Detachment 2551 : A Star Frontiers Adventure

June Story

Charon Tavis Station - docking tube near water treatment plant -
1300 hours - stardate fy1111008

At Freya's announcement that he's secured the renegade dropship with their comrades aboard, Cymon is ecstatic. "Honored Freya, a thousand devils disperse at your words. Praise to the ancestors for your news." Still, the Haiokah healer is solemn. So many unknowns and so little that seems to fall together as planned has Cymon's orderly view of the cosmos on its ear. "Why", he contemplates, "Does it seem as thought the Universe is controlled by a roll of the dice?"

He tosses the thought off as he processes the diverse information available to him, the unsettling and the reassuring. "OTTO, anything new?"

"Flight control repelling invasion force. Six vessels on deck three now primed for takeoff. Hangar doors remain sealed. Fires on decks two through five. Contact lost with bridge. Main computer overloaded by system calls. Station power level at sixty percent. Life support at seventy-five percent."

OTTO patches in images from deck three. Confusion reigns. Ground crews rush about, gathering gear and trying to board vessels already sealed. Tanks of fuel can be seen rolling carelessly about, no one to right them. Gunfire can only be seen faintly in the direction of the west corridor, between bays 1 and 2, where flight control is located. Suggestions of hand-to- hand combat begin to appear in the other landing bays, but it is unclear who is fighting who - everyone wears Crimson Pirate uniforms. There are no signs of Doghan yet.

Cymon grimaces at the images, then turns to check on his yazirian comrade who remains slumped over the launch's console. Cymon's medical c.a.s. performs a short scan over Freya's system.

Cymon Medical: Operate Medical Devices: 1 + 1 CS = 45% GM's secret roll

The results leave Cymon speechless - by his analysis, Cymon had to conclude that Freya was actually a female, and in fact about to give birth to a litter of three. Cymon mumbles a crude expletive in his own tongue, then "Gotta get this thing checked one of these days." Aloud, he says to Freya, "Um, you check out....okay, my friend."

The pirate's attention turns again to the outside world. Seeing Cymon's concern and the c.a.s. unit, he staggers to stand, his legs shaking like a newborn calf's. A hand comes up to ward off the healer and his hypospray of stimdose. "Traveler, my thanks for your concern, but your friends may need you more than I. Return the grenades and I will guard the door while you tend to their immediate needs." Freya slowly collects his equipment and concentrates on examining Slov's c.a.s. while his body strengthens.

Cymon nods. "As you wish. Have you hacked the Tiamat? Do we have it under control?"

"No, the connection was a tricky one and the ship's computer is well defended. It just so happened that as I was making contact I detected her dropship breaking off. That ship's computer was tied up with an automated routine that left me a wide open hole for breaking in. Not the big fish I was after..."

"But we have three of our friends back - good work! Now, what of our robots? OTTO mentioned the station's robots were being used to help the invaders."

"When these units were dispatched to us, control was turned over to us. My guess is that someone invaded the robotics center and is controlling robots still linked to its computer. Ours should be safe."

"Ah. Good. Then I will attend to the shuttle."

"Here", Freya offers, and hands him: Ke-1500 Laser Pistol from inside pocket of backpack (w/20SEU clip) Ke-2000 Laser Rifle (w/sling & 20SEU clip) 3 gas masks (his half of these Cymon and he were carrying)

"Distribute these to our comrades."

Cymon motions to the SpyEye. The small metal orb floating near the entrance to the docking tube bolts forward to join Cymon at the other end connected to the shuttle. "Atmosphere normal...slight traces of doze gas, harmless now", Cymon mutters as he eyes the green text scrolling across the c.a.s. panel adjoining the airlock door.

The SpyEye saddles up alongside and peers into the airlock's portal, showing the bodies of Groo, V'Sndyk, and an unidentified human female lying on the floor of a cabin decorated with chairs and storage lockers, typical decor for a dropship passenger cabin. At the far end of the room is another human, presumably male, partially hidden from view but also lying on the floor. (see map of Tiamat bottom level to see inside of dropship)

Cymon gasps at the sight of his fallen teammates and wastes no time keying the c.a.s. panel for entry. A second passes as the airlock cycles, then opens. Cymon draws his Whoomp needler. He and the SpyEye rush in and are met by the stillness of the dropship's interior. Cymon's pistol sweeps out in front of him in an arc, taking in the entire area until he is satisfied there is no one else around. With his other hand he holds aloft his medical c.a.s. and runs it over the four prostrate figures, each in turn.

Cymon Medical: Operate Medical Devices: 1 + 1 CS = 45% GM's secret roll Results: V'Sndyk: unconscious due to doze gas, currently suffering from a hernia Groo: unconscious due to doze gas, infected with the Aluvian flu female human: unconscious due to doze gas Tiberius: unconscious due to doze gas

'What an odd set of results', Cymon ponders before shrugging and breaking out his hypospray. In no time he has injected his three comrades with stimdose, bringing them out of their sleep and leaving them to rub aching heads.

Cymon Logic: 69; rolled 13

Cymon opts not to inject the female human after he notices she is restrained with tangler threads. Already the threads are beginning to erode, suggesting they've been on for some time.

Groo, Ty, and V'Sndyk all struggle to their feet. Each is rubbing his head when Groo catches sight of Cymon. He grins, and instantly throws his long arms about his fellow Yazirian with a great laugh.

As Groo's eyes begin to focus he catchs sight of Cymon and grabs him in a big hug. "Am I glad to see you. I thought we were screwed again. Damn, what the hell hit me, my head is killing me. Oh that's right, they got us with that damn doze gas again. When will I learn to look out for that stuff. How did we get here, and were exactly is here?"

"Ah, yes. Well, thank Freya for that. He hijacked the dropship you were attempting to escape in and brought you to us. We are now docked with an improvised tube/launch bay that Vega apparently connected to the station to gain access." Cymon stammers over the words, taken aback by the show of affection. "Now let me tend your afflictions. It seems you have the flu and V'Sndyk here has a hernia. I don't know why I didn't catch it before."

Cymon injects Groo with a dose of antibody plus. Groo grimaces at the injection, then rubs his arm in disbelief.

"Aluvian flu? Musta caught it from that 'hospitality girl'. Damn."

