On a Wing and a Prayer

Action at Enos

Dirk concentrated on his breathing, he was trying to stay calm and focused as the Blue Devil came steadily closer. He had to judge the right moment to launch the missiles – not too far away that the target could react and he’d miss, and not so close that they would see him before he fired.
He checked the connection on the firing switch one more time – now, he thought, and triggered a pair of missiles that were floating off to the left of the launch. He had decided to launch in pairs, partly to increase the chances of a hit and partly to present a more military launch pattern.

The missiles fired successfully and streaked out towards the Blue Devil. Before the pirate vessel could react, one of the missiles slammed home, and the other whizzed past, missing by a fraction. Dirk’s mind filled in the loud bang as his eyes saw the flash of light that signalled detonation of the missile. Immediately he was speaking into the comm, a message that was bounced through one of the comm units that was now about a klick away along the trajectory that Dirk had thrown it, to the left of the launch.

“Yeee Ha ! Hunter one strikes. Decoy one, execute fireplan Alpha. Come on Hunter Two or there won’t be anything left for you”. Dirk switched frequencies and relayed another message through the other comm unit which was currently arcing through space about a klick away in the opposite direction. “Hunter Two. Powering up now. Leave some for me boys !.

Meanwhile on the Lodestar Phoenix, Ester-Ann registered the explosion behind her and executed her part of the plan. The Lodestar Phoenix rotated 180 degrees and started to decelerate. At the same time Nizekanuu used the targeting computers to start painting the Blue Devil with fire control radar emissions, even though the range was too great to fire.

“Hunter Two, Fox One. Tally-Ho !” announced Dirk through the right hand comm relay as he triggered a pair of missiles that lay off to the right of the launch. They both fired, and streaked off towards the Blue Devil. They missed, but as Dirk studied the launch’s passive scanners on his tablet, they did have the desired effect. The sensors were detecting concentrations of radar reflections to the left and right of the launch, suggesting that the pirate had been fooled and was searching for the imaginary Hunter One and Hunter Two among the asteroids. As the second pair of missiles whizzed past the Blue Devil, Dirk could see they were breaking off the engagement, and as they rolled and changed vector, Dirk could see a small vapour trail leaking from slightly aft. The first missile had obviously done a significant amount of damage, certainly enough to convince a pirate who was apparently caught in a trap that discretion was the better part of valour; as his supposed prey had turned round to engage him and two, as yet unlocated, enemy vessels were firing on him from the flank. The Blue Devil had altered course and was using her superior speed to vector between the Lodestar Phoenix and the Dirk’s approximate position and open the range as quickly as possible.

Ester-Ann kept up the pressure by altering her own course onto an intercept heading and announcing over the comm “Decoy one, bay weapons deployed, cleared for engagement when in range”. Although she took care not to come into range, whilst giving the appearance of trying to hunt down the hunter.
Apparently the pirates were badly spooked by Dirk’s ploy as they started to jettison cargo containers from the Blue Devil as they ran. Presumably trying to tempt the pursuers to break off and retrieve the cargo. Given the performance of the Type T, it was not long before the Blue Devil had reached the jump limit again, and soon the small burst of electro-magnetic radiation was all that was left of them in the Enos system.

“Well done crew” said Dirk into the comm as whoops and shouts of joy erupted on the bridge of the Lodestar Phoenix. “I’ll meet you at the cargo, but don’t touch anything until I’ve had a chance to give it the once over”.

A few hours later, Dirk had collected the remaining missile and piloted the launch to rendezvous with the Lodestar Phoenix. He set Timbur to de-commission the missile he brought back whilst he examined the cargo containers from the vid pick up.
“Well, they look OK from here” announced Dirk, but you can’t be too careful. Damarcus, you come with me and we’ll go fishing. Ester-Ann, can you de-pressurise the cargo hold please. We’ll bring them straight in and have a closer look before opening them”.

Several hours later, they had six new cargo containers tied down in the hold. It had been a difficult job as they had spread over quite a distance on their separate trajectories. The Lodestar Phoenix had to carefully manoeuvre close to each container before Dirk and Damarcus went EVA to stop the containers spinning and then push them into the cargo hold. With the cargo bay re-pressurised, Dirk sent Damarcus off to wash and change (and to keep him at a safe distance), while he checked over the containers once more, still buttoned up in his vac suit.

“Right, the so and so’s have booby trapped the containers.” Dirk informed the crew. “Timbur, can you keep a close eye on my suit vid to make sure I don’t miss anything, and I’ll have a go at disarming them”. Another tense hour later and Dirk had successfully disarmed the booby traps and determined that the Lodestar Phoenix was now the proud possessor of an additional 60 tons of Basic Manufactured Goods.

After washing and changing, Dirk joined most of the crew for a meal in the crew lounge.
“Well done crew, that couldn’t have gone any better, everyone kept their heads and did their jobs. I’m proud, and very grateful, to all of you. The good news is that you’ll all benefit from your heroism. I’ll see how much I can get for the pirates cargo, and then divide it amongst the crew – so a nice little bonus on top of your pay.” A chorus of cheers and delight erupted around the meal table.

As the meal was cleared away, Dirk and Ester-Ann joined Nizekanuu on the bridge to take the Lodestar Phoenix down to what passed as a starport on Enos. Dirk only relaxed completely, once the formalities of traffic control and customs were completed and the Lodestar Phoenix nestled safely in her berth with no further surprises occurring.

“Finally” announced Dirk. “Set the port watch please Ester-Ann, I’m going to my cabin to sleep for a fortnight. Please try and refrain from waking me, even with an emergency” he joked. “Just tell anyone who is going off-ship to be especially vigilant, as demonstrated by our welcoming committee, this dirt ball is not exactly the epitome of civilisation”.

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Welcome to Enos

A slight lurch to his stomach, told Dirk he was back in n-space. He glanced around the bridge and reassured himself that everyone was doing their job, before studying the information relayed to his own plot. A vessel appeared on the scan and before Nizekanuu could resolve the contact into type and heading, the comm indicated an incoming message.

“This is the Blue Devil, cut your drives and standby for boarding”.

Questioning glances were exchanged around the bridge.

“OK – welcome to Enos” said Dirk. “Nizekanuu, check the local traffic regs and see if it’s normal not to announce yourself as an official ship. Ester-Ann, give me a least time and max time intercept course from the Blue Devil, assuming max. acceleration, just in case. I’ll try and establish exactly who our friends are.”

