Outer Belt Base Victory

Characters: All
NPC: Kagfak, Elloekothe, Uengghae, Irma Arsashaammu
Location: Pack of Daggers, near an asteroid in Daama's outer belt
System: Daama

1126.40.7 - 02:00 Imperial Time, 26:00 Vilani Time

After safely returning to the ship, the crew waited for the space battle to finish before returning to the base to place the mines.

With the op completed and not needed for other tasks, Vincent got to work on the files he salvaged from the base computer. A good chunk of it was operating system and software. While there was no longer any indication of supplies at the base nor communications, there was plenty of raw sensor data going back two years. It seems to primarily be traffic in and out of the system.

Soks comms the ship. "Captain Gvarokh, how did the operation at the base go?"

"Smoothly," Gvarokh replies, purposely leaving out the bobbled grenade incident. "We left no survivors, and the proximity mines are in place."

"Good. Any data salvaged?"

Gvarokh relates what Vincent found.

"I see. Please send me a copy of the data."

Gvarokh complies. During the transmission he asks, "From what I could see of the battle, it would seem that one of the ships got away."

"Yes. It's a pity that Khigiikuli couldn't complete his assignment. I may have to re-evaluate his status."

"So are we to continue on to Gemid?"

"Some of us are. It would seem that Khigiikuli and Dhoknan both suffered damage to their ships and will need to make repairs before jumping. I informed them that it would be most unbecoming to go before the alphas with hull breaches and scorch marks. We will proceed on ahead while they clean themselves up."

"Understood. Gvarokh out."

Gvarokh ponders what Soks' motivation could be for, what appears to him to be, intentionally setting the captains against one another. He makes a mental note to discuss this with Elloekothe.

Thirty minutes later, Soks' ship notifies Pack of Daggers that they're going to jump now and sends the coordinates. Gvarokh checks that the coordinates do indeed belong to the Gemid system. The navigation computer confirms that they are. They lead right to Gemid itself.

Gvarokh gives the order to jump.

Meeting During Jump

Characters: All
NPC: All
Location: Pack of Daggers
System: Jumpspace between Daama and Gemid

1126.40.7 - 11:00 Imperial Time, 03:00 Vilani Time

A meeting has been called. All are gathered in the common area.

Vincent has finished extracting the data from the base, and he and Elloekothe have finished poring over it to determine if there's anything of value contained therein.

Vincent starts, "As I reported before jump, a good chunk of what was downloaded was operating system and software. Nothing about the nature of the base or the personnel. Not even communications. But we did get raw sensor data going back two years, which appears to be when the base was erected. I say that because there was a lot of traffic right around the base, mostly clippers and scout ships. After the installation period, traffic at the base dropped off to monthly visits from scouts and quarterly re-supply ships of the far trader variety.

"As for system traffic, we've got it all. Every corsair that refueled here before jumping to Vilani space in the last two years was recorded. Of course, it's not every corsair that raided the Vilani Empire, or every Vilani world in this subsector for that matter. There's still Ugarun and Kashiin as potential departure points. We know from our visits to those worlds that corsair activity was common.

"The most interesting thing that turned up was Confederation Navy patrols. Every week, a small group consisting of a frigate and two packets would pop in, hang out for a day or two, and jump out. Not the same trio. They were on a six-week rotation. Also, there was a larger task force that circulated through. This larger group consisted of Naz-class battle cruiser—that's a 30,000 ton monster for those of you who aren't familiar—and it was escorted by about ten other smaller ships, ranging in size from 400 to 2,000 tons. The composition of the task force changed from time to time, but the Naz cruiser was always present. It popped in every four weeks. This group would stay for about three days before moving on.

"Our benefactor, Soks, was seen coming and going quite a bit as well. While Vargr tend to run with their transponders off, Soks was easy to spot as Desiree Keah class yachts are pretty rare.

"Oh, and we're in there, too."

Chuck asks, "Any Imperial traffic?"

"Oh yeah. Definitely. They made it easy by running with their transponders on. I suspect that several ship captains are going to get in trouble with Vilani customs for violating the embargo."

Once discussion on the topic of traffic has died down, Gvarokh says, "Thank you, Vincent. Anything else?"

"Yes," Vincent replies. "Earlier, I'd said that we didn't get any communication files—and that's still true—but we did find remnants of directory structure. While the contents are missing, we found two sub-directories within the operations directory. These two sub-directories were Luukuusiik and Aap Niidun."

Lakir translates, "Both of these are Vilani words. Luukuusiik means 'leukocyte', which, as Irma knows, is the fancy scientist way of saying 'white blood cell.' Aap Niidun means 'hot needle.'"

All eyes turn to Elloekothe and Irma.

Elloekothe, whose arms are folded across her chest, says, "I haven't heard of either of these listed as code names for any Vilani Intelligence ops."

Irma raises a hand. "I have."

"You have?"

