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The Saga of the Free Trader Boxcars

This story of the Foible Federation Campaign was originally posted to the Freelance Traveller website in 2001 and reprinted in the January/February 2016 issue.

Unlike most Traveller tales, this one doesn’t begin with the Type A Free Trader getting into trouble out on the Federation frontier. That comes later.

This one begins with Sir Lazarus Myrinn, newly-retired Guardian Knight. As a boy, he dreamed of being a Scout, adventuring on the fringe of the Federation. When he turned 18 and applied, the Scout Service rejected him, and he ended up drafted into the Navy. Testing revealed a high psi potential, and he was tapped for the prestigious Guardian Knights. For the next twenty years, Laz served the Foible Federation as a Guardian Knight, racking up a distinguished career and the respect of his peers. Then “Old Laz” retired, to pursue his dream of “finding ways to get in trouble out on the frontier”. Since even his generous retirement benefits came nowhere near owning a ship, he did the next best thing: put together a balanced ship’s crew—pilot, navigator, medic, engineers, gunners—and hired on to a ship in search of a crew.

Sir Lazarus Myrrin, run by Wayne Shaw, who described him as resembling “a forty-ish Lorne Greene”, though I always assumed he had Wayne’s stocky build and trademark cowlick. I remember Wayne introducing us (i.e., handing me the character sheet):

Me: “Sir Lazarus Myrinn… Soc 11—he’s a ‘Sir’, alright… Seven terms… ‘Guardian Knight’?

Wayne: “Special elite Other.”

Me: “Telepathy and Awareness, pretty much maxed out—figures you’d be running a psi… Skill list… Lightsaber-3?"

Wayne: “Yeah. Don’s got Jedi Knights in his campaign.”

One of the first he tapped was “Caesar”, a former free-trader navigator/gunner with various mechanical/technical skills. Caesar was a male Cynthian—a 75cm tall, upright Himalayan cat with a face-mask like a raccoon—who pretty much became Old Laz’s sidekick. Now, Cynthies are heavy-duty matriarchal; male Cynthies are these timid, docile subs to the females’ doms. Not Caesar—he was orphaned as a kitten, unofficially “adopted” and raised by human free-traders. He wore clothes, went after human women, and had a bad case of “Short Man Syndrome”—twenty kilos of in-your-face machismo.

Caesar the Macho Male Cynthian, run by Tim McGrady, who’d heard of Cynthians but didn’t know the details of their behavior. When he found out, Caesar’s personality had already been established, and we adapted his past to explain it. According to Tim, Caesar was seriously freaked out by “real Cynthies” and avoided them whenever possible. He also liked human women, “though he really couldn’t do anything with them, just curl up in their laps and get them to ‘pet the kitty’.” Though the crimson leisure-suit jacket, silk ascot scarf, and cigarette holder loaded with Cynthian Nip would tend to spoil the illusion…

If Caesar had a theme song, it’d be “Macho Man” by the Village People. For everyone else, it would have been Meco’s disco cut of “Star Wars”.

And Anjin—at least that’s what I think his name was; everyone usually referred to him as “That Sonofabitching Fighter Pilot”. Ex-Navy fighter ace, who got discharged on a Section Eight (mental instability), completely rebuilt a surplus Canard fighter to full operational condition, and hired himself and his fighter out to free-traders as “pirate insurance”. (This part of the Fed frontier had continuing problems with Slishii raiders.)

Anjin the crazy fighter pilot, player’s name lost to history. Maxed-out Small Craft Pilot/Gunnery. Always thought of him as Eurasian, with a gi-top shirt and a Samurai-style topknot; the guy flew like a Kamikaze, he could at least look Japanese. And his rebuilt Canard—single-seat aerospace fighter of about 15 tons or so, 8-10 G engines, fully atmosphere-capable, with the standard Fed fighter fit of twin beam lasers and a Mod2/bis.

These three formed a permanent “core group”, fleshed out by two or three additional “temps” at any given time.

