After delivering their cargo on Paquin, Daisy runs into several friends and takes shore leave from the rest of Blackbird ’s crew.
In the interim, the Crew makes contact with an off-world settlement interested in their recent supply surplus of antibiotics and crop supplements. The settlement is Bethany on Triumph. In addition to their cargo, the Crew is asked to deliver the body of their town patron’s daughter. In all, the Crew is offered a substantial amount of money — ₡1415. The deal’s too good, too easy, to pass up. After a quick discussion, it’s agreed that they’ll come back for Daisy in a few days.
En route, it becomes clear why the people in Bethany asked Blackbird to carry the Patron’s daughter’s body — Annadale’s medical background is necessary for keeping the body “wet” during transport. Every few hours she must inject the corpse with a dose of Norpoxil in order to keep the body from decomposing. For Annadale it’s nothing to worry about; she’s seen and had to do worse as a medic. But for the rest of the crew, keeping a respectful distance is a top priority.
Breaking atmo on Triumph is easy enough. Finding the Bethany settlement is a little trickier. The town is nestled in what is little more than a forest glen. A single road arcs through the trees in a near semi-circle. To the south end of town is a flattened patch of ground just big enough for Blackbird to land. The entire town has assembled at the landing area, dressed in all black, to receive the body of their leader’s daughter.
One such man steps forward as the cargo bay doors open. He is dressed in a fitted but worn black suit, wide-brimmed hat. The man’s beard follows his jawline, trimmed clean of a mustache. He identifies himself as Patron Westin Cole, father of the deceased. He wraps his arms around the casket and cries deeply. His wife, Celia Cole, comforts him until he is able to stand again. With a shaky voice he invites the crew to his office to receive their payment. Jackie, Annadale and Oliver agree, leaving Bobby and Tarsh to supervise the unloading of the town’s cargo.
Patron Westin’s office is sparse. Several tables line the walls, a large cabinet with a fold-down shelf, and a circle of simple wooden chairs. The Patron offers refreshments, and takes a jug of water from the cabinet. He also pulls a wooden cash box from inside and presents them their ₡1415 payment. Jackie asks about his daughter and wonders about how her life came to an end. Patron Westin says, “My sweet Lisanne. She went off to fight with the Coalition. Served well, too. Her body came to us from Kalidasa, so I’m just guessin’ she was at the newer battle at Verbena.” Oliver words of consolation, claiming to have been in battle with Lisanne when she died. He continues, saying that he and the crew picked her up, carried her, kept her safe as she was returned to her family. Afraid that Oliver’s ramblings will be like pouring salt on already opened wounds, Annadale and Jackie brace for the worse. Instead of taking offense, Patron Westin rises and embraces Oliver, holding him close, thanking him for everything he did for his daughter, Lisanne…
…Jackie and Annadale watch in confusion.
Meanwhile, walking the dusty streets of Bethany, Kazuto makes furious notes in his databook, observing the architecture and outward signs of the town’s culture. He notices a church on the north side of town and goes to look around. It’s a simple wooden structure, steepled at the top, with a cross pointing to the heavens. A man exits the church. He is Preacher Ki Owens, aged and upright, with a swoop of salt-and-pepper hair combed over his balding head. He and Kazuto make their introductions and the Preacher invites Kazuto to join the townsfolk for the burial ceremony of the Patron’s daughter. He him’s-and-ha’s, but agrees when Preacher Ki promises a meal to follow. They go to the Patron’s office to extend the invitation to the rest of the crew, too.
Kazuto and Preacher Ki enter the Patron’s office with enough time to see Westin Cole hugging Oliver. The Preacher interrupts to let everyone know it’s time for the burial of Lisanne Cole.
On the way to the church, Oliver offers to get his violin and play during the services. Patron Westin agrees, saying it would be a nice touch. So Oliver races to Blackbird , bringing his violin, as well as Bobby and Tarsh (who only agree to go once the promise of food is made), back with him. They arrive just as the church door is opened …
…and the sounds a man screaming, cursing, fill the air.
The church sanctuary is nothing fancy — two columns of wooden pews filled with townspeople, a center isle leading to a platformed dais, over which is a massive wooden cross staring back. The source of the screams comes from a metal cage, similar to a jail cell, in the corner of the sanctuary. A man in his early twenties, black hair dangling in his face, thrashes about inside. Patron Westin introduces the man as Travis Hu — his daughter’s husband-to-be. The Patron escorts Annadale to the cage and presents her with a small wooden box. Inside is a number of syringes and a bottle of medicine.
“Please,” the Patron says, “it’s time.”
“Time for…?” Annadale asks, confused.
“This is my daughter’s fiance. It’s time for them to be married.”
