Arrival at Ninnigam

Characters: Verroel, Fi Khong
NPC: Vuedueloghz
Location: Happy Trails
System: Ninnigam

1126.13.4 - 10:15 Imperial Time, 26:15 Vilani Time

After a routine week in jump, Happy Trails exits jumpspace around Ninnigam. The moment of exiting jumpspace itself feels odd.

"Did you feel that?" Vuedhueloghz asks. "A bit like someone put the universe on pause."

Verroel and Fi both acknowledge that they felt it too.

As soon as the sensors come back online, the crew has a look to see if anything weird is going on but nothing out of the ordinary is showing up. Verroel runs an internal diagnostic on the ship's systems but nothing shows up there either. Local chatter on the radio doesn't indicate that anything unusual is going on in-system.

As Ninnigam is larger than Gadushan, Verroel has the ship coast in on its residual velocity until it is necessary to begin deceleration.

11:40 Imperial Time, 27:40 Vilani Time

The crew have exhausted all internal scans and diagnostics on the ship's equipment. Nothing has turned up to explain the "blip." As the ship has reached the point at which deceleration must begin, Verroel gives the go ahead to Fi to initiate the decel burn. The crew hold their breath as Fi executes the maneuver and then releases it when nothing explodes.

11:55 Imperial Time, 27:55 Vilani Time

As expected, Happy Trails' thruster flame has attracted attention.

The ship is hailed. "Attention foreign vessel, this is the Ninnigam Defense Force. Please identify yourself and your reason for being in this system." The voice, as expected, is human.

Verroel takes up the comm and answers the hailer. "This is the starship, Happy Trails. We are jumping into the system to deliver freight. We're looking to refuel, carry any available cargo and depart." The second half might not be entirely true but they don't need to know that.

"Acknowledged. Continue on present course and deceleration. One of our patrols will rendezvous with you in orbit and inspect your vessel. Failure to comply will be interpreted as hostile intent and we will act accordingly. Ninnigam Defense Force out."

15:15 Imperial Time, 31:15 Vilani Time

Happy Trails has finished its decel burn and is now in LPO around Ninnigam. A Type T patrol cruiser has pulled up alongside and extended a boarding cable. After being hailed by the vessel, Verroel informed its captain that they would be waiting for the boarding party in the cargo bay on deck one, not that there's much room.

The crew maintain their relaxed tone for security boardings. The boarding party, wearing combat armor and equipped with auto-shotguns, saunter aboard. Their weapons are pointed at the deck rather than the crew.

The leader approaches the trio. His helmet remains on. "Which one of you is the captain?"

Verroel steps forward. "That would be me."

"May I see your cargo manifest."

"Absolutely." Seeing that the man has an integral PDA of some sort attached to his arm, Verroel points his handcomp at it and beams over the cargo manifest.

"Gadushan, eh? May I see your nav logs." It's not a question.

Verroel complies without blinking.

"Thank you. Everything's in order. You can head down to the surface."

As the boarding party readies to depart, Verroel calmly asks the NDR officer, "Have there been any notices to starmen in the system about irregularities with Jump exit? We had a bit of unexpected 'bump' as we translated out of Jump space."

Fi adds, "Any anomalies, ships not arriving at designated jump exits or reporting longer than usual jump durations?"

Humans are normally difficult to read due to their lack of expression, but this one is obviously perplexed. "No, no one's told us about any anomalies. This is the first I'm hearing about anything like that. What can you tell me about it? I'll need to include it in my report."

Verroel wags his tail slightly as his ears perk forward in a thinking pose. "It was hard to describe but it felt like a pause for a moment, as if everything was on hold for just a second. It was almost like we were hanging on the edge of Jumpspace for just a fleeting instant. Our sensors and diagnostics were all nominal so there is nothing to really explain it."

"And you all experienced this?"

All three vargr nod their heads.

"But your sensors didn't pick up anything."

"No, nothing," Verroel answers.

The NDR officer frowns. "That isn't much to go on but we'll check with other ships in system. In the meantime, you might want to consider seeing a doctor. Maybe it was something all of you ate."

"I'm the ship's doctor," pipes up Fi, "and I found no ill effects. Our food is basic but good." Fi makes a mental note to go and check the food stocks once the inspection is over.

"Hmmmm, ok," the NDR replies. He shrugs. "Protocol dictates that I bring that up as a possibility. I'll include that in my report too. Just so you know, my superiors might follow up with their own inquiries and tests."

