With no passengers to either irritate or entertain the party members, it is a rather uneventful three-day journey through the relative emptiness of this part of the system. Occasionally the odd shuttle appeared at the edge of sensor range, but there are few large ships on this run.
Conveniently, it’s just after the crew have finished breakfast when the soft, robotic voice of the autopilot comes over the Tannoy to advise the bridge crew that the ship will soon be heading back into the asteroid belt once more as they make their final approach to Therak in a couple of hours’ time. Will, Jie and Arvor head to the bridge in order to prepare to navigate their way through the ’roids once more.
Although it’s hard work for the three of them to navigate through the belt, it presents them with no particular difficulties and, by 10.30, they see are able to pick up Therak on their long-range viewscreens.
“Huh.” Jie says to no one in particular on the bridge. “After all that rucus, this seems real nice. Just tolling around the ’belt like this.”
She orders another de-caff green tea from the counter-bot then sips it loudly.
No sooner has she said this, however, than the bridge crew notice a brief flash appear somewhere on the surface of the asteroid. At this far distance though, it hardly appears as more than a pin-prick.
“What was that?” Will asks rhetorically.
“Let me rewind and put it on maximum zoom,” says Arvor.
Jie calls Taeva and Grim to come and join the others on the bridge, guessing that something is up.
They all stand around the holoscreen as Arvor rewinds the video. When zoomed in, they can see that it is a brief, but still quite spectacular, explosion.
“Where on the surface did it happen?” Will asks.
Jie checks the trajectories on her monitor.
“Looks like it happened at Oculus City – exactly where we are heading,” she says with a sigh.
Will gets on the commo:
“Oculus City Control, this is Far Trader Unguin’s Princess. Are you receiving me, over?”
His response is met with just static, however.
Arvor takes over trying to reach Oculus City Control as Will continues on Jie’s flight path towards Therak. The ship is just 20 minutes away from arrival at the port now. The viewscreen is not giving much more information other than the fact that there is a large amount of dust now obscuring that part of the asteroid.
“There’s a message coming in on the emergency channel,” Arvor reports before putting the message on loudspeaker.
“Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, this is Oculus City Control,” the voice says through the sound of static.
“Calling all ships in the vicinity of Oculus City, we require assistance. Please call in if you are within range of this transmission.”
Will repeats his message on the emergency channel:
“Oculus City Control, this is Far Trader Unguin’s Princess. Are you receiving me, over?”
“This is Oculus City Control, receiving you. Over.”
“What is going on there?” Will asks.
“A shuttle, Flight 10, coming in from Erom lost control of its thrusters and accelerated as it approached its landing platform,” the voice explains. It is a female voice, trying to stay calm, but obviously in quite a state of panic. “The shuttle slammed into the Oculus Number Three reactor, causing a massive explosion. The blast itself did comparatively little damage.”
“However, there’s loss of power throughout the city and the moonquake caused by the reactor’s destruction. The shockwave caused dozens of access tunnels to cave in and caused part of the crater wall to collapse.”
“The shockwave also sent vast amounts of dust flying up and it’s going to take weeks for the weak gravity here to drag the dust clouds back to the ground. We’re now shrouded in an opaque grey dust, disrupting laser and radio transmissions.”
“Yours is one of the few ships within range of the short-wave transmissions we’re still able to make. Can you help us, please? There are many lives in danger down here and there’s little time.”
Listening to the comm chatter while leaning in the bridge hatchway, Grim says:
“My Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru and my cousins live on Therak. We’ve got to help them.” He continues, “These are my people out in these ‘roids. Hell, another cousin teaches at MSoG and lives in Oculus City when he’s on quarterly break from the school! We can’t leave them like this!”
Jie fumes as she delicately alters the insertion vector for arrival. Raised by a primitive society, she can’t help but to think that this disaster was brought on by her flippant comment about this being a milk-run. Her deeply buried superstitions always said that when things are going good, keep your damn fool mouth shut and never predict the future.
“Don’t worry, Grim. I hung out for weeks with some Glistenites. Tough bastards, always prepared. Your folks are fine.”
Jie motions as to pat the hand of the Chief Engineer then pulls her hand away. She busies herself with more calculations.
Holy Crap! I hope I just didn’t kill off Grims folks by spitting into the winds of Fate by predicting a good future. When will I learn.
“Arvor, Should we park the Princess in orbit as a relay to the core asteroids and take the new grav-van down or rig the Grav-van as a relay just outside the dust cloud and take the Princess down?”
“Good question,” Arvor replies. “We will certainly have to get a fair bit closer in the Princess before we are close enough to travel down by the AGC and its commo suite is very limited compared to the ship.”
