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Scorpius Episode I: Blue Sun

December 14, 2010

When the Firefly class ship Scorpius touched down at Meridian spaceport it ended seventy-two days of confinement, frustration and hard work for the crew. Kitosa Kurza flopped back into his pilot seat and stretched out his arms as he tried to work some feeling back into his muscles.

As the previously unnoticed drone of the engines died down, he could hear the argument out in the corridor. It was between the Captain and the Engineer as usual and neither of them was either winning nor showing any signs of backing down.

Kitosa mused over whether Captain Eastman would bother to keep the troublesome Scotsman on the crew after this drop was made. Before he could shut down all of the Scorpius’ systems the hatchway at the rear of the cockpit rolled open and the two men made their noisy entrance,

“Tell him Kurza,” pleaded the Engineer, “we gotta have those new parts or the whole pulse capacitor system will go bad!” Before he could answer the Captain butted in,

“Keep him outta this Scott, you’re both just ruttin’ crewmen ya hear? Ain’t nobody tells me how I run my ship,” he emphasised the last point by jabbing his thumb into his own grubby coveralls. The pair of them would go around in circles like this for hours, but Kitosa just wanted to get out and see a sky that wasn’t behind six inches of clear-screen.

When he got down to the cargo bay the rest of the crew were already waiting by the huge ramp. Most of them had only been with the ship a few weeks, but they had become a of family of sorts. The tightness of a ship seemed to do that to folks, there were just as many rows and playful teasing as in a real family, but everyone got along pretty much. Everyone, except for the Captain.

Eastman kept himself tucked away in his quarters most of the time and usually only came out when something was wrong. Consequently, his presence was associated with bad feeling. He rarely talked when he could shout and never missed an opportunity to tell the crew what a lousy job they were doing, before disappearing back into his cabin. He usually paid most of them off and hired in new at each stop, but Kitosa had been on board for one complete run; the best part of a year’s round trip from where they were now, in towards Persephone at the core and then across to Bellerophon. Kitosa guessed his long service was down to his piloting skill. Pilots were hard to find since the war and what flyers there were favoured the nice steady corporate jobs rather than these grubby little freighters, but then those pilots probably had a license.

Meridian opened up before them as the Captain cranked the lever for the loading ramp and clambered into the ship’s Mule. This was the old homeworld of the Blue Sun Corporation, not the shiny new Corporate Headquarters of Muir where all the latest R&D and Technical Services were based. Meridian was almost 100 years old and looked it’s age. Here was where ‘dust zones robotically cranked out soap powder, spare parts and construction materials.

The spaceport for outside traffic was separate from the main city, but from where they were they could see the grand offices and housing blocks, all with the Blue Sun logo emblazoned on them, just in case there was any doubt as to who owned this entire system.

“I got another job for any of you that’s interested?” Said the Captain. The others all looked at each other, knowing that until they’d got their cut from the delivery they weren’t letting Eastman out of their sight. Jake and Walter, the ship’s most recent hired muscle, had spent the morning loading up the mule with the core samples that had been the cargo on this trip, and these didn’t seem particularly dangerous or illegal. Everyone clambered aboard as Eastman booted up the crafts systems, which actually involved using his boot.

The Captain guided the Mule down the ramp and onto the cargo lift. It descended for a couple of minutes and led them to a service road buried beneath the spaceport. They sped on, past fuelling towers, automated warehouses, service sheds and eventually out into the open air. They could see the city and spaceport behind them now as they drove down an embankment and onto a vast shiny black strip of what looked like plastic. Captain Eastman gunned the throttle up to full speed. Occasionally they would overtake enormous windowless grey buildings, which as they drew closer, they could see were actually crawling up and down this long smooth ribbon. Nowhere was a single living person to be seen.

