A Most Cunning Ruse
The three ships floated helplessly as the pirate ship began to close the distance. Thinking fast, Josua sent for the Fanatic ansible communicator while putting together his plan. Using greetings learned from his Fanatic prisoner, Oris 114, and spraying medgel in his eyes to render them deader-style milky, Lord Dray opened communications with the Fanatic corvette lingering nearby. He claimed he was on a mission at a very high level of secrecy under orders directly from the Avatar himself.
The commander of the Fanatic ship was convinced. Utterly. He called off the pirates and offered to refuel the Dray flotilla. He also provided them with fleet codes that would allow them safe passage through the Fanatic lines.
A few hours later, having refueled and made preparations, they jumped to Ebbar’s World.
In the Midst of My Enemies
On arriving, they found themselves surrounded by a huge Fanatic invasion fleet. Capital ships were jumping into the Anderson Point at a steady pace as others moved out. The Sleipnir’s long range sensors informed them that the Fanatics had ships both in orbit and on the surface of the colony world in the system. There would be no going home for the survivors the crew had rescued and brought so far.
Elric began gathering as much information about the enemy ships as possible while Oa-La tried to fly casual. Zen recognized the largest ships seemed to be the models found in the Imperium Navy. Oa-La was able to use the sensors and find that the ships had been recently painted. Beneath the paint, she found the previous name of one of the ships, the Warden Kasper, which was a ship from the battle group Zen’s brother had gone missing with. The Fanatics has renamed the dreadnought The Undying.
Their sensors also detected an Imperium registered vessel, the Dressel, within the hold of the Undying. Zen recalled seeing that ship at Tangar Station when last they were there.
As the crew discussed this, Josua realized he was sensing something. From across the void, on board the Fanatic dreadnought, he could feel something like a wild, raging, barely contained ball of fire and near it, another presence like a cold burning and intense flame. Alarmed, he immediately contact Evie who also felt the presences. He instructed her to meditate, as did he.
The minutes ticked by as the crew waited an appropriate amount of time before making the next jump.
Through the Rift (again)
They arrived at the Rift and their fleet codes saw them threw the picket ships at the edge. Ahead, they detected new beacons being laid by the Fanatics to guide their fleet through the Rift. The crew and their fellow ships followed the beacons. After they were certain they were beyond detection range of the ships guarding the entrance to the Rift, they began tampering with the beacons. They nudged them off course or into a route leading into one of the Rift’s gravitic anomalies.
Meanwhile, the vision Zen had been granted by the Serran tribe led him to reexamine his brother’s ship to find some clue about the siblings activities or his fate. His efforts rewarded, Zen discovered an encrypted data pad. With little effort needed during this part of the trip, he sought the assistance of the others in accessing its contents.
With their help, especially Oa-La ’s hacking and Minesweeper skills, he soon had it unlocked and began pouring through its contents. He was very displeased with what he learned. His brother, Tenzeurik, was willingly colluding with the Fanatics. He had utilized a flaw in the Imperial naval ships fire suppression software to void the atmosphere from the capital ships. This coincided with the Fanatics ambushed the battle group at an Anderson Point on their patrol route. The rest of the group had been captured or destroyed by the Fanatic forces.
Tenzeurik had done all this because he saw the submission of homeworld, Kalidan, to the Imperium had no honor. He wanted to see the Imperium suffer, maybe even be destroyed, to restore honor to his people. He’d even named his personal ship, the one Zen had prematurely inherited, the Restored Honor. Zen immediately vowed to rename the ship and do his best to put and end to his brother’s efforts.
As Zen tried to come to grips with this the next day, their sensors detected a ship head. It was a Fanatic scout laying the beacons they had been disturbing. Josua did a repeat performance of his earlier ruse and convinced the scout to dock with Slepnier. After a brief but violent struggle, the crew eliminated the Fanatics on board.
On the bridge, they found Haugh, the Kali navigator who had guided them on their initial trip through the Rift. It seems the Fanatics were torturing him into leading through through the Rift to replace beacons destroyed by Stormbringer.
