Characters: Mazun Contreras, Darrurz, Arthur McClendon, Joseph
NPC: Captain Nokh Khoen, Pack Leader Kfarollakh
Location: Arthur's room at the hospital
There's a knock at the door followed by its opening. Darrurz notes the scent of
the previously met Pack Security personnel. The two vargr and one human enter
the room. The vargr sniff the air while the human looks all around, noting the
All three acknowledge Darrurz and Mazun with a nod and/or hello.
The eldest looking vargr asks Mazun a question in Gvegh which Arthur doesn't obviously understand.
Mazun replies in Galanglic, "I don't believe he does understand Gvegh."
Arthur shakes his head.
The vargr sighs and says something else. The only words that Arthur catches are "Fae", "Gvegh" and "Galanglic". The computer then starts to translate his words. He addresses Mazun and Darrurz, "If the computer mistranslates anything I say, would you please correct it for me?"
Mazun and Darrurz nod in assent.
The vargr extends his paw, "Permit me to introduce myself. I am Pack Leader Kfarollakh of Tagan Pack Security."
Arthur shakes his paw. "Lieutenant Arthur McClendon."
He gestures to the other vargr. "This is Captain Nokh Khoen and," he gestures to the human, "this is Ensign Joseph Wright."
Nokh sniffs the air before extending his paw to shake, followed by Joe.
Looking closely. Arthur sees that Joe's face is gaunt, grey and pale, with sunken eyes (although they simmer with a dark glare). He looks ill at ease, uncomfortable with something – you can see a red mark on his temple disappearing under the beret (the obvious residue from quick heal and surgery). Another similar mark is on the back of hand and disappears under the sleeve of his uniform. The uniform is unadorned, with just his rank and service insignia on one shoulder.
From Joe's POV: He sees that Arthur is a short, solidly muscular human. His hair is short and looks like it could cut glass.
After the introductions, Kfarollakh says, "Welcome to Tagan and the Tagan Pack."
Kfarollakh stands tall, commanding attention. "I suspect that someone on the hospital staff has explained to you, as they did to this racially mixed pack of two," he indicates Darrurz and Mazun, "that many decades have transpired since you were forced into a cryotube and that this part of the galaxy no longer resembles the one you left."
Mazun notes that the computer referred to him and Darrurz as a "racially mixed pack of two" even though that isn't quite what was said. Darrurz seems unfazed by it.
Kfarollakh continues, "I expect your curiosity has forced you to learn your new surroundings." He gestures at the monitors to clarify his statement. When he sees Mazun frown, he says, "No?"
"Mistranslation," Mazun says in Gvegh. To Arthur, he says in Galanglic, "What Pack Leader Kfarollakh means is that he expects that your curiosity has compelled you to learn what you can about your new surroundings."
Kfarollakh looks up at the monitor and growls.
Mazun smiles, amused.
The monitor displays the message "untranslatable". To Mazun, Kfarollakh says, "Thank you."
Mazun nods politely.
Kfarollakh clears his throat and continues, "The Vakh don't care if you're human or vargr. We are all their prey. This is why it is important that we fight them as unified pack."
"Together," Mazun whispers to Arthur.
Kfarollakh ignores the computer's error and walks over to Joe. "Joe was slave aboard Vakh ship. Captain Nokh found Joe and rest of crew out in Wilds while on a scrounging run. Vakh ship controlled crew of Joe through complex cybernetic implants. After Nokh and his crew rescued them, ship of Nokh came under attack from other Vakh ships. Joe took over for a prone/motionless gunner crew and blinded the Vakh that would have prevented their escape. His bravery, not to mention his teeth are why they are here today."
Nokh wags his tail.
Kfarollakh returns to Arthur's bedside. "We have a need for warrior wolves with great strength and sharp teeth. We believe that you have these qualities. We also understand from our ancestors that there were many humans who fought with honor and integrity to rival any Aslan. I suspect that you have these traits as well.
"We are sending patrols out into the Wilds to contact other worlds, hunt for technology that will help us, and find Vakh nests to destroy."
Kfarollakh's voice takes on a tone of respect. "We know from our tests that Darrurz is very good starship pilot. We have not tested Mazun yet but his cryoberth contained his personnel file and former leaders praised his skills. Out in the Wilds, their knowledge of the Imperium's old technology, which our cousins could not stop themselves from wanting to steal, is highly valuable. Your knowledge of weapon systems would add to this pack in the making."
