01.15 – Three, two, one, liftoff!

Now that they had a closer look, they could see that the gunship had seen a lot of fighting. The entire thing was covered with slightly misaligned welds where armor plates had been replaced and hundreds of small welds revealed the patches where they had filled in smaller holes.

The pair of them entered the ship. It really did smell like burnt rats. Spatters of blood and bits of debris lined the cargo bay – shell casings, plastic bits, flecks of metal, burnt out wires, and various small used parts lined the floor. The raiders had apparently not been very keen on cleaning.

The inside of the ship wasn’t in any better shape than the outside – holes, cracks, and dents marred the metal walls. Open panels exposed areas where wires and whole conduits had been ripped out and replaced. The ship had boarding defenses at the back of the cargo area – automated turrets and walls with embrasures – but they were ruined. The turrets had been shot apart and the embrasures melted or torn open. This ship had been violently captured and hadn’t been cared for well since.

The cargo area was two stories and open, with stairs right behind the boarding defenses against the far wall going up to a catwalk above that wrapped around the room like a U. The large cargo door they had walked up as a ramp would fit in between the two catwalks. A large door was folded up into the ceiling. In space, the door would be kept down and act together with the cargo ramp to form the ship’s airlock.

At the bend of the U there was a door heading into the bridge of the ship. On the first floor, below the stairs, a similar door led into the bottom section of the ship.

“Let’s check out the bridge first. If we can access the sensors we can check the rest of the ship remotely.” said Vanna.

“Good thinking.” said Cian as they headed toward the stairs.

The door opened easily and the duo walked into a long hall. On either side were two doors, with a fifth door at the end of the hall. Checking each door as they came to it, they found four sets of sleeping quarters. Three of them were made to fit four crew each with two sets of bunk beds. The fourth room, nearest the bridge, was made with a single larger bed and a desk area with chairs – obviously meant for the captain. The captain’s room was meticulously clean – the rest were filthy.

At the end of the hall they found the ship’s bridge. Some of the consoles were damaged and put back together a bit haphazardly, but everything appeared to be functional.

Vanna checked the consoles. “The main systems are all locked down with command codes. Internal sensors aren’t locked though.” said Vanna.

A few button presses brought up the ship’s internal cameras. Most of the rooms were empty, but the ship’s brig had an occupant.

Vanna gasped. “Bor!” she exclaimed.

A bloodied Rastlin male was behind the bars, wearing nothing but a pair of dirty shorts. From the look of him, he had been badly beaten.

“You know him?” asked Cian.

“That’s Borano! He’s one of the crew aboard one of the trading shuttles in Gregar’s Hill. They’re the one that came most often, they bought a lot of meat from Chalo.” answered Vanna.

“Where is this? He doesn’t look good.” said Cian.

“Let me see…” said Vanna, tapping on the console to bring up the layout of the ship. “This way!” she said, rushing from the room.

The two of them went back down the hall and down the stairs, heading toward the door on the bottom level. It was still ajar, and they quickly pushed it aside and went in.

Vanna led them through the kitchen and mess area, down a hall with several doors. She went straight to a door and opened it, finding the brig area with two small cells on the other side. She pushed the button to open up the one with Borano in it and rushed to his side.

“He’s still alive! Bor, Bor, can you hear me?” Vanna said, as Cian rushed over to them.

Borano was badly beaten, but still very much alive. He didn’t look like he would be in any risk of death in the immediate future, so Cian held off on overtaxing his already overexerted will.

“Can you heal him?” asked Vanna.

“Yeah, but I have to rest first. He’s got a strong pulse, he’ll be okay to wait a few hours. Does this ship have a medical area?” said Cian

“Yeah, it’s right down the hall.” answered Vanna.

Cian gingerly picked up Borano. “Lead on, maybe we can find something that will help for now.” said Cian.

Vanna nodded and headed out the door.

The medical bay was as meticulously clean as the captain’s room had been, and various mechanical bits were stored around the room. It was obvious that this was where Corissa maintained her implants. The room had two beds and a variety of supplies.

Cian laid Borano down on one of the medical beds. He recognized a medical scanner from his trip to the Valcim Mall clinic. Picking it up, Cian managed to initiate a scan and check out Borano’s injuries.

“Oh, you got med training?” asked Vanna.

“Nope. Just pushing buttons. Pretty sure this thing only scans, though. Looks like he has a lot of bruising and a few injured spots in his chest. Cracked ribs, I think? Says he’s a bit dehydrated and mild infection in the open wounds. Nothing that it identifies as life threatening and nothing out of place. If I knew how to put in an IV we could give him some fluids.” said Cian.

“Oh. Good. I can do the IV.” said Vanna as she looked through the drawers in the room. “Got it. We’re gonna fix you right up Bor.” she said.

“You have medical training? Why was I the one using the scanner?” asked Cian.

