Knowing that there are several more hours to go before the fireworks start, most of the crew decide to get some sleep before the activities of the day begin. Lev has no such luxury, however, as he continues to accelerate for several hours before starting to brake.
At 6.00am, Dev sounds the alarm, telling everyone that it’s time to wake up, get dressed in their vacc suits and get into position.
It’s just after 8.00am when, after hours of poring over the sensor screen, when Duncan finally sees the blips of the Prosperity and a Veng on the edge of his screen. They are both using active sensors and so it should be a while before they are seen.
The Phoenix is travelling at such a high velocity that it is only ten minutes later that they are nearly upon the enemy ships. Dev gives the order to fire before the corsairs hardly know what hit them and Zasa lines up the Veng in his sights before squeezing the trigger on his triple beam lasers.
Duncan calls out in delight as he sees the damage on his screen – by some miracle, Zasa has managed to completely take out the Veng’s computer with the party’s first volley. Dev tells the missile gunners to hold their fire now that their target is taken out already.
The Prosperity fires a couple of beans at the rapidly departing Phoenix, but they both miss by a mile.
Lev decelerates as fast as he can, but the Phoenix is travelling so fast that it takes the best part of three hours before he has brought it to a stop and can turn the ship around to close in on the target.
It’s nearly 4.00pm already by the time he is closing for a second run – a lot slower this time. As the ship gets closer, Duncan sees that another ship is now orbiting the planet, but it’s just a Scout. As soon as the Phoenix is within combat range, Zasa fires again with another deadly burst, which slices off the Scout’s turret and also kills its power plant. The tannoy fills with whoops and hollers from all the Vargr as they congratulate Zasa on his amazing skills.
Dev calls on The Prosperity to surrender after seeing the awesome display of their shooting skills.
“We agree to a ceasefire,” The Prosperity agrees. “We will only shoot back if you shoot on us first.”
This isn’t enough for Dev and he calls on The Prosperity to make a complete surrender, offering to pay each officer and crew member if they agree. There is no response to Dev’s offers though – even after half an hour of making offer after offer, there is still nothing but silence coming from The Prosperity. It becomes obvious to all on the bridge that they are simply waiting to be boarded, which is not what the party members want to do at all.
The party members discuss their options to come up with a plan to try and lure the corsairs away from The Prosperity. Knowing that they have the Model 2 computer from the Lab Ship on board, they decide to offer it back to the corsairs – disarmed, of course, in order that they might use it to depart the system and leave The Prosperity behind. They tell the plan to the corsairs, but again there is only silence. They try and give it a shot anyway.
The squad of spare engineers are called upon to load the spare Model 2 into the pinnace. Once it is loaded, Richard takes the pilot seat, while Splinter, Professor Ron, Azax plus the engineers get onboard. Richard then makes the short hop over from the Phoenix to the corsair’s Veng. After docking, they cautiously get onboard, carefully checking for traps. The ship is like the Marie Celeste, however – obviously vacated in a major hurry, with meals still on the table. The only point that those onboard notice out of the ordinary is that the ship’s locker has been completely emptied. Everyone works together on bringing the Model 2 up from the pinnace and onto the bridge, then removing the destroyed one. Leaving Splinter, Professor Ron and Azax to wire the new computer into the bridge, the squad of engineers then proceeds to take out the Veng’s six beam lasers and empty the ship’s magazine of missiles (which they discover only consists of 15). Just in case they decide to move some over from The Prosperity, they also take out the firing mechanisms of the missile launchers as well, leaving the Veng totally unable to protect itself.
It’s 7.00pm by the time the exercise is complete and all board the pinnace once again in order to return to the Phoenix.
With all weapons still trained on The Prosperity, the crew members sit back and watch what happens. A few minutes after everyone is back onboard the Phoenix, they see the corsair’s pinnace emerge from the hold of The Prosperity heading towards the Veng. The pinnace docks for a moment, to transfer over a pilot, presumably, and then the pinnace returns to the hold of The Prosperity. At the same time, some cargo containers are jettisoned from the hold.
The Veng starts to maneuver towards The Prosperity. As it gets closer though, the party members realize that the Veng is not coming in to the airlock – it’s heading for the hold.
Realizing that the corsairs are simply looking to steal back the Veng and have no intention of leaving on it, Dev gives the order to fire. Zasa unleashes three bolts at the rapidly disappearing Veng, but can only manage a hit on its maneuver drive, which doesn’t stop it from entering into the hold before it is hidden by the bow doors.
The party members are incensed by this and Lev tells Zasa to fire on The Prosperity’s airlock now.
“Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!! Don’t shoot at The Prosperity!” Eth and Henri cry as one.
Too late. Zasa is on it and Zasa rarely misses. The airlock is instantly burnt away.
The Prosperity’s lasers are set on Return Fire and they send two beams at the Phoenix. One of them hits, but only the fuel tank.
“Blast ’em,” says Dev.
“Blast ’em,” agrees Lev.
“Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” scream Eth and Henri in unison.
It’s too late though, as Duncan gives the orders to all the missile gunners to unleash a volley of 8 missiles towards the vessel.
The Prosperity shoots back, again managing only a minor hit on the fuel tank. Zasa returns fire with the lasers.
