This episode began with the crew huddled in their newly-leased “hideout”, trying decide what to do next, with their faces all over the news, when a knock came to the door. Butch glanced out the front door and spotted a long, black limousine parked out front and two large fellows in suits at the door. Shylock stepped out the backdoor and found two similarly dressed gentlemen at the back door. They explained that they had been sent to collect the crew as someone wished to chat with them. The crew reluctantly agreed and piled into the luxurious vehicle. The suited gentlemen climbed into the front and the vehicle pulled away.
The car drove through down without issue, travelling into a more wealthy area, filled with expensive houses and manors, eventually pulling into the driveway of one of the larger estates, the gates opening automatically as the vehicle pulls in and armed guards visible all over the estate. The car pulled to the front, the guards got out and opened the door, escorting the crew to the front door where the butler, Jaren, greeted them and escorted them to the study, a lavishly decorated room with law book-covered walls and antique, comfortable furnishing. The crew settled in and waited.
About thirty minutes later, the doors slid open and a well-suited gentleman entered, looking more than a little irritated. He slammed the doors shut, stalked over to a chair, dropped into it, looked at Shylock and asked “What the hell are you doing on my planet?” The conversation went forward from there, with the gentleman introducing himself as Merrell Ducani, the “owner” of the planet from the Syndicate perspective, as they talked about why the crew was there, whether this was a move by the Cosa Nostra on the world (Shylock quickly assured him it was not), and where to go from here.
The crew explained as much details as they could without referencing Ivy or Psionics, making it clear that Mitchell was the reason they were having issues. Ducani indicated his irritation at all of the damage they had done to his town and made it clear to them that it was well within his power to stun them and deliver them to Mitchell with a ribbon. However, he wanted Mitchell gone as well and didn’t get where he was by doing what the Alliance and Council wanted of him. He told them he was going to get them off the planet, looked meaningfully at Shylock, and made sure he understood that all of this was going on his “tab”. He told them that they’d be crated off and smuggled out on one of his ships, which would be at their disposal to take them wherever they needed, and the ship would return to him when they were done. He told them to make themselves comfortable in his home because the next morning they would be getting into crates and spending most of the day in them. The crew settled in and enjoyed Ducani’s hospitality for the evening.
The following morning, two rather haggard men showed up at breakfast and introduced themselves as Anders and Beckmann. They explained they would be their chauffeurs and would be packing them into crates used for smuggling humans, then packed with textiles. The pair led them outside to the truck that was parked out back and showed them crates filled with cloth and material, which was folded back to reveal small coffin-sized boxes, shielded and containing small, passive electronics for air handling and waste management. They appear to have been cleaned, but had seen a great deal of use and smelled of humanity. The crew climbed in and the boxes were closed and loaded onto the truck. They spent most of the day trundling around the city in the truck, loaded into the ship, and lifted off into orbit. After a few hours in space, Beckmann opened the crates and let them out.
They stretched out and took in their surroundings, finding themselves on a Cygnet-class medium freighter, named the Conestoga, with a crew of 2 and 4 cabins. Beckmann told them the rules of their ship: no going onto the bridge or engineering, stay out of their cabins, don’t mess with the ship. He then asked “We’re in the black, where to from here?”
The crew deliberated for a while on possible destinations, trying to second guess where the others might have taken the ship. Some thought the slaver asteroid, but they were unsure if those on the ship actually knew how to get there. Others thought perhaps Mikki would take them to her home on Blackwood. Shylock, thinking this might be the case, sent a call to his friend Dryden Manheim on Blackwood, indicating they might be headed that way and asking if he’d seen Mikki. After the comms delay, he replied that they’d always be welcome but they’d not seen or heard from Mikki for many months. Even damaged and moving slowly, they’d already be on Blackwood if they were heading there, so they obviously weren’t.
