The time in jump is one of the most pleasant journeys that the party members have made for a long time. The staterooms are only half full on the trip, which means that the three stewards have plenty of time to devote to all of the passenger’s needs.
The food is absolutely excellent thanks to the delightful cuisine provided by Head Chef Janice (who provided Will with some extra special desserts). This comes as a very pleasant change from the more rough and ready catering on the Free and Far Traders that they have spent most of their time travelling on over the past few months.
On the last full day of jump, each of the passengers receives an engraved invitation from the Captain inviting them to the Last Dinner, a tradition on the ship where crew and passengers dine together in the knowledge that most of them will probably not see one another again after the ship has landed.
The meal is as pleasant as all the others – maybe even better, as Janice seems to have pulled out all the stops with the menu. Captain Warner is very pleasant company, full of anecdotes from his career which spans more than 40 years. However, the pleasant mood is spoiled when May suddenly projectile vomits all over the table. Everyone looks at her as she goes green, but then other passengers and crew members start feeling ill as well. The Vargr pups start howling in pain as their parents fight through the headaches to look after them. Jie also pukes everywhere and Max isn’t feeling too great either.
Will gets up from his seat to help those feeling the worst and the lazy Medic, Hargz, also helps out.
The feelings of nausea and headaches start to die down, but before anyone can start to relax, klaxons start wailing, giving off a horrendous wailing sound.
Captain Warner gets to his feet unsteadily.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we seem to be experiencing minor difficulties,” he says. “Although I am sure that it is nothing serious, we should follow standard procedure in such circumstances and so I would ask all passengers to return to their staterooms and suit up with the vacc suits or rescue balls as per the emergency drill that the stewards went through with you at the beginning of our journey. The stewards will be happy to provide assistance to anyone who needs it.”
The passengers immediately start to panic and bombard the Captain with questions as to what’s really going on.
“I am sorry,” he says. “I need to get to the bridge now. The stewards will answer any questions you might have.”
With that, he’s off.
The passengers turn their attention to the stewards, but they aren’t giving out any information. They just start trying to guide everyone back to their rooms. Will is still helping those who are still suffering the worst from the nausea. Taeva and Arvor both run to their rooms to suit up as soon as possible.
The Chief Engineer runs into the stateroom section carrying a hull patch and weld kit.
“There’s a breach in here!” shouts Kaspar, which sends all of the passengers panicking. They start dashing into the closest staterooms, then squabbling among themselves as they lunge for the soft suits. The stewards have their hands full keeping them from fighting.
Grim seals the EnviroSuit he always wears during space travel and immediately heads over to give the engineer a hand, jumping down into the crawlspace with him.
“Over there,” Grim says, voice muffled by his mask, immediately spotting the crack in the hull.
“Good man,” says Karghazz.
Karghazz then starts to seal the hole with the plastic patch. Together with Grim, he manages to seal it without too much difficulty. The final part of the exercise is to brace the patch with a steel plate. It’s hard work to position the heavy plate and even Karghazz and Grim together are struggling. Grim calls Jie over to help. Down in the crawlspace, the air is already thin and Jie and Karghazz are starting to struggle for breath. Before too much damage has been caused though, they manage to seal the hole.
Karghazz gives out an almighty howl of triumph, and congratulates both Grim and Jie for their help in securing the area. As word spreads around that the problem with the hull is now resolved, passengers start to calm down a little. Everyone suits up in their vacc suits before anything else goes wrong.
First Officer Andrea asks the party members plus Chrysa, the former merchant, to come into the dining room so she can speak to them. She tells them that the Duchess Selene has misjumped and they are trying to discover their exact location at the moment. She asks if anyone with any engineering or mechanical experience could assist the engineers, while anyone with medical or electronic skill would be useful in the low berth area, where the ship’s medic is trying to resuscitate the passengers.
Grim, Taeva and Arvor say that they will help out with the engineering, as does Chrysa, while Will and Jie volunteer to help out with the low berths.
The Chief Engineer gives Grim, Teava and Arvor a section of the ship to check and patch up if necessary. While they are looking for leaks, they come upon a panic stricken Keven but Grim manages to talk him down.
