Arrival in Korstsouth System

Characters: All
NPC: Captain Nokh Khoen, First Officer Gunderson, and crew
Location: The Seeker of Prime Hunting Grounds (Aengkfaertoezthuedou)
System: Korstsouth

1202.18.3 - 00:15 IST

Another routine week in jump. Darrurz ran through piloting sims, focusing on gas giant skimming routines. He isn't confident they'll be helpful, but he has to try. Arthur and Joe exercised and trained with Rrokoth and Doukhken as per the previous week.

Mazun worked on calibrating the portable sensors. He gets biometric readings from nearby sophonts, heat maps and so on, concealed object detectors (from shape analysis and heat maps). He talked to the doctor about refining the readouts for Vargr/Human physiology. She was quite helpful. The rest of the time he got in some carbine practice.

And now the ship has entered the Korstsouth system around its gas giant. The gas giant lies between Aengkfaertoezthuedou and Korstsouth. Nokh explains that there should be a Pack Security ship here, quietly observing activity in the system. To let them know they're friendly, Nokh instructs Darrurz to execute two barrel rolls to starboard followed by one backwards somersault with the ship. Once completed, the ship begins decelerating.

A laser comm signal is detected. The message is listed as "Captain's Eyes Only". Nokh leaves the bridge to take it in his quarters. He's gone all of five minutes.

When he returns to the bridge, he explains what he's learned, "It seems that the Korstsouthians told a representative from the Tsougak Trade Federation about the Pack. He made it known to them that he thinks that it would be prudent if we met with him before attempting to sneak into the Tsougak system."

Gunderson asks, "How did he know we were coming?"

Nokh replies, "He's not stupid. He knows that any wolf who spots a potential rival around his watering hole is going to come back and test him." Nokh scratches underneath his jaw. "If we try to bypass him, it'll get his hackles up. If he's had a chance to alert Tsougak and we show up uninvited, it could be unpleasant. However, if we meet with him, maybe we can get a friendly invitation to Tsougak. It'll be easier to get a full assessment of the TTF if we don't have to skulk around."

Gunderson nods. "It would certainly make the trip less stressful."

"After the fuel's purified, jump to Korstsouth. Let's meet with the rep and see if he's as big a dog as he thinks he is."

"Understood."

3:30 IST

Aengkfaertoezthuedou has completed decelerating and is now headed into the gas giant to skim for fuel.

Darrurz takes a cautious approach, hoping to not have a repeat of Guekha. The ship still encounters turbulence, and it doesn't go as well as he'd hoped. Still, he gets through it ok, and there's no swearing from Onguk.

7:30 IST

Now that the fuel has been purified and the ship is at safe jump distance, Nokh gives the order to jump to Korstsouth.

Arrival at Korstsouth

Characters: All
NPC: Captain Nokh Khoen, First Officer Gunderson, and crew
Location: The Seeker of Prime Hunting Grounds
System: Korstsouth

1202.18.3 - 7:35 IST

As soon as Aengkfaertoezthuedou emerges from jump, Joe hears it. There's the sound of static, which is followed seconds later by a voice. It isn't audible; he knows that. It's coming from one of the residual implants inside his head.

"Jump flash detected. Listening...Ship not transmitting. It is not of us. Analyzing...No rivals detected. Host potential high. Formulating strategy..."

Joe pulls off his headset and throws it on the floor. He screams and shouts "AAAARRGHH! Get out of my head!" while jumping out of his turret seat and punching at phantoms.

As suddenly as the voice started, it ends, leaving Joe alone in his head again.

He then quickly regains his composure and puts his headset back on.

Over the comm, he says, "Captain?"

"Yes, Joe?"

"Dead fish." This is the code-phrase instructing him to go silent and still.

"Thank you, Joe."

As Joe heads to the bridge, Joe hears Nokh give the order for silent running. He hopes this occurred before the ship activated MD or other active systems. He plans on informing the captain that he heard a vakh and it knows they're here.

As he hits the stairs to held up deck to the bridge, he's suddenly jolted by a flashback.

Josephus is standing atop the dais in the Bragging Rights temple. It's actually one of the cargo holds converted to the worship of Ship. He's wearing his high priest regalia (robe, chain, and miter) and holding the scepter of command. He is standing before the gathered masses of the crew.

