Mongoose Traveller Tale in the Third Imperium


This thread will include lots of spoilers, all the spoilers, for the Spinward Marches campaign, one or two of the rift adventures, a number of the TAS scenarios and Mysteries, Secrets and Wrath of the Ancients eventually. So don't read if you want to play any of those games.

[NB: I am copying these from my notes and will be coming back to edit as I can. But if I try to make time to clean them up first I'll never post them. So please be forgiving of my typo's, grammar and general lack of writing talent.]


Polybius Comnenus (Sex: Male; Age 30 Ethnicity: Vilani. Background Terms: Psi community/Warrior Psion/Warrior Psion)

Helena Rhoanion (Sex: Female; Age 30 Ethnicity: Terran. Background Terms: Naval Academy: Nobel/Agent)

Vasquez (Sex: Female; Age 30 Ethnicity: Terran. Background Terms: Naval Academy: Space Marine/Space Marine)

Peter (Sex: Male; Age 30 Ethnicity: Terran. Background Terms: Space Community/Scout/Scout)

I, Polybius Comnenus, originate on Regina in the Spinward Marches at the edge of the Third Imperium. I come from a somewhat closed community in the city of Corona, which, as you know, is part of the fiefdom of the (sub-sector) Duke of Regina. I say a “somewhat closed” community as I, and most of my family, are psions. Following the Psionic Suppression (800 - 860) over 200 years ago psionics are banned across the Imperium and children are brought up to believe psions are nasty manipulative monsters. The Spinward Marches are the spinward-hubward corner of the Imperium and just a few parsecs away it lies the Consulate of Zhodani, a political body of a couple of thousand worlds which is inhabited by a human variant who were uplifted and form whom psionic are common. They won’t be part of my story, nor, I expect, will the Ancients who vanished 300,000 years ago and apparently did a lot of things, including uplifting humans in different ways. My ethnicity, Vilani, was uplifted to have longer life spans.

Anyway, back to my point. My community dates back to pre-suppression years and originates in a psionic commando battalion (the Fourth Psi Battalion, “The Movers”) which disbanded with the suppression and went underground. The Duke, who does not share the common prejudice against psions, shields my community from the Imperial Intelligence services as a potential weapon against the fearsome Zhodani Psi Commandoes.

I was brought up in the traditions of my community and have a full ranges of psionic powers with a special talent for teleportation. We form a closed part of Regina’s territorial army. Naturally, we need to have other work and I sent a lot of my summer holidays having adventures on my uncle Vlen’s trader when he was working locally. I went to Regina University to study biological sciences but ended up choosing an eclectic selection of courses and in particular fell in love with archeology. I actually penned a well received paper in the end of the Ancients which nearly led to a duel with the noble (Malik Haut-Tarve) who taught the course. Clashing with nobles is not a good idea and I may live to regret that.

My other encounter with Imperial nobility took the pleasing shape of Helena of Rhylanor. Third daughter of the Count of Rhylanor, no less. I know, I know, how foolish am I? The high nobility all marry for politics. This will definitely crop up more in my tale.

Helena Rhoanion graduated top of her class from Naval Academy and then served as Imperial Liaison on a heavy cruiser after a stint commanding a corvette patrol vessel. After a few years of this she took an official position in the Imperial Diplomatic service and was stationed on Regina. Although she was officially a diplomat and served in that role she was actually a member of Imperial Intelligence, running missions along the border with the Consulate. She was successful, loved the adventure and had a reputation as being exception at sniffing out Zhadoni spies.

The reason she was so good at sniffing out Zhodani was quite simple. When serving with the Sector Fleet she had been stationed briefly at Regina where she met and started an affair with yours truly. During an amorous encounter my telepathic powers had an unusual response in Helena which resulted me having her tested for psionic potential. She demonstrated aptitude for telepathy and telekineses. She doesn’t have my years of training, true, but she can certainly “ping” the area around her for signs of life. Individuals with psionic shields (everybody with a talent for telepathy, including Henley herself) are invisible to this technique, so it is easy to look at a group of people, ping them and if someone is there who isn’t locatable with psionic you know they are a psion, or are wearing a technical device which shields one from telepathy, which would be obvious.

Part of the reason Helena transferred to the Diplomatic Corps was to be with me, which was very sweet. After a few years one Sember Valargunia, the second son of an Imperial Baron, arrived from off-planet. He had heard from his father a rumour of my community, and obsessed with learning psionics himself, pulled strings and tracked us down. He was tested and came up negative. Believing we were denying him his birthright he took revenge by informing Helena’s family of our affair. She was recalled immediately, but not before fighting and seriously wounding Sember in an official duel (she's both ferocious when roused and pretty good with a sabre).

I met Vasquez when I was about 21 on an archeological dig over on Feri, less than half a dozen parsecs from Regina. This was before the current civil war but during one of the pre-war conflicts. We were isolated by the fighting and a full platoon of Imperial Marines were sent in for pick us up. In the end they managed to get through to us but were not able to evacuate us for several months. I was responsible for liaison with the marines and had already spent the summer managing our power plant at the dig, troubleshooting tech problems with our old fusion generators. I put into practice quite a few of the drills I had learned in my childhood when the fight got close and we had to defend ourselves. This included operating a RAM grenade launcher, which Vasquez swore to never let me touch again ("The most terrifying 18 seconds of my life", she later said). Fighting with the marines led to a friendship with Vasquez which lasted beyond the short period we were on Feri together. She was from Regina, a poor neighbourhood in Credo. She had won a scholarship to the Naval college and joined the 4518th regiment of the Dukes Huscarls as an ensign on graduation. While technically an air lift army unit in the planetary forces (as opposed the Imperial military) Vasquez was in the Space Assault battalion and in all ways was trained and functioned as a marine. Her battalion was detached from planetary forces and severed as colonial forces in a regular Space Marine regiment. After a rapid rise though the ranks to captain Vasquez realised her lack of noble connections meant her career was not going to go anywhere she left when transferred to an armoured recon battalion back in planetary force.

Peter grew up on Glisten around 30 parsecs rimward of Regina. Technically a spacer community Glisten is highly technically advanced. Peter initially studied engineering but joined the Imperial Scout Service as soon as he graduated. He spent a few years as a surveyor in the Five Sisters sub-sector before becoming a courier based at Regina. He often flew noble diplomats out from Regina to border planets, particularly Esalin and Quar. He hit it off with Helena, who is the most down to earth noble you could meet. When she used her influence to get an express packet assigned to him instead of a Type S scout he realised the benefits of having a noble patron - and one who was not an absolute snob! He effectively became her pilot and ended up in dangerous situations as she took him on various spying missions.

Our story begins with Helena having been discharged form the Imperial Diplomatic Corps and disobeying her father’s demand that she returns home for an arranged marriage. She and I met up with the newly discharged Vasquez and talked Peter into taking a sabbatical to join us. The plan was to run down to sub-sector District 268, most of which is Spinwards of the Third Imperium proper, and see what life brings us. The adventure begins as we are woken by emergency alarms in the middle of a sleep-cycle. The ship has miss-jumped and we are all going to die. In our PJs we each snatched up our personal comms and dived into a individual escape pods and hoped for the best...
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The story starts out a simple diary and gets more detailed as I found myself taking more notes...
Start date: 180-1079

Day 1

Due to a miss-jump we ended up having to do an emergency landing on Gunn in an escape pod. Landed on the glacier on the East of the Island. Met up with Helena, Peter and Vasquez. Also with Noreena Sampson (F, 14, daughter of Lord Evan Sampson, Baron of Caladbolg) and her tutor/chaperon Miss Lucy (f, 62). Miss Lucy thought we were a threat to Noreena and I needed to use Telepathy to disarm her after she started brandishing one of the snub pistols she had recovered from a pod. We got along after she saw how we are looking after her princess. She is very deferent to “Sir” Helena.

Day 2

Having made sledges from parts of the wrecked pods we pulled them across the glacier towards the west where the electronic map indicated Settlement is. Made Camp.

Day 3

Carried on across the glacier. Camp.

Day 4

Reached the edge of the glacier. Found a cave which a weird dog-lizard lived in. Killed and ate the beast although it bit me and I needed to use awareness to heal and avoid potential infection.

Day 5

Stayed in cave while P and V and scouted ahead.

Day 6

Stayed at cave using clairvoyance to see ahead.

Day 7

Headed out to the west. Came across another "razormouth" as Noreena has labelled them. We tried to sneak past but Miss Lucy and Noreena were a little clumsy. When it came to investigate we shot it. They don’t taste very nice.

Day 8

Hard going in the marshes. V found some quicksand in ankle deep water. Only managed half a dozen kilometres today.

Day 9

We are in the central uplands. We are keeping to the higher ground to avoid the marshes. Sick of the wet! Noreena is starting to enjoy the adventure after days of moaning. On the other hand Miss Lucy is starting to struggle. She is trying to hide it but it is clear now.

