GURPS Star Frontiers
GST: 02:37 068.111
Local Time: Morning. Several hours after sunrise of a 50 hour day.
Zade had settled herself in on Clarion. She had been informed that there may be a delay in the arrival of her interview subject, Eusser Rogonz, due to a pirate attack and kidnapping on his transport, the Stellar Flame on its way in-system. She sat in the conference room that the hotel had given them permission to use. She had confirmation that Mr. Rogonz had been in the hotel for at least 2 hours now, he should be able to make it on time for an interview. It was his reputation on the line, anyway. From what she knew, he was branching out from just professional sports and re-branding his image for other forms of media. This interview was supposed to reveal who Eusser Rogonz is as a person, not as a star or athlete.
For the hundredth time, she rearranged the flower vase and several other small items on the table between the 2 comfortable chairs that had been positioned for the interview. Suddenly, the doors swung open loudly and Eusser Rogonz strode into the room, followed closely by a tall, armed Yazarian with a scowl on his face. Bodyguard, she thought.
“Hey there, I’m Ess,” the young Human said to her, reaching out for her hand. He grinned and winked at her as she shook.
Zade rose and took his hand firmly, “Hi there, Ess, I’m Zade, Zade Arabi. I’m with Price Publishing’s Rising Stars magazine. Won’t you have a seat?” She gestured to the chair across from her.
Turning, she looked up at the goggled bodyguard. “I’m sorry, I didn’t expect you as well. Would you like me to have another chair brought in, Mister ...?”
Mirko shifted his cold stogie and nodded. “Canji, ma’am. I appreciate the thought, miss, but if it won’t bother you, I’d prefer to stand.” She shrugged, and he took up a position beside the door, one where he could see the whole room as well as anyone entering.
Her attention was drawn back to the young man just as she caught him looking her over with an enthusiastic and appreciative leer. She smiled. “Now then, I’m going to start recording in a few minutes. Before we start, is there anything you’d like me to steer clear of? Some folks are sensitive about certain topics - family, religion, politics. If you give me a heads up now, I’ll leave those things alone. Otherwise, we’re just going to have a nice long conversation and see where things go, okay?”
Ess leaned back, one arm over the back of his chair, the very picture of a cocky young athlete. “Nope, I’m an open book. We can start whenever you’re ready!”
Zade did a standard lead-in, identifying herself, Ess, the date and location, and the basic intent of the recording. She did notice that the bodyguard, Canji, shifted slightly to stay out of her field of view. Unless something happened, she would try to respect that and keep him out of the video.
Overall, the interview went pretty well. She was pleased to discover that the young man was less shallow than she expected. He was very sharing about his family and life growing up. She couldn’t help but appreciate his energy and enthusiasm. Unlike many of his ilk, his focus on Disc Blitz was all about the game. Not himself. Her research and conversations with Argl-Bargl had uncovered something interesting. Rogonz was a star, no doubt, but the less observed facts showed that other players on his teams performed better when he was on the court as well. His leadership and passion inspired better things from others around him. And the best part was to him, it was all a great big ball of fun! The fact that he got to do this for a living still blew him away.
Throughout the conversation, Ess also made it very clear that he found her attractive. Their flirting was light, as she was recording all this, but she sensed a growing mutual attraction. Hmm. It might be interesting to see where that could lead.
“Well, thank you for your time, Ess. It’ll be a few days for me to put together my piece and get it to Rising Stars, but you can look for it soon.” She stood and extended her hand.
He bounced out of his seat and grasped her hand back. “Sure! That sounds great.” He did not release her hand just yet. “Listen, there’s this thing, a dedication thing for the new team, I gotta do in a bit. You, ah, want to come along?”
She squeezed his hand before gently disengaging. “I’d love to! I have to wrap up here, but I’ll catch up soon. And maybe drinks afterwards? I’d love to hear about your experiences with the pirates on the Stellar Flame. It sounds so,” and she looked directly into his eyes, “exciting.” She smiled as he ‘caught her drift’ and his eyes widened.
“Sure, that’d be swell!” He turned and made his way to the door. The Yazarian efficiently slid in behind him. He gave a bare nod as he passed, “Ma’am.” She waited until the door closed, then flopped back into the chair. Whee-ooo! You could cut the testosterone in the room with a knife.
Ess led the way out of the conference room after the interview. He was walking tall and had a bit of a strut to his stride. Calling back over his shoulder, “What do you think? How did that go?”
Mirko smiled. “Pretty well, if I’m any judge. For a Human, she was not not-hot, and you didn’t come off like too much of an airhead, so that’s good. If I read Humans right, I think she’s into you, so there may be an interesting evening ahead. Be careful, though, she’s got a bite to her.”
Ess’s smile turned to a leer, then confusion. “Wait a minute. I know what I mean by that, but what do you mean by that?”
Mirko continued his scan of the area. “Hmmm? Oh, she’s packing. Laser on her hip, and I think another hidden in her boot.”
The young man looked thoughtful. “Interesting - there’s more to her than a pretty face, that’s for sure! Although the face was pretty good...”
The interview had run long, so they hustled down the hall, making time to the large meeting room where Ess and the rest of the new team were to participate in the dedication ceremony. The Starplay detail was working that - large venues were too much for him by himself.
They’d come to an arrangement at least. He was the tagalong, the one who went everywhere with the kid. They handled logistics and events, and maintained a security perimeter. Tradeoffs, he supposed.
