Don't Forget Your Boots

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Tag: Lo Pan

Throwback Thursday: Space Cowboys #12 – “Nail The Colors To The Mast”

It’s been a slow week around here, but I couldn’t leave y’all hanging on the finale episode of Season 1.

What Happened:

The crew and Seth discussed the Lo Pan situation over the trip to Ganymede, but came to no certain conclusion. Despite her words, Nanika refused to sign up for killing the man, even though she saw no other way out of their situation. In the end, nothing was resolved.

Bubba had lost custody of Rahne thanks to the recovery of her mother’s previously-lost survey vessel. One of Rahne’s stepfathers had sued for custody, basically using the cowboy lifestyle as a basis. Among other things, her ‘net connection logs were called into evidence, showing how interplanetary transfers on a small ship had interrupted her access.

When entering the treacherous magnetosphere of Jupiter, the Cabra was given the usual offer, from JCS Traffic Control, of a local pilot to guide them through to Ganymede. Feeling confident, Samale turned them down. Nanika, working the sensors, saved him from a misstep that would have led to disaster, doing it quietly enough for him to save face.

At Ganymede, the crew worked around the clock to unload the ship’s freight and refuel, eager to get to the reunion. The gathering itself was in a long orbit. Dozens of ships were lashed together, with flexible connectors between airlocks, forming an impromptu ziggy space station. Seth announced that he had made arrangements for the crew to meet with Grandma in a few days.

Osolo was swept away to spend time with many “aunts”, sharing gossip and recipes. Hal and Bubba located a likely lad to take on as an engine room apprentice.

When the time came, Grandma listened to the entire story, making no comment. In the end, she agreed that Lo Pan was a threat to the family, and should be dealt with, one way or another. After talking over several different approaches, it was decided that Grandma would come along on the trip to the Ag’, to be used as a demonstration of the effectiveness of the “fountain of youth” drug. Two young roughneck cousins, Randal and Cob, were recruited as muscle.

The crew then set course for the Ag’, carrying freight that Grandma arranged for at Ganymede. During the trip, Nanika resisted the urging to load the second canister with a lethal agent, instead deciding to fill it with a drug that would simulate the symptoms of a heart attack. When they arrived, they took pains to make this trip seem like any other.

While out drinking, Hal spotted Du Yi, one of Long Tong’s right-hand men. After passing this information along to the rest of the crew, he fell in with Leo Donadoni, bentlam addict and son of a Martian Mafia higher-up. Hal brought him back to the ship to meet with Samale and Osolo, who hooked him up with the bentlam and thereby became his new best friends. Conversation determined that Leo’s “family” was also nursing a grudge against Lo Pan.

Osolo caught up with Bustah Capp for dinner. The conversation turned to Osolo’s motives in allowing the RIAA to declare him dead. In the end, Osolo finally decided to accept Bustah’s offer of help, and stay on the Ag’ to fight for his music when the ship left.

The crew’s investigations revealed that Lo Pan had left the Ag’, in light of the escalating violence of the ongoing gang war. He was spending his time in an undisclosed location, somewhere near the Ag’, instead. They got in contact with his organization, using their previous contacts to get an appointment with Lo Pan’s Walken. Samale started the negotiations by attempting to titillate the Walken, which didn’t work out at all well. (Reference was made to the famous “Christopher Walken is watching you pee” picture.) Osolo took over as crew representative while Bubba and the young cousins took Samale into the hall for an educational roughing-up. Samale swore that the Walken would pay for misleading him so badly.

The Walken agreed that Lo Pan would pay $10 million for the fountain-of-youth drug, if it were proven by demonstration… passing up the offer of $8 million and an end to their association. The meeting and demonstration were set to take place in a few days’ time. Originally, the Walken placed restrictions on who could appear during the meeting, but he was convinced to allow the entire crew, as well as Grandma (for the demonstration) and Seth (as her attendant).

The guys talked Leo into trying to set up a meeting with his father. This fell through, but he was able to call in Silvio Manfredi, a trusted agent of the family, instead. After discussion and negotiation, Silvio agreed to work with the crew. The plan was made that the crew would go in first, and set off a beacon to reveal the location of Lo Pan’s summer home. At that signal, the Martian Mafia’s men would swoop in and clean up. The end goal would be to end up with Lo Pan dead, his Walken alive, and his sanctum in mob hands. In return, the Martian Mafia would look upon the Cabra with favor, and also pay them $8 million.

