Surface of Moon G (aka Amradar) - 50 km south of DEEPSIX crash site - stardate fy 1111014
Myrlinax shakes his head from the rough impact of the escape pod in this forsaken desert. The shower of sparks and small arcs of electric energy that play over the controls tells him that the pod was now merely a hi-tech sun shelter. Myrlinax blows the hatch and is assaulted by the heat of the desert. Scanning the immediate surroundings, the dazed Humma sees no immediate threat and returns to the pod. After a thorough search which yields much-needed survival supplies, the Moorlanic clansman stops to rest and clean his wounds.
While alone in the pod, Myrlinax gathers his hastily stowed supplies and begins to prep his equipment for a move. Anyone observing his descent would make their way toward his position to scavenge... or worse. Cursing loudly in good Humma fashion, he pulls out a datapad from the pods stowage compartment and hastily dictates a short message to anyone of the others who may be looking for him.
The desert sun is hot and uncomfortable on his furred body. It is a fact that prompts him to begin consuming as much food and water as is practical, knowing that he can't carry it all. Saddlebags and canteen are packed to capacity. With the survival supplies stripped out, he grabs his gear and heads to a safe place to view the pod in the approaching twilight.
As the Humma starts out, he stops to urinate on the fucyri escape podhull while continually cursing the mechanism. "Marcus, you basnar, this is your doings. If this doesn't work out, may Lord Moordur and the Clan's wrath find you... cowering."
With his equipment settled, he begins his race's idiosyncratic hopping-lope toward a nearby cluster of rocks. They would provide excellent cover and concealment while allowing him to keep an eye on the pod. The empty husk, its hull still warm from re-entry, rests nearby like an abandoned seashell in the sand. Mrylinax begins digging around for some more food. There isn't much else to do. Sand stretches out in every direction, rolling over sand dunes that convolute the landscape like a wrinkled bedspread.
The setting sun casts a beautiful orange light over the surface, causing the scalloped shadows to deepen and darken. A light wind rustls the fur on his back. The mountains to the north, the only visible landmark, seems to hold the promise of something in the distance. But Mrylinax knows better than to try and hike the distance on foot. Even on settled worlds a march across a desert at night was full of danger. Mrylinax chews at a rations bar thoughtfully.
"I wonder where the fireworks went," he thinks to himself as he scans the eastern sky. The long white streak that marked the death of the Vercingetorix had long since vanished, carried away by the upper winds. But the Osiris cloud had continued to rain down glittering sparks. That was gone now, too.
Mrylinax finishes the bar and is about to look for another one when he hears a faint high-pitched whine on the wind. His ears perk up, searching for the direction. But before he can even orient himself the sound is upon him. Mrylinax instinctively whips out his missilier and jumps behind the rock. A familiar voice calls out to him.
Mrylinax pokes his head up to see Freya dismounting from a flitboard. Another board hovers behind it in tow. The Humma is dumbstruck by the sudden appearance.
"Freya, you sonuvabospor! I didn't even hear you coming until it was too late!"
"Yes, it is true this craft is exceptionally furtive."
"Say, how did you know where to find me? Are the others coming?"
"I was lucky enough to spot your pod going down as I scanned the horizon with the omnoculars. I came to take you back. We're waiting at the DEEP6 wreckage - Marcus and Groo have landed some distance away to the north and we're preparing to get them as well."
"Great. Anyone hurt?" Mrylinax asks as he lifts his pack and climbs aboard the other flitboard.
"Negative. We have been fortunate. In my analysis of the DEEP6 craft I have concluded that it is not an aerodynamically safe craft by any stretch of the imagination."
Mrylinax laughs. "Well, if you'd seen Ty fly us out of Gulriddar you'd know he can do a lot with a flight stick and a pair of wings." Mrylinax activates the flitboard and begins gunning the engine. "Let's ride!" With that he wheels the board around to the north and opens her up. The move sends a spray of sand into Freya's face. The Yazirian merely ducks his head to avoid the shower, then calmly starts his own flitboard. As he watches the Humma tear off into the distance he can hear him laugh.
