‘Senor Achernar and Senora Vertise.’ The speaker wore the red and black uniform of Security. ‘I am Lieutenant Pedros and you are under arrest.’
Ms. Narita shrugged. ‘I don’t really know. From what she has said, maybe twelve years or so?’
‘The people I deal with are not terrorists. They people they deal with are probably not terrorists. After that, the trail goes cold. But rest assured, the only thing that matters is loyalty to your friends.’
‘I’m telling you Ach, there is no way she has survived twelve years in a cryo pod.’
2226 – 03.15, Macapa, Earth
‘How many more times do we have to go through this?’ asked Paula to the camera. ‘We were asked by the steward on the TAPP; his name is Alain; to look into why a passenger had locked herself away. We didn’t find anything.’
‘You spoke to Narita Nuboku on several occasions? You were seated at the same table in the TAPP.’
‘Incorrect. I was on Table 2; Narita was on Table 1.’ ‘Achernar was on Table 1 as well?’ ‘No, he was on Table 3.’
‘Interesting. Ms. Wantanabe was also on Table 3. I understand that you and Mr Achernar shared a cabin?’
Paula flared; ‘That’s none of …’; just then the door opened and a business-suited woman entered and faced the camera.
‘I am a lawyer representing the Kinako Corporation; Ident KN7456-CW. Ms Vertise and Achernar are to be released immediately, Lt. Pedros.’
2226 – 03.15. Macapa, a hotel
As Paula and Achernar entered the room; Etamin gave them the ‘thumbs-up’. Bellatrix and Rachel came from the bedroom.
‘My name is Callis Westile; I’m a legal rep for Kinako.’ The woman took a seat and opened a briefcase/ terminal. ‘You were riding the TAPP down to Macapa; you were asked to investigate why a passenger, Ms. Wantanabe, wouldn’t leave their cabin. You spoke to Ms. Narita Nobuko, who shared the cabin with Ms. Wantanabe. Did you see or speak to Ms. Narita after that?’
Both shook their head. Callis made a note on her terminal. ‘Ms. Narita was found dead in the cabin on the TAPP; her throat had been crushed; squeezed laterally as if in the jaws of a vice.’
2226 – 03.16, Macapa, a hotel
‘Some info on that cryo pod has come through’. Paula looked up from her terminal. ‘It’s been buried; but it looks like the pod was linked into Gateway Station for power and supplies; paid for from an anonymous account since 2224. I said there was no way she’s been there for 12 years.’
‘Any updates on who Narita is … was?’ Paula shook her head. ‘Still working on that; I’ve still got one or two contacts to try.’
Later that day they boarded an SST, a W-K Aerospace Skyliner, for the 20 hour flight to New London. About 12 hours into the flight a fault developed in the heating systems and it grew intensely cold in the cabin (the SST was cruising at 60,000 feet.) Achernar was able to fix the problem; but what he found made him really angry and he demanded to speak to the captain.
‘Your ground maintenance is appalling and shoddy. I had to tighten three leaking glands and your people have put ordinary grease on an oxygen feed! Do you know what could happen?’
2226 – 03.18. New London, UK.
“This is the news from NBC, broadcasting to Earth-Net and to Planet-Net; I’m Tara Chang. The headlines tonight:-
* Violence flares outside the ICO offices in Singapore following an announcement to step up the ECP (Enforced Colonisation Program) of the Outer Rim
* Kinako announced the development of a new colour – Kinako Grey. A spokesman for the company said that the new colour will be cheap and come in a variety of flavours tailored to the client base.
* New York Island Police are investigating the death of a businessman; found crushed to death in his apartment on Central Island.
Later on in the programme I will be joined by …”
‘I don’t know a lot about Earth, and England in particular; but wasn’t London a port on the coast?’ asked Bellatrix. She and Rachel were sat together; looking at a guide book.
‘London was always low-lying and when the sea levels rose; it got swamped. A lot of it is still there; but the decision was made long ago to move the administration centre fifty miles north-west to here.’
‘So how come New York…?’
‘The Americans thought differently. The upper levels of most of the skyscrapers would remain above water; so they fortified the base levels; then connected the upper levels by bridges and built helipads on the tallest buildings.’
2226 – 03.18. New London, UK, Virtual Zoo
The Zoo was a sobering testimony to Man’s uncaring stupidity. It was a series of linked domes in which were projected images and recorded footage of animal species that would never be seen again. There was no preaching or reproaching commentary; only the images, accompanied by music. All visitors were left to make up their own minds.
