Episode 504: Ghosts of Jing Jing Bei

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Air Date: 01 Feb 2011
Present: Kim, Maer, Terri, and Andy

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Wednesday, 28 Jan 2522
Somewhere on Osiris
White Sun (Bai Hu) system
0700 hrs, local time

We get our clandestine cargo loaded and find some passengers going to Red Sun: 4 miners going to Dyton. We get them settled in their accommodations and take off on the morning of Wednesday, 28 Jan 2522. It’s an 8 day trip to New Melbourne and hopefully we will not run into any Alliance patrols before we can deliver our cargo. On a less touchy note, Arden has finally settled on a name for the ship’s cat: Jahn, which means shiny in Chinese.

Thursday, 29 Jan 2522
En route to New Melbourne
1305 hrs, ship’s time

Arden tries again to crack the concealed safe in hydroponics. It takes him a little over two hours of painstaking work but he’s successful and we open it up to see what’s inside.

We find:

  • A pistol, of unusual design, a heftier build, and bearing 5 rounds of a heavier gauge/caliber.
  • A bottle of vodka. Rina checks the label to determine if it is the bottle of acid Potemkin had delivered to them at Pericles Station, when Joshua Borrowed Jackson. Nope. It’s not the same bottle she’d marked Poison. She doesn’t open it, just in case.
  • gold ingot, stamped with the letters UBS
  • 50 credits in the old Alliance notes
  • 50 platinum
  • 3 file folders
  • a smoke device, either incense or firecracker
  • a couple of miscellaneous papers
  • a computer card
  • and a nav card, one that hooks up to the ship transponder beacon

Inside the 3 folders are photos of various people: the former MP Kimberly Ozwylde, the Alliance Federal Marshall Di Lan Jeun who we worked with briefly on Bernadette, a androgynous-looking woman (man?) named Magistrate Ezra Emmunds, apparently a sharpshooter with her medals and rifle prominently displayed; and a photo of Ivan Potemkin, late captain of the MakeMake and Josef Potemkin’s brother. Of the picture of Di Lan Jeun, inspection of the background of the photo shows him leaving Sly’s Den, a brothel on Bernadette. Whether he was a customer or was on the clock in pursuit of a case is uncertain.

There are a few other pictures as well: a land-sat photo of an arid planet, with the printed coordinates 105° 28’ 34’’ – 35° 34’ 54’’; and a scan of a mid-bulk freighter with the name Danton faintly visible on the hull. There is something else—an alphanumeric string is printed on the bottom of Ivan Potemkin’s photo:


It’s in a stylized font and the G is somewhat ambiguous—it might also be an E; there’s a gap in the stroke that makes it hard to tell which letter it really is. Rina gloms onto it, convinced it’s a code and hoping she can crack it.

We put the pistol in the arms locker for safe keeping.

Saturday, 31 Jan 2522
En Route to New Melbourne
2231 hrs, ship’s time

Kiera’s manning watch duty on the bridge during the 2000-0000hrs shift and something blips on the sensors. Huh. It’s there and then it’s gone and then it’s there again. Knowing we’ve got cargo that could potentially ruin us if we’re boarded, Kiera decides to wake Nika up to tell her of this latest development.

We’ve picked up a tail. Nika tells her to keep an eye on it and inform her of any changes in the tail’s course. She returns to get more sleep and when the shift watch changes at 0000 with Rina at the chair, Kiera tells her about it. Rina keeps an eye on the sensors and she sees the blip, as does Arden when he relieves her at 0400hrs at the start of his shift. At 0800 the tail is still tailing us and Nika pulls a double shift at 0800 that takes her to 1600hrs. Inside that shift, she decides to throttle back on our engines to see what the tail will do. It slows down to match our speed. There’s no doubt about it now: we’re being followed.

We run a scan on the tail and it comes back with the silhouette of an Alliance patrol ship. They’re armored, armed, and if it came down to a fight, they’d win. Despite Equinox’s war history as a blockade runner, we’d best not rabbit and give the Feds reason to chase us. We play cat and mouse through the night, keeping our distance and debating what to do. We can’t just let the Feds trail us all the way to New Melbourne—they’ll catch us with the medical cargo. We can’t take them on in a fight. Can we shake them?

