NPC: Chuck, Kagfak, Uengghae, & passengers
Miishakaal exits from jump. After a passive scan has revealed no threats,
Gvarokh gives the orders to decelerate.
During deceleration, the starport is hailed. Clearance is given to approach Envar and land.
With deceleration complete, Miishakaal finds the landing beacon for the
downport and descends through the frigid nitrogen-methane (and yes, enough
hydrogen to warrant an insidious rating) atmosphere. Envar's downport consists
of four well-insulated hangars (surface temp -150°C) in a roughly
clover-leaf pattern with the stem attached to a domed city for the world's
The ship sits isolated in the hangar bay. There are no docking collars. Ship's sensors indicate the hangar bay is still unbearably cold, so everyone decides to wait for the residual heat from the engines to warm things up to freezing.
After the hangar bay has fully pressurized, the ship's sensors detect an odd sound: a loud bell ringing, not a single stately dong but rather the steady attack of a metal mallet on an attenuated saucer.
Uengghae's ears go up. He whines a bit.
Ushin chuckles. "Yes, Envar is a bit on the low tech end of things. If you open the protective shutters that shield the bridge, you'll see what I mean."
Gvarokh does as Ushin suggests. Directly across from the ship, in a room with large windows that look into the hangar bay, is a human waving at the crew. He mimes talking into a radio.
Gvarokh lets the communications computer find the channel that the signal is broadcasting on. "Got it," he says.
A lower quality broadcast than what is typically expected comes through the speakers. "Hello? Hello? Can you read me?"
"Yes, we hear you," Gvarokh replies, a measure of patience in his voice.
"Ah good. Welcome to Envar Down. I'm Assistant Starport Warden Gaan Dakukhuzarir."
"I'm Captain Gvarokh of the starship Miishakaal."
"Will you be needing fuel or life support refurbishment, Captain?"
"Yes, we'll be needing both."
"We'll have those ready for you just as soon as the bay warms up to a safe temperature."
"Will that take long?"
"Oh no. Just a few minutes. Is there anything I can help you with while you wait?"
Gvarokh turns to Ushin.
Ushin says to Gvarokh, "It would probably be prudent to meet with the base commander to brief him of our recovery mission."
Gvarokh nods and relates this to ASW Dakukhuzanir. He name drops Ushin and the Zirunkariish Corporation and that seems to have the desired effect.
Meanwhile, Simrii looks out the window at the planet beyond and shakes his head. "Seriously, I know space is a supremely inhospitable environment, but why the hell would you want to put down roots on a rock like this?" He walks to the galley and grabs a drink, "Give me a temperate beach on a planet that's not actively trying to kill me every time I inhale."
Chuck replies, "The IISS built a training facility here so that we scouts could be prepared if we have to deal with this environment when we're out on our own. As for the rest of these blokes, I don't know what their excuse is. Probably thought it was an easy way to make a guaranteed Imperial buck."
Another ten minutes pass, and then a horn blasts once somewhere in the bay. Doors open and three men enter the bay, each wearing heavy cold weather gear. Two approach some equipment in the bay, while one grabs a wheeled-staircase and pushes it over to the ship.
Gvarokh heads over to the airlock with Ushin. Once there, he cycles open the airlock. The wheeled-staircase is in place and the man is climbing it. Gvarokh lets the man on board.
A rush of frigid air blows through the airlock. It makes even the vargr crew shiver. The bundled-up man unwraps his protective gear, removes a glove, and offers his hand. "Gaan Dakukhuzarir at your service."
Gvarokh grasps the man's hand. "Captain Gvarokh. This is Ushin Numumshunnii of the Zirunkariish Corporation."
Gaan shakes Ushin's hand. "Before my men can get to refueling your ship, I have to take care of the formalities."
"We're a small facility so landing and berthing costs 50 credits. If you're still here after six standard days, we have to charge you 50 credits a day. We only have unrefined fuel and that costs 100 credits per ton. Life support is 1,000 credits per person per week. Ok?"
"Yes," Gvarokh says.
Ushin says, "Zirunkariish Corporation will be picking up the tab." To Gvarokh, he asks, "Do you think we'll need extra life support for our search?"
Gvarokh replies, "That is an excellent idea. In fact, perhaps we should triple up on the life support and fill our bladder, too. That way, when we find the ship, we should be able to have enough supplies to get it jump started with life support and fuel, and we will still have supplies for an extended search."
