Shenmue left the chaotic clouds of Branson’s Mark behind as YJ guided her through the upper atmosphere.
“I thought we’d never get off that rock,” Worth grumbled. “How is it that three days felt like eight months?”
No one had an answer.
The crew set about their various tasks as Branson’s Mark receded behind the ship until it was a slightly brighter speck of light than the other specks of light in the Black. Worth stationed himself in the engine room, trying to get a handle on the various issues plaguing the beleaguered transport. After examining Wild Sky’s charts, Doc Tulsa decreed that she could be moved to her personal quarters, freeing up both the passenger dorms and the infirmary. Jonah assisted the Doc in moving Wild Sky, strapped onto a stretcher, up the stairs and down the ladder (a tricky set of maneuvers, that) where they transferred her to her own bed. Worth and Jonah had quickly set her quarters back to right after having ransacked it twice, but their ability to fold clothes was inadequate to say the least – sleeves and pant legs trailed from overstuffed dresser drawers, and the door to her wardrobe hung askew. They couldn’t get the tatami mats on the floor to fit right, and now they were overlapping and dog-eared.
As he laid in a course for Osiris, YJ noticed that the ship had received a text wave. It was from Holton Hill.
It was a pleasure meeting you and your crew. Best of luck in your future endeavours. If you’re ever interested in pursuing further employment opportunities, I am in need of barrels, 100-liter barrels, preferably made of oak, to store my product in. Bring me a shipment of empties and I’ll take them on consignment, so whatever I sell once they’re filled with the good stuff, you will get a healthy piece of the action. Keep that in mind.
YJ tapped a quick response. “We will be on the lookout for oak barrels.”
In one of the nearby crew bunks, a woman opened her eyes. She examined her surroundings. She had been moved while asleep, she guessed. The small chamber looked like someone’s living quarters; living quarters that had obviously been ransacked and then quickly put back together. Clothes had been jammed into dresser drawers, which were now half-closed and overstuffed.
Remembering how little mobility she had when she was last awake, she tried flexing her hands and was rewarded with a tingling sensation in her fingers. Gingerly, she shifted on her bedding. It felt like a firm futon beneath her body, which was an improvement over the paper-thin mattress she had woken up on last time. Gone were the life signs monitors and IV stand; a heavy medical bracelet now encircled her wrist, beeping softly. She looked down at herself and immediately regretted it as she saw the state of her arm through the transparent cast that sheathed most of her limb. The mottled bruises and pins made her want to retch. She quickly averted her eyes, staring at the deckhead above her. Then, with considerable effort, she shifted onto her side, staring at the far side of the bunk.
Across the room she could see a ladder leading upwards through a hole in the deckhead, and an old-style internal comm-panel affixed to the nearby wall. She smiled; now she had a goal to focus on. She willed her legs over the side of the futon. They refused to budge. She frowned and tried again, sweat beading on her forehead.
YJ frowned as he checked Shenmue’s drive output readings. The boat was feeling a little sluggish. He opened up a channel to the engine room.
“Worth, speak to me, what’s happening with our lady?”
“It’s the pulse iterator timer, Captain, it’s been thrown off,” Worth said. “Trying to kludge something together now. Just add it to the list of things wrong with our ship.” He banged a wrench around for effect.
YJ shook his head and sighed. At the rate Shenmue was going, it was going to take almost 24 hours to get back to Osiris. He did some mental math; Quinn and Whitaker had about five days’ worth of life support left. Satisfied that his passengers were not going to asphyxiate, YJ fired up the ship’s power monitoring system, searching for any peculiar energy drains that might indicate a tracking device drawing juice from Shenmue’s reactor.
Back in the bunk, the woman was now sitting up on the futon, her feet on a tatami mat. She slowly got to her feet and stumbled towards the nearby dresser, where a mirror was bolted to the wall above it. She took a deep breath and then regarded her reflection.
She wasn’t going to be winning any beauty contests any time soon. Her face was puffy and bruised, and a large section of her scalp had been shorn so that someone could leave a wicked scar, almost like a crease, across the right side of her head about two inches above her ear. Clearly she had been put through the ringer, but she had no recollection as to when or why.
Suddenly she was gripped by a hyperreal vision that caused her to stagger. Directly in front of her was the business end of a gun barrel; a split-second impression of a wide-bore weapon and then a white flash. Then, just as soon as the vision had come to her, it vanished, leaving her sagging against the dresser. Her head started pounding in lockstep with her heart.
She blinked away tears and took a look at the top of the dresser. Aside from a bottle of moisturizer, the scent of which was not familiar in any way, it was bare. She slowly pulled open the first drawer and started pawing through its contents. The drawer was full of utilitarian garb, a woman’s size small, and she pulled out a pair of black stretch pants as she realized she was wearing nothing but a hospital gown.
She was about to turn away and put the pants on when her hand felt a sheaf of flexible plastic cards, crammed underneath some unmentionables. She grabbed them and withdrew them. It was a stack of static image captures. She began to leaf through them. All but one was of Alliance military units; squad photos by the looks of them. The final picture was a shot of a young woman aiming a pistol at some unseen target. She could pick out a familiar face in each one, matching her reflection in the mirror, but they did not jog her memory.
