Desperate to Lift Off

Character: Fi Khong, Verroel
NPC: Kukagerrg, Vuedueloghz, Laki Semarkali, Sosazue, Gvekhs, Dzo
Location: Happy Trails, parked on an unnamed comet
System: Voenggaks (Windhorn 1738)

1126.33.6 - 10:35 Imperial Time, 10:35 Vilani Time

As soon as the airlock finishes cycling—which takes a bit longer since it's the cargo bay and not the personnel airlock—Fi darts out and scrambles up the ladder to the bridge deck. He's followed by Verroel and Dzo. Gvekhs and Sosazue take things a bit slower.

Vued stays behind, climbing into the starboard dorsal turret. "Fi, as soon as you're able, get me some power for the weapons."

Kukagerrg spots Vued climbing into the turret and barks, "I'll join you," and makes for the port dorsal turret.

Fi growls, "Verroel, I need you in engineering."

Verroel says, "Why didn't Laki get the ship ready?"

"Because he's not an engineer!"

So Verroel stops climbing once he gets to deck two and heads into engineering. He notes that the power plant is still warm. Weapons will be ready before engines.

Fi gets to the bridge. "We need to get off this rock before those things get here."

Laki isn't looking pink so much as white. He says, "They're already here. They're on the hull." With a nod of his head, he indicates the viewscreen.'

Through the external cameras, Fi can see the things flying in and landing on the hull with more on the way. "Hurry up with those weapons!" he barks over the comm.

Verroel, who has just gotten to an engineering console, says, "On it!"

While they wait, a collective voice—or is it buzzing—is heard. It starts as an exclamation and turns into a chant. "YES. TAKE US TO THE GATE. TAKE US TO THE GATE. TAKE US TO THE GATE..."

Fi barks, "Laki, turn off the comms! Person to person transmissions only."

"They're already off," Laki pleads. "I don't know where it's coming from."

"Weapons ready!" Verroel shouts above the noise.

"Firing!" Vued and Kukagerrg reply in unison.

The laser weapons are turned down to minimal energy, maximum rate of fire—ideal for anti-personnel combat.

The duo start mowing down the aliens. Many are obliterated, but soon they scatter. Unfortunately, the turrets are limited in their arc of fire and they soon run out of targets. And they certainly can't do anything about the aliens already on the hull.

The chanting continues as more aliens climb onto the hull.

Verroel brainstorms his way through options as he locks out all the airlocks and hatches. Venting plasma would take out any of the aliens hanging around the thrusters, but no others. Electrifying the hull could damage the jump grid. Charging up the jump grid might do something to them. But if it doesn't, then they would've wasted valuable fuel.

Fi asks, "Does anyone what the gate chant is about? Does it have anything to do with jump space?"

No one seems to have an answer for him.

Once his computer display indicates that the engines are ready, he says, "Alright, let's see how good their grip is. Lifting off in 3...2...1..."

Barnacles

Character: Fi Khong, Verroel
NPC: Kukagerrg, Vuedueloghz, Laki Semarkali, Sosazue, Gvekhs, Dzo
Location: Happy Trails, departing from an unnamed comet
System: Voenggaks (Windhorn 1738)

1126.33.6 - 10:50 Imperial Time, 10:50 Vilani Time

Happy Trails lifts off from the surface of the comet but hasn't seemed to shake off the aliens from the hull.

Shortly after the ship is 20 kilometers from the surface, the passive sensor array flashes. Laki says, "I've got multiple targets emerging from jump space."

"On screen," Fi says calmly.

Four starships bearing Confederation navy transponder codes appear on screen.

"What took you wolves so long?" Fi mutters.

"Incoming hail."

"This is Ngath Confederation Navy ship, Vuekhuvouzozalo, hailing Happy Trails. Over."

Before he replies, Fi asks Kukagerrg, "Kukagerrg, how likely is it that the navy ships are going to blast up us with an alien infestation on our hull?"

"Uhhh, I don't know. That never came up during the privateer briefings."

Down in engineering, Verroel consults an external camera on a monitor. He sees the creatures clinging on the hull. He has an aft camera zoom in on the comet. He doesn't see any of them swarming around the comet, but maybe they're too small and the comet too far away to tell.

The hail from the Vuekhuvouzozalo repeats.

Verroel replies, "This is Happy Trails. We're glad to see you. The corsairs took off ahead of us in a G-carrier."

On the bridge, over at sensors, Dzo says, "They just scanned us."

"Happy Trails, we're detecting something unusual on your hull. Please, turn off your thrusters and explain."

