Episode 617: Contagion

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

Part:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Special Features

Friday, 09 Apr 2523
Lightning class Mulan Maersk
En route to Himinbjörg

We’ve been in space since the 15th of March and our delivery deadline is fast approaching. As we speed toward our rendezvous point, the matter of our prisoners—Capt. LaSalle and his four surviving crew—becomes critical. For two weeks we’ve housed and fed them and our supplies and patience are running low. What do we do with them? We can’t space them, though a couple of the crew wouldn’t mind too terribly if we did, much to the consternation of those who would mind. For once, Rina argues against spacing. Arden and Kiera are in the spacing camp. Kiera in particular would like to keep the Du Khang as an asset. After all, these people would have taken our ship if given the chance ….

Not exactly. LaSalle did capture Nika, yes, but he gave her a generous offer to vacate Mulan Maersk in Equinox, leaving the giant ship bloodlessly to him. It was much more than what anyone could expect from an act of piracy …. and it speaks of some sort of honor remaining in the man. Rina was able to draw him out in conversation when she delivered his meals and she shares what she learned with the crew. LaSalle is originally from Santo, from Du Khang. He was a hotelier with a wife and two kids and during the war he served customers from both sides of the conflict. By his account, the Independents had spent several weeks in Du Khang before engaging the Alliance forces outside it. The Independents retreated through the town that had so recently entertained them. The Alliance pounded the town and LaSalle lost his hotel, his family, everything. He could not understand how the people he and his had helped had chose to retreat through the town, endangering them all. When the Unity Guard came into being, he signed right up. He is strong in his belief of unity against separation, order against chaos. To allow the other systems to break away, maybe fight another war to do so …. it would mean everyone who died in the last war died in vain. For the sake of his beliefs and the memory of his family, LaSalle cannot allow that to happen.

Rina’s convinced he’s sincere, but she can trust him only so far. LaSalle is Unity Guard, true, but his crew is a different affiliation altogether: Lex Talionis. Where the Unity Guard can be counted on to follow some sort of legal procedure, the Lex Talionis is their extreme vigilante counterpart. Rina would just as soon not have the Lex Talionis aboard Equinox a second longer than we have to, thankyouverymuch.

The decision is made to not space the prisoners but to hand them and their ship, the Sandfly class Du Khang, over to the Independents when we deliver Mulan Maersk. Had LaSalle captured us, he would have destroyed Mulan Maersk and delivered us to the nearest Alliance forces rather than kill us. The shoe is on the other foot and we return the favor. If the Independents go for torture … well. It is out of our hands at that point. All we can do is treat LaSalle well until we turn him over with Mulan Maersk. And much to Kiera’s disappointment, we’re turning over his ship, Du Khang, to the Independents, too. We have no way to keep her until we sell her and the Independents would need a fast agile ship more than we would.

Monday, 12 Apr 2523
Anvil, Himinbjörg
Red Sun (Zhu Que) system

We make our rendezvous with the Independent ship, Njördr, captained by a man named Sigurdsen. We explain what happened en route and turn LaSalle and Du Khang over to him. Kiera and Arden are still put out by it—Arden doesn’t like letting people who would have killed us get off with their lives and Kiera would much rather have kept Du Khang to sell it at a profit. By now it’s an old argument and neither side of the debate expects the situation to change. Sigurdsen doesn’t exactly say what the fate of LaSalle and his men will be and we’re careful not to ask but he did say that LaSalle and his crew will be held in captivity until the hostilities have ended—they aren’t going to be put up against the wall and shot outright. Life in captivity trumps a shallow grave any day. It’s not much, but it’s enough.

As for the Du Khang, we learn that several of the Unity Guard vessels have been conducting piracy—raiding vessels and taking them, mostly in the system of Blue Sun. Mostly against Independent vessels and cargo vessels and merchant ships, capturing them and then selling them back to the Alliance. Or retrieving bounties on the vessels, which is closer to the truth. If we got paid for handing over Du Khang, how is that any different? It would only encourage more piracy, wouldn’t it?

