NPC: Chuck, Uengghae, Kagak, Captain Su Daagudakur and her crew, Ushin
With the fake flight plan filed with the starport, Miishakaal lifts off along its fake flight path, thrusters at 1G. The real coordinates are programmed into navigation. While Uengghae pilots, Gvarokh programs an emergency jump to Ranilson into navigation, just in case.
Miishakaal reaches the midway point to safe jump distance. Gvarokh orders the thrusters to be shut off and to orient the ship for deceleration, but not to begin that process. The ship is now coasting at 268,364 mph. Gvarokh instructs the crew to stay sharp.
A jumpflash appears on sensors. Its transponder indicates that it's a Type S scout ship. Passive scans verify it. The ship doesn't hail you. Instead, it proceeds on its way down to the planet.
Miishakaal reaches safe jump distance. Gvarokh gives the order to decelerate, but wants 1,000 mph of residual velocity left. That will only require a 46 second decel burn once they're in the outer system.
Now that the ship is down to 1,000 mph, Gvarokh gives the order to microjump. Uengghae is a little nervous with this maneuver, but Gvarokh has explained to him how it's done. Besides, where they're going, there aren't any planets to crash into. Uenggahe executes the maneuver and the ship jumps. All appears normal.
Thirty seconds later, the ship emerges from its microjump. Passive sensors comb
the area but are finding nothing in the immediate vicinity (10,000 miles). The
calculations performed indicated that Ronni's Raven should be in the
Kagfak asks if he should conduct an active scan or give passive sensors more time to study the surrounding area.
"No," Gvarokh replies, "Kill the rest of our vector. We'll then wait and give the passive sensors some time to soak in our surroundings."
Uengghae complies with the order.
Two hours have gone by and the passive sensors have not found anything remotely
like the missing ship. One thing they have noticed is that the ship is nearing
this system's Kuiper Belt. The small star has a much smaller solar system than
Gvarokh sighs then explains that he plans on widening the search with an ever expanding hexagon, as opposed to a spiral, in order to keep thruster firing to a minimum.
Dougok says, "Worst case we will need to go active on our sensors to find the ship. The ship has certainly cooled down to near ambient unless the power plant was left on so it will be harder to spot."
Captain Daagudakur replies, "We were forced to power down everything. She's definitely going to be cold after all this time."
Chuck asks Gvarokh, "How long do you plan on waiting before we make adjustments?"
Gvarokh replies, "A couple of days. It all depends on how much faith we put in the cone of probability as to her location."
Dougok says, "I think a week or two is not an unreasonable amount of time spent searching. Many a patient corsair has been rewarded by keeping his nose to the air."
Simrii nods. "Given the vast area. A week is not unreasonable."
Slade comms in from engineering. "If we sit out here in the dark for too long, we could be mistaken for the kind of people we're trying to avoid. Happens all the time. A skulker is a skulker from 200 kilometers away."
Gvarokh realizes that no one has slept since the ship arrived in system almost 23 hours ago. With 15 people on board, he breaks the group into three shifts of five, with each shift lasting six hours.
The shifts are:
Group A: Gvarokh, Ki, Slade, Khamu, Simrii
Group B: Su, Chuck, Bill, Vlad, Dougok
Group C: Ushin, Uengghae, Vincent, Kagfak, Lakir
The ship has been searching for over three and a half days and not come across
any trace of Ronni's Raven. The ship has moved further out along the
search cone and is now in Envar's Kuiper Belt. One good thing: The crew is all
caught up on their sleep.
But it is at this time, during the Group A shift (Gvarokh, Ki, Slade, Khamu, and Simrii), that a distant jumpflash is detected. Passive sensors put it at 587,000 miles (978,333 km) from you current position in a spinward, rimward, and downward (with regards to the solar system's ecliptic) direction.
When the crew looks to Gvarokh for a course of action, he explains that they'll quietly monitor the activity of the new arrival, if possible. There's no need to go active just yet.
Dougok voices his approval.
Due to the extreme distance, Gvarokh is forced to tweak the sensors to hone in on the source of the jumpflash. It takes him a few minutes to fine tune the controls and set up the tracking to fixate on that region. Once he's done, he says, "Now, we wait."
"How long?" asks Ki.
"If they're not making any effort to conceal their activities, we'll know in just a few minutes. If they're going for stealth, it will take hours, perhaps days before we get enough data to figure it out. In the meantime, we'll be at a dead stop." Over the comm, he says, "Slade, I'd like the power plant to scale down as low as you can go but still be capable of ramping up for a jump in a reasonable time frame, if necessary. We won't be using our thrusters."
