Arrival at Zannokh

Characters: All
NPC: Kagfak, Major Elloekothe, Egz Aerugurzae, Uengghae, Major Arsashaammu
Location: Pack of Daggers
System: Zannokh

1126.39.5 - 02:00 Imperial Time, 10:00 Vilani Time

In attempt to avoid suspicion, Gvarokh has decided to take a slightly different route to Daama. Rather than go to Ronni and risk someone looking them up and doing the math, Gvarokh has chosen to go to the sparsely populated (900+ people), and little patrolled, Zannokh (Vland 1802).

While the world served as the launching point for the Gemid invasion, that mission's success has rendered this world's importance to minimal. Zannokh is surrounded by more interesting worlds (Newcastle, Gemid, Ronni) and thus serves as a refueling station for those ships unable to skip over it on their way to more important worlds. There are no gas giants; local fuel comes from ice tugs working in the outer reaches of the system.

But Gvarokh decides to skip the starport and opt for ocean refueling. And while the fuel is purifying, he wants to strip the paint job. Slade is unhappy about this decision as it taxes the fuel purification plant, but he can spend the week during the next jump cleaning it.

The planet's geography is unusual. There is but one land mass, and 90% of it lies in the northern hemisphere. Mountains primarily run around the equator with a few chains extending north to mid-latitude. The starport, sole settlement, and Confederation outpost lie at the northernmost reach of a bay. During the decel burn, Gvarokh spots an island near the coast that's roughly at the antipode of the starport and gives the order to put the ship down in that vicinity.

04:30 Imperial Time, 12:30 Vilani Time, 21:04 Local Time (26 hour, 57 minute day)

Pack of Daggers either isn't detected or just plain ignored during its descent and has now landed on the south side (facing away from the mainland, though it's uninhabited) of the island as close to ocean as is feasibly possible. Zannokh has no moons, so tidal action is a non-factor.

It's near dusk, hot (32°C, 89.6°F), and the air is thin (51% of standard) and clear. The ship's exterior floodlights are turned on so that people can see while they work.

Slade grabs Vincent and Chuck to assist him with the refueling: dragging a hose down to the ocean, connecting it to the pump, monitoring the purification plant readings, occasionally clearing debris from the sieve from the mouth of the hose, flushing out the effluent waste from the plant.

The rest of the crew is put to work removing the temporary paint job.

11:30 Imperial Time, 19:30 Vilani Time, 00:07 Local Time

With the thin atmosphere unable to retain its heat, temperatures have plummeted: 11°C, 51.8°F. Fortunately, the "all hands on deck" approach to stripping the paint has paid off and the crew is done. The refueling process is 80% done.

12:45 Imperial Time, 20:45 Vilani Time, 01:22 Local Time

Input pressure on the fuel hose has dropped off. It's clogged. Clouds have rolled in, but the temperature has continued to drop (7.2°C, 45°F). Since he's going to have to wade in up to his waist to reach the end of the hose, Chuck opts to put on his combat armor to stay warm-—the ship doesn't have dry suits or SCUBA gear.

Dougok volunteers to go. "Someone needs to watch my packmate's tail."

Gvarokh tells Uengghae to join them and take the air/raft. "Be sure to put a safety cable on Chuck to make sure we get him back no matter what. And since we have no idea about the lifeforms here, I want everyone in combat armor and armed. I'll monitor your progress from the ship."

"Crap," Chuck mutters. "I'd forgotten all about beasties." He shakes his head. "Been out of the service too long."

After Chuck attaches a simple winch to the pedestal mount on the air/raft, the trio get their armor and gear. Armor and air/raft lights are on as Uengghae drives the air/raft down to the length of the intake hose and Dougok helps attach Chuck to the safety line. Chuck then goes over the side, finds the hose, and walks along its length to the end. Dougok lets the rope play out two meters to give Chuck some space from the raft.

Once he finds the end of the hose, Chuck signals to Vincent to shut off the pump. He lifts the hose—it's half a meter in diameter—and brings it to the surface to inspect it. Most of the debris has fallen off with the termination of the suction, but not all of it. Caught in the sieve is some fibrous seaweed and a small (25 cm) creature dining on it. The creature looks vaguely amphibian: four legs with webbed toes and a large tail equal to the length of its body. Small, saw-like teeth for tearing through the seaweed.