Ushin nods. "Agreed. Please add that to our tab, Warden."
Dakukhuzarir scribbles on his clipboard. Once Dakukhuzarir has finished with the ship's order, he departs.
Looking ready to depart are Dougok and Lakir. The latter says, "With your permission, Cap'n, Dougok and I will go 'sniff around'. There's gotta be some good intel sources around somewhere, or at least desperate ladies." He adds a wink.
Gvarokh returns the smile and says, "Permission granted. Have fun, but," Gvarokh finishes while looking straight at Dougok, "I don't want to have to post any bail or pay any legal expenses."
Dougok acknowledges that he understands.
The pair depart the ship. 45 minutes later, Gvarokh and Ushin leave, too.
Characters: Lakir and Dougok
Location: Envar Town
After getting the Captain's permission to disembark, Dougok and Lakir exit the
ship and enter the chilly hangar bay.
Dougok is carrying his snub pistol concealed in his light jacket. It's loaded He borrows a comm from the ship's locker.
Lakir has his utility vest, multi-tool, knife, PDA and a comm.
Lakir and Dougok cast a glance at the technicians working on refueling the ship. Dougok gives them a nod, which they return. Lakir and Dougok open the personnel airlock and head inside to the starport. A warm breeze (compared to the chilly hangar bay) greets them. Dougok is thankful he wore a light jacket, his fur being sufficient thermal protection in this environment (55°F ~13°C). The room is probably 15 meters by 15 meters with a 5 meter wide corridor heading towards "town". There are airlocks and cargo doors to each of the downport's four bays. Gaan is at the central "desk", a 4 meter by 4 meter square area that keeps visitors at arm's reach from starport personnel. A ladder runs up the middle to a hole in the ceiling. Gaan is talking to a co-worker and smiles as the pair enter.
Lakir and Dougok make their way down the corridor to town. It's probably a 30-meter walk. Not far at all. Once inside town, a domed settlement that can't be more than 100 meters in diameter, they see that the place is deserted. A quick glance at a chronometer reveals why: It's late in the Vilani 4th Ishuuna—the sleep period. But that will give them some time to recon the town before heading in.
On either side of the "street" at the entrance to the downport are Imperial Outfitters and Envar Exports. Both state that they'll be open at the beginning of the 1st Ishuuna, about 30 mins from now. So they continue on until the corridor opens fully to the central circle.
Businesses run along the circumference of the circular dome. Viewed from above, it would look like a series of concentric circles: dome, ring of buildings, open court, vertical shaft leading down into the sub-levels. The vertical shaft has an open lift and a staircase along its perimeter leading down.
At each of the dome's cardinal points is a corridor. The pair came from the starport and that corridor forms one of the points. Straight ahead is the Scout Base. To the left is an arboretum/farm. To the right is an airlock for direct access to the surface.
As the pair look around and familiarize themselves with the scene, people begin to appear in the common space. They come up the stairs or ride the lift. Most appear to be headed to work.
Lakir says, "I figure we should look for a good 'hole in the wall' for breakfast. Bummer we missed 'happy hour'. I bet it was a hoot."
Dougok laughs, then says, "Breakfast, yes. A bowl of hot chocolate if possible. Maybe we can check out the stores later, after they've been open for a bit."
Looking to their left, they spot a place: Giishgula's Diner. The pair walk in. There's a counter to the left and booths along the right. The kitchen and restrooms are in the back.
Three of the booths are occupied by two, three, and four humans. The counter has four solitary humans. A waitress behind the counter says, "Sit where you like."
Scanning the patrons in the place. The group of four looks like traders. The trio have a grizzled belter look to them. The pair look like office workers. The four people at the counter appear to be split between blue and white collar. Lakir chooses a booth between the traders and belters. Once they're seated and holding menus, a waitress comes over and asks, "Coffee?"
Lakir says, "Yes, please!"
Dougok asks, "Can I get a bowl of hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows?"
The waitress gives him an honest smile and says, "Sure thing."
Dougok bends over and studies his menu.
The waitress returns in just a couple of minutes with the requested beverages. "Are you ready to order?"
Lakir replies, "Yeah, I'll have the bacon and eggs, scrambled."
