Pick Up Your Merch

Characters: Gvarokh, Lakir, Slade, Vincent, Dougok
NPC: Elloekothe, Vlad, Simrii, Kagfak, Uengghae, Chuck, Irma
Location: Pack of Daggers, parked at GSC-37 Space Station
System: Gemid

1126.41.4 - 17:00 Imperial Time, 09:00 Vilani Time

Soks calls, "They're ready for you to pick up the merchandise. The instructions are to land at the Gimarkikerkha downport, adjacent to the city of Gimarkikerkha, an entire city devoted to biological research, specifically agricultural pathogens. My understanding is that samples are brought in from all over in hopes of finding the cure to whatever blight is affecting someone's crops or livestock. And in order to find the cure, they had to learn how the pathogen infects and kills. Apparently, they've weaponized that knowledge." Soks pauses. "Obviously for security reasons, they're cut off from the rest of the transportation grid, which is why they have their own downport. You'll find it near the south pole.

"I'll be accompanying you with my boat. Once we land, we'll have to take one of their ground vehicles from the downport to the facility where the merchandise if made. We'll be meeting with Gegatsueg Ngaekh, CEO of the Skuethukhsgvasaalladh Corporation. You may remember him from the committee meeting.

"Ready?"

"We are ready!" Gvarokh replies.

A few minutes later, Soks' ship's boat is spotted heading down to the surface. Pack of Daggers follows.

During the descent, Vincent says, "While you guys are off collecting the weapon, would you mind if I tried hacking the facility to see if I can gain access to the system they have set up in place to manufacture the bioweapon? I can't guarantee that I'll be successful or even find anything if the cores aren't connected to the web here, but I figured it's worth a shot. If you'd prefer, I can wait until you are headed back with the weapon just to make sure nothing happens prior to that. Just radio in that you have it and are returning and I'll start."

Gvarokh replies, "I'm good with that, but make sure there is at least one hop in there, plenty of redirection, and the source until is otherwise isolated and burnable."

"Of course!"

18:10 Imperial Time, 10:10 Vilani Time, 36:25 Local Time (38 hour, 11 minute day)

It's winter in the southern hemisphere, and the deep polar region where Gimarkikerkha is located is in perpetual darkness. The fact that locally it's the middle of the night seems irrelevant.

Soks handles the communications with the control tower, stating that they're the guests of Gegatsueg Ngaekh, CEO of the Skuethukhsgvasaalladh Corporation. After a moment, the control tower instructs the ships which hangar bays to land in—they're adjacent—and the ships touch down.

While the hangar bay repressurizes, Gvarokh plugs into the downport's visitors menu. He selects "vehicle rentals" from the transportation sub-menu. There are a number of ground vehicle types, no grav options. An apologetic note states: "We regret that the renting of grav vehicles is prohibited in Gimarkikerkha due to security concerns. All of our vehicles have auto-pilot options. You need only to tell it your destination, and we'll handle the driving for you."

Gvarokh says, "We need to keep things small, so let's say Dougok, Elloe, and Lakir go with me to get the goods. Everyone else can sit tight on the ship. Dougok will take the driver position, but is to let the auto-driver do its thing unless something comes up."

Dougok says, "I recommend that we get a van rather than a large truck."

Gvarokh agrees and places the order.

Characters: Gvarokh, Lakir, Dougok
NPC: Elloekothe
Location: The city of Gimarkikerkha

19:15 Imperial Time, 11:15 Vilani Time, 37:30 Local Time

The four gather their gear, exit the ship, and emerge from the hangar bay into a modestly-lit tunnel where a white van, emblazoned with "Gimarkikerkha Transport Rentals", awaits. Both sides of the tunnel are marked with hangar bay doors with numbers painted on them. There's a sidewalk, too. Parked outside of Soks's hangar bay is a sedan. As the four emerge from the hangar bay, it pulls alongside. The passenger window scrolls down.

Soks is sitting in the passenger seat, smiling. "Not the nicest day, or night, for a drive, but it'll have to do."

The sedan slowly moves on down the road, negating any chance of a reply.

The four get in the van. Dougok in the driver's seat with Lakir next to him, taking notes on their course. Gvarokh and Elloekothe ride in the back seat. The conditions are spartan. The seats are functional.

