Location: Tsougak Defense Forces military base
After the reception, the crew made their way back to the
Aengkfaertoezthuedou and hit the sack. The next morning, Darrurz, Arthur,
Joe, & Mazun packed their belongings and their equipment and disembarked.
There were some heartfelt goodbyes from those within the crew that got to know
them the best.
Captain Nokh offered some advice to the bunch. To Joe, Arthur, and Mazun, he says, "I realize that there aren't any humans here, so it may prove difficult to adjust to an all vargr crew. Don't let them intimidate you. If you know you're right about something, stand your ground. Unless by doing so gets you thrown out the airlock. Follow Darrurz's lead if you can." He turns his attention to Darrurz. "You need to be alpha among this pack. I don't know what you're used to back where you came from, but be smart, and I'll back you up no matter what happens."
Joe replies, "No problem. Go do your laundry, and we'll be waiting when you get back!"
Nokh steps back, sniffs the air, and salutes the group. "I'll be back in 8-10 weeks. Good hunting."
With that he departs.
After they watch the Aengkfaertoezthuedou take off, the group returns inside the base and are assigned quarters—two to a room. Shortly after they get all of their gear in their rooms, a middle-aged vargr male shows up and growls. "Don't bother unpacking, you won't be here long. The captain wants to ship out tonight."
Mazun asks, "And you are?"
"Commander Thaedznou of the Orruengoerr."
Mazun extends his hand to shake. "I'm—"
"Mazun. Hairless one is Joe. Short guy is Arthur, and the scarred wolf is Darrurz. I read your personnel files this morning. Follow me to the briefing room."
Once in the briefing room, the crew is introduced to the Orruengoerr's captain, Azafaghur. He seems young for a captain. Definitely younger than Thaedznou. He sniffs the air rather quickly, as if he assumes to know your scent. Also in the room is Admiral Zodzaekh. She's older than either vargr and takes her time to gauge everyone's scent.
She begins the briefing. "Thank you for agreeing to take on this mission. Your Captain Nokh speaks very highly of you and says that your expertise will help us complete this mission.
"Before Captain Azafaghur gets started, I'd like to reiterate that this is an exploratory mission. We need to know how our neighbors weathered the wave of Vakh. We don't have the resources of your Tagan Pack. Our paws are full with our own worlds. We need intel. We need to know what's over the horizon before it gets here.
"We're not expecting you to conduct any assaults like you did on Korstsouth. But we expect you to defend yourselves to the best of your ability. If you encounter anything bigger that you, run home. We need intel, not heroes."
She nods to Azafaghur.
"Thank you, Admiral. We're attempting to contact worlds that were in the Sunggoe Combine before the 17th Disjuncture came to power." He hits a few keys on a laptop and maps are displayed on the wall. "Here's a map of what the area looked like in 1105. The core of the Sunggoe Combine is here." He uses a laser pointer to outline the six worlds in the middle of the subsector. "These worlds were the foundation of the combine. They ranged from tech level 10 to 15. We would love to get there—"
"Too soon, Captain."
"Yes, Admiral. I thought that I'd outline our long term goals—"
"Your eagerness is appreciated, Captain. However, stick to the current objective."
"Yes, Admiral. The Sunggoe Combine started its expansion in 1065 and soon annexed these worlds." He circles the coreward-trailing (right) portion of the subsector. "These worlds were varied in resources and tech levels. Sugutadho was a tech level 12 agricultural world that served as a transfer point between our old Trade Federation and the Combine. Gvoksaedo and Dueks were low tech aquacultural worlds. The Combine was attempting to turn Ghudue into another Sugutadho, but when the Disjuncture took over, the effort was abandoned.
"So you see that these immediate neighbors of ours don't appear to be threats due to their lack of industrial infrastructure, but we'd like to know for sure.
"From here rimward, Aetosak was a mercenary den. Akofotsidano had industrial infrastructure, but its tech level was pre-computer so we don't expect much there. And Rogkhethala wasn't much more than a transfer station between the hub of the Combine and worlds over in the next subsector.
"The procedure for exploring each system will consist of refueling at a gas giant, scanning the mainworld, and then jumping out to the next target. If there's something compelling, we can investigate. Otherwise we'll make a note of it and pass it on to a follow up expedition. The Orruengoerr is capable of jump-2 so I'm hoping that we can cover all of these worlds in 10 weeks. It's an ambitious schedule, but I think we can do it.
Joe raises his hand. "Yes, I have some questions!"
Captain Azafaghur nods and says, "Go ahead...Ghoe, is it?"
Commander Thaedznou corrects him. "It's actually pronounced, 'Joe', sir,"
Joe proceeds. "Other than jump-2, what are the specifications of your ship, the Ore-run-go-er, right?"
