NPC: Chuck & Simrii
Arrival in Audhumla system.
After hailing the starport, Darrurz looks to establish a data connection. He's annoyed that Zigaadig was a total bust. Unfortunately, his request is politely denied.
When pressed for an explanation, the comms officer cites security concerns. "We'd get odd ships that would hang out at the jump point querying BrokerNet and CargoNet but not come in. If something valuable was in stock, we'd get a visit from a raider shortly thereafter. As a general precaution, we no longer permit data connections until a ship docks with the station. Sorry."
In the meantime, Darrurz consults the ship's library database for information regarding Maran. He's intrigued by the potential for rivalry to spur bidding but he's also concerned that things could go too far.
Gvarokh files a standard pirate activity report regarding their encounter at Zigaadig. About thirty minutes after sending the report, a thank you message is sent.
Dock with orbital starport.
Refueling and life support refurbishment begins. Low berth passengers defrosted.
A disgruntled Darrurz hits up BrokerNet and CargoNet. He's pleasantly surprised to find a bit more activity and his mood immediately elevates.
First off, he finds a buyer willing to purchase 300 bottles of Aanshi Liquor. It's barely over 1% of the total stockpile but Darrurz is just happy to make a sale. He negotiates 15 cr/bottle, a net gain of 10 credits/bottle.
Once that's taken care of, he turns his attention to finding something that will sell well on Maran. After a while, it dawns on him that a cold, dry world with billions of people will be in short supply of one thing in particular that a water world like Audhumla will have an overabundance of: fish. He acquires 50 tons of fish for 1,050 cr/ton (52,500 credits total plus cargo registration fee of 1000 cr).
The seller informs him that the locals have a dish (smoked and salted hümlabut) that has cross species appeal. While it's best prepared dirtside, a restaurant on the station does it justice. If Darrurz and his crew have time, the seller recommends they dine there.
The rest of the hold (10 tons) is filled with freight.
The hold is filled up with freight and cargo.
Lakir suggests dining out, after the strangeness of the Nashazi meal.
Gvarokh makes it official and looks to see who else wants to go.
Vincent says, "I'd like to get off ship and go out and eat."
"Indeed," adds Vlad.
Darrurz puts in that he's "up for a bite."
Chuck and Simrii decide to go too. Chuck says, "Maybe it's too soon to celebrate the success of this trip, but we're only three parsecs away from Vhodan."
Although it isn't necessary, Slade offers to stay behind and watch the ship.
Characters: Gvarokh, Vlad, Lakir, Vincent and Darrurz
NPC: Chuck & Simrii
Location: Audhhumla Starport
The crew assembles in the lounge with their usual off-ship gear and then
departs through the starboard personnel air lock. They make their way down the
short docking arm into the main cylindrical hull. They follow signs for the
Lift, a personnel only "elevator on steroids" which ferries them along with some
other visiting crews up to the "promenade deck". This is the interesting part
of the station as it's where the shops, restaurants, bars, and businesses
operate. It lies at one end of the cylinder and features a large, reinforced
dome which provides a spectacular view of Audhumla, its moon and parent star.
Although a planet with such a low population doesn't typically warrant such a large, well equipped station such as this, the fact that it lies on a X-boat link explains everything. The place is refreshingly crowded, albeit modestly so, compared to Nashazi. While said crowd is predominantly human, there are a few vargr here and there.
The group heads to Ymir's Kitchen, the restaurant Darrurz's fishmonger recommended. The dining area is open courtyard with a privacy screen running the perimeter of the place's real estate. Native plants grow out of large pots. There's a small bar that lies under a facade meant to resemble local architecture. The kitchen itself is hidden in the back within the superstructure of the place. Overall, the place looks really nice.
The hostess, an attractive woman who could pass for a local (based on what you've read in the ship's library), seats you right away. There are a few other groups here: two sets of couples (one vargr, one human) and three mixed groups of human and vargr.
Rather than cueing up the holomenus, the group decides to just go with the smoked and salted humlabut accompanied by pitchers of Yggdrasil's Lager. The beer arrives first. It's a dark brown concoction with ruby highlights and very little head. The first sip proves that this is no mere lager. Querying the waitress reveals a confession. It's really an Eisbock, a specialty beer that is made by freeze distilling a doppelbock and removing the ice to concentrate the flavor and alcohol content. The alcohol content runs 12.5% by volume.