“Koko de, watashi wa gozen?” she croaked, and then coughed. She repeated herself, this time in English. “Where am I?” She dropped the image captures on the dresser, and turned towards the wall-mounted communicator. She pushed the ‘all talk’ button.
“Hello?” she asked, immediately wincing at the plaintive tone in her voice as it echoed throughout the ship.
YJ noted the location of the comm signal and hit reply. “Rise and shine. We could use your expertise up here with the computer.”
“Um, problem,” she replied. “I don’t remember anything. So, I’m good with computers, I gather?”
“Uh, yes, that’s right,” YJ said. “Very good.”
“So if somebody wants swing by and tell me, well, my name would be good,” she continued. “Someone just come here, I’m…I’m really tired.”
“Okay, er, Jenny Smith,” YJ said. “so we’ll be on our way?”
She looked at her reflection in the mirror. Jenny Smith? she mouthed.
“Doc, um, ‘Jenny’ is walking around.” YJ said. “Can you escort her to the cockpit? I might have a quick task for her if she’s up for it.”
The woman heard a polite knock at the top of the ladder. She pulled on her pants as she sat back on the futon. “Come in,” she said.
A man descended the ladder. She recognized him as the doctor who had been working on her earlier.
“Can I give you a hand?”
“Oh sure,” he said, uncertainly.
“So, who am I?” she asked.
The doc shifted uncomfortably.
In the foredeck hall, Jonah fired up his debugger.
The doctor leaned against the dresser. “How are you feeling?” he said. “You don’t remember your name?”
“Nothing,” she replied.
“I was afraid of this,” the doc sighed. “You were quite seriously injured. I understand that you gather that. It looks as though as you may have taken a gunshot to the head and you required some pretty extensive surgery, which was pretty much at the limit of this ship’s supplies and infirmary. The fact that you’re mobile and speaking is a great step forward, however as a side effect there may indeed have be some residual amnesia. Of course, being as you just asked me who you are, you’ve already figured out that there are obviously a few gaps. So hopefully we’ll be able to fill you in.”
She could tell that that was the longest sentence the Doc had said to anyone in a long time.
“Why don’t we start with the basics, like my name?” she said. “Jenny Smith?”
The doctor leaned forward. “Well, it’s kind of complicated. We think that…where do I even start? Let me explain. Well, your name is not Jenny Smith.”
“Doc, how is Jenny doing?” said a voice over the intercom.
Tulsa rolled his eyes.
The woman tucked her legs up against her chest, wincing at the effort. “Okay, am I in some trouble here?”
The Doc bit his lip.
“That wasn’t the hesitation I was looking for,” she said.
“I think we’re all in trouble here,” The doc replied.
She massaged her temples with her delicate fingertips. “If you can’t say my name, at least write it down.”
The doc nodded, and then pulled out a prescription pad from his coat pocket. He scratched a few marks with a pen and handed the paper to her.
She read it.
Ship bugged. Your name is Wild Sky.
She repeated the name, hoping that recollection would take root. It did not.
The doctor smiled. “You’ve been on this ship for about five, six months,” he said in what he hoped was a helpful tone.
YJ turned on the autopilot and rounded up Jonah, who was loitering in the foredeck hall passage. “You got your gizmo going? All right, let’s see what the holdup is.” He knocked.
“How many people on board?” Wild Sky asked.
“Five crew, and two passengers, but the passengers aren’t on board at the moment,” the doc replied. “I’m Tulsa, the ship’s medic. The captain is Ying Johnson, his first mate is Worth Evans, and our logistics and procurement guy is Jonah Rothsay. You were providing us with technical support in return for passage.
Wild Sky shook her head slowly. “Clearly, I’ve had a lot of my brain shot out.”
A voice came from above. “Doc, is it safe to come in? Is she decent?”
The doc gave Wild Sky a look. She nodded. “Sure,” he said.
YJ and Jonah descended the ladder.
“Doctor, what’s going on here? How’s Wild Sky doing?” the captain asked.
“We’re just playing 20 questions at the moment. Looks like her amnesia is fairly extensive, to the point that she doesn’t remember her name.”
“Gorramit,” YJ said. “We got a jammer going, but I’m sure Worth is talking to himself right now. Anybody listening is going to get an earful of gibberish, but we can’t really be doing this for too long. What’s going on? We really need some help with the computer system, because I’m telling you, there is a bug on this ship.”
“And I take it that’s where I come in?” Wild Sky asked.
“Well, that’s what we were hoping, there.” YJ said.
“Well, unless something jogs my memory quickly, I don’t plan on cracking open textbooks and learning how to do all that until I figure out where I come from, whether I have family…” she trailed off.
“Oh great,” the captain said.
The Doctor cleared his throat. “Unfortunately, you played those cards pretty close to your chest when you were on board. So we don’t know a whole lot about who you are beyond your name and where you signed on, and where your abilities are concerned.”
