Back at Korstsouth Downport

Characters: All
NPC: Lt. Ghall, Captain Nokh, and crew
Location: Korstsouth Downport
System: Korstsouth

1202.18.4 - 05:00 IST, 30:15 Local Time (39.5 hour day)

It's the middle of the night when Aengkfaertoezthuedou lands at the downport. Despite the cold, a small crowd has gathered to grant a hero's welcome. Generators are chugging along, powering relic floodlights. Someone has even rolled out a red carpet. When the hatch opens and Nokh and his crew emerge, cheers go up.

On the way back from Korstsouth's moon, Nokh had ordered full scans of the naval base for as long as possible. There was no indication that the vakh had survived the blast. Perhaps it had, and it chose to "play possum" until the nasty organics were long gone before it started repairs. At the very least, it was blind and wouldn't be able to attack any ships or Korstsouth.

Before disembarking, Nokh said to the crew, "Let them enjoy the moment. Their moon isn't a threat to them for the foreseeable future. You enjoy it too. You've all earned it."

Koduka and his crew are also on the tarmac. Koduka bows his head respectfully to Nokh. Nokh pulls him aside and says something in his ear that's lost in the cheering crowd. Koduka smiles and nods. They grip forearms and howl briefly.

After several minutes of cheering in the cold night, the crowd moves indoors. An impromptu feast has been hastily thrown together. Several varieties of fish have been laid out on a table. A chef and three assistants are working feverishly behind a row of tables acting as a barricade cut up pieces to serve: raw, smoked, and cooked. To drink, there's water and something called Kulerda Wine.

All of the crew are present except for Onguk, who volunteered to stay behind and watch the ship. Even Arthur is present, albeit a bit stiff. Fortunately his wounds were superficial, and the doctor was able to patch him up quick.

With curiousity getting the better of him, he attempts to mingle a bit with these "once targets". But he stays close to the crew. He makes sure that Rrokoth and Doukhken can see him at all times. His Gvegh is still limited; he doesn't want to rely on his translator too much.

He tries the Kuldera wine, which is served in shallow bowls. It's a heady white wine with a light, but unmistakable, hint of sea salt. It goes well with the white fish (cooked) wrapped in something like lettuce with a touch of some wasabi-like sauce.

He feels a hand on his shoulder. He resists the urge to grab it and throw the person over his shoulder. Instead, he slowly turns around. It's Lt. Ghall. She raises her bowl of wine to him and nods. He mimics her gesture.

She says something in Gvegh. His comm translator says, "Your wound, does it heal so fast?"

"Da," he says in Gvegh. Yes is one of the few words he knows by heart. Then he switches to the translator. "I had a metal plate under my vacc suit. It took the brunt of the laser's energy after it melted a hole in my vacc suit. Doc patched me up nice after that."

"Admission. My race underestimates lacks comprehension of determination hunting skills humans possess. Perhaps blame ignorance separation of many years."

Arthur mentally curses the translator.

Meanwhile Mazun is chatting with Doctor Arkummu about the fauna they encountered at the military facility. Joe is hanging with Rrokoth and Doukhken and, like them, watching Arthur's conversation with Lt. Ghall. Aru and Dathuel are asking Darrurz about life back during the old Imperium.

Arrival at Tsougak

Characters: All
NPC: Captain Nokh and crew
Location: Aengkfaertoezthuedou
System: Tsougak

1202.18.7 - 10:00 IST

After the Korstsouth celebration party concluded, the crew safely returned to the ship where they got some much needed sleep. Afterwards, Captain Nokh ordered the crew to prepare to depart. Captain Koduka has promised to uphold his end of the agreement and escort the Aengkfaertoezthuedou to Tsougak. Koduka's ship jumped first. As soon as he was away, Nokh sent a message to a Tagan Pack ship hiding out at the local gas giant, informing them of their status, where they were headed, and details regarding the crew's missions to the old military facility on Ghasghina Island and the infected naval base on Korstsouth's moon.

The half week in jump was uneventful. Routine exercises were the norm. Nokh suggested that the crew read up on Tsougak's history and asked the mission specialists (Mazun & Darrurz) to be prepared to assess the world's technological infrastructure and economy, respectively.

