The Log of the Beowulf

Destination: Earth

Following the explosion of the hulk, the crew begin assessing the ship for damage. Remote checking (consisting of looking out of the portholes) is upgraded to EVA when Rob becomes aware of scratching noises coming from outside of the hull.

The crew emerge in two pairs, Marcus/Charles and Alumiya/Dex, and begin scouring the external hull. Marcus, momentarily separated from Charles, spots one of the “lobsters” clinging onto the hull near the cockpit, and calls for help. Initial shots bounce off the creature’s carapace, so the two close to point-blank range. It grabs Marcus’ leg and its pincer closes hard enough to crush the suit’s armoured joint and bruise his knee, before Charles is able to unleash a barrage of shots into a crack in the alien’s armour, killing it outright. Dex and Alumiya encounter another one near the tail, but they are forewarned and make short work of it with the help of the power axe. Marcus is brought inside and extracted from his suit with difficulty. His injury is not serious but it will be a few days before he can walk on it properly.

The Beowulf jumps from the immediate vicinity of the wreck and begins the long trip to Earth, stopping off in the Kuiper Belt to hide the salvage on the way. She arrives in the vicinity of Jupiter and the crew immediately sends out messages to Asoka Jones, a “procurement specialist” known by Marcus, and Professor Hendricks, a former colleague of Rob. Jones is viewed as a potential sales route for the crystal technology, while Hendricks is an xenobiologist and would be interested in the alien body parts.

They then head for Earth orbit, where they enter a tightly-constrained parking orbit. They are approached by a small unmarked vessel, which communicates only by laser beam. After checking the supplied credentials, they let the lone occupant aboard. He turns out to be an agent for Jones and has come to inspect the “merchandise”. Satisfied, he departs, advising that Jones will be in touch to discuss terms.

Rob gets an email from Hendricks, offering to meet in a restaurant in New York with his wife. He’s instantly suspicious, the Professor hates restaurants and is a life-long bachelor. Is this some kind of warning? They decide not to take the risk of replying until they’ve done some further investigation.

As they have several days to spare, Marcus decides it’s time they took some shore leave. Leaving orbit, they put the Beowulf down at the main British spaceport near Glasgow. As they are inspected by customs and pass through immigration, they become aware of a heightened local anxiety about GELFs. Alumiya decides that she’ll stay out of public unless she’s in disguise.

Marcus wants to go fishing and tracks down a suitably-isolated cabin. Alumiya decides to accompany him, while Jack heads for Edinburgh to take the ghost tours. Dex accompanies Rob to the local university, where he hopes to investigate the latest xenobiology research and also what happened to Hendricks.

Rob discovers that most xenobiology research has been concentrated at his old laboratory, originally based at Cambridge, but now an independent corporation funded directly by the military and run by his old research partner, Aaron Cooper. Hendricks, the old head of the laboratory, has been pushed out and is now working at a smaller college in North America.

He also discovers why there has been a panic over GELFs: rumours are spreading that engineered lifeforms, visually identical to humans, have arrived on Earth to wreak havoc following a breakout at a Black Tower BioTech facility on Wolf’s Star b. While he is buried in his research, Dex takes their hired vehicle out for a spin, this causing some issues for Rob, who emerges from the university to find his ride missing. Dex does turn up later at their agreed meeting spot.

Marcus and Alumiya’s vacation has been relatively uneventful, excepting her attempt to apply gravitational technology to her rod, which resulted in a minor electrocution incident along a stretch of the river. That evening, they are approached at the lodge by a fairly obvious “heavy”. It turns out that Asoka Jones is waiting for them at the local watering hole. They go to visit her and Marcus finds himself negotiating for the crystal technology. Unfortunately, Jones is both a member of the Capella Nero and aware of the origins of the Beowulf. As Ingrid Sorrenson was attempting to cheat the organisation anyway and was dead, it had been decided not to make an example of the crew, but restitution was required. Eventually, they agreed that Jones would take the technology in return for Marcus and the crew keeping the ship. They would also get a smaller amount of crash for delivering a cargo to the outer colonies, along with the missing fire control components, although the Capella Nero might also require a future service from them. Marcus reluctantly agrees and hopes the others won’t mind. He calls a meeting with the others at the same bar later that evening.

