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Well, this was a…bad day. Let's take it from the top.
Upon arrival in-system, our sensors picked up a cluster of orbital debris at the expected co-ordinates of the b-Exagora space elevator facility. FTL comms were down and, while automated sub-light messaging from the dirtside facilities seemed to still be operational, our hails were originally met with silence from the correctional facility.
I put the Six on a geostationary orbit, some distance away from the debris and ordered as detailed scans as possible of the debris itself and the planetside installations. My original surmise was that this destruction was the result of Enemy action and that we would find the planet scorched of life. I continued hailing on all frequencies, just in case, but was not particularly hopeful that I would get a response.
The scans, however, showed that the destruction of the space elevator was not due to weapons fire. We identified parts of the previous supply ship (Apparently, it was the P-1-PBB; rest in peace Captain Marlowe, you old bastard) still in orbit; and further scans of the planet located a massive crater near the equator, where the rest of the freighter must have deorbited and crashed.
At that point, and after almost thirty minutes of uninterrupted hails, we got a text message from the planet. It was an acknowledgment of our hail and a request for patience. Apparently, they were having problems with their comms equipment and were trying to establish a connection. They were estimating this would take a few minutes.
This made me somewhat suspicious. The automated systems pinging our ship since we left FTL were working perfectly fine (if with a slight amount of interference). However, given the damage the orbital facilities had suffered, I chose to give them the benefit of the doubt.
A short while later, I received a hail from the planet and the first holovid connection was established. Attending on our end was myself and Senior Comms Officer Remi Oberman. From the facility's side, we originally saw three people, who identified themselves as Superintendent Serena Huang; Coordinating Officer Asher Segal; Correctional Officer (and advisor to the Superintendent) Riley Cole.
We were informed by Ms. Huang that, approximately 10 months ago, the P-1-PBB had come out of FTL and collided with the elevator station on final docking approach, possibly affected by a solar flare; that the correctional facility had suffered many casualties but that they had managed to scrape out a living for the time it took for the Six to arrive; and that they were in dire need of supplies (especially medical supplies and foodstuffs) to survive until the next supply ship. I requested to speak to the Warden; I was informed that the Warden was incapacitated.
The situation seemed dire - there was no way I could think of that would allow us to deorbit enough supplies barring the shuttles; and they are not built for cargo hauling. It appears, however, that the prisoners had managed to manufacture drop-pods of a sort - drop pods that could be 'folded' into a volume that could be carried by a shuttle and then loaded with supplies ship-side for a safe de-orbit burn.
I asked to speak to their chief engineer, so as to discuss the details and that's when I got my first nasty surprise. For none other than infamous Nicholas Russel, the Feldspar Fraudster was ushered in. I was told that the correctinal facility personnel had suffered truly massive casualties and that they had been forced to employ talented individuals amongst the prisoners to stay alive.
While I could not fault their drive to survive, I was highly suspicious of putting anything designed by Russel on board my ship and informed Ms. Huang of this in no uncertain terms. That said, I was also loath to allow what appeared to be several thousand people to die, when the supplies needed for their survival were at hand. An arrangement was reached, eventually - we would be given the opportunity to inspect the drop-pods planet-side to our satisfaction before ferrying them up.
At that point, we closed the connection until further notice. I ordered Mr. Oberman to keep a close sensor watch on the facility; and then went to sift through the supplies meant for b-Exagora and for any emergencies. At that point, I found two named parcels: a large crate meant for Serena Huang; and a smaller box addressed to Riley Cole.
This peaked my interest. What were the odds of the only two people I had named parcels for showing up on the previous conference? My guard was up. I sent a probing message down to the facility asking what should be done with these parcels - I received a curt response from Ms. Cole to include them in the drops.
I must admit that my curiosity peaked at this point. The drop pods would have limited space, as Mr. Segal had mentioned; and important supplies would need to be prioritised. What personal possessions could be important enough to take up drop-pod space?
At that point, and given the gravity of the situation, I decided to open the parcels. I was incensed to find a truly impressive collection of designer shoes in the crate meant for Ms. Huang; and truly enraged to find the package meant for Riley Cole filled to the brim with illicit drugs, including what I believe to be Rainbow Mithra, Bliss and other such substances. These people had employed Halliday (unwittingly, but still!) to ferry drugs.
