NPC: Major Elloekothe, Sarruero
Gvarokh and Elloekothe exit the gantry arm and enter a corridor that runs
parallel to the hangar bay. They follow LED signs that lead the way to the
elevators. They arrive at a spoke, find an empty elevator, and ride it to the
habitat ring. A short ride later they arrive.
The spoke shaft contains four elevators. It opens onto a wide open lobby that extends 20 meters away from the elevator shaft. Plants decorate the area and the place is brightly lit. The floor is colored to resemble large plates of marble, but one touch reveals it to be mere laminate. In front of the pair, and behind them, are large observation windows. To their left and right, the habitat ring extends and curves out of sight.
There are two levels. The pair stand on the "ground" level. The upper level is open in the middle but a concourse on either side is clearly visible. Every 10 meters, there's a bridge that connects the opposite sides of the upper level. An escalator connects the ground level to the upper one. The next escalator appears to be 30 meters away.
The place is moderately crowded with humans and vargr going about their business. No one appears to pay Gvarokh or Elloekothe any attention.
Gvarokh says, "Right. How do we find this contact of yours?"
"It depends on his mood. First thing I'll do is give him a call." She takes out her comm, pops out a chip and puts in a different one from a pocket. She types a few digits on the keypad and puts it to her ear. "Hi, Sarruero. It's Elloekothe. Can I come see you? Great. See you soon."
"I guess he was easy enough to find."
"Only because he wanted to be found. He must be in a good mood today." She looks down at her comm. "He's at Gzargve's Watering Hole. When the Confederation moved in, plenty of the locals nervously sold their businesses to the first vargr that came along. This is one of those places. I'm sure many are regretting it."
They start walking to Gzargve's Watering Hole. Gvarokh watches the population along the way. They aren't much different than what he'd see in the Imperium and its splinter states, except that there are as many vargr as humans. They wear the typical clothes: simple jumpsuits and casual garb more typical of surface dwellers. Some carry weapons, particularly daggers and handguns. Longarms are absent. Armor too, unless it's under someone's clothes, which looks like a possibility. No one seems to be paying him or Elloekothe any extra attention for being armed.
Twenty minutes later, Gvarokh and Elloekothe arrive at Gzargve's Watering Hole. From the outside, it appears very well maintained. A fountain in the shape of a waterfall serves as the focal point of the lobby. The rocks are styrofoam and the plants are plastic but it's apparent they mean well. Two male vargr (one large, one average) stand near a podium. They're dressed well, but sedate in black.
Once the pair step into the lobby, a buzzing sound emanates from a speaker overhead. The large vargr takes a step forward. He says, "I'm sorry, but no weapons are allowed inside the premises. You'll have to check those."
Elloekothe says, "Pretty common practice. It keeps the riff raff in line." She hands her pistol over. The large vargr hands her a claim ticket. Gvarokh does likewise.
The pair walk through a short corridor into a large dining hall. Off to the left is a bar room with two large openings which serve as doorways (one close, one 10 meters down) and several large cut outs in the wall just above head level for the people sitting at the bar. In the distance, there are several display screens attached to the wall. Video of some mountainous region is being shown. A brook runs through the screen and empties into a lake surrounded by evergreen forests. Small animals occasionally pop into the picture to drink from the lake.
The dining room isn't crowded. Most of the patrons are vargr. All are dressed as merchants or spacers.
A human male dressed in black approaches them. In Gvegh, he asks, "Do you have a preference on seating?"
Elloekothe says, "I'm supposed to meet with Sarruero."
"Of course, please follow me."
Gvarokh takes in the scents in the air and the human host in order to gauge the atmosphere in the place. He finds both the host and the place to be relaxed.
The human host discretely points to a pair of male vargr in the corner. Both appear to be of larger than average size and robust health. Sarruero is the better dressed wolf while the other has stuck with modesty. There are too many scents in the restaurant to accurately gauge Sarruero's presence, but the vargr's body language while in conversation with his companion is that of confidence.
