Although it’s a lot easier to sit around rather than spend eight hours a day riding through the forest, it gets pretty dull keeping watch for hour after hour, with nothing happening at all. They don’t even have the challenge of the wahroos to entertain them as there don’t seem to be any in this area.
For the first three days, nothing happens at all. But then, just after noon on the third day of waiting, Max, who is listening to the rails, alerts everyone to the fact that a train is on its way. Everyone lets out a curse simultaneously that the train is coming during daylight, robbing them of the cover of darkness, but they know that this is still the only chance they have of getting into the starport and so there is no alternative.
Everyone rushes to their pre-assigned positions. Grim has the longest run furthest up the line, almost to the end of the treeline. Taeva runs after him for a while before stopping a couple of hundred metres further back from Grim’s position. The remaining four party members don’t have too far to go as they lag further back.
Arvor, Jie, Will and Max get the first look at the train. All looks pretty good at first glance. The train is travelling slowly – no more than 12kmh – as it struggles to cope with the steep gradient together with the sharp turn it needs to make before it gets to the starport. The locomotive is at the front of the train, with three passenger cars behind it, followed by six freight carriages.
The four of them shuffle their positions a little to compensate for the length of the train, wanting to make sure that they get on the last carriage.
Taeva waits until the locomotive comes into view, waits until it has just passed her and then she dashes for it. As soon as he sees Taeva move, Arvor leads the others towards the last of the freight carriages. He leaps up onto the side of it and easily manages to grab the handle. Jie is right behind him. Arvor gives her a hand up and she joins him, and tries to open up the carriage. Fortunately it is unlocked and so she is able to slide it open. Will is next, and has no problem climbing up onto the carriage, heading straight through the open door. Max isn’t the most nimble of the party members, but with Arvor and Jie’s assistance, they manage to grab his wrists and boost him up. In less than thirty seconds, all four of them are inside the carriage before Jie shuts the carriage door behind them.
The carriage is almost completely full of containers, and so the four party members struggle to find places to stand. Fortunately it is going to be probably the shortest journeys of their lives.
Meanwhile, at the front of the train, Taeva swings herself up and opens the door to the driver’s compartment. The driver looks on in shock as she enters, immediately slamming on the brakes. Taeva lunges at him, aiming for his head with one of Max’s socks which she has filled with smooth pebbles. The driver tries to dodge, but he is no match for Taeva’s cat-like reactions as she brings the sap crashing down on his head. The driver immediately crashes to the ground like a sack of potatoes. As he does so though, the dead man’s handle is activated and the train continues to slow.
Grim is the last to enter, Taeva helping him up onto the footplate. Grim quickly looks at the few simple controls the train has, figuring out what does what. He tells Taeva to put her foot on the plate to take the brakes off.
Grim takes the driver’s (now rather crumpled) hat off so that he looks like the driver. He quickly experiments with the speed regulator knowing that he has to get the speed right when the train comes through the gates – too slow and there won’t be enough of a panic caused for the party to make their escape (especially now they have to escape with the cover of darkness. Too fast and he and Taeva will be crushed to death when the train hits the buffers.
He crosses his fingers and increases speed a little, while Taeva ducks down in case their approach is being watched by the guards (and also to assume a protective posture).
All too soon, the train is bearing down on the entrance to the starport. Already some of the guards have figured out that the train is travelling too fast to stop. Grim puts a look of panic on his face and gestures for everyone to get out of the way.
The train crashes through the first of the gates, crushing it as if it was made of balsa wood, dragging barbed wire behind it. So well constructed are the starports defenses that the fence pulls down the two watchtowers either side of the gate, which tumble and crash to the ground, the guards inside screaming as they fall.
It’s the same story as the train crashes through the other side of the inspection area, easily breaking through into the starport proper, taking down another watch tower in the process. It’s complete pandemonium in the area now as everyone on the station tries to get out of the way from the destruction that it’s causing.
The train continues on its journey until it hits the buffers at the end of the station. There is an almighty jolt as it hits the end of the line which knocks everyone on the train off their feet. If anything though, Grim could have given it a little more juice. Although the train buckles and several of the carriages jump the rails, none of them crash onto their sides.
Grim realizes that the driver could unravel the whole plot if he regains consciousness before the party manages to escape from Pavabid, so they has no choice but to kill him.
Taeva nods at Grim and grimaces as she reaches down to the Guard. “I’ll see to it – no need to upset Will.”
Grim nods and turns away as Taeva effortlessly breaks the driver’s neck.
Taeva stands up once the job is done. “This is the last time I work for those Fuckers at Naval Intelligence. They can do their own dirty work next time.”
There’s no time for any lengthy debate on the subject as the guards are starting to react.
