Episode 416: Miranda Calling
Air Date: 26 Oct 2010
Present: Kim, Maer, Terri, Andy, and Bobby
It’s been an eventful week—getting snared by hydras, EVA work and the risk of death that it entails, scavving fuel in a graveyard patrolled by Reavers and the increased risk of death that entails … Space walks and injuries. Firefights and Reavers.
Yeah. Helluva week.
We managed to fill our tanks to 350 hours. It’s enough for two pulses and some maneuvering room, even an emergency pulse should we need it but that’s only if we husband our fuel carefully. Nika flies us to Miranda as best she can. Being short on fuel to brake in the comfortable manner we’d all like, Nika has to do something risky to get us on the ground at Miranda and off again with enough fuel remaining to dodge more Reavers should we need to. She’s going to bring us out of pulse in Miranda’s atmo and use the air to help us brake.
- I think it was more a matter of avoiding Reavers than saving fuel. -SS
It’s not like she’s never done it before. Just not with Reavers breathing down our necks.
Sunday, 14 Sep 2521
Blue Sun (Qing Long) system
0600hrs, ship’s time
Nika gives us a five second warning before she drops out of pulse. Alarms start to blare, Rina starts to curse, and Joshua gets on the PA to warn our passengers to hang on and thank you for flying Summer’s Gift. With both pilot and engineer busy at their respective ends of the ship, Joshua and Kiera and Arden and our passengers batten down for a rough ride.
And it’s a rough ride. Joshua’s in his customary copilot’s seat, watching as first cloudy atmo, and then flame, crawls across the bridge windows. Kiera’s making her way to the bridge despite the turbulence. Arden is morosely waiting it out in medbay. Nika flies our ship and Rina tweaks the engines. As for what Dean and his people are doing, it’s anyone’s guess. Of course, the crew is patched in to the bridge channel to follow the action and Joshua leaves nothing to doubt as to what’s happening. He’s got his headset on and he’s talking into it as he watches the fireworks outside, excited like a kid on a roller coaster.
Joshua: That is so cool!
Arden: (over the comm) I’m so glad I can’t see it.
Kiera: (entering the bridge) At least I’m gonna die with people.
Joshua: Look, look! It’s magnificent!
Rina: (from the engine room comms): Until it eats through the glass, Joshua.
Johsua: But even then.
Kiera just gives Joshua that look: you crazy idiot.
Kiera: If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna be one of the first ones, dammit.
Nika: I’m just in the mood to be challenging today.
Joshua: We’re not gonna die. I don’t know why people are being so pessimistic about this thing.
Kiera: We’re in the front, we’re gonna die first.
Joshua: We’re not gonna die. She’s going to land us so smooth we won’t even notice we’ve landed.
Kiera: Because we’ll be dead.
Nika hits a patch of turbulence and the Gift jinks hard a-port. Wham! to the left and then we jink to the right. Wham! And then it’s back to the regular rockety ride.
Joshua: Okay, maybe not as smooth as I was predicting.
Arden: (over the comms) The good news is, you don’t hit hard. The bad news is you bounce five times.
We’re screaming and buffeting through atmo at a greater than 45°angle, bleeding off our pulse-v via friction and whatever we can squeeze out of our braking thrusters. Timing it excruciatingly close, we level out over Miranda’s ocean with a cat’s whisker to spare.
There are no nav sats for us to find our way. It’s strictly see and avoid. And in that vein we fly low over the surface of Miranda hoping to stay under any radar of … well, anybody, really. No telling if the people at the other end of such equipment will be friendlies or Reavers. Not that our fiery descent through atmo didn’t already plant a big fat “Here we are!” flag on our tail. Even so, Nika keeps it close to the deck as she flies on. The backwash from our engines carves a deep trench in the water as we zoom along, heading for land. We trip our sensors for land and make for the biggest piece of it we can find.
It turns out to be the southern continent. Going by the antipodal position, it’s spring—a lucky break. The weather will be kinder to Marcus Dean and his people when they disembark. Nika finds a place with pasturage and woods and water near a deserted city. Going by the size of it, it probably had a population of several hundred thousand or so—not too big—and there is evidence that it suffered a fire in the last year or so. Lightning strike, perhaps? Or depredations by Reavers. There really is no telling. There’s a mag-lev track running to it, suggesting that another city might in the area. Or, given the damaged state of the city we’re circling, might not.
