Throwback Thursday: Space Cowboys, Season 2 #1 – “Terreno’s Knuckle Duster”
After diverting into the Supers 1200 game, we returned to space for season 2.
Terreno received the Cool Point, for continuing on using his Professional Wrestling style in a real combat… even after it became apparent that Professional Wrestling strikes did no actual damage.
To the best of my knowledge, nobody ever twigged to the reference to “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers“. I thought it was entirely too blatant, what with stealing not only the plot but the names of the main characters. It just goes to show, if your players don’t know it, it’s just as obscure as if it were hidden esoteric knowledge handed down from on high.
The Cabra lands on Miranda as part of a complicated deal involving another wholesale change of crew. Osolo is waiting outside the cargo bay door, still dressing in sheets, but now wearing Nano-Count Olympus Mons Color-Changing Mood Sheets™, as well as a tasteful amount of gold. He has added tattoos up both his arms which mark him as an “Uncle” in the Solo family. Dr Melika Nanika is with him, soddenly unconscious and loaded into a crate, clearly the worse for drink. Both are wearing oxygen masks, as the atmosphere over most of Miranda’s surface is too thin for humans who aren’t bred to it to be comfortable in.
The crew emerges, with most dispersing to all directions. Hal is the only one of the old crew who yet remains, and he’s looking haggard. After a joyous reunion, he introduces two crew members who are to remain with the ship.
Terreno took over as the ship’s pilot for their last trip, about six months back, when Samale found a berth that promised more exciting piloting (and smuggling) opportunities. He’s part of the Solo clan, which makes it easier to overlook his eccentricities, starting with his ever-present luchador mask. He is accompanied by Sohio Resolute, his aged trainer and manager.1 As they talk, Sohio reminds Terreno that they need to make Venus their next stop, as he’s set up a match with “some guy named Brontosaurus”.
Also about six months back, the Cabra hired on Felix to fill Bubba’s old position as console engineer. He’s a gruff-voiced, rough-looking sort, wearing a grease-stained pair of coveralls and a flowered pink tool belt.
One other member of the remaining crew, Jasmine, is not present. She had taken one of the shuttles and gone off on her own, in pursuit of her duties as the ship’s manager of commercial operations.
When asked, Hal explains how the ship had fared over the past three years, since Bubba’s death: Being a target for both the Chang Sing and the Wing Kong, and with the (at that time) war between the Asteroid Belt Alliance and the Coalition of Core Worlds heating up, the Cabra had been forced to move further out into the system, doing long hauls like the old crew had always talked about. Luckily, after her rejuvenation, Grandma had smiled upon their business ventures. The time had been spent to great profit, but the time between ports had been quite long.
In fact, the ship had done so well, it is now the flagship of a (small) fleet! The Cabra had landed on Miranda, while two other ships remained in orbit. One was an old asteroid miner, set up to produce rocket fuel and prospect for valuable ores, while the other was a long-haul cargo ship for supplying colony worlds in the old days, equipped with an extensive machine shop.2 Since neither ship was set up to land, they had remained in orbit; since Jasmine had insisted, their crews had remained with them. The new ships had been crewed by the Akbar brothers – Adam, Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank, and Gideon.3
For his part, Osolo explains that he had spent three years on Agamemnon, working as the greatest Osolo impersonator in the ‘verse, with Melika coming along for the never-ending party that was his entourage. (Osolo confides that she maybe partied a little too hard, feeling she could have done more to save Bubba’s life.) The money was great, he says, and the concerts got bigger and bigger, until one day, he woke up and realized he wasn’t happy with it anymore. He wasn’t born to be a star, he was born a cowboy. …and getting back to honest work might just keep Mel from drinking herself into an early burial at space.
When Hal asks about Rahne, Osolo says that she is still in the custody of her stepfathers, but he plans to do something about that next year, when she will turn 13.
The group is interrupted in their storytelling by the arrival of Widad Sabra Jamil (“Call me Sabra”). Hal introduced her as a long-term passenger who has been with the ship for a while, doing her own trading, shipping her cargo as freight, and traveling along with it. She wears a set of oversized sunglasses with an obvious computer interface, marking her as a core-worlder. She leavers to conduct her own business.
At this point, the host of the Cabra arrives. Khan Abdul Wali Khan rides up on horseback, and greets the crew in Arabic, which none of the crew speaks. There is some amusement and annoyance at this, with the Khan giving curt orders to a henchman, who leaves on the run. Several attempts at communication fail before the group is approached by an incredibly old woman who speaks both Arabic and Portuguese. She gives her name as Madame Dooriya Ker, and offers her services as translator, in exchange for a good rate for a ticket off Miranda. Osolo is initially resistant, until she pulls out a deck of Tarot cards and tells him that the cards say it’s what he’ll do. At that, he agrees.
