Episode 201: Crossroads, Part 1

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Present: Terri, Maer, Bobby, Jay and Tony
Air Date: 21 Jul 2009

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Friday, 22 Dec 2519
Bivouac, Miranda
Blue Sun (Qing Long) system
09:00hrs, local time

The repairs are finally complete, the additions to our ship made secure.

We’ve acquired an extra shuttle for Christian, to use as his Companion’s suite and as a means to travel independently to his clients. It takes some bodywork on the hull, but we fabricate a second entry point and docking clamps for it aft of the original shuttle and mount, bringing our shuttle complement to two.

We’ve 4 extra thruster pods mounted now, that retract partially into the fore and aft transverse corridors on both decks. They’ll give us a little bit of get-up-and-go should we need them. Rina’s finally got her coveted machine shop and turbo charger. The former is installed in the aft crew lounge, taking over that space completely thanks to the 1 ton of supplies she’s stocked it with. The latter is fully installed in the engine room, giving us a +3 rating jump in speed for a 1 hour run, at a cost of only 12 hours of fuel.

We’ve off-loaded our escape pods and converted their bays to other purposes. On the upper deck, the cleared space is converted into a larger med bay for Arden. The pod bay belowdecks is turned into a crew rec room, where our half-pong table and weight bench and A/V equipment resides. We’ve several flat screens installed around the ship, courtesy of Miranda’s dead public announcement boards.

We’ve creature comforts looted from the Blue Sun retail stores. We’ve housewares and linens, books and games and amusements. We’ve even managed to find salvageable food supplies, despite their long stint on the shelves.

On a suggestion of Christian’s we find a luxury car dealership and drive a dozen cars off the lot and into our cargo containers. When we get somewhere suitable, we’ll sell them for a hefty profit.

Some things we don’t have, however, is our fuel pod—holed upon arrival. Neither did we keep any arms and armaments that would be illegal for us to own. The guns from Highgate we’d mounted to our hull and deck are taken down and left on the dirt. The firearms from the Highgate cache are likewise culled from our arms locker and most are left behind. Nika, Rick and Christian keep an assault rifle apiece, despite the illegality, but the rest are taken off-ship. We keep only a minimum of grenades across all four types and ditch the rest unused. The plate vests and the battle armor would be out of place on a vessel such as ours, so we leave it behind. Rina and Rick both appropriate a mesh vest each, and say goodbye to the rest of the Highgate cache. If we are ever approached and boarded, possession of the cache would be enough to land us in jail—a fate we’d give much to avoid.

Another thing we don’t have is a cat. We’ve been on the ground for four months, there’s little chance we didn’t pick up vermin. Arden briefly considers finding a cat on Miranda, but visions of Reaverized cats roaming our ship is enough to table the idea.

Now that Brian’s as stabilized as he’s ever going to get, a month or so into our stay Arden finally gets his brain scan done. What he finds is disturbing: he has a second pineal gland.

Pineal gland is reddish-grey and about the size of a pea in humans, and is part of the epithalamus. As an organ it produces melatonin, which in turn regulates sleep and circadian rhythm. Why Arden has two is a mystery. Is this why Arden is immune to the Pax? Would the pineal regulation of melatonin hinder the Pax effect—would it keep Arden from lying down and sleeping himself to death? If so, how? Melatonin makes people sleepy and having two glands would mean Arden had double the amount—yet somehow that is supposed to keep the Pax at bay? Perhaps the extra gland is compensating for the soporific effects of the Pax? Clearly further study is needed.

Furthermore, a message pops up on the screen as he’s going over the findings. It is a message, saying:

AHSB MEDICAL ALERT: Be advised the Alliance Humane Services Bureau is asking all medical personnel in private and public communications to refer to 34 Tauri E Transmissible Spongiform Encephalitis as TSEB34 and to avoid use of the term "Reavers Disease" as this is both inaccurate, and prejudicial. System-wide Quarantine still in effect until further notice.