Dougok says, "I'll have the spicy sausage. Can I get that raw, or as raw as you can make it?"
She smiles. "Regulations require us to cook all the food we serve, but I'll let the cook know that this is for a vargr. If you promise not to tell anyone, I'll see that he under-cooks it." She winks at him.
While they wait for their food, the pair listen in on the traders and belters. Dougok tries to look as innocent as he can with one ear cocked to listen.
Trader 1 (young female; in a hushed voice, but Dougok has no problem hearing her): "While I was in Imperial Outfitters, I overheard two employees talking about an Anarsi Travel liner that got attacked by pirates."
Trader 2 (middle-aged male): "Where?"
Trader 1: "Kakkin."
Trader 3 (younger male; nearly chokes on his food): "Kakkin!"
Trader 1: "Shhhh. Keep your voice down."
Trader 3: "But that's where we're headed. Captain—"
Trader 2: "Settle down, Diaz." To Trader 1, "What else did you hear?"
Trader 1: "Just that it was like the pirates knew they were coming. Took all their cargo and the passenger's valuables."
Trader 2: "Did they take hostages or injure anyone?"
Trader 1: "No."
Trader 4 (middle-aged woman): "Did they take the ship?"
Trader 1: "No."
Trader 3: "I thought the Touzagh were gone."
Trader 4: "They are. Could be a splinter group."
Trader 3: "A splinter group?"
Trader 2: "Could be, or someone new. Either way it's good that they're not playing dirty."
Trader 3: "But they're still pirates."
Trader 4: "Yes, they are. But they're not stupid. They won't hit Kakkin again any time soon. Defenses will be up. They'll be alert. We'll be fine."
Trader 2: "Since they're not taking hostages or stealing ships, they're letting merchants have their livelihood. They don't want to bite the hand that feeds them. It's the confiscation of ships and crews that had me scared. That made no sense."
The food arrives for Lakir and Dougok. "Here you go." To Dougok she says, "I hope you like it. I made sure the cook restrained himself."
Dougok breathes in the aroma. It smells good, but he knows that it's vat grown meat. His expectations are low, but he bites into it and discovers that the cook didn't do too bad a job. "Good," he says out of politeness.
The waitress smiles and then moves on to the traders. She gives them their check. They pay it and leave.
Several minutes later the belters have finished their meal and started talking.
Belter 1: "How's that drive coming along?"
Belter 2: "It'll be done on schedule."
Belter 1: "Good. I wanna get back out there while it's still quiet."
Belter 3: "You don't think that crackhead was on to something, do you?"
Belter 1: "You don't survive in this business as long as I have by ignoring what your gut says."
Belter 2: "So your gut says the crackhead wasn't trippin'."
Belter 1: "Yeah, my gut says the crackhead wasn't trippin'. There was a kernel of truth there. Didn't you think it was strange how security picked him up right while he was talking to us?"
Belter 3: "Could just be picking up a vagrant."
Belter 1: "The law level's three for Pete's sake. And it's frickin' Envar. Who comes here? You think a hobo would get dumped by a tramp steamer here? Hell, the tramp steamers don't even come here."
Belter 2: "Which is why we're here."
Belter 1: "Damn straight. No claim jumpers here."
Belter 3: "But if you believe him, why do you want to head back out there?"
Belter 2: "Because he said there's a schedule." In a quieter voice, but not one that Dougok can't hear, "Look, shut up about it, ok? I think those guys are listenin' in. Them Touzagh were mixed crews. They could be 'em."
They stop talking and finish their coffee. One guy gets up and goes over to the register. He swipes his card while the other two join him. They try to sneak glances at Lakir and Dougok, but they don't do a good job hiding it. The trio leaves.
When the belters leave, Dougok busies himself by lapping up the rest of his hot chocolate. After licking his chops clean of foam and whipped cream he flicks his ears forward at Lakir and makes sure that he heard everything that Dougok did.
After getting the download from Dougok, Lakir says, "I wonder if our tame corporate hired gun has any pull with the local fuzz? Sounds like that 'vagrant' might be worth talking to."
"The vagrant is definitely worth pursing either directly or by asking around about him. Of course either may also gain the attention of the police."
Lakir shakes his head. "We don't wanna do that without some 'official' back up. This place is just to small for that sorta inquiry not to get around and end badly for us.
