Characters: Gvarokh, Lakir & Darrurz
NPC: Chuck & Simrii
Location: Merghia Downport - Fatooh's
Gvarokh, Lakir, Darrurz, Chuck and Simrii assemble in the crew lounge and
It is now Darrurz, Chuck and Simrii's turn to marvel at the unkempt conditions of the starport. The sight of refugees on the main concourse unnerves Chuck. "Man, don't the Vilani know what's going on out here?"
Simrii replies, "I'm sure they do. But these people don't have any connections with any of the Bureaus. Acceptable losses. We overheard plenty of that when the Captain and Lakir met with Colonel Garmin. And if they're not going to do anything about Gemid, what makes you think these people matter?"
"Well, they're sending us out after the Qa Livk and Fitzpatrick."
"I'm still wondering about that one."
The bright lights and elevated noise levels of the entertainment section put an end to the conversation.
The first establishment is a boarded up The Wandering Shugilii, the ubiquitous vilani restaurant chain. Flyers posted over the boards proclaim, "Coming Soon: Koji's Restaurant."
The next place is Fatooh's. Judging by the noise levels, it's pretty crowded. Stepping inside, the crew sees a long bar to their left. Booths occupy the rest of the place. Four booths lie along each side of the aisle as soon as one walks in. The rest line the back where really thick glass provides a view outside. The door to the kitchen is in the back on the left, between the bar and the window tables. There are no other visible exits.
The place looks like it could hold 60 people. It's two-thirds full.
A hostess, dressed in black pants and long-sleeved shirt, offers to seat the guys anywhere they'd like (bar, front booth, window booth).
"Let's head to the bar," Lakir suggests.
The hostess lets them find their own way. There are exactly five seats available at the bar. The seating goes: Lakir, Darrurz, Gvarokh, Chuck and Simrii.
After ordering a round of Hayash, the local and only brew on tap, Chuck leans over and says quietly, "Don't be alarmed, but we got some dirty looks when we walked in. Don't turn around."
"Aye," Lakir adds, "I'm sure a mixed race crew is bound to raise some hackles, bein' that the Touzagh are a mixed lot."
The beer arrives and doesn't taste too good (Schaefer - for those that know it). It's clear with a light golden color. The head is white and dissipates quickly. The hops are very light. It finishes dry, with a slight metallic aftertaste. It's not horrible, but would probably best be appreciated after working in a coal mine all day.
No one is making a hostile move towards the party, so they decide to stay and finish their beer.
Lakir and Chuck make an effort to work the crowd, in hopes of picking up some useful information.
From the relative safety of his barstool, Darrurz looks around the place for anyone that might look like a broker. Unfortunately, no one in the crowd even remotely resembles one.
Both Lakir and Chuck appear to be having some measure of success as both are chatting up some of the bar's patrons. After several minutes, both return.
Chuck says, "I was talking with a retired scout who's consulting for the locals and he says that he ran into a couple of vargr merchants who conduct cross border trade. They told him to be careful if he ran into any ships of the Ngath Confederation. They heard that the Ngath were kidnapping people with all kinds of technical expertise and selling them to the highest bidder."
Lakir follows up. "I was talking with the first mate of a subbie that was attacked by the Touzagh. They were in the Sikilar system, which is four parsecs spinward from here. The odd thing was, the Flamers weren't using one of their own ships. It was an old Gazelle class close escort. The Touzagh had done a crappy job repainting it so the old Impy markings showed through in places.
"When they checked out the markings, the ship turned out to be a ship called the Misery, which was lost in action somewhere around Lishun's Depot in 1120.
"I asked him what the pirates did and he said that since the captain surrendered outright, they just raided their cargo and insulted them until they jumped away."
Gvarokh replies, "If we run into that pirate, there will be one dead ship, because we aren't surrendering."
Lakir flags down the barkeep to order up another round. He takes advantage of the opportunity to flash some pics of the Fitzpatrick's crew on his SuperPDA to see if he recalls them.
"Yeah, I remember them," he says. "A pretty miserable lot. The place was pretty jumping after the boys had driven off some pirates, but those guys couldn't be cheered up. I tried to cheer 'em up, but they let on that they had a serious mission ahead of them. One of 'em got downright pissy. He said that our little victory didn't amount to shit where they were headed. His CO calmed him down and apologized to me. They left shortly after that."
"Do you recall anythin' else they may have mentioned? Destination or corsair groups they had heard about?"
