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flashback posted on February 19, 2016 at 5:47 AM

64Quest: Chapter 9

< Previous Chapter | Chapter 9
After a short flight, the major docks her gunboat in the hangar of the Ascendancy medium cruiser Victory Over Fear. You, the major, and Hallisey disembark. The major assigns two waiting officers to escort Hallisey to the pirate wreck, and then walks out of the hangar. You follow her.

“All right, Major, this is your turf. Where do we look for answers first?”

“We’re going to start with the captain, Janice Brown. She’s an old friend, and I know for a fact she’ll be looking into this on her own. But she’s not a trained investigator; She may be barking up a windmill for all I know. Do you have any theories, Detective?”

“A few ideas of what might have caused the delay. Nothing that has evidence backing it up.”

She glances at you, never breaking stride. “It’s a long walk to the captain’s office, Detective. Lay them out for me.”

“Well, it could have been three things. This ship or the cargo ship was out of position for some reason, increasing response time. That would mean we either find out why here, or hope something survived in the cargo ship’s black box. Maybe the warning transmission was delayed somehow – again, difficult to prove much about that with the cargo ship destroyed. Finally, something on board this ship could have delayed deployment or response to the message. If that’s the case, it’s also the theory we’ll find the most evidence of here.”

Quinn nods. “As soon as we’re done with the captain, I’m pulling the complete sensor and comm logs for this ship.”

You pass the rest of the trip in silence.
The captain’s office is spartanly appointed; Function is more prized than luxury in the Ascendancy fleet. Everything is made of advanced composites, and outside of a few personal knickknacks looks like it could be replaced with an afternoon’s work at a fab unit. As you enter, the captain stands up from behind her desk.

“Abi, it’s been too long. Who’s your friend?”

Quinn smiles, slightly. “Janice, good to see you. I wish it were under better circumstances. This is Detective Doyle, with the Vale system police. He’s been working to track down these pirates.”

The captain sizes you up. You’re not sure if she’s impressed with what she sees.

“Our resources are at your disposal, Major. How about I bring you up to speed with what I’ve found so far?”

“Let’s hear it then. What happened to slow you down?”

“Distance. A heck of a lot of it. The day before the incident, we received a transmission from the Vale Transport Authority about some space debris they were tracking, along with a new course to avoid it. We computed a safe course for the cargo ship to compensate, had them log it with the VTA, and everything should have been fine. When we got the distress signal, though, that cargo ship was nowhere near the course we’d charted; It was diverted as far as was possible from us while still having the same destination.” The captain’s gaze becomes steely. “I’ve pulled the comm logs, and shortly after we sent our corrections to the cargo ship, one of our junior comm officers called them, and sent another new course – the one the cargo ship ended up following.”

Quinn leans towards the captain, her eyes intense. “Where can we find this comm officer, captain?”

“Lieutenant Bergeron is in the brig. If you want to question him, be my guest.”

The brig’s small interrogation room is more of the same rapidly produced synthetics that the captain’s office was filled with. A plastic floor, a plastic table, and plastic chairs. The comm officer is a young man of perhaps 23; He’s still got some acne on his face, along with a sullen expression. Probably some VIP’s kid who was rushed through special training and commendations to get to the rank he’s at now. You know the type. It happens all the time in the Vale PD, and back when you came from was no better.

“Do you know why you’re here, Mr. Bergeron?” Quinn asks.

“Because someone’s got a problem with my dad and wants to score some points.” He sneers. “I’m not putting up with this charade. And I’m sure as hell not talking to some dumbass civvie cop.”

Definitely an admiral’s kid, then. Thinks he’s important because of Daddy, and sneers at every civilian he sees.

Quinn narrows her eyes and prepares to tear a strip off the kid. You gesture for her to stop. You’ve got an idea.

“It’s Harrison, right kid?” He stays silent. “Well, Harrison, I’ve got a question for you. Do you know what it’s like to be frozen in time for 200 years?”

Whatever Bergeron was expecting, it wasn’t this. He keeps his mouth shut, but he can’t keep the confusion off his face. Quinn’s better at hiding it, but she’s definitely perplexed as well.

“God, it’s weird. Go to sleep in your bed one second, wake up the next being told your heart failed and they froze you until they could fix you… the whole world, gone in a second. Them telling me that they’re pretty sure I’m all there, but maybe the freezing might have fried my brain too. Maybe I’m gone along with the world I knew, too. Can you imagine that, Harrison? I can. I know it. But there’s something else I know.”