Even so, the acquisition of LaSalle’s ship is a bit of a windfall for them, a valuable asset. Kiera gripes that oh, a valuable asset but apparently not valuable enough to pay us for it, right. Nika hushes her with The Look and the steward pipes down. The Captain of Njördr acknowledges that what we did came with a certain amount of risk and he’s not averse to paying us our agreed-upon fee, along with thanks for the extra mile we went. We shake on the deal, get paid our fee of 1200, and walk back aboard Equinox, business done.

Of course, that’s not to say that there isn’t some grumbling on the way out. Nika takes some flak from Kiera and Arden for handing over Du Khang to the Independents instead of keeping it for ourselves to sell at a profit. Arden persists in demanding we should have at least argued for a finder’s fee. Nika shuts him up in return and demands of Joshua why he thought it wise to bring Arden along on the hand-over. Because THIS is why we never let Arden negotiate. Just … duct tape him to his bed in med bay next time, won’t you? Joshua replies that if she wants Arden duct taped down in med bay, she should do it herself. He’s through with doing her dirty work, Captain. Joshua, obviously, is fed up with the bickering.

The Independents take the Mulan Maersk off our hands and set about checking it for nasty things like traps and trackers. Finding none, they set about removing the autopilot package. Rina tags along, hoping to talk shop with the engineers but they are, reasonably enough, closemouthed over what they’re doing.

Money in hand, we gratefully take ourselves down to Anvil for restocking and repairs.

We’re fine for fuel but we’re dangerously low on food supplies, having only brought aboard enough for a crew of six. Having five extra mouths to feed pretty cleared us out. While Equinox didn’t spend any fuel to get here from Kalidasa, there is no way we can take off without laying in more supplies. We’d starve before we got anywhere out-system. We’re also low on med supplies. Joshua gets busy taking care of that and Rina gets the much-neglected monthly maintenance done. She’s unable to manage a discount on the quality of her work, however, and the costs coupled with the resupply takes a big hit out of our payday.

And the hits just keep coming. At the evening meal later that night, the talk revolves around where we’re going next, Arden reveals to the crew that he’s got cryo-immune deficiency and he’s known it since the docs found out about it on Urvasi. It’s usually caused by having blastomere organs installed incorrectly, which he hasn’t had, so that’s beside the point. He also admits that he’s been hallucinating Valerie Samson as being alive and well and talking to him. He’s held off telling anyone because he doesn’t want to get committed to an asylum. Nika reassures him that she won’t have him committed and furthermore …

Nika: If you want the God’s honest truth, that makes a level of sense to me.
Arden: It doesn’t make me feel any better.
Joshua: I would like an explanation in which it makes sense.
Nika: For me, it makes sense. Because if she’s … Now you’re gonna laugh at me, cuz you all assume I’m stupid on a regular basis—
Joshua: No, you’re just stubborn as hell. I think you’re smart.
Arden: And she’s real stubborn about it.
Nika: Here’s the thing. If she is a manifestation of his conscious or unconscious mind, she would be someone he can bounce medical knowledge off of and potentially give him back answers he may or may not realize that he has.
Arden: She was one of, if not the, leading neurologists in the Verse.

Nika goes on to say that because his brain had been cut into by the surgeons on Beaumonde, it could be that part of the trauma—and the recovery from it—involves hallucinations and given Arden’s background, it makes perfect sense to Nika that Arden would hallucinate Valerie. Joshua asks Kiera if she saw the surgeons implant anything into Arden’s head before they sealed him up again. Kiera says no. Arden says he saw the x-rays they’d taken on Urvasi—the Blue Sun surgeons had probed his brain in the area between his pineal and pituitary gland. Why? He’s not sure. He does know that there were no foreign objects on the x-rays. Which relieves Joshua, since he knows that Valerie had wetware installed in her brain by Blue Sun. If there had been something planted in Arden’s brain by Blue Sun, for all we know, he could be talking to a chip with Valerie on it and it comes across as a hallucination to Arden.

