Episode 503: Old Secrets, New Chances
Synopsis below. Full transcript available on request.--Maer
Air Date: 25 Jan 2011
Present: Kim, Maer, Terri, and Andy
Monday, 12 Jan 2522
Durance class Equinox
Somewhere on Whitefall
Georgia (Huang Long) system
0800 hrs, local time
Nika has her bandages removed early on the 12th and she can see light and dark. Her operation has been successful. By the second day, she can make out blurry objects in full color. By the third, the images become sharper. Throughout it all, Nika is thrilled—quite beside herself with relief and joy, actually—and as her vision continues to improve, the fear that plagued her since the accident recedes.
Well, we arrive on Whitefall to pick up the cargo of beef and the food specialists that Williamson, the smoking salesman of Johnny Appleseed Company, had arranged for us. And we’re almost done loading the 300 tons of cargo when a posse sent by Patience extorts us for money. Joshua is sent out to negotiate. They haggle back and forth as to what cargo gets left as tribute, along with how much coin, versus letting us go our way without paying so damn much. At one point, Rina’s left with the posse as collateral while Joshua returns to discuss the terms with the rest of the crew … and Joshua has to bargain to get her back too. Needless to say, the haggling takes some time and all the while the clock is ticking on the perishable goods we’re contracted to carry out of here. Ultimately we settle for 100 credits (in platinum) for the posse leader and 35 credits for his 5 men. We have the platinum to spare and we need to get the hell off this moon. So, we pay.
It only sets the tone for business dealings further down the road but at the time, we’re just glad we were able to manage it. We load up the 3 remaining containers and burn atmo for Osiris, 11 days journey away.
Tuesday, 13 Jan 2522
Durance class Equinox
En route to Osiris
1000 hrs, ship’s time
Our passengers are all Japanese and they explain to us their special commodity—(Japanese specialty beef even better than Kobe)—and they butcher the side of beef they’d brought along as part of the payment agreement. When they’re done, we are the owners of 150 person days of awesome beef. Oh lord, but that’s going to taste good. We hose down the cargo deck and clean up the mess and look forward to eating some of that beef in the evening. Kiera gets a demo on how to cook it. In fact, during the day, the passengers are quite happy to give something very like seminars on their product and for the most part we all listen, interested in the subject.
Wednesday, 14 Jan 2522
En route to Osiris
0400 hrs, ship’s time
We’ve arranged a watch schedule for bridge duty, shifts of 4 hours each. Rina’s a night owl and chooses the double oh-hundred to oh-four hundred watch. She slips into her quarters at the end of her shift and dives into bed and Joshua slides out to take a leak. Exiting the quarters he hears something very like a cat meowing. Our cat has turned up missing and we’ve been looking for him since take-off. Perhaps this is him yowling to be found? Joshua follows the sound to the passenger deck and at the bottom step he pauses and listens. Now he’s hearing muffled screaming from our lady passenger’s cabin. No! Don’t hurt me! Nooooo!
Joshua busts down her door—easily enough done, since our Smartship system won’t let us lock them—and startles the woman awake. She was sound asleep and she is alone. And rightfully frightened by the ship’s XO busting down her door. She starts making noise and her three male colleagues take exception to his being there. Joshua tries to explain, without success. They escort him out of the cabin and see him off. Joshua goes to Nika’s cabin. As Captain she should know what happened. She agrees that it was an awkward position to be in but she also agrees his intentions were pure and ultimately the smart thing to do: had we done nothing and our passenger been hurt for-real, it would be much worse than having simply embarrassed her.
In the morning, Nika steps up and apologizes again for her XO, explaining his and our position for being proactive, and the male passengers accept it with ill grace. Their relations with us is downright cool afterwards and they pretty much snub us for the rest of the trip. Kiera does her best to smooth things over with exemplary service and Joshua stays out of their sight. Not hard to do, since he doesn’t like the passenger or cargo decks at all. They make him feel uncomfortable, like he's being watched.
