"No matter where you go, there you are."-- Breaker Morant
Samantha Telford is approached by Mr. Black. Hes sending a group of people to look for a piece of art that went missing, and as they are not known to him, he wants Samantha to go along and "keep them honest." Samantha: "So to speak." Black: "Exactly. I have very competent professionals working for me here, but they're competent for Regina. The ship carrying the artwork went down on what is presumed to be a very low tech planet, and my people's skills would not be appropriate. The art in question is a small painting, known as The Lady in Red, or The Red Lady. I have a book on the painting I can lend you." Samantha: "That will help."
173 to 180-1123.
Ezbeki: "C'mon Geoff, itll be fun!" Just a little party involving some acquaintances of Ezbeki's. Geoff agrees to go along, and ends up driving the rental car when a couple of Ezbeki's buddies need to "make a quick stop" along the way. They come out in a few minutes, with some bags, and Geoff drives off. When the police cars appear in the rear view mirror, lights and sirens flashing, Geoff dutifully pulls off to one side to let them pass. They don't pass so much as screech to a halt and surround the vehicle. Oh-oh.
Geoff soon discovers that he's been duped into acting as the wheelman for the two men who robbed a branch of the Bank of Regina. At least they were bright enough to not try that at the Banque de Geneve. Geoff protests his innocence to the police, then to the judge at his first hearing. Geoff: "If I had participated in a bank robbery, do you think Id have stopped for the police?" Hell have his day in court; in six months. And right now the prosecutor is convinced Geoff is the ringleader, since the other three obviously have diminished mental capacity. Geoff is a merc, which means hes a flight risk, so his bail will be set really high. Geoff sends a message to the Grenadier Club, asking for assistance. Geoff doesnt have enough money to afford the best lawyer on planet, which is what he's told he'll need to get out of this. Geoff doesnt get into too much trouble in jail, as hes big enough and smart enough to get by, and its not 24 hours before Ezbeki has a shiv and somebody else is making a trip to the infirmary for a "fall". Its not too bad they can read flimsies, get three meals a day, and its warm. (This is according to the man with a beard down to his knees, sitting in a corner reading Eurydice.) Theyre actually in the section with the not too bad guys, i.e., no one who's been charged with murder. Poor Geoff is going into financial news withdrawal though, as the only newspapers or reports he can get are hopelessly out of date. This does not bother Ezbeki.
Black: "I've found a few people I think might do nicely. One of these possibilities is currently a guest of the local authorities. He's recently out of the military, and has had a great deal of experience on low tech worlds. His name is Geoff Thompson, and he and his friend have gotten into a bit of trouble
" Samantha: "Which means he's probably not going to have a contract that would interfere, and he'll be easy to find." Black: "Do you want to go as a visitor, or in some official capacity? Hes requested assistance from the Grenadier Club, perhaps you could take a briefcase? Ill leave it up to you. Ive also been in contact with a possible transport for you. An independent merchant ship." Samantha: "Anyone youve used before?" Black: "No. However, after speaking with the owner, we have some mutual acquaintances. And Im in a position to do them a favor in the future, which means I can count on them. At this point I dont have anyone else in mind, so if youd like to take a look around and see if theres anyone else you'd like to take along, please feel free. Im willing to pay $100,000 each, provided they return the painting, and return it to me. I dont want to find myself bidding for it further down the road." Samantha: "I think I can make sure of that." Black: "Excellent. In any case, you may wish to find yourself a medic. I have a list of people were keeping an eye on, as they could be troublemakers. Here are the files, if youd like some light reading. <hands over a file folder> Ill be having dinner at the Savoy later, perhaps youd care to join me?" Samantha: "Yes, that would be lovely." Black: "Say, 8 oclock?" Samantha: "Ill be there." Black: "Id like to know your opinion of this Geoff Thompson." Samantha: "All right."