Shortly after that, I was summoned to the bridge by Mr. Oberman; apparently an anomaly of sorts had been identified planet-side. A light was flashing from the planet to our position - somebody had found a way to send light signals in Morse code to us. The message we received was:
DANGER. DO NOT TRUST. LIARS
At that point, my paranoia kicked in at full effect. I asked Mr. Oberman whether we had any way of responding; he proposed an ingenious method, of rotating the ship via attitude thrusters, to reflect sunlight from our hull. Our answer (limited in lenght by necessity) was:
Shortly after, the repeating message from the planet changed, and we knew we had established contact.
At that point, I could no longer ignore what seemed to be a danger to my ship and crew. I was isolated from central HQ and had to take an executive decision; I ordered the ship to boost to a higher orbit and prepare for FTL travel, if it should prove necessary. I also kept up the exchange of signals.
And that was all I needed to hear. The situation in the prison was clearly different than what had been presented to me; and the mere chance of allowing a bioweapon on-board, only for us to spread it to our next stops was inconceivable. With a heavy heart (and, admittedly, with an increasing sense of urgency) I ordered the ship to boost away from orbit and prepare for an FTL translation. As we were boosting away, I flashed a message back to the planet:
Shortly after that, and with the Six already boosting out, we received a hail from the planet. As we were still some time away from FTL, I saw no harm in re-establishing a connection and, perhaps, allowing whoever was in charge down there to explain themselves. I ordered Mr. Oberman to open a channel and accept no signals from the planet barring that specific channel.
I was presented with a dishevelled and panicky Superintendent, who garbled frantic questions about why I was leaving. I was not in the mood for games and, so, I informed her that I would only engage in conversation after they had brought forward Ms. McAlly.
My worst expectations were realised, when I was presented with the corpse of a young woman, shot brutally through the forehead. I was informed that she had been 'trespassing in the comms room' and had to be 'removed'.
This was the last straw. I remember being near-apoplectic with rage. This…summary execution made clear to me that, whoever this 'Superintendent' was, any disciplinary personel down there had utterly lost control of the prisoners. The use of lethal force against a prisoner (instead of paralysation or collar-inflicted pain) meant that the guards were either unable or unwilling to use collar-based disciplinary measures; and neither was a comforting proposition. The former meant that the prisoners were, effectively, in control of the facility; the latter meant that the guards were trigger-happy enough to casually commit murder. Whichever was the case, I could not trust my crew to be safe planet-side.
I outright told Ms. Huang this and demanded that the charade cease immediately; I also challenged her to reveal what she knew about this bioweapon. Apparently, she had just found out about this herself (hah!); although Mr. Segal seemed less surprised. What followed was a flood of heartfelt, desperate pleas from Ms Huang: the weapon had been released into the prison population; more than a thousand people were already infected (a gruesome list was sent to my ship) and the only way they could manufacture a prophylactic vaccine for the rest of the population was to get to the medical supplies aboard my ship. Otherwise, they would all be dead within three years at most.
Again, I informed Ms. Huang that my first priority was the safety of my ship and crew; it was not my job to save their lives (and endanger ours) if their medico was stupid enough to play with dangerous viruses. She vehemently claimed that she had evidence that this was something done with the approval of the government; that similar viruses might be developed in terraforming facilities further along my route and that, if I were to make the decision to leave three thousand people to their deaths, I had damn well make sure I knew everything about this. She then forwarded a number of files relating to the development of the bioweapon in question.
We pored over the files. They certainly appeared genuine; they included the expected security headers - and they had certainly been approved from high-up in the government. To what extent the government had funded and organised this project was unclear; but they clearly were aware that this was going on; they had clearly authorised the testing of airborne bioweapons among their own inmate population and, by extent, they had endangered my crew and myself (we were more than likely to come in contact with infected people during our run).
This rather changed the situation; and I found someone else to be angry at.
It was difficult to accept that the Empire had condoned such research and, for a time, I was reluctant to believe that the files the Superintendent had forwarded me were genuine. I asked for the prisoner who had posed as Riley Cole (the truth had come out during Ms. Huang's pleading) to join the call; and forbade the Superintendent from saying anything. What followed was an interrogation during which I desperately tried to find any discrepancy between Ms. Huang's and Mr. Segal's tale and the account of the prisoner (a Ms. Alethea Rucker). I am sorry to say that I could find no such discrepancy; and that the same files forwarded to me by the Superintendent were also forwarded by the prisoners, who had apparently acquired them through stealthy means.
The situation, essentially, boiled down the following:
1. The facility currently hosts just over three thousand souls. Of those, around 1500-1600 are already infected by the bioweapon and will be dead in less than three years unless they receive help.
