On a Wing and a Prayer

Rescue !

Dirk watched in awe as the vessel continued to grow larger, far beyond the point at which he thought it should stop getting bigger. Dirk had seldom known a spaceship this large dirtside (or was that waterside on Olympia ?), so he was impressed by the scale of the city-ship and the way the nomads seemed to exist in concert with the planet, rather than simply trying to impose their will on it like the land based cities did.

Several small craft came skimming over the waves towards the life-raft, some sort of hydrofoil by the look of it. Similar to the one they had rescued Selale from, at least that was Dirk’s impression given the rather unorthodox and short-lived view he had been granted of her vessel. Before long a line had been secured and the life-raft pulled alongside the nomad vessel. Selale hailed their rescuers and talking quickly in her native language, explained what had befallen them. Dirk looked on with alarm as the voices rose in volume, the gestures became more expansive, and the tone sounded angry. However, soon Selale turned and addressed them in Anglic, explaining that the nomad craft would tow them to the city-ship and safety. With a bit more shouting and scrambling about the life-raft was moved and secured behind the nomad vessel so that it could be safely towed.

“Must be one of those languages that sound harsh and argumentative even during normal conversation to non-speakers.” thought Dirk.

Soon the twin hulls of the city-ship towered up either side of the smaller vessels, and the life-raft was manoeuvred to one of them where a pontoon had been lowered into the water, and a large door in the hull stood open. Several nomads stood by, helping to tie up the small craft and help the occupants of the life-raft out of the life-raft and onto the city-ship.

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A New Odysseus

Mr Chan seemed both unfazed and unchanged by this turn of events, and proceeded to provide a running commentary, informing them of Olympia flora, fauna, and culture whilst pointing out interesting things to look at.

One such item was a herd of Daghadasi not too far away and Mr Chan said they would alter course to get a better view. Not too close of course, as the Chimearocs could be a danger to the air-raft, but close enough to get a view of these amazing creatures that few off-worlders ever saw.

As they approached, they noticed some Chimearoc activity far in front of the Daghadasi herd. Dirk swung his binoculars round to see if he could identify what was going on. He saw a small boat of some kind, possibly capsized, as the figure on top of it didn’t seem to be sunbathing or fishing, just holding on. A couple of Chimearocs circled the boat, making occasional diving passes, whether in attack or as a warning, Dirk couldn’t tell.

“Hey, Mr Chan, what’s going on over there” said Dirk, pointing at the boat “is that guy OK ?”.

Mr Chan swung his own binoculars in the direction indicated, and soon had an urgent, whispered conversation with the pilot, before responding to Dirk.

“That would appear to be a capsized Ocean Nomad boat, and the owner is in some danger. He has about 30 minutes before the Daghadasi herd reaches him, and they will roll right over his boat, sinking it and drowning him. I’ve ordered the pilot to go to his aid, I hope you do not mind this action.”

Within five minutes the air-raft was circling the capsized boat, whilst Mr Chan and the pilot discussed their rescue strategy.

Just then, a loud bang echoed through the cabin as something struck the air-raft. Then another,….and another.

“The Chimearocs are attacking us” began the pilot, when he suddenly lurched to one side and the plexiglass windscreen shattered as a Chimearoc beak pierced it. A cry of pain from the pilot, a couple spark flashes from the console and an acrid stench permeated the cabin, while the air-raft started describing a lazy spiral towards the oceans’ surface.

Very quickly, the air-raft had reached the water and began to slowly sink, as it was not water tight. Dirk looked up at the looming mass on the horizon, and so the rescuer becomes the victim he mused, trying to calculate how long the air-raft would remain afloat and how long before the Daghadasi herd would reach their position. He looked over to the water craft and caught the eye of the pilot ? captain ? and held his hands out in a gesture that said ‘sorry, we tried’. In return he thought he could see a shrug of the shoulders, the hands of the Nomad still maintaining a hold on the capsized vessel, as if to say ‘I know, appreciated’. Then again, he could have simply imagined it with the spray and the pitch and roll of the ocean swell.

Dirk then helped the others catalogue and bring out the air-rafts emergency supplies. There was an inflatable life raft, water, some rations, a very pistol and flares, and a compass. Whilst others manhandled the life-raft outside and began the inflation sequence, Dirk tried to fix in his mind the directions – where had they come from and where were they going in relation to the Daghadasi herd ? A double check of the control console confirmed that it could not be used for a location fix, or to determine the direction of travel.

“Mmmmm” thought Dirk “this is a pretty pickle, with the factory ship 350 Km away in one direction, and the starport thousands of klicks in the other, and a Daghadasi herd hundreds of metres and closing, well, if not fast certainly quick enough. We’ll be lucky to get out of this one.”

As the life-raft did not come equipped with paddles or any kind of propulsion, Dirk attacked the bench seating inside the air raft. Once he had loosened two planks of synth-wood and removed any unnecessary accoutrements from them, he passed them down to the life-raft as make shift paddles.

Once they were all on board, they paddled over to the capsized boat.

“ Do you speak Anglic ?” Dirk shouted up at the quizzical face of the ocean nomad.

“A little” came back the reply in a surprisingly high voice.

“Would you care for a lift ?” Continued Dirk “I make no promises, but we shall at least try to get out of the way of these Daghadasi.”

“Yes please.” Came the reply, and with that the ocean nomad scrambled down the side of the upturned boat and, using Dirk’s proffered hand, clambered into the life-raft. As soon as the ocean nomad was settled, two of the team started paddling frantically, trying to get out of the path of the oncoming Daghadasi. Meanwhile, Dirk introduced himself to the woman.

“Hi, I’m Dirk, and these gentlemen and I were supposed to be on a fact finding trip to a factory ship before the Chimearocs invtervened. Are you hurt at all, we have a small med-kit.”

“Pleased to meet you, under the circumstances.” Replied the Ocean Nomad “My name is Selale, and I was scouting for Dagdhasi when my hunterfoil was damaged by a Dagshark. Myself I am fine, just a little damp. Thank you,”

Having made sure the woman needed no further medical attention and following introductions, Dirk returned his attention to the task in hand – trying to avoid the approaching Dagdhasi herd.

After five minutes of frantic paddling, it was clear that they would not escape in time, and to cap it all, the Chimearocs were becoming interested in the bright orange life raft. Settling for the more immediate need, Dirk started to use the small supply of very lights to scare away the diving Chimearocs. “I may live to regret this, I suppose, but if one of those Chimearocs punctures the life raft, then I certainly won’t.” mused Dirk.

