Episode 202: Obstinacy

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Present: Terri, Maer, Bobby, Jay and Tony
Air Date: 28 Jul 2009

Friday, 19 January 2520
Larson City, Boros
Georgia (Huang Long) system
13:45hrs, local time

En route to Boros, the news feeds start trickling in: Jake and Rick’s broadcasts are getting seen and talked about. The buzz is growing and in keeping with the freewheeling nature of the Cortex, response hasn’t been unanimously for or against believing them. Some aren’t sure the broadcasts are genuine. Others believe them to be true. Some debate the political ramifications, others just want to sweep everything under the rug and really, the blogs and bulletin boards and private messages run the gamut. We may have helped the Rim in a big way, or we may have set things back, but we’ve certainly caused a stir.

Twenty-three days after we leave PDF Decatur, we make landfall at Vanderbilt City, Boros and while Christian stays with the Gift to get her refueled and restocked and also sell our cargo of mules, the rest of the crew and Jake go on in the shuttle to Nala and Nika’s ranch, there to stay for a visit.

Kevin is well again and thriving, Nala and Larry are happy. They have a herd again and ranch hands to work the spread and life seems to be climbing back to normal. However, the threat of the TSEB hangs over the entire ranching community. The virus has been found in some herds on Boros and the standard operating procedure has been to pull a percentage of everyone’s herd to test for the disease. Any positive result ends in the slaughter of the entire herd to protect the uninfected cattle. Wiping out entire herds have wiped out entire ranches. No one wants to test positive, and everyone is advised to keep a close eye on their cattle to keep them from mingling with other herds from other ranches.

Trouble is, Boros hasn’t been completely fenced in. There are vast tracts of grazing land that have no fences marking off ranch boundaries. Everyone’s herds graze in common and are cut out by their owners at branding and drive season. Until the TSEB, there had been no practical reason to drape the entire planet in barbed wire. If an infected cow or bull slips into the common grazing grounds, ALL herds mingling there run the risk being exposed and all herds found with the infected cattle are slaughtered.

Needless to say, the informal custom of allowing more destitute ranchers keep ‘strays’ is going to complicate matters for everyone. So the news channels and Nala inform us when we land the shuttle in her back yard and we visit.

We’ve only just gotten filled in when the Sheriff arrives to ask Nala a favor. Nala is respected in the community and one of the ranchers she shares a boundary line with, Grandpa Kripinski, is refusing to let the Feds test his herd. Could Nala go over there and talk to her neighbor and convince him to let the Feds do their job? If the man doesn’t comply, things could get….violent.

Nala says she would and the Sheriff leaves. And we find out that some of Nala’s cattle are known to have mingled with Kurpinski’s herd and are likely still with his cattle even now. If Kurpinski won’t test, the Federal Marshalls will arrive in a couple of days to confiscate the herd for testing and possible slaughter. Any other rancher’s cattle with Kurpinski’s herd will be judged infected by association and that rancher’s herd will be eradicated as well—IF Kurpinski’s animals test positive.

Nala has only just gotten her financial legs under her, at least enough that she and Larry are making a go of it. If Nala has to lose her herd, she’ll run the risk of losing her ranch, despite backing from the Johannsens. We need to get her cattle back BEFORE the Feds arrive and she’d take it as a kindness if somehow somebody talked some sense into Kurpinski, too. The Kurpinskis seem to think that the Earharts have gotten all the good breaks of late, and the Kurpinskis all the bad ones and as a result, any negotiations will be rocky.

It’s late January, there’s snow on the ground and freezing temps outside. Nevertheless we saddle up and ride out, out past Nala’s ranch and onto Kripinski land. Rick is a tracker and it doesn’t take him long after we start out to find the trail of Nala’s missing cattle, nor does it take long to figure out where they’ve gone: a box canyon inside the Kurpinski spread. Rina’s hinked about the topography. Where others see a pretty narrow canyon sugared in snow, she sees a killing box where the enemy can shoot at leisure from the heights at targets below….targets like her and her crew.


We ride in and sure enough, we catch a glimpse of something shining up on the heights. A rifle shot echoes down to us and a bullet ricochets off the rocks at our feet. Cletus Kurpinski, one of the Grandpa’s sons, yells down to us to clear out.

We parlay.

