The Cat in the Hatch
BACKGROUND: Having had their approach mysteriously moved to the head of the line and a docking platform actually reserved for them by an unknown, high-ranking port official, the PC's are more than a little nervous about what awaits them on Persephone. Nonetheless, they move quickly once they land and immediately set about finally filling poor Jahn's fuel tanks. Lily personally escorts their passengers to the firefly transport Dog's Day, to whom she paid dearly to buy passage for them back to Whitefall. Rooster and Betty go about fueling and performing maintenance on Jahn while Marlin arranges for the dead monk's body to be taken care of and takes watch over Jahn from the dock.
Once Lily returns from Dog's Day, she and Marlin make a short list of what supplies the ship and crew need and go shopping. The two of them manage to unload the illegal assault rifles and SMG's without too much difficult, but Lily is unable to suss out anyone who might offer the frag' grenades that Marlin is hoping for. At the local gun shops they rid themselves of the extra pistols they've picked up along the way and outfit everyone (who isn't already) with high-caliber powered pistols, as well as some scoped powered rifles. Lily also manages to sell the nice set of silverware Betty liberated from Patience's home.
Marlin picks up a few covert supplies and the two of them manage to scrounge up some plate inserts for everyone's ballistic armor vests (just in case). Lily updates her library subscription and buys an encyclopedia as well. For Jahn, however, they go all out spending most of their saved credits outfitting her with a proper emergency medical supply (though she has no proper infirmary), a black box cortex terminal, a few tools to round out her old toolkits and quite a few fine furnishings to spruce up her passenger suite. And, of course, a two-month supply of canned food and protein paste.
With barely more than a hundred credits left in Lily's account, but feeling fairly well outfitted, they return to the dock.
While they are away, Jahn receives a visit from a small group of port authority officials. Rooster greets them, having learned to keep Betty away from any form of interaction that doesn't require threat of violence. Pleasantries are exchanged and Rooster is informed that the port authority has taken on the responsibility of arranging transportation for a cryo-unit and two passengers from the local public zoo and animal preserve to an Alliance station on Bernadette. According to them some haste is necessary in transporting this cargo and Jahn, being the fastest ship in the area at the moment, was fast-tracked to dock so that she might be made available. Rooster suspects there may be more that the officials aren't saying and pushes a bit for more details. He soon learns that the local bureaucracy unfortunately delayed the transfer of the animal after it had already been cryo-frozen for the journey. Now, due to the fact that she is last remaining specimen of the species, the officials aren't willing to chance keeping the animal in cryo for longer than the zoo workers prepared her for. Which means that, unless another fast ship happens along very soon, Jahn absolutely must make the transfer to Bernadette...preferably within forty-eight hours.
Sensing his superior bargaining position, Rooster attempts to push the 100 credits they're offering up to 250. The docking officials, no strangers to negotiation, easily outmaneuver him and he is forced to settle for the hundred the local governor is offering...or earn the animosity of the Persephone port authority. Still, respectful of the health profit margin that has just presented itself, Rooster gladly takes the job and makes arrangements for the cryo-unit and passengers to come aboard that evening.
Marlin and Lily return soon after with their purchases and go about stocking Jahn's larder and tool stores. They distribute the personal weapons and gear among the crew and fix up the passenger suite as well, making it somewhat presentable. Finally, Lily sets about installing the Black Box terminal in the cockpit, making it easy to disconnect and remove if needed. Betty successfully completes routine maintenance on Jahn and makes final repairs on the main grav line. Once everyone has completed their tasks the PC's all meet in the common area.
