Seventeen Weeks Later

Characters: All
NPC: Chuck & Simrii
Location: Miishakaal
System: Various worlds in the Kagamira Subsector

1125.36.7 through 1126.1.7

Miishakaal moved rimward into what some analysts are calling the "Vilani Safe." This region, roughly one subsector in radius around Vland, hasn't had direct exposure to the war. Similar regions exist around each of the other faction's capitols. That's not to say they're not feeling the economic impact, just that their worlds aren't seeing combat. Some of these safe zones are larger. Some smaller. But it's safe to say that the safe zones have shrunk with time.

Miishakaal has kept to the Gagzoe Cluster, 11 worlds in coreward portion of the Kagamira subsector all accessible via jump-1 starships (The 11th being Zentove, which lies in of the Vhodan subsector). Business has been slow, but steady. The new starport fee schedule has cut into profits, but everyone's bank accounts have grown.

There hasn't been any mercenary work. The group has discovered that there's a bias against indy outfits here in the Vilani Safe. There's a preference for mercs with backing from, or affiliation with, one of the Bureaux. While independents can get work, they need to have a resume that people can verify. So it's a bit of a Catch-22. In order to get work, you need to have work experience. Gvarokh is strongly considering taking up Mamingigur's offer to work for Makhidkarun, despite the irony.

The ship's annual maintenance also came due. The work was done on Gukhaga (Vland 1114), a TL-15 world with an A starport. The crew took advantage of it's Terran-like climate and vacationed for a week. There was plenty of R&R.

In the news, a report came out from the Zirunkariish Bureau, the leading insurance megacorp, stating that the actuarial state of the Imperium is failing. For the years 1123-1124, mercantile shipping experienced an 18% drop in aggregate tonnage over the course of the previous two years despite high shipbuilding rates.

The figures are thought to show another trend as well. In terms of total number of merchant hulls, the numbers only dropped 14% during the same period, showing that larger high value merchant hulls suffered in proportion to their size, not their numbers. This is believed to reflect the rising effects of piracy, because pirates pick their targets based on perceived value and risk. Commercial losses due to general warfare during the Civil War have not shown this bias toward destruction of tonnage. Instead, tonnage and numerical losses were within 1% of each other during the first six years of the war.

While these figures aren't as high as during 1117-1118, the shipbuilding rate was much lower than it is now. As such, Zirunkariish has announced a 20% increase in its insurance rates. The reasons cited for the increase are the increased risk of loss, the rise of piracy, and the decrease in the size of the average ship, resulting in reduced economies of scale and capacities for self-defense.

News of the war itself is the same: all bad and steadily getting worse.

But not all is bad news. You haven't heard from Mersshon or any of his associates in all this time.

At the moment, Miishakaal is leaving Zentove (Vland 1410) and heading coreward to Maran (1408). It's the first time the ship has been out of the Gagzoe Cluster since arriving there.

Attacked At Maran

Characters: All
NPC: Chuck & Simrii
Location: Miishakaal
System: Maran

1126.2.7 - 01:00 Imperial Time, 1:00 Vilani Time

The ship emerges from jump space and heads in towards Meliva Starport.

04:45 Imperial Time, 4:45 Vilani Time

Miishakaal joins the queue waiting to enter Meliva. While waiting, one of those small recon drones you encountered last time comes to within a half a kilometer of the starboard side of your ship. It scans you and then moves on.

05:45 Imperial Time, 5:45 Vilani Time

You should've been in the city by now. Unfortunately, there appears to be a traffic tie up. From what you can gather over the radio chatter, there's some kind of boarding action up ahead. No facts, but plenty of rumors regarding suspected coup attempts by any one of the factions from the world below.

While waiting, a second recon drone comes by and scans your ship on its dorsal side from 200 meters away.

And then it opens fire.

Alarms are going off as the hull has been breached in Engineering. Iris valves automatically close to contain the loss of air. The ones that lead to the upper Engineering level lock.

