Location: Miishakaal, in the outer asteroid belt
Vincent slaves his turret over to Simrii's, grabs his laptop and heads to the
bridge. In no time at all, he's connected with the pirate ship's computer. He
fires up the translation software and is able to understand the labels for
different sections in the computer's memory. As the distance between the two
ships close, Vincent has time to dig up stuff that Gvarokh and Lakir can use
during the interrogation.
Gvarokh says to Vincent, "See if there are any references to either the Fitzgerald, Qa Livk or their base the buoy said they were taken to. See if there are any references to the ship's crew. Make sure none of the ship's crew are among this crew.
"After that, search for more general operational issues relating to what the pirates are doing." He turns to Lakir and cautions, "Don't directly mention points of our mission, or we really will have to kill them. Oh, hell! Who am I kidding. We're probably gonna have to kill them no matter what." He lets out a big vargr laugh.
While Darrurz closes to within a safe distance for the pirates to jump from ship-to-ship, Vincent comes back with some answers.
"As for the Fitzgerald and the Qa Livk, these guys weren't involved at all with the attacks on those ships. There are saved messages in their comm files that announce that so and so landed a big prize. Nav files corroborate the Qa Livk's buoy. There's definitely a base on that moon."
Vincent continues, "As for these guys, they just go out looking for small, weak targets. They were caught up in the EM storm too, but as they were further away from the gas giant than we were, their sensors cleared up first. They thought we'd be easy pickings between the storm's residue and the fact that most far traders are slow and lightly armed." With bravado, he adds, "They didn't count on us having plasma turrets!"
Once Darrurz tells Gvarokh that he's in position and the pirates are ready to leap across, Gvarokh gives the word to open the forward cargo hatch. After the door is opened, one pirate uses a hand thruster to leap across, a rope tied around his waist. The others are then pulled across. With everyone inside, Gvarokh orders the hatch closed and the room pressurized. Once his suit gives the green light, he says through his external comm in Gvegh, "Take off your vacc suits." When the pirates hesitate, he barks, "Now!" To emphasize his point, the crew assembled in the cargo hold point their weapons at them. The pirates comply, stripping down to their simple gray jumpsuits. "Turn around," Gvarokh instructs. The pirates rotate about to show that they aren't carrying any visible weapons.
With his helmet still on, Gvarokh conducts his interrogation in Gvegh through his external speaker. The ship's computer translates for those who don't speak the language. "If we had surrendered, what would you have done with us? What is the Touzagh's way of handling those who surrender?"
The captain chuckles, "We would have looted your ship." His crew join in with laughter. "If there were people of value, we would have taken them too. If you had resisted and inflicted damage on us," his tone grows serious, "we would have taken it out on you. Fortunately for you, you were stronger."
"Where would you have taken us?"
"To our base."
"What happens to prisoners in general?"
"It depends on the prisoner. Some we recruit. Some we hold for ransom. Others, we sell at the Auction."
Gvarokh lets it known over the private comm that if anyone has a question, they can forward it to him. If Lakir thinks a little one-on-one might be in order, he should let Gvarokh know.
Gvarokh asks the pirate captain, "What does the Touzagh do to captains who lose their ships?"
The pirate captain snarls at the insult.
Lakir privately comms the captain, "Ok. I'll try something." He strides over to the toughest looking pirate and points his gauss pistol at his head. Over his external speaker he yells at the vargr in Galanglic, "Move it. Now!" and leads him out of the cargo hold and to the personnel air lock on the port side. He shoves the pirate into the air lock and shuts the door.
He clicks on the intercom so that the vargr in the airlock can hear him and vice versa. He then channels the speaker to play through the ship.
"Ok, enough pussyfootin' around. Talk, or I'm flushing your furry ass out the airlock."
The lone pirate is defiant and replies in Galanglic. "You don't have the guts, pinky. None of you has the stomach for that."
"You haven't been paying attention to the news, doggo. In case you've forgotten, us pinkies have been killing each other for control of our Imperium for over a decade now and we've started doing some sick shit to each other."
The vargr's arms are folded. "Like what?"
