Episode 401: Hot Cargo, Cold Cash

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Air Date: 08 Jun 2010
Present: Maer, Terri, Andy, and Bobby
And introducing: Kim as 'Kiera Sullivan'

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Monday, 14 April 2521
Somewhere in the outback, Angel
Kalidasa (Xuan Wu) system
0630hrs, local time

In the 8 weeks we’ve been bivouacked in Lucifer’s Landing, we’ve rested up, healed up, and caught up on things with Christian. Rina’s also spent the time repairing and spit-shining the Gift back to the state she was in before Meridian. Well, the ants are still with us but so far they don’t seem to be causing any trouble. As for the ASREV, even though Nika was able to make enough money doing cake runs during our downtime to pay for repairs, we’ve decided to leave it with Christian so he can sell it. Military ships are a very hot commodity right now and coupled with increased lawlessness and thinly veiled privateering by planetary governments, having the ASREV on the Gift’s hull would only make us a target. That kind of trouble we don’t need. Nika and Rina are hurt the most by the decision, but both suck it up and say goodbye to it.

When everything’s as ready as it will be, Christian finds a job for us. And it’s a simple job. Meet a passenger at a predetermined spot in the back country of Angel, load her and her first class cargo container/quarters with cargo onto the Gift and take her to Urvasi. Urvasi orbits the gas giant Heaven in the Barat-controlled space of Kalidasa and since the Barat have declared them open for business, we shouldn’t have any trouble with this run.

Shouldn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t.

Our first clue that something’s wrong is our client not being the LZ at the specified time. We find the LZ, land, and wait. And wait. And wonder where our client is. Late, most likely. Arden and Joshua are standing at the open airlock door, scanning the area and spamming to pass the time.

Arden: I don’t think I’ve seen a more desolate landscape. Ever.
Joshua: (skeptically) Really?
Arden: Well, … my dorm room my first year in college, but ...
Joshua: We did hit a non-terraformed blackrock. That’s pretty desolate.
Nika: We did stay on Miranda for four months.
Arden: Miranda at least has trees and birds.

Nika leaves them to it and goes back to the bridge.

Off where we can’t see it, a container truck is haulin’ ass through a narrow desert canyon and it’s being chased by irate Arabic folk on horseback along the top edge of it.

Kiera Sullivan is manning the wheel, with the shot driver half in and half out her lap. The road is sandy and the pursuers determined, and Kiera is hampered in her driving by the semiconscious dude sprawled on her. One rider skids his horse down a shallow-ish slope of the canyon wall, jumps onto the roof of the container and slowly makes his way to the cab. Kiera’s backup driver is hanging out the window with a sidearm, shooting when he can at all comers. He’s having trouble aiming. The ride is rough because the two front wheels are nothing but rim.

Kiera changes places with her ‘gunner’ and hangs out the window and aims for the horses pursuing her—take out the horse, the horse will take out the rider. Take out the rider, take out the enemy fire…one shooter at a time.

But first, you gotta shoot the horse. She aims for the horse’s shoulder, hoping to make the horse stumble. Her shot goes wide and hits the rider instead, who stays in the saddle and keeps on riding.

Damn, time for plan B.

Kiera pulls back inside the cab and turns on the comms. It’s set to a prearranged frequency to the Gift. She grabs the handset and thumbs it live. She hails us and on the bridge, we hear gunfire and loud vehicle noises spitting from our speakers. Nika grabs the mic.

Nika: This is the Summer’s Gift.
Kiera: Hey. Where’re you at?
Nika: On the flats where you told us to meet you.
Kiera: Well, how would you like to pick me up on the not-flats?
Nika: On the not-flats. Could you give me a little more detail?
Kiera: Uhh….
Nika: And how many people you got shootin’ at ya at the moment?
Kiera: I’m comin’ in from the north and um … well, I still have twelve, though one of them’s ridin’ a little slower than before.

