"Homo homini lupus" (Man is man's wolf) -- Plautus

261 - 1122.

Nicolai gets a few names as possible contacts for possible Solomani ex-pats to contact on his travels. He's still trying to organize a revolution. He'll try to pick up some cash along the way, since this revolution thing is expensive.

The Bonaventure is one of the ship's recruiting for crew, in the aftermath of the Letter of Marque announcement. 414, hacker extraordinaire, wants to show up with a résumé that includes all the information he could acquire about the ship by computer. It's not as much he expected, as the ship has physical buffers that need to be manually switched to allow a connection, and that's just for the small computer that's posing as the ship's main computer. Hmmm. New plan - get all the information on all the other ships in port, especially those that are known to have Letters of Marque. He runs into other people peeking electronically, and one of them is peeking at him peeking.

The first mate of the Bonaventure is Roxanne Kent, and she's doing the interviewing. She's about 5'6", wearing a greasy ship's jumpsuit; she's the ship's engineer, and has travelled with Captain Gunderson longer than anyone else. Roxanne: "Here are the rules: the captain is God, when you're on your own time what you do is your own business. We don't care who you were, you're judged by how you do your job. If you don't do your job, you're out. If you try to screw the captain - tragic airlock accident. Everyone including the captain gets 5 shares of the profits, the rest of it (about 60%) goes to the ship account for expenses." Other than that, it's a fairly standard contract. The cabins are all half cabins - each person gets a smaller cabin, but to themselves. It's personal space, and if you want to lock the door, that's fine. Privacy on a small ship can be a very big issue. The ship is 400 tons, and a nonstandard design. Among other things, it's been modified to be extremely quiet.

Nicolai has barely enough room in his cabin for himself after he crams it full of all his stuff. He can stow his extra weapons in the ship's locker. He ends up stuffing some of the boxes under his bunk, but it all goes in finally, including the new boarding gun he picked up for the trip.

Besides Nicolai and 414, the new members of the Bonaventure's crew are Jonathan Kettner and Tessa Dreyfus. Jonathan has piloting skills, and he's a strapping young man - 6'11". Do not mess with the pilot. But will he fit on the bunk? He's definitely in need of a job, and has to borrow money from the ship to buy a vac suit. Tessa signs on as part of the boarding party, and comes equipped with her own battledress, should the need arise.

Roxanne isn't too talkative, but that's fine. It's a matter of respecting other people's privacy, so not asking too many questions is probably the best bet. The one thing that does come out is that Roxanne is one of the few crew members to stay with the Captain of the vessel for more than a short time. Whether that's because of a problem with the captain, or a problem with the departed crew members remains to be seen.

As the ship leaves, Roxanne pulls down all the labels and plaques that read Bonaventure, and replaces them with one bearing the name Wolfhound. Roxanne informs the new crew that the captain's name is Wolf Gunderson. Ah. And Bonaventure was such a non-threatening name.

Time for more introductions. The cook is not human - he's a Rana. Cool! That means good food and beer for everyone. The crew calls him 'Cookie', and it's just best to not ask him his real name as it involves a great deal of spit and sticking out his tongue while trilling. There's a second engineer who is also the commo officer, although he spends most of his time in engineering. He's a Pikhan, known as Sparks. There's evidently another engineer on board, but currently working in engineering - Bobbie Mendoza. She's only been on board for one jump prior to Regina, but she has zero-g combat, and gunnery, in addition to engineering skills.

Once the ship leaves the station, the Captain makes an appearance. Gunderson: "Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to officially welcome you on board the Wolfhound. Our mission is to make money, and to hunt pirates. If that isn't part of your plan, well, I'm afraid it's too late now; we'll let you off at our next port of call. The rules are simple: I expect my orders to be followed, and other than that what you do is your own business. I have a very high success rate hunting pirates. You might say I have a knack for it. I am seeking out specific pirates for my own reasons, but I will not pass up any appropriate target, and that includes any Vargr traders that can be considered fair game under the provisions of the Letter of Marque.

