The journey from the gas giant was another long and tedious one, this time lasting a little over two days before they can see the planet appear on their long distance viewscreen. It’s the middle of the night when they are close enough to worry abut the possibility of being seen by the Overbluff’s Type-M.
Jie closes down the active sensors as they get closer and they proceed using just their passive sensors in the hope that, if the Type-M is expecting them, then they will see the Overbluff’s ship before it sees them.
As can be expected from such a backwater system, there is very little traffic visible. Jie on the sensors pick up a Type-S, an A2 and a Type-R either leaving or heading to the planet, but none of these ships are in orbit or heading anywhere close to intercepting the Princess.
Cautiously they continue onwards, spending the entire morning in closing the range, Jie watching the sensors like a hawk for any kind of threat. All seems quiet as they get closer, however.
The surface of Noctocol, swathed in clouds of poisonous vapours, reveals little as to what lies beneath. Will continues onwards until the Princess is at optimum sensors range. There is still no sign of any Type-M’s or any other activity from below that seems unusual.
Putting the ship into orbit over the planet’s south pole, Jie nervously switches over from passive to active sensors. Will gets ready to make a rapid getaway in case this leads to an increase in radio chatter, but it seems as if it has had no effect as all remains quiet down below. Emboldened, Jie starts to sweep the area with the sensors while Will maneuvers the ship in a pattern spiralling out from the pole.
It takes a little over an hour before Jie starts jabbering excitedly. It looks like she found the Overbluff’s base. She brings up the image on the holoscreen. With the area obscured by the clouds, the image is blurry and she goes through the entire spectrum in order to build up a reasonable picture of what lies below. The party members see that the fort is actually tiny – a lot smaller than it appeared on the mural being only 20m square.
There is no sign of any ship on the ground, but a large opening close to the fort indicates that there may well be a large facility beneath the fort.
The party members discuss their strategy, but there is really no way of making plans with such little intel. They decide that they need to head down there to get a closer look.
Leaving Autumn and Miranda onboard the Princess, the party members suit up and grab their weapons and then set off in their new AGC which Max pilots away from the ship on a wide arc so as not to appear on any radar that the Overbluff’s troops may have scanning the skies. He brings the AGC down close to the surface a couple of hundred km from the base and then sets the controls to skim over the surface at a height of just a few metres in order to avoid detection. Grim rides shotgun, guiding Max towards the coordinates of the base.
It’s late in the afternoon when Grim says that they are now just 1500m from the base. Max brings the AGC down to the ground and waits in the driver’s seat while the others disembark. The party members then cover the last 1200m on foot.
Visibility is still poor even this close to the fort and so the party members realize that they are going to get very close to the fort in order to build up an accurate picture as to the base’s defenses. Taeva is the obvious choice for the job and so heads closer as the rest of the party wait for her report.
She is gone for half an hour before she returns to tell the party members what they are up against. The northern approach is quite heavily defended with two teams of three mercs hiding in waste piles. The southern approach is less well guarded, with just two solitary guards in foxholes and one guarding the main entrance to the fort. There are also three guards on sentry duty travelling around a set route.
They decide to approach from the south and so all move around until they are at the edge of visual range. Taeva goes ahead and carefully and cautiously takes out all of the guards covering the southern side one by one without raising the alarm.
With the southern approach now open, they advance towards the opening that leads below the ice cap. Once again Taeva goes ahead to scout out what lies below. She sees that indeed the Type-M is berthed inside a large cavern with a handful of mercs visible working upon it.
The remainder of the party follow her in and take up positions. Once they are all in cover, they try and take out the mercs one at a time without raising the alarm. They manage to take out a couple of them before one of them is just wounded and cries out an alarm. A brief firefight ensues during which time all of the mercs below are taken out, with Jie getting dropped in response.
The party members get ready for a counterattack, but it seems as if the mercs are not so quick to make one, giving time for Will to patch Jie back up. During this time, Taeva lays charges beneath the ice ready to blow them if the mercs try to attack in force.
No sooner is she back on her feet that the inevitable counteroffensive begins, with the remaining 11 guards charging through the entrance to the tunnel. Taeva’s charges take out several of them, with Grim’s Mathilda taking out many of those who survived, with the other party members mopping up the remainder. In such a way, the mercs are quickly despatched.
The party members hold their positions for a while, but it seems as if the Overbluff and the remaining mercs are holed up inside the fort and waiting for the party members to come to them.
Will and Grim stay with the ship, checking it carefully in case any more mercs are hiding onboard while the others get into position for the final assault upon the fort, with Stian and Jie coming up from the stairs that lead from the ice cave and Taeva coming through the main door. They call Max and tell him to bring the AGC closer in case they need to make a rapid getaway.