“None of that. Gettin’ more blood in someone is important for keeping ‘em alive after repelling boarders. My Pa taught me.” replied Vanna; as she expertly put an IV in Borano and put a canister of saline in the slot in the bed next to him.

“What else did your Pa teach you about surviving on ships?” asked Cian.

“Oh, only basic stuff on runnin’ ships. Navigation. How to fix a breach, patch up an airlock, field strip thrusters and fusion drives. Rewire consoles, bypass overloads. Manage cargo.” Vanna explained.

“Whoa. Field strip fusion drives? You can do all that? Why were you working as an unskilled ranch hand? You could have gotten a job on a ship!” asked Cian.

“Didn’t wanna be on no ship. Been on a ship all my life. Wanted some fresh air. But here I am back on a ship again. I expect you’ll want me to get control of it and get it flyin’ again too.” said Vanna, sighing.

“You can do that? I thought it was locked down and needed command codes.” asked Cian.

“Naw, just gotta hack it and bypass ‘em. Take a few hours, tops. Gotta see whats wrong with the engine ‘fore I can say about that part, though.” said Vanna.

“Just hack it and bypass it. You can simply hack a gunship AI core in a few hours. Of course you can…” said Cian, shaking his head in astonishment.

“Aint touching the AI. Only big navy ships use custom AI with this stuff integrated. Everybody else uses common AI packages with an encrypted interface. Only gotta crack or bypass it. Doubt this one is up to date on security patches. Locals are bad about that. Why, few years back a raider managed to ground almost the whole patrol fleet by spoofing their maintenance protocols. Put em in maintenance mode just like they was in dry dock. That hole had been patched three years ago, but out of hundreds only half a dozen of their ships had gotten the update. Them raiders looted a dozen warehouses and got away while the local patrol sat on their behinds tryin’ to get their ships in the air.” said Vanna.

“Wow. Your father sure did teach you a lot.” said Cian.

“Oh, I learned that part from me ma. Gotta know how to crack em if you wanna make sure yours aint cracked, me ma always said. She was in charge of security on our ship. Can’t have raiders hackin’ your ship, ‘specially if you’re hauling high value cargo all the time like we was.” said Vanna.

“Right. Well, if you can get this ship flyable it would be nice. We can fly it back to Gregar’s Hill and get your friend some proper medical attention. Then we can cash in on the bounties and sell the ship. Should leave us with a nice sum to share.” said Cian.

“I do like the sound of that. This junk pile would be worth a bit in salvage alone. We might even get a little extra from the local patrol base if we bring ‘em the black box recording so they can see how one of their ships ended up in pirate hands.” said Vanna.

“Well, that settles it then. Lets finish clearing the ship and make sure there aren’t any more surprises, then we can work on getting it off the ground.” said Cian.

Cian and Vanna left Borano in the medical bay and searched the rest of the ship. The galley area had a good stock of the most basic food rations, but nothing extravagant. They found some spare parts in a storage locker, a few pieces of expensive looking jewelry in the captain’s quarters, and two sets of armor in the armory – previously belonging to Corissa and Jean. The armory also contained extra energy cells and ammunition for their new weapons.

Class M Universal Energy Cell – Medium energy cell used for various equipment and mid-sized firearms. Rechargeable. Charge: 4000/4000. Durability: 100/100

Class S Universal Energy Cell – Small energy cell used for various equipment and small firearms. Rechargeable. Charge: 1000/1000. Durability: 99/100

Gauss pistol clip – A clip containing 25 5mm ferrous slugs designed for a Gauss pistol.

Crate of 5mm Ferrous slugs – A crate of ferrous slugs designed for Gauss weaponry. Contents: 4725/5000 slugs.

Box of standard 12.7mm cartridges – A box of 12.7mm cartridges. Standard tungsten alloy bullets with gunpowder based propellant. Contents: 487/500 rounds.

As Cian and Vanna sat down on the armory bench to snack on some prepared rations (the mess tables were filthy), Cian looked over the armor they had found.

Class VIII Armored Pressure Suit – Pressure suit with Class 8 armor, capable of blocking small arms fire and resisting laser and larger caliber rounds. Capable of automatic sealant of leaks to maintain pressure in vacuum. Max Absorb: 50U, Armor Max: 800, Durability: 100/100, Size: S.

Class VII Armored Pressure Suit – Pressure suit with Class 7 armor, capable of blocking small arms fire and resisting laser and larger caliber rounds. Capable of automatic sealant of leaks to maintain pressure in vacuum. Max Absorb: 40U, Armor Max: 700, Durability: 100/100, Size: L.

Both sets of armor had a little interface showing the actual Armor of the various parts of it – the helmet and front chest pieces were showing the “Armor Max” value, the back and extremities had less. It was color coded to show damage, but both suits were fully repaired. Checking what the numbers meant, Absorb meant how much damage the armor absorbed outright without taking damage – the U being the type. Universal in this case. As the armor took damage the absorb would drop, but something had to hit harder than the absorb to even damage it.

