A Place to Call Home (Campaign Finale)
041-1109, Narmada, Red Sun City, Arcology Whiskey Amber Oh Seven
Philip quickly keyed in the sequence of characters that would page Marquis Toyama’s bedroom. The link sounded its paging tone three times before there was a response. “Yes, Philip?”
“I am sorry to wake you at this hour, Your Excellency,” said Philip, “but Baronet Atopia says she needs to link with you at once. She’s at the detention center building now. It concerns the prisoner, Mr. Teichmann.”
“I’ll link in from here,” was the reply amid the rustling of bed covers and the sleepy murmur of the Marquis’ wife, Baronet Yuni. “Thank you, Philip.”
Toyama groaned inwardly as he connected to Atopia’s inbound link. This had better not be what I think it is, crossed his mind and the display screen filled with the Baronet’s face. Her expression said it all. It is.
“Somebody got to him?” asked Toyama without preamble.
Atopia nodded tightly. “About an hour ago,” she said, “somebody hit the building’s computer systems with a milspec cyberweapon as a prelude. The security stack crashed for nearly a half-hour. The assassin used a garrote and wasn’t subtle – damn near cut Teichmann’s head off with it. I’ve got Tabitha here with me and she says it’s the same cyberweapon as what Teichmann used on my ship’s computers.”
“Tyler,” said Toyama and Atopia nodded. “I’ll roust Sir Yael and send him that way,” he continued. “Anybody else get hurt?”
Atopia nodded. “Three Autonomy Defense Force troopers are in the infirmary with busted eardrums and other minor injuries,” she said. “Somebody tossed a concussion grenade down the hallway. The combination of enclosed space with reinforced walls magnified the grenade’s effects.”
“Damn,” he said. “How soon can you lift off?”
“I should be here,” she said with a shake of her head, “I can help.”
“Not for what I’m going to do to that sonofabitch,” he growled. “Plus, I’ll have plenty of help if I know how General Mutabe and Duke Darius are going to react to this. Right now, you’re another potential target for Tyler. Now tell me how soon.”
“Tomorrow at dawn,” she said. “Tabitha is still in the process of making sure there are no traces of Teichmann’s handiwork left in the ship’s systems.”
“It’ll do,” he said. “Get yourself and your crew to the starport extrality as quickly as possible and stay there until it’s time to lift. I’ll have the ADF bring yours and their personal effects to your ship.” Atopia opened her mouth to speak but Toyama held up a hand for silence.
“We’re on an unsecured connection here,” he explained, “so don’t tell me or anyone else where you’re going. Hand-deliver your flight plan to the Portmaster, don’t take on any passengers that you don’t know personally and have your crew personally load any cargo you’re hauling, just to be safe.”
Atopia blew out a breath in frustration, but finally nodded. “All right,” she said. “Good hunting.”
“Clear skies to you,” he replied with a nod. “Be safe.”
“You too,” she said.
045-1109, aboard Silver Starlight, in hyperspace between Narmada and Moksha
Atopia groaned in the darkness of her cabin as the door pager chimed. Her husband murmured sleepily beside her as she sat up and pulled on a satin robe, tying it as she stepped over to the door. Tabitha was standing there, her fists balled and her jaw set.
“You have permission to fire me,” she said. “Teichmann’s gift just keeps on giving, dammit. We’re off course.”
Atopia’s eyes widened. “I’ll get dressed,” she said, “I’ll see you on the bridge.”
Tabitha blew out a breath and nodded as she slowly opened her hands. “I’ll make coffee,” she said as she turned and left.
Five minutes later, Atopia arrived on the bridge, dressed and steaming cup in hand. Tabitha and Bob were waiting for her at the co-pilot’s station. “How bad is it?” Atopia asked.
“It would be a lot worse if we had passengers or time-sensitive cargo,” replied Bob. “We’re off course by point-zero-zero-three-seven degrees. And that means we’re going to miss Moksha by about forty AU when we drop out of hyperspace.”
“Ugh,” said Atopia. “Are there any signs of temporal distortion?”
“No, thank The Maker,” said Tabitha, “but if we wind up that far off the system’s plane of the ecliptic, we’ll have to put the fuel baffles in Little Argent, get everyone aboard, dope the non-essential crew with Fast Drug and spend a week burning for Moksha at six gees.”
