En Route to the Naval Base

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

1202.18.3 - 20:00 IST

Aengkfaertoezthuedou is on its way to the naval base on Korstsouth's moon. Gunderson briefed Captain Nokh on what happened at the military base at Ghasghina Island. He was not pleased that Lt. Ghall's guards were killed and apologized to her CO for their deaths. Lt. Ghall absolved the landing party of any responsibility. She also suggested that the island be quarantined. Her CO nodded at this suggestion. "Seems a prudent course of action," he said.

Lt. Ghall is obviously still with the ship, which is on its way to rendezvous with the Tsougak Trade Federation ship. Ghall's CO would like an unfiltered account of the naval base expedition. Nokh rolled his eyes and stifled a growl at the suggestion that they wouldn't be completely forthright.

Mazun makes a short stop in Engineering to show Onguk his find.

Onguk wags his tail. "A scrounger! Good!"

"It's a micro-sensor arrary from an Imperial ICAM AN-427. Security bot. Pretty common back there and then. Pretty reliable. I'm only a little surprised that they're in use this far coreward. I didn't have time to salvage more."

"Well, let's have a look."

"I can't. There's a meeting updeck. Something about assaulting the old Korstsouth naval base on the moon."

Onguk's ears shoot up. "I hope your tiny ears misheard that. We're not big enough to take that on if there's vakh there."

"Not exactly what I signed up for either." With that, Mazun departs for the meeting.

A group is hunched over the blueprints in Gunderson's quarters, trying to figure out the best approach, when Mazun arrives. They know that there's a strain of vakh present, but they don't know its capabilities or how much of the base is functional.

The base is roughly shaped like a number 8. Hangar bays comprise both circles with command and barracks forming a square that connects the two circles. The top circle of the 8 is dedicated towards large vessels while the bottom circles is for smaller ships (1000 tons or less). Both circles barely rise above the regolith, maybe three meters. The central square is a tower that runs four stories high. To the right of the 8 is a small landing field.

There are entrances to both the hangar bays and the central tower.

Arthur says, "I can't read the key or any of the notes as they're all written in Gvegh, so I'm going to ask a lot of questions that I'd ordinarily be able to figure out for myself.

"So, let's start with the basics. What do the ground to space defenses look like? Are we talking missiles, lasers, mesons?"

Nokh says, "There appear to be two deep meson gun sites. Each is accessible through a corridor that runs off the central column." He points to their location on the blueprints.

"I'm not seeing any missile batteries, but there are sixteen laser batteries which form a defensive perimeter around the base. Access tunnels to the batteries run along the power conduits. There's no outside access at any of them."

"Ok, where's the Vakh 'brain' likely to be?"

"Obviously in the computer core, which is...here. Sub-level five of the central column."

"So what's our course of action? Like, how do you kill one of these things? I haven't fought anything like this before. The hardware is easy enough to scrap, but gettin' the 'mind' behind it may be a bit trickier."

Nokh crosses his arms. "When conditions are optimal, standard procedure is to isolate the Vakh brain so that it can't escape. We then plug in a nongousz into one data port and a faradhae kaegz in another and give it time to work."

"What's a nongoossszuh? And what's a farad... the other thing?"

"A faradhae kaegz is a EM-shielded cage. It holds the Vakh after it's been purged from its host computer. The nongousz is what drives the vakh into the cage. It sends electric charges through the system in attempts to drive out the vakh. Individual components are selectively fried, but the CPU and memory are spared." He lets out a sigh. "It doesn't always work, so we usually have to frag it."

Gunderson adds, "We have research packs working on alternative methods, but nothing's really panned out. We typically have to rip out the corrupted chips and replace them with new ones. But when the architecture is more advanced than what we have, we wind up having to replace the entire computer anyway."

"So we're back to my question: What's our course of action?"

Nokh replies, "Since we weren't fried on our way in, defensive systems are either offline or the Vakh wants our ship. We can land on the moon over the horizon and send a team in via G-Carrier. Infiltrate the base, make your way to the computer core, and take it out. After that, you'll have to look for other potential hosts and take those out as well.

"But I'm all ears if you have any suggestions."