Groo's arm aches for a while, and his energy level rises slightly, but he feels no different. Cymon moves on to re-scan V'Sndyk. His c.a.s. turns up nothing out of the ordinary. Cymon mumbles another curse.

"Well, Cymon? Is it bad?", the nervous vrusk asks.

"Ahem. No, no...nothing terrible. Um, just take it easy, I guess. Hmmmm..."

V'Sndyk watches the healer move on and sits down, rubbing his lower thorax worriedly. "I haven't FELT anything strange.... a hernia, huh? Gosh!"

Cymon lets the three get oriented and once again hits his chronocom. "OTTO, examine Charon Tavis video logs to get a facial matchup on any of Vega's associates. Include last known whereabouts on Charon Tavis. Also, correlate with any frequent or extended conversations spotted with others on this station. If you cannot access Charon Tavis logs, examine your own logs to do so."

"Acknowledged. Feeding you UPF database files. No such matches on station computer." After some time, the image of Maria del Mar appears, matching the female human lying unconscious in the cabin of the dropship Diablo. The human male's face is unknown to Cymon. He pulls out the evidence found on Slov's body. "Also, OTTO, correlate the access code found on Slov Ch'Holo to any possible or likely codes on the station. Additionally, cross reference code to the word 'Ardua'. See if there is a correlation to a yazirian having that name and possible access to him or her."

OTTO's tinny voice responds, "Extensive search of access codes is beyond this unit's authorization. I have been granted only rudimentary access to the station's computers has been allowed. No such designation 'Ardua' on station's logs. Ardua is a common yazirian surname in the Athor system."


Charon Tavis Station - Location Unknown - Time Unknown

Marcus and Mrylinax stare incredulously at Ruby, who is still a little weak after manifesting strange characteristics only minutes before. Outward id is normal once again, no more glowing eyes or horribly distorted shape to ids fingers.

"Uh, Ruby? Just what did you mean by 'we may have company'?", Marcus asks, looking nervously about.

"I think there are voices talking to me - voices in my head! They seem to be able to empower me to do... things. Like what I just did."

Marcus and Mrylinax exchange worried looks. "Oooookay. Whatever you say, Ruby ol' pal", Mryli offers in a half-hearted laugh. With a subtle gesture he suggests to Marcus that Ruby may now be insane. Marcus doesn't respond, instead taking command of their newly-improved situation.

"Mryli, check around to see if there's someone guarding us... look for our gear or any way to contact the others. I'll check Ruby."

"Uhh . . .yeah. . . I'll go checking around. . .you stay with..uh. . .id"

Mylinax moves quickly trying to get a handle on where they are and if there are any guards around. The ability to move after such a time of imprisonment helps him to take his mind off the strange transformation of Ruby. Hopefully, there was no one else around or they couldn't have missed the racket the Dralasite was making.

Mrylinax performs a quick sweep of the area, finding the platform on which their crates rested is actually made up of more boxes. His eyes finally have the time to take in their surroundings - an enormous storage room of stadium-size, with boxes stacked up to 70 meters high, reaching the ceiling six meters above his head. The layer they are currently on is roughly 10 m x 10 m square, dropping off at every point except a few, where stairs are fashioned out of more crates. In the distance on each of the room's four walls Mrylinax can see the faint telltale lights of c.a.s. panels heralding the promise of doorways.

Several of these 'pyramids' can be seen filling the warehouse, his party being atop only one of them. The forest of crates on this level keeps him from instantly assessing if others are around, but a quick jog in and out of the maze reassures him that, at least in the immediate area, they were alone.

"No sign of anyone, and the cargobot continues its work of checking boxes."

Marcus says nothing, busy searching the surface upon which they stand for clues to determine what path Vega took to get to them.

Marcus: Tracking skill level 1: 41% ; rolled 49

"As for how to get down off this thing", Mrylinax continues", in a few places there are crates stacked so that we can ease our way down to the floor of this warehouse. What're you looking for, anyways?"

"Vega. No sign of his passing through here. We need to track him down."

"Hey, I know ya don't have any kind feelings for the Vega creep", Mryli replies, "but dontcha think we oughta make getting back to the V'torix our first priority? We gotta find out what the blazes is goin' on there 'fore we go runnin' off on our own personal agendas. . ."

"This isn't about a personal agenda. I'd never put my own interests ahead of the group's. This is strategy. Vega wasn't planning on stopping with us. He was going to go after the rest of the team, and chances are that's exactly what he's doing now," Marcus said as he led the way down to the floor of the room. "If we find Vega, we can take him out before he does any damage to our ship or incapacitates any of our other team members."

"Besides, Vega wants to fight me. That means finding him will guarantee me a chance to kill him. If I can do that, he won't be a problem anymore, and then we can pilfer whatever other weapons he has on him and fight our way back to the ship."

With a growl that acknowledges Marcus's logic, Mrylinax consents to the decision to follow Vega, "Ya got a point _Oukpeldop_ [hairless beast]. . . just make sure your personal int'rests don't get in the way of the groups."

Marcus says nothing, then turns back to the dralasite. "So, Ruby. Do you want to tell us what happened back there? I don't think I ever saw a Dralasite do something like that before."

Ruby stumbles over the words. "I've already told you - they're voices as far as I can tell. Been running through my head since we jumped out of Exib. Been making me tired, nervous, hungry. Once or twice I get this sudden rush of energy and can do things. It is always possible that the force can only act through others at this point and/or is gaining strength before it can act on its own. All I know is that I don't particularly enjoy what has been happening, but it would appear that I don't have a choice but to accept it and do what I can."

"Well, forgive us if we keep an eye on you, friend."

Nothing more is said. The trio picks its way down the crude steps, Mrylinax eager to reach the bottom where his bulk and pure muscle can be much more of a help in a combat situation, which will inevitably happen before they reaches the safety of the ship they have come to call home. At the bottom is the comforting feel of deckplating. Marcus kneels and studies the metal surface.

Marcus: Tracking level 1 - 1 CS (artificial/man-made area) = 38%; rolled 49

"Bah! Nothing! Alright, let's blow this joint."

"Those c.a.s. units will probably have locks and our cards are now gone", Ruby declares. "I can try opening the locks, but without any equipments, I don't suspose I'll have much luck. I suggest we open a few of these crates and see what's inside."

