NPC: Chuck, Uengghae, Kagak, Captain Su Daagudakur and her crew, Ushin
With everyone suited up and ready to go and personnel at their stations, Gvarokh
gives the order to mini-jump to the asteroid.
Slade clenches his jaw as he watches the drive readouts from his station. The jump in and out is done within an eyeblink. The ship shudders once it's over, but all readouts are nominal. The ship withstood the abuse, and none of the drives is showing any damage. Still, once this mission is done, Slade vows to examine every micrometer.
Gvarokh fires up the active scanners. He finds the laser comm signal and relays it to Vincent. Apparently, it's right next to a smooth metallic surface which is a dead giveaway for a hatch. Radar indicates that it is large enough to accommodate starships twice the size of Miishakaal. There are no other ships in the area.
Vincent takes the laser comm coordinates and fires off a run of frequency hails to establish a link up. The hacking program immediately fires up. It takes just a few seconds for the program to punch through the firewall and gain access to the system. Vincent downloads a layout of the place and forwards it to the bridge for Gvarokh to look over before forwarding it on to the extraction team. Vincent quickly determines that there are four ships in the hangar bay (located right at the entrance) with room for two more.
While Vincent is busy, Gvarokh checks the asteroid surface scans for signs of weapons or other hatches but doesn't find any.
After Vincent has his layout and has quickly scanned through the hangar bay's internal sensors, Gvarokh asks, "How many people appear to be on board?"
Vincent replies, "I can't tell. There's not a lot of security cameras, and there aren't any obvious personnel files. I can see a few guys. No idea if it's all of them."
"Can we start a chain reaction of explosive decompression so that we literally blow them out into space?"
"I don't think so. Most of the hatches are dumb. This place really isn't all that wired. I can vent out the hangar bay and the areas connected to it, but that appears to be it."
"How about the ships in the bay? Can you control any of them?"
"No. All their comm systems are off."
"Any idea what they are?"
"From what I can see on the video feeds, two far traders, two free traders. Shit. Someone knows I'm in. Whatever we're going to do, we need to do it now."
Gvarokh says, "Open the main doors in an uncontrolled manner and lock them open. Then see if you can kill the power plant before you get kicked out. Get what data you can around that."
"Aye, aye." A few seconds later Vincent adds, "Ok, I've got them vented, but it didn't affect the guy in the control room. His door is manual. I can see and hear him. He's trying to kick me out of the system. Crap, he just realized that. I lost his AV feed, but I'm still in the system. Looking for the power plant... No, I'm not seeing it. It's not connected to the network. I'll see what data I can snag in the meantime.
"You know, we can fly in and take out any opposition before they get to the ships. Take out the engineering sections."
Simrii disagrees, "If I may be so bold, shooting up powered down starships cuts into our profit margins, it's all salvageable materials. Don't get me wrong I'm more than happy to light up anything that powers up."
Gvarokh says, "We're not shooting any ships. If we decide to get those ships, we'll need to turn them over to Ushin. I'm sure there's a reward for them."
Ushin says, "Certainly. If anyone filed a claim on those ships, the company that insured them will certainly want their property returned to them. These are multi-megacredit vessels after all."
Lakir interrupts, "Decision point, guys. We take the ship we came for, or we take the base. The clock's ticking, and we need to move. Now."
Gvarokh answers him, "We're going in. ETA 10 minutes, 25 seconds." He fires up the thrusters and drives the ship forward. The ship moves forward unimpeded. At the midway point, he flips the ship around and begins decelerating. He opens the forward cargo hatch (depressurized ahead of time of course) near the entrance so that the landing party can hit the ground running. Gvarokh finishes the decel burn before entry, saving the barest of momentum for entry into the hangar bay.
A solid ka-chunk is felt as the ship lands on the floor of the bay. The landing party is out in seconds.
Lakir comms Su, "Which one's yours, Su?"
"There she is." She points at the ship in bay five.
"Uengghae and Kagfak, stand watch here in the bay. Vlad and I will take point to make sure the ship's clear. Su, you and your crew follow. Chuck, you're on our six."
