Episode 413: Frankie Goes To Pericles

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Air date: 28 Sep 2010
Present: Kim, Maer, Terri, Andy, and Bobby

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Pericles station is like a miniature city in space—not surprising, as the station is actually a decommissioned Tohoku class cruiser with its skyscraper decks glittering incongruously in the Black. There is a lot of space on a ship that size: wide concourses to rival city boulevards, ceiling heights 50 feet high in places. On some of the levels, there are wide expanses of floor reminiscent of carrier decks with shipping containers stacked three and four and five tall just like any busy port dirtside. Other areas of the ship are less industrial, more spa-like and pleasant. On the upper decks everything is shiny and Core-tech-y and clean. Those with the money to afford it live and work here. Those who do not, live in the more industrial lower decks. This stratification mirrors the class structure of rich versus poor, the haves and the have-nots. Here are the affluent and the poor, people doing well and people who are down on their luck.

Following human nature, people have formed their own little tribal cliques and social groups. People on the lower decks, those decks closer to the bottom areas of the ship where all the maintenance levels are located, are restricted from entering the upper decks; those from the upper decks aren’t much welcome on the lower. On the lower decks you will find the Marina, a collection of levels similar to any rough and tumble wharf area of Old Earth or any Black Out Zone in the Core. Crime lords and petty criminals and dubious venues abound here. Gambling, illegal fights, drugs, trafficking … the whole unwholesome enchilada.

Also found on the lower decks are the Debtor Injunctions, those souls uprooted by the political turmoil of the Verse who have washed up on the shores of Pericles Station bereft of funds and options. To keep from losing revenue and resources to deadbeats, the station has denied leave to anyone who owes debts for services rendered and those without work cannot manage to repay them, effectively stranding them in a modern-day debtor’s prison. Those that can find work slowly pay off their debts, those who cannot languish and survive hand-to-mouth. It is a population that falls prey to the sharks that deal in human misery and just as can be found in any large city dirtside, law enforcement in the rough areas of town fluctuates on the various factors of graft, manpower and political will.

Resources are limited down below in terms of everything from medical care to basic utilities like sewer and water. Water theft is common and illegal taps on the water lines are rife. People line up to get their bucket or pitcher’s worth and scatter as the repair crews show up. The taps are removed and spring up elsewhere overnight. Open fires and flame are the norm here, against common practice on enclosed ship environments, simply because fire is the main source for cooking, heat, and light. Smoke and soot is omnipresent, adding to the distinct aroma of poverty that taints the atmo. On the lower decks, recycling isn’t just a virtue but a dire necessity and there is a sizeable population that manages to survive by picking over the refuse from the upper decks that collects in trash heaps down below. Anything of value or of immediate use is bartered or sold or consumed to keep body and soul together. And everywhere one can still see vestiges of the once-military vessel through the accumulated grime and flotsam of humanity: cranes and gantries jostle for space over decks now covered with makeshift dwellings. What was once a military mess hall has been converted into a church. What was once a hangar is now a marketplace.

Everywhere one gets the sense of hope and despair, ingenuity and thrift, of guile and industry and sloth common to slums the Verse over. It is a Dickensian kind of place, transferred to the 26th century, and is a fascinating yet dangerous stew of humanity. As such, it is not a safe place for the unwary and the unprepared, and those that venture below from the upper decks take pains to dress down and dirty up before they go ‘slumming’.

In stark contrast, the more affluent upper decks are rarely touched by such hardship and they boast many of the amenities one can expect closer in toward the Core: from high-end shops, restaurants, lodging, and entertainment venues to those more budget conscious. The vestiges of the once-military vessel are seen here too, only in different form. Electronics and utilities like the Cortex can be found here and in working order. Surfaces are slick and clean and precise. The tram line that connects the deck towers runs on time and is kept in good repair. There is also a rather good hospital here, located a little higher up in the decks and beyond the usual hospital services, there are even niche markets in certain procedures for those willing to spend the money on them.

Pericles Station is advantageously situated on the shipping lanes halfway between Blue Sun and the Core. As such, it gets a lot of traffic and the place is bustling with activity. Against such a backdrop literally anything can happen and given the character of our crew, something inevitably does. And in keeping with the character of our crew, it all began with the best of intentions.

