Episode 607: Gauntlet

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Air Date 23 Aug 2011
Present: Andy, Bobby, Kim, Maer, and Terri

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Special Features

Saturday, 28 Nov 2522
Lucifer’s Landing, Angel
Kalidasa (Xuan Wu) system
0930hrs, local time

After baking on the surface of Sho Je Downs, dancing to Jonathan Sullivan’s tune, Christian wires us the money and we are able to make repairs to get us home to Angel. It takes us two days of travel to get there and we kiss dirt at Lucifer’s Landing with gratitude and relief. We roll up our sleeves and start on our repairs.

We spend a week putting things to rights. We have the portside pax lounge windows to replace. Some items are simply not made to withstand decompression and have to be swept up and cleaned out. Our gravity is wonky, intermittently fading in and out in irregular localized areas. Some of the corrosive rolled loose like liquid mercury in the interstitial space between the hulls before burning through to the Black, and as a result, connections were partially severed, making them flicker or short out. Flying the ship and banking to starboard or port is an exercise in the unexpected as first one bit of equipment inexplicably goes on the fritz and then another as we tilt from side to side. Finding and getting at all the damage is going to be a bitch.

The crew is banged up as well. Everyone sustained wounds and stun making landfall on Sho Je Downs. Healing is hampered by physical labor and for those busy repairing the ship the injuries linger. Given her stubborn and driven nature over the repairs, Rina is still injured after a week of steady work.

The rest of the crew isn’t idle either. While Rina and Beglan are busy with repairs, the others are busy getting supplies and looking for our next job. The money Christian sent us on Sho Je Downs wasn’t enough to repair us all the way and we cannot expect to empty Morningstar’s coffers to do it.

Monday, 07 Dec 2522

A wave comes it. It’s from E. Z. Salazar, the alias of our Resistance contact we first came to know as Bradley Sims. Nika takes the call on the bridge.

Salazar: Hello, Equinox. You looking for some cargo?
Nika: Matter of fact, we are. what have you got in mind?
Salazar: I got 400 tons going to Aesir. It’s a three week trip so that would be 1,200.
Nika: Where on the planet?
Salazar: Well, it’s a little complicated.
Nika: Isn’t it always?
Salazar: I’m authorized to go as high as 1500 for complications.
Nika: Do tell?
Salazar: You gotta pick up the … ah … cargo from a man goes by the name of El Kabah. He’s some sort of a local sheik or something like that, I’m not sure, from some place just outside of Jibril called Bab Al Azizia. But first you’re going to have to go to the spaceport in Jibril to pick up the payment for him.

Kiera’s hanging out on the bridge with Nika and she thinks back on her last job on Angel—that of smuggling out the slave girls from a sheik’s household. This sheik is not the same, thank goodness, and Kiera is relieved. Thinking further, she remembers the name of el Kabah and local legend has it he’s a mystic and a guru, living in a camp in the twisty canyons outside Jibril. He’s adopted the old ways of living, turning his back on the modern city of Jibril with its spaceport and amenities for a tent or cave and horses and sheep in the desert. She relays that information to Nika.

Nika: So I’m to pick up the payment at the spaceport to him?
Salazar: Yes. You’re supposed to go to Berth 3C.
Kiera: Is there a way to contact him? I don’t think he’s going to appreciate us landing near his horses and sheep.
Salazar: From what we understand, El Kabah communicates in the traditional ways. You’ll have to travel there, meet him in person and then earn his confidence in order to make this go. This is an important deal.
Kiera: Ah, ha.
Salazar: The cargo is going to be one that you don’t want to have intercepted. It’s desperately needed by the defenses in Aesir.
Nika: So are we negotiating with him to take the cargo?
Salazar: we believe this payment will be sufficient to convince him. The payment should be enough. You probably won’t have to negotiate much, but yes.
Nika: All right. Those we’re going to meet in port will know we’re coming?
Salazar: Yeah. They should know you’re coming for the pick-up.

Salazar sends us a coded cipher.

Salazar: This should be for the transaction for that.

He forwards us the cargo manifest next. It lists chemicals for cargo.

Nika: Okay.
Kiera: What does he respond to as far as? Does he respond to strength? Does he work for honor? What’s the way in with him?
Nika: It sounds pretty straightforward so the complication factor is ….

El Kabah, himself. Yes. Nika gets it. Salazar chuckles.

