looking men crowd in through the doorway behind him. Christian immediately leaps to his feet and dives behind the bar, rattling glasses and bottles as he goes and eliciting a “what the hell?” series of looks from all in the room.
After doing a double take at Christian’s behaviour, he comes over to your table and leans on it, with a not quite insincere smile on his face. He tells you his name is Ramsley and that he is in charge at Empty Graves. He leaves you in no doubt that he wants no more nonsense and wants to know precisely what you want here – are you here to buy, or are you here for the booze and whores? The three toughs behind him reinforce this impression by leering nastily at you.
Realising that this colony is now extremely unlikely to be a bunch of artists seeking solitude among the stars, Lazarus takes over the conversation once more, telling Ramsley that you have an interest in artifacts from the sky tombs and would be looking to buy should the price be right. Ramsley relaxes a little at the sudden candour, a refreshing change from the evasiveness thus far, and tells you that he does have one or two pieces you might be interested in. He signals to one of the toughs who leaves and returns a few minutes later with four Ushan shimmerglass icons and a ceremonial robe woven from some sort of mineral glass.
Lazarus enters into negotiations and the robe is swiftly ruled out as being too expensive. He eventually settles on a price with Ramsley of Cr 350 for the four icons and you shake on it. Ramsley leaves, seemingly satisfied, and the toughs go with him. You decide the time is now right to leave as soon as possible. You order another round of drinks, drain your glasses quickly, and then beat a fast retreat to the Leadbelly, eager to get away from this place.
To be continued…