Campaign of the Month: January 2011

Honour Among Thieves

One Friday in Frisco Session One

Murder. Riots. Intrigue. Just another Friday night in the mining town of Frisco.

Shenmue left Beylix, none too soon as far as the crew was concerned. They limped to Fuel Station A-21 and delivered their cargo of spare parts to Farnsworth, who honoured his end of the bargain by installing the port intake manifold free of charge, and also honoured a long-standing code between outlaw scrappers to not ask where the part had come from.

Then it was down to business – finding work to keep their new boat flying. They scored a job from the Hornsilver Mining Company to deliver a load of skid-steer utility vehicles to their operations in Frisco, an independent mining camp on the “rough” side of Regina, a planet mostly under the thumb of the Corone Mining Consortium.

For once, it was an easy ride from the station to Regina. They docked, met with Hornsilver’s representative to receive their payment, then Jonah got down to the business of supervising the unloading while the rest of the crew strolled into town to see what there was to see.

It was late, almost midnight by the time they found themselves in John Savior’s rustic saloon, sampling the finest in beverages that make you blind. They certainly weren’t in Savior’s for the atmosphere – it was the closest gin joint to the port authority, plus the drinks were the cheapest in town. The bar was packed to the rafters with local colour – rough-looking miners and even rougher-looking Tong gangsters. Worth, YJ and the Doc leaned against the bar – not too heavily, given the state of the bar, and surveyed the crowd between gulps of wood alcohol.

Someone who made his own splash against the local colour stepped into the saloon. He was tall, with dark hair and round glasses that framed his nervous eyes. He was wearing a rumpled, if natty suit and carried a briefcase, and couldn’t be more out of his element if he tried. After scanning the crowd intently for a moment, he moved towards the bar and more pointedly, the crew. Evidently he figured they weren’t part of the furniture.

The man gripped his briefcase nervously with both hands as he shouldered his way past the reveling miners towards the bar. He looked over his shoulders a few more times than normally necessary.

YJ watched with growing amusement as the man finally sidled up next to them an in a low, urgent voice said, “Excuse me, but does this establishment have a back exit?”

“Why do you want to leave in such a hurry, seeing as you just got here?” YJ offered instead of an answer.

The man smiled nervously. “Well, I guess I need some air, that’s all.” YJ nodded to where he had just seen the bartender open a side door to place a box of empties in the back alley beside the saloon.

The stranger nodded his thanks to YJ and soldiered on towards the side door. The bartender half-heartedly yelled, “That’s for employees only!” as the man slipped out and disappeared down the alley, leaving only the dry desert wind in his wake before the door slid shut.

“Well now,” said the Doc. “Do we follow him now, or wait until we finish our drinks first?”

YJ smiled and was just about to answer when the trio heard a pair of gunshots ring out in the back alley. Nobody else in the bar seemed to take notice, except for the bartender, who muttered a quiet prayer for the afflicted before going back to pouring wood alcohol for his patrons.

“Okay then,” YJ said. “I guess that settles it. I’ll go out the back, you guys go out the front door and circle around.”

The Doc cracked open his wallet. “Let’s at least pay for our drinks before we go investigating.”

YJ moved towards the back exit, ignoring the bartender’s protestations before easing the door open. There was a narrow alley between the saloon and the adjacent hotel, lined with crates of empties and drifts of assorted trash. The tall man lay about fifteen feet down the alley, his glasses shattered on the rough stone ground. Two other men, both wearing nondescript grey suits, were going through the tall man’s pockets and briefcase. In their free hands both men gripped silenced pistols. The sound of the shots must have come from the dandified piece held in the cold, dead hands of the tall man, a nickel-plated number carried by the sorts of folk who didn’t know the first thing about guns.

It didn’t take long for one of the mystery men to notice YJ. His eyes narrowed as he sized the pilot up, then he reached into his pocket and flashed a badge and ID.