On the morning of the meeting, Samale concealed a holdout pistol upon his person, then used his smuggling experience to conceal Randal, Cob, Cleo, and Han in the shuttle. (The plan was, once the advance team with Grandma started a ruckus, the four surprise members would strike and join them.) Nanika, knowing she would be involved in unpleasantness (including violence and telling lies), gave herself a sedative. Bubba concealed several smoke bombs, obtained from the juvenile delinquents back at the reunion, inside a necklace he had machined, and gave it to Osolo to wear. Osolo announced, even if they all survived, he was going to stay on the Ag’ and pursue his music career, finally making his decision public. Grandma was gently moved onto the shuttle, and they were off, using coded flight instructions provided by Lo Pan’s organization.

There was much evidence of tight security on Lo Pan’s private space station. Thanks to the crew’s meticulous preparation (and, in Samale’s case, willpower), though, none of their concealed weapons or co-conspirators were found. They were taken into Lo Pan’s presence, where Bubba talked Lo Pan into nearly clearing the room, leaving only the crew, Lo Pan, and his Walken.

Everyone watched as Nanika administered the drug to Grandma. Shortly, she regenerated into her much-younger self.  Satisfied that the drug was real, Lo Pan questioned Nanika. Thanks to her forethought in sedating herself, she managed to lie to his face, convincingly. (Possibly a first, for her.)

While this was going on, Samale was quietly moving for position and drawing his weapon.

When the “drug” hit Lo Pan’s system, he was in obvious distress. Walken went to pull a gun. Suddenly, everyone was in motion. Samale tried to shoot Walken in the knee, but missed. Grandma and Seth went to cover the doors, with Grandma delivering a high kick to the first guard to stick his head in the room. Bubba and Hal went to help control the doors. Osolo moved to get control of Lo Pan in the most direct way possible, by sitting on him, then dropped one of the smoke bombs, filling the room with thick smoke.

At the sound of Lo Pan’s ancient bones breaking, Nanika dove to provide medical assistance. In response to the resulting slap fight, Osolo got off the old man. Nanika picked up Lo Pan – still breathing, though badly injured – just in time for the Walken to open fire. In the poor visibility, he managed to put three slugs into Lo Pan, which was more than enough to finish him.

Bubba gave the signal for the cavalry, but the crew was still presented with the problem of surviving until they arrived. Sealing doors as they went, the crew retreated to the last room before the long hall back to the shuttle. Grandma and Bubba agreed, if they tried to make it as a group, they were doomed; the guards would either break in or circle around, and the crew would be fish in a barrel. They also agreed, anyone left behind to cover the escape would be taking on a suicide mission. Making a quick decision, Bubba sent Grandma, Seth, and Nanika in the first group. He gathered up spare weapons, then sent the others on their heels.

Then Bubba squared his shoulders, raised his pistol, and went back into the smoke.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Space Cowboys #11 – “Yo, Ho, Blow The Man Down”

The Cool Point for this episode went to Dr Nanika, for outstanding roleplay of the Truthfulness disadvantage. She ducked, she dodged, she sweated, and in the end… she gave up everything she knew. Later on, she demonstrated how Truthfulness is not Honesty, nor even necessarily niceness.

Remember, Hal is being actively hunted by the interplanetary Mafia.

What Happened:

The Cabra entered the heavily-regimented traffic around Mars. At dinner the evening before disembarking to take the space elevator to the country of Tharsis on the surface, the crew discussed their situation and plans. Bubba had received a message instructing him to present himself and Rahne for a custody hearing on the far side of Mars from Tharsis. Hal volunteered to take over Bubba’s usual port-side duties. The crew talked about the possibility of using the location of the wreck, either selling it to Weyland-Yutani or to some third party, but decided more consideration was needed before taking such a risky step.

During the last leg of the trip, Nanika had exhausted the abilities of her available tools without entirely completing the analysis of the contents of the canisters. From what she had gathered, she suspected it to be life-extension drugs, but she wanted to keep this to herself until finishing the analysis. She had kept it under wraps, until Osolo asked her outright. Unable to lie or dodge the question, she spilled. The crew considered different options for the canisters, but decided to wait before doing anything.

The next morning, Bubba and Rahne were on their way early. The rest of the crew took their time, exploring the facilities aboard the space elevator, while Samale was scoping out the situation with an eye towards disposing of his two tons of bentlam. He particularly noticed the tight customs controls, including the drug-sniffing genetically-enhanced dogs.

The crew was not impressed with the surface of Mars near the base of the space elevator. While it did live up to the name of the Garden Planet, every patch of grass large enough to step on had a sign ordering everyone to keep off the grass. While there were bars, the strongest drink they served was 2% near-beer. Perhaps worst of all, in Osolo’s eyes: the entire planet was vegetarian. By law. Tofu was available in abundance, but no meat, eggs, or dairy.

Nanika, with funding from the rest of the crew, re-supplied and upgraded the sickbay. She also underwent a quick elective surgery to get Jarvis implanted in the same way Rahne has Cervantes.