On board the Ruby, Ariana wants to know if Robert Shelzie is interested in a short trip. Robert: "What did you have in mind?" Ariana: "Ive made arrangements to lease the ship." Robert: "Cargo run?" Ariana: "Its sort of a favor for an acquaintance. An exchange of favors, really. Theres something you should know about this trip. The passengers need to go to a planet thats been red-zoned, and it could be dangerous. If you dont want to go
I understand, what with you being former Navy and all. You dont need to come along if you dont want to." Robert: "Not a problem. If I wasn't scared off by everything that's happened up to now, a red-zone won't bother me." Ariana: <relieved> "Thank you. This trip means a lot to me. Not the trip itself, but
<pause> The person who asked me to do this has enough influence to possibly take care of some old problems." Robert: "Im aware of some of those problems." Ariana: "I know. Ive been looking up this place, planet X." Robert: "Planet X?" Ariana: "Some one apparently has a sense of humor. We've got Planet #####, Planet Bob, and now Planet X." Robert: "It sounds like some place out of Spider Island. What do we know about the place?" Ariana: "The system has a gas giant, and we can enter the system as long as were not within a thousand planetary diameters, so my idea is to jump in and say were refueling and making repairs. Thatll give us an excuse to hang around for a week or two, or however long they need." Robert: "Look, all you have to do is take them there, drop them off, and come back in a week or two to pick them up. Piece of cake. What else do we know about the planet?" Ariana: "Dense atmosphere, 40% water, 8,000 kilometers in diameter. Not much else, its red-zoned by the Scout Service." Robert: "Sounds like you'll need your best pilot for the job. Which would be me." Ariana: "Are you sure you want to do that? I was planning on taking them down." Robert: "I'd rather have you up here watching over me. Besides, I have more experience with the ship's boat." Ariana: "All right. Youll have to find a way onto the planet, but my source indicates theres a blank spot in the interdiction satellites. Its small, but you should be able to sneak through." Robert: "If your source is reliable. What sort of people are we transporting?" Ariana: "Ive been assured that these are reliable people." Robert: "This should be an easy trip then, just taxi service." Ariana: "Exactly." Robert: "And well be able to take care of some of our problems." Ariana: "Yes. And it will also free up some money." Robert: "Have you been able to find out anything about the man who was passing himself off as Count Barada?" Ariana: "Not yet. However my local friend may be able to find out more if I ask him. I was thinking...we might want to pick up some scrap parts and dump them when we jump in." Robert: "Good thought." Ariana: "I got the idea when I was watching Return to Spider Island last night." Robert: "I love that one!"
Samantha reads through the material Black gave her on possible medics. The highest skilled people are a serial rapist, an ex-surgeon, an organ-legger, and a Vagr who isnt a doctor per se but is an experienced combat medic. Then it goes downhill to a man who once removed an appendix with a steak knife and a bottle of whiskey (the latter was for him, not the patient). She makes a call to Regina Security to find out where this Kaeth person is at the moment; how handy that theyve got him under surveillance. Kaeth Voeguae is currently working with several relief agencies, and is with other people right now. Agent: "Unless you want him brought in?" Samantha: "No, but thank you."
Samantha goes in to see Geoff Thompson. The guards figure a "legal aide" is close enough to a lawyer for her to be let in. She's escorted to a meeting room, and Geoff is brought in a few minutes later. Samantha: "Mr. Thompson? You contacted the Grenadier Club for assistance." Geoff: "Thank God! I dont have enough money to get myself out." Samantha: "Actually, I might be in a position to do more than get you out. Would you be available for hire?" Geoff: "Uh, yeah. But what about my buddy?" Samantha: "Well, I dont actually have a use for your friend, but I think we can make sure hes safe while youre gone." Geoff: "Safe would be good. But maybe you better not have him released after I get back. Hes likely to get into more trouble." Samantha: "Agreed." She goes to have a chat with the person in charge, showing the card Black gave her, and requesting a prisoner be released to her; it's amazing how quickly the bureaucratic wheels turn when the director of Regina Security wants something. Guard: "Uh, which one do you want?" Samantha: "Geoff Thompson." It will be done.
Guard: "Hey, Thompson! Youre out of here." By the time Samantha gets up to the front, they have Geoff ready to go and signing for his stuff. Guard: "Dont step over the line. Hope you enjoyed your stay. Would you like to purchase one of our monogrammed robes? It's for a good cause." Geoff: "I dont think so. What cause?" Guard: "The college fund for the children of the guards." Geoff: "Sure, Ill buy one." He purchases a fluffy Starport Police Benevolent Association robe. Handy for answering the door when the cops come knocking.
