Episode 408: Resin

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Was a Synopsis, now in process of converting to the usual transcription. Thank you for your patience.--Maer.

Air date: 10 Aug 2010
Present: Kim, Maer, Terri, Andy, and Bobby

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A wise man once said:

"Let me explain—no, is too complicated. Let me sum up."

We arrive in Brisbane with medical cargo and find the town in dire straits due to a stoppage at the lumber camp and mill upriver. We’re hired by the camp’s new owners, Burnham Corp, to investigate the situation and report it as either a loss or recoverable and if recoverable, secure it. If recovered/secured, it’s a sweet 1000 credits in PDF scrip. Okay, not so sweet. The scrip will have to be converted if we hope to use it. If the camp is a loss, we will receive a reduced fee but with hospital expenses paid.

We go up, discover it apparently uninhabited but with signs of use. And booby traps. Which we trigger one of. Incendiary, burn a building partially down. Oops on us. We find a still and evidence that an unknown party is distilling something out of the wood from the camp, but are not sure what. We take samples and make plans to split up—the women will stay overnight with their weapons and the men will take our dropship, Lagniappe, down river to report our findings to Burnham Corp’s representative, Mr. David Jarvis, and hand over our samples.

It’s when we’re splitting up to leave that Joshua sees the door to a concrete bunker standing ajar where before it was closed tight. Having ridden the adrenaline rush of surviving traps and the fire (and possibly seeking more thrills) Joshua goes headlong into the building. The rest of us have no choice but to follow and either bring him back or deal with what he finds inside.

The following is the account of what happened next.

Saturday, 12 Jul 2521
Logging Camp, Brisbane
Blue Sun (Qing Long) system
1500hrs, local time

The door to the concrete bunker gapes open and Joshua doesn’t hesitate but goes to investigate. We follow after him.

Arden: What are you doing?
Joshua: There’s a door open. Geez. I thought you would have seen that. (points emphatically) There’s a door.
Kiera: (sputters, then…) The last door caught on fire.
Joshua: No. That was not a door. That was a deer.
Nika: Fire.
Joshua: That was a deer. That makes all the difference.
Kiera: Oh, it was the exploding fiery deer. Oh, well okay. I’m going to stand outside and make sure there’s no more exploding firing deer.
Nika: I’ll follow in behind him if you’re going to stay here.

Joshua continues crossing the yard for the open door, calling over his shoulder with some asperity.

Joshua: How many exploding deer can one man have? I don’t think there can be that many.
Arden: It depends on how much dough he has.
Nika: (groaning) Arden, that was bad.
Arden: Just a few bucks.
Kiera: People are fond of people with bucks.

And despite the creepy-assed situation and the demonstrated danger, the exchange does get an appreciative rise out of the rest of us… and we quicken our steps in Joshua’s wake. Rina’s right at Joshua’s back, not trusting to luck. Nika follows. Arden tails them close enough to render medical aid if needed, but not so close as to need it himself.

Kiera takes up a post outside the bunker in the cover of one of the camp’s grabber-cutter mules, to guard our backs with her big damn gun.

Joshua takes the lead. Arden warns him to be careful.

Joshua: Thanks. I will be. I am. Right now.

He makes it to the door and looks inside. He sees a room. He steps inside. It’s about 20 by 30 feet and it’s dominated by a staircase going down. Like a dungeon. Around the perimeter of the room are Alliance military storage boxes. They’re unlabeled and there’s no telling what’s in them without opening them up.

We take this all in as follow him inside. It’s dim in there.

Nika: Rina. Gimme your flashlight.
Joshua: Yes please. Thank you.

Rina fishes out her pocket flashlight and hands it to her captain. Nika hands it to Joshua. He turns it on and shines it down the stairs and heads for them. Nika’s right on his heels and Rina’s hard on hers. Arden decides to stand guard at the door. Joshua’s as excited as a kid about to go exploring, which in a way he is.

Joshua: (sign-song) … Here we go…
Arden: Why don’t you see what’s in the boxes before going down the stairs?
Joshua: (stopping) Why?
Arden: Because we don’t know what’s in them.
Joshua: (so not!) Woo!
Rina: It could be pop-up ninjas.
Joshua: (to Arden) Do you really want to look? If we had a crowbar, I’d be glad to lift up a crate.
Arden: There might be one around here.
Joshua: Well if you find one, let me know.

Meanwhile outside, Kiera spots something in the treeline to the north of us. She moves to a better vantage point and continues to watch for more movement.