Maybe it's the beer, but the dinner proves to be excellent. Both vargr and human alike revel in the hümlabut, which is accompanied by roasted potatoes seasoned with rosemary and olive oil.
The mood of the place is high, as is the sound volume. The other patrons seem to be enjoying their meal, and company, as much as you are. Chuck flirts with the waitress, but she's wise to the advances of inebriated spacers. When she's not around to parley with, he asks Gvarokh, though the question could be directed to the group as a whole, "What do we do after we deliver the message on Vhodan? Do we look for opportunities there? Do we stay in Vilani space or return to Larkarda? This stupid war isn't showing any signs of ending and one of these days it's going to catch up with us."
While Gvarokh contemplates his reply, Simrii offers one of his own, "From what I know, it's already caught up to each of us once already."
Everyone present reflects on their experiences.
"Thasss my point. We've all dodged one bullet. I don't know if Theton counts as another. Then we lost Shiraamer. So we didn't dodge that one." He pauses to remember his point. "Will... uh... Mister M put us in another situation? Where are we gonna go?" He realizes he's had too much to drink. "I'm sorry. This probably isn't the time to talk about this. We've still got three parsecs to go. I guess we can worry about it then."
After giving everyone a chance to say something, though no one does, Gvarokh says, "I do want to us to meet over this very issue. Whether it is before or after Vhodan is up to all of you." Simrii offers his opinion, "We should see how the delivery to Vhodan goes first. If something goes wrong, any plans we make beforehand will be rendered moot."
There are various nods around the table.
After a pause, Gvarokh finishes by saying, "I have no intention to return to Larkarda. I am done there."
Chuck thinks about this for a few seconds and replies, "Considering what happened before we left, I don't think I could ever go back there."
Simrii adds, "Lishun sector isn't exactly my cup of tea either." He shrugs. "But I'll go wherever really."
Vlad leans back in his chair and folds his arms. "Larkarda is nothing to me." He relaxes his pose and, rather sheepishly, adds, "Well, except for Rueleth."
Once the topic of conversation has concluded, the group finishes up their beer, pays the bill, and returns to the ship to prepare for departure.
NPC: Chuck & Simrii
Location: Audhhumla Starport
The crew has returned to the ship after an enjoyable meal. Slade reports that all was quiet while everyone was gone. Gvarokh gives the order to prepare for departure.
A little extra time to get ready is granted due to the crew's moderate BAC. At this point, Gvarokh feels that it is safe to pull away from the station and head to the jump point.
Acceleration terminated due to differences in size between Audhumla and Maran.
NPC: Chuck & Simrii
Arrival in Maran system. Deceleration begins.
Miishakaal joins the queue waiting to enter Meliva, the orbital
city that houses the starport. While waiting, a small ship, perhaps no more
than five meters in length comes to within a kilometer of your ship. It scans
you and then moves on.
Vincent asks, "Should we be worried about that tiny ship?"
"I'm looking into it right now," Gvarokh replies. "I don't like non-official ships just scanning us. Actually, I don't like official ships doing it, either, but I tolerate that." He takes the passive scans and asks the computer to search for any matches in the local datanet.
The computer replies that it is unable to establish a connection with Meliva's InfoNet yet. Apparently there are regulations in place similar to those on Audhumla.
Meliva's structure reminds you of Limii, the orbital city/starport of Theton,
so navigating through it is a familiar exercise. Once you land inside at the
designated spot and you connect to the city's internal systems, Darrurz gets to
work on BrokerNet to find a buyer.
While refueling and life support refurbishment is under way, the computer comes back with the results of Gvarokh's requested search. Apparently, the small ship is a recon drone operated by local defense forces. Its small size enables it to be mass produced in affordable numbers, thus providing greater coverage of the space around Meliva and Maran in general. These drones are semi-autonomous. They're also armed.
Darrurz's hunch was right. Competition is fierce amongst the Marans. He sells the entire lot of fish to one food supplier for 2,550 cr/ton, a profit of 1,500 cr/ton. A disgruntled runner up, Ali Kergida of Murgimdingur Shugilii Enterprises, cried foul forcing a trade judge to get involved. After studying the log of the transaction, the trade judge ruled against the plaintiff. Before terminating his connection to BrokerNet, the loser snarled, "This isn't over."
More importantly, he's successful in selling off the liquor inventory for 20 cr/L, a profit of 15 cr/L. Considering that there's 24,000 bottles in your stash, well, you get the picture.
