EXT – DAY – above a LARGE BBQ gathering.
Aerial flyby shot of a very large gathering near a large farm ranch-house spread. A number of buildings scattered around, lush greenery in the background, a lot of small fliers parked all over the place, to one side a couple of corrals of horses and cattle, lots of BBQ pits, smokers, and equipment, including an open pit with a whole pig on a spit over it, and a lot of rising smoke. On another side is a long cleared patch with various tables and targets set up on it. Adults and kids and dogs and dining tables and various groups everywhere. To one side, Tajemnica, looking old and dirty very non-dainty, the largest ship there by a fair bit. A large and well-attended shin-dig.
INT – Day – Cargo bay
A view looking out the slowly lowering loading ramp. A line of silhouetted figures stand dark against the bright sunlight streaming in. A mix of clothing styles are seen, but no armor, and all are wearing pistol belts with side-arms. On one end stands Allonia.
View from outside looking into the cargo bay, showing the line of them at foot-level, at Allonia’s end. Camera pans from feet to head on Allonia. General style is a cross between diesel-punk, practical cow-girl, and conservative Victorian. Boots that look like a comfy cross between combat boots and Steam-punk Victorian ladies boots. Mid-calf-length dress of dark material. Deep red brocade corset/bustier with gold highlights. Her full curves are well accentuated. High slightly frilly collar, with Victorian choker necklace with medallion. Slightly poofy sleeves to the elbow, with almost vambrace-like lower sleeve. Hair up, a few ringlets hanging down, with a nice and simple sun-hat on top. Decorated but very serviceable-looking belt with fancy holster (snake-skin leather in contrasting colors) and long-slide, round butt, double-stack, stainless 1911-style pistol with some fancy decorative handles and partially gilt engraving on the visible metal; a right proper BBQ gun. Overall impression is very impressive, on that fuzzy line between curvy sultry/sexy and well-covered prim-and-proper librarian, where attitude makes all the difference. The rest of the crew are also dressed nice and neatly, not quite formal, but definitely not casual, in a similar range of fashion, bright colors on the ladies, conservative colors and styles for the men. They look around, taking in the sights and smells around them.
Kaminski: Now THIS is a BAR-B-QUE!
Kaushik: I’m betting the vegetarian menu is on the short side.
The rest nod in agreement, and they all start down the ramp.
A long table, with a bunch of eager-looking young men, very ethnically diverse, very fit and clean-cut looking, are listening intently to the Tajemnica crew on the other side, where Harbin, Helton, Kaushik, Bipasha, and Alvarez sit. There is a vast spread of BBQ on the table, and people are dressed sharp and clean, and having a good time.
Helton: – So there we were, with an unknown ship looking to board us. We had a pair of marginal drives, a company of crippled veterans missing a platoon of body parts, minimal weapons and hardly any ammo, a couple squads of recruits so green you could plant ‘em under a light if you were short of oxygen, some civilians, and only three trained and able-bodied soldiers.
Kaushik: It was bad enough I had a flashback to one of the First Sergeant’s famously ego-killing officer-candidate field exercises.
Harbin: You don’t think I just make those up, do you? That will make a good one in the future.
Alvarez: (joking) You are a CRUEL man!
Harbin: The hotter the fire, the deeper the temper.
The men across the table nod sagely in agreement, liking the sound of what they hear. They are eating it up – REAL war stories from guys who were really there, and flying the battered-looking old ship to prove it.
Kaushik: So then the First Sergeant says very seriously “we have axes,” and we all look at him like he’s finally cracked!
There is general laughter at that.
A corral fence, with a wide-eyed Quinn and a couple of other kids watching cattle and cowboys riding horses separating them out for later events. REAL cows, REAL cowboys.
Cooper walks along a line of BBQs, a comely young woman on each arm, looking dashing and having a GRAND time.
Stenson and a couple of his crew sit with some of the Alvarez family and some of their friends at a table, talking and savoring the BBQ.
