Episode 204: Meridian Encounters

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Present: Maer, Terri, Jay and Tony.
Air Date: 11 Aug 2009

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Sunday, 18 February 2520
Kuiper II Class, Summer’s Gift
Brisbane, Meridian
Blue Sun (Qing Long) system
09:30hrs, local time

It takes us 26 days to reach Meridian, in most part because of our route. We’d plotted a more out-of-the-way course, to avoid encountering the Feds and any nasty entanglements that might ensue once they realized Lem Kurpinski had TSE. As for the child himself, he exhibits periods of lucidity punctuated by forgetfulness and erratic behavior, some of it violent. It is nothing we cannot handle so far and so we deal with him as we can. Our other passenger, Johannes Volker III, exhibits some cyclical behavior starting with periods of lucidity, followed what best can be described as mania, before mellowing out. Arden cannot discuss this with us due to doctor/patient confidentiality. However, if Johannes Volker posed a safety threat, he would at least tell us what to do to minimize any risk. And since Arden hasn’t said anything along those lines, we have to conclude that Johannes, though odd, is pretty much harmless.

Because of the oblique course we’ve plotted, Nika has to spend more hours in the chair than usual, because the in-flight course changes under pulse require her hand on the controls. The turns are too finicking to make on autopilot. When we cross over the border into Blue Sun, we receive an automated message on endless loop: This is a Quarantined system. It’s nothing we don’t already know and we fly on, sending a short ping to Decatur telling her we’re back in-system and are looking to rendezvous.

Our first stop in Blue Sun is at Meridian, to deliver 45 tons of medicine and medical equipment to Brisbane on the southern continent. When we arrive, we find it’s a spread-out town of 30,000 souls who’ve hacked a life out of the temperate mountain forest. A convoluted river runs through Brisbane’s valley and our information on the area tells us that up on the heights, a decent logging industry can be found. We land at Brisbane’s spaceport, little more than a patch of scorched earth and are met with a timid welcome. Ships don’t normally come this far into the country so our arrival is an uncertain situation for the Brisbaners. Do they welcome us? Or do they start storming the ship? Luckily, they decide on the former.

Dr. Fong, for whom our cargo is, does not meet us and we learn from his nursing staff that he’s gone by horse and cart up into the forested mountains. Why? There have been stories coming downriver of trouble upstream and Fong went to see to any sick folk who might need him. How long has he been gone, we ask. A week is the reply. If there’s been any trouble up at the logging camp, that might explain his long absence, but he’s not answering his radio and the nurses are getting worried.

Arden asks if there is any other doctor here? No, Fong is the only one. Can the head nurse sign for the cargo? No. Furthermore, Fong’s the only one with the code to unlock their storage containers to stow our cargo. Until Fong is back, we can’t leave and the medicine is too valuable to just dump without proper storage.

Arden decides to stay behind with the nurses, keeping Lem with him, and help them treat the ill in Brisbane. Johannes stays in Brisbane as well as Jake, the latter to shoot more footage of Rim life, the former….? Who knows? The rest of us go look for Fong. The forest canopy is too dense to use our shuttle for an air search. After purchasing some camping equipment (4 bedrolls, 2 tents, filtration canteen and a cook set) and Rina packs a bag with tools, we take our Gator mule up the narrow mountain road with Rick on foot, taking the lead and tracking the faint traces left behind by the Doctor’s horse and cart.

The mountain road is narrow and rutted and necessitates going at a near-walking pace. We keep getting stuck in the mud and finding ourselves going down false roads, so it takes us the balance of the day to reach a disappointingly low elevation. Along the way, we spy a possible watcher following our progress from the ridge. Christian spots him first, tells the others and Rick promises to keep an eye out. Dark skinned and human is all Christian was able to ascertain before the figure disappeared below the forest canopy and so that’s how he describes what he saw. Later on, we discover a small cabin that had been ransacked by parties unknown. We are unsure what exactly had been taken, but we do know it wasn’t a bear that wrecked the place and it wasn’t Reavers. There is no blood, no corpse as would indicate Reaver attack. There being nothing and no one to help, we get back into our Gator and motor on.

