NPC: Chuck, Ngarssou
Location: Ghoekang Starport
In Lakir's experience, most starports and spaceports in the human sphere have
been the very epitome of hustling, noisy chaos, but nothing he has encountered
on any world has prepared him for the scene that greets him as he leaves the
The buildings surrounding the port facilities seem to have been designed by drunken architects from a hundred different worlds, embellished by a color-blind decorator, and flung down at random by a rather clumsy giant. Very few, if any, seem to belong with those around them. Tall chrome and glass skyscrapers tower over low, rambling shopping malls. Archaic stone and mortar shops face ultra-modern office complexes across the same street. All seem to have been assaulted by an army of insane house painters, armed with the loudest, most garish pigments they could find.
As chaotic as the buildings seem, the vargr who crowd the streets are infinitely worse. Most seem to be dressed in what appears to be some kind of uniform. But if those are uniforms, then the entire vargr military is made up of officers with no enlisted men to command. Gold and silver braid, flashy ribbons and bright patches cover nearly every available surface of the long military-looking jackets worn by most of the vargr.
Where the cloth is visible, it is usually of the most brilliant hue available. Bright blue, fire red, and dazzling yellow seem to be the colors of preference, although some neon greens and even the occasional blaze orange can be seen among the jostling crowd. Nearly every individual on the streets seems to be talking at the top of his or her lungs. The barking guttural speech of the vargr fills the air to the point where the entire city is flooded with the constant sound of a thousand voices, each trying to shout down the others.
Somehow you've got to make sense of this alien circus and find out where the kidnapped survey team is being held.
Chuck does his best to politely get the attention of the vargr walking by but they ignore him. A couple surly types say, "Get outta my way, pinkie" and "Get a job, hairless."
"They must think I'm begging for money," Chucks says.
Lakir catches sight of an information kiosk. The vargr attendant is busy talking with someone so Lakir helps himself to a map of the starport and surrounding city. Chuck gives up and goes over to join him.
While they're scanning the map, a teenage male comes along and snatches it out of Lakir's hands. He says in Galanglic, "You pinkies don't need a map! You need a guide, someone who can show you around." He smiles at them in a non-threatening way but it still comes across as a leer.
"That all depends on what you have to offer, puppy," Lakir replies, "otherwise we'll do just fine, thanks." He snatches the map back.
The vargr teen crosses his arms in front of his chest. "You're not from around here, otherwise you wouldn't need a map. And the map is written in Gvegh. Most humans don't know how to read Gvegh."
Lakir doesn't admit it to the vargr teen but he only understands basic Gvegh and Chuck isn't any better. There are plenty of points on the map that he doesn't know what it's referring to.
The vargr teen continues, "And as good as maps are, they don't tell you what areas you should avoid." He drops the defiant stance. "I can help you find what you're looking for without wandering onto the turf of packs who don't like humans." He puts his paws on his hips. "And humans accompanied by a vargr are safer than those that walk alone. The r-r-racists will be less inclined to think of you as prey."
Lakir glances over at Chuck to get an idea of what he's thinking without playing their hand. Fortunately, most vargr don't pick up on subtle human gestures. Lakir can tell that Chuck is amenable to the idea of having a local tour guide, but will back Lakir up on his decision.
"Alright, puppy, what's in it for you if we go the tour guide route? And what is it you think we're lookin' for?"
The vargr teen's tail wags. "I don't know what you're looking for. I just know that you're not tourists. As for my fee: 20 credits an hour or 100 credits for the day."
Lakir does his best 'vargr bark' for a laugh. "Alright kid, let's get it on, but only for 10 an hour, though your day may end up bein' a full 100, if you can get us what we need. Quicker we find it, sooner you get your cash, equals more time to hustle the next mark."
The vargr teen mulls Lakir's counteroffer for a few seconds then extends his paw, "Deal. My name is Ngarssou."
Lakir shakes his paw.
Chuck smiles and shakes his paw, "Chuck."
Ngarssou asks, "So what is it that you travelers are trying to find?"