Of course, what we intend and what actually happens are rarely ever similar.

Monday, 18 Aug 2521
Pericles Station
1500 hrs, local time

The crew spends the weekend on shore leave each pursuing tasks and pleasures as need and personality dictates. For instance, Rina divides the time between shopping and making repairs. Come Monday, we start getting back into the routine of being a working cargo ship.

One of those routine tasks involves weaponry. Arden goes shopping alone for a back-up piece. Of course, the station regs forbid the carrying of weapons but it’s also understood that rule only applies to the more civilized upper decks. On the lower decks, the regs are curiously elastic, when they exist at all. Arden heads for the lower environs, locally called the Marina, and starts making inquires. Asking around at a bar cobbled together out of a couple of shipping containers, Arden finds out that he has to and look up Boss Wynn. Wynn runs the Marina and is the man to go to for a hold-out pistol. As for finding him? Don’t worry. He’ll find you.

And Wynn does. Actually, his men do and they escort Arden to their boss at sorta-gunpoint. Boss Wynn sits at his usual haunt, before what looks to be a perpetual Tall Card game. He’s big and is dressed in the remnants of an old Alliance Navy uniform, with a military great coat over all. Boss Wynn is tall and blonde and big, running toward muscle rather than fat. He is, in short, intimidating, and one can see why he is Boss of the Marina.

Wynn’s men circle Arden and their Boss, making an impromptu conference room and Arden tells it to the man plain—he’s here to buy a gun. Wynn is cagey at first and Arden uses his streetwise skills to negotiate a sale. It’s facilitated quite nicely by the crisp 100 credit note he forks over to the Wynn. Wynn takes up the note and looks at it askance, checks the watermark, sniffs it. He recognizes it as the Old Alliance credit bill. He takes the money, Arden gets his piece, and Wynn keeps the change. And then Wynn promptly spends it on drinks for his men. This round’s on Arden, boys, woo!

Arden thanks the man and gets out of there. He makes his escape in the odd No Man’s Land of the tram tunnel that runs between the Marina and the last station that serves the more affluent decks. It’s a lonely walk amongst the beggars and loiterers. Arden has to walk the distance between a couple of unused tram stations before he returns to the more civilized area of the ship. He keeps his gun under wraps in the cardboard box Wynn had packaged it in. The ammunition for his gun rattles and rolls inside it and Arden has to carry it carefully lest the sound gives the contraband away.

He visits Rava at the hospital next. He tells her of the risks involved with associating with him and if she’s amenable despite, he wants to get a full scan done on him. We were interrupted in our last attempt on Trafalgar over a year ago and haven’t had the opportunity to get one done since. She checks the scan schedule and sees there’s a slot open later that night at 0200. He agrees to be there and they part company.

Nika and Joshua elect to stay aboard the Gift to guard her and Kiera and Rina accompany Arden when it’s time to leave for the scan. Kiera’s going along out of professional curiosity. Rina’s going for her usual twitchy reasons. Rava greets them and preps Arden for the scan and also tells him she wants to do a biopsy of his brain tissue, specifically around the pineal gland. After a momentary squick, Arden agrees. It’s over in less than a minute and Rava covers the needle puncture with a cute kitty band-aid.

The scan takes six hours and goes uneventfully. That is not to say that it goes unsuccessfully. There is a ton of data to sift through and at the end of the scan, Rava pulls the data disc and slips the platter-sized thing into her briefcase and promises she’ll tell Arden about the findings as soon as she’s got something to report. We thank her and go back to the Gift.

On the way out, we and Rava encounter a fresh body being wheeled past to the morgue. The attendant pushing the gurney stops upon seeing Rava and at Arden’s request unzips the body bag so Arden can examine the body. Inside is a burly man, obviously well-muscled and just as obviously brutally beaten to death. His torso and arms and head are a mess of scrapes and contusions. Arden’s practiced eye spots scars in the man’s hairline and realizes he’s seen them before. They are the same scar patterns as found on Dr. Gordon’s stitches. There is also evidence that the victim’s ears have had something plunge through them to the skull. Where was the body found? Kiera asks. On the tracks of the tramline leading to the Marina, the attendant tells her. The Marina is the place on the station where the Debtor Injunctions stay and it is also something of a Black Out Zone. Criminal activity flourishes there. Arden would know—it’s where he got his gun, in violation of station regs against carrying.

