Back at Maran

Characters: All
NPC: Ushin, Chuck, Uengghae, Kagfak, Captain Su Daagudakur and her crew
Location: Miishakaal, docked at Meliva Starport
System: Maran

1126.32.4 - 10:00 Imperial Time, 26:00 Vilani Time

Miishakaal has safely returned to the Maran system along with its flock of three merchants vessels. The makeshift crews assigned to the other ships are already carrying their gear back to the ship. Ushin disembarks from Miishakaal with his own suitcases and nods to each of the crewmen and thanks them for their service.

As Ushin shakes Gvarokh's paw, he says, "This isn't goodbye. You'll be hearing from me within the next drandir or two. My report has already been sent over to Zirunkariish, and I'm sure that they're processing it. I don't know what the bounty is on those other ships, but I can't see it being any less than Captain Su's ship. Ahhhh, I think I see an inspection team arriving now."

Gvarokh follows Ushin's gaze. An air-raft is on approach towards two of the ships, the Zirunkariish logo visible on its fuselage.

"Good drandir, Captain, and thank you."

Ushin proceeds over to Captain Su. They exchange several words, shake hands, and then Ushin heads over to the air-raft full of inspection technicians.

Captain Su comes over and says, "Well, I guess this is goodbye. Thank you, Gvarokh, for everything. Once again, I owe you. That's twice you and the guys have saved us. And yes, rescuing Ronni is the same as rescuing me. If I had to wait around for approval from a bank, I don't think I would've gotten a ship anytime soon. Probably would've had to sign up on some schlub's trader."

"You're welcome. Well, now that you've got that trader back, do me a favor?"

"Sure, anything."

"Move your operations rimward. It's just too dangerous this close to the border. Head back into the Vilani safe zone."

She nods. "It's going to be pretty competitive there. I'm sure the chickenshit traders are all there. There'll be more money to be made out here in amber zone."

Gvarokh sighs. "Please consider it and keep at least six parsecs between you and the border."

"No, you're right. I have to be thankful that we still have a ship."

"Well, regardless of what you decide, know that we will always be willing to help if you and your crew ever need it. And please remember that, no matter the context or what it looks like, you can always trust me."

She smiles. "Thank you. And you should that we'll be eternally grateful to you and your crew for what you've done for us."

Gvarokh extends his paw, but she lunges in for a hug instead.

After goodbyes and hugs (to willing participants, oh and Bill, the one guy remaining in Su's crew, opts to shake hands) are granted all around, Su and her crew return to her ship to await the legal release of her ship. Miishakaal's crew return to their ship to await word from Ushin and Admiral Khagamsusuu.

In the meantime, they get caught up on the news.

"30 Killed During Panic at Lady Isis Stopover"
Tripolis (Verge 2612) -- 30 people were killed after Lady Isis's bodyguards opened fire on a crowd gathered to hear Archduke Dulinor's daughter speak. [Shaky video shows people running amidst sound of gunfire]

Lady Isis has been on tour to demonstrate that her father's solidarity with the people. After a while the crowd grew unruly with many shouting anti-Dulinor epithets like "Down with Dulinor". [Steady hovercam video of chanting people holding signs like "Dulinor has brought back the Long Night", "Dulinor = Murderer", "The End is Nigh".] As Lady Isis pleaded to be heard, several rocks and bottles were thrown at the stage where she stood. [More shaky video footage of projectiles in air] It was followed by several reports of popping sounds. A spokesman for Lady Isis explained that the bodyguards thought that it was small arms fire, while eyewitnesses in the crowd claim that they were just fireworks. At this point, fearing for the safety of Lady Isis, the bodyguards opened fire on the crowd.

In this photo, Lady Isis can be seen [kneeling] among the victims afterwards [with blood on her dress] trying to comfort one of the victims. Shortly thereafter, she was escorted back to her ship which promptly left Tripoli.