"Awww. Poor little fella got his leg caught while eating—"

Suddenly, a much larger version of the creature leaps out of the water and tackles Chuck. He loses his grip on the hose and the two of them disappear beneath the water.

Dougok and Uengghae spring to action. Dougok grabs his ACR and scans the water trying to get a clear shot at the creature. But with poor illumination and the struggle being underwater, it's difficult. Meanwhile, Uengghae puts a lock on the winch to keep Chuck from getting dragged away.

Gvarokh is pleased to see the two of them react so fast. "Do you see him? Do you have a clear shot?"

"Hard to tell who's who," Dougok says, keeping his eyes on the struggle.

Gvarokh says over the internal comm, "Man down. Elloe, Simrii, Vlad, and Kagfak, suit up and see if you can help out.

Uengghae barks over the comm, then dives into the water. From Dougok's perspective, all that does is make things more chaotic. Twenty seconds go by and then Uengghae emerges from the water. He reaches down and pulls up Chuck, apparently unscathed.

"Thanks, buddy," he says between pants to Uengghae. "That sucker was heavy. Never would've gotten her off me if it wasn't for you."

"Anything for packmate." He pauses for breath. "Besides, armor kept my fur dry."

This gets a chuckle out of Chuck. "Yeah, good thing for that."

"Good thing you have armor on, too. Kept you from drowning."

"Yeah it did!"

"How you know it female?"

"Just a guess. That was probably its pup stuck on the hose sieve. Momma probably thought I was gonna eat the little thing."

Gvarokh asks, "You ok, Chuck?"

"I'm fine, Captain. Just a little winded." He walks over to the hose and lifts it. "The critter is gone. Safe to fire it up again, Vincent." He drops the hose back into the water. "If that happens again, someone else can go clean it."

Uengghae laughs.

Chuck is about to wade into shore when the rope goes taut. Uengghae unhitches him, then Dougok helps Uengghae back into the air/raft.

Gvarokh tells the rest of the crew, who hadn't made much progress getting dressed anyway, that they can stand down.

Vincent fires up the pump, and everything seems back to normal.

14:00 Imperial Time, 22:00 Vilani Time, 02:37 Local Time

Refueling is completed. While the purification runs through one last cycle, the hose is reeled in—from shore—and stowed away.

14:15 Imperial Time, 22:15 Vilani Time, 02:52 Local Time

Slade gives the all clear on fuel, and Gvarokh gives the order to depart.

16:20 Imperial Time, 24:20 Vilani Time

Pack of Daggers reaches safe jump distance without any interference and then jumps.

Incident During Jump

Character: Gvarokh
NPC: Major Elloekothe, Egz Aerugurzae, Major Arsashaammu, Chuck
Location: Pack of Daggers
System: Jumpspace between Zannokh and Daama

1126.39.6 - 01:00 Imperial Time, 01:00 Vilani Time

Gvarokh and Elloekothe are sharing a meal in crew lounge when they hear Chuck shout, "What the hell?"

"This doesn't concern you," is the reply. The voice is unfamiliar at first, but its very unfamiliarity is its giveaway: Egz.

Gvarokh and Elloekothe leap to their paws and race out of the crew lounge and down the short hall to sickbay. The door is open. Inside, they can see Chuck pummeling Egz, who's on the floor, naked. Leaning against the wall, clearly shaken, with a scratch on her face and a ripped t-shirt is Irma. She seems to be fumbling with her pants, which are ripped in places.

Elloekothe growls, but doesn't take action. She merely says, "We need him alive, Chuck."

Chuck stops mid-punch.

Gvarokh looks over to Irma with sincere concern. He's about to say something but then realizes he's not the right person to say it right now. Instead, he sub-vocalizes to get Elloe's attention. Once he does, he gives a nod in Irma's direction. She crosses the room and puts an arm around Irma and guides her into the back of sickbay and activates the privacy screen.

Gvarokh places a paw on Chuck's shoulder. He stands and backs up a step. Egz is on the floor breathing heavily. His right eye is already starting to swell. There's blood trickling from his nose, mouth, and abrasions on his face.

Gvarokh says, "Get dressed. Now."

Egz replies, "Captain, if you'll let me—"

"Shut up. I don't care."

Egz gathers up his clothes, his tail between his legs, and begins to get dressed.

To Chuck, Gvarokh says with a predatory grin, "Please help me take our guest upstairs. He gets a new room for the rest of the trip."

Chuck continues to glare at Egz. His breathing is slowly returning to normal. "With pleasure, sir."

