Arrival in Gvoksaedo System

Characters: Darrurz, Joe, Arthur
NPC: Mazun, Captain Azafaghur, Commander Thaedznou, Vuksaerz, Aerrak
Location: Orruengoerr
System: Gvoksaedo

1202.19.4 - 20:00 IST

The Orruengoerr exits jumpspace around Gvoksaedo's outermost gas giant. When passive scans come up empty, Captain Azafaghur gives the order to dive in to the gas giant to skim it for fuel.

20:25: Decel Burn initiated.

19.5 - 00:00: Skimming begins.

01:00: Skimming finished.

The ship climbs out of the gas giant's gravity well while the fuel purifies. Although it is 26.96 AUs away, passive sensors are aimed at Gvoksaedo.

04:00: Acceleration ceased.

05:05: Safe jump distance from gas giant.

07:00: Fuel purified.

Nothing has shown up on the passive sensors around Gvoksaedo. No radio signals have been detected either. The captain intends to mini-jump to Gvoksaedo. "Any objections?"

With no objections raised, the captain gives the order to jump to Gvoksaedo.

Arrival at Gvoksaedo

Characters: Darrurz, Joe, Arthur
NPC: Mazun, Captain Azafaghur, Commander Thaedznou, Vuksaerz, Aerrak
Location: Orruengoerr
System: Gvoksaedo

1202.19.5 - 7:05 IST

The mini-jump goes off without a hitch. After emerging from jumpspace, the crew patiently waits as the telemetry comes in from the passive sensors. Everything appears clear out to five light minutes, so Captain Azafaghur gives the order to head into the gravity well, decelerate, and passively scan the planet.

As the ship gets closer to the planet, the glacial advance towards the equator is plainly evident. There's only a thin band of open water around the equator. The world is still locked in winter.

11:00 IST

The ship has descended through the gravity well and entered a high orbit over the planet. Passive sensors haven't detected anything in space, nor activity on the planet. Captain Azafaghur calls for an active scan of the equatorial region of the planet as he believes that if anyone still lives here, they'll have migrated there. The starport is also there.

12:00 IST

The starport appears intact and undamaged. There are other structures on the island that hosts the starport that indicate civilization. There are faint thermal emissions above the natural background that indicate someone is trying to stay warm amidst the cold.

The captain wants to land on the surface and contact the survivors. "Any objections?"

Darrurz pipes up, "If I might make a suggestion, send the ship's boat for first contact. If it's Vakh-infested and the Angrorghag is on the ground...well, it wouldn't be good."

"Yes, yes, that is a good idea. Any volunteers?"

"Me!" comes Mazun's enthusiastic voice over the comm. "I should be on the ground to assess their tech level regression. And some fresh air wouldn't hurt."

There's a pause, and then Arthur says, "I'll go as well. I'll go get ready."

Joe looks up from his monitor, a thermal scan of the surface, "It's cold down there, but I'll go."

Thaedznou says, "I'll pilot the ship's boat."

Azafaghur nods. "Good. That should be sufficient."

Joe says, "We could run a sensor sweep at about 10 km above the island. At that low altitude even the ship's boat sensors should be able to pinpoint these heat sources. We might also be able to diagnose if they are from campfires, generators, or something more modern."

"I agree," Azafaghur says, his tail wagging behind him.

Seeing that his first suggestion was well received, Joe decides on another. "Before we head out, should we try hailing the surface and seeing if anyone down there has a radio they're listening to?"

Thaedznou disagrees with a vigorous shake of his head. "If this is a ruse, they'll have plenty of time to react before we even get close."

Azafaghur nods. "I agree. However, if the scans from the ship's boat look non-threatening, you have permission to radio them before you land. If they're friendly, there's no need to scare them."

Arthur overhears this on the ship's comm and says, "So, not knowin' as much about the Vakh as you all do, do they propagate or infect by active transmission, like when we receive a signal from the surface? Seems to me, if what I've heard is accurate, we want to be real careful on what hits any of our sensors, either active or passive, if they ain't isolated from our 'get home systems'."

