• Nobles of Null is a forum based roleplay site where sci-fi and magic collide. Here, Earth remains fractured and divided despite humanity reaching out to the stars. Worse still, the trans-human slaves of one major power have escaped, only to establish their own Empire, seething with resentment at abuses of the past. Even the discovery of aliens, though medieval in development, has failed to rally these squabbling children of Earth together with its far darker implications. Worse still, is the discovery of the impossible - magic. Practiced by the alien locals, nearly depleted and therefore rare, its reality warping abilities remains abstract and distant to the general populace. All the while, unseen in the darkness of space, forces from without threaten to press in. For those with eyes opened by insight, it is clear that an era is about to end, and that a new age will dawn.

Chapter 7: Vacation on a Factory

Ray of Meep

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Co-authored by: Ray of Meep (GM), Acewing13, TheCountryWarrior

23XX A.D, ten days after the court decision of Page v. Ambrose

Silbern System, Stahl Belt, Fabron Station

Under the shine of Silbern, Fabron Station looked like a baby's rattling toy stuck into a potato, if the potato was made of ice, carbon, and metal; and the rattling toy made of refined alloys. The most striking feature was a great cylindrical drum, unmoving, attached to the asteroid by a space elevator, a carbon fiber tether, that moved goods up to the space station and down to the surface stations on the rock. Capping the drum was a rotating habitat, smaller than even a single ring of Magnuski station.

Daheim One reoriented its own internal room layout to point axial with the rest of the ship as it approached the station. The entire frigate fired up its RCS thrusters to match the rotational velocity of the station, its own own pointing towards the habitat's center. Finally, two docking clamps reached down from the station and gripped the ship after an hour of careful maneuvering.

Eberhard was the first to step up into Fabron Station proper from the docking ports. He wore an orange jumpsuit with blue stripes and equipped black maglock boots, different from the usual grey and torquiose suits that characterized the Grau Lancers. He also dyed his hair from a pale blonde to a rich brown, and made sure to wear a pair of sunglasses.

Unlike Magnuski Station, Fabron Station was far more cramped. It didn't have the large airspace afforded by an entirely pressurized drum, but was confined by a torus shape, the headspace above at best three stories tall. A single mainstreet wrapped around the entire station, with a few elevators that moved people and goods up and down the docks, residential areas, and the space elevator. The ceiling was thousands of large monitors that simulated a day and night cycle. The entire station's gravity was weak, only half that of Magnuski Station, and it reflected in the long term residents, who were taller and paler than the Graus, who themselves were taller and paler compared to Beatrix and Juan.

"Feel even more like a midget than usual," Bee said, brushing an errant black hair away from her face.

"You haven't been on the average space station, have you?" Eberhard remarked, looking for a map on his datapad. "Castle Services and Magnuski Station are the anomalies. Most of the GDW space-borne in both the Sol system and the Silbern system are like this."

"Usually went to the bigger ones back in Sol," Beatrix said with a shrug. "Probably doesn't help that I was more playing tourist than anything."

"Bodies are weird like that." Juan was there as well, of course, as was his job, and his attire reflected the previous nonchalant statement. Muted colors, sunglasses, designed to make him fade into the background. Unfortunautly he was also jacked, which might take away from the "Nobody in a Crowd" thing. "I'm from Earth damnit, we have gravity." He chuckled, and followed the others.

"We have a few points of interest." Eberhard informed the two as they walked forward. "There's the spaceport traffic control, where we can get some information of any shipments that come in and out of this place. There's the microgravity industrial center where they could be fabricating the goods on a massive, rapid scale. Then there's the surface facilities, where it's easier to hide things." He then took note of a blip on his datapad, and frowned. "Well, that's just cliche."

"What is it? Is it in the back alleys? The abandoned warehouses? Some evil lair?" Juan joked, though his question was entirely serious.

"A missing... person's case, if you want to call it that." Eberhard replied. "We're still working with the police after all, so we get these notifications. In this instance it's a Chongwu. The records say it's a fiance looking for his partner after he arrived on the station a few months ago for labor, and haven't heard from him since. Guess where this case has been put on the priority list?"

"I thought we got fired, that this was our last thing for them. How long is this chain they got on us?" Juan sighed. "We're lucky Joan is busy. Now we get to go dog catching."

"Well here's the thing." Eberhard scratched his head. "We don't have to deal with this case. It's technically none of our business. Frankly, I'm just plain annoyed this is happening while we're on the station. It dampens the spirits."

"Is the lady that talked to the police along the way to where we're going anyway?" Beatrix asked, pulling out her own pad and pulling up a map.

The map was in the form of a long strip that could be zoomed in and out. As Beatrix scrolled left and right, the map looped onto itself like a map of Earth. The station's precinct was next to one of the elevators, a quarter-way around the station. Underneath the elevator, the spacedock traffic control was halfway around the station. To get to both the microgravity factories and the surface facilities, the team had to go up through the elevator and onto the space elevator.

"Looks like it's on the way to the micro-g center and surface facilities?" she asked, not quite sure if she was reading the map correctly.

