The crew examined their options. Each of Shadow’s three moons were more heavily populated than the last, with only a thousand people scattered across the polar regions of Branson’s Mark. Worth explained that without more coolant, Shenmue’s reactor would go critical before she could break atmo. A shuttle trip to Summerfair, the third and most populous moon on Shadow would take a few hours each way.
“We could do a sweep of this moon and see what comes up here,” said YJ.
“Well, we’re here now,” Jonah agreed.
Worth booted up Shenmue’s sensor system. After a few minutes of pinging, the sensor system brought up a read on a thermal signature several miles to the northwest.
“Let’s check it out,” YJ said. “The ship’s okay to fly in atmo, right?” he asked Worth, who nodded.
YJ got Shenmue into the air, but it was obvious to the crew that she was still hurting. The deckplates shuddered more than usual, and the smell of overheated wiring soon choked the aft corridor. A loud bang issued from the engine room, followed by a profane oath issued from Worth’s lips.
A few minutes later, they were circling the source of the thermal signature. It was a camp of some kind, only barely distinguishable from the snow-swept terrain it was built upon – half a dozen Quonset huts poking out of the ground, and two low-slung geodesic domes, from which sprouted respectively a communications mast and a pair of stubby smokestacks belching clouds of steam that were quickly being swept away by the cold wind. The buildings appeared to be linked to one another by shallow trenches. Beyond the collection of buildings were some obvious landing pads.
“So let’s give them a call,” YJ said, and then winced. “No we can’t, we lost our communications array.”
“I’m on it,” Jonah said as he made his way towards the shuttle bay. He fired up the shuttle’s communications system and set it to the standard broadcast channel.
“Hello, tiny little village,” he said. “We’re coming in for a landing here. Despite the appearance of our ship, rest assured, we aren’t Reavers.”
There was static on the other end of the line, and then the hiss of dead air. Then, a voice.
There was a muffled scraping noise, as though someone was covering a microphone with a hand, and the crew could hear whispers. Then a nasal voice echoed through the speaker.
“Ah, our community has a established clear standards of membership and inclusion by invitation under which you currently do not qualify for ingress. That’s my fancy way of saying strangers ain’t welcome here.”
Jonah frowned. “Listen we’re not looking to become the newest members of your community. We’re looking to do a little trade, maybe get some coolant, patch our ship up and be on our way.”
“Ah, so you wish to initiate a proposal for commercial exchange?”
Jonah rubbed his temples to fend off a tension headache. “Yeah, this is correct.”
There was a pause. “Try not to crash into anything on your way down.”
“I don’t make any promises,” Jonah replied.
YJ brought Shenmue in for a landing on the rectangular patch of heavy-duty grating that served as the landing pad.
“Well, Mr. Procurement Expert,” YJ said to Jonah as he set the controls on standby. “See what you can procure.” He indicated an array of yellow warning lights flashing on the console. “I’ll have my hands full tracing the latest short circuits.”
“Worth, Doc, let’s go,” Jonah said.
The cargo bay doors opened and a torrent of cold arctic wind swept through the cargo bay. A lone man wearing what looked like a parka stitched together from five other parkas met them at the foot of Shenmue’s cargo ramp. Bearded, his arms folded over his barrel-like chest, he was giving them an appraising look that told Jonah that they had been found wanting.
He held up his hand as they stepped forward. “Before you step off your boat there are a few things you may want to know,” the man said. “We’re a nonsectarian, multi-denominational community with generally secular leanings. That’s my fancy way of saying, that if you’re here to tell us about Jesus, you can keep right on trucking.”
Jonah and the Doc traded an uneasy glance.
“Also, our community has invested me with a number of summary executive powers, that’s my fancy way of saying that I’m the boss.” The man smiled. “Now, you have indicated that you’re interested in participating in some sort of commercial exchange and we might be able to accommodate you. That’s my fancy way of saying that if you’re here to trade, show me what you’ve got.”
“Well, of course we need to know if you’ve got what we need,” Jonah said.
“Well, look guys, it’s pretty cold out here,” the man said, indicating the snowflakes that were coming to rest inside the cargo hold. “I suggest that we continue this dialogue indoors, but please, feel free to leave all your ordnance on board your vessel for the duration of your visit. That’s my fancy way of saying no guns allowed. But if you’re amenable, I can invite you inside and we can talk this over.”
“Boy, he sure talks fancy,” the Doc muttered.
Jonah and Worth grudgingly returned to their quarters, dumped their weapons and returned to the cargo bay, but not before Jonah had pocketed his snap baton.
“How do we know they ain’t inviting us in just to eat us?” Worth complained as they descended the catwalk steps to the cargo hold.
“Yeah, how did he come to be so portly in an environment that can’t support agriculture?” Jonah mused. “Besides, what have we got to trade? I doubt they take credits on this rock.”
The crew took a quick inventory.
“We’ve got two grav sleds, a motorized wheelchair, some hydraulic tools, and money, that’s about it,” Jonah said.
“And services,” YJ reminded them.
“And if need be, Wild Sky.” Jonah smiled. “In case they need some organs.”
“Plus whatever’s in Whitaker’s cabin.” The Doc said.
“Yes, of course,” Jonah grinned. I can just imagine: ‘would you care for a snakeskin valise?’” he grinned as they gathered back in the cargo bay.
The man was still waiting at the foot of the ramp, ice crystals beginning to form on his beard.
“Of course, forgive my rudeness,” he said, clapping his gloved hands together for warmth. “Holton Hill’s the name. “
“Holton, nice to meet you.” Jonah said as he walked down the ramp.
