Episode 605: Devil's Compromise
Air Date: 09 Aug 2011
Present: Andy, Bobby, Kim, Maer, and Terri
Thursday, 15 Nov 2522
Somewhere on Puck
Kalidasa (Xuan Wu) System
We’ve taken a retired Iskellian engineer by name of Basil Boston to Puck to search for his estranged wife and children. They’d gone to Puck years before with a terraforming expedition but we arrive too late to save them from the hostile environment. Except for two men (apparently murdered by parties unknown) the entire expedition seems to have died by asphyxiation or have disappeared. We find Boston’s family on one of the expedition ships and it’s clear they’ve been dead for some time. We find shallow graves on the site, but not enough account for the absence of the rest of the expedition. We also find out from the expedition logs that Puck suffers from explosive fluorine gas eruptions and that they’re responsible for much of the fire damage done to the site.
It’s one such fluorine fire flickering inside one of the abandoned ships that has lured Joshua and Rina over to investigate, only to trap them with a secondary gas explosion. Joshua and Rina are slammed to the deck. Joshua’s only lightly stunned, Rina’s stunned and wounded. They are too deep inside the ship for their comms to reach their crewmates outside. As the fire rages all around them, they hear a stentorian groan of tortured metal, the entire deck tilts under them and there is a tremendous crash. The ceiling falls on Rina and Joshua from above.
Read what happened to them, here…
The rest of the crew is two ships over. The blast knocks them down and they pick themselves up. Kiera looks out the nearest porthole and sees the ship next door on fire, blazing away like a Roman candle. The bulk of it has also warped and collapsed and crashed onto Equinox parked alongside. The ground underneath the burning ship is cracked like a broken mirror and is spouting gouts of fire. The flames change color as they burn and where they touch Equinox, they start crawling up her hull. Kiera turns from the porthole and helps Nika off the deck, cursing a blue streak as she goes.
Kiera: Gǒu shǐ, gǒu shǐ, gǒu shǐ, gǒu shǐ, gǒu shǐ, gǒu shǐ …. (over her suit comm) Beggar!! Get to the ship and get it away from here!
Once Nika’s upright, Kiera starts running for Beglan’s last known location the next ship over. Her suit slows her down, making her clumsy. She gets no response from Beglan on her comms. Arden tries to raise Rina and Joshua and gets no response either. He and Nika hustle for Equinox to move her out of danger. Uncertain of the stability of the container bridge, Nika and Arden run across the top of it on the outside. It affords them a way to see any danger coming for them as well an unobstructed view of the chaos and the damage around them. A mixed blessing. The container bridge gives out on the blank hull of the next ship. They take a risk and leap for the ground. They both manage to land without injury or ripping their suits, then start running over land.
The ruined Bumblebee lies collapsed across Equinox’s dorsal hull. Only the lower portion of the Bumblebee seems even halfway upright, tilted at a crazy angle from the weight of the twisted decks above. Nika knows that she cannot let the wreck burn unchecked on her ship. Neither can she let her friends die. Which should she try to save first?
Nika realizes an instant later that she cannot hope to crawl through the wreckage to save her friends—the fire is to widespread and fierce and she’d die trying, stranding the rest of her crew to a slow death by the hostile elements. She has to save the ship first. She grabs Arden’s arm.
Nika: C’mon. We gotta get on our ship. Our ship at least has some fire suppression gear on it.
As she runs, she tries again to raise her crewmates on her comms, but there’s nothing but static and distortion coming through. They have to run through a patch of flame blocking their path to Equinox, getting singed in the process. Their suits hold and they make it through, evading most of the flames with only a little bit of stun. They run under the belly of the ship for the port airlock and start climbing the ladder to it. The manual controls for it are still working and they get inside. All the alarms on the ship are blaring, announcing the fact that Equinox is on fire.
Nika: Grab all the fire suppression gear together just in case we have to go in after then and meanwhile I’m going to go to the bridge to see if I can’t get the ship’s comms to get through to them.
She’s also like to start our engines and move our ship out of harm’s way, but the Bumblebee has collapsed onto our thrusters. At the moment, she’s grounded. She gets on the comm and tries to get through to her crewmates. There’s no answer. She hails her other crewmates via their suit comms. If they’re going to be doing anything to save themselves and their friends, they’d better be able to talk to each other while they’re doing it. Arden comes up behind her.
