EXT – DAY – space near Emerite II.
Tajemnica arcs across space, headed for the planet in the distance. It is a vivid mix of blue seas, greens, and tans, with a goodly scattering of clouds. An orbiting space-dock is in the near distance, with numerous ships docked at it. Most are fairly small, a few a larger liners and cargo ships. One is the liner Helton met Bipasha on. The star Capella is bright in the far distance.
INT – Day – Lag’s cabin
Lag is at his desk. On the screen in front of him is the Chief Flight Engineer that Lag met at the dinner table when he met Helton for the first time.
Flight Engineer: -best hire I’ve had in a while. REALLY knows his stuff, and is learning our particulars fast. The arm re-gen is going well- gives the doc something to do other than band-aid little old ladies.
Lag: Glad to hear it, glad to help you both out. Now, about that custom hardware shop you recommended to Stenson on Capella –
INT – Day – Bridge of the Tajemnica
Helton, Cooper, Lag, Kaushik, Bipasha present
Lag is standing in the doorway at a casual sort of parade rest. The others are standing at their stations, walking slowly on their treadmills.
Lag: We’ll need to be careful. They got REALLY lucky on the terraforming, and pulled through the Dark well, but this is a real know-n-blow system now, so-
Bipasha: A what?
Cooper: Know and blow – where everything happens because of who you know, or who you blow, bribe, have leverage on, or family name. I expect it’ll be easier if you and Allonia stay aboard until it’s all squared away – you can go ashore on Capella or New Texas. Allonia knocking off the wrong favorite nephew who thought she was cute and tried to take a free sample could be awkward.
Helton: And I’d hate to think what would happen if they tried that with Harbin’s niece.
Lag: Quite. Could be messy.
Bipasha and Allonia get somewhat disgusted looks, and exchange a knowing glance.
Kaushik: So how much bribery DID you account for in the contract?
Helton: Oh… Shit. Not at all.
Lag: Ouch. Well, then, be VERY careful. They can be some VERY friendly folks when there is no business at stake, or if you get introduced by the right person, but they ALWAYS put family and tribe first in business dealings. Time finding out who you’ll be dealing with, and what sort of skeletons they have in various closets would be time WELL spent.
Bipasha: Lovely. Just lovely. Guess I’ll get on that as soon as we know.
EXT – Night – Dangerous Materials Storage area
Out on a dry plain plain, a set of buildings sit (each with a large number painted on top), arranged in a widely spaced rectangle, with roads to and away from the facility, and between the buildings, and next to each one are different sized landing pads. Next to one of the larger buildings (with a “6” painted on top) is a one of the bigger pads. Tajemnica glides slowly down next to the building, and settles smoothly into position next to it, on the outside of the rectangle of them, snuggled up close to it with one end, landing struts extended, which then slowly compress down as it settles into place.
INT – night – Cargo bay
View is looking out the aft cargo bay door. The inside sliding doors are open, and the ramp is lowering. Silhouetted against the brightly lit interior of the warehouse revealed by the lowering ramp are Helton, Lag, Harbin, and Kaushik. All are obviously armed, and the Plataeans are wearing some armor. As the ramp lowers, we see a surprisingly busy warehouse, with numerous people, forklifts of various sorts and sizes, and many large pallet-loads of metal and plastic crates. As the ramp hits ground, and the bottom angle ramp flips out to get clear to the ground, a man (WAREHOUSE MASTER, swarthy, greasy looking, bad teeth, overweight and soft looking, but not obese, immaculately dressed but still sleazy) starts to head up the ramp to greet them, and they head down.
Warehouse Master: Welcome to Emirate! So glad to see you have come to remove this headache for us!
Helton: Glad to see you are ready – a lot to do. Surprised it’s down here, not in orbit. Loading would be MUCH easier there.
Warehouse Master: (shrugging off the vagaries of fate) I don’t ask questions, I just put things where they tell me. Shall we get started now? Your contract did stipulate machine loading, did it not?
Lag and Harbin exchange glances. Then the warehouse master looks around the interior of the ship with a concerned look on his face.
Warehouse Master: Will it all FIT in here? And this looks like an old ship – is it rated to haul this much mass?
Helton: I think it will, if we pack it tight and standard packaging was used. We ran the loading calcs on the run in, and it should be fine if we follow the load plan. Mass ratings are OK, too.
Warehouse Master: (frowning) I don’t know. We were not expecting to be loading on a ship like this. Well, lets see how the first pallet loads. What would you like first?
Helton: The 120mm canister rounds, I think.
