“I’ll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before I give him up!” —- Captain Ahab (“Moby Dick”)

“I’ll chase him round the moons of Nibia and round the Antares maelstrom and round perdition’s flames before I give him up!" -— Khan Noonian Singh (“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”)

Our heroes had been working together on Acorn for about a year. Captain Wellfounder was a good boss and kept them in jobs-—most legit, some…well, some were a shade off the ol’ straight and narrow. Folks got along and were kept in enough cash to be comfortable without getting above themselves. Acorn was a good ship…sure she had her quirks but what lady doesn’t, dohn ma? That all changed after Perdition…

Act I: Round-Up

It started with a transmission from an old acquaintance of Wellfounder’s. This Jacob Walton was a lao buhn in the Miner’s Guild on Hera. Seems that a young lady by the name of Mercedes Wingate had gotten herself into a spot of trouble and he was hoping that Wellfounder could find her and extract her delicate derriere out of the hot. The Guild would be willing to pay the Captain and his crew 500 creds to take care of it. Now, of course, it wouldn’t be worth a stack of cred if there were no ma fuhn involved.

Mercedes was the main labor advocate between the Mining Guild and the Far Yukon Corporation, a big mining outfit out of Hera. Far Yukon had always had a habit of using indentured labor in their mines…a practice that didn’t sit too well with the young miss…not well at all. And well, the fact that Mercedes Wingate was the Guild’s labor advocate didn’t exactly sit well with the head of Far Yukon, Elias Wingate…Mercedes’ father.

Not too far back, Mercedes turned in her resignation letter to Walton. No explanations given. Now she hasn’t been seen in days. Walton managed to do some digging and uncovered rumors that Mercedes was hanging with a bad crowd…insurgent terrorists, as a point of fact. Walton also had word that Mercedes would be meeting with some tough customer tonight at the Ace in the Hole, an Independent hang-out in the dregs of Hera. He wanted someone unconnected to the Guild to find Mercedes, make sure she’s safe, and get her out of trouble. It also didn’t’ help that the Guild didn’t need one of its star advocates being associated with insurgents. Of course, any information gathered on her contacts would be nice and useful-like for the Guild and would be worth extra in the cashy-money department.

Wellfounder and his crew took the job: the money being right and Wellfounder always willing to help a friend. In short order, Acorn touched down on Hera. “Mo”, the ship’s cook, doctor, and general go-to guy opted to stay with the ship while the rest of the crew made their way into the Ace in the Hole to find Mercedes.

The Ace in the Hole was a big gambling den, filled with Independents and other rough customers. It sat at the end of a box canyon in the shady part of town. Before you could say “tea and dumplings” the crew started putting their ears to the ground to find Mercedes and any sign of who her contact may be. In the course of things Colt, the crew’s main gunman, was approached by a friendly-looking fellow in a brown duster and a black cowboy hat. The hat sported a right sparkly bit of blue stone in the hatband. This ja hwo introduced himself as “Shing Xiao” and apparently thought Colt was some fellow called Crane and indicated that he had the merchandise that he was interested in. Colt disavowed him of this notion and made his way back to his crew.

Pokin’ about, they picked up a few tasty morsels of intel: apparently some folks were being arrested by the local Alliance forces on trumped up terrorism charges and being hauled off to Perdition, a prison facility on some god-forsaken moon somewhere in the system. Due to an Alliance crack-down on insurgents after Unification, terrorism suspects were often shipped directly to the federal military prison before going to trial. It also seemed that the Alliance was looking pretty hard for a Jonathan Crane, a former Independent who had taken to bombing choice Alliance targets. Some of his cohorts had been taken to Perdition awhile back, though he managed to slip through the purple-bellies’ fat fingers.

Finally, Mercedes showed up and was corralled by the crew to meet up at their table. After the situation was explained, she didn’t seem too happy to see her Guild-appointed protectors, insisting that she and Jonathan knew what they were doing. She was here to meet a fellow about an exchange of information. Pressed, she revealed that it was plans for the Perdition Prison facility: Jonathan was hoping to use it to spring his cohorts. Wellfounder made a call…he let her finish her play and then they’d all leave together. After that, well…_how wrin bu lai, whai wrin bu jwo_.

