Campaign of the Month: January 2011

Honour Among Thieves

Shakedown Crews Session Two

A shootout leads to an evening stroll on the surface of an asteroid. Just another weeknight for the crew of Shenmue.

As the members of the Sundeen Seven limped or were dragged out of the storage unit, Rothsay picked up their discarded pistols and smirked at his humiliated former partners. He considered making them turn out their pockets, but he opted to let them go without adding insult to injury.

YJ, Worth and Rothsay made their way back to their ship to deal with the next headache – paying for fuel. The Firefly was running on fumes when it docked at the repair station, and it needed both refueling and provisioning. With YJ being dead broke, the Doc being of the stingy persuasion, and Rothsay a man of greed, the conversation took an interesting turn as the group bickered over dividing up the bill. Worth and the Doc agreed to pony up equal shares of the refueling cost, but that left the supplies…and all eyes turned to Rothsay.

“Well listen, unless I’m a member of the crew, I’m basically just a passenger, so why should I pay for your protein? Make me an offer to join the crew, and we’ll talk.” Rothsay said.

“Yeah right,” YJ shot back. “You join up with us and then you’ll run out with the treasure.”

“Please,” Jonah replied. “In the worst case, if I join up, stock your ship, then ditch you, what have you lost? Your pantry will still be full and I’ll be out more than 100 credits. Besides, I don’t see you offering to pay your way here.”

YJ bristled. “I may not have any coin, but unless you’re rated as a pilot for a mid-bulk transport, I think I can earn my keep.”

The Doc added, “and what exactly do you bring to the table, Mr. Rothsay? Are you going to be the ship’s resident treasure hunter?”

Rothsay told them that as a Shenzou colonist he had spent most of his life aboard transport ships, and he offered his services as a deckhand specializing in logistics and procurement.

“Okay,” YJ said. “You can join up, but there’s one rule: you don’t kill or maim anyone without my permission.”

Rothsay smirked. “Hey, I wasn’t the one doing the killing back there.”

YJ was silent for a moment, and then smirked back. “Logistics and procurement, eh? Okay then, procure us some supplies.” He shoved the wad of cash at Rothsay and strode away.

And so it was that Rothsay found himself stocking the shelves in the Firefly’s galley with protein packs and containers of Ramen noodles while the transport, christened Shenmue by YJ, departed from the refueling station.

“What about that poison?” Rothsay said to YJ.

“Get us to the treasure and you’ll get your antidote. That was the deal.” replied YJ.

The crew divvied up their quarters and then gathered on the bridge where Rothsay plugged the memory stick into the ship’s navigational computer. Two files came up, co-ordinates and what was later identified as an encryption routine for a comm signal.

Rothsay explained to the rest of the crew how he had fallen in with the “Sundeen Seven” and found them to be a merciless band of brigands. One of them had the idea to go after the fabled treasure of Captain Mott, and the gang sought out the services of the foremost “expert” on the infamous space pirate, a retired scout named Michael Drury. With the gang’s funding, Drury was able to pinpoint the location of what he believed to be Captain Mott’s treasure trove, with the logic that Mott would have hidden his treasure in deep intrasystem space, using low-power comm signals to track the treasure.

Drury led the Sundeen Seven to the refueling station, then made the fatal mistake of asking for more money. Phil Sundeen shot him on the spot, and that was the last straw for Rothsay, who, while being a greedy brigand himself, believed in an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. When it turned out Sundeen was going to shoot Drury anyway just to keep the treasure’s location secret, Rothsay sprung into action, stealing the memory stick and running out on the rest of the gang. Unfortunately he ran straight into the arms of the Alliance who were looking to fill out a few vacant berths on a prison transport, and so began the series of misadventures that led to Rothsay stowing away onboard Shenmue.

While Rothsay was reciting his litany of woe, YJ was using the nav computer to determine the position of the co-ordinates and decipher the encrypted communications frequency. He realized that the ship’s computer was taking an inordinately long time to crunch the numbers, and the more he tried to speed things up, the slower things got. Disconcerted, he asked Worth to check the computer’s coolant system to ensure that the processor wasn’t overheating. “I know gears, not gadgets,” was Worth’s complaining response, but he dutifully worked his way under the dashboard and discovered that everything was working just as it was supposed to. And indeed that was the case; the computer was working fine, if at a snail’s pace, and YJ’s astrogation calculations were bang on. It was just as if the ship’s computer was a little on the lazy side. The co-ordinates pointed to no place in particular, a blank swath of intrasystem space with no catalogued stellar bodies of any kind listed.

