Submerged Within Sitka

Characters: Gvarokh, Lakir, Vincent, Dougok, Slade
NPC: Elloekothe, Chuck, Vlad, Uengghae, Simrii, Kagfak, Irma
Location: Pack of Daggers, in Sitka's atmosphere
System: Ikhog

1126.43.6 - 03:35 Imperial Time, 27:35 Vilani Time

Since the ship is entering Sitka's atmosphere at roughly 25,000 mph, Gvarokh keeps a steady hand on the wheel, so to speak.

Captain Tsuengsaekh comms the squadron, "For those who are able, we're going to rendezvous at the following coordinates in twelve hours." They point to a location roughly 75° north latitude and facing in-system. "Hopefully that'll buy everyone enough time to refuel and affect repairs. Our enemy will likely have grown bored and moved on or will be too busy with their own repairs to engage us."

Gvarokh speaks up, "What is the last known state of the enemy squadron?"

"Three ships destroyed. Three more adrift. Two damaged, leaving six intact."

"What about us?"

"The Aedhfazidzso here has taken some light damage. Nothing we can't repair. Other captains report."

"The Aeloullagvoth has taken some damage to her thrusters, but it's repairable. Jump drive is currently offline."

"Knangvulaekforr reporting in. Sensors damaged. Both maneuver drive and jump drive are offline. Sustained several punctures to fuel modules."

"Aedzdakogzkfurrg reporting. We've taken heavy damage." Sounds of creaking metal. "Both drives and power plant are damaged. Navigation offline. Helm is sluggish—" The captain is interrupted again by loud groaning metal sounds.

Captain Tsuengsaekh gets on the line. "Captains, you have your work cut out for you. I'll leave you to it. May Llallaeknuez look after us all. Tsuengsaekh out."

Sensors start to get fuzzy with EM interference. Up ahead, Aedzdakogzkfurrg and Knangvulaekforr are blazing hot on IR. As the squadron is now on the nightside of Sitka, visual spectrum sensors are near useless. Radar indicates a storm cloud in their path. Gvarokh continues to slow the ship down, letting the rest of the frigates pass them by. He also alters course to steer clear of the other ships in case sensors fail to provide enough warning to avoid a collision.

After several minutes, now that there's a medium to transmit sound, rumbles of thunder are heard.

EM interference grows, dampening sensor effectiveness to one hundred miles.

Once the ship has slowed to skimming speed, Gvarokh starts the process and hands piloting duties over to Chuck.

Gvarokh turns to Elloekothe and says, "I can't believe that they didn't fire at us."

"I thought it was obvious," she replies. "We have the weapon; Khigiikuli wants it. Shooting at us risks damaging or destroying it. So they eliminate our escort and negotiate a surrender."

"Huh. It never occurred to me that surrender was an option. He wants me dead. He can't let me live. And he can't be trusted for the rest of the crew. So basically, why would we surrender if they're going to kill us anyway? I mean his opening statement was that we must die.

"Or is this another one of those 'they think we're all idiots' things? Because if they all think we're idiots, I can definitely work with that."

She nods. "Well, if we were dealing with Aslan, yeah, we'd be dead. Vargr are more flexible. If circumstances change, they can change their positions. We don't deal with absolutes like the Aslan. Humans are diverse. Some are rigid like Aslan; some are flexible like Vargr. I believe that Khigiikuli has spent so much time among Vargr that he's more like us than like an Aslan.

"But thinking you're an idiot is always a possibility."

"Well, regardless, I am not going to allow anyone as dangerous as Khigiikuli get the weapons. At least from us. The only way he get it from me is by breathing it."

04:00 Imperial Time, 28:00 Vilani Time

A check on the package in the cargo hold reveals that is intact.

With no signs of pursuit or shot in the dark style bombardment, Gvarokh re-pressurizes the inhabited portions of the ship so that suit air reserves don't go empty. However, everyone is to keep their suits on and helmets handy just in case. The cargo hold remains unpressurized.