Azafaghur replies, "The Vakh do not infect sensors; they infect communications. All TTF ships have isolated comm systems and keep spares in case of infection. And all comm systems have data monitoring software. If there's a sudden spike in data transmission, it alerts the user."

Arthur mulls that over, then says, "Joe, any comments? This ain't some place I wanna be runnin' from the Vahk, when our '4 hours cruise' goes sideways. I'm not seein' any palm trees and coconuts, and you sure as hell ain't 'Ginger'. Besides, I can only pack so much ammo at those depressed temps and O2 levels."

Joe looks back at the display, obviously missing Arthur's cultural joke. He replies, "Average surface temp at the equator is 278 Kelvin so palm trees are definitely absent. I'm no botanist, but given the orbital mechanics, pine trees might be possible."

Joe continues, "When I first saw the library data on this planet, I was worried it would be a 'Farm World' setup for Vakh harvesting carbon resources—what population there was here would have been easy to dominate, make dependent on the Vakh, and grow to a profitable level. However, if it were such a 'farm' world, I would have expected a much higher population, higher densities of thermal images, and a much greater coefficient of centralization on the starport itself. Also, I would have expected a 'Den Mother' to be present guarding the assets. Neither of these are apparent, so my assessment is that the population below are merely survivors. Still a low pass sensor sweep would help identify if any thermals were missed or shielded by atmospheric effects, and a supplemental visual and LIDAR scan of surface features may highlight anything inconsistent with a survivor theory. We can then make a last minute decision to land or not."

Arthur nods.

Turning to the captain, Joe says, "My initial reaction was to suggest bypassing this world and saving some time towards our overall mission calendar, however, on a second assessment, this is the first planet. From our overall mission objective they may have intelligence on the presence of Vakh across this cluster, but more importantly, if the TTF is going to exploit this cluster, this system will be a key strategic asset. Therefore, going the extra parsec to be sure the system is free from Vakh influence is worth spending a day or two with the natives."

The captain's tail wags. "Oh yes. Now you see this world from my perspective."

Descent to Surface

Characters: Darrurz, Joe, Arthur
NPC: Mazun, Captain Azafaghur, Commander Thaedznou, Vuksaerz, Aerrak
Location: Joe, Arthur, Mazun, & Thaedznou on ship's boat, everyone else on Orruengoerr
System: Gvoksaedo

1202.19.5 - 13:00 IST

Joe, Arthur, Darrurz, and Commander Thaedznou have suited up and boarded the Orruengoerr's ship's boat. Thaedznou is in the pilot's seat with Mazun next to him. Arthur and Joe are seated in the boat's cargo bay in retractable seats. Each seat comes with a monitor wherein they can observe what the bridge's sensors pick up.

Thaedznou effortlessly backs the ship's boat out of the Orruengoerr and descends towards Gvoksaedo. When the ship gets to 10 km from the island, Thaedznou levels off and conducts a high altitude scan of the place. It is daylight, say mid-morning, over the island. The data from the scans is transmitted to the Orruengoerr in real time via laser comm.

No radio signals are detected. Passive thermal images are consistent with survivor theory—small, low intensity heat escaping from small apartment buildings and a power plant. Active scans reveal that the emissions from the power plant are carbon dioxide and water in a ratio that suggests that it is running on natural gas.

Captain Azafaghur wants to know, based on the sensor data, if anyone objects to firing up the radio to contact the settlement.

Arthur says, "Go for it."

Joe adds, "Yeah, sure."

Mazun opens a channel on the comm and is about to start talking when Thaedznou cuts him off. "I should do this."

"I can speak Gvegh just fine."

"Yes you can. However, your human accent might alarm them. No offense."

"Oh. I hadn't thought of that."

Thaedznou nods and then says over the comm, "This is Orruengoerr-san calling Gvoksaedo downport, over." He winds up repeating the message several times before he gets a response.

"Go ahead, Orreungoerr-san."

"We'd like to land and introduce ourselves snout-to-snout. Would that be ok?"

There's a pause before the reply. "Sure. Land wherever you find room. We'll send a welcoming committee out to meet you."