"Now that we are underway, I'll fill you in on the first stage of our trip. I have been informed of the location of someone who has an intimate knowledge of the identities and locations of a number of pirates in this area. We will be making a stop to pick up this person up on a nearby planet, and since there is no way for secrets to pass beyond these walls, that planet is Torment. On Torment is a person who is being held on charges of piratical activities. This leads me to believe that this person can be of use to us, and they had indicated a willingness to cooperate with the authorities during their trial. The Navy decided to ignore the possibilities this presented, but I intend to use it to my advantage. To get what I want, I'm willing to break a few rules. Does that bother anyone? I will tell you that I intend to return the prisoner after we are done." Tessa: "Captain, won't there be people who will object to this?" Gunderson: "I don't doubt it. But we don't anticipate encountering the authorities. The prisoners are not under watch once they are placed on the planet. The prisoner's name is Katya Androchev, and she is employed currently as a picker on a Borloi ranch in the north, here <indicates on chart>, at these coordinates." Jonathan: "Do you happen to have a supply of Borloi?" Gunderson: "No, but the trustee who has been dealing with a smuggler, which is who he'll be expecting, can obtain some for us if necessary." Jonathan: "The reason I ask is even if you intend to wean her off the drug, it might be an idea to have a supply of the drug on hand - it would certainly be motivational." Gunderson: "Excellent point. You'll be in charge of the prisoner." Oops. Not what Jonathan had in mind - that'll teach him.

Gunderson <to 414>: "You'll be interested in the remaining crew member." He takes 414 up to the bow, and into the computer room. Gunderson: "This is Four." The ship's computer, Four, is a 'meat machine'. That is, a computer with lots of neural connections from an organic source. 414: "I take it he needs a lot of maintenance?" Gunderson: "Well, not so much maintenance, as care. He has his moods. He requires coaxing, sometimes." 414: "I'm not so good with people sometimes, but I'll do what I can." Gunderson: "That's good. I'm hoping you'll get along. Our last computer operator wasn't able to get along with Four, with tragic results." 414 introduces himself to Four, and starts to "develop" their relationship.

The plan is to show up as the Bonaventure, go into the Borloi fields during the picking hours, and remove the Androchev woman. It shouldn't be too hard to find her, as the male to female ratio is 20 to 1. Charming place, Torment. On the other hand, it is a prison planet, and the inmates aren't there because of parking fines.

Nicolai gets clarification as to what sort of ancillary damage is permissible, and since the inmates are the scum of the earth, the captain doesn't particularly care. Nicolai: "What about the guards?" Gunderson: "I don't anticipate meeting any, but it is a very high risk profession." Nicolai: "That's all I need to know." Nicolai has met Katya, when he was hired to track her by Blaelok, so he can help identify her.

Three weeks to Torment, so 414 gets to bond with Four. He decides to treat Four like a fashion model, complementing the hell out of it, stroking its ego, etc. It works. Boy does it work.

268 - 1122.

The ship has to make a refueling stop, during which the captain takes the helm, closes the bridge, shuts all the micro-meteorite shutters over the windows, and has the crew wait in the common area. The party gets to sit around and speculate (internally) as to what all the sounds outside mean. Seems the captain has a few secrets.

While the refueling is finishing up, Four contacts 414, and tells him that "I'm detecting a distress signal." 414: "Give me all the details." Four: "Distress signal is from a Subsidized Merchant, the Mary Lou. They are signaling that they have been hit by pirates, are losing atmosphere, and require assistance." 414 contacts the bridge, and relays the information the computer is getting for him to the captain. Gunderson: "See if you can confirm a second ship." 414 requests Four's help with this. Four: ""Anything for you, 414. The way you stroke my keyboard is just so good... Honey, I'm tracking a fast moving target. It's coming out of the sun. Size is approximately 350 tons, moving away from us at minimum speed."

Jonathan is summoned to the bridge, to take his place as copilot. The captain informs the rest of the crew that they have picked up the wake trail of what he believes to be a pirate vessel, leaving the area. Gunderson: "We are in pursuit. I suggest you get into your vac suits, and get your kits ready. <to Jonathan> Proceed." They come up really fast on the ship, keeping a type four star in the way, so the other ship doesn't notice until it's pretty much too late. Gunderson: "Is our boarding party ready?" Nicolai: "Yes sir." Gunderson: "Good. Sparks, get the mole." After a few moments... Sparks: "Mole is ready sir." Gunderson: "Boarding party, report to the forward cargo area." Nicolai and Tessa head that way.

