41. All Over Bar The Looting
Date: 269-993 Imperial.
Location: abandoned freighter Vraidercalt, Kleister Beta (uninhabited far binary companion white dwarf), 069-526 System (0721).
The clouds didn't like electric shocks one bit. They didn't like being sprayed with a paint gun loaded with bleach from the cupboard under the sink in the galley, either. The alkali pretty much exploded on contact.
The Avaricious met three more of the creatures, driving two away and dropping a third to the deck. As they examined the body, it seemed to regenerate. Maelcum fairly shredded it to make it stay dead.
And then they were through the last door into the cargo bay, on the bottom deck. It still seemed in fairly good order - the cargo was all in standard 4 dton shipping containers, and they were properly bolted down. There was some wind gusting around, presumably from the hull breach which was out of sight behind containers, but not the hurricane they'd feared.
Everybody clipped on a safety line (and hoped the clouds didn't eat it) as they made the short transit to the secure hold. Fish opened it with thermite bricks and extreme prejudice.
"Property of Ling Standard Products. Machine tools. Precision equipment. Handle with care." Sir David read the stencils off the stack of completely non-standard boxes that filled most of the room.
"Is that valuable?" asked Maelcum.
Fish walked up for a closer look. "It is when it's assembly and test rigs for their current model anti-gravity nodules. They'd be worth a fair bit to Ling."
"And a lot more to their competitors" added Sir David.
They loaded the first few boxes on a trolley and headed back.
It took four trips and about forty minutes to get the boxes out of the hold, up the stairs, and onto Avarice Rewarded. Two clouds hit them on the stairs on the third trip, a near-perfect ambush while they had their hands full, and they lost one box. Everybody thought the ambush was a bit clever for gas-dwelling jellyfish, but nobody wanted to say the word "intelligent" aloud.
Then they back went to the bridge and blew the safe in the captain's office, recovering the holocrystal which held the captain's log. The eighty thousand credits in cash and assorted passenger jewellery were, of course, incidental.
Sir David recapped the remainder of the plan. "Alright, next we get those low berths off. Then we can go and start stripping fittings. We'll do the computer and the turrets first, then survey the power plant and drives in case it's worth bringing a proper salvage vessel back for something. I don't think this hull is going to be worth the cost of recovering it."
Fish was hanging upside down from the strut work around the low berths, while the others kept guard. He yanked on a wrench and complained "These bolts go on forever. Anybody would think they're supposed to hold the thing in place."
"Could you use another thermite brick?" asked Maelcum.
"I'm not sure how well it will mix with a freezer system. Besides, I've only got four left and we might find another safe that needs..."
"Bridge to away team, we have a contact. Do you copy?" Silea's voice broke through on comm.
"Go ahead" replied Sir David.
"It's just broken out of that storm that was passing and it's coming right at us. It's big but faint. The other sensors don't work in the gas."
"How big is 'big'?"
"Ten to fifteen kilometres across. It dopplers, like it's not quite making a constant speed."
"That's the big granddaddy cloud," Maelcum cut in.
"How long do we have, Silea?" asked Sir David.
"About twenty minutes."
Fish pushed himself away from the back of the low berths, looked at the other two, and said "so it's thermite time after all?"
He got very busy.
"Lock sealed" yelled Sir David as he pushed the second low berth into the corridor and went slamming into the far wall with it.
"Undocking." Silea's voice came back, followed by a minute lurch. "Mains in five, four, three, two, one, we're go. Pulling away, two gee. OK, you've got ninety seconds to come to the bridge and watch that thing swallow Vraidercalt. Or chase us."
"Record it for me" panted Fish, who was lying flat on his back in the corridor with his suit oxygen turned up, "I'll get my breath back first."
Silea put them into a fast orbit. The next time they came around, Vraidercalt was gone.