Characters: Verroel & Fi
Location: Roetingaz Station (Starport)
Verroel and Fi exit the ship, cross the docking bay, and approach the door
labelled "Station". Upon opening the door, they see a small transport pod. It
looks like it can hold eight people through a combination of sitting and
standing. Both vargr opt to stand.
Once inside, the pod door closes, there's a brief sensation of movement, and seconds later the door on the other side of the pod opens to reveal that they're on a residential level. A sign directs them to the central elevator shaft. They walk down the "avenue", noting that the apartments are all the same. The overhead lighting simulates a blue sky. Pedestrian traffic is light until the pair reaches the central elevator shaft, which is transparent. Elevator "cars" can occasionally be seen whisking by through the tube. There appear to be three shafts devoted to up and three to down. A map at a kiosk shows that the dining, entertainment, and recreation districts, along with the arboretum and other residence levels, are up. More residential levels along with administration, the commercial district, and the starship repair bay are down.
Verroel wags his tail and suggests that they head to the entertainment district first. Fi agree, so they catch the next available elevator car. They seem to be running pretty frequently, so there's no real wait. Each car holds eight people, just like the pod they took from the hangar bay earlier. The car is half-full when it arrives. Two additional vargr get on with Verroel and Fi. Everyone sniffs the air and seems to be satisfied with their fellow riders.
Two vargr get off at the next passenger level, and two others take their place. Half the car empties at the last of the residential levels. The last two get off at the recreation level. Verroel and Fi disembark at the entertainment district.
The lights are bright and the "buildings" are brightly colored. Although the facades vary in style, there's no mistaking that the spatial limitations of a space station, albeit a big one, force conformity upon the structures. The four buildings on the corners seem more of the "family friendly" mold, obviously this duo is looking for something sans pups.
The duo opts to head "west", cardinal directions being arbitrary here. Fi turns down every spot Verroel points out, insisting that he wants something a bit more raunchy.
They come up to a side street. An odor tickles Fi's nostrils. He sniffs.
Verroel asks, "What do you smell?"
"Fun," Fi answers. He then proceeds down the side street.
It doesn't take them long before they reach what Fi is sure to be the place. The sign says "The Vargr Cowboy" and features a scantily clad, buxom bitch riding a bull. With short shorts and a top that barely covers her breasts, she also wears boots with metallic wheels with sharp points instead of being round. On her head is what's known as a "cowboy hat". A red and black kerchief is wrapped around her neck.
The facade of the place resembles an ancient Terran location known as "the Old West". It looks to be a primitive wooden structure, though close examination reveals that the "wood" is in fact plastic with a wood grain. An animatronic human sleeps near the entrance on a porch. He wears a very large hat with a wide brim that obscures his face and a large poncho that covers his torso. Snoring sounds can be heard.
Fi says, "This is the place," and leads the way inside.
The interior decor is similar to the exterior. Besides numerous tables and chairs, there is a bar, a "shooting gallery", and what appears to be a mechanical bull. There appears to be another room towards the back, but it isn't lit. A sign above states that "The Rodeo is Closed" but will re-open at 08:00. A nearby clock states that it's 07:15.
The place smells like beer and smoked meat.
The music coming through hidden speakers evokes the setting. Some of the songs are sung by humans with one of the strangest accents either Fi or Verroel has ever heard. They even howl like wolves. Even the vargr singers have this peculiar accent. Of course they howl better than the humans.
The crowd numbers about three dozen people. All but four of them are vargr. All of the humans are hanging out with vargr.
Some wolf shouts, "Verroel!"
Verroel's ears swivel and quickly locate the source of the bark. Verroel looks to see that it's Kukagerrg, a friend of his from back in his days as a corsair with the Vurrghadoukfoun, whom he was with before joining the Touzagh.
The two wolves quickly close the gap between the two of them. There's a sniffing of the air to gauge each other's status followed by back slapping.
Soon after, Verroel introduces Fi as his packmate.
"Well met, Fi," Kukagerrg says with enthusiasm. Turning back to Verroel, he asks, "Where have you been hunting? I heard that the Touzagh disbanded."
Verroel snaps his jaws in a sign of satisfaction. "When the Touzagh broke apart, Vued and I, plus a third Vargr, made off with a ship. He didn't have the charisma to manage the crew successfully so I challenged him. I won and he chose exile so I took over the pack."
"Good for you, Verroel," Kukagerrg replies with a wag of his tail. "You deserve it."
