It’s a little after midnight when Will nudges everyone awake as he hears the thrusters have been cut off.
“We’ve stopped by the sound of it,” he informs the others.
Everyone peers at Will’s screen as he cycles between the cams covering the two airlocks. Sure enough, ten minutes later and the airlock door that leads directly onto the bridge opens. Four Swordies cautiously enter, the majority of whom are carrying machine pistols. They are wearing vacc suits, although don’t have the helmets on. Carefully studying their surroundings, the four make their way to the bridge, holding the guns to the head of the pilot and navigator. Will can hear one of the Swordies telling the navigator, in broken Galanglic, to set coordinates for Lydia.
The airlock doors open again and another four Swordies emerge, two with vacc suits and two just wearing the long chainmail coats that Swordies favour for their armour. These new arrivals head for engineering where they search the area carefully and keep an eye on the engineer.
Every couple of minutes and the airlock opens revealing more Swordies – some in vacc suits and others without. Will counts 24 of them in total. The last time that the airlock cycles, they bring with them a terrified looking youth – obviously its Count Anselm. Depositing the Count in Taeva’s master stateroom with two of them keeping guard over him, the others spread out throughout the ship checking for any surprises. They find one of Taeva’s boobytraps and disarm it – the rest of them go unnoticed, however.
The Swordie on the bridge tells the pilot to disengage from the shuttle and move to minimum jump distance away from it.
After 20 minutes, it would appear that the Swordies are satisfied that there is no one onboard and remain in their position.
“The navigator is getting close to finishing inputting the coordinates,” says Will. “We better do this thing.”
Silently, Taeva undoes the fastening of the trapdoor and silently drops onto the roof of one of the cargo containers. She sets her sights on the one visible Swordie and drops him with a single shot. The Swordie falls without making much of a sound.
Arvor, Grim and Jie climb out after her. Jie, wearing her favourite hobnail boots, lands with an audible clang which alerts the other Swordie in the hold. He doesn’t sound the alarm, but slowly heads off in the direction of the sound. Will hits the button to release the tranq gas into the air.
Grim and Jie take up position in order to take down the Swordie in the hold as he walks around the side of the container. But Taeva is on top of him first, bringing him down with a burst from her gauss pistol, dropping her second Swordie.
While waiting for the tranq gas to take effect, Will detonates the explosive at the entrance to the bridge. One of the Swordies beneath the explosive is instantly splattered. The other is just caught by shrapnel and starts screaming his head off. The element of surprise is well and truly over now.
Will watches the results of the tranq gas being released into the air. The effects are pretty dramatic. Those Swordies wearing vacc suits struggle to put on the helmets and gauntlets before the gas can take effect, but most of them are too slow. A couple of the larger Swordies manage to fight off the effects. However, a few seconds later and two-thirds of the Swordies are all out cold, making it much more of a fair fight.
The last remaining Swordie on the bridge shouts something over the tannoy to his remaining comrades who all start moving in the direction of the bridge. The Swordie then pulls the pilot out of his seat and faces the entrance to the bridge, holding his machine pistol to the pilot’s head. Will blocks off all exits from the upper deck, leaving the two still conscious Swordies up there impotently trying to find a way out. Will sets off another of the explosives that Taeva had rigged up in Arvor’s turret, which takes out another surviving Swordie. As the turret got badly mauled after being shot up by the Gazelle upon entry to the system, it doesn’t cause too much more damage for Grim to fix later.
Jie and Grim both head for the bridge. Jie fires low at the pilot’s legs, causing him to fall to the ground as he lets out an agonizing scream. Grim follows up immediately and fells the Swordie leaving the bridge totally in their control. Will leaves the hidey hole and heads to take control of the ship.
On the port side of the ship, two Swordies remain, one of whom is using the Count as a human shield. The first of them opens the airlock door into the cargo bay, only to find Arvor waiting for him on the other side. A quick burst of fire from his gauss pistol quickly takes the Swordie down. He then rushes across the corridor to take cover behind the airlock and to see if he can draw a bead on the other Swordie who is hiding behind the Count around the corner of the doorway to one of the staterooms. The Swordie reacts by pulling a grenade from his belt and tossing it next to Arvor. The Swordie’s aim is true and Arvor is sent sprawling back from the concussion, knocking him out instantly.
Taeva quickly takes advantage of the situation by making a charge into the corridor, pushing the shocked Count out of the way and unleashing a full burst at the Swordie.
Will, now on the bridge, calls out to Grim and Jie who are right behind him at the rear of the bridge area.
“There’s one last one coming from engineering, using the engineer as cover.”
Jie and Grim head to the iris valve to wait for the pair to arrive. As the iris valve opens, Jie aims low an the engineer tumbles to the ground revealing the last Swordie right behind him. The Swordie unleashes a full blast from his machine pistol which sets Jie wincing from the pain. Fortunately though her vacc suit saved her from the worst of the damage. Grim, right beside her, elbows Jie out of the way and takes retribution by bringing the Swordie down with a well aimed shot to the head.
With just the two Swordies locked on the passenger deck, the party members now have total control of the ship.
Will calls over to the shuttle to tell them to dock with the Princess. Having no idea of the fact that the ship is now occupied by friendlies, the shuttle pilot doesn’t play ball, however. Slowly it starts to move away from the Princess. When it realizes that it’s not getting fired upon, the pilot sets the thrusters to full burn as it heads back to Weiss as quickly as possible.
Realizing that there is nothing more that needs to be done out here, Jie plots a course back to Schwarzstadt Down while Will goes to patch up Arvor and the injured pilot and engineer. Meanwhile, Taeva is seeing to the injured Swordies. Instead of a medical kit she sees to them with her gauss pistol though. Grim rounds up the unconscious Swordies and binds them up securely, locking them all together in the passenger lounge.
