Episode 505: Stand and Deliver

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Air Date: 08 Feb 2011
Present: Kim, Maer, Terri, Andy, and Bobby

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Thursday, 12 Feb 2522
Parker Strip Station
Jiangyin, Red Sun (Zhu Que) system
0800 hrs, local time

We fly out to Parker Strip Station in the back of beyond on Jiangyin. It’s a strip mining facility and there are a lot of ore shuttles flying in and out of there, transferring the ore to the giant ore carriers in orbit over Jiangyin. The impression we get from the control tower chatter is that this is the busiest this place has been for some time. Even so, they’ve room for us to land and they assign us landing pad 1. We settle, open up, and roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Nika’s on the bridge, double checking her course headings for Kalidasa. Before her eyes were damaged, it was simply something she could do on the fly. She still has some issues with her vision and she has to take extra care, making sure her figures and her plotting are correct. While she’s up there, she sees another ship land on a pad across the pit from us. She squints at it briefly and goes back to her charts and figures.

Meanwhile, Joshua and Kiera are discussing how we’re going to accommodate our passengers bound for Verbena, a famous Coreside architect and his wife, Parker and Marion Duquesne. We’ve offered them the best we’ve got on the passenger deck—2nd class cabins—and we’ll be feeding them 1st class food, courtesy of Joshua’s and Kiera’s cooking skills. Privately, Joshua feels as long as he doesn’t have to venture on the passenger deck, where the vibes bother him, he’d be happy to wait on them in their shuttle if they’d rather stay in it. Otherwise, Kiera can take care of them on the passenger deck. Joshua asks Kiera if she’s fine with that arrangement.

Kiera: That’s okay. I’ve got your robot to carry the towels.
Joshua: (easily) Okay. Don’t break it.
Kiera: I promise I won’t shoot it if it tries to give me a drink.
Joshua: Or anything else.

Down below, Arden is overseeing loading the Duquesnes’ shuttle. Their shuttle only just fits through our cargo bay doors and we manage with much finicking to maneuver it to the side of our hold. The rest of the cargo bay has been taken up with the argon from Dyton destined for Rambha. It takes about half an hour to get the job done, a job that normally would take about three minutes. Joshua’s there helping Arden strap the shuttle down for the voyage when he notices a line of dust rising in the distance. There’s a ground vehicle approaching our pad from the far side of the strip mine. Looks like we’ve got visitors. He and Arden stand in the hold and watch the vehicle approach to verify it is indeed heading for us.

Joshua: I was told recently by people staring at me angrily when I said, “You know maybe I shouldn’t be paranoid about these sorts of things—”
Arden: You thinking about taking a rifle and taking cover?
Joshua: I don’t have a rifle but I will try and see if I can—
Arden: Take cover?

Joshua takes in the line of the approaching vehicle. Is it a passenger car? A utility truck? A Jawa Sandcrawler? Or what? It appears to be a military style vehicle. Uh oh. Joshua keys his comm.

Joshua: Captain? Captain? Captain?
Nika: (over the comm) Ye-sssssss?
Joshua: Looks to be some sort of … military personnel … vehicle heading our way. On the ground. On the ground, if that makes you feel better. They’re moving quite … fast. I can’t see anything if they’re armed or not. But considering that it’s, you know, a military vehicle, the odds are good that it is.

He turns to Arden.

Joshua: Arden?
Arden: What?
Joshua: Could you, quickly, strap the shuttle down? Maybe get Kiera to help you? Or Rina. Or all of the above. If you can get anybody to help you strap this down—In fact, I’m gonna help you strap this down.

If we have to make an abrupt departure, we don’t want the shuttle bouncing around and bashing it and our cargo to bits. Arden, Kiera, and Joshua work on the straps. Nika comms Joshua.

Nika: What’s coming at us?

An APV—an armored personnel vehicle.

Arden: (strapping) Maybe they’re inspecting the cargo.
Kiera: (strapping) Yeah. Enthusiastically.
Nika: Is it looking like they’re armed at this point?
Joshua: (strapping, to Nika) Weren’t you just talking to me about this?

He realizes finally that her vision still isn’t up to snuff. He looks. He sees a vehicle-mounted weapon on it. He relays this to Nika.

Nika: Oh, nice. Is there a guy up there?

Um…maybe! Working feverishly on the strapping and the tying, Joshua tries to come up with a reason why an APV with a big-assed gun is burning rubber our way? Is it our cargo? It seems legit. Is it … oh, no. We’ve been asking questions about the Jing Jing Bei business. Could it be news has got back to Jing Jing Bei and they’re coming for us?