It does not go well: the Kurpinski’s are a suspicious lot and embittered by recent hard times, and see Nika and Nala as rapacious interlopers out to steal what is rightfully the Kurpinski’s. When the Feds are mentioned, the dialogue is doomed to fail. No amount of pleading for sense makes any difference. More rifle shots come down on us, then sticks of dynamite which set off minor landslides. Cletus has decided we’re out to ruin his Grandpa and we have no choice but to turn around and ride out, the Kurpinski’s unconvinced to see reason and Nala’s cattle still unrecovered. It’s a long ride home to Nala’s and several of the crew have borderline frostbite by the time we get back.

Christian arrives shortly after and we quickly fill him in on what’s happened so far. Despite the weather, we agree to make one more attempt that night and Christian comes with us. We ride out in the shuttle this time, the better to cover the distance to the Kurpinski’s quickly, and pay them a visit at their house. It’s at the far end of the box canyon and impossible to miss. Rick elects to get dropped off the shuttle early so he can examine the herd to find the Earhart brand—or not—on the cattle. We’re all linked to each other via our headset comms and we drop the naturalist off some distance from the Kurpinski home. We fly the rest of the way in, land in the front yard and are met by Grandpa himself at gunpoint.

Nika convinces him to let her talk to him inside and Arden offers to give everyone a medical once-over and treat anyone who’s ill. Grandpa Kurpinski agrees, saying his 4 year old grandson’s been doing poorly.

And we all refrain from saying what we’re all thinking: that the poor kid has got TSEB.

Rina elected to stay aboard the shuttle, coordinating our comms from the pilot’s seat. She also takes on our guns, to keep them safe for the others’ return. Christian stays with her, because he’s just too girly to avoid getting beat up. Nika and Arden go in. The child is carried over by his young teenaged mother and it’s apparent that the child might be suffering a degree of retardation which, considering the family, doesn’t surprise too much. Arden gets to work examining the child, testing reflexes and such. Going through the checklist of responses. Based on the talk he has with the mother, we find out that the sickness hit quickly, and the child started suffering dizzy spells and forgetting things. It’s very possible that the child is suffering the early stages of the TSEB. But Arden cannot be sure without making the proper tests.

If the child tests positive, the authorities will quarantine the child and he will be taken away from his family. Since there is no cure for the disease, the child will die without seeing his family again. If the child tests negative, then there may be something else wrong, but at least the child can go back to his family.

And Arden tries to ask Grandpa as to how the child may have contracted the disease. Grandpa asks if his grandson will turn into a Reaver. Arden reassures him that it’s not very likely, and explains why, citing the number of confirmed cases and their histories and so on. He doesn’t get very far, even after Nika advises him to use small words. Arden says he can do the test instead of the Feds, but he’ll have to take the little boy to the Gift, where he as the proper equipment. Would the Kripinskis let us do that? Christian agrees to stay behind to allay any fears the folk may have about our motives. We take off.

While we go to test the child, Christian stays with the Kurpinskis and in between regaling them with funny stories he carefully investigates the home environment, looking to find out how the child got sick. Grandpa Kurpinski had mentioned that they’d been reduced to eating Blue Sun food products what the Feds gave them, and like most folk on the Rim, they have a Blue Sun protein texturizer—a common kitchen appliance that adds color and texture and some flavor to the protein paste to make it more palatable. Christian thinks back to what we learned in Blue Sun, that the TSEB is the food supply but no one has been able to track the vector within it. Could it be the everyday protein paste could be it? Everyone has it, the protein in it comes from a variety of protein sources—including bovines. He takes a sample of all the various proteins the family has run through the machine and writes down the make and model number of the machine itself. He warns the family that they should avoid eating the stuff if they can, though he realizes that they may not be able to. And that done, he entertains the family as best he can and he waits for our return.

We test the child and the test result is positive. It’s in the early stages and there are some experimental drugs that could prolong his life…but the child is basically sentenced to living the rest of his life in Federal hands, taken away from his family. TSEB victims are cared for as humanely as possible and are given medical care, but it is still an exile followed by death. Arden gathers up what vitamin supplements and small medicines that the Kurpinskis can use and we can spare, and we fly back to their ranch to deliver the bad news.

Arden takes Grandpa aside to tell him the test results. The child is positive. There are medicines the child can be given, but the Feds will quarantine him and take him away from his family. Grandpa goes quiet and then leaves, taking the child’s mother aside and telling her the news.

The crying starts seconds later. There are times when Arden really hates his job. This is one of them.