With her new cutting-edge equipment, Nanika made short work of the canisters.1 To her amazement, she discovered this was something much more than just a couple of doses of life-extender serum. This was the fabled raw nanotech “fountain of youth”, made to roll back the effects of aging, anywhere from 50 to 100 years. It was entirely too strong to be taken by any member of the crew, as it would try to send them back beyond adulthood, killing them. It had gone out of favor long ago, largely because of its sheer strength. Duplication was conceivable, but would necessarily destroy at least one dose in the process, and required expensive equipment.

During the same time, Samale and Osolo came up with a scheme to get the bentlam off board. Once again making good use of his freight-handling skills, Osolo wrapped the two tons of designer drugs in an airtight package, then covered it in warning labels, claiming dangerous chemicals. Wearing the required coveralls and air supplies for transporting caustic agents, the two managed to talk their way through customs uninspected and unimpeded. They were halfway to the surface before they realized they hadn’t given any thought to the next step, what to do with it on the ground. Quickly improvising, they slipped the cargo into a self-store facility near the base of the beanstalk.

Meanwhile, Hal was going through the unfamiliar chores of picking up spare parts, fuel, and supplies. Splitting his attention between his checklist and the map of the local cowboy’s mall, he managed to get somewhat turned around. Thinking he had gotten re-oriented, he opened a door… only to find himself standing ten feet behind an apparent hostage situation. A man in a suit had a gun to the head of a girl, using her as a human shield. He was paying more attention to the mixed crowd of police and armed men in nice suits in front of him than his immediate surroundings, which included Hal, who impulsively went in for the tackle.

He took down the man and was able to hold his own in the ensuing scuffle. The girl ended up on the bottom of the pile, but the relatively low gravity of Mars meant she wasn’t injured. When the hostage taker went down, his gun hand was thrown wide, so he was unable to bring it into play before one of the well-dressed men brought a well-shined shoe down on his hand. Hal was picked up, dusted off, and hailed as a hero, while a cry for “the Don” went up. An older gentleman came up from the back of the crowd and had a tearful reunion with the girl, obviously his grand-daughter. Figuring out that this might not be his crowd, Hal tried to slip out, but failed. He was introduced to Don Giovanni, clearly of the Martian Mafia.

When the Don approached, he did the same little eye twitch that every wired Core Worlder does when they access their computers. He hesitated for just a moment, then finished moving for the handshake. After delivering some predictable words of thanks in his “outdoor voice”, the Don leaned over for a private word: “I know who you are. All is forgiven. If there is anything I can do, remember my name.”

With that, the Don turned and left, grand-daughter in tow. Many of the younger gangsters offered to take Hal out for a drink. Still trying to catch up to events, Hal pointed out that it was hardly worth it for the weak stuff in town, and countered with a proposal of dinner with the family, to which they readily agreed. When they heard that Hal was interested in meat, they said that they knew just the place. Hal gathered the rest of the crew, who were all eager for the wildest night available on Mars.

That evening, the young mobsters met the crew for the drive out of town. After driving beyond the edge of town, past green fields, into a patch of desert, they came to a stop before a dilapidated shack. The gangsters knew the proper passwords, so they were allowed within the shack, where they found a cave entrance. Inside the cave, there was a small dining establishment… and in the back room of the back room of the place, there was a bar with a few tables, where the waitresses went topless, and where one could buy distilled liquor, and both chicken and pork.

This was pretty tame, by usual landing party standards, but it seemed the best game in town, so the crew made the most of it. Nanika got into the spirit so much, she had one too many and passed out. Osolo and Samale wanted to discuss the sale of the bentlam, but couldn’t politely ask who would be the person to talk to. Taking the soft approach, they made some jokes concerning those who deal in large quantities of designer drugs, then caught three different mobsters glancing at one guy before laughing. Pulling that one aside, they smoothed his ruffled feathers with drink and the offer of a good deal on the cargo. The agreement was made, and the next day, they handed over the merchandise.

On his way to the meeting, that morning, Osolo thought that he would smuggle an egg off the ship, as a gift to their new friends. This time, he was caught, and given a lecture on how Mars was much too civilized to actually eat meat. He was about to make more of an issue with it when he finally noticed the “Death to drug traffickers” signs, and decided a low profile might be best. He retreated, leaving his egg behind.

Over the next few days, the crew threw themselves into prep for the next journey, to Ganymede, in the Jupiter system, for the family reunion at the end of the year. Finding freight was little problem. The crew decided against looking for passengers, since they didn’t want to bring outsiders into family business. On the other hand, Nanika did a scan of the network to see if any family members might be looking for a ride. She found Seth Solo, one of the older generation who isn’t attached to any particular ship; instead, he acts as a floating troubleshooter and lieutenant to Grandma, an “uncle”. Offered a place, he jumped at the chance, even offering to help out around the boat while still paying his way as a passenger.

