Star Bright

POSTSCRIPT

Due to major fallout with some of the playing group, this section of the story has ceased (as has my association with those players). I hope at some point in the future to pick the story up with another group of players, as I really liked running this.

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Late Night Rendezvous
31st March 2159: 12.35 am

“I hope we come out of this damn gully soon” said Jonas. “It’s getting narrower and I have absolutely no doubt there are vehicles behind us.”

“They have the hopper” said Paul. “That would make a good spotter.”

The gully was not much wider than a couple of WTVs now; fortunately there was evidence of old vehicle tracks, so presumably it didn’t end in a cul de sac. A jolt woke Doc. Orlov up as she dozed, and she got up to make some coffee.

Suddenly she turned her attention to the scanning console: near the end of his driving shift Jonas was almost too far gone to notice.

“Bad news” she said. “Two blips at extreme range behind us – maybe twenty klicks.”

“Crap” mumbled Jonas. “Gimme some of that coffee Doc.” He started to suck the hot liquid up through the beaker spout. He needed to concentrate on his driving: the walls were very close now.

A glare lit up ahead, only a few tens of metres distant. Momentarily he was blinded before the polarisation kicked in.

“Shit!” he yelled, slamming on the brakes.

“A vehicle showing dead ahead!” yelled Doc .Orlov. “It must have powered down!”

“Clever bastards!” muttered Paul.

“We can’t go back” said Jonas, “And that vehicle is blocking ahead.”. Katrina pointed at helmeted figures staring to appear over the lip of the gully, thirty feet above them.

“I think this is going to get rough.” said Jonas.

Paul started to suit up quickly to exit the vehicle. Doc. Orlov reminded him that he needed to put his helmet on.

“We should de-pressurise the vehicle” she added.

“Get out here, ladies. Time for another firefight!” Paul growled, staring at Spyder who had started to mumble something about minding the non functioning comms.

Marcus shrugged into his Combat Vacc and checked his pistol one more time. Before he put on his helmet he unwrapped a small blue green lozenge from it’s pink foil wrapper, put it in his mouth, and began chewing furiously.

“What’s that?” asked Spyder, “Some sort of combat drug? A pain killer? C’mon sawbones, share ’em if you got ’em…”

“Nothing so utilitarian, I’m afraid.” Marcus replied with a smile, “I found it at a shop in Tranquility. It’s an Earth delicacy called ‘gum’. It helps my ears equalise when I cross an air pressure gradient. Plus, this is a special type of gum.”

As Spyder looked on, the pilot blew a large blue green bubble out of his mouth, held the pressure in it for a moment, then used his front teeth to noisily pop the gum balloon, after which he sucked it back into his mouth.

“OhdeargodcanIhavesome?” Spyder laughed.

“Sure, just promise me one thing…” says Marcus, as he handed over a piece.

“What?”

“Don’t blow bubbles with your helmet on…”

Spyder nodded absently as he examined the gum, the wheels in his head spinning as he wondered if Venusians had ever blown a bubblegum bubble before…..

“Airlock can only take two at a time” said Jonas. “De-pressurising now.”

“Ok.” he said. “Someone could pop out of the roof hatch now as well.”

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Railroaded Driver
30th March 2159: 11.00 pm

With Jonas in the driving seat they found that they had come up across a crevace: too steep for the WTV so they were forced to divert eastwards into some rough terrain. From here they were able to head south again, and stumbled across what seemed like a well used WTV trail.

“Likely between Dwalin and Nori” thought Jonas.

The trail led down into a deep gulley, and they followed this southwards for some hours.

A few hundred metres to the east Doc. Orlov spotted what seemed to be an old WTV wreck. The others were mostly asleep now. Jonas looked forward to the end of his shift.

Paul overheard their conversation and looked at the dead vehicle with interest.

“Any sign of pursuers Doc?” he asked Katrina.

“No. But range is only 20 km, and terrain may interfere” she replied.

“It’s unlikely they’re closer than 10 km then” said Paul. “Let’s do a very quick look see.”

Jonas shrugged and diverted slightly, while Doc. Orlov quickly donned her Vacc Suit and went into the airlock. They could see the vehicle close up now, and many of its surfaces were covered with dust.

As they watched they could see Doc. Orlov, move around the far side of the vehicle towards the airlock. Ten minutes later she reappeared and climbed back outside. She tapped her PDA.

“She says there’s a body inside, long dead. Found a couple of sample bags too. She also says there may be a couple of usable fuel cells – but it’ll take a bit of time to sort and extract them: its a mess in there. What do you think?” asked Jonas.

