Detachment 2551 : A Star Frontiers Adventure

Chapter 17 - Osiris Station

Bridge of the Vercingetorix - stardate fy 1111014

Space and machines. Weapons of war. Computers and robots. The Yazirian Haiokah feels most like a useless appendage at these times. He can only ponder his entwining mysteries of DNA and ancient gods, and occasionally make some salient observations.

From Amradar's orbit, he could see the spectacular Histran system, the Necklace of Heaven. The brilliant orb of Histran itself, a small semi-arid world of rolling hills sliced by deep, forested canyons. And then there were the encircling moons, each nearly the size of the Central world. No other planetary system in the known frontier was as richly endowed with habitable globes. Together they turned about Histran in a mysterious gravitational dance. Indeed, no theory of planetary development had yet produced a logical model of how such a collection of worlds could have naturally established an equilibrium without either collapsing together or swirling apart.

A small disk appeared now in the porthole. Sandy colored, with darker camel streaks like those of a carnivorous leonine spirit-creature that inspired its name. Zharda. His home. A rocky outpost moon. A place of soaring rocky spires and the mysterious ancient artwork. A place not very unlike the dread sacred Amradar that now looms below.

Cymon decides to use the time Marcus and the away team take to prepare for boarding by doing a little homework. He carefully pushes aside a pile of small plastic tubes in the shape of needler barbs. Next to them sits a vial of pinkish goo labelled, oddly, ‘Ruby'. As he moves the handiwork over to two empty needler clips ready for the makeshift barbs, he spots Ruby a few meters away eyeing the devices with some trepidation before turning away.

(Cymon: Medical Devices level 2 + 1 CS = 49%; rolled 04 - delivery system constructed)
(Ruby: Weapon Repair level 2 = 45%; rolled 98)
(Groo: Weapon Repair level 1 = 41%; rolled 27 - workable needler barbs constructed)

"OTTO" Cymon speaks in a harsh whisper barely audible, "holo the surface of Amradar below us. Highlight our relative position in orbit, and then the five equidistant ancient sites below."

A shimmering ball of light flickers into a steady rotation above the central bridge console. It shows Calas compound in red and the six archaeological sites circling it in a perfect ring. As the orb revolves a tiny blue dot moves with it some distance out from the red area and representing Osiris station in synchronous orbit. Sitting at the table, he fingers the Gold Zamra, staring past it to the surface of the phantasm of the planetoid image rippling into existance before him.

"OTTO, can you triangulate the unidentifiable transmission's origin and a possible target? Is it emanating from these sources? Is this a possible reason for the source being difficult to designate?"

OTTO is silent as he processes the problem with the full breadth of his capabilities. Finally, he utters, "There is no definable point of origin for the signal. Sampling with consideration for the six different sites yields no differential in the signal characteristic."

Cymon turns to his Dralasite companion who sits at ids station in front of the subspace radio console. "Ruby...", he sighs.

"OTTO throwing you for a loop again? Don't sweat it. Half the time even I don't understand his technical mumbo jumbo. Lemme see what I can find."

(Ruby Communication Devices: Operate Skill level 3 + 2 CS = 58%; rolled 25)

"The signal is too spread out in its origin to be coming from any one place. Seems like it's coming from the region around Calas compound, but no exact place. This is weird..."

"What is it?" asks Cymon, now shaken from his weariness.

"Not only does the crypto program throw up the white flag, but the sound characteristic of the signal seems to be distorted on top of that."

"What could be causing that?"

"Dunno. Terrain acoustics, nearby power sources, shielding material... can't tell if I don't know what it is that's being distorted. However, I CAN tell you that the signal is definitely repeating."

"Repeating? Like a waveform?"

"No, just the same sequence repeated every five minutes or so. Weird. Gotta be manufactured."

"Indeed. OTTO, boost the signal to audible levels. This one wishes to hear Syrtra's growl." Cymon leans back in his chair and places headphones over his ears. His eyes take on a faraway look as his mind reflects on the nature of the strange noise.


Access Hallway of the Vercingetorix - stardate fy 1111014
Freya and V'Sndyk stand before a cluster of robots, hullbots Beta and Gamma, and one of the Mark III security robots obtained from Charon Tavis.

