Solomon plots a course for New Texas, trying to keep as close to objects in the rings as possible in order to remain out of sight and hopefully undetected. Radar picks up a large ship in the area, and Solomon quickly ducks around an asteroid. The ship, called the Kepler, is a 100m long, 10 deck, Commonwealth navy ship with two large cannons meant to “disperse” smuggler bases. On its current patrol grid, Solomon thinks it won’t reach New Texas for days, or may bypass it altogether.
Nearing New Texas, the crew sees small domes, like metallic growths, on a small iceball, only about 100m in diameter. An Outsystem Skimmer painted to look like a greyish asteroid is tethered to the surface, and connected to a chain net full of 1m by 1m containers and large pieces of rock. Only about 14 workers, in novacrab morphs are visible, some loading freshly-mined rocks into the chain net carrier. The rest of the workers are probably on the nearby rocks. The Þrúðr gets permission to approach, and a tether is extended from the opposite end of the hab. The crew convinces the locals to get a novacrab to help them move the crates. Once the novacrab is near the server, Octavius convinces him that they are here to rescue the workers, and the novacrab evacuates his pod morph to be replaced by a copy of the ship’s AI. The novacrab morph brings down three boxes (Shipless Joe’s delivery plus the two crates of radio-controlled explosives from Ella Tan). The crew climbs down to the surface and towards the single large door. They pass by Bessie, a defence platform with missile launchers, cleverly hidden underneath tarps and rubble. Sewn to a smart rope that keeps it waving back and forth methodically, a tattered flag from the old state of Texas is hanging from a radio antenna by the front door.
The crew meets Mad Marcus (President of the Federation, friendly), Marcus Junior (Minister of Trade and Treasure), and Ingrid (Minister of Defence, sleeved in the hab, with control over Bessie). They invite the crew for a beer in the common kitchen. The low hum of generators is almost completely covered by the brinker drinking songs coming through the speakers. The light is low, and the heat non-existent as the crew propel themselves down the tubes. They peer into the open rooms, seeing stockpiled mining equipment, including some explosives. Closed doors with signs on them such as “kitchen”, “linens”, or “washroom” have all been affixed with a small white sign saying “Supplies – Property of Ecologene – no unauthorized access”.”
Marcus describes life in the mining community. Ingrid is wanted in several inner-system jurisdictions, so the family moved out to Saturn, looking for mineral deposits in the rings. Every time they find something, they set up shop and sell the mining rights to a company (often Ecologene, which is odd since they are not known for their mining operations). The company provides workers (overseen by four stunner-carrying Masters) and equipment, and give the family a small cut. New Alabama was their first mine, followed by New Belgium, New Canada, and now we are up to the T’s for New Texas. Octavius suggests New Uruguay for the next mine. Marcus loves the idea.
Thessa alters the programming of the RFID packing slip on Shipless Joe’s delivery to make it look like three crates instead of one, and addresses it to one of the masters. They mesh him, and he comes to pick up the package. He leads the crew to one of the sealed rooms, opening it with an encrypted mesh password. Inside, the team sees several crates and glass cubes containing various biological things of varying colours and consistencies, including yellow slime, blue powder that is giving off heat, and green goo. Octavius and Solomon believe the yellow slime is a extra-solar creature that digests whatever it touches. In a densely-populated hab, this creature could quickly kill all biological life. The Master talks about life on the hab, how there aren’t really any geologists here, and the workers get a shot of his stunner if they dare talk back. The Master opens Shipless Joe’s crate with an encrypted password, revealing a glass cube with some very familiar black fungus. He can’t open the other two, and says he’ll come back later and cut them open.
Thessa intrudes into the hab undetected and then sets up a secure communications channel between all 52 of the novacrabs and the crew. Octavius tries his best rallying speeches, but the indentured workers don’t think it’s worth the risk to rise up against the corporation and flee with the crew.
Thessa intrudes into the Master’s ship, catching the interest of the AI and raising a Passive Alert. She attempts to subvert the engines, tripping all the alarms and making the AI scream for the Masters. The three other Masters propel themselves in, drawing their weapons. Octavius tells Marcus that his contact, Ella Tan, will pay whatever he wants as long as they help him. They agree, and Ingrid sends a mini-missile at one of the Masters, stopping him in his tracks, but not quite killing him. They immediately suggest negotiation. They’ll take the ore, crates, and crabs away in their ship and leave the station with the crew (and the New Texan government). Octavius says they need to leave the novacrabs. The Masters say that the morphs are too expensive to just give up. Octavius says they can keep the morphs, but the egos of the indentured workers must stay. The Masters quickly pack up their crates (including the two unopened crates of explosives from Ella Tan), and detach the tether. Octavius waits until the craft is near the limit of radio connection before smiling, waving goodbye, and engaging the remote detonator on Ella Tan’s explosives, sending a bright flash of heat and light in every direction as the Masters’ ship and most of its contents are vaporized.
Solomon figures that will be a beacon for the Kepler, and if that ship turns and goes full burn towards New Texas, it will be here in 15 minutes.
The crew sets up the mining explosives and gets on board the Þrúðr. They set off, taking Marcus, Marcus Junior, Ingrid, and Bessie (clinging to the skimmer), detonating the hab as they leave. They plot a course to go through the debris (scanning for anything sizeable and picking up a singed crate) before heading for cover to avoid detection by the Kepler. The Commonwealth patrol ship shows up quickly, and the Þrúðr sneaks off undetected.
On the way back, the newly-freed workers tell the crew about the previous mines, mostly funded by Ecologene, which were closer and closer to the orbit of Titan. All the Ecologene missions left something behind – crates like the one the crew picked up, some with small propulsion systems. They also say they saw the two neo-ravens. They were dropped off in a ship called the Hildegaard. But once they were ready to leave, another ship came to pick them up: the Memorykeeper. The Hildegaard left and the Memorykeeper followed. That was the last they saw of either ship. The workers give you the exact coordinates of each mine, from New Alabama to New Saskatchewan.
Once back to Phelan’s Recourse, the crew shows Ahmadia the crate. She rents a freighter and hazmat suits and takes the ship a safe distance from the population before opening the crate. Inside is a glass cube filled with the yellow slime. It is definitely extra-solar, and she will call in some favours to get it analyzed and will tell Fletcher the results.
Ella Tan takes the egos of the 52 workers and sends them to be re-sleeved in biomorphs. She also agrees to settle Octavius’ debt by funding New Uruguay (and providing non-indentured labourers).
After being briefed by the crew, Fletcher sends Octavius the blueprints for a relatively expensive bottle of red wine with a congratulatory note on his “decisive and efficient work in the field”.