NPC: Chuck Strider
Location: Crew Lounge on the Miishakaal, parked at the Larkarda Starport
1125.6.5 - 07:00 / 11:00 local time (18 1/2 hr day)
As scheduled by the captain, the crew has assembled for their morning briefing. Everyone is here and on time. Chuck even has the coffee ready and is finishing up breakfast preparation: pancakes. Once everyone has had a chance to grab coffee or tea, the captain calls the meeting to order.
Shiraamer grins at the site of coffee and fills her large mug. By the time everybody has gotten their liquid of preference and their breakfast, Shiraamer is ready for her second cup and pancakes. She smiles for the first time that morning and waits for people to settle down a bit.
"I'm going to start this meeting but please continue to eat and have your coffee. For those of you who haven't had the opportunity to see this data crystal, you can download it later and catch up. I'll try to cover the highlights a little later in the meeting." Shiraamer waits until everybody responds.
Lakir asks, "What crystal would that be Cap'n?"
Simrii nods, "Aye what crystal might that be?"
She replies, "It's a data crystal that Mersshon gave us while you were at the bar with Simrii. It contains background info on him, the agent we're supposed to contact, the bioscanner she was hunting, et cetera et cetera."
Taking another sip of her coffee and bite of her pancake, she continues. "First of all, we've taken on another cargo. It's medical drug and we'll be taking it instead of our neighbor. It's to go to Gishinridu which has a class C Starport and thin atmosphere. The law level is only 3 and the tech level is 10. Besides having a naval base, the more important aspect of us going there deals with its Amber rating. It has an Amber rating because of rumors of Vargr sacrifices. We'll take this cargo though. Supposedly the starport is safer because of the navy influence. I'm not expecting our vargr friends here to leave the ship though and we'll all need to be on our toes most, if not all, of the time. The manifest and imperial custom inspection sheets are pretty standard. We're getting a little more than our normal rate with the standard penalty for late delivery. We have 11 days to get there. Gvarokh, run the numbers. How feasible is that going to be?"
Gvarokh has already worked that number out. "If we leave today, we can be there with 4 days to spare. Our fuel tanks are topped out. Our food and air supplies have been replenished. We're ready to go, unless we need to take on more cargo."
The captain nods a thank you to Gvarokh before continuing, "The Navy patrols the system quite well so we need to make sure all the T's are crossed I's dotted. According to our neighbor, who has lost 3 holds recently, the rimward borders aren't well patrolled though. Let's not have that happen to us.
"Now before we get to our original mission, I thought you might want some good news. We have partial payment from Mersshon. I know that our policy is to pay you after our expenses have been covered, but I think that we can bend that a little bit this time. I will give each of you half of your share from that partial payment from Mersshon. That comes to 3,600 cr for the crew. The rest will be paid in the normal fashion after our expenses are met."
Chuck whoops it up, "Pay day! Woooo hoooo! All right!"
Everyone else is silent. Either it's still too early or nobody cares. Shiraamer isn't sure which. She wasn't expecting everyone to rave like Chuck, but she wasn't expecting silence either.
She continues, "Now, before we get to those expenses and the rest of the Mersshon agreement, are there any questions?"
Nobody says anything. This isn't what she expected either.
Gvarokh pipes up and says, "Looks like everyone is ready to go! While I am not terribly excited about our next destination, I am interested in seeing how things are going with the Vilani."
Vladgorkfeg starts to pant and wags his tail. His ears are relaxed. He looks pleased. He asks, "When do we leave? ASAP I assume?"
Lakir speaks up, "Thanks for the advance Cap'n, damn generous of ya. Our neighbor didn't happen to mention how, after losing 3 holds, he's still alive and talking, did he? Don't sound like any corsair op I've run across recently, just taking the cargo, and not the ship, let alone living to tell the tale, and three times yet! This some new form of extortion? Did Vincent come across anything neat while hacking the Net?"
