"People want anarchy for about five minutes. Then they want a backrub and some money."
-- Bruce Sterling
After finally getting some sleep, Trevor then goes to the gym. He's going to have to stay in shape if he wants to get bodyguarding work. No one wants a flabby bodyguard.
Mitchell is being shaken awake, and a voice behind him says "C'mon, I want you to be awake to appreciate this. Goodbye, Boony!" Mitchell has just registered the fact that he's tied up and it's very bright when he's given a shove and finds himself free falling. He twists his body and sees the floating arcology above him. This is not good.
Whoever tied him up obviously learned it from watching movies or something, so Mitchell is able to get loose and flatten out to control his fall. Or flap his arms really hard. The atmosphere does get denser, but not that dense. Mitchell can't see any of the planets features, and can't tell where the surface is. He figures he's screwed, so he might as well just watch the arcology recede in the distance, rather than wait for the ground to rush up. A couple of flying creatures pass by, looking quizzically at the odd plummeting creature; none of the flyers are big enough for Mitchell to grab onto for support.
After an indeterminant amount of time, Mitchell hits ground, and is surprised to find it's soft and bouncy. And then he grabs onto the nylon webbing surrounding the planet which is rubbery and kind of balloon shaped. Rather exactly balloon shaped, actually. It's some kind of brightly colored helium balloon - a sporting aerostat of some sort. As he scrabbles for a hold, he hears champagne corks popping and glasses tinkling, loud music, etc. The music is too loud for Mitchell's yell for help to be heard. He very carefully starts to climb down, feeling injuries he doesn't remember getting (evidently the bad guys opened the trunk and whacked him a few more times when he wasn't conscious). In the pre-dawn light, Mitchell sees a wooden, 18th century ships hull suspended from the bottom of the blimp. Well that's bizarre.
Mitchell slides down the bristol-rigged ratlines, and onto the deck. There's a woman in a white silk ball gown throwing up over the edge, a man in a tux curled up by the door to below decks who's cuddling a magnum of champagne, a man in livery sweeping the poop deck, and a man in a white uniform looking over the edge with a brass telescope. Mitchell goes over to the man sweeping the deck and taps him on the shoulder. The servant was listening to his personal stereo, and is very startled. So startled, he swings about and hits Mitchell soundly in the family jewels with the broom handle, adding insult and injury to injury. Mitchell curls up into a little ball on the deck.
"Hello? I say, are you awake?" <poke poke> Mitchell regains consciousness to see a man in a red brocaded coat that goes down past his knees, long curly hair, an eye patch, and an illegal stogie. He's poking Mitchell with his ornate walking stick. Pirate: "You're on my ship sir. Now what do you mean by just dropping on board without so much as a by your leave?" Mitchell: "What ship am I aboard?" Pirate: "The Ulysses." Mitchell: "I don't know that ship. Are we near Freemantle?" Pirate: "Fairly near. But look here, I'm asking the questions. Who are you?" Mitchell: "Captain Mitchell Taylor, retired." Pirate: "Now how did you come to be on my ship? I don't recognize you as one of my friends...Are you?" Mitchell: "Last I remember I was in the agronomy section on Freemantle..." Pirate: "And you just fell off the arcology??" Mitchell: "I remember bouncing off something..." Pirate: "Oh, you must be one of those free-jumpers! Jolly good, that calls for a round of drinks." Mitchell: "And what do I call you?" Pirate: "Captain would do. Or Randolph, that's what everyone calls me. And you're a captain as well. What aerostat do you command?" Mitchell: "Aerostat? Oh no, not an aerostat." Randolph: "Really? What then, is it an honorary rank? Military?" Mitchell: "Solomani Navy." Randolph: "Then you'll have to make the toast. We have a real hero of the Confederation here!" Glasses are passed around. Mitchell: "To soft landings." Randolph: "Quite right. To soft landings!" Mitchell sips the grog, which consists almost entirely of rum. Lots of rum. Maybe they looked at some limes across the room. Maybe.
A servant takes Mitchell off to get cleaned up, and some clothing is found for him to change into. Fortunately, the servant stays to help the confused man into the piratical garb. Once all the layers and buttons are done, the servant insists on putting a small clubbed animal onto Mitchell's head, and then powdering him liberally. Then he gets to join Randolph for breakfast. It's some sort of period fancy dress thing apparently.
