Fate Is Fickle and Death Too Eager To Suit

Characters: All
NPC: Shiraamer, Chuck
Location: Miishakaal, parked at Oriole Downport
System: Larkarda

1125.20.4 - 12:15 Imperial Time, 29:15 Vilani Time, 10:00 Local Time

You've been back on Larkarda for three days now. Imperial days, mind you. After partying it up that first night back, you suddenly found yourselves back on Imperial time. Since some of you hated being on Vilani time, the surprise switch was welcomed, and the captain made it official.

The next day was pay day. But everyone was too hung over to spend it.

And there was the head piercing shriek of glee the captain emitted when she discovered that Mersshon kept his word about paying the ship's expenses. Well, it was only for 100,000 cr worth of the expenses, but it was still 100,000 credits. Nothing to sneeze at.

The captain decided to celebrate by going shopping. The next day of course. While shopping could cure a hangover, sleep was better. Shopping is best enjoyed sans headache.

She got up early and whisked Chuck away before anyone could ask him to make breakfast. She left instructions to get the ship ready for departure as Mersshon was expected to call with his next assignment. She wasn't sure that she wanted to take him up on it but she wasn't sure that she could refuse him either. She was mulling over the prospect of visiting her parents or heading further in to the Imperial Safe to get away from pirates and Vilani megacorps.

The crew killed time while they waited for word from the captain. Slade saw to refueling and life support refurbishment. Vlad made a comm call in hopes of getting shore leave this evening. Simrii checked the online inventories of book sellers and antique stores. Vincent logged in to the local extension of the hacker messageboards and posted his Theton exploits to the group, under his pseudonym of course. Lakir combed InfoNet for signs of spook activity.

Meanwhile, Gvarokh relaxed on the bridge, combing through the news, in particular, an article about Larkarda's recent bout of terrorist trouble.

Oriole (LAP) - The Ministry of Defense (MoD) office announced today that the terrorist group, Equal Rights for Vargr (ER4V), was behind the bombings in Sarvis two weeks ago. It also announced that the terrorist group, Larkardan Liberation Army (LLA), was behind the bombings in Oriole last week. 137 people died in the attacks.

While there have been no public announcements of an alliance between the two groups, the MoD believes that the two might be coordinating their efforts in an effort to undermine the Phagoan Authority.

Both groups have issued statements to the press claiming that the Phagoan Authority Council (PAC) represents an illegal occupation of Larkarda. However, the PAC points out that Imperial Law validates their claim and that it is the ER4V and LLA who are committing illegal activities.

Before turning violent, the ER4V had been attempting to draw attention to the plight of vargr refugees who have been forced to live on reservations, which they claim are slums. These areas are the original settlements, which consist of dilapidated housing with inadequate environmental systems. They are considered obsolete by most people and the number of humans residing there is minimal.

The LLA was considered an obscure underground leftist organization for several years. It claims that the PAC is bleeding Larkarda dry while it lives in luxury. Other than the occasional rally, it has rarely made any public demonstrations. Dissatisfaction with Larkarda's economy has increased its membership.

When asked if these groups were taking advantage of the decreased presence of warships at the naval base, the MoD spokesman declined to comment. However, he did state that the MoD was gathering evidence proving that offworld agents were responsible for supplying both groups with the means to carry out their attacks. When asked to specify further, he declined to elaborate for fear of jeopardizing an ongoing investigation.

And just as Gvarokh finishes reading this, the newsfeed scrolls automatically.

Live Update: A Larkarda Liberation Army demonstration is currently under way at the Oriole Starport...

A low pitched rumble is felt through the ship. The screen flickers.

The automated Starport Authority voice comes in over the comm, "Attention citizens. Please remain calm. All starship personnel are asked to remain on their vessels. All passengers awaiting transport are asked to please remain seated. All ships preparing for departure should abort and power down until starport personnel have secured the area. Thank you for your patience."

The screen starts scrolling again.

Live Update: A bomb has exploded at the Oriole Starport in Market Way. Security and emergency personnel are arriving on the scene. There are casualties but no figures are available at this time.

The ship's comm chimes. It's Chuck.

"Chuck, what happened? Are you and the captain alright?"

Over the comm, Gvarokh can clearly hear sirens, shouting, screams of pain and cries of anguish.

"Chuck! Are you and the captain alright?"

"She's dead!" he sobs. "The fucking bastards killed her!"

