Arrival in the Dueks System

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

1202.20.2 - 14:00 IST

It was a fairly positive half-week in jump. Despite Mazun's initial grumbles about picking up fish instead of robots, he came to appreciate the fresh food. He cooked up the fish according to some Solomani-Mediterranean recipes he recalled from his youth, before enlistment in the Scouts forced him to accept packaged food. It lifted his spirits, and even the vargr enjoyed the food despite it being cooked.

The Orruengoerr exited jumpspace around Dueks' outermost gas giant, and after waiting for passive scans to declare the space around the planet quiet, Darrurz took the ship in to skim for fuel.

20:00 IST: Skimming.

21:00 IST: Skimming completed. Climb out of gravity well.

20.3 - 3:00 IST: With the new fuel fully purified and nothing registering on the scanners, the captain gives the order to mini-jump.

3:05 IST: Exit jumpspace around Dueks.

Sensors aren't picking up anything in orbit, so the captain gives the order to alter course to get captured by Dueks' gravitational pull and fall into orbit around it.

Further passive scans reveal precious little about activity down on the planet. There are some faint thermal emissions noticeable on the night side, but these pale considerably compared to what was detected on Gvoksaedo.

The planet's axial tile is only 11°, so there's very little seasonal variation. It would appear that the northern hemisphere is in winter. Regardless, the planet's average temperature is listed as 3.7°C (38.7°F). 90% of the planet is covered with water. The starport is located on the largest island, which isn't far from the equator. Temperatures there are said to average 14°C (57.2°F).

Before the Collapse, Dueks was an aquacultural world for the 17th Disjuncture and, before that, the Sunggoe Combine. It had a C starport, but was only tech level 5.

"Great. More fish," Mazun grumbles. When the captain shoots him a hard glare, Mazun changes his tune. "I meant, great! More fish! I'm getting the hang of cooking fish to everyone's satisfaction."

The captain would like the starport reconned and wants to know if anyone has any objections.

"Sure, Captain," Joe replies. "Same routine as last time? Take the ship's boat down and see what we can find! Hopefully, I don't have to fast talk a pair of bots into shutting down." Joe looks at Mazun with a glint in his eye.

That gets a chuckle from Vuksaerz and Aerrak.

Mazun rolls his eyes.

Captain Azafaghur's tail wags as he replies, "Yes. And hopefully the inhabitants will be in the same shape as the Gvoksaedoans."

Darrurz pipes up, "Can I move the ship into a polar orbit to map and get a weather report? We might pick up something on passive from a different perspective."

Captain Azafaghur replies, "Yes, once the landing party departs for the surface."

The conversation concluded, the landing party gears up and boards the ship's boat. Once they disembark and have moved to a safe distance, Darrurz moves the ship into a polar orbit.

Descent to Dueks

Characters: Joe, Arthur, Darrurz
NPC: Joe, Arthur, Mazun, & Thaedznou on ship's boat, everyone else on Orruengoerr
Location: Orruengoerr
System: Dueks

1202.20.3 - 5:30 IST

The ship's boat descended until it was 10 km above the surface of the small continent that hosts the starport. The continent roughly comprises 30% of the world's land. But as landmasses cover only 10% of the world's surface, it isn't very large. The starport is located on the southern end of the continent, near the equator, just south of a mountain range.

There are three small cities along the coast. The sea has always been the primary means of navigation as there was never a large enough population to justify an intercity highway system. However, there are highways that connect the starport to its three nearby cities and to each other. Vast swaths of farmland surround all of the cities.

It's afternoon over the continent. IR is picking up faint heat sources in all of the cities, but not the starport. No radio communications have been detected in the cities either. However, there appears to be a faint emergency beacon coming from the starport.

Visual magnification of the starport reveals that it has been heavily damaged. 35% of it appears to be rubble. A starship of some kind appears to have crashed into it. However, on the tarmac, there is an intact small craft.

Captain Azafaghur instructs Commander Thaedznou to investigate the source of the emergency beacon.

