The Trashman Cometh

Safari guides past and present gathered on the pier to bid farewell to Jonin and his crew with a massive party, accompanied by a steel drum band. Shortly afterward, the crew of the Margaritaville set out for Greenland. At the station, on one of the larger barren rocks in a system full of them, we got a squirt of news — an old message from Park Berger repeating details we had already heard of his investigation into Rędwulf’s cuddly artwork. The piece’s value might be changing fast; others in the cluster were beginning to give warnings of a bubble in the market.

The hop to the next slipknot and Neue Helvetica was shorter than usual as there was really no reason to ever dive into the Greenland inner system unless you wanted to be pirate bait. We were only an hour into the outbound trip when we received a message from a ship, the Los Amigos, to turn over a passenger named R.T. Marnati. The inaptly-named ship was under the control of the Cho outfit, and led by Francis “Trashman” Li, whose rivals and other annoyances tended to turn up non-viable in dumpsters. Rocky discreetly queried Los Amigos and learned that R.T. knew too much to be let out of the system, and was wanted alive to be made an example.

Kanoka summoned R.T., a green-eyeshaded Neue Helvetican auditor who seemed too boring to raise so much excitement. However, he proved to be another protegé of Old Gord, and was delivering a report on a fishy firm to his clients. R.T. claimed he had an additional data bomb that would blast out even more embarassing information about more people, should something untoward happen to him. Kanoka and R.T. hit it off immediately, and R.T. went to his first-class cabin with assurances that he would get safely through. With a desultory warning to the passengers, Kanoka asked for a fast, serpentine course to get the ship past Los Amigos to the slipknot.

Los Amigos launched an EW attack on the ship that Passion scrambled to block, aided by the ship’s wizards (“It looks like you are trying to close ports on the firewall!”) The lights flickered once or twice, but Nelson was able to quickly repair the damage, and in the end the clumsy brute-force attack did more harm to the attacker by siphoning off resources. The Cho ship’s railguns reached down the spiraling track of the Margaritaville and blew fragments off the cheaply-constructed hull, but Rędwulf caught the worst of the attack with the vector randomizer, and Passion drove the spider and repaired the damage. Los Amigos ran afoul of some of the debris in its pursuit, and the Margaritaville was able to maintain a good distance from the smaller, more fragile ship despite its own mushy steering.

Mumbling something about putting on his EVA suit, Rocky left the bridge and negotiated the path to R.T.’s cabin through a gauntlet of flying drink bottles, hand luggage, and occasional passengers. Rocky knocked for entry, saying that the captain wanted the auditor, then opened the door with his master key. “We’ll outrun them, don’t worry,” he told R.T. Rocky made sure that the fellow was well strapped in, and then, when the ship underwent a sharp shake, drew his blaster and silenced the accountant for good. He packed him in a collection of netting and hauled him through the cluttered passenger spaces, drawing a few concerned looks. However, he made it to the airlock unchallenged and sent the auditor aft.

Kanoka saw the lock cycle as he sent the Margaritaville into overburn, hoping a full gee would get the ship to the slipknot before anything more important got blasted off. Then Rocky showed up in his EVA suit.

“Where were you?” Kanoka asked. “Something’s up with the airlock by first class.”

“It was R.T. going out. We need to call them for pickup.”

Kanoka’s usual composure came off, but in the end he sighed and told Rocky, “Make the call.”

“Go pick up the package,” Rocky told Los Amigos.

“Was it quiet?” asked the Trashman.

“Of course,” said Rocky.

So the Margaritaville got away, but not clean. It was an ugly jump, and the ship arrived white hot and low on r-mass. It took all of Nelson’s ingenuity to keep the passengers happy on the long slog to Tell. (A lottery for the mysteriously vacated first-class cabin helped.)

However, R.T.’s queued mail went out the moment the ship arrived: A set of encrypted messages in the ship’s outbox launched straight to Old Gord. Kanoka’s old friend couldn’t believe that R.T. was dead, and was suspicious of the whole story. “He was as dull as dirt; he wouldn’t have taken any risks.”

“It was an inside job,” Kanoka finally said. “While we were running hot, someone spaced him. With the kind of lowlifes we carry, it’s no surprise.”

Getting routine maintenance turned out to be a real pain; the economic contagion was polluting even normal business transactions. The system was going hypercoherent, with usually uncorrelated prices and interest rates now falling or rising in lockstep. Nonetheless, Rocky convinced the right people that we could pay for our work, and the inbound passengers’ tales of woe didn’t prevent the Margaritaville from finding more suckers for the next run.

Copyright ©2010 David Dunham. Last updated 7 Mar 10.

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