Three days from Zhang-Xian Station, Koschei IV System
After a restful week of sailing the slipstream, the Farmer’s Daughter splices out into the Koschei IV System. Precise pre-splice astrogation translates to a tight, three-day approach to Zhang-Xian Station, and a hull inspection reveals no noteworthy structural distress. Teapot claps his little metallic hands with gusto as he congratulates the crew on a job well done.
The inbound cruise is not without incident, however. Shortly after entering the system, setting a course, and downloading the latest system news and weather reports, there is a loud commotion on the passenger deck. Several crew member rush up to find Gregor kneeling, trying to console a hysterical Aidan. On the floor all around them lie shards of several broken display screens. Normally, a half-dozen monitors dot the upper deck’s bulkheads for passenger business and entertainment use. Now the four closest to the father and son are blackened craters of twisted metal and exposed wires, some still arcing with current.
Keeping his arms around the sobbing boy, Gregor is immediately apologetic. Upon questioning, Gregor reveals that the boy himself is responsible for this damage. He sometimes has destructive “fits,” explains Gregor. The boy can’t help it, however, he continues, and in exchange for the crew’s understanding, he’ll gladly pay for his son’s damages on-the-spot.
The crew shows great compassion by not accepting Gregor’s payment, and by letting Gregor usher the boy to his room to get some needed rest. As he’s ushered off, Aidan blubbers out his own apology in between sobs.
Curious to learn more about the incident, the more technically minded crew members examine the monitors further. They do not appear to have been shattered from any external impact. Nor do there seem to be any objects of sufficient heft lying around this deck. Nor does it seem likely the boy would be strong enough to wield such an object.
Upon further investigation, the monitors almost appear to have been detonated from the inside. The crew continues to ponder the situation, but to no avail. It just doesn’t make sense. One crew member starts to bring up the idea of psionic powers, but then realizes how silly that sounds (even the most addled space janitor knows that only Ambyloids possess such powers of the mind, and this boy is clearly a Terran), and he lets his comment slip by unnoticed.
One of the techies gets to work repairing the viewscreens. He works with intentional slowness, as this job gives him a good opportunity to keep an eye on the passenger deck. He observes nothing suspicious, although from time to time he spies Swan giving Gregor an odd look – as if he’s somehow sizing Gregor up; perhaps trying to get a bead on his intentions, or overall character.
Teapot is also told to keep a closer eye on the passengers. Although he tackles his assignment with typical Teapot enthusiasm, after two days his most damning report is that—during an impromptu midnight snack—Swan may have possibly double dipped a chip.
With no further disturbances, the inquiries die down, and before long the Farmer’s Daughter soon cruises into the Zhang-Xian Station hangar.
Zhang-Xian Station, Koschei IV System
The passengers, along with several crew members, disembark to attend to business on the station. But any hopes of carousing at the bar or brothel, browsing at the surplus depot, or tithing at the Temple of the Worm are almost immediately dashed.
As Swan splits off through the crowd to greet a waiting business associate, the party notices an out-of-place, make-shift Commonwealth checkpoint at the end of the corridor, manned by armed guards and two unpleasant-looking Commonwealth agents in matching black suits and ties. Gregor immediately panics, begging the crew to let him and his son return to the ship, and to travel with them a bit longer.
“Please,” whispers Gregor, “I’ll… I’ll tell you everything! Just… please let Aidan and I back aboard right away.”
To his surprise, the crew immediately consents. He rushes back, ducking and shielding Aidan from view.
The tension increases when Swan casually steps back and warns the crew that the agents have taken notice of their group; they’ll be coming over shortly to ask some questions. Swan says he’ll be fine, but that the rest of the group might want to consider quietly following Gregor back to ship, undocking, and putting some distance between themselves and the authorities.
“Listen, everything will work out,” says Swan. “I’ll stay here and work on finding buyers for your cargo. And I’ll track down some details about that salvage job you were looking for. Just get yourselves out of here, and come back when things have cooled down a bit.”
The crew doesn’t need any more convincing. They walk back as inconspicuously as possible, get the ship’s engines online, and drift back out into the void before any of the Commonwealth’s goons notice what’s happening.
As they head out to the jump point, Swan gets in touch and gives the crew two valuable pieces of information.
First, Swan recommends that, for answers to several pressing questions, they should check out the latest system-wide news transmissions. The crew plays the scans through a recent Commonwealth newscast, in between stories about the current decrease in Crimson Flu outbreaks, they are surprised to see the faces of Gregor and Aidan.
Fugitives. Wanted by Commonwealth authorities, for questioning regarding a series of criminal incidents within the Inner Homeworlds.
Vague and mysterious, as these Commonwealth missives usually are. The pair could be anything from mass murderers, to escapees from one of the few remaining slave worlds, to good, honest folks who just got on the bad side of the wrong influential CEO or politician. Fortunately, Gregor now seems much more willing to share his story.
Swan’s second piece of information: The Job. It looks like the Farmer’s Daughter will be heading to the Obsita system, to a jungle world of the same name. There (just over 0.5pc away), the crew will find two corporation-owned botanical/biological research sites; one an orbiting station, the other an underground bunker. Both suddenly ceased any and all outside contact roughly three weeks ago. If the crew acts fast, they just might be the first freelancers there. What they’ll find is a mystery. There might be researchers to rescue (always a profitable venture). If not, there will almost certainly be equipment and supplies to scavenge. Maybe even valuable research that could be sold back to the corporation, or auctioned to the highest bidder.
Opportunities this fresh don’t come along every day.
Gentlemen, prepare to splice.