NPC: Kagfak, Uengghae, Major Arsashaammu, Major Elloekothe
Location: Pack of Daggers
System: Jumpspace between Ugarun and Kashiin
It's a short jump to Kashiin from Ugarun, which is for the best as during the
mid-jump meeting, Elloekothe described a bleak picture of their destination.
Kashiin was settled during the First Imperium days. During the Long Night, it clung to the worst aspects of Vilani bureaucratic culture. When Scouts from the Third Imperium re-contacted the world, they recommended against Imperial membership. Client state status would be better as it would give the world time to modernize. As such, when Emperor Lucan recalled all fleets to Core sector to protect the capital, the world obeyed without question—The Vilani said "Piss off" and seceded. Like so many other border worlds, the inhabitants were left vulnerable to invasion. The Ngath Confederation didn't hesitate to make a move.
Today, the human population toils away at mining and refining on the mainworld to provide raw materials to build Confederation Navy ships. The occupational government has been kinder to belters as they're more capable of mining the asteroid belts, which would require an investment in ships and personnel it is unwilling to make.
The Naval base is intact, opting to surrender with a handful of ships rather than be destroyed. The Confederation Navy has maintained the base and provides patrol ships to its neighbors, Ugarun and Daama. The Navy ignores corsairs so long as they don't attack any shipping. As the world is heavily dependent upon agricultural imports from Ronni (Kashiin is a desert world), any disruption to the food supply would be catastrophic.
Local TL is 7. The old order was adamant that change was very bad. How bad? The law level is 14. Disruptive ideas were considered punishable by death. The new vargr power behind the red tape are keeping the laws in place as they serve to help them maintain control. However, they are selective about doling out punishment. Appearing merciful compared to the humans in charge is seen as a plus for the long run. Eventually they plan on supplanting the existing government with something less bureaucratic.
Elloekothe warns that, once outside the ship, humans should be in the company of at least one vargr at all times. And said humans should be deferential to their vargr companion.
"The mixed crews of the Touzagh were frequent users of the starport to resupply their ships for raiding Vilani worlds. Unaccompanied humans will likely be picked up on suspicion of being Vilani spies. The locals have ID badges indicating their identity, residence, and work assignments. Speaking in Gvegh instead of Galanglic will help as the locals only know the most rudimentary words, if any at all. Children, on the other paw, are learning it in school.
"The infrastructure here sucks. It might take some effort to determine if the vargr trader we're looking for is here. I have some contacts here who will hopefully be able help us track him down.
Dougok asks, "How much of the population is Vargr?"
"Only 4%. That might not seem like enough, but as I explained earlier, the government didn't tolerate dissent, much less weapons in the hands of its citizens. Kashiin's defensive forces had no problem keeping a beaten populace in line, but they were no match for invading vargr forces with superior firepower. Now that 24 million vargr are there—civilian and military—it's more than enough."
Dougok bares his teeth slightly. "Human or Vargr, it takes only a few masters to rule the flock if they wield the whip ruthlessly. It is disgusting to oppress people like this whatever their race."
"You'll get no argument from me," Elloekothe responds.
Gvarokh looks around the room. "Anything else? No? Then the meeting is adjourned."
NPC: Chuck, Kagfak, Uengghae, Major Arsashaammu, Major Elloekothe
Location: Pack of Daggers
Pack of Daggers emerges from jumpspace around Kashiin. Even at this
distance (500,000 miles), it isn't difficult to notice the reddish tinge of the
planet at 1x magnification.
While the ship decelerates, it is scanned but unchallenged. Starport Traffic Control contacts the ship to give notice regarding the approach lane but that's all.
The ship is finally given permission to dock at the orbital starport, a typical
spherical structure common to former First Imperium worlds. Uengghae maneuvers
the ship to the designated landing bay and sets the ship down on the deck.
Once the 100 credit berthing fee is paid, the starport datalink is established.
Gvarokh curses under his breath when he see that unrefined fuel is going for 500 credits/ton and life support refurbishment clocks in at 1,500 credits/person-week. Still, it has to be done, so he makes arrangements.
