The Sentinel Gate Affair


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Post Sat May 16, 2020 8:42 pm

The Sentinel Gate Affair

Prologue: Moab Daily News Extra - Arrivals on the Rim

Recently arrived on Moab III are two particularly dangerous looking characters. The first, Tommy Takara, has used many aliases over the years: The Max, Angel Max, Max Power, and Max Engel. Takara landed at the starport about a week ago. Rumors have it that he's chasing some kind of Imperial bounty, though how far Imperial papers will get him is a matter of some conjecture.

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Takara is a large man, noteworthy for mechanical prosthetics reputedly bequeathed him by the Martian Tech Cult. (His lack of official status has led to some suggestions that he was either born to someone from or himself enslaved in the penal test corps; the so called test bed slaves.) Even without the militarized limb he has the appearance of a powerful and aggressive human.

At almost the same time a tall orcoid called Gobbrott landed somewhere out in the wastes; reputedly also chasing bounty, though probably not for the Terrans.

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His friends, such as he has any, usually call him Gob or Gobber. Equipped with a variable dispersion plasma rifle and a high intensity arc tracker he can be a fearsome opponent.

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Adding to the strange and troublesome news from space comes a sighting from the ground; the giant Hulkus umberei.

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The Hulkus umberei, or ambler, is a semi-bipedal omnivore that has spread from coreward to many rim worlds. Their hardy desert metabolism has served them quite well in the galaxy's many hot and arid zones. Bull amblers stand from two to three meters at the shoulder and cows have occasionally been recorded with heights in excess of four. While slow appearing these giants can move quite quickly for short bursts, not unlike many cold blooded Terran species. The hulks are also fairly intelligent animals, occasionally fashioning simple tools from logs and boulders. On some planets entire groups of amblers, called tanks, have passed missile weapons from generation to generation; using it as their principal hunting technique. Given their prodigious mass it is doubtless evident that these are not creatures to be trifled with.

How the hulk arrived on Moab III isn't precisely known, perhaps a collector brought one or several for a private menagerie and it escaped into the wild, but once established the creatures are virtually impossible to eliminate. They spend much of their life burrowing underground and hunt by detecting surface and subsurface vibrations, so traditional chemical and biological means of control are often ineffective. Trophy hunting has been known to help to some limited extent, and their flesh is a fairly prized delicacy . . . to those hunters able to catch them.

One final new arrival: a Ramshackle fellow known to the Rim as Gordon Frei.

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Frei has been floating around the galaxy a long long time. Precisely how long is uncertain. He has considerable notoriety in technical circles. Some sources suggest he is a rogue mechan fleeing the Martian Tech Cult. Others claim he has never had any association with them, coming instead from Terra. Still others suggest a much darker origin; that he stepped out of a mysterious warpspace rift and that he preaches a terrible gospel of liberation. Whatever his history, he appears to be fleeing an Imperial warrant. Given his pallid and deeply scarred appearance the likeliest explanation is that the Imperial Cult regards him as some kind of dangerous mutant. He is also rumored to posses, alternately, either psionic abilities or alien or archaic technology of mysterious power; usually described as a variant of a graviton projector. There is no official record of his arrival in Logansport, but reliable witnesses have placed him at various locations around Moab III, primarily on the outskirts of the capital. More recently he has dropped out of view. Perhaps he has found transport off planet or maybe he is taking refuge out in the wastes.
Last edited by symphonicpoet on Sat May 16, 2020 8:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post Sat May 16, 2020 8:55 pm

Re: The Sentinel Gate Affair

Episode I: Rockabye Baby

Barely a week has passed and yet another visitor arrives from foreign parts; this time aboard a cramped shuttle dispatched from a fast interplanetary cutter.

. . . . .

Dame Astrid Shaam (Royal Order of the Flowering Lamp) landed on Moab III just before midday in the capital city of Logansport. The weather was sweltering by then, made worse by her rather out of season clothing and the need to carry her grandson, Lord Ali Khan XIV, who simply refused to lie quietly in the absurd getup his mother had required for the introductory ball that afternoon. (Not that she could blame, him, really. But Astrid was increasingly certain his nappie was soiled. Ali's mother was otherwise occupied, there hadn't been any place to change him on the cramped shuttle, and he wouldn't let anyone other than daadi, granmother, carry him. So she walked across the tarmac at the closest thing to a dignified hurry ceremonial armor would allow.

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. . . Only to be met at the gate by a harried looking shuttleport agent. Perhaps he worked in customs, but hadn't everything been pre-cleared when she'd boarded at Proserpine? What on earth could possibly be the matter?

