Character: Arthur McClendon
NPC: Dr. Zan Aegzgorr
Location: A hospital in a city
Arthur wakes up in a bright sunlit room. Although tired and still a little
weak, he nonetheless feels somewhat rejuvenated. Nothing hurts and that's good.
He sits up in bed and peers through the window; the curtains are drawn back. In
the distance, he sees forested hills underneath a yellow sun, mid-morning
perhaps, however long the day here may be.
The room looks and smells clean, though the musk of vargr is present at tolerable levels. Looking to his right, Arthur spots an empty made bed and beyond that a door.
Curious about his surroundings, Arthur swings his legs over the side and discovers that he is naked save for some loose fitting standard issue hospital gown that covers his torso and not much more. Everything that should be there still is. He examines his body for signs of incisions or scars but finds none.
Arthur gingerly slides off the bed and puts some weight on his legs. They feel tired, as if he spent all night running, but they're supporting his weight. His feet ache with every step but he makes it to the window without collapsing. He rests his arms on the windowsill to take some of the weight off.
Outside lies a small, modern city. The buildings are a mere 10-20 stories in height. Grav vehicles fly in the distance. The street below has electric cars. There are various shops with vargr of all ages going about their business. All things considered, it looks rather peaceful. It certainly doesn't look like a slaver's camp.
The door to the room opens, and Arthur hears a gasp. "What are you doing up?" It's the female vargr from the room he woke up in. Dr. Zan Aegzgorr was her name. She isn't angry, just surprised, and her Galanglic is good.
"I thought I'd check out the view," Arthur replies, pleased to hear his voice is working.
"Well, there will be plenty of time for that later," she says with a smile. "Please come back to bed. While I'm pleased to see that your strength has returned, you still need your rest."
Arthur complies with her request.
Once he's back on the bed, Dr. Aegzgorr grabs hold of a monitor tethered to an arm extending from the wall and directs it so that both she and Arthur can face it. Arthur's vitals are displayed. "Looking good," she says, obviously pleased. "Now let's test your memory. Do you remember your name?"
"Do you remember my name?"
"Doctor Zan Aegzgorr. Did I pronounce that right?"
She chuckles. "Yes. Pleased to meet you, Arthur. What's the last thing you remember?"
Arthur recounts how he and his men were under attack by vargr corsairs at Dekilari, the explosion that knocked him out, and getting stuffed into the cryotube. "Then I woke up here. Wherever here is."
She takes a deep breath then says, "This will come as a shock but you're on the planet Tagan, which is four parsecs into the Windhorn Rift." She addresses the monitor, "Fae, display astrographic charts with us centered." Arthur's vitals are replaced by a star chart showing the world of Tagan centered. "Zoom out and reposition to show both Tagan and Dekilari." The monitor complies. Arthur estimates Tagan is about 40 parsecs from Dekilari.
"So, am I your prisoner? Because I don't feel like one."
"Oh no, not at all. We rescued you."
"Vargr rescuing humans from other vargr? You do realize how strange that sounds."
"Well, we didn't rescue you from other vargr."
"I don't know. I wasn't told." Zan sees the confusion on Arthur's face. "I haven't told you the shocking part yet. Do you have any idea how much time has passed?"
"Not a clue, but judging from the distance I figure it has to be at least a few months."
"It's been 80 years."
"You've been in that cryopod for 80 years."
"That isn't possible."
"It is and you're living proof."
She goes on to explain that the Imperial Civil War carried on for another eight years and then one of the factions released an AI computer virus which spread quicker than it could be contained. Starships attacked worlds, orbital cities voided themselves, computer controlled machines ran amok. "Tagan was spared thanks to our location here in the Rift. Few ships are capable of covering the four parsec gap between us and our closest neighbors."
Arthur searches her face for signs of deception but can't find any.
"I know it's hard to accept, but please know that you're among friends here." She places a paw over his hand in a gesture of sympathy. "You're not alone. There are many human refugees here, as well as some whose families go back centuries to when the previous Imperiums ruled this part of space."