Mitchell asks for their location, so Randolph asks the pilot. The pilot gives them their exact position, after fiddling with an archaic device for several minutes and then sneaking a quick glance at a high tech readout. They are not far from Freemantle, as the aerostat flies. Mitchell: "So how long have you been travelling?" Randolph: "We're about two days out of Freemantle, searching for Black Pete's ship. I mean to catch him, and have him." Mitchell <blinking>: "I'm sorry, I'm new to Freemantle, and I don't understand the local, um, customs. Is this some sort of sport?" Randolph: "Sport? No sir, this is deadly earnest, I assure you." Mitchell: "So Black Pete is a real pirate?" Randolph: "'Pirate' has such negative connotations. Let's call him a gentleman rogue." Speaking of the devil, Black Pete's ship is spotted, and the pursuit is on. Mitchell is taken below decks, where there is a row of yellow metallic tubes. Mitchell looks at them, but can't figure out exactly what the heck they're for. Mitchell: "And those are some sort of...weapon?" Randolph <proudly>: "Yes, fourteen long nines." Mitchell: "What is it exactly that these weapons fire?" Randolph indicates a stack of round metallic balls. Mitchell: "And you're going to take on another aerostat with those?" Randolph: 'Yes. Here, take a look." He tosses one of the balls at Mitchell, who catches it. The ball is fairly heavy, and feels as if it has a liquid center; some sort of fuel or something moving inside it. Mitchell: "That's amazing." [Translation: "What a bunch of loonies."] Randolph: "Yes. Would you like to see the magazine?" Mitchell is taken to see the gunpowder and shot, and is getting a bit nervous, but the gunner explains that it's not really gunpowder and is quite safe. It's very high tech, and has two components (one a liquid) that are combined just prior to it being used; the separate components are non-volatile.
Mitchell <to Randolph>: "Do you people do this often?" Randolph: "Oh yes, whenever we can get away from work. It's what our tong does." Mitchell <now really confused>: "Your tong??" Randolph: "Of course. Everyone belongs to a tong. Or two, or three. Don't you?" Mitchell: "No. But as I said, I've only just come to Freemantle." Randolph: "Surely the rest of the Solomani Confederation can't be so different?" With so many people, and only so many jobs, most people just work part time - they have to have something to do. Here, they join 'tongs' - social groups made up of people with similar interests. Mitchell is grateful the aerostat was below him, but he would really rather not be here.
Mitchell: "Tell me, have you run into any of these 'Freebooters'?" Randolph: "You mean Boonies?" [Oh bugger. It's not a name, it's a description!] "Of course. I've had to fire a shot over a bow or two. Rather unsavory individuals. Some of them are actual criminal types I've heard." No kidding.
The Ulysses is scheduled to be out for another week. This does not work well for Mitchell. If they run into some traders, or if the other ship turns out to not be Black Pete's , then maybe Mitchell can get a lift back.
There's a doctor on board, Mitchell is pleased to discover. A "woman's doctor", who does this on his days off, but he's the ship's doctor too. After frightening Mitchell with cries of "Ach, that looks terrible, it'll have to come off", and brandishing some incredibly nasty looking instruments, the doctor opens a panel and takes out the real, high tech gear. A few minutes later, Mitchell feels much better. His broken bones have been healed, and he has a pain patch on.
Back up in the arcology, Gabrielle is finally let go. She doesn't understand why they had to keep asking her the same questions when they have recording equipment. As she exits the building, the day cycle lights come up, adding insult to injury. She's tired, and has had a cup of really bad coffee for dinner and breakfast. Malcolm is cut loose at about the same time. Malcolm: "Hey sugar. Buy you breakfast?" Gabrielle: "Okay." Malcolm: "Those folks were awfully friendly. They must not get much of a chance to talk to pretty girls."
Trevor is on his way to the gym when he sees Malcolm and Gabrielle just leaving the station. Trevor: "Hi. Did everything go all right?" Gabrielle: "I honestly don't know. I guess so." Trevor: "Well, one thing for sure, I don't think the bad guy will be getting out of jail soon. It'll take them three weeks with a steam cleaner to get him out of the works. Does cut down on recidivism." The tragedy is, of course, all over the news. Many people will be calling their therapists over this one.
A person in a suit watches the group and takes notes on his PDA. He's a SolSec Civilian Monitor, according to his armband. Earning his bounty of the week? Trevor: "I'm off to the gym." Malcolm: "We're getting breakfast. It was a long night with the men in blue." Trevor splits off to go to the gym, the monitor not following.
In the gym, there are some people in doing the fitness thing, and some men and women in a group by themselves. They're all wearing similar outfits, are obscenely bulked up, and are benching 500 lbs. A big beefy, blond, crew-cutted female warns Trevor off, since it's "our machines. They're set for us, and they'd snap your little girlie-man body like a twig." Okay...
Trevor goes off in search of sports fanatics. He asks around, and is told to go to Boosters if he wants to find grav-ball players. He'll do that later, for now he just works out. Got to keep fit for his job. He does not go over and join the people using the automated non-exercise stuff as they sit in their recliners. He goes over to a row of treadmills, beside a couple who should be the poster children for the Solomani health and fitness program. Man: "Hey, you're that, Trevor, aren't you?" Trevor: "Yes." He mounts the treadmill. Man: "So, how did it feel to push that guy into the machinery? Was it good? Did it make you feel hot?" Trevor: "You know, you're kind of sick. Have you spoken to your counsellor lately?" Man: "Just making conversation." Yeah. Ewww. Trevor is finally left alone to work out in peace.