Transmissible Spongiform Encephalitis? Mad Cow Disease? Usually contracted by ingesting the brains of infected animals. But here? In Blue Sun? And Reaver’s Disease? Does this mean that the disease victims become Reavers? Or is the disease transmitted by the Reavers? It’s a major WTF moment and until we can get off this rock, there’s nothing we can do about it.

Even so, it's just one more thing for Arden to look for as he puts us through regular med checks, tracking our health and possible effects of any lingering Pax.

The night before we leave, we gather around the table to discuss where we’re going to go. We have Rick’s Cortexisodes to broadcast to the public at large and Jake’s camera footage to send back to the show producers. The second we hit ‘send’, our anonymity is forever gone, as our faces are beamed into every home with a CorVue. Rina’s not particularly overjoyed at the prospect, but consoles herself that should she gain celebrity it will be as a reality show character. Which people just don’t take seriously. She’s hoping it’ll be enough to shield her. We decide to make our best way to the nearest Cortex Relay station to send our material where it needs to go.

With our immediate plan decided on, we politely exclude Jake from the following meeting and Rina takes the opportunity to ask Shyla what Nika had meant about Mike’s remarks on ‘knowing what was going on’. It didn’t take a genius to track back to the shared point in Mike and Nika’s histories and recognize Mike was talking about Harbinger. So what was Harbinger doing that Mike threatened to tell Nika about it? Does it have anything to do with the schism in the Resistance Mike mentioned?

Christian speaks up, saying that if there is any terrorist activity like blowing up factories, he doesn’t want to be present to hear it.

Christian:' If it involves something like the factory in Beaumonde, then I don’t want to know.
Rina: (growling) Then you can leave the room.
Christian: Fine. Does it involve blowing up the targets?
Rina: Will you let the woman speak?
Christian: I’m asking so I’ll know if I have to leave the room or not.
Shyla: The actions we were taking could very well have had far greater effect than what happened on Beaumonde. Perhaps not as direct.
Christian: Okay. I’m fine, then.
Shyla: You’ve met Nguyen.
Arden: Yeah.
Rina: (grimacing) Yeah.
Nika: And he nearly kicked my ass.
Shyla: Well, Nguyen is a dangerous person to deal with but he’s a part of something that is not as black and white as you might like. There is a …I’m not calling it an alliance or a federation or anything—there is a collection of people all with varying degrees of dissatisfaction. I am among them. But we’re not all on the same page, necessarily. Gibbons has expressed some interest…I’m not 100% convinced of his motives, so when you ask if he’s trustworthy or not, I don’t know. But I do believe that he believes that it is in his interest if there’s dissatisfaction.
Nika: So you’re saying he’s…sowing….dissatisfaction?
Shyla: I think he’s certainly trying to make people aware there is.
Christian: Potential political gain.
Shyla: Yes. But that doesn’t necessarily make him our enemy.
'Arden: Or a friend.
Shyla:' Correct. It’s a very complex….(trails off).
Christian: Yin and Yang. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Arden: The only thing ‘black’ and ‘white’ that I have learned since I left Sophie is looking out the window at the Black and seeing the stars and the sky. That’s the only ‘black and white’ in the Universe.
Shyla: So…what we were doing was following up exactly what was going on. At whose behest we were doing it? More than one. And Nguyen was one of them.
Arden: Now that’s interesting.
Christian: So you essentially have a network of different organizations all wanting the vaguely same thing—
Shyla: I think they mostly want—
Christian: (amending) —to varying degrees, and being willing to work together to some degree and share information to some degree.
Rina: I have something I want to ask. When Mike was under the influence of the Chempliance, he said a few things that didn’t quite add up. Or rather, they were unusual. One: He mentioned that there was a growing schism inside the Resistance movement—such as it is. And the Resistance movement, of course, is scattered piecemeal. It’s not centrally organized.
Shyla: Right.
Rina: He was trying to heal that. And he was on the job specifically for Nguyen, to try to….bridge the gap.
Shyla: Many people see Nguyen as the quasi-Messiah of the Resistance. He got the motivational skills and the will to do things.
Nika: (to Shyla) And you asked me if I was a Dust Devil why?
Shyla: Well…
Nika: You gave me The Face when you asked me the question and then, you know, that’s when it hit me that Harry wasn’t even at the table because I was gonna get my ass kicked if I said ‘yes’. So. What the—(silently mouths the word ‘fuck’)?
Shyla: I think that before there were Companions, there were prostitutes. And it was a perfectly honorable profession. But a lot of them who did it were doing for the wrong reasons and doing it with the wrong people.
Christian: This is true. That’s one of the reasons the Guild exists.
Shyla: And there are a lot of people who might call themselves ‘Dust Devils’, and if you were brought in by one that I didn’t know or that I did know and disapproved of—
Nika:' I was gonna get my ass kicked.
Christian: I’m assuming that there are some Dust Devils or members of the Resistance movement or the military who would, for example, find it perfectly acceptable to kill civilians if it served their purposes.
Shyla: Obviously what happened on Beaumonde was an example of that. To be fair, I don’t think that it was high on the list of probabilities for that mission as far as Nguyen was concerned. I think he expected maybe there to be a fire and possible casualties, but I don’t think his goal was to take out civilians.
Christian: (agreeing) No, no.
Nika: Most of that was all us.
Christian: (then again…) Then Nguyen, I think, is even worse. Because they weren’t even thought of.

