NPC: Ushin Numumshunnii, SBC Nigadagakip
Location: Scout Base
Gvarokh and Ushin leave the ship and enter the chilly hangar bay. Ushin wears a
vilani business suit: high square collar, straight lapels, white nano-fabric.
Gvarokh dons a light jacket in case his fur isn't enough and brings his comm and
Gvarokh casts a glance at the technicians working on refueling the ship. He gives them a nod, which they return. Gvarokh and Ushin open the personnel airlock and head inside to the starport. A warm breeze (compared to the chilly hangar bay) greets them. Gvarokh 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.
Gvarokh and Ushin 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 busy. A quick glance at a chronometer reveals that it's the Vilani 1st Ishuuna—the primary work period.
On either side of the "street" at the entrance to the downport are Imperial Outfitters and Envar Exports. Both are open, but the pair continue on until the corridor opens fully to the central circle.
Gvarokh's nostrils have thawed out. The place smells a little bit like a starship—humans and recycled air. He catches a faint whiff of plant life which sets his tail to wagging. There must be an arboretum nearby.
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 the arboretum/farm that Gvarokh smelled. To the right is an airlock for direct access to the surface.
Gvarokh tries to familiarize himself with the scene as they walk by. Ushin focuses on walking straight ahead. People are in the common space heading about their business. A few cast surprised glances in Gvarokh's direction. Vargr must not be a common sight here. Most people are coming up the stairs; a few ride the lift. Most appear to be headed to work.
Pressing on, the pair arrive at the entrance to the Scout Base. There's a secure airlock. A small line goes quickly with people stating their business before entering. When it's their turn, Ushin identifies himself and does all the talking. The pair are admitted without a problem.
A receptionist informs the pair that the Scout Base Commander has a meeting but will be available at 00:30.
The pair are admitted to the Scout Base Commander's office. The decor strikes
Gvarokh as more "academic" than "military". Nigadigakip himself appears older,
probably mid-60's in solomani years.
Ushin introduces himself then Gvarokh.
SBC Nigadigakip says, "I have to say that I'm a bit surprised by this. We don't get many visits from Bureaux reps."
Ushin replies, "I'm pleased to say that we're here on a salvage operation. The crew of a ship that was lost here many weeks ago has been rescued, and they believe that their vessel is still here."
Nigadigakip's eyebrows go up. "Still here? Surely that can't be true."
"According to the captain's report, her vessel was powered down and set adrift after she and her crew were captured."
"Well, the pirates must have returned to lay claim to the vessel."
"That is possible, but the Zirunkariish Corporation feels that it is worth funding this operation to find out. I don't believe that I need to remind you, Commander, that the war has taken its toll on shipbuilding."
"No, you needn't do that." He seems miffed.
There's an uncomfortable moment of silence, then Ushin continues, "Well, we felt that you should know that we'll be in the outer reaches of this system."
"I appreciate that."
Another awkward pause. Gvarokh can't help but smell the tension in the room. Years of self-discipline in the Imperial Navy keep him from letting on that he knows Nigadigakip is hiding something.
"Is there anything we should know about? Recent attacks, traffic fluctuations, or anything else noteworthy?"
He frowns. "No, not really. We don't get a lot of commercial traffic through here, and I suspect that the pirates know that. What did you say the name of the ship was?"
"I didn't, and I'm legally required to keep that confidential."
"Surely, you can tell me."
"No, I can't actually."
Nigadigakip's face turns red. "I'm the Scout Base Commander. I have every right to know what people do in this system. If you won't tell me, perhaps your supervisor will."
Ushin remains calm. He sighs. "Very well. It's a far trader named Melova Toast."
Nigadigakip's face returns to its normal color. "No, never heard of it," he says a little too quickly. "How long do you think you'll be out there looking for it?"
"I imagine that it will take three to four weeks."
He frowns again. "Well, be sure to log a flight plan with traffic control. We have a training exercise planned for the gas giant in a few weeks and I don't want any interference."
"Will do." Ushin stands and Gvarokh follows his lead. "Thank you for your time, Commander."
Nigadigakip shakes hands with both of them. "Good luck with your search, gentlemen."
Once safely outside of the Scout Base, Ushin exhales deeply, but doesn't break stride. "Well, that could've gone better."
Gvarokh replies, "It could have been worse. What do you think he is hiding?"
"I don't know, but I don't like my suspicions. He should've known about Melova Toast."
"A ship that went missing recently. It made the news, and as base commander, he would've received notification about it. But it wasn't lost here, it was lost at Ninnigam, so he should've challenged me on it.
"And I'm not legally bound to hide the name of the vessel from him. Non-essential personnel, yes. But government, military, and any parties who could assist in the recovery of the vessel are permitted to know. His reaction was most telling.
