The star field surrounding Desdemona twinkled and shimmered as the space yacht continued to take sensor readings in search of Shenmue’s lost shuttle.
Worth and the Doc chose to confer with Jonah, who was still flat on his back but very much on the mend, in the ship’s infirmary, while they awaited Shenmue’s arrival. Worth rigged the ship’s comm system so they could converse with YJ and Wild Sky.
“I’m thinking, if I were them, and I’m stuck there, I would be ‘we’ve got this amount of time left, which gives us enough time to get to the closest planet…’” Jonah said from his infirmary bed once Worth explained the situation to him.
“Maybe they panicked.” YJ said over the ship’s comm.
“And there’d be a now or never moment where if we don’t leave now we’re not making it,” Jonah said. “And we told them we were coming back, but for all they know we got shot up, or in prison.”
“And if it were me I’d be like, eff it.” Worth admitted.
“And head to the nearest planet or moon,” Jonah said. “Which is?”
“Rubicon’s the closest, but it’s being terraformed.” Wild Sky said after consulting Shenmue’s navigation database.
“Then there’s Santo, but since we just blasted our way out of there, we might not want to go right back” Worth said. “And Baron Otello has got his fingers pretty deep in there.”
“The only problem is, we know that, but Quinn and Whitaker might not have known that.” YJ pointed out. “So that doesn’t rule Santo out.”
“There’s Osiris, but Whitaker was dead set against it.” Jonah recalled.
“And Gonghe, which is a lot like Osiris. It’s a Central Planet.” Wild Sky said.
“What about moons?”
“Santo’s got Tethys and New Luxor,” Worth said. “But with Santo, you’re pretty much picking up what you’re putting down.”
“Gonghe’s got Xin Yung.” Wild Sky said.
“And Osiris has Epueva and Tannhauser, which are lightly populated.” YJ said.
“What’s your gut tell you?” Jonah asked the captain.
YJ thought about it. “At hard burn, Shenmue could make it to New Melbourne in about seven days. Desdemona at cruising speed could make it in five, but at hard burn it would be less than four. So it would be a while before we could be back here executing a search.”
“You also have to consider the deal we’ve made with Tao Barker to transport the medicine to Blackwood,” Doc Tulsa said.
“How long will it take to get there? Is it in the same direction?” Jonah asked.
YJ shook his head. “It’s out back of beyond. We’ll be on our boat for near a month.”
“Desdemona could make it in two weeks.” Worth said.
“The longer we take to do that, people die,” YJ said. “But that means we’re flying a hot ship halfway across the ‘Verse.”
“Refresh my memory,” said Jonah. “Just how legal was our repossession of the Desdemona?”
“All things being equal, there are jurisdictional questions that vary from planet to planet and system to system,” Tulsa said. “The courts could get involved and if that happens, things could grind to a halt. Repossession is technically legal, but you have to demonstrate that legality at every step, and that’s a bureaucratic headache. If the courts get involved, that means hearings and official proceedings, and considering the number of crimes we committed in the perpetration of this otherwise legal repossession…”
“The good news is, Desdemona has enough range to fly to Blackwood straight with no refueling,” Jonah said, changing the subject. “It’s a fast ship, and it’s armed. The trick is, from there we have to get it back to New Melbourne, to drop it off so we’d have to refuel.”
“Let me get this straight,” YJ said. “You want to take the ship that we’re supposed to return to pick up the medical supplies, drop off the medical supplies, and then return the ship to McKittrick’s contact on New Melbourne?”
“Exactly,” Jonah said.
“Yeah, that’s not going to end well,” YJ said. “I mean, I get it, it’s the adventurous way.”
“Well the problem is if we take Shenmue and Desdemona back to return Desdemona first it’s two weeks to get back here looking for the shuttle,” Jonah said.
“The wrinkle is, if you’re going to search for the ship that is what is going to cost you the runaround time.” He thought for a moment. “Wait, what it we sent one pilot with Desdemona and have him charter a ride to meet up with Shenmue? It solves a lot of problems. Shenmue can search for the shuttle, while Desdemona picks up the medicine, flies direct to Blackwood, refuels, and does a straight run to New Melbourne when the job’s done.”