Inside, Joshua heads down the stairs. He gets a little way down and lights come on automatically. Rina scowls at them.

Rina: Motion detectors. Dierma. They know we’re here.

The lights aren’t very bright or very numerous but they throw off enough to allow us to see where we’re going. Joshua turns off the flashlight. He estimates that they’ve gone down about fifty feet in depth, about 100 feet in length. We can no longer see Arden and he can no longer see us.

Arden: Yell if you need anything.

Joshua, Nika and Rina reach the bottom of the stairs and they find themselves in a long barrel-vaulted cavern of a room about 50 by 200 feet. Lights shine down from above here too at intervals, making oasis of brightness in the gloom. The stairs empty into the room at one end and at the other end about 150 feet away, a bank of fluorescent lights shine down upon a makeshift chemistry lab. A grey haired lab coated figure is working away over there, his back to us.

The rest of the chamber is dimly lit, with only the occasional overhead lamp throwing conesof light on a kitchen area here, and a bunk area there. The bunk area has six military bunk beds and a dozen military foot- and wall lockers. A locker door stands ajar and reveals the clothing inside, the beds look to be in use. We take in these details as we creep toward the chemist at the lab.

Rina’s wearing her usual suspects, which means she’s got stuff in her pockets that rattle. And so they do now. The man standing at the lab straightens and stands still for a second, then speaks without turning around, in a voice loud enough to carry.

Man: So … You weren’t scared away.
Joshua: (Calmly) No. Not really. The exploding part was really cool.
Man: It’s unfortunate that you weren’t scared away. It might change things now.
Joshua: How so?
Man: Well …
Joshua: This is the part where you give the mad scientist spiel?
Man: I’m not mad. Wait a minute. (a beat) No, I’m pretty sure I’m not mad.
Joshua: Okay. You can give the evil scientist speech. Either way, it’s good.
Man: I’m really not evil. I wish that I didn’t have to do what I’m probably going to have to do.

The man turns around and sees us standing there. Nika and Rina have their rifles still. Nika’s holding hers in an easy stance at her hip, pointing away from the man. Rina’s is slung crosswise, barrel down and to the right. Her pistol however, is held muzzle down and flat against her right leg, her finger on the trigger guard. He looks at us rather calmly and we look back.

He’s of late middle age, in horn rims and his grey hair is thinning, longish and scraggly-looking. He’s got a week’s worth of stubble on his chin and his clothes are stained from lab work and wrinkled from possibly from being slept in. Hardly Core-level hygiene but more than passable. His round face looks friendly enough with its crows feet and laugh lines. He nods at our weapons. His voice is an even tenor and unafraid.

Man: I wouldn’t counsel you to use your guns in here. Wouldn’t be wise.
Joshua: I don’t have a gun, but go on.
Man: Well, the ladies do.
Joshua: Yeah, I know. (back on task) What’s the deal?
Man: It would end our discussion fairly quickly. (sighs) I tried to warn you away, but I guess that didn’t work so we’re going to have to resort to something a little bit more … unpleasant, I gather.
Joshua: Who’s we?
Man: We. All of us here.
Joshua: Why? We don’t have to resort to anything unpleasant. We could sit down and have some tea or something.

Nika and Rina say nothing but let Joshua keep on talking. The gentleman in the lab coat looks sort of disappointed.

Man: So why don’t you tell me who sent you and we talk from there.
Joshua: Maybe we should do this as some sort of question trade-off, like you answer one question and we answer another—
Man: (raising voice) Very well. I suppose I can answer your questions. I don’t really want to die, so perhaps making this easier for you would be the best plan.
Joshua: None of us really want to die.
Man: Well, if anyone fires a gun, we’ll all die.
Nika: That works for me.
Joshua: (turning around) No, no. Let’s not fire any guns.
Nika: No, it really does. Because, you know. If he’s decided that he’s gonna kill us anyway, which is sort of what he’s implying, it might as well be nice to take him with us.
Joshua: (turning back) So what’s the deal?

The man seems a touch insulted at Nika’s insinuation.

