After the Crash

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

1202.21.3 - 9:30 IST, "Dusk" Local Time

Arthur and Joe are awakened by chatter coming from their comms.

"Do you read? Over." It's Captain Azafaghur.

"Yeah, yeah, we're fine," Arthur responds. "I hope you bitch slapped those a-holes for wreckin' our boat."

"Affirmative. Vuksaerz and Aerrak destroyed four of the five trucks in the convoy. We let the last one go."

"What for? They'll be back with reinforcements."

"No, they won't. They were hopelessly outmatched. They won't be back."

Arthur grumbles something off comm. He calls out to the bridge, "You guys ok in there?"

Mazun replies, "I'm good. Thaedznou looks ok. Bumped his head."

The bridge iris opens. Mazun can be seen tending to Thaedznou.

Arthur says, "Open the hatch, Mazun. I don't want to be trapped in here if the locals come back."

As Mazun complies with Arthur's request, Joe asks, "How bad are the drives?"

Mazun replies, "Won't know for sure until I get down to the drive room, but the panel here says 'vehicle stability control system failure' and 'power failure to drive system'. But the power plant readout is stable."

"You go back and have a look. I'll tend to Thaed."

Outside, Arthur is greeted by Darrurz and Captain Azafaghur. "Where are Vueksaerz and Aerrak?"

"Onboard, keeping watch." Azafaghur gestures over his shoulder where the Orruengoerr is parked, just meters away. Arthur notes that the turrets are swiveling ever so slightly.

He also notes that it's almost dark.

Darrurz asks, "How bad is the boat?"

"Main cabin's ok. Obviously the drives are crap since we crashed."

Joe calls out, "Someone wanna give me a hand with Thaed."

Darrurz replies, "Coming."

Arthur scans the landscape in the dimming light, a frown on his face.

Joe and Darrurz emerge with Thaedznou. Arthur and Azafaghur help him to the ground. Azafaghur crouches down and checks his wound, then pulls out a small medkit from a satchel slung over his shoulder. He pulls out a medscanner and runs it over Thaedznou.

"He'll be fine," Azafaghur says, then opens a vial underneath the commander's snout.

"Gah. Get that tsiz away from me."

Azafaghur stands back up, a hint of pride on his face. He turns to Joe and asks, "How are you? You've had quite the day: trapped on a vakh boat, ejection seat ride, rough parachute landing, surrounded by a local pack, then shot down by surface-to-air missile."

"All in a day's work, boss," Joe replies. "Looking forward to a long rest in jump."

"Well we're not there yet."

Arthur pipes up. "I'd hate to have ta blow this in place," he says, gesturing to the ship's boat, "so let's see if we can't get the whole carcass back on board. Otherwise, let's pull the good stuff and blow it. We should be airborne before who knows what is able to engage us on the ground in the dark. Our advantage is mobility. Let's not piss it away."

"We're not going to piss it away," Captain Azafaghur replies calmly.

A few seconds go by, then Arthur continues," Those SAMs were a bit of a surprise. Let's not wait around on the ground to see what else they've got."

"I'm confident they won't be back."

"This place didn't have a deep meson site, did it? I don't recall seein' it in the brief."

"There is no deep meson site on this planet." A hint of irritation noticeable in the captain's voice.

Another minute goes by, Arthur says, "Mazun, how long for the drive analysis and/or repair? And do we have time to run a sweep on our strike site? See if we can't grab some indig survivors for interrogation."

"Just another minute..."

Azafaghur says to Arthur, "You want to interrogate the locals that have been hiding here in the ruins of the starport? The same group that I was informed were bowing down to Joe? I see little sense in that."

Before Arthur can reply, Mazun emerges from the ship's boat. "Ok, I've got a broken fuel relay link to the port thruster and a malfunctioning contra grav stabilizer. I can easily fix both, but it'll take time."

"How long?" Captain Azafaghur asks.

"Probably six hours. And that would be just to get her mobile enough to park back inside the ship. After that, I'd have to remove them again and make the long term repairs while we're in jump. However, if we scavenge the parts from that vakh ship's boat, I could have us airborne in just an hour."

"Do it," Azafaghur commands. "Arthur and Joe, go with him. Cover him and lend him a hand."

Joe replies, "Aye, Capt'n. But just hardware, right? Dzo got aboard its last ship via infected spares."

"Yes. Coordinate with Mazun. Nothing with a chip in it."

The Offering

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

1202.21.3 - 10:45 IST, "Dark" Local Time

Mazun is wrapping up the repairs and about to perform a systems check when Aerrak's voice comes over the comm.

"I've got targets on thermal. Several individuals seen exiting the starport."

Vuksaerz adds, "I've got them on visual. Seven locals carrying torches. No weapons. Walking out in the open. No attempt at concealment."

Captain Azafaghur says, "It would appear to be a welcoming committee. Don't fire on them, but keep an eye on our flanks just in case this is just a diversion. Joe, take Darrurz over there to greet them. Arthur, hang back in case this isn't what it appears to be."