"Roger that, Gvoksaedo. Orruengoerr-san out."

As soon as the channel closes, Mazun says, "That went well."

"They'll be watching us. If we do anything that seems hostile, they'll shoot us down. Well, they'll try to anyway. Be on your best behavior, wolfmen." He switches the comm to the ship frequency, "Captain, we're headed down. We have survivors. They don't seem hostile, but they're wary. I'll leave a channel open so you can listen in."

"Understood, Commander."

Meeting The Locals

Characters: Joe, Arthur, Darrurz
NPC: Mazun, Captain Azafaghur, Commander Thaedznou, Vuksaerz, Aerrak
Location: Joe, Arthur, Mazun, & Thaedznou on ship's boat, everyone else on Orruengoerr
System: Gvoksaedo

1202.19.5 - 14:30 IST

After a cursory flyover of the town and the downport—to make sure all was as it seemed and snipers weren't on the roof—Commander Thaedznou sets the ship's boat down on a landing pad. A jeep with three occupants is parked 50 meters away.

"Small welcoming committee," Thaedznou quipped. "Stay sharp."

Thaedznou, Joe, and Arthur head out to greet the welcoming committee. Mazun stays on board the ship's boat (for now), just in case things don't go well.

The air is cold (5°C), but the sun is out and there is no wind. As the trio gets closer to the welcoming committee, they note that they're wearing plain, dark blue parkas. A 30 caliber machine gun is mounted on the back of the jeep. One of the vargr is manning it, but not bearing down. The driver is still behind the wheel, but the engine is off. He's holding up a pair of binoculars. The front seat passenger is standing beside the jeep, a SMG on his person.

Thaedznou stops 15 meters from them. "Hello!" he shouts.

"Hello!" the standing vargr replies. "Good to see that you're living."

"Yes, and you as well."

"What brings you to Gvoksaedo."

"Reconnaissance. Just wanted to see how our neighbors were doing."

"Neighbors? Where are you from?"

"Close by."

"Why the secrecy?"

"If you're hostile, we don't want you following us home."

The vargr nods. "That makes sense. So how do we convince each other that we're not hostile."

Thaedznou replies, "Well, your wolf on the machine gun could stand down."

"Ok, but your human on your ship should come out and join us."

"Fair enough." Over his comm, Thaedznou says, "Mazun, come on out and join us, but lock up the ship before you go."

"Are you sure?" Mazun asks.

"It's a gesture of good will," Thaedznou replies.

As soon as Mazun is spotted leaving the ship's boat, the gunner and the driver get out of the jeep. All three walk over to meet the group. On closer inspection, the parkas appear very old. There are signs of old tears stitched together, and the colors are faded.

All the vargr, Thaedznou included, sniff the air.

The speaker extends his paw. "Aghuguellue."

Thaedznou shakes it. "Thaedznou."

"I see you have humans in your pack."

"Yes, refugees from the dead Imperium."

At this point, Mazun joins the group. Upon hearing the last remark, he says, "We don't know that it's dead."

Aghuguellue laughs. His escorts chuckle. "Come. Let's go some place warm."

Joe follows Thaedznou, letting the vargr take the lead with his own kind.

As everyone piles in the jeep, Mazun asks, "What did I say that was so funny?"

Darrurz keeps the comm and sensor feeds open to the ship's boat with the intent of monitoring the surroundings of the landing field. He mentally catalogs the trading possibilities: parkas and other cold weather gear.

The Story of Gvoksaedo

Characters: Joe, Arthur, Darrurz
NPC: Mazun, Aghuguellue, Captain Azafaghur, Commander Thaedznou, Vuksaerz, Aerrak
Location: Joe, Arthur, Mazun, & Thaedznou on planet with Aghuguellue and the locals, everyone else on Orruengoerr
System: Gvoksaedo

1202.19.5 - 15:15 IST

Aghuguellue's jeep pulls into the settlement closest to the downport. It isn't far. There are some multi-story apartment buildings around the perimeter of the town and short commercial buildings all clustered together. Everything is concrete. The road, however, is crushed stone with tar holding it in place.

