Previously: On The Iblis’s Crown
The crew of the IMV Grasshopper meet the big players on the Iblis’s Crown space station and agree to board the ancient colony ship Iblis on a clandestine search-and-rescue mission. Will they find who they’re looking for? And what’s this “fruit” they keep hearing about?
Over breakfast in the ship’s galley, Janice Nyman declares that from this point on, she’s just going by “J.”: she’s leaving her old name behind with her old life as a Tannhäuser Marine. The crew then have a discussion about what their new lives are going to look like: they have a ship now, so they establish their titles:
Active Crew: Alex Hardcastle 02BZ Sasha Denisovich J. Olivia Hanlon Albie
AKMC: Anders-Klimt Mining Corp, the company that runs mining and salvage operations in this sector.
Albie and 02BZ stay behind on the ship as the rest of the crew heads back onto the mining station Iblis’s Crown to find the AKMC chief Ben Rashid. They’re looking to see if they can get a mining license to do some salvage work aboard the nearby space hulk Iblis. They find AKMC headquarters, a large, dingy-looking plain structure in the station’s central hub. They head in, passing some Sol Military Contracts marines milling about outside and turning over their weapons to a receptionist.
They navigate the run-down building and find an office door labeled “Benjamin Rashid, Regional Manager, Iblis’s Crown.” Next to the door is a panel that says “Meeting in Session.” Dr. Hardcastle leans next to the door to see if he can eavesdrop, and overhears some kind of argument going on inside. He quickly jumps out of the way just as the door swings open and a very imposing figure steps out: a nearly seven-foot-tall woman with a shaved head and a Sol Military Contracts officer’s uniform. She smirks at Hardcastle as she brushes past, and Sasha sees that her name tape reads “W.O. Jacquet”. She has a succubus pin-up patch on her shoulder.
Ben Rashid calls the crew into the room. He’s a short, stocky man with a reedy voice and a desk covered in papers, tchotchkes, and model spaceships. When he learns they are the crew of the new ship in dock, he asks if they came from Persephone and what the real name of their ship is. The crew nervously dodge the question, and instead ask about SMC and getting a mining license, which gets him to change his tack — he offers to sell them a license for 1000 credits, then suggests that since they’re outsiders, they may be able to help him with a problem, and he’ll waive the license fee. Nervous about what he might know about their ship, they agree to hear him out.
Ben Rashid’s smiles and explains: the station is partly owned by another corporation, Kenbishi Heavy Industries, which employs Sol Military Contracts as station security. SMC, under Jacquet’s leadership, has been undermining him with claims of corruption, disregard for safety, and an inability to keep the mining operation running. She’s threatening to go to the station’s board of directors and have them vote him out.
One of his crews, led by foreman Liv Chain, just opened up a new section of the Iblis space hulk for scavenging. But Liv hasn’t reported back in over a day. If another day goes by, Jacquet will get word that Ben’s lost another crew. She’ll send an SMC rescue team into the Iblis, and she’ll use the incident as leverage to get the station’s board of directors oust him. He needs the crew to secretly board the hulk and rescue his missing crew.
After the crew ensures they will get to keep anything they salvage on their rescue op, they agree to the mission. Sasha asks about the “fruit” that they heard about last night at the bar: supposedly scrappers bring it back from the Iblis? Ben says he doesn’t want to hear about it: he doesn’t bother himself about scrappers’ side hustles, as long as SMC doesn’t hear about it. He then gives them a document with the names of Liv Chain’s crewmembers and tells them to meet his trusted pilot in Hangar 1 in a couple hours.
The crew retrieves their weapons and heads back to the ship to gear up and fill Sonia in on their plans — Dr. Hardcastle tells her that if they use their long-range comms to signal her while on the Iblis, it means they’re in trouble and she should fly their way. They then head to Hangar 1 to meet the pilot who’s going to shuttle them over to the space hulk. To their horror, it turns out to be Nip Lacey, the old scrapper from the previous night. He’s still drunk.
Despite his inebriation, Nip seems quite capable of flying his shuttle and evading SMC patrols. Dr. Hardcastle lights up some space weed on the way over, and Nip takes a toke, nearly crashing into a chunk of debris and stressing everyone else out miserably. Finally, Nip weaves his shuttle between the massive pylons of the Iblis’s underbelly and up to the temporary airlock that Liv Chain’s crew set up on their exploratory mission. They dock and enter, and Nip tells them to call him up when they need a pickup.
