Episode 116. Plagued

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Present: Mary, Terri, Bobby and Jay
Air Date: 07 Apr 2009

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Saturday, 03 Dec 2518
Kuiper II Class, Summer’s Gift
Stonehenge Spaceport, Salisbury
Kalidasa (Xuan Wu) System

We’ve touched down at the spaceport after dropping Mike off somewhere in the hinterlands. Stonehenge isn’t a terribly big spaceport as these things go, but considering where it is, it doesn’t have to be. It’s on a plain surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Not a whole lot of industry going on in the middle of nowhere needing a big sprawling spaceport facility. As far as industry on our ship, not a whole lot of that is going on either: Nika and Rina have woken to the new day with sore throats and feeling like crap. We decide not to fuel up to full, being a little over half full at the moment. Christian suggests investing in a hydrogen processor, so we can skim the oceans on the worlds we visit and crack hydro fuel out of it. Good idea. We should look into that.

Arden is already a bit paranoid about illness aboard the ship, given the warning Potemkin sent him, and when Nika shows up upon waking to tell him about her ailment, his alarms go off. Arden decides to do a full work-up, blood tests and all, on her. Before getting started he explains to Christian that Nika’s come down with something and he’d like us all to stay aboard until he can determine whether or not it’s contagious. Christian acknowledges and goes off to tell Rick the news. Rick is in his container, setting up terrariums for Evil Tick and Smudge, his pigmy alligators.

Christian: We can’t leave the ship.
Rick: Why?
Christian: I feel great, but the Doctor’s quarantined us.

Rick feels the same and shrugs, stating he’d just as soon continue working on the terrariums. Christian offers to come back and help later. Sure, no prob. Christian leaves the man to it. On his way back to Arden, Christian spots Rina rummaging around the galley for something cold to drink. Her throat’s sore and bothering her.

Christian: You don’t need something cold. Trust me.
Rina: (head and shoulders in the fridge) What happened to all the juice?
Christian: We ran out of it.
Rina: (straightening) Crap. Okay. Water.
Christian: You don’t need it. Sit down. Sit down.

She resists but he gets her into a chair.

Rina: (pissed) Why?
Christian: Because I’m going to make you something.

He quickly boils up some water with some lemon juice and pours it into a coffee mug and hands it to her. She looks at it dubiously.

Rina: What is it?
Christian: Water and lemon.
Rina: Why?
Christian: Just drink it.

It’s blistering and she sputters on it.

Rina: (coughing) God, that’s hot. (swallowing) No honey? Do I have to drink all of this?
Christian: Yes. And meanwhile I need a number to contact Mike at.
Rina: God, I hate mornings….what?
Christian: I need a number to contact Mike at. I need to leave a message for him. I know it’s not something you want to think about but I need that contact info.
Rina: I'm not following you. Why?
Christian: The doctor has quarantined us. Nika may be ill. I need the number to let Mike know that he may be sick, too.

We all know of the message Potemkin left for Arden…and Rina connects the dots.

Rina: (quietly) Contact the Abbey. Tell the Abbot there.

Christian goes to the bridge and calls the Abbey, and leaves a message explaining that Mike has been exposed to something contagious and may have infected everyone he’s come in contact with. Task done, he goes off to change out the sheets on everyone’s beds—just in case.

Meanwhile, back at med bay, Arden is getting a throat culture off himself to compare to Nika’s. Actually, he gets everyone in there and swabs us all. His first guess is strep throat, except it’s covered by our inoculations packages. So it can’t be strep. So what the hell is it? And as the results of the tests come in, he’s noticing other things wrong around the sick-bay. Stuff’s not organized properly and how the hell is he going to keep six different people’s samples and test results straight if everything’s a jumbled up mess? Speaking of messes, the place is looking downright filthy. Hasn’t this place even been properly cleaned? As he grabs a rag and spray cleaner, Arden draws himself up short and realizes his behavior isn’t normal—he’s not normally so OCD about anything—and suspects that he’s caught whatever Nika’s got, only it’s affecting him differently.