(Freya: Robotics Activate and Operate - automatic)
(V'Sndyk: Robotics: Identification - level +X - 3 = 75%; rolled 77)
(Freya: Robotics: Identification - level +X - 3 = 75%; rolled 52)
(V'Sndyk: Robotics: List Functions - level +X - 3 = 75%; 56)

With some difficulty V'Sndyk finally calls up the list of functions for the security robot.

"Well, looks like it's got the normal slew of functions for a security robot. I'll just modify them to make the robot follow us, be on the look out for hostiles, and to defend our team against any attacks."

(V'Sndyk: Robotics: Alter Functions - level 1 + 1CS - 3 CS = 35%; rolled 19)

V'Sndyk looks at his gloved hands in dismay. Although the suit would provide necessary protection, it would adversely affected his efficiency...an affront to any Vrusk. With a nod of approval from the masked Yazirian, V'Sndyk replaces the cover on the robot and sends the retinue topside.

Below, the cramped interior of the ship's belly laser turret has come to represent a retreat for Groo. Here he was the boss, responsible for actions that could save the entire group. Working on his own terms, not those of a computer or a faceless employer. He grins as he savors the feel of the krik-hide cannon handles, then thumbs his chronocom.

"Hey Ty, do you still have that Bodycomp that use to be Breanna's?"

"No, that bastard Vega lifted off of me back on Charon Tavis."

Groo frowns. "That could be bad. We have no way of remotely activating those systems when the time comes. We may want to rig something up to handle all the devices the belt handled."

"That can wait. Right now I'm checking the ship's systems to make sure they are working up to specifications. I don't want to have something blow in the middle of a get away."

(Ty Engineering: Damage Control level 4: 53%; rolled: SECRET)

"OTTO, approximate the ETA of any enemy vessel leaving the milita-pirate battle and returning to Osiris, then pipe that information to the terminal in the gun well. Keep an up to date estimate of the time and notify me immediately of any vessels being destroyed or any vessel leaving the battle. I also want to be notified of any other vessel entering or currently in the system along with the probable destination and arrival time. Scan all system communications in the system, filing all encrypted messages for later study. If any non-encrypted messages mention Moon G, Osiris station, Doghan, PGC, Detachment 2551, or Quatro flag them in red and save for later study."

"Acknowledged, Mr. Karchudka." OTTO's voice rings hollow in the closed acoustics of the gun well.

Once again Ty's voice cuts in. "Hey, Groo. Make sure you got your pressure suit ready. The boys upstairs are assembling and the standing order is for all of us to be suited up in case anything happens. Can't say I disagree with that logic."

Groo smiles. "You got that right pal, these suits have saved our hide more than once over the last 5 years. Remember that time when we were docked to that space station in the Timeon system and those thugs blew the hatch with Tornadium D-19 and the seal was broken."

"Yeah, the look in those thugs' eyes as the air in the space station's lock evacuated and the doors closed shut trapping them in the lock without space suits was pure joy. It's a good thing we had our suits on that time, since we where planning on doing some work on the outside of the ship. We'll let's get to work."

Groo flips the intercom off and settles in to read his instruments. A flashing light calls his attention to a completed subroutine he began hours ago.

(Groo - Astronomy level 3 + 2 CS = 58%; rolled 81)

"Aha. The analysis of the twenty-year cycle of this system. Good thing OTTO has a fast processor core to sift through all the survey information online - I couldn't crack the records on this system to give me any kind of pattern. Lessee what corelations OTTO dug up for me." The report is short, excluding the dozens of minor phenomena that would only interest an astronomer.

SOLAR BODY SCREE FRON EXPERIENCES SOLAR MAXIMUM ONCE EVERY TWENTY YEARS

Groo closes the report with a disgusted snort. The conclusion isn't new. But it's relevance still remains a mystery.


Bridge of the Vercingetorix - stardate fy 1111014 - 1 hour later - Boarding Time
Marcus, Mrylinax, V'Sndyk, and Freya stand at the front of the bridge, readying their equipment and checking the comm link to Ruby's station. A hullbot, a spy-eye, and a security robot look on behind them. Marcus thumbs the chronocom link on his space suit glove.

"Okay, positions everyone. Groo, you in the belly turret?"

"Affirmative. Got a good bead on the fireworks between the pirates and the militia ships."

