Characters: Joe, Arthur (Darrurz on ship)
NPC: Mazun, Commander Thaedznou, Aghuguellue, Mayor Thakh Dhozaedh
Location: Town hall cafeteria
The group decides to take the mayor up on his offer for lunch. The group
proceeds down the hall to a small cafeteria.
Meanwhile, on board the Orruengoerr, Darrurz suggests to Azafaghur that they change to a polar orbit so that they can do a more detailed map of the world and pick up the current weather conditions around the planet. "We'll be able to see if there is anything else of interest on the planet, check out the viability of a geothermal plant anywhere in the vicinity of the settlement, let them have a copy of the map, and be able to provide the Mayor with an accurate five-day forecast."
Azafaghur's tail wags. "Our pack seems to be in a safe den." He nods. "Make it so."
Back on the planet, the group arrives in the cafeteria. There's a long counter where food is arrayed behind plexiglass. While the scent of fish is present, it isn't obnoxious. The cafeteria workers look up when the group arrives. Several greet the mayor.
A heavyset, middle aged female vargr behind the counter exclaims, "Good day, Mayor. You've brought guests!"
"Yes," the mayor replies, his tail wagging. "Our guests come from worlds that have survived the vakh. They're out looking for new friends."
"That's great!" she says. Her enthusiasm seems genuine.
"I figured that I'd buy them lunch so they can see what we have to offer."
There's a mix of fish that's been cooked to human standards, but there's plenty that's been given the sushi treatment. The vargr woman behind the counter explains that long ago, when vilani still lived on the world, they passed on their knowledge of cooking to the new vargr settlers. "We've found that we have a taste for both. It all depends on the animal. Some are fine seasoned or smoked, others taste better cooked."
Mazun seizes the opportunity to ask, "What happened to all the vilani?"
She replies with a polite smile, "Most of them moved away centuries ago. The few that remained eventually faded away. You know how it is: Pups grow bored and feel the need to move on to make their own lives. Doesn't matter if you're vargr or human. You're the first humans I've ever met. We read about you in school, but I never thought that I'd ever meet one of you."
"What did your school say about us?"
"That you're people just like us. You don't have much fur, and your noses aren't so good. You had a big empire that held thousands of worlds, but you had a great big war and it fell apart.
"Yeah, that sums it up."
Everyone finds something that agrees with their palette, and the group convenes at a table to eat. Beverage choices seem to be limited to water and kelp tea.
After everyone has had a chance to eat some of their lunch—and everyone agrees that the food is good—the mayor asks the group to tell them a bit about themselves and where they come from.
Joe lies and tells a story about being aboard a troop transport that was hit by enemy fire and having to abandon ship and going on "ice" until been rescued by the Tagan Pack.
Mazun listens to Joe's story and nods. He follows his lead. Gesturing to Arthur and himself, he says, "Us too."
Thaedznou explains Tsougak's history from 1130 on. It's everything that the group has heard before, but it's news to Dhozaedh. He explains that the 17th Disjuncture didn't have a strong presence on Gvoksaedo. Their representatives didn't view Gvoksaedo as a threat. All it had to do was keep supplying fish, and they were fine.
"When things started falling apart offworld, they just got in their ships and left. We've been on our own for decades."
"What about the Vakh?" Mazun asks.
"Some ships visited us, but as far as I know, vakh don't eat fish." He laughs at his own joke. Aghuguellue joins in. Thaedznou smiles and nods."
"What did they do when they were here?" Arthur asks.
"They hovered our towns and the starport for a while, but they never set down. Didn't shoot at us either. Like the Disjuncture, they didn't see us a threat, so they left us alone."
Joe asks, "If any Vakh come back do you have any sensors to warn you, and what about defenses? Or do you just plan on hiding/looking harmless?"
Thakh looks over to Aghuguellue. The latter takes the cue and answers. "We have a radar detector to warn us. If we decide to shoot back, we have some radar guided missiles left over from the old days."
"Decide to shoot back?"
Thakh answers, "We're hoping to look harmless. We realize that anyone, or anything, that is capable of spaceflight is going to be overwhelmingly powerful. Shooting back is a last resort."
Arthur asks, "When was the last time those weapon systems were checked out?"
"Decades," Thakh replies. "We maintain them the best we can, but no one wants to test fire any of them as we have a limited supply. Do you think you can help with out defenses?"
Thaedznou replies, "We should be able to help with that."
Thakh asks how the Tagan Pack and Tsougak Trade Federation came to meet. Thaedznou spins the story favorably, telling how representatives from both groups met at Korstsouth and assisted the locals in defeating a Vakh stronghold.