Before leaving Korstsouth, Koduka made sure that the Aengkfaertoezthuedou's nav computer had accurate orbital data for Tsougak. He warned him that there was still a fair amount of debris in low orbit that had not been properly contained. The orbital starport was destroyed. Once Koduka cleared Nokh through the defense perimeter, he would lead him to a military facility dirtside that also served as a downport.

Once the sensors have come back online after returning to normal space, the local area comes into view. There are small, isolated debris clouds. None appears to be of an immediate threat to the ship. There are some small craft that appear to be trying to clean them up. Traffic is light, composed mostly of smaller military craft (under 1000 tons). A few civilian merchant vessels have formed a line at what could be some kind of customs inspection checkpoint over the public downport.

Koduka hails Nokh. Four system defense boats are in the vicinity of his ship. He indicates that all is clear and that Nokh should follow his ship down to the planet.

The military base is in the middle of mid-sized continent in the southern hemisphere, surrounded on three sides by mountains. The terrain appears to be on the leeward side of the mountains and thus is dry. The flight route does not go directly over any major cities, but sensors can pick them out. One in ten appear to be completely destroyed; others show sign of damage. The comm system detects plenty of transmissions along civilian radio frequencies: news and entertainment, but all the sources appear to be terrestrial based. Nothing seems to be coming from LPO.

The base is on the day side (one day is 25 hours 43 minutes), late morning by the looks of it. The atmosphere is standard with no restrictions. Temperature on the ground at the base is 32°C (89.6°F). It's a dry heat.

The ship has landed on a wide open ferrocrete landing field next to Koduka's ship. Ground vehicles are racing over to meet the ships. Structures (hangars, barracks, command tower) are about a hundred meters away.

Nokh wants the four new guys (Darrurz, Mazun, Arthur, & Joe) to join him and Aru. Everyone is to bring a comm. Nokh and Aru are wearing the flex armor they brought. He refuses to be unarmed and thus carries a pistol. He suggests the other crew members gear up similarly, but is willing to be flexible on their decisions.

Darrurz suits up his flex armour and puts his desert fatigues on over them. He arms himself with his auto-pistol and all four of his clips, loaded with HEAP rounds. He wears his utility belt and brings his hand computer, commdots multiplexor and comm unit, image converter binoculars, inertial locator, language translator, multichronometer, electric torch, digital video recorder (with head mount & HUD). He also takes a camelpack of water.

He tells Nokh that he's going to be primarily looking at their agricultural sector including agricultural machinery production and the feed in technologies to the sector. Then he'll look into the government and corporate strategies for long term sustainable growth, following which he'll use his exposure to the Tagan Pack economy to see where it has competitive advantage to start trading with Tsougak, looking at anything but also the possibility of jump drive production technologies for the Tagan Pack.

Nokh nods after Darrurz tells him this. "Good. Good."

Joe wears his flex armor and carries his snub revolver (one speed loader each of HEAP, Flechette, and Tranq). He's also decided his sword is part of his "uniform" and carries it in a scabbard on his back. He also has his "Vakh Detector" (which he has worked with the technical crew to look more convincing), a regular commlink, and a pocket flashlight.

He tells Nokh that he has "turned up the gain" on his mental Vakh receptor and is looking for any signs of Vakh involvement on the planet (even if there are no radio broadcasts). Apart from that, he is interested in the military organization structures, looking for any out of the ordinary rituals/practices, and he's keeping an eye out for what military tech is on display/use/deployed (particularly that in use by the common soldier/security). He's also keeping an ear open for any conversations that may suggest alternative power structures outside the formal government/military (organized crime, rebels, terrorists, unions, disenfranchised, etc).

Nokh nods after Joe tells him this. "Very good, Joe."

Arthur kits up in his hot weather gear and grabs his multi-tool, PDA with the translator program, comms, and flashlight. He's armed with his gauss pistol and carries 8 magazines (2 HEAP, 2 HE, and 4 Dart). His 3.5 inch blade also goes along for the trip.

He tells Nokh that he'll be assessing their military capabilities, noting the potential performance level of the armed individuals the team interacts with as well as the general population's attitude. Of course, there might be a learning curve with vargr.

Afterwards he explains that Aru will assist in the evaluation of local tech.

