Episode 415: Entanglements
Air Date: 19 Oct 2010
Present: Kim, Maer, Terri, and Andy
Last episode (with some minor ret-conning by the GM):
We’re met by the PDF ship that answered our distress call midway through the 8th of September. Marcus Dean’s people have responded well to Arden’s treatment and in appreciation, Dean calls in a favor. He has a ship come out to refuel and restock us for the remaining leg to Miranda, 5 ½ days away. We are grateful for the fuel and extra provisions and take them on. We take off for Miranda the next day, the 9th.
In our brief time dealing with the PDF ship that answered our call, we got a chance to swap stories and news. We hear that the dangers leaving the inner core of the planets in Blue Sun are numerous. Once we leave the relative safety of the gas giants, there are no patrols. Another thing, there are Reavers (of which there is a known quantity) but apparently they’ve been able to adapt to the changing tides. Instead of their old methods of attack and trickery, with which we have some experience, they are now mixing it up. Joshua inquires if there is any sign of collaboration between different groups of Reavers. And the answer comes back that yes, there seems to be at least temporary alliances between them. They appear to be, to a certain degree, engaging in alliances of opportunities.
For instance, if they attack a large target, other Reavers will join in the fray and they will mutually pick the kill clean. When everything is done, they’ll go their way. No one really knows how they manage it because on the whole anyone who witnesses such collaborative behavior rarely survives to report it. Likewise there aren’t many reports of Reaver-on-Reaver action, either. In the wake of the Reaver Battle over Universe’s moon, military deserters from the conflict have reported a veritable floating island of Reavers, a large cruiser sized vessel that had been Reaverized for the use of all comers amongst the Reavers. That also may be an exaggeration, since this is also mostly unsubstantiated. Still, substantiated or not, the idea that the Reavers are getting organized amongst themselves does have some chilling ramifications.
Things are tough enough without adding such speculation to our plate. We thank the PDF crew and part ways. Dean’s ship rendezvous with us and we lay on supplies and then we get going on our journey to Miranda.
Thursday, 11 Sept 2521
Kuiper II class, Summer’s Gift
En route to Miranda
Blue Sun (Qing Long) system
0035hrs, ship’s time
As the days pass, Arden is kept busy keeping up the treatments for 20 people, including himself, but the general mood is hopeful with a twinge of fear mixed in. Will the treatments last? Or will the benefits fade and put everyone back at square one? After all, clinical tests haven’t been officially run on this drug treatment. There is a constant line of people at Arden’s door as a result as he administers the doses. Kiera huffs, annoyed, as she tries to squeeze through to help him in medbay. She grouses about it later and Joshua unfortunately hears her.
Kiera: Great. We should stick them in self-sealed containers and drag them behind the ship.
Joshua: You did not just say that in my presence.
Kiera: (brightly) Oh, of course I did. Let’s see, would I say that in … ? (raises eyebrow) Oh, yeah. Not even a question. There’s a lot of people at Arden’s door.
Joshua: (firmly) You will have patience. And you will treat them with respect. I know that’s in you. I know that’s in you.
Kiera: I will have ‘treat them with respect’ but that precludes patience. Now if I have patience, that completely precludes respect. So you get one of two. (smiles) Pick which one.
Joshua: I’ll just pick both and let you go to town.
Kiera: And I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. Woo-hoo! All is happy. (NOT!)
So it happens that couple of days later, the Gift is flying in pulse and Joshua is standing midwatch on the bridge when he sees something on our short range sensors. It’s metallic and Joshua runs a quick sensor scan as we fly by. It comes back as something like ship wreckage.
Ship wreckage? How hot?
It’s not pinging back as hot. It’s not pinging back as anything dangerous. It’s just metal, likely wreckage, and we’ll be leaving it in our wake in a minute. Reluctant to disturb Nika, who’s sleeping, Joshua decides not to worry about it unless he encounters more. After all, we have a ship full of people bound for Miranda and we really don’t have time to go poking into every little oddity our sensors pick up.