“Lodestar Phoenix calling Blue Devil, please advise of your arm of service with the Enos government, authorisation reference, and reason for boarding.”

“Sir, it is normal practice for official Enos ships to announce themselves as such. They should also quote their authorisation reference, but apparently they don’t always” proclaimed Nizekanuu. “Contact has been identified as a Type T Patrol Cruiser, and they have changed course towards us and are accelerating.”

“Ahhh, so they are an unauthorised welcoming party” mused Dirk. “How are those plots coming Ester-Ann, and is there anywhere we can hide ?”.

“Sir, least time intercept to zero acceleration, relative, is 1 hour and 7 minutes. Max time intercept to zero acceleration, relative, is 3 hours 39 minutes. Although we will be within their missile envelope after 2 hours and 45 minutes. If we lose a few minutes from these times, we can reach a thin asteroid belt, though it’s more likely to obscure rather than hide us, Sir”.

“Thank you Ester-Ann, please lay in a course that will take us to that cover at maximum acceleration” said Dirk as plan was forming in his mind. “Nizekanuu, have a very good look for any friends the Blue Devil may have out there, particularly on our heading.” Dirk toggled the ships PA system “Now hear this, now hear this. We have attracted some unwanted attention and are having to remove ourselves from the area. Nothing to worry about, but we may have to make some sudden course changes, so lock everything away and strap yourselves down, Captain Out.”

“He is on his own, Captain” announced Nizekanuu. “Nothing with him, or in front of us”.

“Good, from his positioning, he wasn’t expecting us, and we are just an opportunistic target as far as he’s concerned” concluded Dirk out loud. Just then another call came in.

“This is the Blue Devil, cut your drives and standby for boarding. Failure to comply will result in us opening fire”.

“I think we may have upset him” said Dirk, “Ester-Ann, can you contact Enos traffic control, tell them what is going on and request assistance from the relevant Authorities please. Meanwhile I need a chat with Timbur, beep me on my comm if anything else turns up, and no one is to respond to the Blue Devil unless I say so, clear ?”.

A chorus of “Aye Aye Sah’s” greeted Dirk’s back as he left the bridge. Soon he was down in Engineering discussing the feasibility of Dirk’s embryonic plan.”
“What I need Timbur, is a method of remotely triggering one of our missiles, it doesn’t need to be fancy, just kick the missiles ignition and the on-board targeting can take care of the rest. Can we do that ?” Dirk asked when he had explained the situation and outlined his plan.
“Mmmmmm” Timbur mumbled as he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Well, I reckon I should be able to rig something up, but it will have to be fired manually, I won’t have time to wire it into the ships systems. Would that do ?”

“I can work with that. How long would it take to make me six of these little surprises ?”

“I should be able to manage that in time, but it won’t be pretty.”

“It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to work. I’ll leave you to get on with that. I’ll send Damarcus to help you and I’ll let the rest of the crew into our little plan”.

On his way back to the bridge, Dirk sought out Damarcus and sent him down to help out in engineering and asked Billy Weedin to hold Kelli Etye’s hand and try to keep her calm through the coming crisis. He also ducked into his cabin and changed into his vac suit.

Back on the bridge, Dirk checked the situation with Ester-Ann and Nizekanuu before explaining the plan and their part in it. He spelled each in turn as they went and changed into their own vac suits. He then went in search of a couple of hand held comm units, initially, and then to help Timbur.

An hour later the call came over Dirk’s suit radio “Time to slip off Captain” announced Ester-Ann. “On my Mark, Three….Two…..One….Mark”. With that Dirk released the magnetic clamps of the Lodestar Phoenix’s launch, and with the merest hint of power nudged her into the asteroid field. He then set about his preparations. First he threw out a couple of the comm units, and secured their tethers to the hull. The tethers were of different lengths and thrown in opposite directions, that would allow Dirk to use them as relay stations, masking his own location. He then took the missiles, Timbur had only managed to jury rig five in the time available, and again placed these in positions away from the launch, with the control wires leading back to the open door of the launch where they were secured and from where Dirk intended to trigger them.

Once his preparations were complete, Dirk went back to the small bridge on the launch to check on the Blue Devil. Good, the passive scanners showed that the pirate, for that is what the Blue Devil must be, was still on course hunting down the Lodestar Phoenix. Dirk returned to his firing position in the launch’s airlock. It would not be long now he thought.

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Maiden Voyage

Dirk smiled to himself as he stood on the bridge, he had his own command again. a good feeling. Intellectually, Dirk knew being in command of merchant vessel was fraught with danger, for as well as the potential for conflict there was also the worry of not being able to generate enough cash to keep the crew paid and the ship running. But, there was the thrill of being in command again, which crowded out such logical thoughts and just left him with a deep rooted pleasure of captaining a ship.

The crew had seemed to settle in well during the straightforward outbound run to the jump point. They did plot a course around a Type M Liner that was inbound, but no significant challenges were presented to the crew. It would take a more critical situation to test the mettle and cohesion of this crew.

After jump the crew found a comfortable rhythm, and Dirk was slowly getting to know his crew, and they him. He got on well with Timbur, the Engineer, probably because they were more closely matched in age and had more experience and stories to share than the younger members of the crew. Ester-Ann, the pilot, was very efficient, but Dirk struggled to warm to her as she seemed to be trying to prove herself all the time, leaving little room for pleasantries. Nizekanuu was an entertaining chap who was very enthusiastic, but Dirk thought he would need to be careful with him in case his excitement caused him to miss an important detail. Billy Weedin was the Medic, to whom Dirk also warmed with his stories of his medical missions to different planets. Dirk also had a soft spot for Damarcus Preston, the steward, who was barely out of nappies, but who Dirk found to be a quick learner and able to follow orders, making him a rather valuable commodity.

With the crew better acquainted by the time they came out of jump, things began to feel more relaxed on the bridge. The run in to Asteltane High Port was routine, just an exchange of greetings and heading info with a Type S scout which was also in-bound. With the ship safely settled in her berth and the fees and formalities taken care of, Dirk secured the ship from Docking and set the Port watch. That would mean the off duty crew would most likely leave the ship for a look around, while the on-duty crew would start the process for pumping off waste and taking on fresh water, oxygen and fuel. Meanwhile Dirk would start contacting people to arrange delivery of his freight and mail, and look for a buyer for his cargo.