Elloekothe thanks the host and walks over to Sarruero with Gvarokh in tow. As she nears the two vargr she says his name. Gvarokh sniffs the air, taking in Sarruero and the other's scents and gauges their relative charisma. Sarruero's is high. The other one, above average, but certainly less that Sarruero.
Sarruero sniffs the air and rises from his seat. "Elloe," he says, and moves from behind the table to embrace her. He places his snout down near the top of her bosom, taking in her scent. He then moves up to her neck. "It is good to see you. I've missed your scent."
Elloekothe smiles and says, "On the prowl this early in the day?"
"I'm always on the prowl."
Elloekothe turns to face Gvarokh. "This is Gvarokh. He's my captain. We just arrived."
Sarruero sniffs the air around Gvarokh. "Well met, Captain Gvarokh. Please, have a seat." They accept his invitation to sit down. Sarruero asks, "Hungry, Captain? Elloekothe can vouch for the fact that the food here is excellent."
"Oh, it is," she replies.
Instantly a male human waiter appears and takes Elloekothe's order of sunny-side-up eggs, olikslono bacon, and pancakes with olikslono blood syrup and some water.
Sarruero nods in approval. "Good choice."
The waiter asks Gvarokh if he'd like anything.
"Uh yeah, sure. I'll have the sunny-side-up eggs, olikslono sausage, and...oooh olikslono blood muffins. Haven't had those in ages. A cup of ovagghog too, please. Black."
[ OOC: Ovagghog is the vargr equivalent of coffee. Like dark roast, but bolder. ]
"Very good, sir."
After the waiter leaves, Sarruero introduces the vargr to his right. "Gvarokh, this is Uthgoer, my right paw wolf."
Uthgoer sniffs the air, and says, "Well met, Captain Gvarokh. Elloekothe."
Gvarokh respectfully replies, "Pleased to meet you."
Elloekothe says, "Good to see you again, Uthgoer. Does Fi Khong have the day off?"
Sarruero flicks his ears, sets down his fork, and says, "Fi doesn't work for me anymore. He's hunting along a different path now."
"Nothing bad, I hope."
"Oh no, not at all. Some wolves came to port, looking for me to assist them with their ship so that they could make a new life for themselves. The sense of adventure that they represented called to him."
"Good for him."
"I certainly hope so."
Elloekothe's head tilts to the side. "You don't sound convinced."
Sarruero chuckles quietly as he picks up his knife and fork. "Just after I hammered out a deal with the captain, his engineer mutinied. Challenged him to a duel and won." He cuts a piece from his steak. "But Fi seemed to hit it off just fine with the new captain, who honored the deal his former captain made, so I'm sure he's fine. Haven't seen him or the others since." He takes a bite from his steak, savors the taste while he chews, and then swallows. "But Uthgoer is still with me."
Uthgoer nods and smiles.
Sarruero continues to work on his steak as he says, "Considering the hour of the day, I suppose that this is a business call."
"It is." She drops the volume of her voice. "Have you heard about the incident at Envar?"
"It's a product of Gemid, isn't it."
"Yes, it is. And here's your food."
Elloekothe takes the cue to stop talking.
After the waiter leaves and everyone has a few bites of food, Elloekothe says, "We're looking to find the people responsible. Do you think you can help us with that?"
Sarruero finishes his steak and dabs at his mouth with a napkin. "Maybe. It depends on what you plan on doing when you find them."
Elloekothe pauses with a forkful of pancake midway between her plate and her mouth. "I would think you'd know me well enough to know the answer to that one already."
"Let's just say that I'm having a crisis of faith in the vargr race these days. Even my paws are dirty, but one has to do what one must to survive. So I'd like to hear the words, just to be sure."
Gvarokh leans in to simply say, "We are going to stop them. Can we tell you right now exactly what that means? No. But we are going to stop them."
