The Lovestruck Rock

Characters: Darrurz, Lakir and Vincent
NPC: Chuck
Location: The Lovestruck Rock
System: Gamgilebo

1126.6.2 - 9:00 Imperial Time, 9:00 Vilani Time

The Site One starport is housed in a separate, smaller dome from the rest of the city. Physically, it resembles most other B class facilities the group has encountered in their travels through Imperial space. Humans in baggy coveralls and natty business suits pass each other by. Vargr ship crews and troops stand in small knots, conversing in their local dialect. The most glaring difference is the presence of vargr in positions of authority. For the humans, this is unusual. For Darrurz, it feels more like home.

The gravity feels a little light. A quick check at Lakir's SuperPDA reveals that Site One's grav plating is cycled down 20%. No explanation is given.

There are no windows to the front entrance of The Lovestruck Rock. In fact, it's just rock face with a door in the middle. The door itself is tremendously thick and made of crystaliron. An official looking sign designates the place as a shelter "in case of dome breach."

The group walks in through an airlock (only to be used in emergencies) and past another crystaliron door. There are large windows in the back, offering a view of the asteroid and the system's distant suns. The place is dimly lit and noisy. It's crowded, with a mix of vargr and humans. Another than the random glances that people make when someone enters a room, no one pays the group any notice.

A scan of the bar reveals a figure that resembles Khaash Kharlimini. The group approaches the bar, ready with pass phrases.

"What can I get you guys," he asks.

"What've you got for beer?" Chuck asks.

"Imperial ale."

"That's it?"

"Yeah. Most people drink the locally made hooch. Maybe once regular trade patters set up, we'll get something."

Chuck looks around at the crowd. He sees some people drinking beer, so it's not totally unexpected. "Ok, then a round for the four of us."

While the bartender pours up the beer, Chuck says to the group, "No one has to drink it. We just have to blend in."

The bartender returns with the beer and Lakir says to him, "Shugili beef jerky tastes best with Terran sea salt."

He replies with, "I hear it's nearly rectum free these days." This is the proper reply. He goes on to say, "Wow, I thought that I'd never see anyone from the company again. What's the word?"

Lakir checks around first, for dregs in earshot, then, when clear, "Fuckin' rectum, damn near killed him."

Chuck almost spews his beer.

"You're lucky to have lasted this long, the way those dick smacks in Company have blown this line like a toothless whore on welfare payday."

Chuck is better prepared this time.

Lakir turns serious. "We need info and this ain't the place to talk about it, so when are you outta this shit hole and can talk clear?"

Khaash chuckles at Lakir's comments but he counters the derogatory one about the bar. "The Rock's not a shithole. It's the reason why I'm alive and it's the safest place to talk. Once people leave here, they have to worry about being followed. And any group of humans that gather together attracts attention. This place," he gestures to the expanse of the bar, "is a haven."

He leans in. "You see, the corsairs conduct a lot of their business in here and they don't want the government to muscle in on their operations. While both groups work with each other, they don't want the other to steal their kill."

Darrurz understands and nods.

Khaash continues, "I don't know how or when it went down, but the Rock is corsair turf. The government won't intrude upon it except in retaliation. And the corsairs don't mess with anyone in here. Well, not in the bar anyway. Outside, that's another story. But I'm safe. I work here. If anyone messes with me, they're messing with them."

"Do they know you work for the Company?" Chuck asks.

"I don't know," Khaash replies. "If they do, then they must think I'm not a threat to them. If they don't," he shrugs, "well, it's too noisy in here for them to hear us anyway. Hide in plain sight and you boys certainly blend in." He nods to a vargr down a ways at the bar. "I'll be back. Can't neglect my customers."

The group watches him pour up some drinks for the vargr. He doesn't talk much to him except tell him how much he owes then he returns to the group.

"So, have you got some news for me or are you here looking for intel?"

Lakir hesitates so Chuck replies, "Intel. We're here to find out what happened to the Qa Livk and the Fitzgerald."

Khaash drops his head for a couple of seconds. He raises it back up to reply. "I didn't meet the Qa Livk's crew when they got here. It was shortly after the vargr had taken over and no one really knew what the hell was going on. A missing ship report was filed by some company reps. The vargr searched the area along their flight path but didn't find any trace of her. A few weeks later the company reps left. They let me know via text message that they were leaving and I'd be on my own for a while. Rat bastards.

"Then the Fitzgerald shows up. They don't stop in right away but drop me a line letting me know they're here. Three days later, the captain shows up here. He tells me that they've got evidence that the Qa Livk wasn't destroyed but moved out of the system. He doesn't tell me his source though. I guess he was afraid that I'd try to cut in on the company reward." Khaash shakes his head. "Dumb ass. I could've checked out his source." He pauses. "Then he tells me that they're going to retrace the Qa Livk's route."