Hill bowed slightly. “Welcome to The Cap, gentlemen.”
“The Cap?” Jonah said as the group moved off the landing platform. ”Why do they call it that?”
Hill kicked at the ice-covered ground. “That ain’t just dirt you’re walking on,” he said by way of explanation. Hill led them towards the nearest geodesic dome. “So, what brings you to our frozen corner of this little moon?”
“We were visiting a resort, actually.” Jonah said.
Hill scratched his cheek. “A resort, eh? Wouldn’t be the Parallax Resort, would it? Parallax Towers?”
“Yeah, I guess it went out of business or something?” Jonah said.
“I’ll say it did!” Hill exclaimed. “You’re not going to believe this, but I used to work there. How’s it holding up?”
“Well you know, it’s seen better days,” Jonah said.
Hill chuckled. “I’m not surprised. Believe it or not, I used to run the pleasure boats and fishing charters.”
“Really? Then this will blow your mind.” Jonah fished around in his pocket for the keychain he lifted from the derelict gift shop. “How long’s it been since you’ve seen one of these?”
“Going on ten years! That’s hilarious!” Hill slapped Jonah’s back. “How much did you pay for that?”
Jonah sighed and indicated the damaged ship. “Looks like it cost us about three thousand credits.”
The dome’s wide service doors slowly slid open on oiled tracks as they approached. Jonah noticed several firing slits built into the door, spaced every four feet or so.
Inside the cavernous dome they could see three boats – ground effect boats that looked to have been quite sleek pleasure cruisers at some point but were now heavily modified with winches and outrigger booms on their upper decks – parked on trailers to either side.
“So you’re a salvage guy?” Jonah said.
“Well, a little bit of this, a little bit of that,” Hill shrugged. “We use these for fishing mostly, when supplies get low.”
“Really,” Jonah said.
“But anyways, so, the Resort!” Hill’s face took on a nostalgic expression. “You know I heard that there was a gang that had taken over that place, but we thought that was crazy. You’d either have to be stupid or completely nuts to set up shop in that maelstrom. If you guys have been out there, you know what I’m talking about. Anyhow, rumours are flying around that those guys are sitting on a fortune out there.”
Jonah’s ears perked up. “What do you mean?”
Holton shrugged. “Well, you know, job after job, the stuff piles up. That’s what I heard, anyways.”
“We should have looted the place!” Worth hissed to the Doc.
“Yeah, we’ve thought once in a while about taking the old girls back to their original port of harbor, but those storms ain’t exactly easy to sail through, you know what I’m saying?” Hill was saying as they walked past the boats.
“Although…” Jonah said. “Were we to get some reactor coolant, we could fly you and your boys out there, and maybe split a salvage op?”
“Interesting idea,” Hill said. “I’m going to file that one away.”
Hill led the crew through a second set of doors that opened into the trench leading to the Quonset huts. He took them to the first hut on the right hand side and ushered them inside. The furnishings were very Spartan, with flimsy wooden chairs gathered around a round table. Hill indicated that they could take a seat.
Hill unzipped his parka and scratched at an unseen itch inside. “So, your ship ain’t exactly sitting right, is she?”
“She’s seen better days.” Jonah admitted. “We’re looking for some coolant, for a reactor. You got anything like that?”
“Reactor coolant, eh?” Hill stroked his beard. “Well, I’d be lying if I said we had any on hand. We ain’t a fuel depot. If we were using a reactor to power this place, we might be able to work something out on that front,” he said. “But we pull our energy straight from the ground, geothermal, run it through a turbine, that’s what gets the lights going and keeps us warm. Nice side effect though is pulling out some of the purest water you’ll find in the Verse, we can kettle it, make some rather fine alcoholic beverages that keep us warm too.”
“Really,” Jonah said impatiently.
“This is my roundabout way of saying that I may be able to tell you where you can get some coolant.” Hill said with a grin.
“All right, whereabouts might that be?” Jonah asked.
“Wait a minute, slow down,” Hill said, feigning offense. “Whaddaya got?”
“You mean in exchange for information?” Jonah asked.
“Yeah, what’s it worth to you?” Hill asked.
“Well, I figure you don’t have much use for credits around here.” Jonah ventured.
Hill frowned. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but all the banks around here are closed,” he said. “Platinum, on the other hand…” he made an iffy gesture with his hand.
“Yeah? We’ve got some of that.” Jonah said.
“We don’t exactly have a lot of opportunities to swap hard currency, if you get my meaning.”
“This is what we figured,” said Jonah. “Well, we’ve got a couple of grav sleds.”
Hill’s eyes narrowed. “They winterized?”
“Can you winterize them here?”
“Maybe, perhaps.” Hill said disdainfully.
“We’ve also got some tools, we could set you up with a handful of them, but the question is, how good’s the information?” Jonah said. “Are you going to just point us to another community where they sell it? Because I don’t want to pay twice.”
Hill leaned back in his chair. “Oh, no, no. No, I think in this situation I’d be looking for just some kind of a finder’s fee, you know what I’m saying?”
Jonah nodded. “Then you can understand why we might be a little nervous about just paying you based on your word, seeing how we just met, and I have to figure that you’re not wild about the idea of telling us where it is on the assumption that we’re going to pay you once we get it. So I propose that we agree on a price for the coolant’s location, and give you some collateral in advance, and if everything works out and we get the coolant, we’ll pay you the balance, and everyone makes out well.”
“Well that sounds fair,” Hill said. “What are you offering as collateral?”
