Episode 203: Gibraltar Blues

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Present: Maer, Terri, Bobby, Jay and Tony.
Air Date: 04 Aug 2009

Monday, 22 January 2520
Kuiper II Class, Summer’s Gift
Gibraltar Space Port, Newhope
Georgia (Huang Long) system
15:30 hrs, local time

The TSE continues to claim more victims and the majority action has been to contain the disease instead of finding a cure for it. Arden spends his time in transit trawling the Cortex for information on the TSEB treatment and cure. The name of Dr. Kell Lawrence catches his eye. Arden had read the man’s work as a medical student on Osiris. Lawrence was in all the medical textbooks and now it seems he has posted his research, now fifteen years old, on what he’d called ‘left-handed prions’ which can be used to artificially create ‘anti-prions’. His work was controversial in its day, declared quite off the edge, causing academic ridicule and his ignominious retreat from the medical establishment. And now it looks as if his work might be on to something, fifteen years later. Lawrence has resurfaced on the online forums and in one thread, he mentions that he’s had some success in using left-handed prions to deal with the TSE of scrapie. His news is still as controversial as ever, judging by the forum replies. Arden fires off an email to Lawrence, saying he’s interested in hearing more about his theories and his research and that he’d like to help Lawrence in his research if he needs it. Lawrence’s addy is from St. Albans, in Red Sun.

We arrive after a two day flight from Boros at Gibraltar Space Port on Newhope, a world that gets by on mining (mountains) and rice and fish production (everywhere else). Gibraltar is a giant rock edifice rising from the surface of Newhope, rather like its Old Earth namesake, and Gibraltar Space Port is built for the most part right into the living rock itself. Landing pads are carved out of the vertical cliff face like giant stair steps zigzagging toward the summit, and a narrow switchback road serves them all. Cargo containers are lifted to the ships above via a cable car device that rises from the Docks proper at the base of Gibraltar below. Between the actual blue water port with its Docks and the summit of the Rock lies the town of Gibraltar.

Landing at the pads is a tricky business, thanks to the thermals rising up the cliff face. Nika just takes it in stride, citing it a fun ride. Definitely an E-Ticket.

Rina’s on the bridge, shipspotting now the hazardous business of reentry is over, and below us she sees a big damn ship: the 170,000 ton freighter, Estelle Maersk, of Shulan-Maersk Lines, a Vanderdecker class. By contrast, Summer’s Gift is only 1000 tons. The Estelle Maersk is capable of shipping 342 cargo containers to our 10. She is, quite simply put, huge and compared to her, we’re a gnat.

Scuttlebutt has it the Shulan-Maersk lines makes a tidy profit by using complex computer algorythms to defeat the infamous Traveling Salesman problem in real time. This results in unusual and eclectic flight plans and destinations. Hence the presence of a ship like the Estelle Maesrk in a relatively backwater port such as this. The plotting of the various courses is an arcane nightmare of sychronicity and astrogation but Shulan-Maersk has a computer center the size of a small city to make it work for them.

We approach the landing pads and are told by Traffic Control that we have arrived during a High Security situation and are ordered to dock at our landing pad and wait for further instructions. For our own safety, we are not to leave our ship.

Docking Pad 9 is assigned to us. Nika parks us on it. We sit and wait.

Christian spins up the news channels, hoping to get a bead on current events. No luck. Nothing less than a week old is available. A news blackout has been put in place. Week-old cricket scores are about the best Christian can get.

Due to the recent disease outbreak and Quarantine, the majority of food production is slated for off-planet consumption and as a result, the people of Newhope are starving. Food riots are prevalent and upon our arrival we are advised by the Port Authority to remain on our ship during our stay. Gibraltar cannot guarantee our personal safety should we decide to leave the security of our landing pad. Dockworkers are dispatched to off-load our cargo and some security personnel show up with them to insure our ship is unmolested by any would-be looters. Or worse.