"It's an old Aeghong class Seeker."
Mazun adds, "Extended jump performance over the Angrorghag class, but it sacrifices the mining drone bay to accomplish it."
Darrurz coughs as if something was in his throat and takes a moment to pull himself together.
"Yes, that is quite right," Azafaghur says, his tail wagging.
Joe asks, "How large is the crew of the Orruengoerr. What will our positions be?"
"Well, the Orruengoerr requires a crew of three, but performs optimally with five. Our aim is for eight. Your positions will be suited for your skills. You and Arthur will be gunners. Mazun an engineer. Darrurz a pilot."
Darrurz says, "It's going to be tight then. There are only four staterooms on an Angrorghag, and they aren't big."
Azafaghur nods and says, "Yes, I'm afraid so. But there's space leftover in the former mining drone bay that isn't taken up by the extra jump engines. Enough for a galley and crew lounge."
Joe continues, "And when you say something compelling...What are you interested in? Vakh, local pop, abandoned tech, radio signals, unusually shaped asteroids, what?"
"All of the above."
Joe pauses and lets that sink in for a moment. "One more question, if I may: What is it exactly you want us to do? Running through seven systems, scanning, and jumping doesn't take our talents; I'm sure you are not lacking skilled ship crew. So why ask Nokh for our assistance?"
Azafaghur's ears droop. He looks to Admiral Zodzaekh.
She says, "Because we don't have the skilled ship crew to do it. Our resources are stretched thin. Most of our service personnel are trained for starship ops, military tactics, survival. Assessing advanced technology is a skill that the young do not have. It has been seventy some odd years since our people were at their peak. Those who can identify useful tech in the Wilds are too old for the rigors of space travel, such as we're able to provide, and time may have dulled the edges of their minds. For you, it is still fresh in your minds, and you still have your youth.
"This wasn't a popular mission. Many of the oldest fangs want to keep all ships close to home, but Captain Azafaghur feels that risks are necessary if we're to be ready for the next Vakh attack. Intel. Technology. Both of these are valuable on the battlefield. I believe the mission has merit and strongly supported him when he made the request. We were trying to figure out how to accommodate our senior explorers when you came along. It seemed like opportunity was scratching at the door."
Joe nods and rests back in his chair, contemplating what Zodzaekh has told them. He waits for his crewmates to ask their own questions.
Arthur speaks up, "Joe's right. That's a ton o' round to cover in a short period of time. We're light on guns and personnel, so we need an SOP for how we handle the systems effectively.
Some of this doesn't properly translate into Gvegh, so Azafaghur asks, "What is ess-oh-pee?"
Mazun answers, "Standard operating procedure."
Azafaghur nods. "Ahhhh, we were hoping that you would have some input on that."
Arthur says, "I'm thinking jump in, passive scan, have a pre-planned refuel strategy—gas giant skim or drop and suck. Better make sure the refiners are running at top notch, and the jump drive won't choke on unrefined."
"Yes," Azafaghur says, "the Orruengoerr had new filters just installed. And all these systems have gas giants."
Arthur nods. "The intel portion from there is a bit of a crap shoot. We need to assess a possible strategy before we hit the systems and fight the plan if needed. We get bogged down or sidetracked, our timings will go for a shit. So stand off intel gathering until after we're primed to run is probably the best option."
Azafaghur replies, "Yes, yes, this is what I was saying and wanted to hear from you. We jump into the system at an optimal gas giant, lap up the raw fuel, purify it, then mini jump to the main world. We passive scan it for activity. We try to focus on the main population centers to see how they are doing. Four of these worlds were low tech, eight of less. The other three had medium tech, ten to twelve. We compare what we see to what we know these worlds used to be like. If there is anything majorly different, we sniff around some more. If there's something there that could hunt us, we learn what we can and race back here at top speed to warn our people.
"If there is time on the way home, we visit the more promising places. Contact some people.
"This is straightforward plan, no?"
Arthur wags a finger. "You need to be careful on that 'major center' shit, 'cause from what I've see, Vakh will be there, waitin'. As for contactin' the indigs, better have a shit hot plan to do it from orbit, 'cause we get nailed in the gravity well or on the ground, better hope Joe says good words to your new 'owner' about your 'potential'."
Arthur continues, "And because we'll be part of the 'package deal', you'll need to sell us on the plan prior to 'exposure to assimilation'. Just sayin'. Don't mean to be a dick about it, but I hope I didn’t get unfroze to have my brains sucked out, or worse, at least without a plan.
"We need to set absolute parameters to get what the mission requires versus what we need to do to survive and return, otherwise we might as well get used to callin Joe' equivalent 'boss', once the shit hits the air movement device, 'cause the first casualty of that gig is Joe, and I ain't gonna sit still for that."