"Indeed" he mutters, then starts after him.
Surface of Moon G (aka Amradar) - 50 km north of DEEPSIX crash site
Groo sits pensively on a flat rock, staring down at the small box marked with yellow and black warning tape. The radiation containment capsule is rated to contain the most powerful isotopes known to Frontier science. Yet carrying it around with the mysterious pellet from the Lacien still manages to give Groo the creeps.
Marcus stands nearby, scanning the horizon with his omnoculars. Finally his arms fall to his sides and he walks back to where Groo is sitting.
"No one coming for several klicks in every southerly direction. Can't raise the others on your radiophone. We might as well make camp for the night. Maybe we can build a fire to attract their attention - just long enough for one of them to reach us on a flitboard."
Marcus stops when he notices Groo is not paying attention.
"You still looking at that thing? Gives me the heeby-jeebies to know you're carrying around a pellet of atomic material powerful enough to send a starship into void space. Tell me again what you think it is?"
(Groo: Engineering: Nuclear - level 1: 41%; rolled 32)
"I can't tell for sure with only a toxy-rad guage to work with, but the files I read just before Osiris blew suggested that this material matched the spectral profile of the substance mentioned in one of V'Sndyk's decrypted files. I'm wondering if the crew of the Lacien knew this and stored it away onboard in the form of a drive pellet to keep it safe."
"Great. But why? What is it used for? You said yourself earlier that this thing doesn't generate nearly enough power to be useful in a large-scale weapon or even a starship drive."
"No, but it still begs a lot of bigger questions. For one thing, why doesn't this match the spectral profile of any known atomic substance in the Frontier? It's an x-factor, and that's what makes it important. Important enough for the crew of the Lacien to lay down their lives, it seems."
"You mean Detachment 2490. Remember that they were our predecessors. Whatever this thing is, we were sent to find it just like they were. And now, just like them, we're stuck with it."
Groo regards the capsule with trepidation. "That's not all you inherited. Just like them, whoever wants this thing is after us, too."
Surface of Amradar - DEEPSIX crash site - stardate fy 1111014
The arid dust of Amradar. The sacred holy land of the Dens. The final battlefield at the end of time. The hope and dread of the Children of Yazir. And for Cymon, the grave of his Mater, the honored one for whom he undertook his personal quest and his penitent's robes.
Now he was at once Azram, the holy warrior, Haiokah, the healer priest, and at his core, the unworthy sinner. In space, none of it made sense. Cold and fathomless, trapped in a haunted ship, running from an enemy with a thousand eyes, a thousand hands, and yet no soul.
Here it was different. Here, on this ancient land breathing the winds of ages beneath the Histran's cluster of moons that included his own home, some sense of purpose whispered at the corners of consciousness. Cymon did a most un-yazirian thing. He thought a silent prayer invoking that purpose and at the same time seeking protection from it. Humans pray that way, he thought. Not the children of Yazir. His kind uttered their prayers for the devils to hear.
Lost and less well equipped by some measure. Not bad. Not bad at all. He had anticipated far worse, in fact. Somewhere "hurt" and "pursued" figured into his own preconception. For the moment, they were neither. They had transportation, and it seemed could locate their fellows, while dragging the spare flitboards with them. This fact was not lost on the Haiokah. Perhaps his habit of prayer was paying off.
"Cymon...how about a hand with this?"
It is Ty, straining under the load of a cargo crate that is at the back of the DEEP6 hold. Cymon nods and rushes to help him. The interior of the landing craft seemed less like a starship cabin now than a gutted hulk of creaking metal. Soon the sands would swallow the structure, hiding their tracks. But not soon enough. It was time to move the precious reserve supplies to a safe location. Doubtless the enemy would find the wreckage soon.
The two of them set the crate down and slide it under an outcropping of rock a hundred meters from the crash site. The incline of the formation offers a shelter from the winds. Its peak is just high enough to be seen above the shifting sands. Content with their job, the two return to the pod where Ruby is waiting for them.