They head outside and discover that Koduka is already there. He greets Nokh as if they've been friends for awhile. Apparently, the events on Korstsouth have swayed him.

"There's our ride," Koduka says as he gestures to the oncoming vehicles.

Nokh asks, "Is it always this warm?"

"Yes. It isn't the nicest part of Tsougak, but the land was cheap and secluded." He notices all of the gear Nokh's crew has brought with them. "Planning on staying awhile?"

Nokh chuckles. "All part of the assessment."

"I hope we pass. After the work I saw your crew performed at the naval base..."

Nokh introduces the crew. "Arthur and Joe were part of that team."

Koduka bows his head in respect.

"And this is Mazun, an engineer; Aru, a technician; and Darrurz, a pilot and merchant."

Koduka sniffs the air before giving them a respectful nod. To Darrurz, he says, "Nasty scar for a merchant."

Darrurz sniffs the air and replies with a respectful nod. "They say being a merchant is a cutthroat business. Well, luckily on that occasion," Darrurz indicates the scar, "they missed my throat."

Koduka throws his head back with a laugh. "I like your spirit." To Nokh he says, "You should have brought him along the day we met. I wouldn't have given you such a hard time."

The vehicles arrive. They're small, but between the two of them there's enough space for all assembled. The drivers, dressed in desert camo with only a (holstered) pistol for weapons, salute Koduka.

"Not exactly a royal welcome," Koduka says, "but frugality is a priority in the military."

With that, everyone climbs aboard the vehicles and heads in towards the base's buildings. Meanwhile, refueling and cargo trucks are seen heading out towards Koduka's ship.

Assessing Tsougak

Characters: All
NPC: Captain Nokh and crew
Location: Aengkfaertoezthuedou at first, then a meeting with Tsougak's leaders. Lastly, a reception at a military base.
System: Tsougak

1202.19.4 - 3:54 IST, 22:00 Local Time (25:43 day)

While Nokh and Aru have met with various local leaders, the rest of the team has been afforded the courtesy of open access to the military base and audio and visual broadcast networks. While never left alone, these escorts don't stand over the team's shoulders. They answer questions as best as they can. The team also doesn't encounter any racial animosity—they blame the 17th Disjuncture for their plight. However, they think that Darrurz is the leader of the group.

From what the team can gather, Tsougak has fallen from tech level 11 to 8. The military has some isolated gear from the TL-11 days, but no longer has the ability to maintain it. Most of it is mothballed in favor of what the world can support now.

Tsougak's shipyard was destroyed. Minor starship repairs are possible, but the world lacks the capability to affect major repairs, most notably those involving engineering. The defense fleet consists of a dozen small ships (all under 1000 tons). On the civilian side of things, there's an equivalent number of ships, all small traders.

The world used to have a population of about a billion, but has fallen to 900 million. All of the orbital cities have been destroyed or dismantled. The population has adjusted to its diminished technology—latter generations not realizing what was lost. Overall, the outlook is on the positive side. The narrative is that Tsougak is ascendant once again now, particularly since the 17th Disjuncture is no more (at least as far as anyone knows). The economy is stable; growth is positive, albeit low. Agriculture and manufacturing meet the needs of the populace, but lack the impetus to expand. Everyone seems hopeful that a renewed Tsougak Trade Federation (TTF) will be that impetus.

Besides Tsougak and Korstsouth, the other TTF worlds are: Unarrsukhgnargvo (Windhorn 2919), which is two parsecs coreward of Korstsouth, and four worlds in the Sunggoe Subsector (Windhorn L). Those worlds are: Khoedho, Uelueradza, Zogvaeksu, and Saelfak. While that may sound impressive, it's more bravado than anything else. Tsougak accounts for 99% of the population of the TTF. Uelueradza and Zogvaeksu are dead worlds with mining potential once they can be properly secured. Khoedho and Saelfak are agricultural worlds, but lack the infrastructure necessary to export.

In summary, the TTF shows promise but needs a lot of help. In a war, the Tagan Pack would crush it. As an ally, it would be some time before it could hold its own in battle with the Vakh. Still, it has resources that can be acquired in exchange for capital investment and training. It can also act as a population relief valve for intrepid souls from Igodosakfell willing to take on the inherent risk of rebuilding civilization in the Wilds.

