When we last left our heroes, the Not For Hire (aka the Lucky Break) was making its way to Gonghe with a load of expensive wine. The trip was uneventful, though the orbital inspection was a bit colourful as Gayle seemed to have issues with the Alliance inspector, who drug his feet in response. There were concerns about security when on Gonghe as they were known to be heading here, so the crew was on high alert.
They finally touched down on Gonghe and contacted the customer, who made arrangements to pick up the cargo. During the unloading, a gentleman in an expensive suit approached the ship and Shylock, who was supervising the unloading, met the gentleman halfway across the tarmac. The gentleman gave Shylock a small package and asked that he deliver it to the Capt.
Shylock brought the package on board and the crew examined it, concerned it might be dangerous, but in the end it was only a recording from her ex-fiance, Clayton Yeardley. Clayton explained that he was aware of her distress and was trying to determine who was after her and why. He also told her in no uncertain terms that he still loved her and she would always have a home with him, that he would fight the galaxy to win her back.
The cargo was unloaded, payment was made, and the Not For Hire made its way to Sihnon, with its forged pilgrimage permits. The inspection above planet was cursory at best and the ship touched down without issue. Choosing to try a subtle approach, the “Buddha Crew” (Marcus, Gayle, and the Captain) chose to take the tourshuttle approach. They travelled with a tour group out to the Xiuhua Temple located in the Heming province, the birthplace of Shan Yu and once the center of his regime, but was eventually turned into a museum/preserve.
The shuttle arrived, the “Crew” debarked, and began the tour of the large temple while the guide narrated. The first Buddha they found was 30’ tall, in the center of the front of the main room, and obviously weighed several hundred tons. Listening to the narrator they discovered that a small alcove contained the test casting, the original Buddha, which was only 3’ tall and weighed just over 100 pounds. Gayle and the Capt continued on with the tour while Marcus remained at the alcove, “meditating”, and searching for electronics. He found no cameras and a rudimentary security system on the Buddha, which was logical given its value was in what it represented, not it’s materials.
The tour wound back to the Buddha, Marcus rejoined them and they all returned to the small hamlet not far from the Temple, the home town of Shang Yu, each building restored to its original quaintness. The tourguide moved them from building to building, going into great detail about the history of each building and its former residents. After the tour had completed, they retired to the over-priced Inn in the hamlet to eat and plan.
After nightfall, the group headed back to the Temple for evening meditations. They lingered towards the back and waited until others had left, leaving them alone. Marcus then went to work disabling the security system and the trio absconded with the small Buddha, keeping to the shadows and near the walls. They made it out of the temple and into the fields surrounding the area when they noticed lights coming on behind them. They quickly made their way through the fields to the town, where they found it also awake and searching.
The Capt drifted into town to listen to what was going on while Marcus and Gayle slid along the shadows, trying to find an empty house to work in, leaving the Buddha covered in the field. The local Alliance security were doing a house-to-house search for the Buddha, knowing it had not left the area because no air traffic had been detected. Marcus and Gayle waited until the house they wanted to use had been searched, then they snuck in with the Buddha and hid in an internal room.
Marcus began puzzling out the box, taking just under two hours to finally disassemble it, and found an old parchment within. He carefully took the paper, left one of his personal cards behind, and reassembled the Buddha to its original state. Gayle wiped down everything to remove evidence of their being there, leaving the Buddha to be found the next day, and they returned to their suite, where the Capt had retired to an hour before, realizing her Crew was working on the problem. The three of them awoke in the morning and returned on the morning tourshuttle, then to their ship where they left the planet without incident.
Marcus and Shylock looked over the parchment but the text on it was indecipherable. The Capt recognized it as the ancient, original dialect of Chinese from Earth that Was but there were no books on the subject as it fell out of use 100’s of years ago, before landfall. A search on the ’tex revealed little beyond listing that the ideograms were once used by the Lu-tsung a small Buddhist sect that once lived in Heming province, but relocated to Bernadette due to the stigma of being associated with Shan Yu’s education. Having no other leads, the crew made its way to Bernadette. En route, Shylock worked to find some business on the planet and secured passengers and cargo in the form of a group of homesteaders heading rimward.
Upon arriving on Bernadette, Marcus quickly headed out into the city to get his gambling fix, while Shylock, Butch, the Capt and Ivy made their way about the market. Both Marcus and Butch realized they were being followed, and when Butches group split up, they were all followed, so Butch recommended that, after an unsuccessful shopping trip, the group should return home. Marcus did very well in gambling, so well that he actually won a slave, a manservant with no tongue whose former master called “Bob”. Upon returning with his human “winnings”, the crew decided that “Bob” would be freed first thing the following morning, before they headed out to the temple.
The next morning, the “Buddha Crew” headed out again, this time with Bob. They went by the registry of human assets and paid the fee to have “Bob” freed, then took their shuttle out to the temple. The nearest landing pad was in a small town just over 3 km from the temple, so the crew settle down there and make the walk to the temple itself.
The Lu-tsung temple is exquisitely terraced and landscaped and above all a place for quiet solitude. When the Crew reached the entrance, they are met by a monk that spoke in an antiquated form of Chinese, Chinese the way it was meant to be spoke, as it was in China on Earth-That-Was. When the crew had difficulty following him, he rather disdainfully used a more modern Chinese and asked them what they required.
The crew explained that they need something translated and showed him the parchment. He looked at it or a moment, then asked them to follow him. He led them through the courtyard, filled with exquisite gardens and not a single piece of technology to be seen anywhere, not even the simplest of mechanical or electronic systems. Everything was hand made and beautifully embellished with carvings and decorations that obviously had taken decades of work to perfect, yet added to the dignity of the structures and the grounds.