Day 10

We decided to make a raft. Spent all day on it and but it will be difficult with the tools at our disposal. I spoke to P about it and then worked out a rota and we are making progress. We have found a deep cave with fissures running deeper underground.


We carried on making the raft. Hard work and we don’t really know what we are doing. Noreena improvised a sketch show in the evening which was very silly and funny. Miss Lucy was horrified and had an argument with Helena who spent some precious comm battery filming it. But it cheered us up.

Day 12

More raft building. H and V went hunting and Noreena went with them. Tempers frayed a little as Miss Lucy thinks the raft is taking too long. We met a strange dinosaur-like thing or “plateface” as Noreena called it. Like a little triceratop. They seem peaceful and we have plenty of food so we didn’t try to hunt it.

Day 13

Raft coming along better now. It will be finished tomorrow. We will hunt and then rest for the remainder of tomorrow, setting off the next day. Even Miss Lucy is looking better for the break in the rain. Helena spoke to her about the benefits of this kind of experience in a leader, so Lucy is less concerned about the impact of all of this on Noreena’s “development”. Noreena is intelligent and keen to learn. Everyone likes her after a rocky start. No longer the spoiled brat she was!

Day 14

Steering a raft is not easy. Noreena fell off twice and I did one one occasion, which Helena will never let me forget. Made good progress though. Our evening routine is well established now. Noreena will act out a one person “play”, another will tell a story. We might play charades (V is surprisingly good at guessing, H naturally good at expressing) and then security checks, which everyone takes part in.

Day 15

We were followed by some small crocodiles today. Half a dozen or so. V shot one with the survival rifle. It tasted awful but Noreena made a little song about them which wasn’t very good really but we all laughed at Miss Lucy’s face! I am still starting the day with clairvoyance and it seems to be helping. Helena backs up my “intuition” and no one seems suspicious yet. Well, maybe P.

Day 16

We reached the end of the current patch of water. P, myself and N went ahead to scout and about 6 km farther on we found navigable water agin. We rested for the day and will try to carry the raft tomorrow. We are all tired and need the rest.

Day 17

We were quite disorganised so again my leadership skills came in handy - if only to make sure P got his way. We spent all day moving the raft and camp. We found a carcass of a “plateface” covered in the little bat-like crawlers which we saw alit on the first razermouth that we killed. We will look out for them, as we think they follow the razormouths.

Day 18

We managed to go a couple of kilometres when Miss Lucy - who was otherwise unoccupied - spotted a tower on the hill we were circumnavigating. It took us the rest of the morning to get to the summit and clear the undergrowth from the tunnel-entrance. It was an old scout refuge. It had old solar panels which still worked! We cleaned the moss from the panels to get as much juice out of them as possible and spent the rest of the day charging and using our comms, playing games or making notes. Helena worked out that the whole building was an antenna and, with the signal boosted, we were able to pick up a ship transponder! I must confess to a tear in my eye at the news. Lucy was positively bawling. Only Noreena looked glum. It was a false alarm though. We merely picked up the transponder from the Lusitania, which was the ship we were on when all this happened. I am going to study up on astrogation if we get out of here. This won’t happen on my watch!

Day 19

Our punting was prevented by thick overgrown bushes and trees. We turned around and will try again tomorrow. Spirits are low after the false hope of the transponder. Even Noreena’s mood was low.

Day 20

We moved farther out on the lake today, to avoid the higher ground to the west, which would make the raft useless. I was definitely nervous. If the others were they didn’t show it. We thought we spotted a few of the little croc things. But nothing came close enough for us to be sure.


We got a shock this morning! A “croconeck” (again N), stuck its head out of the water and started nosing through our stuff. It wasn’t very large, but it did it so casually that when P turned round and noticed it he literally yelped! Other than that we had a good day’s travel.

Day 22

We took a day off and hunted. We are doing ok for food but we wanted a break and to be back on dry land, if there is such a thing here. We split into two parties and even Lucy took part. Just as we were about to turn back we came across the most unexpected find. A section of fused road. It was unmistakable. Presumably from an earlier period of colonisation. I think may even be Vilani dating back to the First Imperium.

Day 23

Another good day of travel. P lost his comm, though. He dropped it overboard and we couldn’t find it as the water was a few metres deep at that point. We are all being extra careful in case it happens to any of us. Noreena’s evening sketch was pretty ruthless!

Day 23

A very rainy day but good progress. Helena and I can feel the presence of the settlement, it’s only 70 or 80 km away. But we can’t let the others know, for the obvious reason.

Day 24

It was so sunny today we only travelled for a few hours and then rested. Noreena has contrived an awful string instrument - apparently she is something of a cello prodigy. She regaled us for a half an hour as we threw things at her to get her to stop. Spirits were lifted. I have started teaching her some presentation skills and Helena has been talking to her about script writing and she tells us she is writing a three act play about the journey.

Day 25

Disaster! We lost our raft and a lot of out equipment, including a tent, food and some survival packs. A huge long necked crocodile - Noreena later lamented that she had given away the name "croconecks" too quickly - attacked us. None of us saw it coming. It bumped us from underneath and then tried to take a bite out of the raft. Noreena fell in but the rest of us kept our footing. Lucy dived straight in to get Noreena - which was unnecessary as the little one can swim pretty well - and lost her pack and machete in the process. P, V and myself opened fire straight away and used a lot of ammunition. V had the carbine and used almost all the rounds we have. I ended up going in the water to help Lucy and got a nasty nip from the critter. I lost my knife in it’s mouth and nearly lost my arm - again awareness training saved me. Parts of the raft came loose and by the time we got back to “dry” land it was only three logs. Old “BigSki” as Noreena had named our “vessel” was no more. We grimly packed up, found a dryish patch of land and set up camp. We didn’t play charades. Miss Lucy is pretty ill and seems to have a fever. Noreena is very upset.

Day 26

Crash! We saw the final descent of the Lusitania in the early hours. P, who was on watch, woke us all and we watched in silence. We didn’t discuss it, we just packed as soon as we had eaten and set off west towards the crash sight. There might be valuable salvage! We rigged up a make-shift stretcher over Lucy’s protestation as she obviously can’t walk far. She suggested we come back for her but we didn’t want to leave her. A surprisingly good 10 km today.

Day 27

Razormoths! We wandered into a clearing with more than half a dozen of the critters! A tense moment passed and then P opened up with with his snub pistol and I joined in. We both hit a couple but didn’t bring any of them down. The noise startled them and they ran. We were pretty lucky and I think we are somewhat reckless after losing the raft. Spirits remain low and we are all worried about Lucy. Noreena suggested that we leave the hunt for the wreckage and go straight for the settlement but we are only a few kilometres away so agreed to carry on in the morning.

Day 28

It was harder going than we expected and so had to back-track. Spirits at an all time low. Noreena is barley speaking and spends all her time with Lucy. I think she feels guilty that she was enjoying herself.

Day 29

We found the Wreck! The power plant is inactive but I think we can get it up and running. We found some caves and stashed Lucy and our equipment and searched for salvage. P found his gauss pistol would you believe! We have some more clothes, blankets, ship rations, a basic ship’s med kit and a few other bits and pieces. I have started Lucy on some antibiotics. Everyone is in better spirits apart from Noreena. She is now castigating herself for her “bad decision making” in wanting to skip the wreck and therefore miss out on the antibiotics “…I nearly killed Lucy!”. Poor girl. Helena and I are taking turns soothing her with telepathy.

Day 30

We decided to stay for a few days until Lucy is fit to travel. We set off a few flares last night as it seemed quite clear and we hope we are close enough to the settlement to elicit some help.

Day 31

Another rest day. At least Noreena is a little more cheerful as Lucy improves. We buried the dead we found. Four in total but we only recognised two, one was the captain and the other was a fellow traveller. A sad afternoon.

Day 32

We set off along the coast. We were beaten back by a storm which blew in from the sea. We will try again tomorrow.

Day 33

We set off again. Good progress and the weather was clear. We are travelling light.

Day 34

Another clear day with good progress.

Day 35

We stumbled into an area of march gas! Fortunately we didn’t ignite it and were able to move away safely.

Day 36

Contact! We ran into some locals who were coming to investigate the flares we set off. They are very hospitable and we will be in the settlement tomorrow night.

Day 37

Arrived at the settlement.
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At Audamu village

Week 1

We spent the week getting to know the villagers and resting. We hadn’t really understood how much weight we were losing, apart from Noreena who has gained mass in the 7 weeks of travelling. So we are calling her “Fat-Nor” (at her own instigation). Lucy is much improved and everyone is starting to relax. We can sleep without a watch. We have been loaned a run-down house in the village. Lucy and Noreena have gone to stay with a family so Lucy can be nursed back to health and Noreena can be “kept decent!” (which made us laugh).

