Episode 419: Dodging The Hammer

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Half-synopsis, half-transcript. Tell me if you want more, everyone, or if this is a good balance between the two.--Maer

Air Date: 16 Nov 2010
Present: Kim, Maer, Andy, and Bobby

Day One post-ambush
Kuiper II Class, Summer’s Gift
Somewhere in the Black
Time unknown

The hydrogen flash fire burns incredibly hot but incredibly fast, flashing out of existence in an instant. Rina and Joshua are singed, smoking, but alive. Nika is on fire. Beglan slaps the flames out on her clothing and we find that she’s still alive, though obviously wounded and unconscious. We make her as comfortable as we can and continue with our plan: cut ourselves free to the upper deck.

In the nature of the helpful items Potemkin’s left us, he leaves us with a working torch sloshing on a less-than-full reservoir. Shaking it and gauging the amount left inside, Rina surmises she’s got enough for one, maybe two doors’ worth before she’s out of fuel. We must choose our first door to optimize our chances.

We choose to cut open one of the ceiling hatches on the aft transverse corridor. It will lead to the corridor just outside the engine room, leaving us only the engine room door to cut open if necessary. Once inside, we will have a better idea what needs repairing and we may possibly find more things we can use to effect our escape. We drag Yorgei’s cage under the hatch to give Rina the height she needs to reach it and cut it open. Yorgei at this point has lost consciousness and we move him and Nika to the crew lounge. The exercise mats are kinder than the bare metal floor to our patients and the lounge is out of the way of our torch.

Rina fires it up and the sparks fly as she starts cutting. Joshua insists on going through it first when it’s finally free—with Nika unconscious, he’s next in the chain of command and he takes charge. Nothing happens when he lifts the smoking hatch. Nothing shoots him or decapitates him. The corridor above our heads is empty.

The engine is also much louder here and scrambling through to the upper deck, Rina can hear the thrusters screaming, the hull of our ship groaning under the strain. She and Beglan try the door to the engine room. It’s unlocked. And one look is all it takes. We were right—the regulator valve is the main cause of the engines’ distress. It’s missing. There are other things wrong with the engine room—boards sabotaged, gauges broken, wiring pulled. But the biggest priority is repairing the thrusters and the regulator valve.

Beglan: I think I can use the fuel tank switch-off to feed some fuel into one them and create a system to bypass the valve for a little bit.
Rina: All right. What do you need?
Beglan: Nothin’. I’ll just need that valve soon.

We continue searching for the missing valve parts. The third piece is found by Arden in a second sweep of the lower decks. Thinking on the nature of where the parts were found, Joshua realizes they were all placed in the messiest, most disgusting locations possible—finding and retrieving them is supposed to be part of the punishment, the torture. Arden goes back to the container where we were supposed to be put through the trial by fire and empties the water cooler that released the hydro that burned us. Sure enough, under the water jug itself is the third piece.

All we need is the fourth and we can finally start winning control of our girl.

The door to the airlock stairs is unlocked, as is the door at the top of the stairs. The door at the bottom to the lower deck is welded shut. The weapons locker is unlocked but the locker has been cleaned out. On the upper deck, we check the hatch to the shuttle—the shuttle’s gone. Going forward again, the wardroom’s aft door is welded shut with a bar welded across it. We can’t tell the status of the medbay door or the inner wardroom door. We’ll have to go through the foredeck corridor to check those.

Painfully aware the clock is ticking, we redouble our efforts to finding the last missing part. There is a Geiger counter off to the side and we pick it up warily. Turn it on. Nothing explodes but the counter starts chattering and the display goes off the charts. With a sinking certainty, we check the containers on the upper deck, starting with the starboard aft. We key open the ship’s door and reveal the inner container door. It’s painted with the universally recognized radioactive symbol.

We debate going in as a group or going in alone. Arden goes in alone and takes a look around.

Opening it up, he sees that there is a device cobbled together of spare parts, wires, battery packs, rusty barrels and electronics—and they are clearly marked radioactive. It’s a bunch of containers with wires going everywhere and crap hanging off the entire hodge-podge assembly. There’s even something that looks like a Mr. Fusion on top of the pile. Looking closer, Arden sees a clear acrylic box with a gadget inside. It looks like a control box to the bomb. Arden closes up the container to avoid flooding the ship with more radiation.

