Throwback Thursday: Space Cowboys #10 – “Twenty Lashes”

by mshrm

We pick up from where we left off, episode before last. The pets’ adventure was actually a flashback, taking place while the crew was getting ready for Osolo’s concert. 

The megacorporation with control of the terraforming technology was called Weyland-Yutani. Observant fans will note the “Aliens” reference. I gave the guys deja vu with that name for months before anybody identified it.

Another bit of background that has thus far escaped mention:  Back in the days before humanity abandoned Earth, they did a lot of work with nanotechnology. That’s one of the reasons they had to abandon Earth. Nanotech was considered all but forbidden. One exception was the “immortality serum”, an ultra-tech drug cocktail that allowed some to extend their lives long beyond their natural limits. Of course, those “some” were “the incredibly rich and powerful”. The modern formula was able to stave off the effects of aging, if taken regularly. The historical formula was stronger, and more dangerous, able to actually turn back the clock.

What happened:

Sunday, 3 April 2518: As soon as the boat made port, at a much more basic spaceport than the last, Osolo left to find out what had happened to his music career. Nanika patched up the survivors who had been injured, then went to work in the control room helping Hal and Bubba repair the boat. Samale went to round up the passengers and let them know about the change in ‘ports.

While doing repairs, Hal discovered the “Property of Lo Pan” bag in the engine room airlock. The half-blind rattlesnake inside threatened him, briefly, before he bashed in its skull with a handy wrench. Hal and Bubba puzzled over the bag for a moment, before Dr Nanika called, saying she had isolated an electrical problem. When Bubba went to investigate, he found the biggest nest of of spiders he had ever seen, in the crawlspace over the kitchen habitat canister. Using a jar of moonshine and a lighter, the mechanics turned exterminator and eradicated the spiders, only to find an unexpected addition: a listening device, connected to ship’s power, set to pick up audio in the kitchen area.

When the guys brought this to Nanika’s attention, she used her advanced knowledge of communications systems to try to backtrack any other unexpected radio broadcasters within the Cabra. She immediate found another listening device, also in the habitat canister crawlspace area, but this time, over Osolo’s room.

While the three were wondering what to make of this, Samale returned with the newspaper. Osolo had been declared dead! Though startled, the crew wasn’t too concerned, since they knew he had survived the spaceport explosion that had supposedly killed him.

Later that evening, Samale met a desperate man who was looking to sell two tons of illegal pharmaceuticals at a major loss. Samale talked the price down even further, then brought Hal into the conspiracy. They managed to sneak the cargo past Bubba, but couldn’t fool Nanika’s finely-tuned psychological skills. Luckily, she didn’t object, and so the cargo was hidden away.1

Monday, 4 April 2518: Early in the morning, Hal received a message from Gramps, asking to meet at a nearby diner for breakfast. While there, Gramps mentioned that his dealings had fallen through due to the attack on the spaceport.

Returning to the boat, the crew met the passengers and Dub, filthy and exhausted. Bubba nearly chased Dub away, not recognizing him. Samale saw through the layer of dirt and straightened things out. Dub explained that he had been left behind when the Cabra escaped the exploding spaceport… taking his identification and money with it.

About this time, Osolo finally returned, with a similar sad tale. Since the RIAA had declared him dead and stolen his songs, nobody wanted to talk to him. The others told him about the bugs, which explained how the RIAA had recorded his music without his knowledge. Dismayed, he elected to stay with at the boat and skip the meeting.

Samale, Bubba, and Hal made ready to meet Lo Pan, making sure to bring the carpetbag with its load of dead rattlesnake. This time, the meeting was at Lo Pan’s Chinese restaurant. They were thoroughly searched, and the bag of snake was noted, then taken away by a very polite elderly lady.

When confronted, Lo Pan admitted that he had been the one to cause the snake to be delivered. He produced Sen Yung, his employee and Hal’s old friend from the tree farm, who had been the one to sneak the snake aboard the Cabra. When confronted with his betrayal, he claimed that he had never intended to put Hal in any danger: he had planned to drop the snake in someone else’s room, then warn Hal about the snake and the Isolationist attack, but ran out of time after being startled by a chicken. (Osolo’s favorite fighting rooster, in the last episode.)

Lo Pan explained that it had been his intention that one of the crew die, as a lesson in honesty that family-oriented cowboys would understand. Since the original attempt had failed, he continued, he had sent an assassin to take care of the job more directly.