YJ did some quick calculations based on Desdemona’s range and speed class. “It would take just over a month to get Desdemona back to New Melbourne and delivered. The problem is, if we were to go straight to Blackwood on Shenmue…”
“What’s the alternative? We send the ship back to New Melbourne, and then take Shenmue and get the medical supplies?” Worth said. “It’d take us more’n 40 days to haul it to Blackwood, and we’d have to refuel once along the way.”
“Here’s what I’m thinking,” Jonah said. “We’re not paying for the fuel in Desdemona’s engines, so hard burn all the way. The tanks were full last time I checked, and that will cover a whole leg of a trip without us having to pay for an ounce of fuel.”
“But McKittrick wants his ship delivered to New Melbourne pronto,” YJ said. “How do we convince him to loan us the flashy, conspicuous space yacht we just boosted from Baron Otello?”
Worth smiled. “I can think of 6,000 reasons sitting in the hold of your ship. That kind of money buys a lot of convincing.”
“What, the Chrysanthemum Blonde?” YJ blinked. “You mean sell it to McKittrick in exchange for a charter on his new boat?”
“What Chrysanthemum Blonde?” Jonah asked. “Did I miss something while getting cut on?”
Tulsa brought Jonah up to speed.
“The street value of that load of Chrysanthemum Blonde we found is around six thousand credits. Assuming you could sell it.” Worth said. “I say we tell McKittrick we’ll sell it to him for a discount, say 5,000 credits.
“No way,” Jonah coughed, warming to a subject with which he was familiar. “If the street value is 6,000 you’ve got to expect there’s at least a 100 per cent mark up. That’s for legal goods. For illegal goods? Even higher. Tell McKittrick we’ll sell it to him for 2,000 credits and throw the Desdemona in for a quick borrow.”
“But it’s worth six!” Worth said, visions of cashy money dancing in his head.
“But dealers don’t buy it for six or they won’t make money.” Jonah explained.
“Why don’t we start at three, wiggle that down, see where we end up,” YJ offered.
“We don’t even need to ask for money,” Jonah said. “Just credit against what we owe on Shenmue, plus the extra charter of Desdemona.”
“Does McKittrick even deal with stuff like Chrysanthemum Blonde?” Wild Sky asked. “Just how shady is he?”
“Our first job for McKittrick was stashing something in the methane fields on Beylix,” Worth said. “Not sure how shady.”
“He did turn down your offer of eminently traceable gold bars, but who knows? Maybe he takes a different view of illicit narcotics.” Tulsa said.
“No Alliance tracers on those,” Worth grunted.
“So we call him up and say we have 6,000 credits worth of the good stuff and we’d like to sell it to him at a greatly reduced rate. He’s not going to pay us any cash, just write off the equivalent in value to the money owing on Shenmue. Additionally, we’ll need the Desdemona for about thirty days, give or take. Let him decide what that’s worth.” Jonah said.
“We want to position is as the reason why we want the ship is to deliver these medical supplies,” Tulsa said. “Despite the fact we’re selling you hard drugs we’re going to be saving lives. We position the ask around the fact that in order to save those lives, we need to deliver some medical supplies to Blackwood, and in order to facilitate that, we need a fast ship – Desdemona.”
“Say he gives us 2,000 for the drugs.” Worth said. “What would a 39-day rental be on Desdemona?”
“Seems like a fair trade.” Yj said. “Six kilos of contraband in exchange for a charter on Desdemona and a hefty payment on Shenmue.” He thought for a moment. “What if instead of renting a ship we use it as a PR opportunity for him? Making the ‘Verse a better place?”
It fell to Doc Tulsa, whose command of persuasive language outstripped his crewmates, to compose the message that would be sent to Wesley Ferris.
In order to get Shenmue back into the air, we had to make a deal with a doctor to deliver medical supplies to Blackwood where there has been a serious disease outbreak. That being said, the longer it takes to deliver the medicine, the more people are lost. If we use the Desdemona we can cut the time in half, but the round trip from Blackwood to New Melbourne will be about forty days.
That said, we have come into six kilograms of powdered sugar with a street value of about $1,000 credits a kilo, we’d like to give you the opportunity to take it off our hands in 39 days’ time for let’s say $3,000, minus a $500 rental fee on the Desdemona. We’ll make sure the tanks are full when we bring her back, and the rest will go against what we owe you on Shenmue. This gets Desdemona back in your hands, and you will rake a tidy profit off a cargo that Baron Otello will certainly never complain about having gone missing. Not to mention a chance for some good public relations at the same time.