Nika claps the comm to her chest and grimaces.

Kiera: See? Now there’s deathly silence on the other end and I’m kinda runnin’ outa time and this is to make you some money and—
Nika: Hang on. (switches channels)

Back in the truck, Kiera glares at the comm.

Kiera: Goddammit, she put me on hold!

On the bridge, Nika hails the engine room.

Nika: Rina! Spin us up!
Rina: You got it.

The engines roar to life. Joshua and Arden pull up the stairs and close up the airlock, passenger unseen. This can’t be good. Arden gets Nika on the comm.

Arden: Are we taking off without picking up the job?
Nika: Nope. We’re going to pick them up.
Joshua: (mocking) ‘We serve at the passenger’s convenience. Get on board. Lay low!

Back on the bridge, Nika’s flipping switches going through pre-flight and briefing Kiera on the comm.

Nika: I’m getting’ us off the ground. We’re gonna be comin’ in and comin’ in low and fast. It’s a cargo ship, though, so bear in mind I’m just going to be basically buzzing the tower here.
Rina: (grousing over in-ship channel) You see, if we had the ASREV we could just zip over on that and blow those fuckers out of the water.

Joshua hears this and hails Rina.

Joshua: That would be awesome. Can we do that?
Arden: We could do what we have before. Just open the outside doors in a cargo container and—
Rina: Damn, I wanted to hang out of the hatch with one of the rifles!
Joshua: No, not with the rifle part.
Rina: Then what? Harsh language?
Joshua: Why does it always come down to guns with you?

Arden goes to the arms locker and grabs an assault rifle. Rina might be too busy in the engine room to hang out the hatch, but he isn’t. Joshua continues onto the bridge and catches Nika and Kiera working on the exit strategy.

Kiera: (over the comm) What you could do is fly in low, take out the horses, and then just you could just pick us up.
Nika: All we’re going to do is buzz’em and scatter them.
Kiera: Fair enough!
Nika: Find a spot so that when we come back around, we can land and pick you up. All right?

All right. Kiera’s driver steers the truck for open land, gaining free of the canyon and fighting the sand on the flats.

Arden: What?
Joshua: What?
Nika: Get a couple of rifles out—
Arden: I got one.
Nika: —so that when we land, if they are still chasing our cargo, we can fend them off. While we get them aboard.
Joshua: Actually, we’re supposed to be picking up a container in addition to—
Nika: All I’m planning on doing is buzzing the tower and scattering the horses. She got about a dozen guys on horseback chasin’ her truck.
Arden: I’m in a cargo container with the door open with a rifle. Is that good enough?

Over the comms, we all hear the sound of breaking glass and back at Kiera’s truck, a bullet goes through the windshield and hits Kiera’s back-up driver. He slams back into the seat, his arm bloody and floppy, and reassures her.

Back-Up Driver: (with a groan) … I’m okay … I’m okay.
Kiera: Aw, hell…Dammit, crawl over me again. You couldn’t drive with two arms, you ain’t drivin’ with one ...

They swap places. It’s a mite tricky, since the previously wounded man from the beginning of all this is no longer wounded but dead. The turbaned horsemen close in and surround the truck, which grinds to a stop, its engine coughing into silence.

Kiera: … I don’t believe this… (to her driver) Lay down in the seat. Play you’re passed out. Make yourself a smaller target. They may or may not shoot me but they sure as heck is gonna shoot you.

Her driver scrunches down and plays possum right quick. Kiera herself stays still, making no threatening moves.

Nika has the Gift flying 50 feet above the ground and gets us to the not-flats. We see the remnants of Kiera’s dust rising into the sky. We follow the dust to her truck. In the cargo container, Arden says to Joshua over the noise of the wind buffeting them from the open doors:

Arden: Would you go up and get my backpack of medical supplies?
Joshua: Yes, sir.

And Joshua goes up and hits the med bay for them. From his vantage point Arden can see she’s surrounded and comms the bridge.

