It's been a long enough ride. The anticipation of arrival has been building
for weeks. With all of the negative intel, no one was exactly sure what to
expect. So it is with some relief when the ship finally precipitates out of
jumpspace and isn't blasted to smithereens.
Gvarokh begins decelerating Miishakaal while the sensors give Darrurz a view of the surroundings. Site One comes into focus but more distant objects are a bit blurry. It appears that there's a lot of EM interference in the system. While the first thought of the military minded personnel is that someone may be attempting to jam their sensors, Darrurz reassures them that while there are several ships in the area the readings he's receiving indicate a natural source. "While we can get to the starport withouuut a problem, we'll need someone to re-calibrate the sensorrrrs if we'rrrre going to navigate thisss system."
"Understood. Give me the details on the ships," Gvarokh barks.
"Two c-c-carrrgo hauler ships on an outbound trajectorrry. Two Seeker class mining vessels are headed in from the belt while anotherrr two appear to be headed outbound. There's a Kfarrghogh classss c-c-cruiser in a stationary orbit above the station."
"Is it doing anything?" Gvarokh asks.
"No. It must not consider us a threat."
The starport hails you. An obviously Vargr voice demands in Gvegh, "Unidentified craft, this is the Site One starport. State your destination and business."
The ship is running with its transponder off hence the starport's inability to identify you.
"I've got this," Darrurz says to Gvarokh with confidence. In reply to the starport he says, "This is the Miishakaal. We're landing at your starport for fuel and trade."
"Acknowledged, Miishakaal. Proceed to landing bay five. Turning lights on now. Starport out."
Chuck pipes in over the comm, "That was easy."
Gvarokh guides the ship towards Site One though he periodically checks to see if that cruiser does anything. It doesn't and Gvarokh lands the ship at the designated landing site, which looks to be a standard sub-500 ton hangar.
Once the ship touches down, the bay door closes and the hangar pressurizes.
The usual mob of starport technicians swarm out of the hangar office and get to work. Power feeds, water and waste lines, and a dizzying array of tubes, conduits and cables are attached to the ship. They're all supervised by a pair of human starport officials and one stocky, red-furred Vargr. They appear to be waiting for someone to disembark from the ship to meet with them.
Gvarokh notices that each carries a holstered pistol.
Darrurz turns to Gvarokh while pointing at the red-furred Vargr and in Gvegh says, "That's for us. We've come in with no transponder and they want to know we're friendly. They are likely to have noticed the unusual site of a couple of plasma guns on a far trader. I suggest we go out with side-arms, but nothing over the top. They should tell us if we can't wear them into the port.
"You, Me, Vlad, and one other. Talk in Gvegh. You're the Captain of an armed free trader don't let them pressure you. I'll brief the other you choose on how to behave when we're out there."
Gvarokh nods in agreement. "Sound advice. I want Lakir to go too. He knows a little bit of Gvegh, but he knows enough body language to figure out the rest." Over the comm, he says, "Vlad, Lakir, meet Darrurz and me in the crew lounge. Don't bring anything heavier than a pistol. The rest of you, starport SOP. If you don't have anything to do, just wait inside.
"Keep in mind that with the bay doors closed, we aren't going anywhere if a firefight does errrupt. We cannot win any fights right now, especially with a cruiser in orbit. We must talk our way out of any conflict right now." With that, Gvarokh heads to the ship's locker for his semi-auto and three loaded DS ammo clips and meets the others in the crew lounge.
While Gvarokh waits for the others, he watches as Simrii puts on his flex armor and grabs his weapons and heads down to the airlock. He keeps his pistol holstered and his SMG's hidden out of sight just inside the airlock.
Slade does his usual post-flight systems check routine in Engineering while simultaneously monitoring the refueling and refurbishment of life support.
After donning his flex armor and grabbing his .45, Vincent assists him.
Not having anything to do, Chuck takes a cue from Simrii. He dons his flex armor and grabs his shotgun. "I promise to stay out of sight, captain." He taps his commset. "Unless I'm needed."