As soon as Egz is dressed, Chuck grabs him by the scruff of the neck and yanks him out of the room.

Perp Walk

Characters: Gvarokh, Vincent, Slade, Simrii, Dougok, Lakir
NPC: Chuck, Egz Aerugurzae
Location: Pack of Daggers middle deck
System: Jumpspace between Zannokh and Daama

1126.39.6 - 01:15 Imperial Time, 01:15 Vilani Time

Simrii is in the crew lounge sipping his coffee while Dougok is preparing his. Both are just waking up after sleeping off a very long and stressful day on Zannokh. They hear a commotion in the corridor outside and move to the door to investigate.

Vincent and Slade are on their way to the crew lounge from their respective staterooms. Slade is discussing the day's work plan for stripping the fuel purification plant and stops mid-sentence—and mid-stride—when he spots Egz getting shoved out of sickbay into the wall on the far side. Chuck is immediately on him. He grabs Egz by the scruff of the neck and leads him down the corridor. Gvarokh follows closely behind, a scowl of anger visible from light years away.

Loud enough for all to hear, Chuck answers the question before anyone can ask it. "He attacked Irma."

Egz's face is bloodied, his right eye swelling closed.

Dougok asks, "Is she ok? I'll go peek in on her, see if she needs help."

Gvarokh stops and snaps, "No. That would be a very bad idea. She's already getting the help she needs from Elloekothe, and a male sticking his head in right now will definitely not help. Particularly, a vargr male."

Gvarokh hopes that Dougok realizes that the harshness of his reply and anger in his voice is because of Egz, not Dougok, but he's too distracted to worry about it right now and resumes his march behind Chuck.

Slade and Vincent make their way into the galley after the corridor is clear. While Slade heads to the coffee maker, Vincent finds a bag of microwaveable popcorn and puts it in the microwave.

Dougok watches them go, ears flattened against his head. A moment later, he decides to follow them.

Upon reaching the staircase iris valve, Chuck pauses while Gvarokh hits the open button. Once it's open, Chuck guides Egz through. Gvarokh follows, and the trio make their way up the stairs to the top deck.

Lakir is exercising, jogging up and down the stairs. He pauses his routine and watches the procession, making note of the anger etched into Gvarokh's and Chuck's faces.

Chuck says, "He attacked Irma," as he passes Lakir and completes his march up to the top deck and into the Bridge.

Lakir shakes his head, cancels his exercise, and heads to the galley.

On Ice

Characters: Gvarokh, Vincent, Dougok
NPC: Chuck, Egz Aerugurzae
Location: Pack of Daggers upper deck
System: Jumpspace between Zannokh and Daama

1126.39.6 - 01:25 Imperial Time, 01:25 Vilani Time

Chuck marches Egz to the upper deck. He goes straight from the bridge to the low berth room. Gvarokh is right behind them.

Once inside the room, Chuck shoves Egz against the far wall and then starts prepping one of the low berths for him.

Chuck asks Gvarokh, "Do you want me to activate the medical treatment cycle?"

Gvarokh ponders the question a moment, then says, "Do it."

"Captain, this isn't necessary," Egz implores. "Can't we discuss this?"

About this time, Vincent and Dougok arrive and stand in the entranceway. Vincent has a bag of popcorn, and the aroma is tickling Dougok's nose. Upon noticing his intrigued nose bobbing around and subsequent salivating, Vincent shares his popcorn with Dougok. He takes it with a grateful nod.

Gvarokh says, "You have 60 seconds after I give you the go ahead to explain why I didn't see what I thought I saw. Before you start, do note that such an explanation has to not make me, and the guy who you need to not screw up, even angrier." He then jabs his thumb at the two in the doorway and continues, "It also has to not make them laugh, as that will make the two of us," indicating Chuck and himself, "angrier."

After a pregnant pause to let all of that sink in, Gvarokh says, "Go."

Egz's ears are down, his tail between his legs. He swallows hard, the pleading look in his eyes still there, then begins. "I thought that the reason why Soks hired you to rescue me was that you and your crew were part of our faith. I had reason to hope as during my escape as I had a brief, but friendly, chat with Vincent, and he gave me no reason to think otherwise. At the very least, seeing a mixed race crew with a charismatic vargr in charge, I thought that you were former Touzagh and that it would be ok if I...I did ask her if she was already mated to someone on the ship. She said, 'No,' so I..." His jaw trembles a bit. As his desperation has grown, so has the volume of his voice. "You have to understand that I've been imprisoned for a very long time, and this sudden release from captivity has opened up a whole flood of emotions—"

Dougok's ears fold back, and he growls.