Salazar: He’s a Sufi, so he’s against people taking advantage of their position. Spartan.
Nika: When do they need it by. Are we working on a deadline?
Salazar: No but the sooner the better. As soon as you can, secure the forepayment.
Nika: Okay, so let me make sure I got this straight. We go to the spaceport to pick up the payment for the sheik, as well as the cargo and then take both to him?
Salazar: No. To pick up the payment and give it to him. He will have the cargo.
Nika: Ah. From him.
Salazar: Yes.
Nika: To Aesir.
Salazar: Yes.
Nika: Okay. That’s what I was missing. That’s why I wanted to ask.

When the rest of the crew hears the news, Arden asks:

Arden: Wasn’t there something weird about Aesir we needed to watch out for?
Rina: (ticking off fingers) Oh, lemme see now … the shipworks got bombed by the Feds in retaliation—so they say, the people of Aesir bombed a bank and now they’re filled with terrorists, now they’re being looked at very heavily by the Feds—
Arden: I meant more related exactly to us.
Joshua: Jake’s ghost haunts.

Jake died on Trafalgar when we ran afoul of a Borrowing job Joshua was on. Joshua has never forgotten that and still considers Jake’s death partially—if not wholly—his fault.

Nika: Yeah, Jake’s family is on Aesir.
Rina: Don’t forget, Christian and I got snatched by Wesley Camden on Aesir. At Malmo.
Arden: And amazingly they gave you back.
Rina: Yeah, but I didn’t get my gun or my wallet back.
Nika: Yeah, they didn’t pay us to take her, either.
Arden: Yeah, that’s true.
Rina: They would have if I stayed long enough.
Kiera: Clearly she didn’t stay long enough.
Nika: Apparently not.
Kiera: If she had, they’d’ve paid you.

As it turns out, we get the information on the job about a week before the ship bringing El Kabah’s payment arrives. So we have a week before we get back in the harness. In that time, Kiera looks up El Kabah on the web and she finds out that he has something of a cult following. As happens with some of the post-Arabic planets and moons in the Verse, when a religious leader arises, they get a following. The various governmental groups like the Califate and so on try to use the religious leader or leaders to sway or motivate the people to their agenda. Of course, such a thing is easier said than done, since most of the religious leaders aren’t politicians or soldiers. Historically, Imams on Old Earth were courted for political ends and some welcomed it as it suited their agendas. El Kabah isn’t quite an Imam, since he’s a Sufi and not part of the Imam structure and he rejects all ranks.

Jibril is set up with a great spaceport and though there isn’t a hot war going on at the moment, a booming war economy has taken hold of the area. If we can manage to convert the promise of this coming job into repairs on our ship … it might be worth relocating to Jibril for the time remaining. We still have about 2200 credits worth of repairs to complete and that’s not including the small-change repairs required of the corrosion damage and the usual pings and rattles that come from regular wear and tear. We only have 300 credits in our account and that’s because just about everyone on the crew emptied their personal accounts to put it in the ship’s fund.

Nika calls Salazar back. We’ve taken some damage recently, so instead of a cash payment we’d prefer to be paid four hundred credits and get repaired at the spaceport. Can we do that? No, he doesn’t have anyone at the spaceport he can call on. However, if we showed up at the spaceport with our three hundred as a down payment for repairs, we could get repairs underway. And if some of those repairs only required buying the right parts to install … Rina could do those herself.

And she’s got help in Lucifer’s Landing even now. In our week of downtime both Beglan and Lem have been working with Rina on the repairs. Lem shows an uncanny way of knowing where things have gone bad on a ship and need fixing, as well as a general sense of ships systems overall. He’d shown signs of such back when he still lived on the Gift and the subsequent two years have given him time to develop his skills even further.

We decide to take our remaining money and fly to Jibril to get the rest of the repairs done, or at least begun. Our three hundred should be good enough to get some repairs done. We will get full payment once we pick up the cargo and that should pay for the rest of the repairs. Beglan suggests we start the repairs on credit, with the promise to pay off the bill after we get paid.

Joshua: That’s just asking for trouble.
Rina: Buying on margin is a bad idea.
Beglan: As long as you don’t anger anyone …
Nika: We’ve done so well with that lately.
Rina: Let’s not. If I have to die, I don’t want to die in debt.
Beglan: Oh? You’d rather die not starting the ship because you don’t have one five-credit wire that you needed?
Rina: Okay, I’ll go into debt for five credits. Not a thousand.

