Throwback Thursday: Space Cowboys #5 – “Shanghaied”

by mshrm

This episode was remarkable for being the day that everybody heard Hal’s tale of woe. Hal’s player stepped into character and delivered a twenty minute monologue that had everybody spellbound. 

To get the full effect, you have to remember that one of Hal’s Quirks involved talking like a space-sailor. 

One might gather, from this episode, the impression that I’m a fan of the movie Big Trouble In Little China. In this, one would be quite correct. 

At TL 10, even pet tags have enough computing power to run a mail server. Given the way old technology was encysted within the new, in this ‘verse, I imagine even the smallest of TL 10 computers were running some sprawling descendant of Linux with scads of options turned on by default and extraneous services included, because why not? 

Herschel Crater, on Mimas, is really awesome. It’s the thing that makes Mimas look like the Death Star. 

The first appearance of the Yi brother, Hu Yi, Du Yi, and Lu Yi. I wish I could be ashamed of the pun, but I can’t. Anyway, I’m pretty sure I lifted it from somewhere, I just can’t remember where.

What happened:

After the events of the last episode, the atmosphere on the boat was subdued. The refugees spent the downstream leg of the trip studying for the tests that awaited them on Mimas. Bubba kept to himself, brooding over his recent actions. Dr Nanika was also introspective, meditating upon her failure to save those who died and playing sad songs on her fiddle. Samale was still recovering from his bout with “space mono”, but learned a valuable lesson about casual interplanetary contact and dedicated himself to strictly safe sex. Osolo spent some time trying to find a way to brush his hair over his healing ear, finding little satisfaction.

One night, moved by the gloom, Hal related his story to Dr Nanika and Osolo over drinks in the kitchen. Regularly punctuating the tale with obscenities in three languages, he told how he had grown up on a backwater asteroid in the GCC, living with his Gramps, until he became engaged to Sheila. Having no money for the wedding, he accepted work on a freighter, only to become embroiled in trouble with pirates, the Mafia, jail and escape, and a daring journey between asteroids with an improvised vessel. As luck would have it, despite all his efforts, he missed the wedding. (“Shoulda been a one day trip. Took me fuckin’ three days.”) The insult of standing Sheila up at the alter was so dire that her entire family had pulled up roots and left. Furthermore, a few days after his return, Hal ran into a couple of men who extracted one last price for the dishonor, cutting off the finger that should have worn a ring.

One lot of freight had to be dropped off en route to Mimas, at a space station traveling a three-day circuit between Mimas and Enceladus, the two poorest moons in the Saturn system. Dr Nanika took advantage of the stop to work with the needy sick, while Bubba stalked off on quartermaster business. During the unloading, a well-dressed “Walken” approached the boat with a brace of guards. He made a loud fuss over being interested in the wares of the cowboys1, leading to him (but not his entourage) being invited inside for tea and discussion.

Inside, alone with Samale, the Walken dropped the act. He explained that he was a servant of Lo Pan, working undercover for these past several years in the service of Long Tong, the local warlord and richest man on Mimas. According to the Walken, Lo Pan had sent a message2 and instructions for when the Cabra arrived. Lo Pan knew that there should have been a passenger of interest to him, carrying information that he considered even more vital than the passenger.

Of course, Samale had been unconscious during the events of the previous episode, and nobody had been particularly talkative. He asserted that they had no such passenger, no such information, and didn’t know anything about anything – truthfully, as far as he was concerned. He maintained his story, even as the Walken tried to impress upon him that neither Long Tong nor Lo Pan were men to be trifled with. The Walken explained that Lo Pan is a leader in the Wing Kong, while Long Tong is a big man in the Chang Sing, both being “gentlemen’s associations” splitting their time between community service and organized crime. The two tongs being at odds, the situation was quite sensitive. The Walken assured Samale that the best course would be to hand over the information without making waves. Samale, in turn, assured the Walken that he meant no offense at all to Lo Pan, but had no such information.

The Walken, saddened but seeing no sign of deception, decided to pass the buck. He offered to use his connections with Long Tong to facilitate the sale of their cargo, and to gather enough freight heading towards Agamemnon to act as a plausible cover story. In return, the crew would agree to return to Agamemnon to discuss the matter with Lo Pan himself… thus avoiding any personal difficulties for the Walken. Samale delayed giving an answer, saying that he had to confer with the rest of the crew.

Meanwhile, off at the station’s “leper colony”, Dr Nanika received an email containing a huge encrypted file, claiming to be delayed mail from the Signifyin’ Monkey. She was unable to read the file, of course, but managed to backtrack the email’s chain of transfers: it had come to Dr Nanika via Rahne, originating in Rahne’s buffaloid’s tags.