Sunday, 01 Feb 2522
0600hrs, ship’s time

Nika finally comes up with a plan that might work. There is a way to outrun the Feds, but only by doing something that few—if any—have ever dared to try: going to hard burn INSIDE pulse. But first, we need to adjust our trajectory a bit to mislead them as to our destination. Nika adjusts our course to send us to a different planet in Red Sun and then when the Feds change course to match us, at 0600 hrs, she gives Rina the order to put the engines on hard burn.

The Equinox roars and shakes but she takes the strain. Even so, Rina isn’t happy at the cumulative damage we’re doing to our ship. We’re also using fuel at an accelerated rate—for every 2 hours at pulse plus hard burn, we lose 3 hours of fuel. Nika keeps us at this breakneck speed for 12 hours. We’re zooming along at speed class 7. Rina and Beglan pace the engine room, keeping an eye on everything they can and tweaking as necessary. Even so, 4 hours into our run a fire breaks out in engineering. It’s put out with the extinguisher fairly handily but Rina’s already upset over the state of things.

Joshua’s keeping an eye on the sensors on the bridge and notices that the Feds are running hot. Perhaps they have a fuel leak? Can we use that to our advantage? The stresses on Equinox has already netted us a fire in the engine room. Maybe it’s not too outrageous to think that maybe things aren’t all that wonderful for the Feds, either. Nika considers it and lowers our speed in pulse, dropping us out of hard burn. We’re immediately hailed by the patrol boat. Nika keeps right on flying, refusing to answer. Instead she gives Rina a 5-second warning to engage hard burn again on her mark: 5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1 … Mark.

We hit hard burn again and pull away from the Feds. We eventually lose them and Nika keeps us at going just to be sure. By the time midnight arrives and we tip over into the next day, we’ve been at pulse plus hard burn for 18 hours. We’ve also sustained damage. Despite our battening down everything for the rough ride, we’ve sprung a leak in our shuttle bay. Thankfully it’s small and doesn’t threaten hull integrity or decompressing our ship. Rina cannot hope to make repairs while we’re in the Black. This will have to wait until we’re in atmo, preferably on the ground and still in one piece. Since there’s nothing we can do, she seals off the flight deck from the rest of the ship and we fly on.

We’re ten hours off course but with our larger ship and corresponding larger fuel capacity, we have enough to cover the extra fuel hours our hard burn devoured and still have enough to get us back on course and all the way to Red Sun.

Wednesday, 04 Feb 2522
Somewhere on New Melbourne
Red Sun (Zhu Que) system
Sometime during the Day

It’s been seven days since we burned atmo off Osiris. Thanks to the pulse and hard burn combination, we arrive a day earlier than we’d originally expected. As instructed, Nika sends out a coded message once we land to call in our rendezvous ship. They’ll take the contraband cargo off our hands and we’ll fly on to Jiangyin and drop off the miners. Our call is answered by a New Kalmar flagged ship, the Eir, a Mjolnir class vessel out of Hjiminborg. They land beside us and they start loading up our cargo. The captain of Eir invites us aboard for dinner. Nika replies we’d be honored. We arrive at the appropriate time, are seated with the captain and dinner progresses. As does a little bit of business.

The deal was to receive 600 credits in pay for delivering the cargo. Eir’s captain tells us they don’t have it. Would we consider taking up the lack in trade? They have food and fuel they can spare and God knows, they’ve got all the medical supplies we could possibly need. We accept the balance of our fee in food supplies and repairs—Rina gets that atmo leak in our flight deck fixed with their help and supplies. We linger for a day and a half getting our ship back to rights then thank the crew of Eir and burn atmo for Greenleaf. We still have 4 miners to deliver to Dyton, off Jiangyin.

Friday, 06 Feb 2522
Dyton, Greenleaf
1045hrs, local time

Paying off the bribes at Osiris cost us and our payday at New Melbourne wasn’t as big as we’d anticipated. We need to make up the lack. We drop off the four miners on Dyton and get a line on a job, that of hauling argon to Rambha, one of Heaven’s moons. It takes us a little while to get everything fully loaded and the argon is brought aboard in tanks. With cargo already in hand, we can take a break in earning a living long enough to investigate one of the names on Joshua’s Jing Jing Bei list: June, at Alkali Flats on Jiangyin. We take off late on the 9th. Jiangyin is a ten hour flight from Dyton and it goes off uneventfully.

