Episode 602: Quarry, Part Three
Our ship is agile but the ASREV is just a touch more agile. The ASREV has weapons. So do we but they’re not as powerful. The ASREV is a military vehicle with a military pilot. We’re a civilian ship with the best damned pilot in the Verse.
Joshua: We gonna lose them?
Nika: Yeah. I don’t have a choice.
Joshua: Well, you could turn yourself in and get arrested.
The ASREV hails us.
Joshua: Don’t ask me to answer that, cuz I’ll tell’em to stuff it.
We jam its hail. Undeterred, the ASREV follows us. Time to shake them.
Joshua: (over the PA) Dear Crew: We are about to take evasive maneuvers. You may fall into walls, out of chairs, and otherwise hurt yourselves unless you are strapped down completely. Also, please put my knives away. I left them hanging around in the galley.
Kiera stows the knives and a little off color banter ensues over the comms. When she’s done with the knives, Kiera straps down in the galley jumpseat. Rina and Beglan are in engineering, monitoring everything. They are not strapped down—they have to be free to move in order to make the engines do whatever Nika needs them to do. The crew cannot spare the time to track down Bradley Sims to secure him—he’s on his own.
The ASREV comes into close range and fires a few rounds across our bow with its auto-cannon. A round or two hits us but thanks to our armored plating, our systems bear up and continue unstrained. Even so, we have the Feds on our tail and we need to evade or ram them. Or we could play chicken.
Joshua: Here’s the thing I wanna say, real quick. If he misses—
Nika: And we scrape along his hull.
Joshua: No I was thinking something more painful. Like total destruction.
Nika: That’s only gonna happen if he botches though.
Joshua: Okay, have we not learned the lesson of Arden here? My point is, besides the loss of life involved, if these guys are the Feds and we destroy the ship, it’s going to be much harder—much harder—to keep them from following us around.
Nika: That’s why we don’t have a pinger.
Joshua: I don’t care about the Alliance flag. All I care about is the Alliance collapsing in on us right now because we killed a cop.
Nika: Do you honestly think that ASREV is going to sit there and let us come at it without dodging?
After all, the trick to playing chicken is knowing when to flinch.
Nika executes a daring maneuver and evades the ASREV, then aims straight for him in a head-on collision course. Faster, faster, closer and closer—it’s a screaming suicide dive to destruction. For several nail-biting seconds the two ships zoom straight toward each other and we—the ASREV dodges. Nika rolls us right past the Feds into Paquin’s amto.
Nika: (over the PA) WOOO!
Kiera claws her way to the bridge.
Kiera: What did I miss? What did I miss? WhaddidImiss?!
Nika: (smugly) Chicken. With an ASREV.
Joshua: I heard a brawwwwwk-bawk-bawk-bawk-bawk when we passed by.
Kiera: Holy Crap, woman!
In the engine room, Rina looks over at Beglan.
Rina: She did not do what I think she just did.
Beglan: I’m kind of glad we don’t have a window in this engine room.
Nika flies us to the gravel pit and lands us like a downy feather. It’s dark when we land and the hour is late.
Kiera: Well, that was anti-climatic: Here we are.
Nika: Was not.
Kiera: (was too!) The landing is.
At which point Nika makes a rather off-color mark about the state of her jeans.
Joshua: What, on the landing?
Nika: (chuckling) No.
Kiera: TMI, dear.
Joshua: I have to agree with the steward there. I rolled with it cuz that’s the first option, but I have to agree.
Nika starts throwing off the straps and her feet hit the deck. She looks at Kiera and nods aft.
Joshua: (thrown) You want us to—?
Nika: Not assault rifles.
Joshua: No, I didn’t say assault rifles.
Nika: Just two people with the rifles. We’ll meet them at the door.
Joshua: Not like this. (mimes taking aim)
Nika: Not like that. Just put’em on your shoulder.
Joshua: No reason not to be prepared. Cuz I’m pretty sure they’re gonna be, too.
Kiera: Rifles. I like them.
Kiera accompanies Nika with a rifle. Nika just carries her pistol. Rina’s standing watch in Engineering and Arden is standing on the bridge. Nika has Joshua stand next to the hatch. Just in case. Nika lowers the cargo ramp and waits.
Saturday, 17 Oct 2522
0200hrs, local time
Sure enough, at the appointed time, Mary Hogan and her men show up in big trucks and rumble to a stop near our ship. Two figures hop out of the truck that backs up to the ramp. One of them is a big-looking tough guy. The other is an older looking woman in her apparent 60s. It’s Mary Hogan. She looks up at Nika.
Hogan: Well. Let’s be quick.
They have lifters with them. We start unloading. Everyone’s enlisted to the task and that 200 tons gets moved, two container’s worth per truck. Hogan has a long line of them and by 0400 hrs, nearly all of it is off-loaded and carted away.
By this time, Joshua is standing watch on the bridge and he spots movement at the top of the pit, there by the edge. It’s darker shadows moving against the dark night sky, hard to make out … but it’s definitely movement. A car maybe? Was it one of the trucks leaving? Whatever it was something is up there and it looks weird. He comms Nika about it. She’s sweating with the others shifting cargo.