A female, but obviously computerized, voice emanates from an overhead speaker. In Galanglic, it says, "Please state your destination."

Gvarokh clearly enunciates the address and the voice thanks him.

Soks's car and the van drive slowly through the downport until they reach the transit tunnel that leads them to the city of Gimarkikerkha at which point both accelerate to a higher speed. The tunnel's walls are transparent, offering a view of the outside. Not that there's much to see. It's night, with lights from the city in the distance. Some snow and ice is visible amongst a barren landscape.

Once in the city, the vehicles slow down some, but are still able to maintain a decent speed through the mostly empty highway. The cars take an exit and then make their way to an industrial complex on the edge of the city. Soon enough they arrive at a large facility with a large sign that says, "Skuethukhsgvasaalladh Corporation" on the building. Through the letter, one can see the shadowed remnants of letters belonging to the former company name.

Soks's car pulls up to the gate, the guard, a human male, speaks to them, talks on a comm, and then returns to the guard house to lift up the gate. He then waves the van on through as well.

The auto-pilot warns that is about to disengage and counts down, thus giving Dougok enough time to take over the controls. He then follows Soks's sedan around to the shipping and receiving bay. A garage door is already open and Soks's car heads inside.

The shipping and receiving bay is roughly 100 meters long. Several container trailers are lined up at one end while two tanker trailers are at the opposite end. The loading/unloading dock is too high for the van, but in the middle of the place is a set of stairs and a lift.

On the dock are eight security guards dressed in black flex armor and wielding laser carbines and four humans wearing hazmat suits standing next to a gravsled with a container on it. There's also a floating holoscreen projector displaying the head of the loud orange suit wearing vargr from the committee.

Soks gets out of the car accompanied by two burly vargr from the back seat. The human driver remains in the car. The smile that was once on his face is gone.

Dougok says, "I'm going to stay here in case a quick getaway is required."

"That's a good idea," Gvarokh replies.

He leads the others out of the van and over to Soks. He makes eye contact with Soks and nods. In a quiet voice, he says, "Do you go first, or do I go first?"

Soks regains his familiar composure and says, "I'll go. He knows me."

"After you then."

Soks and his two guards head up the stairs followed by Gvarokh, Lakir, and Elloekothe.

"Hello Gegatsueg!" Soks calls out as he approaches the holoprojector. He sniffs the air reflexively. "I was hoping that you'd be down here to greet us, maybe enjoy a celebratory uekhfarsal."

"Sorry Soks. Business at the starport kept me detained. I didn't have enough time to get dirtside."

"A shame." Soks smiles, showing too many teeth. "Some other time then."

"Yes, of course." A pause. "Does your client have the money?"

"Yes. Gvarokh?"

Elloekothe hands him the credit chip. He takes it and walks over to the holoprojector."

"Ah good. If you'll just place it in the card reader, Captain."

Gvarokh does as instructed.

"Thank you, Captain."

Gvarokh takes back the card and returns it to Elloekothe.

Soks is now standing by the gravsled. "So this is it?"

"Yes and no."

"I'm sorry?"

"Yes, it is the weapon, but no, it's not the one we're selling to the captain."

"I don't understand."

Gegatsueg turns away from Soks. "Captain Gvarokh, we're going to need you to do us a favor."

While Gvarokh really wants to turn around and smirk at Elloe, he stifles the urge, stays impassive, and simply says, "And that would be...?"

"We want you to use this weapon to assassinate Ngath."

Gvarokh blinks a couple of times as he thinks of how to respond. Soks picks up the slack.

"Wow, Gegatsueg. I knew you were ambitious, but I didn't realize how much."

"We're sitting on a lanthanum mine here. Only a fool would let it go to waste."

Gvarokh returns to the conversation. "Since this is somewhat unexpected, I hope questions are permitted."

"Of course," Gegatsueg replies.

"Good. Is there any particular approach to doing this that we are expected to follow? Outside the use of the bioweapon, of course."

"Yes. You'll be leaving here just as soon as the conversation is finished and make your way to Gvadhoe. Ngath has his palace there. You'll be meeting with our contacts there, who will provide you with the means to get inside with the weapon, whereupon you will detonate in close enough proximity to Ngath, that he will die. You'll depart and return here with proof of your success. Then we'll give you a weapon of your own to use as you see fit."