414 goes to the weapons locker and gets a pistol. Just in case. And he's then sent to the gunnery turret. His mission is to "keep him busy, and don't do too much structural damage." 414 informs the computer that he wants to target the other ship's weapons, but not to repeatedly hit the same spot (trying to preserve the hull).

Sparks <to the captain>: "Okay, the new meat is here. <to Nicolai and Tessa> This my friends, is the cutting edge of boarding technology. This is, the Mole." It looks like a big cylinder with maneuvers jets, a couple of hatches, an airlock, and some really nasty-looking cutting implements on one end. The boarding party gets bolted into the Mole, then is shot at the other ship. (Oh, that sounds like fun.) The Mole has a lever inside that will open the hatch once it's in place and ready, if the hatch doesn't open automatically; it will take any where from 10 to 120 seconds to cut through the hull. Basically, it's like being fired at the other ship. What if they miss? They have a back up Mole. That is so comforting. Nicolai <to Tessa>: "I hope you aren't claustrophobic." She's trying not to think about it.

Four <to 414>: "You are approaching optimum weapons range, honey." There's a pause, then "All right dear, you may fire when ready." 414 uses his years of video game training, and hits the ship in the fuel tank. The other ship fires back, but the trail of frozen fuel (water) is in the way so they miss. Jonathan is busy maneuvering when 414 fires - they're so close that 414 can read the lettering on the other ship. He strafes the side of the hull, then it's time to get really close. 414: "Shall I continue firing, captain?" Gunderson: "Yes, but target nonessential areas. Okay Sparks, fire." Sparks: "One away."

There are no grav compensators on the Mole. It feels like Nicolai and Tessa are on an elevator going down from the fifteenth floor at five hundred miles an hour. The acceleration stops and it gets quiet just before the Mole slams into the other hull, then the noise and vibration of the drilling starts. The hatch doesn't blow, so Nicolai has to pull the lever, which opens the hatch and propels both Nicolai and Tessa out into the ship like corks out of a champagne bottle. They bounce off the corridor wall, come up, and then the fun begins when a Vargr yells "Boarders!!" and brings up his shotgun. Nicolai takes him out, and then they split up to find the bridge. (It's kind of hard to tell aft from forward after that trip.)

414 is told to use only half the batteries, but to keep firing on the other ship. On board the Wolfhound, a Vargr in a vac suit appears outside the cockpit window (much to Jonathan's surprise) and sets a charge just below the windshield. The bridge is de-pressurized, and Jonathan goes out of the airlock just below the bridge, armed in pursuit of the Vargr and his charge. 414 meanwhile, is firing on the other ship's airlock.

Jonathan fires on the Vargr, but he doesn't know if he hit him or not. Jonathan is heading for the placed charge when he's hit from behind by someone using a man maneuvering unit (MMU). Jonathan is knocked off the ship, which is disconcerting for some one without zero-G training. Jonathan gets to the end of his tether, and starts to grapple with the Vargr.

414 gets intel from Four on the two men attached to the tether, and is told that there are two more attached to the belly of the ship, attempting entry. 414 informs the captain about the intruders. Gunderson: "Sparks, take care of it." Sparks: "Okay everybody, make sure you're standing on something insulated." 414: "Four, I understand a significant electrical current is about to be set loose, so you need to shut down all the necessary -" Four: "Don't worry, dear, I'm fully insulated." 414 gets up onto the computer chair, just in case, as a charge is routed through the hull of the ship. On the outside, Jonathan is slammed into the hull by the MMU, so he gets shocked too.

414 <looking outside>: "Four?" Four: "Yes, darling?" 414: "Do we have an MMU?" Four: "Of course." 414: "Has it been deployed?" Four: "Not yet dear." 414: "So that's not ours. Can you target that MMU with the targeting radar?" Four: "Not without damaging the other person." Bad idea.

Sparks: "Captain, it looks like someone's cut some of the lines along the belly of the ship. We've lost maneuvering jets." Gunderson: "Great. Some one's going to have to go get them." 414: "I have those skills." Out in space, Jonathan has managed to stab the Vargr he's fighting with; the Vargr is now trailing urine and blood, having been hit in the catheter, among other places. The Vargr swings and cuts Jonathan's safety line, so Jonathan grabs the Vargr and holds on for dear life. When the Vargr tries to kick Jonathan off, he stabs the Vargr in the foot. Now there is air jetting out, spinning the MMU and the two combatants around.