Over the next few days, Dirk managed find a buyer for his Basic Consumables and although this was achieved easily, Dirk negotiated such a good price that he took the deal there and then, generating nearly 200,000 Cr – all profit Dirk found to his surprise as a lack of organised government meant there was no-one collecting taxes. He had less luck finding sellers though, with little more than the usual basics, plus some radioactive ores. Not that there wasn’t any cargo, just that the prices were high out here in a backwater. The radioactives weren’t too bad, just very expensive to begin with. Dirk gave it some thought, without rushing into any decisions, with the profit on this run he could afford to run through Enos as a refuelling stop, though that would reduce the profitability for this run. The trouble was there was not much on offer in Asteltane that anyone would pay a premium for in Enos, and you had to pay top dollar in Asteltane to get it in any case.
Nobody wanted any freight shipped to Enos either, same problem for them as for me regarding supply and demand though Dirk. He did manage to find a mail package that needed transhipping, and as pickings were slim decided to accept standard fees rather than haggle. However, that changed one day when Dirk had been on the High Port looking for some new clothes. The retailer was making polite conversation whilst trying to interest Dirk in some old fashioned shirts, when he realised Dirk was a Merchant Captain and asked him to carry a small shipment of clothes to Enos. As the retailer was offering standard carriage charges, Dirk tried to talk him into a better deal. Unfortunately, the retailer was well aware of the trade situation at Enos and played hard ball, reducing his fee offer. Dirk sighed inwardly and accepted the offer, at least that would off-set some of the crew wages which were due at Enos.

Dirk did have a stroke of luck one evening, when having a quiet drink with Timbur, he overheard a mature woman complaining about the lack of star liners in the vicinity. After introducing himself, Dirk ascertained that the woman was Kelli Etye who had been a leading star in the holovids some years back, and that she needed to get to Enos for a screen test. Turning on the charm, Dirk managed to persuade her that the Lodestar Phoenix was suitably up-market – or at least exclusive with no other passengers – and she agreed to take a High Passage to Enos. When he got back to the ship, Dirk snagged Damarcus to rustle up some of Ms Etye’s holovids to play during the voyage and buff her ego.

Asteltine was a quiet place, thought Dirk, the most exciting thing that had happened this week was the scout ship they had come in with departed, heading for the jump point at an acceleration Dirk could only dream of. Realising that nothing better would be coming along, Dirk decided to set sail as soon as possible. Consequently he made up his mind to buy some of the radioactives and basic manufactured goods, he could afford 5dt and 10dt respectively, and all his cash would be tied up in those. He would either have to sell the manufactured goods, whatever the cost, or persuade the crew that there was nothing to buy on Enos and to take their pay at the next stop.

The purchased went smoothly and soon the freight, mail, and cargo had been loaded onto the Lodestar Phoenix. Ms Etye arrived and ensconced herself in her cabin, which left Dirk free to request clearance from traffic control. Undocking occurred without incident and soon the Lodestar Phoenix was heading for the jump point once more. Dirk did have a minor scare when a Type C cruiser emerged from jump, but after a tense hour Dirk accepted that it was on its own and not part of the pirate fleet that had attacked Penelope, and so relaxed a little.

Dirk only fully calmed down after they had translated into jump space and the transit watch had been set. The voyage in jump space turned out to be quite entertaining for Dirk, as Ms Etye liked to be re-live old glories and dining at the captain’s table played to her sense of self importance. Consequently, what could have been rather a chore turned out to be enjoyable as Ms Etye regaled them with stories from behind the scenes on holovid sets and the misfortunes and misdemeanours of some of her showbiz friends. Dirk even found he liked some of Ms Etye’s holovids, which he watched with her in the passenger lounge, sharing cocktails.

Soon, however, the passage through jump space was nearing its end and Dirk returned to the bridge to prepare for translation back to normal space.

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Lodestar Phoenix Rises

Dirk strode up the gangway connecting Iderati High Port to the Lodestar Phoenix, noting with pride the freshly painted name on her nose. It wasn’t perfect, he would have to consider a full repaint during her annual maintenance – if he could afford it, but it was good enough to pass muster for now. He punched the security code and stepped aboard to be greeted by a fairly unpleasant musty smell. I must rustle up some cleaners he thought.

Dropping his luggage off in the crew lounge, Dirk made his way to the bridge and slid into the command chair. Logging onto the ship’s computer, he set about changing the passcodes and reviewing the security measures, and bringing the air scrubbers back on-line…….

A couple of hours later, Dirk leaned back, hands behind his head, contemplating a job well done. He was happy that he had set himself up with new master codes, new crew codes, and that the ship was safe from unwanted intruders. A review of the maintenance logs showed that the monthly maintenance had been undertaken by Kellogue and Brown Tank Transport and had checked that the fuel tanks were full. He had also booked a cleaning crew to come in clear the previous occupants’ possessions and perform a deep clean of the entire ship. The air scrubbers were beginning to have an effect as well.

After a short break to eat the lunch he had brought with him, Dirk set about exploring his new domain. He systematically went through the crew quarters and crew spaces, looking for anything of use or value. Apart from clothes and the usual entertainment cubes, there was nothing of any significance or worth, except for a small locked case in what appeared to be the previous captains’ cabin. The crew spaces were equally empty of interest, although Dirk was able to satisfy himself that the galley contained enough sealed comestibles to negate the need for restocking and allow him to jettison all of the open items. The ships’ locker produced the usual assortment of tools and gadgets, along with a shotgun and a couple of stun pistols. The passenger compartments only needed a brief walk round to ascertain that they were devoid of personal items, and simply set up ready for passengers. As expected, there were no vac suits on board, the previous crew had all been wearing theirs, but at least the emergency pressure suits were all present.