Nika has Dean come to the bridge and pick out a spot to land. He points out a place off to the side, where the land rises from the city into scraggly hills. If we could find a place to land over that way where there’s a certain amount of cover? Nika flies us over there and we kiss dirt, easy as you please.
Arden: (via comms) Did any part of the engine break loose in that wonderful freefall landing? That’s a first.
Joshua: (to Arden) It is not. (to Nika) Smoothly done, Captain. (a beat) Maybe a little slower next time, but …
Nika slides a look at him.
Joshua: Just a suggestion. (over the PA) We have arrived at the hellhole known as Miranda. Please gather your baggage and prepare to depart the vehicle.
Joshua cuts the channel and says to Nika on his right:
Joshua: And pay us the second half.
Nika: Just watch. Now that we’ve landed he’s gonna screw us to the ground.
After all, Dean was concerned we’d cut and run before getting him to Miranda and getting here wasn’t the smoothest of rides—and that’s before we screamed through atmo out of pulse.
Joshua: Positive thinking, Captain. Positive thinking. I’ll start helping the passengers get themselves off.
Kiera: I’m gonna go get a gun.
And so we power down and help Dean and his people off.
Sunday, 14 Sep 2521
Middle of Nowhere
Southern Continent, Miranda
Blue Sun (Qing Long) system
0700hrs, ship’s time
From their initial number of 20, there are only 10 Lambs of Megiddo left including Dean. They took the brunt of the casualties at Mr. Universe’s Moon, scouting ahead and buying us time to fuel our girl by fighting the Reavers off our rear flank and in the final frontal assault. They spent the rest of the flight to Miranda in funeral rites for their dead and now that they’ve arrived, they have cargo enough to outfit over twice their current number, a sad advantage in the light of their losses even though it translates into extra supplies for the survivors come winter. They can’t take it all with them, now that they have less people to muscle it out of there. Even so, they plan take as much as they can.
Joshua makes sure they take the two person-days worth of canned food they’d originally planned for each of them. Rina reminds them to pack a can opener. Nika offers to take Lagniappe and fly recon for them and Dean asks her not to—they would prefer to keep as low profile as possible and not leave evidence that they were here at all. Lagniappe would leave a heat signature for watchers to find. In fact, if we could power down Summer’s Gift all the way while they’re unloading, all the better. Nika considers it and agrees. She orders everything shut all the way down.
Rina: (grumbling) Nothing good ever comes of shutting all the way down.
Joshua: What could possibly go wrong?
It takes us two days to unload everything without power to assist us. While strictly speaking nothing is wrong with that, it does make us linger longer than a kiss-and-go would have taken us with the power on. More time on the ground translates into a greater chance of being discovered. Dean’s people are obedient and hard workers and there are nine of them. Combined with our hands, we’ve got over a dozen people working on it.
Nika still doesn’t like the idea of leaving them—basically, stranding them—out in the middle of nowhere without being reasonably sure they’re alone. Arden points out chances are they’re not going to be reasonably alone. Up until a certain point. Eventually they’re going to get found.
Nika: Right now there shouldn’t be anybody on Miranda.
Kiera: Why shouldn’t there be anybody on Miranda? People did come here.
Mike, for one, albeit somewhat forced. The veterans that Winfield mentioned, for another—though Rina kept that conversation to herself. And what about the people the Abbot’s been training at the monastery in Salisbury, those men and women we saw nearly two years ago when we found Mike again? By Mike’s account, they were headed toward Miranda too, along with the Mustang class ship buried beneath his mountain cabin. Surely they can’t all have perished on their way to Miranda. Have they?
We also know that there is one settlement on Miranda of long standing, the islanders on Pala. They, however, can’t leave the island and it’s pretty much a given that they won’t be running into Dean and his people on the mainland.
As for the people no longer on Miranda, Joshua is cautious about any lingering psychic residues, considering all but one-tenth of one percent of 30 million people perished here. 30 million minus 30 thousand is still a LOT of dead people to be hearing in your head.
As the hours and then the day passes without any adverse effects, Joshua relaxes. As he remarks to Rina as they both sweat off-loading the cargo:
Joshua: I’ll take that as it goes. I’m glad I’m feeling fine.