The airlock to Ronni's Raven is unlocked so Vlad and Lakir are able to gain entry. Once everyone is inside and the lock is pressurized, Vlad and Lakir burst forth into an empty crew common area. The iris valve to the bridge is open. A quick peek inside reveals no one home. Lakir waves Su and her crew inside while he, Vlad, and Chuck finish sweeping the forward personnel area of the free trader. They find no one there.
Ki sits down in the pilot's chair and fires up the instrument panel. Fortunately, no one appears to have changed the bridge control panels access.
Su brings up the internal sensors. "No one else is on board. The power plant is on, but it's running at a bare minimum. Khamu, go with Bill down to engineering. We need to get that power plant up to speed ASAP." To Lakir, she says, "Thank you, Lakir. I think we've got it from here."
Ki contradicts her. "Uhhhh, Captain, you might want them to check out what's in the cargo hold first."
"What is it, Ki?"
"There's some kind of robot in there with an empty grav sled."
Bill and Khamu, who stopped short upon hearing that the cargo hold was occupied, have returned. Looking at the screen, Bill says, "That's a Gasbag-1000. I don't recall us having one of those."
"We don't," Su says.
Lakir scrutinizes the bot. It's a squat, four tread, pyramid-shaped bot with two gripper arms. "What's one do?" he asks.
Bill replies, "Oh, it's just a simple cargo bot. It's good for moving heavy shit around, not much else."
"How is this thing controlled? Tele-operated will be a bit of a bitch. Any chance Vincent can hack it? Don’t want it runnin’ around loose; we either control it, or it’s gone."
Bill replies, "If you've got the software on a handcomp, you can program it to do what you want. I guess it's hackable, once you figure out the operational frequency."
Vlad growls. "I'll go see if it's really a bomb in disguise. If it isn't, I'll push it out of the cargo bay."
Lakir says, "I'll cover you. Bill and Khamu, you guys can head to engineering."
The group heads into the cargo bay. The robot looks powered down and makes no action upon the group drawing into anything which could be its awareness range. Once Bill and Khamu are in engineering, Vlad examines it for any signs of an IED. After a couple of minutes, he says, "We're good. No sign of tampering. Captain Su, I'll need you to depressurize the hold and then drop the gravity so that we can get this nguk out of here."
Meanwhile, Gvarokh instructs Vincent to unleash a worm inside the base's central computer. "I want this place non-functional when we're done."
It takes five minutes to depressurize the hold. The gravity drops in seconds. Vlad picks up the bot while Lakir lifts up its empty grav sled and they drop their loads in the hangar bay. The cargo bay door closes, and then the hold is re-pressurized and gravitized.
Five minutes later, the hold is pressurized. Lakir and Vlad leaves the cargo hold. "How are we doing for powering up?"
Su replies, "Bill needs five more minutes."
Five minutes seems like forever, but Bill finally says they're ready. Su instructs him to start powering up the jump drive as it takes ten minutes to charge their capacitors.
Lakir, Vlad, Chuck, Kagfak and Uengghae all return to the Miishakaal.
Gvarokh pilots the ship out of the hangar bay. Once he's got it clear, Ronni's Raven follows. Once she's clear, Vincent sends the worm.
After a minute, Gvarokh asks Vincent, "Has it done its job?"
"I'm sure it has by now."
Gvarokh then pilots the ship in to the mouth of the hangar and orders Simrii to fire a precise shot at the hangar bay command center. "A low intensity shot. Just enough to reduce that room to slag, but leave the ships undamaged."
Once complete, Gvarokh turns the ship around and heads out. "Prepare to jump."
Chuck asks, "Aren't we going back for the other ships?"
"No," Gvarokh replies. "We need to escort the Raven back home."
"Well, we could rendezvous with them at Kakkin. We can't do anything for them while we're all in jump. If those other ships are in as good condition as the Raven, it wouldn't take us long at all to get them out. The Raven might only be waiting for us a few hours."
Gvarokh mulls it over for just a few seconds then nods his head. "Yes, let's see what we can get. Captain Su, please keep watch. If anything jumps in, let us know and then jump to Kakkin. Do NOT wait for us."
