Heading to the Downport

Characters: Joe, Arthur, Darrurz, Mazun
NPC:Thaedznou, Aerrak
Location: Initially Kakh Town, then the highway to the downport
System: Akofitsidano

1202.24.1 - 2:55 IST, 15:00 Local Time (21 hour, 16 minute day)

The rain has ended, and the pick-up truck has been refueled. The raiders were locked into a supply closet. The comm gear was found in the office and smashed by Joe.

With two hours left before the pit stop raider team is supposed to check in and sunset, the group hops in the pick-up and gets back on the highway, heading south towards the downport. As it's 258 km (155 miles), ETA is half an hour after sunset. Thaedznou would like to stop about a kilometer or two away so that the group can recon the place under cover of darkness. Aerrak has a pair of nightvision goggles, so he plans on driving without headlights to avoid being seen.

The road is in good condition. Signs of pothole repairs are evident, so the road is being maintained. No vehicle wreckage is evident either along the median or the sides of the highway. Old structures built alongside the highway—commercial signs, building, petrol stations—have been torn down or burned. The only remaining signs are the intermittent distance to the downport markers.

Farm houses and barns are occasionally spotted in the distance, well off the highway, but they don't look inhabited. The fields may or may not be tended. Dirt roads are spotted leading up to these places but there are no exit ramps from the highway leading down to them.

No traffic is encountered along the highway.

The sun sets and Aerrak dons his goggles. As the group gets closer to the downport, a glow is evident over the southern horizon. As the truck climbs a small rise two kilometers away from the downport, Thaedznou instructs Aerrak to pull over. Finding the ground to be solid, Aerrak is able to drive far enough off the highway to avoid being easily spotted.

Joe says, "Ed says that there's vakh down there.

"How many?" Thaedznou asks.

"He says at least three. He's still parsing through the chatter."

The group gets out and makes their way to the top of the rise. Down below on a flat plain lies the downport. The place is lit up—which it wasn't when the group arrived over the planet several days ago—and surrounded by a fence, several meters in height.

Even with the naked eye, there are several features of interest about the place.

There are several starships on the tarmac. All are in shadow save one: a Garu class far trader. A couple of large cables can be seen emanating from the ship's cargo hold and headed into a hangar bay. The opening faces west, so the group is unable to peer inside. Crates are being loaded into the far trader. Figures are seen walking about. Some are vargr; others are robots.

Binoculars reveal that brush surrounds the downport up to 20 meters of the fence. It's short, requiring anyone wishing to approach without detection to crawl or crouch. There doesn't appear to be a "best approach" to observe the trader or the hangar. Due to the angle, anyone wishing to see inside the hangar will have to circle around to the west for a better view.

Joe announces, "Ed says that the Garu class far trader is vakh and that the drones are slaved to it. They're autonomous, so the trader isn't wasting processing power on them, but they obey its commands without question. The security robots are independent. All in all, there are eight security robots and twelve drones.

Thadeznou asks, "Any communications with the rest of the vakh fleet?"

"Just a status ping."

While the group mulls this info over, Joe says, "I'd like to get a look inside that hanger before we decide our next move. Those cables must be connected to something, and I'd like to know what!"

"Agreed," Thaedznou replies. "Any volunteers to go with him?"

"I'll go," Arthur replies. "Sneaking on enemy encampments is in my wheelhouse."

"Alright. Check in after recon's done."

"Will do."

Circling Around for a Better Look

Characters: Joe, Arthur, Darrurz, Mazun
NPC: Thaedznou, Aerrak
Location: Akofotsidano Downport
System: Akofitsidano

1202.24.1 - 5:55 IST, 18:00 Local Time (21 hour, 16 minute day)

As Joe and Arthur make their way to the west of the downport for a better look, the rest of the group watches through nightvision goggles.

The six idle starships are identified as: an Angrorghag class seeker, another Garu class far trader, an Animal class safari ship, a Kaegkofaeg class trader, a Yetsable class Zhodani courier, and an Aeksakughu class scout. While Thaedznou and Aerrak are familiar with the vargr ships and the Garu, the Zhodani design throws them. Mazun has to identify it for them.

"A little surprising to find one this far to trailing," he says.

"Who are the Zhodani?" Aerrak asks.

"Human civilization to spinward that practices heavily with psionics."

"Psionics?"

"Oh wow. You haven't heard of that either. Uhhh, mental abilities like telepathy, telekinesis, teleportation..." The blank stare on Aerrak's face clues him that he has to dumb it down a bit. "Reading minds, moving objects with thought, stuff like that."

Aerrak nods in understanding. "We were told that was all just fantasy."

"Well, not exactly," Mazun replies.

He's about to explain further, but Thaedznou stops him. "Save it for later," he says. "Focus on the hunt."

Meanwhile, Joe and Arthur have maneuvered into position and are hiding in the brush. They note that one of the cables was connected to a starship inside the hangar while the other one led inside the structure. The starship is a Type S Imperial scout ship.

