Arrival at Miiko Belt

Characters: Verroel & Fi Khong
NPC: Vuedueloghz
Location: Happy Trails
System: Miiko Belt

1126.25.2 - 19:00 Imperial Time, 27:00 Vilani Time

It's been an uneventful two weeks in jump. The crew have spent their time performing maintenance, exercising, and reading.

As there are no gas giants in the system, wilderness refueling was a "no go" from the start. The ship exits jumpspace at the recommended coordinates for approaching the main planetoid that hosts the starport and the populace.

Verroel is ready as they slide out of Jumpspace. He breaths a bit easier as they do not suffer some oddity with time and space. Not that it should happen again but he was still slightly superstitious.

Fi lets his breath go, not realizing he had been holding it. The system is quiet, but that was to be expected.

Unlike Hteh Hut, traffic and radio chatter is sparse at best. Verroel listens with curiosity to the radio chatter, trying to understand the nature of some of the ship traffic. It sounds like typical traffic control and navigation commentary.

As the ship closes in on the planetoid, passive scanners pick up two Ueknou class corsairs moving to intercept.

"Captain, we have company." Fi states as he begins to plot a course in-system.

Verroel growls and flips his ears in acknowledgement. "Let's see if this wasn't all a big ruse."

One of the ships hails you, which you answer. The communication is radio only. In Gvegh, a male vargr says politely with only a hint of menace to his voice, "Welcome to Miiko Belt. This is the Foreign Vessel Assessment Force. Please share your name and the reason for your visit."

At the hail on the radio, Verroel unconsciously assumes a dominant posture and answers, "This is 'Happy Trails' with cargo for Miiko Belt. We are traveling on orders and invitation from Oenagvaezoez at Hteh Hut for Miiko Belt Importers."

The reply comes back with a tinge of disappointment in his tone. "Oh. Please send us a copy of your cargo manifest to verify."

Verroel complies.

A minute later your hailer comes back on the line. "Everything seems to be in order. Please follow the navigation beacons in to the starport."

Vued says, "That went well. If we weren't here on official business, I don't think it would have."

Fi deftly navigates the nav corridor and approaches the planetoid. A large hatch opens on their approach. Fi follows the landing lights to the internal landing pad and sets the ship down.

Miiko Belt Starport

Characters: Verroel & Fi Khong
NPC: Vuedueloghz
Location: Happy Trails parked at Miiko Belt Starport
System: Miiko Belt

1126.25.2 - 20:00 Imperial Time, 28:00 Vilani Time

Once parked, Vuedueloghz says to Verroel, "I suggest we use the freight money to pay for fuel and life support and save our Imperial credits for when we absolutely have to use them."

Verroel wags his tail. "Absolutely. Although I'll not lose money paying inflated prices if I can help it."

An audio-only radio call comes in from the starport warden's office. The sleepy sounding vargr on the other end welcomes you to Miiko Belt and asks if you'll be needing anything. The local tech level is 8, so amenities are limited. Fuel and life support refurbishment are available, but the InfoNet is down. An associate starport warden (ASW) will be down shortly to collect the 100 credit docking fee. For an extra 25 cr/day you can get external power.

Vued grumbles that external power is normally included in the docking fee on other worlds.

Verroel growls as well at the extra charge but twitches his fur. He replies to Vued, "We'll keep the power plant online instead. We'll have to do any shutdowns elsewhere unless it is urgent. Even 25 credits adds up."

Verroel looks up the contact number he was given for Miiko Belt Importers and gives them a call. An answering machine message states that the office is currently closed but will re-open at 00:00 hours. Verroel doesn't leave a message but plans to call back a bit after they open.

After Verroel hangs up, a call comes in from the docking arm phone. The ASW has arrived to collect the fee. Verroel uses the external camera by the hatch to verify that the wolf is alone. He is, so Verroel heads down to greet the wolf.