“Given our fuel consumption so far we probably have plenty of fuel.” said Paul. “If we run low on fuel we hook tubing between the fuel tank and Spyder’s ass—there are plenty of beans in the larder.”

“Come aboard Doc” waved Jonas.

FUEL REMAINING: 138 of 150 original

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No Hopper
30th March 2159: 10.00 am

“Bloody Hell” muttered Jake, as Doc. Orlov lectured him about the various hazards of lunar terrain.

The Hopper was a No Go. As they had approached another three WTV’s had stared to race towards them from the direction of the facility where it was parked. It seemed likely that they would encounter opposition there, and it was likely the Hopper had been moved anyway.

“That’s not the worst of it” said Marcus. “Some of the fuel cells have been taken out, and the Refuelling Station is kaput. We have maybe three days, but after that we’re dead in the water. Not that we’d have time to use the refuelling station with pursuers anyway.”

There was some discussion on whether to head for Bilbo, or for one of the other mines. In the end they decided to head for Balin as the closest.

“Is serous Mr. Smith” persisted Doc. Orlov. “Sensors pick up periodic radioactivity in this area, consistent with out gassing from crust.”

“The Moon’s got no atmosphere Luv” sighed Jake.

“No. It has trace atmosphere” said Doc. Orlov. “One source of atmosphere is release of gases such as radon and helium resulting from radioactive decay within the crust and mantle. Also sputtering from bombardment of lunar surface by micrometeorites, the solar wind, and sunlight. Either way, we not want to drive over release event. Would be bad.”

“Ok, ok. I’ll be careful” said Jake.

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Drive to Safety?
30th March 2159: 9.15 am

As Marcus attended to the wounded (and their suits), they discussed their options.

“There are no comms” said Doc. Orlov. “We are being jammed”

“No access to the uplink possibly” said Jonas. “Or they’ve had time for sabotage.”

“Short range scans show three vehicles in pursuit” said Katrina.

“I’m ’eadin for the ’Opper” said Jake. “It’s maybe ’arf an hour away.”

“What’s going on man?” asked Spyder. All heads turned towards Streen.

“I’ve no idea” he shrugged. “For ordinary miners to risk their livelihoods so…… Murder.” He shook his head.

“I can only think that it must have something to do with my board enemies. But they must have used powerful arguments to get them to do this.”

“The miners already suspected you were an Axe man” suggested Jonas. “Played that up maybe.”

“But the repercussions for them?”

“Made to look like an accident” said Marcus. “Miner colonies are notoriously insular and obstructive to outsiders. Unlikely one of them would crack. Plus incentives from the guys egging them on. Possible.”

“It’s messier for them now” said Jake. “But if they can nail us they might still pull it off.”

“And if we escape?” asked Spyder.

“Let’s say it won’t go down well in my report” said Mr. Streen.

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A Sudden Resignation
30th March 2159: 9.00 am

SpyderRolls.jpg

It was a surprise when Jame’s face plate exploded. and his lifeless body spun backwards against the processor bulkhead. There was a stunned silence.

Over the communications band, an unidentified voice made an an announcement.

This situation does not involve you. We offer you free passage to your Hopper if you lay down your weapons and hand over Streen. Come on out.”

Though the adjacent buildings and processor facilities they could see vacc suited figures making their way towards them – and they were armed.

“There’s a shit load of them” said Jonas. “Sorry Mr. Streen but maybe we have no choice”.

“Whatt!!” exclaimed Streen. “They murdered James!”

“He’s right man” said Spyder. “Normally I’d be the first to save my own skin, but we ‘re witnesses to them murdering an innocent guy. The Feds aren’t going to like them for that. Better no witnesses and an accident.”

""This is F*****g stupid" muttered Marcus, eyeing the WTV which was parked some distance away, behind a series of solar arrays and a series of domed comms relay boosts.

“Fine. Fine” mumbled Jonas. “I’ll stall them a bit, start creeping towards the WTV.”

“Hey guys let’s be reasonable….” started Jonas. Meanwhile the others started to weave between the solar panels, most of them -especially Jake and Spyder – having considerable trouble in the micro gravity.

A handful of miners appeared from behind the processor, wielding pistols and one of them a shotgun.

“Stop! And put the guns down!” yelled one of them, raising his weapon.

“The Hell with it” thought Marcus, and shot him. He spun backwards out of control. Chaos ensued.

Considering his total unfamiliarity with both low gravity and vacc suits, Jake made a miraculous shot which badly wounded the spokesman, sending him scurrying for cover.

