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 are all happy to put the bizarre and sinister Empty Graves behind yourselves although less than delighted at the prospect of another two day trip back to Brightside crammed into the drone retrieval bay of the Leadbelly. At least the trip passes uneventfully even if interminably and on arrival it seems strange that you would be beginning to welcome your room in the transients’ quarters as home, but you do.
Once you have stowed all your gear away and availed yourself of some refreshments in the Midnight Sun and some real food (tank grown meat substitutes aside) in the Heavenly Hash, attention turns to selling the shimmerglass icons you bought from Ramsley. You wait until what passes for normal office hours aboard Brightside and then contact Marius Rochambeau who offers to meet you in the Heavenly Hash for a late breakfast. He is wearing sunglasses and looks somewhat the worse for wear, limiting himself to a large cup of coffee and a bread roll with some jam. Apparently one of the miners hosted a hydroponic hooch party last night. He examines the icons you have brought back and, pointing out their more primitive lines, pronounces them to date from the Ushan First Dynasty some six to eight thousand years ago. After some good natured minor haggling, you settle on a price of Cr 400 for the quartet.
Business concluded, you spend the rest of the day at leisure, even going so far as to take a picnic lunch to the park plaza along with some of the other office workers of Hiltie’s acquaintance. According to the omni-present digital readouts displayed in the atria on every deck it is 23 days until the next novium transport (and the eagerly awaited bank auditor) is due to arrive and over lunch you discuss what to do in that time.
Ever the pragmatist, Munroe is very keen that you avoid getting involved in any local politics and entanglements and for once he gets general agreement to that sentiment. You decide to keep a low profile, stay in your quarters as much as possible, pick up whatever gainful employment is going otherwise, and basically wait it out until the novium transport arrives.
Hiltie manages to secure another short contract with Yash Dutta, this time rebuilding the flight systems on the novium retrieval drones. Due to the intense radiation put out by the Beast, each drone can only make a limited number of flights before its on-board guidance software needs to be reinstalled and the director is happy to relieve one of his technicians of the chore. Lazarus continues to work as a cleaner in the Midnight Sun, Hiltie and Priest pick up some labouring work at the refinery. And so it is that you pass into a steady routine of work for those that have it, eating and sleeping.
Quite early on in this process of trying to integrate yourselves into the normal day to day life of Brightside station, Priest is intercepted as he comes off shift at the refinery by a white man with close cropped hair and beard peppered with grey. He is in good shape and clearly takes care of himself. He is wearing a neatly pressed security uniform and his name tag identifies him as Livingston Roy, the security chief you have heard about. Hanging from his belt are a variety of pouches and the usual paraphernalia of handcuffs, pepper spray, and stun baton, rounded off by a holstered heavy calibre revolver.
Roy gets straight to the point. He has heard that Priest has been asking questions about the station’s safety procedures and backup systems and he doesn’t like strangers sticking their noses into places where they have no business. Priest maintains his innocence and claims he was simply being prudent in familiarising himself with the station’s emergency equipment. Roy is partially satisfied but warns Priest that if someone else has reason in bringing his activities to security’s attention then he will have no compunction in having him removed from the station. Priest departs with a defiant “whatever” air and heads back to the transients’ quarters for a shower.
Days of similar routine turn into weeks and you begin to get some kind of idea on the difficulty of keeping the station staff occupied and out of mischief for extended periods on a remote and isolated mining station. You quickly sink into a routine in which the major variables are what film is showing in the small station cinema and what group of staff has dared to try and entertain the patrons at the Midnight Sun.
As the day when the novium transport is expected to arrive draws closer, there is a mounting sense of anticipation among the station staff. Not only does it make a welcome break in the routine and a few new faces around the place, but many are hoping it will mark the end of the longer shifts the director has instituted and that the pace will return to a more normal one. There is no way of knowing for sure when exactly the transport will arrive as the spike drive paths between systems are constantly shifting and the navigator can sometimes be at the mercy of dangerous and unpredictable energy fluxes. Even after the transport has drilled into the outer rim of the Hard Light system, communications are so disrupted by the Beast that only when it gets close enough to use a comm laser will you know it is due to arrive, and that will be as little as an hour’s notice.
As it happens, the novium transport arrives slightly earlier than expected and, as soon as word gets around that it is shortly due to dock a small group of off duty workers, including Yash Dutta and several of the section chiefs, assembles outside the docking bay, plus yourselves. The novium transport is roughly the size of a frigate, just able to fit inside Brightside’s pressurised docking bay. You do not have to wait long before the airlock is released and the first out is a portly man in a suit with a briefcase, clearly the bank auditor. Accompanying him is the transport’s captain and a team of four uniformed security men armed with laser pistols.
Yash Dutta steps forward to formally welcome the auditor to Brightside station on behalf of all the crew and the two shake hands. The director ushers the auditor away to the station offices, Roland Lomax following close behind, and more crew disembark from the transport – cargo handlers mainly but also some technicians and flight crew no doubt eager to escape the confines of their ship after the long flight in. With the initial excitement over, the small crowd disperses.
Roughly an hour later, you are quite surprised to hear the station PA system crackle into life and Roland Lomax’s distinctive Scottish burr address the entire crew. He announces that with immediate effect and on the orders of the bank auditor Yash Dutta has been suspended from duty as the director of Brightside station. Elections will be held to select an interim director until a permanent replacement is appointed by the bank.
