Episode 511: A Matter Of Leverage

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Air Date: 05 Apr 2011
Present: Kim, Maer, Terri, Andy, and Bobby

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Thursday, 07 May 2522
Secret Installation, St. Albans
Red Sun (Zhu Que) system
1530 hrs, local time

Making good on a promise in return for the opportunity to escape IAV Aceso, we’ve come to investigate a set of coordinates on St. Albans. We find ourselves on a mountain at an installation the possibly dates back to the war, with an array of antennas. We infiltrate the facility only to run into security, both physical and mental, and Rina and Arden surrender at gunpoint to buy the rest of the crew time to escape.

Nightfall is approaching and the temps are dropping. On a world like Bellerophon or Boros or Beaumonde, it’s not a matter of concern. On a frozen planet like St. Albans, however, it’s a life threatening matter. Nika, Kiera, and Joshua know they have to get under cover and save themselves if they are to save their friends. They climb carefully down the mountain side for the access road at the installation’s entrance, there to reclaim the flatbed mule and move it out of sight before the repair crews are sent out and they are discovered.

Nika and the crew are taking stun from the cold and it’s getting harder to move, to grab and hold things with half frozen fingers. This makes getting down off the mountain a bit tricky. It’s slow going.

Joshua: Which, to be honest, it’s better than the fast going it could be.
Nika: Yeah, it could be the fast luge out of control. The fast luge to hell.
Joshua: (Ya think?) I feel like there’s some irony in that.

Nika curses and slips, losing her grip on the rock, and recovers. She hugs the mountainside and catches her breath, pulse racing at the narrow escape.

Nika: Some days the fast luge to hell is better.

Stable again, the party continues to inch down the mountain in the ice and wind and snow. Meanwhile, inside the mountain where it’s nice and warm, Rina and Arden are getting something of a cold reception. They’ve been searched and stripped of their weapons and gear—and in Rina’s case, her vest—and have been brought before the Director, their hands zip-tied behind their backs. The Director is a short, pudgy Chinese woman with short dark hair and heavy thick-framed glasses. She wears a standard white lab coat and an observant but detached demeanor. She looks them over in the harsh light off the overheads and her voice breaks the silence of the room.

Director: It’s not them.
Arden: Not us what?

The Director turns to one of the guards.

Director: There are others out there. Make sure the facility’s secure.
Guard: Yes, ma’am.

He nods and leaves the other two guards behind to handle the prisoners. The Director continues her inspection of Rina and Arden, her gaze cold and clinical. Arden tries to break the ice.

Arden: So what kind of facility is this? Other than secret?
Director: Who did you come with?
Arden: Her. (nods at Rina)
Rina: I’m sorry but my ‘I’m with Stupid’ shirt is in the laundry.
Arden: I’m not lying. I did come with her. It’s not a lie.
Director: Well, I appreciate you pointing out obvious things like that to me. So … (softly under her breath) … Joshua … Joshua …

Hearing the name and knowing that this place could be crawling with Readers, Rina tries to recall the mind exercises Mike taught her to hide her thoughts. She starts taking apart a Capissen 38 engine in her head, piece by piece. Arden is aware of the possibility of Readers, too, and starts singing “This Old Man” in his head. Behind them, one of the guards holds up the throat mikes and ear pieces he’d taken off Arden and Rina.

Guard: They had these.
Director: Patch me through to Blue’s servo. We’ll contact these people. (looks at Rina and Arden) Do we need these two? Hmmm.
Guard: We might.

Her expression remains unchanged as she considers it. Kill them? Keep them? You get the sense it’s all the same to her, that Rina and Arden are nothing but a lab specimen on a slide for her to categorize and toss in the incinerator when she’s done. She is, in a word, creepifying. Still … A subtle shift in her eyes is the only indication of her decision.

Director: They might be good … incentive … for this Joshua. (to other guard) What room’s free?
Guard: The B and C are free.
Director: Take them to C.

The Guard motions Arden toward the room in the rear left corner. Arden ignores him. The Guard gives him a kick. Arden dodges and faces the Director.

Arden: I asked a question. I still haven’t gotten an answer on it. What kind of facility is this, other than secret?
Director: It must have been something worth you breaking into.
Arden: Maybe it was just curiosity.
Director: You know what they say.
Arden: Curiosity gets you a thousand platinum? Credits? In any case, can I know your name?

