The Voyages of the PS Nones
Chapter 8, Racing ULATAs on Meth
When last we left our heroes, we'd just become filthy rich between selling the art we brought with us from Helene 3000 years in the past and Morniesul's gems. Still no takers for the snow globes, though...
Between everything, we've managed to accumulate over 900,000 Marks, including buying a spiffy set of clothing and paying back Tom for his grub-stake. Not bad for about 48 hours on the planet.
Since there's nothing else that we can think of that we need to do on Moncair, we decide to head to Meth to deliver the ULATAs that Tom gave us. The Ultra Light All Terrain Ambulators are essentially bicycles with legs. They're due to be delivered to one Honeur Alisso Formas in four days. We ask the Nones to have itself reprovisioned.
Before we leave, we check the price of cyanium on Moncair and Meth. Tom had suggested that we take some back to the Authority Zone, since it won't be discovered until 100 years after our "standard" time. We'll be able to trade our very pure samples for something a little more contemporary. The price on Moncair is 4000 Marks/kilo vs. 800 Marks/kilo on Meth; there's not much use of fractal metals on Moncair. We decide to put off our purchase until we're in the empire.
With little further ado, we depart scenic Moncair. The Nones is able to make the journey from Moncair to Meth in one day, but the local merchant ships usually take two. Since we don't want to call attention to ourselves, and aren't in any rush, we spend two days in transit.
When we return to normal space in the Meth system, Spaceport Control directs us to a dock at Fort Tous -- the orbital station. As the Nones makes it's way to our assigned berth, we tap into the Meth-Wide-Web. It's much like the Moncair-Wide-Web, only not as commercial. We send mail to Ser Formas announcing that we've arrived and would like to deliver his goods. We also download the Meth customs list. The Methians will want to perform a health inspection on our cheese, as well as the dragon and Brunalf.
Just prior to our arrival, Morniesul arms himself with his macrometal knife and the ornate gun that the Star Marshal on Moncair had been unable to identify. Markel announces that he has a magic quiver, which he proceeds to pull off his back. Funny, we hadn't seen anything there. He offers to hide weapons in the quiver, but they wouldn't fit. We hide the net tokens in there instead.
Shortly after we've secreted the contraband, the Nones announces that docking has been completed. Dafnord goes to the airlock to await the customs inspectors, who arrive swiftly. Dafnord opens the hatch and simply stares at our visitors. They're wearing purple and gold uniforms and no-nonsense expressions. After a brief staring contest (we are traveling with a cat) the taller one announces "Customs." Dafnord steps back and motions them toward the crew compartment. When they enter, Salimar asks if she can help. The taller one asks for a manifest, which Salimar hands him, and he proceeds to the storage hold.
The second customs inspector goes to the bridge, with Dafnord following. He waves a tricorder-like device around. It whirs and flashes impressively. Glancing at the readings, he frowns and makes a notation on his "clipboard." Then he turns on his heel and heads towards the engineering hold. Dafnord puts a hand on his shoulder and stops him.
The customs inspector glares at Dafnord and bites out "Yes?"
Dafnord looks at the inspector impassively, "What are you doing?"
"Inspecting your ship."
"Explosives ... biologicals ... anti-imperial literature. Shall I go on?"
"Then unhand me!" Dafnord lets him go, but continues to follow.
The customs inspector examines our engineering deck, but doesn't seem to find anything amiss. When he gets to the weapons locker, he tries the door, which is of course, locked. He looks at Dafnord and demands "Open it!". Dafnord opens it. The inspector waves his scanner of the impressive array of weaponry, then looks at the readout. "All right. Nothing but stunners off the ship." He shuts the locker door, and Dafnord locks it. They head back to the crew quarters.
Meanwhile the inspector in the hold checks out the cheese, waving his tricorder-like device over it. He gets to Brunalf and stops to scan him. Nothing untoward appears to happen. He's not quite sure what to make of the dragon, who is curled up on the floor by Morniesul and under strict orders from Markel to behave. The custom inspector waves his scanner over the dragon. The dragon is clearly not happy with this, but fortunately doesn't do anything but sulk.
Continuing his thorough inspection, the customs agent gets to our "arms shipment.". He opens the box and mutter "Splice jobs." Raising his voice, he says "You know that these aren't legal just anywhere in the empire."
Morniesul acknowledges that we know this.
As he finishes inspecting our trade goods, his companion returns, trailing Dafnord. They compare readings, and then turn to us. "Passports please."
