NPC: Captain Nokh Khoen
Location: Pack Security Hospital
Josephus awakens and for the first time in years, his thoughts are the only ones
inside his head.
He can't remember the last time that was true.
He blinks away the sleep in his eyes and looks to his window. He can't see through the curtains, but judging by the amount of light straining to get in, it must be sunny. That's probably a good thing as he has a splitting headache.
He tries to rub his eyes but finds that he's bound to the bed at his forearms, biceps, calves, and thighs. He struggles against them but finds he can not move. He stops suddenly; there's someone else in the room with him.
A vargr rises from a couch in the room and yawns.
"You're awake. Good!" The vargr approaches Joe's bed. "How are you feeling?"
Josephus doesn't answer.
"Do you remember me?" the vargr asks.
Josephus tries to access the network but there's nothing. Not even static. He switches to memory and combs through his records trying for a pattern match. He finds it.
"Captain Nokh Khoen." The name brings up some easy to recall memories: a battle in space, the big vargr hugging him, new friends, a seizure.
"Good! That means the butchers didn't mess you up too much." He winks at Joe.
Josephus looks down at his restraints.
"Sorry, buddy. Safety protocols. The docs have to make sure you're not a threat to either us or yourself."
"I need water."
"Sure thing." Nokh grabs a squeezable plastic water bottle and aims the business end in Joe's throat.
Nokh's tail is wagging. "It's the least I can do." He pauses. "What else do you remember?"
"I remember waking up in sick bay with others...like me. The ship was under attack so I went to the closest turret, saw the gunner incapacitated, and took his place. I remember the battle and helping the ship get to safety. I remember how happy you and the rest of the Grvanzk Kurzik crew greeting me like a...hero."
"That's because you are a hero. In my pack anyway."
"We went back to base and...I can't remember anything after that.. except for a throbbing pain in my head."
"Yeah, that was the fukh'n vakh in your head trying to take over. You had a seizure. The medics induced a coma and sealed you in an EM-shielded cryoberth. We came out here to Tagan to get that vakh shit out of your head. They had to leave most of the wetware though. Ok, they wanted to remove it, and I threatened to rip their arms off. We compromised. They removed your wireless gear. There's no sign of any jacks for direct connects so they're sure you can't directly interface with any computers, besides what the rest of us do. They scrubbed out the CPU and kept you under observation just to be sure. They were pretty sure your memories would be intact and now that the vakh can't suppress your old ones, hopefully they'll come back and you'll remember your life before you were enslaved."
"I don't think there was much worth remembering."
"Nonsense. Anyway, I have to go get some ovagghog. I know you're on a strict diet," he gestures to the IV bags to the left of the bed," but do you need anything?"
"Well I'd like to have these removed," Joe indicates the straps at his wrists, "but I guess that isn't going to happen yet, so I'll settle for whatever you can tell me of the plans they have for me."
"I don't like the restraints any more that you do. Trust me. I've seen the old holovids from Gashikan, and I don't like seeing anyone in bondage." He says this assuming that Joe has seen these videos, which he likely hasn't or just can't recall, but the message comes across.
"I told them the restraints weren't necessary, but I got overruled." He looks up at the ceiling and shakes his head dismissively. "As for their plans, they told me it all depended on how you came through the operation. If the docs didn't turn you into a vegetable and you weren't a threat, then you'd be released." He pauses. "Some scientists said they wanted to study you, but I told the alphas that I want you in my pack. They didn't object, but they're planning on sending my pack out into the Wilds to hunt for big game rather than random recons. They wouldn't say what exactly, but it would be stuff to help the Pack worlds." He chuckles, showing too many teeth. "My report about all those Vakh ships spooked them. They didn't want to believe me. Just a wolf trying to puff up his image. But after they went through the sensor logs, it had their fur standing on end.
"So do you think you might be interested? It's gotta beat being a lab rat."
"Did you run that by your second in command, I recall she didn't exactly trust me." Joe smiles. "I bet she'd recommend leaving me for the scientists."