You lean across the table. Bergeron leans away from you as much as he can. You put an unsettlingly intense stare and smirk on your face.

“I know that I made this world, Harrison. Every little thing I did back then… hell, it ripples out, man. Change one little thing, and this ship might be purple. Cows might not be extinct. They might have made these uniform boots with laces instead of zippers. Your parents might not have gotten together, might never have met. You might not even have been born!”

Bergeron is looking more and more uncomfortable. Good – that means it’s working. You just have to keep up the creepy non-sequiturs for a little while longer. A lot of these daddy’s boys can’t handle things that don’t immediately make sense; Push on them directly and they stonewall you, but make them deal with something else, and they’ll spill their guts just to get you to shut up. You sit back in your chair.

“Sometimes I wonder if it’s all real, Harrison. If I should test it, see if it’s just some crazy dream. Ask someone some questions, see if they know things I don’t. Do something crazy, see if the world is crazy along with me. Have you ever wanted to try to find out if the world is real, Harrison?”
You start to lean forward again. Quinn looks like she’s going to intervene, but the kid finally snaps.

“You’re crazy, dude! You’re damn crazy! What the hell, OK, I just did my job! I got a comm from the VTA, said they had a transmitter issue and couldn’t raise a ship in the area, asked me to relay a course! What the hell was I gonna do, say no? I sent on the course where they asked and said goodbye. That’s it! That’s all!”

Quinn jumps in. “Who did you talk to? Do you remember their name?”

“Some guy, Forrester? Farrier? Something like that. Yeah, definitely Farrier.”

You frown. “You expect us to believe that, kid?”

He gives you a creeped out look again. “It’s what happened! Why don’t you just go be a psycho in some other corner, civvie?”

“Because your story stinks. They told you they had a transmitter issue and couldn’t raise a ship practically next door to you? And yet they could somehow talk to you? And you bought that? And you’re telling me this cargo ship didn’t ask for confirmation on a route when they’d just been given a special, secure one minutes before?”

“It’s just comms, civvie! I take messages, I send messages! That’s all! They don’t have me here to think about it, just to do it!”

Quinn presses the button for the guards to take Bergeron back to his cell. “We’ll see, Lieutenant. I’m pretty sure at your paygrade, though, they definitely want a person who thinks on the job. So either you’re an idiot who should the service should boot, or you’re a traitor we should hang. Think on that while you sit in the brig.”

After the guards escort Lieutenant Bergeron from the brig, Quinn turns to you. “Sounds like we should pay a visit to the VTA, Detective. What do you think?”

DECISIONS: Do you and Major Quinn go to the Vale Transport Authority to track down Farrier? [x] Yes
[x] No. What do you want to do instead?

Do you continue working with Quinn, or chase down other leads? If so, which leads do you follow up on? [x] Continue working with her (go to the VTA or do something else)
[x] Go solo on another lead. Which? Do you go to support one of your detectives on their leads?

Do you ask the Major about her history with Nason? [x] Yes
[x] No
[x] Only if she brings it up

flashback posted on February 10, 2016 at 5:27 AM

64Quest: Chapter 8

< Previous Chapter | Chapter 8 | Next Chapter >
This case makes it easy to requisition heavy spacecraft. A heavy assault craft for your own squad, and four more besides crewed with patrol officers for backup. Enough firepower for a fight, but a small enough group to avoid sensors. The ships are fueled up and launched, starting their trip out to the asteroids; After setting the autopilot, you step out to try to track down Nason.

Nason is sitting in the mess, munching at a granola bar. He looks up as you walk in. “What’s up, boss?”

“It seemed like you knew Major Quinn, back at the office. What’s the story there?” you ask as you walk to the drinks dispenser.

Nason grimaces. “Short version? She didn’t like it when I hooked up with her daughter. Long version… well, that’s a lot more complicated than you might expect. Suffice it to say that I met her daughter the wrong way, dated her the wrong way, and… and things ended the wrong way.”

Nason not wanting to tell a story; That’s a first. You file that tidbit away for later. The dispenser pops out a generic energy drink for you – “Charisma Potion.” You’re not sure what charisma tastes like.

“OK. Anything useful you can tell me about her?”

“Beyond the fact that she’s a stickler for every rule that was ever written? Not a lot.”

“Thanks, Nason.” You say, and head back to the cockpit.

Back in the cockpit, you fire up the comm and give Major Quinn a call. She picks up quickly. The communication has very little delay; she must be pretty close to your broadcast. There’s no video signal.