Ruby ambles over to a nearby crate and checks to make sure id is out of view of the hovering cargobot, which is still plodding along crate after crate, one of it's arms extending a bar-code reader, the other weilding nothing at all, although on its side is a rack of hand attachments for it to use if needed. It hums a strange machine language song to itself, beeping aftereach crate is read. Most of the crates are made out of wood, a few scattered here and there are made of metal with mechanical locks, a very few are metal with electronic locks. Ruby finds a crowbar and lays into it. With a 'pop' the lid flies open to show mounds of swollen packing seeds, cultivated by Synthetics Corp to mushroom into cushiony pods when activated. They are ubiquitous in the packing business.

Contents Table roll: 97 - refer to random items table #5 Contents roll: 28 - robcomkits

Ruby brushes the seeds aside to reveal stacks of robcomkits.

"Smeg! Look what I found! Hey guys, I think we should tear open a few more crates to see if we can find some weapons. Once we get out, with the way our luck has been running, we may need them!", Ruby shouts as he grabs one of the kits.

"Yeah, yeah, no need to gloat. . .give me that crowbar. . ." Mrylinax hops over to the some of the crates and begins opening them.

"Well, it doesn't look like we'll get too far without any weapons. No point in you guys having all the fun." With that, Marcus picks up a crowbar and starts indiscriminately opening crates. " Ruby. Go over there and ask that cargobot where the weapons are. If it can't speak, open it up and display the data bank where crate bar codes are being read. That might help us to locate some weapons faster."

"Hey, good idea. I'll see if I can figure out how to do that. Unfortunately, my knowledge of robotics is rather weak. If you find anything to eat, please save me some."


Onboard the Dropship Diablo - 1330 hours

Cymon re-examines Slov's playing card with the 10 small hash marks. "Arranged as if he were counting something. I wonder..." He turns to Ty, who is checking the shuttle's systems now. "Any idea how the female fits into this?"

Ty looks at the sleeping woman and smiles wickedly. "Yeah, she's the pilot of that cargo ship we just ditched. Not much of a conversationalist, but she packs one heckuva wallop", he says, rubbing his chin. "I think she likes me!"

"Yeah, yeah...sure she does", Groo cuts in. "The little lady we have nicely tangled up on the floor has an astrogation pocket computer progit attached to her body comp., leading us to believe she's the pilot. She had us believing that ship was about to blow after we'd knocked her unconscious. We bailed in the shuttle and soon were hit by doze gas inside. Nice trick. Glad you boys found us before they reeled us back in."

"Can the Tiamat be hijacked from what you saw of its computers?"

"I was about to crack her security when we had to leave the ship. She seemed like a level four computer - tough, but not impossible. If we were to hack her, though, it'd have to be a local job."

"We were able to lock her docking bay in an open position", Groo interjects, "just in case we'd want to board her again. The gas kept us from doing so. "

"Do you think we can hack into her with the pilot's bodycomp?", Cymon asks.

V'Sndyk stoops and examines the bodycomp on the unconscious woman. "Hard to tell. Her bodycomp has a battlebelt on it. No way of removing it easily without blowing us all to hell." He taps a blinking detonator light on the side of the belt, then shuffles off to inspect the dropship's onboard computer. His lopsided gait suggests he may be taking the hernia diagnosis to heart.

Cymon suppresses a grin, then continues. "This one fears that the station is lost. The Vercingetorix appears to be safe from intruders, but it is once again on autopilot. The other team members are presumed alive, but in the control of Victor De La Vega. A crafty fellow, this, apparently able to disable an entire team of trained and rested operatives. Next time, he may not bother trying to take us alive, however. What this one would like to do is to take our captor's vessel. It would provide us a way to Scree Fron in an unsuspected vessel. And doubtless it is better equipped than our own, since Mr. De La Vega is seeking such dangerous game."

Cymon smiles broadly at that. He is not given to humor, but relishes the relief of having his companions back.

"If you secure the female, I will revive her and begin questioning."

Groo administers solveaway to the female, causing her tangler restraints to disappear. Bindings are secured to her wrists just as Cymon injects her with stimdose, then telol.

Cymon: Medical: Miscellaneous: Automatic Success

Cymon sits and watches as the woman stirs, then blinks as the telol takes effect. Soon she is occupying that space between sleep and wakefulness, her slurred voice a sure sign she was no longer completely in control of her speech.

Cymon speaks in a calm voice. "What access code will you use to regain control the main Tiamat computer?"

"boudoir cavalier"

"Where is Victor De La Vega holding Marcus Cole, Rubadel Umpah and Myrlinax Patrou?"

"I... I don't know - they're on the station somewhere. He hasn't contacted us since capturing them."

"How and when are you supposed to contact De La Vega?"

"We're not - he's supposed to call us when he's ready to come back to the ship or if he needs help."

"Who are your contacts on Charon Tavis?"

"We don't have any - Vega probably slipped somebody some credits. Never can trust friggin' pirates. Vega was in touch with some guy named Ardua Hooris, but I don't know him or how he fits into it all."

"What is your current mission, including your rendezvous points and your fee?"

"We're freelance out of Prenglar, gunning for the million-plus credits on your heads. Plan was to bag the lot of you, then contact a GTF rep. onboard the station. Hell, they're EVERYWHERE."

Maria's head lolls to one side. Her eyes fall on Ty's face and she smiles. Ty smiles back.

"Hmmm", she laughs softly, "Is that guy still around?" With that, her eyes close and she sinks into her chair unconscious once again.

"See? I told you she liked me!", Ty exclaims proudly.

Ty ignores the groans from his teammates and turns, smiling, back to the pilot's seat. Groo begins a quick search of the dropship, moving from front to back of the ship, tearing open access panels, reaching under fixtures, checking every opening.

Ty: Pilot 1 level 4: 53%; rolled 73 Groo: SOSO skill level 4: 53%; rolled 38

Groo finds the following items onboard the dropship Diablo: 1 medkit 5 survival packs - rations (3) - waterpack - autopistol w/ clip - toxyrad guage - allweather blanket - life vest - holoflare - emergency beeper

1 emergency receiver 1 flashlight 1 engineer's kit 4 foam grenades 1 computer progit - if plugged into an onboard computer, it will activate the subspace radio and send a transmission that consists of annoying static

Ty pauses in his check on the ship's systems to face his weary friend. "Well? What've we got?"

