Amber Nebula Campaign Log

17. Hijack and the Beanstalk


24 July, 2775. 09:37 UTC. Legacy security log recording.

[buzz]

Spanners: Captain Smith! Good to see you again, come in.

Paris: Thanks. I just managed to sneak out of Taksin's place and came straight here to tell you about what I found there last night. I found an e-mail to him which told him to catch you guys. I sent a copy to you - did you get it?

Spanners: Yes... Let me tell you a few things about electronic security and e-mail tracking. Taksin or one of his technical people could easily have traced that message you sent and found out my address, the fact that we are here on Arawne, exactly where we are, and that we are on to him. And I'd already hacked into the DNAgency system and seen that mail! I had to go back out to a public terminal and hack into his company systems to erase any signs of you sending me that message.

Paris: Oh. Ooops. Did you manage to do it okay?

Spanners: I believe so... We'll have to see.

Paris: Where's Serron and Iki?

Spanners: Iki Piki is still asleep. I think he'll never switch back out of his lazy male mode. Serron vanished last night after we found the forwarded message from you. He's switched his communicator off - we don't know where he is.

Paris: You're not worried?

Spanners: He's good enough at hiding that we're not going to find him if that's what he's doing. But he's flamboyant enough that he, or some news of him, will turn up eventually.

11:12 UTC. Log entry by Iki Piki.

Serron has finally returned. It seems he panicked after we found the message apparently from Levin Taksin last night. He figured Taksin knew we were here and had sent the message as a warning, so stayed the night under an assumed name at a local hotel. Spanners has assured him of the truth, though he was nervous enough on his way back to the Legacy that he bought a whole new set of clothing to try to disguise himself.

We've had a brief discussion and it seems clear that Ogier and Sirene have been captured by Taksin and sent to Acropolis and this Manfred person on the ship Drosophila. Since the mechanics installing the new engine into the Legacy will take at least two weeks, we are considering hiring Captain Smith's ship again to take us to Acropolis immediately, in an effort to rescue our friends.

11:29 UTC. Legacy security log recording.

Spanners Well, the mechanics have arrived and started working on the new engine. As much as I'd like to stay and supervise the installation, I think we need to go after Ogier and Sirene.

Iki Piki: How long will it take to get to Acropolis in the Argonaut?

Paris: About eight and a half days.

Spanners: Okay, we'll need to pay berthing fees here for the Legacy in advance. How long do we think we'll take on Acropolis to find and rescue them?

Serron: On past history, if we're not off there within five days, we'll be dead.

Iki Piki: Shall we say twenty-five days then? It's only Earth$250.

Serron: Sounds good. Now, I don't think we want to declare our passenger list and destination to Arawne traffic control. If Taksin is as connected as he seems to be, that will just announce our intentions to him, and he'll be able to send an express courier message to Acropolis, and this Manfred goon be waiting there to pick us up when we arrive.

Iki Piki: We could buy plane tickets to somewhere else on Arawne, to give a false trail, and leave the planet unannounced.

Spanners: Too expensive. We could just hire a van and pretend to go on a road trip. Then just park it somehere while we're away.

Serron: Yeah, that sounds good. Let's do that.

14:42 UTC. Free Trader Argonaut log entry by Captain Paris Smith.

Hyperspace skew initiated successfully. We are en route to Acropolis. My passengers are Serron, Spanners and Iki Piki, though we have not declared them as passengers to Arawne traffic control, and I have given our planned destination as Deux-Sevres. Even though I only met Ogier and Sirene briefly, I'm just as anxious to find them as the others.

27 July, 2775. 13:42 UTC. Free Trader Argonaut log entry by Captain Paris Smith.

For the first time since I've met him, Iki Piki has undergone his spontaneous Pachekki sex-change, meaning he... I mean she... is now a female. The personality change is striking - she seems almost manic and is roaming the ship impatiently looking for things to do and wishing we would arrive at Acropolis soon.

1 August, 2775. 21:11 UTC. Free Trader Argonaut log entry by Captain Paris Smith.

Realspace skewback completed successfully. We are on course, inbound to Acropolis. Acropolis space traffic control have instructed us that because the Argonaut is a foreign-registered ship we are not allowed to land on the surface, but must dock at an orbital highport for customs inspection and clearance, from where we may proceed groundside via a beanstalk connection to the planet. Accordingly, we are approaching Acropolis Gamma Highport, and expect to dock in about seven hours.

