Episode 714: Business as Usual, Part Four
We start suiting up.
Joshua: (to self) Simple.
Arden: It's better than something complex.
Rina: She's not going to expect it from one of her jack-booted goons. (thumps the armor)
Nika: What do we do with Kolya in the meantime? (off Rina's look) He can't go with us. He's going to be in the middle of this fight and he's also gakked up on drugs already. We can't put his helmet on him.
Rina: Can't we put one of these on?
She holds up a helmet from the regular tac armor. Not that it might make any difference. The drugs we want to protect him from aren't in his helmet, they're on his person somewhere. The signal to activate delivery originates from his helmet, triggered by coded comm signal.
Rina: So we take the comms out of that.
Nika: My concern is that he is not even capable of doing more than you pushing him where you need him to go. He's a liability in this instance. We need to put him somewhere safe.
Rina: That, I'm willing to do.
Nika: He cannot come with us to the bridge of the Ark. That said. Can we secret him somewhere in the Ark itself—
Rina: Or on our ship.
Nika: And then get him to stay put.
Oh. Huh. Wrinkle in the plan.
Kiera: Well, we got sedatives. But what happens when we sedate him?
Joshua: To be honest—no offense Beggar, but do you want to be involved in a stealth mission?
Beglan: I wanna save these people.
Joshua: I agree.
Beglan: I can do something to—
Nika: Yes, you can. You can take Kolya back to our ship and trying to radio out to some of our people to let them know what's happening. And get us some back-up out here.
Beglan: You know, if we … well, it's just … if you wanted them to think that we had left, that we'd escaped …?
Joshua: By … taking our ship and taking off with it?
Beglan: Well, yes. Sending it off automatically or one of those things.
Joshua: It could work. But could we get it back if we sent it off by remote like that?
Nika: No. (hard) I'd be willing to sacrifice the ship for that particular aspect of the situation.
Joshua: That's brilliant, actually.
Rina: Yes. We can pre-program the course and have it rabbit out of here.
Nika: But they're not going to chase that.
Joshua: (shakes head) We don't care if they chase it. The idea is not to chase it. The idea is that they're going to assume that we're on it.
Joshua: It's brilliant. It's bloody brilliant. We need to get to our ship. That's Step A. And then we can go from there. That seem reasonable?
Arden: You want to program our ship to go away.
Nika: We need to program our ship for a course that will take it to where we can broadcast where we need it. That way if they blow it up, they blow it up but if it gets out of here, it can broadcast and get us some help.
Rina: Turning it into one big crybaby.
Nika: Essentially. (speculative) What about your contacts on the Ark?
Rina: My contacts?
Nika: Mmm. If our great big crybaby goes screamin', you think they might respond?
Rina: They might. I can program it on channels that only they will intercept.
While Rina and her Captain hash out the details, Joshua's talking to Arden who doesn't seem too sanguine on the whole idea.
Joshua: (points to the deck) I don't think we can get to the bridge of this ship.
Arden: Yeah, we can do it.
Joshua: You really think we could?
Arden: Yes. There's only one bulkhead door between us and them.
Joshua: The problem is not the bulkhead door—I mean, it is a problem, but the problem is every computer on this thing is security locked.
Arden: We haven't tried to hack into the secured computers yet.
Joshua: Do you think you can do it?
Arden: Given enough time.
Joshua: Do we have that amount of time?
Arden: That's the question.
Joshua: Yeah. (cuts a look at Sherman)
Sherman: I don't know how long you would let this go on … If there was an alert …? If the men in there told them, how long do you think they'd wait before they came onto the ship?
Joshua: I think we should launch our ship.
Nika: We're going to have to launch ours. We'll have to make her a great big crybaby and she's going to be calling for Rina's Ark. And to our other allies, as possible.
Arden: Rina's ark?
Rina: My Ark contacts.
Joshua: The Underground.
Arden: (groks) Oh!
Joshua: All right, ladies and gentlemen. Let's move.
We start cracking into the supplies.
Nika: Everybody into suits. Grab a couple energy bars along the way. I know you hate them but eat them anyway.
Joshua: (glee!) Energy bars.
Rina: They're not so bad. I like the chocolate-colored ones.
Joshua: Energy bars are awesome.
