Search for the Moonflower
This Week's Special
Location: Skyplex Storage level 7
Timeline: Following 'Unwanted Answers'
Jemi did her best to match her pace to Cassie's as they exited the Tenzing Momo Hotel and headed for a lift to the lower levels. It was the middle of the Skyplex's artificial night, and fewer people were around. Jemi shifted her backpack and brought up a map of the Skyplex on her cortex's holographic display and showed it to Cassie. "Warehouse storage is on decks seven to fifteen. Of those, decks seven, eight, and nine have storage units available for individuals to rent. I actually have a rented unit on level nine, but I haven't been there yet." She'd stored a few personal effects, but mostly it was her art supplies and equipment, waiting until she had a secure space of her own.
The door slid open. Jemi stepped into the empty lift and looked to Cassie. "What level do you think we should start with?"
Cassie looked over their options, considering. This was the hardest part, not being able to read yet their opponent. But that was only the first few hands...
"It stands to reason if they were usin' one in public listin', they'd have found her already. That or it seems so obvious that it's been overlooked. Still, we ain't got much yet to work from." Cassie mused, "So. Thinkin' we need to go to the office on seven and get our hands on the records. Somethin' has been overlooked, either the too obvious or the not so discernable."
"Right. That makes sense." Jemi selected level seven and the lift doors slid shut. "It's good to know we aren't the only ones looking for her, though I gotta admit I'm really hoping Natalya is just a typical irresponsible teenager who snuck away from her overbearing family to get some, uh, alone time with someone she's sweet on."
Land of Storage was equally mundane and awe inspiring. Three floors of warehouse space, packed full of every imaginable shipping container sporting tags from nearly anywhere across the verse. Some were uniform large shipping crates common on most mid to large size freighters, others were small boxes barely large enough for a person to curl up in if they really wanted to ship themselves off into the black. There were vehicles and small shuttles, mothballed for long term storage. Aisles and rows of containers stacked atop one another in a dizzying menagerie that could defy imagination. All this lay in front of Jemi and Cassie as they departed the lift. The entrance from the corridor was fenced and gated with an entry datapad for patrons to use for 24 hour access to their belongings. The only construct of any note was a small temporary office bungalow with the neon "Office" sign lit up adjacent to the gate.
Cassie gave a slight nod, "Yep, but I'm equally thinkin' this ain't a coincidence with today's events. And we're dealin' with two rival families. But I'll take the story goin' your way over mine." Her boots thunked against the deck plating as they walked towards the office.
"Well, we can try to play nice, if you feel up to spinnin' a yarn...a story. Get them to give us a peek at the owners, tell us somethin' to point us in the right direction, anythin'. If they get rude about it, I can step in and misuse some office supplies." Cassie turned to Jemi and cracked a grin, "Don't fret though, I ain't gonna kill no one I don't have to."
Her smile dropped though, "But if someone gets squirrelly and draws iron, get behind me. I ain't liable to have my head on straight if someone tries to use you for cover or leverage. And I've been on the wrong end of a gun before."
Hearing Cassie talk about the possibility of guns and violence should have scared Jemi more than it did, but she felt a sense of confidence at Cassie's side. Also a worry at the thought of this tall drink of gorgeous between her and a bullet. Surely they weren't risking their lives to find this teen girl… were they?
"Another time, maybe you'll teach me to use a firearm… though right now if I had one I'd probably be more of a danger to myself than anyone else." Jemi had already confessed to a lack of know-how in regards to shooting, but she was beginning to reassess her opinion in regards to learning. "But I reckon I can tell a story, yeah. Are you thinking to use persuasion to convince the night-staff to let us have a look at the registry? We might find something suspicious there."
"That'd be my first thought. Has to be some kind of starting off point waitin' for us there." Cassie said, "And we'll address shooting and carrying a later time, not to worry. I know you ain't armed, that's why I said if things get that bad, just stay behind me."
She stopped at the door and gestured, "After you."
Jemi squared her shoulders and nodded. This was just a business office, and they had a legitimate reason to be here. It wasn't like they expected to find criminals here with Natalya. "I'm ready." She put on her most friendly, assistance-seeking smile, and opened the door.
The office as they entered it was sterile looking, lacking of furnishings or any real sign of being in business besides a tapestry of legal notices upon the wall opposite what appeared to be a service desk. An empty service desk. The stillness of the room was only broken by a distant voice of someone hurling random curse words in what appeared to be a closet whose door was slightly ajar. The faint glow of a vid screen could be made out.
Upon closer review of the "desk" was a small red button with the words in Mandarin to ring for service.
"Looks like maybe the staff person is playing games," Jemi whispered. She started across the room for the service desk, thinking to press the red call button.
"Well, they can resume when we've gotten what we need." Cassie replied quietly, stepping over to be in a good position to intercept anyone coming through the door or attempting to leave.