After comparing notes that night, the crew decided to go along with the Walken’s plan. Samale met with the him the next day and confirmed the plan. Thanks to the Walken’s influence, the Cabra was cleared to land at Long Tong’s airport, adjacent to his estate, on the rim of the Herschel Crater. During the long approach, they observed that due to Mimas’ low gravity and artificially-supported thick atmosphere, along with the mountainous terrain, air traffic was quite common. The escape velocity of Mimas was low enough to mean anything using jets was, by definition, headed for orbit, so most traffic was either propeller-driven or muscle-powered.

Upon landing, Bubba and Rahne left on some sort of educational outing, possibly concerning low- to no-gravity wrestling. The rest of the crew saw off the refugees, then were escorted by Judy, part of Long Tong’s staff, to their rooms. On the way, Samale managed to talk her into coming back to his room afterward.

Later that afternoon, the crew was given a 15 minute audience with Long Tong to discuss the freight arrangements. Before hand, Judy prepared the crew. She showed them pictures of the people they would need to know. “This is Long Tong,” she said, “and this is Hu Yi, one of the Yi brothers who are Long Tong’s right-hand men, and the man who will kill you if you so much as raise a hand towards Long Tong.”

So, of course, as soon as the crew was seated and Long Tong asked if anyone would like tea, Osolo threw his hand in the air and announced he would. Hu Yi, standing behind Long Tong, just barely twitched in Osolo’s direction before realizing it was a harmless gesture. He gave Osolo a hint of a smile, seeming to appreciate his spirit.

Hal, observing this and thinking it was the way things were done, repeated the same gesture. In this case, Hu put Hal into an arm lock and duck-walked him out of the room without a word. As soon as Hu moved away from Long Tong, Du Yi slipped into his place.

Ignoring all this, Long Tong proceeded to discuss an arrangement with Samale. After some sharp negotiations, they arrived at an understanding. The boat would be loaded with a fair amount of freight for Agamemnon, plus a special lot of 20 tons of “don’t ask, don’t tell” freight for a little asteroid near the Ag’. This special freight was described as being illegal in transit, but legal upon delivery – a gray market smuggling deal.

There was only one condition.

It turned out that Long Tong was celebrating the wedding of his youngest daughter. In honor of that happy event, he said he could not do any actual business. For money to change hands and contracts to be entered into, the crew would have to wait for two days, until after the wedding. In the meantime, they would be invited to stay as guests. The crew agreed, happily, and went to enjoy themselves.

Long Tong’s estate had been turned over to celebration. Food and drink flowed freely, and live music was being performed in every corner. Anyone who was anyone on Mimas was there. The primary language of the area was some form of Chinese, but everyone was provided with a translator ear-bud for convenience. Helpful and efficient staff abounded. As it turned out, Mimas was settled mainly from Tibet and Tennessee. While many genres were represented, the dominant musical form on Mimas was a rap/bluegrass fusion.

Samale was approached by a beautiful young woman who introduced herself as Felina. She had sought out Samale, the new off-moon pilot, in particular. She led him to the two-mile drop at the edge of the crater, introducing him to the air racers there. These were members of a sort of “hot rod” subculture, centered around the one-man “Dragonfly” ultralight.

One of the Dragonfly punks, Yoshi, a young man of impressive hair, took exception to the amount of attention Samale was receiving from Felina, and challenged Samale to a race. Luckily, Samale had his own Dragonfly, a TL10 backpack model that he had picked up on Ceres. He accepted the challenge, which involved a course laid out down the cliff face. After a neck-and-neck, give-and-take chase down the entire crater wall, Samale made his move: he abandoned his vehicle in mid-air. His new model Dragonfly was able to fold and unfold within three seconds, so he had it go to backpack mode long enough to free-fall through areas too tight for wings, then unfold in time to pull out of his deadly plummet.3 Felina was thoroughly impressed, of course. She dragged Samale off-camera, where he remained for the rest of the episode.

This left Hal, Dr Nanika, and Osolo in the middle the celebration. One thing led to another, and they found themselves performing for an appreciative audience. In the middle of a song, Hal happened to see a young woman passing by the rear of the crowd, carrying a tray. It was Shiela, his former fiance! Desperate to follow, but trapped under the eye of dozens, Hal tried to do a slow fade. Seeing this, Osolo stepped up to the microphone and made sure that all eyes were on him, improvising in the style that they had seen earlier in the night.4 This not only provided enough cover for Hal to flee the stage without offense or upset, it also led to attention from the local musical industry.

Hal asked around about Shiela, discovering that she was one of the indentured serving staff, and that she was relatively new, having come on only within the past few weeks. He decided to talk to her, but was never quite able to catch her eye. Finally, as she went to carry her tray into the kitchens, he made a lunge to grab her… only to collide full-force with an exiting waiter carrying a dozen roast chickens and a bowl of guacamole. Both men and chickens flew in all directions, while the guacamole ended up heading directly towards Shiela. She turned towards the commotion just in time to take it on the face. She locked gazes with Hal for a half second, then fled, wailing. Stunned, Hal gave no resistance when security ejected him from the estate.