Markus asked permission to take a look at the ship’s sensor array and found he could upgrade it quite a bit with the materials he’d purchased on planet, more than doubling both the range and resolution of the Conestoga’s scanners, which allowed Markus to pick up the faint ping of Orchid’s tiny tracking device. He gave Anders the course and the ship headed that way. After a couple of hours, the Not for Hire came into view, and the crew gathered around the small front windows to see their ship.
The old Da Xiang was slowly rotating in space, moving under its inertia, with no running lights, no power to the engines, the nose of the ship blown open from the inside and burnt, a gaping hole in the cargo hold, and the starboard engine missing. Anders navigated the Conestoga alongside the Not for Hire and matched her roll, lining up the docking rings and clamping on. The crew moved between the ships, found the bridge dark and the common room sealed, with their four missing crewmen huddled within, looking worse for wear. Ivy was curled up and asleep on a bench, and Hart stepped up to the door, bearing a sign saying “Are you alone? Air not safe.” Markus stepped back to the Conestoga and told them to get in their vacc suits. They did so, Hart unlocked (after Mikki unwelded it) the door and gave Markus to inoculations to give the Conestoga crew.
With the crew reunited, they began working on repairing the ship. They discovered that many of the bridge power conduits had been quickly patched to provide powers to the sensors, which explains why the front of the ship was blown/burnt off. The explosive decompression of the cargo hold resulted in frozen horse entrails all over the area, and the hole was too large to patch, so the hold was going to remain in vacuum, which meant the ship was not going to be able to go atmo. Mikki focused on patching the nose and returning integrity to the forward cabins while the crew debated options.
Many ideas were thrown out, including limping to the slave asteroid while the Conestoga carried the rest of the crew to Blackstone, as there was a great deal of concern in letting the crew of the Conestoga know where the asteroid was. There was discussion about sabotaging the Conestoga’s nav computer for their trip home, and many other thoughts. In the end, the suggestion that won out was letting the Conestoga tow the Not For Hire to Blackstone and leave it in orbit. It would take a while, but once it was in orbit Mikki’s dad could help fix her up….again.
Mikki suited up with Beckmann and they set the ships up into a towing configuration while Gale did what he could from the bridge of the Not For Hire. It took the better part of a day but the pair of ships were eventually under way, slowly but surely making their way to Blackwood. The one day journey was going to take closer to four and burn most of the Conestoga’s fuel, so the rest of the crew took the time to question their errant members to determine what happened.
From Brian’s perspective, he was sitting in his simulator when an alarm claxon came over the ship’s internal comms, indicating they were landlocked. He asked on the crew comms what a landlock was but heard the jammers kick in and comms go down. He stepped out of the simulator in time to see Hart coming up the steps, Ivy tucked under his arm, shouting orders. He told Brian to get to the bridge and set off the sensor array at max, then begin running patch cables to re-route the power from the bridge to the sensor array. Brian told him that that would fry the array and cause serious damage to the ship, but Hart’s expression brooked no argument.
Brian sprinted for the bridge while Hart shouted for Mikki to get the ship going. When he arrived at the bridge, he cranked dial to max and slammed his hand on the sensor array. Through the front windows he watched the tower, ships, and all of the city in front of the Not for Hire go dark as Mikki jumped to the bridge, grabbed the stick, and the Not for Hire leapt from the ground. I climbed down the ladder and began splicing cables while the ship creaked and groaned.
Hart glanced down the hole and firmly told me i needed to have the cables done fast, which didn’t help, as I don’t work well under pressure. I got the last one connected and turned to find Hart extending his hand and lifting me up. He pushed me into the common room, where I saw Ivy huddled in the corner, turned to the bridge and said “Hit it”. The ship screamed as the over-loaded sensors burst the array, shorting out most of the systems in the nose. The ship bucked and shuddered for some reason, then all the lights went off. He heard Hart telling Mikki put it on full burn, then he stepped into the common room and started putting a vacc suit on, telling me to watch Ivy. Then he walked out the back door and was gone for a bit. After about thirty minutes I heard Mikki saying something, the ship shuddered a little bit, then the engines died.