"I wonder if Gaan Dakukhuzarir has heard about any strange happenings in the Kakkin system? We'll have to see how that relates to our upcoming sector of space, I'm thinkin'. Wonder who provides the insurance coverage for Anarsi Travel's ships."
Dougok adds, "I also think we should find out where 'out there' is for the belters. If we knew what area of space they worked it might provide a clue." He snaps his jaws; "Assuming that such information is available and is not a blind."
Lakir replies, "I figure we ask back at the dock or maybe hit the two shops when they open." He checks his PDA. "Which they should be by now. Shouldn't be difficult to tell which one caters to the belter side O' things."
He looks up and spots the Captain and Ushin walking back to the ship. They stop across the way from the diner. Judging by the look on Gvarokh's face, they're having a serious conversation. "There's the Cap'n. I'll settle up the tab. You make sure they wait for us."
Characters: Gvarokh, Lakir, Dougok
NPC: Ushin Numumshunnii
Location: Envar Town Octagon (or "square" if you prefer)
Gvarokh looks up and sees Dougok approach. Lakir is behind him, just emerging
from Giishgula's Diner.
"How's the food?" Gvarokh asks.
Dougok replies, "The food is good enough for an outpost. The hot chocolate is strong and slightly bitter with a good heavy whipped cream." Dougok licks his chops. "We found some interesting information."
"Yeah, you're gonna need to hear this," Lakir adds. He has their attention.
Dougok says, "We heard some traders talking about pirates hitting an Anarsi Travel liner in the Kakkin system."
Ushin looks surprised. "That's one parsec rimward from here."
Gvarokh asks, "Any ID on the pirates?"
Dougok shakes his head. "No, but they didn't take any hostages or the ship so either they're a different outfit or a Touzagh splinter group that went back to traditional piracy."
"And we heard a bunch of belters talking 'bout working in the outer system," Lakir adds. "They said some vagrant was trying to warn them before he got picked up by the cops."
"Warn them about what?" Gvarokh asks.
"Pirates. Claim jumpers. Not entirely sure. But they operate on some kinda schedule. Their captain wanted to get back out while it was still quiet. He thought it was odd that the cops picked up the vagrant just as he was talking to them."
Gvarokh and Ushin exchange glances.
Lakir asks, "Ushin, who handles Anarsi Travel's insurance?"
"Do you have any pull with the local fuzz?"
"By 'fuzz' I assume you mean security. I'm not sure what you mean by 'pull', but as a representative of Zirunkariish, they should be cooperative with me."
Lakir says, "OK, I'm thinking we pull back to the ship, for a bit of strategizing. I’d like to grab Chuck and hit the local outfitters, see if we can't pick up some more unofficial intel on the local sit. Dougok did great, but we got the distinct 'corsair paranoia' feel from the local belters. The sales staff may be a bit looser with info if it's just us pinkies around."
Darrurz says, "Someone non-vargr needs to sniff around about the vagrant, even talk to him, but without getting picked up as well. It seems he attracted the wrong attention from the authorities." He shows his teeth slightly. "And as well we want to track down whatever details we can about these belters to understand where they are working and if other belters are having problems."
Gvarokh says, "I agree. It's probably a good idea to head back to the ship. And from what you say, the locals probably are paranoid. However, let's continue on independently so it doesn't look like we just got together and ran back to the ship. Let's make it little more organic."
"Works for me," Lakir replies.
"Me too," says Darrurz.
Lakir turns to Darrurz. "Maybe G Dawg and Ushin catch some breakie in the place we just left?"
Gvarokh says to Ushin, "We are going to be cooped up for at least a couple weeks. Want to get a planet-side meal while we can?"
Usani sighs. "I suppose so. It will probably afford us a vantage point to figure out if we're going to be followed."
Lakir adds, "I'm good with heading out to explore some non-big-box shops for cover. I don't want to compromise any possible future appearance, if required, at Imperial Outfitters and Envar Exports."
Gvarokh says to him, "It doesn't have to be a big excursion. Just so we don't all run back to the ship as a group."
"Roger that." He taps Dougok. "Ok, let's hit Imperial Outfitters and Envar Exports. Then we'll get you back to the ship so we don't get anymore corsair paranoia."
"Good. I've been itching to get out of the ship. It's been good to smell new scents."