"If we take the elevator next to the preccinct, yes." Eberhard replied.
 

Ray of Meep

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"Guess it depends on whether we want to do everything on the ring before we head down to the asteroid," Bee said.

Juan sighed. On one hand, he really didn't care for what he'd seen so far of the Chongwu. On the other hand... he'd want to be found too. There was a woman out there that had lost her partner. He knew that feeling. He groaned, filled with empathy for a fucking science experiment gone rouge. "Let's go find the pooch. Might as well get some goodwill points with the locals."

"So, go as a group or split up for a little?" Beatrix asked, looking around the group. "How much time do we have to look the place over, anyway?"

"As long as we need." Eberhard explained, "But the longer we stay here, the higher chance we rouse suspicion. As long as we maintain comms, splitting up shouldn't be a problem though."

"It might be a problem if we're attacked. If we really are worried about people finding out, we should stick together, pretend to be tourists for a bit or something. While still looking for this dog," Juan mused, looking around the station with a wary eye.

"Fair enough," Bee said, double checking the map before she started down the coridor. "Let's get a move on then."

"Then it's settled." Eberhard tapped away at his datapad, sending a message to the preccinct to keep the Chongwu there. He then followed Beatrix down street.

The preccinct was closely packed with other buildings beside it, like most architecture on the station. The entrance into the offices and the barracks was next to a garage that housed police shuttles. Entering the offices, the team would find a service counter, behind it a rather bored looking officer and in front of it, what can only be described as a bull standing on its two hind legs. It was both tall and buff, with its horns filed and rounded. Where there should be hooves are human hands with thick, black nails. Fortunately, it was wearing a dark green jumpsuit and boots. The bull's ears were flopped forward and downward as it looked between the officer and the team.

"That's the people who are going to help me?" It, he, spoke English with a Chinese accent. "They don't look like police to me."

"I assure you, they can help you. Right?" The officer nodded, then looked at the team expectedly.

"That's what we're here for," Beatrix said with a nod.

The bull shrugged, then his ears twitched upward, "Whatever then, I'll take it." He turned around to face the team. "My name's Pan. Thank you for helping me." He addressed simply with a slight enthusiasm.

"My name is Bee," Beatrix replied, before pointing at her teammates. "This is Juan and-"

"Emile." Eberhard interjected.

"So, you last saw your fiancee a few months ago?" Bee asked, getting to the point.

"Right." Pan replied. "He, Jon, and I have been working on the AUS Rags to Riches for..." He tapped his chin a couple of times, "I don't remember. I just know we've done a dozen laps between the Stahl Belt and Earth. We hit it off pretty early being the only two bulls on the ship. Then about... about a year ago the crew started circulating another job opportunity ---"

The officer behind the desk interrupted. "Please move this conversation outside."

"Gotcha." The bull wandered out the door, then continued. "--- in the GDW, right on this station. It promised a better wage and something about voting. I have no idea what the deal with that is, but apparently if you vote enough you'll get an even better wage. So Jon and I appealed to our boss, who allowed it if I stayed behind for a couple more runs and took a smaller wage. So we agreed. Jon said he'd marry me once I join him here. Well, after we dropped him off on this station we haven't heard from him since, only that his account was filling up with earnings, so I assumed he was fine. Once I arrived, I asked around and someone told me about the police. So now I'm talking to you."

Juan nodded along, making note of the story. Odd that his bank account kept filling, but it raised an interesting question. "Did money ever leave the account? Everyone buys things, even small things, did it only ever fill?"

"I only looked at the numbers occassionally, and they always went up." Pan replied. "Here." He fumbled around in his jumpsuit's pocket and pulled out a cracked datapad. Poking away at the screen with his large fingers the bull stopped on a total balance number, then handed it to Juan. It seemed to be Jon's bank account. It wouldn't have taken long for Juan to find the details of the account, its transaction history, and find that money only came in on a regular basis and never out.
 

Ray of Meep

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"Do you know who the boss is for this other job?" Bee asked.

"Erm..." Pan stood beside Juan to poke at the data pad, landing at a contact list. "Here. Britney Robert."

"That's one of the most common name combinations." Eberhard scoffed, and typed away at his own datapad. "You're hearing this, right?" He mumbled to Ulrike over the comms.

"Yeah. There's three Britney Robert's on this station alone." Ulrike replied back.

"Hmm," Bee murmurred, "So, probably a red herring. What was the job anyway?"

"It was... about moving things around. Basic maintenance." Pan scratched his head. "Stuff we grew up learning to do and set out here for."

Juan looked over the pad, eyes moving around as he thought. "Still, three isn't a horrible number. Can we see if any of these Britney's are in that line of work?"

There was a silence from Ulrike, then a reply back. "Closest thing we have is an intern who does maintenance at the docking bays. This Robert is an alias for all we know."

"Yeah I know, but what else do we have?" Juan didn't like not having info. Not having info was as dangerous as a bullet, because without info bullets find their way to you faster.