Joshua’s willing to basically negotiate on the fact that we have three hundred credits up front … But … it’s still not enough to get us repaired if somehow this job falls through. We get back in touch with Salazar and he comes through for us: he’ll write us a letter of credit for fifteen hundred. We’ll owe him, and the Browncoats who are bankrolling it, but considering the job is something we’re doing for them … Joshua doesn’t quibble over it. He accepts the letter of credit and the conditions that come with it. Nika backs him but she remarks that it can’t possibly be as simple as it sounds. Because our luck just seems to make it turn out that way. Joshua arranges for us to get 1100 credits worth of repairs.

Joshua: And we’ll go from there. We’ve got a week to make some repairs. (to Rina) Can you get some of the repairs done in a week?
Rina: (smiling) Of course.

Kiera decides to use the week to do a little more research. Lucifer’s Landing doesn’t hold to Sharia Law. Lucifer’s Landing hasn’t an Arab population. Instead it has more of an ex-pat population and feel to it. Other parts of Angel are more strict in its adherence to the Law. Before the recent upsurge of the Califate, Jibril was more secular. Now it’s more conservative. In the rural areas with Arab majority, it’s more conservative still. El Kabah might prove to be as much if not more observant of the Law. Currently in Jibril, women must go covered and under male escort. It’s not certain that even if Kiera and the other female members of our crew follow that custom that anyone would be willing to do business with them directly. Which might make negotiating passengers and price difficult for Kiera, buying and arranging parts hard for Rina (if not outright impossible, depending on how far her reputation has preceded her), and spaceport traffic control might refuse to communicate directly with Nika despite her being our pilot.

Joshua: There are repairs that have to be made.
Rina: Do you think I should go? I’ll go. Otherwise I think it would be better if I stay here with the ship because we all know how wonderful I am at negotiating.
Nika: We’ve got one week before the payment arrives so spend the week doing repairs.
Rina: Absolutely. But I’m saying once we get there.
Joshua: We’ll get to that point when we get to that point. Don’t borrow trouble.
Nika: I could fly in the shuttle to go pick up the payment.

Which is a reasonable solution all around. For the next week, Rina manages repairs in Lucifer’s Landing. There are daily flights in the shuttle to Jibril for parts as well as borrowing tools as needed from Muleskinner and various miners in the area. She has people willing to help her with repairs, including Lem. And while Equinox’s crew is welcome in Lucifer’s Landing, it has grown in size and population since their last visit and as a result the town is a bit … rowdier than before. It’s less a sleepy artist town and more rough and tumble. The drug trade has picked up, the mining trade too. While the crime rate hasn’t risen appreciably, the criminal element has. It almost has a pirate cove feeling to the place. We’re leery of letting strangers near our ship and we limit repair helpers to people we already know.

Monday, 07 Dec 2522

While Rina and her helpers are busy with the repairs, Arden flies with Nika, Kiera, and Joshua to visit the orphanages in Jibril, offering his services as a physician. He’s walking to one of them in a nicer section of town when he sees a bit of a disturbance ahead. People are yelling and shouting slogans blocking the street. They’ve surrounded a person or a small group—it’s hard to tell exactly by looking at the milling crowd a block away. They’re shouting in Arabic and it’s not a language Arden knows. Arden decides to detour several blocks to avoid trouble and arrives at the orphanage only a little bit late.

Nika susses out the norm at the spaceport with regards to weapons. They’re carried by everyone, so she steps off Lagniappe with her pistol in a concealed holster. Kiera carries her pistol with her as well. Joshua goes without a weapon. Kiera twits him on it.

Kiera: I’ll carry a pistol. I’ll carry you when you run away ’cuz you’re peaceful.
Joshua: When have you ever seen me run away? You yell at me to run away and when have I ever done it?

It’s an old argument, practically an in-joke amongst the crew, and they make their way to Berth 3C where they see a familiar-looking ship. It’s a Stagecoach class mid-bulk freighter and the name blazoned on its hull reads Dōngzhì. Kiera remembers its Captain, Sebastian “Baz” Arrow, as the guy who sharked a cargo deal right out from under her earlier in the year. It’s a memory that does not endear him to her or make her look forward to the coming business transaction with any real joy. In fact, as they close the distance to the ship, she entertains herself with sanguinary visions of fondling Arrow’s spleen …

An old-looking man is outside Dōngzhì working on the landing gear. A moment later, a Chinese kid barely out of his teens pops his head out of an access hatch in the hull and looks at the approaching Equinox crew. He’s wearing headphones and a virtual reality headset and calls out to the older man. The older man looks up, spots the crew, and looks concerned.

