The Ace of Spades was a 38,350 tons Class IV Scout Ship. It had a crew of 13, of which only 10 were required to operate it. It could carry 6 passengers in standard quarters and 1 in luxury quarters. Of its 400 cargo units, 44 were available, giving it a cargo capacity of 2,200 tons. It was built for speed with twin Stellar Group EH-2 Hyperdrives giving it FTL speed 15 and twin Oshiro Shipping MI-2 Ion engines, giving it Subluminal speed of 9.5, and had a healthy operational range of 70 parsecs. Its powerful Chemerkin-Liang Products LM-5S Command Computer ran to 64 CPU Cycles and allowed for a maximum FTL speed of 16. It carried the Interstellar Enterprises MS-1H Sensor Suite.
Defensively, it was excellent, with Superstructure 40, Defence 22, and Electronic Defence 32. It was fitted with a Sato-Litvak Syndicate MSN-2 Navigational Deflector Shield, which provided SOAK:2 and a more formidable Overcorp-Pan Prime LSM-2 Combat Shield Generator, which provided SOAK:9. In addition, it was fitted with a NorthCo GYN3 Starship Stealth System Cloaking Device and Omniwide Productions YPO57 Electronic Countermeasures.
Its main armaments were a North Prime Weapons LHB-1H Redsword Phaser Beam and a Galaxy Society LCCI-1 Stingbird Cluster Missile Launcher. For point defence, it mounted a Stornes and Warner Ultrashield Dual Gauss Gun.
Its facilities consisted of 1 brig, 2 luxury cabins, 12 standard cabins, 3 double cabins, 20 escape capsules, a gymnasium, hidden storage compartments for 10 cargo units, 1 laboratory, 1 library, a lounge for 8 crew, a mess hall for 8 crew, 1 replicator, a sickbay for 4 patients, and 1 stellar cartography room. In addition it had a Borian Engineering Guild BA1 Repair Bay, a Borian Engineering BFS1 Fuel Scoop, planetary landing capability and two small hangars for 1 shuttle and 1 ground vehicle. It's luxury rating was classed as 195% comfortable. The Ace of Spades had a market value of 6,862.7 MegaCredits.
The distance The Ace of Spades needed to travel from Achamandra to Breuse was 61.1 parsecs, which in theory could be managed in one jump but for safety reasons, Kimberley split into three separate jumps - Achamandra to Sheol (at the edge of the Phoenix star sector) was 16.6 parsecs. Sheol to Wellbefallen (on the edge of the Saga star sector) was 25.7 parsecs. And finally, Wellbefallen to Breuse was 18.8 parsecs. However, Kimberley knew a few short cuts she could take and was able to reduce the total distance to 55.44 parsecs.
(Kimberley has the Secret Routes exploit, which allows her to reduce journey distances in parsecs by 2d6%. I rolled a 10 for her, which was a very good result, knocking 10% off the journey distance.)
As mentioned above, The Ace of Spades had an FTL speed of 15. Kyran Calaveri, the ship's engineer worked her magic and was able to boost the engines to FTL:16.
(Kyran used her Engine Tuner exploit to increase the maximum Faster Than Light speed by one factor.)
This meant that the journey would take 388.08 hours or 16.17 days.
This gave the crew plenty of time to get to know their three employers, Mearc Sterling, Royce Tavahi and Sheas Danelish a lot better and for them to get to know the crew and allow them to explore The Ace of Spades.
Mearc was the only son of Alfred, the founder of the Sterling Agricultural Colony (SAC). His mother was named Radula Barr before she married Alfred. He spent most of his life following his parents from one agricultural site to another. He spent four years studying agricultural engineering at the University of Achamandra. He married and sired a son. He now lived alongside his parents and family as a valued member of the SAC. Due to his upbringing, he was very polite, well-mannered and calm.
Royce was born and raised by his parents, Carral and Ruth, on Breuse (Caliburnus 1) in a small village. He grew up as a moisture farmer, a job he intensely disliked. He would have loved to have been a soldier, so he enrolled in a military academy on Breuse and underwent basic training. However, his bad temper, impulsiveness, overconfidence and stubbornness meant he was not accepted for further training. He quickly grew disillusioned with life and joined a local street gang. His life changed for the better when he met Linda Marrow. She helped him turn his life around and they married within a year. He found a job as a freelance scout for the SAC, where Linda originated from. He took on the role of the colony's protector. A changed man from his youth, he was thoroughly devoted to his wife and the colony.
Sheas was also born on Breuse. She had a good education in farming and she continued her academic career by learning ecology, zoology and engineering, a subject she qualified with a Bachelors degree. She would have liked to have studied further, but her plans were dashed when her father, a soldier serving in the Planetary Defence Force, was killed by mercenaries in a border skirmish. She returned to the SAC on Breuse to take a full time job as a bartender, then as a baker and recently, as a mechanic, to support her two younger brothers and her mother. This has given her a very negative opinion of anyone who makes a living by fighting. She was a very stubborn woman and hated chauvinism and soldiers in equal measure.