Meaning the civilians.

Nika: (sighing) I don’t even know what to ask at this point.
Rina: I have a couple more questions. Where do the lines of the Schism occur? Who’s on which side of what?
Shyla: It’s not that clear. After what I saw on Miranda? It’s not that clear anymore for me.
Rina: (undeterred) So where do you fall?
Shyla: (unflinching) I don’t know. I want to hear some other people talk about it. Because I don’t know what’s going to happen when we shoot these waves. The Second Miranda Wave. Are we gonna have public outcry or are gonna have nothing? Are we gonna have, “eh, it was twelve years ago, thirteen years ago, it’s not my business anymore….”? There was what? forty million people killed?
Arden: Can we agree that the Alliance shouldn’t be as all-powerful as it is?
Shyla: Sure. The real question is how far do I need to take this?
Arden: That’s not what I’m asking about. Can everyone at the table agree that the Alliance is all-powerful and needs to be reduced?
Rina: (annoyed) I was there ten years ago. Where have you been?
Arden: I’m asking for the current moment. I’m not trying to be trouble.
Rina: We can partially answer your question by asking ourselves who stands to benefit most and in what way from the stuff we’re going to be broadcasting. Who stands to lose? Who stands to win?
Nika: We already mean to be broadcasting it. But are we meant to be broadcasting it? (to Shyla) What did you come out here to actually do?
Christian: That’s a good question. Why were you here for?
Shyla: I came out here to verify.
Christian: On your initiative?
Shyla: Several peoples’ initiatives.
Nika: So you were supposed to come out here, verify what you saw and go back and report?
Arden: I think she was serving multiple masters on this mission.
Shyla: They’re not my masters. People recognized me as an independent person who could report back without a motive.
Rina: Are you saying impartial observer?
Shyla:' Well….I think that they thought I was a friendly observer to their perspective. But one who would not color the information to make it match people like Nguyen or some of the others.
'Rina: So in other words, you were impartial enough to be useful.
Shyla: Yes.
Christian: And expendable enough to send.
Arden: Isn’t that the status we all want?
Rina: To be expendable? No, I don’t think so.
Nika: I don’t think any of them thought necessarily about expendability so much as—
Shyla: If the alternative was to send a big ship with everybody on it, then yes I think they did.
Christian: We came across a Browncoat capital ship.
Rina: The Pandora.