After the hatch opens, the ASW politely greets Verroel. He notes the wolf's messy attire (Is that a kaf stain on his uniform?), sleepy appearance, and stale breath.

The ASW says, "We didn't see your ship's name in our logs, so I guess you're new to Miiko Belt."

Verroel contains his disappointment and disdain for the disheveled appearance. "We're working this section of the subsector and to rimward and spinward. We've heard that there are good opportunities here." After seeing the slovenliness he thinks that a further evaluation of not only their suitability as trading partners but the state of their defenses would be in order. If they were this messy in the starport they might be an easier target. "Do you get much traffic through here?"

"No, not really. The economy is still in transition. Our governor is having a difficult time cleaning up the mess from the pinky tyrants and changing people's minds about this place."

"Has there been a lot of disruption with the change of masters? I'm sure most folk here are glad for the change."

The ASW smirks. "There weren't many people here to begin with. Those few with strong ties to the old regime felt it the hardest. The rest seem glad that things have changed. The new governor cut taxes by half and strengthened private property laws. There haven't been any incidents since the overthrow."

There's a pause in the conversation while that sinks in. The ASW scratches behind his ear, then says, "Well, that's 100 credits to dock for 96 hours. 100 credits a day after that. External power is available for 25 credits a day. We also have fuel and life support refurbishment available. Are you interested in any of these?" He seems to be on auto-pilot as he says this.

Verroel replies, "We'd like to arrange for life support and fuel. We are doing business here so we'll make the delivery and payment when we have local credit deposited."

The ASW works his jaw. "I'll still need you to pay for the berthing fee now. You can order the other stuff when you're good and ready."

Verroel grumbles a bit but takes out his bank card and pays the fee. Before the ASW can pull the reader away, Verroel gives him a nod and a wink. He slides his card through for an extra 25 credits to go to the ASW.

"Oh, that isn't necessary, Captain."

"For your troubles. Working the late shift."

The ASW shrugs. "Ok. If you insist. Thank you."

Verroel nods. "Is there any other traffic docked here now or in the last week?"

The ASW replies, "Yes. There are two old Seeker class mining vessels in port refuelling. They just unloaded their ore a few days ago to a bulk freighter destined for some processing facility in the Confederation. I imagine that they'll be shipping out soon, though they might stick around long enough to find out what you've brought."

Verroel asks for the comm info for the two seekers, and the ASW gives it to him.

Verroel thanks the ASW for the info and then asks, "Is there much ore running through this system? I'd not heard of much."

"No." Then the ASW adds a bit cheerily, "Not yet. The old finds are pretty much played out. There hasn't been much new development for some time. The governor is hoping to change that. These two," he gestures towards the approximate location of the two Seekers, "have found some small nuggets. Once word of their success gets out, it might draw more, especially since the new terms are better than the old ones."

Verroel makes a mental note that there might be more prospector activity in the future.

Verroel looks around. "When does the local day start? Things seem a bit slow at the moment."

The ASW stifles a yawn. "The place still runs on pinky time, and we're currently in the night shift. Expect things to pick up at oh hundred hours."

Fi asks, "What other services are available at the starport?"

The ASW replies, "We've got a small repair bay. We can't handle any big jobs, but simple patches we can do.

"There's a hotel, a small meeting hall which serves as a temporary commercial exchange since we don't have a BrokerNet, a plaza for shopping, and a couple bars for quenching your thirst. That's about it though."

The ASW bids you good hunting and departs.

Verroel contacts the two Seeker captains via the starport messaging service. He gets generic voice mail. Undaunted, he leaves messages identifying himself along with offers to meet later in the system day.

Vued yawns.

Verroel sees him and says, "As there is nothing going on at the moment on this quiet rock, it might be a good time to take a nap."

Vued nods in agreement.

Verroel sets an alarm clock on the bridge to wake them at 00:00 local time to sync up with the locals. He then follows the others down to the crew deck, whereupon each heads to his stateroom for a nap.