“Corone Mining Consortium internal business. Move along, dohn ma?” At this, YJ turned and made a big show of retching into a nearby trash container as if overcome by the substandard booze plied by John Savior. The Corone cop muttered something under his breath and went back to frisking the corpse, turning him onto his back and yanking his dress shirt up around his midsection, heedless of the considerable amount of blood pooling about.

At this point, a ground vehicle rolled up and blocked the end of the alley that opened onto Main Street. It was a cross-country outrunner, combining the style and flair of a limo with the sturdy frame of a dune buggy. A spotlight winked on, bathing the alley in antiseptic light, and two more men entered the alley, obviously in cahoots with the men giving the corpse a once-over. Still dry-heaving, YJ edged towards the other end of the alley, trying to lose himself in the shadows.

Walking out the front door of Savior’s, Worth and the Doc turned right to see a slick ground vehicle roll up to block the alleyway. There were no exterior markings and since it didn’t look like the local cops in Frisco existed at all, let alone field high-end outrunners, it was a good bet its owners were up to no good.

Worth thought he’d try something smart and stumbled over to the car’s open passenger door. Expelling his best lungful of alcohol-laced breath, he half fell into the car.

“Yeah,” he slurred, “take me to the nearest hotel.” He looked up into the snub nose of a Minami-10 submachine gun held by the driver of the outrunner.

“Push off, drunk.” The driver said, none too pleasantly.

“What,” Worth said, “This isn’t a taxicab?”

The Doc rolled his eyes, half for show and half in bemusement as he hauled Worth out of danger, all the while staring down the alley. He could make out at least four heavies standing around a corpse on the ground. One of the aforementioned heavies turned around and said coldly, “Move along if you know what’s good for you!”

YJ found a hiding spot just around the corner and clicked on his multiband. “So it looks like the Corone Mining Consortium’s finest just shot this guy full of holes.”

As he and Worth stepped back inside Savior’s, the Doc answered. “Corone cops here? This is an independent mining town. Corone cops are big on strike-breaking and union-busting and protecting corporate property. Frisco’s the last place they should be sticking their noses into.” Meanwhile Worth had found a free table and sat with his back to the wall.

YJ quieted down and strained his ears. The Corone cops were professionals, but even professionals could get frustrated. “It isn’t here!” hissed one of them. “Fine, clean this up and then we’ll take a look inside.” Another one said. Then YJ heard the zip of a body bag being undone.

YJ radioed the Doc. “Be on your best behaviour, you’re going to have company soon.”

”Great.” The Doc said. He went to the bar to order another round of cheap drinks.

As if on cue, the four men entered the saloon. They stood out from the crowd like a fistful of sore thumbs, given that the locals’ dress code seemed to run to grimy coveralls and blue jeans. Two of them wasted no time in approaching the bartender, while the other two began methodically searching the bar, checking the floor, wastebaskets, and disturbingly, spittoons. The Doc played it cool as he grabbed his drinks and turned to leave, the two Corone cops standing next to him and conversing with the bartenders in low tones.

Sitting with his back to the wall, Worth eased both of his overlong pistols out from their holsters underneath the table as he saw the bartender gesture in his general direction. The two Corone cops made their way over to his table, a few steps behind the Doc, who set the round of drinks down.

Then they were standing at the table. The suit on the left asked Worth if he’d spoken to a tall man with round glasses who had blown through the bar a few minutes ago, then asked the pair if they’d seen the man drop anything, or hand anything off to someone else in the bar.

Worth and the Doc played it innocent and cooperative, telling the cops that all they did was point out a back exit to the bespectacled man and the cops left them alone, moving off to harass other patrons of the saloon.

In the alley beside the bar, YJ peeked his head around the corner. The outrunner had vanished from the foot of the alley, and so had the body. All that was left was a pool of fresh blood and the shattered remains of the man’s eyeglasses, and a sprinkling of 10mm shell casings. YJ took a closer look, and came up with a blood-spattered ticket stub, a grav-train passenger voucher. Examining it, he saw that the ticket had been purchased in Paradiso three nights previously.

