Episode 706: A For Alliance

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Air Date: 07 Feb 2012
Present: Andy, Bobby, Kim, Maer, and Terri

Part 1, 2, Special Features

We've spent the last two weeks on Boros after our successful op in Vandenburg and the entire area—if not the entire planet—is celebrating the Independent victory in the Battle For Boros. Partying is certainly going on at the Earhart Ranch. It takes a few days for it to wind down and everyone to roll up their sleeves and get back to work.

The Earharts and the Johannsens have joined their ranches and their resources and have prospered. The Johannsens have a lithium mine on their property and they're making good business selling the ore. Nala Earhart has been selling her beef to the Alliance forces and making a profit. Nala has also a fairly large number of ranch hands on her property, armed and trained. They are there ostensibly to help out with the extra business brought on by the beef sales. In reality they are there to protect the ranch from those who would take it over for the lithium, the beef, or the Underground Railroad operations that Nala is running. Either way, there are men with guns manning a perimeter patrol, keeping an eye on the land and the house. Good thing too, since Nala is expecting.

The Independent forces repair the damage Exeter sustained in the ASREV action prior to the Vandenburg op and they throw in the monthly maintenance as well. Rina supervises and assists but for once takes it relatively easy, enjoying the downtime along with the rest of the crew.

After two weeks, however, the crew gets another assignment. They are to take a load of lithium bound for Persephone. Given our ship's somewhat famous profile, they provide us with a pulse beacon to swap out for our own, one that pings as a drone mining transport vessel with an old but still valid license under the Alliance flag. That should get us behind the lines.

From Persephone, we're to go on to the Columbia planetoid with a cargo of food supplies and thence to Namira, a day's flight further out. We're to investigate the mining crews there. They've been pulling out and getting replaced. The Independents want to know why.

We fuel and stock up for our two week trip back to the Core and with our transponder swapped out for the drone's, we lift off on Sep 5th.

Monday, 20 Sep 2523
Eavesdown Docks, Persephone
White Sun (Bai Hu) system
0700 hrs, local time

We get through the lines and kiss dirt on Persephone with little problem. And stepping off our ship to see to the usual dockside tasks, we find the grim and gloomy docks of our previous visit only two months before is vastly changed. People are cheerful here, energetic, and there are no signs of malaise we saw before. In fact, things are so upbeat, the place has taken on an almost-Mardi Gras atmosphere.

Rina: What drugs are they taking? Do we need to wear rebreathers when we step off the ship? Who gassed the planet?

So progresses the engineer's paranoid thought processes. In fact, when Joshua and Nika leave our berth to load up on supplies for the ship, Rina elects to stay aboard Exeter and breathe the shipboard air rather than walk around outside a minute longer than her docking duties require. The rest of the crew refuses to give in to her paranoia and they go about their business as usual. But they do agree that the change does seem odd. How could everything have changed so drastically and in so short a time?

Nika, Joshua, and Kiera shrug and leave Rina to her paranoia, and take off for the food supplies we'll need for the balance of our trip. Initial impressions of this being a shiny happy place are confirmed as they walk the streets to a provisions store, just everything's ducky. Walking into the aisles, the crew notices that there is a change in the packaging of supplies as well. Foodstuffs are rebranded and stamped with a holo seal labeled "Alliance Certified: Ask For It!" or they have more familiar older packaging without the seal. The non-Certified goods have been pushed back to the rear of the shelves, with expiration dates drawing close or already expired.

Joshua looks over the uncertified food and finds most of it is made up of seasonal, seldom used/seldom bought items. Most of the Certified food is the sort that people buy all the time, making it hard to avoid. Even so there is enough to get us through the next two weeks if we want to eat only the uncertified but we'll have to stretch things out a bit to make the food go further—eating less and skipping meals—and there won't be enough after that to get us back. He'll have to buy some of the certified food to keep us from starving to death on the return leg of our trip. So a combination of certified and uncertified would probably be best. However, Joshua buys only a few Certified items. He wants Arden and Kiera to run tests on samples of it before he purchases any for our ship.

While Nika and Kiera are window shopping elsewhere in the store, Joshua approaches the counter to pay for his purchases and notices a highly agitated, almost desperate man arrive there ahead of him. Joshua draws a little closer without making it look like he's eavesdropping (he's good at that) and catches this exchange:

Store Clerk: I'm sorry. You're at your quota for the month.
Nervous Man: But I really need some more. I lost mine and I'm broke. I just can't get any more.
Store Clerk: I'm sorry. I can't help you.