Rina: Me, too. I’d hate to have to cosh you over the head.
Kiera’s a passenger and she stays out of the unloading as much as she can. Arden pitches in as he can, mindful of his hands. As a doctor and a surgeon, they are understandably too valuable to risk to injury. Which we’re thankful for, since we’re all banged up and in need of his skills. Our injuries from the Reaver battle have been seen to, but we still have to heal and should we subsequently injure ourselves we’d all rather Arden wouldn’t have to attend us with one hand tied up. As a result, he’s doing the lightest work of all of us and has plenty of time to stand and watch.
Monday, 15 Sep 2521
The second day of unloading, he notices something odd. The Lambs are breaking things down and reorganizing and repacking their supplies, and doing it fairly energetically at that. Nika, Joshua, and Rina, however, slow down their pace as time goes on until finally they’re starting to stare off into the distance while engaged in a task. Or they’d pick up a box, carry it a few steps and then put it down. Nothing zombified or anything, just … overly casual about it all. Our crew isn’t what you’d call lazy and certainly Rina isn’t a take-your-time kinda gal. And there she is, staring off thataway with box in hand and going nowhere fast. Kiera’s sitting on a crate nearby and Arden asks Kiera her opinion on the whole business. Her response is a shrug and a whatever.
Nika’s carrying a box a few feet away and stops to lean against a tree, just looking out over the landscape as if inspecting it … maybe. Arden walks over and waves his hand in front of her face in the classic gesture of hello, anybody home? Nika blinks and looks at him and smiles.
Arden: (friendly) Whatcha doin’?
Nika: Nothin’. (chuckles) Why?
Arden: Because you’re doing nothing and staring off into space.
Nika: Well, you know, I was just looking out that way and just remembering … [mumbles something that sounds like “kill”].
Arden: Okay. Rina’s doing it too.
Nika: Doing what?
He checks over his shoulder. Yup. She’s still there. Not ten feet away. Staring. Is that a faint look of horror starting to creep over her face? Arden looks around for Joshua and sees the man pretty much in the same boat, albeit with a different expression. Arden turns back to Nika and gives her his report.
Arden: Staring off into space. For no apparent reason. So’s Joshua.
Nika: What? What are you drivin’ at?
Arden: You all are staring off into space for some odd reason I don’t know why. Here—(holds up hand, ticks off fingers) A, B, C, leads to D.
Nika: What’s D?
Rina: (calling over) Death.
Arden: There may be something wrong with you all.
Kiera: (pointing to Rina) She’s fine. Paranoid, but fine.
Nika: It hasn’t impaired my faculties, has it?
Then again … Nika thinks about it for a minute. She’s been working and staring, thinking how sad it is that an entire planet’s lost its people, carpeted in corpses and … She’s lost her train of thought again and goes quiet, until Arden speaks up.
Arden: I need to do a hormone work-up on you.
Nika: A what?
Rina: (kibitzing now) He’s gonna make you moan.
Joshua: (joining in) That’s a her-moan work-up.
Arden: A hormone work-up.
Nika: You callin’ me a whore? Is that what you just said?
Arden: She said it. (jerks thumb back at Rina)
Rina: Cuz we can’t make a vitamin.
Rina: That’s the difference between vitamins and hormones. (laughs) You can’t make a vitamin but you can make a whore moan.
Arden: (oh please!) Suddenly I’m back in junior high.
Joshua: (laughing, too) My brain. It hurts. So much.
Arden drags us back on topic, despite the fact that our engineer is now leaning against a crate in a giggle fit.
Arden: So anyway, I need to draw some blood and just do a quick work up.
Arden: (slowly) Because you are acting strange. (a beat) You want a better reason?
Arden: I told you so. I’m the medical doctor. Medical is my thing so, you know, give me a moment. All it is is a tube of blood. You won’t even have to get undressed. But you can if you want.
Kiera: I knew that was coming.
Arden: I have to go onto the ship and draw it there.
Nika: (grudgingly) Fine.
She pushes off the tree and meanders back to the ship. And she literally meanders. She takes a couple of steps in the right direction and then forgets where she’s going before she gets there. Then she pulls herself together, only to repeat the performance all over again. It takes a fair bit of prodding from Arden to get Nika aboard. He takes her by the arm.
