On Course to El Dorado

What did you bring on board Big P?
...but we haven't done anything wrong officer.

An explosion of light as Cherenkov radiation escapes into another reality on down-jump.  The “wobble” isn’t there for some reason, only going in.  Sirius, the ship’s doc, who also doubles as Nav second, spends a few seconds checking astrogation charts against local spectometry and observable system phenomena, then declares a spot on jump to the 100 diameters limit in the Ao-dai system.

Mr Forbes spent most of the week in his state room, though he mixed with the crew at some meal times and used the ship’s lounge exercise facilities extensively.  The man is fit and hard, beyond what you’d expect from a desk jockey.  A few further questions have arisen over an incident a couple of days into jump.  Murdock, doing his best stewardy stuff noted a rather large calibre weapon in Mr Forbes’s travel case.  James consealed it quickly, but the Droyne sneaked a better look when he was out of his room, then informed the captain.  Forbes apologised, explaining that travelling outside the Imperium required a man to take care of himself and checked in the gun for lockup as per the ships orders.  What does a businessman want with a custom, “point and shoot” personalised grip Schmetz and Wernecke LP30.1 laser pistol?

After a days crawl in system to the local gas stop (Jovian to the Joes and Gas Giant to you planet-grubbers) and another day’s bumpy ride, skimming and filtering we boost on out to the jump point.  “Weep, weep”, red light on the Captain’s dash and the comms board…

..is the Zhodani Consulate Customs Boat ‘Malachy’ – please heave to and prepare to be boarded for customs’ inspection.  Repeat – this is the ZCCB Malachy – please heave to and prepare to be boarded for customs’ inspection.

What the f***!  We’re in open space and haven’t made planetfall or anything – what do they mean “customs” inspection?  This is against the law man, and seriously treading on our “freedom”.  You don’t get this shit in Impy space.

The damn Joe must have spotted us beyond our range – we’ve got to upgrade these crappy civ sensors sometime.  If it’s a Zhodani patrol boat he’s got way more delta V than we’ll ever have.  Capn Jim mutters a curse under his breath and prepares to issue a reply and shipwide announcement about our temporary delay and unexpected visitors.  Suddenly the ship’s intercom bleeps…

“Captain, I wondered if I might have a quiet word; before you reply to our annoying pursuers?”

Hey, how did Forbes know about our contact?  The Captain asks him to come up to the bridge and meets him in the corridor outside.  Closing the door they had a few moments conversation then Jim opens up and calls us all in on a conflab on the intercom.

Turns out our pristine high-paying, tooled, passenger is an Impy agent.  Great, several of us have served and we should really have spotted the clues, but oh well.  To add insult to injury “can we all pretend like he’s not here/part of the crew” as he suspects the Joes might be looking for him.  What are the odds those buggers have a ’path on board, eh?!?

In the end we decide that he’s telling the truth and we ain’t gonna let no Zhodanis haul him off if we can help it  We go for concealment and stick him in the smuggling spaces.  Hopefully this will be all over quickly and he won’t suffocate, though he’ll probably be a bit bedraggled.

As the rest of us the Captain makes sure that only those with psi-resistance training are gonna be up front.  So that’s him, Eury our ship’s security and Sirius the Doc.

Anyway, we play like good little boys and take a straight course, decelerating to allow the Zhodani to match us and dock – which all goes smoothly…  Shortly after there’s a “knock” on the hatch and we cycle the lock to allow our visitors on board.  Two Joes are in the lock and step inside.  Jim greets the taller of the two, a thin aesthete wearing dark ships glasses and a narrow smile  Behind him is a younger guy with a shock of blond hair and a faint smirk that says, “I know what you don’t want me to”.  Yep!  A ’path, the shoulder patches on the Joe navy patrol suit indicate this.

Eury stands at the Cap’s shoulder at parade rest, looking big, muscular and dumb (which he isn’t) in miltary fatigues and a weights vest.  Sirius stands back a little and covers the access hatch to the crew lounge down the corridor.  Jim – politely – asks why we have been stopped and requests the Joes ident and authorisation.  The guy hands over his packet and sadly all seems to be in order. Jim repeats his query…

Ah! Captain, surely you know this is Zhodani space and Zhodani law applies.  No respectable Zhodani citizen would object to our lawful authority and reasonable request.  We merely wish to conduct a customs’ inspection and verify any passengers’ visas for trade and business within Zhodani space.

Now we hit the crunch – Captain Jim, smiles easily, hands back the packet and lies through his teeth…

Fine with us I guess – just not used to this intrusiveness?  We’re only carrying Zhodani authorised freight, transhipping from Farreach and we’ve got all our papers for that and your government’s trading licence.

Part of the trick to outwitting a probe is to put enough truth in there and lean on this to try to cover the untruths.  That and hope they don’t use a deep probe.