“Right” he thought. “That’s my contribution. I’m off.” Without his rifle, it was probably the best thing to do.

While Jonas and Marcus took a few potshots at their attackers, the others started to stumble southwards. Streen, who was unarmed, made steady progress towards cover, but Spyder and Jake had considerable difficulty, spinning wildly out of control. Jake fared slightly better as he tended to keep close to the panels, holding onto them, but Spyder attempted to run across to a main spur of the processor, which blocked the views of anyone who might be approaching from the east. Beyond this was a series of buildings, which might provide cover towards the parking place of the WTV.

Paul, in contrast, moved like a gazelle. The microgravity seemingly provided him with few movement difficulties at all. As a teenager he had played a considerable amount of zero g Dodgeball, in one of the many Recreation Halls catering to the new wave of zero g sports, and he had attempted to keep up with this when he had a bit of spare time. He was a natural.

Given the mixed ability of their group, he realised that their survival depended on reaching the WTV before they were swamped; consequently after a couple of fruitless shots he focused on moving quickly southwards and eastwards through the cover, and then circling round to their vehicle.

Spyder’s luck was out; as he peeked round the spur he saw maybe a dozen more assailants approaching from the buildings to the east. They also saw him, as well as Doc. Orlov and the others scrambling between the arrays to the west of him, and they started to fire.

Spyder hit the ground and started to fire, causing a hit which unfortunately the miners self sealing systems soon took care of. In the arrays some of the others started to return fire, sporadically, but the general movement was towards fleeing southwards.

Paul was well among the comms relays now, and making good progress. Jake, after a series of spinning mishaps was moving slowly but safely southwards. Jonas and Marcus were taking the odd potshots and then moving, to the extent that the initial group of pursuers from the north were now routed. The main body however, were to the east, and these focused fire on Doc. Orlov, Jake, and especially Spyder.

Prone on the ground, Spyder was now getting isolated and was a prime target. He was also closer to many of the shooters, who were armed only with pistols. At least he was wearing the Arianne Modelle 81 Vacc Armor they had retrieved from the Joyeuse, which afforded him better protection and sealing. It was just as well, as bullets started to slam into him. He was not badly wounded, but the sealant systems would not hold out forever and then – a horrible death.

Spyder’s position was made worse by one of the miners who had jumped above him onto the spur, and who was firing downwards onto his prone form at almost point blank range. he panicked and started to spin helplessly as he started to get up – a sitting duck.

For the others things were not quite as bad. Paul had reached the WTV, and was starting to drive it around the southern end of the comms arrays and slightly to the west of the group, where they could embark. Jake continued to make slow progress, while Marcus and Jonas were safely located behind the domed ridge of one of the arrays, firing down from a prone position.

Doc Orlov was lower down, and a fortunate shot from her took out the sole rifleman, and the groups more accurate volume of fire now started to take its toll. Jonas shot the miner looming above Spyder.

Seeing his opportunity Spyder finally managed to regain control, and started a slow progress directly westwards into the solar arrays, putting the spur between himself and most of the shooters.

Paul reappeared with his sniper rifle, as Jake clambered into the WTV and the drivers seat. Jonas moved back to join them. This made a huge difference, as the powerful and accurate SX 90 took down three attackers in as many shots: the remainder scurried for cover as the WTV moved forward to collect Spyder.

Moments later they had escaped.

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There, and Hopefully Back Again
30th March 2159

MoonHopper2.jpg

They had alighted at the monorail stop at Bilbo, and they would progress via hired Moonhopper through several mines called Oin, Balin, Dwalin, Nori and Gloin. They would travel and rest overnight at each mine, before moving on to the rest.

Jonas was happy to be able to fly a Hopper again, and he spent a little time familiarising Doc. Orlov with the controls in case of emergency.
,
At Oin they had parked up and transferred their gear to a WTV, and then spent the day being shown by the mine’s senior personnel around a number of operational sites. Oin focused on extraction of high quality metals, including platinum and gold.

The next day had followed a similar pattern at Balin, though here the focus was on mining frozen gases from hidden pockets, which could be redirected towards other mining sites.

During the evenings the group had picked up a general feeling of unease and mistrust among the general miners, who tended to keep their distance.

“Concerned we’re the Axe Man” thought Jonas. “And you can’t blame them: maybe we are.”

At the start of the third day they had a little more to see at Balin, and so it was later on when they arrived at Dwalin. The tour was delayed for the morn, and they settled into their rooms in the senior managers block.