Jemi scanned the legal notices, looking for familiar faces and patterns as she pressed the call button. She adopted her usual friendly smile and focused on the perfectly reasonable expectation that the employee here was on staff to help customers… such as herself. "Hello there? Excuse me, but I need some assistance please."
The sound of a very inexpensive buzzer broke the silence of the office, quickly followed by, "Go Se!" a man shouted from the closet, the sound of a lightweight plastic device hitting the floor. Moments later a young man apparently in his early 20s exited the closet. His company monogrammed shirt was untucked from his trousers and his eyes seemed reddish from starring at the screen in the closet. He half tripped over his own feet as he approached the customer service desk. "Uh... Welcome to Land of Storage. What do you need?" he stated in a less than enthusiastic voice. The plate on his shirt was engraved with big letters spelling Moses.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, uh… Moses," said Jemi reading his name tag. She was not exactly sure what Cassie had in mind but figured it couldn't hurt to straight-up tell this guy what they were doing here and ask for his help. "I'm looking for a teenage girl who might be hanging out in Land of Storage with some, uh, acquaintances. Her family is very worried." Jemi took her portable cortex from her pocket and displayed the holoimage of Natalya, whilst watching the young man's face for a reaction. "Have you seen her?"
The clerk looked at Jemi, blinking a few times as he processed what she was saying. Then he nodded. "Oh you mean the eyes girl. She comes down here sometimes. Haven't seen her in a couple days. Cute thing... I mean like in a too young for a couple years sort of way. Not sure how I can help? Been pretty slow around here, especially since the Alliance started locking everything down. Only a couple new accounts and the usual folks pulling merchandise for their shops."
This clerk seemed willing to help, but finding people was not exactly Jemi's area of expertise. "Is there a section of Land of Storage that Natalya usually visits? Or… uh, do you have video surveillance that might have picked something up?" Jemi glanced over at Cassie and raised an eyebrow, hoping she might have some ideas.
The clerk looked back at her somewhat puzzled. "Who knows where those kids go once they get in here. I wish their parents would stop giving them access codes. You let one plexie in and next thing you know a hundred are partying on top of the stacks." he pulled a notebook out form under the desk and paged it open. Holo images of kids in disorderly conditions, positions and inappropriate clothes popped up. "Crazy doncha know. I even got one of the station administrator in here when she was younger." He thought a bit more. That Natalya girl, there's an incomplete portrait of her three levels up on stack 128. Don't know if she actually goes there. Had a nasty animal attack up there a couple months ago. Folks steer clear of there. As for vids, nah, the kids take out the cameras faster than we can mount new ones. Can't let you into any storage spaces, but the newest accounts are at stacks 68, 304 and 540. You can pull up a map on your cortex."
Cassie finally decided to speak up, "Okay, let's try and put things in order here. Was she by stack 128 recently or are we talking past enough tense it ain't worth lookin' at?" If there was a critter on the prowl, she wasn't keen on running into it. Some game needed a pretty heft slug to stop it, and the flip side was that such a slug would be a problem on the station. And she deliberately had selected bullets for her pistol with a low powder count and soft nose slugs. Suitable for the average thug if they wanted their head turned into a canoe, but not for big game.
The clerk just stuck his hands up, "Hey, I don't know anything about where this girl comes or goes. There is a big painted portrait of her eyes up on 128. No idea if she has ever even seen it. A bunch of the kids made a small memorial there to a girl that died in the Cat attack, pretty freaky all the toys and flowers with the big eyes behind it, looked like some old pagan altar from Earth that was. The boss made us take it down a month ago but they keep adding to it. Crazy kids."
Jemi was not thrilled by the prospect of encountering some kind of dangerous creature, but it definitely seemed like a solid lead. "Sounds like we need to go have a look. Start with checking out stack 128, then look for clues around the new account locations." She brought up a map of the storage levels on her portable cortex and held it up to the clerk. "So… stacks 128, plus 68, 304, and 540 you said. Show us where those are, please?" Jemi had a sudden thought. "That painted portrait of Natalya's eyes, is that visible from any of the new-account stacks?"
The clerk reached over and touched Jemi's Cortex. The mentioned stacks illuminated. "I'm not sure how far you can see the painting. They were kind of working on it where no one would see them, you know kids. You might be able to see it from 68. It's just up that way to the left." he said pointing in the direction of the stack 68. "540 is a bit of a hike from here, but one you hit 304 its shorter than coming all the way."
"Thanks for your help, Moses," said Jemi, glancing again at his name badge. Then she regarded her lanky blonde companion. "What do you think, Cassie? Work our way outward – stack 68 first, check if we can see the mural from there and head to 128 next, go on to 304 then 540?"
The clerk looked at Jemi quizzically, thinking to himself. He glanced at his shirt. "Oh yeah. Right. It's Ren-Li. Moses worked here like six years ago I think, but you're welcome!"
"Sounds like a plan to me." Cassie said, moving back to the door, "I reckon that'll be all we'll need for now, my friend. Thanks for the info."