Episode 123. Reality Bites

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Present: Terri, Maer, Bobby, and Rick
Air date: 26 May 2009

Wednesday , 24 May 2519
Kuiper II Class, Summer's Gift
Whittier, Kalidasa (Xuan Wu) system
11:23 hrs, local time

We leave Sophie for Whittier and thence to Constance to pick up Rick. We send a wave ahead of us to tell him we’re coming. It’s only two days to Whittier but it’s late when we leave Sophie. Soon after we take off, we tip over into the next calendar day.

While on Constance, Rick was asked to look over some new mutated hybrid plants for shipping to the Core. He finds them suitable for the Core environments and arranges to have some of them shipped Coreward. During this, he gets an unexpected call from his agent, Yang Chung.

Yang Chung is excited over a prospect she has for Rick. It seems the man behind the popular (if expensive) Cortex show about Terraformers, Steffan Krüger, has his sights set on another reality show project, this time set upon tramp freighters. The object is to follow the exploits and daily life of freighter crews with embedded cameramen, recording their trials and tribulations, their joys and windfalls as they ply their trade across the Verse, with emphasis to business on the Rim. Would Rick be interested in helping her find some suitable tramp freighters for the show’s pilot episode, and say…isn’t Rick travelling on just such a ship now?

Rick asks Chung how she knew about that and she reveals her source is none other than Karen Sorrell, the fan Rick had met (and bedded) while on Beylix. She’s Kruger’s production assistant and apparently she’d talked up Rick and the Gift as suitable candidates.

Chung goes on to tell Rick that the freighters would be paid as charter hires, and that the camera crews would be paying passengers. The crews will be as unobtrusive as possible and the freighters are free to pursue business as usual hauling cargo and passengers.

Rick tells her that he’ll have to discuss it with his ship mates when they arrive to pick him up. Chung wants to know if it’s all right if she tells Kruger it’s okay to go forward with Rick being aboard the project. Rick gives her the green light for himself, with the caveat the Gift’s crew may or may not go along.

We arrive on Whittier and find a message from Rick waiting for us. He’s lined up two jobs for us.

  1. On Constance: He has 150 tons of the altered plants to ship to Osiris. Because the cargo originates on the Rim, we are required by law to stop at an inspection station in the Halo before going on to Osiris. The payment would be a nice 594 credits and we could refuel at the Halo inspection station.
  2. On Whittier: There is a charity interested in transporting 5 orphaned children to Sihnon, with ages ranging from 4-11 across 3 girls and 2 boys. The charity will pay us 750 to transport the children.

Nika okays both jobs but wants to verify the plants we’d be transporting are LEGAL. Thanks to our close call on Sophie, we’re a bit anxious to avoid any legal entanglements right now. Before we leave Whittier, we buy fresh veggies for the trip out, enough for us and the children we’ll be taking on. It costs us, but the addition is a welcome treat at our table.

We take on the children and install them, 3 and 2, in the two passenger suites just forward of the midships lounge. Arden gives all of them a thorough examination to determine their overall health. He finds them malnourished and have symptoms of vitamin deficiencies. Something about one of the children niggles at Arden. He can’t put his finger on it but something’s not right. Bloodwork comes back with nothing conclusive and Arden lets the child join the others.

A day or so later, Christian develops influenza and the medical mystery is solved. We all get inoculated and Christian gets an extra dose of meds for his full-blown case. And we move on.

The children are excited to be on a ship, being orphans from the Rim, and everything is interesting to them. Knowing we can’t just let them run amok, Nika and Christian wrangle them and keep them occupied and when Christian takes to bed to wait out the flu, Arden takes over. Rina is as polite as possible to the munchkins but generally stays out of their way—her patience for children is thin. After four days dirtside, we burn atmo for Constance, a mere day’s journey away.

Monday, 29 May 2519
Constance, Kalidasa (Xuan Wu) system
09:37 hrs, local time

We arrive on Constance and are reunited with Rick. We tell him he’s now a part of the crew with a 15% share of the profits. He tells us of the Cortex show opportunity. Nika, Christian, and Arden are pretty much okay with the idea, considering it would be money coming in every month for the duration of filming, thanks to the cameraman being a paying customer, and the charter fee would be a nice addition to our coffers, too. Rina’s not too keen on the idea—after evading the Lex Talionis on Beylix, she’s not eager to have her face plastered across the Cortex from one end of the Verse to the other. However, she knows she’s in the minority if it comes to a vote and simply states she’s not thrilled.