Lakir and Dougok continue below. Gvarokh and Ushin go to the diner.
Characters: Lakir and Dougok
Location: Imperial Outfitters (Envar Town)
Lakir and Dougok split off from Gvarokh and Ushin and walk back towards the
ship, but they have a couple stops to make along the way. The first one is
Imperial Outfitters, the interstellar traveler's supply store. This one is much
smaller than the typical store.
The pair look around the store and see small signs for "Protective Gear", "Exploration Tools", "Communications", "Food & First Aid", and "Camping Gear".
There's a mid-20's looking human male sitting behind a counter. He doesn't seem unnerved by your presence. He says, "Have a look around. If you need help, let me know."
Dougok's tail wags as he thanks the clerk. He wanders around looking at stuff while Lakir stays primarily near the clerk.
Not seeing anything that catches his eye, Dougok heads up front and chats up the clerk.
"So have things been busy around here lately?"
The clerk lets slip a slight chuckle. "Nah, it's never busy on Envar, except when a new class of scouts arrive, or when an old one completes their training."
Lakir speaks up, "I'd be interested in what the outgoing boys are interested in, as they've been through the wringer and will have the best download on the latest gear to keep them alive. What do they usually look for?"
"Oh they almost never buy anything from here. They might pick up something for the trip out if they're not hitting the low berth, but it's usually to pass the time. Certainly not gear. What I meant was that the town doesn't get busy except for when there's scout activity. Most of my customers are locals ordering something to have shipped in. And the odd tourist that took a wrong turn at Anarsi and ended up here." He chuckles.
Dougok snaps his jaws in a vargr chuckle. "It certainly seems pretty static here. After breakfast and a souvenir, your typical tourist is going to want to flee."
Lakir replies, "Hey, we're here. WTF? Gotta spend time somewhere in this icehole; might as well be here."
The clerk shakes his head, "I didn't mean here as in this store. I meant here as in Envar."
Lakir shrugs. "It ain't so bad, for the butt end of nowhere, but really cold, if you know what I mean."
"I live here; I know what you mean," the clerk answers with a smile.
Lakir continues, "It's got 'charm' though, 'long as you you got a ticket out, I figure. We're just passin’ through."
The clerk shrugs. "It works for me."
Dougok changes the subject. "Do most of the locals work to support the scout base?"
"Oh yes. They're the reason Envar Town was built. If they were to pull out, I think most people would pack up and leave. There isn't enough other industry to keep this place going if you ask me."
Dougok wags his tail and continues, "Is there much else in the system? We ran across some belters earlier at breakfast. Seems there had been some kind of scuffle. I didn't follow much of it."
"No, it's just the handful of belters and the scout base."
Lakir says, "I guess the belter ops aren't much of a money maker, even with the increase in demand for raw materials. I'm sure the research station isn't a big draw either."
The clerk points at him. "Right on both counts. The scouts really don't have any research going on. It's primarily a training facility.
"There wasn't much here before. Nowadays, with the corsairs just two parsecs away, there's even less incentive for someone to try their luck here."
"As they are just 2 parsecs away, do you get any spillover, or rumors of 'disappearing' teams? Those belters seemed pretty spooked."
"Yeah, but not that often. The pirates know there isn't much commercial traffic passing through here, so they just hit the gas giant to refuel and move on to better targets. I don't know why there aren't more patrols. They used to, but it's like they're pulling back." He shudders. "Oh man, I just scared myself. What if the navy is pulling back?"
Dougok remains silent, given his past occupation.
Lakir replies, "Then life here, for as long as you're not sold into slavery, would really suck."
"You don't think that'll happen, do you?"
They don't reply. Instead, Lakir and Dougok bid the clerk, good day, and return to the ship.
Characters: Lakir, Dougok, Slade, Simrii, Vlad, Vincent (Later:
NPC: Chuck, Uengghae, Kagak, Captain Su and her crew (Later Ushin)
Location: Miishakaal, parked at Envar Down
Lakir and Dougok have returned to the ship. They assemble everyone in the crew
lounge so that they can hear what the two of them overheard while out at a diner.
The pair explain that they overheard two conversations. The first one involved a group of traders. They talked about pirates hitting an Anarsi Travel liner in the Kakkin system. No outfit is claiming responsibility, nor were hostages were taken. They just grabbed cargo and valuables and split, which leads Dougok to believe that either they're a Touzagh splinter group that has returned to traditional piracy or a different outfit entirely.