Shiraamer Says Goodbye

Characters: All
NPC: Chuck
Location: Miishakaal, parked at Oriole Downport
System: Larkarda

1125.20.5 - 09:45 Imperial Time, 18:45 Vilani Time, 13:00 Local Time

"If you're seeing this, then I'm dead."

A ghostly image of Shiraamer is projected into the crew lounge. The crew stop picking at their food and look up from their plates. Gvarokh wanders in from the bridge.

The official death certificate had just been entered into the ship's computer. It triggered a series of program changes and the playing of this holo.

"I'd like to think that my death had purpose. That I died protecting the ship or my crew. But..." Her voice trails off.

Gvarokh recalls the bombing and thinks, "I wish it did."

"I want to thank each and every one of you for being such a great crew. You're the best I've ever had the privilege to serve with." She looks at the floor. "This is awkward. I'm supposed to be dead and yet I'm very much alive right now." She shakes her head to clear it of what seems like a paradox, then returns her attention to the camera. "Ok, in accordance with muurkukhu law, I wish to be cremated. But please don't send my ashes home. I think that my mother would die if she received the urn. I've got a special message which Miisha will automatically mail to her. Instead, if you don't mind, I'd like you to keep me on Miisha. It'll be like I'm still with you, traveling among the stars." She smiles. "While I'd prefer a window seat, I don't want to be in the way." Her smile becomes a short chuckle.

"You got it," Gvarokh says out loud.

As if she heard him, Shiraamer's holo addresses Gvarokh, "Gvarokh, I want you to have Miisha. You've been my friend for seven years now and I can't think of anyone else I'd trust her to. You've defended her, and me, from the moment you came aboard. Even against your own kind. I'm sorry that we never got to visit your parents. I would've liked to have met them. I'm sure that they're as proud of you as I am."

She might be crying. It's hard to tell. Gvarokh's vision is beginning to blur as the tears threaten to spill over his eyelids. He looks away from her to wipe his eyes. He notices that the crew are similarly affected, even the stoic Simrii.

Shiraamer's image straightens. "Anyway, Miisha's yours. Take good care of her and I'm sure she'll return the favor. Good bye."

She smiles one last time and vanishes.

A New Job Offer

Characters: All
NPC: Chuck
Location: Miishakaal, parked at Oriole Downport
System: Larkarda

1125.20.6 - 10:00 Imperial Time, 09:00 Vilani Time, 00:15 Local Time

The funeral has come and gone. An urn, filled with Shiraamer's remains, sits atop the table in the crew lounge.

Gvarokh looks around at each of the crew members. "I'm glad to see you all here. When the leaderrrrr of a pack dies, there's often a struggle for dominance, even when there's a clear successorrrrr. As first officer, I felt that I had the rrrrespect of each and every one of you. I feel that I've been both fair and firm and I intend to continue to do so as your captain. If anyone disagrees, now's your chance to speak up. And if you want to leave, that's fine too. There won't be any hard feelings."

No one does.

Gvarokh lets a toothless smile creep out. "Good. Then let's get down to business. With the captain's death..."

Chuck interrupts him, "No disrespect intended, Gvarokh, but you're the captain now."

Gvarokh pauses to let that sink in. "Yes, you're right, Chuck. With Shiraamer's death, we're short on some skills. None of us has any business background so that's going to hurt us as traders. And though Chuck can pilot the ship in a pinch, I'm the only one with an abundance of bridge skills. We're going to need to hire people to fill in those gaps. Any thoughts?"

Simrii speaks up, "Maybe we should consider diversifying our services."

Gvarokh cocks his head and gives him a confused look.

"By that I mean, we should consider offering mercenary services. Nothing big. Small jobs. Between Vlad, Lakir, Vincent, and myself, we've got enough combat experience to do some small ops. I know the ship really isn't suited to go up against any hardened targets, but we should consider it. We could even provide armed escort of small time VIP's who don't want to draw attention to themselves. We kept our cool back there on Theton and pulled off that op without firing a shot. I have to say, I was impressed."

Gvarokh says, "Hmm. I hadn't thought of that. That would make better use of our collective skills, and I can still arrange for freight when we are just going from hop-to-hop. That's an interesting idea."

Lakir adds, "I like it. Though we need to improve on our strong points. Vinny and ECM for the orbital component, maybe some fire control upgrades to improve our hit potential.

