The party members have an early start so as to get as much of the travelling done in the first day. Taeva goes to the lobby and is relieved to see that Clint and Billy-Bob actually turned up. Max pays then the first week’s salary in advance.
They invite the two drivers to have breakfast with them to discuss the route. Clint tells them that, as long as there is no bad weather and they keep a good pace, it should be possible to overnight in a village rather than having to rough it outdoors.
Once breakfast is finished, Taeva goes with the two drivers to find the air/rafts and bring them to the hotel lobby. She finds them, as agreed, in the main starport parking area.
The party members check out of the hotel and then pack their belongings into the trunk of the air/rafts. It’s a bit of a squeeze to get everything in with all the survival gear they brought, but they manage it in the end.
Unfortunately, it’s going to be dark for the first (Terran) day of travelling – not ideal, but no one wants to wait another day. The two drivers are used to driving in the dark though – all Tarsans need to be, and so they say that it’s not going to cause a problem.
Max will drive the first air/raft with Billy-Bob keeping a close eye on him the whole time, while Clint will drive the second one.
It’s 7.30am when they are ready for departure.
“So anyfink anyone wants to do before we leave?” asks Max, excited about the idea of driving a real air/raft finally, “Or shall we get movin’?”
“Let’s roll,” says William. “As long as Jie has her winter gear… Oh, and I thought we called this the “boot” on Tarsus? I’m very disappointed that you’ve adopted the neo-yangkiiy terminology. Although, oddly, “trunk” makes more sense from an historical point of view…”
“Boot?” Max asks curiously. “Boots goes on yer feet. Trunks are large fings what you carry stuff in. Of course it’s a trunk.”
“Unless it’s ‘angin’ off an elephant’s face, o’ course.”
Jie packs her new goods in the floater and does a quick survey. Field Kit, Survival Kit, Cold Weather Clothing, Boots, Pack, and Snowshoes all bought for a nice ImpCr 473 (with a 10% mark-up) With Max’s financial talents, it was no problem to pay William back the 500 ImpCrs she owed him from a couple of nights before. She also checks the team gear that has been stowed and undoubtedly already been checked over by the others. Satisfied, she takes a bite of nobble-jerky and a swig of ‘Tarsus Zing’, an energy drink while she waits to get underway.
“So let’s rock an’ roooooooooll,” Max cries as he puts his foot down on the accelerator. The vehicle rises a foot into the air before he stalls it and it comes down to the ground with a bump, shaking everyone inside.
“Bear wiv’ me, gang,” Max says. “I’ll get the ‘ang of it soon, I’m sure.”
Billy-Bob sighs and shakes his head before pointing out what Max did wrong.
Second time around is better and Max slowly pulls up from the tarmac, into the air and slowly starts to make his way westwards, with Clint in the second air/raft following on right behind.
The LI goggles acquired for the Tarsus mission come in useful so that the party members are able to see a little of their surroundings in the almost complete darkness. The bright lights of the starport and Newland City on the horizon slowly disappear into blackness as the two air/rafts fly through the night. All are grateful for having invested in some cold weather clothing as the air/raft’s heaters are not enough to compensate for the wind chill as Max continues to speed up as his confidence increases, until the two air/rafts are cruising at a steady 350kmh, some 50 metres above the black landscape below them.
After four hours of travel, the cultivated farmland below them has disappeared into the distance and there’s just seemingly endless rolling plains ahead of them.
By midday, everyone is starting to get a little peckish and everyone wants to stretch their legs and take some restroom breaks as well and so the two air/rafts set down on a flat expanse of grassland. Clint, being a farm boy and having a lot of experience out in the wilds, rustles up a passable lunch for everyone – not to the standard of what they were getting in Newland, but very welcome as a way of fighting off the cold. Then it’s back into the air/rafts for the afternoon’s leg of the trip.
As the tedious hours pass with very little to see, the party members grow restless with constant moans of, “Are we nearly there yet?” Clint tells them that, if you can just hang on another hour or two then you’ll get to a small town where accommodation is going to be a lot more pleasant than an eight-man tent in the middle of nowhere. Remembering the cold of the lunch break, no one is particularly keen on camping in the open if it can be avoided.
It’s 18.00 when the occupants of the air/rafts see some lights ahead of them in the distance. The read out on the digital maps show it to be Plainsville. Half an hour later and the air/rafts descend into the town centre.
There’s not a lot of life in Plainsville – it’s more of a village than a town, with tumbleweed rolling down the main street.
They head towards the solitary hotel on main street. A middle aged woman looks up from her handcomp as the party members enter.
“You’re not from around here, are you, boys?” she says, suspiciously.
The party members all book rooms and quickly unpack. The accommodation here is rather spartan, but at least it seems relatively clean and – more importantly – it’s warm.
Starving now after the long drive, the party members head off to find somewhere to eat. Choices seem very limited – there’s a solitary saloon located just a few doors down.
As they enter, the keyboard player stops, mid-song. The bar is half full. Everyone stops what they are doing and everyone stares at the newcomers, no one saying a word.
Arvor scans the room, all eyes there staring back at him. He looks for an empty table, and heading there, says loudly, “No need to stop on our account,” and sits down.
Jie expects no trouble from the Plainsvillites, but a habit is a habit. As she accompanies her group to a table she falls into the old routine of noteing all exits and their locking systems, large objects able to be hastily moved to create cover and best field of fire stations. She also notes the peoples weaponry, their type and abundance of ammo, ranged or melee and quality. Armor is also noted. She sees that everyone is armed to the teeth. There’s no one there without a handgun at their hip, and many have shotguns leaning against their tables. Most seem to be unarmored though or are wearing leather coats against the chill.
As an extra paranoid mental task, she tries to detect any signs of recognition from the patrons to Mr. Squire, the driver who lead us here. No one seems to recognize Billy-Bob though. It would appear that he really is from Newland and feels as out of place here as the other members of the group does. Even Clint is a little ill at ease here. Although he is an ex nobble rancher himself, he comes from the north side of the plain and so hasn’t been here before.
A homely looking waitress emerges from behind the bar to take his order:
“Yer not from around these parts, are you?” she asks, eyeing him up and down.“Why? does everyone from round here state the obvious all the time?” Arvor replies.
She just shrugs. “We ain’t not be gettin’ not many folks here that ain’t from Plainsville,” she says, stating the obvious.
“I am kind of”, Says Taeva. “I’ve been away a long time but I’m back to visit my Folks. The Traske Ranch – down near the east side of the Atok Swamps, far side of the mountains."
Grim looks admiringly at Taeva, “Beautiful and a woman of means as well? I wish I hadn’t messed up my chances by being so fresh!” he laughs.
The locals have been watching and listening intently to the new comers. After all, their arrival is one of the most interesting events here for several weeks. One of them hears Taeva’s answer:
“Yer ole man Ben Traske’s daughter, are ye?” he asks. The man looks about the same age as Taeva’s father, approaching 60. “Lost count of the seasons since I last saw him. He seems to like to keep himself to himself down there by the swamps. Always was a bit of a loner.”
The locals seem to relax a little when they realize that there is ‘one of their own’ among the offworlders and go back to their activities – which is mostly drinking themselves to death while playing poker with one another.
The party members order dinner and it arrives 30 minutes later. The dinner is fabulous – enormous portions and hearty home-cooked natural food All are feeling completely stuffed afterwards. The locals mostly ignore the newcomers during the rest of the evening, seemingly having little interest in who they are and why they are here.
It’s been a long day and it was tiring just sitting in the air/rafts for 10 hours’ non-stop and so the party members head off for an early night.