"My fellow servants of the great ship Bragging Rights, I bring you word from our Lord Ship. She is pleased with you all, but warns of tests and trials ahead. Heathens have been detected in the outer reaches, a jump flare in the realm of the gas giant. The infidels come to steal the lifeblood of ship herself, the very Hydrogen that powers the mighty power plant that supplies each of us with light, heat, and pumps the very oxygen we breathe to sustain our lives in worship of Ship. But our blessed mother in her infinite kindness will not let these interlopers," his voice starts to raise in volume, "these betrayers of our faith," his voice is now a shout, "these thieves of the gas giant prevail. She will not let us stand idle in blind ignorance while they act with impudence against the tenets of the holy word of Ship. I tell you my brothers, the word of Ship declares a holy war against the heretics and calls you once again to her service!"

There are cheers and shouts of adulation from the gathered crew.

"My brothers, I offer unto you the very Word of Ship herself." He begins to recite in a monotone, "Jump flash detected. It is not of us. Host Potential High. Strategy Formulated: Incapacitate and Board."

Returning to his natural voice he continues, "Take these words, my brethren. Hold them close to your heart. Take them to battle. Let them give you strength and true aim. Let them give you victory for we serve the Mighty Ship Bragging Rights, Blessed Mother of us all, and Destroyer of all Evil!"

With one voice in a monotone the gather crowd begins to chant "Jump flash detected..."

As the voices fade, Joe shakes his head. He pinches the bridge of his nose and resumes his climb upwards.

Once Joe arrives on the bridge, Nokh asks him, "Where is it?"

"It's down on that moon. At the naval base," Joe replies.

Nokh nods. "So the natives were right. Something still lives there. I wonder why it hasn't pounced on us or anyone else for that matter."

Henderson replies, "Maybe it's comm array is down."

Joe relays everything he heard.

"So it knows we're here," Nokh says. To Henderson, he asks, "See anything on the sensors?"

Henderson shakes his head. "If there's a power source down there, it's either scaled way down or shielded. Maybe both."

Nokh frowns. "I don't want to go in there blind, deaf, and snoutless. Unless someone has a better idea, we'll head down to the surface and see if we can find someone who knows the layout of that place or where we can find the blueprints."

Korstsouth Downport

Characters: All
NPC: Captain Nokh Khoen, First Officer Gunderson, and crew
Location: The Seeker of Prime Hunting Grounds, parked at the Korstsouth Downport
System: Korstsouth

1202.18.3 - 10:00 IST, 11:15 Local Time (39.5 hour day)

Although wary of the Vakh presence on Korstsouth's naval base, there was no indication of any activity there. After coasting to a reasonable distance from Korstsouth's moon, the ship descended to the Korstsouth Downport. So that no one below would panic, Gunderson hailed the downport to announce their arrival.

The downport is located on an island near the equator roughly a thousand square kilometers in size. The western half of the island is dominated by the ruins of an extinct volcano. The downport is located in the southeastern corner of the island. It abuts against a large seaport. To the north lies Korstsouthueksogedoulourrghkhan, which translates to "Korstsouth's neutral city of commerce". The name is typically abbreviated to Lourrghkhan.

A flyby of the city doesn't reveal any major upheaval, but there doesn't appear to be a lot of activity either.

It's a beautiful day in the week of spring (a local year is only four standard weeks long). Korstsouth's sun, a K7 V star, is slowly rising in the sky. It looks massive due to the planet's close orbit. The thin atmosphere sheds its heat overnight so the morning is a blisteringly cold -40°C, but computer models predict that it will warm up to 22°C.

The atmosphere is tainted by sulfur compounds due to geological activity. The library data indicates that even the less sensitive human noses should be protected from the irritating gasses by filter masks. Windy conditions, which are common, can alleviate the effects, but it is advisable to have a filter mask handy at all times.

The ship has been told that an enclosed air-van will meet the ship when it lands. Except for the air filtration system, none of downport's facilities work; that includes docking arms. The van will bring them inside the downport where the welcoming committee will await them.

Nokh states that Gunderson will be left in charge while he leads the landing party. He asks for volunteers to join him.

Joe volunteers to accompany the Captain. Mazun volunteers as well by yelling, "Planet Walk! Planet Walk!"