"Nah. They were quite tight lipped about that. I don't even know if they were after corsairs. They didn't say who or what they were after."
"Seems strange they wouldn't be celabratin' a bit O' whoop ass on some raiders, given the conditions in this area of space."
"People round here need something to celebrate. Morale ain't too good when the Bureau pull out and all but say yer on yer own. Kicking some raider ass is something to cheer. It was pretty loud in here last night after that last group of raiders got their ass handed to them. If this keeps up, people might actually think we can hold 'em off until the Bureau grow a pair and send us some reinforcements."
"Think the boys'll be in, after kicking that last batch o' corsair ass? It was quite the light show, when those missiles hit home."
"Probably not for a couple of days. There's too few of them so they don't get much downtime. Not every victory comes so easily."
Lakir leaves enough to cover a round for the boys, when they do come in, courtesy of the Miishakaal, with confirmation on the credit draw to be sent to Colonel Garmin's office, cc'd to Admiral Menarsh' office, as well.
Lakir says to Gvarokh, "If it's cool with you, I'd like to head to the warden's office during the next work cycle to see what I can pick up from them."
Gvarokh replies, "Sounds like a good plan."
Once the beer is finished and the tab settled, the group leave the bar. On the way back to the ship, when the already sparse crowds have vanished, Gvarokh says, "Sounds like the crew of the Fitzpatrick went into this assuming they were going to fail, if not die. Make no mistake: We will succeed. Any dead pirates along the route is a bonus."
The crew present are encouraged by Gvarokh's positive attitude.
NPC: Deputy Warden Kimii Kushurlake
Location: Merghia Downport - Starport Warden's Office
After freshening up, Lakir heads out to the Starport Warden's Office in an
effort to gather more intel on the missing ships and anything else about the
situation at hand in this part of space. He brings his usual utility jacket
filled with his non-weapon gear and his comm is open.
As he's becoming familiar with the starport, he makes it to the Warden's Office in no time at all with scarcely a glance at the map software on his SuperPDA. The lobby is staffed by a short, dark haired woman whose metabolism appears to have become a victim of her sedentary job. She sits behind a large opaque wraparound desk.
She greets Lakir with a pleasant, "Hello, may I help you?"
"Hi, I'm Lakir from the Miishakaal. Colonel Garmin sent me over to talk to the Starport Warden about a missing ship."
Her brow furrows as she consults her viewscreen. "I don't have anything on the Warden's schedule or any messages from the Colonel. Let me check."
She comms the Colonel's office. Lakir overhears her say, "Hi, Milbert," and her inquiry. After several "uh huh's" and "Ok's" she thanks the Colonel's Assistant and hangs up. To Lakir she says, "Let me talk to the Warden and see if we can squeeze you in."
After half an hour, Deputy Warden Kimii Kushurlake is able to see Lakir. While she's slimmer than the receptionist, she could hardly be accused of being "softer." Her gray uniform hides her curves, assuming she has some. Her hair is tied back straight in compliance with military regulations, though Starport Warden rules are more relaxed. She wears no makeup and everything in her demeanor professes a deep desire to fit in with the rest of the guys.
And when she shakes Lakir's hand, her grip is firm.
After returning to her office and offering him a seat, she asks Lakir, "What can I do for you, Mister Lakir?"
"Thank you for taking the time to see me, Warden."
"No problem. We're always willing to assist Colonel Garmin."
"As we've been tasked with the recovery of both the Fitzpatrick, and the Qa Livk, I was hoping you could pass on any information you may have in regards to the Fitzpatrick's plan from Odinaga, on.
"From what we've been able to ascertain locally, the crew was a pretty despondent lot. Any info you have on why they were so down, might be helpful."
She frowns. "Well, that's the 64,000 credit question, isn't it. No one seems to know what happened to either ship once they jumped into the Gamgilebo system. As my jurisdiction is limited to this starport, I really can't say what happens to anyone once they leave. All I can do is answer any questions, to the best of my ability, of what ships do when they're in my port. But if I hear things, I pass them along.
"Yes, the crew of the Fitzpatrick was a despondent lot. The reason why is that they didn't have a high regard for the success of their mission, which, as you know, was to travel to Gamgilebo to find the Qa Livk.