Now for the temps. With only two men and one furball, the “LazCo core group” was seriously shorthanded—especially engineers and gunners—so they hit the hiring halls and Startown spacer-bars for new hires, Laz using psi to evaluate the potential temps.

During one of these hiring expeditions-turned-bar-crawls, they run into this Kree woman, a tall amazon with sky-blue skin and Navy-blue hair. Caesar pops a serious woody at the sight of her and makes his move—“Let me handle this one, Boss…” Well, his “pet the kitty” act and brilliant pick-up line didn’t work. At all. She tells the little furball to buzz off—in the Kree dialect of Navy Creole. Caesar’s case of Short Man Syndrome kicks in and he gets in her face.

“Time to put the cat out.” She picks him up by the scruff of the neck and the root of his tail and gives him the bar-rag treatment down the length of the bar and right through the front window—


Caesar came to in the local ER, somewhat the worse for wear and with his wardrobe completely trashed. When he’s released, who’s there to greet him but Old Laz—with one arm around the Kree, whose name’s Teramell. During the resulting bar fight and its aftermath, Laz had found out—among other things—she was an experienced master gunner and hired her on-the-spot, getting out of the bar fight unscathed and undetected using a combination of her Brawling skills and his psionic mind-tricks. Oh, and while Caesar was getting patched up, Laz and Teramell had filled in the rest of the temps for the ship’s crew. And more…

Teramell had an additional inheritance, including some prize shares from her days as a privateer among the independent worlds beyond the Fed borders. With the additional backing of her Kree clan and warrior society, she could swing enough additional cash to put LazCo over the top for a down on a modest ship. Laz immediately inducted her into the “core group” as co-owner, with her connections as silent partners, and changed plans. Instead of hiring onto an existing ship, they’d try to get their own.

Enter the Boxcars, an armed and modified Type A Free Trader, available at a big discount from a bankruptcy liquidation sale. She was an old ship, with a lot of mods from her prior career—slightly-uprated computer/avionics, a pair of twin turrets with a pulse laser and a sandcaster apiece, some of her passenger staterooms and low berths deleted to enlarge her cargo hold, and 15-20 tons of that cargo hold refitted to take a single small craft. All in all, typical of an old free-trader on the frontier, as far from the Federation’s bureaucracy as possible. A bit of haggling over the price, a last-minute deal against Anjin’s fighter, and LazCo had their ship.

Free Trader Boxcars.
200 tons. Jump-1. 1-G. 30 tons fuel. Model/1bis. 6 staterooms, 10 low berths. Two twin turrets (pulse laser/sandcaster). 83 tons cargo + 20 tons small craft. Streamlined. 4-6 crew. MCr 40.5, marked down to under MCr 30 due to age and desperation.

Anjin’s fighter fitted into the small craft bay in the forward cargo hold, using a trapeze arrangement for launch and recovery. The 15-20 tons thus unavailable for cargo cut way into a Type A’s ability to break even, but with Slishii raiding the local border areas, survivability took priority over profitability.

Rebuilt Canard Fighter.
18 tons. 8-G. 2 tons fuel. Model/2bis. Single-seat cockpit, twin beam lasers. Streamlined. MCr30 originally, rebuilt from salvaged/scrounged components.

With her crew roster filled, the Boxcars then set off on the usual routine of a free trader—load spec cargo, jump to next system, sell spec cargo, occasional adventures on-planet, repeat as needed. System after system, world after world—Nephi, Ebios, Thraxis, Alkaida, Laman—working their way out to the Fed frontier and the loose halo of independent worlds beyond, where free-traders can actually break even.

Old Laz and Teramell continued their relationship, becoming partners in more than the business use of the term. Over the next few months, they worked their way through the Federation frontier, dipping into and out of the Fed itself, through strings of D- and E-port homesteaders’ worlds like Taranis, Epona, and Tanna-Sheru, where the only ships you’ll run into are other free-traders, Scouts, system-defense militias, small privateers, occasional Navy anti-pirate patrols with corsair-class patrol corvettes and frontier crews as “piratical”-looking as their quarries—and Slishii raiders.