Slade acknowledges the request.
Group B (Su, Chuck, Bill, Vlad, Dougok) is on shift, but Gvarokh has remained on
the bridge to asses roughly 24 hours worth of surveillance.
With Su watching over his shoulder and Chuck at the helm, Gvarokh scrutinizes the location up and down the spectrum. Putting it all together in a time lapse video, the results are clear to Gvarokh, and he points them out to her.
There are a series of brief flashes of light which correspond to attitude jets, and then nothing more. But on the infrared spectrum, a warm body is seen to move briefly and then comes to a complete stop and slowly cools. It also disappears completely for a while, but it comes back. Back in the visible spectrum, there's still a faint bit of light, but it's reflected irregularly, not smooth and artificial. It is apparently a small Kuiper Belt object, maybe 10 km wide.
Su asks, "Are you saying what I think you're saying?"
Gvarokh says, "Yes. There's a base out here, and that rock is it." He pauses before continuing in a more somber tone, "And there is no ship to find. It has been gone for a long time."
There's a note of defiance in her reply. "Maybe because it's already been found." She points at the screen to emphasize her point.
"I'm sure it was found. But it has likely been refitted and has long left the system. We aren't going to find it here."
"You don't know that. Maybe it's at the base."
"Where are you going?" she asks.
"To talk to Ushin."
"Not without me."
"I'd prefer it if you stayed here to keep track of the monitoring."
"Chuck can handle that. It's not like there's anything else going on."
Gvarokh isn't swayed just yet.
"Look," she continues, "I've sat back and been a grateful passenger for this entire trip. I've kept my mouth shut and let you and Ushin run this whole enterprise. I get it. This is your ship, and he's the guy bankrolling this whole venture. But you're going to talk to Ushin about my ship and what you're going to do next, and if you think I'm going to be left out of that discussion, you've got another thing coming."
Gvarokh replies, "Actually, I want to talk with Ushin about the base and what we are going to do next." He gestures toward the bridge exit. "Let's go talk with him."
Su leaves, placated to be included in the discussion.
Gvarokh says to Chuck, "Chuck, keep the information gathering going and continue to keep us still. We'll be back soon."
"Aye aye, Captain." With a chuckle, he adds, "But I don't think you'll be back soon."
NPC: Captain Su Daagudakur and Ushin
Ushin is awake, dressed, and has just finished a meal when Su and Gvarokh show
up. Gvarokh explains to him the results of the observation so far. Ushin's
eyebrows go up in surprise.
Gvarokh says, "So here's my analysis of the situation:
"A base like this has probably been around for a while; it isn't new.
"The pirates that captured Su probably shot her ship directly out to the base. Therefore, her ship is long gone. It probably exists, but is probably already gone from the system."
Su chafes a bit at that but doesn't say anything.
Gvarokh continues, "We know there is at least one ship at the base.
"We do not have an 'in' to the base like we did at Gamgilebo, so this would be an assault at an asteroid base, which is probably not a great idea.
"We have not been spotted yet. If we can get a decent observation of the base's orbital movement, we can predict its future position.
"If we leave now, we can always come back to the base.
"If they ever find out we know about the base, it will likely be cleaned out before we can return.
"So, it would appear we have two choices:
"1) Move far enough away and then leave. If we are clever, we can move over to where we were supposed to be and actually report back to the planet that we have given up the search and are declaring the ship lost before leaving.
"2) Try to get into the base. We have no in, so that will be a bit tricky."
After giving Ushin a moment to absorb all that, Gvarokh asks, "What do you think?"
Ushin exhales deeply. He bites his lower lip. "Oh my. This is nothing like what I expected. I take it you would prefer to leave. But if you wanted to assault the base, do you have a plan?"
Gvarokh replies, "Since we have no 'in' like at Gamgilebo, we could see if an 'out' would work. That being, we would try to lure the ship, or ships, out of the base by 'accidentally' identifying ourselves. If it is a 'fair' fight, we can just take them out. If it is overwhelming, we lead them away from the base, then micro-jump over them to try and attack the base before they can get back. Probably not the greatest plan, but we work with what we have. I can always float it by the crew to see if they can come up with something.
"Alternatively, we can try to slip in closer for a better look and, once close enough, see if Vincent can get his inner hacker on like he wanted to planetside."
"What's the likelihood of Mister Velandro's success?"
"Very good. He's the best I've ever seen."
Su clears her throat. "I, for one, would like to know for certain before we leave this system that my ship isn't at that base."
