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Last Updated    May 5 2018
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The Cost Of
       Emkir's Ass


Details And Designations
     After port security finished and left the berth, Captain Voulge of the IMV "Shoshama Iigee" got down to business.  He admitted they'd planned to leave the system on the 231st day of the year.  But, they had a business connection who'd gotten reports one of his ships was having issues and asked them to stay in-system, on retainer.  Agreeing, they waited until the day before, when the ship emerged from jump in-system.  But it didn't move into the main world orbit, as expected.  The ship's owners contacted the captain, who said there were issues aboard.  He said would shift orbits when they could.  When the owners asked about the issue, the Captain said he'd update them when he could.  But, agents working for the ship's owners also learned the ship's captain was talking to someone else on that world!  They were concerned some kind of trouble was being planned.

When Mikah asked why this mattered to the owners, Voulge said the owners had signed a contract with the planetary government of Equus, and the delivery terms were very specific.  The owners needed the ship to be on schedule or know the reason why?  Next, they got an x-mail notice the ship would be two weeks late without an explanation.  That was when the owners called him.  Now, two weeks late, the ship arrived in the wrong orbit in-system, and was still not giving an explanation for their troubles.  So, the owners were in default of the contract and had no answer for Count Corven or his people.

Making matters worse, communications between the ship and parties on-world were encrypted.  That meant they were talking, but were not answering the ship's owners.  Not only was an explanation demanded, but a message needed to be sent!  And Voulge's employers wanted it sent in blood, to the other captains and crews working for them.  His crew were hired to board the ship, the Leviathan Class IMV "Sohturn Behemoth", and kill everything aboard.  That got a reaction from Fesic, who was sitting in the compartment.  He asked about the legalities of slaughtering a starship crew?  He was reminded that the laws in question were the system's laws, as the Imperium controlled interstellar space.  Unless someone were to raise a complaint to the Imperial Navy, no Imperial authorities would even investigate.

And when it came to the system authorities, Voulge said they were already waiting for their past due delivery.  The only thing that could go wrong any more was a failure to overcome the "problems" and deliver on the cargo.  Since the crew in place on the Sohturn Behemoth were actively obstructing that delivery, the local authorities were not likely to react to an "extreme act of discipline".  As long as they got what they wanted.  Unless the cargo was damaged or lost, Fesic was told, the system authorities would ignore the action.  That was good enough for Fesic, who was already mentally equating the merchanter crew with pirates or opportunistic thieves at the very least.  With that info, he had no qualms taking them out.  Once the mission was explained, Voulge said his plan was to divide the California's crew into two more fire teams, to augment his crew's two five-man teams.

Voulge planned to use each team to assault a specific part of the merchant ship simultaneously, and take down all command and control before the merchants could react.  Mikah grimaced as she told Voulge that her crew were not as 'hard core' or combat-experienced as his.  When Voulge asked for an appraisal of her crew's skills, Mikah said there were only three members of her crew who were really up to the challenge.  That bothered Voulge, who had planned to take the bridge, alternate bridge, main engineering and the Sohturn Behemoth's boat bays simultaneously.  Learning Mikah's crew might not be up to what he assumed, Voulge said he had work to get done with his crew.  He recommended Mikah get her people together and figure out where they fell in his plans and join his people at their berth.

Decisions and Releases
     After Voulge left the berth, Mikah called the rest of the crew to explain what they had to do.  The first to complain was Aiden, but Mikah shut him down, reminding them all this was to save Emkir's ass.  Aiden grumbled that he'd at least be the pilot and be back on the ship.  Mikah corrected him, pointedly saying he'd be in armor and carrying a weapon because they would not be using the Hotel California.  When Aiden asked how they'd get to the ship, he was told their entire crew would join Voulge's crew on their ship for the transit.  Not pleased, but with no other options, Aiden just grumbled.

Beyond Aiden, Zimzod began asking questions about the ship and the mission.  After everyone had their say, it was agreed they could split into assault and follow-on fire teams and take the boat bays, which appeared to make up much of the E, F and G decks of the ship.  Unfortunately, they only had the "shipyard standard" design data for the Sohturn Behemoth's layout, but they figured the cargo and ship bays wouldn't be drastically changed because the ship was a merchanter.  This let Voulge's crew concentrate on the small and tight spaces of the bridge and main engineering while they'd have a unit large enough to fan out and control the boat decks and clear E, F and G decks.  After securing that space, they could then send a team below decks to capture the alternate bridge on H deck.  Since they'd take E, F and G decks first, that space would be cut off from the merchanters.

Settling that, Mikah started to divide the "who" into what teams, when the ship's comms began to buzz.  Answering it, Mikah found it was the shipyard, and they were ready to begin work on the Hotel California.  Mikah told the shipyard they'd move the California and told everyone to grab their gear and prepare to move into the Shoshama Iigee's berth.  When Terin asked if they couldn't stay in their own berth, Mikah pointedly said they needed to learn to work with the Iigee's crew.  Also, they'd have to move all their weapons and armor each time they moved to the other berth, which the station was no longer willing to permit.  That meant they'd have to call Instel-Arms to move their gear each time if they stayed.  And, they'd pay...each time.  Mikah said that meant they were moving once.  Period.

At the same time, Aiden volunteered to fly the California to the shipyard.  Mikah accepted that and first simply ordered Aiden sharply to return in the Probe.  But then she reconsidered sending him alone and ordered Rol to go with Aiden.  To make sure the pilot came back.  After that, the crew packed their gear, locked down their cargo and prepared to seal off and secure the ship before delivering it to the shipyard for the week or so of work.  With the hull plating already generated, and the electronics available, the crew were paying for enough techs to remove the wiring and plates, remove the sensors, replace those and upgrade the needed wiring before replacing the hull plating and external fittings.  This, while also quietly ripping out the ship's sensors electronics and replacing that.  The work was planned to take a week or a bit more.  The crew on the shipyard also knew the work had to appear to be as planned.  Since they were making extra on the deal, not to mention breaking some rules, not getting the work done as expected would cost them too.


Getting Together And Making Plans
     By early afternoon, all of the California's crew had arrived with their gear in the berth of the Shoshama Iigee.  Aiden had delivered the California to the engineers, then loaded all of his and Rol's gear into the Probe and returned to the station and the Iigee's berth.  This gave the California's crew a chance to get a good look at the Shoshama Iigee, sitting on her cradle.  Iigee was a wicked cruel and nasty looking ship.  Added to her turrets, the ship also had devoted tonnage to static guns and sensor plates.  These mounts gave the Iigee a porcupine-like appearance.  Her mounted sensor plates and guns also gave her the ability to see and fire through the "full-sphere" around the ship.

With both crews fully able to sit and plan, the crew of the Iigee were obviously disappointed that the crew of the Hotel California were not as hardened as they were.  Some were obviously upset that they'd freed Admiral Meshrumiikiim only to find they'd paid for nothing.  Mikah sold her plan to use the larger numbers of her crew to take and clear the boat decks, then take the alternate bridge from there.  Mikah detailed herself, Zimzod and Rol to take Aiden and Munarshu as the "assault team".  They would be followed up by the rest of her crew, led by Aali.  While choosing, Mikah had told Munarshu to find a way to "black" his weapon's shiny casings.  Rol recommended he wrap the weapons in cloth.

Accepting that, Voulge said that it would take twenty four hours for their ship to make the transit into strike position once they got under way.  He planned to set a duty roster which had two of his flight officers handling the transit.  The two crews would sleep before waking eight hours into the transit.  Then, they'd have sets of combat exercises in the cargo bay, to assess each other and get familiarized.  With that done, they'd all get to sleep again before it was time to get up, gear up and prepare for the assault.  When everyone accepted that, Rol asked how Voulge and his people had planned the assault on the Sohturn Behemoth

Hitting a stud, Voulge pointed to a screen as the shipyard deck plans of the Leviathan class appeared on screen.  Enlarging each section as he spoke, Voulge said the main bridge and engineering spaces had to be hit and taken right off.  Voulge made it clear, taking control of these spaces was critical to their success.  Other key targets would be spaces such as the boat decks, which would stop any crew escaping the attack.  Also, the forward avionics spaces, which were on decks E and D.  Finally, there were the alternate engineering, on F Deck and the alternate bridge on H deck.  Since it was most critical to kill the entire crew, the boat decks were seen as more critical.  And since Mikah had planned for that target, her teams were tasked with taking and clearing those spaces.

Voulge made it clear, the boat decks did not include the lifeboats because anyone who tried to use those would be easy to capture or take down later.  A strategy for attacking the boat deck was suggested, where sappers blew a charge along the seams formed by the large air-lock seals and forcibly depressurize the space.  This would possibly unlock those portals and keep other portals into that space locked due to internal pressurization.  It might also kill some of the crew caught in the bay if the sapper was lucky.  Then, the sappers could begin to attack the electronics, to force an entry point along the mouth of the boat deck locks, which were huge.  That would force the ship's crew to evacuate or try to guess where to defend from.

When Mikah said, "We have breaching charges", she was told those would not get through the ship's exterior bulkheads, so they'd have to use them on air-locks or hatches.  At the same time, two of the Iigee's crew who'd left the compartment returned, stomping back in wearing battledress armor.  But not the style of armor any of the California crew, except Rol and Zimzod, had seen before.  The battledress was modified and upgraded for sapper duty!  It had modifications for exterior attack, electronic infiltrations and even atmospheric re-entry from orbit!  The gauntlets had modifications to thrust cutters for cutting into the armor plates of a ship's hull to get at systems.  There were extensor rods with gear to ram or punch through cover plates to access surface-mounted devices or infiltrate electronic conduits.

The shining desire on Rol's face, as he looked over the two suited troopers, rivaled the outright envy on Zimzod's.  Mikah had to wonder how many Imperial officers and nobility these mercenaries had to service for permission to have those toys?  When Zimzod said, "That's impressive", he only got back a smug, "We know."  Once it was made clear how the other crew expected to infiltrate their targets, Mikah and Zimzod discussed using their breaching charges.  They also discussed crossing from the Iigee to the Sohturn Behemoth while running "trailer lines" between their team members.  That would make sure those without zero-g skills made the crossing intact.  When Mikah said she'd lead their bravo team over, Zimzod said his battledress systems made him better suited for that.

After some discussion, it was agreed Mikah would lead the alpha team with Rol playing "follow up" while Zimzod would lead the bravo team.  Zimzod asked if they had been given the command over-ride codes for the ship's access points and computers?  He was reminded that the ship had been turned over to an operational crew by the owners some time ago.  That meant it was very likely the captain and crew had modified everything they'd been given, including the layout of some decks.  But it was agreed they could try what they had if they needed to.