"Why didn't they have a high regard for the success of their mission? As well armed as they were, they were just a scout ship. As we just saw here with the latest attack, sometimes the pirates run in groups. One fusion turret isn't much if you're confronted by three corsairs. And they knew that. The Bureau should've coughed up the money and dispatched a mercenary cruiser. Now that would've sent a message."
"Have you heard any mention of these mixed Vargr-Human corsair crews?"
"Yes. It's been well established that there's a corsair faction, the Touzagh, who run with mixed vargr and vilani crews."
"As we may end up doing a Corsair imitation, is there anything Dockyard could do for us in the visual impersonation route? We should have the electronic spectrum covered, but I'm concerned about our visual signature."
"I'm sure you could schedule a paint job. Painting our ships is low on the priority list so you shouldn't have a problem scheduling that."
"How much traffic do you get heading in from Gamgilebo? And is any of it regularly scheduled?"
If so, anything due in the next while? Have you heard anything up to date about conditions around Gamgilebo?"
"We don't get a lot of traffic from Gamgilebo anymore. That shouldn't come as a surprise. Most of the ships I know that used to go there don't anymore. Again. No surprise there. I could tell you what I've heard, but you're better off talking to someone who's actually been there. I know of two ships that have been there somewhat recently. Let me check to see if they're in port." She checks her terminal. "You're in luck. The Xevious is here. If you tell them I sent you, they'll talk. If not, comm me and I'll make them." She smiles to let Lakir know she doesn't mean to sound like she's going to rough them up. "They owe me a favor. They're at Terminal Three, Gate Four."
"Wow, thanks! That'll help a lot." He stands and extends his hand. "Thank you for your help."
She shakes his hand firmly. "Glad to help."
After Lakir has left the Starport Warden's Offices, he comms Gvarokh, "Hey C ap'n. Is there a paint job on the horizon? Looks like we can just walk over and get one."
"I'm still thinking about it," Gvarokh replies.
"I'm headed over to meet with the crew from the Xevious for some up-to-date intel. Do you want to join me?"
"Yes. I'll meet you there."
Lakir continues on his way to the Xevious.
Characters: Lakir and Gvarokh
NPC: Izthasngerz, 1st Officer of the Xevious
Location: Xevious, parked at Merghia Downport
Lakir arrives at the gate for the Xevious shortly after Gvarokh. He
gestures to Lakir to buzz the external comm.
"Hi. My name is Lakir and I'm with Captain Gvarokh. We're from the Miishakaal. We're investigating the disappearance of the Qa Livk and Fitzpatrick. I just met with Deputy Warden Kushurlake and she suggested that we talk with you about the conditions at Gamgilebo."
There's silence on the line for several seconds.
"Sure. C'mon aboard."
The pair head down the gantry arm and enter the ship's starboard airlock. They're met at the other side by a male vargr dressed in a spacer jumpsuit.
The vargr extends his paw for the human handshake, first to Gvarokh and then to Lakir. "I'm Izthasngerz, the first officer of the Xevious. You can call me Izthas. The captain's away on business." His Galanglic is quite good. Izthasngerz gestures to his left towards the crew lounge. "Please, come in and have a seat."
After everyone is seated he continues. "My comm officer tells me that you're investigating the disappearance of a couple of ships and that you need to know something about Gamgilebo."
Since Lakir hesitates for a moment, Gvarokh speaks, "Well, we are going into this with little information at all. So, let's start at the bottom: What are conditions like at Gamgilebo? At least when you were last there. How friendly are they to traders? How do they react to transponders, or the lack of such? As you can imagine, having an idea of how to act and fit in will keep us from raising too many red flags."
Izthas nods. "We've been there three times since the system was taken over. There have been some changes and you're wise to ask. The new government's whiskers are most sensitive. If they smell trouble, they'll bite. They don't want anyone encroaching on their turf. They've got the local population on a leash, but it's not tight. So long as they don't act out, they're free to go about their business. Of course a leash is still a leash.
"The mining operation is still going strong. The major difference is that the ore is sent to the Ngath Confederation instead of Sharurshid. The miners are also receiving a smaller share of the profits than they had before.
"When we were last there, which was several weeks ago, I talked to one human there who grumbled that the union was given a 'take it or leave it' offer. At a meeting, one of the leaders spoke up about rallying together. None of the other leaders thought that was a good idea and argued that the miners should just take the offer. My contact said that there was supposed to be another meeting to discuss forming a new union that would go on strike if compensation levels weren't maintained. But the dissenting leader didn't show up for the meeting. The next day he was found dead. No one claimed responsibility and an investigation came up empty.
