NPC: Chuck, Kagfak, Uengghae, Major Elloekothe
Location: Crew lounge of the Pack of Daggers, parked at the Kashiin Siir Downport
Elloekothe, Lakir, and Uengghae have finally returned to the ship, close to five
hours since they left.
Elloekothe summarizes their meeting with Dhunkul. "My contact tipped us that Dhunkul was at the Shur Thing club. We found him there hanging out with some locals. I got him to send them away before getting down to business. I told him that you," she gestures to Gvarokh, "are an up and coming corsair captain looking fill the power vacuum left by the Touzagh. I explained that you needed his help to gain an introduction to the right people on Gemid to make that happen. He agreed to call tomorrow morning after breakfast—local time—to set a meeting time and place.
"Now if you'll excuse me, I feel a headache coming on. Lakir and Uengghae can fill you in on the details." With that she heads off to her stateroom.
Dougok listened carefully, but didn't comment. He flips his ears in curiosity about the headache comment, but makes no further move.
After she's gone, Gvarokh says, "Lakir, I'd like to hear your thoughts and observations."
Lakir takes a deep breath as he considers his words. "I don't trust him—go figure. He's got something on Elloekothe that doesn't play well with her. All the shit regarding his 'predilections' seems to be accurate.
"He caved to her far too easily, so I'd say 'go' for the meeting, but sure as shit, have a back up plan. Not sayin' she's 'in' with him; just sayin' the history is 'complicated', and whatever goes down, she needs to be in the background. It can go sideways quick if she loses it during the meet, which is a distinct possibility.
"Also, he'll be checkin' us out right now, so if Vincent has any intel on what his current cyberactivity looks like, we better be on top of it. I'm still not comfy with our electronic history. This is a rumor driven section of space, and I'd hate for it to go sideways on us.
"That bein' said, our 'on the floor rep' seems to be tight, and we can work that, so long as everybody sticks to script.
Gvarokh responds, "I knew the history was complicated. And no, I have no idea what the history is.
"There really isn't much we can do about our history at this point, so we'll just have to see what happens and react to it as best we can." He pauses a moment and then says, "How tired are you feeling? I would like for us," and Gvarokh motions generally to indicate this isn't just for Lakir, "to strategize for a little while so we can have a coherent story at the meeting. We haven't had to do much planning yet, and this looks to be a good time to really put some effort into it."
Chuck says, "We have our background story, which we've committed to memory. What more do we need? And if we," he gestures to the crew and includes himself, "keep our mouths shut and let you do the talking and negotiating, we should be ok, right? What am I missing?"
Gvarokh responds, "You're probably correct. Just trying to prepare for contingencies. I guess our best bet is just to prepare by making sure we are well rested for the meeting."
Dougok stirs and speaks up, "Let's definitely keep Elloekothe in the background under close watch. Whether she is secretly sympathetic or he has leverage of sorts over her we don't need a betrayal."
Gvarokh turns on Dougok with eyes flashing, then lets it dissipate. He then calmly says, "He doesn't have a 'hold' on her that way, and her loyalties remain with the Vilani Empire. Those are not at issue. The primary danger is that she reacts emotionally. If she does something 'wrong' it will be to kill him, not betray us.
"Yes, she needs to be careful around him, but we still need her, as she is our conduit to him. And our guide on this whole mission." Gvarokh pauses for few seconds, then continues with a hard edge to his voice, "And make no mistake. As part of helping us, he will then have something on us, or at least me, before this is all done. No one will get through this encounter without being tainted. She just has the misfortune of having done this before."
He lets that thought linger.
Dougok's ears perk forward in reaction to Gvarokh's last sentence. He doesn't back down. "Our whole mission will go 'wrong' if her loyalties lie elsewhere, so it's fortunate that she is solid. Who would guess that the Vilani Empire would inspire such loyalty."
Gvarokh growls, "Apparently I am not being clear. If her loyalties lay elsewhere, the mission is doomed. If she is not loyal to the Vilani Empire, we are already dead. If we alienate her and make her distrust us, we are in grave danger. She is our guide out here. She is the one we are relying on to get us the remaining weapons we are going to need to finish the mission." Gvarokh pauses to let this sink in, then continues, "If something goes 'wrong' and she kills our contact, the mission could be recovered and completed. If we do not trust her and end up turning her against us, then the mission is already a failure."
Kagfak speaks up, "Give it a rest, Dougok."
"Yeah," Uengghae chimes in with his lagging Galanglic. "You just mad she not sleep with you."
Kagfak sniffs the air and makes a face of mock disgust. "I smell fur burning."
The pair start laughing.
Dougok barks in laughter, deflating the tension. "I'm not mad that I've ruffled her fur, not that I'd mind if she decided she likes corsairs after all."