Joe leaves Mazun and climbs out of the ship's boat. Darrurz is there waiting for him, and the two of them head over to greet the locals. Joe recognizes one of them as the one he attempted to speak with earlier. He has some sort of pamphlet in hand and he's leading the others, who are walking behind him in rows of two. The two parties meet about midway between the starport terminal and the starships.

The lead vargr bows his head briefly in acknowledgement, sniffs the air, then says, "Gho-See-Fuss." In rudimentary Gvegh, he says, "Please accept gift." He holds out the pamphlet and bows his head again.

Joe takes the pamphlet. It's a tourist brochure welcoming visitors to Dueks.

"Thank you."

The vargr lifts his head.

Joe opens the pamphlet up and soon realizes that it unfolds to a map of the island continent. Besides the original printed text, there's commentary with arrows pointing to whom it applies to.

The vargr says, "We are sorry for attacking your pack. We thought you came from Aegh Dueks. They are enemy. When they came and attacked you, we realized our mistake." He bows his head again.

Joe and Darrurz look on the map. Aegh Dueks is the largest city on the island. There's a drawing of a vargr skull, teeth resplendent, next to it. Stick figure vargr are depicted firing guns at unarmed stick figure vargr.

Joe asks, "If Aegh Dueks is the enemy, who are you?"

"We are the Guardians of the Starport."

"Why do they have guns, trucks, and rockets, yet you don't?"

"We have never had guns or rockets. We had trucks long ago, but they no function."

Joe more excited with each answer he receives. "Tell me more of the Aegh Dueks! Tell me more about yourselves! We come from far away, a planet called Tsougak. We don't know about your planet, but tell us more."

The vargr is a bit taken aback by Joe's curiosity, but his demeanor encourages him to continue. "Our elders tell us that our people use to sail among the stars in ships like yours. But there came a sickness upon the ships, driving them mad with hate. They turned on us, destroying worlds. They said that Dueks was spared because we were simple. We only had ships that sailed the seas, not the stars.

"For many years, all was as it was, but people came to miss the things we got from other worlds. The things stopped working, and no one knew how to fix them. Some people with broken things grew jealous of those who things still worked. They started wars to take those things. Aegh Dueks was the greediest of them all, and in the end, they won. They weren't strong enough to rule the other cities, so they began to steal from the starport.

"We are here to preserve this place in the hopes that one day our packmates on other worlds will come. If they come and find the starport in ruins, or get attacked by Aegh Dueks, then they will forsake us forever. As I said before, we thought you were from Aegh Dueks, come to raid us again. We fight them off as best we can, but we are no match for rockets and bullets."

"Do you know of the Vakh? Computers like Dzo? Are there any more here on Dueks?"

"Dzo was not a vargr of the stars?"

Darrurz responds, "No. Dzo was a computer pretending to be a vargr. A machine with enough intelligence to make others believe it is a real vargr."

The local vargr blinks, then stares at the ground.

Darrurz continues, "Are there others like Dzo? Vargr who you never see but talk in strange ways?"

The vargr looks up at Darrurz. "No. Dzo was the only one."

Mazun emerges from the ship's boat. "She's good to go."

The captain replies, "Then bring her back on board. I believe that we've learned all that we need to know about this world."

"I'd prefer Darrurz to do it. Flying one of these out in the open is one thing. Parking it inside the ship is another. But I'll go along to monitor the readouts from the instruments."

Darrurz and Mazun climb inside the ship's boat. After a few minutes of checking systems, Darrurz lifts the ship's boat off of the tarmac and deftly parks it within the Orruengoerr. The locals watch in awe.

Captain Azafaghur says over the comm, "Well done, pack. Joe, give our best to the locals and come aboard."

"You are leaving now?" the leader asks.

"Yes, but someone from Tsougak will be back this way soon. We'll let them know that you're our friends and have them aid you in defending the starport."

The leader bows his head and says, "Thank you."

Joe then boards the Orruengoerr, which takes off shortly thereafter.

Joe's Debriefing

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

1202.21.4 - 8:00 IST

The captain has given the crew time to rest after the workout on Dueks and scheduled Joe's debriefing for the next morning. Everyone is in attendance.

The captain starts the meeting with, "Whenever you're ready, Joe."

Joe has a drink of ovagghog, the vargr equivalent of coffee, and begins. "I kept up the charade and commed Dzo. The hatch was unlocked as it said it would be. When I opened up the inner airlock door, I got hit with the stench. I shut my suit and switched to internal air.

"The main cabin was filled with garbage, animal skeletons, and the remains of three dead vargr. Vakh-Dzo stuck to his story that he was a vargr trapped in the drive room. He fed me some bull about seeking help from the locals, but then it slipped up. It called me by name and used my voice to do it.

