Amber Nebula Campaign Log

22. Slime Planet Blackmail Tango

5 September, 2775. 07:21 UTC. Legacy internal security log.

Tepi: So explain this landing gear problem to me again.

Paris: We must retract the broken starboard landing gear and close the hatch, or we'll burn up in the atmosphere when we aerobrake.

Serron: You make that sound like a bad thing.

Spanners: I regard that as a bad thing.

6 September, 2775. 13:54 UTC. Log entry by Iki Piki.

It seems there is little we can do about the landing gear until we skew back into realspace at Vallauris. Even going outside to have a look while in hyperspace would change the ship's hyperspatial silhouette and result in our astrogation being incorrect. Apart from this small problem, all is well. The cargo status is nominal, and Spanners has set up a distillation system to supply us with fresh water from the salty water in the reaction mass tank.

16 September, 2775. 05:39 UTC. Log entry by Captain Paris Smith.

We have just skewed back to normal space and are on course for orbital insertion around Vallauris. We have just over eight and a half hours flight before we reach a standard inbound holding orbit. I am going outside with Spanners and Serron to check the state of the starboard landing strut, as soon as I call Vallauris and inform them of our position and status.

05:54 UTC. Legacy internal security log.

Lycroft: I'd like to go out with you, but what if I become sick in the space suit and throw up?

Spanners: You do that and I'm welding you in.

Serron: Lycroft, space suits are simple. You just have to remember not to attach your catheter to your food supply.

Spanners: Um, Paris, you have your helmet on backwards.

Paris: Oops. Thanks. Serron, what are they for?

Serron: What?

Paris: The laser and blaster you just strapped on.

Serron: Just in case there are any queen aliens stuck in the landing gear.

06:03 UTC. Legacy internal security log.

Iki Piki: Airlock is clear, you're go for external door.

Serron: Exiting now. How do we get to the broken landing gear?

Paris: There are two ways we can go. Either over the top of the ship, which is a little longer and more bumpy, or underneath.

Spanners: Let's take the shorter route, underneath. Since that's where the landing gear actually is.

Serron: Well, that makes sense.

06:24 UTC. Log entry by Spanners.

Following our EVA, we have determined that the hydraulic system which extends and retracts the bracing strut on the starboard landing assembly is broken, and the vertical wheel support is bent out of shape. The hydraulic fluid is frozen from vacuum exposure, so we can't retract it manually unless we melt the fluid first. And we need to retract it so we can close the landing gear hatch for atmospheric re-entry.

06:38 UTC. Legacy internal security log.

Paris: We need some way of melting the frozen hydraulic fluid.

Serron: I can use my blaster.

Spanners: I knew he was going to say that.

Iki Piki: Just wrap it in aluminium foil.

Paris: In some ways, a queen alien would have been easier to fix than this.

Lycroft: So what do we do?

Spanners: I think we either have to cut the strut off so we can close the outer hatch, or else get the hydraulic fluid out, then push the strut back into the ship and close the hatch.

Paris: We have to close the hatch so we don't burn up in the atmosphere.

Serron: Let's just cut it off. It looks fairly useless to me.

Paris: We have about 14 hours before we hit the atmosphere, so we might as well try to melt the hydraulic fluid.

Spanners: We can use heat packs.

Lycroft: Why don't we just stay in orbit until a rescue ship comes?

Paris: Vallauris says there are no ships in our vicinity and it will take a day or more to get one up here to us, since it would have to go via hyperspace to get off the ground. There are no escape-velocity capable ships there.

Lycroft: So? We have plenty of fish to live off. We won't starve.

Spanners: But we lose profit for every extra hour we delay.

Serron: And we're not eating the cargo! I vote we cannibalise the food bot for parts.

Spanners: We can't do that.

Serron: Why not?

Spanners: Because we're not food bots. It wouldn't be cannibalism.

Lycroft: Why can't you use the food bot?

Spanners: The food bot is not going to help.

Serron: Sure it is. Let's just cut off the strut, and weld the food bot into place, head first. It has wheels doesn't it?

Spanners: We're not using the food bot.

Lycroft: Why can't we land without the wheel?

Spanners: The ship would hit the tarmac.

Lycroft: So?

Spanners: At 750 kilometres an hour the ship would break apart.

Lycroft: Oh. Well, why can't you cut the wheel strut off and stick it to the outside of the ship?