Rrokoth and Dathuel add their names to the landing party.

Nokh asks Arthur to be on "stand by" in case the meeting doesn't go well.

Mazun dresses warmly and grabs a filter mask with eye protection and commlink. He has his auto pistol for protection and keeps it holstered for now.

Joe takes his snub revolver worn in a shoulder holster, a stun baton, comlink, and a filter mask. As the captain is wearing armor, he wears his Flex armor with a standard ship suit over it. He wishes he had a ceremonial uniform, then he'd carry his sword, too.

Nokh, Rrokoth, and Dathuel are similarly armed and armored. Dathuel has also brought a portable sensor device.

The air-van has arrived outside the ship. There appears to be a vargr male driver, but no one else on board.

The landing party exit the ship; the biting cold a slap in the face. Upon entering the air-van, a blast of warm air greets them. "Welcome to Korstsouth," the driver says in Gvegh. As soon as the door is closed, the driver turns the vehicle around and heads back to the starport.

In no time at all, the air-van is inside the downport cargo terminal. "Sorry about dropping you off here, but it's all we're capable of doing right now." He powers down the air-van and the door opens. It's cold here in the cargo terminal, but not frigid. The place is only dimly lit, but one can easily tell that the place is empty. There is a faint hint of sulfur in the air.

The driver escorts you up a set of stairs to a platform that overlooks the bay. There's an office with a light on. Through the window, one can see a group of warmly dressed and SMG-armed vargr. Someone points out the window at the arriving landing party. The door opens and five vargr emerge: three males and two females. One of the females appears to be in charge as she leads the group over. The SMGs are slung over shoulders but held with both hands, barrels down. The leader's pistol is holstered.

The leader approaches the group and sniffs the air. "I'm Lieutenant Sallae Ghall of the Korstsouth Defense Pack."

"I'm Captain Nokh Khoen of the Tagan Pack Starship Aengkfaertoezthuedou."

"Welcome to Korstsouth, Captain. If you'll follow me, we'll go someplace warm and less smelly."

Welcoming Party

Characters: Joe and Mazun
NPC: Captain Nokh Khoen, Rrokoth, and Dathuel
Location: Korstsouth Downport
System: Korstsouth

1202.18.3 - 11:55 IST, 13:10 Local Time (39.5 hour day)

Lt. Sallae Ghall and her entourage escort Captain Nokh and the rest of the Aengkfaertoezthuedou landing party deeper inside the downport. While Joe looks for potential ambush points, Mazun makes note of the condition of the place. It looks like it was average Imperial tech-wise at some point, but no one has kept up on the maintenance. While there are signs that recent attempts have been made to clean the place up, it still looks far from functional. Even the escalators are out of service. Fortunately, the lights are on.

The group enters a well-lit conference room. There are five vargr already present: four males and one female. They're seated, but stand when the landing party enter the room.

Lt. Ghall introduces Captain Nokh to the female and two of the males. First there's Khorae Koduka, the Tsougak Trade Federation representative. He's not quite as tall or as bulky as Nokh, but he doesn't appear to be a slouch. The unnamed males appear to be his guards. They're dressed in flex armor and carry assault rifles, nothing too advanced. The female is Gnoe Gzugagu and the male is Oeghuthkong, both are Korstsouthians here to represent their world's interests. While not elderly, they're clearly past middle age, perhaps mid-50's.

Joe and Mazun watch as every vargr in the room sniffs the air to gauge one another's status. Lt. Ghall and her team take positions around the perimeter of the room.

Joe keeps an eye on the participants throughout the conference, although alert for danger, most of his focus is on identifying the potential for Vakh influence on the people present whether agents, drones, or apostles. Fortunately, he doesn't sense any.

Gnoe says, "Welcome to Korstsouth, Captain Nokh."

Nokh politely nods.

"After we received a visit from your scout party, we didn't expect a visit so soon."

Nokh replies, "We're here on a follow up mission. After our leadership conferred, it was decided that we should return in an attempt to make contact with the Tsougak Trade Federation."

"And here you are."

"Yes, here we are." Nokh looks over at Koduka. His brow furrows. "It's good to see that someone else has been able to fight off the Vakh. I hope that we'll be able to combine our packs and drive off that menace."

