Episode 305: Blush Bismuth
Air Date: 02 Feb 2010
Present: Maer, Terri, Andy, Bobby, and Tony
Our plan is to fly Joshua over to the mine in the shuttle with Nika as pilot. As Jackson, Joshua is simply returning from another business trip and after the shuttle touches dirt, it has engine trouble (courtesy of Rina) and cannot fly until it’s repaired.
Arden, Rick and Rina are called up from Lorngaard to fix the shuttle and they drop Rick off on the way in so he can do overland reconnaissance of the fence surrounding the camp. Once he finds a way in, he’ll infiltrate the miners and find the man on the inside, someone named Engels, to get the story on the mine’s conditions.
Meanwhile Joshua and Nika will try to lure Escobar into a situation where they can either convince him to leave the mine with us or tranquilize him and haul him out of there.
If possible, we’re also to discover the abuses at the mine and put an end to them.
Not too big a task, right?
Saturday, 02 Nov 2520
Corone Blush Bismuth Mine
Highgate, Blue Sun (Qing Long) system
15:00hrs, local time
Jackson is duly delivered to the mine and Rina is tinkering with the shuttle’s engine and muttering to herself, making everything look like a convincing engine failure. Arden plays her assistant. Rina exits the shuttle wiping her hands on a rag.
Rina: The EGR valve is shot, both O2 sensors need replacing and omygod, we’ve lost all our hoses…uh-huh.
Jackson: (softly) That sounds serious.
Rina: You don’t know the half of it, mister.
Jackson: Well you just do what you need to do and get it fixed as quickly as you can, ’cause you’re on mine property.
Rina: We can do it quick or we can do it right. Which one do you want?
Jackson: I’ll have to consult with someone.
Rina: You do that.
In addition to playing mechanic, Arden’s brought what he needs to play a doctor: his medical bag, complete with pistol, is in the mule we drove up in. Rina’s got her pistol with three extra clips in her tool bag, which is currently in the shuttle while she affects ‘repairs’. In reality she’s got it dismantled to make it look real but only so far as a 90-second delay to put everything to rights again for take-off. For verisimilitude’s sake. There’s no telling if someone’s walking around who actually knows shuttle engines and how to fix them and the shuttle is hardly inaccessible to passersby.
Outside the camp, Rick approaches the perimeter fence and sees that it’s an energy field rather than the old-fashioned wire or chain link fencing, and he stops to examine it. The field generator towers are placed at regular intervals and the transparent field flows from one to the other like curtains strung up between fence posts. Beyond the shimmer of the field, Rick can see the land dips down toward the middle of the camp then rises upward again at the rear.
The mine facilities are nestled in the shallow bowl formed by several hills. Toward the rear western corner the land rises and on it sit the office building and the landing pad and the water tower. Downslope of these are the miners’ dormitories. In the bowl of the hills lie the mining facilities proper, including the main crusher with its conveyor belts, and the engineering and mechanical shops. Scattered through the valley of the hills are the individual mine shafts with their cover shacks. Up the southern slope and exiting to the southeast, climbing out of the valley, is the main access road and the gate. Also there is the main mine shaft paralleling the road below ground. Most of these details were provided on the rough map Jackson provided the crew….but without the information provided by direct observation of the site itself, it would be foolish to make any plans off the map alone.
Rick examines the camp some more and picks out the three internal guard towers. Those are 30 feet high and armed with light machine guns. Working out the sight lines from those towers, he discovers that their positions are riddled with blind spots. Some judicious skulking can make use of those, which he’d get to as soon as he can.
As soon as he finds a way past the energy barrier.
Of course, Nika, Rina and Arden saw the fence as we flew in. Rina and Arden are in the shuttle sweating over the engine and Jackson’s hovering behind them.
Arden: Isn’t a force field around a mine seem a bit overkill?
Jackson: (nervously) Mr. Escobar explained very clearly to me this was necessary because there were… people that they wanted to make sure didn’t see any of our secure bismuth facilities.
Rina: Bismuth. Yeah. It’s the street drug of choice.