“Then again if we find dozens of injured survivors, we won’t be able top accomodate them in the carrier – we would have to shuttle them back to the ship anyway.”
“That said, taking the Princess through this pea-soup carries its own risks, although the Princess is better shielded.”
He turns away from the other crew members and picks up the radio again:
“Oculus City Control – we are standing by to assist. Please give us up to date sit-rep with estimated number of casualties, and an assessment of navigation risks, over.”
“From what I understand, it’s just dust that’s been thrown up by the ’roidquake,” the voice replies. “If you fly into it, you’ll have to guide her totally by instruments – no visual. I’ve been told that, if you take her in nice and slow, keep your eye on your sensors and don’t get lower than 500m unless you are taking her straight down, you should be OK. The surface of this part of Therak is pretty flat – there are just craters in it.”
“How best can we be of assistance?” Will asks.
The girl sounds flustered again.
“My superiors are allocating what limited resources we have to those most in risk of perishing but there are two urgent jobs that we have no one for yet.”
“One of the outlying domes, Morningside, was right in the thick of the disaster. There are a few dozen people there and they aren’t answering their comms. It’s one of my priorities to get someone in there to check on their state and airlift them out if, as we expect, their life support has packed in.”
“There’s also a small group of miners who are trapped in the lower levels of the tunnel who are trapped by a cave in. An iris valve closed as soon as there was loss of pressure and they are unable to open it to get out. They will start to run low on air too unless someone is able to reach them soon.”
“Can you help with one of these tasks?” she asks hopefully. “Which one do you want to handle first?”
While the others decide on which course of action to take, Will calls up the GCA in order to tell them details of the disaster. They tell him that they already have a few patchy details from Oculus City control, but they thank him for filling in a few gaps in their understanding on the situation. The GCA is sending in all of the craft they have available, but there are just a few in the area at the moment. It will be hours before they can get any large ships over to Therak which will be capable of transporting citizens en masse.
“I think we should respond to Morningside,” Arvor says to the others. “Bring the Princess in as close as we can – since there are dozens of people involved, and zero comms. So their situation may be very dire. Then check out the miners immediately afterwards.”
Grim changes into his new Boarding VaccSuit and comms the bridge:
“Testing, one, two… tell Oculus control they’ve got a volunteer Life Support Engineer ready to give a hand. Morningside it is.”
Turning to his toolkits, Grim reaches in and pulls out his trusty Iris valve opener…
Arvor returns to the radio:
“Occulus City, on behalf of InterSol, aboard the Unguin’s Princess. Please provide coordinates to Morningside dome, we will determine the situation there and render possible assistance before moving on to the miners.”
“Roger that,” comes the reply from Ground Control sounding a little relieved. “I’m beaming up the coordinates to you now.”
A blinking red dot appears on Jie’s navigation monitor.
“OK, I got it,” she says.
Jie presses ‘confirm’ to the co-ordinates to settle down beside the Dome of Morningside. She dons her new Vacc suit also.
“We should all change into our HE suits, and prepare the boarding ’lock,” Arvor continues. “Land close to the dome and use the AGC to close the gap.”
Taeva thinks to herself:
“That sadistic weasal Anton Trumpp and his boys are based on Therak. Maybe I’ll get lucky and a girder will fall on his head, that would take the pressure off a bit.”
Jie plots a new course and Will steadily brings the Princess in following the new coordinates. They are inside the dust cloud now, making the viewscreen all but useless. Arvor switches the view to a computer-generated wireframe image of the terrain below based purely on data coming in from the sensors.
The Princess is closing in on Morningside Dome when a new voice comes over the emergency channel. This voice is male, sounds elderly and is full of panic.
“H-h-help me, please!” the voice begs. “I am Baronet Yaj hault-Epp-Stern. I live in a mansion at the top of the crater. All my power has gone. I need to get out NOW. If you can come rescue me, I can pay you well. But I need you to come to get me straight-away. There’s no time to lose or I am sure I will be doomed!”
Upon hearing the panicked voice over the intercom Jie looks up at the others. Her face is unreadable, but her hands are ready to calculate any coarse changes.
“Tell him to stand by,” Taeva says to Will.
“We need the Air Comms assessment first- and some idea of the layout. If this place is close enough we might be able to send the Carrier over with one or two of us as a quickie.”
“I think I’ll take some explosives if there’s some sort of disaster going on. Always better for making it worse.”
Will calls Oculus Control about the request from Yaj. The girl in the control room tells him that everyone is the city knows Yaj – he’s a recluse and an eccentric and not terribly well-liked in the place. The girl does say that there are several dozen lives at risk in the Morningside Dome whereas Yaj lives alone. However she says that it is up to the party members to decide what to do.