Later that night; Rachel and Bellatrix sat out on the balcony of the hotel. They still wore breather masks, however the smog had lowered and the stars were visible. They fetched a pair of binoculars from inside.
‘That’s Wolf 359, Crown, my home. There, we don’t kill the environment. The environment kills us.’
‘So why the push to go to Nigeria? Crown is your home.’
Bella turned towards Rachel. ‘I can’t explain it; really, I can’t. For my great, great grandparents, I need a handful of that soil.’
‘I never knew my parents; I grew up on a Kinako algae farm.’
2226 – 03.20. Lagos, Nigeria
Arriving at the airport, they were detained by security police. They were on the lookout for weapons smuggling and were suspicious of the intentions of the group to travel up-river into insurgent territory; however a donation of 200 credits into a suitable expense account smoothed the way. Achernar led the way down to the river.
‘WTF! What is that?’ Bellatrix stopped mid-stride, her mouth open. Achernar grinned. ‘That’s our transport up to Osogbo’
Standing on the riverbank was a machine, looking like a slab-sided beetle standing on six hydraulic legs. A control cabin sat at the front, behind this was a turret mounting a weapon. Two crab-like claws on hydraulic arms sat either side of the control cabin. A ladder led up to an open hatch. A large black man wearing crew overalls and a crew cap stood at the bottom of the ladder.
‘Hi folks.’ He had an American accent. ‘Call me LL. How do you like our Sturmkafer? We’re going to be taking a trip upriver. Come on aboard and meet the crew.’ He swung up the ladder and into the hatch.
Paula rounded on Achernar furiously. ‘I thought you said we were going by armoured hovercraft, not this heap of junk! What the hell is it, anyway?’
Etamin pointed at the side of the machine; the washed-out letters spelling USMC – JC1 could just be made out. Inside the cabin was painted a grey-green; with army style- bucket seats with a few cushions. A ladder led up to the control cabin. There were side windows with what looked like gun ports underneath. LL was there, with two other men. LL introduced them; Frank was American, he was the driver/ pilot and Stevens, an Australian, was the engineer.
‘Welcome aboard the Sturmkafer, the assault beetle. Actually, it was called the Jungle Cat; but not many six-legged cats around. Take a seat; Frank, get us moving. It’ll take about two days; the beetle isn’t fast, but not much can stop it.’ *
The Beetle lurched into moving and settled down to a rolling gait, similar to being on a ship at sea.
‘This was a USMC project to clear out landing sites in jungle terrain; you dropped one of these in and it could clear the terrain for landers to get in. The project was cancelled; Stevens here was one of the main engineers. When me and Frank mustered-out of the Marines, we all clubbed together and bought this at a knock-down price; Stevens came with it. Now we run groups of scientists or private charters like you up into the interior; in between we do a little bounty hunting.’
‘So how do they clear landing sites now?’ asked Etamin.
‘Oh now, they just drop the right-sized daisycutter where they want it’
2226 – 03.21-22 Aboard the Sturmkafer, heading towards Osogbo and the sacred grove of Osun-Osogbo.
‘Frank and me were in the 26th MEU, Charlie Company.’ LL cracked a Red Dragon open. ‘We had to do a bug hunt once, back in 2222, on Vernier, in the CAP. A frozen planet, needed respirators and cold as fuck. Scientific research team reported survey kit was being destroyed. Turned out, it was a plant-thing; active from the heat of the floodlights – it crawled/ grew up them until the weight caused them to collapse.’ **
The beetle didn’t travel at night (‘we bought the basic thing only, second-hand, there’s no IR or radar’) They had several Wildlands tents that were set up round the access ladder to the beetle.
‘Sleep with your guns’, advised LL. ‘This is not a safe area.’
‘What’s not safe?’ LL shrugged and started to strip his M8 EBR. ‘Pirates, outlaws, bad men who want to steal your kit, or even steal you. A science team got scalped out here a couple of years ago. Also, there are creatures. Maybe they are mutations, maybe they were created by a biolab and they escaped. We call then Draggots; they look like a large dog with crocodile jaws; they just kill for no reason and they are tough bastards to kill. Oh, and they hunt in packs.’
2226 – 03.24, aboard the Sturmkafer, returning to Lagos.
‘This is a handful of soil from my ancestral home.’ Bellatrix held the jar aloft. Achernar looked at Etamin; but Etamin just looked down and said nothing.’
Suddenly, the cabin exploded into flame and the beetle lurched sideways to the right. Achernar was thrown against the bulkhead; the rear of the cabin was on fire.
