Saturday, 13 July 2019

Return of an old friend

The 30,000 ton ship was quickly identified as a Gionetti-class Light Cruiser. That meant it was Imperial Navy, and that meant trouble.

Reaching the bridge Slayed hailed the other ship, which was only 400km from the space station - close range. "Who are you and what do you want?" The screen lit up and a familiar face appeared. There, in full Imperial Navy uniform, was Admiral Darokyn.

Darokyn announced that he was here to ensure that Admiral Slayed and his colleagues would be stopped. They would no longer be allowed to perform acts of piracy and treachery. They were to immediately surrender by order of the Imperium. Lady Nitrane whispered "tell him we've already stopped".

Slayed asked what would happen if they surrendered. Darokyn said that they would be taken prisoner and be given a fair trial... And at that moment Slayed ordered all weapons to open fire.

Achieving some measure of surprise, the first salvo of over 240 missiles sped toward the imperial ship, which automatically deployed electronic countermeasures and point defense batteries, but about two hundred missiles struck the smaller ship. At the same time the ion cannons sprayed charged particles at the navy ship to reduce its power output, and particle beam bays shot out, causing damage and irradiating the other ship.

Darokyn returned fire, the spinal meson cannon shooting out enormous particle beams and hitting the station square on. Missiles streamed from turrets all over the cruiser. These converged on the station while the point defenses and countermeasures attempted desperately to halt over five hundred missiles. Many hundreds hit, up and down the side of the station, causing warnings and alarms to sound. Other turrets fired beam lasers and the station retaliated by using sandcasters to disrupt the lasers so they caused little or no damage.

Salvo after salvo sped across from one side to the other. Missiles sped, light flashed, particle weapons coruscated, and a field of debris and sand started filling the gap between the station and the navy ship. The cruiser was hitting harder, but the armour and immense size of the space station meant it was taking less of a beating.

After another round of salvos Darokyn, apparently realising that he had underestimated the firepower of the station, ordered the cruiser to move away from the station. It appeared to be preparing to jump. With fuel leaking and clear signs of significant damage the navy ship could take no more. On the station damage to ion cannons and sandcasters was worrying but none of the offensive weapons was damaged and Slayed kept firing even as the other vessel turned tail.

With one last salvo hitting it the imperial ship exploded. The hull had been completely breached and finally the thousands of un-fired missiles had been hit. The ship disintegrated.

On the station repair drones were already hard at work stopping leaks in the hull. Rather luckily the only serious hits had been to weapons - there were no fuel leaks and no engineering sections had been hit. Another salvo or two from the imperial ship however and there would have been much much more to worry about. The navy ship hit hard.

Slayed ordered that any breaches be repaired immediately but repairs to weapons could wait, as could the parts of the hull that were damaged and weakened, but not breached. He had other tasks in mind for the crew.

He asked Goff to put into action his plan for moving the jump drive from the megafreighter and installing it into the space station. Additional jump drive capacity would need to be built, and this would take some time. Goff said it would take him three days to plan everything and at that point he would know roughly how long it would take, and importantly how likely it would be to succeed.

The construction yard and manufacturing plant had not been damaged in the fight, so the prototype ship was able to be completed. The estimates were that it would be only another 11 days. Finally the so-called space station seed crate, containing manufacturing, computing and power facilities that had all the Sindalian knowledge and capability to build a new station if necessary, was only a few days from being completed as well.

Needing to inform others, Slayed and the travellers jumped to Salif in the Sorrowful Maiden to tell Tiznee what had happened and to ask her to pass a message to Lady Yemar as Palindrome was too far to jump to in the time available.

Arriving in Salif they immediately sought an audience with Tiznee who was keen to meet with them. She told them that Darokyn was in the region and that they should be careful. They sighed and told her that he had visited their station, attacked it, and had been killed. She cautioned that he had been in the Salif system with four ships; the cruiser had been accompanied by a Kinunir-class and two Gazelles. They had jumped two days after Darokyn's cruiser but she did not know where they were heading.

Rather than delay any longer they decided to jump back to the station.

Space Station
Another week in jump passed and they arrived at the space station. It was there (sighs of relief) but still showing the scars of battle. They were immediately informed that the Kinunir and Gazelles had jumped in, actively scanned the area, and jumped out. Nobody on the station had been keen to fire any weapons at them without provocation.

In Slayed's mind this changed nothing. He was told by Goff that adding the jump drive to the station was possible, although likely to be very difficult. The additional jump plant needed would take three months to manufacture. The obvious choice was to do the preparation on the station first and move the jump drive from the freighter later. This would keep the freighter operational should it need to be used.