With the conclusion of the anomaly discussion, the boarding party return to their ship.

As Vued and Verroel head to the Bridge, Fi makes to head to the galley.

"Where are you going, Fi?" Verroel asks.

"I'm going to check on the condition of the food. Make sure it hasn't spoiled or was otherwise contaminated."

Verroel chuckles. "I'm sure it hasn't, but you can check on it later. Right now I need you to pilot the ship down to the starport."

All three vargr head to the bridge.

As soon as the boarding cable has retracted, the patrol cruiser breaks off from Happy Trails which resumes its descent to Ninnigam.

Arrival at Ninnigam Down

Characters: Verroel, Fi Khong
NPC: Vuedueloghz
Location: Happy Trails, parked at Ninnigam Down
System: Ninnigam

1126.13.4 - 17:20 Imperial Time, 01:20 Vilani Time

(Local Time = Vilani Time as the world is tidelocked)

Happy Trails has completed its descent through Ninnigam's frigid atmosphere to the downport on the "sunny" side. Ninnigam's inhospitable conditions force even the ships to go indoors. Ninnigam's downport consists of six well-insulated hangars in a radial pattern connected to a central hub. The downport is connected to the capital, Ninnigam City, via an underground freeway.

The ship sits isolated in the hangar bay. There are no docking collars. Ship's sensors indicate the hangar bay is still unbearably cold so everyone decides to wait for the residual heat from the engines to warm things up to freezing.

In the meantime, Fi has left the Bridge to inspect the food, though he is confident he won't find anything wrong with it. Vued heads down to the cargo hold to make sure nothing shifted during the descent. Verroel remain on the Bridge.

The ship's computer has located a wireless network so Verroel patches in. He's immediately connected with the Ninnigam starport which explains the standards terms and conditions. Landing and berthing costs 50 credits. After six standard days, 50 credits a day. They only have unrefined fuel and that costs 370 credits per ton. Life support is 1,200 credits per person per week.

370 credits/ton! That's outrageous! But with no gas giant in-system, there's no other choice. He decides to hold off on fuel and life support for now, preferring to get paid for the freight first. He pays the landing fee and is thus able to access the local InfoNet. He sends an email to the Ninnigam Importing Company that their freight has arrived. He's about to check in on Fi when an alert appears on the computer screen.

****************************************
* ALERT: Ship's clock does not match   *
* local clock. Please verify.          *
****************************************

Verroel investigates. According to the starport, Happy Trails' ship clock is 16 minutes and 40 seconds behind the real time. Verroel lets out a short bark of surprise as he notes the discrepancy in the chronometers. He summons Vued and Fi back to the Bridge and shows them his discovery. "Did you all see what's going on with the clocks? That's definitely not normal."

Fi growls, "What was that?" He checks the ship's computer to see if anything else is amiss, then correlates the star charts.

"Something bit 16 minutes of time out of our lives. It has to be that 'bump' we felt coming out of Jump."

Vued growls. "That's not good."

Verroel slips into engineer mode and continues, "Normally spaceships can be off by a millisecond here and there. It's to be expected when ships travel at a high rate of speed. Jumpspace has also been known to mess around with starship clocks. However, nothing more than one second has ever been recorded that didn't involve attempts to approach relativistic speeds in normal space. We all know that we didn't come close to doing that."

Fi still isn't finding anything amiss on the computer or star charts.

"Did you find anything wrong with the food, Fi?" Vued asks.

"No, it's fine."

Verroel continues, "We all seem normal but let's be careful and see if any more discrepancies pop up."

While they wait for the Ninnigam Importing Company truck to arrive, they do a careful comparison of library data and updates from the starport but find nothing. A general search on temporal displacements of this type also fails to provide any clues.

18:15 Imperial Time, 02:15 Vilani Time

The sound of a buzzer announces the arrival of a truck from the Ninnigam Importing Company. Verroel acknowledges them before heading out into the still chilly landing bay. Verroel is glad to have not only his heavy jacket but a thick coat of fur. Upon opening the gate, Verroel sees one human dressed in an insulated jumpsuit with the Ninnigam Importing Company logo on his chest and another dressed in a starport customs jacket.

"Good ishuuna," they say.

"Good ishuuna," Verroel says in return, his tail wagging, though he doesn't know what an "ishuuna" is. He hands over the cargo manifest.

"Ok, let's have a look," the customs agent says.