We spend the night on the road. Nika and Rick sleep outdoors in a tent each. Rina sleeps in the Gator to guard it and Christian keeps her company. During the night, Rick catches sight of our shadow watcher and trails him some distance through the woods before losing him to the underbrush. He tells us about it when we wake the next morning over breakfast.

We find another cabin as a burnt out ruin still smoking when we arrive, with an abandoned goat tied to a tree and expired, attracting flies. Again, no sign of bloodletting, and no idea of what was taken. We don’t go far when we encounter another cabin, ransacked and empty of inhabitants or owners, but this time we see drag marks in the dirt, the sort made when someone is either helped along while incapacitated or taken against their will—it’s not clear which. With a sinking feeling, we start putting the pieces together and though we would like to investigate further, we have to stay on mission: finding the doctor. It’s doubly important we do it, now that there is evidence that people are being taken. We drive on.

Rick has taken point and he encounters a trip wire stretched across the narrow road. Unfortunately for him, he notices it only after it’s stretched taut against his shin.


Rina alights from the Gator with her tools and investigates the booby trap. Looking around carefully, he and Rina see two red LEDs blinking away in the underbrush to either side of the road, presumably where the trip wire is anchored. Rina has no demolitions experience and Rick reasons that he may not have tripped the bomb—had he, he’s be dead already. Rick motions the Gator back and when everyone else is safe inside the armored mule, Rick takes a giant running leap backward, taking his shin off the trip wire. The wire goes slack, the LEDs go steady and …. nothing goes boom.

Well. That was anti-climatic.

We investigate further. She discovers it’s a homemade shaped charge set to explode on passing vehicles, very much like a military claymore mine, planted one to either side of the road. We can see the doctor’s cart tracks going right through the trap, leading us to believe that the mine was set after he’d gone by. There’s no telling how much traffic this road gets and to leave the mines in place is tantamount to murder. Rick and Christian take cover behind the open doors of the Gator and shoot the mines out. Christian hits his target, Rick misses and one side of the IED explodes inward across the road, setting off the other half.

Examination of the scene after the smoke clears shows the trees still standing studded with shrapnel. Anyone in an open wagon would have been shredded. Even though the Gator is an armored vehicle, had it been where Rick had stood, the explosion would have put us in a world of hurt.

Since there’s no telling if the road has more of these things and it’s pretty obvious that we’re risking going into a war zone, we turn back for Brisbane again with the intent to tell the constabulary of what we’d found. As we back out to the first turn-out, we reckon we could probably try to spot the logging camp from the air using our shuttle. It’s possible the camp is in a cleared area in the canopy, to avoid starting fires from any chimneys. The cabins we encountered on the trip up were in small cleared areas, apparently for the same reason.

On our way back down the mountain, our shadow watcher reveals himself. Christian climbs down from the Gator to parlay. Our watcher is a dark skinned Australian aborigine complete with the Aussie accent and the name of David Unaipon.

Christian: David, why are there burned out cabins and bombs on the trail?
David: I suppose that’s where people are…
Christian: Ransacking cabins and setting bombs on the trail, yes. Got anything beyond that?
David: People are acting a bit looney.
Christian: Paranoid? Worried about their neighbors? Becoming unusually violent for no reason?
David: Well...there’s been rumors about Reavers Disease.
Christian: That whole damn disease.
David: Some people get a bit…ah, skittish.
Christian: What are they eating up here.
David: Hunting’s not been good…
Christian: They’ve been eating protein paste, haven’t they?
David: Perhaps.

We didn’t see any soy processors in the cabins, but that means nothing. It’s possible to suck the paste right out of the packets.

Christian: Do you know if a doctor, a man like—
David: You don’t look that religious.
Christian: We’re not. We’re looking for Dr. Fong.
David: Ah. Dr. Fong.
Christian: Did he pass through here, by any chance?
David: With his wagon?
Christian: Yes.
David: Yeh. Couple days ago.
Christian: Do you know how far he got, where he went?
David: I think he got taken up to the logging camp.
Christian: Taken? Taken as in, the logging camp has become an armed camp where they are taking prisoners?
David: Something like that. I don’t know if they’re takin’ prisoners, but they’ve taken him prisoner.
Christian: What happened to the cabin dwellers? (gestures downslope)
David: (pause) D’you wanna see?
Christian: (grimly) Yes, I want to see.
David: I don’t think your truck’ll come.