"Like watching people slowly suffocate in cracked open airlocks." He hits a button. A red light comes on in the airlock followed by a warning light. A back lit message in the airlock reads, "Airlock activated."
"In case you can't read that sign," Lakir says, "It means that I've begun the airlock cycling sequence."
Lakir hits another button. A new backlit message appears. "Depressurizing."
The vargr can't hide his alarm.
"Ok, now that I have your attention. Let's start with an easy one. Where's your base?"
The pirate starts to look uncomfortable. "It's on the outermost moon of Getes."
"Vincent, please verify."
"He's telling the truth," Vincent answers.
"Good." He pauses the depressurization sequence when the air pressure has reached 0.9 atmospheres. "I need to know your approach procedures, call signs, pass phrases or transponder code settings to get into the base."
The pirate looks troubled. "I don't know any of that. Only the captain does."
"A pity," Lakir replies. He bypasses the rest of the depressurization sequence and hits "Emergency Vent." The pirate's eyes go wide as an alarm sounds and the door opens. The air is sucked out through the hatch and the pirate along with it. He tries to hold on to the doorway but he quickly loses his grip and floats away.
After closing the hatch and repressurizing the airlock, Lakir returns to the cargo hold. "Which of you is the captain?"
"Get them!" the pirate captain barks. He makes to charge but the other two crewmen back away from him and towards the forward hatch. "Cowards," he growls.
"Let's go," Lakir orders.
"I may have lost my ship, but I won't betray the Touzagh."
"Fair enough." Lakir shoots him in the head. The pirate captain collapses in a heap on the floor. Lakir turns to the two surviving crewmen. "What about you?"
The pirates hold up their hands. In broken Galanglic, they plead, "Don't shoot! We help you! Promise!"
The shorter of the two says, "Ghaellkaefaerrgh was r-r-right. C-C-Captain is only one who knows that stuff."
The other one continues, "But is all on ship computer. Information changes on monthly bas-s-sis-s-s-s."
"R-r-right. But we no use transponder codes be-c-c-cause we bring in c-c-captured ships to base."
"Found it," Vincent chimes in, "but it's encrypted."
"What's the access code?" Lakir asks the pirates.
Both pirates shrug. "How should we know? C-C-Captain no give out passwor-r-rds."
"I'll get on it," Vincent says.
"Ok," Lakir continues, "While he's working on that, what can you tell me about your bosses. Who's top dog at the base?"
"Aerrdathtin," the shorter one says.
"Yes," the other pirate agrees. "But he wolf with sharp teeth. He not easy to take out as C-C-Captain."
"What's this clown's Aerrdathtin's story? Who is he? Who's he answer to?"
The taller pirate replies, "He strong wolf. Been Touzagh long time. One of many pack leaders who take orders from Kagiisha."
Darrurz pipes up, keeping his reactions to himself as much as possible and keeping his eyes on the sensors at all times, over the private channel "Ask them about comms protocols with their base and how often they check in."
And to Vincent, "Can you get the answer from their comms logs?"
"Checking," Looks like every sixteen hours."
Meanwhile, in the cargo hold, Lakir relates the question. "How often does your captain check in with the base?"
The two pirates look at each other. They confer a bit then say, "Twice a day."
"So what's the drill for hookin' up with this Touzagh outfit? Can't be that tough if this piece O' dog shit can manage it." Lakir kicks the dead captain in the nuts for emphasis. "Obviously high standards aren't a prerequisite."
The two pirates look at one another with puzzled expressions. The shorter one says, "He is vargr. The call of the hunt runs in his heart."
"What's the story with the Auction?" Lakir asks.
The taller one answers, "Is-s-s where Touzagh tak-k-ke prizes-s-s to sell to highest bidder-r-r-r."
The shorter one adds, "Ships mostly, but vehicles, goods and pinky slaves." Realizing what he just said, the shorter one clamps his paws over his mouth. He then apologizes. "S-s-sor-r-r-ry. Human slaves-s-s."
"What do you know about current pinkies and ships sent off to Auction? Must have heard some rumours floating around the local dives."
Both of them tilt their heads and exchange confused glances. "We just get paid," the shorter one answers. "After ships and pinkies taken, is last we hear."
"Where is the Auction held?"
