NPC: Chuck & Simrii
Location: Miishakaal crew lounge
System: Jumpspace between Timat and Odinaga
Lakir has assembled the crew to go over the data on the holocrystals from
Sharurshid. As there's not much else to do during the week in jump, this seemed
like a good time as any.
Once the holocrystals are loaded, a hologram appears in the crew lounge. Why, it's none other than HoloProfessor, that popular pseudo-AI program that is able to peer through massive amounts of data and present it to an audience in an easy to understand format. Users can opt for Lecture or Q&A mode. Lakir selects Q&A mode.
The HoloProfessor materializes. There are several varieties known to exist and hackers have been especially notorious for their creations. However, this one appears to be the standard "wise, old Vilani" model. Dark brown skin and hair set with streaks of gray. Purebred gold eyes light up his face with an unsettling inner light. He's resplendent in a blue tunic befitting someone of the upper echelon of the Vilani Educator's Caste. "Let's begin," he says, awaiting the first question.
Lakir wastes no time. "Do you have current data on the Nagath Confederation? If so, please display."
A map appears next to the HoloProfessor. "The Ngath Confederation is a polity consisting of 94 star systems spread over six subsectors in Windhorn and Vland sectors. It is located immediately coreward of the Ziru Sirkaa and extends all the way to the rift known as 'The Windhorn'.
"The Ngath Confederation is one of the many Vargr states which had its beginnings as a large, well-organized corsair band. Ngath was a successful corsair captain who raided Vilani worlds before the War started. His success drew many followers to his band.
"After Vland seceded from the Imperium, the Bureaux sought to replace their lost Imperial markets by developing new ones in the Vargr Extents. Feeling threatened, several Vargr corporations fought back by enlisting the aid of Ngath and other corsairs.
"Sensing an opportunity, Ngath established his namesake Confederation with the backing of the aforementioned Vargr corporations. With a legitimate interstellar government established, dozens of worlds signed on, further strengthening the Confederation and solidifying Ngath's power.
"With a fleet at his disposal and shipyards building ever more vessels, Ngath stepped up his raids and invaded several worlds to rimward and trailing.
"Ngath has been a relatively benign ruler. He doesn't meddle in local affairs, so long as they don't present a threat to him or the Confederation, nor has he passed draconian laws. Furthermore, he has a soft spot for pirates. He has issued an order that no one who claims to be a corsair, pirate, or privateer is to be molested by any Confederation vessel unless they show themselves to be hostile to the interest of the Confederation.
"There is limited information about the economy. However, it appears solid. Many resources are being devoted to the development of the Confederation Navy. The Confederation's preferred method of resource acquisition is through traditional plundering of shipping and star systems along the border. Conditions on subjugated worlds vary. Worlds with little or no industry are exploited for their resources while manufacturing and agricultural enterprises are left intact, though profits are sent home to fill the Confederation's coffers."
L: "Can you provide a history of the Flaming Eye band, otherwise known as the Touzagh corsair band, complete with current projected order of battle? If so, please display."
HP: "From what we can tell, the Touzagh corsair band, which uses the Vilani pirate symbol of a Flaming Eye, originated within the Ngath Confederation sometime between its foundation and 1118. By 1118, ships with the Flaming Eye symbol were reported to be attacking ships along the coreward edge of the Imperium.
"What distinguishes it from all the other pirates and corsair bands out there now is its unique racial makeup. Its crews are a mix of humans and vargr.
"The Touzagh have been highly successful with their raids and have grown considerably in numbers. There are reports that a few corsairs have defected from the 17th Disjuncture and Voekhaeb Society to enlist with the Touzagh.
"Although there is no proof, they are believed to be selling their bounties to corporate and government entities within the Ngath Confederation.
"Like all pirates, the Touzagh are ethically challenged. However, they appear to be worse than most. They have ruthlessly plundered worlds all along the border, inflicting casualties without provocation. They attack civilian targets with impunity and have reportedly enslaved populations to do their bidding. There are also rumors that they've sold humans and non-aligned vargr into slavery.
"In computer simulations, there are scenarios where the Touzagh become powerful enough to break away from the Ngath Confederation and form their own state."
Vlad sticks his nose in. "Do we know what generally happens to anyone captured in battle by the pirates?"
