NPC: Doctor Gvekhs
Location: Medical Bay
It's dark when Verroel's mind starts swimming back to consciousness. It brings
with it a pounding headache.
He hears moaning and groaning all around him, punctuated by someone snapping, "Oh, quit your bellyaching. Consider yourselves lucky to be alive."
Verroel soon realizes that the darkness is present because there's a soft cloth covering his eyes. Instinctively, he reaches up and pulls it away. He immediately regrets it. Bright light blinds him, triggering fresh pounding inside his head. Shielding his eyes, he looks around the room. He's able to make out standard med beds around him and deduces that he's on one as well. The moaners near him all appear to be vargr. As the blurriness begins to fade, he makes out a couple cots across from him, both occupied by moaning vargr.
He snaps his head to the right as a voice grabs his attention.
"Ah good. You're finally awake."
Verroel blinks several times to regain his focus. The wolf approaching him is wearing a doctor's lab coat. He approaches Verroel's bed and taps the wall by his head. A privacy curtain materializes, blurring everything not within 25 cm of the bed and muffles the sound.
"How are you feeling?"
Verroel finds that he's thirsty. "Water."
The doctor hands him a squeeze bulb filled with water. "Thanks for the aid, Doctor." Verroel sips the water and then slowly sits up, using the process to gather his thoughts in the wooziness.
While Verroel drinks, the doctor asks, "We don't have much time. How much do you remember?"
Verroel squints at the doctor, knowing that he must know the wolf. It finally clicks: It's Fi's old friend from the bar. "You're Gvekhs, right?"
"Yes, sounds like you're a bit fuzzy. Do you remember the attack?"
Verroel does and nods accordingly.
"Good. They said that you were hit by a sleep gas grenade and that it would wear off in a couple hours."
"Our attackers. They took one look at how you were dressed and assumed you were the captain. Our captain, Kukagerrg, got away. Anyway, they dragged you here after they took control of the ship. I don't know everything, but I do know that the ship left the station, local defense forces moved to intercept, and some rabid dog hit the jump button way too soon. I think the rest of our crew all got jump sickness as I haven't had a chance to do anything else since then. I guess we should consider ourselves lucky, we should be dead."
"So let me get this straight," Verroel says. "The raiders nabbed me thinking I'm your captain, seized your ship, and probably misjumped. Is that correct?"
"Yes. All of it. And there's no 'probably' about the misjump. We definitely did."
"Ok, who are the raiders and how many are there?"
"We don't know who they are, but there's ten of them."
"Do you know why they hit you?"
"How many of your crew are there?"
"Most died defending the ship. Including you and me, there's eight of us, and we're unarmed."
"Are the raiders in bad shape as well?"
"Not as far as I can tell. They didn't seem fazed by the misjump."
Verroel growls at the news and then winces at the ensuing headache. "Misjump...we may be dead anyway, but just not yet." He snaps his jaws and stiffens, drawing strength from inside. "But there is still fight in the wolves yet."
Gvekhs glances to the ailing crewmen outside the privacy screen. "Maybe not right now..."
Verroel is undeterred. "Do we have any engineers in the group or part of the command crew?"
Gvekhs shakes his head. "I know the subordinate engineers are alive. Except for the captain, the command crew is dead."
Verroel thinks about what he's seen of his surroundings. "Are we all here and locked up?"
"Mostly. The engineers, Rufus and Dhoknan, are down in engineering sniffing around the drives for damage. The rest are here with us: two gunners, backup pilot, and my assistant. We're not locked in, but there are guards posted outside the door."
Verroel considers the odds and decides against an immediate attack. "Let me go talk to the guards. Don't let on that I'm not your captain for the time being. We may be able to use their mistake for our advantage."
Gvekhs nods in acknowledgement.
Verroel slowly stands up and waits for a moment to gather his strength and get his bearings.
Gvekhs moves next to him to assist, but Verroel waves him off.
Gvekhs turns off the privacy curtain as Verroel walks over to the door and opens it. Standing in the doorway he looks about. He notices two guards standing there in cloth armor, assault rifles at the ready, but not pointed at him.
Unfazed, Verroel gathers himself up and says with authority, "What is this all about? What kind of crap have you gotten us into with this misjump?"
One guard tilts his head slightly to the right and says, "He's awake." He returns his head to upright and says to Verroel, "Go on back inside, sir. The major will be down to see you momentarily."