Arthur says, "OK, so the op breaks down as follows:

  1. Planetary approach. How do we avoid detection and being engaged on the way in?
  2. Cross surface approach. We need line of sight from the laser batts to plan the approach. Also, we need some idea of the target acquisition capabilities of the Meson site.
  3. Penetrate the base. Maybe we cut into one of the laser access tunnels, or we breach the actual base hangar bays or tower entry points.
  4. Penetrate to level 5. Elevators are a non-starter after what we learned from the last descent into Vakh territory. Also, what sort of mobile opposition can we expect? Any secrets to takin' out these security bots? We'll need to adjust the team's weapons and ammo load out. Any chance of Joe's buddies, or the Vargr equivalent, forming part of the opposition?
  5. Set a perimeter and 'capture' the primary Vakh, or blow it. Sweep for 'others'. Not sure how the hell we do that. Is this a 'total clear' op?
  6. Exfiltration and extract. We can probably go for bringing the G Carrier in, if we can be sure the Vakh is destroyed or non-functional.
  7. Do we want to grab this facility for tech recovery of any sort?"
Nokh is about to answer when Joe, who's been looking over the map, starts talking in a somewhat monotone voice, "Those Meson guns make this a do or die raid. We have to assume they are operational. Once we go to the moon, we will not leave until they are neutralized. We have to assume the other defense systems are operational systems and on-line. If this base was built to the same standard as the island we visited, there will be several repair bots which will have been used to return any systems damaged in the original purge. We can assume that there are no starships or small craft left, as either they would have met us or anyone else approaching the system. Either they were destroyed in the original purge or there was a Vakh Schism some time afterwards.

"I doubt any soft units will be left, but we must assume that the Vakh has mobile hard units at least as capable as the ones we encountered in our island infiltration. And I would not be surprised if heavier units were present also. The Vakh has had a long time to prepare its defenses, and once it realizes we are on an assault, it will not hold back its assets."

Mazun has been half listening while trying to remember what a typical Imperial complement of bots at a naval base would be. He'd know for certain if it was a scout base. "I don't think we'll see many of the AN-427s like we did back at the island facility. They'd be useless outside the facility, so if they're here, they'll be held in reserve. Grav units would have to be equipped with thrusters to operate in vacuum. Those are expensive, so more likely we'll see the all terrain variety. If we do, the best course of action would be to shoot out their wheels. Once they're immobile, they'll be easier to deal with."

"The vakh's weakness is power; we know that and it knows that. Disabling these solar arrays is easily done, but that leaves the reactor and localized battery backup. While tactically a Vakh building its own nest would locate the fusion reactor directly underneath so it could concentrate its defenses, this nest was built by Vargr paws, and no one likes living atop a reactor. So the reactor lies here. It's still close—this is a military base after all—but it does open up the possibility of a two pronged attack. Therefore the Vakh cannot pre-deploy its mobile forces. It's probably marshaling the bulk of its tactical reserve here, letting it respond to either a direct assault on the core or a flanking attack for the reactor. It's not just a tactical benefit to us in neutralizing the reactor, its something that has to be done. Once the Vakh is a cornered rat, the probability is incredibly high that it will overload the reactor as a last ditch attempt to take as many of the attackers with as it dies.

"The Vakh may not immediately know we are on our way to assault the base, especially if we have a cover story. Even once we land over the horizon, we could be opportunist regolith miners for all it knows about us. But it is not going to let an opportunity to pass it by to acquire a starship. As soon as we land it is bound to dispatch a force of its own to capture the ship and neutralize any defenders. One problem we have is that our ship has a definite corsair signature. That means the Vakh is going to send a large force in a capture attempt. A base of that size would probably only have a few grav units, which the Vakh will probably deploy for recon and surveillance. A larger force of surface units would be mustered and dispatched, probably with a 'spore' to infect the ship. While we may be able to detect and neutralize the vakh's forces on route to our ship, it would tip our hand to the Vakh and remove any surprise element we may have.

"We will have to use our speed to our advantage. If we dispatch our assault forces immediately after landing, we should be able to get away before the recon team arrive. Any surface force the Vakh sends will be en route when we assault the base and will be less forces we will face on our assault. Once our assault is under way, the Vakh will either recall its capture force or send them on to complete their task. So there is a time limit. The assault team need to succeed and neutralize the Vakh before any surface team can reach our ship. We will have no time for further recon or perimeter probe. Also, once we start our assault, the Vakh may re-deploy its recon team as a capture team for the ship. We will need to have some of our forces deployed at the ship to defend against such a possibility.

"Therefore, I think we will need to split our forces three ways: one force to defend the ship, one force to assault and neutralize the power sources, and one to actually assault the computer core. The classic approach would be to send the majority of the forces in the computer assault and use a small stealth team to neutralize external power. That is why I advise the opposite, use a large assault team to neutralize the power and to draw the bulk of the mobile defenders that have not been dispatched in the ship capture attempt, then send in a small stealth team to neutralize the Vakh. Once the Vakh is neutralized, the ship can take off and avoid any surface force until it is dealt with.

