Episode 118. Part 1

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Present: Mary, Terri, Bobby, Jay and Tony
Air Date: 21 Apr 2009

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Wednesday, 11 Jan 2519
Jamestown Station, Bernadette
White Sun (Bai Hu) system
10:30 hrs, local time

We are owners of our ship again, thanks to our help in putting Potemkin away on slaving charges. Di Lan Juen, Federal Marshal on the case, is doing what he can to expedite the reward money into Christian’s parents’ accounts for safekeeping. Christian’s parents advance us a generous 500 credits to cover living and business expenses til then. In the meantime, however, we’ve got the cargo Potemkin loaded onto the Gift that must needs delivery to Newhall. Furthermore, because Potemkin owned the lien on our ship at the time of lading and he’s now tied up in the courts, we will have to return to Bernadette after the Newhall cargo run in order to get paid. This doesn’t preclude our rustling up cargo for the return trip, but it does mean the 500 credits and whatever pennies we have in our pockets is all the cash we’ve got to work with.

We used up 560 hours of fuel getting to Bernadette and we’re practically running on fumes. That’s one-fifth of our ready money transferred into the gas tank.

And so it goes…

There is a bright spot in all of this. We’ve already upgraded several our containers into half-cargo/half luxury suites and we’ve lined up our first customers to occupy them: Sylvia and Mark Chao-Marshall, 60s-something couple from the Core. They’re on their way to their second honeymoon on Disraeli, a moon off Constance in the Kalidasa system. They are a vibrant couple, fit and energetic, and eager to experience adventure on a ‘tramp steamer’ heading to the Rim. The 600 they pay us puts paid the 300 credits we owe for the luxury container they’re occupying, so at least we don’t have that bit of debt hanging over our heads. Christian takes care of their needs as our ships steward and they settle in quickly.

Christian uses some of our precious remaining money to lay in higher-grade food supplies for our paying passengers—it wouldn’t do to feed them the paste we’ve been swilling down. For us, he stocks up on canned foods to supplement the paste. We do some last minute shopping for private sundries as crew, but waste no time doing so. We don’t linger on Bernadette but dust off the next day for the three-week journey to Newhall.

Thursday, 02 Feb 2519
Formosa Chain, Newhall
Kalidassa (Xuan Yu) system
09:37 hrs, local time

Newhall is mostly ocean and her land masses are mostly archipelagoes strung like necklaces across the water. The largest of these is about the size of the Indonesian chain on Old Terra and the smallest of these can be quite small indeed. Newhall’s primary income is from the sale of its copious supply of water, and because of its limited amount of dry land, food is in great demand, as are home furnishings and equipment, and most has to be shipped in from off-planet. Potemkin had filled our containers with said home supplies and landfall on Newhall was a welcome one for the inhabitants.

Sylvia and Mark Chao-Marshall are very pleased with the trip so far, and are surprised at the level of comfort we provide them. They had expected to rough it, being accustomed to the everyday luxuries of the Core. We’re by no means a big cruise liner with shuffle board on the Lido Deck or observation ports on the Promenade, but they are happy with the accommodations, nonetheless. They spend a lot of time with our on-board celebrity Rick Allen. He shows them his plants and Evil Tick and Smudge—to their amazement: pigmy alligators in space!—and pulls up vids of Disraeli, telling them what he knows of the lush moon of Constance. As a naturalist, his knowledge is copious and the hours pass pleasantly. The Chao-Marshalls approach us as we conduct our off-lading on Newhall and ask us if we are going back to Bernadette—they like our accommodations and crew so much, they are interested in paying us for their return trip to the Core.

Since they are a truly nice couple and easy to please as passengers, their credits and their company would be very welcome. We take them up on their offer and arrange to pick them up at the end of their stay on Disraeli so as to take them home.

During the trip to Newhall, we actually find out a little about them. They’re corporate-types, working corporate jobs for a corporation and are from Ariel. No evil Blue Sun operatives with sonic weapons here. They came to Bernadette to catch a ship to the Rim, Bernadette being the jumping off point for such places from the Core. Sylvia is the Sino counterpart to Mark’s Anglo and when they married they simply combined their names, rather than having one spouse choose the other’s over their own. As is the norm in the Verse, they’re in their 60s and are leaving behind the Long Summer of their 30s. They’ve kept themselves in good shape and can expect another 30 years or so of Autumnal middle age before the mileage of the accumulated years start exacting their toll. For now, they are happy and healthy and looking forward to their second honeymoon.