Doctor Horatio Tulsa, on behalf of the crew of Shenmue
He encrypted the message and sent it to Wesley Ferris.
The agonizing wait for a message was only partly because of the comm lag. Hours later, they received a wave back from their Beaumonde-based contact.
Mr. McKittrick is willing to negotiate your offer and suggests that the offer is 30 per cent of the street value, $1,800, 800 of that being the rental fee for the Desdemona. McKittrick also wants the payment up front.
Worth snorted. “Our original offer was 3,000 for the whole thing, he wants 1,800.”
“And he wants it up front?” YJ said. “The whole point of this scheme is to avoid losing time by travelling to New Melbourne!”
“So we come back with 2500 overall, with 800 as the charter. Lock in the rental, 800 is a fair price.” Jonah said. “We’re already four days out from New Melbourne so we’re really renting the ship for 35 days even.” He thought a moment. “The big point in our next offer is the fact that McKittrick’s not going to sell the ship in the next 39 days, so he could have it sit in a dock facility somewhere on New Melbourne, or he could make a couple thousand credits on it. It’s no skin off his teeth and an opportunity to make some extra cash.
Doc sent a second message with the offer of 800 for the charter, and 1,700 applied to the outstanding balance on Shenmue.
A second wave came back from Wes Ferris.
Mr. McKittrick accepts the charter for 800 and is willing to apply 1,200 credits against your outstanding balance on Shenmue in exchange for the payload, which he requires in advance at the aforementioned address.
“We’re close enough at this point, we’re wasting money on Desdemona’s long distance plan.” Jonah said.
“All right, 2,000 for the goods and the delivery of both ship and cargo in 39 days’ time.” YJ said.
“Seems like he’s pretty insistent on the up front part,” Tulsa said. “Shenmue could make the delivery. Take a couple of days to look for the shuttle, then a week to ten days to deliver the goods to New Melbourne instead of the 40 days it will take otherwise.”
“Besides, the goods are already on Shenmue,” Worth said. “So if you guys make the delivery, Desdemona can be on its way to Blackwood.”
“Yeah, but that means we have to split up,” YJ said. “Who’s going to go where?”
“Where do you think the most trouble is going to be?” Jonah said.
“Doc has to deliver the medicine,” Worth said. “And Jonah’s going to have to fly Desdemona.”
“And I have to keep an eye on Jonah,” Tulsa added. “Although by the time Desdemona gets to Blackwood, Jonah should be back on his feet.” He looked at Worth. “Muscle wouldn’t hurt, either, if experience is anything to go by.”
“It’s a straight shot, a milk run, one refueling stop and we’re there.” Jonah said.
“So I stay with Shenmue and do some sleuthing round these parts,” YJ said. He turned to Wild Sky. “That means you need to decide what team you should join.”
“I have a lot more motivation to stay on Shenmue and get on my work shop and get on my console,” said Wild Sky. “I was just thinking, the terminals in the workshop have to have information and contact info for people I know. I’ve got to be able to dig that up.”
“That means you and I will be making the delivery of the goods to New Melbourne,” YJ said.
Desdemona waited for the better part of a day for Shenmue to show up. YJ docked the freighter and the yacht together and Worth transferred the bus and a good portion of his and Jonah’s personal arsenals on board Desdemona in preparation for the trip to Blackwood.
YJ programmed Desdemona for a one-way trip to a nearby skyplex where Tao Barker had indicated that the payload of medication could be picked up. He then programmed a second route from the space station to Blackwood, hoping against hope that Worth had enough technical skill to slot the correct course once the time came.
Worth showed YJ where the Chrysanthemum Blonde had been stashed in Shenmue’s inner workings.
The two ships parted ways.
Desdemona flew itself to the skyplex and allowed Traffic Control to take over its helm on final approach. The Doc and Worth debarked and found the representative from Khonsu Medical Ventures, who signed over the cargo of medicine and briefed them on instructions in situ.
The shipment was made up of several ruggedized cases of SNS medication, each containing measured doses of Drexaline 29 that could be loaded into a handheld injector for individual application.