After we pass this bit of oddness, two pings show up on our long range sensors. Unlike the first instance, these things have faint engine traces and are moving in our direction. They are rather small to be ships. Joshua gauges their speed—they’re speeding up and that puts them about an hour behind us. Joshua checks his watch. It’s been five hours since Nika turned in to grab some rest. He buzzes her cabin from the bridge.
Nika: (resigned) Uh-huh.
Joshua: Sorry to wake you. I’ve got two energy signatures behind us.
Nika: I’m on my way.
She’s on the bridge in less than a minute and Joshua points to the scan. She squints at it.
Joshua: There they are.
Nika runs a more thorough scan. The results show that the mass on these things is less than 20 tons. Bigger than a breadbox, smaller than house. It’s also moving at pulse. Now, there are some fighters that are powerful enough to fly at pulse, if only for a limited time. They can’t be shuttles. We’re moving at speed 5 and most shuttles can’t attain that sort of speed.
Joshua: Another fact to add to your equation—these things showed up after we passed by what looked to our sensors to be ship wreckage.
Nika gives him The Look.
Joshua: I’m now telling you. What do you want? I can only tell you so much at one time. You’ve just been asleep, I gotta work it in.
Nika: That’s called handling me.
Nika: Just so you know.
Nika: I thought you said you didn’t do that.
Joshua: (airily) It’s like layers within layers within layers. Next thing you know I’m going to be handling you directly but I’m not gonna be—okay. (gives up) Anyway.
Unless they’re short-range fighters attached to a larger ship, based on what she knows of the size requirements of pulse-capable ships, Nika judges that what she’s looking at shouldn’t be able to exist. Fighters usually don’t pulse. They just have high speed.
Nika: And these are actually in pulse?
Joshua: Yeah. Cuz they’re following us. We’re in pulse. I didn’t drop out.
Nika: How far from Miranda are we?
Still a couple of days out. We’re still closer to the inner core of Blue Sun than the outer reaches.
Nika: How much fuel have we got?
Joshua: We were at full, minus this pulse. We got plenty.
Nika: Drop us out of pulse. See what happens.
Joshua: Should I wake anybody else up?
Nika: (drawls) Yeah… sound general quarters. Get’em all up. Make them work.
Joshua: I’ll do that door-to-door. I’d rather not alert the passengers.
He and Nika swap places. Nika keeps an eye on the sensors as she takes us out of pulse. She can see that these things—whatever they are—were going to catch up with us in an hour. Now that we’re out of pulse, we’re going 60 times slower and what would have taken an hour in pulse will now take a minute. She checks their speed. Do they continue on their vector, just ships passing in the night? Or do they drop out of pulse to match us?
Those suckers decelerate.
Not a whole lot, but given their trajectory, they’re on an intercept-collision course. Joshua takes this in and then goes aft to start knocking on doors. He reaches Rina’s door first in crew quarters.
Rina: (she’s up!) Yeah.
Joshua: We’re about to be intercepted by two small craft—
Rina: I’m there!
She throws the covers back, shoves her feet into her booted coveralls, zips up and is out of there. Joshua, meanwhile, goes forward to med bay. He runs into Kiera in the foredeck corridor. She’s on her way the bridge as is her wont—given it’s the best seat in the house whenever the crap hits the fan.
Joshua: Not for passenger consumption but we’re being followed by two small-range craft. Be ready. God only knows what’ll happen.
Kiera: How close are you to Miranda?
Joshua: Not really that close. Two-three days out.
Kiera: Probably a buncha those people trying to figure out if we’re not gonna break out Mike from that stupid planet.
Whoa. That’s a stretch. And for once, it’s not coming from Rina.
Joshua: This is definitely unusual, whoever it is, so be warned.
Rina strides onto the bridge, looks at the scanners, and looks askance. Her hair is awry, her eyes gritty and her Russian accent is evident: she’s been woken out of a deep sleep but she’s awake and she’s thinking.
Rina: These are 20-tonners and they’re going that fast?