We’ve got to lift off. Joshua realizes the truck is going to beat us to it if we don’t get some more people to help with the strapping down. He refrains from calling Rina into the cargo hold—he wants her to stay in the engine room and help us pull off a fast exit. Kiera’s already here, Nika has to stay on the bridge. Who else can he call? Not our passengers, surely.

Arden: Joshua?
Joshua: What?
Arden: Could we get Beggar to come help us strap this down?

Joshua keys his comm.

Joshua: Beggar? What are you doing?
Beglan: Uh, just checking the intake valves, makin’ sure that there’s no clutter.
Joshua: (strapping) Is that important?
Beglan: Well, only if you don’t want a piece’a gravel wreckin’ up one of our turbo fans.
Rina: (breaking in via comms) In other words, yes.
Joshua: (strapping) Okay!
Beglan: But not so important that—is there somethin’ you need?

In the engine room, Rina turns around from the comms panel.

Rina: Beggar, go on down and check it out.
Joshua: No, nothing’s going to happen. Nothing’s going to happen! We’re good. Nope, we’re good! We’re good. Thank you.
Nika: Joshua, did you just say “Nothing’s going to happen. No, we’re good”?
Kiera: It’s all good. (ties a strap)
Joshua: (to Arden) You know, you’re right. These guys are probably here to help. They’re probably with the government.
Nika: Ohh, Christ …
Arden: And they have a check with our name on it …

Right. Arden, Kiera, and Joshua continue to strap that shuttle down. The truck gets closer and then with a crunch of gravel under its wheels and a billowing of dust, it comes to a stop at the edge of our landing pad. A door on it opens up. Joshua leaves the rest of the crew and goes out into the sunlight and dirt to greet whoever comes out.

A man steps out of the vehicle. He’s dressed in civilian fatigues—if such an oxymoron is actually possible, but that’s basically what he’s wearing. Maybe he’s a mercenary? Another figure steps out of the truck. It’s a woman. She’s got wild-looking streaked hair and she’s packing a large side arm. She closes the distance with a purposeful stride. Joshua intercepts her before she can get a good look in the cargo bay but that doesn’t stop her from craning her neck to see inside anyway.

Joshua: (pleasantly) Hi. Can I help you?
Woman: Sure. Howya doin’?

Her tone is more businesslike than friendly, with a hint of exasperation. Joshua matches her tone and goes with it.

Joshua: Hi. And you are—?
Woman: I’ll tell you that in a moment.

She leans over to look past Joshua at our cargo bay, squints, frowns. Pulls upright again and looks Joshua in the eye.

Woman: I’m Vasquez. I’m the captain of that ship over there. (sketches a wave across the pit.)
Joshua: Ah, yes. (he knows it) All right.
Vasquez: Saw you were here.
Joshua: Yes. We saw you landing.

Vasquez takes a step back, arms akimbo. Her speech is clipped though her tone isn’t angry. It’s more like she’s warily fishing for something.

Vasquez: Yeah. I just wanted you to be on the lookout. There may be some fugitives. Trying to look for passage. I don’t know, looks like you guys are preppin’ to leave. So I thought I would warn you ahead of time.
Joshua: All right. That’s appreciated.
Vasquez: Did you take on any passengers here?

Joshua realizes she’s after our passengers. Does she really think the Duquesnes are fugitives? Is she bounty-hunting them? She hasn’t really said who she is. Just what are her motivations here? Joshua doesn’t hesitate but Reads her on the spot.

He gets the impression that she was sent to capture somebody. She’s not entirely clear, however, who that person is. Hm. Not very conclusive. Aware that she’s watching him and is waiting for an answer, Joshua drags his attention back to the conversation.

Joshua: We got argon here, from Dyton. We stopped here for something different. We’re actually headed out to Rambha to deliver the argon. Shortly.
Vasquez: So your ship was on Dyton.

It’s not a question.

Joshua: (didn’t he just say that?) We briefly stopped there, yes.
Vasquez: All right. These people were escaping from Greenleaf. Dyton’s the moon.
Joshua: Okay.
Vasquez: So it’s possible they could have come from there.
Joshua: I’m sure.
Vasquez: Did you pick them up on Dyton?
Joshua: The argon? Yeah.
Vasquez: I thought you said you—
Joshua: I picked up argon on Dyton. Where are we going with this?
Vasquez: Oh, well, but you came here.
Joshua: Yes. I did say that, yes. (a beat) It’s been a pleasure. I believe I’ve given you all the information that I’m really interested in giving out to you. I picked up cargo. I came here for reasons not to pick up cargo or passengers or any of those things. I don’t know who you are, so ...

He turns to go. Vasquez reaches into her jacket and pulls out a card. She hands it to him.