Darrurz is first to arrive. He's wearing his tailored Vacc Suit with the green utility vest on. He has comm dots and multiplexor, hand computer, and his Auto Pistol holstered.
Lakir arrives wearing coveralls with the utility jacket. His gauss pistol is holstered while an assortment of extra ammo clips are stashed in the vest. Also in the vest are his super pda and language translator, which is set up to feed into his comm dot.
Darrurz pulls him aside and says, "The Vargr in the extents on the border are likely to be more pronounced in the 'Vargrness' for want of a better word. As you know it's all about charisma. When we are out there, Gvarokh will be expected to do all the talking, and it's going to be in Gvegh. Me, Vlad and you will be standing slightly behind him. If Gvarokh wants advice he'll quietly ask you of for it. Give it to him quietly, and then he'll say it like it was his.
"If you want to draw Gvarokh's attention cough quietly, but if Gvarokh's engaged in something else he might ignore you. If he does just leave it. Don't offer anything out of turn unless you're challenged directly. It might sound like it's going to kick off, but it could just be a bit of banter."
Lakir nods to show he understands.
Vlad arrives in his cloth armor with his body pistol holstered. His long sword is harnessed across his back, more to maintain an appearance of ruthlessness than as an effective combat weapon.
Darrurz nods towards Vlad as he continues talking to Lakir. "Vlad will let you know if it's actually kicking off, because he's the one who will respond to any physical challenge. If it's just talk then it will be Gvarokh, and possibly me."
Darrurz beams a toothy smile at Lakir. "It likely that we're just going to have a nice accommodating chat, but as this is the Extents you never know what might happen!"
Darrurz seems to stand a little taller. His shoulders seem a little larger and he barks as he wags his tail. In Gvegh he says, "O it's good to be back." And to Vlad he says "Keep your noise up out there," as he sniffs the air.
Vlad, in a display of pack camaraderie, lifts his nose, sniffs, and growls.
Now that everyone has assembled, Gvarokh leads the group out through the airlock.
Characters: Gvarokh, Darrurz, Vlad and Lakir
NPC: Assistant Starport Warden Gaerrdakh
Location: Landing Bay 5 at the Site 1 Starport
Gvarokh leads the group outside the airlock and down the mobile stairs provided
by the starport.
The starport Vargr, a stocky red-furred fellow, leads in a traditional greeting: a series of head bobs and sniffing of the air around each other's shoulders accompanied by some complementary barks. Gvarokh hasn't done this little ritual since his childhood. Fortunately, it's a bit like what the humans call "riding a bike," and he performs it without hesitation or mistakes.
The crew on board the ship is listening in. Fortunately, the comm system is running the dialogue through a language translator so those that don't know Gvegh are able to follow along.
Before introducing himself, the Vargr growls over his shoulder at the two humans that accompanied him. They back away and then check on the progress of the technicians.
"Assistant Starport Warden Gaerrdakh."
"Gvarokh, captain of the Miishakaal."
Gaerrdakh gestures to the ship. "I wouldn't think that a dhaeg" [the computer translates this word to mean a tiny rodent on Lair] "...would have the claws to take down prey. But the sensor report says that she does."
Gvarokh gives a smug, knowing smile but doesn't actually say anything. He puffs himself up, but not overtly so. His demeanor suggests that as a successful corsair with only a far trader at his disposal, you'd better show him some respect.
"Are you here to join up with the Touzagh, sell your loot, or are you just sipping from a stream before resuming the hunt?"
"We are sipping, though we do have some loot to unload if the price is right."
"That's fine." He pulls out a datapad and types on it. "I'm granting you visas for your stay. Please don't hunt in this system. We want no trouble with the humans operating the mining facilities or any of the ore haulers, and you certainly don't want any trouble with us." He reveals a couple of teeth with his smile, not enough for you to take it as a threat but as a friendly warning. "I'll need your ship's transponder ID code so that the patrols have something to verify against should you run into any trouble out there. Is there anyone on board your ship that can turn it on for a few seconds while I record it?" Slade, who was sitting at the Engineering computer overseeing the refueling process, accesses the Bridge Controls menu.
