Star Bright

Showdown (19th July 2158)
19th July 2158

The Minotaur WTV had been pulled up in front of the main entrance, and Jake, Spyder and Doc. Orlov were hidden behind this. Jonas and Marcus were concealed inside the adjacent hanger, which was where Croatan’s own WTV was parked.

On their handcomps they watched and listened to the relayed feed as the two Wu Ketai WTV’s approached, and overheard the ensuing conversation. The familiar voice of Captain Zhu barked uncompromising instructions to Phillipe.

“Attention Unidentified Base. You will return the three fugitives to us at once. There will be no negotiation. Return them now or we will reclaim our personnel by force.”

Phillipe feigned ignorance.

“I am not interested in your lies, or the lies you have no doubt been told regarding these criminals. Return them now and I guarantee you will not be harmed. fail to respond immediately and I can guarantee nothing. That is all: you have one minute.”

After a minute Phillipe tried again, but this time there was no response. The two WTV’s started to back towards the entrance, and four black clad figures started to deploy from each. The figures initially took cover behind the wheels of their vehicles, and from the rear airlocks. And then Spyder could resist no longer and shot at one, missing. Two of the men re -positioned and started to fire back with their machine pistols. Jake remained hidden, having a limited field of fire.

From within the hanger Marcus operated the door switch, and as it opened both he and Jonas sprayed out with the Scimitars they had captured some weeks before, unfortunately hitting nothing. The counterfire clipped Jonas however and pinned them inside. Marcus jammed and struggled to reload.

There was a slight lull and one of the Wu Ketai men, seeing an opportunity to reach the side of the hanger and surprise its occupants, made a break for it. Jake was ready for it as the man cut across his field of fire, and a spray from his AFL -16 cut the man down.

This seemed to cause some consternation among the attackers. While one man kept Marcus and Jonas pinned down, the other two disappeared back inside the rover. One attacker, hit with multiple pistol bullets from Spyder and Doc. Orlov, staggered back inside the other WTV.

And then the southernmost WTV started to drive off, seemingly much to the irritation of the man shooting at the hanger. Seeing the other WTV flee, the one engaged with Spyder and Doc. Orlov also withdrew.

Peeping outside, Marcus espied the fallen chinaman, and dragged him inside. One of the Croatans appeared and squatted down, reading the mandarin insignia.

“Captain Zhu” he read slowly. “Guess you struck lucky.”

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"We Demand Our Property Back!" (19th July 2158)
19th July 2158

It was just before dawn when they were awoken. Jake was being shaken by a hairy chested man in a low cut shirt. Instinctively he clamped his legs to together and grasped the sheets tightly. Dimly he became aware of what the man was saying.

“Phillipe says come at once!” he said. “The proximity sensors indicate incoming vehicles.”

Quickly donning his cloths and grabbing his weapons, Jake followed the man to the ready room, where the others were assembling in various states of disarray.

“Two vehicles, probably Rovers. One mile and closing”said the Operator.

“We been followed” said Jake glumly. “Not much we could have done about it – tracks are easy to follow. But there it is.”

“This will mean trouble” said Marcus.

“What do you want us do Phillipe?” said Jonas. Phillipe looked troubled.

“We’re not equipped for violence” he replied sadly. “We’d hoped to put all that behind us. If they’re armed there’s little we can do to resist. I feel sorry for those poor chinese people.”

“I ain’t inclined to hand the prisoners up to them Corporate Nazi’s” said Jake, checking his rifle and lighting up a cigarette, ignoring the protests of the Croatans.

“The relay is being jammed” said the Operator. “They must have some sophisticated gear in one of those WTV’s.”

“I guess that proves they mean no good” said Jonas. “Spirit away the evidence. Maybe even you too.” Phillipe held out his hands.

“Look, we’re essentially helpless in this situation.” he said. “I’m not asking you to do anything – the whole situation is clearly dangerous – but if you see fit to help I won’t stop you, and we’d be grateful.”

“How gra…….”

“Not now, Spyder.”

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The Missing Scientists (18th July 2158)
18th July 2158

Of the Minotaur crew of eight, six were present, and in good health. One of course, was dead, and another, Dr. Saburo Shima, was not present, for reasons which soon became obvious.

As they made introductions one of the Croatans led in three chinese people -two men and a woman, all in their early twenties, and clad in simple overalls. Jonas frowned suspiciously.

“It all started twelve days ago” explained Dr. Braganza. “out of nowhere, and without a vehicle these three arrived at Minotaur. Their story was incredible, and I still find it hard to believe. Tell them Si Ri.” Shyly, and in broken English, the chinese woman started to tell her story.