Stenson: You have NO IDEA how good it feels to sit down for a little while, and not worry about some new brand of strange cropping up, and having to be dealt with RIGHT NOW! No one trying to board us, run into us, shake us down, or open us up like tin can. And this is REALLY good! (waves a rib to emphasize his point) I mean, I’ve seen more action in the last two flights as a civilian than I did in my last five deployments in uniform. Crazy, but fun! Pass the corn, please.
An informal but obviously well made and used shooting range.
Two tables with five bowling pins on each of them are about ten yards from the two shooters (a man in his 30s, and a woman in her early 20s) standing at low ready, and behind them a crowd of onlookers, including Allonia and Kaminski.
RO: Shooters ready?!
They both nod.
The two shooters bring their guns up, and start shooting. It’s not a pretty match. Both are shooting faster than they can be accurate, and wood-chips are flying, pins are being nicked and rolling around on the tables. Both have to reload before the man finally cleared the table, just barely faster than the woman. Scattered laughter and polite applause.
Close-up of Kaminski and Allonia
Kaminski: Trying to shoot too fast. Remember, you can’t MISS fast enough to win. As fast as you can get a good sight picture. Aim centered on the lower bulge – hitting high will tip them but not knock them off the table. You’ll do fine. Just like shooting bulls-eyes. No pressure – only a few dozen people watching. Will be more than a hundred to watch the final shoot-off. Be safe, hit the pins, let what happens happen.
Camera angle pulls back as Allonia gives him a “gee, THANKS!” look, and as the tables get cleared of debris and a new set of pins get set up, she steps up to the shooting line. Her opponent is a well-dressed middle aged man, who eyes her carefully.
Opponent1: (politely) Ever shot pins before?
Allonia shakes her head. Opponent1 looks at Kaminski questioningly while Allonia gets herself comfortable on the line, holding her arms out and getting a good shooting stance, kind of eying down her index finger, going one pin to the next, rehearsing the targets a bit.
Kaminski: New shooter, but she’s got the basics down pretty well. Bring your best game.
Opponent1 nods understanding. The range is cleared, and they draw their guns, check magazines, chambers, eye protection, and safeties. Her gun is extensively engraved, brightly polished, and with some gold inlay in its traditional sort of leafy-scroll-work patterns. It also has a rail. Suddenly, Allonia pauses.
Allonia: Oh, drat! Forgot the can!
There is a rustle, and from the crowd about a dozen arms get extended holding out various kinds of suppressors for her to borrow, with a variety of offers. She looks around at them kind of sheepishly, and holsters her gun.
Allonia: Ten millimeter?
About two thirds of cans get withdrawn, and there is a murmur of appreciation from the crowd; they know it’s not a normal ladies caliber. She nods thanks to one elderly gent offering his, turns around to the line, draws, and screws it on, keeping it carefully pointed away from the crowd. Then she sights down it at the pins again, rehearsing the targets again with the can on the barrel. She takes a low-ready position, and nods. The RO looks at both shooters to see that they look ready.
RO: Shooters ready?!
They both nod.
The guns come up quickly. Allonia isn’t rushing it, and squeezes off five aimed shots, not shooting as fast as her opponent, but each shot is well placed, and the pins are moved off the table in fine fashion, each pin only needing just one shot, even if two of them have to roll a bit to get over the edge, but the other three were hit square and clear the table promptly. Her opponent is shooting faster, but not quite as accurately, and some of his pins get knocked over but not off the table. Her last pin falls over the edge when he’s still finishing off his last two pins rolling around on the table, one spinning madly. Allonia comes back to a low ready, and looks over at her opponents table, then gets a big smile. There is a scattered clapping from the crowd. Her opponent see he’s finished, flicks his safety on, and holsters. He takes a step over to her as she unscrews the can to return to him, and holsters her pistol. He waits for her to finish, then sticks out his hand with a wry smile and a slight bow.
