Episode 618: Murder on the Equinox Express, Part Two
Joshua politely but firmly leads Meyers to her cabin where they can talk privately. Rina comes in from investigating the pax deck bathroom and while she stands guard at the bottom of the stairs, Nika looks at the rest of the passengers and motions them to relax.
Nika: All of you may as well make yourselves comfortable. You want some coffee? I think it's going to be a long night.
Joshua settles Meyers to her cabin and once she's seated he asks her what she's hiding. She wilts. They talk.
Joshua: (firmly) What are you hiding Ms. Myers? Don't. Don't give me the I'm-not-hiding-anything. You're hiding something and I know what it is.
Meyers: I wouldn't … wouldn't kill anyone.
Joshua: I don't care if you wouldn't kill anyone—well, I do care—but at the moment I'm trying to gather all the evidence to find out who is and you're hiding something. I don't know if it has relevance or not but at this point everything has to be on the table. I need to know what it is you're hiding.
Meyers: It's not anything that matters—
Joshua: Let me be the judge of what matters or not. Tell me what it is.
Meyers: (sighing) Before I worked for NBC, I worked for Blue Sun in their … biological pacification program.
Biological Pacification Program? It's hard not to swear. Joshua manages.
Joshua: Go on.
Meyers: There were some … unsatisfactory results.
Joshua: Explain unsatisfactory results, please.
Meyers: You heard of the Pax.
Joshua: Yes, I am very famili—
Meyers: Well I was involved in that.
Joshua: I'll take your word for that, but go on.
Meyers: But when we studied it and discovered that we could water it down a bit, and make a more limited dose that would be effective—well that plus some other things—we could develop a crowd control device. It worked well. There were some … side effects.
Joshua: Go on.
Meyers: Anyway, I—
Joshua: No, no. Back up. What kind of side effects are we talking about? How serious is this?
Meyers: Some people's reactions to Chempliant is different than placidity.
Joshua: Like … Reaver-esque?
Meyers: Yes. But it's not the same. They don't—they may have some violence if they're in a position where violence is appropriate, or they might seem to think it's appropriate. If for example people were protesting and getting shot at, they might respond with violence. Directed somewhat randomly. But under normal circumstances, even if somebody expressed some hostility, they wouldn't permanently become some sort of monster.
Meyers: And so if they just—
Joshua: So you have no guilt over this?
Meyers: I did. That's why I left Blue Sun. But … (sighs) … All this talk of … murders and …secrets, I just … I couldn't … I mean, that's ... that's my secret.
Joshua: Are they still—no, I know they're still—still happily refining it?
Meyers: Well, it's much more effective now.
Meyers: I left, though. I don't know what they've done to it. But I've heard of it.
Joshua: So have I. And it's not good. (sighs) Greaaaaat.
Meyers: We were trying to save lives.
Joshua: I know. It's always trying to save lives.
Meyers: It's a non-lethal weapon. I mean, if you shoot someone to stop a riot, then they're dead. But if you can just get them to stop rioting ...
Joshua: And honestly, this is an argument that's normally right up my alley. I don't like guns. I don't like shooting people. But you'd think that Blue Sun would have learned with Pax and Pax derivatives the first time—or maybe even the second time around.
Meyers: Well …
Joshua: I know. I know. It's always for the betterment of humankind and such like that.
Meyers: You have to abstract yourself from the situation. There was proof that the chemicals worked. 99.9% of the time they worked appropriately. That's astounding.
Joshua: And the point-oh-one?
Meyers: It wasn't a complete failure. But there were less than satisfactory results. But if you could get that down to point-nine-nine-nine, five nines would be … unheard of.
Joshua: Stop talking. (a beat) So you didn't murder anybody and you didn't kill anybody? While I've got you here in this room, separated from everybody else, is there anything else about these other people you want to tell me?
Meyers: Holden, in addition to whatever else he's doing, was making a number of secret messages that he was sending through his databook.
Joshua: And how do you know that?
Meyers: I … may have snooped into his things when he wasn't looking.
Joshua: Did you get content on any of those messages?
Meyers: It was heavily encrypted and it's certainly not my specialty.
Joshua: And no idea where he was sending them to, of course.
Joshua: I'll take that into account. Everybody's got secrets, it seems.
Meyers: That's true.
Joshua escorts Meyers out to join the others. He eyes the rest of the passengers.
Joshua: I'll interrogate you in just a second. Don't you go anywhere.
He gathers his thoughts for a beat and takes Ashcroft into his cabin. Ashcroft is still cool and collected. Joshua gets right to the point.
