It was 10pm the previous evening when the QLoK emerged from hyperspace. With arrival on Ruby due just four hours later, there wasn’t any point in anyone going to bed.
While Sinclair occupies the passengers’ attention with his final bout of tomfoolery, the other crew members solemnly take Forbes’ body, now wrapped in a bodybag and bring it down to the airlock. Dev says a few words, trying to remember what Duncan said when he performed the same ritual for Sarge’s funeral and then Forbes’ body is released into the freezing vacuum of space.
It’s 2.00am by the time Ruby fills the forward viewing screen and all the bridge crew are on deck. Dev calls the starport for clearance to land and is quickly allocated a landing pattern. Half an hour later and the QLoK is on the ground. Although Ruby is technically a B-class starport, most of the facilities are for the exclusive use of the IISS base which shares the commercial facilities. Sin-Sasha is relieved to see that the two Far Traders she shipped the excess rubber and pharma on are still in port.
Gaan and Francois are standing at the airlock to meet the customs officials as they step onboard in order to check the ship’s paperwork. At this time of night though, their enthusiasm for the task is low and they sign off all the documents after just cursory glances at them. Sinclair, dressed in his formal whites, shakes everyone by the hand as he lines up along with the rest of the crew in order to see the passengers off. The comments are universally excellent, with all of the toffs commenting that they can’t remember the time that they enjoyed a flight so much.
It’s 4.00am by the time that all of the passengers have disembarked and the customs formalities have been dealt with. Knowing that there is not much going to happen in the town for several hours, most of the party members head to their staterooms to get some sleep. Sinclair takes all of the Vargr to the large spaceport bar, Ruby’s, though where they continue the non-stop party with a few of the passengers.
It’s lunchtime by the time most of the party members are up. Calling the trade team of Sinclair, Professor Ron and Nung out of the bar, they head for the metro which links the starport with the four domes of Sawaiu Town – it’s hardly worth getting the truck out when the habitation is so small and the integrated transport system so efficient. Within 15 minutes, they are inside the commercial part of the undercity and head straight for The Factory, where Taylor told them they should be able to find Daniel.
The Factory is a large place which serves as a bar, restaurant and a meeting point for the few traders and brokers who make Ruby their home. It’s bustling with activity at lunchtime, tables filled with on- and off-worlders, haggling with one another to make some deals.
While Sinclair and his chums start to mingle with the buyers and sellers, the others head for the bar where they have a word with the barman, asking him if he knows where he can find Daniel. The barman shakes his head saying that he doesn’t know anyone by that name, but that he gets asked the same question on a fairly regular basis.
Knowing that Daniel is a regular here, they ask for the most frequent visitors to be pointed out to them. The barman lists off the names of half a dozen of the merchants who are in the place most days and the party members set off to schmooze.
They split up in order to speak with all of the regulars. In all cases, the merchants’ reactions are the same as the barman’s – they don’t know anyone called Daniel, but they get asked the question a lot. When Sin-Sasha speaks to a merchant called Stephen Muller and he hears the same line, however, she notices something about his body language and somewhat nervous reaction to the question that he is not entirely telling the truth. Knowing that she is on to something, she calls the rest of the party over to introduce them to Stephen.
The party members speak with Stephen for the next half-hour, playing a verbal game of poker where neither side wants to reveal their hand. Once he has pushed Dev as far as he can in order to get information, Stephen goes quiet for a moment, studying each of the party members carefully as if trying to determine which side they are on.
“The bench at the south side of the boating lake in Taenu Diran dome at 21.00,” he whispers.
Without saying another word, he gets up from the table and heads outside.
There are nearly eight hours to kill before the meeting and so the party members join Sinclair’s trading team in order to look for buyers and sellers. Sin-Sasha heads back to the starport where she picks up Francois and the pair of them make contact with the captains of the ships that brought the cargo over.
Back inside The Factory, it doesn’t take too long to speak to a large number of merchants to see whether they are interested in the rubber, furs and pharma supplies.
There is not a huge amount of interest in the rubber as there is no processing facility on Ruby which can make use of it. After a full afternoon of shopping it around to every merchant in the building, they do manage to find one buyer who is prepared to buy it for the standard wholesale price of Cr. 2000/ton.