Dirk placed a call to a specialist cleaning company who, for a small premium, were able to come in to start clearing and cleaning the ship in the morning. Dirk fixed himself a small supper in the galley, and then settled down in the passenger lounge with the locked box. After twenty minutes, and a trip to the tool box, Dirk had prised open the box to discover a few personal mementos belonging to the previous captain, and an intriguing piece of plastifilm. Dirk could scarcely believe his eyes, he appeared to be the proud new owner of an Imperial Travel Warrant allowing the bearer to travel to Andor and Candory. Dirk didn’t know a great deal about these two systems, but he did know they were inhabited by Droyne and that the Imperial Navy presence in the sub-sector was largely focused on controlling these Red Zones. Authorised travel to these systems was extremely rare, therefore an official travel warrant, must be rather valuable. A thought struck Dirk, the operative point there was ‘official’. He got up and went to the airlock in the boarding corridor. Passing the document under the passport scanner, Dirk was rather surprised when the machine gave a small beep and flashed a green light – the document was authentic !
Dirk went to bed in one of the passenger cabins, trying to figure out what to do with the travel warrant, should he hand it in to the Imperium, or could he somehow profit from it ? The issue remained unresolved when the alarm went off, signalling an early start to what Dirk suspected would be a long and busy day.

Shortly after Dirk had showered, dressed, and breakfasted, the cleaning company arrived. After carefully checking their credentials, Dirk set them to work, starting with the crew quarters before working their way through the rest of the ship. Dirk was immersed with ‘paperwork’ and arranging delivery and loading of the freight, mail, and goods when the comm buzzed. ‘Hello, you’ve reached the Lodestar Pheonix” responded Dirk.
“Hi, Timbur Tollway, reporting for duty” said the image that popped up on Dirk’s screen “is the captain around?”.
“Hello Timbur, I am the captain” replied Dirk as he scanned the vid feed from the airlock. Seeing nothing untoward, he pressed the release to open the lock. “Welcome aboard. I’m on the bridge, but I’ll come down and meet you in the passenger lounge”.
“Aye, Aye, Sir” came the response.

A few minutes later Dirk and Timbur were in the passenger lounge shaking hands. Dirk explained the situation regarding the Lodestar Phoenix, and that the cleaning crew were working through the crew quarters, so it would be a while before Timbur could stow his gear in his cabin. As they were talking, Dirk’s tablet beeped, there was another comm call. This time the face of a young woman stared out of the screen.
“Morning, I’m Ester-Ann Davies reporting for duty. Is the captain on-board ?”. Dirk sighed, this could get repetitive. Hello Ester-Ann, I’m the captain, I’ll just pop down and let you in”. As he was leaving the passenger lounge Dirk said to Timbur “Stow your gear in one of the passenger cabins until the crew quarters are free and I’ll introduce you to our pilot”.

At the lock, Dirk once again looked at the vid feed from outside the ship, checking that Ester-Ann was alone and this was not a set up, before letting her in.
“Welcome aboard Ester-Ann, we met at your interview, I’m Dirk, your captain. Come on up to the passenger lounge and I’ll introduce you to our Engineer.”
“Thank you, Sah ! Glad to be aboard”.
“It’s OK Ester-Ann, this is not a military ship, we don’t need titles, and hopefully we’ll all become friends.”

They headed along to the passenger lounge where Dirk introduced Ester-Ann to Timbur. After a little chit chat, Timbur excused himself and headed off to engineering to review his new realm. Ester-Ann did likewise, stowing her bag in a passenger cabin before Dirk took her to the bridge where she started to review the set up. Dirk headed back to check on the cleaning crews progress, his tablet beeped and Ester-Ann’s face appeared. “Sir, I have the astrogator at the lock.”
“Thanks Ester-Ann, if the coast is clear, let Nizekanuu in and ask him to meet me in the passenger lounge please”.
“Aye Aye, Sir!”.

A few moments later, Dirk was shaking hands with Nizekanuu, a young nobleman who was working his way back to his family’s lands in the Imperium. Dirk was just finishing welcoming Nizekanuu aboard and sending him off to check the astrogation computer and charts when his tablet beeped once more.
“Excuse me,” said Dirk, “I’ll catch up with you on the bridge, later” and turned to his tablet, dismissing the astrogator.
“ Sir, I have a call for you” said Ester-Ann’s voice from the screen.
“Thanks Ester-Ann, who is it our medic or steward ?” asked Dirk.
“Neither Sir, they would not give their name, and they’re on audio only.”
“OK, Thanks Ester-Ann, patch them through and I’ll see what they want.”

“Hello captain, you don’t know me, but I had an agreement with your predecessor.” Said a deep, gruff voice. “ I wondered if you had the document in question, and whether I could still count on that agreement”.
“I am at least aware of the document” replied Dirk, thinking of the Imperial Travel Warrant. “What had you got in mind ?”.
“Meet me in the Drifters Inn in an hour and we’ll talk things through”.
“Fine, who shall I ask for ?”.
“Don’t worry, I’ll find you.” With that, the line clicked dead and Dirk was left to contemplate how to handle this.

Fortunately, the next calls that came in were the final two crew members, Billy Weedin and Damarcus Preston, and some confirmation of cargo delivery times. Dirk went through the welcome routine and also had them stow their kit in a passenger cabin. The “doc” sat in the passenger lounge, reviewing the ships medical supplies and equipment, whilst Dirk pulled Damarcus to one side.
“I’ve got a meeting off ship, and I need someone to cover my back, just in case. Are you up to the job ?” asked Dirk.
“Sure am Sir” replied Damarcus.
“Good. It shouldn’t come to anything, but I want you to go to the Drifters Inn for a cup of coffee, and just keep an eye out to make sure the man I meet hasn’t brought any friends. If he has, give me a nudge on my tablet and get back to the ship.”
“OK boss, should I be armed ?”.
Dirk noted the excitement in the young mans’ voice, but didn’t have too many options. “You can take a stun pistol. But don’t use it unless your life is in danger, clear ?”.
“Sure thing boss”.

A little later, Dirk walked into the Drifters Inn and scanned the patrons. He saw Damarcus, sitting towards the back surreptitiously glancing over the top of his tablet, but neither gave any sign of recognition. He ordered a drink at the bar, and took a seat at the table where he could watch the entrance. He turned at the scrape of a chair, and a man sat down at his table. “Hello Cap’n” said the man. “I’m Dennis Hale, and your predecessor had something for me. Can you help me ?”. Dennis didn’t elaborate on why he wanted the Imperial travel Warrant, and Dirk did not pry.