Arden: Can we use the backblast from the shuttle’s engines to knock the fire out?
Nika: Maybe. Can we get the shuttle out?
Arden: It’s on top of the ship.
Nika: The shuttle’s engines might not be big enough for the job.
Arden: But the ship’s engines could.
Arden: Are the engines properly aligned to do it?
Nika: Uhn-un. And they’re burning.
If they could just get the ship free and reposition her, they could put out the fire, save Rina and Joshua.
Meanwhile, Kiera’s made it to the next ship over. She enters the main airlock off the container bridge and nearly stumbles over a body. It’s Boston’s little boy. Apparently Boston and Beglan are busy moving the family for burial. She hustles for the compartment where they originally found them. As she nears the space, she can hear a shuffling sound through her suit pick-up. It sounds like someone is dragging something. Instantly on alert, Kiera stops and holds her position, waiting to see what might be coming toward her. In a moment she sees it’s Boston. He’s removed his helmet and is carefully dragging his wife’s body toward the airlock. Assured that the atmosphere is apparently okay to breathe, Kiera cracks her helmet to talk to him.
Kiera: Where’s Beggar?
Boston turns and she sees the man is looking a bit … crazed.
Boston: On the ship.
Kiera: Why isn’t he answering my comms?
Boston: I don’t know. Maybe that earthquake knocked out his comms.
Kiera: Could have. Ship’s on fire.
Boston: This ship’s not on fire.
Kiera: Not yours. Ours.
Boston: You gonna put it out.
Kiera: I’m hoping you’ll go help. They’re not going anywhere.
She points to the body he’s dragging and the bodies of his two remaining children elsewhere on the ship.
Boston: Why don’t you go help them. I’ll go get him to help me.
Kiera: I’ll go get Begger and you go, cuz closer to where they are and see if you can put the fire out.
Boston: You’re closer to them.
She is, actually, but that’s not the point. Getting past him to get to Beggar is. She doesn’t like the look in Boston’s eye and she doesn’t like the fact that she can’t get Beggar to answer her on the comms. Has something happened to Beggar? She points back the way she came and to Equinox beyond.
Kiera: Go help them. I’ll get Beggar.
Boston: I’ve got to get my wife.
Kiera: She’s already dead. You will be too if we don’t get this fire out.
Boston: All right. Do what you want to do.
And he resolutely goes back to dragging his wife out of there. Seeing there’s no talking him out of it, Kiera tries to squeeze past him in the narrow passageway. Screw him. She’s going to find Beglan. And she’s not against using the fact Boston’s encumbered with the body of his wife against him, either. She pushes the woman’s dead weight against Boston and tries to squeeze past him.
Boston: Get your hands off her!
He moves to smack Kiera down. She dodges, regretting she doesn’t have a weapon, and keeps on going. She makes it past him. She yells for Beggar, listening for his reply. It doesn’t come. She gains the compartment where she’d last left him and finds him on the deck, lying on his side. His helmet is dented as if it had been struck by something and there’s a crack in his faceplate. It looks like someone clocked him with a wrench. She’s on the deck next to him in a flash, trying to remove his helmet to check his vitals. Her suit gloves make it difficult and she can’t get the helmet off. She examines him the best she can by eye and all she can determine is that he’s sustained a head injury and might have a concussion. Jostling him around trying to get the damned helmet off might, as with shaken baby syndrome, make his injury worse.
On Equinox, Nika and Arden go over the options for putting the fire out.
Arden: Is there a way of using the water from our waste reclamation system? Can we spray the wastewater at the fire?
Nika: If we do that, our water system will be potentially emptied and we’ll be out of water entirely. Our ship will be out of water.
Water we need to survive. So that’s a non-option. What else can they use to put that fire out? Nika tries to boost the signal on our comms, hoping to get through the interference blocking her from her crewmates. Nothing but static hisses from the bridge speakers.
Nika: I am never ever splitting the party again.
Kiera is unable to revive Beglan and she’s got a nutcase running loose somewhere behind her. Beglan she can do nothing about. The nutcase, however … She rises and finds a different route off the ship. She finds a path through the ship that to the bottom of it, where the heat shield is still attached. She has to wrestle the access hatch open to eels out between the hull and the shield. The wheel on the hatch is stiff, unused for God knows how long. She puts her back into it and it moves an inch.