Sarruero sniffs the air and stares hard at Gvarokh, gauging his sincerity. After a few seconds, he says, "Then I will help you.
"I suppose it was only a matter of time before some of the darker factions within the Confederation realized what deadly prizes awaited them on Gemid. The Touzagh scouted out the world and helped secure it. The governor is a puppet. Outwardly, he's loyal to the Ngath, but he takes orders from this cabal. They channel prizes to Ngath, but keep the best for themselves. They think Ngath has grown soft, and they're looking to secede so that they can form their own pack. But they need capital. They're negotiating with those rabid dogs that run the 17th Disjuncture. Envar was a demonstration to show what they're capable of. My understanding is that the cabal plans on selling the weapon to the Disjuncture in their war against the Imperium."
Elloekothe asks, "Who's in the cabal?"
"I only know a few of the members; the rest are still cloaked in secrecy. Admiral Vughtsothaghzurri; Ghaenaedzue, the CEO of the Osoksknokhuk Corporation; and Gegatsueg Ngaekh, CEO of the Skuethukhsgvasalladh Corporation."
"You mentioned that the Touzagh were involved at the start, but they're no more."
"True, but as you know they merely splintered. And one of those splinters still works for the admiral."
"Who and how big?"
"A human, if you can believe that."
"Not Kagiisha!" Elloekothe recoils.
"No, he's dead, killed by one of his squadron leaders shortly after their defeat at Ikhog. That guy, he's the one. His name is Khukir Khigiikuli. Nasty fellow. While most of the splinter corsair groups have returned to the traditional ways, he's keeping the Touzagh traditions."
"How big a force do they have?" Gvarokh asks.
"Khigiikuli has about twenty ships. Obviously the admiral has more, but his forces are fluid and scattered, defending the Confederation. He can't make his move yet to consolidate power. It's an open secret that the Confederation Navy lets corsairs do the dirty work."
Gvarokh chews his lip a moment and then asks, "How big are those ships under Khigiikuli? Just normal corsairs, or something to really worry about?"
"Corsairs of various sizes. He doesn't have any capital ships that I know of."
"What is the admiral's typical ship lineup at Gemid?"
"It depends on rotation, but you can expect him to have capital ships. Gemid isn't a world that the Confederation is going to let go without a fight."
"How freely does traffic flow in and out of Gemid? Would we be out of place?"
"I don't know the actual figures, but it flows. Your arrival there wouldn't be considered out of the ordinary."
"Do they care who bids on what? Would we be out of place trying to buy something?"
Sarruero shakes his head. "They don't care. If you can meet their price, it's yours. Assuming that the Confederation brass okays it for non-Confederation usage."
"So I can be a corsair looking for goodies?"
"Does the fact that I'm independent matter? Sure there are normal suspicions, even paranoia, but how much do I have to be prepared for?"
"No. Like I said, they're all about money. I don't know the degree to which you'll be grilled."
"Are there any good covers that'll help smooth things over? Anything obvious that we should we be aware of or avoid? That kind of thing."
Sarruero tilts his head to one side and cracks his neck. He turns to Elloekothe and says, "You know who you might want to get in touch with?"
Elloekothe straightens her back and growls quickly and quietly. "Not him."
"I see you haven't forgotten—"
"Fukh him. He's an asshole."
"Which is why you need him. He's the type of wolf who...specializes in this sort of work."
Gvarokh can't help but ask, "Who?"
Sarruero answers, "Soks Dhunkul. He's a merchant that deals in illicit and immoral merchandise."
"I thought you hated him," Elloekothe says.
"Hate is such a strong word," Sarruero replies. "I certainly loathe him as a living thing, but his professional skills are beyond reproach."
Elloekothe's ears shoot up. "You admire him?"
"No, I respect his abilities. If he invaded my turf, he'd be a worthy adversary." Sarruero shudders at the thought. He leans over to Uthgoer and whispers something in his ear. Uthgoer nods.