Shortly after the third flare went up, a strange vessel hove into view around the flank of the
Daghadasi herd, and making a bee-line towards them. A great cheer went up from the life raft as rescue now seemed assured.

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Poseidens' Playground

Before long the team were assembled in the lobby once more, awaiting Mr Chan and the trip to a factory ship.

Presently Mr Chan arrived with the large air raft and everyone was soon settled comfortably on board. It would be a long flight, and Dirk settled back to enjoy it, this was a view of Olympia that few off-worlders got to see, even if the vast expanse of flat ocean did become a bit repetitive.

Mr Chan tried to make the flight interesting by pointing out the flora and fauna of Olympia. They passed many Green-mats and occasional shoals of fish analogues. They also passed some larger creatures and according to Mr Chan a black speck or two on the horizon were Daghadasi. On one occasion, Mr Chan pointed out a large structure in the distance which turned out to be a city ship of the ocean nomads. Dirk noticed they kept their distance from the city ship, subtly arcing around it to maintain a minimum separation. Intrigued, Dirk looked up the ocean nomads in the material provided by both Mr Chan and Numar, as well as searching the local network for more information. He found that the ocean nomads were often hostile to off-worlders, as they linked them with Seaharvesters’ industrial slaughter of the Daghadasi, which threatened their existence. Despite these distractions, there was plenty of time for the team to doze, listen to their music, or undertake some sort of work on their tablets. As the darkness of the evening grew the sights gradually faded from view most of those on-board settled down to sleep.

With dawn and the early light, gradually everyone woke up, to be greeted by the news that the factory ship was only a couple of hours away. Eventually, a black dot on the horizon slowly grew in size to become the factory ship. It was an impressive piece of engineering, some 300 metres long and 56 metres wide. Dirk could see a large superstructure rising at the stern of the ship and a smaller structure towards the bow. The latter held a missile turret, and there were a number of smaller turrets with a smaller armament (probably laser), dotted around the ship.

Soon they were landing at the stern of the ship, with the air raft entering a hanger before the team, Mr Chan, and the air raft crew alighted, away from the keen wind that usually blows over Olympia’s oceans.

As they exited the air raft, they were met by a woman in uniform.

“Good morning gentlemen” she said. “I’m Tanseer Patrella, Captain Artemas’ 2IC. Welcome aboard the Globtik Solymi.” After introductions and handshakes Lieutenant Patrella continues “If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you to some cabins where you can freshen up before joining the Captain and Ms Graigor for breakfast in the wardroom.”

The team are shown to four small cabins where they each made use of the fresher and changed their clothes before re-joining Lieutenant Patrella in the gangway. Once they were all back together, Lieutenant Patrella led them through a maze of corridors and up several levels to a large, well-appointed room, where several people were already seated drinking coffee.

They all rose at the teams entrance and Lieutenant Patrella gave the introductions “Gentlemen, may I present Captain Artemas, Ms Graigor , lamis Hernandez, Ms Graigor’s assistant and Shaagimar Emmisushan, her secretary.” Lieutenant Patrella continued to introduce the few ships officers also at breakfast.

After the introductions, Ms Grainger talked of Seaharvesters’ operation and the role of the factory ships. She stated that it was uncommon for there to be a surplus, so the team from Kellstar LIC are rather fortunate to have made the request at this time. She goes on to say that her duties will keep her occupied throughout the morning, but they should meet up for lunch and then begin negotiations. In the meantime, Lieutenant Patrella would be at the team’s disposal for a tour of the factory ship.

After the breakfast party broke up, Lieutenant Patrella gave them all the ten crimp tour. Close up and personal, the big factory ship was just as impressive as it was from the air. But, thought Dirk, this is an awful lot of processing capability when you want to sustain a population, especially as this was only one of twelve such factory ships that Seaharvester operates.

One noticeable feature Dirk observed during the tour was the presence of many crew with a pale blue uniform, armed with sub machine guns. His curiosity piqued, Dirk asked Lieutenant Patrella about them. It transpires that they were what they seemed to be, armed guards. These were introduced to all Seaharvester factory ships following some attacks carried out by the ocean nomads. Apparently the opposition to Seaharvester’s activity spilled over into direct action a couple of years ago and the guards were added in response. Since then, the quotas have been brought in and relations with the ocean nomads are a lot calmer, indeed many ocean nomads are employed in some capacity by Seaharvester. A very neat, tidy, and rather glib answer thought Dirk, after all the guards are still here aren’t they.

After a comprehensive and fairly tiring tour of the factory ship, the team were led back to the mess, where Ms Graigor and companions awaited them. Lunch was a fine, if brief, dining affair with three delicious but small courses.

“The tone of this relationship has changed considerably.” thought Dirk as he watched those around him whilst swiftly clearing the plates put in front of him. This suspicion was confirmed when halfway through the dessert course Ms Grainger announced

“Well gentlemen, I hope you have enjoyed your privileged look inside Searharvester operations. Unfortunately, this is where your visit must end. It transpires that we have no spare PDPT-beta after all. Part of the reason for me being here was to evaluate stock levels against SuSAG orders and I’m afraid there has been a mistake and all our stock is already accounted for. Consequently, an air-raft will be waiting for you after lunch to take you back to the starport.”

Once the last of the plates where cleared away, Ms Grainger stands and addresses the team

“Thanks you for your interest in PDPT-beta gentlemen, and should we have an excess in the future I will contact you. Until then” she continues, while turning to face Numar and shaking his hand “I’ll bid you farewell Mr Gimmini, gentlemen.”

With that she swept from the room, with her employees trailing after her like so much flotsam and jetsam.

“Well” thought Dirk, “that was rather abrupt, not even time for coffee.”

Within a short time, the team had collected their overnight bags and were settling themselves into the air-raft for the return journey. Very little had been said amongst the team during this process. Everyone was a little stunned by the sudden change to their visit and no-one wanted to voice their opinions or questions until safely out of earshot from Searharvestor employees.

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An Interesting Diversion

Having made arrangements with the crew for watches, Dirk heads off to the hotel Issari to find Numar and breakfast.

Over breakfast and being careful not to be overheard, Numar explains the situation.

“OK. Background. Olympia is home to a huge sea creature called a Daghadasi. Now, these critters eat some krill like things called Skreekers, which in turn eat the only photosynthesising thing on the planet, floating mats of vegetation, which go by the elegant name of Green-mat.

It turns out that some research company found out that these Daghadasi have a compound in them, PDPT-beta if you want to get technical about it, that has great potential for a whole new class of drugs with the supposed potential to cure anything from the common cold to cancer.