Christian, therefore, feels secure in approaching them about an art gallery hosting a one-man exhibition on Beylix.

Sylvia: (delighted) An art gallery? Out here on the Rim? How quaint!
Christian: I’m told it’s very avant garde. A lot of ‘Found Object’ art.

At this point, Christian leans in conspiratorially.

Christian: Actually, we might need a little bit of your help here. You see, a friend of mine may—or may not—be in a situation where she’s being forced into a marriage against her will.
Sylvia: (aghast) In this day and age?
Mark: That’s so 24th century.
Christian: I want to make sure she’s all right and I would not want to impose, but your social standing as sophisticated citizens of the Core might very well open doors that otherwise might remain closed to us. She will be marrying a very wealthy gentleman by the name of Landis.
Mark: (surprised) Kelsey Landis?
Christian: Yes. He recently moved out there himself.
Sylvia: That’s right. Don’t you remember? He said he didn’t like the Core anymore, the real world was out on the Rim….?
Mark: Oh, yes. I heard that story. Huh!
Christian: I don’t want to speak ill of the man, but ….
Sylvia: Oh, he’s quite a catch. Of course, marriage to him might not be so bad.

Sylvia mimes thinking it over, hand on chin, eyes Heavenward: Hmmmm…… She grins and swats her husband on the arm. Joke! She’s not throwing him over for some rich guy on the Rim.

Christian: I just want to make sure she’s all right. She’s like a sister to me.
Mark: So you think he might be at this event?
Christian: The art gallery showing is apparently the event on Beylix. Of the year. And there are a number of parties that surround it. The best around is held by Olivia de Proust who, after Mr. Landis, is the most prominent and wealthiest person on the planet.
Mark: She’s from our world. She just comes out to Beylix as a vacationer and visitor.
Christian: Ah, then she’s whatever one calls the people who come out and live there for half the year. (smiles) She is actually from Ariel. I understand she has quite a nice home on Beylix.
Mark: Well, let us look it up on the Cortex and we’ll get back to you.
Christian: Of course.

Christian bows and takes his leave of our passengers, and grins inwardly—gotcha!

Off-lading takes some time and the Chao-Marshalls make the most of it, laying on the sunny beaches nearby and soaking up the sun and the scenery. Newhall isn’t a tourist spot, being more a working-class sort of place with fisheries and such. However, the Chao-Marshalls are adept at finding beauty and ease wherever they are. It’s a good knack to have.

Arden jumps onto the Cortex to see if there’s any news of Sophie. It’s not a very newsworthy place, being an out of the way colony. Nothing is on the Cortex about the Erehwon Colony, either.

Rina likewise sends a Wave to the Abbey on Salisbury, telling the Abbot about Potemkin and the bio-weapon, and asking about Mike and if anybody is sick. She gets a Wave back the next day before we leave: no one has seen Mike and no one at the Abbey is sick. Which is the best news she can hope for, confirming her own conclusions as to Mike’s actions after they parted company. She quietly shares the information to the rest of the crew and goes on with her duties, her worry over his welfare lessened.

We don’t linger long on Newhall, stopping only two days to off-lade our cargo and take on a load of fish and rice. We gather up the Chao-Marshalls off the beaches and take off on the morning of the 4th. It’s a twenty-hour hop to Beylix, a simple overnighter, and when we arrive, we’ve tipped over into the next calendar day.

Sunday, 05 Feb 2519
Beylix Port, Beylix'
Kalidassa (Xuan Yu) system
11:35 hrs, local time

Beylix is literally a junk planet. Unified Reclamation owns it and it leases space on the dirt to people who have junk to get rid of. Less than 30% of the planet has water, so it’s somewhat dry. Despite this, ranching and farming cover a major portion of the land area. Beylix is infamous for its junkyards, perhaps unjustifiably so, and on first blush it doesn’t register that most of the planet is unblemished by junkyards. Being an Earth-sized planet, it would take far more junk than there is in the Verse to make it a wall-to-wall trash heap.