Inwardly, Jonah thanked the stars above that YJ had remained on board the ship. “How does the shuttle suit you?”
Hill pursed his lips. “Is it in better condition than your ship?”
“Considerably,” Jonah said reassuringly as Worth glumly nodded in agreement.
“That’s good news,” Hill smiled. “We heard you guys coming from miles away.”
“Just imagine what it sounded like inside the ship.” Jonah said.
Hill stood and went to the sideboard, where a bar was set up, and came back with four glasses full of enticing looking amber liquid. Jonah took a drink. After all the Shenzhou rotgut he had imbibed recently, it was without a doubt the best whisky he’d ever tasted.
“Holton, where did you get this?” Jonah indicated the drink.
Holton winked. “Would you believe we brew it right here?”
“Come on.” Jonah said as Worth and the Doc each emptied their glasses, showing similar appreciation.
“Mmm-hmm. You want to see the facilities?” Hill asked.
“Are you kidding me?” Jonah said. “Do you have a vat I could just dive into?”
“We might be able to arrange something,” Hill said with a knowing smile. He led them to the adjacent hut. Wooden frames running the length of the building held dozens of casks, each stamped with the name “Capstone Brewery.”
“Do you guys sell this stuff?” Jonah asked, wide-eyed.
“Well you know, we’ve been at this for a few years and the stuff here has aged almost just enough for us to start thinking about distributing it, you know what I mean?” Hill said, his chest puffed with pride. “This is what I was getting at before about the pure water and stuff. The actual distillery’s next door, I could show you that if you’re interested, but yeah, you know, it’s the one thing that helps us get through the cold nights, if you know what I’m saying.”
“I do,” Jonah said. He turned to Hill. “So how are you going to sell this? I mean, it seems to me you’re not going to have a lot of folks showing up round here.”
“Well you know, we’re thinking of branching out, trying to see if the locals are interested, and from there, who knows? It was just a pet project of mine, even when I was working at the Resort, I always thought I had other career options in front of me, and then, well, when the place shut down during the War, it was pretty obvious that I had to take steps.”
“I definitely think you took the right steps.” Jonah said.
Hill looked thoughtful. “You interested in getting a piece of this, is that what you’re saying?”
“If I only had the money to invest,” Jonah said regretfully. “On the other hand, it seems like you might need someone to move this offworld if it takes off, right?”
“That’s the general idea,” Hill said.
“And you could pay me in whisky,” Jonah said.
“I’m in,” Worth said.
“That’s an enticing offer,” Hill said. “I’d have to talk it over with the rest of our community members of course, but speaking of offers, let me tell you where we stand on the whole coolant issue.”
“Go on,” Jonah said.
“About five days ago, we had a flyover – two ships, looked like a bit of a dust-up in the sky if you know what I mean. It was over in a couple of minutes. Things were all loud, they passed over, things got all quiet, and then we heard what sounded like an explosion or two. So we figure a ship went hull down about two valleys over, five, six miles away maybe. We would have checked it out but the weather didn’t co-operate. We only just dug ourselves out. So I can take you to it, if we go by Snow Cat it would be just a couple of hours, but I will warn you that there’s almost a hundred per cent chance that someone else got to it first. Not to say that you’ll have a problem dealing with it, but we might not be the first ones to the crash site.”
“All right, as long as they don’t have the sense to take the coolant out. It’s certainly not the most flashy part of the ship.” Jonah said.
“Oh no, not at all, assuming it survived.” Hill said.
Jonah nodded. “Now the question is, what did these ships look like?”
Hill shook his head and shrugged. “I didn’t get a good look, but one of them had sort of twin stabilizers out the back, and the other one was kind of freaky lookin’.”
Jonah shared a significant look with his crewmates. “Like an insect?”
“Yeah, you know, like a cicada, or some kind a beetle. Boy, they were moving pretty quick, they both looked like they had hotshot pilots behind the wheel, if you know what I mean.”
“I do know what you mean.” Jonah said.
“They were hugging the terrain, I mean it was a dogfight. I haven’t seen that kind of action since the War.”
“You were in the war?” Worth asked.
“No, more like the War came here,” Hill said. “The Resort shut down when the boss wanted all of us staff members to join up and fight for the Independents. I was like, hell with that, and so that was when the resort’s fishing boats went ‘missing,’ and we spent the rest of the war ducking local law enforcement. After we found this place, things managed to settle down, during the pullout, the evacuations, that sort of thing, people weren’t too concerned about those who decided to stay behind for whatever reason. Never did get my final paycheck from the resort though.”
“Assuming we can get our hands on the coolant we need, what do you want for it?” Jonah asked. “I mentioned the grav sleds. You’re thinking they may not be of use here?”
“Well, I’m just worried that the polar conditions wreak havoc on some of these unprotected grav drives.”
Jonah cast a sidelong glance at Worth. “What does it take to protect them? Some insulation?”
“Putting some chains on the emitters?” The Doc asked.
“Yeah, there are a few tricks that we can do, but it’s a lot of effort I’d rather see trying to fix the rake on the masher over in the distillery,” Hill said. “We’ve got some mechanical issues going on, with keeping the mash from solidifying, part of the whole distilling process, I won’t bore you with the details, but if we want to keep making the alcohol, we gotta get that looked after.”
“Actually I know a few things about that,” Jonah said, and launched into a description of the Shenzhou moonshining process.
“Wait, stop, just hearing about it is making me go blind.” Hill said.
“Actually it’s been known to do that.” Jonah said. “By reputation.”