The trouble is this compound is present in a very small percentage of the population, and only in pre-reproductive animals. Unfortunately you cannot tell these useful animals apart from the others, which lead to indiscriminate slaughter for a modest return.

The result has been a significant population crash, with a knock on effect in the proliferation of Skreekers and reduction in Green-mat. This made the ecology boys fearful for all life on Olympia. Hence the introduction of laws limiting the number of Daghadasi that could be caught, in the hope that the population will recover, and the whole ecology saved.

However, some independent research suggests that the Daghadasi numbers are still falling too quickly. This suggests that Seaharvester, the company in question, is going over their quota limit.

So, we have been retained by a sub-sector wide ecology group, ‘The Pan-Galactic Friends of Life’ to investigate. It also happens that SuSAG own Seaharvester and are worried about any more bad press. So they have hired us to investigate and report back to them as well. Consequently, we are in the enviable position of being paid twice for the same work.”

At that, Numar pauses with a large smile on his face and takes a sip of coffee before continuing.

“Right then, SuSAG have given us cover identities as legitimate buyers of PDPT-beta for research purposes. The proclaimed aim is to learn how to synthesise the drug and therefore end the dependence upon the Daghadasi. We shall be meeting a Seaharvester representative“

Numar pauses slightly while he checks his notes “A Jorge Chan, who will give us the ten CrImp tour before we settle down to business.”

Turning to Dirk, Numar continues “I’ll load the background info we have on Olympia and Seaharvester to your tablet so you’ll have the same info as us. Keep quiet and follow our lead and I’ll get your observations when we get back. Is that OK ?”

With Dirk’s concurrence, Numar winds up “Well then gentlemen, let’s finish breakfast and head off to meet Mr Chan.”

Some thirty minutes later the group are assembled in the hotel’s large foyer when a smartly dressed man enters, looks around briefly and walks up to Numar.

“Mr Gimmini I presume.” He says, extending his hand to Numar.

“Mr Chan I take it.” Replies Numar, shaking the mans’ hand.

Introductions are swiftly made all round, with Dirk getting the impression that Mr Chan is mentally ticking off names with an internal list. Seemingly satisfied he continues

“Well, welcome one and all to Olympia and I’ll now take you to our Head Office where we’ll have a short presentation before I show you round. Then I’ll introduce you to Anna Graigor who is the Planetary Operations Manager and who handles the non SuSAG sales.”

Mr Chan herded them all to a large air raft and once aboard they made good time to Seaharvester’s Head Office. The Head Office was a large, new, building and the team were ushered into a large reception area, issued with security passes and logged into the system. Soon they were sitting comfortably in a large board room, having been served coffee and pastries.

Mr Chan then gave an illustrated talk about Olympia’s ecology, focusing on the Daghadasi. The talk moved onto Seharvester’s operation, constantly stressing the quotas and the sustainability of Seaharvester’s methods. Dirk took this opportunity to study Mr Chan and the few aides and technicians in the room, rather than give his undivided attention to the content of the presentation. After all, he thought, I’m not here to ask intelligent questions, I’m here as an extra pair of eyes, simply to give my impression of the proceedings.

After the talk had concluded, Dirk was none the wiser on the specifics of Seaharvester’s operation, they seemed to say a lot, make a lot of sense, but not actually talk about anything in enough details for a rigorous appraisal. Equally, Dirk was seeing nothing out of the ordinary in his scrutiny of Mr Chan or the other Seaharvester employees.

Mr Chan had excused himself, leaving to go and collect Ms Graigor, who would discuss a deal with them. This left Dirk, Numar, and the rest of the team clustered around a side table working their way through more coffee and pastries and chatting about what they had just witnessed.

“Well, nothing there that wasn’t in the briefing packs” whispered Numar.

“No, and I couldn’t see any nervousness or other tells that would suggest he did not wholly believe or commit to what he was saying.” replied Dirk, also sotto voce “Same goes for the minions, I couldn’t read anything from them other than normal behaviour.”

Before long Mr Chan reappeared, alone and with a mixture of irritation and apology on his face.
“I’m very sorry Mr Gimmini, gentlemen, but it appears Ms Graigor has had to fly out to one of our factory ships to address an issue there, and therefore won’t be available to meet with you here. However, this does present you with a rather unique opportunity, as she is able to make time in her schedule to still meet with you, but it will have to be on the factory ship, between her other engagements. Therefore, if you are willing to accept this inconvenience, I can give offer you a tour of a factory ship and the chance to see a live Daghadasi. The factory ship is presently about a fifteen hour air raft ride away, so if you agree we can set off from your hotel in an hour.”

Among the quiet murmuring of the team discussing this turn of events, Numar looks at Dirk and raises an eyebrow as if to ask ‘Do you think we should go ?” Dirks responding shrug conveyed his reply ‘Seems genuine enough, and I can take a day or two having bought all the trade goods I can afford’.

Therefore, Numar turned to Mr Chan and responded

“Very well Mr Chan, I think we have the time in our schedule, so thank you for the invitation, it will be interesting to see a factory ship and the sea life of Olympia first hand. If you would be so kind as to return us to our hotel now, we can gather our toiletries and a change of clothes for the trip and be ready in an hour.”

With that, the team were flown back to their hotel, where they each packed an overnight bag. Dirk put in a call to the Lodestar Phoenix to let the crew know what he was up to, and not to expect him for dinner that night.

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Home of the Gods ?

With a familiar lurch in his stomach, Dirk and the Lodestar Phoenix translated into Olympian space. A quick scan of the system revealed another fat trader for company, a few million clicks away and also heading further into the system. Nothing else showed up, and nothing out of the ordinary was being broadcast by the navigation beacon.
A more detailed scan revealed a relative hive of activity around Olympia “It’s nice to be back in a civilised system” Dirk mused “with a decent amount of traffic”.

There was a palpable air of anticipation as the Lodestar Phoenix approached Olympia. During jump Dirk had announced his intention to stay at Olympia for at least a week to allow the crew a bit of much needed R&R. After their extended stay in the backwaters of the universe with nothing much to occupy them during their several weeks on a sparsely populated desert planet, nor the following stopover at a planet that was little more than a research station, the crew were due a break.

Landing and the formalities were taken care of easily enough, and Dirk oversaw the delivery of the freight and started looking for buyers for his cargo. Whilst doing this he also kept an eye out for cargo opportunities for Tenalphi.

