Episode 407: Brisbane Ghosts

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Air date: 03 Aug 2010
Present: Kim, Maer, Terri, Andy, and Bobby

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Tuesday, 08 Jul 2521
Lorngaard, Highgate
Blue Sun (Qing Long) system
1600hrs, local time

We leave the L2 and head back to Highgate. We arrive at Lorngaard late in the day to pick up our 2nd class passengers and cargo. Our passengers are an old woman by name of Gertie Adler and her four grown sons, Earl, Sam, Tom, and Wes. All are miner prospectors and the salt of the earth. Gertie is an old woman who needs help up the stairs and she looks to angle for one of the first class suites, but Joshua politely informs her it would be an upgrade she’d have to pay for. She’s not too pleased with the second class accommodations, but at least they’re on the same deck as the first class and there are no stairs to negotiate. Well, she says, as long as someone is able to help her off and on the second class bunks, she’ll probably be all right.

Oliver Dyson is travelling with us as well and takes up his first class suite and we gratefully take up his first class fee.

Our cargo is two containers’ worth of Boer goats. Bred for meat rather than milk, they’re hefty animals nearly the size of Shetland Ponies. Mostly brown and white with floppy long ears reminiscent of Beagles, they mill around at 25 goats per container. Joshua takes up the care and handling of them, and informs everyone that the passengers and non-essential personnel are not to go into the goat containers unless asked by Joshua. We house the goats in the two lowerdeck containers, aftmost to starboard and port.

While Joshua’s wrangling the goats, Rina goes topside and does a quick and dirty job on the dropship’s hull designation with sandblaster and spray paint and she yanks its pulse beacon for good measure. No one’s going to be tracking or IDing the dropship until Rina can better disguise her.

It’s only a short hop to Meridian, a mere two days. We’re not long on the ground, only about an hour, and we take off after getting our cargo and passengers loaded.

Wednesday, 09 Jul 2521
Kuiper II class Summer’s Gift
En route to Meridian

One of the goats is a canny animal and since liftoff has managed to escape the container several times. There’s the usual hassle of finding it loose and chasing it back into its container with the other goats. Joshua’s taken to calling it “Bob”. Bob seems most attracted to the sweaty gym towels just down the corridor on the lower deck. As the crew flies on to Meridian, several times they notice the towels taking a walk out of the corner of their eye as they work out in the gym.

Nika complains Bob has absconded with her socks as well as her towels. Joshua supplies the goat with a sweaty gym towel of its own, but to no avail. It isn’t long before towels from the showers come up missing too, much to Nika’s ire midshower. Joshua hears her bellowing and goes to investigate. Arden follows.

Nika: (dripping) Joshua!
Joshua: (just outside) Yes? Do you need me in there or something?
Nika: I need a towel in here!
Arden: I’ll give you a credit not to give her one.
Joshua: (through the door) I’m sending Arden in there with a towel.

Joshua hands the doctor a towel and sends him on in. Rina snarks in passing on her way to the engine room:

Rina: Look, Ma. No hands.

Over the course of our voyage, Bob manages to sneak out and filch the towels and the crew eventually puts up with it, rescuing the towels where possible and herding Bob back into the container. Otherwise, our journey is uneventful.

Thursday, 10 Jul 2521
Meridian Spaceport, Meridian City
Meridian, Blue Sun (Qing Long) system
1200hrs, local time

The menfolk passengers strike our two doctors as somewhat sad to disembark. They suspect all four of the men have something very like mesothelioma and when we find out that their big plan upon getting to Meridian is to engage in lithium mining … well, their attitude makes a little more sense. Skimming brine ponds and breathing noxious fumes for the sake of lithium is bound to make anyone morose, especially with lungs already compromised. In contrast, their mother Gertie is healthy as a horse despite her frail appearance. Their conduct throughout the trip is somewhat pitiable. At every meal they literally lick their plates clean. When offered seconds, they enthusiastically accept them as if afraid the food will run out.

We make good time to Meridian and kiss dirt at Meridian Spaceport, Meridian City—home to half a million people. Ah, yes. Meridian. Home of many happy memories: rescuing doctors, getting kidnapped, getting shot. Good times. And then we get over our reminiscing and get back to work. We have cargo and passengers to take care of.