"Who are you kidding? She wanted to lobotomize you herself!"
Both of them laugh.
Joe says, "I was hoping I'd get some chance to spend part of that 'bonus' you declared as we made it to the jump limit—I can still see that glint in your eye—so count me in. I've a feeling there are bigger and better bonuses to be had."
Nokh throws his head back and howls his pleasure.
Joe continues, "Plus I've a five-year debt to settle out there," Joe indicates upwards with a backwards nod of his head, "and I'll get pretty little chance to do that playing lab rat down here."
"Don't bite off your paw for that. The pinkies who developed that computer virus in the first place are the ones to blame. It's hard to run away when someone has you on a leash." He pauses to let that sink in. "Ok, I need that ovagghog. I'll be back." With that Nokh leaves the room.
NPC: Captain Nokh Khoen, Dr. Kariingemidushuu
Location: Pack Security Hospital
After Nokh came back from his ovagghog run, a male human doctor entered the room
with a female vargr nurse.
"How are you feeling today?" he asks Josephus.
"I've got a headache, but ok otherwise."
"That's to be expected. We can get you something for that."
"That's OK. I've had enough 'medication'," Joe almost spits the word, "the last five years. But I could use another drink of water or perhaps something to eat."
"An appetite! That's a good sign," the doctor replies. "What would you like?"
Joe turns to the doctor with a puzzled look on his face, "Oh, I get to choose! We just ate what ship gave us. What would you recommend?"
The doctor is caught off guard. He thinks for a couple of seconds. "Well, I don't know what the ship fed you, so let's keep it simple. How about oatmeal with gidzenevoer berries?"
"That sounds wonderful."
The doctor translates Joe's order to the nurse who enters it on a tablet.
"In the meantime, let's have a look at you." The doctor focuses on reading the machines monitoring Josephus. After a couple of minutes, he says with a smile, "Everything looks normal." He turns to Nokh. "We're not detecting any EM signals from Joe's remaining implants, and all emissions look normal for cybernetics."
The doctor turns back to Joe. "We're going to keep you here for another day or two to monitor you. We just want to make sure you're ok."
"That's fine, but I'm going to be bored."
The doctor smiles. "When you're feeling up to it, you can go for a walk around the hospital or outside in the courtyard. The fresh air will do you some good."
Joe gestures to the monitor extending from the wall. "Can I watch videos?"
"Yeah, sure. You can go online. It responds to voice commands. Just say, 'Fae', and it will listen to your voice. Like this, 'Fae'..." A silver icon appears on the screen. It looks roughly triangular with flattened corners. "Display last night's gravball match between the Tagan City Tarrrgh and the Roeth Gnakh." The monitor shows two teams, 90% vargr 10% human, standing on a padded floor. Ten meters above them and at opposite ends of a twenty meter diameter circular court are identical rings. When a buzzer sounds, a vargr wearing a black and white vertically striped shirt throws a red ball straight up into the air. Gravity in the room drops and the players leap to heights that are only possible in low gravity environments.
"Do you feel strong enough to walk?" the doctor asks, still speaking in Galanglic.
The nurse says in Gvegh, "Uhhh, doctor."
Joe understands her but isn't sure how. Did he learn Gvegh on his own or is it the cybernetic implant?
"Yes?" He follows her eyes down to the bed. "Oh yes, the restraints. Sorry about that. Just a precaution." He removes the arm and leg restraints.
Nokh looks on as the doctor and nurse help Joe stand up. He gingerly walks to the window. Outside he sees a small city with buildings 10 to 20 stories high. Grav vehicles fly around. In the distance, he see forested covered hills. The sky is blue and a yellow sun is shining. Joe can't remember if he's ever seen such a peaceful sight. There's no sign of wreckage, smoke, or fire. Looking at the street below, he sees people going about their business in a casual manner. No running from gunfire. No screaming. No fear. He wonders if every world was like this before the Vakh, before the War.
