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 1.
- 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.
After spending overnight mulling on the disappointment that the packet of white powder turned out to be totally innocuous, Hiltie rises with renewed purpose. He reasons that if one were to smuggle illicit drugs, hiding it in the middle of a stack of otherwise mundane but identical looking material would be exactly what one would do. He rouses Lazarus and the pair make their way down to the secure cargo area armed with the survey scanner and a sense of mission.
The security guard is curious as to what you’re doing but ultimately not bothered as long as you are not trying to bring any of the items on board the station and his attention soon wanders back to his duties. The pair open the cases and count all of the packets – there are 120 of them. Each scan cycle takes two minutes plus, say, a minute for emptying, cleaning and refilling the sample tray and they are looking at a monotonous task of at least six hours duration. Lazarus sighs and decides that if you are going to go through with it you may as well get it right. He retrieves a marker pen and starts numbering the packets and lining them up in neat rows for Hiltie to scan. As each packet is scanned he records the results against each number.
After what seems like a lifetime’s worth of scanning, Hiltie shakes his head in disappointment. The result from each packet is the same, a mixture of simple mineral salts, which high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus. Acting on a hunch, he takes a sample of the soil from the now empty crystal sarcophagus and runs that through the scanner. That has a very high carbon content. He eliminates that from the equation and what is left is very similar in composition to the white powder.
Hiltie decides to bring one of the attaché cases back on board the station and he seeks the security guard out to clear it with him. After examining the results from the scanner, and sniffing and tasting the powder, the guard pronounces that he is happy the contents are harmless and checks the case through into the station. Hiltie and Lazarus take the lift up to Highdeck and the hydroponic bay with a view to trying to sell the powder as a fertiliser. There is no one present other than another security guard so the pair cross the deck back to the transients’ quarters to relate their findings and turn in for the night.
Early the following morning, Priest is the first to rise and he heads off for another back breaking 10 hour shift of manual labour in the refinery. Some of the same faces are there from yesterday and, by and large, they are pleased to see him again as his great strength was certainly useful in helping to manhandle the emptied novium retrieval drones back into their storage racks.
The work is extremely hot and sweaty, and the shift is interspersed with short, but regular, breaks to allow the workers to rehydrate and take a salt pill. During one of the breaks, Priest finds an opportunity to chat with some of his colleagues and finds opinion as to the current situation to be somewhat divided. Many of the newer workers are certainly disgruntled at the longer shifts they are having to work whereas some of the older hands, although far from all, are a little more pragmatic about things, knowing there have been good times and bad tomes in the past but the one constant is Director Dutta.
Overall, they are putting a lot of faith in Mary Tomlinson, the mining chief, to do the right thing by them. One of the workers points her out – she is a tall, thin woman with short hair and a badly scarred right arm. She is in charge of the refinery but due to the driving pace Dutta is setting she was personally assisting with one of the more dangerous parts of the process, the transfer of the buffer fluid from the retrieval drones to the station itself. There was a moment of carelessness on behalf of the miner connecting up the hoses to the pumps and the subsequent spillage caused the injuries to her arm. Although Dr Indrani patched up the physical damage, it’s well known around the station that Dutta won’t allow her to take the time off for a skin transplant until the bank auditor has been and this quarter’s accounts are closed.
Priest changes the topic of the conversation onto a discussion of what life support systems the station has in place and whether or not there are any safety provisions should the worst happen. Some of the workers aren’t too happy at this sudden change of tack from a relative stranger and return to their shift. Others see no harm in discussing the matter as, well, Priest is on the station just as much as they are and gossiping beats manual labour any day – as long as the shift supervisor doesn’t notice.
From those more willing to talk, Priest learns that the station is rated for a population of 200 or so people, and there are currently little more than half that number aboard. The hydroponic bay is easily capable of providing a breathable atmosphere for that number of people but in the event of a catastrophic event, there are back up mechanical scrubbers that can be brought on-line while the bay is regrown from the seed stock they have on board. Should the absolute worst happen, a disastrous hull breach or a major industrial accident for example, there are two pressurised crash rooms, one on Middeck (in the cinema) and one on Highdeck (in the park plaza) that contain emergency supplies of food, water, air, medicines, vacc suits, and so on.
Meanwhile, Hiltie and Lazarus treat themselves to a lie in before taking a late breakfast of vegetable rissoles and synthetic egg substitute at the Heavenly Hash. The coffee is actually quite good and discussion with exhausted miners coming off the night shift reveals that Joshua Yang has his own patch in the park plaza where he grows coffee beans. It is one of the few things they genuinely look forward to in the cafeteria. Suitably refreshed, they make their way back to the hydroponic bay and this time strike it lucky, Jaffa Okoye, Brightside’s technical chief is there, sat before a computer terminal and monitoring the flow of nutrient feeds.