Halfway around the damn world with Corone on his trail, he thought to himself. That must have been a mighty relaxing ride. Pocketing the ticket stub, he made his way down the alley and entered Savior’s, taking note of the idling outrunner parked across the street.

Back inside the saloon, the Doc noted that the crowd’s temper was growing ever darker the longer the Corone cops sniffed around. One young miner peeled off from the crowd and ducked out the front door, while snatches of muttered grievances floated around. “Damn Corone dogs, what’re they sniffing around for?” one grizzled miner complained to no one in particular.

“I ain’t looking to hire janitors, flatfoots, so skedaddle!” John Savior shouted at the Corone cops. The four men turned to leave, just as YJ shouldered his way inside.

“You finished heaving your guts up outside?” one of them smirked at the pilot. YJ hiccupped and grinned back at the mine cop. The cops put YJ through the same set of questions they asked Worth and the Doc, and he too cooperated. Then the corporate cops stepped outside, and YJ rejoined his crewmates at their table, thirsty for more wood alcohol.

“Looks like our friend bought a one-way ticket to Frisco from Paradiso,” YJ informed Worth and the Doc. The Doc whistled. “That’s one long train ride.”

YJ leaned in close. “And it looks like the Corone cops were trying to get something back from this guy, and get this: they didn’t find it.”

“Yeah, we noticed.” Worth grunted. “They searched the bar before getting bounced.”

The trio went back to their drinks, but didn’t have long before they were interrupted again. This time, it wasn’t a corporate sec man; it was a short, decrepit bag of bones with ragged hair and scraggly stubble. His clothing was third-hand at best, and he clutched a dirty Blue Sun shopping bag that looked like it contained all his worldly possessions.

“Filthy,” the bartender warned. “Don’t be hassling customers, not tonight.”

“Aw, Savior, you’re no f-f-fun!” the man called Filthy said over his shoulder. Then he turned back to the three wary spacers and flashed them a gap-toothed smile. “The n-name’s Filmore. F-Filmore West. But call me Filthy and you’re not far wrong.” He looked at YJ and tried to wink conspiratorially, but he had the shakes pretty bad, and the wink dissolved into a spastic facial tic, much to the Doc’s amusement. Once he had himself under control, Filthy said, “I saw ya speakin’ to those guys…those g-guys what shot the other guy. Was they lookin’ for something? They was, I bet!”

“Go on,” said YJ.

“I know what they was lookin’ fer, see.” Filthy continued. They was looking for a memory stick…and I got it, see! I saw the tall guy toss it in the trash before he got plugged fulla holes. I fished it out when those other guys were out back. No one else saw, just me! Wanna buy it?”

”Take a seat,” said YJ.

“How about a drink?” Worth offered, but before he could finish Filthy had grabbed Worth’s glass and drained it, smacking his lips.

“So what do you want for this memory stick?” The Doc said, pushing his drink in front of Filthy, who gulped it down appreciatively.

“W-well, ah, that’s a good question…” Filthy belched. “How about twenty?”

Worth stared in disbelief for a second, then blurted out, “Sold!” Opening his billfold, he tossed a banknote over to Filthy, who made it disappear in an impressive flourish of close-up magic. The vagrant rummaged about in his Blue Sun bag, then came up with a crumpled pack of Blue Sun brand cigarettes, which he obligingly slid across the rough wooden table.

He then cleared his throat and managed, “pleasure doing business with you,” in a rock-steady tenor before staggering to his feet and making his way to the bar.

YJ picked up the pack of smokes, pulling out the single cig left inside, and with his fingernail eased the tiny stick out from where it had been mashed into the tobacco. “Well then,” he said. “Let’s see what all the fuss is about.”

As the trio left Savior’s Saloon on their way back to the landing fields, they ran into a full blown riot in progress in the middle of the street. The angry mob would have been holding pitchforks, except this was a mining town, not a farm, so they were wielding pick-axes and other digging-related implements. The point of their contention was the six-wheeled outrunner that was blocking the alley earlier, the one belonging to the mine cops. It was trying to drive out the town’s main drag, but the fifty or so townsfolk confronting the vehicle weren’t making it easy for them. They could hear the sound of the vehicle’s body and exterior fixtures taking one hell of a beating.

