Characters: Vincent and Lakir
NPC: Kagfak, Major Elloekothe
Location: Port Stephens
The group has showered, eaten breakfast, packed up their stuff, and checked out.
They shuffle over to the line for the ferry. Boarding has commenced, and the
four alleged prison guards can be seen near the front of the line.
Once they reach the front of the line, Elloekothe asks the young man checking for boarding passes how long the trip should take.
He answers with a smile, "The captain says the weather forecast is good and the seas are calm. So we should get there in just four hours."
The ferry is in the process of loading up several cars and supply trucks. Above the vehicle level is the passenger deck. It's enclosed with plenty of windows to enjoy the view. There are numerous tables and benches, all affixed to the floor. The alleged prison guards take a seat in the back near a door to the stern viewing deck. The room will probably be 85% full by the time all the passengers have boarded.
Fore-ward is a galley selling food and beverages. Coffee seems popular. On either side are the bathrooms, divided by gender, not species.
The bridges (there's one at either end) and crew quarters are located on the deck above.
Elloekothe comms the captain, letting him know that they're all aboard the ferry.
The captain sounds the horn three times to announce to the harbor that the ferry is departing. The ship glides away from the dock, and as soon as it's clear, the engines rev up. The ferry's speed picks up and the port slowly recedes into the distance.
The trip goes by without incident, and the ferry has arrived safely at
Yorkshire, the main city on Yorkshire island. The group disembarks and moves
away from their fellow passengers so that Elloekothe can check in with the
Once concluded, the group sets out on foot for the hotel, which is a quarter mile from the dock. The hotel is ten stories tall. It's decent, even if the decor seems a bit dated. No wi-fi or other internet amenities. There's satellite TV available.
The group gets a room on the tenth floor with a view facing south towards the prison. They get adjoining rooms with a connecting door.
Once settled in, Elloekothe says, "It's still early. Plenty of time to go meet our island contact. The guy back at the starport says this Shidaamar character can give us the lowdown. He works in a warehouse down on the wharf."
Characters: Vincent and Lakir
NPC: Kagfak and Major Elloekothe
Location: Yorkshire Island
The group walks along the waterfront, past empty docks (all the fishing boats
are out at sea), and into the warehouse district. While the sky was clear this
morning, a few clouds have moved in, but it's still mostly sunny. The
temperature is 22°C (72°F).
Elloekothe spots the building Shidaamar is said to be at and leads the party down the wharf to seaside entrance. Stepping through the door, there's the unmistakable scent of fish and the sound of forklifts.
The vargr sniff the air. Kagfak's stomach rumbles. He sheepishly apologizes.
Elloekothe flags down a human male worker and asks where they can find Shidaamar. The guy points to a forklift driver. She thanks him and leads the group over to him, passing crate after crate filled with fish 1.5 to 2 meters in length.
"Yeah." He shuts off the forklift. "What can I do for you?"
"Lushagu Ekhagekiishkesim sent us. He says that you're the best island tour guide. And we need the best."
Shidaamar mulls over what she's said, then says, "He tell you how much it'll cost?"
"Yes. We have it."
"All of you going?"
He nods. "Ok, then." He calls over to one of his co-workers. "Gotta go give a tour." The other man nods. Returning his attention to Elloekothe, he says, "I gotta go wash up. Meet me outside at my truck."
"How will we know which one it is?"
"You can't miss it."
Sure enough, outside is a long, weathered SUV with "Yorkshire Island Tours" painted on the side. After about five minutes, Shidaamar emerges from the building and enters the vehicle. Elloekothe sits up front. Kagfak sits behind the driver with Lakir next to him. Although there's room next to them, Vincent rides in the back row so he can look out the back. He fires up the laptop.
Before Shidaamar starts the SUV, he asks, "So what do you want to see on the tour?"
Elloekothe replies, "Howell's Farm and the prison."
Shidaamar checks his watch. "Ok, we'll hit the farm first."
