Episode 704: Mind Games

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Air Date: 24 Jan 2012
Present: Andy, Bobby, Kim, Maer, and Terri

Part 1, 2, 3, 4, Special Features

Saturday, 07 Aug 2523
Durance class, Exeter
En route to Georgia
0300 hrs, ship's time

We've left Delphi and are en route to Regina in Georgia from Beaumonde, delivering medical supplies, mostly Pescaline D for Bowden's Malady. Given the distance involved between systems, we will stop roughly midway at Grasshopper Station to refuel. Kiera's on bridge duty when an automatic message pings us a day out from the station.

She accepts the message and watches it play. A smiling middle-to-later years man appears on the screen. Thinning silver hair, gold-rimmed glasses, smile wrinkles at mouth and eyes. Well groomed. Suit and tie. Russian accent. Slightly menacing.

Message: Welcome, traveler, to Grasshopper Station. You are welcome to dock, refuel, and enjoy our hospitality. But be it known that all hostilities must end at the distance one million kilometers from the station or you will not be welcome.

The message cuts to a long range vid feed: Two streaks of white head off to a point and something explodes far away in the distance.

Message: You will not be welcome if you engage in any hostilities in this region. But until then, you have my hospitality. I am Adelai Niska.

The message ends abruptly and Kiera starts knocking on Nika's door.


Nika stumbles to her door and opens it. It looks like she's been woken up from the first good sleep she's had in a while.

Kiera: (in bad Russian accent) Station. Will hurt us. If we attack them. Adelai Niska.
Nika: (eyes flying open) Excuse me?!

It's the Russian accent that has all of Nika's alarms ringing. Usually a Russian accent means bad news.

Nika: Go back and repeat this for me, cuz I'm lost.
Kiera: Follow me.

Kiera replays the message for her on the bridge and despite being groggy, Nika watches it narrowly.

Nika: Well, it sounds right serious, don't it?
Kiera: It does. The video looks even more serious.

Meaning those missiles.

Nika: How close are we to the station, roughly?
Kiera: About a million kilometers.

Within range of those missiles. Our course is set. We won't have the fuel to reroute to another refueling stop. We must dock at Grasshopper Station.

Kiera: You wanna send them a ping, just to let them know we're coming in?
Nika: You know, at this range I don't think we need to.
Kiera: We're within the range of their guns, so why not say, 'Hey, this is the Exeter, we're coming in with the ETA of blah-blah-blah'.
Nika: Okay. Make it so.
Kiera: Night-night, Pretty.

Kiera pats her Captain on the head and pushes her back to her quarters and her interrupted sleep. And sends the message that we're coming in. The station confirms our ETA and gives us permission to proceed. They'll be in range of our long range scanners in an hour and about an hour after that, we'll have arrived. Knowing that, Nika decides against going back to sleep and grabs a shower instead. She emerges from her quarters freshly scrubbed and goes to the galley to search for coffee, then hangs out on the bridge. When the station shows up on our sensors, we find out that we won't be the only ones there. A large mass, about 10 to 15 thousand tons shows up alongside and a smaller mass, likely a ship, shows it's docked there. Nika sizes them up and at 0500 hours (ship's time), she wakes up the rest of her crew via all-ship.

Nika: Hey, we're about an hour from docking. Y'all pull yourselves together. (a beat) Suit up. Uniform of the day is sans jacket.

Uniform pants and shirtsleeves it is, then.

As we draw up alongside the station we see that there is an Alliance Navy light frigate class gunboat, about four to five thousand tons, docked there. Off along side, parked in space a safe distance off is the large ship our sensors caught earlier. It's an Alliance Navy sensor array ship, an Ocula class and it weighs in between ten and fifteen thousand tons. Looks like the Feds will be aboard the station. We'll have to watch our step. It's supposed to be neutral territory but both sides are at war.

Rina eyes the ships through the bridge windows, lingering on them and trying to suss out why they're here. Doesn't the Alliance Navy generally have fuel tankers accompany their ships? Why are these two alone, away from their fleet? And that sensor array ship … hmm.

Nika doesn't need to know why they're here. She already knows they mean trouble. That's enough for her. The rest of the crew gathers on the bridge and she fills them in.