I generated the layout & contents of this part of the Iblis using the derelict ship gen tools from Dead Planet (p.8-11).
On the other side of the airlock, the crew pick carefully through a series of pitch-black rooms containing ancient machinery and detritus. In a machine room, Dr. Hardcastle trips on ancient loose grating and clangs onto the floor. The crew freezes as the sound reverberates through the metal walls. The marines Olivia and J. hear voices in the next room over. Figuring that it’s probably just a couple of squatters, they gesture to the rest of the crew to stay put and head towards the room. But then they hear one of the voices say, “hey Markova, go check that out.” And then another voice, “Got it. Franklin, Davis, come with me.” Footsteps approach.
Smooth move, J. A crit failure.
Olivia and J. hide behind the bulkhead door as the three figures — presumably Markova, Franklin, and Davis — enter the machine room. J. tries to quietly shut the door behind them but slips on some oil and falls to the floor, slamming the door shut with a loud clang. The three figures all duck down, nervously pointing SMGs at the shadows all around them. Dr. Hardcastle tries to calm the situation by stepping out of the darkness and telling them that he don’t mean them any harm.
The leader, Markova, levels her SMG at him and demands to know if he’s here with the mining corporation. He says he’s not, he’s just looking for a salvage team that’s gone missing. She orders him down on the ground and has Davis cuff him with a plastic tie. She then has Franklin start to sweep the room.
Franklin turns around and immediately spots Olivia, who has her own SMG trained on Markova. J., still prone, levels her SMG at Franklin and turns on her flashlight, revealing herself. Markova is still pointing her gun at Dr. Hardcastle. Sasha, still unseen in the shadows at the other end of the room, raises his revolver, takes aim at Markova, and fires.
As the bullet whizzes past her head, Markova panics momentarily and falls backwards. Sasha steps forward into the light as Dr. Hardcastle calls him a crazy asshole. Markova drops her gun and raises her hands. J. orders her to tell her men to drop theirs too. They comply, but as their guns hit the deck, they hear people on the other side of the door running and yelling to Markova, asking her what’s going on. She replies, at the crews’ gunpoint instructions, that it was nothing, just an accidental misfire, nothing to worry about.
The man on the other side of the door says he’s going to come through and opens the door. Seeing the situation, three of his people being held at gunpoint by an unknown crew, he levels his assault rifle at them. He speaks calmly and coolly to the crew, and is visibly relieved to learn that they’re not SMC and they’re just here looking for a missing crew. Everyone lowers their weapons and they talk.
The man’s name is Rudolph — he runs a small crew of scrappers who operate outside of AKMC purview. They trade information: he tells the crew that he hasn’t seen anyone, but he has seen signs that a group came through recently, and shows them the way they went. In exchange, the crew tells him that SMC is going to show up here in a day’s time if they don’t get the missing team back. He says they should be gone by then anyway, but thanks them and radios the rest of his group to let them pass. His crew look relieved, but Markova glares at Sasha as they head on their way.
They eventually make their way to another mechanical room where they find a cluster of vines and some kind of large pod which has been ripped open. Dr. Hardcastle, being a botanist, is intrigued and investigates it, determining that it’s been affected by some kind of radiation. He follows the vines into the next room, where he spots two more pods, one of which still has a fruit in it, about the size of a cantaloupe and glistening wet. He plucks the fruit and carries it with him as they move on, hatching plans to study it and grow more of it on their own ship.
In the next room, they find more pods, which appear to have been plucked, trails of wet leading to a side room. As Dr. Hardcastle studies the vines, J. searches the rubble and finds a few items, including a fancy bass guitar and an SMG with the name Ed Huang on it, which they recognize as being one of Liv Chain’s crew. Olivia and J. lead the way into the next room where they find Ed and another man from Liv’s crew lying next to each other, backs against a huge piece of engine machinery, fruit pulp all around them, covered in glistening sweat. The other man is leaning on Ed and licking the sweat off his neck. Both are oblivious to the crew’s presence.
Dr. Hardcastle looks them over to make sure they’re not in immediate danger (or a danger to anyone) and determines they’re delirious and quite dehydrated, especially Ed. Sasha retrieves water bladders from their discarded vaccsuits and tries to get them to drink. Meanwhile, the marines search the room and find the source of the vines: a huge plant of some sort is growing out of the floor and wall of the room, with a large chute leading down into some kind of glistening wet orifice. As they look down into the plant’s chute, they hear voices emerging from within.
To be continued…