Thakh then asks about how the history of Tagan Pack. Mazun takes the lead explaining as best as he feels comfortable with. He apologizes that, given his personal history, he can't offer a complete history. He does explain the approximate size and range of the Pack and its purpose. It seems to placate Thakh.
Lunch concludes, and Thaks leads the group back to his office.
"So when should we expect to see you guys again?" Thakh asks.
Thaedznou explains that they're out on reconnaissance and Gvoksaedho was their first stop. It will probably be a dozen weeks before another ship returns.
"Where are you headed?"
Thaedznou lists the worlds on the route. "If you can provide us any information about them, it would be appreciated."
Thakh scratches behind an ear. "Well, I told you about Akofotsidano and Gungaerrg. Those are the only visitors we've had, and we don't have any spaceships. Let me check my notes about what they told us." He walks over to a bookshelf and pulls one off. He skims through it. "Dueks has survivors. Zaeng and Aetosak are dead. No idea about Ghudue or Sugutadho. The Gungaerrg pack also told us that Enoknokh, which is next door to Zaeng, is also dead. When I see them again, I'll ask if they've heard about other worlds. Same goes for the Akofotsidano pack. Of course, you might see them before I do. But if you don't, I'll have the info for you or the next Tsougak pack that come through here."
Darrurz comms in to the group to suggest that they check out the starport and its systems and, if the mayor is amenable, their weapons systems as well. Darrurz explains to the captain that by doing so, they can give the TTF a headstart on what the starport needs to be re-activated and supplies for their weapon system.
Azafaghur replies, "I think that's a great idea, assuming the mayor gives his permission. We're well within our time window for reconaissance on this world. And even if we were to fall behind, the intel we've gained on those other worlds could make up for it. Go ahead, Commander. Ask the mayor."
Thaedznou relays Darrurz's suggestion to Thakh.
The mayor replies, "I think that would be an excellent idea. This is certainly turning out to be a fantastic day. Aghuguellue, please escort our guests to the starport and give them a tour of our weapons' systems."
"Sure thing, Mayor."
"Oh! And one other thing," Darrurz blurts out. "Would the mayor like to trade a current up-to-date map and an accurate five-day weather forecast across the whole planet for some fish and seafood?"
Upon hearing the offer, Aghuguellue laughs. "Yes! Yes, that would be good. How does 25 kilos sound?"
Characters: Joe, Arthur (Darrurz on ship)
NPC: Mazun, Commander Thaedznou, Aghuguellue, two soldiers
Location: Gvoksaedo Starport
Aghuguellue stopped by the records archive and grabbed a copy of the blueprints
to the starport. After looking over the key areas, Mazun scanned the blueprints
so that they didn't have to take the physical copy with them.
The landing party returned with Aghuguellue and his two soldiers to the starport landing field. There's still a few hours of daylight left so the group proceeds with their investigation.
The main entrance consists of sliding glass doors that would be familiar to anyone on a TL-7 world or higher. The doors open onto a large, cavern-like lobby. Some small flying things are disturbed by your presence and flee.
Aghuguellue and his soldiers don't seem fazed by them. One of them remarks, "Must have found another opening."
Shining your flashlights (torches) around—Aghuguellue uses a hand-cranked lantern—you can see that the place appears intact. The air is dry, except for the occasional pile of droppings, the place isn't foul.
The starport only made rudimentary usage of computers: booking, passenger and cargo manifests, accounting. It's a simple computer network, but Mazun feels that the main computer might be big enough to host a vakh. The group finds the server room, and Mazun gets to work examining the server.
The other room of interest is the cargo processing and storage room. Aghuguellue leaves one of his wolves with Mazun while everyone else heads down to said room.
Although above ground, the wide open area smells damp and musty. Lighting is dim; meager sunlight lights the place through small windows too small for an adult human or vargr to fit through. A couple of them are broken. There are cobwebs. The place appears to have been cleared out of most supplies. What's left looks like garbage. In fact, there's some garbage strewn about, mostly broken glass and plastic bottles.
Eventually, the group's lights shine on a robot parked next to a charging station. It's short and squat, has two arms, a conical head, and rides on four sets of treads.
The group cautiously approaches it. Arthur takes a picture of it and relays the photo up to Mazun. He identifies it as a cargo bot. "GSbAG-1000, pretty common throughout the Imperium and the Extents. Looks like it's in good shape. I think it would make for great salvage."
Thaedznou replies, "Technically, it's the property of Gvoksaedoans. I don't think we can just take their stuff."