Mercedes met with the man in fancy black hat, made her exchange, and came back. Sebastian, the tech-guru for Acorn, gave the plans a once-over and they looked legit. As the little engineer insisted that they leave because surely they’d be caught up in some plot they had no business in, the place was rocked by a full-force Alliance raid. What should have been a quiet little government crack-down soon erupted into a firefight as a policeman fired into the crowd to take down a runner and took down a waitress instead. Independents drew iron and returned fire in force.

Unfortunately, the government simply had too much force to bear on the situation. The bar was soon gassed and taken by military forces in tactical gear. Instigators were rounded up and gathered in the main room of the gambling house. Here, the man in the black hat had some words with one of the Alliance commanders, indicating that Colt was more than likely Jonathan Crane and that they may want to take him and his cohorts into custody. After a brief altercation with an Alliance soldier who tried to take out Colt a mite early for some friends the soldier lost in one of Crane’s bombings, the crew was promptly shackled and drugged for transport.

Act II: Perdition

The crew woke up shackled in the hold of an Alliance transport ship as it descended upon the most god-forsaken hunk of ice and stone in the ‘Verse. While they were out for who knows how long, their hurts had been tended and their gear removed. Others that got up in that mi tian gohn back on Hera were in the same boat…both literally and figuratively.

The ship touched down in a grimy little dock that was apparently connected to a huge industrial complex. The prisoners were all herded out of the ship, stripped, given chemical baths, and issued Alliance prison garb. An Alliance soldier laid down the law, explaining their situation: they were in an Alliance military prison and their lives weren’t worth a ri shao gou shi bing. They would be working in the mines. If they worked hard and didn’t cause any trouble, they might survive. Otherwise, they’d just as soon kill you. No one had ever escaped the prison: outside the Alliance soldiers, prison guards, and other defenses there was the problem of the planet itself. Sub-freezing temperatures and no way off made for an interesting barrier to escape. After a lethal demonstration of force on a mouthy Browncoat, the crew was separated from the general population and escorted to the Commandant’s block.

Our heroes were escorted to a warehouse next to the Commandant’s office and some sort of communications room. At the order of the Commandant, the crew was chained to the wall. The Commandant was Colonel Jared Rejovic. He was a coldly handsome man with craggy features, steel-gray close-cropped hair and a broad, muscled frame. Rejovic introduced his Corporals Lin and Yang. Lin was a towering scarecrow of a man, pushing seven feet in height but thin as a rail. His shaved head bowed in a stoop due to his height. His neck and arms sported thick tendons and veins while his hands ended in long broken nails. Yang’s great height and obesity gave him the look of a moving wall. He wore his hair in a buzz-cut while the hair on his limbs was long enough to give him an almost simian appearance. A broad single brow cut across his face. He breathed audibly and was constantly sweating. Both Lin and Yang were obviously insane and devoted to Rejovic.

At Rejovic’s order, and with his participation, the crew (including Wellfounder and Mercedes) were tortured with electric prods for a goodly amount of time. Rejovic and company seemed to enjoy making the crew squirm, forcing them to give up information. He also had a guard check answers against the Cortex…any lies or omissions that were found were swiftly punished. Poor Sebastian couldn’t hold up for long and was humiliated. Wellfounder tried to encourage the poor engineer to no avail…he told Rejovic anything he wanted to know. The others were forced to give up their secrets as well: who they were, where they were from, personal shames, etc. They revealed that Acorn had made it off-world with another crewmember (Mo had a feeling trouble was on the way and took Acorn out as a true ace in the hole). The revealed that they worked often for a Robertson Laramie out of Persephone. Colt was forced to reveal some of his Independent contacts. Sebastian told of how he once pissed himself when confronted by a bully. Colt apparently wrecked a fellow officer’s marriage with his carousing. Shockingly, Wellfounder once abandoned a crewman during a combat evacuation in his unit in the war. “Mad” Dawson’s first lady-love accused her, in public no less, of tricking her into bed back on Sinohn. All their hurts and secrets seemed to make Rejovic happy…but he was obviously just fishing, just enjoying his game.