They marched into the room and the cameras all swivelled to follow Ess as he strode in. To his credit, he ignored the media and made a beeline for his new teammates, who milling about near the raised stage. Trust the kid to know them all by sight - his bug for Disc Blitz trivia was really paying off as he found some way to connect with each of them. Eventually they started to get them organized - tables set up along the walls for them to sit and meet the fans. Mirko dreaded that - the rush, the random faces, a security nightmare. Just the reporters would have been bad enough.
Speaking of which, the little Human female, Zade, slipped in the door as he scanned the room. A Starplay op made a beeline for her, and Mirko was afraid he was going to have to step in to clear her for whatever she and Ess had planned, when she - he wasn’t sure quite how it worked - lit up. She showed her teeth, held his gaze, and stepped into his personal space. A very effective intimidation, if he read it right. In any case, that and she showed him some ID, probably a Starplay press pass, and he backed off and let her in. She wandered about the room, chatting with folks in general, but he noticed that she seemed to pass in front of Ess’s table slowly and frequently. A fact that Ess did not miss.
Ess was in top form, Mirko thought, as he walked the room. Clearly he was used to all this attention and the hundreds of people pushing to see him and speak to him and touch him did not phase him at all. It gave Mirko a cold chill, but he just had to assume that the StarPlay team had their act together and this place was as secure as it looked. It probably was, no need to be paranoid about it. This little press conference was just about over and then the event would be moving outside to a large plaza near the hotel. That would be a logistical nightmare, but again, Mirko would have to assume that StarPlay, in conjunction with the local police, would have everything under control.
It was actually a nice, dry day, uncommon for Clarion, as it rained almost all the time on this large, wet planet. Needless to say, there were huge, clear tent like awnings stretched back and forth between the buildings surrounding the plaza. Ess and Zade met up after the press conference, and Ess introduced her to some of the players on the team, as well as a few of the coaches. They seemed to be doing fine, so Mirko kept his distance. The two of them walked ahead of him, 10 yards or so, through the throng of gathered disc blitz fans. The excitement in the plaza was almost a sensory overload. There was music, colorful vid screens showing highlights of game play, food and drink vendors and games galore for people to participate in. Security seemed to be in all the right places, everything looked to be in order. He checked out the platform where Ess would be speaking from a little later. Everything there looked good. Solid wall behind. Restricted access to the area under the stage, lots of security. Good. Made sense, seeing as the King’s daughter, Princess Leotia, was scheduled to be here.
Mirko checked back in with Ess and the reporter, Zade. They seemed to be hitting it off quite well. Ess was being charming and not acting like an ass. Mirko cracked a smile for a moment. He truly did like the kid. He was stopped several times by adoring fans for an autograph or picture, and he took it all in stride.
All the while, Mirko kept his ear on the security feed, just in case, but there was nothing but the ordinary chatter there. Eventually it was time for the presentation. The new head coach was to be announced and introduced, Ess would be speaking, as well as several folks from the League and a respected sports announcer as well. Ess and Zade said their goodbyes and she took a spot off to the side, but still near the stage while Mirko escorted Ess to the ready area behind the raised platform where all the other speakers were staging. It was an enclosed tent like structure with all the amenities available. Ess grabbed himself a drink and flopped down on one of the couches. Just then, Mirko’s earpiece alerted him to something out of the ordinary. He heard several of the security operators calling out that there was a disturbance on the street just off the main plaza. The operator then indicated a switch to a secure channel. Mirko fiddled with his comm, but could not access the channel indicated.
Mirko cleared his throat. “Don’t get comfy, Ess. There’s something going down outside. Let’s move back inside the hotel. If it’s nothing, it’s nothing, and we come right back.” He went back to fiddling with his comm while Ess got to his feet. “Damned radio.”
Ess grabbed his brew and fell in behind Mirko. “Okay, I guess. Let’s roll.” Mirko and Ess made their way out of the tent and back towards the hotel. Mirko noticed that the Starplay detail was mobilizing, but they seemed to be moving towards the far end of the plaza, away from the hotel, so he could not tell what exactly the deal was. Well, get the package to safety, then figure it out. They continued to move towards the hotel.
Stepping outside, Mirko noticed that the StarPlay security team was standing down and returning to their posts, though he did see some of the local authorities still heading toward the far end of the plaza. As they moved away from the pavillion, one of the coordinators of the event, a balding Human a bit round about the middle, rushes up, waving his arms. “Where are you going, what are you doing? The event is set to start in just a moment. You can’t leave now!” He moved to stand in front of Mirko, and then quickly steps back, craning his neck up to look up into the face of the scowling Yazarian.
Mirko looked down at the frantic Human and paused. “Do I look like I care about your event? Why don’t you tell me what’s going down over there,” as he points with his stogie to the activities across the plaza, “and if I think it’s safe, well then, my client and I will be happy to turn around.”
The man looks to where Mirko is pointing. He holds his hand up to shield his eyes from the morning haze and hops up on his tippy toes, squinting to see. “What are you talking about? I don’t see anything going on over there. If there is a problem, I’m sure the constabulary will take care of it!” The man’s tone changes from frantic to supercilious, “Now get back into the pavillion, were almost ready to start.” He turns back around, to face Mirko’s chest. He stops abruptly, swallows hard, his tone changing once again, this time to meek, almost fearful, “If you would please, um, sir.”