Spanners: Because it would burn up on re-entry, possibly damaging the ship too. That's why it stays inside a hatch until atmospheric braking is completed.

Iki Piki: You can tell he doesn't know much about space travel.

Lycroft: Hey. I'm just trying to help.

Serron: I still say we just weld the food bot into place.

Spanners: No.

Iki Piki: Cut the wheel strut off, then as we come in to land, set off a series of explosive charges to keep the wing up.

Paris: What about fixing the hydraulics? Can the wheel still work?

Spanners: The wheel support is bent, but if we could reinforce it somehow we might still be able to land on it.

Iki Piki: Packing foam!

Serron: Wait a minute. Vallauris is covered by a series of shallow seas, right? So why don't we land in one of them?

Paris: Already checked on that. There are uncharted rocks all over the place. We'd crash for sure.

Serron: Oh.

Lycroft: I vote we just stay in orbit. Someone will come to our rescue before we starve to death.

Spanners: You know, the packing foam might work.

Paris: How?

Spanners: If we melt the hydraulic fluid, push the strut back into the ship and close the hatch, then we can get through the aerobraking. Once we open the hatch the strut should fall back into place through gravity. If we could set off some packing foam, it would solidify around the strut and reinforce it, and allow us to land on the wheel, which is undamaged.

Lycroft: How do we know the hatch even works?

Spanners: It's a separate system. I don't think it was damaged.

Serron: We could use the food bot to trigger the packing foam.

Spanners: We're not using the food bot.

Lycroft: Well, now that we've exhausted the silly options...

Iki Piki: I don't think we've exhausted the silly options.

Serron: There are plenty more silly options yet to discuss.

Iki Piki: Yeah. Serron could hold the hatch open and run along underneath the ship as we land.

Paris: The Flintstones option.

Serron: See, there are plenty more stupid options yet to discuss.

Spanners: Seriously. I think the packing foam idea might work.

Serron: How do we trigger the foam then?

Iki Piki: Explosives.

Lycroft: [laughs]

Spanners: It'd have to be a tiny radio-controlled explosive. Affixed in the landing gear well.

Lycroft: I don't believe this. You're considering landing on a damaged wheel, using an explosive to set off a spray of packing foam, just to save a bit of profit. Have you all gone mad? Let's just wait in space!

Spanners: You can wait in space.

Paris: So you really think this packing foam idea will work?

Serron: We'd need to put some kind of sock around the strut, or else we might seal up the wheel too and prevent it from turning.

Spanners: We can use a tarpaulin, and wrap it around the top part of the strut. We have some in the cargo bay.

Serron: Is a tarpaulin going to be strong enough?

Spanners: What else do we have?

Serron: We have eight vac suits. We could use the material from one of them. It'd be fairly strong.

Lycroft: I'm going to my room.

07:11 UTC. Log entry by Spanners.

After lengthy discussions, we have decided that the best way to ensure a safe landing on Vallauris is to melt the hydraulic fluid in the damaged landing assembly with heat packs, then push the wheel into the hull. With the hatch closed we can aerobrake safely. Before we move the wheel though, Iki will set up a small explosive charge next to a can of packing foam at the hinge. Paris is sewing up a loose sock from tarpaulins to cover the can and hold the foam in when it expands. I'll attach the sock to the hull with welded rivets.

Once we are in the atmosphere, we have about 40 minutes to glide down to the starport runway. We'll open the hatch and the wheel should drop out under gravity, then we can set the foam off. Since the packing foam sets like concrete in about 30 minutes, we should have time to spare.

07:38 UTC. Video report by Lycroft.

"Desperate Crew Attempt Last-Ditch Suicide Plan"
An exclusive on-the-scene interview
By: Lycroft the Intrepid for ISN

[Video shows first-person view as Lycroft floats up corridor and on to bridge of Legacy, where Paris, Serron, and Tepi are sitting. A viewscreen shows Spanners and Iki Piki at work outside in the wheel well.]

Lycroft: So, Paris. As pilot responsible for this ship, you're really going to go along with this crazy plan?

Paris: They make the plan, and I'll do it. Unless it means certain death for all of us.

Lycroft: What if it means certain death for you, but not us?

Paris: I'd probably still do it, if I could save all of you.

Lycroft: You're a sick woman.