Nika: (annoyed) Why are you nudging me? Quit it!
Arden: Cuz you’re dragging your feet.
Kiera: (kibitzing) “Ow. Quit it.”
Nika: It’s nice out.
Arden: You can go back out. The sooner we get this done, the sooner you can come back out.
Nika: Fine. (yanks her arm free)
Rina calms down out of her giggle fit and picks up her box. Where was she going with it again? Huh. She puts it down and sits on it. Joshua joins her. They both look out over the landscape.
Joshua: It’s much more peaceful than I thought it’d be.
Dean and his people are too busy working to notice this playing out. Nika allows Arden to get her to medbay to do the damned blood draw. If it’ll make him happy, then fine! she’ll do it. Drawing the blood is more taxing than Nika realizes and since she’s already lying down on the exam table, she might as well take a little nap. She curls up and falls asleep before Arden is done.
There seems little need for the blood work now. It’s pretty obvious that Pax is alive and well and kicking Nika’s ass. It sure the hell ain’t lupus. And taking stock of Joshua, Rina, and Kiera, it quickly becomes obvious to Arden as well that he’s the most vibrant of the crew.
Which is sad, considering how vibrant he usually is.
And that’s a little disheartening because he’s not quite sure what to do about it. He falls back on his training—run the tests and eliminate the probabilities one by one. Sure enough, the results come back showing Nika has Pax in her bloodstream. Pulling his conversations with the Pallans from memory, Arden recalls how they said the Pax has sunk into the watertable and is able to go dormant or dissipate before growing strong enough to affect people again. Arden can’t tell how far over the safe levels Nika is. Then again, does it matter? Nika’s already curled up asleep on his exam table.
He takes a water sample from a nearby creek and tests it. The levels are lower than those in Nika’s blood sample. But the Pax could be atmospheric here. Or in the soil. As such, it would behoove him to get the crew away from the outdoor environment as soon as possible to limit their exposure. The sooner he gets them clear of it, the less damage it can do. Next, Arden has to devise some sort of medical treatment for their condition. Is there some sort of vitamin they could take. Some sort of pharmaceutical regimen?
Actually, Dean might be the person to go to with that question. After all, they’ve done some things that seem to have rendered them immune to Pax. They have their drugs, which Arden’s already examined and analyzed, though a portion of their cocktail is geared to counteract the effects of what they’d done to make themselves immune. As such, our crew’s treatment might not follow along the same lines, making it more complicated. Remembering back to our initial stay on Miranda, Arden recalls what he’d read in the doctors’ logs in the hospital we’d bivouacked in. The logs state their growing concern as people started coming in to be treated for their malaise. The medical community didn’t know what it was or what caused it. They had no idea it was the Pax. It wasn’t a huge emergency at first, but pretty soon the number of people affected grew exponentially … and it became a HUGE EMERGENCY right quick as they flooded the medical system. By then, it was too late to save the planet.
Arden gets on the comm and manages to call everybody in. When they don’t answer, he has to physically retrieve them. They haven’t moved that far from the ship. Finding them will not be a problem. Dean finally notices what’s going on and approaches Arden:
Dean: Well, it appears that we’re in season.
Arden: You’re in season? (Uh. No. Wait.)
Dean: No. We’re in the Pax. The Pax is in the air.
Arden: Yes. I’ve noticed.
Since Arden’s currently herding Joshua aboard, one would hope he’s noticed. Joshua stars ahead and softly murmurs a response to Dean’s statement.
Joshua: … It’s like pollen …
Dean: So … um … do you have some sort of plan for this?
Arden: Yeah. We’re leaving. As soon as possible.
Dean: You can fly out?
Arden: I can. If I have to.
Dean: And the … Reavers?
Arden: Sure. (off Dean’s look) No. My plan is to get them all on board on the ship, shut it up, and hopefully in the ship’s atmosphere it will wear off in a few hours.
Dean: A few hours.
Arden: I hope. I don’t want to do anything more drastic and messing with their blood chemistry and their brain chemistry if I don’t have to.
Dean: We’ve packed some intravenous nutrient packs. You should probably take those. We were anticipating days or weeks of inactivity if anyone who was not immune fell to it.
Arden: Okay. Hopefully it won’t come to that.
