On returning from Nassau, the Absconder travels to the Pebble station in the Tortuga system to finally deliver a set of docking clamps. On arrival, they discover a number of ships from the Fairwinds clan surrounding the station, and the salvage ship ‘The Petty Drake’ docked at one of the station’s two pylons. The Fairwinds ships are comprised of a mining ship tender and half-a-dozen small workbee type support ships.
Alwan, the Pebble’s station master (and Rence’s recent flame) contacts the crew and explains that the Fairwinds Clanners claim that Drake and Co. salvaged one of their ships from within their own territory. Drake claims the ship was just outside the Fairwinds territorial boundary, while the Fairwinds group claims it was inside the boundary.
Both sides claim to have logs proving their point. The crew offers Claudia’s expertise to check the log files for any tampering to verify who is telling the truth. Alwan agrees and sends the files over to the Absconder for Claudia to examine.
After going over the files thoroughly, Claudia discovers that both are unedited, yet seem to tell the same story. With some additional digging, Claudia discovers that the Fairwinds’ log came from a navigational satellite that may have had a compromised positioning system. With the uncertainty in its true location, it could have reported an incorrect position relative to the Fairwinds’ official borders.
As Claudia is relaying this information, however, one of the Fairwinds’ workbee ships suddenly goes spinning out of control. In the resulting chaos, the Fairwinds Clanners almost attack the station. Rence and Finch manage to talk the groups down, relaying Claudia’s find to all parties. Just as the Fairwinders stand down, however, the Drake ignites its engines and rips free from Pebble station, damaging the remaining working set of docking clamps on the external pylons. The Fairwinds’ mining tender ship quickly moves to pursue, and both the Drake and the Fairwinds ship boost clear of the station at high acceleration.
The remaining Fairwinds work-bees manage to rescue the out-of-control ship and secure it, then move towards the Pebble’s hanger bay. Meanwhile, Ranso, Finch, and Claudia use the Absconder’s workbee to fly over to the hanger deck to make sure things stay civil, and arrange the delivery of the docking clamps as well as a refueling.
The remaining Fairwinds Clanners look ready to start a fight, but Finch manages to talk them down carefully, explaining that the PCs and crew of the Pebble have nothing to do with the situation, and it is all on Drake’s company. The Fairwinders accept his reasoning and stand down. Finch later mentions to Alwin that it was an easy negotiation, as without their mining tender the workbees had little life support or range, and would not have survived without the station.
After dropping off the clamps and refueling, the Absconder makes its way back in system and arrives at Port-aux-Paix. Plinth greets the party and mentions that Kalilee has been asking repeatedly about her labor robot that the crew had left aboard the Mafdet. He also shows them the repairs on the Mafdet. While adequate, the Mafdet’s military components made a complete repair impossible. The Mafdet will operate, but things like the front armor and some of the military-grade control components could not be acquired to bring the ship up to full spec.
While at Port-aux-Paix Finch manages to sell off all the ‘spec’ cargo he purchased at Nassau. The Port is a little short on cash, so Finch doesn’t turn the profit he was looking for, but at least gets enough money to justify the run and free up the Absconder’s limited cargo capacity.
The crew decide to worry about getting better parts for the Mafdet later, and for the moment head down to the Downport in the Mafdet to drop off Kalilee’s robot. The Mafdet lands just ahead of a storm and the crew manage to lock everything down and get into the Downport just before it hits. When they come out of the airlock, they hear from Sheriff Thoon that a couple weeks ago two of Kalilee’s miners managed to drive a crawler off a cliff in a dust storm, and that they were at Dr. Zebo’s clinic for extended treatment. They were just about healed up and should be able to take the robot back with them to the mining camp in a day or two if the PCs wanted to leave it with them.
The PCs get a room Muldoon’s hostel again and Claudia holes up in her room and thinks about how she could crack into the data store recovered from the Monk’s tower now that the monks have met a bad end. While Claudia thinks, Finch and Ranso hear that Mada Xuan has received a new load of scrap a couple weeks ago. Recalling that Mada was the one who managed to find the military-grade emitters for the Mafdet, Finch thinks it might be worthwhile to see if she has any other parts that might fully repair the ship.
At Mada Xuan’s they do indeed find a large load of fresh scrap, but it seems to be pieces of a simple mining vessel that wouldn’t have the advanced components required by the Mafdet. Finch also discovers that the scrap is from the load the Drake’s company brought in to the Pebble station that caused so much trouble. Believing it best to let sleeping dogs lie, Finch and Ranso head back to Muldoon’s hostel without saying anything.
On the way back to the hostel, Finch and Ranso hear that Dr. Zebo has had some problems with his two patients. He claims they suddenly trashed his clinic, grabbed a bunch of supplies and ran off. The facility isn’t large, but has lots of nooks and crannies so Thoon asks them to keep an eye out.
