It ended up that Xavier
cracked the data crystal in nine hours despite a botch in the second hour. The crystal turned out to be a complex
authentication algorithm. Xavier’s best guess was the disk would allow access
to Blue Sun networks and provide an excellent opportunity to trace Flannery’s
business doings and connections.
Touching down on Verbena,
rather than wasting time looking for work that was unavailable to them, the
money situation had become so critical that they did not have enough to cover
repairs on the ‘Ghost, they were down to ten days fuel, and two weeks of
protein. The plan was for Xavier with Chan and William as escorts, to attempt
to access a local cortex node. Cindy and Li Ming would circulate around town to
see what the latest buzz was on the street. Cindy rolled INT + Streetwise for a
17 and Li Min rolled her INT + Fast talk of D8 + D12 for a natural 19 to learn
that any trying to do business with them would face some “shortage” of work
that would make it hard to keep eating.
Li Ming could not get where
or who was spreading this message. Across town, Xavier, Chan and William found
an access node and Xavier was able to hack into the terminal completely
undetected. The algorithm on the data crystal allowed Xavier to enter into Blue
Sun’s network, copy the communications logs of Flannery and exit the network
undetected. Signaling Cindy and Li Ming to meet at a bar for a drink, Chan was
very nearly spotted, but managed to play the role of a streetwalker well enough
to evade detection.
While at the bar, a woman
came to their table and called Chan “the yellow bellied yellow woman of
Abbeville.” Chan immediately recognized the woman and tried talking to her, but
the woman, a Gina Taylor, was relentless in her comments about how she must
have use slick words to avoid being shot for cowardice. “Well I’m certain your
tongue was involved, but your mouth was probably too full to talk.” This
comment brought Cindy to her feet, and it was instantly apparent that Taylor was not alone. The
tense stand off exploded when Taylor
rejected Li Ming’s offer of a drink with, “I’m not like your Captain ya painted hussy. I can’t afford a registered companion and
even if I could, I like men.” Li Ming’s fist lashed out so quickly, that no one
even saw her move. The sound of the impact was what snapped everyone into
Taylor, reacting blindly to the two strikes by Li Ming
somehow managed to block the two punches. However, preoccupied with the gambler
Taylor was struck solidly by Cindy and one of Taylor’s friends counter
punched Cindy. Chan landed a weak punch on Taylor, while William charged
forward to deliver a powerful blow on one of Taylor’s friend’s, Xavier darted
in and surprised Taylor’s second friend with a surprisingly effective blindside
kick. However, it turned out Taylor
had four more friends at a nearby table and the brawl quickly became chaotic.
Li Ming struck at the man that had tried to hit her that William hit earlier.
Chan delivered a punch that snapped Taylor’s
head back and across the room. Cindy and Xavier double teamed Taylor’s second friend and laid him out on
the floor. William pivoted into a crowd of four of Taylor’s friends slamming one man so hard
into a second that the second man’s nose was broken.
The remaining two men turned
on William and struck him from both sides leaving him reeling. Li Ming
continued to hammer her opponent, but could not break free to help William.
Chan knocked out Taylor
with two pile driver punches and turned to help her old friend. Xavier again
darted in and managed to distract one of the four attacking William. This gave
the first mate time to shrug off the pounding and launch into an attack of his
own and blocking both the uninjured attacker’s punches. William punched the man
with the broken nose in the broken nose again and knocked him out. Cindy raced
in to assist the first mate, but as she threw her strike, she stepped on a
bottle and was flipped onto her back before the man could take advantage of
Cindy’s misfortune, Chan attacked. Her one-two combination was blocked but
Cindy was free to vault to her feet and deliver her own one-two punch. Williams
pressed the one man remaining facing him doing trivial damage. The man Xavier
distracted struck at her with full force and she managed to deflect most of the
energy but still was left with a bloodied lip. Li Ming finally finished off her
opponent and wheeled to assist Xavier, striking the man hard enough to leave
him dazed. Xavier then delivered the knockout blow. Chan and Cindy doubled
teamed another man, leaving only one of Taylor’s
crew facing William. The man tried, but was no match for the first mate.
Every one breathing hard and
several bloodied, the crew was about to take their leave when a weak voice
spoke up. Taylor,
still in a heap on the floor coughing and spitting blood choked out, “Fine you
could always fight when someone was watching. Thing is have you learned to be
stand up while alone? The annual wind race is tomorrow. I openly challenge you
to face me in the race. You win; you walk away with some sort of pride. You
lose, and you spill what happened the day you ran!” Chan, despite rumors to the
contrary, was not one to back down from a challenge, agreed.
Taylor said she had a spare sled and it would be delivered
in two hours. The crew returned to the ship and Chan looked up the wind race.
She was aware of the race from her time between crews, but did not know the
details. The annual desert wind race was on sail powered three wheeled sleds
over a 500-mile course during a sandstorm. Typically 50 riders enter, but only
20 finish, the disconcerting part was only half of the
riders who failed to finish survived.
As promised the wind sled was
delivered in two hours. Willis found the sled to be in sad shape, but with
extensive effort, Willis was able to get the sled fully operational by morning.
Once Chan was lined up with the other racers, there was little else for the
crew to do except monitor the race.
Marsh kept the Ghost on standby in case Chan needed help. Willis
conducted the never-ending task of maintenance with Cindy lending a hand. Li
Ming worked her way into the gambling tables with William acting as bodyguard.
Xavier continued to tap into the Cortex and attempt back trace Flannery’s
Chan’s wind race was a nerve
wracking and exhausting ordeal. Despite her lack of experience, she was doing
fairly well and managed to find herself in the lead pack on hour three. The
lead quickly vanished as she barely kept control during hour four. Determined,
Chan tacked perfectly in hour five and moved close to the lead again. During
hour six she had a heart stopping moment and ended up on two wheels, only her
position at the very edge of the winds allowed her to keep from crashing.
Fighting clear of the storm itself, Chan spotted Taylor’s wind sled crash. Tacking
immediately, Chan found Taylor
conscious, but with a broken leg and swearing without pause. However, Taylor realized the
situation she was in accepted Chan’s help.
The two combining strength to
get Taylor out
of her wrecked sled and into Chan’s. Just barely ahead of the storm, Chan
figured out how to jury rig the safety harness to hold two people. Pressing her
luck to the fullest, Chan got the over loaded sled moving in time to stay ahead
of the storm. Despite the added weight of a second rider, Chan stayed ahead of
the worst part of the storm for the next two hours.
During the final hour, Chan
just barely managed to finish the race, the last of the 12 people in the race
that managed to complete the race. As Taylor
was taken to the aid station she told Chan, “We got a wave from a Blue Sun drone
just before you landed, that’s how I knew to look for you. He said business
would dry up if we did business with you. Don’t know why, but that’s small
stuff compared to you saving me. Word was during the war in our battalion that
you abandoned your post and couldn’t be counted on when it counted. Well that
word was wrong. Regardless of what was said before, you have friends here from
now on. If you need help setting people straight here on Verbena you have them
talk to me.”
When Chat got back to the
ship, Willis and Cindy had successfully kept the ‘Ghost’s engine turning. Li
Ming had doubled her meager fifteen credits gambling, adding to the hundred
Chan won for finishing the race. Most important of all, Xavier had cracked
Flannery’s communications log to discover who he reported to, and that was a
Phillip Keystone on Greenleaf. The algorithm access showed Keystone to be
the lead in Blue Sun and someone everyone wanted to talk to very badly.