Koduka nods. "You bark of friendship, we hope you don't nip our tails when our back is turned."

"Have we given you reason to think that?"

"No."

"These hunting grounds are vast. Surely there's enough game to go around."

"But if I hold the prize game, why should I think that you won't try to steal it?"

Nokh laughs. "You wouldn't think that if you were working from a position of strength. If you've lost that many teeth, we will gladly let you keep your kill. We are confident that we'll find more game."

This breaks the tension in the room, and vargr from all parties share a chuckle, including Koduka.

"Good. But..." He gestures to Joe and Mazun.

"What about them?" Nokh's brow furrows.

"We all know that the Vakh originated in the hairless Imperium. They're to blame for the collapse of our people."

Nokh growls. "If our ancestors hadn't been so eager to plunder the humans' lair while they fought, perhaps the scourge that brought down their home would not have destroyed ours as well. Humans have been instrumental in aiding the Tagan Pack's recovery. They serve alongside vargr and most are more trustworthy than our own kind. They're less preoccupied with pack dominance than we are. If that's going to be a problem..." Nokh lets the threat hang in the air unsaid.

After a tense few seconds, Koduka responds, "I hope your faith is well placed."

In an effort to steer the conversation back on track, Gnoe says, "What brings you to Korstsouth, Captain Nokh?"

Nokh gestures toward Koduka, "Him."

Gnoe tilts her head to the side. An ear flops. A mewl of confusion escapes her mouth.

Nokh elaborates, "The Tagan Pack wants to get to know its neighbor. We were hoping to get permission to visit Tsougak."

Koduka asks, "Why?"

Nokh rolls his eyes. "As I said, we want to get to know the Tsougak Trade Federation. If you allow us to visit, we will reciprocate. We want an alliance, not a rivalry."

Koduka nods slightly.

Nokh sighs. "As a gesture of goodwill, we'll help you root out the Vakh presence on Korstsouth's moon."

Gnoe and Oeghuthkong's ears shoot up. Koduka frowns. "Our scans did not detect any Vakh on the moon."

Oeghuthkong blurts out, "We told you it was there, and you didn't believe us. Maybe your eyes have cataracts."

Koduka growls at him.

Gnoe sticks her paws out, a gesture meant to keep the two from violence. "Please, gentlewolves. There's no need for that. Perhaps Captain Nokh's ship is mistaken and he received a false positive from his sensors."

Nokh leans forward and says calmly, "No. We're certain the Vakh is there." He has Koduka's attention. "I'll make you a wager. If the Vakh isn't there, we'll leave. But when we prove to you that it is there, and we destroy it, you will have to escort us to Tsougak to meet with your leaders. Agreed?"

"Agreed, provided that we can verify."

"You can come with us," Nokh smiles, "or you can stay in your den and we'll relay the telemetry feed to you."

Koduka snarls. "We'll join you."

"Good! We'll meet you in orbit in two hours."

Joe makes a mental note to get a "Vakh Detector" from engineering before making rendezvous.

Nokh turns to Gnoe and Oeghuthkong and says, "I'll need the floorplans."

They turn to each other and frown, ears drooping. Oeghuthkong answers Nokh, "We don't have them, but they might be stored on a computer at one of the local defense force bases." Oeghuthkong looks expectantly over at Lt. Ghall.

Lt. Ghall is surprised to have the question deflected to her, but she quickly recovers. "We don't have it at our current base of operations, which is here on this island. I've been told that all of our old bases were destroyed or overrun by Vakh. Sometimes we send recon teams out to them to evaluate threat status and salvage potential."

"And?" Nokh asks.

Lt. Ghall bows her head some in embarrassment. "And I don't have the authority to grant your request. You'll have to take the matter up with my CO."

"I intend to do that."

"I'll radio him to expect you."

"Is your base far?"

"No. I can arrange for your driver to take you there. We'll escort you."

The meeting breaks up and the landing party is escorted back to the downport cargo bay where the air-van awaits. Along the way, Nokh loudly comms the ship that he and the landing party will be headed over to the base. Although the comm has been open the whole time, Nokh doesn't want to let their hosts know that so he makes a show of contacting them now.

