Subsection: HMS Impulsive Up Subsection: HMS Impulsive Subsection: HMS Canopus 

21 August 2016

The main gas giant is a little further in, and an expedition developing a new hydrogen processing facility on one of the gas giant moons has fallen out of communication. Telescopes show no activity at the landing site, though no obvious damage. Impulsive sends a boat, while standing off in gas-giant orbit. Findlay scans the site: there’s a shuttle on the ground, and some vehicles scattered about the place, but no sign of activity. Carter sets the boat down nearby, and the team disembarks. The vehicles and shuttle look intact; the vehicles have been unloaded but not used yet, and there’s no sign of anyone inside. Footprints in the dust don’t seem to indicate any particular panic or disruption.
There is some noise audible when the team makes physical contact with the shuttle, though it’s hard to make out. The team tapes an emergency bubble over the airlock, and starts to make an unpowered entry; they try to crank the door, but it’s stuck, and so’s the one on the far side. Findlay rigs up some resonators to try to make audio contact with whoever’s inside; it’s Townsend, the expedition commander, who reports that they’ve lost power and can’t get the airlocks open; they’ve just about got life support working on batteries. All thirty of them are all right, but stuck.
There is an external power feed connector on the shuttle – but it appears to have melted. As the team thinks about what to do, Findlay’s suit shuts down completely, Smith is fine, and the other two are getting malfunction warnings. They get back to the boat and attempt to get off the surface; the reactor’s shut down, but the drives will still work without it. Findlay and Carter end up balancing the shuttle’s thrust by hand, as the usual fly-by-light system is off-line and they’re on emergency backup systems. Comms are down too, but Smith manages to hang a laser carbine out of a porthole to put Carter back in touch with Impulsive. There’s no sign of other ships in the area, and Carter and Findlay fly the boat back to Impulsive.
The shuttle’s clearly been exposed to a very strong electrical pulse; the ship’s engineer pokes about and reckons the pulse came from one of the sides of the crater in which the shuttle had landed.
Pointing the ship’s sensors at the landing site reveals an unusual rock structure; there’s no sign of deliberate construction, though. Findlay drops some remote sensors to try to get advance warning of the next discharge.
Carter comes up with the idea of a lifting harness, and Findlay works with the engineers to rig up a system that could let another ship’s boat lift the shuttle, though it’ll have to be attached by people on the ground – four Marines in full heavy armour, which should be most resistant to the pulse. They’ll use personal flight packs to get back off the surface and be picked up by a second ship’s boat.
Findlay flies the lead boat, and drops off the Marines, who don’t have to test the impact rating of their suits; they set up the lifting rig, then get clear and back into space. Carter collects them, while Findlay lifts away on the shuttle.
The shuttle does just about fit into Impulsive’s boat bay, which is the easiest approach: the bay can be pressurised, and the shuttle simply cut open without worrying about air seals.
On a later occasion… Impulsive is conducting a routine cargo ship inspection of Gox Mountain, which gets a slightly closer look as she’s registered out of Amraphel (where getting a ship registration entails a detailed and painstaking inspection of your credit authorisation). The ship’s coming out of the dead-end arm that branches off the main line of passage at Botein, and Captain Blackburn welcomes the boarding party aboard.
Gox is a typical long-haul freighter, a big cantilevered structure of cargo and reaction mass all resting on the small habitat ring and drive. The crew seem fairly well-ordered, though some of them are showing early signs of zero-G degeneration, presumably from not spending enough time in gravity; Gox isn’t planning to make planetfall so that’s not a major administrative concern.
Findlay spots an oddity: the hold pods are all braced off the central spine, but one of them isn’t braced anything like enough for the amount of bulk refined metals that it’s nominally carrying. Carter decides “randomly” to inspect that hold; there’s nothing that looks immediately odd about it, as the ingots of refined metal look solid – but tapping them reveals that some of them have a distinctly hollow sound. That’s when the captain starts to look distinctly worried, and four armed figures reveal themselves; they’re wearing an assortment of gear, heavy clamshell armour over standard civilian vacc suits, and pointing backpack-powered energy weapons at the boarding team.
Carter calls to Impulsive “we are encountering armed res—” before the comm line dissolves in static. The spacers claim that the boarding party are now their hostages; “lower your weapons and nobody needs to get hurt”. “You’re new at this, aren’t you?” replies Jones. Findlay sidles into cover and works on getting through the jamming, while Carter distracts the attackers’ attention. (They seem to be implying the possibility of a bribe, though nobody takes this very seriously.)
Smith slides quietly into cover while the conversation continues; the attackers spot Findlay and order him back into plain sight, but are more concerned by Smith’s disappearance. There’s a single vibration through the hull. Findlay manages to re-establish contact with Impulsive, getting round the insufficiently “random” sequences on the jammer; the comms watch is particularly concerned to establish just where they are aboard the freighter. The conversation eventually breaks down into “shut up or I’ll shoot you now”, and Smith and Jones open fire with rainbow lasers, shooting accurately for the faceplates. One just about survives, but the leader goes down at once with less head than he used to have. Findlay and Carter keep out of harm’s way as the enemy concentrate their fire on Jones. Smith missed with a burst of laser fire, and something in one of the bundles of “metal” starts to smoulder. The Marines continue to exchange fire with the smugglers, while Findlay points his suit sensors at that smoke, which he misinterprets as corrosive radionuclides. It’s a pretty one-sided fight, and although Jones takes a hit, and Carter tries to talk the last attacker down, it ends in the expected way.
Captain Blackburn claims it was nothing to do with him; Smith patches up Jones’ blaster hit. The officers look over the cargo: electromagnetic mortars and close support drones, not your typical weapon smuggling, more the equipment to start and potentially win a small war. It’s all been manufactured without serial numbers, makers’ names, and so on.
It turns out that the vibration was the habitat/drive section detaching and making a run for it, claiming that they had the boarding party as hostages – but a missile corrected their error, and several of them survived to be interrogated. The other cargo containers were detonated to try to confuse sensors, which will be a continuing jump-lane débris problem for a while. Blackburn claims to have been intimidated into letting the smugglers on board.
Carter writes a very positive report on Findlay, on the basis that things are much too exciting around Findlay and Carter is hoping for a more boring career.
 Subsection: HMS Impulsive Up Subsection: HMS Impulsive Subsection: HMS Canopus