“We three are property of Big Corporation – Wu Ketai” she said.

“Property?” said Jake. “Slaves!?”

“I not know this word. We special people built by Corporation, to live on Mars. They make us and we work for them, do many things. Experiments.”

“Sounds like slavery to me” muttered Jake. “All your lives? How old are you? Twenty five?”

“No, no, me only sixteen” said Si Ri. “Others too. Same batch.” There was a pause as her words sunk in.

“They GMO’s” said Doc Orlov. Dr. Braganza nodded.

“Bred in secret. Cloned to age ten or so I would guess, and with enhanced cold tolerance and other useful traits.” said Dr. Braganza. “But please continue Si Ri.”

“We have enough, and we steal Rover” she said. “We see map once and we decide if we drive west we might find other settlement. We not normally allowed maps, or know much about rest of world. Only Corporation.”

“Bastards” muttered Jake.

“But Rover, died, and we walk. Three days. three nights.” she continued.

“Here? On MARS!?” said Jonas in disbelief, remembering Marcus’s and Doc. Orlov’s previous warnings..

“We have Mars Suits, and supplies. But we special” she smiled shyly.

“They have to be” said Doc. Orlov, shaking her head.

“But we find base- Minotaur. One of things we see on map” she continued. “And kind scientists take us in.” she concluded, bowing to Dr. Braganza.

“Unfortunately that was just the start of it.” continued Dr. Braganza. “With hindsight I relise Dr. Shima must have been a plant: an observer or agent working for Wu Ketai.”

“Probably to steer our efforts away from the direction of the Wu Ketai facility, wherever that is” added Dr. King.

“What happened?” asked Jake.

“Poor Yevgeny realised someone was sending unidentified messages using the satellite relay.” said Dr. Bragnaza. “He must have investigated and we heard his scream and then found him up on the relay maintenance platform – brained with a wrench or similar. Shima was nowhere to be found, but then we heard him take one of the rovers. The relays were sabotaged of course.”

“If Si Ri’s story was true, we realised Wu Ketai would want their property back. The base wasn’t safe.”

“Feodor knew about Croatan of course – he had driven across it in our surveys and agreed with Phillipe here to keep Mum about it. But in the circumstances it seemed a safer bet than a weeks drive to Petrograd: we didn’t want a Corporate VTOL strafing us like sitting ducks.”

“And so here we are. Phillipe has agreed to take the fugitives on, and we were going to return. And now here you are too.”

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A Brave New World (18th July 2158)
18th July 2158

The leader of Croatan was a middle aged man in canvas shorts, beach clogs and sporting a tight ponytail, who introduced himself as Philippe Herault. Spyder vaguely recognised the name but could not pin it down.

Phillipe introduced himself and described Croatan thus:

“Look – Man is born in freedom but he soon becomes a slave, In cages of convention from the cradle to the grave. The weak fall by the wayside but the strong will be saved: In a brave new world, with just a handful of men….”

“And women” interrupted one of his companions, who Jonas quietly assessed as a hatchet faced Bull Dyke.

“We’ll start all over again” continued Phillipe. “I’m not trying to tell you what to be – Oh no, oh no, not me. But if mankind is to survive, the people left alive, they’re gonna have to build this world anew, and and we will have to be the chosen few.”

“Right on brother” exclaimed Jake. “No Corps. No fatcats. A Brave New World.”

“Indeed. Just us. A nucleus.” said Phillipe. “We try to self sufficient, and wish only to be left alone.”

As he burbled on to an enthusiastic Jake, Spyder quickly pigeonholed the lot of them as a mix of dissidents, survivalists, anarchists, and crackpots. The one belief they did seem to share was that the governments of Earth should not pollute Mars with their old attitudes. Their colony was intended to be the nucleus for a population of “indigenous Martians” who could provide an alternative to the UWC bureaucrats and corporations currently taking hold.

“Losers” he thought. Then he paused. “Incredibly wealthy and well resourced losers though, to have put all this together.”

Indeed, they must have been. Croatan had thirty odd inhabitants, and was burrowed deep into the rock face, and was sophisticated and ergonomic in its design. Somebody had pumped a lot of capital into this place.

“Enlightenment for the few that can afford it.” he muttered to himself. And then he caught Doc .Orlov cutting to the point – probably to avoid the attentions of Rainbow Woman and a couple of her friends who had tagged along.

“Ah yes, our guests” said Phillipe. “I’ll lead you to them; they were about to return in the morning anyway.” He gestured for them to follow.