Rol asked how sweeping the ship would be done when the teams took their primary objectives?  They were told each team would hold their location until those on the bridge found where any hold out crew were.  After teams were directed to those muster points and all located survivors killed, they expected most of those aboard to have been dealt with.  So then, they could muster their teams and do a scan, section by section, deck by deck, until they'd cleared the ship.  With questions about the plan were all answered, both crews began settling down and getting to know each other until Mikah's comms began to buzz.  When she answered, it was station security letting her know that the papers had been processed to release Emkir, pending his trial.

Springing The Admiral
     After She'd gotten the call, Mikah told Zimzod to gear up to get Emkir.  Aali also said she'd be coming along and Voulge said he'd have his man rent a station car and drive them.  In central offices, Emkir had worked on any mind games he could, to stave off the boredom.  Then the officers came to get him from his cell.  When Emkir asked what was up, they simply said it was procedural and everything would be explained.  In an interview room, Emkir arrived to find his lawyer and several security officials were working through paperwork.  As Emkir was seated, he was told, by his lawyer, that he was being released until his trial.  They said his captain and members of his crew were on the way to pick him up.  Emkir was told the conditions surrounding the case had changed and, under station policy, he would not be held any further unless he was found guilty.

Emkir couldn't help but notice his lawyer's attitude had changed significantly.  The man was positively up-beat.  He was also very dismissive when it came to him being found guilty.  Seeing no one was stopping what they were doing to explain what happened, Emkir sat back and let them get on with setting him free faster.  As Aali, Mikah and Zimzod arrived, Emkir was being told that he would be tried for Murder and would be told of that court date.  He was told he couldn't leave the system and was also not to spend time in the public spaces of the station.  But he was free on his own recognizance until the trial.  Seeing his captain had arrived, the security detail was happy to turn Emkir over to them and Emkir's lawyer was happy to let Mikah explain what had happened.  So, they turned over a very confused Admiral to Mikah as Aali gave him a big hug and said, "Let's get you to the car."

Not certain why no one was talking, Emkir received the packet with his possessions and followed them out while still wearing his paper prisoner's clothing.  As Mikah and Aali ushered Emkir out of Central offices, with Zimzod, Aali said they'd explain once they were out of the office.  They quickly moved Emkir to a waiting port car in which there was a stranger sitting, but Emkir noticed the man was wearing a shipsuit with a patch for the Shoshama Iigee.  Accepting this, Emkir got into the car with the others.  With the doors were secured, the man punched "execute" on the instructions to return to the Iigee's berth.  After they got moving, Aali introduced Emkir to their "driver" and explained the events Emkir had not learned of.  Emkir was thrilled when he learned the case was in better shape than he'd been told.

Emkir was also not very concerned with the "payback mission" they owed the crew of the Iigee because his ass had just been saved.  He was quite ready to ask, "How High and what color, Sir?"  They spent the rest of the ride explaining to Emkir about the job they were getting ready to do as the driver said the ship would likely leave as soon as they reached the berth.  Of course, when they did, each of the crew except Emkir paid Cr 5 "Air costs" to the ever present collectors in order to open the berth access.  The driver also paid the overall usage bill for the port car.  And, as expected, they were only just signed back aboard the Shoshama Iigee when her captain ordered everyone to departure stations.  The crew of the California moved into the lounge.


Two Naps and Some Slaps On The Way
     Clear of the station, with her flight path cleared by the port, Voulge ordered everyone aboard to their assigned sleeping spaces and told everyone to get rest.  Those who needed it were issued sleep inducers.  They'd sleep for eight hours before the ship's alarm went off. Then, their command pilot would broadcast any changes in the program ship-wide as his shift was ten hours.  So there should be no surprises when they woke and they could get on with combat drills.  As advertised, a ship-wide alarm woke everyone eight hours into the transit.  Everyone was allowed a period to clean up, dress and eat rations before they were told to gear up.

In their gear, they were told to report to the ship's cargo bay for "practice".  As they reported with their preferred weapons, each weapon was fitted with an interlock system which would both allow the computer to simulate fire from that weapon and provide some positive physical feedback to the shooter.  Again, everyone from the California was impressed with the caliber of the toys the Iigee's crew had.  As Zimzod arrived in his battledress, Voulge's crew hooked cables to the suit and integrated his battledress computer into their battle computer network.  Zimzod was even more impressed when they activated the battle computer and he could see the full effects of the integrated system!

Unfortunately, for everything the computer could do for him, Zimzod was still a "guest" and could not see the locations or bio-status of the crew members from the Iigee.  Still, the computer could sense when he needed thrust or other active control from his battledress and provide it.  It would keep in, or move him into formations with friendlies automatically.  This would free Zimzod up to think about acting and reacting to his situation.  As the two crews continued to prepare for the practice session, the Iigee folks looked over the 'neat toys' the folks from the California had but barely used and accepted that maxim of combat units that the least capable in battle will always have neat toys to waste.  When they noticed the cloth wrapping Munarshu's weapons, they giggled because of that combat maxim, "The people with the smallest penises usually had he shiniest weapons."  After processing all the gear, the crew of the Iigee announced it was time to 'have some fun'!

With that, everyone was in motion as the crew members of the Iigee went on attack and the crew of the California reacted.  Soon, they were all mixing it up in a practice session which made Rol's morning hand to hand practice and Mikah's bi-weekly Zero-G practices look like slow dancing with your significant other!  The effect was more so, as no one could drop out early after taking a few lumps because they were likely heading to hard combat and there'd be no excuse to stop early then.  Over the following eight hours, there were several battle sessions, some food and medical checkups and some relaxation, conversation and pointers.  The mercs were surprised with Mikah's performance and satisfied with Rol and Zimzod.  When pushed, they were even surprised with Aiden's responses, though he tended to work defensively except when his personal space was violated.

What made this work very different than anything the crew had been involved in since basic military combat training was the computer interlock.  A device was set on each of the crew's weapons letting the computer to simulate the weapon's action and also provide positive physical feedback to the weapon's user.  That meant everyone felt as if they were pulling triggers and making corpses.  This made their laser tag-like system seem to be the child's toy it was.  Those without zero-g skill moved slowly, and were often thrown in wild and spinning trajectories in the bay as they tried to fire on opponents.  This made it very apparent how deadly combat might be without gravity, and possibly in open space.

After hours of practice, there was an after-battle analysis.  Performances were examined and video watched as pointers and suggestions were handed out.  Key points were made to be remembered, however it was recognized this could be no more than an eye-opener.  To save time, the videos used had been pre-selected by the active pilot, during the sessions, as he operated the ship's controls.  Of the most noted points, those using grav-lock boots for the first time found they did not simplify things, as expected.  While it was easier to maintain their position without gravity, they found the locks made movement slow and cumbersome.  This prevented them moving quickly for cover against fire and forced them to devote more thought to moving, taking it away from situational awareness and response.  The session also pointed up how little the practice sessions they'd been holding on their ship had changed anything other than reducing their options as they realized the things they did not know.


Boarding Time
     Done with the review, those who wanted them were given sleep tabs and the crew were sent to rack out.  They were told there'd be a quick meal and clean up time after the ship's alarm woke them.  After that, they'd need to gear up and fall out for the assault on the target.  Things ran as advertised when the alarm rang, and everyone was soon at their muster points.  From there, the crew of the California were led to "deployment tubes" installed on the ship's ventral side.  The air-locks, would be entered from the interior of the Iigee and secured.  Then, each tube would be pressurized as the Iigee approached the Sohturn Behemoth.  Once the aggressor teams were in the tubes and pressurized, they'd hold until the computer released them, based on the ship's rotation and position.  The release of pressure would "fire" the aggressor teams to an intercept point with the target vessel.

To add to the fun, the California's crew were told the ship was running on automatic pilot, following an attack plan set by the pilots once they'd gotten real sensor data on the target.  That meant the pilots had sleep built in their relief patterns and they'd gear up to take part in the assault.  That meant there'd be no one left on the Iigee and no help from that quarter if things went sour.  All teams were cable-linked together, to prevent member losses during the "flight" to the target's hull.  Zimzod and Munarshu shared out their stores of grenades as they organized.  Munarshu shared out his concussion grenades and the anti-personnel jackets to slide on them with Fesic, Rol, Aali and Emkir.  There was an imbalance as he had 19 grenades to share and ten AP jackets.  Mikah and Terin grabbed some grenades from Zimzod's stockpile.

Mikah slung her grenades, ammo and extra battery pack for her laser sword from her web gear and Rol made sure he had his vacc suit patch kit.  Fesic made sure he had his periscope.  With everyone ready, the teams were loaded into their tubes.  Zimzod loaded in with Terin, Aali, Emkir and the other second stringers.  This was so his Battledress systems and battle computer assist could help keeping the entirely unskilled team from missing the target and drifting off into space.  With things locked down, Zimzod checked his connection to the ship's battle computer to get a lay of the land.  He could see the merchanter had one active weapon system, which was currently on the other side of the vessel as they made their drifting approach.  That course would bring them up under the bottom of the vessel at which point systems would go hot and swing the Iigee up along the vessel's starboard side.  It was then that the teams would be "fired" at the target.

Taking the time to examine the target, Zimzod noticed some odd readings.  The Iigee's sensors painted four targets, of which three were small craft of varying size and the fourth was tagged as a debris field!  Two of the vessels were just off the port side of the ship.  The debris field was larger than both the small craft together, and there was nothing Zimzod could see to explain it.  But as he started looking for an explanation, the Iigee made her turn and the teams were fired at the Sohturn Behemoth.  From that point, Mikah and Rol were working to keep their team in line from both the front and the back while Zimzod worked with his battledress systems to keep Aali's team in line.  Those with no skill in zero-g operations were left to enjoy the ride or scream in terror. ( Mostly Aiden yelling "Sshhhhhhhiiiiiitttttt!!" as others muted his feed to their comms )

The teams diverged as Zimzod and Mikah led their charges in and made contact with the ship, grabbing for anchor points.  Mikah's team came in fairly well on target while Zimzod's team made contact several decks off target.  That meant Mikah had to step up and lead the assault team while Zimzod worked to move the others into their back-up position.  This was partly because Munarshu and Fesic both took the opportunity to explore what their thrust packs would do.  Fesic experimented with what he thought were minor bursts that would cause no issues.  But the results of his experiments, and other issues, proved more of a challenge for Zimzod's skills and the technology at his disposal.  Munarshu actually thought he could try and "help" keep his team in line.  But with the help of Rol on the tail, Mikah was able to negate the results of his foolish actions.

Secured to the target, Mikah started ordering her team to get a move on finding a hatch to blast with a breeching charge as Zimzod started marshalling his team to move into position.  When Mikah looked up to get her bearings, her eyes confirmed what she was being told by her team.  They were on the outer hull of F Deck and the huge boat deck air-locks were not only not secured, but they were open!  Mikah saw that while those in her team who'd moved to the opening reported there was no boat in the F Deck starboard side bay!  Checking her data on the deck plans, this space was open down to G Deck, and should provide space for the ship's apparently missing pinnace.  Of course, there was no guarantee the ship's boat had been sold off, lost or otherwise dealt with in the past.  But there were those mystery craft on the far side of the ship as puzzle pieces solidified.

