Part 5: Polaris - Part 05 - December 20, 1177NC: Be Wery Wery Quiet, I'm Kontik WabbitsMerry Wintermas and all that, here's a Christmas day update:
December 20, 1177NC: Be Wery Wery Quiet, I'm Kontik Wabbits
So we stick to our word, and have to deliver some eggheads to Kontik. Where is that? It's quite a long haul, apparently:
See the red systems surrounded by the red blob? From there to our target is nothing but the hostile Auroran Empire. Great. I plot out a route, past that is unknown territory. Christmas is spent at SPC-050, a border system empty save for raiding parties passing through. I stop at Water Moon to refuel, the first Auroran station we've docked at.
Water Moon posted:
This planet is one of the most beautiful and temperate in the Empire. It is only lightly populated, and its main source of income is tourism. Water Moon is used by high ranking members from all the Five Families as a pleasure and relaxation retreat. A side effect of this is that a number of backroom deals between elders of all houses are thrashed out in the corridors of the hotels here.
There's no map to be had here. I recharge and move on, hoping that we don't get stranded. Another two jumps finds us in Dani Himear, where we stop at Dedication to see if they have a map.
Water Moon's Bar posted:
When you walk into this room you notice five tables set apart at the rear of the bar. From what you can see through the smoke, it looks like representatives from each of the Five Houses are circulating between them.
This system is the most heavily defended of all Dani House outposts. Of the two routes into Dani space, this is the main one. There are many incursions by warriors from both the Tekel and the Heraan Houses, and even the occasional raid by Federation scoutships snooping around well outside their borders. Many young warriors that are stationed here journey North to show their skills by defeating the Federation soldiers. Nearly all veterans of duty in this system have quite a few of the little blue battle tattoos that signify a successful engagement against the Federation.
We hit the bar when we're almost immediately recognized as an outsider and challenged.
Dedication's Bar posted:
This bar is filled with Dani warriors all enjoying a quiet drink after coming off duty in this very active system. Even the youngest of them seems to be covered in battle tattoos and more than a few scars.
What threat can this guy be? I accept and down the rest of my beer. Although there are many female Auroran warriors, none of them will ever challenge you to a duel. Why is that?
As you head over to the bar, a large young man with a bare chest covered by relatively few tattoos, one of which is the traditional death tattoo of the Dani, and carrying a haughty expression approaches you.
"So you are from the Federation," he sneers quietly, "I have heard that you are all weak and cower behind your mother's skirts. Of course, you can't believe everything you hear, so I am going to find out for myself.
"I am challenging you to a duel," he smiles impudently. "Now I know you couldn't stand against me in any form of hand-to-hand combat, so we'll do it in space. Of course, I know you Federation folk are a bit scared of death, so I'll just try to disable you, but feel free to try and destroy my ship. Don't worry, I have an escape pod.
"So what say you?" he asks arrogantly.
I'm buying a map when something very strange catches my eye.
"Well," he smiles, looking genuinely surprised, "a brave Federationer. What is the universe coming to?
"Good luck, my little bunny," he grins, his arrogant attitude returning, "I will meet you back here when this is all over, and we will drink to the victor."
With that he confidently strides towards the spaceport and his waiting ship.
Well, we won't be visiting planetside anytime soon. I decline, despite the fierce nature of the Drop Bears. An attack will put you in the hospital for months!
Drop Bear Repellant posted:
You are a little dubious as to the veracity of the claims of this shifty, grinning merchant trying to sell you bottles of Auroran Drop Bear repellant. But you cannot help feeling that anything that helps protect you from the well-documented deadly Drop Bear attacks will stand you in good stead.
Still, it is strange that just about everyone who walks past you starts grinning and shaking their heads as you consider buying from the smiling merchant...
On to the duel. As I take off, an Auroran Abomination trundles in-system and goes hostile. It's the weakest class, armed with a handful of missiles and low-range cannon. I let it waste its missiles and charge in for the kill.
A single head-on pass strips off all its shields, its two fusion cannons unable to deal enough damage as I flash by. A quick turn-and-burn places me squarely behind the Abomination, where the Lances shred through the remains of its armour. Disabled, I try to board it and fail - so I destroy it instead.
As he dies, I receive a message: "You had better watch your back, Jack Burton, I won't take this lying down." I land back on Dedication to gloat.
He challenges me again! The battle ends with the exact same outcome. We leave Dedication for good on January 4th, having passed the New Year locked in combat.
You take your time going through your post-flight routine, savoring the feeling of victory. When you finish, you head out to meet your defeated opponent.
"It seems that not all Federationers are as weak as they say," says the now surly young warrior as a grinning crowd of what looks like his compatriots.
"Obviously," you drawl in return, "not all you Aurorans are as capable as you think you are."
The young warrior stares at you hatefully for a moment before storming off amidst the laughter of his friends.
A few more jumps, and we're a bit closer to our goal now. The systems from here on out are empty, unpatrolled, and house pirates and Houseless warriors - so easy pickings.
A few Houseless ships challenge me. Few survive, but they universally carry nothing of value. The dense asteroid field helps here, as I can stalk enemy ships using asteroids to shield me from fire until they're too close to escape our Lances. Argosies are also vulnerable to the Monty Python maneuver, but that is much less fun.
I happen across an Auroran listening post and take the opportunity to refuel.
Neilha Memorial Station posted:
Named after the former Obsidian Heart, Arbiter of Reckoning of the Tekel House, this system was the scene of a great victory by the Tekel over the Dani. Neilha lured the Dani battle fleet into the system before single-handedly engaging the entire fleet, thus holding them in place until the Tekel fleet was able to get into position. His action enabled the Tekel House warriors to help themselves to a near-complete annihilation of the Dani fleet. Unfortunately, Neilha was killed in the engagement. Those Tekel warriors who survived wear a small dark crystal tattoo to show that they were involved in the battle, and to honor the passing of their Obsidian Heart, and his superhuman deeds.