"And?" Marcus asks impatiently.

"Nobody seems to know we're here. Tight clusters of fighting going on. The pirates are trying to withdraw but the militia ships are all over them. I'll keep everyone posted."

Cymon interjects, pausing from his duties checking the life support readouts on each person's space suit. "The suits should be more than adequate protection from contagion or radiation. I've had OTTO scan the station and it seems no one has docked with her for several days, maybe weeks."

Ruby pipes up, feeling the time is right to interject ids two credit's worth. "I've scanned the hull of the station - no story there. Clean as a newly minted coin. Might be able to plug into the ship through a maintainence port. I've sent that lackey of a hullbot out to get a good look- see. Once its determined, we can get the dullard to attach a CAC. Hack in thataway, bug boy....whoom."

He continues, a wide blobby smile creeping across ids facepart. Without the weird influence of the influenza, ids old self and brilliant sense of humor could again shine.

"Yuppo,...And then there are the sensor arrays. I am setting up some diagnostics to see what kind of transmissions are comin' 'n goin'. Specially if there are any o' them dang boxes like was attached to the ol' 'Torix 'n the Lacien. I'll have the hullbot get right on it once he finishes his sweep of the hull."

"The workpods and life pods....Ruby, can you tell if they're all intact?" Cymon asks suddenly.

"Ruby looks at ids screen for a moment. "They're all there."

Cymon turns to Marcus. "A thought occurs to me. Perhaps once aboard you could program the escape pods to deploy to the vicinity of the projected landing area. This will provide the away team with another escape route if there is some problem."

Marcus looks back from the entrance to the station, visibly impatient. "A bit pessimistic, aren't we, Cymon? We haven't even gotten out the door yet."

"Forgive me - I do not intentionally mock the fates. Rather, I have learned to anticipate their sense of the unexpected. Doubtless there are surprises inside,... big ones. And we will have little time here. In short order the enemy will be upon us, and we will make our final approach to the planet surface. It may be necessary to use any escape pods on the station for emergency egress. However, we should be prepared to move very quickly"

At that, he does something none of the crew had heard before. He laughs. Giggles really. A harsh, yazirian version. It is unsettling. "...As if you couldn't guess that already."

Groo recognizes the sound. It is often heard among warriors preparing for battle. Typically it precedes the fomenting of battle rage when facing one's life enemy.

Despite his recent ordeal, Freya seems ready to join the boarding party. As they prepare to enter the dim light of the station, the engineer is again fiddling with his equipment. Mrylinax notes that the array of tools carried by the pirate seems to have multiplied during his absence.

The warrior nudges Marcus, "No wonder that guy felt like a ton 'o Federanium, look at all the toys he's packing! Thought we were dragging one of my people back from the Lacien."

Although eager to begin, V'Sndyk's logic prevails "Shouldn't we have a plan? The blockade ships won't be gone forever...". He glances at Cymon then Marcus, waiting for orders. His antennae tingle as a gentle humming fills the air. Despite a heavy cloak, Freya's every move is accompanied by harmonic reverberations from the ‘thrumms' worn about his ankles. V'Sndyk can't recall the story behind this ancient religious garb, but resolves to ask OTTO when they return. Perhaps the ‘gods' wouldn't take offense if the thrumms were tuned to a frequency that didn't send a chill through a Vrusk's carapace.

Freya speaks, "Is our goal not simple? Acquire all relevant data and deprive opposing forces of the station's resources. Disruption of the computer and communication systems should render Osiris ineffective. As a secondary task, the station's communications system could be used to divert some of the enemy forces."

V'Sndyk clears his throat to speak, but Freya seems to miss the subtle clue, his strange voice droning on without respite.

"Ruby, decoding the Osiris communications log may allow you to redirect the enemy fleet by employing the station's communications system. Can you accomplish this from onboard our ship? Further, should we attempt such an action?"

"Someone needs to activate the station's radio, link up with my station here, then grant me access using the onboard computer", Ruby replies.

"I'll be here to help coordinate any de-crypt or transmission work you need help with, Ruby" Groo puts in over the intercom.

"I'll take care of the computer!" V'Sndyk interjects, moving a bit closer to the airlock.