Guard: "Do you want him cuffed?" Samantha: "No thank you. But Id like to make sure that his associate, a Mr. Ezbeki, isnt
unduly bothered." Guard: <looking at screen> "That would be Ferdinand Kuvasc Ezbeki?" Samantha: "Yes, that would be him." Theres nodding and exchanging of glances. Ah, the friend is being kept as an insurance policy. Samantha: "Mr. Thompson? Shall we?" Geoff: "Yes, please." A week plus in jail is more than enough for Geoff. He figures she just paid off the right people; its Regina after all.
Samantha: "Are you staying somewhere on port?" Geoff: "Yeah, I have a small apartment." Samantha: "You will be leaving as soon as possible, but you'll have time to get your belongings. I don't anticipate a departure before tomorrow." Geoff: "Can you tell me what sort of environment Ill be going to so Ill know what sort of equipment to bring, any specialty items, the type of mission
" Samantha: "Dense atmosphere, low tech, recovering an item." Geoff will pack up all his stuff except his bathrobe so it doesnt get lost or damaged (and its bulky). Geoff is dropped off at his place. Samantha: "We will probably be leaving tomorrow, fairly early." Geoff: "Just let me know where and when." Samantha: "In that case, Mr. Thompson, Ill see you tomorrow." Geoff: "All right."
Samantha calls in to find out where Kaeth is. Hes left the clinic, and hes having a late lunch in a working class restaurant, the Escargot dOr. Its moderately busy, and Samantha sees a Vargr sitting alone at a rear table that looks right. She approaches. Samantha: "Mr. Voeguae?" Kaeth: "Yes? You have the advantage of me, madame." Samantha: "Sam. May I join you?" Kaeth stands, Samantha sits. Samantha: "Im looking for a medic for an off-planet job. Are you available?" Kaeth: "Id have to let someone know to cover, but yes. It would depend on what the mission is and how far off-planet. Id rather not visit Zhodane." Samantha: "I can assure you, we wont be. Couple of weeks each way, maybe a week or two on planet, depending." Kaeth: "How large an expedition will I be medicking?" Samantha: "Four or five people." Kaeth: "And the renumeration?" Samantha: "$100,000. Success only." Kaeth: "I see. Well, before we go much further, if this is a recovery-slash-rescue, I have no problem. If the work is, shall we say, wet, Im not interested." Samantha: "The purpose is to recover something that was lost in transit." If there's any wet work to be done, she'll take care of it, but she doesn't tell Kaeth that. Kaeth: "Okay, can you speak here, or will I get a further briefing so I know what to bring?" Samantha: "I can give you some details now. High density atmosphere, low tech." Kaeth: "Temp ranges, water?" Samantha: "Mean temp is about 45 F, 60% water." Kaeth: "Any special medical requirements of the team?" Samantha: "I dont believe so, no." Kaeth: "Very well, do we have any idea if the object is in water, on land, a nice tropical beach?" Samantha: "Unfortunately, no. The transport ship went down, we dont have any other information yet. We will be departing tomorrow. If you require any additional medical equipment, you can get in touch with me, and I should be able to get it." She hands him her (mostly blank) calling card, and they part company.
Back to the Ruby.
Robert has been trying to acquire some of the special paint the Navy uses to make it's ships less detectable, but to no avail. Even his old boy network can't help. The big problem? The paint is accountable property. When used, you have to write up what its being used for and how much is used. No go. To make the ship's boat as low signature as possible, Robert can make sure its really tuned up, smooth everything on the surface, fly with the shutters down, and if he plots a glide rather than a flight, it will help too. At least its the Scouts who are interdicting the planet, not the Navy.
When Samantha arrives to check out the ship, Robert is in the gig tidying up. Ariana: "Ah, you must be Samantha. Pleased to meet you." One of Ariana's robots comes into the ship's boat, looking for Robert. Bot: "Will sir be joining madame for tea?" Robert: "Oh! Of course." Down ladder, make a hole! Robert: "Whoa! Company! And I didnt wear my good suit. <extending hand> Robert." Samantha: "Sam." Robert: <to Ariana> "Is this our client?" Ariana: "No. <to Sam> I take it you work for
" Samantha: "Yes." This is going to be one of those trips where important nouns are missing from the conversations. Ariana: "Well, welcome aboard. Make yourself comfortable. The ship is ready to go. This is Mr. Shelzie, my significant friend and primary pilot. Hell be doing most of the flying, including the ships boat. You and your party will be our only passengers, of course, and we have cargo space available should you require it." Samantha: "I dont think well have anything too bulky, just personal equipment." Ariana: "When do you think well be leaving?" Samantha: "Tomorrow morning,, preferably." Ariana: "Ah. Then well need to do a few things. Prep the ship." Robert: "On it." Ariana: "Would you like to select a cabin now?" Samantha: "Yes, thank you." Ariana takes her back. The cabins are all the same; Samantha picks one closest to the common area, then takes her leave.