Gvarokh instructs Chuck to make a 60 degree course change to avoid being anywhere near the frigates.

Refueling begins. Some of the crew get some rest.

10:00 Imperial Time, 2:00 Vilani Time

Refueling and fuel purification complete.

Gvarokh instructs Uengghae to relieve Chuck, who goes to get some rest. He then instructs Uengghae to slowly proceed to the planned meeting coordinates at the appointed time. With that he heads to his quarters for some much needed sleep.

16:00 Imperial Time, 8:00 Vilani Time

Everyone is awake and at their proscribed stations. Combat armor air supplies have been refurbished and all non-occupied areas have been depressurized.

Pack of Daggers arrives at the meeting coordinates. There are three frigates present. To minimize radio leakage and to make communication easier in the presence of EM interference, the ships are only 100 meters apart.

Captain Tsuengsaekh hails Pack of Daggers. "Good to see you didn't get swallowed up by Sitka, Captain. Are you ready to sprint to the jump point?"

Gvarokh responds, "Yes. But before we go, I have a thought I would like to share."

"I'm listening."

"Those pirates knew exactly where we'd be. That means they will likely know where we are going to be next. I respectfully suggest that it may be in our best interests to alter the path we planned on taking to get to our destination."

"Point taken, and you're not wrong. We'll have time to debate that new path after we mini-jump to Ikhog for proper repairs. The captain and crew of the Knangvulaekforr deserve medals for getting her spaceworthy, but she won't make the trip without a proper service yard."

Gvarokh replies, "My complements to their efforts. I am truly impressed."

"Alright then. Let's get into formation. Then on my signal, best possible speed to the jump point."

Emerging From Sitka

Characters: Gvarokh, Lakir, Vincent, Dougok, Slade
NPC: Elloekothe, Chuck, Vlad, Uengghae, Simrii, Kagfak, Irma
Location: Pack of Daggers, near Sitka
System: Ikhog

1126.43.6 - 16:30 Imperial Time, 8:30 Vlani Time

The flotilla fires up their thrusters and blasts its way through the remaining reaches of Sitka's atmosphere and out into space. Their pursuers are nowhere to be found, so it would appear that they'll get a good head start on their sprint to the jump point.

They're not thirty minutes from the atmosphere when passive sensors begin to register a few ships near the south pole. And then more ships coming around the equator. A dozen now, further out. Two dozen ships. Three dozen ships moving to intercept. And some of them are large. The computer calculates ship displacement sizes in the thousands and then tens of thousands.

A hail comes through: "This is Admiral Laengnourz of the Ngath Confederation Navy. You are to shut off your thrusters immediately and stand by to be boarded."

Vincent moans, "Well, it looks like we're fucked. What are the chances that they knew what we've done all along and we were set up to be murdered?"

Chuck answers, "Nah. Too complicated. They could've just shot us on Gemid."

Gvarokh immediately cuts the thrusters and lets the ship drift on momentum. He ignores the chatter and starts giving the crew direction. "Elloe, go to Irma and help her hide the sample and obfuscate her research. It needs to look like the sample doesn't exist and we never had it."

"On it."

"Slade, prep the jump drive just in case we need to make an emergency jump."

"But—"

"I know we're way deep in the gravity well, but possible death is better than certain death."

"Ok."

"Everyone else, play it cool no matter how uncomfortable things get. There's still a chance that we survive this."

He then opens a channel with Captain Tsuengsaekh and says coolly, "Friends of yours?"

"Not sure. I'm about to find out." There's a measure of concern in his voice.

Gvarokh notes that the three frigates have also shut off their thrusters.

Tsuengsaekh broadcasts his reply to the admiral. "This is Captain Tsuengsaekh of the Confederation Navy Ship Aedhfazidzso. Your timing is fortuitous, Admiral. We were attacked by a squadron of fourteen corsairs and had to seek shelter in the gas giant to make repairs and re-fuel."

