The “Persephone”, captained by Johan Lee was en route to the water mining settlement of Lulabelle on an orbiting comet. In addition to Johan, there were three other crew members; Jesse Jiang, a good looking young man, something of a martial arts expert, Minnie, a young woman brought up in a ranching family who had made it a point of pride to try to out-shoot, out-drink, and out-ride the male members of her family, and Grace, a statuesque former dancer who had tired of being pawed by clients and recently had been making a living as an enforcer in a strip-club.
As they approached the comet, Minnie was reflecting on the strange way that she and Grace met; she had been drinking in the strip club as all the other local bars had closed for the night, and was accosted by a drunken madman who was shouting that he was cursed, cursed by a search for treasure and cursed by the Newberry. Grace had dragged the bum off her, and tossed him into the street, and the two women had sort of hit it off from there.
She was dragged back to the here and now by a couple of violent manoeuvres; the Persephone seemed to be taking evasive action, and she struggled to the bridge, finding that the others had had the same idea. She saw that they were on the approach to the comet, and Lulabelle, but another ship had begun an attack run on the Persephone as though trying to drive her off. Although not exactly a tug, Minnie reflected that she shouldn’t be able to pull off the manoeuvres that Johan was able to coax out of the vessel, as their attacker suddenly found herself on the defensive as the Persephone was dragged around in a combat turn, and closed on her tail. Minnie couldn’t help but smile as the Chinese curses flew from Johan as he remembered that the ship was unarmed; she knew he had been a military pilot in the war; all the crew did, but that was about it. Hell, they didn’t even know which side he fought on. They did know, however, he was a far better pilot than most, something the crew of the other ship had just found out as they were slammed by chunks of ice from the tail of the comet.
The Persephone broke away, and made a quick, accurate landing at one of the docking towers of Lulabelle.
Johan and Grace were the first at the airlock, but as the door opened they were greeted by a shot. They both ducked back in to cover, and from the living quarters in the centre of the domed settlement, heard a voice shouting. “You ain’t Griffiths! Get lost!”
Johan cursed to himself. Griffiths was a friend who had put him onto this job; he was supposed to have let Sam and Jim, the two miners know that he was the replacement cargo transporter, but it seemed that he hadn’t. Or the two miners had been separated from civilisation for so long they’d simply forgotten how to receive guests.
He shouted from the cover of the airlock. “No, I’m not Griffiths. But he sent me; he’s tied up on another job and didn’t want to let you down… I’ll leave my crew here and come and meet you if you like?”
Another voice could be heard; “Jim, calm down.” Then louder; “OK son. I’ll meet you in the middle.”
Johan and an older man who it became clear was Sam met, and they quickly sorted out the misunderstanding; there had been a number of cases where freelance and private miners had been killed, or driven from their claims, by a large mining consortium, and it was this that had Jim so trigger happy. Johan felt a certain familiarity about Sam but couldn’t place it so called the others out and introductions were made. However, these were quickly cut short when another craft touched down at the second docking tower. Mindful of the ship that had tried to force them away and of the stories of the murders of other miners Johan ordered his crew into ambush positions, with Jesse and Grace near the airlock, and Minnie joining Jim in the habitation block with her favourite sniper rifle, leaving himself and Sam as bait in the open.
Two figures stepped out of the airlock, a man, obviously a gunslinger, and an attractive woman. Telling Sam to stay back Johan stepped forward, asking what they wanted, and demanding to know why they’d attempted to force the Persephone away. The woman laughed at him, going out of her way to insult him, and Johan stepped forward. Just when it looked like violence was going to break out, he kissed her and walked away. Annoyed, the woman drew her pistol and tried to shoot Johan, who dived for cover, in the back. This was the trigger for general misbehaviour and naughtiness. Jesse attempted to restrain the woman, but she managed to catch him with a lucky blow, leaving him senseless for a few seconds. The gunslinger stepped forward, to be intercepted by Grace and they proceeded to exchange blows, while Minnie began to pick off the reinforcements that began to appear from the airlock, preventing them from aiding their bosses.