We make contact with the various buyers of our cargo. The meds, in exchange for the frozen meat brought from Boros, are coming from a person by name of Song Jiang, a name of some importance on Newhope. There is even a small town bearing that name about 100 km outside the Port. We arrange for the meds to be brought to the Gift for lift off. In transit Christian arranged a meeting with one Vladimir Byshek, a fixer with interests in Blue Sun. He is in town, and arranges a meet with Christian at a restaurant in Gibraltar Town that very evening. Nika agrees to go with him as back-up and at the appropriate time the two of them take a cab down the Rock for the Town. Knowing of the unrest, Christian and Nika go armed.

Jake is still a cameraman and wants to go down to the Docks to film what he can film, and Rick is eager to find some ceramic throwing knives, the better to slip a knife past any metal weapons detectors. And because they are just plain cool. Rina goes with to keep them out of trouble—not that she much thinks she can—and to provide backup in case things go south. She takes a comm with her, and wears her favorite triple threat whenever she steps off the boat: vest, gun and knife. Two extra clips go in her pockets with the rest of her usual pocket tools. Thus prepared, she goes down the Rock with her two shipmates and hopes for the best.

Arden elects to stay behind to watch the ship, our new kitten, and young Lem Kurpinski. It is also best if someone were aboard to take messages in case the others call.

He’s there when the dock workers arrive up the access road in their trucks. The trucks are heavy duty, and their crews heavily armed. Heavier than the Teamsters generally are. The work goes slowly but eventually our medical cargo is taken off and two empty containers attached to the Gift. It’s mostly medical supplies and equipment, nothing elaborate or complicated, just your basic Frontier-grade meds. Checking the manifest, Arden sees the medicine is destined for Song Jiang, an influential individual who carries some weight in this area. There is a small town about 100 kliks away from Gibraltar by the same name. Coincidence? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Once down off the Rock, Rick gets word of where he can pick up those throwing knives. Jake is filming everything he can, from the state of the buildings and businesses of Gibraltar to the people protesting on the Docks. The crowd there numbers only a couple thousand, though reports have stated some protests and riots have involved even more, and Jake is determined to get closer to the ruckus to film it. Rina and Rick go with him to provide what protection they can. Banners with scrawled slogans like “Eat Locally, Think Versally” and others wave aloft. Jake films everything he can get and it isn’t long before Rina notices they’ve attracted the attention of both the crowd and the Federal Marshals. Twitchy enough as it is, she manages to get Jake to stop filming for now and follow her and Rick to the knife merchant.

They get out of there with footage and freedom intact.

The party makes it into the older section of town and the atmosphere is very Old World, Old Earth. Like Prague or Budpest. Gibraltar, even. And it’s there in the stews of the Old Town that Rick finds his knives and buys a sweet pair from an individual a touch too shady to bear close scrutiny. Both sides of the exchange walk away happy. Rina hits the narrow streets, glad to be out of there, and they all turn for the Docks and the winding road back to the Gift.

Meanwhile, Nika and Christian drive down in the lowering evening to meet with Byshek. Once they hit the Docks their cab encounters the protest, now a riot, and the cab has to make its way through 10-15,000 people. A smallish riot, as these things go in Gibraltar Town of late. Byshek’s restaurant is located in a more affluent part of town, with no rioters in sight. IDs are shown at a check point and the cab is passed through. Driving up to the restaurant goes without a hitch and Nika and Christian get out.

Christian: Why are they always working out of restaurants?
Nika: You just asked me that question and now you’re gonna have me watch all the chefs, aren’t ya?
Christian: No. You can watch the chefs if you want to.

Byshek’s restaurant is more a Russian style tea room than a restaurant. Christian and Nika are shown to Byshek’s table and there they find a middle aged man in a suit chosen more from lack of time rather than lack of good taste. He eyes Nika with some interest. A couple of guys, large and scary, look our party over from the next table: bodyguards, scoping us for weapons. Byshek rises as Christian and Nika draw even with his table.

Byshek: Mr. Edge?
Christian: Sir. This is my companion, Nika.
Byshek: Is lovely lady.

Byshek kisses Nika’s hand. She lets him. It must be nice being blonde and beautiful. Byshek waves us to his table.

Byshek: Please, sit. Have some tea.

They settle, the tea is poured and the verbal dance begins.