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"Dame Astrid, I presume?" the squeaky voiced official enquired. "I believe I have a message for you from a Lady January Rex-Avis."
"Indeed?" she asked genuinely taken aback. "What could be the matter?"
"Lady Rex-Avis wished you to know that a Gordon Frei is believed to be at large on the planet. And that he is pursued by at least one bounty hunter carrying an Imperial warrant for Frei's apprehension. Uh . . . Madame?"
At this the official hesitated briefly. "Yes?" Astrid prompted.
"The warrant wasn't terribly specific on how he should be arrested. Nor in what state he was desired by the Terran authorities."
"Oh dear. Thank you . . . "
"Nguyen. Inspector Amos Nguyen." The official replied. When he spoke it his name sounded almost like wing, but . . . not quite. Astrid weighed that in her head a moment before replying.
"Thank you Amos. Your information is most timely. If I might ask of you one favor?"
"Yes madame?" he said courteously.
"Please see to it that my shuttle is ready for departure as quickly as possible. I shall attend the function, meet Lady January, and then it seems I might need to leave here with some haste."
"Absolutely madame. We are ever at your service. I'll see to it immediately!"
Nguyen was clearly enthusiastic. Dame Astrid nodded at him and continued "In that case, I should get the young lord inside. I'm afraid he is in need of some refreshment and perhaps a change of attire."
"Certainly madame."
With that Astrid calmly escaped towards the promise of cool in the modest terminal building, leaving the inspector to his work.

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A few minutes later Inspector Nguyen returned to the tarmac accompanied by shuttleport security and an orbital mechanic.

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"Lieutenant Adams, could you see to it that your men keep a close eye on that shuttle over there? It's a diplomatic courier so I'd like to take extra precautions."
"Yes sir," the security officer replied calmly. "Consider it done."
"Very good. And Jenkins?"
"Yes sir?" the mechanic replied
"Could you get the ship inspected, fueled, and prepped for liftoff? I know we're jumping the queue a bit, but this is beginning to look like a sensitive mission."
"Sure. I'll get Johnson and we'll look it over right now. The only other shuttle that hasn't been inspected isn't scheduled to depart until early next week anyway," he said brightly, hefting his tank and preparing to walk back to the maintenance shed."
"Really?" said Amos a little quizzically. "And which shuttle is that?"
"Imperial pinnanace. Arrived last week. Our own lander is already serviced, and the alternate is docked with the scheduled liner. We're pretty much good to go."
"An imperial pinnance? Is there a cruiser in orbit? I haven't seen one, or heard about it."
"No sir. The pinnance came alone. She's registered to IMS Terror, which is a Horrible class battleship. Station ship on Mars, I believe. Long trip for such a light ship, but she's bigger than most Imperial light boats I've seen."
"Very interesting. Thank you."
With that Nguyen turned and walked back towards the safety of the terminal building.

The shuttle was parked in a spot between the terminal and the shop. Out of habit Jenkins looked it over as he walked past. He paused a moment when he noticed a small puddle of dark ooze forming below the port nacelle.
"Blast. Looks like they've got a hydraulic leak," he muttered to himself. He glanced up at the thruster and noticed the bead forming on the bottom of the cowling. When he reached the shop he logged onto his terminal and found the service bulletin he thought he'd remembered. The manufacturer was calling for inspections of the hydraulic lines to the propellant agitators. That had to be it. "Hey Johnson."
"Yeah Jenks?" Marguerite Johnson replied from behind a large stack of rather oily parts.
"If we have to pull an agitator from a L-440 do we have a spare? Or do you think you could fix one?"
"I've got some parts, but not a whole spare agitator. Depends on the damage, but I can probably fix it. Why?"
"Seems that hot shuttle that just came might have blown one. And it needs to take off double quick."
"I'll get on it."

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. . . . .

Tune in next time for Episode II of the Sentinel Gate Affair: A Bounty on the Mutant
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Post Sun May 17, 2020 5:05 am

Re: The Sentinel Gate Affair

Episode II: A Bounty on the Mutant

With the dawning light the scene slowly fades in on the mysterious Gordon Frei; tall, gaunt, space pale, completely bald, and wearing a battered orange enviro-suit.

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As he looked onto the waking streets of Logansport he realized that he needed to find shelter and fast. The hunters would almost certainly be on his scent by now. Talking to the locals would be a risk, but perhaps it was unavoidable. He'd need information. And food, really. Food first. Frei spotted a rice seller walking down the street. She seemed a likely target.