He starts the SUV and drives out of the parking lot. It isn't long before they're out of the city and on the four lane highway (two lanes each way) headed north. Once clear of the suburbs, the highway shrinks to two lanes and the speed limit drops to 45 mph (75 kph). Shidaamar keeps to it. Traffic is very light. A few miles north of town the highway passes over a bridge that fords a small river. From there the road remains elevated via a man-made berm, two meters higher than the countryside.
Vincent asks Shidaamar, "Are grav vehicles allowed as transport to and from the island, or is all of that regulated?"
He replies, "The island is a no fly zone, and that includes grav vehicles. You have to get a permit to even fly a drone."
The coastline recedes into the distance, but five minutes out from the farm makes its return. Rocky islands are visible far out in a bay. Off on the left an orchard begins and stretches out as far as the eye can see. It continues the whole way to the farm.
"Hey, I'm getting a wi-fi signal," Vincent exclaims from the back.
"The farm has a sensor network which relays the information back to their operations center," Shidaamar replies. "It measures air and soil moisture, temperature, soil acidity, you name it."
As the vehicle approaches the farm, the group sees that it's a fairly large complex. There are several buildings and Shidaamar points them out. "Operations, harvest storage, processing, shipping, barracks, general store, cafeteria, museum," and set apart from the others, "Howell family estate." In the large parking lot are a couple tour buses, a couple dozen cars, and a Falworth Prison bus.
Elloekothe gestures to the bus. "Is it safe to assume that the prisoners who are work detail get here via that?"
"Is there an escort?"
"Guards on the bus?"
"So how do they keep the prisoners from running off?"
"Each prisoner is fitted with an ankle collar. It transmits a signal back to a central unit. If a prisoner wanders to the edge of its range, an alarm goes off. The guy in charge of the controller can then transmit a signal to the collar to zap the prisoner. Nothing lethal, but it leaves them stunned and gives the other guards a chance to catch up."
"How many charges does it hold?"
"Enough for six full zaps. Milder shocks use less power, so he could do a lot more of those."
"What's the range?"
"Considering the size of this farm, I'm guessing that the controller has to be in the vicinity of the prisoners at all times."
"What time to show up for work and leave for the day?"
"Depends on the season. These days, they get here at 11 and leave at 24. They give 'em an hour off for lunch."
Elloekothe turns to face the others. "Do you guys have any questions, or should we continue on with the tour?"
Vincent asks, "Does each anklet operate on their own frequency?"
"Shidaamar replies, "No. My understanding is that there's one frequency for all, but each anklet transmits an ID code to the central unit."
"Do you think I could jam the signal?"
"I guess you could, if you had the right equipment, but that would freak the guards out. They'd call for reinforcements ASAP. While none would arrive from the prison for probably 30 minutes, it would probably escalate pretty quickly. Once the warden got word, he'd be on the horn to Yorkshire PD for help and the mainland for air support. Yorkshire would be here in 15 to 20 minutes. No idea about air support though."
Lakir asks, "What does the Yorkshire PD look like from a bodies and material point of view?"
"About 300 on shift at any one time. They're typically armed with handguns, but in an emergency situation they can pull out shotguns and assault rifles. Flak jackets are standard issue. Vehicles are primarily large engine sedans. They've got a few APCs in the HQ garage. 50 caliber mounts. They've got four unarmed helos which they use for recon and giving snipers a ride."
Lakir says, "Let's check out that museum."
Elloekothe gives him an inquisitive look.
Lakir continues, "I want to get on the ground around the property. Get a feel for the place."
So everyone, including the tour guide, get out of the truck and stretch their legs. The tour guide is now wearing a light jacket that says "Yorkshire Island Tours" on the back with a small logo on the front. He also wears a laminated ID card around his neck.
The museum provides a history of the farm and the equipment used over the years. There's a brief mention of the early years of the island when it was first settled. Nothing telling though.
There's also a section that explains modern day operations including crop cycles and transportation of finished goods. Plenty of video of people working the fields, machinery in action, and food processing. No mention of the prison work detail.