As for his hallucinations, Arden says he knows Valerie’s just a figment of his imagination, but he’s not sure why, after all this time, he’s imagining her now. Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate two years ago when she actually died? And Valerie is dead, we know that as the crew. So … does this mean that Arden is talking to the dead now? Joshua says that the next time Arden sees Valerie, would he tell him so he can try to Read her? Because Joshua would really like to talk to her. Also, is Arden going to get his brain scanned somewhere? Again?

Arden: Some information I’ve stumbled across before—a Blue Sun scanning machine records everything it scans and sends it back to Blue Sun.
Kiera: Yes. Why are you surprised by that?
Arden: I’m not surprised about it, except that I have confirmation of it.
Kiera: But … um … everybody knew of that …

Actually, no. Not everybody. It’s actually news to some of the crew. Rina’s not at all surprised to learn of it, however, since it fits in well with her paranoid view of the Verse. Of course it’s the sort of thing that Blue Sun and the Alliance would do. And she’s got the scars to prove it.

The talk quickly turns to what cargo we’re going to take. Arden quips up that given his lastest dreams of Sophie and Valerie, he wouldn’t mind going to Sophie to see if any of them are true.

Rina: Is Sophie on the way to Sihnon?
Arden: I have no clue.
Kiera: We’re going to Sihnon? Awesome. College town. Woo! That’s the place where I flunked out.
Joshua: (to Rina) Wait. What?
Nika: Mehhh?

Rina plants her face in her hands and shakes her head—dammit, she can tell her crew is gonna be a pain in the ass about this.

Nika: Remove fingers so we can see face.
Joshua: So we can hear, like, when you actually talk.
Rina: (to Joshua) I made you a promise. And I mean to keep it.
Joshua: Oh really?
Arden: Someone’s gonna get lucky …
Joshua: No she didn’t. I mean, she did promise me that but I think—

At which point the rest of the table bursts in to some off-color ribbing of the couple. Rina just glares and Joshua washes his hands of the teasing.

Joshua: I’m not going there, thanks.
Rina: Do you or do you not remember the conversation we had on this?
Joshua: No, I remember. I was working my way back to it. I remember. But I wasn’t sure, to be honest, that—
Nika: He wasn’t sure you’d remember.
Joshua: No, I knew you would remember. I wasn’t sure if you’d be able to push yourself past your reluctance to do it. (off her look) So ... wait. You contacted them?
Rina: I couldn’t find a safe way to do it.

Christian had been unable to send word through his contacts, back when we were laid over on Angel, and Rina couldn’t trust this sort of thing to the Ark, not that it was geared for clandestine messages anyway. With the Abbot gone from Salisbury, all her old trusted options have been removed.

Joshua: So you’re just going to drop in on them? Cool! I’m all in favor of surprise.
Kiera: Who is she dropping in on now?
Joshua: Her parents.
Nika: They think she’s dead.
Kiera: Awesome! It is Old Time Reunion. (points to Joshua) You got your mom—.
Joshua: Except that everyone wants to kill my mom.
Kiera: (points to Rina) She’s gonna come back from the dead. (to Aden) And he already speaks to the dead.
Joshua: You’re not helping. No. You’re not.

A look passes between Nika and her engineer.

Nika: Rina?
Rina: Ma’am?
Nika: They don’t really kinda know who you are.
Rina: (soft) Maybe. I guess we’ll find out.
Kiera: They’ll be very happy. Parents are very happy. Only my Dad was very happy that I was—
Joshua: This is what I was trying to argue with her, that they would be happy to know that she’s alive.
Nika: That depends on how things work in her culture. And I don’t really know about that but she could be seen as a completely ungrateful child.
Kiera: And for all I know, my Dad’s got my genetic makeup. He’ll just have another version of me when I die.
Rina: Word of advice—?
Nika: I’m sorry, what Harry would have done to me, she would have kicked my ass—
Rina: Everybody—
Nika: From here to friggin’ Blue Sun and back—
Joshua: Yes, love?
Rina: Everybody pack earplugs.
Kiera: Yeah? Why?
Nika: Her momma’s like Harry.
Rina: No. My mother is an opera singer. Her voice could take the paint of the walls. So if you don’t want to be deaf …
Joshua: Hence the earplugs. Meaning there’s going to be yelling.