Rina: All the vitamins and minerals and stuff you can't pronounce.
Arden: It's the theme song that gets in my mind that won't go away that I hate. (off Joshua's look) Don't. Don't, don't, don't—
Joshua starts singing the insidious jingle anyway.
Joshua: Fruity Oaty Bar… —Kill! … Oh, wait. Sorry. (laughs) That's not my trigger. That was River's. You don't wanna know what Johann's trigger was.
Arden: No, I don't.
Rina and the others meanwhile are going through the weapons. In addition to the suits, food supplies, APC, and limpet mines, we find Chempliant in dispensing shotgun shells, missiles, both EMP and plasma grenades and …
Rina: RPGs! Yes! I'm in Heaven. I'm taking a coupl—
Rina: Captain …
Rina: But I—
Nika: You know why? (off Rina's look) Do you know why?
Rina: Go on. You're going to tell me anyway.
Nika: There are a quarter million innocent people asleep on that ship.
Arden: And you say that like it's a bad thing.
Joshua: That's one thing and another thing is, how many of these guys walking around have you seen carrying RPGs?
Rina: How do you know they're not? We've only seen eight of them.
Thinking back on it, the crew does remember one of the troops carrying an RPG when they captured us. Rina and Kiera want to take one each to even up their odds. Nika and Joshua plead caution. RPGs can cause a ton of damage of used right … or wrong.
Kiera: I'm still gonna take one. In a hallway? I don’t think I'm going to make too big a hole.
Nika: (to Rina) So, take one.
Rina: (taking!) Thank you.
Joshua: (to Rina) Just please, exercise caution.
Rina: I'm taking grenades.
Joshua: Exercise caution. Again, and again, and again.
Nika: For God's sake, yes. Bear in mind that that weapon can put a hole in the damn bulkhead. Last resort.
Beglan: Point away from face.
Nika: Do not point unless you intend to shoot.
Joshua: And to be honest, if you're thinking about shooting it, stop for a second and think again whether it's a wise idea, because we don't know how many systems are linked to what. Because I would really really really hate to accidentally kill a quarter million people.
Rina: I'm a ships engineer.
Joshua: I understand you're the ship's engineer but put a freakin' RPG in your hands and you, like, go a little bit—
Rina: You think I don't know everything that could go wrong if an RPG hits something?
Joshua: You're off your drugs.
Rina: So are you. So is everyone.
Joshua: I've been off my drugs for a long time. I handle it a lot better.
Rina: (sighing) Let's go. I have ammo. I have gun. I have RPG.
Kiera: It's okay—(shoulders RPG)—Captain, have I ever let you down when I had a choice? When have I ever let you down?
Nika: I shot your mother in the back of the head. I'm a little sketchy about the idea that you might want payback.
Kiera: I am not going to pay you back. Besides, it wasn't my mother.
Nika: This is true.
Kiera: And besides, I needed you to do it, cuz I couldn't.
Rina: Okay, let's go.
Nika lays down the law: anyone who wants one will take a pistol, two spare clips, an assault rifle or an RPG—not both. Arden takes four doses of Chempliant and a shotgun, a pistol and three clips. Rina gives up the RPG in favor of taking three mines in a satchel along with her pistol, assault rifle and clips. Kiera has an RPG with two reloads for it. Nika takes up a pistol, an assault, rifle and three plasma grenades. Beglan refuses to take a weapon, as does Joshua.
Joshua: I am a weapon. Of pure distilled awesome.
Kiera: Could you please at least carry an extra assault rifle?
Kiera: You don't have use it. You just have to carry it and be completely repulsed by it.
Joshua: But why? What would I do with it?
Kiera: Hand it to me.
Arden: Or to someone who needs it.
Thus loaded for bear, we have to decide exactly what we'll do next. Get back to Exeter and program her on the crybaby course? Or drop Kolya off with Beglan aboard Exeter and try something else?
Beglan: I'll do whatever I can to help, whatever it is.
Joshua: I would rather have you here. Because a) it's another mind thinking about things. and b) another engineer thinking about things and … I'd rather have you here. And I sort of love my ship, but it's not you. Beggar and Kolya stays with us, rather than staying on our ship. I'd rather have Beggar with us.