Nika: (via comm) Yeah.
Joshua: I can’t be sure what it was but thought you might want to know that I did see movement on the edge of the gravel pit. It could have been one of their trucks, so don’t freak. But be alert.
Nika steps away and takes Hogan aside.
Nika: Ms. Hogan.
Hogan: What’s up?
Nika: You expecting anything on the ridge?
Hogan: We got a couple of guys on the crane over there.
She points to the giant crane angled out over the edge of the pit, about 11 o-clock of our position.
Nika: I’d have them check the west ridge. One of my crew said he thought he saw movement up there.
Hogan: (over her comms) Lo Pan, do you see movement over on the west ridge?
Lo Pan: (over comm) Dunno. Hard t’tell. Might wanna send someone up to take a look at it.
Nika: (over comm) Kiera. Take Joshua. Take a rifle.
Kiera and Joshua leave on foot. Examining the slope to port of our ship, Kiera and Joshua spot a way up that would give them cover and still be negotiable on foot and start climbing. It’s a hundred feet up. Meanwhile, Hogan watches our crewmates walk off.
Hogan: What did you tell your people to do?
Nika: Just to go up there and take a look. Why?
Hogan: Well… If worst comes to worst, I’d prefer to this to be an illicit smuggling operation and not an investigation of Federal agents being killed.
Nika: Yes, ma’am.
And just in case they aren’t already thinking the same thing, Nika comms Joshua and Kiera to relay that message. Joshua gives her two clicks on his throat mike to tell her he’s received her orders and he and Kiera continue on as stealthily as possible. Kiera’s rifle has a night scope on it and through it she can see three men just shy of straight-on above our ship. They’re wearing Federal uniforms and going by the lines of it, they’re higher up the food chain than infantry grunts and it’s likely they’re wearing armor. No helmets. One has long arms—probably a rifle—and the other have short arms that look like pistols. Three firearms total. No comms visible, but it’s after 0430 hrs in the morning and it’s not exactly bright as day out here. Kiera also makes out a ground vehicle parked farther back from the ledge. The model is similar to ours, making it an armored vehicle. At the moment, the three Feds seem to be content to observe our goings-on down below but there’s no telling when they’ll call in reinforcements to roll everyone up.
Kiera and Joshua get themselves down off the rim and back to the ship to report what they’ve found. Down below we’ve only two more large crates to unload … we only need to hold off the Feds til they’re off our ship and on their way. We need a delaying action, rather than a lethal one. Even so …
Nika: Hogan, I’d say your LZ is burned. Can you get your trucks out of here without …
Hogan: (to Joshua) Did they seem to have comms on them? So they can contact the townsfolk?
Joshua: We only saw three people crouching and a ground car in the distance.
Hogan: How far was the ground car? If we can’t stop them from getting to the car, they might be able to signal in.
Nika: Joshua. You two go take Rina and go disable the vehicle altogether. And do it quickly.
Joshua: Yes, ma’am. (keys his comm) Rina.
Rina: (over comms) Sir.
Joshua: Here. Now.
Rina: Yes, sir. On the way.
Kiera hefts her rifle and looks at Nika.
Kiera: Do you want me to provide cover or go with you guys as backup?
Nika: Kiera. If you’re gonna cover, you may take my sniper rifle to do so. However, there will be no dead cops on the ground.
Kiera: I will take them out without killing them. Yes, ma’am.
Joshua: (tongue-in-cheek) We’re going to do this quietly with no shots fired.
Kiera: That’s what I’m hopin’. (to self) Not really.
Joshua: That’s what’s going to happen. Let’s go.
Rina steps off the ramp wearing her usual suspects with her tool bag slung over her shoulder. Once the team is assembled the orders are given: Rina is to disable the comms gear on the Feds’ car to keep them from calling in reinforcements. Nika has a parting command for Kiera, pointing at Rina and Joshua.
Nika: And you don’t freakin’ well shoot on the cops unless or until they’re both down.
Kiera: That’s kinda what I’m hopin’ for.
Nika: That would be nice. Go.
Joshua: Let’s go. Less talking.
Rina: I’ve been cooped up in the ship all day. Take me somewhere fun.
Kiera finds a point on the crane structure from which to provide covering fire and surveillance. She’s settled before Rina and Joshua are halfway through their climb. This is the second time up for Joshua and he knows the route, but it’s late and he’s tiring. Rina groks the way up and takes the lead position. Joshua enjoys the view, despite the dark, and they both make it to the top without mishap. All they need to do is cross the wide open space between the edge and the car. There’s some cover, brush and stuff, but nothing solid like outbuildings or retaining walls. Rina and Joshua figure out the best angle of approach, looking to keep the car between them and the Feds as much as possible, and push off.
One of the Feds is only 20 feet from the car—apparently he’s moved closer to it for some reason—and Rina and Joshua see him in time. They hunker down behind some bushes, out of the Fed’s line of sight, and eyeballing the situation they see that they can’t approach the car unobserved. Not with that Fed there.