We hand over our Moncair citizenship chips. They grunt and read them into their "clipboards." Returning our passports, they turn to leave. Before they can enter the hatch, Salimar asks for a receipt. "At your lock."
Shortly after the inspectors have left, the Nones informs us that we've received a call. We ask it to put the call through to the crew quarters. The face that appears on the screen is bony and brown-skinned. It seems faintly familiar. In fact, Kate and Dafnord think it looks a bit like Tom. In fact, the man is a Sove; Tom has some Sove blood. Robbie introduces himself and asks what we can do for the caller.
"I'm Sontan, steward for Ser Formas. You have the ULATAs?"
"Good. You're late. Deliver them as quickly as possible to the Engid estate. It's a private island. I've transmitted the latitude and longitude."
Before we can protest that we're two days early, Sontan cuts the connection. We exchange glances and ask the Nones to arrange transport to the estate. Kate, Markel, and the dragon elect to stay with the Nones and perhaps see what the tourist facilities on the station have to offer. Just as we finish deciding who's going to the surface, the Nones announces that there are regularly scheduled shuttles to the surface, and it's arranged for a van to be ready for us at the landing field.
Taking the controller for the ULATAs, Robbie leads them off the ship. As he departs, he can hear Kate trying to teach the dragon to fetch a stick. Before he debarks, Morniesul makes sure he has bound copies of our catalogs with him, in the same pocket as his magic book. At the end of the gangway is our customs statement. The gangway lets out into a bay with a set of freight elevators. We make our way to the shuttle port and load the ULATAs into the shuttle -- a space elevator with clear sides and very little apparent re-enforcement. After a series of warning chimes, the shuttle drops out of the bottom of the space station. Despite the artificial gravity, Morniesul is not happy to be falling towards the planet. As he grits his teeth and wedges himself into the nearest corner, Dafnord and Brunalf enjoy the view. Dafnord waxes nostalgic over the net about dropping towards a planet with nothing but a blaster in his hand...
We arrive at a landing field, at just before local dawn. The field is much smaller than the one on Moncair, since only the elevators land here. We disembark and collect our rental van. It's cherry red, and about the size of a bus. Once the ULATAs are stowed, we consider the control panel. Fortunately, before we can try the manual controls, Salimar says "Take us to the Engid estate" and rattles off the coordinates supplied by Sontan. The van gives a reassuring beep and takes off.
Salimar opens the glove compartment. Finding the rental agreement, she reads it. After she finishes it, she looks up and asks "Are we there yet?" The rest of us glare at her. We discuss ways to unload the snow globes. Once we've exhausted that limited topic, we listen to the radio and tune in Meth Public Radio. Among the headlines we hear are:
None of which means much to us. There's also lots of poetry; Country-Western poetry, morality poetry, comic poetry, as well as music, only some of which we can appreciate.
After many hours skimming over the ocean, we pass an island, about twice the size of Nantucket. It's only large in comparison to the one just beyond it, which is our destination. We can see that it's forested, and there appear to be five houses, each surrounded by woods. As we come in for a landing, we see a short skinny person waiting for us. It's Mr. Sontan. "You're here. Oh good. May I come on?" He boards without waiting for an answer. "Now, if you'll take off, it's just a few kilometers to the west."
Robbie tells the van to go to the new coordinates, and then notices that Sontan looks exhausted. "Why are you so tired?" Sontan sighs, "I don't have time to be tired. He changed the date."
"The race has been moved up?"
"Yes. Today. He was so casual about it all. He said 'You can move things up to Thursday, can't you Sontan?' Of course sir, I replied, as if there was anything else I could do."
Morniesul asks, "I assume that you're still looking to purchase the ULATAs?"
"Oh, my, yes. I assume that they're all the same type?"
"They're identical, to the best of our knowledge."
"Excellent. Oh, land there, would you?"
Sontan has directed us back to the first island. It's covered with roadways. As we get closer, we can see that it's actually racetrack. The end of the island we're landing at has a large, U-shaped structure and bleachers. As soon as we land, Sontan jumps out and points to the U-shaped building, saying, "Over that way," as he heads for a gathering near the bleachers. Dafnord starts unloading the ULATAs until Morniesul tells him to stop. Calling after Sontan, he says, "We need to get... paid?"
"Oh yes. Your account number?" Robbie walks to him and hands it over. Sontan pays, and then pays for the rush transport.
