It was 23.00 the previous day that Unguin’s Princess safely emerged from hyperspace to a ripple of applause from the passengers who had stayed up working their way through the drinks cabinet in order to see the event. The novelty of being able to look outside at the black emptiness of this empty corner of space soon wears off, however, and the passengers head for their beds.
On the bridge, however, Will and Jie are busy plotting a course to the fringes of the large gas giant ahead of them, a journey which will take them around 12 hours.
All is quiet on the journey until, around 5.00am, Will receives a message over the commos – a surprise out here in such a poorly travelled area of space.
“Unidentified A2, please heave to,” the ship calls. “You are required to undertake a routine customs check.”
Will immediately calls Arvor through from the crew common area to check the ship on the sensors.
“The ship is coming from orbit close in the gas giant, coming right for us at 3G,” Arvor says. “According to her transponder, she’s the ISS Valiant, a 400-ton Patrol Cruiser out of Elixabeth.”
Will asks for more information as to who the vessel is and what they want with the Princess.
“This is Lieutenant-Commander Jura Kinos, Imperial Navy, and you are …?” the ship replies, with irritation evident in the commander’s voice, “We’re conducting a routine anti-piracy and smuggling sweep. Don’t get your skinsuits in a twist. Now heave to, Starjack – power down, and cut your drives!”
Will realizes that they have little choice. The Patrol Cruiser can easily outrun them in any case, and so the Princess continues towards the gas giant and the ship.
Aror continues to monitor the sensors as the two ships close on one another waiting until he can get a visual identification on the ship. It takes three hours until the ship is in sight. He sees that it is not a Patrol Cruiser at all – it’s a Pirate Interceptor. And one that they recognize too – it’s the Black Panther belonging to Captain M’tanga Bulawezi, which the party previously encountered while they were on Avastan.
Arvor immediately sounds the alarm for action stations and tells the crew members what is going on. Everyone gets to their positions as Will turns the Princess around in order to try and evade the ship. Immediately that the Black Panther sees that the ship is trying to evade, it launches its fighter, but they do not fire.
In the passenger area, Autumn arouses everyone from their sleep and tells them what is going on and that everyone should get into their softsuits as a safety measure. Daria and Sean already know very well what’s going on though as they are waiting for her and Max to arrive. They toss what appear to be canisters of hair spray and deodorant at them. But that is not what they are – they are gas grenades. Autumn falls immediately, but Max manages to keep on his feet and shoots at Sean with his snubbie. Max is no great shot though and misses. Sean tosses another grenade at him and this time Max falls.
The rest of the party here this over the intercom and realize that Max is down. Jie grabs Black Betty and takes the lift up to the passenger level. Sean and Daria are waiting for her though and toss another gas grenade at her, and Jie too falls from its effects.
As Jie’s comm also goes quiet, the remaining party members realize that there is now a serious problem up in the passenger lounge as the hijackers will now have all of Jie’s weapons at their disposal. They hatch a plan which sees Arvor making his way from the ship’s main airlock through the air/raft bay and then into the passenger lounge from there while Taeva and Grim take the more traditional route of going up via the lift. It takes 15 minutes before Arvor calls to say that he is in position.
Taeva goes in first, tossing a foam grenade at Sean. Unfortunately though, her throw is too strong and the grenade falls behind him harmlessly. Daria tries the same tactics with better results, gumming up the entrance to the lift with Taeva in it. Grim manages to make his way through the sticky strands though.
Arvor arrives from the airlock and looks around. He sees Daria just behind him reaching for the snub pistol she took off Max and takes her down with a single shot. Grim manages to take down Sean immediately afterwards and the two hijackers are both KO.
Taeva manages to extract herself and searches the two hijackers. She finds that Daria has a commdot and a communicator with which she is communicating with the pirates. She attempts to mimic Daria’s accent to try and tell the pirates that they have the situation under control. Captain M’tanga falls for it and the Black Panther and its fighter continue to advance upon Unguin’s Princess, unaware that the hijackers’ plans have been foiled.
After bringing Jie, Max and Autumn back to consciousness, they shut Daria and Sean in a stateroom. Max takes his gauss pistol and keeps watch over them, while Autumn takes care of the other passengers who were also gassed and tied up.
The party members allow the pirates to close until they are almost upon them, which takes the best part of two hours.
It’s 10.00 when they decide that the enemy ships are close enough and so Arvor and Jie set upon the two ships with their lasers and missiles. The fighter’s pulse laser is hit on their first volley, but the Interceptor damages Arvor’s turret in return, which Grim and Taeva manage to patch up quickly. The Princess and Panther fire everything they have at one another and it’s a pretty close fight to start with.