"Found a goam grenade mounted inside the airlock, rigged for remote detonation. Also found a loaded autopistol under the command console. I hauled six spacesuits onboard from the Tiamat : four human, one yazirian, one vrusk. I defused the doze gas dispenser. Everything else onboard checks out."

"Solid. Meanwhile, I've secured control of the ship. However, I've only been partially successful in finding all the remote-command links that Vega could use to command this ship. Until I find them all, this vessel is not 100% safe. For that reason...", he holds up a pair of circuit boards, "I took the liberty of disabling both the Diablo and the launch in case Vega came back." The two old friends exchange proud smiles.

Cymon sits in the passenger section, recording and reviewing the clues found so far. Groo sits down beside him. "What have we got so far, Cymon?"

"Many facts, some related. The fact that Vega's contact is called 'Ardua Hooris' is disturbing. Hooris mean trouble, and Vega may not even know what he has gotten himself into. In all likliehood, Det 2551 would never leave this station once Vega had turned them over, or contacted 'Ardua Hooris'. It also means that the other members of the team are not likely to be brought to this location. And, it seems plausible that Vega and his team were also meant to be casualties. The Hooris would not want to risk their suspicions on a team of human bounty hunters."

"We can worry about Vega later", Groo says, "right now we need to secure our position. Ty has cleared the Diablo for immediate use, but no there are no guarantees that they're aren't hidden remote command codes buried in there without a much more extensive check."

"What about that password the woman gave us? Is that useful?"

"Yes and no. It will access low-level systems, but commandeering the Tiamat will require cracking the computer's security the hard way or using all the passwords of the command staff, however many that may be."

"Should we have recorded her actually saying the...?" Cymon stops short as he notices Ty grinning from his chair, pointing at a button on the command console.

"Already did that, doc. When I hear a password coming up, I plan for the future - used the ship's internal flight recorder to do the trick." He pulls out a progit from the console, rises, and inserts it into Cymon's chronocom. "Hold this up to a receiver when asked for it and you should be okay."

Cymon grins. "This team never ceases to amaze me with it's ingenuity. Good work, honorable one."


Charon Tavis Station - Location Unknown - Time Unknown

Marcus and Mrylinax dive into their work, Marcus running from crate to crate trying to read the Gnarsh writing on their sides. Mrylinax follows, hefting a prybar in his powerful tail. Ruby breaks off to inspect the hovering cargobot, newly acquired robcomkit in hand.

Ruby: Robotics: Activate & Operate level 1: 41%; rolled 01

Ruby lifts the plate off of the robot's hull and stares at the blinking circuitry inside. Only then does id realize that id's experience in robotics is at its limit. Whatever new skills id had mysteriously acquired while in the training booth on deck three, only the basic rudimentaries of working a robot had been learned. Id couldn't complain, id was now a level three master technician in operating and repairing communications devices, a level three locktech, and a level three vehicle repairtech. But how had these new skills appeared?

Ruby dismisses the unanswerable and looks again inside the robot. Nothing useful here except the on/off switch for id. With a snort of disgust, id slams the panel shut and slaps the robot's hull.

"Well, you could've been more cooperative, ya know!"

Ruby INTUITION 50; rolled 49

Ruby leans casually on the hovering 'bot for several seconds, listening to Marcus and Mrylinax flailing away at the crates below. For some reason the cargobot's un-used arm catches ids attention. Attachments were used on the free arm, id thinks to idself, and looks the cargobot's chassis over until id finds a raised module decorated with several handle-like tubes radiating from it. Ruby grabs one after another until id comes across one that ends in a simple card-lock access card.

"Ah! Cardlock express... never leave your system without it!"

Marcus Intuition 55; rolled 66 failed Rubadel Intuition 50; rolled 44

As Ruby descends the stack of crates where the automaton still hovers, id notices a flash of light at one end of the room. Id looks closer to see red alarm lights flashing silently near each doorway out of the storage room. The sight is enough to attract him to the nearest doorway and it's c.a.s. panel. The readout indicates their current location to be deck six, in a huge room located in the northeast quadrant. Flashing text attracts ids attention next:

"WARNING...STATION INVADED...ALL HANDS BATTLE STATIONS...WARNING"

Ruby joins his two comrades who are snatching up gear with the giddiness of school children in a candy store. "Hey, you guys, we got us a situation. Station's being invaded. Dunno who the party-crashers are, but we best get moving. Computer tells me we're on deck six. And I just found this on the cargobot." Ruby holds the access card proudly aloft.

Mrylinax stops short. "Well? Don't just stand there! Load up and let's move!"

Imprisonment lends an unshakable feeling of nakedness to a prisoner. All three set to clothing themselves with as much equipment as possible - they would not be caught unprepared again. In the midst of this Marcus stops short as his eyes fall on the sight of his katana sticking straight up out of one of the nearby crates. The words of the strange, old yazirian who found him injured days before come back to him - the story of his birthright, his role in the invisible war, his destiny that now tied him inextricably to Vega and those like him.

Without a word he marches over to the katana, pulls it free and regards it coldly. He then approaches and accesses the c.a.s. panel, calling up image after image from cameras on every c.a.s. panel between this room and the hangar.

"Little or no activity. Fires here and there. Ah!" He grins as the image of the Vergingetorix, resting quietly amidst the chaos on deck three, appears on the screen. "A fresh coat of paint for the girl. Good."

"Too bad we didn't get that new transponder code loaded - Vega cold-cocked me 'afore I could deliver it", Ruby adds with a tone of disappointment.

Mrylinax cocks his newly acquired gun. "Well, let's go!"

"You two go. The way looks clear.", Marcus says, taking Ruby and Mrylinax by surprise. "I have business with Vega."

"What!?! We're free now!", Mryli bites back, revealing his frustration. "That bastard has more gear and more surprises than we have blind stinking luck! Let's high-tail it back to the ship!"

"Don't wait for me. Leave the station as soon as possible - I'll catch up to you if I can." With that he dials up the team's old secured channel on his chronocom, hoping Vega continues to monitor it.

"Attention, Victor de la Vega: this is Marcus Cole speaking. My friends and I are now free. You have failed. The station is lost. Yet you and I still have business. Name the place."