Shiraamer smiles a knowing smile and responds, "I'll have Vincent tell us what he found later. As for the corsairs, well, not being a merchant yourself I wouldn't expect you to be familiar with corsair theory. It's a common misconception that corsairs kill everyone they come into contact with and steal their ships. Corsairs are parasites. And just like the little bugs that can infest our bodies, the longer they can suck the life out of the host without killing it the better.
"Corsairs make their livelihood by turning around and selling the booty they've looted. If they start killing crews and capturing ships, companies are going to complain to the authorities and/or abandon the corsair-infested routes. Corsairs don't want to risk injury to themselves nor do they want to starve. Do they still capture whole ships and kill crews? Absolutely, but they keep it to an acceptable minimum that corporations will write off at a loss rather than abandoning the route or involving the Navy.
"As for our neighbor, it was the corporation he works for that lost three holds, not him personally."
Shiraamer waits until all the questions have died down and then continues, "OK, let me quickly run down what is on with the data crystal. Mr. Mersshon claims to be a shipping and transfer agent for Wellesmoor Diversified Products Inc. We are to pick up their agent who obtained a prototype bioscanner, along with the blueprints from a Vilani megacorp. We're to pick up that agent on Theton. The crystal has photos, personal records, employment history, etc. You can read it in more detail after the meeting. Play close attention to it since it also has the meeting place, call sign, countersign, etc.
"To continue, let's talk about Theton. It's not a nice place. Atmosphere is corrosive from nitric acid. Ignore what the tourism bureau says about water world. It's an acid world. Most of the 6 million live on the surface although there are some orbital cities.
"Law level 3, tech level 11, B starport. There will be high expenses though. Fuel prices are about 5 times the norm. We need to get it at the starport from what I can gather as there aren't any gas giants.
"The RVE (Restored Vilani Empire) requires all ships that travel within its borders to be registered. We can only do that though in RVE territory. Our ship's transponder will probably get replaced. But this process (filling out forms and replacing ships transponder) takes 30 days AND our ship must remain grounded for the whole time. Fortunately, I haven't found anything for a time schedule from Mersshon. After we drop off the drug shipment at Gishinridu, we'll have to factor that in for any future deliveries.
"Registration fee is $5,000 PLUS $10 for every displacement ton of the ship. There is still the usual docking fees, fuel prices and starports are similar to what's available in the Imperium, all cargo must be registered ($20 per ton of cargo and is done at the cargo source world). Transborder shipments get done at the point that the ship enters RVE space."
The captain sighs after getting all of that out. "Gvarokh, please report what you've found and your recommendations."
As Gvarokh begins, he pulls up a copy of the map of local space and says, "This map shows the two primary paths to our final destination. We chose the 'red' path as it kept us farther away from the corsairs, and as it was shorter. The taking on of our cargo just cemented the deal. As a result, Gishinridu is now our first destination.
"Gishinridu is a client state of the RVE. With luck, we will be able to take care of our registration at that starport. If not, we will have to account for it when we reach our next destination.
"Once we take care of our cargo at Gishinridu, we will most likely try to make a quick turnover and move on to our next destination. We will also try to make sure we have at least some cargo on each leg of our journey. This will hopefully defray the some of the costs of the trip, but also help legitimize the trip.
"Assuming we are not restricted by available cargo, my research shows that the next target will likely be Hrun. This world should us the best chance to get cargo to take to it, and get cargo for our next jump. Also, despite the presence of the naval base, it seems to be the safest bet out of our three possibilities, and it gives us the most options for the next jump.
"Do note that this is just a first guess. Once we hit Gishinridu, we should get some better info on the state of the worlds in the RVE, and we may be forced to pick a different target."
After making the presentation, Gvarokh pauses, "Are there any questions?"
Simrii shakes his head, "Do we have cargo at all those stops, or at least a good chance of getting cargo at all of our stops?"
Gvarokh replies, "Quite frankly we don't know yet. The information we can get here on the RVE worlds is pretty sparse. We could probably take on freight here for multiple worlds in the RVE, instead of just the next, but that would limit our options later on."
Vlad asks, "Anyone know what the prevailing opinion of Vargr is, once inside the RVE?"