Nika approaches Jackson from the exit ramp.
Nika: (puzzled) Why are you talking to the mechanics?
Jackson: I have to. It’s part of the mine overview.
Nika: Just checking.
If the repairs are going to take more than a day, and it looks like they will, Jackson can arrange temporary housing on site for the mechanics and the pilot.
Back at the perimeter fence, Rick sits under cover and watches it, trying to suss out any weaknesses. The field appears to be semi-permeable. Dust and small particles flow through without impediment or effect. Anything larger, however, suffers. As he watches, a rabbit gets too close to the field and brzzt! it stiffens and goes limp. Dead as a doornail. Insects suffer the same fate. Rick, being larger than either rabbit or fly, may not be killed by the field, only stunned. Either condition, however, is unacceptable. Rick must find a way to pass through without touching the barrier. There are no convenient sewer drains or culverts inside which to tunnel under the fence. He picks up and moves on, ducking from one bit of cover to the next in the scrub, looking to find a weakness in the terrain or the field that he can exploit.
Eventually he does. The generator towers aren’t all alike. Some have been installed at a perfect 90-degree angle to the landscape while others lean a few degrees off true. Perhaps the fence was installed hastily or by unskilled labor. The end result is uneven coverage with the ground. The ground is rocky at one point along the perimeter and there is a gap in a spill of rock under the field, a gap that the field jumps instead of fills. Eyeballing the unguarded space, Rick reckons he can just manage to wiggle through it like a fox through the hen yard fence.
Satisfied, Rick finds a nice bit of cover with some shade and settles to wait until dark. Once the sun goes down, he’ll make his move.
Nika spots what looks like a security office near the mine administration offices up the hill. Observing the comings and goings, it looks like the security crew keeps tabs of the miners going on and off shift, taking in their meals on breaks and so on. If we have to find Escobar, as head of mine security, it’s likely he’s going to be in that building when he’s not making his rounds of the mine.
She takes stock of our assets. We have a pistol apiece, if not on our persons. Rina and Arden have their guns in their respective tool bags. Nika has hers stashed forward inside the shuttle. We have the six man mule Rina and Arden (and Rick) arrived in. If we make a quick evac by shuttle, we may well have to leave the mule behind. There is no way to dock the mule to the shuttle in any event.
So much for assets. What about the mission? We’re tasked to find Escobar and extract him to Lorngaard where Shepherd Faria will take him up. But what about the other part of our mission—to verify the alleged abuses at the mine? Should we free everyone and lead them out? Are we here to stage a slave revolt? At this point in the game, it’s too early to tell.
Jackson, meanwhile, takes possession of his office. It’s very neat with evidence of some obsessive-compulsive behavior, like the several pencils perfectly sharpened down to nubs. Jackson takes a turn around the office, placing things in his memory and after a few minutes, a man walks in that Jackson recognizes as Escobar. Escobar is tall, dark, swarthily handsome and though Jackson is technically his boss, Escobar is rather cavalier in to his behavior toward him. He goes to Jackson’s chair and drops into it, plants his booted feet on Jackson’s desk and leans back in easy familiarity. Escobar laces his fingers behind his head and nods at Jackson.
Escobar: So…back from your trip, eh?
Jackson: Yes sir. It was….like a…ah….it…it was a good trip. Very productive, very productive.
Escobar: So we’re in agreement now.
Agreement? Over what?
Escobar: You don’t need to go all the way out there to find this out.
Jackson: No…n-no….(shaking head in an affirmative) No. I..ah, um…I should’ve known better, I….you-you’re, you’re the, you’re the specialist.
Escobar: (tapping table absently with fingers) All right. All right….Um. Yeah. As long as everything’s all right. Now did they say anything about … anything? Were there any instructions for me about—?
Jackson: No. They-they…they didn’t, not that…..
Escobar: The Cortex has been down and it’s been a little wild out here.
Jackson’s speaking style is fractured and riddled with pauses to rub his hands or the back of his head, darting glances this way and that to avoid gazing at the other speaker directly. And true to his habit, Jackson avoids Escobar’s eye and instead rubs his neck and talks to the furniture around the room, only occasionally looking at Escobar.
