Subsubsection: 13 November 2016 Up Section: Events Subsection: HMS Canopus (2) 

HMS Impulsive

Back at Botein, there’s a salvage yard near one of the débris belts in orbit; and there’s some unexpected activity in said yard, an anomalous infra-red trace implying someone’s being sneaky out there.
Findlay takes the shuttle over, and spots a short-range work-pod docked against an old merchantman that’s clearly not in flyable shape. There are no active salvage claims.
The ship’s nameplate reads Bertha Heyman, Amraphel registry, shown as lost during the war a few systems away… and not then registered as having been salvaged here. The port engineering wing has been fairly mangled, and that includes one of the drives.
The work-pod, which has no transponder running, has a serial number that suggests it belongs to one of the larger manufacturing stations in low orbit. They think it’s still in the pod bay, but will check. It doesn’t have the range to make it here on its own, probably, unless the crew has a really cunning navigator and lots of patience.
Carter sends back a message describing what’s going on so far. Findlay rigs up a geophone probe to be attached to the hull to listen to what’s going on inside, but it’ll need to be placed by hand; everyone suits up. Smith rigs it on the central spine, near some of the cargo holds. Listening in reveals footsteps in the distance, and a substantial gurgling sound nearby, though it stops after a few seconds.
The team moves to the nose, and cranks one of the airlocks by hand, leaving the pod untouched for now. In what was probably the main dining/lounge area, the space is full of red fragments bouncing around; the Marines recognise it as boiling/freezing blood, and it must be fairly recent. Looking around a bit more shows a pressure-suit helmet floating around separately from the suit; the occupant died some time in the last few hours, of the helmet’s removal, since this was done by a large blade left spring-loaded in the airlock. The markings on the suit are generic and civilian; it’s been lightly sanitised, removing obvious serial numbers. Looking around for traces, someone’s cranked a bulkhead door to get up to the main spine, rather than down into the damaged engineering section – at least two people, in fact.
The Marines are sent ahead, and Jones spots that just beyond the next open bulkhead someone’s been getting clever. Looks like a fairly heavy-duty battery, wired to the deck plates. There’s a short section where touching the hull, or the grab handles, would be distinctly contraindicated; getting past isn’t too challenging, though. Findlay has a go at disarming it, but without success, and picks up some electrical burns, though his suit catches most of it.
(The atmosphere, which is clearly too cold and thin to breathe, is mostly nitrogen, very little oxygen or carbon dioxide. That might mean the latter have frozen out, though there’s not much frost, or that it was done deliberately for preservation.)
The team’s got past where the audio pickup was placed, and passed through several more hatches. There’s some more recently-released liquid that’s now freezing; it’s not obviously coloured. Findlay analyses it as an interesting mixture of acids, with some nanotech enhancement.
Carter makes a radio broadcast, calling on the intruders to surrender. There’s no response. He sends Findlay and Smith back to the shuttle to get the hazardous materials kit (and send a quick update report). The civilians who own the work-pod have now agreed that it’s missing; no ships have been observed behaving suspiciously.
Bagging up the frozen acid reveals one dissolved body; it looks as though the acid may have been held between a pair of bulkhead doors, and passing this now presents no problem. Further ahead, there’s a demolition charge on a laser tripwire, though disarming this is easy enough.
There’s a cargo hold hatch open, and a light moving around inside. The Marines move up to get a look in: the large and mostly-empty hold contains just one crate, and one suited figure with a light is getting it open. They drift inside to get a good aim; the figure looks up, grabs something from the crate, and Jones shouts “Royal Navy! Hold it there!”. Whatever the something was, it’s dropped, and a female voice says “OK, OK” while the figure raises its hands.
“Thank goodness you’re here – they forced me to join them on this robbery!” But this doesn’t stop her being cuffed; she claims that the corvette pilot is due to pick her up, and Bad Things will happen if she doesn’t return.
The thing she was reaching for is not her laser pistol but one of several metallic briefcases inside the crate. (These are surrounded by biohazard signs, though those aren’t on the cases themselves.) Scanning the cases shows contents that look very like coinage: Arabic script, possibly Rightly Guided Caliphates, not so much coinage for everyday use as a miniature ingot, something like a Maria Theresa thaler. The woman, who claims to be called Bridget, doesn’t know much about ships, but is expecting the corvette to come back in a few hours.