Opponent1: (polite and sincere) VERY well done! Especially for a first-timer! Sorry I’m out, but (shrug) I can’t argue losing to a more lovely competitor! Best of luck to you!
Allonia nods a somewhat embarrassed acceptance of the praise, and shakes his hand.
Allonia: Thank you! I have a good teacher.
Quinn leads a small posse of kids to show them around HIS kingdom. He is no longer quite so clean and polished looking as when he came down the ramp, and he’s got BBQ sauce on his face, but his new friends look around impressed, and he’s obviously having a good time.
Quinn: This is where we load the BIG stuff, and where Mr Ski and the rest of them train a lot. It’s not as big as your barn, but it goes a LOT faster!
Bipasha, Kwon, and Sar are talking business with a half-dozen gentleman and a couple of older ladies.
Kwon: Sides of beef are OK, but boned would be better – less waste.
Seller1: We are not really set up for processing, beyond the most basic. Sides or quarters are easy. Cut up more than that – (shrugs)
Seller2: You are not looking at much more than sample quantities, really.
Bipasha: Anything we can get aboard and store puts us ahead of where we are now.
Seller3: As you said, bags of dry stuff can go anywhere
Sar: It’s just a room issue. The hold is totally full.
Seller3: Looks empty to me.
Bipasha: We have a hold full of… stuff… in orbital storage. Wanted to take it easy on the engines coming down. It also gives us access to places that needed work and inspection.
Kwon: If we had more room, we’d take more. Either use it ourselves, or sell it at Newoz. And the barrels of salted or pickled herring would be good too.
Seller4: We can pack that in any of a dozen different sizes, Miss, from a ten liter box to a 50 liter barrel or a fifty thousand liter cargo container. As much as you’d like – still trying to expand the market, so I’d be happy to put together a lot of smaller packs for easier distribution.
Kwon: That would help – we have a lot of small nooks and crannies.
Seller5: We are not really set up for anything other than bulk. But didn’t one of the Brenneke kids plan on putting a bagger on his grav hauler for doing smaller jobs? I’m sure they’d be happy to go around and collect a few hundred kilos from each of us, if the price was right, or maybe even for free if they saw a long-term opportunity for regular business.
The others nod likely agreement, and the negotiations go on for supplies.
Quinn a a couple of his new friends are in a cramped space, with a small hatch on one side.
Quinn: Ship is really, REALLY old, and has all kinds of secret hatches and rooms and stuff, but even I don’t know what behind some of them. Like THIS one (he says very mysteriously) – it looks like it’s on the outside hull, but there is no outside hatch on the other side!
Kid1: So where’s it go?
Quinn: Dunno. Ship won’t say.
Suddenly the light on the hatchway lock lights up, green. They look at it in surprise.
Kid1: Should we open it up?
Quinn: Ship, is it safe to open?
Ship AI: (OC) Quite safe.
He reaches for the lock pad, pushes the light, then turns the locking handle. He pulls, it doesn’t move. All three of the kids grab and pull as hard as they can. There is a CLICK!, and it swings open. It’s a very thick hatch, like a small bank-vault door, wide enough an adult man could go through it and a good 20 cm thick. It swings up and aside. Quinn stick his head through the hatch. It’s dark. They all crawl inside.
Nothing happens, but his voice sounds echo-y, like he’s talking into a big can.
Quinn: What’s here?
Ship AI: (OC) Heavy armor storage.
Quinn: Any lights in here?
Ship AI: (OC) Only from the outside.
Quinn: Outside? No hatches on the outside, are there?
Ship AI: (OC) Shall I open it for you?
Quinn looks at his new friends in the dim light coming in through the small hatch.
Suddenly the dark space they are sitting in is filled by the sound of shifting metal. The dark is pierced by a thin line of light, if they are sitting inside a great hollowed out pumpkin, and the carved out lid is being slowly lifted, first up, then siding aside, to reveal they are sitting in a depression on the top angled side of the ship, about six meters long, four wide, and more than a meter deep. The giant hatch slides mostly out of the way, revealing the BBQ spread out before them.