Mirko shrugged. “Okay, Mister Rogonz, it looks like it’s okay. Let’s get you back inside.” He moved back towards the pavilion, still trying to get his comm fixed.
Mirko realizes that his comm isn’t malfunctioning, but that he just did not have access to the encrypted channel. Must be the local law enforcement channel. Must mean that it was something outside of the event. If it was important, they would break back in over his channel and let him know. At least he hoped so. Anyway, from his vantage point, he could not really see anything going on, or even be sure as to which area the incident was happening. No worries. He would stick close to the kid just in case.
Mirko and Ess went back into the pavilion. The RMC seemed to have things in hand. Might as well let the kid cool his jets until showtime...
After a short time, one of the officials comes by and relays the information to all the guests that there had been a small group of protesters attempting to disrupt the event, but that the RMC had taken care of it. It was no problem and would not hold up the timeline at all.
Meanwhile, Zade milled about the crowd, trying to find a spot off to the side, close to the stage, though not right out in front where it was the most crowded. She finally found a good spot. She could see the stage well and was not being smashed by a crowd of smelly and pushy sports fans.
Zade checked again, making sure her glasses were recording. There were plenty of movers and shakers here for this, that was for sure. Always something interesting going on.
Always on the lookout for a new scoop, she noticed one of the nearby StarPlay security specialists tense, put his hand to his ear and look to the far end of the plaza. A quick glance around confirmed that something was going on that way as several other uniformed security personnel were on the move in that direction. Almost as suddenly as he started, the security agent stopped and moved back to his original position, causing Zade to run right into him as she had moved to follow.
“Pardon me, ma’am,” the burly Human says, nodding his head at her. Past him, at the end of the plaza where ‘something’ was going on, Zade could see several of the local constabulary moving through the crowd, elevated on their tall, robotic steeds.
Zade lay a hand on the man’s arm. “What’s going on over there? You looked like you were preparing for some danger, and then stopped.” She looked up at him, looking concerned. “Anything I should be worried about?”
The security officer smiles at her and relaxes a bit. Zade can tell he is a no-nonsense type of man who takes his job serious. Much like the Yazarian she met earlier that day with Ess. He crosses his arms and nods his head in the direction toward the far end of the plaza, “Nothing to be worried about, ma’am. Some sort of protest or something. Some locals. The Royal Mounted Constabulary are handling it. Shouldn’t affect the event at all.”
Zade knows that the Royal Mounted Constabulary, like all of Clarion’s armed forces, were top notch and had a reputation for the highest level of training, preparedness and effectiveness. She was also aware of the civil unrest on Clarion. King Leotus XIX was the latest ruler in a long line of monarchs, and many citizens of Clarion wanted to move away from a monarchy and to a more democratic form of government.
Interesting. She turned back to the Human. “Oh thank you, Officer. Puts my mind at ease.” She gave him a smile and headed off towards the far end of the plaza, skirting around the edges of the throngs in front of the stage. Sometimes it paid to be on the smaller side, as when she slipped through the crowd.
Soon she could make out a couple of the RMCs, high above the crowd on their equinotons. There seemed to be some sort of disturbance beyond them, but she couldn’t make it out through all the bodies. She kept pressing forward, while looking for vantage points along the plaza’s edges she might get to for a better view.
As she approached the area of the disturbance, she could hear voices chanting protests toward the Clarion monarchy. “No more Kings! Down with 19!” She assumed that 19 referred to King Leotus XIX. She could see signs being held by a group of people about halfway down the street, past a temporary barrier marking the edge of the festival area in the plaza. Several members of the local RMC were present, moving about on their robotic steeds, she even noticed a few of them were riding live animals. They officers were moving the protesters back, stun wands drawn, though not using them. The back of her brain buzzed a bit at the sight of the wands, remembering her recent run in with the wrong end of one back on Kdikit.
One member of the protesters, a Dralasite, stretched tall and thin, bellowed into a voice projector, blaring his already loud voice directly into the face of one of the RMC. He was taunting the officer, calling him names. Just then, an RMC member pulled his mount up directly in the way of Zade’s view. “Nothing to see here folks,” he called out to the group of festival goers who had turned to stare at the confrontation down the street. “No, worries. Just some unlawful protesters. We are relocating them to a more appropriate locale.” He waved his hand back toward the sports extravaganza behind them, “You can go back to your event. They won’t bother you.”
Someone in the crowd behind Zade yelled out “The RMC are Leo’s thugs!” which brought a scowl on the officers face and elicited a few laughs from the nearby crowd. Then someone’s half eaten astro-burger comes flying through the air, directly at the constable. He tries to duck, but it hits him squarely in the shoulder, leaving a bright red and yellow splotch on his shirt. “Hey, who threw that. That is assaulting a peace officer!” He snaps his stun wand out of its holster next to his firearm and whips it out, extending it to full length.
Zade saw that crackling wand and gulped. She could feel the man’s anger, building to rage. It ran like sheets of hot liquid off his skin. This could get out of hand quickly. She took a deep breath and called out, “Officer! Officer! Zade Arabi, Clarion News Agency.” She waved her hand to draw his attention. “Can you tell me about the training the RMC gets to help them keep their cool in these tense situations?” She looked him dead in the eye. Please, please, see where I’m going and follow along...