The Store Clerk notices Joshua nearby with purchases in hand and turns back to the Nervous Man.

Store Clerk: I'm afraid there's nothing I can do for you. Once you use your quota, we can't help you anymore.
Nervous Man: Please, please … I need something.
Store Clerk: I understand but you'll have to see your doctor or another certified health official. You know there's a health clinic half a kilometer in that direction.

The Store Clerk points to way to it and the Nervous Man stalks off supremely frustrated … and perhaps a bit desperate. Joshua steps up to the counter.

Joshua: Geez, what was his deal?
Store Clerk: He blew through his Sansa ration.
Joshua: Sansa?

It looks like chewing gum but it's a controlled substance, so it's behind the counter. It's made by Blue Sun Pharmaceuticals. Whatever it is, dare we hope it's something good?

Joshua: So, I'm just indulging in my curiosity, cuz we just stopping and flying through.
Store Clerk: (brightening) Where are you from? You from out on the Rim or something? We don't get many visitors from outside the Core.
Joshua: A bit out. There's danger flying in the war zone but there's profit to be made. So it's been a while since we came back in this way.
Store Clerk: Didn't they tell you at the starport about the … the attack?
Joshua: No. Clearly they were dropping the ball. Cuz we didn't get anything when we came in. Seriously, what's going on?

The clerk lowers his voice and leans in, concerned. Joshua leans closer in turn.

Store Clerk: Well, back a couple of months ago, there was a terrorist attack. Some of these Independent terrorists had poisoned the water supply with some kind of a neurological agent. The gum can fend off the anxiety the neurological agent causes.
Joshua: Sweet Jesus! If I'd known that—! Um … My crew's probably drinking—
Store Clerk: I'm sorry but I can't sell it without prescription.
Joshua: So there's a prescription … Like from a health clinic?
Store Clerk: Yes, we need to check it because if you take too much, you can … well, something might happen.
Joshua: Yeah, I kinda gathered that. (withdrawing) Well, I appreciate you letting me know. We could have been drinking the local water non-stop, without knowing it. You're a good man.

The Story Clerk slides a smart paper across the counter to Joshua. Its flash window is showing an ad for Sansa from Blue Sun Pharmaceuticals.

Ad: Do you suffer from these symptoms? Anxiety? Sleeplessness?
Joshua: Yeah. I'm anxious occasionally. (reads the list) Hypochondria? I occasionally experience hypochondria. (to Clerk) Thank you.
Store Clerk: If you've got your ident card, they'll give you your ration.
Joshua: Oh, excellent. Thank you.

Joshua has the clerk ring up the ship's purchases and arranges for delivery. He takes the smart paper with him and joins Nika and Kiera on the sidewalk where they've been waiting for him. He tells them about what the clerk said about the water and the Sansa. That worries us, because we're taking on water from Persephone as we speak, right along with the fuel. It's a normal part of our docking/purging/refuel process—what if we take on contaminated water?

Somewhat disturbed by the news, especially since it lends credibility to Rina's kneejerk paranoia, they crew turns back for Exeter. Walking back they watch the people on the streets more closely and yeah, that shiny-happy-people effect could very well be drug-induced. When they get back to the ship, they share what they've learned with the rest of the crew. Joshua hands Nika the smart paper.

Joshua: Does any of this apply to you, so to speak?
Nika: (reading it) Dàodǐ shì shénme? What the hell?
Joshua: Looks like the Alliance has gotten what it wanted.
Nika: You are kidding me, right?
Joshua: What? About the symptoms list?
Kiera: I wanna see it. (looks, sees) Oh wow. Happy chewing gum. I love it.
Joshua: Think about it from the Alliance perspective. You say that terrorists have poisoned the water supply and you have the cure. And then everyone comes rushing to buy it wholesale. You don't have to worry about gassing people or anything like that. You just get them to take the happy pill. And they get happy.
Nika: I like my happy pills.
Kiera: I wonder how addictive this happy is?
Joshua: I dunno, but there was at least one guy who was begging quite seriously for his, over his alleged allotted quota.
Kiera: (groks it) Ahhhh …
Arden: I'm sure there's quite a black market for this someplace.
Kiera: I'm sure. That means it's very addictively happy.
Joshua: Black Market and drugs?—(No, really?!)—How can I get in on this angle?
Kiera: I got some contacts.
Nika: (holding up paper) I don't know how to respond to this.
Joshua: There's nothing you can respond with. This is …
Arden: Intel to send back.
Joshua: I was about to say this is to file away for later.
Arden: And I need to do a chemical analysis of our water.
Kiera: I'm sure if there's anything in the water, it'll be inert.
Arden: And the gum. Can I get any of the gum?
Joshua: You can't get any of this without an ident card. You gotta go to a pharmacy or a health clinic.
Arden: How hard is it to forge an ident card?