“This is Quinn, go.”

“Quinn, this is Doyle. Two things; I’ve got an update to our case information for you, and a proposal.”

Quinn pauses briefly. “Confirmed, data received. What’s the proposal?”

“We work together. I can keep sending you updates, you can send me what you find, or we can just combine forces and work together directly.” It’s a gamble, but if you can get Quinn to work directly with you, it opens up a lot of investigative opportunities. Finding out why the military’s responses to the pirates were delayed, for one. Investigating the pirate wreck, for another.

“I’ll… consider it, Doyle, and talk to my superiors. We’re still watching you, but if they can clear you… well, two heads are always better than one.”

Bingo. “Considering it is all I ask, Major. Thank you.”

“Quinn out.”
The first of three potential hiding spots turns up a dud; No signs anyone has been near in decades. You drop a covert sensor drone anyway, just in case. The second planet is more promising; recent engine exhaust trails, what looks like the remains of a temporary shelter. Better yet, the engine trails are pointed towards your third destination. You drop another sensor drone, and move on to the third planetoid.

At first, you don’t pick up anything. As you circle the asteroid, however, you get a sensor hit; One of the pirate frigates has landed on the surface, beside a cave system! You order three of your support craft to surround the ship in space and cut off its escape; You send another to the mouth of the caves to block off the entrance, and land your ship directly beside the frigate to board it.

Your squad rushes up the ramp, rapidly clearing the airlock – nobody in the area. A methodical sweep reveals nobody is aboard; They must all be in the caves. The squad at the caves confirms they’ve sealed the pirates in and sent a demand for surrender; No response yet.

“This is too easy.” Says Antos. “An entirely undefended ship? There’s got to be a trick here. This is a decoy or something.”

“Come on Antos, lighten up! We can win sometimes.” Hallisey pipes up brightly as she tries to break into the ship’s computer system; The navigation data from it could lead you straight to the pirate stronghold, and Hallisey no doubt wants to find some evidence that fingers the Earth Directorate as being behind the pirates.

Your comm beeps a distress signal; It’s one of the ships you left in orbit.

“You’re right, Antos; Too easy. Another frigate just popped in to orbit.”

Not good – just three of your assault craft can’t take that ship in a fight. “Come on, back to the ship! We need to get up there and back them up before they’re toast.”

You race back to the ship, skipping every prelaunch check you can, getting spaceborne as soon as possible. As you close in, you can see the battle; One of your ships is already destroyed, while the frigate has some minor damage on its port side. Not good.

You close on the ship, and your squad mates open up with missiles and laser weapons. The frigate’s guns track you, and the assault craft’s slow maneuvering hampers you as you try to dodge. The worst of their fire misses by a hair’s breadth as you push the ship’s drive to its limits dodging flare after flare of plasma.

Hallisey lets out a whoop of joy as she and Nason manage to take out an enemy plasma turret with their laser fire and a pair of well-placed missles. Her joy is short-lived; A glancing blow knocks out your ship’s ventral engines, briefly placing you in an uncontrolled spin before you can compensate. One of the other ships moves to support you, but your course has become predictable, and the frigate is taking aim directly at you.

Before they can fire, your sensor board lights up with a new contact; It’s an Ascendancy gunboat! The Major must have been tailing you; Looks like that inconvenient suspicion is paying some unexpected dividends. The gunboat starts unloading missiles and railgun rounds; It’s smaller than the frigate, but with your own craft in the fight the frigate is outgunned. They turn tail and run. A minute later, you’ve got a message from the surface; The pirates there have surrendered.

Your team is gathered in your ship’s mess, along with Major Quinn.

“Fantastic work, people.” Your backup is staying to secure prisoners on the planet, while more ships arrive to start examining the captured pirate ship; Forensics has even bumped up its schedule to come in and examine it straight away. Your team is beaming with pride – this is your biggest win yet on this case.

“But, the work isn’t over. We’ve won the battle, now we win the war. Antos!”

“Yes sir?” he asks without any trace of irony in his voice; Clearly he’s impressed enough by your recent leadership to stop trying to buck authority.

“I want you to chase down those gene search leads you’ve got searching as soon as you’re back at central. If we can get to these guys from two angles, that makes our case all the better. Nason!”

“Yeah boss?”

“Take the ship back to central, drop off Antos, then go talk to your syndicate contact if he’s still talking. I want to know who approached him and where; Maybe we can nail down a few more staging bases like this one.”

“Got it.”

“What about me, sir?” Hallisey asks, hope in her eyes.