While Hal was adding on to his already-sad story, Osolo was talking with an agent who had seen his performance. This led to an introduction to the most powerful member of Mimas’ entertainment industry, Bustah Capp. Osolo and Dr Nanika spent the rest of the evening in highbrow discussion.

Later in the night, after Dr Nanika had gone off to bed, Bustah let slip a distaste for the indentured servant system. He mentioned that more than a quarter of the work force on Mimas was indentured, then dropped some dark hints about outright slavery, pointing out that just because the slave trade was illegal between planets didn’t mean it didn’t happen, before realizing that he had perhaps spoken too freely.

The next morning, Dr Nanika, Hal, and Osolo compared stories. After hearing about Sheila, Osolo casually opined that they should grab her and make good her escape. Hal immediately agreed. He talked the others into at least entertaining the idea. They agreed to gather information and see what could be done.

Just then, visitors announced themselves at the front airlock. It was Hu Yi and his youngest brother, Lu Yi, asking for Osolo. Hu wanted to invite him along to play rocket-ball. Osolo enthusiastically agreed, and left with them. At the gym, he saw that while both Yi brothers were respected, the staff was fearful of Lu. When it came time to play, and they needed a fourth, Lu grabbed a nearby individual at random and forced him to join in. Finally, just before the game, Lu took off his leather jacket and put his two SMGs atop it. At this point, Osolo realized that he was going to be expected to play this sport. Knowing that he had no chance to offer a good challenge as a player, he covered his lack of physical prowess with comedy, getting a laugh out of nearly everyone – Hu, particularly.

Dr Nanika went to visit the “veterinary offices”, where the estate’s indentured servants were treated when sick or injured. Trading on their shared medical background, she struck up a conversation with the head doctor. She picked up quite a lot of useful information, including Shiela’s schedule and the general location of her sleeping area.

Back on the Cabra, Hal couldn’t wait. Shortly after the others left, he, too, hit the streets. Taking one of the mules, he went to see if he could find a back way onto the estate, since the guards at the front weren’t about to let him in. First, he found what appeared to be an unused back entrance. When he tried the door, however, it turned out to be the entrance used by the security force. They questioned him and turned him loose, accepting his story of a wrong turn. Disheartened, Hal continued on his way… and noticed a trash pickup vehicle backing into an alley and being filled from a large chute in the estate wall. Taking advantage of the low gravity, Hal unhesitatingly jumped into the garbage outflow. He swam upstream, so to speak, until he managed to escape the disposal system in an out-of-the-way oubliette. Trash robots, ranging from tiny vacuum-bots up to full-sized roving dumpsters, used the room as a drop-off point.

Hal was here, picking garbage off himself, when Dr Nanika called to see how the others were doing. Nanika scolded Hal for going off on his own, pointing out that if he had waited, she could have given him a sedative to bring along. (Osolo, on the other hand, had never intended to put forth much effort to further the plan in the first place.) Putting their heads together over the boat’s communicators, they came up with a plan.

Hal crawled inside one of the dumpster-bots and used his mechanical skills to take over its guidance circuits. Using the ‘bot’s full speed of a slow walk, he proceeded to the kitchens, where Shiela was soon to come on duty. Dr Nanika intercepted the ‘bot along the way and “discarded” her hypo of sedatives.

At the same time, Osolo sought out Bustah. Using hints, references to literature, and classical gang-sign, he managed to communicate that if there were some sort of distraction, it would help throw a wrench into the indenture system. Bustah eagerly agreed to help, asking for twenty minutes to prepare. When he returned, he brought with him a mixed crew of musicians pulled from some of the most popular musical acts on Mimas. They threw together an impromptu concert, including Osolo, in the central area of Long Tong’s estate.

With all eyes on the concert, it was easy work for Hal to slip quietly out of the dumpster-bot and inject Shiela. He caught her as she went down, slid her into the ‘bot, and followed himself. Then, it was a simple matter of a low-speed getaway.

Some hours later, the three assembled in the Cabra’s sickbay. Shiela didn’t seem ready to speak to Hal directly, so Dr Nanika put on her psychologist hat and had a talk with her. She explained that after her clan had left in disgrace, they had fallen upon hard times, financially. She was blamed for this, and so the clan had sold her indentures to make ends meet. While she was eager to escape her situation, so long as the escape didn’t seem too risky, she was not willing to see Hal.

The wedding was the next day, followed directly by the transfer of freight. Samale, Bubba, and Rahne returned, and the boat lifted off without trouble.

Heading to engineering to help with setting up the sail, Hal happened to take a look at Long Tong’s “twenty tons of no-questions-asked”.

“Odd,” he thought, “That on the side looks like the life support for a hibernation system…”


1Slang for “tramp freighters” in 2517.

2 Small mail ships flit around the system with over five times the acceleration of the Cabra, carrying little more than a ton of mail and one grungy, half-crazed pilot.

3Why, yes, there was a critical success, thank you very much.

4Another critical success. Rap is performed with the better of Singing or Public Speaking (Oratory); in this case, the latter. This matters, later.