The Ghost Ship
When The Ace of Spades dropped out of hyperspace at Sheol, Lynda Pelligrosso, who was on the bridge running a sensor sweep, noted that everything was clear apart from a large metal object at the extreme edge of her scanner range. As the distance between them closed, she was able to further identify the mystery object.
Kimberley Wells was seated in the command chair. Also present on the bridge were pilot Storm Galloway, android Celeste, gunner Jeanette Grey and computer hacker Sharuna Randall.
"I've tried contacting them," Lynda continued, "but they're not responding. Also, I'm not picking up any life form readings from them."
"Okay, we'll go in closer and investigate," Kimberley announced. "Let's take it steady and be on the lookout for any sign of trouble."
"Still nothing on comms," Lynda said. "It's just floating in space."
"No power readings either?" Kimberley asked.
"Not a thing," Sharuna replied. "It's like a ghost ship, Kimberley."
"Well, now that we're here, we may as well check it out," Kimberley decided. She switched on an open channel and said, "Gwendoline and Katja, get suited up for an EVA trip. We've got a ghost ship to explore. Celeste, you're going with them. Take point."
Kimberley knew her crew well and these three were eminently suited for this task.
Gwendoline Papillion was one of the smartest people that Kimberley knew and although her insatiable curiosity had got her into trouble before it also meant that she was more likely to spot something that others might miss.
Katja Sondquist was one of the ship's two scouts and as the eldest and thus more experienced of the pair, she was the preferred choice for doing an exploratory mission on an unknown vessel.
Celeste was an assassin android of unknown origin and Kimberley's personal bodyguard. She didn't breathe, drink, eat or sleep, so wouldn't require to suit up. If this was some kind of ambush, Celeste was more than capable of dealing with it.
"Hopefully, we'll be able to find out what happened if we can access the main computer," Gwendoline said.
"Providing it's still operational," Katja added cautiously.
As they got closer to the bridge, they were able to see that the paint on the bulkhead facing them was discoloured and blistered. The door hatch to the bridge should have opened easily but it took Celeste and Katja working together to force it open.
The scattered remains of the ship's captain and three crew members were severely burned. One quick look was enough for Gwendoline to realise that they were beyond help.
"What is this powder that's everywhere?" Katja asked.
"It is a common fire-fighting agent," Gwendoline replied. "Many ships use it as an automatic fire-fighting defence."
Celeste led them onto the bridge. Gwendoline knelt down and closely examined the bodies to confirm cause of death, even though it was obvious how they had died. Katja was slightly overwhelmed by it all and stood watch by the entry hatch. Celeste moved to the main control panel and to everyone's amazement was able to access an automatic computer log holo-recording of what happened.
"Check this out," she said as the recording began. "This should provide us with the answers as to what happened here."
The Walleran was a small independent trading vessel, carrying silver from Achamandra to a client called Pablo Kinte on Breuse. They had left Achamandra on the day before The Ace of Spades had left. When they dropped out of hyperspace at Sheol, they were halted and boarded by a large, unmarked corvette, heavily armed.
Confused and not a little frightened, Joasa Klin, the captain and pilot of the Walleran tried his best to accommodative the mysterious intruders. They, however, kept repeating, "Where's Sterling? We know you're aiding that weasely farm boy. Now WHERE IS HE?"
After thoroughly searching the ship, causing quite a bit of damage, the intruders left. But, unknown to Klin and his crew, they had placed an incendiary bomb under the navigation desk. It went off five minutes after the fighter ship left, causing a quick, hot fire that, despite the efforts of the ship's fire protection, killed everyone on board. The intruders had obviously mistaken the Walleran for The Ace of Spades.
After relaying this information to The Ace of Spades, the three crew members fully explored the rest of the ghost ship. Nothing of further interest was found until they came to the cargo bay. Inside were five undamaged crates. Each of these contained several dozen thin metal sheets, about 15" by 8" by 0.5", individually wrapped in oiled paper. The sheets were made of silver and in total were worth over 15,000 credits. Kimberley requested that they be transferred across to the cargo bay of The Ace of Spades. Her reasoning being that seeing as they were supposed to be delivered to a client on Breuse, she ought to make sure the delivery took place... and make a profit at the same time.
With everyone back on board, The Ace of Spades made its second hyperjump of the journey. Mearc Sterling was greatly concerned that someone wanted to stop him and his colleagues from returning to Breuse. This was much bigger than local bandits causing trouble for his colony. The question was who was behind it?
About a week later, The Ace of Spades dropped out of hyperspace in the Wellbefallen star system. As the ship slowed down to allow Kimberley and Storm to make the necessary course corrections for their jump to Breuse, Lynda warned them of an imminent arrival.
"Heads up, folks," she said abruptly. "I've got a sensor lock on a fast approaching ship heading our way."
"Open up a hailing frequency," Kimberley ordered. "I want to know who they are."
"On it," Lynda replied, followed soon after with, "they're not responding. I'll... holy shit! They've just fired a missile at us!"