Christian and Nika discuss alternatives to handing the kid over to the Feds. Christian reminds her that we have contacts in Blue Sun who may take him. The PDF Decatur has medical facilities better than ours, possibly better than anything outside a Fed base on Boros. The crew of the Decatur are still more like the Feds than the Resistance, but they are breakaway Feds and in our book that makes them a little more trustworthy. Christian also suggests we offer to move the Kripinskis herd with us on the Gift when we go. We have enough cargo space for 200 head of cattle.

Meanwhile, Rick has spent the balance of the night checking each of the cows in the Kurpinski herd and has determined that they are not suffering from TSEB. They have no symptoms. If they get tested, they should test negative. Nala’s cows aren’t among them. Either they walked away or were culled out or never were with the herd. No matter what, Nala’s in the clear. Overhead, Rick spies a round light—a moon?—shining through the falling snow. It very quickly resolves into a ship and it’s coming in for a landing. He calls it in.

Rina’s on the shuttle, takes the call and relays it to the others. Sensors show it’s big, bigger than our shuttle. It’s obvious the menfolk mean to make a stand against the Feds who are coming and we offer to take on any of the Kurpinski women and children. Grandpa turns our offer down. The Feds will be here any second. The mother of the sick child rushes up to us at the last minute and shoves her son in our arms, tells us to take him, take care of him, please. She’s staying, but her son would have a chance if we take him. We try one last time to convince Grandpa to stand down, we tell him his cattle aren’t sick. If he would only let the Feds test his herd, they are sure to test negative and he won’t have a thing to worry about. Grandpa Kurpinski and the other men refuse to hear reason: the Feds are the enemy, come to wipe them out, and there is no way they’ll let them do it without a fight. He has the women and children herded into an inner room for their safety and the menfolk take up their positions.

There is no saving them now. We have to go. If we fly nap of the earth and fly dark, we might slip out from under the Feds. We dust off and spend several whiteknuckled minutes zooming through the box canyon, win clear of it and continue on our groundhugging course until we are miles beyond the Feds…and then climb at a more reasonable speed to normal cruising level.

No one hails us or shoots at us. We’ve gotten away scott-free. God help the people we had to leave behind us. It’s a very quiet ride back to the Earhart ranch. We keep the little boy separated from the rest of the Earhart family, to avoid the risk of contracting the disease. It’s unlikely casual contact will suffice to spread TSEB, but better safe than sorry. Christian spends the night with the boy to keep him from being scared. Nika advises Nala to get on the horn to the other ranchers in the district, and tell them that the Feds have arrived and that they should make what preparations they can.

While Nala is absent doing that, Christian fills the rest of us in on his findings at the Kurpinskis. He suggests that though the protein pastes is supposed to be from safe vegetable and animal sources, if someone somewhere was convinced that using unsuitable material would save the manufacturer money…. Well, there’s very little that can be done, right? That protein paste goes everywhere, is eaten by everyone. What if the paste is the vector, or the more commonly used flavorings and colorings that people add to it using the machine? Rina’s right on board with the theory—she’s always been of the opinion that protein paste and its close cousin, tofu, is Evil Incarnate.

We discuss what we can do for the Kurpinskis next. If the Kurpinskis are still alive come morning, we will go over and offer them a lift to Blue Sun—the system needs farmers and though it’s not the same as ranching, the Kurpinskis can make a fresh start there. After all, the Feds have taken their herd and they’ll likely have lost everything along with it. They have nothing left to lose.

Nala returns and asks what we’re going to do with the little boy. We admit we have friends working out of Blue Sun who may be able to help him. No, he’s not going to turn Reaver. There are only about 300 cases of it so far but no one’s gone Reaver. In fact, the hype about the disease may be a sham, a political ploy by some to win independence for the Blue Sun system. Nika tells her sister that we’re willing to take the Kurpinskis to Blue Sun to resettle, if they survive the night against the Feds. And that said, we turn in for the night to see what the morning will bring. Arden stays up and listens over the CB channels for any word of what’s happening the next ranch over.

Saturday, 20 January 2520
07:30 hrs, local time

The next morning we see a column of smoke on the horizon, coming from the Kurpinski’s quarter. We board the shuttle and fly back to their homestead to investigate.

The Kurpinsky house has been razed to the ground. Corpses of cattle litter the ground. We see two Fed spacecraft parked in front. It’s an Alliance ASREV, tasked to the Federal Marshals. A second craft, a 30 ton ship, lands next to it and people in Hazmat suits move on and off it. Of the Kurpinskis we see no sign.