Finally able to talk, the Khan greets the crew and gives his approval to their commercial endeavors. He explains that he has assigned his nephew, Wally, to act as his agent and to facilitate the crew’s buying and selling. However, somehow, Wally had missed the meeting. The Khan assured the crew that Wally would be along in due time, and galloped off.
Madame Dori goes inside to check out her new room, while the crew leaves in search of the nearest bar.
Along the way, they come across a fried-dog cart and decide to partake in the colorful local cuisine. Without a shared language, the crew has a hit-and-miss interaction with the dog-kebab seller. Osolo gets what he ordered, Felix gets a double-helping of his order, Terreno gets rice instead of meat, and Hal… encounters something with a chicken foot in it.
Disgusted, he flings the offending piece of fowl away, but has a moment of klutz, neglects to compensate for the low local gravity, and launches it into the raised coffee cup of a dignified, elderly, local poo-bah. Strong hot coffee rains over the man and his fez, prompting three large locals to come to their feet menacingly. Terreno and Osolo moved to back up Hal, with Osolo ripping off his breakaway sheet ensemble to reveal nothing more or less than the traditional mawashi loincloth of the sumo. In light of this, the locals decided not to make an issue of it, and bent to helping the elder get cleaned up.
Resuming the search and discussing the quaint and picturesque scenery of the town of Syracuse, the crew remarks upon the date, 20 April 2521. Just as they wondered if this is a world that celebrates the ancient holiday, they run into a small parade, centered around a Chinese dragon spouting smoke in all directions. Happy to have their question answered, they proceed on.
Without further adventure, the crew makes it to a local bar. Being the crew’s charades champion, Osolo negotiates with the bartender, opening a tab and buying a round. After a few rounds, though, Hal’s not-really-dog-kebab starts to come back on him. Muttering something about needing to find the restroom, he ventures into the depths of the bar.
As it turned out, the bar is short on indoor plumbing. Hal finds the back door and spots the outhouse, but doesn’t make it. Stumbling off the path, he is forced to remove his oxygen mask to throw up. His head whirling, he loses consciousness.
Some time later, back in the bar, the crew starts to wonder what’s keeping Hal. They all move to follow him, prompting the bartender to object loudly. Through the language barrier, they make out that he doesn’t like the idea of the entire group leaving, carrying their drinks, with an open tab. As a compromise, Osolo and Terreno follow Hal’s trail, while Felix stays behind, holding down their table, enjoying the questionable local music, and continuing with the drinking.
Outside, the two find the outhouse, but no sign of Hal. After some searching, they find his discarded oxygen mask. Concerned, Osolo sends Terreno back to settle the tab and collect Felix, while he remains behind to try to find Hal’s tracks.
During this same time, Felix finds his foot encumbered by a petite cat-girl in a maid’s outfit wearing a collar with a length of attached chain. She shows no ability to speak, responding only with meows and purrs. The tag on her collar declares her name to be Nuku-chan, but there is no other information. Felix experiments, giving her bits of the crew’s leftover bar snacks, and a sip of liquor, which she quite liked. Terreno’s return finds him scratching behind the cat-girl’s ears as she purred happily.
The two settled the tab and returned to Osolo, bringing Nuku-chan along. Osolo has used the time to remind himself that he was born and bred on the metal grating of a ship’s decks, and has no idea how to track. Instead, he has decided to play the odds, and seek the nearest hospital.
Meanwhile, at the nearest hospital, Hal wakes up. He is under a plastic tent and has something very uncomfortable down his throat. He moves to remove it, only to be stopped by a nurse speaking Portuguese, assuring him that all would be well. He removes the tube from Hal’s throat and leaves the room.
The other patient in the room asks if he might practice his Portuguese language skills, which Hal agrees to. They trade stories until discovering that they have something in common. Hal grew up on a tree farm, while the other man is a farmer of bamboo. The other patient laments that his bamboo-based paper product is unfashionable on Miranda, leaving him with warehouses full of paper with no buyers. In short order, Hal has all but sealed his first big-time cargo deal, offering to buy 650 tons of paper for $52,000.
While the patients get to know each other, the rest of the crew make their painful way to the hospital, fighting against the language and cultural barrier the entire way. In the end, they are successful. The nurses explain that Hal had been found and brought in to have his stomach pumped, with food poisoning and quite possibly alcohol poisoning as well.
The crew enters Hal’s room just as he’s about to seal the deal. Osolo insists that Hal, being sick and inexperienced at this sort of thing, needed help, and steps in to the final round of negotiations. He manages to talk the other merchant “down” to $57,000.4
Enough ruckus is raised to bring Hal’s doctor, who insists that Hal stay for the night. Rejecting this outright, Hal signs himself out of the hospital, accepting responsibility for whatever happens. During the excitement, Osolo tries to subtly take advantage of Hal’s condition to obtain extra drugs, which leads to much confusion until the medical staff figure out what’s going on. Laughing at the silly foreigner, they tell him, if that’s the sort of thing he wants, he should just go to the convenience store down the street.