Rick arranges for us to meet the creator of the show over dinner at a nice restaurant. Christian elects to stay aboard the ship to watch the kids and Rina stays with him to help, glad to avoid an unwanted fancy dress occasion. Arden, Nika, and Rick arrive at the restaurant and are met by Karen Sorrell and introductions are made as everyone sits down. Though Karen is pleased to see Rick, she keeps her personal feelings for him low key—after all, she’s on the job and actually went out on a limb talking up Rick and the Gift to her boss, Steffan Krüger. He’s there with Yakob Åberg, cameraman and technician and together the three of them are there on behalf of Heng Dian Studios on Albion.

Over dinner we talk and find out more about the project. Kruger, unlike most in the Albion entertainment machine, is more interested in showing reality in all its gritty glory and with this project is hoping to dispel misconceptions of life on the Rim. Not for him idealized or propagandistic depictions, no. And no live streaming of video during filming, either. The ship crews being filmed will have editorial oversight, and tons of footage needs to be shot and edited down in post-production. Ships will just have a cameraman at start for the pilot episode footage, with more crew added to the embedded staff if the pilot gets picked up for a series. Should pick-up happen, the camera crews will be housed in a converted studio and quarters container on the freighters they fly on, further minimizing inconvenience to the ship crews and not so coincidentally leaving as small a footprint on the environment they are filming.

In recompense for having their lives filmed for mass consumption, the ships will be paid at 20% the going charter rate, plus a passenger fee for the film crews. For Summer’s gift, that works out to a sweet 300 credits per month on the charter fee and 50 credits per week for the lone cameraman we’ll take on. That’s totals to 400 credits per month for however long we’re willing to film. Due to post-production and editing, the pilot will not be ready to broadcast for at least a year hence.

As a ship on the show, we will agree to allow reasonable access for shooting those ship areas deemed needful. Also, we will occasionally have to deviate at most a day off course to dock with the film crew’s ship to exchange equipment. Deviations of more than a day will be avoided as best as possible.

Nika tells Krüger that she needs to discuss it with the crew back on the Gift before she can sign on. Kruger tells her by all means. He wants everyone to be happy with the decision. They finish dinner and Rick goes back to the Gift without Karen, alas. She’s still working and cannot spend his downtime on Constance with him. Perhaps next time….

Once we’re all together on the ship and the deal explained, the vote comes in:

  1. Christian is all for this. Having a cameraman aboard filming us is a great way to provide irrefutable record of our doings and whereabouts, to say nothing of providing us an alibi, should we need it.
  2. Nika isn’t too happy with the crimp this will put in her personal activities but she’s willing to go with it. The money will be welcome.
  3. Arden is well aboard with this idea, because it perfectly fits with his wish to get information to and from the Rim and the Core. If more people saw what life was really like out here instead of relying on hearsay and propaganda, things could start getting better for those on the Rim who need it most.
  4. Rick is likewise agreeable, for similar reasons—more information about the natural environments encountered on the Rim could only foster greater understanding between interests on the Rim and in the Core.
  5. Rina’s the only one not looking forward to the project, being too Twitchy to countenance the loss of her anonymity. All she can see is her face plastered from Rim to the Core and is eager to avoid it. Still, she’s outvoted 4 to 1 and decides to avoid lingering in the camera’s eye as much as possible. She abstains from voting, knowing there’s no point in it.

We call Krüger and tell him it’s a go. Excellent! We pick up Yakob Åberg and help him stow his camera gear and personal effects in Mike’s old crew quarters amidships. Krüger comes aboard to help install his cameraman and is just in raptures over the children when he sees them. Good googley—here’s a ready-made human interest piece all wrapped up for shooting. Orphans from the Rim going to a shiny new life Core-ward. Can it get any better than this?

