Episode 301: Hard Places

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Air Date: 05 Jan 2010
Present: Maer, Terri, Andy, and Tony

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Thursday, 19 Sep 2520
Kuiper II Class, Summer’s Gift,
Rockport Way Station, Halo
White Sun (Bai Hu) system
08:30hrs, local time

After a week en route with no Cortex, the lack of information starts to pall. Peace and quiet is all well and good, but it’s too quiet. Two hours out from Rockhaven Wayport, our internal lights flicker and go off. Our Inverse EM Power converter has just gone down and everything that ran on AC current is now offline. All our essential systems like life support, grav, engines—they’re on DC power and they are unaffected. However, the heating unit was on AC and it’s getting steadily colder. If we stay aboard, we will slowly freeze to death.

Best we make Rockhaven Wayport before that happens.

It’s tricky navigating between ports of call without the Cortex and the Halo is made of a bazillion spinning chunks of asteroids, a virtual meat grinder. Flying the Gift through them would be hard even without the Cortex being offline. Nika does her best but she still ends up scraping some paint off our hull.

As we draw closer to our destination, more and more comms signals get through to us. We get hailed by Rockhaven Waypoint and Nika answers it.

Rockhaven: Follow this trajectory. Keep in mind you are now locked on with our missile system. Attempt no hostile actions.
Nika: Acknowledged.

Missile lock? Hostile Actions? What the hell has been going on here?

When the station comes into view, we can see that it’s a group of asteroids linked together the largest of which is home to a rather sizeable radio telescope. An asteroid field is hardly an ideal location for radio telemetry. Assuming that’s what it’s being used for. There is no easy way to determine what the dish is pointed toward.

Rockhaven has ships docked at her, ranging from 100 tons to maybe 10,000 tons. Small and midsized transport vessels. Looking over the ships, we see that none of them are fancy yachts and there are no military vessels at all. We are given a docking ring number and it takes alongside another Kuiper Class ship. It’s a Class I, with the name Borderland Express blazoned proudly on her hull. It appears to be tricked out for passenger service, fitted with passenger containers rather than cargo units.

Once we’re docked, we’re advised of the station rules.

Rockhaven: No firearms are allowed on the station.
Nika: (to Rina) Stay on board.
Rina: (eyeroll) All right.
Nika: If you wanna make a face about it, just stay on board.
Rockhaven: In the event of a fight, whoever starts the fight is responsible for all the consequences of the fight. If you throw the first punch, if you draw the first blade, everything that happens is your fault. That’s the law.
Rina: Does that hold true of the station personnel as well?
Rockhaven: Station personnel would never start a fight.
Rina: Okay. That’s it. I am definitely staying on board this fuckin’ ship.
Nika: (laughing) That sounds like a good plan, thanks.

The ship is in need of some serious repair. Rina knows she’s going to have to stay aboard to fix them. And even though we’re theoretically able to hook up to the station’s systems, we have no ability to convert the incoming DC current to AC. Not as long as our power converter’s fritzed. To bring in some life-saving warmth onto the Gift, we have to literally leave the door open and pray enough atmo pressure from the station will force some of it throughout our decks.

Rina: Not without posting a guard on the door I’m not.

Dream on, little girl. It’s keep the door open or freeze.

Rina: Can I at least rig up a motion sensor?
Nika: You can put a line of tin cans across the door.
Rina: But they’ll see those.
Joshua: You realize that death from the cold of space and opening the door is a 50/50 choice for Rina.
Nika: You’re getting to know Rina very well.

The idea of having our backs exposed like this causes Rina no end of consternation but she gives in to necessity and does what she does so well—repair the ship and bitch a lot. In the meantime, the rest of the crew makes ready to go aboard the station to find a place suitably warm where they can make plans for our next action.

Rina: A bar is warm. You could order hot toddies. Bring me back one.
Arden: I’ve rigged the onboard computer to sound an alarm and buzz my com once the temperature drops below a certain level. At that point, I’m going to insist you evacuate off the Gift. You are not staying aboard. The safety of the crew is my responsibility.