Tending to Business

Characters: Verroel & Fi Khong
NPC: Vuedueloghz
Location: Happy Trails parked at Miiko Belt Starport
System: Miiko Belt

1126.25.3 - 0:00 Imperial Time, 00:00 Vilani Time

The crew has awakened from their naps and are refreshed. After grabbing a cup of kaf, Verroel is on the comm with Miiko Belt Importers.

"Hello, this is Captain Verroel of the starship Happy Trails, we've got a delivery for you from Oenagvaezoez over at Hteh Hut."

"Fancy feast! We'll have someone down there within the hour."

Sure enough, within twenty minutes there's a buzzing sound indicating that there's a call coming in from the docking arm phone. A young male vargr with a laptop under his arm is standing there. He's wearing some kind of uniform. It looks to be dark blue in color.

"Yes?" Verroel greets the wolf over the comm.

"Miiko Belt Importers," he barks cheerfully.

Verroel opens the hatch. The young wolf, practically a pup, is dressed and groomed impeccably. Besides the laptop, he has a comm attached to his belt. He sniffs the air. "Greetings! Captain Verroel?"

"Yes."

"I'm Aedzazogazedz from Miiko Belt Importers. How's the hunt this morning?"

Verroel assumes a dominant posture suitable to a successful ship captain as he opens the door. "Aedzazogazedz," he sizes the other vargr up including the accent, his nose sniffing politely, "the hunt is on and running well. We're looking forward to success here."

"I understand that you have cargo for us. From Oenagvaezoez at Hteh Hut, if the message I received is accurate."

"Yes."

"Excellent. May I see the cargo manifest please?"

Verroel is about to email it to him when Aedzazogazedz apologizes. "I'm sorry. InfoNet has been down for years. Could you print it out for me?"

Verroel complies. He realizes the sub-standard infrastructure is not this wolf's fault. He invites Aedzazogazedz aboard while he instructs the computer to print out the manifest.

"Are you a native of the world, Aedzazogazedz, or have you moved in with the new pack? I'd expect either way the opportunities for a sharp hunter are excellent."

Aedzazogazedz's tail wags as he replies, "Oh, I'm new here. I was among the administrative pack that came over after Miiko Belt agreed to become part of the Confederation. There's a lot of work that needs to be done, but I find it rewarding."

After it prints, Verroel leads Aedzazogazedz to the cargo hold. The young wolf then spends his time checking the cargo manifest with the crates in the hold and his laptop. He apologizes that it may take a short while.

Verroel introduces the young wolf to the other members of his crew while they are examining things. He also offers him refreshment, the breakfast just cooking and starting to fill the ship with delightful smells.

Aedzazogazedz's tail wags and he sniffs the air. "That would be very kind of you. Thank you."

After he has consumed the offering and finished correlating the inventory to the manifest, Aedzazogazedz says, "Well, everything appears to be in order. I just have to call back to the office to arrange for pickup." Which he does.

A few minutes later, a delivery truck arrives. It's somewhat small. It's obvious that it will take a few trips to unload everything.

Aedzazogazedz says, "This is probably going to take a couple hours, Captain Verroel. Please don't feel obligated to wait around. If you have other business to conduct, please feel free to handle it."

"That's ok. We've got things to do." Verroel leaves Aedzazogazedz and gets to work on small bits of maintenance.

While working, one of the Seeker captains, the vargr one, gets back to Verroel. He cleans up and heads to the bridge to take the call.

The vargr identifies himself as Tougodzda. "So what did you want to talk to me about, Captain Verroel?"

"Greetings, Captain. We're starting a new run through the local systems and back down toward the Vilani border. I'm interested in information on local happenings. Some bits of our cargo of luxury food and liquor might form the basis of a more private discussion. Also, I'd like to see if we can work out some arrangements for future trade."

"Say no more. I'll be right over."

Verroel gives a short chuff of assent.