Verroel wags his tail slightly and, after hearing the respectful 'sir', assumes a dominant posture. "It's about time. That was a very effective attack, by the way. What pack are you from to be able to execute a plan like that?"
The guard doesn't take the bait. "The major will answer your questions. Now, inside you go." The guard that hasn't been talking has raised his weapon so it's pointing directly at Verroel.
Realizing that he's not going to get anything more from the guard, Verroel complies. The door closes behind him.
Gvekhs looks to Verroel and sniffs to gauge what he thinks.
"Keep up the fiction for now," Verroel says. "The longer they think I'm the captain, the better."
Gvekhs nods in assent, then goes around the med bay getting the rest of the crew present in on the plan.
NPC: Doctor Gvekhs
Location: Medical Bay, Crew Lounge
Without warning, the med bay door slides open, revealing the two guards from
before. Verroel stiffens. The guards have their weapons in hand.
The talker from before says, "The major will see you now." With a curt nod of his head, he indicates that Verroel should step out in the hall. Verroel complies.
The guards indicate that Verroel should walk down the hall. At the end are two more guards, similarly armed and armored. To their right and Verroel's left is the open door to the crew lounge.
As Verroel walks down the hall, he attempts to move a half step in front so that it looks like he's leading a procession rather than being dragged along as a prison.
The lack of footsteps behind him indicates that the med bay guards aren't following him. He enters the crew common area, keeping an eye on the two new guards at the end of the hall who do follow him.
"Oh shit. Not him. You idiots grabbed the wrong wolf."
Verroel recognizes the voice. He jerks his head around to see a petite vargr bitch. His jaw and tail drop for a moment as he recognizes the leader of the pirates. She's wearing more clothes this time.
She's a damn fine bitch, but it seems that she had more going for her than just a body that made a wolf want to howl at the moon.
"Dharla...well, well, well. It's a fine kettle of rabbits your gang has put together."
She puts her paws on her hips. "Verroel. I bet you enjoy seeing me again, though I suspect not under these circumstances."
Verroel wags his tail and snaps his jaw in the body language for a chuckle. He gives Dharla an admiring look and shakes his head. "Oh, any day that I can see you, even one like today, is a good one. I knew you had the action going but not quite like this."
She sighs and shakes her head sadly. "Still working the charm offensive, Verroel? You do know that it's not going to save your tail today, right?"
Verroel continues to wag, unrepentant. Backing down would only expose him to further loss of prestige and danger. If he was going to be spaced, he'd at least go out with his tail high. "Always charm for a bitch like you, Dharla. I figure my tail is in a vise anyway.
"So what is your deal here? We've misjumped to the Spirit knows where. You're going to need every wolf you can swing when we come out."
"No, you're wrong. I don't need you. You're not a member of this crew, and you're certainly not their captain. You don't have what I want. But maybe I'll be able to find a use for you later." To the guards, she says, "Have the doctor put him in cryostasis. If he resists, shoot him."
Verroel maintains the confident front to the end despite the situation. At least I'm not getting spaced out the airlock. "Come come now, Dharla. I may not be their captain, but I can influence them for you and keep them together."
"I don't need you to influence them for me. I'm quite capable of doing that on my own." She gestures to the guards. "All you're going to do is stir them into rebellion, and I can't have that."
She gives a curt nod. Verroel finds each arm of his in the grip of a guard, guns trained on his mid-section.
One guard says, "You heard her. Let's go."
Verroel shakes his arms loose of the guards. "I can walk just fine, thank you." With his head held high, he heads up to the low berth room. He stands at the doorway looking at the line of electronic coffins. Better than the airlock, he reminds himself. Noticing his hesitation, the guards prod him in the back. He enters the room and climbs into one of the berths.
A couple minutes later, Doctor Gvekhs enters the room and prepares Verroel for cryostasis. He says loud enough for the guards to hear, "You're probably safer in here than out there with that trigger happy bitch." His back is to the guards, so he winks. He crouches down to adjust the controls and whispers, "Don't worry. I'll find a way to get you out of here, and we'll get the ship back."
The doctor says aloud to the guards, "He's all set."
"Then do it already," the mouthy one says.
Gvekhs gives Verroel the slightest of nods as the lid closes. There's a quick prick on the arm, followed by a numbing sensation running through his arm, through his body. His eyelids are heavy; his worries float away. A pleasant cool breeze rushes over him, tickles his nose briefly, and then he's asleep.