Iki Piki: [singing over radio as he works] Put the right wheel in, put the right wheel out,
Put the right wheel in, and shake it all about.
Atmospheric braking, and we scream and shout,
That's what it's all about...

12:13 UTC. Log entry by Iki Piki.

Spanners and I have completed the work on the landing gear, and pushed it into the wheel housing. The hatch has been closed and we are ready for aerobraking with a couple of hours to spare. The job went smoothly, except for Spanners fumbling with a can of packing foam and dropping it. We had a spare, but the can he dropped is now on a slowly diverging course and should burn up when it hits the atmosphere.

14:29 UTC. Log entry by Captain Paris Smith.

Aerobraking manoeuvre successfully completed. We are on glide path for Turand Starport, as directed by Vallauris Traffic Control. They have scrambled jets to escort us down, and we are being flanked by two slowly pulling alongside right now. We're about to lower landing gear, and the jet pilots will be able to confirm visually for us if the starboard wheel drops down properly before we set off the packing foam.

14:32 UTC. Legacy internal security log.

Voice over radio: Roger Legacy, we confirm all your landing gear are fully extended. Repeat, all landing gear fully extended.

Paris: Copy that, thanks guys. Now comes the hard part of actually landing. Let's hope the packing foam works.

Iki Piki: Okay, detonating charge. If this doesn't work we have ten minutes to figure out another plan.

Spanners: Except we won't know if it doesn't work until we land and crash.

15:10 UTC. Video report by Lycroft.

"Starship Landing Gone Haywire"
An exclusive cockpit-eye-view
By: Lycroft the Intrepid for ISN

[Video shows Paris seated at controls, in front of viewport showing runway rising up to meet ship.]

Paris: Hold on! This is it!

[Ship touches tarmac.]

Spanners: It's holding! The wheel is holding!

[Ship begins shaking and twisting side to side as wheels skid. Paris desperately tries to regain control.]

Paris: Aaaaarrrrghhh!!!!

Serron: She's panicking! [Jumps up, adjusts his hypo spray, and injects Paris with something.]

Iki Piki: What was that?!

[Paris calms down and regains control. Serron injects himself with the hypo spray.]

Serron: Aaaaaaahhhh... much better.

[Ship shudders to a halt.]

Lycroft: A fantastic landing, folks! On a damaged wheel which was repaired by Serron the Magnificent, who also took control of the situation when the pilot panicked on landing and delivered a precise dose of sedative to calm her down and allow the ship to land unscathed!

[Sounds of emergency vehicle sirens approaching.]

Voice over radio: This is Turand Starport Emergency Response. Please evacuate your ship immediately.

Serron [replying]: No, we're okay. We have to check our cargo first! [heads back to cargo bay.]

Lycroft: Oblivious to danger, Serron selflessly checks on the welfare of the live cargo!

15:54 UTC. Log entry by Serron.

I have arranged for pick-up of our cargo by the local shipping office and payment of our contract for Earth$81,600. We made the agreed delivery time, so have avoided any late penalty. Unfortunately all of Legacy's wheels were damaged in the landing. Spanners says we should replace them all, and of course we have to repair the damaged landing strut and hydraulics. Wheels cost $20,000 each, and we've been quoted a price of Vallauris£28,100, or about $21,920 for parts and labour to fix the strut, so we haven't quite broken even on this trip, making a loss of $320.

Legacy has been taxied to a berthing pad and there is no danger to the ship, beyond the fact she needs repairs before we can leave Vallauris. We've been told this will take about four days. Apparently the landing was exciting enough to induce a sex-change in Iki, who is now in impulsive-female mode.

We've scanned the news services for the latest on Queen Natasha. The fleet assembling at Arawne is now over fifty ships strong, and military analysts expect the attack on Rubilith to be launched as soon as a last-minute delegation from Inverness arrives. Inverness are sending six battleships, after previously declining to join the force. This is somewhat surprising to us, given the events between Natasha and the rulers of Inverness [14 | 15].

16:27 UTC. Legacy internal security log.

Lycroft: I've found some other interesting bits of news. Listen to this one.

Newscast voice: The annual Vallauris explosives technology expo is in town, and starts tomorrow. "Explo" will run for a week, and attracts a large number of off-world visitors each year, representing many governments and agencies.

Serron: "Get more bang for your buck."

Spanners: "Look, I got the C4 explosives show bag!"