What? No passengers?

…The Joe seems slightly surprised and the Psi’s eyes glaze for a moment.  If you know what you’re looking for and expecting it, some people claim to be able to feel a tickle when your brain gets violated.

Jim, Eury and Sirius go for what they know is true and try and hold it.  The Zhodani agent (yeah he is) looks around at his colleague and says…

We thought…

The blond one gives a nearly imperceptible shake of his head…

…but, no, no matter.  We will need to inspect your cargo and verify your crew, but all seems to be in order.

Luckily you can trust Murdoch our onboard elec and computer geek and, for some reason, ship’s steward, to hold it together without instructions  The crew and passenger manifest looks as clean as a freshly wiped baby’s bottom; there’s nary a mention of Jimbo the Spy. The cargo inspection goes just fine.  As all the (visible) goods are Zhodani with full and legit documentation they haven’t really got any grounds to be pissy.

After some pleasantries, the Joe agent politely declines Zhodani tea and he and his minion leave.  We get the f*** out of there; which of course for our underpowered tramp means we make an unsuspicious troll towards the safe jump radius.  We’re about an hour short and ten from the Joe customs’ boat when Grav sensors indicate a jump flux level insertion to the system and the disruption in the signal indicates something coming in like a bat out of hell.  Doesn’t look good, but maybe it’s nothing to do with our passenger.

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Hey - wanna buy some of the good stuff?
Trading with the Zhodani and a new passenger.

With young Content Not Found: nathanial-atkinson left behind on Clan to fix up some freight after one of his famous little turns, the rest of us have shipped out to the deadly dull, but highly secure, Zhodani rockball of Farreach.  It’s a tiny rocky world, so small you can see the horizon’s curvature and everyone lives in the “dome”.  Normally the Zhodani are picky about letting outsiders onto this border planet, the farthest from their homeworld, but they maintain an outer, general starport of high quality, and for the right traders landing permits are granted.  It seems that the shabby little tramp trader the IMS El Dorado is just one such, or “Big P” as he likes to be known (“P” to his friends; don’t ask) knows someone who knows someone.

Anyway the ship has been down a day and Big P has been off into the Zhodani zone, doing a little private business – those hidden cargo areas have their uses.  The Zhodani administrator he deals with and his friends will be even more happy than they all claim they usually are and there’ll be a tidy bonus towards the ship’s costs.  Meanwhile the rest of us organise some freight tonnage to go to Clan, the Zhodani sector capital.

As we’re completing stowage and Content Not Found: jim-rayner is requesting port authority clearances for boost, the Joe port factor waddles up – he’s a fat little guy for a Zhodani – and asks if we also have any passenger transport berths.  Hell yes! Anything that brings in the bucks.  The only question is will we have to wait for this ground-pounder?  We don’t want to catch a penalty on the freight.

Turns out we don’t need to wait at all.  A figure detaches itself from a convenient wall it was leaning against and saunters over.  He’s about 6’2", tall, slender and carries himself with a subtle assurance.  You don’t tend to notice him ‘til he’s on top of you, or in your face; unassuming like.  Captain Jim looks him over and offers him a hand, while Euro moves over a little to assess the new meat.  The guy smiles and takes Jims hand, a firm, but short shake –
bq). “James Forbes, independent business consultant looking for fast passage to Esalin. I understand you’re heading my way?”

Jim nods and asks if our ship’s security can look over his papers and embarkation pass.  Mr Forbes hands over his docket, looking askance at Euro’s looming form.  Many people mistake Euro for a meat brick, given his bulk and scars, but there’s a cold brain under that warm loveable exterior.  He scans it, grunt’s and hands the docket back.
bq). “Looks fine Captain.”

Forbes smiles, takes his docket and addresses Jim,
bq). “I’m looking for a fast problem free passage; I have an important business meeting on Easlin and can’t be late.  I believe you’re on a maximum 4 week transit and that would be perfect.  I’m willing to pay well for the trip as my profit depends on it; say double the normal rate, ₵50K for a middle passage.”

The Captain blinks, but doesn’t hesitate to bite that off at the wrist; and just like that we have a passenger.

Boost goes normally with the Joes being as bland and polite as usual and a little while later we’re skimming a bucket of jump juice off the local Jovian special.  Next a short haul while we shake the crap from the juice, do a little astrogation and our resident engineer, Mr Murdock (a Droyne, don’t ask about the name), tries to figure out for the umpteenth time where our “jump bobble” comes from and then we’re away.  The El-Dorado gives that little inertial wobble as she up-jumps, but the Captain nurses her through it and the light show is as impressive as ever.

Next stop a little non-entity called Ao-dai, still in Zhodani space and then on to Clan, where we can earn some readies from freight shipping from Farreach before our final jump to Esalin.

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