Sigh around the table at the news. So … not so happy a reunion then?

Kiera: So do they live in a town, near a town, is there a hotel, somewhere on Sihnon?
Nika: Wait. You’re from Sihnon?
Arden: Welcome to the conversation.
Nika: I’m totally weirded out by that. Just so you know.
Kiera: Why? Why’re you weirded out that she’s from Sihnon?
Nika: Because I always thought she was from Meadow.
Rina: Please. Just because I’m Russian, do I have to be from Meadow?
Nika: Because all these years you’ve been lying to me.
Rina: (evenly) Not as such. When did you ever ask?
Nika: When did you ever not imply?
Kiera: Oh, I knew you were a Core bitch! Core bitches together. Woo!
Rina: I never implied I was from Meadow. I only said I had an uncle there.
Arden: (to Nika) You inferred she was from Meadow.
Nika: True.
Rina: And what you do in your own mind and your own fantasy-land up there is none of my business.
Nika: She’s from the Core, Joshua.
Kiera: She’s a princess too, hee! (claps, delighted)
Nika: And her momma’s an opera singer.
Rina: (heated) Well that’s not my fault. She was already an opera singer when I came along.
Nika: Touchy, much? (a beat) What does your dad do? How many fibs did you say? Did you actually tell any fib? Or did you just weave it into the truth?
Arden: Don’t rise to the bait. Just chalk it up to her time of the month and move on.
Nika: No, seriously. The woman has told me a great number of stories about her childhood. (to Rina) How much of it is actually your childhood and not from one of the identities that you took over?
Rina: I never lied about my childhood. I never lied about my parents.
Nika: That’s all I wanted to know.
Rina: I’ll be aft if you need me.

Rina leaves the table for the engine room. Joshua looks into lining up cargo that will take us toward the Core. He finds cleaning supplies going to Persephone. That’s closer to Sihnon, being on the outer edge of White Sun. Kiera’s looking over his shoulder and agrees it looks like a viable prospect.

Joshua: Wait. Weren’t we supposed to meet your Dad?
Kiera: Yeah, but we missed the timing on it. (shrugs)
Joshua: He’s on the way there.
Kiera: We can always stop by but my Dad will run off with you again. I’m going to have a hard time saying no after what your mom has said.
Joshua: It’s not my fault.
Kiera: It’s fine. I will say one thing I have noticed. The failure of Blue Sun’s plan. You all seem to be horribly human. Is a big mistake. However, if there is a psychopath out there that they’ve managed to convert with your powers, it’s all out. The ones I met with you, and you, are humans.
Joshua: You haven’t seen me under code word, so to speak.
Kiera: So that leaves me with the fact that what my dad said is partially true.
Nika: (walking in) What?
Kiera: It’s not a good thing. I don’t want him to make anti-yous. But if you under code orders is something I should be worried about—
Joshua: There are—well, not specifically me but there were—
Nika: We already know that.
Joshua: But there were Readers who were, who have been trained to be severe killing machines.

Kiera, after all, never did get to see River in action when we were all trying to escape from that base on St. Albans. The only person the crew’s seen in severe I-can-kill-you mode is Johann Volker, and even then, not all of the crew was witness to that. The rest of the crew debate this for a minute, combing through their memories.

Nika: That’s not true.
Joshua: You damn near killed Rina.
Rina: (coming back in) He did not. Omigod. I pulled the trigger, thank you. Why doesn’t anybody believe me?
Joshua: Cuz I was there?
Rina: Because it was my finger on the trigger.
Kiera: Okay, just for the sake of the future, if either of you two are in the same situation, I’m going to pull the trigger. And there’s gonna be no question. It will be me.
Nika: Thank you. And he was totally under code-word when that happened.
Joshua: Point being, there are some that are trained to be deadly.
Kiera: (to Joshua) Don’t be offended, but if you’re under code-word, I’m totally shootin’ your ass.
Nika: Do it. (To Joshua) You made me promise to shoot you if that ever happened again.
Joshua: Why don’t you all shoot my mother while you’re at it?
Rina: I wouldn’t shoot your mother.
Kiera: I’m not going to shoot your mother. Your mother reminds me of my father. I don’t hate your mother. Meddling overbearing parents, I see nothing wrong with them.
Joshua: Yeah, yeah, all right. So we can make it to Persephone and from there to Sihnon?