Mikki walked into the common room, closed the door, and welded it shut. While she was doing that, Hart came in the back door, his helmet off, stripped off his vacc suit…and made lunch, like nothing had happened. He served us little sandwiches and told us we’d be living in the common room for a few days until you guys came to find us. We lived and slept in there, with Hart reading to us from the Bible, us teaching Ivy lessons in various things, though she wasn’t very responsive. I’m so glad you guys showed up when you did.
So I was in engineering, getting prettied up to go out, when the landlock alarm went off. I stepped out of engineering to see Hart on the catwalk, with Ivy in his arms. He ordered me to get to the bridge and get us off the ground. I was in motion before I realized that he’s not the boss of me, but for some reason I didn’t want to argue with him. As I ran for the bridge, it also crossed my mind that we couldn’t get off the ground if we were land locked, but figured I’d argue that from the safety of the bridge.
As I got there, Brian hit the gorram sensors on the gorram planet. You should have seen it! It was like we fired a wave of black into the city! The landlock went off (duh, Brian took out the tower), so I hit the switches, pushed the throttle to max and pulled back on the stick with all I had (I have ALWAYS wanted to do that!!!). We took off screaming into space like a bat outta hell!!! Hart was telling Brian to do something, I couldn’t tell what, but lights were going out on my console, things like the nav computer, comms, etc. I guess that was Brian’s doing.
We broke atmo and Hart gave me a course, standing behind me calm as stone, it was creepy. I turned the ship and suddenly there was a cruiser in my face. Hart then quietly said “Full Burn.” I turned to look at him in confusion but he just said “Now.” I hit the button, grabbed the stick and prayed…I’d never flown full burn before, and definitely not in traffic, and that ship was getting awfully close. And there were little ones, and then everything started firing missiles at us. I knew were gonna die, then Hart reached over and the sensors again, only this time when they went off all hell broke loose. All the lights went out on the consoles, the stick got really hard to move, and the lights went out on the bridge. I felt the ship jerk around, like we’d hit something, and the cruiser and little ships flew past outside the left window. Hart quietly said “give me 35 minutes, then kill the pulse drive and fire the retros for 10 seconds, then go to the common room and weld the door shut from the inside”, turned and left the bridge. I didn’t have a gorram watch, and there was no clock on the bridge, so I started counting in my head. Since I didn’t need to pilot none, I stepped back to the common room and found a clock there, along with Ivy curled into a ball on the couch and Brian just closing off the door to downstairs, smoke curling up from that area.
Thirty five minutes later I went to the bridge, killed the pulse drives, and touched off the retros for a few seconds…the ship sort of started rolling funny and off in some random direction…then I went back to the common room and started welding. Another twenty and Hart came back into the common room from the aft portal, taking off his vacc suite. He made coffee and cakes while I welded. Then we sat down and had a picnic in the common room, sleeping on the benches and playing like we were all going to survive. Hart wouldn’t let us panic, though Ivy maybe said five words the entire time, except when we were giving her lessons. It was really weird, then you guys showed up.
When asked, Hart’s initial answer was “I saved Ivy” and nothing more, but pressing him got him to recount his perspective.
Ivy was down with the horses, as I’d asked her not to do several times (she just wanted to pet them, not scare them, she explained), so I was retrieving her (again) when I noticed men in combat armor looking in the rear airlock window. I was picking up Ivy when the landlock claxon went off and I heard the sounds of someone trying to force the door open. I quickly ascended the stairs and, when I noticed Brian exiting his shuttle, asked him to go to the bridge and activate the new sensor array. I called for Mikki and followed her to the bridge, asking her to get us off the ground.
Brian activated the sensor, removing the landlock, and Mikki adeptly got us into space. En route, I asked Brian to begin rerouting power to the sensor array as I suspected we’d need it one last time before we were safe. Once out of the atmosphere, I had Mikki turn into the path of the oncoming cruisers and turn on a full burn, significantly closing the distance between them before they could bring their primary armaments to bear or launch all of their alert fighters. When we were in range I fired off the now over-powered sensory array, scrambling all of their electronics for a short period of time and disrupting the targeting of any missiles they had fired, though obviously at least one of them managed to hit us. This of course blew out the sensors so I asked Brian to close and seal the hatch and told Mikki to give me 35 minutes and then kill the pulse and tap the retro engines.