Stenson and Helton are walking with a few new friends among the crowd, looking at the various BBQ pits and grills, chatting about this and that. Kids and dogs run by, some of the cooks are offering various delicious-looking things as they wander by, the sound to another shooting match drifts across the area. They stop at a grill and start to look the items over.
Griller1: Best pork short ribs you’ll get here, guaranteed! Better than any ship rations you EVER had!
Helton: Looks good alright, but you’ve not had Kwon’s cooking.
Griller1: Kwon? Little old Asian guy, asking lots of recipe questions?
Both Stenson and Helton laugh at that.
Stenson: Yes, that sounds like him! Always looking for something new.
Griller1: I hadn’t thought about ginger, but he might be right. Have to give it a try. Glad you folks came by – best BBQ we’ve had in a while. Having a good time, I hope?
Helton: Yes, very.
Griller1 looks over their shoulder toward the ship.
Griller1: Huh – didn’t notice that hatch earlier.
Helton: (without looking) Just the loading ramp.
Griller1: No, that one in the side.
Stenson and Helton freeze for a fraction of a second looking at Griller1, then spin around. Sure enough, there is a large, oblong octagonal hatch open on the top angled side, about a quarter of the way back from the front angle. Along the bottom edge can be seen three small faces with big grubby smiles. Then, there is a slight shift along the whole side, top and bottom angles. A whole series of similar shapes, outlined in dark shadow under the dust, four on each side angle. The shadow outlines grow and shift, sliding forward. As they do, a similar sort of movement can be seen on the top, as great slabs of armor get unlocked from position and shifted up and out, then slid forward. As they watch, in a few brief seconds they can see eight side hatches, and more on top, slightly offset.
Cut to closeup of Stenson and Helton
Helton: (slightly daze incredulity) What?!
Stenson: (quietly, rhetorically to himself) One day. Just ONE day, with no new weirdness. Is that REALLY so much to ask?
Helton, Lag, Harbin, Stenson, and Quinn stand on top, looking at the open hatches. At the bottom of each is a small hatch like Quinn opened. Each armor door is massive, with huge locking lugs all around, and a variety of uncertain stuff on the underside. The hinge and slide mechanism is also massive and multi-part. The sides of the opening are angled, with holes for the lugs to be inserted, and a bit more than two meters deep.
Stenson: Grav-tanks. These holes should just fit the lower hull of a grav-tank perfectly. They could nestle down in, get partially covered by the hatch pulling back. Two dozen. That’s a LOT of fire-power if they were all filled.
Quinn: Cooooool. Tanks AND cowboys.
Helton: Explains how they’d land heavy and do so much damage. Hadn’t really considered the details of transporting a whole tank company. Little hatch to get aboard before hitting the LZ.
Stenson: And power-feed hook-ups. You could either power the tank from ship-power, or feed tank power into the ship.
Harbin: Simplify some hull repairs, too. Just swap out a damaged hatch.
Helton: And, for now, opens up a whole bunch of storage. Access from inside’s a bitch for storage, but a lot of unused cubes. Load from the outside, close the hatch, leave it cold until arrival, open to unload. Maybe not whole-sale, but more than sample quantities.
Stenson: (thoughtfully) Wonder why NOW?
They all stand and ponder the development for a moment.
Lag: Maybe Tajemnica forgot about them?
Ship AI: (OC, through Lag’s personal wrist com unit) They had not been forgotten. They did not need repair, so they did not need access. You said you needed more room for cargo. They were currently unused.
Lag looks at his com unit for a moment in surprise, then the rest of them.
Lag: How did you hear that?
Ship AI: (OC, through com unit) All sounds picked up by communications devices are broadcast, and can be listened to in order to know what is going on, and what might be needed.