As we settle on the tarmac, Kiera arranges to make the drug drop with Byshek’s client. Rina declines to come along, remarking she’d likely leave a trail of bodies behind her. Joshua declines for other reasons. Nika agrees to go with Kiera, just in case Kiera needs moral support… and an extra gun in her defense. The gentlemen they go to meet are heavily armed and a bit disgruntled at our late arrival. However, they lighten up in tone when we show them we’re sweetening the deal with the extra batch of Flomoxipan we’d made aboard DePollo. It’s a goodwill gesture on our part and one they weren’t expecting, though they seemed entirely prepared to extract compensation from us if necessary. Luckily for us, they liked the extra drugs enough that it’s not necessary.

They load up the drugs in their truck and tell us they’ll let Byshek know we came through with the goods. Kiera halts their departure with a question:

Kiera: How do you get a-hold of one’a them shotguns?
Client: One of these? (hefts his) I might be able to help you.
Kiera: All right.
Client: When and what do you need?
Kiera: Don’t know when we’re leavin’, probably the next day or two. If possible, just one.
Client: It would take longer than that to get something like that.
Kiera: Well … what’s the deposit if I come back for and get it?
Client: What’s that?
Kiera: What if I give you a deposit and I’ll come back through and get it? In general, what kind of cost are we talkin’?
Client: Shotgun. Automatic. For just one of them, you’re looking at … (thinks) … 120.
Kiera: Oh. And if I was willin’ to give you give you 150, would you be willin’ to find one sooner?
Client: 150?
Kiera: Mm-hm.
Client: Okay.

He turns around and pulls the gun in question off one of his henchmen’s shoulders and hands it to her. Kiera pays him the 150.

Kiera: (pleased) All right.

The client has his drugs plus a little extra to sell on the street for profit, Kiera has an automatic shotgun. They shake hands, seal the deal and both walk away happy. Win-win. On the way back to the Gift, Nika slides a look at Kiera’s gun.

Nika: You realize you paid paid those guys twice what it’s worth, right?
Kiera: Yeah.
Nika: Just checkin’.
Kiera: But if you bought it in a gun shop, they know you bought it. If you bought it from him—(nods back at departing client)—instead of—
Nika: I didn’t say a thing about it. Just makin’ sure you knew.
Kiera: Also it sweetens the deal. If they know I’m willin’ to make up for that I screwed up AND I’m willing to buy weapons for an exorbitant amount they will be well-inclined toward me when they report back to the Russian.
Nika: You do realize knowing that you’re willing to spend exorbitant amounts on weapons you could get negotiated for cheaper …
Kiera: Mm-hm.
Nika: … Just means they’ll take advantage of you next time.
Kiera: Mm-hm. And that’s why you’re here.
Nika: Oh, no no no no no…. My dealings with the Russian are entirely separate from your dealings with the Russian.
Kiera: It’s all right. Okay? It was a one-time gesture.

Meanwhile, our passengers disembark and take up their new life as lithium miners. The goats are claimed by their recipients and it takes Rina and Arden working with Joshua and the new owners to herd the goats to their proper places. Rina opines she’ll miss Bob—the goat undeniably had character. Joshua warns her to check the atmo vents. Nobody wants a repeat of what happened to Schrodinger.

Once the passengers and the goats are taken care of and we get paid, Joshua enlists Rina to help him sell the salvage from DePollo. We’re aware that we have to raise the 25% value of the dropship that we owe Byshek as part of the salvage deal so we’re going to have to scare up either more credits or more cargo.

Meridian City is a large city with relatively everything it needs. The sale of the medical supplies won’t net us as much here than if we’d sold it in the outlying areas like … oh, Brisbane, for instance. We know Dr. Fong is setting up a hospital there and the supplies we have might be very welcome for his purposes, to say nothing of being lucrative for ours.

It quickly becomes obvious that we’re not likely to get a fair price for the non-medical salvage here, either. We could either sell it off as a job-lot to a ship or salvage yard or we could throw open our salvage container and hold a garage-sale. Either method isn’t going to get us much in the way of payment. We could keep the salvage for now, augment it with cargo and/or passengers, and carry everything to another place where we might fetch a better price. Brisbane is looking better and better.

We look for cargo leaving Meridian, either at Meridian City or Brisbane. We find out that Brisbane isn’t connected to the local Cortex so we aren’t able to find out what’s available without going there first. So we agree to bundle up our booty for Brisbane. Meanwhile the pay from the passengers and the goats is divvied up and everyone gets 7 credits. It’s good to have money again. Kiera is interested only in getting paid for the medical stuff she’s responsible for and Joshua agrees to arrange recompense for her work salvaging and synthesizing it when we actually sell it.

