Throwback Thursday: Space Cowboys #1 – “Weigh Anchor”
The Isolationists are mentioned in this session. They were a sort of hybrid between a political party and a religious sect, out among the asteroids. Their stance was that the outer planets were being drained by interplanetary commerce, and they sought to bring an end to the practice.
Bubba got the Cool Point for this session, for taking the shot.
We fade in on a dock in the asteroid Nestor. The Cabra Espaco docks and disgorges its crew, most of whom say their goodbyes and leave in all directions. Only two crew members remain: Osolo-Solo Bono Solo and Solo no Samale. The matriarch of the Solo clan, “Grandma”, has arranged for the exiting crew to be paid off, leaving these two with shares in the ship, along with several new crew. Samale has lived on board other Family ships and only recently come to the ‘Goat*, while Solo grew up on the boat. Solo has been given the position of all-around cook, housekeeper, and warden of the chicken coop, while Samale is a highly talented pilot.
Waiting on the dock, we find two of the new crew, waiting next to their duffel bags: Bubba, Solo’s twin brother, though you can’t tell it at a glance, and Hal, a cousin from a tree-farming branch of the Family who discovered a sudden need to be traveling. The necessary 5th position on the crew, communications/sensor officer, is filled for this trip by Dub Williams, a Rastafarian, who is working his passage to Agamemnon.
Filling out the crowd on the dock are the passengers, who had their passage negotiated before the ‘Goat docked, by Grandma’s agents. The first group is three mercenary soldiers, working for Colonial Marines, a “warfare management” corporation. They are led by Sgt. Bob Jones. His two aides are Pvt. Mary White and Pvt. Jane Blonde, two attractive young women who immediately attract the eyes of Samale and Bubba. The last passenger, Kwang-Sun Quincy, is a mouse of a man whose only question is if it would be OK for him to say grace at the table, or if he should take care of that in his room. By contrast, Jones wants to know if his people can carry their guns. (Permission to do so was granted, if all the ammunition was locked up.)
The whole crew pitches in on loading the freight that Grandma has arranged previously. Among the 14 lots are: several lots of precious metals and gemstones, all firmly locked, with stickers mentioning things like “lethal deterrents”; over 200 tons of Twinkies, being shipped at a 70% discount to pay off a favor Grandma owed the Weyland-Yutani Twinkies distributor on Agamemnon; a pile of used vacc suits, which were unremarkable aside from their factoring in to later speculations; and, most worrisome, several tons of extremely fragile scientific equipment, which had to be packed especially well.
The boat leaves dock on 21 May 2517. The first day’s work is to put up the plasma sail, a complex job taking hours and the attention of the whole crew. Hal gets suited up and goes Outside, to cling to the side of the boat by his magnetic boots and set up the rigging. Bubba, in the engine room, manages the solar panel array and energizes the rigging. Samale and Dub spend the day in the control room, providing information to the engineering crew and setting up the course. Solo is kept busy getting the passengers squared away and ferrying sandwiches to the crew members who can’t come to the table. Once the sail was safely deployed, Samale brought the boat up to spin, which was a great relief for the passengers.
Over the course of the first half of the journey, Jones and his aides occupy the crew’s attention when away from their daily tasks. On the one hand, Sgt. Jones seems to take it as his personal duty to come between the ladies and the interested crew members. He consciously insults Bubba’s military service in the Core Worlds Patrol, and trades intimidation attempts with Samale. On the other hand, Osolo and Jones end up bonding over their shared interest in bladed objects**. The ladies showed signs of being interested, as well, but were likewise stymied by their superior. Quincy, meanwhile, kept to himself. Similarly, Hal avoided entanglements with the passengers during this time.
On one occasion, however, Jones was distracted by a knife-throwing contest with Solo, in the main cargo hold. The guys took immediate advantage, leading Pvt. White and Blonde to the engineering room and the engineering level cargo deck, under the skylight cargo door, respectively. Samale thought he heard someone moving around quietly on the cargo deck, but was entirely too engrossed to investigate. Just then, Hal entered, carrying a box of tools to put away. He got a confused glimpse of Samale and Pvt Blonde looking up in surprise, as well as another shadowy figure, before he was suddenly hit in the face by a cackling, terrified chicken.
Naturally, this led to Hal shouting, dropping his box, and falling ass-over-teakettle down the cargo bay stairs. Thankfully, the engineering level cargo bay doesn’t get the full effect of the boat’s 0.15 G’s of spin gravity, meaning the fall was leisurely enough to be more embarrassing than painful. Even so, the commotion not only ruined the mood, it also attracted attention. Bubba came out of the engine room, roaring about the loose chicken and brandishing a heavy wrench, just in time to come face-to-face with Solo and Jones, entering from the main cargo hold. Bloodshed was narrowly averted, but Jones did chase his aides back to their room.
During the days leading up to Turn-Around Day – the midpoint of the trip, when the ship flips and starts slowing down – Solo spent a lot of time talking Jones down. Eventually, he convinced the soldier that Turn-Around Day was a sacred holiday which much be observed in the traditional way: a feast, music, and strong drink. Despite some initial frosty feelings, a decent party actually got going. Things were loosening up, Jones was telling a story about his life in the Colonial Marines, and it looked like Samale might actually be able to lure away Pvt Blonde…
…when the entire ship shuddered in an obviously bad way.