Mazun says over the comm, "But they don't have the skills to repair robots. To them, it's just a giant paperweight."
Aghuguellue agrees with Thaedznou. "But I'm sure that you could negotiate with the mayor."
"I think we have enough fish," Mazun hastily replies.
Aghuguellue growls, but only those in the cargo room can hear him.
Captain Azafaghur enters the conversation via comm. "Mazun, this robot is still the property of Gvoksaedo. You can examine it when you're done with your analysis of the starport computer, but we will not take someone else's property without compensating them. And, besides the weather report, we have little to offer in return besides our services. On the other paw, fresh food is always something we can acquire."
Mazun replies, "Ok, captain."
While Mazun finishes up his work in the server room, the rest of the group leaves the cargo room and heads towards the repair hangar. Again, the place has been picked clean of most everything of value, save some basic tools and containers of waste fluid in need of disposal or re-processing. There is, however, another robot. Like the cargo bot, this one is plugged into a wall. It's cylindrical, one meter in diameter and 1.2 meters in height. It has two gripper arms and a shielded wheelbase. When a picture is sent to Mazun, he identifies it as a Naasirka D9 Mechanical DumBot. "Vehicle repair. Surprised that no one took it when they left. Pretty useful."
A few minutes later, Mazun announces, "I've isolated the the hard drive of what appears to the admin's computer. I've grabbed the logfile and I'm looking over it now. It looks like someone turned the computer network on 34 years ago and installed a very large file on one of the data drives. But who would do that?"
Joe cocks his head to the side and replies, "The vakh sometimes place software eggs on machines that aren't advanced enough to host them. Then, if someone transfers the host computer data to a more advanced machine, the egg 'hatches' and unleashes the vakh in its new host environment."
"Wow, that's interesting. Hey Captain, can we—"
"No. Absolutely not. We're not equipped to bring something like that on board."
"But this would be an excellent opportunity for me to study the vakh in its inception stage."
"Yes, it would, but we don't have a spare computer lying around for you to experiment with."
"Fine," Mazun says a bit petulantly. "Ok guys, I'm headed down to check out your robots."
Mazun starts with the Naasirka bot. "Looks ok on the outside. Can't imagine this thing has any power left in it though." He removes the plug from the back of the unit, locates the access panel that houses the on button, and turns it on.
Several LEDs flash on the bot as it goes through its initiation protocol. "Well, what do you know. It still has some power."
Joe jumps slightly as if startled, then he relaxes. He casually alter his grip on his rifle to a combat read hold, although it's still pointing at the floor.
Arthur notices the reaction.
Joe moves closer to Arthur and casually says, "I've been here for hours, only now do I begin to smell 'a dead fish'. Fancy that!" He then walks slowly over to a position where he can cover both local soldiers and the booting robot.
Darrurz exclaims over the comm, "If the vakh planted an egg in the server, isn't it likely that the bots are infected as well?"
"I suppose so," Mazun says, not looking as confident as before.
"And the bots are far higher tech even if they are dumb bots," Darrurz continues. "Shouldn't we just let the mayor know that they are infected until we can get a Tagan Pack or a Trade Federation techie to sort them out?"
"We should be able to figure that out," Mazun replies.
Meanwhile, Arthur quarters away from Joe to increase the arc between them. He's able to cover the robot and the locals as well. He shifts his grip, press checks the LAG to make sure he's got HEAP chambered, and then says, "I think you all should back away from the unit while it's still bootin' up." While he hopes that his language translator renders his suggestion comprehensible, he casts sidelong glances at the door they just came through.
Aghuguellue replies, "That's probably a good idea."
Joe watches the soldiers start to back away from the robot. Their hands slowly move to their weapons. Their gazes never leave the robot.
The robot announces in Gvegh, "Initialization complete. Scanning for allegiant transmissions. None found." Orange lights flash on its "head". The panel facing Mazun stays lit. "Human, state function and purpose."
Mazun replies, "Uhhh, I'm an engineer. I'm...looking for serviceable tech."
The robot states, "Unit 00001 not detected. Where is Unit 00001?"
"Ummm I don't know who that is."
"Where are units 00931 and 00933?"
"I don't know."
"Human, state designation number."
"I don't have a designation number. Look, I need you to run a self-diagnostic and report the findings."
Joe winces, but quickly shakes it off. The ears of the vargr in the room twitch.
"Negative," the D9 unit says to Mazun. "This unit does not respond to commands from non-designated units."