"The miners got the message and took the offer.
"Traders are welcome there but it's tough to buy anything as there are new trade agreements in place that automatically send exports to Confederation businesses. Sellers have it a little easier, but if you're selling something that competes with a Confederation business, there are tariffs to deal with.
"They've scaled back on services at the starport. The landing field is about a quarter of a kilometer from the terminal. The starport used to offer complementary shuttle busses for crew and passengers to cover the distance without climbing into a vacc suit. Not anymore. You can still get a cargo shuttle, but they charge a fee, which I understand varies from day-to-day and the value of your cargo.
"They don't care about transponders. On or off doesn't matter. While the law and order types prefer for you to have it on, they recognize that corsairs, who also operate them on or off, will attack ships they feel are easy prey. Of course, if a corsair attacks the wrong ship, the Ngath Confederation Navy will punish them. Unfortunately, Imperial ships don't fall into that category. They're fair game."
"About those corsairs," Gvarokh asks, "how does Ngath react if an Imperial ship defends itself? Obviously, they aren't going to help, but will they help the corsairs?"
Izthasngerz replies, "No. They're not going to help corsairs unless they're under attack by Vilani or Imperial naval forces. They'd perceive that as an invasion of their space. But in a one on one, predator versus prey situation, they're going to look the other way. Prey is allowed to defend itself. If the wolf's bite isn't strong enough to drag down his prey, then the wolf deserves to starve.
"Is there anything you can suggest we do to look 'Independent' rather than 'Imperial'? I figure 'Imperial' is gonna get us killed out of hand, one way or the other."
"I don't know what you can do to appear independent other than leave your transponder off."
"And, may I assume that anyone, Imperial or not, found 'poking around' by the Navy will be looked at less than favorably?"
"Depends on where you're poking," Izthasngerz grins.
Lakir starts his line of questioning, "How much volume does the system currently see?"
"When we were there last, there was about eight ships in port. I don't know what ships were flying around in the belts."
"Any warning buoys or 'out of bounds' areas in the system, that you know of? Particular entry vectors we should be wary of?"
"Not that I know of."
"Any word dirtside, of a couple of Vilani ships, matching the Fitz's or Qa Livk description?"
When Izthasngerz explains he's unfamiliar with those ships. Lakir fills him in. "I'm sorry. I didn't hear anything about them while we were there."
"Where's the best place, dirtside, to hang out and listen for system chatter?"
Izthasngerz rocks his head back, "Ahhhh, that would be The Lovestruck Rock. It's the bar at the starport. It's quite the place." He smiles, showing a large amount of teeth.
"If we don't want to pay for dirtside transport, how do the locals view using our own transport?"
"They seem to prefer it."
"How are marked corsairs received by system or port control and are there any marked corsair birds using the facilities on a regular basis?"
"I don't know. We didn't see any corsairs at any time while we were there. Strange, isn't it?"
"Well, do you know of any regular fences, for corsair goods? Or at least that you've heard rumours of, around the port?"
Izthasngerz gives this question a lot of thought. "I'm sorry, but I can't recall any. As a rule, we steer away from that sort of crowd. All the more so the further coreward one goes."
"Any hints on hot cargo for this set o' rocks?"
"Volatiles are always good. Vacuum worlds never have enough of that stuff. And the impression I got from others there was that no one felt particularly safe wandering around the system to harvest it from the gas giants or comets.
"Food is always a plus. Food grown on an asteroid will never win a prize for taste."
Silence follows after that last answer. Lakir breaks it, "Ok, that does it for me. Thank you very much Izthas, you've been very helpful."
"That's it for me too," Gvarokh adds as he stands up, "and I thank you as well."
Izthasngerz bows slightly, "Glad to be of help." He shows the two to the door.
On the way back to Miishakaal, Gvarokh asks Lakir, "Who do we need to talk to for the paint job?"
Lakir replies, "We should be able to book the paintjob through regular channels; just mention the Warden. She said it shouldn't be an issue."
Gvarokh adds, "We probably ought to pick something a little more flashy."
A big toothy grin emerges on Lakir's face. "I'm sure you, Vlad, and Darrurz, will be able to come up with an appropriate paint scheme."
Gvarokh has a toothy laugh of his own, showing his appreciation for Lakir's joke.
Next: The Road To Gamgilebo - Part 5