Bubba returned from the custody hearing.

Rahne did not.

After breaking orbit, life settled into its new routine. Seth lent a hand in every station on the ship, helping out and listening to stories. With no one making any real effort to pull the wool over his eyes, he shortly had a pretty good idea of the events of the past year. (In particular, when he asked Osolo why he was putting up with what the RIAA was doing to him, Osolo replied “Because I’m a cowboy.” This got an approving look.) At a dinner pow-wow, he brought up the question of Lo Pan. He pointed out that Grandma wouldn’t be at all pleased with someone who thought he could just kill members of the Solo clan in cold blood. (Even if he only thought his target was a member of the family.) The crew agreed, Lo Pan was a problem.

“I think we should kill him with the youth drug,” Nanika said.

1The “rock-paper-scissors” goes like this: The canisters come from a TL9 that used computers. The Cabra is from TL 9 with no computers. The new sickbay and Jarvis are both from TL 10 that uses computers. Plus, it was a natural 3.

One thing I never managed in the Space Cowboys game…

It has come to my attention that today is the 28th anniversary of the release of the movie Big Trouble In Little China. I felt that I should mark the occasion, what with how badly I’ve plundered that movie for games over the years — not least in the Space Cowboys game.

There’s one thing that I always hoped to arrange, but I don’t think I ever managed, during that game:

For a long time, a guy named Lo Pan was the nemesis-slash-employer-from-hell of the PCs. They had several face-to-face meetings with him over the course of their relationship. I always dreamed that someday, one of them would express the right kind of confusion over his instructions, so that he could immediately snap:  “You were not put upon this earth to ‘get it’, Mister Solo!”

* * *

A friend of mine once told me about his best GM-ing moment. He was running D&D, and the campaign’s Big Bad had kidnapped the party’s paladin. Big Bad is leading his minions, who are dragging the bound, but not gagged, paladin through the sewers of the city. They’re moving fast, because they know the rest of the party will be hot on their heels. Melodramatic conversation ensues.

Paladin:  “Your overconfidence is your weakness.”

Big Bad (quick as a whip):  “Your faith in your friends is yours!”

 

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

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.

Throwback Thursday: Space Cowboys #9 – “Below Decks”

Pets were extremely common in space, in the ‘verse of the Space Cowboys game. The typical trip would involve a few days’ work, scattered over the course of several months, separated by weeks of boring routine. The challenge was keeping busy. The crew of a sailing ship had to find ways to amuse themselves during those slack hours, lest “space madness” set in. (The ship’s log recorded at least one incident in which murder was done on board the Cabra because of such a bout of extreme cabin fever.) Everybody had some kind of hobby or project:  Bubba tinkered with his still and took correspondence courses towards getting his engineering degree; Osolo practiced elaborate cooking knife techniques, engaged in extended correspondence with members of the family, and read voraciously; Hal had a side project where he tried to get a tree growing. And, just about everybody had a pet of some kind.

This was the episode shown from the point of view of the crew’s pets. As such, there’s a certain amount of vagueness about things like time and date, because animals can’t read a calendar. Furthermore, it was demonstrated early on that human-animal communication wasn’t going to happen beyond the basics, and the cameras would only roll when the animals were out and about.

What Happened:

Hal’s ziggy-adapted flying squirrels and Nanika’s shoulder-monkey got bored and wandered off looking for amusement. They bumped into Osolo’s star fighting rooster, the Big Black Chicken, and decided to go talk to the raccoon that has been stowing away in the habitat utility spaces for some time now. Once they found him, during the conversation, BBC offered to lead an expedition to Bubba’s room, to attempt to steal cigars. This was accomplished without incident, but the pets couldn’t figure out how to open Bubba’s cigar safe. Instead, they settled for making off with a half-smoked butt, which was enough to earn the raccoon’s trust.

While bragging about how much only he saw from the shadows, the raccoon mentioned that there was a new person coming on to the boat. The pets, guided by the raccoon, went to see the 6th crew cabin, which Osolo had recently opened up and aired out. The pack went inside to investigate and frolic, only to be interrupted by the sound of approaching magnetic boots!

Rapidly, they responded: The squirrels concealed themselves on the ceiling, where humans rarely look. The monkey, who had been digging in to the complimentary fruit basket, froze in place. The raccoon, an old hand at this sort of thing, dove under the bed. And, the BBC went into a mad panic, running in circles and squawking, until the door opened and he flew in the face of Dub, loaded with luggage.