Will and Jie find pandemonium in the low berth area. Three of the five low berth passengers are dead already, while the Ship’s Medic, Hargz, is struggling to save the other two. Jie tries to fix some of the malfunctioning equipment, but most of it is beyond repair. Despite this fact, Medic Hargz manages to save one of the passengers, while Will manages to save the other. They are both unconscious though and aren’t going to be coming round any time soon.
Once again, the crew and party members seem to be getting on top of the situation when there is an almighty bang from the front of the ship and it shudders from some kind of an impact, which sends panic among the passengers once more.
Will is asked to apply first aid to Gunner Silven, who was hurt firefighting in the engineering department. He manages to fix her up without too much difficulty.
Steward Ohtorm comes to Grim, Arvor and Taeva and conspiratorially asks them if they might be interested in helping him take the lifeboat and get out of here while there is still a chance. The party members are losing patience with panicky crewmen and passengers though. This time around there is little discussion as Arvor tells him, in no uncertain terms, that they are not interested and he should get back to his post and do his job. Taeva strikes a threatening pose to back Arvor up. Ohtorm slinks away.
First Officer Andrea comes up to them and asks if they can check on whether the lifeboat is ready for launch. They head to the bay and see that the lifeboat is OK, but the bay doors are mangled and it’s going to take a fair bit of work to open them manually.
Gunnery Chief Bar and Gunner Simon come up and tell the party members that everyone has been asked to go back to the Dining Room, where the Captain is going to address everyone.
Captain Warner says that the ship is not answering the helm and is crashing through the ring system of a gas giant world at some speed. The vibration and collisions are small fragments of ice and rock striking the hull. A GK signal has been sent, but radio interference
is strong in the area. Captain Warner thinks a reply was received, but it was too broken up to make any sense of.
The real problem is that the ship will skim the atmosphere of the gas giant on its present course, which will lead to destruction. The only chance is to change vector, but the ship is not answering the helm. The engineer thinks that the main control pathways for the drive have been severed and access to the backups is blocked by a warped bulkhead. There isn’t time (nor equipment) to repair it, so the only answer is to send a crew out on the hull to gain access that way.
This is extremely risky, but Karghazz has already volunteered. Captain Warner has requested Silven and Eugenie to go with him, despite the risk to the ship’s entire engineering crew inherent in the plan.
As a backup in case power cannot be restored, the Captain wants to try to free the launch bay doors so that at least some of the passengers can escape. Since not everyone can get into the launch, the Captain feels it only fair to warn the passengers that the crew will be armed from now, and will shoot if they must. He will not permit a mad scramble for the boat to destroy their remaining chance for salvation.
Will returns to the low berth department to help out. Jie and Grim plus Chrysa go back to the lifeboat bay to see if they can get the doors open. The Chief Engineer hands them a bag of tools to help. Looking through them, Grim sees that, at the bottom of the bag is a snub pistol filled with HEAP, which he pockets.
Arvor and Taeva lobby the Captain as he goes back up to the bridge, saying that they need Taeva’s grapple from the ship’s locker. If they can get it, they will help the engineers with the EVA. He is not sure at first, but eventually gives in. Andrea escorts them to the ship’s locker and they pick up the grapple before heading to the airlock.
As they are on their way to the airlock though, there is another sickening crunch as something major collides near the front of the ship. Realizing that there might be trouble up front, Grim and Jie leave Chrysa to try and struggle with the bay doors while they investigate what is happening up front. They find Andrea looking at the door to the bridge.
“It’s depressurized in there,” she says. “We need a temporary airlock. I’ll go and get one if you can help me assemble it.”
Jie goes with her to collect the airlock from the ship’s locker and then Grim and her manage to assemble it quite quickly, before using it to enter the bridge.
The sight inside is pretty horrific. Paul the pilot has been crushed to death, while the Captain is unconscious, although still alive as he was in his vacc suit. The bridge has been completely destroyed and is going to be of no use from now on. They bundle the Captain into the Sick Bay and then Andrea heads down to the Low Berth area, where Will comes with her to see to the Captain, leaving Hergz with the low passengers.