Verroel continues, "Fi here joined us and has been a good comrade. If you need any medical aid he's the best doctor in the subsector by far."
"Don't let our medic hear you say that. He thinks he's the best." To his crew, he says, "Am I right, wolves?"
The pack laugh in agreement.
"And you?" Verroel asks. "Still with the Vurrghadoukfoun?"
"Yes! After you and others left to join the Touzagh, there was finally room to show off my teeth." Everyone laughs. "I prospered and moved up the ranks. Made some money. Not enough to retire, but Captain Derregek shared the rewards with us even if it meant he went without." The smile on Kukagerrg's face fades away.
"You're talking about him in the past tense. Is he..."
"Yeah, he's dead. He died when our ship came under fire from 17th Disjuncture raiders. I was First Officer by then, so the ship was passed down to me. The Vurrghadoukfoun leadership made it legal. Now we raid those Disjuncture dogs on behalf of the Confederation. We used to hunt coreward of here. Now we're on our way rimward.
"Why don't you come join us?"
"For drinks or hunting?"
"Let's start with drinks."
Kukagerrg leads the duo over to a table where four vargr are seated. He introduces them as members of his crew, but by no means represent all of them. "I think one's in the toilet. The rest are hunting somewhere else on the station."
Soon after, a young vargr woman, dressed very much like the one on the sign outside, stops by to take drink orders.
Verroel orders a pitcher of dark beer as a starter and a brace of mugs.
Fi asks for something sweet, dark, and an aftertaste like the kick from a horse.
"I know just the thing," she says, and walks away.
After the waitress leaves, Kukagerrg says, "There's the doc now."
Fi and Verroel follow Kukagerrg's gaze and spot the wolf in question. He's emerging from the lavatory.
"I know that wolf," Fi says. "That's Gvekhs Ghourrgh. I went to medical school with him."
While they certainly wouldn't be considered packmates, Fi and Gvekhs got along just fine back in medical school. When the Merchants Association announced that it was phasing out its Medical Studies program, Gvekhs made the switch to learn more about business and tried to convince Fi to join him. Fi obviously said no; he was no businessman. He would stay to the end. When the Merchant Academy finally terminated its Medical Studies program, Fi quit the merchants and was summarily blackballed. Gvekhs was offered a promotion. The two fell out of touch. Fi was busy trying to earn enough money to eat and pay rent while Gvekhs was busy managing a squadron of traders.
Gvekhs looks up and notices Fi. He grins and shouts, "Fi Khong, as I live and breathe! You're still alive!"
"Gvekhs, you old dog," Fi replies. "I could say the same of you, but I know better!"
Gvekhs laughs heartily, which sets the crew to laughter as well.
Verroel sniffs the air around the newcomer and carefully assesses his standing in the pack. He deems him second only to Kukagerrg.
Gvekhs sniffs the air around Fi in a traditional vargr greeting and locks paws with him. "It is good to see that the hunt has gone well for you." He grabs a glass of uekhfarsal from the table. "Where have you been hunting all these years?"
"Well, you know, after that distasteful business with the Association I got work where I could with different packs. And," Fi elbows Gvekhs in the ribs, "I at least finished my medical exams. I also got my pilot's card, which is how I hooked up with my current pack. Hunting has been pretty good for us lately, but my medical skills are getting a little rusty. You still need that rump tuck? I can get you a good rate!" Fi grins from ear to ear.
Gvekhs gets a good belly laugh in. He looks heavier than when Fi last saw him. "I couldn't possibly accept. I need the extra padding. Our beloved captain provides us with only the most meager of accommodations."
"Only when compared to your cushy merchant ships," the captain retorts with a smile. "I think the rest of the crew would say that they're quite comfortable."
The crew laugh. Gvekhs bows to the captain, acknowledging that he's been upstaged.
"And you?" Fi asks. "Have you been hunting with Captain Kukagerrg for long?"
"No, just a few months." He frowns. "I was managing a trade detail out of Uekgngig when the 17th Disjuncture launched an attack on the system. It was meant to cripple commerce in the cluster, but the local naval base drove them off. Unfortunately, my ships were among the first to be hit. Half were destroyed; the rest were crippled. We were adrift with barely enough power for life support. Captain Kukagerrg here," Gvekhs gives his captain a vigorous hug, "pulled my tail out of the wreckage. From that moment on, I vowed to do my part for as long as possible. So I dusted off my med scanner and signed on to his ship as doctor."