Dub screamed and dove back outside, allowing the BBC to escape. Shaken by the experience, he dragged his luggage into the room and proceeded to pull out a giant joint. As he did this, the shoulder-monkey quietly went about plundering the fruit basket. Their eyes met. Having had enough, and assuming the brown acid was finally kicking in, Dub freaked out and ran from the room.

Retreating from the places frequented by humans, the pets ran in to some bats who made their home between the habitat canisters. The bats shared some news, prompting the pets to decide to check out their story of an unknown human inside the boat. The bats were willing to give a description, but since none of the pets have sonar, it was of limited usefulness. When consulted, the raccoon admitted that he had seen someone slither in through the garbage chute, peeling off a sort of full-body protective suit upon emerging. The bats showed the pets where the intruder had installed some sort of machine in the claustrophobic crawlspace between one of the habitat canisters and the outer skin of the habitat ring itself. They couldn’t figure out what the machine was for, exactly, but it reminded the monkey of some of the stuff “Mother” (Dr Nanika) used in the control room for communications. They tried to remove it, but it was bolted down too solidly.

Outside the crawlspace, the pets saw Osolo, in his bathrobe, leave the canister with the strange device. While discussing their next move, they overheard the oncoming marching column of giant aggressive house spiders, who had been driven from their old homes when Hal moved the barrels of moonshine. Moving quickly, the pets entered into parley with the spiders’ leaders. Negotiations were tense, but the pets finally convinced the spiders that they would be able to set up a new home in the nook with the intruder’s device.

There was then a sneak-attack on the kitchen to liberate silver-dollar pancakes, which was a roaring success.

Later, the pets overheard clanging from the area of the engine room, nearly covered by the sounds of loud music from outside the boat. They decided to investigate. In the dimly-lit upper cargo area, they discovered Sen Yung, Hal’s old friend from the tree ranch and now employee of Lo Pan, sneaking around carrying a good-sized carpetbag. The pets quickly coordinated a prank: BBC jumped up in Sen Yung’s face, doing the “crow-and-flap-wildly” intimidation attempt, while the monkey snatched the bag away. The plan worked perfectly, with Sen Yung stifling a scream and running for the engine room door, completely abandoning the bag… which began to rattle.

The source of the strange noise was a rattlesnake, over six feet long, which emerged from the bag. Without a word, it began to menace the monkey. The other pets joined in on the dog pile. During the melee, the squirrels discovered their instinctive ability to confuse rattlesnakes by using their tails to spoof the snake’s IR1. They confused and confounded the snake, then tackled its tail, while the monkey grabbed it by the neck, and the BBC raked it unmercifully with his claws. Shortly, the wounded snake was manhandled back into the bag.

The monkey dragged the bag into the engine room, hoping to give it back to Sen Yung, but found no sign of him. The pets deduced that he must have gone to the semi-mythical “outside” place, through the airlock. So, they opened the airlock door, chucked the bag in, and slammed the door closed – problem solved! (Note, they specifically did not cycle the airlock, as they didn’t really understand what it was or how it worked.)

Minutes later, the pets were thrown around as the boat suddenly took off. None of the pets were injured, but they decided to return to their stations, continuing to take care of their homes.

(Just as the credits roll, the camera centers in on the detail that the animals couldn’t see: The little brass plate on the bag-o’-rattlesnake, reading “Property of David Lo Pan”.)

1No, seriously, it’s a real thing, I kid you not.

Throwback Thursday: Space Cowboys #8 – “Grog and Typhoon”

We really blew the special effects budget for this episode in the last ten minutes. People freaking out, dice flying in all directions… it was a heck of a thing.

“Ziggy” is slang for “zero gravity”. Most of the action, this session, took place in a hanger with practically no gravity. Magnetic boots were quite common. All of the PCs, particularly, wore theirs constantly, through the entire campaign. They could be switched on to walk “normally”, or turned off for zero-G acrobatics. 

Coming up with technology adapted to ziggy was a recurring thing in this game. Mentioned in passing, below, are a spring-loaded rocking chair and a harness for ziggy dancing. The chair was hooked to the hanger floor with clips which fit into the ubiquitous attachment cleats for cargo. (Nearly every surface in space that could have them, had fold-flat metal loops no more than three feet apart from each other across the entire surface, to make it simpler to attach equipment and cargo. When not in use, they folded into a recess, out of the way.) Stiff springs and a safety belt allowed the user to sway back and forth in a motion similar to a rocking chair’s. The harness was a system of belts and cables to keep a person anchored in a single spot in three-dimensional space, while allowing great freedom of movement on that spot. The idea was to allow expressive dancing without having to worry about the dancer floating randomly around the space.