HP: "People who surrender without a fight are typically spared. The pirates want the cargo. Dead bodies, once discovered, invite retaliation from an outraged populace and the Navy charged with defending them. Still, there are cases where victims have been abducted or killed when the cargo was near worthless or non-existent. In cases where people fight back, the Touzagh pirates have been more inclined to harm their defeated victims.
Lakir resumes his line of questioning. "Can you provide details of the band's leader, Kagiisha? If so, display."
HP: "Kagiisha's identity is surrounded in mystery. He is Vilani. That is all that is known."
L: "What is the current appearance of the 'Flaming Eye' on craft?"
HP: "The 'Flaming Eye' is the logo belonging to the Touzagh corsair band. It takes on many different shapes and colors. There doesn't appear to be any rules other than an eye with flames surrounding it."
L: "Any performance details available for captured or destroyed Flaming Eye craft? If so, please display."
HP: "The primary vessels used by the Touzagh corsair band are Ueknou class and Imperial Type P corsairs. These two classes amount to 68% of all ships encountered. Both classes are capable of 3G acceleration and two-parsec jumps. Other classes include Enkongsuerrgvo class Packets (1G J3), Rangongoer class Scout Ships (aka Type VS - 2G J2), Angrorghag class Seekers (aka Type VJ - 1G 1J), and Thaksoeghuksaknag class Frigates (aka Type VF - 3G J4). It is possible that the corsair band are using other ships, but there are no confirmed sightings of such ships.
L: "Are there any logs of Flaming Eye personnel interrogation's available? If so, please make available for my review, off line."
HP: "I'm sorry but I don't have access to that information."
L: "Can you provide current active comms freqs for this band? If so, please download to Vincent's terminal."
L: "Do you have visuals/telemetry of current/past naval actions against this corsair band? If so, please display."
Several videos appear to be available.
L: "Do you have data on the Gemid system and activities within the system? If so, please display."
HP: "The world of Gemid was a client state of the Imperium before the War. Although the world itself is unpleasant and crowded, Gemidians enjoy a standard of living rated at tech level 16. It was renown for its high tech weaponry, particularly neurotoxins.
"But due to the high population and low resources, the world practices strict birth control measures. In an effort to reduce the planet's burgeoning population, a couple may not have children until their own parents are dead. As a result ritual suicide is a common practice.
"The world also has a strict immigration policy. Special visas must be obtained just to visit the world. Tourism is not allowed. Typically, the only offworlders permitted to visit are those with business to conduct.
"It is unknown how the Ngath Confederation was able to capture the world. No word has come from any Imperial contacts since the world was captured. Long range listening posts in the Anarsi subsector are hoping to gain some clues but it may be some time before that happens."
L: "Do you have visuals and stats for the ships, Qu Livk and Fitzpatrick? If so, please display."
HP: "The Qa Livk is a standard Donosev class starship. It is capable of 2G acceleration and 3 parsec jumps. It is unarmed.
"The Fitzpatrick is a standard Type S scout ship. It is capable of 2G acceleration and 2 parsec jumps. The turret weaponry has been upgraded to a plasma turret."
L: "Do you have crew stats and visuals for both ship's crews? If so, please display."
Photos of each crew member appear, along with names and positions aboard their respective vessels.
L: "Are remote access codes available for either ship? If so, please download protocols to Vincent's terminal."
HP: "There is no information available regarding remote access codes."
L: "Do you have current buoy ID codes for our route, and access routines? If so, please download to Vincent's terminal."
L: "Do you have the set of 'safe words' for this mission? If so please display."
HP: "There are a list of phrases. These include 'Shugili beef jerky tastes best with Terran sea salt', 'The ladies of Liwar look lovely laying on lampoons lakeside', and 'I've been working on the Lugikad monorail all the livelong dran and I'm so hungry I could eat an argar eel right out of Uunkida Gar'."
L: "Do you have a list of contacts and contact protocols for us to use on Gamgilebo? If so, please display."
HP: "The lone Sharurshid contact is Khaash Kharlimini. He's a bartender at The Lovestruck Rock, a starport tavern." A picture is shown of the man. "There aren't any contact protocols per se, other than providing one of the pass phrases."
L: "Are there current Vilani Naval operatives under way in the Gamgilebo system, and if so, have they been apprised of the current 'safe word' protocol?"