Arden: Looks like they caught her.

Nika buzzes the Gift over the horses. Half the dozen horses spook and get out of there. The remaining six stick to the target. In the truck, Kiera sees Nika coming, starts the engine and stomps on the gas the second the Gift flies overhead. The truck shoots forward. A hail of gunfire shatters Kiera’s windshield but by a miracle, she remains unscathed. Apparently the riders are displeased with her attempt to escape.


Kiera keeps on driving the hell out of there. The horsemen keep up.

Meanwhile, Nika pulls a sharp maneuver to bring the Gift around for another pass and at the open doors of the cargo container, Arden has to hang on quick to avoid getting thrown out. He’s stunned from slamming into the wall of the container, but he manages to stay aboard and keep his grip on the assault rifle.

Nika circles around to scare off the remaining riders. Meanwhile, Arden is playing door gunner with an assault rifle but he’s working without a harness and hanging on to a cargo strap. Keeping himself upright and inside the ship and firing his rifle is spoiling his aim. As we get nearer to the ambushed truck, the riders turn some of their fire on us. Bullets whine and ricochet off our hull and some zip through the open door of the container. Arden has to duck pretty damned quick to avoid catching one or three.

Meanwhile, Joshua’s delivered Arden’s backpack and has made it to the bridge. Bullets pepper the windshield and though Joshua ducks, Nika remains unflinching in her seat and flies closer.

Joshua: (rising) Do we have a PA on this thing?
Nika: Yeah.
Joshua: Tell them to stand down.

Joshua combs his memory for what he knows of the Caliphate and their methods. The tough guys used by some of the Sheiks are culled from the militant tribesmen that roam the area. Or the riders could just be bandits. There’s no way of telling from here but either way, they are ruthless and ridiculously brave. At times, pointlessly brave. He might have a chance to get them to see reason by appealing to their sense of honor… but that is going to be hard to do from the deck of a hovering ship. Even so, Joshua’s going to tell them to stand down anyway, because it’s the right thing to do.

Joshua: (over the PA) Horsemen, stand down. Or we’ll be forced to take action.

They shoot at us.

Arden: (over the comms) That’s not working!
Rina: (ditto) Nika, talk to me. What’s going on?
Nika: Gimme a minute, Rina. I don’t know yet.
Joshua: Arden. You might want to try the grenades.
Rina: (listening in, to Joshua) All right, good for you.
Joshua: Well, not on them.

Because Joshua is against killing people.

At that moment, a trail of smoke and fire shoots upward from a nearby ridge. It’s an RPG and it explodes against one of the Gift’s maneuvering planes. It’s one that Rina’s only just fixed and the red light on her console does not make her happy.

Okay, that’s it. They’re trying to kill us. Can we try and kill them right back?

Rina: Trakhnitieh menya! What’s going on!?
Nika: (to Joshua) See? Now Rina’s mad.
Joshua: Do we know what’s in the container?
Nika: (flying) Nope.
Joshua: Do we know if we need it?
Nika: (flies) Nope.
Joshua: Because we might be able to get the driver or the passengers out without the container.

Saving lives is more important than saving cargo. But there’s just one thing. The passengers are in the container.

Joshua: How many?
Nika: (still flying) Seven.
Joshua: Seven?! Good God. Okay, we do need the container.

When the dust clears enough, Arden shoots a grenade at the horsemen. He has to let go the cargo straps to do it, this being a two-handed operation. He aims as best he can in the pitch and yaw of flight and hopes he clears the doors. The grenade clears the Gift but goes wide.

On the bridge, Joshua and Nika run through their available options, with Kiera and Rina kibitzing on their channels. Joshua could fly the Gift if Nika wants to help Arden. Nika surmises she could land on some of the horses and squash some of the combatants that way. Kiera likes that idea.