Even so, there are great swaths of Beylix that are nothing but junk: metal, parts, components, just about everything can be found here. It’s been scooped out of the Black or scraped off the dirt somewhere else as salvage…and then dumped here. There is an understanding that one doesn’t just release the junk in atmo to burn up on reentry—there are people living dirtside who could get flattened by anything that survived the shake-n-bake. One has to land and make the deposit at a junkyard. And that, of course, is how Unified makes its money. Deposits aren’t done for free.

The junkyards are divided into categories: mining junk, space junk, industrial junk, domestic junk…the works. If it can be categorized, it’s sorted and put in one of the many types of yards found on Beylix. There is even a thriving business involving ‘junk jockeys’, people whose job it is to hunt down items from the yards for a fee. The more rare or specialized the item, of course, the higher the fee.

It is also possible to dig through the yards yourself. Some are open to all-comers for no charge, others charge a fee, and still others are more exclusive in admissions and content and therefore charge even higher fees. Junk is bought and sold by the ton, or by the item.

Beylix is, in short, a junker’s paradise and Rina is looking forward to scavving some parts for the Gift while she’s on the dirt.

Arden’s looking to do some shopping as well, something not quite an antique, and Christian parcels out 10 credits to each of the crew for spending money. Rina adds it to her own savings and with the resulting 26 credits, goes off in search of a containment field regulator. The one the Gift has is getting old in its operational lifespan and will need to be replaced. It would be best if it’s done before the current one fails.

Christian goes shopping for nice clothing for the upcoming fancy event and finds out that even in the category of clothing, Beylix has cast-offs and secondhand venues ripe for the picking-over. Nothing is really fancy here, being more in the way of flea market finds, but certainly he can find enough to supplement our wardrobes on the cheap. For the suitably fancy gear, however, Christian is going to have to find another venue. He finds a tailor and sets about making his wardrobe—and Nika’s—go farther with alterations and repairs. He plunks down 20 credits for the service.

Rick, being a celebrity, can wear anything he darned well pleases so long as it’s reasonably neat. Rina would just as soon miss the fancy party, since she hates dressing up in girly gear. Nika calls on Christian to help her with the fancy, as she’d done on Beaumonde and he agrees to be free when the time comes to get ready.

Rina takes Rick with her to go junk diving and to facilitate the transport of anything useful she may find, she springs for a rented mule. Our shuttle is capable of transporting ships parts, certainly, but the shuttle is also a valuable vehicle and it wouldn’t do to ruin it with dirt and oil and other nasty residues.

Arden peruses the used/antique jewelry shops, looking for something in a nice necklace perhaps.

We end up spending a day off-lading, junk diving and getting ready for the exclusive party held elsewhere. The next day we’ll pull stakes and fly the Gift in-atmo to the party site, there to land and mingle with the party-goers and perhaps gather intel on Sirtis Mir and her situation.

Monday, 06 Feb 2519
16:25 hrs, local time

The party is something between Sundance and Burning Man. The rich dress down, with the richest dressing down the farthest, while the less rich dress up in an inverse scale. Being not so rich, we have to make some effort to spiff up.

The site of the party is in what appears to be a vast junkyard but which upon closer inspection is actually a vast yard with junk-made art. Three hundred feet tall works of art: dinosaurs made of junked cars, recreations of famous landmarks and buildings, and so on. Kurran Morse, the artist, has his residence and studio in the middle of this wacky place. His studio and yard is a private gallery that is open to the public only once a year and his loyal fans and customers make a great party out of it. The rest of the year, he has hirelings handle the business end of things while he putters in his studio and creates more junk-made art.

Despite her love of ships parts and all things mechanical, Rina’s opinion of Kurran Morse isn’t charitable or flattering. She’s more a 19th century sort of gal when it comes to art, preferring the Royal Academy, and Repin and Bilibin.

Rina: He’s a dabbler. And apparently not good a one, either. This stuff is crap. I’ve thrown into the recycle bin garbage that looks better than this.

Nope. Not impressed by the artist. Not one bit.

