Episode 304: The Masquerade Begins
Air Date: 26 Jan 2010
Present: Maer, Terri, Tony, Andy, and Bobby
Tuesday, 22 Oct 2520
White Sun (Bai Hu) system
08:00hrs, local time
We keep watch on Arden in shifts, to protect him from whoever’s rifling through his medical records. For all we know, it’s an assassin instead of a nosy medical records clerk and since Arden is our friend, we’re taking no chances.
Dr. Rava asks Arden if he is still up to making a presentation of his TSE research later that night. He insists he is, despite the risk of exposure to his unknown stalker. We swap out bodyguards on Arden and while Joshua and Rick stay with Arden, Nika goes back to the Gift where Rina’s been repairing the ship and keeping an eye on the Shepherd.
Shepherd Faria tells her that he’s received a copy of a series of coded messages. He hands her a sheet of paper with the words “Hail Caesar!” in the upper left corner. The half dozen or so short messages that follow are nothing but gobbledy-gook. Can Rina decipher the code? Faria asks.
Rina takes the page and realizes that the words “Hail Caesar!” are either the cipher key or a clue to it. Looking at the top message, she sees periods and apostrophes in their proper places, though the letters spell nothing she recognizes. She notes the frequency of certain letters and realizes it’s a shift-substitution when she sees: J’wf . Shifting letters to the one preceding it in the Roman alphabet, J becomes I, W becomes V, F becomes E. Thus “I’ve” is “J’wf.” It’s a simple lateral shift, just as Julius Caesar realized when he invented the code.
She deciphers it rather quickly after that and what comes to light is a series of messages of someone reporting to Parliament about resistance and anti-alliance snetiments. Of sending reports and the ensuing paranoia when the reports aren’t acknowledged as received. The farther along the messages get, the more one senses the paranoia and desperation growing until the last message is:
“The moose is on the garage door. I hope this gets through. –J.”
The Shepherd tells us that J is Mr. Jackson, the manager of the Corone Bismuth Mine that Faria’s bound to go to. And he would like to see just what is going on at the mine where human rights abuses have been reported, and being caused by one of his former men. Jackson is here on Pericles Station, bound for the mine on Highgate. Faria hatches a plan—waylay or divert Jackson after having Joshua interview the man, then have Joshua take his place using his chameleon abilities.
Joshua has the plastic surgery device, a piece of equipment that ostensibly rearranges someone’s features. Joshua had no idea how to run it, but is willing to try it. He’s willing to go along with Faria’s plan. In Joshua’s mind, he owes it to us to try and he owes it to himself to take control of the abilities Blue Sun gave him…and make them his. By this measure, Joshua hopes to take back his life from the industrial giant.
Plans are made to convince Jackson to take a two-month round trip cruise aboard the gambling luxury liner, Nu Du Shen, going to Santo. Faria has the resources to buy the man a round trip ticket aboard the ship. All we have to do is convince the target to use it.
We decide that making it look like he’d won it in a random raffle would be best. Rick will use his celebrity to convince the man that the cruise is completely free—it’s merely an inducement to get people to advertise by mouth Rick’s upcoming new show. With the Cortex down, they cannot simply advertise as usual, they will have to rely on human beings to spread the word. Rick and Joshua are convincing enough and Jackson agrees to take advantage of the tickets, envisioning two months of non-stop gambling, lounging, and being tended to by luscious buxom babes. We arrange to meet him for dinner 7 hours from now to go over the legal paperwork and to fill out a customer questionnaire.
The time for dinner arrives and Joshua, Rick and Nika—decked out in something nice and alluring—get there first. Jackson arrives soon after and between Joshua’s professionalism as secretary, Rick’s celebrity, and Nika’s charm as product model, Jackson is convinced that we’re legit and that he’s free to take the tickets and go. We’ll take care of the necessary paperwork to make it square with his boss, we assure him. No problem.
During dinner, Jackson gets the idea that someone is staring at him. Rick looks where Jackson indicates and gets a glimpse of someone watching our table. Nika volunteers to go to the ladies room to get a better look at the guy and when their eyes are about to meet, the man in question looks away.
Meanwhile Arden is preparing for his lecture. When the dinner-time lecture gets underway, Rina stands off to the side in the wings of the stage, trying not to fall asleep from sheer boredom. She scans the crowd for potential assassins and comes up with only one candidate, a youngish man who seems impatient to approach Arden. At the close of the presentation, the young man steps forward—as does Rina.
The man introduces himself as a doctor carrying a shipload of people sick with TSE. Pericles Station quarantine regs won’t allow them aboard the station for fear of spreading the disease but since Arden is fast becoming a recognized expert in the field, could he come by and visit the stricken aboard their vessel?
Rina gets immediately hinked over the deal and excuses Arden for a moment. When she’s drawn him out of earshot she tells him it’s a trap—there is nothing to keep the nice young man from absconding with Arden once he steps aboard. Tell the man no, he won’t visit their ship but that he’s welcome to mail us any samples he can give us of the patients.
The young man acquiesces. Arden and Rina say their goodbyes soon after to the thronging Doctors attending the lecture….and they get out of there for the Gift. When they arrive, Faria tells them they had a delivery while the crew was out. It’s a bottle of fancy vodka from Novaya Rodina and there is no card given to identify the sender. The package the bottle arrived in is a velvet bag. Turning it inside out yields not clues. The bottle itself seems legit. Rina refuses to touch it with her bare hands, using her handkerchief as a glove and a shield. She gives it to Arden to test for poison and Arden finds more than anyone bargained for.
The bottle doesn’t have clear vodka but clear acid. Acid strong enough to etch metal.
The vodka was intended to harm or kill whoever drank it. Why? Who sent it?
It was delivered by courier service and there was no invoice to sign. Rina ends up going through all the on-station courier listings in an attempt to track down the originator of the present by tracking the courier he hired to deliver the bottle.
Sorry, no can do, is the answer she gets repeatedly. Private information.
With lift-off of Jackson scheduled for tomorrow and our departure for Highgate soon after, we really have no time to track down the bottle’s origin any further. Rina slaps duct tape on the bottle and draws the skull and crossbones on it. She locks it up securely with the other harsh chemicals she keeps in her machine shop and pockets the key.
We see Jackson off on his grand adventure and leave Pericles for Highgate on 23 Oct 2520. It’s going to be a 10 day journey to the Corone Bismuth Mine on Highgate, with ETA on 02 November—the holiday traditionally known as The Day of the Dead.
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