Arden describes what he saw as best he can. Did he see the missing part we need? Um, no. Hell, would he recognize it if he did? All he saw was a massive number of parts and pieces and … and stuff. Rina goes in next, being better able to a) recognize what we need and b) perhaps disarm the bomb with her demolitions skills. In addition to everything Arden described, she sees that there are plastic five-gallon buckets full of a dispersant substance attached to the device, made to scatter the radioactive material across a large area. It doesn’t take a genius to realize we’ve got a dirty bomb on our hands and looking at the amount of material this thing is packing, it’s big enough to seriously impact the functioning of a small city.

Rina: What sort of sick fuck would do that? Oh, wait. Yeah. Right. Never mind.
Joshua: Come on out.

She does and shuts the door and relays what she’s found. Should she go back in there and a) determine what the bomb is made to do and b) disable it? Joshua tells her to go ahead and determine what it does and then reevaluate. Joshua sends Arden to search the galley for the missing valve pieces while Rina goes back inside.

She’s reasonably sure that removing the acrylic box will not in itself cause a booby trap to go off. But there’s a lot of wires in here. She could use the torch she could cut right through it. She has to tiptoe around and under and over wires and crap attached to the bomb to get to the box and again to get back outside. She puts the question to the rest of the crew—cut through the box or what?

Joshua: You don’t have any idea what it’s supposed to be doing other than sitting there looking shiny? So … how big is this box?
Rina: About the size of a shoe box.

It doesn’t have our missing part in it, does it? No. So what’s removing the box do for us? Anything? It would give us access to the controls. But … to prioritize—we need to find the missing part to the valve. Is cutting the box off the controls going to distract us from finding the piece we need or is it a necessary step in getting what we need? Potemkin wants us to fail. Nasty as the bomb is, this could be a red herring.

What about the other containers? Do they have the missing part we need?

The other three containers have the same set up as the first and the Geiger counter tells us pretty much everything aboard has been soaking up the rads. If the dogs hadn’t bitten us, radiation poisoning would have killed us anyway. Assuming we were still alive to suffer its effects. We still have no idea how long we’re going to last with our ship’s engines practically melting away.

We decide as a group to search the bridge next. Maybe we can dial back on the throttle using the bridge controls. We have no way of knowing if the controls up there are intact or not. The only way to find out is to see.

The door to the foredeck corridor is welded shut as well. Rina cuts the door free of the welds and finds it unlocked. Checking her torch’s reservoir, she’s got enough fuel left to maybe cut through one of the acrylic control boxes on the bombs. There isn’t enough to cut through the bridge door should it also be welded shut. Well, there’s no way of knowing the status of the bridge except going ahead with the plan.

The door is a pressure door and it opens to starboard into the lounge. She gingerly opens it and there’s a clack and a whir and a grenade launches into the passenger lounge. Boomph! Gas grenade and we all hold our breath. When we don’t immediately fall to the deck writhing in agony, we straighten up and try the door again. Another whir and clack and another grenade comes at us. We close the door on it and it goes off inside the corridor. We inch open the door and see it’s another gas grenade. A launcher is set up at the far end, set to pitch grenades until they run out


Rina slaps on her gas mask and shuts herself up in the corridor to take out the launcher. It’s like a gun, only with a hopper for grenades instead of ammo, and there is no off switch. It lobs grenades at the closed door until Rina finds something heavy to beat it with. She does enough damage to render it inoperable and opens the door.

All clear.

The foredeck corridor is filled with gas and they open the door to it, despite. The gas dissipates, leaving behind little smell and making us all a little loopy, but able to function. The door to the bridge is not locked or welded shut. Thank goodness. Walking onto the bridge we can see that the flight controls and the comms have been messed up. We’re on autopilot.

Rina starts putting things back together, splicing this and that, hooking up keyboards here and there. The damage to the bridge is mostly to control mechanisms rather than to the actual computers. Our girl has a functioning autopilot and it’s very possible she’s not flying out of control at all but on a preprogrammed course set by Potemkin. Rina manages to get enough of our sensors online to determine we’re on a course for a planet—its gravitational source shows up nice and clear on the scopes. Based on our speed—roughly 8—we’ll be able to see the planet in a few hours, and right soon after that, its surface as we augur into it.

We stop and take stock. The missing part to the regulator valve must still be found. There are places we can still look.

The medbay door is unlocked. Leaving off investigating the wardroom, Arden surveys the wreckage of his medbay. Most of the meds are missing. Equipment is gone or rendered useless. There’s very little of use in here to patch us up. He thinks he can cobble together from what’s left a scant handful of supplies. Surprisingly enough, Arden finds his medical bag. In it is a single Chempliant injector and a note. Examining the note, he sees it’s in a woman’s hand. It says:

Thank you. Look at the Chempliant syringe, lover, and know that when you use it on yourself to die I will be thinking of you. —K.

