Episode 12 — Diving Deep

NeVaga reports to Fort al-Helaleyah and is order to report to the Muster ship Queenfish and present herself to Bosun Delissa Simpson. She undergoes five days on gruelling training to get familiar with the vessel and equipment. At the end of this training, she is assigned, with the Muster reclamation team she will advise, to an old bathysphere in poor condition. She learns that their first mission will be to descend and to recover the primary bathysphere which was lost in a storm almost two months ago — with NeVaga's predecessor on board. The Queenfish sails out, and begins a search pattern to locate the lost bathysphere.

Meanwhile, Aquilegia returns to the Amalthean clinic to continue to provide assistance, primarily by escorting and ensuring the safety of Amalthean healers when they venture out to help the poor. After a few days, Oblate Sen asks if she would be willing to accompany a group going to the slave pens to minister to the sick. She agrees, promising not to start any trouble; the Amaltheans only maintain permission to minister to the slaves by keeping neutral.

NeVaga, assisted by the two Muster technicians James Hall and Melinda Mason, works on repairing the backup bathysphere and improving their chance of surviving the recovery mission. The lost bathysphere has just been located, and NeVaga will have to go recover it in the backup craft, as the bathyspheres seat only one person. She locates the lost craft at a depth of 200 meters, lying on its side; it looks like its cable snapped. NeVaga manages to thread a new cable through and the lost bathysphere is slowly hoisted up to the surface. As it rises, NeVaga can see that it looks like one side was broken open — from the inside.

Before repairs can begin on the bathysphere, Bosun Simpson tells NeVaga to determine the cause of the damage. NeVaga examines the recovered craft and determines that an explosion occurred inside the bathysphere at the location of one of the compartments in which the robotic arms bring recovered items. There is no body to be found.

Back in Isfahan, Aquilegia has asked her servants and entourage — now arrived from cooling their heels in Achaeon — to keep an ear open for rumours and information about Fleet-Master Astentzio and his ascension to the head of the Fishermen's Guild. She learns that he is rumoured to have brokered two deals: one with the al-Malik where, in exchange for their cooperation, he promised them increased Guild revenues resulting in increased tax revenue; and one with the Muster Guild and the Merchant League, who were promised increased land to expand the Fort al-Helaleyah training facility (something that has not yet happened), the opportunity to establish a new ammunition plant in Isfahan (under construction), and a fifty-fifty split of the rumoured Second Republic site to be found somewhere underwater in the Tabaristan Sea.

A few days later, Aquilegia receives a visit from Muster Chief Morgan Wells, head of the Slave Market, at the Amalthean Clinic. He is dressed in a very un-Muster-like business suit and is accompanied by a couple of no-neck bodyguards. He knows who she is and wants to know why a Questing Knight is here. She assures him that this is a very temporary visit and that. while she can't discuss the specifics of her current mission, she hopes it will take her away from Isfahan soon. He tells her he is pleased to here that, and offers all the help she needs in helping to speed things up.

After his departure, Aquilegia asks Oblate Sen a bit more about him; he has been here before representing the Muster; no crude threats were ever made but it has always been clear that the Muster Guild is very powerful here and the Amaltheans need to stay on its good side.

On the Queenfish, NeVaga learns a bit more about the on-going reclamation operation. The Muster have been searching for a Second Republic underwater arcology; Bosun Simpson shows her holo-images of the Second Republic dross that has been found along with a map of locations. NeVaga reviews the recordings from the salvaged bathysphere, which show that the last item brought in was an oblong box about the size of a largish briefcase; something about the box seems odd, but she can't quite put her finger on it. The wreck was found a kilometer away from the location where the cable snapped.

NeVaga asks to be taken to the site of the original drop so she can go investigate. She goes down again in the currently operable bathysphere and, after a thorough search, locates three more "boxes". She moves her bathysphere away at maximum range and sends her imager drone to look more closely. She notices that the boxes are cleaner than she would expect them to be, and the metal looks like one of Second Republic type.

Using a cargo net which she gingerly places the box into using the bathysphere's robotic arms, she gingerly has the box hoisted to the surface. There, she instructs the crew not to lift the box aboard but to place it on a lifeboat while she tries to figure out a way to examine it remotely. While she is preparing, the box suddenly explodes, destroying the lifeboat with it!

The Queenfish has to return to port as it is now one lifeboat short. NeVaga takes the time to examine the other salvaged items and notices that some have been actually been doctored to make them look like they have been under water for a long time… The Muster are very interested to learn this.

NeVaga sneaks out in the dead of night to meet with Aquilegia, and tells her the news. They try to identify what factions would have the resources, access and motivation to organize such an operation. Neither the independents nor the yeomen are likely, unless it's one of Lina Masseri's plans. Possibly the Scravers, or a Muster or Fishermen's Guild faction, or the al-Malik. They agree that NeVaga will find out what the Scravers' arrangement with the Muster really is and how well accepted it is, while Aquilegia will get in touch with Lina and check for any involvement on her part.

Upon returning to Fort al-Helaleyah and sneaking in, NeVaga finds it on alert status; the independents have been blamed for dropping mines near the recovery site.

Aquilegia and Lina Masseri meet a few nights later, and Lina is very interested but this is not one of her ideas. Aquilegia asks about some of the players who might have an interest in the matters: Muster, rivals of Fleet-Master Astentzio, al-Malik secret police, even the Eskatonics. The two sisters exchange thoughts on the factions but nothing really springs to the forefront. They agree that they really need the information NeVaga will bring back on the Scravers.

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