Nokh thanks the team for their hard work and thorough analysis.

When he presents their findings to Tsougak's leaders (leaving out the bit about the Pack crushing it in a war), many chuff and bristle at what they perceive to be slights. But their Alpha Commander, Anaesuelaza, calms them. "Captain Nokh's words may sting, but they're true. While we may have survived the Vakh onslaught, we were left crippled and weak. We can blame the 17th Disjuncture and bark about our fate, or we can accept the truth that Captain Nokh and his crew have pointed out to us. With the help of the Tagan Pack, we can be strong again. Let not pride ruffle your fur when a paw is offered to help."

She wins the crowd over and thus the leaders agree to seek a treaty with the Pack.

Later, at a reception, Nokh informs the team that Anaesuelaza and many in the military leadership were impressed by the team's analytical assessment.

"This is unorthodox, but they asked if they could borrow you for an exploratory mission. I have to escort one of their ships back to the Pack to finalize a deal. It would means weeks of tedious boredom with nothing to do except maintenance. However, as a gesture of good faith, I can grant them permission to borrow you. They want to explore further rimward, in particular, the core cluster worlds of the old Sunggoe Combine. According to our historical records, Sunggoe was rated tech level fifteen. The other worlds in the cluster ranged from tech level ten to thirteen. There's no guarantee you'll find anything, but the Pack could certainly use the intel.

"If you're not comfortable with the idea, just bark and I'll deny their request."

Joe pauses for a second. His expression glazes over as if he is reading an invisible computer monitor. "That's a long way from 'Pack' space—six parsecs further than Tsougak—and I'm sure the TTF would not be in a position to aid us if we ran into any trouble. That's at least 4 hops for a jump-2 ship (Gvoksaedo, Sugutadho, Arruerzughz, and then Sunggoe), and even longer for a jump-1 ship with bladders. Several of those worlds would be high on the list for Vakh exploitation, and we'll be well into the core of the historical 17th Disjuncture sphere of influence."

Nokh nods his head. "All true, which makes it highly valuable from the intel standpoint alone."

Joe continues, "However, this is exactly what I signed up to do. And precisely because of the risk, I can't imagine an authorized Tagan Pack mission to that area of space for many years."

Nokh replies, "I wouldn't say 'many years'. However, the Pack would like to see its rimward border a bit more secure than what the Tsougak are currently capable of."

Joe nods. "So while I still think we need more clarification from the TTF powers-that-be on the details, as well as 'danger money', count me as interested."

Nokh says, "Even if the Tsougak didn't, the Pack would make sure you didn't go unrewarded."

Darrurz sniffs the air, taking in Joe's scent. With a nod towards him, he says, "Someone needs to keep him out of trouble." And follows up with a loud chuckle which Nokh joins in on.

Arthur adds, "I'm in. I didn't spend all that time as a popsicle to thaw out and just sit around."

Nokh smiles. "I knew from day one that you weren't the 'sitting around' type."

Darrurz maneuvers near Mazun. "Why not? I mean who wants to live forever?" With that, he taps Mazun on the shoulder in a friendly way and says, "Oh I forgot. You already have." This time he descends into howling laughter, which sets Nokh to laughing too.

Darrurz then addresses Nokh, "The Tsougak's defensive forces can easily be made more effective by supplying them with Pack missiles in the first instance. They can be traded for their mothballed TL-11 kit, and if we get some of the Pack techies here to start increasing their starship repair facilities, they can start advising on general infrastructure."

Nokh nods his head. "Yes, yes. Good ideas. You should include these suggestions with your report."

Darrurz continues, "With that in mind, if we go on this mission of theirs, can we have some of the missiles from the Aengkfaertoezthuedou to accompany us in whatever ship they will be sending us in?"

Nokh frowns. "I can't. I'm responsible for each every missile. If one were to be used against the Pack, its allies, or some innocent third party, it would be my head. Perhaps the Tsougak will have some of their own."

Meanwhile, Mazun is silent. He appears to be lost in thought. Does he consider this a means to get closer to home? A delay in figuring out how he got here? He doesn't say anything, merely nodding to indicate that he's on board with the others.

Next: Planning For The Next Trip