Episode 213: Show Stoppers, Part 3
We drive on to the event and as we get to the concert hall, we see that there is heavier screening of the guests than usual. Rick, Jake, Rina and the Angel Sisters will be going in through the performers’ entrance at the back, where security will be less vigilant. Christian, Lem, Arden and Nika will have to arrive through the front like everyone else. We find a spot to park our Gator and move into place.
There are ‘hospitality officers’ at the rear entrance inspecting the gear. Oh crap! Our guns are in the sister’s guitar cases. What now? There’s no time or opportunity to switch them out. Rick’s overconfidence comes to the fore and he simply pushes us forward—relax, we’ll be okay. Rina’s twitchiness isn’t too sanguine about the outcome but there’s nothing for it: we’ve come too far to stop now.
When it’s our turn to be inspected, Rick starts talking fast. He trots out his famous line, “That’s not a robot!” and when the hospitality officers recognize him from his show, Rick starts spinning them some crazy story about wrestling an alligator that almost bit his hand off and going straight into a story being stuck with a stingray stinger. His showmanship is considerable, enough that the officers forget to inspect our cases or keep the line moving. When the people behind us start complaining about the stoppage, the officers hastily move us along without inspecting anything we’ve brought with us.
Good job, Rick.
Out front, Christian, Lem, Nika and Arden get through the screeners and take their seats on the balcony. From there they can keep an eye on the production booth’s windows.
The show is a long and arduous one, with performers cycling on and off the stage with only a two or three minute pause between acts.
We’ve all fitted ourselves with ear comms, just in case we need to coordinate our movements but there is too much interference from the building and the extra sound and communications equipment to make them useful. We have a program, so we know exactly when the Angel Sisters are going on stage. In the meantime we have to act like we belong backstage. Rick mingles and starts looking for the refreshments table that by custom should be back here for the performers. He talks to some celebrities, then at fifteen minute mark before the Sisters go on, he and Rina and Jake retrieve their weapons from their hiding places. Rina gratefully claims her pistol, Rick takes the second gun, Jake goes without, and together with Valenci’s assistant, they all start moving for the production booth.
We worked it out with the Angel Sisters. We take over the production booth before they go on. When the Sisters are on stage, they’ll give us our cue: “You might remember us as Wu Wei….” And bam! We roll that sucker at six.
When we get to the production booth, we see the entrance is guarded by a single security guard. He appears to be unarmed, standing by the doors. Rick goes right up to him and explains who he is and how he and Jake were always interested in the production end of things and would love to see the production booth. As a celebrity with his own show, the viewpoint from the other side of the camera has always fascinated Rick….and so on and so forth. The guard tells Rick that he’s got to check with security first, as there’d been “hosps” running around saying they had to increase security at the event. He’s guessing they’re going to say no but he’ll put in the request and ask. Rick trots out his trademark line! And the guard agrees phlegmatically that it’s true, let me ask about that visit.
He actually knocks on the door and sticks his head in and asks. Rick calls his trademark line over the man’s shoulder, hoping to sway the verdict in his favor. His instincts are right on the money and he’s hailed to come on in. Rick walks in with Rina and Jake in tow and someone states that he’s a friend of Stewart Valenci and the grins all around get bigger. The guard bows himself out and lets the door close with a click.
Valenci’s assistant tells the folk inside to carry on with their jobs, she’s just here to give some friends of Valenci a tour. She goes on to explain what the various pieces of equipment does and we all make appreciative noises at the appropriate spots. Well, okay, maybe only Rina’s appreciative and noisy. It is all rather shiny and tech-y in there. It makes a good distraction so Jake can scout the consoles for the place he needs to plug in the holo chip.
We’re two acts away from the Angel Sisters taking the stage and we have to take over the booth. We could use violence, shooting or killing the crew. We could try to arrange a distraction. Or we could tell the truth.
Rick steps up and holds up the holo crystal.
Rick: We need to use this. Part of the Angel Sisters’ act uses this holo crystal.
Director: It’s not on our list. (holds up a clipboard)
Rick: It’s a change to their act. They came up with some last minute tweaks.
Director: It’s gotta be a live performance. No dubs.
Rick: This is not a dub. It’s a movie background that’s going on.
Rina: Um-hm! Awesome.
Director: If we can preview ’em, we can bump ’em, but we just can’t put unwatched video on the Cortex. We could lose our license. This would have been really good to bring up yesterday. We’ll just have to go the way we’d already planned it.
Rina: Oh, man….
Rick: Valenci said it would be okay.
The Director and the rest of his staff all turn as one and look at Valenci’s assistant for confirmation of this. And of course, Rick is talking off the top of his head and she’s unprepared. So she does whatever any person would do when confronted with this situation—she plays along and prays she’s backing the player who’ll get her out of this unscathed.