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Later that very night Blake Walker moseyed up to the bar next to Jackie Chu.
"Evening, Jackie. I have news. Seems Colorado has a job for us."
"Oh?" replied Jackie, casually interested. "Is this a rush job?" Jackie nursed his drink, a local sort of fire water called bunker charlie that both looked and smelled like waste oil, as he pondered the news.
"First thing in the morning. There's a bounty out on a spacer named Gordon Frei." He passed Blake a flimsy with a picture and some official looking copy. "Stan smuggled the lady a dupe and she wants us to find him before someone renames him Gordon Verhaftung."
"What?" said Jackie confused.
"Bad joke. Frei means free. We need to find him before he becomes Gordon Arrested." At this Blake paused a moment. "Or dead."
"Well, I have to abandon this fine aperitif, but I suppose I should hurry this process along and find my rack before it gets any later. Sounds like we have an early morning."
"Indeed," said Blake.
"I'll round up the gang. Meet us at half to six by the spaceport. We'll head in from there. Hopefully someone will have a real lead. More than this mimeo you've got here, anyway."

. . . . .

The next morning dawned cool and grey. The heat of the midday sun would clear the street of witnesses as surely as a rare rainstorm would wash away tracks out by the gibsonite mines. As the gang arrived in town and surveyed the drag it looked like it was going to be a long morning.

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"Well folks," Jackie said. "Let's fan out. There's a lot of ground to cover. But be careful. I'm not really quite sure who this bounty hunter is."
"Assuming there's only one," said Shorty McMasters, ever the optimist.

. . . . .

At this point please allow me, your narrator, to briefly interrupt. This is, after all, a play of more than one sort, so I should give some props to those as acted it. The first run went to the fine folks of Big Muddy. Terry was so kind as to play the gang and Steve handled the bounty hunters. (Wait, what?) In the second game my friend Joe played the protagonists and I took over villains and bystanders alike. (Isn't everyone a villain in a bustling hive of scum and . . . well . . . villagers? Yeah, never mind. Dumb and rather dated joke.)
This narrative follows the sequence of events in the second performance, but the first was in many key ways similar. (Though it needn't have been.) So if you think you might want a role in this performance or one similar to it in the next week or so then you might wait to give this a read. The details and even the ending can change. Reading won't truly spoil the game. But the story might be funnier after.

. . . . .

Meanwhile, back in Longansport . . .

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No sooner had the gang set to asking around than one of the local friendlies decided to brush Shorty and Lorita back a bit with some high speed harm.

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"You okay dear?" Lorita asked as she helped Shorty to his feet.
The dwarf thought a moment and replied "Nothing harmed but my ego."
"Good. That might be the only part of you no one has managed to break yet." Lorita paused a moment. "I sure hope Kitty's having more luck."

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While the rest of the gang made their way along the gibsonite glory of the drag Kitty kicked up dust on the edge of town. She was off to talk to old Maxim Wilder.
"Hey Max. Any news?" she asked as she reached down to gently pat his constant companion, the great wolf Stella.
"Nothing that I've heard," he replied.

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Meanwhile Musetta sidled her way around the new peace bot to talk to a pair of visiting actors.

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"So what brings you folks to our town?" she asked.
The first elf replied "We're here to entertain . . ."
". . . and educate," the second finished in turn.
Musetta pressed on. "What sort of show will you have?"
"Oh, it will be comic . . ."
". . . and tragic," the two continued, in the same manner as before. Each finishing the other's sentences as though they were a single entity.
The shorter more masculine elf began brightly "We specialize in the great myths of creation . . ."
". . . and destruction," finished the taller and more feminine elf quietly.
Musetta paused for a moment, not quite sure how to continue. "You look hungry. Are you hungry?" she asked suddenly.
"Why . . ."
". . . yes," they said in sequence.
Feeling sheepish Musetta reached into her pocket. "Here, let me offer you this cake. It's not much, but it's a hot day and you've a lot of work. My friend van Erikson made it. It's a honey cake. His own recipe."
"Thank you," said the tall elf, apparently speaking for both of them as she divided the cake and passed half to her partner.
"Did you drop in to the space port? Did you happen to run into a spacer in an orange vac suit?" Musetta asked gamely. "He's an old friend of mine and I'm expecting him."
"Odd that you should say that," the taller elf said.
"You aren't the only friend expecting a spacer in an orange suit," the shorter elf continued.
"And no. We haven't seen him."
"But you have a much more generous aura than the last fellow, even if you are lying," said the shorter elf again.
"We bought an orange glove from the rice seller this morning," said the tall elf.
"Talk to her," commanded the short elf.
"I will," said Musetta. "And I'm sorry."
"About lying?" asked the short elf?
"Don't be," said the tall elf. "It's part of the job."
With that Musetta wandered off to find Jackie.