From the viewpoint of the outdoor eating area adjacent to the cafeteria, the group gets a good sense of the layout of the place. Tourists are kept away from the farm's operations (for their safety), but there's no mistaking the buildings that Shidaamar points out to the group. Security is present in the form of strategically placed video cameras. The only fences appear to be to pen in livestock.
Vincent asks, "So how does a prisoner get put on farm duty? Is it a random selection process, or do they have a set rotation they go through?"
Shidaamar replies, "My understanding is that prisoners file an application requesting permission to work on the farm. There's a guy who reviews the prisoner's arrest record and psychological profile to determine if he's a risk or not. Typically, only non-violent offenders ever get approved. There's an ample supply of prison workers, so if you screw up somehow, your work privileges are revoked and you get sent to the end of the line."
Once they're satisfied with reconning the farm, they get back on the road and head south towards the prison. South of Yorkshire, the road heads southwest and parallels the coast. They pass a small town that hugs a river near the southwestern arm of the bay, cross a river via a bridge, and pass a road that leads east to another small town on the coast. After that, there's nothing along the road until the prison. They get there an hour after leaving the farm.
Shidaamar stops the SUV a mile out. He pulls a pair of binoculars out of the glove compartment and indicates where Lakir can find another pair in the back.
"The prison compound is 500 meters on a side. The outer fence is ten meters high. Guard towers are at 100-meter intervals. The fences aren't electrified, but they do have barbed wire at the top. You can easily see the administration building, worker dormitory, utility house, motor pool, and the largest building is the cell house. Power is generated by a field of solar panels, which are sectioned off from the rest of the prison by a two-meter high fence.
"Vehicles going in and out are checked at their respective gates. Guards and workers take a bus in and stay for the length of their shift. Only the warden goes home every night. Captain of the guard, also a shift worker, runs the place when he's out."
"Does the place have a network?" Vincent asks.
"Yes. Anything connected to the facility is wired. The only wireless aspect is the prisoner monitoring network. Similar to what they use on the farm, except receiver nodes are located throughout the prison and the compound."
Lakir asks, "How many guard on site through the shift, and what does the guard work cycle look like?"
Shidaamar replies, "Two nine-hour shifts. 50 guards per shift. 100 guards on site at all times. Two weeks on; two weeks off. Administrative staff are all given self-defense training, but it's just that. They're never recruited to perform guard tasks.
"Prisoner to guard ratio is about 5:1 overall. During a shift it's 10:1."
After a few minutes of silent observation, Elloekothe announces, "Ok, we're good. You can bring us back now."
Shidaamar starts the SUV, gets back on the road, and heads back to Yorkshire.
Characters: Vincent and Lakir (YI), Gvarokh, Slade, Simrii, Dougok
NPC: Kagfak and Major Elloekothe (YI), Chuck, Uengghae, Vlad (TD)
Location: Yorkshire Island and Thurston Downport
After Vincent ensures a secure line, Elloekothe contacts the ship. Everyone at
the hotel wears commdots so that they can keep their voices down at the hotel
and the audio from the ship remains mute.
Elloekothe says, "The target is not currently on farm work detail. He's at the prison. All prisoners, whether on the farm or not, wear transponder beacons so that they can be tracked, though the system has a limited range."
Vincent states that he is fairly confident that he can hack the prison network provided that he can get in range. Same goes for those prisoners on work detail at the farm.
He continues, "So how about this for a plan...Ship leaves the starport. It submerges at some point into the ocean, whether running along the surface or doing a high altitude run. It maneuvers close enough so that I can hack the monitoring system, find our man, and disable his tracker. We have our ship exit the water, launch the G-Carrier, pick us up with the prisoner, head back to the ship, and get us the hell outta here. We'd be looking at a time frame from ocean emergence to getting into orbit and safely out to jump distance of two hours, twenty minutes."