Kfarollakh retreats to Nokh's side and addresses the group as a whole, "I did not say this before but will now. It is easy for you as Imperium citizens to think of us as enemy. I do not blame you for this. It is natural given our history. While we say Imperium is dead you do not believe it true. If we are wrong, we will not stop you from going to them."
Nokh's head snaps to face Kfarollakh. Confusion evident on his face. He utters a simple whine which the monitor displays as "untranslatable".
"Yes, Nokh. Our war is with the Vakh not dead Imperium. If our new friends are to be packmates, they must want to or else they will resent us; think themselves prisoners. As that is unacceptable to our people, so too them."
Nokh nods his head.
Mazun has raised an eyebrow at the exchange and looks Kfarollakh straight in the eye. He nods and says, "That is much appreciated."
Kfarollakh's tail wags and he continues address Arthur, "I realize that you must be accustomed to greater standard of living, but this is the den we have and we will fight to defend it at all costs. Although you are new here, Tagan Pack Security would very much like it if you would join our pack and hunt with us. Before you give me your answer, I am sure you have questions of your own. It is only fair. I will answer them as best I can."
Mazun looks at Arthur. "We already bombarded them with our questions, so it's your time, Arthur."
Arthur takes a deep breath and lets it out. "While what you say sheds some light, I am still struggling with the duration of the sleep, as well as not knowing the details of how and where I was recovered. This makes me somewhat hesitant of extending full trust."
Kfarollakh replies, "That is understandable."
Arthur continues, "I have fought and killed many Vargr, in my previous position, and well deserving of their fate they were. I have also fought and killed numbers of my own kind, for they also threatened the society I was part of, and believed in. If what you say is true, then I’ll be lookin’ for a new society, and might as well start here. Time will tell, I guess."
Nokh turns to face Kfarollakh. His tail wags and he pants. After his licking his teeth, he whimpers briefly, then he says, "Sir, we should tell them something. We did tell them about Joe."
Kfarollakh answers, "Yes, yes. We should." He licks his teeth and scratches his neck with his paw, then rubs his snout. "I can not tell you the name of the planet we found you on," he indicates all three cryoberth refugees, "for that information is still classified, but I can tell you about it."
Seeing that he has your attention, he continues, "You were found in a wide open space warehouse." Noting puzzlement on Mazun's face, he confers with him. The adjective that the translation software should've used to describe the warehouse was "vast".
After a brief growl, Kfarollakh continues, "One section of racks were filled with cryoberth tubes. Human. Vargr. We do not know why you were there but the place was run by Vakh machines. The scout pack that was sent in neutered the machine servants. Vakh leader computer was damaged so information was scarce and difficult to grab. It operated the warehouse under the orders of Vakh pack leader but we do not know where its lair is. We think it is offworld because there was no other Vakh activity on that world. The scout pack grabbed as many cryotubes as it could and left. You were among those taken. We sent a larger hunting party to get the rest but they are not due back for some time.
"We do not have proof, but we suspect that you were to be used as slaves just as Joe was."
Darrurz looks into space with his snout open, showing the slightest amount of teeth. His ears are up but his tail is still. He's surprised and fearful when he says, "A vast warehouse of cryoberths? To be used as slaves? They are stockpiling. Either the Vakh leader has a vast pack or we were a commodity to be traded." He looks at Kfarollakh and Nokh before continuing, "Knowing what currency the Vakh trade in will add another weapon to the armoury. Parts are obvious, as are slaves." He asks himself rhetorically, "But what value do they put on them? And what and how do they trade in them?"
Mazun rubs his chin. "Very interesting. Well, I am definitely not going to join the Vakh. I wonder how many of our old comrades are in those berths," he adds, with a glance at Arthur.
Arthur replies to Kfarollakh, "‘Course, this makes it personal, if what you are sayin’ is true. Determining the veracity of your statements would seem to involve gettin’ outta here, and back into action, with the ability to opt out, if we determine what you say to be false.
"That option, in itself, would probably prove to be problematic, for all parties involved.
"I’ve havin’ a tough time getting my head wrapped around this 'still secret' puppy shit, with us locked down, not knowing anything about our surroundings, and not knowin’ anyone, period.
"‘Less you’re worried about these Vakh recapturing us in the near future, like, before your strike to recapture what you can of the cyrotube farm goes in, and can get clear.
"Of course, this presupposes we're not the recovery team. If this isn’t the case, the info transmission lag from a leak in the 'target info', to the Vakh target itself doesn’t compute, so I’m back to the WTF, in regards to the secrecy."
