Hello all! After reading Adam’s GM notes in Rollplay Zine 2 from Patreon, I revisited the pilot episode of Swan Song and thought it’d be fun to see it from another POV. Hope you enjoy, cheers.
NEW YEAR’S DAY
A short Swan Song story
“Gentlemen, gentlemen, what can I do you for? You seem to be investigatin’ my grav vehicle.”
Dobos keeps scanning the cargo skiff as Varga watches a scruffy-looking spacer approach with casual swagger and twangy Asan accent. The offworlder smiles but there’s sweat on his brow, a laspistol on his hip, and a flat bulge under his shirt, some sort of vest? Checking that everyone else on the street is keeping their distance, Varga puts a hand near his holster and makes his voice stern. “Papers.”
“Ah, yeah, yeah,” the man says, handing over a visa chip and crossing his arms. Varga slots the chip and watches the fidgeting spacer as it runs. His armpad blinks red, and Varga frowns. That isn’t –
“Officers, officers, what can I help you with?” the spacer says, moving his hands about. Dobos looks up as Varga glares at the damn cowboy and gets in his face. “Calm down, son, calm down,” he tells the older man, pushing him back. Time to put this guy on the pavement.
“Gentlemen!” A young woman jaunts toward them, another man right behind her with a closed trenchcoat. She’s cute in a way, short hair, beige skin, breezy voice with an accent he can’t place. “Thank you for apprehending this man right here,” she says, gesturing to Cowboy who’s gone wide-eyed. “Hello, say hello to Mr. S, my security.” Clean-cut, slick black hair, cold green eyes, not sweating. “It appears this man has stolen a blanket from my fine establishment,” the lady continues, “and I want him to come back inside and, and, and pay for it, so …”
She trails off and Varga blinks. A blanket? He looks at her, then at the empty-handed Cowboy, then at the budget hotel behind them, then at Dobos who’s keeping his eyes on Trenchcoat. The lady murmurs something about custody and the security man steps forward and pulls one of the Asan’s arms behind his back. “Oh!” Cowboy says, “Uh yeah, sorry, I, I forgot about that, uh, that, that … officers I’ll be right back, uh, we’ll, I gotta, I stole a blanket, y’know, I’m not, it was … you caught me at a bad time.”
Varga stares at the man and starts to wonder if he’s being pranked or something. Haze the rookie with some goofball actors, very funny. He opens his mouth but the lady steps forward. “Look officers, I appreciate it, I’ll take it from here, thank you.”
Varga hesitates, forcing himself to not look at Dobos again. Ah, hell with it. He unslots the chip and hands it to her. “Make sure that gets back into his hands,” he tells her, “because if he gets caught without it, he’s in deeper trouble than stealing a blanket’s gonna get him.” He glances at the cargo skiff, then back to the lady. “This thing belong to you?”
“It belongs to the maintenance crew, I believe.” She pauses as he peers at her. “I’m, I’m, I’m not sure, I’ve got more important things to do than keep track of --”
“Officers, let her do her job here,” Cowboy pipes up, “she doesn’t know whose vehicle that – I gotta go deal with this blanket!” Varga stares again as Trenchcoat starts shoving the oddball toward the hotel. The security man’s eyes meet his and Varga decides this is no damn actor.
“Well,” he says to the lady, trying to refocus. “it looks like your security’s got this under control. Uh, we’ve got some questions about this vehicle, uh, it’s flagged in the database, ah, we’re just doing our job, ma’am, so maybe you could answer some questions for us?” Damn it, keep cool.
She pauses again, face suddenly going blank, her eyes looking past him – through him? – and fluttering slightly. What the … then she’s back and spreading her hands graciously. “Gentlemen, to the best of my ability.”
Varga gratefully falls into the comfortable list of vehicle registration questions while Dobos resumes his scan. Her answers are vague and don’t match the records, but now Trenchcoat is back. Voice quiet, flat: “Ma’am, the suspect needs questioning.” Varga’s sure there’s something slung under that trenchcoat.
“Oh, certainly, certainly,” she says. “Officers, are we done here? Can I go back to my business and, and take care of what’s left inside?”
He looks at her and thinks about checking the hotel, then looks over his shoulder at Dobos, who just shrugs. Varga avoids looking at Trenchcoat but can feel those green eyes studying him. Yeah, hell with this. “I won’t, uh, I won’t take up any more of your time ma’am, uh, you, uh, you go about your business, but uh, we may, uh, we may be gettin’ in touch with you again soon, uh, if uh, if any more, uh, questions come up, but uh --” He trails off with his hands held up. Good one, very authoritative.
“Of course, of course,” she replies smoothly, “you know where I am. Thank you, very much, thank you.”
Dobos comes over to stand beside him as the lady goes back into the hotel with Trenchcoat. “Well then.”
Varga lets out a long breath. “What, what the hell was all that? Think she … think she’ll be there if we come back?”
Dobos raises an eyebrow. “… Nah. Doubt she owns the place. Seems like they’re all together, whatever they’ve got going." He grunts. "Doubt it’s blankets.”
Varga nods reluctantly. “Well … well, I guess we should, uh, go in and --”
“Wait,” Dobos says, glancing at the hotel. “Let’s not get hasty here, rook. We’re Traffic Division, not our job to investigate whatever spacers do in cheap hotels." He nods at the vehicle. "They know their skiff is flagged, so they won’t be operating it on Pelado roadways. I’ll call it in for towing, we go our way, they go theirs. Nice and easy.”