"I'm afraid, my good Captain, that our investigation has taken a turn for the worse."
Gvarokh stops in the center of town, near the central shaft opening, and responds, "Wait. Hold on. I was just thinking we were dealing with a corrupt base commander. Your test takes it far worse. Either he isn't really a base commander, in which case this entire planet is being run by someone with no actual authority, or he knows you are lying and let it slide. Either way, how much danger are we in here?"
"Oh no, I believe that we're dealing with a corrupt base commander, not an impostor. He looks like his file photo; a clone or android that good would cost a lot of money, and I highly doubt that there's anything of value here to warrant such an expense.
"If he knew I was lying, he should've called me on it. I think he was distracted by whatever it is he's hiding and just said anything to get us out of his office. The question is: how far does the corruption go? Technically, he doesn't run the planet; there's an actual government—a council of some kind. Are they involved?
"As for how much danger are we in, that really depends on how big the stakes are. And it is too soon to tell. At the very least we should be extra vigilant."
At this point, Lakir and Dougok spot them and meet them in the street.
NPC: Ushin Numumshunnii
Location: Giishgula's Diner (Envar Town)
Upon Dougok's and Lakir's recommendation, the pair walk into Giishgula's Diner.
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 are dressed like scouts. They're young and have academy insignias on their jumpsuits. The trio have a grizzled mechanic look to them. The pair look like office workers. The four people at the counter appear to be split between blue and white collar.
The smell of food tickles Gvarokh's nose and his belly rumbles.
Gvarokh indicates that he wants to sit near the scouts and Ushin follows. Once they're seated and holding menus, a waitress comes over and asks, "Coffee?"
Gvarokh replies, "Yes, I'll take the coffee, but I still need time to look at the menu."
"Sure thing." She turns to Ushin. "And you?"
He replies, "Black tea, please."
"Coming right up."
Ushin is quiet. It'll be up to Gvarokh to lead conversation. But Gvarokh is fairly quiet himself, preferring to listen in to the other conversations.
The scouts are a little on the boisterous side. They appear to be talking about a recent training exercise. They laugh at each other's goofs and shake their heads at the challenges they faced.
The waitress returns with a canister filled with an assortment of tea bags and a hot pot of water. She also fills up Gvarokh's coffee cup. "Are you ready?"
"Yes," Ushin says. "I'll have the vegetarian omelet with cheddar cheese and wheat toast, please."
The waitress turns to Gvarokh, "And you, sir?"
"I'll have a double order of bacon with scrambled eggs and plenty of hot sauce. No toast."
Ushin leans in and whispers. Only a vargr can hear what he's saying over the scouts. "Can you hear what the mechanics are saying?"
Gvarokh sometimes forgets that his hearing is better than humans. He casually rotates around in the booth and swivels his ears towards the mechanics.
Mechanic #1: "How's the transmission overhaul coming on the buggy?"
Mechanic #2: "Good. It'll be done by the end of the day."
Mechanic #1: "Good. Then you can give Marron a hand with that grappler module."
Mechanic #3: "I told you I've got it under control."
Mechanic #1: "I know you did, but the customer's breathing down my neck to get it done. And in case you've forgotten, that old bastard runs things." He pauses. "Look, just let Don help you. The sooner we get this done, the sooner we get that asshole out of our garage."
Mechanic #3: "Yeah, yeah, you're right."
At this point the waitress returns with your food.
While the pair eats (not bad for a diner in the back end of space), the scouts finish up and depart, thus making it easier for Gvarokh to listen in to the mechanics. However, they don't seem to be talking anymore.
As Gvarokh and Ushin finish up, the mechanics pay their bill and leave.
Ushin looks to Gvarokh to see if he's done. Gvarokh nods. Ushin pays the bill and the two depart.
On the way back to the ship, Gvarokh relates what he overheard the mechanics talk about. "I assume that the 'old bastard' is Commander Nigadagakip, which means he likely has more influence than he should."
"Yes. I'm afraid that we may have intruded upon someone's nefarious operation. While I think we should complete our mission post haste, it would not hurt to learn as much as we can about what Nigadadakip is up to, provided that we don't arouse any further suspicion."
Next: The Guys Return to the Ship
Characters: Dougok, Slade, Simrii, Vlad, Vincent, Gvarokh
NPC: Uengghae, Kagak, Captain Su Daagudakur and her crew, Ushin
Location: Miishakaal, parked at Envar Down
Ushin has returned from the Starport Warden's office. Lakir and Chuck are still
out on recon.
Gvarokh asks, "How did it go?"