Byshek: So…you know my friend Saul Lee? You know Saulie?
Christian: (sips his tea) We’ve had the pleasure.
Byshek: Good. We do business. Is good. If he trust you with the Song Jiang, I trust you as well. I have industrial equipment going to Blue Sun and possibly passenger if you’re interested. Do you have facilities for passenger?
Christian: We do.
Byshek: He is unusual boy. And he may not be able to pay up front. But it might be worth your while anyway.
Christian: Unusual?
Byshek: We-elll….he may have some minor…behavioral issues. I believe he perhaps indulges himself more than is appropriate.
Christian: I’ll be honest. I’m not particularly interested in someone we may have to restrain.
Byshek: Oh, he is not violent. He just might fall asleep.
Christian: Oh.
Byshek: Drug addict. But for whatever reason, he wishes to go to Blue Sun. You know these crazy kids….
Christian: We’ll have to think about that, but the cargo I think we can definitely help you with. Where is it going in Blue Sun?
Byshek: Cargo goes to Muir. Is one hundred ton of pipes.
Christian: I think we can facilitate that.
Byshek: Yes, because of Quarantine we pay double. Six hundred credits.
Christian: Done.
Byshek: Is deal?
Christian: Deal.
Byshek: Is excellent.
Christian: We’ll need to meet the boy before we decide whether or not to take him.

Byshek gestures to one of his men.

Byshek: Ivan.
Ivan: Boss?

Byshek says something in Russian and the other man gets up and leaves. A few minutes later he returns with a handsome young man in his late teens or early twenties. The young man sports all the trademarks of heroin chic: hollow eyes, sunken cheeks, thin physique. He’s conscious and awake, if with a slightly vacant stare. Byshek waves the young man over.

Byshek: Johnny. Sit down.
Johnny: (sits) ‘kay. Uhh….oh, yeah. (looks at Christian and Nika) I wanna go to Blue Sun. Can you take me there?
Christian and Nika: (unison) Where?
Johnny: Just some planet.
Christian: Why?
Johnny: It’s my own business.
Christian: What are you on?
Johnny: Meh, normal stuff.
Christian: I can think of at least fifteen different things that would qualify under that. Which normal stuff?

Johnny shrugs and eyes Christian shrewdly.

Johnny: Just stuff to keep me calm.
Christian: (not buying it) Okay. Good luck finding transport to Blue Sun.
Johnny: (easily) I can pay you.
Christian: If you can’t answer the questions, you can’t go.
Johnny: I donno. Some stuff I got from some guy. What is it?

Johnny looks at Byshek for the answer.

Byshek: I believe he try to get some depressants of some kind. He is harmless, I tell you.
Christian: Of course. (turning to Johnny) What are you willing to pay?
Johnny: How much is….I don’t need a lot of space. Just enough to put my, you know, bag…

The going rate for passengers is 20 credits a week for steerage, 50 for second class, 100 for first class. However, Johnny is bound for a Quarantined system and all costs are doubled. Food is 50% more as well. It took us 22 days to get from Blue sun to Boros…three weeks minimum charges. Christian calculates double the price plus food for three weeks’ steerage. After all, Johnny already stated he didn’t need a lot of room and Christian isn’t inclined to let him puke all over our sheets.

Christian: 200 credits. If you want a bed, it would be three hundred.
Johnny: Uhh…okay, yeah. But I won’t have it this week….Next week I’ll have it.
Christian: We won’t be here next week.
Nika: We’re leaving tomorrow.
Johnny: Yeah, but you can get off the banks, man.

Johnny turns to Byshek.

Johnny: C’mon, Vlad. Tell ’em. I’m good for it.
Christian: You really don’t want to do that, because the way it works is if we’re not paid by the time it’s time to drop you off, you’re get off the ship before we get to the planet.
Byshek: Give him your IdentiCard. Show him.
Johnny: (reluctant) I….don’t want, you know…don’t want to do that.
Byshek: It might help your interests.

