Episode 205: Of The Damned
Present: Maer, Terri, Bobby, Jay and Tony
Air Date: 25 Aug 2009
Thursday, 22 Feb 2520
Kuiper II Class, Summer’s Gift
En Route to Muir
Blue Sun (Qing Long) system
21:44hrs, ship’s time
Johannes Volker III is saying he can hear voices telling him to go to Miranda. Since we have no wish to go back to Miranda and he has no wish to travel further away from Miranda by flying with us, we wish him good luck and move on without him. We say goodbye to Johannes and Brisbane on Meridian and burn atmo for Muir. Our ride is rougher than we expected, the thrusters running erratically. Rina begs Nika to hold off going to pulse to give her time to find the problem and fix it. After trying for six hours, Rina determines the problem is the fuel lines to the thrusters aren’t uniform and that she can't fix it given the state of her supplies and the nature of the job involved. The diameters and length of the lines are different, bearing different flow rates, resulting in a choppier performance. Disengaging the thrusters will cut down our maneuverability and speed rating, but better that than risking serious problems with continued use. She disconnects the thrusters pending repair of the problem and Nika goes on pulse using just our main engines. The flight is smoother after that and we sail on for a 10 fuel hour flight to Muir.
Nine hours into it, Nika catches a weird comm signal off our sensors, something scrambled. She gets Arden and Rina on the bridge to decode it and they determine it’s less a code and more like a fat-fingered distress signal. We drop out of pulse and track the signal to its source: a Kuiper I Class cargo ship, sans containers. And sans answer when Christian hails it. The name on the hull states it is The Orcus. After several attempts to raise a response without result, we dock with the ship and enter to offer aid, as per spacers’ code. And perhaps pick up some salvage should it be the inhabitants are beyond our help.
And they are quite spectacularly beyond all help.
They’ve been struck by Reavers. The smell hits us first. Corpse smell, salty and ripe, and Nika immediately closes the Gift’s airlock door against possible contagion while the rest of us go on. The boarding party consists of Rina, Arden, Christian, Rick and Jake. Nika stays aboard in the pilot’s chair as the getaway driver and as babysitter for Lem.
We find the first body on the lowerdeck landing of the airlock stairs. There are signs of hacking and slashing wounds, some skinning and blood everywhere. Shocked and appalled, and with certain misgivings, we push on for the upper deck, hoping to find records that could explain what happened. We gain the upper deck landing and find another body, this one showing bite marks as well as Reaver damage like the first. In the lounge, there are several bodies, some of them female, all of them subject to the rapine and mutilation common to Reaver victims. Half the party go forward to the bridge and Rina takes Jake/Rick with her aft to the engine room. In the rear lounge we find two souls holding each other in an embrace as if for comfort, both dead and both untouched by Reavers. They could be sleeping. They are undeniably dead. The engine room holds more dead and a telling detail—everything in the engine room has either been gutted and sealed up or otherwise rendered inoperable in the manner of decommissioned vessels. There is no way this ship could fire up and go anywhere, yet this doesn’t fit the modus operandi of Reaver-struck ships.
On the bridge the story is much the same—important avionics and workings are removed or rendered inoperative. There is also a body laying face-down on the comms keyboard, jamming several keystrokes at once: the source of the signal we’d found. At the back of the corpse’s skull is a huge wound, as if an ax had buried itself in the unfortunate’s skull. There are blood and gore everywhere from the head wound, but no sign of the killing weapon.
In fact, we cannot find it anywhere. We search the ship, find blood and gore from the victims liberally painting the deck and walls. We find signs of thorough looting and/or removal of everything that would possibly be useful. Nothing lies in the pantry or ship’s stores, the crew quarters hold a couple of bodies—one of which was lying untouched, as if having died peacefully while asleep, while the other was rather gruesomely killed—even the armory was denuded of weapons and ammunition.
Back on the bridge of the doomed ship we discover the last sent message:
Warning: Do not approach this vessel. Attempt no boarding.
There being nothing more we can do for the dead, we get the hell off that unfortunate ship and take off for Muir. We go back on pulse and Nika makes up for our drift and lost time by making course corrections inside pulse. Being the cracker-jack pilot she is, she does it admirably.
Friday, 23 Feb 2520
Kuiper II Class, Summer’s Gift
Angelic Wetlands, Muir
Blue Sun (Qing Long) system
09:30hrs, local time
We arrive on lovely Muir, tipping over to the next calendar day as we land at the settlement called optimistically ‘Angelic Wetlands’. A nature preserve/terraforming effort gone awry, Muir is wall-to-wall swampy microbial goodness. Flowing with ooze and redolent of sulfur, the surface of the planet is perfect for making soil—everything microscopic one would need for the exercise is literally flowing like milk and honey on the ground. It’s like the Louisianna Bayou…on steroids.
Buildings are either built on rammed-layer foundations or on stilts and the spaceport we land on is nothing more than gravel and rock dumped in sufficient quantity beyond the swamp’s ability to swallow. We land, if gingerly, and when we don’t sink below the surface we disembark and find the cargo’s final owner.