After getting a drink at Tabbin’s bar, Finch and Ranso observe two men being forcibly ejected at considerable velocity from Otika Thoon’s shop. The men slam into the wall and are knocked senseless. Ranso peeks in and sees Otika adjusting her dress and swearing. She says that the two men are the miners, and that they attempted to board their buggy (that Otika hadn’t finished repairing) and drive it out of the bay and into the storm still raging outside.
Sheriff Thoon shows up to haul the men off to the holding cells as Finch checks what supplies they tried to steal from Zebo’s clinic. He finds mostly typical frontier medicine but then comes across two ampules with Neebayan inventory stamps. While he isn’t sure what they are, Finch realizes that these are probably serious narcotics or worse and palms them. Finch and Ranso offer to return the goods to Zebo as a pretense to question him and find out exactly what is going on.
Back at Zebo’s clinic, Finch’s empathic sense reveals the doctor’s stream of lies when he tries to explain away the Neebayan ampules as well as the strange behavior of the miners. The PCs have long had suspicion that Zebo was up to no good, and suspected that he was the one that ratted Claudia out to the bounty-hunters that ambushed them on Port-aux-Paix several months ago.
FInch and Ranso go to the Sheriff’s office and report that the doctor was up to something. Finch worried that Zebo would be called upon to treat the wounded miners in the holding cell, and that he would try to harm them to cover his tracks. Finch turned over the Neebayan drug vials to Thoon and said that he suspected that some drug Zebo was dealing was at the heart of the problem. Thoon said that he would look into it, and keep Zebo away from the miners for the moment.
Finch and Ranso return to the hostel hoping to use Claudia’s communications data tap to catch who Zebo is communicating with. They find Claudia completely engrossed in breaking the quantum encryption on the Monks’ data cache. During Finch and Ranso’s excursion, Claudia had actually made some major progress on the data encryption, and while not completely defeating it, had some new strategies to try that may simplify unlocking the data.
After getting Claudia’s attention, Finch asks her to review the comm logs and see if Dr. Zebo attempted to contact anyone after his earlier shakedown. She finds a series of messages from him that were beamed out to seemingly random points in space. In a moment of inspiration, Claudia begins correlating all the messages with the pirate attacks that occurred recently in the system. She discovers that all the attacks occurred within a couple weeks of Zebo sending a message. The contents of the messages themselves seem to be pointless small talk, but probably contain a cypher or code word set that tipped the pirates off.
The PCs had a smoking gun linking Zebo to the pirates, but didn’t want to reveal that they had been tapping the Downport’s communications for the past half year. Instead Claudia did an anonymous data drop to the Sheriff and sat back to watch what he would do. The PCs were still suspicious that the Sheriff was somehow involved, and handing him the information privately would force his hand one way or the other.
Meanwhile the particle storm subsided and communications resumed from the Downport. Claudia’s algorithm captured a message from Dr. Zebo to Port-aux-Paix which appeared to be a list of medical supplies to be ordered. This was innocuous, as he would have to restock after the thefts at his clinic, but seemed suspicious. The PCs suspicions were confirmed when the Sheriff knocked on the door half-an-hour later, telling the PCs that Dr. Zebo had stolen a maintenance sled and took off across the plains.
Thoon offered the use of his grav sled to the PCs, and the party prepared to head off in pursuit. There was no sign of Rence, however, and he didn’t answer his comm. This had happened before whenever Rence got involved in skirt chasing, so the PCs left him behind and headed out armed and ready.
After a pursuit across a broad dustbowl, the PCs finally caught up with Zebo just as a shuttle landed ahead. The landing kicked up a dust cloud obscuring the scene until the PCs managed to drive closer with their sled. The doctor had abandoned his sled in the dust cloud and was running towards the shuttle on foot. A burst of Gauss Rifle fire from Ranso took the doctor’s legs out from under him, and Claudia drove the sled around between Zebo and the shuttle. Ranso provided covering fire while Finch jumped out and began hauling the now unconscious Zebo aboard the sled.
Several goons came out of the dust and opened fire, trading shots with Ranso and Claudia. While Ranso was hit, his armor absorbed the shot. Thoon’s sled was not as lucky, as a burst of bullets crippled one of the repulsor pods and caused it to skew violently. Acting quickly Claudia managed to cut power to the sled and set it down just as Finch followed Zebo into the sled.
By now, the dust was starting to settle, and Ranso recognized the shuttle as being of the type that the PCs encountered in the hidden hanger near the monk’s tower. He wasn’t sure if it was one of the ones that had been in the hanger, but it was certainly the same type.
After a further exchange of gunfire, the PCs managed to take out the goons, but the shuttle’s engines began to ignite. Not wanting to be caught in the hot exhaust from a torch drive, Claudia managed to get the sled temporarily balanced despite its damaged lift pod, and get everyone clear just as the shuttle lifted off. The PCs, with the unconscious Zebo in the back of the sled, headed back towards the Downport.