The prototype ship and the space station seed crates were finished. The party decided that they would go on the first trip, along with Goff, Krrsh, Jaggad and Professor Cheese. the seed crates were added to the cargo hold in case they found a suitable asteroid or other location to set it up.

The biggest worry was the morale of the crew. The station was no longer a secret, the imperial navy were almost certainly going to return to finish the job, and the travellers and senior leaders were departing in a new ship and not sure when they would be returning. Slayed gave a somewhat rousing speech and seemed to have mollified the crew a little, but the undercurrent of unhappiness was there.

Nitrane pointed out that the ship that had been send to Wildeman to tell them to call off the blockade was likely to be returning soon, although with the defeat of Drinax, the close call with the imperial navy, and the backing down of the blockade without any kind of negotiations held, it was bad news all round. One or more returning ships would just emphasise the trouble they were in.

The prototype ship, looking exactly like a rich noble's yacht, left the station with all on board and started a very abbreviated trial near the station. Deciding that 24 hours would be sufficient to see if everything worked, the people on board tested every system and underwent manoeuvering exercises and weapons tests. The only unproven components were the collectors and the new drive, the former seemed to be working in a six hour trial but the whole point of the exercise was to test the latter.

Picking the empty hex between Salif and Number One as their destination Slayed looked around at everyone and hit the red button.

To be continued...

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Friend or Foe?

The travellers took a fast messenger ship to Theev to inform them of the destruction of Drinax and that they had survived. They also sent the Far Scout to Wildeman to let the people at their base know what had happened, and to order them to cease the blockade.

Arriving at Theev they radioed ahead and were given priority landing at the private hangers reserved for the highest levels of Theev society. They asked to see Varuk Nirgal and were given direction to his offices. Two Widows silently emerged from nowhere and took up positions to protect the travellers as they made their way to see the head of the ruling council of Theev.

When they arrived he was waiting for them in his enormous office, on the highest level of a tower that overlooked the city. He welcomed them warmly and motioned for them to sit in nano-bot chairs that were forming themselves as he spoke. Sitting, they informed him of what had happened.

Nirgal was obviously taken aback at the news, and asked the party what they would do next. When they suggested that they would be visiting systems to inform them of the battle, Nirgal suggested that he instead would send out messengers to save them time.

Lady Nitrane suggested that they might have to visit the other systems anyway to try to keep the empire together. She did a royal wave to emphasise the nature of the visits, and seemed reluctantly to entertain the idea that she was the heir. Nirgal asked about Prince Harrick and was told that he had given up his claims to the throne.

Leaving Nirgal to organise messengers, the party then headed to see Kagni Vasiir, the security expert who had helped them previously with false identities. He greeted them and asked what they needed. They explained that they had some data chips that were encrypted by Imperial Secret Service and needed something to crack into them.

Vasiir asked how old they were - about a year maybe - and said that  he could probably help. After running some diagnostics he gave them two alternatives and said that both should work, but that there was a chance that the encryption was so advanced that the chip would recognise that it was being hacked.

Slayed and Sparrow got to work and managed to get one chip de-crypted, and most of another. The third unfortunately wiped itself before any data could be extracted.

The partially decrypted chip contained information about many people, including the travellers themselves. It seemed that Darokyn had been keeping records on various people who arrived on Theev and made names for themselves. There was nothing about any of the well established pirate lords - only newcomers.

The completely decrypted chip contained irrefutable evidence that Theev was backed by GeDeCo. In fact it was almost as if Theev was a small subsidiary of the mega-corporation so deep was the relationship. It seemed that by supporting piracy in the reaches more commerce travelled from the Imperium to the Hierarte on the GeDeCo freighters, and the area was kept unstable so no political body established itself to tax trade.

This bombshell stunned the travellers. It was clear that Nirgal must be a GeDeCo operative of employee as he was the one in charge of money and commerce. How many of the pirate lords were aware of this? They considered what they had told Nirgal, and what he might pass onto his masters in GeDeCo. They also wondered if they were the same people who had been involved with the psychohistorical theories that the PCs had agreed to support.

Leaving Theev - for the last time?
Sparrow wanted to leave Theev immediately, but Slayed argued that by fleeing instantly they would raise suspicions. So they headed to the accommodation that was set aside for them, and mindful that everything they said and did would be recorded or watched, passed the time until they left the next morning.

Returning to their ship they plotted a course for Palindrome where they were wondering if Lady Yemar was aware of the GeDeCo connections. On the trip they considered what they would do next.

Slayed looked at the astrogation box that Empress Rao had given them. It was at least two thousand years old but still had up to date information and he was looking for asteroids or other interesting places where they could set up a new base - one that nobody knew about.