Rina: How’s that possible?
She looks at the scanners again, adjusts the gain a smidge, and the readings resolve further. Two objects, now showing at 10 tons each. But that makes even less sense, given they’re pulse capable. Nothing that small is that fast. Nothing but—
Nika: Not frikkin’ torpedoes again?
Rina: If they were torpedoes we’d already be dead.
Rina runs over the scans again. The objects don’t appear to have life support. So, either the crews aboard them are dead and the craft are going on automatic or the craft never had crew and are controlled remotely. If they’re remotely controlled, who or what is controlling them and how? She scans them for remote frequencies and is unable to pick anything up out of the scan.
In the pilot’s chair, Nika can make out nothing of their shape, other than the fact they have a narrow presentation and that their trajectory is heading straight for us. She decides to take evasive maneuvers to see what they do in response. She adjusts her course slightly and notes they move to match her. She makes a more aggressive course change … and they follow suit.
They’ve found us. Full evasive action. Joshua gets on the PA.
Joshua: All Passengers: Please remain calm. We are experiencing some technical difficulties. There may be some tight maneuvering going on. Please remain in your passenger areas and stay calm. There’s nothing to be concerned about.
Kiera gives Joshua a wide-eyed look as she steps onto the bridge in the middle of that announcement. Joshua doesn’t linger but cuts the channel and leaves to see to the passengers. Rina says to him over her shoulder:
Rina: They haven’t started playing “Girl from Ipanema” yet. When that music starts playin’, hang it up. (nods to Nika) She needs coffee.
Nika doesn’t have time to tell her steward to get it for her. She’s too busy trying to evade the mystery torpedoes that are, now a minute’s gone by, right the wo de mah on top of us.
Nika: Brace for impact!
The torpedo closes the remaining distance between us and in a blink of an eye, explodes just before it hits us. Rina hears a sound that she doesn’t want to hear. Not decompression, not that, thank goodness, but … you know the sound a suspension bridge cable makes when it snaps in two and slaps something? That. That is the sound she hears reverberating through the hull as fifty cables explode from the torpedo like octopoid tentacles and clang! wrap around our ship. The cables snake over everything, foul up our vanes, our cowlings, our directional thrusters. Just like the mythical gigantic squids of Old Earth dragging sailing ships to their doom, so does this modern-day mechanical hydra attempt to do the same.
In the pilot’s seat, Nika feels the controls go sluggish. We’re dragging something. And joy of joys, there’s still another one of them out there. Despite the ripping and tearing sounds, Nika manages to steer our girl clear of the other hydra in an evasive maneuver. Through the bridge windows we see the second one explode like a party popper and we see firsthand the twin of the tentacles now strangling our ship. One look is all Rina needs to understand just how difficult it will be to get the thing off our girl.
Damn freakin’ shuĭxī (hydra) boobytraps!
We scan for more of the things and the hydra signal pings back … from our engine.
Nika: Someone’s slapped a pinger on us.
Rina: (grimly) The Feds.
Nika: Did my engineer just lose her gorram mind? Again?!
Hell, we don’t need Joshua calming the passengers, we need him in here calming our engineer. Yes, just call Joshua the chamomile tea of our ship and Rina, the ship’s resident twitch. A match made in heaven, really.
The signal that’s now pinging from us has multiple frequencies squealing away, too many for us to jam. And then there’s the matter of the cables to deal with too. A sweep of the sensors show there are no more hydras out there within range. Still, it’s the pinger that hinks Rina the most.
Rina: Are we slow enough now that I can go outside and start hacking off the gorram cables? Kill that pinger, at least?
Nika: (dryly) Uh-huh. I can come to a full stop, yeah.
Because the damage has already been done. Why the hell not? Nika starts shutting us down. The suits are aft and belowdecks. Rina rises to get suited up.
Kiera: Need some help?
Rina: (curt) Yeah. How good are you in a suit?
Kiera: Fairly okay.
Rina: All right. Let’s go.
Nika: Whoever sent such things will be coming up behind them. One would assume.