A short growl escapes Azafaghur before he composes himself. "I am going on this mission as well. My fate is entwined with yours. I have no desire to be killed or captured by the Vakh. Do you suddenly have cold paws?
"The mission requires we sniff the air for information: Are the Vakh on our border? Is anyone on these worlds alive? If so, are they mangy mutts fighting for scraps, or are they brave wolves holding on to civilization? We can get this information from orbit, yes. If touching down on a world makes you feel uneasy, then we'll stay in orbit.
"Your Captain Nokh wants you all returned in one piece. If not, he'll have my head. And I have no desire to start an interstellar incident. If you would rather wait here, that is fine. I will not force you to go on a hunt down a blind path."
Arthur says, "There is a difference between a 'blind path' and 'a path blindly followed'. Prior plannin' and preparation prevents piss poor performance, or in this case, getting wasted for no good cause or return.
"We need a recon plan, and we need to stick to it, that's all I'm saying. I'm well aware no plan survives first contact. I'm here, ain't I. Managing the process is what keeps you alive longer, for greater returns."
Azafaghur is about to says something when Darrurz speaks up. "Arthur doesn't have cold feet. He's just making the point that we need to plan extremely well, ensure probable scenarios are taken into consideration, and that any action taken outside of the stated main parameters of the mission are assessed for risks and only taken if the opportunities are worth it.
"Humans are much better at planning than we are, but that's not to say they can't be flexible. Arthur comes from a military background that encourages them to 'adapt, improvise, and overcome', something that they take from us."
Azafaghur's tail wags. He seems to be placated by what Darrurz has said.
"We need to sit down with your astrogator, me, and Joe to look at the expected jump vectors into each of the systems to account for probable Vakh detection of our ingress. Angrorghag's aren't the most stealthy of crafts, and we'll need to have an expectation of what's in the system before we contemplate any microjumps and or planetary landings.
"That is what Arthur is so eloquently expressing."
"Absolutely," Azafaghur replies enthusiastically. He returns to the projected star chart on the wall. "The initial route I had planned was Gvoksaedo, Dueks, Ghudue, Akofotsidano, Rogkhelthala, then head back to pick up Aetosak and Sugutadho."
Joe looks straight ahead for a second, then shakes his head "You're thinking like a trader. You need to think more like a raider: Keep your tanks as full as possible when jumping into the unknown. Gvoksaedo, yeah whatever approach we take that's going to be a jump-2. That's as good as place as any to start, but then when we jump down the main we should use jump-1 whenever possible. Gvoksaedo, to Dueks, to Ghude, to Aetosak, to Akofotsidano, to Rogkhethla, then we can decide if we should come back Aetosak to Ghude, or Akofotsidano to Ghude, then we can try Ghude to Sugutadho, then Sugutadho to Saelfaek and back here. If we run into Vakh though we may have to abort our route a lot sooner, particularly Aetosak and Akofotsidano."
Darrurz pipes up and points to the star maps and data. "Sugutadho and Akofotsidano seem like the only two star systems that are worth going to from a trade and recovery point of view. Ghudue and Rogkhethala are questionable. The one you are missing though is Gungaerrg in Mersol subsector in Meshan sector. I understand this is an intel trip, so you're going to want to visit them all, but Gungaerrg is strategic from a trade perspective, so it's likely going to be strategic from a military perspective, especially from its position on the main. It's an extra two weeks at least."
Azafaghur looks to Admiral Zodzaekh. He says, "Our concern is strategic, being focused on the jump-1 worlds along the cluster."
"But as Darrurz correctly points out," Zodzaekh replies, "there are a whole host of worlds in Mersol subsector that deserve at least a cursory sniff."
Azafaghur's ears and tail droop. "I knew that time was a factor—"
"But so is strategy," she interrupts.
"But to tackle all of the jump-1 worlds in the cluster would be far too much, no?"
"Indeed it would. You should reconsider your targets."
Azafaghur looks at the star charts again. "Perhaps, based on the recommendations of Joe and Darrurz, the route should be: Gvoksaedo Dueks, Zaeng, Gungaerrg, Akofotsidano, Aetosak, Ghudue, Sugutadho."
Arthur says, "Being able to hit Zaeng and Gungaerrg is crucial for deep recon. So this new route works. The closer we can get to Vougong, the better our chances of determining the extent of the Vakh infestation. That's the plum in this neck of space. Too bad the tech along the route into it sucks."
Joe continues, "Standard operating procedure should be to jump in with a vector compatible with an approach to where the star charts say the outermost gas giant will be, coast in, running silent to see what response is triggered by the jump flare—assuming the outermost gas giant is deemed safe, we should refuel—then perform a micro-jump close to the main world, preferably with some other planetary body between our jump flash and the main world. We can then use orbital mechanics, momentum, and our initial vector to perform an orbital pass of the main world, to scan and asses the situation. If further investigation is necessary, we can fire up the drives for a noisier second approach. Otherwise, we use the drives to gain the best insertion vector for the next world and jump out."