Malcolm has some money, so he takes Gabrielle to one of the little hole in the wall kind of places called The East Garden. There's an old woman behind the counter, and only four tables, as opposed to the buffet places with lots of social interaction. The East Garden is obviously a 'hobby' business. Everyone else in the restaurant is using these odd stick things to eat, not having heard, evidently, of that triumph of Solomani culture - the spork. Several of the patrons speak to the woman in the same argot, stopping once to correct each others pronunciation. Hobbyists.
A small group of punks, looking like refugees from the planet KISS, crowd in. They hassle the owner, grab food, and generally making a nuisance of themselves. One of the males comes over to Gabrielle, plays with her hair, and says "Hey, you're new. You've got a nice body, mind if I use it?" The other members of his group find this entertaining. One of the females comes over behind Malcolm, and messes with his hair. Girl: "He's a tough guy. <to Malcolm> Don't make me mad." She flexes her hand and spiky bits sprout from her gloved hand. She slashes the wallpaper, retracts the claws, and goes back to playing with Malcolm's hair. Her male friend pulls a chair over and sits on it backwards with his arms folded over the back. Boy: "I could rock your world, baby." He tips his chair closer to Gabrielle, getting way into her personal space, even for here. Gabrielle doesn't say anything, and tries to ignore him, not wanting any trouble. Malcolm, concerned about Gabrielle, decides to distract the boy by pulling the girl into his lap. Boy: "Hey, get your hands off my woman, old man." Girl: "I belong to whatever man's the strongest. I guess you boys'll have to fight for me. Nothing gets me hotter than a good fight." Boy: "I know what'll get you really hot, babe." He kicks his chair out of the way, to make space. The female gets out of Malcolm's lap, ready to watch. Malcolm stands up and hits the kid in the knee with the chair. There's a high-pitched scream, the boy falls to the ground holding his leg, and Malcolm sits back down again.
Naturally, a cop shows up. Just lovely. After the initial "Hello, hello, what's all this then" bit, Malcolm feigns ignorance. Malcolm: "I'm terribly sorry, I thought he was part of the scenario." Boy: "He hit me, man. Look at my leg!" The leg doesn't look good. Cop: "We don't need you Imperials coming across the border causing trouble with our youth. <looking down> Do you want to file charges?" After his girlfriend glares at him, the boy says "It's okay, officer. It was an accident, I fell." Cop: "I could file charges without his cooperation you know." Malcolm: "Well evidently I've been misinformed. I thought this was part of the 'Trouble in Little China' sketch." Cop: "Uh-huh. I've got my eye on you." Malcolm <thinking>: "That's what cops have been saying to me since I was 16." Cop: "Your papers." He takes Malcolm's papers and scans them. Cop: "You seem to have a knack for finding trouble. Or does it follow you around? You might consider going back to the Imperium. Just visiting?" Malcolm: "Yes. Here to get a taste of the local color." Cop: "Well, if you get into more trouble, don't do it in front of me." Malcolm checks out the cop's name tag, and his name is Hideckie. He's apparently in his 40's, and still a beat cop, which may be the way he likes it. Cop: "I could arrest you, but I'd have to fill out paperwork. So since no one's going to file charges..."
The cop gives Malcolm back his papers and leaves, just as a medical vehicle shows up. The punks go with the injured boy to the hospital. Restaurant patron: "Oh, you've done it now. You idiot - are you trying to get us all killed?" Malcolm: "They're a lot more polite than the last Vargrs I ran into." Patron: "Well, yes, but those were Vargrs. Lower life forms. Those kids are trouble. Who knows what they're hopped up on, or what mods they've had done?" Malcolm: "It's the mods that concern me." Patron: "Yeah. Next time pick a place where we're not around to get hit by spillover fire when you decide to grandstand." So much for a nice quiet breakfast.
Trevor gets a call after he returns home, from Captain McNaughton's 'man'; the Captain wishes to see Trevor, at his home. He puts on his nice suit, and arrives at the residence. He's shown in and to Captain McNaughton.