Mary asks if we had the crew drag out the vacc suits, perhaps we can get someone to don them and inspect the hull of the ship and effect repairs? Nika replies it might be possible…if we had the funds. Mary backpedals, citing it was understood that she and the Lenore crew would be parting company with us at this station and any money she might have wouldn’t really be available to bankroll those repairs. Rina cuts in, saying she’ll see what she can do first. She makes sure everyone on the crew is hooked up via ear comms so we can communicate with each other.

The prospect of working in the cold environs of the ship while the others make plans somewhere warm is too much for Rina to deal with—she gives in and joins the rest of the crew. Gunlesss. Knifeless. But she goes.

And she’s stopped a moment by the station crew. They can’t hook up their sewer lines to our sewer tanks. The coupling port appears to be damaged. It doesn’t look like it’s leaking, but it should be looked at. No telling what it’ll do if it sits in the sunlight….

Oh, yay!

What else?

The power coupling got banged up a bit too.

Yay. Again!

We thank the crew, tell them we’ll get on it and get back to them later and leave for the nearest bar before any more yayness finds us.

We find a bulletin board set up at the bar, something thrown together from other ship’s reports and the whatever radio/news broadcasts have made it out this far, peruse the posts—such as there are—and look for anything like approaching a job. We get some news on the Verse while we’re at it.

It looks like the military has taken control of most of the Core planets. They’ve nationalized the guard as it were. For instance, the Federal Marshals are under military control. There is talk of parliaments, but there is no Parliament—the military is in control. There are negotiations between Parliamentarians but they cannot agree amongst themselves the terms and conditions under which they’ll come to the table. Factional rivalries are getting in the way. It’s like seating acrimonious relatives at a wedding, for cryin’ out loud.

Reports of occasional conflicts on the ground have gotten through. News of bombings in cities, on the level of Beirut on Old Earth, have reached us here. And we have news of two political parties, called the Wu Bah and the MT (the Mandarin-Tories) by the locals.

The MT platform is a call to restore the Alliance to the old ways of government—and by that they mean restoring those who are suited to rule to their positions in Parliament: the aristocrats. However, they are deeply entrenched in the military-industrial infrastructure, so the true old aristocratic loathing for dirtying their hands with common money seems to have been overcome.

The Wu Bah, their name taken from the historical Five Hegemons, a pre-Exodus term for the five separate countries inside the border of pre-Imperial China, refers to a collection of five current-day entities, including: Blue Sun, Tong, H2 Enterprises (fuel manufacturer larger than Yu-Go), UBS (banking), and Weyland-Kutani (manufacturing). They present themselves as being for the populace, the real working man. They’re democrats and capitalists interested in a liberal business environment, a free system much like before.

Both parties accuse the other of destroying the Cortex.

Which brings us to an interesting question: What about the Cortex? Any news?

Some kind of computer virus was used to set off a chain reaction to destroy the Qupie Doll connectors. (See Season Two, Avalanche ) It’s not irreparable; it’s just going to take a LOT of time. And there is the chance of further delay, since the only source for the critical QP isotope suffered terrorist attacks on St. Albans.


We go back to covering the political news.

As far as representation goes, both the Wu Bah and the MT are present on just about all the worlds, with some leaning heavier toward one or the other’s support. Sihnon mostly supports the Wu Bah; Londinium, the MT. Both parties are made up of a mix of Anglos and Chinese. There is little information how the parties are faring on the Rim and the Border—the Cortex failure has retarded reports from those areas. So far the news consensus is this is mostly a Core conflict.

Still some news from the Rim and the Border is getting through. From Kalidasa, there’s word of apparently some of the local powers using this opportunity to exert greater control over their jurisdictions. there have been tightband broadwaves sent out to ships announcing they are open for business, they have their own security, don’t be afraid of civil war here. Of the two powers that doing this in Kalidasa are located primarily in the orbit of Heaven, a gas giant, by a group called the Barat (ethnically Hindu) and a group calling themselves the Califate, a collection of mostly Arab controlled interests based out of Jibril on Angel.