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Croatan (18th July 2158)
18th July 2158

It was getting near the end of the day, and they had started to see other WTV and buggy tracks. The shifting sandy terrain was awkward to navigate, but they had made good time, and moved considerably closer to the northern walls of the chasma, and a consequent increasing rockiness and irregularity of the terrain. And then ahead of them, against a rocky cliff, they saw light and telltale red dots indicating antennae and other metalwork.

“Probably impossible to see from the air” muttered Marcus.

“Well out of the way too” said Jake. “But what is it?”

As they got closer they saw a set of metal, vault like doors leading into the cliff. In the foreground was a more typical hanger like building mounded with dirt, and possibly connected to the cliff complex itself. A few upper lights and viewing windows indicated a complex of some sophistication.Poking out behind the hanger they could see the nacelle of a parked WTV.

They decided to hail, and an attractive woman in her thirties, with her hair arranged in rainbow dreadlocks answered Doc. Orlov’s call. Marcus noticed that she had a small sisterhood tattoo on her upper left arm, of the type which generally allocated to low level members- -typically newly arrived females who knew squat and were inducted on the basis that they were generally good for one thing only.

“Hey. You’re a pretty one!” she smiled, “If you’re coming in we should get together. What do you want anyway sweetie?”

“This is pretty informal for a radio protocol” thought Spyder. “Huh. Martians.”

“We are sent from Petrograd to find missing Minotaur base scientists” replied Doc. Orlov, “May we approach?”

“You certainly may Hon” said the woman, “And I’ll go freshen up a little. Catch ya later.”

“You made a conquest there Doc” said Jonas.

“Shut up.”

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Too Many Rescuers (16th July 2158)
16th July 2158

As they made their preparations Doc. Orlov kept to herself. And then she called over the base comms.

“Proximity sensors indicate vehicle approaching – probably another Rover. Here in maybe ten minutes.”

With paranoia creeping over them the group decided to lock down the outer doors except for the one leading into the storeroom. Here they took cover behind some crates, while Doc. Orlov manned the external camera views back in the Power Room.

The rover was an upmarket model from Shanghai GM, and was painted black with some sort of triangular logo, which they struggled to recognise.

“They are hailing us” said Doc. Orlov. “I patch them through.”

“Attention Minotaur Base!” called a clipped voice. “This is Captain Zhao Zhu of Wu Ketai Security. We have picked up your distress call and we wish to assist? Please respond Minotaur Base!”

“Wu Ketai” said Spyder. “They ’re a big Trans National: Engineering, Hydroponics, Genetics – a finger in every pie. Must have a base somewhere nearby.”

“Could be genuine” said Jonas. “We should respond. Relay my message Doc.”

Four men had climbed out of the rover; they certainly looked the part for security, clad in black Mars Suit and with Body Armor, and Goggled Helmets, hiding all of their faces. They were armed with Machine Pistols. Paranoia seized Jonas.

“Hello Captain Zhu. We also are a Rescue Party. If one of you comes in unarmed we will be happy to speak to you?”

“Who are you?” responded Captain Zhu. “What have you done with the base scientists?” Completely misreading the situation as it looked to the Wu Ketai personnel, Jonas was operating under the illusion that their behaviour looked reasonable to a suspicious Rescue Party responding to a Distress Call.

“Come in unarmed and we’ll talk” said Jonas.

“Do you think I am a Fool to walk into a nest of unidentified Bandits, when the scientists cannot speak for themselves?” said Captain Zhu.

“Come out and we will speak. Otherwise I can only assume you are hostile, and responsible for these events.” There was no response from Jonas.

The monitor showed the four men climbing back into the WTV, which then drove off a short distance. They just had time to run for the corridor when they saw the top turrret deploy, and send a hail of Vulcan Fire though the open cargo door and into the dome. Marcus cried in pain as he was hit in the thigh, and they dragged him into the corridor. The WTV pulled off out of sight.

“Maybe gone for reinforcements” said Jake. “That didn’t go well Mr. Diplomacy. We should get out of here.”

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In Dawn's Early Light (16th July 2158)
16th July 2158

As Spyder was making breakfast in the base’s kitchen module, the others searched around. A check of the inventory showed that about 100 ration packs were missing, along with drugs and all portable medical supplies from the med bay.

Outside, tucked into a gap between one of the smaller domes and some of the corridor links, was a small area that had seemingly been layered with a safety surface, and marked as a basketball practice area, complete with a hoop.