As they enter the fort, they see that the remaining mercs have indeed set up a defensive line and Jie is injured once again during the brief firefight upon entering the building. The mercs are now lacking in numbers though and so are quickly taken care of.
The three of them advance on the upper levels. It is Taeva who gets the first glimpse of the Overbluff, who is holding a gauss pistol to The Connoisseur’s head. Taeva tries to shoot, but the Overbluff is wearing battle armour and so her shots just ricochet off. The Overbluff responds by sendinga wave of mental energy towards her which nearly knocks her off her feet.
While the Overbluff is distracted by Taeva, Stian rushes in and grabs The Connoisseur, pulling him out of danger. With the Overbluff now alone in the room, Taeva sends a HEAP RAM grenade at him, which finally manages to drop him. After the smoke clears she limps over and removes his helmet, emptying a gauss magazine into his head.
All is quiet inside the fort. The Overbluff has been vanquished and The Connoisseur has finally been rescued.
As befitting a man of the cloth, The Connoisseur does not appear to be panicked by the attack or his many months of incarceration. He does seem to be a little confused as to what has been going on and who the party members are. They explain to him that they are working for Miranda and have been sent to rescue him. The Connoisseur is very keen to meet up with Miranda as soon as possible.
The party members spend a while going through the items in the fort, but there is not a huge amount of interest other than plenty of weapons and ammo, plus provisions to last a while, some of them of very high quality for The Connoisseur to cook for the Overbluff. They also find a large quantity of precious artwork, all of which The Connoisseur informs them were looted from their monastery on Mertactor. It would seem as if the only item of major value other than the Horkalite artwork is the Type-M.
The party members spend quite a while deciding what to do with the Overbluff’s ship. It is certainly a very valuable prize, but one that offers great potential for getting the party into a lot of trouble as it does not belong to them.
While the others debate what they should do with it, Will realizes that it would be best to bring the Princess down to the base now that there is no more danger and it will also be necessary for loading any goodies as space on the AGC is limited. As a result, Max shuttles Will back up to the ship, which he then lands on the ice plain right next to the fort.
Miranda is overjoyed to be reunited with The Connoisseur and to see that he is safe. The Connoisseur is pretty happy as well. They spend a while catching up with one another and discussing what they should do next while the party members continue to discuss whether they should take the Type-M, or any parts of it, or just to leave it be.
Once the Connoisseur and Miranda have had time to catch up, the Connoisseur addresses the party to give them his sincere thanks for all of the hard work that they have undertaken in order to rescue him. As a way of thanking the party, he presents them with one of the most valuable items from his collection of artwork. It is a 3 million year old cave painting by the sentient isopods of Flexos showing some astrological calculations of utmost complexity for such a primitive society which outdated the Ancient by thousand of millennia. The artwork is vast having been cut from walls by laser. The object is a good 20m2 in size and weighs over a ton.
Will’s eyes light up when he sees the object appealing as it does to the planetologist in him. Max’s eyes light up when the Connoisseur tells him that the lump of rock with primitive daubings on it is worth around Cr. 2 million.
“Well if it came from Flexos, Flexos is where we ‘ave the best chance of sellin’ it – or at least to learn where we can find someone who is prepared to pay top credit for it at least,” says Max. “It’s only a jump away anyway and it’s heading in the direction of Darrian where Taeva wants to go anyway.”
“But what about Miranda and the Connoisseur?” asks Autumn. “Surely they need to return to Mertactor?”
“We have already inconvenienced you enough,” says Miranda. “All we would ask is that you escort us to the starport and wait with us there until we can find a ship heading for Dallia or Tarkine in case there are any retribution. Once we are off Noctocol,then I think that there is little chance of our running into any more problems now that the Overbluff is dead and his organization is in total disarray.”
The party members are happy enough with this, not having any great desire to return to Mertactor once again.
The party members finish their discussions regarding the Type-M. Neither the ship’s sensors nor computer are worth a great deal and extracting any of the engines would be a massive task and so they vote to simply leave the Type-M where it is and head off to Noctocol starport before heading off to Flexos as soon as they have the Horkalites and their cargo safely on their way.
The party members scavenge the best of the Type-M’s vacc suits, the best of the gauss rifles, all of the ammo and the best quality foodstuffs they can find and load them onto the Princess together with all of the artwork. It’s a tight fit to get it all into the cargo hold when it is almost full of magnesium, but they eventually manage it.
With that, they assume their regular positions onboard the Princess and Will takes off, leaving the empty remains of the Overbluff’s ice fort behind them. It is then just a 30 minute journey to the patch of empty bedrock which serves as Noctocol’s only starport.
Eventually an ATV comes to meet them and transports them to the airlock which leads to the underground city of Noctocol. It is late by the time that they have gone through the customs formalities and so they head for the Offworlder’s Hotel and get a decent night’s sleep.