Nika: Hello the ship. Is the Captain aboard?

The old man goes over to the comms board and punches up a channel.

Old Man: Captain. We got people.

A moment later, a rakishly handsome man walks down the ramp of his ship, looking entirely too sexy for his shirt. Kiera was right, it’s Baz Arrow. She gives him a measuring look and growls under her breath to Nika.

Kiera: Thank you for bringing me, Captain.
Arrow: (suave) Well, well. Welcome ladies. And gentleman. (nods at Joshua) What brings you—

He waves at his ship in introduction. Nika plays it cool and polite. Friendly but businesslike.

Nika: Hello, stranger. I’m told you have a delivery for me.
Arrow: For you?
Nika: Yeah, I’ll be heading into the canyons with it.
Arrow: Just that little box?
Nika: (rolling with it) Just that little box.

The man doesn’t quite leer but his body language speaks volumes as he look at Nika up and down.

Arrow: I’ll have to see some identification.
Nika: (dry) Oh really. And just what kind of identification would pacify you?
Arrow: That would be the cipher key.
Nika: (drier) Mm-hm. (of Joshua’s look) Yes, Joshua, I have the cipher key.

Salazar sent it to us days ago. Nika reaches into her pocket and pulls out the thumbdrive with the key on it. She holds it out to Arrow and his hands linger on hers as he takes it, his come-hither demeanor in direct contrast to his words.

Arrow: How do I know you guys didn’t steal this? From what I’ve heard, you play with a pretty rough crowd.
Nika: Yeah. You among them, it seems.
Arrow: (smiling indignation) What? We’re honest business people.
Nika: Mm-hm. Ever so honest. Gotta love cipher keys, don’t you?
Arrow: Well, I’ll just go check this. See that it’s ….
Joshua: Up to snuff?
Nika: You go right ahead, Handsome. I’ll be standing right here when you come back.

Nika maintains her cool throughout the looks and the innuendoes. She wants Arrow to give her the damned box. Beside her Joshua watches and listens through the entire exchange without comment or expression but bristles now that Arrow is out of sight. Kiera’s likewise irritated and looks for a distraction.

Kiera: Joshua. Let’s work on that two-part harmony on that song we were writing.
Joshua: Why? Because I really really really have an urge to cockblock him. I really do. Good Lord, he drives me nuts.

Wow, Joshua. Do you actually kiss Rina with that mouth? Kiera’s eyebrow jacks up into her hairline and she chuckles and walks off to the side. Nika gives her XO a wry look.

Nika: Really?
Joshua: I’ll let it be. Let you negotiate this whatever way you need to negotiate it.

Joshua waves it off and walks over to Kiera. They both stand to the side and quietly vent with snarky comments. It’s obvious they really dislike Arrow’s lubricious manner with Nika. Nika, however, is perversely amused and a little intrigued by it, despite her refusal to let Arrow see her interest. If negotiating involves getting on her back as Arrow’s manner hints? Hmmmm … maybe. So the Steward and XO gripe discreetly as they wait and the Captain muses on the possibilities of having a little sweaty fun.

A few minutes later, the same woman who rescued our crew on Newhope by posing as a Magistrate breaking up an incipient barfight walks off the ship with a message.

Woman: The Captain would like to see you aboard the ship.
Kiera: (undertone) Boom chicka wow-wow.
Joshua: (ditto) How about that local sports team?
Nika: (to her crew) If the two of you can’t possibly keep a civil tongue in your head—
Joshua: Oh, it’s awful hot around here.
Kiera: Oh, it is. (fans self) Man.
Joshua: We’re having a very civil conversation.
Kiera: It’s getting very hot in here.
Joshua: Oh, is that what they call it these days?
Woman: Why don’t you bring your crew?
Nika: Must I?
Joshua: It seems we must.
Kiera: Three way! Awesome.
Joshua: Okay, now we’ve crossed the line.
Nika: Thank you. Finally?
Kiera: Oh, no. I was going to stand and watch.
Joshua: Once again, we’ve crossed the line.

Nika hustles her contrary crew aboard with her. Damn, she can’t take them anywhere.