Following the discussion and having decided to try and make some extra money smuggling, Dex enters a bar in the seedier part of town and starts actively looking for drug dealers. Eventually, he is successful and is directed towards one of the old tenement districts. He becomes aware of being followed as he leaves after making a deal and gets into a taxi to evade his followers, but never gets to his destination.

Unfortunately, nobody knows where he went in the first place.

That night, the crew get concerned over Dex’s disappearance and contact the police. Despite searches, the pilot doesn’t turn up until the following lunchtime, asleep in a ditch on one of the main roads towards Edinburgh.
After the police bring him in, Rob checks him over. There’s little sign of injury, except for signs of bindings on his wrists and ankles, and a lack of memory of the intervening time. They come to the conclusion that he was tied, drugged and interrogated, but by whom? And Rob wants to know how?

Dex explains his background as a GELF soldier, including the reversed proteins that make up his biochemistry. The medic points out that normal drugs wouldn’t have worked on him – so the mysterious captors must have known what he was.

Who are they? And what do they want?

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Boom!

After a few further experiments, Dex decides to leave the room with the bodies as is for the moment. Rob can be brought in with body-bags for a second attempt.

The group edges around the walls and enters another corridor, finding what appears to be the door to a lift shaft. Opening it up, they do indeed find a shaft stretching from the inner hull below them to (presumably) the core of the huge vessel. There don’t appear to be any lift carriages, so there is some discussion as to whether this was some kind of zero gravity travel tube or an energy conduit. In the absence of any kind of gravity analogue, using the shaft is simplicity itself, as they walk up the walls, keeping a wary eye open for fast moving carriages.

Once they estimate they have reached about half-way, they take a side corridor towards the nose of the derelict, hoping to encounter the control centre. The chosen corridor ends at a large double-door and, after some fiddling, they manage to open it, revealing a vast open space. They are half-way up one wall, and a large object resembling a bunch of huge grapes, shrink-wrapped in some kind of plastic, floats in the middle of the void. Some discussion follows as to whether it is worth attempting to salvage, before Dex, attached to a safety line, ventures into the microgravity space. As he approaches the structure, he becomes aware that it is incredibly hot, and decides to back off when he’s nearly burnt.

Thus thwarted, the team returns to the shaft and proceeds to the top, where they emerge into a wide, low-ceilinged room, dense with blocks and pipes made of transparent crystal. Seeing a further opening to what appears to be the core of the huge vessel, they proceed further, finding a huge crystal globe hanging in the middle of a spherical room, surrounded by more crystal blocks. They come to the conclusion that this is some kind of power source and, given its size, they decide to leave it and look elsewhere.They press on now to the front of the ship, hitting a blank wall a hundred metres or so short of the nose of the vessel. The space beyond is solid, but not very dense, and appears to be come kind of shield for the rest of the ship.

Their air supplies are running low, so they decide to return to the Beowulf and rest.

The next day, they decide to explore the rear end of the vessel, at least as far as the radiation emitted from the drive system allows. This should be made easier by the damage done by the alien lobsters, which have cleared most of the decayed superstructure out of the way. They opt to take the ship’s new grav sled with them, both to make movement easier and to carry anything valuable that they might find. Rather than risk running into any of the lobsters, they travel along parallel to their main route, but 90 degrees further around the hull. The lobsters seem to be carrying out chunks of pipes and other objects, possibly to assist with the repairs of their own “vessel”.

The crew come up to a corridor wrapping right around the ship with a series of doors in the far wall; there are no visible markings to distinguish them. They locate one well away from the lobsters and break in. The room beyond seems to be some kind of storeroom or warehouse, full of crates, so they start breaking them open. Most seem to contain some kind of gel, seeds or other, possibly food, stores. They then start looking for markings on the crates to distinguish them but, again, there do not appear to be any. They then try looking in ultraviolet light and it’s a success! There are recognisable symbols only visible under UV; evidently the aliens saw outside the human visible light range.

At this point, they become aware of an approaching lobster. They close the door and go quiet, and the lobster stops to tap at the door, then moves on.