"Yes, when the Admiral recruited me for this mission, I overheard him talking to someone on the comm just before I walked into his office. He said that he was having difficulty collecting all the assets for 'hot needle' so 'leukocyte' was taking precedent as it was an easier operation to get off the ground and not be as noticeable."

Gvarokh says, "Wait. Are we 'leukocyte'? At least in part?"

Dougok's head tilts to the side, confusion evident on his face.

Irma answers, "It seems that way."

Gvarokh is about to say something, pauses, then adds, "If so, we're extremely lucky they deleted the files before we could get them. Wow. That'd be really bad."

Once discussion on this topic wraps up, Gvarokh turns to Elloekothe. "What is Soks doing here? From my point-of-view, it looks like he's intentionally setting members against each other. Is that just his MO? Because if I was Khigiikuli, I'd be pissed that I got 'demerits' for not running a fight perfectly and for having the new guy get extra credit just because he was allowed to avoid said fight. To me that looks like he's doing everything to set Khigiikuli against us. Is that just how he works, or is is he deliberately trying to set the two of us against each other?"

Elloekothe's tail wags and she nods. "Yeah, that's his MO. Most of his clients aren't smart enough to figure that out and willingly compete with one another to gain favor. He remains above the fray, always promising favor to those who succeed or please him. It helps him maintain control, remain the alpha, and maximize his profits.

"The game has just become more deadly."

Gvarokh adds, "Then we're really going to have to figure out how to kill Khigiikuli as quickly as possible. Once he puts things together, he's going to be gunning for us directly. We have to figure out how to eliminate him as quickly as we can."

Elloekothe nods. "Dougok, Kagfak, and Uengghae were all corsairs with the Touzagh before they joined you."

All three start to protest.

Kagfak says, "But that was months ago!"

"We're loyal to Gvarokh!" Uengghae adds.

"That's not my point, pups," Elloekothe says. "You know enough about the Touzagh that you should be able to find a path to him."

Kagfak and Uengghae exchange grimaces.

Uengghae says, "We were lowly packmates aboard the Bitter Tasting Poison From My Teeth when we encountered this pack."

"Yeah," Kagfak adds, "We weren't even allowed to meet the base commander let alone someone from senior command."

Elloekothe turns to Dougok, "Well, what about you, Dougok? You're always carrying yourself like a vargr who's owed a kingdom."

"Kingdoms are not owed like some sort of debt. Kingdoms are either taken or forged."

"That was an idiom—"

"I know, but it was misused."

"I—"

"I never met Khigiikuli, but my captain did. I don't know if the reason for my expulsion from the Touzagh ever made it up to him."

Elloekothe folds her arms. "Yeah, saying that pinkies shouldn't lead wolves wouldn't endear you to him."

Dougok tilts his head to the side. "How did you know that?"

"It was in your file."

Dougok lets a quick growl escape him.

"Regardless, you could probably fake it. You could tell him that you served with the Touzagh under Uegvozodh for a while, but you were transferred to Gamgilebo and was marooned after the attack on that base. It could provide you with a way in."

Vlad interjects, "But if that Captain Uegvozodh is still serving with Khigiikuli, Dougok would be screwed."

No one has an answer for this. Gvarokh requests the crew to brainstorm some solutions and adjourns the meeting.

Preparing for Gemid

Characters: All
NPC: All
Location: Pack of Daggers
System: Jumpspace between Daama and Gemid

1126.41.2 - 02:00 Imperial Time, 10:00 Vilani Time

A final briefing has been called to get the crew prepared for Gemid.

Elloekothe places a holocrystal into a slot on the projector and, after everyone has a cup of coffee, ovagghog, or other mentally stimulating beverage, cues it up. A disembodied voice narrates as the video shows scenes of Gemid.

"Gemid is a medium-sized world with a very thin atmosphere, tainted by dust and industrial pollutants. 33% of the world's surface is covered by water. Average temperature is 20.5°C (68.9°F), but don't let that fool you. Summers are a blisteringly hot 50°C while nights will freeze you to death in a matter of minutes. So you never want to venture outside unprotected.

"The seven billion inhabitants are packed into domed cities with some of the best climate control systems technology can create. And at tech level 16, you'd never guess how terrible things are outside. Cities are adjacent to industrial sectors, which aren't thoroughly covered in domes and vent their emissions directly to the atmosphere."

A close-up of industrial sectors shows that the domes are very low in height compared to those of cities.

"The planet is balkanized. There are city-states which are attached to certain industries, each with their own demands and capitulations. These are deliberated in a global council. While a visitor might think them a fractious lot, they are anything but that.

"There's a global law level of 9 and a cultural belief in subservience to authority. This has made it easy for the establishment of population controls. The most notable is that there are only two generations of a family alive at any one time. Before parents can have children, the would be grandparents must be dead. If they aren't at the time of the birth of the grandchildren, they must commit ipsikharmuluur, which roughly translates to 'fatal sacrifice for family.' "

The video shows an ipsikharmuluur ceremony whereupon a grandfather kisses his grandchild on the head before imbibing a dark liquid from a ceremonial cup.