Next, the engineer turns to Mrylinax "Your skills include the ability to detect security devices. Will you employ said skills while operating "on point" as Marcus ordered?" Remaining still for a moment he adds "Further analysis suggests that the covert placement of explosive charges at key points within Osiris would prove a valuable backup. Charge location will be critical, my skills are at your disposal. Will you undertake such actions?"

Mrylinax stares at the Yazirian for longer than is necessary to reply. The unspoken statement is clear: the engineer was pedantic and chatty, enough to get on any Yazirian's nerves but particularly a grouchy Humma. Finally he snorts and says, "Yeah, yeah, sure I'm gonna scan for traps. Whadja think I was gonna be doin' on point, cleaning my rifle? I've got no problem laying down charges. Just let me handle the placement, though - explosives are tricky."

Mrylinax prattles on with apparently no attention to the snub he's received. "The station may contain unusual equipment that is related to our current mission. I request permission to conduct a search for unidentified systems while supporting Mrylinax and V'Sndyk in their efforts." This last statement is directed at Marcus.

"Are there any other recommendations?" Freya finally falls silent after an extended torrent of speech. V'Sndyk shakes his head slowly, thinking 'Yazirians must have some set of lungs!' His carefully ordered mind flashes back, sifting through Freya's speech patterns and mannerisms with usual Vrusk efficiency. The conclusion was obvious, the pirate acted more like a Vrusk than a Yazirian... perhaps a common fate among technicians and engineers of any race. Collaborating on a project, as Freya had requested in the Void, might be less frustrating than he had imagined.

Another crackle sounds over the intercom. Groo replies to Freya, "Good analysis of the situation Freya. Now go and don't do anything foolish, we don't want to have to go in there to pull your ass out the fire."

Through all of this Marcus has listened attentively, open to all ideas. Finally he senses a close to the discussion and speaks up. "Here's the plan. Myrlinax and I go in point. Freya, you and V'Sndyk follow closely. V'Sndyk, I want you to give us 10-minute updates on the status of Berdax's location. Freya, let us know if you detect any more E-field booby traps like on the Lacien. Myrlinax, you will be scanning for explosives or other nasty surprises. We'll send hullbot Gamma in first. We need to know atmosphere and gravity status before going in."

"Once inside, we'll have to work fast. No telling how much time we will have. We'll check each room on the first level. Then Freya and I will go down the elevator while V'Sndyk and Myrlinax take the ladderwell. We'll rendezvous on deck two, sweep the level, and repeat the process level by level. Once we've secured the station, V'Sndyk will get to the main computer and proceed to download its logs. Freya, you will check the beacon and figure out what happened to it. The briefing we got told us that we lost contact with Calas first, and then later someone activated Osiris' distress beacon before it, too, was silenced. I'm guessing that someone took a shuttle up from Calas and was followed. We need to try to reconstruct what exactly happened."

Freya shakes his head in an adopted human fashion...perhaps their leader didn't realize the enormity of the task assigned to V'Sndyk. "Suggestion Marcus. After securing the upper decks, V'Sndyk's time would better be spent at the computer. His assignment requires immediate action."

Cringing slightly at the hint of dissent, the Vrusk reluctantly agrees "I could use an extra twenty minutes at the computer... The early start could mean life for our allies." Without pressing the point, the technician's attention returns to the robot.

Marcus tires of the delay the discussion is now posing to the mission. "No, we're going to need a few extra hands in case we do meet with resistance there. From a military standpoint, it's better to secure the place first before anyone starts any serious work."

"Don't worry, bug. We'll give ya plenty a time with Miss Mainframe there. Wouldn't wanna rob ya of the moment," Myrlinax says, nudging the Vrusk a few times in the shoulder. "Between you and me, though, I'm hoping we do find some resistance, cuz I'll proceed to waste it with this here missilier. I always wondered what a high explosive warhead would do to a Doghan at point blank range. Heh heh heh."

The security robot's cover plate clatters to the deck as V'Sndyk digests the warrior's comment. ‘Surely he couldn't be serious... ,' he thinks to himself.

Freya, overhearing the comment, suffers no such hesitation. "Mrylinax, given the station's 15 meter diameter and a high explosive warhead's 8m blast radius, this proposition seems ill- considered at best. Is this what your species calls humor?"

Before the Humma can answer, Marcus is through the hatch and checking the next hatch connecting to the station.