“Well, that all depends” replied Dirk, “there has been a change of management, and that kinda negates previous arrangements. It seems to me that I have several choices. I know the location of a valuable original document, which by rights should go back to the issuing authority. But then, I’m sure there are several people who would like to own such an original, and would be prepared to handsomely reward an intermediary who could get one. So why don’t you tell me what the arrangement was and I’ll tell you whether I can work with that.”
Dennis gave a long thoughtful look at Dirk, finally, after apparently reaching a decision, he said “OK, that seems fair enough. You don’t look like someone who would mess me around. The arrangement I had was for 60,000 Imp Cr for the original document. I would need to verify the authenticity before I thumbed over any cash though.”
It was Dirk’s turn to pause for thought. “Deal” he said, holding out his hand. Call me tomorrow around noon, and I’ll tell you where to meet me for the exchange”.
“I’m glad we could do business” replied Dennis, shaking Dirk’s hand to seal the transaction.

Dirk returned to the ship, followed a little later by Damarcus. “Well done lad, that went well”.
“Thanks boss, it was fun”.

The cleaning crew had finished with the crew quarters, and so Dirk and the crew moved their belongings into their cabins and unpacked. That evening they gathered for a communal meal in the passenger lounge. Once everyone had arrived and introductions made, Dirk welcomed them all, formally, to the Lodestar Phoenix. He ran through his standing orders, at least one person on duty at all times on port or when passengers where aboard etc., ensured everyone had access to the ships computer and the crew security codes, and explained his ethos for running the Lodestar Phoenix. When he was finished he raised his glass and announced a toast to the Lodestar Phoenix and new beginnings.

The following day, the crew had settled into a routine, the checking over of the ship’s systems and the loading the cargo and freight as it arrived. Dirk once again established Damarcus as backstop for the transaction with Dennis Hale, this time at a venue of his choosing. The call came in and Dirk arranged the meet in the Yellow Hiver. This time Dirk was waiting for Dennis and spotted him, carrying a small case, as he entered the bar. Dennis briefly scanned the faces and made his way over to Dirk. “Are we all set ?” he asked as he sat down. Dirk just nodded.
Dennis placed the case on a chair between them and opened it, placing a debit cube on the table. A small scanner sat in the case. “If you would be so kind ?” asked Dennis, nodding toward the scanner. Dirk discreetly produced the Imperial Travel Warrant and placed it in the scanner. No sound emerged, but a small indicator light blinked green. Dennis’ eyes lit up and a feral grin spread across his face “Now we’re in business” he whispered. “That seems good” he said out loud and picked up the debit cube. Dirk produced his own, purchased that morning, a useful bit of kit he thought. Disposable finance cubes, load them up with currency, and spend away, electronic cash – no need for credit, no need for a bank account, practically untraceable, unless you registered them to an account. Dennis thumbed across 60,000 Imperial Credits and Dirk checked the balance on his own cube, sure enough, the wireless transfer had completed.
“A pleasure doing business with you” Dennis said as he pocketed his cube, the document, and packed away his scanner. A brief hand shake and he was gone. Dirk, collected Damarcus and returned to the ship satisfied with a job well done.

The next couple of days saw the cleaning crew finish, the ship crew sign off on all systems, and the cargo loaded and locked down. Dirk had also used some of his new found wealth to order in some extra supplies, fresh food together with a few cases or nice wine and a case of whiskey. Something to make the Cold Dark a little more comfortable, though the wine was at least in part in case they ever managed to get some High Passage business. He also repaid the 25,000 Cr he had taken from his reserve fund on Karin to buy the current cargo.

Finally everything was ready, the course to Asteltine was laid in, clearance was given from traffic control, and Dirk gave the order to release the station clamps and head out. The transit to the jump point was uneventful, a customs pinnace gave them a fly by, presumably checking the ship against its’ filed flight plan; and a Type M Liner jumped in-system when they were nearing their own jump point. Then came the translation to jump-space and the Lodestar Phoenix secured from Jump stations and settled into a jump space watch system on her maiden voyage.

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Dirtside on Iderati

Dirk and Connell met over breakfast as arranged. Dirk found he was really warming to the Freighter Captain as they discussed what needed to be done over the next two weeks.

“From what Francis has said, the court case should take about a fortnight to complete” began Connell. “After that the Henry T will be handed over to Kellogue and Brown Tank Transport, who will need to re-register her. Following that, they will sign the Henry T over to you, and you can lodge the name change and file for a home port. Any competent solicitor here will be able to do that for you. In the meantime we can look for new crew members and you need to think about filling the Lodestar Phoenix’s hold. What position are you going to take Dirk ? I know you were in the Navy, but did you log any bridge time ?”.

“Well, I could figure out how to get us where we want to go, and I can find my way round a turret, but I’m not sure that would sit well with being the owner. So, for starters, I think I’ll just try being Captain/Owner and if I need to get my hands dirty in a turret, I retain that option. If that doesn’t work out, or we can’t find a decent Astrogator, then I’ll rethink my position.”

“That seems fair enough” replied Connell. “I can make a few calls to some personnel agencies and see who is around, and then interview any likely candidates”. “Rather than ship folks up to the Dalrymple’s Dream though, we should hire a small office dirtside to hold the interviews. This hotel would do, but is probably expensive, we could get something closer to the starport at a more reasonable cost. Are you happy for us to conduct the interviews together Dirk ?”

“That would be much appreciated” Dirk replied “That way I can get a second point of view and pick your brains about the quality of the qualifications people hold for the various specialties I need”. “I would also appreciate some pointers on finding a cargo for the Lodestar Phoenix, could you help me out ?”.

“I’d be delighted to, I’ve got to hang around for a while as the legal process takes its’ course and as a the Captain of a Large Freighter I don’t get to play the markets much anymore. It’ll be fun !”.

“Great !” exclaimed Dirk “where do we start ?”

Connell went on to outline the options available to Dirk, and the basic processes for going about securing a freight or mail contract, finding passengers, and speculating on the markets by buying the goods themselves”.

After breakfast, the calls were made. A number of possible candidates for the berths were found, a temporary office at the starport rented, and interviews scheduled over two days in the coming week.

For the rest of the day, Dirk and Connell set up the interviews and looked for cargo. Unfortunately, they could not find a broker who had any cargo available, nor anyone who was looking for passage to Asteltine. However, they were able to find two brokers needing to ship some goods there. Dirk studied Connell closely as he negotiated with the Brokers.
“Not a bad result” said Connell, when they had returned to their hotel for dinner that evening. “We managed to get a nice little premium on each of those freight contracts. Though 30 tons won’t fill your hold. I guess there is not much demand out in the asteroid fields. Still, it leaves plenty of room for your own cargo, if we ever manage to find any. But lack of demand at least meant that there was some mail that needed shipping out there as well.”