It's time for Bobbie to emerge from engineering and help out. She is being sent out after the boarders since the Wolfhound has two MMUs. 414 will be going out the traditional way, by walking on the outside of the ship,

Back on the other ship, Nicolai is heading one way, Tessa the other. As Tessa rounds a corner, shots are fired, so she darts back around the corner. She can just barely see a large iris door closing. Aft, a huge door slides away, and some one in a set of battledress comes out. Okay, not battledress, it's an engineering suit, but that's still not good. Nicolai triggers and runs for cover - he feels searing heat on his back , but he keeps going, almost running over Tessa. He's smoking, and he does not have a cigarette.

Now they know where the bridge is, but Nicolai has to take out the engineering armor first. This is going to be ugly. And the people or person around the corner are still firing the snub smg at the corner. Nicolai fires and hits the engineering armor in the helmet, but the squash head round didn't go far enough to arm. Nicolai runs back to engineering, hitting the close door button. While the guy in the engineering suit tries to keep the door open while he feels around the corner for the open button, Nicolai backs up to get the proper range, while reloading. Now the squash head arms. Suddenly there's a one metre hole in the middle of the armor. And some one from inside engineering, a female with a bright red mohawk is shooting a pistol at Nicolai. He throws a concussion grenade, then dives for cover as it lands over by the "Do not use open flame" warning.

Up by the bridge, as soon as Tessa hears the shooter drop the magazine for a reload, she charges, firing on the Vargr (in a vac suit covered with gold chains, and souvenir finger bones. She shoots him in the head, as he's trying to reload. That's a hell of a shock, and he falls over.

On the Wolfhound again, Bobbie takes the MMU out, as she and 414 emerge through the aft ventral airlock. They see several people on the belly of the ship, using a cutting torch to try to sever the fiber optic cables. When they see 414 and Bobbie, the Vargrs take off with their MMU's. That's part one accomplished - the bad guys are no longer cutting anything. One of the Vargrs has a carbine, and one has an oxygen cutting torch. 414 is concerned about the man with the gun right now.

The Vargr fighting with Jonathan tries to pull open Jonathan's helmet. Jonathan grabs onto his helmet with both hands, pulls it shut, and knees the Vargr. The helmet is secured, and Jonathan grabs for the MMU, but he and the Vargr are heading different directions. Jonathan radios the captain for help. Gunderson briefly fires the main engines, to move that direction, but he still has no maneuver. Gunderson: "Okay, we've got a plan. The engineer has deployed a cargo net - try to grab on as we pass." Jonathan sees the net, weighted at the ends with wrenches, hurtle toward him at an alarming rate of speed, but it's a welcome sight. Jonathan is wrapped into the net, pulled on board, and cut out by the Pikhan. Then the ship is turned around, and Jonathan is given his own MMU. Jonathan: "But I don't have zero-G." Sparks: "Not a problem." He hooks up a remote control unit to the MMU, so Jonathan will be an RCMMU. Sparks gives Jonathan an oxygen lance, fires it up, and sends Jonathan out to joust.

Much fighting goes on outside - shooting and jousting, and all very quiet (except for what noise is conducted). Jonathan has the advantage of not having to steer, so he can just worry about the lance. And he can't flinch when the Pikhan starts playing chicken. Jonathan runs through the Vargr, pulls his lance out, hits the oxygen tank, sending flame shooting out, and the Vargr flies off into space as the Pikhan sends Jonathan off after another target. There may be a video game in this later...

Nicolai gets away from the area of the explosion, but the concussion grenade goes off and sends glowing green, corrosive material spilling out onto the female. It gets dark as the drives are slagged. Nicolai heads forward, to catch up with Tessa. The iris door opens a tiny bit, allowing Tessa to fire a few rounds into the bridge before the door slams shut again. Then the door opens completely, revealing a robot. Nicolai and Tessa fire on the bot, hitting it in the centre of mass. Plates on the bot's chest pop open, revealing a chest packed with explosives. Nicolai, still triggered, grabs Tessa and attempts to unass the area ASAP.

Outside of the ship, Jonathan and the other crewman of the Wolfhound see bright lights flash through the windows.