They find a door on the far side of the warehouse and press on, arriving in a huge chamber spanning the entire width of the ship, and full of saucer-shaped objects of various sizes. The immediate assumption is that they are some kind of transport vessel. They can see lobsters crawling over several of them and, as they watch, one lobster tries to break into one. Its exploration is terminated by a small, intense explosion. The team wisely decides to move on to another chamber.

They find more warehouses on the other side of the “hangar”, this time containing crates full of crystals of varying sizes. They discover that shining lights into the crystals produces regular patterns and symbols in light on nearby surfaces and, what’s more, that the patterns are predictable. They decide that these may be some kind of tool and decide to collect a few on the way back.

The next room after this is also huge, and appears to be the main drive room. It’s full of equipment and lobsters breaking things apart and carting off the pieces. As the crew watches, there are several small explosions and it becomes clear that things are beginning to escalate. The lobsters appear to be entirely heedless as to the danger.

The team decides to call a halt at this point and begins piling crystals and other interesting items on their sled for the return trip. The return is uneventful and they manage to dodge the lobsters.

Once the sled is unloaded, Rob agrees to go forward to explore and acquire some of the remains of the aliens, which proceeds uneventfully. The stop to take another look at the huge crystal “power source”, then they figure it out. Shining lights of different frequencies into different places in different combinations produces different combinations of symbols, as if it is a giant light-based computer. This would be worth a fortune, but they’re unable to figure out how to extract it.

They grab some more smaller devices, then Charles shines his floodlight into one of the devices on the floor below. It seems it’s some kind of engine control device, as a rumbling reverberates through the floor, followed by a major shock as you might expect from a large explosion. The derelict begins to vibrate quite violently.

The crew decides that’s their cue to depart and rush back to the Beowulf, dodging collapsing walls and ceilings as they go. Arriving at the ship, they notice that the lobsters are still carrying on their business as if nothing is wrong: definitely not intelligent then!

As they leave the vicinity of the wreck, there’s a massive explosion. The hull remains intact, but bright flames shoot out of the stern and the large hole on the side. It’s fairly obvious that anything inside is being fried, and they can see the white blob blackening and shrivelling from the heat…

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Salvage

(Charles Blake – player absent)

The crew has spent more than a year building up its cash reserves, taking risky routes between the usual space lanes for high-paying customers. In the process, they have had the broken spar in the ship repaired and the Beowulf itself restructured to redistribute the hidden “smugglers’ space” across the hull. They’ve also bought a space-capable grav sled and large amounts of salvage equipment. They have also explained all to their navigator, Jake Hall, who has bought into the salvage enterprise.

Now, they are going to return to the alien derelict to see what they can find.

Before they start, they decide it would be a good idea to rehearse some of the likely situations they would find themselves in. They head for an abandoned supply base, known of by Dex, and orbiting a brown dwarf near New Alaska, to practice zero-gee operations.

The base is a large gravity-less cylinder, tumbling gently through space, with several access doors and the crew quarters bolted onto the side. After some initial manoeuvring to get alongside due to its complex motion, they go out in small groups to practice moving about in microgravity and the use of various anchoring tools. Once Dex and Charles are happy that they have the basics down, they open one of the hatches and go into the main bay. The bay is almost empty, with most of the abandoned detritus having moved to the ends of the cylinder, while several standard containers are attached to the “wall”. They explore for a short while, then Alumiya notices a flashing light emanating from one end of a container. A closer look reveals an active fusion power plant.

Investigating further, they find a hidden locking mechanism on the outer doors, open them and reveal an airlock. Dex and Marcus enter to explore, finding basic living quarters, obviously in regular use, but not at this moment. It quickly becomes clear that this is associated with criminals of some kind, possibly raiders, so they decide to leave it as they found it, departing the system fairly rapidly.

At New Alaska, they leave a time-delayed, anonymous tip-off to the law.

They now try for the derelict, their navigator taking them to the place indicated in Roger’s notes. It has drifted further than they expected and they have to make a detour to get to it, finding that it hasa large white mass attached to the side, which has altered its motion noticeably.