"Berth is ready when you are, Captain," Chuck announces tersely, his focus squarely on the berth's control panel.

Gvarokh thinks for a moment, trying to figure out what the correct thing to say. Ultimately, he decides to keep it short.

"Weak answer. You tried to justify what I saw, not explain how I misunderstood. I don't care how long you have been hard up. There is no excuse for rape. And assaulting one of my crew members makes it infinitely worse. We will wake you up when it is time to deliver you."

Chuck and Gvarokh each grab one of Egz's arms and forcibly lead him into the low berth. Egz mutters, "No," in weak protest.

"It's best if you don't struggle or move around a lot," Chuck says with obvious insincere concern. "Doing so only complicates the initiation sequence, and if you want to live, you don't want complications."

That does the trick. Egz lies still.

Gvarokh steps back and says, "Whenever you're ready, Chuck."

Chuck activates the cryo sequence. The lid closes on Egz, his expression one of resignation.

A few minutes later Chuck announces, "Cryo successful."

Elloekothe Tell All

Characters: Gvarokh
NPC: Elloekothe
Location: Pack of Daggers captain's quarters
System: Jumpspace between Zannokh and Daama

1126.39.6 - 03:40 Imperial Time, 03:40 Vilani Time

After taking some time making sure Chuck was going to be ok, Gvarokh made an effort to back off his own anger. But he held on to his resolve. Rather than barge in on Elloekothe while she was seeing to Irma, he sent a text for her to come see him when Irma was ok to be left alone. A couple of hours had passed, and now she was in his quarters, standing, arms folded across her chest.

"How is she?"

With a certain professional detachment, she replies, "All things considered, she's ok. Between her struggles and Chuck's arrival, Egz's attack was still in its initial stage. As horrible as it was, the psychological damage could've been worse."

Gvarokh says, "I have no experience dealing with that type of trauma. I am going to have to heavily rely on your input for anything Irma might need. I'll do whatever's needed; I just don't know what that is.

"Also, if you haven't noticed, Chuck can be overly chivalrous. Please let me know if I need to reign him in. He's got a good heart and a pretty good head, but a 'damsel in distress' might be too much."

She tilts her head to the side, thinking about what Gvarokh said. "Ahh, took me a moment to recall that human idiom. He came to the aid of a female packmate. I'll make sure he doesn't see this as some fairy tale.

"As for Irma, there isn't a psychologist AI to help her deal with this, because this is a corsair ship and why would a corsair give a damn about anyone's feelings. I'm not professionally trained to deal with trauma either; I only have the basics. For starters, she'll need privacy and space. She should only be met with in large public areas where she won't feel trapped, which could be tough on a starship. If she has to be alone in a room with a male, the door should be kept open. I'll make it a point to chaperone her for the rest of the jump to monitor her progress."

Gvarokh gestures for Ellokothe to take a seat across from him. She hesitates at first, but then accepts it.

Once she's seated, he says, "I want to know everything. Don't leave anything out. Although I have an idea what I'm dealing with, I want to make sure that there aren't any further surprises."

Elloekothe nods, then asks, "Got any uekhfarsal?"

Gvarokh's ears go up in surprise. He hasn't seen Elloekothe drink alcohol since she's been on board. He stands, grabs a bottle and two glasses, then returns to the table. He pours each of them a drink. She downs the first, then pours a second, but this one she holds onto, only casually lapping from it.

"In 1104, corsairs were hired by the Church of the Chosen Ones to take Newcastle. It was an easy target. Local defenses were soft, and the Imperium was distracted by events to spinward that would later lead to the Fifth Frontier War. The Ngath Confederation was busy consolidating its borders. Its attention was focused on the Sunggoe Combine and the Kishadiku Empire.

"The vargr that was put in charge of Newcastle was Onggzou, who was the church's listener for the area, including Anarsi subsector. He claimed that being the 'chosen ones' brought along with it a moral responsibility. He claimed that it was time for the vargr to guide other races to enlightenment. No one outside of his immediate pack of disciples knew what that meant. As a reward for his service to the church, and acknowledging his charisma, he was given Newcastle and instructed to spread the faith.