Jonathan is flown over to the other ship, where Sparks figures he should be able to cut into an airlock. Jonathan: "Can't I just use the hole the Mole cut?" Sparks: "The Mole is plugging it up." Jonathan: "Do you really want me to cut another hole in the ship?" Sparks: "Well, I don't' want you cutting one in the Mole." Jonathan: "What now?" Sparks: "Try the airlocks, maybe they're not locked." Sure enough, although Sparks can't pilot Jonathan the last few metres, as it's strictly line of sight for the remote control.

Nicolai and Tessa go sailing, and bounce rather hard. The robot, the iris door, and the people on the bridge are in much, much worse shape. The Vargrs on the bridge look like they were trying to become professional razor blade catchers. [Ewww]

Jonathan radios Nicolai and Tessa, letting them know he has come on board, so they don't shoot him. A door pops open beside him, and he spins, oxygen lance first, on the Vargr. The oxygen lance was a bit of a surprise. Gunderson radios that they are attempting to dock. There's a rather large bump, and then the two ships are hooked together. Jonathan finds the remains of a number of humans in a cargo bay. They were handcuffed, then shot.

Roxanne brings the "Sniffer", to look for other lifesigns. Roxanne: "No large lifeforms." Tessa: "Define large." Roxanne: "Over 50 kilos." There is, it turns out, some sort of pet animal running around loose on the ship, but no more Vargrs. Sparks is also a doctor, so everyone gets medicked.

The Vargr ship itself is in really bad shape, so it should be removed as a hazard to navigation, and besides, they really do need to respond to the distress call, especially since a Navy ship has appeared in area. Out of the Vargr ship's stores they can get everything needed to repair what little damage the Wolfhound sustained. The computer is cut out, all the cargo containers are moved over, and then everyone takes a cabin to grab whatever they can. Gunderson doesn't want to leave anything valuable on the ship, as once they go after the ship in distress, the Vargr ship will be abandoned and therefore salvage. The Wolfhound then responds toi the distress call of the Mary Lou.

Ten minutes after the Wolfhound's crew goes on board the Mary Lou, much to the delight of the remaining crew members, the Navy's presence is felt. The rather officious Lieutenant has a number of questions, and is not happy about "private soldiers". Gunderson and Jonathan point out that they were attacked while attempting to render aid to the captives on board the pirate ship (who knew they were dead?), and then proceeded to the Mary Lou as soon as was possible. So there. The Lieutenant suggests they leave his area of space. Oooh.

Captured cargo: A huge collection of weapons of all sorts - laser, etc. A bunch of the crates containing Red Cross packages of food and medical supplies (about 4 tons). This includes literally a ton of Regen™, along with broad band antibiotics, etc. One of the cabins on the Vargr ship had a plaque on the wall for the ISS Mercy - they had hit a hospital ship, the bastards. The other cargo container has a Gnat fighter in it. Cool! Jonathan can fly that, and will, if he has his say (much better than being a passenger on an RCMMU). It's about the size of a van, with a single laser, and two missiles. It has maneuver 6 - it's quick as hell, so this could prove very useful later on.

Once away from the annoying Naval representative, the captain has the crew meet him in the common area. Gunderson: "Ladies and gentleman, I propose a toast. To a very profitable first encounter. And courtesy of the Vargrs, we have a fine bottle of Varlick's Blood, laid down in the year 726." The bottle is huge, and very ornate. Gunderson: "I've made some calculations. Based on the market cost of what we've taken, and less the ship's share, I make the profit to be $176,820 credits, per person. Not bad for our first outing. I believe we have the makings of a fine crew. Here's to all of us. Here's to good fortune." The Varlick's Blood is very smooth. When everyone except for 414 has a lovely nap, and wakes out without a hangover, the bottle is empty. 414 evidently didn't have quite enough to drink. He contemplates taking pictures of the other crew members in compromising positions, but decides that some one might wake up and take it badly. Bright boy.

The captain does point out that "we were lucky that time. Very lucky." People will be spending time training on the MMUs, and on the guns. And Nicolai wants some changes made on the Mole. It can't really be made bigger, and the captain does not want Sparks to reconstruct the front of the ship so they can just ram the pirate ships head on (in spite of Sparks' eagerness). Tessa would like some way to get over to the other ship with her battledress, considering what they ran into. Perhaps another form of portable Mole-like cutting implement will have to be designed.

Any how, it's off into deep space to make preliminary repairs, then to the next friendly port for the serious repairs. Then off to Torment.