Previously: 01.11 Flytrap
Nip rescued the crew from the warped plant creatures, only to drop them off in the wrong port, on the Kenbishi side of the station, surrounded by Sol Military Contracts police, with Warrant Officer Imogen Jacquet in the middle of them. Just how screwed are they?
Active Crew: Alex Hardcastle Sasha Denisovich J. Khalas “Can” Rashid
“Weapons down. Hands up,” Jacquet orders. Outnumbered, the crew complies as a few of the military police officers search everyone. One finds a big fruit in Alex’s bag and holds it up for Jacquet to see. She puts on some gloves, taps it a few times, and, sneering, tosses it back to Alex. She checks over the three miners the crew rescued, and sees that two, Ed Huang and Al Winkle, are in a deep haze. The third, foreman Liv Chain, is still a bit lucid and starts panicking when she sees Jacquet looming over her. Jacquet reacts with inhuman speed and sedates her.
She turns to Alex and asks what happened to the rest of the team they were sent to find. Alex replies that they lost one in an explosion, and the other two seem to have killed themselves — or each other. The sneer drops from her face and with a quizzical look she asks how Liv Chain got shot. The crew say they don’t know. Alex mentions that he might have a bodycam video feed showing the two they found by the hulk’s warp drive core. Jacquet demands to see it.
Cybernetic Barrier: An external device that serves as a protective firewall when connecting to untrusted data sources.
Alex cuts out the section of video and passes it to her on a chip. She takes a cybernetic barrier device and plugs it into her neck, then takes the chip and plugs it into the barrier. Her eyes blank out as she replays the video. She says to one of the SMC officers, who appears to be her assistant, “it’s them. it’s our guys — they’re dead.”
With a sigh, she unplugs and gestures to the fruit. “Do you know what you’ve brought onto the station?” J. protests that while they knew it was a drug, Alex just wanted to study it. It’s not like they’re dealers or anything. Jacquet replies that their intent is irrelevant — they attempted to smuggle illegal drugs onto the station. The fruit, she says, is a blight, destroying the station’s populace from the inside out. She says that she knows that Ben Rashid is behind it, facilitating bringing it aboard and distributing it, but she hasn’t been able to get hard evidence on his operation to present to the station’s Executive Council. She explains the station’s SMC contract doesn’t give her jurisdiction to send her people into the hab stacks where it’s being processed and distributed. She’s also sure it’s being smuggled off-station somehow. Her spies in Liv Chain’s team were found out, and now they’re dead.
SMC: Sol Military Contracts: a security/mercenary megacorp that provides military and police services to various corps and governments. Their contract to keep the peace on this station is headed up by Jacquet.
Executive Council: The Iblis’s Crown is governed by a council representing various interests (mostly corporate), but also including a few representatives of the residents and the Solarian Church.
Jacquet says, “I’m telling you this because you’re going to do me a favor.” J. retorts, “We’re sick of doing favors for people.” “You misunderstand me. This isn’t optional. You’re doing to do what I say, and in exchange you won’t do hard time.” She gestures towards the cowering Nip, who flinches. “Nip’s going to help you, I’ve got him dead to rights too.”
J. demands that they at least get some assurance that the three they rescued and brought back — Liv, Ed, and Al — will be ok. Jacquet lets out a bitter laugh and says that J. will be see for herself what happens to them — Nip is going to take everyone back to the regular dock, where they’ll pretend this meeting never happened and bring the fruit and the three back to Ben Rashid. When they meet with him they’ll try and find out his involvement in the fruit-drug smuggling, how he’s doing it, and how it moves it off-station. If they can get her concrete evidence, she’ll be able to get authorization from the station’s Executive Council to act and take Rashid’s drug empire down…plus it could get her jurisdiction over the entire station.
As they load back up into Nip’s shuttle, Alex calls back to Jacquet and attempts to set up a date with her later that night at Below Zero, the dive bar where they first met Nip. She looks back at him with a look of bafflement and confusion, which he interprets, somehow, as amorous…
Pointedly ignoring Alex’s overture to the officer who just blackmailed them, J. talks with the sullen and unusually sober Nip, who apologizes for betraying their trust and tells them that Jacquet has him even worse than she has them. He says he knows when the solar winds are shifting, and Ben’s time as Station Warden is coming to an end. He’s really torn up about it — Ben’s an old friend of his and they’ve been in business together for decades. Without Ben, he says, Nip would just be a washed-up old drunk. The drugs fuck people up, sure, he knows that, but the business brings a lot of money to the people on the station, and they wouldn’t be nearly as well-off as they are now if it weren’t for Ben.