With such glaring evidence of foul play, of course there has to be an autopsy. Rava sighs and resigns herself to pulling a double shift, starting with the autopsy on the vic. Arden asks to assist, and Kiera asks to observe. Rava is surprised but agrees. Rina goes with, both curious about the body and twitchy as to the case.

The autopsy reveals that the man was indeed beaten severely before death. Also, he’d had been ice picked through both ear canals post mortem with such force that metal fragments were left behind in the surrounding tissue. Under the fresh injuries, the victim is covered in older injuries consistent with a pit fighter—a sport illegal the Verse over but one that hasn’t been eradicated, despite. They find blastomeres in the body. They discover his internal organs are enlarged, overdeveloped, and it fits the effects of Gordon’s treatment of the stitches. Examination of the brain confirms Arden’s suspicions: the victim is one of Gordon’s stitches and for one sinking moment, we wonder if Gordon has started up his stitch operation. No, the scar tissue around the implants is old—the odds are very likely the victim is from a batch from a year ago, when we shut down Gordon’s Highgate facility.

Of course, Arden fills Rava in on some of the details to explain the evidence in front of her. Kiera pokes around a bit and pockets a piece of the wetwork for study later. Rina adds her two cents into the discussion, based on her investigative bent, and the autopsy goes on. Further examination determines the COD as heart failure brought by physical trauma. Rava duly commits her findings to the record and continues with the autopsy.

When it’s done, we clean up, get the reports written and signed off on. We thank Rava for letting us assist and return to the Gift. It’s noon when we finally hit the airlock and walk aboard our girl. We find Joshua in the galley and we find out we’ve missed a treat at breakfast.

Joshua: I made pancakes. We had pancakes. You missed the pancakes.
Kiera: (miffed at Joshua) Okay, now, you don’t get my present.
Joshua: So? There will be more pancakes.
Kiera: Oh, well in that case ... My gift for putting up with me, y’all.

She plops a 5 oz. package of exotic spices onto the galley counter. Joshua picks it up and examines the contents.

Arden: It’s only five ounces.
Joshua: (pleased) It’s the good stuff though.
Arden: Like I said, it’s only five ounces.
Kiera: (to Joshua) Well, yeah. I love ya, but I don’t love ya that much.

Rina slips in and kisses the cook.

Rina: What’s for breakfast?
Joshua: It’s lunch time.
Rina: What’s for lunch?
Joshua: I haven’t decided yet.
Arden: Baloney sandwiches. Or spam.

Nika sticks her head in.

Nika: How did it go?
Arden: It’ll be a few days before we get the results back but it seemed to be okay. Except for the autopsy that followed the exam.
Nika: The what?
Arden: The autopsy.
Joshua:' (dryly) Don’t you know? Every one of these brain scans is followed by an autopsy.

We fill them in on the details about what we’d seen at the autopsy. Joshua is disturbed that Gordon may still be at large, making more stitches for the pit fight industry. Arden asks Kiera to show everyone the bit of wetwork she’d cadged from the autopsy. Joshua looks it over and asks if there was any evidence that the Blue Hands were involved in controlling the stitches? No. Joshua has some concerns if they’re involved, thanks to his fugitive status with Blue Sun, but it doesn’t sound like they’re necessarily involved. A blessing. After filling in their crewmates, Arden, Rina and Kiera hit their bunks for some much-needed shuteye. They’d been up 30 hours straight to this point, in Rina’s case even longer, and they sleep the rest of the day through.

Tuesday, 19 Aug 2521
2000hrs, local time

The crew gathers over a late supper after they wake and discuss what they should do: the body of the stitch is evidence that some of Gordon’s hapless patients are on the station. If there is a systematic exploitation of the stitches for illegal pit fights, shouldn’t we put a stop to it? Or at least investigate? If we do, how would we find out where the pit fights and fighters are being held?

Arden suggests we ask the gentleman he bought his back-up piece from. Kiera pulls out her supplies and uglies us up some, especially Nika, to enable us to fit in with the denizens of the Marina. We make it to the Marina, find out there’s a fight on for the evening and bets are being taken. They’re called Frankie Fights, after Shelly’s Frankenstein monster, who the stitches somewhat resemble.