Nika: Can we trust Kolya to stay still? Should we sedate him? Or trust he won't do something? It's a huge risk.
Joshua: It's a huge risk but I think that having another engineer with us is better than sidelining him. (off Nika's look) I'm not sure if I'm right. I'm asking you if—
Nika: That's the thing. I'm not sure either. I don't have an answer for that.
Joshua: Rina. I need you to work with me here. Give me your straightforward, off the top of your head answer. Do you … Would you prefer Beggar to come with us to give us an extra engineer? Or would you prefer him to stay with Kolya?
Nika: That's not fair.
Joshua: I know. I'm not happy with it but—
Nika: You can't put that on her. That's my choice.
Joshua: Well, then … Then it's your choice. Make it. I'm happy with that too.
Nika: Sedate him. Beggar comes with us.
Arden: I'm not sure if sedation will work with him, what with the stuff put into him right now.
Kiera: Yeah, cuz he's got adrenaline.
Sherman: It would be really dangerous to just put him out.
Nika: What would happen if we tried to sedate him?
Sherman: It's … When we do it, we hook him up to a life support system, so—
Nika: Oh. That's the answer right there. No. Beggar's going to have to stay.
Beglan and Kolya are coming along with us. And as for Sherman himself, what are we going to do with him? Nika says we're letting him go.
Sherman: You guys are the best.
Kiera: Remember that when we accidentally have to shoot you.
Kiera slaps him with a sedative patch and Sherman goes out like a light. We leave him just inside the airlock before we leave. Nika has us pause before we step out and reviews the plan. We can't afford to have anyone be on the wrong page in our playbook.
Nika: We need to get to our ship as fast as possible and get our ship out of there.
Rina: There's a grav sled. We'll go faster if we get Kolya on it.
And that's what we do. We get Kolya and a few of the crew on that sled while the others take turns pushing it. Those riding get to rest until it's their turn to push. The tac suits are heavy, bulky to move in, and we're not at our physical best. Every bit of resting up we can do will help us in the long run. And we need every advantage we can get. The Ark is HUGE and distances are long and punishing on foot.
We take the back halls and lesser travelled corridors to our ship so as to avoid running into the opposition. Which isn't hard to do, really. The Ark is HUGE and we're trying to avoid maybe two dozen people in an area that's nearly 500 square miles. We see a few robots along the way. They don't stop us. We wonder if they're transmitting our location to our enemies but no one shows up to take us back into custody. Our trip to our ship pretty much goes on without a hitch. Once we get there, however, we see there are two guards at our airlock. They are dressed in armor just like us. It's time to see if our armor is a good enough disguise to get past the guards.
What if we walk up and announce we are here to relieve them of guard duty? Nika suggests we don't even do that much. Just walk aboard as if we've got our own set of orders. No need to clear it with the guards first. Kiera suggests we simply take them out because it lends credence to our story that we're escaping the Ark onto our ship and blasting out of there.
We have Beglan stay with Kolya and the grav sled out of sight around the corner. Kolya and Beglan are both in their armor and wearing their helmets to disguise them. Rina disabled the comms gear in Kolya's helmet to keep him safe from remote controlled drug injections—making yet another reason to keep someone with him at all times. If he goes into physical distress, he would be unable to call us for help.
The rest of us march up to the airlock. One of the guards steps forward.
Guard: (barks) Entry on the ships is … (pauses) … not authorized.
Arden: (ditto) Orders overridden by Commander.
Guard: Check. (comms) Squad Leader, we have a—
Shi. Looks like we're going to have to blast our way in.
Shots are fired. Hits are traded back and forth. Everyone's wearing armor so damage is caused by bouncing around inside the armor from the impact. The crew quickly comes to realize just how augmented the Elect really are in order to simply move quickly in battle while wearing the suits. Though the suits do a great job of protecting the crew from dying instantly from gunfire, the suits are heavy and hard to maneuver in, making the crew easier to hit.