The week began pleasantly enough, with Dirk observing the crew becoming less stressed as the days wore on “Good decision” he thought. Business was concluded comparatively swiftly, with Dirk only needing a day each to find buyers for his goods and sellers for goods to take to Tenalphi.

With the bulk of the promised week remaining, Dirk set out for his own R&R. To his surprise, he ran into Numar Gimmini, an old friend from the Marines in a bar one night. Dirk had piloted the assault shuttle with the hoary old Sergeants’ squad inside on many an operation.

Numar was with a couple of friends who also happened to be ex-marines and after introductions were made, more beer ordered, and other pleasantries, the conversation moved on to mutual acquaintances. Apparently Dirk’s old friend, Xav Denishen, had put in his retirement papers to the Navy. Dirk and Xav had served together on a frontier cruiser when Xav was the pilot and Dirk an assault shuttle pilot. They had gotten to know each other pretty well and become friends. So, Xav retiring from the Navy was a bit of a surprise for Dirk as Xav seemed like a career Navy man. Still, even if the gossip were true, it would take a year or so for the paperwork to be processed and Xav to be mustered out. So he wasn’t going to be popping up anytime soon looking for work in Dirk’s fledgling haulage business.

Finally Dirk got round to asking

“What brings you to Olympia then Numar ? It’s a little bit off the beaten track for even ex-marines isn’t it ?”

“Well, since I retired from the Marines, I’ve been doing a bit of freelance covert investigation and surveillance. I’m here on a job actually. Apparently some people are worried about the ecology here, over-fishing of the cornerstone of the food chain or some such. Anyway, despite protective laws, it is suggested that this over-fishing is still happening. So I’ve put this little team together to investigate whether this is true or not. Tomorrow morning we head out for a tour of one of the factory ships to check whether they are sticking to their fishing quota or not. If you’ve got a spare day or two, why not come along, it’s not a sight you’ll get to see very often. We’re posing as buyers for the harvested product, and one of my guys has had to pull out, so I have a spare set of cover credentials if you’re interested. I can always use an extra pair of eyes.”

Dirk thought about it for a minute or two and then decided why not, he had a couple of days to kill now that the Lodestar Phoenix’s business concluded, and he could do with a bit of fun after his ordeal in the desert.

“OK Numar, you’re on. I’ll need to arrange things with my crew first, so where shall I meet you in the morning ?

“Why don’t you come to our hotel for breakfast and I can go over the briefing with you before we head down to the corporate transport ?”

“Sounds good to me” replied Dirk, and the conversation returned to less business-like topics.

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Searching Steel System

More in hope than expectation, Dirk began scanning the gas giant for possible traces of the missing fuel shuttle. He drew a blank but, undeterred, repeated the exercise on the run into the gas giant. There was nothing to be seen and this remained the situation after a few hours in orbit and some very careful scanning.

Dirk had warned the crew that it may not prove as easy as he hoped, and that it was entirely possible that they would never find the shuttle. Secretly, however, he had expected to find the shuttle in orbit and had to work had not to let his disappointment show. He tackled his dejection with activity and was soon plotting the probable course the shuttle took and scanning the route when the Lodestar Phoenix was underway again, heading in-system for Steel.

Again Dirk’s hopes were dashed as they passed through the asteroid belt and there was still no trace of the fuel shuttle, despite Dirk’s best efforts on the scanner. Though Dirk had tried to remain optimistic throughout, the whole mood of the ship was one of despondency. In some strange way this cheered Dirk up as he realised it meant that the crew were functioning as a team and that they didn’t like being beaten by any challenge they took on. Still, there was no-where on the final leg from the asteroid belt to Steel for the fuel shuttle to hide and so expectations of finding it were low.

And so it proved, there was nothing of significance on the route into Steel. If there had been, Dirk couldn’t see how it could have been missed by anyone approaching Steel in any case. So it should have been found before now. Just to complete the search pattern, Dirk started scanning back along Steel’s orbit to where the fuel shuttle should have rendezvoused with the planet all those weeks ago. Suddenly a blip caught his attention, it was in approximately the right place and of approximately the right size – he’d found it !

Before long, Dirk had issued instructions to the crew to land and await his signal and was off in the ship’s boat to confirm the contact and make a salvage claim. A couple of hours later Dirk was alongside the missing fuel shuttle, and could see no obvious signs of fault. He donned his vac suit and went outside to secure a salvage buoy to the fuel shuttle. At first he couldn’t get the buoy to adhere to the shuttle, but after a bit more effort he succeeded and triggered the buoy into operation. He returned to the ships boat and contacted the Lodestar Phoenix.

By the time Dirk had re-joined the Lodestar Phoenix, the cargo had been off-loaded and was sitting on the spaceport apron under the watchful gaze of Damarcus, who was toting a serious looking rifle and at least looked like he knew how to use it. With the ship’s boat safely clamped on once more, the Lodestar Phoenix lifted off and went to retrieve the fuel shuttle.

Under Timbur’s careful direction, the fuel shuttle was manoeuvred into the hold of the Lodestar Phoenix and secured. The return to Steel was uneventful and once back on the spaceport, the delicate process of removing the fuel shuttle from the hold could begin. There followed much sweating, grunting, and swearing in the employment of many grav pallets and forklifts. Eventually, with most of the Lodestar Phoenix’s paint intact, the fuel shuttle sat on the permacrete, beside the Lodestar Phoenix. Despite their weariness, Dirk had the crew re-load the cargo onto the Lodestar Phoenix straight away, to ensure its’ safety.

The next morning Dirk met Gundarsa Olcan, the head of spaceport services on Steel (and it’s only employee) next to the fuel shuttle. Dirk found that Gundarsa was a technician by trade and either by accident or design was a wizard at keeping running old technology with what appeared to be parcel tape and string. Soon they were both inside the rudimentary cabin of the shuttle with Gundarsa popping access panels to peer inside and interrogating the on-board computers. Eventually she straightened up and turned to Dirk, who had been quietly trying to keep out of her way until she had finished.
“Well, as far as I cn see, the engine failed. Luckly, this was when she was perdy much at rest, expectin’ to be caught by Steel’s gravity and go inter orbit afore landing. With the engine failure, she couldn’t land, and didn’t make orbit, which is why she stayed where yere found her.

“I’ll need to get into the engine to find out what the trouble is, but I should be able to get her running again, if I’m allowed. I’m not sure what yere hoping for mister, but I ain’t got two creds to rub together and so can’t pay any salvage fee, and it’ll probbly take a year or more to get a decision out of the Government on Gram.”