Now comes the part where the Free Trader gets into real trouble on the frontier. Boosting out from the frontier colony of Ponderosa, the Boxcars was almost ready to jump to the next system when the sky around them went Cerenkov blue with jump emergences. Slishii!

The Boxcars, already powering up for jump, was not about to stick around with three Slishii corsairs incoming. Seeing easy prey, the raiders opened up on the Boxcars, scoring a couple hits before she sparkled blue and vanished into jump space. None of the hits was ship-threatening, but one slagged the port turret—where Chief Gunner Teramell had just strapped in to return fire.

Local convention: Blow-through from a starship hit does 10D damage to anyone in its path, reducible to 5D by wearing heavy armor (ballistic cloth or better).

They pulled the Kree woman—or what was left of her—out of the turret, peeled off her suit as best they could, dosed her with Necronol and other trauma stabilizers, and froze her down into one of the low berths. Critically injured, she was still alive and stable—sheer Kree toughness, if nothing else—when the lid of the low berth sealed over her.

Local precaution: Always keep a couple of low berths empty; if it looks like trouble, prep them for casualties. If you're nailed by a ship hit and not immediately killed, you have a lot better chance of survival if your shipmates freeze you down and get you to a full starport trauma center than if they try to treat your injuries aboard ship.

Three weeks, two jumps, and some field repairs later they got back across the border to Terminus, a B-port with a major trauma center—only to find that Teramell had died in freeze.

Laz took it hard. How? She was Kree! Stronger and tougher than a human! She was stable when we froze her down; Terminus has the best trauma center and unfreezing record for five parsecs—This Couldn't Happen!

As they laid over in Terminus for repairs, Anjin and Caesar took care of business while Laz made the arrangements with Teramell’s clan and warrior society, working out his grief. He checked the medical records at the trauma center, tore down the low berths, went over the ship’s recorders for any explanation, any clue, anything. All he found was some evidence of a minor low berth malfunction; it had performed a bit under spec, normally not serious, but coupled with Teramell’s weakened condition, it had been enough.

Though Psicometry was not one of his Talents, he even attempted a mind-scan for any psionic residue—“Ripples in the Force”—that Teramell could have left as she lay there, reaching for some remaining part of her. Nothing clear; just some ambiguous mixture of the ship’s crew who’d used or maintained the low berths—Teramell, Caesar, a couple unidentifiable shadows of others.

By the time they were repaired and ready to put to sky, Laz had come to one conclusion—Never Again! On his own, he took them deeper in debt—replacing the low berths, rigging Anjin’s fighter for rapid-launch, buying a pair of decoy-emitter rounds for the sandcasters. Everyone’s Vacc Suit was refitted with layers of Cloth and Reflec to yield makeshift Combat Armor—temps and new-hires at their own expense—and Laz initiated a near-constant series of combat drills like he was back in the Navy.

Over the next month or two, routine aboard the Boxcars returned to its post-Teramell normalcy—load spec cargo, jump to next system, sell spec cargo, and drill, drill, drill… Turnover on the temps was a bit higher, thanks to the last item.

Load spec cargo, jump to next system, sell spec cargo, and drill, drill, drill… In a big ragged loop from Terminus beyond the border, through systems without official names, where the Nostran Consortium (a cross between a corporate merchant house and a privateer fleet) provided extra-legal protection where the Fed Navy couldn’t reach.

If System A4-0802 had been inside the Federation proper, it’d be a waystop between two major worlds, with a real name, fueling station and patrol base. Here on the frontier, it was uninhabited and unnamed, with an automated nav beacon and an occasional Consortium patrol the only signs of life.

The Boxcars had just jumped in-system and was getting its fix on the beacon when fire-control radars lit them up. What they thought was a 400-ton Type R passing through the system turned out to be another Slishii corsair, lying in wait.