Gvarokh offers, "From what I have seen in the reports, except for Gishinridu, there doesn't appear to be any reported anti-Vargr sentiment. Of course, as we are both aware, there is plenty of unreported anti-Vargr sentiment, but there doesn't appear to be anything systemic on the RVE worlds. But, again, we have to take all of this information with a dust of spice. Good information hasn't flowed across the border since it formed. We just won't know the situation in the RVE until we are in the RVE."
Gvarokh continues on by saying, "As part of the plan to carry the cargo, and before the most recent deal, I check the availability of cargo, and there seems to be a good variety waiting to be taken to the RVE, particularly freight. I suggest that we go ahead and fill up the rest of our hold, then depart for Gishinridu as quickly as we can. Any questions?"
Noticing that the questioning of Gvarokh has finished, Shiraamer says, "Thank you Gvarokh. Vincent, please report your findings."
Vincent speaks up, "I went out and bought a laptop to do some searching and hacking to verify what was on the datacrystal Mersshon gave us. I sat down in one of the other terminals and hacked my way into the wireless network. I searched and hacked the Oriole City Police website but didn't find anything on Mersshon or Oda Linnachre, the agent we're supposed to pick up.
"I hit Wellesmoor Diversified Products next. I downloaded their personnel files to the laptop, but from what I skimmed through, it matched what's on the crystal. I even found some references to a bioscanner, which I saved as well.
"I then tried to hack Oriole City Hall but couldn't get in. So then I tried to get in to the world government network. At first I thought I was in but it turns out it was a fake entry, a hack trap. I tried to break the connection but I couldn't. They launched a counter worm which burrowed into my laptop and locked out keyboard commands.
"So I shut down the computer. That worked. I came back to the ship, went to my room, and disconnected the power source. Once we're in jump, I'll reconnect it, kill the worm and extract the data I downloaded."
Vincent then looks around the room to see if there are any questions.
Vladgorkfeg nods head and deadpans, "I had an uncle with worms once. Very bad..."
Chuck shudders, "Too much info Vlad."
Shiraamer nods during Vincent's report and tries to keep a straight face when mention of family members with worms comes up. "Forgive me Vincent. I know you are more knowledgable about these things then I am but I just want to verify. What are the chances of something bad happening to us and Miisha when we're in jump space and you reconnect?"
Simrii sits quietly through the question period soaking up the information he can, "Risk is minimal but it really depends on what the Worm as designed to do. More than likely as it is a security program it was designed to go in, make the hacker think they were inside of the real government computer while it broadcast back to the home system everything about the host system."
Vincent replies to Simrii, "Yes." He then replies to the captain's question with certainty, "The chances of the laptop worm hurting the ship is nil. I'll have the laptop's comms completely disabled. It won't be able to transmit anything to any other machine."
Simrii adds, "Sounds like this one is more or less a tracking device worm."
Vincent: "That's exactly what it is."
Simrii grins and looks at Vincent, "It could be worse, a friend of mine wrote a worm that locked out the host's keyboard, replaced the desktop with a pornographic image and then fired up the hosts speakers and starts screaming at maximum volume, 'Hey everybody I'm looking at gay porn!'" He rolls his eyes, "He got everyone in the unit with that stupid worm at one time or another."
Simrii looks at the starchart carefully, "So even if this guy received his information via a J-6 military courier and it took him a week to find us at a minimum these guys have a three month lead on us. The odds of our boy being anywhere near where this guy figured he was are, well slim and none and quite honestly Slim left town two months ago.
"Unless these corporate guys are total bozos they've long since tortured whatever information they might have thought this guy had, put a bullet in his brain case and he's now a part of Emiirii Highschools mystery meat Monday lunch or they've dumped him in a low berth somewhere within, how far can a starship get in what is it 10 weeks, and are waiting to do a J-Space burial on him. Either way we've got a lot of work to do and none of it looks promising."
Noticing that the questioning of Vincent has finished, Shiraamer says, "Thank you Vincent. Lakir, Simrii, and Vlad. Do you gentlemen have anything to report regarding your excursions last night? I noticed from the security logs that you got in at 23:30. Were you watching the police the whole time?"