"Your trader skills come in handy too," Kukagerrg adds. "You've probably saved our wallets more than our livers."
That gets a burst of laughter from the group.
Verroel barks in laughter. "We could use his trader magic as well. We've been sniffing around for cargoes and information these past few months."
"Oh no!" Kukagerrg says in mock protest. "Go get your own trader. He's mine."
The drinks arrive. Verroel has a pitcher of stout imported from Newcastle. Fi has a drink the waitress called a "Dark Side", a concoction made with Suthgzuan rum and molasses. It's just what the doctor ordered. He smiles. "Nice. My new favorite."
Verroel turns to Kukagerrg. "So how do you fit in with the Vurrghadoukfoun and the Confederation?"
"Very well," Kukagerrg laughs heartily.
Verroel nods with a smile, realizing he stepped into that one. "What I meant was, how do the politics work out? Do you have the freedom to follow your nose to wherever the prize lies?"
"Yes and no. The Vurrghadoukfoun leadership decided that raiding the Disjuncture on behalf of the Confederation was the hunt that we needed to be a part of. It's about preserving our way of life. The Disjuncture doesn't believe in the old ways. We used to raid, take what we needed, sometimes what we wanted, and let our prey go on their way. When enough time passed and our prey healed, we hunted them again. But these new hunters are too extreme. The Touzagh were too vicious. I am glad that they are no more. The Disjuncture wants to tear everything down. They're not content with just raiding; they want to destroy. If you wipe out the herd today, what will you hunt tomorrow?
"I, for one, will keep hunting the Disjuncture dogs until they are no longer a threat to us and our way of life. But I must also make sure that we take enough from them to keep my crew happy and well fed."
"So what's in it for a small ship like ours?" Verroel asks. "What sort of opportunities are there?"
"What kind of ship do you have?"
"An Angrorghag class Seeker."
Kukagerrg nods. "You could join us and the Vurrghadoukfoun. The more teeth, the better. But if combat isn't your style, scouts are always welcome. While the Confederation rewards us for our successes, it does pay for intel. The strongest wolf can't kill if it doesn't know where to bite."
"Well, we've been sniffing around rimward, even across the Vilani border, should you need information about that area."
"Biting the Vilani is not on our list; other wolves are dealing with that. We're driving trailward to Miiko Belt, then sneaking through the buffer worlds to Khugan. From there we'll be headed into Theton and Kishadiku. The Disjuncture has snatched up several worlds in the pinkie space, not to mention doing terrible things to the Izidou League worlds."
More small talk is made and then there's an announcement stating that the "rodeo" has begun. The bar's patrons react with whooping and "yee-haws". The group gets up and proceeds into the "Rodeo Room."
The place is an extra large room filled with tables and a stage at the far end. The entertainment is an assortment of scantily clad vargr women riding mechanical bulls who proceed to somehow lose their remaining clothes during the ride. There are others who come onstage in strange costumes and then perform stripteases. Others act out a scene from the Old West only for it to degenerate into steamy bitch on bitch action. And then there are many lap dances.
More alcohol is consumed and all are apparently having a splendid time.
Two hours later, Kukagerrg rounds up his drunken crew and prepares to head back to his ship.
"Verroel, it's been good seeing you again. If you get bored with the trader life, look me up. There will always be room in my pack for you."
Meanwhile, Gvekhs is saying goodbye to Fi. He makes a similar offer to him. "Feeeee, if you everrrrr feeeel like getting yer pawz durteee, cause we know that yer not fraid of a little blood, come join ussss. Then I can brag that I know the great Feeee Khong, surgeon extraorrrrr...extra...ehhh....a great fukhin doc. And I can get back to makin' money for the pack."
Despite the fuzz in his brain, Fi has come off better than his friend. "Still can't handle your booze, Gv. What makes you think I'm not getting my paws dirty?"
"Just look at 'em."
Fi looks at his wet paws and bursts into hysterical laughter. "See," sticking his paws in Gvekhs' face, "not dirty at all!"
After his own bout of laughter, Gvekhs says, "Proves my point. And I may not hold my liquor, but I'm right about things."
Fi wipes away the tears and manages to settle his laughter. "Seriously, if I change my mind, where are you wolves off to?"
Gvekhs blinks a couple times, then says, "Trailward. We'll make our way to Khugan to help out the Gangzueghnguen corsairs keep those Disjuncture dogs at bay. Might even go over the border and raid them for a change."