Elloekothe uses her private comm—after paying a 100 cr network fee—to contact the trader that her Ugarun contact referred her to. She doesn't get him, but she does get his ship.
The comm system operator's voice is a gruff male vargr. "He's down on the planet conducting business."
"When will he be back?" she asks.
"When it's done."
"Do you have any idea when that will be?"
"Do you know where he is on the planet?"
"Yes, but I'm under orders not to reveal where."
"Can you at least let him know that I called?"
"Thanks for your—"
Elloekothe growls after the call is terminated.
Turning to Gvarokh, she says, "I guess that leaves us two options: Wait for the son of a bitch to call us back or head down to the planet."
Dougok looks up from reading the information in the library database about the planet and perks his ears forward. "Let's hit the planet. Let's see if we can find records of the small craft he took to the planet and narrow down his location. It beats waiting here cooped up like a herd animal."
Lakir shakes his head. "Heading down would be a really bad idea, at least for us pinkies. We don't have a decent base to work from, and no real time idea how the surface reacts to our kind showin' up.
"Given the prices they charge, I'm sure Vincent can make hash of their network, so the 'lectronic gig might be better for the short term, at least until we can gain some surface intel.
"I'm not keen on hitting dirt without a plan on being able to make it back up, or an idea of what it looks like dirtside. It seems to be one whipped human gig down there."
"I agree," Chuck says. "Let's see if Vincent can hack the network to find the guy. With the law level so high, you know that they had to file a flight plan to land, vargr or not." He looks over to Elloekothe. "Do we know the name of the guy's ship?"
Vincent says, "I'll be more than happy to." He turns to Gvarokh. "Just give the ok, Captain, cause I'll need to hack into government networks."
Dougok wags his tail. "Of course we'll want to track him down. With this law level it could be dangerous for any of us. I say a couple of the vargr crew ask around a bit about heading planet-side and separately about the Dheukherdorr while the hacking is going on."
Gvarokh answers, "Some digital recon would be a good idea. Try to spoof, though, so we are less likely to be discovered. With such a high law level, I think it's safe to assume that hacking would be a felony."
"Alright," Vincent replies, "I'll get to work on it. Should only be a few minutes." He turns his attention to his laptop and starts typing away.
After a few minutes, Vincent announces, "I'm in. Ok, looking for traffic regarding the Dheukherdorr...Here it is: A Muumshiizi class ship's boat left for the surface 18 hours ago. Hmmmm, you don't see one of those too often. And it went to the downport outside the capital, Kashiinaa."
"Well, that doesn't tell us much," Chuck says drily.
"No, it doesn't. Let me try something else." Vincent breaks the connection with traffic control and tries for something else.
"What?" Elloekothe asks.
"I tried to hack the Dheukherdorr but I couldn't get in."
"Well, no. I couldn't get in."
"Why did you do that?"
"We needed more intel. Finding your guy down in that city would be like finding a needle in a haystack."
"Did you get caught?"
Vincent looks over the log report. "Nope. Should I try again?"
"Look, Dhunkul isn't your average merchant. He's been very successful, and he realizes the need for strong network firewalls. He's hired some very skilled people."
Chuck speaks up in Vincent's defense, "Vincent is very skilled."
"Yes, I know," Elloekothe says. "I didn't mean it that way. Dhunkul is the kind of guy that has his wolves set traps. It's actually better that you didn't get in on the first try. It means he wasn't expecting to get hacked." She turns to Gvarokh. "I think we're going to have to send a group down to the surface to track him down. Either that, or wait for him to call me back."
Dougok wags his tail. "Well done, Vincent. You've sniffed a trail to the planet's surface. They may try to hack us back if you were detected so we should be extra vigilant ourselves."
Elloekothe shakes her head, but doesn't say anything.
Dougok asks, "Can you access the traffic cameras around the downport? We should be able to track him through the city if there are enough accessible cameras."