Lakir adds, "We're looking at 37 minutes for the ship to leave the starport, reach LPO, traverse the ground distance from starport to island, and then dive back into the ocean. If we're not vulnerable to surface or orbit interdiction from the appropriate craft, that's got some serious legs. That boost to ground window letís a covert 'something' happen, to secure the target, then GTFOoD. Tyin' up the local prison ERT team, and keepin' the op isolated from outside forces through that window, is the challenge. I'm thinkin' we've got some serious legs here."
Dougok listens closely and examines the results of the recon. "I don't see that hacking the monitoring system will do us any good if the prison defenses remain intact. Can the hack spoof the defenses or at least shut down their comms? Otherwise we're looking at a straightforward assault."
Vincent replies, "Their comms are all radio. The only thing that's going to block them is an EMS jammer. And there's nothing on the prison defenses that are computer controlled. When I hack the monitoring system, I can have it think our target is there even when he isn't."
Dougok growls a bit to himself as he thinks. "Can we hack into the local traffic control and put in a flight plan that would let us head toward the island? We could drop the g-carrier off over the ocean and it could make it's way underwater while the ship proceeds along slowly. That might delay the moment when they scramble the warships."
Elloekothe replies, "The island is a no-fly zone. Putting in a flight plan towards the island will instantly raise red flags."
Vincent adds, "Not sure that the g-carrier is going to drive all that well underwater. That's why we figured that the ship should be the one to travel underwater, then surface to launch it. The g-carrier cruises at 720 kph. Max speed is 960 kph."
Gvarokh interjects, "The ship can't do that underwater. If we went as fast as necessary, we would make a wake observable from orbit. Going slow enough to not do that will take us a lot of time we don't have to get there underwater. Even NOE is a bit dangerous, as the speed we need would likely create a flume that is highly observable. So, if the ship is going to go to the island, we have to assume that our intentions will be immediately discernible the moment we start toward the island. We are not going to be subtle.
"One quick question for the Bribery Team: Have we tried bribing anyone yet? Even just bribing someone to bring a data card with a virus into the office to infect things for us could help. Also, not everyone can be incorruptible. Are there any likely marks that we can overbid on? Even if they betray us in the end, getting that head-start will help immensely.
"And if this is a smash-n-grab, so be it. We can smash. And grab."
Elloekothe clears her throat just before her reply. "We haven't gotten around to bribing yet. We wanted to get some recon in first before going after personnel. Vincent was...inspired by what he observed and felt that we should present it to you now to get your input on it.
"We'll have to monitor the daily commuter bus to see if the work detail manager heads home. Some workers live on-site for a couple weeks at a time. But since he's administrative staff, maybe he's not one of those guys."
After a pause in the discussion, Dougok adds, "We could set up a flight plan for orbit that passes near the island but not close enough to raise hackles. We make noise here in port that we're doing a lot of maintenance. Then while boosting we declare an emergency and go down on the island. We could send the g-carrier on ahead to do the smash if a bribery doesn't work, or they can go in behind the bribery, grab our target, and join the ship. The emergency will delay an armed response most likely. It may give us the tens of minutes we need to pull this off."
With discussion complete, Elloekothe says, "Ok then. We'll get on to the bribery phase and let you know how that goes."
"Good hunting," Gvaorkh replies, and the call is terminated.
Characters: Vincent and Lakir
NPC: Kagfak, Major Elloekothe
Location: Yorkshire Island
As soon as the call is terminated, Elloekothe says to the others, "We're going
to need a car—I can cover the cost of it with my forged ID. Then we'll
head out to the prison and see if we can spot..." she checks her datapad
"...George Shikumniishirma. We follow him back to his den and make him an offer
he can't refuse. Sound good to everyone?"
Vincent exclaims, "I like it!"
"Ok, then. Let's get to it."
With the rental car secured, a four-door SUV, the group is back on the highway headed south with Kagfak at the wheel. A mile or so from the prison, they pull over and observe the outbound traffic through binoculars.
A man matching George's description leaves the prison, and as he drives by, the
group get confirmation. They get back in the SUV and follow him at a discrete
distance to his home.
Once there, she instructs Kagfak to wait in the car and keep his ears and eyes open for anything that could ruin their day. She then asks if either Lakir or Vincent want to come with her.