According to Barker’s instructions, each dose was to be administered by Doc Tulsa, the KMV physician-designate. Data on the efficacy of past doses was to be collected from each quarantine site. The doses themselves were numbered and tagged. The shipment was not to be broken up or otherwise divided. There were enough vials for the number of infected individuals based on the previous round of inoculations, with additional supplies based on the hypothetical model of infection rates. Any and all extra doses were to be returned to Khonsu with the paperwork intact.
Their local medical contacts would be Doctor Roberta Quine in Sawtooth Crossing, and Shepherd Quentin Blackhorse of Mission Hill, both afflicted communities within the SNS quarantine zone. A third community, Desperation, had no medical personnel, but the town patron would serve as the primary point of contact.
Barker’s contact then gave Tulsa some off-the-books intel. “There have been reports that the local security force has been overzealous in their enforcement of the quarantine. Be on guard and ensure you receive proper travel clearance before beginning your journey into the quarantine area. There is a community known as Europa Township that is off-limits.”
The final note came direct from Tao Barker. “Doctor Travis Park, the Alliance Research and Rescue team leader on Blackwood in control of the quarantine operation, will likely attempt to secure and administer the medicine himself. Do not allow this.”
Tulsa relayed these instructions to Worth and Jonah.
“Not exactly a milk run,” Worth observed. “How did we get roped into actually administering the medicine? This was just supposed to be a delivery. Now we’ve got to do the gorram research?”
Tulsa shrugged. “They based this job off my skillset, I guess.”
“This skyplex is basically a shipping transfer node, right?” Jonah said weakly, still recovering from his injuries. “I don’t suppose there are any cargoes heading out Blackwood way, seeing as this boat’s got 100 tons of cargo space sitting empty.”
While Worth handled the loading of the medicine, the Doc made a few inquiries around the shipping and receiving section and secured a contract to transport a load of handcrafted furniture that had been orphaned in the space station’s cargo hold to New Canaan, a planet not too far from Blackwood, for the princely sum of 800 credits.
Desdemona topped up its tanks with fuel as well before departing, with Worth initiating the autopilot for the trip to Blackwood.
The next two and a half weeks passed in an alcohol-induced blur as Tulsa and Worth, and later Jonah when he was feeling better, laid waste to Desdemona’s entertainment suite the only way they knew how.
The trio partied hard.
They lit line after line of shots on fire atop the bar’s marble surface before downing them and smashing the glasses against the fuselage, clogged the pool filter with bath towels, and abused the discotheque’s karaoke machine until it refused to co-operate with their ribald song selections. They thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
The drunken bacchanal was only interrupted when Jonah, fully recovered from his knife wound, had to drop out of autopilot and fly the yacht on manual for the approach to New Canaan, where they delivered the furniture, collected their payment, and refueled for the final push to Blackwood.
Jonah brought Desdemona into a shaky orbit around Blackwood, the second moon on Fury, a gas giant that looked like it was giving them the evil eye. It wasn’t long before he began receiving an incoming hail signal on the official Alliance band.
“Tulsa, get up here,” Jonah said. “These might be your colleagues.”
The signal was coming from a curious-looking vessel in orbit around the moon. It was an Alliance enforcement platform, a sort of battle satellite with an elongated antenna sporting several laser reflector dishes, a central doughnut-shaped living quarters that surrounded the spacecraft’s power plant, and stabilizers on its x and y axes, each one tipped with enough offensive weaponry to disable their yacht without so much as a second glance.
“This is the IAV Beobachter,” said a no-nonsense voice from the enforcement platform. “This moon is under medical quarantine. State your business.”
“This is the good ship Darla, and we are delivering medical supplies for treatment of the illness on the surface,” Tulsa said.
Worth grinned at hearing the name he’d chosen for Desdemona’s new identity, corresponding to the reprogrammed pulse beacon he’d installed during their escape from Santo.
“Are you then?” the Alliance officer replied, a measure of scorn in her voice. “That’s an awfully fancy ship to be delivering medical supplies.”
“It’s a long story, but yes,” Tulsa said.
Jonah cut in. “It is a fancy ship.”
“But I can assure you we have nothing to hide, just medical supplies, which we will drop off, administer, collect efficacy data on, and then be on our way,” Tulsa said.