Blasting off finds a handful of Pirates threatening us. The Valkyrie is an easy kill, wasting its rockets and pitifully armed for close-range combat. The Viper doesn't even last a second. The Valkyrie carries nothing but spare ammo and energy. I take both, and fail to capture the ship. The Viper didn't even last long enough to disable, sadly.
Neilha Memorial Station's Bar posted:
The only decoration in this stark bar is a projection of Neilha, the man for whom this station is named. Underneath this scrolling text tells of his life and of the deed for which he was remembered.
We jump on through a system hosting a garrisoned prison world and an empty system, finally ending in Kontik. It's immediately a strange place, with ionized gas causing contacts to wink in and out of existence on our radar screen.
"Message Buoy to all travellers: Beware the ringed world Kont. Many who have stayed for any length of time have disappeared. You have been warned."
There is a derelict cruiser slowly orbiting the world. I can't board it, and there's no response to hails. We move on to the planet itself.
Just kidding, there's only one acceptable response to the bizarre. It dies like any other cruiser, even launching escape pods.
The cruiser dealt with, we land on Kont. Even from space it's an eerie sight.
This ringed world was discovered by the Aurorans nearly two centuries ago. Upon learning of its existence, they decided to investigate it to see if any useful new technology could be gained from it. However, the first group of scientists sent to investigate never returned. Another team of scientists were sent, and they too disappeared. After this, it was decided that these losses were pointless and no longer justified. No more teams were sent, and so the puzzle of Kont and its builders remains a mystery.
Why would we launch a space probe from the surface instead of orbit? Our journey back to Earth is relatively uneventful, with no pirate presence. The only notable thing is the Tekel's crazy news service logo:
Launch Probe posted:
You checked for other ships as soon as you entered the system, finding nothing active. The only thing your sweep revealed was the ancient hulk of an Auroran Cruiser drifting in the distance, and because your sensors could not get a good reading on it, you diligently kept well clear of it.
"We're ready to activate the probe as soon as we unload it and set it up, Jack Burton," Jerry says as soon as you land. You waste no time, opening the aft hatches and getting stuck into the hard work of unloading the heavy probe.
As you look on, the scientists run a pre-boost check and throw the switch. An old style ion drive lights up, and the probe starts heads[sic] up into the unknown.
"It'll take a long time to return any useful data, but perhaps, in a couple of hundred years, we will find the first of a new series of jumps to take us to uncharted space." Jerry gazes wistfully at the rapidly diminishing probe.
You admire his patience, and begin to set a course to take them to Sol and back to the Federation.
We land on Earth and bid farewell to our scientists.
We make our way back to New Ireland, showing up on February 4th, over 2 months from the time we left. Nobody even noticed.
Launched probe posted:
"Thank you for taking us on our journey, Jack Burton," Jerry smiles.
In the time he has been on your ship you have grown quite fond of the man, and his quiet manner. He hands you a credit chip and tells you that future generations of spacefarers will probably take routes to new systems simply because of the research you have helped with your service. You wonder about what the probe will find 'out there'. Perhaps the universe that you are beginning to know so well will only turn out to be a corner of what is really in existence. Perhaps the probe will be the first human contact with an alien race. Only time will tell.
We don't even get a choice here. "Okay."
You are sitting waiting for Flannigan, and Flynn has been telling you all about his recent adventures. You do a lot of flying, but Flynn has been from one end of the universe to the other so many times that he would have easily eclipsed your journeys. All of his missions involve some sort of espionage, from destroying installations, to planting bugs and wires in crucial places. You are beginning to get a grasp of how large the Wild Geese's intelligence network is, and you ask Flynn how the Geese maintain such a high level of security and awareness in what is a constantly changing galaxy.
"That's simple," he says, sipping his pint. "We Geese come from a long line of usurpers. Our ancestors fought in so many wars after being forced into exile for their political ideologies, that we have almost evolved into the unit we are now. Where some people tell their wains about 'The Three Little Bugbears' or 'The Princess Bride', we get told stories about 'Michael Collins and the Flying Columns' or the battles of 'Rory of the Glen'. Guerilla tactics are like mother's milk to us. Intelligence and counter-intelligence are easy if you have been trained in them since you have been able to listen."
You are still musing over this information when Flannigan arrives. He quickly walks up to you and pulls you to a booth.
"Now we are going to play a little game. McGowan has placed orders with a number of smaller operators for drugs. In a few hours, we'll have a shipment for you to deliver. Only thing is, your containers aren't going to be filled with Hammerhead, or Fly, or Goofjuice. They are going to be packed with explosives. Since the orders are being filled by so many groups, it has been easy for our spies to discover what the passwords and delivery schedules are. Do you want to make some evil men go boom?"
The Irish with a cargo hold filled with explosives, eh? Maybe we'll get to stop by the parents' place when we get to Ryll!
"Good for you. Here is the deal. We'll load the containers onto your ship. You have to take them to Ryll in the Porto Rillia system. McGowan has a distribution center there. When you arrive, tell the dock-workers that the containers are for Marguerite Harris. They will ask when you want them delivered, and you MUST respond with 'Before six tomorrow, and make it snappy'. If you don't, they will assume you are a plant, and more likely than not try to kill you. Even if you escape, you'll still have a hold full of explosives to get rid of. So make sure you have it right. Get the shipment there ASAP, as I'll need to make McGowan sweat in order to take my plans to the next phase.
"Also," he adds with a quiet grin, "you might want to avoid Federation patrols, as I don't think they appreciate people who ship large amounts of explosives from place to place. Any questions?"
You tell Flannigan that you have it, and head for your ship.