The cleaning supplies will net us 600. However, there’s a message waiting for us as well. Joshua opens it up and we see a familiar face topped by a bowler: it’s Badger and he has a job for us, if we’re lookin’ to take it. It’s a recorded message, since we’re too far to conduct the conversation in real time. We listen to his offer.

Badger: You’re getting this message because you’ve arrived somewhere abouts Red Sun. If you’re in the region of … how do you say that? Himin-gas giant—I may have something lucrative for you. It appears that in a time of war, the people with the fancy suits get nervous so I managed to—how you’d say—be persuaded to … ah… help them leave this region. If you’re headed to my neck of the woods, which would be Persephone.

That cleaning supplies cargo would have us going to Persephone anyway. We listen some more. Kiera quips when we get to the Core, she’ll check her messages for nasty-grams from her overbearing meddling father.

Badger: It’ll be seven passengers and we’ll be paying you the standard rate, what’s that … that’ll be a week, so …. Seven hundred. Uh, six. Six hundred.

Kiera laughs out loud at the figure. It’s low. Way low. Persephone is nine days away, not seven and at 100 credits per week per passenger, we’re actually due more in the way of payment.

Badger: Call me back if you’re interested. There might be something else in it if you can do it soon.

The message is two days old—it took that long to reach us all the way out at Himinbjörg.

Joshua looks over at Nika.

Joshua: So. You want me to contact him? You want Kiera to talk with him?
Nika: I’m not sure.
Joshua: Sure we do. Come on. Talk to him. We’ll send him a message. Say hell yeah.

We note that four of the pax want first class if it’s available and three of them just want a room. So … 100 credits for first class passage at seven pax just went down by nearly half. Our normal rate for the four first class would be 800 and the second class 300 for the seven pax. That’s 1100 that should be coming to us. The 600 we’re actually getting is a crappy deal. Maybe we can get Kiera to upsell it to a less punishing discount. It is a time of war. It may be possible she can squeeze a little more out of them.

Of course, the extra would be something we’d have to hash out with Badger. Rina suggest renegotiating with the pax privately and we could—No. Joshua vetoes the idea. Kiera backs him up. Arguing the price with Badger now would only jinx the deal and he won’t give us the names of the pax looking for passage. We’ll send a message back to Badger accepting the deal as is and deal with the shortfall somewhere else. Kiera crafts the message and sends it. For damned sure, Rina’s not doing it.

Joshua: (To Kiera) You see, you have the secret weapon.
Nika: Boobies.
Beglan: Why? Are you going to transmit naked?

While the crew cracks up, Beglan takes Nika aside in private to discuss the situation with Arden. He tells her that while he studied astronomy in college, he’d also studied counseling. And while he didn’t want to say anything in front of Arden, based on what he knows Beglan thinks that the symptoms Arden is suffering shouldn’t be taken so casually. They’re not just quirks. These are the kinds of things resulting from severe psychoses. While he’s not a neurologist or anything like that, if Arden’s hearing voices …. Nika agrees, saying that she’d pretty much already decided to get Arden to a specialist once we got to Sihnon. Just how bad off does Beglan think Arden is?

Beglan says he’s not qualified to answer that and Nika counters she realizes that. Well, from what he’s read of some of these cases, there’s a disassociation with reality. At which point, Nika says the surgeons on Beaumonde cut up Arden’s brain. Hello! You think there wouldn’t be some adverse side effects from that sort of thing? Beglan says we shouldn’t be afraid of Arden, we should be afraid for him.