Kiera: You could just squash all of them.
Rina: Nika, are we taking on fire?
Nika: (terse) M’a little busy.
Rina: Vernitieh vas….
Joshua: I still think we should fly in low and scoop them up in a cargo container.
Kiera: I’d be eternally grateful for that!
Rina: I say we come in and release an empty cargo container at velocity and wipe the bastards out—
Nika: I’m in the middle of combat, I’m not taking votes or comments here.
Rina: [a stream of Russian and Chinese invective]
Joshua: (to Nika) I can hover us in a circle if you want to take over the gun.
Nika: I don’t.
Joshua: So what’s our option?

Nika starts taking the ship down.

Joshua: (disbelief) Really?
Rina: Now’s the time to lock and load.
Joshua: Now’s not the time to lock and load.
Rina: You talkin’ to me?

Nika cuts a look at Joshua.

Nika: There’s not a horse in the area that’s actually gonna stay underneath if they think I’m dead serious on puttin’ this ship down. It ain’t gonna happen.
Joshua: They shot at our ship with something that explodes. Do you know what that does to a human body?
Rina: Do you know what I’m going to do to the human body when I find out who let this happen again?

Because Potemkin pulled the same stunt on us back on Meridian.

Joshua: We’re outnumbered. Maybe if we offered them something.

Arden abandons door gunning and heads to the turret, spins it up and engages the light machine gun. It takes him a minute to figure out how to start the belt ammo feeding into it. He flips on the targeting system and it comes right up.

Outside, Kiera stops on the brakes as she remembers something that she’d hoped she could forget.


Aww, hell. Flipping through the cards in her mind—flash, flash, scene, scene—Man on the truck. SHOOT HIM!

Oh, yeah. That guy. What’s up with him?

He’s rattled, is what’s up with him. Because, dude, big-assed cargo ship just flew overhead close enough to strike a match on the hull. Flying through the air in the exact way bricks don’t. And the truck has just slammed to a dead stop like a horse trying to pitch a rider off. He hangs on for dear life.

Back in the cab, Kiera’s making him a promise, yelling at the roof of the cab.

Kiera: You gonna die. Die! Die, die, DIE! I may go down but I’m taking you with me!

Which, of course, we on the Gift hear every last syllable of. Nika carries through with her plan, putting the Gift on the dirt. As clouds of dust billow up and the ground gets closer, Arden gets nervous. He’s on the underside of our girl, the turret extended below the container that houses it, and that ground is coming up awful fast.

Arden: Don’t land!
Nika: You in the bay?
Arden: Yeah!

There’s enough clearance from our struts that we don’t actually crush the turret. It’s also given us enough clearance to engage our turret if we’re of a mind.

We are.

Arden swings the machine gun around and squeezes the trigger. It makes a satisfying line of bullets in the ground into the milling horsemen. It also paints a line up the sides of Kiera’s truck.


Kiera’s no dummy. The minute she sees the gun spin around, she’s scrambling out of the cab. The driver’s door will dump her out into the turret’s fire. The passenger door is blocked by the dead driver and her injured back-up driver. She scrambles right over them and dives through the open window, hits the ground on her butt. She scrambles crabwise away from the truck and catches the eye of the thug on top of the cab. She can’t quite see his face but there’s no mistaking the air of satisfaction in his posture as he stands and brings his rifle around to shoot her. Kiera’s on the ground, on her ass and there’s no way she can dodge the bullet that’s coming. The thug raises his rifle, aims…and explodes into red mist as Arden blows him away.

Unfortunately, Arden’s also blown away the cab of the truck. As well as Kiera’s driver and back-up driver.

Kiera: Well, they’re dead now, dammit.

Arden forgot to strap himself into the turret seat and the recoil of the gun throws him around a bit. Kiera takes cover by crawling under the cab of the truck and praying a bullet doesn’t hit the gas tank. Up on the bridge, Joshua hails the people on the ground over the PA.