Vasquez: If you run into them before you leave or maybe on your next stop, shoot me a wave. These people are of considerable interest.

Joshua looks at the card. It says: Juanita Vasquez, ANS, Agua-Negra Seguridad. It’s a private security firm. They have a reputation for being a little mercenary, a little ... unsavory. Joshua looks at Vasquez.

Joshua: Is there money?
Vasquez: Almost certainly.
Joshua: A lot of money?
Vasquez: Probably more than somebody would pay for, say, passage on your ship, yeah.
Joshua: All right. Well. If we manage to find them and I don’t think we’re going to making a stop again anywhere the area, we got cargo to deliver to Rambha … but if for some reason, we make a stop and we see them trying to book passage, I will—
Vasquez: So you’re saying you didn’t pick up any passengers?
Joshua: That’s what I’m saying.

Vasquez looks unconvinced but she steps back, eyeing Joshua and our ship speculatively.

Vasquez: All right. Good luck to you, then.

Joshua stands where he is and watches as Vasquez moves to rejoin her man at to the truck. She’s talking as she goes and he notices that she’s making hand signals as she speaks, as if the hand gestures are a secret code or actual words, layering another meaning onto what she’s saying. She does it with an ease that betrays much practice and seeing how the man she’s talking to doesn’t look confused, he must be pretty practiced in it too. Before she can get too far away, Joshua pulls a Columbo and calls out after her. He holds the card in the air and waves it.

Joshua: Um, wait, wait. What do they look like? I forgot to ask, sorry. Man? Woman?

Ponies? Vasquez turns and says as she walks backward to the truck:

Vasquez: We just know it’s two. Two people.
Joshua: All right. Well … two suspicious people. Well, good luck to you, on that.
Vasquez: (going still) Well, I think you’ll know.
Joshua: Oh-kay. If you say that’s the case, then ...
Vasquez: Check the Cortex.
Joshua: Check the Cortex? Okay, then.

Vasquez hops in her truck and it immediately turns around for the ANS ship across the way. Joshua stands in the dust and watches them off, making sure they aren’t doubling back before going back inside Equinox to deliver the good news.

Joshua: They’re looking for our passengers.
Arden: How do you know they were looking for our passengers?
Joshua: Okay. This planet? (gestures) Has approximately six people on it. Total.

Does that include us?

Joshua: Yeah, it does. (to Arden) Are we almost strapped down?
Arden: I still need help doing this.

Joshua cuts a stare out the cargo bay doors, tracking the dust trail from the APV.

Joshua: (to self) … I was hoping …. I was hoping …
Arden: I still want to know why you think they were after our passengers.
Joshua: (turning back) Well …. when our passengers are really interested in getting off planet as quickly as possible—and to be fair, this planet is a dump and most people with any sensibilities, even poor folks, want to get off this planet as quickly as they can—but I’m guessing that their reasons for getting off the planet have something to do with—
Arden: All I’m hearing is ‘guessings’, I’m not hearing any facts.
Joshua: Wow. You’re pinning me down on facts?
Arden: I’m just sayin’.
Joshua: Well, let’s say I’m not sure, but that I would put large amounts of money that I don’t have on the fact that these people are probably the fugitives that they’re looking for.
Arden: But that don’t hold water if you don’t have any money to put down on it.
Joshua: (gives up) Just help me strap the ship. Help me strap the ship. I know what you’re sayin’. Let the Captain make the decision.

Arden and Joshua heave to on the straps while Kiera cuts back to the passenger deck. She hears at her back:

Arden: So, did they describe them?
Joshua: No. They don’t know who they are.
Arden: Then there’s a lot of pairs that could fit that description.

On the bridge, the comms buzzes for Nika’s attention.

Comms: This is Parker Strip Station. Sheriff Marley, here. Could I speak to the Captain please?
Nika: (keying comm) Speakin’, Sheriff. What can I do for ya?
Marley: Oh, we’ve got some information that there might be some fugitives from the law tryin’ to leave. We’re goin’ to send someone over to search your ship. So you just sit tight for a bit. We’ll give you clearance to take off in … probably won’t be more’n an hour or so.
Nika: You just had a group come in.
Marley: Uh, no. We didn’t search your ship.
Nika: You didn’t send a truck my way to double check to be sure that your fugitives weren’t loose in my ship?
Marley: I didn’t send a truck. But I might be in a truck.
Nika: Interestin’.

Interesting? It’s anything but. The wind goes up Nika’s back.

Nika: (clipped) Oh-kay. (a beat) Knock yourself out, Sheriff.