Friday, 16 Jan 2522
Beglan draws Nika aside and tells her that he thinks he can reboot Joshua’s robot by running Lagniappe’s flight control computer through it. Nika clears it and later finds him struggling to get it upstairs. She helps him and they wrestle the robot aboard our shuttle. Beglan takes the panels off the requisite equipment and starts running a line. Nika leaves him to it and then returns when he calls her to come see something. it turns out that our shuttle’s computer is a high tech piece of Alliance naval gear—too sophisticated for a mere shuttle.
We think back on how we got it. We filched her off the abandoned Henri de Pollo, in the Highgate Debris Field, and the flight computer was actually a salvage install from another ship on the de Pollo that Rina had put in. Originally Lagniappe lacked the flight computer.
We continue to search for our kitty. Kiera finds him at last in the forward storage locker on the passenger deck. At the back of the locker a wall panel has come loose, dented and pried further open by the cat worming inside. She opens it up wider to let our kitty out and she sees something on the other side. It’s the dead space between decks, the empty pocket area formed under the bridge, Captain’s Quarters and conference room a deck above and the upward rise of the deck from below. She gets inside and finds it’s a hidden cache of moldering carboard file boxes and trunks and trunks of stuff. Everything thickly coated in dust and she backs out, covered in it. She brushes off the worst and grabs Rina for the sake of her flashlight and also, just to have a friend share the adventure: hidden treasure! Woo!
Rina goes in there with her flash light and they first try opening a file box. It threatens to fall apart at the seams. Rina stabilizes the corners with her duct tape and they lift the lid to reveal paperwork from the Ion days: tax forms, cargo and crew manifests, and receipts. It’s papers and paychecks. They open one of the trunks next and find it full of clothing—the style that Rim settlers would wear. There’s clothing for both sexes, from adult to child, and there are some personal effects mixed in. Kiera lifts a shirt and holds it to herself and as Rina tries to figure out why all this stuff is here, she fastens onto a horrific thought:
These are the scavenged belongings of boatloads of people who were lured to take transport on the Ion and then killed, stripped of their belongings and their bodies jettisoned in space. Their murderers pocketed whatever transport fees they charged their victims and went back for more lambs to slaughter. How else would Ion make all those trips back and forth from Georgia to Blue Sun? Why else did they list the same 20 passengers on their passenger manifests time after time? That would explain why Joshua never took to the ship, why it makes him feel uneasy, why he particularly hates the passenger deck and the cargo hold. Maybe it’s the fact we’d recently butchered a side of beef there, but all she can think of is the blood being hosed off the deck into the bilge drains. Rina freezes with a wild eyed look and her hands clapped over her mouth. Kiera notices and asks her what’s wrong. Rina can only babble out her theory in bits and pieces, she’s that rattled.
Which of course is a total buzz-kill for Kiera. She pulls Rina out of there to chill and once she’s calmer they go back inside for the files box they taped up and to take one last look around. Rina spots a records book way up at the top of the curve, pinched between the curve of the deck and the top of the space. She pulls it down and opens it up. Everything’s written in Chinese. She takes it with her. Kiera hands her a shirt from one of the trunks and tells her to take it and the book to Joshua. See if he can’t get a reading off it using psychometry.
The very idea makes Joshua recoil when Rina takes him to hydroponics for a private word over it. He’s not that kind of psychic! She persists, he humors her, and gets nothing off the shirt. The book, however, catches his interest. He can read Chinese, thanks to his linguistics skills, and he asks to keep the book to read through it. She gives it to him, gives Kiera the shirt and the two women go to Nika to tell her what they’ve found.
For the balance of the 11 day journey, both Joshua and Rina tear into their chosen projects—he to translate the book, she to take all the paper records from the box and try to reconstruct a picture of the Ion’s travels through the paper trail it made. She mounts her findings, crime board style, to the wall of the machine shop. Joshua spends almost all his time in hydroponics reading and translating the book. He immediately finds a pattern: a planet, a person’s name, a place name, a person’s name, a place name. The person and place names are different each time.