As they approach, they are hit by a white cable of a similar hue to the mass, so Alumiya goes out to retrieve a section. Bringing it inside, she and Rob attempt to analyse it, Rob coming to the conclusion it is of organic origin, not unlike spider silk.

Meanwhile, Dex brings them closer to the hulk, avoiding as many of the flailing cables as he can. As they close, they become aware of the true size of the blob and how it has wrapped tendrils around the derelict. Closer examination reveals a figure, similar to an insect, moving around nearby.

Thinking that the blob might be some kind of solar-powered spaceship, they decide to try to say hello. Landing the ship, Dex, Alumiya and Charles go out to investigate. They approach the blob and are confronted by about thirty of the creatures: up close, they are more like lobsters, about 3 metres across and covered in plate-like armour. Marcus believes they might be servant robots of some kind, although Rob argues that they are lifeforms. An attempt to make contact using diagrams on a writing tablet is unsuccessful and the beings’ responses look preprogrammed. They decide not to approach any further and return to the ship after a second failed attempt at communication.

Worrying that this might be part of an invasion fleet, having hit the derelict by accident, they get the navigator to calculate where the blob might have been if it there had been no collision. A quick jump to that point establish that there are no other blobs, so they return to the derelict to get on with exploring the wreck, ignoring the invaders. They land inside the open part of the hull exposed by the rent on the side and notice a number of other “lobsters” wandering around inside. Rob decide to study the creatures, while the others get on with exploring the hulk.

More of the interior has decayed to dust in the time since they last visited, presumably as a result of the invaders’ explorations, but they push towards the nose, and away from the radiation, eventually arriving at a section untouched by the decay. They are now in a section that resembles a space station or large colony ship. The floors are slightly lower than human size and form shells around the core of the vessel. They open one set of doors (releasing a very slight amount of air) and find what appears to be a family living unit (as described in human terms). Several other doors hide something similar, although anything organic is long gone.

They climb stairs for several levels and emerge in a large hall – and realise they’ve found some of the crew or passengers. Long benches and tables along the centre of the room are covered in dead bodies, preserved by the near vacuum. The bodies themselves are spindly, with large heads and big black eyes – Alumiya notes their resemblance to old Earth ideas of aliens. Entire families appear to be present, but there is no way to tell what killed them. Marcus has a bad reaction to their presence and steps back for a breather and, with Alumiya out of action as a result of seeing one of them “move” on their previous visit, Dex undertakes to shift a body to bring back to Rob – unfortunately, it is “squishy” and splits apart. This is not pleasant.

Rob has determined, meanwhile, that the bugs are probably life-forms operating on a hive level. He also suspects that they are not using spacesuits of any kind, but carry their air with them in “silk” bubbles.

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Piracy?

(Rob Ellisson – player absent)

Following his visit to New Berlin memorial park, Marcus has disappeared. The others decide that, since it looks like he was having some issues with the visit to the world, they won’t worry about him until the following day. In the meantime, Alumiya and Dex seek out some basic engineering supplies for the ship.

Marcus is drinking himself unconscious in a downport bar. After a while, he becomes convinced he is being watched – but is unable to identify who it is. As he turns to leave, he collapses in a heap…

The following day, Dex gets a message from the New Berlin Peacekeepers: Marcus is sleeping off a lot of alcohol in a cell. The team goes to fetch him, paying a fee for the “accommodation”, before he has a hefty breakfast.

Returning to orbit, they meet the Ramirez family, including their grandmother and servant, and take them to the Beowulf. Leaving for Lando, their first jump brings them out at a completely different place than they were planning. While they are waiting for Roger to recalculate the next jump, they become aware of another ship approaching. It hails them, telling them to prepare to be boarded.

Dex immediately gets on the intercom to the navigator, telling him to get a move on. When this is apparently ignored, he and Marcus go down to his cabin. The door opens immediately: “This is going to be awkward isn’t it?”

Roger, rather surprisingly, is holding a gun…

Following his instructions, they return to the bridge, Marcus making a point of moving slightly faster, so that he can warn Rob to get out of sight as he reaches the galley. Roger locks himself inside the bridge with Dex and Marcus, informing them that they are all going to wait until his friends arrive.