Fortunately for Slade, he's on the lower deck and wearing his vacc suit (minus the helmet), as it is SOP for entry from jump space. His helmet is in his hands and then on his head in no time.

Unfortunately, the power plant has been hit bad. Systems are blinking on and off all over the ship as there is insufficient power to keep everything going at once. Slade switches the Engineering Computer over to battery back up to monitor the situation. He comms up to the Bridge with a SITREP. He can provide power for some systems, but not all and maybe not for long. Slade will try stabilize things but he can't promise anything. If Gvarokh has any systems preferences, he needs to tell Slade that now as he needs to shut stuff off.

Darrurz dons his helmet as soon as the ship is hit and asks Gvarokh if he wants to broadcast the signal GK.

Gvarokh nods affirmative as he's still listening to Slade.

Slade concludes with, "If you want turret power, let me know and I'll do what I can. It might not be much."

Vincent chimes in, "Any power to the turret is better than nothing. Let's see if we can take care of that drone."

"Consider it an order," Gvarokh barks. "Slade, get me passive sensors, weapons, comm, and whatever you can spare for the maneuver drive."

Darrurz starts an all frequency broadcast of, "GK, GK, GK. This is the RZSM Miishakaal under attack by forces unknown. Request immediate assistance. All vessels. I repeat; GK, GK, GK. This is the RZSM Miishakaal under attack by forces unknown. Request immediate assistance. All vessels."

Lakir and Vlad have donned their helmets. Vlad undoes his belt and gets up from the couch. He heads towards the lift.

"Where ya goin'?" Lakir asks him.

"Weapons," Vlad replies.

"Not me. I'm stayin' put."

Slade shuts off power to as many systems as he can, including life support and the lift that Vlad is ascending in. Lighting is shut off except for those areas where the crew are. "Weapons powering up," Slade calls out. "I've got enough power leftover to give you quick short bursts out of the M drive if you need it."

Vlad curses in Gvegh once the lift stops. He climbs up and dashes to his room.

Gvarokh checks navigation. They aren't in immediate danger of crashing into anyone yet and they should all get out of his way after hearing the distress call. The starport will be another matter. But at 50 kph, there's still time.

Darrurz sets up a loop on his last sentence and starts targeting the drone with whatever sensors he has available. "Target is closing. It's going to ram us! Brace for impact!"

Vincent tries to fire but he gets "CHARGING" on his display.

The ship shudders. Slade and Vlad are knocked to the deck.

Down in Engineering, Slade's panel reads, "REACTOR CONTAINMENT BREACH. AUTOSHUTDOWN ENGAGED."

The power goes out. Everything shuts off, including gravity.

Two seconds later, emergency backup systems engage: minimal lighting and radio.

Slade gets to his feet, activates the MagSteps on his boots and looks up at the ceiling. There are a few spots that are glowing red. "Plasma leakage," he says aloud. He realizes that the lack of gravity will slow the plasma down from burning through the deck and into the lower Engineering level. Still, he keeps an eye on it.

[[[OOC Explanation: If gravity were "on", the plasma blobs would be pulled downward, eating through the deck as fast as they can. With gravity "off," the downward pull is no longer present. Blob inertia has already been taken care of (impact with floor) so as they shed energy they may in fact push away from the floor.]]]

Gvarokh asks over the suit comms, "Is everyone ok?"

The replies all come back affirmative.

Slade then explains what he's seeing in Engineering.

Gvarokh replies, "Get to some place safer. I don't need you to melt, too. Once we are grappled by the rescue craft, who knows where that plasma will try to go."

Chuck points out, "We're moving."

Everyone with access to a window notes that the starfield is changing. The ship is rotating "backwards," nose over tail, as a result of the impact. However, the spin isn't fast enough for any appreciable gravitational effects. It appears to be rotating at a rate of 1 turn every 6 minutes.

The radio crackles to life. "Miishakaal, this is the RZSN Zasheshudnam. We're moving to intercept. Our scanners aren't picking up any hostile craft in your vicinity. Please verify your need for assistance. Over."