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Talking with the peregrine peddler was easier. She came past directly, a case of hot steamed rice balancing out a container of quite delicious smelling pork.
"Yes, I sold him some food in trade for the glove," she said. "I'm not quite sure where he ended up, but when I last saw him he was talking to the nun down at the temple. Talk to her. She might know more."
Jackie contemplated this bit of advice as a group of spacers and adventurers slowly filed past towards the port.

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Jackie began to quietly issue directions for the rest of the gang to assemble over by the temple when Kitty tapped out a brief coded reply that asked him to wait a moment.

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"Sorry about that," she said. "I had to sneak past the same bunch of greenies that held me hostage last season after the business out at the Graceful Ghost. Fortunately, they're all busy listening to a bagpiper . . . and boy is he loud."
"Oh! Is that where that's coming from," Jackie said.
"You can hear that?" she asked.
"Oh yeah."
"Wow. We've got to be a half a klick, away," she said surprised.
"Don't worry about it. Can you get to the temple?" he asked.
"Sure. I'm almost there," she said. "I think it's just past this machine shop. Let me head over there quiet like."

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Quicker than you can give out free drinks at a mining camp the gang coalesced around Jackie over by the temple. Unfortunately, they weren't entirely alone.

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"Hey Kitty, you think you can work your way behind that mandroid?" he asked.
"Sure thing," she replied. "I'm going off the voice channel. If you need me to drop him click twice on the e-channel. Three clicks and I'll break off and go to voice soonest."
"Got it," he said.
Since it was getting on into the late morning, the town slowly started to clear out.

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"Well, that should make things a little easier," thought Jackie, as the gang slipped into the temple with the saffron robed nun. Upon learning that they worked with Rex-Avis the nun was only too happy to introduce Gordon.
"He'll need escort someplace safe," she said.

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"And how are we supposed to do that?" asked Harry, as he stepped through the door.
Kara Mason thought a moment. "Do you think you could disguise him?"
"That might work," the nun replied.
And soon an orange suited spacer . . .

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. . . emerged as a green robed priest.
(Oh, for a muse of fire! Imaginations please. They're still inside, but our crude platform must suffice as the whole of France. Or Moab III, anyway. And the scenerers do good work, but on a limited budget. And they are but one, so corners are sometimes cut. Anyway . . . )

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"A last request," Erikson began. "Would you mind accompanying us? Our pursuers might be more loathe to strike a woman of the cloth."
The nun pondered a moment and then nodded her assent. "Very good. Would you have me lead the way then?"
"If you would be so kind," he replied.
"Follow me," she said. And one after another the little squadron filed out of the shrine in tight formation.

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Kitty held her position behind the metal man, but almost as soon as the gang came into sight he grew restless. It wasn't long before he moved and she got her two clicks. The coast was clear. The cops were looking the other way, about like they usually did. Kitty drew her needler hoping there was enough meat left in her target for the agent to paralyze him at least temporarily. And then . . .
Behind her a large lizard darted under a tractor, knocking over an empty oil can. The racket was deafening in the sudden quiet. Why did the piper down the block choose that moment for a break? Kitty jabbed at the mandroid, but he'd already begun to spin and her shot glanced off his bulky jacket. His hand, however, connected squarely with her jaw and she lurched back stunned.
Blake and Jackie, seeing the miscue, quickly rushed to her aid. The bounty hunter, Tommy Takara registered on Koutosopolis Two, coreward beyond the Tartarus Gate as Blake would later learn, was tough with his integrated circuits and finely tuned muscles, but he was no match for the three of them together. He took a few jabs from Jackie, but Blake worked around behind him and he went down. And the phalanx of desert rats worked slowly down the drag towards the spaceport and freedom, however temporary.
As Blake and Jackie checked on Kitty the steaming, sparking lump began to stir. Musetta was watching the whole enterprise from a perch in an upper story window overlooking the scene. The noise would attract trouble, but there was no choice. She took her shot. Just as the human bulldozer tripped. Her shot passed harmlessly above him.
His return fire was little more effective, but the sounds found a mark, even as the bolts and bullets did not. Jackie, Blake, and Kitty spun in alarm. With his back to them as he to fired on Musetta the mandroid stood no chance at all. The three of them struck as one and he fell again. They scuttled past quickly as the constable finally turned and began walking towards the manlike thing lying prone on the pavement.

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Parade like the whole of the Lace Rock gang moved. But so too did a new audience, awoken to the festivities by the magical sounds of explosions.