“Where did I sign on?” she asked.
“Beaumonde, if memory serves.” Tulsa said.
“Beaumonde,” she repeated. “Fifteenth planet in Kalidasa. I know where that is,” she said with some relief.
YJ nudged Jonah. “Did you guys show her the pictures?”
Jonah nodded at the dresser, where they were spread out.
“What about the medals?” The doc asked.
“Medals?” Wild Sky repeated.
“Jonah will know where those are,” YJ said.
Jonah cleared his throat and pulled out a small box from the wardrobe. He cracked it open and showed Wild Sky its contents.
She regarded the three medals pinned to red velvet backing. “Alliance military commendations,” she said, unlocking another piece of general knowledge. “Handed out to officers during the Unification War.” She began to feel a measure of relief. It seemed like she could remember details about the ‘Verse around her – history, geography, politics.
Her relief was short-lived as she realized that her place in the ‘Verse was shrouded in the grey fog of uncertainty.
“As near as we can tell, you were shot on Persephone,” the Doc offered.
Wild Sky blinked. At the mention of Persephone, she was suddenly transported to a hot, dry, dusty canyon made of metal – shipping containers, she realized – with the heat of the midday sun beating down on her. She could feel herself running, boots striking a hard surface as her heart beat rapidly, and she could hear shouts in the air. Just as those shouts coalesced into intelligible phrases, she was yanked back into her quarters, with the Doc, Captain Johnson, and Jonah all staring at her.
“Sorry,” she said. “Flashback. I remember running.”
“Here’s the lay of the land,” Captain Johnson said. He indicated the jammer unit Jonah was holding. “As soon as this little gizmo gets turned off, you don’t mention your name, you don’t ask any questions, just make sure you respond to ‘Jenny’ and we will certainly talk more when we’re off the ship, but I’m pretty sure someone’s listening, and if they are listening and they know you’re here, we’re in serious trouble.”
Wild Sky nodded. She turned to the Doc. “Was there a place on board where I worked from, or where I’d usually be?”
The men exchanged some uneasy glances.
The Doc said, “Yeah, you had a workshop in the secondary hold downstairs.”
“Is it far?”
The Doc frowned. “Well, it’s the opposite end of the ship, but I really think that you should stay in bed I told these gentlemen.”
Johnson stepped in. “We’ll help you get there,” he said.
Wild Sky nodded. “Let’s do that. My will to discover is exceeding my pain.”
The Doc supervised as Wild Sky was helped up the ladder into the foredeck of the ship.
She limped along to the galley, Doc and YJ supporting her. Wild Sky’s stomach rumbled.
“You hungry?” YJ asked.
“I wouldn’t say no to some grub,” Wild Sky managed. “Got anything to eat around here?”
“Protein paste, all the colours of the rainbow,” the Doc said. “Although I think Jonah picked up a crate of fish filets at the Cap.”
Wild Sky eased into the chair at the head of the table as the Doc moved to the kitchen and threw some fish on the stovetop.
YJ turned to Jonah. “Man, we’re totally screwed without her,” he said sotto voce. “It’s like we picked up a child.”
Wild Sky looked around the galley hopefully, waiting for another wave of recollection. Nothing happened.
After a few minutes of puttering around the galley stove, the Doc produced a limp-looking filet of fish that looked like it had had a blowtorch waved over it. He slipped it onto a plate and set it before Wild Sky.
Wild Sky looked down at the white strip of fish. She seemed to recall her taste in food running a tad higher than this. Her lip curled involuntarily.
“Oh, look at our princess. I see we got our taste back.” Jonah said.
Worth ambled up from the engine room and stopped short as he saw Wild Sky pushing a forkful of fish around her plate.
“Oh, hey.” He grabbed a blue shop towel and tried wiping off some of the engine grease that coated his face. He succeeded in making himself more disheveled.
“Worth, tell me this thing’s going to hold until we get to Osiris,” Johnson said.
Worth smiled. “Well, you know, the timer was off a little bit, but I banged it back into place. Are we having fish?”
“Yeah actually, for a change,” YJ said.
“Hey, I don’t remember opening up my private reserve to you clowns,” Jonah said. “But since it’s a special occasion…”
“Well, thank you,” YJ said. “As our procurement officer, I didn’t know you kept a private stash.”
“What, you think I bought those filets for you guys? Oh wait, I guess you would.”
Wild Sky pushed the plate away from her, a half-eaten filet still steaming. “Well, that hit the spot.”
“Hey, we’re glad her sarcasm’s back,” YJ said.
“So about this workshop?” Wild Sky said.
“Right, it’s downstairs.” Doc Tulsa said. He and Jonah helped Wild Sky down the stairwell towards the secondary hold. Wild Sky saw an infirmary module, a multimedia centre, and what looked like a work shed
In the galley, YJ turned to Worth. “So, ‘Jenny’s’ certainly looking better, right Worth?”