Joshua: If you didn't murder any people, it would be in your better interest to help us figure out who did. Obviously if you did murder someone you're not going to offer up any information to me but if you didn't murder anyone and it involves something you did with the Alliance military, is there anything you can tell me that won't betray your confindence that might help us figure out who it is?
Joshua: If you're working for the Alliance, in some sort of post-intelligence—
Ashcroft: No. I'm a citizen. (a beat) Interestingly enough, my first suspect was Sun-Li. She was taken out. My second suspect was Grand. And he was taken out. So I don't know, to be honest. The rest of them? I mean, it's got the sloppiness I would attribute to them.
Ashcroft: I mean, two people are still alive, of the three. What is that? That strikes me as somebody who hasn't killed a lot of people.
Joshua: Right. Who's not a professional.
Ashcroft: I'm trying to think of what … is it possible that Sun-Li and Grand … ? You see, I attributed their reluctance to attack me if they thought I knew, just because I'm probably more dangerous to fight than the others are as civilians. But it's a bit of a puzzle.
Joshua: Yes, it is.
Ashcroft: If I were a murderer … If I had something against Fleming, I would have … Anthrax is not a bad strategy as an initial thing, because it's something she could have reasonably picked up. So even if we were all suspects, it's something conceivable that she picked up on Harvest and God knows, there's plenty of anthrax on that planet. But the poison? Unless there was an imminent threat of her—did she say to you that she had evidence that she …?
Joshua: No. She died without saying anything.
Ashcroft: Then it must be a psychopath of some kind, but nobody here strikes me as a psychopath.
Joshua: I was about to say the same thing. Nobody's got that sort of feel.
Ashcroft: Of course, it's always hard to tell a psychopath.
Joshua: All right.
Of course, Joshua's not going to tell him he has a unique ability to tell.
Ashcroft: I'm surprised no one's tried to take my gun.
Joshua: Gun seems kinda obvious.
Ashcroft: I've secured it because I don't want it being used against me.
Joshua: I'll be happy to look over where you've secured it to make sure of it, but I am … So far, this has been the acts of someone who isn't interested—until the wrench—it was all attack from a distance and not direct interaction.
Ashcroft stares intently at Joshua for a second.
Ashcroft: Have we met before?
Joshua: I don't think so. I'm pretty sure we haven't.
Ashcroft: I was Army Intelligence but I had to deal with people outside of Army Intelligence.
Joshua: I don't remember meeting you.
Ashcroft: You don't really behave like a military person but there is som—
Joshua: I am as far from the military as you're gonna get.
Ashcroft: There were some civilian consultants and I just can't quite place it … being on this ship … although … (thinks) … You're sure we've never met before?
Joshua: I am pretty positive that we've never met before. You don't ring a bell. Your name doesn't sound familiar. You don't know my name. If you knew me, you would recognize me, I would assume.
Ashcroft: You weren't in the service?
Joshua: No. (breathes a laugh) I'm about as far from military grade as possible. The rest of the crew calls me a pacifist.
Joshua stand and brings the interview to a close. He escorts Ashcroft out and takes Nika aside. We'll be right back, he says. He tells Nika everything he's learned so far and gives her his take on it. Rina eases back to listen in, but keeps her eyes on the passengers.
Joshua: In my mind, Mercier's relatively innocent of whacking Grand on the head with a tire iron. Myers has her own secrets—I'll talk to you about Blue Sun pacification later—and Ashcroft … Ashcroft is a whacking cool customer. My first impression is that no, he didn't do it. As he put it, his first suspect is Sun-Li, who got taken out. And his second suspect was Grand, who got hit in the head. And he thought he recognized me, by the way. He's got a good memory.
Rina: (very quietly) It could have been a ploy to make you jump and let something slip, pretending to know stuff he didn't.
Nika: Wow. We've culled it essentially down to Ashcroft and Holden, really.
Joshua: Assuming Grand didn't whack himself in the head, but yes.
Rina: (still very quiet) Or they could be working together.
Nika: Lemme get on the horn and send that wave out but I don't know how long it'll take to get back any kind of confirmation whatsoever on it.
Joshua: And Ashcroft still has his gun by the way. He says he's secured it. As I said to him, up to this point—and as they say in Victorian novels—poisoning is the act of a cowardly woman. And until the tire iron, they hadn't shown any indication of direct violence. And a gun is loud and obnoxious.