"Human Rights Group Accuses Margaret of Genocide"
Anaxias (Delphi 1724) -- Archduchess Margaret's government was rocked by charges of genocide, said to be conducted against the Geonee in Massilia sector with her knowledge and tacit approval. The charges were presented by Gemma Kasgilii, the head of Erasmus Alliance, an independent human rights group based in Massilia.

Kasgilli alleges that Marquess Tanzer, a noble loyal to Margaret, has been waging a "war of extermination" against Geonee refugees that have fled the fighting going on in their home subsector.

A government spokesman was almost incoherent with rage as he vehemently denied the charges during a press conference.

"The Wild West Imperium"
Medurma (Dagudashaag 2124) -- A popular theme among holosims is that of the "Wild West", a time during Terra's distant past when frontier towns on its North American continent, with only rudimentary signs of technology, were ruled by "gunslingers". These men would gather in the town's lone street--more a dirt aisle separating two rows of ramshackle wooden buildings--and duel with revolvers. As the Second Imperial Civil War drags on, more and more of the Imperium has come to resemble a modern day Wild West holosim.

While safe zones have been spared from much of the conflict, sectors caught between fighting factions have borne the brunt of the war. Dagudashaag is one sector in particular. Lucan, Dulinor, the "Real" Strephon, and Vilani forces have all clashed against one another here. The result: shattered worlds and lawlessness.

[Video cuts to Esteban Martinowitz, president of the Medurma Confederation] "We're dying out here. None of the factions gives a damn about us. We're their battlefield; that's it. They don't care about us. [He makes a sarcastic dismissive gesture.] Collateral damage; that's all we are. And no one's winning."

"Have you thought about declaring your allegiance to a particular side?"

"Many worlds did, but heaven help you if your side lost a battle. The victors came in and took out their frustrations on your world. If you complained, you'd get kicked in the teeth or shot in the head. And then when they'd lose the next battle, the next victor came in and did the same. The factions just build more warships and send them out to kill each other, and the cycle repeats. And for some reason we're the spoils of their war."

"So, is that when you decided to band together?"

"Yes. This war has been going on for 11 years now. It's taken its toll on all of us. No one's in charge anymore. No one's watching out for us. Even if they wanted to, we're too far away from their safe zones to protect. We had no choice but to band together."

[Video cuts to reporter standing in front of the wreckage of a Buccaneer class corsair.] Besides the warring factions, the worlds out here have to worry about bands of marauders. Mercenaries, corsairs, criminal syndicates, and even free traders gone bad. All of these groups, and more, have gone rogue and taken a "survival of the fittest" approach to life out here. It seems that anyone with enough firepower can raid worlds and take what they want or stake a claim and build their own bandit kingdom amongst the ruins. And it's spreading.

[Video cuts to Imperial map] Besides Dagudashaag, Zarushagar, Massilia, and Lishun have become unsafe for the civilian populace. 11 years of war have reduced many worlds to rubble and ripped the fabric of civilization. Whole fleets of warships, sworn to defend their local systems, have been called away to defend the pocket empires representing each faction. If the Imperium were to unite under one ruler tomorrow, that ruler would inherit a threadbare empire.

[Video cuts back to Martinowitz] "Even if the war were to end tomorrow, it would take decades--no, it would take centuries--to repair all the damage this war has caused. A thousand years from now, whoever inherits this space will look back on this time as another Long Night. Or maybe worse. If we don't stop this madness soon, maybe they'll look on us like we do the Ancients and wonder what cataclysm could possibly knock out a 11,000 world empire."

Briefing with the Admiral

Characters: Gvarokh, Lakir, Vincent
NPC: Chuck, Admiral Khagamsusuu, Major Elloekothe, and Major Irma Arsashaammu
Location: Conference room at Meliva Starport
System: Maran

1126.32.4 - 22:20 Imperial Time, 6:20 Vilani Time

Admiral Khagamsusuu has contacted the ship and requested Gvarokh and his officers meet with him. They're to go to a conference room in a secure section of the starport, not far from the massive hangar deck. Gvarokh acknowledges the call and says that they'll be there shortly.