On Equinox, Nika and Arden take stock of the fire extinguishers we have on board. They’re made for smaller scale fires—nothing like the huge one engulfing the Bumblebee outside and threatening our ship. Even if they gathered up every single extinguisher to hand and trained it on the fire, they would be insufficient to put the fire out. The extinguishers are not an option.
They’ll have to figure out something else to use.
Kiera plants her feet and hauls on the hatch wheel again. Another inch. She spies a wrench lying under some rags in the corner. She grabs it and slams it like a club on the wheel hub, hoping to loosen the sonuvabitch up.
It bounces off the metal and flies free of her grip, hitting her in the head. Since she’s lowered her faceplate, the wrench actually does her some damage, stunning her from the force of the blow.
She staggers back against the bulkhead. Straightening back up and blinking stars, she glimpses the figure of a man standing there with a wrench in his hand. It’s Boston. Kiera doesn’t stop to think but launches herself in a flying tackle at him. She plows into him and he fights back, delivering some momentary stun to her. She plows into him again in a grapple and she delivers a bit of stun to him—tit for tat. He recovers and gets a good punch in and she wobbles back. And so they continue, trading grabs and blows and shoves and punches, until he gets the upper hand and clocks her with a glancing blow on the head with the wrench. Dazed, she can’t resist him as he drags her back through the ship to Beglan’s side. Kiera knows she’s not going to win this fight with brute strength. She’s going to have to use guile. Kiera fakes a faint and goes limp, slowing him down.
As a ploy, it’s partially successful. Boston lets go and she drops to the floor. Kiera lies still, eyes closed, as Boston stands over her with the wrench in hand.
Boston: Your crewmate is unconscious. If you want, you can be unconscious, too. (a beat) Make a move.
Kiera plays dead, remaining perfectly still. Not that it seems to fool Boston for a minute.
Boston: There’s always someone getting in the way, making things more complicated than it needs to.
Kiera thinks to herself: He is SO going out the airlock.
Boston: You made me do this.
He moves toward Beglan and Kiera listens intently, hoping for a moment she can make her move. She hears the rip of fabric and a juicy thud. Knowing the sound cannot possibly bode well, Kiera opens her eyes and scrambles up from the deck. Boston turns around and she sees blood spattered on his vac suit. There is a screwdriver sunk into Beglan’s leg.
Boston: It’s going to bleed.
And Boston turns away and drags one of his children to the airlock where his wife’s body waits, confident that he’s got Kiera too busy saving Beglan to interfere further in his plans. Kiera gets over to Beglan and whispers:
Kiera: I’m sorry, sweetie.
She starts pulling the screwdriver out, intending to take out Boston with it, when she realizes that if she does, Beglan will bleed out and die. She leaves the tool in his leg, using it to plug the hole it’s made in him, and looks for something to rig a pressure bandage or tourniquet with. Equinox has the equipment and supplies Beglan needs but Kiera cannot move him without killing him. The screwdriver’s pierced a vital blood vessel. Cursing, Kiera gets to work saving Beglan, using what little she’s got on hand. She takes her helmet completely off, needing the freedom to move and observe Beglan closely. She’s successful in that he doesn’t die, but he’s still leaking blood.
Back on Equinox, Nika and Arden manage to reroute the comms and boost the signal past the interference.
Nika: Rina, Joshua. Can you hear me? Kiera? Anybody?
Kiera hears it loud and clear off her suit collar.
Kiera: Kiera’s here. Beggar is dying. Where are the nitwits?
Nika: Oh my God! Arden’s on his way!
Kiera: Bring me a first aid kit now! And a gun.
Arden’s off the bridge like a shot to grab supplies.
Kiera: Tell Arden to bring a gun.
Kiera: That big fèifèi de pìgu's hit me in the head with a wrench and he’s gotten Beggar in the head with a wrench and stabbed him with a screwdriver. Bring a gun. Make a big-assed hole in him!
Nika switches channels.
Nika: Joshua. Rina. Give me a sit-rep. Rina. Joshua. Give me a sit-rep.
