Cleared to enter the city, Imogen and Lilly explore it on foot. Although they can call upon the magistrate, Imogen would prefer to investigate what they can on their own first. Based on their experience on Brontes IV, she looks for signs or smells of vespene. Lilly tags along to make sure the younger woman does not blunder into any trouble. They occasionally see billboards advertising, “Recently terraformed! Mar Sara: now habitable!”
This is still a frontier town, having only been settled for a few years. Not every road is paved nor even lit. There are marines, but they are not everywhere, so there are plenty of dark corners for crime to flourish in. As Lilly and Imogen enter a seedier district, they witness some punks up on a roof leaning over the edge and throwing milk cartons down at a solitary marine on patrol. “Got milk?” the hoodlums jeer.
Then they all dive for cover as the marine brings up his gauss rifle and blasts a round up in their direction shouting, “Die! Die! Die!” Lilly and Imogen move on.
The atmosphere generally seems reasonably clean and clear, but Imogen notices what she was looking for rising from the east side of town. “Lilly, there’re puffs of green gas coming from over there. I think we should check it out before we go to see the local magistrate,” she suggests. “If there’s something fraudulent going on with the local power structure, we don’t want to tip our hands just yet.” She knows the refinery is in that direction but not whether that is the source of these plumes.
“Okay,” Lilly agrees simply.
They wander around that side of town, checking out the neighborhood and getting a feel for the place. It is a more industrial area with supply depots, warehouses, and a factory. The latter catches Lilly’s eye, as in front of it are newly manufactured vulture speeder-bikes. She admires them as they hover just above the earth. The military uses a version equipped with grenade launchers and spider mines. Those would not be on civilian models like this one, but these vultures are still military-grade tech and sweet rides.
Imogen finds the building that is the source of vespene clouds, and it is indeed the refinery. People in space construction vehicle mech-suits enter the building empty-handed and exit with large green barrels that they load onto a truck. Imogen elbows Lilly to draw her attention from the factory. “This is it.”
Lilly shoots Imogen a questioning glance. “What? Wait, what are we supposed to be checking for?”
“The vespene gas.” At Lilly’s blank look, Imogen elaborates. “Not as much is being shipped off-planet as should be.”
Imogen points out the pipeline leaving the refinery. Lilly nods in recognition. She noticed a branch of it entering the vulture bike factory. “So, I have a couple thoughts, Lilly,” Imogen begins. “One is that it would be good for us to find out where the truck is going with the barrels—”
“—because barrels of vespene gas, that’s cash money, that is. If they’re not being delivered to where they’re supposed to be going, that might account for some of the missing product. But also there’s this pipeline here, and we should probably investigate it to make sure there’re no little taps on it. But again, I’m not sure I actually want to talk to anyone yet, because if there are fraudulent people in the refinery then we’ll be tipping our hand. So it might be good for us to investigate these things before we go talking to anyone about whether people on-planet know that they’re not meeting their quotas.”
Is she even listening to me? Imogen wonders. “Do you have a preference between hiding under a truck or walking several miles next to a pipe?”
“Well, the pipe’s not going anywhere,” Lilly observes.
Ah, I guess she is. “Good point,” Imogene agrees. They enter the refinery campus, intending to stealthily approach a truck.