The party members have a quick discussion on the situation and narrowly decide to help those in the Morningside Dome first.
Will cautiously brings the Princess down as close to the dome as he dare some 300m away.
“I’ll stay and guard the ship,” says Autumn, strapping two snubbies to her hips – one loaded with tranq and the second with HEAP. In order to give her a helping hand, Taeva releases the prowlerbots and robodog from the hold.
Everyone is now vac suited up and heads through the airlock out into the swirling dust-storm thrown up by the collision. Using their in-suit sensors for guidance, they stumble across the surface of the ‘roid until they manage to find the surface of the dome. They can see that quite a lot of debris has fallen upon it. They work their way around the circumference of the dome until they come across an airlock. All of the power is out and so there is no easy way of opening it. Through a combination of Grim and Taeva’s technical skills and Jie’s brute force, however, they are able to open it, closing it behind them so as not to depressurize the dome further. The second door proves to be even more stubborn than the first, but they eventually manage to get through it.
Inside the dome, all seems quiet. There is still air in here, although it is starting to get dangerously thin. Most of the grav plates seem to have malfunctioned, making it easy for the party members to bounce around in one-sixth normal atmosphere.
The dome is not large, seeming to only contain a handful of habs and some public buildings. It is eerily quiet inside though. Taeva leads the way, with the rest of the party following close on her heels.
From out of doorways, a couple of characters emerge and start to shoot at the party members with their snub pistols. Their aim is off by a mile. Taeva realizes immediately that these are not trained thugs – they’re just average joes who firing wildly at them with little hope of their rounds getting through the party members armor. Taeva tries to tell them that the party members have come to rescue them but the villagers don’t seem to be listening. After the first two continue firing and more villagers appear, shooting at the party members, Taeva runs out of patience and starts shooting back with her gauss pistol, with the rest of the party members joining in as well.
The result is a bloodbath as the villagers come nowhere near to inflicting damage upon the party members whereas the villagers fall as quickly as they arrive on the scene. Amidst the villagers, someone else arrives on the scene wearing combat armor and wielding an ACR. He sprays Arvor with a burst, but his boarding vac suit sucks up all the damage. Arvor quickly gets revenge with a burst of his own on his combat-suited adversary and he immediately falls.
As soon as they see their leader fall, the other villagers throw down their weapons, begging the party members for mercy. They are surprised and relieved when they discover that the party members really have come to help them as their leader believed that they were either Ine Givar who had planned the shuttle crash or else they were looters, slavers or worse. The party members tell the villagers to suit up and to help them move the injured onto the Princess. The villagers are already in their vacc suits due to the fact that they realize that they are running out of air and so it doesn’t take them too long to put on their gauntlets and helmets.
Taeva takes rope and leads the way back to the Princess, telling the villagers to follow the rope back to the ship. The party members and the most able-bodied of the villagers help to drag the injured along and into the ship. The whole exercise takes a little more than half an hour to get everyone safely onboard, but they manage to get all 36 of the villagers safely on the ship. Will quickly sees to the injured aided by Autumn and the new Med Bay equipment that was installed during the party’s spending spree shortly after arriving in Glisten.
While the villagers are being taken care of, Arvor and Taeva monitor the radio transmissions coming in from the bridge. Yaj the noble is really panicking now.
“There’s someone trying to break into my home!” he screams. “Help me now, plllleeaaassseeee!!!”
And then the radio transmissions coming from the mansion stop.
The party members realize that the miners will have to wait a while as it sounds as if the noble’s needs are pretty urgent now. They ask Oculus City Control for coordinates to his mansion. They receive them, but find out that, although it is located at the top of the crater wall, the only way into it is by elevator up from the crater floor.
Leaving the injured to Autumn to take care of and some of the villagers who also have some medical skills, Will heads for the controls of the Princess once more and maneuvers the ship as close to the city limits as he can get. He is not able to get too close to the elevator leading up to Yaj’s mansion and so the party members pile into their new AGC, keen to give it a real test drive.
Some of the citizens of Oculus City have been able to get one of the vehicle airlocks working and are streaming out from it in vac suits to escape the dangers within and so it is quite simple this time for the party members to gain admittance into the tunnels that link the different parts of the city together. After a journey of a little over ten minutes, they manage to get to the base of the elevator. Unfortunately, as is the case with the rest of the city, there is no power to the elevator – they’re going to have to take the long, winding staircase that rise 500m up to the top. The lack of gravity helps a little with the trip, but it’s still a long and tiring journey and they are all gasping for breath when they finally get to the top.