Joshua: Once again, stand down before we take more action.
Arden: (picking himself up from the turret floor) Yeah…what he said.
Rina: Joshua, if that’s you on the bridge, who’s on the gun?
Arden: Do some basic math here.
Nika: Please don’t shoot the container. There’s people in there.

Out in the dirt, Kiera’s taking stock of her situation. Even though whoever’s on that gun can’t shoot straight, he did take out the guy shooting for her and he did kill the two people she would have been obliged to pay. So she’s got two reasons to be eternally grateful to the gunner. Still—gunner with bad aim + gas tank + bullets = one bad scene. Kiera ditches the underside of the cab and starts crawling for a dry riverbed off to the side of the road.

She has to look lively when she does it, because one of the horsemen barks some terse words in Arabic and the riders gather themselves up and sweep on outa there. There’s a thunder of hooves and a billowing of dust …

Gunmen gone, day saved.

Joshua: Thank you. Come again.

Nika starts shutting everything down and Arden retracts the gun turret back into the gun container. Kiera crawls out from under cover and inspects her container on the back of the ruined truck. It’s taken some small arms fire and she runs to the rear of it to open its doors to check inside.

Aboard the Gift, the second it’s safe to leave, Rina’s out of the engine room like a shot.

Rina: What the fuck is going on out there?!
Nika: Cuss later. Get the container on board.
Rina: On it.

And she hits the stairs for the lower decks. Arden’s calling out to the crew if anyone’s hurt. Kiera’s checking out her passengers outside.

All the girls are alive and unhurt, save for some scrapes and bruises. Meanwhile, Rina’s getting a good look at the outsides of our girl as she readies the container slot for loading. She sees the impact site of that RPG and demands to know who put the scratch on the paint job. Over the noise of her grousing, Joshua approaches Kiera on the ground and extends a hand.

Joshua: I’m Joshua. It’s a pleasure to—
Kiera: Lovely to meet you. Could you have somebody go look and see what’s left of the cab and see whether or not those two guys are dead?

Joshua checks. Yep. Dead. He pulls the IDs from their pockets to get their names, so as to alert their next of kin if possible. Arden approaches Kiera, doctor’s bag in hand. She’s getting the girls off the truck. They’re shaken and shaky on their legs over the wild ride.

Arden: Are you hurt?
Kiera: No, I’m fine. (to the girls) It’s okay, they’re here.
Girl: That was a bumpy ride…and then holes appeared in the … (she points at the container)
Kiera: It’s okay. It was better ventilation.

Joshua joins Kiera, Arden and the girls.

Joshua: So these are our passengers.
Kiera: Uh-huh.
Joshua: (courtesy personified) Pleasure. If you’ll come with me, I’ll lead you to the ship and show you to your rooms. Come this way, please.

The girls are in somewhat unusual garb, not quite harem attire, not quite robes. They range in age between 17 and 20 and they are not Arab but Indian. Joshua gently herds them up the airlock stairs and inside the Gift. Nika quits the bridge and approaches Kiera on the dirt. Sullivan, Nika’s memory of Christian’s briefing tells her. The woman’s name is Sullivan.

Nika: Sullivan. You mind telling me what’s going on out there?

It’s not really a question.

Kiera: No.

And that’s not really a yes.

Kiera: Can you help me get this thing undone? (Points to her container)
Nika: Rina’s on it. About what happened….?
Arden: Why were there people chasing you?
Kiera: (mock sorrow) Because they just don’t like me.
Arden: I can hardly believe that.
Kiera: I know. It’s hard to believe, it’n it?

Arden and Kiera are undoing the catches along with Rina.

Arden: So… Did you steal the girls from somebody?
Kiera: Now, I wouldn’t call it stealin’.
Nika: All right. Get back aboard.
Joshua: (over the PA) Now that our passengers are settled, perhaps we can all get back on board now.

Hell, yes.

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Part 2
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