There are rumors that there is some dissent inside the ranks of the Alliance Navy. Some ships that have been assigned have been refusing to leave their patrol areas, undesirous of being ordered to fire upon their fellow navy ships in any coming conflict, wishing instead to stay where they’ve been previously assigned to protect the assets and populace there…and hope the Alliance will still supply them with food and fuel to do so.

There’s also talk of some Navy ships ‘going rogue’, engaging in activities that are quasi-pirate-like.

The Verse has been quite effectively Balkanized.

Given the Verse-wide state of things, what are we going to do?

Mary states she still wants to go to Blue Sun, although she confesses that the likelihood of it being successful has gone down considerably. She knows in general where the parties she’s pursuing will be going and there’s a chance she might be able to intercept them. Nika counters she’s not going to risk our ship openly intercepting them and Mary says she’s open to suggestions. Nika states the obvious: they are faster than we are, they know where they’re going, they have people with them that can get them there by the shortest route. Oh, and they have guns, interjects Rina. The Alabama is an armed vessel.

Mary is uncertain that the Alabama is going to have an easy time of it, given the news we’ve seen so far. It is a Naval vessel and it might be suspicious if as a Naval vessel it chose to run a military blockade. And given the people running it, it’s not like they can use military ID to slip through the perimeter. So….their odds of getting through might be worse than ours.

Still, the payoff is in paper cash—not electronic funds which, given the Cortex being down, is more valuable in the absence of electronic banking.

We need to decide: are we going or aren’t we?

Joshua wants to know who gets what out of this if we do.

Annie states she wants to kill Jack. Nobody else gets to do it, just her. Annie admits if we get the money without killing him, she could go with that, but killing him would be a big plus.

Mary states that if we take her crew to Blue Sun, she’s willing to cut our crew in for equal shares. Cooper and Annie don’t look happy at it, but they don’t gainsay her.

Joshua points out that’s all well and good but we’re financially strapped and lack the resources to even attempt to grab the treasure for ourselves. We have no food. We have maybe 100 credits amongst our crew and Mary’s crew has maybe a little more than that. Enough to fuel the ship, but not enough to feed us. We need more cash.

Nika also points out that, financials aside, we are going up against a gunship. We have no way of fighting it or defending ourselves against it even if we made it that far. Rina states she was there ten minutes ago and furthermore, she’s not willing to die for anyone’s treasure.

And that there is the crux of the matter.

Who’s willing to die?

Nika isn’t willing to pit our ship against the Alabama for the treasure. She knows we’ll lose in a ship-to-ship engagement. Hand-to-hand? She’s willing to risk it, but not a ship-versus-gunship fight. If it comes to ship-to-ship combat, she’s pulling us out.

Unless someone can come up with a better idea?

So…Joshua posits it could go one of three ways: we get there before Jack, find the treasure and pull out, or we get there, find Jack’s preceded us and we turn around and don’t even bother with the treasure, or we get there and be forced to drop the treasure and run when they show up. Did he miss anything?

Mary says she can’t see Jack being willing to share that treasure with the Quan Fu crew. She expects Jack to jump ship and go somewhere and we could follow him. That being the case, it’s no longer an us vs. the Quan Fu situation.

Nika says that she doesn’t expect Jack to jump ship until he gets to about where he’s going. Rina backs her up, saying that he’d also take Tom with him because Tom is the only one who knows exactly where the treasure is. Nika counters it’s not even considering the prospect of being denied taking a shuttle out to the treasure—in short, no one is likely to trust Jack not to abscond with the treasure.

Cooper speaks up.

Cooper: Honestly? I’m not sure there’s enough money out there to spend another month on the ship with you.
Rina: Oh hell no.
Cooper: So. I’ll be leaving you here. Y’all have a happy trip out to Blue Sun.
Joshua: I’m sorry to hear that.
Cooper: May the Reavers leave you alone—no wait. You all’ve killed Reavers with your mind.
Nika: (wryly) I thought that was the telepathic gorillas.
Joshua: Good luck to you, sir.
Rina: (more wryly) Drink well.
Cooper: Yeah and if you find my share, I’ll be around.