Now what? Rina and Joshua have a quick whispered conference.
Rina: Do you want to approach and pretend that you’re an official?
Joshua: I’m not sure that’s going to fly. There’s not a lot of reason for anyone to be out here at a gravel pit at four in the morning.
Well, whatever they decide to do, they’re going to have to do it fast. The Fed is about 20 feet from the car and approaching it quickly. He’s not paying attention to his surroundings, though. That could be to Rina and Joshua’s advantage.
Joshua: We need a distraction.
Joshua mimes lobbing a rock into the distance away from the car. Rina grabs a handful of gravel and throws it. Her toss falls a bit short and the man walks on, apparently he didn’t hear it. She grabs another handful and throws again. This time she’s successful and the man stops and looks away from the car, where the gravel hit the ground. The Fed draws his gun. Rina and Joshua stay hidden behind the bushes.
The Fed doesn’t stray far, being cautious as he looks around, his gun up. His back is to Joshua and he’s thirty feet away. If stealth wasn’t paramount, Joshua could just manage to run the distance and cold cock him … but not under these conditions. Joshua motions to Rina to split up: Joshua will draw the Fed’s attention while Rina goes to the car.
Plan decided, they put it into motion.
Making noise to draw the Fed’s attention, Joshua sticks to the covering shrubbery as best he can. If he needs to, he’ll break and run for it, drawing the Fed further away. Joshua’s got his cover story planned in case he gets caught. Meanwhile Rina circles around to the car, keeping it between her and the Fed as much as possible. In her position on the crane, Kiera zeroes in on the Fed with her rifle scope. If need be, she’ll shoot him to give Joshua and Rina a chance to get away if things go south. The Fed is wearing armor and any hits will simply knock him down. She aims for the leg and waits. The Fed apparently decides he’s mistaken and pulls a device from his belt and starts fiddling with it, turning aside to go back to the car.
Joshua sees Rina still hasn’t made it to the car and breaks cover, stumbling noisily out of the bushes. He puts a reel in his step and a reediness into his voice and calls out to the Fed.
Joshua: Have you—have you seen my stash, man? Is it out here somewhere?
Fed: (turning around) What?
Joshua: My stash. (looks startled) Whoa! Oh, man. You’re the cops. (grimaces) Dammit!
Joshua slips into the role of a druggie flummoxed by it all.
Joshua: I thought you—we meet out here for—to, to—I should be—I’m incriminating myself even as I speak…Shit. Bobby always said I was dumb but … man … (deflates and puts his hands up) … How much time do you get for just a little bit of weed?
The Fed lowers his gun and sighs. Why does he always get stuck with the flaky ones?
Rina’s at the car, keeping it between her and the Fed. She has to pick the lock on the door and manages it handily. She eases the door open and eels inside, pulls the door gently to a crack without engaging the latch. Once that’s done, she lays down on the bench seat to avoid being spotted and starts disabling the comms. Even if she can’t do anything else, at least the Feds can’t call for reinforcements or give away their location and heading. Joshua sees his fiancée slip inside the car and keeps talking, holding the Fed’s attention on him.
Joshua: I swear, Officer, it was nothing more than weed and that I had no more than two drinks.
Fed: (steps forward, suspicious) How did you get here?
Joshua: I walked, man. I don’t gotta car. This is … this is where, this is where we, like, hang. Cuz it’s quiet. And we don’t have to worry about the cops botherin—But look, man. You’re here and you’re botherin’ us. Like, but that must have been where everybody went. Man, I was wonderin’ like, I thought like all my guys were gonna show up and nobody showed up. Like, I was here and was like, man, all the weed for me. But then, but then it was like, man, they took it with them.
Rina gets the dashboard panel open and she starts cutting wires, working fast. She’s listening to Joshua’s song and dance through her ear comms and knows she doesn’t have much time. The Feds’ comms thoroughly disabled, she turns to the ignition next.
For his part, the Fed apparently believes the ruse.
Fed: All right. Come over here. Put your hands up. Put your hands on your head.
Joshua: All right, um … Look. I mean, you don’t have to, you don’t have to arrest me for just a little bit of drugs, right? You can let me go. You’ve got discretion. My friend Freddy says that the officers have power. They’ve got discretion. They can choose not to arrest people, like—well, it’s never worked for him before, but I figure that, hey sometimes, it’s gotta work. I mean, do you, like, have discretion? Is that like a, ah, is that like a tool or something? Cuz, if you do, like, that would be awesome.
Fed: Okay. Calm down. Stand right there.
The Fed turns for the car. Rina’s still in it and Joshua tries to grab his attention again.
Joshua: Hey, hey, whoa! I thought I was under arrest.
Joshua’s five feet away from the Fed and the Fed looks closer at the car, sensing something’s amiss. Rina makes herself as small as possible, squeezing between the dash and the seat. Joshua gauges the Fed carefully, looking for any indication that the man has seen Rina or is about to bolt for the car. He sees the Fed tense up and then the Fed whips around with his gun up and pointed right at him.