Laz and Anjin were standing bridge watch when the “Type R” dropped the pretense and started boosting on a 3-G intercept course. This time, Laz was at the controls. Guardian Knights were trained to respond to emergencies and/or combat situations with a Zen-like state of “no-mind”, operating entirely by their psionic awareness and subconscious (“Using The Force”). Training kicking in, Laz triggered his “panic button”, launching a pair of decoys from the ship’s two sandcasters and starting evasion jinking while Anjin dashed down to the refitted forward hold—dodging the gunners climbing into the turrets—and powered up his Canard.

On the Slishii radars, the target free-trader split into three targets, all jinking at 1-G. This time the decoys worked, drawing off the corsair’s first salvo while one of the three targets separated another, smaller object. Away and free, Anjin’s fighter spun and closed on the Slishii, jinking past incoming fire. Twin beam lasers raked gouges across the corsair’s hull, then Anjin was past, flipping a one-eighty and continuing fire as he coasted away. Another thrust burn sent him back at the Slishii for another pass; this time the lasers raked across the forward section, and the raider went from three gees to zero amid a cascade of secondary explosions.

As Anjin shot back towards the Boxcars, flipping for another pass, the Slishii stopped firing. And emitting. Now silent, it tumbled towards the free-trader and fighter, what should have been its bridge and crew compartments torn open and outgassing. Boxcars’ pulse lasers scored a couple additional hits as it tumbled past, without response; Anjin held fire, then boosted after it, matching speed and trajectory. Again, no response. He brought the fighter closer, scanned, then radioed the Boxcars to follow.

The Slishii ship still tumbled silently as the free-trader boosted up to match it at a pitiful 1-G, both pulse lasers trained and ready. Still no sign of life. Some quick radio chatter, then the Boxcars closed to almost touching and a scratch boarding party in EVA suits leaped from the airlock, covered by both ship’s and fighter’s guns.

First into the corsair was Laz’s mind, telepathically probing; second-in was Laz himself, lightsaber fired-up and ready. Nothing. After a sweep-and-clear, they realized what they had—a salvageable 400-ton warship, free for the taking, fully legal under Right of Salvage in the Federation, never mind beyond the border. Anjin’s fighter had gutted the crew compartments and part of the bridge, killing the entire Slishii crew while leaving the ship mostly untouched—engines, powerplant, computer, and most of the armament either intact or repairable.

Anjin’s lasers had rolled a critical hit (crew), with little damage to the ship’s major systems.

They spent another day and a half in-system, repairing and altering the corsair to where a skeleton crew could limp her through jump space. Putting a prize crew aboard, they formation-jumped her back to Terminus as booty.

If LazCo could sell the prize, not only would it be shares all-around, but they could pay off the Boxcars and/or trade up to a larger ship. The problem was, finding a buyer. Because of Federation laws and regs, it’d have to be to independents—beyond the border again, but who?

The Nostran Consortium was an obvious choice; their factor put in an initial bid almost before the Boxcars and her prize landed. But Laz had dealt with them before, during his active-duty days as a Guardian Knight, and he’d blow up the ship before he’d sell it to them.

The Consortium ran the biggest “Tambu Ticket” in the subsector, offering anti-pirate protection to independent worlds—for a price. And the price was often enough to indenture the worlds; those who refused often ended up with their shipping hit by mystery raiders to the point of collapse. Twenty years before, a newly-knighted Lazarus Myrinn had helped break up their protection racket within the Federation itself; the resulting scandal had ended up with the impeachment of three senator/investors and the outlawing of Consortium paramilitary operations within Federation space.