It’s affecting Rina differently, too. She’s developed floaters in her vision. Nothing like the usual ignorable flyspecks, no. We’re talking man-sized floaters that keep hitting her from the corner of her eye, so that she’s constantly turning around to see who it is…and there’s no one there. She knows there’s no one there, but the constant sense of someone hovering on the periphery is making our resident Twitch more twitchy….and now on top of suffering a raging sore throat, she’s got to worry about shooting someone by accident.

She leans around the doorjamb and sticks her head into med bay.

Rina: I’m seein’ things.
Arden: (organizing) There are lots of things on board.
Rina: I’m seein’ things that aren’t there. Like…floaters on steroids.
Arden: (distracted now….) Okay. Um….
Rina: (impatiently) Is this normal? With a sore throat?

Arden gets his act together and examines her again. A quick opthamologic scan shows up nothing abnormal. Aside from some photosensitivity, her eyes seem fine. Arden asks her the general shape of the floaters.

Arden: (grinning) Seeing anything phallic?
Rina: (growling) Where’s my wrench?
Arden: (sobering) There’s nothing physical there. It may be a symptom of what we’re going through. (types it into his ’book) It’s in the data base now. Try to ignore it.
Rina: (grim) All right.
Arden: And maybe lock up your guns. (off her look) No, let me rephrase: Lock up your guns.
Rina: I’ll put it in my quarters.
Arden: (No.) You can get to your quarters.
Rina: Yes, I can get to my quarters.
Arden: So lock it up. Please.
Rina: All right. I’ll go do that. Chill out.
Arden: Well I’m just afraid you’ll see something and shoot it, and it might be one of us. And you really didn’t see something, and you did see something but you thought it was something else. So just….lock up the gun.
Rina: Is it bad that that made sense to me?
Arden: Yes.
Nika: (eavesdropping from the door) I’m not touchin’ it, I’m not touchin’ it. Go lock up your gun in the armory.
Rina: Yes, ma’am.

Rina locks her weapons up in the arms locker belowdecks. Those floaters still have her twitching around to look and it’s hell—she keeps reaching for a gun that’s no longer there—but she grits her teeth and carries on.

Christian, meanwhile, looks to everyone’s comfort—stripping the old sheets off our beds for new, and making soup. Rick finds him there and leans against the counter, talking to keep him company.

Rick: I feel horrible. You?
Christian: (stirring soup) Long story short—we stole this ship from the one who stole it.
Rick: That’s always a good thing.
Christian: And his brother died in the process. Actually he didn’t die in the process but he died at around the same time, and this maybe in revenge for it. I’m sorry you’re caught in it.
Rick: There’s not much we can do about it now?
Christian: No. Not until Arden can figure out what’s wrong with us.
Rick: So we’ll just communicate with Arden, let him know what our symptoms are.
Christian: Yeah. I’ve already told him mine. Go ahead and tell him yours.

And Rick does. Arden has pieced together by now that we’re suffering from some sort of bacterial infection, likely streptococcus, but a beefier strain that’s resisting our standard inoculations and that has a hyper-accelerated progression through its host. Antibiotics would be the standard treatment for something like this and in the absence of any contraindications, that’s what he gives us. All except Nika, who’s allergic to penicillin and its derivatives, and as luck would have it, that’s all we’ve got aboard. She prepares to white-knuckle it through on soup, fluids and as much rest as she can cadge.

The fact that the bug is an accelerated one, it’s very likely we’ll have it burn on through our systems quickly and we’ll recover quickly afterward. We’ll just have to wait and see. Of course, in the normal course of an untreated strep infection, possible complications could include kidney failure, pneumonia, epiglotitis, and even temporary OCD-like behavior. All of which should go away under antibiotic treatment, which Arden gives us without delay.

And that’s about the size of it. Everyone by now is feeling tired and sick. We take our meds—save Nika—and we do our best to carry on as we wait for the drugs to work.

We speculate on the germ as we suck down our soup that night at dinner. Christian’s experience as a Companion argues against this being the typical streptococcal strain—standard inoculation packages would block its contraction, otherwise. Therefore it’s a sure bet that whatever we’ve got is a specially engineered strain and that means money. Arden counters that it could be a naturally mutated strain, such as crops up from time to time. Then again, he’s not ruling out the engineered-strain theory either. After all, in theory, hyper-intelligent apes shouldn’t exist and we’d managed to stumble upon half a dozen in the past two weeks. What are the odds of that happening?