And Cooper gets up from the table and leaves.

Joshua: Minus one. Well. The thing is, I guess, is “what’s the alternative?”
Nika: I’m not sure we got one, honestly at this point. Well, c’mon. Let’s go.
Rina: We can always wash dishes. Earn money.
Joshua: (softly) I like washing dishes. (a beat) I do.
Nika: What do we have to lose at this point.
Rina: Uhhhh, lemme think…..(ticking points off on fingers) Our ship. Our lives—
Nika: Wait-wait. We’ve already done that. Been there, you know…
Rina: And I’d like not to do that again. But look. I’m just one vote of the rest of y’all.
Nika: She doesn’t want to go.
Rina: We don’t have the credits to fuel or buy food.

Nika starts counting.

Nika: One…two….three….I think you’re outvoted at this point. So far it’s three-to-one and Arden’s abstaining.
Rina: Where are we getting the money to fuel up? Or the food. Oh, and the repairs?
Joshua: You see, that’s the thing. I think the point is, from my end, is that it doesn’t matter where we go. Right now we don’t have the credits to do any of it.
Rina: That’s what I’m working on.
Joshua: If we get the credits, then we’re open, we can do it, it’s not a problem. Don’t let the credits make the decision in this point.
Nika: I know. I’m just looking where we are right now.
Joshua: That’s what I’m saying to Rina ‘Don’t let the credits make the decision’. If you don’t want to go because it’s, like, it’s a stupid idea and you think we’re all gonna get killed—
Rina: Oh, I think that, too.
Joshua: Well, that’s…that’s fine. Like, that’s a perfectly valid vote. Say we do this, where do we get the credits? How do we get ourselves off this godforsaken rock with a radio telescope?

Well, now. That’s the trick, isn’t it? Nika comes to a decision. She points to Rina and Joshua.

Nika: You two work on getting’ us a job.
Rina: Okay.
Joshua: ‘Kay.
Nika: And if they’re paying up front? Yeah.
Rina: Yeah. Now of course, we’re probably competing for the jobs with all the other umpty bazillion—
Nika: Don’t go there. Don’t borrow trouble.
Rick: If we could get a job going towards Blue Sun…
Joshua: Well, we’d have to get a job going toward Blue Sun—well, we don’t have to, but…
Rina: We need credits for the fuel.
Nika: No, you could go to the Core. The Core is still open for business.

There are still billions of people in the Core and they’re not all being bombed. It’s just a little more hectic and the security’s going to be a little higher, that’s all.

Joshua: On the plus side, Blue Sun is busy doing government bull—
Nika: We still have to go through the Core to get to there.

We consider our routes. If we took a run out of Georgia to get to Blue Sun, it would be more heavily guarded. So Georgia is less attractive a cargo destination now than it might have been. That’s assuming our information on Georgia isn’t hopelessly outdated. With the Cortex down, there’s no real way to check on travel conditions there. Where else can we go? There are routes that take a course above the White Sun ecliptic toward Blue Sun. Had we the fuel we could bypass the Core entirely and fly straight there.

Joshua: Rina.
Rina: Yeah?
Joshua: Best estimate. Like, how long do you think it would take you—if you had supplies—to fix her up and make her airworthy? Cuz that’s going to matter when getting the job.

Rina takes a moment to run the figures through her head. We need a new Inverse EM power converter, she tells him. One of those runs in the low hundreds, about three- to five hundred, that neighborhood. And if we’re willing to run with patch tape for everything else, a couple more hundred to get spaceworthy. Total for the bare minimum? Six to eight hundred. We also have no shuttle and technically we’re flying illegally because we have no means to evacuate the ship in the event of an emergency.

But flying illegally is the least of our problems.

Also how long would it take, Joshua asks Rina, if you had the supplies, to make the repair? Assuming she’s doing it by herself? No, her and Annie—oh, would she even let Annie help her?

Nika cuts in to say she’s not going to mess around with the two thumbprints on the locks or any of that business. She looks at Marie and Annie, sitting with us at the table.

