Checking Out the Local Raider Outpost

Characters: Joe, Arthur, Darrurz, Mazun
NPC:Thaedznou, Aerrak
Location: The city of Oegzuzerrghgurrgoksa
System: Akofitsidano

1202.23.7 - 18:25 IST, 6:30 Local Time (21 hour, 16 minute day)

Aerrak stops the pickup truck shuts off the pickup truck and puts it in neutral, letting the vehicle coast to a stop two blocks from the raider outpost that they ransacked. Aerrak stays with the vehicle while the rest of the group gets out.

Through binoculars, the group can see that the warehouse looks pretty much how they left it. The vehicle bay doors are still wide open. There are no vehicles in the bays and no activity is spotted.

Thaedznou instructs Darrurz and Mazun to stay put and keep watch on the place while he, Joe, and Arthur circle around to get a better view from a more direct angle.

From their better vantage point, Joe, Arthur, and Thaedznou discern that the place has been abandoned. They can make out debris in the vehicle bay but scant else beyond.

Darrurz and Mazun maneuver their way to the back of the building and confirm that it is indeed empty.

The two parties rendezvous at the front of the building, near the vehicle bay. The vargr are the first to detect the smell.

Thaedznou exhales through his snout in an attempt to flush out the stink. "Ugh. I think the uerroksafuekhskuez got to the raiders after they tired of chasing us."

There's a buzzing sound in the air as dozens of flies are preoccupied with a couple meter-long brown patches in the back of the vehicle bay.

"Ok, given the nature of what's in there, I'll take two volunteers to go inside and two more to go up this building," he gives a nod of his head, "to the lookout post above. The last one gets to keep watch here and stay in contact with Aerrak."

Joe speak up first, "I'll take the vehicle bay with Arthur?" He looks at him for assent. Arthur gives it. "After all, we're both human and less sensitive to smells than you pups."

This gets a grin out of Thaedznou.

Joe also notes to Ed, "I know I can seal the armor and switch to internal air, but without access to the ships boat to re-supply the tanks, I'm carrying all the air we got until we get back."

Ed replies, "Since I have access to your optic nerves, I noticed that under the suit's life support menu that there's an ambient air filtration setting. You should be able to breathe the air while the suit filters out the molecules of biological decay."

"Thanks Ed."

Ed replies with visual imagery: smiling, glad to be of help.

"Yeah, I'll go." replies Mazun. "The smell doesn't bother me much."

Thaedznou looks to Arthur, who just shrugs. "Yes, let's do it that way. Joe and Mazun head inside. Arthur stays here to keep watch and coordinate all of us should something show up. I'll go with Darrurz up to the lookout." He looks up. "It's only eight stories. Easy climb."

Joe and Mazun reach the warehouse first. The flies ignore them, focusing on what they can suck up from the stained concrete. There is no sound in the place save for their buzzing.

The place has been trashed, clearly not the way they left it. Boxes smashed. Shelving units knocked over. More stained concrete.

Joe makes his way to the back room where they'd dragged the sleeping raiders. He finds the spent sleep gas canisters and grabs them.

Satisfied with their search, the pair head back outside.

Joe looks around the outside for the reason they came: to see if there are any supplies they overlooked that may aid them in their journey and any signs that he or the others left indicating to a Vakh investigation droid who raided the depot. He doesn't find any.

Ed reassures him. "The size of the blood stains and way the warehouse is in such a disarray would lead an investigation droid to believe that the uerroksafuekhskuez were responsible. The missing vehicles could be explained by salvage-hounds taking advantage of the ordeal's outcome."

Joe and Mazun cross the street to rendezvous with Arthur.

Once there, Mazun asks, "Do you think it's worth it to see if those tracking chips I put in the comms are still active?"

Meanwhile, Thaedznou and Darrurz have climbed the stairs to the eighth floor. The stairwell was clean and smelled of stale air. The pair stealthily make their way to the northwestern corner apartment where the lookout was spotted. The door is locked.

Thaedznou crouches down and puts his snout to the bottom of the door. There's a one-centimeter gap there. After several seconds he gets to his feet.