Krüger has also brought over our contracts to look over and sign and we take our time reading through the paperwork. Among the details we find:

  1. Krüger has some robo-cameras for us, the better to shoot film as invisibly as possible: it’s better to forget the presence of the camera if the cameraman isn’t visibly shooting. The floating cameras will be set loose in the more public areas of the ship—the lounges, the corridors, cargo containers and the like. More private or personal areas of the ship like bathrooms, staterooms, and crew quarters will be filmed only on express invitation. Sensitive areas of the ship like bridge and engineering will be under crew permission and escort. The med bay is a combination of both private and public—public when no one is being treated inside, and private if occupied by a patient, and filmed only upon patient permission via written release for broadcast.
  2. Heng Dian Studios and Krüger will own all images filmed with the understanding that stock footage thus resulting will be used at their discretion. Reasonable care will be taken, however, to maintain the ship/crew’s anonymity and any stock footage that doesn’t violate our anonymity will be used at the sole discretion of the studio to promote the show. Names will be changed to protect the innocent.
  3. The studio can require digressions off course for legitimate reasons, such as exchanging crews and equipment, but cannot order digressions more than a day’s journey off course.
  4. Cameramen and other film crew can lay no claim on any part of the ship other than the designated studio container and paid-for quarters.
  5. The pilot contract has no provisions for residuals. However, residuals may be negotiated if the pilot gets picked dup for a series, with the residuals going to those ships and crew that sign on for the series.

Our Liability Waiver states:

  1. Heng Dian Studios and Steffan Krüger, while chartering our vessel, are not liable for any damage during shooting that may be incurred to our vessel in pursuit of shooting.
  2. We are responsible to help the cameraman as needed and while the Studio and Kruger do not hold us liable for injuries incurred on the shoot, all rights and liabilities for 2nd class paying passengers still apply.
  3. The studio reserves the right to have us take on extra film crew and equipment as required for the shooting, but we can charge the studio for the extra film crew.
  4. If we deviate off the normal trade routes while dropping off the camera/film crew when we opt-out of our contract, the studio will deduct any fees required for their retrieval from our cash-out payment awarded at opt-out.

We’re all reasonably sure it’s a good contract, straightforward and fair dealing. We sign our copies. Even Rina signs hers. She figures she’s got a year to figure out how to preserve what’s left of her anonymity. After all, if your building’s on fire and you have to jump off the roof, at least you’ve gained extra time while falling to find a way to save yourself. So she signs, and commits herself to the fall.

Krüger uses this time to walk through our ship, mentally figuring the camera opportunities and he likes what he sees. We’re not a shiny Core-tech ship, all gleaming and new, no. We’ve got some rough edges, some miles on our odometer and our crew is a mixed bag of talents. Perfect.

We give him our contracts, saying that we will not grant camera access to the Airlock, the engine room, the bridge or the escape pods and bays without staff escort, as stipulated in our contract. Krüger agrees.

We question Yakob Åberg next. He urges us to call him Jake and he offers up the fact that while he has no medical skills, he can pilot well enough to fly our shuttle and that he was once an engineer. We set Rina to grill him on his engineering knowledge and he comes through the test with her grudging assessment that he can be trusted not to accidentally blow up our ship. Jake also shows us the camera he will use for the duration of shooting and it’s a sweet little 3D framing number. It can map the entire ship in 3D, allowing further simulations and shooting angle tweaks in post-production.

Jake also runs a series of electromagnetic tests, looking for any interference zones from our ship’s systems versus the wireless signals his camera equipment uses, and while the Gift presents some minor problems, Jake asserts the resulting graininess will only enhance the ‘you are there’ documentary quality of the show. Satisfied with his working environment, he settles himself and his equipment in the quarters we assign him and with no further business to keep us on Constance, we lift off for the return trip to the Core.