“Just trying to be helpful Ms Olcan, and ensure I can get enough fuel to continue my journey” replied Dirk. “I can imagine what a blow the shuttle loss has been to life on Steel, and you don’t get much traffic to ask for help, so I thought I’d play the good Samaritan”.

“Yere sure you don’t want summat fere yere trubble ?” Gundarsa asked sceptically.

“I’ll tell you what” began Dirk, “Why don’t you join the crew and I on board the Lodestar Phoenix tonight, for dinner. Hopefully that will demonstrate my good faith, and you can enjoy a change of scene from the rather limited dining opportunities here on Steel ?”.

“Sure, see yere around seven local time ?”

“That would be fine, I’ll see you this evening Ms Olcan”.

That evening a pleasant time was had by all, as they swapped tales of space and their exploits. Dirk felt he had found a friend in Gundarsa and hoped she felt the same way. The following morning Gundarsa came over to sort out the re-fuelling lines and Dirk joined her outside the ship.

“Well Dirk, I can’t pay you salvage, but I can fill yere tanks fere free. So alls I cn say is thank yere again, and if yere ever back this way agin, call in tere see me wontcha ?”

“Thanks for the fuel Gundarsa, but it was not necessary, welcome, but not necessary. If I pass this way again I’ll be sure to look you up. By the same token, if you ever get tired of life in the wilderness, look me up, there’s a place for you in my little fleet anytime, if you want it.”

With that, they went about their respective jobs, and within a couple of hours the Lodestar Phoenix was ready to lift off. Lift off and travel to the jump point were uneventful and easy, with no other traffic being in system. Soon Dirk was sounding jump stations and, casting one last look back at Steel on the rear vid plate, translating to jump space en-route to Olympia.

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Passage to Caladbolg

After the trials and travails of the desert, the run to Caladbolg was mercifully uneventful. Being a little out of the way, there was no traffic in the Enos system to worry about, and arriving at Caladbolg meant a return to civilised traffic control. Therefore the run in was routine, just following the assigned approach lane and touchdown, nice and simple.

Once the formalities were sorted with the authorities, Dirk started to scan the market data for deals on his cargo. He spent the whole day in his cabin hooked into the local net, looking for brokers and comparing prices, only surfacing for lunch.

By the evening, however, Dirk was satisfied that he had identified the best deals he could. Consequently he made arrangements to sell all the goods on the ship, and make delivery. Over the next few days Dirk handled the delivery of the goods, their payments and the forwarding of the relevant taxes to the various authorities. He rounded up Ms Etye’s share from the sale of Arlana’s ores to the nearest thousand credits and paid a visit to her hotel to transfer the funds.

Dirk had relatively little downtime, and only managed a couple of evenings off ship to relax in a starport bar. He had been looking at his next port of call, Steel, and bemoaning the fact that Steel was pretty much uninhabited, and therefore had no trade to speak of. His companions for the evening agreed that Steel was best ignored. He found out that Steel was populated primarily by a small team providing refuelling services and support for the surveying work underway. Steel’s mineral wealth was to be exploited in conjunction with Imperial interests. One snippet of information that Dirk filed away for future consideration was that the automated fuel shuttle which gathered fuel from the local gas giant had gone missing, pushing fuel prices up as the supply became restricted and the extraction costs rose.

With Steel offering so little in the way of trade opportunities, Dirk decided to simply refuel at Steel without trading, and to carry cargo geared for Olympia’s markets instead. So after another intensive day at the computer, Dirk had secured a contract to deliver some freight to Olympia (with a suitable uplift on the standard fee in consideration of the unproductive stop at Steel), and determined that no passengers were looking to travel to either Steel or Caladbolg. He had also arranged to buy 60 tons of pipes and 15 tons of clothing with the ships funds and 60 tons of engine components with his own money. Dirk sat back and smiled to himself, for the first time since the Lodestar Phoenix had risen, she had nearly a full hold.

Over the next few days, the cargo was delivered, checked, and secured in the hold of the Lodestar Phoenix. Before long, the ship was lifting off and plotting a course for Steel, under the watchful eye of traffic control. Soon the Lodestar Phoenix was exchanging pleasantries and hazard information with an inbound Free Trader before making jump.

Once safely in the routine of jump travel, Dirk raised a topic he had been mulling over, one evening during dinner.
“I heard an interesting thing back on Caladbolg. The automated fuel shuttle that runs between Steel downport and the system gas giant has gone missing and Steel does not have enough resources to investigate. Now, I’ve done a bit of research, and I reckon the shuttle type most likely used by Steel has a tendency to engine failure – probably as a result of occasionally having to make use of the un-refined fuel it has collected. Therefore, it may well be still in orbit around the gas giant. It could of course have fallen into gas giant, or have been lost somewhere en-route. However, I think there is a good chance it is still in orbit, and if we can recover it, there are bound to be some brownie points in it for us. What do you think, are our instruments up to the job and could we recover the shuttle if we do find it ?”.

Timbur looked thoughtful. “I guess we could ferry it from the gas giant to Steel, but with our cargo hold so full we can’t stow her inside. We should be able to lash her to the bottom of the hull, but we couldn’t enter the atmosphere like that” he said after a while.

Nizekanuu spoke next “We don’t have particularly powerful scanners but, give or take atmospheric storms, we should be able to identify any anomalies and then use the ships boat to take a closer look and resolve them further”.

A general discussion ensued regarding the possibility and practicalities of finding and retrieving the missing shuttle. When the group broke up for the night, it had been agreed to try and recover the shuttle.

A few days later, when the Lodestar Phoenix emerged from jump in the Steel system, what preperations could be made had been made. Timbur had worked out the best way to secure the shuttle to the ship, and gathered the necessary gear together, Nizekanuu had run diagnostics on the ships sensors to ensure they were in tip top condition, and gone over the ships boat’s sensors to see what could be done to improve them.

Traffic control at Steel was of the basic variety, a couple of marker bouys and some old traffic news. It would not cause any problems to approach via the systems gas giant, in fact it would not even be noticed. Consequently, once Nizekanuu had completed a sweep of the area and ascertained the system was empty, he laid in a course for the gas giant.

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Looking for Cargo
A few days later, Dirk was doing the rounds of the spaceport, finalising delivery arrangements for the 10 tons of Nickel he had found at a reasonable price and looking for more deals, when he found himself outside Jericorp’s office. He decided to call in and say Hi to Arlana. She was in and invited Dirk into her office for a cup of coffee and a chat.

