A Hole Lot of Goods

Rocky got us a good jump through the La Tčne slipknot into the Neue Helvetica system. We were boosting for the moons around Tell when we received an automated distress call from Gryphon, which was registered to Clan Pavelich, a Ragnarok group connected with the shipyards. Following the signal, we found a cargo hauler tumbling out of control, a long way from anywhere. As we approached, Rocky carefully inspected the ship and saw a hole in the living spaces and signs of explosive decompression, although it didn't appear to be the result of explosives or beam weapons.

We were wary of pirates, but salvage rights beckoned. Crouching on his pilot chair, Kanoka massaged the engine and maneuvering jets to match velocity with the hauler, leaving Nelson to demonstrate microgravity drink-mixing and placate the annoyed, seasick passengers. The Margaritaville eventually settled roughly a kilometer from the distressed ship. Rocky headed out with Rędwolf and Passion on the EVA sled, guiding it amazingly smoothly alongside the gyrating vessel to a docking position near an emergency airlock. They listened for signs of life inside the lock and got nothing but dire automated warnings that intruders would be dealt with severely. Passion popped the outer door and they floated in through the wisps of escaping atmosphere. The inner door didn't want to budge until Passion duct-taped a safety sensor and hotwired it open.

The explorers moved noseward through airless compartments full of floating, freeze-dried bodies and garbage set in motion by what must have been a sudden decompression. Rędwolf examined some of the unfortunates; as best as he could tell, the cause of death was exposure to vacuum. As Rocky made to enter the bridge at the nose, he was nearly cooked by a beam; the automated warnings weren't kidding. We tried to draw fire with debris and then a corpse so someone could get in a disarm the defenses, to no avail. Passion slipped inside in his stealth suit, determining that nobody was alive in the bridge; an automated system was making its last stand. He crept to a terminal and worked with Nelson to force a restart of the intrusion protection system, then Nelson was able to remotely kick the ship's central computer into boot mode, with nothing but life support and autonomous systems active.

We quickly determined that the ship had suffered a catastrophic penetration by some kind of high-velocity projectile that had opened virtually the entire pressurized structure to space. Probing the computer, Nelson discovered a few compartments still pressurized. Rocky jacked into the communications system and hailed them (even hardboiled Ragnarokers apparently scribble passwords on sticky notes) and soon determined that nobody was left alive. He also found out the cargo; heavy metals, and a passel of cheap but sturdy shoulder-fired slug throwers.

It was time to claim our prize, and that meant slowing the tumble enough to take it in tow. Passion tried venting some of the remaining pressurized compartments to stop it, and ended up making it even worse. As the ship twirled like a teen gymnast, Rocky pulled up local repair manuals and parts inventories and sent the highly automated systems to work getting the engine restarted, as the away team scrounged the hulk for air tanks. An hour later, the ship rumbled to life, barely, and Kanoka crossed over on the sled to drive the two tethered ships carefully to Tell from the cargo hauler's console.

The complaints of the Margaritaville's microgravity-challenged passengers were nothing compared to the blizzard of writs, statements of complaint, and other lawyer-extruded paper that poured into the opened hatch on Tell. The hauler's insurance company, Helvetia Re, tried to put the whole thing down to an Act of God, while Clan Pavelich claimed all rights as owners. Meanwhile, we gradually noticed a series of gibberish-filled bureaucratic actions and filings with convinced us that some anonymous offworld heavyweight was putting in his oar.

Rędwolf immediately hired high-priced local lawyers and lured in some of the system's grasping financiers to bury Helvetia Re under absurd discovery requests and demands of security. A team of local inspectors dispatched by the insurance company tried to get a hold of the hauler, only to be physically ejected by Passion and friends. Clan Pavelich tried to undermine Passion's standing, pointing out that he was entirely outside the system, then tried to use local contacts to gain legal title, only to find that our quick-thinking lawyers had tied the whole thing up in escrow. Helvetia Re moved ahead with claims that we hadn't filed properly for salvage. We were able to navigate the admiralty bureaucracy that they drew in, only to find that many officials were batting away crude attempts at intimidation by the mysterious offworlders.

In the end, we assembled a syndicate of buyers for the ship who then used their own influence (and bribes) on the relevant officials, despite Helvetia Re's own expertise in their home bureaucracy. Clan Pavelich sent charming lobbyists and even made a personal appeal to Rędwolf that fell on deaf ears ("I thought you were our friend!"). They and the insurance company weren't helped by the mysterious offworlders, who somehow produced a weird chain of liens on the ship and engaged in some non-so-veiled threats against the local firm. Finally, we convinced officialdom that the ship had already been sold to the syndicate, and left the system with our virtual pockets stuffed — at least enough for a good evening at the onboard casino.

Copyright ©2010 David Dunham. Last updated 10 Feb 10.

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