Man: I’m not a killer. We just have to arrange for this not to last that long.
Nika: Yeah.
Joshua: So my question is what happens if a gun gets fired, exactly? Not the whole we-all-die, but why would we die. What happens?
Man: I’ve released a mostly harmless chemical into the air here. It’ll take a while for it to seep up the staircase, but if anything, a spark, ignites it … a fireball.
Nika: And you did this why?
Man: I had a feeling you might have guns.
Nika: Oh. All right. So why don’t you tell us what exactly it is you’re doing down here? The owners of the property would like to come and take possession.
Man: Hm. I figured they might. Which is why I was trying to dissuade them. (a beat) If you must know, I’m boiling away moldy wood.
Joshua: Go on.
Man: Well. After I’m done. I don’t think they’d appreciate it.
Nika: What are you getting out of moldy wood?
Rina: Besides methyl alcohol?
Man: A resin. (a beat) Of some value.
Nika: (unimpressed) Uh-huh. And you can’t do this anywhere else?
Man: Mm. Well, I could.
Nika: So why don’t we make this simple for everyone and move you to a new location to boil your resin and they can have their land back.

That doesn’t sit well with the man.

Man: Hmph. I see. No, I can’t just do it in just any old place. But really I think at this stage we’re not really at the moving-me stage as deciding best to deal with you. Now you seem like reasonable people. So perhaps you put your guns down and we can arrange for some sort of … how shall I put it? The word hostage sounds so aggressive, so … guest relationship.
Joshua: Wait a minute, wait—
Man: For your safety I would guarantee, and then all you have to do is sit patiently until I’m finished and I will leave and you will be free to go.
Joshua: Do you have a name?
Man: I do. I’m Dr. Schweiss.
Joshua: Dr. Schweiss. So, what’s the scientific purpose behind getting this resin?
Dr. Schweiss: Scientific purpose. Yes. Well, it’s a rare and valuable product.
Joshua: So it’s financial rather than—
Dr. Schweiss: Well, yes. Primarily financial. But it required a scientific mind to be able to see that it was there. It was right under their nose.
Joshua: How long will it take you to do what you need to do?
Dr. Schweiss: Perhaps a few more weeks to extract it.

Just past our two-week deadline.

Joshua: Is there a way to speed that up?
Dr. Schweiss: Is there any way to speed that up … ?
Joshua: I’m just asking. I don’t know anything. I’m not a scientist.
Dr. Schweiss: Well … yes, I and my people are not experts in this area. Nor am I, to be quite honest. You’re not in the lumber industry, I take it.
Joshua: Not at the moment.
Dr. Schweiss: Or in the agrochemical industry.
Joshua: Not at the moment, but go on.
Dr. Schweiss: You’re trying to swing some kind of deal, speed up your captivity for helping me? Is that what we’re saying?
Joshua: What I’m saying is that ideally if your time frame is three weeks and it got moved down to say, a little under two weeks then I think everybody could walk away from this perfectly happy without having to kill anyone. Cuz the owners, I think the owners are not in a huge rush but they have given us—(points to Nika and Rina)—them and me, a timed deadline. But it seems that if we can find a way to help speed it up, then we can fall under our deadline and you can get out cleanly and everybody wins. A win-win.

Dr. Schweiss looks at Nika and Rina and addresses them directly.

Dr. Schweiss: I’d say if you put your weapons down and move away from them, then I’d be willing to negotiate your assistance on this project. And in exchange you’d get a quick release and you’d get paid by your employer. Win-win, I believe is what your leader said.

Joshua: I’m not a leader. I’m just a talker.
Dr. Schweiss: But you’re their negotiator.
Joshua: Fair enough. (sniffs) What is the chemical? Just out of curiosity.
Dr. Schweiss: There are numerous chemicals I’m using to expedite the process but what you’re smelling is the Acremonium parisitica, which is found in the Agarwood here.
Joshua: Huh.
Dr. Schweiss: It’s a mold.
Joshua: Yes, it smells pretty hideous.
Dr. Schweiss: It can result in some unpleasantness if you inhale it. It’s primarily a tree parasite but it can infect humans and it’s pretty nasty when it does. Only if you have open wounds. Do you have any open wounds?

Inhale it? Infect humans? Pretty nasty? And just what the hell have we been breathing for the past ten minutes?

And at that moment, above ground at the bunker entrance, the door to the bunker slowly begins slide shut. Like a man trying to hold an elevator door, Arden throws himself against the moving edge … and finds the door to powerful to stop. There are packing and shipping crates, military style, stacked against the walls of the bunker and Arden drags one over to the shrinking doorway. The crate is heavy and slows him down and it won’t quite fit. Arden barely manages to wedge it in the opening. He starts yelling for Kiera’s help. The crate holds for only a short while before it crumples with a shriek of metal and the door slams shut, locking Arden in. He looks for the control panel for the door itself. It’s fairly dark now that the door has closed off the light from the outside and he starts feeling around for the controls. There’s only a little bit of light filtering up the stairs from below. He tries to manipulate them to open the door, but his luck—or the light needed for the task—isn’t with him.