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To an orc a good firefight is the Fourth of July wrapped in Tet and chased with an earthy red Bastille Day. Funfire. There's simply no other word for it. Intrigued, the green tide surged down the narrow alley to the street.

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. . . Effectively, if accidentally, separating the rearguard from the van.

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In very little time at all a general melee had ensued. Constables, guardsmen, townsfolk, gangers, and even spaceport dicks found themselves involuntary pugilists trading blows with enormous muscle-bound orcs and short, but extremely eager goblins.

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The orcs, outnumbered as they were now, fought valiantly but fell like grain at the harvest. Along with Kitty, who once again found herself temporarily insensible.

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But mark this well, for on this day when many fell the goblin piper, Squigpipes himself, short but doughty, did best the towering space pirate in his ceramite cuirass with all the benefit of his electroplas musculature, his rebreather, flash visor, targeters, combat reflexes, and squire-sized brain. Low even if all the other orcoids failed, Squigpipes came through . . . yet . . . again.

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Knowing a good opportunity when they saw one, and what with those standing now numbering fewer than fingers let alone toes, the chiefmost of the greenskins scarpered off, squigpipes among them.

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This still left Logansport's finest with quite a haul once the wooziness of too much excitement and a dozen or more rung bells wore off.

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Meanwhile, Colorado Rex-Avis looked down on the whole episode rather satisfied. That had gone . . . better than she'd expected. She had been worried about Kitty for a bit, but she'd borne up well in the end. Hopefully the gang would have Frei out to their hidey hole in short order and she could go find out why it was Holy Terra had such an interest in one rather care worn spacer.

. . . . .

As always, thank you dear readers for joining me in this whimsy. I hope you have enjoyed it half so much as I. And if so, please do tune in next time for epsisode III of the Sentinel Gate Affair: Step Into My Parlor Said the Master to the Spy.

Sincerely,
The Composer
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Post Mon May 18, 2020 2:43 am

Re: The Sentinel Gate Affair

Nicely and whimsically done.

It takes a true cultured sort to weave in both ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’ and ‘Where the Wild Things Are’

And seasoned with some Henry V prologue


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Post Tue May 19, 2020 7:01 am

Re: The Sentinel Gate Affair

Thank you! I do my best to beg, buy, borrow, and steal from the best. If Rogue Trader is a masterful montage of all my favorite sci-fi and fantasy perhaps I am story-jockey remixing those finely curated phat-beats and adding in other things as I am able. I think you have already seen the next bit elsewhere, but . . . there is more to follow.
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Post Tue May 19, 2020 7:21 am

Re: The Sentinel Gate Affair

The Sentinel Gate Affair, Episode III: Step Into My Parlor Said the Master to the Spy

The bounty hunter Tommy Takara waited near the hulking guards in the catacombs beneath the palace for what seemed a dog's age before their subtle separation heralded the arrival of the two cardinals tasked with the inquisition into what they called the "Frei matter."

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Takara was glad he was accustomed to industrial worlds, as the atmosphere was dank and acrid. In fact, the two high lords both wore masks and respirators so large their faces were either completely, or nearly completely obscured. Even in armor that was clearly ceremonial they looked surprisingly formidable. He was not eager to deliver disappointment to men such as these. While the first fellow stroked some kind of animal the second waved a greeting and began.

"I understand you have returned empty handed."
"Yes, your eminence. A team of local operatives found Frei and moved him into the hinterlands before I was able to secure him," Takara answered. "After that I quickly found my transit permits had disappeared."

The air hung silent for a long moment as Takara sweated over his fate. Eventually the first fellow, the taller one with the . . . cat Takara decided, spoke out almost inaudibly.

"Do you care to add anything before we dispatch you?"

The word hung in the air like an axe.

Takara swallowed before he replied. "No, your eminence. My failure is my own responsibility."
"I'm not seeking excuses," the cardinal continued. "Merely information. What else did you observe?"

Takara thought long about his reply. If his information was useful perhaps he would still have breath when this audience ended. Maybe even a career

"There seem to be quite a few parties interested. There was a second bounty hunter. Some kind of orc. Or troll, maybe."
"And he was permitted to search freely?" the shorter cardinal interrupted.
"Yes your eminence. It appears there is some kind of peace between the local officials and a wide variety of xenos. Maybe not trust, but tolerance. Orcs were allowed access to the administrative seat. It wasn't even walled."

Takara paused for a moment. "Go on," prompted the quiet cardinal.
"The operatives who secured Frei are apparently a rather well known local group. They've done a lot of work for the Rex-Avis clan in the past. And Rex-Avis seems to have some association with the Proconsul."
"Anything else?" the shorter cardinal queried further. (Though the difference in height probably came down mostly to the size of their hats.)
"No your eminence. I think that's all."