Kaeth makes up med kits for five people, and Geoff gets his gear together. Samantha reads the large coffee table book Black lent her about the painting, and it's subject. Nasty woman, good looking. Incredibly beautiful, but very disturbed. Legend has it when she died, she did not go well. She was hung by people who didnt know what they were doing and she strangled slowly. She is purported to have spit on the peasants and cursed them. (Oh, here it comes.) Supposedly, everyone whos ever owned the painting has had something horrible happen to either themselves or a family member. One of the Sternes owned the painting. A few weeks after purchasing it, he was crushed to death (over a period of 45 minutes) by a metal press in a factory. Then the painting was stolen, and during the getaway a sheet of metal fell off a truck and decapitated the thief. All sorts of bizarre claims: the red in her dress has that brilliance because it has human blood mixed in the pigment (that would make it brown), etc., etc. The painting was "lost" about 60 years ago, and it's estimated to be worth 10 to15 million credits. The woman in the painting has an interesting smile half smile, half grimace. All kinds of weird things supposedly hidden in the painting a masons symbol, all sorts of symbology, the cards on the table are Tarot cards, and the Hanged Man card is visible. Lots of bullshit and rumors, and the provenence of the painting up until its loss. The book is entitled The Curse of the Red Lady. Samantha finishes the book, gets ready, and goes to dinner with Black. Maybe he wants the painting as a gift for some one he doesn't like?
To the Savoy, where Black is waiting. Black: "I trust you found the book interesting. It has several photos of the object. You shouldnt have any difficulty recognizing it, yes?" Samantha: "Correct." Nice dinner, no more shop talk. Opera is discussed, among other erudite topics. Good food, a couple of drinks, Samantha goes home, and goes to bed. No bouncy for anyone involved. Samantha has no entanglements difficult in her line of work.
Everyone gathers on the Ruby. Robert dons his antique flight helmet and takes a turn through the passenger section, just to assure the passengers that their pilot is rather eccentric. It works.
181 to 195-1123.
Two weeks in jump pass uneventfully. Geoff and Kaeth are given the information on what they're recovering (small painting, shipped) No one murders the captain or pilot, in spite of the fact that they keep wandering around singing the title single from the last Dick Salamander
The Ruby jumps into system, and the decoy parts are dumped. The ship is hailed immediately. Ariana: "We have some engine damage and wed like to effect some repairs." Scout: "Dont come within 1,000 diameters of the fourth planet, or your ship is subject to impound, and your crew and passengers are subject to arrest. Have a nice stay."
Its going to be a difficult run on the gig, but Robert is up to it of course. Robert: <to Samantha> "Here. Its an emergency beacon. If anything goes horribly wrong, push it and we should be able to come get you. Of course the Scouts will probably pick it up too."
Ariana: "Be careful." Big kiss. Big, sloppy kiss. Big, sloppy, long kiss. Clothing Samantha: "Whenever youre ready." Robert: "Welcome aboard flight 601 to Planet X. Youll notice that there are two emergency exits; dont use them unless youre in a vac suit."
Samantha: "Mr. Shelzie?" Robert: "Yes?" Samantha: "Is something wrong?" Robert: "Not yet." Liar. The ship was about 50 miles above the planet when everything went dead. That was quite a ways past the satellites coverage. But now Robert has no way to control the ship whatsoever. Robert: "I think I know why they red-zoned this planet." Samantha: "I take it yet has arrived." Robert: "Its yet."