Christian: Now. we don’t know that they were hyper-intelligent—
Arden: Oh, yes we do know they were hyper-intelligent. We just don’t know if they were psychic.

All the difference in the world, old man.

Since it’s obvious by now that this strain we’ve got is more virulent than normal, we wonder if we’ve infected Mike and through him, the entire Abbey back on Salisbury. Arden disagrees, stating that the more virulent the strain, the more exacting it must be about its environment. Mike is likely safe—sunlight and open air should be sufficient to overpower a nasty but finicky germ like this one. If the germ encountered the wilds of Salisbury, or so Arden’s convinced, it couldn’t do much, if anything at all. Christian disagrees, stating we could have just killed off an entire Abbey of monks.

Arden: Well, we didn’t. Mr. Potemkin did. Mr. Potemkin Bin Laden.
Christian: What?
Arden: (eyeroll) I need to go back and do some more correlation on my databases.
Christian: Are you all right? I mean, obviously you’re not. You’re sick but….
Arden: Streptococcus in young children can cause neurological problems which result in an OCD-like condition.
Rina: And this is different from you how?
Christian: (to Rina) This is not the way Arden really is.
Arden: (to Rina) If you’re gonna come back like that, why don’t you go and arrange your wrenches in order from smallest to largest?
Rina: (snorting) Been there, done that.
Arden: Do it again. The other way.

Jeez, settle down, children.

Christian: I only mentioned it because I thought it was interesting that it happened to one of us who has been engineered to be a certain way. Just a thought.
Arden: I’ve also been bio-engineered to resist most diseases.
Christian: And what are the chances of paranoia and going nuts and insane and shooting things….?
Arden: Relatively high to good.
Nika: (to Rina) To the armory with you.
Rina: Fine. Take my knife, too. I can’t take my hands off. You’re just gonna have to live with me keeping them.

In fact, we all lock up our weapons. And take care of the keys—Christian will wear one around his neck and keep the other one in a secure location. Rina just rolls her eyes and gives everyone blanket permission to trank her if she starts shooting people indiscriminately. Sheesh.

But we lock up our guns, just in case.

This doesn’t help Nika, however, who must go without meds. Where’s the nearest decent hospital, anyway? Salisbury has one, but we don’t want to stay here. Beaumonde has one, but is also off our list for obvious reasons. Sho-Je Downs has several advantages, not the least of which we’ve never been in or caused trouble there before.

Sho-Je Downs is only twelve hours away on pulse. Nika’s feeling rocky but she’s up to flying us there if we leave now. We lift off Salisbury and head toward the sun, toward Sho-Je Downs and the possibility of proper meds for Nika. Christian sits with her on the bridge for the run, to keep her company and to keep an eye on her in case she gets worse.

Sunday, 04 Dec 2518
Kuiper II Class, Summer’s Gift,
En route to Sho-Je Downs
Kalidasa (Xuan Wu) System

Nika keeps herself in hot drinks to stave off the worst of the symptoms, but she’s finding it harder to breathe without wheezing or pain. She’s feeling like a thousand flavors of crap on top of everything else and it’s affecting her ability to fly. She narrowly misses the replica of Stonehenge installed outside the Spaceport, flying perilously close but getting clear of it in time.

No harm, no foul: close only counts in horseshoes.

Christian: Maybe I should take over.
Nika: Once we clear atmo, we should be all right.

We plot the course to Sho-Je Downs once we’re clear of atmo and call ahead with a message: we have a sick crew member aboard and Arden wants access to whatever medical facilities and supplies possible. He ends the message by listing Nika’s medical allergies and states that he’s interested in buying the meds for her as soon as poss. Sho-Je Downs seems dubious, and wants to see Arden personally upon pick-up of meds. Arden counters that he’d rather not—he doesn’t want to expose anyone to what Nika’s got. At which point Sho-Je Downs transfers him to traffic control. And thus begins the long-distance bureaucratic run-around.