"In Extents," the taller one answers.
"Which planet?" Lakir asks, annoyance clear in his voice.
"They not tell us-s-s!" the shorter one pleads. "Aerrdathtin will know! Let us live, we help you get in base. Force him to tell you. Join your-r-r pack, yes?"
"I've got it," Vincent says over the comm, "but I can't read it."
Darrurz looks over his shoulder. "Yes. The information is there." He then adds, "We'll need as much salvage from that ship as possible to pay for the damage to the fuel tanks, and wecould probably use their fuel as well to top off our remaining tanks if we could get it pumped across." He pauses for a second before continuing "Come to think of it, they probably have some decent food over there as well, and we could always use their life support supplies and almost anything from their ship's locker.
Lakir presses on. "Gear and weapons on your ship, anything of value we need to know about, before we go lookin', and you join your floaty friend outside, for wasting our time with a detailed search of your scow?"
"Guns!" both of them shout. The shorter one adds, "Tools."
The taller one warns, "But do not go."
The shorter one agrees, "Captain s-s-set up traps-s-s. Him and Ghaellkaefaerrgh."
The taller one adds, "Ghaellkaefaerrgh was engineer."
"How bout we rig ya both with an exploding doggy collar?" Lakir threatens. "We can detonate it from the ship, and if you mess with it, like tryin' ta get it off, it'll go off as well. Give you puppies a bit O' incentive to really make sure your ship is clear. Or REALLY gut your ship, if you can't actually clean the thing. It ain't any use to us, if we can't salvage it."
The two plead, "But we told you ship is trap with bombs that Captain and Engineer set! We do not know codes to disarm!"
Over the comm, Chuck says, "Captain, maybe we can keep these guys around? They seem eager enough to help out. I admit I don't know much about vargr, but I know some are willing to switch teams when they see a better one come along."
Vlad confirms, "Chuck is correct. We have a couple of fresh recruits if we want them. I can't smell them with this helmet on but they're giving me plenty of visual clues."
Over the private channel, Gvarokh says, "You're not really planning on doing that are you, Lakir?"
"No, but they don't know that."
"Good, because we might need them to get into that base. I really don't think that there's anything on board that ship over there that's going to be worth our time or worth losing these two. We've got the element of sur-r-rprise on our side, but only for so long."
Vincent pipes in, "Give me a minute to scan their computer for passphrases for those booby traps."
Vlad isn't so sure. "You can try but there's a good chance they won't be there. Their Captain knew you'd be able access something on their network since Gvarokh ordered him to give you access. He probably set the detonator up as a standalone. The question is, did he expect to go back to his ship to disarm it or did he know he was already dead."
"I'll give it a shot and let you know."
Darrurz chimes in, "Also if we are going to leave it we either have to use it for a bit more target practice, or hard delete the computer, down the power plant and dump the fuel leaving it to the cold of space. We certainly can't leave it in the state it's in. Someone might come looking for us if we did."
Gvarokh replies, "In a few hours it'll be clear of the belt and headed for deep space. I'll make my decision after Vincent and Lakir have exhausted their inquiries."
While everyone waits for Vincent to see if he can find it, the two vargr prisoners are emphatically pointing to their dead captain.
Lakir returns his attention to his captives. "What are you whining about?"
They say, "Check the captain! He carries comm for talking to ship's systems."
Lakir checks the pirate captain and finds an arm band. The interface is in vargr. He examines it. Although he can make out some of the buttons, he hands it over to Vlad. "I think this is what you're talking about, big guy."
"Yes! " Vlad shouts. "It's a r-r-remote. Close proximity only. Handy for non-ver-r-rbal operation of some ship's controls. Easy enough to configure to arm or disarm bombs."
Vincent comes back on the comm, "The pass phrases aren't here and the ship's internal security isn't showing anything rigged to explode."
"What about on the visuals?" Lakir asks.
"Hold on," Vincent replies, "Oh yeah. Son of a bitch. I see something by the hatch. Zooming in. Yep, that looks bomb-like. Those guys weren't lying."
Lakir asks Vlad, "Can we turn them off from here?"
"No. It's short range IR pulse."
