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Kursis Charter

19. Say What?

Date: 165-993 to 166-993 Imperial.
Location: Miip system (0819), mainworld, uplands.

Eventually, the storm eased off. A search party of Ursa from the village found them and dug away the river bank to get them out. They all made it back to the village alive. Pretty ragged, but alive. Fish looked like he belonged on a slab, but alive. Yvonne was incoherent, but alive.

Luan declared that nobody was going anywhere until they had some strength back. The Ursa put them back in the village hall, which was quiet since the festival preparations had been put off.

The villagers' attitude had changed, and whilst they weren't quite natives they certainly weren't outsiders to be stonewalled anymore. Although the repairs meant the villagers were genuinely busy now, they had no trouble finding time to help the travellers. Half a dozen of them, some human and some Ursa, took turns to translate the video journal. There was a bit of trouble with the technical terms but they managed to get it worked out between them.

Some years previously a transport vessel called Vraidercalt had been hit by pirates in the vicinity of Aspiration (3232), an independent system between the Khuur League and the Galian Federation. Seventy diameters from a gas giant, with half the engine room shot to pieces and communications a mass of smouldering metal, Vraidercalt jumped out on a rush plot.

The ship misjumped – no surprise there – and ended up in the essentially deserted space around Kleister Beta, second star of the 069-526 system. The crew got their drives, hull and flight systems together but communications at anything more than close range were beyond them. There was nothing around Kleister Beta to talk to anyway. So they set to skimming fuel from the star's only gas giant, Railarii. Something went wrong with that – they weren't as repaired as they'd thought they were – and they found themselves stuck in the gas giant's atmosphere with no way to get the Vraidercalt out.

So they put the ship in a stable orbit, programming the computer to use occasional contragravity bursts to compensate for atmospheric drag. The crew put Vraidercalt's emergency low berths on a launch and abandoned ship. They went into cryonic suspension and hoped the automatics would get them to Kleister Alpha. The journey wasn't measured in parsecs, but it was far enough to mean a short burn followed by whole years of coasting. They died on the way.

The launch had made it into Kleister Alpha's space about a year before Avarice Rewarded came in-cluster. It was intercepted by a private vessel – the Malfeasant, whose captain's diary the Avaricious were translating. From the launch's records, Malfeasant's Ursa captain (one Vilis Kline) figured there was a highly valuable cargo on Vraidercalt. He excised relevant data from the launch's computer before handing it over to the authorities. He had a plan, and it involved salvage.

The villagers who were translating were not too impressed when they got to this part. Vilis Kilne would not have been an especially welcome member of their community. Fish pondered for a moment, then wondered aloud "Is that actually illegal, if they were all dead?"

Silea, their space lawyer, ran her mind over it. "It's failure to report an accident... But if there's an actual ship's log which says everyone from Vraidercalt got on the launch, and they're all dead, and he can argue that he's protecting his legitimate salvage rights..."

"Depends on the judge" said Sir David.

Silea nodded. [1]

"But their families..." said Luan, pained, and the villagers nodded. They went back to translating, and deduced what they could from the rest of the diary.

Firstly, the Vraidercalt was probably still there. It was deeper in the atmosphere than fuel skimmers normally went, but there was no reason it shouldn't survive for years on the occasional contragravity burst.

Secondly, Vraidercalt was legitimate salvage. And nobody knew she was there, excepting themselves and Captain Kline (whom they'd left in a coma after rescuing him from Malfeasant).

Thirdly, Avarice Rewarded could operate at that depth with some specialist gear. Malfeasant had been on a trial run when her drive failed and Avarice Rewarded came to the rescue. Apart from the drive problems, she'd been over-prepared. Kline noted the waste of money in his diary.

Finally, the 069-526 system (containing Kleister Alpha and Beta) was two parsecs away and another stop on their charter route.

"I was actually thinking of going there next" said Sir David. He drew a breath, and continued. "It's our refit yard, Kursis are paying our bill there when we finish the charter. I wanted an advance visit, to see if I could book a fuel purifier installation. Once the charter ends, and Kursis stop paying for all this expensive refined fuel we're buying, that'll save us sixteen thousand a jump."

"We should sort something out while we're there" said Fish.

The Avaricious all nodded. An astute observer might have discerned that they had different ideas about what "sort something out" meant.

The diary played on, and they made some more notes. It reached the final scene with the Ursa captain standing in front of the engine room door and gesturing behind him in alarm. Their translators explained that he was trying to "blast out" despite the engine problems because he "didn't want to end up like the Vraidercalt but with no launch".

[1] As somebody put it, the Imperium is "a government of men, not of laws". It really does depend on what the judge thinks is right, as much as what the law book says.

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