The players became really attuned to certain things. All I had to do was mention “Your ears pop”, and everybody, every time, would drop whatever they were doing and figure out how the air was leaking. 

What Happened:

The crew spent 22-27 March 2518, the last 6 days before Carnivale, getting ready for the upcoming party and lining up cargo for the upcoming trip to Mars. Samale located a group of refugees from Mars, trapped on the wrong side of the lines, and signed up six of them for the trip, then went out with Felina to talk up the boat party to her friends. The boat also secured a small shipment of 21 tons of ammunition, and bought 400 tons of prime manure as cargo. The crew also hired Short Round to advertise their boat party, with particular mention of the extended concert by Osolo.

Hal tripped while rolling out half the supply of Bubba’s rotgut moonshine, sending the barrel into a fatal collision with a neighboring ship. Fatal for the barrel, at any rate.

Osolo rigged a stage from freight-handling supplies, then rehearsed, only to pass out from fatigue and insomnia. Dr Nanika took time out from brewing up recreational drugs for the party to put him on a drug regime to keep him sleeping on schedule.

One evening, Bubba ran in to Dempsey Solo, a cousin and mail carrier. While drinking together, Dempsey mentioned that he was short $100K for getting his mail ship running again, with only a week left before having to get going before he lost his contract. Bubba looked over the ship, then brought the situation to the attention of the crew. From correspondence with the rest of the family, Osolo knew that Dempsey had had problems with drink in the past. Despite this, the rest of the crew voted to help him out.

Lo Pan sent word that the would-be assassins had all, regretfully, died under questioning, but they first revealed that they were low-rent hit-men hired by one of his rivals. In light of that unpleasantness, he invited the crew to continue their conversation at a more secure location on Monday, 4 April 2518, the first business day after the end of Carnivale.

After word of the party had some time to spread, a promoter for a ziggy wrestler named Boom Boom Kim approached Bubba about having an exhibition bout against one of the crew. His thinking was that cowboys have a rough-and-tumble reputation, so it would be a good draw. Bubba went through with the fight, even though he had a nightmare in which he accidentally killed his opponent.

On Sunday, 27 March, Gramps insisted on taking Hal to church. While there, Hal had a bit of a misadventure that led to punching a preacher, and ended with a heavy Bible coming down on his pickin’ hand. This rendered him unable to perform during Carnivale. That evening, he happened to be the one to answer the door when Morgan Skaggs III showed up, seeking Osolo. Hal claimed to not know anyone of that name, even when Skaggs mentioned having a check for him. Skaggs left a card, just in case, which Hal passed on to Osolo the next morning.

Skaggs ambushed Osolo just before his first appearance. As the local representative of the RIAA, he offered a good-sized sum if Osolo would cancel the show. Osolo refused. Eventually, they hammered out an agreement in which Osolo agreed to avoid touchy political topics, while performing songs from the RIAA catalog. Furthermore, the RIAA would provide studio musicians to fill out the band.

Osolo stuck to the RIAA agreement until the last day, performing only neutral music in public, but working on his own material behind closed doors. Samale locked down the bulk of the control room panels, leaving lights and sound under Rahne’s control. This had the added benefit of keeping her away from the bar in the lower cargo hold, where Dr Nanika was handing out moonshine, beer, and heavy drugs.

On 2 April, the final day of Carnivale, Osolo took the stage with an agenda. With a strip of tape prominently displayed over his mouth, he stuck to the letter of the agreement, by not singing anything controversial. On the other hand, Rahne used her holoprojector to display his highly-charged lyrics behind the stage.

During the show, Hal – sitting in a spring-loaded ziggy rocking chair outside the stage-side airlock door with a shotgun broke open over his arm, scanning the crowd – noticed his old buddy, Sen Yung, waving to get his attention from the far side of the crowd. Hal made his way over to where Sen was lurking. As he got within shouting distance, he asked what was up…

… and then everyone’s ears popped. Sudden pressure drop. Looking towards the sound of the explosion, everyone saw the smoke and heard gunfire. “Isolationist attack,” Sen Yung yelled, just as pandemonium broke loose.

Samale had been standing to one side of the crowd, chatting up a group of Felina’s model friends. He sprinted for the open ramp to the lower cargo hold, where Dr Nanika was already waving people inside. Seeing this, Bubba sprang from the stage to the cargo hold ramp, leaving Osolo to struggle free of his three-axis harness (for ziggy dancing) all alone.

Hal displayed his zero-G skills, bounding from floor to ceiling to the cargo hold ramp. This gave him a good view of a group of militia, wearing red headbands, approaching from the direction of the firefight. He put his shotgun into play, forcing them to take cover before firing wildly towards the crew and crowd.