Nika: Oh, I’m beyond that. As soon as he started talking to people we can’t see, I was already there. Not that I’m going to let everyone else know that because he’s concerned that we’ll chuck him in a rubber room.
Beglan: What tends to happen, especially with highly intelligent people with dissociative disorders, is that if they confess to this thing, it’s usually when there’s neutral or benevolent things. “My voices tell me and are warning me that you’re in danger or …” What they tend not to discuss is when the voices start telling them about… darker things.
Nika: Oh fabulous.

So, we can’t rely on Arden’s usual habit of openness and wearing his heart on his sleeve. We can no longer be sure if it’s still in place. Nika is relieved that she’s not the only one who seems concerned about this. She blew it off with the crew because she didn’t want anyone—especially someone as brilliant as Arden—to dwell on the paranoia of the situation.

Nika: I already have to deal with one paranoid schizophrenic on the ship, I don’t want another.
Beglan: You’re talking about Rina, right?

He gets The Look.

Nika: Maybe Kiera and I can take him to see, or have someone come up to the ship, to see him.
Beglan: It’s going to be a challenge because … I mean, I’ve seen things… As long as I’ve been with the crew I’ve seen things with Joshua, with the stitches. So maybe he is hearing voices that really are there in his brain. But if it is a dissociative disorder, it isn’t going to get better. Best be prepared.
Nika: I do so enjoy these talks with you, Beggar.
Beglan: I thought you should know. If I thought there was something wrong with the engines, I’d take it to Rina.

He pauses a beat and then says:

Beglan: I know that … when I was in the army, there was a lot of talk and swagger about things that were done and going to be done. And I know some of it was to blow off steam. But … I don’t know for certain where you do stand on when it comes to that sort of stuff but … if you really thought someone was going to be tortured, would you really just because they were on our side, go ahead with it? Cuz if that’s the case, I think maybe I should stay. OFF the ship. Because it’s not something I can do. I need to know I’m on the right side. Or be on the other side at all.
Nika: It’s not something I can do either.
Beglan: I mean, from what we’ve seen, I don’t think there’s that kind of organized, ah, base … of these … Independently-minded people—
Nika: I have specifically taken that step twice.
Beglan: When?
Nika: I tortured a man once. And I flat-out executed a man once. I am not proud of either instant. And I have to live with that on my conscience. So no. If I honestly believed if they were going to be tortured, I would find a way to let them go. I would have.
Beglan: Do you think the rest of the crew knows that? Or is this something you hold in your head?
Nika: I don’t know.
Beglan: It might be that they hear your rhetoric, and you’re not able to tell them not to. We need to know where you stand so when you’re not there we can follow your orders.
Nika: Well, they certainly know how I feel about executing them. That said—
Beglan: You said you had no objections to spacing them. You said you had no objections.
Nika: That said, I do not have objections to spacing a crew that comes onboard and has every intention of hurting one of us. I am beyond tired of our ship being taken from us by force at every turn.
Beglan: I’m not against defending ourselves, but once we’ve taken that turn and done that, then there’s no need to be merciful.

Really? There’s no stepping back from going too far and atoning? Makes the message of forgiveness and atonement in the Bible kinda pointless, doesn’t it?

Nika: There’s also, on occasion, going to be the time when we cannot keep them prisoner on our ship for two weeks like there was this last time.
Beglan: Why is that?
Nika: The last set of pirates that actually took over Summer’s Gift, there were a couple who might have killed us in our sleep. There was a point where we were not entirely sure we were going to make it back out.

The Lenore crew. It’s a good thing Rina isn’t privy to this conversation. They’d never be able to shut the engineer up. She still hasn’t forgiven those people for what they did. This happened before Beglan joined us but he’s heard the stories.

Beglan: But these weren’t people that we’d locked up, right?
Nika: One of them was and he managed at the same time to hurt one of our crewmembers while he was locked up because we were trying to hold them and not hurt them.
Beglan: So you’re saying the next time that happens and somebody could, like, harm you, you’d kill them instead before they could possibly—.
Nika: No.
Beglan: Then this is the thing. Maybe I need to go.

Go back to: Mulan Maersk | Go Foward to Murder on the Equinox Express
Go back to Season Six: Franc-tireurs