Gvarokh picks Lakir, Vincent, and Chuck to accompany him on the meeting. He puts Slade in charge and instructs everyone to sit tight until they get back.

Marines in combat armor are stationed at every checkpoint. Gvarokh's identity, as well as that of the others, was verified three times.

Inside the conference room, Admiral Khagamsusuu is going over some details with a human aide (male) while two female army officers (one vargr and one human)—majors judging by their ranks—sit to his right. There's a pile of breakfast pastries and fruit on the table. The bacon-wrapped krullers look and smell interesting to a vargr's nose. A hot pot of coffee stands alone on a hot plate on a table next to the wall.

When the group enters the room, the admiral rises to shake Gvarokh's paw and the others' hands. After a warm greeting, the admiral introduces the other two officers: Major Elloekothe and Major Irma Arsashaammu. Both shake hands and Elloekothe sniffs the air. Both women have athletic builds and firm grips.

Chuck grabs a doughnut and pours himself some coffee. He offers it to the others.

The admiral says, "I received a copy of Ushin Numumshunnii's report. He was well taken by your performance in his salvage op. It won converts among the more lukewarm members of our committee." He pauses, a more somber tone taking over. "But it was his report on what happened to Envar after the starship recovery that won over the rest of the group. While there are still some who don't feel that your group is up to the task, no one doubts the need for action or the fact that it had to happen yesterday."

"Thank you for your faith in my team."

With an earnest sincerity, the admiral responds, "You've earned it." After a brief pause to let that sink in, he continues, "We're giving your privateer mission more focus. You'll need to find your way to Gemid, find the source of the bioweapons, and neutralize it. That includes all data pertaining to the construction of the weapon and the manufacturing facility. In executing your objective, you are authorized to use any means necessary." His brow furrows, his tone grave. "Any. Collateral damage will be tolerated."

"Understood."

Lakir says, "Collateral damage sucks, particularly when you're the 'collateral' part. We'd prefer to not get tarred with that brush if we can help it. Been there, got the t-shirt. It blows."

This elicits a chuckle from Elloekothe.

The admiral nods. Just when you think he couldn't be more serious, he kicks it up a notch. "There are some that believe assets needs to be eliminated as their continued usage turns them into liabilities. They assume that asset loyalty runs dry rather fast when, in actuality, it's theirs that's run dry. Perhaps it's because they use the term 'assets' instead of 'soldiers' or 'patriots' or 'people'. I am not one of those people. I don't take loyalty lightly." He points at Lakir. "You are not 'collateral' or 'expendable'. Nor will you be scapegoated." He grabs the rank insignia on his jacket. "I will use every bit of power this position affords me to see to that. Understood?"

The group nods. Chuck is the only one to vocalize: "Yes, sir."

Settling back to his "normal" serious level, the admiral continues, "The majors will be assigned to your ship for this mission. They're to follow your orders, but will also make certain you follow mine.

"Major Elloekothe specializes in covert ops, recon, and materiel acquisition. She has spent a great deal of time undercover on occupied worlds and built a list of contacts you may need to call upon to get you where you need to go.

"Major Arsashaammu is a biologist. Her knowledge runs from weapons to medicinals. While we have a team working on a counteragent for the virus and its neurotoxin, she may have to develop something in the field for your own use.

"Their presence is intended to bolster your team, to fill in the gaps in your team's skill set and knowledgebase. We need your mission to succeed, Captain. If you fail, we might not get a second chance to prevent Envar from happening again."

Gvarokh looks at Major Arsashaammu and asks, "Are you a biological scientist, a doctor, or both?"

She replies with a smile, "Both."

Chuck comments, "Great! Looks I've got one less job to do."

Gvarokh glances at him and sniffs the air just to make sure he's being sincere and not sarcastic. Judging by the smile on his face and the lack of testosterone in his sweat, he appears to be sincere.