We check with Mr. Oliver Dyson. He’s been checking the local Cortex, looking for his son. He has some leads he’s chasing down and has just got back from one in another city. He’s excited—he’s received some Cortex messages with leads about his son.

Dyson: If you think you’ll be headed near a planet called Deadwood, there are some people I believe who might be able to help me.
Joshua: At the moment, we’re still slightly in flux. Let us get back with you shortly about—
Dyson: I’ve been paying full fare to go where you want to go.
Joshua: I know. I’m not disagreeing. I’m saying at least let us juggle the cargo and then we’ll get right back to you. For we’re understanding you’ve been paying full price. Trust me, sir.

Joshua looks on the Cortex for cargo opportunities on Deadwood and Nika tells him it’s back of beyond. It’s also only another two days’ jump from here. We put forth an inquiry for people or cargo headed toward it but it will take a couple of days for the word to filter back. In the meantime, Brisbane awaits with possibilities to sell what we have. We gather up our things and our passenger Dyson and lift off for the southern continent.

Nika has Joshua practice his piloting while she watches, giving him the yoke for the trip down. The flight goes smoothly until we hit thunderstorms nearing Brisbane. As we approach Nika’s surfing the comm channels for the traffic control frequency and instead of Brisbane tower, a strange signal comes over the bridge comms without warning. The signal is more than strange, it’s bloodcurdling, a gruesome mix of static and … incoherent screaming, inchoate rage.


Joshua flinches and instinctively takes evasive action. Combined with the treacherous weather outside, this causes us to pitch and yaw alarmingly. Joshua realizes his mistake and starts correcting it. Nika grabs the copilot’s yoke and tries to gain control. Rina’s aft in the engine room and the abrupt change in flight path and strain on the engines causes her to bark over the comms.

Rina: Vernitieh vas! Nika, what are you doing?!
Joshua: (to Nika) I’m not out of control.

Nika sees that Joshua does indeed have it in hand and releases her yoke… and grabs the chicken strap instead.

Rina: Are we crashing again?
Joshua: (on all-ship) This is the pilot speaking. We are okay.
Kiera: (ditto) Define okay.
Joshua: Not dead.
Kiera: That’s good enough.

Joshua straightens our flight path and evens our keel. This lasts for about three seconds before we’re hit by a lightning strike that takes out the for’ard starboard directional thruster. We start yawing again. Rina scrambles with repairs and manages to regain sporadic power on that thruster. Nika lets Joshua handle the flying, trusting him to pull us through but standing by just in case.

Nika: Joshua.
Joshua: (flying hard) Yes, ma’am.
Nika: You better tell me you need help before we hit the ground. Because if we hit the ground and we don’t die, you’ll be dead when I’m done with you.
Joshua: (still flying) I’m well aware of that ...
Nika: Just checking.
Joshua: Do you want to take over?

Instead of taking the helm, Nika turns down the comms instead, reducing the inhuman screams from the signal to a whisper. She checks to see if there is anything else on the channel but screaming. She catches something odd about the signal … it could be the storm, it could be our equipment, but she cannot put her finger on it. She hits the record button so we can analyze it later. Assuming we have a later.

Kiera buzzes the bridge from her container.

Nika: Little busy—!
Kiera: Do I need to get out of the capsule or is it gonna stay on for this ride?
Nika: Eh, fifty-fifty shot.

Joshua realizes if one of our thrusters is sputtering, he can cut the fuel to a sputter on the corresponding portside thruster and possibly even the thrust out. So he feathers the fuel to the thruster and it works. Joshua regains control of the ship and our flight steadies. It’s not something usually done in atmo but it’s effective. It’s still a little rocky from the weather but sure enough, we’re flying much better.

Luckily, no one else is at the spaceport and Joshua is able to land where he can. We kiss dirt with a hard bump, but we land in one piece. We actually sink into the mud a little bit. On the bridge, Joshua starts turning things off to take the strain off the engines and everything winds down.

Joshua: That worked. I didn’t think it was going to work.
Nika: (warmly) Nicely done.
Joshua: Thank you.
Nika: (slumping) Oh dear God …


Joshua: I’m really sorry.
Nika: Don’t tell me you’re sorry. I’m not the repair person.

Hitting the button for the engine room comm, they can hear Rina turning the air blue aft. They cut the channel and silence blesses the bridge.