McNaughton: "Ah, Mr. Cavernon. I'm Captain McNaughton. Thank you for coming." After a few pleasantries, McNaughton gets down to business. McNaughton: "I must tell you that I'm a bit concerned. I spoke with a former associate of mine, from the service, about this matter and he's disappeared. I'm afraid it might be foul play." McNaughton gives Trevor the story of his daughter's suicide, or not, and the connection to the Freebooters, etc. Trevor has heard of the Freebooters. Trevor: "About your friend...When did you speak with him?" McNaughton: "The day before yesterday." Trevor: "Where?" McNaughton: "At my club. We met for dinner." Trevor: "And you haven't heard from him since?" McNaughton: "Correct. He hasn't answered any of my calls. Before we go any further with this, I suppose I should ask you how much you charge. I'm not without means, but I'm not a rich man." Trevor: "I'll need to cover my expenses, and 50 Solars a day." McNaughton: "Fifty!" Trevor: "You just said that not only is your daughter dead, but some one you spoke with yesterday is missing, and maybe the victim of foul play. I don't have the resources the police do, I'm not an officer of the law. And you are asking me to risk my life." McNaughton: "I don't want an officer of the law. I don't want justice, I want revenge!" Oops! After an awkward silence, a deal is struck. McNaughton gets a pouch of money (100 Solars) out of the desk and gives it to Trevor .
Trevor: "Where did your daughter live? Here, or did she have her own residence?" McNaughton: "She lived here, although she sometimes stayed with her friends." Trevor: "I'll need access to her room." McNaughton: "It's just as she left it. The police didn't move much at all. You'll forgive me if I don't go with you." Trevor: "Of course. Do you want me to report back to you on a set schedule, or just when I have news?" McNaughton: "I don't know. I've never done this before, what's normal?" Trevor: "Why don't I get in touch with you once every 24 hours, unless I have something significant to report." McNaughton: "That's fine. The room is down the hall on your left. If you need me for anything else, I'll be in my sanctum sanctorum." McNaughton also gives Trevor his personal communicator number, so that Trevor doesn't have to go through his man.
Trevor goes down the hall to the room that at first glance is the room of a much younger girl. Stuffed animals, frills, etc. He's looking for a personal communicator, preferably one with numbers programmed in, or a diary. No luck. The room has the look of a show room, without any real personal effects. Trevor tries to get some information from the manservant who doesn't want to put his employ at risk, or upset his employer. Trevor: "Look, we have the same employer. If you can tell me something useful, then I won't have to find it on my own, which will save money." Servant: "Yes, but I'll be saving my employer money." Trevor: "Right." Servant: "I have to think of my self." Trevor: "But if I pay you, that could be construed as a conflict of interest." Sigh. The servant is appropriately bribed with 20 Solars, and becomes more cooperative. Servant: "This way."
The servant takes Trevor down to the car park. The Captain has a private vehicle, a ground car, although he almost never used it. His daughter had her own sanctum sanctorum . Rebecca had turned a walk in closet in the work area into her private space. The servant unlocks the door and leaves Trevor.
Now this room looks more like the room of a teenager! Black walls, black light, naughty rocker posters, and the tangy smell of dopesticks or such, and maybe even (horrors!) tobacco. In other words, the bad girl room. It's either been tossed, or it always looks like this. Trevor finds a crudely made hidie hole behind several layers of posters. He pulls out something the size of a plastic shoe box, that contains some semi-pornographic holos, some unlabeled auto-injectors, 20 Solars, several half-smoked cigarettes, some capsules, old paper style bound book, and an L-shaped small metallic object with a switch on it and a hole in one end. Whoa - a body pistol? On Vantage?? This is a very naughty, bad thing. The book has some numbers, some scrawled writing, and some names. Phone numbers? Maybe.
Trevor plays the tapes, and the McNaughton girl was apparently into home movies of her and her friends being very friendly. One of the tapes has her with a very hairy friend. Furry, to be more precise. Captain McNaughton would probably be upset to see his little girl boinking a Vargr.
Trevor bags up the stuff in the hide to take with him. He also finds a wrapped package containing several reddish brown lumps sealed in plastic. Steaks? Apparently. Eww - animal flesh! The irradiated meat has an Imperial logo on it. One of the names in the notebook is Brizzk. Probably the Vargr. Trevor takes the meat, along with some regular party photos of Rebecca. After that, he goes to his apartment to try to get some still shots (just above the shoulders) of some of the participants in the vids. Then he's going to take the party bag to the police.
At about this time, Malcolm is walking Gabrielle home. They're being followed by several of the face paint group, so Malcolm takes the long way, past a police kiosk. One of the punks stops at the kiosk, and passes the cop something that disappears into a pocket. The cop looks at Malcolm and Gabrielle, types something on a keyboard, and then indicates something on a screen. The punk pats the cop on the shoulder and takes off. Malcolm: "Either they've given up, or the cop just gave them my address. Or yours. Do you have someone you can stay with?" Gabrielle: "No, I just got here." Malcolm: "I can spot you a room for the night if you need it." Gabrielle: "Right now I just want to get cleaned up and changed." Besides, her neighbor is Trevor, the man on the news show on the tri-dee in the store window, right there. They stop to look at the reports on the 'incident', including one that involves tossing a guava into the machinery. That just makes it past the Censors. Once. Yuck. This is followed by the usual Solomani propaganda, and happy news with just a tint of "danger across the border". And some reports of hooliganism between arcologies. Friendly rivalry, boys being boys and all that. Oh, and crime is down again, for the tenth straight year. It must be into negative numbers by now.