While they wait, a fuel tote enters the hangar bay from somewhere deeper inside the structure. It's being towed by a little freight trolley. The fuel tote appears to be empty as the trolley is moving with speed and ease. It tows the tote into the Garu's cargo hold. After it's done, the cables get rolled up by crew members and loaded aboard the Garu.

Ed tells Joe that the chatter that he's picking up indicates that the Garu and the scout ship are preparing for departure.

Joe looks at Arthur. "The Garu and scout ship are preparing to leave. It should be quieter once they have gone. Let's head back to the others and find somewhere to hunker down for an hour or so. We might then be able to survey the other ships for potential and for any more vakh then."

Arthur agrees, so the two of them return to the group and relate what they observed.

Sure enough, Joe's prediction holds true. The Garu seals its doors and lifts off from the tarmac. Shortly thereafter, the scout ship is towed out of the hangar, and once the tug is out of the way, fires up its engines and lifts off, heading to join the far trader in space.

Ed tells Joe that comm chatter indicates that the vakh fleet is assembling in orbit and preparing to head out to the jump point. Meanwhile, the downport appears to be shutting down. Landing field lights and large floodlights are turned off. There are still several small exterior lights on, illuminating the immediate vicinity around the downport structures.

Several vargr in raider garb can be seen checking on gate locks and equipment before heading inside the structure. Once inside, doors close and the exterior lights are shut off. Nightvision picks up about four guards patrolling along the roof tops, observing their surroundings.

Mazun asks, "Are we going to try and sneak in or take out the guards from a distance?"

Thaedznou replies, "Both. We'll have snipers take out the guards so that we can sneak in. Assuming, of course, that no one objects to wiping out the raiders and finding a ship that we can fly out of here." He looks around the group for signs of dissent. "We can start just as soon as that Vakh fleet jumps."

Joe responds, "Sounds good. I'll let you know if anything changes with the Vakh."

The Vakh Are Gone

Characters: Joe, Arthur, Darrurz, Mazun
NPC: Thaedznou, Aerrak
Location: Akofotsidano Downport
System: Akofitsidano

1202.24.1 - 12:55 IST, 1:29 Local Time (21 hour, 16 minute day)

"They're gone."

It's been about three and a half hours since the two ships left the downport. The group has been patiently waiting for Joe's cybernetic cerebral companion, Ed, to let him know when the vakh fleet jumped.

Thaedznou asks, "Are you sure?"

"Yeah," Joe replies. "Ed detected vakh transmissions through the fleet giving the order to assemble for jump, and now there's total silence on the vakh communications band."

"Then it's time to move."

Thaedznou explains that he thinks the best bet is for he, Joe, Mazun, and Aerrak to creep down among the scrub brush to the main gate. Darrurz and Arthur pick off the four guards with their laser rifles. From there, the gate team locates and defeats the locking mechanism. Checking out the gate with binoculars has revealed that there are no cameras. Arthur joins them while Darrurz maintains lookout.

"We have a choice at this point: hijack one of the ships on the landing pad—hoping that the one we pick has enough fuel to just go—or we find a way into the downport and take out the raiders. I'd prefer to the latter option as it gives our friends back in the city a chance to build something without worrying about outside interference, at least in the short run."

Joe says, "It's time for some payback on these raiders. Let's teach them that siding with the Vakh has consequences."

Arthur nods. He says, "Let's take out the raiders. Itís the only way to be sure. After we take out the guards, Darrurz and I need to take up a position to provide overwatch fire support, or join the sweep through the complex. Your call, Thaedznou."

"I'd rather have you on the sweep. That's what you're built for, no? By the time they notice the guards are gone, we'll already be in their den. Darrurz should be able to handle overwatch." Thaedznou looks to check Darrurz's response, sniffs the air. "Alright, let's get to it."

Darrurz and Arthur get their targets lined up while the rest of the group make their way down to the gate. Once there, Thaedznou gives the all clear to the two snipers.

Arthur and Darrurz appear to have successfully taken out the four guards. As Arthur races down the hill to join the others, Darrurz keeps watch.

The rest of the team approach the gate to see what locking mechanism the raiders employ. It turns out it's a simple sliding bolt. No lock picking required.

Aerrak says, "That's pretty stupid."

Thaedznou replies, "Look at it from their perspective. Who's going to come all this way? The raiders seem to have commandeered all the functioning cars and trucks. They're better equipped than all of the locals. Our friends back in the city were at their mercy until we came along. And the uerroksafuekhskuez are big dumb lizards. Locks aren't going to keep them out if they decide to overwhelm the fence.

"So let's go introduce ourselves," he adds with a smile.

Joe says, "I've been thinking about where we want to strike first. If I were to defend this site, I'd be commanding it from the control tower—it having the best views as well as the best access to any operational systems. So that's my proposed main target. Eliminate raider leadership and then neutralize any other remaining defenders before exploring the site further.

Thaedznou nods in agreement. "Sounds like a plan."

[...to be continued...]