Meanwhile, Arvor and Taeva have managed to get to the airlock and scramble onto the top off the ship. They see that something has gone horribly wrong here. Silven is at the front of the ship, but cannot move as her arm is broken. Eugenie is at the rear of the ship, gripping onto dear life on the tail with one hand, while she holds the unconscious form of Karghazz in the other. Taeva fires her grapple and it latches onto the tailplane. Eugenie is in shock though and has no spare hands to grasp the wire. Taeva tries to urge her to take it.
Arvor meanwhile eases himself in the direction of Silven. Despite being hit by a small chunk of ice which punctures his suit, he manages to get to Silven and helps her to get back inside the ship. Although she has a broken arm, she tells Arvor that she and Hargz were successful in fixing the problem. Taeva keeps trying to urge Eugenie to take the wire but, having spent time helping Arvor to get Silven back, Eugenie gets too tired to hang on any longer and she plunges to her death along with Karghazz.
There’s nothing more that they can do outside now and so they help Silven get to the Sick Bay, where Will takes care of her.
Grim and Jie are back in the lifeboat bay now. Together with Chrysa, they have managed to finally get the bay doors open. No sooner have they finished it, however, than they hear that there’s an altercation at the entrance. Here they find that Gunners Bar and Simon are struggling to keep a mutiny under control. Granzh, May, Keven and Kasper are trying to get through to the lifeboat. With Grim and Jie backing up the security guards, also assisted by Orlando, the potential mutineers realize that they aren’t going to get past them.
Thanks to Will’s handiwork, Captain Warner is back on his feet again now. He tells everyone around him to come with him to the engineering department, where it should be possible to set up a reserve bridge.
Captain Warner spends a few minutes at the helm in the engineering bay. The pitch of the ship’s tumble corrects itself and some cheers break out among some of the crew members as they think that he’s fixed everything.
The Captain has a serious look on his face. He continues to fight with the controls for a while longer until he slumps back in his chair, a look of resignation on his face.
“It’s no use,” he says. “We’re travelling at too high a vector and there’s too little power. There’s no way that we can avoid crashing into the gas giant. We need to launch the lifeboat and save as many as possible.”
He closes his eyes.
“I’m sorry. This is all my fault. I was trying to shave some time off our journey and I screwed up. I take full responsibility and will be going down with the ship if it comes to that.”
“What about the moon?” asks Andrea, looking at the display. “Couldn’t we try and use that for braking and land on that?”
The Captain looks at the display and punches in some calculations.
“I don’t think we have enough power,” he replies.
He pauses for a moment.
“Its a long shot, but it might just work. If we take off all of the limiters, then we can get some more power from it. They are likely to blow and fill the compartment with superheated vapor, but at least it gives us a slight chance – our only chance.”
“Andrea, you take control of the lifeboat. Take the Doc with you, all of the injured, the women, the children and as many of the male passengers as can fit in. I’ll leave you to decide who gets left behind.”
The party members all decide to stay. Max says he might as well leave if there’s space for him. But when he finds that there is not, he willingly stays behind with the others.
Andrea starts to escort the passengers into the lifeboat. Both Keven and Ohtorm are desperate when they find out that there are no places for them on it. They make a last desperate attempt to get on the lifeboat just before it takes off. Bar and Simon are in the way. Keven and Ohtorm have knives from the kitchen though now and are prepared to use them, Keven cuts Bar with the knife, but Ohtrom misses.
Arvor is on the scene and shoots at Keven with a round from the snub pistol that Grim gave to him and Keven drops unconscious. Jie tries to punch Ohtorm, but she misses. Bar quickly brings him down with a flechette round from the shotgun and Ohtorm is also on the ground. Arvor quickly incapacitates them with duct tape.
The lifeboat is safely away now and so everyone heads down to the engineering bay to see what they can do.
Captain Warner asks Will to help him keep the ship on course and for Grim to try and keep the coolant pipes from blowing for as long as possible, assisted by Taeva. He tells everyone else to head for the centre section and brace themselves for impact.