Though it was never told in detail, young Laz’s experience with the Consortium probably paralleled a young Obi-Wan Kenobi’s experience with the Trade Federation in the later Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. (Remember, Laz was there first—some twenty years before Lucas filmed that movie. Cue the filk "The Saga Begins" by Weird Al Yankovic…)

Then came an under-the-table offer from the Panthalassan Militia. A semi-pelagic world beyond the border, Panthalassa had kicked out the Consortium, nationalizing all its on-world assets as repatriations for prior treatment. After a sudden increase in mystery raiders, the Panthalassans started shooting up any Nostran ships on sight; the Consortium had responded with a direct naval blockade. This stalemate had lasted a couple months, during which both sides had been hiring mercenaries and privateers all over the subsector—covertly within the Federation, and openly beyond the border.

The Panthie offer was the equal to the Consortium’s initial offer; with Fed regulators starting to take an interest in the transaction, LazCo quickly closed the deal, letting the Consortium bid up over MCr300 before going with Panthalassa’s initial offer. One ex-Slishii corsair, in fully-operational condition, for MCr200 Federation, payment on delivery to Panthalassa, ASAP.
Problem with the delivery: they’d have to run the blockade twice; once in with the corsair, once out alone. On the leg in, the plan was to piggyback the Boxcars onto the corsair, with the attach points the corsair had used to haul off her prey; even with the Boxcars attached, the corsair could still make jump-2 and 2 to 3-Gs, cutting their time in jump by half and the run-in from jump point to surface from five hours to well under three. On the leg out, LazCo got a commitment from Panthie system defense to provide cover to jump point, at which point extra fuel and intermediate jump-1s through interstellar space should elude any pursuit. Dangerous, yes, but with an after-expenses prize of around MCr 180 for shares, repairs, and a new ship.

This required more hiring, to yield a full crew for the Boxcars and a skeleton one for the corsair. Including a new female gunner named Delana Solo—a tall, dark-haired human amazon, vaguely reminiscent of Teramell. When Laz hired her on, Caesar objected, triggering an argument. Not just an argument; Caesar was adamant—“No way, Boss! If she comes aboard, I go!”

Laz’s voice raised, Caesar’s got hissy; the two had had differences before, but never like this—by the time the shouting/hissing match ended, the Cynthie’s fur was on end, his tail lashing, ears flat and fangs showing, raw emotions blasting against the edges of Laz’s telepathy. Just as Laz was about to stuff the little parafeline into an air duct, Caesar backed off with “Enough of this! I need a smoke!”

After the furball left to chemically calm himself, Laz stood there puzzled for a moment. Cynthies—especially the females—had short fuses, but what had set off Caesar like that? His mind had been screaming jealousy—strong enough for Laz to feel even without using his Talents—but why? That new gunner had given Laz a faint echo of Teramell, but then he got that impression from a lot of females these days. Something nagged at the back of his mind; he’d felt a psi-signature like that somewhere before, and not too long ago…

Then he remembered with a “Gurk!” He had felt a “Ripple in the Force” like that once before. A faint residue from the low berth where Teramell had died.

Tim (making reaction roll for Caesar): “Snake-eyes. She must remind him of the Kree…. Ooop!”

Wayne’s eyes light up like something out of a cartoon… (He literally didn't know until Tim's slip-up…)

Tim gets an “Oh. Shit.” expression as Wayne flips into character and closes for the kill… It was lke watching that old vaudeville bit, “Slowly I Turn… Step by step… Inch by inch…”

Checking his lightsaber, Laz went looking for a small white parafeline in a red-and-gold leisure suit. He found him in a secluded spot outside, filling his lungs with Cynthian Nip.

“Caesar? You got your fur back down yet?”

The Cynthie parked his cigarette holder in his muzzle and stretched like the cat he resembled. “Pretty much, Boss.”

“What was with you back there?”

“That gunner, Delana. I got one of your ‘Ripples in the Force’ from her. She’s gonna be bad luck, and we need all the luck we can get on this run.”

“I… see.” Laz checked around to be sure they were alone, then continued. “Caesar, what are you certified in? Besides Navigation and Gunnery.”

“Mechanical and Life-support. Why?”

“Like the skills that would be needed to sabotage a low berth?” Caesar’s eyes went wide, his tail shooting out like a bottlebrush, cigarette falling to the pavement; Laz shot his mind out in a full psi-probe, got confirmation from the reaction and memories that flashed through Caesar’s mind.