"Yes, I apologize for not getting here sooner, Captain. I was informed that you have four frigates under your command."

"Yes. The Aedzdakogzfurrg sustained heavy damage in battle and was unable to withstand the turbulent conditions within the gas giant."

"That is an unfortunate loss. We have dealt with the corsairs. They will trouble you no more."

"That's great news, Admiral. Many thanks."

"Don't thank me yet, Captain. You are to be detained for questioning."

"Detained? For what, Admiral?"

"For your role in the conspiracy to assassinate Great Hunter Ngath."

"What? I don't know what you're talking about."

"I doubt that, Captain. Cooperate with me, Captain. It's in your best interest."

"Of course. I need to clear my name."

The admiral then addresses Pack of Daggers. "Captain Gvarokh of the Pack of Daggers, I have been informed of your and your crew's reluctant role in this nefarious plot. Is it safe to assume that the weapon is intact and undamaged?"

Gvarokh replies, "Yes, that is the case. The corsairs refrained from shooting at us. Presumably they wanted it too."

"That is what my informant says. From what I understand of its potential, I'd like for it to remain on-board your ship. Please rendezvous with my ship at these coordinates. We'll talk more later. Laengnourz out."

Over shipcomm, Gvarokh says, "Elloekothe, your task is even more important now."

She replies, "Unless something has changed, Laengnourz is a loyalist. The fact that he's not arresting us suggests that he knows we were forced into the assassination plot. But if something has changed, then we're working for him now."

Gvarokh plugs in the coordinates that Admiral Laengnourz gave him. It will put them on an intercept course with the largest ship in the fleet. While doing so, he responds to Elloekothe, "I figured he was a Ngath loyalist. However, we need to keep the other sample for Irma to do her work. We really need to not lose that work as it looks to be our only chance to finish at least part of our actual mission. But if we are called on it, we'll have to turn that over too. Hopefully, his informant was with the corsairs, not the conspirators."

Some time later, when Pack of Daggers rendezvous with Aedhfazidzso, the admiral tightbeams the ship. "Captain Gvarokh, I have to admit that I have a bit of a conundrum. While I can't in good conscience let you leave the Confederation with that weapon, I don't want it aboard any of my ships either. My understanding is that if it leaks, all aboard the containing ship will perish. I'm inclined to destroy your ship just to be sure—after evacuating you and your crew of course.

"I've dispatched a courier to inform our Great Hunter Ngath of our situation, but I will not receive a response for some time, so your fate is in my hands. As my informant swears that you were an unwilling participant in this plot, I will give you a chance to plead your case. What say you?"

Chuck texts Gvarokh a message asking him if he wants to share news of Vincent's database hacking work.

Gvarokh texts back, "Not yet."

Gvarokh tells the admiral their cover story, told so many times now that it's second nature. He follows the desire for revenge in Corridor part with hearing about Gemid and looking for someone to get them an introduction. He talks about the meeting with Soks, but leaves out the Newcastle job, and talks about the application meeting, but leaves out the Ikhog reveal.

"And yes, we were not willing participants in this. I admit that we did buy the weapon, but it certainly was not to kill the Great Hunter. We have nothing against this great Confederation and were going to use the weapon to research an immunity and, yes, settle some scores back in Corridor. However, after winning the bid to purchase it, we were double-crossed and forced to take the assassination plot. I figured refusing the deal would end up with myself and my entire crew dead immediately, so I didnít believe I had an option. However, we had no intention of fulfilling the mission. We planned on either fleeing when the opportunity arose, or parleying with the Great Hunter's protectors if we couldn't get away before then."

"As an outsider with no loyalties to the Confederation, why not comply with assassination requirement?"

"Because we have nothing against the Great Hunter, and now I hate the Gemid committee for their double-cross. I'd rather die than see them succeed. Plus, killing the Great Hunter, assuming that was even possible, would have only resulted in our deaths anyway. Basically, we were dead if we didn't take the mission; we were dead if we failed the mission; we were dead if we succeeded in the mission. Our only hope was to either find a good time to flee or subvert the mission when we made it to the destination. Not great odds either way, but it's what we had."