Eventually Johan was able to get to Jesse and rouse him, and snap off a pair of shots at the woman, who ducked behind cover, directly into a shot from Minnie, which meant she joined her crew-mates in death. The only one of the enemy who was still alive was the gunslinger, and Grace had knocked him unconscious using moves that Johan was fairly sure were more suited to a pole dance than a gunfight. He couldn’t deny however, how effectively Grace had used her assets to distract the man before beating him senseless.
It was then that Johan noticed a body on the floor outside of the accommodation block; it appeared that Jim had seen Grace in her struggle with the gunslinger, and had run to her aid, but had been cut down by a bullet from the gunslingers weapon. Johan ran over, and attempted some battlefield first aid, but it was too late. He called Sam over and apologised that he could do no more, and then walked over to the unconscious gunslinger, muttering curses and dire threats.
As he dragged the unconscious man towards the airlock, stating that his intent was to be the recipient of an unsuited space walk, Jesse and Grace attempted to calm him down, Jesse reminding him that the gunslinger was the only one left alive, and so the only one who could provide answers to the questions they had regarding the attack. Grace suggested that Johan may regret the summary execution of the unconscious man, and nodded towards Jesse asking Johan “Do you want the boy to learn from this example?”
Johan paused, and turned to Jesse; “You’re right. We need answers.” He dropped the gunslinger into the dirt, and turned to Grace. “And I don’t care. I’m not a teacher.” He shouted over to Minnie, who seemed to be stripping the corpses of any weaponry. “And you can strip and tie him up when you’ve finished your little looting spree…!”
Once the gunslinger regained consciousness, he was understandably nervous, but attempted to negotiate with Johan; information for his life and passage off the rock. Johan said that this would depend on the information that was offered, and the gunslinger, who revealed that his name was Ernst, realised he had no choice but to agree.
The leader of the group was the dead woman, who had been named Fox, but they had been commissioned by a woman named Bridget based in Frisco, the nearest major settlement. She had specifically targeted the two miners, but she had stated that she wanted Sam taken alive. Ernst paused, and then shrugged and said that he had also heard the name Lucius Newberry.
Johan paused at this, and then told Ernst that he had just earned his passage off the comet, if he agreed not to oppose the crew in the future. Johan told him there would be no second chances. Ernst paused, and said he couldn’t promise that, but if it transpired that they were to be opponents in the future he would find Johan first, and warn him before taking any action. Johan agreed that that was fair, and the two men shook hands. Johan told his crew to “Cut him free, and give him a pair of pants.”
Minnie, who had been exchanging pointed glances with Ernst during the questioning leapt up as Johan, with a thoughtful expression on his face walked over to Sam. “We need to talk.”
The two men went inside the accommodation block followed by Grace and Jesse, while Minnie and Ernst were making their own entertainment in the garden.
The group settled around a large table, with the exception of Grace who took the opportunity to stretch herself in a most distracting manner over a working surface. Johan began to speak; he told a story of a time at the end of the Unification War, of loading a vessel after the Battle of Serenity Valley. This vessel was the “Lucius Newberry”, and the NCO who had been the loadmaster responsible for the ship was a Sergeant who looked like Sam. Sam nodded. “I thought I knew you from somewhere, Sir…”
“So…” Johan prompted, "Why would this Bridget in Frisco want you, and what is so important about the cargo of the “Lucius Newberry”?"
Sam professed that he had no knowledge of this Bridget, and didn’t know what the cargo was, other than it had been important. He recounted that he had been ordered to load the vessel by a Colonel Beauford Maddock, and his woman, Elizabeth. There were a number of junior officers, including the Colonel’s aide, Lt Kombe. Shortly after the ship left the planet, the crew mutinied and killed most of the senior crew including the Colonel, and marooned Sam, Lt Kombe, the ship’s Captain, a Captain Joseph, Elizabeth, and a couple of others in a shuttle. Out of all of them, Elizabeth seemed most angry, particularly over the loss of the cargo, rather than the death of the Colonel. He had no knowledge of what had happened to the ship after that.
The discussions dealt with, Johan ordered that the ship that had brought Sam’s would be kidnappers to the comet be broken down for spares, and whatever was left be cast off into the black, and the crew began to make preparations for the trade run to Frisco.