Olleneg Agate contacts the crew to catch up, asks you where you’re staying, advises against the same hotel; advises you look at a boarding house in Startown run by a friend of hers, Ma Mossett.
• “You don’t want to stay at that place again, I’m sure – I didn’t want to say anything last time, but it’s well-known for being frequented by all sorts of criminal types. Why don’t you come and look at a place I know, run by a very good friend of mine. Clean – and reasonable!”
The Highport shuttle lands early evening, the sun is low in the sky, there’s a light wind, with a bit of dust being blown up by the breeze. You’ve touched down in front of the covered walkway that leads to the main building of the Credo Down Starport. You shoulder your holdalls and follow the other passengers out of the shuttle. For once the baggage has been unloaded promptly; you grab your bags from the conveyor belt as it rolls past you and move towards the gate to the big lobby. You cross the line that separates Imperial territory from Reginan without slowing down. All the formalities have been taken care of on the Highport orbiting above. Your baggage has been through customs, your weapons are safely stowed in a locker.
Ahead of you some of the shuttle passengers head towards a corridor beneath a huge sign proclaiming that this is the way to the long-term parking facility, but most go out through the gleaming crystal doors that lead to a big open square. You pause on the steps and look around. To your right is an area where dozens of cabs hover, waiting to pick up passengers and fly them anywhere they want. Beyond them is the local Spacefarers’ Hotel, only 25 or 30 stories tall, its chameleon surfacing displaying advertisements for local goods and services that look no different from what you’ve seen on scores of similar hotels on scores of other worlds. To your left is an unusually low, irregular building, no more than five stories high anywhere, marked by the logo of the Travellers’ Aid Society and nothing else. Beyond that is a taller building covered from side to side by a huge Imperial sunburst. This is the Imperial consulate. Opposite you is a big, gaily coloured building on pillars that separates this plaza from another one beyond, but allows pedestrians to pass beneath between them. The monorail lines run into and out of this building.
More shuttle passengers peel off and take cabs or enter the hotel, some of them carrying a single bag, others trailed by porters hauling big piles of baggage on grav pallets. You hesitate for a moment, pondering whether to check into the hotel or check out Olleneg’s friend, but eventually you decide to for the next plaza.
Most of the remaining passengers go up the escalators marked ‘Credo’ or ‘Atora’ as they pass under the monorail station. The new plaza is surrounded by a half circle of modest-sized towers, maybe a hundred stories tall or thereabouts. In the middle is a small park with a statue of some god or ruler or politician being stern or noble or constipated. The towers look neat, well-kept, and high-end; any hotels in any of them might be beyond your means. There is a gap between the two northernmost towers and you resolutely make your way through it.
It is like entering a completely different world. A broad lane lined with vending booths leads north, but apart from that, the whole area is covered by small buildings made of all sorts of materials. Plywood, plasboard, brick, ceramic tile, construction foam… even the occasional piece of chicken wire, canvas, and tarpaulin. In one place the ‘buildings’ have been piled on top of each other in a mound several stories tall. Further away real buildings and towers of crystaliron, permacrete, and synthiglass can be seen over the top of the shacks, but it looks like more people in startown live in these flimsy ‘houses’ than in real buildings.
There are people everywhere. Small parties of well-dressed people escorted by grim-looking bodyguards are browsing the stalls and peering curiously at the many bars, gambling dens, skin-art parlours, and similar establishments that seem to be the only sort of businesses represented on this lane — apparently known as ‘The Boulevard’, according to a snatch of overheard conversation. Outside each door gaily clad barkers tout the delights of their particular establishment. Starship crewmen in gaudy shore-going rigs rub shoulders with unemployed spacers in threadbare shipboard coveralls. A pack of Vargr youngsters in clothes that outshine even those of the off-duty spacers swagger down the Boulevard, warily eying a gang of Human youths in some sort of colorful ethnic garb as the two groups edge past each other. You notice that both gangs give a wide berth to a small group of raggedy pre-teens with feral eyes armed with toy squirt guns and wonder what noxious substance might be in those guns.
Out of the corner of one eye you notice a small furtive woman edging closer. You turn your head the tiniest amount and raise an eyebrow. The would-be pickpocket smiles weakly and immediately starts edging away again. To the other side three men and a woman are looking at you speculatively. You look directly back and grin invitingly, but the quartet evidently decides that you are a poor prospect and turn away.
Surprise Crescent is a small, vaguely crescent-shaped open space in the tangle of temporary structures to the south of the Vargr Quarters, a little out of the way of the major thoroughfares. The Crescent is filled with shady trees, flower beds, and comfortable benches. The surrounding buildings are far sturdier than the Startown norm, being built of bricks, permacrete blocks, mockwood planks, and other, similar, materials by people who expected to live in them for the foreseeable future. The inhabitants are solid, middle-class citizens with jobs and steady incomes – definitely not average Startown residents. Over the years they’ve replaced a wall here, added an extra floor there, hooked up a bit of plumbing hither, tapped into a water main yon, until by now most of the structures are as solid and well-equipped as any legal building (more so in the case of most of Startown’s legal buildings, which are in notoriously bad repair). One of the Crescent’s most prominent inhabitants is Ma Mossett.
o a retired scout who runs a tight ship with clean rooms, good food, and reasonable rates; has a soft spot for former Imperial servicemen and young people
o age 68, 5’7", 185 lbs.; dark skin, grey hair, warm brown eyes.
o “You have the look of thirsty travellers; I’ll put some tea on – unless you’d prefer a cold beer?”
There’s only one other guest at the moment:
o A quiet unassuming man who doesn’t make much of an impression on his surroundings. He is a clerk of some kind with Gemstone Starliners, a shipping line.
o The captain of a visiting Vargr merchant ship; visiting Ma Mossett’s to talk business with Roy Montjeux.