"Vincent, I need you to join the landing party. We're going to need you to hack through any anti-hijack programs, if there are any, and then grab the command codes so that we can fly these things out of here.
"Lakir, grab one of the far traders first. Once you've gained access, have Vincent get it up and running. Uengghae and Kagfak will stay on board to fly it out while the rest of the team moves on to the other far trader. If you can't access a ship, move on to the next.
"You'll also have to check to see if there's enough supplies on board to make the trip. If not, we'll rendezvous to rectify things. Get ready. We're going back in."
Gvarokh pilots the ship back in, rotates it around to have Dougok's turret face inside the bay (to provide cover in case upstarts from within the base make a strike attempt) and Simrii's turret to watch the entrance (in case Su reports the arrival of intruders).
Once the ship is on the deck, the cargo hatch opens and the landing party rushes out to the far trader in bay three. They climb the staircase to the personnel airlock. Like the Raven, the ship is unlocked. After cycling through the airlock, the group makes its way to the bridge. Again, there doesn't appear to be anyone on board. While Vincent sets up his laptop to hack its way into the computer, Chuck watches over him. The rest of the group searches the ship in teams of two to ensure that no one else is on board.
Gvarokh comms in, "Status report, Vincent."
Vincent replies, "I can't seem to crack the encryption on this ship's command codes."
"Then move on to the next ship."
"Are you sure? I can run through the algorithms again."
"The clock is our enemy. Move on to the next ship."
"Aye aye, sir." To the rest of the team, he says, "Ok guys, this ship's a bust. Let's move on to the other far trader."
The team quickly disembarks and makes its way down the ladder. They cross the bay to the next far trader.
They climb the staircase to the personnel airlock. Like the others, the ship is unlocked. After cycling through the airlock, the group makes its way to the bridge. Once again, there doesn't appear to be anyone on board. While Vincent sets up his laptop to hack its way into the computer, Uengghae watches over him. The rest of the group searches the ship in teams of two to ensure that no one else is on board.
"I'm in," Vincent announces to the group and Gvarokh. With the command codes in places, he immediately checks internal security. The ship appears abandoned, except for the GSbAG-1000 in the cargo bay. Vincent immediately relates this find to the rest of the boarding party and Gvarokh.
"Should we deal with it like the one aboard the Raven?"
Gvarokh says, "No. I reserve the right to change my mind, but if all four ships had one of these on board, then something was up. We should do our best to gather the information needed to find out. Make sure it's secure and isolated, but leave it. I know this is a risk, but we need to allow ourselves the chance to figure this out."
Vlad barks out, "Agreed."
"Aye, aye." Vincent then begins the power plant warm up cycle. "Ok, she'll be ready to go in thirty minutes." He spends the rest of the time giving Uengghae a quick rundown on engineering readouts so that he can keep abreast of them while he pilots the ship.
Lakir and Vlad inspect the robot while Kagfak gets himself strapped into a turret. Chuck heads to the galley to see if there's any food.
Chuck finishes first. "There's enough food here for a large group of vargr. It's all canned, but definitely made with vargr stomachs in mind."
Lakir and Vlad take a run by engineering before heading back to the passenger lounge. Vincent pats Uengghae on the shoulder before leaving the bridge.
The four remaining members of the boarding party then leave the ship and jog over to the free trader.
They climb the staircase to the personnel airlock. Like the others, the ship is unlocked. After cycling through the airlock, the group makes its way to the bridge. Like all the other ships, there doesn't appear to be anyone on board. While Vincent sets up his laptop to hack its way into the computer, Chuck watches over him. Vlad and Lakir search the ship to ensure that no one else is on board.
While Vincent is working, Uengghae signals that the far trader is ready to go. Gvarokh backs Miishakaal out of the hangar bay and takes a position a mile out to guard the asteroid. He turns on his active sensors to join the Raven's. Once he's clear, Uengghae moves the far trader into the spot formerly occupied by Miishakaal.