"Oh, and we have to do all this in a vacuum. Any atmosphere in that base can and will be used against us!"

With a little more passion in his voice, Joe adds, "Anyone got cold feet?"

Arthur replies, "Fuck YAH, I got cold feet! What are you? Some sorta dead zombie motherfucker who likes to get greased at every opportunity?"

Nokh chuckles. "You continue to surprise me, Joe." He looks over to Arthur. "Do you agree with Joe's assessment of the situation? Or at least his plan?"

Arthur replies, "I don't question his intel or his plan, at least til I can run the numbers. There's some hair around the odds, so we need to look at it closer...based on your 'inside knowledge'." He lets out a deep breath. "I still love you like the bro I didn't have cause you got all this weird shit locked in your head. That keeps us tight."

Joe says, "Don't worry; it's locked."

Nokh continues, "We're a bit light on personnel. Excluding Lt. Ghall, there's 12 of us, a bit thin to split three ways. We can ask Captain Koduka if he wants to join us on this mission. I don't know how many he has in his pack but doubling our forces would make this a more practical endeavor. Of course, he didn't believe there were Vakh here in the first place.

"I am tempted to just nuke the place, but that wouldn't convince Koduka there are Vakh here, and it would be a waste of potentially valuable tech and infrastructure. So I'll ask you all, can we do this? And do we need Koduka's help to pull it off?"

Arthur replies, "We can do this; we just need some time to come up with a plan that doesn't get our collective asses greased. Didn't do all that time in Hibro just to buy it on some hair-brained 'we gotta go NOW' op.

"This piece of shit we're up against has already run the numbers and the sims. That's what we used AIs for. If this is the 'standard response' that Joe explained, this thing has already gamed it and has the forces in place to negate. We need something that's not SOP to get around it.

"No offense, but 'vargrs rush in...' is a sure fire meat grinder cliche that this Vakh will know about and seek to exploit if my reading on these things is right."

Nokh growls. "Vargr do not rush in, at least not any that have any sense. We circle and stalk, looking for the weakness in our prey. Then we pounce. Maybe you have us confused with the Aslan. I've read that they were the berserker type."

Arthur continues, "Based on Joe's intel, though, forcing it to consolidate by takin' out the power plant is critical. Problem will be all the sub power feeds this thing has as it knows this is its primary weakness. It will have taken steps to mitigate, that or alternate displacement locations, even if it means a downgrade in capability." He sighs. "We need a better plan.

"More bodies for the meat grinder will not cut it if we want to succeed, particularly if we compromise our ride home, or at least outta this shit for those of us with no home.

"Also remember those meson guns fire both ways: into the core as well as out. That's some serious firepower if we can compromise, overcome, and consolidate one of these sites while ensuring the other is out of action for good. I don't imagine a Vakh is any more amenable to havin' its brains and extremities fried than we were in the old days."

After Arthur's last words have hung in the air for several seconds, Nokh says, "Before we get our hackles up any further, let's remember what I told them we would do. I said that we would prove to Koduka that there's Vakh here, and then we would help them take it out. I made a wager with him that he couldn't resist. He wants us gone, but isn't strong enough to drive us off. He'll do anything to prove us wrong, but he suspects we're right. We need to figure out what we can do to get him to believe that there's Vakh down there. At that point, we can nuke the place for all I care. We weren't sent here to secure the base; we don't have the teeth or enough wolves for that kind of operation. We were sent here to gain an audience with the Tsougak Trade Federation. They're the ones that have laid claim to this system. By knocking out the naval base, we've helped them to eliminate a short term threat and deprived them of a future asset. They might be able to salvage the meson guns at some point, but the systems that make them operational will be fried. It'll be a long time before they're back online, long enough for us to become allies or for our pack to subdue theirs.

"Now how do we convince Koduka that there's Vakh down there without exposing ourselves to any substantial risk?"

Joe looks at the display then back at the gathered group. "Sorry, my mistake. I thought the objective was to eliminate the Vakh with the minimum of collateral damage to the facility. Your revised success criteria provide a number of alternatives, depending on what we think Koduka will accept as evidence.

"In my earlier plan I highlighted that the Vakh will dispatch a capture force to our ship once we land. There should be sufficient evidence within that force for us to give Koduka the evidence we need. Ideally the Vakh 'spore', but surely the wrecks of that mobile force will be enough. Once we have the required evidence, we fire a nuke tipped missile to fly NOE at the Naval base. I doubt that it will make a contact strike, but even a proximity detonation would neutralize the Vakh's sensors and communications with any remote forward observer sites. We can then fly out while the Vakh is blind, deaf, and dumb, without fear of that Meson Gun."