Getting to a pharmacy or a health clinic is easy. How hard is it to forge an indent card? Hard. Without the latter, the former can't help you. Nika thinks on it and realizes that no one on the crew has an ident card. Not even Kiera.

Joshua: Actually I'm more worried about how all the food is packaged with Alliance Certification. "Sealed for your Protection". And I'm kinda worried that they might have …
Arden: Put additives into the food?
Joshua: Yep.
Arden: Get me some and I'll look at it.
Joshua: It's coming. It's being shipped over.

Arden jumps on the Cortex and pulls up the news archives. Going through the articles, he finds news that there was concern about food coming from the Border and the Rim that was likely poisoned by evil Independent people. All the Alliance Certified food is grown either in the Core or certified safe sites.

Rina: And people are falling for this?
Arden: If you lived all your life with Big Brother telling you what's right and what's wrong …
Joshua: Anyway, so Arden—test the food.
Nika: Yeah. Don’t open anything that's Certified and eat it just yet. (scrubs face) God, you're harshin' my mellow here, guys …
Kiera: We'll get you some gum. You'll have lots of mellow.
Nika: Hey, I've been mellow for a whole month. Leave me alone.
Kiera: Why is that?
Nika: None of your beeswax.

Arden's got her on a course of anti-depressants but she hasn't told the crew yet. Nika drags the crew back to the critical issue at hand: our food supply.

Nika: Don't eat anything that has any stickers, yet.
Joshua: Arden's testing it but the problem is that we really don’t have enough food without using the certified stuff. The Botany Bay will support some portion of it but—
Rina: So excuse me. (off their looks) Resident Twitch, here. So they're dosing the food?
Nika: Your worst nightmare, Resident Twitch. They're dosing the food.
Rina: On top of the atmo?
Joshua: I don't think they're dosing the atmo.
Nika: I think they're dosing the food.
Joshua: We haven't eaten any of it and I'm not letting you have any of that food.
Nika: And just for you, Rina, I'm saying Bozhe moi!
Rina: I need to teach you something harsher.
Nika: Yes. I would like that a lot. Because they are totally harshing my mellow.
Rina: Yebat' menya. The expletive, not the invitation.
Nika: Eh?
Rina: (eyeroll) I'll explain later.

Arden and Kiera run tests on the food Joshua's brought back with him. They find the usual suspects found in processed food. They share their findings with the others, even though there's not a lot of evidence they can share. Certainly it's not clear what's causing the symptoms they've already seen.

Arden: I'm fairly certain it's the gum that's causing this.
Kiera: Or it could be psychosomatic and the gum is doing what the gum does. Cuz you can have psychosomatic hysteria.
Arden: Not across an entire population like this. Psychosomatic reaction is only about a 30% outcome in a population.
Kiera: But if some of them were doing it, the others would start doing it.
Joshua: I'm not worried about hysteria unless you're calling what's happening right now hysteria. That's not hysteria. And I don't think it's anxiety. Given the list of symptoms, anybody could say "I've been anxious sometimes, maybe I need that gum." I don't think we're worrying about any actual poisoning of the water.
Arden: In any case, there's no differences in the food.


Nika: But if they're telling everyone the water is poisoned and giving out the gum …
Joshua: Yeah, I get that. But good enough for me. If we all start being really happy, it'd be a big change around here. So I'm actually good with it.
Arden: (agreeing) Oh, please. Please. Oh, God, please.

Then again, Arden admits he only had limited equipment with which to do the tests. He could not, for instance, screen the food samples for RNA and retroviruses, nasty crap that would permanently affect the victim by rewriting their genetic code. And we all know that the Alliance would never stoop to that, right? Oh, wait. They have. And Arden's already thought of that.