Before Rooster can fill them in on their cargo, however, a large truck from the local zoo arrives with the two veterinarians and the cryo-unit. Rooster greets them and briefs his crew simultaneously, using the opportunity to get what information he can on the cargo while the crew is there to hear it. They learn that the cryo-unit contains the last surviving saber-tooth tiger from the Nathanial E. Cobbswatch Public Zoo and Wildlife Research Center on Persephone. The tiger itself has something of an interesting history, it seems, being a descendant of only three such tigers to result from an Earth-that-was experiment in genetic re-engineering centuries ago. Having survived the journey over on the Arks, her ancestors were much sought after in research circles for the unique, though limited, insights they provided into Earth-that-was genetics technology. Several decades ago, however, the governor of Persephone managed to gain possession of the five living saber-tooths when the Sihnon Genetic Research Laboratory went bankrupt. He, and now his son, have managed to keep the 'verse's only living pre-Earth-that-was breed on their private animal reserve every since. Indeed, all of Persephone took great pride in the fact that they were home to the 'verse's most ancient and unique breed of animal.
Unfortunately, a freak storm late last month nearly wiped out the entire pride, leaving only one survivor. Despite their best efforts, no one has ever been able to successfully breed the saber-tooths naturally, at least not enough to maintain any more than ten or so at a time. Furthermore, none of the research centers or animal preserves that have kept them over the centuries has been willing to stoop to artificial inseminination or genetic tinkering to truly replenish the species. Now the 'verse is paying the price for their keeping all the saber-toothed eggs in one basket, so to speak.
Thankfully, the surviving tiger is female and the governor's animal specialist was wise enough to keep samples of saber-tooth tiger semen in cryo-storage. Unfortunately, frantic work over the last couple of weeks has shown that the N.E.C. Public Zoo and Wildlife Research Center just doesn't have the equipment or expertise to dare take on the daunting task. Successfully inseminating a female saber-tooth tiger, caring for her during her pregnancy and then watching over the birth and all the subsequent stages of growth are simply beyond their capabilities. Or at least near enough that none of the scientists nor the bureaucrats involved want to chance being held responsible to the public if it fails.
To that end the local governor has finally caved at the last minute and sold the tiger to the Alliance Endangered Animal Preserve and Research Station on Bernadette for quite a hefty sum. Hence the hastily made arrangements for Jahn to make the transfer before the cryo times out. Otherwise they'll be forced to either ship the animal live at a later date (which everyone involved would rather avoid) or risk her health by cryo-freezing her yet again for another trip later.
After the situation is explained to everyone's satisfaction the two veterinarians who are to make the trip greet the captain and crew. They immediately offer assurances that the tiger will remain in cryo for the entire trip. Of course, should the cryo time out during the trip or some other mishap should occur, the governor's office has paid for them to make the journey and tend to the animal. Having worked closely with the tiger over the last few weeks, they are quite familiar with her individual needs and can care for her personally. All Jahn and her crew need to do is provide a room for the vets, cargo space for the cryo-unit and get them to Bernadette in as timely a manner as they can and the contract will be fulfilled.
After consulting for a moment, the crew decides they'll take the chance of spending the next day trying to drum up extra cargo for the trip. With Lily's credit account so low (and everyone else's empty) it seems the wise course of action. With all the official and public attention that will likely be on Jahn, however, they decide to stick with the honest work for now. Lily meets with the docking officials and manages to persuade them, begrudgingly, to allow the crew twenty-four hours before departure.
Lily hits the cortex and the docks, but isn't able to dig up any honest work by the next morning. Rooster, however, manages to secure a shipment of fourteen crates of designer hair products to Bernadette for 15 credits. Not much, but better than nothing.
On the following morning, after completing final preparations for departure and securing the crates of hair products, Jahn in ready for lift off. Before they can depart, though, Constance Delphi (the journalist from the previous episode) waves the crew and requests to come along. Apparently she has been told that documentary footage of the animal's transfer will go over nicely and all but assure her a job at the local news agency she's been aiming for. After agreeing on a standard 20 credit passenger fee (generous, considering she'll be sleeping on the couch in the common area), she quickly hops on the public transportation system and arrives at the docks. Fortunately, this also means the crew must agree to keep it an exclusive arrangement with Constance's temp news agency, to which they readily agree as it gives them a polite excuse to decline the many requests for interviews they received over the cortex that day.
