It’s 0100, still a couple of hours to go before reaching jump diameter and Will is alone on the bridge when he hears a faint Signal GK distress call coming through the radio. The signal is intermittent, fading in and out, but it’s definitely a Signal GK.
“Arvor and Jie to the bridge please, urgent,” Will calls over the Tannoy.
Telling from the tone of Will’s voice that it’s something serious, Taeva and Grim head there as well.
Will tells them what he has heard.
Arvor immediately gets on the sensors to try and locate the source of the signal while Will tries to call the stricken craft for more information. There is no response from the ship however – it’s just the standard automated distress signal which is being played in a loop across all frequencies.
Arvor brings up the holodisplay and points out the source of the signal.
“I can’t tell exactly what type of ship it’s coming from,” he says. “But it’s definitely something quite small – no more than 100 tons, maybe less. It could be a Type-S or it could be a non-starship. It’s definitely not big enough to be a Trader… or a Pirate … or yet another Gazelle.”
“How long would it take us to get there?” Will asks. “Would it take us far off our route to jump diameter to get there?”
Jie keys in the coordinates.
“We could get there in a couple of hours,” she says. “Then another couple of hours from there to get to jump diameter, so it’s not going to delay us a huge amount.”
“So according to the Imperial Navigation Act of 103 we should head towards the origin of the Gashimeku Kaalariin, prepared to render assistance, taking precautions not to bring the vessel or occupants into danger,” says Arvor, getting all naval for a moment.
“Well I guess that we don’t have a lot of choice in the matter then,” says Will. “Especially when we have an IMoJ agent travelling with us.”
Jie nods and works out the new coordinates to the position that the signal is being broadcasted on. Will maneuvers onto the new course and starts decelarating.
The passengers are all sleeping soundly when, around 02.45, the Princess gets close enough to bring up the stricken vessel on screen.
“What the hell is that?” Jie explains as they all peer at the small, saucer-shaped craft that they can just make out at maximum range.
Will opens up the ship’s computer Jane’s All The Galaxy’s Starcraft program and runs the images through it.
It takes just a few seconds for the program to throw up a match:
Aslan Scout (Ihateisho class)
This is one of the most iconic Aslan vessels. Ships of this design are given to the ihatei of nobles. The young ihatei roam the galaxy, looking for territories to conquer. The controls of the vessel are as automated as possible, to allow males who are less than technically adept to operate without female help. The ihateisho is capable of making four-parsec jumps, allowing it to reach systems beyond the range of a standard scout. A typical ihateisho exploration lasts two to three years, at which point the wanderer returns to the nearest ihatei camp and gathers an army to conquer the most suitable territory he has found during his wandering. The ihateisho is then either returned to the clan or traded for a share in a larger vessel. An ihateisho can be considered especially lucky if its former owners have gone on to find good territories.
“Well this one wasn’t very lucky,” says Grim, studying the ship on the screen which is now available in a better resolution. “Looks like a micro-meteorite impact on the rear of the ship taking out most of it.”
Arvor studies the floorplans.
“The ships only have a single stateroom and are usually crewed by just one person … just one Aslan.”
As the Princess gets closer to the stricken craft, Will tries to hail it. But there is no response. He continues trying to call until the A2 matches the Aslan ship’s velocity. As the alien craft fills the viewscreen, all can see that the craft is terribly damaged. One half of the saucer has gone completely – fortunately these are just the fuel tanks though according to the information they get from the ship’s computer. The back end of the ship with the drives is mostly gone as well. According to the data, the bridge and living quarters are all contained in a bubble on top of the saucer. Although it too looks pretty battered, the bubble looks more or less intact.
“I can’t get too close to her because of all that jagged crystaliron,” Will says. “So you’ll need to vacc up and hop across. But beware of ferocious Aslan pouncing in self-defence. Perhaps tranq rounds? And perhaps we should not call for local system help or notify local authorities yet—aren’t Aslan all about honour? If we quietly help out, perhaps we earn an ally?”