I passed Brian in the common room, on my way back, and asked him to watch Ivy while I went aft, put on a vacc suit, found one of Mikki’s Wild Weasel’s, configured it and stood by the hole. When Mikki cut the engines, I pushed it out and activated it. It took off along the same path we were originally heading, under pulse power, leaving a false trail while we meandered off in another direction on inertia. I then returned to the common room, had Mikki seal the forward door (the front of the ship was leaking air badly, due to the sensor explosion), and I sealed off the back.
It was then simply a matter of keeping everyone fed and minimizing our usage of power and life support until you eventually found us.
When asked how he knew to disable the cruisers, he reluctantly admitted “from the Alliance Naval Tactics Academy,” but would not explain further. When asked how he knew they would be found, he simply answered “Faith.”
Back to the episode
Once in orbit of Blackstone, much of the crew went planetside in shuttles, leaving Brian, Hart, and Markus to watch the ship. Mikki reunited with her family and solicited their help in getting the Not For Hire spaceworthy again. The Conestoga refueled (On Shylock’s tab) and took off for their original destination, and the crew (with Mikki’s family) spent more than a week doing repairs on the ship, welding plates over holes and replacing the missing retro engine with an old Firefly one…it worked well enough, if a bit hard on the stick. Shylock recruited four local boys to clean the cargo hold and they fell to it with gusto, scraping off frozen horse guts and throwing it at each other. By the end of nine days, the ship was in working (if patchwork) condition and the hold was clear of horse debris. During this week, Shylock spent time on the Cortex, finding obscene and embarrassing things and signing up Burkholdt to them, as well as buying crates of Blackstone Ale. The crew said their goodbyes, logged a flight plan taking them to Salisbury, and headed out to the slaving asteroid.
Arriving at the asteroid, they found it completely empty of ships, with only small pieces of wrecked debris around. The inside looked like a nightmare, with many of the hallways open to space and exploded bodies in varying states of decay. Apparently, once folks realized it was plagued, they just picked the stuff off the surface and left. Others came back, figured it was safe if they evacuated the atmosphere, then died when they turned life support back on. Hart explains that was because he’d left the material in the air filtration system. There were more than a score bodies inside, though not much in the way of supplies or booty, though the asteroid was intact, with functioning life support and a fusion plant. The Capt hung her drapes and decorations, to make it look more homey, while Shylock browsed the ‘tex and found ore on Haven that needed shipping, but he’d need to negotiate for it personally, so the ship headed that way, steering WAY clear of Highgate on the way by.
Arriving at Haven, they were hailed at nearing the system by the local corporate security and had to convince them they were not with the Consortium. They got permission to land and most of the crew debarked into the modest town at the “starport”, which was essentially a flat patch of ground just outside town. The planet was quite hilly and the crew noted the large gun batteries around the town. The locals explained that the Consortium had made more than one attempt to claim jump the planet, and the Reavers stopped by now and again to “visit”, so they had to protect themselves. Shylock, with the Capt on his arm, negotiated with the local boss and cut a rather lucrative deal where they would take the ore on consignment and sell it, bringing the cash out to Haven. Once the crew had done one run, they’ll be trusted to take more/larger ones.
The crew settled into the town for a few days while the ore was being loaded. Hart spent time with the local shepherd and clinic while Shylock, Markus, Butch, Ivy, Gale and the Capt went out exploring Reaver wrecks. There were seven wrecks total that were in any semblance of a ship, the rest being scattered to the winds or burned up on re-entry. They found two trinkets, four transponders, and hidden deep in a pile of debris a repairable EMP cannon. The crew quietly took the cannon to the hold and then joined the rest of the locals in the evening’s festivities, which consisted of a campfire, songs, dancing, and home-cooked meals.