Week 2

We are trying to contribute to to the village as best we can. An old man (Birger m, 59) has taken me under his wing and is showing me how to use his longbow and hunt. V, P and myself are all selling labour in exchange for skills - we don’t have a joiner among us so we need villagers to help. They might loan us an empty house but they aren’t going to work for freeloaders. I am Birger’s hunting apprentice in the mornings and in the afternoons I am mainly chopping wood. Helena has scrounged some painting materials and is enjoying being an artist. I think the locals can tell she is high nobility even though she is very down to earth and perfectly happy to get her hands dirty. The villagers are a mix of Imperials and Sword Worlders so the gender roles are quite strong. Not enough for people to be shocked at Vasquez but enough for people to expect Helena to be cooking. She’s not bad and obviously is turning on the charm so all the women like her. We have been starting to drop hints about the usefulness of a fusion reactor. The wreck of the ship is legally ours as there were no survivors and we don’t think we count having ejected. So the ownership falls to use. We want to get them to help us move it to the village and we will set things up. Apparently, ships only come through every few months, if that. So we have to make the best of it. We know there are power tools which survived and I think it is likely that we can repair some laptops. We could definitely set up a bath house in town and lights in every house. But we need them to want it too, so they contribute labour to move the bloody thing.

Week 3

Things have settled into our new normal. We have generated sufficient interest in the reactor for the village to call a meeting next week. Noreena has been forced to go to the local school, which is pretty basic and she is not happy. They don’t seem to really believe that she is a local noble. Lucy is being reasonable and has volunteered to teach, undoubtably to be near her charge.

Week 4 + 5

The villagers have agreed to help us move the reactor. We went out to check on it and scavenge. We brought back a lot of equipment. We don’t know how much works, but we do have 2 fully functioning vac. suits and some power tools. We also brought back quite a few engineering tools such as adjustable spanners and screw drivers. I think the villagers regard these tools as making the work help worth it. We are planning the move. I will go out there with V and P to start dismantling sections and we will set off one of our remaining flares when we are ready. It should be 2 or 3 weeks but not too long.

Week 6

Out at the reactor. It is more work than we feared, but not ridiculously so. We brought out a decent amount of supplies and Birger and a couple of others came too.

Week 7

Continued work on the reactor. We have also salvaged a considerable amount of equipment.

Week 8

Slipped and cut myself badly yesterday. Fortunately no one saw so I could use awareness. A storm blew up so we didn’t get much done this week. We had a job tying things down and used a couple of the pod parachutes, which we had brought, as tarpaulins.

Week 9

We finished dismantling the reactor as much as is safe. It is still going to be a hard task to move the core on rollers. I think it is pretty solid so it shouldn’t come to any harm.

Week 10

Rebuilding the reactor in the town centre. Work was delayed for a few days after some large groups of Razormouths were spotted and we all went on amass hunt to kill or drive them away. The villagers can actually make them taste nice! We had a meeting and they are constructing a barn around us as we work. It’s been amazing to see the entire village come out and work on housing the reactor. They seem very lively. A few of the elders in the village understand that technically we own the reactor and equipment and are a little suspicious, but on the whole people are excited.

Week 11

We fired up the reactor and it works! We have put it in “sleep mode” and now we have to bring back the fuel processors. Another big job but not as big as the jobs we have done.

Week 12

Work was interrupted as there is an annual festival this week. It was nice to take a break. P got the emergency transmitter going which means if any ships jump into the system for fuel they are legally obliged to come and check on us.

Week 13

We moved the fuel processors back to the village. They are in a bad way and I am not sure we can fix them. We are going to give it a damn good try. Noreena is scandalising the village by slipping out to hunt or getting covered in grease helping one of us with the work we are doing on the reactor.

Week 14

We have been working with the smith to make some parts but it doesn’t look good. We are using the computers built into the vacc. suits to run diagnostics on the processors as we can’t get either of the laptops we working. We looted the suits and made a verbal interface with a P-HUD and this is working fine. The PRIS goggles we found are not working properly and without them I can’t even be sure what is wrong. Some things are obvious but I am not sure about some systems. I am trying to by-pass the obvious.

Week 15

I can’t do it. The tools and equipment which does work is very gratefully received. The power tools will last a long time if the reactor is only used to power them. But our broader ambitions are thwarted. The villagers are pleased with us, though. They have seen us work hard for weeks and they appreciate people who will contribute. So we have been told we are welcome to stay.

Week 16

I’m becoming a fair shot with the longbow. Birger said he is willing to admit I am his student now. He said it with a grin. My time on uncle Vlen’s start ship has given me a few more useful skills in a village than I realised. More with pieces of metal than wood but still, we can all help out. We are a little low, apart from Noreena and Lucy. Noreena is adamant that her father is scouring the Chartered Universe to find her and it is only a matter of time. Everyday starts with a bleary-eyed Fatty-Nor asking “Are they here yet?”.

Week 17

They arrived! Not Noreena’s search parties. We were jumping from Melior to Pagaton en route from Glisten to Flammarion when the jump went wrong. So no-one knew where to look. Lucy didn’t like the look of the travellers who landed near the village. She said they were pirates. “Why else would they be re-fueling on the sly when they could have jumped straight to Caladbolg?”. I’m not so sure. They looked a scruffy lot but we would probably happily save money skimming a gas giant if we didn’t have business in a star port. Lucy and Noreena refused to ship with them. Instead, Noreena and Lucy both wrote letters to the Baron and Norneena transferred 5,000 credits to the spacers to deliver it, via her comm. They said they will go straight to Caladbolg but I think they will just drop off the message at the next starport they visit - after all they have the girls money. They said they are on the way to Mertactor so that might be a few weeks as they are in a far trader. We’ll see.

Week 18

We have settled down to our routine, waiting for rescue. None of us wanted to leave without Noreena and she was determined. The locals who make use of the power tools are volunteering to help work on our house, their wives are popping round saying things like “… just baked and have some extra...” or giving us old furniture.

Week 19

Noreena is furious. She thinks the spacers took her money and ignored our predicament. That’s something only the vilest pirate would do. It is much more likely that they have carried on their way and, if they went to Dawnworld first jump out it might not have been possible for them to find a reliable way to get the news to Caladbolg. Something will turn up.

Week 20

We have been on this planet for over 6 months now. Noreena turned 15 this week and the village came out to celebrate. It was quite the affair. With the usual singing then set out dances and we had a huge feast. Turning 15 is a coming of age birthday here and more than one hopeful lad was turned away with the spirited disdain only a born noble can muster! There was a lot of laughter. Even the lads saw the funny side eventually. I’ve been teaching her Reginan ju-jutsu and Vasquez has been teaching her boxing, so it’s a good job all the boys stayed polite.

Week 21

The village was shocked to awaken to voices coming over a tannoy! A squad of Starship Troopers in full battle dress and armed with fusion weapons had been deployed by an Imperial heavy cruiser with was in orbit above the village! People were pretty scared, myself included. The message had finally got back to Noreena’s father and he had demanded the navy respond appropriately. A heavy cruiser! Noreena was whisked away immediately and arrangements were made for us to pack up and leave. We left most of our equipment with our new friends. I gave Birger our survival gun and he gave me his longbow - which I was pretty pleased about as it is a nice bow! We promised to be back to repair the fuel processors but we could see that no one believed they would see us again. It was a sad parting. I kept my snub pistol. It had been very useful and it was the first gun that I have felt was my own. Noreena was kept in her quarters for the jump back and we didn’t even see her as we disembarked. There were representatives of the Baron at the Highport in the form of Imperial security who immediately detained us. So much for doing the right thing, eh?
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Week 1

We arrived and were immediately detained. They took us to a starport facility and were informed we were being held under suspicion of kidnapping a member of the Imperial Nobility. We scarcely had time to share horrified glances when the sweating officer in charge barked an order to an underling and turning to us commented that “now we will find out who you really are” while our biometric data was compared to our I.D. cards. Of course, Helena’s came up as suspicious, as her biometrics mark her a the daughter of a count and her I.D. is an old intelligence issue one. We could see the young officer’s face as the computer started to emit an alarm indicating a problem, but the commander didn't turn to look. He shouted “Ha! Got you. Take them to the cells!” the latter at another officer. The youngster at the desk told the commander he needed to “come take a look” and moving over to the desk, visibly irritated and not taking his eyes off us until he was in front of the machine the commander sneered and then looked down. They manner in which his face drained of colour looked like it belonged in a ani-flic. Helena had stood up by now and with the utter disdain only found in her class turned to the officer who had been ordered to take us to the cells “Well, follow your orders, I will be proud to be incarcerated with these honourable fellows but I absolutely will not stay here and be spoken to in such a vulgar manner!” When the poor sod didn’t move Helena fixed her mind on his and with the strongest “push” I’ve seen her achieve yet, sent a telepathic order. Turning on his heel he walked us out of the room, along a fusion-rock corridor and held open the cell door. We could hear the commander spluttering in confusion. Some 20 minutes later a now obsequious commander personally unlocked the door, expressed his most sincere apologies for the misunderstanding and we were marched out of the cell, the unit, the Highport and ushered into a stretch air/raft and whisked away. The flyer and the guard in the front seat were both bearing the insignia of the Baron. Obviously, Noreena and Lucy had had a chance to tell their story.