Amazingly enough, they do not auger into the ground. Its a very rough ride, followed by a series of horrible bounces off the surface of the planet. When they wake up later, Robert has injured his left upper arm, not quite breaking it. Its dislocated maybe. The ship has come to a stop and is not rocking, but they cant tell anything the shutters are down. But the instruments should probably be down there, rather than up there, where everyone wants to fall. Robert: "Well, that was interesting." Kaeth pulls out his small flashlight, and Robert pulls out his. They dont work. Their lighters do though. Robert: "Ow!" (Burning his fingers, having forgotten he's upsidedown)
Kaeth carefully drops out of his straps. They only sounds are pinging and cooling of metal, so theyve not been there long. Geoff is unconscious, and has a big bump on his head. Kaeth: "Is anyone else hurt?" Robert: "Ive hurt my arm. My left arm." Kaeth helps Samantha and Robert out of their harnesses, and they help get Geoff down. Robert: "Boy, Ariana's going to be pissed. She doesnt like it when I wreck the ship stuff. Im going to be her bedroom slave for months." Kaeth: "Thats more information than I needed."
They find the hatch, but the button doesnt work. No response. Theres an emergency pump for the hydraulics, and it only takes 15 to 20 minutes to get the hatch open. Fresh air, burned vegetation. Robert: "I dont suppose you could do something about this arm?" Kaeth checks him, and its dislocated. He pops it back into place and slings it, and gives Robert some meds. Kaeth then checks out the other equipment. Like the holographic sights on his rifle. Dont work. He removes them and puts on his tritium sights.
The ship is in a flat field, nose in first and inverted, and theres a long, huge furrow behind the ship. Further back its a sort of a dotted line. Robert: "Damn, Im good." He rubs his helmet for luck. Samantha: "Perhaps we shouldnt just stand here." Robert: "Im all for that." The hatch is closed as much as possible, and Robert takes a walk around the gig to check for major structural damage; there is none just cosmetic and bodywork. Robert: "If we can get it righted, and get the instruments to work, we can fly it out of here." The ship is still pinging, but not much, as its cooling. Kaeth takes a look around. Prairie grasses, and he sees silhouettes of multi-legged creatures in the distance. Robert takes out his spyglass and takes a look. Vargrs on horseback, just watching.
Robert: "Vargrs on horseback. Ooh, sharp pointy things!" Samantha: "Well be leaving the crash site. Now." Kaeth: "And how far are we going to get carrying a downed partner?" Geoff: "I can make it." The nearest cover is about two miles away. Its a tree. Argh. The Vargrs approach. Samantha: <to Kaeth> "Congratulations, youve been promoted." Kaeth: "Huh? Oh." Hes the head of the group now, since theyll be dealing with Vargrs.
Speaking of which, the Vargrs ride up, circle the group, and ride around yipping. They eventually come to a halt, probably because the horses are tired. Vargr: "You!" Kaeth: "Yeah?" Vargr: "Are these your slaves?" Kaeth: "I am responsible for them. They are mine, yes." Vargr: "Why are you in Kaw tribe land?" Kaeth: "Because some strange magic pulled us here." Vargr: "You fall from the sky like the others?" Kaeth: "We fell many places." He points out the skips. Samantha notices that one of the Vargrs is wearing a flight jacket with holes on it, and brownish stains. Vargr: "You fall from the sky, huh? You outsiders. You offend the gods by trying to be like them." He nods and several Vargrs attack the party.
And the fight is on. Robert: "Oh-oh!" Kaeth flicks his lighter up, high, in front of the leaders horse. The animal shies slightly, but doesnt bolt or move. Hes well trained, and the leader looks like he was raised on horseback. One of the Vargrs leaps off his horse at Samantha, who redirects his flight, into the ground. Yipe! Robert just stays out of the way. Geoff: "Look! Its the Goodyear blimp!" He stomps on a sandal with his army boots. Ow, but only slightly.
While Kaeth was distracted by the leaders horse, another Vargr tackles him from the side, knocking him down.
Samantha goes for the legs, hitting one in the shin. Robert is getting to his gun, eventually. Geoff is stomping feet. Kaeth takes out three with his smg, including the leader. Robert gets his gun out of his holster! Kaeth shoots something furry (thats not him) out of the group going after Sam. She takes down another one, and Robert fires his 12mm, hitting one of the Vargrs as he grabs him. The Vargr falls over. The Vargr Samantha kicks in the chest goes down. The rest of the natives leap onto their mounts, and they retreat, yipping. Kaeth cant quite understand them. Then there are crumping noises and the Vargrs have explosions going off all around them.