NPC: Doctor Gvekhs
Location: Low Berth Room
While Verroel has never been a fan of cryosleep, he's understood its necessity.
When he has had to endure it, he typically has pleasant everyday dreams. But
this time it's different.
The dream started out with a primitive version of himself in a pack, running across some meadow after a herd of prey. Movement off to his left caught his eye, and he stopped to look at it. One of the creatures, resembling a Terran elk, had wandered away from the rest of the herd and entered a forest. As Verroel focused on it, it had the effect of teleporting him to the edge of the forest. He could see the elk-thing slowly meandering through the trees. Anticipating an easy kill, Verroel followed it.
It wasn't long before the nature of the forest turned dark. The sun was lost; the forest barely brighter than twilight. The air turned damp, and moss grew everywhere. Rotting tree stumps increased in frequency, and some were covered with aggressive and hideously colored fungi. The forest transitioned over to a swamp.
Although he lost sight of the elk-thing, he could still smell its trail over the dank, fetid odors of rot. He came upon a large boulder and climbed it for a better vantage point. Movement below him caught his eye. There was the elk-thing lying on its side. While he sized it up, he quickly realized it was already dead. As he watched, mushrooms began to sprout from its carcass. They grew larger sprouting appendages: legs, arms, wings. Spikes protruded from the caps. One by one, they broke free of the dead elk-thing and began to explore the area around them.
Now he could hear them. It started out as a buzzing sound, like an annoying insect, but he could perceive changes in the shapes of the sound. They were words. He couldn't make out what they were saying, but the mushrooms were clearly communicating with one another.
Verroel turned to leave but it was too late. The mushroom things had surrounded the rock. Some were even figuring how to climb up it.
"Is he awake?"
Verroel's eyelids pop open. Doctor Gvekhs is hovering over him, frowning. He smiles after a second and leans back. "There he is. Welcome back, Verroel." There's a slight croak to his voice.
Verroel bolts upright and surveys the room, reassuring himself that he is still aboard the hijacked corsair.
"Whoa! Hold on there." Gvekhs put a paw on Verroel's shoulder to slow him down. "Take it easy. You just woke up. You don't want to hurt yourself." Gvekhs pauses, looks at the monitor, and frowns. "Your heart rate is elevated. Damn unit must've injected too much adrenaline into your system." He turns to the guard. "His vitals are off. I'm going to keep him here until he stabilizes, bring him up to speed."
The guard, probably the one that he spoke with outside of the medbay, says, "All of our vitals are off, Doc," he says, no humor in his voice. "I'll wait outside, but don't take too long." There's no threat in his voice either.
"How...long?" Verroel croaks through a dry throat.
Gvekhs hands him a water bulb, and he greedily hoses down his throat.
"Twelve days," Gvekhs says, still frowning. "Feels like twelve weeks."
Verroel studies Gvekhs' face and sniffs the air. He doesn't look like he's slept very much or showered. His eyes are baggy; his ears are droopy. His fur is matted and a little funky.
Verroel takes a deep breath and sits back up despite the residual discomfort. Gvekhs makes no effort to stop him this time. Verroel sniffs the air and evaluates the situation. Something went wrong. He could smell it; he could feel it. After finishing off the water bulb, he asks, "What went wrong? Tell me what happened and why they woke me so soon? I expected to be out for months if not years."
Gvekhs looks at him with his baggy eyes that seem more than just tired. Dread, perhaps? "We're still in jumpspace. We haven't left. That misjump did something, and now we can't seem to return to normal space. But that's not the worst of it." He pauses, lowers his voice. "We've encountered some...creatures."
Verroel looks at Gvekhs as if he's gone mad.
"I know it sounds insane. If we didn't have the data from internal sensors, I'd have chalked it up to jumpspace psychosis. Everyone else that we've woken from cryosleep has looked at the data and confirmed it."
"Ok, back up a bit. When did things go off the rails?"
Gvekhs takes a deep breath before he continues. "Day nine. Reports started coming in of knocking sounds on the hull. Some of the hijackers and some of the crew who weren't put into cryosleep reported being unable to sleep and hearing voices. I tried sedatives, but nothing worked.
"On day ten, the suicides started. One guard scrawled a note saying, 'They want to come inside' and then blew his brains out. One of our gunners slashed his wrists and wrote the same thing on the wall of his stateroom in blood. Later on, two other guards were found together in a room in some sort of suicide pact. No note for these two.
