Dark Frontier

On Board the Ariadne
18th May 2159: 4.05 pm

The Ariadne was a 95 T Supply Shuttle with two three -bed bunkrooms (with hammocks, five of them were crammed into one), reasonable acceleration and four weeks endurance. It had a significant cargo capacity of around 60 T. It had no T Drive, being purely for localised use.

The only crew were Hopkirk and a dour silent man called Ward. The five of them were kitted out with false identities as technicians and workers being dropped off at a GeCoDec facility by the shuttle further on in its run. A cover story had been rehearsed and Hopkirk had prepared this with a contact at GeCoDec. Laura was mildly impressed.

Hopkirk Elaborates
14th May 2159: 10. 30 am

“Dominion Mining have a strong presence in this part of the Belt, and they have the mining franchise for 16 Psyche, an M Type Asteroid: quite rare.”

“M type?” asked Rackham.

“Mineral very rich” explained Zola. “A potential gold mine for exploitation.”

“It is pretty well developed, with a central Corp Town, and half a dozen remote mining facilities. Possibly research stations too. Anyway, they’ve been having problems with the workforce recently”

“And who is the target of this extraction?” asked Laura.

“A young man, Manfred Hoffmann. He was doing well as a junior executive with Dominion, though something of a socially aware young firebrand.”

“Let me guess,” said Rackham, “He got involved in the current labour disputes.”

“Worse than that, by all accounts he assaulted a senior executive, and has been put in the enclaves own gulag. "

In remote areas of the system UWC Law devolved to private security – in effect Corporate Law. Some people were perhaps not very happy about it, but it all came down to practicality. As long as the corps didn’t behave outrageously, the UWC was unlikely to intervene. Periodically they would sent round a Marshall to review cases and procedures, but this would be every few years at best.

“The detail is lacking at the moment”, said Hopkirk, “And probably will be pretty one sided when it emerges. And that is why I was contacted by the family.”

They waited for an explanation.

“I am a contact, and I own a 95 T Supply Ship -the Ariadne , which services a number of these remote outposts. Food, supplies, spares: I make a living visiting a number of these locations in the Belt and trading. I can get in where lawyers will be blocked by Corporate regs. I can find out what’s going on.”

“So that’s the mission?” asked Vic. " Recce with a view to extraction?"


“What about the Fallout with the UWC?” asked Laura.

“Once he’s out, the fancy expensive lawyers can kick in. Plus you will all be anonymous.”

“If we’re not caught.”

“If you’re not caught.”

“The remuneration had better be worth it.” said Laura.

The Pitch
14th May 2159: 10. 15 am

To describe Amanda Hopkirk as severe would have been an understatement. From the cut of her utilitarian -but pristine – militaristic style clothing, to her businesslike, clipped manner. Clearly she was someone used to giving orders, and probably was someone who wouldn’t suffer fools gladly. Laura had received a very brief vid call, requesting a meeting that very day.

“Ms. Chen?” she asked. Introductions were given, and the woman sat down. Ms. Hopkirk was very tall, and blonde – possibly a scion of one of the many oddball eugenics breeding programmes that had occured in various parts of the system. Your hand hurt when she shook it.

“Your message didn’t give much away” said Laura.

“With good reason. I am assuming your discretion.” said Hopkirk. “Your Ad. said ‘All Jobs considered.’”

“That’s right.” said Laura. “Though are not guaranteed to be taken. Discretion, however, is assured. And we are not risk averse.”

“Good.” nodded Hopkirk. “You are of course aware of the various issues following the Agnico mining riots on Luna?”

Indeed, they all were. Apparent concern with Agnico planning to redirect their mining efforts from Luna to elsewhere in the system had triggered riots in which many employees, including some executives, had been killed. The issues and sensitivities regarding the affiiar were not unique to Agnico – affecting for example companies in the Belt, who might want to direct resources towards the new frontier in the Kuiper Belt. Consequently there had been rumblings amongst miners and company facilities in several areas of the Belt, including strikes, sit ins, seizing of assets, deployment of corporate marines and, of course, riots. Relations were strained, to say the least.