Grim and Taeva take the body of the driver between them and open the door of the crumpled carriage and drag him out. Once they hit the ground, Grim subtly tosses a grenade down the tracks beneath the passenger carriages. The grenade explodes and the force of it sends them to the floor. The occupants of the passenger carriages behind them are starting to come out now, all of them looking dazed and confused, covered in scratches and bruises.
In the rear carriage, the four other party members also come out of the freight carriage. Max also tosses a grenade underneath the train out of sight of the guards to add to the disaster. He then goes limp so the other party members drag him from the train.
Some of the guards are starting to approach the wrecked train now.
“Where’s the hospital?” Grim asks. “We need to get the injured there.”
“Over there,” one of the guards says, pointing to a building not far from the station.
The party members grab the injured/dead and start to make their way towards the hospital. The guards seem to be in total chaos. They don’t question the party members, but help them to carry the injured as they make their way to the hospital.
The small hospital is not designed to cope with a large number of injured and so the place is swamped as all of the injured passengers are taken there. Grim and Taeva lead the dead driver into the hospital first and then wait for the rest of the party members to come and join them.
“We’re going to help bring the other casualties in,” says Taeva to the doctors. The doctors are too tied up with the first wave of casualties though and so don’t respond.
The other four party members follow Grim and Taeva out, Max having made a miraculous recovery, although none of the confused guards seem to have spotted this.
The disaster of the train wreck has brought the starport to a stand still – after all, not a lot happens here normally. The crews from many of the starships in port are now milling around watching the chaos. The party members head into the crowd rather than going back to the station. In amongst the crowd, they see the purser and the engineer from the Tide is Turning.
Their eyes go wide as they see that the party members have returned, but then realize that reacting could jeopardize.
“Just start strolling slowly back to the ship,” Arvor whispers to, Natalia, the purser.
Together, the six party members and two crew members start to walk towards their Free Trader. It feels like the longest walk of their lives. They have to fight the urge to run the final 500m back to where the ship is waiting for them, knowing that this could alert the guards to the fact that something is wrong. If they got caught now, it would be just as bad as if they had been caught immediately after the assassination.
As they get closer to the ship, they notice that, a couple of bays away from the Tide is Turning there is a silver Type-Y Yacht parked up emblazoned with the emblem of Collace. There isn’t time to discuss the matter now – all that anyone can think of is getting up the stairs and onto the Free Trader when they expect a voice to shout out “HALT!” at any moment.
The feared shout doesn’t come, however, and the party members enter the ship one by one.
There is a great feeling of relief once everyone is onboard, but they all know that they are not in the clear yet.
“It would look too suspicious if we tried to take off immediately,” Arvor says. “We better leave it a few hours.”
The crew members agree.
The party members assemble in the common area for a while.
“Got any beer?” Max asks, hopefully. “Been gagging for a cold one for weeks now.”
“Sorry,” Natalia replies. “We finished off all the alcohol a couple of weeks back. We have been waiting for a long time here, after all.”
Arvor is more interested in the Type-Y. “How long has that been here?” he asks.
“Just a couple of days,” Natalia replies. “The crew invited us there for drinks last night. They say that they brought the Collacian Ministry of Trade over here to sign some agreement for something or over. They didn’t say what though.”
The party members then wait nervously in the common room. The crew’s engineer is keeping a look out in case any guards come, but so far, so good. Everyone wants to be off as soon as possible, but don’t want to arouse suspicions too much.
Finally, at 15.00, the pilot calls the Tower to ask for a take off slot. The Tower tells them that they need an inspection before they will get clearance.
Natalia comes back to the party members to say that they are going to have to hide in crates again, in exactly the same way that they did upon their arrival on Pavabid. Natalia and the engineer both help the party members to get back in the six small crates that were left behind just for this purpose. All they can do then is to wait and hope that it is the blackmailed guard who will be doing the searching again, otherwise they will be in trouble.
Nervously they wait in the containers for twenty minutes before they can hear footsteps coming towards the cargo bay. They hear Natalia talking with someone. A few moments later, they recognize the voice of the blackmailed guard. He opens up a couple of the containers and rummages around inside a little, but not deep enough to spot the hidden compartment. He asks questions of Natalia for a few moments afterwards and then finally the voices and the footsteps go silent.
Ten more minutes later and Natalia comes through to tell everyone that the guards have gone now and so, with great relief, they are able to clamber out of the containers and return to the common room. The pilot then tells them that they have been granted a take-off slot in thirty minutes’ time.
To the great relief of everyone on board, the Tide is Turning finally takes off at 16.30. The party members wait until the ship is clear of the starport before risking a look out of the port-holes. They all watch the planet disappearing behind them in the distance, very glad to finally having gotten off the world.
It’s not until 22.00, however, when the Tide is Turning finally slips into hyperspace that the party members are able to finally relax, knowing that they are now safe and the mission is successfully accomplished.