Meanwhile, Vincent announces that he has success with capturing command codes. First he checks the internal security system to verify that no one is on board. He informs everyone that this ship, like the others, has one of those GSbAG-1000s in the cargo hold. He then initiates the power plant warm up. He then turns the bridge over to Chuck, picks up his gear, and heads to a turret.
Vlad and Lakir check the galley for food. It's stocked just like the far trader. While Vlad has no problem with this, Lakir is disappointed. Chuck reassures him that he can whip up something that he can eat.
Fifteen minutes into power plant warm up, three jump space flashes pop up on the sensor board.
"Gvarokh!" Su comms him.
"I see them, Su. Get out of here."
The three ships are all Type S Scout Ships, each is 600 miles out, spinward of the asteroid, and closing. Each is ten miles from each other. Scanners say that their weapons are charged and that they've active scanned you.
Gvarokh decides to stall them while the free trader continues its power plant warm up. He raises them on the comm, "Oh boy! Are we glad to see you! We were hoping someone heard our distress call and—"
The scout ships open fire on Miishakaal. All three hit her. The first shot hits the air/raft garage. The second hits the hull above a fuel tank on the port side. The third hits the hull above the port maneuver drive. While none of the hits were strong enough to damage anything beneath the hulls. Further hits in those locations will indeed damage the contents of the ship beneath the hull.
Gvarokh growls and tells Simrii and Dougok to fire back. He also summons Kagfak and Uengghae's ship from the asteroid hangar bay.
Dougok fires first at the middle scout ship. He misses the turret, but hits the adjacent hull.
Simrii aims at the scout ship on the left and destroys its turret.
Meanwhile, Uengghae pilots the far trader out of the asteroid base and heads towards the scout ship trio. When Kagfak has a clear shot, he fires on the scout ship on the right. He succeeds in taking out its turret.
Gvarokh notes that Captain Su has jumped.
While weapons re-charge, the two weaponless scout ships peel off in opposite directions.
The sole armed scout ship fires on Miishakaal. It succeeds in incapacitating Simrii's turret. He is unhurt.
Dougok attempts to make up for his previous shot, all the more important now that the other turret is out of commission. This time he's successful, and now all three scout ships have been rendered weaponless. He lets out a howl of triumph.
Uengghae comms in, "Should we keep firing on them?"
Lakir spouts off, "Better take these puppy fuckers out, else they’ll be spreading our profile through this part O’ space. We don’t clean up the trail, we’ll need to be lookin’ for a new sector ta’ call home!
"And one O’ you fuckers need to teach me how ta’ run a turret, if we get outta this shit. This blows dead goats!"
Gvarokh opens a clear channel. "Remaining scout ship, if you change course, I will permit you to live. If you do not immediately flee, you will die."
Dougok brings his turret around to cover the nearest scout.
Over the private line to Uengghae, Gvarokh says, "Fire on the ship if it does not change course."
Uengghae barks an acknowledgement.
To Uengghae and Chuck, Gvarokh adds, "Keep an eye on all three scout's trajectories. I want to be prepared if they decide to go kinetic on us."
The final scout ship breaks away from engagement.
After a sigh of relief, Gvarokh says, "We will all line up for a straight shot to the 600-mile limit, and all should have their jump programmed by the time we get there. Keep you scanners active; I don't want to get surprised by more arrivals."
The engines on the free trader are warmed up. Chuck pilots the ship out of
the hangar bay and warms up the jump drive.
As the ships move to safe jump distance, Gvarokh comms Lakir, "We're going to have a new ship to call home soon, which is close enough to changing sectors. Plus these are the type of enemies we can enjoy as we are probably going to get tasked with cleaning these guys out soon enough anyway.
"And those ships are Vilani equipment, even if used for corrupt purposes. I don't want us to get charged for their repairs." He hopes everyone can tell that he's half-joking.
"Vincent, if you want to investigate that robot, go ahead. Just make sure you don't lose any of the parts. I want to turn the thing over to the authorities when we get to Kakkin."
Without any further incidents or interference, all three ships are able to
safely jump away to Kakkin.
Next: The Week in Jump