It’s kind of cozy aboard. It’s smaller inside than ours. Kiera remarks to Joshua that it’s tiny. He answers back that he’s not surprised, since our passenger lounge has a huge hole in it. There’s one man aboard with a steely gunslinger’s eye. He’s sitting at the main table in the crew lounge, chair tipped back, booted feet on the furniture. He watches us silently as we enter, his eyes flickering as he sizes us up. His Captain has his back to us, raiding a liquor cabinet for alcohol. The woman who invited us aboard pulls a stool up from the kitchen bar counter and observes us closely like the man at the table. Arrow seems blithely unaware of his crew’s scrutiny—or can afford to be insouciant because he’s counting on his crew’s scrutiny—and once he’s got all the requisite bar things in hand, he pours the drinks for everybody. He parks his attractive self in a chair and raises a glass, his tone friendly.

Arrow: (grins) So, whacha doin’ up here?
Nika: (grins back) Oh, making mischief. What have you been up to lately?
Joshua: (whispers to Kiera) So, how about that local weather?
Kiera: (whispers back) Looks steamy.
Joshua: (louder) Pain. Suffering. Oh, you mean like literally? Pain. Suffering.
Nika: Spending a little time on deadrocks.
Arrow: Spending time on deadrocks? Why’d you do that?
Nika: (sitting down) I had a passenger who wanted to check up on his lovely wife and children who were unfortunately no longer with us. She was a terraformer or … I don’t know what exactly she was doing out there but it did not go well. So, mostly just running cargo. How ’bout yourself?
Arrow: Same thing. Makin’ some good money out here. Runs outa Angel are a little more … exciting than most of our older runs but much more lucrative in general. You get danger bonuses.

Arrow leans back and pats his ship.

Arrow: Nothing wrong here if you’re just filling time. Your ship still afloat?
Nika: (smiles) A little dinged up these days. I had to take her a little too close to the sunshine.
Joshua: She’s flying.
Nika: (smiles wider) She’s flyin’ beautifully. All she took were a few little dings.
Arrow: So I’m intrigued to find … (slow smile) … what’s in the box.
Joshua: (quietly to Kiera) I was wondering what we were being schmoozed for.
Kiera: (ditto back) Yeah, I couldn’t figure out why I was gettin’ free drinks.

Nika leans onto the table and smile back at Arrow.

Nika: I guess the free drinks are part of the negotiations, there.
Arrow: You’re getting the free drinks cuz we’re friends.
Joshua: Fair enough.

And so it goes. Basically the next few minutes consists of Arrow angling to see what’s in the box and trying to get Nika to agree to it before handing it over to her. Nika in turn does her best to get the box out of his hands and of the ship unopened.

Nika: I’m picking up the box as part of the cargo.
Arrow: So it’s something in the box that you’re trading for?
Nika: Oh, I have no idea what’s in the box.
Arrow: What are you trading it for?
Nika: I’m supposed to take it to somebody and he’s going to give me the cargo when I get there.
Arrow: Do you know what the cargo is?
Nika: Nope.
Arrow: Do you know who you’re trading it with?
Nika: I know who I’m trading it with and I know what the cargo we’re carrying is.
Arrow: What’s that?
Nika: (shrugs) Chemicals.
Arrow: (smiles) Chemicals.
Nika: Fairly big cargo. (sips her drink)
Arrow: Hmm.

Nika cuts a long-lashed look at Arrow over the rim of her glass.

Nika: Why are you interested?
Arrow: It’s just been a while since someone’s paid me to transport such a small cargo.
Nika: (smiles) See? Easy payday.
Arrow: (smiling back) Yeah, pretty easy.
Joshua: So, ah … speaking of that. Where is the box. I don’t see it.
Arrow: Oh, it’s down in the hold somewhere.
Kiera: Yeah, well I woulda though you’d have found it sooner.
Arrow: Are you in a rush?
Joshua: Nope. Just curious. Came up in conversation. Just wondered, that’s all.
Kiera: I’m in no rush. The last time you and I stuck around each other as a quantifiable amount of time, you ran off with a job I had.

Kiera’s eyes are glittering a cold hard green. A warning, as anyone who knows her will tell you.

Kiera: So I’m just a little bit suspicious you might be tryin’ to undercut this one.
Arrow: (turns on charm) Well, now …
Kiera: Don’t ‘well now’ me. That don’t work on me no more.
Arrow: That was just fair negotiating.
Kiera: Like I said, you screwed me and I didn’t get nothin’ out of it. I didn’t even get a goodbye kiss or nothin’.
Arrow: Oh, if I screwed you, you would’ve gotten something out of it.
Kiera: I don’t think I got anything outa this one, so I’m not expectin’ much outa anything else.
Joshua: So, Captain … how about that local sports team? And weather here?