Nika: All right. There are two primary thoughts behind Fleming's death. Either the Independents figured out what she was doing, which seems likely given the idea that Holden is an Independent agent, and they decided that before she could give over what she's discovered, they would get rid of her which—again assuming Holden is who he says he is and he's doing what he said he's doing—really wouldn't make that much sense, because somebone else would just pick up the project. The other idea is that we have an Alliance team who has decided that Fleming has been compromised and want to take her out of the equation because they believe Holden has turned her.
Like that sort of thing never happens in war, right? Rina would beg to differ.
Joshua: We might as well lock them all up.
Nika: Those are our two options. The two most viable ones, at least.
Joshua: Yeah. We're well past the crime of passion scenario.
Nika: Oh, absolutely. This is a very deliberate act.
And there is another variation—if somebody made Fleming sick to point the finger of blame at Holden, taking out a compromised researcher and an enemy agent in one move. Joshua repeats Ashcroft's observation—self-serving though it might be for the man—that evidence points to sloppiness in execution.
Joshua: Valerie's not dead, if they wanted to kill her. Grant's not dead.
Nika: Then if it's not either one of those two and it's not Mercier because you've Read him, then … ? It leads to Bianca. Joshua: Sun-Li might still be alive if Kiera had—
Nika: Don’t go there. The thing is Sun-Li could have poisoned herself to make sure suspicion came off of her and accidentally mis-dosed. It's always a possibility. Leaving that aside, if she were to have done so and then accidentally overdosed herself so that we could not save her, why would Grand be hit in the head? My thought would be that Grand knows who put poison in her glass, which means keeping Grand alive and getting him awake is our highest priority at this moment.
Joshua: Okay. I think you're right. It makes the most sense. If Grand was in the lounge when she was poisoned … Was there anyone who wasn't in the lounge when it happened?
Grand and Mercier.
Joshua buzzes med bay. Arden and Kiera are both on duty and they answer: yes? How's Grand? Unconscious. So how long before he wakes up and is conscious? Arden and Kiera confer, decide it's probably safe enough to wake him up at this point. Kiera administers a stim and watches as the man wakes. Joshua shows up and waits with her. When he wakes, Kiera pats his cheek gently.
Kiera: You got a little bit of a conk on the head, darlin'. Do you remember a smell, a sound, a person?
Grand groans and blinks, then grabs Kiera's hand.
Grand: You got to tell your Captain. Or your XO.
Joshua: I'm here.
Kiera: Tell them what?
Grand: It was Ashcroft. He hit me.
Kiera: Ashcroft hit you?
That doesn't jive with Joshua's take on Ashcroft. He Reads Grand to see if the man is lying. Grand looks pretty damned sincere.
Kiera: Why would he do that?
Grand: Before we went to bed, we were discussing possible avenues about what Sun-Li might have known and … there's … I think we were talking about some of the drug tests to see what kind of chemicals people have been handling. While we can't … honestly, we all checked out for anthrax, but there's another drug that you use to safely handle anthrax—you don’t take the drug, you coat things so you can safely handle the anthrax … It's kinda like a talc. And it's possible it might have been on the killer and we'd decided that, you now, there'd be possible ways to get around it and … I went to wash up before bed and I turned and … it was dark, there was this big figure, and I'm pretty sure it was Ashcroft.
Kiera: So you're not 100% sure.
Grand: It was quick. He was bigger than me. It couldn't have been one of the women. And the only one bigger than me is Ashcroft.
Thinking on it, Ashcroft is big, but so's Mercier. They're almost of a size. Both are bigger than Grand. The crew indulges in a moment of speculation how it could have been one of the women hopped up on some sort of drug—after all, Meyers worked in Chempliant. But that would require her to have a reaction to it similar to Arden's and we know that's pretty much impossible because Arden's unique. So that speculation dies a quick deserved death and we're left with the task of flushing out the killer. We still don't know who it could be, but we have more information than we did a day ago. Time to put it to good use.
Joshua goes below and announces that Grand is awake. The rest of the passengers are interested—what did he say? they ask. He says you did it, Mr. Ashcroft. Why would I use poison or anthrax or a wrench when I could have killed them with my gun, is Ashcroft's logical rebuttal.
So … having eliminated everyone else in the passenger lounge as the suspect, and we know that no one on the crew did the deed, who's left? The ship's cat? Hardly. Unless … Could there be someone else on the ship we don't know about, a stowaway sneaking around and killing people?