Ushin nods. "I'm inclined to agree. When I file my report, the company is going to want to know if we were completely thorough. Granted the data collected from our search over the last few days should be sufficient, but this discovery puts a spin on things. Is there any chance that we can get closer and either active scan or look for a comm port for Mister Velandro to hack? I realize that committing to that plan would probably reveal our location, and we would have to prepare to fight or jump away.
"Perhaps we can try a combination of plans."
Gvarokh tilts his head to the side.
Ushin explains, "We sneak away, jump back to Envar, explain that we didn't find anything and that we're headed back to Maran. We refuel and jump back out to the base to scan it. I realize that's risky, but if we can provide as much intel to my superiors, perhaps we can catch them before they depart. There's a naval base at Bolziin, which is only four parsecs away. We could go there." He pauses. "But if we active scan them, they'll know and shut this place down." He closes his eyes and rubs his forehead. "I must say that I'm torn between doing something here and now and getting away to report what we already know."
He removes his hand and looks directly at Gvarokh. "It's your ship, Captain Gvarokh. While some risk obviously comes with any salvage mission, I can't order you to put your ship in harm's way."
Su is looking intently at Gvarokh for his answer.
Gvarokh thinks carefully about what he's going to say. When he's ready, he says, "If we want to have the best chance that the base will still be intact, we need to leave now. If we leave and return, there is a reasonable chance that the base will still be around when we get back. Of course, that assumes that our claims will be taken seriously, but when I think about it, why should they? We have no proof except for a base that theoretically shouldn't be there.
"The other approach is to make contact with the base. We can try to be stealthy, but given the lack of any comm emissions, they likely use laser comms and only when needed. We can't hack those without establishing contact, which would locate and identify us immediately. It then becomes a race to see if we can break in before they can harm us.
"If we investigate, we could be violating a military jurisdiction or easily be cast as the bad guys. If we then run, they control the messaging, and we won't have a great response. If we shoot, who knows who will be more believable in the end? We all have some great contacts to work with, but we have to assume a Scout Commander and local planetary leader have some cache, too.
"Given what you know now, are you willing to write off the ship?"
Ushin says, "Well, Captain. You've given me a lot to reply to. I'll answer your question before I address what you've said.
"No, I'm not willing to write off the ship based on what we've seen here."
Su is visibly relieved to hear this.
He continues, "Furthermore, Captain, I'm afraid that you don't understand how the Ziru Sirkaa works. But I'll explain.
"Leading us all is Emperor Ishuggi. Beneath him is the Igsiirdi, the central ruling council. That council is made up of the heads of each of the Bureaux: Makhidkarun, Naasirka, Sharurshid, and Zirunkariish. The admirals in the Vilani Navy and Scout Service report to us, meaning the Bureaux. We instruct them where to go and whom to defend.
"I don't have the clout to order the Scout Base Commander around, but I report to people who do. My word carries more weight than his. If I say that there's something suspicious going on, there will either be an explanation or an investigation."
Su asks, "What do you mean exactly?"
Ushin answers, "An 'explanation' means that I was deprived of the information required to do my job, in which case someone within Zirunkariish will be disciplined. An 'investigation' means that something was kept hidden from Zirunkariish, and they will bring all of their resources to bear to find the truth.
"While I don't know every base within our borders, and even less about what they do, my superiors make it a point to let me know where I should not go. No one told me to avoid Envar's outer system. There shouldn't be anything out here that I'm not supposed to run in to. Either I'm the victim of some elaborate backroom chicanery, or someone is up to something out here without the permission of any of the Bureaux. I'm inclined to believe the latter.
"The way I see it, we can either head back to Maran or down to Bolziin to call in reinforcements, or we can cruise over to that asteroid and invite ourselves in for tea. What say you, Captain?"
As the weight of Ushin's words sinks in, a smile grows on Gvarokh's face. "Sounds like tea time!"
Su cheers, her smile full of glistening teeth.
Gvarokh continues, "Let's gather the rest of the crew and bring them up to speed."
NPC: Chuck, Uengghae, Kagak, Captain Su Daagudakur and her crew, Ushin
Gvarokh has called a meeting in the crew lounge for all to attend. Chuck remains
within earshot on the bridge, keeping an eye on the sensors.
Once everyone has shown up, Gvarokh says, "After talking it over with Ushin and Su, we've decided to get more information. We're considering our options as to how we should go about doing that." He pauses to let that sink in, then continues, "We're nearly a million klicks (587,000 miles) from this asteroid base. I don't believe we're going to learn anything more at this distance. We're going to have to cut our distance in half if we're going to have any hope of using the active sensors.