Arden: It didn't test positive for Prion Disease.
Joshua: That's good enough for me. And none of the people are giving off that creepy I've-been-twisted-into-a-genetic-horror. I'm not getting that vibe from them.
Nika: You know, what's really sad is that we've seen enough in the past few years that my reaction to all of this is "Oh, man … Again?"
Joshua: I'm not happy with it. I'm just trying to make sure that if we actually eat the food and there actually is something in it, we're not going to turn into one of those horrible-creepy guys. Like if we're just happy all the time, I could rock with it.
Nika: (long sigh.) … I'm happy.
Joshua: Oh really? Not saying you're not happy. I'm just saying if we're happy all the time as an end result, it's all good.
Arden: (snark) I might not do anything about that.
Kiera: I'm saying we can lightly starve ourselves until we get to another planet and by some other food if we're really terrified of this food.
Rina: Is the water safe to drink?

Arden's test results on the water say yes, it's safe to drink. Joshua announces he'll get us enough food and water for the coming trip. Arden still wants to get a sample of the Sansa gum for testing. Kiera offers to see her black market contacts on the Docks, see if maybe she can score some of the gum from them. Rina goes along with Kiera as back up. She elects to leave behind her usual suspects. Which throws Nika's nose all out of joint.

Nika: (to Joshua) Somethin's wrong with your wife.
Kiera: I've got her by the hand. She's—
Nika: Nope! She's leaving her gear at home. There's something wrong with your wife.
Joshua: She's going without—wow.
Nika: She's leaving her mesh at home.
Rina: (relenting) I'll bring my leatherman. I'll be fine. What? These people are going to happy me to death?
Joshua: (grinning) Man, I can't wait til they happy her to death. (to Nika) It's okay. We're all expanding emotionally. Growing bigger and bigger.

Nika's still perturbed when Kiera and Rina step off the ship, both of them wearing civilian clothes. True to her word, Rina does slip a leatherman in her pocket but it's minimal compared to her usual armaments. Still, she's made her point—with the entire population fairly blissed out, how dangerous could it be?

As they get farther away from the ship and dive into one of Kiera's old haunts, Rina notices a few things that stand out from her own memories of the place. One, the people are happier than she's ever seen them, copacetic and mellow. There isn't a heavy LEO presence. In fact, it's markedly lessened. Had this been the Eavesdown Docks she knew from her days of living here, that would be a recipe for rampant crime. Apparently the Sansa allows the neighborhood to be relatively self-policing. Speaking of the police … A little farther down the block both women see a couple of Marshals vehicles and an ambulance.

Ambulance? Rina and Kiera walk closer to see what's going on. The Marshals have established a perimeter at half a block away. Kiera and Rina respect it and stand to the side, playing looky-lou. The action seems to be at the entrance to a residential club, one of those places that are hotel, club, and restaurant all in one for spacers, geared for shorter-term stays. Someone is being brought down the front steps on a stretcher. The patient is wracked by convulsions and is quickly whisked away by ambulance. The siren wails off into the distance and Kiera asks the Marshals what's happened.

Marshal: Looks like somebody didn't get his Sansa. He was affected by the poison.
Kiera: Oh … so if you don't have that you have convulsions?
Marshal: Well, it depends on how long you're here. You're not from Persephone?
Kiera: No, we're just passing through but now I'm a little scared. Maybe we need to get on our ship and get going.
Marshal: The city has carefully isolated the dock's water systems so you should be safe.

Yeah. That that to the guy in the ambulance.

Marshal: But if you show any symptoms … you should see a doctor immediately.

He hands Kiera a brochure.

Kiera: But I'm not from this planet. What happens if I see a doctor and I have these symptoms?
Marshal: (reassuring) They'll prescribe you the cure.
Kiera: But can I get it if I'm not a citizen?
Marshal: Mm-hm.
Kiera: Really?
Marshal: Sure.
Kiera: Oh my God, cuz we've been here for three or four days and I'm not sleeping good.
Rina: (looking over the brochure) All these symptoms. I'm doomed. I'm already past puberty …
Kiera: Well, no, I'm not sleeping good. See that one? It says insomnia and I've told you I'm feeling funny. God, is there a doctor near here?
Marshal: You'll have to go to one of the hospitals, but yes, they'll make a prescription for you.
Kiera: Yeah, if you could give us directions.
Marshal: Certainly. Just check it on the Cortex.
Kiera: (stepping back) Yeah, thank you. Oh, my God, we gotta find a Cortex … Thank you, thank you …

But the man is already telling other looky-lous to move along, nothing to see here, move along. Kiera and Rina move along. Kiera finds a public terminal and looks up the location of the nearest hospital.

