Monday, November 13, 2017

Treasure Island, Part II                        

-- Captain Paul Fletcher, from the ship’s log of the Chromium Koi

We are out of the mushroom and into the fire, it seems.  After two day’s work, our treasure hunt in the mushroom structure on Olt yielded a molecular-encoded key.  It’s the type of key that is used to lock storage units on Kiewa, which is where this whole mess began some twenty-five years ago.

And we still don’t know who shot me and the late Oscar Tomlinson back on Narmada.

Fortunately, we didn’t encounter any macro-predators or their equally dangerous little cousins anywhere within the structure – just a few of those blind crabs that have worked their way up from the water.  I’m inclined to think that they are eating the remains of their more adventurous predecessors who got lost and died with the maze of passages and pipework within that structure.

The lights turned out to be bioluminescent algae colonies, which made it pretty easy to find our way to the correct passages and retrieve the key.  I have a hunch that even Oscar didn’t know exactly where the key was hidden.  Somebody was paid to hide the key and write up the instructions to place on a microfiche dot under that crown on his molar.  He was eventually going to have it removed I’m sure, just for a shot at the treasure.  But following the somewhat whimsical instructions was almost too easy for our group – just a bit of discomfort and physical effort, really.

And the key had the words “Tanlo Co., #856243” imprinted on its flange.  Fortunately, that rang a bell with Sir Yael, who’d been a law enforcer on Kiewa.  Tanlo was a front company for one of the planet’s criminal syndicates – the one Tomlinson had ratted out to escape a life sentence there.  It also happened to be storage locker facility that used molecular-encoded locks.

Marquis Weston decided to head to Kiewa to see if the money Tomlinson stole was still there, somewhere.  Since Tanlo’s base of operations was in one of Kiewa’s quarantine zones, His Lordship made a cover that he was undertaking an investigation for Doctors Without Orbits of the conditions for the quarantined persons in the zones, rounding up two Imperial Navy doctors, two nurses and Baronet Kagura Yuni, who happened to be around to be his certified nursing assistant (along with being one of the most available bachelorettes in the sector).  The base commander also packed our hold with emergency supplies, medical equipment and survival rations, telling us that if the people there needed more, he’d be happy to send a transport packed to the bulkheads.

Of course, that meant that we had to be very careful what we said when the doctors, nurses or Baronet Yuni was around.  They don’t know the real reason we’re on Kiewa now.  I don’t know how we’re going to explain what we’re doing when we finally locate the place where we can use the key, either.

So, we got the waivers we needed to get into the quarantine zone after His Excellency presented his credentials to Baron Glen Forbes, the Imperial Liaison – and that’s when we found out there’s a bit of war going on there.  The quarantine zone is right in the middle of a disputed border area between Sandovalia and the Republic of Barthol; two of Kiewa’s balkanized nations who have been having this dispute for over two centuries.  Late last year, the Republic sent in mercenaries to force the Sandovalian Army units out, using mortars and other heavies to pound a key city (literally, in our case) the regulars had occupied.

So, now both sides have brought in more mercenaries to conduct hit and run raids on each other to keep each side from digging in.  Meanwhile, deserters from both sides have banded together into bandit gangs and are raiding the survivors’ camps for what few foodstuffs and supplies they get from the Planetary Assembly’s Humanitarian Aid Commission.  And all of this misery comes from the fact that these two governments can’t agree how to share the water that is carried on two canals in the area for irrigation.

So far, we’ve managed to keep a lid on our real intentions.  But now, we’re all in the thick of it.  Our first night here, Marquis Weston and Baronet Yuni had to treat some victims from the previous night’s raids by bandits while Sir Yael and I distributed ration bars to the rest of the camp.  In the middle of the night, we were “treated” to the sounds of a prolonged gun battle on the other side of the ruined city, which was punctuated by several mortar rounds being fired into the retreating Sandovalian mercs by the Republic’s “militia” forces.

Luckily, none of it got too close.  One stray round got too close for comfort, though, and that’s when I realized they were using TDX-enhanced warheads – way out of the budget for most mercenary units.

I had a long talk with the camp’s leader, Bruce Ta’oh.  It seems that the Republic is trying to force the residents out so it can advocate removing this part of the border from the quarantine zone and claiming it (and the canals) as part of their country once again.  The Sandovalians want to prevent that, which is why they put troops into the area in the first place.  But, neither side can afford an all-out war, so they’re paying for proxies to fight it for them, even though both of their economies have been devastated by disease and war.

Daybreak will bring new challenges, I’m sure.  The question is, will we survive this particular treasure hunt?

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