Darrurz informs Gvarokh of the sales details and when they'll be picked up. Gvarokh, in turn, notifies the cargo crew and advises them to be on their guard.
Vincent asks, "Do you think we need to worry about this Kergida guy?"
Slade replies, "If it really isn't over we might give the freight a quick check. If we're bored."
Gvarokh quite readily agrees with the request. "If possible, let's give the freight a thorough once over. We're going to be limited in what we can do as opening the containers is against the law."
Darrurz adds, "The fffrrreight is all aluminum castings from a completely unrelated company. And no, we're not allowed to open the containerrrs. Hooowwwwever, we can scan them as much as we want."
"Then that's what we'll dooo," Gvarokh replies.
Darrurz then gets back to work trying to figure out if there are any spec cargoes worthy of Vhodan.
A cargo truck representing the buyer of the fish shows up to receive the
Darrurz is unable to find any speculative cargo that he feels would earn a decent profit so he opts for freight instead.
The fish truck departs without incident, leaving room for the liquor delivery truck.
The liquor delivery truck departs, enabling the freight truck to offload.
But before it does, Lakir informs the driver about a "threat" they received and has the truck hold still so that it can be scanned. Being familiar with local politics, the driver understands and complies.
Not having any handheld densitometers on board, Gvarokh tweaks the ship's sensors to scan the truck. It's not how one would normally do the job, as it provides a very generalized picture, but it will have to do.
The results come back negative. No anomalous readings of any kind. It's a truck full of aluminum castings. No radiation hits or thermal variations either. So the crew get to work loading the ship. However, each crate is scanned for bugs with Darrurz's bug scanner just to be sure.
Freight loaded. The ship begins departure procedure. If the sore loser is planning on exacting revenge on you or the fish buyer, he isn't doing anything today.
NPC: Chuck & Simrii
Arrival in Vhodan system. 16 weeks to the day you left Larkarda.
A Type T patrol cruiser in the vicinity hails you and asks that you begin decelerating while it pulls close enough to scan you. It also asks for a copy of your cargo manifest.
Satisfied, the patrol cruiser moves off and lets you continue on to Vhodan. Gvarokh opts to pause deceleration to conserve fuel.
The starport hails you and requests that you use the downport. Not only is the starport near capacity but the recipient of the freight would appreciate the gesture.
Arrival at downport, located in the city of Mushen. Although it's the middle
of the night, Vhodan has too short a day (17 hrs 37 mins) and too large a
population (1 billion) to let a simple thing like darkness slow them down. The
downport is well lit and the skies are clear, albeit cold due to the latitude
(-15°C = 5°F).
The crew go through the normal procedure of paying landing fees, refueling, and refurbishing life support. There's also a truck waiting to pick up the freight. Darrurz researches BrokerNet and CargoNet but holds off on picking anything up. Gvarokh wants to settle Mersshon's business first. He even pops for refined fuel just to make sure they can make a quick getaway if things go awry.
The sun is up but the thermometer isn't. The cargo hold is empty while the fuel tanks are full. It's time to make a delivery.
Characters: Gvarokh, Vlad and Lakir
Location: Mushen Downport
The delivery team (Gvarokh, Vlad, and Lakir) assembles in the crew lounge and
then heads out the hatch. All are wearing armor. Gvarokh is unarmed. Lakir
carries a plastic knife. Vlad has his body pistol concealed. The rest of the
crew listen in on them via their commdots.
Walking through the downport is very different from the ghost town of Nashazi. This place is teeming with people and it's obvious that they're Vilani. While spacers comprise a significant fraction of the crowds, locals, businessmen and consumers alike, are dressed to the hilt in Vilani fashion. The weather being on the chilly side this decade (a year on Vhodan is equivalent to 48.9 std years), people are dressed accordingly: Hoods, mittens, boots (both functional and fashionable types), bulky clothes. Asymmetry and geometric patters dominate the styles. The well-to-do wear clothing that appears a couple sizes too large for them. It's almost comical.
The best way to get around the starport, or the city for that matter, is to take the maglev trains. While crowded, they're fast and frequent. Inertia dampeners mask most of the train's velocity. Riders barely know they're moving. It's as if the train is stationary and the world is moving.
Once off the train, Lakir and Vlad move away from Gvarokh and maintain a discrete distance to lessen the appearance that the three of them are together. In no time at all you're across the starport and at the Traveller's Aid Hostel.