“That was an education” replied Dirk, “thanks. I feel much more comfortable about handling this type of negotiation myself now, and I wasn’t looking forward to doing that on Asteltine. The fees should cover the crew and running costs on the next run, so I just need to worry about refuelling.”

The rest of the week passed in a blur of activity, sorting things out for the ship and dodging news crews looking for an interview. During this time Dirk noted that the Delta Wave, a liner from Karin came into port and headed off to Flamarrion – that must be where all the passenger trade went, he thought. All that is apart from that shifty looking chap who wanted to get off planet quite badly. Dirk wasn’t surprised when he saw him a couple of days later in the company of a couple of beefy security personnel. He also had another encounter with pick pocket, but this time managed to catch him in the act. The thief did not get away with any credits, but did manage to elude Dirk and disappear amongst the crowd.

During this time Dirk also joined Connell on the Dalrymple’s Dream on several occasions, discussing easy ways to improve security, which would ironically have prevented Dirk from taking action against the mutineers. Following Dirk’s recommendations, Connell left the crew to get on with implementing them.

The interviews went well, and Dirk managed to find people he thought were ideal for most positions, and people who were certainly competent, if less than ideal, for the rest. Connell also managed to fill his vacancies on the Dalrymple’s Dream. The crew selected for the Lodestar Phoenix were told that they would need to report for duty in approximately one week, and were asked to leave their contact details for Dirk to confirm when they should report for duty.

Dirk spent a lot of time with during this first week on Iderati with Connell, enjoying his company both during the working day and in the evenings, when they would swap space tales. Connell was not available every evening, however, as he went off to oversee matters on the Dalrymple’s Dream. On one such evening, Dirk fell into conversation with a man in naval uniform. He was passing through Iderati to join a new outfit being formed. They had a pleasant conversation on military topics, and the officer’s parting words were for Dirk to get in touch if he ever fancied a return to the sharp end of life in space.

During the second week on Iderati, Dirk attended the preliminary court hearing and the prize hearing, both of which went well. The criminal case would not need anything further from Dirk, his deposition, forensic evidence, and confessions were sufficient to prosecute the case against the mutineers/pirates. With the speedy resolution of the criminal case, the prize hearing was a formality, and very soon Dirk was in a solicitors office with Francis Braun and Connell March, signing over and renaming the Henry T to the Lodestar Phoenix, provisionally registered out of Adabicci.
“Welcome to the Merchant Captain’s Club” announced Connell, standing and shaking Dirk’s hand.
“Congratulations, Captain, and thanks again for your assistance” said Francis, also gripping Dirk’s hand as he made the proclamation.

As soon as he left the solicitors office, several hundred credits lighter for the privelige, Dirk and Connell headed for the Lodestar Phoenix’s berth. On the way, he placed calls with the crew and asked them to report for duty the following day.

Dirk and Connell reached the ship and Dirk took a moment as he crossed the boarding tube and entered his own ship for the first time. A quick once over and after changing of security codes, Dirk and Connell were sat on the bridge with steaming cups of coffee in their hands. The two friends sat in companionable silence, a broad grin stretching across Dirk’s face the entire time.

Dirk and Connell still had much to do, and the Dalrymple’s Dream was now free to depart the system, so time was pressing. They redoubled their efforts to find a cargo for the Lodestar Phoenix, and were rewarded with some possibilities. Most of the cargo available were basic commodities, though some cybernetics and medical supplies were offered for sale. Even if Dirk could have afforded the multi-million credit price tag of these goods, the market in an asteroid field was likely to be minimal. Consequently, Dirk decided to go for basic consumables, the sort of thing that was likely to have a steady demand on Altestane. Consequently, after dipping in to his reserve funds, Dirk purchased 60 tons of basic consumables for 117,000 Cr and had them delivered to the Lodestar Phoenix.

Dirk had gotten used to life in a civilian starport, and spotted a couple of dodgy characters as he was out and about. Each time, an unflinching stare persuaded the curs to seek their fortunes elsewhere. What he was not prepared for though, was the sequence of events that unfurled that week. Over three days, three ships limped into port, all bearing battle damage. Apparently, a significant force of ships attacked Penelope and these ships, already outbound, managed to avoid capture or destruction. There was great speculation in the media as to the nature of the attack. Was it pirates, or conquest ? The conclusion the media drew was that it was a corsair band, and that the most likely escape routes were Gohature/Ralhe/Debarre or Gohature/Ralhe/Asteltine. As Asteltine was on Dirk’s itinerary, he made a mental note to approach with caution.

Finally Dirk had concluded all his business dirtside, and relocated to the Lodestar Phoenix to await his crew and cargo.

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Arrival in Iderati Orbit

On the run in, Captain Marsh contacted the local office of Kellogue and Brown Tank Transport, the Dalrymple’s Dream company. There was a stunned silence when they were informed that the Dalrymple’s Dream was inbound with a prize, there was nothing in company policy about prizes – you don’t expect 1 kton freighters to be involved in combat, let alone be victorious.

Arrangements were made and the company sent a pinnace to collect the Captain and the passengers for transfer planetside. By the time the shuttle arrived, Dirk together with the other passengers and crew had given statements to the security forces and were free to move around Iderati, but not leave the system until at least the preliminaries had been completed.

The security forces thought that the the process would take 2-3 weeks, during which time statements would be taken by the prosecution lawyers, the defence lawyers, and both ships would be forensically investigated.

The pinnace deposited Dirk and the others at the starport, where he and the Captain were unexpectedly met by Francis Braun one of several Kellogue and Brown Tank Transport vice president’s. He had been travelling through Iderati on business when he saw the report on the newscasts and came to meet the now famous Captain. He ushered everyone into a waiting taxi and headed off for one of Charon’s better hotels. “I’ve booked you all into the Serenity Valley hotel at the companies expense” began Francis. “Connell, Dirk, if you would care to join me for dinner in the hotel restuarant after you have had a chance to freshen up, I would love to hear what happened in detail.”