With everything at last squared away, Jahn and Betty lift off from the Persephone docks and take to the black. Betty plots a straight-forward course for Bernadette and Jahn is on her way.
Constance begins her interviews immediately, but skips Marlin again other than a few minutes of standard video. Rooster conducts his personal interview and does well, presenting himself as a model of professionalism. Lily, unfortunately, is clearly evasive on a number of personal questions, piquing Constance's curiosity. Betty, to no one's surprise, makes no effort to cooperate with the interview and it quickly degenerates into some rather abusive language on her part. Especially when Constance begins asking questions about her brother. Constance remains professional but quickly excuses herself.
Nearly four hours into the flight, Constance comes to the bridge to complain to Rooster that the other two passengers keep "making out" in the common area while she's trying to work. Lily speaks with her about it and agrees to take care of the matter. Approaching the couple as politely and respectfully as possible, she manages to convince them to keep the newlywed behavior to the passenger suite, though they do depart in something of a huff.
Lily prepares a late lunch in the common area and invites the passengers. As everyone is seated for dinner it quickly becomes apparent that Constance is flirting more and more overtly with the male veterinarian. Sensing the elevating tensions in the room (especially considering the young man seems oblivious to the situation), Lily manages to divert Constance's attention with a few curious questions concerning her profession.
As the meal draws to a close, however, Constance manages to steer the conversation to the subject of marriage. Specifically her own personal views on the "outdated and barbaric" custom. Before Lily can interject, the situation rapidly snowballs into a full-blown screaming match between the journalist and young wife. Lily attempts to talk the two women down but fails and the crew suddenly find themselves trying to break up a cat fight atop the dinner table.
Marlin and Lily grab the veterinarian while Rooster and Betty take hold of Constance. Together they easily separate the two women and Lily politely escorts the two doctors to the passenger suite. In an utter snit, Constance stomps over to the couch to fume. Lily tries, as diplomatically as she is able, to suggest to the journalist that she may have instigated the violent incident. When it becomes clear that the woman isn't interested in taking responsibility for the mess, though, she drops the matter and retreats to the bridge to consult with the other crew members.
The crew discuss the situation with the passengers and decide that either Lily or Marlin will remain in the common area until everyone retires to be sure no further incidents occur. While they are talking the matter over Jahn is hailed by an Alliance patrol boat up ahead on their route. From the communications officer they learn that the patrol boat is on intercept and they are ordered to proceed on course to be boarded.
After providing all assurances of cooperation, the crew quickly sets about disconnecting the black box cortex terminal from Rooster's station. Lily opens up the comm/sensor array compartment and Marlin does his best to hide the terminal amongst the electronic equipment there. After a quick once over the crew is relatively sure there isn't any other contraband on the ship and so proceed on course.
After nearly a half hour of travel Jahn meets with the patrol boat and releases helm control. Once docked, the crew opens the port airlock and greets the small boarding party that enters. The Alliance officer leading the party speaks directly with Rooster, informing him that he has received reports that the crew of Jahn Luhn Gohn performed a summary execution on board that was not reported to the Alliance patrol. Further, it has apparently been suggested that "one of the crew, a Shepherd" administered prescribed medication to a recent passenger without a medical license and may well face charges of negligent homicide.
The PC's are somewhat stunned at the accusations and decide not to intervene in the interview. Rooster quickly admits that he failed to report the execution and offers full access to Jahn's logs if the officer wishes. The officer waves the matter aside and routinely issues a 50 credit fine for the misdemeanor, which is to be deducted automatically from Rooster's credit account. The subject of the monk's death, however, he clearly expects a full accounting for. Once the officer has identified Lily as the Shepherd in question, he quickly takes her into custody to be interrogated aboard the patrol boat and orders Rooster to remained docked until the matter is settled. Lily goes willingly and Betty manages not to start a fight.
Two of the Alliance Feds stomp to the bridge and make a quick copy of Jahn's general and security logs. Constance dutifully records the entire exchange from start to finish, despite the Feds' obvious irritation.