Thaedznou hovers over the starport, gathering as much as possible from passive scans. The intact small craft is a ship's boat and looks to be the same class as the one the landing party is in. It's hard to say for certain what type of starship crashed, but its size and shape makes it probable that it was an Angrorghag class Seeker.

While Thaedznou flies over the landing field, Joe is able to determine that the beacon is coming from the ship's boat.

Vegetation has begun to encroach upon the starport's landing field. Thaedznou puts the ship's boat down on furthest clear patch of tarmac from the boat already there.

Darrurz pipes up on the comm, "Watch that ship's boat for vakh eggs or even vakh itself."

Thaedznou replies, "We've apparently picked up on the same scent."

Darrurz continues, "But if it's free, and if the crashed ship is an Angrorghag that hasn't been picked over already, then it might prove a good source of spares for us.

"We'll need to know how it came down just so we know what we might be up against."

"I was planning on figuring that out with our investigation," replies Thaedznou. "From the looks of things, I suspect that the Angrorghag was infected with vakh, which then plowed the ship into the starport. As for the ship's boat, it remains to be seen if the crew evacuated their doomed ship and landed safely or the vakh moved into it and, not having a jump drive at its disposal, landed to await an unsuspecting victim.

"In case it's the latter, I'd like to shut off the boat's communicator so that it can't transmit itself to the ship. We can check in at hourly intervals with status updates and use the passphrase happy is the hunting wolf to indicate that it is indeed us."

"A prudent precaution," the captain replies. "Proceed. And good hunting. Orruengoerr out."

Investigating the Solitary Ship's Boat

Characters: Joe, Arthur, Darrurz
NPC: Thaedznou & Mazun
Location: Joe, Arthur, Mazun, & Thaedznou at Dueks starport, everyone else on Orruengoerr
System: Dueks

1202.20.3 - 7:00 IST (Local time unknown)

The landing party has disembarked from the ship's boat and is studying the other one from a distance. Thaedznou sniffs the air before using a pair of binoculars.

The area around the starport is fairly open. One can see for a long way east and west. A few trees have popped up in the distance, but the local vegetation is primarily meter high grasses. A mountain range lies to the north. The starport lies to the south. The east wing is in ruins from the crashed starship, but the west wing is intact. Some grasses have managed to pop up through cracks in the tarmac.

Thaedznou says, "I only smell grass, but the air is thin here so scents don't carry far. Whatever fire occurred when the starship crashed burned out a long time ago. I can't smell anything coming from it.

"As for the boat, it looks untouched, even through the binos. The hatches are closed." He turns to look at Arthur and Joe. "Do you have a preference for how we hunt it? There's no cover, but I'm not seeing or smelling anyone, and the windows at the starport terminal look intact. We didn't see any snipers on the roof during our descent." A sly grin appears on his face. "Shall we just walk over and introduce ourselves?"

Arthur replies, "Never want to pass up a good training opportunity. We haven't had a chance to practice team tactics, so I'm thinkin' this is a great opportunity to run a fire team advance to contact. We should bound forward, practice the hand signals, and work the cover, such as it is. We ain't pressed for time, and the practice will do us good."

Joe nods his head and taps his legs with the butt of his rifle. "It'll feel good to stretch these again!" He turns to Mazun and says, "Keep the ship locked up and ready to lift. If anything but us walks back, dust off and report on schedule."

"But I've never flown one of these things before!" Mazun protests.

Thaedznou says to Mazun, "On your skill sheet, you listed grav vehicle, right?"

"Yeah..."

"Close enough."

"But I have to assess the tech we find," Mazun insists.

"If we find anything and made sure the area is safe, we'll let you know." He closes the hatch with Mazun inside.

Joe adds over the comlink, "If there's any tech for you to evaluate, I'll come back and take over shipsitting duties."

Mazun sighs. "Ok."

Joe says to Thaedznou and Arthur, "Let's head to the boat first."