"What route was that?" Chuck asks.

"Well, the Qa Livk was headed from here to Site Two, then on to Site Three and eventually to Getes, the gas giant that they came to study. They disappeared between Site Two and Three. The Fitzpatrick never even made it to Site Two.

"Both flight plans were on file with the starport. A routine traffic check determined that the Fitzgerald was overdue. Radio hails and transponder sweeps came up empty so they mounted a search. No trace of her was found either so people start freakin' out. The new government beefed up security patrols and ran safety courses. They urge everyone to file an insystem flight plan, keep their transponder on and radio for help at the first sign of trouble.

"It worked. Some Khalidurton Seeker got attacked by a pirate while responding to an emergency beacon. A frigate came to their rescue but the attacker jumped away. There haven't been any reports since then but it's not like the news media here is anything other than a propaganda arm for the government."

"Have you heard of any other ships disappearing?" Chuck asks.

"Just rumors. Nothing substantiated. I try not to ask questions, if you catch my drift," he nods towards the crowd in the bar. Another customer catches his eye. "Be right back."

When he returns, Darrurz asks, "How have Khalidurton been operating in system? I see they've got the in system freight contract sown up."

"Pretty much the same as they do everywhere else. They swoop in and take over a part of the services market and grow from there using whatever kind of leverage they've got."

Chuck asks, on Vlad's behalf, "One of my crewmates is asking me to ask you, do you know if the crew of the Fitzpatrick had done anything especially stupid to either advertise their presence here or ruffle anyone's, uh, fur?"

Khaash shrugs. "No clue. I only had the one meeting with the captain and he didn't do anything to give himself away while he was here."

"I'm getting a follow up question from my captain," Chucks says, "Both ships were direct and open with their missions in-system. The captain doesn't want to be open. However, doing that requires in-system snooping. Can we get away with that? Will the government care? Also, would subbing for Khalidurton raise alarms?"

"Subbing for Khalidurton would make for a good cover. The government isn't too keen on anyone snooping around."

Lakir jumps in with his questions. "Any history on that Seeker that got away?"

"A company ship. That's all I know."

"Any ideas on where the Fitz mighta' picked up that lead? Intrasystem flight plan info or anything?"

"Like I said, the captain didn't tell me. He might've asked the starport, but that information is not for the public. He would've had to filed a request form or something citing special circumstances."

"Any chance they just hacked the starport mainframe?" Vincent asks.

"Sure. It's possible."

Lakir resumes his questioning. "Is there a routine traffic pattern, between Site 2 and 3, or any combination thereof, or patterns that involve Getes; refueling ops, that sorta thing?"

"Sure. Well, that's what I hear from the traders anyway. Of course, the rocks have their own orbit through the belt so the lanes change their shape.

"Each of the settlements in the system have fuel, but Site 1 is the only one that has refined and starship facilities. It's more of a supply route thing. Stuff comes in to Site 1 and it's disbursed from there. Miners stop in at each of the sites to re-supply, unload rock."

"With no hard info on other ships being hit, almost sounds like they were targeted, either for what they were, or where the were."

"I don't know. The way that the government keeps a clamp down on info... It's only when a rumor snowballs or someone shows some video that we know anything happens." He smiles devilishly, "I wish some bureaucrat would start hanging out here so I could get 'em drunk and pump 'em for info."

"So, if the bureaucrats don't hang here, what do they do for entertainment? Can't be what you'd call a low stress job description these days?"

Khaash gestures over his right shoulder. "There's a plenty big enough city for them to make use of. Over eight million people live here. They certainly don't all hang out here."

"They must have some favorite haunts, maybe someplace a respectable merchant Captain would fit in?"

Khaash replies, "I don't know. Keeping tabs on bureaucrats was never my job."

"Well, where do the legit peons that ship for Khalidurton like to spread their corporate wealth around? Might be worthwhile seein' if we can get some info from the resident trash haulers."

"I think they hang at a place called 'Hot Tuna.' Don't know for sure though. Never been there."

"The local human starport swampers were lookin' pretty stressed as well. They hang out here much?"

"No chance. They hate having to take care of corsairs. They blame them for driving away all of the legit merchants. They all had their friends and contacts driven away by these guys and now they're forced to help them. Nah, they steer clear of this place."

"Any ideas as to where they like to hang?"

"No, I don't. Well, nothing specific. Most of them live three levels down. There's plenty of bars down there. I would think that they'd hang down there just to be as far from here as possible."

When Lakir is through, Darrurz asks, "We can't promise anything, as you might expect, but is there anything we can do for you?"

Khaash thinks about this for a bit. "If you'd asked me that several months ago, I'd woulda begged you to take me with you. But things have settled down and I no longer fear for my safety." With a smile, he adds, "It'd be nice to get paid by the company again. But in all seriousness, unless things take a turn for the worse, I'm willing to stay put."