Christian remarks to Nika that we’re letting Arden talk to people, again, and really, it should be Christian’s job since he’s so much better at it. He tries to repair the situation, taking over for Arden and talking Sho-Je Downs through another iteration of our woes. A Lieutenant Rivers answers our call.

Lt. Rivers: This is Lieutenant Rivers. Who is this?
Christian: This is Christian Edge. I am the First Officer of the Summer’s Gift. Hello.
Lt. Rivers: We’re told that you are bringing possible contagion to our airspace?
Christian: Ahhm…well, to be honest, we are experiencing some minor symptoms to something similar to strep and one of our crew members is allergic to penicillin.
Lt. Rivers: Ah.
Christian: We are not past the three-day infection period and we didn’t want to expose anyone. We’re being overly cautious I suppose, but….strep’s not fun for anyone.
Lt. Rivers: All righty. I’m going to route you to a parking orbit and you just stay on those coordinates. And we’ll get back to you.

Arden wants to know if we’ll get the drugs delivered up to us.

Lt. Rivers: That’s not my decision.
Arden: Whose decision is it?
Lt. Rivers: I don’t know.
Arden: Can you route me to the right person?
Lt. Rivers: Ah…..no. Here are your coordinates. And I’ll get back to you when we get them.
Christian: Thank you.

He gathers everyone back into the forward lounge and briefs us on the situation. We haven’t been turned away from Sho-Je Downs, but they are understandably a little concerned.

Rina: Hell, I’m concerned.

We’ve got good reason to be. All we’ve got is a set of coordinates and a promise of help coming our way, from people that don’t seem too thrilled to see us. There’s no turning back, however. There’s only going forward and hoping for the best. So we submit to Sho-Je Downs’ quarantine procedures and proceed to the coordinates, where we’re to park ourselves in isolated orbit and wait for the meds to arrive. After all, we’ve done nothing to warrant the Feds’ attention or any legal action, right? Christian thinks that as much as we may not like the Alliance at times we are better off having the best medical attention as possible, than not. We all agree on this course of action and Nika takes to her bed to wait it out.

When we get close enough, Christian will put us in parking orbit and wait as instructed. For the nonce, we hit pulse and fly the rest of the way in on normal speed. It’ll take about several hours once we drop out of pulse to cover the remaining distance, but it beats the hell out of flying straight—that would take days and none of us will last that long.

Six hours later, Nika starts having serious trouble breathing. Arden gets her to med bay and does what he can for her, hooking her up to an oxy feed. He keeps an eye on her. If her problems worsen, he’ll have to intubate and sedate her. For now, the oxy seems to be working.

The rest of us get steadily worse, though not as badly off as Nika, apparently. This bug’s got us firing on less than all cylinders. It’s getting hard to focus, hard to think, hard to do anything that doesn’t hurt. Christian shifts to the co-pilot seat while he can still move, and calls Rina in to take over.

Christian: You’re gonna have to pilot the ship.
Rina: Great. I can feel myself getting stupid-er.
Christian: I’m just gonna sit here…I’m right here to help you. You know as much if not more about piloting than I do.

As best as we can tell, we’re still on course. Another six hours has us really rocky. We’re hanging in there, but everyone—even Rick, though not as much—has gotten steadily worse. Rina’s kidney’s start failing. Christian sends her back to her quarters to lie down. Christian’s breaking out in rashes. Nika’s breaking out as well and having strange feverish dreams. Arden’s running a high fever and it’s affecting everything he does.

Nika tells Arden to get on the wave and tell the folk at Sho-Je Downs that we’re starting to show major symptoms. We need them to send medical personnel out to orbit with the meds, ASAP. While Arden argues it’s a waste of time, Sho-Je Downs would never agree to it, Christian gets on the horn and relays the information, advising we need to have our doctor confer with theirs. He’s just returning forward after checking on Rina when the monitor blares its alarm from med-bay.

Nika’s stopped breathing.