Rol and the forward elements of her team reported back as Zimzod muttered, "Debris field" as if the missing craft confirmed the source of that anomaly.  But that didn't account for the two other small boat contacts they'd had.  Mikah jumped on the channel between all team leaders and updated the Iigee teams about the discovery.  The Iigee's captain said her info was noted and told her to make her ingress attack and kill anything they found living inside.  Scanning what they could see from the outside, the team saw nothing else unexpected as they moved in.  Once just inside the bay doors, the team could see more.  Increasing the mystery, the bottom deck of the pinnace bay, on deck G, had been modified and had a small fleet of vehicles secured there!  Three seemed to be large flat grav-lifters with a control podium aboard each.  The rest were assorted camouflage painted wheeled ground vehicles.

After an examination of the lifters from range, it looked like those were meant to move the ground vehicles into positions on a world.  The ground vehicles were "jungle painted", but the pattern was a sad version of camouflage if that was what it was intended for.  It was also obvious, even from that range, that the vehicles had not been prepared for hard vacuum.  Some of the windows and all of the vehicles tires appeared to have blown out at the loss of atmo.  Oddly, they were also not apparently armored in any way.  So Rol's first thoughts that the ship might have had a mercenary unit aboard were shifting to "WTF" mode.  He had to ask what the hell the small fleet were meant for?  Adding to the mystery, they could now see over to the port side of the ship, where that part of F and G Decks should have held the starship's shuttle.  But that berth was also empty!

Beyond that empty space, they could see that the port side air-lock was completely open, as opposed to the slight opening they'd come through on the starboard side.  Through that opening, they could see the aft end of a shuttle type small craft drifting just beyond the open air-lock.  But, they could only see the aft end of the craft.  The front was missing, as if it had been ripped away.  Seeing this, Aali heard someone say, "Looks like ass." before she realized she'd been the one to speak.  Trying to add things up as she spoke, Mikah reported the increasing mystery to the other teams.  In the meantime, Rol and the others examined the vehicles on deck G and saw some of them had empty weapons mounts while others were obviously meant for cargo carrying.  He estimated the vehicles, nothing more than he'd call "technicals", could support up to a squad of ground troops.  The oddest thing was that there were no visible bodies at all.  Examining the remains of the shuttle, Rol saw that the entire front section had been crushed and ripped off the remaining aft section.

Getting On With An Increasingly Eerie Job
     After Mikah reported this data, Captain Voulge asked her to separate some members from her team to board the remains of the shuttle and verify no survivors were aboard?  Mikah said "Will do" and cut the contact as she assessed the mission.  The F and G Deck space were divided into open bays, separated by a core of central office structures.  The space also had a complex of passages and compartments fore and aft of the boat spaces.  Mikah's teams had to check the core offices, forward and aft compartments and the wrecked shuttle.  Mikah ordered Rol to come with her to the shuttle as Zimzod arrived with the rest of the team.  Mikah left the rest of their teams under his command.

Discussing the open spaces on the boat deck and the number of lifts giving access to the space from other decks, Zimzod said they needed that secured before they did anything else.  Emkir and Aali volunteered to remain in-position on the lip of the lock and cover all the visible access points.  This would let Emkir brace his rifle against the ship's outer bulkhead and fire in with Aali's support.  Zimzod OK'd that as he took point and led Munarshu and Aiden aft to what their deck plans said was the F Deck access to the Back-up engineering space.  Zimzod wanted to secure that so the ship's crew could not use it for defense.  Zimzod led through the hatch and found himself at a fire fighting station at the forward end of the passage.

At the same time, Terin volunteered to check out the central core offices between boat decks.  Aali approved of that as Fesic also volunteered to go with him.  With that, the two moved out as Aali and Emkir scanned the spaces visible to them.  Without real skill moving in zero-g, Terin and Fesic would take some time to arrive at the offices.  But, like a climber making their way up a cliff side, each of the team members had bungees with them which they could use to connect along the way.  This would often prevent them flying free when they lost a grip while moving.  As that happened, Mikah and Rol used their thrusters to make a well-coordinated transit from side to side across the boat deck.  As they moved, Rol told Mikah to let him precede her into the wreck, and she was glad to let him have his way.

Getting closer, it looked more like the shuttle "hit something", nose-on, and the forward third of the craft was crushed and gone.  Mikah looked for easy entry points and saw the entire upper and lower decks of the shuttle were exposed.  This would let them just drift into the cargo and passenger spaces on both decks, which were open to space, if they chose to dare the ribbons of sharp torn metal.  Survivors would either be in vacc suits, locked in compartments, in life balls or other survival apparatus.  Scanning the exterior, the only obviously active light sources were flickering emergency lights.  They noticed that and Mikah uncomfortably mentioned the increasingly eerily nature of this operation.  But in a vacuum, there was nothing obvious oozing or dripping down the walls.  Reaching the shuttle, Rol instilled yet more confidence by missing his grab for a hand hold.

Mikah made a firm capture on the wreck as she saw Rol scrabbling along trying to grab hold of anything.  Holding onto her mount one-handed, Mikah grabbed the cable connecting her to Rol and yanked him back towards her harshly.  Doing that, she gave the pull enough of a shift in vector that he'd impact the plating next to her instead of rushing directly back at her.  Rol's impact was, for Mikah, very satisfying.  While Rol worked to recover from the sudden 'end over end' spin and Mikah helped him get organized after his impact, they found they had a few options.  Forward of them was the ragged edge of damage that marked the end of what remained of the shuttle.  Looking aft, they could see an air-lock, but could also see the blinking LED indicating it had been locked.  The forward option was to risk possible razor-sharp shards of metal to use the "easy way" in.

Considering their options, both saw a number of items.  First, was the good news.  They could see several points where it appeared they could evade any sharp metal ribbons and get into the forward openings in the wreck.  Causing more confusion was the view of the debris field.  As they scanned the drifting field, they could make out wreck debris, with a few bodies mixed in, which could have been the forward section of the shuttle.  Anything they could recognize appeared to have been crushed.  Supporting that, as they looked forward through the debris, they could see what appeared to be an impact point on the port-side hull of the Sohturn Behemoth!  An impact point which could actually be consistent with the bow of any standard shuttle!!

When Mikah reported that, Voulge asked her if she could provide any details?  Reviewing her gear, the only thing Mikah had on her that could record and transmit was her Ident, so she pulled that out.  Not meant for that, the detail was not very good, but it got the idea across.  Once they got the pictures Mikah was sending, Voulge's people admitted it was damned odd.  But that could be worked out later, once they'd secured the vessel and small craft.  At the point, Voulge said his sappers had just breached an entry into B Deck to assault the bridge so he'd be going dark until he could issue more orders.  Wishing each other luck, Mikah and Rol moved around the edge of the breach to see the upper deck of the shuttle had been ripped open and exposed all the way to a hatch that gave access to the aft compartments.  The space contained many drifting meat popsicles.

Strange Goes to Twisted...
     Moving in, to explore, Mikah and Rol checked the floating bodies in the space.  All were apparently in shipsuits and had died when the compartment was ripped open.  When Rol suggested they search the bodies, Mikah laughed and said, "That's your job.  Go ahead."  As Mikah moved aft, she could see the only hatch was marked "Fuel Purification Processor Access".  Opening the hatch to check the space for survivors, they found a small "closet-sized" operations cubicle where the fuel system would be operated by a technician.  The pair tried to add things up, and it looked like a group of the ship's crew had left the Sohturn Behemoth on the shuttle without vacc suits and then tried to ram the freighter.  None of this was making sense!  When Mikah told the rest of her team, Fesic suggested the communications coming from the merchanter might only be to lure others in, and Mikah agreed she was getting a bad feeling about this entire operation.

Moving below decks, they found more of the same.  The only thing different from the upper deck was that some of the bodies appeared to be dressed in a paramilitary fashion.  But, as Rol checked those bodies, he found they were not "in uniform".  It was as if they had bought clothing during a military style fad.  Still, when Rol checked the details, like the boot treads, he could see they worked in those uniforms.  His best bet was, they were something related to a paramilitary force or the like.  What bothered him was the lack of markings, ID or even rank.  That didn't track with any organization, paramilitary or formal.  They also had no gear which suggested they carried weapons or ordinance.  As a result, Rol started collecting Idents and any other artifacts they carried which might shed light on things.

On F Deck aboard the Sohturn, Zimzod had moved through the hatch heading aft as Munarshu and Aiden covered him.  From there, he could cut left or right to the numerous storage compartments or head straight aft, past more service compartments to the alternate engineering station.  He called to Aiden and Munarshu, telling them to move into the fire point and cover the passages to port and starboard.  Once they were covering his ass, Zimzod would edge forward to the hatch which opened to the back-up drive room.  Working the hatch and carefully opening it, Zimzod could see into the compartment.  While it wasn't pressurized, because that would have locked the hatch, the lights in the compartment were on, the systems were active and he could see no one in the space.

Moving into the compartment, Zimzod left the hatch open as he took a tour of the space.  Using all the sensors in his battledress, Zimzod confirmed no one was in the compartment and planned to move back out into the common space and check the store rooms.  When he stepped out, Zimzod checked the lift bay to the left of the hatch and saw the shaft cover was closed.  That meant the lift was not on F deck and the shaft cover had been intentionally closed to block the shaft.  That was an active command from someone before his team arrived.  Wanting to check the lift, Zimzod checked for the control panel so he could use it later.  Before that, he wanted to clear all the compartments in the space.  As he moved to the port side passage, he had Aiden and Munarshu hold position.  Off the port corridor, there were two storage rooms, an exercise room and a fresher.

Each space Zimzod moved into was empty and locked down, as expected among professional spacers.  Anything too large to be stowed was strapped down.  Nothing was floating around but no one was home, showing the crew had decent discipline.  After that, Zimzod covered the storage and exercise rooms to the starboard side and found the same things there.  This brought them back to the lift, which their data told them transited from the B deck down to the G deck below them.  That could get them one deck closer to the alternate bridge, which was a key target space now they had the alternate engineering section."

Zimzod hit the stud on the panel to open the lift shaft cover and waited while that slid open.  Unknown to any of the people from the Iigee, this caused a light to go on in the Sohturn's bridge.  As a voice unheard by anyone from the Iigee or California cried out on the bridge, switches were thrown and a security protocol was run on the Sohturn's bridge.  Zimzod reached to hit the lift call button but the panel suddenly locked and the cover started to close once again!  At the same time, Munarshu realized the hatch they'd entered behind them had also closed and locked!  In a tone of resignation, Munarshu announced, "Someone just activated the security system."

