NPC: Uengghae, Elloekothe
Location: Kashiin Siir Downport then Kashiin Siir
The trio exit the ship and walk up the gantry arm to the downport concourse. The
air in the walkway is stifling. Upon pushing open the door to the concourse, a
blast of cool air welcomes them.
Uengghae and Elloekothe sniff the air. Even Lakir notices that it's dry and there's a slight chemical smell, like baked vinyl. It might be coming from the carpet, the high traffic short pile variety.
The ship has touched down in the private, non-commercial traffic wing of the downport. There is no pedestrian traffic. There is one token bench of plastic chairs for each gate, and each faces the huge plate glass windows that look out upon the tarmac. The concourse is six meters from gate to far wall. A sign on the wall across from the gate door states that the main terminal, where the bustle of downport commerce can be heard, is to the trio's right, along with gates 1-9 (the ship is parked at gate 10). Gates 11-30 are to the left.
Elloekothe points to the right and says, "There's a train that shuttles back and forth from the downport to the city. We'll find it in the main terminal."
The trio then head into the main terminal. Pedestrian traffic seems to be about 50/50 on the human/vargr mix. Downport employees appear to be predominantly human. Elloekothe spots a sign for "Transportation" over a broad stairwell leading down. The next level down appears to be for ground transportation. She takes them down another level, marked "TRAINS".
The stairs open up onto a cavernous room. Behind a ticket counter lay eight sets of tracks. Elloekothe buys round trip tickets for the three of them and then proceeds towards the security gate. Bored looking workers look on as would be passengers pass through metal detectors. No one in the group triggers any alarms.
The trio then proceed to Track 7, the next train departing, and find seats for all of them. Lakir sits between the two vargr. The train soon fills up; the remaining seats are taken. Five minutes later, the train leaves the station.
"How long a ride is it?" Uengghae asks.
"Thirty minutes," Elloekothe answers.
The train arrives at the station without incident. They disembark and follow the
crowd to the city trains level. Elloekothe remarks that taxis were banned as
they were deemed an inefficient use of the world's limited fuel supply. Instead,
the fuel is used to run the power plants that provide the electricity to
operate the trains. On the surface, bicycles and tricycles are common. There
are also small motorcycles for those who can afford to pay the licensing and
registration fees, not to mention the fuel costs.
As they move through the station, Lakir notes the security cameras scattered throughout. If the little red lights are to be trusted, not all of them appear to be working. Maybe 80%.
Elloekothe picks a subway car that leads downtown. It's fairly packed with people, all of them human. It makes Lakir uneasy as the crowd might target his companions for some payback.
Elloekothe notes Lakir's unease and shakes her head. In a hushed voice, she says, "Won't be a problem here." She indicates with a nod of her snout that there's a security camera, and it's red light is on. "More of a concern where there are no eyes."
They ride the train for five minutes, disembark, and pick up another subway headed west. They ride this one another five minutes, disembark, and head to the surface.
Outside, the sun is slowly setting. The air is a bit thin for Lakir's taste. He makes it a point not to overexert himself until he can acclimate.
The neighborhood is tenements from the second floor up. Street level is government-owned services and supply stores and the occasional bar and restaurant. There are scant few other businesses. There are signs that say "New Business Coming Soon" and "New Government Service Provider Coming Soon". They all seem like they've been up for a while.
Elloekothe explains that the bars are allowed to stay open as they provide the people an outlet for relieving stress. The restaurants are forced to use imported food as the government has a monopoly on locally grown food which it cooks up in its cafeterias. Private cooking is deemed wasteful and is frowned upon, but isn't illegal.
She leads the trio into a corner bar named "Bar 8745".
"That's a strange name," Uengghae quips.
"It's named after the intersection: 87th Street and 45th Avenue," Elloekothe replies.
"Oh." He stops and points to a what appears to be a wall in the distance. "What's that?"
"Shield wall. Cuts down on encroaching sand storms. Also doubles as a prison wall, though the government won't admit it."
Before Uengghae can ask anymore questions, Elloekothe ducks into the bar.