Sparrow considered what would be needed to establish a base using the high technology capabilities of the space station. He devised a package or about 20 tons that would contain complete manufacturing capability, power supply, computer with AI, all the blueprints in the station and more. This shipping container would be able to produce more manufacturing capacity and produce the elements of a space station assuming the raw materials were available. This would cost about 30MCr
and take a week or so to assemble if they brought all their resources to bear.

When they arrived at Palindrome they nervously contacted the space port and asked for permission to land. That was granted and being known to the personnel there they were ushered immediately through to see Lady Yemar who was waiting in her rooms.

She was unaware of the destruction of Drinax - the news would have reached her soon though but when they mentioned about GeDeCo she became so incandescently angry, swearing at Nirgal and others and throwing objects, that they were somewhat  relieved. She had clearly been unaware of the relationship.

Calming herself down long enough to order her people to go to Theev and withdraw all her assets and personnel, she told the travellers that their only option now was to lay low for the forseeable future. Their involvement with Drinax and their relationship with GeDeCo (both from Vorito and Theev) made her worry that the party would be targetted. The corporation clearly had plans and the best course of action would be to not get in the way of them.

Leaving as soon as their ship was refueled they jumped to Salif. Now everyone was considering their next moves. Nitrane suggested making a fleet of warships but others pointed out that they had capacity to make 600 ton ships, and so slowly as to make no difference. Sparrow refined his plans for 'space station seeds', and Slayed looked even more closely at the astrogation box.

Slayed noticed that their space station was on the astrogation maps, but you had to look closely in exactly the right place. That made them wonder what other stations or ma made objects were in the map. The decided that only by plugging it into something like the space station's huge computers would they be able to get all the information they needed out of it.

Arriving on Salif they docked in their hangar and asked to meet with Tiznee, who could move her appointments around to see them in six hours. They waited, not leaving the hangar, then went to meet her. She was given the same information as Yemar - they were sisters who would no doubt share the information anyway - and she became terribly worried for their safety. Like her sister she advised that they lay low - go into hiding - and not emerge for a long time. They arranged some codes that intermediaries might be able to use to get in touch with her, and they they left.

On the way back to the station Slayed came up with the idea of taking the jump drives out of the Galoot megafreighter and putting them into the space station. They would need to add some capacity but the vast majority of the drives were already docked at the station. It should be possible, with some careful engineering, to adjust the outside of the station with vents and baffles to make a jump surface that would encase the station in hydrogen and allow the jump to proceed safely.

Also, that left the matter of moving the station, The freighters manoeuvre drives and power plant could be repurposed to make a huge tug to move the station when needed. He got to work on some back of the envelope plans to show Goff when they arrived.

Space Station
Arriving at the station they let out their breath. It was still there and undamaged.

Docking they immediately got to work on their new projects as well as checking on the progress of the prototype ship. The new ship was about two weeks away from being completed which would give them another ship to use, and work out what benefit the new drive would give them.

Leaving the ship to be completed, they prioritised getting the astrogation box connected to the computer with assistance from ALF, as well as working with Goff to start manufacturing of the 'space station seed crates'. The jump drive transplant would have to wait.

A few days passed and all plans were progressing well, when suddenly klaxons blasted and ALF informed them that a 30,000 ton ship had just jumped in. Slayed asked ALF "are all the weapons operational?"  to which ALF replied "Yes Admiral Slayed."

To be continued.

Friday, 28 June 2019

Rise and Fall

As the days passed before the Aslan fleet arrived the palace became more and more tense and there was palpable nervousness among the citizenry. The travellers kept themselves busy as best they could, including choosing what they would wear. As Arch-Dukes they would be expected to show the Aslan delegation the pomp and finery of the new empire.

When the fleet was finally detected jumping in, the travellers were summoned to the royal chambers where Empress Rao was getting dressed in the robes of state. Her clerks and advisors were there, polishing speeches and noting negotiation points for the upcoming talks.

As the fleet arrived in orbit Rao was heard to mutter "let's do this!".

Suddenly a messenger ran in to say that the fleet had transmitted a message. As it was being played another messenger ran in shouting that the Aslan had fired missiles.