We split up. Kiera and Nika go to place bets on the pit fight. Bets are taken at the fight itself, so off they go. Joshua, Rina, and Arden go find Wynn. We start looking for him at a bar next to the fight venue. It’s not very crowded. The patrons scattered around the tables look like they’ve been drinking for some time. One of them looks blearily up from his liquor and sharpens up.

Man: Heyyyy, I recognize you. You were the guy who bought me and the guys a drink a while back.
Arden: Yeah, I did. You enjoying it?

After all, it was 20 credits of change Wynn kept for himself. That’s a lot of drinks.

Man: That was, like, a day ago. Are you buying more?
Arden: It’s possible. I’m looking for the boss.
Man: Oh, Boss Wynn?
Arden: Yeah. Him.
Man: Oh he ain’t here. He’s off to the games. The fights.

Arden buys the man a drink in appreciation, gathers Rina and Joshua, and asks the bartender where the game is. Fights? Don’t know nothing about no fights. Arden slips him a credit note, then doubles it, and suddenly the bartender recalls the location. We go to the game.

We draw near and start following the noise.

Meanwhile at the fights, Kiera and Nika have found a spot to watch the fight in progress. The arena is a makeshift pit formed by four shipping containers arranged in a square, their corners touching and cutting off any means of escape. The fighters are brought to the roof of a container and are pushed in or drop down of their own accord. On the containers are likewise makeshift bleachers for the spectators. The excitement of the crowd is high, the noise loud and raucous, and money is openly changing hands. The fighting down in the pit is nasty and brutal. Teeth bared. Blood flying. No holds barred. Nika can see that they are indeed the very like the stitches she remembers from the Blush Bismuth Mine. It’s not long before one of the fighters slams his opponent to the deck and the other man does not get up. The victor gets a crazed look on his face, one that is eerie and terrible to see, and it seriously looks like the man is going to chow down on the loser. Four men hustle up to the fighter and zap him with what look like military issue stunners.


The fighter seizes up and goes down. And the fight is over. Up in the stands the roar of the spectators drowns out the clink of money changing hands. Mostly platinum but smaller denomination credits too. Some of the spectators start filing out of the stands to leave while Kiera watches the fighters, both conscious and unconscious, being hoisted out of the makeshift ring and carried off. She comments to the man lingering beside her.

Kiera: At least they’re not making them fight to the death. Which one’a them would you’da bet on? Cuz I’m just not havin’ any luck with this at all.

Specator: Well, it’s hard to tell. But with some of them you can tell. The trick is you wanna get the ones with the military tattoos, cuz they got the real fighting skills. Y’wouldn’t know it, talkin’ to ’em. They ain’t completely ….

He gestures to his head and twirls a finger.

Kiera: So, do any ever come back? It looks like they about fight and beat each other half to death.
Spectator: Oh no. The second one’s probably okay.
Kiera: Oh, he’ll come back again?
Spectator: Yeah, those stunners don’t take you out for much.
Kiera: Oh, well that’s good. Good, good, good. When’s the next one?
Spectator: Oh, probably a couple’a nights.
Kiera: Excellent.
Spectator: Depends on if any’a the others are in good shape.
Kiera: Same place or y’all have to move it?
Spectator: N’yeah. There ain’t no authority down here.
Kiera: Excellent.
Spectator: Yeah, it’ll probably be down here.
Kiera: Good. Good-good-good.

Nika wanders up and inserts herself into the conversation casual-like.

Nika: How many fighters they got around here?
Spectator: I reckon I seen maybe… half a dozen. Eight, ten maybe?
Nika: Not a huge pool of possibilities.
Spectator: Uhn, these freaks? Hell, I dunno where they get’em.
Kiera: That’d be kinda good though. The number’s small ‘n’ you c’n get to kinda know’em, start workin’ the odds.
Spectator: (conspiratorially) Yeah … I heard that these guys were once Reavers but they got cured. Sorta. Or half-cured.
Nika: Oh, come on!
Kiera: They ain’t—no.
Nika: There ain’t no cure for Reavers.
Spectator: Or…maybe they were people that saw Reavers.
Spectator #2: (butting in) Yeah! They saw the Reavers and that’s what infected ’em with Prion Disease an’ that was gonna make ’em into Reavers. But they got ’em early on’n’ that’s why they are the way they are.
Spectator: It’s their brains. They cut out their brains so they’re not totally bad.
Kiera: So is there any danger to us? There’s not any danger to us from bein’ where all this blood is?

