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To the Victor…
Chapter 9: The Aquapolis
by Tog
(part 2 of 4)

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Nikolai began the tour with a short explanation in a vaguely Eastern European accent.  “Vell, if this is all that are going to be coming, ve vill begin.  First, a little bit about the hotel itself.  It vas begun by Mr. Gauthier in 1997 and completed 27 months later.  The Base of the hotel is similar to an oil drilling platform, only larger and built from the beginning with the hotel in mind.  It is anchored directly to the sea floor about 800 feet, or about 240 meters, below the surface.  This is referred to as the Rig when discussing the hotel.

“The staff part of the hotel is fixed to the top of the platform and includes the sleeping rooms, recreation rooms and other amenities for the staff, as vell as the mechanical equipment used to keep the hotel running smoothly.  We call this section the Base. 

“The guest section, or Sail, is vhere all of the rooms are located, as well as the observation deck and the restaurants and conference rooms.  The Sail is 10 floors tall vith rooms starting on the second floor.  There is a different number of rooms on each level since each level is a little longer than the one above it.  This entire section is capable of rotating to present the smallest surface possible to the vind in the case of a large storm.  The point of rotation is called the Mast and it houses the elevators and the main power generation system in the form of vertically mounted vind turbines.

“The Casino is part of the Sail, but rests inside the Base.  There is a large counterweight on the underside of the Sail on the opposite side to offset the vayte and keep everything neutral.  This runs in a concealed track inside the base.

“Communication with the mainland is by vay of a satellite phone system, as vell as a vireless radio.  Power comes from the vind generators in the Mast, as vell as from conventional generators and some generators that vork on tidal motions and vaves.  In 9 years of active operation, ve have only needed to svitch to the conventional generators three times.  Hotel security is organized much like the police force in most major American cities, only much smaller.  There is a full hospital here, complete with two trauma rooms.  In the event of a disaster of some sort, there are enough aircraft here at all times to evacuate the entire hotel.  There are also life boats, and a large rescue ship is on call at all times on the mainland.  It can be here in just over an hour and has the capacity to pick up 300 people, which is more than the projected occupancy of this hotel and staff combined.

“Fresh vater is made here by the desalinization of sea vater.  Food stores are replenished vonce per veek and ve keep enough non-perishable food on hand to last for three weeks.  Vith the exception of food, ve are totally self sufficient here.  Now, if you care to follow me, I can show you some of the areas I just talked about.”

They all agreed, and Nikolai led them down through three floors of casino to a circular room about 20 feet in diameter.  “This is the main transfer point from the Mast to the Base.  There are a few other places where this can be done, but this is the most common and the safest.   If the mast is rotating, this room will rotate with it, but the room on the other side of that black and yellow line will not.  That is part of the base.  The effect can be similar to stepping off of a moving sidewalk or elevator, only the motion comes from the side, and is very rarely ever enough to notice unless you look for it.

“This area of the hotel is generally off limits to guests, except for this tour.  Everything you would require as a guest can be accommodated in the Sail portion of the building.  The Base is the living quarters for the hotel staff, and the hospital.  The hospital is here and has a full staff on duty at all times, with a second staff on call.  The rest of this floor is the staff sleeping quarters.  Ve vork 7 day shifts followed by two days off, then a three day shift at a different location on the mainland, followed by another two days off, then back here for a week.  Now, if you will be so kind as to follow me down to the next level.

“Here is the heart of our hotel.  This is the main control room for the environmental settings, power distribution, vater desalination, and dry goods storage.  To the left is the room vith the lifeboats.  From this room ve are only about 50 feet above the vater.”

“The counterweight actually hangs at this level and is normally on the other side of this wall.  If there is a vind shift, the noise it makes as it passes by is qvite alarming.”

“May I ask a question?” Angela asked.

“Certainly.”

“In stormy seas, isn’t this room close enough to the water to be pounded by the swells?”