After two days in an impressive hotel we were flown to a fabulous palace in the middle of an exquisite country estate where we were presented to the Baron, his family and major officials of his court in attendance. Looking frankly bewildered (his wife looked red around the eyes) he thanked us and asked it was true that I had fought a giant crocodile which was trying to swallow his daughter. I laughed and explained and when I told him that I regretted losing my knife in its mouth he gave a shudder and laugh, nodded to his majordomo who inturn clapped his hands and 4 servants stepped forward, each carrying a longish box. These opened to reveal beautifully made sabres baring the Baronial crest. Small medallions were tied to the hilt. The Baron looked awkward and spoke to Helena. He seemed to find it easier to cope with the situation by assuming that we were her entourage. He thanked her for taking her daughter into her protection and informed her that an official thanks was to be sent to the County of Rhylanor. He muttered something about it being unfortunate when families fall out and the the wished for a speedy reconciliation between Helena and her father (evidently he had heard of the rift) and said that he had added a code to all of our I.D.’s to the effect that we were to be given priority support as members of his household if need be. The medallions would broadcast a priority rescue alert via a ships transponder when pressed. The swords would also give a clear indication of our status in his household - such marks of esteem are not freely given out. He said he had included Helena so she has noble protection even while travelling “incognito” as he delicately put it.

Week 2

We spent some time with Noreena who tried to convince P, V and myself to join her father’s staff. Towards the end of the week we found out preparations were under way to complete the work we had begun on the reactor back on Gunn. We were invited to join the upcoming expedition. Noreena had demanded that sufficient computers along with a new fuel reprocessing plant be provided plus tools and other bits and pieces. She’s buzzing with energy. I think the escapade was good for her and she will one day make a better Baron because of it.

Weeks 3 - 5

We enjoyed the hospitality of the Baron, seeing him once or twice - although Helena had several meetings with him. The estate is wonderful and it has been a lovely time. Our I.D.’s are up to date and we have been supplied with clothes. We have each been gifted a shiny new gauss pistol ("For next time you have to protect the vulnerable") and we will be setting off for Gunn to help with the project.

Week 6

The jump was uneventful. We should be coming out of it any time now. Still a bit nervous about jumps but that’s understandable.

Week 7

I enjoyed our visit. We had a full engineering team and they had the reactor and fuel processor set up in no time. I spent most of my time just hanging out with the locals. Although the engineers finished the job we got the credit. I think we might become folklore in the village of Audamu. We promised to call in when we can, but this felt like a true parting. After 8 days we were back in jump space.
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Setting of for Flammarion 066-1080

The Baron used some influence to get us on board an X-boat and we will be in Flammarion in a week. It was incredibly tough saying goodbye to Noreena. I have a feeling we will see her again.

Week 1

That was the most uncomfortable week, and that’s saying something considering Gunn! We were cramped and our pilot was surly and drunk most of the time. We were very pleased to get to Flammarion. Flammarion has surprisingly security heavy given the low(ish) law level. As we went through customs we were asked about our gauss pistols, which we were all carrying “This is the Third Imperium, not the Glorious Empire, what’s with the cannons?” “They aren’t illegal, are they?” “Not if you have a concealed carry permit.” So we all were ushered into a dingy security room to fill in the paper work. The side room clashed with the shiny corridors of the high port, scruffy furniture and dirty walls. The security couldn’t help but admire our guns and then one of them recognised the crest. “You guys are in the service of Baron Caladbolg?” “Sort of, we looked after his daughter for a while.” And then they recognised us. The interview which Helena had given weeks ago had made a small stir in the datasets across District 268, apparently. We’re minor celebrities, which is weird. They processed us quickly and took holopics with us - especially Helena, who, granted, is a looker.

You have to traipse through the whole port to get to the hotels. We took the shuttle, booked into the TAS hotel, dropped our bags and went to look around. Lots of security posts. Flammarion Highport is basically a big Ling Standard Products installation. They literally own the planet, running the mines and own all the shops. They lease a section to the IISS and have small ship yards here, as well as manufacturing plants. It’s all for export and the shops didn’t have much that’s impressive. I went shopping but only bought some software (training apps for the astrogation exam, amongst others) and we all picked up some P-HUDs for our guns and linked them to our DD/rs. Peter sent a vidmess to one Mr. Anders Casarii who he knows from a few years back when he was last here. P thinks he might put some work our way. Which is why P anted to head this way.

Week 2

It turns out P was correct. An old S-type was abandoned on Walston. It had been loaned out to discharged scouts. This is common enough as it saves the IISS from forking out for docking and if the ship is needed the current users are usually browbeaten into crewing the ship for whatever purpose it has been recalled for. It seems the previous crew had been selling off the new parts and buying second hand from the last few IISS refits and overhauls. They had let it run down so badly that the control electronics failed. They made it back to Flammarion with their log, got nicked and are inside. This is all months ago. Casarii wants us to take a bunch of kit out there, jury-rig the old banger and bring her back for a full refit. He offered 1,000 credits each, which isn’t much but the addition of full expenses including fuel and life support on our way back makes it pretty easy money. I have some income from some ships shares but I’d like to save that up and out down a deposit on a FT if I can. So we said yes and we are booked on Autumn Gold tomorrow. That will make a round week at the Highport, which is enough. It’s not a bad station but other than the bars and the shopping mall there isn’t much to do.

Week 3

We just landed at 567-908. Corelli, captain of Autumn Gold had a drop off there for the IISS and we will be away in a day or so. I’m glad I picked up a good breather so I could get off the ship but there is nothing here, not even much air. There are a dozen scouts and they were happy to see new faces. We walked up to the small observatory on a hill a few kilometres from the landing strip and lost some money playing poker with the astronomers. The whole planet is grey. I had the feeling that we were being watched but I have that a lot since Gunn. Right, we’re off. I’m as soon as we go into a jump I get a bit angsty and log into my astrogation trainer. I’ll get used to it. At this rate I only have a few more lessons to go and I can do the provisional license exam.

Week 5

We just came out of jump in the Walston System. It will take a couple of days to get to Walston Main. I’ll be glad to get off Autumn Gold. Michelle is a good captain and the crew are friendly enough bunch, especially to someone like myself who has been part of a trader's crew a good few times. However, we have only been off-ship for long enough to go for an extended walk since we left Flammarion three weeks ago.
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On Walston 096-1080

Day 1

It’s raining. The downport is typical of places like Walston: a fusion-stone landing area which could accommodate maybe a 600 ton vessel, a warehouse for goods and a few buildings for customs and security. The Autumn Gold is only staying long enough to refuel - its only business here is to drop us off. The crew helped us carry the 3 crates of equipment and replacement parts which we have been given and showed us to the customs office. There were three officers, peaked squarish caps, square cut uniform jackets and two tone blue long tartan kilts. Thick wooly socks and sturdy boots completed the look. They looked at us with bored eyes: “Short stay, recreational?” “No, we’re here to pick up a scout but we can’t see it. Is there another landing strip?”. “Not the Highndry?”

They didn’t look impressed when we told them we were after just that ship and told us that they don’t like trouble makers and that they will be watching us. They had no idea where our ship is, but when Helena turned on the charm they softened a little and said that it had been here a few times between 12 and about 6 months ago and they didn’t know anymore than that. It was obvious that the crew hadn’t made any friends and we were being tarred with the same brush. They did, however, recommend the Highport, a hotel just opposite the downport.

Buildings on Walston are a strange affair. They have half of a floor above ground and you usually have to walk down steps to get to the front door. Any extra floors are underground. I suppose this is because of the climate. It is chilly and windy. Walston has little if any trees and as far as we could see was little better than tundra with small shrubs and wiry grasses. It’s not much to look at. Library data shows that is has quite a sea harvesting industry and regular agriculture along some sheltered rivers and coastal areas. Kilts are ubiquitous and vargr are considered second class citizens. We checked our guns and long blades at customs (10cd a week storage each) and we wandered into town. The Highport was visible immediately on leaving customs. It was more like a bed and breakfast, but seemed nice. Inside there was a small reception area, a desk and some stairs going down. A vargr girl was behind the counter. She asked us how many rooms we wanted and how long we were staying. We had just answered when Mrs. Allard walked in, all smiles. Again we were asked the reason for our visit, again the suspicious look and “We know your type here! We won’t stand for any trouble, it’ll be the police straight away if you cause any!”. After the way we were treated at Caladbolg and to lessor extent on Flammarion Highport this was unsettling. We assured Mrs. Allard that we didn’t like trouble anymore than she did and that we were at her disposal incase any arose. Sniffing she told Mary to show us to our rooms. Mary is an unusual name for a Vargr and we said as much as we were shown downstair. “Miss can’t pronounce my name so she decided to can me Mary.” was the timid answer. So that’s how it is on Walston.