2 August, 2775. 04:08 UTC. Free Trader Argonaut log entry by Captain Paris Smith.

We have just docked at Acropolis Gamma Highport. We have been instructed to proceed to the incoming medical centre for a quarantine check.

08:39 UTC. Acropolis Gamma Highport Quarantine Office incoming passenger interview recording.

Dr Morburg: I have the results of your blood tests here. Now, on your customs declaration form you did not indicate that any of you were clones. However, our tests have shown trademark DNA sequences in the genomes of Serron, Iki Piki, and Spanners. These occur in non-functional DNA areas where branding and serial numbering of clones can be done. These trademarks indicate that each of you was produced by the company Durogen. I take it you were not aware of this?

Serron, Iki Piki, Spanners: No!

Dr Morburg: This is regrettable. It is not uncommon for clones born on worlds other than Acropolis to be raised from birth as normal children, unaware of the facts of their conception. Nevertheless, the facts are there in your DNA sequences.

Spanners: These sequences can't occur by chance?

Dr Morburg: Well, theoretically they could, but they are hundreds of base-pairs long and the odds against it are astronomical.

Iki Piki: But if we're clones, it's not necessarily true that we were raised from babies, is it?

Dr Morburg: No... You could have been force-grown to maturity and then had braintaped memories of another individual implanted into your brains. In which case anything you think you remember may never have actually happened to you. I can see this is a bit of a shock...

Serron: Well I don't believe it!

Dr Morburg: The other thing is... there are legal implications. Clones are not allowed free access to Acropolis. The only way you can descend to the planet is to be accompanied by a non-clone who is willing to take responsibility for you and your actions.

Paris: Why are you all looking at me?!

Dr Morburg: Captain Smith could qualify as your legal guardian while on Acropolis. There is one other small detail. Clones must be identifiable and, since none of you were born on Acropolis and have the clone tattoo, you will be required to wear these uniforms while...

Serron: No way! Uh-uh! I'm not wearing anything that unstylish, and in that colour as well! You can count me out!

Spanners: They're not orange, are they?

Iki Piki: No... a light blue colour.

Paris: Powder blue... almost baby blue... jumpsuits. Heh heh heh...

Serron: It's not funny! It's a fashion abomination!

Dr Morburg: You can't go down to the surface if you don't wear the uniform.

Serron: I'll stay in the Argonaut! The rest of you can go down.

10:14 UTC. Free Trader Argonaut log entry by Captain Paris Smith.

Spanners, Iki Piki, and myself are about to leave the highport on the next beanstalk car down to Acropolis. Serron has refused to wear the clone slave uniform and has thus been restricted to staying aboard the Argonaut for the duration of our visit. The ship does not count as Acropolis territory, and he will be able to order supplies, but he is barred from entering the space station itself. While outside the ship, Spanners and Iki Piki will legally be under my care, in fact owned by me for all legal purposes.

Our communicators should be able to keep us in touch with Serron provided we don't have to travel to the far side of Acropolis to track down Ogier and Sirene. The beanstalk ride takes just over fifty hours, with the car travelling at an average speed down the cable of over a thousand kilometres an hour. We hadn't counted on this time when we left Arawne.

10:25 UTC. Free Trader Argonaut log entry by Serron.

Ah, the whole ship to myself. Time to order some good food and some new clothes.

10:57 UTC. Field log entry by Iki Piki.

We have settled into our cabins on the beanstalk car. It is a five-storey structure, with 48 twin passenger cabins, and communal dining and entertainment areas. There are eight crew and 89 passengers aboard. All of the crew and most of the passengers are clones - there are only 13 non-clones aboard apart from us. We find it highly suspicious that Spanners, Serron and I have tested as clones, all produced by Durogen. Spanners did some investigation and found that Durogen own a large share of stock in The DNAgency back on Arawne. We suspect that our blood samples were either tampered with or the results falsified by Durogen. Labelling us as clones on Acropolis would have been an effective way to foil any investigation into the whereabouts of Ogier and Sirene, if we had not been fortunate enough to have Captain Smith with us.

12:32 UTC. Field log entry by Spanners.