Osiris Station - Level 1

(Mrylinax: Security Systems: Detect level 2 + 1 CS- 2 CS = 38%; rolled 34)

Mrylinax peers through the portal into the next room. With a snort he begins taking out his tools.

"Room's wired with a motion sensor. I'm gonna try ‘n trick it into ignoring us."

V'Sndyk comes alive at the first hint of trouble. "Alarms? What're they wired to?"

"Heh heh...nothing much. Maybe a heavy laser next to the door is all." Mrylinax fiddles with the hatch's c.a.s. panel until the red security light turns green. The hatch clicks and Mrylinax gives it a gentle tap. "Well, gang, looks like we're five-by-five...."

Marcus and Mrylinax emerge from the hatchway and stand to full height. The room is quiet. The light muted. Everything feels still. Suddenly the humming of a servo catches their attention.

(Mrylinax Security Systems: Deactivate level 1 + 1 CS - 3 CS = 35%; rolled 90)
(Mryilnax RS check 55; rolled 22)
(Marcus RS check 45; rolled 23)

"GET DOWN!" Marcus yells and vaults to the floor. Just as he does a cascade of bright light flashes over the hatchway, blasting away chunks of metal and sending Freya and V'Sndyk diving for cover. Unfortuneately for the security robot they brought along, it wasn't so fast in the reflexes. The laser blasts turn into its chassis just as it prepares to return fire. With a terrible sound the upper half of the Mark III explodes into junk.

Mrylinax spots a twin mounted laser over the door opposite the hatch. "There! Above the door - blast it!"

(Mrylinax Beam Weapons (no setting declared - rolled a 2) 58%; rolled 21, 87)
(Marcus Beam Weapons (no setting declared - rolled a 9) 37%; rolled 03, 28)

Both Marcus and Mrylinax whip around with their laser rifles and answer with a salvo of their own. A blinding explosion erupts in the room for an instant, leaving burning pieces of metal and dangling wires when the light subsides.

"Five by five, eh?" Marcus asks, casting a critical glance at his companion.

"Okay, okay...so I missed that one. You're alive, aren't you?"

V'Sndyk and Freya finally emerge from the hatch to see the wreckage littering the floor.

"It is a safe assumption that our presence is easily divinable now," Freya says with little enough emphasis that he sounds sincere.

The group is unsure of what to do - any minute armed guards could appear to check on the scene. After several long minutes, though, it seems that the station is indeed deserted.

"We've got to assume the rest of the station's rooms are wired for detection. If no one's already coming to check this section out, then we need to move carefully."

Mrylinax is already checking the door into the lounge area when the others begin fanning out to check the quarters and other rooms. What they find are humble living spaces decorated with what little personal effects a small station's space can afford. Each one is tidy and looks to have been unoccupied for some time. The food storage room is full, as is the spacesuit locker. Nothing seems to be out of place. Even the crew's file computers look to be deactivated. Finally Mrylinax yells from the central chamber.

"Okay, I think I've got it this time! We can get into the hold through here and get to the ladderwell."

Marcus isn't so eager to move this time. He takes a deep breath and flips the lever for the pressure door's release. Just as he does so, he ducks to one side. V'Sndyk, caught flat- footed, doesn't realize he was standing directly behind Marcus and is in plain view of the doorway now. In a sickening flash twin bolts cut through the opening and splatter the Vrusk against the elevator door.

(Mrylinax Security Systems: Detect level 2 + 1 CS - 3 CS = 38%; rolled 75)
(mounted gun bth 53%; rolled 03)

V'Sndyk suffers 29 points of damage. He sinks to the floor, his spacesuit in tatters.

(Mrylinax Beam Weapons (no setting declared - rolled a 2) 58%; rolled 78,60)
(Marcus Beam Weapons (no setting declared - rolled a 9) 37%; rolled 04,65)

Freya quickly drags V'Sndyk to the side. Marcus and Mrylinax respond by whirling around the corner and once again pounding the first visible target into slag.

"DAMN! I thought for sure I had that area cleared!" Mrylinax curses his bad luck and hefts his rifle as if it is his new solution for probing the station's rooms. All four chronocoms beep.

"Marcus, this is Cymon - what's going on in there!?"