Seconds pass with only the sound of Mrylinax cursing under his breath. Finally, "This is Vega. Very good, Cole. I trust you found your sword, little good it will do you. Meet me in room G72 on deck seven if you value your life so little. I will have your head this day, Avatar! Ha ha ha ha.."

"We shall see about that", Marcus grumbles, then mashes the door release and is gone.

Ruby snickers. "How ya like that? Darn humans are always too eager for a fight."

"Come on!", Mrylinax snarls, "we're outa here!"


Charon Tavis Station - Onboard the shuttle Diablo - 1400 hours

Groo and Ty, working as a seasoned spacer team, perform checks on the Diablo's onboard systems. Cymon and V'Sndyk, meanwhile, hover over the worn c.a.s. unit found on Slov's body.

V'Sndyk: Display Information - automatic on c.a.s.

"Looks like the user rigged up a crude interface with one of the station's network lines and trapped a bolus being fed into the network near the source."

"Meaning what, in lay terms?", Cymon inquires.

V'Sndyk levels a grave look at the yazirian. "Meaning someone was hacking into the main computer somewhere along a dataline, no mean feat, and Slov captured some of the info being sent into the network by the hackers."

"What kind of info?"

"Basic stuff. Not much, really. Here it is."

V'Sndyk's compound eyes peer intensely at the machine's screen, information coming up that has no place on diagnostic equipment. The first item called up is the most straightforward - a counting algorithm showing the numbers 07:04:14:38 counting down.

"A countdown of some kind?", V'Sndyk wonders aloud. "Seven days and some odd hours, by the rate it's counting."

"But seven days until what?" The stark frankness of the slowly diminishing numbers fills Cymon with a sense of dread that sticks with him even as he studies new numbers produced by his vruskan companion.

[12-15-26-12-13-6] [26-5-21-8-26-13] [6-26-23-21-26-12-6] [6-21-26-25-18-5] [5-10-5-26-23] [6-20-3-26-5] [23-5-12-26-6] [21-19-5-25-26] [21-25-16-5] [25-6] [12-4-25-18-5]

[6-4-5-5-22-5-26] [12-9-12-18-5-13-6] [12-21] [6-21-12-26-6] [8-13-26-5-6-21]

"Hm. Simple text-embedded code. Nothing special here - it isn't machine language of any kind. Must be garbage created by the abrupt transfer that downloaded the first file."

"I've seen this manner of code before", Cymon says as he reaches into his satchel to retrieve his copy of the Den Qritsa. His fingers flip furiously through the pages. He murmurs to himself quietly as he scratches notes on discarded paper.

Cymon : Theology: Amradaran level 1 + 2 CS = 49%; rolled 37

At last he finishes scribbling and stops to regard his work.

AZRAN'S RETURN SRYTRA STRIKE EVERY SCORE YEARS THEIR TIME IS ALIKE

SLEEPER AWAKENS AT STARS UNREST

"Srytra", Cymon hisses at the appearance of the evil name. "What could it all mean?"

V'Sndyk watches Cymon's haunted expression without comprehending it. "I'll, uh, check out the onboard computer."

V'Sndyk eases his way past Ty and Groo in the cramped pilot's cabin and plops down in front of the main computer terminal. The brief time they had here to collect their thoughts was the time V'Sndyk relished - time for reflection and time enough for quality work.

V'Sndyk: Computers : Access & Operate : +X - 3 = 75% ; rolled 72 V'Sndyk: Computers : Defeat Security (already defeated by Freya) V'Sndyk: computers: Display Information: 45%; rolled 62

"Blast it! The files are so sloppy!", the vrusk whispers to himself. "Tracking all the information on this tub's onboard will take forever - at least we have operational control of her."

Dejected, V'Sndyk seeks solace in familiar waters. He keys the terminal to interface via radio and listens eagerly.

(Connection already put in place by Freya)

"Greetings, Mr. Kanditzex", OTTO's voice intones from the terminal speaker. "How may I be of service?"

"OTTO, forward to this terminal all the progress you've made on deciphering those files I left with you."

V'Sndyk's screen is filled with text.

DECIPHERED ITEM #1: UPF MRB NETWORK MSG PGC PROTOCOL FY 0915111 FROM SARIBALIS, J., PRENGLAR SYSTEM - NEW REGIS OFFICE TO KAL-KREE, Y., SCREE FRON SYSTEM - CALAS OFFICE RE: - SYSTEM RESISTANCE DIVERTED BY VIRUS SCARE - INITIATE PHASE THREE - ACTIVATE LOONIS, GUNNHEIM, KADEIRA - PURGE SYSTEM - PREPARE FOR INSERTION AND OFFLOADING - HELIOS PLATFORM ARRIVING NEXT MONTH - FOLLOWING PURGE INITIATE TEST OF OSIRIS IN SYNC WITH SCREE FRON EVENT

DECIPHERED ITEM #2:

UNKNOWN COMPOUND FILE 298103D8A ARCHAEOLOGICAL CROSS REFERENCE SUGGESTS TSORIUM CHEMICAL AND RADIOACTIVE PROFILE ATTACHED HIGHLY UNSTABLE - HANDLE WITH CARE POSITIVE MATCH WITH CONFISCATED CORUSCE SAMPLES

DECIPHERED ITEM #3: O GREETINGS V'SNDYK KANDITZEX RECENTLY I AM WATCHING YOU ALSO I HAVE TAKEN A GREAT INTEREST IN YOU COULD YOU HAVE EXCEEDED MY PROBABILITY CURVES BY SEVERAL DEGREES LATELY YOUR BEHAVIORAL PATTERNS ARE VERY ATYPICAL ERGO I WILL RE-EXAMINE THE CORRELATIVE DATA I WILL STUDY YOU FURTHER

I AM AN ABSURD FLIGHT OF FANCY FLYING IN THE FACE OF REASON I AM A SCANDALOUS MISUSE OF OUR RESOURCES DARING THE ENEMY TO DESTROY US IN OUR MOMENT OF SCIENTIFIC DESPERATION I WILL MAKE MYSELF KNOWN IN THE NUMBERS

V'Sndyk stares at the screen for several minutes in shocked silence. Three clues gleaned from encrypted files that shouldn't have been on the Vercingetorix's main computer to begin with. None of them made immediate sense, but all of them held the promise of deeper truths. The last one, in particular, causes him to shudder. Who knew of him by name? Who was watching him? Why was the language so disjointed and nonsensical?