On the burning ship, Joshua’s made his peace with the fact he’s going to die. He’s ready to vent his helmet when he hears static spitting out his comms, along with some words.
Comms: ## Bring # gun. Make a big # hole ## Josh-# Rina. Give me a sit-# Rina. Joshua. Give me a sit-rep.
Is he hallucinating or did he actually hear Kiera and Nika? He shoots a look at Rina and he can tell from her response she’s heard them too.
Rina: Explosion. We’re pinned. Get us out. Can’t move.
On Equinox, Nika thinks she hears Rina’s voice through the static. She makes an adjustment on the comms and cleans up the signal.
Rina: Explosion. We’re pinned. Get us out. Can’t move.
This time Rina’s voice comes in a little bit clearer. It’s the best Nika can do. She’s constantly tweaking the settings to get even this much. She responds, hoping to God her message gets through.
Nika: Rina I need—(tweaks some more)—The engines of the ship are burning. The only thing I can think to do to get you out is to bring the engines online and blow out the—
Rina: Do it.
Nika: Can we?
Rina: Turn her 90 degrees.
Joshua hears this latest exchange and thinks: I love her. Nika recalls the position of the wreckage on our dorsal hull and tweaks the comms again, saying:
Nika: The tower is sitting on top of the ship. Can she handle all the stresses that lifting off with that on top of her is gonna make? The tower has fallen and is pinning the engines in place.
Rina: So the gimbals won’t work?
Rina slams her fists against the deck and starts thinking of alternatives, tricks, fast-ones—anything—to get Equinox’s engines free. If she can talk Nika through the steps to accessing the gravitic envelope surrounding the outer hull of Equinox and then reversing the shielding …. Joshua speaks calmly into his comm.
Nika: Yeah, Joshua.
Joshua: It’s been good. Just in case.
Nika: Don’t you friggin’ dare. If you die on me, I swear to any Diety listening I will bring you back to life just to kill you myself!
Joshua: That’ll be fine. I am out of air.
It’s true. The air in his suit is hot, stifling, and thin. He doesn’t have long before he has to vent his helmet. Two ships over, Kiera’s up to her elbows in Beglan’s blood and listening to this conversation over her comms. And God help her, the situation is so freakin’ dire, it’s ridiculous. She can’t do anything but laugh.
Kiera: Joshua, you’re a moron. You’ll be out in a bit.
Back on the burning ship, Rina’s mentally zipping through Equinox’s systems in her head. All Nika has to do is alter the thrusting vectors that are part of the primary pulse coils and—really, this is something she could do herself in two shakes and in a pinch she could walk Beglan through it. Yeah! Beglan could do it.
Rina: Tell Beglan to—
And she starts rapping out the instructions, typewriter fast.
Nika: No, STOP! Stop. It’s ME. That’s IT. That’s ALL you got.
Biting back an expletive, Rina rethinks her strategy. Joshua distracts her with a question.
Joshua: How much air do I have left?
Rina: (does the math) Three minutes.
Joshua: Three minutes? Awesome.
Rina considers another option, a dangerous one. Of course, if Equinox hadn’t had any modifications, it would be a smidge safer to bypass all the safety parameters against doing something you should never do: activating the pulse engines while in atmo. Not that we haven’t done it twice already—once to shake Reavers off our tail when we escaped from Miranda and once to outrun Juanita Vasquez’s ship La Tormenta on Jiang Yin. Of course, doing while we’re on land would increase the risk of tearing our ship apart. We’d have to adjust all the baffles on the grav shields to make the pulse omnidirectional—pointing them at the wreckage to anti-grav them off our hull. Adjusting the baffles is not a matter of pushing a few buttons. There is a lot of stuff that needs jiggering. Nika’s going to need someone who knows the ins-and-outs of engineering. Someone like Rina herself. Who’s pinned at the moment. She explains the idea to her Captain anyway, on the off-chance it will do some good.
Nika: Joshua. Are you pinned?
Joshua: Oh yeah. And I’ve got about two minutes of air now.
Nika: Mr. Boston. Are you listening to the comms?
Everyone hears Boston’s reply. He grunts, as if he’s shifting something heavy, but he replies nonetheless.
Nika: I cannot get your family off this rock unless you come over here and help us get this ship free. We are all going to die here.