Assistant: Yes, that’s right.
Well, with that glowing endorsement, the Director lets Jake at the equipment so he can spool up the crystal and have it ready to play at the proper moment. Meanwhile Rick’s watching the staff in the booth and has a distraction prepped when the crystal plays and the staff realizes something’s gone horribly wrong. The minutes tick by as the last act before the Sisters draws to a close. The Sisters take the stage and over the cheering we hear one of the sisters call out the code phrase: “We’re the Angel Sisters but you may have remembered us as Wu Wei!”
Angel Sister: One year ago, we sang “Miranda Calling”. This year, we have another Miranda Calling.
Up in the booth our crew gets busy.
Rina: That’s our cue if I ever heard one. Press the button, Max.
Jake presses the button and sure enough, there’s a hum and the holo crystal has Miranda Falkan’s face hovering enormously over the stage. All the staff in the booth are understandably confused. What the hell is this? One of them grabs a comm link.
Rick: This will be great for ratings! This will be incredible! This is like breaking news. Right here. Think of the ratings. Imagine the ratings!
And he goes on like this for some time. The production crew is wavering. The director is starting to buy Rick’s argument. Is it possible that we’ll get through this without having to shoot anybody?
No bloodshed. What a concept.
A bunch of silent lights start blinking on the console—the phonelines are heating up. The director starts swinging the other way. Rick grabs him by the arm, still excitedly selling it.
Rick: This is gonna be the biggest ratings this show has ever had…!
Rina: It’ll go viral!
Rick: Just think about it, though. The biggest ratings of all time for this show. This show’s already one of the most the highly-watched Cortex shows, but imagine everyone searching this for the next month.
Rina: On BlueTube! You’ll be famous!
One of the staff timorously announces that the blue light is on and he points at the console.
Below on the stage, the Falkan recording comes to an end and Angel Sisters start to play. Stunned silence meets the first notes of their song as the audience tries to understand just what the hell just happened.
Jake yanks the crystal and he, Rina, Rick and Valenci’s assistant start hustling for the door. We open it to the catwalk just in time to see the guard talking into his comm.
Guard: What? Don’t let them out?
Rick: Hey man, did you get to see it? I think this is gonna be the highest watched episode of all time.
Guard: I didn’t get to see anything but you’re gonna have to stay inside. Someone wants to talk to you.
Rick: Who wants to talk to us?
Guard: I dunno. I was just told to keep you inside.
Rick: I gotta get ready to go, man. I’m supposed to have an interview.
Rina: And I hav’ta pee.
Rick: They’ve already scheduled an interview with me.
Rina: I can do it right here on the floor.
Rick: Do you wanna call them up.
Guard: Somebody’s pissed off and I’m not going to be the one to take the blame.
Rina: Pissed off? I’m gonna be pissing in a minute. I gotta go.
Rick starts walking past the guard.
Rick: I came here to help ratings AND I’m trying to get my foot in the door for a new show. I am not going to pass up this interview, man. Tell them to come find me downstairs with the rest of the celebrities in the back room.
Rina: I’ll be in the ladies room.
Rick: I’ll be at the snack table.
Guard: I don’t want to have to hurt you.
Rick: I don’t wanna have to hurt you, man.
Guard: All of you just stay inside.
Rick: No. I have to go, man.
The Guard won’t budge from the door, blocking us in. Damn. Rina’s gonna have to hit him. She throws a punch, she connects, and the guard goes down.
We run for it.
Halfway down, we see guards coming our way and we divert through an untended emergency exit. Rina pulls her tools from her pockets on the run and hits the door with them ready to start breaking through the alarms. She slips up and the alarm goes off.
We get ourselves through the door and make our way to the Gator. We drive it all the way back to the Gift, obeying all the traffic laws. The goal is not to look like criminals speeding away from the scene of the crime.
Out in the audience, people start reacting to the alarm and a good portion of the audience starts rising to leave. The Sisters look bewildered but don’t linger on the stage. The management exhorts everyone to be calm, there is no reason to panic. Christian, Lem, Nika and Arden keep to their seats and a little while later, the management comes back on the PA to announce the show’s been cancelled for the evening and regrettably ticket refunds will not be available.
When it’s quiet again, Christian rises from his seat and walks over to talk to Valenci at the judges table. Valenci is rubbing his forehead a little as Christian comes up.
Christian: Quite a night.
Valenci: Mm-hm. Something you know nothing about, I’m sure.
Christian: Just me and my son enjoying the theatre.
Yeah. If you like guerilla theatre.