Lakir starts, "Just a couple of observations, Cap'n. Listened to some interesting high end, third hand, chatter amongst Impy highborns, one naval, the other some corporate exec, about the possibility of the IN staging long range commerce raids, using 'Vargr built' ships in the Sardia system, probably J4 raiders out of Sporan, and maybe something to bear in mind when you see that corsair closing on us.
"The other is choosing us for this recovery op. If Mersshon is so hot for his op back, why chance us sitting around for 30 days waiting for clearance? Surely WDPI has a line on traders already approved for activities within the RVE? This sounds like a 'lets screw the newbie', or 'new meat for the grinder' to me."
Gvarokh says "I must admit Mersshon does not seem to be very time conscious. It does not appear that he has any concerns about the amount of time it will take to get there."
Lakir continues, "Not that I'm complaining Cap'n, just want to be clear about where we stand in the new and improved Imperial/Corporate food chain, this not being my first op into the RVE."
Vlad adds, "It is interesting that he did not have access to a company already approved for trading within the RVE. I wonder if there would be any value in searching through the newsfeeds for 'lost' trading vessels in the RVE? Maybe we weren't the first choice..."
Chuck offers, "I think that list of missing ships would be mighty long. Between vilani and imperial privateers, naval skirmishes, and bazillions of corsairs you'd get a list so long it'd make you go crawl in a hole somewhere and hide. I doubt that you'd find any correlation to missing ships and Mersshon.
"As for choosing us, well, maybe the vilani know who Mersshon typically uses and he needed a fresh face to pull this off."
Lakir counters, "Following that line, maybe we weren't his first choice of ships docked at the port right now. How many ships currently docked are licensed for ops in RVE space, and have any been approached? Anybody getting friendly with any of our neighbors, and feel like inquiring?"
Shiraamer says, "That didn't come up in our conversations with McKibben, our next door neighbor. He docked after us so Mersshon didn't contact him. Lakir here's your job for today, why don't you go ask Jum if Mersshon's contacted anyone else in his bar about work."
Lakir continues, "Being paid for that 30 day wait period just doesn't seem right, and not giving us a deadline for return of goods seems strange as well."
Simrii chuckles, "Probably make more money salvaging the graveyard of ships out there than we can hauling legitimate cargo.
"I think we're definitely going to have to watch our step out there, it's bad enough that the Vargr and the Imp's are shooting at each other but when you chuck in the Vilani, pirates, opportunists and Imps pretending to be vargr's it's just getting uglier by the day.
"I know that the transponder is tamper proof, how about the transmitter antenna? Can we fake that out? It's one less sign pointing to us in particular."
Slade answers, "Nah, it's all inclusive."
The captain steps in, "Gvarokh, when the time comes, let's check into keeping our current transponder either by registering it or keeping it after its been replaced, or by other means. I don't want to lose it."
She turns to Vincent, "While we're still here, find out what you can about the Makhidkarun Bureau, but no hacking. At least, not right now. Let me know what you find out first."
Chuck raises his hand.
The captain acknowledges him, "Chuck?"
"We might be able to get around that 30 day waiting period."
"Oh? Ok, let's hear it."
"Well, I'd have to say with things the way they are, the one thing that really makes a bureaucracy hum is a bit o' bribery. If we can grease the right wheel with what it wants, we should sing right along. Of course ya gotta hit the right one. The wrong one, or the wrong grease, could have the opposite affect. Just something to consider, that's all."
Gvarokh replies, "I doubt we will be able to keep our transponder during the transition. Not unless we get real lucky with Chuck's bribery suggestion. If we want to keep the transponder, we will be much better off getting a duplicate made here, install it during jump, then trade the duplicate in during the transition. If we can't get one here, we can try again at Gishinridu. Failing both of those, we can try to make a 'shortened' transition in Gishinridu. But, if we are forced to make the full transition in RVE space, we must expect to lose the transponder we are using at that point."
Chuck adds, "A duplicate transponder? That certainly won't be legal. Can't we just get one that says we're ok to work in both vilani and imperial space?"
Gvarokh says, "I know it is illegal. But wouldn't a dual band transponder be just as illegal?"