"Onggzou presented his ideas to Newscastle's leaders. They laughed at him and were summarily executed. Others that respectfully disagreed were imprisoned. Onggzou's disciples took over the roles or hired administrators from within the church's pack. The human populace was then forced to follow not only the church's teachings, but Onggzou's interpretation as well.

"Onggzou told the humans that since vargr were the Ancients' chosen race, they would have to obey their wishes if they wanted to be part of the Ancients' divine plan."

She pauses to take a drink.

"Obviously, the people resisted, but they weren't really prepared for what was to come. Children were subjected to indoctrination in schools. Adults were beaten or executed, depending on the severity of their transgressions. Onggzou became convinced that the only way to bridge the divide was to develop a race of hybrids of the two species. Lacking the technology to genetically engineer something like that, Onggzou decreed that it would have to be done the old fashioned way. As there were no humans willing to go along with this idea, he resorted to abducting certain members of the populace who seemed like promising candidates and raped them."

She pauses to take another drink.

"Word eventually leaked out to the Ngath Confederation what was going on, and even they were disgusted. In 1111, corsairs were sent in to Newcastle, and they took the system from the church. Onggzou's regime was dismantled, and his barbaric practices ended. As a form of apology to the people of Newcastle, Onggzou was publicly executed along with many others who perpetuated his crimes.

"Egz Aerugurzae was one of his disciples who managed to avoid execution. I don't know how or why, but he was only given life in prison.

"Egz had been in the Church for fifteen years by the time the original Newcastle invasion occurred. Before the invasion, he'd spent most of his time in education. One of his pupils was Soks Dhunkul.

"Soks was a business major, the orphaned child of corsair parents. He'd spent time with various foster packs, but never really bonded with anyone. He buried himself in his studies and received early admission to a university on Kishadiku. The church's philosophy appealed to Soks, and Egz was instrumental in guiding him, particularly over to Onggzou's interpretation.

"After university, Egz worked for the church for a few years in their finance division. But the corsair blood in him made him strike out on his own. He left on good terms with the Church. He remained friends with Egz, and the two kept in constant contact. We don't know if Soks ever took part in the rape of Newcastle, but we do know from his criminal record, that he has had dealings with the Touzagh and they were notoriously involved in the slave trade. Soks was one of their brokers for offloading captives and merchandise."

Elloekothe pauses to let Gvarokh digest what he's heard so far. After a moment, she says, "I can see that you're puzzled. 'How can anyone be dumb enough to think that humans and vargr can mate and produce offspring?' The answer is: They're not! Anyone with a tech level six biology education knows that. It's just a cover story, a lie, to justify their perversion. With a high enough charisma, you can get anyone to follow you and believe everything you say. And if the resultant ideology persists long enough, it becomes tradition. History—human and vargr—is full of examples: Sex with a virgin will cure your disease, eating your enemies will give you their strength, drinking blood will grant you immortality, the gods demand the sacrifice of sentients in order for crops to grow, you have to give all your wealth to the tyrant so that he can protect you from enemies of the state, the leader is a god and thus infallible, the gods talk to the leader so everything he says is a directive from them, vote for me because my opponent is secretly allied with our enemies—"

"Ok, ok, I get it."

"Sorry. It's a sore subject."

"I can see that. Given what you've said, how much difficulty are we going to have because of what Chuck did? The freezer should put him back together well enough, but I don't think Soks is gonna be very charitable when he finds out what happened."

She nods. "Egz will wait til later to complain about what Chuck did. Soks won't do anything right away because Egz is fully healed and free, but he'll exact some form of revenge later. I doubt he'll be confrontational; he'll bring it up as way of probing you for weakness. Telling him that violence against your pack won't be tolerated will be respected, but he's conniving. He'll find some way to exact revenge: Someone will have an accident or get arrested."

"What is Soks' bigger plan? He stated outright that he doesn't know us. Sure we freed his dear old mentor, but that is just a first step; it can't be the main thing he will require from us. He is going to want something much more significant for us to get that good word. What is he going to want?"

"Correct. Freeing his mentor was a big step. The fact that you did it through subterfuge shows that you're savvy. But that just grants you the privilege of working with him—he has no patience for amateurs. He's going to want a piece of the action or some leverage that grants him more power. It all depends on what he sees in you. If he thinks an alliance with you will be profitable, he'll settle for money. If he thinks you're weak, he'll sell you out to whomever grants him the most favor."

Next: Arrival in Daama System