Jackson: They didn’t….there, it…there weren’t any direct messages. Like, ah…they, they weren’t all that interested in really talking to me for all long. I, I was, was kinda surprised, because I had important information and I, I had…had things to talk to them about and they were….They seemed to be…attention elsewhere. But…
Escobar: Well, hopefully the new hires will be less of a problem than those who were causing problems before.
Escobar: They seemed to be a couple of ex-Navy people are in, so they—
Jackson: So they know what they’re doing.
Escobar: I wouldn’t know why but they’re at least willing to obey orders. That’s the important thing as far as I’m concerned.
Jackson: I see, I see. Well, uh…you, uh…you keep at it doing your job the way…you do your job.
Escobar: Like I said, you look like it did you some good. You don’t look as pale as you were before.
Jackson: I..uh, I got some sun….
Escobar: Really. Not that I’m surprised.
Escobar: All right.
Escobar leaves. Jackson lets loose a breath and gets busy going through the paperwork waiting for him on his desk. There’s a lot to straighten up. The first thing that jumps out as odd is the inbox: it’s crammed full of paperwork that looks haphazardly deposited during his absence. Invoices, receipts, the sort of thing that makes a place like this run. Going by the appearance of everything else in the office, the sorry state of the inbox is something that would never be allowed to happen on Jackson’s watch.
Jackson: (muttering) Can’t leave….can’t leave anything alone. Shoddy work, shoddy work…
He tackles the inbox first, skimming the papers for intel. He sees there are several Blue Sun invoices. Apparently there are forms that are employment record forms sent to Blue Sun, which is odd. Each says ‘employee terminated’ and then shipped to Blue Sun.
The employees were shipped to Blue Sun? Alive? Or in a box?
The employees in question are all from the lowest ranking of mine employees. The rock crushers and ore shovellers. None have been at the mine for more than five months. Several of these have been from the past couple of weeks, and it appears every month they rotate them out and get new ones in. Every rotation has terminations. There are lots of notes concerning the solving of the attrition problem. The mine is losing more than 10% of their lowest position hires every rotation. At this rate, the mine will never be able to promote people fast enough into the middle-range positions.
Corone, on the other hand, seems unconcerned with the problem. The corporation sent word back promote those who are doing well, and Corone will do what it can at its end. It’s as if Corone doesn’t consider this a big deal and that the mine isn’t to worry about it.
The termination papers themselves area almost like employee references to Blue Son. On them one can find information like hours worked, areas worked, their resumes prior to their jobs at the mine.
The resumes are all over the board. None of them show the employees were ever professional miners. Many of them were farmers, ranch hands military personnel, space-related jobs on space craft, that sort of thing. It would stand to reason that these folk would be put to the most unskilled labor of the mine crushing and shoveling rocks. And it’s not unusual on the Rim to find people who are down on their luck, so it’s plausible they’d hire on to work in a mine.
Meanwhile, Nika is walking through the camp, kinda sightseeing. She garners some appreciative looks—Ohh, it’s a girl! A pretty one, too!—as she goes downslope to the mechanics shop. She has a piece of the shuttle engine in hand that she got off Rina, with the idea to take it to the mechanics to have cleaned and while so doing, chat them up and get some intel. On the way over, she notes the guards and how they don’t seem too excited about a visitor just up and wandering downslope to the more sensitive mining operations without escort. She gets some come-hither whistles but no one calls out for her to stop.
The men at the shop are appreciative of having a clean, pretty woman in their workspace. She chats them up and tries to get a feeling for how they like their job. She’s looking for signs that they are slave labor, working under duress. Are they contract hires? Do they like their job? She’s not going to tip her hand, but try to get a sense of how things are set up.
Nika gets the sense from the man she’s talking to that they are skilled laborers and though they aren’t slaves or working under duress, he’s nonetheless reticent about talking of what’s going on at the mine. He cleans the engine part and she continues chatting.