"So why didn't you flee after diving into the gas giant, or for that matter, just remaining in hiding?"

"Well, for all we knew, the corsairs were still around, and having three frigates to escort us out was probably our best bet to get out."

The admiral nods. "Yes, since the corsairs were after the weapon, they would have bit the frigates before biting you. You might have even had time to reach the jump point, or risk jumping early if you weren't quite there."

Gvarokh then says, "I would prefer to keep our ship. The fact that we are talking right now means the ship hasn't been contaminated. In fact, the weapon has timed locks on it that prevent us from even trying to access anything in it until we got to the correct spot in the 'schedule'. If you don't want to even touch it, can we just launch it into the local sun and call it done? Or drop it into this handy gas giant?"

"I'll take you up on your offer to dispose of the weapon, but I don't trust the gas giant to be a safe disposal site. However, the sun will do, and it will be a good way to kill some time while we wait for Ngath's response. I'll send an escort with you to ensure that you arrive safely and keep your word. A bomb disposal unit will board your ship, retrieve the weapon, and launch into the sun. After that, I'll be convinced that you're not just yanking my tail.

My navigator says that it should take you seven standard days and ten hours to get there. My tactical officer says your ship has enough fuel to cover the round trip if you're smart. If you don't have enough food or life support refurbishment materials, you can requisition them at cost. Do you agree to my terms?"

Gvarokh responds, "Well, with the gas giant, I expected you to blow up the weapon, then let the debris fall into the gas giant. But, yes, I accept your terms to dropping it into the sun. If you don't mind, I will check with our chief steward to ensure we have adequate supplies."

"Good. Here's the contact info for the Aedhfazidzso's chief steward." The information is transmitted to your ship. "Let her know what you need. Your escort will be assembled and ready to run by the time that you're ready. Aedhfazidzso out."

Once the connection is cut, Gvarokh asks Chuck if there's anything they need for the trip and the next two jumps.

"We should just take advantage of the offer and requisition it," he says. "Who knows when we're going to get refurbished again?"

Lakir pipes in, "If this shit goes sideways and we have ta make a run for the border, we're gonna be refueling at the most remote places possible."

Gvarokh replies, "I agree."

Disposal Run

Characters: Gvarokh, Lakir, Vincent, Dougok, Slade
NPC: Elloekothe, Chuck, Vlad, Uengghae, Simrii, Kagfak, Irma
Location: Pack of Daggers
System: Ikhog

1126.43.7 - 00:30 Imperial Time, 16:30 Vlani Time

Two weeks worth of food and life support refurbishment materials were delivered to the ship and stowed in the cargo hold. Four Agverrgh class destroyers pull alongside Pack of Daggers and, when all are ready, depart the gas giant in formation and burn towards the local sun.

Gvarokh has the bridge crew set up for eight-hour shifts while engineering splits twelve-hour shifts. There isn't much for either group to do other than monitor sensors which are set to make loud alarms should anyone doze off while something happens.

44.2 - 11:30 Imperial Time, 11:30 Vilani Time

Vincent announces that his decryption program has finally beat the encryption on the databases that were snagged from Gemid. After that, it doesn't take long for him to find the files pertaining to the bioweapon. The files are then sent over to Irma to study and hopefully figure out a counteragent.

Gvarokh is pleased with Vincent's success and asks him to find out what else is in there.

44.4 - 8:50 Imperial Time, 24:50 Vilani Time

Midpoint to sun. Deceleration begins.

45.1 - 1:40 Imperial Time, 17:40 Vilani Time

Arrival at sun.