Christian calls for help from the rest of ablebodied and then moves to the bridge to get Sho-Je Downs on the horn. Rick moves over to help in med bay. Rina drags herself out of bed to man the bridge. As Arden and Rick work over Nika, getting her intubated and breathing, Christian gains the bridge and tells Sho-Je Downs our condition. Man down and intubated. Another man with ongoing renal failure. Others getting steadily weaker. Sho-Je Downs promises they will have an emergency team standing by and waiting for us on approach. Christian thanks them and signs off. He looks up at Rina as she arrives.

Christian: What are you doing here?
Rina: (B’Duh!) Flying the ship.
Christian: No you’re not. You’re worse off than I am.
Rina: I call shotgun.

And she drops into the copilot’s chair, nothin’ doin’, and straps in. We fly on. We arrive at the coordinates and park ourselves in orbit as ordered. Or as best we’re able, anyway. Christian calls in to Port Authority.

Christian: Port Authority, this is… Summer’s Gift. We are as close to parking orbit as we’re going to get. Because our pilot is …not capable of flying right now and we’re left in the hands of someone who’s not as great at it. But we’re here… Please come save our lives.
Port Authority: Hold your position.

Like we’ve got anywhere else we can go?

Christian: Roger that.
Rina: Oh, God, I think I have to pee…

It’s not a joke, she actually does. Christian calls Rick forward and the naturalist helps the engineer to the head. He’s in little better shape and together they manage to keep each other upright for the trip aft. There’s some feeble joking along the way, but really, it’s just too taxing to maintain even a sense of humor anymore.

Meanwhile, Nika’s suffering a really weird-assed fever dream.

She’s in a familiar room, an airlock from her past. She’s just finished making a sinister comment to an informant and as she speaks the victim comes into focus. It’s not the man she remembers from her mission on the Harbinger, but a woman.

Short. Dark haired. Russian.

It’s Rina.

To her horror, Nika realizes she’s taking pleasure in carving her friend up. Thoroughly mired in the dream, Nika’s angry at Rina. Angry because this is the woman who, in order to be captured, Mike had to seduce. And given Nika’s feelings for Mike, this is something she cannot forgive.

And before Nika can do more than blink, Rina tears into Nika with a verbal attack. Every shameful secret, every failure imagined or real, is dragged to the surface. She’s pathetic, she’s inadequate, she’s never going to amount to anything. There’s no way anyone would want her now. Hell, she never could keep a man with her. Her anger at her sister’s husband wasn’t over his abuse of Nala, but rather for his affection for her. Jealousy made Nika kill him, not the defense of her sister as she claimed... Rina goes on like this for some time. Nothing Nika does will shut the woman up, not words or blows or stabs with the knife she’s got in her hand. Nothing. And in the logic of such dreams, Rina takes the damage but continues despite, without missing a beat or slowing down.

It’s bloody, vicious and macabre. It’s impossible, it’s insane and there’s no escape.

And in the med bay, Nika’s heart stops.

Arden has no choice but to crack her open and massage her heart back to beating. He’s a great surgeon, he’s done this sort of procedure before, he’s confident he can do it again…but he’s sick and shaky and there is no time for the niceties. He gets her open, gets her heart beating, and closes her up as fast as possible. She’ll have a scar, commonly referred to in medical parlance as ‘the zipper’, and emergency over, Arden does what he can to ameliorate the damage done.

It’s painstaking work. But at the end of it, Nika still lives and Arden is still conscious.

As Arden monitors her condition, he continues to run tests on the bacteria making us ill. He’s got several culture dishes going, growing samples for testing and he finds that it’s reproducing in environments where it shouldn’t be capable of reproducing. Certainly it’s reproducing faster and more copiously than it should in order to justify how he’s finding it alive and robust on surfaces and on other areas where it would normally shrivel up and die. It’s as if the entire interior of our ship is constantly being bombarded with the stuff and it’s re-infecting us as we get weaker. Just where is this shit coming from? How is it spreading?

He comms Rina with his findings and together they puzzle out where the source of all this crap is hiding. Arden’s convinced that the germ is breeding somewhere and getting reintroduced to the ship’s environment somehow. Rina goes hunting for the hiding place. She’s rocky and not up for much, but she’s still got a feel for the ship, and she tunes everything out but the Gift.

