We could tell immediately that something was going on in Amra when we emerged from jump. Numerous readings, all in a cluster. It could have been a fleet, if it had been less inert.
And then it reacted to our presence. Jugger reported a missile had locked on and was starting towards us. It seemed it was time to break out the laser turrets, to try to shoot down the incoming warhead.
Alan took a position in the starboard (X-ray) laser bay, and I sat in the port turret (with the UV lasers). Jugger deftly read off sensor readings to us, and Celeste was ready with the evasive maneuvers. Sheryl, down in engineering, made sure all the tools at our disposal were running at peak efficiency. And together, we destroyed the missile before it could get in detonation range. Our first real act as a crew.
As we destroyed the missile, another ship in the fleet started to accelerate towards us. Of course, we had some time on our hands to assess the situation at this point, as a ship of that size (it was an approximately 400 dT cruiser) can't get anything close to the acceleration a missile can achieve.
Looking around, we found what appeared to have been nine ships; an octagon of eight ships, with one very large one in the center. Two of the "ships" were actually very large debris fields. All of the rest showed obvious signs of damage in various forms, and seemed to be disabled. Except for the one remaining one with maneuvering systems intact.
I'm not sure what came through this system before us, but whatever it was, it took out a nine ship Virus fleet, and I'm extremely grateful.
The cruiser seemed to be hurt. It was only approaching us with 1 G of acceleration, and we could see some damage to its weapon systems. Still, we approached cautiously, in a defensive posture, and targeted its power systems.
My crew is obviously an experienced, well-picked group. We disabled the ship without much trouble. And now, we are alone in the Amra system with nine disabled ships.
Nine ships' worth of salvage. Virus-ridden, Empire-tech salvage.
Time for everyone to get some rest though; we've been staring at our screens for a good nine hours, and most of us have now been awake a full 24 hours. Thankfully, Jugger's been staggered in his sleep schedule, so he can man sensors while the rest of us recover. We could probably do that more effectively in the future.
This has been the most interesting week I've ever spent in jump space. Thrust into this situation, it's both better and worse than I could have imagined.
The list of ship subsystems that need repair is as long as her arm, my engineer tells me. The countergrav cuts out, and the reactor seems to have "issues." Power distribution is flaky. The cargo loader is sluggish. Most entertaining of all these flaws is the fact that the intercom seems to be set irrevocably to broadcast to all stations. Celeste is doing all she can to keep the passenger calm in the face of some of the announcements he hears coming across that.
On the other hand, we seem to be an armed merchant vessel. The reason we only have 108 displacement tons of cargo on a 400 ton ship seems to be not inefficiency, but, in fact, hidden compartments of laser turrets, a missile battery, and defensive systems. We still haven't found the nuclear damper that the computer systems claims we have, but it seems likely to be there; diagnostics seem to be connected to something.
This is quite heartening, in the face of the implied expectation of hazard pay for this mission. The impinging Virus fleet has had plenty of time to beat us to Iggarir; we can only hope they have been delayed for some reason.
With the best possible luck, Virus is still in Murcia. With less luck, we can do a quick refuel in Amra and do a quick-turnaround jump on to Iggarir, letting us slip past a Virus fleet that is "visiting" Amra. Worse still would be they've gone through Amra already and hit Iggarir, and we're flying into a battle, bringing arms for the Iggarir governments too late. Worst case, they are already on their way to Arish, and we're gathering help from Iggarir much too late.
It sounds like the Virus fleet has eight ships, including two Tigris-class carriers. I'm not cleared for the entire status of the Imperial Navy, Arish Depot defense forces, but this seems very likely to be an overwhelming force, if it reaches either Arish or Iggarir. We can only hope that the ships are poorly maintained, as seems to be the case with many Virus ships.
The jump drive seems to have used 52 dT of hydrogen, more than half our fuel reserve of 80 displacement tons. Our hopes of jumping in system and then immediately jumping out are gone.
Need to put that on Sheryl's ever-increasing list.
This is not an auspicious start to our endeavors. Launching from the Arish highport was a little bit more exciting than I would have expected. Apparently the countergrav picked a bad time to cut out. Luckily, Celeste was alert at the controls and brought us out with almost no issue, despite the engine problems. Sheryl assures me that she's looking into the problem.
I ran the Astrogation numbers, just like back on the Lucky Penny, and for the first time as Master of a vessel, I dimmed the lights and punched the jump drive.