In the distance, close to the ocean, is a structure that looks like a power plant. Mazun says that it's a natural gas power plant. There's a port with a couple dozen fishing boats and warehouses nearby.

The jeep drives through downtown. Most people don't pay it any mind. The driver pulls up to what could be a city hall and shuts off the engine. Aghuguellue and the locals climb out. "You'll want to meet the mayor."

The group strolls up the steps to the front doors. There are two guards inside the doorway, but upon seeing Aghuguellue, they relax.

The driver opens the door for Aghuguellue and the group. Inside it's reasonably warm. A long, rectangular simple rubber mat with worn polyester fibers covers the terrazzo floor. The guards sniff the air once the group is inside and the doors are closed.

Aghuguellue walks up to a receptionist's desk in the middle of the lobby. A young female vargr "Is the mayor available?" he asks. She nods, and he continues onward.

The walls of the corridor are lined with the photos of past mayors. At the end of the corridor is a set of double doors, which are open. Aghuguellue pauses outside the doors and barks once.

"Come in," says a male vargr.

Stepping inside, the office floor has faded violet carpeting. There's a desk that looks like it could've been made from the local rock. The top is polished, easy to see as there are only a few knick-knacks on top. The vargr behind the desk appears to be middle aged and is dressed in a loud uniform adorned with epaulets and tassels. He's reading a small textbook on knots.

"Mayor," Aghuguellue says, "we have some offworld visitors."

The mayor drops his book and looks at the group while sniffing the air. He stands and offers his paw. Thaedznou is the first to shake it.

"Thaedznou."

"Thakh Dhozaedh."

Thaedznou then introduces the rest of the group.

"Pleased to meet you all," Thakh Dhozaedh says, his tail wagging, "but you're too early. We don't anticipate setting sail for at least another 30 days."

Thaedznou looks as confused as the humans in the group.

Aghuguellue says, "Mayor, I don't believe they're here for the fish. They're new."

"Oh? Oh! So you aren't from Akofotsidano?"

"No, sir," Thaedznou replies.

"And you're not from Gungaerrg?"

The group slowly shake their heads in the negative.

Thakh Dhozaedh collapses in his chair, looking confused. After a moment, he regains his composure and gestures to the chairs. "Please, sit. I must admit, I wasn't aware that there were other pockets of survivors out there. Where are you from?"

Thaedznou looks to the others. He quickly searches their faces, perhaps for signs that they feel that Dhozaedh is conning them. He returns his attention to Dhozaedh and sniffs the air. He must think he's being honest, for he says, "The Tsougak Trade Federation."

Dhozaedh's ears go up. His tail is heard to thump against his chair. "That's wonderful. I've read about you wolves in the history books that my grandfather hid from the 17th Disjuncture. Excellent traders, but fair. Have you come to trade?"

Thaedznou is caught a bit off guard. "Well, er uh, not today. This is more of an attempt to reconnect with our neighbors and let everyone back home what condition they're in."

"Oh please consider us willing trade partners."

"Yeah, sure. Definitely." At this point, Thaedznou casts a glance to the others. With a movement of his eyes that Dhozaedh can't see, he seems to be saying, Help me out here, guys.

Darrurz comms in to Mazun. "Put me on speaker if no one plumbs this guy for information."

Mazun sub-vocalizes an affirmative reply.

In the meantime, Arthur speaks up, "So Mayor, please tell us about this 'fishing' and the fleet that goes along with it. While we're not from either Akofotsidano or Gungaerrg, we're certainly interested in potential opportunities, should they be available."

Thakh Dhozaedh tilts his head to the side, obvious confusion on his face.

Mazun quickly explains, "Arthur doesn't know Gvegh, so his translator speaks his words for him."

"Oh," Dhozaedh replies. "Well, be sure you always have plenty of batteries!" He laughs. Aghuguellue nods his head and chuckles. Thaedznou lets a nervous laugh escape him.

"Yes, definitely," Mazun says with a forced smile.