Dean: So you’re going to be running ships systems?
Arden: I want to get them on the ship first and then see what I can do from there.
Dean: Yeah, but your ship’s been sucking on the atmo out here.
It might mean Arden needs to do more than simply isolate us. Would a self-contained air mask be sufficient to keep us safe from the Pax? Or is it absorbed through the skin? The weaponized version of Pax could get through the skin, the eyes, and so on. Back when we saw him at his cabin on Salisbury, Mike didn’t give us many details as to what steps the Abbot’s trainees were going to use to counteract the Pax. Rina’s retort to Mike then about NBC suits was neither confirmed nor refuted. (And neither did Ted Winfield tell Rina anything about the methods the relocated Independent veterans would use, either, but only Rina was privy to that conversation and she kept it to herself.)
Arden takes a different spin on it—what does he have aboard that could counteract the Pax effect and what damage could it cause if he used it. Well, he’s got various drugs that could boost the adrenaline system, possibly carry someone far enough along to keep them awake. Of course, the other side effect of Pax—Reaverism—might not be a good combination with a hyper-activated adrenal system. But it may be that the Reaverization might be the fault of a genetic combination already present in the victim before exposure to Pax.
Faced with the care of his crew and our passenger—singlehanded, alone—for an indefinite period of time, Arden knows that sooner or later he’s going to risk making a fatal mistake due to sleep deprivation. He’s going to need help.
And then there’s Marcus Dean and his people to take care of. After getting the crew and Kiera settled comfortably in medbay, Arden checks on Dean and their off-loading. Dean and his crew are pretty much done. All that’s needed is to say their final goodbyes and fork over the 1000 credits in payment. Both are accomplished quickly and efficiently.
Arden makes ready to close up our girl and turn the power back on, the better to isolate the atmo we’re all breathing. Dean asks Arden to give them a day’s head start before powering up our ship. Otherwise the power signature would give their position away.
Arden: I’m more worried about the medical well-being of my crewmates.
Dean: And I want to preserve the general well-being of my people. So we might have to take issue with your idea.
Arden: Okay. You could start moving now and I’ll wait as long as I can.
Dean: Or we could just disable the ship so you’re not able to turn it back on.
Arden: Fine. Go. Have a day. Go.
Dean: All right.
Dean takes his crew and their gear and head off into the hills. Thanks for the ride. Nice knowin’ ya, man. Don’t forget to write.
Arden doesn’t linger to watch them leave but hustles back aboard to secure our ship, then get back to medbay to prepare that adrenaline cocktail. He has to decide who to give it to and makes the logical choice: he gives it to Kiera.
Kiera jerks and opens her eyes and her pulse is racing. She’s still dreadfully tired but like someone startled awake when nodding off at the wheel, the adrenaline spike is keeping her conscious. However, unlike the adrenaline spike while nodding off at the wheel, this one doesn’t wear off after a few seconds but keeps on going. Kiera hauls herself up groggily and blinks.
Arden gives her the rundown: We’ve been exposed to the Pax. We need to get off this planet. He needs her medical expertise to determine how best to fix this mess the best way we can. Kiera takes it in and sees that the entire crew has been laid out by the Pax.
Kiera: Walk me through what Pax does to the body, again? System by system, what does it affect?
It’s still somewhat a mystery but Arden tells her his best guess: The adrenal system. She asks what’s been tried so far—the doctors on this planet when the Pax hit them must have tried something. Arden pulls out his notes from our last stay on Miranda and shows them to her. Hmm. He offers that since he’s immune to it, there might be something in his own system they could use. He has that extra pineal gland. If they could isolate its secretions they might be able to synthesize enough to treat the entire crew.
Kiera: Huh. Well, let’s do it. You’re gonna find out a way to get into me no matter what.
Kiera’s groggy as hell but her sense of humor is still bright-eyed and bushy tailed.
Arden: Huh? (clue bat!) Yeah … You know if it wasn’t such a dire emergency, I might laugh. I doubt it, but I might.
Kiera: What is it about your gland that makes you immune to this? You don’t know. Nobody’s taken it apart.
Arden: We have the med scans.
Kiera: How’d ya like to have a needle in the head.
You know, like a biopsy.
Arden: I … wouldn’t? But if that’s what it takes, I’ll do it.