On to Ghasghina Island

Characters: All
NPC: Captain and crew, Lt. Ghall and two guards
Location: Aengkfaertoezthuedou
System: Korstsouth

1202.18.3 - 13:15 IST, 14:30 Local Time (39.5 hour day)

The landing party is back at the ship after a successful visit to the Korstsouth Defense Force HQ. Lt. Ghall's CO, Colonel Errghzuek Dhukhs, was reluctant at first to divulge the location of an old base where a copy of the naval base's blueprints could be found. But Lt. Ghall acted as Nokh's advocate and relayed the details of the meeting at the downport. Realizing that he wasn't negotiating from a position of strength, he gave in and gave the coordinates to Nokh. In return, Nokh respectfully thanked him for his assistance and promised to provide him with data from their mission.

One condition was given: that Nokh would take Lt. Ghall and two guards on the trip to "supervise". Nokh accepted.

Once back on board the ship, Nokh introduced Lt. Ghall to Gunderson and assembled crew. He then explained that a side trip was needed to get the plans for the base.

Nokh says, "Gunderson will lead the landing party. Arthur, you'll be in charge of security. Take Rrokoth. Mazun and Dathuel, I want you there for tech support. Joe, if you're up to it, I'd like you to go."

Joe nods. "I'll go."

Nokh concludes, "Alright, get ready people we take off in fifteen."

Mazun heads to engineering to pick up some tools.

Arthur walks over to Lt. Ghall and makes sure his language translator is connected to the ship's computer for translation. He introduces himself and briefly explains that his Gvegh isn't very good. He gestures to the translator. Ghall nods. Rrokoth joins him and listens in.

He asks, "Where are the plans? And are they hard or soft copy?"

Ghall replies, "My understanding is that they're in the computer system, which may or may not be infected by Vakh. It could also be printed out in the archive. But paper doesn't hold up well on our world. If the archive vault seals have been broken, then humidity will have greatly deteriorated them."

"What do we figure for opposition, if any, on the ground? Vakh, biobods, or local fauna, or all of the above?"

Her head tilts to the side. "I don't know what a biobod is, but the island is supposed to be uninhabited. There won't be any fauna. All Korstsouth animals are aquatic, and nothing that was brought in from offworld with legs would survive the swim. We don't know if the Vakh infected the facility, but we think it did."

"You don't know?"

"Not with any certainty. No one's had any contact with that island since the Vakh attack."

"No one's gone there?"

"Not that we know of. The defense forces certainly haven't been there. If they have, it was a hunt that I have no knowledge of."

"Why have your forces stayed away?"

"We had higher priorities, more immediate threats. As you saw when flying over our planet, we don't really have the resources to indulge in picking through a pile of bones."

Arthur nods. He thanks Ghall and turns to Rrokoth. "We better get suited up."

After notifying Koduka of their detour, the ship takes off for the island. Twenty minutes later, the ship arrives. Nokh requests a flyby of the island. Landing party personnel are on the bridge along with the ship's guests.

Arthur says, "Looks like a cool place to catch some waves, though I bet Vakh'y don't surf." A big grin plays on his face.

Rrokoth busts out laughing until Nokh shoots him a glare, whereupon he stops.

Nokh asks Lt. Ghall for details about the place. She whimpers a bit as her head droops. "Colonel Dhukh did not specify much. There's a landing pad at one end of the island, barracks at the opposite. Much of the island's command structure and R&D were underground. He said that it would be clearly marked as unauthorized personnel weren't even allowed on the island."

Arthur mutters, "R&D base... Bet there's some real cool shit waitin' to bite the ass of the unwary after all these years, even if the below sea areas are flooded and corroded by now."

Mazun says, "No reason to settle on the landing pad. I see three large areas where we could hover and drop the landing party. Actually, would it be possible to just hover over the flat rooftop of those tall buildings in the south end so that we can jump there? That way we could spend a couple of minutes scanning the place from the highest point, then work our way down."

Nokh says to Aru, "I want sensor data now."

Gunderson says, "To Mazun's point, should we take the GCarrier?"

Nokh replies, "Unless your security chief complains, yes."

Arthur looks up. "Works for me."

Gunderson says, "Alright, landing party to the GCarrier."

Before they manage to leave the bridge, Aru barks, "Captain, I'm getting an energy build up—"

"Evasive maneuvers!"

Darrurz banks the ship hard to port.

"I'm picking up radar."

There's a flash of light.