“Yes.  And it has happened more than a few times.  But, in very rough conditions, the safest place to be is in the base of the hotel.  Here.  There is a remote possibility that the sail could be damaged by a high vinds or vaves, and it’s possible that the vater could actually come up over the top where the aircraft land, but the Base here is vell provisioned, and very safe.”

Lista was stopped beside a door.  “This is the door with the lifeboats, right?”

“Yes.”

“Can we go in there?  I’d like to see them.”

“I suppose so.  There is nothing very special about them, really.”

Nikolai opened the door to reveal a warehouse sized room, full of boats, each with a set of cables attached to the bow and stern.  All were set flush with the floor so that there was no need to climb up to get into them, and each was pulled up tight to form a seal against the underside of the floor.  At Angela’s request Nicolai explained the operation of the boats.  “Once everyone is in and seated, you press the red button and the boat vill be lowered to the vater.  Once it is floating, the hooks vill be disengaged and the ropes pulled back up.  From there the boat vill vork like any other boat.  It is important to drive away quickly once in the water, as the other boats maybe coming down at the same time.”

“What about running into the legs of the Rig?”

“This room is actually outside the legs of the Rig.”  He clasped his hands together to indicate there was nothing further.  “That concludes the basic tour.  I vill escort you up to the casino.”

Lista stopped a few paces after she started following them.  “Hold on.  I think I see something here.”  The group walked back towards the far side of the room to one of the boats that had been brought all the way in through the maintenance door.  There, in the boat, partially hidden under a tarp, was the body of Derek Sayed.

Nikolai turned pale and tried to get them to leave to he could secure the room.  Angela wanted to stay and look at the body.  Doug suggested he stay with her, and that Lista and Nikolai report what they found.  Nikolai reluctantly agreed, and the pair headed out of the door to the nearest intercom.  Angela pulled a small flashlight out of her pocket and shined it on the body.

“It looks like he was shot at close range.  Well, pretty close.  See those black flecks on his shirt?”  Doug wasn’t looking at the shirt.  He was peering around the room for anything that looked like it might need a beating.  Angela continued.  “Lividity’s fixed and rigor seems to be fadin’.  He may have been here since yesterday.”

“I wonder who he is.”

“Marcus should know.”

“Can you tell what caliber of gun?”

“No.  It’s impossible to tell without having the bullet.  The skin stretches and the hole will be smaller than the bullet most of the time.  Even if it were, say a 9 millimeter, there are at least 4 different calibers that could fire that same bullet, plus three more that are so close you couldn’t see the difference with the naked eye.”

Lista came back in with Nikolai close behind.  “We contacted Mr. Gauthier.  He’s on his way down.  Do you know him, Nikolai?”

“I have seen him around, but I do not know his name, or vhere he vorked.  He may be part of the television staff.”

The awkward silence that fell seemed to last forever until it was broken by the sound of Marcus’ voice at the doorway.  “Where is he?”

He was flagged over to the body and confirmed that it was Derek, the production intern.  He then got in touch with the aircraft manager to determine if anyone had left the hotel in the last 36 hours.  “Passenger logs show that everyone that was here when I saw Derek last are still here.  Unfortunately, that’s 258 people.”

“How many are on staff?”

“For the Hotel, 57, plus me I guess, so 58.  The TV production crew has 17. Well I guess had 17.  I’m going to have to call in the FBI I think.  Technically, hotel security is a suspect.”

Angela turned to Marcus and asked, “If a guest were down here unattended by a member of the staff, would it draw attention, or is that somethin’ that happens often enough to be overlooked?”

“No, we do try to keep people out of here unless they are with a staff member.  The liability is too great if they get hurt, or if we need to evacuate.  I see where you’re going with this.  Yes, it’s more likely the killer was a staff member, but we can’t rule out a guest either.  Nikolai, this must remain a secret for now.  I don’t want the staff or guests to know what’s happened.  We should have the FBI here in about an hour.  I’d like you to wait for them on the pad and bring them straight here when they arrive.  Contact me so I know you’re on your way.”