AKMC: Anders-Klimt Mining Corp., a megacorp whose local branch, headed by Ben Rashid, employs most of the station as shipbreakers.
After landing in the shuttle, Nip and the crew put the three unconscious teamsters on gurneys and wheel them out past the crew’s ship, now guarded by several SMC military police. Olivia returns to the ship to drop off their equipment as the rest of the crew head over to AKMC HQ to meet with Ben Rashid.
See Warped 01.07: Inside the Iblis for the background on this mission.
They head into the building, dropping their guns off in the security storage locker, then take the lift up to Ben’s office with the gurneys. Ben slaps Nip on the back and ushers them in, asking if this is everyone they found, and what happened to the rest. The crew explains that these were the only ones that survived. Ben puts on some gloves and examines the unconscious bodies, shaking his head at each one. He then gets a datapad from his desk and scans each of their handprints, confirming that they returned from their mission in time, he explains, so that he can retain jurisdiction over mining operations on the hulk.
The crew confronts Ben, demanding to know about the plants and the drugs. Ben simply asks if they brought anything back with them, eyeing Alex’s bulging bag. Alex shows him the fruit, and he smiles. He takes it with gloved hands and taps it, seemingly checking it for ripeness.
Satisfied, he hands the fruit back and pats the unconscious Liv Chain on the shoulder, saying, “ya did good, Liv.” He asks if there were any more fruits like that, and Alex replies there are, but then describes the massive plant wrapped around the warp core, and says nobody will be able to get to them because the whole area is overrun with plant creatures. Ben looks concerned and confused, and looks to Nip, who nods. He sighs, looking back over the bodies and the fruit. “Come downstairs to the infirmary.”
Nip and the crew wheel the gurneys after Ben down to a sub-basement room with medical equipment. He grabs an intercom off the wall and calls up someone named Khalas, telling her to come to the infirmary. He then turns to the crew and says he supposes they’re expecting payment — they’ll get the AKMC mining permit, as agreed upon. J. replies that they’re way past wanting a permit to do salvage work, and Alex suggests that they could help him transport goods, maybe help move stuff off the station.
He grins and replies that they could indeed go into business together, but if they want to transport goods, he’s going to need them to start by moving these people — and that fruit — out of here. He then leans in and intones that he has connections all over, including with a certain megacorporation that just put out a red notice for an important research vessel that’s been stolen. A vessel that looks suspiciously like the crew’s, and which went missing just before they showed up on his station. If they want their location to remain a secret, he says, they had better not mess this up, and they’d better not cross him.
As this revelation settles over the room, a sprightly teenage girl carrying welding equipment and an inverted cross patch on her jumpsuit bursts into the room. “Khalas!” says Rashid, his face suddenly lighting up. He puts his arm around her shoulders and says, “this is my brilliant daughter — she knows this station inside and out. She’ll show you how to take these three to get the help they need.”
Khalas is visibly embarrassed, but recovers, says hi to Nip, and introduces herself to everyone, saying her friends call her “Can” and they can call her that too. Introductions are made, and then she sees the people on the gurneys and calls out their names — “Liv! Ed! Wink!” — and rushes to them. “They need help, we need to get them to the clinic,” she says. Ben gives her an awkward but earnest dad-side-hug and sends them all off, smiling. But he holds Alex back a moment and reminds him in low tones of what he said — he’s watching, and Tannhäuser isn’t far behind.
Khalas “Can” Rashid (Teamster): The teenage daughter of Ben Rashid, a mechanically-gifted tinkerer who’s never left the Iblis’s Crown station but who’s explored endless vents, service tunnels, and knows the place like the back of her hand. She bears the Solar Sign, a simple circle tattooed on her forehead, the mark of a member of the Solarian Church.
Patch: Inverted Cross
Can leads Nip, the crew, and the gurneys down a winding series of hallways in the sub-basement of the AKMC building and into a set of disused maintenance corridors, the whole time regaling them about growing up as a “station rat” and learning how to get around the vents, scrapping, and so on. J. quietly makes sure her body cam is recording. They get to a corridor that ends in a sun glyph — the symbol of the Solarian Church. Can opens a nearby hidden keypad and enters a long code, and the end of the corridor opens slowly. They enter, meeting an old metallic android in an orange robe that bows to them and inscribes a circle in the air above each of the heads of the unconscious people. Can addresses the android familiarly as “Rusty” but it does not reply. As they move through what appears to be the underbelly of a Solarian church, Can gets unusually silent and clutches a pendant around her neck. The others notice but say nothing, and continue pushing the gurneys.