Iki Piki: I want to go to that!

Serron: Is there a preferred hotel for the event?

Lycroft: That's it there. The Turand City Ritz.

Serron: Hey! It isn't a reinforced concrete bunker.

Lycroft: Here's another one.

Newscast voice: The slime boat race season is about to get under way for the year. The bookies are tipping a close-run contest between last year's finalists...

Serron: Slime boat races!?

Lycroft: Apparently they outfit boats with sails and slide down the side of mountains on the slime that grows there. Quite a lot of betting goes on. I've booked us in for a look at it in a couple of days.

17:35 UTC. Field log entry by Iki Piki.

We have checked into the Turand City Ritz, all except Spanners, who is staying aboard Legacy. Our rooms overlook the showground where the Explo is being held. Since it is evening local time, we are about to turn in for the night, but I notice Lycroft has set up a camera pointing out his window at the showground and has gone wandering around the hotel, presumably to see if he can overhear any interesting conversations.

17:38 UTC. Private log entry by Captain Paris Smith.

I have received an e-mail which I dare not share with my friends:

To: Captain "Smith", free trader Legacy, Turand Starport
From: Anonymous sender using public access terminal
Subject: Good landing

Hello Captain,

Nice landing I saw on the news just now. Reminded me of another landing I saw
a few years ago...

Funny how the pilot of that one was never found. The authorities assumed she'd
died in that terrible explosion that killed more than half of her passengers.
Couldn't find any remains - but then they never found much more than ash for some
of the passengers and crew either. Lucky for the pilot, since the investigation
pinned the blame squarely on her.

Maybe she survived. Maybe she ran away, changed her name, scrounged a living, and
finally got a job again. Where nobody knew who she really was.

I wonder what would happen if someone recognised her one day. He could tell the
authorities, and they'd investigate and uncover the truth. Or maybe he could make
a deal with the pilot...

Meet me in Charlie's Bar, 417 James St, Turand, at midnight local time. Booth 3.

I have no choice. I have to meet this person.

17 September, 2775. 03:14 UTC. Audio track of recording made by Lycroft.

[Video shows static scene of Explo showground from high window in morning sunlight, with people milling about. Intermittent clanking of cutlery is heard.]

Paris: Guys, I have something to confess.

Lycroft: Can you pass the salt, Iki? Go on, Paris.

Paris: I'm being blackmailed.

Iki Piki: Why?

Paris: When we arrived in the starport yesterday, I thought I recognised a man working there, one of the mechanics who inspected the damage to Legacy. Later, he contacted me. A few years ago, I was involved with a spacecraft accident. I was piloting a ship... we crashed and everyone died. Except for me.

Serron [muffled, as with mouth full of food]: How does the blackmailing fit in?

Paris: I fled the scene. The authorities are still after me. The man who contacted me must have recognised me too, because he said he'd turn me in unless I paid him money. I met him at a bar last night and gave him some.

Iki Piki: What's the reward?

Paris: $10,000.

Iki Piki: How much did you give the blackmailer?

Paris: He asked for $100,000 first, but I don't have that much. He settled for $10,000.

Iki Piki: I think I know a way to not let this trip be wasted.

Lycroft: We saw you go to that bar last night, Paris. I followed you from the hotel, and Iki did too.

Paris: I still have flashbacks, at times. The child... the screams...

Serron: Do you have a photo of the blackmailer?

Paris: No, but I slipped a tracker into his pocket while in the bar.

Serron: Great! We can find him and then you can turn him in.

Spanners: But then Paris would have to confess.

Serron: But he could turn her in anyway.

Iki Piki: Not if he's dead...

Paris: Ever since the accident I've been running away, with my tail between my legs.

Lycroft: Tail between your legs?

Paris: It's a human expression.

Lycroft: But you don't have a tail.

Paris: Okay, so it's a silly human expression.

Serron: All human expressions are silly.

03:57 UTC. Field log entry by Spanners.

We're about to head to the Explo. As registered commercial merchants we qualify for entry. Lycroft is going off somewhere to do some investigating, he says. Serron has bought himself a new tailored suit just for the Explo.

05:21 UTC. Video recording made by Lycroft.

[Video shows first-person view of dimly lit bar interior through wide-angle lens, as a buttonhole camera. Camera approaches bar, where a bartender is polishing glasses.]