Rina: Tell you what. I’ll stop by the engine room first and tell it to run a diagnostic so it’ll have something for me to work on when I get back. I’ll ping it to the bridge.
Joshua gets back on the PA as she walks out.
Joshua: Technical difficulties have passed. Please resume your normal operations aboard the ship.
Rina detours to the engine room to get that diagnostic running. She notices that the readouts and dials on the consoles are reading strangely. Depolarizations, repolarizations, and other such unpleasant things … Not good. Not good at all. Growling, Rina hits the wall comm and hails the bridge.
Rina: Whatever you do Nika, don’t pulse. We’re screwed.
Rina: (sighing) Well … the doophickey that helps us pulse and stay on course has been depolarized. In layman’s terms.
Nika: You mean our gyroscope doesn’t work anymore?
Rina: That and a whole lot more.
Rina cuts the comm and hustles to join Kiera at the suits locker. On the bridge, Joshua takes the copilot’s chair, saying:
Joshua: I believe in layman’s terms that’s actually “We’re boned”. Cuz I’m a layman and that was more complicated than it had to be.
Nika: (nods to the hydra we can see) And that is sorta like a net.
Joshua: And I assume the people who sent the net are on their way?
Nika: (checks sensors) Not yet.
Joshua: Okay. She’s going to cut it off, right?
Nika: There’s some kind of pinger on us. She’s headed out there to turn it off, yes.
Joshua: Maybe I’m wrong, but isn’t there a second one? Is it pinging?
Nika: No, we’re pinging.
Joshua: No, no. If the one attached to us is pinging, is the second one pinging?
Nika: I don’t know. I’ll check.
Joshua: Cuz that is a big difference. If they’re both pinging then our goal should be to get the cables off and run before removing the pinging and … I’ll just stop talking now.
Nika: I get it.
Joshua: All right. Well, she’ll do what she does best …
Rina and Kiera suit up. Rina is all fired up to get out there and go to town on the hydra. She checks their helmet seals and forestalls the visible question on Kiera’s face.
Rina: Yes. It makes your butt look fat. Let’s go.
Kiera: No, I’m more asking what the hell am I cutting this off with?
Rina hands Kiera a cutting torch. They step into the airlock and as it’s cycling through Rina holds up her tether to Kiera can see it.
Rina: That’s one cable I’m not cutting. D’you wanna daisy-chain or d’you wanna go independent?
Kiera: I wanna go independent. If we daisy-chain and one of us gets cut and both of us go? Uh-uh.
Rina: Okay. Independently.
Kiera: That way I can say as you’re floatin’ away, “Bye!”
Rina: “Don’t forget to write!” (laughs) “Send us a postcard!”
The suit comms are up and running and Joshua catches the last part of that. He comms through on their channel.
Joshua: I would be mightily perturbed if that happens.
Kiera: O-kay. And your opinion matters (pinches fingers close together) … that much.
Joshua: And that matters more than most people for you.
Kiera: That’s true. I’ve achieved that much opinion and worry and concern about you. Okay, I’ll feel a little guilty and then I’ll go drink and get over it.”
Rina: Well, damn. (laughs) You crack me up.
They both hear the click as Joshua keys off their channel.
Kiera: Kiera is not known for her warm-and-fuzzy.
Rina: You would let your little spitty kitty die? (laughs again) You bitch.
Kiera: I’d make every effort to save you. But only because I like him. Because I’m fond of him and he’d cry a lot and I can’t handle that.
Rina: (unoffended) So it isn’t about me.
Kiera: Yeah. The reason I’d save you is so he wouldn’t cry.
Rina: That works.
Rina opens the outer airlock door, tethers her line to an anchor point just outside and steps off. Kiera does the same right behind her. On the bridge, Joshua turns to Nika.
Joshua: We’ll let Dean know what the situation is? Because—
Nika: This is all his fault? Yes. Go ahead.
Joshua: That wasn’t the reasoning but with your permission I will go, and I will.