After a round of backslapping goodbyes, Kukagerrg rounds up his wolves and heads for the door. Verroel and Fi are left to contemplate their next course of action.
"Fi, I say we stay here for a while and enjoy the show."
"They're in intermission for the next hour. Do you want to wait?" He checks his chronometer. "We've been gone from the ship for three and a half hours."
While the pair are standing there pondering their next course of action, brains addled by several alcoholic drinks, a timid voice behind them gets their attention. "Excuse me, sirs."
They turn to see a scantily clad female, probably one of the performers from the look of her, standing there. She's shorter than average with a dancer's build.
"One of the wolves you were hanging out with dropped his wallet. She flashes a man's wallet. The ID says it belongs to a 'Kukagerrg.' Any chance you can help me return it to him?"
The pair of inebriated wolves just stare slackjawed at the beautiful babe before them.
"Oooookaaaaay. Maybe I should just put it in the lost and found." She backs away slowly.
Fi blinks hard and then replies, "Sorry, I was just remembering back to the days when my surgical professor was describing to us the perfect female. I've gotta say you come pretty close, miss?"
"Dharla. And you're sweet."
"I'm sure the boss and I could help you out." Fi nudges Verroel.
Verroel snaps out of it and wags his tail. "Sorry miss, you reminded me of a wolf I used to know a sector away from here. She was beautiful and dangerous just like you."
She laughs. "Oh stop."
"Kukagerrg? Yes, I can see that it gets back to him. The leader of that pack is an old friend of mine."
He reaches out for the wallet, and she gives it to him.
Fi asks, "You been a local here long?"
"Yeah, like three standard years. I haven't seen you guys around here before. First time through?"
Verroel wags his tail, "Dharla, thank you for helping out. I'm sure you get a lot of flattery, but there aren't many wolves that would be so willing to help out a stranger. That takes real charisma to make that choice."
She waves a paw dismissively. She smiles and says, "It's good for business." She laughs. "Can't have people thinking that the Vargr Cowboy is a bad place. We want people to like us and come back!"
Verroel puts out the welcome mat. "Can you join us for a drink or a snack? We're the first time through here, trading and working the jobs as they come. With the new borders and such, a wolf can be his or her own boss much more easily."
She places a paw on Verroel's arm. "I'm sorry I can't. My break's almost over. I have to get backstage and get ready for my next shift. It was nice meeting you wolves. I'm sorry I didn't get your names."
"Verroel and Fi." She looks at each vargr as she says their names. "Please come back and see me the next time you're in port." She releases Verroel, places her paws on her hips, and adds with a cheerleader type tone, "And spread the word about the Vargr Cowboy!"
With that she breaks away and heads towards an "Employees Only" doorway.
Verroel and Fi just stare at Dharla as she scoots away and passes through the Employees Only door. Once she's out of sight, the spell appears to have broken.
Verroel turns to Fi and says, "Let's a bit moarrr, watch Dharrrla, and stuff a few single credit notes in her clothes before heading off to return the wallet. We'll riffffle through it first of course."
Fi replies, "Yeah, sounds good. He can tip the dancers for us!"
The pair have a good hearty laugh.
Just as they're about to proceed to the bar and get another round, their comms chime. It's Vued.
"Hey! Where the fukh are you wolves? That network engineer we're supposed to bring to Miikko Belt is here. He wants to know when we're leaving. I'd put him in one of those freezers, but I don't know how they work. I think Miiko would be pissed off if we brought them a corpsicle instead of a network engineer."
Verroel pulls himself together. "Tell him to cool his jets for a bit. We've got to return a lost wallet, and then we'll head back. That will give Fi time to sober up."
"What?" Fi's expression is all indignation. "You drank more than me, mister."
Verroel's tail wags as gives out a chuffing laugh. "I'm just more of a drunk than you, Fi, and can handle it better."
Vued growls. "Glad that you pups are enjoying yourselves while I'm pupsitting a pinkie. Vued out."
Verroel turns to Fi. "We'll have to pass on the dance. I'm sure Dharla has plenty of admirers."
He opens the wallet and finds 48 credits worth of notes in the local script. There's also an ID card with Kukagerrg's face on it.
He then puts it inside his chest pocket.
"Let's go take this to their docking bay. It'll give us a chance to go onboard their ship and sniff around."
"Sounds good," replies Fi.
Next: Returning the Wallet