NPC: Ushin, Chuck, Uengghae, Kagfak, Captain Su Daagudakur and her crew
Ushin called from orbit, asking everyone to convene in one location so that he
only needed to relate what they found at Envar. When pressed for hints, he
declined to respond, only saying, "I can't go into it now." He seemed upset.
When he arrives, Ushin appears to have visibly aged. His face is pale save for the dark circles under his eyes. He has trouble making eye contact, staring at the deck instead.
He takes a deep breath before beginning and then looks around the room.
"I'll give you the short version. It'll be easier to tell. If you find that you need more details, I'll give them afterwards.
"When we arrived at the asteroid base, we found it...lifeless. The sole remaining ship we were unable to procure was gone. There were no other ships in the vicinity. We found 14 dead bodies, including Scout Base Commander Nigadagakip, inside the base. He'd been executed.
"After securing the base, we proceeded on to Envar. As we were unable to reach them on laser comm or radio, I feared the worst. But what we found went far beyond that.
"There were only a few survivors, holed up in emergency shelters that had their own air and water."
Ushin pauses and swallows. Chuck hands him a water bulb. Ushin thanks him and takes a drink.
"I'm sorry. In the insurance industry, I'm used to dealing with numbers all drandir long. Wrecked starships are the limit of my experience with war. I'm not...used to it, so this is rather difficult."
He pauses again and takes another sip of water.
"A GSbAG-1000, like the ones we found on board each of the other ships, was found down on the engineering level in the life support section. It had pulled a trailer with a stainless steel vessel into the room and activated it. From what we've been able to piece together, an electromagnetic pulse was emitted, rendering the robot and any unshielded equipment inert. A gas laden with neurotoxins was then emitted from the vessel, killing anyone not wearing a hazmat suit or, at the very least, a gas mask. Many people died before the air filtration equipment could be turned back on.
"But the truly insidious component of the weapon came later. Contained within the gas was a genetically engineered virus. Once inhaled, it went to work replicating itself and converting the body into a neurotoxin gas farm. Being dead wasn't enough. The virus kept manufacturing the neurotoxin, forming large blisters on the skin's surface. When ruptured, copies of the virus and its neurotoxin were aersolized. We had to burn the bodies to make it stop..." Ushin bites his lip. "UV light didn't affect it, so once the air scrubbers were turned back on, the airborne virus spread throughout the town.
"People panicked. Many who weren't infected were killed as people fought over air tanks or tried to get out.
"We didn't find any ships at the starport or the scout base. I have to assume there were some there, especially at the scout base. But if they were there, they were long gone by the time we arrived. I don't know if that means there are more survivors out there—Kakkin's starport warden said that no one arrived from Envar—or the ships were taken by whoever did this.
"We asked the survivors if there were any threats broadcast over Envar or any invading forces spotted in town. But no one heard or saw anything. There was just the EMP, the gas, hysteria, and death."
He appears to be done talking. The room is quiet save for some weeping among Captain Su's crew.
The room is silent for a while as the weight of Ushin's news sinks in. Appropriately enough, Gvarokh breaks said silence. With no irony or humor, he says, "Apparently, we have out first assignment."
A puzzled expression crosses Ushin's face. "I'm sorry. I don't understand."
Gvarokh replies, "This recovery mission was meant to be a small effort while waiting for other things to finish being worked. If all things go well, when we return to Maran, we really will be able to start trying to make a difference in this situation."
"Oh. Well whatever it is, I hope it prevents this sort of things from ever happening again."
Lakir says, "Fuck me. This is just like the bad ol' days, 'cept with a lower body count. This is Black War ops come to the sector, but it's not anythin' I ain't seen before.
"The problem is the terrorists most likely have more vector transmission capability now with the other ships they took off with and an unknown virus fabrication capability that may or may not be portable. Until it's contained, every enclosed hab, including up ports, is vulnerable if they can strike faster than the warning can be put out. Speaking of which, what's the gov doin' to warn systems?"