It’s Thursday, the 1st of June when we take off. Our trip to the Halo will take 14 days, with another 5 days beyond that to reach Sihnon. After Sihnon, it will take us 4 days to reach Osiris. Aside from any layover time at the Halo itself, our travel time will total 23 days before we make landfall on Osiris. Our ETA on Osiris, barring accident or other delays: 24 June 2519

Saturday, 03 Jun 2519
Kuipoer II Class, Summer's Gift
En Route to the Halo
13:45 hrs, ships time

It isn’t long before we become accustomed to the floater cameras in the lounge and the corridors and Jake is pleased enough with the camera feeds that he approaches us with an offer that should we allow some candid coming-out-of-the-shower shots (or more, in our quarters), they will be respectfully and tastefully done. Rina immediately refuses, stating there isn’t enough money in the entire damn Verse to make her agree to it. Perhaps realizing he’s misstepped badly, Jake makes an effort to be helpful in the engine room when he can and to his credit, he proves himself handy. And so, two days into our journey to the Halo, when he comes to Rina with a technical problem involving his equipment, she doesn’t immediately toss him out on his ear.

It seems there’s something interfering with the wi-fi broadcasting signal for the camera equipment. He asks if we’ve got any heavy shielding on our ship. He shows her what he’s been able to pick up on his small oscilloscope-like scanner. Rina looks at the signal wave flickering on the screen and detects an underwave coming from our comms array topside. She double checks our Cortex and navigational systems and verifies that it’s not originating from those systems. The underwave transmitter is hacked physically somewhere between the comm array controls on the bridge and the array itself topside.

There’s no way she can don an EVA suit and hunt it down—we’re flying under pulse. Rina will have to wait til we dock at the station at the Halo and fix it there.

The news of the underwave hack sets off speculations from the rest of the crew: who do we know wants to do us harm? Jilted lovers from our past? Shadowy watchers trailing our every move? Some elaborate trick by a practical joker? Jake runs for his camera to capture our speculations—he’s interested in making us as sympathetic as possible to the viewers back home and this development over possible sabotage is pure gold. To facilitate this, Arden takes Jake aside and tells him all about Potemkin, thinking the bad press useful against Potemkin’s case back home.

Jake continues his efforts with Rina in the engine room, slowly earning her trust and respect. He cheerfully gets his hands dirty doing what she orders him to do, no matter how offputting the task. Off duty, he gripes about past rotten bosses, disastrous jobs, the public’s general ignorance of things technical, and brings her broken equipment to fix. Tinkering with the repairs, she’s not entirely sure if the man is courting her or just being friendly. She plays it cool and cautious, and though she cannot quite consider him a friend, she becomes accustomed Jake’s presence aboard the ship during the trip to the Halo.

Thursday, 15 Jun 2519
Inspection Station K7,
The Halo
07:30 hrs, local time

We dock at Halo Inspection Station K7. It’s built on a potato-shaped asteroid and we see there are half a dozen ships docked there alongside us. They’re mid-bulk carriers, the same as we, and as is her habit, Rina looks them over from the bridge windows. Christian’s pretty much over the flu by now and he gets on the horn to do his usual mojo, dealing with the port authorities, smoothing the way for business. K7 informs us we’ll have the standard wait of seven days before we can clear inspection, and we resign ourselves to the wait.

Nika and Rick arrange a trip into the station for our child passengers. K7 is set up like a truck stop and it doesn’t take long before they find the station’s one video arcade and fast food establishments. It’s rather like Perdido Station and it’s got wonderful stuff for Jake to film, so he follows the children and crew along. Rick uses this opportunity to find a concealable knife to purchase and though it takes some doing, he finds someone willing to sell him what he wants. When he rejoins Nika, it doesn’t take more than another half hour for the children to see all the station has to offer and it’s not long before the crew return with our minor charges.

While Christian arranges for port fees and refueling and the what-not, Rina gets that EVA suit on and goes topside to find that damned hack. Rick goes along with her to offer her his help and also to get a little more experience in a suit. Mindful of his safety, Rina rigs a tether for him, clipping him to the ship’s hull against accidental tumbles into space.

Rina’s got a fair idea where to start looking and she finds the squealer, right there topside on the hull between the array and the bridge. Looking carefully for signs of carbon scoring sustained on our trip down to Perdido, she can be reasonably sure that whoever installed this hack, it was done after we’d rescued the terraformers. This could mean someone on Moskalenko’s station did the deed. It could have been plugged in by any of the repairmen we’d hired while on Boros. For all we know, it might have been put there by Swordsman himself. Rina doesn’t waste too much time on speculation but goes about detaching the damned thing from our ship. She does it with Rick’s help but as she pulls it carefully free, something hinks her about the entire business: it doesn’t feel right. She checks it again and realizes the thing is set to blow upon removal—the gorram thing’s a bomb!