This game took a twisty turn as Wellfounder began to convulse and seize while hanging on the wall. After a moment, he hunched over, still. The constant pressure proved to be too much for the old man. Rejovic motioned to Yang who felt for a pulse. Yang shook his enormous head. Rejovic sucked air through his teeth. “Pity.” Snapping his fingers, two guards came and took Wellfounder’s corpse away. Rejovic continued as if the Captain’s death had been a minor interruption.

Next, he moved on to Mercedes. It seemed much more personal than the treatment Wellfounder’s crew got. He took particular glee in breaking her.

Apparently Mercedes had been seeing Jonathan Crane for a few weeks now. She loved him, thought of him as a freedom fighter. No, she didn’t know where he was…he was supposed to be on Hera the night she was captured. Elias Wingate was her father, though she worked for the Miner’s Guild as a labor advocate opposed to her father’s corporation and his efforts at titanium production on Hera. She opposed the Alliance controls on Hera and her father’s company’s inhumane practice of taking on indentured servants. She still loved her father, but hated what he did as a business man.

Rejovic laughed at all of this.

“Elias Wingate is the biggest thorn in my side, as well. I have many irons in the fire these days and Perdition titanium production fuels that fire. Far Yukon, through your father, presents my only competition in this part of the ‘Verse. Without his “brilliant leadership”, Hera’s labor issues would have sunk the company long ago.

You fools and your insurgencies, your politics. Your father STEALS from me. From ME! Control of the ore is rightfully mine and I will have it!”

The Colonel’s eyes gleamed maniacally as he repeatedly used the prod on Mercedes.

“You should be happy! I will destroy Far Yukon for you. With your help, I will ruin your father and his tyranny will come to an end.”

Rejovic pointed at two cameras mounted in the ceiling. “I’m recording this first session, as I’ll do for the others. Then I’ll send them off to your father. Maybe Daddy will capitulate before we begin sending him bits and pieces.”

Completely broken, Mercedes broke into hysterics and eventually settled into a near catatonic state. As the Commandant and his cronies continued to prod the poor woman, the crew could hear a wave coming in from the comm. room. “This is Black Hat 1 on the mid-bulk transport Freedom’s Flight. Clearance code “Hackleback’s Rimrakers 17.” This is secure wave W18KJ9. We are inbound for the Commandant’s block, Perdition. Arrival in four hours. Freedom’s Flight will shield presence through usual protocols. Advise Colonel Rejovic that target is secured. Repeat. We have taken custody of his former top priority target. Prices have doubled. Crucial information to be [static]”

This wave agitated Rejovic, forcing him to order guards to escort the crew out and away from the main population. Leaning in close to Mercedes, he sneered, “I have a surprise for you. A family reunion is in the offing. This just got a lot more interesting.”

All of this was too much for Sebastian, who did his best imitation of a lump. Mercedes wasn’t in a fit state to move quickly either. Before they were escorted away, another wave was heard: “…code ‘Hackleback’s Rimrakers 17’. Repeat. Capture made without detection. No witnesses, collateral damage or evidence. Clean break. No traces on extraction. Repeat. Request permission to pass no-fly perimeter and make landfall at Commandant’s block dock. ETA 4 hours. Acknowledge.” The crew was then taken to a remote cell in the ass-end of the facility and handcuffed to some rusty rings set into the wall.

The whole prison seemed to be going to hell. Rust, dust, and worse covered everything. Nearly every other guard sniffled like a hound in a pepper mill. After a time, the crew managed to work their way out of their bonds and found an old computer panel tucked away in the room. Sebastian did his magic and breathed some new life into the thing in hopes of springing them. Noting the cycle of guards, they managed to subdue one and get out of their cell. Doing a bit of exploring before the next guard came, they found a room full of files and another full of cast off supplies. Sebastian didn’t find anything of interest in the supply closet, but the files seemed to have some information on the security features of the penal facility. These might come in handy. Colt took the guard’s gear, including an earpiece that soon began squawking, asking if the guard needed any help. Colt tried to reassure the guard station that everything was fine, but everybody knew the jig was up. They prepared for a fight and decided to move on.

They managed to make it way to the next guard station and take out the team of guards there. Unfortunately, a silent alarm had alerted other guard stations. As the crew listened to the local chatter on the earpierces, Sebastian tinkered with the security station and sprung open all the doors…his own little early-release program. Well, this caused a fair piece of tian fuhn di fu, and that’s a fact. Guards and prisoners began fighting in the halls. A mass of angry prisoners made for the guard station to seize some weapons and mistook Colt for a guard. After a tense few moments, the mob made their way down the hall. Many were heading for the docking bay where the prisoners had arrived in hopes of seizing a transport.