The Captain obviously agreed, you don’t antagonate your boss without a good reason, and Dirk saw it as a good opportunity to learn what, if anything, he could expect in prize money. Over dinner Dirk and the Captain recounted the events from Dirk’s hunch through to the final capitulation of the Henry T’s pilot. As the tale progressed, Dirk was glad to note that Connell was not overstating his contribution, giving Dirk full credit for his actions. Dirk also noted Francis’ increasing look of satisfaction and ready smile.
“What a story you two will have for your grandkids” began Francis, “Once again I would like to thank you both for saving Kellogue and Brown Tank Transport’s reputation, credits, and hassle. Not too mention providing some valuable, positive, publicity – people now have a concrete example of their goods being safe with Kellogue and Brown Tank Transport ! I’ve taken the liberty of checking some of the basic facts, and I’m glad you have made life a little easier for me. Dirk, Kellogue and Brown Tank Transport is a company based around heavy freighters, in fact Dalrymple’s Dream is one of our smaller ships. That means the Henry T does not fit with our shipping profile, consequently, once due process has completed, I would like to present you with her with and our gratitude for your actions here in Iderati. We’ll sort out the minor damage caused to her, and sign over the papers once the authorities release her to us. As for you Connell, you have our thanks as well, and we’ll grant a bonus (cash or shares) to you and your crew in lieu of a share of the Henry T.”

Dirk expressed his thanks and agreed to meet Connell for breakfast, when they could discuss pooling their efforts to recruit crew to replace the mutineers on the Dalrymple’s Dream and hire a new crew for the Henry T.

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Action Aboard

Meanwhile, aboard the Dalrymle’s Dream, two of Henry T’s crew enter via the main airlock. Waiting for them is the Captain.

“Welcome aboard the Dalrymple’s Dream, and I must thank you for coming to our aid. I’m Captain March and I’ll take you down to Engineering now where my Engineering Chief will fill you in on the problem. I haven’t managed to speak to him myself yet, no doubt he’s up to his elbows in grease and oil, as it were. But I’m sure I can extricate him from whatever nook or cranny he’s crawled into while hunting down the problem – at least long enough to explain the situation and see if you can help.”

“Thank you Captain, I’m Elsie Walker, Engineer aboard the Henry T, and this is Mike Kellar. Lead on and we’ll see what we can do.”

“Engineering is through the Mess and beyond the small cargo bay, so if you would go through that door behind you into the Mess, we’ll be on our way.”

Elsie and Mike head through the door into the Mess, they bunch up momentarily as Elsie turns to look back at the Captain, who was half turned away from her, apparently talking to someone who had just approached.

That gave the Astrogator the opening he’d been hoping for and he triggerd his stun gun from his position flat against the bulkhead through which the two pirates had emerged. Elsie and Mike slumped into an ungainly heap in the middle of the Mess. The Captain came into the Mess and between them, he and the Astrogator, tied up the intruders.
‘That was the easy bit" exclaimed the captain "now let’s head to the lower cargo deck to see if we can help round up the other two."

Down in the lower cargo bay, the cargoman has opened the rear cargo bay doors, in anticipation of the arrival of the pirates. He gestured to them to come aboard and turned his back on them, heading for a cargo container. The two vacc suited figures follow him, keen to secure their prize and get back to the Henry T. So far, it seems, everything is going according to plan – they may even get far away before the crew of the Dalrymple’s Dream realises that some of them were drugged.

The Chief Engineer peers out from behind a container after he feels the vibrations of the pirates passing him by, rippling along the deck plates. He’s in luck, from this angle, he could target the rearmost pirate. He triggers his stunner and his prey drops. Waiting, all senses straining for just such a moment, the cargoman spins round, uncovering his own stunner, drawn surreptitiously while his back was to the pirates. The last pirate has also turned at the commotion, and slumps forward over his comrade, stunned, while a grin of delight and relief spreads across the cargomans face.

The cargo bay doors closed, the pirates were trussed up, and carried up to the crew quarters to join their comrades.

Connell March returned to the bridge, where he finally responded to Will Bison’s increasingly frantic calls for an update on the situation. Will Bison is appraised of the real state of affairs and is advised to sit tight while everyone waits for the security forces to arrive. After checking through his own systems, determining that the manouvre drive was off-line for at least another seven hours, and studying the scanner to confirmn a patrol craft was heading for them, Will knew the game was up. He did not leave the bridge until the security forces arrived, which was just as well because following further judicious use of the laser cutter, Dirk was sat on the floor covering the door to the bridge with both his stunner and laser pistol !

With the pirates and mutineers in custody, and both manouvre drives back on line, the Dalrymple’s Dream and the Henry T are escorted into parking orbits around Iderati III.

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Contact !

Dirk, the Captain, and the Astrogator quickly agree to take the fight to the mutineerson, with the aim of allowing the Dalrymple’s Dream to escape from under the guns of the Fat Trader. A hasty plan is agreed. The assumption is that whilst one or more of the Fat Traders crew come across to the Dalrymple’s Dream purporting to try and fix the drives, at least another two would be trying to remove the targeted cargo container(s), with the planned help of the Cargo Chief. Therefore, Dirk could covertly board the Fat Trader, whilst all the crew are occupied, and disable its’ drives until the security forces arrive.

The speaker bursts to life with a squawk of static, followed by a voice ‘Jann, we’re approaching the final stage, our vectors are nearly matched. We will send over our engineer and an assistant to help you with your drives.’

The Captain responds ‘Hello Henry T, this is Connell March, Captain of the Dalrymple’s Dream. Jann, our Cargo Chief has headed aft to make sure that no cargo has worked loose during the engine malfunction, so I will talk you in.’

‘Right O Captain, I’m Will Bison, Captain of the Henry T. We’ll be in position in about 20 minutes.’

The captain continues to keep Will Bison fully engaged in conversation as the ship approaches, completely distracting him from anything else occurring.

The Astrogator, meanwhile was contacting the security forces in Iderati system, requesting assistance.

Dirk consulted with the Engineer to see if any of the freighters’ stores could be used to help him gain access to the engineering section and disable the drives. Dirk finds a laser cutter in a tool kit, and hurries off to get it, retrieve his laser pistol from the ship’s locker, and to change into his assault vacc suit, still tucked away in his luggage.