The Mountie does not seem to hear or see Zade standing there, he tilts his head and speaks into his communicator, looking around. He moves his equinoton forward, pressing into the crowd a bit and keeps his stun baton ready. Most of the crowd steps back from the constable, though a few of the more rowdy folk push forward, loudly challenging the officers authority. The Mountie turns toward this group and stands firm, not making any threatening moves, but not backing down. He reaches up and activates something on his belt, a brief shimmering around him indicates some sort of screen. “In the name of the Royal Mounted Constabulary, stand down citizens. Your actions are unlawful and a danger to the public!” As the crowd shifts, suddenly Zade finds herself being pushed forward toward the Mountie.
Okay, so that didn’t work. Zade scrambled to remember anything about Clarion law, the rights of reporters, the rights of protesters, anything to get a handle on the situation. Her glasses were scanning local news feeds, few of which were even mentioning the protests. More were playing the lead-up to the Princess’s speech. Some were even running clips of Ess. No time to think about that now. It just kept feeling like something was going to happen, probably bad.
It appeared that there were some sympathizers amidst the Disc Blitz fans, and she felt the crowd behind her move towards the protesters and the constabulary. The crowd had gotten too dense to slip through easily, so she used an elbow or two to get over to a side, with her back pressed up against a pillar.
But now she couldn’t see anything. She turned and found a older Human female, a heavy worlder from the looks of her muscles, standing next to her. “Excuse me,” she shouted over the din, “I’m a reporter! I need to see! She pointed up the pillar at the point where it met a small walkway. “Can you give me a boost?” The woman looked up, then down at Zade and smiled. She laced her fingers together and said, “Okay, girl, on the count of three!”
Zade stepped up into the woman’s hands and with a powerful flex of her legs and arms, the young reporter found herself propelled upwards. She grabbed a railing and pulled herself through, then turned and waved to the woman below, giving her a smile and a thumbs-up. Then she turned her attention back to the situation below.
Zade watches closely, making sure to get as much footage as she can. At first, what seemed like a volatile situation, has now turned into nothing more than a little crowd control. The loudmouths in the crowd at the festival quieted down quickly and stopped pushing toward the Mountie after he activated his screen and held his stun baton at the ready while down the street, the loud-mouthed protester backed down and the whole group allowed themselves to be relocated to the next block over. Almost as quickly as it began, the whole scene seemed to dissipate right before her eyes. Zade stayed at her position on the walkway above the street for a few more minutes, just to make sure. She spied the woman who had given her a boost up. As they locked eyes, the woman merely smiled and shrugged her shoulders as if to say ‘Sorry you didn’t get your story’. She then saunters away back toward the Disc-Blitz festivities.
Zade scrambled back down when it became clear that the situation had been defused. She was just as glad that there had been no altercation - that might have drawn her away from the festivities. She wandered over to the fountain and hopped up. She could see the stage well, and the central location meant that most folks were wandering back and forth to the food stands. She chatted with strangers, getting to know the more enthusiastic end of the Disc Blitz fan spectrum. She kept an eye on the stage - there were techs bustling about, and she had a few friends in the local music scene who might be working this event. There was to be live music afterwards and she hoped to get some stage-time with her friends, maybe doing backup. Mostly she just basked in the energy of a bunch of folks excited about something fun.
After a few more short minutes, the stage was cleared and a local celebrity appeared on the stage and began the program. He spent a few minutes talking about Disc-Blitz and how great of a sport it was then introduced all the individuals sitting on the stage, including Ess Rogonz, which brought one of the larger cheers from the gathered crowd. In turn each of the gathered individuals stood and spoke to the masses, from local politicians and business owners, to sports commentators and athletes. At the end of the presentation, the new coach is announced, a well respected and thought to be retiring coach with much experience and reputation. Everyone is excited by the announcement, and though he was not present, a large screen appeared and played a pre-recorded speech by him.
After this presentation is over, there is about 30 minutes before the next part starts up when the entire new team is to be on the stage and the Princess is to make an appearance and ‘bless’ them. Ess is told he needs to stay in the green room area behind the stage until then, but he is eager to get out into the crowd to find Zade again.
Mirko watches as his young charge paces back and forth. “C’mon, kid, she’s not going anywhere. Just chill for a little bit more and then you two can, I dunno, go dancin’ or something. Everything in good time.” He turns to get a cold drink from a wandering waiter. “Here. Have something to cool you down...” The Yazarian turns back to see the tent flap closing. “Aw, hells...”
He slid out of the tent and drew himself up to his full height, scanning the crowd. It took a moment or two, but he managed to catch a glimpse of the young man as he went around the corner of the stage. “Ess, man, c’mon!” He hustled after him, his long stride moving him quickly through the festivities, his stern visage encouraging the partiers to get out of his way. He could hear the assistant junior stage manager yelling after them.
Mirko turned the corner of the stage and found himself looking out of a huge throng of people. Really, Ess? This couldn’t wait? Old habits kicked in and he scanned the plaza high and low. While he didn’t see Ess anywhere (it didn’t help that the event called for him wear his team colors, like every other screaming fan in the plaza), he did catch a glimpse of Ess’s target, the little reporter, perched on a corner of the central fountain, up and out of the way, with a great view of the stage. Hmmm, if she were a sniper it’d be a good spot.