Gvarokh barks, "Yes. That is a major affirmative. We are completely disabled and have a plasma leak in our engineering section. Repeat: We need major assistance." Gvarokh pauses before continuing. "There is no observable attacker. We were ambushed by what appeared to be a standard sensor drone used here. We don't know if it was a government drone or something that looked like one. It shot us, damaging our ship, then rammed us, crippling our ship. Hopefully, there will be something to examine, but given the leaking plasma at impact, I seriously doubt it."

There's a long pause before the reply. "Acknowledged, Miishakaal. ETA 15 minutes. Please have all crew and passengers ready to abandon ship."

Gvarokh responds, "Acknowledged. There are no passengers. The crew will be ready in 15 minutes."

Muting the link to the Zasheshudnam, Gvarokh broadcasts to the crew, "The patrol craft, Zasheshudnam, will rendezvous with us in 15 minutes. That means you have 10 minutes to grab whatever stuff you want to take with you. We will have to leave the ship. Everyone needs to be at the entry lounge in 13 minutes. And do NOT be armed to the teeth."

Rescuing The Shut-Ins

Characters: All
NPC: Chuck & Simrii
Location: Miishakaal
System: Maran

1126.2.7 - 05:55 Imperial Time, 5:55 Vilani Time

Gvarokh has just given the order to leave the ship. He turns around to note that Darrurz and Chuck are still on the bridge. "Go," he barks, "We don't have much time."

"Can't," Chuck replies. "The iris valve won't open. I guess that shouldn't be a surprise with the power out."

Gvarokh growls in frustration.

Vincent notices the same thing as he tries to exit his turret.

Vlad finds that he can't get the door to his stateroom open.

"I'm on it," Slade says over the comm. "I'm gonna use the Engineering computer back up battery to hot wire the doors. I'm going to cut into the cargo hold first. That'll give me access to most of the ship without wasting too much juice. Then I'm going to the crew lounge and the bridge. After that, I'll get the guys out of the turrets. I don't know how many irises I'll be able to open before the battery goes dead so I want to open as few as possible.

"Also as I leave behind a trail of opened doors, if the plasma breaches the lower engineering deck it will vent all these rooms out. I want you guys to be cognizant of that. Our rescuers should also be aware of it."

As he begins to hack the first iris, he adds, "My friends, we are going to feed someone his own gonads. Raw and seasoned with polonium."

While waiting for Slade to "rescue" the shut ins, Vincent asks, "Is it possible that this rescue ship coming to us is responsible for the drone attacks? It's not like we had any illegal supplies on board that would cause the sensor drone to open up on us. I am just being a little skeptical right now. Anyone feel the same way?"

Lakir answers, "Yeah, I'm with ya'...'cept there ain't a whole hellava' lot we can do about it now, is there?

"We either take the ride, fry when the plasma spreads, or we run outta' O2. Take your pick. Capn' don't want us to arm up, not that we can get to the good firepower. Best we could do would be the shoties in the ships locker, if there's enough juice left to get the hatch open."

Gvarokh grabs Shiraamer's urn and stows it in the Bridge safe. "At this point anything is possible. However, we don't have any choice but to trust them. Our ship is completely disabled. We need their help. We have no options.

"Therefore, I need everyone to be calm and cooperative with the authorities. Remember: We did nothing wrong. So, while it will probably take some time to work through this whole mess, it will work out. We really did do nothing wrong.

"If you manage to grab any weapons, make sure they're properly stored. I want no overt weapons display when we are boarded. They are here to help us, but they have to be cautious. Just remember they are here to help us.

"They will also likely not believe us at first. And that is completely reasonable. Put yourself in their situation, and you probably wouldn't believe us, either. We will have to patiently explain and let them investigate the ship to determine what happened. The truth will work its way out. This will be cleared up, and we will return to our working Miisha."

Meanwhile, in Engineering, Slade's first attempt at hot wiring the iris to the cargo hold fails. "Shit. Maybe if I bypass the security circuit..."