When they were both seated, with steaming mugs of coffee in their hands, Arlana began.
“Well, things have moved on very nicely back in the Chargas canyon. We managed to get crews together for the other crawlers, properly vetted of course, and I sent one off to mine the radioactives that we found before our little adventure. That is coming on nicely, and we should have the results back here in the next couple of days. The other two crawlers were searching Chargas canyon for the mineral deposit the Dakaar were after, with the help of Salthar Eneshi……and we’ve found it ! The Duneraiders have known about these shining rocks for centuries, and were able to show us where they were. There is a huge seam of iridium and platinum exposed in a small side valley. We’ve negotiated with Salthar Eneshi over extraction rights because, although we have a permit from the planetary authorities, the Dunerainders still contest this, and it makes it easier. We have agreed to help them with some wells, solar stills, and the like in return for their permission and help – they will provide guards and keep other tribes and off worlders away from our operation“.

Dirk managed to close his mouth and responded
“That’s fantastic news, congratulations. Can you process things in time to meet your financial obligations ?”.

“Yes, in fact, the first load came in this morning. Which brings me onto thank you’s. My father and I are really grateful for all your help, what with the attack on our new crawler, the bomb at our depot, and keeping Ms Etye safe during that business in the desert. I’m also aware the trauma that Ms Etye suffered, and glad for both our sakes we are not having to deal with some horrendous publicity about the death of a favourite Holo star. Therefore, I’ve arranged a little thank you gift. Ten tons of Iridium and 10 tons of Platinum from our first load will be delivered to the Lodestar Phoenix this afternoon. One ton of each is for Ms Etye as bonus or compensation, call it what you will. The rest is for you, so please take it with my father and my very great thanks”.

Dirk had to retrieve his chin from the floor once more.
“Thank you very much, unexpected, and not necessary, but very grateful received” Dirk managed to stammer.

A short while later, a still beaming Dirk was sat in a coffee shop using his hand comp to review the trades he’d found earlier. Mmmm he thought, I really want to take advantage of the price here for crystals, Petrochemicals, and Nickel, but funds won’t go that far. Mind you, his internal dialogue continued, the way today’s luck has been going, I could get a short term loan to cover the shortfall.

Back on the Lodestar Phoenix that evening, Dirk reflected on a job well done, he had managed to persuade Kellogue and Brown, the bulk haulers for whom Connel March worked and who had a local office to manage their substantial traffic in Enos ores, to grant him a short term loan of 100,000 Cr to buy Enos Spices. This should sell well enough in Cadalbog and enable Dirk to easily repay the loan and 10% interest. He also invested his own money in some Petrochemicals, and the ship bought some graphite and Nickel. Not a full hold, but definitely one that should turn a tidy profit in Cadalbolg.

Dirk had also talked to Ms Etye about Arlana’s gift, and their arrangements for the coming voyage. Dirk was in a good mood and told Ms Etye that he would not accept a fee for his bodyguard duties, nor would he accept payment for her high passage trip to Cadalbog. The rest of the evening passed pleasantly, with many a toast drunk to their good fortune and mutual acquantancies.

The following morning, with a sore head, Dirk oversaw the loading of the Lodestar Phoenix and ensured that final preperations for departure were made, they would be lifting off in the morning.

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Reclaiming Chargras Canyon

Dirk, Arlana, the Captain join Salthar Eneshi and some of his lieutenants to discuss a plan for getting rid of Drakkaar from Chagras Canyon. Salthar Eneshi tells them that his Duneraiders have been keeping a discreet eye on the off worlders activates and says that they are in the habit of coming together once per month. There is some sort of conference between the three Captains, but it mainly appears an excuse for a spot of downtime. They usually laager the crawlers, and in the enclosed space have a big bonfire, roast a Serik, sing, dance, and generally eat, drink, and make merry. The Salthar goes on to say that whilst they do post a couple of guards, many of them leave their posts to join the party for a while, or sit in place nursing a bottle of liquor.

A plan of attack was agreed, and the allies sat back to await the next Draakaar party. During this time Ms Etye seemed to be enjoying herself, rather than fretting about getting back to civilisation, and so Dirk was freed somewhat from his concern for her. She was enjoying the attention and, Dirk was sure, storing up anecdotes upon which she could dine out for quite a while. This enforced delay also allowed Dirk, Arlana, and the Captain, with one of Salthar Eneshi’s lieutenants as a guide, to recce the usual campsite used by the Draakaar crawlers. The site was in a small bowl, at the edge of the main canyon where, originally, a small side valley joined the main canyon. Whilst this suited the partygoers by shielding the campfire from distant travellers, it would provide good vantage points for the Duneraiders, and enable them to bottle them up in the bowl through firepower. Dirk and the others returned to their own camp to brief the team.

Before long, Salthar Eneshi informed them that the Crawlers were making their way back to their accustomed spot. Smoothly, everyone swung into action. Three Duneraider warriors set off into the desert to order the three warbands, each commanded by one of Salthar Eneshi’s senior lieutenants, into position, while the Salthar accompanied Dirk, Arlana, the Captain and their own guards and a handful of Duneraider warriors to the site, in the air rafts. The next night saw Dirk, Arlana, and the Captain hidden in the small side valley, while two of the three Duneraider warbands lined the lip of the bowl, overlooking the campsite and it’s revellers. The third Duneraider warband had was quietly approaching from the wide canyon floor, acting as the cork to the bowl campsite’s bottle.

The night wore on, and gradually the raucous sounds of celebration emanating from the Draakaar Minerals party, faded. Dirk caught the eye of both Arlana and the Captain, and nodded. Off they went, creeping up as quietly as possible to the laagered crawlers. The position of the sentries had been noted earlier, and whilst they had mostly fallen asleep or were insensible through drink, Dirk and the others were careful to skirt round them. Without event, they each made it to their respective crawlers and gained entry, locking the hatches behind them. Arlana and the Captain were quickly able to ascertain that no one else was on board and locked all points of entry before ascending to the laser turrets in their crawlers. Dirk on the other hand was delayed slightly by a coming across a crew member retrieving a case of beer from a store room. Fortunately, he was engrossed in his task and with his back to Dirk. Therefore Dirk was able to push him into the store room and lock the hatch after him, making an impromptu prison cell. Slightly behind schedule, Dirk was able to check the rest of the ship, lock all external hatches and man his laser turret, giving a wave to Arlana and the Captain whom he could see in the turrets of the other crawlers.