“Yeah I know, you won’t find any of that stuff here, I can tell you that.”
Worth whispered into Jonah’s ear. “I might be able to fix their mash thing.”
Jonah nodded. “So what’s it worth to you Holton, to have our mechanic here take a look at your stuff? The man knows what he’s doing when it comes to anything mechanical. Will you trade the services of our mechanic for a bit of coolant, and hell, there might be some pieces left over we could grab some stuff for you at the same time, and if things get rough, you’ve got the whole group of us around you.”
Hill nodded. “All right, sounds good.”
“I’m thinking we can take our shuttle, and leave Shenmue here for your collateral,” said Jonah. “We can get there faster, and it’s a pretty decent size, we could carry a bit more than your Snow Cat.”
“Yeah sure, if you want to fly.” Holton said. “We could take off whenever. But let’s have your gentleman take a look at our facility first.”
Hill led the crew into the distillery. The air reeked with the sharp tang of sour mash. The Quonset hut was filled with large copper kettles connected with coiled lengths of tubing, and the occasional piping sounds of steam emitted from overflow valves. A large circular mash tun occupied the centre of the building. It had been drained to reveal the stirring mechanism. It didn’t take a mechanical genius to see that the motor on the mash rake was indeed damaged.
Worth examined the motor housing and poked a spanner around. He turned to Jonah and whispered, “No problem, it’ll take me a couple hours. Of course, I’m not going to tell him that.” He indicated Hill, who was explaining the fermentation process to the Doc.
“Okay, let’s finalize things,” Jonah said. “So our mechanic fixes you up, you help us get the coolant, and we go fifty-fifty on any other salvage we manage to bring back.”
“Sounds good.” Hill said.
Jonah smiled. “Holton, I couldn’t help noticing the gun slits when we first arrived, so I figure your no-guns rule just applies to outsiders, right?”
Hill indicated an empty holster at his waist. “Well I’m not armed right now, either.”
“No I understand that, but you could be, for some whisky,” Jonah said. “It just so happens that I have a couple of quality firearms back on the ship that I’d like to trade to you.”
“You know,” Hill said thoughtfully, “speaking of firearms, how’s your ammunition situation? We may be able to come to an agreement on that.”
“What do you need?” Jonah said. “I could sell you about 200 pistol rounds if you wanted, and about eighty shotgun rounds.”
Hill smiled and rubbed his hands together. “Now around here, that’s what we call hard currency.”
Soon after, Jonah was handing over boxes of pistol and shotgun ammunition in exchange for several bottles of whisky and a package of fine fish filets.
“You sure I can’t interest you in our wide array of soapstone and scrimshaw carvings?” Hill asked.
“Do we look like arts and crafts kind of fellows to you?” Jonah replied.
“Hey, you know, you might be able to resell it, a lot of the people in the Core pay good money for this kind of stuff and the Core is just over there.” Hill waved a hand skyward.
“Yeah,” Jonah said. “Just a hop, skip and a jump away, assuming we had coolant.”
“Touché,” Hill said. He turned to the Doc. “So who are you, anyways? The undertaker?”
“I’m the ship’s doctor,” Tulsa said, and cleared his throat. “I know you’re in a remote location; you might have some need of medical services while I’m here. Think I might have a look at anybody?”
“Well you know, we’re never one to turn down an offer of medical assistance, that’s for sure. We might be able to make it worth your while too.” Hill said.
“I do like whisky.” The Doc admitted.
“Well there you go. Yeah, we just got the usual things, we got some cases of frostbite, we’ve got some gastrointestinal troubles, but yeah, if you’re gonna set up shop, you might have some patients.”
“I can do that while everybody else is off hunting for coolant.” The Doc said.
The minute Hill put out the call that there was a doctor in the house, there was a lineup outside Shenmue’s cargo ramp – a couple of old men, a few women and children. Tulsa quickly moved Wild Sky to one of the passenger dorms to continue her recovery in isolation – the fewer questions asked about an unconscious battered woman on board, the better. The Doc soon found himself removing old bullets, pulling wisdom teeth, and treating rickets. He was in his element.
Back in his quarters, Worth turned out his pockets, dumping a handful of soapstone carvings and two dusty bottles of whisky onto his bunk. Then he grabbed Katrina, Wham, and Bam, and headed to the shuttle.
Jonah introduced Hill to YJ as they stood outside the shuttle access door. Hill had found a pistol to fill the holster at his hip. “I hope that’s okay,” he said, indicating the heater at his hip, as the foursome piled into the shuttle.
Jonah shrugged. “No guns rule on our ship.”
Holton sighed and nodded. “All right, I’ll stow this then. Tit for tat, I always say.”
Jonah shook his head. “No, I mean there’s no no-gun rule on our ship.”
Holton’s face reddened. “Ah, I misunderstood.” He turned to YJ. “You’ll want to head northeast.”
YJ took the shuttle into the air, and after a few miles, they passed over a pair of valleys, and crested a ridge to an ugly sight. A debris trail, nearly a kilometer long, was dug like a furrow into the opposite hillside, and bits of wreckage stood out against the snow-dusted ground.
The largest intact section of the starship lay about halfway up the upward slope of the valley and was surrounded by a buzz of activity. Three Snow Cats – tractor-like all-terrain vehicles, were parked nearby, their hulls covered by a patchwork of improvised armor. Two of them were hitched to long sledges heaped with scrap metal and chunks of mechanical components, likely picked up from the crash site.
About half a dozen men were working on the wreckage. The crew could see the white-hot light from plasma torches cutting up bits of the wreck.