Joshua: No, I meant the … She likes new challenges.
Nika; I think I need a stiff drink.
Joshua: I think I can get you one of those, too. I’ll be right back.
Nika: No, no. Stay put right here because … (gestures out the bridge window) … Reaver problem.
Joshua: Reaver problem. You sure you don’t want that drink?

Nothing attacks us from above. We wait and still nothing happens. We’re going to be okay. We breathe a little better. Outside, the lights of Brisbane twinkle through the darkening rain. It’s a town of 20,000 and spread-out. The lights are scattered from one end of our view to the other.

Aft, Kiera exits the entry hatch she’d braced herself in and steps foot inside her container again.  She jumps up and down, testing the Gift’s grip on it.  Nothing untoward happens.  Satisfied, Kiera leaves her container for the bridge to see what’s going on.

Arden pries his fingers from the vinyl of the jumpseat in medbay, unbuckles his restraints and goes to check everyone for injuries. He checks the bridge first. Joshua looks around as the doctor steps in with Kiera right behind him.

Joshua: There was a bit of stormy weather on the descent. I hope everyone had their seatbelts on.
Arden: So, no one hurt in the cockpit?
Joshua: What’s that?
Arden: No one hurt?
Joshua: No.
Nika: We’re good.
Kiera: What about the passengers?
Arden: We don’t have any passengers that I know of.
Joshua: (to Arden) I’m sure we would have heard screaming if someone was severely hurt. But I will go check on everybody.

Kiera notices the seating arrangement on the bridge.

Kiera: (to Joshua) You landed us in stormy weather?
Joshua: Yes, thank you for asking. The landing went very smoothly, I thought.
Kiera: You did that?
Joshua: Yes.
Kiera: Ahh.
Joshua: I’m practicing.
Kiera: I can tell.
Joshua: (deflating) Oh. I thought it went very well, minus the whole engine thing.
Kiera: Excuse me?


Joshua: Oh, right. I’m not supposed to talk about that. So. The landing went completely smooth, no issues whatsoever.
Kiera: Oh, I feel so much better now.
Joshua: (agreeing) Don’t you?
Kiera: No.
Joshua: Oh. All right. Perhaps you should work on that.
Kiera: Somehow I think I’m going to have trouble with that level of sincerity, but the capsule’s still attached so that’s good.

While this conversation is going on, Nika’s triangulating the source of the weird comms signal and she manages to narrow it down to the area occupied by the logging camp we visited the last time we were here. Nika has to refresh her memory and Arden helps her with it. It’s the same camp what kidnapped Dr. Fong, the camp Rick and Johann Volker infiltrated to rescue him. The camp where Volker broke away from Rick and took out an entire room full of guards to prevent them from stopping the rescue party. The camp on the logging trail where Rick stepped on a mine …

Rina’s fixed what she can for the moment and walks onto the bridge. She catches the last of the retelling and adds:

Rina: You don’t remember that? I was doing donuts in the compound in the ATV.
Nika: Right.

The giddiness of surviving a bad descent just takes us then.

Joshua: You were sniffing donuts?
Kiera: (intones) She was doing donuts. Even worse.
Joshua: Woo!
Rina: (getting it) Ewwww…

Welcome to beautiful Brisbane, folks. Thank you for flying with us. Enjoy your stay.

Nika finds the channel to Brisbane Air Traffic Control and they hail us. Nika and Joshua answer through the laughter from the rest of the crew in the background.

Brisbane: Uhhh… Ship?
Joshua: We’re good… Tower?
Nika: Brisbane Control, this is Summer’s Gift. Sorry for the descent. We got lightning struck as we came in.
Joshua: It was stormy.
Brisbane: Well, there’s no one scheduled to land anytime soon, so I guess you’re all right.

Behind the pilot’s chair, Kiera says sotto voce:

Kiera: Yeah, we’re sorry we took off a layer of asphalt off the place we landed.
Joshua: (turning) It was smoother than that!
Arden: That’s because we landed in the mud.

Hello. We’ve still got Brisbane on the line.

Brisbane: You bringing aid supplies?
Joshua: (turning around again) Excuse me?
Brisbane: Are you bringing aid supplies?
Nika: We’re loaded for some medical supplies. What is it that’s going on?
Brisbane: Oh. Ahhh…. okay, so you’re not an official aid—
Nika: No.
Brisbane: That’s fine. You didn’t bring food, didja?
Nika: No. (a beat) What’s happening?

Something’s not right. Seriously. Traffic control usually doesn’t grill a ship about medical or food supplies upon landing.