The Director just stares at him. Is that amusement behind her eyes? Or scorn? It’s hard to tell. She looks at the guard behind Arden.

Director: Just taze him if he doesn’t cooperate.
Arden: He can use his tazer all he wants to. I’m still not cooperating.

Off to the side, Rina can’t believe Arden’s being such a pigheaded ass—can’t he see that the odds are not in their favor right now? With their hands tied behind their backs, the best they can do is start a kicking fight and against the guard’s gun, it would be a very short fight indeed. Rina allows the thought of kicking Arden herself cross her mind. No doubt everyone but Arden is already thinking it. The guard reaches for the stun stick on his utility belt. Arden readies to dodge.

Arden: If he stuns me he still has to carry me there.
Rina: You know, I’m tempted to let him tazer you to teach you not to be such a stubborn ass.
Arden: That’s cuz you love me.
Rina: Yeah, to hate like this is to love forever.

Rina sees the look on the guard’s face. She also sees the one on Arden’s and despite her unkind words, she seriously considers intervening to head off the coming fight. She’s still the walking wounded from the bomb blast. Anything she does after this point is going to hurt and she won’t be able to pull off an escape singlehanded. If she and Arden are going to out of here, she needs him awake and thinking and able to help her.

Outside, the rest of the crew are wearying of the slow trip down.

Kiera: Of course if we slip, we’ll snowball down the hill and we’ll have it made.
Joshua: No. (a beat) It’d be fun, but we’d not have it made. (climbs down) If our plan is to go in—at least it was when we started down the mountain—was to slip in the door …
Kiera: It isn’t now.
Joshua: Probably, but the principle still remains: whatever we’re doing, whether we run into guards, what’s our first action? Are we trying to sneak past them or are we trying to … ?
Kiera: (to Nika) I was thinking about wantin’ to leave him in the front and you and I goin’ in the back. Because if we all went through the front door and get captured, they’ll take everything. Or we can wait at the front door and take them down as they come out.
Nika: Ultimately, what is our goal here? Get in and get these people out?
Kiera: Mm-hm. But if we go to the front door and become captives too—
Nika: We don’t know if there’s anything actually here.

Inside, the guard lunges forward with his stun stick. The guard’s armor slows him down and Arden dodges. From the corner of her eye, Rina sees the Director draw something like a pen from her pocket. For a split second, the engineer thinks of the Blue Sun sonic weapon, then puts it out of her mind. She slams into Arden in a shoulder check and as they both stagger back, she snarls at him.

Rina: Behave!
Arden: I’m not doing anything bad. He’s the one that’s trying to hit me with the stun stick.
Rina: You’re antagonizing them. Stop it.

Arden ducks behind Rina, putting her between him and the guard. Rina doesn’t call him on it—it was what she intended to do next, to protect Arden from the consequences of his obstinacy. She throws a look at the entire room, addressing everybody.

Rina: Stop.

The guard continues to advance and the Director moves in from the other side in a flanking maneuver. There’s no way Rina can block Arden from both. Gut sinking, she knows it’s a futile effort but tries her best anyway. She shoves backward into him, giving ground to the opposition, trying to present a narrower profile to them. The Director holds up her pen-like object, her voice friendly and conversational—an unnerving contrast to the inscrutable expression on her face.

Director: I really like using this.

The woman holds the pen out like a pointer and her finger twitches on the barrel. Phffft! something shoots out the end, flying past Rina’s shoulder and bouncing off the wall. Rina says to Arden behind her while keeping her eyes on the guard and the Director:

Rina: Would you please stand down?
Arden: I’m not doing anything! They’re the ones shooting.
Director: Walk to the door.
Arden: The front door? Sure. Which way is it?
Rina: (to Arden) That. That’s what I mean. Enough with the smart ass.

The guard lunges forward again and Rina knows she’s in the path of that stunner. Maybe if Arden gets a taste of it, it will convince him to behave. Certainly nothing she’s tried has managed to make a dent in his pigheadedness. She dodges the stunner, keeping both the guard and the Director in sight.

Meanwhile, outside on the mountain, Kiera is still explaining her strategy.

Kiera: See, they get to go in and do locks and doors and then we make them go back. (points to herself and Nika) You and I will go. (nods to Joshua) You will just stand and make sure they stay put.
Nika: I’ve done my fair share of the stupid, you know.
Kiera: Yeah …

Speaking of fair share of stupid, Arden is still resisting orders.