Ushin looks a bit troubled. "I have the data update. The Starport Warden wasn't available, but one of his assistants was. She was quite helpful in providing me with the data. And she gave me an advance on what we should find. Piracy is indeed on the upswing. Most of it is of the traditional variety, but there have been a couple of incidents where whole ships have gone completely missing. That could be a sign that one of the Touzagh splinter groups has decided to stick with that method of operation.
"But what was more troubling was something else she told me. She asked me why we were here and I explained to her that we were on a salvage operation for a ship that was set adrift by pirates last year, her crew having been taken hostage by the Touzagh. In a very sober tone of voice she suggested that Zirunkariish just write the ship off as a loss as it was too dangerous in the outer system for us to be groping around in the dark."
Ushin pauses for several seconds, then continues, "That was quite an irregular thing for an Assistant Starport Warden to say to someone of my position, considering my employer. When I stated quite confidently that the crew I was with was quite capable of handling some random pirate lurking in the outer system, she looked me dead in the eye and flat out told me that we weren't.
"I thanked her for her assistance and told her that we would give her advice due consideration.
"To make matters more grave, when I asked her where the Warden was, she informed me that he was meeting with the Scout Base Commander."
Vlad says, "Well, at least we know the trip won't be dull."
"Well that sounds delightful," Simrii replies looking up from the data pad he's reading. "Sounds like a very quiet run with lots of listening and the drives primed to jump out just in case. I know that we don't have any drones, but can we get some here? We could rig up an array and increase our chances of detecting things while still being stealthy. Big ears, low to the ground and all."
Dougok has been lapping at his beer while listening to Ushin. His ears flipped forward and his tail stopped wagging once the news sank in. He perks up when Simrii mentions drones. "Drones would be good, silent running even better.
"There is something very bad going on out there given what we've picked up in rumors and this assistant warden. The fact that she would break with precedent to give such a direct warning is very telling." His ears flip back and he bares his teeth a bit.
Slade speaks up. "Perhaps somebody big is on the take."
Su's face is red. "Yeah, I'll say. It starts with that scout base commander and whatever henchmen he has on his payroll. And it sounds like the Starport Warden is in on it too. Bastards! If my ship isn't out there, I'm coming back here and kicking all their asses."
Now that everyone appears to have offered their opinion of the situation and Captain Daagudakur is visibly upset, Gvarokh steps in to the conversation. "Ushin, we're prepared to face whatever is out there. However, what do you want to do? It isn't just us, but also Captain Su, her crew, and you at risk here. Is it worth the risk? Should we do more investigation on this mystery or leave and come back with more backup?"
Ushin sighs. "We can't get more backup without proof that something illicit is going on here. Right now, all we have are words: vaguely worded warnings, overheard conversations, and testimony over odd behavior. One can not accuse a scout base commander of criminal activity without proof, no matter how likely it looks."
As an aside, Gvarokh muses, "I wonder if we are more dangerous alive or dead? We probably want to make sure everyone knows we are expected to find out about the ship and will come looking if we disappear."
Ushin replies, "Alive. But the commander knows that if we don't report in, someone will come looking for us. Our deaths would be easy to conceal, and with pirate activity in the area, I'm sure it wouldn't be difficult for the scout base commander to make it look like pirates were involved.
"But we just can't run home empty-handed. At the very least, I'll need the telemetry data to prove we did what we could to find the ship. If you're all set, Captain, the sooner we get this operation underway, the better."
Vincent pipes up, "I am just throwing this out there, but if you guys want more information I could always attempt a hack of their systems, provided I can get access to them. Of course I'd need to go and find some relatively safe place to operate away from the ship and the rest of the crew so as not to involve you all in case I'm caught. The seriousness of what is going on I feel validates the chance for me to take. If the corruption goes that high up the ladder, then maybe they'd be careless enough for me to get in and out with information without them finding out. But I leave that to the captain and crew to decide."
Vlad says, "This sounds like a reasonably not terrible idea to me. At least, it's a chance to learn something without having to get turned into slag in the process."
Gvarokh turns to Ushin and says, "Are you comfortable with this? Vincent is extremely good at what he does, and getting any information would be a huge help."
Ushin frowns. "Hacking a computer network without a warrant is illegal. I wish you hadn't brought it up. If you were found out, it would cost me my job. And anything you find would be inadmissible in court." He sighs. "But it would be silly to worry about that if we're dead. How confident are you, Captain, in his abilities?"
"I have no doubt whatsoever in Vincent's abilities. I won't explain why. You probably wouldn't want to know. You'll just have to take my word for it."
Ushin replies, "I will. I'm puzzled though how he'll be able to accomplish this."
Vincent answers, "I have several encryption busting algorithms that I've refined over the years."