“I suppose it’s possible, if it’s an issue, we could just turn around let our supplier know…what’s your name? Lieutenant, sergeant?” Jonah said.
“That’s classified,” the officer said, clearing her throat.
“We’ve got points of contact, agents to deliver this medicine to, so we need to land at Sawtooth Crossing and then Mission Hill.” Jonah said.
“Air traffic over the quarantined area is restricted,” the Alliance officer explained. “Communities in the quarantine zone can be reached by ground vehicle only, in order to prevent the spread of disease out of the area by air traffic. You are instructed to land at the Downriver settlement and obey the instructions given to you by the Alliance Research and Rescue team stationed there. Failure to do so will be treated harshly,” she added.
“Acknowledged,” Jonah said. “When we enter atmo that’s what we’ll do, now we just have to decide if we’re entering atmo now or not.”
“Sure, take your time,” the officer said drily. “We’ve got nothing better to do.”
Jonah cut off the signal and turned to Worth and the Doc after he put Desdemona into a holding pattern.
“Basically we’ll be flying right into their hands,” he said. “Right to the guy who wants to take the shipment off our hands. How are we going to deal with this?”
“They want us to go where?” Worth said.
“Downriver.” Jonah said.
“But we’re supposed to take it to where?” Worth said.
“Sawtooth Crossing or Mission Hill,” Tulsa said. “Those were where our contacts are.”
“We land at Downriver, Alliance Research and Rescue is in control of things at that point and we have to follow their instructions.”
“So we don’t land at Downriver.” Worth said.
“Yeah,” Jonah said. “Only we’re not allowed to land anywhere else according to our friends on the Alliance ship here. So I say we hail Mission Hill or Sawtooth Crossing, and let them know we’re ready to land when they’re ready to pick it up.”
“Why do we have to stick around to administer the medicine?” Worth complained. “Why can’t we just parachute drop this mi tian gong?”
“That was the deal,” Tulsa said.
“Yeah, and they’ll open to crate to find thousands of shattered vials because the parachutes weren’t up to snuff,” Jonah said.
“We need to get the goods around this guy.” Tulsa said. “We’re not handing the medicine over to him.” He reviewed the instructions he received from Tao’s contact. “It’s clear that Barker expects us to move the shipment through the Downriver settlement though. He included coordinates for us. Guess we’ll have to talk our way past this Doctor Park.”
Jonah attempted to hail Mission Hill and Sawtooth Crossing, but got no response. There seemed to be a dearth of civilian comm traffic on Blackwood. He shrugged and switched over to the official band, confirming with the IAV Beobachter that they would be heading straight to Downriver.
Blackwood’s surface was made up of mostly wetland and low-lying swamps, cut through with innumerable slow-moving river channels, anabranches, and sandy islands.
The Downriver settlement was exactly what it said on the tin: a town situated at the mouth of a particularly wide, muddy river that snaked its way to the coast of a brackish, shallow lake.
As they approached, the crew took in the skyline, which was dominated by large storage domes near the port. A riverine harbour was cut into the shoreline, with docks and slips for watercraft, most of which had vessels docked and tied up. According to the ship’s computer, less than 50,000 people called Blackwood home, and most of them looked to be crowded into Downriver.
Jonah also noticed, on the outskirts of the settlement, that there was a number of what looked like prefab barracks – very new and not at all weathered by the environment. The living modules didn’t match any of the local architecture, and they were behind a tall fence topped with razorwire. He filed that away for further reflection.
The Port Control tower was an ominous pile of concrete festooned with antennas and radar dishes, sturdy enough to withstand an orbital bombardment. The reinforced monstrosity sat astride the harbor and the landing area. There were only a handful of other spaceships on the tarmac – an Alliance ASREV and a bulk hauler or two.
Jonah was directed to a vacant landing platform and he brought the ship in for a landing.
“This is Alliance Research and Rescue,” a message from the Port Control tower said. “Please assemble all crew members in your ship’s cargo hold and prepare for boarding.”
“Meet you there,” Jonah said. He turned to his crewmates.
“Why do I have the feeling that we’re going to be staring down a whole lot of gun barrels in a few minutes?” Worth said. “They’re going to walk in with their guns and their bombs and without so much as a please and thank you we’re going to lose this shipment of go se to the douchebag.”