Now that everyone was in place, Arlana gave the signal and three of them powered up the turrets and trained them on the Draakaar crews. Amid the drunken confusion, Arlana’s voice boomed over the external speakers.

“Jericorp Mining has now taken control of these crawlers and you are surrounded and under arrest. Slowly put your weapons on the floor and move to the fire and lay face down. If you comply, no one will get hurt”.

There was a great deal of confusion, some of the Draakaar men strove to comply, others drew their weapons and dived for perceived cover, whilst most stared around in confusion, standing up or remaining slumped according to their state of inebriation.

“Not a good move” boomed Arlana’s voice over the external speakers. “Look up”.

As she said this, the Duneraider warriors on the lip of the bowl raised their firearms above their head, making them visible from below.

“Now look out into the canyon” came Arlana’s voice again.

The Duneraider warriors out on the canyon floor fired their weapons into the air, producing an impressive display of noise and smoke.

Arlana’s voice came again “I say again, lay down your arms, and lie on the floor next to the fire and you won’t be harmed. Surrender to my men, and I’ll take you back to Nomaya and give you a fair trial. Resist in any way, shape, or form, and I’ll leave you with the Duneraiders”.

Slowly, but with increasing haste, the Draakaar crews complied with Arlana’s instructions. Once Arlana deemed that it was safe enough, she signalled her guards to come down in the airrafts and take charge of the Draakaar men. Soon they were all locked in various compartments in the crawlers, having been thoroughly searched. Salthar Eneshi, brought his warriors in, and they celebrated their victory.

The next day, the airrafts collected the Jericorp crew who checked over the three crawlers. Ms Etye also arrived, and she and Dirk took their leave of the Captain and Salthar Eneshi. Arlana supervised the loading of the prisoners onto the airrafts from all the crawlers, and took them along with Dirk and Ms Etye back to Nomaya.

Back in Nomaya, Dirk and Ms Etye said a brief goodbye to Arlana, who had her hands full organising the local security guards and the transfer of prisoners into their custody. Soon Dirk and Ms Etye were back on board the Lodestar Phoenix, having cleaned themselves up, changed into clean clothes, and sat down to a welcome meal, while they told the rest of the crew about their adventures.

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Aftermath

With the apparent end of resistance, Dirk ordered the remaining guards to sweep the area of the ambush, looking for more attackers, both wounded and unwounded, booby traps, a camp, or anything else Duneraider related. Whilst the crawler crew were tasked with supplying first aid to the wounded, guards and crawler crew first, Duneraiders second. Dirk also had them all gathered together in the area chosen to make camp. They had been lucky, no-one had died, a few nasty wounds, but nothing life threatening – as yet. But if things were tough normally, the desert would be even more unforgiving to the injured. Dirk ensured that all the Duneraiders were tied up, and set a guard on them and a watch, in case they had friends out there. Arlana got a fire going, and once the surviving water container was brought up, started to brew tea for everyone.

Suddenly, the harsh cry of a Serik, one of the herbivores native to Enos, broke the stillness. Dirk’s head snapped up. From the survival briefing, he knew that Serik’s were diurnal, so one should not be screeching in the middle of the night. Glancing towards the sentry, Dirk saw him point Eastwards. Carefully climbing a boulder, Dirk glanced in the direction indicated. He could see nothing, though he imagined he could hear the soft rustle of feet upon sand. He glanced down at a quizzical Captain and shrugged. The Captain bent down and took something from one of the Duneraiders “try these” he whispered, handing Dirk a pair of Infra Red Goggles. Dirk, put them on and looked again. This time he could see a dozen or more shapes moving towards them. There was a small knot of them in the centre of the overall group, which did not appear to be making undue use of cover. So, not adopting a particularly military or aggressive stance thought Dirk.

Dirk quietly called for Arlana to obtain a pair of IR goggles and join him up on the rock. Once she had done so, he indicated the approaching shapes and whispered
“Company ! I’m guessing more Duneraiders, though they don’t seem to be forming up for an attack. They may not know our exact location, but given the recent commotion, they sure as hell know someone’s out here. Can you ask them to halt and state their business ? If you can imply that there are many of us and we have them covered, that may prove useful”.

“Sure” Arlana replied “leave it to me”. In the local language, she called out
“Stay where you are ! Who are you and why are you sneaking up on good sons of the desert as if to steal their water, like the wind over the oasis ?”

The figures stopped and a voice replied in the local language. Arlana whispered a translation to Dirk.
“He says he’s Salthar – that’s like a war leader – Eneshi and he’s come to find out who is trespassing on his tribes lands and engaging in warfare. He goes on, if we are really good sons of the desert and not thieves in the night, we will welcome him onto our camp and offer Hagashi – that is traditional Duneraider hospitality – so that this matter can be peacefully resolved”.

A hurried, whispered, conference was held between the Captain, Arlana, and Dirk. They concluded that as the approach had not been aggressive and that the crawler crew and guards were in no shape for another fight, the best course of action would be to parley with these Duneraiders and perhaps buy their help to escape the desert. Then Arlana called out in the local language
“We are truly good sons of the desert and have nothing to hide, so please come in peace and share our water”. Turning back to Dirk and the Captain she went on in Galanguic.
“I’ve asked them to join us, using the traditional phrases which invoke water hospitality. Things should be okay as long no one seriously insults them, but it is quite acceptable to have your weapons to hand. I suggest the guards take up positions at the edge of the group, and keep their weapons handy and their eyes peeled.”

The shapes quickly resolved themselves into humanoid figures as they approached, and then the individual Duneraiders could be made out. Salthar Eneshi bowed to Arlana, as she welcomed him and his men into the camp and introduced the Captain and Dirk. Salthar Eneshi bowed to each on turn. Arlana then invited him to sit by the camp fire, and asked if he would share their water, motioning to one of the crew to bring up the remaining water container and a bowl. Once it was filled, Arlana took a sip and then passed it on to the Salthar. It then went round the Salthar’s inner circle and back to the Captain and Dirk. The crew then offered water to the other Duneraiders.

Arlana told the Salthar about the sabotage of the crawler, the trek that night, and the encounter with the hostile Duneraiders. Salthar Eneshi asked to see the captives, and the four of them moved over to where the captives were being guarded. The Salthar spoke to the captives, and just got blank, sullen looks in reply. He then reached down and pulled open the robe at the neck of one of the captives. He grunted and spoke to Arlana, who looked shocked, and bent down to see for herself.

“He says these are not Duneraiders, but off worlders” announced Arlana “look at their clothes, they are wearing off-world clothes under their robes”.

