The Dawnstar arrived in-system just as Diomedes, a local delittante of Mal and Gambit’s former acquaintance, found his situation becoming untenable. Accusations of misappropriation of funds and resources during the planetary evacuation in the Star Demon War were flying, and his rivals and enemies were throwing around terms like “war profiteer”. It was past time for a change of scenery – ideally, by taking a ship out of system, but for the time being getting a position on the spaceside section of the Trade Federation starport would at least put him out of local jurisdiction.
As luck would have it, Administrator Malik – the uplifted dog who was the Trade Federation chief in the system – had a job for him. Captain Alder of the cargo ship Nomad had been murdered some days ago, on the evening of the grand reopening of many of the bars in the starport’s entertainment section; enquiries by the security teams had drawn a blank, but a less official-seeming investigation might loosen a few lips. Diomedes’ local knowledge would help, and to give him a cover story for the investigator Malik paired him up with the Dawnstar crew (for Malik was their contact in Lt. Dillon’s network), since it was believable that a free trader crew might ask questions about the death of a fellow trader.
Between them, the party started piecing together the last movements of Captain Alder, as well as the activities of his crew. The Nomad was currently grounded due to what the crew were referring to as “technical issues”, and the party’s suspicions were raised when they noted that the crew hadn’t been enjoying their shore leave to nearly the extent they’d have been expected to.
Working on an initial theory that Alder was the victim of a mutiny by his crew, the party checked out the bar he was last caught on camera inside. So far they had been unable to reconstruct a crucial part of the evening – how Alder got from the toilets in this bar to an alleyway a couple of blocks away, where his beaten body was found. As Gambit investigated, a spacer calling himself “Larry Butler” accosted him from outside the bathroom window and said he had important information. With Mal and Max observing from a nearby table, Diomedes and Gambit met with Larry at a nearby bar, where he told them a wild story about Alder being assassinated by a hit squad loyal to the Benefactor. Max, however, noted that a woman at a gambling machine got up and left after Larry did – and left money still riding in the machine.
Tailing the mystery woman, Mal discovered that she seemed to be working with Larry and another man, and managed to get footage of the trio meeting in a disused park in the abandoned section of the pleasure district. Analysis of the footage allowed the party to not only cross-reference the individuals’ appearance with the starport’s database – the three were not the mere spacers and drifters they appeared to be, but were actually captains of small trading vessels with unsavoury rumours of piracy floating around them, as well as a tendency to visit the territory of the Eater of Worlds (a Star Demon purported to be an opponent of the Benefactor’s) every six months or so. Even more damning was what the lip-reading algorithm Max coded on the fly was able to make of their conversation: they were discussing heading down into the very access tunnels they had directed the party towards in order to plant false evidence of the Benefactor “death squad”.
From the rest of the conversation it was possible to piece together what had happened. Allusions to the Nomad‘s crew struggling to get its computer under control suggested that its computer’s legal partition had gone into lockdown on the Captain’s death, preventing any personnel not designated as his next of kin from taking charge of the ship. Evidently, the crime really was the simple case of mutiny (as a result of the Captain misleading his crew about the profits the ship had been making in order to short-change them), and these agents of the Benefactor’s foes had opportunistically tried to use it to make it look as though the Benefactor had breached the Trade Federation treaty – an action which would either result in the Federation-Star Demon war erupting all over again, or the Benefactor being taken down by her fellow Star Demons (or at least losing a lot of status) in order to patch over the diplomatic rift.
Administrator Malik disclosed that the Benefactor was expected in-system within the week, and suggested that the party might be in line for an appointment to meet her. He also suggested they offer their services to the Droyne, who were seeking ships to undertake a quick archaeological expedition to the outer asteroid ring. The Droyne found the Dawnstar crew acceptable, mostly because they found that Gambit had an acceptable smell…