He turns serious, and his ears flip forward. "I'll not alienate her and will stay clear to avoid irritating her. I would have had no reason to even doubt her loyalty had Lakir not mentioned that he thought Dhunkul had something on her. If we feel her loyalty is rock solid, even if she's a bit edgy, then I'm behind her as well."
At this point, it seems that a consensus has been reached, and the meeting comes to an end.
NPC: Chuck, Kagfak, Uengghae, Elloekothe, Arsashaammu
Location: Bridge of the Pack of Daggers, parked at the Kashiin Siir Downport
Since the mission was put on hold until the next local morning, everyone got
some shuteye and a meal.
At 10:00 local time, the ship received a text message. "Meeting will be held in five hours at these system coordinates." The coordinates given place it deep in the system's outermost asteroid belt.
Chuck says, "It'll take us two and a half hours just to prep for launch, lift off, and get to safe jump distance. Not enough time to just maneuver there. Then we'll need two hours to burn off that vector. Not much time for delays."
Gvarokh looks over to Elloekothe.
"That's how he operates," she replies with a shrug. "We should get going. He doesn't like to be kept waiting."
He replies, "Then let's get going!"
As the engineering and flight crew prepare the ship for launch, Vlad asks, "Is there any reason to think we should be prepped for an ambush?"
Gvarokh looks to Elloekothe again for the answer.
She replies, "No. The meeting went fine. He's a deal maker; not a pirate. That's not to say he's above having others commit piracy for him. He doesn't like to get his paws dirty. I've never given him a reason to suspect a double-cross. I've always been someone he can do business with. And he knows that I'd bite his tail off if he tried pulling a stunt like that.
"As for the rest of you, I haven't heard of a bounty on your heads. And you're in a different ship than the one you raided those bases with. I think that it would be a stretch to connect the two."
"H'okay," Vlad says, satisfied with her answer.
Location: Pack of Daggers, then a small hab module on an asteroid.
The departure from Kashiin Siir Downport to the jump point went without a hitch. As the ship completes its decel maneuver, passive sensors have picked up an active scan. Sensors pinpoint it to emanating from a crater on a 10-km asteroid that the ship is close to.
"That would be the meeting point," Elloekothe says.
Chuck is at the helm, and he maneuvers the ship into position over the crater. Down below, a Desiree Keah class yacht (400 tons, J4, 1G) lies parked on one of four landing pads surrounding a very small structure. The structure looks like a pre-fab vacuum shelter. Not including the airlock, it looks to be about 100 meters square.
Chuck comments, "The Desiree Keah class don't come equipped with weapons, but this one does. I see two turrets topside. Probably a matching pair down below." He reads the name on the hull, "Dheukherdorr."
"That's him," Elloekothe says.
Chuck sets the ship down on the landing pad opposite Dhunkul's ship.
"Ok," Gvarokh announces, "Elloe, Uengghae, Lakir: suit up in combat armor and grab your longarm and side arm. I want to keep the group the same, other than my addition, so we aren't pulling any big switch ups. We go armed as a show of strength.
"Chuck, you have the bridge. We will try to keep the comms open. If things go toes up, we would appreciate a rescue, but most importantly, don't let that ship without us on the Pack."
"Aye, Captain," Chuck replies. "Keeping rescue on standby."
A few minutes later, the group assembles at the airlock. After the airlock cycles, the group head outside. The landing pad and surrounding structure are brightly lit. They walk inside the small structure and cycle its airlock.
Stepping inside, the group sees four vargr: one seated at a plastic table with two chairs, the rest standing around the room. Each is dressed in combat armor with their helmets off. The standing vargr all have auto-shotguns. Lakir recognizes them as the one he uses. While they're not pointed at the group, they are held at the ready. He also recognizes two of the guards from the nightclub.
Elloekothe removes her helmet and the rest of the group do likewise.
The seated vargr throws his arms open wide and says, "Ahhhh, welcome to...oh I forget the name of the place, some meaningless mix of letters and numbers." He stands up and sniffs the air. He crosses the room and approaches Gvarokh. "I'm Soks Dhunkul. You must be Gvarokh." He sniffs the air over each of Gvarokh's shoulders in a traditional vargr greeting. Gvarokh does likewise.
Gvarokh notices that Dhunkul is shorter than average for a vargr male. He also picks up a faint whiff of some kind of musky cologne. He nods in acknowledgement, but doesn't say anything.
"I see that you've brought the lovely Elloekothe and your warriors, Lakir and Uengghae." He looks at each one as he says their names. He's full of smiles, and there's a friendly lilt to his words, but his eyes remain predatory.