Dex, thinking fast, makes an announcement about the gravity being switched off: Alumiya gets the message and tries to do so, but doubles it instead. This has the desired effect of disorienting Roger, but he recovers surprisingly quickly. Marcus’ attempt to grab his gun results in his being knocked to the floor. The pair of them desist from further action.

Meanwhile, Charles arrives in the galley with his assault rifle, having figured out something is wrong, and is briefed by Rob. The medic has noticed that Roger is behaving completely differently from his normal timid demeanour and, notably, that his body language has changed radically. He’s realised that Roger is the mysterious vaguely familiar person he’d seen in the vicinity of the assassinations on Lando and New Berlin. Charles tries to break through the door to the bridge, but Roger threatens to shoot Dex and Marcus so he gives up.

As the other ship gets closer, Roger informs the crew that they will be left alive if they cause no further trouble.

Alumiya, reasoning that the real problem is the approaching vessel, decides to trigger a short random jump, hopefully taking the ship a few light minutes or light years away. She hits the lower end of the scale (which would make it easier for a non-navigator to recalculate their location for a new jump), but Roger manages to figure it out in a couple of seconds, verbally sending jump calculations to the other ship. The new vessel arrives an hour later, indicating the accuracy of his figures. While they are waiting, Dex manages to get Roger to explain that one of the passengers is a war criminal, and that his job is to track them down and dispose of them.

Alumiya decides it is a good idea to prepare for trouble and gets into her armoured spacesuit, grabbing her axe for use as a weapon.

The other ship turns out to be a sleek vessel of a similar, if younger, class to the Beowulf, painted in dark colours and bearing worrying modifications. It docks at the port hatch and two men in light battlearmour come board. Roger appears and leads one of them upstairs. After some shouting and sobbing, they return with the family’s servant (not the father as they were expecting). As Roger, the prisoner and the boarding party leave, he slips a note to Marcus: reading it as soon as the door closes, he sees a set of jump calculations and the words “trust me”.

The other ship now undocks and begins a wide turn into an attack vector, deploying weapons in direct contravention of Roger’s promise. Alumiya is ready and they jump to the given coordinates before it opens fire, arriving right next to Lando Station.

They decide to check the navigator’s room, finding some explosives and an elegant sniper rifle, along with his charts; they decide that he appears to have been an assassin. Marcus believes he was a programmed genetically engineered life form (GELF), probably deployed by the government.

They deliver their cargo, including their remaining passengers, and decide to invest in some weaponry so that they can fight off future piracy. Ship-mounted weaponry is illegal for civilian vessels, so they sell the rifle to a collector, via his beautiful partner, and buy some armoured space suits and sidearms for those who want them.

They also hire a new navigator (an experienced older man, willing to work his passage to a different part of space) and plan a new high-risk, high profit project: carrying goods across the uninhabited systems between shipping routes. They begn by buying some industrial goods to take to the agricultural colony on Erehwon, where they plan to buy some low-tech shotguns and begin their cross-route career.

The trip to Erehwon is relatively uneventful (with one mild misjump) and they are able to sell their cargo for a reasonable profit and obtain their weapons. Deciding that the last few weeks have a been a bit eventful, they opt to take a few days out to recuperate at the coast.

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Under new management

The Empress flies west, Dex desperately fighting the aerodynamic instabilities caused by the torn metal on her side. At Rob’s direction, the ship heads across an open plain towards a distant mountain range, beyond which lies the sea and temporary safety.

Unfortunately, their attackers also have flying assets and the Empress is pursued by two armed aircraft. A hotly contested chases ensues: Dex has the edge on skill, but the enemy have an advantage in manoeuvrability and armaments – as becomes clear when projectiles begin to rattle off the hull.

About half-way across the plain, Alumiya contacts the cockpit, suggesting dumping a small amount of lubricant into the exhaust from the vessel’s manoeuvring thrusters. Dex approves the plan and, working quickly with Charles’ aid, Alumiya performs the necessary actions. The lubricant reacts with the exhaust, forming a huge cloud of smoke that blinds the pilot of one of the planes. The other craft just manages to dodge out of the way as the out-of-control aircraft runs straight into the hottest part of the Empress’s thruster exhaust and explodes. Dex takes advantage of the chaos to get out of weapons range and is able to put the larger vessel’s powerful drive to better use, leaving the solitary aircraft behind.