The conciliatory gesture goes unheeded as Arrow zeroes in on the sore point.

Arrow: I’m sure that we could, you know, be good friends if we … work together. Sometimes having two ships working side by side can be better than having one little crew working a—
Nika: (drawling now) Aw, darlin’, I didn’t know you were lookin’ for a partner.
Arrow: I wouldn’t say a partnership, per se, but it’s always good to share leads, stories where it’s safe to go, where it’s not safe to go.
Nika: Hmm.
Arrow: You really haven’t asked me for any information. (slow smile) I’d be happy to share it.

Nika is privately rather glad Arden isn’t here. Things would very quickly go south if he were. The light in Kiera’s eyes go wicked as she remembers something from our recent past.

Kiera: We could tell him were icky globs of goo are.
Joshua: Why?
Arrow: What’s that?
Joshua: Can I get another drink?
Arrow: Sure.
Kiera: I mean, that’s an important bit of information. We could tell him where the icky gobs of goo are. It would be just neighborly to let somebody know.
Arrow: Icky gobs of goo?
Kiera: Or maybe the Captain can negotiate that.
Nika: Hmm?
Kiera: I reckon the Captain can negotiate that.
Nika: What?
Kiera: Whatever he wants to negotiate with. (shrugs) It’s your ship.
Nika: Well, it is my ship.
Kiera: Yup, it is.
Nika: (eyeroll) When you guys let it be my ship.
Kiera: Aww. I’m not gonna let you have it now.
Nika: Of course you are.
Kiera: Of course I am. I just came for a box. And now I got a free drink. It’s a win-win for me so far.
Nika: Now, that’s the way to look at it. There you go.

Arrow watches this exchange closely and jumps in when Kiera doesn’t immediately respond.

Arrow: Well, before I got this job, I was takin’ some stuff to Boros. I don’t know if you’ve been there but the place was crawling with Alliance ships everywhere.
Kiera: (unsurprised) Huh.
Arrow: Here’s the thing though. (leans close) We were carrying these scramblers—very illegal—we brought them in there and I can’t tell you, we got searched three times. Every time they missed them. And they were right in front of their faces. You can always count on the Alliance to be … ah … how do I say this? … They just ignore the obvious. If everything works or if bad smells were involved, no Alliance inspector’s willing to stick their hand into something that doesn’t look so good.

Nika starts to laugh.

Nika: What did you stick them in?
Arrow: (grins) That’s a trade secret, but suffice to say, we were able to get through.
Kiera: Great gobs of goo. Stinky gobs of goo. Somebody must have been transporting sheep or cattle.
Arrow: Tell ya, you pay a little fine for unlicensed animals and they let you go.
Nika: Niice. Nice.
Kiera: Sounds like we need to get a few pet cows.
Arrow: You just gotta lead with something a little illegal. If you’re too clean, they’ll figure somethin’s wrong. They feel like they gotta get you on something, so make it easy for them.
Kiera: That’s the way it always is. If they can get you on somethin’, they’ll find somethin’ to get you on.
Arrow: The easier it is for them to find out what’s wrong, the quicker they are off your shop. And the happier they are.

So for the next couple hours, Arrow and his crew aren’t forthcoming with the box but they are happy to share alcohol and food. Such as it is. They sit and shoot the breeze. Kiera consoles herself that even though Arrow now has the decryption key, he still doesn’t know who we’re going to see. And we do.

We discover the steely eyed gunslinger goes by the name of Schultz and he puts up with a lot of teasing for being a former Marshal. Oh, yeah? We met a few of those once. The woman is his XO, a woman by name of T. D. and she was a barrister in a former life. The lure of the open sky took her away from her original purposes. Other crewmembers include a brother and sister, the Changs, both engineers. The pilot is the older man we saw outside, by name of Enoch. “Rusty” is his nickname with the crew.

Kiera gets tired of the chit chat and gets back to business.

Kiera: I guess you guys must’a lost it. It sure is takin’ you a long time to bring it up.
Nika: (to Kiera) Are you in that big a hurry?
Kiera: Well, I …. I have laundry to do and I have to wash my hair.
Nika: (grins) You are more than welcome to go right on back.
Kiera: No. It’s so delightfully entertaining to sit here.
Nika: I’m finding it so.