“To put it bluntly I need to extract someone from a situation – the son of an ex military colleague. From a situation where there are extreme tensions between Corp. and workforce. Are you interested?”


New Opportunities
14th May 2159: 10. am

It had been an uneventful month. Franz had been recuperating, and was now finally active again. His new arm looked a little odd, but under his long duster and with a glove it escaped the majority of stares. It was hard to see how he was taking it, but at least Laura hadn’t busted him off the team.

Perhaps normally she would have, but, astute as she was, she realised that the others would not view this positively in the circumstances – and these she did wish to retain. All were now nominally employees of her company, or more correctly contractors hired by Dakai yanjing Investigations. This would enable her to take more of those juicier contracts she was after.

Since their binge a few weeks ago they had not seen much of Rackham: reportedly he was on a health kick, and was seen repeatedly in the gym with a personal trainer. Laura approved of course, but was slightly surprised. She had asked Rackham to construct a business plan for Dakai yanjing, with a view to obtaining a full Security Licence. He had agreed to do this for a mere Cr 1000 – always the mercenary. For some reason Zola had become fascinated with old mining facilities in the belt, and had been trawling through records and compiling her own database.

There had been few ships or small craft arriving at the Station, which also affected job availability. Until now.

14th May 2159: 11.00 am

“My head” moaned Rackham. It had all been his fault.

“These people need to bond” he had thought. “Draw Vic and Laura out of their shells. Plus, its me and three women.” Franz of course, was still in recovery.

It had started at the Dirty Digger, An Aussie themed Bar cum Burger Joint, and there they had bumped into a group of Ore Traders, one of whom Zola had vaguely known. Hearing they were all visitors, one of these – Warren Cartwright -had insisted on ‘showing them the sights.’

Umpteen bars later, and a vague recollection of being thrown out of one of them, before finding himself staring up through a dome while lying flat out on a walkway. No one else was to be seen.

He sat up.

“Good grief I’m still there” he thought with a jolt. Curious passers by stared at his disarray.

Meeting Mr. West
6th May 2159: 11.30 am

“What about Franz? Any news?” asked Vic.

“The operation was successful: he’ll be recuperating for a few weeks I would think.” said Laura. His arm had been all but severed, and with his limited paramedic abilities Rackham had done the best he could on the spot.

Back on the Satis after a check by the crew medic, he was put straight into stasis, where he remained till collected by a medical shuttle at Caikuang Station.; that was yesterday.

They all (except perhaps Laura) felt a little guilty about the situation. Whatever his faults, Franz had absorbed the brunt of the attack from the creature, and paid heavily for the privilege, and this had allowed Laura and Zola to shower the thing with bullets.

Knowing that the bills would be expensive, they decided to contribute the value of the few valuable looking electronics items they had pilfered from the base towards the costs. Despite his reservations, Rackham had also agreed to cover the balance on a cybernetic arm, with a reasonable interest rate.

“It’s not like he was the only one scared shitless” he explained. “Vic was screaming her head off, and frankly, I pissed my pants. That’s why it took me a while to pitch in.”

“Anyway,” he added, “It would just not be good form to ditch him in the circs. He may be a hopeless fighter, but he still has a useful tech skillset. I couldn’t have done that thing with the door.”

Vic looked up.

“He’s here,” she said. Mr. West had entered, along with four smartly dressed men doing their best to make themselves look inconspicuous. He nodded at a waitress, who had his coffee delivered before he had actually made it to the table.

“Mr. Kurtis not present?” he asked.

“Had his arm slashed off by a biogenetically altered freak. Recovering.” said Laura deadpan.

“Ah. Quite.” said West, slightly flustered. "Now, I’ve scanned your report.. “Clearly, Mr. Segall was not safely secured and retrieved. Through, I’m sure, at no fault of your own. "

“No fault of our own. It was never explained that he might be transformed into a mindless killing machine.”

“Quite. For the simple reason we had no idea.” said West smoothly.

“You’ve seen the pictures Mr West.” said Laura. “Here’s a biosample. I’ve no doubt it’ll match his blueprint, barring whatever they did to him of course.”