Kiera: Okay. Has anyone run a matching panel against you and a normal human being to see what your adrenal panel is like?
Arden: They’re basically the same.
Kiera: So … is it the organ that processes this stuff or is it a secretion that takes care of it for you?
Arden: If the panel is the same as everyone else’s, it probably processes it a different way. Which means there is no chemical in my blood that is probably going to help.
Arden: So moving on to plan B: getting off this planet. Hoping it wears off.
See now, here’s the thing. Maybe someone didn’t explain it to you in any great detail but this is roughly the area we call Reaver space … Still Kiera’s optimistic about our chances, even though we might not be able to get away as quickly as we arrived.
Kiera: I could fly, could spin her up.
Arden: If you’ll pardon the phrase, I’d like to stimulate Nika up as well. To get us off the planet.
Kiera: I think that would make sense but I think we’d need the engineer to spin the engines up. D’you know how to spin them up?
Arden has some technical engineering skill and a bit less in mechanical engineering. He could probably take Rina’s place in engineering in an emergency. They stop and assess their skills versus the environment waiting for them aloft.
Kiera: How much adrenaline did you give me?
Arden: Enough to shock you out of whatever stupor you were in.
Kiera: Hit me again.
Arden: Do you need it?
Kiera: No, but hit me again and see what the hell it does. It might take more. You’re doin’ the dose that would normally work but your havin’ to counteract the Pax.
The consequences of overloading on adrenaline are well known. Soldiers have been dosed during wartime and have gone for 72 hours before crashing. Mind, the strain on the system is intense and most people still manage to survive it. But some of them were made crazy by it or freaked out or went unconscious and comatose. It’s not a great solution to our problem but it’s the best one we’ve got. Arden hits Kiera with another dose.
The adrenaline hits her system like an electric sledgehammer—she’s practically vibrating off the deck. Okay! Let’s go!
Arden and Kiera surmise that since the Pax is a weather-based effect, if we sought higher ground the atmo might thin out enough to reduce the Pax and its grip on the rest of the crew. If we could find the right elevation, we won’t have to leave Miranda at all to escape the Pax. It would certainly be safer than running the gauntlet with the Reavers.
There being no time like the present, Arden and Kiera start things up. Before he leaves the medbay, Arden takes the time to secure his patients… and can’t resist yanking Rina’s chain just a little. Speaking loudly enough to get through her slumber, he asks if he can start up the engines. The engineer whimpers in her sleep and Arden takes that as a yes.
Kiera gets herself planted in the pilots chair and starts preflight, flipping switches and watching the gauges. Aft, Arden’s in the engine room getting things warmed up. He’s not as proficient as Rina and there are a few squeals and grinds. Back in the wardroom, Rina stirs and still unconscious, quietly starts to weep.
Kiera gets our girl aloft and mutters the ship steers like a cow. Obviously she’s accustomed to finer craft but she manages to fly us out of there. She stays close to the ground—not as close as Nika had, but close enough not to lose sight of the terrain and yet not clip the tops of trees and hills and mountains. From the sensors she can tell she’s in the southern hemisphere. Maybe the Pax is less prevalent in the northern hemisphere? Damned if she knows, she’s never been here before. She hails the engine room from the bridge.
Kiera: Arden. You were here before. Where the hell’m I flyin’ this thing to?
Arden: I just want ‘away’.
Northern hemisphere it is. Kiera takes us over the water. A little while into the flight, the sensors pick up evidence of a powerful storm ahead. Arden’s quit the engine room by then and has joined her on the bridge. He recognizes it as Pala and tells her to avoid it. Hang a left and go west. Gee, thanks, Arden. Kiera banks left. Our neutrino detector is still mounted in avionics and it registers some weird energy readings. Kiera gives the entire area of ocean a wide berth.
We eventually come upon land again and Kiera flies until we approach a big city. Arden cannot tell if it’s the same city from our stay two years ago, but it’s a city. There’s a small landing area inside the city limits and Kiera lowers us onto it. The backblast from our thrusters makes the surviving windows of the surrounding buildings shatter. Glass comes down like snow, smacking and breaking up on our hull. Other than that, Kiera gets us dirtside without a scratch. She powers us down.
Kiera: We’re home now, darling.
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