Cleopatra Kahn is a Dralasite researcher who is finishing its Triple-Doctorate in Xeno-Zoology and Anthropology. It has decided that for its final thesis it will conduct an investigation to see whether some recent computer analytical techniques can be used to expand our understanding of the so-called “Elder Races”. It obtained a research grant which has limited funds but should support a very small expedition. Based on that, it ran some discrete advertising in a few chosen venues.
Much to Cleopatra’s surprise, it got a positive response from a most unexpected source. Joseph Armitage is a member of the Order of Golden Templars. The Templars are a group that has long studied the Elder Races, but they have always been dismissed as cranks by the scientific establishment because they have an almost religious fervor about their studies, and also because some of their beliefs are far too outlandish to be true. Supposedly, they believe that some of the Elder Races used “flying saucers” to spy closely on the various intelligent races before they first attained spaceflight, and that they were responsible for certain massive plagues in more recent times. At least, that is what people SAY they believe: the Templars themselves are notoriously secretive (perhaps because of the disdain with which they are viewed by others) and do not share much about their beliefs and never their data with those not initiated into the Order.
But Joseph wrote to Cleopatra and said that he had been granted permission by the other leaders of the order to try a more open approach (as an experiment). He said that he was willing to allow it to view and analyze the records that the Templars had collected over the years. Cleopatra realized that this would be a significant new source of information and that it might pose an opportunity to really push forward the boundaries of knowledge about the Elder Races. So it began looking for a more active team to pursue this: it would need some way to get transportation to the Harconan System, where the Order’s headquarters is located.
That was how it found Viktor. He is a Vrusk pilot and navigator who possesses a small null-space-capable ship as the last remnant of a powerful Vrusk corporation that was almost completely destroyed by an experiment in superluminal communications that went drastically wrong. Left with little other than himself, his ship, and his loyal Ajax mechanic (The company’s other assets are in receivership; accessible only with evidence that it could be used to restore the corporation.) and believing that only desperate measures would give him any chance of restoring the corporation, he decided to sign on with Cleopatra in hopes that discoveries about the Elder Races would lead to an opportunity to restore his corporation.
Shortly afterward, they heard from Chez, a human gun-for-hire; a rogue with many years of experience in the seedy underside of interstellar commerce. She is currently between gigs (i.e. unemployed) and showed up offering her services. Since she has spacing experience and seemed willing to join for a very affordable rate, Cleopatra decided she would be a useful asset as well.
But after this, they didn’t hear at all from Joseph Armitage. Eventually, Cleopatra sent word (by post) to Harconan inquiring after him. It eventually received a reply back saying that Joseph has gone traveling in the Confederacy. He had gone to the world of Vigal, and had not been heard from since; just over 2 months had passed. Fearing that her chance to analyze the data might be lost, Cleopatra decided to gather its existing band and go in search of him.
Since null-space travel is so dangerous and Vigal can be reached by the Rail, they decided to leave Viktor’s Ajax mechanic to protect his ship while Cleopatra, Chez, and Viktor travel by Rail to Vigal in search of Joseph. The trip was pleasant (Viktor manages to get them upgraded to first class) and presently they arrive in the Vigal system.
At first, they took a shuttle down to the Tourist Zone in Vigal City. But they quickly realized that they wouldn’t learn anything from there. So they went through customs and each received their own personal Watcher (a hovering video camera). (Chez also posted bond to be allowed to carry a weapon, explaining that she was Cleopatra’s bodyguard.) They then made their way to the Immigration Office where they encountered a very stubborn individual.
He explained (in an overly officious voice) that they had laws on Vigal, protecting citizens’ privacy. Of course the government had full records of the location of all citizens, but without a signed affidavit from Joseph Armitage, he could not tell them the location. Nor would he deliver a message—that apparently fell afoul of laws on spam. The group left with nothing more than a blank affidavit form.
They checked a “phone book” but none of the people named “Joseph Armitage” that they could locate seemed to be the right person. Then, at Chez’s suggestion, Cleopatra decided to try a private investigator. They found Marlo in a run-down building a few miles away. For 800 credits (half up front) he said he’d see what he could do, and he also helped them locate a room for the night. The following day he had results. Peering at the screen under the privacy shield (to prevent the cameras from viewing it) they could see the stamped exit visa: Joseph had visited only briefly, then continued on to the planet Thrombo.
So they made their way to Thrombo. They landed in the southern city of Kildore, which Chez explained was the power base of the “Rationalists”—a recently ascendent political sect on Kildore. There Viktor located a nice place to stay and Chez was able to run a quick computer search on Joseph Armitage. She got lucky and on her first try came across a news article from about 2 months ago describing how a traveler of that name had been arrested for “professing non-rationalist beliefs”.
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Meanwhile, Joseph Armitage had been having a much less pleasant time.
He had simply been describing to someone at a bar some of the facts that the Templars had discovered about the Elder Races, when a mob burst in and he was arrested. The judge asked him if it was true that he had talked about them planting plagues and visiting pre-spaceflight races in flying saucers. Joseph replied that it was true—he had seen the evidence. Shortly thereafter he found himself sentenced to several months in prison.
It was there that Joseph met Randall Moppet, and since they were cellmates they had plenty of time to get to know each other. Randall was physically odd: a human afflicted with some malady that left him a midget, and with only one eye. He was in prison for, as he explained it, “Some misunderstandings over a document that was apparently forged; I had no idea and had assumed the document was completely valid.” In fact, Randall began working on filing an appeal for his conviction.
Another prison inmate they met was Boffo, a huge Wookie with shaved skin (their equivalent of a tattoo) in the shape of a skull. Boffo wanted Randall to help him file an appeal to his sentence, which Randall was perfectly happy to do. Unfortunately for him, the appeal drew the magistrate’s attention to some other flaws in the trial and the result was that Boffo wound up getting his sentence extended instead.
For some reason, this infuriated the huge Wookie. During the next exercise period, Boffo gave the guard a signal to wander away from his post for a bit, then he set upon Randall, intending to deliver some severe damage. Randall ducked under a table (which Boffo destroyed), then through Boffo’s legs to beside where his cellmate (Joseph) was standing. Boffo, enraged, was perfectly happy to beat both of them to a pulp, although somehow Joseph managed to shrug off two of his blows. Both Randall and Joseph grabbed pieces of the table as clubs and tried to engage Boffo.
In moments, Randall was seriously wounded and Boffo was hurt a bit. They circled around a bit: Boffo throwing punches while Randall dodged them and Joseph attempted to stop the beast from attacking his friend. Another guard came by and saw the fight. And all three miscreants were sentenced to be moved to a work camp in one the floating smelteries on the Magma Lakes.