Johnny relents and pulls it out of a shabby-looking neck wallet. The picture on the Ident is of a much cleaner-cut young man and the name is Johannes Volker, III. Christian knows that Johannes Volker, Jr. is the owner CEO of Volker Hovermotive, a luxury hover car manufacturer. In fact, the car we got off Miss Tolson was from the same company. *Volker Hovermotive

Johnny: Every month he puts money in my account. I guess he feels a bit guilty for the way things turned out. I’m pretty sure it’s more than six hundred.
Christian: I realize that, but we’re not sure if we’ll have access to the account once we’re in Blue Sun.
Johnny: If you go to Meridian, I’m sure you’ll have access to it. They have Cortex feed.

And we’re delivering the meds to Meridian, anyway, but Johnny doesn’t need to know that.

Byshek: Every month, thousand credits shows up in his bank account.

Which he promptly spends on drugs to pump into his system, yes. Christian doesn’t budge.

Christian: This is something I’m going to have to discuss—
Byshek: Mr. Edge. This is like magic money machine. You just keep boy in room, let him go out every other day and money just shows up. If I could keep him here, I would.
Christian: Why can’t you keep him here?
Byshek: Well, because if he doesn’t sign off on these things, I suspect it might anger people I don’t wish to meet.
Christian: (to Johnny) Why are you running from your family?
Johnny: I’m not running from my family.
Christian: (yeah, right) You’re going to a place which is under Quarantine. You don’t care where in that place you’re going to. You’re running from something.
Johnny: I’m not running from anything. I just want to see what’s going on in Blue Sun.
Christian: You realize seeing what’s going on there would probably be a lot easier to do if your perception of reality was unfiltered by mind-altering substances.

Johnny starts to chuckle.

Johnny: Now, see? That’s the voice of inexperience, if you ask me…. You might be a little older than me—I don’t know, you look like about the same age— but trust me, man. I see things way better than—
Christian: (interrupting) I have no doubt that you see things.
Nika: (quietly firm) Christian.
Christian: Yes, dear?
Nika: Either take him or don’t. Just be done with it.
Christian: I have a very odd feeling about this…that it will lead somewhere.
Johnny: I have a feeling about you guys. Make it… a thousand.
Christian: (Not a question) You’re going to go there without any money at all.
Johnny: Ehh, that money’ll show up.
Christian: Very well.That’s fine, but you will not leave the ship when we get there until the money is in our hands.
Johnny: Seems fair.
Christian: Okay.
Johnny: Oh, but I get the bed, too.
Christian: You get the bed too.
Johnny: And food.
Christian: And food, and you even get to use the shower. (A beat) I recommend you use the shower.
Nika: Often.
Christian: Every day.
Johnny: What kind of perv are you?
Chrisitan: (down low) You have no idea.

Johnny looks askance, but seems willing to let it slide. Christian tells him that he can meet us tonight at the Gift or come by tomorrow by noon. If he is not there by then, we’re leaving without him.

Back at the Docks, Rina, Jake and Rick find that the protest hadn’t abated during their sojourn into Old Town. In fact it seems to have tipped over into a full scale riot and Jake runs toward the danger even as our crew drag him and his camera away toward safety. Safety in this case means cutting through a small gap in the hurricane fence surrounding the Docks and climbing on top of a stack of containers to continue filming. Which Jake does, with a running commentary. Rina and Rick flank him, keeping an eye for anything untoward….which there is a lot of, with a riot going on in front of them.

People are pleading for food. The police handling the protest are in full riot gear and are armored and armed. The order is given and gas canisters are fired into the crowd. The gas drifts over the rioters and those on the front edge start going passive. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize the gas as Chempliance. Unfortunately, the people joining the crowd from the rear cannot see what his happening at the front. As they push forward, the gassed portion of the crowd gets shoved aside and then trampled as the rioting goes on. The police have to quell the violence before it can escalate and the stun batons and the sticks are out and brought to bear on the rioters. The chaos increases. The guards start firing live rounds on the crowd.

It’s clearly time to go.

We scramble across the tops of the containers in a big damn hurry, eager to avoid being affected by the chemical and we beat a retreat away from the riot, going deeper into the Docks as night starts to fall.