Mary said she didn’t know where a ship might be but that we should ask at the Port Authority, but more likely they would know at the palace in Central Lake, where a brother of her's worked. We had passed the Port Authority as we walked to the Highport but it was closed. Mary said it would be open first thing. She recommended a Vargr restaurant called Juicy and gave us direction. Some nine out of ten people were Vargr. It is bit weird how they step aside all the time. I suspect the local humans don’t even notice. We had some very rare and, yes, juicy stakes at Juicy and turned in. Despite our reception I liked the feel of the town. You need a filter mask outdoor as the atmosphere is both thin and tainted, so there is not much outdoor life. But indoors was very homely.

Day 2

We were up early and at the PA as soon as it was open. Yes, the Highndry has been through a few times, last time being seven or eight months ago. Yes, it is registered as being in system and had been chartered by the planetary government. No, it is not at any port facility. No, nobody was sorry to see them go when they turned up in town on an air/raft and jumped on the next trader which passed by. They were arses, incapable or mastering the simple art of putting rubbish in bins and mocked everything Walston. They were rude to the Vargr, which isn’t fair. Walston’s data net is fine, but not much government business is available on it, simply because who wants to know and who can be bothered up loading it? So we were told we would need to head over the Central Lake. The train was in a couple of hours, so we checked out of Highport, said goodbye to Mary (Gashkrinel) and bought tickets.

Central Lake is a short ride on a warm if old train. It is pretty much the same as Startown: cold with sunken buildings and lots of chill factor in the form of wind. It is perched on the banks of a, you guessed it, of a lake. We arrive early enough to find the palace open. The main entrance led into a cosy reception with dark wooden floors and a smart desk but no receptionist. We stood around, feeling awkward, until after ten minutes, which felt longer, a clerk came in reading from a sheaf of flimsies. They looked at us with an almost rude level of astonishment and then, remembering themselves asked us what we wanted. As soon as he heard the word Highndry we were ushered into a side room and offered coffee and biscuits which we accepted, and wine, which we didn’t. A further twenty minutes after the clerk left us sipping our coffee a human arrived who introduced himself as Alan Greener, Minister for Offworld Affairs, Public Relations and Fisheries. As soon as we finished our introductions he popped his head out of the door and called for the Vargr clerk and asked for coffee for himself.

“Yes, the Highndry was commissioned for an incredibly simple job, which your predecessors managed to mess up despite it’s easy nature. They hotfooted it to Starport and disappeared - with their fee for the job - before we knew what was happening. They left their ship -. Well, let’s talk business. I am not authorised to furnish the details at this time. Of course, if you were to offer to undertake the commission yourselves we would be able to assist you in your recovery of the Highndry and pay you for your time. As the budget has already paid for this job once I have only 3,000 credits to offer you. However, it is only a two day job and will be less arduous than getting the Highndry. What do you say?”

After some failed negotiations (I honestly believe the budget for vulcanology only had 3,000 cd in it) we agreed. The job really did sound simple. We were to use the seismic charges already given to the crew and presumably currently on the Highndry to run a geological/seismic/tectonic survey not far from the capital. Apparently there is a volcano to the south east - Mount Salbarii. It has rumbled a few times in recent years and there have been a couple of tremors. A geologist who was passing through opined that there was “A more than 99% likelihood that there is no danger.” Naturally, they want a more detailed survey. They were going to see about paying a university to come and do it, but then found out that a scout’s sensors would be more than adequate for the job. There was a snag. The Highndry had been abandoned in the crater of the volcano itself.
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Day 3

We stayed another night on Walston - at the Fish’s Legs - and jumped on a train to Salbarii. We managed to make a good start, I think they re-arranged the train to run to Salbarii first. From there it is a good twenty kilometres to the mountain, but Greener had called ahead so a car was waiting for us. There are only three air/rafts on the planet and one is the president’s personal transport while the others ore emergency vehicles. So a wheeled car as far as an off-roader can go and we were on our own. We managed to buy some warm jackets, sleeping bags and rope with a handful of pitons (and a hammer, of course). The is no such thing as a climbing shop in Salbarii, but the hardware store turned up a few things even he was surprised at. By lunch time we were looking forlornly at the disappearing car and steeling ourselves for the assent. We all have good breathers and warm clothing. We doubted we could make it by nightfall but we intended to try!

Gravity is only about 2/3 of a G and the planet has a cycle of about ten standard hours so we only have a few hours of day light, but out packs didn’t weight too much. We found that we couldn’t make a direct assent. Scree and rock outcrops, boulders and shirt sharp cliffs made that impossible. We made as good progress as we could with V out in the lead, myself trying to keep up and P and H tending to lag. After about 3 hours we hit our first challenge. With just an hour or so of light left we were faced with either climbing a sheer 10m section or adding several hours to our trip. We opted for the climb. None of us are experienced climbers but V and I were the most keen, so we gave it a shot. It was getting dark by the time we had muddled our way to the top, hammered in some pitons and encouraged the others to use the rope. As we looked for a section flat enough to sleep on we came upon a disconcerting sight: the remains of two humans. Just bones and a few rusty pieces of ironwork - pitons and the like. One had an obvious break, the other no clear reason for its death. Not by torch light anyway. We moved off a little way and pulled out our waterproof sleeping bags and made the best of it. We set a watch, just incase.

Day 4

In the morning as we wondered why we were doing such bloody stupid task and chewing on a protein bar I had a closer look at the skeletons. Yep, one died from a serious break which was probably open. The other had no obvious cause of death but both, on very close inspection, appeared to have been picked clean. Possibly by some kind of insect. It wasn’t a reassuring thought, but we had little option at this point, we were closer to the top than the bottom and we had a job to do. We didn’t want to fail our first assignment as a team. It was clear to me with my medical training that we needed to pace ourselves and take breaks, even with our breathers being fully functional. It had been uncomfortable wearing them while we tried to sleep and it probably would have been problematic if our sleeping bags weren’t sealable. Off we set, over 1,000 metres above sea level on a thin-atmosphere world. We hadn’t thought this through properly and I for one was feeling a bit shaky.

Our route took us anti-clockwise round the mountain and after about an hour of sullen trekking we spotted figures lower down the mountain than us but evidently attempting the same thing as we were. As we hadn’t brought any binoculars I cast my mind towards the strangers and saw that they were two humans and two Vargr but otherwise nondescript. One of the humans appeared female, the rest were male. As I was doing this P yelped. A bug had nipped him. It turned out to be about the size and shape of a locust. I remembered the “picked clean bones” which we had found. I must confess I was getting uneasy at this point. A few dozen metres up and the air was thick with the little monsters, nipping and biting any exposed area of skin they could fine. P had the wisdom to light a flare and they retreated from fire quickly enough. We guessed that they would not be able to thrive at higher altitude as the air was already pretty thin by now so we increased our speed, regardless of my misgivings, and pushed on rapidly. We had lost sight of our competitors, if such they were, but managed to flee the locusts by the time our flares burned out.

As time passed the climb became steeper and steeper. We stopped for lunch - more protein bars hastily pushed under our breathers which tasted disgusting. Not long after we were resorting to using our hands the terrain was so steep. I slipped at one point and badly twisted my ankle. Once again I thanked my training in awareness and my colleagues didn’t know how bad it had been.

There wasn’t much daylight left when we came to the base of the lip of the crater. Fortunately, the ground here was solid with little or no scree. Our party suddenly came on the locals who had been climbing from the other side of the mountain. They were unfriendly, to say the least. They demanded to know what off-worlders were doing on their mountain and told us to leave. We explained that we were on official imperial business and were working for the government of Walston and all we wanted was to get the IISS scout ship and do a survey and be away. They flatly refused to believe we were acting on behalf of their government and told us that the ship was salvage and, as off-worlders, we had no salvage rights. We pointed out that that would be piracy. Things became heated and one drew a knife. I think even he knew he had gone too far but couldn’t see a way to back down without loosing face. He lunged at me but I was ready for him and he ended up squirming with his arm in a painful lock. Vasquez stepped forward and the others read something in her movements which put them off. I let the one I was holding go with a gentle shove. Helena gave them what they needed when she suggested they help up carry the three cases of gear we had with us the rest if the way and we would give them 50cd each. V wasn’t too pleased but I didn’t mind. These weren’t even barroom brawlers, more local kids who were frustrated by our arrival, so I didn’t want to hurt them. I was also glad to hand over the heavy boxes!

The crater was about 2km across and after an initial steep area on the inner side of the lip sloped gently down to a small lake of about 500m diameter. I was doubly pleased that we had hired the kids when it became apparent that the ship was on a small island in the middle of the lake, maybe 200m from the shore. Stunted shrubs littered the whole bowl of the crater and there were caves here and there. Between the eight of us we lugged the crates to the water’s edge. The eight of us tried to work out how to get out kit across without getting it or ourselves wet. In the end we admitted defeat and waded, three to a crate, coffin style. We all noticed the warmth of the water. It wasn’t hot, by any stretch, but it wasn’t icy cold, which it should have been. However, we didn’t give this a lot of thought as we were wanted to get the ship up and running so we could dry off and do what we needed to do.