All the more reason to set a guard on the passengers we have left. Rina's set to take first watch. Nika and Joshua search the ship for that stowaway—and barring finding said stowaway—anything that might point to the actual killer. Nika also fires off a wave to James Brion with the intel that Holden gave her attached: do you know Holden, she asks? Can you identify and send credentials? Arden and Kiera are still in med bay, taking care of Fleming—who's still deathly ill—with side trips to the body of the unfortunate Kuo Sun-Li to see if there is anything more they can glean from her remains.
Nika and Joshua start their search on the cargo deck, opening all the containers to check for signs of human intrusion. They come across one that seems to have been already opened. It's full of cleaning supplies and it's roomy enough to hide someone.
So there really could be someone aboard.
With that danger in mind, Nika decides we need to pick up the pace on the search. She gets Kiera to join in, sending her to the flight deck to check out Lagniappe. It can be a pretty nifty hiding place. Our dropship is empty. Stepping off her, Kiera spies something flashing in the corner of her eye and a sharp object hits her. She's immediately wounded and bleeding and stunned. Staggering up, she sees Emile Grand standing there.
Wait, how did he get out of med bay with Arden on duty? What's happened to Arden—? That's all the time Kiera has to think in her head before Grand attacks her with a scalpel. Kiera runs to the nearest wall com, hoping to page the rest of the crew. If nothing else, she can leave the channel open and the sounds of the clear and present fight will draw them to the flight deck. She'll have to stall him til they get there.
However, before she can get much more than a fingertip on the controls, Emil body slams her from behind, getting the drop on her and knocking her out cold.
Meanwhile, down in med bay, Head-Valerie is slapping Arden awake. He tries to ignore her—she's supposed to be a figment of his imagination, after all—and Head-Valerie perists, dragging Arden out of unconsciousness. Memory returns, albeit groggily. Grand drugged him, Arden remembers. Grand is the killer we're looking for. Arden staggers about med bay, unable to control his limbs in the drug's lingering grip, crashing into things as he struggles to get to a comm.
Nika and Joshua get worried—they should have heard from Kiera on the flight deck by now. It's not that big a place to search. Fearing the worst, they run up two decks only to find the hangar bay empty. There's blood on the floor though…and since there's no sign of the redhead, Nika and Joshua fear it's hers.
Down below on the passenger deck, Rina's on the bottom of the stairs and she hears it. That can't be good. Her paranoia gets the best of her, however, and she's reluctant to have a possible murderer at her back as she goes upstairs to investigate the sound. She's unable to convince the passengers to precede her up the stairs and they're not going to be locked into their quarters to be sitting ducks thankyouverymuch, and they really don’t care if she's got a gun on them either. No way, lady.
The time lost dithering cost Rina a chance to leave. She hears the sound of the stair landing door slamming shut and the scrape of something jamming it in place. And thanks to her own efforts under orders, the hatch access to the decks above and below are already jammed fast. How the hell is she going to get off this level to join her crew? She spies the hatch of the dumbwaiter and strips down to her skivvies—she's short and small and she just might be able to go up the dumbwaiter shaft and make it into the galley without being seen. No one will expect her to arrive via that avenue and the galley itself is stocked with knives and other weapons she can use once she crawls free.
Joshua gets to the flight deck comm and buzzes Arden in med bay. It's Grand, he says, be careful, he's loose. Arden tells him he knows that, thanks, and tells him what he knows—he's rocky but he's coherent enough to deliver that report.
About halfway up, Rina gets stuck in the dumbwaiter shaft and realizes there's no way for her to go further. She'll have to rejoin the passengers. So she's still working her way down when Grand addresses the crew on all-ship.
Grand: Attention. Passengers and crew of the Equinox. Please collect yourselves in the passenger lounge. No one else needs to die.
Arden looks for his Chempliant stash, thinking to dose himself to go super fast and take out Grand. He finds the dose and refrains from taking it—right now is not the right moment. He puts it in his pocket and quits the med bay for the passenger lounge stairs.
Rina can hear Grand's announcement, faintly, where she is in the shaft and she redoubles her efforts to rejoin the passengers. She's got her gun and once free of the shaft she can use it. Making their way down to the crew deck from the flight deck, Nika looks at Joshua and says:
Nika: Tell Ashcroft to get his frakkin' gun. I sure hope Ashcroft's smart enough to get his own weapon.
Joshua: One would hope, but … what are you gonna do?
Nika decides to stay on the crew deck and see what Grand does. She sends Joshua ahead to the passenger deck. Nika unjams the hatch access on the crew deck and hides in the closet portside aft at the crew lounge entrance.