The quiet man dismissed him with a nod and Takara was happy to take his leave of the place. And he made a note to himself not to accept any more jobs from the bloody cardinal electors if he could possibly help it.

. . . . .

A short time later the two prelates turned to welcome a gentleman with heavy grey armor and a data pad.

"Ah, Augustus. Thank you for coming," said the shorter cardinal, waving once again.

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"It seems we have need of an inquest, and we would like to ask you to lead it."
"Absolutely, your grace," Augustus replied confidently and rather more familiarly. The two cardinals were old associates of the grizzled investigator, who was himself sworn to the service of Holy Terra; a priest inquisitor in the Imperial cult. "What do you require of me?"
"We need you to investigate rumors of apostasy in the north; in the Tartarus Rim. Perhaps the whole of it. The very highest levels of provincial government may not be keeping full faith with Terra. There are even rumors of peace with hostile xenogennimous races, which would be a most foul heresy if it were true."

Augustus merely nodded at this and tapped a few notes into his pad before the cardinal continued.

"We will dispatch a force to support you, should our fears be true and invasion necessary. We cannot immediately spare much more than a squadron; a few galleons and cruisers. But they should suffice to hold any local forces at bay until the Armada can be mustered."
Again Augustus nodded. "Do you wish me to await this force? Is it prepared?"
"We will send you aboard the flagship, IMS Periastron," the shorter cardinal continued. "You should probably approach in secret. Perhaps leave the squadron near, but outside the province. Lord Simon will provide you with a list of suitable contacts with ships that can carry you the last few parsecs. Most likely tramp traders, but reliable and known to us."
"Very good," Augustus said. "I pray all the fates and his Divine Majesty will smile upon you in my absence, and that they will grant this enterprise good fortune."
"Calm spaces and prosperous voyage my friend," the cardinal replied.

With that the three bowed slightly and made their individual ways to their appointed tasks.

. . . . .

When Augustus reached orbit, he found a small, but formidable force awaiting him. The Periastron was a little older, but she was still a powerful warship. With her he saw the Furious class great galleon Sacrosanctus, two Comitatus class cruisers, and several smaller escorts.

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For the most part the journey was smooth. They encountered no serious storms in transit space, and much of the journey was within the boundaries of Imperial NavAid control. Only in the far galactic north was the skilled reckoning of a bound navigator required. With the aid of arcane half-alien implants in their brains, bound to them and passed down through families and guilds, navigators were able to sense the subtle metaspace currents travelers called "the warp." And indeed, Augustus found the act of looking out his porthole in transit space deeply unsettling. The other ships in the squadron seemed warped and distorted; almost monstrous. Barely recognizable as ships at all when they were visible. So he was glad when Peristron once again dropped into normal space. Ironically, it was there that his troubles began. Upon warping out the fleet found a soldified gas tanker, presumably servicing some automated mining platform.

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The commodore immediately fired a warning, seized the vessel, and took the crew into custody. Neither EM nor gravitics had shown anything that looked like a transmission. Upon inspection, there was nothing in the tanker's memory banks, but those could be scrubbed easily enough. It probably wouldn't change much if the Rimmers knew there were a fleet nearby, but it would make investigation more . . . challenging.

. . . . .

Proconsul Commodus was deep in conversation with Marcus Camber when his chief of staff interrupted.

"This had better be good," Commodus muttered.
"Sir, we just got a waveless flash from a rim flagged tanker: DePCoPro Vacuum 2. It seems an imperial fleet has taken station on the border. Vac 2 shot out a coded tightbeam to a gas platform that they were servicing that had an automatic waveless reporting feature that mostly sent tech information back to corporate. The report came through buried in the regular data, but according to the timestamps it seems like this probably happened about six hours ago."

He handed the Proconsul a flimsy with the basic details. Commodus examined it for a moment and Camber observed silently.

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The tall official pondered to himself. He wasn't prepared for open rebellion against the Terrans, but he also didn't care to sacrifice the tenuous peace he was building to political expediency in a far away and notoriously xenophobic court.

"What do you make of this, Alex?" he asked.
"Not much sir. There's really nothing in the report beyond the seizure itself and some probable ship IDs. Unless they were really paying attention to their EM and gravitics they may not have had any warning until the first coms came in and they popped up on visual. I doubt there was much time to react. I'm pretty impressed they got off what they did. Given everything I can't imagine the Terran intents are completely peaceful and above board. But what their aims and reasons might be . . . Your guess is as good as mine."

