Episode 201: Crossroads, Part 2

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We’re led to a common area and a youngish bald Chinese man, a civilian who is nevertheless at ease on a military ship, arrives. Christian isn’t sure, but he thinks he’s seen this man before in the Companion Registry. With the Chinese man is the Commander of the ship, to judge by his uniform. Shyla and the Commander look at each other and Shyla smiles an enigmatic little smile.

Leaving us to wonder: What’s going on?

Commander: You’ll be pleased to hear this. The doctors tell us there is no sign of the Prion disease or ISE in any of you. It’s a pretty serious contagion and we’re trying to track where it’s coming from so we’re inspecting all the ships.

He sighs and continues.

Commander: You may have noticed that while we maintain discipline and order on this vessel we are not with the Alliance Navy.
Rina: (pissed off from her treatment) Yeah. What the heck does ‘PDF’ mean?
Commander: We’re calling ourselves the Planetary Defense Fleet. The Alliance has…I take it from our interviews that you have been out of touch on Miranda for how long?
Christian: We were there for four months.
Commander: Four months without contacting you. Well, you may have noticed that things have changed a bit since you’ve been gone.
Rina: (ya think?!) Apparently.
Commander: This disease began to spread and it’s a form of encephalitis which can cause people to go sort of crazy and sometimes be homicidal. That’s where it got the name Reavers Disease.
Christian: But does actually it come from them?
Commander: We don’t think so.

Okay. So….?

Commander: We don’t have a whole lot of Reaver samples although we have been trying to get them. It’s been a bit of a challenge.
Rina: Where have the outbreaks been?
Christian: Let him tell us what’s happened to the Verse first.
Commander: The outbreaks have been primarily limited to the Blue Sun system. After that was determined and the exact location of the source of the problem was unknown, the Alliance Navy was pulled back to checkpoints between Blue Sun and the rest of the system. They are Quarantining the entire system.
Christian: And letting the people fend for themselves.
Commander: Basically. Now, to be fair they have sent in some medical assistance, but they basically have cordoned off the system and Quarantined it until they can figure out how this happened.
Nika: So, no one in or out.
Commander: Not easily. It’s space, so it’s hard to wall it off entirely.
Rina: So, you’re not Alliance, hence the PDF instead of the IAV.
Commander: Right.
Rina: Who’s funding you?

The Chinese gentleman steps forward and clears his throat.

You: My name is Ge You. I’m helping fund this operation.

At which point Christian remembers the man. He’s the President of the You-Go Gas and Service, a very lucrative chain business of space-based service stations providing hydrogen fuel and repairs, and is one of the top five franchises in the industry. No one knows where You’s Corporate Headquarters is actually based, but he is somewhat notorious for owning an entire moon in the Blue Sun system. No one knows which moon or where in the system it is…suffice it to say, the man has money.

Christian: Forgive me, Mr. You, but you have more than enough power, money and influence I’m guessing that you can leave at any time you want to.
You: True.
Christian: It’s very noble of you to stay and help.
Arden: I guess what he’s asking is ‘why?’
Christian: No, not really. I’m willing to guess there’s fairly altruistic motives there.
You: Some of them are altruistic. I am sympathetic to the plight of the Blue Sunners, obviously. And I have some means, some of which are not entirely…how shall I say, kosher? ...from an Alliance law perspective. This vessel was acquired—
Arden: The Decatur?
You: Yes. It was a bit of a… an insurance fraud. We called it a complete—
Nika: And you’re admitting this to us, why?
You: Well, because of your special passenger.

And he looks at Shyla.

You: Captain Kramer is well known to us. And so I assume if you are in her confidence, then you can be in mine as well.

And thus one of the puzzle pieces clicks into place: Do we want to know about Harbinger? Do we really want to know?

You: Well, we can catch you up on what you’ve missed.
Christian: That would be nice.
You: We would like to know what you have found on Miranda.
Arden: A bunch’o’nothing.
Christian: There is nothing there. I mean, there’s what you saw on the Wave—I’m assuming you saw the Wave—but beyond that there really is nothing.

Let’s not mention a tropical island getaway with a Category 6 hurricane hovering over it. Nope.