HP: "There is only Kharlimini. It is unknown if he knows the current list of safe phrases."
At this point, the session is ended so that the crew can digest what they've learned.
NPC: Chuck & Simrii
Like Timat, Odinaga orbits a large gas giant. You enter the system with a large
inbound vector. This practice helps save time traversing the large gravity wells
that surround these behemoths. Besides the whole "time is money" wisdom nugget
that's as old as capitalism itself, in these troubled times "time saved is
safety assured," at least when it comes to space travel. You can't get shot at
in jump space.
Your passive sensors soon pick up the telltale energy signature of laser fire around the vicinity of Odinaga.
Gvarokh holds off on decelerating. No need to give away their position just yet. Instead he instructs Darrurz to make the most of the passive sensors.
Darrurz is able to discern four targets and it's three against one. The three appear to be the same size as their energy signatures are nearly identical. The energy signature for the fourth ship is much smaller than the others. The densitometer states that all four ships appear to be average-sized, that is, less than 1000 tons. But the three are bigger than the one. Due to distance and close proximity to one another, it's hard to get a more accurate reading.
As there's still time before deceleration has to begin, Gvarokh decides to hold off on initiating it. This gives Darrurz some more time with the passive sensors.
Darrurz figures out how to compensate for EM interference coming from the gas giant and is able to get a clearer picture of the scene.
The three similar craft are Ueknou class corsairs. The hapless victim is a Garu class Far Trader. Its transponder beacon indicates that it's The Spirit of Zharkirov and it's in bad shape. In fact, the battle appears lost. The corsairs have stopped firing on the far trader and it is no longer accelerating. One of the corsairs is moving in close, as if to dock with its prey. The other two are keeping their distance.
Lakir suggests listening in on the frequencies listed in the mission data.
The first one is tried and is successful. The pirates appear to be overconfident and are broadcasting their chatter all over the place without a care as to who might hear them. The intership conversation appears to just be a lot of boasting about how they made quick work of another "piggy."
There's also some taunting of the starport going on, including threats about future attacks.
You're 1,178,000 km (707,000 miles) from Odinaga and 996,000 km (600,000 miles) from the action.
Lakir curses, "Shit. Forgot to ask about friendly naval freqs.
"What is the burn from zero intercept time for the presumed Odinaga naval picket, as well as our intercept time, if we realigned to join the action?"
Darrurz replies, "Harrrrrd to say exxxacccctly. Depends on their engine performance. Assuming they were 3G, if they left now they'd take an hour. I'm not seeing any activity on my sensors though.
"As for us, iffff we don't decelerate, we'll be there in one hour fifty-five minutes. Combat range isn't for another hour. Longer for a rrreasonable chance at hitting us. Less if they come out to greet us."
Lakir redirects his questioning. "Hey Vincent, Any chance we can run a comms/EM ruse, to make us look bigger, if the geometry is right."
Vincent replies, "That would definitely be a no." He thinks for a moment then adds, "Well, if I hacked their sensor computer I could trick it. But more than likely they'd know something was up as they'd probably notice the incoming telemetry before I could cover my tracks. It's not impossible. There's a chance, but not a good one."
Lakir sighs, then says, "If we decide to duck and cover, and ignore a friendly gettin' trashed, I wouldn't expect a pleasant reception from the locals, no matter what sort of authorizations we carry. We also don't want the terries gettin' hard sensor info on us, as we'll probably be seein' this crowd again, shortly."
After a sigh, Gvarokh says, "There just isn't any way we're going to be able to win a fight against three corsairs, each of which is double our size. We can beat one, but only if it is careless. The real question is how presumptive that naval picket is. If there isn't anything to scare away the corsairs, we will have to leave immediately."
"Correct," Lakir agrees.
"So, assuming nothing arrives to make the corsairs go away, I want everyone's input as to what they think would be the best alternative target of a micro-jump: the local gas giants, or the spaceport at the distant companion."
Lakir answers, "Away from here, with plausible deniability." He then adds, "But have we covered all aspects of 'rendering aid to vessels in distress', as viewed by Vilani precepts?"
"As to the reaction of the locals, I am not terribly worried. We are not corsairs (yet, anyway), and I doubt anyone is going to hold not committing suicide against us, unless they think we are in with the corsairs."