Boston: Get my family on your ship.
Nika: I will happily get your family on this ship—
Nika: There won’t be a ship if we wait that long. Please.
Boston: All right. I’m okay with dying here.
Nika: I know you are.
Listening to this exchange, Rina thinks: I’m not! Kiera’s listening in and she’s thinking she doesn’t feel bad one bit that Boston’s going to die.
Boston: So you’ll move my family and—
Nika: Mr. Boston, I don’t have a way to move your family at this point. You have reduced me to simply a pilot and that’s it.
Boston: I have a way of saving your lives.
The bastard is actually extorting us. Rina mentally consigns him to hell. Nika tries to mollify him.
Nika: My doctor’s headed that way.
Boston: My family’s already dead.
Nika: I understand that. But both of my doctors are spare hands to be able to get your family off that ship as soon as they stabilize the man that you have injured.
Boston: Well, they better hurry.
Nika: Arden, go. We don’t have much time.
Arden: (over the comms) I’ve already gone.
In fact he has. He’s already left Equinox and is making his way over.
Nika: Go faster.
Arden: (breaks into run) I can’t hear you.
He’s got too much to pay attention to—he’s running over land to save time and he has to devote all his concentration to dodging the dangers it holds. And on the burning ship, Joshua starts toggling the catches on his helmet. His lungs are burning from the effort to extract the last remaining molecules of oxy from his suit. He’s gasping for air that is really no longer there. His fingers fumble on the seals, clumsy from the gloves and lack of oxy. Rina sees what he’s doing and it tears her heart out, because she knows there is no way she can reach him and hook up her supply to his suit to buddy-breathe it. And even in his extremity, Joshua manages to crack a joke.
Joshua: You got any shrimp?
Rina: (playing along) Only if you’ve got horseradish sauce to go with. Because it’s just not hot enough in here for me.
Joshua: Fair enough. Cuz really, I’ve have this craving for some shrimp. The heat is just like—
Nika: (breaking in) Shh! Stop it, you two.
While Arden is running outside and Rina and Joshua are trading their last words, Kiera is busily doing everything she can to keep Beglan alive. She’s running out of material for pressure bandages and whenever she’s stopped the bleeding from the entry wound, the exit wound underneath him starts up again. Beglan’s alternately running out of blood at either end and he doesn’t have much left to spare. And Kiera is running out of ideas to deal with this.
Arden makes it to the ship and sees Boston laying the body of his ten-year-old to rest on the ground beside his mother. Boston’s removed his helmet and the wind kicked up from the fires makes his white hair whip about his face.
Arden: Beggar and Kiera. Where are they?
Boston: (points) On the ship.
Arden moves past him and Boston lets go of his son and follows. Nika’s following the conversation as best she can over the comms and thinks: Right about now, if Mr. Boston puts the wrench to yet another one of my crew, I’m gonna put a bullet in his brainpan.
Rina’s thinking of Equinox and trying to invent a shortcut for the plan they’ve devised to get the ship free. Joshua’s thinking about Rina. He’s tried his best to distract her from doing anything stupid and futile, like tearing herself to pieces trying to win free of the wreckage and using up all her air before she can be rescued. There’s one more ploy he knows will work, a supreme distraction bound to hold her attention.
He takes his helmet off.
Rina: No, no, no, Joshua, don’t—!
She redoubles her efforts to get free. He shakes his head at her and takes a deep breath. The air is hot but it’s not blistering. Not yet. The room is on fire, yes, and it’s not advancing that fast. It’s hellish but it’s survivable lower down, against the deck where it’s cooler. Still, it’s no picnic and he gazes at Rina, wanting her to be the last thing he sees before he dies. He thinks back to how they met, how they fell in love … in short, his life for the last three years really does go past his mind’s eye. He looks over at Rina and thinks she really does look beautiful, all sweaty and hot, frustrated and trying to push that ceiling beam off them one moment and her gloved fingers tracing vector equations for the engines on the deck the next…
Joshua: … Aww… that’s so cute …
He’s losing his grip on reality now, the poison in the atmo and the smoke are starting to get to him. At least his head is free of that stifling claustrophobic helmet. And then out of the corner of his eye, Joshua sees something. Up the bulkhead, near the ceiling, where the far end of the beam pinning Rina to the deck rests, the flames have partially melted through the bracket holding the beam in place overhead. With some force, she may be able to jiggle it free. He couldn’t see it before because his helmet blocked his view. Rina still can’t see it because the debris is in the way.