After a brief pause he added "Hell, your guess is probably a lot better. Have we done anything since Project Iowa that would set the council off?"

Commodus was honestly rather annoyed at the timing, but he tried not to let it show. "Clearly we have," he answered slowly and evenly. "Or they wouldn't be here. I have an idea, but I'd like to keep it close to my chest for now. I'll read you in later, Alex."

With a nod, he dismissed the aide and turned to Camber. "Marcus, we have a problem. And we're going to need eyes and ears. Who do we have?"
"That can operate in the south? Maybe the Duchess," he answered.
"Can you get word to her? Call her in?" Commodus asked.
"Not personally, no. But Rex-Avis might be able to."
"Dear lord, I'm getting tired of this. Do we have to run all our ops through her?" Commodus let his cool demeanor slip a bit at this last part.

Camber, who was personal friends with Colorado Rex-Avis thanks to his gibsonite ventures on Moab III, let the jab slide. "Well, she and Ursaline-Drakemore have built a hell of a network on their own dollar. We're deeply lucky she's on our side."

"I begin to think de Bayamon and the Dragons answer more to her than to me!" Commodus huffed.
"They're both on Moab, sir. While we're usually on Proserpine."
Commodus had to grant that point. "Very well. Send word. And by the way . . . Thank you. And Rex-Avis. I'd appreciate a more redundant operational structure. I hate relying on a system so apparently susceptible to a single-point failure. But I am truly grateful for your help."
Camber nodded at that. It was a small apology, but it was an apology. "Very good sir. By your leave . . . "

Commodus waved him off and Camber hurried below to the code shack to make a secure transmission. Soon after Sergeant Maxim Wether was on a Logansport terrace opposite Sir Stanley Ursaline-Drakemore.

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Wether had arrived in Logansport in a great hurry. "Sir Stanley, I urgently need to speak with Rex-Avis."
Sir Stanley replied calmly "I'm afraid she's out of the system at present."
Wether looked a little surprised at this. "Oh?" he asked.
"She got an invitation to observe a fleet exercise near Starship Rock," Sir Stanley answered. "Not the sort of thing you turn down. She's not expected back until next week."
"Starship Rock is actually perfect. Commodus is hoping she can contact the Duchess," said Wether. "Do you have a secure line of communication with her? It's really quite pressing."
"Of course," Stanley replied. "Follow me."

. . . . .

Image

Starship rock was three jumps and a good several parsecs distant, but the entangled particles of a secure waveless network made transmission nearly instantaneous, with the lag between repeaters being the only delay. Waveless required linked sets, and their use tended to produce localized high energy radiation that could be detected, but the sets were slowly catching on, making communication across galactic distances much simpler than it had been even just a few years ago.

Image

And in barely any time at all, Rex-Avis and the notorious Duchess of Pain Court were face to face in an abandoned section of the starport terminal.

Image

"Elaine," Colorado Rex-Avis began. "Thank you for coming."
"It's no trouble at all. I owe you one for sorting things out with Commodus and Snakeskin. I really had no idea Penny was his daughter."
"Water under the bridge," said Colorado. "And the official story was quite useful. I'd been trying to talk Commodus into peace for years, but without a lever he wasn't willing to go there."
"Well," replied the self styled Duchess, "I'm glad it worked out. It really was not what I envisioned. And getting bested by a gob doesn't really help your reputation any."
"Snakeskin is pretty special, even as gobblins go," Colorado replied. "Anyway, it was actually Commodus that wanted your help."
"Oh really?" Elaine replied. "I'm just glad not to be rotting in jail. I'm really genuinely surprised he's willing to speak to me."
"He's looking for a spy, not a friend."

At this Elaine grew more visibly interested. "That is not at all what I expected."
"There's a bunch of Terran warships gathering just south of the Rim," Colorado said.
"I know," Elaine replied flatly.

It was Colorado's turn to be caught flat footed. "How on earth would you have heard about that?"
"They called me."
"You can't be serious?" Colorado said, utterly shocked. "And who, precisely, are they?"
"An inquisitor named Augustus. He wants me to pick him up and play nanny for him while he's on Moab looking into something or other."
"Oh ho? Is that why they're here?" Colorado began to put the pieces together. Moab meant it was more likely related to Gordon Frei than Project Iowa. They really needed to slow the pace of diplomatic incidents. She was privately glad it wasn't Inquisitor Guimar this time. That man had been a complete boor. Though . . . this did mean the present fellow was more likely to be at least somewhat capable. Which would complicate matters.