When asked how he came to be in their power, Haugh sit it began on Tangar Station. He had just booked passage on the Dressel, when the ran into the engineer another ship that had just arrived. They were on a side passage with little traffic. The engineer unexpectedly handed him a vibro knife. As he looked at the weapon, his vision grew blurry and his body seemed to act on its own. The engineer had a look of terror on his face now and Haugh could see himself run the blade through the man’s chest.
He later boarded the Dressel and prior to departing the system, he witnessed himself killing the rest of the crew. He jumped the ship to the Rift and passed through to rendezvous with the Fanatics. Somehow he provided them with the correct fleet codes, docked with their flag ship and boarded it. He walked himself into a cell and suddenly he was himself again, terrified and helpless. The Fanatics tortured him into helping them plot a course through the Rift.
The crew was skeptical of his story and kept a close watch on him for the rest of their voyage.
Return to Tangar
It took a total 6 days to pass through the Rift this time, largely due to the difficulty of keeping the ships together within the anomaly. On exiting, they made ready and executed a jump to the Tangar system central Anderson Point.
On arriving, they could see a mile long super cargo carrier, transponder identified as the Optimum Forecast of Profit, burning. The ship’s keel had been rent, twisting the structure halfway down its length. Pillars of fire danced in and out of areas voiding atmosphere while white hot holes enlarge around areas of uncontrolled burning in numerous cargo containers along the ship. Its engines are enshrouded with debris floating nearby.
Warning buoys blink red around the wreck, indicating this was not a recent tragedy.
Tuning into the station information comms channel, an automated message played, saying “This is Tangar Station Chief Administrator Weston. Under the Imperial Emergencies Acts of 1308 and 1571, this station has been placed under martial law. You may dock here, but doing so is your consent to submit to any requests or orders given to you by station personnel. If you do not consent, do not dock.” The message repeated.
They spotted another ship on nearing the docking ring. Its hull darkened from several laser blasts and in some places, the hull has been gauged by the weapons fire. A pair of 4-armed, space-suited figures worked on a damaged section of the engines and two other techs mounted a turret on top. They finally caught a glimpse of the name, Stormbringer.
Three other ships were docked: a small, rusting tramp freighter (Former Glory_), medium sized (size 14) newer but severely damaged passenger vessel (Esteemed Voyager_), and long range scout bearing Imperial markings (Distance Chopper).
After docking, they found the station unnaturally quiet. No one greeted them at the airlock and the only beings seen or heard for a while were those arriving with them. Finally a few people where seen here and there, mainly station personnel.
They traveled to the station command center to find a skeleton crew manning the station. The current person in charge of the station was their favorite cybernetically enhanced chief of security, Captain Sorra. She relayed that burning super freighter they had seen on arrival was jumping to the next system heading out of the Periphery when it encountered a mine field at the next Anderson Point. The navigator had managed to jump them back before the ship was destroyed. Tangar Station had rescued the crew who had survived but could do nothing to salvage the ship.
When that happened, it finally mobilized the station leadership into action. They decided to leave only the minimal amount of people needed to “keep the lights on” in case anyone made it through the minefield. Administrator Winston commandeered all available ships and led everyone who would go with him to Hudson.
With the Fanatic fleet on their heels, the crew agreed that now was the time to completely evacuate the station. The Sleipnir and her crew, minus Esmeralda, would journey to the AI homeworld and investigate matters there. Those rescued from the Precursor station would join the remaining inhabitants of Tangar Station on the other ships. Josua’s sister, Lady Evelyn Dray would lead the flotilla to Hudson and ensure that preparations were being made there for the impending Fanatic fleet heading their way.
Tangar Station represented too vital a resource to be outright destroyed as it was an essential link between the Periphery and the rest of the Imperium. Before departing, the plan was to turn the station into “a living hell” for the Fanatics when they arrived. Insensate gas traps, computer viruses to randomly void decks into space, whatever could be done to slow the enemy down must be done.
The crew began the work to put these plans into motion.