Another customer flags him down. "Be right back."

"So whaddya think, Cap'n?" Lakir asks. "Do ya think the Hot Tuna is worth a visit?"

"Yes I do," Gvarokh replies.

"Does anyone know the typical crew mix for Khalidurton ships? Darrurz might raise eyebrows, if they don't run mixed crews, if we all head into that hangout."

Darrurz throws his head back with a hearty Vargr laugh. It isn't something the crew sees him do much of. There's an obvious question of "What's so funny?" written on everyone's faces. He explains, "Khalidurton is a vargr company. They employ humans though, probably about 20%."

Lakir replies, "Strange. I thought it was a Solomani offshoot of an old Terran company, infamous for cashing in on strategic 'national' opportunities. Guess the Vargr hijack more than just ships, around these parts." He flashes a toothy grin at Darrurz. "Shoulda done my homework before we left the ship."

Darrurz takes it well and jabs back. "You pinkies think that you invented everything. We vargr are quite capable of creating our own r-r-ruthless corporations who take advantage of nationalism to fatten their bellies."

Khaash returns and notices that the guys have finished their beer. "You guys need another round?"

Chuck replies, "Sorry, amigo. We've got some more investigating to do."

"Ok, then, " Khaash replies. "If you come up with something or need any help, don't hesitate to stop by."

The group settles their tab and leaves a generous tip. They then depart for Hot Tuna.

Hot Tuna

Characters: Darrurz, Lakir and Vincent
NPC: Chuck
Location: Hot Tuna
System: Gamgilebo

1126.6.2 - 10:00 Imperial Time, 10:00 Vilani Time

The group leaves The Lovestruck Rock and makes their way out of the starport. They enter the Site 1 dome through the connector hatch, a large doorway wide enough to handle two way vehicle traffic.

Once they enter the big plasteel dome covering the city, they get a sense of how big Site One is. Multi-story office buildings, bulky processing facilities and the like face each other across wide, paved streets.

Ground cars and cargo trucks jam the streets while a scattering of air/rafts and even the odd G-carrier maneuver above the fray. Humans in baggy coveralls and natty business suits jostle each other as they negotiate the crowded sidewalks. Vargr ship crews and troops stand in small knots, conversing in their native tongue.

Everywhere they look is the noise and chaos one normally associates with a larger city on a world farther from the frontier.

A search for a place named 'Hot Tuna' is successful. It's on the top level, only seven blocks from the starport so they decide to walk.

The walk is uneventful. No one pays them any mind as they blend in with the crowd.

They find the bar easily enough. There's a large LED screen with some computer generated fish dancing among flames.

A tall, burly man guards the entrance. He wears an ear piece comm and has a pistol on his hip. He looks the group over, then says, "Five credit cover." Begrudgingly, they pay the cover and go inside.

The place is dimly lit but bright enough to see by. The decor is shiny metallic fish playing about a bright aquamarine backdrop.

It's crowded but there are places to sit: tables, booths, at the bar. It's an 80/20 mix of vargr to humans with the wait staff being primarily human. A lot of pairs of eyes turn to observe them.

Chuck steers the group towards the bar in hopes of chatting up the bartender.

"What'll it be, guys?" the bartender asks. He's dressed in a white shirt with a black vest. He's clean cut, but carrying a paunch. He could be in his late 40's if he's Solomani.

"Beer?" Chuck asks.

"Coming right up."

He returns with some Imperial Ale. Although that's what they drank over at the Lovestruck Rock, this batch tastes worse. It feels a bit old and stale on the tongue.

"I didn't think it could get worse," Chuck remarks as he pays for the round.

Before the bartender can wander off, Lakir grabs his attention. "Any regulars shippin' fo' Khalidurton hangin' around? I heard some O' them had a close call awhile back with some corsairs, but not much else. We might be haulin' that way, and would appreciate a bit O' face ta' face with them, if they're hangin' about."

The bartender smiles. "Well, you've come to the right place. Most of our customers are Khalidurton personnel." He leans in and puts his elbows on the bar and says in a conspiratorial whisper, "Only they're not too keen on people sniffing around their business."

Lakir replies, "Yeah, well I'd rather talk to them here, instead a' on some efreq while their air bleeds out of some gutted ship, cause they couldn't be bothered ta play nice with crews working the same shitty deal, and spread a bit of common info about what's goin' down in this shithole of a system."

The bartender throws up his hands defensively, "Ok, ok. Don't say I didn't warn you." He then moves on to assist someone at the other end of the bar.

Lakir turns to address Darrurz, "Well Darrurz, any ideas? This gig ain't workin so shit hot for me. 'Sides, most these folks seem to be more your type." He adds a toothy grin at the end.

"I'll try talking with one of the customers," Darrurz says gruffly. "Wait here."