Turning his attention back to Gvarokh, Sarruero says, "If you can get Soks Dhunkul to work with you, you'll get to Gemid without a problem. But beware, Captain. My reputation may be that of a rogue, but Soks Dhunkul is a villain. If he senses an opportunity, he will strike. He has poisoned many a mind."
Through gritted teeth, Elloekothe asks, "Where is he?"
"He flits back and forth between Kashiin and Newcastle. If you don't find him on either of those worlds, he's probably skulking about in Voenggaks subsector."
"At his old haunts?"
"Most definitely. But I think you'll find him down this way. The stench coming off of Gemid is too tempting for that vulture to pass up."
Gvarokh looks from Elloekothe to Sarruero. He looks out the "window" on the idyllic boreal rainforest and says, "I fully expect that my soul will be tainted by stopping those at Gemid. I know that I'm going to have to do very nasty things to bring this to a halt. I won't be 'clean' at the end."
Sarruero replies, "Then you might succeed."
Elloekothe puts a paw on Gvarokh's shoulder. "It doesn't have to come to that. Look, we'll find a way."
"You probably will," Sarruero says, "but you know as well as I do that with Dhunkul the odds of your success are far greater. He brings...a certain clout that you won't be able to come up with on your own."
There's a pause, then Elloekothe says, "Thank you, Sarruero. I guess we'll be heading back to our ship now." She starts looking for the waiter.
"I've got your bill," Sarruero says.
"You don't have to do that," Elloekothe replies.
"It is but a small price to pay for the privilege of seeing you."
"Thank you," she says demurely.
Everyone stands and sniffs the air, taking in respective scents.
"Thank you for your assistance," she says.
"My pleasure," Sarruero replies. Turning to Gvarokh, he says, "Good hunting, Captain. I hope you find your prey."
Gvarokh responds, "I am more concerned about after the find, not making the find." There's humor in his voice, but also an undertone of seriousness.
Sarruero seems to be considering Gvarokh's words and nods.
Gvarokh and Elloekothe depart, picking up their weapons on the way out.
On the way back to the ship, Gvarokh asks, "I'd like to get proper context on this Dhunkul. I don't need details; I just need to know what to expect. And if he has anything hanging over you."
She growls, but then sighs. "Do you remember when the admiral said that we are authorized to use any means necessary?"
"Let's just say that I already have on a previous mission. Right now, it's just between me and the admiral, and I'd like to keep it that way."
"Dhunkul will come across as your friend, but he's a snake. He'll curl up next to you, tell you how great you are, and then when it's too late, you'll find that he's coiled around you, squeezing you tight, and that's when he bites. You have to play his game for as long as you can, trying to figure out his endgame. You can't strike at him until he makes his move because he'll just slither away. But if you're not prepared for him, it'll be too late to do anything about it.
"His price will likely be something you'll hate. He loved doing business with the Touzagh. Expect something along those lines or worse."
Gvarokh replies, "I do not want to sell slaves or poison worlds. If that is the price, we might as well not look for him."
Elloekothe shakes her head. "He has an uncanny ability to sniff out the character of a wolf. He won't ask you to do either of those things if he senses you're a wolf of upstanding character. But he might ask you to do something that would enable him to accomplish a transaction that you'd find repugnant, and by the time you found out, it would be too late."
Gvarokh smirks and says, "I would ask for examples, but you already said you don't want to talk about it. Regardless, if it's a 'growing corruption' thing, then we may have to risk it."
Elloekothe doesn't say anything further on the subject.
"Are there any other contacts you want to meet with while we're here," Gvarokh asks.
"No. They're the sort of contacts you use if you need stuff. Tangibles. Sarruero is the best for intel. No one can tell us anything more than he did.
"Speaking of tangibles. Do we need to make arrangements to get our fuel here, or were you planning on heading down to the starport?"
"What's the price differential?"
"There will certainly be a surcharge, probably around 25%."
"Do you think letting the crew out would be better here on down on the starport?"