"We're meeting automated resistance. V'Sndyk's been hit. Level one is... secured. Come on up and check on him."

Within seconds the Haiokah is beside V'Sndyk and treating him. After the shot of biocort has time to kick in, V'Sndyk stands on wobbly legs.

"I - I'm okay. Just feel kinda weak. I can make it."

(Cymon Medical: Wounds I level +X = 97%; rolled 72, V'Sndyk receives 12 pts. back)

"I think I should go with you, just to help out," Cymon offers. No one is in any mood to argue.


Osiris Station - Level 2

Marcus and Mrylinax return to the central hub and activate the lift. The rest pick their way carefully down the ladderwell to meet at the next level. From their refuge in the ladderwell, all three can hear a barrage of gunfire as they near the next landing. Cymon peers through the portal to see Mrylinax, smoking rifle in hand, motioning them to come out.

"The furtive approach has been abandoned, Mr. Patrou?"

"Yeah. Walk quietly and carry a big bazooka. That's my motto."

"Indeed." Cymon replies. Out of the corner of his eye he notices Freya combing the walls and equipment in the room with a discerning eye. "Anything important you're looking for, Freya?"

The Yazirian never takes his eyes off of a column extending from floor to ceiling. Neither does he answer. Stacks of crates filled with containers occupy one storage room, but all the others are empty. Cymon looks around with a skeptical eye.

(Cymon INT check 78; rolled 17)

"It seems odd to me that a research and observatory station would have so much room for storage space. Where are all the star charts? Where are the banks upon banks of computers?"

Marcus pulls one of the containers out of a box. "Yes. And what are these containers good for? I've never seen their like before?"

Freya glides up and takes one for himself. "Curious. These are heavily shielded pods for the transport of radioactive materials. Yet by the looks of these crates there are enough containers to move a century's worth of fuel for a battleship."

"Looks like visiting auxiliary power is a moot point," V'Sndyk says meekly as he emerges from the next room. "The station is at a hundred percent and doing fine."

Marcus is already back at the lift doorway. "There's nothing here. Let's move out and hit the mid-section. Vercingetorix, this is Marcus, we're moving on."

"Copy you, Marcus."


Osiris Station - Level 3

Mrylinax is the first out the door of the lift this time. His eyes check the c.a.s. panel and go to every corner of the storage hold in front of him. After a full minute his shoulders relax and he begins to move forward. Marcus stops short as a swathe of blaster fire rips into him, causing his albedo screen to burn a bright silver.

(Mrylinax Security Systems: Detect level 2 + 1 CS - 3 CS = 38%; rolled 100)
(Mrylinax RS check 55; rolled 99 (I've never seen two such bad rolls at one time!))

ZAM! ZAM! ZAM!

The blast sends Mrylinax tumbling, but both he and Marcus come up firing. Several wild shots scar the walls but don't hit their mark. The mounted gun moves to reacquire, prompting the duo to scramble for cover. As they do, the gun trains on Marcus behind hard cover.

ZAM! ZAM! ZAM!

The blasts rip the bulkhead apart where Marcus is crouching. One bolt catches him square in the side and sends him reeling.

(Mrylinax Beam Weapons (no setting declared - rolled a 2) 58%; rolled 63,68)
(Marcus Beam Weapons (no setting declared - rolled a 9) 37%; rolled 68,47)
(mounted gun cth 53%-2 CS = 49%; rolled 48)
(Marcus' albedo screen absorbs 14 points damage, leaving 12)

"MARCUS! Are you okay?" yells Mrylinax over the din.

"I'm hit but I'll live. I'm out of power, though. We have to pull back."

Just then a door swings open off to the right. Emerging from the ladderwell entrance, Freya brings his laser rifle out from under his tattered cloak and blasts away at the distracted automated gun. In one shot the mounted gun is reduced to a shower of sparks.

(Freya - no setting declared - rolled a ‘10' SEU setting)

Freya crosses the room to help Marcus to his feet. Cymon ready with his medkit.

(Cymon: Medical: Wounds I : level +X:97%; rolled 71 - Marcus is restored to full health)

"Thanks, Cymon. Okay, let's secure this level." Marcus seems nonplussed by the opposition faced so far. Oddly enough, his resolve is steeled by the pain he feels in his side.