Verroel leads him and the driver into the ship to have a look at the cargo. Fi and Vued are there and he introduces them to the customs official. After spending ten minutes looking over the cargo, the customs agent gives his approval, signs the forms, and gives copies to Verroel. He bids Verroel a good drandir and leaves the bay.

At this point, Fi leaves the others and heads back into the ship. "Something just doesn't feel right" he says to no-one in particular. He goes to his quarters and does a full body scan.

While that's processing he heads up to the bridge and runs another full sensor sweep of the ship, followed by a computer diagnostic.

Both come back negative.

He returns to his quarters and finds that body scan is negative too.

The hackles on the back of his neck are starting to rise, and he doesn't like the feeling that brings.

Back in the hangar bay, the driver starts loading the cargo onto his truck, when he's halfway done, he stops and takes a break.

"So," he says, "do you guys travel across the border much?"

Verroel wags his tail in a friendly gesture. "We try to stay on this side of the border as much as possible. It's safer here for the most part. We do move across when there is a profit to be made carrying materials between worlds that used to be joined before the invasions. You'd be surprised at the amount of material that used to flow without hindrance that is now hard to get. A well-placed trader can make good money reconnecting places across the border. Do you get much cross border traffic here?"

The driver chuckles as if Verroel said something funny.

Verroel tilts his head in confusion.

Noticing this, the driver says, "Oh, if you only knew." He lets his words linger.

"If only I knew what?" Verroel asks. He cocks his head slightly at the driver's reaction. Humans were inscrutable and a little frightening in their ability to build these monolithic societies that lasted for tens if not hundreds of years.

"Never mind. If you're interested in making some 'good money', then head over to The Frosty Finger and ask for Liishaap Lurukemmime. Tell him that Pete sent you."

Verroel wags his tail a bit. "I'll go by and see this Liishaap later on."

After the conversation ends, the driver finishes loading his truck and informs Verroel that once he gets back to the warehouse, he'll start filing the paperwork. "You should get paid before the end of the next shift."

Verroel replies, "Thank you for arranging for the payment."

"No problem," the driver answers.

The Frosty Finger

Characters: Verroel, Fi Khong
NPC: Vuedueloghz (on the ship, listening in)
Location: The Frosty Finger, a bar at Ninnigam Down
System: Ninnigam

1126.13.4 - 19:40 Imperial Time, 03:40 Vilani Time

Verroel and Fi set out for the Frosty Finger, leaving Vuedhueloghz to stay on the ship. The big guy whimpered at his predicament but accepted it.

Verroel punches Vued in a friendly fashion. "We'll bring you back a couple pints of the local beer and fresh meat packmate. When we're back you and Fi can head out and sniff for excitement. In the meantime, I need the best wolf in a fight to hold down the ship alone."

Vued wags his tail and smiles.

Verroel wears cloth armor under his clothing to be both warm and somewhat less obvious about being armored. He brings a blade under his jacket just in case of trouble. Fi wears his cloth armor under his clothes the same as Verroel but slings his shotgun in its back holster. He asks Verroel if he objects but he emphatically supports him bringing it.

The hangar bay has warmed up to about zero Celsius, a definite improvement. The two vargr trot across the hangar quickly to reach the door and quickly exit. It's about ten degrees Celsius (50°F) in the 10 meter wide damp hallway outside. The two vargr stick to the pedestrian walkway and follow the signs to the central hub. Once there, they cross the quiet roadway to a circular platform where two elevators stand waiting for passengers.

They ride up to the main level, a spacious open area with 10 meter ceilings. It's warmer, probably 18° Celsius (64°F) and smells a bit humid, but tolerable. Exiting the elevator they find the place to be mostly empty. Off to their is a sign that says, "To Trains". Behind them by another ten meters is another elevator, but it is guarded by two armed burly human males. Two corridors lead away from the central atrium: one ahead and one to the right. Between is ticket counter for Anarsi Travel. Directly in front of them is an information kiosk. A dark-skinned, heavy set human female is sitting there reading a PDA.

"Can I help you?" she reluctantly asks without looking up from her PDA.

"We're looking for the Frosty Finger." Verroel says politely.

She points in a direction off to her left.

"Thank you."

"Uh-huh."

Verroel and Fi walk down the corridor that the helpful info kiosk attendant directed them to. They pass four other businesses: two shops and two restaurants. The humans they pass give them a wide berth, their eyes do not meet. Verroel heads warily through the starport, aware of the suspicion of the locals and does nothing to attract any more attention other than just being a vargr.

