Having recovered the stashed weapon components, the Beowulf headed for Erehwon to deliver both the components and the mysterious containers. Half the hold was unused so Marcus made a point of transporting various cargos on the way to pay for fuel and turn a small profit.
During this period, both Alumiya and Charles developed an interest in what the containers might contain, although the others felt that interfering with a Capella Nero cargo might be a bad idea. Alumiya busied herself trying to develop some kind of device that might be able to see through the container walls, but was thwarted by the lack of electronic technology necessitated by the jump drive. Charles, having gotten very drunk on his home-brew one night, decided on a more direct approach. He was caught by Marcus staggering towards one of the container doors with a heavy-duty bolt cutter…
Neither had any success.
Arriving in the system, Marcus sent out the coded broadcast announcing their presence as instructed. They received a reply about 7 hours later telling them where and when to rendezvous in 4 days. The next few days were fairly tedious: while the crew could have visited the planet, they had unpleasant memories of the wildlife and didn’t really want to. During this period, Alumiya attempted to improve the re-alignment process for switching between jump and reactionless drive. She was confident she would be able to cut the time for checking the conversion process significantly, despite a lack of progress from anyone else over the previous three centuries.
The rendezvous took place on the outskirts of the system and involved two other freighters similar to the Beowulf. One of them looked familiar but no-one was able to place it immediately; large guns were visible inside its own cargo doors.
They moved into position and spacesuited man came aboard to supervise the transfer of the two containers to the unfamiliar vessel. A second man began to carry the gun controls to the second ship. Dex now recognised this vessel as the one that had chased them during the raid on Erehwon two years before; it would appear these were raiders.
Half-way through the process, with the second container on its way to its destination, Dex and Charles noticed a flash a few thousand kilometers away, indicating the arrival of a new warp-capable vessel. Almost immediately, the received a broadcast message: “This is the United Earth Ship Resolution. Stand down and prepare to be boarded!”
Events suddenly moved into high gear: the two men headed back to their vessels, hurrying the last container on its way, while Dex reversed the Beowulf so that the remaining boxes slid straight out of the doors into the path of the armed freighter. That vessel then powered up and turned to face the incoming cruiser, opening fire with its suddenly-inadequate weapons.
Dex took the Beowulf straight out from the scene at right angles to the cruiser’s trajectory. There was a radioed command to stop and two missiles were fired, both of which were dodged, but the UEG ship seemed uninterested in pursuit. As they departed, the armed freighter disappeared in a multiple explosion.
Alumiya was working to switch the drive over to jump, intending to use the new gadget to check the alignment. The plan was to double-check it manually if there was time – which was just as well as the new device failed to function as expected.
They jumped to a nearby uninhabited system, wondering why the cruiser had not sent attack craft after them.
They decided to head to a nearby agricultural colony to trade their remaining luxuries for wine and the like to take back to Lando. Picking a suitable candidate, they jumped in and landed, only to find that they had arrived at the home of a deeply-religious sect that eschewed technology and luxuries. When the representative from “God’s Gift” left for evening prayers, they decided not to bother and headed for the next prospect.
As they came out of jump, the ship received the usual burst of communications from traffic control and also got a message:
To the crew of Beowulf,
How are you all? I know it has been a while since we last saw each other, but it seems to be about time for a catch-up.
I have recently left my job and am now travelling on my severance pay. I should be passing through Lando shortly if you would like to meet? I do have a business proposal if you are interested; it is on behalf of my younger brothers who are looking to relocate.
Aunty A. sends her love and says she is sorry to have caused so much trouble after your last meeting – I am afraid I have no idea what she is referring to!
There was some speculation about the identity of “R”, mostly centring on the idea that it might be Roger, but eventually they decided to send an assent to the meeting. Having made a small profit on the overall journey, they loaded up on foodstuffs and textiles and headed back to Lando.
They arrived several days early, so several of them went looking for jobs around the station.
Dex used his zero-g skills to help with loading operations around the station and eventually began to fit in well with his colleagues. He was in the bar one evening after shift, when he was approached by a complete stranger, a diffident fellow in a waistcoat. It’s only when Dex agreed to visit his table that Roger dropped the act and the pilot became aware who he was talking to.
Roger explained that he had now left the intelligence agency and was trying to help some fellow GELFs escape their enslavement. He was hoping the crew would agree to work with him on his project. Dex agreed to ask the others to meet him at his room the next evening.
The others did agree but they went heavily armed… In the ensuing discussion, they learned that Roger’s departure was not a friendly one. He had come across evidence that showed that UEI, the military and several corporations were engaged in a conspiracy to make it legal for GELFs to serve in the armed forces, which is currently unconstitutional. The alien lobsters were manufactured to create a viable threat to humanity to force the rapid enlargement of the army, while Black Tower and Goliath had production lines ready to manufacture genetically-engineered soldiers, based on Roger’s own geneline.
Roger was opposed to all this and intended to bring the whole thing out into the open. He needed a ship, a pilot, a corporate expert, an expert on genetics and biology, as well as engineers…
The crew agreed to help…