We pile out at Christian’s wave and introductions are made all around.

David: G’day. That’s a nasty business goin’ on there.
Christian: That’s okay, I think this is something we need to see.

We go armed. David leads the way and we follow. Christian asks some more questions as we go deeper into the brush.

Christian: Do you live here as a group? Or do you live alone?
David: Oh, we sometimes come together but we like…ah…a bit of space between each other. Enough so we can see the stars.
Christian: So…like a loosely affiliated aboriginal—
David: Something like that.
Christian: (to Rick) You could do your next special from here.
David: Well, we have a rich cultural heritage. You’re not from PBS are you?
Christian: No, we’re not from PBS. He does one of those survival shows.
David: Don’t have a Cortex. I don’t even know if there’s one down in Brisbane.
Christian: Considering the way their docks were set up, I didn’t even bother looking for one.
David: Yeh. Dr. Fong’s a bit of a…I don’t know if I’d call him a real doctor…Fung luh is what I’d say, but he seems like a pretty good bloke. Comin’ up here by himself to treat the settlers, seems to care about things.
Rina: Does he treat you?
David: Nah, I don’t really get hurt.
Christian: There was someone else out here wandering around that was wounded.
David: Well…I think…I don’t spend a whole lot of time near them. There’s something about them… the whole forest gets quiet when they’re around, but there are people who are infected with something.
Christian: Do you know what ‘mad cow disease’ is?
David: Isn’t that the Reaver Disease?
Christian: Yeah.
David: They’re not always violent—
Christian: It doesn’t turn you into a Reaver. It causes damage to the brain.
David: That’s kinda pitiful. I think that’s what Thompson and his crew were worried about.
Rina: Who’s Thompson?
Christian: The loggers.
David: He runs the logging camp.
Nika: Are they worried about it or are they infected?
David: Now that’s an interesting question. I don’t know.
Christian: If they’re infected and they don’t know about it, they may be worried about it. Which would only make them more paranoid about it.
Rina: How many men does Thompson have with him?
Rick: Does Rina have the Reaver’s Disease?
Rina: (eyerolls) No, I come by my paranoia quite naturally, thank you.

The others laugh and David answers the question.

David: Maybe two dozen.
Rina: Two dozen.
Christian: Heavy equipment? Explosives? Did they set the explosives on the trail?
David: Yeah, they’re a bit of a, ah….what do you call them? In addition to logging, they’re a independent, sorta Browncoat militia….
Nika: Awww, shi!
Christian: So they are heavily armed.

David wags his hand.

David: Well…they are for your typical loggers, but out here it’s not unusual to see people who—.
Christian: (agreeing) No, not to have a rifle or something. But did they have heavy weapons? Machine guns?
Rina: Mortars?
Christian: Do they have explosives? Because you’d need explosives to take out stumps.
Rina: Yeah, but then you’d just use dynamite and not a mine.
David: They haven’t sent a whole lot down, recently. They been kinda sealed up there. Suits me well. I don’t like them really, moshin’ around, skinning all the game with their logging.
Rina: One more thing, I hope you don’t mind my asking.
David: Hmm?
Rina: Do they have any ground-to-air missiles?

Geez, she really comes by that paranoia naturally? Seriously?

David: Nahh, I wouldn’t know.
Rina: (to the others) Because if we go in our shuttle, we don’t want to be shot down.
David: I’m invisible when I fly.

Rick laughs first, getting it. Then the others do, too.

Rina: (to David) Do you have any extra mushrooms?
David: Nah, we don’t need mushrooms where I’m goin’.
Christian: I got the feeling we’re not going to want anything in our stomach where we’re going.

And sure enough, David leads us up to a high valley where we can see a large fire pit. Filled with…mostly ashes.

Christian: I suspect if we go down, we’ll find bone fragments.
Rina: (please say it isn’t so….) Of?
Christian: People. (to David) So, did the loggers do this?
David: I believe so.
Christian: They killed all the various independent settlers and then…burned their corpses?
David: (grimly nodding) I believe some of their own, too.
Rina: People who they believe are infected? Or people who just disagreed with them?
David: I don’t know.