Now Elloekothe speaks up. "He can't. The tech level on Kashiin is only seven. Yeah, they've got better tech here at the starport, the downport, and the naval base, but there's no global network for him to access. There are occasional pockets of better tech—stuff that's imported by VIPs—but he'd have to wander around with his laptop looking for stray wi-fi signals or break into a place and plug in directly to an ethernet port. Neither of those is a viable option."
Vincent says, "Tell you what guys, I can take the laptop and go for a walk around the starport with an escort and give it another try. Least that way if I get caught it's not linked back to the ship, and I can claim I was doing it for personal gain. I'm willing to give it a try, not to mention I don't like failing at a hack attempt. Makes me feel like less of a man."
Vlad says, "I'm not so sure that's a great idea. Unless there is no way for the laptop to be tied to our ship."
"No, let's not," Gvarokh says with authority. "I'm not sure I even trust the ability of a human to walk around the starport without trouble on this weird world. At this point, it probably isn't worth the risk. Looks like the fates have determined that someone gets to walk into the teeth of this world."
With a smile, he continues, "And don't worry about not getting in. In fact, if Elloe is right, then you actually succeeded as it means you weren't traced. If you had gotten in, you would have. So this ended up being trouble avoided, rather than an attempt failed."
Vlad raises his paw. "I'm content to keep the pinkies company on the ship. Unless someone thinks I'd be more useful dirtside."
Chuck scrunches up his face. "Never figured you'd wuss out on a vargr planet, Vlad."
Lakir says, "Cap'n, if you figure you gotta send some meat inta' the grinder ta get contact, I'll volunteer to be the sacrificial pinkie with the group. I'm sure it'll blow dead goats, but hey..." He shrugs.
Elloekothe says, "It shouldn't come to that. All we have to do is prove that our humans aren't locals. It's not like all humans are scooped up and enslaved as soon as they step foot on the planet. All we need to do is head over to the customs office and get tourist visas. So long as we have those and not do anything stupid..."—she pauses for emphasis—"we'll be fine. Touzagh crews used to stop over here all the time. And aren't we at least pretending to be corsairs?"
Dougok snaps his jaws in the vargr equivalent of a shrug. "We'll have to sniff them out the old fashioned way. We'll need a cover story for heading planetside. We might as well tell the truth that we are looking for a wolf. No need to give a name. They'd expect such things from corsairs."
"Right," replies Chuck. "There's only 24 million vargr there. I think we'll have to give 'em a name. Shouldn't we be able to say that we have business to conduct with him and leave it at that?"
Gvarokh speaks up, "Let's go get those tourist visas. We're going to take the ship down to the downport after we refuel. This way we can stay together for as long as possible. And if we need to make any sudden getaways, it'll be far easier to just get up and go."
Elloekothe leads the way down to the customs office. No one bats an eye at the group. The crowds that the group sees along the way are 65% vargr, 35% human.
There's a 50 credit fee per person, but the visas are good for a year, and if you renew before they expire, the renewal fee is only 20 credits.
"Reason for visit?"
The vargr bureaucrat drafting up the visas is satisfied with that explanation.
The group returns to the ship with time to spare before the refuelling crew arrives.
Gvarokh files a flight plan with traffic control and permission is granted to head to the surface.
Refuelling and life support refurbishment is complete. The Pack of Daggers departs from the starport and descends to Kashiin's downport.
NPC: Chuck, Kagfak, Uengghae, Major Arsashaammu, Major Elloekothe
Location: Pack of Daggers, parked at Kashiin Siir Downport
It's late afternoon local time when Pack of Daggers lands at the
downport. The blazing hot sun is starting to set in the sky, so things are
starting to cool down. The temperature is down to 34°C (93°F). The
evening breeze has begun. The temperature will eventually drop to freezing due
to the planet's thin atmosphere and lack of appreciable bodies of water.
As soon as the ship is down and the maneuver drive powered down, Dougok says, "I definitely want to sniff about. And we should go in pairs for sure. Human and vargr ideally."
