Over the River and Through the Loop

"We'll take the best you have, something with cargo room, cruise control, Gps, and the full insurance policy please. Do you have a strict 'no tobacco' policy?" Doc asks.

Vladimir Petrovic smiles. "Ah, then you will want the Astrovan. Is good for cargo and has full autopilot. It is good hover vehicle, luxurious interior. It will take you to your friend in comfort and relaxation. Normally for out-of-towners, I charge $800 for the day. For you, only $600, and only $200 every day after. Insurance is good thing, I'm glad you agree. Full coverage is only $400. Unfortunately, there is a smoking fee of $50. I will give you smokeless ashtray you can keep. Very nice, fits in the cupholder. It has my logo on it!"

Doc knows full well he's getting taken by this sheister. However, his ID card is linked to the mission account; the budget of which Dr. Ritenrong said is "at any expense." Doc just wants to get on with the mission. "I'll take it."


The Astrovan is an egg shaped burgandy minivan without wheels. Vladimir drives it over to them, and it seems to be in working order. No funny sounds or smells, although Doc's not sure exactly how to tell if a fusion powered hover vehicle is in good condition. The side door slides open for them.

Vladimir steps out and welcomes them aboard. "Manual drive controls are a little sluggish, but autodrive is working very good. Just tell it where to go and relax. Have a good trip!"

The party loads up. Doc takes the driver's seat. Thunderhorse and Mark sit behind him in the middle bench.

"Closest hardware store, please." Doc orders the autodrive. It doesn't respond. He tries again in Russian. "[Go to the nearest hardware store.]" This time it works. "[Set language to English]" he tries to tell it, but it doesn't know what he's talking about.

A quick stop at the hardware store and another $39.95 of mission cash later, Thunderhorse has a shiny new 3.5' double headed lumber axe with a shock resistant fiberglass handle. He complains about it being a "peasant weapon," that is too long, the head too small, it's improperly balanced for combat, and that he misses his battle axe. Doc tells him to deal with it.

At both Thunderhorse and Mark's insistance, they stop at a grocers and grab a couple bottles of vodka as well. Doc figures it'll keep the troops calm and might be useful in dealing with the natives.

Doc finally gives the order to go to Khara.

The Astrovan is a smooth quiet ride. On the way, Doc opens a bottle of vodka and pours Mark a shot, and Thunderhorse a double.

"Why does he get more?" Mark complains.

"Because a viking with the shakes is not something I want to be cooped up with, no matter how short a ride. We've got a job to do, and we don't need to be getting ripped right now."

The landscape is desolate. The van hovers swiftly two feet over a broken old road running along the Lena River. It is summer time, and there's no snow but that which remains throughout the year on the moutains to the north and east. The ground is muddy, though. The trip is only a hundred miles, and the van is clipping along happily at 120. They'll be there in fifty minutes.

There aren't any other vehicles near them, but there are a few cargo ships and fishing boats in the water, weaving slowly through the maze of small islets within the river. As they approach a fork in the river, where the Lena turns sharply west while a tributary joins it from the east, Doc can see the launch loop. From the ground, it is a thin, gossimer thread hanging high in the air like a spider's anchor line. A boxy cargo ship follows the line, as if the spider is climbing into space.

They pass beneath the loop and cross the river. Khara is only a few more miles north.

They arrive. The town is small and somewhat suburban. The houses are mainly single story log cabins, but there are a few small stores built of brick and concrete. One building looks a lot like a military bunker. An ancient razorwire fence reveals its former presence around it with few poles standing and strands of rusted metal dangling from them.

The van stops at Dmitri Valia's log cabin and lands. His yard is less kept than the others around it. While his neighbors have grass and shrubs and other trappings of modern (although far from en voge) suburban life, his yard is muddy and barren except for the overgrowth of weeds.

Doc knocks on the door. Slowly, a rustling within shuffles its way to the door. It opens partially, revealing a disheveled looking man with a long, greying beard.

He looks Doc up and down. "What do you want?"


Doc said...


"Mr. Valia? Hello, my name is Dr. Lucas Shaw. I'm with the Smithsonian Museum and I'm writing a book and I'd like to ask you a few questions."

Show him my museum ID card with thumb over the date. Have Thunderhorse and mark wait in the van but bring the vodka with me. I don't need them trashed when I get back.

Use much the same BS lines that I used on Nadine and they to get his background info so I can come up with some kind of date as to where things went wrong. I need to know the date and circumstances so I know when and where I need to go back to. I will try to rely on my natural charisma to get him to talk and maybe soften him up with some vodka but if he is surly or suspicious, use a chi point. I need to know what he knows and I can't leave without it.

Meta: The scene setting is marvelous. You really know how to set the mood.


ERR said...

Thanks. I've been doing a lot of reading these past few nights. Must've picked up some Arthur C. Clark influence.