"I want some good 'loot' we can stage that makes sense to drive us to the interior to sell. Can I get some on Gemid?"

"No," he scoffs. "You don't need a reason to travel to Gvadhoe. It's the capital. That's reason enough."

"This will likely be a high-collateral operation. I assume that is acceptable."

"We're counting on it."

"What are the safety interlocks on this package?" He gestures to the box and continues, "I figure there are guarantees with it that are designed to prevent us from just taking it. How do we get to use it when the time is appropriate?"

"There's an onboard timer that will enable the arming computer to accept security codes in about as much time as it should take you to get to Gvadhoe. There will be three-week window that it will remain open. Should you not execute the operation in that time frame, it will shut off again. The security code will be presented to you on another device that also has an onboard timer that knows when to display and transmit the code.

"Now that in an of itself will not prevent you from taking it to a different target to ensure its usage. For that, we will provide you an escort. You will follow a route that will be transmitted to you by your escort. Any deviation from that route will be frowned upon."

"Are there any other actions we need to take to make sure that you get proper credit?"

"Stick with the escort, and we'll handle the rest."

"What is our reward for doing this? We've already paid for our bioweapon. What is the reward for doing this 'favor'?"

"We have altered the deal. Pray we don't alter it any further."

While Gvarokh ponders how to respond, Soks re-enters the conversation. "So, was it Gvarokh all along? Or did you have a plan for the others?"

"We really didn't know what to expect from Gvarokh and his crew. Your communications about Dhoknan and Khigiikuli gave us time to concoct a plan for each of them though.

"If we went with Dhoknan, he would've claimed a victory for the 17th Disjuncture, then we would've rallied the Confederation to avenge Ngath's death. But with the attack on Roetingaz Station, that's already happening. Dhoknan would never get close enough to execute the plan.

"If we went with Khigiikuli, he would've claimed a victory for the Touzagh, then we would've rallied the Confederation to purge the Touzagh from our borders, framing it as culture war. A need to return to traditional vargr values. Force all corsairs to declare their fealty to the Confederation or lose the right to use our worlds as a haven from the Imperials, vilani or otherwise.

"But Captain Gvarokh revealed how incompetent Khigiikuli was during the application interviews. We felt that Khigiikuli lacked the ability to execute the plan. His failure would've drawn negative attention to us."

"So what's your plan with Captain Gvarokh? Are you going to—please pardon the expression—throw him to the wolves, too?"

"Not at all. He strikes us as a much smarter asset. If he gets his way and assumes control of Corridor, even so much as a subsector, he'd prove to be a valuable ally that we could use to choke off the spinward Imperials from the vilani and the rest."

"But isn't that happening already?"

"Yes, but none of those there are our allies, and we're not sure that they're capable of holding it. There are reports of resistance on several worlds. Corsairs are great at taking, not so good at governing."

"But why the third-party?" Gvarokh interjects. "If we are to have escorts the entire way, then you obviously have loyal forces in place that could do this on their own. In fact, this operation is likely more complicated and labor intensive by having us do this. What is the win for you by having us do it?"

Gegatsueg looks irritated by the question. "I just finished saying that we're looking for an ally outside the Confederation."

"You're missing his point," Soks says, sauntering away from Gegatsueg's holoprojector and standing closer to the weapon. "Why use him at all? Why not use your own people? If they're loyal, they can do it, then you can claim credit for it, demonstrating how weak Ngath is."

Gegatsueg takes too long to reply, so Soks continues, "It's because you know that the blowback is more than you can handle. You need a... what's the word? Ah yes, 'scapegoat'."

"No—"

"Yes! You already explained that if Dhoknan claimed victory for the 17th Disjuncture, you would rally the Confederation against them, probably killing Dhoknan before he could escape. And Khigiikuli declaring a victory for the Touzagh would make them a target. Khigiikuli wouldn't live long enough either to explain that it was part of your plan." Soks makes a grand sweeping gesture towards Gvarokh. "And now he's going to be your scapegoat. So which enemy did you choose?" He begins to pace back and forth, all eyes following him, as he rattles off a list of potential invented foes.

