Phase Change (2180): Commander Xiu-Li Chen, after mulling over her situation en route to a metting with Admiral Matisou, is made a captain in Space Aliance Systems Space Fleet at last.
Captain Xiu-Li Chen is given command of a new COURIER Class ship, SAS JAGUAR, and an operational mission to act as a ferry captain (“a well armed ferry captain, sir!” she tells Admiral Matisou.)
After taking the Admiral to Sol NORCLIP Plat, her first deep space assignment is to bring Braxton Thurgoode, Assemblyspeaker for the Human Sphere, out to PORTAL Platform, for an Assembly of Sentients diplomatic meeting over a Qet Sphere challenge to the planet now called Deepstrike, where Qet and Human met in 2173.
She was one of two survivors of that Qet Encounter and now is Xiu-Li must return to the planet where it happened, to be diplomatic with the species that killed eight of her fellow crewpers, two of them very close friends. She is also now “the Captain,” and must adapt to that singular life niche on board a starship, helped along by Commander Ecurba, Doctor Daria Ki, and veterans like Bugs Kimonetti.
At the edge of the Deepstrike system, JAGUAR responds to a ship alert beacon indicating ship problems related to either alien life or hazmat conditions and finds a ship of raiders/“salvagers” frantically departing an airless, lifeless SAS starship. JAGUAR must salvage SAS ROSALIND FRANKLIN after first seizing the raiding ship GRANDE REGENCY, which seems torn by a mutiny.
Commander Ecurba boards GRANDE REGENCY and is wounded by a deranged Niv female, whose psychic storm knocks out Lieutenant Priti Fareyes. Once the effects of a drug she was given wear off, Sibella Dirge reveals she is an undercover operative for Niv Intelligence Division, and that she is also “a Niv assassin.”
During first entry to ROSALIND FRANKLIN an unconscious survivor on board is rescued by a team Xiu-Li is part of. She returns to JAGUAR with the survivor, but soon Xiu-Li is back living on FRANKLIN as it is explored and repaired by her crew. Besides the mysterious Sibella Dirge, Xiu-Li also has some of her best junior crew on JAGUAR with her, all trying to solve the mysteries on board.
Where is ROSALIND FRANKLIN’s crew, and the ship’s commander, an old friend of Xiu-Li’s?
What killed GRANDE REGENCY’s boarding raiders, etching their shadows into hull metal, turning them into ash?
The realspace emergence of cargo ship SAS LA GAZZA LADRA complicates things. It is owned and operated by Captain Bartolo Catsmile, and older brother Antonin. They are “Niv businessmen,” although Ecurba and Priti Fareyes determine their ship is rigged for smuggling; Lieutenant Fareyes is their niece (her mother was their sister). Xiu-Li is very aware of Bartolo’s piratic charms.
Very soon after the Catsmiles emerge near Deepstrike Beacon, eight moderate sized ships emerge, soon determined to be friends of the raider ship GRANDE REGENCY, and taking an approach for hostile actions against the small group of ships around it (LA GAZZA LADRA, JAGUAR, and ROSALIND FRANKLIN).
Xiu-Li loses three crew to the anomaly they discover on ROSALIND FRANKLIN and must somehow neutralize it while they are under attack, in an unarmed science ship.
As Ensign Sam Millet devises a risky plan for wrangling up an alien hazmat, Ecurba takes JAGUAR into battle on an audacious plan; while Xiu-Li watches helplessly (“commands from FRANKLIN,” is what outsiders will say later), her crew now on GRANDE REGENCY takes a critical liberty with her orders.
Great risks taken, great success gained.
Soon after, a huge Niv repair ship shows up to assist with repairs and provide crew watch relief and stand down. At the Ship Dinner aboard NSS THOMAS A. EDISON, Commander Ecurba discovers Major Sibella Dirge (who slashed him during the taking of GRANDE REGENCY) is actively seeking to make peace for past actions; and Xiu-Li finds that Captain Bartolo Catsmile proves charming in person as well.
And then it is time to go meet the Qet.