“What?” Worth said. Then he caught on. “Oh. Right. Yes.” He picked up the half-eaten fish filet off Wild Sky’s plate and shoveled it in his mouth.
“Enjoy the fish,” YJ said, annoyed that he didn’t eat the leftovers before the mechanic did. “So, we’re going to have to find a good repair shop, we need to look over all the ship’s systems.”
Worth nodded, chewing thoughtfully.
Jonah sat down on the stairs and smoked a cigarette as Wild Sky looked at the work shed. It was about ten by twelve, with a sealed hatch on one end. It did feel familiar, as though she had seen it somewhere before.
“So, how do you get in?” Wild Sky asked.
Jonah coughed and sputtered.
The Doc smiled. “Well, again, you spent a lot of time in there, and we really didn’t see you coming and going. There’s a retinal scanner and biometrics, or something.”
“All right, let’s do it,” Wild Sky said.
“We did cut the power to that thing a while ago out of concern for your safety,” Jonah said.
“So how do you plug it in?”
“We had it piped in to the ship’s power system.” Jonah said.
“Which we probably don’t want to touch right now,” Wild Sky said. “Right?”
“It was running on backup power for a bit,” Jonah said. “We could shunt some power back into get, let it recharge its batteries.”
“It had some residual power once we disconnected it,” the Doc concurred.
“So where’s the retinal scanner?” Wild Sky asked.
Jonah pointed to a slot next to the hatch.
Wild Sky peered into the slot. Nothing happened. She looked down. There were no buttons or any other obvious controls, although she noticed a burn mark where someone had been attempting entry.
“Can we plug it in?” She asked Jonah.
“Sure, I’ll get Worth to do it,” Jonah said. He called up to the galley.
The mechanic came down, worked his way under the deckplates, and connected a heavy-duty power cable to the work shed. There was a low-power hum as the unit began drawing power.
YJ had settled back down on the bridge, keeping track of his power diagnostic. Suddenly, he got a ping from the readout screen. “I got it! Rodent in the auxiliary bay,” YJ said as he noted the unscheduled power drop on his console. “Rodent, guys? Auxiliary bay? C’mon.” He frowned as no one picked up on his carefully thought-out code phrase.
Wild Sky tried the retinal scanner again. “I’m about to get electrocuted, aren’t I?” she asked as a red scanning laser swept across her open eye. The unit made some buzzing noises. Just as she thought the computer system was going to give up, she heard the sound of the lock disengaging, and the door hissed open.
“Yo koso,” a pleasant-sounding recorded voice said in Japanese.
Wild Sky looked over her shoulder. Worth, the Doc, and Jonah were crowded behind her, trying to get a glimpse inside the open door. She smirked, stepped inside the workshop, and let the door close behind her.
“Yep, she’s back.” Worth muttered.
Wild Sky examined her surroundings. She was in a small, but functional workshop. Everything had been designed to fit into the small space; not an inch was wasted. There was a compact workbench, a Cortex terminal, and myriad shelves and racks for tools, both mechanical and electronic.
“Guys,” YJ said, “why am I reading a power drop in the secondary hold?”
Wild Sky approached the bench, upon which sat a complex gadget in a state of partial disassembly. She started sifting through drawers, a pile of blueprints, eager to find anything that would jog her memory.
She came up with a small metal object, with a flat base and convex surface, with a ruby-red laser emitter in the centre. As she stared at it, her imagination began stripping parts away, as if she could intuitively see how the object had been put together. She concentrated on it until she could “see” all of its components hanging in the air around it like an augmented reality display. A laser targeting device, she thought.
Then she turned to the half-completed unit sitting on the bench, and was rewarded with a similar vision. She had to stop herself from reaching for the nearest soldering iron.
Worth, Jonah, and the Doc could hear some clanking noises from inside the workshop.
YJ frowned as his console relayed some disturbing information as he continued to trace the power drop. According to his diagnostic, the drop in power coincided with the initiation of a low-frequency communications pulse. The comm signal was not originating from any of Shenmue’s systems, nor was it on the frequency of the crew’s ship-linked handset. The signal itself was barely distinguishable from the background noise.
“What the…” the captain said. He traced the signal back to the secondary cargo hold, the source of the power drop. He flipped open a ship-wide channel. “Crew, I believe we have some ‘rodents’ so we might need to get on an extermination mission. Meet me in the galley.”
Wild Sky ignored the Captain as she looked at the half-completed device. She could see how its parts could fit together to create a gun scanner-barricade device. If an unauthorized firearm were detected, it would create a force-field to trap the offender. As she visualized how to complete the device, she found herself also visualizing ways to spoof or otherwise defeat the device. Her head began to hurt.
“So, you boys remember that rodent problem we discussed?” YJ said significantly. “Well, I think we picked up some gerbils.”
“Boss,” Jonah said, pointing to the jammer device, which he turned on. “English is fine. We get what you’re saying, but you’re just embarrassing yourself.”
“Thanks.” YJ snapped in irritation. “So I just saw power drawn from the secondary bay, and just as the power went down, I caught a bug in there. So what’s going on? Did she turn her module on or what?”