Who the hell is “K”? Not Potemkin. Otherwise the note would have “J”. K … K … Kiera? No. Can’t be. But who else would know what the Chempliant was, what it would do to Arden, and would put it where Arden would find it? Oh, and whose name also begins with “K”?

Kiera is the only name that fits.

Kiera must have been in on this. Arden had always suspected Kiera couldn’t be trusted, that she would sell us out. Looks like he was right. He shows it to the others.

Joshua: I don’t know if that’s her handwriting but it has her turn of phrase. All. Over. It.
Arden: But what does it mean, though?
Joshua: Not that it really matters but put the pieces together. So who gave us the containers with Potemkin in them?
Arden: Okay, so she’s dying too. Slowly. Torturously. Painfully.
Joshua: Ah-huh.
Rina: (quietly) You’re jumping to the conclusion that she sold us out.
Arden: Yes! I am!
Joshua: I like her very much, and I have no doubt—none whatsoever—that she would be willing to sell us out for the right reasons.
Arden: You still like her?
Joshua: (shakes head) I don’t know. Let’s say I liked her and leave it at that.

Arden goes back to search the bath and the wardroom off medbay, looking for the missing piece. It’s not there.

Arden goes forward to see what he do on the bridge, maybe hack into our systems, find out something that could help us. After some time examining the equipment, Arden finds out where we’re going: the autopilot is homing in on Meadow—the planet we can see approaching through the bridge windows—and our girl is locked on the nav beacon for a place named Norelsk. Not that the name rings any bells for Rina, who has an uncle on Meadow whom she’s visited in her childhood. She goes back to searching with the others as Arden tries to find a way to take us off autopilot.

It’s clear now what Potemkin had in store for us. He intends to crash our ship on Meadow, infecting it with our dirty bombs and killing us in the process. We don’t know why he wishes to harm Meadow. Speculating why doesn’t net us anything but getting the last missing piece of the regulator valve might give us more time to speculate later. We don’t have much time left. With Meadow drawing closer and us speeding along at eight, we’ve got maybe an hour, perhaps two, before gravity augers us in to our deaths. If we could control our thrusters, we could buy ourselves a little more time…but we need that valve.

We take stock of our options again.

1. Regain control of the bridge and perhaps keep us from crashing.
2. Dismantle the controls in the acrylic boxes on the bombs and heck, maybe find our valve piece somewhere in the innards of one of the bombs.
3. Toss the entire ship again looking for the missing piece.
4. Stop the engine and take us out of pulse. Instead of hitting Meadow in 2 to 3 hours, it will be more like 180 hours.

Mind it’s going to mean spending 180 hours locked up in a radioactive ship dying of radiation and rabies and who knows what else. 180 hours translates into 7.5 days. 7.5 days without sufficient water, food, or meds. Do we want a slow death or a fast one? Obviously, we’d rather dodge death entirely.

Joshua realizes that we can’t all work on the same thing at the same time. We have to delegate tasks. Arden is dispatched to the bridge to find a way to regain control of our nav systems so as to steer a course away from Meadow. Rina will work on disabling the bombs. Beglan’s already engaged in the engine room keeping things together til we find that valve part. Arden isn’t so sure about that.

Arden: (to Rina) Wouldn’t you be better on the engines than him on the dirty bombs?
Joshua: Actually to be honest, while I’d rather it be her on the engines in general, if something goes wrong with the dirty bomb and we all blow up—
Arden: You can blame her instead of him.
Joshua: Well, that’s also fair. But I’d rather have our best person on that. So, you’re on the bridge. (points to Arden) You’re on the dirty bombs. (points to Rina) And I’m never gonna want to be Captain after this particularly. Worst. Captain. Ever.
Rina: I still love you anyway.
Joshua: Nice reference.
Arden: I think you’re doing just fine as Captain.
Joshua: Uhhh-huh. I don’t wanna die. (sighs) I’ll start searching the machine shop, the galley, the pantry—
Arden: Look in the dryer and the washer.
Joshua: I’ll do all of that. I promise.

The crew quarters have all been trashed, as has Rina’s workshop. The galley has been trashed though pots and pans and the knives are still intact and usable. The walk-in and the freezer units opposite the galley, however, have been left open to defrost and melt. The moisture escapes into our pantry and ruins the dry staples we’ve stored there. Joshua is upset, but sucks it up and searches on.