The officers, and Smith, take their prisoner out through a cargo-loading hatch, leaving the crate behind; Jones goes back through the hulk. Bridget doesn’t put up any resistance. Carter reports in.
Bridget has a long list of aliases, and is known mostly as a short-con artist, with a variety of warrants outstanding. It looks as if her fellow thieves were locally-recruited lowlives, but she’s sticking to her story about getting into the wrong card game and then finding herself dragooned onto this mission.
The coins turn out to be stabilised synthetic transuranics, as sometimes used for currency transfers during the war. They are, however, not genuing RGC coins, and they’ve been contaminated with an interesting designer plague, one that debilitates fairly quickly and kills after several months.
There’s no sign of the corvette. Bertha Heyman is in contention, not having been officially salvaged, and there may be eventually something going towards the mess fund.
Later… something odd is happening about shore leaves on the main port station. The local halo of slightly dodgy dealers seems to have got awfully good at knowing just where and when they should set up their offers.
The group starts considering possible leaks – the captain’s secretary, for example. Getting hold of the ship’s communications log is relatively quick and easy, so they start there. There hasn’t been much logging of the dodgy dealers, but looking at transmissions shortly before shore leaves shows nothing unauthorised; there’s nothing that seems to make a clear pattern.
Carter arranges to send Findlay and the Marines on a shore leave to see who shows up; Findlay ends up being disguised as a Marine, not entirely convincingly, but he could be a very new recruit. There isn’t any particular welcoming party, though they start drifting in after a bit; insofar as these people have a boss, “Invest In Land For Your Retirement” is probably it. The barman finds a bottle of Ordovician Fish Brandy, somewhat dusty, and Findlay works his way down it.
Carter talks with the Jimmy, and checks the shore leave schedule; there’s a party due to go ashore in a few hours. About half an hour before the shuttle’s due to launch, Mr Land Investment starts packing up and nodding to the others, and they head for a different spot, where the next shore party is due to arrive. This is before the flight plan has been filed… The Marines are getting distinctly wobbly, but the group heads over to the new shuttle lock, and there’s no sign of any of the shore party being handed anything as a gesture of thanks for a tip-off.
Next morning, it seems fairly clear that the ship’s communications system can be excluded. Flight plans are usually filed by the bridge watchstander, and there’s no particular correlation there. The shuttle’s hangar crew might worth considering. The short leave party themselves get notified at some point, via datapads, and that might be early enough.
Findlay sets up a comms watch for unauthorised transmissions coming from aboard the ship, and on the next shore leave he and Jones arrange a distraction: a punch-up that turns into a brawl. Smith arranges to be tripped into Land Investment, and grabs his datapad during the collision. (He looks confused for a moment, then a glass catches him on the ear.)
The three get out of the fight, and leave the bar. Findlay breaks into the pad, and can look at recent message traffic. “Big Phil” seems to have sent messages at relevant times, giving times and airlock details.
Carter checks through camera logs for anyone on the ship doing something unusual at the relevant time, but doesn’t find anything. Findlay’s log finds a very weak and low-bandwidth transmission, looking like random static, but moving around the ship; there are four or five different transmitters, all moving in ways compatible with enlisted, one of whom is likely to be a Marine. The group considers something dodgy in locally-purchased personal datapads, and sets up a full audit of everyone’s electronic gear… but they are not the transmission source. In fact it turns out to be nice big back tattoos, with remarkably metallic inks; a more detailed scan shows it’s got just enough computing capacity to listen to speech, compress it, and transmit it.
The tattoos are local, and the designs and ink recipes were downloaded by a confused local tattoist; the source for the designs isn’t entirely clear. Big Phil the local crime boss is quite happy, after some persuasion, to talk about the signals his pet techie was picking up. Other departments will be looking into tracking down the intended destination of the signals…
 Subsubsection: 13 November 2016 Up Section: Events Subsection: HMS Canopus (2)