Christian: Just cities… and dead people.
Jake: And pictures.
Nika: (backing Jake up) We have video.
Arden: And I have compiled a medical journal on us while we were there.

Fine.

Commander: We’ll let you go shortly. We were able to identify the men from the Pandora as ours, so we’d like to keep them and care for them.
Rina: The men on the Pandora are yours.
Commander: Yes.
Rina: So the Pandora was yours. So what were they doing fighting the Feds?
Christian: (heading her off at the pass) No, no, no—!
Nika: Oh, that would explain much.
Commander: I wouldn’t call them mine, exactly.
Arden: ‘Patriots of the Blue Sun system’ might be the correct phraseology.
Rina: (undeterred) So, is Blue Sun breaking away from the Alliance?
Commander: The Alliance has broken away from Blue Sun. We are filling a vacuum.
Rina: Obviously.
Commander: As you can see we are more than capable of doing so. We have actually gone to the Pandora and we were able to destroy several Reaver vessels. I don’t think we’ll be trying to capture any more.
Christian: I can imagine that’s not particularly useful.
Commander: We have to marshal what resources we have and we can’t waste them on science at this stage.

The Commander had mentioned they were collecting Reaver samples for their tests. Is this where they got some of them? Was this the ‘bit of a challenge’ he’d meant?

Rina: What are you going to do when you run out of supplies? And the supply lines back to the Core are cut?
Arden: It’s a complete solar system. I don’t think the supply lines are that—
Rina: (God, Arden!) It’s all on the Rim.
Christian: There are no heavy agriculture planets in Blue Sun.
Rina: Or heavy industrial planets, either.
Nika: They’ll do what everyone did—they’ll run the blockade.

The Commander gestures for silence before the argument gets going. He gets it.

Commander: We need to find out where the disease is coming from. This isn’t exactly the best….somehow becoming the Captain of the Titanic has its advantages and disadvantages.
Rina: (sarcastically) Do we have enough deck chairs?
Commander: However, we are looking for ships interested in running the blockade. And pilots capable of doing so.
Rina: (to Nika) I don’t think we can do it on this one.

Meaning Summer’s Gift.

Arden: But we’re going to have to do it to get Brian to the Core, anyway.
Rina: Yeah…

Shyla finally speaks up.

Shyla: The medical facilities on this ship are actually pretty good.
Nika: (quietly) You would trust leaving him here?
Shyla: No. But we might be able to find out where else to take him.
Rina: These guys got better than what we’ve got.

True.

Christian: It’s awkward that the disease broke out in the home sector of the Reavers. Commander: That’s why it got the name, Reavers disease.
Christian: It’s an interesting coincidence that it did. But on the other hand, we just spent four months on the surface of Miranda.
Nika: With no sign of the disease, so obviously it didn’t come from Miranda.
Christian: Or it didn’t come from the surface, or that it came from them personally.
Rick: Maybe Blue Sun made it and brought it here so that—
Rina: Oh, that makes perfect sense to me.
Commander: Well…I don’t know.
Nika: Now that’s a chilling thought.
Rick: They made the Pax.
Rina: Yeah.
Commander: Every tragedy is an opportunity.
Rina: It makes perfect sense to me.
Arden: I just had an ugly, ugly thought.
Nika: What?
Arden: Who supplies most of the food out here?
Christian: Blue Sun.
Commander: Many of the planets are self-sufficient in that regard, but—
Christian: And I’m sure that samples of all the food have been tested.
Arden: But the things they tested for are usually spread or caught by eating brains.
Commander: Which is why some people thought that it was spread by Reavers. But part of the problem is the Alliance’s solution to all of this is to exterminate all the livestock in Blue Sun, which would render us entirely dependent on the Core.
Christian: Which is another ugly thought.
Commander: And one the people here aren’t willing to do. And you say that we’ve tested this? We haven’t been able to, because people have held us off. We’re not going to tell farmers just to test their cow. They’re afraid that what we’ll do is we’ll just wipe out their whole herd.
Nika: You’re talking about small farmers, like Nala. Wiping out the herd is just about the worst thing you can do.
Commander: They are not a trusting people. Understandably.
Rina: Who has come down with this disease and where? Dirtside? Spaceside? Spacer? Groundhugger? What?
Commader: It seems to come down across the board. The Alliance did not officially pull out (and here he smiles at Shyla) until the Intrepid had a massive breakout.
Arden: A massive breakout?
Christian: Was it one of the city ships?
Nika: The one we passed on the way in?
Rina: No, no, no. This is the Intrepid.
Commander: This is the Intrepid. Or was the Intrepid. Christian: I was thinking that for them to have done this, this must be a plague, not just a disease. That indicates a sizable portion of the population has been infected.
Commander: So much of the food that people eat is processed. If bits of one cow can be in tens of thousands of cans of food, if it gets into soy protein it could be in anything.
Rina: I told you tofu was evil.
Christian: Then being on Miranda may have kept us from getting the disease.
Commander: Quite possibly. If you weren’t in the food supply. The problem is it may have started on Persephone, it may have started on Beaumonde, it may have started on Osiris but it seems to have hit here.