The call ends from the other side and Nika sees the red glow of the landlock indicator blaze to life on the bridge monitors. Nika quits the Chair for the cargo bay, goes right up to the shuttle with half her crew crawling all over it and calls up.

Nika: You want to tell me what you just did, Joshua?
Joshua: It wasn’t so much what I did … rather than what those people, the ones that were on the ship that landed? (lowers voice) They were the ones in the truck, they were the ones from the ship. They’re, ah, bounty hunters. Mercenaries. And they’re looking for fugitives. They don’t actually know who the fugitives are.
Arden: Why don’t you gi—
Joshua: They’re looking for two people. That’s the extent of their description. Two people that we’ll know are fugitives. Now to be fair, our current passengers probably be hit, because that’s a very generalized sort of description: two people who might be fugitives, but our guys are really sort of fitting that pretty well. They’re two people who strongly could be fugitives. Now I did tell the bounty hunters that we actually hadn’t taken on any passengers because I didn’t like them. And I wasn’t giving up our passengers.
Nika: Great. Okay.

It’s hard to tell if she’s relieved or pissed.

Joshua: Would you have given them up?
Nika: All right. Well. Now that we’re landlocked, I’d like you to finish tying down the shuttle.
Joshua: I’m doing that as fast as I can.
Nika: And then, I think I’m going to have a chat with our passengers.
Arden: Give her the—
Joshua: You gonna give them up? To the Sheriff or the … ?

He nods: out there.

Nika: I guess it depends on what they tell me, don’t it?

Joshua continues strapping the shuttle down. Arden gives Joshua an annoyed look.

Arden: Why didn’t you give her the card? I’ve been trying to get your attention for five minutes, that you give her the card.

Oh crap. Joshua slaps his pocket and feels the card through his clothes and wilts. He leaves the shuttle and runs after Nika and gives it to her. She takes it, shoves it into her pocket with only a glance at it--it's too small for her eyes to read at the moment--and turns back for the stairs. Joshua’s standing there with egg on his face in front of his Captain and Arden just keeps on talking.

Arden: And this description that it’s a pair of suspicious characters, that’s two and a half of the crew.
Joshua: Nika? Nika, if they come for the fugitives, can he be one of them?

He tags Arden on the arm. Nika pauses on the stairs up and looks at them both.

Nika: I’m giving it some thought.
Joshua: He’s—I’ll be one of them if it needs matching up.
Arden: (not amused) Would you like to strap down this shuttle by yourself?
Nika: Somebody get on the Cortex feed and figure out if our passengers really are fugitives, would you please? When any of you are done.
Joshua: As soon as we finish strapping.

Nika leaves them to it and hits the comms box next to the stairs.

Nika: Engineering.
Rina: (over the comm) Ma’am.
Nika: Rina, you may as well settle down spinnin’ us up down there and do me a favor. Get on the Cortex and find out what you can find out about fugitives on the run.
Rina: (to self) Bliad’ … (louder) … Okay.
Nika: We’re currently landlocked. We’re not going anywhere.
Rina: Beglan.

Rina turns around and draws a thumb across her throat at Beglan: shut her down.

Rina: (to Nika) Yes, ma’am. I’ll tell you when I get it.
Beglan: You want me to kill the Captain?
Rina: (cuts comms) No, kill the engines.
Beglan: Kill the engines? Without the engines, we’ll never get out of here.
Rina: Keep that up, Beggar, and I’ll kill you right along with them. Turn them off, please.

Beglan does as ordered and the engines spin down. Rina gets on the Cortex and Nika gets up the stairs to the passenger deck, there to tell Kiera what’s going on. Parker Duquesne is asking Kiera about the trip as she’s showing the husband and wife their room and Nika comes around the corner and sticks her head in.

Parker Duquesne: How long is it to Verbena? Eighteen days?
Nika: Well, it could be a little longer than that.
Kiera: Oh, a few. (to Nika) Something wrong?
Parker Duquesne: Is there a problem?
Nika: Could be.

The Duquesnes look up at Nika, who’s looking pointedly at them.

Marion Duquesne: Yes?
Nika: If I go looking on the local Cortex, am I gonna see your faces there?
Parker Duquesne: On the loc—you think this planet even has a Cortex?
Nika: They gotta have somethin’, cuz the Sheriff just landlocked my ship lookin’ for a couple of fugitives.
Marion Duquesne: Well, we’re not fugitives in any sense.
Nika: But?

Parker and Marion exchange a glance.

