After Finding out the next assignment, our BlackOps team decided to head out for VGT again, which, at this point, was stationed in the orbit of Diave Prime. In addition to the task of finding Du'an Xu, Meek-Ria gave the team the additional task of hiring two pilots capable of operating a dropship-class vessel. The purpose of this hire was unknown for now.
After reaching the vessel, Lidia went straight into investigations, while Marianne spent some energy (and bribe money) to smuggle in some personal weapons. After this, she immediately started the recruitment process, and what caught her eye first (and last), were net two hard-boiled American transport pilots called Joe Texas and Barbarella Bardot (or BB for short), who seemed promising prospects both due to affordability and skill. A meeting was set up in the same sleazy dock bar which had already been used by the russians to conduct their business.
The job interview was promising, as the pilots indeed seemed competent. Especially Joe Texas seemed like a good hire, as he also had insider information about the criminal underground of VGT, and offered good suggestions about investigative options. More imporantly, it became apparent that he had an argumentative financial history with the Pandemonium conglomerate, which consisted of the least law-abiding examples of the local suvak and baseline awese. More specifically, Joe had certain financial difficulties toward a fight betting entrepreneur christened "The Bullfinch" by the locals. Marianne decided to head to him in order to find some answers.
Finding Bullfinch was not difficult, but getting to talk with him was, as Marianne was almost adamantly refusing to give up her personal weapons. She eventually had to budge, because the booker unconditionally refused to see anyone otherwise and getting too argumentative with the extremely well-built awese on the foyer didn't seem smart. Fortunately for her and Joe, Bullfinch, whose most striking features were his reddish feather coat and obesity (which is very rare among Awese), had no intention of getting violent, though Joe didn't seem to have a good enough standing with him to really make his case.
Surprisingly, when the name of Du'an Xu and his possible involvement in weapons deals was mentioned, Bullfinch became a lot more cooperative. Due to various reasons apparently related to unrestrained ambition and disregard for conglomerate rules (though jealousy was likely closer to the truth), the booker was highly antagonistic to him and simply pointed out that the players should visit the opera tomorrow night to find out more. The event also made him forgot to rough up Joe about more or less imaginary debts and the players swiftly made their exit.
Meanwhile, Lidia had contacted The Cacophony, which was another more or less criminal organization operating in the VGT. Having substantially more human members, this organization was more subject to her agent background and Lidia had surprisingly little trouble in contacting the local middle management. However, this lead turned cold, as the clearly serbian representatives, who never gave any names, did not have or were not willing to share any meaningful information about mr. Xu. However, Lidia did get into negotiations about smuggling their heavier armament inside and got quoted with a sum and contact information for this purpose.
The next day was spent in preparation of the opera night, which involved a ridiculous shopping spree, wherein Hune proved to be especially proficient – given the opportunity to do so and being presently employed with the longest and most lucrative contract of her short life, she behaved as frivolously as sailors on a port, albeit with more refined consumer habits (oh, this type of winglets are now in fashion, see that they have real feathers – not synthetic!). The rest of the crew focused more on preparing for the worst and Marianne repeatedly displayed her skills in concealing small arms, which hopefully would not have to be used.
The opera itself was a very traditional and classic awese tale about an usurped princess, whose loyal and admiring knight sets out to right any wrongs that befell her. As customary, the knight was ineffably selfless and his relationship to the princess beyond platonic and perfectly subservient. What was interesting was that the theathre troupe performing the story was all-human and that its execution through modern dance and allegorical costuming was widely considered world-class. Even more importantly, the head diva, Sheryl Lynn, was held in extremely high regard.
For most of the mercenaries, the story of the play flows way too ponderously. McGibbs and Jean soon grow tired and fail to reappear to the second act, but Marianne, diligent as always notices that Du'an Xu, who follows the play from his own loge, seems to have an argument with his lady friend, who ends up storming out. While Lidia and Hune remain in the hall to watch Mr. Xu, she orders Joe tail the woman and orders McGibbs and Jean to aid if necessary. This turns out to be unnecessary, as the handsome pilot has little trouble in initiating a conversation. Simple acts of sympathy are sufficient to find out that Xu's escort is simply irritated about being neglected to the point that her presence seemed completely superfluous. The reason, too, is all too clear, as the escort is quick to point out that the weapons dealer is hopelessly infatuated with Ms. Lynn. Following up on this, minimal information gathering is required to find out that mr. Xu seems to attend almost all the troupe's performances, and that the next viewing will be on the surface of Diave Prime, in one of its main cultural centers.
Both Meek-Ria and the players feel that this information might bring them a crucial edge, and hopefully be one that would avoid the use of extreme violence. As the play closes, they head back to their lodging and start considering their future options.