The message was as follows:

  1. Drinax sponsored and supported piracy, sending out citizens in military ships to disrupt trade.
  2. King Oleb and his daughter Princess Rao were kept informed of progress at all times, extending their sponsorship over many years.
  3. Drinax sent people to look for a Sindalian space station where planet buster torpedoes had been stored since the days of the empire.
  4. These Drinaxians talked to Peter Vallis, a notorious pirate and anti-Aslan racist, just before they jumped there.
  5. The Drinaxians kept the torpedoes safe until they were needed later, not destroying them like anyone who wanted peace would have done.
  6. Drinax also infiltrated the highest levels of the pirate world Theev, befriending pirate lords and themselves gaining position.
  7. Drinax also harboured fugitives from Aslan justice, including Kaisyl, wanted for treason.
  8. Drinaxians freed legitimately captured pirate prisoners, killing the crews of civilian ships in the process.
  9. Drinaxians kidnapped the ruler of Salif, in an attempt to sow unrest in the Reaches.
  10. Drinax is now militarising at a rate greater than at any time in history, at the same time as declaring a New Sindalian Empire.
  11. The Sindalian Empire was famous for destroying planets with huge torpedoes and waging war on Aslan planets.
  12. Peter Vallis, known to meet with Drinaxians, and carrying their torpedoes for them, was apprehended attempting to destroy an Aslan planet.
  13. He was captured alive and when asked about his crimes implicated Drinax and people they associated with.
  14. Peter Vallis was executed for an act of war, and Drinax now shall also be ended for acts of war and before it can do more harm.
  15. The Sindalian Empire shall not rise again. The warlike aggressive Drinax shall not be allowed to spread its insanity.

Rao turned white, turned to Slayed and said "Wrax is hopeless. You have to save Drinax!"

Orbital Ballet
Running to the ship the party launched to find that the Aslans had destroyed most of the missile platforms and had deployed fighters.

The Drinax defenses consisted of the Sorrowful Maiden, a dozen system defense boats, some other spacecraft belonging to Drinaxian nobles and royalty, as well as a number of fighters and the weaponry on the floating palace itself. Arrayed against Drinax were four capital ships, many smaller ones, and now swarms of fighters. Drinax was outnumbered and outgunned.

As soon as the defenders rose from the palace the missiles and lasers from the Aslan took their toll. Slayed shouted encouragement and orders over the comms channels of the defenders, giving Lord Wrax suggestions but being careful not to antagonise the Head of the Star Guard.

As the Sorrowful Maiden, thrusters at full power, manoeuvered around the battlefield Nitrane and Unter quickly identified targets and directed marines and other ships to perform boarding actions to disable some of the enemy.

The battle raged on. By now debris was raining down on the surface of the planet.

Emerging from the shadow of the palace Lord Wrax and half a dozen system defense boats swarmed the largest Aslan capital ship, disabling it by crashing their ships into it. Unter and Nitrane picked another capital ship and led marines on board with scuttling charges and it too was taken from the battle.

The Drinax forces were now dwindling. Someone on the bridge shouted and pointed and tiny figures were seen streaming up from the palace. The Winged Warriors, battle dress gleaming and grav belts pushed to the limit, approached a third capital ship with nuclear mines. They detonated, taking all warriors with them, leaving just one capital ship remaining.

This last enormous ship was clearly identifiable now as it slowly, ponderously, approached the palace. It was the Eikhoifiruah - the very ship that had bombed the surface of Drinax in the last war. It was coming in for a final approach to finish off what it had started two hundred years earlier.

Slayed swooped, initiating a desperate boarding action to try to stop it. At the same time, incredibly and awe-inspiringly, the Floating Palace rose from the surface of Drinax. It's gravity engines howling and pushed beyond their limit, and with atmosphere venting from a hundred unsealed cracks and hatches, the palace directed its weapons on the Eikhoifiruah. A combination of the boarding action and the additional weaponry disabled the Aslan ship. With the attackers retreating back to the Sorrowful Maiden the Aslan super-heavy bomber passed below the palace, breaking up to bombard the surface for the last time.

The Floating Palace was not a spaceship, and not even airtight. This last action was to be its last. The palace started breaking up, helped by exploding engines and by pockets of air bursting through doors and walls not designed to work in vacuum. As the Eikhoifiruah fell to the surface so did the palace.

The remaining dozen or so Aslan ships left orbit and headed away from the planet, leaving the Sorrowful Maiden, battle scarred but unbroken, as the only surviving defender.

Thinking fast, Nitrane shouted to be on the look for survivors, and while they turned their full attention to the search, the travellers only found one survivor from the palace; a young woman who had donned a vacc-suit and been blasted away from the palace by escaping gasses. Other bodies were reached before they fell back to the planet surface but none were alive.

Silence. Far below light flashed on the planet surface as large pieces of debris sparked as they hit the metal remains of the cities destroyed two hundred years ago. There was no radio chatter, there were no other ships around the planet. Drinax the Kingdom was no more. Drinax the planet would continue, but it would not have a civilisation worthy of that name again.

Slayed said some quiet words and the crew, moving automatically, checked for damage, plotted a course for Torpol, and headed to the 100 diameter limit to jump away. Nobody knew if they would be back.