The trio run through their fire team advance up to the ship's boat. Arthur is relatively pleased with the drill. But now the three of them are standing outside the solitary ship's boat. A cursory inspection reveals that the small ship is undamaged on the outside. The hatch is closed. The access pad looks undamaged.

"Well," Thaedznou says, "shall we knock to see if anyone's home?"

"Sure, why not?" Joe replies. "Shall I do the honors?" He steps up to the access pad and waits for Thaedznou to nod before keying the ship hail key.

Thaedznou nods.

Joe taps the ship hail key.

"Hello? Who's there?" Comes a male vargr's voice over the external speaker.

Joe responds, "This is Joesephus Wright, Able-Crewman of the Tsougak Trade Federation starship, Orruengoerr. Please identify yourself and status!"

"Oh! Thank you! Thank you! I am...Dzo Rugdhoe, engineer of the...Aedzazogazedz. Our ship was damaged...but we escaped...on the boat...in front of you. The rest of my crew...attacked by local savages. I am sole survivor."

Joe pauses a couple seconds before replying. "Hi, Dzo. Sorry to hear about your crew. But we're just happy to find somebody alive here. All we found at our last stop was a bunch of dead fish."

Arthur tenses up, having recognized the code phrase. Thaedznou tilts his head to the side and an ear droops. Arthur mouths the word "Vakh", and Thaedznou nods in understanding.

Joe continues, "This speaker is badly modulating, I can't recognize your accent. Where are you and your ship from?"

"Enoknokh."

Joe recalls from the briefing that Enoknokh is two parsecs away, over in Mersol subsector.

Dzo continues, "Look, I'm pinned down in the drive room, and I need your help. The hatch is unlocked. Come aboard and help me out."

Arthur gives Joe the "cut off" sign. "We need to back off and come up with a plan. Not sure that recovering live Vakh was in the mission profile."

"It's not," answers Thaedznou.

Arthur continues, "Tell 'Vakh Dzo' that we'll be back after we get some heavy breaching and recovery gear from out boat." He pauses. "I'm not sure what might be lurking in the grass that we missed on the way in, so this is a tac 'break contact move' back to the boat."

Joe relays the message to Dzo.

"That won't be necessary. I'm sure that...two people can just lift this...steel plate off of me. Explosives are overkill. Just come inside. You'll see for yourself. The hatch is unlocked. Come aboard and help me out."

As they back away, Dzo's voice is heard. "Are you still there? Mr. Wright? Hello? Mr. Wright? Are you still there?"

Once the group gets about 30 meters away from the ship's boat, Joe says, "I'm not 100% sure this is Vakh, but I'm definitely sure this Dzo isn't on the up and up. All the speech was spliced audio."

Thaedznou says, "Well, I'm confident that it's Vakh. Spliced audio is something we've encountered before. The Vakh takes recordings of crew and tries to trick us into letting our guard down. My guess, if we accepted Dzo's invitation, we'd be courting disaster.

"But how did you know it was spliced? We can't tell unless the audio is run through equipment where we can visualize the vocal pattern."

Arthur says, "Joe's got a gift for this sorta thing. He's pulled our asses outta a boatload of Vakh scrapes with his knowledge of the the way they work. We don't ask 'how', we're just glad it 'is', and we move on to the next one, knowing Joe will have our our back when it comes to shit like this."

Joe adds, "It's a long story, but I'll try to answer your questions later."

Theadznou nods. "I look forward to that time."

Arthur steers the conversation back to the task at hand. "We need to start workin' on the plan. If we want parts off that boat, or to move on with the explore down here, I'm thinkin' the confirmed Vakh scenario will change up how we approach this world."

Joe says, "Bad situation that Vakh is, I agree. However, he's low on power, otherwise the distress beacon would've been stronger, he's alone—his 'mothership' crashed—has no crew, and he has valuable information on the surrounding space conditions. We've already learnt that we need to be cautious when approaching Enonokh. He may also have more information on the indigenous population. That 'savages' audio splice had to come from somewhere." Joe pauses to let that sink in. "But if the Capt'n wants to just frag the pad from orbit, that will be fine too."