She stands. She turns. She throws. The bomb bounces off one of the ventral deflector fins. Rick braces himself and the bomb blows, eerily silent in the vacuum of space. The shock wave buffets them both and while Rick is tethered to the ship, Rina has no such protection. The blast sends her tumbling off the hull for deep space.

Rick lunges the full length of his tether and miraculously grabs Rina’s ankle as she flies past him. There’s a second’s fright that the tether will snap under the force of her velocity…but it holds fast, and Rick carefully reels them in, one handspan at a time.

They make it aboard the Gift and find their suits too damaged for anything but use as scrap for repairs. The suits were self-sealing and if it weren’t for that feature, both of them would have died from decompression as the suits were holed by the bomb’s debris. The only other casualty is Rina’s shiny new tool kit, a gift from Arden. Rina grouses internally it only goes to show: it’s the new stuff, what doesn’t even have the shiny rubbed of it yet, that the Universe swallows up at first chance. Her tool kit is now tumbling on the trajectory she would have been, had it not been for Rick.

Losing the tool kit is a price Rina is more than willing to pay—it beats the alternative by a mile.

Jake is just eating all this action up with a spoon, filming everything he can as Rick and Rina get themselves settled and cleaned up after their unexpected adventure. Jake also ends up telling us a little more about the bomb, saying he’d learned about these ‘screaming mouse-trap’ bombs by installing them on Alliance ships during the war. They used to be rigged so that one trap would blow, while another, sneakier trap would lie undetected. If installed true to pattern, we could expect to find the second trap installed somewhere in our Cortex equipment.

We split up to search our various Cortex boxes and it’s Arden who finds it. He notices a duplicated script long on the med lab’s ’box and looking into it, he finds it’s tasked to transmit our movements to an anonymous box online. The first entry on the script’s log is Boros, when Christian jumped online to look for cargo. Arden briefly considers hacking into the script’s code to make it send scrambled information, but realizing it would take days and too much code, he just yanks the script’s code out of his ’box.


And that’s our first day on Halo Station K7.

Over the next six days during our layover, Rina repairs the damage done to our ship. She EVAs in a different suit and gets to work. She patches up everything reasonably well, though there is some damage that will have to wait til she’s dirtside. Jake follows her outside in a suit, and films her going about her job, lending a hand when possible. All we have to do is wait for customs to clear us for take-off. On the seventh day, we’re cleared by customs and we’re free to leave.

Monday, 26 Jun 2519
Sihnon, White Sun (Bai Hu) system
12:19 hrs, local time

Our 5 day journey to Sihnon to drop off the children is blessedly uneventful. We transfer the children to the proper parties and buy two new vac suits to replace the ones damaged by the bomb. We don’t linger, but haul anchor as soon as we can and head off for Osiris, 4 days flight away.

Tuesday, 27 Jun 2519
Kuiper II Class, Summer's Gift
En Route to Osiris
06:30 hrs, ship’s time

En route to Osiris, Nika gets a reply to a message she’d sent out to Brian Connelly of Harbinger four months ago. It reads:

“Got your message. Long story.”

And nothing more.

The date stamp is old, a week old. It took 5 days at light speed to reach the nearest Cortex repeater from the Harbinger, and then only 2 more days via the Cortex feeds to get to us. The location of the Cortex repeater is off one of the moons of Fury, in the Blue Sun system. And as luck would have it, we've seen the name Fury before--it's the planet the moon Coldstone orbits. And Coldstone was the intended destination of the ship Zarathustra.

Coincidence? Not bloody likely.

It’s been seven months since Nika’s seen her old crew, back when we’d briefly rendezvoused on Deadwood, and after months of radio silence, this terse message isn’t enough to tell us what we need to know. We are still committed to delivering our cargo on Osiris. That is an appointment we must keep. Once that’s done, however, we’ll be free to follow up on the message. It’s more than past time we find out what’s happened to Harbinger and the minute we’re free of our cargo obligations, we will chart a course for Blue Sun.

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