While Verroel waits for Captain Tougodzda to come over, Fi says, "I'm going to see if I can sell my medical services for coin or information."

Vued says to him, "How are you going to do that? InfoNet is down. Are you going to post notes on the walls around the starport?" He laughs. "But seriously, the computer library says that this place is only home to 800 people. Even at ten times that number, I don't think we'll be here long enough for you to scrounge up any work. We're better off going to a bar and leaving Verroel to his private captain's talk." He winks at Verroel to let him know he's pulling his tail. "If you need me, I'll be watching the pup supervise the cargo removal."

Fi growls. "That's it, I'm getting cabin fever. I'm going to get drunk. Maybe a bar fight will break out if I'm lucky." Fi gets up with the intention of heading to the nearest bar.

Upon hearing this, Vued's tail wags. "Can I go with you?"

"Sure, let's go hunting together then," says Fi. "Just wait while I go get my cloth jacket and med kit."

"Yes, yes. I should grab a couple of things too"

Verroel gives a short bark of laughter and then cuffs Vued on the shoulder in a friendly fashion. "Getting drunk and into a fight will almost guarantee a pair of patients to treat." In a more serious voice, he says, "See if you can sniff out any rumors on ship movements or trade opportunities while drinking and fighting." He then relaxes, and the jovial tone returns to his voice. "Take care of yourself, Fi."

Verroel continues below. Fi's story skips ahead. But both stories eventually intersect.

Verroel Meets With Togodzka

Character: Verroel
NPC: Togodzka
Location: Happy Trails parked at Miiko Belt Starport
System: Miiko Belt

1126.25.3 - 1:15 Imperial Time, 01:15 Vilani Time

Not long after Fi departs, Captain Togodzka arrives. He's well-dressed in a manner befitting a starship captain, even if the starship in question is just a Seeker. Verroel and Togodzka sniff the air around one another and then grip forearms.

Verroel is well dressed as well although not as ostentatiously as some Vargr might. He greets Togodzka heartily and invites the wolf aboard.

Once the outer hatch is closed Togodzka says, "You have to be careful about what you say over the local comm lines. The old government had a nasty habit of listening in on conversations. And I haven't heard if the new government has had them removed. I'm inclined to think not. So when I said, 'Say no more,' I meant it." Togodzka adds a quick bark of a laugh afterwards.

"Now, lets see about this stash of food and liquor you were so eager to share over the comm. If you're not careful, the government might 'buy' it from you." He chuckles.

Verroel leads him into the galley where he has a bottle of whiskey set out and a meal of fresh bacon and eggs on the table. "I figured the locals were sticking their wet noses into everything. The government is too new here to give up control; the place smells of it. That was why I suggested we talk privately aboard ship." He pours two drinks and offers one to Togodzka. "To the hunt," and tosses it back. Togodzka does likewise. Verroel motions to the other chair and sits. "Join me in breakfast, captain? We can discuss the food and drink and sample it as well."

"Absolutely," and he sits. Togodzka sniffs the air. "Mmmmm smells delicious."

While Verroel finishes preparing the food, Togodzka says, "I noticed the Miiko Belt Importers truck parked outside. Have you dealt with them before?"

Verroel collects the food and drink and sits down at the table. He offers Togodzka food first and then serves himself. "We've never dealt with Miiko Belt Imports seemed desperate for trade and offered a good deal so we decided to hunt that trail. What do you know of them and the government here?"

Togodzka laughs heartily. "Yes, that is an accurate assessment of MBI: desperate. They are so starved for carriers and commerce that they are like a pup eager to please its parents. The government..." he shrugs. "They appear calm and in control. It's only if you sniff hard that one realizes the trail that leads from MBI to the government. The governor is eager to make this place work. She cut taxes by half and strengthened property rights. I'm sure the pinkies have a different take, but none of them have rioted since the takeover. Not that it would do them any good. The governor lifted martial law within four weeks of taking over. Security doesn't hassle the pinkies. They're free to leave if they want, but I imagine they have no place to go."