Tuesday, 10 Feb 2522
Alkali Flats, Jiangyin
0830 hrs, local time

We kiss dirt on Jiangyin and fly over to Alkalai Flats in Lagniappe. Joshua, Nika, Rina and Arden all go. Beglan offers to stay behind to guard our ship and keep an eye on our cat, Jahn.

Alkali Flats is a dusty little town, of about 300 people or so, tenaciously clinging to life. It’s got some sign of industry, likely light mining, and it has a trading post. Our arrival creates a little stir. Ships, much less shuttles, aren’t frequent here. Nika lands it a little distance from town as a courtesy, since our passage kicks up quite a bit of dust.

We check our weapons before stepping off. Nika’s got her gun in an inside-the-waistband holster. Rina’s wearing her usual suspects, save for one detail: she’s got her gun holstered openly on her tool belt at her right hip. It’s time she mixed it up and became more flexible with her weapons placement. Kiera is packing, too. Joshua, as usual, eschews firearms.

The local folk eye us suspiciously as we walk into town. Kiera regrets having no cosmetics or shampoos to offer them. Arden’s brought some med supplies and his doctor’s bag, as is his habit. Perhaps the offer of free medical care might make them better disposed toward us.

We walk down the single street and spy the town’s trading post. We see a woman go into the store with eggs and come out with flour. Kiera eyes the place hopefully, thinking to see what they’ve got in trade, either in goods or information. After all, the general store is where everyone meets to swap stories and hearsay. It could be we’ll find out who June is and where her family is. Kiera approaches the idea obliquely.

Kiera: Oh hey, they might have rifles, things like that.
Nika: It’s a poor dirty little town.
Kiera: I know but occasionally they have eggs, rifles, pistols to sell. On top of it, general store’s where everybody knows everybody.
Arden: Is there a Sheriff’s office? Does there appear to be any law and order anywhere?

The rhythmic clank of metal on metal carries clearly through the dry air and Rina recognizes the local smithy.

Rina: Cap’n? Do you need me for this? Can I hang out there (points)? I’d like to watch for a little bit.
Nika: (resigned) Try not to pick a fight.
Rina: Okay.
Nika: Thanks.
Rina: You’re welcome.

Rina parts from the company to go watch, fascinated by the power of fire and percussion transforming the raw metal into useful steel. The blacksmith gives her the hairy eyeball but continues hammering. Rina looks over his equipment, noting the type of forge, the bellows, his hand tools … Rina leans on the fence rail and puts a foot up and settles in for a while.

The others continue looking around for the Sheriff’s office. There is something that looks like it might be a Sherriff’s office, except it’s been transformed into a combination post office and assessor’s office. Something that looks like fuel cells can be glimpsed around that building as well.

Kiera: (quietly) What’s the name again?
Joshua and Nika together: June.
Kiera: Was gonna say, general store is where people come to sell and trade. They know everybody there. Those little shopkeepers know everybody comin’ an’ goin’.
Arden: (to Nika) You gonna go with her to the general store?
Nika: Yeahhh. I’ll accompany her. You go on.
Arden: (to Joshua) You going into the general store with her?
Joshua: I was gonna wander for a bit.
Arden: I’m gonna see what the saloon’s about. (heavy irony) Nothing bad is gonna happen there.

Nika and Kiera go into the general store and look around. The pickings are limited. Nika’s assessment of it being a poor place seems to hold true. The store keeper perks up at their entrance.

Storekeeper: You sellin’ somethin’? Cuz I’m happy to put it up here. You can come back in a month and I’ll give you your share, you got somethin’ to sell. We don’t have a lotta gear as you can see but if you need somethin’, I’ll be happy to sell it.
Kiera: I saw a woman walk in her with a basket of eggs. You got eggs?
Storekeeper: Yeah, I got eggs.
Kiera: (to Nika) You feel like a fresh omelet rather than the …
Storekeeper: Pardon my askin’ here, but you were in that shuttle I assume, since I don’t know you?
Kiera: Yeah.
Storekeeper: You flew out here for some fresh eggs?

His tone tells us he doesn’t believe it. Kiera turns on a sunny smile.