Joshua: So what's the deal?
Nika: We're just refueling. Let's keep our visit to the station on this trip as short as possible. Not simply because there are Alliance vessels docked there but also because whoever the guy in charge is, Niska something, he's a Russian, and I just don't like that. Cuz quite frankly I don't like Russians.
Rina: What? You like me.
Nika: Every single other Russian—whatever that accent is—has been an absolute nightmare.
Arden: Like Rina. And her family.
Rina: (sweetly) Arden? Do you want to live to see another sunrise?
Nika: (continuing) Potemkin.
Rina: I am not disputing that.
Nika: Okay.
Joshua: Just stop right there. Potemkin. Stop right there. Whew, that was close.

Please don't say the name Roskov. Please.

Nika: Just keep low profile, please. We're refueling. So, refuel. (growls) I'm starting to inherit twitchy.
Joshua: Okay, so we'll refuel.
Kiera: Captain, I still want to go see Dad.

Silence on the bridge. Then:

Nika: (drawls) Then you better make plans for somewhere other than the Core, darlin'. Cuz I ain't flyin' in there.
Kiera: This isn't. It's Namira.

An asteroid in the Halo. Not technically in the Core but surrounding it. We've been to the Halo before. But still, Nika would rather avoid the Core, thank you. Bad stuff happens to us when we go to the Core and dang if she isn't getting paranoid like Rina about crap like that.

Joshua: The thing about that sort of thing is, we've been in tons of bad situations and every time we've come out on the good side.
Nika: Which is great. You know the best way to view that is that, see, we've been in tons and tons of bad situations and at this point I don't expect any good ones.
Joshua: Then you won't be disappointed. All situations are good ones right now.
Rina: Look at this way. If it turns out well, she'll be pleasantly surprised. If it turns out bad, she won’t be disappointed. It's all good.

Besides, Joshua's much more easy going about this sort of thing. It's his nature and practically his job. Then again, he's getting enough sleep every night, too, which always affects a man's mood in the morning. Nika's already moved on to the next order of business, which is pulling up the charts and figuring out where in the Halo Namira actually is.

Nika: It's out in the friggin' middle of nowhere.
Joshua: (turns from Rina) What's out in the middle of nowhere?
Rina: (ducking under his arm) Namira. It's an asteroid in the Halo somewhere.
Joshua: What are we talking about?
Rina: Namira.
Joshua: What about it?
Nika: (at the maps) Kiera loves her daddy.
Rina: (to Joshua) Don't go there. I know that look.
Joshua: No, I'm not going wherever you think I'm … you think … going.

Where we're going is Grasshopper Station and we state our business—we need to dock and refuel. We get permission and our dock number and we come alongside and dock right up. A jetway umbilical extends to our crew deck airlock and we wait for the lights to go green on the board before we open up.

Green. We are good to go.

When we open our airlock door, we find a mousy-looking bureaucrat waiting for us. He's got an electronic clipboard and a somewhat bored expression. He launches into his announcements with the tone of someone who's said them ad nauseam.

Bureaucrat: Welcome to Grasshopper Station. We have changed management, maybe, if you've been here before. Notice the weapon detector.

He points to the frame built into the jetway, the sort that a person walks through to be scanned.

Bureaucrat: You don't want to bring a weapon or any dense object.
Rina: (to Arden) That means you're staying.
Arden: Well, my head is pretty dense.
Bureaucrat: Then you might want to stay on your ship then. Other than that, the facilities are the same if you've been here before. We've got the bar, restaurant, and showers, entertainment rooms.
Arden: Then I can't use them.
Bureaucrat: What's that?
Arden: I can't use them.
Bureaucrat: Oh, that's because of your head.
Arden: Right. So I can't leave the ship.
Bureaucrat: I'm not saying you can't. I'm saying you might want to be careful.

Kiera sighs a long-suffering sigh and swats Arden one.

Bureaucrat: We would be more than happy to run your sewerage and refuel you.

Nika has Independent fuel vouchers for refueling. As such, it pretty marks us as being on the Independent payroll. And by the presence of the Fed vessels already here, maybe we want to keep that fact under our hat. Hence us leaving off our uniform jackets. Our uniform slacks and shirtsleeves are pretty generic looking.

Arden: Did the wonderful Alliance vessels receive the wonderful warning we did?
Bureaucrat: Of course. This is neutral territory.
Arden: Good. I like it that way.
Bureaucrat: I advise you to respect this on the ship as well as off. There are Alliance officers and servicemen on board.
Arden: They're coming aboard our ship—What?
Bureaucrat: No, aboard the station.
Rina: (to Arden) The station's a no-kill zone.
Arden: I get that.
Joshua: (herding cats!) We just need to refuel. Please.