"Hey, Cymon. All your holy places stink this bad?"
Cymon glares back at id as he lifts another crate.
"Sheesh, Monk. Lighten up. Smells terrific. Really. Love the dust. Never knew magnesium salts were that fragrant." A large "Groucho" nose forms on Id's face, It rose and pretended to sniff as if it had a life of its own. An obvious mockery that nearly any sentient on the Frontier could appreciate. Except maybe a sanctimonious simian with a saviour complex.
Ruby snickers and returns to the DEEP6 where id kneels before the primitive console. Wires run from device to device as a result of V'Sndyk and Freya's earlier efforts to improvise a control panel for Ty to use in flying the pod. The radio receiver, designed to receive instructions from the Vercingetorix when the DEEP6 was to be used remotely, serves as a second-hand radio. Ruby stares at the ground as id scans the frequencies.
(Ruby: Communications level 3 + 1 = 49%; rolled 33)
"Anything interesting?" V'Sndyk asks from across the pod's chamber.
"I'm getting the some faint commercial chatter from Histran, there's a loud warning from the system militia to steer clear of Scree Fron on every other channel, and that same weird rhythmic garble on the low-end of the spectrum I picked up earlier. I'm also picking up a coded transmission on this channel," id says, pointing to a readout, "but I have no way to crack it with the crap we have here. How are you doing with that thing?"
V'Sndyk looks down at the portable memory module in his lap and sighs.
(V'Sndyk: Computers: Access & Operate : automatic - already accessed DEEP6 system)
(V'Sndyk: Computers: Interface : lvl 2 - 1 CS = 41%; rolled 25)
(V'Sndyk: Computers: Display Info : lvl 3 + 3 CS - 1 CS = 58%; rolled 74)
"Not too good. I'm sure I downloaded all the files correctly from OTTO and the Osiris computer, but I don't have direct access to the files through this storage unit. I need a computer to link it to, and that thing," he says, waving a hand at the thrown-together onboard computer, "just doesn't cut it. I guess we're pretty far away from a NETCo Shack, eh?"
"Got that right. Maybe these Quatros will have a shopping mall in their village..."
The two find themselves laughing in spite of themselves. Then a low whining noise attracts their attention. Both look outside and see a flitboard pulling up, a cloak whipping about its rider in the evening wind. Another flitboard pulls up. Freya and Mrylinax have arrived.
Cymon can't resist the call of his station and visually examines the Humma's condition. "Very good to see you in one piece. How was your ride down?"
"From what Freya tells me, a lot better than yours! I told you not to get in a tub with that human!" he says, laughing at Ty.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah... just remember who got you here, wise guy."
Freya is already gunning his flitboard engine as if to ride again.
"Cymon, I am off to retrieve Groo and Marcus. I believe I know where they set down."
"But how? Even we don't have the means to locate them exactly and..."
"I must be off. Daylight is failing and the trip will take another hour at least."
"Then I'm going with you." Ty says quickly. "My buddy's out there. I should help out."
"I will go as well. And the rest of us...?"
"Don't worry," Mrylinax snickers. "I can stay here with the tech-nerds and watch camp. We'll finish moving the reserves to the shelter while you're gone."
"Please do. We MUST be shed of this saving vessel. It will be scouted. This one guarantees it. The Foe is well aware of its battle lines, and we by no stretch gained it by stealth."
"You're probably right, your holiness." Ty grumbles, dropping the crate he has dragged to the rock. "We are exposed out here and all. If you don't mind though, I'll just unload the cargo and let you guys take care of stashin' it. I gotta friend out there in need of rescuing!" With that he tosses off his work gloves and moves to his flitboard.