Arriving at Torpol the travellers immediately made contact and were given priority landing permission. Demanding as fast a turnaround as possible the ship was refuelled while the travellers went to visit Falx, who by now was in a position of seniority. He welcomed them and asked how they were. They answered slightly evasively, not that he noticed, and just told him that there'd been something happen that would be made clearer in the coming days and weeks.

Slayed gave the lone Drinaxian survivor 1MCr and left her on the holiday planet.

Jumping nest to Thebus they repeated the demand for as fast a turnaround as possible. They stayed on the ship in case another Imperial patrol arrived, but left before they detected one.

Space Station
Arriving at the space station they were warmly greeted and the hangar doors were opened to let them dock. They immediately called a meeting of the senior crew on the station, including Goff, Dai'Kinnear, Rachando and Kaisyl. This group were told in detail what had happened. Dai'Kinnear and Kaisyl, as the only Aslan on board, assumed postures of submission and offered their heartfelt apologies. Slayed accepted them, as was Aslan custom, and said that he held them utterly blameless for the actions of their fellow Aslan and that would be the end of it. They visibly relaxed.

Setting crew to repair the ship the travellers pondered what to do. Next they would go to Theev to inform the rulers there of what had happened. They were also interested in trying to crack the security on the datachips that they had acquired when collecting Admiral Darokyn's private possessions and thought Theev would be the best place to start.

Beyond that they didn't know what to do. Would they return to piracy? Or become merchant princes? What would GeDeCo do? After all, the mega-corporation has promised to "take care of them" but now that sounded more like a threat than a promise. And what of the Imperium?

Suddenly Lady Nitrane then swore under her breath. "Crap! I'm the heir to Drinax!".

To be continued.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

The waiting game

To and fro
The travellers jumped back to the space station to see if the prototype drive ship was ready. It wasn't. Goff met them and informed them that due to the complexities involved it was taking twice as long. He estimated it would be another four months.

Because they only had two months until Empress Rao expected the delegations from the two major powers to arrive for negotiations the party could only spend a few days on the station. They took another opportunity to take stock.

By now the station was fully operational and bedded in. The living quarters and common areas were gleaming white plastic and glass. Stylish, functional and ultra modern - certainly compared to the Drinax propensity for brass, velvet and wooden panels. The meals, prepared by the repaired Sindalian Empire food synthesisers was something familiar and yet different at the same time. Recipes and tastes had apparently changed in the time since this station had last been operational.

The voice of ALF, the computer, interrupted one trip through the station with word that a ship had that second been detected on the scanners. They made their way to the bridge less than a minute later to be told that the ship had again disappeared. It had not been detected jumping in, nor since the detection jumping out. It was clearly stealthy. Or perhaps it wasn't a ship after all: there was a possibility that the sensors were picking up false positives.

The ship had been detected about 50,000 km away. Quickly making a decision Sparrow ordered the Harriers to be prepped for immediate departure to stealthily go to that location and once near there actively search for any lurking ships. Within a handful of minutes the Harriers were speeding away, and the party waited the 20 minutes for them to reach the location.

Suddenly the sensors picked up the Harriers blasting the area with active sensors, but nothing else showed up. They were instructed to initiate a search pattern and for the next couple of hours scanned but found nothing.

Meanwhile Sparrow had been getting ALF to go over the old sensor data from the past few months and found that a similar signal had been detected three times but with a smaller signal. Of course they knew that someone else knew where the station was because of the stolen torpedoes, but it was troubling that there seemed to be someone keeping tabs on it.

Instructing ALF to send out fighters in randomised patrols to make sneaking up on the station more difficult, the party left to head back to Drinax.

The first system was Thebus, but on arrival they detected Imperial Navy ships - a Kinunir-class cruiser and two Gazelles - in orbit. Being in the pirate lord Admiral Darokyn's former flagship - a stolen Imperial Navy Destroyer escort no less - they decided to immediately jump to Noricum using their remaining jump fuel. Under different circumstances they might have gone to the gas giant and scooped and refined some fuel, but this ship had neither fuel scoops nor purifiers.

On Noricum they refuelled using unrefined fuel and then jumped, slightly concerned about the ramifications of not purifying the fuel. Everything worked out fine and they landed at Torpol.

There they talked to their contacts who advised that there were a lot of Imperial patrols around. No doubt these were in response to the blockage, although none seemed to be aggressive at all. The impression was that they were just reminding people that an enormous empire was just next door and that trying to create a new one was foolhardy.

Back home
The travellers arrived on Drinax just as the two months elapsed. However there were no delegates waiting for their negotiating skills, nor any suggestion that they were on their way.

Meeting with Empress Rao they described what they had seen and heard. She was confident that this meant the plan was working. The New Sindalian empire needed to be able to enforce its own borders or it would not be real political entity. The powers in the Imperium and the Hierate would understand that.