Hill frowned and shook his head. “Scut Morley and his boys. I knew they’d be all over it. They ain’t exactly the nicest ambassadors for this little moon, if you get my meaning.”
Jonah craned his neck and looked out the viewport as YJ brought the shuttle around in a tight pass over the crash site. “You think they’ll deal with us, then?”
Hill looked at Jonah and Worth’s arsenal. “I think your chances are pretty good.”
Jonah smiled. “How are their prices? Are they going to be murder?”
Hill gave Jonah a sidelong glance. “Now, when you say murder…”
Jonah smiled. “I mean their prices.”
“Well you know they say possession’s nine tenths of the law and they’re sitting right on it. You know, I told you I could take you to where it was. Looks as though they were able to dig themselves out faster than we were.”
Worth recognized the ship, even in its shattered state. In its better days, it was an Osprey-class midbulk transport. It was the Haruna, the Sundeen Seven’s ship, piloted by the able Dave Flynn, though it looks like he had finally met his match in the form of the hillside.
YJ brought the shuttle in for a landing a safe distance from the crash site. Their arrival had caught the attention of the men picking the wreck over; by the time the crew had debarked, they were met by a welcoming committee of disheveled, ornery-looking salvage workers each wearing mismatched winter gear, but identical expressions of mistrust.
Their leader was a heavyset mountain of a man, almost as wide as he was tall, with a face like a sack of potatoes and a neckbeard that could win awards. He wore a sweat-stained trucker’s hat on his head, its crown emblazed with the unlikely proposition that “ladies love this.” He was also holding a shotgun, though it wasn’t pointing at anything in particular. His piggish eyes, magnified thick cola-bottle glasses, narrowed as he took in the new arrivals and pointed his free hand at Holton Hill.
“Holton Hill, as I live and breathe!” he said in a mocking salutation. “Unless you’re here to pay me what you owe me, you can just keep right on going, cuz this here’s our prize!”
“It’s not like that, Scut! Not like that at all. These gentlemen would like to bargain with you for some parts of this wreck.” Hill said reassuringly.
“Well ain’t that something?” Scut sneered. “You maybe hoping my hot temper will get the better of me and I start something, and maybe these guys wipe us out? That will solve your debt problem really quick, won’t it, Mr. Hill? Well, I’m not taking your bait, Hill! Now git!”
“Look, I don’t want to intrude on a domestic or anything,” the Doc said.
“Yeah, you two guys need a minute? We can go back to the ship.” Jonah said, glaring at Hill.
“Well then,” Morley said, turning to the crew. “Who are you?”
“Jonah,” said Jonah.
“All right Jonah, you take that no good piece of go se and you turn around and you leave. We found this catch fair and square.”
“Fair and square, huh?” Jonah said knowingly.
“That’s right.” Scut said.
“All right. Listen, Scut,” Jonah said. “It just so happens that this ship belonged to my former crew members.” He waved an outstretched arm in the direction of what was left of Haruna.
“Well, unfortunately I think salvage rights died with that feller who’s in the command section.” Scut nodded in the direction of the largest bit of wreckage.
“Mind if I have a look at him?” Jonah asked.
“I don’t know if you want to go in there man, he’s a hamburger popsicle.” Morley shuddered. “If you don’t mind getting your boots dirty, I guess that ain’t no problem.”
“I don’t mind getting my boots dirty,” Jonah said.
“All right, just leave your guns right there and you can go and take a look around.”
“Scut, you’ve got like twelve guys here,” Jonah protested. “What are we going to do? It’s just the three of us.”
“Four,” whispered Holton.
Jonah turned and gave Hill a dark look. “Three,” he repeated.
“Just keep your hands where I can see ‘em, then.” Scut said.
“Fair enough. Let’s go have a look.” Jonah said confidently as he strode past Morley and headed towards the command section.
YJ turned to Hill. “What did you get us into here?”
Hill shrugged. “I told you they might be here.”
Jonah and Worth headed towards Haruna’s mangled forward section.
“Worth, I need you to make a list of the parts we can cull from this ship that might be of some use to Shenmue,” Jonah whispered.
“Gotcha,” Worth said.
Jonah slowed his pace and let Scut catch up to him. “Listen Scut, here’s the deal, we just need some coolant for our ship, and I gotta figure these boys won’t be using it any more,” he said as they walked towards the wreck, the larger man wheezing with the effort.
“Well, just cuz the dead ain’t going to be using it anymore don’t mean we might not have use for it,” Scut countered as he struggled to keep up.
“Now, do you mean for sale or for using it yourselves?” Jonah asked.
“Well,” Scut said, “do I know you? I’m not going to tell you what I’m a do with it!” He scratched his neckbeard in annoyance.
“Listen,” Jonah said soothingly. “If you’re looking for a customer it worked out great. We’re right here, you can sell it right now, you don’t have to worry about carting it back, or storing it, you can sell it right now. You can take more stuff in your vehicles and leave the coolant behind, and get paid for it right away.”
That seemed to make sense to Scut. “Well what do you want for it?”
“Unfortunately the credits we’re packing don’t seem to be much use on this rock, but we can do some trade,” Jonah said. “You do salvage work, do you?”
“Well we do what we can.” Scut said.
“As it happens, we have some salvage gear.”
“No foolin, packed away in that little shuttle of yours?” Scut said.
“Certainly not,” Jonah said. “We got a ship back at Holton’s place.”
“Oh, the Cap. Well, serves you right for going there first.”