West took the sample and passed it to one of his men. He turned around for thirty seconds, and then turned back and nodded. West sighed.

“Well that’s confirmed, sadly. I can offer you the promised sum to secure your discretion and, perhaps, future service. It must be said, however, that any breach of Jenseitech’s privacy on this matter will be dealt with quickly and severely.”

“We understand,” said Laura.

“Good,” replied West. “The transfers have been made.” He stood up to leave.

“What about the squatters?” blurted Zola. West frowned.

“That unpleasantness was all resolved without incident,” he replied. “And before you ask, I am unaware of the nature of the outpost Mr. Segall discovered. I assure you, however, that Jenseitech has already taken action to secure the facility. Good Day.”

“I bet they have” murmured Rackham to himself.

Dead Jim Dead
21st April 2159: 10.30 am

Zola only had an instant to take it in before she yelped and stepped back, remembering too late that the comms were down.

It bore some resemblance to Jim Segall, but larger, deformed and dripping with ooze. It slid silently from a corridor and raced towards Franz, raking with deformed hands now sprouting wicked-looking claws. The jaw hung slack, with a constant stream of brown drool slowly coming out. Strange swirling patterns crystalized over his skin, and his veins had darkened, becoming ribbed and almost machine-like. He moved with an almost superhuman speed.

The claws raked through Franz’s suit deep into is arm; he yelped in terror, trying to flee but the creature slashed him again, this time deep in the side. Vic started to scream, an unexpected and unsettling reaction from the stoic ex marine. Rackham seemed stunned, whimpering.

Only Laura and Zola seemed to keep their heads, and while the creature raked at Franz Laura poured automatic fire into its deformed body, while Zola fired her 12mm over Laura’s shoulder. The creature slashed again and Franz, smashed lifeless against the floor. It staggered towards Laura, its many wounds poring more ooze now.

Finally recovering Rackham fired both pistols into it at point blank range, and with one final shot Zola fired again and part of its head exploded. All was now silent except for Vic’s screaming. Laura grabbed her shoulders and shook her.

Without much hope, Rackham moved over to Franz. Zola emptied her pistol into the thing.

“He’s still alive!” said Rackham. “Not sure about the arm though.”

Mad Science
21st April 2159: 10.10 am

The base started to take on a more regular aspect, with panelled walls and a moreclinical appearance. They came upon a dormitory area where beds with straps lined the walls. Two isolation rooms with broken window-walls were in the back and various instruments of experimental biology were bolted to tables.

“Some sort of testing area” said Laura. “Masks up, just in case.” Just further on a gray-brown substance coated the room, sloughing off the walls like clumps of dead skin, drifting slowly through the air. At various points within the room, human remains could be spotted. A splayed abdomen was affixed to the farthest wall; as they moved closer the ribs split open like angel’s wings. A heart suspended by gore from the spine continues to beat.
“Sick bastards” commented Franz. Nobody disagreed with him.

A dozen human arms rose from the floor, fingers twitching and spasming, as though beckoning the team to put them out of their misery. As they pressed deeper into the chamber, spotted, encased in thick, semi-translucent slime, the body of a young woman. Zola squinted to read the coverall patch she still wore.

“Chan” she read. Above the patch was pinned a badge with what looked like a serial number..

“Chan,” said Laura. “One of the two cultists who came here with Segall. Guess it didn’t end well.”

“She’s in agony” said Zola. “Can’t we get her out?”

Vic shrugged, and with the edge of her axe split the gello. It tore open, and they stepped back as the girl slipped to the floor screaming, and projectile vomiting blood from her mouth.

"Jesus"" exclaimed Rackham. And then she started to contort violuntly, baging her head and limbs against the floor, and pushing off into the micro g. They stepped back, and eventually the contortions stopped.

“Dead” said Rackham briefly. “And I’m not checking closer.”

Further on were more corridors, and now there seemed to be a translucent slime coating the walls and corridors. And then the comms filled with static.