Meanwhile, back in the launch bay, Freya resumes his work at the launch's command console. Using the launch's onboard computer, he relays his work through the dropship's radio and quickly connects to the station's network. A surprise greets him as he notices the system overloaded with user calls.

"They're jamming all the lines", he grumbles, "good thing as chief technician I saw fit to install a 'back door' to this system."

A text reply silently scrolls across the screen: "Charon Tavis Main Computer Network - system resources at 95% capacity."

Freya types back: "Inquiry: identify access name 'Ardua'"

"Unknown - no such listing on any of the station's records"

"System check : implement access code 294701083274 and correlate any active registers"

Several minutes of searching finally yields an unlikely match: Freya isolates a few unaccounted for systems and tries the code on them over secure lines, so as to protect the code's value. At one point he tries the code on the non-working elevators and finds it works on all of them.

Freya looks over his shoulder at the still form of his former friend Slov. "It seems you were more prescient than I gave you credit for, Slov. You locked the invaders out of the elevators to buy the station time, what little good that did. Now we have an advantage - exclusive use of the fastest mode of transportation on the station. Thank you, friend... you're sacrifice will not be in vain."

Freya resumes typing: "System override - authorization Freya, chief technician - divert control of robot management program to this terminal"

"Negative. Cannot comply. Physical security lockout in place."

"A physical lockout, eh? I'd need to bypass the security locally to do anything. On to more important tasks..."

Like a fighter preparing for the title bout, Freya sets his jaw and begins flexing his finger muscles, then faces the command console inside the cramped launch. The interface between this terminal and the station's network was crude, but Freya's abilities were more than a match for such a primitive system. That, and his 'backdoor' to the network, made the task of connecting with the station elementary.

Cymon re-enters the docking tube, barely noticed by his fellow yazirian. "Ty and V'Sndyk are heading up to deck three to secure our ship. Groo and I are going to find our lost lambs. Can you get the outer doors open so the ship can leave?"

"If that is your plan, then affirmative. I'm in contact with the station's network. Now all I have to do is hack into the flight control computer..."

(Refer to Freyas' Computer Puzzle - Successful)

"How are you doing that?"

"It's unorthodox", Freya replies in a monotone voice as his attention is focused on the screen. "My work here affords me a thorough knowledge of the station's systems. I'm calling up the schematic of nodes in the network between here and the flight computer. There are five nodes, each operating on five channels. From what I'm gathering I think I can feed certain commands to the nodes along the proper channels and get them so tied up that I can get an operations call into the flight computer."

"Enough to open the outer doors?"

"We shall see." Freya's voice trails off as his attention focuses exclusively on the task.

"I'll leave you to your work. How long will it take?"

"Give me an hour."

"An hour then. Where should we pick you up?"

"If all goes well, dock with the Diablo and I'll board through her 'friendly collar'"

"Good luck, my friend."

Cymon rises and departs again. He does not notice Freya lean back and go limp in concentration. His hands rest stiffly on the control board. Lights dance all over the command console as the computer sifts and sorts data at incredible speed. The yazirian stares blankly through the goggles with the animation of doll's eyes. All is silent in the docking tube as an onslaught of electrons decides the team's fate.


Charon Tavis Station - Deck 4 West Stairwell - 1430 hours

Mrylinax stops long enough at the dim light of the next landing's doorway c.a.s. panel to confirm their position. "Deck four. We're almost home, Ruby!" Somewhere on the stairs below him he can hear the panting of his dralasite companion, trying to keep up in spite of ids recent illness. Their flight was a calculated risk, but imprisonment lay behind them. Doghan soldiers could be anywhere and even their pirate 'comrades' were divided by traitors who would shoot them on sight. They had to clear the three decks of stairs quickly. But an asteroid of this size had lots of room between decks. Lots of room between accessible doors. Lots of room in which to be heard, be caught, be killed.

"Would you hurry it up!?", Mrylinax whispers into the inky blackness behind him. "We haven't got all day..."

"Kriick!"

Sound of metal on metal somewhere up high and to the left. Not a natural sound. Mrylinax' ears stretch back. A low growl builds in his throat as he lifts his weapon and crouches.

Mrylinax - INTUITION check - 50%; rolled 86 - surprised

Like out of a dream, a pair of glowing red orbs serving as disembodied eyes suddenly leaps from the landing above and settles softly a meter in front of Mrylinax. The humma is too startled to comprehend what he's seeing, much less fire. A 'click' sound is followed by the hum of a blaster cell charging.

"(pant) (pant) (wheeze) Geez, Mryli, I'm not some kangaroo beasty like you....huh?" Ruby stops short just to Mryli's left, still ascending the stairs, when he sees the eyes floating in the darkness. "Holy..." Ruby snaps on ids powerlight and swings it to reveal a Doghan soldier with a laser rifle pointed right at Mryilnax's head.

"Hssssss!" The Doghan, seeing Ruby, immediately begins cowering. His body, covered in armor and miscellaneous tubes and wires, begins to convulse. A hollow voice spits at the dralasite as if id were the plague. He breathes a single word in a venomous tone: "ssssssssssssss......IX!"

Seizing the sudden distraction, Mrylinax snaps out of his shock and he burns the Doghan to the ground. The stairwell is lit by a brief series of laser flashes. In the darkness the Doghan can be heard to crumple to the floor. Neither of them say anything for several seconds.

Mrylinax Beam Weapons BTH 28 + 20 = 48 ; rolled 72, 36

"By the eternal mother Shmoo!", Ruby gasps. "What just happened?"

Mrylinax lets out a shuddering breath and leaps up the next set of stairs. "Save it. Never question dumb luck. C'mon!"


Charon Tavis Station - Deck 7 - Room G72 - 1500 hours

The metal doors to room G72 rumble like a dying beast as they slide open. Darkness and stale air pour from the confines. Marcus checks his footing out of habit, waits for his eyes to adjust to the light level, and holds his katana ready at his side. This was the forgotten part of the station - referred to as the 'Junkyard'. Relics from a day long gone fill its tunnels. Dust that dates back to early spacefaring covers the floors. Treasures are buried in the dwelling place of long-forgotten horrors that have claimed this dark place to live.