Con-agra Terrorism, perhaps? Or is that just too insane?

Christian: If it was in one ship that came here…?
Commander: And it was one ship that obviously supplied Intrepid. And then we took it over.
Nika: But you can’t backtrack it?
Christian: And you know the Alliance would have records somewhere.
Commander: We’re trying.
Rina: I have another question, then. Has this disease jumped the blockade and made its way to the Core?
Commander: Undoubtedly.
Rina: What are they saying about it?
Nika: We don’t have any Cortex contact?
Commander: We have Cortex contact. There have been sporadic cases and there’s billions of people so it’s hard to know who has what. I think that it’s relatively isolated at this stage. It’s not like many people have this, just enough.
Nika: Is it treatable?
Commander: Not easily.
Christian: It’s not treatable for the base disease?
Rina: Dollars to donuts, bucks to bao, Blue Sun has the cure.
Commander: It’s hard to tell. Because of this disease’s association to the Reavers, there’s been this fear of putting people in the hospital, where they might freak out and attack people. Which has happened. But the fear that they’ll become Reavers is enough to cause a lot of people to not try to heal people. (quietly) They’re just being killed.

Killed? Outright? Dear God.

Commander: So we are doing our best to quarantine and do what we can, while also keeping the system safe from pirates and others trying to take advantage of the Quarantine to prey on people. Because of the food shortages, there have been blockade runners who are less than caring where their food is coming from, and for all we know they’re reinfecting the population.
Christian: So you can test the individual, but you can’t test the food?
Arden: They haven’t figured the vector yet.
Rina: Haven’t you heard, Christian? The funding to the FDA has been cut. Yet again.
Commander: We can test the food, if we can find it. We have to stop ships and check the food, but it’s not like it’s all in one spot.
Christian And one cane is from one factory, but another can is from another factory and you can’t test every piece of food. Or there’s no food to be had.

What they are doing is testing the food in batches and destroying the shipments where the batches are infected.

Christian: Have you been in contact with your MP? At all?
Commander: (breathes a laugh) The Alliance is aware of our self-policing and do not officially condone it, but they haven’t tried to stop it, either.
Nika: They don’t want to have to do it.
Rina: (undertone) Those sonsabitchin’ bastards.

Right enough.

Commander: Anyway. We can offer you some fuel and what we believe is safe food and you’re free to go where you wish. If you wish to talk to our people from Pandora, you’re welcome to make sure we’re not kidnapping them.
Christian: No, I don’t think you are. There’d be no reason for you to.
Arden: I’d like to talk to your medical staff.
Commander: Captain, I’d like to talk to you in private if I may? Captain Kramer. Shyla. (to the rest of us) Any of you have any more questions?
Arden: Can I assist your medical staff in any way in this investigation? Would any of my notes that I’ve taken or any of my other observations help?
Commander: We’ll take a look at it.
Arden: Maybe I can cross-reference with your medical personnel.
Commander: Okay.
Rina: I’d love to take a look at the case files of all the outbreaks and cases you’ve had so far.
Commander: Are you medical epidemiologist?
Rina: (calmly) No, but I am an engineer. Arden: She’s just a paranoid.
Rina: I might see something you missed.
Commander: It’s possible.
Rina: I’m not going to make the automatic assumption that because the first cases cropped up in Blue Sun, the source of the contamination is in Blue Sun. Maybe the source is from somewhere else and simply made to look like it came from here.