Vincent says, "I'll go. Call me paranoid, but I don't want you to go in alone."
Lakir says, "I'll go too."
She nods. "Kagfak, you going to be ok here alone."
"Ok, let's go then."
The three walk up to George's door and ring the doorbell. George answers the door. "Hello?"
"Yes. What's this about?"
"We need to talk to you in private. May we come in?"
"Who are you?"
"We represent an offworld consortium who have a vested interest in the well being of someone you work with. Look, we're unarmed, and we'd prefer to discuss the matter in private. May we come inside."
"Who is it, dear?" A woman's voice comes from another room.
"It's a work-related matter, Velsha." He grimaces. "Very well. Come in." He opens the door. "I'm going to take them downstairs to my office."
George's house strikes the group as comfortable, but far from lavish. He leads the group downstairs to a finished basement. They pass the laundry room and come across a paneled wall and a raised floor. George keys open the door and flicks a switch. Fluorescent ceiling lights illuminate a 10x15 foot (3 x 4.5 meter) room. George takes a seat behind a desk. He indicates that the group should take a seat. Lakir and Vincent opt for a love seat while Elloekothe sits at chair near the desk.
"So what's this all about? And why couldn't it be handled at the prison?"
Elloekothe responds, "We're concerned about the treatment of Egz Aerugurzae."
George makes a scoffing sound.
"Because he's a political prisoner with...unorthodox views on human-vargr relations, we're concerned that his health will decline and possibly fail far sooner than would be normal for a free vargr."
"I thought his kind were all locked up or dead." He turns to look at Lakir and Vincent. "You guys are actually a part of this sicko cult? You don't look the type."
Before they can answer, Elloekothe says, "We just want Egz to get some time outside. You have the authority to get him on work detail at the farm."
"I don't want that sicko around people, let alone children."
"We're willing to pay you for your trouble."
"No, I don't want your money."
"Sir, if I may. We may have given you the wrong idea. You clearly aren't a fan of his or for what he believes in, nor are we. What we are here to ask is if we were able to take him off your hands, remove him and his vile ideas from your environment, and at the same time compensate you considerably for looking the other way while he is...say...removed from your premises and escorted offworld and taken care of in a more appropriate way for his crimes. Surely you can appreciate what we are asking, and it is my hope we can come to a mutual agreement here. Rest assured, if you are amenable to our offer you will never see us nor the prisoner again after we have left the system."
George ponders Vincent's words. "I am amenable to him being removed from our world for the purposes of being appropriately punished. He got off too easy if you ask me. But the vargr saw to that." He casts a sharp look at Elloekothe.
She doesn't cower, but instead counters, "It was vargr that removed him from power in the first place. If we hadn't, you'd still be stuck with that pervert in power."
This seems to satisfy George. "Very well. What sort of time line are we talking about?"
"The sooner the better," Elloekothe replies.
"What's the rush?"
"We have a limited window of opportunity to extract him. It will be far more difficult as time goes on."
"Ok, I'll have to take your word for it. I can get the paperwork in place tomorrow, which means that he'll be at the farm the day after. Is that soon enough for you?"
"And what are you prepared to compensate me?"
"We recognize that there's some risk involved on your part."
"I may have to retire."
She pulls out a bankcard and a reader. She types in the amount, inserts her card, and places a thumb on the pad. "I'm putting a delay on this: 25% each week for four weeks."
"A safe precaution." He places his bankcard in the reader and places a thumb on the pad. A set of matching green lights indicate the transaction is complete.
"Thank you, Mr. Shikumniishirma."
He shows them to the door.
Once back in the car, Elloekothe says to Vincent, "Good work back there. I was losing him. Went with the prisoner's rights angle figuring his position made him sympathetic, but it was just the opposite."
"Not a problem, I saw how the situation was turning south and took a chance with his comment about us being on board with his ideology. Could have turned really bad, just glad my hunch paid off and he's willing to help us out!"
[...to be continued...]