Rendezvous IV

``When it comes to motivation, destroying someone's homeworld is at the top of the list.''

- Colonel Horth Kargelian, the ``Butcher of Eremov.'', 2459.131 AS

2778.072.07.00 AS
Janus Darkside
Sundown System

Our story opens as the crew of the Exotic Dancer arrives at Janus, the innermost planet of the Sundown system, where rumors indicate they shall find a derelict Hegemonic BattleCruiser. After a few cautious passes over the area, Max, their sensors expert identifies the ``wreck''. Much to everyone's surprise, the ship itself looks to be almost completely intact, though buried under the debris of a cliff, and covered in years of frozen methane ice and snow.

Dr. Voriig Kye, the leader of the archaeological expedition, has Ace, pilot and owner of the Exotic Dancer, hover over the wreck for a time, using the Dancer's engines to blow off and melt as much debris as possible. While not proving much use against the rock rubble that encases the lost ship, the engines make quick work of the methane.

Setting the Dancer down almost 100m from the wreck, the crew suits up and moves out to explore. Initial exploration is conducted by Dumbo, Kye's Archaeological Site Processor. Dumbo prods the piles of rock for a bit until it's declared safe. Katya takes this opportunity to head up to the top of the wreck and examine what appear to be shuttle pod entry doors, while Dumbo clears rock away from the main superstructure, leaving only the landing gear embedded in rock and ice.

Down at the bottom, Max declares that the wreck not only appears to still be air-tight, but strangely has vacuum inside rather than the local Methane fog. Katya discovers what appears to be a manual hatch override on the top, giving Ace the clue of what to look for around the bottom hatches. Using Dumbo's strength to open the outer hatch, the crew heads in the airlock. Inside they find corridors of doorways, much larger than anything they've seen on a ship before, but each door proves a new difficult challenge as without power, they must all be opened the hard way.

Grimblemaury and Sharra conference and decide that they can probably power up at least some of the ship's systems if they can manually open the shuttle bay, fly the Dancer inside and then connect the two ship's power systems. After some maneuvering the Dancer is indeed landed in the bay. Also in the shuttle bay, they discover a small personal shuttle craft. Unlike the main ship, it has not been exposed to the rigors of a methane atmosphere all these years and still has the Grand Seal of the Hegemony emblazoned upon it. They examine it and determine that it is indeed still operational, though it seems to have a sophisticated security systems that are preventing access to it's command routines.

Deciding to leave that for later, the crew sets off to explore the ship proper. First order of business is to reactivate the life support systems which Grimblemaury and Sharra see to. The rest of the crew explores the ship, strangely oblivious to the bodies surrounding them. They quickly come to the bridge and Sook gets to work trying to recover some information from the main computer.

While working on the computer the rest of the crew examines a nearby stateroom, which, already huge by the Dancer's standards, contains an additional surprise. They see a painting on the wall, perfectly preserved by the vacuum, depicting several women in some sort of pod. The strange thing is that one of the women is clearly Katya! The crew doesn't get much time to discuss this strange occurrence though, as Sook calls them back to the bridge with complaints that the computer suddenly locked her out....

Hippocrates stirs after its long slumber. It appears the tactic of complete power shutdown was successful as there are no remnants of the deadly virus remaining. As expected someone has rebooted the main system from the bridge station. Reactivating his sensors, Hippocrates then makes the startling discovery that most of his crew appears dead, scattered through the halls and strangers are working on his vital systems. Clearly in need of help, he begins reviving his passengers.
Elite Janzur Therive wakes from his long Kaufman induced slumber along with his charge, Dr. Symphony-Hayes and someone unknown to him, Jim Powell. Jim introduces himself, and the three are quickly apprised of the situation on the bridge by Hippocrates. Janzur makes quick work of the welded doors to the Kaufman process chamber and the three head up towards the bridge.
Back on the bridge the crew of the Dancer are trying to convince the computer, which no longer responds to any commands, but appears willing to discuss the situation via vidscreen, to let them off of the bridge. Quickly surmising what has happened, Eva realizes the key problems in communication between them and the computer and attempts to solve it by supplying Hippocrates with the date.

As Hippocrates tries to assimilate this information, Elite Janzur and his pair arrive on the bridge. Startled by his sudden entrance, Katya flings a data pad across the room at them. Without even a moment to consider, Therive destroys the incoming data pad in a bolt of light from what Eva immediately recognizes as a plasma brand.

A brief discussion ensues as the crew of the Dancer explain to the ersatz-crew of the Hippocrates exactly what has gone on in the last few hundred years, and why they've now attained the state of archaeological curiosity.

Things are almost calmed down when Grimblemaury calls to tell everyone on the bridge that he thinks communications should be back on line. Hippocrates has barely managed to open a channel when suddenly all areas of the ship are filled with the sound of an automated warning:

``Code Black! Planetary Disaster Beacon detected from Pierogi System. All SkyGuard units are order to proceed to Pierogi at best possible speed.''