Nika: Do you have to work a lot of hours?
Mechanic: No, not really. It’s tough work but you work for a month and then you’re off for two weeks.
Nika: Oh, well that’s nice.
Mechanic: We don’t…you know, there’s a lot of turnover around here, so we don’t make a lot of friends. It just seems like there’s a lot of turnover.
Nika: Just because it’s really hard digging down in the mines?
Mechanic: Yeah. I’m sure a lot of people don’t realize what they’re getting into.
Nika: Yeah, it’s a rough job.
Mechanic: And it seems like a lot of people we’ve had here lately they don’t…they don’t seem altogether—I don’t know what sort of weird program the company’s runnin’ but….It’s not my business, so I don’t ask a lot of questions. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to shovel rocks, but …
Nika: I should say they’re just taking everybody they could get, maybe.
Mechanic: Yeah. Maybe.
Nika thanks the man for his time and the cleaning job he did on the engine part and goes back to Rina and Arden who’re waiting at the shuttle. While Nika was out, Faria sends a call to our shuttle with his current location, where we are to take Escobar to him once we have extracted him. Arden acknowledges the call and reminds the Shepherd to take care of Orbit, now renamed Schrodinger in honor of her miraculous revival. Working at the engine, Rina just rolls her eyes at hearing the name and mentally calls the kitty Koshka, Russian for ‘cat’.
After a moment’s discussion, we decide to reassemble the engine so we can take off immediately if we need to. Rina leaves a few non-essential parts and wires loose to make it look as if it cannot fly. It being dusk and there being little else we can do, we lock up the shuttle and cut across the compound to check out our temporary quarters and the cafeteria.
Rick watches the guard towers and notes the guards’ activities. Every 90 minutes or so, the guard ducks down behind the waist-high parapet and every 90 minutes someone comes out of the office building upslope and walks the grounds. Tag team surveillance? The man from the office seems to know the guard’s schedule sure enough, or maybe the guard is taking a break and Office Man is covering for him. Looking at Office Man through the sniper scope on his tranq rifle, Rick notes the way the man moves and stays alert for trouble while walking his rounds—everything about the man says military experience.
Another item of note: the water tower at the northeast corner of the complex commands a view of all the guard towers and Rick spies a catwalk going around it. If he needs a sniper nest, that would be the best place for it.
As soon as it’s reasonable to do so after dusk, Rick squirms through the gap in the fence and makes his way deeper onto the grounds. He finds a place to hide and observe mining operations and it isn’t long before he spies some miners making trips into and out of one of the shafts carrying coils of air hose into the mine. Rick observes a little more, finds the building where the miners suit up and goes for it. Once he’s cadged some protective clothing, he’ll grab a hose and go down into the mine.
Meanwhile Arden, Rina, and Nika are in the cafeteria, sitting down at a table reserved for guests, eating whatever it is that the miners have been served. Watching the miners passing by, we notice some have dull looks on their faces and they’ve also got scars on their heads indicative of brain surgery. Head wounds on miners aren’t that uncommon an occurrence, but brain surgery is a little more specific and little less random than simply having scars from crap falling on your head. The scars aren’t all in the same place but all tend toward the back of the skull. Once we notice the scars and the blank looks, it’s pretty easy to pick these individuals out from the rest of the crowd, despite the uniformity imparted by the coveralls, fatigue and dirt.
Closer observation shows these men don’t have the typical musculature of the typical miner. Instead of the muscular bulk being concentrated in the usual places, it’s more evenly distributed in these individuals. Doing a quick headcount, we see that there are about twenty scarred miners in the 60 present in the cafeteria. That’s about a third of the mine population affected.
In addition, Rina spots a variety of tattoos on various miners as well. Most of the tattoos are partially obscured by their clothing and gear but she recongizes one or two that she remembers from Beylix….Beylix, what was she doing on Beylix that—Oh SHIT! Lex Talionis tattoos. There are about a dozen men so tattooed, eating and relaxing at their tables. Rina brings the tats to her crewmates’ attention.