Outside, Kiera is still watching that spot where she thinks she saw movement and … wait. Did that bush just move? She hears Arden yelling for her and the slam of the bunker door sliding shut. She runs back to the bunker and sees the broken remains of the crate Arden tried jamming the door with. There are no handles or hinges, buttons or controls to open the door. She taps on the door with her rifle and listens for any answering sound from within.

Arden hears the tapping and taps back in return. The door is metal and too thick to talk through. With no other way to communicate or even open it, however, there’s little Kiera can do from her side. Praying Arden doesn’t blow the door up, she resigns herself to waiting and props herself in the corner of the jamb, cradling her rifle. If the door starts sliding open, she’ll notice and in the meantime she can still keep an eye out for any other movement.

Arden looks over the controls one more time. He realizes that he’s looking at the locking mechanism and not the controls themselves. They must be elsewhere in the bunker. There is nothing else in the room but the crates. The stairs are behind him, beckoning. The controls might be down there. He puts his foot on the treads and takes them down.

Back downstairs, Nika glances back at the bunks and asks Dr. Schweiss another question.

Nika: How many people you got here backing you up?
Dr. Schweiss: In here? Just me.
Nika: So you’re all alone in this camp?
Dr. Schweiss: Mm-hm.
Nika: I’m thinkin’ that’s probably not the case.
Dr. Schweiss: I’m all alone right here.
Nika: I said in the camp.
Dr. Schweiss: Oh, in the camp. There’s more.
Nika: Yeah, I rather gathered that.
Dr. Schweiss: Mm-hm. Why does that matter to you?
Nika: Well because you’re askin’ me to put my weapons down. Now I’m willin’ to sling them behind me an’ continue this talk, but it makes me a little nervous that you got a bunch’a guys who might be—I don’t know—comin’ in from upstairs to try to ambush us.
Dr. Schweiss: (helpful) I could order that.
Nika: Yeah, I’m pretty sure you could, which is why I’m askin’.
Dr. Schweiss: We’re not terrorists. We’re not interested in killing people. We just want to make a few credits and get out. But you’re turning us into terrorists or murderers, if that’s what you want.
Nika: (gotcha!) Wow.
Dr. Schweiss: I could bring them down but I don’t have any guns. You’ve got all the guns right now.

Dr. Schweiss’s tone goes defensive. Joshua tries to step in verbally but Dr. Schweiss overrides him.

Dr. Schweiss: You can defuse this right now by putting the guns down and there wouldn’t be any need for anybody to blow up in a horrible fire.
Joshua: Just to be clear—you released chemical because you were alone and it was your defense?
Dr. Schweiss: Well, yes. I mean, I figured whoever attacked me would probably bring guns.

Joshua does a surface Read to see if the man’s lying. As far as Joshua can tell, the man’s telling the truth. Or he’s a very good liar. He motions for a time out and takes the women aside.

Joshua: (low) A solution—the situation suggests we put the guns down and talk it out with him. We need to get out of here faster, because if we get killed they’ll just send somebody else in there. And this is something we can support and get away with. Just sayin’.

Arden steps off the stairs into the room at this point. Joshua intercepts him.

Joshua: (still low) Don’t shoot anything.
Arden: Why?
Joshua: The whole place will blow up.
Arden: Why?
Joshua: Can you smell whatever that is in the air?
Arden: I smell a chem lab but that’s about it.
Joshua: In theory there’s a volatile element. I think he’s telling the truth that there’s a volatile element that’ll blow us sky high.
Arden: Why don’t you introduce me to your new friend?
Joshua: Actually, we haven’t technically introduced ourselves. The essential niceties are a little at play, here.

Joshua and Arden are walking back to the women as they talk.

Nika: Where is … Where are the rest of ours?
Arden: The door locked. I couldn’t stop it.
Nika: I see.
Arden: And I think the control for the lock is somewhere other than up there.
Nika: Hmm.
Arden: (to Dr. Schweiss) So … I am Dr. Arden. These are my shipmates.
Joshua: See, you got the social niceties.
Arden: Rina, Nika, and Joshua. And you are?
Dr. Schweiss: Dr. Schweiss.