"Again, it goes back to 'what sort of effort did we make', as viewed by the local officials. Did we make an effort to obtain data on the raiders, record waypoints for rescue efforts, plot 'best time to intercept' for rescue crews, use comms to advise local S&R, pretend to be the lead element of a RVN patrolling picket, using the comms freqs we have, as well as broadcast in the clear, etc.
"Obviously, it your call Capn'."
Vlad speaks up, "Maybe we can kill two birds with one stone here. Go in and take out the pirates for the purpose of stealing their prize. We'd have to give the appearance of looting the ship afterwards, but it would allow us to save them and still maintain our disguise."
Lakir answers him, "This leads to my ultimate goal. We can't outgun them, but maybe we can scare them off. With that done, then our clearance should allow us to fabricate the 'ruse' with the system authorities, after the raiders depart. We can say, 'Oy, we scared off this high powered band, and look what we have.' After the real raiders are gone, and with buy in from the local authorities of course.
"But I didn't want to float that until I saw how the Cap'n was goin' ta jump."
"Well, we can do both," Simrii chimes in. "If we don't decelerate we can fly past them so fast that we'll be in and out of combat range pretty quick. Coming in hot might scare the crap out of them, especially in Vince and I are shooting at them. Darrurz can record what he can from the sensors. That might keep anyone from complaining that we didn't play hero."
"It would certainly help with my guilty feelings about just running away," Chuck adds.
Gvarokh waits until the crew finishes their discussion before announcing his decision. "I have no intention of starting a fight we cannot win prior to getting to our destination. Just doesn't seem like a good idea. This would be completely different if there was only one corsair. But three is way too much.
"We'll coast through the well to the other side until something changes. We'll keep an eye on them with passive scanners for as long as possible.
"One of those somethings could be an actual naval picket. But that isn't looking likely."
Lakir replies, "That's cool. But what's the drill? Active scan n' shoot? Unlikely, with our limited range plasma turrets. Or passive scan as we blow by, and hope like hell they don't get enough of a read on us to flush us out, if we encounter them again?"
Gvarokh reiterates, "Just passive scanners. If they get threatening, and we're in range, we'll go full active and defend ourselves."
Simrii suggests, "Why not turn our transponder off? This way they can't get a definite ID on us. We used to do it all the time back at Shugmii. We're on the border and trying to hide from pirates. I don't think that anyone, let alone the Vilani Navy, would begrudge us for doing that."
"Agreed," Gvarokh responds. He switches off the transponder.
NPC: Chuck & Simrii
The ship gets pretty far before they're noticed. The pirates' overconfidence
led to carelessness. Were Miishakaal a military vessel, she'd have made
them pay dearly.
Miishakaal is 389,000 km (233,454 miles) away from the pirates when their sensor operator starts paying attention. She's scanned and, shortly thereafter, hailed in Galanglic on all frequencies.
"Attention unidentified vessel. We have scanned youuuuu and determined that yourrr puny ship is no match for the Touzagh. Surrrrrenderrrr nowwww and we'll let you live."
The message is audio only and the speaker clearly has a vargr accent. One of the ships has broken formation from the other two but hasn't committed to any sort of intercept course.
While Gvarokh is mulling his next move, Vincent comms in from his turret. "Captain, I've had a chance to go over our new weapons and they're a model I used in the service. While they won't go on to infinity like a beam laser or even as long as a pulse laser, these things start off so formidable that even at this distance there's enough beam cohesion as to cause some damage. Assuming you can hit someone at this distance."
Simrii adds, "Yeah, the odds are pretty staggering at this range."
"Get us down below 330,000 clicks," Vincent boasts, "and I've got a chance at hitting them."
Simrii laughs good naturedly, "That's stilll a formidable shot. Are you willing to put a wager on that?"
"Damn straight. What do you want?"
"Let's keep it friendly, say a case of beer or two liters of something stronger."
"You're on!" Vincent regains his composure. "Uhhh, assuming the captain gives us permission to shoot back."
"Of course. Can't fire unless the order is given. It also might be a good idea to start depressurizing the ship, just in case."
Lakir interjects, "And their effective engagement range, including a missile shot?"
While he tries to get a passive pinpoint scan off the enemy's radar signal, Darrurz grumbles to himself, "Should have got a missile turret. Damn plasma turrets have no range."