Nika gets on the com and hails the ships on the ground.

Nika: Military shuttles on the ground—
Marshals: We’re Federal Marshals.
Nika: Marshals? My name is—
Marshals: This is restricted airspace.
Nika: I understand, sir. My name is Earhart. I’m from the next ranch over. I just wanted to check and see if the family was okay when we saw the plume of smoke.
Marshals: I have no information about that, Ma’am.
Nika: Can you tell me who would?
Marshals: Why don’t you take your first vector out. I encourage you to contact the Marshal Headquarters in Vandenburg City.
Nika: Thank you very much.

We don’t land but turn the shuttle around in the air and fly back out.

Nika tells Nala what we’ve found.

Nika: I don’t know if you want to call them and check up on them or not. It’ll have to be under your name, cuz you’re the one who lives here. All I gave them was ‘Earhart’.
Nala: I don’t know what’ll happen…I’m sure we’ll find out eventually.
Nika: Do you want us to take the boy to the Alliance hospital or do you want us to take him with us? I don’t know which way the Kurpinskis would want us to go.
Nala: Do you trust these people more than the Alliance?
Arden: Yes.
Rina: Oh hell, yeah.
Nala: Well, then. Take him to who you trust.
Nika: All right.
Christian: More importantly, if we take him to an Alliance hospital, there’s going to be questions as to what we were doing there and why we were there and how involved we are with the cattle…
Arden: I say we go now.
Nika: Not the point. The boy’s family is here.
Rick: In prison.
Nika: Maybe not all of them.
Arden: If we were to go to Blue Sun is there anywhere we can stop along the way?
Christian: Between here and there? Hera’s between here and there.
Arden: Could we go to Hera, buy up as much medical supplies as we can, then run it back to Blue Sun?
Nika: Sure. Aren’t people at this point volunteering to go? Because it’s Quarantined but they’re allowing medical relief supplies and such in.
Rina: That’s right.
Christian: We can certainly volunteer wit.
Rick: We’re gonna have to hide the child.
Arden: I don’t think they’ll have inspectors come aboard.
Rick: (continuing) So they don’t say ‘why are you bringing in someone with the disease?’
Christian: What? My child? My son?
Rick: (still continuing) “With the insanity plague?”
Nika: (playing along) He’s not acting that way, he’s just retarded.
Christian: My son has special needs. What are you saying?
Rick: We’ll see if they want to test him.
Christian: I can tell you his IQ is—there’s no need to persecute because—

Christian is very convincing as an outraged parent. Nika starts to chuckle. We decide to go to Hera because it’s the staging ground for humanitarian medical aid going to Blue Sun and as volunteers for the effort, we’d have better luck establishing a cover story outward from there.

Arden: So Nala, do you have any kittens?

Not a diversionary tactic, but a legitimate question. We’d been dirtside for four months. There’s little chance we didn’t pick up vermin. They’ll settle in and start breeding and in no time we’ll be hip deep in the critters if we don’t do something to take them out. Apart from having the crew don vac suits and venting the entire ship to the Black or gassing it, a cat would be the next best thing to exterminate whatever we’ve picked up. We troop out to the barn and take a look at the latest litter. Rina suggests getting the grey one but Arden decides on a calico.

Arden: Anybody have an objection to the name ‘Orbit’?
Rina: Yes.
Christian: For the cat?
Arden: Yes.
Rina: It’s a stupid name.
Christian: You’re going to name it after a travel site?
Arden: No. I’m going to name it after the trajectory you use to go around a planet.

Rina rolls her eyes. Whatever. It’s Arden’s cat, he can name it what he wants. But Christian makes it very clear as ship’s Steward—and the entire crew agrees—if the cat makes a mess on anything, Arden has to wash it. Rina mentions rigging up a litter box, saying that maybe she could rig up a grav field on it to keep the contents from falling out in case of sudden violent maneuvers. Christian suggests finding a way to keep the smell down, too.

There is nothing more we can do at the moment. We thank Nala for her hospitality, leave Boros with both a kitten and a kid, and set our course for Hera.

Edited to Add:

Christian’s sale of the mules was through a fixer by name of Saul Lee. Through him Christian’s picked up a cargo of ‘foodstuffs’ bound for New Hope, and from there we're to take a shipment of meds from Newhope to Meridian.

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