Where the hell is that missing part?

We realize that Potemkin would have hidden the last part where we’d least want to go… and that means the bomb containers. Anyone going inside will be soaking up a lethal dose of rads, gaining nothing but a slow and painful death. Since we’re destined to die in a fast and painful death by crashing should we fail to get that valve put together, there seems little point in dithering over a few extra rads. Rina goes into the container at foreward port to search the bomb and sure enough, she finds the final piece. It’s a hollowed cylinder, thick walled, and it has wires from the bomb running right through it. To get the part free, she’ll have to disable or defuse the bomb, or cut the wires and blow us to smithereens.

She also finds out that the bomb is somehow connected to the autopilot on the bridge—any attempt to take the ship off autopilot will trigger the bomb to blow as well.

We devise a plan. Arden will hack a loop on the autopilot, faking it out so it will not detect our disengaging our girl from it. Meanwhile, Rina will disable or defuse the dirty bomb to allow her to snip the wires holding the valve part hostage. It’s a complex action by both our crew members and it takes a goodly amount of our precious time to pull it off. Joshua keeps everyone focused and on task even as he continues searching for things we can use. In the engine room, Beglan does what he can to keep everything from blowing or melting while he waits for the valve.

Arden and Rina time the autopilot loop to coincide with snipping the wires … and … they’re successful. The loop clips into place, the endless circuit engages, and Rina snips the wires. Summer’s Gift is free from autopilot and soon, her thrusters can regulate back to a more sensible burn. We gratefully put the valve back in place.

Only the valve won’t work. Try as he might, Beglan can’t get it to fit right. Taking it apart again we find out that it’s missing an O-ring and just like that, Rina knows where it is. Her incision site doesn’t mark where something was removed. It marks where something was put in. She goes to Arden on the bridge. He’s up to his elbows in our nav controls.

Rina: Cut me open.
Arden: What? I’m in the middle of something.
Joshua: I’ll do it.
Rina: At least the med bay’s open. Strap me down.

We have no anesthesia, nothing to give her for the procedure. We need that O-ring and it would not have been felt during their initial examination. Meadow is fast approaching and we need to get our engines back under control to steer clear of the planet.

But here’s the thing—Joshua’s unaugmented medical skills are good enough to maybe bandage a wound, but not good enough to operate on Rina. Not without possibly killing her. It would take ten minutes of observing someone with the requisite skill before Joshua could attempt the procedure safely. Arden leaves the bridge to start it prepping for the procedure and once Joshua picks it up, Joshua can take over and finish the job and free Arden to work on the bridge again. Tag-team meatball surgery, coming right up. Arden suggests Rina prepare herself while she waits.

Joshua: Don’t do anything stupid. Not that I don’t love you, but don’t do anything stupid. We’ll be along shortly.
Arden: I don’t think you don’t love her. You just know her.
Joshua: Just wait. Ten minutes. Why don’t you go help out our Irish friend in the engine room to distract yourself and we’ll come in get you in ten minutes.

Back to the engine room she goes, where she fills Beglan in on the last missing piece.

Beglan: Do you want to pray? It might help. I find it helps me when I’m worried.
Rina: (softly) Why don’t you pray for me? Do you need any help in here?
Beglan: In praying?
Rina: No. The other.
Beglan: No. I am a sinner but—
Rina: (amused) Aren’t we all?
Beglan: Indeed.

Joshua calls her forward. It’s time. Beglan walks with her back to medbay. Rina shakes Beglan’s hand.

Rina: Nice serving with you.
Beglan: It’s not over yet.
Joshua: Oh no it’s not.
Rina: You’ll carry on after I’m gone.
Joshua: Stop. You’re gonna be fine.
Rina: I’ll come back and haunt you.
Joshua: I know that. You’d come back and haunt me even if you didn’t die.
Arden: Will you both shut up? I’m trying to concentrate here.
Beglan: It’s best not to make claims like that. If those were your last words before you die, perhaps you will. But don’t worry.
Rina: All right. My last words are: Potemkin, you are fucking dead.
Arden: Those are not your last words.
Beglan: Don’t let him win.
Rina: I love you all. Just don’t make a botch of it.

Arden has managed to cobble together what he needs for this, but there’s not much. He’s going to have to get it right first time out. Joshua straps Rina down, gives her a roll of gauze to bite on, and gag-ties it in place … and Arden cuts her wound open. She lasts several agonizing minutes before passing out. Sure enough, the O-ring is tucked in her gut behind the incision and Arden carefully removes it. Beglan gets the O-ring installed and the valve in place—a perfect fit. While Joshua closes Rina up, we regain control of our thrusters and dial our speed back, slowing our approach and gaining us a little more time.