Kiera: People do funny things when they neeeeeed eggs.
Storekeeper: Cuz I’m just a little … (considers it) … We don’t get a lot of flight traffic out here.
Kiera: Well, I reckon not, but cravin’ eggs….
Storekeeper: Are you lookin’ for somethin’ or are you lookin’ for … ?
Kiera: Actually we’re lookin’ for an old friend of hers. We thought she used to be here. It’d be nice, we thought, “What the heck” … Name’s June.
Storekeeper: Friend named June. Don’t know anyone named June.
Kiera: No. Don’t look like—(to Nika)—how long’s it been since you think she’d sent you somethin’ from here?
Nika: (taking up her cue) Years and years.
Kiera: Years and years?

The Storekeeper sighs.

Storekeeper: Well I only lived here nine years.
Kiera: Oh, well. You know if any old timer might help us here?
Storekeeper: You say more’n nine years?
Nika: I don’t know. At best guess, it was somewhere near the end of the war.
Kiera: Yeah.
Storekeeper: Yeah, no. I can’t help.
Kiera: Dang. You know anybody here who might know?
Storekeeper: Well, yeah. Most of the people here were here durin’ the war. So …
Kiera: Oh.
Nika: You only came nine years ago?
Storekeeper: Yep.
Kiera: How’d you end up here?
Storekeeper: Got tricked inta buyin’ some land and the land’s worthless.
Kiera: It grew dust.
Storekeeper: Sold my tractor and bought the general store.
Kiera: Mm-hm. Well, you think wanderin’ round to th’ bar we might be able to find somebody might be able to tell us if herfriend’s anywhere near around here?
Storekeeper: Well I’ll say I ain’t heard’a June anywhere around here in that time, so …if she were here, she’s probably dead.
Nika: And you would have heard, yeah.
Kiera: I was thinkin’ she’s moved on, but somebody might know if she’s done moved on.
Nika: (okay, enough) Yeah, well, okay. No big deal.
Storekeeper: So you flew out here to buy fresh eggs and to find her old friend.

It’s not a question.

Kiera: Well, yeah.
Nika: Pretty much. We had a day to kill.
Storekeeper: Okay.
Kiera: And between shipments and—by happenstance I saw the eggs walk in …
Storekeeper: I’ll be happy to sell’ya some eggs. We have as many eggs as you want.
Kiera: Got a basket to carry ’em?

Yeah. She gets a basket.

Kiera: A dozen and a half will work.
Storekeeper: Drop some platinum on the scale.

As the storekeeper and Kiera get the eggs settled, Rina’s watching the blacksmith and getting suspicious looks from the man. She doesn’t mind too much, being more interested in what the man’s working on and seeing how his forge works. She stays on the rail, watching everything—the fire, the bellows, the sparks flying as the hammer hits the metal. Finally, the blacksmith tires of her silent scrutiny and stops and glowers at her.

Blacksmith: Is there something you need?
Rina: (respectfully) Just watching. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a chance to watch someone actually work with fire.
Blacksmith: Uh huh. (heavily sarcastic) We are a rich culture. Does it amuse you to watch inferior people working, is that what you’re sayin’? This is my job. I do good work here. I’m not some Core fantasy farm.

Salt of the earth, this guy. Rina is unfazed.

Rina: I just like watching. I like fire.

The blacksmith sighs, greatly irritated, and takes up his work again. If some fancy-dancy Coreside chick wants to watch, so be it. He’s got work to do.

Left on his own in the street and watching the rest of the crew, Joshua briefly wonders if it would have been better if he’d simply snuck out on his own in Lagniappe on this fact finding mission. Sighing, he turns to the Sheriff’s-cum-Post Office building. Eyeing it, he sees in the peeling old paint covering the building the Chinese characters for Jing Jing Bei. A solid clue if there ever was one. Joshua strides with purpose for the door.

It’s cooler and dimmer inside, sheltered from the dust and the sun. The office really was a Sherrif’s office at one point, with the requisite desk stations and counters in the front and the cells tucked away in the back. The cells are empty of prisoners and have been converted into storage areas. They look like a dumping ground for stuff. A youngish woman comes in from outside, brushing the dust off her apron. She looks at him with a Can-I-help-you? expression.

Woman: You need somethin’, Mister?
Joshua: Hi, um, yeah. I don’t know if you can help me or not, but maybe you can. I’m Joshua.
Woman: (nods) Hi, Josh. I’m Mary.
Joshua: Um … I’m kinda … (breathes a laugh) …. Lookin’ to solve a mystery or maybe start solving one. I noticed that on this building—it’s kinda clear that this used to be a Sherrif’s office or something—but I saw that there was some Chinese symbols kinda painted over on the outside. You know anything about that?