Slade is rewarded with the smooth metallic sliding sound of an opening iris. His battery has drained an additional 9% from where it was, bringing it down to 90% capacity. He uncouples the battery from the door switch and picks up his gear: Engineering tool kit in one hand, Engineering computer battery pack in the other. Zero G comes in handy sometimes.

Slade makes his way across the cargo hold as quickly as his MagSteps will allow. He attempts to hack the iris that leads directly into the crew lounge. One of the leads on the battery slips off and hits the other, creating a brief shower of sparks and scaring Slade. Power slips to 89%. He takes a deep breath and slides the battery pack closer to the panel to create some slack in the line and tries again.

The iris opens. Slade disconnects his apparatus and enters the crew lounge where Lakir awaits. Power level 80%. Next up: the bridge.

The bridge iris slides open. Power level 71%.

"Good job, Slade," Gvarokh says.

Just then the radio crackles to life. "Miishakaal, this is Zasheshudnam. We've arrived at your ship. Are you prepared to disembark?"

Peeking out the bridge window, Chuck spots them. "Yep, there they are, about a hundred meters off starboard side. Decent sized ship too. Looks about a thousand tons."

Gvarokh replies, "Zasheshudnam, this is Miishakaal. We have no power and all of our valves were locked down beforehand. Most of the crew is now freed, but we still have some that are trapped. We should have them freed soon."

"Acknowledged, Miishakaal. We'll swing by with a can opener to get the rest of them out. Docking should commence in five minutes."

Gvarokh mutes the line and asks, "Can opener?"

Vlad answers from the upper deck, "Iris valve opener. Basically, it's what Slade is doing but specifically designed for that purpose so it works much faster, even when you're not invited."

Leaving Miisha

Characters: All
NPC: Chuck & Simrii
Location: Miishakaal at first, then a ship's boat, and finally RZSN Zasheshudnam
System: Maran

1126.2.7 - 06:15 Imperial Time, 6:15 Vilani Time

In the silence of the ship, a loud clunk rings out. The rescue party has arrived.

Vlad, who was unable to find anything to pry open his stateroom door, climbs down the lift. He is visibly perturbed.

The airlock opens and light illuminates the dim corridor. Five guys in combat armor scurry into the room. Each has the Ziru Sirkaa Marines insignia on their left shoulder. Four of them are holding laser rifles with some sort of other barreled weapon attached underneath. Although the rifles are drawn, they're not being pointed at anyone. The fifth guy is carrying an iris valve opener.

Through their short-wave radio, one of them (you can't tell who) asks, "Is this everyone?"

Gvarokh replies, "No, we've got a guy trapped in each of the turrets."

"Ok, two of my men will escort you to our boat. The faster we get out, the more time the salvage ops team will have to rescue your ship."

"You heard the man," Gvarokh orders, "Let's go." He pats the ship as he heads out.

With one Marine in front and one bringing up the read, the crew are lead across a short corridor into a ship's boat. The first Marine steps out of the way and blocks access to the bridge. He says, "Have a seat," and gestures to passenger cabin. There are six seats. Everyone complies.

A minute later, Vincent shows up and sits on the floor in the back.

Four minutes after Vincent, Simrii shows up with the rest of the Marines in tow. He joins Vincent on the floor.

"All clear," is shouted by the lead Marine as the hatch closes.

Looking out the port windows, the crew watch as Miishakaal recedes from them. The ship's boat changes direction before they can get a view of the damage.

After the ship's boat docks with the mothership, the crew are led to a meeting room. There's a long table with video monitors on the wall. The Marines depart. Besides the crew, there's one sole officer in the room. He looks like he's in his mid-30's. He has military-short light brown hair with gray eyes and light brown skin. He introduces himself, "I'm Lieutenant Urkenim. I've been assigned to be your liaison officer while you're on board the Zasheshudnam."