Rina: Check out the tattoos.
Arden: What tattoos?
Rina: (discreetly pointing) That one over there, that one over there…
Arden: So. Doesn’t everyone have tattoos?
Rina: (growling) Do I have tattoos?
Arden: I don’t know. I’ve never seen you naked.
Rina: Yes, you have.
Actually he has, what with one bout of surgery or other. Recently, too.
Arden: (flustered) Oh, well…yeah…I mean, other than that.
Nika starts to snicker.
Watching the scarred miners some more, we also notice that they are slower than the rest and not just from fatigue, but from not being as aware of their surroundings as the others. It’s almost as if they were zombies. As we look on, we see several instances where food it literally filched off their trays right under their noses. The scarred miners just go through the motions of eating, oblivious to the theft.
It’s pitiable and creepifying in turns. Who are they? Why did they need brain surgery? Faria mentioned abuses going on at this mine. Is this an indication of one or more of those abuses? What’s the story here?
Outside, Rick sees people filing to the cafeteria for their evening meal and doing a quick headcount, he sees there are only four guards in the towers and one guarding the main entrance gate.
Jackson arrives for dinner in the cafeteria, grabs some food and takes a table away from everyone else, and settles alone with his databook. He could have taken his dinner back on a tray to the office, but this is his first day back on the job and he understands how important it is to make a good impression.
Escobar makes an entrance not long after Jackson, and he goes right to our table. We look up as he approaches.
Escobar: Oh, so you’re with the shuttle? How’s that comin’?
Arden: Yeah. I work for her. (points to Nika)
Rina: (snorting) If you could call it that. Work?
Escobar: Is it coming okay?
No one answers.
Nika looks at Rina. Rina puts down her fork reluctantly and answers the man.
Rina: (grudgingly) It’s coming along.
Escobar: How long do you think it’s going to be?
Rina: Maybe another day.
Escobar: What’s the problem?
Rina: Oh, good grief, what’s not the problem?
Escobar: What’s the problem with the shuttle?
Rina: Okay. Look. I have two O2 sensors that need replacing. I’ve got an EGR valve that’s totally shot. I’ve got to replace one, two, five hoses…(sighs)…and of course, you know, the power train regulator could be tweaked so it could run just a little bit better—
Escobar: Listen, it doesn’t need to fly perfectly, you just need to get it out of my mine.
Rina growls another sigh, not appreciating some huen dan telling her how to do her job.
Arden: Are we in the mine? I thought we were outside.
Nika stares at him. Could that be any more idiotic a statement?
Escobar: He could be a miner here.
Nika starts to chuckle.
Arden: (annoyed) What?
Escobar: Well, management’s not gonna wanna be payin’ for you and cleanin’ up after you an’ all that kinda stuff much longer. We paid you to take our man in and out and bring him back here and you’ve done that. Get back together, fix your ship and get the hell out, okay?
Don’t hurt yourself being polite, sir.
Escobar: But while you’re here, there can’t let there be any alcohol here in the cafeteria or the miners’ll go crazy for it—
Rina: Oh, jeez, lemme see. Did I forget my flask…?
Escobar: (ignoring her jibe) If you’re interested, I could show you around the mine and help you out.
He’s obviously talking to the prettiest one at our table, Nika, and she plays along, seeing as how he’s our target.
Nika: (grinning) I dunno. What’s in the mine worth seein’?
Escobar: You dig long enough in the ground, there’s diamonds, gold, who knows what else.
Nika: You could show me the sparklies, that’d be fun. S’not like I got anything better to do while they’re messin’ around with my ride.
Escobar: Yeah. Actually, I’ve done a little flyin’ myself, back in the day.
Escobar: Yeah, so, ah….you finish up, you come on up by security, an’ I’ll show you around.
Nika: You got yourself a date.
Escobar: That I do.
He leaves. Nika’s the shiny lure and the big fish just got hooked. We’ve got him on our line. We just need to reel him in.
Rina: (quietly) Careful. Take a tranq patch.
Which paranoia causes both Nika and Arden to crack up.
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