Once they leave the church tunnels, a weight seems to lift off of Can and she tells the crew about how the Solarian Church has been part of the station since its construction. They have special corridors that run all throughout that are just for the clergy to get around the station to their churches and clinics. Her dad has a special arrangement with them to use the corridors, but nobody else can get in, not even the Sol Military Contracts police.
They continue following the Solarian corridor into the hab stacks section of the station, where Can tells them she grew up. At this point, they head into the streets and alleys, which are little more than narrow corridors in a labyrinthine winding warren of apartments, stalls, and shops all stacked on top of each other in a huge, hive-like structure. Its internal organization is indecipherable to the crew but second nature to Can, who leads them around with ease, cheerily greeting various shopkeepers and AKMC enforcers.
At one point, Can gets a bit distracted and tries to pawn off some old parts she’s carrying to an old builder named Talib, and asks after his sick daughter Lucy. J. takes the opportunity to haggle with a bulletsmith for some clips of pulse rifle ammo, but still gets cleaned out for all her credits. Meanwhile, Sascha meets a crafty old trinket-dealer and pays her tourist prices for some fuzzy dice she got from some spacers years ago.
Nip reminds them they have some people in critical condition, and they move on, Can leading them down an ill-frequented alley ending in another sun symbol. She again dials in a code and the back wall opens. They enter to find two Solarian monks, a solemn, shaved-headed brother-and-sister pair in orange robes. They greet Nip and Can (who vouch for the crew), and examine the three on the gurneys, nodding solemnly. The male monk asks if they have brought a gift. Nip turns to Alex, who says they have. The female monk opens a door and Nip starts moving a gurney into the doorway, gesturing to J. and Sasha to do the same. Can, Nip, and the monks all know that Ben has forbidden his daughter to go through that doorway, and the male monk indicates that Can and Alex should follow him through another door nearby. As they go through the doorway, Nip leans over to Sasha and says, “remember: Ben is testing you. This is a loyalty test.”
Alex, Can, and the male monk go through a hallway that opens into a dark den-like space with soft music and cushions, with various people lazily spread across them smoking something with a familiar scent. The monk leads them through the room to another door, this one guarded by more monks. They go through to a room set up like a laboratory. The monk takes the fruit from Alex, weighs it, and starts cutting it open and processing it. Can, who’s seen this before, starts explaining the process to Alex, where the fruit is processed into the drug known to the monks as “Jvara” but colloquially known as “the hot sweats”. She whispers to Alex that she’s done it a couple times even though her dad said never to touch the stuff, and you can get some pretty wild visions off of it.
Meanwhile, J., Sascha, and Nip push the gurneys, following the female monk into a dark, dungeon-like room lined with shower-like stalls. Many of the stalls have naked or nearly-naked people writhing in them, shackled to the wall, drenched in sweat, which runs in rivulets down the sloped tile floors and into the drains in each stall. The monk gestures to three empty stalls, puts on heavy gloves, and starts pulling Ed Huang off of his cart. Nip puts on another pair of gloves and helps her drag him onto the floor of one of the empty stalls. The monk strips him down and shackles him to the wall, leaving him glistening with sweat on the floor, a pool forming under him. She then hangs a bag of liquid above his head, unspools some tubing and inserts an IV into his arm. They move on to Liv.
J asks her, “how long does it take for them to recover?” The monk looks back at her, confused. “What did you say?” Nip quickly buts in, “they’re new, they’re just getting to know how it all works,” and then pulls J. and Sasha aside, telling them them with a pained look on his face: “the hot sweats — Jvara — the drug fucks you up and makes you sweat, but once you’re exposed to enough of it, it starts to change you. It permanently changes your chemical makeup. Do you get it? Your sweat glands start to produce the drug itself in your sweat. It keeps you constantly drugged, and sweating, and producing even more. Vicious cycle. There’s no coming back from that. There’s no getting better. You just sweat and sweat and writhe with ecstatic visions until you waste away and die. But while that’s happening you’re still valuable,” he points to the drain where Ed Huang’s Jvara-infused sweat is now dripping, “for a while.”
To be continued…