Gabrielle: "I really appreciate your concern, but I'll be all right." She's trying to keep a low profile, and is failing so miserably, that hanging out with the guy with the Imperial accent, who looks just like the evil bad guy on the series with the good looking clean cut SolSec agents is not a good idea! Malcolm takes the hint, says his good byes and leaves. Gabrielle goes inside to take a shower and get some sleep.
Malcolm decides to get a proper hotel room, rather than a place in the hostel. While channel surfing he runs into something right out of a Baron Munchausen story. Sailing vessels on blimps, and a man named Black Pete being interviewed on board his ship, the Widowmaker.
Reporter: "Well, we're going over to my colleague Bobbi on the Ulysses - the arch rival of Black Pete." Yes, some reporters have shown up in a grav vehicle, and popped over on their grav belts. One of them recognizes Captain Taylor, even though he's in costume. Malcolm is confused about the fact that this guy's vaguely familiar, but he would remember having seen a show this bizarre before. Captain Taylor declines to comment on the "unpleasantness with Admiral *", even if the reporter is persistent.
Mitchell gets the chance to participate in the fight by acting as a gun captain, and learns, finally that the cannonballs are in fact huge paint balls. Thank God! The paint is prismatic, and the ships' computers will disable whatever part of the ship has been 'hit'. Also, the costumes are wired, and the computers will disable any 'injured' crew members.
Man in livery: "Hi, I'm Bob, and I'll be your gunner." Mitchell: "Bob. What kind of rounds are available?" Bob: "Round shot, chain, and grape." Mitchell: "What would penetrate the hull?" Bob: "That would be round shot." Further questioning reveals that Black Pete favors chain, to disable rigging and cause a loss of maneuverability. After the first two shots of round, Mitchell wants to switch to chain, which is fine. The grape is interesting because it fires many little paint pellets that disable crew and leave bright red marks on the outfits.
The plan is to go across Black Pete's bow, fire a couple of volleys of round shot to try to disable some and maybe take out some cannons. Mitchell is not convinced this is at all sane, even with paint balls. He does accept the gravbelt and sword though, for the boarding party later. There are several ships nearby, in case assistance is needed, and all the guests have gravbelts, just in case they stagger overboard.
Mitchell has decided to give Randolph the benefit of his experience in the Navy. Mitchell: "May I suggest...My understanding is that the rigging affects maneuverability, correct?" Randolph: 'Yes." Mitchell: "Then maybe you should fire a volley of chain first." Randolph: "But we never do that." Mitchell: "Then he won't be expecting it, will he?" But the Royal Navy never fired chain!" Arrrrgh. The point is apparently NOT to win. It's to take part in some kind of re-enactment, sort of. Randolph: "But first, a ration of grog!" Mitchell <thinking>: "Great, now they won't be able to aim." Bob: "If you don't mind my saying so sir, I think you're right." Mitchell: 'What would it take to get a couple of rounds of chain to the bow gun?" Bob: "Not much." The gunners are just hirelings and will take orders from any of the 'players'. Mitchell: "Who's the captain of the bow gun?' Bob: "Mr. Plymouth, that portly gentleman vomiting over the side, sir."
A couple of rounds of chain are taken up to the bow, and Plymouth stops throwing up long enough to go below. Aha! Seizing the opportunity, Mitchell has the bow gunner load chain, sites in their appropriate area, and tells the gunner to fire as soon as the captain orders the turn. Mitchell doesn't care if it's just a game, he wants to win!
In her apartment, Gabrielle gets out of the fresher feeling much better. "Towel?" a female voice asks. Gabrielle snatches the towel. Oh goodie, it's the blonde with claws, and she's brought her pals. Blonde: "Where's your boyfriend?" Gabrielle: "He's not my boyfriend." Blonde: "You looked pretty cozy with him." Gabrielle: "I just met him." Blonde: "Or you're protecting him. He messed up my boy pretty bad. So, when's he going to come back? He's not going to leave a sweet young thing like you alone, is he? You might run into, oh, us!" Gabrielle: "I'm not protecting him, and he's not my boyfriend!" Blonde: "Sure. So, you got anything to drink?" Gabrielle: "Just what's in the fridge." One of the boys checks it out, and there's not much there. Boy: "Hey, Cat - no beer!" Cat: "Damn. Well, get me some cold water then. I'm thirsty. One of the boys gets Cat a glass of water, with ice in it. Oh-oh. Cat takes a drink, looks quizzically into the glass, and then yells for a plate. She pours the ice cube onto the plate, which of course reveals the Solar coin inside it. Cat: "Wow! Where do you get your ice?!? Check the rest out." Body <checking out the ice tray>: "There must be a couple of hundred Solars here!" Cat <smiling at Gabrielle>: "You know, I think you're my good luck charm! Billy, bring her to the clubhouse." Gabrielle is about to protest, seeing as she's just wearing a towel, when she's poked from behind by something that makes her tingle unpleasantly, then darkness.