Nika: Sure seems like it’s all his fault to me.
Joshua: I didn’t say it wasn't his fault, Captain. I said it wasn’t my reasoning behind this particular decision to tell him.
Nika: Okay, you justify it any way you have to be able to manage it.
Joshua: Yes, ma’am.
Joshua finds and tells him. He takes it pretty calmly. Rather well, considering.
Joshua: I just want you to know and be prepared.
Dean: If you would pass on to your Captain, would it be permissible for us to arm ourselves? In the event of a possible boarding?
Joshua: I will ask her and I will be back with the decision shortly.
Back to the bridge Joshua goes.
Joshua: So. Captain. I’m trying to think about how he wants to be armed, to arm themselves as we get boarded.
Nika: When our sensors say we need armin’, we’ll talk about it.
Joshua: How much time will they have?
At the moment, we’re sitting dead in space. They’ll be pretty much on us before we can get away. Unless that changes, boarding isn’t a question of “if” but rather of “when”.
Joshua: To be honest, there’s—I mean, unless you think they’re going to take over the ship at this point?
Nika: Thank you for putting that out into the Universe.
Joshua: It had to be said. I don’t think they’re going to. To be honest, they can take over the ship now, without being armed. (off her look) You didn’t need me to say that, did you? There’s a lot more of them than us and we’re kind of concerned with other things at the moment—Please don’t give me that look. Please don’t give me that look. I’m just trying to get the facts out there.
Nika gusts a sigh and growls through her teeth, resigned.
Nika: Fine …
Joshua: Yes, ma’am.
Joshua goes back to Dean.
Joshua: You have the Captain’s permission to be armed.
Dean: All right.
For the first time since they boarded the ship, Dean’s people seem to have a glow and an energy and a spark about them. Dean delivers his orders in Marine-like fashion and they snap to, excited. This is what they’ve trained for. They head below decks to their cargo containers.
The Lambs of Megiddo arm and suit up. Marcus Dean dons an interesting almost-suit-of-armor with an iron collar and selects a weapon which is rather unusual. It’s like a rifle but also has a wicked curving blade attached to the underside that goes halfway up and down the length of the barrel. Not quite bayonet, not quite axe but somewhere between. He marshals his people together with skill and precision, clearly showing his military roots as a Marine. Joshua doesn’t interfere but observes everything before going forward to the bridge to report back to Nika.
Meanwhile, Kiera and Rina gain the top of the hull and see a burst of fine wire cables have mostly entangled our grav rotor. They’ve snarled up other places as well, but the rotor is one of the more crucial to our well being. They haven’t penetrated our hull, they haven’t actually damaged anything. Just tangled them up. Mind, in the weightless vacuum of space, this is less a problem than it would be if we were to take our girl in this condition through atmo With sufficient time, we should be able to cut through or pull off the looser cables and unwrap our ship from them.
Rina starts to swear at the work she’s staring at.
Rina: Bozhe moi! I work hard, I bring home meow mix and then this happens. Of all the gorram luzi tah mah de asinine—
Joshua: (over comms) Rina.
Rina: —bào zhà wù ruttin’ dierma—
Joshua: Update. How long?
Rina: About two weeks short of forever.
Joshua: Okay, let’s get a realistic update.
Rina: Give me a few more minutes and I’ll be able to give you a more realistic update. Shut up and let me work.
Joshua: Yes, ma’am.
We’ll need to work in two hour shifts—the maximum air our suits can hold—several times over, returning inside to recharge our oxy supplies. Add the fact two hours in space feels like 16 hours on the ground and you’ve got one backbreaking nasty job on your hands.
On the bridge, Joshua catches flak from Nika as he approaches.
Nika: (annoyed) What now?
Joshua: You’re making me not to want to come to you with ideas when you look at me that way.
Nika: Today? Today, you’re armin’ passengers and you want to come up with new ideas?
Joshua: Speaking of arming passengers—
Nika just bursts out into frustrated laughter before he can finish his statement. Because, really, what else can you do?