Joe turns to the monitor. "Miss Fae, if you please, show me a live video feed of the planet viewed from orbit, one from overhead my current position if possible."
There's a chirp to acknowledge Joe's request. The grav ball video pauses then disappears. A black screen takes its place. The white text, "Accessing satellite network," appears. A world suddenly appears in the black space, filling most of the screen. The sun is behind the satellite, illuminating the northern hemisphere. There's a continent with mostly white clouds veiling part of it. Far to the west, darker clouds have covered the coast. A coastal city on the southern portion of the continent is highlighted with a dot and an arrow. It says, "Your Location: Tagan City."
Joe turns to the Captain. "It certainly is a beautiful planet, just as beautiful from space as it is on the surface. We didn't get to see planets that often aboard the Bragging Rights, but when we did, they were always flawed, even when looked from orbit." He turns back to look at the monitor, "But then again, I guess you know. You've been around too haven't you?"
"Yes, and that's why we fight so hard to keep Tagan this way. It is our den."
The nurse's tablet chimes. In Gvegh, she says to the doctor, "Breakfast is ready. I'll go get it." As she leaves the room, Nokh watches her go. The doctor doesn't seem to notice. He's assisting Joe back to bed.
After the doctor—Joe finally notices his ID badge says "Dr. Kariingemidushuu"—helps Joe back to bed, he asks him, "Do you feel up to having visitors? Pack Security would like to meet with you today. I've managed to hold them off pending a post-surgery evaluation of your condition. If you're tired," he looks over at Nokh, "I'll tell them you're not ready and I trust your captain will back me up."
"Absolutely!" Nokh chimes in.
Joe sighs. "If I send them away today, they'll be only twice as eager tomorrow!" He pauses. "Still, I'm not ready for a barrage of questions. Tell them I'll meet with one of their representatives. No wait!" Joe's eyes open wide as he suddenly has an idea, he turns to the captain and asks, "Nokh, do you know of one you trust that I can ask for by name?"
"Easy." Nokh's tail wags. "My CO, Recon Pack Five Leader Rerrgh Kfarollakh."
"Tell them I'll speak with Recon Pack Five Leader Rerrgh Kfarollakh. That way I only have to keep track of one interviewer."
"Ok," Dr. Kariingemidushuu says.
"Oh, and tell them I want a copy of the audio and video of the session. I'm hoping that some of their questions might stimulate my brain to fill in some of the holes in my memory."
"We can set that up in this room through Fae if you want."
"That should be fine if Miss Fae doesn't mind."
The doctor shoots a glance over at Nokh, but neither one says anything.
"I'm sure that won't be a problem," the doctor replies. After a brief pause, he says, "Ok, Joe. I'll let them know."
With that Dr. Kariingemidushuu and the nurse leave the room.
Joe dips his spoon into the oatmeal and takes his first mouthful. "Mmmmnnn, delicious. Reminds me of something my mother used to make." He looks down at his bowl and slowly stirs the contents. "I can't remember her face, but I can see her standing by the hearth stirring the cookpot."
"You will," Nokh says reassuringly. He sniffs the oatmeal. "Now you're making me hungry. It looks like mud but smells good. I'm going to see if I can get some of that."
"Ok see you later."
Nokh leaves the room.
NPC: Captain Nokh Khoen, Dr. Kariingemidushuu, RP5 Leader Rerrgh Kfarollakh
Location: Pack Security Hospital
Nokh returned with a bowl of the oatmeal and ate it, commenting, "Not bad. I can
see why you like it."
The two make small talk for a while then Nokh takes a quick nap.
Nokh's ears twitch, and then he wakes up. He straightens his clothes and stands as there's a knock at the door.
Dr. Kariingemidushuu peeks in then opens the door wider to enter. He's followed by a middle-aged vargr—though older than Nokh—in the uniform of someone of rank, and two younger vargr, both male. One of the younger vargr, the larger of the two, waits by the door while the other accompanies the important vargr, but stays a step or two behind. All the vargr in the room sniff the air, gauging the scent of the room.