The engines of the Hippocrates begin to fire... The crew of the Dancer begin to protest but are suddenly brought to their knees by the ship's attempts to free its landing gear from the rock. Eva and Ace relate to the others that the jumpgates have indeed been emitting a strange signal these last few days which may be the ``planetary disaster beacon'' referred to by the message.

Assuring them that speed is their most essential priority, the Hippocrates breaks away with a great lurch and they are all off towards the jumpgates. The long trip to the outskirts of the system give them time to discuss things in a calm manner. Adjourning to the conference room, the members of the expedition explain to them that in addition to all of their other concerns, the Hippocrates should know that many of the jumpgates, specifically the one they are heading towards are no longer operational.

Analyzing the disaster beacon signal, the Hippocrates informs them that he's fairly certain the jumpgates are not in fact broken, rather they are simply in ``Secure Mode'' and that should present him with no problem. Shocked that they are now on-board a ship with the power to travel through inactive jumpgates, the party begins to explain the vast implications of being seen going where no one else can go. Especially when they are spotted doing so by Klothos, the Blacklord of Gateway, a necessary stop on their route to Pierogi. Ace forges what he thinks will be a reasonable ID, renaming Hippocrates, the Tortoise. His work is interrupted by the discovery of the Exotic Dancer in the shuttle bay. Apparently, the Dancer took serious damage during the shake-up of freeing the landing gear from Janus. The engineers begin some work, but think it will take some time.

Others spend the time exploring the ship. Jim takes this opportunity to move all of the unfortunate crew members of the Hippocrates to the morgue. Through the ship they find a few more paintings by apparently the same artist. Hippocrates indicates that the artist is indeed on board, still in the Kaufman pods, but can't give any other information on the paintings which include among others, Katya, Max, and Grimblemaury.

After a great deal of discussion, the party convinces the Hippocrates that it would be wise to alter its course from to come through Gateway on a known path. Altering its path slightly, Hippocrates brings them through the Tinara system. The jump itself presents another surprise, as Hippocrates requests and receives what it call a ``High-Energy Jump''. The trip through the gate takes about an order of magnitude less time than usual and is quite a ride.

Luckily there seems to be no other traffic in Tinara, so it's off to Gateway. Upon arriving at Gateway, no one comments on the strange after effects of a high energy jump, but the Tortoise is immediately hailed by Gateway control:

``Tortoise, cut your engines, and prepare for docking and pilot transfer.''

Pilot transfer! As a group, the inworlders remember the rules of Gateway. No one can fly through the Gateway-Nonesuch wormhole without one of Klothos's transfer pilots.

Ignoring the hail, the Hippocrates presses on towards it's goal. Suddenly all are thrown to their knees once more, as Gateway station seizes the ship in its massive tractor beams. All seems lost until Hippocrates manages to disable the beam temporarily, giving Ace time to get them to the jumpgate. ``After all, it is a Type Ten SkyGuard Battlestation. I have all the codes.''

Passing quickly through Crux, the party heads to Pierogi where they find a planet under siege...

The outworlders who had found themselves on PIEROGI ORBITAL STATION #2 spent some time exploring the darkened station, traveling up the zero-G docking spine to the main saucer area. They find living quarters, a mess, and a storage room all unlocked; the bridge, sensor/communications, gravitics, and maneuvering engines are locked. Wilson manages to get several of the doors open, and Anataya and Martan open many of the others, leaving only sensor/communications (which Anataya identifies as the most dangerous thing in the area).

From the bridge, the reactor controls are set from maintenance to on-line; the various bridge controls turn on. Sensors/Communications are still down, however. Anataya identifies a locked switch on the communications console as the thing she needs to do, but it's not working at present. Kith loots the storeroom of as many Hegemonic medical supplies as she can carry.

While Wilson manages to unlock all the doors, the Sensor/Communication door is still shut. The group speculates that there is vacuum inside, and is a bit worried about prying it open, but Jayla indicates that while opening it is dangerous, not opening it leads to death. Anataya herds everyone into the mess, where some few stores seem to have survived (though they all taste like tinfoil), and then tries to pry the door open. She can't do it on her own, though, and Martan has to help. Sure enough, there's a whooshing, but it quickly drops down to an ominous hissing; there appears to be a pinhole puncture on the other side of the machinery.

Wilson takes charge of fixing things; sensors are quickly brought on-line, but communications will take longer. While he works on that, the others note that the sensors are showing Pierogi, with ships appearing by it. The invading ships are in two flavors - large wedge-shaped greatships, and small needle-shaped redliners. The latter spear anything flying above Pierogi with red beams, and the hapless ships plummet to the ground. Meanwhile, the greatships take up a position over the north pole and begin to slowly move in an expanding spiral pattern, irradiating the ground below with a yellow beam.