He leans in close to Darrurz's ear. "I smell a bit of death. I'm going to kick the door down. Cover me."

Darrurz says, "Wouldn't it be better to pick the lock?"

Thaedznou sighs. "Yes. But a lot less fun."

He fishes out his lockpick set and gets to work. It turns out to be an easy task for him. After he puts it away, he readies his assault rifle and, when Darrurz is ready, throws open the door.

In front of them on the balcony is the slumped figure of a vargr female. Four large birds are picking at the corpse while a fifth one on the balcony railing squawks at the uninvited guests.

Thaedznou barks at them and waves his arms. They fly off. Thaedznou steps out on the balcony to survey the view.

Darrurz searches the room and finds a radio console. It's 50 cm wide, 15 cm deep, and 30 cm high. A low tech battery pack (10 cm on each side) is connected to it. They're both small enough to be portable. Tech-wise, both look like they could've been manufactured here.

A cable connected to the antenna port runs due south in the apartment until it reaches a wall. A hole has been cut through the wall and the cable fed through it into the next apartment. Darrurz peeks through it and thinks the wire continues on to the next apartment in the southwest corner of the building.

Darrurz joins Thaedznou on the balcony. He crouches down to search the body for anything useful. The sniper rifle would be immensely valuable to Dhoknan's or Rongon's packs. Besides the loaded clip, there are four more in the jacket pockets. There's a dagger and a multi-tool. Both are in excellent condition. A personal radio like the one taken from the toll booth raiders is there too. The battery is dead though. Her jacket, boots, and utility belt look serviceable to the locals, provided that they can get the smell of decay out of them.

Her body has been picked at by the carrion birds. The burn hole in her skull from his laser rifle is hard to miss. There's even a scorch mark on the brick wall at the far side of the balcony.

He stands up. "The aerial of that radio goes through the wall to the next apartment. We should probably take a look once we finish here."

"Agreed," Thaedznou replies without looking away.

"Anything interesting in sight?"

"You can see a good deal of the city from here." He gestures north. "The south wall. The buildings immediately on the other side. You can even see Dhoknan's stadium."

Darrurz joins in for the view. "Should have brought of Dhoknan's pups with us here because this is a good spot for an observation post."

"It is indeed. When we come back, we'll let them know. Hopefully with those two new packs, he'll be able to start securing territory all of the territory inside the city walls. It's going to take an army to deal with these giant lizards roaming out here."

Darrurz returns to the dead raider. He takes the sniper rifle, ammo, dagger, multi-tool, and utility belt. While doing so, he says, "What about her?"

Thaedznou turns around.

Darrurz indicates the laser hole and the scorch mark. "They might not know what the scorch mark is, but they'll know what a hole through the head is, and the only way to disguise that is what? Punt her over the side?"

"Yes. Let the uerroksafuekhskuez have at her body."

"If we leave the radio intact, it could be that she just left."

Thaedznou nods. "Yeah, we won't need it. I know that you've got the frequency, or at least one of the frequencies. Still have to dump her body off the balcony. I know it's grim but...we have to cover our tracks whenever we can."

Darrurz checks over the side to see if the way down is clear. It is, so he says, "Come on then. You take her shoulders, and don't scrape the balcony."

The two vargr lift the corpse and heave it over the balcony. Neither wait around to watch the descent or the impact.

Done with the view, they leave the apartment and walk down the hall to the next one. The door is unlocked. Once inside, they see that it's been stripped of anything useful. The antenna cable continues through this apartment to the next, so they leave, go down the hall, and enter that one.

This room is much like the last. The cable runs out to the balcony where a wire grid-type parabolic antenna, one meter in diameter, has been fastened to a table. It points south in the general direction of the starport. It doesn't look like it was made locally.

Darrurz takes a photo and sends it to Mazun. "Points the way to their base," he types.

Mazun replies, "Lines up with the starport."

Darrurz and Thaedznou make their way down the stairs to join the others. Aerrak is hailed, whereupon he summarily drives over to pick up the group.