Instantly sobered, the crew swings into action. Solo herds the passengers to the kitchen table, where they can strap in to the bolted-down chairs. The two engineers head to the engine room, where Bubba checks the instruments while Hal suits up. Samale and Dub run to the control room, where Samale discovers that the ship has been knocked a bit off-course, and Dub tries to get the radar up and running.
Bubba quickly discovers a power drain in the starboard fore jib line. Hal goes out the airlock with his sail-bug – a gadget about the size of a clothing iron, which enables mag-lev transportation around the energized sail at speeds of up to a couple hundred miles per hour – and goes to investigate. Out on the rigging, 30 miles away from the boat, he finds a spot where the rigging has been nearly broken in two. The edges are charred, as if by great heat. Initial speculation as to cause includs the possibility of a glancing blow from a small rock, but Hal soon concludes it is the result of explosives. He starts work on a splice job, while Bubba gathers additional materials and Bo (the first inch-worm loading robot), and comes out to help with the job. On the off chance that the explosives were set by pirates, he also brought along a couple of spear guns – the favored weapon, in the Patrol, for vacc suited combat in free fall.
During this same time, Dub has had issues with the radar. In the end, he admits to Samale that he had exaggerated his sensor experience. (“Not so much a certification, as a class,” he says.) Hearing the chatter over the crew’s communicators, Solo leaves the passengers, comes to the control room, and pokes at the radar controls. Mentioning that he’s watched the last guy to sit in that seat do it a hundred times, he quickly tunes in the radar image of their path… finding an asteroid lying directly ahead, that they should have known about, and maneuvered to avoid, some time ago.
Samale instructs the engineers to finish their patch job now, and starts plotting potential maneuvers to avoid the approaching rock. As the engineering team work feverishly to splice and knit the damaged section, Solo goes back to the passengers, only to find that they have all fled the scene. Asking himself where a terrified passengers would run to, he quickly located the mercs, but Quincy remains elusive. This is enough to solidify suspicion around him. Solo gets the ladies into Shuttle A – knowing that they would be reassured at the hint that escape was available if need be, even though there is no possible way, under the laws of physics, that a shuttle can slow down from full transit speed – and sent Jones to track the mild-mannered rogue.
Hal and Bubba used all the tools at their disposal and managed to get the sail back on-line as the last few seconds of available window leaked away. Yelling at Samale to go, already!, the two swung aboard Bo and had it head for the boat. Samale swung the sails to dodge the asteroid at damn near the last possible moment. Riding the robot down the rigging, the engineers had an excellent look at the keg-sized rock passing harmlessly by the ship – inside the rigging. Remarking upon the likely effects of striking such a rock at transit speed (the boat turning inside out and killing everybody in a terrible fiery explosion), they enter and start cycling the airlock.
About this time, everyone’s attention is drawn by Jones’ calls for assistance. He has cornered Quincy in one of the hanger deck cargo bays, and is standing in front of the little man, throwing a big knife from hand to hand and muttering “C’mon…” For his part, Quincy is holding Jones – and soon, Solo and Samale as well – at bay with what appears to be a detonator.
From the side of his mouth, Jones explains that he found Quincy tampering with the rocket controls in the center of the deck. The two crew members try to talk Quincy down, but the end result is only to confuse him.
Meanwhile, though, Bubba and Hal have made it in through the airlock and dropped their vacc suits. Keeping track of the situation over the open crew channel, in their boxers, they approached from the other side of the deck. Taking advantage of Quincy’s unfamiliarity with spin gravity, Bubba had plenty of time to line up a shot with his spear gun. Hoping Quincy would live, but nonetheless aiming for the center of mass, Bubba takes the shot.
Quincy falls, impaled on a spear. He is taken to sickbay, where Bubba applies rough first aid, saving the man’s life. Displaying his actual skills with radio-based equipment, Dub determines that the detonator had actually been a bluff; it was an ominously-styled personal music player.
In the coming days, Quincy is interrogated and eventually imprisoned on minimal rations. His story: he is not a businessman at all, as he tried to imply, but a blue-collar zero-G welder. He had chosen his cover identity to conceal his skills in free fall, going so far as to fake space sickness at the voyage’s start. Driven by his Isolationist sympathies, and mentally unstable to begin with, he had decided to sabotage the ship to cause it to crash into the spaceport at Agamemnon. He had planned to disable the sail entirely, but had underestimated the strength of the sail when under an electromagnetic load. His tampering with the rocket had been aimed at wiring the boat to blow up; considering the amount of metallic hydrogen in the fuel system, this would have been quite an explosion. He figured, even if the ship didn’t make it all the way to the spaceport, it would still disrupt traffic and cause no end of trouble for local trade. The final straw: he had spent his life savings, such as it was, to get this far. He could not pay his passage. He had never figured on having to, assuming that he would be dead in the explosion.
Debate raged over what to do with the prisoner. Samale, enraged at the attempt to kill his family members, argued for immediately throwing him out the airlock. Bubba and Jones came down firmly in favor of keeping him alive and turning him over to the authorities on Agamemnon. In the end, this was the decided course. (Which netted a $1000 bounty for Isolationist terrorists.)
Finally, it turned out that the scientific equipment had been well-packed enough to survive all the excitement, which earned a bonus from the shipper. The sail was struck and the ship docked without incident. After expenses, food, docking fees, and income tax, a share for the 5-week trip worked out to be $8,291.77, just a wee bit better than what would have been earned at a paying gig. Comments were made upon the merits of long-haul freight vs. the risks of cargo for the next haul.
* Affectionate nickname for the Cabra.
** Osolo went in for the fancy knife tricks while preparing meals.