"I see, but I'm not sure you do. If it helps to clarify things, Envar is rated at tech level five. It has no InfoNet. The few computer networks it has aren't linked together. In fact, I don't believe any of them are wireless. I believe that they're all 'hardwired' with cables."
Vincent blinks, then types away at his always handy laptop. His jaw drops. "Oh shit, he's right. Normally, I'd just ride the wireless to an available node and start chipping away. If I'm going to hack, I have to physically connect my laptop to the target network," disgust passes over his face, "via an ethernet cable."
Ushin nods. "Now you understand."
Vincent is scowling. "But why? Why would anyone waste money on all that cable when they can just buy a few routers and wireless cards?"
"First off, I suspect there isn't much cable being used. Secondly, routers and wireless cards aren't as cheap as you think. Thirdly, it's the Vilani way."
"To be ass backward on tech?"
Ushin frowns. "No and that's a typical Solomani attitude. It's about meeting the location's needs in a low risk, cost-effective manner. Wired networks are more secure than wireless. That's a big concern for a starport and a scout base, particularly so close to vargr space."
"Oh please! Encryption—"
"You're forgetting that there are only 7,000 people here. That isn't much of a tax base to generate the revenue needed to pay for those things locally, and the Imperium, whichever one you want to talk about, has more important things to spend its money on. Besides, the people here get by just fine without InfoNet. As you've seen, there's not a lot going on here, so the pace of life is slow. You don't have thousands of business transactions being conducted every second to manage. I wouldn't be surprised if it took them a couple of days to generate that much activity. A more active world would need the InfoNet. Absolutely. But Envar isn't it."
"But people still need to communicate."
"Yes, and I believe they do it via some kind of telephone network."
"I can use that!"
Ushin shakes his head. "Neither the starport nor the scout base are connected to it."
"What do they use?"
"Handheld radios, I believe. And they're not connected to any computers."
Vincent swears up and down.
Gvarokh jumps in to the conversation. "I'm concerned about their ability to track us."
"I'm not. I seriously doubt that this place has a long range tracking system for the reasons why they don't have InfoNet. They'll have equipment to keep an eye on anyone who jumps in, as required, but beyond 100 diameters I think they'll have to have someone sitting at a telescope, which isn't practical. If they want to track us, I suspect they'll use another ship to do it. And they'll be as visible to us as we are to them."
Vincent snaps his fingers. He apparently has another idea. "Ok guys, now I know this is gonna sound extreme, but hear me out. I can still hack the system, but I'd have to attach a wireless router to the network. Once that's done, I can set up relay stations and bounce the signal off them to a location where I can access it with a laptop. That means going in there and doing it, which is a lot more riskier than my original plan, but I feel it might be worth the risk! Again, it's up to you all and with the added level of risk I can completely understand why you don't, but I should have enough spare parts around here to make the attempt so I leave the decision in your hands. Is the data worth the risk? I think so, and I am willing to try by myself to avoid getting you guys arrested. All I would ask is that you guys help me scope out the place so I have some intel to work with."
Vlad looks like he swallowed some bad ghek. "Ugh. That sounds pretty sketchy."
Dougok stirs and speaks, "I say we at least do the recon of the area and determine the feasibility of the break in. Given the small size of the population here it will be very difficult to simply pretend to be the 'repair man' and slip inside carrying a clipboard and bag of tools. We may have to actually break in. The good thing is that the security is likely to be of the same vintage as the electronics."
Ushin rolls his eyes.
Gvarokh responds, "No. We're not going to do that. There's too much risk around doing that, and any mistake will completely explode in our face. We just can't take that risk."
Ushin exhales a sigh of relief.
Gvarokh continues, "Captain Daagudakur, let's head over to the bridge and work on the course we're going to take and the fake one we need to file with traffic control. I want the rest of you to get the ship ready for departure. I want to leave as soon as Chuck and Lakir get back." To Vincent, he says, "Vincent, a word."
Once on the bridge, Gvarokh says to Vincent, "It was a clever and creative idea; we just can't use it this time. It was a line too far for Ushin to cross. We can't ask him to. And, as our sponsor, his views and opinions are too important to ignore. Normally, we operate by different guidelines, but in this mission, we have to make allowances for those we are with, particularly our sponsor."
Vincent replies, "I understand your concerns and will always abide by your decision, but I had felt the risk was worth the reward...especially since our lives would be on the line."
"In other circumstances, there could be other choices. But it wasn't just risk and lives, it is presentation and methods." Gvarokh smiles, pats Vincent on the shoulder, and finishes, "Besides, I can easily see you having the chance to exercise those skills when we get out to the edge of the system where we will face technology better than strings and cans."
Next: Lakir and Chuck Return to the Ship