I've done a quick survey of the beanstalk car. An interesting piece of engineering. It is shaped as half a cylinder, with the flat back fitted against the beanstalk cable and containing the machinery which propels us down by magnetic induction. The lowest deck is the entry and control deck. Three decks in the middle contain passenger cabins, and the top deck is the dining and entertainment area. On the roof are five escape capsules, which can take 21 people each. In an emergency they would be ejected and picked up by rescue ships before falling into the atmosphere.

Gravity is currently null. We feel it slowly increasing as the journey continues. There are lifts and stairs between decks for when the gravity starts being felt, but the fastest way between decks at the moment is via a set of zero-gee wells running the height of the car.

16:21 UTC. Field log entry by Captain Paris Smith.

One of the other passengers struck up a conversation with me. Turns out he is a homeless and moneyless vagabond by the name of Tepeo Sola-Horkosha, or Tepi for short. He told me a hard luck story of how his family used to be wealthy farmers on some world or other, but came into hard times because of a plague of squirrels or something. He was a bit odd, but seemed friendly enough. He was bumming around on the space station until security caught up with him and decided to send him down to the planet. I guess he's not a native of Acropolis, since he was the most congenial of any of our fellow passengers. All the other non-clones aboard are keeping to themselves and avoiding the clone passengers for the most part.

3 August, 2775. 19:40 UTC. Argonaut crew private radio communication log.

Paris: Serron? You there?

Serron: Yes.

Paris: We have a situation here. A group of the clones, led by some crew members, have taken the rest of us hostage and apparently cut communications with spaceport control. I've been put into the conference room with the other non-clones. Iki and Spanners have been kept with all the clones in the dining room.

Spanners: I'm here. They're telling us what is happening. I'll relay, since I doubt any of these people understand Chatka - they're probably not even aware I'm speaking. Apparently this is some sort of political protest against the clone-slave laws on Acropolis. They have a small nuclear bomb on board...

Paris, Serron: What?!

Spanners: ... and they plan to detonate it...

Paris, Serron: What?!!

Spanners: ... and break the beanstalk cable...

Paris, Serron: What?!!!

Spanners: ... causing the space station to drift away and the lower half of the cable to fall and cause mass destruction on Acropolis.

Serron: That can't be good.

Spanners: The idea is to cause such destruction on Acropolis that the government will be weakened and busy with relief efforts, allowing a military action by nearby worlds to come in and impose a new constitution, allowing clones full citizenship and abolishing the slavery laws. They're asking the clones here to join them. They are going to evacuate any willing clones in the escape pods. There's a ship on its way now to pick them up. They're planning to leave all the non-clones aboard to die...

Paris: What?!! Hey, you, guard! You have to let us talk to your leader... Tepi here and I aren't Acropolis citizens!

19:53 UTC. Argonaut crew private radio communication log.

Iki Piki: Serron? Captain Smith has talked to the clone leader, who was the beanstalk car pilot, a guy named Burton Selvar. He's decided that because she and this other human, Tepi, aren't from Acropolis they can be evacuated with us and the other clones. She tried to argue that he shouldn't abandon the Acropolis non-clones to die, but he was adamant about leaving them behind. Spanners and I can see Paris and Tepi over on the other side of the dining room now.

Serron: Okay. I've informed starport control up here what's happening there. They're trying to get through on the radio, but I don't think they're getting any reponse from the rebels. They are also tracking a ship closing with your position, which is not answering any radio messages.

Spanners: That'll be the rescue ship for the escape pods.

Serron: Yeah. They're sending military ships to intercept now, but they're too far away. They won't be within range for a few hours.

Spanners: By which time it will have picked us up in the escape pods, and probably skewed into hyperspace. There's no way they can stop these people.

Paris: Well, it's up to us then. Hold on guys, I don't think they're keeping too close an eye on us. Tepi, come with me...

19:59 UTC. Acropolis Gamma Highport Beanstalk Operations Radio Log.

Paris: Spaceport control, this is Captain Paris Smith aboard the hijacked beanstalk car, come in!

Operations Controller: This is Gamma Beanstalk Operations. What is your status?

Paris: I have escaped the attention of the rebels and broken into the car control room, with another non-Acropolis citizen. Everyone else is on deck five, as far as we know. We think we can get into the check-in locker on this deck and get some weapons.

Operations Controller: Okay, listen to us. We absolutely must stop them detonating that bomb. We have counter-terrorism experts here and their advice is to sneak back up to deck five, get into a good firing position, and kill as many of the clones as you can, starting with the leaders. Don't stop firing until every clone on board is dead. Do you understand?