Varga frowns. “But … we have a duty to --”
“Kid, don’t tell me about duty.” Dobos sighs and scratches a gray sideburn. “I know you’re into this, uh, Cult-Pro rah-rah with Our Benevolent Leader and all, but I was doin’ my duty before you knew the word, and most of it wasn’t in Traffic by the way." Another glance toward the hotel. "That trenchcoat guy’s a stone killer, no doubt, and whatever he’s carryin’ puts our sidearms to shame. I think the lady’s got MES too. Take it from me: let 'em go.” He puts a firm hand on Varga’s shoulder and starts pulling him toward the cycles.
“Shouldn’t we at least report that --”
Dobos shakes his head. “We report this on the official record, then they’ll have to officially respond, and then we’ll have to officially et cetera, et cetera. Whatever those people are here for, they got through customs, so they’ll fly off again soon enough." He tries a sage smile and pats Varga’s shoulder. "If you learn anything, rook, learn when to walk away.”
Varga looks at the hotel as he fires up the gravcycle. Well, whatever that was, it’s over now.
Six hours later, Varga is watching video pulled from the hotel lobby. “Who’s the other guy?” he asks, leaning toward the screen as he squints at a tall, tanned, muscular man with buzzcut and glasses.
“That’s one Viktor Kovacs,” Dobos replies, glancing at his datapad. “Native son of Andoni, zee-no-ar-kee-ologist by trade. Hopped world two years ago after stealing some trade secrets, allegedly.”
No audio but Kovacs seems nervous as the lady kicks at a large sealed cargo crate. Cowboy tries to reprimand her, then he and Trenchcoat take one end of the crate while Kovacs takes the other. After some heated discussion the lady goes back to the room where they got the crate and grabs a comforter. When the room alarm triggers she rips out the sensor tag with her teeth. Varga blinks. “She stole a blanket?” Dobos smirks.
Cowboy says something and Lady throws the blanket at his head, then he spreads it over the top of the crate as they head for the front door. “Here’s when they see us,” Dobos mutters, as the group stops with Trenchcoat peering out. More animated conversation, then Lady pulls out a thermal flare, hands it to Kovacs and steps toward the door. Trenchcoat gets agitated, Kovacs looks hesitant, there’s some more discussion, then Kovacs hefts the crate himself and heads slowly toward the back while the other three stay at the door. After a moment Cowboy heads out the front. “Here he comes,” says Dobos.
Varga mentally replays the Asan’s antics, and a minute later Lady and Trenchcoat go out to recover him. Dobos skips forward to where Trenchcoat brings Cowboy back into the lobby, where the Asan starts yelling at Kovacs before helping him with the crate. After Trenchcoat goes back out and brings Lady back, they all gather at the emergency exit and notice with visible frustration that the door alarm will sound. Trenchcoat seems to end the argument and they all bring the crate back to the front door and exit, within minutes of the officers’ departure.
Varga glances at Dobos. “Wait, they used the skiff anyway?”
Dobos grunts and switches to different footage. Now they’re looking down at the cargo skiff from above, moving through the industrial district near the port. Kovacs and Trenchcoat are in back with the crate, while Cowboy and Lady are arguing inside the cab.
“They pulled off the highway right before a checkpoint and a Raptor took a look,” Dobos explains.
Suddenly Trenchcoat pulls a long gun from under his coat and send a ball of crackling plasma right into the camera, which goes black. “Shit!”
Dobos grunts. “Yeah. That’s as close as you want to get to the business end of a plasma projector.”
“He shot down the drone.”
“And then he fired at the patrol unit that showed up next. They veered off and lost the skiff among the warehouses." Raised eyebrow. "Maybe I was right about walking away, huh?”
Varga stares at the empty screen. “How’d they get through customs?”
“Ditched the skiff and hooked up with another Asan, one Randolph Marsh, warrant for smuggling. Had a shielded truck for the scanners. Kovacs drove and used his Andoni ID, but get this: Trenchcoat was in the cab too, and his visa didn’t check out.”
“And the customs guy decided it was a problem with the system. Guess they’re still all fouled up over there.”
Varga leans back, shaking his head. “So this Marsh went with them?”
“Only as far as the landing pad. Found there dead, drilled through the head from behind. Nice folks.” Varga recalls Cowboy’s laspistol and suppresses a shudder.
“And their ship?”
“Exchange says it’s a new Sunbeam free merchant leased to Kovacs. Name of Swan Song. Had the right codes so the blockade let them out. We’ll send a notice after them but you know those never amount to much. Not when it’s just a drone and some smuggler, anyway.”
“What about the crate?”
“No idea. No footage of how it got into the room, guess the delivery was more careful than the pickup crew.”
Varga pulls the lobby footage footage back up, staring at the four spacers. “Who the hell are these people?”
Dobos grunts. “Whoever they are, they’ve given you and me a nice orbital vacation.”
“Oh, it’s blockade duty for sure. Demerit for dereliction and all that.”
“Wha – but, you said it’s just a drone and some smuggler!”
“Sure, but that’s not how Captain Meier will see it. These lunatics made the system look bad, so they have to show ‘corrective measures.’ Plus I hear that crate might have been important." He nods to himself. "Yeah, I’d say you, me, and that customs guy are getting at least six months in space.”
“You said walk away!”
Dobos snorts. “Easy kid, it’s just a damn demerit. You’ll get over it.”
“But … my wife is due in four months!”
“Well, I expect she’d rather have you up there in one of those Ximinez coffins than down here in a real coffin, yeah?” Dobos pats him on the shoulder. “You did right, kid. Look, I hear blockade time is cramped boring shit, but it’s safe. No trenchcoat killers up there. Mostly automated anyway, so just bring some books and the time will fly by. Back to normal before you know it.” He smiles. “Hey, Happy New Year, right? Here’s to 3200.”