After nearly four hours of intensive interrogation Lily has not only managed to convince the officer that her actions were perfectly justified, considering the situation, but that she in fact performed heroically. The officer is so impressed that he offers his personal appreciation for her brave attempts. He assures her that his official report will reflect the same and even offers to waive the captain's fine, with a stern warning that Jahn's captain should be more cognizant of his duties in the future. With a respectful handshake Lily is escorted back aboard Jahn and the PC's detach from the patrol boat. They continue on their way to Bernadette...now four hours behind schedule.
After another hour of travel Constance becomes irritated with Marlin's constant presence and retreats to the cargo hold to continue editing her footage. After a couple of hours she completes her work and goes back to recording and interviewing the crew as they go about their duties. She asks for permission to interview the veterinarians but Lily politely offers to field all questions on their behalf, to which the journalist reluctantly agrees.
An hour later, Rooster detects a slight loss of air pressure in the ship. Leaving his station and fetching Marlin, the two of them set about diagnosing the problem. Marlin soon identifies a loss of hydraulic pressure at both airlock doors, which he tracks back to a shattered compression housing in the cargo hold. Working together, he and Rooster replace the housing without any further loss of pressure. Rooster returns to his station and Marlin relates to Lily that the journalist was the last person in the cargo hold. Lily decides not to take action with Constance but Marlin agrees to watch her more carefully and restrict her movement in the ship.
About two hours after the crew and passengers have bedded down for the night a loud electronic wailing is heard from the cargo hold. Racing there, the crew finds the veterinarians have just arrived ahead of them and the annoying sound is emanating from the cryo-unit. As the two doctors work feverishly to kill the alarms and check the readouts (and Constance leans over everyone's shoulder to record all the excitement) they finally inform the crew that the cryo-unit has timed out. While they could technically keep the tiger in cryo-stasis, it would be safer for her if they brought her out of it. They request permission to do so.
The crew is at first firmly against it, but the two doctors plead quite strenuously that the absolute safest course of action be taken for the tiger's sake. As the last of her very unique species, they contend, it would be reprehensible to allow even the slightest chance of endangering her health. Further, they assure the crew that they will take complete responsibility for the animal and that personnel from animal research station on Bernadette will remove it safely once they arrive. After a quick consultation Lily informs the crew that the beast isn't very likely to damage anything essential if left alone in the cargo hold. Or at least nothing that can't be repaired.
The PC's reluctantly agree, on the condition that the vets will take full responsibility for the animal and any damage it may cause. The vets then fetch several pieces of gear from their room, set up a sophisticated observation system and mount it high on the cargo hold wall. They then proceed to initiate the tiger's resuscitation. The process is completed rapidly and the rather large saber-toothed cat emerges shakily from the cryo-unit, clearly a bit disoriented. After a hasty once-over and the placement of a thin electronic collar, the vets leave the cargo hold, shoo-ing the others out before them. From the hallway they watch over the tiger on handheld monitors to be sure she doesn't come to harm before she gets her bearings. After a few minutes they pronounce the animal to be relatively well recovered and able to care for herself for the time being.
Curious about the veterinarian's sensor equipment, Lily asks several pointed question regarding their ability to monitor the animal. The vets explain that the animals collar contains a full medcomp as well as three doses of dermal-delivery sedatives tailor made for the tiger. Further, the monitors they planted on the wall will allow audio and video monitoring as well. In this manner the vets can stay completely up to date on the tiger's current condition and intervene if necessary. According to all indications at present she is in perfect health, if still somewhat disoriented. Lily takes a moment to discuss the crew's anxiety over having a saber-tooth tiger in Jahn's cargo hold and manages to convince the vets to temporarily part with one of their handheld monitors so that the PC's can monitor the tiger from the bridge.
The crew settle back in for the night, with Betty at the bridge and Marlin and Lily taking turns watching over the tiger via the handheld monitor. Rooster gets some rest, feeling a bit too old for all the excitement.