They all look at one another in surprise and concern.
Lag: But they only broadcast when we send. And what about encryption?
Ship AI: (OC, though com unit) They broadcast on a frequency I can detect, if they are properly asked to do so. All forms of encryption observed so far have been primitive, and of negligible effect.
Lag and Stenson look at one another in shock and dismay. Lag points to his wrist com with a question on his face.
Ship AI: (OC) Two point four seconds when you first came aboard. The information is only utilized for the efficient operation of the ship. It is likely secure from outside. An upgrade is recommend to your security and encryption protocols.
Stenson: (dryly) Um, yes, that WOULD seem to be called for. Thank you for the advise. And that explains Nerona’s broadcast.
Ship AI: (OC, through ALL their com units) Affirmative.
Helton: So, can you tell us what ANYONE here is saying?
Ship AI: (OC, only through Helton’s com unit) Negative.
Lag: But you just said-
Ship AI: (OC, though just Lag’s com unit) – That would violate their privacy.
Helton: But YOU can hear them?
He is rewarded by silence, and they all kind of look at one another, and their com units, and the massive open hatches, as they digest this information, and what the silence implies.
Helton: Guess I didn’t ask exactly the right question after Nerona, uh, visited.
Quinn: When do we get some tanks? Got room for ‘em, now.
Helton chuckles, in spite of the new revelations, and grins at him, ruffling his hair.
Helton: Not right now. A hundred tons apiece, plus the ammo, would be a VERY heavy load. Maybe later we’ll see if we can find some on sale, somewhere.
EXT – dusk – Alvarez ranch veranda
The crew of the Tajemnica sit in the fading red light of sunset, relaxing after a long day.
Kaminski: -You should have been there. She just barely lost to the guy who came in third. But still, 9th in a field of almost a hundred, on her very first pin-shoot, is OUTSTANDING.
Mr Alvarez: Yes, I heard about it. She made QUITE an impression on a lot of folks, especially the young men. She’s got a home here for sure if she wanted to move. Even managed to make friends with some of the younger ladies, who are normally a bit, um, defensive, around competition.
Mrs Alvarez: I heard nothing but good things about her. About ANY of you.
Allonia: I just followed Kat’s three rules, and didn’t have any problems. Just being myself, really. I had an EXCELLENT teacher, and the Saint Browning is really easy to shoot.
Helton: Well, keep being yourself, please!
Harbin: A LOT of good recruit material here, and a lot of interest, too. Smart, fit, confident, eager to learn. Also have heavy grav tank attachments. Even if the food WASN’T great, I’d say this was a good stop to make.
Bipasha: Supplies for on-board, salable goods we can easily move profitably, contacts for future supplies and possible cargo, and some very handsome young men. A VERY good stop.
Mr Alvarez: Word will spread. If you come back, expect to be swamped with even more volunteers than you have now, and more suppliers. Seeing Jorge from time to time would be good.
Helton: We might just do that… We might just.
He tips back in his chair, takes a sip, and stares off into the brilliant colors of the sunset with the rest of them, enjoying the silence, the companionship, and view.
Fade to black
I hate to take another “inter-mission,” but I’m not happy with the next mission, and I fear that as it now stands, most of you would not be either. It was actually the first mission I wrote, “Ammo Run” was the last, and things got shuffled around so it all made more sense in the big picture. The next mission just seems incomplete – a good mission, a bit of drama, some mystery, a necessary component for the finale, etc, but the obviously-should-be-there action isn’t there. Got some good ideas on the action, but it’ll likely be four or five thousand words worth. These last three posts were pretty long, and I didn’t want to break them up, so they took a lot longer to finish than I expected. As next weekend is Boomershoot, and I have to get ready for that as well, and there are some home-life things that need attention, I am afraid I have to take another short hiatus, possibly a two-weeker this time. I’d rather apologize for a delay before-hand than bad writing after the fact, and I trust you will understand. Things should be back on track by early May.