...And A Key Was Turned
     Terin and Fesic had been making their way across the starboard boat bay carefully, under the protective aim of Emkir and Aali.  Having to choose between crab walking and gravboots, they decided moving on all fours from grab-point to grab-point might be faster.  So, they'd been crab walking and eventually reached the Upper Boat Maintenance Access passage.  This was actually a stairwell which would get them from the G or F decks to where the airlocks would be if the craft were present.  Since the bays were empty, they checked to make sure no crew were hiding in the space.  Having crab walked across what was essentially the ceiling of the bay, as the shortest route, there was also a room below their level as well as a storage space on that level.  Checking the room on their level, they found the space properly secured and empty of crew.  With that, they moved to the space on G deck below that storage compartment.

In the aft common compartment, Zimzod considered jamming something in the closing lift cover but had nothing useful to hand.  Considering the slowly closing space and the odds they'd all be locked into the compartment if he didn't move, Zimzod dropped past the cover down to G deck before the cover closed entirely.  This left Aiden and Munarshu locked in the compartment above him as Zimzod began to explore the new space he was in.  Suddenly abandoned as the cover closed, neither Aiden nor Munarshu could move fast enough to reach the opening before it shut.

As a plan B, Munarshu moved to the control panel Zimzod had been using while Aiden let out a few choice and angry words.  Checking the panel, Munarshu saw it was a local control and comms panel, nothing more.  Seeing that was worthless, Munarshu said, "Aiden, cover my back.  I'm going into engineering."  Because Munarshu was an engineer, Aiden thought that plan had some merit and took a position and Munarshu moved.  At the same time, Zimzod told them he was looking for a way to get them out of the compartment now he was not locked in.  Then, Zimzod began searching his compartment for an open door on his level.  On G deck, Zimzod saw there was no access aft as in the deck above.  Instead, the space he was in had two much larger hatches leading forward and spawned passages to the left and right.  Disturbing his calm, Zimzod saw the panel LED's on each hatch were bright red, showing they were locked.  That also included the IRIS valves to his immediate left and right, which led to the auxiliary computer and life support respectfully.

Zimzod stepped forward, to try and find a purchase and force something open while Terin called Zimzod from where he and Fesic were moving from the forward section of the bay.  Not knowing where Terin was or what he was up to, Zimzod took the call and Terin asked if he wanted them to move to help?  Zimzod asked if they had cleared the central bay spaces and Terin said they had, so he told Terin and Fesic to move on down to help.  Zimzod went back to trying to force an exit while Terin and Fesic started crab walking down-bay.  Munarshu got back to the entrance to the alternate engineering and found that locked too.  As he and Aiden shared curses, Munarshu checked the comm pad and noticed the readout was displaying data!  Looking closer, Munarshu saw it indicated air pressure in the compartment was actually increasing!

Taking a break from failing to get out of his compartment, Zimzod checked the comms panel and saw air pressure building there too!  Not sure what that meant, he waited and considered his situation as Terin and Fesic moved and Emkir and Aali covered the bays with their weapons.  Off the port side of the ship, Mikah and Rol had finished clearing the remains of the shuttle and confirmed there had been no survivors.  The other two ship's boats, apparently lifeboats, were a significant distance off and outside their reach for the time being.  Not happy with the turn of events, they began to return to the team as the others had become separated and some locked in!  Giving a situation report, Zimzod told Mikah they could begin checking E Deck.

Finding The Circus Rings
     Checking the deck plans, Mikah confirmed the engineering assault was happening on C and D decks and the bridge was on B deck.  This kept them from interfering with things while checking E deck.  Making their way to the ship's hull, Mikah and Rol could find no open access to E deck, so Mikah decided to go to F deck and find a way up.  Inside the F deck port bay, the obvious methods of access were through the elevator shafts or a pair of hatches.  Interrupting her inspection, Munarshu announced that the hatch connecting the F and E deck engineering spaces was locked.  That, of course, meant nothing to Mikah as she was looking for access in the open bay.  Munarshu's report had nothing to do with what Mikah and Rol were doing, and only served to make Munarshu feel important.  She'd shoot him later.

Mikah ignored the useless data as she and Rol checked the lifts to find they were all locked as well.  She figured someone activated something and warned the crew of the ship there were others aboard.  Someone on the bridge had locked the ship down, making life more difficult for all the teams.  Mikah only hoped it was not someone from one of her teams or she'd have to kill them.  After checking the hatches and lifts, Mikah realized the lifts were the obvious option.  But they'd still need a breaching charge to get through either of them.  Lucky for her, while Zimzod had one breeching charge, Mikah had the other and they could use it.  Still, Mikah was concerned about blowing open a portal between pressurized and non-pressurized decks.

When Mikah started speculating what might happen, she was told the most noticeable effect would be the vibrations as the ship automatically started sealing up and closing the ship bay doors.  When Aali contemplated out-loud about jamming one of the doors open, Aiden snapped, "Use the shuttle."  The pilot was not happy at all with the situation that had developed.  Also ignoring his chatter, Mikah put the charge in place, set the trigger and she and Rol drifted back, in case the deck above was actually pressurized and things started flying.  Once she triggered the blast, all sorts of stuff came flying through as E deck did suffer explosive decompression.  Those things included the obvious parts of bodies.  Because they were moving too fast for Mikah and Rol to see them, but were being slammed against the lower bay deck, Mikah ordered Emkir and Aali to try and scope in on the parts with their weapons.  Lucky for them, the boat deck locks did not start closing.

Unfortunately, Emkir and Aali still had to juggle their perch grips and weapons while trying to track any of the bodies.  The flow of air dragged much of the debris out the locks into space and had no real info to report.  Accepting that, Mikah led Rol up to E deck, and into an actual cargo bay.  Taking her initial position and scanning around, the deck was in the disarray she expected.  What she didn't expect was what she saw to the port side of their position amidships.  From where she and Rol kneeled, they could see a large circular cage connected to the compartment called the "exotic cargo compartment"!  Mikah realized there had been some kind of animal held in that cage.  Looking closer, Mikah saw the cage was empty!  She also saw, ten feet aft of where it extended from the exotic cargo compartment, there had been a gate...which was open!

Without waiting or considering any further actions, Mikah activated all comms channels and loudly said, "Oh!  We're getting out!"  Still riveted to the sight, Mikah looked for any sign she was mistaken but there were no closed doors to suggest what had been in the cage was still contained.  All the facts suddenly locked in place.  The evacuation to ship's boats, the intentional depressurization, even the attempt to crash the shuttle into the ship.  Seeing some bodies still on the deck, Rol moved to examine them and confirmed they had been mauled and some had limbs ripped off.  Mikah responded, "Yep!  Getting off now!  Bye!" in a cheery and affirmative voice.  As Mikah started ordering, "Everybody off!" Captain Voulge cut her off, asking "What have you got?"  When Mikah explained herself, he asked if she could confirm everyone on E, F and G decks were dead?  Mikah answered, "In those spaces we've seen, yes!"  Voulge pushed, "Have you visually checked every compartment?" and Mikah admitted they hadn't.  So, he told her they were not leaving.  He also reminded Mikah that her teams had no ride home or even down to the surface of the planet in that orbit.

Making The Most Of the Trap
     Mikah gave in as Zimzod commanded, "OK everybody.  Lock and load."  Rol simply muttered, "We already are I hope."  Fesic satirically joked, "Oh!  That's right!  I need ammo!" as if he'd just thought of it thanks to Mikah and Zimzod's comments.  The momentary levity did a lot to help the team make the morale transition from a "straight hunt" to a "bug hunt" for man-killing bugs.  Continuing the laugh, Terin mimicked one of his training sergeants and said, "If it bleeds, we can kill it!"  Rol dragged that down asking, "What if we can't?"  Aiden just muttered, "Glad I wore my brown pants today." in a grim tone.  When no one had more to say on that thread, Rol mused, "I really wish we knew what cargo this ship was carrying which we were not to destroy."  Half the team agreed with that while Aiden forcefully said, "The creature, obviously", having decided they'd been sent to try and save the bug only to end up being fed to it.  As much as she could not openly agree with the pilot, Mikah had to admit she agreed with him more than not on this score.

In the compartment where they were locked, Munarshu checked the comms panel and saw the air pressure in the compartment was at 50%.  He could also see an "attention" LED was blinking!  Checking the LED's label, Munarshu saw it indicated voice communications.  When he plugged his suit comms external connection into the jack, Munarshu found himself dealing with a panicked male Human voice begging him to "call off their attack dogs!"  Rather than asking questions to determine who the man was and what was going on, or get any information, Munarshu simply responded, "Not my attack...I am the attack dogs!"  The result of that was that the man cut the line and Munarshu lost the chance to gain intelligence or even perhaps get those in control of the ship's systems to unlock the doors.  Only starting to realize his mistake after the fact, Munarshu attempted to re-contact the speaker but got nothing back.

Still, Munarshu also reported to all teams that there were survivors and the ship's condition was not voluntary.  Someone or something was attacking them.  The only response he got from the other teams was a cheery "Cool!" from Voulge, who followed that up with shoot what's attacking them in the back and kill the crew.  Zimzod followed that up more comedically, saying "Kill them a lot!"  Giving up on thrashing around trying to connect with random compartments of the ship, Munarshu figured he'd try connecting to the bridge directly and got an answer!  The speaker had the same voice and held more authority as he demanded, "This is Captain Khisukir.  Who are you and why are you boarding my ship?  Munarshu tried his best to sound convincing as he said, "Rescue team!"  Angrily, the captain snapped back, "Oh right!  First you are the attack dogs and now you are the rescue team." in a tone that demanded to know just how stupid Munarshu thought they were?

Still, the captain did angrily demand Munarshu explain himself and Emkir was actually looking forward to hearing what kind of an answer Munarshu came up with since the engineer was broadcasting his conversation.  Thinking "Small bites", Munarshu said, "We're here to re-take control of the ship."  After a pause, he added, "By all means necessary."  After the captain said, "I see." and cut the comms again, Rol commented, "You really know how to tell people what they want to hear, don't you?" in a disapproving tone.  Aiden snapped, "He has no idea what he's doing." in an angry tone, making it clear he was sure Munarshu was only digging them a deeper grave.  Still, Munarshu broadcast to all that he'd confirmed there were survivors on the Sohturn's bridge.  Captain Voulge replied, "Cool!  Now do your job." in a tone that suggested Munarshu get off the comms, stop gold bricking and get their team's job done.

When Munarshu stupidly started to argue, saying, "You're fore and I'm aft." Voulge pointed out, "Yes, and we're getting closer to taking care of him, which is our job.  So, get off the comms and do your job."  Zimzod laughed and responded to Voulge, "Good call!  Shut up Munarshu."  Like Aiden and Munarshu above him, Zimzod was trapped in the compartment he'd gotten to on G deck.  And like the others, Zimzod decided to sit and wait for the air pressure to reach close enough to 100% and see if that unlocked the doors.  As he waited, he provided status reports to Mikah on his situation.  As these reports continued, Terin told Fesic come with him back to the boat deck control compartment to use the bay door controls and close the bay doors.  When Fesic asked, "Why?" Terin suggested that pressurizing the boat bay might allow the other locked doors to open on their own.  This, despite the already broadcast suggestion that someone on the bridge had locked the doors after detecting attackers aboard.  Shrugging his shoulders, Fesic said "Sure" and followed Terin back as the Knight updated Zimzod.