"For dirtside, we'll need more practice as a team. Maybe look for a couple more holorigs to let us run combined sims while we're in transit. Also need to practice that 'repel boarders' routine. That last encounter still leaves a dirty taste in my mouth, and the way it's goin' ta shit in the space lanes, I doubt we'll get that lucky again."

Vincent is pleased to hear Lakir say this. "Thank you, at least I'm not the only one that thinks that. We should come up with a plan so we can trap whatever pirates try that crap again. Hidden weapons, detonatable charges in the wall, maybe some voice activated shock/stun traps, etc."

The meeting is interrupted by a comm call. The comm system identifies it as coming from Wellesmoor Diversified Products. Everyone knows that means Mersshon. Gvarokh instructs the comm system to patch it through to the crew lounge.

A holo image of Mersshon appears in the room. He looks solemn, something the crew has never seen from the typically jovial intel agent.

"Hello, Gvarokh. I'm sorry for your loss. Shiraamer struck me as a strong, intelligent woman."

"Thank you." Gvarokh politely replies.

Mersshon continues as if Gvarokh hadn't said anything, "And a patriot. She deserved a better fate. Damn terrorists. Don't they realize there's a war going on?"

An uncomfortable silence ensues for a few seconds. Mersshon changes the subject. "If you're interested, I've got a job for you. It's far easier than the last one. A simple courier assignment. I just need a holocrystal delivered and it's better to use someone I can trust than regular mail." He pauses. He drops the nationalism and business proposal tones and returns to the solemnity he had at the start of the conversation. "It might be a good idea to get away from here for awhile. It'll help with the healing process."

"So what's the real poop? And can we have a bit more intel on the route and drop this time? If the Top Dog goes for it, I'd prefer to have some straight goods on what we can expect along the way, and what the deal is on the other end. If the price is right, you know we ain't goin' ta fuck ya, but we gotta know the deal goin' in. We might have a list of some stuff we'd like some help procuring as well, just to make sure this holocrystal don't get snagged, 'tween here an' there."

Mersshon chuckles. "Lakir, Lakir. After what you did for me, I wasn't going to leave you in the dark this time. I just wanted to make sure you were interested before I told you anything more.

"Since you are interested, the holocrystal needs to be delivered to the desk clerk at the Traveller's Aid hostel at the Vhodan starport. In case you're unfamiliar with the astrography, Vhodan is located in Vland sector at hex 1208. That's a long trip. I'd expect it to take you four months. So, I'll pay you 100,000 credits for your trouble, in advance. If he doesn't receive them in six months, I'll know who to come looking for.

"And yes, Lakir, that really is all there is to know about this job."

Lakir pulls out his hand comp and boots up the ole' Google Space to check timings.

Gvarokh says, "Because of our last escapade in Vilani space, which included an open raid on a Vilani megacorporation prison, our ship will be listed as a criminal vessel. In addition to the 100K, we need the ship to have a new set of old papers, and we need a new transponder to match those papers. I wouldn't imagine that would be a terribly difficult task to accomplish, would it?"

"Yes and no. I can get you an Imperial transponder and back date the paper work to show that you've always had it. You can only get a Vilani transponder from a Vilani world. But I'll upfront you the cost of the new Vilani transponder. Does this mean we have a deal?"

Gvarokh rubs his chin, letting Mersshon stew for a few seconds. "Yes."

"Splendid! I'll have a crew at your ship in the morning." Apparently he means "local" morning, as it is certainly morning on the Imperial clock.

Mersshon is about to terminate the call when Gvarokh speaks up. "One more thing Mersshon."

"Yes?"

"No surprises this time." He bears his teeth. "I mean it."

Mersshon's typical jocular tone vanishes. "I swear, Gvarokh. No surprises on this one. You've paid your dues. You're on the team now."

The transmission is terminated.

The air is heavy with Mersshon's words. In order to break the mood, Lakir announces his results. "17 straight J2's going up north, close to the RVE border, or 15 straight J2's, goin' through the center of the RVE. 4 months ain't much of a window, then allowing word to travel back to him before he sends in the hounds. No room for slippage, or settin' up a cover. With the Capn' gone, we ain't goin' ta be effective as traders, and haulin' freight takes time to set up as well at each stop. Maybe we can shave some time with the bladder, but it still looks tight."