Joshua: Rina, I hate to contradict every piece of advice I’ve given you so far, but I think that beam on you, you might be able to move it. If you push right about …
That brings her head around to face him and he gestures in the empty air with his hands.
Joshua: Just about … put your hand right about there … and push it really hard.
Rina: (pushing, straining) Could you be a little more specific?
Joshua: I can’t point!
He can’t, not really. He doesn’t quite have a line-of-sight on that sweet spot on the beam … but he knows it’s there, extrapolating on the two ends that he can see. He gestures again.
Joshua: … There.
Rina: Okay. (shifting her weight) Left or right?
Rina: Mine or yours?
Joshua: Yours. Okay, Push. Breathe. Breathe … Push …
Rina throws her back into it and by God, the damned shit actually moves. She’s gained that measly goddamned inch she’s been praying for. She lunges for the bar she’d been trying to grab all this time and this time, THIS TIME, her fingers wrap around it and she pulls it to her. She jams that sucker into the wreckage and she throws her weight against it. The debris moves a fraction of an inch. She throws herself on the lever again, using her free leg to brace against it. Another fraction of an inch. Again she brings that lever to bear against the wreckage and again she gains a fraction of an inch. Straining and pulling and swearing, she works to get her pinned leg free.
Joshua: Those flames are getting awfully close.
Outside and elsewhere, Arden boards the ship and finds Kiera desperately keeping Beglan alive. Her hands are red, swimming in blood. Beglan’s helmet is off, the Irishman’s face is clearly visible and his color is definitely not good. Arden gets to work beside Kiera. Kiera asks through gritted teeth:
Kiera: Did you bring a gun?
Arden: (working) Yeah. It’s in my bag.
Kiera: Thank you.
Arden starts surgery on the spot. It’s field surgery, meatball tactics all the way, but it’s the best he can do with the limited equipment in his bag. Kiera rises from the deck, pulling Arden’s gun from his bag and taking careful aim at the door. She followed every word of his conversation with Nika and knows the price of getting Equinox free. She doesn’t trust Boston to betray them at the last minute. She hasn’t forgotten he was the one that hit her from behind with a wrench or that he stabbed an unconscious man who posed no threat to him. She knows Boston’s willing to consign them all to hell, because with his family dead, he’s got little to live for and nothing to lose. So she’s guarding the door and having Arden and Beglan’s backs.
Kiera: If he comes back and looks vaguely threatening, I am putting a bullet right between that gāisǐ de tā mā de húndàn’s eyes.
Arden: (still working) “Oh, look! He winked at me.”
Kiera: That still counts in my book at this point. He did not have to take the screwdriver and plant it into Beggar’s leg.
Arden: Is that what happened?
Kiera: Really. Seriously.
Arden: (still still working) Did the stabbing with the screwdriver happen before or after you arrived?
Kiera: Actually, after. He hit me in the back of the head with his wrench. And when I turned around and tried to wrestle him to keep him from hitting me again, I went down and he basically walked over and stabbed Beggar with the screwdriver.
Arden: (growls) If he’s facing toward you, shoot him. If he’s not facing toward you, shoot him.
Kiera: I know. That’s what I’m saying. I’m sitting here with the gun. You’re on your own. Tell me if you need help with “Put your finger here! Put your finger there!”
Arden’s got limited supplies to work with and he’s stretching them out as best he can. Time is slipping away from Beggar, however, and Arden picks up the pace, racing the clock against death. Arden’s not the only one aware that time is of the essence. Nika is still waiting for instructions on Equinox.
Nika: Rina? Rina!
On the burning ship, Joshua’s encouraging Rina as best he can and they both hear Nika’s call.
Joshua: Keep pushing it. You got it. You got it. I know you can.
Rina: It’s … (to Nika) … whatever you’re going to do, do it fast …
Joshua: She’s gonna get out, Captain.
Nika hears this last and makes a command decision, going against everything common sense is telling her to do.
Nika: I’m gonna move the ship.
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