Several members of the crowd fell. Seeing this, Dr Nanika pulled her ever-present medkit and started down the ramp towards them, even as Samale hit the controls to close the door. Attempting to stop her, Bubba misjudged his leap and knocked her nearly-senseless. While Bubba joined Hal in suppression fire, Nanika ignored her own condition and crawled forward to drag one last civilian into the hold before the ramp closed.

Osolo slipped in through the lower airlock. Rahne forwarded a broadcast from Sgt Jones, telling anyone in the spaceport to evacuate. As soon as the cargo hold ramp started moving, Samale sprinted for the control room, shouting over the communicator, telling Rahne how to re-connect the control panels. (Rather like giving the kid the password that controls access to the rated R movies. Or, in this case, the gun safe.)

Samale dove on the controls and got the boat in the air, ripping it loose from its moorings and sewage connection. While Osolo herded the 32 new passengers, Hal and Bubba raced for the engine room to suit up. All around the Cabra, other ships tried to take off in a panic. Explosions and an expanding firefight added to the chaos. The boat took some buffeting on the way out of the spaceport, scraping the upper crane off along the way. The stage, of course, was a total loss. As they exited the asteroid, the destruction of the spaceport became general, as explosions tore it apart. Most of the docked ships never lifted off, and of those, few made it to clear space. The Cabra was one of the few left dodging drifting debris.

Nanika staggered into the control room as the boat left Agamemnon, and was suddenly hit by delayed email from the Signifyin’ Monkey. As she shared with the others later that evening, it warned that the crew was in danger from a double-cross by Lo Pan. Some of the crew thought that the attack on the spaceport might have been an attempt by Lo Pan to kill them, but the consensus was that the two were unconnected. It was decided that the crew would keep the appointment with Lo Pan, sending Bubba and Hal. Nanika drafted a course to one of the Ag’s smaller spaceports.

 

Throwback Thursday: Space Cowboys #7 – “Bridge”

It’s been a poor week for posting:  the day job has been particularly intense, the last couple of days, and what energy I’ve got left over, I’ve been devoting to game prep. (Not everything can be posted before the PCs encounter it, after all!)  Still, the Space Cowboys’ story carries on…

I can’t recall if previous play reports mentioned the Drum or not.  Most of the Ag’ was under no gravity to speak of. Those with the money could set up enclosed habitats with spinning cylinders to simulate gravity, similar to an orbiting space station, just enclosed within the rock of the asteroid, spinning on an axle. The largest of these habitats was the Drum, so named after the perceived similarity to a giant spinning oil drum. 

I’ve got to admit, this session involved one of the most memorable moments of role-play I’ve ever seen. Everybody jumped when it happened, and I think it was one of the defining moments for the character…

What Happened:

The episode opened with Hal fumbling a wrench on the bridge of the Cabra, startling Samale as he was busy transferring to Agamemnon traffic control, on 13 March 2518. No one was harmed, but several harsh looks were passed around.

During the days leading up to docking with Agamemnon, talk around the dinner table was serious. There was discussion of the recently-concluded “no questions asked” deal, as well as the fate of Sheila and Felina. The latter, at least, had expressed great interest in sticking close to Samale.

Sheila sent word that she was finally willing to speak with Hal. She explained that considering everything, if he could set her up with $10K to start a new life in Agamemnon, they could call it even. In the end, Hal agreed, and had Bubba, as quartermaster, handle the financial details.

Upon docking on 19 March, the crew was greeted with drawn weapons. Sgt Jones (from Episode #1) had been put in charge of spaceport security, and set up a special welcoming party as a joke. While Bubba and Jones renewed their acquaintance, Osolo handled the usual bribe to the cargo handlers.

Due to new tariffs and fees associated with the war, the ship lost money on the trip from Mimas. Somewhat subdued at this news, the crew, again guided by Short Round, went into town to celebrate landfall… specifically leaving Hal’s name off the official crew lists.

Felina led most of the crew to a sprawling party in the Drum, while Bubba and Rahne went on to the Mangled Puppy for more family-oriented entertainment. At the party, Osolo was rapidly split from the herd by Brenton Heuwinkel, an agent, who promised an audition with the recording industry authorities for only $10K. Osolo made an appointment to meet the next day to turn over the money. Later, he was approached by Roberto Weston, whose approach was much more appealing. However, when Weston heard that Osolo was already in talks with another agent, he claimed that he ethically could not continue, and withdrew.

While this was going on, Samale caught the eye of a local lady and wandered over to introduce himself. Just as the conversation was getting interesting, her boyfriend intervened, asking what Samale thought he was doing. Before Samale could explain, Felina smacked the boyfriend full across the face! She admitted that Samale had been hitting on the woman, but seemed to feel that there shouldn’t be any objection to this. Dabbing at his bloody lip, he introduced himself as Bob Pacino and accepted Felina’s challenge to duel. He gave an address and announced a time the following morning. In an attempt to defuse the situation, Hal took Pacino’s pistol away from him, leading to a rapid retreat in the face of security.