Worth shifted his feet. “Well, yeah, I plugged it back in. She looked like she wanted to get back inside it.”
“Come on people, technical minds, I need to know. Did we just turn that bug on again, or was it always there? We’ve got to get hunting. But without her abilities, she’s as good to me as….”
“Well I mean she went inside her workshop and it was just like old times,” Worth said. “Far as I could tell. She seemed to recognize it.”
Jonah frowned. “What if she’s playing all of us with this amnesia thing?”
“Maybe she knows exactly who she is.” YJ said. “Man, we have a freaking…”
“If she’s playing us, she’s an evil genius, but I respect her.” Worth said.
“Respect her all you want,” YJ said. “Fact is, we’re hopping around with a sophisticated Alliance operative who may or may not be faking amnesia. And whatever happened, we’re broadcasting.”
“So should we just pull the plug on the workshop thing?” Worth asked.
YJ turned to Tulsa. “Doc, is she faking it, or what’s going on?”
“Well, she did not fake that head wound, guys,” the Doc said. “I was all but scooping her brains back in with a putty knife. It’s like I said before, there was always the possibility of some kind of impairment. Now whether that manifests itself as amnesia, or it manifests itself as some kind of loss of motor function, which we haven’t seen yet; she’s still very weak, but she’s mobile.” He considered for a moment. “Unless the part of her brain, her conscience or social skills centre was shot away…”
“Here’s the other thing, when we all got commandeered and interrogated, they had full access to the ship,” Jonah said. “Now if she’s Alliance, and that’s Alliance tech, how do we know this isn’t just something they use all the time?”
“Okay boys,” YJ said. “If this brain thing is the real thing, we can use it to our advantage.”
“What do you mean?” Worth asked.
“We need to tell her that she needs to find that bug, and that it’s emanating from somewhere in the secondary bay. Unless the pile of broken crates magically turned into Newtech subspace technology that transmits, it’s pretty much her pod. If she finds it, she’s not a witch. You know what I’m saying?”
“I could always rig the debugger to basically drop it right on top of her workshop and keep it running, try to mess with the signal, or we can try and scramble it at our end.”
“Luckily, suddenly not having a communications antenna on our ship is a huge advantage.” YJ said. “The signal boost just isn’t there. The signal’s just turning into static as soon as it hits the emitters. Since we’re on short wave comms, we should be okay, unless there’s an Alliance ship about.”
“Or unless we travel back to a Central Planet,” Jonah said, “and park Shenmue there. We can probably try to scramble it on board.”
“Let’s find it first.” YJ said. “You know what we can kill two birds with one stone. First we’ll see, if she’s Alliance, and she’s playing us, she won’t find the bug. But if she ain’t…”
“Yes, but what if she just doesn’t remember her skill set?” Tulsa said. “As far as I’m concerned, she’s exhibiting textbook retrograde amnesia. It appears that she’s retained the same general knowledge of current events, same as we all have, she just doesn’t remember anything that happened to her, specifically.”
“Doc, her tastes and her sarcasm are back.” YJ countered. “I think her brain skills and technical magic, her work with shiny things…Just get her to find this bug.” He pointed to the debugger. “All right boys, let’s turn this off.”
“What are we going to tell her?”
“The truth. Find the bug. ‘We believe it’s in your pod.’”
“Okay, you want to be the one to tell her?” Jonah asked.
“All right,” YJ shrugged. “Brave men, big guys…”
“Hey, I’m right behind you, backing you up.” Worth protested.
“I need to lie down,” Tulsa said.
YJ, Worth, and Jonah went down the stairs to the secondary cargo hold. YJ pounded on the door.
Inside, Wild Sky was attaching diodes to the unfinished scanner. She heard the knock, and turned instinctively to a Newtech communications console. The retinal scanner on the door outside doubled as a fisheye lens, relaying distorted images of the three men onto a flatscreen monitor.
Wild Sky keyed open an external speaker. “Yeah?” she asked.
YJ turned to Jonah. “So, Jonah, do the thing.”
Jonah turned on the debugger.
“What are you guys doing?” Wild Sky asked. She could feel a migraine coming on.
YJ shrugged, the movement exaggerated by the funhouse mirror lens. “You tell us, you’re the genius.”
“Way to build rapport, Captain.” Jonah hissed.
“What do you guys need?” she asked.
“Well, we believe for reasons unknown, your pod is transmitting something outside of the boundaries of the system.” YJ said.
“Remember that bug I was telling you about?”
“I believe that your pod has been bugged. We need to find this bug, because if we don’t, the next time the Alliance comes by, let’s say we will be smelling vacuum from the other side of the hull.”
“Okay, so what led you to believe this?” Wild Sky asked.
YJ frowned. “As soon as your pod came online, power levels dropped and revealed a tiny signal that’s definitely not coming from this ship. When we were interrogated, the guy who interrogated us had this annoying thing of knowing all the answers to our questions.”
“Okay, so the pod, my workshop, came online and you’re picking up a transmission from it?”