"Here. It should be difficult for any of them to wander off the station than down below. There's also a bit more privacy up here than down there. Less chance of someone getting their snout into trouble."
"Then I guess I'll pay the surcharge and let the boys out to play."
NPC: Chuck, Kagfak, Uengghae, Major Arsashaammu, Major Elloekothe
Location: Pack of Daggers docked at Ugarun-82
Gvarokh and Elloekothe have returned to the ship. A meeting is convened in the
Gvarokh discusses the intel gathered in their meeting with Elloekothe's contact. "We met with Elloekothe's contact at a place called Gzargve's Watering Hole. He gave us information about Gemid, including confirmation that the bioweapon used at Envar was manufactured on Gemid.
"Apparently, the whole Envar Plague plan goes back several years. Before the Confederation went into its expansion phase, factions within the Confederation sought out Gemid specifically for its bioweapons. The Touzagh helped take over the world. The governor is a puppet. He's loyal to the Ngath, but he takes orders from this cabal. They think Ngath has grown soft, and they're looking to secede so that they can form their own pack. But they need capital. They're negotiating with the 17th Disjuncture. Envar was a demonstration to show what they're capable of. He believes that the cabal plans on selling the weapon to the Disjuncture in their war against the Imperium.
"The cabal consists of an admiral, two CEOs, and possibly others.
"While the Touzagh were involved at the start, they broke up after we destroyed their base on Ikhog. Kagiisha lost so much charisma that he was assassinated. A splinter group led by the human that killed him works for this admiral. And this guy firmly believes in the Touzagh method.
"The guy, Khigiikuli, has about twenty ships. Obviously the admiral has more, but his forces are fluid and scattered, defending the Confederation. The admiral can't make his move yet to consolidate power. As we know, the Confederation Navy lets corsairs do the dirty work.
"While traffic continues to flow in and out of Gemid, most of it is screened. Corsairs have far more flexibility, so we wouldn't be out of place. However, he suggested that we contact a vargr trader that we'll either find on Kashiin or Newcastle. This vargr carries a lot of clout and should help us get to where we need to go on Gemid."
After listening to the story, Dougok says, "I'm not surprised that they'd unleash something so horrible to leverage their own prestige. There are limits after all."
Gvarokh continues, "We're going to refuel here on the station so that you guys can go relax, assuming you want to leave the ship. Any info found is a bonus, but if you do go," Gvarokh pauses to underscore his serious tone, "don't do anything foolish." He turns to look at Dougok, Uengghae, and Kagfak. "And you three need to remember your cover stories. Don't screw them up."
Dougok snaps his jaws. "I'm going to go for a walk myself. I could use a drink and a meal."
NPC: Chuck, Kagfak, Uengghae, Major Arsashaammu, Major Elloekothe
Location: Pack of Daggers docked at Ugarun-82
Dougok, Kagfak, and Uengghae leave ship to stretch legs and get a bite to eat. Elloekothe contacts a supplier and arranges for the ship to be refueled and life support refurbished.
Fuel and life support materials arrive. Slade handles the life support refurbishment while Vincent oversees the fuel transfer.
Refueling and life support refurbishment complete. Dougok, Kagfak, and Uengghae summoned back to the ship. Preparations for ship departure begun.
Dougok, Kagfak, and Uengghae return to the ship.
When asked if they learned anything, Dougok replies that when the Touzagh were still together, random humans would disappear at a rate of ten per day. While a few were actually witnessed getting kidnapped, only a few brave souls came forth to describe what they witnessed. Some of them disappeared, too, but more often than not, they'd be found murdered. The abductions nearly ceased completely after the Touzagh disbanded.
The mood has changed. A couple of weeks ago, a former Touzagh member was found murdered down in Ugarun City. The investigation ended 64 hours later with no leads. The police have announced that pending the discovery of new information, the perpetrators are assumed to have left the system.
Permission received from Traffic Control to depart.
Coordinates set for Kashiin. Jump!
Next: Meeting During Jump