We realize that even if we take control of our ship back, we are still a danger so long as we have four dirty bombs attached to our ship. The controls to jettison the containers are damaged on the upper deck, but the panels to do the same belowdecks are intact. The controls are identical, however, so linking the controls between the decks should let us use the intact panels to jettison the bombs. Rina revives from surgery and she gets off the table to help Beglan with the patch job. They rig a long cable of wires for the patch, hook everything up between the panels and, praying that our external fuel lines aren’t somehow damaged or rigged to blow, we throw the switches.


Three of the four containers fall away. The fourth—portside forward—remains in place and in another second we find out why. It’s rigged to go up in fire in event of being blown free of our ship. Rina grabs a crowbar, goes inside the container as it fills with a slow creeping fire and toxic smoke, and pries the seal on one of the outer doors open just enough to vent the fire into vacuum. She jumps out and slams the inner door shut, panting through her gas mask, and waits for the natural laws of vacuum to do their work. The fire goes out, the bomb doesn’t blow, and we all breathe a little easier.

Which is good, because now we’re crashing through Meadow’s atmo, and we might need to breathe our last curses upon Potemkin’s head. Joshua takes the helm and turns our girl tail-first toward the ground, using our thrusters as braking jets to slow our descent. Arden secures Nika and Yorgei as best he can against the turbulence of our braking maneuver while Beglan and Rina work their asses off in engineering to keep anything from blowing sky high.

Joshua flies, Arden tends, Rina and Beglan tinker and tweak … and our girl blazes through atmo in a long fiery curve. The ground resolves through the clouds, comes up fast for us. Joshua yells to us to hang on! We slam into the planet’s surface, bounce off the dirt like a stone skipping water, and skid to a halt.

We cut the engines. Nothing happens. We’re still in one piece.

Thank God.

We pick ourselves up off the deck and take stock. Nika is still unconscious but unharmed by our landing. Yorgei was not so lucky. Arden finds him dead of injuries sustained and the advanced state of his rabies. At least the man wasn’t awake for his final hours but blissfully unaware. Nothing can touch him now.

Joshua marshals the crew to order and sets us to salvaging whatever we can reasonably carry with us outside. Our girl is too radioactive to live on and we need to leave to find help, to find a place with the medical facilities we need to rid us of the rabies we carry and the radiation poisoning we’ve sustained. It also behooves us to be absent when Potemkin shows up to claim our ship. We’re not unaware of the trail we made overhead in our landing. Anyone looking for our ship will have no trouble finding it.

Beglan has some experience in wilderness survival and Rina has some experience of the general environment we’re in, thanks to her visits as a child to her Uncle Andrei’s dascha. It’s too improbable for us to actually land anywhere near her Uncle’s and stepping outside the Gift to reconnoiter, we see that the odds aren’t with us. We’ve landed in the middle of nowhere, in a wooded valley in the taiga, in the Northern Hemisphere. In October on a wintery world famous for its harsh conditions.


We rig up a sledge for our supplies and Nika and push off for a ridge a mile or so distant, hoping to get a better idea of how the land lies, where people and civilization are. We crest the ridge and nothing meets the eye. No lights, no buildings, no aircraft flying by. Nothing but endless tundra and the steely grey sky of Meadow greets us.

We take stock.

We have maybe a few days’ worth of food. We have means to make fire and we have some of Joshua’s kitchen knives. We have pots to melt snow for water. We have no radio, no firearms, and we have no real clothing to protect us from the cold, save what we’ve cobbled from the bed linens left aboard our ship.

We also have no idea where we are. We do not know where the nearest human settlement is. Neither do we know when the authorities or Potemkin will show up to take us in hand. Night is fast approaching and with it, bitter cold. Even if we do manage to make it through the night, even if we manage to live off the land using wiring off our girl for small game snares, we’re on borrowed time: Come morning we’ll be Day Two into our eight days before the rabies passes through the blood-brain barrier and kills us. Of all of us, only Arden wasn’t bitten and there’s no telling the rest of us might not bite him when the rabies takes us. Given that to look forward to, killing us might be the kindest thing Potemkin can do to us. Assuming the planet doesn’t kill us first.

As night falls, we come off the hill and hit the tree line, there to make a snow camp against the elements and to wait for salvation or oblivion. At the moment, there is little else we can do.

Go back to: Mouse Trap | Go Foward to GULag
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