Rina: I thought you were working the black market.
Kiera: (typing) Nah. Why work the black market when it's so easy to get it?

Looking up the information online, she finds out that they just aren't handing it out to all comers. You have to be seen by a doctor first, and they'll run blood tests to make sure you've nothing in your system first and so on and so forth. It might be cheaper than the black market but it's slower. And then there's the matter of the ident cards. Sansa is a controlled substance and you will need one to acquire the drug.

So back to the Black Market Kiera goes.

She and Rina go to the skeezy part of the docks. This is territory Rina knows better from her post-war stint here and changes have been made to it. The street folk that would normally be here—scammers, streetwalkers, and such—are gone. Everything smells cleaner. The odor of urine and garbage doesn't drift out from the alleys when they walk by. Yet, despite the peaceful vibe and the much cleaner environs, there are hints still of something unsavory: the neighborhood has seen battle recently. Burn marks still mar the buildings and the sidewalk. Bullet gouges pock the softer pavement of the street and have chipped harder surfaces like the brick and masonry. Had a riot been put down recently? Rina can't be certain.

Kiera tries but is unable to raise her underworld contacts. No one is answering her pings to their contact points. She finds out that everyone is laying low because law enforcement types have swept a lot of people up doing what she'd just done. Kiera is vetted thoroughly to make sure she's not someone working undercover to snare even more black marketers. No one knows her. She's been off the grid for a while.

She can either go somewhere and wait for someone to show up to meet her or she can leave them information on how to find her. She opts to leave information and drops the name Hannibal Chu. His reputation in the black market circles should give her some credibility and an inside connection for inquiries. She has 40 credits from Nika as compensatory pay and the word comes back that 4 credits is not enough. The minimum black market rate for Sansa is 100 credits. That is well beyond what she's got in her wallet. Having done everything she can for the moment, Kiera turns back for the ship.

Rina continues to take mental notes on the neighborhood and on the trip back, she finds Omar's Garage is still operating but is now under new ownership. She doesn't stop to inquire but keeps on walking. She knows that Omar is no longer in residence, having made it off Persephone for her wedding and thence onward into the Rim.

While Rina and Kiera are walking the docks, Nika and Arden find a club and go dancing. Arden's quite a good dancer and has no lack of partners. Nika's a good looking woman and graceful on her feet and she doesn't lack for partners either. She and Arden dance together and dance with others when asked and it's a rather nice outing for both of them. They've been dancing for a couple of hours when another patron, a woman, starts showing signs of distress. Her chest hurts. She's having trouble breathing. It hits her suddenly and her date sits her down so she can catch her breath. To his horror, she doesn't get better, she gets worse. Arden goes right over to offer his assistance and ascertains that she's got some cardiac distress. Nika goes to the bar and tells the bartender to call an ambulance. And not a moment too soon. The woman goes into cardiac arrest while it's on its way.

Arden does CPR, trying to keep her alive until the ambulance can get there. He's in the middle of doing chest compressions when he feels something odd in the woman's breast tissue. Hard little lumps lie along the underside, along her ribs. Are they some sort of implants? Cancerous growths? Arden can't stop the compressions to examine them further. When the EMTs arrive, he mentions this to them and an EMT whips out a scanner. Arden looks covertly over the man's shoulder to see the readout.

It's a weirdly shaped tumor. Unusual looking. It appears to be growing out of her lungs and at the moment, it's invading the pericardial sac around her heart and is slowly squeezing it to death as it competes for space. It's like nothing Arden's ever seen. Apparently that's not the case with the EMTs. They trade a look between themselves and while one puts the electronic leads on the patient to keep her heart beating, the other one starts walking back to the ambulance.

Arden: What's going on?
EMT#1: We have special equipment to transport her.
Arden: (sputtering) Is the growths or something—? … Share.
EMT#1: Are you related to her?
Arden: I'm on the scene as her doctor. But as a doctor I would like to know various things in case I have to treat other people.
EMT#1: Yeah, I'm not sure if this is allowed. We're going to have to call ACDC on this. There are protocols to follow.

Arden tries to convince the man to tell him more. If there is something infectious going around he wants to know about it. If this is another cover-up, again, he wants to know, so as to spread the information about it around. That has always been one of Arden's top priorities—spreading the wealth of medical information to areas in need of it. The EMT looks around, lowers his voice, and relents on his no-comment stance.