Valenci: Ahhh, Chris, Chris, Chris…. And this after-party….It’s legitimate?
Christian: Yes. It’s an actual party. If you come to our ship, we’re gonna have it.
Valenci: Am I going to get shot at?
Christian: Are you planning on pissing off someone with a gun?
Valenci: I think the pissing-off part has already been done.
Christian: I do not believe that you are in any danger and if I did I would not ask you to come to the ship. If you feel more comfortable going home, I fully understand.
Valenci: (wagging his brows, grinning) Oh, I think I want to see what’s going to happen.
Nika: (chuckling) You are an adventurous soul.
Christian: And that is what I love about you, Stewart.
Valenci: I got a call from my PA. Apparently your friend’s knocked out a security guard.
Nika: Really? What happened?
Christian: (sighing) Rina has a temper…
Valenci: I didn’t hear the whole story. She’s a bit panicked. I’m trying to let her know that she’s not fired.
Nika: I’m sure he put his hands on her or something.
Christian: When it comes to men, she’s not very trusting.
Valenci: Don’t lie to me, okay? It doesn’t need to be explained to me. If you don’t want to talk about it, don’t talk about it. But don’t be insincere. I don’t appreciate that.
Valenci tugs his jacket straight.
Valenci: I like my lies only in the form of flattery.
Nika: If I were going to flatter you, I wouldn’t lie.
Christian: We’re going to have to take his car.
Because our ride, the Gator, is already gone. Oh, Stewart, darling. A small favor….?
As we arrive at the Gift, we see there are four armored purple bellies at the ship. There are several other hospitality officers, as well as half a dozen Federal Marshals. In total there are ten armed men around the ship. Nika calls out over the earcomms for everyone to check in. Rick, Jake and Rina are in the Gator, parked off to the side, and Rina answers the call.
Nika: Do we have everyone?
Rina: We’re not on the ship.
Christian: Do we have everyone?
Rina and Rick together: Yes.
Christian and Stewart exit Valenci’s car and immediately all ten firearms are pointed at them. Nika stays behind Christian. Lem stays in the car.
Christian: (soothingly) Gentlemen…
The PPA Officer, the one we know as Benson, turns and spots Christian and comes forward. He calls out to the Marshalls gathered round.
Benson: All right. Arrest them.
Christian: And the charges, sir?
Benson: We’ll think of something.
Christian: No. I’m afraid not.
Benson: Would you like me to shoot you first?
Christian: I’m just wondering….can I get your names precisely, for when we broadcast them on the news, tomorrow, that you arrested one of the most powerful opera stars in the ’Verse…
The purple belly who’d come forward and trained his weapon on Christian now looks at his squadmate, unsure what to do.
Christian: (continuing) While working for a man, who’s working for—
Purple Belly: Christian Edge, you are bound by law. If you want my serial number—(holds up his badge)
Seriously? We’re getting arrested? Valenci leans into Christian and murmurs into his ear.
Valenci: You remember what we were talking about?
What? Oh. Right. He’d mentioned briefly to Christian that there was some jurisdictional power play going on between the Paquin law enforcement and the Feds. Then he points to the Chief Inspector of Hospitality Guard.
Christian: (lightbulb!) It is good to know, of course, that the Paquin security forces will roll over and let their bellies be rubbed by the Federal Marshals.
Chief Inspector: They’re just assisting us in this operation—
Christian: Really? So why aren’t you arresting us?
Arden: It is your jurisdiction.
Chief Inspector: (to the PPA) What was their crime again?
Benson: They stole property of the Parliament.
Christian: We did?
Nika: Um, no.
PPA: They have in their possession a holo crystal which I can prove is top secret.
Arden: You’re welcome to search me.
Nika, however, squicks at the idea of being body searched. And let’s not even go there with Rina. Be that as it may, the real question is: does Jake still have the crystal? Or did he ditch it after we left the concert hall?
Nope. He’s got it in his hand. And as luck would have it, the Chief Hospitality Officer sees Jake’s surreptitious check and strides on over.
Chief Inspector: Let me see that.
We are so humped.
Benson: No, no. You don’t need to see that. It’s Parliament property.
Chief Inspector: Since it takes place on Paquin, I’m going to have to take that.
Benson: I believe Parliamentary authority overrides the local planetary.
Christian: Really? It does?
Nika: Interesting. I didn’t know that.
Rick: Parliament’s not even in session. What’s going on?
Christian: That’s true.
Maybe not so humped. We all look Benson. He’s looking a touch flummoxed.
Christian: If you’d like it, we’ll be happy to hand it over. We just found it. We had no idea it was stolen.
Benson: That is Parliamentary property and if you so much as look at that, you’re an accessory to this crime.
