Serron is keeping Professor Smythe under sedation. He refuses to have the Professor conscious and wandering around the ship, despite my arguments to leave him alone.
Traffic Control: Understood, Argonaut. Is the Queen in good health? Over.
[Several seconds light-travel delay time.]
Paris: Queen is in good health. She requests an official meeting with the Government of Inverness to establish terms of her visit and discuss the political situation with regards to Rubilith.
Traffic Control: Roger, Argonaut. Maintain encrypted contact but move to frequency two-eighteen megahertz. We will contact the Government and issue landing instructions for you soon.
Serron, however, immediately approached the media throng and started answering questions and posing for video. I think he told them some story he made up about how he single-handedly helpd the Queen escape from hostile forces on Rubilith.
After greetings, we were escorted into waiting limousines and driven to a luxury hotel in the heart of Albert Town, where we have exclusive use of the top two floors. Queen Natasha has the Royal Penthouse Suite to herself, and her guards and us are in suites one floor below. The Queen has been allowed to settle in for the afternoon, but there is a State Dinner on tonight at which King Shaun III and Archbishop Harald of Inverness will be present. The Queen has graciously invited us to attend with her, and Serron was most enthusiastic about accepting.
Given this free time, Iki Piki has retired for a nap, Paris and Serron have gone downstairs to the bar for some drinks, and I am about to search the public, and not so public, data networks for names of ships and passenger manifests inbound from Rubilith in the past two weeks.
Serron has been upset by the fact that we were requested, in no uncertain terms, to leave all weaponry aboard the Argonaut. Personal stunners appear to be the extent of legal weapons on Inverness, and none of us own one. Serron has already declared a desire to purchase one when the opportunity arises. In the meantime he has been availing himself profusely of the free room service.
Professor Smythe has been taken to a nearby hospital, still suffering the effects of Serron's continuous sedation.
We noticed during the afternoon that the news services are giving lots of coverage to the Queen's arrival. Public opinion seems to be in her favour, with many people calling for the Government of Inverness to support her in regaining the throne on Rubilith. When Captain Smith and I commented on it to a few of the people in the bar they generally agreed, especially when they realised I was the one who rescued her from Rubilith. So things are looking good.
The room was like a gallery, with a long dining table set with places on one side only, facing a long mural on the far wall depicting rather graphic and bloody battle scenes with primitive weaponry. Captain Smith commented how odd it was to see battle scenes on a planet claimed to be peaceful. Serron pointed out that our hosts never claimed Inverness was a peaceful world, but merely that the Government was in control.
The dinner was excellent, as far as the Pachekki dishes were concerned. The others appeared also to enjoy their meals. Queen Natasha was seated between King Shaun and the Crown Prince Patrick, a man slightly older than Natasha and, from what Captain Smith tells me, apparently interested in performing some form of human mating ritual with her. The details of course were rather beyond my comprehension, but Paris told me the Queen appeared somewhat unimpressed.
As desert was being served, the wall mural slid away to reveal a glass wall overlooking a central stadium area in the building. A large crowd of spectators were seated around an area covered with a thin layer of sand. As we watched, people came out and fought gladiatorial battles, apparently with real weapons. Several competitors were seriously injured and a few even looked as though they were killed.
Captain Smith says Queen Natasha looked a little shocked, but she must have composed herself in order to avoid some sort of diplomatic incident and made no comment on the contests. Our hosts were most enthusiastic in their cheering and approval of the battles, with even the Archbishop cheering when a killing blow was dealt.
Serron and I discreetly questioned some of our hosts and learnt that thee contests are quite common here on Inverness. The gladiators are all convicted criminals, and fighting in the games is one form of sentence for able-bodied convicts. The fighters have nothing to fight for but their lives - release from the gladiatorial contests is not a viable option.
Following the fighting, we were introduced to some of the winning gladiators, surrounded by guards with weapons to prevent them from trying anything. Some were quite articulate and spoke for several minutes with the Queen and us.
Now that we are back at the hotel and I am preparing to sleep, I have found a scrap of paper stuffed into one of my pockets. It has a crude map drawn on it and the words:
Please help me escape this slavery. Take this message to Kennedy Antoine at the Green Pagoda in Daly Street.The map looks like a building with cells, one of which is marked "Sargon", which is the name of one of the gladiators we met after the dinner. I suspect he planted it on me as we shook hands. I will show the others in the morning.
Serron, Spanners, Iki Piki: Not me.
Paris: So, what are you going to do? Accompany the Queen on her round of boring diplomatic talks?
Serron: They wouldn't be talks if I was there.
Spanners: They also wouldn't be boring.
Iki Piki: They certainly wouldn't be diplomatic.
A bit later tonight I plan to give the guards the slip and make my way down there alone. Serron, Spanners and Iki Piki don't seem interested. Or rather, they have expressed a quite strong interest in not becoming criminals and being turned into gladiators themselves. But I can't help feeling that we should try to help this Sargon in some way.
I gave him the note from Sargon, and his face lit up. I gather that Sargon was a close friend of his before he was captured and turned into a gladiator. He thanked me, gave me a small bag of coins and told me to leave.
As I was leaving the Pagoda, a fight broke out between some of the bar patrons, blocking my way to the door. I was trying to get past when someone threw a punch at me. Luckily it was a glancing blow. Then Antoine appeared from his office and yelled for order, which calmed things down. Then he called me back for another chat.
He revealed then that he didn't really have any friends he could trust with trying to break Sargon out of the gladiator complex. He and Sargon were organisers of a small underground movement dedicated to freeing wrongly convicted and political prisoners who were being forced to work as gladiators and trying to put a stop to the barbaric practice. When Sargon was captured, several other sympathisers were also taken. Antoine was the only major resistance figure left and many of the supporters left the cause in fear of also becoming captured. He doesn't think he could rustle up even a handful of people now willing to attempt to break Sargon out.
So he appealed to us. He'd seen the news coverage of who we were and how we'd help rescue Queen Natasha from Rubilith. He said we seemed to know a good cause when we saw one and could we please help him. He'd already dug a tunnel most of the way from inside an old bookstore across the road from the gladiator complex to underneath the holding cells. He'd been afraid to make an actual break out attempt without knowing exactly where Sargon was held, and where any guard rooms were, but now he knew!
Antoine virtually begged me to help him. He said the King and the Government of Inverness were corrupt and surviving by virtue of a rich few who approved of the gladiatorial combats and the oppression of the poorer people. Many of the gladiators and other prisoners are political prisoners, not criminals, dedicated to a democratic form of Government and bringing equality to all. The Government has so far been powerful enough to silence such rebellion, but he hopes that by helping free Sargon a powerful statement can be made that will see the tide turn.
A very persuasive man, this Kennedy Antoine. Unfortunately, it seems none of my companions are motivated enough to help these people. I told them what happened just now when I arrived back at the hotel, but they think we should leave the situation alone. I will put these revelations to Queen Natasha in the morning.