The Warehouse Master taps away on his tablet computer, and he turns and waves to a driver on a forklift. The (Filipino-looking) driver scoops up a pallet and heads over. As he gets close to the ramp, it becomes obvious that even tipped all the way up, driving the loaded forklift up the ramp just ISN’T going to happen, because it’s too steep, and the pallet sticks to far out in front of the front wheels. They all turn to look into the warehouse. All the rest of the material-moving equipment is similar, just different sizes. It’s all the wrong sort of cargo moving equipment! Everyone gets a “oh, shit” sort of expression.
Warehouse Master: (in a seeming obsequious way, but with a background glint of “all according to plan”) Oh, I’m VERY sorry. It looks like we will have to move it by hand. That might take a while. And, my humblest apologies, handling that much material might be rather expensive.
Helton: Can an empty forklift get up the ramp?
Warehouse Master: We can see.
He steps over next to the forklift driver.
Warehouse Master: Drop the pallet there, and just see if you can get on board.
The forklift driver sets the pallet down, raises the forks, and drives up the ramp carefully, then spins the thing around, with enough room to move, no problem.
Warehouse Master: I guess we will only have to hand carry it up the ramp. Again, deepest apologies that this will take so long.
Suddenly, the side-doors from the above the ramp area open, and out fold a pair of the multi-joint mechanical arms, now with simple fork-lift type attachments on the end. One of them reaches down, delicately scoops up the pallet, and with a slight whine of high-speed hydraulics, hoists it up and deposits it neatly next to the waiting forks of the forklift at the top of the ramp, not having any problem with the tonne or more of ammo on the pallet. The forks go back down to a waiting position, as if to say “NEXT!”
The Warehouse Master gets a very annoyed look on his face for a moment, then plasters a bright and patently false smile on his face.
Warehouse Master: Oh, very good, most convenient! That will help.
Helton: (aside to Lag) May be quirky, but DAMN if the AI doesn’t know when shit’s gott’a happen. (to Warehouse Master) So, then, if we can get three more forklifts up here, the rest can start lining up the pallets in stack order, and we can move this along.
Warehouse Master: Coordinating that many at once will NOT be safe. Only one aboard at a time, I’m sure would be better.
Helton: Are you saying your drivers are incompetent?
Warehouse Master: (indignant) Oh, they are the best!
Helton: Then we have enough room here for four.
The Warehouse Master looks indecisive for a moment, then with a few vicious stabs at his tablet, three more forklifts head for the ramp, each carrying a well-stacked pallet. They get close to the ramp, and the Warehouse Master signals them to stop, quite vigorously.
Warehouse Master: WHAT are you bringing over here! Take it BACK!
The forklift driver waves to the modest sized screen that flips down from the overhead roll-cage on his forklift. It shows a series of crate and pallet numbers, with a diagram of where to take them. He points to the pallet on his forklift, and there is a large number printed on the side.
Forklift driver1: This says this one goes next.
Warehouse Master: Well *I* didn’t call for it!
A handheld scanner, with a small screen on the back and a laser scanner on the front drops down in from of Helton on a long, coiled black cable. He looks up a little surprised, then grabs it and aims it at the pallet. He glances over at a bulkhead mounted screen, then at the readout on the back of the scanner.
Helton: (looking back at a load-out map on a screen) Yup, that’s next.
Helton waves to the forklift driver to drop his load and come on up the ramp. Lag, Harbin, Kaushik stand aside, the Warehouse Master fumes, and the drivers start up the ramp. At the top, they spin around, have their pallet immediately placed on their forks, and they head off, back to the stacking point their computer screens show them.
INT – Night – Cargo bay
The back wall is stacked to the rafters with pallets of ammo. Two pairs of forklifts move back and forth from stacking spot to ramp where the mechanical arms are getting a workout from the line of forklifts coming from the warehouse. Helton takes a break from watching progress and walks to a wall mounted com.
Helton: (into a comm unit) Bipasha – any skeletons, yet?
Bipahsa: (OC) Nothing big. Lots of sketchy minor stuff, but nothing to make him stop trying to squeeze you. His older brother is an environmental law judge. Cousin is a mayor. Uncle is captain of a light cruiser, the HMS Hussein. Dad is a low-level admin on the far side of things. Two wives, but that’s legal here. Not sure who he pissed off to get posted here, but…
Helton: Well, keep me informed of anything new.
Bipasha: Will do.
Helton: How much cash do we have on hand?
Bipasha: You are not going to pay him off, are you? I mean, he might get around to asking for more than we have.
Helton: How much petty cash?
Bipasha: (OC) Ummm… about 18 thousand.