Jonah shrugged. “Well, if I had known you were the guy…”
“Holton probably thought it was his lucky day, didn’t he?” Scut said. He stopped outside the ragged edge of the wreck. “We already pulled anything that ain’t nailed down, so we’ll be checking your pockets on the way out.”
“Uh oh,” Worth said to himself.
“I can give you the tour,” Scut continued.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing what’s left of the engines,” Worth said.
“Well we’ve got one in pieces over yonder, and one over in the truck,” Scut said. “You mean the accelerator core?”
“Sure,” Worth said.
“Can you show me the bridge?” Jonah asked.
“I ain’t going back in there. We ain’t exactly got laundry facilities up here.”
“Yeah, it looks like you’ve already got some Flynn on your boot,” Jonah pointed.
“Do I? Gorammit!” Scut dragged his foot across the snow.
“That smear had a name,” Jonah said.
The men entered the wreck through what was once the shuttle’s docking bay into a warped corridor. Worth was familiar with the layout of the Osprey and had a good idea of where the coolant tanks would be located. Scut accompanied him to the engine room, starting up a running commentary on the state of the wreck and his plans for salvaging it.
“Yeah, we’re going to have to peel this part of the hull back, pull the reactor out with a crane. It might take all weekend, I dunno. Have to go back and get a bigger truck.”
Worth nodded and gave Scut some pointers on how to extract the core from the intricate engine room.
Jonah smiled at the exchange. “So, we’re okay to do business here, right, Scut?”
“Well I don’t hate you yet, that’s a good start.” Scut said.
“Not a whole lot of people in the Verse who feel that way,” Jonah said. “Listen, we’ve got something that might be worth a hell of a lot to you. Back aboard our ship, we’ve got an infirmary and a real deal Core world doctor.”
“No kidding,” Scut said.
“I imagine your boys are getting all kinds of cuts and injuries on these salvage jobs.” Jonah said.
“Maybe you might need some other stuff, some teeth pulled, that sort of thing?”
“Yeah,” Scut said, a wistful expression on his face, exaggerated by the funhouse mirror effect of his oversized glasses.
“Maybe laser eye surgery,” continued Jonah. “So again, would you be willing to trade some medical services for coolant, and maybe a few parts?”
Scut was a little distracted, looking over his shoulder in the direction of the bridge. “Yeah, all right. That sounds pretty good.”
“Say Jonah, how about you check in out our old friend on the bridge?” Worth said.
“You want to stick with me for this, Scut?” asked Jonah.
Scut shook his head. “No, thank you.”
“All right. You say he’s in pieces?”
Scut looked a little green around the gills. “I wish he was in pieces.”
“What do you mean?”
Jonah had only been on board Haruna a few times while she was in her prime, but he knew where the bridge was located. The forward section of the ship had taken the worst of the impact, but he was able to descend the half-stairs to the bridge compartment. The first thing Jonah saw as he manhandled the hatch open were human teeth scattered across the deckplates.
“Rest in pieces, Dave Flynn,” Jonah said, mentally crossing a name off his to-kill list.
The bridge’s viewports had caved in and were now packed full of permafrost. Aside from a copious amount of blood and the loose teeth, Jonah could find no sign of the pilot, which, all things considered, was just as well. Jonah flicked a few switches on the most intact section of control console. Miraculously, backup power was still feeding some of the systems. Jonah checked for a ship’s log, entries in the nav computer, a record of ports, anything that could give him a sense of the ship’s most recent whereabouts. After a few minutes of entering commands into the ship’s computer, he was rewarded with a fragment of the ship’s arrivals and departures log. He was able to trace Haruna’s movements over the past four weeks, starting with its departure from Persephone in the wake of the gunfight. From there, according to the log, Haruna traveled to Ariel, where it stayed docked in port for ten days, then departed for Branson’s Mark. Interesting, thought Jonah.
He stepped out of the mangled bridge and headed for the captain’s quarters. “I’ll be just another minute Scut, it’s really bad in here,” he called down to the engine room as he slipped into Phil Sundeen’s old cabin. The captain’s quarters were in a sorry state. The deck had compressed to the point where Jonah had to crawl on hands and knees to get anywhere, but he managed to pull a portable Cortex sourcebox from the debris, its case cracked and half burnt. Astonishingly, he was able to view the text of the final wave sent by the box.
It was a note from Teague Bowers, addressed to someone named Paul. It detailed the events of the shootout – the death of Phil Sundeen and Mister Basimba, and the shooting of Brade Sorgen and the Kid. The note also said that Teague had captured the person responsible for Phil’s death – Wild Sky.
“Paul,” Jonah thought. “Who’s Paul? Phil Sundeen’s brother?”
Jonah wiped the file from the sourcebox’s memory and left Sundeen’s quarters.
In the engine room, Worth smiled as he took note of the surviving coolant tanks. “This should tide us over,” he said.
“So,” Scut said as Jonah entered the engine room, “about this doctor, where’s he at?”
“Back at the ship,” Jonah said. He gave a surreptitious wink and a nod to Worth, and then indicated that Scut should follow him into the corridor.
Worth opened his duffel bag and started to fill it with the kind of parts whose size were inversely proportionate to their importance.
“So, you’re parked at the Cap,” Scut was saying as he and Jonah exited the wreck. “Well, as a rule, me and the boys, we don’t head over there, since we ain’t exactly welcome. Hill owes me a fair amount of money, and he’s been shy ever since I gave him the cash in the first place.”