It affected all of them, but they were reluctant to unhood in the circumstances, and they were reduced to sign language and typing on their wristcomp keypads. They moved more cautiously now.

And then it attacked.

Flies and Spiders
21st April 2159: 9.15 am

“Atmospheric pressure normal and breathable air.” said Zola.

“Fine, "said Laura. “No idea whats going on here yet: crack your helmets to conserve oxygen, but keep suited up.” After all, there was no telling what might happen in this strange place.

The station itself followed the standard pattern of asteroid habitats. It consisted of a series of tunnels drilled into the rock. These tunnels were, of course, in microgravity, and handholds were liberally placed along their length, so that residents could control themselves as they floated through the corridors.

As soon as they entered the tunnels, they could sense the wrongness of the place. An unwholesome smell saturated everything—sweet, sickly, rotten. Everything appeared still and vacant. Here and there pockets of brown goo dotted the walls and floors of the station, with twisting patterns that were reminiscent of spirals or shells.

The layout of the place didn’t ease this feeling: tunnels jutted off at odd angles, sometimes scattering in all directions. An ambush would be easy. The zero-gravity of the place made exploring the station even more confusing. Up and down blurred. The entire structure inside was something of a labyrinth. Still, despite its abandonment, its was obvious that the station was the result of the expenditure of a great deal of money.

“But who?” wondered Laura. And then she spotted something.

Faint traces of a sticky red substance—barely discernible at first, but as they moved along it became more and more obvious: bloody handprints smeared along a wall. And then the lights flickered and died. Suit lights went on, providing scant illumination in the pitch darkness.

“Well this is great” muttered Rackham.

“Stay alert” said Laura. “Clearly something bad has happened here.”

“There’s a chamber up here” said Zola. “It opens out quite a lot.”

And then the light flickered back on. Sprawled across the floor were the eviscerated corpses of a man and a woman, both torn apart, mouths in a screaming rictus, viscera strewn across the floor. They stared down at the sight, keeping their thoughts to themselves

“Well….” coughed Rackham, no doubt about to make some off colour remark. The station comms cut in, broadcasting a stertorous, rasping series of breaths.

“Someones jacking with our heads” said Laura. “Lets move on.”

The Unknown Station
21st April 2159: 8.00 am

Garinath had been more than pleased with his new hostages.

“Without this nutcase the other scum will likely cave in and come over. Pity.” he reflected. “My Marines could have done with the training excercise.”

“Well happy to etc. etc……” said Laura. “It looks like our business takes us to this other station.”

“Might be a rusting deathtrap if he didn’t come back” said Garinath. “I’ll put it in my report, anyway.”

And so they had parted company on the previous day. The Satis would reach their new destination in just over twenty four hours, in the middle of the night. They needed the rest, so waited till morning.

Searching the records had turned nothing up on the station: this wasn’t as mysterious as it sounded – there were an unknown number of private claims and small scale mining enterprises in the belts, mostly trying to evade UWC registration as much as possible.

The station was drilled into the side of one of the many asteroids making up the Main Belt. Typically this provided material for construction, provided shielding from the radiation in space and made the base difficult to detect. To anyone observing from a distance, it would appear little different from the thousands of other objects littering the Belt.

As the Satis approached the asteroid, their sensors picked up a shuttle attached to a port on the side of the asteroid. A second, and open, shuttle port was nearby.

“Segall’s shuttle,” said Anthea “Codes check out.”

Once again, Holly was their shuttle pilot, and she docked effortlessly at the second port. Rackham winced as he suited up – he still had some ugly bruising near his ribs from a shove from the Walker Suit.

“Remind me to avoid any knife fights with Hump Its” he complained.

They had not detected any active sensors tracking their movements, nor had there been any attempt to hail the shuttle. No automated system requested entry protocols or identity.

“Odd” said Laura. The team could only access the open port by overriding the outpost’s system and forcing their way in.

“Let me” said Franz shyly. Zola looked on with quiet scepticism, but after a few minutes the door cycled open.

“I’ve not damaged it” explained Franz, “We can still lock it afterwards.” Laura nodded.

The group prepared themselves, and entered into the station.


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