And he has to herd the cats that Arden lets out of the bag with the statement:

Arden: Can I take a shower? A real hot shower?
Joshua: We have real hot showers.
Arden: In a closet.
Kiera: How many people do you wanna shower with, Arden?

And the conversation devolves into hot showers off the ship versus hot showers on, size, company, … oy! Meanwhile Nika's getting the refueling details from the station bureaucrat.

Nika: Can you tell us where in the queue are we?
Bureaucrat: I would guess within …. seventy-two hours.
Nika: All right. No one else is being refueled?
Bureaucrat: No, it's seventy-two hours.
Joshua: (turning around) Seventy-two hours to be refueled?
Kiera: Wow.
Arden: It's a really slow pump.
Kiera: Yeah, that's like … five days.
Arden: There are probably ships in queue ahead of us.
Bureaucrat: We'll have to check, assuming there's a way to check your credentials and all that. For the card.
Kiera: Ah. A credit check.
Rina: Credit checks. The bane of our existence.

Of course, this is a built-in way to force crews to spend their money on the station for three days. Only in our case, we haven't really any money to spend. Though we're in the military, we only actually get paid when we put in to an Independent installation or military base where we can pick up our pay. Which we haven't done since we left Angel back in July.

Great. So … no shore leave then?

Rina: It's going to be a long three days. I don't have any money at all. I got married.
Arden: That's all the riches you need.
Nika: I have thirty cred—oh, crap. I don't have thirty credits to my name cuz I gave it all to you guys.
Rina: And it was very nice, Captain. Thank you.
Kiera: I used mine to big giant bottle of alcohol—(looks at Nika)—that you promptly drank most of.
Nika: Sucks to be you.
Kiera: It does. You keep taking my liquor, woman.
Nika: See there, being the Captain has perks.

Joshua goes to the safe and pulls out what we've got. There's enough for everyone to have ten credits. Looking over the prices of goods and services we find the cost of things on the station is quite steep. Ten credits might buy you twenty drinks, if you're lucky. At half a credit per drink, that's well more than the asking price elsewhere.

Kiera: Man. Pity. I need to start buying cases of alcohol and dropping it off over here.
Arden: And selling it on the side.
Kiera: Darn tooky.
Rina: If you wish I can make up a still. Hook it up to the engine.
Kiera: Oooh, even better.
Rina: Yeah. We could make our own boutique brands.
Nika: Girls.

That's a big damn no from the Captain. Her XO seconds it.

Kiera: For my birthday I wanna still.
Joshua: No.
Kiera: You're not the boss of me. I'm a civilian.
Joshua: If it involves the engine being made into a still, hell yeah, I'm the boss of you.
Nika: In point of fact, he is.
Joshua: Don't growl at me.
Kiera: (looks daggers) …. (growls) ….
Joshua: Don’t growl at me. Talk to the hand.

Or growl to the hand. Regardless, we've been on our ship for 18 days. We really need to get some time off it. Maybe just step away and have a nice dinner for the crew. We’ve been eating canned food the entire trip over.

Jacked up prices or not, the promise of a change of scene lures us off our ship. It's a special occasion and our spirits perk up.

Rina: Hmm. I think I'll wear a skirt.
Joshua: Oohh …
Nika: Who the hell are you and what have you done with Rina?
Joshua: She's growing.
Rina: Oh, I left her locked up in the engine room. She'll be fine.
Nika: She's knocked up?! Too?!
Arden: (turning around) Really?
Kiera: Baby shower! Awesome!
Joshua: No. That's not what I said.
Rina: I'm what? (backtracks) No, I said locked up in the engine room.
Joshua: (grinning) See, this is why, every day, I think, 'Man, I should never say anything, ever again.'
Kiera: And yet you keep opening your mouth.
Joshua: I know. Cuz I love pilling you off. (laughs)
Kiera: I was going to say for every one little victory you get, I get ten. So it's good.
Nika: You did say she was growing.
Joshua: Emotionally.
Arden: So … Congratulations.
Kiera: Yes.
Nika: Your Mama will be so pleased.

And the banter just keeps on going. Radiation. Engine room. Not good for the baby. Yadda-yadda. Rina stalks off to change for the trip off the ship. She comes back wearing a nice top, nice boots, and that skirt—damned if she's going to change her mind now. It would mean the others were right. She rejoins the crew in time to hear a short debate on wearing our uniforms off-ship or not.

