The two and a half day trip from the gas giant to the world of Noctocol was mercifully without incident, apart from the fact that there is a decided stench in the air due to the amount of bodies on the ship because of the pirates and food supplies are always starting to dwindle in some areas.
And so it is with great relief that Will announces that Noctocol is right in front of them and that the Princess should be landing in around thirty minutes.
With Noctocol only possessing a Type-E spaceport, there is no Tower to guide them in – just a simple radio beacon to tell them where the port is. So the crew is on their own in trying to get to it, which is not helped by the fact that the world is shrouded in one great sulphurous fog, with just the occasional volcano’s mouth above it, shooting molten lava into the air. It takes the combined skills of Will at the controls, Jie plotting a course and Arvor on the sensors to find a way through the foul-looking clouds and there is a great sigh of relief when they finally spots the small patch of clear bedrock which serves as Noctocol Down.
There are three ships there already – the Noctocol Conveyor, a beaten up Type-R; the Mayalia Rose, an A1 out of Forine; and a Type-S, which bears no markings other than its transponder ID – HT307X.
“A Huntress class Bounty Hunter,” Arvor says looking at the vessel. “Now that could be interesting.”
Not knowing quite what to do on this seemingly lifeless piece of bedrock, they all wait for a while to see what happens. After 10 minutes, a large metal trapdoor at the edge of the perimeter opens and a beaten up large ATV emerges from it before making its way to the ship, where it docks with the airlock. The airlock cycles to reveal two inbred looking customs officials who smile sheepishly at the party members.
“Morning good. Papers is wanting to me see,” the first says in terribly broken Galanglic.
It takes all of Will’s linguistic skills, together with much mime and shouting, to communicate with the customs officials, not to mention a considerable amount of time. Things are made much worse by the fact that there are 11 assorted pirates not on the passenger manifest and a beaten up light fighter not on the cargo manifest.
Will tries to explain the fight with the pirates, which takes quite a while to sink in. This seems to totally befuddle the customs officials, who call for the starport cops to come out to try and help them sort out the situation.
Fifteen minutes later and a second ATV comes up to join them, and Will has to go through the explanation as to what happened all over again. The reaction from the starport cops is much the same as with the customs officials – much confusion and shaking of heads. After much conferring between all of them, they decide that they will need to bring in the Police Commissioner to sort out this situation.
The passengers are starting to get pretty irate now. They want off the stinking ship now, especially Jasya who can see that there is a Forine ship here and doesn’t want to miss the chance of getting the connecting flight there. The cops and customs officials finally agree that all of the passengers who are on the manifest are allowed to disembark, and so they all head off to get themselves a hotel room, making sure that Autumn has their contact details so they will know when it’s time to depart. Eneri pointedly tells them to hurry up and not spend too long here as he needs to get to Elixabeth in a hurry.
The crew can do nothing else but to wait for the arrival of the Police Commissioner. The customs officials wait onboard while the starport cops go to get him. They arrive back three hours later.
The Police Commissioner introduces himself as Ranki Skinkrityii and shakes everyone by the hand. Unfortunately Ranki doesn’t speak a word of Galanglic and so the conversation is even more complicated as Will and the customs officials have to try and interpret.
After an hour of confused conversation, the result is once again one of confusion and scratched heads.
“So what’s ’e saying, Will?” Max asks.
“Well it would appear that the Noctocolians are rather a parochial bunch,” Will sighs again. “The Police Commissioner says that his jurisdiction doesn’t even cover the next hab, let alone anything off planet. To cut a long story short, he wants nothing to do with them. He’s not allowing them to disembark as there’s no paperwork for them and none of them have ID. He’s telling us that we’ll need to take them to Elixabeth if that’s where we’re heading next, as they known more about ‘outer space things’ and what to do about them.”
The news is met with groans all round.
The Police Commissioner, cops and customs officers all leave after approving all of the regular passengers and crew to depart, but not any of the prisoners.
“This is going to be a problem,” Grim says. “I’m not sure that the life support system is going to keep all of them and all of us alive until we get to Elixabeth to recharge them. We can’t do it here either.”
“And the bastards are takin’ up a big chunk of my cargo hold,” moans Max. “That’s worth money, that space is.”
Jie shakes her head at the news that our piratical friends will be staying longer than anticipated. She consults Taeva and Arvor then comes up with a tight schedule for feeding and toileting the cut throats along with a watch rotation that everyone can assist with. She asks Grim to weld together a large caged area in the cargo deck for solitary one hour exercise times.
“Wait a minute,” Arvor says before Grim adds another task to his already full schedule for the next couple of days. “Let me have a word with the crew of that Bounty Hunter. Maybe they can take them off our hands. Maybe they’ll actually pay us for them.”
“Anyone want to come with me?”
“I agree,” says Taeva. “Let’s just get shut even at a discount. They will just be a heap of trouble and the Bounty Hunter might just decide to take them.”
“I’ll come too,” says Max. “Might need to do some haggling with them.”
The three of them suit up and head over to the Huntress while Jie goes back to keep an eye on the captives.
As she passes a baggie of cheap tequila to Captain Bulawezi she says, “It is only the kindness of our Captain Shaunnessy that is keeping you and your men alive. The majority of the crew wanted to see you vaporized along with that piece of crap ship of yours, but the Captain said that as long as you all played nice and didn’t try any tricks you will reach Trial in fair health. So it’s your choice for now on. Relax and let us off load you to the nearest authority or let me finish putting holes in you with my gun.”
Jie looks straight at Sean when she says this, death in her eyes.
The captives are pretty uncommunicative, although M’tanga readily excepts the offer of the tequila.
Meanwhile, Arvor leads Taeva and Max to the airlock of the Type-HT and rings on the bell. Initially there is no answer, so he tries again.
