Desperate to escape from the Gamoran ambush, Alarak guided the Holy Entreprise into the swirling energies of the warp. The journey proved treacherous, with the crew suffering repeated visits from warp shades. When Alarak led the ship back into real space, at last, the crew discovered that they had gone wildly off course. Forced to begin his psychic charting from scratch, Alarak attempted to right his mistakes as the Enterprise dove into the empyrean sea once again. The second odyssey saw the ship battered by warp storms, further degrading its already damaged hull. The days turned into weeks and the crew began to hear strange whispers and to experience horrific dreams. Nero, Phi Rho 81 and Lokus did their best to contribute where they could, boosting the navigator’s morale and closely monitoring the ship’s systems, but ultimately their fate remained in Alarak’s hands.
During the long transit, Mazer remained in stasis, as Shen Tygan felt that treating his captain’s injuries with his level of expertise and the available equipment was a large and unnecessary risk. Lokus stepped up to fill the void in the ship’s command structure, effectively giving himself a field promotion to captain. Talon Karrde frowned as Lokus made his announcement, but no one voiced any complaints and the deed was as good as done.
The senior staff took turns petitioning Hundred Eyes to transmit astropathic messages to contacts on Palados, Port Wander and elsewhere. News of the Gamoran aggression was sent far and wide, but the astropath received few responses. Notably absent were any updates from Palados, the last known location of Tiberius Sinerian himself. What reports did come in painted a chilling picture. Sinerian assets across the Koronus expanse either confirmed having suffered devastating attacks or else were unable or unwilling to respond. While it came as no surprise that the Gamorans had sufficient resources to execute such a staggeringly widespread offensive, the incomprehensible coordination clearly pointed to years of meticulous preparations.
The senior staff took measures to prevent the news from spreading among the crew. Despite their efforts, Tygan reported that morale was steadily deteriorating. To make matters worse, Karrde reported that an inexplicable murder had taken place.
Several crew members attempting to return to their shared bunk room found the door wedged closed. It took several hours to finally get inside, where they found the body of Crewman Benson, in his bed, obviously strangled. Rumours about the murder were circulating widely among the crew and the already common fears about the ship being haunted were being stoked, further damaging morale. Lokus was quick to lead efforts to spread misinformation to the effect that the murderer had been promptly apprehended. He reached out to Alarak, hoping to shorten their sojourn through the warp by providing encouragement. Phi Rho redoubled his maintenance efforts, while Nero brushed up on his piloting skills to prepare for their eventual release from the empyrean.
When the ship left the warp for the second time, the crew, especially Alarak, were relieved to discover they had arrived in the right solar system, even though it would take days longer than expected to reach Port Wander through real space.
The last leg of the approach to the void station was uneventful and a welcome relief from the nightmarish sojourn they had just endured. The Imperial Navy traffic control directed the Enterprise to the underside of the station, in order to contract repairs to the ship’s hull. As they approached the main repair yards, Lokus busied himself at the vox controls, eager to make contact with any Sinerian agents aboard the station.
He discovered that what had felt like a month-long journey had taken three times as long from the Port’s perspective. In the time since the Enterprise’s ambush at Akna, Sinerian agents aboard the void station had been mysteriously disappearing. Hearing this news, the senior staff assembled and decided that no shore leave would be permitted for their crew, lest some of them vanish as well.
Shen Tygan nevertheless insisted that Mazer be brought to the medical wing for treatment. The group conceded and formulated a plan to reach their destination while drawing as little attention as possible. Talon Karrde would lead a large security detail, escorting a decoy stasis gurney. Lokus, Nero, Alarak, Phi Rho and Tygan would head out afterwards with Mazer propped up in a wheelchair.
They reached the medical wing unmolested and Mazer was immediately admitted. While waiting for news, the explorers recognized one of the other patients as Emulus Tague, a Sinerian explorator they had worked with in the past. With Nero keeping a lookout, Phi Rho discreetly hacked into the cogitator bank managing Tague’s treatment. He discovered that Tague had been rescued from a badly damaged Sinerian vessel as it approached Port Wander unpowered. He was the sole survivor of the crew and was in critical condition when he was admitted to the medical wing. Happily, after three days of treatment, his cybernetically enhanced body was well on its way to a full recovery. Judging it to be safe, Phi Rho commanded the cogitator array to administer a stimulant to Tague to wake him.