Handing the account back to Robbie, he continues towards the gathering. Morniesul follows with Brunalf and Salimar at a more leisurely pace. Dafnord, Robbie, and Katrina head to the U-shaped structure, leading the ULATAs. They enter and see what looks like a garage. Stall after stall of vehicles. Several shiny groundcars in various styles. Some with wheels, some with runners. There are kennels with what look like huskies. We come to an ell and are facing the stall of a giant chicken. There's somebody feeding it. We stop and Dafnord grunts. The stablehand says, "Yeah?" and turns around. "Oh they're here." Without another word, he goes off down the corridor. We're left with a gaggle of ULATAs, staring at the largest chicken we've ever seen.
Before we can decide what to do, the stable hand comes back with a platinum blond Melior. "Ah, you brought the ULATAs. Are you sure that they're all the same make and model?"
Dafnord replies, "Identical."
"Good." The Melior motions for us to follow him and leads us down the corridor. We pass horses, and then pass other ULATAs of various different makes and models. We turn two corners and pass a large door through which we can see the grandstand and our friends. Then we come to 6 empty stalls. The Melior tells us to back the ULATAs into the stalls, and then thumb prints a receipt. We hand over the control.
The Melior walks back down the corridor, leaving us in front of the ULATAs. Before we can head to the door to rejoin Morniesul, Salimar, and Brunalf, we see a bunch of Achels approaching. They're dressed in gaudy body stockings in brilliant colors. They pass us and start looking over the new ULATAs. They mutter and grumble in Achel as they inspect them. As they turn to leave, Dafnord feels a tug on his sleeve.
"These all the same, mate?"
Dafnord looks down at the Achel dressed in red and blue, then replies "Yes."
"They're identical, you've tested them?"
Katrina responds, "They were purchased new as identical units."
"See any differences?"
Nope. In fact, we remember them walking in lockstep.
Katrina, Robbie and Dafnord leave the stables and head towards the gathering outside.
Meanwhile, Salimar, Morniesul, and Brunalf are following Sontan toward the group standing before the stable/garage. As he walks towards the gathering by the bleachers, Sontan makes a remarkable transformation. His face smoothes out and becomes blank, his gait becomes less frantic. Approaching the group, Morniesul notices a differentiation. At the center of the group are people who look Eurasian. New Terraformers. They're all in clothing that looks like ours (very nice.) Around the edges are other folk who are Meliors and Acros wearing black over white. The servant class. We look around and realize that there are slaves (wearing collars) mowing the lawn in the distance. A Melior comes around serving drinks. Funny, on the Jack, Meliors were never in a subservient position.
Sontan pauses and hovers among the servants. The beautiful people appear to be discussing models of ULATAs and the pros and cons of various technical features. There's one young lady up in the bleachers, looking sulky. Salimar sees that there are all sorts of prints on the tracks. ULATA prints, tire tracks, chicken prints, dog prints, etc. Way off there, near a sharp curve in the track, is a Star Wars-style walker thing with somebody standing in it.
Morniesul notices that the grass is a funny colors. It's a very dark green. He's never seen such grass. It's sort of like pine needles. After 3 or 4 minutes, the person who Sontan was hovering near notices Sontan. Catching his eye, Sontan murmurs, "The ULATAs have arrived, sir."
The brightly dressed person replies "Oh. Thank you." Then he notices Morniesul who is explaining something about the gaits of one of the sets of tracks, in Westron accented Earthron, to Brunalf. The Person drifts towards Morniesul. Then he notices Salimar. "Have we met?" Salimar introduces herself.
"How do you do. I'm Honeur Alisso Formas. Welcome to the track. We'll be starting the race soon, now that the ULATAs are here."
"Where do you suggest we sit?" asks Salimar, thus inviting ourselves to the race.
"I prefer to sit up high myself."
Morniesul then comes up and says, "Excuse me? Have we met?" As he and Ser Formas introduce themselves to each other, Salimar stealths through the crowd, heading to the stands.
"Did you bring the ULATAs?"
"Was that Earthron you were speaking."
"Yes. You'll be racing the ULATAs soon?"
"Yes. Would you care to take a seat?" Ser Formas waves towards the seats where Salimar is already seated. Salimar waves back. Ser Formas is mildly confused, since he hadn't realized that she'd left.
As Katrina, Robbie and Dafnord approach Morniesul and Ser Formas, Robbie receives a communication from the Nones. One of the ULATAs is being tampered with. Robbie asks the Nones how it knows, and learns that the ULATAs have a built-in security circuit; the Nones (unbeknownst to us) is under standing orders to keep tied in to any such circuits in the cargo until title passes. Since the Nones hadn't been notified of the transfer of the ULATAs to Ser Formas, either by us or by the bank depositing the sale price in our account, it was still monitoring the ULATAs security circuit. Robbie asks the Nones to call him back on his phone and repeat the information about the tampering.