Taeva agrees: “Unless he’s terminally daft he’ll be glad to see us. But I’ll carry a tranq snub and my gauss.”
“All the power’s out and so it looks like we’re going to have to cut our way inside,” says Grim. “I’d better bring my toolkit.”
“I’m coming too,” says Jie. “Looks like it’s going to take all of us to get inside as soon as possible.”
“I’ll wake up Autumn, send her down to the passenger lounge and then lock down the lower level,” says Will. “I’d ask Max, but I get the feeling that he’s a little preoccupied with other matters at the moment.”
Everyone suits up, checks their sidearms and then Will opens up the airlock. Taeva fires her grappling hook, which catches part of the splintered crystal iron. She then makes her way across while Jie holds the line steady. Arvor follows behind her, then Grim and finally Jie.
Once secured to the Aslan ship, they make their way around to the ship’s airlock at the rear of the bubble. As Grim predicted, it’s a mess and so he has to use his cutting torch in order to take off the hinges. It takes the best part of 30 minutes, but eventually they manage to breach enough of the twisted metal plate that they are inside the ship’s airlock.
The structure of the inner airlock is intact and so it’s just brute force that’s necessary to open it. Once they have unlocked it, the airlock swings open relatively easily, indicating that it’s Zero-G on the opposite side of the door.
Taeva cautiously exits the airlock, with snubbie in hand. She finds that the airlock leads straight onto the tiny bridge of the vessel. Floating around in the zero-gravity is a huge Aslan-shaped form in a vacc suit. Arvor follows Taeva in, followed by Grim and Jie who all cover her as she reaches for the shape. The form doesn’t react as she grabs a large leg and pulls it closer. Looking through the narrow faceplace she sees that it is, indeed, an Aslan inside it, one that is either unconscious or dead. She looks at the readout on the vacc suit’s wrist display. The glyphs don’t make any sense to her, but the suit is obviously still powered-up to be displaying anything at all.
The lack of gravity has the advantage that it’s easy to maneuver the bulky, dead-weight of the Aslan through the ship and into its airlock. Grim clips the Aslan to the line and then he, assisted by Jie, push its bulky form through to the airlock of the Princess.
The airlock is cycled, revealing Will, who has also suited up now.
“Best not to take any chances in case he’s contaminated in some way,” Will says by way of explanation.
“The ship’s power plant was ripped out with the drives,” Grim says. “So there shouldn’t be any radiation risk.”
Will checks anyway. Finding the Aslan’s vacc suit negative for any sign, he removes the Aslan’s helmet and checks again. His sensor is still picking up nothing untoward. With the assistance of both Jie and Grim, Will then removes the vacc suit completely and gives him one final scan.
“He’s clean,” Will says. “Looks like we found him just in time though – he must have been down to just vapors. He’s inhaled a lot of CO2. He’s going to be out for a while. I think he should just about pull through though. You’ll need to help me get him to the Med Bay though – I can’t lift the great lump all on my own.”
The threesome drag the immobile form of the Aslan through to Will’s room, which doubles as the Med Bay and, with some effort, manage to lift him onto the slab. Will gives him a shot of something or other and seems satisfied with his work.
“Autumn should be able to keep him stable until he comes around,” Will says.
Meanwhile, Arvor and Taeva have been investigating the ship.
“Let’s make it quick,” Arvor says. “I’ll disconnect the computer’s harddrive while you search the place for any of the Aslan’s possessions.”
The pair set to their tasks. Unused to the layout of the alien craft’s avionics department, it takes a while for Arvor to locate the ship’s computer’s harddrive. When he finds it, he thinks that it looks remarkably small.
Jie calls over to Arvor while he is still on the bridge:
“Maybe it’s a good idea to disconnect the distress signal now,” she says. “Otherwise some scavengers will find the ship and it will be gone – and that might really piss it off.”
“Rodger that,” Arvor says, and removes the battery from the emergency transmitter.
Meanwhile, Taeva makes her way to the solitary stateroom on the vessel located at the rear of the bubble. Inside it, she finds a variety of interesting objects. She pulls a blanket off the bed and loads the items into it so as to be able to carry them over to the Princess.