Meanwhile, back at the boat, Dr Nanika, Osolo, Dub, and Rahne were individually ambushed and rendered unconscious. When the two adults came to, they found themselves tied up around the kitchen table, with the assassin listening intently to an earpiece. Osolo made a show of snoring to cover up the sound of Nanika struggling to escape, but before she could get anywhere, the assassin shut off his communicator with a final grunt, turned, and fired a pistol point-blank into Dub’s face.

Back at the meeting, the three crew members each controlled themselves in their own ways, with Hal suppressing his impulsiveness, Bubba his temper, and Samale his feelings for family. (Will rolls all around!) They finished the rest of the meeting, agreeing to ship a load of bamboo and paper products as freight, at half price, for Lo Pan, then left to rush back to the boat.

Once there, the crew put Dub’s body on ice for a burial in space. While cleaning out Dub’s room, Osolo discovered Dub’s diary, which gave enough clues for Nanika and Samale to pinpoint the location of the wrecked ship. Nearly everyone went into a flurry of activity, looking for freight for two days, which led to a message from Lo Pan suggesting that it would be appreciated if they were to deliver his goods. The Cabra left the Ag’ on 7 April.

The trip to the shoal hiding the wrecked ship was uneventful. Bubba befriended one of the passengers, Charles Antoine Nelson, an uplifted chimp, based on their shared mechanical background and a taste for cigars. Samale successfully approached Lydia Noh, another passenger, as well.

At the shoal, the crew deployed one of the shuttles. With Samale at the wheel, Hal and Bubba hauling one of the inchworms, and Osolo coming along for the “religious experience”, the shuttle set out for the location of the ship, leaving Nanika running the Cabra’s sensors.

Locating the ship itself proved no great challenge. It turned out to be from the mid 2100’s, making it over 350 years old. Leaving Samale with the shuttle, the others donned their space suits to go across. While Hal found an airlock that could be manually opened, Osolo found a corpse in a space suit with a laser wound. The corpse’s suit bore a Weyland-Yutani logo. Osolo, Bubba, and Hal entered the ship warily, finding that the air was breathable, barely, but bad enough to warrant staying in suits. They split up, with Bubba heading for the control room, Hal seeking the engine room, and Osolo following a spiritual calling… and a faint “clang” in the distance.

Bored, Samale started pondering the location of the inevitable hidden cargo area for smuggling. His musings pointed towards a location not far from the living quarters, where Osolo was wandering, so Osolo begin following Samale’s instructions. (Delivered over the radio, naturally.)

Bubba found another long-mummified corpse in the pilot’s chair, apparently killed by a blow from something like an axe. He started work on restoring the controls, hampered by a lack of available power.

In the engine room, Hal discovered a battery with a trace of a charge, which he jury-rigged into enough to deploy the ship’s solar panel array, which, in turn, provided enough power to get some of the ship’s systems going. Internal sensors showed the entire ship to be cold, except for two heat sources: one near Osolo, and one moving towards Hal.

Osolo, with Samale’s guidance, finally managed to open a hidden cargo area, where he found the source of the heat: a still-operational refrigeration unit for two palm-sized tubes, bearing digital readouts and long serial numbers. When Nanika heard the serial numbers, she became quite interested, because they seemed to indicate that the tubes contained doses of the so-called “immortality serum”. She kept this suspicion to herself, but emphasized that Osolo should bring the whole thing back.

Meanwhile, the moving heat source reveled itself to Hal, stepping into the doorway of the room he was in. It was a bizarrely-shaped robot, with backward-bending legs like a chicken, large chopping claws, and a shoulder-mounted laser. As it moved towards him, Hal drew and fired his spear-gun, to no effect, aside from confusing the thing. Seeing this, Hal quickly drew the laser pistol once owned by the Signifyin’ Monkey (through the use of a Gadget, on the theory “I could have picked it up…”), firing a single shot through the robot’s brain case, disabling it. Examination of the robot’s remains showed that it didn’t seem to have been designed by man, but evolved… so it was quickly disassembled and disposed of.

The Cabra continued on, taking the knowledge of the ship’s coordinates… and two vials that might turn out to be hotter than any cargo the boat has ever hauled.

1Made Smuggling roll by 7, for future reference.