Episode 19 — Fort St. Elmo

NeVaga goes to Ukar bar, notices a Gannock examining her ba-mon scars. She goes over to him, introduces herself; he says he knows her uncle and shows his Scraver tattoo hidden under the hair in the palm of his hand. He takes her to the Gannock area of the station (pungent with Gannock smells), and introduces as Genin Neepo Chuk Yaga. He says NeVaga's uncle left instructions to keep an eye open for her, expecting her to pass through the station; there is a little job for her to take care of, he says.

There are ruins on the surface that are considered "hot" for a 5 or 10 mile radius; they are of little interest to the Muster, but they don't let anyone else access the salvage either. An unlicensed Scraver operation recently found something, but the team got caught; the item they retrieved was confiscated and is locked in the secure Muster area of station. Valkoln Nolent wants it recovered and transported back to Byzantium Secundus. The item is unknown but portable "in your arms." NeVaga explains her current situation and challenges. Neepo says he can help them get down to the planet "without official Muster permission" — that's his job — and perhaps find a specific Gannock. He will make inquiries after getting them passage off planet, then see if he can propose a second arrangement. He urges NeVaga to keep her noble patron ignorant of this agreement.

NeVaga goes to speak to Sgt. Wilkinson to ask him what he knows of the secure Muster section. He says he too is interested in this and trying to find out. He asks to speak to both Aquilegia and NeVaga; although he is grateful to them for rescuing him from an unpleasant fate, he wants to ask for help. He doesn't expect to put an end to the Slavers' traffic single-handedly, but while he's here he wants to get all the information possible on traffickers like Karlson in order to bring it to the light. Aquilegia readily agrees, with the proviso that her mission on the surface of Bannockburn must not be compromised any further. She gives Wilkinson the bare bones of that particular situation. NeVaga mentions that her Scraver contact is looking for a way to get them planet-side, but it will take a few days.

They spend some time examining the station and its population; the weak point in security seems to be the busy hub through which all cargo moves, including between secure and non-secure sections. Aquilegia decides to approach the Monastery of the Holy Myrrhbearers, the Hesychast order which also tends the station's hydroponics and other crops. The sisters there follow the path shown by Saint Ethelburga the Myhrrbearer, worshipping the Pancreator through work and acts rather than prayers and words only. She speaks to Mother Mary Cleophas, the abbess of the monastery, who also abhors slavery as well, and finds out how to "steal" a couple of robes (tomorrow, during laundry).

NeVaga gets a bit more information about the layout of the station from Neepo. Aquilegia examines the information they have gathered and determines that the best way to get around discreetly in the secure area is probably through the air ducts. Aquilegia and Neaga steal Myrrhbearer habits — black robes with matching wimples — and make their way through the busiest part of the station, while Sgt. Wilkinson makes his way as a member of the Muster.

They meet at the agreed location at the far end of the hub and NeVaga breaks into the airlock; they stash their robes and get into the air ducts. It is difficult to find their way around and the level of activity is unexpectedly high, so NeVaga tells her companions that she will scout. She looks around until she finds the cargo bay, which is filled with crates, and after a while locates one marked with the trefoil of a radiation warning. It is about three feet by one and half by one and a half, made of wood.

She examines the manifest and identifies it as the item seized from the illegal Scraver expedition. With some difficulty, she manhandles it into the air duct but makes noise and attract the guards' attention; she barely has time to scurry into the duct and close the panel behind her before they walk in. They look around and decide to start an inventory to verify whether anything is missing. NeVaga moves the crate further up the duct until there is a bit more space, then opens it. Inside, she finds an object that looks like a long half-oval spiky sea shell, made of ceramic or some similar substance.

Meanwhile, Aquilegia and Sgt. Wilkinson listen in on the intense Muster activity to figure out what is going on, and realize that it is a summit of the highest Muster echelon, taking place right now in Fort St. Elmo's secure section! They are talking about ways to convince the Emperor to declare war against the Kurgans or the Vuldrok, a move that would bring the Muster a lot of business.

With the amount of activity, Aquilegia is trying to figure out how to find and retrieve Karlson's papers…

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