Ushin sighs. "Alerts have already been posted for the missing ships. Orders are to 'shoot on sight' if the ships so much as twitch."
Gvarokh asks if there is any way that they can get the specific identification of the missing ships. He wants to be able to recognize them immediately if they should run across them.
"I have a copy of their transponder codes, ship types, classes, and names. I'll upload them to you on the trip back to Maran."
He points to Lakir. "As far as the virus lab being portable, I doubt that to be true. This is too sophisticated and dangerous. Its creators are sure to keep it heavily guarded lest it be turned on them.
"But to your first point, I don't believe these are terrorists. Yes, this is a terrifying weapon, the likes of which this sector has been spared during this war. But there were no demands. This was just outright killing. My knowledge of politics is limited, but I suspect that this was a test, a demonstration of some kind. A prelude to a wider scale implementation? Or maybe you're right and it's terrorists and their demands will come later."
Dougok lets out a low growl. His hackles rise on his ruff. "Those responsible for this should be hunted down and killed out of hand. There is little profit in such a hunt, but much honor and what humans call karma. I would hunt such as them as far as the edge of known space and beyond."
"Agreed," Ushin nods, "but I suspect you wouldn't have to go that far. I believe the villains are only a few parsecs away."
Gvarokh adds, "The attack on Envar was punishment to the Scout commander. In all likelihood, the commander was not killed until well after he had the chance to see what happened on Envar. There were no demands because the demands were already expressed and this was punishment for failure."
After a pause he says, "Let's move those two GSbAG-1000s to Miishakaal. We're going to need them in the not very distant future."
Ushin replies, "They'll need to be analyzed first by our investigative technicians. But since they weren't part of the original insurance claims, you should be able to claim them as salvage."
System: Jumpspace between Kakkin and Ranilson
Gvarokh stops by Ushin quarters to privately talk to him about matters he didn't
want to openly discuss in front of the crew. Some of them don't understand the
concept of filters.
"What can I do for you, Captain?"
"I'd like to talk to you about Envar, if you're up to it."
"I'm about as up to it as I'm ever going to be. Perhaps the more I talk about it, the easier it will become."
Gvarokh nods. "Well, I'd like to see a copy of the reports about what happened. In particular, I'd like to see the underlying data about the virus and the neurotoxin. I want to be prepared in case we come across it in our work going forward."
"I'm not sure that it would do you any good. No offense, Captain, but I hardly think a mercenary—"
"We're going to be working for Admiral Khagamsusuu. He wants us to be privateers at the very least, but I know that he has some special operations that he'd like us to undertake."
"Oh." Ushin nods with understanding. "I see. I see. Who else knows of your involvement?"
Gvarokh rattles off a list of the admirals and bureaux representatives who were at the meeting back on Maran. As Gvarokh lists each name, Ushin grows more impressed.
"That's quite an impressive group of people. I daresay that you may become aware of things that are above my level of clearance. In fact, if I wasn't directly involved in the rescue operation, I wouldn't have been briefed. And let me add, I don't know if it will ever be said publicly. This is the sort of thing that inspires fear in the public. People living in the safe zone around Vland don't have to endure what people on the border are experiencing. This sort of thing would panic even them.
"Anyway, those people you mentioned, they will certainly be receiving the full report. And if Admiral Khagamsusuu is half the man he is on file, I'm sure that he will have you hunt these monsters down."
Ushin sticks a holocrystal into his computer and types a few keys. He yanks out the holocrystal and hands it to Gvarokh. "I wouldn't let too many copies of this get out if I were you. As I said, the authorities want to keep a tight lid on this. I believe that the cover story for Envar will be dome breach from a corsair raid. While that is scary in its own right, people in the safe zone see it as the new normal for border worlds. It will also serve as a politically expedient means to increase the navy's budget and tighten security."
END Rescuing Ronni's Raven
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