Colorado spoke again. "Commodus is hoping you can ingratiate yourself to the Terrans. Maybe pretend you're still on the outs with the local Spacing Guild, smuggling and tramping as you are able. Your network is . . . formidable. Especially in the French sector."

Elaine could only agree with that. She nodded for Colorado to continue. "It's a pretty thin cover, really. But it sticks at least somewhat close to the truth, which makes it easier. And we're short on leads in that direction, and coming perilously close to conflict. It will be dangerous. Of course. You are welcome to use your judgment to feed them whatever information to which you are privy you feel is necessary to win their trust, just so long as it's short of causus belli."

"I'll do what I can," Elaine answered. "I should get back to the Boudoir," she said, as she turned. "If I'm to pick this Terran monk-spy up I'll need to get back warpside chop chop."

Image

. . . . .

A few day's spacing later the Duchess of Pain Court and her Boudoir Noire were outside the Tartarus Gate meeting an imperial, by god, galleon. One of the big ones with the huge temples tacked on all antique style. A real first rate, by the look of it. Maybe even a bona-fide relic from the Terran Reconquista. (They kept ships that long, she'd heard. Maybe they'd plum forgotten how to build them and didn't care if hull plates rotted out from warp radiation. Or maybe they just plassed them over and pretended they were fine. Hell, maybe they really did make them better back then like the oldest spacers sometimes said. Though Elaine rather doubted the truth of that.) Anyway, there it was, right on time. Marked up with a big red V and a stripe. Probably squardon markings, she decided. One stripe for the commodore and two for the flag? Ah, who knew how the Terrans did things. Didn't really matter anyway. She wasn't fighting it, just meeting a launch to carry the contents a few jumps back into what passed for civilization so far north.

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And just like that Inquisitor Augustus and the Duchess were planetside in yet another bland pre-fab starport terminal. What was it the princess had said in the classic play? "Aren't you a little short for a storm trooper?" Yes. That was it. She'd had the chance to play that part when she was a girl on Vide Poche. Fun little roll for a ten year old girl. She smiled at the memory.

"So Augustus," she said. "Where can I take you first? I love a good mystery novel and I hope you will let me help you solve yours."
"That, madame, is precisely what I'm hoping. We have so few reliable contacts this far north. And his majesty, may he live ten thousand years, informs me you have a solid network. We can, of course, make the matter worth your while."

Image

"It will be my pleasure," Elaine smiled. It would, she realized. This should be the most exquisite fun.
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Post Wed May 20, 2020 10:53 am

Re: The Sentinel Gate Affair

Great stuff with some very good pictures along the way. I think you have better technology available than me for the space fleet shots - I really should get a proper paint tool!

I will read the stories properly when I get time, and am looking forward to it.
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Location: St. Louis, MO

Post Thu May 21, 2020 1:59 am

Re: The Sentinel Gate Affair

Thank you Padre! The tech I used for the space backgrounds is free, for what it's worth. I use a program called GIMP, which is essentially an open-source Photoshop knockoff. It's not as powerful, but . . . it mostly works. (And it's a price I can more easily afford.) There are some good tutorials on how to make starscapes with GIMP online.

https://www.maketecheasier.com/create-s ... s-in-gimp/
https://www.gimpusers.com/tutorials/starfield-tutorial

It's not the easiest to follow them, as they use some complicated features and they're both from rather older than current versions of GIMP, so the tools and menus have changed a little. Which makes it a little hard to follow them in places. But those are the two things I basically used to make my starfields and planets. And putting the spaceships in is basically just erasing around them carefully. (You can shoot crhomakey or green screen, but I've not really mastered that yet. Would make it easier, I suspect.)
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Post Thu May 21, 2020 11:40 am

Re: The Sentinel Gate Affair

Your fleet is coming on at a fantastic speed. And your prose is rivaling Padre's content for epicness - spoilt for choice now on Fantasy and 40k fiction.
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Location: St. Louis, MO

Post Fri May 22, 2020 6:05 am

Re: The Sentinel Gate Affair

^Thank you Sleepysod! The fleet speed is partially self defense. I'm in trouble for spending too much plague gold on old lead, so I figure if I get it all painted so it doesn't visibly make the mountain taller I can at least say "See? I'm using it. It's fun! (And keeping me sane.)" I also need them for story, but speed is its own armor, as they say.

As to rivaling Padre's prose, that is high praise indeed. I do not wish to compete, but rather compliment. He is the best of inspiration. Here's to hoping we all end up spoiled. Diversity is the spice of life. :) (And I like my life spicy! Redolent of saffron, fish sauce, and the tastiest of peppers.)
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