He presses a button on a PDA and the monitors come to life with a video feed of Miishakaal slowly tumbling backwards to the starport. The perspective changes as the Zasheshudnam moves ahead of Miisha. The damage becomes easier to see as sunlight illuminates the ship. The recon drone is buried halfway inside of her, resembling a tick. A small blob of plasma escapes the ship near the drone, grows dim, and disintegrates into a cloud of hydrogen.

Gvarokh says, "Good. At least some of the drone is still there. Hopefully, some information can be gleaned from it."

"I know this must look bad to you but the good news is that your ship is small enough to fit inside a retrieval net. And its velocity is so slow that the net will hold."

Chuck raises his hand, "Retrieval net?"

Lt. Urkenim politely answers, "A retrieval net is a large circular ship, much like the Type L Laboratory Ship, designed for capturing small ships, asteroids or other debris that pose a danger to Meliva or other orbital cities. Or even Maran. The net is composed of superdense nanofibers which can handle the stress of large objects. The net is reeled out slowly to nullify the target's vector but prevent it from rebounding back, though it could do that too if we wanted it to. Once the target has reached zero momentum, tug boats swing by and move it out of the way."

Chuck asks a follow up question. "What would've happened if we were too big?"

"Then it would be the captain's decision to either push your ship out of the way and let it drift into the sun or destroy it immediately."

Chuck nods. "It's good to be small."

"Any other questions?" Lt. Urkenim asks.

Slade asks, "Do the drones have some kind of data recorder that holds communication and decision-making logs?"

"Yes, and we hope to retrieve them."

"Would it be impolite to ask how easy those drones are to hack?"

Urkenim seems genuinely surprised by this question. "I have no idea," he says and it's apparent from his facial expression that this is true. "I was under the impression that they weren't hackable."

"How big, might one ask, is the list of people in this system with that skill level?"

A smile appears on Urkenim's face. He seems amused by the question. "If you're asking me how many people are there on a planet with three billion people that can hack a presumably unhackable system, well, your guess is better than mine. I haven't a clue."

Darrurz asks, "Presumably then you believe it to be a normal system drone then? And you are accesssssing its data feeed prior to its instructionnns to disable our ship?"

"Central command monitors the telemetry coming from the recon probes," Urkenim replies, "All decisions come from there. If centcom orders a drone to attack, it will alert all naval ships in the area. We received no such communication, and we were the closest vessel to you."

Darrurz smells the air to identify any scent coming from Lt. Urkenim. However, Darrurz is unable to discern anything obvious coming from the man. He is certainly not afraid. The human is calm, thus leading Darrurz to believe that the human is either telling the truth or a master liar.

"What info dooo youuu have at present?"

"Not much. All we have is your distress call and a recon probe buried in your hull."

"Seems I've been saying this alot lately," Vlad says, "But, now what?"

Urkenim replies, "We're going to monitor the rescue of your ship. Once that's done, we'll head back to base. Your ship will be towed to the shipyard where the investigation team will try to determine why this happened. You'll be remanded into protective custody as persons-of-interest for this investigation."

Darrurz asks, "When yooou saaaay 'protective custody,' will you be locking us up, or just posting a guard?"

"You'll be confined to the Witness Protection Area. Yes, there will be guards posted outside of your rooms and you won't be allowed to leave them. I assure you, the accommodations are far better than if we were to arrest you."

Gvarokh leaps into the conversation. "And, trust me, I fully believe you. Just to be clear, we won't be able to leave our rooms, or the Protection Area? Also, if we can't leave our rooms, will we be able to communicate freely with each other?"

"Yes. I don't know the specifics of your accommodations at this time, all of this just happened after all, but I suspect that you'll have adjoining rooms and be able to move freely from one to the other. If that doesn't happen, you'll at least have video conferencing between them."

Fishing For Spaceships

Characters: All
NPC: Chuck, Simrii & Lt. Urkenim
Location: RZSN Zasheshudnam
System: Maran

1126.2.7 - 06:55 Imperial Time, 6:55 Vilani Time

As Miishakaal slowly tumbles towards Meliva, a retrieval net has maneuvered into position to capture her. Miisha tumbles into the net, looking like a perch hoisted out of the water. She tugs at the net which gives but nonetheless slows her down. Her velocity nullified she lays still.