Gvarokh replies, "This job is a perfect opportunity to transition from 'odd lots' to 'odd jobs' as Simrii suggested."

Simrii nods.

Slade interrupts, "Am I the only one thinking that maybe Mersshon's minions were behind the blast that killed the Captain? That maybe she had some suspicions that we did not, and he either became aware of that fact or suspected it? That he figured we'd be more pliable and more likely to continue the existing one-sided relationship in our current state of confusion? Maybe I'm paranoid crazy. One more thing: 'That's really all there is to know about this job' is patently, ridiculously, stupidly, retardedly false. We're one minor pawn of a murderous agent in some mid-level power struggle. Our choices are to do what he tells us to do, biding our time until we can settle the score -- or get the fuck outta here, way outta here, before we end up having an accident. But again, maybe I'm paranoid and insane, I spend all my time talking to the ship in hex."

Chuck is slack jawed. "Dude, you're waaaay too paranoid."

Before he can say anything further, Gvarokh steps in. "Look, these terrorist acts have been going on for a while, well before we got here. Mersshon had no idea of where Shiraamer was or what path she was taking. And it was a suicide bomber that did it. Mersshon's agents are not suicidal. Homicidal, sure; but not suicidal.

"Look, I am as upset as you are over the loss of Shiraamer. I want her death to have meaning, or at least have a reason, too. But this isn't it, and it isn't going to help us. We must keep our wits about us.

"However, you do have a valid point on the mission. While I am sure that, technically speaking, all we really have to do is deliver some holocrystals to a desk clerk, I imagine the backstory is a lot more complicated. We are obviously not going to get more of the backstory from Mersshon. Yes, we are his pawns, but we are well paid to do so. We haven't accepted money or anything else from him yet. We can still back out, provided someone can provide me with a compelling argument why we shouldn't do this one last mission for him.

"After that, we can vow never to come back here. I certainly don't have a reason to."

"I do," Vlad barks with a smile. "Speaking of which. Arrrre we done here? I've got a date."

This brings a spate of laughter which breaks the tension in the room.

"Don't worry, Vlad." Gvarokh says. "We're almost done."

Slade replies, "I agree that I'm way too paranoid. I accept that. It's why I do better with ships and machines than people. I had to put it out there and get straight on it, or I'm gonna be thinking about it, driving myself nuts. I'm with you guys as long as you're with the Captain and the ship. Let's do it, whatever it is that we're gonna do."

Gvarokh nods.

Lakir is still troubled. "Look guys, just to be clear. We take this job, we're hooked for the duration. The only way we are 'out', or 'free' from Mersshon's operation, is on a slab, or as more space dust. As freelancers for him, our chances are better, but don't kid yourselves into thinkin' we can walk away, free and clear.

"To get out from under, we'll need to stage an op, that either takes him or us out of the picture. This is the big leagues, and he ain't fuckin' around.

"When his boys are on board at start of shift, we watch them close, cause sure as shit the Big M'll be tryin' ta pull or plant somethin'.

"Don't get me wrong. This has potential, as long as we all know the risks, and where we squat on the food chain."

Gvarokh responds, "If we take this job, we're going to work it to completion. Mersshon has given no indication that he double-crosses his people or screws them over, and we have apparently worked our way into being some of 'his people'. Remember, he went through a great deal of trouble and expense to save Oda, when he really didn't have to. He could have cut her and let it go. But he didn't.

"Look, I don't trust Mersshon any more than any of you. However, that means we need to be cautious and careful, not outright paranoid. This job gives us a chance to get out of here. We don't have to come back; we can keep going. And we get paid in advance. I'm worried about the other paw, but not from Mersshon; rather from his enemies."

Gvarokh catches his breath and continues, "But you do have an excellent point: When Mersshon's guys come over here with the papers and transponder, I would like you two," indicating Slade and Vincent, "to keep them under a close eye. Even help them out if you can. I don't care about the transponder, as we'll get rid of it when we cross the border again. I just want to make sure nothing else gets planted."

That seems to settle the matter for now. Vlad bolts out the lock. Lakir sits down with his SuperPDA to brainstorm what equipment he thinks the ship needs for this and future ops. Vinny and Slade head to Engineering to look over systems. Chuck heads to the galley to make sure he didn't forget anything during the re-stock. Simrii finds a terminal and reads. Gvarokh heads to the bridge to think.

Next: Lakir's List and Vlad The Recruiter