"Random corsair faction from Corridor? Not plausible. Why make an enemy of a potential ally when the vilani are just grazing in the field? Competition? Far too soon to worry about that. Even the Provence states held off on bickering with one another until after Corridor was devoured.

"Maybe a world that the Confederation has been salivating over? Hteh Hut, perhaps? No, that would be suicide! Hteh Hut hasn't lasted this long because of stupidity.

"Maybe the vilani sent an undercover group to decapitate the head of state as a prelude to invasion!" He barks out a laugh. "As if the vilani had teeth for such a brazen and ruthless attack. It would be undignified!"

Soks stops pacing, grabs the holoprojector, and confronts Gegatsueg. "So who is it?"

Gegatsueg replies with a bit of defiance. "Actually, if you must know, it was Hteh Hut."

"Ah ha!"

"The ruse would last long enough for us to not only rally the Confederation and take Hteh Hut, but consolidate power as well. Gvarokh and his crew would be escorted to the border with their weapon where they could travel back to Corridor to establish their domain."

With Soks now smugly silent, Gegatsueg turns back to Gvarokh. "So what do you say, Captain? Are you willing to abide by our terms?"

Gvarokh stands there, looking deep in thought. Before he can reply, someone off-screen grabs Gegatsueg's attention.

"What?... When? ... Are you tracking them? ... Let me know as soon as you get something." He then returns his attention to the group in the warehouse. "Apologies."

"What's wrong?" Soks asks.

"Nothing you need worry about. A trespasser. Now, Captain Gvarokh, have you come to a decision?"

Gvarokh responds, "Yes, I have." After a pregnant pause, he continues. "Yes, we will accept the mission. It is the roadblock to get to our goal, but we're good with it. However, I do have one request: We would like a small down payment on our eventual delivery. Just a small application that will give us a back-up in case things go awry. Lock it for 48 hours to make sure we are away from Gemid, but after that, we have control of it. It needs to be enough to affect a large room, but not a full package," waving his hand towards the delivery at hand."

Gegatsueg brow furrows and his head tilts to one side. "It will take some time to secure that sample. There are preparations that need to be made to make it safe for travel."

"We can wait."

"Very well."

After a moment, Gvarokh says, "Will our handlers help when we are eventually attacked by Khigiikuli?"

"If that should happen, yes, they will."

"Thank you."

Gegatsueg nods, then says, "If that's all, then we're done here. We'll be in touch when your sample is ready." To the group in the hazmat suits, he says, "Load them up." With that, the holoprojection winks off.

The hazmat team move the gravsled off of the loading dock and next to the van. Dougok gets out of the van and opens the doors for them. They load the weapon in the van and depart back to the loading dock. Dougok closes the doors and gets back into the van.

The guards keep watch the whole time.

Soks and his team return to their car while Gvarokh, Lakir, and Elloekothe get in the van. Dougok then backs out of the warehouse and leaves the way they came, returning to the hangar bay.

Vincent Hacks

Character: Vincent
Location: Pack of Daggers, parked at Gimarkikerkha downport
System: Gemid

1126.41.4 - 18:30 Imperial Time, 10:30 Vilani Time, 36:45 Local Time (38 hour, 11 minute day)

Vincent's laptop is awaiting him as he sits down. He establishes his local internet connections and sets up a nine address node route with erasers stationed at each one. The first target is the company's public face on InfoNet. Inputting Skuethukhsgvasaalladh Corporation turns out to be a domain pointer leading to the Nekamumdugin Corporation. Finding its IP address is easy enough. He probes its firewall, looking for a weak spot. Thinking he has one, he strikes.

He gets in with ease. Looking around, he realizes that it's not connected to the corporate network. It's a standalone computer that's updated through FTP. He downloads the login credentials file and the log files, then disconnects from the InfoNet server.

The credentials file is encrypted, so he runs it through his decryption program. It doesn't take long for it to crack the file. The "passwords" correspond to retina scans. Now the questions are: Do any of these people have remote access to the company's network and, if so, what are the IP addresses of those extranet servers?