Vincent says, "I'm gonna sit and guard the ship. Me's a pinky and doesn't want to end up dead."
Vlad jerks a thumb towards Vincent. "I'm going to guard him."
Elloekothe states that she's going to head into the city. "I have a couple contacts that might have seen him."
Chuck says, "I can look around the downport for his boat."
Uengghae volunteers to go with Elloekothe, while Kagfak says that he'll go with Chuck.
Dougok says that he'll go with Uengghae and Elloekothe, while Gvarokh says that he'll go with Kagfak and Chuck.
"No," Elloekothe says with a clenched jaw.
"What?" Gvarokh asks.
She puts a paw on Uengghae's shoulder. "I can manage this one," then she points at Dougok, "but he's not coming with me. I'm not going to be responsible for him wandering off like he did on Odinaga, and I can't risk him jeopardizing the relationships I have with my contacts here by strutting around like some bad ass corsair who thinks he owns the place."
Dougok wags his tail. "Small risk, small reward."
Gvarokh looks at Elloe for a couple of seconds then responds, "OK. Go."
Just as Elloekothe turns to go, Lakir says to her, "If you don't feel I'll compromise your search, I'll go."
She focuses on Lakir. "You would be an asset. I'll meet you at the airlock." She briskly exits the room.
Uengghae follows her, but turns to face the group before he exits. He cringes, a look of "what did I get myself into" written all over his face.
As soon as the door closes behind Uengghae and Elloekothe, Gvarokh says to Dougok, "Do you want to look around the downport instead?"
Dougok replies, "Yes, let's see what we can find out sniffing around the downport. Staying holed up like we are hiding something will only attract more attention than strutting about."
"Stay out of trouble," Gvarokh says as Chuck, Dougok, and Kagfak get up to go. "And check in hourly. I don't want a repeat of Odinaga."
NPC: Chuck, Kagfak
Location: Kashiin Siir Downport
The trio exit the ship and walk up the gantry arm to the downport concourse. The
air in the walkway is stifling. Upon pushing open the door to the concourse, a
blast of cool air welcomes them.
Kagfak and Dougok sniff the air. It tastes dry and there's a slight chemical smell, like baked vinyl. It might be coming from the carpet, the high traffic short pile variety.
The ship has touched down in the private, non-commercial traffic wing of the downport. There is no pedestrian traffic. There is one token bench of plastic chairs for each gate, and each faces the huge plate glass windows that look out upon the tarmac. The concourse is six meters from gate to far wall. A sign on the wall across from the gate door states that the main terminal, where the bustle of downport commerce can be heard, is to the trio's right, along with gates 1-9 (the ship is parked at gate 10). Gates 11-30 are to the left.
Chuck points to the left and says, "Let's head this way and see if we can find that Muumshiizi boat. I can't imagine that there's more than one here. They're pretty rare."
"Let's do it," Dougok says.
"What do these moom-shee-zee boats look like?" Kagfak asks, struggling to pronounce the ship's boat class name.
"Easy," Chuck says with a grin. "If you see one you don't recognize, call me over to look at it."
The trio walk around the bend, spotting several starships and small craft. After they've rounded another bend, they spot a Muumshiizi boat at gate 23. It's short in length, wide in width, and two decks high. The gantry arm is not connected to the craft.
"Looks like they took private ground transportation," Chuck says. "Stay here and keep an eye on it. I'm going to make sure there aren't any more of them."
He jogs down the rest of the corridor and then comes back. The whole time he remained within sight.
"This is the only one. I'm going to radio it in to the captain." He taps his comm and says, "Captain, we've found our friend's boat. It looks like he took private ground transportation as the gantry arm isn't connected to his boat. What do you want us to do?"
"Hold on a second. Vincent, is there enough of a computer system in the downport to hack?"
"Well, there's no wireless. I'd have to do a walkabout to see what they've got, if anything, for a network."