Well, apparently she was where Ess was likely to end up, and she did have a good vantage. He pushed his way gently but firmly through the milling fans. Soon he was next to the young woman’s perch. He turned to face the stage, still looking for Ess.
“Mister Canji, what’s wrong?” she said, also looking over the crowd.
Not taking his eyes off the crowd, he growled “Wrong, ma’am?”
She turned to look at him. “Yes. You’re not with Ess. My impression was that that would only happen in much less, um, chaotic circumstances. And, you’re annoyed. I’m guessing that happens when there’s something wrong. Is Ess okay? Can I help in some way?”
He cocked his head to one side. “Well, miss, maybe you can. Ess is supposed to be up there,” and he gestured to the stage, “in little less than half an hour. He thought that was enough time to come out here looking for you to continue to build your *ahem* relationship. I thought that you were patient enough to wait until there’s less chaos and said so, so he ditched me. He’s out there, somewhere.”
He scowled, “And you know he eats this stuff up - he’s got fans who have fans for how fannish they are about him. I get he’s good, and he likes people and stuff. But come on! Another hour and we’d be done here, and you could be clinking glasses with strong alcohol and little umbrellas together.”
A voice spoke up at that point, “Yea, I like them fruity drinks. They’re sneaky.” Ess smiled up at the two of them. “You like them fruity drinks, Zade? Or you more for Saurian brandy?”
Mirko slowly went from annoyed to pissed. “Hell, Ess, what’re we doing out here? They want to start this thing soon - I bet that one Human is pissing himself that you’ve gone AWOL.” He curled down, to look the brash young athlete in the eyes. “And you forget, I work for you. You want to blow those folks off and go for a stroll, fine. BUT I GO TOO! I’m not your parent, kid, I’m your bodyguard. Are we clear?”
Ess held up his hands, “Whoa, whoa, chill man, chill. I’m sorry I ducked out - but she’s,” and he looks up at Zade, “she’s just so fine, I had to. I just had to.” Zade smiles, and gives a little curtsy with her head to acknowledge the compliment.
Mirko growled and straightened up. “Fine, Ess, whatever. What’s your plan now? We gonna hang here, or invite this nice young lady back to the green room, or do you have a third option? Wanna blow off your team and the local royalty and find a bar somewhere? I don’t care - just remember why you hired me in the first place.”
Ess shrugs and gives Mirko one of those sheepish grins he has gotten so good at. “Ok ok, you’re right. This crowd is even a bit too much for me,” he says as the nearby people begin to realize who is actually standing out among them. They start firing questions at him and trying to touch him and holding out pictures and objects for autographs.
Ess winks at Zade and Mirko and starts shaking hands and posing for pics and signing things. He looks back over his shoulder at Mirko and whispers out of the corner of his mouth, “Get us out of here, back to the stage.” He shoots a quick look at Zade then back to Mirko, “All three of us!” He reaches up and helps Zade hop down off the edge of the fountain.
Ess doesn’t let go of Zade’s hand, and turns to Mirko. “Mister Canji, if you would?” He turned back to his newest friends. “Sorry guys, gotta go!” He fell in behind his towering bodyguard, and Zade has no choice but to follow. The crowd parted and they quickly made their way to the backstage area. A suited fellow tried to stop Zade, but Ess ‘explained’ the situation, and she was waved through.
He shows her to one of the grav couches and catches the attention of one of the servers. “A brewski for me, and the lady will have...” Zade smiles, “A gin and tonic, please.” She turns to Ess, “I could learn to like this...”
After a few moments, the attendants and event coordinators start getting frantic and running around like grickens with their heads chopped off. The Princess is on her way. Ess is quickly shuffled back out onto the stage with the rest of the team. The far end of the backstage area was cleared and a large, heavily armored hover vehicle can be seen approaching from the cleared street beyond. The RMC were lining the street and several air cars bearing the royal seal can be seen in the nearby vicinity.
The Princesses’ transport settles to a stop and the side door opens, revealing a unit of dark clad soldiers bearing heavy and deadly looking assault weapons. Mirko squints and smiles as he recognizes the WarTech BattleMaster Mark VI. A good all purpose weapon able to be modified for multiple situations. He notes the standard laser barrel as well as an underbarrel grenade launcher as well as possibly a stun arc attachment as well.
As the soldiers deploy, they move out in a piggy back maneuver, and as they move they kneel down and place small screen links on the ground. When they reach the backstage area. They all take up relaxed but ready positions as the screen links begin to sparkle and create a long corridor of shimmering protective screen from the transport to the appointed area backstage. Princess Leotia exits the transport, surrounded by a knot of advisors and assistants. She is tall and slim and wearing a very fashionable outfit in the new team’s colors. She smiles to the crowd that has gathered around the side of the stage to get a glimpse of her arrival. She struts along the screen protected walkway into the backstage area where she disappears amidst a throng of attendants and event officials. Her armed guards remain close and the protective screen walkway is removed.
All attention backstage is on her and Mirko and Zade are pretty much left alone on the opposite side of the area, only a few other folk remain, probable guests, assistants or protection details for some of the players and coaches on the stage. All the event officials have moved to where the Princess is.
Mirko moves to a point backstage where he can keep an eye on his employer. Zade’s attention is filled with the entrance of the princess and she does not immediately notice. When she realizes he has moved off, she grabs her drink and follows.