“Yes, sir.”

“For the three of you, on behalf of the hotel, I am truly sorry about this, and I’ll see to it that your rooms are free for your stay.  I do hope this can be kept quiet until the investigators arrive and have time to look into things.”

All agreed as Nikolai hurried out the door.

“Now that he’s gone, what the hell really happened, Lisa?”

“We were on the tour, like any other tourists.  I smelled something bad, but I didn’t want to say anything to the others with Nikolai around, so I asked to see the room.  We all came in and the smell was stronger.  By the time we turned to leave, I was pretty sure I could tell where it was coming from, so I looked a little closer and saw the foot sticking out.”

“You smelled him?” asked Doug?

“Couldn’t you?  Ugh, it was almost overpowering when we came in.”

“He’s been dead at least 12 hours,” offered Angela.  You can’t think we did it.”

“No, I don’t think you did it.  Besides, if it were one of you I doubt he’d have been shot.  This pretty much confirms that there is something going on here.”

“Not really.  It could just be a coincidence.  Unlikely, but possible.”

“Very unlikely.  For just over nine years, this place has run at 75% capacity or better.  The only things even close to this have been stupid petty assaults, like a bar fight.  We’ve never had a death.  Not even an accidental one.  We’ve never even had to use the trauma rooms, thank God.  For the first ever fatality here to be a murder, and the victim to be the guy that blew the whistle on a connection to the riots last year and the poker game broadcast is more than just a coincidence.  It has to be.”

“So,” began Doug.  “When the FBI gets here, do any of us know each other?”

“Damn.  I hadn’t thought of that.  Yeah.  We tell as much of the truth as we dare.  You two are here as a favor to Lisa, who is here as a favor to me, because I’m just so damn good looking.  I asked you here to provide an extra layer of security.  You’re all here as bodyguards, not investigators.”

“Sounds good.”

For the next 90 minutes, time was passed sharing stories about the early days in Paragon City.  It wasn’t until the minions of the Winter Lord just a few weeks before that the radio carried by Marcus chirped and Nikolai informed them that he was on the way with the FBI.

The FBI team consisted of Agents Richard Jennings and Gary Phelps, along with a small group of crime scene techs that seemed to go by variable and shared names, like “You, with the Glasses”.  None were formally introduced.

The initial interviews were curt but professional.  There was some obvious skepticism about just why the heroes were there, but all the stories matched, and as soon as the preliminary investigation was over, they were allowed to go up to their rooms.  Marcus and Nikolai got to spend a good deal more time in the lower offices.

Once the trio was in the elevator, Doug asked, “So, this has to be related, right?  That guy that blows the whistle gets shot right after.”

“Well,” Angela began, “we don’t know that for sure, but if we had to start somewhere then, yes, I’d say it bein’ related is a good way to go.  Now, it could all just be a coincidence again, but I don’t think the chances of that are very good.”

The car came to a stop and they went to their room to change for dinner.  Down in the casino, the main floor was being set up for the tournament tomorrow.  The 20 finalists would play until only 10 remained.  Play would resume on Friday with the final 10, and that would all be aired live, just like last year. 

They emerged from their rooms at about the same time, and shared the elevator back down to the first floor dining room.  It was a spacious area, mostly furnished in white and pastel blue with the occasional pink accent to give a slight impression of a coral reef.  The room was laid out much like a banquet hall might be, with a large table on a raised section at one end of the room.  Seated here were eighteen of the twenty finalists.  Marcus was one of the two missing players.  The service was prompt, and the food was excellent.  Halfway through dinner, number nineteen arrived at the main table.  He was a small Asian man who seemed to be deeply embarrassed at showing up late for the dinner.  Along with desert came a note addressed to each of the three of them.  It was from Marcus and it asked them to meet him in his office on the second floor at 8 PM.