After some in determinant amount of time has passed, Gabrielle wakes up to incredible pain in her head. She opens her eyes to find herself in some kind of black leathery 'clubhouse from Hell place, wearing a skintight neo-leather outfit, face paint, and a collar (is that where the pain came from?), the latter attached to a chain. There's laughter, and a couple of the boys are nearby fondling the merchandise. Cat: "Now, now, she's mine right now. If you're really good I'll let you give her a try. <to Gabrielle> You're a good doggie, aren't you?" Gabrielle: "Yes." Cat: "Now, doggies don't talk, they go woof-woof." Gabrielle: "Woof." Cat: "Good doggie! <to her friends> Show her what good doggies get." One of the males stands close by Gabrielle with some sort of apparatus. He pushes a button or switch or something, and this too seems to be connected to the collar (or so Gabrielle thinks) - this time it stimulates the pleasure center for a few seconds. Oooh.
Cat: <to one of her boys> "Have you been able to find the other one?" Boy: "Not yet. We've got our ears open." Cat: "He's a stranger in a strange land. He'll resurface. He's interesting. Take care of my doggie, I have to go out." Cat goes into a different room, and a few minutes later another blonde female emerges. Impeccably dressed, power suit, etc. This would be Cat in her 'day job' outfit? Gabrielle tries to memorize the real face behind the paint. Cat: "I'll see you later, keep an eye on things." She leaves. Boy: "C'mon doggie." Gabrielle is taken to a small room and chained to a wall. There's another person in the room, in face paint, and he's plugged into the wall (wirehead). Quite happily, too.
Malcolm gets bored with the slowness of the show, so he decides to take a nap. He wakes up eight hours later, to a new TV show, and the lights are on night cycle. Boy is it painful to stand up! He's not a youngster any more. Whimper. After a trip to the fresher, Malcolm is hungry again. He stretches, and goes out to a nearby restaurant. He's not sure about this trip to Solomani space. He's passed by small gaggle of people wearing a kind of headgear or hat, little pouches, and nothing else. They're collecting for some sort of religious group. Malcolm sees another person go by, in a Fedora, a neo-leather coat over his shoulders, who touches his nose at him. Malcolm touches his earring. The other man goes to a sidewalk café, where a second man, dressed the same way, gets up. The first man leaves his newsfax on the table, and the second man picks it up. Malcolm figures it's some kind of spy club or something. He goes for a walk, to just take a look around and experience the local 'rhythm', etc. An average looking man comes up to Malcolm. Paul: "Excuse me, I can't help noticing you're not from around here." Malcolm: "That's right." Paul: "From across the border, but from your accent, not just across the border. Forgive me, but it's my hobby. It was your body movements that caught my attention. Non-verbal communications - that's my specialty." Paul Voight introduces himself, and offers to buy Malcolm a cup of coffee, which is accepted. He wants to study Malcolm's movements. Paul: "I'd say you're from the Beyond, or the Spinward Marches?" Malcolm: "The Marches." Paul: "Yes, your accent and your broad movements give it away." He takes Malcolm to a real, proper coffee shop, for real coffee. They sit down to chat.
Elsewhere in time and space, suspended from a bag of gas (that for some reason reminds Mitchell of an admiral he once knew), the 'officers' are three sheeps to the wind, and there are interesting noises coming from the cable level. Randolph is trying to steer, even though he's pretty damned snockered himself. Things get really interesting when some small grav-cars, driven by deranged teenaged Freebooters, dart around and between the airships, and even between the ship and the rigging, while mooning the ship. Damn kids.
The Widowmaker is hit in the rigging with chain from the bow gun, which Mitchell orders reloaded with round ball. Black Pete's ship is not moving as well as it was, and when it tries to turn, one of the crazy Freebooter kids is in the way, and bounces off the Widowmaker's hull, then goes careening towards the Ulysses. He's in the way (aaah, too bad) when Mitchell orders the gun fired. The Freebooter is knocked out of the car, which careens into the rigging of the Ulysses, in a non-holographic way, and then crashes into the poop deck. Randolph pulls himself out of the wreckage, and yells "Abandon ship!" He runs over to the edge, looks over at Mitchell and says "You better get off, old man, we're going to lose the ship!" He dives off, tankard in hand, as the other guests follow suit. Mitchell heads for the helm. Bob: "Uh, sir? We have a problem." The crew do not have individual gravbelts, and the ship's emergency gravs are damaged, so the only thing holding up the ship is the blimp, and the lines are parting. Mitchell starts barking damage control orders, sending people up to try to patch the gas bag, and others to work on the gravs. There were originally 20 cables, now there are only 5, and only 1 bow line. Mitchell sends everyone to the stern who is not working on the bag. Cargo nets are strung between the stern lines, to fashion a sort of huge hammock above the deck.