Dr. Kariingemidushuu says in Galanglic, "Joe, this is Recon Pack Five Leader Rerrgh Kfarollakh." He then switches to Gvegh, "Sir, this is Joe, the man who Captain Khoen rescued from the downed Vakh ship."
Rerrgh nods at Joe then turns to Nokh. Nokh salutes but then Rerrgh grabs his forearm in a less formal greeting.
The two talk in Gvegh and smile a lot. Rerrgh says, "Good to see you, Nokh. Staying out of trouble?"
"Yes, sir. You haven't taken me out prowling, so I've kept my nose clean."
Raerrgh indicates the younger vargr tailing him. "This is my assistant, Ensign Raeluk Susuntough." Raeluk and Nokh sniff the air in acknowledgement of each other. "He's also my translator. So let's get to it."
Raerrgh turns to address Joe with Raeluk at his side translating in Galanglic.
"Hello Joe." Raerrgh sniffs the air to gauge Joe's scent. "I hope you are well. That was a brave thing you did for Captain Khoen. He speaks very highly of you and wants you to join his pack.
"As you know, Captain Khoen has spent a good deal of time in the Wilds searching for salvage and reporting back to us on what his pack has found. In order to properly deal with the Vakh threat, we need to go further, deeper into the Wilds to sniff around. We've received reports of some promising worlds that will either hold allies or resources we can put to use to defend ourselves.
"Nokh here feels that your experience will prove useful in these hunts. We hope that you'll be able to recover your memories and these will provide your pack with the intel you need to survive and be successful on the hunt.
"Is this something you want to do?"
Joe replies, "It hurts knowing I've lost so much of my memories. I'm not sure whether getting them back will hurt more, but I definitely want to get back what I can. As to helping, the Captain already asked me to join his crew and I accepted."
Nokh wags his tail and howls with joy.
"Good!" Raerrgh turns to face Nokh. "What Captain Nokh doesn't know is that Pack Security is recruiting consultants from among a batch of cryoberth survivors from the Imperial Civil War. These people, although asleep for the past seventy to eighty years, may provide us with the expertise we need to identify relic technology out in the Wilds."
Nokh frowns, his ears twitch. He asks in Gvegh, "Are these soldiers, sir?"
Raeluk doesn't translate Nokh's question nor Raerrgh's reply. "Some are. Is this a problem?"
"I hope not, sir," Nokh answers. "Do we know what faction they fought with, sir? Some of those humans weren't too happy with our ancestor brethren invading their space. They may take it out on us."
"Yes, we have psychologists working with them to figure that out. And it isn't all humans. We have vargr too."
Nokh's ears shoot up. "Corsairs?"
"We don't think so."
Nokh growls. "Sir, we can't allow corsairs from that era to roam free in this one."
"We're well aware of that, Captain."
Nokh backs down. His tail falls between his legs. "No disrespect intended, sir."
The conversation returns to Galanglic. "We hope that you'll help the human cryoberth survivors understand that humans are welcome in the Tagan Pack and that they don't need to fear us, but rather it is the Vakh that needs to be feared. You, Joe, should prove to be proof of that.
"Do you have any questions for us?"
Joe rubs his forehead quizzically. "I thought this was going to be your opportunity to quiz me!"
Raeluk whines a bit, then says, "We did that already, before the operation." He looks to the doctor.
Dr. Kariingemidushuu says, "I'm not surprised he doesn't remember."
Raeluk scratches behind his ear. "We downloaded what we could from the chip in your head, then while you were still immobilized, we conducted a verbal interrogation."
Joe opens his mouth in shock, his eyes wide with surprise. "Er, eh, what?" He gathers his emotions and facial expressions. "I mean...errh...I mean, that was probably a prudent idea, I remember so little before waking up this morning—things keep coming back in flashes. I hope I was able to supply you with some useful insight!"