Nika: I would be just content to have dinner out and not get jumped by the Alliance Navy. Casual clothes fine.
Joshua: I wasn't going to wear it anyway.
Nika: We're not going to fight over this are we?
Joshua: No.
Nika: Just don't get us jumped by the Navy, for God's sake.
Joshua: Yes, Ma'am.

We leave to get that dinner.

Grasshopper Station isn't very big. A person could walk the entire circumference of it in about 20 minutes. It's fairly simple: docks, offices, services. The services are of the luxury truck stop variety: Shower and laundry facilities. Locker storage. Small sundries. A restaurant and bar. A capsule hotel. Creature comforts can be had, to be sure, but there is nothing of the sort a ship could stock up on outside of fuel. No grocery stores or ships supplies. So we take that turn around the circumference to stretch out our legs and note what's available. Arden muses what sort of rooms could be rented by the hour and Kiera counters with a novel idea—just move to the passenger deck and stay in one of the first class cabins—big beds, private bath, laundry done by someone else. Instant staycation. Best of all, it's free! Of course, company would cost extra … The teasing starts there and continues all the way to the restaurant/bar.

It's just nice to get out.

A feeling that lasts maybe all of two seconds after we cross the threshold and see the place is pretty much wall to wall crawling with Alliance Navy. All in uniform. They all notice us walk and start watching us. We're not in uniform, deciding to go in our civvies, but hey, we're the only new faces around, who came in on the only new ship for days, which oh, by the way, is flagged Independent. It doesn't take a genius to guess our affiliation.

Um … Could we get that dinner to go?

There's a brief spate between us crew about all the things that could possibly go wrong on shore leave.

Joshua: (low to the crew) We are fine. We're going to get a table. We're going to sit down. And we're going to have dinner. It's going to be good. (to Rina) It's going to be good. It's going to be good. You know it's going to be good.
Arden: It's actually going to be smooth as silk.

It actually takes a couple of little round bistro-style tabletops pushed together to accommodate us but no one on the staff seems to mind us doing it. We look over the menu. Arden says it's nice to get something good for a change and Joshua takes offense—he's a top quality chef, actually. Thanks for that ringing endorsement, Arden.

Joshua: Could we promote him off the ship? Make him somebody else's problem? Like … Captain Arden?
Nika: I don't know if I want to inflict him on anybody else, though.
Arden: If I was at that level of command, though, I could transfer anywhere I wanted.
Nika: Not true.
Rina: We could inflict him on the enemy. (a beat) No. We're not supposed to get in trouble.

Which might not be up to us. The rest of the patrons are looking at us. Staring, actually. A couple of men finally walk over, Petty Officers. They're young and probably looking to prove something. Nika groans under her breath. They stand about three feet away, holding their drinks, and stare at us.

Joshua resolves to let them look as long as they like. No skin off his nose. Rina steadfastly ignores them. Our food arrives and Arden quips he's got a joke.

Nika: Oh, no. Not that one.
Rina: Why don't you tell the one about the brunette and the blonde and the redhead in the obstetrician's office? I like that one. It has puppies.
Arden: I think everyone on the ship has heard it at least twice.
Nika: Or more.
Arden: Yeah.
Rina: I could hear it again.

Please, Arden, don't say anything to set the entire room off … Arden desists and we all breathe easier. For her part, Kiera just gives the men staring at us a 200-watt smile and keeps right on eating. That sets the men to whispering amongst themselves and eventually one of them comes over to stand next to Kiera.

Fed #1: Hey, why don't you leave this bunch of losers and join us at our table?
Kiera: You buy my dinner and I might.
Fed #1: All right.
Kiera: (to crew) Bye, guys.
Nika: (unfazed) Have a good time.
Arden: See you back at the ship.

Kiera leaves with the men and they move off to another table. They start plying her with alcohol. She starts with small talk.

Kiera: So what ship are you guys from?
Fed #1: We're from the Lacy.
Kiera: The Lacy?
Fed #2: It's the missile frigate.

The officers don't spend a lot of time buttering Kiera up so much as feeling her up. Kiera scoots her chair back.

Kiera: Whoa. Wait a minute.

She agreed to have them buy her dinner. She didn't agree to them buying her. She tries to talk herself out of the situation and that just makes them angry. They start pulling out insults and dirty names and so forth.

Fed #2: See? I told you all these Browncoat sluts are just a bunch of—

Yeah. Like that. Kiera laughs and gets up from her chair.

Fed #3: 'If you ain't with us, you're agin us.'
Kiera: (laughs) Really? (snorts) Ahh, fuck it.