“That’s between you and him, and this is between you and us,” said Jonah. “It just so happens it’s his place where we’re parked. I’m not trying to settle the score between the two of you. I just want to figure out how we’re going to get your boys onto our ship, to treat them. We can’t get to you to give you guys medical care until we have the coolant, and that’s not an ultimatum – our ship just won’t fly here.”
“I understand,” said Scut. “You might want to have a conversation with Mr. Hill in that instance, seeing as it’s his territory.”
Jonah, Worth, and Scut joined Holton and YJ who were were standing next to the shuttle, trading uneasy looks with Scut’s men.
Jonah turned to Hill. “We’ve bartered medical treatment for the things we need. And seeing as how you told us we’d be able to get our coolant for what we paid, and it didn’t exactly work out that way, I figure the least you can do is let some of his boys come on our ship.”
“Well, I understand of course that you gotta do what you gotta do, but, I’m not exactly keen on the idea of these gentlemen showing their faces around my neck of the woods, you know what I mean?” said Hill. “It would upset certain members of the community. Me and Scut ain’t exactly on the best of terms at the moment. ‘Me’ in this case meaning the entire community that elected me executive. That’s my fancy way of saying there will be trouble.”
YJ considered this for a moment. “So what if they stay on the ship, we shuttle them in, treat them, and then fly them back here?”
“Well, provided they stay on board the ship, nobody has to know.”
“Nobody will even see them.” YJ said.
“I might be on board with that.” Hill agreed.
“All right then,” Jonah said. “You ready to go?”
“Yeah,” Hill said. “I’m ready to get the hell out of here.”
“You’re sure you and Scut don’t need any more patching up time?” YJ asked.
Scut snarled. “I got my eye on you, Hill.”
“Look Scut, now’s not the time.” Hill said.
“Okay, so we can fit whoever needs treatment on board, along with the coolant and maybe some avionics wiring. We’re looking for a reasonable trade here,” said Jonah. “Then we’ll have our doctor give you guys a once-over, determine the cost of treatment, and then we’ll trade treatment for parts, does that sound good to you?”
“Sounds good to me.” Scut said.
Jonah smiled. “Just one rule, you can bring a gun on board your ship, but your boys gotta leave the rest behind. That way, we try and cross you, you can take a bunch of us out, but you’re not taking over our ship.”
Scut nodded. “I can see you’ve done this before.”
“Ever since I was a kid.” Jonah said.
Scut turned around and addressed his men. “Hey fellas, we’ve got a doctor on call.” Almost in unison, the gang dropped their salvage gear and lined up at the shuttle’s door.
The coolant and extra parts were loaded on board the shuttle along with Scut and four of his men. One man was left to guard the crash site. Worth assisted in the transfer of the coolant tanks into the shuttle.
The Doc had accumulated a number of whisky bottles and other bits of tribute in exchange for his services. He had just completed the trickiest of the procedures he had performed for the residents of the Cap – repairing an old broken arm fracture that hadn’t healed properly. The patient was ecstatic. Even with his arm secured in a sling and under a fair amount of sedation, he already had more mobility in the damaged joint than he’d had in years.
“I’m a man of simple needs, really,” The Doc said when his patient asked how he could repay him for his work. He indicated the pyramid of whisky bottles that had been piled outside the infirmary door. “Do you have anything stronger?”
His patient looked sideways at the Doc. “I’ll be right back,” he said, and after a few minutes, reappeared with a brown paper bag. “I’ve been cultivating some mushrooms in the storage facility, they seem to like the ambient lighting.”
“I could be game for that. Willing to try anything once.” Tulsa said as he took a look at the wrinkled mushrooms.
The shuttle docked with Shenmue and the men were led down to the infirmary under Worth’s watchful eye.
Holton Hill pulled Jonah aside. “I showed you where the coolant was,” he said. “So is your guy going to look at the masher or what?”
“I’m going to keep Worth aboard the ship for the time being,” Jonah said. “He’ll get to that, but while we’ve got these boys roaming about, I’d rather keep him around.” A thought occurred to him. “Say, Holton, we’ve got a few liters of contaminated reactor coolant on hand. I don’t suppose you’ve got anything you can use to filter it for us? I know a still isn’t a filter, exactly, but…”
Hill pondered that for a moment. “Let me talk to my boys and see if we’ve got anything that could help.” He left the ship.
“And with that,” Jonah said as he led the group of ragged men down the catwalk towards the infirmary, “we’ll begin with the not-so-free clinic!”
“Jonah, have you been whoring me out again?” The Doc called out.
Jonah poked his head into the infirmary. “Doc, you’ve got some new patients. A fistful of real gentlemen, you’re going to like them, and they’re already undressed and ready.”
The Doc took a step out and looked over Scut and his men, some of whom were already undressing. “Oh dear God.”
“Yep,” Jonah smiled. “Five hillbillies looking for some bedside manner.”
“Aren’t we all,” The Doc said.
Jonah pulled the Doc back into the infirmary. “Look these guys over, just diagnose their ailments for now, and get a sense of what’s wrong with them,” he winked conspiratorially, “and I think there’s a lot wrong with them.”
“I don’t know how much I can do about genetic damage.” The Doc said as he took another look at the patients.
“You don’t understand,” Jonah said. “They’re paying us for whatever treatment you’re giving them, so maybe that mole? Cancerous. That headache? It’s a brain aneurism waiting to pop. Get me?”
The Doc nodded. “I got you.”
“So you give them the diagnosis, but no treatment until we’ve talked about what to do with these engine parts, and the coolant.”
As the second lineup formed outside the infirmary, this one sweatier and smellier than the first, the Doc popped a painkiller. He steeled himself and opened the door, ushering in his first patient.