Lycroft [behind camera, arm reaches out to place photo on bar]: Have you seen this woman? She was in here last night.

Barman: Hmm, I wasn't really paying much attention. Maybe. Maybe not. I'd need a reason to care.

Lycroft: Would twenty reasons do? [Lycroft puts a local £20 note on the bar top. The barman takes it.]

Barman: Yeah, I think she ordered a whiskey.

Lycroft: She was with someone. A man. Wearing starport overalls?

Barman [shaking his head]: Don't remember him, sorry.

[The barman picks up a tray of glasses and moves away. Lycroft bumps into him briefly on the way to the door.]

Barman: Watch where you're going!

Lycroft: Thanks for your contribution. [Puts the £20 note back into his wallet as he leaves.]

05:54 UTC. Vallauris Explo video security recording.

[Crowds milling around between various open-air exhibit stalls and small buildings. Suddenly a commotion breaks out and several people start running through the crowds.]

Security guard [chasing men]: Stop them! Stop those men!

[Spanners fires a stunner at one of the running men. Chaos ensues. People scatter screaming, weapons are drawn, other people approach to see what the fuss is.]

05:57 UTC. Legacy crew private communication log.

Paris: Iki, where are you?

Iki Piki: I saw the guy you met last night! I'm following him. He's heading towards a small building.

Paris: Be careful! Spanners and I have stunned the two men the guards were chasing - they've arrested them. Serron's in the crowd, probably picking pockets or something.

Lycroft: He's probably helping calm down any panicked citizens! I'm just outside the Explo now, I'll come in and meet you in there. Don't let the guards get away until I get an interview!

Iki Piki: Uh, guys, this man has sneaked into this building, and I'm following him in. It looks like an explosives store-room. Oh! He seems to be working on a bomb of some kind. Should I shoot him with my blaster?

All: No!

Iki Piki: I'm going to shoot him with my blaster.

Spanners: You're going to shoot a man carrying explosives?

Iki Piki: He's not carrying explosives, he's working on them.

Spanners: Oh, well, that sounds so much safer.

[Sounds of blaster fire over the communicator.]

Iki Piki: Hands up and turn around or I'll shoot. Whoops, I should have said that first.

Spanners: Stay there! We'll bring the guards, and they can check the guy out. They say these guys here are known terrorists and they must have something nasty planned for the Explo.

Paris [whispering]: If we let the guards see the man Iki shot, they'll investigate him. His bank records and stuff. I don't think it's a good idea if they find out I paid that guy $10,000 last night... he's a terrorist!

Iki Piki: You could just say you had a bet with him. He said, "I bet I'm a terrorist". He won.

Serron: Or we could just say that Paris is stupid.

07:39 UTC. Field log entry by Captain Paris Smith.

We've left the Explo after being questioned briefly by the security guards following the firefight and Iki's discovery of the terrorist bomb. We've located the tracker I planted on my blackmailer and Lycroft, Tepi and I are going to investigate. It seems to be in an apartment building - probably where the guys lives. It'll still be in his starport overalls.

08:02 UTC. Video report by Lycroft.

"Social Consequences of the Vallauris Explo"
An exclusive man-on-the-street opinion
By: Lycroft the Intrepid for ISN

[First-person view of knocking on door inside a building. A middle-aged man answers.]

Lycroft: Hi, are you the manager of this apartment building?

Manager: Er... yes.

Lycroft [holding up Explo press pass]: Lycroft the Intrepid, ISN, just doing a story on the Explo and how it affects the average citizen of Turand. Our off-world viewers will be fascinated to see some responses by ordinary people... such as those who live in your building. Mind if we just go through and knock on a few doors and ask a few questions? Great! We'll be back in a few minutes and I might get the opinions of an obviously well-educated and handsome man such as yourself too, just for contrast...

Manager: Erm...

[Video shows view of walking quickly along corridor and up a flight of stairs to a door.]

Paris: This is it.

[Lycroft quickly picks the lock and they enter. Lycroft and Paris search while Tepi approaches the computer.]

Tepi: His e-mail's open. Looks like his name is Orto Satler. There's a mail here from a Jaktar Prido, mentioning cash for help setting up some explosives. And there's a copy of the mail he sent to Paris.

Paris: Good. Okay, there's nothing else here. Let's go.

Lycroft: Better ask that manager some questions as we leave. What a waste of video this is...

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