There are just four minutes until impact now and most of the remaining crew members have gone to the centre section. Captain Warner are fighting with the controls. They start off OK. Grim and Taeva are doing a great job with the coolant pipes. As the Duchess Selene gets closer to the moon, she becomes more of a handful and the Captain and Will are starting to struggle.
As well as Grim is doing though, he cannae change the laws of physics.
“She’s going to blow any second now,” he says.
“Everyone out, now,” shouts the Captain as he wrestles with the controls.
As the party members rush for the iris valve, there is a pinging sound at the pipes shatter and the engineering section starts to fill with superheated vapour. Just as the last of the party members gets to the iris valve, it starts to close automatically and they just get through in the nick of time. All run into the central section and disappear into staterooms where they grab onto the furniture, bracing themselves for impact.
It comes just a few seconds later. The ship lands on the moon with a crash, bounces and then comes down again on its side, throwing everyone around in the staterooms and hurling them against the walls. It rolls over again as it slides across the surface of the moon for several hundred metres before the ship finally lands on its roof.
There is an eerie silence for a moment before Arvor, Jie and Will realize that they are alive and conscious. Will’s automedic kicks in immediately, healing him a little although he’s still pretty beat up. The three of them struggle to get out of their upside down staterooms to seek out their companions, hampered by the fact that all the lighting is out. Knowing that he is the weakest of the party members, Will heads for Max’s staterooms first. He’s in a bad way, but he’s still alive. Will performs first aid on him immediately and Max’s eyes open and he lets out a deep groan. Will helps him out of the ship.
Arvor and Jie also both stumble out of their rooms. Jie goes into Grim’s room and finds him unconscious wrapped around his bunk. She immediately grabs him in a fireman’s lift and, aided by the zero-G environment, she takes him out of the ship, through the airlock and lays him outside. Arvor manages to find Taeva in her cabin, also unconscious and brings her out of the ship as well.
Will has his work cut out as he performs first aid on each of the party members as they are brought out. Grim comes around with a groan, followed by Taeva. He then turns his attention to Jie and Arvor. He does a particularly good job on Arvor who is as good as new now. Everyone else is conscious, but still pretty beat up.
Grim, Jie, Arvor and Taeva immediately head into the ship to look for other survivors, bringing them out for Will to attend to as the others bring them out to him. One by one he attends to them, bringing them back to consciousness. Although everyone is very badly beaten up, with broken bones aplenty, the only people onboard who didn’t make it are Chief Steward Kim, the two mutineers, Ohtorm and Keven and, of course, Captain Warner, whose charbroiled body is where they left it, still gripping the controls in the engineering section.
They look up at the ship. One wing and the tailfin have been ripped off when the ship overturned and the whole front of the Duchess – the dining room and bridge area, are completely crushed. The rest of the ship, although cracked in many places, is more or less in one piece.
Just as everyone is trying to work out what to do next, the lifeboat lands next to them, its thrusters throwing up a huge cloud of dust.
First Officer Andrea and Medic Hargz emerge from the airlock in their vacc suits and head over to where the party members and the wounded are located outside the ship.
The party members take stock of their situation.
“So who have we got left?” asks Will.
“From the crew we have just myself and Medic Hargz who are still ablebodied,” says First Officer Andrea.
“I can struggle on too,” says Gunnery Officer Bar.
“OK,” agrees Andrea. “And then we have Chef Janice and the two other gunners who are alive but too injured to be of much use to us.”
“From the passengers, we have eight who are uninjured, plus Chrysa and the two low berth passengers who are badly injured.”
Will nods. “From our side, the five of us are shaken, but OK,” he says. “Max is too badly injured to be much use to us for a while though.”
“What is the situation with the ship?” asks Will. “Can we seal of a section of it?”
Grim shakes his head.
“Although much of the structure still has its integrity, most of the patches were used up before the crash,” he reports. “We don’t have enough left to patch up any of the sections to make one of them completely air-tight. It can provide shelter though, at least.”
“How are we off for air?” he asks.
“I think that we will have maybe 24-36 hours worth in total,” Andrea says. "Twelve people can stay in the lifeboat and so they don’t need vacc suits as well. There were 36 staterooms on the ship each with a softsuit and a rescue ball, each having a six-hour tank, plus a few spares in the ship’s locker.