Scut took his hat off and twisted it. “Well, Doc, it’s a little embarrassing, but me and the boys, well, we had a little too much fun last time we hit the whorehouse up on the other side of the Pole. I think we all caught something pretty nasty.”
The Doc took another painkiller. “Oh dear God,” he muttered again.
Five physical exams later, Doc Tulsa had their medical histories and a full tank of nightmare fuel. The list of things wrong with Scut and his men was long enough even without the padding Jonah suggested.
Jonah strolled in to the infirmary and looked at the five men in their flimsy paper smocks. “Doctor-patient confidentiality aside, what are we dealing with here, Doc?”
“Well, I don’t want to get into specifics, but these fine gentlemen have a certain condition that they need help with.” The Doc said, mindful of the blushing patients nearby.”
“In Core terms, how much would you be charging for this?” Jonah asked all too innocently.
The Doc named a slightly exaggerated figure.
Jonah turned to Scut and his men. “Listen boys, personally I believe in the inalienable right to free medical care, in a perfect world, but the only perfect world I ever knew unfortunately didn’t get terraformed right. So here’s the deal, you’ve got the coolant, and some avionics cabling, and a few other parts. We fix the leaky faucets, and the fact is, I think we can all fairly say you’re never going to see another doctor on this moon. I think we can agree this gentleman knows what he’s talking about. It’s either his help, or maybe they fall off. So what’s it worth to you?”
“I feel fine otherwise, I just need my plumbing fixed,” Scut said warily. “And our original deal was just for the coolant.”
“Well the reason we brought the extra stuff along was in case the cost of treatment was high. I’m not looking to rip you off. Let’s be honest, this thing fell out of the sky and took an afternoon’s worth of work. We’re not asking for the whole afternoon’s labour, just a little bit of it, and in exchange for all that, you get this problem fixed that you would not be able to fix, and let’s be honest, this is more important than some machinery, right?”
“It’s pretty important machinery,” The Doc said sagely.
Scut was starting to get a little flushed; his paper smock was in danger of ripping.
One of Scut’s men looked over at him, clutching his nethers in an attempt at modesty. “Shoot, Scut, I’m running out of excuses with the missus as to why I haven’t bed her since we came back from the pole.”
The Doc smiled. “Here’s the thing boys, I can give you something for the pain and discomfort, but the actual cure? That costs a pretty penny.”
Another one of the salvage workers looked pleadingly at his leader. “Scut man, we really need this.”
“I don’t wan’ it to fall off, Scut!” piped a third.
Jonah figured it was time for the hard sell. “Listen, we can get coolant from other places, we’ve got a shuttle and we can fly over to the other moon and just buy some. Like I said, you can’t. We’ve got alternatives, you don’t.”
Scut shook his head ruefully. “Well, let it never be said that I didn’t see reason. We’ll throw the coil of wire in.”
“And the hat,” Jonah added.
“Not my hat!” Scut said. “The ladies love this!”
“You drive a hard bargain, my friend,” Jonah said. “The wire and the coolant, and you boys got yourselves a deal.”
Scut sighed. “All right.”
Prescribing five courses of antibiotics all but exhausted Shenmue’s medical supplies.
“I’ll be scrubbing the infirmary out for a week,” the Doc said to himself after his patients had dressed and departed for the shuttle.
Worth and YJ completed the transfer of Haruna’s coolant to the patched tanks, bringing Shenmue’s reactor coolant levels up to around the fifty percent mark – well within the margin for safe operation. He then accompanied YJ in the shuttle as they transported a grateful Scut and his men back to the crash site.
Holton came back to the ship as the Doc washed up and found Jonah. “My boys tell me we can run your coolant through the geothermal power filtration system, we use it to filter impurities out of the water supply.”
“Sounds good,” Jonah said.
Hill nodded, then leaned in and spoke in low tones. “I wasn’t sure how to broach this subject, but we’d gladly filter out your coolant problem, in exchange for taking care of your ship’s septic system? Make a little withdrawal from the bank?”
“You guys need a little fertilizer?” Jonah said. He thought for a moment. “Mi shit es su shit.”
Hill smiled. “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Worth held up his end of the bargain and made repairs to the mash rake engine while Hill supervised the filtration of Shenmue’s contaminated coolant. Meanwhile, using the new cables procured from Haruna, Jonah and YJ took their time to properly rewire the worst of the damaged avionics. All told, they were able to complete about a quarter of the repairs necessary to get Shenmue back in proper shape.
“So, what now?” YJ asked.
“Let’s have a little rest, a little whisky, and a little fish. And let’s head back to the Resort,” Jonah said.
“Why?” YJ said.
“If we can find a lot of money there, we can head back to Osiris, where the Baron’s holding onto the Desdemona, collect the Desdemona, put Shenmue into drydock, and get her properly squared away, pick up a cargo, and then pick up Whitaker, travel out to the rim, grab another cargo for the trip back in, grab Shenmue, which hopefully will be repaired in the time we’ve been traveling out and back, and take both of them over to Lilac, and finally drop Whitaker off.”
“Quinn and Whitaker are down to about six days of air and food at this point,” the Doc said.
“We have to assume they’re conserving,” Jonah grinned. “Hopefully they’ll just take turns breathing, so there’s no problem.”
“If we could grab a bit of cash, what’s one more day?” Worth said.
That evening, the Cap celebrated the conclusion of business with a fish fry and whisky-fueled bacchanal. The crew of Shenmue was more than happy to join in.