At the end of the corridor is The Frosty Finger. The outside decor is that of the entrance to a meat locker. Opening the door reveals a more hospitable place. The decor inside is mostly black, with booths along the perimeter for privacy, an open area in the middle filled with tables, and a bar running along the left side. Quarter meter thick windows offer a view of the dreary, but perpetually sunlit surface. A methane sea lies in the distance. Ninnigam's red sun is reflected on its surface.

There's about four human customers at the bar and one behind it. The place smells like there are more humans here but they may be in the booths, hidden by the decor.

A sign says, "Seat yourself."

Verroel inhales deeply of the scent of the place before heading to the bar. Once he and Fi are seated, the bartender, a middle-aged human with a gut and a receding hairline comes over. "Two beers in bowls, please."

"Coming right up."

Fi and Verroel have a look and smell around. Besides the four human customers at the bar, there are another nine: two pairs spaced evenly apart on the far wall, a trio in a booth by the window, and two singletons a couple tables away from the trio in either direction.

The bartender returns with the bowls of beer. Smells like Imperial Ale. "Do you boys want to run a tab?"

Verroel wags his tail and bobs his head in assent. "A tab would be fine. Do you have a grill as well?"

"Oh yeah, sure. Do you need a menu?"

"No thanks. A pair of steak sandwiches would be just fine if we can have them. Blood red raw, but warmed up." He swipes his cash card through the tip reader. 20 credits shows up on display on the bar side.

The bartender smiles, swipes his card to accept the tip, and says, "You got it. Coming right up." While he enters the order into the kitchen comp, he goes on to say, "We don't get too many vargr in here these days. What brings you fellows here?"

Verroel replies, "We're working trade by picking up the odd cargo and job. We were told this was a good place for a beer and to meet people." He wrinkles his snout a bit. "There was a set of guards at one of the elevators back in the atrium. Do you know what is down in that bay?"

"Guards in the atrium? Oh yeah. That's the entrance to the control tower. No unauthorized personnel and all that."

Verroel flips his ear back toward the atrium down the hall. "No desire to go busting in where we're not wanted." He wags his tail and his ears perk forward at the thought of fresh steak sandwiches. "Oh, can you add two more sandwiches to go? My packmate back on our ship is hungry."

"No problem."

He laps his beer for a bit. "Ahh... that's good. By the way, we're looking for a human named Liishaap Lurukemmime. Pete at the port recommended we talk to him about cargoes and such."

"Sure. He's in the back by the window. Got a couple of broads with him."

Verroel wags his tail in thanks. "Oh, thanks." With a flick of his ear to Fi, Verroel laps up the rest of his beer and walks over to the booth by the window. Fi follows.

Approaching the booth, Verroel and Fi spot a slightly pudgy, middle-aged man with a receding hairline flanked by two human females easily fifteen years younger. The mix of distilled alcohol and perfume is a bit much for their noses. Both women are laughing and the male has a big grin on his face. Apparently he said something funny before the pair of vargr showed up.

Upon seeing the two vargr, the laughter dies. The man looks at the two vargr and says with irritation, "What? Grnouf is so impatient he has to send someone over to pick up his stuff? I told him finding someone to cross the border was tough these days. Between patrols on our end and pirates on his, no one wants the job."

The two large solitary men that Verroel and Fi thought were dining alone have now stood up and are flanking the vargr pair. Their eyes are focused on the vargr and are taking an aggressive posture. Apparently these two are Liishaap's security men. The one standing behind Fi has a pistol drawn and pokes it at his side. He whispers in his ear, "Make a move for your shotgun and your dead."

Fi growls a little and then whines, looking to Verroel to do something to fix this.

Verroel maintains his cool, although his ears flick back and his tail lifts in signs of tension. He raises his muzzle a bit in a sign of peaceful intentions before remembering he is dealing with humans. Instead, he slowly holds his hands out in front of him. "Pax friends, pax. We're not with this Grnouf nor are we here to shake anyone down. I am Verroel and this is Fi Khong. We're here on a layover on our ship and Pete at the docks told us you are a man to speak about opportunities to make money. Perhaps we might be able to help you with the issue of getting goods across the border." At this last Verroel wags his tail a bit.

"Oh. In that case," he turns to address his female companions, "why don't you girls go play a couple holovid games or powder your noses. We have some business to discuss."

The security men relax.