Nika: But it went out on a live Cortex feed.
Christian: The entire ’Verse is an accessory to the crime? The entire ’Verse.
Benson: It’s immaterial if it’s been looked at before, but you, having looked at this top secret information—
Christian: Which we did. When we watched it. When it went out on the live Cortex feed. To the entire ’Verse.
Arden: At the concert hall. It was right up there on stage.
Benson: So you confess? (turns to the Inspector) Inspector, they’re confessing right in front of you.
Arden: We’re confessing to being in the audience.
Benson: To broadcasting and watching a top secret—
Nika: Whoa! I didn’t say anything about broadcasting.
Christian: Are you going to arrest all your officers, too?
Nika: And every person on the planet?
Benson: You were the ones who broadcast this.
Christian and Arden: No.
Nika: No, actually.
It was Rick, Jake and Rina. You know, those three standing over there? But no one’s saying it, hell no.
Benson: We all have witnesses—
Arden: Voices of the Verse broadcast it.
Benson: Well…there were people there. You’re people were there. We know that there was a security guard involved—
Benson: So you did it.
Christian: I’m just curious to know one thing. If your authority supersedes planetary authorities why do you need Federal Marshals?
Yes, why? Because there’s about half a dozen standing right there.
Christian: Why can’t you arrest us? Personally.
Benson: We are an Alliance of laws—
Nika: And as far as I know, we haven’t broken any.
Christian: So you don’t have arresting powers.
Nika: (turning to Rina) You did sorta deck that guy.
Arden: (jumping in) Bad. Don’t do that. Anymore.
Christian turns to the Chief Inspector.
Christian: Do you have authority what happens your planet? Or do you have the Feds do everything for you? I thought Paquin could take care of itself.
The words sink in with the Chief Inspector and like Captain Renault in Casa Blanca he has to make a choice about letting us fly free like Ilsa and Victor…or clap us in irons. He turns to his men and gestures to us.
Chief Inspector: I don’t think these people committed a crime. Release the landlock.
Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Nika: (politely) Thank you.
Chief Inspector: Agent Benson, if you have a crime that you can demonstrate some just cause against these people…?
Benson: Murder! They committed murder! On the space station.
All of us in unison: Huh?
Chief Inspector: (narrowly to Benson) Something tells me if they committed a murder, you would have brought it up earlier. (turns to us) You’re free to go as far as I’m concerned.
Chief Inspector looks at the Marshals.
Chief Inspector: You don’t want to make this an intersystem conflict, do you?
The Marshals are looking at Benson and it’s clear they think he’s a huen dan anyway. They put their guns down. Everybody breathes a little easier. Except maybe for Agent Benson, who’s looking a mite frustrated right now.
Christian retrieves the crystal from Jake and walks over to Benson.
Christian: (archly) Mr. Benson. I believe this is yours.
The Marshals and the local constabulary start snickering. And in the face of their amusement, Christian goes to the Chief Inspector and gives the man a great big sloppy kiss of appreciation. Then Christian struts to our ship and boards her, all high heels and sashaying hips.
Chief Inspector: (blinking)…um…uh…all right
The very Devil with the blue dress on, yessir.
We get aboard before we can embarrass the man further by laughing. Not that his men are backward in letting everyone know what they think of the whole situation. As for Benson? We don’t give him another thought as we all troop inside Summer’s Gift, vindicated and victorious.
As for Stewart Valenci…
Christian: Stewart, we promised you a party.
Nika: We did! Let’s party!
Valenci: You know….the next time you’re on Paquin. Let’s not press our luck.
Christian gives Valenci a little kiss for being such a wonderful man through all this and then steps back.
Christian: I owe you pretty much anything you want for this. You know that thing? I’ll do that thing. Next time I’m here.
Rina: (whispering to Arden) What thing?
Arden: (whispers back) I don’t even want to think about it.
Nika steps forward.
Nika: Mr. Valenci, thank you very much.
And the dam breaks. Rina hugs Valenci. Arden shakes his hand. Rick declares Valenci’s not a robot! Duly thanked and showered with gratitude, Valenci takes his leave.
As missions go, it was as flawless as any we’ve pulled. The crystal got broadcast, the Angel Sisters and Peale are still free—as far as we know—and we didn’t actually kill anyone. And with that, it’s back to business. It’s past midnight into the 31st, but we won’t let the lateness of the hour stop us. Ship fueled, cargo loaded and with no reason to linger, we lift off, helped along by expedited procedures courtesy of the Chief Inspector.
Goodbye Paquin. What happens on you, God willing, stays on you. And thus we fly, to Whittier, to the next job. To whatever Fortune sends our way.