“So that’s quite a few bottle of air that are available if people keep swapping them over every six hours. They’re not going to last forever though.”
“How many man days would you say?” Grim asks.
Andrea thinks for a moment, calculating.
“There are about ninety tanks on the ship and a man would need four a day as they last six hours. So there are around twenty-two man days of air left, give or take a few.”
“Do you think that anyone heard our Mayday?” Will asks.
“I hope so,” Andrea says. “But we can’t tell for sure because we didn’t get a response from anyone before we entered the cloud. Dallia is around 750 million km from here. A 6-G vessel could get here in around two and a half days. A 1-G vessel would take around six days to get out here though. Even radio transmissions take a while to cover those distances. There wouldn’t have been time for the radio message to get there and back before we entered the cloud.”
“What is the range of the lifeboat?” Grim asks.
“Well it’s not really designed to go too far,” Andrea replies. “It’s really just for going from orbit to dirtside. There’s supposed to be enough fuel for a week’s operation, but I’m not sure if it would keep a full load of occupants alive plus maximum acceleration for that long.”
“But at least it could get most of the way to Dallia while broadcasting a Signal GK and hopefully rescuers will pick them up somewhere in the middle.”
“How many can fit on there?” Grim asks.
“Two crew and ten passengers,” Andrea replies. “Any more than that would put too much strain on the life support systems. It’s going to be uncomfortable enough for everyone in there as it is as they are packed in like sardines already.”
“What condition is the lifeboat in?”
“It’s fine,” Andrea replies. “The tanks were full at launch so it’s hardly used anything so far.”
“How are we for rations?” Grim asks.
“There’s plenty of food and water in the ship’s locker even if nothing can be salvaged from the kitchen,” Andrea responds. “The air will run out before the food and water will though.”
“How are we for medical supplies?” Grim asks Will and Hargz.
“They are running a little low,” Will says. “They’ll last longer than the air will though. We have enough to keep everyone alive and stable for several more days – maybe even weeks but they aren’t going to be improving much out here.”
“Do you think that there is any chance of finding an abandoned mine somewhere?” Grim asks.
“I think that it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. If it’s been abandoned, then I am not sure if there would be much benefit in our finding one. Better to stay here in the wreckage – we have shelter here and it will be easier for any rescuers to find us here.”
“How is the cargo?” he asks Arvor who was on the top deck.
“The containers still seem to be structurally sound – both the fusion throttle valve and also the computer and sensor cargo,” he reports. “The cargo bay doors are against the ground though so it’s not going to be such an easy job to get them out of there.”
Jie digs shallow graves for the deceased. She then turns her Laser Carbines light emmiter to the lowest grade and etches their names on shredded peices of hull metal and uses them as grave markers. When the recuers come they will be exumed, but until then they rest.
“We need to salvage any slow drug and put as many people to sleep as possible,” Taeva suggests. “There should be some in med bay, and its use in survival situations is pretty standard: there are alot of useless people using up valuable air.”
“After the initial scavenge I’d say only two people need to remain awake – the Medical Officer and Grim unless someone is a better Tech.”
“Fast Drug, you mean?” says Hargz. “I have a dozen tabs in my bag here. That’s all of them on the ship. Having the low berths means that we don’t use them that often.”
“All our engineers are dead now,” says Andrea. “That would make Grim the best engineer we have with us now, I’m sure.”
The party members are discussing what they should do under the current circumstances in order to solve the problem of air supplies being limited. While they are deciding whether to try and use the lifeboat to get at least some of the passengers to safety or to keep it on the moon in the hope that it can generate some more air, Jie calls out:
“Look! There’s something in the sky!”
They follow where she is pointing and see a small object some distance away. The flattened dart shape is familiar to all – it’s a Type-S.
Jie shoots off a few bolts from her laser carbine in the direction of the Type-S in an attempt to signal it to their location. There are cheers from among the conscious survivors as they see the Type-S changing its course, heading towards the wreck of the Duchess Selene.
As the ship comes closer, they see that it’s not actually a Type-S; it’s a very beaten-up looking Type-J Seeker. But right now, they’ll take anything they can get.