“But how can they be married if she’s already…”
Then it hits her. And the rest of the crew. The look on the Patron and Preacher’s faces explains everything. They intend for Annadale to kill Travis so that he and Lisanne can be married/buried together.
Preacher Ki offers an explanation for the practice: The town follows the teachings of Saint Marcus of Sihnon, a Christian martyr who suggested that it was a sin for the living to bury a person without marriage, or someone to accompany the dead to Heaven. He proposed and advocated that if a person dies then their spouse be euthanize and buried as well. If a person dies while unmarried then they are to have an “attendant” join them — chosen by the church and town elders. Ki says that Travis Hu was chose as Lisanne’s Attendant.
Blackbird ’s crew protests draw the attention of the gathered townsfolk. Heads turn and all eyes are on the group.
Kazuto is fascinated by the development; this is the kind of in-field social study he loves. He goes to Travis and speaks to the intended attendant while the others argue. Travis is scared. He doesn’t want to die. He claims he never even knew Lisanne Cole, but now he’s going to be murdered and buried with her. Kazuto tries a few more questions, but Travis is too emotional to respond. He asks Kazuto to hand him a nearby Bible.
Travis reads aloud:
“He who findeth a wife findeth a favored thing,
and obtains favor of the Lord.
Therefore shall a man leave his father
and his mother, and the earth he
hath called home.
And shall he cleave unto his wife,
scourging men who doth do he and his wrong.
But if he doth dote on home,
on father and mother,
then shall his favor be unsheathed
—others shall be allowed to his find.
Wife and others shall be one flesh.”
Travis looks Kazuto in the eyes and says, “I sure do miss my momma. I’m not ready to leave home yet.”
Patron Westin overhears this and realizes that the situation has changed. He goes to the cage and grabs Kazuto, embracing him. “Thank you, sir. You’re going to fight for my daughter’s hand.”
The entire crew realizes that Travis has somehow forced Kazuto into a love triangle. Patron Westin says there will be a fight to the death in a few hours to determine who will officially be married to Lisanne.
He explains further that the rules for the Attendancy Duel:
If Travis wins, Kazuto will die alone and Travis will be buried/married to Lisanne.
If Kazuto wins, Travis will die alone and Kazuto will be buried/married to Lisanne.
That’s when the following occurs simultaneously:
Bobby pulls a gun on the congregation, who are now getting curious.
Jackie pulls a gun on Westin Cole, pulling Kazuto toward the door.
Oliver and Annadale frantically argue with the Preacher.
Tarsh keeps a hand on his holstered gun, and keeps his eyes on everyone.
Patron Westin quickly tries to calm the situation. He asks the Crew to reconsider, even offering them his office for their private use. Inside the office, everyone agrees that they don’t want Kazuto to go through with the Attendency Duel, least of all Kazuto (now beside himself with panic). Most see the only course of acting to be getting back to the ship and taking off.
Oliver takes the lead, opening a window and tossing himself and Kazuto outside… right at Patron Westin’s feet.
“Is there a problem?” he asks.
Oliver lays into him, citing his own (distorted) faith for comparison. The rest of the Crew exit the building and tell Westin that there will be no Duel; they’re going back to their ship and leaving. Neither Westin nor anyone in town protest.
Annadale asks for a few minutes before leaving, so the rest of the Crew boards Blackbird and begins take off procedures.
Annadale goes back to the church and speaks with Travis Hu. She asks him more about the Attendency Duel and the background for such a fight. Travis admits that last duel was more than a decade ago. He also explains to her that when Patron Westin’s words “Kazuto will die alone if he doesn’t win, that only means he won’t be married. He’ll have to find Heaven on his own without a guide.” Annadale figures that the townspeople won’t kill the loser outright, but merely leave him to live a full life without the hope of marriage. For these people it’s a fate worse than marriage/death. Annadale has a plan. She leaves Travis and heads to the ship.
On board Blackbird , Bobby and Tarsh make quick pre-flight checks, ready to leave as soon as Annadale returns. They see her leaving the church, running to the ship. That’s all they need. But then, through the cockpit window, both of them see Patron Westin and his wife, Celia, walking arm-in-arm towards the ship, watching. They look amazingly disappointed.
Tarsh sighs and takes a final moment to go to the cargo bay and open the doors. Leaning out of the ship as its engines rev, he asks, “What do you want now?”
“We’re hoping you’ll reconsider… for our daughter’s sake.”
Meanwhile, in the engine room, Oliver’s been thinking over the situation and decides his and the crew’s decision was rather uncaring. With a quick arm he pulls several levers and flips a few switches. The engine suddenly shutters and screeches.
In the Cockpit, Bobby feels the flight controls give way and the computers flash multiple error screens. Then the ship stops. Literally, falling 10 feet back to the ground.