Elloekothe nods. Uengghae sniffs the air.
Dhunkul sits back down in his chair and gestures to the chair in front of him. "Please, have a seat."
Gvarokh takes the offered seat and says, "Thank you."
"Captain Gvarokh of the Pack of Daggers—love the ship name by the way—Elloekothe tells me that you're an outsider looking to make a big splash on the local scene. She feels that, with the right...tools, you can bring order to the fragments of the old Touzagh band. And that the tools you need are on Gemid." He pauses, letting his words hang in the cool air. "How many ships do you command, Captain Gvarokh?"
With an air of detached acknowledgement, he replies, "Just the one. If I had multiple ships, I wouldn't need to seek help. And I wouldn't be an outsider; I would be an invader."
"Uh huh. And how many corsairs are under your command?"
"As you acknowledged, I am an outsider. I have my crew. Again, if I was already an insider with multiple ships, I would not need tools like those found on Gemid; I would already be in position to act."
Dhunkul nods at the logic of Gvarokh's words. "Yes, yes, I see that. But I also don't hear anything."
Uengghae tilts his head in confusion.
Dhunkul explains, "There are no whispers in places of confidence of someone coming to be feared. There are no drunken revelers singing heralds in bars of the exploits of a rising alpha wolf coming from spinward. There are no grumbles of complaint from law enforcement about elusive marauders that strike with fire and vigor yet slip stealthily away. You, Captain, just pop out of the vacuum of space, which proffers neither sound nor scent.
"You have to understand that your status as an outsider with only one ship and a handful of followers, as charming and loyal as they may be, makes you a high risk bet even to a gambling wolf. In fact, if it wasn't for Miss Elloekothe, we wouldn't even be having this conversation." He flashes a predatory smile. "So you're going to have to prove to me that there's muscle underneath all of that fur. The way you'll do that is by performing a task for me. Do it, and I'll know that you're a wolf worth introducing to the alpha team on Gemid. If you fail, well...I'll have my answer either way. Are you in, Captain Gvarokh?"
Without hesitation, Gvarokh meets his gaze and responds, "Of course."
"Good!" Dhunkul slaps the table for emphasis. He places a datapad on the table and taps the screen. A hologram of a male vargr is projected upwards inches and rotates. "My friend and mentor, Egz Aerugurzae, is being held prisoner on Newcastle for holding philosophical beliefs that don't mesh with the Confederation's rulers. He was once the Archbishop of that world's branch of the Church of the Chosen Ones." His jaw goes rigid and his pleasant demeanor fades. He stares hard at the hologram. "The Confederation preaches tolerance and permits its worlds to rule themselves as they see fit. But not Newcastle. Aerugurzae followed the Confederation's colonization protocols, but no. They said that they had other plans for Newcastle and voided his writ of rule. For standing his ground, for standing on principle, my friend now languishes in prison."
Dhunkul relaxes his jaw and composes himself. He taps the screen and the hologram winks off. He returns his gaze to Gvarokh and slides the datapad across the table to him. "The location of the prison and other pertinent details can be found on there. Meet me on Daama in four weeks. Do this for me, and I'll know that you're a vargr capable of great things."
He stands, signalling the end of the meeting.
Gvarokh stands and simply responds, "You will not be disappointed."
"I certainly hope not," Dhunkul replies with a laugh.
The group puts on their helmets, cycles through the airlock, and then return to the ship. The ship lifts off, and Chuck pilots the ship away from the asteroid.
Gvarokh says, "Take us back to the starport. I want to stock up on our life support supplies so that we don't have to worry about paying for that each step of the way. Also, we're gonna want some starship paint. If we're going to knock over a prison, I figure highlighting our logo isn't a great idea."
"I agree on the paint," Chuck replies, "but life support was 1,500 credits per person per week. That's 50% more than we normally pay. Are you sure you want to do that? Not that I have any idea if Ronni, Zannokh, or Newcastle are going to be any better."
Gvarokh nods. "Yeah, we'll take the hit. I plan on doing wilderness refueling at Ronni to be as quick as possible. We can then hit a moon or something for a few hours while the fuel is processed. I also want to see if we can score some space paint to re-work our appearance."
NPC: Chuck, Kagfak, Uengghae, Elloekothe, Arsashaammu
Location: Pack of Daggers
Pack of Daggers emerges from jumpspace around Kashiin.
While the ship cruises in, it is scanned but unchallenged. Starport Traffic Control contacts the ship to give notice regarding the approach lane. Gvarokh states that they'll be returning to the berth they initially docked at.
The Pack of Daggers docks with the starport.
Gvarokh explains that he wants to purchase 52 person-weeks worth of life support refurbishment materials. The human on the other end doesn't bat an eye at the request.