Dirk moves down to the engineering deck, and leaves the Dalrymple’s Dream through the air lock there. The Henry T has nearly finished manouvering and Dirk checks his vectors and pushes off across the divide. A short while later, and with minimal adjustment from his EVA frames thrusters, Dirk lands gentlry on the hull of the Henry T and makes his way aft, towards the rear cargo doors. As he nears the rear of the ship, Dirk can see a couple of figures emerging from the rear of the Henry T, propelling zero-g cargo handlers before them.

Dirk slips inside the Henry T via the large aft cargo bay, and sheds his EVA frame. He moves swiftly towards the door into engineering, scanning the empty cargo bay for theats. Arriving at the door, he vainly tries to hear or feel movement from the other side. Steeling himself for action, Dirk triggers his laser cutter and quickly slices through the lock. Barging through the door, Dirk trains his laser pistol left and right, searching for any crew. There are none and he makes his way to the engineering console. He calls up the Engineer back on Dalrymple’s Dream, hoping that no one from the Henry T realise where the transmissions originate from. The Engineer talks Dirk through the computer initiation sequence for the complete shutdown and diagnostic routines on the manouvre drives – a process that will shut the drives down for 8 to 12 hours, depending upon other computer routines running.

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Mutiny

Dirk steeled himself, and pushed off through the lock as it cycled, training his bodypistol on the muntineer. ‘Surrender or I’ll shoot’ came Dirk’s voice over his suits’ external speakers. The flailing Engineer stammerd his aquiecence – he was here to steal cargo, not fight. Keeping his gun trained on the Engineer, Dirk got him under control and was looking for a means to constrain him. He spotted a bulge in the Engineers coveralls and found a stun pistol. Swapping stunner for bodypistol, Dirk tried to persuade the Engineer to restore power to the ships drives. The Engineer was having none of it, and so Dirk simply stunned him, removing the threat but without causing any permanent damage.

Dirk looked over the engineering consoles but with his limited engineering knowledge, could not figure out what the problem was, let alone fix it. Dirk resolved to head to the bridge and see what help he could offer there.

Dirk retraced his steps to the passenger lounge and found a more chaotic scene. He came across the Steward who, after Dirk had lifted his visor to reveal his features to allow recognition, filled him in on what had happened. Whilst he was on his way to engineering, the mutineers had annouced a drive failure and that they had sent out a mayday distress call. There was no immediate danger, but onward travel was impossible until the drives had been repaired. Fortunately, there was a far trader close at hand, which would come alongside to render what aid it could and take off the passengers for transit to Iderati if necessary. Then the gravity had failed and everyone became rather nervous.

Dirk returned the compliment, informing the Steward of what he had been doing and the true nature of the situation. Together they headed for the crew compartment to discover the position there. Passing into the crew compartment, they carefully checked a few cabins – only to find the Chief Engineer comatose on his bed, obviously stunned. They found the Astrogator, bouncing between the corridor and his cabin, desperately trying to gain control in zero-g. Two other crew were holding onto furniture in their cabins, apparently awaiting specific instructions. Dirk requested the bridge codes from the Astogator, and tasked the Steward with returning to the passengers and preparing them for the return of gravity, whilst he went to the bridge.

Dirk took a few deep breaths and readied himself for the action to come. He punched in the access code and ‘swam’ into the bridge, low down. He could see the Captain holding himself into his chair and trying to raise Engineering on the comm; whilst the Pilot was floating above the flight chair – apparently checking local space; and the Cargo Chief was bobbing around by the comms chair and was in conversation with the fat trader.

All three crew turn towards the bridge hatch, the Pilot and Cargo Chief flailing arms and legs erratically in an attempt to retain control during this manouvre. Dirk pointed his stunner at the Cargo Chief, the least obvious candidate for bridge duty in an emergency, and pressed the trigger. Energy rippled off the wall next to the Cargo Chief – missed.
The Cargo Chief fumbled with a stunner and triggerd it in Dirk’s direction. Dirk manages to evade the main blast, but his left arm is caught in the backwash and floats limply by his side.
As Dirk recovers from this action he tries to line up another shot, the Pilot and Cargo Chief try and ‘swim’ for cover. Unfortunately (for them) they make a pigs’ ear of it, and end up a tangle of limbs in the middle of the bridge. Dirk twists his body round and triggers his stunner, catching both mutineers in the cone of energy released. The mutineers go limp, limbs and bodies gently swirling in a Newtonian dance.

Dirk quickly updates the Captain on what is going on, and between them they annouce the imminent return of gravity over the ships tannoy and switch the grav plates back on – gently at first, with gravity slowly being increased back to normal.

The mutineers are rounded up and locked in a crew cabin, whilst the Steward attempts to revive the Chief Engineer. The second Engineer makes his way to engineering to see whether the reported drive fault is real or imaginary. Dirk, the Captain, and the Astrogator retire to the bridge to compare notes and consider their next moves. What is to be done about the far trader currently matching vectors with them ?

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Arrival in Iderati System

Dirk sat bolt upright in bed. He was in his cabin on the Dalrymple’s Dream, the chrono told him it was the middle of the night, so what had woken him ?

As his mind caught up with his body, he realised what it was – the ship did not sound the same. The background hum and vibration of the drives was missing. It must have been that – and possibly a small lurch as the grav plates compensated for the loss of acceleration – that woke him.

This must be it, thought Dirk, as he grabbed his tablet and body pistol from the bedside drawer, time for action. Dirk eased quietly out of his cabin and headed for the airlock. Nobody was to be seen, this was to be expected as no announcement had been made and the mutineers must be in position to execute the plot. Dirk reached the airlock and hurriedly pulled on the vacc suit and ran quickly through the basic safety checks. With his body pistol in one pocket and his tablet in the other, Dirk cycled the lock. Swiftly and confidently, Dirk moved along the hull, stars glinting in the darkness all around. Reaching the Engineering airlock, Dirk pulled out his tablet and triggered the grav plates. As he punched in the airlock code he imagined the surprise and confusion on the mutineers faces as they suddenly floated free of the deck. The airlock did not move, frantically Dirk cleared the entry pad and tried again, nervous of how much surprise would be lost by this delay. This time the lock cycled and Dirk rushed in, stealing a glance through the viewplate before ducking down out of sight. Fortunately, it looked like his entrance had gone unoticed as an Engineer frantically ‘swam’ around the compartment trying to reassert control over his floating body.

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