There were lots of ships left over or left derelict from the war that people could refurbish to their agendas. After the big Reaver battle, doubtless there would be more for everyone. Resistance, Alliance, and Reavers. We all agree on that.

Rina: So, what have you found? Aside from everything that we’ve experienced together while we were on this planet. Did you find anything else?
Shyla: We verified that this is not a hoax.
'Christian: That there really are people just lying down dead.
Shyla: The story of Pala? I’m with you in that I don’t think that I want to bring anyone’s wrath on them, especially since half my crew’s there, and I’m not sure from a personal standpoint….It leads me to believe that the events on Miranda are not just a tragic accident. That there was intent that the engineered people would be resistant to this. That they knew something would happen.
Arden: Who is ‘they’?
Christian: That’s the question.
Shyla: (sighing) Obviously, it’s some in Blue Sun, some in the Alliance. Top people.
Christian: It means it had to be someone with money and that means Blue Sun and the Alliance.
Arden: ‘Top people’?
Rick: What’s up with Go? Why was he on your ship? Did you guys suspect anything?
Shyla: I was looking for a pilot. Go was recommended by another person who is…not gonna live that one down. But I was looking for a hot-shit pilot to replace my previous one.
Christian: My question is: was Go working for Blue Sun, the Alliance or one of these factions that didn’t quite trust you and wanted to be sure they had their own information?
Arden: (sarcastically) Oh, now that information was tattooed on his body.
Christian: (ignoring it) And let me say, that he was very well Trained.
Shyla: He did not divulge any information about where he’s from. He would sometimes say when we interrogated him stuff like, “Oh, well you caught me, I’m from Blue Sun” or whatever.
Christian: He was playing with us, yes.
Shyla: I would say the timing of the event with our escape would tend to support that whoever didn’t want the truth about Miranda to get out, I think that it’s unlikely to be one of the factions. I think that all of the factions would benefit from what we’d found. To one degree or another.

A roundabout way of saying Go wasn’t from one of the many factions the Resistance splintered into.

Christian: And when Mike said there were schisms, I have to assume he was talking about the whole Resistance and not one specific group in it, like Nguyen’s?
Shyla: I can’t say for sure about schisms, but yes, it’s true that the so-called Dust Devils have been called out for being the people who doing the more terrorist activity. Using violence and terror in a small haphazard sort of way appears not to be generating the big changes that some of us would want. And there are people like Gibbons who seem to want a gradual lawful recognition of sovereignty of planets and that sort of stuff rather than the violent kind.
Christian: I’m all for that.
Shyla: So, you have the full spectrum. A lot of people out here on the Rim have been made promises of representation or something like that by PMs before and they’re not particularly convinced that that’s the way to go about it. One planet/one vote is not gonna happen in the Parliament of the times. And I don’t think the people on Londinium would want that.

Of course, there are some planets with twenty people on them. And others have twenty billion. We could debate the merits of representation by the number later. We have to decide what we’re going to do now.

We decide to go to the Cortex Relay Upload station to send our findings out to the Verse. There is an Upload station nearby off Fury. It’s only a couple days’ flight from Miranda and that’s the place we choose. That decided, Nika asks Shyla flat out what she wants to do once Miranda is behind her. We obviously don’t have time, given Brian’s condition, to salvage a second vessel. Does Shyla want to return to a central location and recruit a crew? Does she want to stay with us?