"On day eleven, they came inside."
Verroel's ears fold forward in puzzlement. His body language clearly reveals his doubt, but he respects the doctor and tries to remain respectful as his tale unfolds. Interrupting or laughing would be rude. He consciously turns his ears back to their normal potion.
"Who came inside?"
Gvekhs stares at the ceiling, a faraway look in his eyes. "I'm not sure how to describe them. They stood upright on crab-like legs. They have a pair of strong, large pincers and leathery wings. I'm not sure how many smaller pincers they have: four, six? They're grey with mottled pink patches. I can't tell if they have exoskeleton shells like insects or velvet fibers like a mushroom. What appears to be a head is some knobby structure with about a dozen antennae sticking out."
Verroel's ears flip backward again. The ruff around his neck stands in horror at the unbelievable situation.
Gvekhs shudders, then returns his gaze to Verroel. "They're able to make some kind of telepathic connection with us. I don't if they're strong or we're weak from lack of sleep. But they were able to take control of one of the guards and Rufus. The guard mowed down two of his comrades before he was killed. Rufus...he opened the airlock and let them on board. He's been enthralled to them ever since.
"The Major decided we should form an alliance against these creatures. She told me to revive each of you from cryosleep to bolster our numbers. If we're going to take back the ship, we need everyone we can get."
Shaking himself as if brushing off water, Verroel slowly stands and straightens himself. Things sound bad, terribly bad, assuming this isn't just a case of mass hysteria. Either way, this was his chance to establish leadership, possibly even displace the bitch Dharla as head of the pack. Of course, there was the small task of defeating the incursion or dispelling the illusions, but Verroel would not take his eyes off the main prize.
"So these creatures disrupted morale and sleep, caused suicides, and then took control of a pair of the corsair crew." It was a question, but it was phrased in a dominant fashion as a statement that demanded an answer.
"Actually," Gvekhs replies, "they took control of our chief engineer and one of the corsairs. The corsair is dead, but Rufus...he's still under their control."
Verroel nods and continues, "And how many of these things are aboard and have they attacked directly?"
"We think twenty. One wolf from our crew, Uerro, was killed trying to repel them. I didn't see it happen. He grabbed a gun from one of the dead corsairs and fired at them. I don't know if he was successful; the camera in their section was disabled. They fired some kind of darts. One hit him. He didn't die right away. He started freaking out, and then there was a small explosion inside his chest, near his heart. You could see the blood rupture outward."
The guard pokes his head back in the room. "He looks good, Doc. Let's go."
Verroel looks over at the guard, sniffs the air, and takes an authoritative stance. "Take me to the major then."
NPC: Dr Gvekhs, Dharla, 2 corsairs, 3 crew
Verroel enters the bridge with Dr. Gvekhs and the corsair guard in tow. Dharla
is leaning over a console with one of the ship's crew. There's another corsair
guard watching the stairs that lead down to the second deck. The other two
crewmembers are wrapped in blankets while holding cups of something warm, likely
dealing with the after effects of cryostasis.
Everyone turns to see Verroel and the others. Like the doctor, Dharla doesn't look like she's slept much. Some of her fur even looks matted. The guard seals the iris valve behind them.
Dharla says to the doctor, "Did you have a chance to bring him up to speed?"
Gvekhs replies, "He knows the important details. I didn't want to waste time."
Dharla turns her gaze to Verroel, a look of pain on her face. "Well, now's your chance to be a hero."
Verroel sniffs the air as he assesses the situation. He steps forward and holds his ears, tail, and head high in a dominant fashion. He looks at Dharla. "Let's not waste time as the good doctor says. Exactly what areas do the intruders hold, and how many wolves do you have and what weapons?"
She calls up the deck plans for the ship. Verroel looks from one wolf to the other as she does so and then looks them over. His tail slowly wags.
"The intruders control the entire lower deck and seem to spend most of their time in the cargo hold. They occasionally send out patrols to the middle deck, but they never stay. We control the upper deck. As for how many wolves we have, look around the room. This is it. Everyone else is either dead or under their control."
Verroel looks around the room and counts eight, including himself.
"For weapons, we have three assault rifles, one shotgun, and two pistols."
The corsair guard that was in the room when Verroel woke up says, "They dragged off the bodies, so we weren't able to salvage any of our comrade's weapons. If we could get into the ship's locker, we might find something else to use."