Joshua: We do have, unless we got rid of them when I wasn’t paying attention but we do have the weapons systems aboard. Right?
Nika: Yeah, the cargo container’s got the weapons in it.
Joshua: There’s a good chance, a very good chance, that one of the passengers is better equipped to use it than we are. And I’d like to see if Dean can find somebody to take that role if it came to that point.
Nika: Bring Dean here.
Joshua: I’ll do that.
Topside, Rina and Kiera have made it past the cables to the body of the hydra. It’s about the size and dimension of a garbage can. Rina decides to kill its pinger, cut the damned thing free, then drag it back to her machine shop to dissect later. Finding the pinger, however, isn’t as straightforward as it initially seems and the women near their two hour air limit without actually disabling it. Their oxy alerts breep! and normal operating procedure would have the wearers return to base to restock their air.
Recharging the suits would take several hours, during which time the pinger would still be broadcasting. Rina knows she’s got air left and decides to take advantage of it.. Damned if she’s going to let that pinger squeal a second longer than it has to. Rina detaches her tether from the hull and hands it to Kiera, then tells her over the suit comms:
Rina: I’m gonna give you my line. Yank me in after ten minutes. I’m almost done here.
Kiera: What’s your dial reading?
Rina: I’ll be fine. Go. If I’m not back in ten, reel me in.
Kiera: Did you fudge on what you told me or were you being honest?
Rina: (crap) Seven minutes.
Kiera: I’m pullin’ you in at five.
Rina: Fine. I’ll work faster.
Kiera has a choice to make: The rear of the ship is 150 feet from our airlock and it’s not a straight shot. There’s stuff you have to go around—Lagniappe for instance—and time spent going around things equals air time used. Therefore simply yanking Rina in isn’t the safest thing to do. There are too many obstacles she can slam into. Line-of-sight hauling is safer but it also keeps Kiera out in the Black on her own dwindling air supply. Kiera weighs her options and chooses a spot halfway to the airlock and hopes Rina can finish what needs doing in time. Hell, Kiera resolves to pull the engineer back in four minutes. After about three minutes, Kiera’s oxy gauge starts glowing and pinging in earnest. She comms Rina.
Kiera: My air’s starting to go.
Rina: Secure my line where you are. Go on ahead.
Kiera: Oh hell no.
With a growl and a curse, Rina manages to grab the last elusive wire and snip it. The pinger falls silent.
Rina: Okay. I’m coming.
Which is good because Kiera’s already hauling on Rina’s line. The air is getting thin in both their suits, Kiera’s walking backward and pulling, and Rina’s line yanks hard aft. Kiera gives a mighty tug, using valuable air, and finds the line fast. Her chest is starting to hurt, the air is getting too thin.
Kiera: Rina. What the hell?
Rina: (terse) Fouled up. Go on without me.
Rina: Keep this up, I might think you have a heart of gold under that crusty exterior.
Kiera: No I don’t. I’m not going to watch your boyfriend cry. Get the hell over here.
Rina: Working on it.
Kiera: You need help?
Rina: I think I got it. You got less air. Keep on going.
Her line is fouled on a combination of equipment and hydra cable. Rina’s hurting for air—she had less in reserve because she’d been doing the more strenuous work—and the lack is making it hard to focus her strength on getting her line free. Not that she’s letting on with Kiera.
Rina: You got less air. Keep on going.
Kiera: Not going to. I can hold my breath. Come on.
Rina knows it’s going to take more time than she has air to disentangle her line. She cuts herself loose and starts hand-over-handing herself back to the airlock. Rina kicks off a container strut to propel herself forward and makes it to Kiera. She grabs Kiera and pulls the woman with her toward the airlock. The air in both the suits is practically gone and both women are gasping hard. The airlock looms ahead, it lights blinking green for go-ahead, promising life and air just beyond the door. It’s only yards away. Both women push off for it. Kiera grabs the airlock jamb just as Rina fumbles and flies past the hull for deep space.
Rina: Cào nĭ mā!