Arden: Before you answer, I want to ask a possibly impolite question: are either you or Harry armed at the current moment?
Nika: What?
Shyla: You mean right now? (shugs) Harry’s always armed. Even when she’s not carrying weapons. What? You think I’m gonna take over the—
Arden: I don’t know.
Christian: Keep in mind, the first death on this ship came from Rina beating someone to death.
Rina: (stung) And if I hadn’t, you’d be dead.
Shyla: Maybe you don’t remember but we’ve been here with you for four months.
Arden: I remember, I realize that but—
Rick: And Go was with you for however long he was aboard your ship.
Shyla: And yes, it’s true that Go had been with us for years after Nika left and that I—
Christian: I’m relatively certain that Harry is not an evil traitor.
Shyla: What counts as ‘evil traitor’ in one group may not in another.
Arden: I’m not making any accusations, I’m just asking you if you’re armed.
Shyla: I’ll say that one of the reasons why we were a little bit not-forthcoming was because of not knowing where you guys were from.
Arden: Are you comfortable with Jake broadcasting pictures of you and Harry?
Shyla: Now that’s a good question.
Nika: It’s a little late to be asking that. He’s got four months of footage on him.
Arden: Yeah, but he hasn’t broadcast it yet. That’s why I’m asking if they were armed.
Shyla: It might not make a difference. Obviously, since Go was on our ship, it’s likely they already know who we are. My career as a Parliamentarian was nipped in the bud years ago, anyway.
Nika: As if you’d ever.
Shyla: They obviously knew what we were up to, so I’m not particularly afraid of by being found guilty at this stage.
Rina: So if they knew what you were up to, where is the mole hiding?
Shyla: His name was Go.
Christian: (getting it) No.
Rina: It’s someone in your chain of contacts.
Nika: Does it matter?
Christian: It kinda does…but not to us.
Nika: It might have been somebody who’s gone or on Pala.
Shyla: I think she means someone else in the Resistance.
Rina: In the information chain where she received her orders, someone knew where she was going.
Shyla: I didn’t get orders. I was asked.
Nika: They’re independent. They take jobs when they want, same as us.
Christian: So you’re saying that someone who knew she was going, which means that someone who knew she was going had a mole to infiltrate her ready.
Shyla: I strongly urge you to move away from that direction.
Christian: We are, because as fun as it is to speculate on that, we’re not getting involved.
Shyla: Not only that, but that’s what destroys people. You have to trust yourselves on occasion. I’m not going to beat myself up about Go, because the fact is he did a good job. He tricked us pretty well. He saved our lives many times, too. So it’s not like he was a complete evil puppet. He was doing what he was sent to do, but if I start looking at everyone I know who is less trustworthy than he seems to be, I’d be looking at the whole Verse. I’m not going to be able to do that.

Which was why we waited two weeks before stranding Go on Miranda. To have made a decision as to his fate during the heat of the moment? It would have been murder, plain and simple.

Shlya: After his betrayal we all asked ‘where did this come from? what’s the guy who recommended him to us and maybe he was duped, too?’
Christian:' And there’s always the possibility that Go was recruited after he came aboard your ship.

Possibly. Go had skills. He could have been a spy or a Companion. Those are the two professions Christian can think of that could teach someone the skills they need to know for a cover job while infiltrating a target.

Shyla:' In any event, the second you start talking insurrection, everybody’s a suspect. You gotta be careful, but that’s the reason why I asked you how much you wanna know about this. Because you are now gonna start wondering who you can trust, what can you do and it’s—
Rina: No different from what I do every morning when I wake up.
Nika: Shush.
Shyla: It’s a cancer you can’t cut out. Not easily. Just so you know. But I want to see what happens to the Wave, how it’s received. I don’t think I’ll know what I’m doing til then. I mean, I might be leading the protests on Londinium or I might be hiding out on Deadwood.
Nika: That’s fine. I just wanted to know what you wanted to do because as far as I’m aware, you are welcome to stay here.

With the Captain and the Armsmaster of the late Harbinger taken care of, the discussion turns to Harbinger’s XO, Brian Connelly.

Rina: The closest kick-ass medical facility that I know of is on Hera.
Nika: So far as I know, we’re going to be taking Brian somewhere.
Christian: You’re going to have to take him to Osiris or Ariel.