The phone rings as the group reaches Morniesul and Ser Formas. Robbie listens a moment and then passes the information to Morniesul and Ser Formas. He also relays how the Nones came by this information over the net. Ser Formas is shocked. Katrina, Dafnord, Robbie, and Ser Formas run back to the ULATAs, leaving Morniesul. Shrugging his shoulders, Morniesul climbs into the grandstand to join Salimar.
As Dafnord pulls away from the group running into the stable, Salimar sends a viewpoint ahead of him to the ULATA stables. She sees the fellow who was asking us about any differences in the ULATAs trying to get the "plastic" sleeve off of the right foreleg of one of the ULATAs. Dafnord arrives on the scene just as he succeeds in getting the sleeve off. The jockey is so intent on his task, Dafnord takes him completely by surprise when he lifts him into the air and backs away, leaving the tampering untouched.
Ser Formas, Katrina and Robbie arrive moments later, and Ser Formas is aghast. "Great Holy! Hibbet's man! Put him down." Thump. Dafnord does NOT let go. Ser Formas points at the ULATA and says, "Fix that," and then turns to leave, commanding, "Bring him." Dafnord keeps a heavy hand on the jockey's shoulder as they walk towards the exit, leaving Robbie to contact the Nones for information on ULATA repair and to guard the remaining ULATAs.
As the Ser Formas, Dafnord, and the jockey exit the building, Ser Formas' face looks like thunder. He halts and calls out, "Hibbet!" One of the gaily dressed people looks around languidly. He's also dressed in red in blue, though the clothes are clearly of a finer cut than the jockeys. Morniesul picks up Brunalf and starts down from the stands with Salimar to see what the fuss was all about. They arrive at the same time that Hibbet finally gets around to strolling over. "Hibbet, this is very serious! I found your jockey tampering with one of the ULATAs!" Dafnord holds up the jockey for display. Hibbet agrees that this is serious and mutters about the jockey's gambling debts. Looking at the jockey, Hibbet sacks the him on the spot.
Katrina says, "Dafnord, down." Dafnord lets the jockey go. He falls 3 feet to land in a heap. The jockey picks himself up and slinks off towards the stables. Katrina sends Dafnord to join Robbie in the stable to guard the ULATAs.
Ser Formas huffs and sighs. "Damn good work. You folks are extremely observant."
As Hibbet withdraws, Morniesul says "I do pride myself on my security."
Ser Formas ignores him and sighs, "What will Hibbet do for a jockey now? ... We'll continue the race with five. I'll have the server send around drinks."
Morniesul offers "We do have the security protocols for sale..."
Unfortunately, Ser Formas either isn't interested or isn't listening. He claps his hands and continues, "Everybody sit down. We're about to start the race."
Morniesul, Katrina, Salimar, and Brunalf return to their seats as the remaining jockeys come out astride their ULATAs. Shortly after they assemble at the starting gate, the checkered flag falls, and the riders are off. They quickly disappear from sight around a curve. In front of the stands, an image forms between two standing posts. It shows the race from the vantage point of the person in the Star Wars-like walker we'd seen earlier.
As he watches the race, Morniesul leans over to Salimar and asks, "Do you suppose the boy could do a credible job on one of those?
"If he can ride a dragon, he should be able to ride one of those."
Brunalf comments over the net, "I could do that. I could do that!"
Morniesul replies Earthron, "Only if it becomes important to embarrass someone."
Shortly, the ULATAs and their riders come back into view as they thunder around a curve. A jockey in green and gold livery wins. The PA system announces that Ser Alessand's rider has won by 2 meters. She's politely congratulated by the beautiful people. After he's congratulated Ser Alessand, Ser Formas comes over and thanks us for our timely delivery and for our timely assistance, and invites us to stay for the remainder of the afternoon.
We accept as the giant chicken is lead out for an exhibition run around the track. Brunalf watches avidly, licking his chops.
We spend the afternoon probing for any hint that any of these people are connected with the slavers or if they'd be useful in establishing our bona fides, or, as a last resort, if they'd be interested in any of our other merchandise. Unfortunately, this appears to be a bunch of empty-headed aristocratic twits who aren't interested in much other than racing. The only thing we have that gets a rise out of these folks are our exotic offworld cheeses.
After a mostly boring afternoon, we thank our host for his hospitality and climb into the van to return to the landing field, and from there to the space port and the Nones.
Last Updated: 7-Oct-06
©2004 Barry Tannenbaum, All Rights Reserved