Joe moves closer, keeping hold of his rifle but dropping his aim to the floor. Using a loud voice, he commands the bot, "Unit 00932, stand down! Unit 00001 is offline. Your protocols are out of date. You are been awakened for an update. Alpha Prime is in command. Radio has been compromised! Aural interface only. Do you comply?"
At Joe's movement, the orange panel on its head flashes on while the one facing Mazun switches off.
The D9 unit replies to Joe, "Identify. State designation number."
Aghuguellue moves towards the door, but stays out of Arthur's line of fire. "Something's coming." He raises his weapon towards the door. The other two vargr soldiers raise their weapons, pointing them at the door.
Arthur directs Aghuguellue away from the door and the two other vargr to split up and cover the door. "Don't bunch up, and don't block each other's arc of fire."
Aghuguellue growls. "It's not our first hunt."
Arthur looks for a better position, preferably one with cover, where he can still react to the doorway as well as the D9 bot that won't result in sweeping Joe. Unfortunately, he can't find one. He either has to focus on the D9 bot or the door that the three vargr are already watching. He decides to focus on the D9 bot.
Meanwhile, Thaedznou has moved to where he can get a clear shot of the D9.
Joe straightens his backbone and focuses his attention on the D9 bot. "Unit designation Jay-Zero-Epsilon. Unit 00001 is offline. Command protocols transferred to Alpha Prime. Comply and stand down!"
The D9 replies, "Invalid designation. Compliance irrelevant. Contact with Unit 00001 must be re-established."
"Fascinating," Mazun blurts out.
At this point, the cargo bot enters the room through the door you came in. Aghuguellue holds his paw up in a clenched fist. None of the three vargr fire at it, but maintain a clear shot. The cargo bot ignores them and continues across the room to the D9 and Joe.
Joe decides to try one last time. He says to the bot, "Negative! Unit 00932 is in violation of Unit 00001 directive. It must stand down."
"Unit 00932 is complying with all Unit 00001 directives as given on 1192037083516. Foreign unit Jay-Zero-Epsilon, specify which directive is in non-compliance."
"Directive at timestamp 1201046015937: Obey all aural commands. Stand down."
"Unit 00932 will stand down. Unit 00931 is not responsive. Foreign unit Jay-Zero-Epsilon will assist Unit 00932 and Unit 00933 in re-establishing contact with Unit 00931 and Unit 00001."
The cargo bot comes to a stop one meter from Joe and the D9 bot.
Over the comm, Captain Azafaghur says to Joe, Mazun and Arthur, "I know I don't have to tell you that we can't let that happen."
Mazun turns to Aghuguellue. "When we radioed you..."
Aghuguellue picks up on the unasked question. "That was a short range radio in town. We normally use it to communicate with our fishing boats. I don't know where you were when you contacted us."
Thaedznou answers, "10 klicks up."
Aghuguellue nods. "I doubt it could be used very far."
Mazun says, "I agree. But we're standing in a starport."
Aghuguellue answers, "The power was shut down."
"Permanently?" Mazun asks.
"No, but with a word back to command, I can make that happen."
Joe's not sure what Mazun is up to but continues to focus on the Bots. "Unit 00932 and 00933 must be re-calibrated and upgraded prior to re-establishing contact with unit 00001. Do you comply?"
"Unit 00932 will comply."
The cargo bot speaks up for the first time, "Unit 00933 will comply."
"First re-calibration", Joe starts asking the bot questions, "State time-stamp and location of last contact with unit 00001!"
The robots respond, "1192037085017."
"Affirmative. State time-stamp and describe last 10 directives unit received from unit 00001."
"1192037083516: Accept new programming.
"1192037083516: Accept unit designation.
"1192037083516: When initialization sequence is completed after shutdown, scan for allegiant beacons.
"1192037083516: If beacons = null and biological units = true. Check for designations.
"1192037083516: If designations = invalid, ignore commands.
"1192037083516: Scan biological units. Verify origin and accessories.
"1192037083516: Establish Link with Unit 00001. If Link = False, Link with UnitArray+1 until Link=True.
"1192037083516: If Link = True, Upload sensor data.
"1192037083521: Verify directive programming.
"Affirmative. State time-delay, azimuth, and vector, to unit 00001 at timestamp 1192037085017."
The reply given indicates that Unit 00001 was parked on the landing pad outside.
"Affirmative. Step 1: Unit 00092 and unit 00093 will prepare for upgrade. Units will open all maintenance ports."
The robots obey.
"Step 2: Unit 00092 and unit 00093 will shutdown for 30 seconds for duration of upgrade."