Well, at least Mitchell doesn't have to worry about the powder blowing. A crewman runs up to Mitchell. Crewman: "Sir, you don't want to see the powder magazine. The collision caused the catalyst to blow the head off its container, and now we have two tons of primed powder down there." Oh bugger. Mitchell orders one of the crew up to the bow to attempt to secure the remaining lines. The crewman refuses. Mitchell: "If I were captain of this ship, I'd shoot you." He has the man tied to the cargo net, and sends some one else up to the bow.
In the coffee shop, Malcolm will see this on tape delay. Live, it's being watched with some interest in the clubhouse where Gabrielle is being kept. Odds are being broadcast, and one of the punks calls up to place a 50 Solar bet. "What the hell, she'll [Cat] never know."
The reporters are keeping their distance from the Ulysses, since Mitchell doesn't find them zipping around on their little grav cameras to be amusing, and demonstrates his opinion by shoving one of them away with a pole. The crew begins attempting to extinguish the fire with Seltzer bottles; this is not really helping, but it's better than doing nothing. One of the stern lines goes, three more are on fire. Time to cut the lines now! The ship, really on fire now, plummets as the blimp and net (more dangling than originally intended) goes shooting up. The ship takes out the news platform on the way down. Cheers go up in the clubhouse at this point. It's very spectacular.
Bob: "Sir, how high will this go?" Mitchell: "Too high." They need to puncture some of the bags in the blimp, to stop gaining so much altitude. Bob: "How do we know how many to puncture?" Mitchell: "Half of them." Bob: "Okay... Sir, if we puncture too much, what happens? We're f....ed, aren't we?" Mitchell: "If we don't, we're f....ed." Men go up into the rigging, and discover they can't puncture the skin, but they can get the previously applied patch off, so there's some success, although this means leaking helium, and Mitchell doesn't sound quite so commanding with the high-pitched cartoon voice.
Then the frost starts forming. And the lightning bolt just misses them. Everyone gets jolted back, and one man falls off. The next lightning bolt actually hits the blimp. Bob: "Well sir, you did a hell of a job. No one can fault you." Mitchell: "We're not dead yet." At this point a rescue vehicle appears on scene, just in the nick of time. Rescuer: <on speaker> "Okay, we'll maneuver underneath you. Use your gravbelts, and we'll pick you up." Mitchell: <yelling> "We don't have grav belts." Rescuer: "Oh." A few moments pass as the rescuers huddle and ponder this. Rescuer: "Uh, we think we have a plan. We'll maneuver underneath you, but you're going to have to jump - we don't want to get caught in your rigging." Mitchell sends the roped off man with the grav belt down first, then the others follow down the tied off rope. Much backslapping and hugging. Mitchell: "Some one should cut the rope." Oh, right! The rope is cut, but it gets tangled up around one of the crewmen's legs. As he yells for help and the rescuers try to find something with an edge, Mitchell and Bob leap into action, sawing the rope with the decorative crewman's knife, and saving the man's leg. The deflated blimp falls away into the atmosphere.
Once returned to the ground the rescuers will get proper medical attention for Mitchell and the crew. Since Mitchell's injuries are probably also causing "significant psychological trauma", he is referred for counseling as well. A 20 year old prematurely balding (it's the "in" look for counselors these days) tries to counsel Mitchell, who asks him "Son, have you ever been on a Naval vessel in combat?" Counselor: "No, but who has the three degrees, here?" Mitchell is forced to listen to this sensitive idiot, who eventually tells him "you look like you need a big hug. C'mere..." Mitchell: "If I let you hug me, will you leave me alone?" Counselor: "You've been through a lot, don't keep it inside." He asked for it. Mitchell tells the man what he's feeling. For real. The counselor hands over his card, from a distance, suggesting Mitchell call the office for an appointment [with a somewhat insincere tremor in his voice]. Mitchell flashes the card as soon as he gets the chance. The rescue workers congratulate Mitchell on a job well done. They offer him a beer, which they're sure he needs after talking to the head shrinker. Now that he accepts. They provide a fresher and a jumpsuit, and Mitchell will be joining them for a party. Mitchell makes arrangements for a party for the18 men of the crew. Mitchell is taken to the rescue workers' bar, where he won't have to pay for any drinks. Beyond a buzz, Mitchell doesn't get drunk. After all, he doesn't want to be a bad example.
Unfortunately, back at the clubhouse the bettor loses money, gets pissed off and takes his frustration out on Gabrielle. He zaps her until she's drooling, then one of the other guys panics - "Oh shit man, you've killed her!" Loser: "No, it's okay, I'll make her better." The rocket scientist then switches to pleasure stimulation. Gabrielle has never actually wanted to murder some one before.