The first item she lays out on top of the blanket is a large suit of armor made from interlocking plastic rings. On top of it she lays a heavy ornamental breastplate and helmet, both of which are intricately engraved and bejewelled. In a closet, she finds the Aslan’s weapons. One is a long, clumsy-looking weapon some 2.5m in length with a spear at one end and a grappling hook at the other. The next is an oversized axe that looks like it would do some serious damage to anyone who was on the receiving end. There is a 1.5m long length of plastic thong, the use of which is not immediately apparent, but she adds it anyway as its weight is negligible. The only modern weapon in the closet is a short but stubby rifle – very primitive by Imperial standards, plus five magazines each containing 16 shots.
With the weapons locker now cleared out, she turns her attention to the rest of the staterooms. On the floor is a small, mechanical object, about the size of a small rat. She takes that too. There’s a small, black plastic item that looks like there’s something electronic inside it. It has just one button on it though. There are two pouches made of some kind of animal hide. A small one contains what appear to be intricately carved runes from a substance that looks like ivory. A larger one contains coins in a variety of metals – gold, platinum, silver and iridium. The bag is heavy – the contents must be worth a six-figure sum in CrImps. The last item that she finds is an enormous, hidebound ledger. She flips through it and sees that it is two-third filled with writing in alien glyphs. She bundles everything up securely in the blanket. Arvor adds the harddrive to the stash and they secure the bundle to the grappling hook and grab onto it themselves.
They radio over to Jie who is still in the Princess’s airlock and she winches them back onto the ship.
As they cycle through the airlock, Arvor tells Will that everyone is back onboard now, so Will takes off his doctor’s hat and returns to being a pilot. Jie and Arvor join him. Jie replots the course to jump diameter, while Arvor checks the sensors to see if there are any other ships that seem to be responding to the Signal GK by heading in the direction. There’s nothing else on the screens though – they are a long way from the Amber Zoned Aki and so it’s perhaps not surprising that there’s no traffic in the vicinity.
It’s around 5.30am when Jie confirms that the Princess is now over 100 diameters out from the sun and that it’s safe to jump. Will hits the big red button and the Trader safely slips into hyperspace.
With that taken care of, Will returns to his cabin where he finds a sleepy-looking Autumn watching over the Aslan, while the other party members stand around gawping at the alien, plus all of his possessions scattered around the room.
“All his vital signs show that he’s stable,” says Autumn.
Will nods. “You go and get some rest now. I’ll take it from here.”
He looks around the terrifying array of weaponry that Taeva brought over.
“So what are we going to do when he eventually regains consciousness?”
The party members discuss the situation for a while and decide that it’s probably not a good idea to leave the Aslan’s terrifying array of weapons in front of him and so place them in the ship’s locker. The rest of the items they leave prominently displayed in front of him though in the hope that it makes him a little happier when he wakes up.
They set up a watch rota, with everyone taking a three-hour shift at watching over him. They decide that they will have a snubbie loaded with tranq tucked into the back of their belts so that they appear unarmed at first sight, but have it at their disposal just in case.
Grim takes first watch, while the rest head off to get some well needed sleep.
It’s mid-afternoon by the time that the party members start to get up again. Max has been looking after the passengers while Autumn was sleeping, whistling a merry tune, wearing a happy smile with a glint in his eye.
Max is quite surprised when he hears of all of the events that transpired during the night.
“Is it male or female?” he asks.
“Male,” Taeva replies.
“Can’t ’elp you much with it then,” he says with a shake of his head. “I did a bit of trading with Aslan while I was on Mertactor as we ‘ad a few come through, but they were all female. I know they’re nothing like the males.”
Will suggests that he, and the rest of the crew, read up on the Library Data on Aslans so that they don’t do something stupid when he wakes up. Autumn is also a good teacher as she studied all of the major races during her studies at Merchant Academy.
By the end of the day, everyone is quite well-informed as to the habits of Aslan males, but still the beast remains unconscious.