A collective sigh of relief is heard through the room.

The retrieval net backs away as a tug boat maneuvers in to escort Miisha to the shipyard.

Lt. Urkenim smiles without showing any teeth and shuts off the monitors. "We'll be returning to base now. If you need anything, just hit the comm button and say, 'Lieutenant Urkenim', and I'll answer."

He departs.

Gvarokh does his best to keep the crew calm, "Remember. We did nothing wrong here. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. We have kept our noses clean since emigrating to the Vilani. This is not how their sensor drones are supposed to work, so they will obviously be very skeptical of us initially. This is to be expected. However, the truth will come out, Miisha will be repaired, and we will be able to continue on our way.

"The most important thing is to be patient. It will take a while for the investigation to complete. We will be questioned. Again, they will likely not want to believe us at first. But they will. The whole thing will take time. We must be patient in the face of that."

The crew nod their heads in agreement.

07:35 Imperial Time, 7:35 Vilani Time

Zasheshudnam has returned to the naval base. Lt. Urkenim and a Marine escort return to the room. "Gentlemen, if you'll follow me, we'll escort you to the Witness Protection Area."

You're led off of the ship, through a docking arm, and into the facility. Through the windows you can see that you're underground. It could be a hollowed out asteroid or moon. You don't know. The space you're in soon turns into a maze of corridors. The group splits in two and heads down an elevator. You note that you descend to Level 20 where you are reunited with your compatriots.

A corridor extends in either direction. Urkenim leads you to the right past a sentry post with two combat armored guards. Another guard inside looks up from what he's doing, sees Urkenim and nods. He watches you go by but his facial expression is inscrutable.

You're led into two adjoining 36 square meter (400 sq ft) rooms. There are four bunks, a small round table with four chairs, and a couch in each wall-to-wall carpeted room. There are windows set in the wall along the corridors. A small bathroom with a shower is in the back of each room.

Urkenim demonstrates how to use the room's controls, including temperature, lighting, a simple snack food and (non-alcoholic) beverage dispenser, and video controls for watching any of the newsfeeds, entertainment channels, and the InfoNet. "Please make yourself comfortable, gentlemen. This will be your home for the next few drandirs."

Chuck asks, "Is this it for food?"

"No. Meals will be provided." He turns to address the vargr in the group. "And they will certainly provide appropriate meals based on species. Any other questions before I return to my ship?"

"What happens next?" Chuck asks.

"Your legal representative..."

"Legal representative?"

Urkenim holds up a hand to indicate he isn't finished. "It's a formality for right now. Unless you have local representation, an attorney from the base staff will be by shortly to handle your case. Right now, your legal status is 'witness.' Should that change, it's best to have counsel available from the very beginning to make sure your rights aren't violated."

He turns to Chuck, "Anything else before I go?"

"Nope, I'm good for now," Chuck replies.

Gvarokh shakes his head and heads over to the wall which is showing a video of a beach, complete with waves gently breaking on the shore. He accesses the screen menu and is able to cordon off a portion of the wall to supply him with access to the InfoNet. He selects the TNS logo to see if they made the news.

Darrurz does likewise with his own section of the wall.

"In that case, I'll be off," Urkenim says, "Good luck, gentlemen."

Once he's out the door, Slade says, "So how does a harmless merchant go from losing a bid on some fish to hacking a drone to destroy a tradeship? Does anybody remember that guy's name? Mr. 'This isn't over'? Can we look that fucker up on the net from here? A judge got involved, I remember that. Wonder if he has any relatives in system defense."

Gvarokh stops what he's doing and turns around. He looks somewhat startled for a moment, then says, "That was in this system!? Let's find out." Gvarokh pushes his current research to the side and starts looking for 'Ali Kergida' and 'Murgimdingur Shugilii Enterprises'.

Next: Protective Custody