"Can I meet them?"
"Yes, absolutely. In fact, if you're up to it, I'll arrange for you to meet other humans from Dekilari."
"Yes, do you know a Mazun Contreras?"
Arthur recalls the engineer from the IISS that was stationed on Dekilari with him. "Yes, I do!"
"He was revived a day before you and wants to see you."
"There's still one thing you haven't told me."
Her ears shoot up. "What do you want to know?"
"You said I was rescued, but didn't say where from."
Her ears droop. "I don't know. That information hasn't been declassified by Pack Security."
Arthur frowns. "40 parsecs is a long way, and you say Tagan is isolated by a jump-4. My recovery would seem to be contraindicated. I'd be interested in knowing the details. For instance, who, or what, precisely, is in control of this world. If what you say is true, this looks like a lot of effort and expense to recover an anti-vargr fighter. My mindset in regards to Vargr doesn't exactly extend to them pulling this kind of treatment for enemies."
She takes a deep breath and lets it out. "Tagan is the capital world of the Tagan Pack, a confederation of nine worlds." She turns to address the monitor, "Fae, show political map of the Tagan Pack." The monitor outlines nine worlds.
"Tagan was the one world in this group that didn't suffer damage from the AI Computer Virus. After decades of isolation, we sent out reconnaissance missions to contact the other worlds, starting with Igodosakfell. We've made it our solemn duty to help others rebuild civilization back to what it was, hopefully better.
"As you might imagine, this is a monumental task and we need all the help we can get. Pack Security made the decision to defrost you and several others because, as it's been explained to me, your experience and skills should prove useful to Pack Society. That doesn't mean you're a slave or prisoner or whatever other word you can come up with. You're a free wolf, errr man. I know that Pack Security wants to meet with you in the hopes of recruiting you to go work with them, but it is my understanding that, once you're well enough, you'll be free to walk out that door and make your own path."
"No buts. You can go be among your own kind." She can see his surprise. "Yes, humans live in the Pack, including right here on Tagan. Except for Igodosakfell, they make up anywhere from 5 to 30% of the population of our worlds. Humans work here in this hospital among out staff. If you'd like to meet them as well, I can arrange it. It certainly made Mazun feel better."
She pauses to let that sink in, then says, "Here in the Pack, humans and vargr have set aside our differences because we share a common enemy: the Vakh."
"The Vakh. It's the nickname for the AI Virus controlled ships and machines that have run amok in the Wilds. On Tagan, there's a creature called a vakh. It's a blood sucking parasite that latches onto its victims and hooks into their nervous systems. It controls them, but only in the most rudimentary fashion: eat food and defend itself. I don't know who came up with the phrase, but it seems apt.
"And the Vakh doesn't care if you're human or vargr. All it sees are organic lifeforms that need to die or be enslaved. Yes, enslave. I just had a chat with Dr. Kariingemidushuu who told me about a patient of his who was fitted with Vakh-controlled cybernetics. I know starship crews complain that they're slaves to their ships, but they never mean it literally."
She turns the monitor to face Arthur. "You can research some more on your own. The computer system is addressed as 'Fae' and is programmed to accept commands in both Gvegh and Galanglic."
"Any chance I can get some real clothes?"
"Sure. We have your measurements on file, we can have some delivered today."
"And what time are you off? I'd like to buy you dinner, though I think I'll need to owe you for the cost."
She laughs heartily. "Oh I like you. You'll have no problem fitting in."
"Thank you, Doctor Aegzgorr."
"Please, call me Zan."
"Ok, Zan. I think I have some research to do in the bit..."
"Go right ahead. Don't overdo it though. You're still recuperating. If you feel tired, take a break."
"Ok, I will."
With that Dr. Aegzgorr leaves Arthur alone with the computer terminal.
Arthur uses Fae to pull up info on Tagan, recent history, starting with newsfeeds, and information on the Vakh plague.
The entry about vakh proves interesting:
Arthur's story continues with: "Arthur Meets Mazun and Darrurz"