After the women get up and leave, Liishaap slides to one side of the horseshoe-shaped booth and gestures to the other side. "Please, have a seat." As the vargr go to sit down, he adds, "If you don't mind, Fi Khong, would you hand your shotgun over to Lelashan here. He can be a bit twitchy about my safety."

The security man identified as Lelashan scowls down at Fi.

Verroel nudges Fi to comply, which he does. Both security men sit down.

"Thank you."

The bartender comes over with the food. "Is it ok that I serve them here?" he asks Liishaap.

"Sure." Liishaap lets the word drag out, but is sincere.

The bartender drops off the plates along with another bowl of beer for each vargr.

After he leaves, Liishaap says, "Go ahead, dig in. I don't mind. I ate already. And one thing I've learned is that it's disrespectful not to let a vargr eat."

Verroel and Fi dig in. The steaks are ok, seasoned well but frozen too long for a vargr's taste. Nothing great, but far better than vat grown protein.

"So, Pete sent you over. That's good. I normally don't like to be disturbed unless there's a referral involved.

"As you could guess, I got a bit of a problem with my associate over the border. The Vilani don't care too much from cross-border trade with the Ngath Confederation giving them shit, pirates taking worlds and all that. My associate is on Angvae, a 'neutral' vargr world. But the Vilani know that's crap. Angvae is a corsair Mecca, but you probably knew that already. The Vilani frown on any trade to and from that world so long as it stays that way.

"Normally that wouldn't bother the couriers I hire, but lately we've had a bit of a problem with a couple corsair bands. They don't like us humans."

He leans back in his seat and takes a drink of some amber liquid over ice. Verroel takes a sniff. He thinks it's what an ex-fellow human corsair back in his Touzagh days called "whiskey". Liishaap points with the pinkie finger of the hand holding the glass. He sets it down and says, "But I figure you boys won't have a problem with that. What kind of ship do ya got?"

"An Angrorghag class Seeker," Verroel replies.

"Even better. You'll fit right in. How did you get one of those on this side of the border?" Before Verroel can say anything, Liishaap holds up a hand. "Wait, don't tell me. I don't need to know and it's better that I didn't. So, are you interested?"

Verroel wags his tail at the question. He grins a bit with a hint of teeth showing but doesn't say anything. "We know our way around the corsair bands where your human couriers would not. For the right job and payment we are definitely interested."

"Good. The job is simple: I put freight in your cargo hold; you deliver it to my associate on Angvae. I've got 20 tons of product that need to go now. I'll pay you 20,000 now and 20,000 later when you come back with proof that you delivered the merchandise to him. Undamaged. Unopened."

Verroel considers the offer for a moment. 40K was an excellent payment for what was probably a 'hot' cargo. Still, he cared little for the legality of the matter. The laws of some empty, distant authority had no charisma, no hold on him or his fellows. "Is there anything explosive or otherwise dangerous with the cargo?"

"No, not at all."

"You have a deal, Mr. Lurukemmime."

"Excellent." He reaches across the table to shake their paws. "I'll have the cargo delivered to your ship before the first shift is out. Let's have a toast. Barkeep!"

The bartender hurries over. "Yes, Mr. Lurukemmime?"

"Seven shots of Aanshi Vodka Blue."

"Coming right up." The bartender returns to the bar.

At the mention of shots, the two human females return. "Shots, Liishaap?"

"Yeah, we're toasting a deal. These guys are gonna do some work for me."

The bartender returns with the shots: clear blue liquid with the scent of alcohol. The glasses appear small enough that the vargr can toss the shot into the side of their mouths without spilling.

"Bottoms up!" Liishaap says. Even the guards, who appear more relaxed now, partake.

Although served cold, there's a slight burn on the throat from the alcohol. It's followed by a warmth in the belly. Overall it's fairly smooth and pretty good, but not as good as uekhfarsal.

After the shot and a couple more bites to finish their sandwiches, Verroel looks to grab the bartender's attention.

"Whaddya need?" Liishaap asks.

"Just the check."

"Don't worry about it. It's on me."

"Thanks!" If Verroel were standing his tail would be wagging. "Well then, we better get back to the ship to get her ready."

"What's your ship's name?"

"Happy Trails."

Liishaap nods. "Nice." He extends his hand to both vargr and they shake it. "Come see me when you get back."

"Will do," Verroel says.

Verroel and Fi stand to go. Fi gets his shotgun back from Lelashan and the two leave.

The vargr make their way back to the ship without incident.

Next: Back at Happy Trails