It was a 16-hour hop to the co-ordinates, so the crew settled in, with Worth working to square away a tangle of live wires on the bridge, and YJ fuming over the slow computer, which was now spitting out Fruity Oaty Bar pop-ups over every viewscreen in the bridge. Tearing at his hair, YJ asked Rothsay if he had gone on the cortex to order some of the famous snacks, and Rothsay glared back, saying “do I look like a Fruity Oaty Bar kind of guy to you?” By the end of the trip, YJ had isolated the problem to several hundred lines of corrupted, indecipherable code nestled deep in the ship’s central processor subroutines. Running diagnostic after diagnostic couldn’t dislodge the errant code, and YJ started wondering if there had been a third file on that gorram memory stick that Rothsay hadn’t told him about. It was going to take more sophisticated equipment and more skilled eyes looking at this problem in order to solve it, so YJ shoved the problem aside and concentrated on the task at hand.

Scanning their surroundings, YJ made note of an asteroid field off the port bow, thick but navigable. A likely place to hide a ‘Verse’s ransom in pirate treasure. YJ eased Shenmue into the field, easily maneuvering past chunks of space rock that came in all sizes and velocities. YJ was in his element.

Rothsay punched in the communications signal and was rewarded with a low-frequency, repeating single tone. The ship homed in on the signal, moving deeper into the asteroid field. The crew soon saw a colossal asteroid, nondescript other than its extremely eccentric rotation, in the thick of the debris field, and a sensor check confirmed that the low power signal was definitely emanating from it.

YJ brought Shenmue in for a three-point landing on a flat stretch of rock at the edge of a crater field. The signal was still emitting its single-tone pulse, from about five hundred feet away from the transport’s position. Worth and Jonah donned the ship’s weather-beaten light utility EVA suits (faded and repeatedly patched but airtight), and prepared for a stroll on the asteroid’s surface. Showing foresight, they used a length of chain to tie themselves together, and hoped that there was enough nickel-iron in the asteroid to keep their boot magnets happy.

As YJ settled in on the bridge, he patched through to their EVA suits’ helmet coms. “Try not to take off without the ship,” he said brightly. Worth and Rothsay grumbled as they stepped into the transport’s main airlock. A piece of space rock clanged against the hull of the Firefly, echoing ominously.

Heaving open the airlock door, the duo stepped out onto the asteroid’s surface. Worth immediately fell and stumbled to his knees in a drift of frozen carbon dioxide. The pair then started out across the rocky expanse, backlight by the Firefly’s floodlights.

“So what are we looking for?” Worth muttered.

“Whatever your imagination conjures up when you think of what a pirate would use to store his treasure,” opined Jonah.

“Treasure chests maybe, you moron.” YJ added.

They made their way carefully to the crater, which was about two and a half meters wide, and at least twice as deep, making it more of a pit or tunnel than a crater, which got Rothsay’s greedy mind working. Worth stumbled so badly he started to float away from the surface of the asteroid, but Rothsay grudgingly reeled him in by the chain, suggesting, “maybe loosen your bra strap, you’ll move easier.”

The two then began to climb down into the crater. About four meters in, the way was blocked by ragged sheets of camo netting secured to the tunnel walls. Rothsay checked carefully for any sign of booby traps, then pushed his way through. Before him, wedged into the confines of the tunnel, was a large grey spacer’s chest. Next to it was an orange-painted cylinder – the comm transmitter. Rothsay carefully inspected the crate, noting the monogrammed initials “KM” for Kevin Mott. There didn’t seem to be any traps protecting the chest either, so Jonah signaled to Worth to begin dragging the large chest back out the way they came. As Worth moved the crate, Jonah noticed a second, smaller case in a depression behind it. The case was made of brittle plastic, about the size of a briefcase, and the clasp was broken. Opening the case, Jonah took in the sight of a strange, elongated pistol and eight rocket-like cartridges inlaid into foam molding. He recognized it as a gyrojet pistol, an outdated weapon from the days before gun vac cases solved the problems of both recoil and atmo. It would do in a pinch, and might be worth something to a collector.

As the pair made their way back over the lip of the crater and headed towards the Firefly, a shadow flitted overhead, catching everyone’s attention. It was the windswept form of an Osprey-class mid-bulk transport, with its signature twin-boom tail configuration and trademark underslung cockpit. Rothsay’s heart sank as he recognized it as Haruna, the Sundeen Seven’s ship. “Go, go, go, move, move, move!” he shouted to Worth as the pair tried to double-time it. “How in the hell did they find us?” YJ shouted as he spun up the Firefly’s engines.

The transport executed a perfect bootleg turn, avoiding a spinning chunk of space rock as its thrusters flared in the silence of space. Haruna set down about 200 feet away from the struggling pair. Dave Flynn might have been a nervous wreck on the ground, but in the black there was no one with a steadier hand.

Haruna’s main airlock hatch cycled open and three figures, dressed in worn-looking space suits, spilled out onto the asteroid’s surface. Jonah’s stomach sank even further as he noticed two of them sported weapons enclosed in bulky gun vac cases. The third held a wicked knife, a weapon just as deadly in the black as any projectile.

The crew detected an incoming signal on the standard transmission band common to most EVA suits. “If only I could see the looks on your faces right now,” the growling voice of Mister Basimba echoed in everyone’s ears. “I’ve got you right where I want you, Rothsay.” He chuckled. “You know, for a Shenzhou colonist, you’re a pretty easy mark, you know that?”