Oh. Um. Well…. The two spectators look at each other, then look at the blood spattered on them, then look at us.

Spectator: Uhn … It’s probably safe. (thinks) Yeah, we better sanitize this stuff.
Spectator #2: Yeah. Let’s go to the bar.

Cuz everybody knows, alcohol kills Prions. Right?

Kiera: Let’s go hit the bar here. Maybe get some pointers. You boys can give us some idea on….

And while Kiera’s chatting up the men for pointers on betting, Arden spots Wynn the Armsdealer with his guards and cronies off to one side. Arden moves in his general direction so Wynn can see him at a reasonable distance and one of the guards moves to intercept. The guard pulls his coat back to show Arden he’s packing a largish pistol. Arden’s not impressed but calls out to Wynn.

Arden: Couple of minutes to talk? I’ll buy you a drink.
Wynn: Oh lookit. It’s a would-be assassin.
Arden: Huh?
Wynn: It’s okay. We’re all friends here.
Arden: Okay. You got a few moments?
Wynn: What’s up?
Arden: Let’s find a place with more privacy. And buy you a drink and we can talk. Instead of out here in the middle of the street. You pick the place. I don’t care.
Wynn: All right.

And Wynn goes right back to the bar Arden’s just left. They go inside, grab their drinks, and grab a table. Arden waits till everyone’s settled before going on.

Arden: As you know, I’m a doctor. Which you probably know since you’ve looked me up, being a careful businessman and all. Last night I was in the hospital and one of the pit fighters came in … dead.
Wynn: Yeah. Well. People die sometimes.
Arden: I’m just curious where they come from. Not really anything else, but who supplies them?
Wynn: And how much is this information worth to you?
Arden: It’s a seller’s market. You tell me.
Wynn: Another one’a those bills.

Meaning one of the crisp 100 credit bills, like the one Arden forked over the other day. Arden pauses and looks for Kiera, Nika, Rina and Joshua. He sees Nika and Kiera walking into the bar.

Arden: (nodding toward Kiera and Nika) Well, here are the people who hold the purse strings. Maybe you should talk to them.

Wynn eyes the women up and down as they order their drinks at the bar.

Wynn: (half leering) Oh, really?

Off to the side, Joshua doesn’t say anything, observing the byplay with inner amusement. Arden waves to catch their attention and Nika pauses with her drink midway to her lips, and she throws Arden an annoyed look as she walks over.

Arden: (off her look) What?
Wynn: (leaning back) So… all right.
Arden: This is the boss of my ship. (to Nika) I was telling Wynn here, we’re wondering over the source of the fighters.
Wynn: The Frankies?
Arden: Yeah.
Wynn: Well, how much is it worth to you, Captain? Whadja say your name is?
Nika: I didn’t.
Wynn: Well, you know my name. Might as well know yours.As long as we’re doing business and on the up’n’up.
Nika: Earhart.

And Wynn leans back, all confident and smooth-like, surrounded by his guards and cronies: hey there, Earhart.

Wynn: (grinning) All right. This your whole crew? What ship you on?
Nika: How ’bout you tell me what you want for the information I’m lookin’ for?
Wynn: Two bills.

Two hundred credits.

Joshua: (quietly) We can do that. I’m in control of the purse strings. We can do that. If it’s valuable information, that is. We can do that.
Nika: We’ll give you half now and if the information pans out, we’ll give you the other half.
Arden: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
Wynn: All right. (a beat) Let’s see the money.

Arden leans down and pulls his other 100 credit bill from his sock and forks it over. Wynn inspects it, sniffing it and checking the watermark against the light overhead before making it disappear.

Wynn: Since we’re all friends now, you wouldn’t know about a little ship called the Dove, wouldja?

The Dove. The Alliance tender ship that held all the money that El Raton, Calico Jack and Collings found.

Oh, shi...

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