The sky grew dark, the air got thinner and the temperature dropped. They seemed to be entering the more rarified atmosphere of the planet’s northern region. The crew huddled around the small and inadequate heater in the front of the Mule. Finally they slowed down, turned off the track and headed into an old run-down area of abandoned buildings. The road was broken and covered in a fine grey dust. It led past wrecked structures with missing walls and roofs. Near the centre there were a couple of high rise blocks, factory complexes and commercial offices.

“Fine place for a bushwhackin’ I’d say” said Kitosa. The others nodded and checked their weapons.

“What are we doing here Captain?” Asked Doc Whiteman. The Captain didn’t answer, he just kept staring at the map overlay on the screen. Then he stopped, just inside the end of a side street.

“Right there’s where the exchange is going to take place. Any of you fired a sniper rifle before?” Jake and Kaine raised their hands like school children and were rewarded with a collection of heavy objects wrapped in a blanket from under the front seat. The pieces assembled easily into two high powered rifles which were divided between the pair. “I got to make the exchange on my own, you’re job is to make sure everythin’ goes smooth, and if it don’t, to make sure I’m the one who lives to tell about it. If I die, none of you gets paid, so keep that in mind when you’re starin’ down those sights!”

Everyone else hopped out and surveyed their surroundings. Kitosa looked around for the entrance to the taller of the office blocks and Jake and the Doctor started walking towards the two-storey factory building overlooking the main square.

By the time they had all reached their lookout positions the Captain had hidden the Mule in one of the side buildings and had taken up a comfortable spot in the nook of a partially collapsed wall, in full view in the middle of the square. On the fourteenth floor of the administration building, not quite the top since they’d been too tired to bother climbing the rest of the stairs, Kitosa, Kaine and Scott had cleared some room to sit among the litter and office furniture. Kitosa got to work on the bottle of whiskey he carried around inside his flight suit while Kaine fiddled with the settings on the rifle sights and Scott went through the contents of a waste paper basket he’d found.

“What I cannae understand is, why spend all that money on sensors and redundant back-up systems, when you’re not even willing to buy a replacement compression coil?”

“It doesn’t make any sense,” agreed Kaine. Kitosa, thanks to years flying atmo’ craft with no ear protection and the rapid effects of the whiskey, couldn’t really hear or understand any of it. “Captain’s up to something, no doubts there,” Kaine added, then asked, “you joined before me, you know him better than I do.”

“Nah, I only came on at Persephone, Kitosa’s the longest serving out’ae any of us and even he doesn’e know,” Scott looked at the pilot but could see he wasn’t going to get any sense out of him.

“But, it’s not his own ship?” Said Kaine.

“Nah, he flies it for some family out on Bell’,” said Scott, absently reading a twenty year old office memo.

They saw movement outside, a small planetary cargo hauler appeared over the top of the buildings, followed by four smaller air-cars, each with three or four people inside. They circled the landing area, causing Kaine and Scott to duck behind a desk, Scott dragging Kitosa with him. The hauler dropped slowly to the ground and the cars formed a circle around the meeting area. Eastman stood up.

Kaine moved back into position near the main window, but from the back of the room near to the door Scott heard something coming from up the stairwell. A chattering sound, a radio and then a voice, muffled by several walls. Taking out his sidearm, Scott left the room and slowly made his way up the stairs. On the top floor he found a man, lying on his front facing the window. He appeared to be directing a squad of law enforcement officers with phrases like,

“Renegade is in position now, standby drop-squad,” and “prepare on my signal, A and V are you recording, over?”

Scott moved slowly and silently off the last stair and moved in, across the corridor, into the doorway and straight through an invisible sensor beam. A loud alarm pierced the air and the Officer rolled over, grabbing his rifle and bringing it up to his chest, but not fast enough. Scott fired off a shot and hit him straight in the neck. The shots from the Officer’s assault rifle popped into the ceiling as he flailed about wildly. Scott put another half a dozen rounds into him until he’d stopped moving and then emptied the rest of the clip into the wailing alarm unit.

