Relena searched the Barons for a cargo that she could take to civilised planets - cargo that did not include live animals. She was able to get a contract to transport archaeological samples to the planet Shalimmar - a journey of some considerable distance. It would take them two weeks to get to Gateway, where the artifacts would be appraised and catalogued, and slightly more than another week to Shalimmar where the objects were destined to become part of a university museum collection.
The trip to Gateway was, surprisingly, uneventful. Noumalia kept to herself, still angry at the Captain for what Relena had allowed to be done to her and her pet kurr'ssa. It was, all in all, a pleasant break from recent events.
They arrived at Gateway, a busy commercial hub, where the Shark received routine maintenance. Unity restocked the ship's medical supplies, while Noumalia bought spare parts for the ship. And shoes. The appraisers arrived and commenced unpacking, documenting and repackaging every crate in the ship's cargo hold. Again, this proceeded smoothly and without delay. The last leg of the trip was an eight-day hop to Shalimmar.
Unfortunately, after three days the ship registered the presence of an uncharted gravity well, and was forced to drop from hyperspace.
There were at least seventy Guild ships present - freighters, transports, a few luxury liners. One House of Defiance destroyer had its engines disabled by the Imperial fleet that was clearly in charge.
There was one heavy cruiser in the middle of the cloud of other ships that Kelda did not recognise. It was a new Imperial Veto-class interdictor cruiser, and it was generating an artificial gravity well in order to force ships passing through this region out of hyperspace.
There was one other ship in the area that they recognised - the Paradroid.
Relena received a message over the ship's comms:
This is Captain Skeats of the Glorious Imperial Fleet. All hyperspace travel through this area is embargoed. Prepare to be boarded and searched. Please declare all cargo. Do not try to leave this region of space or you will be fired upon. Please be patient - you will be permitted to leave when the search of your ship is complete.
Relena discussed the situation with her crew and decided that it was not worth causing any trouble over. They would wait for the boarding party and comply with their wishes.
Of course, it wasn't going to be that easy.
After several hours waiting for the boarding party, Relena received a comms message: "Open your cargo hold". When she queried this, the message was repeated. To reinforce the command, a spacesuited figure appeared outside the Bridge's canopy and started drilling through it with a plasma torch.
Lance quickly donned a spacesuit himself and hid in the cargo bay. Noumalia looked through the window in the airlock door. Kelda disappeared. Relena opened the cargo bay door and six suited figures drifted in and started to untie the cargo.
Lance challenged them, so they raised weapons and opened fire. His suit having been breached, Relena closed the doors and repressurised the cargo bay, trapping the six would-be thieves in the ship.
Suddenly, from Lance's point of view, everything slowed down. He opened up with his autocannon, severely wounding three of the pirates before they could react. Noumalia managed to psionically disable two more. With lightning speed, Lance closed the distance to the last of the pirates and dispatched him with his combat knife. As far as Noumalia could see, Lance was moving with inhuman speed. He tied the surviving pirates and dragged them to the spare stateroom.
During the fracas, Relena and Kelda desparately tried to get the attention of the Imperials, who denied the existence of any pirate ships in the area. Eventually Kelda fired the Shark's turret guns, which caused their inspection to be brought forward.
The Imperials approached, and beamed aboard - three Anthropos and a squad of five Murrk. Kelda, hidden in the engine room, recognised the voice of the leader.
They took custody of the surviving pirates, and asked whether Relena or any of the other crew had seen, or knew of the whereabouts of Drake Kerns. After receiving no significant information about his whereabouts from Relena, they proceeded to search the ship. They were very thorough. When they came to the engine room, Kelda definitely recognised the leader as someone from her past as an Imperial slave and sniper. This man Tyri was supposed to be dead - their squad had been ambushed on a mission. She had watched as his position was overrun. Yet, here he was, searching her ship.
Their search was cut short though, and they returned suddenly to their ship. Lance, taking station in the bridge, was able to see what was going on. The Defiance destroyer they had noticed earlier had opened fire with all weapons, missiles and torpedoes on the Imperial interdictor, while half a dozon other ships were moving on a collision course. The destroyer was very quickly vapourised, but it was too late for the interdictor. The gravity well disappeared, and ships began to scatter.
During this, as Lance was plugged into the ship's systems, he received a message from what appeared to be an artificially intelligent programme that had unexpectedly taken up residence in the Shark's cenral computer. It introduced itself as Euripides, and programmed an escape route that was superior and more efficient than Lance's preprogrammed evasion course. The Shark, and many other Guild ships, had escaped the Imperial blockade. They returned to their original course to Shalimmar.
During the next few days, Lance was able to get to know Euripides a little more. It was originally a biological entity, but his race had "downloaded" their mentalities to computer form aeons ago. Until recently, Euripides had inhabited a series of spaceborn computers in Aerolk space, before being discovered by Team Fugazi and the Paradroid. In the current circumstance, it had cloned copies of itself into a number of ships, causing them to attack the interdictor. However, in defiance of Captain Kerns' wishes, it had also cloned itself to a number of civilian ships in order to program escape routes. No other ships had had a person plugged into them though, so the Shark was the only ship to escape the gravity well with an intact instance of the programme.
For more information on what was going on during this episode, see the Metascape-I adventure, coincidentally called Gravity Well
Quotes of the week:
We've got bugs, we've got goo, we've got superdust, and we've got me.