Emulus Tague awoke and immediately recognized Phi Rho. Conversing in Explorator Binary, Tague revealed his fate to his fellow tech-priest. He had been stationed aboard Tiberius Sinerian’s flagship, the Righteous Endeavour, in orbit around Palados for the past several months. Without warning, a fleet of Gamoran warships swarmed the system and destroyed every Sinerian ship in the area, including the Endeavour. Tague managed to escape the ship with a few crewmen, but even their escape craft came under heavy fire. Tague was forced to use every trick he had learned throughout his extensive training and career to keep his ship alive long enough to reach the sanctuary afforded by Port Wander. He knew that Tiberius was on the surface of Palados when the Gamoran attack began, but was never able to make contact during the assault. He assumed that Tiberius was killed when the planet’s capital city was bombed from orbit, or else when the Gamoran ground invasion was launched.
While the conversation continued, the apothecary attending Mazer came over to talk to Tygan, Alarak and Lokus. He explained that Mazer had suffered cranial and spinal injuries, but they would be easy to repair thanks to the vast array of sophisticated equipment at his disposal. Lokus thanked the physician for the news, and then explained that this diagnosis was to be kept strictly confidential. If anyone asked, the man being examined was not Mazer Sinerian and the conclusion was that he had to be kept under stasis until he could be treated by a much more advanced facility elsewhere in the Imperium. A sizable bribe secured the apothecary’s unquestioning cooperation, despite clear disapproval from Shen Tygan. In short order, Lokus, Tygan and Alarak wheeled Mazer back out of the medical wing on a stasis gurney. Phi Rho and Nero followed closely, bringing Emulus Tague with them. The group quickly retreated to the Holy Enterprise.
As they approached the docking ring, an unkempt, elderly man with a poor quality bionic leg approached them aggressively.
“I know that ship!” he shouted accusingly at them, indicating the Enterprise.
Their curiosity overriding their disgust, the explorers agreed to pay the man to tell his tale. He identified himself as Billy Bones and claimed he had once been a void master aboard the Emperor’s Bounty. The captain had been a cruel man named William Bligh, who continually disregarded the living conditions and morale of his crew. Eventually, the crew decided to mutiny against him. In an act of vengeance, the soon-to-be-murdered Captain Bligh sent his ship into the warp without any preparations, dooming it to drift, lost in the warp until its Gellar field eventually gave out. The ship spent years marooned in the uncharted empyrean. The Gellar field didn’t fail, but it did degrade over time, slowly allowing more and more of the warp and its denizens to penetrate the ship and its helpless crew. Many of the mutineers succumbed to chaos or simply went mad from the strain of their hopeless plight, and turned on each other. Wraiths given material form by the warp stalked the crew day and night, none more relentlessly than the apparition of Captain Bligh himself. The crew’s rations ran out and some starved to death while others were reduced to feeding on their fallen comrades for survival. Miraculously, the few sane survivors, Billy Bones among them, managed to finally find a way out of the warp. With only a haunted skeleton crew remaining aboard, they made their way back into Imperial space where they promptly sold the ship for a pittance just to put an end to the experience. The buyer was none other than Tiberius Sinerian, who renamed the ship as soon as he acquired it. Bones shook a gnarled finger at the explorers as he ended his tale with a dire warning:
“Mark my words, Captain Bligh will never let you have his ship. You’re all doomed!”
Without further ado, the old pirate stomped off and the explorers returned to their ship. Phi Rho shook his head, dismissing Bones’ tale as “superstitious nonsense”. Alarak took a very different view, expressing interest in tracking down and communicating with the ghostly Captain. The explorers unanimously welcomed Emulus Tague to their crew and Phi Rho assigned him to the fusion reactor, the most dangerous job in his enginaerium.
A full week was required for Port Wander’s repair servitors to complete the restoration of the Enterprise. While they waited for their ship to be ready to sail, the explorers took advantage of Port Wander’s sprawling markets, shops and apothecariums, acquiring new items for their personal use. Lokus also issued a general call, using encryption and Sinerian frequencies, to rally all Sinerian survivors to band together. Some refused, preferring to rely on their own wits for survival. A few dozen did answer the call, coming to meet him at the docking ring. Disappointed that none of them had command of their own ship, Lokus turned all but one of them away. With advice from Talon Karrde, Lokus picked out Nikita from the group of refugees as a singularly capable agent, likely to enrich their current crew.