Mazun says to Arthur, "No, we are not the recovery team. I for one am not joining a purely military operation, and I believe neither is Darrurz."
Kfarollakh confirms, "Mazun is correct. The recovery team left weeks ago. Darrurz and Mazun stated a preference for diplomacy. As you are packmates, we would keep you with them.
"There are survivors out there—some struggling, others better off—and we need to establish relationships with them, preferably favorable ones. We could bully our way in and take what we want, and many have argued that is what we should do, but that makes enemies of our neighbors. The Pack needs allies. Today's malnourished vagrants can be tomorrow's packmates in arms. This is the mission that Darrurz and Mazun have indicated a preference for." He pauses, then adds, "For the Vakh, there is no diplomacy. Kill or be killed.
"As for you being 'locked down', I am not sure what that means entirely but the computer says it is similar to being chained to a very short leash or held in a small pen. That is not true. Mazun and Darrurz were taken to a park this morning for open air. And they were told when we met with them this morning that, if they reject our offer, they are free to go. The same is true for you. If you reject our offer, you can go." He sighs. "Perhaps I should have waited to have you all together so I only had to explain this one time."
Mazun says to Kfarollakh and Nokh, "Maybe it would help if we understood why the location is kept secret. I am guessing it's a decision from above?"
Kfarollakh answers, "It is and I am not sure they would approve of what I have told you so far as this is not public knowledge. There are two reasons. The first answer is quite simple: fear. If the population learned that the Vakh were stockpiling people to be used as currency or some other evil purpose, they would panic. Surely you saw this during your own time when my greedy ancestors invaded your Imperium.
"The second is that the world is considered a strategic asset. While not a depot world in the traditional sense, it could still offer spare parts that we can not replicate with our technology." His voice takes on an edge. "The Tagan Pack is no monolithic force like your Imperium. It is held together by the faith of the people in their leaders. Among my people, there are always those who would seek to escalate their own charisma no matter what the costs. History shows this to be true.
"How many humans and vargr had to die just so Dzo The Ruthless could have his own empire?
"Idugkfuegh, the Ruler of Five, trampled over almost a whole sector of vargr worlds over the course of your Imperium's civil war because he sensed your weakness and wanted to exploit it. He did not care about those vargr worlds because they were in his way.
"You look at my face and see just another vargr like the ones you fought. But I can tell you that we are not the same. The pack follows its leader—this is true—but he must earn their loyalty. Too many forgot that the leader must also protect the pack. The blood of the pack is not to be spilled for personal ambition. If the location were not secret, the avaricious would plunder it for their own gain. Do not think for a moment that the corsairs are dead. The fools may be dead, but the shrewd survive."
"Gentlemen, thank you very much for your frankness. Would it be possible for us four," Mazun looks at Joe intending to include him, "to discuss your offer in private?"
"Yes," Kfarollakh says succinctly.
Joe flicks his fingers toward the insignia on his uniform. "My decision has been made. Even if they had not been responsible for saving my life, I would have offered my services."
Joe's face goes contemplative. "As to cryotube farms, I've walked those corridors with expectations to come back with replacement..." he pauses, his face showing clear distaste for his next word, "parts." Joe shakes his head trying to clear the word from his psyche. "There are more than one of them by the way—at least I remember two distinct smells from the farms 'Bright Horizons' took us to—and at one farm we were instructed to refer to the shepherd, err I mean Vakh, as 'Mother' and at another as 'John Smith'"
"That is good you told us this, Joe," Nokh says encouragingly.
Kfarollakh nods in agreement.
Joe's face clears and opens his eyes. Whatever vision he was reliving ended. "I'm sorry."
"Yes my decision is made! If you want me to stay and talk I will," then in weirdly accented Anglic he concludes, "but my blade is spoken for."
Darrurz's head moves slightly to the left and his left ear drops. "What did 'Bright Horizons' pay 'Mother' and 'John Smith' with?"
Joe turns toward Darrurz. "We offloaded some cargo, each time. I can't remember what specifically we were carrying those days, but it was probably some rocks or minerals. We carried those a lot. Maria was our cargo specialist," he pauses to wipe away a tear. "She wasn't one of the crew who made it."
As Nokh holds the door open for Kfarollakh, the latter says, "When you are done, have Arthur get dressed. There is something I want to show you."
"What's that?" Mazun asks.
"Your cryoberth tubes."