Kiera shoves off to rejoin us and one of the Feds makes a grab for her wrist. She evades easily and sits down with us. The Feds she's stiffed start whispering amongst themselves again. Maybe they're making other plans or consoling each other over their lost chances with Kiera or … well, whatever. Kiera doesn't have time for this high school crap.

Nika: Well, hi. What happened?
Kiera: Eh, they're lookin' for a fight.
Nika: Oh, bloody hell.
Arden: Really? That's hard to believe.
Rina: I could've told you that before you left.
Nika: Betcha they were just lookin' to get laid.

Kiera slides her chair closer and raises a brow at Nika.

Kiera: They're lookin' for an F for an F.
Arden: An F for an F?
Kiera: She knows what I'm talking about.
Arden: I don't.
Joshua: Fight, Flee or … (you know) …
Arden: Oh.

Joshua doesn't elaborate because his head is trying to kill him. As Kiera returned to the table the pain trickled in from nowhere and started mounting. And when she slides her chair closer, it spikes through his brain full force. He yelps and clutches his head.

Joshua: Augh! Sonuvabitch—!
Rina: Joshua?
Joshua: Migraine.
Rina: That's not good.
Joshua: (yah think?) Yeah, it hurts. It hurts.

Rina starts looking around, looking for a Creepy Guy like the one he ran into on Sihnon. Or someone like Volker, like he ran into on Highgate. Both times Rina remembers Joshua suffering a sudden-onset migraine. Joshua looks at Arden.

Joshua: Do you have pain meds?
Rina: Don't mix drugs with alcohol.

Arden, as always, has brought his bag with him. He gives Joshua the meds he needs and Joshua washes them down with his drink.

Arden: No more alcohol.
Joshua: Okay …. (gasps, grabs head) … If you could cut my head off, that would be awesome ….
Nika: (to Rina) Why don't you take him on back?
Kiera: And put him in the dark.
Nika: We'll be right behind.
Arden: Before you leave, there is one remedy you can apply. The reason his head hurts is that there's too much blood in it. You need to—
Rina: (rising) Yes, yes, I understand. I am not doing it in public. Thank you.

She swats Arden on her way around the table to gather her husband.

Arden: I didn't say you had to do it in public.
Kiera: Meh?
Arden: You just need to go someplace else.
Joshua: (through fingers) Either cut my head off or cut his head off.
Nika: I like you better.
Arden: What? It makes sense. I was just trying to be helpful.

Rina helps Joshua stand as Nika flags the waiter down for the check while Kiera and Arden discuss the relative merits of endorphin release from certain behaviors ameliorating migraine symptoms.

Joshua: Cancel my order.
Nika: They've already got it in the kitchen.
Waiter: Is that for everyone or just for the two who're leaving?
Nika: Just box up their two and we'll finish our dinner.

Joshua and Rina make it out of there and start stumbling back to Exeter. Back at the restaurant, the rest of the crew finishes dinner. As they wrap it up, Nika gauges the mood of the room and tells Arden she is not having our crew involved in a fight. Arden assures her that he's not going to fight. Nope.

Arden: Unless, of course, someone's life is in danger. Or if they say something ugly.
Kiera: We only have to stay til dessert.
Arden: We could take it to go.
Kiera: True. We could just go on home.

Rina and Joshua have made it to the docks and the pain meds just aren't working. Joshua's getting hammered by something screaming in his ear … from the inside of his head. It's a little bit like Reavers screaming … but it's not quite the same. It's more of a howling than screaming. The pain is excruciating.

Joshua: Screaming, screaming, screamingscreaming … I'm gonnakneelsitsitsit …
Rina: Okay.

He slides for the floor and Rina slides down there with him, holding onto his waist to keep him from doing a faceplant on the deck. Joshua does his best to filter everything out, shutting his mental doors to see if he can't cut that hideous sound off, figure out where that sound is coming from. All Rina sees is her husband curling up into a tight little ball of misery. Rina sits next to him, there being nothing else she can do, and from the corner of her eye, she catches movement off to her right. She turns and looks but whatever it is, it's gone. She doesn’t get much of an impression beyond it being bigger than a breadbox and it seemed to respond to her turning to look by ducking out of sight.

Great. She's separated from her ship and her crew. Her husband is incapacitated. And she's got something watching her. Can things get any worse? Why yes, yes they can. Behind her, she hears Joshua being very noisily sick.

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

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