"Doc's right," adds Ruby. Id shuffles from person to person, tinkering with their chronocoms. "Our radio chatter can be a big fat bullseye, too, so we need to play it safe. Set your Chrono's to A900. Frequency shift is built in. Every Standard Hour they will cycle up two, then five, then three, and start at #2 again. Once we have everyone together, we can set them so that they will run to the same random selection of frequencies for up to 100 hours. Neat, huh?"
"Yes. Neat, as you say." Cymon murmurs tiredly over the purr of his flitboard.
Ty finishes lashing two empty flitboards to the caravan and activating their pressor fields to keep them hovering. Those with starlight optics flip them down over their eyes. With a cloud of sand the entourage zips away.
V'sndyk watches with regret as his comrades disappear into the distance. He knows it would be some time before they return, so he decides to put the time to good use. He returns to his equipment, trying futilely to keep the sand out of the circuit boards.
"Hey, you can't dust off a zero-mag pickup filter while holding a multi-flux probe in the other hand!" Ruby scolds him.
V'Sndyk tosses the comm board at the irritated Dralasite.
"Yeah, well, at least I know a power supply from Johnson-field emitter!"
Mrylinax snickers and begins moving another crate to the rock.
"Heh heh... whata bunch of egg-heads."
DEEPSIX Crash Site - One Hour Later
Night has descended in full. The light of Amradar's sister moons blankets the landscape in a bluish gloom. A flickering light emanates from the open hatch of the DEEP6, now buried halfway in the sand.
"...so then I said, 'Well, I know one thing that can stop a charging Slodovan' and I walloped him with bar stool so hard his fake eye popped out! It took 'em an hour to find that thing! Har har har har!"
V'Sndyk and Ruby cringe in silence as they eat their hot rations packs. The interior of the pod is littered with empty water containers and flavored smoke sticks. The dim light from the pod's overhead service light gives the meal a rustic feel. Mrylinax stops in the middle of a swallow to eye the other two suspiciously.
"Eh? Don't you two know a funny story when you hear one? Geeez! How'd I get stuck baby- sitting you guys? I'm gonna take a leak..."
Mrylinax gets up and stomps out of the pod. He mumbles all the way to the rock. Ten meters from the rock he notices a patch of ground quiver off to his right. Suddenly the sand scatters and a gaping maw dives directly for his leg.
(Mrylinax INT check 50; rolled 02 - no RS check necessary)
"Sandsharks! Sandsharks at a thousand meters and closing from the west!" shouts Mrylinax as he hops at full speed for the DEEP6. The Humma rapidly unslings his laser rifle, shifts the setting to 5, and shoulders the weapon after scaling the sand that forms a slope over the pod. "Better get your centipede ass up to some protection, V'Sndyk. Sandsharks will swallow a brain bug like you whole! You, too, blob-boy!"
As the first of the vermin crests a dune, Mrylinax notes the violent ripple plowed by the burrowing beast's head. He rapidly brings the laser rifle to bear on the now exposed head and mouth, snapping off multiple brilliant green shots.
(Mrylinax: BTH 28 + 30 = 58 + 15 (careful aim) - 20 (hard cover) = 53%; 06)
(Mrylinax: BTH 28 + 30 = 58 - 20 (hard cover) = 38%; 28)
Both shots blacken the sand where the ground trembles, but the beast continues unabated towards the hatch of the DEEP6. V'Sndyk and Ruby, seeing the furrow plowing in their direction, both let out a yelp and dash outside to gain the higher ground with Mrylinax. As they run, they notice another furrow coming at them from the south.
"Mrylinax! Over there! Another one!!!"
(Mrylinax INT check 50; rolled 35)
"Damnable creatures - can't hit 'em down there in the sand."
Mrylinax reaches to one of his crossed bandoliers and pulls out a fragmentation grenade. He takes a moment to note the speed of the two sandsharks approaching his position. Then, just as the westerly sandshark reaches the DEEP6 and emerges to reveal its head, he lets the grenade drop straight into the shark's mouth.
"Open up and say 'aaaaah'!"
(Mrylinax BTH 28 + 0 - 10 (soft cover) = 18%; rolled 07)
"LOOK OUT!" he cries as he pulls V'Sndyk and Ruby off to one side.