The office of Marcus Gauthier was not really what most people would expect.  First, it was on a lower floor and right beside the elevator.  Second, instead of being decorated in some ultra-modern science fiction décor, like the rest of the hotel, it was done more like a film-noir detective’s office, right down to a vintage looking telephone and hardwood chair.  He bade them welcome, and offered them all a chair.

“After you left, the FBI kept us there for quite a while.  I just barely got done with the questioning.  As it turns out, poker and real estate are good practice for being interviewed by the feds.  You have watch your tells, avoid a bluff unless you’re sure it won’t be called, and try to get a read on the other guy and see where he slips.  If I read those guys right, there is a lot more to this than I think. Some of the things they asked me really didn’t seem to have anything to do with the Derek’s murder.  They asked the standard stuff that a person might expect, but they were holding something back too.  It’s like they wanted me to volunteer something but knew it would be wrong to actually ask about it.  They kept asking if I knew anything about Derek outside of his work here.  They tried to make it sound casual and routine, but they brought up his school work three different times.  All three were in passing, and none were a direct question, but I can’t think of any reason to do it.”

Angela sat back in her chair and stared at the ceiling for a moment.  “If you’re right, they are either involved in some way, or they have been investigatin’ it as a larger thing for a while now.  Either way, they know more about it than we do.  But, that’s only if you’re right.  It’s just as possible that you’re lookin’ for patterns, so you’ll have a tendency to see them where they don’t really happen.  Was there anythin’ other than his school work that they mentioned repeatedly that had no bearin’ on the issue?  Did you only focus on those comments because they were somethin’ you already had on your mind?”

“I see where you’re going with that.  And normally I’d agree, but it wasn’t that they said it, it was how.  It was placed out there like bait.  Like in poker.  If I have a strong hand, and I’m pretty sure my opponent has garbage, I’m not going to bet a ton because it will just scare him off.  I’ll bet a little less than I think he’s comfortable with.  If I’m cautious, he might think I’m weak, then make a big bluff to scare me into folding.  My lack of action is the bait.  When he bets, I call and take more money than I would of if I’d bet big enough to make him fold.  That’s what they were doing to me.  They had more information than they were sharing, and they were baiting me to see if I knew more than I was telling.  There is a chance I’m wrong, of course, but this is a game I play daily, and I’m damn good at it.  Maybe not the best, but still up there.”

“Then why not tell them what you suspect,” asked Doug?

“Paranoia probably.  I’ve been thinking a lot about Dover lately, and that whole thing has been eating at me.  If what Lis said Angela here said was right, then this thing is more than just a nut job.  I mean, think about it.  Some guy spies on a rival and overhears something.  He invites a few people to his house, two of whom have apparently never met, but work together to kill him.  One gets away at the time because no one suspected her of anything and then the police refuse to act on the pretty solid information that she’s involved.  To me, this says whoever is behind it all is bigger than just some computer making firm or software company.  They have a Senator’s wife, and a good portion of a local police force.  If that weekend was connected to this stuff, then you add in the riots and it gives them a national reach at least.  Then, the kid that figures out the riots were sparked by something we broadcast and the next day he’s killed in one of the most isolated places in the country, and the FBI shows up seeming to know that Derek may have been killed for something dealing with his school work, just seems a bit too government conspiracy for me to just open up to them and trust they’re not involved in some way.  You know?”

“Okay.  So what do you want us to do now?”

“I guess just keep an eye on the broadcast and the players.  Tomorrow’s games won’t be fully televised, so there won’t be any way to know for sure what gets sent out.  I think it will only be Friday that we need to watch.”

“Okay.  I guess I’ll sit up and watch last year’s a few times and see if anything pops out at me.  Doug can do whatever he does, and Lis can maybe snoop around the casino for a while.”