Gvarokh continues, "When integrating the majors with my crew, is there any expectation of standing or position within it? Granted, we don't really have a formal command structure or anything, but I want to make sure things will go as smoothly as possible."

The admiral glances at Elloekothe and Arsashaammu. "For the day-to-day operation of your ship, it's entirely up to you. But for the mission, they will only report to you."

Gvarokh reaches over and grabs one of the krullers. It smells great.

"We were able to secure you a Ueknou class corsair, but it came at a price: your ship." He holds up a hand before Gvarokh can get upset. "The Ueknou came from Diiron. It was captured in a recent skirmish there. They're running low on ships, and they're pissed off that we haven't sent them any more to bolster their forces. They'd intended to use the corsair for their defense."

He leans in, as if talking in a lower voice will make it less likely that he'll be heard outside the room. "The truth is: I'm being overruled by the Bureaux. I'm not allowed to send any more ships down the line. Maran is on the perimeter of the safe zone. If the coreward worlds fall, so be it. The Council is more concerned about holding back Lucan and Dulinor's forces. The Confederation and other hostile vargr nations haven't made a major move in years. The border is holding. It's work for smaller vessels. Odinaga and Timat are doing the best they can to manage the situation.

"However, we consider the Envar attack a sign of a major move. We have couriers en route to Vland to explain the gravity of the situation, but we don't know how they'll respond."

He leans back in his chair, and his voice returns to normal volume. "To compensate the Diironites, we're giving them your ship and another trader. No, not one of the ones you just salvaged. They weren't happy considering the discrepancies in performance, but the tonnage was a compromise they're willing to accept, or at least not secede from Ziru Sirkaa over.

"The Ueknou is at Timat. Repairs will be completed by the time you arrive."

"Will it be possible to affect the weapons load out before we depart Timat? Those plasma guns turned out to be extremely helpful multiple times in the recovery mission. Also, will it have its standard sub-craft, too?"

"Yes, the ship we secured for you still has its G-Carrier. Ghoerruegh class, if I'm not mistaken. Highly rated and reliable. Fast and stealthy."

Lakir jumps in. "We'll definitely want to take our air-raft. We've modified it quite a bit, and I don't want to lose that."

The admiral nods. "The deal was for your ship, not the air-raft."

Lakir adds, "Maybe we can trick out the G-Carrier—"

"That won't be necessary," Elloekothe interrupts. "The Ghoerruegh class doesn't need to be tricked out. Its design is already optimal. Not only is it fast and stealthy, but it has a laser turret for teeth. And for defense, it has anti-laser aerosol canisters—" The admiral raises a hand to calm Elloekothe. "What the major means to say is that the G-Carrier is already optimized for corsair usage. Over the years, the manufacturer has gone to great lengths to please the corsair community. Modifying it could raise a red flag.

"Now, modifying an Imperial-made air-raft to look more mercenary, that's a good thing."

Lakir nods. "Getting back to the main ship: Any chance we can get our plasma turrets back? That would be big. You can keep that missile shit. Reloads are a bit tough to come by these days, though one tube might be worth keepin'. Need a read on our consumables resupply if we go that route though."

Gvarokh adds, "While it might be nice to have the literal 'nuclear option' available to us, I much prefer having all energy weapons in an actual fight. And I can't stress enough how valuable those plasma turrets were when we battled the pirates at Ikhog."

The admiral consults a tablet. "The ship has four pulse laser turrets. If you need the nuclear option, Elloekothe will assist you with that once you're in Confederation space."

Elloekothe leans back in her chair and crosses her arms.

"As for the plasma turrets, I will see what I can do. However, I can't promise anything."

Gvarokh addresses the aide, "We're going to need a lot of boxes and crates to pack up our stuff."

The aide makes a note on his tablet.

Gvarokh turns his attention back to the admiral. "We're going to need some gear. Some of our junior personnel haven't had the opportunity to equip themselves like our senior members." He gives a nod towards his present company.