The ship was surrounded by trash. Empty food wrappers and dirty bed linen along with bundles of cabling and more than a few circuit boards. It wasn’t an encouraging sight and we weren’t sure enough of the ship was still inside to make it a ship. By now we had struck up a little rapport with the locals and one quipped “I’m glad I’m not you guys” and our earlier confrontation was forgotten as they settled into amused onlooker mode. Just as Peter picked up something form the debris a nervous Vargr called round from the other side of the ship “Er, guys, a little help” and we heard an accompanying growl. P had found a food bowl you might use to feed a cat or a dog. It had “Kimberley” written on the side. We hurried to see what was going on with the growl and found a Tensher’s Wolf, a dog like and sized animal which pushes its teeth forward when it, well, growls or is hostile. It was snarling at Rukie, one of the Vargr. Helena called out “No sudden movements” rather unnecessarily, I though, and when through her pockets for a protein bar. She peeled it and threw it down in front of Kimberly. Then another and another. Now we were over the shock we could see Kimberly was pretty emaciated. It snarled at Peter the first time he approached it, but after we had all thrown another bar each it let him stroke it. “Skin and bones!” We all found are selves disliking the former crew of Highndry. Before we had hardly though about them, but they had abandoned this animal to starve - a very nasty way to die - when they bugged out on an air/raft.

We cleared the rubbish away from the Highndry and we set to work. There reactor was powered down and the batteries barely flickering, but it did accept the entry code over-ride, but we had to manually open the door. Our fears were confirmed. Everything of value was gone, every panel was open and everything was filthy or damaged. Utter slobs had been living here for a long time and they hadn’t known how to look after the ship at all. I know my way around a reactor reasonably well so, keeping my breather firmly on my face to protect myself from whatever the smell was, I made my way by torch light past the staterooms, workshop, air/raft bay (empty) and the drone storage (also empty) to the engine room. It looked like it hadn’t been touched for years. Vasquez came with me. She doesn’t know much about generators but she has some training as a mechanic and could be of help. The others start cleaning - the locals refused to help but soon agreed when they got another 50 bucks each. We go the best of that bargain! We heard Peter’s shout of dismay from the bridge. We needed power for everything else so I worked into the night. Even with the replacement parts which we had brought with us I had to be creative. I needed to chuck a lot of circuits and worn parts. The diagnostic unit earned my gratitude - the old crew hadn’t even left a working pair of PRIS goggles! Peter started stripping the lift support and by the time I finished getting power restored he didn’t have much to do to be able to clean the air in the ship and get the heating going. We slept in our sleeping bags again as the staterooms were minging - they had been in a need of cleaning when left that by now they were mouldy. We shared our rations with the locals. They had worked hard and we were pleased with their help. They in turn hadn’t been in a starship before and seemed to be enjoying the experience.

Day 5

The cleaning continued the next day and, as the power seemed to be stable, Helena and I moved on to purging the computers and uploading a new OS and software. This took a good few hours and it was lunch time by the time we were done. Peter had been working on the hardware in the bridge and V had been generally checking relays and electronics throughout. We thought there were some glitches in the software and re-installed it, but that might have been due to some faulty sensors. We found air filters lying outside and we had an off smell from the moment we installed them. V found the seismic charges somewhere and we got the sensors online. Scouts have military grade sensors and it was nice to see something working without too much effort. I started running some scans of the volcano from where we were. They weren’t going to give much useful information, but it would help to have some preliminary data. V and I decided we would lay out some of the charges first light. We would set the charges together and then detonate them from the ship. I had studied Planetology at uni so I was confident I could crunch the numbers. We would then take off and see about getting some reading airborne, which might be a little easier. Things took a sinister turn as we came to set off the the charges.

The sun was setting by the time we had planted the charges and made sure we were ready to make full use of the sensors on the ship. We were all feeling a little festive now that the ship was reasonably presentable and we congregated in small bridge. We all counted down and V set the charges off with her comm. Data started to flash in my screens and we all cheered. Then the first tremor hit. It seemed to go on for ever. Small items danced across surfaces and had to be prevented from falling. Those of us standing all had to grab tables or the backs of chairs. Eventually it was over. We huddled round the sensor suite and I tried to make sense of the findings. It looked like the volcano is a lot more active that thought, but an eruption, if it does erupt, is months away. Still, it was sobering to see that a deep plug had appeared to have shifted position and changes were likely.

We went outside to see if there was any visible difference and at first were reassured. Then one of the locals pointed to the south west and we saw a thin plume of dust or smoke rising from somewhere down the mountain. We watched in silence until V added “Wasn’t the water higher when we got here?” and sure enough, the lake appeared to be draining off. I went back inside to start running some models. I had no proper software for this situation but scouts are required to be versatile so I set to. P started running through the preliminary check pre-flight checks which we had planned on starting in the morning. No further tremor followed during the next couple of hours and all the models I ran suggested that an eruption is likely but that it wasn’t likely that any harm would be done to the surrounding area when it did. The lake was obviously draining and some gasses where being released but that didn’t mean much. Peter finished the training simulators by midnight and was satisfied that the controls would work if we tried to fly. Some calibration was necessary, but Peter didn’t take long getting them sorted out. I set up some alerts on the sensor suite and we all nervously went to bed. Kimberly had settled back into her old home and curled up on one of the beds when not begging for food.


Day 6

We were woken in the early hours of the morning by the sensor alert! The pinging was accompanied by a projection of super hot gases and magma filling the lava tubes just below the the surface of the crater. As everyone congregated on the bridge the computer answered my questions with information predicting an eruption in 6 minutes. Images flickered across the screens as predictions were rapidly updated. The massive explosion had now become a more modest flow of lava over the lip. Peter was already strapping himself in and calling for everyone to do the same. He pulled up the visuals outside off the ship on his screens and told us that the water in the lake had started to boil. Wisps of smoke or steam were visible in places as the early morning sun inched into the sky. A larger plume of smoke billowed up from the southwest. The power plant hummed as demands were made of it. I patched the planetology data through my DD/R and, taking Vasquez with me, ran down the corridor into the engine rooms. A ship alert screamed through the ship “Missile attack, impact imminent.”! Our ship was identifying rocks shot into the air as guided missiles. While video footage on the engineering screen showing a mass of swirling and undoubtably toxic gasses the ground shuddered and we hear Kimberly howl and run the length of the ship.

“Do I have power?” came Peter’s voice.

“Get us out of here!” I replied.

Watching bushes spontaneously ignite amid more shuddering Highndry lifted into the air for the first time in months. I projected the hologram of the sensor data infront of my eye and concentrated on the mountain for a couple of moments. The pressure was dissipated and eruption in the crater was no longer being predicted. We nearly fell as Peter pulled us into a climb quicker than the grav floor plates could accommodate. Helena was on comms, I was dividing my attention between the power plant, the M-drives and the eruption while Vasquez was with me. Helena put an incoming call through an open comm:

“This is Minister Greener, come in Highndry. What the hell is going on? This is Minister Greener of Walston government. I have reports of Mount Salbarii emitting smoke and minor tremors. Can you confirm. Come in Highndry.”

Vasquez and I looked at each other not knowing what to say. The pause before Helena answered gave me the impression the others had done the same thing.

“Confirmed. Mount Salbarii is beginning to erupt. Readings aren’t clear as yet.”

Helena came over my personal comm.

“Tell me something good, sweetie. What’s happening with the mountain?”

“This is Raluca at Mayor’s office Salbarii,” a new voice, “We have had an earthquake. What’s going on?”

“Data unclear. Repeat, data unclear.” replied Helena.

“I am issuing a general alert. There are clouds massing around the peak. Please advise.”

Alan’s voice came back on:

“We are assembling all emergency service on the planet and organising a special train service to Salbarii. Grav vehicles are on route. Highndry, is it going to blow?”

I called through to P on our personal comms to start a live feed of the the mountain and for him to circle round to give us a good idea of what is happening. The data I was looking at appeared to show lava spilling out of the southwest face. This had probably saved our lives by diverting the pressure and releasing it. I need to know more. We brought up the feed off the mountain on the engineering room screens. Fortunately, the reactor and the M-drives are virtually located together on a scout and we had worked hard to clear up. I was glued to the screen. Lava was visible in several places in the crater now and could be seen escaping from new holes on the outside the mountain. However, the southwest flank of Salbarii was a river of lava. The ground sloped down and straight towards the sea. The town Salbarii was in no immediate danger.

“We have fast flowing lava moving south west from the eruption but none in the direction of the the town. Do you have many people between here and the sea?” I said to the planetary officials.

“Dozens. Scores.” That was Raluca.

“Greener here. There is a submarine base and processing plant on the coast and a few hamlets in-between you and the sea. Maybe one hundred souls. Wait. Please standby.”

I pressed the computers to give me more information about the lava flow as Peter fought to keep Highndry level in the buffeting winds. V was running from one piece of machinery to another, checking nothing was going wrong.

