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This article contains plot details about an upcoming episode.
It all began when Commander Doythaban was recalled to his old bounty-hunting job on behalf of the UNS intelligence agency that originally augmented him, which was apparently using the bounty agency as a proving ground. He refused the job re-offer, being happy in the Toughs, but the intel agency was vastly more connected than he expected (it was probably an arm of Project Laz'R'Us) and sent the battleplate UNS Tunguska to capture or kill him. Doythaban surrendered and was collected from the Serial Peacemaker by General Xinchub.
Xinchub held a grudge against the Toughs due to his clashes with their old ship Post-Dated Check Loan and their ties to his political enemy Fleet Admiral Breya Andreyasn. After reading Haban's memory dump, he returned to the Peacemaker, gloating about all the dirty secrets he'd found on the company and its members and the various punishments he could heap upon them. However, as Ennesby guessed, he wasn't planning on destroying the Toughs. Rather, he meant to coerce them into hunting down Admiral Breya, who was accused of treason after the Battle of the Buuthandi and had gone into hiding. Facing ruin if they defied Xinchub, the Toughs reluctantly agreed and accepted his puppet Jevee Ceeta as commanding officer.
Ceeta hated Xinchub nearly as much as the Toughs, but for reasons of her own was unwilling to defy him. Breya's allies, however, were not so acquiescent. They released the Tinth-Philkra Dialogues, a collection of recordings that implicated Xinchub in the Gatekeepers' nearly-successful counterattack at the Battle of the Buuthandi. Busy fending off tremendous public pressure, Xinchub ordered Ceeta and the Toughs to go to ground. He then tried to destroy them outright with a bomb hidden aboard their ship, but Ennesby had already defused it. The Toughs decided that going to ground was a good idea anyway, and hid on an unexplored planet.
After observing that the system had recently (in geologic time) been reshaped by a massive cataclysm, having an enjoyable tropical vacation, and making friendly but ultimately unproductive contact with intelligent natives, the Toughs sent their newly invented Very Dangerous Array to investigate a suspicious light-sail craft entering the system. They found it occupied by a machine race, which was both deeply bigoted against organic life (having effectively exterminated their creators) and horrifically incompetent (having caused the system's catastrophe with a failed previous colonization attempt). The angry Toughs decided to teraport the ship to Sol System, where the UNS military could deal with the malevolent idiots in a suitably final way. They then departed the planet, wary of the UNS tracing the teraport back to them.
Contacting Xinchub again to see if he'd been crushed yet, the Toughs discovered to their horror that Xinchub himself had intercepted the machines' light-sail ship, and his "valor" in neutralizing them had saved his career. In a good mood after his unexpected reprieve, Xinchub offered the Toughs extra money rather than threats to recapture their allegiance, and allowed them to continue operating as they saw fit. Not long afterward, Breya herself contacted the Toughs, asking to hire her brother Kevyn and by extension the rest of the company.
The system that Breya's call took the Peacemaker to was an odd one, with everything besides the star being ancient artificial constructs. There were two inactive wormgates, one a Gatekeeper model and the other having apparently flown in from the Andromeda Galaxy. Orbiting between them was a swarm of megameter-scale space stations. Breya's crew dubbed these Zoojacks, for their shape and the fact that each one contained several captive biospheres ("outjacks") resembling giant zoo exhibits.
The Toughs found Breya's command in a sorry state. Her destroyer Athens had been blown in half, its shipmind dead and its fabber unusable, and her only other ship was Haban II's frigate Sarasota. Breya had been counting on the Toughs still having the Post-Dated Check Loan, as its fabber could have repaired Athens and Petey's archived gestalt could have revived her AI. Breya also had no access to UNS funds, and could not have paid the Toughs even if Petey had still been available. And last but not least, the target that Breya wanted Kevyn to examine was the same thing that half-destroyed her warship in response to her own examination of it.
A couple of Breya's men had gone into an outjack to hunt for food. Contact with them was abruptly lost, and Captain Kerchak's Marine platoon and Der Trihs's armor squadron were sent to investigate. The found the remains of the two soldiers, apparently killed without warning by gravy-gun fire. The group then came under attack itself, with their tanks being gravied as soon as they took any high-energy action, resulting in Sh'vuu's death, Elf losing her legs, and most of the infantry being wounded or killed by Der Trihs's exploding tank. The team was forced to remove their powered uniforms and ditch their energy weaponry for safety. Schlock was dispatched to back them up, since in a low-tech environment he is nearly invincible.
A tribe of intelligent natives attempted to hunt the group, but were intercepted by Schlock and then ceased attacking when they discovered that the marines and mercenaries were fellow sophonts. Remarkably, the 'natives' spoke Galstandard West, which they indirectly credited to something called "the Oracle". They assisted the wounded back to base. The base set up a field hospital just inside the outjack, not being willing to let the tribesbeings out of their confined world without knowing how they came to be there.
Kevyn, puttering around with some observational data, discovered that the zoojacks' orbits crossed if traced backwards, meaning that something with powerful gravitics was adjusting their orbits from time to time. Ennesby, thinking about their various data and experiences in the system, came to the chilling conclusion that they were dealing with enemies made of dark matter, which interacts with normal matter only through gravity. This conclusion was borne out by the discovery of a gravitic transmitter on the zoojack the crews were aboard, reporting their every move. Kevyn located and destroyed the transmitter, freeing their hands.
Ceeta reminded Tagon that their original mission was to capture Admiral Breya. She and Tagon hatched a plan to bring Breya aboard under the guise of fighting the dark matter entities, then teraport to Sol to turn her over. Meanwhile, Breya and her XO Colonel Jaksmouth decided to hijack the Toughs' ship, since theirs appeared unsalvageable. The plans collided and the Toughs won, largely due to Ennesby being more powerful and prepared than the UNS crew counted on. Breya, Jaksmouth and the two platoons of Marines were taken prisoner.
Tagon offered to let Breya outbid Xinchub, but she couldn't, and the point was rendered moot when Ceeta called Xinchub and he teraported in aboard UNS Tunguska. He said he intended to make it look as though the Toughs and Breya's crew had completely destroyed each other, and gravitically forced Tagon to shoot Colonel Jaksmouth. He also revealed that he and Jaksmouth were immune to mindrip, due to what would later be revealed as a facet of Project Laz'R'Us. He was interrupted when the dark matter entities, apparently angry at all the gravitics the Tunguska was throwing around, destroyed the battleplate by blowing up its annie-plants. The Serial Peacemaker fled the system at top speed, as did Breya's ships.
Breya and Tagon decided to work together for a while, taking large mercenary jobs. They disposed of Xinchub and Ceeta by effectively selling them into slavery as military advisors for the beleaguered Loyalist Yomingans. They then acquired a damaged fabber from the fence Acey Nubs, named it the Scrapyard of Insufferable Arrogance, and began attempting to repair Athens with it.