The driver of the outrunner didn’t seem interested in running people down, so the intruders were forced to take their lumps as they inch towards the city limits. Headlights were smashed, antennae are torn off, and large chunks of rock rained like a meteor shower on the vehicle’s hide. One of its windows gave way with a shattering crack, much to the crowd’s delight. Then a gloved hand tossed a tear gas canister out of the jagged hole, and the crowd began to disperse ahead of the roiling cloud of gas.

A few coughing miners pulled their sidearms and took aim at the retreating outrunner as it gained speed, scoring a few hits against what sounded like armor plating. The shots didn’t slow the vehicle down although one of its six balloon tires loudly deflates, and soon it was nothing but a settling dust trail.

“Damn Corone boys, think they can just walk into town and throw their weight around? Hell no!” One of the miners slurred between gas-induced coughs.

Another chimed in. “This ain’t their turf. If it hadda been a local they’d shot and not a tourist, we’d have strung them up on Pat Malloy’s porch! Ain’t that right?”

YJ, Worth and the Doc made their way back towards Shenmue, where they found Jonah sweeping up the now empty cargo bay.

“Anything interesting happen in town?” Jonah asked.

“No, just a shooting and a riot. Nothing special.” YJ said, brushing him off as he headed towards the bridge.

On Shenmue’s bridge, Worth slotted the memory stick into the ship’s computer and booted it up. The stick’s logon/initialization stamp indicated that it had been initialized on a workstation at the Corone Mining Consortium’s Paradiso office three nights’ previous. Files had been transferred to a sourcebox belonging to an Ivan Severn, where it was downloaded to the memory stick.

The memory stick contained a number of files, including processed ore shipment schedules, security guard rotations, and a comprehensive report on geological surveys along the Grampian Mountain Range. Most interestingly, however, was a memorandum marked “confidential” from an “Operative 124” to the Corone Mining Corporation’s Director of Information Services. The memo outlined possible encroachment operations, operational disruptions, and blockading operations against the Hornsilver Mining Corporation that would bleed Frisco dry and put Hornsilver out of business, including a detailed report on the company’s biweekly payroll delivery.

It was a gold mine of information, literally, as it pointed out several rich ore veins that Hornsilver had missed in the Grampian mountains that could be seized by Corone and used to hollow out the region, putting an end to the mine’s profitability.

“So, Corone’s got a mole in town,” YJ said. “And the dead guy, this Ivan Severn, found out about it.”

Worth got on the cortex and fired off a few queries about Corone’s operations on Regina. He discovered that there was indeed a mid-level executive named Ivan Severn stationed in Paradiso, but that according to Corone he had been transferred to St. Alban’s three days previously.

YJ pulled out the ticket stub. “Three days ago Ivan Severn boarded a train in Paradiso on a one-way trip to Frisco.”

“Why would he do that?” Worth said.

YJ thought for a moment. “Maybe he had a soft spot for Hornsilver and wanted to warn them about what Corone was planning.”

“Or maybe he thought Hornsilver would pay top dollar for this intel,” replied the Doc.

“Speaking of top dollar, why don’t we go after the payroll? According to this memo, there’s no police force in Frisco to worry about.” Worth said.

“No way,” YJ said. “There are plenty of mine guards to worry about, plus I don’t want to deal with an angry mob like those Corone cops had to, multiplied by a factor of ten.”

“So what do we do?” The Doc asked.

“I think the owner of the mine in town here, this J.W. McClarrin, would find it worth his while to pay for this information.” YJ opined. “Finding out there’s a CMC mole in town must be worth something.”

“The question is, will they pay us in platinum currency, or in lead?” The Doc said.