“… I’m doing it. This is the Mayor’s office. All citizens are to evacuate and head to Salbarii by any means possible. This is an emergency.” This was Raluca again and she carried on repeating this until Dictator Masterton’s voice came over. It was a little difficult to make out what he was saying - it sounded like he was in a very fast moving air/raft, but it became clear that he was calling for evacuation to Salbarii or the port Barvinn if Salbarii wasn’t feasible. Masterton turned his attention to us:

“Travellers in Highndry, we need your assistance. There is a road from Barvinn to Salbarii but it goes close the Mount Salbarii and might already be cut. There is also a train line between the port and Salbarii which keeps farther away. The Ocean’s Bounty will come ashore to pick up as many locals from Barvinn as it can, but it won’t be able to take everyone. I need to know if the road is open and then I need you to give me an estimate of the flow speed of the lava and it’s likely path. Then we need you to be monitoring changes. Walston needs you, will you help?”

We didn’t even discuss it. P asked me what I needed and I told him that he would have to sweep along toward the coast so I can get a radar map of the terrain and feed that into the computer to get reliable information for the Dictator. I was really pleased that we had taken the time to reinstall the software a second time. The sensors started mapping the ground and I was able to make a good estimate of likely flow direction. It looked like Barvinn had between one and two hours. Things would be tight. Now we had to get back to the mountain and land a few seismic monitors which had been part of the survey equipment. P insisted that it wasn’t possible at first, even as he was retracing our steps. We could use some of the tools we had brought and a rock drill from the survey equipment. I explained to V what we had to do. P hooked north and landed long enough for me to jump off. Then he swooped round to the southeast, dropped off V and came back for me. I could hear his swearing as he fought against the controls - heat pummelled the ship and winds were increasing. By the time he was picking me up V was telling H that she was ready. It felt like my clothes were about to burst into flame by the time I was back onboard. V told me later she thought the same but about her hair (which was shorter than mine in those days).

New and more accurate data started to pour in! The rate of flow had slowed, which seemed like good news to begin with, but it when I looked for a reason I saw that a plug had caused this and I didn’t think it would survive the pressure it was under for long. The mountain was going to explode and a massive pyroclastic flow was going to destroy Barvinn and kill everybody in it. We had been sending people into a trap! Salbarii was going to get covered in ash but was safe for now. We let Dictator Masterton have the somber news. He told us that a train is just about to arrive at Barvinn and will take everyone who is there. Ocean’s Bounty will wait until the last minute but some people on their way to Barvinn were not going to make it. Two groups, in fact. One was a farming community to the south which would have been safe if it hadn’t followed orders to got to Barvinn. There were 11 people in a couple of pick ups men, women and children. We knew we could just accelerate up and get out of the blast area easily, if we left now. If we tried to rescue the farmers we could probably avoid the pyroclastic flow. It would be close and we might destroy Highndry. Hey, we might all die.

Masterton went on to say it was too late for the other group. This consisted of a pair of middle aged Vargr who had refused initial evacuation orders. Their daughter was on the Dictatorial staff and she was just as stubborn. We could hear the sadness in Masterton’s voice as he condemned two of his citizens to death by asking us to ignore their plight. Trying to get to them will almost certainly mean being caught tin the pyroclastic flow which is thousands of tons of debris moving at at least 75km an hour - likely a great deal faster. At this point I noticed a radar reading - something was flying down from the north.

“Scout ship, I am going after mum and dad. Go get the others. I’m on this.” It was the daughter Masterton mentioned. She had stolen the Dictator’s air/raft and taken off on a reckless attempt to save her parent’s lives. Peter was already turning the ship towards Barvinn…

We could see the train moving away from Barvinn as we came in to land. The two pick ups got there as we did. V and I jumped out to round people up. It was pretty chaotic and V laid one out who refused to stop faffing about with some oversized luggage. He went over one of V’s shoulder and she staggered up the steps into Highndry, the last to the party. We could see the flow from the ground. We had maybe 4, 5 minutes. Even before we left the ground a distress call came in:

“Mayday... Mayday, this is Walston One. The car is damaged, drives are failing... windows are cracked,
I can’t see properly... I think I’m heading for the sea but we’re losing speed and altitude. I don’t think we’re going to make it. Is there anyone? Please?”

I could see the air/raft on the radar, it was a minute or two ahead of the flow. Peter looked at us questioningly and Helena barked “Just go.”

V and I left the kids who joined us on the mountain trying to get the new-comers to strap in or hold tight to something, anything. They knew exactly what we were going to do. V and I were ready at the airlock. The limo had gone down and in the heat and ash we couldn’t use the radar to find them, but Helena was fixed on the transponder. A wall of heat and ash met us as we jumped out - the ash falling almost horizontally at this point. We saw the three Vargr, two supporting one. We rushed over and gapped the one who was limping. The tallest, the daughter we found out later, was bleeding from their face. We bundled them up the stairs, tossed them over to the kids who were helping, ignoring the thanks of the latest passengers. I strapped myself in an emergency crash chair in engineering as the ship was buffeted and nearly flipped. We had no chance to outrun the cloud. Madman that he is, Peter turned towards the cloud! As many as could be were strapped into beds in staterooms. Others filled the chairs on the bridge and others still help on for dear life. Rukie had strapped themselves to Kimberly and a bed. The pyroclastic flow hit! The ship spun as it was thrown back and upwards. Peter tried to fight a hopeless battle but it was not use. The massive blow to the ship caused the power plant to overload and cut out. Lights died, grav plates failed and everything not nailed down flew around us. Emergency batteries kicked in and dim light flooded the ship. We carried on tumbling upwards as the flow buffeted us and we were thrown clear, up, up, up.

“Give me some f***ing power,” screamed Peter over our personal comms. I unfastened the straps which held me in my chair and, timing it as best I could, leapt for the power plant. Holding on for dear life I started to do what I could to get the plant out of emergency shut down. We all felt that weightless sensation as we reached the apex of our arc. We started to fall. Th plant flickered. Lights lit up and the familiar hum filled my body, pressed against the machinery as it was. From here on in it was all down to Peter. I’m not sure what happened in the next few minutes but I remember the impact as we hit the sea like a huge skipping stone and bounced back up. Sometimes, around three am when I can’t sleep, I think I’ll never forget that feeling. We skipped once, and then skimmed the waves until Peter pulled us up and we were flying as the scout was intended. I would have given just about anything just to go somewhere on my own, or perhaps with Helena. But I didn’t have that luxury. I was the most skilled medic on the ship and I had to run around, first doing triage then treating people. I didn’t touch the glass in our Vargr heroines face, that needed a proper surgeon. I had plenty to do without having to deal with that. There were some serious injuries including one open break. Kimberly also got a nasty broken leg which means she won’t be running very fast even again. On the whole though, we were damn lucky. Peter took us to Salbarii and we all slumped. Emergency services took over and we were safe. How did we live through all of that?


Day 7

If any of us thought that it was all over we had a rude awakening the next morning. I mean that literally. Shouts coming from a nearby room pulled me reluctantly into wakefulness and I took a long moment to remember where I was and what was going on. I had fallen asleep in my clothes and I was hungry and sore. I had bruises from being banged round that tin can and I winced as much from memories back as from pain. The shouts turned out to be just one of those over reactions which will occur when people have been through a lot and are at the end of their tether. I spent the majority of the day working as an orderly for the doctor who took over. Considering Walston is a relatively low tech world they were pretty impressive. I really am going to enrol for medical school when I can afford it. The rest of the gang ran errands in Highndry as we had the only ship on the planet. We found out that someone had died form their injuries on Ocean’s Bounty. They simply didn’t have the medical equipment on board to cope with the situation. While this was a sad moment for everyone it was hard to feel anything other than relief and a sense of achievement. Everybody in this part of Walston knew the part we had played, many of them had been tuned into the feed we had been broadcasting or listening to our conversations with the Dictator. The whole community pulled together.

Week 2

The ash is still raining down on the town of Salbarii and it will have to be abandoned. A huge construction programme is underway at Central Lake, but another is already being debated. Walston is not a wealthy planet and the eruption will likely result on its joining the Third Imperium. Dictator Masterton has asked us to take a request for aid to Flammarion when we go. We will be a few more days. We want to run some tests on Highndry after the pounding it took in the pyroclastic flow. I’m particularly concerned about the power plant and I haven’t even looked at the J-drive yet, which is worrying me. I don’t think we can rely on our luck to hold sufficiently for us to survive two missjumps.

Week 3

We’ve spent the week carrying building supplies and people or running tests on the power plant and the J-drives. We are reasonably confident that we can make the three jumps to Flammarion. Technically we could do it in two but we have fuel vouchers which we can use at Bowman and Astatine. Tomorrow will be exactly three weeks since we landed here and it has been incredibly eventful. We each have several kilts from grateful locals and our kitchen is brimming with home baked goods and snacks. We are loaded and as ready as we will ever be.