Pit Stop - Part 1

Characters: Joe, Arthur, Darrurz, Mazun
NPC: Thaedznou, Aerrak
Location: Small town on the way to the starport
System: Akofitsidano

1202.23.7 - 19:25 IST, 7:30 Local Time (21 hour, 16 minute day)

The group heads south. Within a couple of blocks the multi-story buildings have given way to the ruins of wide, one-story buildings. Judging by the general design of the remains, these were warehouses and distribution centers. Now they're just fire ravaged hulks of brick and metal. Eventually the group sees signs for what is obviously the Great Road. Aerrak spots the on-ramp and proceeds onto the highway.

Shortly after getting on the highway, the olve groves are spotted on the left, to the southeast of the city. The trees have grown wild, the rows between them barely discernible. Grey patches designate the occasional dead tree.

The highway appears to have been maintained. The odd abandoned vehicle has been pushed off the road. The occasional pothole filled. A washed out section of road has been filled in with rubble and leveled off, warning signs alerting drivers of the danger ahead.

There are no bandits, nor obvious places to ambush travellers along the way.

21:55 IST, 10:00 Local Time

Signs indicate that the T-junction lies two kilometers ahead. A small town (Kakh Town) has been built around the junction. Aerrak suggests that they look for a fueling station here as the pickup truck says that it has about a third of a tank left. Thaedznou wants to survey the town from a safe distance.

A half hour of observation yields no signs of activity. Thaedznou pulls out the map.

Pit Stop Town

"There are four gas stations and restaurants adjacent to three of them. Housing is on the east side of town with a school nearby." He circles the area near the H on the map with his finger. "Hospital. Police and fire department to the left. Local government to the north. This must be the town's reservoir here in the northeast corner. I'm guessing these areas..." he circles building strips along the two main roads "...are retail shops. So what's this area on the north end of town?"

"Looks like local industry," Aerrak volunteers. "The town's on the interstate. Maybe it's a distribution hub. Stuff comes north from the starport and gets offloaded to trucks going north and west."

"Could be," Thaedznou nods. "So where do you wolves think that the raiders stashed their fuel?"

Joe says, "Those fuel stations seem to be the obvious places—probably looted dry—but we should check them out first. And if that place on the north end of town is a distribution hub perhaps it has some derelict vehicles with fuel in their tanks."

Thaedznou replies, "If they're derelict vehicles, then the fuel has quite likely long gone stale, assuming no one siphoned it off first. But we can still check it out."

Everyone climbs back in the pickup truck. Aerrak follows the highway to the starport exit and gets off at the gas station in the southwest corner of the town.

Even before they get out of the truck, it's fairly evident that the place has ransacked. The windows of the station have been smashed, the shelves looted. There is one bulky looking car, but it has long since rusted, and the rubber of its tires has dried and cracked. There is no electricity for the pumps. A sniff around the storage tank reveals that it is long since dry.

The restaurant is in similarly poor shape.

The gas station due north of this one is found to be in similar shape.

Crossing under the north-south highway, the group next examines the one gas station that doesn't have an adjacent restaurant. Two old cars look as though one crashed into the other. The skeleton of a vargr lies in the front seat of one with numerous broken bones, though when the bones broke is unknown. Three more lie nearby, but a good many of these have been crushed. Closer examination reveals spent bullets, but there's no sign of any guns. Behind the gas station two cars are up on blocks, their wheels missing.

It, too, is out of gas.

The wind starts to pick up. Whereas before it was around 8 kph (5 mph), it has picked up to about 17 kph (10 mph). Dark clouds have appeared on the northwestern horizon.

Crossing the street, the group notices that several buzzard type birds have taken roost on top of gas station number four. They appear to be watching the group, but make no moves.

The gas station here is as depleted as the others. Inside the station there's a skeleton swathed in stained rags sitting on the floor leaning up against a wall. Written on the wall in some reddish-brown ink are the words, "Beware Star People."

Looking north from here, the clinic, police and fire station, and local town hall reveal a few vehicles parked among the buildings. To the east lies a school and a dense cluster of townhouses. The strip mall across the street to the south has been gutted, the last one showing signs of a fire that failed to consume the building. The strip mall to the west looks ok from the back.

Mazun sighs. "Not looking great. May as well check out the strip mall while we're here."