Darrurz brings the ship down to sea level, barely missing the surface of the water. He brings the ship around to the far side of the island.

Rrokoth says, "Well, someone's down there."

Nokh asks, "Aru, did you get a fix on the weapon or the laser?"

"Yes."

"Good." To Gunderson, he says, "We'll take out that laser and the radar. They'll know we have teeth, but they'll be waiting for you."

Gunderson says, "Right. Ok pack, let's get to that GCarrier."

The landing party boards the GCarrier, and as soon as everyone is aboard, it exits the ship. While it hovers just above the water line, the Aengkfaertoezthuedou moves away to engage the surface weapon that fired at them.

Over the comms, the group hears the engagement.

Nokh: "Doukhken, I want you take the shot as soon as we're clear of the buildings."

Doukhken barks his understanding.

Aengkfaertoezthuedou clears the structures, and Doukhken opens up with all four turrets.

Aru: "Direct hit. No sign of any other weapons or radar."

Nokh: "Give it some time to be sure. Good shooting, Doukhken."

The ship continues to circle the island. There continues to be no sign of further hostilities from the island.

Nokh: "It looks clear. Aru isn't picking anything up on the sensors. The island is yours for the taking."

Gunderson asks Mazun, "Still want to set down on top of those barracks?"

Before he can answer, Arthur voices his concern, "I'm not keen on droppin on top of the highest structure. We know we've got hostiles, and clearing all the way down that structure ain't a good option with the numbers we have.

"Maybe some sneak and peak with the G Carrier, so we can get a closer feel for what's around, pick the likely access point to the underground area, and come up with a landing plan. We'll see more from this mobile platform using the turret sensors than we will eyeballin' from the top of the highest target. Long as we keep movin' and use cover, we should be OK."

Lt. Ghall says, "As far as accessing the lower levels, my CO informed me that the administration building is accessed from the welcome center on the landing pad. That would be a good place to start, no?"

Mazun mans the sensor console in the Gcarrier and sets to get as much info as he can, and mostly ignores the chatter around him, except to mutter, "As long as no automatic fast-reaction system is shooting at the flying ducks" at Arthur's comment. He was already trying to scan the island as the Seeker opened fire, trying to look for any sign of activity anywhere, finding none.

Arthur says, "I'd recommend that we circle around and take a peek, nape O' earth. But if that's the case, we look for a clearing to set down. That pad may be a bit too inviting."

Gunderson makes his decision. "We'll circle the island and pick a spot to land." He pilots the GCarrier around the perimeter of the island with the Aengkfaertoezthuedou keeping watch from overhead.

Once the circle is complete, he says, "The only other open place to land is here on the west shore, which looks like a dockyard. Some of the pylons are still visible in the water. But if we set down there it puts that laser turret between us and the entrance to the welcome center. I don't want us to have to run a gauntlet if we have to get out in a hurry. Besides, the captain will provide cover if anyone tries anything on the pad." Something catches his eye on the instrument panel. "Damn, he must've heard me."

Nokh's voice comes in over the comm, "What's the hold up, Gunderson?"

"No hold up, Captain. Just getting a feel for the place before we set down."

"No time for sightseeing, man. This smells like someone else's dirty job, and I don't like it. Get in, get it done, and get out."

"Understood, sir. Setting down now."

Gunderson lands the GCarrier down on the landing pad, facing the welcome center. Through the cockpit screen, one can see that the place has been shot up. The polyacrylamide windows have been punctured in spots, and the doors are off of their hinges. The receptionist desk, also shot up, is visible.

"Ok, everyone out. Arthur and Rrokoth take the lead. Lt. Ghall and her team can follow them. Then Mazun and me. Joe, bring up the rear."

Arthur releases a raucus hoot. "Get it the fuck on, baby! I've been lookin' for a firefight since all this touchy feely shit went down!" Once the hatch opens, he says, "Rrokoth, stack on the left, behind me. Iím button hookiní; let's get this shit on the road!"

Rrokoth's tail is wagging as he barks his acknowledgement.

After a brief hesitation, Lt. Ghall and her two guards follow behind them.

Gunderson exchanges a look with Mazun as the two exit the GCarrier. Dathuel follows, staying close.

The hatch locks behind Joe.

Next: Entering the Facility