“Well, I do have these smoke grenades,” Jonah said, slipping one into his pocket. Then he was struck with inspiration. “One last thing, do I throw on a suit and a press pass? Action Cortex News, I’m here following the story, local businessman turned philanthropist Sai McKittrick and I’m doing a story on him.”
He quickly applied his fake moustache and donned his best suit. “What do you think?” he said when he returned to the cargo bay.
Worth cocked his pistols and jammed them in their holsters.
The crew prepared to be boarded.
They could hear a mechanized sound on the other side of the yacht’s main airlock, as though something was being affixed to the exterior of the ship and sealed against the doors.
Then the entry hatch cycled open.
“Shouldn’t we have hazmat suits on?” Worth said. “There’s a contagious disease hereabouts, right?”
“We were inoculated for SNS back on Osiris, remember?” Tulsa hissed as he stared at the welcoming committee that was coming aboard.
A squad of five men in full hazmat suits had come aboard, walking out from a fully enclosed tube that had been sealed tight to Desdemona’s airlock. It was made of a flexible material stretched over a metallic ribbing that curved to the right and out of their sight.
The suits, finished in standard issue Alliance Grey, were as much military as they were medical, with flexible joints and obvious armor inserts. The men’s faces were completely covered by masks with large round goggles and breathing tubes connected to units mounted on their hips. “ALLIANCE RESEARCH AND RESCUE” was spelled out in curt, no-nonsense lettering down the arms and legs of the suits.
The four men in utilitarian gear were led by a man wearing a slightly fancier protective suit, with a full clearplast faceplate that allowed the crew to make out a pair of round glasses perched on a hawkish nose that protruded from a thin face. He wore a blank, clinical expression that gave the crew the sense that he was not a conversationalist.
He didn’t make eye contact as he approached, instead reading something off a datapad. Without looking at the crew, he cleared his throat and said simply, “Strip.”
Worth noticed that two of the man’s companions held the business ends of hoses that snaked back into the tube.
“Why?” Jonah asked. “Doctor, you realize that not only are we immune to the disease, we haven’t even been exposed to the moon’s atmosphere yet.”
The man was still reading the datapad.
Jonah stepped forward and hooked his finger onto the datapad, pulling it down. “No, no, you’re talking to me right now.” He said.
The man looked up and regarded him with the kind of gaze that one would use to view an insect collection. “Strip, please.” He said blankly.
“Or else?” Jonah replied.
The man’s gaze shifted to the left momentarily. “Hose ‘em!” he commanded harshly.
His two colleagues took aim with their hoses.
“But this is a new suit!” Jonah protested, stepping back.
“Hold on a second,” Tulsa said, raising his hands. “You can’t just hose people. First, you’ve got a reporter standing here-” he indicated Jonah – “who is feeding all of this back so I’m not sure this is exactly how you want to proceed. And second, a little clarification on our rights, due process, due diligence, that sort of thing.”
“How about medical reality, too?” Jonah said.
“We’ve got the paperwork to prove that we’ve been inoculated,” Tulsa continued, conscious that his mouth was beginning to run away from him. “Why would we do it? We have no death wish!”
The hawk-nosed man blinked, and just as he opened his mouth to give another order, a voice from a few paces behind rang out.
“Now, now, Grenfire, why are you submitted these good people to such raw treatment?”
A dignified-looking man with silvery hair and a pristine white lab coat stepped out from behind the squad of Alliance medical field operatives.
“Gentlemen, please accept my apologies and allow me to welcome you to the moon of Blackwood.” Heedless of the heightened tension in the air, he strolled up to interpose himself between the man he called Grenfire and where Tulsa and Jonah were standing. “We’re so very glad you’ve arrived.”
“My name is Doctor Travis Park. I’m in charge of the Alliance Research and Rescue detachment currently administering the quarantine here on Blackwood.”
“What was the guy’s name who wanted to take our medicine?” Worth whispered to Jonah.
“Doctor Travis Park,” Jonah hissed back.
“You’ll have to excuse my colleague here. Dr. Grenfire is nothing if not a stickler for protocols,” Park continued. “I understand you are representing Khonsu Medical Ventures?”
“That’s correct,” Jonah said.
“Excellent. Now there’s the small matter of the landing fee,” Park said. “Grenfire, do you have the paperwork?”