She greets you and you get straight down to business, showing her the contents of the attaché case. She agrees with your assessment that it would make an excellent nutrient material for plant life, but is highly amused by the suggestion that she might want to buy it off you. She explains that Brightside has tonnes of fertiliser that they extract from rocks mined from the planetoid below.
Next you show her a sample of the soil retrieved from the crystal sarcophagus. She rubs it between her fingers and sniffs it, agreeing that it is some sort of compost. You tell her where it came from and she hurriedly returns it, brushing her hands briskly together. She reminds you that the disappearance of the body caused a full scale security alert and they had better not have any run ins with the security chief, Livingston Roy, who was less than pleased.
Lastly, you ask her about the artists’ colony at Empty Graves. She doesn’t know any more than you have already gleaned. Several of the sky tombs have been re-purposed by hermits and Empty Graves is the most prominent of these. The artists have a battered old system shuttle which they use to visit Brightside to purchase supplies from time-to-time. Some of the miners use their accumulated leave to take a trip out there for a change of pace and scenery. She’s not been there herself but she knows Roland Lomax has paid a few visits there recently.
Thanking Jaffa for the information, Hiltie and Lazarus take their leave of her and quietly ponder what to do next while strolling out of the hydroponic bay. They both decide in the absence of any obvious course of action to visit the station director and see if he has any work for them. He is in the middle of his morning stand up with the mining chief and the refinery shift leaders and so they have to wait in the secretarial area. The meeting is obviously a stormy one judging by the raised voices and when it breaks up Mary Tomlinson exits Dutta’s office looking cross, the three shift leaders in her wake.
It is another ten minutes before the pair are summoned into the director’s office and he is seated behind his desk all smiles. They ask about the work situation on Brightside and the director talks to them about the vacancies he currently has and their relevant experience. He has nothing other than manual labour in the refinery that matches Lazarus’ skills profile, which the latter politely declines. Hiltie, however, has some expertise in system maintenance, especially mining systems, as he spent his childhood on a mining ship, and Dutta has a proposal for him.
Every year the station tests its disaster recovery procedures and that time is more or less due. Normally Dutta has to remove Mary Tomlinson from her normal duties as mining chief so that she can work on preparing the plan for the test. As they are having to work extra hard to meet the novium quotas this quarter that is not a palatable prospect for Dutta so he offers Hiltie a 5 day contract at Cr 25 per day to prepare the plan. Obviously Mary and the other station chiefs will be available to answer questions but this will free them up from most of the tedium of having to prepare the actual plans themselves. Hiltie is very pleased with this proposal and signs up like a shot. Dutta is equally pleased and says that he will make a desk and a terminal available for Hiltie in the secretarial office tomorrow, “where he can keep an eye on things”.
The pair leave Dutta’s office, Hiltie in good spirits and the crushing disappointment of the mundane nature of the white powder forgotten. Lazarus is less so and suggests they both head to the Midnight Sun for a drink. Hiltie declines, he wants to prepare for his assignment and get a good night’s sleep, so Lazarus heads up there alone. As he arrives, there is a fairly raucous karaoke event going on – the good performers have credit chips thrown their way, the less talented are driven off stage by a barrage of plastic bottles. Marion Hardlee is tending the bar and on sight of him she scowls and turns away, remembering their first encounter and Lazarus’ rudeness. He follows her around to the other side of the bar and tries his best to be charming (in his own slightly disconcerting and uneasy way), explaining that they got off on the wrong foot and he just wants a drink and a chat. She slams a drink down on the counter and gives him the fakest smile seen in this corner of the galaxy for a long time. She is hard and totally without humour so Lazarus just gets to the point – he is looking for work and will consider any menial jobs she has. And so it is, much to Marion’s amusement, that Lazarus finds himself acting as pot boy for that evening, collecting up the empty glasses and bottles, clearing out the ashtrays, doing the washing up, sweeping the floors, and cleaning and polishing all the work surfaces at the end of the evening. Marion watches him like a hawk, berating everything he does before rewarding him with a princely Cr 5 for 5 hours of hard and unpleasant work.
Lazarus, however, uses the opportunity to keep his ears open as to what the miners are talking about in between heckling the performers on stage. Most of the miners are fed up with the continuing quota demands from Dutta and think they would be in a better place were Dutta to go into respectable retirement and Roland Lomax were promoted to station director. Not everyone is like minded – the cargo handlers, office staff, and maintenance workers in particular are less than enamoured with Lomax and would not be in favour of such a situation.
To be continued…