On E deck, Mikah was on heightened awareness, checking and double checking everything before moving on.  That meant, she spotted that the "Locked" LED on the lift cover they'd blown with the breaching charge was now flashing red.  Warning Rol, they established as good a defensive position as they could and waited to see what developed?  As they did that, Rol suggested Mikah ask Voulge what cargo they should not destroy during their actions?"  He half-dreaded being told the ship was carrying creatures they had to recover and deliver.  When Mikah asked, Voulge admitted that what was already destroyed was something they could do nothing about but they should not destroy any cargo containers.  When Zimzod asked, "What if it's living cargo?" Voulge made it clear they were to kill everything living and Mikah enthusiastically made it clear she was good with that order! 

Connecting The Dots
     Having been told they had to clear all the compartments on their assigned decks, Mikah checked her options.  They had fore and aft bulkheads with exit-points as well as stairs up to D Deck so Mikah had a number of options.  Choosing to head forward first, Mikah and Rol made their way to a cargo container between them and the IRIS valve forward.  That container seemed to have been partly shattered open and a peek in showed racks of gear which were shrouded in shadows too dark to really see what the gear was.  Shining a light in, Mikah could see what appeared to be camping gear.  And while it appeared to be commercial grade, it certainly did not appear to be military.  Putting the vehicles and the animals together with the camping equipment, a picture began to form.  Someone had gone hunting some animals, and what they'd caught live got loose.

Arriving at the forward IRIS valve, Mikah and Rol found it open.  Passing through that, Mikah found that the lift to her immediate left had been literally ripped out of place and bent away to give access to the decks below!  Examining that more closely, Mikah and Rol could see this had not been done with flame or explosives so something had physically grabbed the lift and bent it!  When she reported this to the others, Munarshu muttered, "We need bigger guns." on an open channel.  Filming this with her Ident, Mikah checked the rest of the space.  To their right was the door to a stateroom and Mikah asked Rol to open the door as she took position.  Rol forced in the door, he was certain anything moving beyond would be mowed down by Mikah's fire, through his body, on full automatic.  what they found was a perfect and pristinely ordered stateroom.  As all spacers are trained to, everything had been properly folded, locked down, netted down or stowed.  This showed that whatever had happened, the crew had not been so surprised that they did not clean up properly.

Checking their deck plans and turning to what should have been the ship's electronics shop, Rol opened the door to find a more chaotic scene, with debris floating around.  Looking at the debris closely, Rol recognized some components and a piece appearing "under construction" which appeared to have been discarded for a better plan.  Examining the intended device for ten seconds, Rol was able to see that a battery had been mated to an "on/off" switch and some primitive "point" which may have been something like a cattle prod, but there was nothing more he could tell before they needed to get moving again.  Hearing this, and still waiting for the pressure to come up in his compartment with Aiden, Munarshu switched weapons to his shotgun and replaced his regular shells with five taser rounds.  Aali and Mikah got no answer when they asked him why?  Mikah shrugged and left it to him to kill himself as she reminded everyone they wanted to kill this thing, not wound it.

As this happened, Zimzod made it clear air pressure was coming up in his compartment and he was preparing to engage possible visitors.  On the same token, Aiden announced he was loading his phosphorous ammo into his LAG.  Mikah suggested everyone have a long arm and hand gun ready to pump rounds if they encounter the beast loose on the ship given what it appears to have done to the lift.  Sadly, as they talked tactics, they could only mostly agree that once the team got back together, they'd put Munarshu on point.  That way, according to Zimzod, they'd get to pour rounds into it and kill it while it was gnawing on Munarshu's guts.  Munarshu simply replied, "I love you too."  Fesic simply suggested they set a trap using Munarshu as bait.

Moving forward, Mikah and Rol checked another stateroom which, while larger than normal, was not the captain's stateroom.  Checking the empty space, they found it in the same state as the first stateroom they'd checked and moved on to the galley on that deck.  There, the pair found signs the crew had been working to provide some kind of food service which had been abandoned unsecured.  As a result, the remains of the food service were floating throughout the compartment.  As they reported this evidence of panic, Terin joked that Rol should see how the food tasted?  In vacuum, Rol ignored the comment.

A Plan In So Many Pieces
     In their compartments, Aiden, Munarshu and Zimzod saw the readouts for air pressure reach 100%.  Despite that, when Munarshu tried the hatch, he found it still locked, providing more evidence that the angry man on the bridge had more to do with the situation than pressurization.  Zimzod, who had taken the time to explore his confined space, also confirmed that all the valves and hatches he could find were also locked.  The one advantage he had over Munarshu and Aiden was that Zimzod had the second breaching charge.  When he realized his only options were to blow a door open, Zimzod set the charge to blow the hatch leading from the space he was in down into the alternate bridge, which was right below him.

Above his compartment, Munarshu and Aiden had tried all the valves and hatches again and were considering their options when Zimzod yelled "Fire in the hole!" and the blast of the charge rattled their compartment too.  Deciding it was time to take more extreme measures, Munarshu decided to take the panel off the controls for the lift and see if he could re-wire the unit to over-ride the security.  While he did this, Aali and Emkir decided it was time to get off the lip of the starboard bay door before Terin and Fesic got to the controls and tried to close them.  Tethering themselves together, the couple began to crab walk from their position to some other location.  As Aali suggested getting to the alternate bridge on H deck, she was reminded of all the locked portals between them and H deck.

Aali considered their options and Emkir suggested stepping outside and crawling down the hull in hopes of finding an air-lock or unlocked hatch there.  Both of them considered that only briefly before discarding the idea.  As they considered options, Aali asked Emkir how he felt about hacking the locked portals?  Emkir said he could try, and leaned in to remind Aali he had the computer with the hacking software on it.  With that good news, they considered where to go to make use of it and decided to try and hack the hatch keeping Aiden and Munarshu locked in.  That would also get them closer to hatches which would get them to Zimzod and the alternate bridge.

On E deck, Mikah and Rol had made a full survey of the compartments forward of the cargo bay.  In the lower astrogation compartment, they found a hatch had been left open in the ceiling which led to D Deck and the upper astrogation compartment.  Peeking through to made sure that space was clear and backed down again, they closed and locked the hatch to make sure no one came from behind them as they moved.  As they did this, Zimzod had set his charge and blown the hatch down to H deck and the alternate bridge.  After taking cover and setting off the charge, Zimzod waited for the pressure to equalize, making it clear that space had been decompressed.  Then Zimzod moved up to the hole with weapon ready.  Not detecting anyone below, Zimzod dropped into the space.  As small as the space was, Zimzod could confirm quickly that he was alone.

Now owning the ship's auxiliary bridge, Zimzod could see all the systems were active, but knew he had no log in's or active accounts on the ship's systems.  Checking the available consoles and systems, Zimzod looked for some security panel from which he could start unlocking compartments.  Unfortunately, Zimzod had never been trained on flight or ship's crew work, so he really didn't recognize a lot of the systems.  As he looked over the systems he had access to, Zimzod realized every computer and console there was more complex than he'd ever worked with.  Once he'd spent some time checking, Zimzod decided to call Emkir, who was the crew's computer expert.

Emkir told Zimzod they were on F deck and heading to him after linking up with Munarshu and Aiden.  So, they told him to sit tight and wait for them.  At the same time, Fesic and Terin had finally reached the boat deck control station and tried to activate the controls for the air-lock...only to find they were locked as well.  Finding the local override, Fesic tried that and found it would not work.  This told them the same "active lock" commands which had been used on the other hatches and valves on the deck had affected those controls too.  Every lock on the deck must have been thrown on either the bridge or engineering.  At that point, they heard Zimzod announce he was in the alternate bridge.  And, they heard Emkir tell Zimzod they were coming to him.

Figuring he'd check and see if Voulge could help them yet, Terin called the captain but only got back a brief and grunted out "Busy...do your job" before the line was cut.  Fesic suggested they make the crawl to where Mikah blew a hole in the lift cover and join Mikah and Rol on E Deck.  Terin held that up as he talked to himself and tried to figure out if there was any way at all to override the lock-out from the bridge?  As he came to a conclusion, Emkir called to the pair and told them they should meet up at the hatch to the back-up engineering space where Munarshu and Aiden were trapped.  Discussing plans, Emkir pointed out they could get to the back-up engineering space or the alternate bridge through that hatch.  When Terin pointed out they still had to get through the doors and were out of breaching charges, Aali mysteriously said that Emkir had brought a virtual breaching charge.

When Aali added that the "virtual breaching charge" did not explode and might or might not work, Fesic said he was going to link up with Mikah and Rol, allowing Terin to decide what he wanted to do on his own.  Terin chose to join Fesic as they started crab-walking across the top of the space to the hole in the lift cover.  While this happened, Munarshu worked at hacking one of the hatches as Aiden made snarky comments that were very appropriate under the circumstances.  His early hacking attempts failed as Munarshu started searching the compartments he had access to in hopes of finding something to use.  And while he found a huge stockpile of supplies for the ship's maker shops, the 3D printers were in the ship's metal shop.  The only items of promise were the weights in the exercise rooms, which got heavier with the gravity returning in their compartment when the air pressure hit 14 psi.

Still working on any idea to get out of the space as they waited, Munarshu thought of making use of the crawl spaces they might have access to in order to get out.  Talking to himself out loud, Munarshu reconsidered trying this himself during a bug hunt but then thought of Aiden.  Not surprisingly, Aiden was several miles ahead of Munarshu as the engineer looked up to where Aiden had actually raised and pointed his LAG.  As Munarshu played "herbivore in the gun sights", Aiden bluntly said, "I think not."  Munarshu could not help but notice Aiden's trigger finger was resting on the weapon's trigger.  Hearing this over comms, Terin attempted a bad joke saying, "Quit being a pussy and go through the crawl space!" not caring which of the two reacted.  When Munarshu echoed the joke, Aiden responded in the same tone that crawl spaces were Munarshu's specialty.  As he said so, Aiden's thumb swept down past his LAG's fire selector, unsetting the safety and making it clear which one of them was going to commit 'suicide by stupidity' if it came to that.

Gathering Information And Team Members
     On E deck, Mikah and Rol had transited aft and were mostly across the cargo space when they were told Terin and Fesic were coming to join them.  Mikah shrugged and said into her comms, "OK, your funeral."  This presented them with three choices.  A personnel air-lock gave them access to the exterior of the ship and open space.  There was an IRIS valve to the starboard of amidships which would allow passage further aft if they could get it open.  And then there was the still open hatch into the exotic cargo storage compartment, which might have passages heading aft from inside it but they could not see.  At first, Mikah was adamant she would not even consider entering the cage or that compartment at all. 