Samantha checks out the flight jacket for any kind of identifying marks. None. The Vargr is alive, but not for long. Robert picks up a spear and looks at it. Some of the spears are natural, using wood and rock, some are sharpened metal.
The riders are heading back, with pops all around them. Samantha gets her handgun out, just in case. The Vargrs ride past the group. Theres no sign any where of what is causing the explosions. Kaeth takes one of the spears and probes the ground. Theres a clang. Thats odd. Hes found a bomb-let or mortar shell. Kaeth: "Weve got overwatch." Maybe its Ariana? Kaeth takes out his binocs, and can only see nasty, grey clouds that dump a lot of water. The group takes shelter inside the ship.
By the time they get into the ship, its really raining. Hard. They crank the door shut, and notice the ship is in a depression, and once its been raining for a while, the ship starts to float and move. It bumps along, and its moving at a real clip. Theres a drop, and then it seems its moving free, maybe in deeper water. Robert: "Lets try to right this thing." Nope its happy where it is.
A half an hour after the last, long drop, the ship stops moving and just bobs. No real injuries, just a few bumps and bruises. Kaeth: <to Robert> "So what do you have in your survival kit? Tell me it has a raft." Robert: "Of course." He points to the pack in back. Kaeth: "Thank God it hasnt gone off. How much does this ship weigh?" Thousands of pounds. But its designed to be buoyant. Technically, it should right itself, but has not done that, possibly due to damage sustained in the crash. They have food, and at least 12 hours of air.
Kaeth: "Maybe we can over-pressure and have some one go outside and take a look." Samantha: "And do what?" Kaeth: "Take a look around and see where we are." Robert: "Ill do it." Samantha: "With your dislocated arm?" Robert: "Its not dislocated any more." They redistribute cargo and personnel, and manage to shift the ship so the hatch is raised above where the waterline might be. Robert instructs Samantha on how to operate the manual hatch, and she goes up to see if opening it still allows water in, or if its clear.
The top two thirds of the hatch is fine. When she opens it a bit more, water starts pouring in. Samantha tries to close it again, but the little knob that switches direction of the pump breaks off
Samantha: "We need to either cover this or roll the ship so its under water!" Good idea! They do so, and it slows the flow of water. Gear is packed up, what little has been unpacked. Robert doesnt have gear, he wasnt expecting to stay. The survival pack is designed to be pushed out through the hatch, since otherwise it wouldnt be very useful, now would it?
Robert: "Tie off one end of the cord that deploys the raft on the inside, so you dont lose it." Geoff: "Why doesnt she hold onto the cord and pull it when she goes out?" Robert: "If she wants to do that, fine." Its decided that Samantha will go out first, with the others holding the ship in position. Kaeth has an artificial gill (re-breather), which helps. Geoff is the heaviest, so he gets Kaeths other artificial gill, and will be the last one out.
Samantha first; shes soaking wet from opening the hatch and cold any way. She stuffs the raft out, goes out herself, and is yanked out and up. Not a very long trip, fortunately. The raft, detecting its in water, deploys and rights itself. Samantha finds the entrance and gets in. Its dark, nothing to see. Robert out next. Samantha helps him into the raft. As soon as Robert left the ship, it started to turn.
Kaeth gets out of the ship, but cant find Geoff. And he cant see the raft. On the raft, Samantha finds cylum sticks and lights one. This give the fog an organgish glow. Water, rations, a flare gun, some cylum sticks, flashlight, folding rifle. And its cool out here, even in the raft. There is some kind of electronic heater, but its not working. Theres hot food and foil blankets, but Samanthas pack got water in it. No dry clothing. She empties the water overboard and strips down to underwear, wringing out the clothing she was wearing as well as what was in the pack. Robert strips down to his skivvies and wrings his clothes out. They open up a single heat & eat, and huddle around it under shared mylar blankets. The water is salty, but not like an ocean, more like an estuary. If it werent for the coldness of the water, there would be crocodiles here. Maybe specially adapted fur-lined crocodiles have adapted here.
Kaeth is miles (from his point of view) from the glow of the cylum stick, losing body heat fast. Geoff is nowhere to be seen and may have drowned. Robert and Samantha are huddled together and shivering on the raft.
In the dark, in the distance:
Ding-ding, ding-ding, ding-ding, ding-ding.