It’s been an hour now since they last heard from Yaj. At the top of the elevator door they see that there are large doors blocking the entrance to the mansion – at least they used to block the entrance. It would appear that someone has used cutting tools on them in order to cut their way through.
Taeva cautiously leads the party into the gardens of the mansion. She spots that there are a couple of thugs on guard armed with ACRs. She and Arvor take down the first of the guards and make their way inside the mansion.
In their boarding vac suits and out-gunning the looters inside, it’s not much of a fight. Although there seems to be a looter lurking around every corner waiting for them, their shots either miss or else can’t get through the party members’ armor and they are soon inside the main hall of Yaj’s mansion. Arvor gets slightly wounded by ‘Ripper’ one of the Vargr members of the gang, but Jie soon takes him down.
There are two thugs holding someone dressed in rich and flamboyant robes. Taeva immediately recognizes the older of the two as Anton Trump, the nephew of one of the gang-leaders who killed her mentor and put out a contract on her. Before she is able to get retribution upon him though, Arvor does the job for her, gunning him down. The last of the thugs tries to surrender, but Taeva can’t afford for there to be any surviving members of the gang remaining and quickly takes down the last of the looters, telling the other party members to make sure everyone else inside is dead. Will takes this a little too literally and fires off a shot at Yaj. Fortunately he misses by a mile, shattering an incredibly valuable Ming vase in the process. Yaj’s relief at being rescued is slightly marred by this – no reward money for Will.
Knowing that there is still a lot to do and that time is pressing, the party members ensure that all of Anton’s gang are well and truly dead and that there is no evidence of Taeva’s involvement with the slaughter, then try and bundle Yaj out of his mansion. He is still panicking and terrified and so Will gives him a shot of a mild sedative which makes him slightly more bearable.
There’s another long journey back down the stairs – at least it’s easier going down than it was up. The AGC is still waiting downstairs and so they bundle Yaj into it and return to the ship, adding Yaj to the collection of refugees from Morningside.
Arvor checks in with Oculus City Control. The girl trying to coordinate the rescue attempts tells him that the situation with the minors is now getting critical and, unless they are reached within the next hour, then surely they will run out of air and suffocate.
Leaving Yaj in Autumn’s care, the party members return to the AGC and head back inside the main tunnels of Oculus City and head towards the minehead. They fly over a lot of panicked refugees as they go, but don’t encounter any serious obstacles. Upon arriving at the minehead, they see that it is too narrow for the AGC to take them any further and so they have to head out on foot. The air in the tunnels is thin and so everyone has to suit up again. Taeva leads the way, treading carefully as it’s easy to see that the ’roidquake has weakened the roof supports and so the tunnels are in imminent danger of collapse. The journey takes around half an hour. Most of the party members have few problems with the journey. Jie and Will clomping along at the back of the gang bring part of the roof down on them though. The helmets of their vacc suits absorb almost all of the damage, although Will receives a bit of a bang to the head.
They manage to reach the control room. They can hear one of the miners, Herik, calling in over the fibre-optic cable commo link for help. While Taeva speaks to him and asks him for his position, Will notices an angry red flashing light on the map of the network of mines – appearing under the shuttle terminal.
Will asks Herik what it means. Herik tells him that it means that this area of the mines are in imminent danger of collapse unless it is fixed and that the collapse of the shuttle port would mean no more citizens could be evacuated. He tells the party that the only way to save it in time would be to send the mining drones in the control room to prop up the shaft. If they send the drones over though, then Herik tells them that they won’t be able to send the drones to rescue Herik and his too colleagues – he tells them that the mines are too unstable for the party members to come down to rescue them.
But InterSol are heroes, so naturally they aren’t going to leave the miners down there. Grim gets on the radio to Herik and asks him how to program the robots so that they head to the part of the mines under the shuttle dock to prop them up. Herik gives him the instructions and, ten minutes later, the drones are heading out on their way. The party members then start to make their way through the tunnel network to see if they can rescue the three trapped miners.
Herik was right. The mines down here are in a terrible state, with the ceilings of the tunnels about the collapse at any moment. Although Taeva nimbly side-steps out of any danger, the rest of the party bring parts of the roof down upon them. Fortunately apart from scratching and denting their shiny new helmets a little, no harm is done.
They get to the airlock behind which the miners are trapped. Through a combination of Grim and Taeva’s mechanical skills and Jie’s muscles once more, they manage to force the airlock open, revealing a tired and desperate looking Herik and his two companions. They are grateful to the party members for releasing them and then start off on the long trek back up to the surface. Upon the journey, there are more aftershocks from the ’roidquake which makes the tunnels all the more unstable.