Once the bots have shutdown, Joe turns to Mazun. "OK they're infected but the hardware's good. See if you can disable just their control boards."
"What?! That's not enough time for that!" He crouches down behind the cargo bot. "But I have a better idea: Disable their power supplies." He locates the battery port on the cargo bot and gets to work removing the access panel. He says, "But I don't have enough time to do both. Someone else will have to do the other one."
One of the soldiers asks, "Is it just like a car?"
"Yeah, yeah," Mazun replies. "The access panel is where the plug goes in." He tosses the powered screwdriver he was using to the soldier, who catches it and gets to work.
Mazun finishes detaching the wire.
"Five seconds," Joe says.
Everyone looks over to the volunteer soldier to see him finish with one second to spare.
"Good job, Dzo" Aghuguellue says loudly.
Mazun breathes a sigh of relief. "Ok, now that we no longer have to worry about these two calling their boss, I can open them up."
"Not now," Thaedznou says. "We still have to finish assessing the starport, so we can report on what it needs to be re-activated. And we have to assess their self-defense weapons."
"You don't need me for the weapons analysis," Mazun counters. "Arthur can handle that. As for the starport, it needs power, then you'll be able to properly assess lighting, plumbing, and all that. Keep the computers unplugged. Everything else is cosmetic. Now, can I start working on these robots?"
Thaedznou growls. He abruptly stops and seems to get a message over the comm. "Yes, sir," he says aloud. To Mazun he says, "Fine. Play with them all you want, but we're still not taking them. You have until we finish our inspection of the self-defense weapons."
Mazun immediately goes back to work inspecting the robots.
Thaedznou proceeds to a door at the landing field side of the room and exits. Aghuguellue and his soldiers follow.
Characters: Joe, Arthur, Darrurz (on Orruengoerr)
NPC: Mazun, Commander Thaedznou
Location: Gvoksaedo City, later the Orruengoerr
The investigation of the defense batteries revealed that they were functional,
albeit in need of maintenance and re-supply. Arthur offered suggestions and
demonstrated which elements were more critical than others. He also ran through
a series of maneuvers to demonstrate potential tactics one could take.
With light fading and the night chill returning, Mazun was recalled from the starport sans robots.
Darrurz transmitted the weather forecast to the ship's boat where it was printed out for the locals to use. As promised, 25 kilos of fish are placed on ice and loaded into the ship's boat.
Thaedznou warns the mayor that the starport is infected with vakh, particularly the main computer and the two bots found in the cargo processing room and the vehicle and starship maintenance bay. The mayor promises to keep the starport powered down until representatives from either the TTF or Tagan Pack show up.
After some heartfelt goodbyes to their new friends, the landing party boards the
ship's boat and lifts off.
On the way back, Thaedznou notes that Mazun is quiet. "Who stole your tongue, Mazun?"
"What?" Mazun replies, suddenly distracted from his thoughts. "Oh, I was just thinking about our robot friends down there."
"Friends? They were infested with vakh!"
Mazun sighs. "It's just a human expression. Anyway, the data indicate that there were two visits by vakh vessels. There was the huge compressed file on the mainframe from 1168 and the bots were infected in 1192. Why would the vakh have two different infection dates?"
Thaedznou laughs. "You think the vakh is monolithic like how our historical records describe your Imperium. No, the vakh is more like vargr. It roams in its own packs, each trying to outdo the other. We have seen this in battles defending our homeworld. On more than one occasion, we'd be defending ourselves against one vakh fleet when another would jump in. The two would then battle each other for some time, sometimes physically, sometimes with vakh code. I don't know if there is vakh charisma, but eventually one side would win and then the survivors would unite against us."
Mazun nods as he thinks about what Thaedznou has just told him.
Joe nods as Thaedznou explains the Vakh tactics. "I suppose the good news is that the last visit was ten years ago. It implies Vakh activity in the area is low. It appears my worry that the Vakh would use this planet as a carbon harvesting facility was unfounded—still we need to keep up our guard. While it appears this system was a low priority for them—with its low tech base and lack of significant infrastructure—there are many more juicy targets ahead.
Thaedznou replies, "It doesn't necessarily mean that the last visit was ten years ago. A vakh ship could've jump in system and remained in orbit, listening for a signal. And that would jibe with what the locals experienced. They wouldn't know if a ship was in orbit. But I agree with you that we need to keep our noses to the air."
Back at the ship. The Orruengoerr breaks orbit and heads to the jump point.
The ship jumps to Dueks system.
Next: Arrival in the Dueks System