2. It is possible for them to synthesise a prophylactic vaccine (to innoculate the rest of the population) but not a cure; and that only if I can get medical supplies down to the planet in time.
3. If the situation is made known to the government, they are likely to make all of us 'disappear'. I imagine witnesses are not something that they'd like around. Looking for a cure from Elysian sources will probably end in the deaths of all involved.
4. The situation is relatively volatile; who is in command planetside is not clear.
At this point, I ordered the facility Comms room cleared, so that only Ms. Huang, Mr. Segal, Ms. Rucker and Mx. Serpico (another prisoner who had been instrumental in acquiring the files, from what I was led to believe) were present. We then proceeded to discuss our options.
My first priority was to make sure that my ship and crew would be safe. I flat-out asked if my interlocutors were aware of any plans to hijack or otherwise take control of the ship. Both Ms. Huang and Mr. Segal replied in the affirmative: the former covertly, the latter out-loud. I intend to discuss what they know of these plans with them in greater detail during the upcoming days and take all necessary precautions.
For now, I have ordered my Comms Officer to airwall all comms systems of the ship from her main systems; and to only accept incoming signals from the facility comms centre. We have set up an encryption hash with Ms. Rucker and Mr. Serpico, using the optical systems that Ms. McAlly also used: to my knowledge, they are the only ones who can initiate an uplink with the Six that we would not summarily reject. We know that a ship can be hacked (apparently that was the fate of the P-1-PBB) and I do not intend to allow the same to befall the Six.
After that, we discussed how to get the necessary supplies down to the planet. The original drop-pod plan still seems to be our best option and I have decided to pursue it. However, it is clear that the safety of my people cannot be assured and that I must take all precautions against rogue, desperate prisoners attacking the shuttles. The plan that we agreed on was the following:
An expedition will be organised to Station Blue, where the drop-pods will be loaded onto lifters and 'folded' for shuttle transportation. We (i.e. the Six) will then designate the coordinates for the drop-off point. The lifter will travel there, deposit its cargo and depart - only after confirming this will we send shuttles down. The shuttles will perform several flyovers to make sure the area is clear; and then they will land.
Personnel on-board will be armed.
If we have the option of manufacturing the vaccines on-board the Six, they will have been innoculated; otherwise, they will be wearing sealed environmental / space suits, to protect them from airborne contaminants. They will inspect the drop-pods for any foul play; and then they will load them up into the shuttles and return to the Six. If we have not innoculated the crew, they will flush their atmosphere before docking (obviously still wearing their space-suits) to decontaminate the shuttles.
We will then load the supplies onto the drop-pods, prioritising based on the list that Mr. Segal has sent us; and we will begin de-orbiting procedures ASAP, aiming for whatever point on the planet we are told to.
That much I am confident we can pull off; the rest of the task we are presented with, however, is quite daunting. Unless action is taken, more than fifteen hundred souls will die. The only option is to provide them with professional help and medical facilities. As established above, seeking such in the Elysian Empire would be foolish and, probably, result in the death of my crew and myself as well, as those who authorised this atrocity seek to silence witnesses.
My only option, at this point, therefore, is to load up the infected prisoners (for there is no ship that could reliably offer them transportation in time) and seek political asylum with the Tel or the Consortium. Given that this was a weapon likely intended to be used against the Tel, it makes sense that they will be most eager to find a cure and help these people - and accept to grant refuge to the crew of the Six as well.
+++ ADDENDUM +++
I was informed by Ms. Rucker that some EIS agent is trying to contact my ship and seeks to extract via shuttle. No shuttle has been detected on approach, but this is something that requires caution - an EIS agent might compromise our plans. If a planetside shuttle launch is detected, I will allow it to approach (provided it follows instructions); and then I'll receive the person in question with an armed welcoming committee and throw them in a cell after searching them top-to-bottom like a prisoner. For one thing, I can't confirm their identity, with FTL comms down. For another, it seems like EIS might have killed the P-1-PBB and I don't feel very charitable towards them right now.
If any planetside shuttle tries to approach without permission and/or without following our instructions, I'm taking the ship to a higher orbit; and, if I have too…
Well, I'll see if we can jury-rig any ship-to-ship weapon with the supplies we have. If not…I'll ask for volunteers and if nobody steps up, I'm taking one of our shuttles and I'm personally ramming the fucker out of orbit.
People need to know what happened here and we can't risk the Six.