Coming up beside him she says, “So, Mister Canji, how long have you been with Ess? Seems like you’re still working out a few of the kinks in the arrangement.” She smiles, hoping to take any sting out of the observation.
The lanky Yazirian doesn’t take his eyes off the tableau on stage, but Zade can feel his attention expand to encompass her as well. She takes another sip of her drink and waits patiently. The bodyguard is laconic in the extreme, but she’s confident she can get a piece of his story out of him somehow. While she waits, she tries to get a glimpse of the action on the stage. At only 1.6 meters, she struggles to see through the crowd of Ess’s team members, security forces, and stage crew. She casts a sidelong gaze at Mirko’s height - the things she might see if she were that tall...
Mirko clears his throat, “Okay, first, this is off the record. Any time I speak to you about my employer, it’s off the record. Got it?”
Zade nods, “Absolutely. But we’re not really talking about him, are we? We’re talking about you. Off the record.” She sends a quick signal to her glasses to stop recording.
Mirko raises an eyebrow. Interesting. And she has a point. “Okay, well then, I met up with Ess on Minotaur. I had just finished a contract a bit early and was looking for a new one. An associate pointed me to Ess, and after we established the framework of a working relationship, he hired me on as a personal bodyguard. Of course, “ and he gestures to a few of the Starplay detail, “they’re the heavy hitters. They don’t like the fact that Ess went outside of the company on his own, but that’s his problem, not mine. I just try to keep up with him as best I can.” He grunted, “Which sometimes can be harder than others.”
She smiles, “He does seem to act first, think later. At least some times. I get the impression, though, that he’s got more going for him than just his athleticism. He acts just like I’d imagine a young man who’s getting to play games for a living would act. He’s getting to have fun every day, and that spills over into all his other pursuits as well.”
Mirko is silent, wondering if she knows that she is currently one of Ess’s “pursuits.” The warrior decides to turn the tables and see how the little female handles herself. “What about you, Miss Arabi? How’d you end up here, interviewing sports stars? Not sure I would have picked you for a fan.”
Zade traces a finger around her glass as she contemplates the question. “No, not really. My agent is, though, so this was his idea. I get sent out for all sorts of stories. I have a good way with people and words.”
Mirko looks down at her and decides to “up the ante.” He can’t say how he does it - just that on Yazir it is useful to know how to increase one’s threat potential, without really doing anything. He has just gone from a calm observer to a full-blown, ready for battle, Yazirian warrior.
And there it is. Without thinking, she steps back and her hand twitches to her hip. Her eyes are wide behind her spectacles. He pulls himself back, and suddenly the threat evaporates. She looks up at him quizzically.
He shows his teeth. “Pardon me for saying, miss, but if you’re so good with people, why are you packing? Laser on your hip, holdout in your boot, right? Ain’t we supposed to be all civilized around here?”
Zade looks over her glasses and glares at him. She has to raise her voice as the crowd out in front of the stage cheers their new team. “That wasn’t very nice. Are you testing me, Mister Canji? Rating my threat potential? That’s part of your job, I suppose.”
She sighed. “Let’s just says that I’ve learned recently that not all of the people I meet travel in civilized circles. So yes, I’ve decided I need to be more careful.”
Mirko nods. “I kinda gathered that. Some trouble on Kdikit? I read your article. Articles. I personally don’t think DSV needed to upgrade their AVs - the Mark II is still the best of the bunch. The newer stuff just has more to break down.” She looks up at him surprised. He looks down, the first time he has met her eyes backstage. “So yea, I was testing you. Bad stuff happens to a body, it’s useful to see which way they twist. You, you seem to be solid. Someone else went through what you did, might be less so. So the test. For what it’s worth, you pass.”
Zade stares into her drink, “Gee, thanks.” But she can’t help a little smile. This steel and gristle old veteran might have just given her a compliment. Will wonders never cease...
The Princess had taken the stage and greeted the crowd, and they responded in kind by becoming louder and louder. A known sports fan, Leotia joined right in with them. After a few moments of cheering, she brings the crowd down and begins speaking. For the most part the large audience is respectful and quiet, only a few random shouts and cheers ring out. She takes it in stride, apparently very comfortable interacting with her subjects. She goes on for several minutes speaking about the team and the many ways it will be good for Clarion, the jobs, the tourism, the prestige, if they can produce a winning team, which she assures the gathered crowd that they will. Again, the crowd goes crazy, hooting and hollering. Confetti is flying through the air and team and noble banners wave under artificial breezes on this still, humid day.
Suddenly, Mirko gets the worst kind of feeling. Something bad is just about to happen.
Zade is basking in the glow of the sports fans when she suddenly shivers, like the temperature has dropped 20 degrees. Looking up she sees that the bodyguard has gone from relaxed watchfulness to target acquisition. Canji is intently scanning the crowd. His mane is standing up. Something is wrong! “What is it?” she asks.
“Don’t know. Something bad. You might want to get somewhere.” His brief aside is all she gets, as he starts pushing his way out onto the stage. She looks around, then taps her glasses to start recording again. The tall bodyguard starts chattering into his headset. “Heads up!” he says.
The event coordinators block Mirko’s path to the stage, first unintentionally as they are performing their individual jobs, but then they try to stop him, telling him he can’t go up there, the Princess is speaking. Suddenly, Mirko’s earpiece begins to crackle with a multitude of voices. The security detail has caught wind of the disturbance and is homing in on it.