Vincent doesn't take too kindly to the bashing of the plasma turrets. "Missiles are overrated. A good ECM unit takes out at least half of them and you can knock out the rest with defensive fire. I won't even go into the costs of maintaining a supply.
"As for our friend's effective engagement range, they're as limited as we are. Take it from a guy who spent his years in the Navy as a gunner. Once you get past 165,000 clicks, it's all a crap shoot. Only experienced gunners are going to be able to compensate for c lag."
Simrii agrees. "I'm with Vincent on this one. You guys are falling for media hype. Unless they've got someone over there that's a better gunner than me and Vincent, there's no way they're hitting us until we get within 165,000 clicks."
Before anyone can say anything more, the pirate's voice comes back on the line. "Listen up, gaek! This is your fffinal warning. If you don't surrender now, we're going to carrrve you up just like we did this other ngoen."
Darrurz's ears come up at the pirate's comm and he barks at the comm unit, though he restrained himself from opening an external channel. Although he's still quite calm, he clearly took offense. He looks at Gvarokh, willing him to act.
Chucks asks, "What's a gaek and a ngoen?" Simrii answers, "Gaek is prey. A ngoen is a pig-like creature native to Lair, the vargr homeworld. Quite tasty, when properly cooked."
"Cooked?" Vlad protests.
Gvarokh gives the order to don helmets and depressurize the hull.
Darrurz swears in Gvegh. "I can't get a lock with the passives. This densitometer can't isolate the corrrsairrr from the others. We'll have to go full active to get a tarrrget lock-k-k."
Gvarokh says, "Don't answer their hails. They don't know much about us, and I want to keep it that way. And we aren't surrendering.
"I don't want to take a long range pot-shot. We have unexpected weapons that pack a big, close punch. If we fire them, they will know what we have. If they don't know what we have, we should get close enough for a more effective shot.
"If we are lucky, they won't bother with us. If we are unlucky, both will pursue us." With an evil grin, he continues, "I will leave it to you to determine the luck involved if only one pursues us."
As if on cue, the pirates roars, "I will not be ignored! Fire!"
Your sensors detect laser fire, though the shots are wildly off the mark. Judging from the energy signatures, Darrurz determines that two of the shots were beam laser while one was a pulse laser. Darrurz also detects thrusters firing up from the one vessel that shot at you.
All three shots miss. Range: 339,148 km (203,489 miles).
All three shots miss. Range: 330,420 km (198,252 miles).
"We're down to 330,000 clicks. How about now?" Vincent asks.
"Not yet," Gvarokh replies. "Slade: fire up the engines. We're going evasive!" Turning his attention back to the gunners, he says "Vincent, Simrii: Wait until you get a good resolution before you fire. We only have this once chance at surprise. I want them to think we are easy pickings. We need to do maximum damage to stop them, and pot-shots won't do that." Finally, he turns to Darrurz, "Darrurz, I am going to have to fully concentrate on our maneuvers. Go active just before Vincent and Simrii need to fire. We need their shots to count!"
Darrurz' ears fold along the back of his head as his paws move across the controls, and he growls under his breath slightly. He tries to use the beam and pulse laser activity to gain a passive pinpoint on the target.
While he is doing this, he says to Gvarokh, "I suggest we tight beam a mayday to the starport to see if we are going to get any assistance."
Gvarokh acknowledges that it's a good idea. "If we can actually do that, I agree with it. At least knowing the situation at Odinaga would be helpful. I am not counting on any help, however."
Gvarokh pauses for a moment, switches off his mic momentarily while looking at the urn and says, "Whatever help you can bring will be surely appreciated." He then turns his mic back on.
While the computer crunches on the sensor data, Darrurz attempts to tight beam comm the starport. Unfortunately, the downport is on the opposite side of the planet. There is no orbital facility nor can Darrurz find any of the planet's communication satellites to link with. He relays this information to Gvarokh.
Darrurz returns his attention to the sensors, to see if he can get a target lock using the passive object pinpoint scan. After a bit of work he's successful and relates this information to the captain and the sensor lock to the gunners. He barks with restrained glee as passes the lock to the gunners. "Gotcha!"
Next: The Road To Gamgilebo - Part 3