Gvarokh says, "It is on," knowing Slade will handle it quickly.v Slade activates the transponder.
"No, I'm not getting a sig... ah, there it is," Gaerrdakh replies. He stares at the screen for another three seconds. "Thank you."
"Now that you've got it, off it goes."
Slade turns off the transponder.
Gaerrdakh does the vargr equivalent of arching an eyebrow. "Vilani transponder. Clever. That must make border crossing easier."
"It helps," Gvarokh says with aplomb.
"Before I leave, do you have any questions?"
Gvarokh responds with, "Not right now. However, if I do need to ask a question, is there a preferred channel?"
"If it's a mundane matter, check with one of these guys," Gaerrdakh gestures to one of the human assistants that escorted him in. "One of them will be here until the crew is done. If it's something you don't believe they can handle, contact me. Your comm system should be able to connect you to my work number. I'm the only Assistant Starport Warden Gaerrdakh in the listing. However, my shift ends as soon as I walk out that hatch. Unless I check my messages, I'll be unavailable until my next shift."
"Oh, and as soon as your ship is taken care of, you'll get the bill from one of these guys. Good hunting." With that, he leaves you and heads into the small office next to the airlock.
Location: Miishakaal crew lounge
Back on board the ship, everyone assembles in the crew lounge. Slade is still in
Engineering but is commed in.
"Is it just me," Chuck says, "Or did that vargr think we were pirates?"
Vlad replies, "I'd just assumed that he'd assume we were pirates."
"I guess the paint job worked then," Chuck adds. "Good work, Darrurz."
Gvarokh responds, "We have a Vilani transponder and heavy weapons. No trader is going to get away with that, at least for long. So, we are either corsairs or we are something dangerous to them."
Darrurz elaborates on Gvarokh's point. "He made that assumption, and Gvarokh didn't correct him. But then pretty much any armed merchant ship in the Extents could be a corsair, however the plasma turrets kind of give us a bigger punch than a normal armed merchant. We also presented armed strength when we went to meet and greet, so it would be a fair assumption on his part."
While the meeting continues, Darrurz whips out his handcomp and checks out CargoNet for freight and speculative cargos, as well as the availability of brokers to sell their current load. He also looks at the other current ships docked in port.
"So what do we do now, Captain?" Chuck asks.
Gvarokh responds, "Well, that is a good question. To be honest, I was hoping things would be a little more obvious as we got closer to Gamgilebo, but that didn't happen. We need to get some decent cover to go nosing through the asteroid belt to check out the locations we were given."
Looking at Darrurz, he continues, "Perhaps there are some supplies that need to be run to the miners." Looking back to the group, "I know that isn't necessarily expected of a 'corsair', but you gotta make money where you can. Besides, keeping them guessing is always a good idea.
"And, while figuring that out, some of us need to venture out and see what we can find out. We need to be very careful on what we ask, but perhaps we can find something out anyway."
Lakir speaks up, "With your permission, cap'n, I thought I'd walk around the hangar and try chattin' up some of the human techs or even one of Gaerrdakh's assistants. After that, maybe head over to the Lovestruck Rock to track down our contact."
"I'll go with him," Vlad adds. "I'll make sure he doesn't get into any trouble. And if he does," Vlad smiles a typical vargr smile, "I'll make sure they think twice about biting him."
Gvarokh nods. "That sounds good. When you get back, those who want to can head over to the Rock so we can track down our contact."
The meeting is adjourned.
Darrurz and Gvarokh look over CargoNet to see if there's anything that might be usable as a cover when they start looking around the Belt for the missing ships.
Vlad and Lakir head out to the hangar bay (with their same gear) to chat up the technicians.