This was some heavy armor – their little pulse pistol wouldn’t have even scratched the woman’s suit. Even the heavier arms that the raiders had used would take a lot of direct shots to penetrate it. The third suit was also a class VII suit, and the cyborg had crushed the poor man in it like it was a tin can. Neither of them wanted to try to salvage it, so they just left the poor battered Richter in it.

Cian realized that they were very lucky to have survived this encounter. Even an ambush with their spears would have taken multiple hits to get through the body armor, and that Corissa woman could have punched right through his head even without her weapons.

“Think the lady’s armor will fit you?” Cian asked Vanna.

“Sure, with a little jiggering. Big ‘un should fit you. I can prolly take the heavier plates outta the lil’ set and put ‘em in yours if you want.” replied Vanna.

“No, you don’t have to do that. No reason to risk damaging the stuff, it doesn’t matter who gets the best set.” answered Cian.

“Oh, right. I forgot you aint like the other humans, heh.” remarked Vanna.

“So, how…” Cian started, before being interrupted by an alarm sounding.

“The proximity alarm! Something tripped their net.” exclaimed Vanna.

Both of them rushed out of the ship, readying their weapons and scanning the area. Nothing seemed to be amiss.

“Careful. Could be stealthed.” said Vanna.

Suddenly, she fired a shot right past Cian. He turned and spotted a large Kel rat with a gaping hole through its head. It was about the size of a large dog, with its body blending with the surrounding grass.

“Got dinner.” smirked Vanna.

“Ew. Are those even edible?” asked Cian.

“Yep. What’d you think when I said there’d be game to hunt out this way?” replied Vanna.

“Not that.” answered Cian.

Vanna showed Cian how to gut and clean the Kel rat. The process was unpleasant, but the meat it yielded looked good enough.

Cian put the bodies of the pirates in cold storage in the medical bay, gathered up their tent and equipment, and swept most of the trash out of the ship while Vanna cooked.

Vanna turned out to be a very good cook, given a proper galley and some spices. The meat reminded Cian of some alligator he had tried before – lean, chewy, and a bit like a cross between fish and chicken.

Vanna rigged the ship’s environmental system to flush out most of the smoke and foul odors, and by evening the ship didn’t smell of much except the delicious cooked meat. The pair ate good that evening, and Cian checked in on Borano and channeled some of his healing into him before they found rooms to sleep in.

Cian told Vanna to take the captain’s quarters since it was the cleanest room in the ship, but she insisted that Cian take it since he was the one who wanted to be a captain and it was bad luck for the crew to sleep in the captain’s quarters. Cian didn’t argue too much – whatever else Corissa had done, she cared about comfort and had installed a very comfortable bed. He was very ready to sleep in a real bed.

By noon the next day, Vanna had cracked the ship’s command interface and gave both of them full control of the ship. It turned out Richter had finished the repairs before coming out to attack his bosses, but Vanna spent the rest of the day and on until midnight making additional repairs and adjustments to the “bloody deathtrap” before she gave the OK trying to start it.

Cian watched Vanna work and helped where he could, but even with his knowledge in real world engineering and her explaining things, he understood less than half of what she was doing. Again Cian marveled at the game’s realism – he might not understand all of it, but everything made sense and looked like it could work in the real world. By the time they were done he had a pretty basic idea of how ships worked in Worlds & Empires. The interface recognized his contribution by awarding him with a new skill.

New skill learned! Starship Engineering.

Starship Engineering increased by 11% to 11%.

Starship Engineering – Most of society relies on starships, but few actually understand the function of them. This skill encompasses a broad area of study in multiple fields combined that allows one to manage basic field repairs, maintenance, and upgrade of starships of all shapes and sizes.

To her credit, the ship fired right up and the ship AI reported the ship had been restored to 82% reactor function and all thrusters were fully operational. Cian was impressed, but Vanna seemed disappointed.

“Coulda got it above factory spec with decent parts. But I guess it’ll do for a short trip.” said Vanna.

Borano still hadn’t woken up, despite Cian continuing to heal him as he could. They decided against showing up in town after dark in a pirate gunship, so they spent another comfortable night in their new beds.

The next morning they woke up early to start prepping to launch. By the time dawn arrived, the two had gathered the proximity sensors and stowed and secured everything in the ship. Vanna made sure to carefully strap Borano into the medical bed so the launch didn’t fling him around.

Vanna showed Cian the ship’s controls and gave him a quick rundown on piloting. After a few false starts, he was able to take off and make a loop around the area before Vanna stepped in and programmed their flight path.

In the early morning light, the small beat up gunship headed toward Gregar’s Hill and the first interaction Cian would have with other players in weeks. Just the trip had taken eighteen days, plus the day or two he had been unconscious before that.

As they flew toward the town, Cian couldn’t help but wonder how his real body was doing. Had it really been nearly three weeks since he logged in? How had he even survived this long without water? Was someone taking care of him? HAD he survived?

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