Caesar’s body pistol appeared from nowhere. “Boss! You can’t do this to me! You need me to run that blockade!”

“Not when it comes to murder.” A superhuman blur of motion and his lightsaber flared, cutting Caesar’s gun in two at the receiver without touching the Cynthie, then hummed back to cut off the furball’s escape, backing him into a corner and pinning him against the wall.

“Noooo! Boss!”

They lost another week and a half with the police investigation and depositions for the trial. Laz would have been willing to stay and see it through, but word was the Panthalassa blockade was tightening and rumors flew about a final showdown with the Consortium. If they didn’t take off now, the corsair deal would be off. So, after leaving depositions, they put to sky for Panthalassa.

If there was any luck on this run, it was good luck; they ran the blockade with a perfect emergence at minimum jump distance and a 3-G dash using both ships’ maneuver drives, separating the Boxcars just before they hit atmosphere, planetary defenses giving them covering fire after the first exchange of IFF. One ex-Slishii corsair, delivered as contracted.

Now, to turn the ship around and get away to spend their payment. If they could. The blockade had tightened over the last few days; rumor was something big was about to go down.

GM: “You notice something. You’re the only civilian ship left in port—everything else is military or merc. You get a bad feeling about this…”

The Boxcars spent only two days in turnaround on a secondary starport site, fueling up, checking and rechecking systems, and loading a minimal spec-trade shipment (they were free-traders, after all) as they waited for an opening in the blockade. The plan was for surface-based defenses to give covering fire as they made their break, but they’d have the best chance if they aimed for an already-weak spot. They’d need all the help they could get; Boxcars was a Type A Free Trader, and could only make 1-G; getting to safe jump distance would require five hours from launch. So they waited for an opening. And waited. And waited. And waited.

Then, in early morning, the alarms went off all over the port as the sky filled with moving stars and Cerenkov blue flashes. The blockade was over; the Consortium attack had come.

Now for another prophetic parallel to a future Star Wars movie: the “Escape from Hoth” scene from Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.

Boxcars was last to launch, after a squadron of corsairs (including the one they’d just delivered) and another of older second-string fighters. From the islands on the horizon, the port defenses went live; surface-mounted bank lasers thundered artificial lightning through the sky, trading fire with the Consortium; artificial thunderheads flickered explosive fire as laser Shilkas caught incoming missiles.

Boxcars cleared the port, staying low as Laz took her in a dash across Panthalassa’s dark side at low altitude. A series of flashes as the port passed below the horizon told of a rake by incoming bank lasers or a missile salvo that had gotten through. They continued around the dark side, getting planetary-defense telemetry from the chaos of signals—most of Panthalassa’s settlements were on islands and mini-continents around the main and secondary ports; an incoming attack would probably concentrate there, and a strong defense would force the attack to concentrate on one side of the planet.

The other side of the planet was the unbroken World Ocean that had given Panthalassa its name—uninhabited and unimportant. By dashing around to the antipodes and staying in the shadow of the planet as they boosted out, Laz and Anjin hoped to get out while the Consortium was busy shooting up the defenses and port. Hopping from storm cell to storm cell in Panthalassa’s constant equatorial cloud belt, they tried to mask themselves inside the emission signature of the lightning.

Once a series of bright streaks passed them on the horizon—Consortium ships and armed gigs (“poor man’s fighters”) inbound to some surface target, trying the same wave-hopping trick as the Boxcars. They passed without incident, either intent on their mission or judging the free-trader too unimportant a target of opportunity.

According to the chaos of signals, the main Consortium force was concentrating on bombing the ports; blockade ships on the far side were being pulled off into the rapidly-developing dogfight. Figuring now was their best chance, Laz and Anjin stood the Boxcars on her tail and boosted out, trying for a slingshot assist from the planet’s rotation.