Chuck shrugs, "Dunno."
Gvarokh looks to the rest of the room for an answer but no one seems to know.
Chuck adds, "Guess that's something we should look into. Or at least take Lakir's suggestion and ask our neighbors if they or anyone else they know have hauled cargo into vilani space since they split."
Once the transponder discussion has died down, the Captain wraps up the meeting. "Ok, here's what I need you guys to do today. Gvarokh, you are to look into CargoNet for cargos for bound for vilani worlds along the way to Theton. I'd like another cargo in the hold to help with our cover story. If nothing shows up we'll wait until we get into vilani space.
"Vincent, you're to see what you can find about the Makhidkarun Bureau. Yes, I realize that we're talking about the Makhidkarun Bureau, one of the three megacorps that have been around since the 1st Imperium. But see what you can dig up about them since Vland seceded. No hacking though. Just use normal means for right now.
"Lakir, you go check with Jum if Mersshon contacted anyone else in the bar about work. Try and find out as much as you can without drawing too much attention to yourself. Jum is pretty shrewd, so he'll think something is up. We'll just hope that he likes us enough to talk a bit freely.
"I want to rest of you to wander about and ask around the starport to find someone who trades regularly in vilani space. I'd like to get my worries over the transponder put to rest before we leave, if that's possible. And bring your comms. I want you to be available to Gvarokh should he find us another cargo to load.
There are no questions so the captain continues, "Ok before you go, I've got some money for you guys as promised." The captain goes to each individual crew member and pays them their allotted share.
Lakir, Simrii, and Vladgorkfeg inform the captain that they made some weapon purchases and that they're stowing them in the ship's locker after the meeting. Nothing special, just pistols.
Vlad asks, "I'd like to have your permission to hold onto the body pistol I just purchased. If nothing else, at least when there are non-crewmembers aboard."
Shiraamer pauses a it and then nods. "That's ok Vlad. Keep it to when there are non-crewmembers aboard though. Depending on what we hear this last time out then it might change."
Vlad nods his agreement.
Once everyone has been paid their share, the captain ends the meeting, "Ok thanks guys. Everyone except Chuck can go."
Everyone disperses leaving Chuck and the captain alone in the crew lounge.
Now that everyone has left the crew lounge, Shiraamer reluctantly starts her lecture with Chuck. Giving a big sigh, "Chuck, this is one of those times I hate being Captain. When I have to talk to my crew about their actions in a bar. I couldn't believe it when I saw you start to load your weapon in front of everybody last night. You know better than to draw that kind of attention. What were you thinking?"
Chuck swallows hard, "Uh I suppose I wasn't. I got caught up in the moment and forgot where I was. I'm sorry ma'am it won't happen again."
"Chuck, you did good with pancakes and coffee but I don't want to see you load your weapons in a bar again. It cost me $50 to smooth the feelings over in the bar. I don't expect you to pay me back, but I do want you to be aware that you're skating on thin ice right now. In fact, you're banned from Jum's bar."
"Yes ma'am." He stares at his feet.
"You're a good crew member Chuck. I don't know what I would do without you. Just be more careful next time please. I don't keep you on as crew because you pamper me with morning coffee, although I do appreciate that also. I need all of you to be at your best. Frell, I'm trying to make a living here and proving that I'm not crazy like some people think for being a female captain. I don't have the connections that you guys do and I don't have the experience that you guys do. I put Miisha's and my life in your hands all the time. I like to believe that I choose well."
She pauses for a second to let her words sink in, "Is there anything else you'd like to say?"
"No ma'am. You're clear."
"Well that's all that i wanted to say. You know I hate this part of being captain and thankfully I don't have to do it too often." She adds a harder tone to her voice, "Just remember that even though I don't like to do it, I WILL do it and although it doesn't happen too often, I have dismissed crew before. I don't want to have to do it anytime in the near future. Dismissed."
Chuck hops up from the couch and starts to take care of dishes, primarily by loading them in the ultrasonic washer. After that, he heads to the lift, presumably up to his room.
Once again the crew splits up: