Date: 144-993 Imperial.
Location: Liar's Oath system (1021), Honora high atmosphere, aboard the free trader Avarice Rewarded and the modified scout/courier Malfeasant.
There was silence, for three or four seconds, before Silea's voice came over the intercom. "Docking appears successful. The airlock strain gauges are out of the red zone. Over to you, guys. I'll keep it as steady as I can."
Fish opened the airlock inner door and closed it behind him. He clamped a cable from his suit harness onto a bracket, in case the hypersonic winds were blowing through the other ship or the gravity was at ninety degrees to normal, and opened the outer door. Soon he entered the world of red emergency lighting and yellow tinged air that was Malfeasant. The white floodlights on his helmet lit a sideways figure of eight before him.
Gravity ramped up from zero to something like standard in the first few meters leading from the airlock, as it should with the ship in space. He spoke into his radio. "The gravity seems OK in here. I can't see any holes in the hull. There's a yellow tinge to the air, some of the atmosphere has got in. There aren't any people in this bit." He looked around again. "Right, I'm going for the bridge."
It was only a few paces but it took two minutes minute to get there, switching grapples around in case of surprises. The bridge door was held open by a huge body lying on the floor in a heavy duty vac suit. Fish spoke into the suit radio again.
"I'm on the bridge, the way's clear. There are three people here, they're all dead or unconscious. I'm checking. One's... one of them's an Ursa, I think." There were two seats on the tiny bridge, both by flight consoles, and there was a vac suited human slumped in each. Their suit telltales showed no respiration or pulse. The Ursa, on the other hand, had a pulse according to his suit. Fish relayed the information. Sir David quickly appeared with the stretcher.
[Ursa are genetically uplifted bears, experimentally created by the Solomani corporation GenAssist for high gravity colonisation. Mostly lab samples were terminated when the project closed down, but a few escaped and some of their descendants now live in the Gateway domain.]
A minute of strenuous exertion later, they were still on the bridge. The Ursa must have weighed five hundred pounds in his heavy suit, and Sir David had to be very careful not to tear his own soft suit while lifting. But if he couldn't lift, he eventually got around to thinking. With about 16 years in assorted Type S Scout/Couriers, Sir David could operate them in his sleep with his toes. He dialled the gravity down to 0.1g from a control console and they got their load strapped onto the trolley.
Back on the Avarice Rewarded, they rolled him into Luan's makeshift HQ. Silea repeated the gravity trick by radioed request to get the Ursa off again. "You've got about nine minutes maximum" she told them as Luan went to work.
"Let's get the other two aboard in case they're alive, then I'll hook on and check for more" said Fish. They did, dumping them just inside the airlock. Two more minutes gone. Sir David stayed on Avarice Rewarded to drag them to Luan and wait for a call. Fish went exploring on Malfeasant.
There was nobody in the four staterooms, but the second -- obviously a captain's cabin and obviously built for somebody very big -- had a portacomp sat on the desk. Fish grabbed it and put it in a belt pouch. Next he climbed to the scout's small upper deck, figuring the sensor positions might be manned. It was chock full of stores -- food, spares, and lots of air scrubbers -- but there were no people. He went back down through the main deck and kept going to reach the cargo hold.
"Woah. This is... different. It's been converted into a salvage platform or something. Two big winches, a plasma cutting lance, loads of vac suits on the walls. Heavy duty EVA suits. There's a gun rack by the door too, with weird gear in it. There's a..."
"Are there any people Iain?" Silea cut in over the radio.
"Uh, no. I'll check the drive room and so on." He scuttled back up the ladder and headed aft. The open areas were devoid of people, so he hooked on and approached the last two doors. The air/raft bay was stacked with stores again. When he entered the drive room, all the fuss with the grapples paid off as his helmet floods cut a white pattern in Honora's solid yellow atmosphere. The room was open to space, the back wall and half the floor missing. The drive was gone, and the room was wrecked by heat and blast damage.
Fish had been looking for an engineer since he came aboard. The three on the bridge just didn't look the part. Now he knew why he hadn't found one.
He closed the drive room door and returned to the Avarice Rewarded, his job done.