Arden: Oh, come on. Think of the energy and the imagination that took to make it.
Rina: Yeah. And you can drop that into my eyes without pain, dear. This is horrible.
Arden: It’s not horrible. It’s just different.
Christian:(to Rina) And this is why you’re not going.
Rina: You better lock up my torch, then.

Morse has provided a large area with a makeshift landing beacon for his guests’ ships. Christian comments:

Christian: If we land among the art, no one would know we’re not an exhibit.
Rina: We could call ourselves a performance piece. We could Personify the Transient Nature of Man’s Inventions—‘from ashes to treasure to ashes again’. God, I could do this in my sleep. I’m in the wrong business.
Arden: It’s never too late for a career change.
Rina: Yeah, and it’s never too late for a colonostomy, either.
Christian: Modern Art. Russians invented Modern Art.
Rina: Keep talkin’.
Nika: (from the pilot’s chair) If she puts her foot up his ass, I’m leavin’ the room.
Christian: (Companion-y) We charge extra for that.

We land our ship and it’s instantly obvious that we’re the junkiest of the lot—though there are some others that are working-class space craft, the rest are high-end yachts. Sleek and streamlined, shiny and new. Expensive and loaded with all the bells and whistles.

Rina: (re: the yachts) That guy’s clearly compensating for something.

Christian had sent off a message to his friend Maxine, a Companion, for information about the party and gallery opening. Checking his inbox, he finds she’s come through with information on Olivia de Proust. It seems that Madame de Proust likes young-ish men…which is right up Christian’s alley. It’ll be a challenge, though. This is the one event where de Proust goes unescorted because she focuses all her attention on the artist, in a vain attempt to get the artist to sell something of his to her. She’s so far been unsuccessful. Every year she throws ever more elaborate parties hoping to persuade him, and every year she goes away empty-handed.

As we draw closer, we can see beyond the catering tents set up on the grounds closer to the studio some of the effort that goes into the artist’s works. The story on the man has it he does most of the work himself, rather than relegate the bulk of it to hired help or outside fabricators. Considering the man has a replica of the Eiffel Tower in his backyard, the effort expended is commendable and one can better understand de Proust’s determination to own a sculpture.

Of course, the artist’s refusal to have anyone visiting his studio but one day a year might have something to do with it, too, and the balance of the year is spent on fevered speculation as to what the artist is working on. Rina’s not impressed.

Rina: Just retask a satellite and take pictures. You can’t stop a satellite.
Arden: You can, but the method generally causes wars.
Nika: (to Rina) Even though you might not like the art work, you can certainly appreciate the effort it took to build them.

Since the actual studio opening isn’t til tomorrow, there’s lots of time to mingle with the crowd and take in the party atmosphere of the event. Besides, there are dozens of ships parked outside. Nice ones.

Arden: And they’re not made of junk.
Rina: Oh no. Some of them are very fine.
Christian: All these ships are going to have crews. There’s no reason you can’t make friends.
Rina: Talk shop? Cultivate contacts?
Rick: Do you have your gun?
Rina: (pats her left side) Right here. And I have my vest on, too. Your point?

Nika finds this funny.

Nika: (to Rick) Please don’t harass her again. You know it’s gonna be “Testicles, spectacles, wallet, watch” when it comes to Rina.

Though there doesn’t seem to be any security hired to protect the studio and residence, several of the higher-end yachts have armed crew to keep an eye on the craft. Ostensibly to keep the riff-raff off the shiny family car.

Not that we’re riff-raff or anything. We can turn ourselves out decently enough that no one would really care about the state of our bank accounts. So we leave the Gift to take in the sights. Rick brings his alligators with him, rightfully thinking they would be a hit with the crowd. Rina takes off to talk shop with some of the ships’ engineers loitering outside their craft. Arden looks for a medic station to offer his services to—hey, you never know: a partygoer could choke on a martini olive or something. Christian decides to just talk a walk. Nika goes with.

The party is just getting started. It’s cool out, and the late winter night is falling. Fires are being lit and the food and drink is passing around. There are clearly people who are here for the artist and his revelations, but there are also clearly people who are here because the gallery opening has over time evolved into a major event. Here there are people tailgating in style, over there is someone selling hand crafts out the back of a hover truck, and over there is someone walking the grounds selling other ephemeral consumables of dubious legality. Tents by the caterers are visible on the grounds, but so are the tents of others—merchant and camper alike. The overall effect is like a great big artsy, hippie, bohemian craft fair and picnic, with rich people and their trappings thrown in.

Sunset is spectacular, given Beylix is orbiting the protostar Penglai as well as the primary Kalidasa. The haze from all the junk yard burn piles is less notable when twilight falls and despite the industrial surroundings, everything takes on a Faery Market atmosphere as paper lanterns and tiki torches light up. People break out the hibachis and the braziers and soon the aroma of sizzling food wafts with the torch smoke. Wine and spirits are broken out and poured. Music and laughter and conversation punctuated with toasts and cheers blends with the visual cacophony, and the party ratchets up a notch.

Rick slides right into the whirl easily; his celebrity status and his rugged good looks only help him here. Nika goes with him and together they take in the sounds and the sights, sample the food and drink on offer, and hobnob with the locals. It isn’t long before they are adopted by several parties and pass back and forth between them, making for an enjoyable evening.

Rina goes out more cautiously. She’s left her gun on the Gift, as others of the crew have done in order to fit in with the partygoers better, and she’s uneasy. She decides sticking closer to the ships is the better option and goes to see if she can chat any of the other ship crews up. The crews loiter outside their craft, smoking and drinking and throwing lower key tailgate parties. She strikes up a conversation with a crew that looks safe enough and is soon talking shop and swapping stories. Most of them aren’t engineers but owner-operators, a fact that she fails to pick up on, given her single-minded focus on the technical, and her comments on the merits or flaws of one ship’s system over another don’t go over too well. Especially when she reveals which ship she flew in on. Their reception of her is somewhat cool as a result and Rina chalks it up to business as usual—she’s aware of her shortcomings, if too late to compensate for them—and she susses the people she’s with for anything…suspicious.

Everything seems to be on the up and up. No one looks like they’re secretly smuggling slaves or contraband; no one appears to be an outlaw on the run. While the bulk of the people hanging out by the various ships and yachts are more the rich owner-operator than the professionally trained engineer, and their ships are undeniably fast enough for smuggling, there’s hardly anything inimical or illegal going on with them. Still, Rina is twitchy enough to keeps an eye out for anything that could cause trouble for her or her crew. After all, she and the crew of the Gift aren’t here to party, they’re here to locate, question and possibly extract a kidnappee. With that in mind, she shoves off and takes to the rest of the grounds to go looking.

Arden wanders the party, somewhat at a loss. He’s never been to a gathering like this before. He finds the fence around the studio and the residence, barring people from sneaking onto the artist’s grounds and seeing any art in progress. There being nothing to gain in that direction, Arden decides to just wander and get a feel for the place and the people. There is more variety than he’d expected for so rich a level of society. It’s all rather Bohemian, actually.

Christian likewise wanders and mingles. As a trained Companion, he fits in wherever he goes and he inserts himself into Olivia de Proust’s party easily. Hers is the most lavish party and the one that actually has guards. They pose no impediment to Christian and he finds de Proust without a problem. De Proust is a mover and shaker, a real social manipulator. She controls the party and access to Kurran Morse with regal grace, sending subtle cues of acceptance or rejection, and the bouncers she’s got working the party act accordingly. She is elegantly turned out, Kurran is in attendance, and she is in her element. Kurran, however, looks uncomfortable in these surroundings.

Christian moves in to make the most of the opportunity. He mingles with the crowd, mingling slowly through the partygoers, getting the lay of the land. Moguls and mavens pepper the crowd, drawing little social circles of their own. Christian is quick to see that de Proust actively ensures their circles never grow larger than the one she’s gathered around herself and she moves from one to the other with her entourage, adding or dropping people as her interest and their social level dictate. Christian sees his opening—he’ll attach himself to the most likely competitor of de Proust’s and waits for her to come and cull the best for herself.

As she’s making her way toward his group, Christian sees another couple arrive—it’s Sirtis Mir and her fiancé, Kelsey Landis.


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