He takes a bite from his plate. "Mmmmm, delicious. Which world did you come here from?"

Verroel has been eating while listening to Togodzka. As he empties his plate and glass, Verroel refills it for him until Togodzka finally begs off. The information is useful, and he resolves to pass it on to his comrades when he has a chance. He answers Togodzka, "We're most recently from Hteh Hut. It's still independent although it's only a matter of time until the wolves strike."

"Oh I know all about Hteh Hut. A good place for all. Any wolf with good sense will know not to ruin it. Unfortunately, too many do not."

Verroel continues, "The pinkies to rimward have enough of their own problems with their civil war to worry about than another small border world."

"That's an understatement. And it may prove to be a mistake."

"I've found that the key for making a living as we do is to sniff across the borders and take advantage of the new ways of doing things."

Togodzka nods. "Logical."

Verroel pours more drink. "Do you see threats gathering around Hteh Hut? There could be some gain for you as part of an information net."

Togodzka chuckles. "That's probably the worst kept secret for ten parsecs. The pinkies want it to remain open for its intel gathering, the Ngath want it for its economic muscle, and the crazies in the Disjuncture want it destroyed because it's too successful. Not to mention every corsair for parsecs around wants to raid the shipping that goes in and out of there."

Verroel wags his tail, more and more pleased with his decision to cultivate the belter captain. "Where there is danger and desire, there is always opportunity. It seems that Hteh Hut will be an imporant place from which to operate. It will be interesting to see if it can maintain its status balancing on the edge of a knife."

"Indeed."

Verroel asks, "So how are the mining prospects here and in the neighboring systems?"

Togodzka pauses, his food midway from plate to mouth. "Trying to muscle in on my claim?"

Verroel is momentarily flummoxed. "No! I just meant—"

Togodzka smiles. "Just kidding." His food resumes its trajectory into his mouth. "I'm just playing with you. This system was haphazardly mined. The obvious and easy pickings in the inner belt were scooped up long ago. I don't know if the same holds true for the outer belt. I suspect that the Vilani gave up too soon since there are no gas giants in this system. With the old government out of the way, it makes more sense for a belter to invest the time to properly sniff out all of the rocks to find value. I've done it; that grubby pinky has done it too.

"As for neighboring systems, Hteh Hut is too crowded. Knaeghzoka has legacy issues; no real opportunity there. Ghurrllekh has potential as there aren't gas giants there either. Another case of the Vilani giving up too early. Suthgzu is too militarized. Llaktsekh, nothing there. Rhodes is full of paranoid pinkies; don't go there. Khugan has potential, but you're going to have to pay protection money to the corsairs. Past them is the 17th Disjuncture and you don't want to go there. Those wolves are rabid."

Verroel replies, "I've no desire to pay part of my hard earned profits to a pack of wolves for protection. We'll have to think about the benefits of Khugan. The population is decent compared to many of the rocks around here and the starport is fairly sophisticated. Have you heard much of the trading there? Corsairs might have goods to sell if we can escape with our skins."

Togodzka waves his paw dismissively. "The corsairs sell their protection to the locals. You'd only have to pay up if you were looking to become a belter or be a regular trader there. In their defense, they're good for their word. Other corsairs that have tried to raid the place have had their tails kicked." He leans in to speak conspiratorially, "They're better than the ones that this place hired." Leaning back, he continues, "Not sure how much trading is going on. With the collapse of the Izidou League at the paws of the 17th Disjuncture, they've lost most of their markets. If the pinkies weren't such sticklers about the border, they could sell their ore there."

"I prefer capable extortionists and corsairs to bumblers. At least you can get something for your money and trouble. I've not decided if I'll be a regular through there yet. Too much has changed since the pinkies blew apart their empire and the opportunities started. I can make contacts there at least. If the trading has been depressed there might be some pent up demand that a single, careful wolf can tap. I have crossed the border a few times and might be able to take ore across where others might not."