Chuck, Vincent and Lakir wait at the bar, watching Darrurz as he approaches and talks with one of Hot Tuna's patrons.

Darrurz walks over to the vargr at the end of the bar. The two have a short conversation. When it concludes the two shake paws and Darrurz returns to the group at the bar.

"Therre'ss nothinnng being said to loaners herrre unless weee sign up with Khalidurton," Darrurz says. "Time to go."

The subject doesn't appear to be open to debate as Darrurz starts heading for the exit. Chuck follows suit and, with a shrug, so do Vincent and Lakir.

From Hot Tuna to Miishakaal

Characters: Darrurz, Lakir and Vincent
NPC: Chuck
Location: Site 1 (city)
System: Gamgilebo

1126.6.2 - 11:15 Imperial Time, 11:15 Vilani Time

On the way back to the ship, Darrurz detects a very old scent. Primal, if you will. It's a mix of excitement and aggression, most associated with adolescent vargr on their first few hunts, at least until they become older and calmer and learn to steel themselves so as to not let prey detect them. It's hard for Darrurz to pinpoint the source as the walk back is crowded and the HVAC systems are constantly mixing the air around, diluting the scent. Maybe his senses are overly heightened after the reception at the Hot Tuna, but maybe he's right and someone is stalking the group on the way back to the ship.

Chuck notices that something has caught the attention of Darrurz's nose. "So, it's not just me." He says it loud enough so that only Darrurz can hear him.

"What? You can smell that?" Darrurz asks.

"I don't smell anything except that special blend of millions of people living in a dome. No, every time I look around I see people looking at us funny. Sometimes it looks like the same people. I think we're being followed, but I thought I was just being paranoid."

Darrurz glances back at Vincent and Lakir. Neither one appear to have noticed anything unusual. He slows down and taps Lakir on the shoulder. While pointing out some minor interesting building/architectural feature and describing it with his paws, he says to Lakir quietly, "I smell a hunt and Chuck thinks we are being followed."

Chuck does a similar ploy with Vincent.

Lakir replies, "Fuck, I must be gettin' old." He shakes his head and sighs. "We don't wanna start a fire fight in the middle of the street and we're too virgin to this shithole to split and run, so lets stay tight, and keep movin. We get jumped, don't light anybody up. We take 'em hand to paw, and see how it breaks. Any idea of the numbers and the mix? Must be some Vargr, with a human element, if Chuck twigged to it as well."

Darrurz doesn't know how many. The HVAC fans are mixing the scents.

Chuck thinks it's two: but both vargr. "I've been around vargr enough to tell some of them apart."

The group makes it back to the Vacc Suit Check Room outside of the airlock. In the process of pretending not to know they're being followed, they reclaim their vacc suits and put them on.

Chuck says, "Yep. Two of them. They're just waiting down the hall from here, back where the crowd is dense enough." The crowd density is too thin here to blend in.

"Yep. I see them." Lakir says.

Vincent doesn't look for them so as to not give it away that the group knows they're being pursued. "What do you guys think?" he asks. "Since they are outnumbered two to one we might be able to take them both. But we have to take them both, one and not the other does us no good. We can always wait a while and try to set a trap to get them. One thing we can't do is try and not get them both. That would be bad."

Darrurz barks, "I've got this." He turns around sharply and starts walking straight towards the two stalkers, laughing in a jovial Vargr manner, not quite mocking them, but enough that they get the point. In Gvegh he says to the one with the highest charisma, "You'll have to do better than that! Even our pinky cook saw you coming." He laughs some more before continuing, "Now what is it that you want to know? I'm sure your packmates could put your time to better use, than have you fumbling around trying to follow us!"

He stands squarely in front of the one with the highest charisma in a position that gives Lakir and Vincent clear shots on both Vargr, with his head tilted to the left, and his ears up waiting expectantly for an answer. He smells the air and smiles jovially, but with enough teeth that it can be seen as a challenge, but not so close that he's being stupid about it.

Vincent doesn't understand a word but Lakir and Chuck know enough to get the gist of what Darrurz is saying.

Both vargr are surprised to be confronted by Darrurz. The higher charisma one regains his composure after a few seconds and replies in Gvegh, "I can't believe the pack thinks you and your pinkies are Touzagh spies! You're nothing! Go on and try to make a supply run. There's not enough meat on your bones for the Touzagh to gnaw on!" He pats his buddy on the arm and says, "Let's go."

They walk away, frequently looking over their shoulders to make sure you don't follow.

Darrurz stands there watching them leave laughing in a jovial manner with a hint of mockery. When they are a fair way away, enough that they have mingled with the crowd, he stops laughing and abruptly turns around and joins the others. He says in Galanglic, "Khalidurton, checking we aren't Touzagh spies." Chuck nods. "Makes sense."

The group then continues on their way back to the ship without incident.

Next: Checking Out Employment Opportunities