Rol and Mikah considered their options while and Terin and Fesic worked to catch up.  Mikah decided it might be a good idea to figure out what kind of animals they were worried about after all.  So, very cautiously, Mikah and Rol made their way to the cage and into the open gate.  With weapons up and ready and scopes looking for anything not deck plating or bulkhead, they made their way inside the cage to the exotic cargo compartment hatch.  What they saw inside was that materials had been pulled from some kind of woodland setting, which were likely bedding for one or more creatures.  But it was floating in null gravity, giving no indication how any creatures had used it.  There were freshly cleaned bones drifting in the bedding, but nothing to indicate what was contained in the space.  Disappointed, Mikah decided it was a dead end and left the cage again.

Moving to the IRIS valve leading aft, Mikah and Rol found that portal locked.  When Rol asked what they might try, Aiden reminded the team they'd used high explosive anti-tank grenades aboard the Kakishuu and asked if anyone had those?  Rol said he'd used all his aboard the Kakishuu and no one else had any.  As they discussed options, a broadcast came out over the general channel as Voulge announced, "Ladies and gentlemen!  We have the bridge!"  Not missing a beat, Mikah said, "OK, unlock the doors down here."  When he asked for a sitrep, Mikah reported that all the aft doors were locked on E, F and G decks and apparently all doors were locked on H deck too.  When he asked what had been cleared, Mikah confirmed the forward sections of E, F and G had been checked as well as the aft of F.  And she had a man in the alternate bridge.

Having her report, Voulge told them to stand by as they cleaned up the bridge and got full control.  Ignoring the "stand by" order, Terin griped that it would be nice if they turned the gravity on too.  On the team's channel, Rol questioned that request while Voulge ignored it.  Munarshu suggested that might help "the thing that's eating everybody." and got a few grunts in agreement.  As they took stock of their situation and prepared to get on with the work once the doors were open, they soon got a report that the engineering spaces had been taken too.  The brief report indicated they'd fought the ship's systems to get into the space and found it unmanned!  As the teams spent their time waiting, moving to an objective or trying to rush things along, they got a broadcast from the bridge.  It began, "All teams will have access in..." and cut off to static!

Opening Doors With A Crash
     Munarshu said "Shit!" as others in the team tried to reach Voulge and failed.  They also tried to contact the rest of Voulge's team and failed.  Terin said there hadn't been any shudders, so there were no explosions.  Not getting to the bridge team, they tried the engineering team next.  That team answered straight away and asked what the issue was?  When Mikah said they couldn't reach the bridge team, the engineering team leader said he felt they'd be a bit busy at the moment.  Terin said Voulge had been in the middle of an announcement and the team leader said they likely found something they needed to take care of.  He didn't sound too concerned about the situation.

When Munarshu said, "Somethings trying to eat them." and Fesic added, "Something big", the spacer asked, "What's 'something'?  It would have to have a large appetite."  Several people tried to answer at once and Terin won out, saying, "We found a rather large cage here."  When the engineering team lead asked for more data, Mikah said the cage was recently inhabited by some kind of giant creature.  She added, "Type unknown, but it broke out."  When the spacer asked for pictures, Mikah sent pictures she'd taken of the cage and the bent and torn elevator platform.  After smoe thought, the team leader admitted the pictures didn't look good.  Mikah piled on when Munarshu asked what the ship was carrying?  But, as far as they knew, it was "some cargo that was supposed to be delivered on Equus."

When Rol speculated that the 'thing' which had created the damage was bigger than man-sized, Munarshu suggested they could be facing a shape-shifter.  After the brief pause, Rol flatly said, "You are just a bastion of happy thoughts."  Despite the situation, Rol got laughs over the comms as Terin started reloading his side arm with armor piercing rounds.  Of course, this made Munarshu, Aiden and Zimzod very happy trapped in their rooms.  Everyone else was either at a hatch they were working on or arriving at a hatch to work on.  In the latter case, it was Aali and Emkir who arrived at the hatch to Munarshu and Aiden's compartment as Emkir sparked up the software on his hand computer.  Not wanting to hardwire into the ship, Emkir set up a broadcast port and started searching for a virtual connection to the comms panel.  When that failed, Emkir realized he'd have to create a direct connection.

Once Emkir ran a jack from his armor to the comms pad, he could use the interface between his armor and hand computer to connect the hacking software.  One advantage was that no one could see anything other than Emkir's hands in play, so it looked as if he were actually hacking the door with his mind.  Unfortunately, Aali was the only one there to watch.  Aiden and Munarshu waited in the compartment until the red LED suddenly changed to green!  When Munarshu reported that, Mikah quipped, "You can just say 'Thank you'."  After Zimzod suggested they pass through the now unlocked door, Fesic joked that they'd likely run into the shape shifting beast.  That was cut off as Emkir made it clear he'd worked some magic and they owed him thanks as they left the compartment instead of wasting time.

At that, Munarshu reminded the others their compartment was pressurized.  Aali told Aiden and Munarshu to suit up while they all considered the hatch.  Normally, since it opened out, they'd only need to unlatch a door to have the air pressure blow it open and suck them out.  But modern starship hatches had safety features which prevented that.  There was a built-in pressure feedback system which Aali and Munarshu needed to explain to the others.  They realized that it would take the four of them working together.  Aiden and Munarshu would have to push from their side while Aali and Emkir grabbed the hatch sealing ring and pulled.  Once they got the hatch open a crack, the air in the compartment would flood out and they could escape or Aali and Emkir could enter.  But the more they thought about it, the more they realized they might need a lever of some sort.

Munarshu's first thought was the cleaning closet he'd explored earlier.  But when he checked there, he found small flat deck cleaning devices and no mops.  Everything was compact and easy to stow in small spaces and there was nothing like a rod.  Returning to the conversation, Munarshu said there were no rods in the closet.  Beyond that, they covered all the spaces Aiden and Munarshu had access to.  Munarshu described the storage rooms, the cleaning supplies and then stopped as he got to the exercise room...with its weight bars!  In fact, everyone perked up when he mentioned the exercise room before he mentioned the bars.  And then Aiden and Munarshu were off to unsecure a bar of the correct size and remove the weights.  Getting that, they moved back to the hatch.

After going over the plan and organizing themselves, they started working on getting the door open.  But as much as they worked it, they failed on the first try.  Pausing to recover their strength and better reorganize themselves, they then tried again.  The second time felt better but achieved no more, so they took more time and planned the next try.  Putting everything into the third try, the team finally got a crack in the casement.  As the crack appeared, Aiden and Munarshu needed to do two things very very quickly.  First, was to jam the rod into the crack and lever it open to let all the air out.  And second was to let go of the shaft even faster and grab onto something to keep themselves from being blown out into the cargo bay.  But, when action began to get wild, the scrambling and grabbing began!

Neither Aiden nor Munarshu were able to grab hold as they shot past Emkir and Aali.  The couple had their own problems evading the debris flying out of the compartment, including their team mates.  Still, Aali and Emkir managed to keep hold of the hatch door as Munarshu and Aiden did their best, in a panic, to realign their bodies and get their feet pointing in the direction they were falling.  Unfortunately, they crossed the space from the hatch to the personnel lift before they could reorient completely.  As they crashed into and through the door of the lift, it was the luck of the draw that Aiden hit first and was followed in by Munarshu.  They were a flying ball of flailing limbs as they hit and were crushed into the cabin of the lift.

Taking the impact hard, Munarshu moaned as he realized he'd hit Aiden!  Or, actually, landed on him.  Struggling to get off Aiden as quickly as possible, Munarshu froze as he saw the way the pilot lay.  The engineer's eyes were locked on the helmet of Aiden's armor.  The shattered helmet of Aiden's armor.  Aiden was dead.  Adding insult to injury, attention followed Munarshu and Aiden and Emkir and Aali missed it as the settings from the bridge took over and re-closed and locked the hatch again.  Getting a status from Munarshu on Aiden, Aali got on the comms and reported the situation to Mikah, who was not happy.  When Aali started out, "We lost Aiden", Mikah wondered how the pilot could have wandered off?  When she asked, "How could you lose Aiden?" Aali said she'd let Munarshu explain.

Instantly, Munarshu asked why he was explaining and Aali said, "You're the one that done it."  As Munarshu whined, "You told me to!"  Mikah snapped, "Someone tell me what's going on!"  With that, Aali explained how they forced the hatch and, in an instant of depressurization, Aiden and Munarshu had been "cannonballed" out the hatch and into a personnel lift and Aiden's helmet faceplate was smashed.  In the pause, Aali eventually continued, "So, he's going to have to go back to the shop for a complete rebuild", referring to his cloning insurance.  To confirm, Zimzod asked, "So he's dead - dead?" and Aali confirmed that.  Mikah cursed and said out loud that she'd have preferred to have lost Munarshu than Aiden.  Still, Mikah ordered them to secure Aiden's body and not to touch his handgun.  They still had a mission to carry out.

Turning The Mess To A Plan
     With her people consolidating, Mikah called the engineering team to tell them they had to get the doors open as they were taking losses.  When she reported that, the team lead in engineering asked with concern if they were in active combat?  Figuring, 'what the hell', Mikah and Zimzod both said "Yes!"  When they were asked, "With what?" Mikah said they didn't know, figuring that would add some fire to the process.  Mikah repeated her demand, "Open these doors!" and continued, "And what's with the bridge team?"  The engineering lead said, "We've had no contact."  Reacting to that, Mikah said, "Whatever got them is probably coming for us!  Get these doors open!"  All she got back was, "We're working on it!"

Terin started asking for them to close the boat deck locks, and was cut off with a firm, "We're working on it!" because repeating the words would get through to idiots not listening.  When Aali asked if they really wanted the lock doors closed, Terin said they did until Mikah said they didn't.  Terin asked why and Mikah said, "Because we want to get the hell out of here!" and Terin realized he couldn't argue with that.  With a fresh breeze of gallows humor, Rol said, "Don't worry.  With the doors all opened, it will get to us that much faster."  Fesic piled on, suggesting they could leave with the Shoshama Iigee once the monster ate the engineering crew.

The laugh factory powered down as Zimzod reminded them he was still trapped.  Coming back to the situation, Terin asked Zimzod to send them pictures of the consoles he could access, so they could give him instructions.  Recalling Zimzod's battledress was tied into the battle computer of the Iigee's crew, they asked him what he could see?  But as an outsider, Zimzod could only see the condition readouts of the other teams.  And what he could see was that they all appeared to be alive.  He could not tell where they were or what they were doing?  At least, that was what he had at first.  But as he changed settings, Zimzod was able to start tracing one team member as that person on the bridge appeared to pass through the hull and exited the ship into open space!  Zimzod tried to call the person on comms, but got no answer.  But when he reported this, the whole crew were now a bit more willing to go with Munarshu's shape shifting theory.