"You have a mercenary license. Put it to use before you go."

Seeing that there's nothing else to discuss, the admiral stands to signal that the meeting is adjourned. He takes a holocube from his aide and hands it to Gvarokh. "This contains all the intel we have on Gemid. It's got one of those pseudo AI agents in it that can answer your questions about the data contained within it."

"Thank you, sir." He pauses a moment, then adds, "I'll need a bit of time before the majors show up."

"Will two hours suffice?"

"Yes."

"Two hours then. Good hunting, gentlemen."

With that Gvarokh, Lakir, Vincent, and Chuck leave the conference room and return to the ship.

Back at the Ship with a Mission

Characters: All
NPC: Chuck, Uengghae, Kagfak
Location: Miishakaal
System: Maran

1126.32.4 - 23:30 Imperial Time, 7:30 Vilani Time

Gvarokh, Lakir, Vincent, and Chuck have returned to the ship, and Gvarokh calls a meeting.

Once everyone has gathered in the crew lounge, Gvarokh says, "Our first mission as privateers is to track down where the Envar virus was made and neutralize it. Apparently, by any means necessary. The navy brass believes that we'll find the answers on Gemid as they're the only ones with the technology to pull this sort of thing off. And since they have a history of making biotech of this sort, it stands to reason that we start there.

"There will be major changes coming up for this mission. First off, we'll be getting two additional crewmembers for this mission. One is a covert ops specialist with extensive experience in the Extents. The other is a biologist who will be our lead for dealing with the virus and its neurotoxin. Both are majors, but you will not pretend they are crew. They will be part of the crew. They will be fighting alongside us and performing ship tasks as appropriate to their skill set. Obviously trust has to be earned, but respect should be immediate."

Dougok sniffs suspiciously at the mention of new crewmates. He emits a growl that maybe lasts a second.

"The second thing is that we're going to be getting that Ueknou corsair we talked about weeks back. The problem is: the world that currently owns it is demanding that we loan them Miisha for as long as we're on this mission. That means we have to pack up all of our stuff and bring it with us. That means everything. Leave nothing behind. Miisha should look stripped. All personal effects, gear, equipment, and supplies are to transfer to the new ship with us.

"We'll have plenty of time to pack as we're picking up the Ueknou at the naval base on Timat, though they're not the ones who 'own' the ship. Timat is two parsecs from here, so we can be there in a week."

Gvarokh checks the time. "We've got some time before the majors show up, so I'll answer any questions you have, and then we can see about buying some gear for those who aren't fully equipped."

Dougok asks, "What positions will our new crewmates fill? And what is the condition of the Ueknou? We'll want some time to try her systems out."

Gvarokh replies, "As mentioned earlier, one is a covert ops specialist, and one is a biologist. The biologist is also a medical doctor and will fill that position in the crew. I would expect the covert ops specialist to serve in a variety of roles. She will likely help us with contacts along the way."

Dougok wags his tail. "Are the new additions human or vargr?"

"Actually, one of each. The special ops is vargr; the doctor/biologist is human. Both are female."

Dougok's tail wags more intensely. "Vargr...good." He then asks, "What is going to be our cover story with the ship? Do we intend to pose as star mercs or heavily armed merchants?"

Gvarokh says, "Let's put it this way: We are, for all intents and purposes, privateers. We are independent operators in the employ of the Vilani Bureaux. Our cover is that we are corsairs. We will even act as corsairs, though obviously our targets will be different. We will be predators hunting predators; corsairs hunting corsairs."

Dougok's tail is still wagging, though a bit more calmly. He grins, showing his canine teeth. "It is good that our identity is clear to all. I'll gladly paint the Flaming Eye on the ship."

Lakir then says, "As part of the shopping expedition, when the majors get here, we'll want to ask them what sort of gear we're going to need for bio detection and protection. And anything we might need for destroying bugs. And decon gear in case of exposure."