Out in the crowd, just to the left of the fountain, Mirko catches sight of something of a commotion. A robed figure is pushing its way through the crowd. Suddenly everyone backs away from this robed figure, giving a good view of the events. Shaking hands reach up and push the hood of the robe back, revealing a familiar face to Mirko.
Bremen Toff. The man kidnapped off the Stellar Flame by the pirates. Little Ondo’s dad.
He yells out, his voice amplified by some sort of personal speaker system. “The Guards of Clarion have pledged to liberate this world from the evils of tyranny!” His robe flaps open in front, revealing complex circuitry and explosives strapped to his body.
Mirko looks at the Princess’ entourage mobilizing around their charge. People are starting to panic on the stage, running away from the crazy Human with the bomb. He needs to get to Ess! “Ess! Rogonz! This way!” he shouts. He starts pushing past everyone, trying to get to the young athlete.
Zade feels the mood of the crowd turn from enthusiasm to fear. Something is going on out past the front of the stage, something that has the highly trained bodyguard very concerned. She tries to stay out of the way as folk start running past her down the stairs. She hears an amplified voice saying something about “The Guards of Clarion” and “the evils of tyranny.” This does not sound good, but it also sounds newsworthy. She drops over the stair railing and tries to make her way forward along the edge of the stage to see what is going on.
Over the course of the next few seconds, the panic turns to pure chaos. Mirko pushes his way up onto the stage as he sees the Princesses security detail raise their weapons, some toward the man in the crowd, others at the front of the stage and begin firing!
Screams fill the air interspersed with multiple hollow popping sounds followed by a loud hissing. Mirko dives toward Ess, who is standing amidst the crowd on the stage. An incredibly loud explosion fills Mirko’s ears and then everything goes pale yellow. Time seems to stop, he feels as if he is frozen in mid-leap.
At the side of the stage, Zade hears screaming and then is smashed down to the ground by several bodies jumping off the side of the stage. A folding chair hits her in the face as a loud explosion shakes the ground she is pressed up against. She feels a thick, heavy liquid spilling down over her as she loses consciousness.
Mirko realizes he is still conscious, but cannot move or see. He feels stuck. He is horizontal, having been stopped literally in mid-air. His ears, nose and mouth are full of something spongy. There is then an intense heat and his whole body shudders. The stuff in his mouth has become crunchy. He can taste bitter chemicals. Some sort of defensive foam. Probably shot by the Princesses security from their grenade launchers.
Moments later, Mirko fees as if he is being boiled alive and can hear the chemical foam burning and bubbling next to his skin. He can hear again. There are sirens and screams from all around him. He feels air, very hot air, on the back of his head and realizes that the foam must have absorbed most of the explosion. He can smell something burning, like burning hair. He tries to raise his head but is still mostly stuck to the hardening foam. Black smoke fills his eyes and mouth, replacing the bitter chemical foam taste with an even more bitter, burning chemical foam taste. He feels a hot searing on the back of his head and realizes that he is on fire!
Aw, hells. Mirko tries to call on his Battle Rage for strength, but the confusion and chemicals make it too hard to concentrate. He struggles to push himself over onto his back, hoping to smother the fire against the foam.
Mirko rolls over and hears the flickering flames on his head and back sizzle in the half melted foam on the stage. Looking around quickly to get his bearings, he sees mounds of the defensive foam all around him on the stage. He sees portions of the stage and surroundings still burning. Then the smell hits him. The smell of burning flesh. He looks out into the crowd and sees what must be hundreds of bodies, all spread out from the blackened clear spot near the edge of the fountain. He sees the Princesses’ security in a tight formation moving quickly toward her transport. He turns back to the stage to look for Ess but he accidentally rubs a bubbling glop of foam into his eyes as he attempted to clear his goggles.
The gravity of the situation begins to set in and he realizes that he can’t hear anything. Either the blast damaged his hearing or they were still full of foam. He saw wounded and dead bodies all around him. Those not as wounded were starting to move about, looking for safety or helping others. He could see the RMC moving in from the perimeter, attempting to clear out any mobile survivors. Several air cars passed overhead, stopping and hovering near the perimeter of the plaza. Mirko could see soldiers leaning out manning mounted weapons. Where was Ess? Where was Zade? What just happened? He had to shake his head several times before it was clear.
Ouch, Okay, head shaking was maybe not the best idea. Mirko spat and climbed to his knees. He saw a twitch out of the corner of his eye, and reached out an unsteady hand. He wiped away some more of the damned foam and found a hand feebly scrabbling against the floor of the stage. Someone was alive under there!
“Corpsman! Corpsman!” he bellowed, or hoped he was. He waved feebly as he struggled to rise. A medic appeared at his elbow and tried to lead him away, but he shrugged off the assist. “There’s someone under here! Needs help more than me. Go! Go!”
He turned away, assuming the young Human was able to hear and understand him. He made his way slowly across the blasted stage. The dense protective foam was everywhere, which was better and worse at the same time. He’d stagger a few meters, see a figure in the blue and white of Ess’s team, and turn over a body that might be alive. Or not. The silence that surrounded him made things even more eerie. He was yelling for Ess, but if the young man answered, Mirko could not hear him.