It looks a bar like one on any other world. Maybe even one of the Terran "Old West" tales with all the sand and dust on the floor. All eyes turn to stare at the trio as they enter. It's clear that they don't like what they see. A silence falls upon the place.
But before anything bad happens, a loud voice says, "Everyone relax. This is El. She's a friend, not a subjugator." A tall man emerges from the crowd and walks over to greet Elloekothe. He has close-cropped gray hair that used to be black. His mustaches is grey and there's a couple days worth of stubble on his dark brown face.
He gives her a hug, which gets everyone to relax and go back to what they were doing.
Elloekothe introduces the guy as Muginki Arkarde and then introduces Uengghae and Lakir. He then leads the group to a table in the back, near the kitchen.
"How have you been?" Elloekothe asks.
"The same. Nothing's really changed since you left. People are growing more used to the occupation. The vargr advisory board recommended that the Ministry of Sustenance relax some of the food restrictions."
"The Ministry of Sustenance said that they'd consider it."
Uengghae speaks up, "For such a high law level world, I was surprised that the authorities didn't harass us."
Muginki sighs. "That, my furry friend, is because you're a vargr. All vargr—and any humans with them—are free to move about. If Lakir here were alone, he would've been stopped."
"He's got a tourist visa."
"All that means is they'd let him go, or provide him with a police escort to make sure he wasn't here to cause trouble." He pauses. "But I'm sure this isn't a school field trip. What brings you to Kashiin?"
Elloekothe's voice drops in volume. "We need to find Dhunkul."
"Why? Are you finally going to kill him?"
"Not yet. We need him for a job."
Muginki looks like he's had the wind knocked out of him. "A job? What kind of job? No, wait. Never mind. I don't want to know. It can't be good. And if you told me, I'd be tempted to not to help you."
"We need him to orchestrate get us access to even worse wolves: ones that would slaughter billions. We need to stop them, but only he can get us close."
"So you need the help of a depraved wolf so that you can stop a pack of genocidal wolves." He pauses and leans back in the booth. "I don't envy you."
"Now you see my predicament."
"Yeah. I can help you. He's downtown at the Shur Thing Club. Ya know the place?"
"Yeah. Just another sordid boys club where naked people entertain the rich."
Muginki nods. "But there's more. They can be bought and sold too. Word is that Dhunkul is planning on buying some more toys for himself and his friends."
Lakir asks, "So what if I show up with these two? Better if I not go, or how does it play out, otherwise? I'm not inta' bein' sold off as a slave."
Muginki manages a smile. "You don't have anything to worry about. You're not pretty enough."
Muginki continues, "Only young women and weak boys get sold. If you're male and strong enough to pull your weight in the mines or processing facilities, that's where you go. The weak and pretty are the ones that wind up down at the club. And people don't show up at the club to sell; they show up to buy or just be entertained. If you're with these two, you're safe.
"The place used to be supplied solely by the Touzagh. And it wasn't just the sex trade, though that's what the place is known for. They'd have skilled personnel—pilots, techs, engineers—that they'd captured. Since they folded, the remaining owner plucks from the local pool, so back to being all about sex and servitude."
Elloekothe asks, "How do I get in? I'm not exactly flush with cash."
"There's a bouncer name Gikhuge working the door tonight. Just tell him that I sent you. He'll let you in."
"Thanks. I owe you one, Mug."
"I'll put it on your tab."
With that, Muginki and Elloekothe stand and hug. She makes for the door and Uengghae and Lakir follow her out.
NPC: Major Arsashaammu
Location: Pack of Daggers, parked at the Kashiin Siir Downport
Gvarokh leaves the bridge and heads down to sick bay to see the ship's doctor,
Major Arsashaammu. He finds her examining a sample of microscopic flora on a
"Captain Gvarokh, I wasn't expecting you. What can I do for you?"
"Irma, I need to have a word with you regarding this...mission we're on."
"Ok." She turns her back to the screen so that he has her full attention.
"I need to know how far you're willing to go to complete this mission."
She seems a bit off put by the request. "I thought that the admiral made it quite clear. We're supposed to do whatever it takes to accomplish the mission."