Brisbane: We’ve just had some tough times.
Nika: We can make a run back if we need to. Assuming we can get off the ground again.
Brisbane: The Sheriff will probably want to talk to you.
Nika: That’d be great. Thanks.
Rina: (muttering) Oh, man…
Nika: Is he going to be in his office? How far down is—
Brisbane: I think I see him coming.
Nika: Okay. I’ll meet him at the hatch.

And sure enough, we see a jeep pull up under us and a man comes out in a duster and hat against the rain outside. We lower the airlock stairs, he walks up them and steps inside the Gift where Nika’s waiting for him. He removes his hat and shakes the wet from it and looks around.

Nika: Sheriff.
Sheriff: Well … We haven’t had any ships for a while. We’re surprised to hear you. I take it you guys aren’t with the Red Cross.
Nika: No. We didn’t realize a run needed to be made or we could have picked up cargo on our way in.
Sheriff: Oh we were just—yeah, they been shippin’ food down here, we’ve had some tough times. Camp closin’. No lumber comin’ down. The camp up top of that one, said they were sittin on lumber, were goin’ to arrange for their own sales directly to ships. They didn’t wanna go past the camp so we haven’t had much lumber come down here.

This was the same camp we’d visited last.

Nika: How bad off is that camp up there?
Sheriff: Well, it looks like things were turnin’ around. We didn’t hear anything for a long time. After you guys—After about a year ago or so, correct me on the timeline if I’m wrong—

He remembers us but we don’t remember him. He wasn’t the Sheriff when we were last here.

Nika: No, we were here.
Sheriff: Oh, you were here? Yeah, so we had some prion disease and altercations. When Doctor Fong was rescued we thought things were, we thought they’d look up. He got some money into infrastructure to build that hospital of his. And we didn’t hear anything from the people at the mill, time passed, we figured the disease ran its course. We were getting’ treatment and such down here. And that mostly was helpin’. Then a guy came in, says he’s the new owner of the mill. He brought in a scientist, some medical people from the ACDC, said they were going to go up and check it out, make sure the prion disease was taken care of. And they didn’t come back.
Nika: Come on in and let me get you some coffee while you tell me about this.

Nika takes him up to the forward lounge. The Sheriff shrugs out of his duster and takes a seat.

Joshua: Coffee?

Joshua is already there with the coffee and hands it to the man. The Sheriff sucks down an appreciative mouthful and continues his tale.

Sheriff: I got a couple of Deputies, kinduva posse of sorts, concerned citizens. We went up there to check it out.

He sighs.

Sheriff: I don’t know what went up there. We were all on edge that maybe there was some people affected here still. We seen some of the later signs at the hospital. Dr. Fong did a good job keepin’ them restrained or sedated if need be. But these guys … they were armed to bear, first off, and—hell, they put up mines and such. Nearly lost—did lose one of my trucks to a mine up there. Luckily, nobody was hurt in that one. But then we started hearin’ noises and there was gunfire … and … so I retreated back.

He regards his coffee mug for a moment.

Sheriff: I don’t know how they could still be alive up there or whatever.
Nika: There’s somebody definitely still alive up there. They’re broadcastin’.
Sheriff: There’s somethin’ goin’ on. There’s been some evidence of somethin’ kinda unusual happenin’. We had some people saw what they thought were ships, headin’ into that area. Not all at once, just one or two over the last few months. And we thought they might be doin’ that raw camp upriver. These weren’t the sort’a ships we use for transportin’ that sorta stuff and … so we don’t know what’s goin’ on. Some people think that maybe, well, you know they called it the Reaver Disease. And maybe somehow this disease has turned these people, and somehow they contacted Reavers or somethin’—I don’t know. But—.
Nika: Oh no. If there were Reavers up there, I’d think you all’d know about it.
Sheriff: Well this is a bigger settlement than the Reavers are likely to hit.
Nika: Yeah, but the camp isn’t.
Sheriff: I ain’t heard much from the camp.
Nika: So you’re not in contact with either the mill or the … ?
Sheriff: The radio signals won’t go that way. We haven’t had satellite for some time.
Nika: Well they’re definitely broadcastin’ up there. That’s why I wasn’t on the tower frequency as we came down. I caught their frequency coming in.
Sheriff: What’d they say?
Nika: I’m gonna need to clean it up before we can see if there’s anything coherent on it. Frankly, there was a bunch’a screamin’. A lotta screamin’.

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