EMT#1: There's … um … in some people there's been signs of fast growing mutations.
Arden: That's not good.
EMT#1: We think that the poison that the terrorists may have had some retrovirus rewriting people's DNA.
Arden: That's something to keep an eye out for. Thank you.
EMT#1: The Sansa's supposed to protect against it but it doesn't always work. Everybody's DNA is different. There might not be anything we can do for her. If you know her husband, perhaps you can talk to him.

For her part, Nika's got the woman's dance partner with her and trying to find out what she can from him. The man is the woman's boyfriend and he's understandably upset. She asks him questions like, is he related to her? Is he her husband? Is there anyone he can call? The boyfriend reaches into his pocket and pulls out some Sansa and chews it to calm down. The gum takes effect almost immediately and the man relaxes with a sigh. Nika watches and when he's not paying attention, she picks his pocket of the Sansa and stashes it on her person.

Arden's got his sample, now. Nika continues to ask the boyfriend if there's a way to contact her parents or her relatives. He mentions a social network and she draws him aside. Let's go do that, okay?

Meanwhile, the EMTs reveal the special equipment they've got for transporting cases like this. It looks just like a body bag. The only difference: there is a clear plastic window where the face would be and there is a respirator hose attached to it. They zip the poor woman up in it and turn it on. Then the EMTs strip off their gloves and shove them into a miniature incinerator unit mounted to the inside of the ambulance door. There's a flash and the gloves are ash. It's all done very matter of factly and apparently without thought as to how it would be perceived by onlookers. Arden's appalled, but offers his help.

Arden: Do you want me to go with her, in case she has more medical needs on the way?
EMT#2: I don't think you want to do that.
Arden: I just asked you if you want me to go with you. Obviously I want to do it.
EMT#2: No. (gently) There's nothing you can do. She's pretty advanced.
Arden: Okay.
EMT#2: Her heart was being strangled by her lungs.
Arden: Ooh. Ow.

Arden steps back. The EMTs climb into the ambulance. The vehicle drives away. Arden goes back inside to fetch Nika. He tells her what he saw and learned outside with the EMTs as they make their way back to Exeter. She shows him the gum once they are in the clear.

Nika: Would you like this? I got you a present, Arden.
Arden: I can analyze this. Thank you. And you say you don't love me.
Nika: I adore you. I'm just not in love with you.

When Nika and Arden get back, Kiera tells them of her failure to acquire the Sansa. Nika tells the crew that she'll send word up the intel chain and leave it at that.

Nika: We're gonna send a message, tell them what's going on. If they don't already have someone on the ground here, I'm sure they'll get somebody on the ground. This is not our run.
Arden: Didn't we say that about the bomb, last mission?
Nika: Shh! No. That was my run.

Arden's not entirely convinced and Joshua's mildly disappointed that we're not going to embark on a crazy scheme to get the Sansa. Like abseiling onto the roof of a clinic or hospital and doing a little B&E to get it. C'mon. We gotta pull off some crazy caper while we're here, right? It's practically our specialty.

Nika repeats: Again—not our run. Even so, Nika fills the others in on what happened while Arden gets to med bay to run tests on the gum. She admits to stealing the gum off the victim's partner, which explains Arden's hustling off to med bay.

Kiera: You got some? You stole it from him? Good job.
Joshua: Wow. (to Kiera) She goes out dancing and she gets what you couldn't.
Nika: I picked his pocket. It's been a loonnnnnng time since I've picked a pocket.
Joshua: Uh-huh.

She goes on to describe the woman's symptoms and what Arden was able to detect when he was rendering first aid—the odd growths in the woman's chest, findings apparently backed up by the scanner and the EMT's examination. Then she tells them about the weird body bag and the incinerated gloves, the official explanation that it's something in the water. It strikes us as hinky. Do all that for the woman and not quarantine the rest of the club if it's contagious enough to warrant that kind of body bag? Is it really something in the water that the gum is supposed to counteract? What if the Alliance poisoned the water to get people to take the gum? Or maybe there's nothing in the water and the Alliance lied to get people to take the gum? Maybe no one in the club needed quarantine because the gum is the culprit, rather than anything communicable, and only a certain percentage of the population is being adversely affected by it.

Kiera: It's just really interesting that she felt well enough to go dancing and then it just struck her down immediately?
Nika: Go talk to Arden about that part. I am not a doctor, woman! I'm a pilot!