Rol assessed the situation and suggested that, until the doors were open and they could recover Zimzod, they all gather in the middle of the cargo bay.  That would give them a larger open "kill zone" in case something actually did come after them.  Mikah agreed and, as they moved, they grabbed Terin and Fesic to create their hard point.  On F deck, Emkir really wanted to reach Zimzod.  Whem he said that, Munarshu looked around to see where the weight bar they'd used as a lever had gone?  But all he knew was that it had been thrown somewhere in the depressurization.  Before he could go overboard, Aali pointed out they had depressurized the compartment when they opened the hatch, so it might have started to repressurize but would not be there yet.  Emkir took that as a go order and said, "Let's get this hatch opened again immediately.

Emkir started working again and Aali got ready to open the hatch while Munarshu recovered Aiden's body.  As soon as the lock indicator went green, Aali grabbed the hatch lock wheel and pulled.  As she encountered some resistance, Emkir joined her and the hatch came open with a slight jerk.  But as soon as they got it open, some system left on automatic started to re-close the door.  Unprepared for a rush into the space, they let the door close as they realized they had few options to keep it open.  First, thinking they needed to jam the door open, the group started discussing what they could use, including considering using Aiden's dead body in hopes the hard shell of his armor would hold the hatch.  A short chat decided using the corpse wouldn't work and they needed another idea.

Eventually, they decided Emkir had to hack the lock again, and someone would slip inside.  Once there, and after the door closed and locked again, that person would head into the exercise room and grab another weight bar.  Only, this time, they'd bring a bar with the weights on it so they could use them to brace, trying to keep it open.  But as they discussed how wide they needed to prop the door, Terin, listening in from E Deck, said they'd be in already if Emkir had hacked the door three times already rather than standing around discussing it.  After that, the only question was who would go in first?  After another minor discussion, they decided Emkir would go in first, and then hack the door again from within.  And once he got the door open a second time, both Aali and Munarshu would try and slip in quickly.

With things decided, they put the plan out to Mikah over the comms before Emkir hacked the lock.  As the hatch swung open with no resistance thanks to the significantly lower air pressure, Emkir had been ready and grabbed the wire jack as he rushed into the compartment.  Because he rushed, Emkir had plenty of time to turn and see the hatch finishing its closure and going through the automated locking sequence again.  As soon as that was done, Emkir jacked in from that side and hacked the hatch so Aali and Munarshu could rush in, carrying Aiden's body between them.  Again, fully prepared for it, they both made the transit with time to spare.  Now that they were all three back in the compartment Munarshu and Aiden had been locked in, they had to decide what to do next?

Originally, they had wanted to get to Zimzod in the alternate bridge.  But, checking their location on the deck plans, Aali and Munarshu both saw they were literally one hatch or IRIS valve away from the alternate engine room!  And with two engineers in their small team, along with Emkir's magic hacking ability, they were possibly steps from controlling the entire ship!  In addition, they'd have one hatch between them and the engineering assault team from the Iigee.  Lucky for the team, their time spent debating what they wanted to do allowed the air pressure in the space to rise.  So when Emkir hacked the hatch to the alternate engineering compartment, they were able to open that with little resistance.  When they did that, they saw the alternate drive space had been pressurized too.

Getting inside, they chose not to link up with the other team as Emkir started hacking computer access.  After he did that, Emkir had to sit back as Aali and Munarshu stepped in to work on taking control.  At the same time, they suddenly heard from Captain Voulge again!  As the wave of words came, Zimzod checked his battle computer to see Voulge was actually back on the Iigee!  In a spiteful voice, Mikah asked, "Have you cleared your deck?"  Ignoring Mikah, Voulge again repeated what he had said in the rush of voices, "All hands abandon ship and return to the Iigee!"  that brought a moment of silence before everything was pandemonium.  Mikah followed that up with her own orders to her own people as Emkir announced they still had to free Zimzod from where he was locked in.

Getting Free and Getting Out
     Mikah OK'd Emkir and Aali's plan as Aali stepped forward and activated a second control panel.  That leet Munarshu work alongside her.  Consulting the deck plans again, Aali worked out a set of paths for everyone to get clear of the ship as directly as possible.  Mikah, Rol, Terin and Fesic could easily get out by dropping back down to F deck and getting out the boat locks.  If they opened the IRIS valve for the auxiliary bridge, there was a hatch exiting the ventral hull of the ship from the lifeboat muster compartment next door.  They only had to unlock two hatches to get Zimzod out.  But for them, it was straight back the way they'd come.

Ironically, this led to a debate about how to exit the ship just as they all had permission to get the hell out!  Munarshu argued that they should activate the lift and drop to G deck so they could pass through the hole Zimzod had blown into the alt. bridge and exit from H deck.  As her team moved, Mikah joined in and complained about how Voulge had not issued the recall orders until he was safe aboard the Iigee.  At that point, Aali suggested Voulge might actually be the xenomorph, trying to lure all those still alive into one place.  And while Mikah was not supportive of the idea, she did remind the crew they'd have to come back and deal with whatever was killing people sooner or later.

Emkir suggested they should broadcast a message that they were going to void the ship.  Give those without vacc suits a chance to suit up and then blow all spaces to hard vacuum.  Aali interrupted him, pointing out that the ship, like all modern vessels, had dedicated safety systems installed to safeguard crew and passengers.  That meant she and Munarshu would have to spend significant time going through the computers to disable those systems, or the "creature" might accidentally be pulled into one of those.  If they didn't spend that time, they would only create a false sense of security.  Overhearing this, Rol pointed out that it appeared the crew tried the same tactics and failed.  He advised they withdraw, as ordered by Voulge, regroup and come at the problem with a better plan.

Circling back, Emkir said they still needed to get Zimzod out of his compartment and Rol pointed out they'd come up with a quick plan for that.  That returned them to how Aali's team would get out?  It was pointed out they had multiple vectors of escape.  Still, as Emkir pushed for blowing the whole ship to hard vacuum, Aali tried to identify and disable all the safeties as quickly as she could.  But after trying, she knew she could not identify all the systems she needed to and quickly said as much to Emkir.  When she had Munarshu check her work, they were pretty sure they missed some systems.  And as they checked the systems, Terin whined over the comms about just getting off the ship.  Doing the best she could, Aali found the correct set of switches to throw in order to disable all door locks aboard.  This was confirmed as much as they needed confirmation when Zimzod said the hatches in his space were unlocked.

Jacking into the ship's comms, Emkir hit the all ship with a warming to suit up, Aali started throwing switches to open all the unlocked doors.  Despite the warning, they all heard some truncated screams as members of their support teams, who'd been in pressurized compartments, did not move fast enough.  Emkir shrugged and said, "We did warn them", ignoring the fact they'd acted less than seconds afterthe warning.  With a confirmation Zimzod was free, Aali explained to him how to get out and then they grabbed Aiden's corpse and followed the reverse path they'd taken to get in.  Mikah's team were already on their way, so they could link up the non-zero-g trained with those who would get them home.  As they linked up, the team were able to identify some of those withdrawing from the assault on the Sohturn's engineering compartments.


Back Aboard The Shoshama Iigee
     With everyone mustered back aboard the Iigee, the count was grim.  The California crew had lost Aiden, but the Iigee crew had lost all of the bridge team except Voulge, and the engineering team, who'd faced no combat, had taken losses when the pressure was blown by Aali and Munarshu.  After going over the events, Voulge said his team had made ingress to the bridge compartment and found a significant number of survivors from the crew of the Sohturn.  Their captain first thought they were a rescue team, until the crew of the Iigee started shooting.  After that, the captain and his people tried to stop the assault but it was quick work.  Once in control of the bridge, Voulge's team took control of B deck and A deck, pressurizing those sections to make securing the compartments easier.  Knowing the bridge was secure, they planned on buttoning up and pressurizing the whole ship.

Because the bridge crew had been killed, and they didn't have the time at the moment to review the ship's logs.  They pieced together that members of the crew had abandoned the ship on the lifeboats and shuttle.  They also saw the shuttle had been used to ram the Sohturn, but not why?  But they proceeded to pressurize their areas of operation until a two-man detachment from his team were attacked by what he described as an "armored thing"!  Leading the rest of his team on an assault to back up his people, Voulge said the animal got in close and raked his battledress.  While he was not injured, his electronics and his comms were ripped out, which was why he could not communicate until he got back aboard the Iigee.

Pressed for details on the "armored thing", Voulge could only say it had to have been an air breather.  He guessed it had been penned up by one of the ship's safety systems when the Sohturn's crew panicked and tried to blow the ship to hard vacuum themselves.  When he said this, Emkir, Aali and Munarshu exchanged glances.  They talked, and Voulge said he believed they got the creature this time, and asked for volunteers to return to the Sohturn and confirm the creature was dead.  Right away, Rol volunteered, followed by Munarshu and Aali and then the rest of the California's crew.  While they got ready to mount the mission, Aiden's body was moved into a freezer for proper treatment later.  After they got back to Equus prime, they'd begin the process of claiming his cloning insurance.

By 2am, Friday, 342-1112, they had returned to and scanned the Sohturn Behemoth from top to bottom.  In the process, they found the body of an armored bear-like creature on A deck as well as the remains of another on C deck.  That one had been killed by the crew of the Sohturn.  As they took pictures and checked their library data, working with the remaining three crew of the Iigee and Voulge, they determined it was a "La'Belle Bear".  Coming from the glacier-covered environment of La'Belle-prime, the La'Belle Bear was a fierce animal which evolved in an environment where the bears hair evolved into keratin-bonded armor scales.  What they didn't yet find were any explanations of what kind of fools brought beasts like that on-board a starship?
Armored Bear

The bear bodies they found ranged from just over eight to nearly nine feet tall.  And the bears were "beefy".  Taking samples of the scales from the dead beasts, they could see where rounds from low caliber pistols and rifles had just been deflected!  Exploring further, the crew found the actual shipment of cargo containers bound for Equus, so they would be able to deliver for Voulge's employer after all.  And because the crew of the Hotel California were not getting paid cash for this run, Voulge would have a good pile of cash to recruit and re-arm with.  After finishing checking the ship top to bottom, there was the clean up to handle.  But first, Voulge told everyone to get some sleep.


Cleaning Up And Going Home
     After everyone had a good solid sleep period, Voulge called the crews together to work out the end game.  The ship and cargo obviously needed to be returned to the owners after a flight that would take 24 more hours.  But, before they left, there were things to be cleaned and secured.  Those with zero-g skills would work to recover what was left of the shuttle and secure it in the craft bay.  The bodies would be shoved into space after being checked for combat gear.  Precious little of that had been found.  Voulge still had his chief engineer alive and he was tasked with getting access to the logs and finding out what the hell had happened?  The rest of the team were tasked with cleaning up the ship's interior spaces where combat had happened.  While there were groans at first, this was actually easy to do.