Vlad and Lakir wait outside, looking as casual as possible. The commdots alleviate the need to keep an eye on Gvarokh. If there's a problem, they'll hear it.
Gvarokh approaches the front desk. Out of the corner of his eyes he surveys the place. A few staff come and go. No one seems to pay him any mind.
A middle aged man of obvious Vilani descent stands alone at the front desk. He greets Gvarokh with a smile. "Good dran, sir. May I help you?"
"Good dran. I'm a courier. I have a package for the desk clerk, Gan Luuminan, from Wellesmoor Diversified Products."
"That would be me."
Gvarokh hands the man the metal case.
"Thank you." The man takes the metal case and slips it underneath the counter, out of sight.
Gvarokh stands there anticipating something more.
"Is there anything else I can help you with?" Gan asks.
"Uh no. I guess that's it. Right?"
"Yes, that's it." Gan smiles and nods knowingly.
"Good dran then," Gvarokh says politely and then leaves the Hostel. He makes his way back to the maglev with Lakir and Vlad following him and making sure no one else is.
Once they reach the train and it pulls away from the station, Vlad says, "That was easy. It looks like M kept his word."
The trio return to the ship unscathed and unfollowed.
NPC: Chuck & Simrii
Location: Miishakaal, parked at the Mushen Downport
The courier party has returned to the ship. While they're relieved that the
delivery went smoothly, they're also deflated. After a 16-week journey, one
might have expected there to be more to it than this.
Vlad asks the question that's on everyone's mind, "Um, so now what?"
There's an uncomfortable silence, then all eyes go to Gvarokh. Sensing this, he replies, "As I said back on Audhumla, I have no intention to return to Larkarda. I am done there. If any of you have something to say about our next step, I welcome your input."
"Well," Simrii begins, "I could look for mercenary jobs for us." He looks at the rest of the crew. "I've got a good idea about our relative skill levels. And being that I used to do that for a living before coming here, I can sniff out what looks promising and what would definitely be over our heads."
Chuck replies, "No offense, Simrii, but didn't you say you were done with the mercenary lifestyle when you and your former mates were taken out."
Simrii chuckles. "Yes, Chuck, I did."
"So, what's changed?"
Simrii looks sincere when he answers. "I admit, I miss some of it. Not the hardcore decap strikes. That stuff was intense and a bit too high profile. The more you cheat Death, the harder he tries." He looks around at the crew. "And you guys, with a couple exceptions, wouldn't be up for it. No, I was thinking about real low profile stuff."
Simrii shrugs. "Won't know until I see it, but definitely no coups or assassinations. No bad karma stuff."
Vlad grins. "Sounds fun."
Vincent adds, "I'm up for it, I would just like to hit some place before we go off on any jobs so we can re-fit ourselves. I don't know about you but a nice suit of combat armor would be really nice, and since we have the merc's license we should be able to pick them up, not to mention really arm ourselves."
Simrii turns to Gvarokh. "If it's alright with you, captain, I can start looking once we're done here."
Lakir asks, "So, what are we talkin', dirtside escort and close protection gigs? We've got a ship- shouldn't we be lookin to maximize it's use?"
Simrii nods. "Sure. Those could work. Maybe even rescue missions."
Lakir continues, "On the long run here, Darrurz has made us a piss pot of cash. Shouldn't we look at combinin' the 2 or 3 skill sets and pieces of kit we have? The bladders give us more range. The A/R is good to go for groundside protection/escort. We up the fire power and EW on the ship, we could look at some space/ground escort ops, sorta' like the old convoy system. We got hit once, and came close to losin' it all again on a run to the JP.
"The commerce lanes ain't gettin' any safer. I see some potential here, if we up our EW capacity for Vinny, bulk up our shipboard firepower, we could offer a one stop package, for when it absolutely, positively has to get there." He smiles. "Sorta 'Mersshon Lite'."
Gvarokh says, "We can definitely do that kind of work. However, Vhodan makes me uneasy. We are too deep in Vilani space to afford to be identified with Mersshon. And we just delivered his package.
"I think we need to move on a jump or two before we start trying for mercenary work. Does anyone have a particular direction they think we should go besides 'not coreward'?"
Simrii furrows his brow. "I'm confused. How would doing mercenary work identify us with Mersshon? Besides the package we delivered today, there isn't anything to connect us to him. The transponder is completely different. Unless the Vilani have some telepaths working for them, how are they going to connect us?