The night passes without incident and Jahn approaches to within an two hours of Bernadette. Through the night Lily and Marlin watch the tiger pace restlessly in the cargo hold before curling up next to the crates of hair care products. Betty catches a catnap herself in order to stay relatively fresh for the final approach to Bernadette.
As Betty and Jahn wave the Bernadette docking authority to announce their arrival and place Jahn on the line, the ship suddenly staggers and the onboard cortex terminal loses signal. Rooster attempts to figure out what the problem is while Betty tries to scan for what may have struck the ship, but neither are able to detect anything. Almost immediately Jahn staggers again, rather more forcefully, as the ship is struck hard. Sparks fly from several bridge stations and Jahn suddenly goes dark and drifts, having lost all power. Betty quickly brings emergency power online to power the grav drive and environmental systems and everyone scrambles to diagnose the problem.
Lily and Rooster try to suss out why the ship has lost power, but Jahn is completely down. Betty and Marlin eyeball the ship itself looking for overt signs of damage or mechanical failure but are unable to access the engine room with the saber-tooth having taken over the cargo hold. When the passengers begin demanding answers Betty shoves them all into the passenger suite and shuts the door, with a quick warning that any altercation between the journalist and the doctors will result in her beating everyone unconscious and storing them in the airlock.
After several more minutes no is able to determine what has caused the power failure but it becomes clear to Lily and Rooster that most of Jahn's electrical systems have all shorted out simultaneously. As Betty and Marlin return to the bridge to discuss the matter a dull thud echoes through the ship and the PC's feel the unmistakable shudder of someone docking at their starboard airlock.
Realizing they've likely been struck with some form of EMP, the PC's run for their weapons and prepare to repel boarders. When Marlin emerges from his room he finds the airlock door sliding open, revealing four men in gas masks. He opens fire from the cover of the doorway and drops one of the men. Lily takes cover in her doorway and Betty leaps across the hall to the crouch beside the stairs to the dorsal pod. The masked men take cover as best they are able in the airlock and begin tossing several gas grenades into the hall as the PC's fire on them. The PC's are soon choked and disoriented by the gas but manage to drop two of the four men before Lily and Marlin fall unconscious. Betty retreats into the hallway and out of range of the gas with Rooster, taking position inside the door to the common area. The passengers are smart enough to stay in the suite.
After a few seconds Betty and Rooster realize that the masked men aren't coming around the corner and they can hear them opening the door to the cargo bay. A moment later a trio of gas grenades bounce into the forward hallway and they take a step back to avoid the gas cloud. Betty and Rooster continue covering the hallway with their weapons and grinning at one another, figuring the saber-tooth tiger will make short work of the masked men around the corner.
Sure enough they soon hear the animal roar and sounds of a sustained scuffle going on around the corner for several seconds, as well as sounds of what may be a stun gun being discharged repeatedly. Betty and Rooster take a deep breath and plunge forward into the cloud to the corner of the hallway. There they spy the two remaining men dragging the unconscious tiger into the airlock. Realizing they're about to loose their cargo, they open fire on the men. Together they drop one of them but the other cycles the airlock shut. Betty reloads and dashes for the airlock door, but is overcome by the gas before she can open it and falls unconscious. Rooster falls back to the common area to catch his breath.
Moments later Jahn shudders as the unidentified spaceship breaks dock.
Rooster catches his breath and heads into the hallway again. There he cracks the port airlock just enough to suck out most of the gas cloud before sealing it tight again. Fetching the veterinarians from the passenger suite and Lily's doctor bag he sets about getting the vets busy tending to the PC's. In short order they are revived, though groggy. The PC's immediately stumble to the bridge with Rooster to try to get some of Jahn's systems back on line, hoping to track the spaceship that boarded them.
With a great deal of luck, Betty and Rooster are able to get Jahn's sensors back up and running. They spot the other ship going for full burn just before it disappears out of range, apparently heading toward Santo.
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