Still leaning out the bay door, Tarsh is thrown to the dirt. He sprains his ankle, but picks himself up. “Excuse me,” he tells Westin, “I think I need to talk to my crew.” He goes back inside.
Oliver’s already figured out that he’d done something wrong, so he casually slips inside an air vent to hide.
Bobby doesn’t have to think twice. He immediately goes to the engine room, but finds it empty. From somewhere else on the ship he hears “Baa-aa-aa! coming from Mersa, Oliver’s goat. Bobby quickly turns and stomps towards the sound. Quietly, Oliver slips out of the air vent and follows Bobby.
Tarsh limps up the stairs and enters the galley just in time to see Bobby pull his gun on Mersa (who chomps on greens from the garden bunk), and Oliver raise his fist to pound on Bobby’s head. Tarsh yells Oliver’s name, distracting the two men.
Just then, Jackie, Annadale and Kazuto enter the galley with some news — a plan for getting them out of danger during the Attendancy Duel. Unfortunately, the Crew begins to argue, their voices overlapping.
“What’s happened to the ship?”
“We need to leave. Now!”
“Everyone, stop shouting.”
“Fix my ship or the goat gets it!”
Oliver, terrified for Mersa, looks Bobby in the eye and promises that “by the eternal flames of the goddess red pheonix, you will be reborn. I will see to it. Now I will fix the ship.” Everyone hears Oliver’s voice, and there’s something cogent, lucid in his voice. It’s the first truthful thing they remember him saying. Only Annadale hears it as a threat. Oliver makes a quick assessment on the damage he’s caused and estimates that repairs will take 10 hours.
In the meantime, Annadale tells everyone that she’s figured out how Kazuto can both fight and die, and still be alive. She explains that she has several doses of Byphodine which she’ll inject him with prior to the duel. The drug, when given slightly more than a recommended dosage, can cause a death-like coma. For all intense and purposes, Kazuto will appear to have been killed — the loser of the duel. The entire crew agrees.
When Patron Westin is told that Kazuto finally agreed to the duel, he smiles, thanks them all and sets the duel for two hours time.
Two hours later, the crew arrives at a corral next to the church (sans Oliver, who continues to work on the engines). Most of the town has shown up to watch the duel as well. Annadale pulls Kazuto in for a good-luck hug. The rest of the crew pushes in, too, hiding Annadale’s injection of the Byphodine. Then it’s up to Kazuto to survive long enough for the drug to take effect.
Travis Hu is ready for the fight. He and Kazuto face off in the middle of the corral, throwing punches and avoiding major blows.
…meanwhile, Oliver has had a second change of heart. He finds a canister of fuel on the ship and takes it to the church.
In the corral, Tarsh watches the fight between Travis and Kazuto, but sees Oliver approaching. Once Oliver heads to the church, Tarsh follows. The rest of the crew continues watching the fight.
In the church, Oliver tosses fuel on the pews, the dais, and the massive cross facing the front door. Tarsh enters just as Oliver lights the church on fire. The flames spread across the aisles and wooden pews.
In the corral, Travis and Kazuto duke it out, throwing punches that do little damage. It’s gonna be a long fight. The rest of Blackbird ‘s Crew watches, hoping the Byphodine takes effect soon. Finally, after another fifteen seconds of fists and kicks, Kazuto’s head wobbles and he collapses in a heap. Patron Westin and several townsfolk race over to check on him. As far as they can tell he’s dead.
Then the air starts to carry a scent. Something’s on fire.
Patron Westin and Preacher Ki race into the church, just as Tarsh is trying to drag Oliver out. Oliver slides out of Tarsh’s grasp and begins preaching to the two town leaders. His diatribe is insane, riddled with confusing allegory and imagery. The leaders are not amused. Thankfully, they’re pacifist, otherwise they would’ve pulled a gun already. Thankfully, too, Annadale enters the church with Bobby at just the right time.
Annadale pulls Bobby’s gun from his side holster and aims it at the Preacher. He yells wildly at her. Annadale fires. The Preacher falls backwards, injured but otherwise alive. With effort, Tarsh pulls Oliver out of the church. The entire Crew meets in the street — Jackie dragging Kazuto’s body toward the ship. Annadale pulls a wad of cash from her pocket (their payment for the cargo delivery) and throws it into the street.
In the middle of the outraged townsfolk, Travis watches in confusion. Bobby pulls another of his guns and fires at Travis, knowing that his “win” in the corral will ultimately lead to his death. Travis slumps backwards, dead.
Eventually the Crew makes it back on board Blackbird .
The next eight hours of engine repair is accompanied by the angered pacifism of the townsfolk beating on the cargo bay door.