Does Mary’s manner change slightly? Does it get a little more guarded?

Mary: Uhh, yeah. It used to be, ah, where the, uh, detectives … worked.
Joshua: Jing Jing Bei?
Mary: Yeah. That’s them.
Joshua: I think I … stumbled on some of their notes and … I was tryin’ to make sense of them. I, um …
Mary: You got business with them or … ? You’re not—you’re not with them?
Joshua: No, no. I’m not with them. Actually, we’ve got what used to be their ship. And I’m just—I think we, that I’ve stumbled onto some notes of theirs and I was just … trying to make sense of them, to be honest. I feel like there’s some history to our ship that I—and it’s …. History of our ship that seems like they, from what I can tell, I’m hoping they were doing good.
Mary: I don’t think many people here would think they were doin’ good. I was just a kid when they were here but … You can talk to someone else. You can talk to Innkeeper. He might know about it.
Joshua: Yeah, I might do that. I really appreciate it. I’ll, um …
Mary: I’ll lead you there.
Joshua: Thank you.

She does, actually. They leave the office and strike off across the street for the saloon/inn. Arden’s already there. Looking around, Arden can see it’s pretty dead. He goes up to the bar. The bartender approaches. He’s an older gentleman and his voice is deep.

Bartender: So … what can we do for you, sir?
Arden: Well, a little thirsty from the dryness and I was thinking you might help me there. I’m also checking around to see if there’s anyone in town who might need my services.
Bartender: What are your services?
Arden: I am a doctor.
Bartender: (thoughtfully) Possibly, possibly … We don’t have a doctor here. There are people looking for help.
Arden: You may know—I know you know better about that than I do. If you could maybe spread the word and I could borrow one of your tables?
Bartender: You’re not going to be cuttin’ up people, are you?
Arden: No, no, I was thinking more along the lines of first aid and medicine and stuff. Not any surgery.
Bartender: Well, all right yeah. It takes a while for word to spread around and people are pretty spread out here, but yeah, if they found out there was a doctor in town … You take in trades and stuff?
Arden: Yeah.
Bartender: Well, yeah, we might be able to help you.

At this point, Arden sees Joshua and a young lady walk in. The lady’s face brightens as she sees the bartender and she calls out to him.

Mary: Paul? This guy’s askin’ around about the old, uh, security and such.

Joshua catches that pause in Mary’s statement and he notices Paul tense up as he turns around. Joshua gets the distinct impression the other man is looking for a weapon. Joshua raises his hands: whoa, now

Joshua: I’ve got—I’ve got no harmful intentions. I’m not armed. I don’t mean anything. I just … I got a—
Paul: They left and that’s why we’re usin’ that for storage. That’s all. If you need it back, we can—
Joshua: No, no. I don’t need anything back. I just … (gestures to Mary) ... I told her that we stumbled on, stumbled on some of their notes and … I’m just trying to … I’m just trying find out about them. Our ship, our big ship, I think belonged to them at one point. And I’m just a believer in knowing the history of the ship I’m flying in. And I want to know about the people that had it at one point.

Paul sighs.

Paul: The … ah … Peacekeepers came here at the end of the war. We were Independent-minded folk, back then. After the Alliance assured us there was Amnesty for everyone, a few months later this ship shows up. A pretty big one. Held cops, I don’t know, a handful of men. They really weren’t that many but they were armed and they confiscated our … Our best weapons were confiscated. We still had some things, but ... They said they were just comin’ in to keep law and order and keep us gainfully employed. We were promised that sort of thing when the war was over.
Joshua: Yeah.
Paul: (sighs) There were some … disputes, and their leader, she … ah … (pauses) She tried to settle them and she was very harsh with her own people and so we thought maybe she was on the side of law and order. But, ah … (deep breath)

Paul is reluctant to say more. With a sinking feeling in his stomach, Joshua gently prompts him to get the rest of the story.

Joshua: How did she settle them?
Paul: Well … After the disputes were not working out to the people’s mindset to what was appropriate—we were gettin’ taxed and it weren’t right, what liberties these men were takin’—and then she said that she would … ah … make us understand the circumstances we were in. And she took one of our kids. And then they left.

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