No one travels to the Junkyards of Charon Tavis without a good reason.

Marcus steps forward. His head begins to hum with the sound of an electric current that spreads through his whole body with a tingle. The steady thrumming sound of Charon Tavis' reactors echo off the walls, giving the room a womb-like quality. Every so often a distant explosion vibrates through the floor.

Without warning the doors close behind him. Powerlights come up where the floor meets the four walls revealing a roomthirty meters square, five meters high, the floor covered in dust. Here and there are stacks of metal containers. In the center stands Marcus.

Out from behind a far stack appears Vega, short dark hair, dark eyes, dressed in tight-fitting black commando fatigues, climbing boots, and a battle harness loaded with knives. In his hand he holds a marvelously wrought saber. The dim light plays off the intricately-worked hilt. His eyes are playful yet piercing.

"Well, well. So here we are, Cole. I'm impressed - I thought you'd have run by now."

"I don't want to kill you if I don't have to. I don't even know what this 'game' is all about."

Vega grins. "You don't have to know. 'There is but to or die..' We are special, Cole. We were put here for a purpose." Vega begins to pace around Marcus. Marcus squares off and paces too, the two circling one another.

"What? To hack each other to pieces for no reason?"

"There is a reason for everything in the physical universe, Marcus." Vega raises his sword.

Marcus reciprocates. "So we fulfill some madman's agenda?"

"It's all about power, Cole. A warrior's code. You were bred to it, I was bred to it. We were made to be better. To conquer. If you'd had more time to live with your gift, you would have learned to appreciate it."

"I appreciate life enough already. What's the point of all this? Can you tell me or are you as in the dark about this 'game' as I am?"

Vega grins again, this time darkly. "I know enough to watch my head."

Marcus IM : 5 + 5=10 Vega IM : 7 + 9 = 16

Vega lunges, bringing his saber across Marcus' mid-section in a series of rapid blows. Marcus brings his sword up to block, but the attack is so swift Vega's blade slashes into his abdomen producing a rivulet of blood.

"Argh!" Marcus screams.

"Keep your blade up, welp. You'll live longer."

Marcus' arm lunges out in response. The attack is off-balance, a desperate stab in response to the pain in his stomach. Vega parries the blow and sweeps for another strike. The saber finds its way to Marcus' upper chest, cutting deeper this time.

Marcus stifles his cry, prepared for the pain this time, but curses himself for his stupidity. Again he swings, again meeting his opponent's block. Again and again he pounds away, never making it past the swirling cutlass. Vega's speed is stunning. Blow after blow he flourishes his blade like a circus performer, sending Marcus' katana to the side with but a flick of the wrist. The blows are traded in rapid succession, taking a rhythm all their own. Suddenly, Vega does the unexpected and changes the rhythm, sending his sword into a thrust that gouges Marcus like a fish on a spear.

"Nnnnghgh!"

Marcus reels from the pain, but his training sticks with him. As he falls back reflexively, his arm works behind him to gather momentum for a swift counter-strike. The backwards motion tricks Vega into closing in, and Marcus' own body blocks the view of the poised arm. He strikes, and somehow reaches under Vega's guard to sweep through Vega's mid-section in return.

"Gaaaah!" Vega retreats for the moment, bringing his blade back up. Marcus doubles over, kneeling to catch his breath. Vega withdraws and circles slowly, pretending to ignore the pain.

[Fight Stats] Vega BTH 85 : rolled 64 Marcus RS : 45; rolled 98 - medium sword inflicts 2d10 - 9 points

Marcus BTH 67; rolled 56 Vega RS: 70; rolled 54 - blocked

Vega BTH 85; rolled 85 Marcus RS: 45; rolled 60 - 14 points dmg.

Marcus BTH 67; rolled 63 Vega RS: 70; rolled 32

Vega BTH 85; rolled 29 Marcus RS: 45; rolled 87 - 16 pts. dmg.

Marcus BTH 67; rolled 40 Vega RS: 70; rolled 78 - 12 pts. dmg.

"You fight well, Marcus. It's a pity you won't be in the game when it nears the end."

Marcus spits welt of blood onto the dusty floor and glares up at his opponent through a haze of pain. "This...this is your game. Not mine", he gasps as his head begins to spin.

Victor steps up casually, his sword draped across his shoulders. "Fine, fine. It's my game, then." He sets his feet, raising the sword high above his head. "But in my game there can be only one..."

All of a sudden the doors to the room rumble open to reveal Cymon and Groo, flashlights and weapons at the ready. Vega immediately lowers his sword, as if embarassed to be caught in the act of using the archaic weapon.

"Step away from him, Vega", Groo barks at him, eyeing him down the barrel of his laser rifle. Cymon rushes ahead and kneels beside Marcus, medscanner at the ready. Vega steps back. One of his hands opens to reveal a tiny palm trigger. "Waitasec, what's that? What's THAT!? Drop it!"

Vega smiles. "I wouldn't do that. This is wired to blow your little humma buddy all over the walls of the next room. Here, you can check for yourself." He takes another small box from his belt and tosses it to Cymon.

"He's not bluffing", Cymon says with a tone of despair, "This thing's got a fix on Groo's DNA signature."

Groo freezes in his tracks. "Touch that device and I burn you where you stand, you miserable sonuvabospor!" he growls. His hand reaches around the edge of the doorway and drags out a bound and gagged Maria. "Okay, Vega, I see you and raise you a tomato. We don't collect people for profit like you." Groo dumps her unceremoniously onto the deck. A peel of thunder rocks the room, suggesting an explosion nearby.

Vega throws the palm switch away. He says nothing as Cymon helps Marcus to his feet and they slowly back out the door. Groo hangs back, keeping his rifle on the bounty hunters. For a moment his eyes lock with those of Victor and a shiver runs up his back. "Be seeing you again soon, Avatar.", Vega sneers. The doors close.

Cymon and Groo lift Marcus and begin running for the nearest elevator. Ahead of them one of the hullbots hovers, keeping the doors open. The sounds of destruction and mayhem can be heard even down here. The air is thick with smoke. The three of them spill into the elevator and Groo punches the access code programmed by Slov into the control panel.