Marcus picked one of the balls from a container nearby, carefully weighted to allow some sort of use on Mars. He was tempted to try a shot. As he turned the ball in his hands he noticed that someone had written carefully with a marker pen.

CROATAN. 6.53°S 289.22°E "

Puzzling he went back inside, and put the co ordinates into a map system. It gave a location about 120 km NE of their current position, further into Candor. He wondered if it was a deliberate message.

“I’ve been up the mast” said Jonas. “Someone had very carefully sabotaged the comms – key components have been removed.”

“Who was the base comms officer?” asked Jake.

“Doc. Orlov’s cousin – Yevgeny Orlov” said Marcus. "But there’s no sign of him or anyone else.

“I checked the computer logs last night” said Spyder. “Pretty much all erased for the last three weeks.”

“I’ve no idea what’s going on here” said Marcus. “Some minor sabotage, and the base abandoned it would seem. And what’s this Croatan? A Place?”

At that moment Doc Orlov entered.

“There is ground disturbance in courtyard containing thermal taps” she said simply. “A grave maybe.”

They went into the square courtyard accessed via the power module – a sort of dead space enclosed by corridor sections and dome modules. Three thermal taps were located here, as well as the stairway to the comms array above the central dome.

They started to dig after inserting some anchor pegs, through which they pumped boiling water. Working quickly they dug down a metre or so, before it refroze. A hand emerged. Working carefully they exposed the rest of the body – a youngish man in his late twenties perhaps; behind them they heard a choked sound from Doc. Orlov.

“I’m sorry Doc” said Jonas. “Is this your cousin?” She nodded, and turning away went back inside.

Sombrely now they unearthed the body, and carried it into the med bay.

“Bashed on the head” said Marcus. “Signs of a struggle too.”

“Well as the Comms officer I guess he was in the best position to notice sabotage” said Jonas. “Maybe he investigated and…..Bam.”

“Ran right into the sabateur” said Jake.

“Our best bet is to check these co ordinates” said Marcus. “Should only take a couple of days.”

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An M Class Mystery (15th July 2158)
15th July 2158

MtypeBase.jpg

Minotaur was a typical M Class base. The M Class bases were a Design Classic, and in their various interpretations had been in use for over a hundred years now. You could find them on Luna, Mars, Venus, the moons of Saturn and Jupiter, and even on Dwarf Planets in the Kuiper Belt.

Drop down a basic dome module, attach corridors and junctions radiating out from this, and then further small or large dome units as seen fit, for planned purpose or opportunistic expansion. The system was simple and modular, and it worked.

Minotaur fit the pattern of a central dome, with four long corridors radiating out from it, each with a crossroads in the centre. At the end of each corridor was a T junction, leading to two smaller domes – typically store rooms, larders, kitchens or hab units.

Each crossroad led to two larger domes with a specialised function. The overall pattern was a central dome surrounded by and linked to four domes of similar size, and also connected to eight mini domes.

Traditionally the M Type Bases were named after females: Miryam, Mary, Marjorie, Madelaine and so on. This had proved a bit limiting however, and now any Noun beginning with an ‘M’ tended to be used: hence ‘Minotaur’.

There were eight staff at the base: Dr. Paolo Braganza, a Brazilian physicist, and his wife Dr. Rachel Cohen, a biochemist and physician. Also two other scientists – Dr. Wayne King, an American planetologist, and Dr. Saburo Shima, meteorologist.

There were in addition four technicians – Sue Hatsuwara, Diana Morris, Feodor Vasiliev and Yevgeny Orlov: actually a cousin of Katrina.

It was almost dark when they arrived. Radio comms yielded no reply, through the red hazard lights on the domes and antennae were still clearly functioning. There was no sign of obvious damage. Wary of their most recent experiences they parked the Rover some distance away, and carefully approached on foot. Their access codes worked and they entered the base, which was powered down to emergency levels. The dim lighting only made them more nervous.

A thorough search revealed no obvious disruption however: the base largely seemed in good order. It was clear however that both the satellite relay station and normal comms were not functioning – possibly there was some external problem? They decided to check it out in the morning.

In the vehicle hanger there were no other Rovers or site vehicles. They pulled their own vehicle inside, and settled in for the night.

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Trial by Minotaur (10th July 2158)
10th July 2158

“With Gallery gone now we can talk facts”, said Secretary Polyitsin.

“The girl Olga is little slut: we all know that. Most of the miners know it. But Sergei her father, he is important man with ear of other workers. If he is unhappy, we might have strike or go slow on our hands.”

“And we’re good scapegoats. Is that it?” said Jonas bitterly.