Those places are the surest locations that have the facilities and the rehab Brian is going to need. There’s some disagreement on that point and Rina states she still think that Hera is the closest for that sort of care. After all, there were a lot of burn patients being treated there after the Miranda Wave battles. As for what we need to tell the hospital authorities anywhere we do decide to take him, we’d need only say that he was caught in an explosion and leave it at that. His injuries would be cover story enough. We decide on Osiris as the best bet, despite our history with it, and that part of the discussion is closed. Our immediate questions answered for the moment, we don’t keep Shyla any further and everyone turns in early to rest up for our leavetaking.

Which goes off on the morning of the 22nd without a hitch. We burn out of Miranda and avoid picking up any Reavers on our tails. Clear of Miranda’s airspace, we turn our faces to that Cortex Relay.

Sunday, 24 Dec 2519
Kuiper II Class, Summer’s Gift
En Route to Cortex Repeater Station
Blue Sun (Qing Long) system
16:02 hrs, ship’s time

The Gift has been refurbished as best as we could do her and there are a lot more monitors and screens on the bridge than before. Our sensors are beefier and Nika has a little trouble adjusting to our extended range. Lots of little blips show up on the periphery and disappear and she yarks at Rina there’s something wrong with the instruments. Rina yarks back that they’re fine and Nika just needs to see faster.

55 hours into our journey we are hailed by an Alliance Longbow Cruiser and ordered to drop out of pulse for inspection. The ship’s designation and name is unfamiliar: PDF Decatur. As we pause to decide whether to run for it or comply, Decatur launches 6 interceptor fighters for our one cargo ship. That’s the clincher—we drop out of pulse and heave to, and wait to be boarded.

Nika stays on the bridge and Rina stays in the engine room. Christian stands as a Companion would at the airlock: beautifully, with subtle command and intimidation. And indeed the grunts that step out of our airlock and onto our ship look at Christian in surprise.

We are asked what our last port of call was: Highgate. Did we take on any food? No. They need to inspect our galley and food stores. Christian shows them. Do we have any canned foods left? No. We’ve only got preserved stuff. Do we have a medical bay? Yes. We need to talk to your doctor or medical officer. Christian shows them to the med bay and Arden.

Arden is grilled next. Does anyone in the crew appear to be suffering from these symptoms? Arden is handed a list. He looks it over.

Arden: Given the travails our ship has gone through, no. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Hazmat Leader: What kind of travails are you referring to?
Christian: We were attacked by a ship and forced to crash land.
Hazmat Leader: What kind of the ship? Where did this happen? Where did you land?
Christian: We were travelling to Deadwood and we were attacked by a vessel which was what I want to say was populated by the people that had the…I’m sorry, I forget what the politically correct term is for the Reaver Disease is now.
Hazmat Leader: You were attacked by people who infected with the TSEB?
Christian: They were Reavers. I don’t know if they were specifically—
Hazmat Leader: Were they Reavers or were they infected people.
Christian: They were Reavers. We were attacked by Reavers and our ship sustained damage and we were forced to crash land on a planet. It appeared to have been populated at sometime but we don’t know its name.
Hazmat Leader: Your trajectory is a little odd coming from Deadwood.
Christian: No, we never made it. We were going in a very roundabout route. Um, confidentially, we have some passengers who are paying us by the day… And we ended up being attacked and we headed for the nearest body we could find. It was something that ended up being something that orbited a protostar that had some abandoned cities on it.
Hazmat Leader: Was it Burnham, where you went?
Christian: I don’t know the proper name of it. I can have you talk to our pilot.
Hazmat Leader: Yes, we’ll talk to your pilot.

What happens next is fast and callous in its efficiency. We the crew, and all our passengers, are taken aboard Decatur and thoroughly examined by its medical staff.

Rina and Harry go nuts. Harry has an extreme phobia of needles and Rina has an extreme dislike of strangers putting their hands on her. Violence ensues. Rina and Harry are forcibly sedated. Spinal taps are done on all of us and tests are run on the fluid drawn. By the time Rina and Harry wake up, the results have come back and we’re declared clean.

Clean of what?

It’s not long before we hear the answer.

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