“Who are you? What do you want?” a deep female voice answers.
“We would like to ask you if you were interested in a particular ‘cargo’ we are carrying,” Arvor replies. “We have captured the pirate captain M’Tanga Bulawezi and we wondered if you would be interested in taking him off our hands?”
“Wait,” the voice says.
The threesome outside wait patiently for five minutes until the voice returns.
“You got him on your ship?”
“Yes,” Arvor replies.
“We’ll come to see. Wait.”
Another five minutes later and two vacc suited figures emerge from the airlock. They are both large black women.
“Roberta Fett,” the first says, shaking Arvor by the hand. “And this is my pilot, Marie-Bell.”
“Take us to them.”
Arvor leads them back to the ship. The pair of them remove their helmets once they are onboard. Roberta is a pretty mean-looking athletic amazon, with several scars on her face. Marie-Bell is not quite so battleworn, but still looks as if she is not to be messed with.
Arvor introduces them to the rest of the crew and then Jie leads them to the makeshift prison in the hold.
Roberta says little, but takes her handcomp and starts to take pictures of each of the captives. One of the captives is less than cooperative, but Roberta just punches him in the face, breaking his nose, before continuing to take his picture as if nothing has happened.
Once all of the pictures have been taken she spends a fair while studying the results on her handcomp.
“I need DNA samples from each of them,” she says.
“I’ll take them if Jie keeps an eye over them,” offers Will.
“Good,” says Roberta. “You got whisky on this tin can?”
“Sure, babe … errm … madam,” Max says. “Come and wait in the passenger common room and I’ll get the whisky.”
The others accompany the two women to the common room, where they drink their whisky and smoke cigars.
“So, ladies, what brings you to a shithole like Noctocol?” Max asks.
“Business,” Roberta says. “On the trail of some of the most notorious pirates on the Spinward Main – Balin Starovich and the rest of the crew of Skull 2. Been chasing the motherfucker for over a year now, ever since they escaped from The Gash at Pixie/Regina. Chased them over four subsectors in this time. Nearly caught them on Koenig’s Rock, but they headed off before I could get a posse together to take them on. Looks like they’re heading Rimward now. I’m guessing they’re raiding their way down to Avastan or Singer.”
She spits out a mouthful of tobacco.
“It’s not about the money any more. It’s personal. I never let a mark get away before and I ain’t gonna start now.”
Will arrives with the DNA samples, which Roberta takes off him. She swigs the last of the whisky and takes the samples.
“I’ll be back in a couple of hours,” she says.
The party members wait while Roberta and Marie-Bell are gone.
“As well as the prisoners, we need to decide what we’re going to do with that fighter,” Max says. “It’s taking up valuable hold space. It ain’t gonna be too easy to sell – there ain’t many buyers around for fighters – especially ones with no paperwork. I reckon that we should just chop out the power plant and M-Drive and try and smuggle them onto Elixabeth and fence them there.”
“What do you guys think?”
A little over two hours later and Roberta and Marie-Bell return.
“We’ve only got space for nine,” Roberta says. “You’ll have to keep four of them. Keep four of their ‘marines’ – they’re just cannon fodder and not worth much anyway.”
Max shrugs, “That’s OK. We’ve two staterooms free now so I can have my cargo hold back.”
“For the other nine, I’ll give you 250k,” offers Roberta.
Max sees the credit signs lighting up in the other crew members eyes and so acts quickly before anyone else excepts the offer.
“Come on, girls,” he says. “You’ll ‘ave to do better than that. This is an ’ole crew of famous pirates we’re talking about.”
For the next half hour, Max and Roberta haggle until Roberta’s patience is just about spent.
“OK then, 375k, but that’s my final offer.”
“Done!” Max says. He spits in his palm and shakes hands with Roberta.
Roberta keys over the creds to him.
“Actually it’s not M’Tanga who was worth the most, it’s ‘Daria’ and ‘Sean’,” Roberta explains. “Or, to give them their real names, Eileen Graves-Sarhan and Serverus Bane. Eileen is the illegitimate child of the infamous pirate Varen Sarhan, who has ‘retired’ from the piracy business to take up his new career in organized crime on Singer.”
“Her mother was part of the small Forine System Defense Boat Service, but after it became known her mother had betrayed the Forine Supreme Leader, 4-year old Eileen was shipped off to Collace for her own protection, and raised in a foster home. Her mother was executed for treason. Eileen got a decent education, and took to the stars aboard a free trader before she learned of her heritage, and sought out her real father. Serverus is her father’s most trusted lieutenant who became her partner in crime.”
“Varen pretty much passed over the piracy business to Eileen when he became ‘respectable’. The Black Panther was one of three vessels. They’ve pulled this combined hijacking/piracy attempt at least half a dozen times over the past 18 months.”
“Well it’s been good doing business with you. Now could you give us a hand taking them all over to my ship?”
For 375k, the other party members are happy to assist and so Jie and Arvor join with Robert and Marie-Bell in escorting the prisoners at gunpoint over to the Huntress.
“Well that all worked out pretty nicely in the end,” Max says. “We should get attacked by pirates more often. It’s been the most profitable bit of business we’ve done yet!”
It’s getting quite late in the evening now and everyone is keen to get off the ship, with its fetid, stale air and check out the attractions of Noctocol Alpha. Jie offers to stay aboard for the first shift in order to keep an eye on the four remaining prisoners.
Autumn hails the Port ATV to come and fetch them and it arrives some 15 minutes later to take them through a large vehicle airlock, depositing them outside the Offworlders Hotel.
They check in for the night and have dinner, before Max drags everyone out for a night of partying to celebrate their good fortune from the sale of the prisoners.