We decide to run a circuitous route as far as the containers will take us, hoping to beat a retreat back to the Rock and our ship. However, the riot and the Town lay between us and our objective and all we can do is parallel both as we go north along the Docks. It’s not long before reinforcements called to quell the riot spot us running along the tops of the container and we are ordered at gunpoint to halt. Jake, Rina and Rick go prone, hoping to evade notice as the security forces advance on foot on our position.

The guards know someone’s on the container roof and orders us to show ourselves and give over our weapons. In the end, Rick decides to give himself up and fakes spraining his ankle jumping down from the containers. Two guards quickly take him in hand and divest him of his weapons. Behind their backs, Rick motions us to go without him while he ties up the security goons below, but Jake is seen before he can escape and is ordered down. Rina’s still undiscovered on top of the container and just beside herself—two of her shipmates are facing arrest and there is little she can do to slip away without betraying her position. The guards are armored and her pistol can’t do squat to bring them down and free her friends. Jake’s left her his camera, intending that it get out with her and the footage make it off-world, but that would work only if Rina gets away.

Rick and Jake in custody when the order comes through on the guards’ suit helmets. The one-sided conversation Rina hears goes something like this: You want us to do what? Repeat the order? Shoot? Yes, sir, we copy.

Obviously the order to shoot Rick and Jake outright has just been given.

One of the guards holding Rick and Jake fires two shots into the air and both guards turn and walk away, letting their helmet mikes suggest the order has been carried out. Not a peep from our crew til the guards are out of sight. Then Rick gets up, his ankle apparently unhurt and Rina climbs down from the container much relieved she didn’t have to shoot her and the crew out of there. We beat a retreat, following our plan to get back to the ship.

On the way, we hear a fight in progress. Ahead we see the silhouettes of two people, one of them growling and screaming, tearing and now clawing at the other, who is on the ground.

It’s a rioter, and it looks like the Chempliance has triggered a Reaver response. That response is confirmed when we see the man take a big bite out of his opponent.

Rick and Jake get its attention, Rina takes careful aim and fires. Her shot slices through the Reaver’s neck, severing the artery and the doomed creature advances, snarling, even as he dies. We avoid his twitching corpse to check on his victim and see we were too late to save him. The Reaver had already eviscerated him.

We make it back to the ship without further mishap. Once safe aboard the Gift, we hit the Cortex to scan the news of the riot. It takes some doing but the riot is quelled. The police have been rounding up rioters and deliberately shooting them down in cold blood. Given what Rick, Rina and Jake have seen, those shot down could have been Reaverized rioters… or they could have been innocents. There is no way we can tell from our ship and for obvious reasons we are unwilling to leave it. We resolve to leave as soon as our cargo is loaded and we get clearance to leave. We cannot save the people down below from their food shortages or the rioting or the police. We can save ourselves and those aboard with us… and that’s what we’ll have to do.

To reduce our exposure to whatever Chempliance we may have taken on at the Docks, Rina, Rick and Jake consign the clothing they’re wearing to the incinerator and their shoes and pocket contents and gear to a thorough cleaning with disinfectant. Jake sends the footage he’s shot through a twisty maze of unofficial comms channels, getting the news out to his friends off-world.

The following morning, our cargo of pipe shows up and is loaded aboard. Volker shows as well and we quickly arrange for him to stay in the passenger container. His thousand credits have bought him better than steerage, but he is to stay in the passenger-only areas. All other places on our ship are barred. That means the bridge, everything aft of the midships lounge, everything below decks not immediately pertaining to the passenger container, and the bridge. Which apparently suits the young man fine enough.

There being nothing else to keep us here, we lift off and leave Newhope behind us. Next stop, Meridian, and the delivery of the meds we’ve been hired to take there.

As the flight begins Arden conducts a thorough medical evaluation of Johannes. He is in good, if somewhat malnourished, condition. But he does have several incision marks on his skull. Under the secrecy of Doctor-Patient confidentiality, he admits several things. He admits to having brain surgeries. That it would be a good idea if Arden doesn’t look too closely at Johannes’ blood sample, saying ‘They don’t like it when you look too closely.” That he met someone who could have been Arden’s father. That the man he met was probably Alliance. And that he met him at a special school.

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