After a few days Tipper and Hanz Waltz from GeDeCo appeared and asked to meet with them. They agreed to meet on the GeDeCo ship where Tipper advised that an Aslan fleet, with at least two capital ships, was approaching Drinax. This seemed to be the first indication that an Aslan envoy was going to arrive. In typical Aslan fashion it would be accompanied by a show of force.

The travellers decided to first tell Empress Rao, who was delighted with the news. She and her empire were being taken seriously. They then decided to tell Lord Wrax of the Star Guard, who initially was distrustful (Lady Nitrane being his ex-wife) but when the evidence presented to the party by Tipper was sent to him he begrudgingly accepted the news as fact.

With the imminent arrival the travellers are now deciding what to do. The more pessimistic among them assume an attack. Time will tell. Less than two weeks in fact.

To be continued.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

The Blockade, and other things

Assembling the forces
With the success of the blockade in their hands the travellers considered what to do first. The trade routes all went through Wildeman, so that was selected as the base of operations for Slayed. They would need trusted captains like Krrsh and Jaggad to take control in other key systems, as well as needing some of their own ships. That meant they would first go to the Space Station.

Before they left they were visited by Tipper who was still working for GeDeCo. He told them he was expecting that the Empress was going to need to move quickly to shore up her borders, and that there would be resources made available to them - in a logistics sense - from GeDeCo. After all, they wanted Drinax to prosper. This meant that Slayed and the others could use their forces to enforce the blockade and not worry about supplies and the movement of people.

They also contacted the representatives of the systems that had joined the empire and advised them of what they would be doing, and collected pledges of ships and support from all. Rendezvous points and numbers of ships were agreed, and a network or couriers to keep everyone informed of what was happening was established.

Space Station Surprises
Arriving at the Space Station they were met by Goff who advised them that aside from one small matter the station was, as of the day before, fully operational. The small matter was the science labs that housed their own computers, and which again needed Ducal clearance.

Entering the codes the research computer started up and after a moment, in which it seemed to be getting its bearings, it greeted them. Like the other computer it had no memory of what it had been doing before it shut down, but did have access to all research material that had been stored in it.

Intrigued to know what was being worked on, Slayed instructed the computer to produce the most progressed research - material that was in prototype or production state - so that they could see what might be possible to use. Professor Cheese was brought into the room, and after he calmed down from the excitement he got to work with Slayed sifting through and interpreting the information.

Researched seemed to have been focused on propulsion and drives, weapons, medicine, psychology, and artificial intelligence. Cheese informed them that the medical breakthroughs that were being worked on here were now common place, although it was interesting that Sindal had been at the forefront. The psychological outputs, mostly to do with maintaining sanity while stuck in a space ship for very extended periods of time were somewhat esoteric and could not easily be adopted and used. 

The other three were more promising. The weapons research was into turret-mounted meson weapons. These would ignore armour and radiation shielding, whilst themselves doing a lot of damage and radiation. Putting these into practice was going to be problematic given the resources on the space station as only early prototypes had been developed.

The artificial intelligence work seemed in part to have been built into the station already. Certainly the ALF system, as well as the research computer, were more advanced than anything the party had encountered before, although they had not been in advanced research labs where these things might be most useful. The research papers made it clear that it would be possible to clone ALF if they needed to, although the computer for that would be excruciatingly expensive.

That left the propulsion research, which was sufficiently progressed that blueprints for an early production version were in the research computer. If the war had gone on for a few more months then this new drive may have been able to sway the tide of battle.

Making things
With the station up and functional Goff wanted to know if they should start building anything in the shipyards. He was against making trade goods to sell as that would arouse suspicions, although selling some raw material left over from mining would be innocuous enough.

The party considered what they had learned and decided to make a ship that would use the new propulsion system. The plans seemed to suggest a limit of 200 tons so they decided to make something that would look like a normal yacht. As it was unproven they put in a jump-1 drive in case they needed to get out of trouble. With that they put collectors, which were slow but would collect enough fuel for a jump within a week. The ship would have a little armour and some hidden turrets, as well as some modifications to the hull. It would look like a yacht, but that was about it. It was a high performance test platform.

With the ship started they instructed their ships to move to Wildeman and neighbouring systems to enforce the blockade. When they arrived they found that the system defense boats were complete, and the carrier ship was returning from delivering the first one. The other two would be delivered in the coming weeks. Slayed again took some of the profits from selling trade goods, although it was noted that this was starting to draw unwanted attention and that stopping the trade might be wise. Making more SDB carriers should be their focus for the time being.