Nikita divulged little about herself, other than that she was an experienced assassin, having worked variously for Hive world nobles and Inquisitors before being recruited by Tiberius. Dressed in a black bodyglove, the visible weapons that she carried included a sword, combat knife, throwing blades and a loaded autogun. Nikita was welcomed aboard, but immediately placed under heavy scrutiny while her trustworthiness was evaluated.
Once repairs on the Enterprise were completed and the last of the fresh supplies were brought aboard, the explorers set a course for Shinfuken, hoping to find the ships they left behind still intact.
Eager to redeem himself in the eyes of his shipmates, Alarak set to work plotting their course through the warp with single-minded determination. His efforts were rewarded as the ship completed its journey in less than a week of subjective time, with no incidents of note. During the trip, Phi Rho repeatedly expressed excitement to witness the advanced and possibly heretical technology on Shinfuken.
Emerging from the warp a significant distance from their target, the Enterprise began long range scans of the Daimyo system. Phi Rho 81 easily pinpointed a lone Firestorm-class frigate in high orbit around Shinfuken, quickly identified as part of the Gamoran dynasty. Clearly, Shinfuken had not escaped the Gamoran net over the course of the four months since their last visit.
The senior staff debated their course of action, but finally decided to capture the vessel by taking advantage of the element of surprise. Dismissing the on-duty pilot, Nero put his hands on the controls.
Using every trick in the book, he guided the Enterprise into firing range of its prow-mounted Titanforge lance without being detected by the enemy. Once in range, the master gunner fired a surgical shot through the frigate’s void shield generator, disabling it before his prey had a chance to raise their shields. Spurred into action, the ship broke orbit and began maneuvering to engage the Enterprise, but the Sinerian offensive was relentless. The next deadly lance strike missed its target and the Gamoran ship was finally able to retaliate with its dorsal-mounted Sunsear laser battery. The slow, deadly dance continued, but Nero’s piloting and marksmanship proved to be utterly dominant, disabling the enemy frigate’s engines and dorsal guns without allowing the Enterprise to sustain any material damage.
With their quarry defenceless and adrift, Lokus took to the vox. He delivered an ultimatum to the Gamoran crew, giving them thirty minutes to abandon ship or else he would destroy the vessel with everyone aboard. Strangely, there was no reply from the Gamorans, nor were any escape craft deployed. Perplexed at what appeared to be suicidal stubbornness, Lokus renewed his threats, with Phi Rho broadcasting and scanning on all Imperial frequencies. When the deadline passed without any detectable activity or reply, the senior staff gathered to discuss their options. The decision was to launch a boarding force, led by Talon Karrde, to scout the ship and seize the enemy bridge.
The arch-militant pumped his fist in the air at the assignment and geared up for the task, with his assault shotgun and a pair of bolt pistols. He marshalled some two-hundred crewmen into the launch bay and led them aboard five assault shuttles. They read the name Discovery painted on the side of the ship as they approached the Gamoran vessel. They pried open an airlock into one of the cargo bays and deployed into heavy cover. They met no opposition and so proceeded to advance cautiously toward the bridge. The lack of opposition soon became eerie, as it was apparent that something was amiss. Remembering that the pre-compliance Shinfuken culture had made extensive use of artificial intelligence, eventually prompting their cleansing at the hands of Imperial forces, a chilling hypothesis formed in Lokus’ mind. He ordered Talon to proceed to the bridge with extreme caution.
Karrde and his troops reached the bridge without incident and found it to be deserted. Strangely, all of the cogitator banks seemed highly active, despite the lack of any operators. His men also reported numerous configuration changes, ranging from unorthodox cabling to supplemental equipment having been crudely retrofitted to the bridge controls. His worst fears apparently realized, Lokus ordered Phi Rho to hail the ship again, but this time, using techna-lingua.
Alarak, Lokus and Nero gathered around their shipmate as Phi Rho executed the order. They watched the colour drain from the normally stoic explorator’s face, his expression changing into a look of horror as the Discovery responded.