Basimba’s comment sparked a sudden recollection in Rothsay’s mind from the day before, when he had shot the unarmed thug in the leg in the depths of the refueling station. Basimba had spun around and grabbed Jonah, whispering that it wouldn’t be long until they met again. Jonah realized that Basimba had used the opportunity to slip something into his coverall pockets – likely a tracer bug.

“The treasure’s not in your paws yet, Basimba. Why don’t we split it and call it even?” Rothsay responded.

“Hmm, a split sounds like less than the whole thing,” Basimba replied. “No deals, Rothsay.”

”Oh yeah? How would you feel if I just tossed this crate out into the black right now?” Rothsay threatened. “You wouldn’t get a single plat for your trouble.”

A second voice cut in on the same frequency. “Rothsay… Rothsay…” came the unhinged voice of Brade Sorgen. “I believe you have something of mine, Rothsay, and I’m coming to collect!” With that, one of the two armed men opened fire on the two, white puffs of oxygen from the vac case the only evidence of gunplay. Rothsay and Worth ducked behind the spacer’s chest, Rothsay tossing the gyrojet pistol case to Worth.

Worth examined the pistol. It had no internal magazine, which meant that each round had to be loaded through the top breech by hand, no easy proposition when wearing bulky space suit gloves and being under enemy fire. The impact of the bullets on the crate could be felt rather than heard. “YJ, we’re going to need some assistance here!”

YJ was way ahead of them. “Okay, listen to me very carefully. When I count to three, you guys jump up as hard as you can.”

”What?!” Jonah shouted back, as Worth muttered a quick fatalistic prayer.

Basimba, covered by the two gunmen, sprinted across the flat expanse of the asteroid, his blade glittering in the semi-darkness.

“Okay, what the hell,” Jonah said as another bullet smacked into the crate.

YJ said a prayer of his own as Shenmue dusted off from the surface of the asteroid and as the Doc worked the airlock controls, opening the front hatch to the void of space. As the Firefly began to pick up speed, he counted. “One…two…THREE!”

The airwaves were suddenly filled by curses from both the crew and the bad guys as Jonah and Worth grabbed the crate and put everything they had into a leap skyward. Free of the nominal gravity on the asteroid, they floated upward with a slow laziness that belied their intensity.

Caught flatfooted, the Sundeen boys opened fire again, and Worth felt a round puncture his suit and impact against his ballistic vest, which he had worn just in case. Air began leaking from the hole in the suit as the asteroid fell away beneath them.

Suddenly they were inside Shenmue’s airlock, smashed against the wall by the ship’s momentum, and the Doc smacked the control panel, closing the heavy hatch doors and restoring air and gravity to the airlock, which meant that Worth, Jonah and the crate were now in a pile on the deck. Worth groaned.

Jonah jumped up, stripping off pieces of his EVA suit as he ran past the Doc without a word, heading for his quarters. “Hey!” The Doc shouted after him, “The head’s that way! I don’t want to do any mopping up, you hear me?”

YJ increased speed and dove deep into the asteroid field, as Haruna had to wait for its passengers to board before pursuing. The Osprey dutifully gave chase, but Shenmue’s head start was too great. Dave Flynn gave it his best, but sacrificed control for speed and soon the Osprey was nursing damage from a collision with a good-sized asteroid.

Jonah found his crumpled up coveralls and dug through its pockets, finding the tiny tracking bug. He stomped it into oblivion, cursing at his own foolishness.

As he cleared the asteroid field, YJ saw that the ship was being hailed. He let Jonah key open the channel. “Go for Rothsay,” Jonah said sarcastically. “Basimba, what was that you said about having me right where you wanted me?”

There was silence on the other line for a moment, then the sound of heated argument for a few seconds, and then the smooth voice of Teague Bowers came on the line. “Well played, Jonah, well played. But there’s gonna be a time when you wished you hadn’t started playing this game with us.” Bowers wisely broke the connection before Jonah could get the last word, saving at least that tiny bit of face.

Plotting a course for Beylix, YJ went for hard burn and turned on the autopilot, joining the rest of the crew in the cargo bay as they stood around the crate.

Jonah checked over the gray chest carefully, then took out his lockpick and worked the simple mechanical lock. With a hiss, the lid of the crate swung open.

Inside the crate were a number of gold and platinum bars, each bearing the holographic imprint of the Alliance’s central bank. Some fine pieces of jewelry were scatted about along with a sizable sack of platinum coins. There was also a travel case containing a few data discs and memory sticks, slightly obsolete technology from a few decades before. Jonah smiled. “I wonder if Captain Mott decided to hide his treasure in several places instead of just one.” He pocketed the data case.

The Doc hefted one of the bars, checking the security features. “These are going to be hell to fence, but it’s quite the score.” He smiled. “Definitely worth getting shot, eh Worth?”

“Hey!” Worth shouted, wincing as he rubbed his chest.

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