Gvarokh responds, "I apologize, I was not clear on my question. I remember what the admiral said, and I know neither you nor Elloe would be on this mission if you were not willing to follow that directive. In fact, I also fully expect that Elloe, and probably you, are independently under orders to ensure that takes place, regardless of what that means for me and the rest of the crew. I would be surprised if that wasn’t the case.
"What I am asking about is something more. We need to make sure we have multiple avenues to accomplish the goal. I expect to eventually gain access—desired or not—to the pathogen. How much do you think you can do with it, if given full access to it? Obviously, developing an antidote or immunity to it would be great, but would you be able to modify it? Redirect it or make it more specialized?"
"I'm not entirely sure what I'll be able to do with it. The biogeneers on Gemid are renown through the Imperium for their...skills. I'm hoping that in my epidemiological analysis I'll be able to determine what's going on at the cellular level. Once I derive its method of mRNA synthesis and figure out which proteins it targets, I can see where it fits on the Baltimore Classification chart...sorry, you don't need the fine details.
"Yes, I'm hoping to come up with some kind of vaccine to prevent infection. An antidote would be wonderful, but I'm not sure that I have the equipment to synthesize a retrovirus to undo the damage. Modification is likely beyond the scope of my equipment as well. It all depends on what I find."
"If it is up to the task, do you think you could modify it to only affect vargr or make its attack vector different so it would bypass any of their immunities?"
Irma is silent for a few seconds, staring blankly at Gvarokh. After composing her response, she says, "I'm not sure that I would do that even if I could. Once released into the wild, there's no telling what could happen. It might mutate into a version that could kill us anyway or even all life forms on a world. I'd kill myself before I'd let that happen."
Gvarokh leans back some and slowly smiles. He then responds, "So, there are limits for what you are willing to do to accomplish this mission. I am very glad to hear that."
She noticeably exhales, as if she's been holding her breath pending Gvarokh's response. Her eyes brighten. She is obviously relieved to hear Gvarokh say that.
Gvarokh leans forward again and sincerely says, "Thank you."
She quickly nods and smiles, somewhat embarrassed.
Without really pausing, but with the smile long gone, he explains, "This is such a difficult mission, with hard odds against us. As such, I have to think of any options I can, no matter what they may be. When I have these ideas, I need to know which are possible and which are not possible, so I can focus on those that are possible. This helps with my understanding of what is and is not possible."
Gvarokh says goodbye and returns to the bridge.
NPC: Uengghae, Elloekothe
Location: Kashiin Siir Downport then Kashiin Siir
After updating the captain with their status, Elloekothe leads the guys back to
the subway. After two more five-minute train rides, they return to the surface.
The downtown area is much different than the neighborhood they were just at. The place is brightly lit with signs and ads clamoring for their attention. Government buildings are spaces apart from private clubs and much healthier looking commercial enterprises. While most of the traffic remains pedestrian, there are several grav cars commingling with electric varieties along the street. Even the pedestrians are better dressed. While they're better dressed in Vilani fashion, there's nothing outlandish. The human to vargr ratio is 8:1.
Before they go any further, Elloekothe pulls the two others aside. "Ok, before we go into the club, let's make sure we're on the same screen. Follow my lead. Our target is a snake. Whether he flatters you or insults you, resist knee jerk replies. Feign disinterest if you can, but keep it short of rude." To Uengghae, she says, "You shouldn't say anything unless it's a direct question. Keep it short, and stick with our cover." She turns to Lakir. "I trust you to rely on your best professional judgement. He may try to pry you open with his questions to find an angle that he can exploit to his advantage. The less you give him, the better." To the both of them, she says, "Remember, we need this wolf to get us to Gemid. No matter how much of a lowlife nguk he is, we can't drive him away.
Both Lakir and Uengghae shake their heads.
"Good. Let's go then."
Elloekothe leads them down another block. Bright lights over a marquee spell out the name of the club. The front doors are all glass with brass trim. Heavy curtains block the view of the interior. No sound escapes the place. A large human, easily two meters tall and over 100 kilos, stands in front of a door. He eyes the group with a scowl as they approach the door. There's an admission booth off to the side with a young woman reading a book. She doesn't look up.
Elloekothe walks up to the man. "You must be Gikhuge."