None of the moving parts of the ship has been tampered with, so hunting there’d be a wash. What about passive systems?

And it hits her: waste reclamation.

Somebody was savvy enough to get into the system and dump a load of strep in the sewage soup in reclamation, where it could transfer into the algae tanks via the oxy and water recovery loop. The bug’s in our water and air systems and getting pumped throughout the ship.


Rina vents the bilge tanks right into space. Right along with the water and our algae—which makes our atmo. With the algae gone, we’ll have about twelve hours of air left before we have to retreat to our shuttle. Once the atmo on the shuttle is used up we’ll be down to our suits. Big damn snag: We have five souls aboard, but only four suits.

We’d best hope help arrives before we start drawing straws for that last suit.

Rina informs the crew of the good news and bad. Christian hails Port Authority again and tells them of our new problem and asks them to hurry. Port Authority acknowledges our plight and tells us to hang on. And they end the call.

We wait. It’s hard enduring the combination of hope and desperation. At least Nika’s spared the stress, being already out for the count. Rick gets on the horn to Port Authority and they insist they’re trying to help us, truly they are, but they haven’t got a real bio-hazard team and they’re trying to rustle up gear to handle biological contaminants, that’s why it’s taking them so long to get out to us. Please hang on, they’re coming. Rick asks if they could at least send a ship out to pump in some of their air, we’re running out of ours. Port Authority agrees they can’t deny us air, they’ll send someone up. Apparently Rick was persuasive enough and his celebrity status helped with these guys. Port Authority alerts us we’re drifting out of orbit and we respond that our pilot is out of commission and we’re on autopilot. Port Authority tells us to hold on, they’re coming.

The air starts getting thin. We start dropping off. Arden makes it to a chair in med bay before he goes. Christian lies in the pilot’s chair, strapped in place. Rick’s curled up with his alligators. Rina drags herself to the atmo router to redirect the air belowdecks to the upper, and when the rescue team finally arrive, they find her unconscious and still clutching the router controls.

She wakes up in a hospital bed dirtside ten days later.

Everyone’s survived, if a little shaky, and when the doctors are satisfied we aren’t going to keel over, they release us to pick up our lives where we’d left off.

Sho-Je Downs’ dock crews have flushed out ship’s systems completely. Bilge, water, atmo. They’d deconned everything down to the underwear in our drawers, the food in our refrigerator and the plants in Rick’s nursery. Our food is gone—nothing was left to chance. Six hundred-plus days of food taken right to the incinerators. Ricks plants died under the onslaught of steam and chemicals and UV. Nothing but our electronics and clothes survived the sweep, and even there we suffered losses. Anything delicate was ruined, leaving Nika out some choice pieces of evening dress and lingerie. Nearly everything in Christian’s wardrobe was wiped out. The rest of the crew had sturdier stuff and Rina’s coveralls are now the cleanest ever in months. Our electronics gear likewise underwent the treatment, and fared the best. Upon investigation, nothing seems damaged. At least we don’t have to worry about picking up any germs while surfing the Cortex or taking notes—at least, nothing that we didn’t subsequently put there ourselves.

And of course, after the shock of finding our home so thoroughly laundered, pressed and folded, came the shock of the bills. One thousand credits from the hospital and two thousand from Port Authority decon. Three thousand total.

Dear God.

We pool our shares, contributing a hundred credits each and combined with a hundred from the ship’s fund, we submit five hundred toward the hospital bill and work out a schedule of payments for the balance owed. As for the decon bill, we have no options left but to have a lien levied on our ship for the full amount and indenture ourselves to a business of the Port Authority’s choice: STT, a cargo company, are our masters now, and they quickly line up our first run--Two hundred tons of cargo bound for Bernadette.

Bernadette, home of one Joseph Sergeyevich Potemkin.

That proverbial frying pan is beginning to look pretty comfy compared to the fire we know awaits us.

There being no time like the present and already chafing under our indenture, we break atmo for Bernadette, and fly into our new lives of servitude and our uncertain future. We're still alive and we're still flyin'. In twenty days, we’ll know whether our perseverance was worth it.

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