Lakir replies, "Mostly we're lookin' for some friends. Heard they were headed out this way, but they seem to have dropped off the map. Figured we'd see if we couldn't find some locals, maybe get the 'lay O the land' for this part of space, seein' as how we may be kickin' around for a while, if the tradin's good."
Ngarssou nods, "These friends of yours, were they human or wolf?"
"Human, no mixed crew."
"These friends of yours, are they pirates or traders?"
"They started out as traders. Not sure how they're operatin' now."
"In that case, the best place to start is Pinky Town. Follow me."
Ngarssou leads Lakir and Chuck through the starport to the public transport terminal. A railway leads out of the starport into the surrounding city. There's a fare of 1 credit per person, which Chuck pays for. He buys extra tickets for the return trip. There's a foreign exchange fee. The total cost winds up being 10 credits.
Once on the train, an obvious urban affair (think subway), Ngarssou gets the sole remaining seat while the two humans stand. It's crowded enough that they aren't the only ones standing. Other vargr on the train check them out but, upon noticing that they're with Ngarssou go back to ignoring them.
Lakir makes note of the train's number and route just in case the pup ditches them.
They disembark at a stop named Ullutou. Ngarssou exits the train and the humans follow. The surrounding neighborhood is a dead giveaway for human: the architecture, albeit run down, is definitely human. "I know some people here we can check with."
The first person Ngarssou comes across is a disheveled woman who could be about 40, but looks several years older. Her clothes belie her profession: prostitute.
"Shelly!" Ngarssou barks as he crosses the street. The two hug.
"How's my favorite wolf?" She asks before taking a drag from her cigarette. She politely blows the smoke away downwind.
"Who are your friends?"
"A couple guys from offworld looking for some friends of theirs."
"Sorry, sugar. Ain't had any offworld customers in a long time."
Lakir says, "What? Nobody comes by to take in all this lovely scenery? How can you possibly make ends meet with no influx of new blood?"
"I know, I know," Shelly replies. She switches tactics, "Well, if you boys are going to be around for a while..."
Chuck interrupts, "We know where to find you. Thanks!" He then grabs Lakir by the arm and pulls him down the street. Once they're out of earshot, he says, "Sorry about that. It looked like she was going to stick her claws in you." He pretends to dust Lakir. "Who knows what sort of infectious diseases they have this far coreward."
Ngarssou trots along and catches up, "Hey, wait up, guys."
Chuck and Lakir stop and wait for him.
"Ok, so she was a bust, but I saw her so I figured why not ask. Anyway, there's a bar just up the street. The owner knows most of what goes on here in Pinky Town."
NPC: Chuck, Ngarssou
Location: Long Way From Home Pub in Ullutou, aka "Pinky Town"
The bar is only a couple of blocks away. The sign overhead states that it's the
Long Way From Home pub. Going inside, the hour of the day has the place
all but empty. A couple of early lunchers at the bar. Nothing more. The tables
are empty. No sign of any waitstaff though there's noise in the kitchen.
A bald, middle-aged overweight guy comes charging out with a frown. Upon spotting Ngarssou his disposition brightens. "Hey Ngarssou!" He laughs. "I thought you were the cops come to shake me down. What can I do for you?"
"Bart, these guys just came in from offworld. They say that they're looking for some friends of theirs."
Bart turns his attention from Ngarssou to Lakir and Chuck. "Oh yeah? Where you guys from?"
Lakir spins a tail (no pun intended) of coming from spinward on a mixed ship looking for some buddies along the way who were headed in this direction but didn't have the luxury of running on a mixed ship. "I'm not sure how bad it is for 'all pinky' ships around here, but sure doesn't seem to be good."
"No, it isn't," Bart replies matter-of-factly. "If they weren't running with a Confederation transponder, they'd be considered fair game. Granted the Confederation isn't hostile to humans, otherwise you and I wouldn't be having this conversation right now. It's just that they turn a blind eye to what those damn pirates do. It's considered acceptable behavior, an honored tradition to some. Hell, ol' Ngath himself started out as a pirate. It's just when he got too big he had to step up and go after larger game. Traders were too small. He went after whole worlds and before you know it the guy takes down a state and makes it his."