"Not much. Tracing info back to a ship is tricky enough --- look at what Eberhard had to go through with you guys --- but this one in particular is AU registered. Even when I was on the best terms with the higher-ups I couldn't poke at AU's records. Doesn't help that this... guy is just plain dumb. If him and his pal were better informed then they wouldn't have fell into this trap in the first place." Ulrike remarked with audible frustration. She then paused, and spoke again. "Wait, see what you can dig up from his stuff."

"Anything else interesting in there?" Bee asked, holding back a sigh at being unable to look at the datapad.

Were Juan to sift through more of the bull's datapad, he'd find a few downloaded audio files, the most recent being a day ago. Tapping on it played the voice of a man, far too friendly to be sincere: "Hey Pan! So glad you're coming on board, I'll have you know that we're going to provide you the best oppurtunities here on Fabron. Give me a call once you're on the station, then I'll tell you where to meet me. My comm number is 02-003-010-587912"

"Oh, hey, a phone number," Beatrix said, copying it to her pad and sending it to Ulrike. "Can you do anything with this?"

"Give me one second..." Ulrike paused. "... there. I got a location fix. A small apartment building not from you guys, rented out by one Stefan Weber. Pretty unremarkable. Records show he dropped out of the Fabron Institute of Manufacturing, so now he's just a ship mechanic. Still not a bad job, to be frank."

"The voice was more sincere than is sincere, but to be fair that's the norm when you're pretending to enjoy your job. Let's get a move on." Juan handed the pad to Bee, just so she could sift through, and he looked to Eberhard. "Seems like it's time to pay this guy a visit."

--------------------------------------------

A hole in the wall was the best description for the apartment. Juan, Beatrix, Eberhard, and Pan were all crammed on a single walkway protected with metal rails, one story above ground level. From the outside, it was clear that the whole thing was going to have no more than three rooms. There was a plaque with the apartment's number on it, a metal box next to it for packages. Hanging upwards on a hook was a potted cactus.

Juan looked at the others and whispered, "Okay, do we have an angle to play here, or are we going to be less subtle about this?"

"Kinda depends on whether he's home or not," Bee said, looking over to Eberhard. "And what the terms of engagement are."

"Ulrike?" Eberhard dodged Bee's look and consulted his wife first over the comms.

"Given our situation, don't do anything overtly illegal or what can be traced back to local law enforcement is what they said." She replied back.

"Alright." Eberhard nodded, then turned to Juan and Bee. "I'd say just knock and try to get in."

Juan obliged, giving the door a hard knock. A groan came from inside and then half a minute later, a man in his undershirt and trousers lazily revealed himself. Like other residents on the station, he was taller, skinnier, and paler than Juan. He blinked twice at the Earther, most likely confused why a planet dweller would come to his apartment, before seeing the bull behind Juan.

The man's, assumed to be Stefan, eyes went wide at the sight of the Chongwu. "Heh hey... you are...?"

"Pan." The bull politely replied.

"Yes," Bee said, smiling as she put her hand on the bull's shoulder. "We're looking for his friend Jon. Have you seen him? He's a Chongwu as well."

"No. I don't know who that is." Stefan replied calmly, but his hands were taking turns gripping each other. While Beatrix was talking, Juan could see the inside of the apartment. It was a small and messy affair. Kitchen and living room all in one space, a small table and two chairs next to it, with a datapad sitting on top. Deeper into the apartment was an open door which exposed an untidied bedroom. Another door was kept closed.

Juan smiled down at the man, and looked quite pointedly into his apartment. "Thanks for the attempt, but we really need to take a look around, your help is appreciated." Juan fixed him with the "move" glare/smile, and pushed into the apartment.

"Wait---" Stefan tried to go after Juan, but Eberhard shoved him aside and kept a hand on the man's chest. "Son, just don't." Eberhard shook his head in admonishment while ushering in Beatrix and the bull into the small space, then closed the door behind them.

"Just who are you people?" Stefan struggled against Eberhard's pressure, but the space-born failed to apply any strength on the Earther's constriction. Meanwhile, Juan was at the datapad and looking through it.

"Ooh, jackpot." Ulrike chuckled through the comms and guided Juan through fiddling around the files. There was a string of texts dated a day ago, shortly after Stefan's audio message to Pan.

It was to an unnamed comm number that was now deactivated, "I got another one. \\ Good. \\ I'll bring him over once he calls me."

Juan showed the room the most suspicious line of dialogue with a scowl. Juan appraoched the man, now scum in his eyes, and showed him that. "So friend, these just happen to align with the last message from our missing friend. Be a pal and tell us where our bull bro is. Our fuzzy friend, or I'll stop being so agreeable."

"I don't know!" Stefan blurted out. "I was just supposed to bring in Pan to some guy at the White Dove coffee shop! All I know is he brings them down to the surface facilities!"

"Thank you for being cooperative," Bee said, smiling as she tapped her earpiece. "Rhodium, get the cops over here so we can detain this guy. Don't want him to warn his partner in crime that we're coming."
 
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