The crew made their way toward the Commandant’s block in hopes of getting a bit of their own back. Sebastian had checked the network and found that no transports were scheduled to arrive anytime soon (though he did remember that transmission from “Black Hat 1” from that private wave they heard in the torture chamber). They also found that a tian-e (Swan) class ship was being monitored as it orbited the neighboring planet. The pilot claimed electronics failure as a reason for his stop over. Figuring the ship was Acorn, the crew hoped to seize a shuttle or maybe even “Black Hat 1” to get off this rock and rendezvous with Mo later on.

After waiting out a gang fight between some Tongs and some of the other prisoners, the crew made their way to the final guard station. Here they saw Rejovic exchange a few words with a guard before offering the crew a rude gesture and making his way out. The crew managed to take out the guard and take the guard station in short order. Now it was time to head into the Commandant’s block to make their escape and (hopefully) get a little revenge.

Act III: Freedom’s Flight

They were met at the warehouse with gunfire coming from the communication room. The crew was pinned down at the entry to the warehouse. After a mostly blind exchange of gunfire, Colt saw that he had accidentally shot Mercedes’ father who was hanging by chains from the ceiling. Colonel Lin laughed from the communication room and suggested that they drop their weapons before he shoots the old man himself. Colt boldly made his way into the warehouse to take out the shooter while Mad made her way along a safer, but longer route to assist in rescuing Mr. Wingate.

Colt took some hits from the shooter but managed to make his way to some cover and snake along to the entrance of Lin’s hidey-hole. Mad continued to make her way along the rear of the room. Finally Colt managed to throw a gas grenade into the room where Lin waited with his rifle. With a gas mask donned, Colt cautiously made his way inside the darkened chamber. Hearing a scuff, he turned and fired point-blank into Lin, dropping him in a bloody heap. In the meantime, Mad maneuvered a gravcart to block Lin’s line of fire to Wingate.

With Lin dead, things got a mite quiet as the crew explored the area and unchained Mercedes’ father. Sebastian managed to stabilize the old man’s Colt-inflicted bullet wound, but he would be out for some time. Inside Rejovic’s office they found cabinets full of files that could be used to make a case against him, should they be so inclined. He was involved in many counts of extortion, smuggling, kidnapping, murder, theft…you name the crime, he was inclined to do it to make his profits. The crew took an empty supply crate and filled it with as many files as they could as the cabinets would be too much to handle. They also noted that one of the vacuum suits was missing…as was Rejovic. About this time, they heard another wave come through on the private channel in the comm. room.

“…I don’t give a feh feh pi goh if there’s a prison riot going on! This is silver, not platinum! Where’s the rest of my pay? You’re stalling, Rejovic! Where in the hells are you? We brought you your prisoner! We did the job! We get paid! You owe us!”

It was the man in the black hat from the Ace in the Hole. The wave was followed with the sound of heavy machine gun fire.

The crew finished gathering what they could. Mercedes sat with her father while Sebastian waited in the communications suite. Mad and Colt cautiously made their way into the airlock. There they found a door leading through the docking arm and a floor panel leading to a tunnel. A quick scan found that the building’s plans indicated that the tunnel was unfinished. The crew figured this is where Rejovic made his escape. As bad as they wanted his head on a pike, they decided to press on. Finally Mad and Colt made it onto Freedom’s Flight.

In the cargo bay of the ship the two found the remains of a battle. An injured gravcart circled disconsolately while another sat smoldering in the remains of an explosion, debris and silver coins littering the floor around it. Several bodies were found as the smoldering debris set off stray machine gun shells that ricocheted about the hold. Upstairs was the sound of intermittent gunfire. Colt went to check it out while Mad stayed in the hold.

In the meantime, Sebastian started loading stray provisions into the crate with the files. After a time, he and Mercedes struggled with trying to find a way to get the crate and her unconscious father to the ship. They finally abandoned the crate and made their way slowly toward Freedom’s Flight.