Some quick math based on what we’ve seen tells us we might expect to find the remains of about a dozen down in there.

Rick: Could be rough.
David: They seem a bit twitchy in the skull. I think they might be worried that, ah, pretty much anyone they don’t know is infected.
Rina: Thompson’s first name isn’t Kurtz, now, is it?
David: No. Ted.

Everybody breathes for a second and Christian states the glaringly obvious.

Christian: Well, this is not good.
Rina: (quietly) Okay, there’s no way we can take on all these guys by ourselves. I say we go back down the mountain and we tell the authorities what’s going on.
David: The authorities? What authorities are you talkin’ about?
Rina: All right, so, fine. Frontier justice, then. We get a posse.
Christian: No. You want to make this worse?
Rina: I want to make this gone. What do you suggest we do?
Christian: I suggest we land our ship on top of them.

Rina gapes.

Rina: (not really a question) The Gift.
Christian: Yes.
Nika: ‘Squish’?
Christian: Yes. There’s nothing they can do to it.
David: Not unless they have one’a those…what did you call them?
Rina: Surface-to-air missiles.
Nika: Do you really want me to squish them like grapes?
Christian: No, I don’t really want you to squish them like grapes. Okay, look. Let’s stop and think about this for a second. First of all, all of these people—or some of them—are already infected. (to David) You’re saying the people living in the cabins were acting erratically.
David: Not all the people in the cabins, but some of the people began to behave strangely. And then everyone became suspicious of everyone else.
Christian: And the loggers being the largest armed group—
Nika: (interrupting) Christian. (a beat) The percentage of people affected by this is very low.
Christian: That we know of.
Nika: If there are a lot of people being affected by this, in this particular local area, we got a problem.

Christian turns to David.

Christian: What are they eating? You say game’s been scarce. What are they eating?
David: I don’t really know.
Christian: Are any of your people affected?
David: I don’t really know. As I said, we’re pretty spread out.

And we all start going back to the Gator, discussing how anyone keeps him or herself fed in this situation. David says he only eats food that he finds or kills. Berries and stuff.

Rina: Nothing man-made or processed?
David: No.

Nika figures if the source of the infection is processed protein, then it would be shipped in as a large batch and then distributed in smaller batches across the entire area. If the shipment was infected, then we could be talking about a large area being affected. Which leaves how many people in the immediate area who have the disease or succumbed to it? David says there are about half a dozen people’s remains in the pit, but it’s hard to tell. Christian surmises that probably initially a few people showed signs of coming down with the disease and the others naturally started looking at everyone else for unusual behavior. Which, given the sort of people who would live in this area alone, is pretty much going to be a little unusual already. That’s not what worries him, however. What does is if the people in the logging camp are affected, especially amongst the leadership….

Nika: You’ve suddenly got a whole paranoid cult.
Christian: And it becomes an ‘us versus them’ mentality.
David: They’ve always been pretty paranoid, too.
Christian: It’s only going to be a matter of time before they start executing within their own ranks. They may have already done it. They took the doctor alive. Not because they think he’s infected, but because they need him.
Rina: I say we fly in and two kliks out, we turn on the music.
Christian: What is it with you and swooping down with the music on?
Rina: Well, we had heavy guns mounted on our ship not so long ago.

From the Highgate cache. Which, had we kept them somehow, would have come in very useful right about now. Certainly if we’re going to make an aerial assault on an armed logging camp. Christian points out the major flaw in Rina’s line of thinking.

Christian: Yes, we did. Aa-aaaaand….you’ll notice we have money, now. Which we wouldn’t have if we didn’t have cargo containers. Point being, we’ll fly over and check it out. The one thing about doing a flyover is they’ll assume we’re the authorities and have come to get them.

Which would really pitch the cat amongst the pigeons, wouldn’t it? Could we use that to our advantage? No matter what, nothing can be mounted here on the trail. Christian shakes David’s hand in farewell.

Christian: Thank you.
David: Good Luck.
Christian: We have to get back to town and tell the people there what’s going on. (to David) Be careful. You might in fact be one of the souls hurt out here.
David: Well, I’m not plannin’ on hangin’ around here, but it’d be nice to get ridda those blokes.
Christian: You’re welcome to come back with us.
David: Nahh, it’s all right.
Christian: Okay.