Verroel thinks fast. He doesn't want to precipitate them into a jump where these creatures might swarm them much as they or their near cousins did to the corsair. He also doesn't want to fry the jump drive of his precious ship. So how to do it and do it quickly...

Meanwhile he calls up to the others, "Cut the drives for now. No point in getting shot up."

Fi immediately shuts off the thrusters.

Verroel gets on the comm. "This is Happy Trails. There was an eruption on the comet that covered the hull in weird debris."

There's a pause of several seconds before the Vuekhuvouzozalo replies, "Negative, Happy Trails. Whatever is clinging to your hull is inconsistent with comet debris. Happy Trails, we're requesting visual communications. Please comply."

Verroel says over shipwide comm (ship-to-ship comms muted), "I'm not sure what else we can do short of suiting up and shooting the damn things off the hull. The hull has decent armor. We could stand off in the ship's boat and grease the nasties with a machine gun—"

Fi interrupts. "Maybe we should just ask the navy wolves to help out?"

Kukagerrg agrees. "That gets my vote."

Several other barks of assent are heard over the comm.

Meanwhile, Vuekhuvouzozalo repeats their request, "Happy Trails, please respond. We need visual communications. Please comply."

Kukagerrg adds, "Maybe I should talk to them."

Verroel growls as he considers their options. "Give me the comms!" Patching the comms through to the engine room Verroel responds, "We have some kind of infestation on our outer hull. Some weird organic from the comet. Dial down your lasers and burn them off us."

"Acknowledged, Happy Trails. Stand by."

Several tense minutes elapse.

The collective buzzing voices in everyone's heads return. "IT IS NOT TOO LATE. YOU CAN STILL OPEN THE GATE. DO IT. DO IT NOW. THE MASTER WILL BE PLEASED WITH YOU."

The thought of the Master being pleased with you strikes a chord deep within you.

After a moment, Fi snaps out of it. Wait a second. I don't care about this Master. There are things on the hull that are trying to eat us or whatever. This is some kind of hypnotic suggestion.

Down in engineering, Verroel is having a similar reaction. What the fukh? I saw one of these things suck on Oraegrengouz's brain. I'm not falling for this.

But not everyone on the ship appears to feel this way.

Laki says, "Hey maybe we should jump. Making the Master pleased with us would be swell."

Vued agrees. "Yeah. Fi, go ahead and jump."

"What's gotten into you two?" Kukagerrg shouts.

Sosazue answers, "It's the aliens! Just like what happened after we misjumped!"

"She's right," Gvekhs says.

"I don't think so at all," says Dzo.

Fi looks to his left and right as Laki and Dzo swivel around in their chairs. Their pupils have dilated to the point where they don't have any irises left.

"You should jump, Fi," each of them says to him in turn.

"Kekh," Fi mutters, then locks out the controls from his panel, preventing any bridge access to the engineering section for the time being.

"Why haven't we jumped?" Laki and Dzo ask in unison.

Fi ignores them and yells on the comms instead, "Captain, we've got trouble!" He says to the other ship, "Any time now would be good! Blast those suckers!" He gets to his feet, backs away from the console, and finds his shotgun strapped to his back.

Unfortunately, the only reply he gets is static.

Dzo says in a creepy monotone voice, "That was wrong of you."

Laki adds, in a similarly creepy voice, "You will be forgiven if you initiate the jump sequence now."

Both rise from their seats, scowling at Fi.

Fi bolts for the floor hatch, hoping to rendezvous with Verroel in engineering. The others make to cut him off. Fi fires a wild warning shot over their heads, but it doesn't scare them off. Laki has tackled him around his midsection and has him pinned against the wall. Dzo is closing the gap.

Fi regretfully shoots Dzo in the leg, who falls to the floor. He then takes the butt of the shotgun and strikes Laki in the back of the head who surrenders his grip and collapses to the floor.

Finally free, Fi hot-tails it away from his controlled crewmates and scrambles down the ladder to join the others.

Gvekhs meets him at the base of the ladder on the main deck. After taking a quick sniff, he asks, "Are you ok? I heard shots."

Behind him, he can hear Sosazue shouting at Verroel. "Verroel? Are you in there? Snap out of it!"

Fi quickly updates Gvekhs with what happened on the bridge. Gvekhs' ears go up in alarm. He looks up the ladder. "I'd better close and lock that hatch until we're ready to deal with them."

As he climbs, Fi adds, "Hopefully, any minute those patrol ships will shoot those things off our hull, and hopefully we'll survive."

From the top of the ladder Gvekhs says, "That's a lot of hoping."

"I'm going to try and access the ship-to-ship comms from a terminal in engineering. Is Verroel still there?"

Gvekhs lands back on the deck, "Sosazue is there now. She says that Verroel is in some kind of trance."