Grenfire didn’t look up as he handed the datapad to his superior.
Worth took note of the standard-issue Alliance stun rifles in the hands of the other two Research and Rescue operatives. They weren’t pointed at him or his crewmates at the moment, but they weren’t exactly pointing away from them either.
“Wait, what settlement is this?” Tulsa said.
“This is the Downriver settlement.” Park said.
“You know what? We totally went to the wrong settlement,” Tulsa said. “We had specific instructions from you gentlemen. How did we…” He turned to Jonah. “You know what, we aren’t the best pilots. So we are just going to close up and move on out. Sorry for troubling you, but you can step off our decks to your left and right, no flash photography and keep all arms and legs inside the platforms at all times.”
“I’m certain that’s not the case,” Park said, arching a silvered eyebrow. “Who did you receive instructions from?”
“They said it was classified.” Jonah said. “One of the men up there,” he pointed skyward.
“You’re talking about my colleagues on board the IAV Beobachter? That’s the Alliance enforcement platform.”
“Rather than being enforced we’d like to comply, so if it’s all right with you we would like to be on our way, so you can disconnect whatever you’ve hooked up to our ship and we’ll be on our way so we can comply with your faction and not cause any trouble.” Tulsa babbled.
“That’s all very interesting,” Park said. “However, all vessels arriving in Downriver are subject to a 48-hour isolation period. Besides, Downriver is the only legal landing facility on this moon due to the SNS quarantine as I’m sure you’re well aware of being employed by Khonsu Medical Ventures and understanding the crisis facing this moon…”
“Mr. Park,” Tulsa interrupted.
“It’s Doctor Park,” he shot back. “I didn’t go to medical school for eight years in order for…”
“Come with me for a moment.” Tulsa said, motioning him over. He dropped his voice and Park leaned in to hear. “Do you know who Sterling Moss is? I’m going to assume the answer is no, because his rank and position is way out there. Now this delivery was done on a very special request which is why it’s not going to show up on your books. Let’s just say he has some familial investments here. Now, if we don’t follow through on our end, that’s going to get back to him. So this operation you’ve got going on here? You’re going to be exiled to the outliers next to Reaver Territory taking in telegraphs from Ubu-Jubu, so let’s just call it a day, and be done with it, because I really don’t want to go through all of that, and I’m sure you’ve got a great thing going here, but maybe you want a ticket off,
if so that’s great we’ll give you a ride and save you the trouble, we won’t even charge you.”
“I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?” Park asked.
“Doc Tulsa,” he said.
“Doc Tulsa. Well, your name appeared on the manifest for the delivery you have been scheduled to make,” Park said.
“Of course it did,” Tulsa said.
“So let’s proceed under the assumption that I know as much about the delivery and its logistics as you do.” Park said.
“There’s a problem with that word assume, you know what we can do with those letters, right?” Tulsa said.
“Yes, yes,” Park said dismissively. “I’m aware.”
“Exactly. So what we can do is get the guys on the phone who directed traffic and they’ll tell you we made a slight miscalculation and we ended up at the wrong place. Which would be due diligence on your part at this point since there’s a discrepancy between what you believe your instructions are and what I believe my instructions are.”
“Where did you think you were going?” Park asked.
“Mission Hill or Sawtooth Crossing,” Jonah piped up.
“Yes, of course, those are two of the local communities that have unfortunately suffered SNS outbreaks.” Park said.
“That’s where we’re headed.” Tulsa said.
“Absolutely,” Park nodded. “I understand your desire to continue with this delivery however there are a few aspects to the situation here that you might not be aware of, namely…”
Jonah was putting on a big show of writing down everything everyone was saying.
Tulsa looked around for an opportunity.
“I’m sorry Doctor Park, did you just offer me a bribe?” he blurted, altogether too loudly.
Park took half a step back and dropped his pleasant demeanor. His eyes grew dark as his silvered brows furrowed in sudden anger.
“Grenfire?” he said. “Hose them!”
Jonah said. “Doctor, one second, if you may.” He turned to Tulsa. “Doc, can you…” he motioned at Tulsa to shut up and get out of the way. “A few questions first. First off, I understand you’re upset, and if you need to hose down one of the staff, I’m right there with you,” he pointed at Tulsa. “I mean, I’ve been with him for almost thirty days. But I’d really appreciate it, I don’t make a ton of money, this is a brand new suit. I know he offended you, please don’t, I’m here for the ride-along, please don’t assume that everyone here is trying to offend you. Obviously you didn’t offer him a bribe, I was standing right there. So I do apologize for Doctor Tulsa here. If that can maybe affect things?”