You make your way up to the station administration offices on Middeck and find that many of the station’s crew have had the same idea, assembling in the atrium to find out what is going on. There is quite a crowd there by the time the bank auditor comes out of the office block with Yash Dutta in tow escorted by two of the transport’s security guards. Bringing up the rear is a very smug looking Roland Lomax.
Livingston Roy and several of his security team are present and they push their way through the crowd, Roy shouting about how this cannot be allowed. The guards escorting Dutta become tense and draw their pistols, Roy’s team doing likewise. At this moment Yash Dutta intervenes, ordering Roy to stand down. “We’ve been through too much together, Livingston,” he says. “I’m old and tired, and I don’t want you to die for my sins.” Livingston Roy lowers his pistol in confusion and the moment of defiance passes as Yash Dutta is led away under arrest to the novium transport.
The bank auditor calls out to the crowd that an election will be held shortly to select an interim director and that selection will be ratified (or otherwise) by the next transport to arrive. He asks all of the crew to assemble in the park plaza in two hours time where the vote will be conducted. The crowd starts to break up into huddles of speculative gossip and Roland Lomax steps in, saying that the refinery shifts are suspended for the next 24 hours pending the election, but that all pay will still be honoured. Mary Tomlinson looks sideways at Lomax and then chips in stating that a return to 8 hour shifts will recommence thereafter. The auditor looks alarmed but he stays silent as a cheer breaks out from the miners.
After the crowd has dispersed, some looking deeply concerned but others revelling in the opportunities the unexpected holiday has made possible, you take the opportunity to enter the offices. The secretarial staff are there, mostly in a state of confusion, so you breeze past them directly into Dutta’s office, and find the agitated looking auditor in there. Several dataslabs are strewn on the desk and he has a sheaf of reports in one hand. He seems almost welcome of the distraction you are providing but he point blank refuses to answer any questions about what has caused this turn of events.
You get down to business and produce the GMI stock certificate that Abbot Hong gifted to you all those months ago on Chifeng. The auditor expresses surprise at seeing such a piece of history again, and reminds you that GMI collapsed in a fraud scandal 50 years ago and the shares are essentially worthless. The smiles fall from your faces. However, he goes on, a compensation scheme for shareholders was set up and as far as he knows it was never closed down. Your faces light up with smiles again. On the downside the compensation was only a fraction of the face value of the shares themselves and was more of a good will gesture by the bank when it arranged the debt for equity swap and took over the operation of GMI. The smiles are gone again. He takes out a calculator and taps a few keys. He estimates you could be in line for compensation of – the tension rises as you don’t know whether to smile or frown – somewhere in the order of… oh, around about – he taps some keys again – eight thousand credits. It’s beaming smiles all around and the auditor is quick to jump in and tell you that he can authorise that payment as long as you sign papers there and then waiving all future claims and agreeing this is full and final settlement. The only question is who is to sign and Lazarus takes the honour, using his thumb print and a retina scan to authorise the transfer of the money to a credit chip.
As you leave the office block, Lazarus heads off on his own across the atrium to the Midnight Sun. It is crowded and Marion Hardlee is looking greatly harassed. The buzz in the air is a mixture of excitement and anxiety. He spots a miserable looking Livingston Roy sitting on his own in one of the booths, half empty glass in front of him.
Lazarus wanders over and makes a silent “can I join you?” gesture. Roy shrugs and Lazarus seats himself in the booth. Roy is withdrawn and answers Lazarus’ questions in a perfunctory manner as if the man has gone into auto-pilot. He’s not happy with the situation and he fears for the station’s continued existence without Dutta’s firm but fair guidance, especially if Roland Lomax manages to grasp the reigns of power. He doesn’t see there’s anything he can do about it though. He was born on Brightside station shortly after Dutta assumed the directorship 50 years ago and he knows no other home or life. On top of that he would never go against Dutta’s order to stand down. He tells Lazarus that he owes Dutta a great debt. As a boy he was trapped in the refinery during a buffer fluid spill and would have died had Dutta not risked his own life to save him.
Lazarus feels sorry for the man, but there seems to be little he can do to console him, and he pats him sympathetically on the shoulder before leaving and joining the streams of people heading up to Highdeck and the park plaza. Lazarus spots the rest of you assembled at the back of the crowd and joins you, filling you in on events at the Midnight Sun. The auditor arrives soon after and asks the crowd who wishes to nominate and second candidates for the interim directorship. Three people are put forward. Roland Lomax, the cargo chief, Mary Tomlinson, the mining chief, and Jaffa Okoye, the technical chief. To a handful of boos the latter declines to stand although she expresses flattery and gratitude at being nominated.
The matter is resolved with a straightforward show of hands. There is significant support for Mary among the administrative and technical staff, and some of the miners, but there is greater support for Roland Lomax from the refinery and cargo staff, and Lomax carries the day. He is hoisted shoulder high by the refinery staff to cheers, and some hissing.
You slip away from the crowd at the rear and return to your quarters to decide what to do next. It takes you little time. With that fat credit chip burning a hole in your pockets you have no reason to stick around in Hard Light any more, scrabbling for a few credits from the sale of looted artifacts. The opportunities of the entire Hydra sector lie before you. You quickly make contact with the captain of the novium transport and arrange for passage out of the system. The price is eye watering, 500 credits per person, but you could wait for weeks or even months for a free trader to pass through so you agree.
Now the adventure really is about to commence.
To be continued…