"So yes, the fishing." Dhozaedh gets back to Arthur's question. "That's always been our number one export: fish. Or fish protein. Depending on how you look at it. As soon as the winter ice retreats, our trawler fleets set sail to fill their holds with fish, crab, squid, whatever our clients are looking for. But with the rise of the Vakh, we lost all our customers. Over the 500 to 700 days, a couple of them have come back, but since it's winter, we only fish for our needs. It's too dangerous. But they've put in orders and let it be known that they're ready to trade again. It's nice. It gives our people an extra reason to look forward to spring.

"Do you like fish?"

"Yeah, sure. 500-700 days?"

"Local time," the mayor replies. "One of our days is 33 standard hours and 20 standard minutes long. I learned that in school. You can do the math, I don't have a calculating machine."

Over Arthur's comm, he hears Darrurz say, "That's 1.9 to 2.66 years."

Upon realizing that's a significant chunk of time, Arthur asks, "What's changed, in this neck O' space, in that time?"

Dhozaedh shrugs. "I don't know. We went decades without seeing anyone, and then people started visiting us again. I guess people are braver now."

"Back to fishing. If its so dangerous, there must be something pretty special about the fish of which you speak to create an offworld market, and payback, that your people are willing to risk their lives for."

"Well, it's dangerous during the winter because of the weather. We used to get weather reports from the starport. They would clue us in when storms were coming, days in advance. Now we have to rely on our radar systems, and those are only good for so far. We only send out a limited number of ships during the winter because we don't want to risk them all getting wrecked. Our search and rescue teams can only handle so many distress calls.

"And yeah, there are some dangerous creatures out there in the deep, but they're not as much of a threat as the weather. They were more of a problem centuries ago, but corsairs were hired to hunt down most of them. And the remaining populations are more active during the warmer seasons.

"I think the reason why people come back here for our fish, besides the fact that they taste great, is that they need food. The offworld market you think is so good is buried in the past. These visits we're getting now are the first in decades. They come here because they know we haven't been ravaged by the Vakh. Besides shutting down the starport and a decline in population, not much has changed from before."

Joe jumps into the conversation, "What have your visitors told you about out there?" He inclines his head and shrugs upwards. Fishing for more information, Joe adds, "What have they said about themselves?"

"They've all said that space is quieter than it used to be," Dhozaedh says, a bit more serious than before. "The Vakh haven't been as much of a problem as they were. They feel that maybe the computer plague has run its course. They hope so anyway. It's why they've decided to risk exposing themselves by leaving their dens and coming to visit. They've said that some worlds are completely dead. Others are weak and vulnerable. Survivors are trying to rebuild.

"More specifically, Akofotsidano is hungry. It was never a nice place, and it had too many people. With no real way to get food, most starved to death.

"Gungaerrg was ok, but they said that they still had to deal with the Vakh and overthrow the former 17th Disjuncture garrison. They're interested in finding trade partners, no matter what they have to offer. Even if it's fish." He chuckles.

Mazun switches the topic away from seafood. "Mayor Dhozaedh, back in 1120 your world had a tech level rating of 6. Would you say that's still accurate?"

"I don't know. I really haven't paid attention to that sort of thing." He holds up the book he was reading. "More interested in getting ready for fishing."

"Well, what kind of technology do you rely on? I saw a natural gas power plant on the way in. Is it still functional?"

"Yes, it is. There's a well field about twenty kilometers off shore, near an island. There's a pipeline that runs along the bottom of the sea to here. Some of it gets sent by tanker to other islands.

"As for what technology we rely on, near as I can tell, things haven't changed since the Vakh took over space." He goes on to tell Mazun what they use.

When he's done, Mazun says, "Yes, sir. That qualifies for a tech level 6 rating. Is the starport functional?"

"It's intact. Decades ago, when starships stopped coming, our ancestors just closed it down. It might take a little to get it going again, but everyone who maintained it has passed on. We would need help to get it going again. Do you think you could help with that?"