Marion Duquesne: There was … some complications when we were on Greenleaf ... that might seem to implicate us. Well, we were there scouting locations and doing some design work—
Parker Duquesne: I’m an architect.
Marion Duquesne: And ah, while we were there, um, I don’t know—a coup or something like that was going on. So we hightail and got out of there.
Nika: Uhm-hmmm.
Parker Duquesne: Some people might think that, you know, because we were there and then we fled, you know … But I figured out here on the Rim or one of those Border places—
Nika: Anndddd, just what exactly you think they might want you for?
Parker Duquesne: Oh they think that we were involved in whatever that coup was, for example.
Nika: (not convinced) Mm-hm.
Parker Duquesne: (gestures to self) I mean, do we look like revolutionaries? And if we were revolutionaries, why would we leave? It just doesn’t make sense.
Nika: (still not convinced) Mm-hm.

Were Rina privy to this conversation, she’d immediately think they might be agent provocateurs. If Nika is thinking the same thing, she doesn’t show it. She clears her throat.

Nika: Well. Bein’ as you got nothing to hide ….

Marion looks nervous and calls her husband over and whispers something in his ear. They confer with a look, there’s a beat, and Marion says:

Marion Duquesne: Oh, well yes … there is one other thing.
Nika: (finally!) Mh-hm.
Marion Duquesne: We were told when we were over there that this was perfectly legal, but maybe, um … I’m not sure if you’re familiar with some of the products that Greenleaf offers…?

Kiera groks immediately what the wife is saying, thanks to her own dealings with the underworld. Greenleaf is a planet famous for its botanical pharmaceutical resources. Specifically, its greenleaf, a 26th century variety of marijuana. Nika catches the drift pretty quickly and mourns to herself that she could really use Rick Allen’s expertise right about now. She’s also not unaware that greenleaf isn’t something you’d send an armored ship full of armed goons to go after for. So what’s really going on? Nika pulls her attention back to the wife, who’s still talking.

Marion Duquesne: So … yeah, we may have some of that with us. So if these aren’t like, the Sheriff, could we just …? Leave?
Nika: (seriously?) Uh, no. Actually we’re landlocked at the moment.
Marion Duquesne: I don’t—I don’t know what that means.
Nika: That means there ain’t no takin’ off.
Marion Duquesne: Can they do that?

Marion Duquesne looks surprised. Nika just sighs, inside where it won’t show. On the outside she’s firm and her drawl is out.

Nika: Iiiiiffff you’re a fugitive on their planet, I would say the answer’s probably yes.
Parker Duquesne: But this isn’t even an Alliance planet.
Nika: (seriously?) But they have their own laws.
Parker Duquesne: Yeahhhhhh, but I mean … (wags his hand palm down) … not out here. So much.
Nika: Um-hm.

Nika can’t believe these guys. She turns to Kiera with a raised brow. Kiera straightens up.

Nika: Kiera.
Kiera: Yes?
Nika: (smiling) Let’s talk.
Kiera: (smiles back) Okay!

They turn to go.

Marion Duquesne: We’d be willing to share some of our … product.
Kiera: How much … product … are you … with?
Marion Duquesne: Oh, we only got a little bit for some recreational use.
Kiera: Okay?
Nika: But?
Marion Duquesne: We have some seeds … that we were gonna …
Kiera: Ohhh, okay. You got seeds and … ?

Ohhh, shi. If the Duquesnes have seeds, upon which Greenleaf’s economy depends because it’s the only place you can acquire the mature pharmaceutical plants … well, that’s an offense a mite more severe than toking a joint or two. Pharmaceutical corporations take their patents and the theft of their property quite seriously.

Kiera: So, you … accidentally … brought seeds with you?
Marion Duquesne: I would say we didn’t know everything that was in the container when we put it on the shuttle…
Kiera: (nodding) Oh so when the seeds fell in, well, there you are. Okay. All right. It’s okay. I get it. Make yourselves at home.
Nika: How much weight are we talkin’, here?
Parker Duquesne: Weight?
Nika: (curt) Yeah. How big is this container of—
Kiera: Seeds. (to the Duquesnes) A little packet of seeds?
Nika: How big is this packet of stuff?
Marion Duquesne: (to Parker) Go on, honey. I think we can trust them—
Nika: Lemme put it this way—if you want me to cover for ya, I need to know exactly what you want me to cover you for.
Parker Duquesne: It might be, I don’t know … About a 100 kilograms or so.

100 kilograms. A hundred keys? A whole freakin’ hundred keys of illegally acquired greenleaf seeds? (*Key = 1 Kilogram...GM ;) ) Okay so we’re not talking a nickel bag’s worth for personal use but a whole freakin’ hundred keys. Enough to throw the Duquesnes in prison, and us right along with them.

Ohhhhh … Shàngdì, wǒmen xìngjiāo.

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