Gvarokh answers Chuck, "Keep tabs on the boat. You don't have to do a full stakeout, as that would probably be suspicious, but keep checking it out every fifteen minutes or so." He then adds, "Oh, where exactly is this? How long will it take to get to it if I hit it at a dead run?"
"About five minutes. It's just around the corner from where you're parked."
"Roger that. Gvarokh out."
"Ok, you heard the wolf," Chuck says after the call has commenced. "Let's set up a stakeout. This concourse is rectangular. One of us can watch from the corner from where we came. Another one of us can watch from down here." Chuck points to the other entrance to the concourse. The other guy can then mill about in the terminal. Every fifteen minutes we rotate, ok?"
Dougok's stomach rumbles. He looks past Chuck, hoping to find some kind of food kiosk but doesn't see any. There has to be a food court somewhere in this downport. He's never been to one that didn't have so much as a vending machine. Probably in the main terminal.
"Make it twenty and you've got a deal," he replies to Chuck. That should give me enough time to find something to eat when it's my turn to sniff about the main terminal.
"Ok...deal. You stay here. I'll hit the main terminal. Kagfak will go back the way we came and watch from there. We rotate clockwise every twenty."
Both vargr nod. Kagfak heads to his position while Chuck heads out to the main terminal.
With the first shift elapsed, Dougok heads out to the main terminal. His
Galanglic isn't great, but he recognizes the word "food" no problem. He follows
the signs to a large hall that has "food court" emblazoned at the top. One human
male in a police uniform stands at the edge of each side of the entrance, which
is seven meters wide.
The aromas of burnt human food commingle with that of more savory fare. His nose and hungry stomach give him the courage to press on. Once inside, he immediately spots a sign that says "Vargr Table" and heads over there.
There's no line so he heads right over to the young man at the counter.
"I'll have the Chewy Kibble Bitz to go, please."
"Yes, sir. Coming right up. Anything else?"
Dougok flips his ears in the negative. "No, just an order to go and a bulb of water."
"That will be 10 credits."
Dougok growls at the price, but doesn't want to make a scene. He decides to pay the bill from his meager Confederation Credit stash to keep up the group's cover.
Dougok leaves the food court with his Bitz and water and makes his way back to the main terminal. A quick glance at his chronometer reveals that he has completed his food run just in time. He makes his way to his next stakeout position. He spots Chuck. Upon noticing him, Chuck nods, gets up, and walks over to his next stakeout spot.
Dougok is back where he started on the rotating stakeout. The Bitz were ok; they
smelled better than they tasted. He's thinking about where he might wander to
on his next turn in the main terminal, when two starport security personnel,
both men, walk into the private terminal wing and past him. They look at Dougok
as they walk past, but don't stop and don't say anything.
Dougok ignores them.
The next couple of shifts are uneventful, though those involving sitting are
boring. Dougok is back where he was when the two starport security personnel he
saw earlier come by again. This time they stop.
One of them says in bad Gvegh, "Sir. Help do you require? Lost perhaps?"
Dougok straightens. Although he is even with the humans in height, he assumes a clearly dominant pose. "Help is not required. I am waiting on a lady friend to make herself even more attractive."
The speaker replies, "But an hour you here." He pauses, gives his buddy a slight elbow to get him to focus on what he's about to say, and says, "Supposition of mine: females take long time to prepare dress up. Human vargr no difference."
Both security guards yuk it up. Dougok joins in to put them at ease.
They continue on their way. As soon as they're around the corner, Chuck appears by Dougok's side.
"I think we should go," he says. "The guards recognized you. If they see you on their next round, they won't believe your story."
Verroel wags his tail as Chuck approaches. "Agreed. We can't risk getting pulled into the local station for questioning. We'd never get out. Let's gather Kagfak and head back to the ship."
The pair turn the corner and spot Kagfak. He looks apprehensive.
He says, "Security just asked me why I was here. I think they believed me, but I'm not sure."
"Me too," says Dougok. "We're headed back to the ship, just in case."
The trio return to the ship without incident.
Next: Heading Into Kashiin Siir