Paris: Uh... but some of them, most of them, aren't even involved!

Operations Controller: That doesn't matter. They're just clones anyway. And you can't be sure which ones might be dangerous if you let them survive. You have to kill them all.

Paris: Well... thanks for the advice, but we're going to do this my way...

20:23 UTC. Field log entry by Spanners.

We have just taken control of the beanstalk car. Paris and her friend Tepi waited until most of the clones had evacuated the car in the first three escape pods, sneaking laser pistols to Iki Piki and me. With only the rebel leaders and us left, we opened fire and quickly subdued them. Tepi sustained a flesh wound to the leg in the fight, but should recover safely.

Unfortunately, the rebel clones have activated the nuclear device and we must now defuse it. We have learnt that it is attached to the exterior of the car, nestled somewhere in the machinery between us and the beanstalk. Iki Piki and Paris are putting on vac suits and preparing to climb out through the airlock. Tepi and I are escorting the rebel clones into the fourth escape pod. We fear they will be executed if captured, so are willing to let them escape to their pick-up ship. Then we will release the non-clones from the conference room. We are saving the last escape pod for if we need it for them and us.

20:29 UTC. Argonaut crew private radio communication log.

Iki Piki: Okay, I'm climbing down the gap between the car and the beanstalk now.

Paris: Be careful. There's not much clearance there, and that cable is travelling past at over a thousand k's.

Iki Piki: Tell me about it. Oh! I can feel the tug as the magnetic induction loops go past! It's pulling on the toolkit. Ow!! There goes the screwdriver! Look out!

Paris: It missed me. Boy, this is going to be tricky. You have to keep a strong hold on those tools, Iki.

Iki Piki: I don't think I can! They're going to be yanked from my hands as I work on the bomb. That is a non-optimal condition for defusing a nuclear device. We need some non-metal tools. Go back inside and see what you can find.

Spanners: All we have in here are the plastic knives and forks from the dining room.

Iki Piki: That'll have to do.

Paris: Okay, I'm in through the airlock. I have the utensils... I'm coming back out... Aaaarrrhhh! Help! I've lost my footing... I'm drifting!

Iki Piki: I'm coming up!

Paris: I'm keeping pace with the car - the magnetic fields are stopping me from drifting too far.

Iki Piki: Phew... I'm throwing some rope... catch!

21:03 UTC. Acropolis Gamma Highport Beanstalk Operations Radio Log.

Paris: Spaceport control? We have defused the nuclear bomb. All passengers are safely back inside the car.

Operations Controller: Good. But you're going to have to go back out there. We've just been informed by science division that the heat on the external hull when you enter Acropolis' atmosphere could melt the fissile material in the bomb, and spread radioactive contamination through the upper atmosphere. You have to bring the bomb inside the car where the temperature is stable.

Iki Piki: Let me at it!

Operations Controller: Oh, another thing... That rebel ship has picked up all the escape pods, but is still closing on your trajectory. We can't raise them on radio. They might be planning something. Our interceptors are still a couple of hours away.

21:17 UTC. Field log entry by Captain Paris Smith.

We have just been fired on by the rebel clone ship! Iki Piki has retrieved the bomb, cutting the tape holding it to the hull with a plastic knife. But it now seems the ship is trying to destroy our car, and possibly detonate the bomb by firing laser blasts at us.

One of the passengers still aboard says he is transporting a gatling laser down to the surface. It is in the cargo hold. Spanners and Iki are going down there now to see if they can patch it into the car's power supply and mount it for firing at the ship. Iki will stay in his vac suit, because they are going to have to open the external cargo door to space in order to fire the gun.

There's another blast! We're losing air!...

21:32 UTC. Field log entry by Iki Piki.

Mission accomplished. Spanners hooked the gatling laser up to some power cables and then left the cargo hold so I could open the external door and fire at the rebel ship. A couple of shots was enough for them and they skewed away into hyperspace. I quickly closed the cargo door again so we could repressurise the hold and prevent air loss through the leaky doors to the corridor.

Captain Smith fainted when we were hit by one of the ship's blasts. Tepi took charge of the situation and organised crews of passengers with sealant to patch hull leaks. We have patched the car enough to survive the rest of the trip down into the atmosphere, and we have the bomb safely aboard. Hopefully this will be all the excitement we see until we reach the surface - where the real work of this trip will begin as we start looking for Ogier and Sirene.

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