Arthur says to Thaedznou, "You should alert Mazun via secure comm to our return and pass our findings back to the Orruengoerr."

Thaedznou points to their boat. "I'm sure he's watching us and can see we're returning. We told 'Dzo' that we had to go back to our ship for those breaching charges. If its sensors are working, it's watching us. We'll need to keep up appearances. We can tell Mazun in person when we get back. And then we'll laser comm the captain."

Landing Party Checks In

Characters: Joe, Arthur, Darrurz
NPC: Thaedznou, Mazun, &Captain Azafaghur
Location: Joe, Arthur, Mazun, & Thaedznou at Dueks starport, everyone else on Orruengoerr
System: Dueks

1202.20.3 - 7:45 IST (Local time unknown)

The landing party has contacted the Orruengoerr via laser comm to fill them in on their investigation of the solitary ship's boat parked at the downport.

Joe explains that upon reaching the ship's boat, he spoke with a vargr named "Dzo" via the ship's comm. Dzo claimed to be the ship's engineer on the Aedzazogazedz. Their ship was damaged and they escaped via the ship's boat. He also said that the rest of the crew were killed by local savages. The landing party didn't see Dzo as he claimed to be pinned down in the boat's drive room under a steel plate.

Dzo asked for their help. He said that the hatch was unlocked, and would they please come aboard to help him. But the landing party didn't. Joe noticed that the audio sounded as if it was spliced together, and he immediately grew suspicious.

Arthur had Joe tell Dzo that they needed breaching charges, but Dzo insisted that wasn't necessary. Two people would be able to lift the plate off of Dzo. The party could still hear Dzo through the comm speaker as they walked back to their ship's boat.

Joe reiterates his summary of the situation. "The weak distress beacon indicates that he's low on power, he's alone without crew or mothership, and has valuable information about the surrounding space conditions." Joe asked Dzo where they were from, and Dzo replied Enoknokh, which is two parsecs away in Mersol subsector (Meshan 0223). "And he might have information about the indigenous population. That 'savages' reference had to come from somewhere."

Thaedznou asks, "How would you like us to proceed, Captain?"

"Yeah," Arthur continues, "parts off that boat or move on?"

Captain Azafaghur replies, "The boat does sound infected with vakh. It seems strange for this Dzo to say that his pack were killed by local savages and then leave the hatch unlocked.

"We're not equipped to perform a full salvage operation, but it would be a waste to just leave the boat behind. And I don't want to risk your lives on that vakh ship—we're good for parts right now. We also can't risk that vakh escaping. Suggestions?"

Arthur replies, "OK, I’m kinda new to this timeframe, but if it’s desperate and low on power, how do we ‘capture’ or ‘neutralize’ it safely if we want access to the ships boat?"

"Thaedznou answers, "We have methods that depend upon the circumstances. If the vakh isn't capable of harming anyone, we simply remove the infected parts. If that isn't possible, we'll use more violent means of neutralizing it. We try to jam its communications to prevent escape. In some cases we've used EMP weapons. There's less collateral damage than using conventional weapons."

Arthur continues, "Collecting hard intel is part of winning the overall conflict, and if this is an opportunity to grab a ‘live’ Vakh, maybe we take it? We’ve got time, though maybe not the kit, so if this isn’t something we want to do, maybe we disable the power source in place and strip the boat. We can also have Joe run an op on the dude, see if we can’t exploit what info its got before we shag its ass into the 'great electron beyond'.

"And I'm still concerned about these ‘local savages’ it mentions. We need to stay on top of the sensors, for either indigs or renegade/loose Vahk."

Mazun pipes up, "I would love for us to collect a live Vakh. There's so much we could learn!"

Thaedznou holds up his paws and gestures for Mazun to dampen his excitement. "We aren't equipped for that."

"That isn't exactly true," Captain Azafaghur says. "Captain Nokh was kind enough to give us information about their nongousz and faradhae kaegz technology. Our physicists were able to verify the science behind it. We could try it."