Dodging through the mountain range, the ship emerges over the western seas and heads straight towards a small cluster of volcanic islands. Landing in the bowl of an extinct volcano, the crew emerge to examine the damage… It’s minor, but difficult to repair: an explosion has punched a hole on the upper hull and one of the main fuselage spars is cracked. While the former is already half-fixed, the spar will need replacing at a shipyard, although the vessel could manage for a while if it handled carefully. Charles returns to work on the hole while Alumiya finishes her interrupted maintenance work on the gravitational inducer.

During a break in the repairs, Max calls everyone together for a conference, although he shocks them all by appearing clean, in a suit, with his hair in a pony tail, though he has still not shaved. A second shock is the amount of money, gems, platinum, bonds, records of captain’s stashes and whatever else he has been able to find, laid out on the table with the beginnings of a set of accounts detailing where it all comes from.

The first thing he explains is what he has found out about the captain and the woman who funded the operation which was:

1. The captain appeared to have had no family other than Max the blond haired willowy guy (“and I think we know the nature of that relationship but each to their own and they are both dead now anyway cough”). He only had a small stake in the ship: the main owner was the financier.

2. The financier, Ingrid Sorrenson, was not the independent merchant that she appeared to be, but a high-to-mid level manager from one of the big corporations. Worryingly enough he has never been able to ascertain precisely her position or responsibilities.

He then presents two options:

1. The right thing to do: return the ship to the corporation that, via Ingrid, probably owns this ship.
Pros: It will be legal, the crew might get a good bonus and a job with the corp, they will sleep better at night.
Cons: If Ingrid has been playing fast and loose they will probably be arrested as co-conspirators, else, if she has been obeying orders and this is some sort of black ops, they will be detained to find out what they know about what went wrong. In either case, a very bright light would be shone on their pasts and the odds of never being seen again are good.
“If we decide on this option could you put me off in the first decent port you come to and number me among the dead.”

2. The good short term option: take the ship and contents to one of the shady ports and sell it and its contents.
Pros: The ship is worth a lot of money and even though the crew will get nothing like the actual value, it will make a big difference to them, enough that when they retire it will be in comfort.
Cons: Since they would have sold the ship they will be stuck in a very shady port with a lot of money and the chances are good that they will never make it of the planet alive. Also selling a ship garners a lot of attention and even if they make it off, the corporation may notice what they have done and track them down, especially if it was black ops.

3. Go Trading: His favoured suggestion is the crew simply keeps the ship and goes trading. “I am sure that I can get her new papers with documented proof that we own her and I can generate several years accounts etc.”
Pros: They get their own trading company and will hopefully become wealthy, they can travel to avoid attention, there are several caches mentioned in the captain’s papers they might be able to get hold of for starting trade items, etc.
Cons: It’s expensive, a lot of the resources they see on the table will go on getting solid legal papers that will withstand normal scrutiny – they cannot trade without those – and re-fitting the ship, buying and finding cargo. There is a risk that the corp will come after them if it finds out they survived, at the moment the _Empress* has vanished with all hands. Trading is dangerous: there are always opportunists after the ship/cargo and the dangers of deep space.

“So what will it be? As I have said my vote is for option 3 what about you Cap… er Pilot?” He smiles.

He also points out that he: “forgot to mention: one of the big changes that needs doing to the ship, the encrypted beacon, we need a new one. Getting a new one is not a problem, that just takes quite a bit of money. Loading it with information that confirms the ship’s papers, once we have some nice ones, is quite another. To put it simply getting hold of a government single use encrypting loader for one of these things is going to be a little difficult.”

Ultimately, the group decide to try option 3. A brief discussion heralds the new name of the Emrpess, the Beowulf, and Charles decides to paint it on the outside of the ship as soon as he’s finished patching the hole.

Meanwhile, as conversation turns to the subject of potential cargoes, Rob, who has been sitting in on this without anyone commenting, asks “what’s in the space between the reclamation vats and the engine rooms?”