The second conversation concerned some spooked belters. Some vagrant was trying to warn them about working in the outer system, but he got picked up by the cops before they could question him further. Lakir and Dougok aren't sure if the vagrant was warning them about pirates or claim jumpers, but the belter captain thought it was odd that the cops arrived just as he was talking to them.
Lakir adds, "On our way back, we stopped at Imperial Outfitters. The clerk there seemed pretty spooked. He thinks the pirates are using the gas giant as a stepping stone to attack other worlds and wonders why there aren't more anti-piracy patrols to counter it. He's afraid that the Vilani Navy is pulling back."
At this point Gvarokh and Ushin return to the ship. Lakir explains that he and Dougok just finished bringing the crew up to speed on what they overheard at the diner. He adds that he wants to grab a fellow human—people seem to be paranoid of vargr—and head out to Envar Exports.
Gvarokh agrees with Lakir's request to gather some intel, but before he can leave, Gvarokh wants him to hear what he has to say. He takes a deep breath and then lets it out. He gestures towards Ushin and says, "Our meeting with the Scout Base Commander didn't go well."
Chuck's eyebrows go up in surprise.
Gvarokh continues, "He made it quite clear that we weren't welcome. He felt threatened by Ushin. He didn't want us here to look for Captain Dagudakaar's ship. He's hiding something, and he doesn't want us snooping around to find out. He didn't forbid us from completing our mission, but he was adamant about our filing a flight plan with traffic control. He's going to keep an eye on us."
There's some grumbling among the people in the room.
"And while we were at the diner, we overheard some mechanics complaining about a repair job where the 'old bastard' is breathing down their necks to get it done. I'm pretty sure he meant the Scout Base Commander." He turns to Ushin, "Do you have anything to add?"
Ushin bites his lower lip before saying, "I'm sorry. I thought that this was going to be a routine salvage operation. I'm afraid that we've stumbled upon a corrupt official, and we don't know what his game is. But it is our duty to find out as much about it, document it, and inform the Bureaux."
"A corrupt Scout Base Commander? At a training facility on a backwater world? That's crazy. Scouts are explorers; greed isn't in our DNA."
Ushin replies, "I'm sorry, Mr. Strider. I wish you could've been there. This is not a charge I make lightly. I swear to you that Scout Base Commander Nigadagakip was trying to hide something from us and does not want us here."
Chuck seems placated for the moment.
Lakir folds his arms and scratches his chin. "Let's change the strategy. What might work is playin' the 'old Scout' routine, either asking around or lookin' for some off duty scouts to pump for some info. But we'd need to keep a low key though, based on what happened to the vagrant."
"I can do that," Chuck says.
Lakir continues, "Our departure strategy should revolve around filing a false flight plan as we wouldn't want the base commander to shop our route or destination, either for dough or to 'partners', if he's playin' that game." He addresses Ushin, "Can you locate data on that liner that was hit at Kakkin? Maybe spot a trend of missing ships, including Captain Dagudakaar's ship, that have Envar in their flight plans. If the database isn't available here, maybe an additional jump to a system with more up-to-date info in Zirunkariish Corporation's files. Anything to spot a pattern."
Ushin replies, "That attack at Kakkin is too recent for me to have info on. Zirunkariish doesn't have an office here. I'll have to talk to the Starport Warden about getting a data update from them.
"I don't believe that the Kakkin disappearance bears any connection to Captain Dagudakaar's situation. She and her crew were taken by the Touzagh. The Kakkin attack you told us about doesn't bear any of the hallmarks of a Touzagh attack. That band only took cargo and valuables; it didn't take prisoners or the ship.
"I can tell you of a pattern we've already seen: Once word of the fall of the Touzagh base spread through the region, we saw a steep drop in all pirate activity. Obviously, we have you to thank for that. However, there's a chance that the drop was only a short pause. It's still too soon to know. It's only been," he checks his chronometer, "fourteen weeks and data only travels as fast as couriers can get the information to us. And we left Maran three weeks ago. Maybe pirate activity has returned to normal."
With the meeting concluded, Ushin goes to the Starport Warden's Office while Lakir and Chuck head out together.