Joshua and Rina get fairly obsessed over their projects, to the point of skipping some finer points of hygiene. Kiera complains to Nika, Nika orders them both to shower and make themselves presentable.
Meanwhile, Beglan's repairs patch with Lagniappe’s CPU is successful and he unveils the fully working robot soon after Joshua and Rina have cleaned up. It walks, it takes orders. IT LIVES! Congratulations and praise get heaped on Beglan, who gets a bit embarrassed by it all. Now that the robot's working again, it looks like we've got a chance to reduce the financial burden of the payments by selling it. That's for the future, however. In the meantime, Kiera drafts it to carry towels and whatnot for her on the passenger deck.
Friday, 23 Jan 2522
New Perth, Osiris
White Sun (Bai Hu) system
1200hrs, ship’s time
We arrive at Osiris but are immediately put into parking orbit. We must wait our turn in the queue to receive our landing clearance. We end up waiting 22 hours for the privilege, and when we do on the 24th, we are advised to stand down to be boarded for inspection. As a non-flagged vessel, we are subject to more stringent protocols than other ships who’ve registered with the Alliance.
We stand to. We take on the inspectors. They require us to open our cargo so it can be inspected. We do. They look. They find our assault rifles and confiscate them as contraband. They charge us 250 credits for the violation of the regs. They write us an inspection ticket that must be cleared by the health inspectors once we land, otherwise we will never clear our cargo through customs. We pay it. They leave.
We land on the dirt, get inspected by health and customs, clear the paperwork, and see our passengers and their cargo off. Then we fly the special package we’d agreed to carry to another client waiting for it on Osiris. It’s in the BOZ of Alexandria and Kiera and Rina fly it out there in Lagniappe.
Our contact information takes us to a tall, grey, forbidding looking building. Our client is a cautious man. His name is Wong. He keeps the room gloomy as we hand over the picnic-sized cooler. He opens it up and holds up meat wrapped in wax paper … and something else. It’s about the size of a medium dice bag. What it is, he doesn’t say but he goes into his office and hides it.
He sounds us out for a possible job opportunity. Rina stays quiet in all of this, letting our favorite redhead do all the talking. After all, Kiera has dealt with the underworld on a daily basis, and knows how to appeal to them and win advantage. Our client says he needs to get medical supplies shipped to Red Sun. He wants us to avoid any imperial entanglements. Here’s his card. Kiera thanks him and we turn out.
We go right back to Equinox and fill in our Captain and our XO of the opportunity. Should we take it? Should we turn it down? Let’s see what he has to say about it. We call him up using his contact information, arrange for a meeting and go.
It’s at an Italian trattoria, a family run place that doesn’t ooze mob hangout. We’re shown to our client’s table and we sit down and discuss the arrangement over a pasta dinner. The cargo in question is medical supplies. Lots of it and it’ll be hard to prove ownership. Therefore it’s a tricky haul … and the reason he’d rather avoid those imperial entanglements. The cargo’s going to New Melbourne in Red Sun and we can pick it up outside a small town halfway between New Perth and Alexandria. We decide to take the job. We get the contact information we need to arrange for an alternate pick-up site if we think it’s necessary and leave.
Saturday, 24 Jan 2522
Somewhere on Osiris
We fly Equinox to the pick-up site and no one is there. We wait it out and toward evening trucks show up with pallet after pallet of our cargo. We quickly load it aboard and peek under the tarps. Yup. Med supplies. And from the Alliance Navy, no less. No wonder our client wanted to avoid the Feds.
And that makes us consider getting our ship flagged as an Alliance ally. It would let us avoid getting boarded for inspections and fines, as happened on our flight in. Space is really big, however, and Equinox has a rich history as a blockade runner. We have our hotshot pilot back again and there is no physical way the Feds can fence off every blessed inch of space. There will be holes we can slip through to avoid getting boarded. That said, we agree to go unflagged and take our chances.
It’s an 8 day journey to New Melbourne from Osiris and after we give Kiera and Joshua a chance to rustle up some paying passengers going our way, we’ll lift off for Red Sun.
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