Over the course of the evening, the crew began to gather at the Mangled Puppy, where Bubba, Rahne, and Sancho Panza (Rahne’s buffaloid) were enjoying ice cream and the Japanese-style baths. It was decided that the crew would organize a “port party” under the Cabra’s landing gear during Carnivale, partly to raise money selling tickets, and partly to build buzz for Osolo’s music career.

While fetching a round, Hal ran into Dub (see Ep #1) at the bar and invited him back to see everyone. Dub mentioned that he might have a business proposition of interest to the crew: While working on his sensor certification, he had shipped out as a “junior apprentice navigator’s assistant’s assistant”. He claimed that late one night shift, he had spotted what appeared to be a derelict ship, possibly a damaged pirate vessel, in a gravel shoal in the ABA. A deal was struck, in which Dub would come along as an unpaid extra hand when the Cabra left port, on its way to Mars. On the way, they would investigate Dub’s derelict, and he would receive 10% of the resulting profit.

The next morning, 20 March 2518, everybody went to the duel. At the last minute, Samale, knowing that Feline didn’t have any experience with guns, offered to take her place. Pacino readily agreed, since his quarrel was with Samale in the first place. They stood back-to-back, took 30 paces, and turned. Samale took a snap shot, which missed, then dove to the ground as Pacino took careful aim.

Samale’s strategy became apparent as he activated his backpack Dragonfly. In a scant 3 seconds – during which Pacino fired and missed – Samale got the ultralight transformed and into the air, if just barely, accelerating towards Pacino. This threw off the gunman’s poise, spoiling his aim long enough for Samale to approach to close range. He shot Pacino once in the neck as he swooped past. Pacino fell, Dr Nanika patched him up before he lost too much blood, and everybody called it even.

On the way out of the dueling courtyard, Hal ran into an elderly man, who turned out to be Gramps, in town to sell some wood from the ranch! After hearing Hal’s story, he had some rough words about the slave trading, but approved of his handling of Sheila. He agreed to sell the boat enough wood to make a new bar top.

Having discussed the two agents with the rest of the crew, and including the insights of Dr Nanika, who had researched them both on the ‘Net, Osolo met with Heuwinkel and politely ended their budding business relationship. The agent took it relatively well. (That was one really good Reaction roll.) Osolo then made an appointment to meet with Weston later on in the week.

That evening at dinner, the topic of conversation was the meeting with Lo Pan. Rahne tried to get permission to come along, which Bubba immediately denied. She attempted to wheedle permission, and others tried to sway him, until Bubba’s temper flared. He pounded the table, and Rahne fled.

On the morning of Monday, 21 March, the crew met with Lo Pan, with the exception of Dr Nanika, who stayed back at the boat with Rahne. Shortly after the meeting started, Rahne revealed that she had sent along one of her toy soldiers in Bubba’s pocket, and sent its broadcast audio and video to the sickbay monitors.

The meeting was at Lo Pan’s extremely private Chinese garden. No guns were allowed within the garden, which included many displays of artifacts from Earth-That-Was. The group met near the prize of the collection, an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus.

A tense discussion ensued, in which Lo Pan caught both Bubba and Osolo in lies. During the discussion, Lo Pan revealed some of the contents of the encrypted file from the Signifyin’ Monkey: medical records having to do with the Zombie Virus, stolen by the Monkey on Ceres before he assassinated a CCW politician. According to the Monkey’s message, he might have been exposed to the virus during the mission.

As Lo Pan turned to Samale, Hal noticed that the nondescript gardeners who had been quietly trimming in the background had turned and began to approach in a threatening manner. He drew everyone’s attention to this. There was just long enough for Bubba to yell out for the crew to protect Lo Pan.

Despite the thorough search for weapons, Bubba came up with a shiv, which he handed off to Osolo, and Hal pulled out a half-sharp screwdriver. Taking advantage of the low gravity, Bubba threw Osolo at one attacker, then grappled with another. One of the gardeners pulled out a grenade and threw it into the middle of the crowd, where it started spouting smoke. Thinking fast, Hal kicked in away from the crew and into the head of one of the attackers. In seconds, the tide of battle had turned, and the two conscious attackers fled.

Lo Pan thanked the crew for their help and bravery, and ordered his Walken to arrange for the captives to be questioned. (Ominous music.) The crew turned their attention towards preparing for a trip to Mars after Carnivale, and partying in the meantime.

 

Throwback Thursday: Space Cowboys #5 – “Shanghaied”

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.

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