With gravity restored inside the vessel, the ship was returned to hard vacuum.  Then, varying the gravity locally when needed, those "cleaning up" only needed to attack the solid "frozen" gore with scrapers on poles and "flick" the remains out a lock into space.  Pictures were taken of the bear corpses, as well as samples.  Idents were recovered where they could be but a number of the ship's crew had been lost before they even arrived.  Everyone was disappointed to realize that most of the specialized gear the hunter's bought had been lost to space as the hunters themselves were lost fighting the bears.  And they eventually learned there had been Three bears!

This happened as Mikah was able to connect with the IISS and begin transmitting the death notice of Sir Aiden Radetsky to the Rhylanor system, so the cloning process could be started as soon as possible.  She figured they'd get the message by 349-1112 if a ship left that evening and the new Aiden would be decanted by the 110th day of 1113.  Once the work was done, the crew relaxed around an informal dinner as Voulge discussed the trip back to Equus-Prime.  Given his crew losses, Voulge planned to make the crew of the California the prize crew.  They would fly the Sohturn to Equus with the Iigee as escort.  This would be the inaugural flight of Emkir as the crew's Command Pilot.

The Story of the IMV Sohturn Behemoth
     Looking for a chance to get out of the clean-up work, Emkir proved his magical touch in hacking computers to the surprise of Voulge's people.  They laughed that their, now late, computer hacker had gotten the California's computer hacker out of jail just in time.  So Emkir was asked to work with Voulge's engineer and Aali to dig out the ship's log.  After that, the story was assembled for a full telling at dinner that evening.  Captain Padu Khisukir had been the master of the IMV Sohturn Behemoth, owned by the Trans-Sector Limited corporation, based out of Rhylanor.  The ship had been in the middle of a period of speculative trade, buying expensive tech goods in bulk and selling them in small lots to the worlds of the spinward main when they received an x-mail message from their owners.

The message ordered the ship to proceed to the Rhylanor system to pick up a load of cargo there and transport it to the Equus system.  In port at Rhylanor, Captain Khisukir had been approached by a Master Hunter named Kirsisi Esus Ningiku.  Ningiku said he needed a ship to get him and his team to the La'Belle system and stand by while they acquired specimens of the La'Belle armored bear for a client in the Equus system.  In his log recordings, the Captain had described his reluctance until the hunter offered a huge payment, free and clear, after delivery.  Apparently, the buyers wanted these incredibly hard to kill bears to hunt on one of the few land masses of Equus.  And the money offered for the deal was...lucrative.

So, with a large profit to promise his crew, the captain sent an x-message to his bosses, who were in the Equus system on business, that the ship would be late in making her scheduled arrival from Rhylanor.  They then burnt a week of "late" making the jump to the La'Belle system.  During that jump, the hunters and their crew set up the containment cages.  From there, it took nearly another week for the hunters to infiltrate the region of a zoo where three of the bears were part of the "collection".  After securing the bears and getting out of dodge, they began the trip to the Equus system.  There, they would drop off the bears and get their huge pay-day before delivering the owner's cargo late.

In jump, the hunters proposed they spend the week doing what they could to learn about the bears and fill in all sorts of research gaps in what was known about them.  Ningiku began to lay out proposals for the sales of the collected data once they'd been paid for the bears themselves.  When the captain approved of this idea, the hunters and their team began to do their best to learn about the bears.  This program of research had been going very well as the ship's jump continued and the hunters had apparently collected quite a bit of data to sell.  But, as the jump wound down and things were going so well, people started getting careless.

It was just after precipitation from jump, as some of the hunters were trying to confirm some last suspicions regarding the bears abilities, that one of the team's 'disposable assistants' got snagged by one of the bears.  According to the log, the species turned out to be more intelligent than expected.  Not only did the bear get the worker's body but it hurled the newly dead corpse at the cage gate, that was left open because they could just shoot one if any bears rushed the gate.  That would surely scare them back into the cargo bay while the gate was locked up.  But the team had been careless in arming themselves, so the bears armor was proof against the small arms they were carrying at the time!

The bears got loose, and havoc began as people started dying.  Some of the hunting team panicked, and poured on ineffectual fire while others ran for their big-bore weapons.  Unfortunately for them, the bears were fast.  So, the bears first ripped through those with small arms.  Then, they caught most of the others before they could deploy anything really dangerous.  The last hunters in the cargo bay were able to get big bore weapons to slow the bears down, holding their ground, while the other survivors in the bay ran for the forward hatch!  Sealing the fate of some, the first of the ship's crew getting through the hatch hit the general alarm.  That alerted the entire ship and triggered a lock down, locking everyone behind them in the bay.  Turning everyone who did not get out of the bay behind him into bear food.

With the ship on full alert, the members of the hunters team who were not in the bay tried to get there to protect their catches before they knew what was happening, and became part of a team of crew gathering in the aft section of E deck.  At the same time, Captain Khisukir was getting his first real details on the situation.  While his first impulse was to void the entire bay into space, he quickly learned a cargo worker had locked himself in the cargo air-lock.  Voiding the bay would mean killing the crewman.  Before doing that, out of hand, the Captain contacted the surviving hunters and asked for options.  Especially when they learned the ship's broker and one of the cooks were also caught passing through the cargo bay as the lock down started and had not yet been killed.

With the hunters arming crew in the aft compartments of E deck, the ship's master at arms had their Chief gunner and one of his security people in the forward compartments of that deck.  They did their best, coordinating between the assets they had, to locate the three bears.  Unfortunately, the deck hand in the air-lock had no visibility into the bay.  He had remembered being chased by at least two of the bears, and reported a number of the hunters died near the cage.  When the rescue op began, it was hoped the bears were not near the bay's forward portals.  With that hope, the armed team moved into the bay from the aft section, making noise and hoping to draw in and take down targets.

As the team, led by the remaining hunters, moved in, they did draw off and fire on two of the bears.  But communications from that team were confusing and uncertain.  And with cargo bins so near their entry point, it was almost impossible to create fire alleys and make effective use of their rifles.  The team in the forward compartments had waited for a 'go code' from the hunter's team before moving in from their portals to save the broker, cook and the deck hand.  Unfortunately for them, only two bears had gone after the hunter's team and they encountered the third bear at the air-lock!  After a desperate attempt to fire while running, the ship's master at arms and the cook survived simply by out-running the rest.  Following them, the third bear managed to chase them through the forward hatch into the E deck crew spaces proper!

What really saved the two fleeing crew were the actions of one of the ship's security mates.  He had gotten through the hatch early, and stood there firing every round he had!  But as that failed, he activated the ship's lift in hopes of escaping.  And once the bear was done mauling the now dead crewman, it was able to get its paws around the lift, which was partly above deck-level.  The bear fought and tore at the lift until its attention wandered, but by then the cook and master at arms had found places to hide.  For the Master at arms, that was the lower astrogation compartment at the very far forward section of the deck.  From there, he planned to climb to D Deck through the ceiling hatch.  But the bridge had locked down all portals by then, realizing the rescue plans had gone horribly wrong.

Needing to organize and understand the situation, with all portals now locked, the captain and his bridge crew worked to get all the survivors to muster points.  One point was established outside the bridge on B deck while a second point was set on C deck.  With the entire crew on B or C deck, and no one in the ship's engineering spaces, the Captain ordered the securing and segmented voiding of the ship, deck by deck, to kill off the bears.  Unfortunately, commercial starships were built with automated safety failsafe systems built in.  These failsafes generally had to be disabled from the engineering section, and the ship's Captain had forgotten to plan for them.  So, as they voided the ship, a compartment lock-down system saved one of the bears on C deck and another on E deck!  Unaware of that flaw in their plan, the captain then organized teams to sweep the ship, deck by deck, and find the bodies.

At the same time, he ordered all crew not essential to ship's operations to the ship's boats.  Those trapped below the cargo bay, and those lucky enough to get into ship's boats in the boat bays, mustered and jettisoned into the space near the Sohturn Behemoth.  Outside the ship, they listened to the comms and waited for the situation to clarify or resolve.  Unfortunately, for those who'd evacuated in the ship's shuttle, the craft was piloted by the Sohturn's #2 pilot.  He had been married to the ship's doctor, who had joined in the sweeps to provide medical support.  As he heard his wife's screams in terror while a bear ripped her apart, the pilot slammed the shuttle's throttle to the console panel and drove the shuttle into the Sohturn's port-side hull!  While that impact made a hell of a dimple in the hull, crushing the forward third of the shuttle in the process, the shuttle didn't built up enough velocity to pierce the hull.  That left only the survivors in the lifeboats alive and off ship.

Along with the issues on the ship, once the captain understood his situation, the ship's crew were in communications with the buyers.  But the buyers didn't want to get involved now, since the plans had gone wrong.  Already involved in a plan to import hazardous fauna which had gone wrong, they hoped to just walk away and have the entire affair be hung on the ship's captain and crew.  So, the captain continuously put the ship's owners off without answers as he and his officers begged the buyers for help and rescue assets.  But the buyers were all about limiting their involvement and liability as much as possible, and there was no aid from that quarter.  In the meantime, the crews on the Iigee were closing and the end game was nearing.  Still, there was one bear left alive and it had made its way as close to B deck as it could while the captain had ordered the dorsal lifeboat to re-dock so the survivors had a galley and other survival needs while trying to locate and kill the bear.

And once the crew from the Iigee took the bridge, they started pressurizing the upper decks to make hunting down survivors easier.  Having killed the remaining officers and everyone in the bridge, Voulge and his people didn't know about the bear until they ran into it!  Despite dealing significant wounds to the bear with their more devastating weapons, Voulge lost all of his team and significant electronics on his battledress!  That's why he was forced to get back to the Iigee to issue the recall and get everyone off the Sohturn.

Where everyone is at the end of
    the session:


    After having cleaned up the Sohturn and refitting the needed stations
       and systems, and getting another night's sleep, the crew were prepared
       for the 24 hour cruise back to Equus-Prime.

    Mikah: Commanding the bridge of the Sohturn Behemoth.
    Munarshu: In the engineering section of the Sohturn Behemoth.
    Terin: Assigned as stand-by crew on the bridge of the Sohturn Behemoth.
    Aali: In the engineering section of the Sohturn Behemoth.
    Emkir: Piloting the Sohturn Behemoth.
    Fesic: Manning the weapons console on the bridge of the Sohturn Behemoth.
    Rol: Assigned as stand-by crew the bridge of the Sohturn Behemoth.
    Zimzod: Assisting Fesic on the bridge of the Sohturn Behemoth.
    Aiden's body: In frozen storage aboard the Sohturn Behemoth.

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Next: Cleaning Up And Moving On

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