Now for the cold equations. The Boxcars could only make 1-G; even with Panthalassa’s size, getting to the 100-diameter safe jump distance would take over five hours, of which half would be spent making the first 20-25 diameters. If they reached 30-40 diameters, they would have built up enough velocity to stand a good chance of getting away. If they made it that far.

Ten diameters: 5 turns out; 92% chance of misjump, 58% of catastrophic (ship-killing) misjump.

As Laz had hoped, most of the attacking force was busy in a battle around the port, blasts of electrical noises and explosion flashes announcing where and when someone got hit. From ground telemetry, the blockade force on the far side was only a few Corsairs and a couple Mercenary “Cruisers”, already thinning as more ships were fed into the growing furball over the port. Boxcars aimed for the biggest hole in the coverage and boosted on, gunners ready in their turrets and the rest of her crew strapped in and waiting, Jump solution ready to engage in an instant.

Twenty diameters: 8 turns; 83% chance of misjump, 42% catastrophic

Somebody in the blockade force had noticed. A single corsair left its station and started in on a 3-G intercept course. Anjin started jinking with all the tricks he’d learned in the Navy; Laz tried to break in on the planetary-defense frequencies with a Mayday as the free-trader’s turrets started laying anti-laser sandclouds and decoys.

The Consortium Corsair bored in—and went from three gees to zero as a bank laser shot from the surface shredded its engine compartment. Laz had gotten through to the planetary defenses, and at least one surface site was giving covering fire.

Thirty diameters: 10 turns ; 72% chance of misjump, 28% catastrophic.

Two other Corsairs of the blockade force opened fire on the jinking free-trader, both of whose turrets were now frantically firing anti-missile with their pulse lasers and laying sandclouds with their sandcasters. The Boxcars shuddered with her first hit—surface and hold damage, nothing serious. Yet.

(Laz has always denied that his psionics were responsible for getting them that far unmolested, that Guardian Knight training isn’t as powerful as all the urban legends make it out to be. The crew that was with him remains unconvinced.)

Another Corsair—this one Panthalassan—opened fire at long range into the developing fight; one of the Nostran ships broke off to return fire, the other was distracted enough to miss with its next salvo. (To this day, Laz is sure that Panthie ship was the ex-Slishii one he’d just delivered…)

Forty diameters: 12 turns ; 58% chance of misjump, 17% catastrophic.

Now a Mercenary Cruiser accelerated out of its blockade position, joining the remaining Corsair—two against one, both larger than the Boxcars, closing for a kill. They pulled their punches with their first salvo, only one laser turret each, apparently intending to disable and capture instead of destroy—the natural reaction of privateers going after small prey.

It was almost enough. Again, no ship-threatening hits, but two laser bolts tore through one of the Boxcars’ turrets; Delana’s scream cut off—just like Teramell’s had—as her turret went silent, debris falling behind the ship. Another hold hit shuddered the ship, and Anjin began unstrapping amid the blaring alarms.

“We’ll never make it! I’ll launch off—hold them until you get away—try to catch up before you jump—” Pushing off of his pilot’s couch, Anjin made for the bridge exit and the fighter bay.

Beside him, Laz shook out of his state of No-mind . “No! You’ll never make it!” Engaging Auto-evade, he unstrapped and tackled the pilot.

Fifty diameters: 13 turns; 42% chance of misjump, 8% catastrophic.

Another hit; for a moment the powerplant faltered, then internal gravity failed and the bridge’s rear bulkhead became the deck. Three hundred kilos of grappling Guardian Knight and suicidal fighter pilot crashed onto the new “deck” and continued their wrestling match as more alarms joined in—remaining sandcaster out of ammunition, a third Nostran ship coming in for a “stall-and-cannon” trap…

Sixty diameters: 14 turns; 28% chance of misjump, 3% catastrophic.