The sound of sandshark bits can be heard raining onto the sand in every direction. Ruby wipes a greasy chunk off of ids coveralls.
"Eeeeew! You got it all over the pod! Glad I already ate!"
"Yeah, well I could use a little help, schmoo-fer-brains!"
V'Sndyk fumbles for his gyrojet pistol. The grenade blast is enough to make the other sandshark surface. No soon does it rear its head, though, than Mrylinax is ready with his rifle. The loud hiss of the beast is suddenly drowned out by the high-pitched discharge of the Humma's blaster.
(Mrylinax: BTH 28 + 30 = 58%; 18)
(Mrylinax: BTH 28 + 30 = 58%; 20)
(V'Sndyk: BTH 23 + 30 = 56%; rolled 07)
(V'Sndyk: BTH 23 + 30 = 56%; rolled 82)
(V'Sndyk: BTH 23 + 30 = 56%; rolled 69)
(Ruby: BTH 33 + 30 = 63%; rolled 07)
A hail of gunfire perforates the beast's leathery body amidst a cloud of sand. With a quick jerk the sandshark convulses from the attack and then lies still. Halfway out of its hole, its body is burned nearly in half.
"Wow. FUBAR. Good work, everybody." V'Sndyk says, peering down at the carnage.
Mrylinax hops down to inspect his kill. He is still bragging about the kill minutes later when Cymon and the others pull up on their flitboards with Marcus and Groo behind them.
"I see we've had some company." Ty says as he dismounts.
"Doubtless there will be more. We offer a sizable snack to creatures of these wastelands." Cymon says forebodingly.
Marcus is off his speeder and kneeling before one of the corpses.
"Typical of this environment." he says. "That scratches my plan for scouting out the village at night. Too hard to spot one of these things when its dark. Okay, everyone, let's get some shut- eye - we're moving out before sunrise. I'll head up the recon, but we'll all be moving. I'll take first watch - Mryli you've got the second watch."
Standing off to one side, Ruby wrings ids pseudopods nervously as id notes the pointed teeth of the slain worm.
"Better sleep on something hard tonight, blobbo," Mrylinax says as he trudges off to bed. "Those things like their food chewy - and you're as chewy as they come! Heh heh."
early morning in Amradar Desert - just east of DEEPSIX crash site - stardate fy 1111015
The black sky above shows the first hint of purple. Morning approaches. V'Sndyk feels a cool patch of dew forming on the rock he's been leaning against for the last half hour. He and his companions huddle behind a low sand dune, waiting for some sign from Marcus that it is safe to move. Groo, flipped over on his belly, eyes the scene beyond through his magnigoggles.
"You see anything?" Mrylinax whispers softly.
"Just the village. Crude dwellings. Burrows dug into the sand dunes, look to be reinforced with rock. Some of them look natural, some constructed. They all face inward into a central courtyard. I see a couple of very tall bipeds sitting on what looks to be a bench or something."
"Do they have weaponry?" Freya asks, barely audible.
"Just some kinda spears."
Ruby chuckles. "I thought Cymon and Marcus said these guys were well-armed? Get it? 'Well- armed?' They're quatros... they've got FOUR ARMS! Oh, never mind." Ruby gives up as ids joke falls flat. Id sits back down and folds ids own multiple arms as if to pout.
Cymon moves up alongside his fellow Yazirian and flips down the visor on his helmet to allow him use of his omnoculars. He'd heard so many stories about the Quatros while growing up on nearby moon 'C'. His voice betrays his sudden enthusiasm.
"Think of it, Groo. A people as ancient as our pre-spacer days, and living so near us in total solitude. With ties to the oldest of our religions - who knows what secrets they still hold?"
"I dunno. This planet's been declared a protected natural habitat by the religious and anthropological groups on every Yazirian world ever since we were sending up rockets. I'm used to seeing these guys on the occasional cover of some stuffy archaeology magazine."