“Now, I would have set the alarm up on the stairs,” said Scott, to nobody in particular.

Scooping up the man’s binoculars he could just make out Eastman below counting some money as two of the men from the cargo hauler were moving the Mule out of its hidden location and towards the truck. Suddenly teams of security officers poured out of every ground level building and air-cars swooped down covering the escape route of the other vehicles. Behind him, Kitosa appeared at the top of the stairs and looked over to the dead body.

“Who’s he?”

“Dunno,” shrugged Scott, stooping down to examine the man’s uniform, “Agent Heston of Internal Security,” he read.

“It’s a sting operation!” Said Kitosa, more sober now than he’d seemed a few minutes before.

“What about the Captain,” Scott looked out of the window to see a team of black-clad officers like the one he’d just killed, bundling Eastman into the back of an armoured unit along with several bound and wounded gang members.

“Grab that stuff, might be useful,” said Kitosa, wrenching the assault rifle from the cold dead hands of the Officer.

They met Kaine on the way down the stairwell. They didn’t stop to talk until they’d got themselves out of the office block and down a couple of streets in the opposite direction to the main square. It was almost night and with no artificial lighting they were having trouble seeing where they were walking, but none of them wanted to stop.

“We have to try and get back to the city, and the ship,” said Kitosa. Scott lifted up the small computer unit and examined it. Any key press elicited a request for an access code, which he didn’t have and so he decided to shut it off until he had a chance to look at it back in his workshop on Scorpius.

On the outskirts of town, they found Jake Cobb and the Doctor wandering in the same direction. From here Quing Long city, or ‘Blue Dragon’ as the locals called it, looked like it might be about forty or fifty kilometres away. Walking it could take them days to reach and after a quick check round they realised none of them had brought any water or food.

“Should we call the authorities?” Asked Doctor Whiteman, “tell them we got lost maybe,”

“You reckon’ they’d believe us?” Said Jake. Nobody reckoned they would.

“Why don’t we just hitch a ride,” said Scott, suddenly breaking into a run down the embankment towards the huge black-top they’d travelled along.

A vast monolithic block was moving towards them down the road at slightly more than walking pace and the Engineer was jogging towards a service ladder which dangled down between the massive tracks at its base. Since nobody wanted to get left behind, one by one they all followed Scott’s lead.

Up on the service platform there was a multitude of control boxes, access panels and readouts. The noise of the huge machinery was monstrous, even Kitosa could hear it.

“This thing’s not much faster than walking!” Screamed Scott at the top of his lungs. Nobody bothered to try and answer and seemed content to at least be moving in the right direction. The road, they knew, would take them into the warehouse and loading sector of the city where they’d eventually be able to find a local transportation hub, but Scott wasn’t satisfied with their rate of progress.

Ripping open a panel he began poking and prodding until he found the speed control for the main power drive. A couple of adjustments set the governor to a higher setting. The engines sounded the same for a few seconds, but gradually they heard the whine increase in pitch. Scott smiled widely as he realised his efforts had been successful. The ‘building’ began to move very slightly quicker, and several minutes later quicker still. The engines grew louder as the block trundled along its predestined route with ever increasing velocity. They could feel the wind whipping around the service deck as they gained speed.

At the prow of this great land ship Kitosa was at last enjoying the feeling of being out in the open air, breathing something which wasn’t recycled. The city was not too far away now and all seemed to be going well, until he noticed something. Another building, in the same lane as theirs.

Kitosa ran back down the gangway to Scott, who’s smile turned to a frown when he saw his shipmate’s expression. The pilot didn’t attempt to speak but instead made the gesture of two fists meeting each other. It was either a threat or a warning of an imminent collision, Scott took it to mean the latter. He rushed back to the engine systems control and made short stabs at the rows of switches. He shut down everything he could find, until the sound of the engines was suddenly cut dead. Now all they could hear was the whistling of the wind and the heavy rolling vibrations of the tracks beneath them. They were not, however, slowing down.