Since it's close by, Thaedznou opts to check it out on foot. Mazun, Joe, and Darrurz go with him. Arthur stays behind with Aerrak and the pickup.

Rounding the south side of the strip mall, it becomes evident right away that these stores have been looted long ago as well. All of the windows are smashed. Small birds fly in and out, apparently having made nests among the shelves.

"Right then," Thaedznou says. "Let's make our way towards the administrative buildings. From there, we can spy on the warehouses and other buildings along that north road. Aerrak and Arthur, hang back with the truck for now. We'll howl for backup if we need you."

Aerrak barks an acknowledgement.

Thaedznou, Mazun, Joe, and Darrurz walk across the grassy field until they get in the back parking lot for the clinic. An old abandoned—and wrecked—ambulance is at the end of the lot, closest to the town hall. Over behind the emergency services building are a police car, a police van, and a fire truck with a wagon. All three look like they've been abandoned for some time. The buildings themselves look intact, save for broken windows.

Thaedznou doesn't seem interested in these buildings. Instead, he's moving down the corridor between them to scope out the buildings on the next block.

Darrurz indicates the buildings. "Are we not going to take a quick look in these? Looking for recent activity, because that would give us an indication of where they may have their stash."

Mazun adds, "Should we check the vehicles? There might be some fuel in them that might be OK. There might also be fuel if the emergency services building has a garage."

Thaedznou stops, then turns around to face them. "I'm skeptical that we'll find anything. I believe that what we're looking for is over there." He gestures to the warehouses. "But I see no harm in checking these buildings out. I'll handle the town hall. It'll give me a chance to survey the warehouse from a better vantage point. You three check out the other two buildings. When you're done, let me know. We'll go from there."

He then heads towards a door in the back of the town hall and proceeds inside.

Mazun, Joe, and Darrurz proceed to the ambulance. It's a mess: flat tires, smashed windows all around, and looted for all that it was worth. The fuel door is open, the cap on the ground and smashed. No odor of gasoline.

Turning to the clinic, they see the emergency entrance as well as a service dock for supplies and a personnel doorway. Entering through the emergency entrance, they immediately discover that the place has long been ransacked. The same goes for the receiving bay and adjacent storeroom. The only thing of note is a vargr skeleton lying on a gurney in one of the triage rooms. A search of the second floor reveals several offices, a breakroom, and a couple of examination rooms. Other than papers scattered about the floors of the offices, there isn't anything else here.

The trio exit the clinic and make their way over to the police station/fire house. There is a police car, police van, and fire truck in the back parking lot. While they appear to be in far better shape than the ambulance, their interiors are empty of anything useful. Even the radios have been removed. Gas tanks are empty. The fire truck still has its hose, however.

The fire house garage is empty save for a couple of spare ladders and three empty fuel drums. There is nothing of interest in the building itself.

Darrurz examines the fuel drums. Here in the garage, sheltered from the elements, he notes that they're still usable.

The police garage is empty. The building appears to have been looted. The armory is empty as are the cells.

Disappointed with their search, they contact Thaedznou.

"I had better luck than you. While I didn't see any activity among the warehouses, I've spotted activity in what appears to be a mechanic's garage to the north by northeast. Looks to be three vargr. One of them has been working on a truck while the other two are just hanging out watching the storm move in from the northwest."

Taking that as a cue from Thaedznou, the trio look to the northwest to see that the dark clouds have indeed moved closer and will begin to block out the sun within the next quarter hour.

Darrurz says, "Ok so what's the plan? Storm the garage and then hunker down there for the storm? Thaedznou what'ís the best approach for us without being seen?"

"That depends. If we're just looking to take the garage, you join me up here for sniper detail. If you want prisoners for questioning, three of us move through the tall grass until we're about ten meters out. One person stays here for sniper cover. Then we radio Aerrak and Arthur to come down the road from the west in the pickup as a distraction. Once the targets are lured out and trying to sniff out what the fukh is going on, the grass team moves in behind them and ambushes them. If the raiders are smart, they'll surrender without a fight. If not..."