Once Mazun finishes talking, Darrurz pipes up on the comm. "Mazun, ask him what they want in trade, apart from decent cold weather clothing which is obvious. And then ask him who his normal customers are and where they are from. Let him know that were interested in finding a competitive advantage, but not being cutthroat with his other trading partners. Ask him about their ship types and sizes, if you can drop it in the conversation without being obvious. Also if the TTF were to re-open the starport with TTF personnel would they consider signing a mutual co-operation treaty. Tagan has higher tech ice fishing worlds both at TL8 and 10, so would they be interested in having a few knowledgeable wolves come visit to share ideas and experiences?"

Meanwhile, Arthur asks, "When was the last time someone approached the 'old starport', and how long has it been powered down?"

"Well, all of our visitors park on the landing field, but none of them have gone inside. At least not that we know of." Dhozaedh looks over to Aghuguellue.

Aghuguellue says, "We don't allow anyone in there. When we have...guests, we always have a lookout monitor it. None of my wolves have ever reported any visitors going inside."

Dhozaedh nods. "As for us, no one goes in there. Some pups might wander in and go exploring the old place, but nothing comes of it. Like I said, it's been powered down since we got word of the Vakh, and that was several decades ago."

"Do you know if there any plans or blueprints for how the port was laid out?"

"Maybe in the library. I really don't know."

Listening to the conversation up on the ship, Captain Azafaghur says that the Tsougak Trade Federation would help do it in exchange for fish. He instructs Thaedznou to pass the message along.

"That's great," Dhozaedh replies. "Say, why didn't your captain come down, too?"

Thaedznou stiffens. "Security protocols. If you weren't as...friendly as you are, we would need him to come rescue us."

Dhozaedh gestures to Joe and Arthur. "These two look like they can handle themselves."

Thaedznou replies, "Yes, they can. Still. If there were Vakh about—"

"No Vakh here."

"No?"

"No tech here for them to infect. The starport probably has some computers, but we don't use them, just to be safe."

Mazun raises a hand. "Excuse me, I have several questions my comrade aboard our ship wants me to ask."

"Sure," Dhozaedh replies.

Mazun clears his throat, and then says, "Besides better cold weather gear, what are you looking for in trade?"

"Well, we wouldn't mind getting hold of some tech that would help us better take advantage of the geothermal energy available on the uninhabited islands. Your captain stated that he'd be interested in helping us get our starport back up and running. I know that would certainly be a plus."

"You stated that Akofotsidano and Gungaerrg are your trade partners. Is there anyone else?"

"No, not yet."

"We'd like to offer goods and services that would compete with what they offer."

"Well, there's enough fish to go around, so you can offer us things that they can't, like starport repair and, presumably, energy production technology."

"Yes, it would seem so."

"See. Everyone can be happy." His tail starts wagging.

"If the Tsougak Trade Federation were to re-open your starport with its personnel, until your people are trained for the task, would you be interested in signing a mutual co-operation treaty?"

"Well of course. I don't see why we can't all be friends. From what I've learned, there's been enough fighting over the last standard century to last a millennium."

"Great. I should also tell you that, besides the Tsougak Trade Federation, there's another state: the Tagan Pack. That's actually where I'm from, well not originally, but it's where I'm based out of now. We recently signed a mutual co-operation treaty with the Tsougak Trade Federation."

"Wow! Everyone's out there forming this great big party. That's great news! Uh, where's this Tagan Pack?"

"It's the next subsector coreward from here. They're neighbors with the Tsougak."

"Now none of you are interested in reviving that disjuncture nonsense, are you?"

"Absolutely not." Mazun looks offended at the mere idea. "I see nothing desirable about living in rubble."

Dhozaedh laughs.

"Since fishing is the major enterprise here, you'd be interested in hearing that Tagan has higher tech ice fishing worlds both at TL-8 and 10. Would you be interested in having a few knowledgeable wolves come visit to share ideas and experiences?"

"Absolutely! The more, the merrier." He pauses. "All this talking has made me thirsty. And hungry. Care to join me in our cafeteria for lunch?"

He's met with an enthusiastic chorus of "Sure!"

Next: Lunch With the Mayor