Jonah spoke up, having snuck up onto the bridge quietly during their conversation. “Well, if it’s money you’re after you may want to consider seeing if Corone will pay a reward for the return of this information. Their pockets are a hell of a lot deeper than Hornsilver’s.”

YJ shook his head. “We just got a close-up look at how Corone operates back in town. We walk into a deal with them and we’d never leave alive.”

Worth coughed. “Well, I might leave alive.”

YJ smiled grimly. “No, we go with Hornsilver. They’ll pay well for this memory stick.” He considered for a moment. “Or they’ll shoot us. But we can always shoot back.”

The crew decided to put a call through to the Hornsilver mine office, where they had negotiated their original deal to deliver the machinery.

“We’ll probably have to leave a message since business hours are over,” YJ said, “but if they’re interested, they’ll call us back.”

To their surprise, someone picked up their call. An aged military-looking fellow with a bushy white beard, who looked for all the world like Santa Claus, that is, if Santa was a border-world baron.

“Hornsilver Mine, Major Mountebank speaking. I’m the Superintendent of the Mine, what is your business?” The superintendent looked tired and harried, as if someone had just roused him from a deep slumber with unpleasant news.

“Uh, yes, we’d like to speak to J. W. McClarrin, please.” The Doc said, consulting the operative’s memo.

“Is this some kind of joke?” Mountebank sputtered.

YJ broke in on the line. “We have some information that J. W. might find very, very valuable, so we’re dead serious, sir.”

“Gorram it now, listen-” Mountebank’s expression changed suddenly as if someone was whispering to him off-screen. “Yes, well we need to verify your story before we can move forward any further,” he said haughtily. “I’m handing you over to our assayer, Dennis Chow.”

A handsome, cat-like man took over the screen. He smiled an ingratiating smile. “Thank you for contacting us,” he said. “My name is Dennis Chow.”

“A pleasure,” the Doc said. “But you’ll forgive me for not introducing myself.”

“Not a problem,” the assayer responded. “I am afraid, however, that Mr. McClarrin is currently offworld on company business, and isn’t expected to return for some time.”

“Is that a fact?” YJ said. “That’s a shame, because our business concerns him personally. We’ve got information to trade, and it could make or break his operation.”

“Be that as it may, Mr. McClarrin’s business is indeed company business,” Chow replied. “The company is of course interested in your offer and can offer some compensation in exchange for the information.”

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” YJ said.

“However, for reasons you may be able to appreciate, we cannot accept delivery at our office.”

“Fair enough,” replied the Doc.

“You will need to contact my associate, Matthew Cullen, for further directions in this matter.” The smiling man rattled off the number of a personal communicator. “We will be in touch,” he smiled again.

Calling the number put the crew screen-to-screen with a smarmy looking mustachioed man whose hair-oil glistened even in the low-rez video feed. His eyes glistened too, albeit with a frozen coldness that told them he was the real deal. Cullen twiddled a cigarette holder around his mouth before pulling it out and saying, “so you’re the ones got that stick off of Severn. How do I know you didn’t kill him for it?”

“You don’t.” YJ said. “But take our word for it; we had nothing to do with it.”

“So what are you after?” Cullen replied.

“What do you think? Compensation for services rendered.” YJ said.

“And what service is that?”

“Closing the deal that Severn couldn’t.” YJ responded.

“You sure you’re up to the job? Severn wanted to deal too, and look where that got him,” Cullen said sullenly.

The haggling began in earnest. They finally agreed on a sum of four thousand in cashy money, an amount that by the Doc’s reckoning could keep their ship in the air for at least three months, and would cover the extensive repairs necessary to get their mule back in working order.

It was clear that Cullen was receiving some off-screen coaching as he concluded the deal. “Right, right, okay, a mutual friend will be waiting for you at Lawrence’s Saloon tonight during Happy Hour with the payment. Look for the dragon tattoo, and don’t be late.” Cullen cut the connection.

“So how do we make the exchange?” The Doc asked.

YJ pushed a pistol across the table at him. “Armed,” he smiled.

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