“Not at all. If you can demonstrate that you of great help to community, Sergei will lose face if he flies in face of facts and pushes for action if he aggrieved you were found innocent.”

“Help to community?” asked Marcus, with a sinking feeling.

“Yes, is fortuitous circumstance” said the Secretary, and produced one of the business cards they had dumped while in Petrograd.

“I check your website. You are – how you say it – troubleshooting company, with science bias ,yes? Well I have trouble, and it needs shooting.” he continued.

“Petrograd Miners Council have partnership with Lothrain Free Company: mid sized mining company based in Mariner, and one of the few still trying to extend their portfolio on Mars – mainly through partnership projects with others – including us. "

“We have scientific and surveying establishment in Candor – Minotaur Base, an M Class base with eight staff, conducting detailed mineral surveys on Candor. Mid term could be extremely profitable. Base has satellite relay so should be able to get regular contact with us. But contact ceased four days ago.”

“There is RAP Tower and crew 100 km to south of Minotaur, and we were able to get message to them. They too were unable to contact Minotaur, and their small complements of technicians and maintenance crew not able to send team to investigate.”

“So what have you done?” asked Doc. Orlov. He shrugged.

“The Council were still arguing and voting when I leave Petrograd to attend this. And then I found you here.” he smiled.

“So I am taking unilateral action, based on extenuating circumstances” he continued. “If you can check the base and find out what is happening, then of course you will be Heroes, saving lives of scientists and profitability of joint project: there could then be little outcry if you declared innocent.”

“Obviously if you disappear off to Mariner, I would then have to assume your guilt, and contact the Mariner Authorities.”

“Fine” sighed Jonas, “We’re in.”

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Kangeroo Court (10th July 2158)
10th July 2158

“And that concludes our presentation in Mr. Hoffman’s defence” concluded Sypder. He waited while Doc. Orlov translated.

It had gone better than expected, he thought. They had been driven back to the Miners Camp yesterday, with Jonas and Doc. Tatlock separated from them. When it had been discovered that Olga was missing word had immediately been sent to Petrograd, and some official or other was likely to be despatched to resolve the issue, the wiser council of the Mining Camp Sheriff having prevailed.

That morning they had been informed there would be a workers tribunal, and Spyder had volunteered, in the short time he had, to arrange some sort of defence.

Olga and her father had presented some hackneyed version of events involving the seduction of a young, innocent and naive (this phrase was repeated often) Russian Girl being wooed and kidnapped by a jealous foreign white slave trader, who had even punched the odious Doc. Tatlock in a fit of jealousy.

Spyder’s version bore more of a resemblance to reality, and the footage (coincidentally enough, off Doc. Tatlock’s wristcomp) of Olga displaying herself provocatively in suspender belt and fishnet stockings, plus the earlier footage of her apparently coming on to Doc. Tatlock (this surprised everyone) did much to promote this. Jonas and Jake were convincing witnesses of the episode in the WTV, and Doc. Orlov was a local Russian Girl and so ‘one of them’; Marcus was a bit shy about it all, but Spyders presentation was also good. He thought that he might have won them over.

The Tribunal, comprising the Miner’s Council Member from Petrograd, the Sheriff, and the Mine Supervisor retired to consider their verdict.

A few hours later they returned.

“We have heard the evidence and are unwilling to dismiss the evidence and statements provided by the defendant and his witnesses, who are on the whole, we consider, reliable.”

There was some ‘ohhing’ in the council room.

“Moreover we must take into consideration the video evidence, and the additional facts out own research has brought to light, indicating that Miss. Shenenko previously ran away in a Construction Contractor’s truck in May 2157, and again with a travelling circus in January 2158. In both cases she was returned unharmed, much to the inconvenience of the Contractor and the Circus.”

There was complete silence, though Spyder noticed two of the miners smirking , and one of them slap the others hand and pass him a number of credit chips.

“We must also take into account however, that Miss. Shenenko, foolish and irresponsible though she may be, is still one of our own, and nor can we discount the possibility that signals from the accused, intentional or otherwise, may have led her to stow away without necessarily Mr. Hoffman’s knowledge. We thus need to consider carefully our verdict, which must not be unfair, but which must be seen to benefit the people of this community.”

“To this end the Tribunal suspends its verdict for a period not exceeding four weeks, at which time it will reconvene to deliver a verdict. During that time the Tribunal will take additional steps to determine the good character, or otherwise, of the accused, and seek a remedy which will benefit this community. The courtroom will now be cleared, except for the accused and his witnesses for the defence.”

“Uh, oh” thought Spyder.

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