The blockade
Over the coming months forces were secretly put in place so as to not tip off anyone, and when the time came to block trade, it was almost completely successful. A couple of systems proved troublesome but within 4 months they had completed the blockade and were confident that short of an imperial or aslan taskforce it would hold. They returned to Drinax to inform Empress Rao.

When they returned to Drinax with the news Rao was overjoyed. She had worried that it might take a lot longer, and at the cost of many more lives than had been lost, to enforce the blockade.

As a reward Rao gave Slayed a small box that had been held in the vaults of the Scholars Tower. She had instructed that all resources be brought to bear and there were some interesting items now being used. This device had its own power source and contained within it a full map of the known galaxy. It was up to date even though it was hundreds or thousands of years old and could therefore be used to help with astrogation checks. It was also possible to zoom in to planets and moons and see, somewhat fuzzily in places, the surface features. Where he device had been was much clearer for some hours afterwards, which suggested it was also scanning its surroundings although that could not be detected.

Rao declared that she expected that the blockade would need to be held for about two months while the imperium and aslan created delegations to come to Drinax and negotiate terms. The party took this opportunity to return to the space station where Goff informed them that due to complications with the prototype drive the build was taking twice as long as expected. The yacht would not be ready for another three months.

With Rao telling them to be back on Drinax within two months for negotiations, and the prototype ship not ready, the party considered what to do next.

To be continued.

Coronation, and a new beginning

Arriving at Drinax a few weeks before the coronation the travellers docked and disembarked to find a representative of the Queen-to-be waiting for them. Their presence was required immediately, they were told, and so they made their way to Rao's private rooms.

When they arrived they were warmly welcomed and a brief royal hug was bestowed on each of them. They were asked to sit down and an informal meeting started where they were asked about all the systems they had visited, and about the rulers or significant people they'd met along the way. It turned out that many of the people they'd already met would be coming to the coronation and, with representatives starting to arrive Rao wanted to take the opportunity to meet with them individually, accompanied by the travellers.

Before that happened she wanted to discuss with them the type of ruler she intended to be, and the type of kingdom she would rule. She trusted the travellers and wanted to hear their opinions.

Firstly she wanted to have a feudal government, just as it was in the days of the Sindalian Empire. When it came to security she wanted an end to the piracy that her father had supported, at least for the travellers. She would invest in ship building in order to protect the borders of her new kingdom, but would not be an aggressor. Lastly she wanted to exploit the technological advantage of Drinax by establishing Drinax-owned enterprises in other systems, but not actively help other systems. She reasoned it was this that gave Drinax it's advantage and to give that away would not be wise.

The travellers agreed with her forms of government and security. It made sense to hearken back to the old days of the empire and to clamp down on piracy. When it came to technology they reasoned that the kingdom would be stronger if Drinax helped in some way to raise the technology levels of the systems that were willing to pay for it. That way she might get a fleet or more advantageous trading situations much faster without losing any advantage.

Rao considered the advice from the travellers and saw that it was good. She had her clerks modify the terms of treaties and agreements to match what the party had suggested and that she now accepted as good advice.

Meeting after meeting
The meetings with the representatives of all the systems in the Trojan Reach started almost immediately and all followed a common theme. The Queen-to-be welcomed the visitors and with the travellers by her side talked about the types of government, security and technology and listened to their hopes and fears. She hoped that they would join her in creating a new power in the reaches to provide stability and prosperity.

The systems all considered her words and formed their own opinions. Overall a good number of systems pledged allegiance to the new Queen and promised to be faithful and loyal subjects to the new Kingdom of Drinax.

Around this time Varuk Nirgal from Theev, who was one of the systems that agreed to join the Kingdom, met with the travellers. He proposed that in addition to becoming a loyal and faithful vassal state to Drinax that it might be advantageous to have strong ties going the other way, the better to represent the interests of Theev on Drinax. To that end he proposed that the travellers become full Lords of Theev. There would be no more piracy, for that was the wish of the Queen-to-be, but the trading and shipbuilding capabilities made it important that Theev had their fair say in matters.

The party agreed that being Lords of Theev sounded just fine, and with a handshake it was done.

Crowning the new ....
So the day of the coronation arrived. Everyone was in their finest, and the ceremony begun with the whole population of Drinax either in the huge throne room, or watching on screen positioned around the palace.

Pride of place at the front was given to the travellers, and they sat with Lady Hil and Lord Wrax, as well as Imperial Ambassador, who shot the party dark looks from time to time and didn't seem to be enjoying himself at all.

The travellers were as surprised as everyone else when Rao was crowned not as Queen but as Empress, as she declared that with over thirty systems they had created the New Sindalian Empire. The ambassador looked sick, but the rest of the palace rang to resounding cheers.

