Episode 20 — On Bannockburn

NeVaga manages to safely stash the stolen box in the air ducts, then returns to where Aquilegia and Sgt. Wilkinson are observing the Muster activity. They are unable to locate Karlson's office, so NeVaga slyly suggest that they should get out and wait for a less crowded time, when she can come back alone and search for Karlson's office. The team retreats out of the restricted area.

When NeVaga goes to speak to Neepo Chukyaga, he tells her that he has found a Gannock contact for her, Stepteptep Wogwog, a relative of Stukeneneer. NeVaga welcomes the news, but tells him she needs to retrieve the crate and asks him to help her break into Karlson's office. Neepo offers to help get the floor plans to Karlson's office if NeVaga will give him copies of everything she finds there.

With a second visit to the high-security area, NeVaga retrieves the stolen crate, but she is unable to get anything from Karlson's office and trips an alarm. Of course Aquilegia knows nothing of the other part of the expedition, only that Karlson's office seems difficult to raid. The security is tightened around the Muster area, and NeVaga suggests that perhaps it's time to take a trip planet-side while they can. Aquilegia asks Sgt. Wilkinson to dig a bit and see if he can learn more about the Muster installations while she and NeVaga venture on the surface of Bannockburn.

The two are smuggled to the ground by being dropped in a cargo pallet that will fall "off the truck". They are encased in foam padding and equipped with 24 hours worth of oxygen, bottles of spray to dissolve the foam, and a radio to contact Neepo once they need pickup. After the freight mover has technical difficulties in low orbit and loses its cargo, the crate makes a merciless landing and the heroins find themselves in a deciduous forest of the lowlands. They set up in hiding to wait for recovery; a group of Gannocks eventually comes to check on the fallen cargo. Being "savage" or "uncivilized" Gannocks, they are stark naked.

They clearly understand Urthish, so Aquilegia manages to convince them to take her and NeVaga to meet Stepteptep Wogwog. They are of the Lolo clan, which is friendly to the Wogwog; Chuph Lolo is the leader. They keep giggling when they look at Aquilegia, and keep saying things like, "A human! I never thought he'd send a human!" They start worrying that the guests won't have a sense of humour, ask for weapons to be surrendered. They take the human and the Ukar to meet Stepteptep Wogwog; she is the only one dressed, in Hawkwood colours.

Stepteptep and the clan are surprised, they say they didn't think Stukeneneer would take the joke seriously, and that he's been with humans for too long. It was all a prank, much too melodramatic to be real. But Aquilegia rapidly figures out that someone has interfered with the prank, adding a second note and acting through Karlson. Stepteptep says she does not know who on the outside the clan worked with; they'll have to wait until the family is back to figure this out — in seven or eight months. From Stigmata.

It transpires that various non-human species, including the Gannock, have been trying to form an alliance to gain more political leverage, and had thought to get help and access through Stukeneneer. Stepteptep herself did not think he would be convinced, but the clan had be convinced to try anyway. Aquilegia insists that someone is using the Gannock for a different agenda. NeVaga speaks to Stepteptep alone, convinces her to give what little information she has on their contacts. They use the radio to call for pickup, and are retrieved by a shuttle.

Back on Fort St. Elmo, the Muster conference seems to be over. NeVaga speaks to Neepo again and learns what he has gathered: Manager Sable Karlson works for Manager George Tatum, who works for Dean Solace. Everyone knows her — she is rumoured to be the individual at the top of the Muster slave trade. Before NeVaga, armed with a bit more information, tries to uncover more about Karlson and the slave traffic, Aquilegia asks that they secure a ship that will be ready to take them away in a hurry.

Neepo introduces them to Charioteer Chief James Campbell, who is willing to help in exchange for a favour. He tells them that there is a trade war currently under way on Criticorum between two major Charioteer hongs, the Chartash and the Neilsen, both trying to get a monopoly. Campbell just wants to continue operating independently, as he and his family always have. He has made an agreement with the Chartash already and he thinks he has a deal to offer the Neilsen, but he needs an intermediary to talk to them, and asks Aquilegia to fill this role. She agrees.

Aquilegia asks NeVaga to organize for a few more ships to leave at the very same time they will in order to cause confusion, making it more difficult to track them. While the Ukar goes once again to infiltrate the Muster quarters, Aquilegia attempts to cause a distraction by liberating slaves, although the results are mediocre.

NeVaga riffles through Karlson's office, finds some evidence linking him to the plot to use Stukeneneer as well as proof of his illegal involvement in the slave trade. Everyone piles on Campbell's ship and they head for the jumpgate to Gwynneth.

NeVaga's expedition reveals a complicated plot: the original letter to Stukeneneer was entrusted to the Charioteers but somehow lost on Byzantium Secundus, then sold by the Scravers to the Muster, at which point Karlson auctioned it off. It was picked up by a shady banking firm on Manitou who is paying Karlson to use the letter and subsequent forgeries to pressure Stukeneneer.

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