Arden: You really don’t have to do this. All I did was ask a question.
Director: Go to your door.
Arden: Give me the answer to my question and I will.
Director: (to guard) Call reinforcements.
Arden: To be a big man against a man with his hands tied and no weapons and no way to get out of here.

The Director shoots at Arden again with her pen and this time it hits him solidly in the upper chest. It’s loaded with something that causes excruciating pain and Arden doesn’t have a chance—he falls to the floor writhing and screaming in agony. The Director points her pen at Rina next.

Director: Take your friend to the room. Or we’ll shoot you and carry you both.
Rina: I would be happy to, but I need my hands.
Director: You’ll have to figure it out.

All she’s got left are her legs and her teeth. Her boots being closer to the target, Rina slides her foot under Arden, braces with her other leg and shoves him for the door. He’s six-foot-two and two hundred twenty pounds against her five-foot-nothing and one-twenty-five. He doesn’t go far. She shoves him again, gritting her teeth against the strain on her injuries. She gets him another six inches closer to the door. Arden is too far gone to notice, his entire body spasming in pain. The Director gives Rina a slow count to ten and shoots her anyway. Rina’s body does a complete short circuit and she is paralyzed head to toe. The guard reaches out and gives her a shove. Rina tips and sees the floor coming for her and can do nothing to break her fall. She lands on her face, unable to move, as Arden writhes and screams beside her. Her body might be on the fritz but there’s nothing wrong with her mind and right now, all Rina can think is: that màiguó biǎo zi shliuska bitch!

Director: Take them to the room.

Outside …

Joshua: I wonder what they’re doing in there?
Kiera: You mean you don’t know?
Nika: Getting in trouble, if I know them.

Inside …

Or getting thrown into a prison cell. The guards each grab an incapacitated crew member apiece and drag them across the floor to the specified room. Arden is still screaming and writhing and the guard has his hands full keeping a grip on the doctor’s ankles. Being paralyzed, Rina’s much easier to drag around. She’s awake and aware of everything, however, and feels it the second she’s dragged through a puddle on the floor. Her nose tells her that Arden’s pain was so great that he’d let everything go. She can’t even move to lift her face clear of what her coveralls fails to soak up. Yebani v’rot, she thinks, the huàidàns are literally mopping the floor with her.

Outside …

The rest of the crew have made it to the road and the mule. No one has emerged from the facility—the snow on the doorstep is still undisturbed, the snow and ice already filling in our own footprints from our initial foray. Nika climbs behind the wheel of the mule, the other two pile in. They eye the lip of the road and the drop down. The slope might be just horizontal enough that they might be able to straight down the mountain, but it’s not horizontal enough to simply park it just below eye level of the road for a quick conceal. The bend in the road looks more promising, curving around a low shoulder of the mountain rock. Maybe they could fly straight over that shoulder and park it on the other side? The winds are fierce and the terrain up and over …

Joshua: I like fun but I have my limits.
Nika: Are you whining at me?
Joshua: No. I’m saying can we park around the bend?
Nika: Sure. (keys ignition)
Joshua: Okay, I wasn’t whining. I just wanted to ask if we could park it around the bend. I have my limits.

Nika stays on the road and eases it around the bend, hiding it from view but keeping it in reach. The rock of the bend lends them a precious bit of shelter from the wind, though not much, and Nika, Kiera, and Joshua huddle close together at the dashboard for a little more shelter. Nika keeps the engine running to send a few more degrees of heat their way.

Joshua: Okay. Now what?
Kiera: Let’s just sit here and plan, cuz it’s warmer that it was a minute ago.
Joshua: Do we have a plan? Should we have a plan?
Nika: Did we have a plan to start with?
Joshua: No.
Kiera: No, the only plan was to go see if the door would open. But that means all of us going in and being captured and then there’s all five of us in there. Yay. Not good.
Nika: Well in general we do better with all five of us trying to break out than we do with some of us breaking in and some of us breaking out.
Joshua: Our annoyance level is extremely high when all five of us are together. Most people can’t handle that in one concentrated dose.

Nika thinks that’s mighty funny. She laughs and then sobers.