Sensors indicate that wherever the greatships have passed, there are no higher life signs.

A redliner and a greatship head towards the station and the jumpgate; the redliner arrives quickly and shoots the station, increasing its mass, while the greatship will take some time to arrive. Kith notes that there are two living creatures on the redliner, and they're a bit wistful.

Wilson finishes repairing the communications machinery, and the Planetary Disaster Beacon is activated. Nothing happens immediately, however, except that the jumpgate begins to blink. A train of ships comes out of the jumpgate, and is shortly thereafter hit by the redliner - each separate train car becomes far more massive, and they begin to crash into each other or fly in different directions.

One car heads for the station, while the others tumble out into space. The outworlders watching engage the docking gravitics, which manage to bring the incoming ship into the docking spine, where it crashes. As all the air from the docking spine begins to escape, Anataya and Martan head down to rescue whoever was on board, while Kith tries to keep them calm and convinced that it's an Exciting Adventure. Martan is nearly lost into space when his rope is severed, but Anataya is having none of that, and grabs the rope. Meanwhile, the Sublime Xanthippe, zero-G acrobat and animal trainer, and Padira, her tiger, have leapt from their ship to the hole in the docking spine, and Martan has crunched the hole shut behind them.

The outworlders explain to Xanthippe that Pierogi is under attack, and the group can do nothing but wait and watch the sensors - until another ship transits in through the jumpgate.

The outworlders immediately hail the Hippocrates and cry for help. The Hippocrates has problems of its own, however, as redliners open fire. Ace is pushed to his limits avoiding their red beams. Fairly certain that any attempt to land on the planet will result in their destruction, the crew of the Hippocrates resolve to at least save those aboard the orbital station.

Eva and Janzur board his shuttle and depart the Hippocrates with a cargo of vacuum suits to get the outworld survivors across their depressurized docking bay. With a little deft flying, they indeed reach the orbital station alive. The redliners, meanwhile, have scored a tag or two on the Hippocrates which seems to have the effect of increasing it's effecting mass and thus decreasing it's maneuverability. Still, while they concentrate on the Hippocrates, they are ignoring the rescue squad.

Janzur and Eva eventually manage to squeeze all eight survivors into their two person shuttle, with the zero-gee acrobatic skills of the Sublimer and her tiger prove quite useful. The plot an intercept course back to the fleeing Hippocrates and manage to get everyone safely aboard.

Unfortunately, when the Hippocrates manages to disable one of its pursuers with its utility laser, it draws the fire of several others. With its maneuverability already decreased, even Ace's great skill is insufficient to dodge them all. The redliners effectively increase the mass of the ship beyond its engine's ability to move.

Wondering what can possibly be done, several crewmen shout out in frustration that they don't even know who their attackers are. Jim comes to the rescue by displaying a hologram of the great ships outside. The hologram has the label ``Great Ships of the Tarn''. People quickly realize these are the ancient aliens of the Tarn Alliance, predecessor to even the Hegemony, but why are they attacking?

The debate is cut short as one of the great ships moves out toward the Hippocrates, intent on washing over it with its sterilizing beams. All hope seems lost, until Jim mentions that they may be able to survive the sterilization if they were inside the Kaufman pods.

Jim, Janzur, and the Hippocrates give all assembled a quick lecture on the Kaufman process. It will heal any injury, and cure any disease, maintaining even the barest spark of life, but inevitably leads to Kaufman degeneration, a grisly death. Kaufman degeneration has but one known cure: the Kaufman process, effectively creating a permanent dependency.

The crew debate it briefly, but eventually everyone decides that addiction to the Kaufman process is preferable to death and they enter the pods just as the deadly beams play over the ship....

Most of those who entered the Kaufman pods wake some weeks later (the rest are still in Kaufman-induced healing comas); the Hippocrates has recovered its normal mass, and the Tarn ships are long gone. Only at this point do the outworlders and inworlders really get to brief each other on what has happened until now.

For better or worse, those aboard the Hippocrates will have to stay with the ship, for the maximum duration recorded between treatments is two months. And, for better or worse, having lost his original crew, the Hippocrates will have to make do with these newcomers as his crew. To cement this relationship, as well as allow the group official access to ship functions and rooms, Hippocrates has devised an Oath to be taken by the new provisional crew members.

``I, <name>, do solemnly affirm that I will support and defend the Provisional Crew of the Starship Hippocrates against all their enemies; that I will protect and further the research mission of the Starship Hippocrates; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office of Provisional Crewman of the Starship Hippocrates.''
Everyone who is awake swears to the oath (save Padira), and immediately begin to pounce on staterooms and labs (Dr. Kye seems determined to claim any spare).