Azafaghur looks to Arthur to see if he approves of Joe's suggestion.
Arthur nods. "Joe's got the process for the op down for sure. Makes sense to use that plan."
Azafaghur's tail starts to wag, and his posture notably relaxes.
Darrurz tilts his head to the left and says, "Apart from Gvoksaedo, we won't want to expose our jump flash to the most likely places for Vakh presence as will be empty. Although from the 1120 data, we are looking at a 70,000 population water world with no tech worth having. And do we know if it's warm or cold at the moment on the mainworld?"
Azafaghur looks at his notes. "It would appear to still be winter for a few more years."
Joe looks at Azafaghur. "Exactly making it the world with the least to offer to potential Vakh, and hence the easiest approach to the main."
Azafaghur replies, "Well the Vakh emerged during its spring and summer years so it may have stuck decades ago. But as Darrurz correctly pointed out, there's no tech worth having. However, I'm hoping there will be survivors. It's only two parsecs from here. It would be advantageous to have some sort of base there to stop any potential Vakh advancement."
Joe turns his gaze to Darrurz and starts talking in monotone, "Hiding jump signature: Theoretically possible, however, usually impractical or impossible. Most moons or asteroids large enough to block a jump signature are either well inside the 100-diameter limit of the body being approached or have a 100-diameter limit of their own."
Mazun says, "I believe Darrurz is suggesting that we jump to the nearest planet to the target planet and coast in at high velocity. It would likely take days, but is certainly possible."
Darrurz shrugs. "No I meant we jump into system with a vector that put us in the shadow of a planet, from the perspective of the most likely place that any Vakh, or anyone else for that matter, might be watching. That way the jump flash is effectively hidden by the planet."
Mazun replies, "I'm sorry. I thought you were talking about the in-system microjump after refueling at the gas giant."
Darrurz continues, "We can then refuel and put ourselves on a vector that allows us to scan the system while keeping ourselves at low emissions. This will hopefully give us an idea of what might be happening in system. If we are happy we can microjump to 100 diameters of where we want to be.
"These points aren't necessarily the outer gas giants but they are a good start. It all depends on the disposition of the planets and the likely points of monitoring. Sometimes it's a vector behind a moon of one of the inner gas giants.
"I guess none of you have had to plot jump paths that give you the safest path though corsair infested space."
Mazun replies, "No, I was an engineer. Navigation was someone else's job."
Joe blinks. His voice recovers some of its normal quality as he continues, "Aboard the Bright Horizons, shiiieerrr..." Joe nervously glances about the room. The vargr don't seem fazed. "Errr I mean, we had basically four options when jumping to an unknown system." He begins counting off on his fingers.
"Option 1: Jump to 100 diameters with a near zero velocity. Hold outside the safe jump envelope and scan before determining if it was safe to approach for refueling. Sometimes to the gas giant sometimes the main world.
"Option 2: Jump to 100 diameters with a high relative velocity. Decelerate on approach scanning all the way. If it was safe to refuel we would, if not the ship would still have a high delta V making intercept by a lurker nearly impossible.
"Option 3: Would be to do either option 1 or 2, but instead of approaching from the elliptical, approach from above or below the plane of the planetary orbits.
"And Option 4 would be to skip the mainworld and gas giant and perform an ice body refuel at the very extremes of the system in the oort belt."
He looks to Arthur, "Some of these strategies might help here."
Arthur responds, "I like the Option 2 routine to start off with. Option 1 leaves us with our delta V pants around our ankles, if the Vakh happen to be in spinal PAW range or have a quite MG platform floatin' around. Option 3 doesn't really give us what we want and limits our ability to maneuver inbound if we want to get closer to planetary sources. We'd waste too much time on vector changes, and time is of the essence. We've got a shit ton of ground to cover in a limited amount of time. The less time we spend on the accel/decel routine, the better. Sounds like option 4 is an 'oh fuck, we're outta gas, and the hostiles are here' routine, which is a great fall back plan if we're able to compile intel on our next target system."
After a pause, he adds, "I like them."
Darrurz asks, "How is the Angrorghag armed?"
"Two pulse laser turrets."
Joe smiles. "Puppy teeth to a wolf fight: Just enough to be dangerous, not enough to be seen as a threat!"
Admiral Zodzaekh chuckles.
Darrurz's ears drop. "Is the ship's boat armed? And if no, can we get one that is?"
Azafaghur replies, "It is armed with a small laser."
"I guess that will have to do."