We left our digs at the Highport early as we didn’t want to make a fuss. We saw an A2 trader touching down just as we set off for the downport. It looked like it was going to be a bright sunny day, if typically cold. I like Walston but it will be nice to get to Bowman and feel like we are part of an interstellar community instead of local heroes on an isolated sphere. We went into the customs offices, dropped our bags and glanced round for the customs officers and made our way out the backdoors. A few metres in front of us a couple of men stood with their backs to us, watching the A2 take off. It had evidently been commissioned to drop off its passengers and had no other business here. To our left a woman was leaning against the wall of the customs house, staring at the side of a cargo container which formed a sort of alley with the customs house. Something didn’t feel right. We were looking for one of the customs officers to reclaim our weapons but there was not even anyone out back. The man on the right turned and said:

“Looks you you have cleaned her up for us. Thanks. But you changed the security codes so we’ll be needing your comms.”

He drew an auto pistol from his jacket pocket and pointed it at us. The woman pushed her self off the wall and, hands on her jacket pockets, turned towards us.

“We’re not giving you anything.” said Peter. The bloke alright ahead of us turned abruptly and fired his shotgun. Peter’s abdomen blossomed red and he went straight down. Helena and Vasquez dived behind an electric people/cargo carrier to their right and I turned to see the woman pointing an auto pistol at me. My training took over and I mentally reached out and snatched the gun from her hand telekinetically. It went off as it was pulled forward out of her grip but missed me. I caught it and fired, missing, and dived for the cover of the container. She looked astonished and turned and ran. I head a couple of shots from an auto pistol and looked back. Peter was lying in the open and Vasquez and Helena were crouched behind the small vehicle. Peter looked bad. The guy with the shotgun came into view and fired at me and pellets sang as they hit the container. I tossed the gun to Vasquez and retreated back and round the container. I almost ran straight into the woman. She looked scared but her hand holding a dagger was steady. I lashed out and caught her on the side of her head. She reeled and tried to strike back. Her trust went wide as did my next blow. I heard gun shots from the other side of the container, including a shotgun. I reached out and poured fear into her mind and she broke and ran. I peered around the container and saw the guy with the auto pistol on one knee aiming at where I supposed my friends were. I hurried along the side of the container trying to keep as close to as possible to avoid standing out. As I got to the corner nearest the gunmen the one in my range of vision saw me. I threw my knife which took him in him right side. His shot went wide. I glanced round the container and saw that the one with the shotgun had taken cover behind a couple of large water barrels. I turned to face the container and moved. I appeared immediately behind the one with the pistol and grabbed his gun arm. I think he nearly feinted! Not many people get grappled by teleporting enemies. He tried to break free but he was hurt and I was determined. I wrenched the gun from his hands and turned it on him. Clutching his side in pain, bewildered and afraid he started to back away. A spray of pellet from the shotgun went over my head. I winged the guy with a shotgun, but only a nick. Seeing that attention was on me Vasquez was already in motion. She ran from behind cover, kick over one go the barrels and and shot the shotgun guy in the side of his head. Helena was just as active. She tackled the one with a knife wound and had him pinned. I ran over to Peter just as the door to the customs house open and an unknown but obviously local face appeared.

“Get a f***ing doctor.” I bellowed. I took off my shirt and pressed on the wound. He hadn’t taken the full force of the shotgun blast but it was pretty bad. Vasquez checked the one she shot and picked up his weapon, searched him for others and came up with a body pistol. “Checking for others,” she said and disappeared around the container. I think she was afraid of what might happen with Peter and didn’t want to watch. We my medikit was in the bag I ad left in the customs house. When another face appeared a moment later, this time one of the other guests at Highport I barked an order to get my bad. He brought all three. By now half a dozen people were congregated. Some had heard shots and some had seen the one getting the doctor shouting for help after he had called. I numbed Peter’s pain and then did what I could. He was seriously injured but I thought he would make it. While I was working someone found the customs officers. It turned out they had be surprised by the old crew of Highndry, tied up and shoved in cupboard. They were horrified when they saw Peter. The doctor arrived and Vasquez returned. We waited.

An ambulance took Peter away and we went back to the Highport. We sat, Vasquez, Helena, Mrs. Allard and Gashkrinel (Mary), in the common room, avoiding each others gaze. Occasionally Mrs. Allard would pour coffee. It was the complete opposite of the events around the eruption a couple of weeks earlier. Then time had seemed to speed up. Now it crawled. Mrs. Allard’s phone rang. She answered, sobbed one long sob and handed Helena the phone. She grimaced and looked up. “He has come out of surgery and is doing well.” We all sagged.

Week 5

We carried on helping out on Walston while Peter recuperated. After 10 days he came out of hospital and after a few more days of rest he declared himself strong enough to fly. I’m writing this as we accelerate towards our jump point. I liked Walston but I am glad to be leaving. The shooting left a sour taste in our mouths. One of our assailants died from a gun shot wound to the head. The woman was caught a day later and the one with a minor knife wound was caught straight away, as I already wrote. They are going to be tried for attempted murder on Walston and will then be extradited to the Imperium to stand trial for privacy - trying to steal and IISS vessel. We will need to come back this way in a few weeks to give evidence. Right now I need to turn my attention to the J-drive and make sure we get to Bowman in one piece.


Returning to Flammarion 102 - 1080

Week 1

I was anxious all through the jump to Bowman. I did the astrogation for the jump and primed the J-drive. Peter oversaw the astrogation but just assumed I knew what I was doing with the drive. I must have done as we made it in one piece. Bowman is a second rate starport. We stayed for a couple of nights, long enough to stretch our legs and get bored. We cashed our fuel voucher with a suspicious vendor and left to jump again. Highndry is an absolute rust bucket and we can’t get the tainted smell of Walston our of the air-conditioning.

Week 2

Jumped to Asteltine. Again anxious, again it was ok. There is a proper starport at Asteltine which we all enjoyed. Just sitting in a bar with a view of stars and the local planet was comforting. Reflecting on the last few months we had been through a lot. I sometimes question the decisions which led me here, but then I look at Helena and it is all worth it to be with her. Four nights at Asteltine and we set off again.

Week 4

We arrived at Flammarion and Helena insisted on piloting the ship. We all need to be able to do the basics on the ship and she already has flight experience, albeit a good few years since she last flew herself. Peter was pretty nervous and when we had a near miss with a satellite buoy he took over the controls for docking. We handed the Highndry over, delivered the aid request from Walston and went to relax. Flammarion Highport is constructed as a level surface and a dome. The scout base is attached to the main station and between scout personnel and big traders picking up LSP products manufactured on the planet it is usually busy. The morning after getting back Peter had a meeting with Casarii and was officially allocated Highndry as “detached duty” which basically means it can be recalled but it is cheaper to have an ex-scout flying it than moth-balling it and paying for storage. The Scouts will service it once a year but we need to pay for general maintenance. It remains the property of the IISS. The re-fit will take a few weeks and we have free lodging at a low-end hotel here. Low end is good enough for us (well, I'm not sure about Helena) and we are enjoying being danger free. Dictator Masterton had been fulsome in his praise regarding our actions on Walston and Carsarii is pleased with us. We are going to have our small hold filled with a couple of data drums for a mail run to Bowman when we leave, which is easy money. Peter wants to get some skimming practice so we will jump to 567-908, re-fuel and move onto Walston system and skim a gas giant for hydrogen there. Then attend the trial.

Returning to Walston 158-1080

Week 1

We arrived after an uneventful few weeks of travel. Peter wasn’t happy with his performance skimming, although it seems ok to us. He did, however, let Helena land Highndry. She reported that she is handling much better since eat ere-fit. I have to admit it feels like a different ship. With a whole new life-support system the smell has gone. The Ship’s Locker has been properly stocked. I was a bit worried about that, but it now had 4 high end vacc. suits, 4 rescue bubbles, 2 shotguns - with both shot and foam shells - 4 snub pistols with a mixture of regular and tranquilliser rounds, 4 flak jackets with helmets along with tools and the usual bits and bobs. Oh, and a shiny new pair of PRIS goggles. The power plant has been stripped down and is purring like a kitten. Even the staterooms have been refurbished. We arrived at Bowman and only stayed a night, it was so nice being on “our” first ship. We handed over the mail drums and filled the cargo hold with freight for Walston, part of the aid package. It’s exciting to be picking up some credits. I’ve diverted my income from ship shares into a stock account and we hope to make enough to get by through trade. The 50,000cd for the mail run helped start us off. I am swotting up on brokerage, there is so much to learn and I can’t help but feel that most brokers are sharks, waiting to pounce on me. But if we are going to fund ourselves with trade we need to have an idea about how it all works.

Week 2

The trail began a few days after we arrived back on Walston. There was video footage of the assault on the customs officers but the defendants had deactivated the cctv before we arrived, so there was some debate about what happened. There was no way the local jury was going to side against Heroes of Salbarii and anyway, Dictator Masterton presided over the cade himself. They were found guilty, sentenced to life in prison and then held on remand for the duration of the extradition proceedings. I know we had been glad to leave Walston after the fight at the port but everyone was so happy to see us we couldn’t help enjoy our time there. That we brought supplies for the reconstruction effort was state icing on the cake. We stayed for the 10 day trial, during which time we had Highndry serviced, and left the next day. I like Walston.
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