"So how would the captain be able to disarm the damn thing?"
"He'd have to open the inner airlock door but not step through it."
"Would that work?"
Vlad shrugs. "Maybe."
"Ok," Gvarokh says over the private channel, "I've heard enough. If you guys think we can disarm these bombs and whatever these pirates have over there is worth it, come up with a plan and we'll do it. I don't want casualties. I need each and every one of you for the assault on the pirate base. In the meantime, Slade will patch up that ruptured fuel tank and we'll siphon off whatever fuel we can get from that derelict. Slade, grab whoever you need to help you. You guys have until Slade is done to come up with a plan otherwise that heap becomes target practice.
"As for these two," he gestures to the surviving pirates, "lock them up in a stateroom. You can interrogate them for your salvage plan but I want at least one of them alive long enough to plan our attack on the pirate base. I'll be in my quarters. Contact me when you have something to report." As he leaves the cargo hold, he says, "You have your orders. Get to it!"
Characters: All (scattered through the ship)
Location: Miishakaal, in the outer asteroid belt
Slade grabs Chuck to assist him with the repairs. Lakir and Vlad escort the
prisoners to a stateroom on the upper deck while Vincent locks out the room's
controls and firewalls it from the rest of the ship. Gvarokh has gone to his
room to think. Simrii is hanging in the turret, keeping an eye on things through
the patched in passive sensor data. Darrurz is on the Bridge with Vincent.
Darrurz starts the conversation over the internal comms, "OK guys, how are we going to get into that ship and salvage what we can find?"
"Vincent," Vlad barks.
"What did you see on the internal feeds?"
"There are several small explosives, about the size of box of Pop-Tarts, planted in various parts around the ship. Hatches, to be more precise. And there's one in Engineering near a fuel line that looks worrisome. Let me show you."
Vlad can tell from the video feed that, except for the one in Engineering, the explosives would harm individuals, not destroy the ship. Vlad knows from experience that it's a motion-sensor detonator. "It might be worth it to send a party over and try using the dead captain's armband to deactivate the bombs."
Vincent replies, "I know, we send our new shipmates out there with the wrist band and deactivate them."
The pirate prisoners are blissfully unaware of the conversation taking place. They just smile and nod in approval at the living conditions of their "prison cell." Vlad and Lakir leave the room and Vincent, who's been monitoring the whole thing from the Bridge, locks the door behind them. Vlad and Lakir remove their helmets and head to the Bridge to join the others to formulate a plan.
"But they said that they don't know the command codes," Chuck says. "Wouldn't we just be sending them to their deaths? Yeah, I know that a couple of hours ago they were willing to do the same to us, but they're cooperating now."
"Yeah, but I got a way around that," Vincent replies. "The armband PDA can only transmit a short distance but it can receive signals from far away, assuming that the signal is strong enough."
"Yes, just like a low tech transistor radio, except those couldn't transmit at all. These can transmit only a few meters but they can pick up radio signals from transmission towers tens of kilometers away because the signal is so strong."
"So you're going to broadcast commands to the armband?"
"Yes! I'll have the computer run a brute force attack on the password. We'll send it random alphanumeric strings until it unlocks."
"How do we know we won't accidentally detonate it?"
"We don't but the device doesn't look that sophisticated to me."
"Me either," Vlad confirms.
Convinced they have a plan, the crew contacts Gvarokh and explain it to him over the comm. Gvarokh is amenable to the idea but he insists that someone go along with the new hired help.
He says, "We have to show them we are willing to risk with them, even if they have to go closer. As compensation, when we loot the ship, they get to keep their stuff. In return, they have to help us loot the ship and find the various traps. I figure the chances of a back-stab are pretty minimal at this point, as we are the only way they get to live.
"Bear in mind them that this plan requires at least moderate safety for our captives. Granted, if push comes to shove, they go to save any of us. But, we will need their help to get anywhere near the base, and they aren't going to help much if they think we are just going to kill them."
Characters: Slade (outside, on the hull) while the rest are scattered
through the ship)
Location: Miishakaal, in the outer asteroid belt
Slade and Chuck have been taking their time with the fuel tank and hull
patches. Time is not a factor here and falling off the ship while it's cruising
through the remnants of the asteroid belt wouldn't be a good idea.