I now know why this lease is being arranged in such haste. We need to load up the ship, and get to Iggarir as quickly as possible with our cargo and a message to the Arish embassy at Josana Downport. The cargo - a cache of weapons for the Arish embassy to trade to various Iggarir governments to convince them to help against an invading Virus fleet.
Our route will take us on two Jump 1s, from Arish to Amra, then from Amra to Iggarir. When last spotted the Virus fleet was in Murcia, one jump away from Amra. We can only hope that the Virus fleet hasn't gotten there ahead of us; chances of that are slim though. We have a fuel scoop, and are prepared to attempt to jump in, scoop fuel, and hopefully jump out before any such fleet could maneuver to engage us.
This mission is paying standard cargo fees, +10%. Plus hazard pay.
If you ask me, it should involve a medal of some sort. It's been weeks getting the message from Murcia that the Virus fleet's in town; the fleet could be anywhere by now. It's a crap shoot, but we have to try it.
Incidentally, I found out that Admiral Serrano is, in fact, related to our engineer, Sheryl Serrano. Interesting twist.
It's a little unnerving, having no paperwork on any of the crew, or the ship, going on little more than the minimal overnight security check my contacts in the Imperial Navy could get me before shipping out with these people. The only evidence Ahab hired these people to crew the ship is the fact they all showed up at the appointed time and claimed to have been contacted. Sometimes you just need to jump in feet first, though, so here goes. At least they are who they claim to be.
Celeste is our pilot. She acts proper; she has the mannerisms that betray some upbringing, anyway. She says she'll also be good in a tight spot, and I think I believe her; she may even be ex-military, but the signs are very hard to spot.
Jugger, our sensor op and security, seems in many ways the opposite of Celeste. He broadcasts "dangerous," to some extent, and I think that will serve us well. Rough around the edges, but a little questioning has shown some serious sensor smarts. I wonder about his background, but haven't pried any, yet.
Sheryl is the ship's engineer. Originally from the Nuthouse (the highport in Khishan system), she seems to have the right combination of Virus paranoia and engineering know-how to make this ship hum, once I can put enough money into parts to make the fixes work.
Alan I brought on board myself, he's an old friend and will be the ship's doctor. He's in it for the adventure, for the chance to get "out there." He's studied what little xenological info we have here on Arish, and wants the chance to delve further. This connection's the only way I could possibly afford to have a doctor on board, believe me. It's going to be a stretch, as it is.
Me? I'm in it for the sightseeing, the independence, and the chance to make an impact on the shape of the cluster. Hopefully I won't have to spend all my time ferrying goods back and forth from Arish to Iggarir. That's my greatest fear right now.
So I met the crew for the first time, and set eyes on my command for the first time. Disturbingly enough, this was the first time any of my crew had set eyes on the ship either. Something odd is going on here, I think. But at this point, it's working in my favor... Sometime down the line I'm sure this'll come back to bite me, but hey.
Found out the fate of the previous captain of the Handbasket. I think the line comes from the trashy detective novels, "He fell down an open elevator shaft... onto some bullets." Well, there's no time to worry about it now; any connections between the old guard on this ship and this new crew should be tenuous, at best.
The new crew seems to have all been hired recently by Ahab to replace his old crew. They don't have any paperwork or contracts, but they do match who I was told to expect... None of them met Ahab, though, so I really do have to wonder about this. Just a little, though - my friends back in the Navy seem to have already done checks on them and have certified them kosher for an Imperial mission (more in that in a bit...)
So we had dinner, talked about how none of us really knew what was going on, and then headed to the hangar to meet our ship.
Not much to look at. Standard Subsidized Trader hull, two airlocks... Thruster Plates and Countergrav, looks like 100 dT of cargo... Less than I'd hoped for. The hull has seen its share of patchwork; we'll probably want to go over it to check for leakage.
Tomorrow morning we have a briefing with the Admiralty about this first mission they're exercising the right of. Notes on my first impressions of the crew forthcoming.
Got discharged in record time yesterday, and made it up to the highport this afternoon, in time to clean up before dinner with my new crew. There's no time to review them and hire new ones, so I'm going to end up respecting their contracts with Ahab, I expect, in the interests of getting this first contract done with ABIS hastily. I hope he was a good judge of character, and a good negotiator. Looking at the numbers I'm a little worried about how this is going to work. We'll see.