Of course, we're scoring hits too and when push comes to shove, it's five against two. We end up critically injuring first one guard, who blows up just like the BTs on Persephone, and then the other guard does the same a moment later. Those closest to the blast get walloped pretty harshly by the concussion, despite the damage their suits soak up. Nika and Rina are hardest hit but both manage to stay conscious. When the smoke clears, the crew is the only party left standing and the hull is thankfully intact. Despite the explosions, the Ark is still in one piece and we are now free to get aboard our ship and execute our ruse. And it had better be quick, because the explosions are not going to go uninvestigated by the opposition.
Rina hustles aboard to isolate the covert comms channel while Nika plots the course. And of course we get our message composed. Nika tells Rina where to send that message: to Tanner on Highgate. To PDF Decatur.
Nika: And I want you to send it to the Ark, on whatever frequencies you have for that.
Joshua: So what are we saying?
Nika: This is the Exeter.
Rina: (typing) "This is the Exeter."
Nika: Please pass along: Package obtained. We need back-up.
She has Rina attach their coordinates, based on what our spun-up nav computer tells us, with our delta added. Analyzing our nav feed, Nika reasons out that we're in no-man's land over Kalidasa. We're still moving at a pretty good pace. Anna and her crew interrupted our slow-down sequence and changed the Ark's thrust vector to send it off course. It is not going toward any point in particular but neither is it going where we wanted it to go. We're not in immediate danger of getting lost in the unmapped regions of space. We have some time before we pass completely beyond the last markers, but still—this a monkeywrench in our plans. Nika tells Rina to add Kiera's father to the list of transmission recipients.
Nika: Because he might be able to send help.
Arden: Yeah, cuz he's got such a great track record.
Nika: We don't know if we ever got through to him.
Joshua: You're the Captain, Captain.
Kiera: (shakes head) It's possible he's compromised cuz I've already tried to get through to him once.
Nika: Then if Kiera says no, then it's no.
Cross one rich industrialist off the list. Rina sends the message as a burst transmission rather than continuous broadcast, the better to keep it from being intercepted by Anna. All we need now is plot a course for our ship. We're over Kalidasa. We know people there. Nika chooses Angel. It's our home base and and once Christian sees we're incoming, he would send someone to intercept our ship before it crashes into the planet.
Rina sets the engines to go to pulse as soon as it's possible to do so. Kiera grabs her keepsake rock from her cabin. Arden retrieves Jahn, puts him in his cat carrier, and hands him to Beglan to watch over. Rina's wedding rings were taken from her when Anna's goons searched her, so there's nothing on Exeter that she wants save the people on it. We've no further loose ends to tie off. We've lost our ship once before, twice before if you count getting hijacked by the Lenore crew, so this is nothing new.
We set everything to go and get the hell off our ship. Exeter breaks free with a shudder and takes off. There's a window port near the airlock and we see her leave. A few shots from Anna's ship bounce ineffectually off her armored hull and then Exeter goes to pulse. It's all up to Fate whether Nika's plotting and Rina's comms transmission work as intended.
Kiera: (softly) Bye. You were a good ship.
Arden: I never liked that ship anyway.
Nika: (to Rina)You want your wedding rings. I want my diamond. Let's go get that bitch.
We turn away and make for a hidden bivouac—one of the many crammed-to-the rafters cargo containers. It will afford us a place to hide and supplies should we need them. The trip is uneventful and we find a container that suits our purposes. Once we secure ourselves inside, the bulky armored helmets come off. We all take a moment to breathe. Unwind. Shut down.
It's a respite that's all too brief. Arden and Joshua are the most alert and they pick up signs that a ship is docking with the Ark. They tell the rest of the crew.
Rina: We've got company.
Arden: It's Anna's refuel ship.
Nika: With reinforcements.
Beglan: So, we all ready for the suicide mission?
Joshua: It's not a suicide mission!
Nika: Yes it is.
Joshua: Not it's not. I'm involved.
Kiera: Joshua won't die. The rest of us will.
Nika: (Laughs) I was gonna say.
Rina: Please don't.
Joshua: I've got an awesome aura. You didn't know that?
Arden: (lewd gesture) We talking a fifteen-foot aura? A twenty-foot aura? Something like that?
Joshua: No, we're talking, like, a hundred-foot aura.
Arden: (yeah, right) Uh-huh.
The bickering goes on as we suit up and get back on the job at hand: surviving long enough to take back the Ark from Anna and holding it until the help we've called for arrives.