Raeluk answers, "Pack Security is going over the intel. I'm sure that it will influence future reconnaissance missions."
"As to my questions, there are millions of details but I'm sure they'll settle out. I only really have one big question: How soon can I be cleared to leave this place?" Realizing this might upset the medical staff if they overhear, Joe adds quickly, "No offense doctor, but this is a hospital, and I'd really like to start experiencing more than just this room."
Dr. Kariingemidushuu smiles. "None taken. It's actually a good sign that you want to get out of here. We'd be concerned if you didn't want to leave. We still need to keep you under observation, but you can spend some time out in the courtyard with Captain Nokh. You'll have to remain in a wheelchair though. You're still recovering, and I'd prefer you stay off your feet, at least for today."
Joe turns to Raeluk and asks, "So apart from the doctor's concerns is there anything else keeping me in this hospital?"
"No. When the doctor is satisfied, so will we."
"So that leaves all those little details."
"How soon is this mission to start?"
Raeluk says, "The mission will start when we've assembled the entire team and had a chance to brief everyone. I'd expect it to take a few days."
"Where am I to live after I leave this hospital and before the mission starts?"
"Wherever you like, though we'd prefer that it was close by."
Joe nods, "Ah, I see. Any chance I could move straight to the ship, Nokh?"
Nokh replies, "She's undergoing repairs at Igodosakfell. She can't jump this far. You're welcome to stay with me until we ship out."
"If that's not going to be a problem for you, that would be great! The logistical problems of having HQ four parsecs inside a major rift."
Nokh says, "I wouldn't have offered if it was."
Raeluk adds, "Igodosakfell is still vulnerable to attack. Having our lair four parsecs in the rift is a necessary precaution. Should Igodosakfell fall, we can always rebuild from the haven of Tagan."
"What do you know about these other sleepers and when can I meet with them?"
Raeluk sighs. "I'm not at liberty to say much about them except for the fact that, like you, we feel that they'll be quite useful on missions into the Wilds. We can probably arrange a meeting with two of them this afternoon. The third one is being defrosted as we speak."
Joe shakes his head. "Can we postpone that till tomorrow? I'm feeling better, but would like to meet the others standing on my own two feet and wearing something other than a hospital smock." Joe picks at the robe he's wearing and lets it drop back into place.
Raeluk shrugs. "Sure. Fine by me."
"Whereabouts into the wild are you thinking of sending us?"
"That's classified until the mission briefing."
"What is my status and position in the crew, in your forces, to the Pack in general?"
"Mission specialist: combat operations and reconnaissance. In essence, you're a consultant. We think that's a mutually beneficial position."
"That sounds fine regarding the job," Joe looks at the floor, "but I was more meaning my belonging status. Am I member, asset, foreign mercenary," Joe's eyes look up hopeful, "citizen? I've spent the last five years as a slave with nothing but the ship to give my loyalty to. I'd like to think I can give my loyalty to something more, but before I do, I want to be clear what my status is and what I'm pinning my expectations to."
Both vargr officers wag their tails, look to each other, and smile. Raeluk turns back to Joe and speaks, "We were hoping you'd say something like that. We didn't know where your loyalties lie, other than with him," he nods to Nokh. "We weren't sure if you wanted to be a citizen or preferred to be a lone wolf. If you want to be a citizen, I'll get the paperwork started today. With Nokh as a sponsor, let alone a reference, you'll be rushed right through the system. You'll be a citizen before you ship out."
Nokh howls his delight.
Joe smiles from ear to ear, "Get the paperwork started."
Raeluk smiles and nods his head.
"And of course, it's a small but important detail: how much will I be paid?"
Raeluk chuckles. "A thousand Pack credits per week."
Joe smiles then raises an eyebrow and looks towards the captain. "Plus a full crew bounty share?"
Nokh laughs heartily. "Of course!"
Joe's story continues when he meets Mazun and Darrurz.