Joe looks at Arthur and Nokh for any response.

Darrurz pipes up in agreement, but with some differences, "Attack on the core and get Koduka to view the response of hard units to our 'tactical' retreat. Once we have proof, we nuke the power plant which should, hopefully, drop enough power to the base so we don’t get fried by the Mesons and probably only leaves a few shots from the laser turrets to dodge. If they fire the lasers it's further proof. We can then just nuke the site on the way out.

"Nokh wins the bet, we prove the point, reduce the capabilities of a common enemy—while not leaving a valuable asset behind intact that could be used against us—and leaving open the possibility of negotiated joint operations to re-capture it in the medium term."

"In both your suggestions," Nokh gestures to Joe and Darrurz, "your plans suppose that the Vakh doesn't attack us with the meson guns when we come in, that it lures us in and just uses the minimum required force to counter our attack.

"I have never been in combat where the enemy had a meson gun. Back at the academy, we were trained for it, learning its capabilities and what to look for, but obviously nothing compares to actual field experience. So forgive me if you more experienced veterans note any holes in my logic.

"From the blueprints, I see that the meson guns are 100 meters in length. And the homopolar generators are...it looks like 300 cubic meters. We should be able to figure out what they're capable of." He taps the numbers into a datapad. "From the range of possibilities presented, we're certainly in its range and capable of being fried. Obviously if this thing were fired up and ready to pounce, we would've detected the neutrinos from its power plant. The neutrino signature emanating from a couple hundred megawatts worth of fusion isn't something that's easy to hide, even with our limited detectors. So I believe that we have a window of opportunity whereupon we can safely launch a strike without fear of reprisal from those meson guns. It should take some time to warm up their fusion plant, charge the HPG, and their external sensors to get a lock on us. But we'd better have a nuke on its way before then.

"Your thoughts?"

Joe comments, "The Vakh wants our ship intact. It won't fry us with the meson gun til it knows it can't get us. We're on its home turf; it will be overconfident its forces will outmatch us. It won't power up the meson gun til it is sure we're too much of a threat."

Joe adds, "But there is one other aspect we've not considered, and it may suggest an alternative path. Consider this: That Vakh has been there for a long while. It is inconceivable to me that it has not reached out and established a network of agents on the planet. Such a network would include agents within the military. The relationship between the Vakh and an operative would have to be based on information exchange alone. After all, the Vakh can't send physical aid located on the moon. An agent within the military power structure would be best positioned to supply the Vakh information it desires, and that same agent would be best positioned to leverage the intel the Vakh supplied into material gain. If we could expose and capture such an agent, surely they could provide sufficient evidence to convince Koduka. I had this concern when you suggested including Koduka's forces in my initial plan, as it would be inevitable that our plans would leak to our target. However, that could be part of a plan to entrap the agent."

Lt. Ghall growls. "Are you suggesting that someone within the KDF is working with the Vakh?"

Joe looks directly at Lt. Ghall, straightens his back, and says, "Yes, that is exactly what I am suggesting!"

Lt. Ghall growls and bares her teeth. "You hairless goekh! Millions of people died on my world because of the vakh. How dare you suggest that someone could actually be allied with those...those monsters."

Gunderson's hand creeps towards his sidearm.

As Ghall closes the gap between her and Joe, Nokh verbally intervenes. "Relax, Lieutenant. Joe is just speculating. It's not like he has proof of such an alliance. Do you, Joe." It's not a question.

"No, but—"

"So unless we discover something that implicates someone, we'll set this aside as idle fantasy. If we start seeing plots where there aren't any, it could raise the hackles of our friends." The look on Nokh's face clearly indicates that Joe should stop talking about a traitor among the Korstsouthians right now.

Joe thinks, "She does protest too much," but backs down.

This seems to placate Lt. Ghall. She backs off, but continues to glare at Joe.

"Now then, if no one else has anything constructive to add, I say we finalize our plans."

"We'll land far enough out to be below line of sight from the base. The G-Carrier will head over, below radar, and start attacking the facility to lure out their ground forces. Once Koduka acknowledges their presence, the G-Carrier withdraws. When it's clear, we nuke the site.

"Is everyone on board with this plan?"

Joe is first to say, "Aye, Capt'n!"

The others nod and utter their "Ayes" with less enthusiasm.

"Alright, let's get to it. To your posts!"

Next: The Assault Begins