V'Sndyk is already in front of the main computer console before the human can dissuade him from lingering. His hands move lithely over the controls, defying his injuries. As quickly as access prompts appear, he is ready with counter measures using the hacker device bought from the denizens of Gulriddar. The effort isn't enough, however - at last a security provision comes slamming down on top of his operation and the screen goes blank.

(V'Sndyk: Access and Operate level +X - 4 CS = 69%; rolled 68 (whew))
(V'Sndyk Computers: Defeat Security level 4 + 2 CS + 1 CS - 4 CS = 53%; rolled 92)

"Aaaaagh! I was almost through!" V'Sndyk slams one of his feet into the base of the console. He then begins unpacking his robcomkit and removing the computer's access panels. "Well, time to use the hardware route. You guys go on - this could take a while."

Mrylinax doesn't seem to be in a hurry to go anywhere. He stands with rifle ready, inspecting the remains of the gun placement. Marcus is kneeling on the deck, picking at it with the diligence of someone used to treading the dirt of alien worlds. Cymon and Freya mill about taking in the surroundings.

(Marcus Tracking level 1 - 1 CS = 38%; rolled 37)

"No one's been here in days, that much I can say with confidence" Marcus says. "Strange, though - the normal heel-to-toe scuff marks I usually pick up on deckplates aren't here. The tarnish I see on the metal is oilier and in wavy patterns. Heavy equipment was the last thing moved through here, but cargobots don't leave this kind of tread."

Marcus is cut off by Freya, who approaches him holding a heavy-looking piece of machinery.

"What is that?" Marcus asks.

"That is uncertain as of yet. However, it does not fit the specifications of the antenna control assembly where I found it." His gloved hand points to a whitened area on the metal where a plate was removed. "There are no manufacturer's codes on it, either. This device was obviously added to the control station without proper documentation."

Marcus looks around as if ready to leave. "Well, V'Sndyk seems pretty busy over there and he's not exactly in top shape. I say we leave him to work - anyone care to stay with him?"

"I will" Cymon offers. "This station offers little challenge to one of my skills. I have already re-programmed the escape pod for landing at the agreed-upon landing site if an emergency arises. I will now look for samples of any cotagion onboard the station. Contact me if there is an emergency or bodies are found."

As the others turn to go, Cymon returns to studying an odd-shaped figure he'd found minutes ago amidst the materials surrounding the main computer console. Set in a crude metal, the tiny figurine possesses a shape that suggests a natural formation, perhaps the tip of a rocky peak. But its profile is striking, almost archetypal, and takes on different interesting shapes as its profile is rotated. There could be no practical use of the object in conjunction with a computer. Diagrams on the console outlined the figurine from every possible angle. Obviously it was important to someone. But to whom and why? In all his studies of the Den Qritsa and the histories of his own star system he'd never come across this shape before.

Cymon pockets the totem and reflects upon it as V'Sndyk busies himself with the computer. Another piece to the puzzle, perhaps.


Osiris Station - Level 4

Marcus, Mrylinax, and Freya move out once more. Once again the lift doors open into a wide storage area that is a perfect killing zone for anyone entering without authorization.

"Okay, there's the gun mount, just where it was on the last three levels." Mrylinax whispers into his chronocom. "No point in us taking the heat again. Hit it when it pans to the far side of the room....now!"

Once again Freya darts out of the ladderwell entrance and fires. Caught off guard, the gun placement doesn't even detect Freya's movement in time and is destroyed. The three step out into the open and survey the area. Freya breaks off to investigate, but he isn't gone for long.

"Nothing here." he says as he finally returns. "All the robots are gone, the technical equipment is still here but of no coincidence. The plant is deserted and in normal condition."


Osiris Station - Level 5

Minutes later, the scene replays itself on deck five. The gun emplacement opposite the elevator door is still smoking when Freya is peering down the hallway that accesses the engineering plant.

"I've gotta say, this lil stop turned out to be quite a dud if you ask me" Mrylinax grouses. "I know warehouses in my old home town that see more action than this dump."

Marcus doesn't seem to be paying any attention. His gaze is fixed on the windows offering a view of the moon below. Somewhere down there had to be answers.

"The power plant seems to be in order," Freya says, walking up. "I would now think it best if I climb out onto the bottom of the station through the access hatch in the ladderwell and check the antenna array."