Nika: It’s all in, or none. You’re either part of the crew or you’re not. Which means you take your turn in engineering. You take your turn doing the shifts, doing whatever needs to be done. And we all trust each other not to have someone go into the freakin’ weapons locker and pull weapons on somebody else.
Marie: We’ll have one set, but we’ll all have them.
Nika: That’s right.
Marie: All right, then.

Marie and Annie are crew.

Rick: Sweet.
Nika: Okay.
Joshua: Which, back to the question, is….? (looks at Rina)
Rina: With Annie’s help? A couple of days. Assuming we can get the part.
Joshua: Well, that’s…..well, now I know.
Rina: (tongue-in-cheek) And that’s assuming it’s not something I can machine up.
Nika: No. It’s a power converter. It’s not something you can machine up.
Rina: Then we’re looking at 800 credits.

Great. Joshua’s still got to figure out how much food we’ll need. And that requires getting a job first, to determine where we’re going and how long it would take us to get there. For instance, Pericles Station toward Blue Sun is open for business, so folk hereabouts say. It’s 467 hours away, roughly 20 days, and it would cost us about 300 in fuel and food to get there.

So we’ll need to get a job that would net us about 1000 credits, closer to 1500 if we want to buy a shuttle. There aren’t a lot of jobs available to us in that range, given we’re down cargo space to make way for our fuel pods and our passenger space. We’re down to a 100 tons cargo carrying capacity. At 100 credits a week for 20 days, that would be 300 credits. Give or take, if we filled it with cargo and if we had four passengers, that would be another 200 a week. Totaled up, it would be 300 a week for 3 weeks, equaling 900 credits. And that’s getting paid everything up front.

Joshua: We’d be close, but we wouldn’t quite cover it.

In personal funds, we have 80 credits pooled amongst the four of us, thanks to the pirates helping themselves to our wallets. It’s still not enough. Going to the jobs boards, there’s not a whole lot going to Blue Sun. We’re not picky—we’ll take anything that takes us in that general direction. Via White Sun or Georgia…it’s all good.

There is one 1st class passenger aiming for Highgate with 40 tons of cargo. However, they are not willing to pay the full rate to carry it. They are looking to pay half. The 1st class passenger rate is 100 a week. So that would get us 300.

Assuming we can get this passenger to come aboard.

Joshua looks at the other prospects to get a feel of the business environment. Nothing else seems to be going to Blue Sun or to Pericles Station. For Georgia, we could probably get a 40-ton cargo without passengers, netting us less. The 1st class passenger is looking for a non-stop trip to Blue Sun, which means he may be negotiable as to price. Looking closer at the posted details on the passenger job, Joshua sees the passenger wants to talk to the crew before he hires them.

Joshua: Let me at least go talk to him and get a feel for what’s his deal, and then we can go from there. (mutters) We need to win some sort of illegal gambling match to raise the rest of the money….
Rick: Hey, yeah. We can take the up-front money and then we go play the slots.
Joshua: No, no, no…no.
Rina: Just throw me into a Muay Thai ring, beat the shit outa anybody.
Joshua: Martingale Scheme. Blackjack. There’s no way the Martingale Scheme—Do you know the Martingale Scheme? There’s no way this could possibly go wrong. You keep betting and every time you bet you double it, like….and eventually, like, you win and it’s all like—Unless you lose. Every time you win, you keep doubling and, like, you have a billion dollars. In a never-lose scenario.

Shaking his head, Joshua looks up where this passenger is staying. He’s staying at Rockhaven’s version of a hotel. He’s listed his contact information listed in the local system. Joshua comms him and the man is willing to entertain us. His name is Faria.

Rina: Keep your ear comms in. Someone should go with you to make sure you come back.

Meanwhile, Nika’s browsing the job boards as well and comes across an interesting posting. The Borderland Express is willing to pay ‘top dollar’ for models male and female, to model for their virtual holosuites. You have to submit to a full body scan and if you’re attractive enough you could earn some money that way.