Togodzka nods.

"Anyone looking to make a move in the area?"

Togodzka's ears go up. "Why do you ask?"

"Just trying to avoid getting skinned. Roaming is tough to do with every state pack laying claim to everything."

"Oh, I hear you. I don't know if anything is imminent. I know that the Confederation wants more Vilani worlds. The Disjuncture wants to tear everything apart. The Vilani are trying to hold on to what they think is theirs."

With a pause in the conversation, Togodzka says, "Excellent meal. Thank you."

Verroel asks, "Well, if you have any ore left from your most recent haul, we could trade some of what we have in the hold to you for it."

Togodzka shakes his head. "Sorry, but we sold it all to a refiner for processing. However, I might be willing to buy some from you."

Verroel rattles off the list of supplies he has. Togodzka expresses interest in the vacuum packed meats and fruit, but doesn't want to buy a 1/2 ton. He's willing to do 1/10 ton.

Verroel replies, "Make me an offer."

"I'll give you 1,000 for the meat and 250 for the fruit."

"I accept!" He extends his paw and the two lock forearms. "Spread the word with your fellows that I'll be back through here looking to buy and sell at least in small quantities."

"Of course." He stands to leave. "Thank you for the meal, drinks, and hospitality. As soon as your business with Miiko Belt Importers has concluded, call me, and I'll swing by to pick up my order."

More With Miiko Belt Importers

Character: Verroel
NPC: Aedzazogazedz
Location: Happy Trails parked at Miiko Belt Starport
System: Miiko Belt

1126.25.3 - 2:30 Imperial Time, 02:30 Vilani Time

After Verroel has shown Togodzka the door, Aedzazogazedz tracks down Verroel. The young vargr's tail is wagging.

"Captain Verroel, we have finished loading up our cargo. On behalf of Miiko Belt Importers, thank you."

"You're quite welcome."

"Please forgive me for sniffing around, but while unloading our cargo, I couldn't help but notice that you have other cargo in your hold. They were general shipping containers without corporate logos. May I ask what they contain and who they're for?"

Verroel wags his tail. "That is speculative cargo that I own. It is bulk and individually packaged food stuffs, luxury items for the most part. I'm selling them for profit as I travel. If there were enough of a market, I would be willing to sell whatever might be desired here."

He heads over to one container and opens it, showing bulk grain.

Aedzazogazedz's tail wags. "Would you be willing to sell it to us?"

Verroel's tail wags. "Go ahead and make me an offer. Just remember that fine foodstuffs are a premium out here in the border."

"Oh, I know that." He pauses a moment to check his clipboard. "I'll offer 3,000 for all the grain, 4,000 for all the spices, 5,000 for all the meat, 1,000 for all the fruit, 3,000 for all the tobacco, 4,000 for all the coffee, 6,000 for all the tea, and 2,500 for 1/8 ton of the liquor."

Verroel explains that 1/10 ton of the meat and fruit are spoken for.

"I'm fine with that. Consider it a sweetening of the deal."

Verroel asks for 25% more than what Aedzazogazedz offers.

Aedzazogazedz's brow furrows, his ears droop. He explains that Miiko Belt is a small market and may be some time before his company can get a return on the merchandise. He increases his offer by 5% on all the lots.

Verroel wags his tail and gives Aedzazogazedz a friendly cuff. "I want your pack to succeed. I will take your offer."

Aedzazogazedz's tail wags, and he lets out a happy yip. "Great!"

Verroel continues, "Is there interest in further lots of this nature, or would other types of cargo be preferable."

"Anything to do with food and drink is highly sought after right now. We should be getting regular shipments from Rroeghae and Suthgzu, but we think that the demand at Voenggaks is so great that we're an afterthought.

"I will return with a truck for the rest of this cargo, along with your money."

Next: Togodzka Picks Up His Stuff