"Vhodan is the subsector capitol. I think that it's the safest place for a newbie merc outfit to get their feet wet. Our best bet at finding straight up work is going to be here. If we go some other place, depending on the place, we run the risk of dealing with shadier types. At least here, the bureaucracy can be used to protect us. Mercs got legal rights too. Trust me, that last job my old outfit did wasn't in a place this... civilized."
Before Gvarokh can reply, Lakir says, "You're right. We don't want a repeat of Shugmii's Last Stand and these days, that's more likely than not, unless we're careful.
"Can we kit out and find the right gig, here on Vhodan is the question. As far as I can tell, we're clear on the Humint front, and unless Vinny has rumblin's on the 'Net, we should be OK here for a while."
"Well," Simrii answers, "the starport is good enough but is tech level 12 ok?"
Lakir suggests, "Maybe a return to Audhumla would be in order. Law Level 0, A class starport, and a TL 13 base. Might fit kitting out, or finding, the next op; especially after the comms we had with them, last go round. I remember the system controller talking about 'odd ships' that would hang out at the jump point querying BrokerNet and CargoNet but not come in. And that if something valuable was in stock, they'd get a visit from a raider shortly thereafter. Sounds like we might be able to turn some good coin on that 'escort' routine, if we can refit appropriately."
"Sure," Simrii says with enthusiasm, "There'll probably be plenty of quiet, easy work most of the time. If we don't have the money for upgrades, it won't take before we do. And a pirate might think twice about facing two ships, even if they're not all that tough by themselves. And if we get in over our head, we can always call for back up from the SDB's."
He turns to Gvarokh. "Sound like a plan, boss?"
"Actually, no. I don't want to do escort duty. The last time we needed help from an SDB, we were looted and abandoned before the SDB could do anything. Doing escort duty just seems to be an open invitation to get shot to pieces.
"As well as Darrurz has done for us as Ship's Trader, I don't believe that we have enough money to upgrade either the ship's armorrr or weaponry to give a corsairrrr a rrrun forrr its meal. And we certainly don't have the money to turn this snail into a wolf.
"I'm OK with doing special ops jobs, however. This is probably a good way to get some money we might need. As Simrii said, I don't want to do anything nasty, like assassinations. If we need to kill someone to perform a mission, so be it. But I don't want that to be the main objective.
"On the other paw, I don't want to completely give up on trade. Quite frankly, even though we have been focused on getting from Larkarda to Vhodan, we have actually been doing quite well, and your paychecks this trip have been proof of that. As long as trading is viable, I think that needs to be a main component of our objectives.
"What I can see is picking a good trade circuit that we regularly ply, and at the same time we put out feelers for odd jobs that we can do to supplement our income. I am sure Darruz can help pick that out.
"Finally, I do think we need to decide on whether we expect to remain in Vilani space for the long haul, or if we want to try and migrate in some other direction.
"On one hand, sticking in Vilani space ain't that bad of an option. They are bureaucratic, but they seem to be running pretty well. They are farrr more stable than Lucan's Imperium and maybe we can stay out of the reach of Mersshon.
"I haven't forgotten about the offer we got from Mamingigur, the agent from Makhidkarun who apologized for the rough treatment we got on Mimere. If we are going to truly switch allegiances to the Vilani, working for 'the man' is not necessarily a bad idea, assuming our prior escapade doesn't pop up. We seem to be happy with the Vilani, and they us.
"As for location, I would probably want to move rimward about a half-subsector. That way we can work the interface between subsectors B (Vhodan) and F (Kagamira) and put a little more distance between us and the border. I'll let Darrurz evaluate that from a trader's perspective. That puts us closer to Vland than some probably want, but if we are going to stay with the Vilani, then staying close to Vland might be a good idea."
He pauses to let that sink in, then asks, "What do you think? Before I make a decision here, I'd like to know how my pack feels about this."
Simrii replies, "That's fine by me." It looks like he means it too.
Chuck adds, "So long as we don't head to Dulinor's turf, I'm fine. That bastard started this mess."
Vlad says, "I've got no problem with this."
As for the others, Lakir looks a little disappointed. Slade looks relieved. Darrurz' ears have perked up at the preference of trade over mercenary work. Vincent seems nonplussed.
"Alright then," Gvarokh says with finality. "That's what we'll do."
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