Rick warns David that the disease attacks the infected victims’ brain and one can contract the disease by eating the affected organ. Should David kill any animal acting strangely, avoid eating the brain. David assures us he will be careful, and there being little else we can do, we pack up in our Gator and leave.

When we get back to town we check in with Arden, Jake and Johannes. Arden’s been very busy, given that there’s been a fair build-up of medical cases in the doctor’s absence. Furthermore, the Quarantine has affected everything here, from food quality to access to medical supplies. Malnutrition cases are cropping up. The one bright spot in all of this is Lem seems to have maintained his current state and not slid further into the disease. Given the general paranoia over the disease, driven by tales of weird things happening in the woods of Meridian, that’s a good thing. Without outwardly obvious symptoms of the illness, he’s safe from reprisal.

Christian inquires about the PDF. Being that Meridian is the capital of the system, surely there’d be someone he can contact in Brisbane? He’s told that not here, no, but perhaps somewhere else on Meridian. Should Christian talk to the local officials? A mayor, headsman, burgermeister? Interestingly enough, yes, Brisbane had a sheriff. He’d heard of some violence up in the heights and hasn’t yet come back. Christian fills in the blanks: the sheriff is either being held at the camp or he’s with the others in the fire pit.


Christian calls from the Gift for the PDF, hoping to raise them from wherever they might be on the planet or on the general shipping lanes. Eventually someone answers his hail, a PDF vessel in the Black.

PDF Sailfish: This is the PDF Sailfish, Patrol Vessel. State the nature of your emergency.
Christian: This is Christian Edge of Summer’s Gift. I am in Brisbane on Meridian. There is a strong possibility of an outbreak of the TSE here. We believe there is an enclave of armed men who have taken prisoners, either as a result of the disease or because of paranoia about the disease.
PDF Sailfish: Okay. Are you safe where you are?
Christian: At this moment, I am about as safe as can be. As far as I can tell they have holed up and they have taken at least the town doctor if not the town sheriff hostage.
PDF Sailfish: Oh, goodness. All right. Well, there is…where is this? Brisbane? There is a starport in Perth, which is on the northern continent. I believe there you will find police units to assist you. You say the local sheriff is missing?
Christian: He is. And we know of at least twelve deaths.
PDF Sailfish: I am waving you the Cortex ID numbers of the police department in Perth. I hope they will be able to help you.
Christian: Thank you very much sir. If you are in communication with Decatur, could you please tell Captain Kramer that Nika Earhart and the crew of Summer’s Gift need to talk to her at her earliest convenience, please.
PDF Sailfish: I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about, sir.
Christian: (Uh….) Okay.
PDF Sailfish: Sailfish, out.

In short, we’ve been given the brush off. Christian tells the rest of us the news.

Christian: I have the feeling that Shyla doesn’t exist in the official channels.
Nika: She told you that before.
Christian: Did she?
Nika: She wasn’t particularly a part of the Planetary Defense Force.
Christian: Well, she took charge of their flagship. Apparently they’re not openly acknowledging they have the Decatur.
Rina: (snorting) And this surprises you, why? Because I saw that comin’.

Is the Decatur included in the blackout, too? If so, what is Decatur’s agenda, if not to protect and police a system the Feds have Quarantined to survive or die alone, like a medieval plague house boarded up to its doom. In any event, Christian tells us of the brush off and the recommendation to contact Perth, a city on the other side of the planet.

Rina: Wow. That’s some nice buck-passing, there.
Nika: In the meantime, Rina why don’t you hack into the codes or whatever they’ve gotta do to get them into the refrigerated lockers so that they can store their stuff while we make ready.

Because Dr. Fong has the only access codes to those lockers and even though the temps are pleasant, the meds we’ve brought and the clinic already has should be kept cool.

Nika: How far is Perth by shuttle?

A couple of hours.

Nika: I’ll go and help with the authorities there.
Rina: I’ll stay here and help with the locks and what-have-you.

We split up. Rina and Rick stay, Nika and Christian fly off.

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