Malcolm, watching the tape delay, now recognizes Mitchell as the man he kept running into earlier. How interesting. Paul, on the other hand, is much more interested in Malcolm's accent and body language. Paul: "You don't mind if I tape you do you? It's for a friend." Paul is a body language expert, but his friend is into accents. Malcolm asks him about body language, giving Paul the opportunity to expound on his area of knowledge at some length.
In the bar, with liquor freely flowing, Mitchell gets to ask questions. Like, what's a 'boony'? Technically speaking, it's anyone not from the arcology they're on. All Freebooters are Boonies, but not all Boonies are Freebooters. That explains the "Hey Boony, wake up" comment just before Mitchell was pushed off the roof. And he hears about the Freebooters that live between and around the ten arcologies on Vantage, in aerostats, and sort of trailer parks. There are books on the Freebooters too, which Mitchell will look up later. He should be able to find lots of info. After a few drinks and some conversation, Mitchell goes home.
Malcolm is having dinner with the harmless nutter (Paul), and catching up on the news. There is some fallout coming from the incident with the ships, especially when it becomes obvious that the Freebooter caused the crash. There are calls for the police, or SolSec to "do something" about the Freebooters. But just who has jurisdiction?
Malcolm asks Paul if "the Freebooters have their own body language?" Paul: "Oh yes, every culture has one." Paul has written papers on the subject, and Malcolm asks for the names of the articles. He writes down the names and will look them up later.
When Mitchell goes to leave the bar, one of the workers offers a lift so he doesn't get mobbed. There are a lot of people outside, throwing flowers, room keys, and underwear. And a man's thong. I don't think so! Mitchell gets lightly mobbed outside his apartment too, by a teen magazine reporter, and one from a man's magazine. For men, by men, about men, because that's all they need, and the way that Mitchell was dressed and besides, he was in the Navy, he's definitely one of their kind of men. Mitchell does not hit the man, since that would hurt his hand. Once inside, Mitchell answers the phone, which is ringing. Mitchell: "Mitchell Taylor." McNaughton: "Yes, I see from the news that you're alive. I was afraid that something happened to you." Mitchell: "I was following a lead on one of the Freebooters." McNaughton: "I see. In your absence, I hired the services of a private investigator." Mitchell: "Probably a good idea." McNaughton: "Considering the way things have been going, it might not be a bad idea to have some muscle on the job. I don't think this is a one man job, if you're still willing?" Mitchell: "Absolutely." McNaughton: "Good I'll arrange for an introduction. Shall we meet for breakfast tomorrow?" Agreed.
Malcolm does see some of the painted punk gang wander by when he's at the coffee house, but they don't see him. There are a lot of odd looking types around here. And many people in monochrome suits, with an occasional bit of color. Every once in a while there's a bottle green coat or a red pair of pants, but not much. Don't want to call attention to yourself.
While being groomed for her new vocation in life, Gabrielle sees a couple of other 'associate members'. They have small scars on the back of their necks. She feels the back of her own neck, and there's a scab there. Oh shit....
Malcolm goes to get his stuff out of his locker, to take back to his hotel room. He sees several more of the painted punk set, including one who looks remarkably like the girl he took to breakfast - Gabrielle. Damn. Was she a plant, or what? A police officer comes up to Malcolm. Cop: "Mr. Edwards?" Malcolm: "Yes, officer?" Cop: "I'd like to ask you a couple of questions, if you don't mind. I understand you're an acquaintance of Miss Gabrielle Vanek, is that correct?" Malcolm: "Yes." Cop: "We are making inquiries because one of her neighbors is somewhat concerned, as she hasn't been seen. Are you a close friend of Miss Vanek?" Malcolm: "No, we met at a police station." Cop: "Ah, so you're just a casual acquaintance. Well, thank you Mr. Edwards." The officer leaves.
Malcolm is worried now; maybe he shouldn't have left Gabrielle by herself. There may be more to this painted group after all. Maybe it's a front for something. Or not. He's not on his own turf, this makes it more difficult. Back in his hotel room, Malcolm tries to use the computer terminal to find out about the painted group and the Freebooters, and any connections they may have.
Cat returns to the clubhouse, and she calls for her doggie, who does come when called. Cat: "See, you can be trained." She interacts briefly with Gabrielle, the chats with her minions. She gives one of the males a shiny key, and tells him to "pick up the merchandise. I've met with my friends and everything is arranged for tomorrow night." She changes back to her punk clothes, to go out and "work out a few issues". She extends her claws, and tilts Gabrielle's chin up with one, drawing just a little blood. "Isn't that right doggie? And my boy will be back from therapy tomorrow. You know, maybe I'll just save you for a get well soon present." Bitch.