Lakir asks, "So what do the pirates do with the crew members? Must be kinda tough to ransom them back, when you control a chunk of space this big. I'm assumin' they don't space em, as obviously non Confeds keep comin'."
"Well, it depends on which band of pirates is involved. Some leave the crew alone if they don't interfere with the raiding of their stuff. Kidnapping used to be a regular practice, before the war that is. Pirates would take their prisoners, demand a ransom, and split with the loot leaving the crew unharmed. A month later they'd go back and do it all over again. It'd be ok with the authorities because they knew if they paid up the hostages would be released unharmed. Killing hostages was bad for business. There was an understanding and no one got hurt. But since the war started," he shakes his head, "it's all changed. A lot of these new pirates don't know the rules. Sometimes they panic and kill the hostages. That riles up both the populace and the politicians. Both of them demand the local navies protect them from the pirates. That leads to itchy trigger fingers and risky rescue missions. People die on both sides. That's not good for business.
"Ever hear of the Touzagh?"
Chuck replies, "Yeah."
"Well they've got a new twist on the hostage taking. They raid the crew and passenger manifests and abduct anyone they deem valuable. If a person's rich, they send a ransom note, but they don't stick around. They use couriers to arrange meeting places and times.
"But if you ain't rich, but you've got skills, training, education, whatever, they sell your ass into slavery. Slavery! Can you believe that shit? And the Confederation turns a blind eye so long as its citizens aren't the ones being sold off. It's fucking barbaric." He looks down at Ngarrsou. "I'm sorry, wolf, but you gotta see it from my perspective."
"No, it's ok," Ngarssou says sheepishly. "I'm not proud of it. It's wrong. No one should be a slave."
"Holy shit! So, if my buds were taken by the Touzagh, I'd have to fuckin' buy them back?"
Chuck's mouth hangs open to help sell their surprise.
Both Ngarssou and Bart nod.
"And just how the hell does that work?" Lakir asks.
"They hold an auction every month," Bart answers. "People, if you can call them that, bastards is more like it, come in from all over: other vargr states, Zhodani, even humans from Antares and other splinter states. They bid on equipment, vehicles, weapons, starships and the prisoners. It's easier to move the goods to traditional markets so there isn't much of that."
"How do we get there?" Chuck asks.
"It's by invite only," Ngarssou answers. "They don't want anyone to just show up. From what I hear, they sent out the initial round of invitations to groups they thought would be interested. Since then, you have to have someone vouche for you or ask for an interview."
"How do we do that?"
Bart says, "Ask around. They've got contacts everywhere. Word eventually gets back to them. If they like you, they'll send you an invite. If they don't like you, well, you'd probably disappear along with your buds."
"Thanks, Bart. If you've got the kitchen up and runnin' we'll grab a table and some chow. We and Ngarssou need to chat some more."
"You got it." He hands the trio some menus and they sit down.
When seated, Lakir says, "So Ngarssou, you seem to know a lot of people around here."
Ngarssou smiles proudly. "I told you guys I did."
Unfazed by his boasting, Lakir continues, "How are your contacts amongst the doggies? Any chance you can drop the word to the right individuals that someone's lookin' for an 'auction interview'? And before you ask, yes, we can adjust your fee appropriately, if the feedback is good. That, and we're buyin' lunch."
Ngarssou's tail wags. "Lunch! I'm in."
Bart comes back to get their order. They all go for sandwiches. Chuck asks about beer and Bart recommends an Ikhog IPA (brewed by the local humans) based on his sandwich. After Bart leaves, Lakir and Chuck both stare at Ngarssou for an answer.
"I don't know anyone for-r-r sur-r-re. I know a wolf who has connections but I don't know if he's got any contact with the Touzagh. But if he doesn't, he probably knows someone who does."
Lakir says, "Hold that thought." He steps outside and comms the cap'n to fill him in on the intel uncovered and ask if he wants them to put the word out through Ngarssou.
NPC: Chuck, Ngarssou
Location: Long Way From Home Pub in Ullutou, aka "Pinky Town"
The call ends and Lakir goes back inside the pub. His lunch has just arrived.
