Trades of Terra Norma

Episode One

The Kindness of Strangers

Endiku IX Station, Endiku System

Salty sailor crop

“You reliable folks?”

Collins raises an eyebrow, looking each party member square in the eye.

Nods all around.

“Well, it ain’t in this orbit. Shit here; you know that. For this, you gotta head way out to the rim. Zhang-Xian station off Koschei IV. I got it on good authority that a nasty Crimson Flu tore through ‘em last week. Prob’ly a dozen captains sittin’ there with organics ’bout to rot, and half their crew in quarantine.” He chuckles, perhaps thinking of a rival captain having a good heave.

“You won’t be the only down-and-outers headin’ that way for work. But I s’pect with a good word from me you should be able to scrounge up somethin’ decent.”

The party offers its hearty thanks to Collins, but after learning that the Farmer’s Daughter is the only Koschei-bound ship for the next week, they press the gruff captain for an additional favor.

“Sorry, my mid-berths are all filled up, and I got low-berths offline,” says Collins.

Party members offer to bring their own cots and rations. They offer to sleep down among the lower deck bulkheads. Billy, a gifted computer jockey, offers his services during the trip, and a few of the others follow suit.

“Ehhhhh… Okay, fine, I’ll take yeh. Departure at minus twenty-four t-hours; don’t be late. Now, buy me another drink.”

Farmer’s Daughter, Endiku System

Beowulf side 1b

The following afternoon, after a little information gathering and supply shopping, the party reports to the Farmer’s Daughter. They check their weapons, undergo a cursory medical exam, then head down to the A-Deck, where they’ll be spending the duration of the trip.

“She’s not much to look at, but she runs like a dream!” says a two-foot-high robot, who patters into the Lower Cargo Bay just as the party is stringing up their cots.

“I’m the ship’s Steward, TP-810, or ‘Teapot’ if you like,” he says, giving a little salute. "I cook the meals, tend to the passengers, and do a little fix-it work on the side. Normally I’m not supposed to serve the low-berths, but according to the paperwork, you’re spending the next couple weeks as honorary crew members. Saves the Captain from having to explain an exceeded passenger capacity to the Trade Authority, I imagine.

“So… Welcome aboard, colleagues!”

The party spends some time chatting with their new, metallic friend, eventually taking him up an offer to tour the ship.

The Farmer’s Daughter is an older 200-ton Beowulf-class Type A Free Trader. The Type A is an extremely common make of tramp hauler, but this particular ship seems to have been maintained better than most. Her various patches and customizations reflect a history of talented engineers who took pride in their work.

The party takes in the highlights, noting the unusually relocated low-berths and a medical bay twice as spacious as most.

Along the way, they spot a few of the ship’s mid-berth passengers. There’s a gaggle of young toughs – probably underachievers en route to their first low-pay, high-hazard mining job. There’s a quiet father and son who keep to themselves, and a chatty gentleman with a pencil-thin mustache and a nice suit.

After a bit of unlucky card-playing, as Endiki shrinks in the C-Deck’s rear observation window, the party tucks in for some shut-eye.

Ship cargo bay resized

Brynn’s opens his eyes… Hmmm… Was that…?

A second gunshot rings out, then another. The entire party is awake, some already on their feet. More gunfire, then screaming. Clearly something unpleasant is taking place on an upper deck.

With creaks and groans, the giant freight elevator starts its descent from an upper level. Friend? Or foe?

Not taking any chances, the party looks around for useful supplies. With a few hold-out weapons, scavenged mechanics’ tools, a tube of ultragrease, and a steady hand controlling the overhead cargo crane, they stand ready.

The elevator inches downward. Soon the party can see boots, then pants, then…

It’s two of the mid-berth mining toughs, apparently sent down by their fellow hijackers to clean house. Yellow cloth armbands mark them as Junkers – an unsavory gang of pirates and scavengers. The pair wastes no time in attacking; the muscular one hefts his length of pipe into clobbering position, while the scrawny one draws his revolver.

The skirmish ensues, a blur of charging, bashing, shooting. The heftier thug is too distracted with his opponent to notice the cargo crane above him, descending with claws open. With a howl, he meets a messy end.

As the skinny thug watches with horror, the party’s Murdi darts in and snatches the revolver from his hand. Surrounded and outgunned, the desperate thug attempts the slowest escape in recorded history by activating the lift’s upward control. He makes it to a full six inches off the floor before—predictably—being gunned down.

As muffled shooting and shouting continues topside, the party makes a quick decision to split up. The three more combat-seasoned party members leap onto the ascending lift, while those left behind huddle around the cargo office computer, attempting to seize control of the rest of the ship’s systems.

As the heroes walk into the Main Cargo Bay, weapons drawn, the B-Deck party is addressed by one of the hijackers.

“You got some skill, taking out my boys. I can respect that. Come. Sit.”

The freckled redhead wears a scarf and cap, and sits behind the metal folding table used for card-playing just a few hours ago. Around him stand a pair of armed thugs, all wearing yellow armbands. Around them, the lifeless bodies of the ship’s crew. The redhead introduces himself as Daryl Thaz, boss of these Junkers, and motions toward three empty chairs.

The party inches forward cautiously, but fails to spot a third thug squatting behind a storage container in ambush. With the thundering boom of a sawed-off shotgun, blood is spilled and another brawl begins. Thaz flips the table for cover. More shooting. More stabbing. More blood. Thaz cackles like a madman as he empties round after round from his auto-loader.

The party’s skill turns fatal shots into lucky grazes, and they press hard to even the odds. The table itself transforms from cover to weapon, and one thug falls with a split skull. Soon another clutches his stomach and slumps to the ground.

Thaz himself backs toward the door. But his escape, and his cackling, are cut short when a fatal shot sends him tumbling down the corridor, a cloud of red mist left hovering in the air.

The party subdues the final hijacker, and after an unsuccessful interrogation, airlock him into deep space. He flails wildly, then not so wildly, then not at all.

The trio finds one last enemy on the bridge. The ship’s pilot is there, wearing his crew uniform, but also the yellow armband of the Junkers. Seeing this traitor, it suddenly becomes clear how the Junkers gained access to weapons and the ship’s vital systems. The pilot dives for a weapon, but is slain before he reaches it.

Beside him, on the floor, Grizzly Collins lies in a pool of his own blood.

“Wait, he’s alive.”

The captain still has a pulse. He needs more medical care than the party’s doctor can provide, but the party successfully moves him into a low-berth cryo-chamber, where his condition will remain stable until help can be found.

On the A-Deck, the party discovers that the Junkers hadn’t gotten around to slaughtering the passengers—the father, the son, and the dandy—they’d simply been locked in their staterooms. One of the party tells the passengers they are safe, but advises them to stay on the A-Deck until the mess below can be cleaned up.

Over the next few hours, the party moves the slain crew members into cryo-units beside the captain, preserving them until they can be given a proper burial. After picking through the Junkers’ remains for valuables, they unceremoniously airlock the corpses.

Teapot, the robot Steward, emerges from hiding, and over the next few hours helps the party to figure out the ship’s systems. He also explains that the ship is essentially theirs, according to salvage law. Although Collins might not take that news gracefully when he recovers. If he recovers.

The new crew of the Farmer’s Daughter divides up responsibilities, and decides to push on toward the Koschei IV system. There are still many things to discuss, decisions to make, and work to do. But as they prepare the ship for its J-1 slice into the slipstream, each of the party members silently entertains the same thought: that something truly significant just happened… This is the beginning of an adventure.

The beginning of an adventure

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trustywren

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