Three enemy ships, totaling eight times their tonnage, incoming—closing range before firing and boarding. Only one pulse laser surviving, only sandcaster empty, the entire ship only one solid engine hit away from being trapped insystem, alarms and red lights blazing through the bridge. Laz released Anjin, climbed the Zero-Gee handholds to the controls, and “going by the Force” engaged the Jump Drive—“What have we got to lose?”

As the Mercenary Cruiser and pair of Corsairs closed in, the free-trader sparkled Cerenkov Blue and vanished into Jump.

They didn’t misjump. Down three crew—two permanently—and disarmed, hold open to space and cabins in zero-gee, the Boxcars limped back to Terminus, arriving about three weeks afterwards. Dock in the orbital port and transfer the Low Berths of badly-wounded—including a barely-alive Delana—into the same trauma center where Teramell had been pronounced dead.

This time, it didn’t happen again. Unlike Teramell, this female gunner survived, though disabled—she’d probably never serve on a ship again. Laz made sure he was there when she regained conscousness, more for his own sake than hers.

Leaving Delana with her share of the Corsair sale—enough to pay disability income for the rest of her life—the remaining LazCo and Boxcars crew celebrated and caught up on the news they’d missed during their month-and-a-half away. Including the fate of their former shipmate, Caesar.

The macho male Cynthian had been convicted of Teramell’s murder—second-degree, crime-of-passion—and sentenced to “reprogramming” to a “normal Cynthian Male”. One tabloid had speculated whether Caesar’s jealousy motive was because of being sexually involved with Laz, but Laz’s reaction had more to do with the sentence.

Laz had been trained as a Guardian Knight, and knew what psionic manipulation could do. He had also crossed paths with Cynthians in his career. To him, reshuffling Caesar’s personality like that—to a submissive wimp, always at a matriarch’s beck and call—was worse than killing him. Telling no one else, he laid plans to break Caesar out of prison before sentence could be carried out. (At least that’s what he said he planned to do. To this day, I don’t know whether Laz was going to break Caesar out or kill him personally.)

As a Guardian Knight, even a retired one, he had special pull with the authorities—enough to get him into the prison and in position for whatever his plan was, with the assistance of Guardian Knight mind-tricks. He got in as far as the last level of security—the one with psionic jamming—before everything went to hell. A frenzied dance of lightsaber against rifle-stunners, slicing sidearms and parrying stunbolts, and Old Laz got dropped.

All the Boxcars crew found themselves arrested as material witnesses and possible accessories, spending a few days alternating between local lockups and police interrogation rooms until the Guardian Knights took jurisdiction, as one of their own was the main perp. All involved were shipped to a Guardian Council Board of Inquiry on Starbase Two, an artificial planetoid in a nearby system a single Jump-4 away.

Approaching Starbase Two was probably like another Star Wars scene fresh in everyone’s mind—the one where the Millenium Falcon gets pulled into the Death Star.

For all except Old Laz, the investigation was relatively easy—a thorough, deep psi-probe by a Master and Pupil team and internment in the station’s guest quarters until everything was concluded. Laz had to face the Board of Inquiry, including his former Master.

He squeaked through, barely, with nothing over a formal reprimand; in the process, he used up all of his remaining favors from his career as a Guardian Knight.

Don (the GM) and Wayne role-played this out directly, with Wayne as Laz and Don taking the part of his Old Master in a formal “Jedi Council”.

When they returned to Terminus, Laz was in the position he’d wanted to be in since he tried to join the Scout Service, all those years before—a free agent on the frontier. Although now he had the nucleus of a crew and (by trading in the Boxcars) enough for a real ship.

At the time the campaign closed, Laz and Company were having a custom ship built—a combination free-trader and heavy scout of 300-400 tons, to be named the Teramell. There was a rumor that the (reprogrammed) Caesar would be paroled into Laz’s custody.

So ended the Saga of the Boxcars, what was probably the best Traveller romp in my experience. I mostly ran some of the “temps” (including Delana), starting from about the time of Teramell’s death up through the Board of Inquiry. The story before this (the Times of Teramell) was filled in from the other players, and handed down as oral history.