While eating with the others he says to Ngarssou, "Do you have any idea what
they're selling skilled starhands for at the Auction?"
Ngarssou looks aghast. "I don't know what those slavers charge!"
"Calm down. I was just askin'. Now, can you set up a meeting with one of your friends that knows how to contact the Touzagh? My captain, he's a vargr, wants to get in there and find out if our friends are their prisoners."
"Yeah, I can do that. I just need a phone."
Lakir offers Ngarssou his but the wolf shakes his head.
"Your offworld phones don't work here. Ikhog's phone networks are new to that wireless tech."
Chuck says, "Well, I'm sure the Touzagh have wireless."
"Yeah, they might, but my contact doesn't. I have his number. There's a payphone in the back of the bar. I can call him when we're done with lunch."
"I'm good with that," Lakir replies.
The three finish their lunch, which is quite good. Chuck says that he'll handle the bill so the other two can go make the call.
Ngarssou dials while Lakir stands next to him. Once someone picks up, Ngarssou starts talking in Gvegh. Lakir does his best to follow. This is what he gets: "Hey, dog, it's Ngarssou. Good. And you? Listen, I've got some guys that want to go to the (unknown word) but I know that it's (unknown word) only. They're new to Ikhog. Since you're the wolf with the best eyesight, I thought I'd ask you if you knew anyone that could set up an (unknown word)? Yeah? That's great! I don't know when. I have to talk to their alpha male. Yeah? Oh, ok. I'll call you back after I've had a (unknown word). Thanks, supreme wolf. Hunt well."
After he hangs up, Ngarssou explains that his contact knows how to get the word out to the Touzagh that someone wants an invite to the Auction. However, he wants to meet them first as he doesn't want his reputation ruined by "bad guests." Also, there's going to be a referral fee of 5,000 credits, just to make sure they're not amateurs. Since Ngarssou didn't know what time was good for Lakir and his captain, he said that he'd call them back later.
NPC: Chuck, Ngarssou
Location: Long Way From Home Pub in Ullutou, aka "Pinky Town" then Okfangrrasraeno Park in Ghonekhang
Lakir clicks off his comm and says to Ngarssou, "We're good. Set it up."
Ngarssou picks up the receiver to the pay phone and calls his contact. In Gvegh he says, "Hey, dog, it's Ngarssou again. These guys are good to go. Time and place are up to you. 22:00. At Okfangrrasraeno Park. Got it. Thanks, supreme wolf. Hunt well."
Ngarssou hangs up and repeats what he said over the phone in Galanglic. He doesn't know that Lakir knows enough Gvegh that he picked it up. He adds that the park is located in the outskirts of Ghonekhang, in the area closest to the starport.
"Let me send a message to my captain," Lakir says. He then composes the following and hits "send."
"22:00. At Okfangrrasraeno Park. Will recon the 20 and report back later. -Lakir"
"Ok, let's go for a walk in the park," Lakir says to the others.
On their way out, the group thanks Bart. He says, "I hope you find your friends. Come back anytime."
The trio then make their way back to the train station.
The train ride goes without incident. The park is a short walk from the station.
It's surrounded by a brick wall 2.25 meters high. It spans three city blocks
and traffic is forced to go around it. Thick strands of trees are planted along
perimeter and are easily 20 - 25 meters high. There's a wrought iron gate where
people can enter the park. Once inside, Lakir and Chuck see that the tree border
itself is about 15 meters deep. Once past the tree border, the park opens up
to a wide open space. There are a few ponds and the occasional solitary shade
tree. Sculptures and benches are spaced out along the walk ways that crisscross
Lakir notices that Ngarssou's tail is wagging. A big grin covers his face. He clearly enjoys this place.
Lakir pulls out his pocket comp and discreetly shoots some HD of the area for the captain to review later. After a casual stroll in the park to soak in the sunshine and fresh air, Lakir gives a nod to Chuck. "Well, it looks like it's time to head back to the ship to show the cap'n what we've got here. C'mon, Ngarssou. You should meet him."
Ngarssou wags his tail.
Next: The Crew Meet Dougok