The Interceptor’s fighter is an early casualty as the Princess’s lasers totally disable its pulse laser and then vaporizes all of its fuel, leaving it drifting and impotent. The Interceptor is putting up more of a fight though, damaging the Princess’s Maneuver Drive, which takes all of Will’s power away. Grim and Taeva are soon on the case though and, ten minutes later, the ship has power again.
The two ships are fairly evenly matched and are doing equal amounts of damage to start with. The Princess manages to damage one of the Panther’s turrets though, which tips the battle in the Princess’s favour.
The Princess definitely seems to have the better damage control though. No sooner has the Princess taken a hit than Grim and Taeva have managed to patch it up, whereas the Panther’s crew seem to be struggling to repair any of their damage, which is continuing to mount up as the Princess’s lasers and missiles continue to strike home.
The Princess runs outs of missiles after 40 minutes, which evens up the battle a little, but the Panther is already in a pretty bad way now, with all her armor already blown away, with huge chunks missing from the ship’s side and her Maneuver Drive is totally gone, with her Jump Drive and Power Plant also on their last legs.
Another half hour and the Princess has used up all of her sandcaster barrels have been used up too, leaving it as a straight fight with two lasers working on both ships.
The stalemate doesn’t last much longer though as the next laser hit on the Interceptor finishes off the Panther’s Power Plant, taking down the Interceptor’s lasers finally. Now both the Interceptor and fighter are both drifting on their regular vectors.
Knowing that there is little that the pirates can do now, the party members can take their time. Firstly, they decide to pick up the fighter, taking advantage that there is still 20 tons of cargo space free because Max wasn’t able to find a cargo.
It takes three hours to maneuver the Princess so that they are in front of the fighter and on the same trajectory. They depressurize the cargo hold and then Arvor and Taeva head out of the bay doors in their vacc suit with a magnetic line which they attach to the fighter, before Max winches it into the hold. The fighter pilot gives up without a fight. Max stows the fighter in the hold, while Jie takes the fighter pilot to one of the staterooms where she makes sure he is incapacitated along with Daria and Sean.
With the fighter now safely taken care of, the party members turn their attention to the Black Panther itself. It takes another couple of hours to come alongside the Interceptor. Taeva calls to them over the communicator and tells them to come out of the Interceptor one by one and spacewalk over to the airlock of the Princess, along with dire warnings that they won’t hesitate to blow the Panther into smithereens if they get up to any funny business.
The pirates are quiet for ten minutes but then the pirates start to come over one by one as they realize that to stay on the ship would be sure to lead to a very unpleasant death. It takes an hour for all 10 surviving pirates to come onboard, where Jie searches each of them, ties them up locked in one of the staterooms.
With all of the pirates now onboard, everyone heads to the air/raft, which Max uses to shuttle everyone over to the Black Panther. The Panther is in a hell of a mess – just one good laser blast from total disintegration. Grim heads for the engineering bay, but stops when the Geiger counter on his vacc suit starts to pick up readings of dangerous levels of radioactivity coming from there.
Taeva and Arvor go through the staterooms, managing to pick up a total of Cr.110,000 in booty from there. Grim and Max go through the cargo hold which was also pretty badly shot up. Grim is able to retrieve four tons of spares – sure to come in handy for patching up the many wounds that the Princess suffered in the combat.
Max gets very excited as he finds that the Panther is hauling 10 tons of illegal pheromones, telling the others that the cargo would be worth a cool million – if they were able to find a buyer for the goods, which are banned on the majority of worlds.
The others are not sure that they share Max’s excitement – not wanting to risk more trouble by becoming smugglers. They agree to bring the pheromones onboard until they have come up with a decision as to what to do with them though.
Grim and Taeva then go to the Interceptor’s one remaining turret containing two fully functioning beam lasers and dismantle it, adding it to the haul of items that they have been able to scavenge from the hulk of the Black Panther.
They maneuver the turret plus the containers of pheromones from the Panther to the Princess, so that the hold is now completely full. They take one last look around the ship to ensure that they haven’t missed anything but, apart from quite a large quantity of laser carbines, snub pistols and cutlasses, there is little left on the Panther that didn’t get destroyed in the combat, so they head back over to the Princess and head on towards the gas giant.
Ever since the Princess turned to flee from the Panther, the ship has been heading away from the gas giant and so they have a long journey again to get back to it, especially as the M-drive is unable to sustain much more than 0.5G for any length of time.
During the long trip back to the gas giant, they have plenty of time to discuss what they should do with the pheromones. Will sees that the large gas giant has a total of twelve moons, so they decide to just leave the containers hidden on one of them so that they can come back and collect them if they decide that this is what they want to do.
Max agrees with the decision (but can’t help from grabbing a couple of sprays for his own personal research purposes). With nothing else to do for the next few hours, most of the party members get some rest, although Will in the pilot’s seat and Grim in the engineering bay both have their work cut out.