With that, all agreed.  Marcus poured himself a tall glass of something from the bottom drawer of his desk as the others left the room.  Lista headed down to the Casino to see if she could meet up with any of the players in the tournament, and Doug went to bed.  Angela put in the tape of the last tournament and began watching, and re-watching.

The following morning, Angela awoke on the couch, the cover from her bed draped over her and a pillow on the floor beside her.  “I didn’t want to wake you, but you looked cold.”  Doug said it as if he were apologizing for the gesture.

“Nah, Sweetie.  It’s fine.  Thanks.  I must have fallen asleep around 3 AM or so.  I remember startin’ the tape for a 5th time, but that’s about it.”

“Did you find anything?”

“Nothing really.  There are three cameras around the table and one that looks up from under the table for each player’s cards.  The cameras are pretty much fixed, so there was pretty constant background.  I made a list of who was in each shot and what they were doin’ but there never was a pattern I could find.  The only thing I could really get out of it all was that one guy, that one that was late for dinner, really isn’t a very good player, and that he seems to really like the seven of spades.  Just about every time they drew the 5 base cards, he had that 7 in the middle of the row.  Probably a superstition.”

“The base cards?”

 “Yeah.  Each player draws five cards from a separate deck to use to try and break up the other player’s hands.  If someone is dealt one of the cards that another player picks, that cards can’t be used in the final hand.”

“Odd.  So that guy went out early huh?”

“No, that’s just it, he stayed in a really long time, but rather than win one then lose a few for a big change, he just lost all of them for a small amount.  It’s almost like he wasn’t tryin’.  It makes me wonder how he even got to the final table.”

“Well, hurry and get dressed.  We’ll grab some breakfast then watch the prelims.”

Angela got dressed and they headed down to the dining room.  Lista was already there and talking with Nikolai.  She saw them and hurried over.

“So, I talked with a lot of players last night.  Nothing really came of it, then I bumped into Niki there.  He has a lot of information about the people that stay here, if you know how to ask.”

“Such as?”

“Well, of the 20 people here for the tournament, only 6 were here last year.  Two of those six asked him about you guys.  You know, in a romantic sort of way.  Wink wink.”

Doug and Angela looked at each other for a moment, then back to Lista.

“He also told me that those two FBI agents were done with the investigation for now, but that they were sticking around for the weekend.  When I asked him if he had any idea what happened in the boat room, he said he had no idea, and that most people didn’t have the faintest idea who the kid was.  Niki thinks it may have just been a hate crime.”

“Okay, that twice you’ve called him ‘Niki’.  Just how well do you know him now?” asked Mourning.

“Not that well.  Certainly not as well as I know the bartender, whatever his name is.”

“Like it would matter.”

“True.  He’s an Adonis.  Anyway, I call him ‘Niki’ because if I say ‘Nikolai’ it comes out with that same accent and he’ll think I’m making fun of him.  Like I said, he’s given me a lot of information and I don’t want to lose him as a source.”

“I’ve got a question now.  It’s about the case, so if we can put the girl talk aside for just a bit...  Okay, here it is.  Why was the body hidden in the boat and not dropped through the door where the boat was lifted into the room?  Why leave it for someone to find instead of dropping it into the water with a toolbox tied around it and let it sink to the ocean floor?”

“Good question.  Wow, really good question.  MA, wanna answer that for us?”

“I’ve been wonderin’ that too.  The only things I can come up with are both pretty weak.  The first is that opening that door would cause too much suspicion.  The second is that the killer wanted the body found.  I guess a third one would be that the killer never expected anyone to go into that room for a while.”

“What about the tour?”

“I think we’re just about the only ones here that have never been here before.  I imagine that’s the case with the tournament going on.  If everyone has been here before, then there’s a good chance no one will want the tour.  Even then, that room isn’t really on the tour.  We only saw because we asked.  Still pretty weak though.”

“Looks like they’re getting ready to start the games.  I guess we should go mingle.”

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TO CHAPTER 9.3 >





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