Mirko starts to panic. He cannot find Ess anywhere on the stage. His hearing has returned, though, and it is filled with the sounds of chaos. Emergency sirens seem to be coming from all directions. Soldiers shouting orders at each other. Victims calling for help. Medics calling for backup. The tall Yazarian stops, takes a moment to catch his breath, then resumes his search. It appears that most everyone on the stage survived the blast, no doubt due to their proximity to the Princess and her securities use of that defensive foam. The people on the plaza near the fountain were not as lucky, though. Mirko could pick out what looked like remnants of blast foam on the ground in the plaza and assume that the soldiers attempted to place some foam close to the bomb, but no doubt it was not done in enough time for the foam to harden to a suitable level before encountering the explosion. He checks the remaining people on the stage and again does not find Ess. He then sees that a makeshift triage station has been set up at the side of the stage and sees several folk wearing the tattered remains of team jerseys. He hops off the end of the tall stage and moves toward the triage area.
No luck, no Ess anywhere to be seen. He turns to head back toward the stage, then he sees a medic and another Human carrying in a young Human woman on a backboard. Her long, dark hair is encrusted with defensive foam and blood. It is Zade, the young reporter. She appears to be all there, though a nasty wound stretches across her narrow face, going from cheek to temple and all the way across her forehead.
Mirko glances at the wounded girl, then back at the carnage. Aw, hells! He heads over to the trio.
“How’s she doing?” he asks.
The medic looks up, eyes the Yazirian, decides that candor is faster, but doesn’t break stride. “Laceration to the head, doesn’t look too deep. Head wounds are always nasty, though. She’s lost some blood. She’ll be okay once we get her to Clarion General. If you’ll excuse me, I really don’t have time to talk.” The medic continues into the triage center.
Mirko follows, “So, Clarion General? That where they’re taking everybody?”
The medic actually stops and looks at him. “Did you get hit in the head, too? Look around, man. We’re taking everybody everywhere! All the medical facilities in town are getting casualties. All I can tell you is she,” and he points to the unconscious form next to him, “ is going to Clarion General. Got it, Gomer?” Without waiting, he turns and guides Zade further though the chaos of the triage station.
Frustrated, Mirko walks out of the station. What else could he try? Oh, yea...
“Starplay Rogonz detail, this is Canji. Any status on Ess? I can’t find him...”
Mirko makes one more pass across the stage, trying to keep out of the way of the many medical and security personnel moving about the area. Shouts and screams still fill the area as the medical personnel tend to the wounded. A woman runs frantically by yelling for her child. He steps to the edge of the stage and reaches into his pocket for a cigar. He puts it to his lips and immediately spits it out. Apparently defensive foam and cigars don’t go well. He threw the remainder of the cigar off the front of the stage and caught sight of a slight movement right up against the edge of the stage. Mirko spies what looks like 3 black worms wiggling under the edge of a destroyed chair. He stares at it for a moment before he realizes that what he is seeing are burnt and blackened fingers reaching out from under a pile of debris. Seeing no available medical crew available nearby, he leaps down off the stage and begins pulling debris away while calling for medical help.
He makes some headway, enough to see a badly burned figure wearing a team uniform. But the figure is trapped under a heavy support beam from the stage. Mirko tries to move it, but it won’t budge. He shakes his head. Nu-uh, Ess. Ain’t going to happen! He reaches down deep, calls on resources he knows are there but can rarely reach. With a roar, he locks his grip on the beam and heaves it aside!
He sees the figure crouched in fetal position, bits and pieces of defensive foam and other debris all around.
Carefully, Mirko turns the body over, revealing 2 very shocking truths. First, he has found Ess, and second, he has found the missing child! A young human girl lays cradled under Ess’s body. Seeing as he is in front of the stage, Ess must have somehow leaped forward when the threat was clear and shielded the little girl from the blast, as she appears to be unhurt. Ess on the other hand, looks to have taken quite a hit from the explosion. Being in front of the stage when the bomb went off, he would have been more exposed to the blast, in front of the much of the defensive foam. Stupid, but brave, Mirko thought.
Another moment later, the medics arrived. Ess was seriously wounded and barely conscious. He did not seem to be able to communicate or recognize Mirko at all, but he was alive. Mirko followed with him as the medics took him away to Clarion General.
Over the next several days, Mirko spent time going back and forth from one room to another as Ess and his new friend Zade recovered. Both were expected to make a full recovery and Mirko even let the medics tend to his minor wounds eventually. According to the newsfeed, the bomb had been detonated by the Guards of Clarion, a militant and extreme terrorist group at odds against the monarchy of Clarion. Just over 100 people were killed in the bombing and close to 600 had received some sort of injuries. The reports stated that a handful of people had been arrested and that several more bombs had been detected and defused as well. The reporter speculates that a second wave of bombs had been planned to go off in the aftermath of the first bomb, designed to take out security, medical personnel and survivors, but the RMC were able to stop this from happening, saving countless more lives.
Mirko had been informed that Ess was to be transported back to Minotaur under heavy security as soon as he could travel, which wouldn’t be much longer. Mirko would make the trip with him, but his contract would be running out shortly thereafter and he was informed by StarPlay that Ess would not be renewing it, though they thanked him for his diligence in the past month.
Mirko also learned that Zade would be traveling back to Theseus and Minotaur as well, on the same StarPlay transport. News of these travel arrangements brought smiles to each of their faces when Mirko told them.