“Because we wouldn’t have enough fuel to jump again,” said Atopia with a nod, “or enough life support to survive the trip in normal space.”
“Correct,” said Bob. “But what I can’t figure is how the virus got back into our systems again.”
“I have,” said Tabitha with a dour expression. “Did you access the ship’s digital log before we left Narmada, your ladyship?”
Atopia pursed her lips and nodded. “I recorded the flight plan and our cargo, yes.”
“Then you’ll need to dig up the hard copy log and get it in order,” said Tabitha. “When Starlight gets to Moksha, we’ll have to file the forms to get permission from the Portmaster there to purge the log and reconstruct a replacement from the hard copy. Plus, I’ll have to purge the virus from our systems all over again.”
“The virus got into the ship’s log?” asked Bob. “That’s not supposed to be possible.”
“Not supposed to be,” echoed Tabitha, “but that’s the only way I can see this happening.”
Atopia put a hand on Tabitha’s shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. “I have complete confidence in your abilities to get us out of the mess Teichmann got us into,” she said, “so don’t beat yourself up. We’ll have plenty of time on Moksha to get Starlight running right again. You go on to bed now. See my husband for a sedative, if you need one. I’ll get to work on the log.”
065-1109, aboard Silver Starlight, in hyperspace within Moksha star system
--from the personal journal of Baronet Atopia Kesslering
I am genuinely happy to say that Silver Starlight should be on the ground at Port Danforth by the end of the day tomorrow. It has been a genuinely interesting couple of weeks out in the periphery of Moksha’s star system, and it is promising to be very profitable, too.
Fortunately for us, Starlight dropped out of hyperspace just 138 diameters from the outermost of the Moksha system’s four gas giants. We thanked the Great Maker for our luck and began the transit in to skim for fuel, though it was still a 12-hour haul. That’s when things got strange.
Olivia was taking her turn on flight watch when she came to wake me up. The sensors had detected another ship at extreme sensor range that was in a highly elliptical orbit around the gas giant. I remembered the reports of the rogue starship in the subsector, so I rousted everyone else and got the ship rigged for combat as we moved in.
As we closed in, we could see its genuinely strange design – a cluster of decks lower and forward, some sort of canopy that resembled the bellows from a blacksmith’s forge and two nacelles on slender supports from a cylindrical center section. When we got into visual range, we could make out markings on the nacelles that resembled Anglic letters – ANNIC NOVA.
(NOTE: Yes, this is the venerable “dungeon crawl – IN SPACE!” adventure from JTAS #1. Since I am something of a sentimentalist, I’m hoping I can be excused. Also, since Marc Miller still holds the copyright to this adventure, and there may be people reading this who haven’t played through it yet, I won’t reveal very much about it.)
We spent days going over its systems, figuring out how operate this alien starship and how it came to be at Moksha. In the end, the IISS sent Valo Arenson out with seven other Scouts aboard his surplus Type-S, Voidrunner. We briefed them about what we knew and they micro-jumped it back to Moksha, with Valo and the rest of us heading that way a few hours later.
We have been under self-imposed quarantine during our micro-jump, after being exposed to the alien environment aboard the other ship, but Winston hasn’t found any evidence of foreign contamination from the Nova. After the IISS doctors on Moksha give us a clean bill of health, I’ll be ready to get things in order both aboard ship and on Moksha.
I have decided that while the life of a gypsy merchant is grand, it’s no place to raise a young lady. I intend to make my case with Baroness Olivia Servantes for land for a fief, plus check in with Olga Belovol to see how Moksha Dawn Mining is doing. The IISS also wants a day of my and my crew’s time for a proper debriefing on the discovery of the Nova, too. Considering they will be endorsing a recommended salvage value for the Nova, I will be as helpful as I can. And, of course, Tabitha will be tearing the guts out of Starlight’s computer system to purge Teichmann’s virus once and for all.
And if that weren’t enough, the 1109 Narmada Subsector Moot is just over two cycles away, when I will seek the blessing of the Moot to become a landed noble and pass on my title to my child. All in all, things are looking up, despite the war. But it is best to let the more distant future to attend to itself – it is enough of a task to handle what happens tomorrow, after all.
And tomorrow is another day.