Off to the right a sand beetle can be heard hissing.
"That's Marcus saying to stay put."
"I wish he'd finish playing around out there and give us some information." Ty says dryly. "It's gonna be light soon. I feel like a sitting duck out here. I wish we had a place to hole up in case things get sticky. You know, Groo, we might want to look up one of our old smuggling buddies to see if someone's in the area. You know, lying low. I remember more than once ducking into this system to let our trail cool off. Whadya think? Try sending a message along the old smuggler's band?"
Groo thinks about it then says, "You know the odds of there being any of our old smuggling buddies hanging around here? Yeah, I know never to tell you the odds, but it's probably a waste of our time. As for sending a broadcast on the old 'smugglers band', that might not be a good idea right now considering were trying to keep our location a secret."
"They can't be monitoring EVERY channel."
"No, but the timing would have to be right. We'd need to know what's going on in-system. We don't want any would-be rescuers running into that pack of militia ships that went after the Crimson Pirates."
"Yeah, I know it was a long shot, but you know how some of the hard luck smugglers like to come here. Thought'd be worth a try. Better then sittin' here. Besides, we're gonna need a ship to get outta here."
"We need something local." Groo turns and looks at Freya. "Say, Freya, do you know where the Crimson Pirate equipment cache is located, or is there some kind of way to locate them?"
"The general location is known to me, but not the specifics of where and how to get in. I know it is due south 500 kilometers from here nestled in the southern tip of the hilly range that rings this desert. It is said to be fifty more years old, and that only Gardus and his officers knew the way in. Finding it would be an adventure unto itself."
"Wonderful. Remind me to look you up next time I need good news."
The purple sky begins to lighten to a soft azure. The occasional lizard, fat from a night of eating, can be seen scampering under a nearby rock. Presently a soft thud heralds Marcus' arrival. He tumbles next to the others before they even know he's there.
"Everyone still here?"
"Marcus! What does it look like?"
"Still don't know enough, yet. I got as close as a hundred meters, but there's not much to see. The entire village seems to be located underground. We may be better off sending an envoy during the day. I don't think there's much of tactical risk as long as we stay low and hide our numbers. They seem quite primitive. And if I was able to get so close undetected, that suggests their combat posture is fairly low."
"So now what?" V'Sndyk asks, clearly impatient with all the waiting.
"So now we sit and wait until morning. Then Cymon, Groo, Freya, and I go down and talk to them."
"Why you guys?" Ty asks.
"Well, these people know Yazirians, and I'm experienced with first-contact situations."
"Yeah, but Freya is.... well, you don't look too much like a Yazirian under all those...you know. No offense." Ty stumbles over the words, but it is obvious that Freya's appearance is less than welcoming.
"None taken" is all that the Yazirian manages in his empty voice. He doesn't move from his spot on the ground where he is wrapped fully in his black robes. "I will remain behind. That would be best."
Marcus nods. "Agreed, then. Okay, I need Cymon and Groo to come with me. We've got to go back to the speeders and try to gather some 'gifts of goodwill'. You know, an everflame or two, a packet of candy. That sort of thing. Primitives really go for that."
Marcus, Cymon, and Groo cautiously crawl away from the hiding place behind the sand dune. After a few dozen meters they stand. It is another thirty meters to the large sand dune behind which they parked the speeders. Just as they get to their feet, Cymon points.
At the top of the tall sand dune a group of four-armed bipeds stands solemnly looking down on
them. The elevation magnifies the sense of their already imposing height. Each is sparingly
dressed in black leather fittings and holds a long stick with artfully crafted, curved blades
mounted at one end. Finally, one of them raises an arm and begins spinning a line with a small
orb at the end of it. The spinning produces a chilling howling noise like that of the wind blowing
threw reeds. The howling continues for several seconds until one of the Quatros raises his
spear and hurls himelf down the hill. Without a sound, the massive humanoid charges forward
with his blade swinging in a wide arc, hurtling straight for Marcus.