They returned to sit by the fire, and as dawn was breaking, the Captain had one of the crew organise some of their rations, to share with the Salthar. As they were eating, Salthar Eneshi spoke to Arlana. He then raised his hand and loudly called out to his men. Meanwhile Arlana turned to the Captain and Dirk, to fill them in on what had been said.

“He says that his tribe is one of the more settled ones and they spend their time mainly in and around the Chargras Canyon, the oasis at its’ mouth in particular. For some months now, off-worlders have been wandering around the Canyon near a wrecked crawler, and trying to force the Duneraiders off their ancestral lands. These Chkrit’s are dressed the same as the others, the Duneraider robes are just a disguise. From his description of the markings on the crawler, it sounds like one of ours that was lost more than six months ago”.

At this point two Duneraiders walked up to them, half carrying, half dragging a figure between them. The Salthar carried on talking to Arlana, gesturing at the new prisoner. Arlana translated for the Captain and Dirk again

“This is another of the ambushers, Salthar Eneshi’s warband captured him half a klick east of here, trying to escape in an air raft. He is inviting us to join in his interrogation”.

At the sight of the stooped and bound figure, Ranold Halfeson let out a small cry. Salthar Eneshi rounded on him in an instant, jabbering away in the local language. Arlana translated once more

“He’s calling you a traitor and saying that you’re in league with this man. He wants our permission for you to join in the interrogation, and you won’t be asking the questions. What have you got to say for yourself Ranold, how do you know this man ?”.

Halfeson’s face had gone white, and he kept throwing nervous glances towards the Duneraider Warlord.

“If I tells ya wot I know, will ya keep us away from these savages ? he asks.

Thinking it through quickly, Arlana nods and replies

“As long as you can convince me you’re telling the truth, then I’ll extend my claim for vengeance over the two of you. But let’s be clear, all that means is that you’ll be prosecuted when we get back to the starport”.

“Sure I unnerstand ya, I just heard what them savages do to their prisoners, ‘specially the off-world ones. An’ I don’t want no sun baked savage carving me up and feeding me ter what passes fer scorpions round here”.

Arlana spoke to the Salthar and the conversation became quite heated. Eventually, however, they seemed to reach agreement and the Salthar called to his men who then brought the other prisoner over and shoved him down next to Halfeson.

“OK, tell me what you know, and make it convincing” Arlana said.

“Well, this is ma bruvver, Donald, and we woz ‘ired by Drakkar minerals to cause a bit o’mischief. I joined ya crew and woz to stop ya making enough money to pay ya lease. After we found them radioactives, they would a sold fer a pretty penny, sose ya coulda made the payment. I ad a crate in the hold, which contained a bomb, I sets this off and the engine goes kaput – no more radioactives. I also fries the electrics in one o’ the airrafts. I was plannin to leave with the other airraft, but it were broken, so I ad to stay put. Donald ere, was on the crawler team, searching for summat.”

“And what is your part in all this Donald ?” asked Arlana.

“Well I was working on one o’ the crawlers out in Chagradas Canyon. We was looking for summat, minerals I ‘spose, coz we ad a crawler. Well, we met up with the other two crawlers at the wreck site, that was ya crawler miss, and then we runs search patterns along the canyon. We gets a call that ya crawler was wrecked a couple of days ago and that ya woz organised and heading out on foot. So, the boss rounded a few of us up and came out here to set an ambush. Ya knows how that went” he said miserably.

Arlana explained what had been learnt to the Salthar, resulting in a short discussion.

Turning back to Donald, she said

“The Salthar says you have been harassing his tribe, killing livestock and attacking people. Is this true ?”

Donald looked uncomfortable

“Ya miss, Drakkar wanted the Duneraiders out of the way so they could keep whatever it is their searching for to themselves”.

Arlana held a further conversation with the Salthar, then drew the Captain and Dirk aside.

“Salthar Eneshi says he will help us, he is willing to guide us to his oasis encampment, provide care for our sick and injured, and then let us take the airrafts back to the starport with Ronald and Donald. In return, he claims the rest of the ambushers, and invokes the responsibilities of hospitality, saying that his enemy is our enemy. What he wants is our help in driving the rest of the Drakkar men out of the Canyon. To be honest, I’m keen to know what has gotten Drakkar so fired up, and why they are prepared to steal our lease. Are you in ?”

“As long as I can keep Ms Etye safely out of the way, then I’ll help” replied Dirk.

“Good, now I’ll see what the rest of the crew think” and Arlana turned to call her crew into a huddle. Dennecheck was nowhere to be seen. The crew split up to search for him while Arlana explains what is going on to the Salthar.

A short while later, the crew have regathered, having found Dennecheck wandering around beyond the firelight.
“Geez, can’t a guy have a whizz in peace nowadays ?” he exclaimed ruefully.
There were murmurs of apologies from the crew members, but several questioning glances, if Dirk was any judge.

There was a further conference between Arlana and Salthar Eneshi, which culminated in what appeared to be more formal language, and a clasping of forearms. The agreement was reached, presumably.

The Duneraiders then led them to the site where the air rafts had been parked, and rigged some kind of netting between them and some boulders. It did not look much, but provided a surprisingly adequate shade from the sun. The heat of the day, therefore, was mainly passed in sleep, idle conversation, or maintenance of clothing and equipment. A couple of the Crawler crew did spend time going over the air rafts to see if they were serviceable and could be started. Much to everyone’s relief, they were pronounced as functioning. Both the Duneraiders and the Arlana’s team maintained a watch, partly on the desert, and partly on their new found allies. Once night was beginning to fall again, the Duneraiders brewed some tea which they shared all around, and brought out some kind of Jerky, which they also offered to all. Most declined, pulling out their own rat bars instead. Once the meal was complete and the netting packed away a long, Arlana, Dirk, Ms Etye, and the more injured crew boarded the air rafts with Salthar Eneshi and his guard. The Captain had been asked to come along as well, but declined, preferring to stay with his crew.

It was not long, therefore, before Dirk found himself in the Duneraider settlement. The rest of the party arrived several hours later, looking hot and tired. The prisoners were herded into a solid looking building and locked in, the rest were offered the use of another building, pretty basic, but quite comfortable after the past few nights hardships. Ms Etye was invited to join the Duneraider women in their house, and from which men were excluded, and she accepted gratefully, hoping for a few more creature comforts.
Once people were settled into their new quarters and somewhat refreshed, Dirk joined Arlana, the Captain, Salthar Eneshi and a couple of his lieutenants for a council of war.

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