‘Pirates!’ yelled down Frank. ‘Three boats, one has a RPG that they just put into us. They might have damaged one of the legs. Hang on.’
The fire was quickly put out, but a hail of automatic weapon fire hit the beetle; several punching holes through and inside.
‘I thought this thing was armoured!’
LL pulled himself up, bleeding from a stomach wound. ‘This was the prototype; the Corp didn’t waste money on a failed project.’
‘Do we have any weapons?’
‘There is a M5A5 coilgun in the turret hardpoint. Stevens is the gunner.’ Achernar pointed; Stevens was on the deck; bleeding from multiple wounds.
‘Frank, full speed ahead.’
‘You’ve got it already; we’re limping; Leg L2 is out. This is why the MC abandoned walkers; too vulnerable to leg hits.’
Another burst of automatic fire hit the beetle; Achernar and LL grabbed the M8’s and returned fire through the gunports. Suddenly, with a sound like tearing cloth, the 12mm coilgun in the turret opened up. The boat with the RPG gunner disintegrated in a hail of fire; then exploded. ‘Got the bastard’, yelled Paula. The other two boats loosed off a few more shots and then retreated, there was another burst of fire from Paula in the turret and now only one boat was retreating.
‘Ach.’ It was Etamin. ‘Bella’s been hit.’ She had taken a head wound and was unconscious, clutched tightly in her hand was the unbroken jar of soil. Paula managed to stabilise her. Stevens had taken several glancing hits; probably from ricochets and after a couple or Red Dragons, declared that he was okay.
2226 – 04.01. Lagos
Bellatrix was recovering in hospital and was due to be discharged. LL had visited her a few times to see how she was (‘I feel guilty man, I should have protected the group better.’)
Paula, however, had some more disturbing news; her contacts had come back with some more information and a pattern was emerging. She called everyone together in the hotel room. She laid out some sheets of paper with notes on them and began to summarize points.
- Ms. Wantanabe refuses to come out of her room after the first night on the TAPP and it turns out she has been on Gateway in a cryo pod for two years (not twelve, as she apparently claimed.)
- Ms. Narita raises a concern about her and is found dead in the cabin, her throat crushed like in a vice.
- A businessman is found dead in New York; he died from crush damage to the throat. His name was Barry Whyte.
‘Hang on,’ said Etamin. ‘He was on the TAPP; he shared a cabin with me.’ Paula nodded; ‘that’s not all he shared.’
- In Paris, a woman was found dead in a hotel room; her throat had been crushed. Clothing and other evidence indicated that she was a high-class prostitute. Her name was Stella Etoile; presumably a working name. She was also on the TAPP and shared a cabin with Barry Whyte.
- Yesterday, a steward for EarthStar TO was found dead. Her throat had been crushed; her name was Vikki and she was the steward that greeted us aboard the TAPP at Liberty.
Achernar had been quietly listening; now, with effort, he spoke. ‘Barry Whyte, Stella and Wantanabe were all seated at my table for the departure meal in the TAPP. Vikki was our steward.’ He stood and looked out of the window. ‘So, Wantanabe is killing us off and I’m next on the list? Is that it?’ Paula didn’t answer and Achernar turned to face her. ‘Is that it? Wantanabe wants to kill me?’
Paula stood with tears streaming down her face. ‘I’m sorry Ach. Yes, I think that Wantanabe is a replicant; a killer Haruna clone, a … a Lebkuchen. But there’s more …’
‘What? What more?’
Paula took a deep breath. ‘Remember on Crown, when I found out who and what Lydia was; a GF 3 collector of genetic material? I’m sorry, really sorry Ach, but the DNA tests prove it.’
She took a deep breath and her voice broke.
‘Wantanabe is your daughter.’
To be continued …
* Can you spot the reference? It would be FAB if you could.
** Another Easter egg reference; maybe it should be named New Europa.
The longest episode write-up to date; but so much happened and the whole Wantanabe story suddenly began to come together (most of it wasn’t planned – honest!) However, when Gaming, I always look to see if any previous events can be tied in first before generating new ones.
I’m not yet sure whether LL will become another PC; he was based on LL Cool J from NCIS: Los Angeles.
The growing bond between Rachel and Bellatrix also came as a surprise, again, looking back on events; it’s not unexpected.
Episode 2.13 is projected to be the Season finale; however, the way things have been going; it could be a two-parter!
(Can I just say; I have NO IDEA what the end is going to be. That’s the fun of playing solo.)