“Kitosa, you’re a pilot,” said Scott. Kitosa nodded. “How much inertia does a building about forty stories high and full of fruity oaty bars have?” Kitosa appeared to be doing some mental calculation before confiming,

“Ooh, lots.” They each decided it was time to get off this death-trap. First Kaine, then Jake, then the Doctor, hesitantly made the jump from the lowest part of the access ladder onto the black, almost frictionless, surface of the road below. It was hard but very smooth and as each of them landed on it they slid for several metres before coming to a stop. Kitosa grabbed Scott’s arm and they both launched off from halfway down the ladder and hit the ground half running, half rolling. Tucking in arms, legs and head they couldn’t see the massive collision when it happened, but they could definitely hear and feel it. The others saw it though. The outer layers of both of the bulk movers peeled away as their contents spilled out over an area the size of a city block.

Fortunately for Kitosa and Scott the momentum took the huge tower blocks of materials away from where they were laying on the ground. Four-hundred-thousand tons of Fruity Oaty bars laying atop four-hundred-thousand tons of medical packs. The rest of the group came limping up to the two men lying on the floor and picked them up before everyone, instinctively, ran away.

They kept going for a few minutes before they all ran out of breath. Since none of them had eaten for at least twelve hours none of them had the energy to run for long. As they sat and rested they watched a solitary aircar approach the scene of the crash, fly around the perimeter and then land.

“Come on,” said Kitosa, getting up again and making off back towards the crash site.

Within a few minutes they were all flying along in a stolen aircar back towards the spaceport. They could see the Scorpius, surrounded by Security units with a large warning sign notifying them that the bay was sealed off.

“Now what?” Asked the Doctor. Kitosa found a piece of open ground outside one of the unmanned warehouses beside the spaceport.

“Well, it’s been nice knowing you guys,” said Kaine, “looks like we’re all out of a job, and with no pay to show for it!”

“Maybe we could sell some stuff, split the money?” The Doctor suggested.

“No, we can’t give up, that ship’s my home. Everything I own in the ‘verse is on there,” said Kitosa, but Scott was already rummaging through the bag of equipment he’d found.

“Mebbe this wee computer could be worth a bit te someone?”

“We’ll discuss it at the spaceport bar,” said Kitosa Kurza, climbing out of the car.

* * *

The Mare Inebrium was outside of the main city and served as an entertainment complex, somewhere to get horrendously drunk on the cheap, a good source of gossip and an employment exchange all in one place. It was possibly the only place on Meridian into which the five crew of the Scorpius could have walked in their current state and not been noticed.

They went up to the long chrome-effect bar and sat down.

“How you figger we gonna get back to the ship?” Asked Jake. Kitosa, who had been here so many times they didn’t need to ask him what he wanted, picked up the glass of Bourbon that had been placed in front of him.

“I think right now that would be an incredibly bad idea,” said Kaine, pointing up at a news feed hanging from the ceiling at the end of the bar.

They saw a mugshot of the bruised and beaten face of Captain Vic Eastman. This was replaced by a live feed overlooking a courtyard lined with military-type officers

“They don’t hang around do they?” said the Doctor, knowing what was coming next. Eastman was lined up in front of a man with a large ceremonial sword while a string of white text rolled along a red bar at the bottom of the screen with a list of his crimes. Chief among them was drug smuggling.

“They’re gonnae make an example of him,” said Scott grimly.

“He couldn’t have expected anything less,” said Kitosa, who was suddenly distracted by a short, blonde haired woman who had sat down on the stool next to him.

“Hello, what’s your name?” He asked with a wide smile. The man on the TV with the big sword swung it down in one swift, smooth stroke and beheaded Captain Eastman. The woman grimaced, but since she had been looking over Kitosa’s shoulder at the execution, Kitosa chose not to take it personally. Then she turned to him.

“Are you with that ship, the Scorpius?”

To Be Continued …

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