Every planet with an InfoNet has a central repository of IP addresses, balkanized or not. Vincent just needs to access that repository. He finds the organization on the InfoNet, but the addresses and who they belong to aren't available to the public, so he needs to hack his way in to them as well.

Vincent is a little surprised by his success so far. "I guess the intel was right. Their computer tech is lagging."

Nekamumdugin Corporation only has one extranet IP address. He logs in with the credentials he snagged to find what he can about them.

Most of the people are in marketing, so they're fairly useless. One entry brings him to an HR server. This person doesn't have access to the servers that Vincent wants, but scrolling through the list of IDs in the HR records, he discovers that one person he hasn't tried is in IT. He thinks, "Probably the guy the marketing types go to when they need help with the corporate netsite."

Vincent logs in with this guy's credentials and discovers that he has access to the extranet server, which determines which servers people have access to. He also has access to all of the internal routers. These are labelled like "Manufacturing Router" and "R&D Router". Once on the R&D router, he notes that the R&D servers don't come with easily identifiable names. It's all "research server 1", "research server 2", etc. And there's fifteen of them.

He decides to check them out one by one. Getting into the first server is easy enough, and he discovers that he has root access, but when he tries to access "projects", he is told "access denied." When he tries to download, copy, or move the projects directory, the message repeats. The process is repeated on servers two and three. At that point, Vincent knows that he has reached the limits of this account.

He needs to find someone who does have access.

He returns to the HR server with the HR person ID. He finds an employee roster database and searches for IT department personnel and copies it to his machine. On a whim, he decides to grab the names of all the neurology personnel from the database and all the executive science department personnel, too.

He logs back in as the one IT guy he has and goes to the extranet server to find a better login ID. He finds IT guy's boss in the HR database and looks him up in the extranet credentials database—far more complicated than the simple InfoNet site server credentials file. Unfortunately, IT guy just has read-only access to the extranet credentials database, so he can't upgrade his own permissions or add a superuser.

He needs to be IT guy's boss.

Vincent runs his decryption program on the IT guy's boss's credentials. Doing the whole database would be wonderful, but there isn't time.

Fortunately, he gets the IT guy's boss's credentials. He logs out and logs back in as the IT guy's boss and goes straight to research server one. He gets into the projects directory and finds that all of the project names are encrypted. And there's 47 on this server alone. He doesn't have time to decrypt them all one by one. He can go back and find one of the scientist VIPs, decrypt his credentials, and then look around for the one project he needs, or he can download each and every project from all fifteen servers.

Vincent sighs at the stumbling block, but then starts the download process. While that runs, he establishes a firewall at the closest node, then gets to work coding a worm that will delete everything on the research servers in two days. He's about a quarter of the way done when he gets a notification that the firewall he set up on node number nine is under assault and crumbling fast. There's no time to save it. He has three choices:

  1. Ignore it and hope he gets the worm finished in time;
  2. set up a firewall at node number eight and get back to work on the worm; or
  3. send the signal to the eraser program, break the connection with node nine, put up a firewall at node eight, and when the worm is complete, re-hack the company's system and hope the vulnerability hasn't been plugged.
He opts to set up a firewall at nodes eight, seven, and six. The further away the better at this point. He gets back to work on the worm.

Vincent only gets halfway done with the worm when the node nine firewall collapses. It isn't long after that, that node eight is found and attacked. He grits his teeth and keeps at it. Node eight collapses and node seven is found just as he finishes it. He uploads the worm and gets to work on building more firewalls at each of the nodes to buy himself more time on the downloads, which are being throttled by the attacks. He's only got five servers downloaded, and the firewalls are falling faster. Seven falls and six is found just as he finishes getting a firewall set up at each node.

Chuck walks in and announces, "They're back. Hey, uh, how's the hack going?"

"It started alright, but they eventually detected the intrusion. They're trying to trace the signal back. I put up passive firewalls, but they're wearing them down. I've got six left before they find me."

"How much longer is that download going to take?"

"I've got six down. Nine to go."

"Are you going to have enough time?" The concern in his voice is evident.

"Maybe. I'll have to switch to active firewalls to buy myself more time."

"Okaaaaaay. I'm going to leave you to that." He slowly backs out of the computer room.

Next: Back at the Hangar