"We don't know whose base this is. It's possible that it's a pirate base, and Su's ship might be there. Or it might be long gone. Ushin's sources say that there shouldn't be any military bases out here, so he would really like to know whose base that is.
"I'd like to hear some opinions on what the best approach would be to finding that out."
Lakir is the first to reply. "As soon as we go active, the show's over. Whoever owns this shithole will wipe us up. Stealth and low key; drift in. Let's see what the timeline looks like. If it's months, we got low berths for an 'off-on' rotation. Or we go in hot. The timing sucks for this routine. No surprise, no advantage, we take it in the chops.
"What's the objective? Eyes on the facility for soft intel, or a wet op, smash and grab?"
Ushin answers him. "Our initial objective was to find Captain Daagudakur's ship. It's clear from the data that someone or something has interfered with its trajectory. Either its course has been drastically altered or someone has captured it. As there aren't supposed to be any bases out here, and this one is close enough to Captain Daagudakur's ship's old heading, it is my belief that the ship is there. We need to either confirm or deny it, or leave it for someone else."
Lakir continues, "I'm for the 'gather and plan' routine as we'll likely be overmatched in firepower goin' in hot. Maybe we look like legit salvage, so they stumble on us nice and clean. Drift in, nice 'n slow, pop the dog f'ers when they don't expect it..." He glances around and gestures to show he means the opposition, not current company. "They may have intel on us from the scout base CO, so we need to watch how we play it. Go from there."
Dougok agrees with Lakir. "We should sniff about carefully."
Uengghae, whose Galanglic has improved, says, "If we jump into their face, we can strike with surprise."
Kagfak nods his head in agreement. "Sometimes a weak paw can look strong if you catch prey sleeping."
Vincent appears to be working at something on his laptop. Judging by his frown, it doesn't appear to be going well.
Gvarokh asks, "What is it, Vincent?"
Vincent's shoulders slump. "I've been trying to work out some way to get more intel on the asteroid. With Slade's help, I could probably build a probe out of spare parts, the hand thrusters in the ship's locker, and some fabbed items. But even so, I can't get any reasonable approach that doesn't take weeks to accomplish. And there's no guarantee it'll work. This whole stealth approach will just take too friggin' long. It's already been five days." He shuts the lid on his laptop. "I'm going to agree with Kagfak and Uengghae. We need to storm the place."
Kagfak pants as he smiles. Uengghae crosses his arms and nods. Both are obviously pleased to hear that someone is on their side.
Vincent continues, "Here's what we do. We mini-jump to the asteroid. It's tiny so we'll only be 600 or so miles from it. That's close enough to it that we can active scan quickly and actually do something about it. Back out at 300,000 miles, let alone 587,000, we can't do shit. At 600 we'll have the element of surprise. If someone's there, we can take a shot at them. Easy shot. I could burn my initials in Vlad's hairy butt at that range.
"Maybe we'll find the comm port so that I can hack my way in. Can't do that at 300,000 miles.
"All we need is ten minutes for the jump capacitors to re-charge. C'mon, we can last that long. Let's do something."
Chuck calls out from the bridge, "I'm in."
Captain Su look briefly at her crew and then says, "Sounds like a plan to me, Captain. You can count us in to help." A wry smile plays out on her face. "We used to run a starship of our own you know. We can help hold down the fort or join in the rush."
Dougok has changed his mind and now wags his tail at the plan. "Pounce with surprise and maximum strength is wise. I'm in for an attack."
Gvarokh says, "All right, we're doing it. Besides, if we pussy out here, would we even deserve a corsair?" That triggers a few chuckles among the crew.
With everyone focused on him, he continues, "We'll mini-jump right onto their doorstep. That should throw them off guard. If we find anything that outclasses us, we'll jump away. Dougok, you'll be in Vincent's turret. Vincent, I want you completely focused on hacking. Do I have any volunteers for the boarding party?"
Kagfak and Uengghae both bark their acceptance.
Captain Su says, "If my ship is in there, you'll need someone to fly it out, so count us in."
Lakir says, "I'm in, though it would be nice to have a plan."
Vlad raises his paw. "I'm in. Plan? We don't need no stinkin' plan. We'll just light up the place." He laughs in that vargr way that suggests that vargr are all partly crazy. When Kagfak and Uengghae join in the laughter, it only makes it seem crazier.
Ushin clears his throat. "Well, I can't offer you a plan, but your objective should be to locate Captain Daagudakur's ship and secure its release, forcibly if necessary."
"Oh, it's there," Su replies. "I can feel it."
Vincent attempts to reassure Lakir. "Once I hack my way in, we can do what we want."
Next: Assault on the Asteroid Base