Once Will has seen to all the injured friendlies, and given Count Anselm a Valium to calm his shattered nerves, he returns to the bridge and starts on Jie’s course back to the downport.
Weiss Control is anxious for a debriefing on what has been going on and so Will spends much of the seven hour journey back to Schwarzstadt answering questions and assuring them that The Count … and the briefcase containing MCr. 3 in small denominations are both safe.
It’s a little after 8am by the time Unguin’s Princess lands at Schwarzstadt down once more. They see that there is a mighty horde of people waiting for them – vast numbers of police, several ambulances, a couple of fire tenders, several grav limos, a very anxious and stressed out CEO, Karl Harrison and Director of Security, Pietro Grissom, the Count’s entourage and a gaggle of media.
As soon as the airlock is opened and a tired and sluggish looking Count appears, he is grabbed by a couple of minders who rush him into an awaiting ambulance pushing the excited press corps out of the way. The SDC’s CFO is more interested in retrieving the ransom money, which he swiftly relieves the party members on and takes it into one of the limos, accompanied by a squad of police.
In the absence of the Count to interview, the media swarm around the party members, thrusting microphones in their faces.
Among the crowd, somewhere towards the back, the party members spot Dewart leaning against the side of a police van. He is making a zipping action across his mouth and beckoning them to come towards him. Saying nothing other than “No comment”, the party members jostle their way through the scrum towards the van. Dewart opens the doors and they pile in. Dewart knocks on the side of the van and it speeds off.
“Well done,” Dewart says. “That was an excellent job.”
“If you wanted your 15 minutes of fame, keys to the city, a substantial reward and a ticker tape procession, I’m sorry if I have pissed on your parade, but it’s in your best interests to keep as low a profile as you can and get off Weiss as quickly as you can.”
“For one thing, you’ve now become Public Enemy #1 for every Swordie Rebel group in this city and they’ll be trying whatever they can to get some payback. Secondly, CEO Harrison looked pretty bad for letting the hijacking happen. No doubt his spin doctors will be able to twist the whole story around and make him look like a hero – providing that you’re not around to tell the media what really went on. And finally, I need you offworld as soon as possible so you can get Renee safely offworld and the Broughton tapes into the public domain.”
The party members nod in agreement.
“We can’t leave immediately,” says Grim. “The Princess is still pretty badly damaged. I don’t trust her to make a jump.”
Dewart nods. “Well take her up to the highport at least in that case. The facilities are much better there for one thing and it’s Imperial territory and so Harrison doesn’t call all the shots.”
“Fine,” Will agrees. “We’re happy to get out of here as soon as possible.”
The journey in the police van is a short one. Dewart tells the driver to stop in the maintenance area behind the hangars, just far away to be out of sight of the media and the suits. Taeva calls up Max and tells him to meet them there.
“We need a favour from you,” she asks Dewart. “We’re carrying a couple of hitmen who killed Karolina, the Senior Health Inspector for the Imperial Prison Service. She came from Mora. Can you see her killers are brought to justice and that Karolina’s body gets sent back home?”
“That’s fine,” agrees Dewart.
“We’ve been carrying another stiff around with us for a while,” Taeva continues. “His name is Dr. Winston Boardman, originally from Glisten. We don’t know much about him – just that he too had something to do with the Imperial Prison Service on Mithras.”
“I’ll take him off your hands as well,” agrees Dewart.
There is a pause.
“Best that I leave you here,” he says. “The less we’re seen together, the better. I’ll go to the SPA to make sure that there are no problems in your getting back on the ship and getting permission to leave.”
“Can you send me a coded message just before you are about to leave the system?” Dewart asks. “I will then leave it 72 hours to make sure that you are safely in jump before I release the Broughton tapes to the media.”
The party members nod. “We’ll send you an update on the ‘package’ by x-boat when we arrive at our next port.” adds Grim
“In that case, we’re done,” Dewart finishes, starting to shake everyone by the hand. “I’m sorry that Weiss has not been the most hospitable planet that you’ve probably encountered on your travels. But you have made a real difference here. Give the ‘package’ my…love.”
Turning away quickly, Dewart gets into the front of the van and heads off towards the control tower.
The party members hang around for another half an hour until they get a call from Dewart.
“OK, you can go back to your ship now. You have a 10am departure slot.”
The party members walk back to the ship. Some 15 minutes later, Max and Autumn pull up next to the ship in the rented ATV and, with Grim’s help, they drag Renee’s still unconscious form, wrapped in a blanket where Will loads her into one of the low berths. They unload Dr. Winston’s corpse into the vehicle and tell Max to hand it over to Dewart.
While Max is taking care of handing over the corpse and prisoners, Will and Jie go through the pre-flight routine. They are just about ready to go when Max rushes up the steps a few minute before 10am. At the allotted time, to everyone’s immense relief, Unguin’s Princess takes off, heading through Weiss’s thin atmosphere. Less than an hour later and the A2 is docking with the Highport.
Grim and Autumn spend the short trip assessing the damage, both of them tutting on a regular basis, Autumn because of the mess that the police made while they rifled through everyone drawers.
“You guys had better promise me that you’ll buy me a cleaning drone when we get to Glisten or I’m going to need a raise,” she sighs.
Grim spends the rest of the afternoon going through the ship and the stores working out a shopping list for the parts that he needs. Max starts off his duties by arranging for the reeking, rotting venison and their containers to be removed.
It’s been a long day and night and so no one is in too much of a fit state to embark on the work and so they head off together for dinner, finally enjoying a relaxed atmosphere without having to look over their shoulders to check that there are no more Swordie terrorists about to take over the place. They then all head to their staterooms to get a good night’s rest.