Pit Stop - Part 2

Characters: Joe, Arthur, Darrurz, Mazun
NPC: Thaedznou, Aerrak
Location: Small town on the way to the starport
System: Akofitsidano

1202.23.7 - 23:55, 12:00 Local Time (21 hour, 16 minute day)

Darrurz says, "Ok so what's the plan? Storm the garage and then hunker down there for the storm? Thaedznou what's the best approach for us without being seen?"

"That depends. If we're just looking to take the garage, you join me up here for sniper detail. If you want prisoners for questioning, three of us move through the tall grass until we're about ten meters out. One person stays here for sniper cover. Then we radio Aerrak and Arthur to come down the road from the west in the pickup as a distraction. Once the targets are lured out and trying to sniff out what the fukh is going on, the grass team moves in behind them and ambushes them. If the raiders are smart, they'll surrender without a fight. If not..."

Joe says, "Prisoners may provide some information on the whereabouts of a fuel cache, so I suggest we use Thaedznou's plan with me, Arthur, and Thaedznou approaching from the grass."

"Sounds good," Mazun replies, "but what about me?"

Thaedznou answers, "Come with Joe and me in the grass. Arthur should stay in the truck with a gun at the ready. Darrurz will be our sniper should we need him. Did you copy that, Arthur and Aerrak?"

"We copy," Aerrak replies. "Let us know when you're in position and we'll head on over."

Darrurz heads up to the room where Thaedznou was keeping watch. Thaedznou gives him a quick overview of the setting then leaves him to get set up.

Back outside, he leads Joe and Mazun through the tall grass. The clouds have rolled in and have now obscured the sun. A distant rumble of thunder is heard. Midway across the field, Thaedznou says quietly over the comm. "Roll out, Aerrak. Going silent for approach."

The trio get to the designated ten meters out, halt, and crouch. One of the raiders leaves the garage and walks towards a dumpster at the edge of the parking lot. He takes a leak on the side of the dumpster. As soon as he finishes, he says loudly to the others, "Looks like we're finally gonna get some rain."

He starts walking back to the garage and stops midway. The sound of the pickup truck is heard.

"Hey, I see Ghaek's truck."

"They're back already?" Someone back in the garage.

"I don't know. I just see the one truck."

Trotting footsteps are heard.

"Something's wrong. He's coming in fast."

Thaedznou gestures to Joe and Mazun to move in.

"That other wolf doesn't look very vargr."

"Yeah, you're right—"

Thaedznou emerges from the grass and barks, "Drop your weapons! Paws in the air!"

There are only two vargr there. They comply with Thaedznou's orders.

"D, you got eyes on the third one?"

Darrurz answers, "He's still in the garage, underneath one of the vehicles. Repairing something."

"I got him," Joe says and runs off.

"Turn around slowly."

The raiders don't contain their bewilderment.

The first vargr says, "Who the fukh are you?"

The second one says, "You made a big mistake taking one of our trucks."

Aerrak and Arthur arrive with the pickup.

"Yeah, we heard that from the dogs we took that truck from," Thaedznou replies. "They're uerroksafuekhskhuez food now."

Joe arrives with the third raider.

"Unless you dogs want to join them, cut the tough wolf routine."

A breeze picks up. Another round of thunder is heard.

Seeing that the situation is under control, Aerrak pulls the truck into an empty bay in the garage and shuts off the engine.

Arthur had found a spool of wire and uses it to tie up the raiders.

"Ok, let's get inside. D, come join us."

"Acknowledged."

The raiders sit down on floor with their backs to a bay door. Aerrak keeps his assault rifle trained on them.

Thaedznou is about to question them when something catches his snout's attention. Mazun then calls out from another vehicle bay, "I found the fuel drums!"

Thaedznou chuckles. "That was easy." He raises his voice, "Top off our tank, if you please."

"Will do!"

"So, now that we've found the fuel, what shall we do with you sorry dogs?"

The ears of the raiders droop, defeat in their eyes.

Darrurz comes charging into the garage, trying to beat the rain. A crack of thunder announces the start of a downpour.

Joe nods to Darrurz as he enters the garage. The pair have a look at the raider prisoners. Joe taps Aerrak on the shoulder. Aerrak takes that as a hint to go to keep watch.