In the morning the group woke , ordered a good breakfast, had morning exercises, and then listened to a briefing from a corporate public relations officer. The managers block was quite comfortable, and the entire job had so far really been a vacation.

The itinerary called for an inspection of a model ore processor utilizing a radical new technique. The group donned vacc suits and headed for the WTV, driving for half an hour or so.

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A House Divided
24th March 2159

“Agnico Eagle Mining has interests thoughout the Solar System” explained Mr. Streen. “Largely undeveloped: investments for the future, as you might say.”

“These include substantial permits on Encheladus and Europa” added Streen.

“Water worlds” commented Doc. Orlov.

“Indeed. Salt water oceans beneath the ice. To put it simply certain factions within our organisation have been developing exploration technology for these assets for some years now, and believe that it is time re-prioritise our operations to make more of this.”

“The Company’s traditional growth has been through early operations on Earth of course, and then Luna and Mars” added James.

“Venus was sewn up early by other companies” continued Mr. Streen, “and our other substantial operations are in the Asteroid Belt.”

“One stream of thought-The Traditionalists you might say – believe that we should continue a sequential exploitation of these existing fields of operation. There is much to be said for this: the Belt is, of course, vast beyond measure.”

“The alternative view – the Radicals if you like – believe that we need to focus more effort in developing technologies for new methods of mining. Our competitors have shown the way with their mining barges in the Jovian atmosphere. We could develop the same sort of lead on Europa and Encheladus.”

“And which are you Sir?” smiled Jonas.

“Many of our operations are old: particularly those here on Luna. And I believe that the way forward is through innovation. I suppose that makes me a Radical” smiled Mr. Streen.

“So maybe some people feel strongly enough about it to threaten you?” asked Jonas.

“Perhaps. My Board meeting is very important” said Mr. Streen simply.

“Let’s try to arrange something” said Jonas.

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All Work
24th March 2159

After the call on his PDA, Jonas had told the others and they had put on their best cloths. Even Spyder had been forced to wear black trousers, shoes and a black shirt. They were in the coffee bar of a fashionable restaurant, and eventually the face Jonas recognised from the PDA call appeared. With him was a slightly older man, very well dressed.

When they had arrived on Luna, Jonas had routinely posted PI Partnerships availability locally, not really expecting anything. But a call had come through earlier, and the caller had enquired after Doc. Orlov.

“I’m James Calhoon” said the face, holding out his hand. “Personal Secretary to Mr. Streen here.” Here he gestured at the older man, who nodded politely and shook hands like a professional.

After introductions they sat down and ordered coffee.

“I’m flattered that you contacted us Mr. Calhoon” said Jonas. “To be frank we’ve only just arrived on Luna ourselves, and when I flagged up our availability I honestly didn’t expect much response in the short time we would be here.”

“But you could spare a week?” asked James anxiously.

“Sure a week.” smiled Jonas. “We’re not on a tight timetable – unlike yourselves maybe?”

James started to explain the situation, with occasional interjections from Mr. Streen. Mr. Streen was a stockholder, and influential member of the board of Agnico Eagle Mining; he too had recently come to Luna, and planned to stay for about a week, before returning to Earth and a major Board Meeting.

“Why the visit?” asked Jonas.

“Mr. Streen wishes to review our operations here on Luna, in preparation for a report” said James.

“No need to remind you that this is all highly confidential” he added.

“I understand” said Jonas. “But why do you need us?” There was short pause.

“To put it bluntly I have received several missives which might be interpreted as veiled threats” interposed Mr. Streen. “It would thus seem a wise precaution for me to engage some personal security; as off-worlders recently arrived that also means it unlikely that you have been got at” he added bluntly.

“James here checked your credentials and I was intrigued to see that Doctor Orlov was part of your outfit”. Here he nodded at Katrina. “I have read several of your papers on Hydrothermal Vent Organsims on Encheladus. You must have some interesting stories Doctor.”

Katrina shifted nervously.

“My thanks. But I cannot discuss work connected with previous employer: there are various legalities to consider” she replied politely.

“More than you can know Buddy” thought Jonas.

“No, No Doctor that’s alright” smiled Mr. Streen. “I would not dream of compromising you in such a fashion. I merely referred to your general and broad knowledge of Encheladus’s ecosystems and geological peculiarities.”

“But why the interest in Encheladus?” asked Marcus.

“Ah”, said Streen. “That brings us to the nub of the matter.”

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Pirate Talk
22nd March 2159

“I guess I must be a little rusty” said Jonas, as he carefully put the figures away.