Thaedznou replies, "With all due respect, sir, if something goes wrong, we won't have anyone to bail us out. We should kill this vakh with an EMP charge or, better yet, with a direct shot from the ship's lasers. At least the drives will be salvageable."

Enthusiastically, Arthur says, "If we can grab this thing without riskin' the boat or the ship, I saw we take the chance. All you gotta lose is a few 'rejects' from cold sleep, or the 'great beyond', that you never had before. You stand to gain a shit-tonne if we can take this thing in one piece and subject it to a bit O' 'lectron water boardin'."

Joe sighs. "I'll go in; I'm the best prepared. And Arthur is the best equipped to get me out from inside. Once I'm out, we slag this motherfukher with a laser strike and move on. We're not equipped, prepared, or skilled to hold a captive Vakh."

Thaedznou shakes his head. "Too dangerous."

Joe continues, "What I expect once I'm inside is the Vakh will seal the air and shut off life support (if it was even running) and cut off my radio. It will attempt to convince you to supply its needs in return for me, although I doubt it plans on up holding its side of any bargain, as a captive crew member is its best bargaining chip. I should be OK inside, after all it wants a capable crew. My armor has enough air for 4 hours, probably longer as I'll not be combat active. But I don't want to in there more than 30 minutes. If I can't get what we need in that time, we're not going to get it. Stall by whatever means you can, play along with the Vakh, keep it compliant, pretend to be getting what it wants ready, and then when that 30 minutes expires, blast open the airlock and get me out. I ask one thing, Captain: Wait long enough to pick me up so I can fire the laser that blasts this Vakh into the ether."

"I still don't like it," Thaedznou says. "One doesn't go around poking sleeping oegaedzeroegvuerr." (The translation comes across as 10-meter, 2-ton reptilian predator with 15 cm teeth) "At some point it's going to wake up and bite you."

Captain Azafaghur replies, "It would be a mistake not to learn what we can from this Vakh. Arthur, are you confident that you can you can spring Joe from this obvious trap?"

"Yes, I am. Between my LAG and the iris valve opener, nothin' stoppin' me from openin' this can."

"Good. Proceed."

"Captain—"

"You're objections are duly noted, Commander."

"Sir, yes sir." Realizing that he's lost the argument, Thaedznou grabs the iris valve opener and joins the group heading for the solitary ship's boat.

Joe leaves his ACR and a bag of magazines in the ship's boat and picks up a heavy press jack in its place. He then asks Mazun, "Assuming these ships are the same internal layout—"

"They are. The Orruengoerr is a modified Angroghag class seeker and the ship that crashed into the downport is almost certainly one too. That means they're using the same class of ship's boat that we do."

"Fine. Where is the main computer access panel? If I get a chance, I want to know how to fry this vakh from the inside."

"Easy enough." Mazun gets up from his chair and walks into the cockpit. He bends down and gestures to the wall panel between the two cockpit seats. "It's right here. Meant to be easily accessible by either the pilot or co-pilot or by a third crewmember without disturbing either of the other two guys." Mazun gets out of the way so that Joe can see the spot.

"But that vakh might not grant you access to the cockpit. You'll have to get through the iris valve. And just so you know, there's another iris valve that leads to the drive room in the back."

Joe replies, "I don't expect he'll let me in the cockpit, but I didn't want to miss the opportunity if it arose. Plus there's nothing like holding a gun to someone's head—literally—to help persuade them to talk."

Arthur frowns. "Ok, so if it doesn't open the iris valves for you, how do you breach? If we've just got the one can opener, and I'm hangin' onto it to get your ass outta there, what's the plan? That sword of yours? If not, use some LAG rounds on it. Unfortunately, I don't think we've got any strip charges."

Joe replies, "If it doesn't open the cockpit, then you grab me out and we frag the Vakh with the ship's laser." He looks for objections. Seeing none, he says, "Ok, I'm ready. Let's go."

Next: Joe Goes Inside