At that moment a low rumble is heard and felt through the ship. It isn't strong. It feels to Fi like the kind he experiences when flying a ship along the edge of a storm. It's followed by another and another.

Gvekhs and Fi's eyes meet. Gvekhs says, "Sounds like the navy found their quarry."

"Stay here. If Laki or Dzo manage to get past that hatch, knock them out."

Fi heads to engineering. As he passes the floor hatch that leads to the cargo deck, he wonders what Vued and Kukagerrg are up to. He finds Sosazue standing by a seated Verroel, who's staring blankly at the screen in front of him.

"I can't get any kind of response from him," she says with obvious concern.

Fi reaches past Verroel and calls up the external sensor feed and ship-to-ship comms. He sees various forms scrambling about on the hull. The naval ships have tuned their laser weapons down to low yield high fire rate and are taking out the aliens. There are a few smaller vessels pursuing aliens that have fled from the hull.

Fi brings up the internal security camera feeds. Vued and Kukagerrg are grappling with one another when Vued suddenly relaxes. The two separate, then Kukagerrg pats him on the arm. Over the internal ship comm, Laki is heard to say, "Uhhhh, could we get a medic to the bridge? Dzo's been shot, and I've got the worst headache. There's a massive lump on the back on my head."

Fi answers, "We'll be right there."

At this point, Verroel snaps out of his trance. "No...no..we'll not do as you ask and be eaten again." He looks up and around with dilated eyes and rapid breathing. "What..." He looks around and notices Fi next to him. "We can't jump. That would kill us."

Fi does his best to calm Verroel down. "It's ok, Verroel. It's over. The navy must've killed off enough of those aliens that their mind control spell wore off."

"How's the crew?"

"Gvekhs and Sosazue are fine. Kukagerrg and Vued were fighting each other, but neither one seems to be any worse for wear." He winces. "I had to shoot Dzo and club Laki with my shotgun. They were both under the control of the aliens and tried to get us to jump. I'm guessing you're ok, so I'm going to grab Gvekhs and see about patching up those two on the bridge."

Return to Voenggaks Naval Base

Character: Fi Khong, Verroel
NPC: Kukagerrg, Vuedueloghz, Laki Semarkali, Sosazue, Gvekhs, Dzo
Location: Happy Trails, parked at the local naval base
System: Voenggaks (Windhorn 1738)

1126.33.7 - 11:00 Imperial Time, 3:00 Vilani Time, 13:00 Local Time (34 hour day)

After the navy's thorough search of the area to verify that no more of the aliens were either on the hull of the Happy Trails or in the vicinity, the crew finally feel comfortable enough to jump to the naval base, located near the mainworld. While things were tense for several minutes, nothing out of the ordinary occurred.

At the naval base, doctors tended to the crew's injuries and ran MRI scans looking for any signs of lingering alien interference. All results came back negative.

Following some much needed rest for the crew, Naval Intelligence debriefed everyone about what happened on the comet and during jump. Testimonies were recorded.

Everyone has been cleared for release. Kukagerrg and his crew are remaining on the base, pending reassignment. Laki is still shaken by the experience and chose to remain on Voenggaks. There is a small human community on the world. He plans on finding connections there. The navy has given him a free ticket to ride on their next shuttle to the surface.

Kukagerrg and his crew thank Verroel, Fi, and Vued for all of their help and ask where they're off to next.

The trio of wolves exchange glances, sniff the air, and tilt their heads trying to think it through. Fi wags his tail and pulls out a datapad. After tapping the screen several times, he turns to the captain and says, "We should jump up to Igvaellrarr. It's two parsecs due coreward from here. From there, we can work coreward into the cluster of worlds along the border, see what trouble errr business we can drum up." He punctuates his statement with a devilish grin.

Vued adds, "I'll go hunting over that way. We'll be getting pretty close to the Windhorn. Could be fun."

Fi wags his tail. "So let's jump to Igvaellrarr and see what we find. How about it, Verroel?"

Everyone in the room turns to Verroel to see his response.

Verroel chews his lip, tilts his head, and looks to the ceiling. After a moment, he wags his tail and says, "We've just been through quite an ordeal. Between the hijacking and the jumpspace aliens, a good number of wolves have died. It's enough to give even the sternest of wolves pause." And with that, he pauses his speech to let the events sink in. "But, with help, we persevered. I think the best way we can honor those wolves who died and those who helped us is to get back out there, put our noses to the ground, and see where the scent leads us. Maybe we find Dharla, or maybe we just find fame and fortune. Either way, let's not rest until the hunt is over and the trail leads us back home."

His speech is met with barks of approval.

[...THE END...]