The man doesn't say anything, but continues to stare at Elloekothe.
"Mugniki sent us."
The man's stony expression lets up long enough for a sly grin to appear. He steps to the side, opens the door, and parts the curtain.
Gikhuge nods and gestures for the trio to head inside.
Once inside, the curtain falls back into place and the sound of the street is cut off. The trio now stand in a lobby. Two sets of wooden double doors lie straight ahead. There's a coat check off to the right; bathrooms off to the left. A broad staircase leads up to either side. Muffled sounds of music, particularly a thudding bass line, are leaking out from behind the doors.
Uengghae rushes forward and stands ready to open the door. "Keeping up appearances," he says.
Elloekothe nods in approval.
Uengghae opens the door and the music explodes into the lobby. There's a large, brightly lit stage inside at the far end of a grand room. The sunken floor in front of it is filled with tables. Further out on either side are dimly lit booths that can easily hold six to eight people. The room is two stories high, the balcony is lined with seated spectators. A bar runs on either side of the back wall. Most of the stools are occupied.
Up on the stage, there's some kind of S&M performance going on. A woman in 15 cm stilettos and studded undergarments brandishes a cat o' nine tails. Three young men are up on the stage, tied to X-shaped structures. Their backs are exposed, assless chaps on their lower halves. The woman is stalking the stage, feeding on the energy of the crowd and the music. She teases the men and pantomimes to the crowd, "Who next?"
Uengghae's ears shoot up, eyes wide. His mouth is clamped shut. He looks over at Lakir, concern evident on his face.
Elloekothe is scanning the room, looking for Dhunkul. She either doesn't see what's going on on the stage or doesn't care.
Lakir looks around at the crowd. All of the staff are human and aren't wearing much. The crowd is probably 85% human and well dressed in high Vilani fashion.
The S&M performance ends in a roar of cheers as the dominatrix goes all out whipping the three men for one final time. The stage lights dim and stage hands wheel the structures behind the curtain, the dominatrix supervising the process. The loud music dies down to a reasonable level while the house lights come up.
"Well, that was different..." Uengghae says.
Ignoring him, Elloekothe announces, "I found him."
The target is seated in a semicircular booth. He has two scantily clad young human women with him, one on either side. There are also two human men that look to be early 50's. Two burly vargr males sit at the ends of the booth. These two look around and sniff the air periodically. The one facing the trio as they arrive growls lowly to alert the other. They're on their feet in no time, barring the group's approach.
Although Elloekothe is out front and between Lakir and Uengghae, their attention is focused on them. They look menacing, baring teeth in a snarl. Uengghae does his best to return the greeting.
"Dhunkul," Elloekothe says, "call off your dogs."
With a bark from Dhunkul, the guards back down and let Elloekothe through. They still don't take their eyes off of Lakir and Uengghae.
"Ell!" Dhunkul makes a shooing gesture to the humans on his left. They slide out of the booth, feathers clearly ruffled, and clear the way for Dhunkul.
Once on his feet he sniffs the air over each of Elloekothe's shoulders, then grasps her paws. His tongue is out as he pants. He's several centimeters shorter than she is. "It is so good to see you and that you're still a sexy bitch."
"It's good to see you, too, Soks." As far as Lakir can tell, she means it.
Dhunkul's tail wags fiercely. It smacks repeatedly into the displaced woman's leg. She backs away, a confused look on her face. He grabs Elloekothe's upper arms and leans in closer for a deeper, more intimate sniffing of her torso. He sighs afterwards.
Elloekothe teasingly slaps him on the shoulder. "Oh Soks, you perv. Stop that. Not in front of my pack."
He respects her request. "So, who do we have here? A strapping young wolf and...a grizzled man who has the eyes of a hawk. I certainly hope you're sleeping with the wolf and not the hawk." This elicits some nervous laughter from the humans, but the guards remain stoic.
"Allow me to introduce you to my packmates. This is Uengghae."
Dhunkul sniffs the air in Uengghae's direction. "Well met, wolf."
Uengghae gives a short, polite sniff and nods.
"And this is Lakir."