The young man led the crew to the Ascetic of the order, a wizened old man that looked to be well over a hundred years old. He spoke to the older man in the ancient tongue and bowed away as the Ascetic turned his penetrating gaze upon the crew, asking them in a clear and vibrant voice, “You wish to learn of the old ways. Few of your generation bother to delve into such things and those that do, do so for the most unfortunate of reasons. Speak true of your reasons or be gone from this place.”
The crew, sensing the old man could likely read the truth of things, decided honesty is the best policy and explained what they had, what they found, and what they were looking for. The old man gazed at each of them as they told the story, then nodded and seemed to approve of the honesty. He gestured to the younger man, who turned to the crew and explained that they would translate the document for them and provided them lodging in the temple while they waited. The crew spent a peaceful evening on the grounds, partook of the meager provisions provided and waited patiently.
In the morning, the young monk returned with the translation. Gayle, having pondered the subject all night, asked to go see the Ascetic again. Perplexed, the young monk led the crew there, where Gayle offered the journal of Shang Yu to the old man, indicating that it probably belonged there anyway. The old man seemed somewhat amused by this and told them to come back in a few weeks to pick up the translation. With this, the crew made their way out of the temple and down the road to the town to return to the ship.
The crew arrived in town and were making their way to the shuttle when they were approached by a middle-aged Asian gentleman who introduced himself as Peng Chongde. He asked for a moment of the crew’s time and the crew noticed that a number of Asian men melted out of the crowded street around them, all dressed in variations of red and black, obviously members of the Tong, the Asian crime family. Peng quietly said to the crew, "You have, regardless of manner or intent, stumbled onto something far too dangerous to pursue. I ask that you cease this foolish course of action you have chosen and surrender what you have found to me, so that whatever it is you have found can be destroyed before you unleash a power you cannot control that could bring destruction down upon us all.”
The Capt seemed reluctant to comply so Peng made it clear it was not an option by taking her firmly by the arm. Gayle instantly drew his guns and pointed them at Peng, ordering him to release the Capt, which in turn forced the Asian gentleman to put their hands on their own weapons. Marcus threw up his hands and attempted to be the voice of reason, but Gayle did not tolerate people manhandling the Capt, and the Capt didn’t seem all too happy about it either, so things turned violent. The scuffle began with blows, escalated to knives and swords, and then gunfire, which set off the crowd. With the crowd screaming and running about, the Alliance patrols started to head that way, the Tong evaporated into the crowd, and the crew bolted for their shuttle, lifting off before they could be queried.
They called ahead to Shylock to have him hurry things up with the loading, and Shylock went down to Patience (the old woman who was leading the homesteaders, but not that Patience) to ask her to hurry up. The crew returned, the homesteaders were pulled aboard, and the Not For Hire lifted off without issue. Marcus and Butch did a scan of the ship and found two different tracking devices from the Tong, which they disabled, and Butch found Orchid’s tracking device, which Marcus told him to leave.
En route to Isabel, Shylock spent a great deal of time in the common room chatting up an old, retired terraformer who was moving to settle down and farm. While not specifically what Shylock needed, he did have a great deal of information on what anyone would need to figure the problem out. He told them that they would need a sample of the plant, the soil, the water, and a 24 hour spectrometer reading for the planet to do any kind of analysis, and that they should take those things to the Terraforming College on Bernadette, but if they needed something a bit more…low key…that they should go to Ita, which has the greatest terraforming minds in the ’Verse.
Additionally, Marcus and Gayle took a look at the translated map, which created more questions than answers. It outlined a very complex course that referenced things that made no sense. The trip is comprised of four legs.
The first is from Sihnon to project Boros. The second leg is Project Boros to a celestial body labeled Project 19K. Leg three proceeds from Project 19K to Moon 14597R and the final leg is from Moon 14597R to the Hidden City, which the map shows is an irregular shaped 30 kilometer long asteroid. The first challenge was to identify what the obscure references meant in modern ’Verse terminology. A simple check of the ’tex showed project Boros to be Boros itself. It took a bit more work to determine that Project 19k became hera, and Moon 14597R was the original designation for Highgate. The next problem was accounting for 200+ years of celestial motion, but Marcus felt that, once they were on the last leg of the journey, he could cipher it out.
The trip to Isabel was uneventful and, when the ship settled down out in the middle of nowhere, the homesteaders began debarking. Hart donated some of his medical supplies and gave them all vaccinations for the local problems, ensuring they’d be off to a healthy start, and Bob decided to stay with them vs continuing on with the crew. Shylock chatted with Patience about future agricultural opportunities and she agreed to think about it, then the ship lifted off, headed for Ita.
On the way to Ita, Shylock did some research on the Ita colony and found a gentleman by the name of Carter Harris who had family ties. He had gotten into serious debt and turned to the family for help, who in turn expected favors from him. His problems turned serious so the family arranged for him to be on Ita under a false identity (current Daniel Brovlowski) where he is in the family’s version of “witness protection”.
Ita is Alliance-owned but leased out to various contractors for experiments.
The current firm that “owns” the colony is a new and up-and-coming terraforming firm called Weyland-Yutani, a merger of two smaller firms, both of which with ties into different families. On the surface, they are “Building Better Worlds”, but in truth they are taking their families’ interests to a different level by owning worlds outright. The project is in its infancy and quite a bit of capital has been invested in it, so big things are expected from it.