This throws them – Marcus has always assumed that space was part of the reclamation system, but Charles is able to confirm that it’s not. The crew begins a thorough investigation of the space in question and is able to confirm that it appears to be a sealed volume about 3×4×2 metres in size. Eventually, they locate a concealed entrance in the floor of Charles’ workshop – under the still – Charles says he knows nothing about it. Opening it up, they find a hidden hold, outside the influence of the gravity generators, containing some jump-proof crates. Opening one up, they find it full of heavy weapons control systems – of the type that would have been needed to control the kind of weapons briefly seen lying in the broken crates at the scene of the massacre.

Suddenly, the reason for the conflict becomes clear: Ingrid had withheld the control systems in the hope of getting a higher price for the weapons. The local warlord had come up with a different solution.

Realising that these items are extremely dangerous to have around, they decide to hide them away for future reference, hiding them in at least two locations in the local asteroid field for security and redundancy.

Other searching turns up two jump-proof cases in Ingrid’s quarters, one containing an encrypted portable computer (nobody has any idea how to get into this) and another larger case containing storage spaces for high-tech weapons and other kit – it’s currently empty, but may be of use for other purposes.

The new owners of the Beowulf decide that their first task has to be to fix the ship and acquire a new beacon.

“Ah!” says Marcus, “Lando!”

“Lando? I don’t think I’ve heard of that world”

“It’s the central station in an asteroid field quite close to here…”

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Novyye Nigde
Betrayal and escape

A bright sun shines down on a cold, dusty landscape, populated only with patches of grey scrub. A cluster of prefabricated buildings lies nestled between low hillocks for warmth, each distinguished by an elaborately painted wooden frontage (not unlike the classic image of a Wild West town).

A battered, but solid-looking, tramp freighter (the Empress of Marava) swoops in and lands in a field about a kilometre out of town, its landing pads sinking deep into the soil. The loading ramp is lowered and two grav sleds slide out, carrying several armed figures. A smartly-dressed woman, obviously the leader, shouts something back into the hold, before the sleds head off over the horizon.

Aboard the Empress, Allumiya is trying to fix a problem with the GI drive, while Charles is performing maintenance on the sewage reclamation system. Dex is in the shower, but something goes horribly wrong when Blake accidentally cross-connects the water supply to the reclamation system…

Marcus decides to head out to the local bar and try to check out what’s going on. As the supercargo, he’s very interested in what the ship may be carrying; as is happening more and more of late, the owner is not telling him. Dex decides to tag along in the hope of chatting up one of the local women. They enter what appears to be a very functional basic drinking establishment and, after Marcus makes several attempts to make himself understood, Dex manages to acquire some of the local rotgut in Russian (the local dialect is very thick and difficult to understand). Marcus finds the local populace to be very unhelpful, but it may be that his lack of knowledge of the language is hindering things. Dex has similar difficulties but, in his case, it may be the lingering odour from his shower that is causing problems…

Meanwhile, Rob is in the bar, having finished his sojourn on Novyye Nigde and journeyed across the continent in the desperate hope of getting a berth offworld. He intervenes in Marcus’ attempts to gain information and begins to negotiate passage, when the supercargo’s radio squawks. He pulls it out in time to hear a desperate call for help, followed by the sound of automatic gunfire. Dex and Marcus both run for the ship, closely followed by Rob.

As they arrive, they hear the buzz of approaching grav sleds; turning to see what’s happening, Marcus realises that they approaching sleds are not the ones that left earlier. Dex cold-starts the Empress into flight as Marcus hits the door control and a missile slams into its side, puncturing the hull and knocking Allumiya over. She desperately tries to get the power system fully online while Charles races to patch the hole on the upper deck.

Marcus directs Dex towards the boss’s rendezvous point. Flying over it, they come under fire and just have time to see a number of familiar dead bodies lying around the ship’s sleds and their cargo. The crew decide discretion is the better part of valour and head for safety. Rob, having managed to scramble aboard during the chaos, demonstrates his knowledge of the planet by suggesting they head west: a number of uninhabited rocky islands lie off the coast and many of them have caves or craters big enough to hold a small ship.

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