Marvin had apparently been keeping Jonas guilty secret safe- his Warhammer 40K Imperial Guard Army – which he had set out ready for a large game for when he arrived. Showing no sign at all of shame, he cajoled most of the others into participating in a three a side game, with him, Jake and Marcus squared off against Marvin, Paul and Spyder with his Orks. The Orks won -narrowly.

“I guess you’re not used to 46th Edition” said Marvin, “I think we played 44th?”

“Man those new LOS rules are a Bitch” said a bystander. Doc. Orlov had watched with amused disbelief.

Most of the others were leaving now, and Marvin followed the last one down and locked up

“Marvin, I…..” started Jonas, but Marvin motioned him to silence and beckoned them into an office. Here there was an inner stairwell leading down to another office on the shop level, and another leading to Marvin’s quarters on the floor above. Looking round, Jake guessed that this was the office where Marvin compiled his e zine.

Marvin unlocked a drawer and brought out a small device about the size of a box of cigarettes. He clicked it on.

“Now let’s talk about the important stuff man: we can catch up later.” he grinned.

Jonas briefly relayed their experiences with the old pirate base on Mars, and their current search.

“Before we headed for Venus, we thought it might be worth having a word with you” he concluded.

“What do you know about the history of piracy?” asked Marvin.

“Not much.”

“Well piracy is not a new phenomenon, but after an initial flurry lasting maybe fifteen years, the last reported case in the asteroid Belt was over 30 years ago; many Companies now maintain their own Gunboats, and the UWC slowly got a handle on things. The standard wisdom is that the Pirates died, retired or fled to the new wild frontier of the Kuiper Belt-where it remains a menace.” said Marvin.

“That would kind of fit in with the little we know” said Marcus.

“Yeah but get this. Look at these figures” said Marvin.

2153 6
2154 14
2155 63
2156 98
2157 116

“These are insurance company figures for ship disappearances/ losses in the Kuiper Belt over the last few years; prior to 2153 the average was about 1-10 per year.”

“116!” exclaimed Jonas. “That’s a hell of a lot of ships!”

“And not widely publicised” said Marvin. “Explained away by extreme risk taking and the inherent hazards that far out.”

“And that’s not all” he continued. “Over the last 5 years Piracy incidents have re-emerged in the belt, in 4 different locations-one of these being M0106 and M0107. Two of the vessals were identified – The Porcupine’ – registered on Munchausen (Kuiper Belt). Another was discovered undertaking repairs on an abandoned Mining Platform last year – I spoke to one of the guys involved- and that was registered from Naiad (Neptune),”

The others stared at him.

“Don’t you see?” he explained. “These Pirates have moved back FROM the Kuiper Belt. Why?”

“Maybe a power struggle?”suggested Jake. “With the little guys fleeing?”

“Could be” said Marvin. “The rumour was that the Combine had re-established itself in the Kuiper Belt after it fled the Asteroids. Maybe the old leader died, or something like that.”

He shook his head.

“Or maybe there’s something else” he added.

“Go on” said Marcus.

“Remember he’s a conspiracy Nut” whispered Jonas in his ear as Marvin fiddled for some papers.

“Pirates don’t usually simply destroy ships with no trace.” he said simply. “Don’t you see? It’s might not be the Pirates causing the disappearances-the Pirates are leaving themselves. It’s a cover-up I tell you. Did pirates make the 300+ population of KS 22 disappear? Did Pirates manage to empty the Exxon Mine processor on Medusa with no signs of battle damage? I don’t think so-and the whole mess is being covered up brilliantly. Something IS going on I tell you. Something Big!”

There was a pregnant pause.

“So do you think these other guys that were searching -this Duffey, and the Jane Doe, were some of these returned pirates?” asked Jonas.

“Maybe. Or their agents. Or relatives. The original pirates would be thirty odd years older now remember.”

“I have a correspondent who might give you first hand information though” said Marvin.

“You know a pirate?” asked Doc. Orlov.

“Well” said Marvin. “Maybe. I correspond with him and he sends me stuff from Venus. Calls himself Jack Sparrow – likely not his real name.”

“He seems to know on awful lot about the old time pirates. Reading the subtext I guess he was probably there.”

“Do you have an actual on him?”

“Not really” said Marvin. " But he let slip in one of his missives that he spent a fair amount of time at a place called the Lion’s Den. It’s real – I’ve checked. It’s in the port area of Diamondhead, on Venus."

“It’s worth checking out” said Jonas. “Thanks Marvin.”

“Maybe we can get a few more games in while you’re here huh?” said Marvin.

“Count on it.”

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