Kiera flounces off to med bay and thows herself into a chair next to Arden, who's neck deep in his tests.

Kiera: Talk.
Arden: (not looking up) About?
Kiera: She was dancing, just fine. And it just struck her all of a sudden.
Arden: Heart attacks happened that way.
Kiera: But it wasn't a heart attack from what Nika said. It was growths.

Arden explains the growths were strangling the heart until it couldn't function anymore, inducing a heart attack. Kiera goes on to ask why, if the woman rated a biohazard quarantine bag, no one else at the club was similarly treated? Arden admits he doesn't know but it does seem suspicious.

Kiera: So what have you learned about this magic gum?

He finds a pretty obvious low dose of anti-depressant. Nothing that should be harmful at that dosage. He does find that there are other drugs in there, known to have caused psychotic reactions in some people or to cause anxiety. Nothing in his analysis has been linked to malignant growths. Maybe the flavoring agent is the cause, much like saccharine caused problems in the 20th century.

Kiera: Huh. We need to get lab rats.
Arden: (grinning) That's why we have pursers. And First Officers.

Arden shares his findings with everyone when they come in. Inconclusive as they are as to telling us what's causing the mutations, they at least tell us what isn't. The upshot: Sansa has got drugs to make you calm down and relax and drugs that might cause anxiety, which would lead you to take more of the drugs to calm down and relax. A vicious cycle sort of thing.

He also describes that nifty hand-held medical scanner the EMTs had and we really gotta get us one of those. Kiera prosaically points out that as nifty as it is, how often are we really going to use it? Every time we land on a planet, Arden asserts.

Arden: And get in a fight.
Joshua: Say no more.
Arden: I have 50 now. Let's go buy one.

It would actually take a couple hundred. Arden had better start saving up.

Arden: What can I hock off the ship to get one?
Joshua: Nothing.
Kiera: Your cat. Your med computer.
Arden: I need my med computer.
Rina: Hm. Maybe I could offer my services as—
Nika: (to Joshua) I'll sell out your wife.
Arden: Can I get a couple hundred credits?
Nika: (laughing) I don't know if anybody would pay that much for her.
Kiera: Are you kidding? It would be like the Ransom of Red Chief. They'd actually pay us to take her back.
Nika: Hey, she offered. I'm gonna pimp out your wife. (off Joshua's look) Well, not really.

The teasing dies down and despite Nika's earlier injunction to leave the matter alone, we find ourselves considering how else we could investigate further. Absent having a scanner, what else can we do to find out more about this drug and its effect on people? We haven't found mutagenic properties in the gum but that doesn't mean that mutagenic properties aren't at work. We just got to find the vector. Arden does a discreet search on his med comp for any studies done on the chemicals in question. Nothing comes back that supports our suspicions. Had they, it's not likely they would have been let out on the market. Rina sends out a discreet query to her Ark contacts, asking what the deal is with people dropping in the streets. A lot of the Core-based Ark traffic has diminished drastically in the last few months. Most of those contacts have picked up and left with the opening salvos of the war. A quick scan of the scandal sheets and tabloids yield nothing useful either.

Arden runs more tests. He combines our water with the gum. Nothing points to that combination being the cause of the mutations. He combines our food with the gum. Again, nothing comes up positive. Our food and water appear to be safe. So how do we nail down the cause of the mutations? There has to be a vector. One we're not seeing. Arden hits upon the idea of getting tissue samples. Is there a way to get one off the woman from the club? If we had something like that, there might be a way to back-trace the effect to its source.

Arden makes a call to one of his Persephone contacts, a detective named Terry Gibbs. He explains what he needs and Terry promises to get back with him. Gibbs comes back a few hours later with the following information. The medical examiners that Gibbs knows are telling him of some DOAs being immediately taken off to be incinerated by the ACDC. Gibbs has a nurse friend at St. Jude's. She's been told to scan for unusual cancers and to store the bodies for ACDC to pick up. The bodies are stored outside the hospital building proper in a couple of morgue container units out back. Pick ups are once a week. The next one is schedule for two days hence and the hospital is outside Kore. Arden thanks him for his help and invites him over to Exeter for a drink. Gibbs declines, saying ships make him nervous. Just send him a bottle of booze, he says, and that would put us square. Joshua agrees to take care of the bottle of booze while the rest of us plan how to get to the hospital and get those tissue samples.

Looks like Joshua will get his crazy caper after all.

Part 1, 2, Special Features

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