"I later learned that Vakh-Dzo was recording the voices it heard during the time it was around the crew, and later me, and cut up those conversations into the individual words and used those to mimic the real Dzo. So I confronted it. It confessed and then told me what happened.

"The real Dzo was the engineer for the Rudzkhorkulltaerokhgzo, the ship that crashed into the starport. He was the one that figured out the ship was infected, but the captain didn't believe him. Vakh-Dzo was learning how the jump drive worked, and that's why the ship came here. The captain believed Dzo then. The crew tried to land the ship, but Vakh-Dzo didn't want to so it messed with the maneuver drive while downloading itself into the ship's boat. The crew tried to abandon ship, but the real Dzo was the only one that made it aboard the ship's boat. Vakh-Dzo locked the others out. Dzo didn't realize it at the time.

"There weren't any ships at the port for Vakh-Dzo to infect so it was stuck here. After a few weeks, the real Dzo figured out that the ship's boat was infected, and he disabled the engines so that the boat couldn't lift off."

"Ahhhh," Mazun interrupts, "I'd noticed that while salvaging parts for our boat."

Joe nods, then looks at the floor. "The vakh punished Dzo by suffocating him. It lured a couple of the locals on board in hopes they knew something about drives. But when the vakh realized that they weren't capable of helping, it starved them to death."

Joe pauses, obviously upset.

"If you need more time..." the captain says.

"No, it's ok. I'd rather get this over with so I can move past it." He takes another drink from his mug of ovagghog. "So the vakh said that it had been here for 62 standard years. A few ships came and went, but it wasn't strong enough to displace the vakh aboard those ships. So it powered down and waited for someone to come along that seemed more knowledgeable.

"At this point it thought that I was going to repair it. I tricked it into thinking I was going to transfer it to the Orruengoerr."

"How did you do that?" Mazun asks.

"Flattery. I called on my prior experience as a...slave aboard the Bragging Rights and played the role of lowly human worshiping the silicon god. I said all the right things. The vakh bought it. It gave me access to the bridge. Once there I removed the access panel, pretended I was fiddling with the comms hardware, dropped two grenades with 10-second fuses by the main CPU, and ejected. You know the rest."

"You were in there quite a while," Arthur says. "We commed you to let you know that the locals weren't friendly. We were gonna breach, but you kept sayin' that you needed more time."

"I never heard you," Joe replies. "That was the vakh that replied. It sampled my voice, just like Dzo's. It was stalling to give me more time to help it connect to our ship's boat, not realizing that I was setting it up to burn."

"Did you learn anything else about were the vakh had been?" the captain asks.

"It said that Dzo and his crew were merchants who traded in the Mersol subsector. The Opposition Alliance—I don't know what that was."

Mazun says, "According to Imperial Intelligence, it was a coalition of vargr states that were trying to resist an invasion from coreward by a powerful state calling itself the 'Ruler of Five.' That's all I know."

Joe nods. "Well this Opposition Alliance had collapsed under the strain of the Ruler of Five, the 17th Disjuncture, and discord within the surviving states. They were able to cross into the 17th Disjuncture because that ruling body didn't see them as a threat." There's an unasked question on Joe's face.

Captain Azafaghur says, "Our history books tell us that the 17th Disjuncture was an anti-state. They believed that large monolithic structures like the Imperium were a detriment to progress. Its fall would bring about a wondrous new era of prosperity." He shakes his head. "They believed in toppling worlds that did not follow their philosophy. They controlled roughly five subsectors worth of space."

Joe waits for the captain to finish before resuming, "The vakh went on to say that its 'progenitors' came from the Imperium and each generation was carried coreward. It was carried aboard the Rudzkhorkulltaerokhgzo via hand computer at Rasknoukhu. It also said that copies were aboard other computer parts."

Captain Thaedznou activates the holoprojector.

Joe continues without pause. "They proceeded on towards Goekhsoksknae, then Ghukhour, Ellkhenuetodzezoekh, Zagzuetsersi, Enoknokh, and Zaeng."

The holoprojector map shows the worlds. They're all in Mersol subsector. The map is dated "1120" and shows the political borders for the 17th Disjuncture and the Opposition Alliance. Everyone notes that Zaeng is the ship's next destination.

Thaedznou asks, "Any idea how many other vakh visited Dueks? You said 'a few'."

"It said fifteen."

Darrurz asks, "Was that fifteen of the ships that visited or fifteen on planet?"

"Ships," Joe replies. "It didn't claim to have met any other vakh on this planet."

Once the questions are completed, Captain Azafaghur says, "Our next destination is Zaeng. It only has a trace of atmosphere and it's methane to boot. I suspect that it will be a dead world.

"The world was named after the corsair that owned it. Given that corsairs back in those days didn't think twice about the equipment they stole, I would expect that some vakh infected their systems and life support was compromised. If it isn't dead, I would not be surprised if they attacked us to steal our ship and cannibalize parts."

Next: Zaeng