Empress Rao thanked Nitrane, Slayed, Unter and Sparrow by name. She declared them all Arch Dukes of the Empire and bestowed upon them the titles of Arch Dukes of Tlaiowaha (Nitrane), SIndal (Slayed), the Borderland (Sparrow) and Tobia (Under). After she made a roll call of the systems that had joined, she sent out a message of good will to neighbours that had not. She wished them well and stated that when they saw the benefits of the new Empire they too would be welcomed with open arms.

After Party
Immediately after the coronation the party were again summoned to her rooms - now those of the former King. There she removed the coronation robes and in more comfortable attire sat with the party to discuss the next move, which she said should be a blockade of the trading routes from the Imperium to the Hie-rate.

She declared that trade passing her borders should be taxed. Nothing onerous at all, but something that would help fund the security and prosperity of her empire. In addition, it would take something like a blockade to persuade the Imperium and the Aslan Hierate that Drinax meant business and that a treaty should be negotiated. Without a treaty with the powers Drinax has nothing.

Slayed considered the tactics of a blockade and thought it would be possible. The two main trade routes, a jump-2 route and a jump-3 route, along with a few other systems that might be used to bypass the main route, could be blockaded to bring about what Empress Rao wanted.

Rao smiled, and put the travellers in charge of the blockade. After all, they had a small fleet of their own, as well as good relations with many of the systems in question.

To be continued.

Sink or swim

Arriving at Tech-World on their way to Drinax for the coronation of Queen Rao, the travellers met with the ruling council to inform them that at last the three system defense boats that they had asked for were in production and would be delivered over the next few months. A virtual walk through was shown and the council were pleased.

On Tech-World the party also obtained a very high tech set of jewelry for the queen, including a psionic-blocking tiara, although being made of nano-technology it could take a number of shapes.

A sinking feeling
Two years earlier the party had cleared out the cargo hold of the Treasure ship on Sink, and being unable to take everything with them had put two hundred tons of cargo in storage. With Sink more or less on the way to Drinax they took the opportunity to see if it were still there.

Arriving at the now-familiar spaceport surrounded by massive lifting machinery and swamps they landed the Sorrowful Maiden and disembarked to see the Brother in Charge of Spaceport Operations waiting for them expectantly. They reintroduced themselves and asked for the ship to be refuelled, but he kept craning his neck to look around them. Eventually they asked who he was looking for and he asked if Admiral Darokyn would be getting off the ship. Apparently it was well known here.

Once they told him that Darokyn was not on board at the moment he asked if they were here to pick up his possessions. They exchanged glances before Lady Nitrane said a slightly tentative "Yes?". The Brother then asked for some identification. Perhaps there was something in the way that Nitrane responded, or the exchanged glances that made him suspicious.

Asking for a moment to get the papers, the party headed back into the ship and quickly put together some Darokyn-related evidence. They emerged and Lady Nitrane, who had been trained for this moment, spoke so persuasively in deceiving the Brother that he took their evidence as gospel and said that naturally he'd be glad to show them where Darokyn kept his personal possessions.

In the meantime they asked about their cargo and with an apologetic shrug were told that as per the conditions of the deal they agreed to two years ago the goods would be kept for 12 months, then when a further two months passed the cargo would be donated to the depths of the swamp. So it was all gone.

With little choice but to accept that outcome the travellers followed the Brother into the largest spaceport ziggurat. They were led down two levels to where a ramp led into a pool of water. Flanking the ramp were some diving suits on stands and a pump for breathing that was manned by an initiate.

Into the depths
Nitrane and Unter suited up, as did the Brother. Slayed stayed behind to watch the initiate. They entered the water and made their way a few hundred feet along a wide passage past a number of airlock doors before the Brother waved at them to stop and wrote on a board that they should open the one they had stopped next to.

After opening he door, he instructed that they should enter the airlock, disconnect their air tubes, and close the door. At that point the airlock would fill with air and they  could open the inner door where Darokyn's possessions would be found. The followed his instructions, and after a brief struggle with the inner door found themselves in a small room with two wrapped and waterproofed small boxes. They took them and reversed their actions to find the Brother waiting for them and quickly connecting their air tubes again.

Emerging from the water and removing the suits they returned to the ship which was still being refuelled. They opened the boxes and found in the first some personal memorabilia from Darokyn's time in the Imperial Navy and some normal data chips, although three were immediately identified as having military grade security that they could not open with the resources at their disposal. The other contained the memory cores of two ships. One appeared to be the one he'd brought to the Trojan Reach when he defected from the imperium. The other a vessel he'd commanded for many years and which contained his full journey from that time.

In addition to the data and memorabilia they found 7 MCr, of which they game 1 MCr to the Brother in Charge of Spaceport Operations as a donation to his cause. They left for Drinax shortly thereafter.

To be continued.