Upstairs Colt found that Corporal Yang and another prison guard where pinned under cover from a couple of shooters at the end of a corridor. He quietly made his way back down to Mad in the hold as Sebastian and Mercedes arrived.

After a spell of talk, the crew decided to stay on-board quiet-like until they could get off the rock. Maybe their adversaries would take each other out. In the meantime, they figured the ship would surely be leaving sometime. Soon the crew noted that a launch sequence had been initiated though the engines had yet to fire up. Sebastian unlocked the docking arm so that when the ship was ready it could go without tearing a hole in the hull. He then started searching for the engine room so maybe he could gain some leverage over the black-hat man. Colt and Mad ventured upstairs to take out Yang and the guard.

As Mad and Colt snuck up the stairway, the scream of metal on metal alerted everyone as Madeline gripped a loose railing. Shots were fired and Colt threw a gas grenade. Yang and the guard were subdued and hauled/thrown downstairs to be held in the cargo bay.

Soon the engines fired up as the ship readied for launch. A familiar voice came over the intercom system: “Seems I’ve got some unwanted guests on my ship.” The man with the black hat. The ship started to lift off and accelerate to break atmo.

After a series of terse negotiations, it was decided that the crew would stay in the cargo bay with the galley acting as a barrier between Black Hat’s men and themselves. However, Black Hat still wanted to know what they were doing on his ship and what they thought they had to negotiate with. In the meantime, Mad told Sebastian to secure the cargo bay door…Black Hat could open it and suck them all out into the black. Wide-eyed, Sebastian started working on the doors as the others negotiated with the mercenary.

The negotiations were getting nowhere and not particularly quickly when everyone noted the immediate stillness that followed breaking atmo. Sebastian then saw sparking come from the cargo bay door panel…he WAS going to blast them out of the airlock! After a moment, Black Hat came on the line. “Very good. Seems you’ll be staying a bit longer.” Negotiations began again.

As Mad, Colt, and the mercenary traded barbs over the intercom, one of Black Hat’s men came sneaking down the stairwell from the galley. Colt, his sense of danger as acute as always, turned and shot the man down. Colt then made his way upstairs.

Colt was met upstairs with gunfire. Colt was hit and went unconscious. “Looks like we’re even, now…” the mercenary taunted from the intercom. Mad made her way cautiously up the stairs and spotted the hired gun. She lobbed a gas grenade in that direction and took the man out. Then she managed to get Colt downstairs. Sebastian managed to revive him, though he was fairly groggy and weak.

The crew was determined to find the engine room so that they could seize control of the craft. Sebastian had found a brig and an auxiliary cargo bay, but no engine room. They cautiously made their way upstairs. Mercedes cradled her father, hidden in the hold.

Colt sat down in the galley, too weak to do much else. Sebastian started looking about for the engine room. Over the intercom came Black Hat’s tired voice.

“All right. I know when I’m licked. No sense in prolonging this. I’d rather take my chances on Hera. I agree to surrender to you. Come on up to the cockpit, you’ll find me there.”

Wary, Colt told Black Hat to come to the galley. He promised that neither he nor the crew would harm so long as he came peaceful. Black Hat agreed and made his way slowly to the galley.

In the meantime, Sebastian found the engine room and cockpit. He made his way inside it after the black-hatted mercenary had left. He noted the man’s distinct limp and the bloody trail being left by the bullet wound in his leg. After locking the cockpit behind him, he made radio contact with Acorn. Mo was following at the edge of radio range to avoid detection and would rendezvous with them at Hera.

Black Hat, who later revealed his name as Xi Wang Black, was searched for weapons by Madeline, who found none. He sat at the table in the galley across from Colt, who held a gun on Black and hoped that the cunning mercenary would not be able to see just how weak he really was.

Soon after, Mad found her way to the bridge and made sure that the ship was on course to Hera.

The crew was now off of the hellish prison moon, on its way to Hera to meet up with their friend and their ship, and held prisoners of interest to the authorities. They needed to figure out what to do with this Black character, his ship, and the other prisoners they had on board. With 60 or more hours to make it to Hera, there was some time to figure things out. In the meantime, they finally had the upper hand.

But, Rejovic was out there, somewhere, and probably rarin’ for some revenge…and the crew certainly wouldn’t mind some of that for themselves.


Swan Song pencilneckgeek