Wednesday, February 21, 2024

BESM - Palomino: Treasure of the Sierra Mecha 2

Our wandering heroes - Kate the gamber and terraformer, Jake the tinkerer and gunsmith, and Se-No-Wo-Te the displaced Native American - are dealing with unexpected miners on the outskirts of the town of Grace on the mining moon of Palomino....

Fochenflick then spoke with Kate, sharing impressions of Fleiss, then with Jake, who reported their attempted bribe and the jamming equipment on their mechs. He then checked with Se-No-Wote to see if there had been any activity in Travers Canyon, and suggested that the Indian stay away from the canyon edge for a few days. He also suggested that his three newest employees should come in for dinner that night; the miners could stay where they were for the time being. 

Jake worked his way to a better observation post. The mechs were busy building a bulwark. They were about 30 years old and in good condition. They had been repaired several times, but they were standard models, not like Jake's hand-built job. They had no unusual visible equipment, so the jammer might be elsewhere. He knew the model; they didn't have a lot of room inside. 

Se-No-Wote turned his attention to wandering cattle in the badlands. He found one with a broken leg, which took care of lunch. He found another stream that was apparently connected to the same tainted water source, and took the opportunity for a closer look. The water had a slight sheen. He took a sample. 

Mr. Fleiss got cleaned up (which didn't mean he could ride inside the mech) and Kate took him back to the mine. He invited her up for a drink to meet the other fellows and apologized for throwing a satchel charge at her; she assured him that it had been forgotten, and increased her speed a bit to cut down on the chatter. At the camp, she got a look at the new earthworks, laughed silently, and went off to find the other two for their meeting with Fochenflick.

On his way in, Se-No-Wote passed Jeb and Simon riding out into the badlands. Kate took advantage of the room and clothes Fochenflick had on offer. Jake reported about his work on the sensor arrays, that the fences were turned on but had no control center, and that the hardware seemed to have nothing wrong with it. Fochenflick wanted the fences tied into his own system. Jake suggested finding the person who sold Granger the gear, to see about upgrading. It emerged that Fochenflick had recommended the upgrade to the Granger systems and even given him a loan, which might have worked out well had Granger had more time to work out the bugs. Se-No-Wote reported on the tainted water. Fochenflick mentioned that some people had actually died due to the water problems. Filtration systems were a big business in town. Was it possible the mining operation had caused some spilloff?

Kate pulled out her maps of the watershed, interfering with the service of the soup course; it seemed unlikely that the small mine was causing the problem. Fochenflick decided to put more filtration systems in on the streams on his land. Jake suggested that the filters at the boarding house might be a rich information source. There was some conversation on Cassady's eccentricities, and his work taking in orphaned children (to whom Fochenflick had given some money). Fochenflick offered the other two rooms at his casa. Jake wanted to continue his work at the boarding house. 

Talk turned to what Se-No-Wote had seen in Travers Canyon. There was a gentlemen's agreement between Travers and some of the local ranchers after some disagreements over water rights, that there would be no mining outside the canyon. Jeb Granger must have been very worried about money to allow the mining he had. They were violating the gentlemen's agreement, but not the actual law. There was no evidence that Travers knew what was going on. The three miners had most likely... liberated... a few of his mechs. Kate wondered why Travers hadn't notified the law about the theft. Jake guessed correctly that Travers was his own law enforcement (and everything else), even though Sheriff Garner was theoretically in authority. And it was just possible that they actually had bought the mechs—they were old models, maybe he'd been replacing them. Where were they planning to sell the gold ore where Travers wouldn't hear about it? Run it via mecha to some other city? 

It was going to be hard to stop them; they were well dug in, and they did have the agreement with the Grangers, which trumped the gentlemen's agreement. Fochenflick had been Granger's partner. It would be a big legal mess if they pressed their claim, which might not work in Fochenflick's favor. On the other hand, there was no way the three were going to stay hidden for another six months. Jake proposed letting them haul off the tailings from Kate's earthmoving and sift it for ore wherever they wanted to. Jeb and Simon were out keeping an eye on the camp. 

Fochenflick wanted more information. Se-No-Wote would sneak in to the camp to find out more, and use his mech by remote control to distract their attention. He passed some less than friendly words with Jeb and Simon and headed up the cliff to the quasi-licit camp. 

The three miners were crouched behind their earthwork, watching the Indian's mech (and Jeb and Simon) as intended. They were working themselves into an even more nervous state, worried about the Granger killing and Se-No-Wote's presence (one of them decided that Se-No-Wote had killed the Grangers) and what Fochenflick might do and what might happen if they were forced to return to Travers and how they might flee with all of their gold in two mechs without being forced to split up and how they would fight if they had to. It appeared that they did not entirely trust each other. He rifled their tents quietly, found the jamming equipment but not the gold. Enough food and water to last them weeks. 

Back at the ranch, Kate went over her surveying with Fochenflick, gave him her estimates on how many explosives he would need and discussed which rivers he wanted to keep. It took a couple of hours. She returned to her hotel for the night, though, had a drink at the bar and picked up the day's gossip. The people she'd been playing with the other night had headed out. She gave a correct if sketchy version of the Granger murder and was surprised by a "working girl" who had been seeing Harris and seemed certain that Harris hadn't killed anyone because of Molly... the sheriff had shot Harris for no reason. Apparently Fochenflick hired a lot of twitchy people. 

Jake stopped by the mech repair shop looking for a water analysis kit and found one that might function again with some work and spare parts, then returned to his lodgings, where he had been dubbed Hammer Guy by the children. 

Se-No-Wote reported to Fochenflick, who didn't seem to want anyone killed, but did want the problem handled quietly, without Travers finding out. He did tell Se-No-Wote that they had checked the water on the Granger land and found nothing. Se-No-Wote did not receive an offer of a room.

To be Continued....

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