Tulsa fumed at Jonah’s stab to his back.
Worth rested his hands on his holstered pistols.
Jonah continued. “Although, may I ask you a question, Doctor Park?”
“I am running out of patience,” Park said.
“I understand,” Jonah said. “But…”
“No, I mean I’m running out of patients,” Park clarified. “It’s very important for this medicine to be delivered.”
“Well this is the point. We need to make a delivery because these people are running out of time. In light of that, wouldn’t you consider the 48-hour quarantine period here at the dock a little bit reckless?” Jonah said in what he hoped was his most diplomatic tone. “Couldn’t we make the delivery and then return here for quarantine and then disinfect the ship? That’s a reasonable solution, as it gets the delivery done and maintains the quarantine, but the other way around seems to serve no purpose.”
Park’s pleasant demeanor returned. “I feel as though we may have gotten off on the wrong foot somehow. Can’t imagine why that might be,” he said, glaring at Tulsa.
“Me neither,” Jonah said.
“However, the rules we have in place are as much for your safety as they are for the health and wellbeing of the people in the afflicted communities.” Park said. “But before I answer further, who are you exactly?”
“Chet Ferguson, Action Cortex News, reporting on businessman turned philanthropist Sai McKittrick, who chartered this vessel to make this important medical delivery. Have you heard of Mr. McKittrick?”
“I have not.” Park said, giving Tulsa another sidelong glance. “But, we will hold off on the disinfecting of your craft until such time as you are not in the way of said disinfectant, and on behalf of the Alliance allow me to thank you gentlemen for transporting this cargo to Blackwood. I believe we are capable of taking it from here.”
“Yes, you see, that’s the problem,” Tulsa said. “We’re under specific instructions not to give you specifically this cargo. I find it interesting that they would name you specifically out of all the people on this planet, that they would tell us that when you show up and knock on the door that there would be this person who would want to take it. Don’t let him take it, they said to us. Now why would they tell me that? Bear in mind I’m the messenger here.”
“That is a very good question.” Park said.
“Now you said that there are some situations here that I might not be up to date on, but I’m just curious as to why our employer doesn’t want you to have this medicine.” Tulsa continued.
Still smiling, though with less sincerity, Park said. “Well certainly this is something that I will have to look into and perhaps have a conversation with your employer. I do apologize for putting you in the middle of what appears to be a difficult situation. I will follow up with Khonsu to determine the nature of their hesitation, but for the moment the 48-hour quarantine stands, and I would ask that you stay on board your vessel. Grenfire, you can start the clock, and we will speak to you when necessary.”
“Is there any way we can reach you if we have any more issues or questions?” Jonah asked.
“Absolutely,” Park said, giving him the Port Control comm number.
“I would like to follow up to ensure that I can get some time to shoot some b-roll,” Jonah said, selling the journalistic image. “I’ll need to take some action shots and line up some interviews as well.”
“We will collect that information and see how we can move forward in that regard.” Park said.
“Thank you Doctor, I appreciate your time,” Jonah said, extending his hand.
Park shook it. Jonah noticed that the Alliance medico was wearing blue medical gloves that extended under the cuffs of his lab coat.
Park exited the cargo deck without looking back, followed by Grenfire, and finally, the squad of AR&R operatives, who backed out, covering the retreat of their superior officers. One of the operatives let a burst of disinfectant fly from his hose to relieve built-up pressure, but it didn’t hit any of the crew.
Satisfied that they were gone, Jonah turned to Tulsa. “You do realize that if I’d been disinfected with my suit off they’d see that I was covered in Shenzhou tattoos. Sorry for stabbing you in the back there, but the moment they saw my tattoos, my cover would be blown.”
Tulsa shrugged. “Hey, I was about to take him hostage in a moment,” he said, pulling a needle out of his pocket. “Threaten to pump him so full of this junk his heart would stop. Then negotiate our way out.”
Worth slapped his hand to his forehead and shook his head. “Why didn’t I think of that?”