With the patches in places and pressure sensors up on the bridge indicating a good seal, Slade asks Darrurz to move Miishakaal closer to the drifting pirate ship so that his 50 meter fuel hose will reach the other ship. Meanwhile, Slade attaches the fuel hose while Chuck holds the bulk of it.
Once in range, Slade takes the free end of the fuel hose and fires up a hand thruster and jumps over to the other ship.
He curses under his breath as his first attempt to maneuver into position goes wrong. He finds himself too high above the other ship. He reorients himself and tries again. This time he hits the ship a bit hard. His body and his vacc suit are fine but his ego is bruised.
Slade picks himself up and steps carefully along the hull to find the fuel valve. He attaches the hose and instructs Vincent to fire up the fuel pump but keep it on low. Slade hasn't done a ship-to-ship refueling since he was in the service, and that was done under ideal conditions. Still, this refueling goes off without a hitch. Slade detaches his end of the hose and lets Chuck reel him in. Once safely back on the Miishakaal, the other end of the hose is detached and the two men go back inside the ship.
Location: Miishakaal, in the outer asteroid belt
Slade and Chuck have returned from their repairs and siphoning fuel from the
other ship. Gvarokh thanks the two men for a job well done and returns to the
Bridge to find out if the rest of the crew has a plan for the salvage operation.
"Ok, men," he says, "What's the plan?"
Vincent explains that he will send the deactivation passphrase to each bomb using the dead pirate's armband which will then transmit it to the bombs once they're in range.
"Who's going?" Gvarokh asks with a scowl.
Vincent swallows and then replies, "Our two guests."
"And me," Vlad answers. "If there's any problems with the explosives, I should be able to lend a paw. I'd also like to confiscate them in case we need them down the road."
"Good. Who else?"
"Me," Lakir says. "No pain, no gain. I didn't waste two of the fucks for kicks. I want to look around the ship for more intel. Who knows, I might turn up info unavailable from Vincent's electronic means. Definitely want to ransack the Captain's cabin. See what turns up."
Gvarokh nods approvingly. "Ok, then. Do it. You have an hour. We're almost clear of the belt. Let our guests pick up their own belongings. No weapons, of course, but they can keep their personal effects. Vlad, you're in charge over there. I think our guests will respond better to orders from one of their own. I don't want any unnecessary risks. I need these guys for the pirate base, but if it comes down to a them or you survival situation, they go. But I don't want it to come to that. Understood?"
"Understood," Vlad and Lakir say.
Darrurz adds, "Once you have cleared the ship, I can dock so we can move the salvage across quickly. Better that way than trying to move it across in zero G."
Gvarokh nods in approval. "Ok, get to it."
Lakir and Vlad grab their gear from their rooms and the equipment locker and then head to the Ship's Locker to put on their vacc suits. Slade and Chuck lend a hand.
Meanwhile, Gvarokh and Vincent go and get the two pirates from their room. Both stand at attention when they see Gvarokh. He explains to them that he has tests to prove their loyalty. They seem eager to meet these tests. Gvarokh goes on to explain that they're going to assist in the removal of the bombs aboard their ship. He's met with protests. They don't know the deactivation codes. But Gvarokh settles them down and explains that they have a man who's good at cracking passwords. All these guys have to do is get their old captain's armband within proximity of the bombs. This ends their protests. Gvarokh continues to explain that they'll be escorted by two of his crew and that if they help they're free to keep their personal effects, but weapons will be confiscated. They agree to this plan.
Gvarokh and Vincent escort the pirates to the cargo hold so that they can get their vacc suits on.
Gvarokh says to the pirates, "Communications will be easier if we know your names."
The tall one answers, "Uengghae."
The short one raises a paw, "Kagfak."
Lakir and Vlad arrive in the cargo hold. Gvarokh instructs Uengghae and Kagfak that they're going to be taking orders from Vlad and Lakir while they're over there and that they should do everything they tell them to do. The two ex-pirates nod their heads in understanding.
"Good luck," Gvarokh says to all of them and heads to the Bridge.
Next: The Salvage Op