Episode 23 — Secret Hydroponic Garden

Aquilegia checks in with Agent Textbook and asks what he can tell her about The Scar. The Imperial Eye has developed three main theories on the assassin's identity: he or she may be an Ukar, a disenfranchised Hawkwood, or a Muster mercenary.

Next, Aquilegia asks Sgt. Wilkinson to check the Muster grapevine for the current situation on Manitou. He learns that a fair number of low-level or otherwise hard to employ Muster members have landed on Manitou in the last couple of years because the City-State of Mohenjo has been hiring and may be getting ready to invade the City-State of Macao downriver. No word of Marquis Claudio Masseri hiring anyone.

NeVaga volunteers to infiltrate Marquis Claudio's estate, at night and in the middle of a Manitou storm. After getting past the perimeter defenses, sentry guns, barbed wire, mine field, moats, etc., she finds an estate badly overgrown with brambles. She cautiously makes her way to the fairly shoddily constructed terracrete manor house; all the windows are barred, shuttered, bolted, and blackened. She manages to find one window where the bars and bolt can be loosened — someone may have tried to infiltrate before.

Inside, it's very dark; NeVaga lets her eyes adjust and realizes the room is completely empty. Keeping alert to any tripwires and alarms she may trigger, she explores the building, which seems completely unfurnished and abandoned. At last, she finds a security door with an electronic keypad — marked with Vau symbols… She manages to bypass the lock — then realizes this was way too easy for such advanced technology.

She gingerly pushes the door open, standing to the side. Blindingly bright sunlight and warm humid air pour out, and NeVaga can smell vegetation. Against her better judgment, she starts down the stairs. Everything is white and antiseptic, lit by full-spectrum lights, and a couple of paces past the bottom of the stairs a sheet of white film obscure the view from the landing. The area on the other side appears much larger, and filled with a sort of hydroponic garden with rainforest vegetation and animals. The place may be a zoological preserve of some sort. Wary, she decides to get out and report to Aquilegia.

They figure that the light, temperature, humidity and vegetation NeVaga found in the secret facility are probably not trying to mimic Byzantium Secundus, Cadavus, Cadiz, Madoc, Malignatus, Nowhere, Pandemonium, Pyre, or Tethys. Beyond that, it could be anywhere. When they show Textbook a sketch of the Vau symbols, he tells them they are simply numbers, so it very much seems like NeVaga just got the combination right on her first try. He says the Imperial Eye has sent two agents in before and neither came back. He knows of no one except the Vau themselves who has acccess to Vau technology. Aquilegia asks who built Marquis Claudio's manor and Textbook says that the Eye was never able to discover this.

Over the next few days, Aquilegia puts out the word that she wishes to build a manor house of her own on her new estate, and takes a bit of time to learn more about the land. She has received approximately 2,600 square kilometers of land along the sides of Mount Athos, adjoining lands of the Pelomorii tribe. Querying Ms. Kelli of the Council or Worthies, she learns that there is no particular disposition to pay for any improvements to the land. She receives interest, however, from many builders.

Still debating whether to return to the scene of the crime, Aquilegia and NeVaga press Textbook for some support if they are to try to discover more about Marquis Claudio and his mysterious estate, but e can give them no information, equipment, or help. Aquilegia tells him that since, thanks to NeVaga's foray, he knows now more than he had ever been able to learn on his own, he can consider the mission fulfilled.

Once away from the Imperial Eye agent, Aquilegia and NeVaga decide that they do not trust his motives and are not even convinced that the story about The Scar was anything but a tale contrived to get Aquilegia to investigate her father's estate. They start planning a discrete visit to the agent's quarters.

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