“That depends on the Major here, Hallisey.” You say, looking at Quinn. “Major Quinn, have you heard back from you superiors?”

“I have.” she says. “And we’re willing to work with you on this investigation. What do you have in mind?”

“I’d like to have Detective Hallisey take a look at the pirate wreck you retrieved. Maybe she can find something there that’ll lead to their base faster than forensics digs something up here.”

“I think I can swing that, Detective. What are you planning to do yourself?”

“I’d like to work with you directly on something that’s been puzzling me; Why was the military response to that pirate attacked as delayed as it was?”

The Major smiles. It is not a pretty smile; More the smile a wolf makes before it pounces on its prey. “That’s something I’ve been asking, too, Detective. Shall we?”

What do you want to focus on in your investigation of the delay? [x] There’s no discrete options here – suggest your theories of what might have happened. If you need prompting and have nothing by Thursday, I’ll provide some options for you.

Are you Good Cop, or Bad Cop during any questioning? [x] Good cop
[x] Bad cop
[x] Dadaist cop

Do you ask the Major about her history with Nason? [x] Yes
[x] No
[x] Only if she brings it up

flashback posted on February 03, 2016 at 3:58 AM

64Quest: Chapter 7

< Previous Chapter | Chapter 7 | Next Chapter >
After a quick jump to Central, you and Nason head into the squad’s office. Inside, Hallisey and Antos are waiting, along with someone you don’t recognize. A middle-aged woman, brown hair going gray, dressed in an Ascendancy military uniform. As you enter the room, she gets up and closes the door behind you, then sits down again. Nason frowns as he sees her, and when she spots him her expression matches. Is there some history here you don’t know about?

“Detective Doyle. I’m Major Abigail Quinn with the Ascendancy Naval Investigator’s office. I need to ask you some questions.”

She must be the complication the Captain was talking about. “What can I help you with, Major?”

She leans forward. “First you’ll need a little background. The transport that was just destroyed by your pirates was one of ours – a covert shipment. What I’d like to know is why you delayed response to this attack just long enough see that ship destroyed, because the way I see it, these pirates have to have some inside support in this police force… and I think that support is you.”

You’re taken aback. That’s a big accusation, and is she’s comfortable making it, she’s either sure enough to make it, or the military is pushing hard enough on this that nobody will care if you get taken down while they find these guys. And as long as they’re pursuing you, they aren’t looking in the right places.

“I took a calculated risk, Major. I was chasing a potential lead that would have gotten away; If I’d jumped immediately, your ship might still be destroyed, and we’d definitely lack the information we have now.”

Quinn narrows her eyes. “And just what information was worth the lives of my people, Detective?”

A misstep. Nothing to do but push forward. Maybe if you share all the info you have on the case, you can get her to divert her suspicions. “We were able to get a location where the pirates have been rendezvousing with smugglers to sell their hauls, and sensor data to let us track where they came from for those meets. There’s only a few places they could be hiding there; We should be able to bag these guys soon.”

Hallisey breaks in. “Major, I can assure you that Detective Doyle isn’t behind this. What’s happened here is simply a horrific co-incidence, and going at each other’s throats won’t help solve this case. We should be working together to find these pirates, pooling our resources.”

As Hallisey speaks, you walk over to your terminal and start entering commands. A data cube pops out of the synthesizer, and you hand it to the Major.

“Here’s all the information we have on this case; Every lead, every dead end we hit, every suspect. I’d prefer to work with you, Major, but at the least take this, so your investigation has every advantage it can.”

The major looks pensive, then stands to leave. “You’re clear for now, Doyle. But we’ll be watching.”

The door swings shut behind her, and you turn to your team. “Well then. Antos, Hallisey, what did you find out?”

They look at each other, and Antos speaks up. He looks happy with what he’s found – looks like wrangling forensics has put him right in his element.

“Well, we’ve found some anomalous genetic material that doesn’t match the passenger manifest. Nothing came up for matches in the local criminal database, so we’ve sent out-system requests for analysis, and requested a warrant to search the citizens’ database as well. If there’s any hits, we’ll know in a few hours. That’s not the best of it, though.”

He stands up and activates the holotable, filling it with a weapon schematic. “This is the weapon that did most of the hull damage. It’s a turret-mounted plasma flare weapon; Works as a main engine, too, if you set it up right. And get this – it’s not made in the Ascendancy. This sort of plasma gun only gets manufactured in Earth Directorate space.”

You glance at Hallisey – she looks vindicated. Good for her.