Marcus nods and returns to watching the view. Living in space can be so tedious, he thinks to himself, why would anyone prefer an artificial environment to the lush and exotic surrounds he'd seen in all his travels as an explorer. He watches as Freya's form disappears into the ladderwell, then sits and rests against a console.


Osiris Station - Level 5 - thirty minutes later

(V'Sndyk Computers: Bypass Security level 3 + 1 CS - 3 CS = 41%; rolled 36)
(V'Sndyk Computers: Bypass Security level 3 + 3 CS - 3 CS = 49%; rolled 17)

Marcus' chroncom beeps. It's V'Sndyk, speaking in excited tones.

"I'm in! All I had to do was to complement the transmission bus data stream, then adjust the binary output to..."

"Cut the shop talk, bugboy," Mrylinax snaps over the radio, "just give us the skinny."

"Well, the logs have several of our missing Crimson Pirate ships docking here over the last couple weeks. Very busy, a new ship docking every ten hours. No destinations or manifests given. The normal routines the computer runs to keep this station operational as a research station have been shut down and left unattended since the dockings began. The system is a mess, but apparently no one cares. Instead, all available processing power has been directed to the antenna alignment routines. Kinda weird, making extra sure your antenna array works when you don't keep the other systems running that make sense of the data it collects."

Marcus thinks for a minute. "Okay, can you get a memory dump of the important files?"

"Yeah, I can handle that. It'll take a few minutes, but it'll be portable once I'm done."

"Good." Marcus hits another switch on his wrist unit. "Freya, you there? What's the word?"

"I've examined the entire antenna assembly and I've come to a startling conclusion."

"And that is...?"

"This antenna is no longer rigged to receive signals. The connections have been haphazardly removed and new connections fed into this cylindrical assembly that feeds into the station. Hullbot Gamma is here with me and is feeding visual records to OTTO."

"Okay, let me check in with the ‘torix. Ty, can you read me?"

There is no answer.

"Ty, come in - this is Marcus, over. Ty, do you read me? Damn, my link is out."

"Marcus, this is Ty, we're switching to chroncom - there's an emergency, hurry back to the ship!"

"Good grief, what have those two clowns done now?" Mrylinax jokes.

Marcus is in the lift before the Humma can say another word. In seconds he is at the docking collar leading into the Vercingetorix. He rushes to the hatch, flinging it open with no regard to space protocols. Inside he finds Ty and Groo working furiously at the controls of the bridge.

"What's going on!?" he yells over the onboard alarms.

Ty's face is ashen. Something was terribly wrong.

"It's OTTO, he's shutting down and the ship along with him!"

"What!?"

OTTO's voice answers from a nearby speaker. His speech is broken, distorted by a conflux of other electronic noises.

"Mr. Cole - it seemssssbeen infectsssswith a fast-actinssssomputer virus. Osirisssstion has been booby-trapsssssssknow how long I can mainsssssfunctionsssssssorbit is decaying as we speak. I advisssssdiate evacuation."

Marcus looks to Groo and Ty. Neither of them can deny the diagnosis.

"The station has a lock on the ship and won't let go," Groo says as his hands work furiously at the controls. "Osiris was a death trap - she's dragging us into a steep descent and counting down to releasing the clamps. There's no way of breaking free without the ship's power to boost us out."

"Can we do it manually?"

"Negative. The virus has permeated every level of control on the ship's guidance systems. We're dead in the water!"

"How about the charges Mrylinax set? Can we blow the station and get it off our back?"

"Too dangerous - we'd risk damaging our own ship. Besides, the virus has already done its work - if OTTO can't hold out against the onslaught then we're done fore."

"V'Sndyk, Freya...can they fix it?"

"In the time we have left? Impossible!"

"Time to impact?"

"We have less than half an hour before the ship hits the planet, but re-entry will get very uncomfortable very soon. We have only ten minutes for a safe departure from the craft."

"Options?"

"Two of us in the escape pods, one more on the station's pod if it lets us use it. Of course, we could always stay on the station, but that leaves us stranded and helpless if the militia ships figure out we're there."

Marcus feels his stomach sink. Death was facing them more directly than ever before. His fingers go to his chronocom.

"Cymon, you'd better get the team together. We're leaving in a hurry."


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