Nika: What?!
Rina: (to Nika) You should go. There’s no way I can go. I’ve got way too many scars on me.
Rick: All the girls should go do this.
Rina: No, I can’t go.
Rick: We’re all going to try it.
Rina: Unless they wanted a scarred-up troglodyte, then I could model for that.
Rick: Maybe that’s someone’s fantasy. They want, like, a scarred-up slave chick that would be agreeing—
Joshua: (to Rick) I’d like to point out that you’re taking a step in the wrong direction. Like, you should just never, just never even enter that zone.
Rina: Hey, I opened the door to that one.
Joshua: Fair enough.
Nika: What kind of top dollar are we talkin’?
Rina: (very tongue-in-cheek) Charge a nickel a boob, at least.
Joshua: A nickel a boob….

Such is our penniless state that we’re seriously considering pursuing this. The Borderland Express states they will protect our privacy. They won’t be using facial recognition technology or anything. Nika reads the fine print and looks over at Rina.

Nika: I never, ever, ever, thought I would sink this low.
Rick: Why don’t we stop running cargo and go into the—
Nika: (pointing: Begone!) Go do what you’re doing!
Joshua: Okay, okay. We’re going.

The men step back to give her some privacy and a chance at dignity. Nika finds out that the rate is 50 credits for a 2-hour session, if we meet their criteria. It’s very professional. Our privacy will be guaranteed. They will not scan our faces. It will only be our bodies from the neck down. Nika relays the information to the rest of us and Rina iterates her original suggestion: That Nika should go for it.

Nika: What?!
Rina: You’re prettier than I am.
Nika: And you’d strip down for 50 credits?
Rina: (sighs) They wouldn’t take me anyway. I’m too scarred up.
Nika: That’s not the point.
Joshua: (very very quietly) It might have been the point….
Rina: All right, all right. But you are prettier than I am.

Nika gapes. She’s not stepping in the quicksand that’s suddenly appeared between the two of them, no sir!

Nika: I don’t know what to say to you.
Rick: I would strip down for five credits.
Nika: I do have just a little….erahhhmm….
Rina: I’m not saying you don’t.
Nika: All right, I’ll call them.
Rina: I’m just saying that if—
Nika: Thall shalt not tell anyone.
Rina: I will not. I promise.

In a minute, Nika’s got the Borderland Express on the comm.

Express: With whom am I speaking?
Nika: I would…erm….(whispers) …God….
Express: Are you responding to our ad?
Nika: Yes, yes I am.

The Borderland Express is advertising for positions in staff—wait staff, hospitality staff, etc—for their journey. They do the Paquin-Persephone-Bellerophon run for the high-rollers travelling through the Verse. They are basically a casino ship and they replace their staff at various times.

Nika: I’m calling in reference to one of your advertisements looking for models. I don’t know if I meet your criteria.
Express: I see. Can you step back from the camera? Take your jacket off.

Oh, Lord. Nika does as asked, turns around.

Express: Yes…I think you might qualify. It’s really quite simple. You step into the room, you’re imaged. You can have a copy if you like. We have you do a few movements to get the articulation and such correct, modeling.
Nika: All right. What time?
Express: Are you available tomorrow? At eleven-hundred.
Nika: I believe so, yes.
Express: Do you ….have any friends? Sisters? Brothers?
Nika:….Maybe……I’ll see if they’re interested.
Express: All right.
Nika: Thank you.
Express: My pleasure.

Nika ends the call, turns to Rina.

Nika: (annoyed) I hate you.

And then it sinks in and Nika’s tone changes: Oh my God, what have I done…?

Nika: (mortified now) I hate you.
Rina: I’ll be your chaperone.
Nika: I hate you with a passion I cannot possibly convey in this moment.

There’s nothing Rina could say to ameliorate the damage done. She just nods in acknowledgement and steps up to the board to search for the inverter. And Karma pays her back for putting her friend in the unenviable position of trading off her body: there’s no converter on the market here.

We’re boned.

Jump to: Part 2

Forward to: Turning on a Dime
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Back to Season Two: Hitting Our Stride
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