Characters: Mazun Contreras, Darrurz, Arthur McClendon, Joseph
Location: Arthur's room at the hospital
The Pack Security officers have left the room at Mazun's request.
Mazun looks around for a place to sit and motions everybody to get comfortable. He looks at Arthur, Joe, and Darrurz in turn.
"This is quite a strange situation. I'll be honest, I spent some time thinking this was some elaborate plot, but it makes so little sense that it has to be true." He smiles. "It still feels like it was yesterday that I was a commander and Chief Engineer fighting a fratricide war. I guess you feel all the same."
Joe doesn't feel the same, but remains silent. He just smiles. He has a warm feeling in his gut at Mazun's accidental phrase of inclusion, even though his head tells him his experience is nothing like theirs.
"No use hanging on to that. I've mostly made up my mind. I want to go into space again and see what is there now myself. The Tagans' offer seems to be reasonable and it is not as if we had a lot to choose from. And it seems to me they have done a good job in putting us together. It's a reasonable fit for the crew of a bathtub, er, a small starship."
"It will take a while to accept emotionally that the Imperium is gone, and I am not sure I will be happy staying in the Extents for long, but one step at a time. I think the best for us is to get out there and spend some time collecting information with a friendly place to go back to, before, well, maybe thinking it over again. And I intend to be quite honest with the Tagans on that, I am only signing on for a period, not for life.
"That said, I also think we should get the better deal we can before we sign on," he says, winking at Darrurz.
Darrurz laughs. "You can only negotiate if you have some position to negotiate from. We have very little position.
Joe has a puzzled look on his face. "You keep speaking of this Imperium place so highly, yet I also hear of you talking of a fratricide war. That doesn't sound so idyllic to me. If I also believe what the Tagans are telling us, it is that same Imperium that is responsible for the Vakh!"
Mazun looks at Joe. "I understand how it might sound to you. Well, I don't know about the Vakh, and I doubt anybody knows who was responsible. But the Imperium lasted well over a thousand years and believe me, it was worth having. Then some mad men took it down. Anyway, it's not important now."
Joe continues, "Now I know I've got more holes in my head than some cheeses, but I remember seeing many places, and everywhere I remember, every face I saw was one of despondency and failure. But when I woke up here things were different, the faces were full of hope, full of purpose, full of...," Joe pauses, "light. You may not agree, but I want to do all I can to see that light spread and grow brighter, and I have committed the rest of my life to that end."
Mazun nods. "Fair enough. Then we'll be partners for some time." He smiles. "I just want the option to reconsider down the road. Might well be years, and I might sign on again. But I am not ready to commit the rest of my life after just a few days of rather limited experience."
Mazun turns to face, in turn, Arthur and Darrurz. "What do you two think? This is a rather important decision and it is imperative that we voice how we feel."
Arthur responds, "Oh, I agree, particularly about leaving our future options open. This looks and sounds like a good deal, at least for the short term. And if they meet their commitments, it'll look even better."
Darrurz speaks, "The Extents is not a 'human' area of space. You will be the minority where once you were the majority. I understand that. I was in that position in the Imperium. Pack Security aren't asking for us to sign on for life; that's not the way we work. The Tagans will be fighting for their state to stay together in the medium term, as they have an external enemy in the Vakh. They probably have a good chance. They know division will mean their downfall. But with us, things change. This is normal. Our only lifelong commitments are generally to our mates and our pups.
"I believe that this is where I was brought, where I can do the most good, where I am needed, and Pack Security have offered me the opportunity to help. I think we can all help and benefit the Tagan Pack as well as ourselves. We can help build a society. If there are other better opportunities for us to take then we can take them. If there are better ways for me to help then I hope I will see them when they come."
Mazun nods. "Then it's settled, right? We will tell them that we agree to join their exploring-trading service." He smiles broadly. "Just two things: first, it might not be necessary to make it explicit that this is not a lifelong commitment, but we still expect to be paid, so there will be some sort of contract and time frame for it, right? This we just need to clarify, but I see it as filling in the details.
"Second, I do not think we have no bargaining position. Our skills are valuable, and securing our loyalty is important, they can easily figure out that if we are forced to sign in under unattractive conditions we might not stay long, and that's not in anybody's interest. So I would still haggle a bit. Again, details, and these I am happy to leave to you, Darrurz."
Darrurz tilts his head slightly to the left and he smiles, showing a small amount of teeth before he nods his head. He lifts his muzzle and takes the air. His ear twitches as he notes the subtleties of each of their scents to impress on his memory.
Next: Cryotube Storage Room