Conspiracy theories, anyone?

Rick echoes in that it doesn’t have to come from here at all. But the very scale of the food production and distribution would make finding the source a near-impossible task. Just how does one track down a single can of Spam from the untold millions made every day across dozens of worlds and shipped by the ton everywhere across the Verse? And then there’s the common cause of spongiform encephalitis: brain. Given that prions of infected brain matter can number in the billions, how much or how little needs to be present at the Spam factory to infect the entire day’s production, turning it into a disease carrier?

And if the introduction of the prions into the food supply is a deliberate act…

Christian: But currently it’s spread by eating brain matter.
Rick: Currently it is, but if you can convert people into Reavers from a gas, then maybe you can change the structure of proteins in some of the food. And prions exist as their own class.

Great.

Christian: Can we tell if it was genetically engineered?
Arden: The prion’s too simple. It’s basically a strand of RNA that has a way to infect another cell.

It’s not entirely understood how it works, but basically the prions interfere with the structure of the proteins surrounding it, until the proteins over time are unable to mesh chemically as they are supposed to. Furthermore, though the prions affect the brain via the proteins in it, it cannot affect pure protein-only environments. There’s something missing that the prions need that pure proteins do not have. If the prions are given whole brain tissue to work on, however, the prions get to work and the brain is affected.

It’s a mystery. And there’s no telling where it is. Lurking. Dormant. Just waiting to encounter brain matter.

Commander: It could be in immunization packs. Sewage treatment packs.
Christian: Oh we know someone who infected a ship’s sewage system that way.
Rina: Someone with money to spend to custom-make it.
Christian: So we know that there’s someone out there making diseases.
Rick: Like Blue Sun.
Commander: It wouldn’t surprise us if this is what is. Your medical expertise is appreciated but in many respects the biggest medical emergency are things like hunger and isolation-based issues where people are afraid to go to cities, so they are not seeking out medical attention for things that are treatable. It’s the hysteria of Reavers disease and not the prion itself being the danger.
Arden: I can’t speak for my companions but I would have no problem running the blockades.
Commander: Bringing in medical supplies and safe food?
Christian: I think we should talk about that first.
Arden: That’s why I said ‘speaking for myself’.
Commander: If you’re looking to help, a ship willing to do that is certainly something we can use. There’s a lot to be done in this system.
Christian: Our priority above anything else right now is our friend.
Commander: We can do our best for Mister Connelly here and we have the equivalent of a top notch hospital on this ship.
Christian: Good. Why don’t we go back to our ship and discuss things?

The Commander reiterates his offer to refuel and stock up on safe food supplies…and notes that we seem to have a lot of cargo on our manifest.

Nika: We gotta make a buck somewhere.
Christian: I can’t say that we were entirely …. angelic…stranded on Miranda.
Commander: That’s one of our fears that it will become a looter’s paradise and suffer much more damage than from Reavers as people congregate there to loot it.
Christian: And there is a lot to loot. With people willing to bring in construction equipment to topple buildings? The copper wiring alone would be worth it.
Rick: And there will be a lot more Reavers showing up once that happens.
Commander: So we’re a little bit nervous about that getting out, yes.
Christian: We will make sure that no one knows they’re from there.

Meaning our cargo of cars and mules. In fact, would the Commander be interested in buying them off us, making sure that no one finds out they came from Miranda? The Commander demurs, saying perhaps that would be a conversation for another time. And on that note, the briefing session breaks up and we part company—the crew for the Gift and Shyla going off with the Commander.

Harry: I’ll stay here until Shyla’s back.
Christian: Just in case she has to kill the entire ship and crew to get you back.
Arden: That would be fun to watch.
Rina: Yes, it would.
Nika: Because she’s that good.

Not that we believe it would happen, but it makes for a good parting joke. Nika chuckles all the way back to the Gift. We gain our ship and once safe aboard, we release a collective breath.

Whew!


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