Sinclair is still wearing his Pink Panda Pelt Pimp coat and goes on at length about how it is the most fashionable thing to be wearing this season; that the Jewell edition of Vogue is running a feature about it being the coolest fashion accessory for the spring season and how he ran into the famous rappers Matty-G Dawg and Murder First Perp wearing the exact same jacket on Esalin. One gullible buyer takes the bait, offering to buy the 4 tons of pelts at 20% over wholesale, at Cr. 8400 per ton.
It’s the pharma that gets the best reaction from the buyers though. Fortune has smiled on the party members as they discover that a minor virus has hit the town in the past couple of days – nothing serious – it just causes vomiting and diarrhea but, in a sealed town like Sawaiu, the constantly recycled air has seen the virus spread like wildfire.
With Ruby’s supplies of the appropriate pharma exhausted the previous day, a bidding war breaks out among the buyers in order to get the supplies. By the time the dust settles, they are sitting on a bid of four times standard wholesale for the pharma – at Cr. 400,000 per ton.
On the buying side, interesting purchases are not so easy to come by. There’s a massive amount of lead ore on the market – over 300 tons of the stuff, selling at just 30% of wholesale. As the wholesale value is just Cr.1000 per ton though, Professor Ron reminds everyone that the opportunity cost of any deal is the price of shipping commercial freight at Cr.1000/ton in pure profit and so he calculates that it’s still a not very interesting deal.
The afternoon is dragging on and it looks like the buying party are going to come up empty-handed, when Sinclair bids everyone to come and meet his new friend. His new friend turns out to be a merchant with a semi-precious stone called ferritanium to sell – three tons of the stuff. Maybe it’s the vast quantity of alcohol that Sinclair has shared with the man, but he says that he is prepared to let it go at just Cr. 50,000 per ton – just 5% of the whole price of MCr. 1 per ton.
Worried that the deal is too good to be true, Professor Ron checks the samples that the merchant has. He nods his head. “Yes, that’s genuine,” he says.
Business for the day is now pretty much over and so the party has an early dinner before making preparations for the meeting with Daniel later that evening.
Sin-Sasha heads to the park an hour before the meeting in order to scout it out. The place is pretty much empty now it’s getting dark. She locates a clump of bushes a few hundred metres from the bench and takes up position, covering the bench with one of Sinclair’s hunting rifles as her gauss rifle was not allowed through the security checks leaving the starport.
She sees Muller arriving half an hour before the meeting is scheduled to start. He is alone. He checks the area carefully, but doesn’t see the well-camouflaged Sin in the bushes.
In constant contact with Sin by radio, the other party members arrive at the scheduled time. Muller says nothing as they arrive, he just starts to move slowly around the circumference of the boating lake, the party members following him.
After thirty seconds of silent walking, he speaks. “I am Daniel,” he announces.
He explains that he is not Naval Intelligence. Like Martha Redway back on Esalin, he is just a courier – passing messages back and forth between agents knowing very little as to who they are or the contents of the messages in order to avoid damaging the network if he gets burnt.
Dev tells him that the main reason that they came to find him is that Forbes is dead and they have his datachip and he is the only contact that they have, given to them by Taylor. They are unsure as to whether to hand over the datachip to Daniel or not, but Daniel solves the dilemma by telling them that he doesn’t want it anyway. Forbes’ assassination has made him nervous in case the trail is already leading to him.
He asks about the contents of the datachip and Dev tells him that it’s heavily encrypted so they have no idea as to what the contents might be.
Daniel just nods. “In that case, there are just two people left in the ’Verse who will be able to crack it – the intended recipient – and the information who that is will have died with Forbes – and the person who encrypted it.”
“That person I do know as I introduced her to Forbes. She’s a Vargr cryptologist by the name of Gakha. She used to work at RubyCorp up until a year ago until she was laid off. She then got a job with MagnetoDynamics on Mongo. I guess she is still there.”
The party members sigh, not having any particular desire to head back to Mongo after being there just a month previously. However, they realize that, once the mission of great importance to NavInt is over with, any encounter that they have with Naval Intelligence after that will result in their immunity from trouble with the MoJ being over as well, so it will buy them some more time if they continue with the mission.
As they continue to walk around the circumference of the lake, they then tell Daniel about the events at the Ace of Clubs. Daniel promises to put the messages on a chip and pass the information on to the next ‘real’ NavInt agent passing through.
The meeting is now over. Daniel shakes each of the party members by the hand, wishes them good luck and then disappears into the night.
With little else to be done for the remainder of the day, the party members head back to the ship to find Sinclair already crashed out there together with his friends, his manic energy having subsided once again.