Gvarokh interrupts the presentation. "Computer, pause." And then he pauses to stare at the video for a moment. Then he says, "So they have to murder the grandparents to have a child? That sucks. What happens if the grandparents flee or enter exile? Is that dead enough?"

Chuck replies, "When I was in the scouts, we had a case where a VIP who was providing intel on corsair activity was in that situation. So we had to go in and 'liberate' him off-world, otherwise we would've lost some valuable data. He could've chosen exile, but it's really ingrained in the psyche of these people. His family was devastated by what they perceived as a betrayal of their values. After he divulged his intel, he asked to be brought back home so that he could restore his name. After explaining why he left, they forgave him...and he killed himself shortly thereafter."

After pausing to let that sink in, he adds, "But yeah, there are the occasional people who choose exile, but they're very rare. Most people who aren't indoctrinated with their culture's beliefs, leave the planet as soon as they're able to or don't have children."

"Computer, resume."

"While Gemid has what has been reported to have a tech level 16 naval base, Vilani Naval Intelligence is baffled by how the world fell to corsairs. Even with Ngath Confederation help, they shouldn't have been able to win. Their numbers would've had to have been overwhelming and casualties still would've been high. One possibility is that the naval base wasn't anywhere near as powerful as foretold. Another possibility is that the Confederation had an inside man.

"Whatever the reason may be, Vland feels that it is only a matter of time before the Confederation exploits the technological treasures of Gemid and puts them to nefarious use or sells them to the highest bidder, there being no shortage of customers at this point."

Dougok growls at the idea of treachery but has little to say at the moment rather waiting to see what his packmates might add.

"If you have questions not answered by this presentation, an avatar of limited functionality may be engaged to answer them."

Gvarokh says, "Engage avatar."

The avatar appears in the form of a Vilani woman in what passes for fashion among the scientist caste.

Gvarokh continues. "Almost no society has a uniform tech level. What are the industries that are truly at TL16? What are the highpoints of those TL16 'treasures'?"

"Gemid's tech level sixteen attributes are notably in the fields of healthcare, genetic engineering, anagathics, advanced applications of biological and chemical studies, life support systems, advanced fusion power, energy storage, and weaponry."

"And in which do they lag?"

"Sensors, avionics, propulsion, metallurgy, armor, FTL drives, terraforming, gravitics, communications, computers, electronics, and robotics."

"Where are the primary military base and research station located?"

"Gemid's research facilities are scattered over the planet." The avatar disappears, replaced by a globe with several colorful dots representing the locations of the research facilities.

"There are military bases on the planet." Military bases are represented by black dots on the globe.

"The naval base is located in orbit, constructed from the remnants of the world's small moon." The video zooms out to show the naval base, a cube, rotating about the planet.

As much to Elloekothe as the avatar, Gvarokh asks, "Do we have any idea which research station is the bioweapons one or ones?"

The avatar answers before Elloekothe, "Yes." The video zooms in to reveal a large research institute adjacent to a manufacturing complex.

"Only one?" Chuck asks.

"Yes," the avatar replies. "By treaty, each city-state specializes in one aspect of the economy or sciences. With limited resources, the cities' leaders believed this to be the most prudent use of said resources rather than having multiple cities competing with one another and wasting tax revenue fighting over these resources."

Lakir asks, "How are security measures administered amongst the different research facilities handled? Any idea of what the force structures may have looked like?"

"Citizens are free to travel from one city to the next, and each research facility has at least some publicly accessible areas, though they may just be areas immediately adjacent to the lobby and no more. Each research facility has varying degrees of security. The level of security depends on the nature of the research and the intensity of the executive suite. Individual retina scans are not unheard of.

"I'm not familiar with the term 'force structures', however, I'm interpreting this to mean the implementation of security protocols. There is no jurisdictional differentiation from local law enforcement. They are branches of the same tree, just as one would expect homicide and vice to be different divisions within the same law enforcement structure, so too is research security equivalently treated.

"If I have misinterpreted your question, please provide more data on your query so that I may restructure the appropriate reply."

"It's fine. So, we can assume some number of three- to four-man fire teams, equipped to TL 16 ground combat standards, and able to summon additional quick response forces, should a threat to the facility present itself, depending on the type of facility?"

"Yes. It should be noted that Gemid security forces do not employ robots except in the most dangerous of situations, bomb disarmament for example. They will employ drones for reconnaissance, but there are already a number of security cameras in most places."

"Why don't they use robots?" Chuck asks.

"It's a reflection of a global policy. With such a large populace and scarce resources, sociologists, economists, and politicians have concluded that it is best if everyone is employed. It is their belief that robots take away jobs from people and that leads to strife."

With everyone's questions satisfied, the meeting is adjourned.

Next: Arrival at Gemid