Arden, meanwhile, finds Beglan unconscious in the lounge, stretched out on the floor. Joshua walks in, sees Arden wave him on, and goes ahead and unjams the door on the stairs landing while Arden tends to Beglan. He's just determined that Beglan was injected with a knock-out drug when he spies Nika slipping into the aft closet just beyond the crew lounge doorway. She puts a finger to her lips: shhh! Arden nods, gets the Irishman to the couch in the crew lounge, and then goes down to join the passengers.
Grant talks again over the all-ship.
Grant: Your cooperation is appreciated. Any attempts to interfere with me will result in the death of your lovely Doctor.
How can he tell we're cooperating? How is he tracking us? Where is he holding Kiera? Joshua looks around the pax lounge and doesn't find Grand lurking there … but before he can get to a comms, a klaxon sounds all over the ship.
BWAHH! BWAHH! BWAHH!
Computer voice: Warning! Decompression imminent. Warning! Decompression imminent. Jǐnggào! Jiǎn yā pòzàiméijié. Jǐnggào! Jiǎn yā pòzàiméijié. Jǐnggào! Jiǎn yā pòzàiméijié. Jǐnggào! Jiǎn yā pòzàiméijié.
Either we have hull breach or we have an airlock door opening when it shouldn't. It takes only a second to realize that breach isn't on the passenger deck. Rina hits the stairs for the crew deck, hoping to get that breach contained. Arden injects his Chempliant dose and suffers the deep disorientation from taking it—he'll get that airlock as soon as the vertigo passes. Joshua says to the others in the lounge:
Joshua: We need to find the bastard. Start spreading out. Head up. I'm heading down.
Joshua takes the stairs down to the cargo deck.
Hiding in the closet on the crew deck, Nika hears the rush of air escaping. One of the airlocks is opening up. Shite! She gets out of the closet, the air already rushing past her as she runs for the bridge. She should be able to override the airlock doors from there. She runs right up the portside corridor, arrowing in on the rear door to her quarters, when she glimpses someone in a vac suit in the starboard cargo bay. It's Grand and the cargo bay doors are already cracked and jammed open with some sort of bar.
She draws, she shoots, she hits.
Down on the passenger deck, everyone can feel and hear the air sucking up the passenger stairs, making it clear just where that decompression is happening.
Grand ducks for the bridge through the conference room to starboard. Nika hauls ass through her quarters to port then changes course to unjam the airlock doors. There is no overriding that sort of thing from the bridge and conserving enough atmo to remain conscious to fight is the only thing that matters.
It's a crowbar. She wraps her hands around it, the sucking atmo grabbing her clothes, her hair, the air from her lungs, as she strains to pull it free. Her vision swims, her blood pounds in her ears, her eyeballs, her throat. It's getting harder and harder to breathe, to muster her strength, to put her back into it …. With one final mighty effort, she pulls and the bar flies out of the jamb, the doors slam shut and she lands on her ass.
She scrambles up and hits the nearest wall comm on all-ship: "The airlock door is shut. Anybody with weapons, pull'em. Take this frakker out."
She doesn't linger for confirmation but runs for the conference room door, her gun up and out. She pauses at the door, looking cautiously around the jamb as it opens in case Grand is set up to shoot her head off the minute she steps across the threshold. No one shoots. The room is empty. Nika crosses to the bridge door on the other side.
Again she pauses before entering and her caution saves her life. Grand is in there and he punches her. She takes considerable damage but dammit—she's sick and frakkin' tired of having her ship stolen out from under her. She goes all out, no holds barred, determined to take this bastard out if it kills her.
And for a second it looks like she might win. He attacks her again, clumsy in his vac suit and she successfully dodges. She's set her gun to auto-fire and fires off a three-round burst into him, hits. Then she gets another three-bullet burst into him. Grand's suit offers him some protection, however, and despite having six holes in his suit, he's still up. She fires again and her gun locks on empty—her clip is spent and the man is still alive.
And what goes around, comes around. He attacks Nika and gets a haymaker on her—his heavy suit glove does more damage than a naked fist and it spins her around in her tracks. Nika pushes off the bridge console she lands on and attacks him. Again, that suit offers Grand protection and she is unable to render any more damage to him. He gets another pummeling attack on her for yet more damage … but that last blow takes the last of his strength and he goes down, measuring his length on the deck. Out like a light.
Nika staggers to her feet and as the rest of her crew scramble through the door, she kicks Grand viciously in the ribs. "Bugger!"
And with that, Nika Earhart takes her ship back from a murderer.