It seems as if lumps of rock from the roof are raining down upon them every step they take now, giving all of the party members in their vacc suits a bit of a battering, although nothing serious. Once again, Will is the exception, bringing a large chunk of the roof down upon him. This time he gets pretty badly bruised as a huge lump hits him on the back. Even so he does better than the last of the miners bringing up the rear of the group as the roof collapses upon him completely, smashing his body and burying him in the rubble. There’s little that the party members can do about it – he’s dead already and to try and retrieve his body would just bring more of the roof down upon them. And so, reluctantly, they continue to tread their way carefully up to the surface, eventually breathing a sigh of relief once they get there.
They help the two remaining miners into the AGC and then return to the Princess where Will can get to the Med Bay to look after himself and then the two injured miners. Arvor heads to the radio to inform Oculus City Control that they managed to rescue (most of) the miners and to ask if there is anything else that they can do to help.
The girl says that there is a shuttle trapped in one of the hangars at the starport and they ask if they have anyone who could try and release it as all of the unionized pilots are saying that it is too dangerous. Grim tells them that he is willing to give it a shot. Leaving Will and Autumn behind to care for the injured, they get back into the AGC and head over to the shuttleport.
One of the starport workers shows them the location of the trapped shuttle. Grim sees that it is half-buried under collapsed roof but it might just be possible to get it out without the remainder of the rook collapsing upon it.
He heads into the cockpit and familiarizes himself with the controls. Cautiously, he switches on the control and starts to ease the ship away from the debris. As the shuttle begins to pull away, it looks as if he is just going to make it. However, just before the shuttle is free, the tailplane catches part of the roof, causing it to collapse completely, making the shuttle completely unusable until it receives some major repairs.
Grim emerges unharmed from the cockpit, cursing his bad luck. The starport authorities pat him on the back and thank him for trying his best at least.
They return to the AGC and radio Oculus City Control to see if there is anything else that they can help with. Taeva asks them how come there is no back up power for the city. The girl says that one should have cut in as soon as the primary power source went down, but that for some reason it didn’t, although the control panel say that it is still in working order. The city engineers can only assume that the connecting cable was cut when the shuttle hit. She asks if they have anyone who is any good with power plants.
“That would be me again,” says Grim.
It’s turning out to be an especially long day for him.
They take the AGC over to where the backup generator is located. The swirling duststorm is still very much in effect though and so they need to proceed on foot in order to trace the cable that leads from the generator to the grid. As they follow the cable, they pass through the wreckage of the crashed shuttle, snagging the vacc suits of some of the party members once more.
Eventually they find the severed ends of the cable, cut in two during the impact of the shuttle crash. Grim takes out his toolkit and attempts to reconnect each of the severed cables. It’s a tough job, sweat is trickling down his brow. But then, all of a sudden they start to see lights going on around the city. He’s done it!
Getting tired now, the party members return to the AGC. They radio Oculus City Control once more to ask if there’s anything else that needs to be done. The girl on the other end of the radio thanks them for their help. With the power now back on, the situation inside the dome is starting to stabilize. The girl suggests that the Princess takes the refugees that they have collected to the next nearest city with a shuttle port – Galvatron – and then to come back to see if anyone else needs evacuating.
The party members return in the AGC to the Princess. It is pretty crowded inside with more than 40 people onboard and the life support system is struggling. Fortunately it is a very short hop to Galvatron. Leaving Autumn to continue caring for the wounded, Will swaps his doctor’s hat for his pilot’s hat and, with Jie and Arvor joining him on the bridge, the Princess takes off and is soon above the dust cloud once more. From here it is quite a quick and simple journey to Galvatron, although there is a bit of a delay while waiting for a dock to become available as shuttles are dropping refugees off constantly.
After a twenty minute wait hovering close to the port, a dock is assigned to the Princess and Will brings the ship in to land. Galvatron Control seems pretty well organized – they’ve already received several shuttle loads of refugees and so know what to do with them. They all offer their gratitude to the party members for their kind assistance, including Yaj. He is still a little pissed at Will for nearly shooting him but pays Cr. 20,000 to each of his other four rescuers.
Once all of the passengers have disembarked, Arvor asks if they have communications working to Oculus City now. They say they have and that things are starting to settle down now. They tell Arvor that the shuttles can handle any more emergency cases that need medical treatment while the remainder of the population can stay in Oculus City now that the key systems are working once again, and so it is better if the Princess stays at Galvatron.
The news comes as a great relief for the crew of the Princess as it has been a long hard day for everyone. They each just head for their staterooms to get some well-needed rest.