“Hey, I just fly this thing,” YJ said. “You’re the genius, that’s why we need your expertise.”
“And, people are chasing us, or me, or I guess, all of us?”
“Right now, I guess all of us.”
“So then the two plus two thing is, if we plugged it in it started transmitting, then if we unplug it, the transmission will stop.” She said. “Right?”
“Hey I have no idea how this thing works sweetheart, you are the genius and we need your help.”
Wild Sky threw a piece of gadgetry against the wall. “But I don’t remember kuso!” she bellowed. “I may be a genius but I don’t remember shit!” She hit the door hatch and stormed out as best she could under the circumstances, which meant that she was lurching like a zombie. “Whatever, just pull the plug on it.” She limped past the knot of men beside her, struggling to mount the stairs back towards her living quarters.
Worth ducked under the deckplates to disconnect the power cable.
YJ let out a ragged sigh.
Worth’s head popped up from beneath a nearby deckplate. “Still think she’s faking?”
“Yeah, I guess she’s not faking, but that’s not good for any of us,” YJ said. “The ship is sluggish, something is going wrong, we’re being bugged, and now we have to repossess that yacht, because if we don’t our own ship will get repossessed. The Blue Sun is not smiling on us.”
“Guess someone should talk to her,” Jonah said.
“I’ll do it.” YJ said. “Alone.”
Soon he was knocking on the ladder to Wild Sky’s quarters.
Wild Sky was lying on her bed. The exertion of the past few hours was crashing on her like waves of pain. She ignored the knock.
YJ soldiered on, knocking again. Then he activated the nearest comm-panel. “Listen,” he said. “Let’s try this again.”
“What do you want?”
“I just want to talk,” YJ said.
“Just talk, or just get me to fix something that I don’t remember how to fix?”
“Just talk,” YJ said.
“So talk,” Wild Sky replied.
YJ closed his eyes and bit back a curse. “Can we not do this through the bulkhead?”
“It’s your ship, you know how to use a door.”
“All right.” He climbed down the ladder. “How you doing?” he asked.
“Oh, pretty good,” she said sarcastically. “I’ve been shot in the head, beaten up, broken arm, don’t remember a thing, and the one thing that is helping me remember anything we have to turn off.”
“Like I said, good to see your sense of humour and sarcasm are back,” YJ said. “But seriously, you have to understand that we’re just a bunch of grease monkeys and flyboys, with the exception of the Doc.”
“Oh I get that,” she said.
“Yeah no doubt,” YJ said. “But you are a valuable member of this crew, and we need your help. But I get it, that you’re not doing very well. What I’m saying is, you don’t have to unplug it. For the time being, we don’t even have a communications array for long distance, what I’m saying is, find that bug. I believe you can do it. If it helps you to jog your memory, fantastic, but as I said, I don’t know who you were. Seems like you’re a blank slate right now, but to us, looks like you were a pretty high-ranking member of the Alliance. I don’t know if you’re running from something or to something, and frankly, I don’t care. Because right now, if you get caught with us, you’re going to share our fate. And let me tell you, it’s going to make this place look like ritzy Londinium compared to what’s going to happen when Inspector Clouet gets a hold of us again. So, if you need rest, I get it. But try to go back there and find that bug, we need to know who’s listening and how much of the ship’s controls they have.”
“As much as I’d love to help, let me break it down for you.” Wild Sky said. “Asking me to find a bug in a place this big is like walking into a kindergarten class and asking them to write a security protocol for the Cortex. They may know what the Cortex is, and they might have an idea of how to access the Cortex, but they don’t have the sweetest clue as to where to event start, because I. Don’t. Remember. Anything.”
“I get it,” YJ said.
“I don’t even know if I can tie my own shoes,” Wild Sky said, pointing to the slippers on her feet. “So unless you have anything else of mine that you can bring to me that will remind me of what it is I do, I don’t know what to tell you.”
“Like we said, you kept this part of your life very close to yourself.” YJ said.
Jonah called down from where he had been eavesdropping. “Try the case in the wardrobe. That might be a start.”
YJ fished the oblong box out of Wild Sky’s wardrobe. He set it in front of her, opening it to reveal a Newtech sniper rifle. “I suppose this might help, plus we know that the bug is somewhere in or around the pod.”
He waited for Wild Sky to respond. She was staring at the rifle, concentrating. She had a hazy memory of sitting on a rooftop, peering through a scope on a rifle much like the damaged one in front of her. Then the vision vanished.
YJ climbed the ladder and left Wild Sky and the rifle. Jonah was standing in the foredeck, leaning against the nearest bulkhead. YJ swung the ladder door closed and turned to the procurement officer. “Well, it’s the same sharp tongue, but if she doesn’t get back her skills I don’t know what use we’re going to have for her,” he said, and then stomped off towards the bridge.