Characters: Lakir and Vlad
Location: In the hangar bay outside Miishakaal
Vlad and Lakir descend the gantry stairs and look around. The technicians
look a bit more relaxed than when they got there. Gaerrdakh in nowhere in sight.
Lakir checks the time. "Gaerrdakh's shift is over. I guess we won't catch him working OT."
Vlad throws his head back and laughs. "He doesn't want to be late for his nap!"
The pair approach two techs hanging out by the fuel line. When they spot Lakir and Vlad, they scramble, trying nonchalantly to appear that they were actually busy.
"Relax, fellahs," Lakir assures them. "We're not your boss and Vlad here only bites when you piss him off."
The techs nervously smile as they try to look busy. Lakir doesn't appear to have put them at ease. This whole looking like corsairs routine is working too well.
"Don't mind my sidekick here. He's into this weird 'hang with the strange smell' shit, so he tags along everywhere with me dirtside."
That doesn't get much of a response.
"You boys look like your shift's kinda wearin' on ya, what with the change in ownership around these parts. I figure you know the best place to unwind, as part of this new gig. Where's the best place for a human to hang out and relax around here?"
One of them curtly replies, "Lovestruck Rock is where the spacers go."
"Thanks." He knows that's all he's going to get out of this pair.
Vlad looks around for vargr technicians, but there are none.
Lakir tries a few more techs, but he gets similar reactions from them as well. He knows human behavior well enough (Interrogation + Streetwise + common sense) to know that they're not particularly welcome here. While he doesn't expect the techs to do anything malicious, they're going to do their jobs and nothing more.
Discouraged, the pair head back into the ship.
Lakir says quietly to Vlad, "Judging by the reaction these guys are giving us, our plan to look like corsairs is working really well. Maybe a bit too well."
Vlad nods. "I can smell the anxiety."
Characters: Gvarokh and Darrurz (others are milling about the ship),
then Lakir and Vlad
NPC: Chuck (checking out local news feeds)
Location: Miishakaal crew lounge
Gvarokh and Darrurz take a look at CargoNet. Gvarokh would like to use a
supply run as cover for ruminating through the asteroid belt. There's a notice
on the board that states that the supply runs are handled by one company:
Khalidurton. In turn, when they need assistance, they subcontract out to
independents. There's an application form to fill out which is followed by an
interview. Successfully completing these tasks gets you a spot on the waiting
"Khalidurton!" Darrurz exclaims.
"You know them?" Gvarokh asks.
"Yessss. Big corrrrporation. They win a lot of government contracts. Most of the time they'rrrre 'no bid'. When they move into a system they drive out the competition or force them to submit."
"Should we be concerned?"
"Nah, so long as we make it clear that we're not trying to move in on their turf, we'll be fine."
"Ok, then. Let's have a look at their contract."
Darrurz looks over the contract. He's familiar with the legalese involved in these sorts of contracts so he knows which parts are safe to skim and which he needs to scrutinize. "It's a standard freight subcontract, with a couple of exceptions. If the freight is damaged or stolen, we'll be liable to cover 25% of the value of the loss. I'm not surprised. I r-r-read on TNS about insurance companies changing the r-r-rules because of the war. Khalidurton wants the unfortunate subcontractor to help cover the shortfall. If we don't pay, they'll put a lien on our ship.
"If we steal from them, they'll put a bounty on our tails. If they have enough evidence, they'll get the courts to grant them a guilty verdict and our ship will legally be theirs."
Gvarokh's ears shoot up in alarm.
"It's nothing to worry about. We're not going to steal from them. It's a maneuver to protect them from pirates pretending to be couriers."
"I'm concerned that once they take a look at Miisha's new paint job, that's what they'll think!"
"The last thing is that the pay isn't good: only 500 credits a ton. But since it's in-system hauling, we won't be expending the fuel that an interstellar trip costs."
Gvarokh scratches his chin. "I'm going to think about this before making a decision.