Antos continues. “It’s a great weapon for what they’re doing; You can dial its yield pretty carefully, cut away parts of the hull precisely at range, then board, kill, and steal. And it being so exotic means we should be able to track where they’re buying from. Nason, got any black market contacts that might be able to give us some tips?”

“If they’re coming from the black market and not buying directly.” Hallisey’s eyes are shining with interest. “They might be straight from the Directorate itself; This could still be an undercover attack by them!”

Antos rolls his eyes, but Nason looks thoughtful. You decide to intervene before this goes any farther.

“Well, at the least we know what we’re up against, weapons-wise. I’m going to requisition a heavy assault craft for our trip to the asteroids – no sense in getting ourselves blown out of the sky faster than we need to be.”

You walk over to the holotable and clear it, then bring up the sensor footage from the latest attack. “Now that we know what they fight with, let’s see how they fight with it.”

The footage cuts in right as the lead ship jumps into range. Four large, blocky ships each with a dozen turrets are firing on what looks like a regular commercial liner for about 5 seconds, before another enemy beam lances through the ventral hull and the ship explodes in a blinding flash.

“Damn, that went up fast.” Antos says. “That section should have just been maintenance shafts and hull plating between the vacuum and the main cargo hold.”

“Should have been, yeah.” Nason chimes in. “What do you bet the military had every nook and cranny of that ship packed with secret ordnance, though? Probably got set off by the plasma gun.”

“I recognize those ships.” All eyes turn to Hallisey. “Those are Earth Directorate Hoff-class gunships. No insignia on them, but for an undercover op…”

Nason isn’t having any of it. “Yeah, Hoffs are Earth Directorate ships, all right; But they’re also three generations old. Last I heard, their military was offloading them disarmed to rich collectors in the core worlds to fund some next generation warship project.”

“These are hardly disarmed, though.”

“Right, but that doesn’t mean anything. Those guns are those ships’ engines, too; The civilian engines they swap in are easy enough to modify back into guns, if you’ve got time and some inside connections for the engineering. I’ve heard about these ships getting bought, floated out on “luxury military-style cruises” out to the border, then disappearing for a few months. They show up later re-armed and in private hands.”

You unpause the sensor feeds. “Table this for now. We know they’ve got old military ships, that’s all we can say for now.”

Post-explosion, the pirate ships turn their attention to the police ships, which open fire with missiles. They’re clearly overmatched; Light patrol ships like these aren’t built to take on dedicated military hardware, outdated or no. A minute and a half in, however, a huge sensor contact appears; An Ascendancy medium cruiser. Sensors ping with hundreds of thousands of contacts as it launches a missile barrage, and it starts orientating to line up its axial-mount railguns with one of the enemry ships. A few flashes of light later, and one of the pirate ships is cracked straight in half; The others are taking missile damage, and flee via jump drive.

Antos whistles. “Damn. I wonder why that cruiser took so long to jump in – it must have been nearby as a covert escort; it should have been there in seconds.”

Nason shoots a glance at Hallisey. “And those pirate ships can’t be military any more – those have to be civilian shields, or they wouldn’t have been shot through so fast. These have to be private refits.”

“Unless it’s a double blind.” Hallisey shoots back. She isn’t giving up on her theory any time soon.

Antos tries to step in as peacekeeper. “Well, let’s see if we can’t get our hands on the wreckage. That’ll settle it.”

Nason snorts. “No way we can do that – the military’s going to have it locked up tight, and there’s no way Quinn of all people will give it to us.”

“We’ll discuss it on the way to our latest lead, folks.” You say, shutting off the holotable and standing up. “Let’s get moving. We have some pirates to catch.”

Do you ask Nason about his history with Major Quinn on the way to the asteroids? [x] Yes.
[x] No.

Do you transmit your latest findings to the Major? [x] Yes
[x] No

Do you ask the major for access to the wreck? How will you convince her? [x] Yes. How will you convince her?
[x] No.

Do you ask central for backup on your trip to the asteroids? [x] Yes, every ship they can spare
[x] Yes, a small squad
[x] No

If you don’t catch all the pirates in the asteroids, what lead do you want to pursue next? Will you split up your team for it? How do you want to split up? Here are your available leads: [x] Nason’s Syndicate Contact
[x] Nason’s Mercenary Contact
[x] Antos’s gene database searches
[x] (if you got access to the wreck) The pirate shipwreck
[x] Trying to find out why the cruiser was delayed responding to the attack
[x] Something else? If so, what?