The view screens is filled with pure white light that has everyone shielding their eyes for a split second before the Phoenix is rocked by an almighty wave of force which knocks everyone standing off their feet.
By the time they have got to their feet again, there is nothing on the viewscreen except random bits of space junk disappearing at a rapid velocity.
No one quite knows what to say – everyone is completely stunned.
Sinclair is the first to speak, having come up to the bridge to nosy around:
“Wow,” he says in awe. “That’s not something you see every day – a billion credits gone in a millisecond. I think this calls for a celebration. I’ll fetch the champers.”
From the intercom, the gunners start whooping and hollering again and chanting, “ZASA, ZASA, ZASA!!!”
Realization hits everyone on the bridge now.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuuuuckkkkk " Eth cries. “What the fucking hell am I supposed to tell DeVeldt now?”
“Don’t tell him anything,” Dev replies. “Stay with us – we like having you around.”
“I think I might take you up on that,” Eth says. “That’s my charisma well and truly buggered after this fiasco.”
Henri just stares gaping open-mouthed at the empty screen for a while. He tries to say something, but no words come out. He points to the screen with one hand as he clutches his chest with the other, before he crashes to the floor.
Upon seeing Henri collapse, Splinter rushes to the Med Bay and comes back with (what are they called? those jump leads for hearts?) He spends the best part of ten minutes trying to zap Henri back to life, but it’s just no good. The old man was on his last legs already and the horror of seeing the ship explode before his eyes was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Eth shakes his head sadly as he sees Henri’s body being carried away and put in one of the two remaining free cold berths:
“That’s another reason for us to head for Efate,” he says. “We will need to return his body to his family there.”
Duncan is still in shock at seeing The Prosperity having blown up before his eyes. Eventually he speaks:
“Aren’t we going to be in a lot of trouble from Tukera after this?” he asks.
“Well they aren’t going to be very happy about it, that’s for sure,” Eth replies. “I can tell you now though that my orders were that, in the event that I was unable to secure the return of The Prosperity, I was to ensure its destruction to avoid it falling into the hands of anyone else.”
“I just need to come up with a good excuse as to why this happened. If I tell them that you lost your tempers as a result of the corsairs trying to steal their own Veng back and you accidentally blew up a billion credits worth of ship and goods in a fit of pique, they won’t be very pleased.”
He shakes his head again. “No, providing that I come up with a good story as to how we tried our best to retrieve it, but the odds were just stacked too high against us and so arranging the ship’s destruction was the only option then, although they aren’t going to be very happy, they aren’t going to scour the ‘Verse in order to reap vengeance upon us. I wouldn’t expect too many other job offers from them in future though.”
“My career with them is definitely over after this fiasco. So the only honorable thing for me to do is tell them what happened … well, a modified version of what happened … hand in my resignation and my debit card and then just move on.”
“So I need to stop off at a starport on one of the major trade routes to send the message. Aeggiks is one possibility, or else Inghinfudzolor, Ksorraknue or Uerzthu.”
“Talking of the billion credit explosion,” Richard says, “It might be worth investigating the jettisoned cargo. It was obviously very valuable to be worth transporting across two subsectors. I’ll take God in the pinnace to bring some of the cargo in and he can tell us how much it’s worth while you’re stripping the Scout.”
With the plan agreed, Richard and God set off in the pinnace together with Arpad and two of the engineers to chase after the cargo units which are floating around the vicinity, while Lev heads after the hulk of the Scout ship which is still orbiting the planet.
Once Lev has docked with the Scout ship, Splinter and Professor Ron don their vacc suits and head onto the bridge of the ship to start removing the ship’s Model 2 computer, while the remaining four engineers start to take out the jump and maneuver drives. It takes the engineers quite a while to dismantle the drives because the four of them are starting to squabble among themselves as to which one of them is giving the orders now that Henri is no more. It’s only when Eth realizes what’s going on and gives the four of them an ear-bashing that they get on with the business of finishing the job, maneuvering the drives into position inside the cargo hold.
Once they have finished this, Eth then sets them to work on repairing the holes in the fuel tank.
Richard’s voice comes onto the radio:
“God says that the jettisoned cargo has a base price of MCr 0.5 per ton. How much of it are we going to be able to take with us?”
“Just a couple of tons,” Dev replies. “We’re pretty full at the moment.”
It doesn’t take the pinnace crew long to grab another cargo container and then head back to dock with the Phoenix where they store the containers in the vehicle bay.
While the engineers continue to work on fixing the holes in the fuel tank, the party members discuss their revised plans now that there is no more Prosperity to ferry them about at a rapid speed of jump-4. Although the original plan was to head back to Dharrg to pick up the hidden Lab Ship and take it to be sold, no one is keen on adding yet more weeks to their time in Vargr space when they are hardly short of cash as it is – everyone just wants to get back to the Imperium now as quickly as possible.
With the decision having been made, Lev pulls the Phoenix out of orbit and heads back to the gas giant in order to top up the fuel tanks to replace the fuel that was lost through leakage. The engineering crew works on patching up the tanks while the ship heads towards the gas giant. After a couple more hours, they’ve finished the task and head back into the ship in order to join in with the celebrations which are continuing in the Vargr Common Room