"Why haven't you?" Verroel asks.
Dharla looks pointedly at Gvekhs. He sheepishly says, "It's locked. Everyone who has access is either dead, enslaved, or back on Roetingaz station."
Verroel says, "We need the weapons from the locker even if they are only as good as what we have on hand now." He looked to Gvekhs. "What weapons are available in the locker?"
Gvekhs hesitates, seemingly reluctant to divulge that information. He looks from Verroel to Dharla and then back to Verroel. "Depending on what our dead packmates used to repel the boarders, there could be several submachine guns, combat rifles, shotguns, pistols. I know the captain had some grenades. There should also be several suits of flex armor." Defensively, he adds, "I don't know much more than that. I'm a doctor, not a mercenary."
One of the crew raises her paw. "I might be able to pick the lock, but I'm going to need my tools."
Verroel barks in approval. "You are?"
"Where are your tools?" Dharla asks.
"Engineering," the female crew-wolf replies.
Verroel says, "We'll head down and make an immediate raid. What deck of engineering are your tools on?"
"Middle deck on the ship, so the upper level of engineering."
Verroel looks back to Dharla. "How many of your pack are under alien control and how effective are they in fighting or working controls on the ship?"
"None. They're all dead except for these two." She gestures to the guard at the top of the stairs and the one who escorted Verroel and the doctor onto the bridge.
"Are any of the original pack under their control beyond the chief engineer?"
Gvekhs answers, "No, just him. The ones not in this room are dead.
Verroel makes further considerations. "How much control of ship's systems do we have from here and how much do they have? Can we monitor with internal sensors and block them? Lastly, that lift that runs through the cargo hold, can we control it?"
The crew-wolf sitting at the console in front of Dharla answers, "We control everything on this deck and anything not connected to engineering on the middle deck. They've locked us out of the entire lower deck, including engineering, and that includes environmental controls. We used to have access to internal sensors on the whole ship, but we don't anymore."
"They've blocked us out of certain areas."
Dharla nods and tells the crew-wolf, "Show him."
The crew-wolf pulls up a video showing the invaders dragging a couple bodies into the cargo hold and placing them next to a few other bodies.
Gvekhs says, "I set up the cargo hold as a makeshift morgue..." His voice catches in his throat.
On the screen, the invaders form a circle.
Verroel asks, "What are they doing?"
"Having some sort of meeting. The audio picked up some conversation, well, we think that's what it was. The sounds aren't speech like I've ever heard. I'll fast forward."
After several seconds, the crew-wolf returns the video to normal. Gvekhs walks away. "I can't watch this again," he says.
On the screen, the invaders strip the clothing and gear from the bodies. Once they're all exposed, Verroel watches in horror as the invaders use their claws to snip chunks of flesh off two of the bodies and stuff them into an orifice on their midsection. A proboscis emerges from the orifice on a couple individuals and sucks up the blood as it leaks out of the bodies.
Just as he's seen enough, one of the invaders stands directly in front of the camera, blocking the view. Four of its antennae glow brightly and the screen brightens with an immense amount of white light for a few seconds before cutting out to static.
The crew-wolf says, "That's the last of it. From that point on internal sensors went out in the cargo hold. A few minutes later, engineering followed suit."
Verroel growls slightly as he considers their options. He needs the weapons in the locker and at least a minor victory to improve morale and start to cement his leadership.
"Ok, we'll go down and get the tools as a raid. We can use the starboard-aft iris valve to get into engineering. We'll go in, get the tools and get out. I don't want to push a confrontation until we have more effective weaponry to make the aliens pay." He looks around, still showing dominant posture. "Gvekhs, you stay with Dharla and one of her crew and guard the access to this deck. I don't want to lose our stronghold." He points rapidly. "I'll take the other guard and the crew-wolf to locate the tools with me. We'll take two assault rifles and a pistol with us."
"What about me?" asks one vargr, standing next to the engineer.
Verroel growls and wags his tail in approval as the Vargr speaks up. "Certainly, grab a brace of pistols and come along. What is your name, wolf?"
Dharla says, "If you take our last pistol then we'll only have one assault rifle and the shotgun to hold the bridge."
The female crew-wolf offers a solution. "He can have my pistol. I'm sure he's a better shot with it than I am. The tools have to be my primary focus anyway."
Oraegregouz takes the pistol and nods in acknowledgement.
Next: Hunting For a Toolbox