On the futon, Wild Sky stared straight ahead. Without looking down, she began to field strip the rifle, fingers working from memory. She could tell by the feel of it that a capacitor had popped, and it needed a simple replacement. A common problem with finicky laser technology at the high end of the Alliance’s Newtech capabilities. She could probably find a spare capacitor in her workshop. “I need a Cortex terminal,” she said to the walls of her quarters. Quickly snapping the rifle together, she slung it over her shoulder and painfully climbed the ladder.
She made her way to the bridge, where the ship’s link to the Cortex could be accessed. She slid into the co-pilot’s chair and started calling up information on surveillance tech – bugs, taps, scramblers, scanners, screamers – to see if it was old hat to her, or a foreign language.
Several hours passed. YJ turned on the autopilot and took a meal in the galley.
“So, what’s the first step of our next step, Captain?” Jonah asked as he joined him in the galley.
“Well, we’re going to want to set Shenmue down not too far from where we’re going to be repossessing the Desdemona. We need to try to get on board without firing a shot, and then hopefully getting offworld with the ship without being pursued by any surface to air ordnance. So if we commandeer the ship, our assumption is that it is going to be guarded. We need a bait and switch to get inside it. Then we need to figure out who’s going to be on this job.”
“Well, it’s not going to be trigger-finger girl over there,” Jonah said. “Every time she gets involved, somebody dies.”
“Yeah, I don’t think she’s going to be in any condition,” YJ said. “But we need to figure out who’s going to fly the ship, because we can’t leave Shenmue.”
“Well, remember I said we should get Shenmue laid up in drydock.” Jonah said. “She’s hurting pretty bad, so we can focus on the repossession. There’s two of us with piloting abilities here.”
“But we need to come back and get Shenmue when the job’s done.” YJ said.
“What about the guys in the shuttle?” Worth asked. “Can we pick them up in the Desdemona?”
“We can do this quickly, set Shenmue down and then get Desdemona.” YJ said.
“Ferris gave us some sketchy information about where to find the Baron,” Jonah said. “But we need to do a little recon.”
“Agreed,” YJ said. “That’s a perfect job for our logistics officer, to find the right place to put Shenmue down. But we need to find out some more information from the Cortex about this Baron Lucius Otello. Try to see what kind of man he is.”
Wild Sky had been glued to the ship’s Cortex terminal since making her way to the bridge. She felt some familiar bits of knowledge about security technology winding their way out of the void in her memory.
Jonah climbed into the bridge. “Excuse me, but I need to borrow the Cortex terminal. We need to do some spadework on this target of ours.”
“All right,” she said. She shouldered her rifle in such a way that Jonah had to duck to avoid getting hit.
“Hey, Jenny Smith,” YJ called to her.
Wild Sky turned. “Yeah?”
“Good to have you back on the crew. Try to get your memories though.”
“Thanks.” As she walked back down the foredeck hall, she shouted, “I want my life back!”
Jonah began calling up Cortex information on the good baron. He pulled the Baron’s entry on the Xinhua Daily’s Who’s Who, and a list of the Baron’s corporate holdings.
“How is this guy in default of his payments?” Jonah asked.
“Yeah, maybe he just decided he was above paying,” YJ said as he read. “It says here, ‘Co-founder of Guardian Port Security Systems’? Seriously? This guy’s in security,” he said, crestfallen. “Crap.”
“Yeah, but he’s business.” Jonah said. “Management.”
“Yeah, I get it, he’s just the guy that presses the button on the fancy Gatling gun or surface to air missile the likes of which only the former Wild Sky could redirect back on its source.” YJ said.
The Doc and a sullen Wild Sky joined them in the bridge as they pored over the search results.
“He’s got his own winery,” Jonah observed.
“He’s got his own winery?” YJ repeated. “Hmmm. Maybe a cargo hold full of booze could work in our favour after all.”
“He does have a chain of casino complexes,” Jonah said.
“Seriously, and this guy chooses not to pay?” YJ asked.
“How do you own a chain of casinos and not have money?” Jonah asked.
“Well it all depends on how well the casinos are doing,” YJ said.
“It’s a casino. Even the worst casino is a cash cow,” Jonah said.
The Doc read over YJ’s shoulder. “The good Baron is in an exclusive partnership with a Companion,” he said. “And that union has produced three sons in the bargain. He’s not married, but he’s got a Companion at his beck and call.”
“Man, what’s this guy’s angle?” YJ asked as he continued to read the Who’s Who entry. “Yeah, thoroughbred horse racing.”
“He’s got one speed,” Jonah said. “Go.”
“Okay crew, can we pull this thing with the good ol’ whiskey here? It’s not winey-culture, but…” YJ said.
“And we’re going to pitch him some whisky for his casinos?” Jonah asked.
“It’s really good whiskey,” Worth added.
“I like where this is going, the casino thing, that could be our angle.” YJ turned in his chair. “Doc, what do you think, would that fly with a guy like this?”
“You can’t do door to door sales with a guy like this.” Tulsa said. “You’re going to have to set up some kind of appointment. Based on what he’s involved with, his time is going to be worth a lot, so to get an appointment, he’s probably scheduled a month or two out.”