Helton: Should be enough. Thanks. Get Allonia to count it all out into a bunch of packets of five hundred, and keep looking for dirt or connections. Out
Helton walks out to the middle of the cargo bay, watching the forklift drivers. They are working carefully and steadily. It’s going slowly. Obviously competent, just not moving very fast. He sees the Warehouse Master start to stomp away. When two of them drive by side by side, heading for the ramp, he flags them down. They stop, next to him.
Helton: What percentage of his (tips his head slightly towards the retreating Warehouse Master) bribes, I mean, personal service and paperwork handling fees, to you get?
The forklift drivers just sort of snort, as if to say “yeah, right.”
They shake their heads.
Helton: So, fast or slow, your pay is the same?
Helton: Tell you what. As soon as he leaves, you can start to haul ass. Port vs starboard. The side that gets loaded first gets five hundred a person bonus, cash. If it all gets loaded in the next six hours with no injuries, and everything in its proper place, an extra four thousand to split however you want for both sides. You figure out how many people you really need to get it done, how fast you can move safely. Not done in eight hours, no bonus. Deal?
The forklift drivers look at each other, grins spreading on their faces. They nod, and pull out their personal com units, and start whispering rapidly into them.
INT – night – cargo deck
The place is now a highly-caffeinated beehive of high-speed forklift activity. There are now six forklifts on the cargo deck zipping around, and there isn’t a wasted movement anywhere. Forks are raising and lowering while they are driving the length of the bay, and there is massive industry with a good twenty forklifts running back and forth between the various places in the warehouse and the loading ramp. The mechanical arms are whizzing up and down, back and forth, lifting pallets directly off the forklifts almost before they stop moving, and placing them the same way on the top. On the wall-mounted screens/lights, large count-down clocks show how much time they have left. The cargo deck is nearly half full. Clearly, the proper incentive has been applied.
EXT – early dawn – outside the cargo ramp.
The cargo bay is full enough that the mechanical arms can place the pallets directly into the right stack. The horizon in the background is starting to get brighter. There are a whole heard of forklifts queued up, and the loading is nearly done, with pallets stacked nearly to the top all the way to the other end. There is a narrow gap in the stacked pallets on one side to walk to the stairs. The last pallet gets handed off to the mechanical arms, put into place. The one visible bulkhead mounted screen / light shows 00:31:22. It stops. The drivers let out a ragged cheer. The drivers not already out of their forklifts hop off, and gather around. Helton waves to them to line up in two rows, then he walks down the line, handing out small envelopes to each one in turn, shaking hands and offering thanks.
INT – DAY – Tajemnica’s Bridge
Helton, Bipasha, Lag, Kaushik, Cooper, Allonia
Helton: Well, that went a lot more smoothly than I feared it might.
Lag: Until we hit transition, don’t celebrate too much.
Allonia: Must you always look at the dark side so often?
Lag: I’ve worked here before, when I was younger. It’s NEVER this easy.
Helton: Well, I’m not sure if I’d call spending fourteen thousand in cash EASY.
Lag: To load a hundred million dollars worth of ammo in a place like this, that is absolutely a miraculously amazing best case scenario. Usually you are looking at more like five to ten percent of the cargo value. Twenty if you piss them off.
Allonia: TWENTY? We couldn’t do THAT!
Bipasha: And you let us come here knowing that, and you didn’t say anything?
Lag: The price was very good, and we needed the ammo. I was ready to put in a sizable chunk to make it go through if required. No point in offering it if it’s not needed. I also wanted to see how you operate in a shark-pool like this.
Helton: Gee, that’s nice to know.
Lag: You did quite well, quite at the top of expectations. It looks like we don’t have to find that much cash, so the ammo WAS a VERY good deal. With no leverage on him, I’d say we leave as soon as we can. I’ve concluded nearly all my business. Everything except finding out some things about a new system interceptor they were supposed to have. (shrug) Other contracts filled or filed, though, so…
Cooper: Well, we are buttoned up, and ready to lift any time. Let’s hope we don’t blow anything lifting the extra mass. Well, we came down on the Sokolov’s, shall we take off on them too?
Helton: sure. Try them, up to 99% of whatever Stenson says their max is, just to see if they CAN do it. If it looks like they can’t, then lift on the Harmon drives.
Cooper: Alrighty, here we go.
Coopers hands work the controls, and twist the control yoke. The readouts rise slowly through the green up into orange, get close to the 100% mark.
EXT – DAY – hazardous material storage facility.
The air around Tajemnica glows slightly, then a bit more brightly as it lifts slowly from its spot, and very slowly angles up a bit, and starts ponderously heading for the brightening horizon.
Fade to black