The name doesn’t ring any bells for Arden but Nika thinks Schweiss was mentioned as being a member of the missing scientific team that Burnham Corp originally sent up. And a parallel line of inquiry immediately ensues.

Arden: So why are you here all alone in this basement? In a lumber camp? And why are the doors locked so we can’t leave?
Joshua: We can’t leave because he’s boiling resin.
Arden: (to Joshua) Of course he is.
Nika: Why don’t you tell us what happened to the expedition?
Dr. Schweiss: What makes you think something happened to them?
Arden: (to Dr. Schweiss) Why are you boiling resin?
Dr. Schweiss: Nothing happened to them. They’re fine.
Nika: (slowly) So-oooo, you came up here with an expedition.
Dr. Schweiss: Yes.
Nika: To check out the camp.
Dr. Schweiss: Indeed.
Nika: And you determined that this resin could be extracted.
Dr. Schweiss: Yes.
Nika: And so you decided to just vanish off the face of the earth?
Dr. Schweiss: Well, I’m still here. I haven’t vanished.
Nika: But your employers presumed you dead at this juncture.
Dr. Schweiss: That’s … okay.
Nika: Okay, that doesn’t bother me one way or the other, but I wondered why is this—
Dr. Schweiss: I did not want my employers to take possession of what I found here.
Nika: Mind if I ask what this resin actually does?
Dr. Schweiss: It is a … useful … chemical.
Arden: Yeah. So’s Vaseline. (slowly) What is it useful for?
Dr. Schweiss: I believe it’s mostly useful for fragrances.
Arden: Fragrances. And this is worth killing people and frightening people off?
Nika: Actually, that’s a pretty lucrative business.
Dr. Schweiss: A kilogram is worth approximately 4000 credits.

Wo de mah. That’s pretty damned lucrative.

Arden: And how many kilograms you have?
Dr. Schweiss: Well, that would be telling now, wouldn’t it? But suffice to say, more than my yearly salary.
Arden: If you have an ounce, I don’t think your life is worth that much.
Dr. Schweiss: Oh, I agree. My life is not worth any cost. I do not wish to die here.
Arden: I don’t want to die here either. I just want to get out of here—.
Dr. Schweiss: The question is not how much the chemical is worth in terms of my life, but rather if your lives are worth that much. And that I haven’t yet decided.
Arden: What kind of Sword of Damocles do you have over our heads?

Um, Arden. Remember the volatile compound?

Dr. Schweiss: The opportunity to blow this entire place up.
Arden: And you’d go up, too.
Dr. Schweiss: True.
Arden: So, it’s an empty threat.
Rina: (softly) No it’s not.
Dr. Schweiss: Only if I’m not willing to carry it out.
Arden: I don’t think you are.
Dr. Schweiss: Well, then by all means.
Joshua: No. Not by all means.

Joshua intervenes but Arden is already looking around at what he can see from where he’s standing, looking for a computer, maybe, that can open the door upstairs. He doesn’t see one. However, there is a data book on the lab table. He turns back to Dr. Schweiss.

Arden: I want you to unlock the door upstairs so we can see the rain again. And my friend who’s caught out in rain can come in. So can you unlock the door upstairs?
Dr. Schweiss: I could.
Arden: Will you unlock the door upstairs?
Dr. Schweiss: No.
Arden: Why not?
Dr. Schweiss: Not until I’ve secured my safety.
Nika: Your safety?
Arden: I can secure your safety very easily. You would never have to worry about another thing ever again.
Nika: Arden!
Arden: (raising his voice) I don’t like being locked in a room with him—!
Dr. Schweiss: (ditto) Neither do I!
Arden: Let me out!

We’re getting awfully close to being stupid, here. Rina’s got her gun in hand, clapped against her leg, her finger off the trigger.

Dr. Schweiss: I will! As soon as you put your guns down!
Arden: I don’t have a gun out!
Dr. Schweiss: I see a gun on your belt!
Arden: And I can see a brain that can make explosions. Will you remove it first?
Joshua: Arden.
Arden: Don’t be stupid!
Joshua: Arden!
Rina: Гребаный Иисус Христос!* (*Loose tr.: Jesus F--king Christ!)

Rina can see that thanks to Arden’s stubbornness, we’re all on an express train to hell. Time to derail that train. She ejects her pistol clip to the floor, and two seconds later her pistol is in three pieces. She lays them out with her three extra clips. She unshoulders her rifle next and ejects its clip, leaves both next to her disassembled pistol and steps back with her hands up.

Jump to:
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

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