They watch on as the Type-J lands close to the downed Duchess, throwing up a new cloud of dust up into the atmosphere. A couple of minutes later and the airlock doors open and two vacc suited figures bounce over to where the party members are located.
“Evening all,” the character says. “Bob Mulligan here. Welcome to Ambrie. We don’t get a lot of visitors out here. Nice of you to drop in on us.”
He looks at the wreckage.
“Literally dropped in by the look of it. That’s the shoddiest piece of parking I’ve seen in a long while.”
“The Captain was very talented and courageous to get it down at all,” Andrea replies a little defensively.
“Calm down, darling,” Bob replies. “Just messing with you. Belter humor is pretty dark – it has to be or else we’d all go mad stuck out here in the middle of nowhere on this godforsaken rock.”
“How did you know we were here?” Andrea asks.
“We picked up your Signal GK briefly before you disappeared into the cloud,” Bob replies. “We couldn’t get any response from you to say that we were on our way and we didn’t really know where to look for you.”
“I’m just happy that you found us at all,” Andrea replies.
Once the greetings are out of the way, conversation turns to more urgent matters.
“We have many injured here,” Andrea says. “Where is your base?”
“On the opposite side of the moon,” Bob replies. “It’s not much, but at least it’s got a roof, air, food and water.”
“We’ll take it,” Andrea replies.
“Better get everyone into my ship then. It’s not really built for passengers, but it will only be a thirty minute journey anyway.”
The party members together with Andrea, Bar and Hargz help get the injured onto the ship through the ore doors of the Seeker. The cargo hold is filthy, with crushed rock littering the floor, but it’s still a lot better than being out in the open.
“Hargz and I will go back to the lifeboat and then follow you back to the belters’ base,” Andrea says.
“Fine,” says Bar. “I’ll look after the injured here.”
The ore doors close. Once they are sealed, they pressurize the hold and everyone is able to take their helmets off for the first time in a while.
The Seeker takes off, which sets everyone sliding around the floor. As Bob had promised though, it’s only a short journey to their base.
There is a gentle jolt as the ship lands. Bob tells everyone that they will have to put their helmets back on as the base is pretty basic and doesn’t have docking tubes.
Once everyone is suited up, the ore doors open and the relatively ablebodied help those who are more seriously injured and together they cycle through the airlock and into the belters’ base. Andrea and those on the lifeboat follow them in shortly afterwards.
The belters’ base is pretty primitive. There are around 50 belters living here in a rough and ready fashion. With the survivors of the Duchess Selene swelling the numbers by 50%, it’s a tight squeeze in the already cramped accommodation. The base has just a small med bay with just four beds in it. The two low passengers, Janice and Chrysa take these beds as they are the most badly injured. Everyone else just has to find some floor space to sit down on.
Although everyone is relieved that they are not going to asphyxiate on the surface of the moon, no one is too keen on spending too much time cramped up in the base – they want to get to Dallia and civilization as quickly as possible.
“Do you have a radio here?” Andrea asks.
“Half the time,” Bob replies.
“What do you mean?”
“We have a laser link to a satellite relay outside the area of the gas giant, but half the time the gas giant is in the way.”
“When will it next be in visual?”
Bob looks at his watch.
“About six hours.”
Everyone settles down as best they can, with Will, Hargz and the belters’ own medic spending the time tending to the wounded while many of the others try and get a little sleep as best they can in the cramped conditions.
As soon as the base has sight to the satellite relay, Andrea starts to broadcast to Dallia. She is broadcasting for ninety minutes before she gets a response, such are the long distances involved, which makes it difficult to have a conversation. The conversation lasts for several hours due to the time delay. She learns that Dallia did receive the Duchess Selene’s Signal GK before it went into the cloud and immediately despatched a Police Cutter and Rescue Ship, which are on there way now and will arrive in a couple of days’ time.
Andrea informs the Police Cutter of their current situation. She tells them that the Duchess crash landed and so they don’t need a Rescue Ship any more; they need a hauler. They also need some kind of passenger transport to get everyone from the belters’ base and off to Dalia.
The police say that they will try and arrange it, but it will probably take a few hours.