A modular cutter departs from one of the destroyers and pulls up to the belly of Pack of Daggers. Vlad, Lakir, Simrii, and Dougok hand the weapon off to an awaiting complement of Confederation personnel. They load it into an open module and move towards the sun. Once they're about a thousand kilometers away from the flotilla, a rocket is fired from the open module toward the sun. The modular cutter returns to its parent destroyer while the squadron watches the rocket's journey until it is overwhelmed by the star's heat and explodes. The squadron commander then gives the order to return to the fleet at Sitka.

45.4 - 20:50 Imperial Time, 12:50 Vilani Time

Midpoint to Sitka. Deceleration begins.

45.6 - 13:00 Imperial Time, 21:00 Vilani Time

Irma announces that she sees a pathway for a vaccine, but can not synthesize one on board the ship.

Gvarokh calls a meeting to discuss Irma's findings and Vincent's database dive.

"What do you need to make the vaccine?" he asks. "Something specific or just general facilities?"

"Definitely facilities," Irma answers. "I'd need a null gravity molecular sorter and a stable beta radiation diffusion gel bed. Not to mention all the safety equipment to operate in those conditions."

Gvarokh turns to Elloekothe. "Would returning with samples of the virus and hard data on a potential vaccine be sufficient to constitute a successful mission? I don't see how we have a path back to Gemid anymore, so blowing up the facilities is probably a lot harder now."

"Neutralizing the threat is part of the mission. That directive included destruction of data for weapon construction as well as the facility itself."

"My worm should have taken out the data by now," Vincent says with a small measure of pride.

"But we can't rule out the possibility that the data was backed up somewhere."

"Well, yeah, I guess that's true," Vincent replies sheepishly.

"What else is in the databases?" Gvarokh asks Vincent.

Vincent perks up. "More nasty bio-weapon stuff: Respiratory attacks; information about creating neurotoxins tailor-made for specific species, ethnic groups, and families; neurological insecticides; neurological rashes; a virus that makes people go berserk; neurological pacifiers; and various delivery systems."

Gvarokh turns to Ellokothe. "What about this Admiral Laengnourz? Could we talk him into letting us return to Gemid to blow up the facility? Or does he want to control it just to make sure it's loyal? Does anyone else know the assassination mission has been compromised?"

She replies, "Unless there's someone that Captain Tsuengsaekh was supposed to check in with along the route, I don't see how anyone else would know.

"My intel states that Admiral Laengnourz is a Ngath loyalist. Some have disparagingly called him a 'lap dog.' He's not going to want to run a decapitation strike on Gemid unless Ngath says so. For all we know, Ngath might want to keep Gemid's toys for himself. And if those toys are broken, he'll take it out on Laengnourz's hide.

"He mentioned sending a courier to Gvadhoe for further instructions. When that courier returns, we'll have our answers."

Gvarokh responds, "I guess we'll just have to bide out time until then." After a pause, he continues, "But if the stuff they're working on is as bad as the download shows, we'll need to figure out a way to bomb the shit out of it. Assuming we could even get close enough."

After a moment of pondering, Vlad says, "We wouldn't have to get close."

The eyes of the room turn to him.

"We can drop a rock from one of the asteroid belts on them. It doesn't have to be that big. Since Gemid has a very thin atmosphere, one hundred meters could do the trick. Two hundred for sure. The city's dome will shatter. If the fireball doesn't scorch everything, the mass impactor will." He adds, "Part of my demolitions training back in the Marines."

Gvarokh thinks for a bit and says, "Well, that certainly does give us options. It would be hard to do that too stealthily, but maybe we could use a much closer near-orbit asteroid or comet. That would give them less time to react. After we are released, assuming we can do it without incident, we can run the maths to see how much time and effort it would take to do. Even if we do have to use object from farther out, maybe we could get several of these going before they noticed any were coming."

Chuck says, "After this meeting, I'll check the nav computer and pull up the astrometry database for Gemid. Maybe Vlad and I can find some candidates. Vincent, can you help with the rock size to ship thrust calculations?"

"Sure!"

46.1 - 13:45 Imperial Time, 5:45 Vilani Time

Rendezvous with the fleet at Sitka.

Next: Back with the Fleet