>From across the crew lounge, Simrii curses, "Nothing! No fresh vegetables or paper books!"
At this point, Lakir and Vlad return to the ship. It's clear by the look on their faces that it didn't go well.
"Find out anything?" Gvarokh asks.
"Not a very talkative bunch," Lakir replies. "They made it clear that they didn't care much for us. We had them sold that we're corsairs and that made them uneasy."
"I could smell it," Vlad adds.
"After talkin' with 'em, it seems like the Lovestruck Rock is the place to go for spacers."
Gvarokh waits for Lakir and/or Vlad to add anything else.
"That's all I got," Lakir adds. "Before we go there, we should review the pass phases. Hopefully, Khaash Kharlimini is the on-shift bartender." He nods towards Darrurz's handcomp. "You guys find something?"
Gvarokh explains the cargo subcontracting gig run by Khalidurton.
"Seems like a good gig, as we have the buoy freqs for the missing ships."
Gvarokh replies, "I'm going to hold off on a decision until after you and Darrurz get back from the Lovestruck Rock. The intel you gather may affect my decision."
Darrurz's ears perk up.
Gvarokh continues, "Unless you have any objections, I'd like anyone who feels like going to go. A large group will just look like a ship's crew out on R&R. They'll provide cover while you talk to Kharlimini. It'll look like you're just chatting up the bartender to make sure your drinks keep coming." He smiles, showing plenty of teeth.
Vincent chimes in from Engineering, "I'll go."
"Me too," adds Chuck.
Characters: Darrurz, Lakir and Vincent
Location: Site 1 Landing Field, then starport
Lakir, Darrurz, Vincent and Chuck have assembled in the crew lounge. Vincent
is unarmed but armored. Chuck is carrying his shotgun and is also armored. Lakir
is as he was before. Darrurz is wearing his tailored Vacc Suit with the green
utility vest on over it. He has comm dots and multiplexor, hand computer, and
his Auto Pistol holstered.
Realizing there's 250 meters of vacuum between the hangar and the starport, the three humans don their vacc suits before departing the ship.
Out in the hangar, most of the techs are in the small office next to the airlock. A couple are still monitoring the fuel and air feeds. They ignore the group.
After cycling through the airlock, the group walks along a path that runs adjacent to an access road. Ahead of them, they can see the starport dome and immediately behind it is the larger dome of Site 1. To their left and right is a cratered landscape with ridges running in the distance. Above their heads are a multitude of stars, both local and distant, patrol ships, and a faint ring that runs up to the suns. The ring is an illusion - the reflection of the system's stars on the asteroids.
It's been a long time since any of them have been in a vacc suit and micro gravity (the hangar bays have grav plates in the floor), so the difficulty of the walk is unexpected.
Both Lakir and Vincent have some trouble. Each miscalculates a jump and a step and winds up stumbling to the ground. Darrurz has a hearty laugh (as vargr are prone to do) and cracks a joke about monkeys and trees, but no one is hurt, except for their pride. Both Chuck and Darrurz help the fallen to their feet.
The group reaches the airlock and cycles in. Immediately on the other side is a Vacc Suit Check Room. An attendant (an attractive young woman) offers to check each member's vacc suit for a mere 5 credits. And, for an extra 10 credits, there's a dry cleaning service. Both services are completely optional. Some people don't like to walk around in vacc suits.
Chuck decides to take her up on both storage and cleaning. In an attempt to hit on her, he mistakenly offers too much information about the need for his vacc suit to be cleaned. She's summarily turned off.
Vincent smiles at the attendant, "I'll get mine checked and cleaned too."
She gives him a polite smile in return.
Darrurz tucks his soft helmet and gloves away in their normal pockets.
Lakir looks at Chuck and Vincent with a puzzled expression but doesn't say anything. He then uses his SuperPDA to interface with the starport's network. He locates The Lovestruck Rock. The group then proceeds down the terminal to the starport's main promenade, where the bar is located.
Next: The Lovestruck Rock