Episode 18 — Escape Velocity

Having sneaked the entire team into the starport, Aquilegia and NeVaga look around for a good ship to steal, with no luck. They then check out the bars, trying to overhear any pilots bragging of their ship and to figure out what is being transshipped here, with no more luck.

NeVaga goes looking for a smuggler, and finally meets a Charioteer called David Schnack, an intense-looking young man who looks like he would be more at ease in a laboratory coat than in a Charioteer's jumpsuit. He wants to meet at a seedy inn later that night to discuss specific terms, away from prying eyes. NeVaga agrees, informs Aquilegia, then tails Schnack for a while to see what kind of man he may be. He eventually makes his way to a vessel painted in Muster colours, with Church seals applied on the doors. Two armed guards let him through when they recognize him. NeVaga discreetly examines the ship, which looks fast and stealthy — and rigged up to carry live cargo. It's called the Pious Merchant and is leaving tomorrow morning. She sneaks away to report to Aquilegia.

They go to check out the rendez-vous spot well in advance of the appointed time, to look for possible complications. Aquilegia notices at least half-a-dozen Muster mercenaries hanging about the inn where Schnack said he would meet NeVaga. Why are they here if the Charioteer is moonlighting? This looks like an ambush, either for NeVaga or for Schnack. They decide that NeVaga will try to ambush Schnack on his way, with Aquilegia and her crew ready to act as backup, create a diversion, or force their way on board the Pious Merchant while the Muster forces are thinned out. Schnack takes an aircar and escort to the rendez-vous, so NeVaga is unable to ambush him along the way and instead gives the signal to seize the ship.

It is a messy affair and most of the Muster guards and crew are killed in battle; the rest are executed. A dozen people are found chained up in the hold — including Sergeant Jake Wilkinson! He was spotted when investigating Manager Karlson and found himself kidnapped. Others are branded heretics sent from Pyre; but the ship's primary role is as private courier for Karlson, and the slaves are merely a way to improve the economics of the trip.

The ship takes off a little ahead of schedule and makes all speed for the Jumpgate, then Jump for Bannockburn. They have only the thinnest margin until another ship catches up with them and informs the Muster — who control Bannockburn — of the theft.

The heroes successfully make it to Bannockburn but are required to dock at Fort Elmo for quarantine. They continue to impersonate the crew of the Pious Merchant, and Aquilegia and NeVaga go reconnoitre, trying to find some useful contacts under pretense of selling the slaves. Soon, however, Sgt. Wilkinson finds them and warns them that he and the rest of their crew had to run when the Muster came to impound the ship. The game is up.

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