Nika: There’s something to be said for that. Considering who it was they picked up.
Kiera: So we just need to go up to the door and go: ‘Hey, you can just go ahead capture us and we can make your life a living hell for the next ten to, oh, thirty minutes or you could just let us all go’.
Joshua: Okay, I don’t think we’re going to be able to climb back up. That’s not gonna happen.
Nika: I know.
Joshua: That’s not going to happen. Or it’s very unlikely that’s going to happen.
Kiera: Although that hole was a really nice to go back in. There’s only one guard.

Joshua facepalms.

Joshua: That’s what I was trying to go back down the first time. I was trying to go back down the vent and you kept going, ‘No. Come up, come up’. (mimes pulling on his collar) Instead of me—
Kiera: Well no, I thought I was being charitable to keep them from getting you but now I think it’s a brilliant idea to just give you to them and let us sneak in the other way.

It’s so preposterous it might work and Nika laughs again.

Joshua: Okay.
Kiera: Well I mean if they get him, they’re distracted.
Nika: You’re going to make me climb back up there again?
Kiera: Of course.
Nika: Really?
Kiera: Yes!

Further comment is cut short when their comms hiss and sputter. Someone’s hailing them over their frequency. A woman’s voice crackles and then steadies in their earpieces.

Woman: I’m trying to reach … Joshua? Joshua, are you there?
Joshua: (keying earpiece) You’ve reached Joshua.
Woman: Please hold for a call from Arden.

Joshua and the others hear sounds of incredible pain and anguish screaming through their earpieces. Everyone yanks them out. After thirty seconds, the howling is cut off and the sounds of shuffling carrying through from the background is clear as everyone puts the earpieces back in.

Joshua: (shaken) Sweet Jesus …
Woman: I’m sorry. Are you there Joshua? I couldn’t quite make that out. You might have to come and talk to him in person.
Joshua: (getting a grip) That was incredibly subtle. Very well done. Okay, then.
Woman: Why don’t you and your little band—
Joshua: I’ll meet you at the front door.
Woman: You can bring your weapons and we’ll disarm you, or you can leave them where you are. And collect them when you leave.
Joshua: Do I have a name to attach to you, since you have a name to attach to me?

The channel goes dead with a click.

Joshua: Or not. How rude.
Nika: So I wonder what Arden did?
Kiera: He was Arden. I wonder if it would it hurt her feelings to say I vaguely enjoyed that? So it’s not affected by me at all?
Joshua: It hurts my feelings. Nobody deserves that. Not even Arden.
Nika: There are days when I really want to make him do it.
Kiera: (off Joshua’s look) Empathy means that you understand. Sympathy is the warm and fuzzy feeling. Empathy means ‘I’ve walked a mile in your moccasins, but it does not incline me in any shape or form’. Sympathy means you feel bad about it. I’m not about sympathy.

All kidding aside, though …

Joshua: So the question is—I’m going down. What percentage of this group goes down with me? All of you? None of you?
Nika: Oh for Heaven’s sake, we may as well all go in.
Joshua: Okay. You’re the Captain, Cap’n.
Kiera: What?
Nika: (to Kiera) So what are we gonna do? You’re gonna let him go all by himself.
Kiera: Well, sure.
Nika: And then they’re gonna say, ‘And who else is with you?’ And he’s gonna say ‘Nobody’, and we’re gonna sneak back up to the top, we’re gonna slide down the thing, and there’s gonna be six guards sittin’ there with a gun waitin’ for us. And Joshua has now lied. And so whatever possibility we have of negotiating our way out of this is gone.
Kiera: Or we can let him drag his feet and you and I can get on up in there and take out the one guard and then wait and then he can go up—
Nika: We have no idea how many guards are in there.
Kiera: We’ll have his armor.
Nika: Why don’t we see what the hell’s going on in there first?
Kiera: (sighing) I don’t want to sound like Arden just did. Just for the record. (gives in) I’ll go.

So Kiera understands Arden’s pain, she simply has no sympathy for it. Beyond the desire to avoid feeling it herself.

Joshua: Okay. We can—
Nika: If you have another thought process, it’s not too late.
Joshua: No, I’m not arguing with you. If going in—
Nika: They obviously know you’re coming. They know you’re not going to come alone.
Joshua: When they took Rina and Arden, that ended pretty much any opportunity of … of—
Nika: Precisely.
Joshua: And there are clearly answers in there of some sort.
Nika: And of course, the comment was ‘Leave your weapons outside and you can pick them up when you leave’. So, you know, for what that’s worth ….

Yeah. Can we trust these guys to keep their word, implicit and explicit?