"Ahhh. Good of you to join us. We found the fuel, so we don't need these mongrels anymore. Shall we kill them now?"

The third raider starts whimpering, falling for Thaedznou's bad mercenary routine.

Joe grunts. "Depends if they're in a talkative mood!" Peeking out the garage door, he adds, "Looks like rain. I'm in the mood for a story, and to be honest boss, I've heard all yours before." Pointing his rifle casually towards the prisoners, he continues, "One of you got a good story?"

The trio look down and away from their captors.

Thaedznou says, "No? I've got one. How about you tell us the story about where your base is and who's in charge."

They remain silent, so Thaedznou crouches down and growls. "I lost two friends the other day, and I really want to find out who's responsible."

"It wasn't us!" the second one blurts out.

"Oh I know that. You don't have the teeth to have taken down my friends. But I bet you know who did."

The first one protests, "If we tell you, they'll..."

"They'll what?"

The third one whimpers.

"They'll do to us what they do to everyone else here."

"And what's that?"

"They...they..."

"What?"

The third one shouts in fear, "They take your soul!"

Thaedznou stands back up and leans against the engine hood of the car in the bay. He waits a few seconds, then asks, "Star People?"

"Yeah," the first one answers.

Joe turns rapidly and speaks to the third one, his voice quiet but flat, "So instead of them taking it, you give it away and turn on your own kind." Emotion returns to his voice, and he continues, "Now you have a chance to earn your soul back. Tell us everything you know of the Star People!"

The ears of the third one go flat. "They're building an army to finish what was started in the war that destroyed everything. They say that Akofotsidano has a large population compared to many other worlds, so they frequently stop here to pick up fresh recruits."

"How often?"

"Every thirty to forty days. We help to coordinate their efforts."

"What's in it for you?" Thaedznou asks.

"Some of us will be officers in this new army; others will be granted kingdoms here when the Star People are ready to bring our world into their empire."

Thaedznou exchanges glances with Darrurz and Joe. He asks, "Where is this empire?"

"I don't know."

The first one says, "I heard the leaders of our packs talking about the empire's capital being a world spinward of here. Sunggoe, I think. And that it was several worlds in size and growing."

"How long until Akofotsidano is brought into the empire?"

He shrugs and looks to the other two raiders. The second one shrugs as well. The third one is staring at the floor.

The second one says, "Whenever anyone asks, the answer is always, 'As soon as they are able.' "

The first one continues, "And you never press them on it. If you do, you'll find yourself among the next batch of recruits or on uerroksafuekhskhuez watch."

The third one chokes back tears and says, "Better to be mauled to death than to lose your soul."

Joe asks, "What about this place? Any more raiders here?"

The first one says, "No, just us."

"Apart from fuel, what else are you guys doing here?"

"We're a way station. We do some vehicle repair and maintenance."

The second one adds, "We keep a lookout for traffic along the main road."

Thaedznou replies sarcastically, "Guess you botched that one."

The second one defiantly replies, "It's a boring job. We never see anyone other than raiders from our pack. So why fukhin' bother. It's not like anyone told us to keep a nose in the wind for offworlders. Anyone else is a pushover."

Joe asks, "Who is your boss, and when do they expect to hear from you?"

The first one answers, "Ithalloefegz. We check in daily at 17:00."

Darrurz sniffs the second one with his scar prominent and asks, "Where are your other waystations and camps, and who's Ithalloefegz's boss?"

The defiance in the second one deflates. "He reports directly to the big boss, Kuzsokh." He then goes on to list the locations of ten other waystations and five camps. Each camp is located in a nearby city along the inland sea while the waystations are at refueling intervals on the highway to those cities.

Darrurz continues, "What's the normal response if you miss a check in? Such as tonight due to the storm?" and Darrurz checks his chronometer.

The first one answers, "They immediately send someone out to investigate."

"Where's your comm gear, your radio?"

"In the office."

Joe looks around to find a suitable spot to hold them till after the team leaves. He eventually finds a supply closet that can be locked from the outside.

[...to be continued...]