"I'm also going to need starship paint." Gvarokh gives a square meter coverage figure and requests the equipment necessary to add it. He also asks for paint remover. The guy tries to upsell him on SmartPaint, but Gvarokh turns him down. He wants the cheap stuff, because it's simple. The guy quotes him a thousand credits.
While they wait, Gvarokh asks Elloekothe where she thinks they should stop along their route. He still wants to do a wilderness refuel if possible. They also need a place to work on their paint job.
Elloe sighs. "Since Newcastle is only three parsecs away, it's either Ronni or Zannokh.
"Wilderness refueling at Ronni could be problematic. The Confederation gives the mainworld plenty of leeway, but it uses an iron fist on all of the worlds in the system. The Confederation is hellbent on exploiting the system's resources and doesn't take kindly to anyone sniffing about.
"Zannokh doesn't have any gas giants, but you could try the outer belt and skim some ice. I know that the starport gets its fuel from ice haulers who make their way out there. The Confederation doesn't have much of a presence in the system, but they do have a military base near the starport, which is on world."
Gvarokh responds, "Well, shit. I was counting on that wilderness refueling at Ronni. Wilderness refueling at Zannokh will take too long, so we’re stuck with our options of travel."
Thinking for a bit, Gvarokh says, "I guess we are reduced to this: We'll go to Ronni first and just refuel normally at the main world. That's where we will apply the paint. Once refueled, we'll head out to our destination and figure out how to get the prisoner. On the way back, we'll stop at Zannokh for refueling. The time we have left will determine our actions are Zannokh."
"Skim ice?" Vlad blurts out. "We're equipped for that? I don't remember that ever having been an option before."
Chuck chuckles and replies, "One doesn't skim ice. You have to shovel it into a hopper after cutting out chunks with a laser drill. Then it can be melted and filtered. You break the water molecule to extract the hydrogen. It's the most labor intensive of the three wilderness fueling options, so it's usually a method of last resort. Unless you're in the Scouts, then it's your CO's number one choice."
Dougok says, "Chopping ice may be the best bet as it would be the least likely to be detected."
Gvarokh wags a finger. "This indirectly brings up a good point. Allow me to explain.
"First, remember the constraints of our mission: We have four weeks to get this done. The destination is three parsecs away. That means we have to take one J2 (one week) and one double-J1 (half week) to get in, and one J2 (one week) and one double-J1 (half week) to get out. That gives us a nominal week to get the job done. Really, less, as we will probably spend a day or so at each system along the way. So, whatever we do on the trip will have to be fast.
"Second, we will be knocking over a government prison. Going in with our nice logo blazing probably isn't a great idea. While doing the paint job isn't the best idea—they just have to track around who bought matte-black starship paint from appropriate systems—I think it is worth the small effort at obfuscation. No reason to flaunt it. Nasty trick: The paint can only be applied or removed in an atmosphere.
"My original idea was to hit Ronni on both ways, wilderness refueling at the gas giant. However, Elloe's reports make that infeasible. So, that plan is shot to shit.
"My second idea was to hit Zannokh and wilderness refuel in the Oort cloud or asteroid belt. However, the problems with ice fueling are two-fold: 1) It involves a lot of manual work and processing time. But, also 2) It takes time to actually find a good refueling candidate object. We just don't have the time to waste on either process. Plus, there is no atmosphere to apply the paint.
"My next idea was to hit Zannokh directly. It has an atmosphere and less than a thousand people. It also has 50% surface water. So, it shouldn't be a huge deal to land somewhere isolated, preferably on the opposite side of the planet from the starport, water refuel and paint there. If we do this both ways, we can paint one way and un-paint the other way. This would probably be the best idea, except that water refueling takes a lot of time, which hurts us against our deadline.
"My final idea is to actually hit Ronni on the way in. Refuel and paint there directly. Hit Zannokh on the way back at the starport. Hitting both worlds lets us have a different path traced through. However, we don't un-paint until after we drop off the prisoner at Kashiin. And we don't unpaint at Kashiin, either, but a stop later when we have time.
"Our biggest enemy is actually time. That is forcing us to be far less stealthy than I would like, but that time limit is very hard. We have to make compromises to hit that deadline. I'm always open to input, but the overriding concern right now is getting this task done within our time limit, and we will need to keep as much as a buffer as possible for our time on Newcastle."
"Skimming ice is a pain in the tail," Dougok says. "I support the captain's plan."
Elloekothe says, "One correction: Dhunkul wants us to meet him at Daama, which is one parsec trailing of Ronni and Kashiin."
Extra life support refurbishment chemicals arrive along with the paint.
Depart starport and travel to jump point.
Next: Arrival at Ronni