Joshua: We’ll leave them here and walk around the bend. We’ll leave our ride here.
Nika: Pretty much.
Kiera: Well, I gotta say. They’re goin’ to have a real hard time picking them up. They’ll be frozen down to the mule.
Nika: There is that.
Kiera: Sure.

Kiera unslings her rifle and lays it down on the flatbed, following it with her pistol. They check themselves over for anything else that might be construed as a weapon. Kiera can’t help quipping:

Kiera: Of course, my rapier wit and my razor sharp tongue and …
Joshua: All those things are what got Arden into trouble.
Nika: We don’t know that. Because he doesn’t have a rapier sharp wit and I know he doesn’t have a razor sharp tongue.
Joshua: Well I’m assuming that’s what got Arden into trouble. (sighs) It’s a fair assumption.
Kiera: He could have just been self righteous.

How does that saying go? It’s clearly unfair to engage in a battle of wits with an opponent who is unarmed? Matters of Arden’s intelligence aside, they fire up the flatbed and drive back up the road so recently driven and park it on the installation’s doorstep. They notice that there are little lights glowing on the door’s control panel, as if the power has been turned back on. Everyone gets out of the mule with their hands up and Nika leans over to Joshua and says:

Nika: You do realize, do you not, that she sent you to help her friends. For all we know, these are her friends.
Joshua: I don’t know anything. All I know is I’m keeping her behind the mental door.

The massive doors in front of them crack open diagonally and as the accumulated ice and snow shatters and showers down, the gap widens as the doors slide open, revealing a massive cave beyond. Oh, and half a dozen armed guards in cold weather gear with their assault rifles aimed right at them. The guards immediately split up and flank them and motion them inside. It’s warmer inside the cave than outside on its doorstep and Nika, Joshua, and Kiera quickly obey. As they stand in the blessed warmth and thaw out, they are searched by a guard each while the remaining three watch over them at gunpoint. Meanwhile, the massive doors shut behind them, trapping the warmth inside where it can be appreciated.

Looking around, the crew sees that this area doesn’t seem well tended. they see what looks to be a non-functional snowcat—it’s missing a tread and sports a few other repair issues. There is only one light overhead illuminating the entire cavern so it’s pretty dim. It’s framed with metal girders and and reinforced concrete but most of the cavern is the living rock of the mountain itself. The guards quickly remove anything that could be useful as a weapon—pens, pencils, etc—and take their throat mikes and earpieces. Then they hustle the crew into a corridor visible at the far end of the cavern. The crew goes where they’re bidden, their hands up.

Joshua: So … how ’bout that local sports team?
Kiera: Woo. I enjoyed that. That was fun.

No response from the guards. So much for the ice breaker, huh? Still, it gives the crew a way to gauge the professionalism of the guards that are hustling them along. Thirty feet into the corridor from the garage cavern is a security station to the right, a wall of plexi rising floor to ceiling. Nika, Joshua, and Kiera cannot know this, but this is the first guard station Rina and Arden encountered after being captured and yes, sure enough, directly opposite the station is the short 10-foot run to the first set of elevator doors. The guard behind the plexi is dressed in non-descript uniform clothing of blue, without insignia or name tags visible.

As Rina and Arden before them, our crew is stripped off all their cold weather gear and their hands are zip-tied behind their backs. Half the guards stand to while the remaining three hustle the crew into the elevator and take them down a floor to the decon chamber where they’re bathed in the blue light for a moment. Another elevator ride takes them a level lower and they follow the same path Rina and Arden did through the locker room with the overhead pipes, down the corridor and around the dogleg bend to the operating/staging area.

Joshua sees a lab-coated technician talking to a short Chinese woman in glasses who looks maddeningly familiar … but Joshua can’t place her face or name. The woman looks up at the party’s approach and she shakes her head when she sees Joshua.

Woman: Well, you’re a mess.

Joshua is. He’s sporting little bloody cuts all over from the shrapnel that kicked out of the ventilation fan we’d jammed. He’s been out in the hellacious cold for hours and the snow and ice on him has melted in the heat, wetting him down and giving him an even more bedraggled look. He’s also not long out of standing deathwatch on Rina and his eyes are still smudged from the sleep he’d missed. So no, he’s not making the cover of Gentleman’s Quarterly. Like he cares at this point. He’s got bigger fish to fry.

Joshua: (curt) Hah. Hi. I’m Joshua. Who the hell are you?

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