Checking, the crew finds that, indeed, narcotics of all description are freely available. Osolo gets excited at visions of profit, and starts questioning the store’s cashier about buying them out, before realizing they would be better off shopping wholesale, rather than retail.
The crew returns to the ship for the night, with Felix bringing Nuku-chan along. There is some discussion of what to do with her, with Felix insisting that they keep “Petunia”.5 One point of the debate is the question, is she a human with cat properties, or a cat with human properties? The crew determines that she can’t, or won’t, speak. When offered a pencil, she batted at it with her cat-like paws, demonstrating that there’s no way she could write. On the other hand, when Osolo asked her directly why they should keep her, she pantomimed a message to him: “Because I can get into my old master’s safe.”
In the end, they decide to keep her, but Osolo demands that Felix feed and clean up after his new pet.
The ship has changed since the old days, and not for the better. It’s dirty, in general, for one thing. All the knives in the kitchen are nicked and blunted, there are important pots and pans missing, while others are unacceptably dented. Bubba’s still has been disassembled.
So, the next day, it was back to work. Osolo ordered Terreno and Felix to relieve the Akbar brothers in orbit, so they could have some shore leave. Felix is given a list of kitchen utensils, and instructions to draw up designs for a new still, and sent to the cargo ship’s machine shop. Hal is assigned to keep an eye on the brothers while they take their R&R. Osolo goes on the hunt, searching for big-time wholesale suppliers of poppy products. Melika remains, passed out, dropped off in her old sickbay.
Osolo returns with no joy. Probably because of the ongoing drought, he is unable to locate any sellers on the necessary scale. Ephraim has better luck, finding and buying a full-grown, ziggy-born St. Bernard. The poor beast can’t even lift its head, even in the micro-gravity of Miranda. Nevertheless, the brothers are very pleased with their new pet, and swear to feed and take care of it.
That night, Felix has nightmares of being eaten alive by alligators, only to awake and discover Nuku-chan kneading his back with her claws.
The next day, Wally arrived, and went on the hunt for cargo with Osolo and Ephraim. The other Akbar brothers were sent to relieve Felix and Terreno.
Melika finally woke up and was absolutely appalled at the state of her sickbay. Stumbling forth, she came across the brothers’ new dog, saw the sad state it was in, and set up a quick IV to make it more comfortable.
The search for cargo turned up 50 tons of electronics parts, and 125 tons of wood. Deals were made, and both were set to be delivered.
That afternoon, while seeking entertainment, Terreno is stopped by three large men carrying baseball bats. They inform him that they are there to “send a message” from their employer, and that he should “return the cat”. Of course, he refuses, and offers physical resistance, in the form of a classic pro wrestling clothesline delivered to the spokes-mook!
Of course, pro wrestling moves are fake. The mook doesn’t know to sell it, and he and his buddies are stunned at the unbelievable sight. While Sohio hobbled away, calling for help on the communicator, Terreno pressed his advantage, such as it was. Taking advantage of the low gravity, he threw two of the attackers far away, while taking a solid hit to the torso. Seeing the balance of power shift, the last mook ran. Melika showed up, having been called by Sohio’s message, and administered first aid.
That evening, the crew gathered around the Cabra‘s kitchen table for dinner and to discuss recent events. At one point, Melika looked at the external camera – part of the improvements since the old days – and noticed one of the natives, some distance away, who seemed to be setting up a large rifle pointing at the Cabra‘s airlock door. (A critical success on a Perception check versus a poor roll of Stealth.)
Startled, Melika left the ship and headed towards the man to interrogate him, with other, slow-reacting members of the crew trailing behind. The man saw her coming, obviously panicked, grabbed some of his gear, and ran off, leaving the gun itself, his jacket, and some other kit behind.
As soon as Osolo caught up, he called dibs on the gun. Even as he spoke, he heard a voice in the back of his head, as Bubba pointed out: “That rifle is crap.” Even so, he claimed it as just spoils.
Melika investigated the jacket, and found a business card for one Dr Ronald Clement, the ranking scientist working on the terraforming of Heinlein6.
1 Sohio is family, but not part of the main, space-faring, tramp-freighter merchant family – similar to Hal’s grandpa.
2Neither ship has a name. Both need one.
3Members of the clan, but working as employees, rather than shareholders, while learning on-the-job. Their parents were very religious, members of the Church of Jesus Christ, Zombie, and had named the boys as they were born, alphabetically, with names from the Old Testament. Frank’s full name is Frankincense, because the Old Testament is short on names starting with the letter ‘F’, but he doesn’t care for it at all.
4In-universe, this wasn’t nearly so obvious as all that. It’s more of a “and you pay the closing costs” agreement, where everybody walks away thinking they got a great deal… until the books are balanced next month and it (possibly) comes out in the accounting. But, out-of-universe, it’s amusing.
5Felix has trouble with names.
6The planet formerly known as Uranus, until they got tired of killing folks over the jokes.