Dhunkul sniffs the air in Lakir's direction. "Well met, sir. I can tell from your eyes that you're the alpha of the security detail, while Uengghae is the teeth."
Lakir returns Dhunkul's look, meeting his eyes. He doesn't blink, but there's a narrowing of his eyes and a twist to his lips.
"Ahhhh, the silent type. Those are always the most dangerous." Dhunkul returns his attention to Elloekothe. "Please, join us. They've managed to import some fairly decent uekhfarsal." He gestures to the bottle on the table.
"Sorry, Soks. We're here on business."
"Oh Ell, you party pooper. Very well. I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen, I'll have to sniff you out later." When his guests sit there with looks of surprise on their faces, he shoos them out of the booth.
Once they're gone, Elloekothe sits down next to Dhunkul. His guards sit down on the other side of him. Elloekothe motions for Uengghae and Lakir to sit.
Now that everyone is seated, Dhunkul turns to Elloekothe and says, "So what brings you all the way out here to sniff me out? It must be important to interrupt my hunt rather than waiting for me at the starport."
Dhunkul sniffs the air. "Alright, I'll bite. What is it?"
"My new captain is looking to make a splash on the interstellar scene—"
"Him and about ten thousand others. Please continue."
"He feels that the acquisition of certain products from Gemid would go a long way to attracting the sort of attention that he deserves."
"Oh, I see. Hmmmmm. Yes, I believe that would." He nods and sniffs the air a bit. He starts to pant, then says, "I like how he thinks. So, how is that I can help you?"
"He needs a letter of introduction, as it were."
Dhunkul chuckles. It's an unpleasant sound. "He doesn't have the charisma to just show up on his own. I'm disappointed, Ell. I thought that you would attach yourself to a wolf with sharper teeth."
Ell growls. "His teeth are plenty sharp. You said it yourself; he's competing with ten thousand other corsair captains."
"Hyperbole, my dear."
"No, it wasn't hyperbole. Look around you. With the Touzagh disbanded, the sector is ripe for a new leader to arise."
"I think he already has."
Ell snarls. "That hairless? He's just a human with wolf envy."
Dhunkul looks hurt by Elloekothe's comment. "Well, Kagiisha was quite successful—"
"Until his base was blown to bits. Tell me, was Khigiikuli able to capture the ghost raiders responsible?"
Dhunkul looks down at his paws. "No."
"That's because he doesn't have the snout for it. And it's why you should meet with my captain. You'll see."
Dhunkul returns his gaze to Elloekothe, a look of defiance across his face. "Uh huh. And why didn't he come down here and ask me in person?"
Elloekothe leans in and nuzzles Dhunkul's neck. Her left paw is somewhere under the table. "Because he knows how persuasive I can be."
A leer crosses his face. "Very well. Does this captain have a name?"
Elloekothe slowly pulls away. "Gvarokh."
"Tell your Captain Gvarokh that I will meet with him...after my business here has concluded. What's the name of your ship?"
"Pack of Daggers."
"Pack of Daggers." He mulls over the name as he sniffs the air. "I like it. I will call you after breakfast tomorrow to let you know when I'm ready to meet with you and Captain Gvarokh." He looks over at the stage. "Oh good. The next act is coming on. Care to stay?"
"Sorry, but I have to get back to my captain. I can feel him pulling on my leash."
Lakir and Uengghae take that as their cue to stand up.
"Naughty bitch," Dhunkul replies. Elloekothe smiles teasingly. "Get back to your captain. I'll see you tomorrow." He kisses her paw, licks it longingly, and then releases her.
The trio walk to the exit. Elloekothe says goodnight to Gikhuge, and they head down the street in the cold, crisp night. Just before they reach the subway entrance, Elloekothe excuses herself and ducks into an alley. Lakir and Uengghae exchange puzzled glances then follow.
In the gloom of the alley, they see her pacing. "Give me your jacket," she demands of Uengghae. Although confused he complies.
She wads up the jacket and uses it to cover her face. She unleashes a scream of rage, but the jacket muffles the sound. When she's done she hands the jacket back to Uengghae.
She says, "Ok, let's get back to the ship. If I don't get a shower fast, I'm going to chew my paw off."
[...to be continued...]