"Our return to the Vercingetorix should be uneventful, if we command this route." Cymon tries to sound upbeat. The ride is a long one. Finally the doors open onto the hangar and the sounds of chaos rise to a roar. All around laser-fire flashes back and forth, fires burn out of control, crewmembers run from place to place in unrestrained panic. No one notices as two yazirians walk a wounded human across the tarmac to a gleaming assault scout parked off to one side.

Groo looks up hopefully. "If Ty and V'Sndyk made it here, then we should be okay. HEY, OPEN UP IN THERE!!!"

With a whoosh the forward entry ramp plops open. V'Sndyk emerges to help them aboard. "It's getting pretty hot here - glad you guys could make it! Where are Ruby and Mrylinax?"

A shout from across the hangar answers his question. V'Sndyk turns to see Mrylinax, Ruby strapped on his back, bouncing high above the fray in leaps that bring him to the foot of the ramp in no time.

"Wow. Never seen a humma jump like that!"

"Me neither", Mrylinax chuckles, "amazing what gunfire does for motivation!"

There is little time for reminiscing. A peel of gunfire sends them scrambling inside. Once there, Ty can be heard shouting out an abridged preflight checklist to Groo. "Are we all in yet? I'm picking her up!"

The floor pitches and sways wildly as the scout's repulsor liftjets kick in. Out the portals the battlescape of the hangar can be seen to drop sharply. Inside the crew grapples to hang on. Ty grins, feeling the power of the driver's seat again, and slams the rotors hard, wheeling the ship on its axis to face the doors.

"I hope Freya hacked his way through flight control or this is gonna be a short trip!"

As if in answer the speakers crackle with Freya's voice. "Affirmative, FCS Vercingetorix - you are cleared for takeoff."

Ahead the huge inner doors to the hangar slowly creep open. Ty punches the engines, sending the ship rocketing towards the launch deck.

"Scanners show six other vessels taking off, as well", Freya reports calmly. "Shall I hold the door open for them, too?"

Cymon jumps out of his seat. "That's gotta be Chamra's men - the convoy he spoke of. We can't lock them in here. Hold the doors for them, then shut her down!"

One by one the vessels rise and enter the launch bay. Soon it is far too cramped to be safe, but each one of them manages to fit.

"Okay, okay, close the doors now so we can get outa this death trap!", Ty snaps over the radio.

Much too slow for Ty's tastes the doors finally close, freeing the outer doors to open. Only a hint of outer space is showing when Ty slams the ship into a quarter roll and blasts out of the station for good. "Yeeeeeeeha!"

The ride through space is a welcome cruise compared to the dicey maneuvering inside the station. Ty eases the ship into a gentle arc, plotting an intercept course with the projected location of the Diablo. From the outside, the station doesn't look any different - it still appears to be a tranquil, innocuous asteroid of planetoid size. No hint of destruction, except for the screams heard over the open radio link. Ty kills the feed, opting for some peace at last.

"Sensors picking up gun batteries", Groo yells from his chair. "I'm going below." No soon does he get up than a flash of light appear across their rear hull camera screen.

Ty bursts into elated laughter. "Whew! That one almost got us! Watch this!"

Ty brings the ship around on a direct course to intercept the Diablo's beacon, bringing a cluster of Charon Tavis' laser batteries into the front viewscreen.

Ruby looks up from ids chair at communications and gulps. "Um, Ty...."

A dozen more flashes of light lance out from the dead asteroid. Ty jerks the controls every which way as if feeling out the openings. The Vercingetorix goes into a spin, rocketing through the firestorm unscathed.

Laser Battery BTH vs. Reflective Hull: 50%; rolled 95 Laser Battery BTH vs. Reflective Hull: 50%; rolled 25 Laser Battery BTH vs. Reflective Hull: 50%; rolled 38

Ty Pilot Starship size I - 4th level : dodging maneuvers 53%; rolled 21 Ty Pilot Starship size I - 4th level : dodging maneuvers 53%; rolled 18

Ty lets out another howl. "Whooo! Didja see that!? Damn I impress even myself sometimes!"

Miles of rock roll past beneath them until a faint silvery object near the surface is visible. "Roger, Freya - we have you on visual. Board the Diablo and get ready for us to.... waitasecond!"

Only when the Vercingetorix is on top of the scene do they notice a spherical object closing on the docking tube that extends from the station and that links the station with the Diablo.

"Workpod. Freya, there's a workpod headed right for you. She's got her claws extended and at that speed..."

There is no sound in space. The radio feed from Freya's position is enough to convey the sickening sound of twisting, crunching metal as the objects collide. Unbelieving, they watch as the workpod from the Tiamat, presumably piloted by Jean Gascon, rams the docking tube, causing it to fold and crumple.

"Holy.... Freya! Freya, come in!!!"

"Somebody get a hullbot in the starboard airlock and flush it!"

Huge rents in the walls of the tube open up, sending loose objects flying into outer space. A limp yazirian form can be seen dangling sickly like some doll, hurling into the void.

"FREYA!!!!"

"No, wait...gotta be the body of the tech we found..."

Ty spares no time, bringing the ship dangerously close to the wreckage. The Vercingetorix saddles up alongside the spent docking tube, coming to an uneasy stop. Exterior cameras watch the hullbot deploy. There is a nervous span of several seconds as the crew watches the monitors.

Somehow, miraculously, a shape emerges. Freya, limp and dangling over the chassis of the hullbot. The small robot chugs furiously back towards the airlock as fast as its rockets can propel it. A rumble signals the airlock cycling. Cymon hurries to the door, his medkit ready.

"A living organism can survive the vaccuum of space for several seconds", he rattles on nervously, "if we're lucky there won't be too much tissue damage, respiratory organs may be intact, and... "

The airlock door opens to show Freya standing upright and normally next to the hullbot. His goggled eyes return the crew's shocked stares without emotion. Ty's voice over the intercom breaks the silence.

"Okay, did we get him? Everything clear? I'm reading their external batteries powering up - we need to put some room between us and them!"

"All...all clear", Cymon responds in amazement. There is no time for questions. Each person moves to secure himself in an acceleration chair. Groo plops down in the astrogations chair and begins calling up the void coordinates. Ty shouts out last-minute checks for the jump. One last look at Charon Tavis shows her to still be the cold, dark rock she was meant to look like. Ty punches the jump command - the stars become a blur - Belnafaer is a distant memory.


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