He comes out to greet us. Marc Boone is his name. He runs the nitrate plant on Angelic Wetlands for New Byzantium Chemicals of Londinium. He controls the payroll, the labor, supplies, everything really. Angelic Wetlands is your basic company town and Boone is the boss of it. Boone also controls the Spaceport but alas, there isn’t much to it. If we need fuel or parts, we’ll have to fly elsewhere to get them. Boone hasn’t got either.
What he does have is some interesting news. It seems the TSE has struck even here. It’s practically inevitable, considering the town practically lives on protein paste, supplemented by the gators and the catfish they catch in the swamp water. (And those are reputedly HUGE, thanks to the effluvia off the nitrate plant.) And he tells us of a Shepherd, by name of ‘Carrot’, who came by some time ago and took the ill off the town’s hands, saying he could care for them on Shepherd’s Moon and the asylum he’d set up there at the mission. The timing of the Shepherd’s visit and subsequent taking of the ill lines up with what we’ve made of the derelict and after settling our cargo business with Boone, we thank him and take off for Shepherd’s Moon orbiting Muir.
Shepherd’s Moon, more properly known as Shepherd’s Mission, is a small moon that was once owned by retired Alliance General John Hu. He established the large mission there as a center for lost souls come there in need of guidance and/or a second chance. There being little else to recommend the moon, we find the mission well enough, and we find the Shepherd Carrot. As described by Boone, the dark skinned man walks with a limp and has a glassy eye. When introductions are made, we also find Boone had misheard the Shepherd’s name. It isn’t ‘Carrot’, but ‘Iscariot’.
As in Judas? Judas Iscariot?
Upon hearing the name, Rina puts two and two together and comes up with five. She’s majorly hinked, but since the others seemed determined to linger and investigate further, she goes along with. This isn’t to say we go like lambs—we arm up and wear our vests. Rina wears her usual suspects, along with three extra clips. She keeps an eye on the Shepherd as he leads us on an impromptu tour of the grounds and indeed it seems as if he’s running an asylum for the TSE inflicted singlehandedly. And in the course of the tour, we find out some more things.
For one, he’s seen Swordsman. One look at Arden brings that right to the fore and Iscariot asks Arden about it. Arden tells him that the other man is a clone of him, or rather, they are both clones off parent stock. The Shepherd nods and goes on. We arrive at the Shepherd’s office on the grounds, formerly of the previous Abbot’s and there, plain as day, we see evidence that Iscariot may once have been an Operative like Swordsman: a sword remarkably like Swordsman’s is tucked behind a massive crucifix hanging on the wall. The office holds little else but a desk and some chairs. Iscariot settles in one of them and tells us the rest of the story, with Jake lending his equipment to allow the man to show a holochip. It blinks to life, showing us the image of a Reaver raging trapped in a wine cellar. A cellar, Iscariot tells us, on the mission’s grounds.
How is that possible? Iscariot leans back in his chair and tells us.
He arrived here around four months ago, seeking a way to atone for his sins at this establishment here, only to find it had been hit by Reavers. The brethren had managed to trap one of the Reavers in one of the wine cellars before falling to the attack and from the their records Iscariot found of it before it expired, it is obvious the Reaver suffered from the TSE. And from that Iscariot formed his plan: since the Reavers were likewise affected by the disease, he would eradicate the Reavers using the disease and atone somewhat for his involvement in what happened on Miranda. But how to infect the Reavers with the disease?
Simple—have them contract it the way anyone else would: by consuming the brains of the infected. Given the Reaver distaste for eating carrion, any of the infected they eat must still be alive when consumed…and that’s when the horror sets in. We realize the people Iscariot is caring for are destined as Reaver bait and the origin of the derelict we’d encountered is clear. When we question him about it, Iscariot readily confirms our suspicions. Yes, he was the one who scuttled the ship, then transferred the dozen people from Angelic Wetlands to it, there to end their days without food or water to die of privation or to die by Reaver hands. And the horror doesn’t stop there—Iscariot himself has eaten the brain matter of the infected, giving himself the disease and by it paying the price for his sins.
What does one do with a self-admitted monster who is already a walking dead man? Do we shoot him, as punishment for his crimes and to save further victims of the disease his grisly plan for them? If so, where does that put us on the moral map—how would we be any different? We’d be in the same Ends-Justify-The-Means camp. We cannot leave him alone to continue as he has, that would doom more innocents and also be something of a tacit approval of his actions. We could report him to the authorities, but we’re not sure exactly if there are any authorities in the area to report him to. Decatur may have the PDF prefix before her name, but it’s already clear that she may not be operating under the majority PDF agenda. We could try to send a wave to Decatur specifically, but we have no guarantees that Shyla will answer.
In any case, any wave we send would have an uncertain response time and so we are stuck. Do we do the expedient thing? Or do we do the right thing? And how to tell them apart in such a situation as this?
We do what we can. Arden tends to the sick. Rina trawls through the records of the mission, hoping to find more evidence to support Iscariot’s story and also to glean any passing reference to Mike or that odd message exhorting the Brothers to come home to Salisbury. There’s no reason to expect a connection, Rina’s fishing because after more than a year without word, she’s getting desperate. In addition, there is little reason to expect the records to conflict with Iscariot’s story. There’s only hope that illumination can be found, to both the issue of Iscariot’s self-imposed mission and his ultimate disposition, and that it be found in time.
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