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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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...
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...
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.
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!
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.
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!...
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.