Her bluff called, Kiera sits some more as Nika stays and shoots the breeze with Arrow, telling him a little of our exploits—playing chicken with the ASREV, running through the chromospheres, that sort of thing—in exchange for tales of his. She also tells Arrow where the mine field is that we and Rob Roy ran afoul of. On that, Kiera was being genuinely earnest and at her reminder, Nika tells Arrow all about it. What we get from Arrow is the impression that he’s frustrated in not knowing what’s out there in the Black anymore. The old methods of keeping tabs on things is gone and nothing reliable has taken its place. There’s areas where there’s the Alliance … and there’s areas where there’s the “Alliance”. And there’s areas where there are Alliance-friendly people and they’re Alliance supporting … but not all areas are like that. Back when it was all Alliance, you could pretty much count on them being jerks, but they and other people wouldn’t just start shooting at you. Which is not the case now. The Alliance, if it’s here, is only in a supporting capacity to the local law enforcement and the local law enforcement isn’t always effective.

So even though he’s schmoozing us a bit, it’s out of genuine need for information to keep his crew and his ship safe. It’s safe to say he’s not particularly thrilled with the current geopolitical situation.

Nika: I think we can all in agreement on that.

We have NO IDEA what-all is actually out there, Nika tells him. And we’re running into things like that mine field. She pulls up an unwelcome memory from a couple years back—the sensor ghosts and the pulse torpedo we encountered coming out of Blue Sun during a run to Pericles Station. Now, mind, those things are relatively rare, but still …. pulse torpedo!

Nika: You might want your pilot to keep that at the back of his head, too. It’s not pretty.

The pilot nods and says he’ll make note of it. He’s been piloting a long time, from back in the war. Interest piqued, Nika asked him if he’d ever seen one of the torpedoes during the war, as she had. No, he’d never been chased by one but he had seen them in action.

Enoch: They were mostly used by the Independents, actually.
Nika: Really?
Enoch: Yeah. Cuz it’s a kinda unconventional way of takin’ out a ship.
Nika: Well, yeah. When I saw them take down two that I was next to, they were going after Independent vessels. Maybe they took them out by accident. I don’t know.
Enoch: Oh, yeah? I heard it was more an Independent thing but …
Nika: I’m not going to discount that as a possibility.
Enoch: Of course, weapons were used on both sides from both.
Nika: Yeah. Exactly.

If you’re small and outnumbered, it means your adversary is big and slow. If you are attacked, take up the weapons they throw at you and turn them against your enemy.

Nika: It may have been a leftover, so it may be entirely possible that we just happened to run across it. Or it could be that someone’s manufacturing them again and … laying them in places. Either way, I just figured you might want to keep an eye on your sensors.
Enoch: Sure. Okay.

And talk goes on over the drinks, about the war, about the relics from it, and about flying the Black with both.

Meanwhile back at the orphanage, it’s getting late and Arden’s waiting for the call from Nika to come meet her and her party. When the call doesn’t come, he comms her. On Arrow’s ship, Nika’s hand-held buzzes her and she pulls it out.

Nika: Yeah.
Arden: I’m almost done here. I was expecting to hear from you.
Nika: Oh, we ran into an old friend.
Arden: (guarded) A good old friend or a bad old friend?
Nika: I guess it depends which aspect you’re lookin’ at it from.
Kiera: (low, to Joshua) I guess it depends on which bed she sleeps in tonight.
Arden: All right. Let’s try this: who is it?

Nika tells him.

Arden: Okay. So what’s the plan?
Nika: Oh we’re just finishin’ drinks and then we’re gonna pick up our box and head back to the ship.
Arden: I’ll meet you back at the ship.
Nika: Okay. We’ll see you there.

Arden takes to the streets to return to Lagniappe. He sees that the crowd he’d avoided earlier in the day has gone now, not a soul in sight. Good. When he gets to our landing pad, he sees a fancy shuttle has parked fairly close by. It’s manned by a group of fancy young people in their early twenties, dressed in fancy non-military uniforms. There are five of them and two are getting wounds dressed by the others. Arden walks right over to offer assistance.

When he draws closer, he’s shocked to recognize one of the young people being treated. He stops and stares into his own face—the young man is the spitting image of Arden, Arden as he was before his accident with the acid. Arden, from Sophie.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Special Features

Go back to: Fireworks | Go Foward to Matters of Integrity
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