Gvarokh adds that he wants Slade and Vincent to remove the fuel bladder. "It might come in handy on the next ship."

They nod in understanding.

Gvarokh says before the conclusion of the meeting, "Maran is our last, best place to go shopping before we head out. If you guys can think of anything you might need in terms of armor, ammo, weapons, or equipment, buy it now. You should be able to use our mercenary license to get what you want."

Kagfak and Uengghae start to whimper but Gvarokh is quick to placate them. "I know you guys don't have much money right now. I'll use the ship's funds to cover any reasonable purchases. Oh and you're going to have to room together for the week so the new crew can have rooms. I swear that everyone gets their own stateroom in the new ship. Ok?"

Both Kagfak and Uengghae wag their tails to indicate that they're fine with having to bunk together for the week.

Gvarokh's notes the time. "Chuck, would you join me on the bridge, please."

"Sure." Chuck follows Gvarokh to the bridge.

Shiraamer's Ashes

Characters: Gvarokh
NPC: Chuck
Location: Miishakaal's bridge
System: Maran

1126.32.5 - 00:00 Imperial Time, 8:00 Vilani Time

Gvarokh and Chuck are on the bridge while the rest of the crew has dispersed to go shopping.

"What's up, Captain?"

"I wanted to get your opinion on something." Gvarokh looks up at Shiraamer's urn.

Chuck follows his gaze. "Oh. Yeah."

Gvarokh keeps staring at the urn. "I've been giving it a lot of thought. It doesn't seem right to move her to the bridge of a corsair. And we can't leave her on the Miisha. The most appropriate thing probably would have been to bury her on our old base at Larkarda, but that isn't an option anymore."

"No, it's not." Gvarokh breaks away from the urn to look at Chuck, but he's still looking at the urn. "She died there. It broke her heart."

"I thought about taking her with us to figure out an appropriate way to inter them somewhere. Maybe we'll drop her into an appropriate sun. Perhaps even Maran's."

Chuck shakes his head. "No, that wouldn't be right."

"I'm kind of at a loss for the best remaining option."

"Well, you're right. She really wouldn't be at home on a corsair." Chuck locks his gaze on Gvarokh. "She belongs right here."

"But—"

"This is her home. It's still her ship. Don't get me wrong. You've been a great captain, but you've never really made the ship yours. It's like you've been doing your old first officer's job, keeping the ship together until Shiraamer comes back for it. You need a ship of your own. Let's leave her here."

"Where?"

A grin appears on Chuck's face. "I bet we can hide her behind some bulkhead somewhere. This way she'll be able to watch over Miisha while those numb nuts are flying her around. If they screw up, her ghost can haunt them until they get their shit together."

Gvarokh lets loose with a good belly laugh that sounds decidedly vargr. "Ok, you convinced me. Which panel or bulkhead is least likely to ever be opened?"

Chuck shrugs. "Oh I don't know. Maybe in the ship's locker. Or the wall between your room and Simrii's. I'm sure that Slade can come up with a few places."

"Hmmmm. I'll find a spot this week in jump and hide it there. Then she can truly guard her ship going forward."

Chuck grins.

Just as they're about to go about their other business, the ship's computer chimes, "You've got mail." Gvarokh and Chuck exchange a puzzled look.

"Who's it from?" Gvarokh asks.

"The Zirunkariish Corporation."

Gvarokh tilts his head to the side. Chuck's eyebrows go up. Gvarokh says, "Read it."

"With regards to case number 11260447UN13, the Zirunkariish Corporation has deemed that your compensation for the recovered property to be 2,000,000 credits. A report explaining how we calculated this figure is attached. This sum has been deposited into your account.

"Should you wish to dispute these sums, cancel the deposit within 32 hours and reply to this message with—"

"Stop reading!"

Chuck and Gvarokh stare at each other, barely containing their enthusiasm. Chuck finally blurts out, "Score!"

Next: Shopping Trip