“Maybe we have to get an appointment with one of his underlings,” Jonah said.
“He’s a rich guy, but rich guys like free stuff, just as much as everyone else.” YJ said. “If we can just have a little charade here, if the smartest of us could pretend to be, say, an eccentric supplier…”
“Or, we just find out who his rivals and competitors are, and put out the word that they’re getting something he’s not, and he’ll come right to us.” Jonah said. “Rich guys with money hate being the last to know. And if he thinks that somebody else is getting the skinny on a great new product…”
“So set up meetings with other people,” Worth chimed in. “Tell him we’re meeting with so and so, instead of closing a deal with him.”
“But how do we go from using the angle of becoming his new alcohol supplier, how does that get us the ship?” Tulsa asked.
“We just get on the ship, crack some heads, and just fly away,” Worth said.
“Yeah, but how do we get to the ship first?” YJ asked.
“It’s like we’re missing a step in our master plan,” Tulsa said. “We can come at him or someone one or two rungs down the ladder, but we need to know more about what he uses the ship for, or how Desdemona factors into his social life or business operations.”
“You know what, that reminds me of something,” YJ said. “You guys remember Ironmonger?”
“Yeah,” Worth and Doc said. The three of them had served together on board the salvage ship in what seemed another lifetime ago.
“The only time I got to fly that ship was when the primary pilot was drunk off his tree.” YJ said.
“That’s right,” Worth said, remembering.
“Maybe we need to make him in need of a new crew,” YJ said. “Can we play up that angle?”
“How’s that?” Jonah asked.
“Something last minute, something referred by the current crew. Not necessarily willing or out of their own volition. Like ‘I’m sick, but Johnny here’s real good.’” YJ explained.
“So we have to get their pilot sick, or make him disappear?” Jonah said. “Here’s the problem with that though, if he’s in security or casinos, he’s not going to hire anyone without a background check. He’s probably paranoid.”
“Yes, that’s true, but what if the Desdemona operates outside of the prescribed set of events? Maybe this thing is off the books. Maybe in a pinch, he can’t afford the checks.” YJ clapped a hand to his forehead. “Man, if Jenny here got her skills back, she could upload our credentials.”
“Or you could pay someone else to upload your credentials.” Tulsa said.
“One small problem with that, Doctor.” YJ said. “Have you seen any money around here lately?”
“Well look, we’ve all got a little bit stashed,” Tulsa said. “I’m just saying, there may have to be some capital outlay on our part in order to pull this off.”
“I’d be willing to sell my body,” Worth said.
“Worth, that’s commendable.” Tulsa said. “Your heart’s in the right place.”
“It’s not my heart,” Worth said.
“Maybe we need to work some of our own contacts, friends in high or low places. We need to circle this guy a little bit more.” Tulsa continued.
“Listen, you’re right.” YJ said. “We need to get on the short list, but we also have a short amount of time. In four days, our boys in the tin can out in the Black, they might not have enough of that sweet, sweet Oh-2.”
“That is a complication.” The Doc admitted.
“Okay, so here’s the thing.” YJ said. “How, in four days’ time, do we convince this guy to hire us as a crew? Look at this guy’s profile. He could probably afford three or four Desdemonas on the books, but I’m telling you there’s something fishy about it. Look at this, money, casinos, racing, vineyards, and a stupid yacht that he can’t pay off?”
“Maybe he has a nasty coke habit?” Worth asked.
“I like where you’re going with that,” YJ said. “We really need to get on that crew, that’s the easiest way on that ship, and we need to do it fast. Any ideas, gentlemen and lady? We know who the captain is, the good captain Arlen Maitlock, let’s start there. Find out what his deal is. Maybe he can bring us on board.”
“I still think we should go in there, and wave a gun in his face,” Jonah said. “We have right on our side, don’t we?”
“Right,” YJ said. “No offense to Jenny here, but do you want your face to look like hers, except with a bullet hole in the middle of your head instead of a graze?”
“I spit in your general direction,” Wild Sky said.
“We land, we go to his office, and we cause a ruckus. Serve the warrant or something, I don’t know.” Jonah said.
“Yes, yes, I’m sure this guy will clearly accept a group of rag-tag grease monkeys who barely landed in their smoking ship.” YJ said.
“Hey, I have a suit,” Jonah protested. “Don’t you?”
“I got one,” Worth muttered. “Half of one. Cummerbund. Bow tie.”
“So we muscle it, we swap out the crew, or do the original thing with the whiskey.” Jonah said.
“He’s not going to be some kind of chump that is just going to let us walk in.” YJ said. “I think that swapping for the crew is the easiest thing to do. But I’m open to ideas.”
“And we have a time frame that we have to work in,” Jonah said.
“Let’s just try this Captain Maitlock, see where this is going, see where he’s at, what his deal is.” YJ said. “Listen, if he’s flying a ship off the books, either he’s an idiot and he doesn’t know it, which would make our job easier.”
He paused, giving his crew a significant look. “On the other hand, it could mean he’s quite savvy, which is going to make our job that much more brutal.”