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  #71  
Old August 11th, 2017, 08:30 PM
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Post Down A Peg pt. 44

Kakhskha felt manipulated by the situation. At the insistence of her friend Ardell, she had ordered the two Leaguers to split and enter the Gatherer via the portside and starboard side airlocks. Dead-Hex moaned all the way across the surface of the Surveyor as Lt. Anghal was received by the valkyrie. As the Pilot-Astrogator entered the outer door of the airlock, the beige female scratched behind her right ear and recalled Professor Zannun’s text. The dancers touched on the floor and everyone could feel the energy between them. They swayed and maneuvered, cutting a swath with their fields such than none dare part them.

The passage was beginning to read like double entendre to Kakhskha. Now that Dead-Hex was inside the outer door, she reached up and locked both doors of the airlock, trapping the male who wore her silver torc inside.

“Hey!” exclaimed Dead-Hex as he bounced off the inner door. “What’s going on?”

“Ardell has, as the ship’s Medic, called for Quarantine procedures, Dead-Hex.”

“On us? Why?”

“You two were in the Corsair with what she calls ‘Red Blight’.” Kakhskha’s ears drooped. “Zannun has concurred with Lt. Ardell. You may have it on your HEV.”

“In hard vacuum, Kakhskha?” asked the mottled-gray male in the airlock.

“She’s taking no chances, Dead-Hex. You’ve air now in there. Take off your HEV and your clothes. I left some decontamination shampoo in the 'lock with you. It’s water-free and you are to wash your entire body.”

“This has got to be some kind of prank, Kakhskha,” said Dead-Hex, his voice evidencing frustration at the aftermath destruction of the Corsair ship.

“It’s no joke,” warned the Captain of the Gatherer. “Get naked and scrub down.”

“What? While you watch?”

“Medic’s orders. Ears too.” Kakhskha felt like a dam who was ordering a pup to the showers after playing in the mud in one of the environment domes back on her homeworld.

Through the procedure, Kakhskha tried to remain professional. But deep inside her, the beige female got some form of payback for Dead-Hex getting to see her naked body in the cabin days earlier while she was possessed by Arrtha the demon Wafer. She watched with outward calm but inwardly smiled at seeing all of the Third Officer’s mottled gray and black coloration. The male looked at her repeatedly as he used the entire bottle of shampoo to scrub his body.

“Everywhere Dead-Hex. Medic’s orders.”

“This…this is payback, isn’t it?”

“Blame her, not me,” Kakhskha tried to redirect the male’s ire. “And remember that I didn’t even have control of my body when you barged in on Arrtha. Turnabout.”

“Ah, this IS payback!” exclaimed the Pilot-Astrogator who then turned his back on her. She saw his muscular back and his mottled fur. While not as defined as Zannun, Kakhskha was seeing Dead-Hex without the ridges and shaping of the Seruean, armored bodysuits.

“Did-…Dead-Hex, did you mean what you said to Arrtha?” asked Kakhskha cautiously and with a lowered voice.

The male from Duelunogorrzuez perked his ears stock straight upwards and he stopped shampooing. The reaction tipped Kakshkha off that Dead-Hex knew exactly what she was referring to. He turned to face her on the other side of the door. While she had been trapped behind the Corsair personality of long-dead Arrtha, Kakhskha had heard him say to the demon, we’re married, remember?

Dead-Hex had indeed remembered before falling out under the effects of Ardell’s sedatives that Kakhskha had used the word husband in the cabin. She had never licked a male before that day. Her hide burned with her blushing under her beige facial fur.

The male’s gray eyes bore into Kakhskha’s through the thick, transparent viewport in the inner door of the airlock.

“The naked truth?” Dead-Hex asked her. His unclothed body lost all paralanguage.

“Don’t joke with me, please, Dedhekhsgourz,” she said. Being from a matriarchy, Kakhskha checked over her shoulder to see that the pair were alone on the portside entry. She kept her upright dignity, but her ears were flattened with the request.

The Duelean male Vargr leveled his muzzle at her and said, “I would have much preferred to have said it to you, Kakhskha. Arrtha didn't deserve to hear such.” He scratched his neck underneath the silver torc as if to accentuate the wedding jewelry. “And I do fancy you...deeply.”

After a few seconds, she asked another question. “Can we not tell the others yet?” Kakhskha finally let down her guard.

“We’d never hear the end of it,” half-smiled the male she had called husband.
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Old August 14th, 2017, 06:45 AM
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Post Down A Peg pt. 44a

After twelve hours in the airlocks, the Leaguers were given clearance by Lt. Ardell. The entire time of their Quarantine confinement, Anghal and Dead-Hex had been ordered to stand up and show their iris coloration repeatedly. Now, in the Galley, the two Vargr ate hungrily a meal prepared by Capt. Kakhskha.

“Red what, again?” asked Dead-Hex.

“Red Blight,” explained the youngest Vargr on the Gatherer. “It’s somewhere between a virus and a fungus. You get it and it’s a one-way trip to an incinerator. We don’t know everything about it accept that after the death of its host, Red Blight can generate a weaker control over its host with the consuming goal of spreading to other animal hosts. It can’t infect plants. While you are alive, the stuff grows inside you painlessly and waits until you die before your synapses fade and the Red Blight can take over your body’s motor functions. No one knows where it comes from, but a person alive who evidences the red irises is infectious the rest of their lives and is taken over once they die.”

“Holovid stuff, Medic,” said the sobering Pilot-Astrogator.

“No joking, Dead-Hex,” warned Lt. Ardell. “This stuff has wiped out entire space station populations. I can only imagine what it could do to a high-population world.”

Lt. Anghal looked to the Captain and asked, “Are we going to explore the Zhodani ship?”

“It will cost us a little more fuel to burn over with the HEPlaR drive, Lieutenant,” answered Capt. Kakskha. “I’ll need your projected expenditure if we are going over there. Prof. Zannun thinks we should leave it, mark its position and then alert the next Zhodani authority we find. Maybe it will garner us a finder’s reward. We really don’t have any cargo space to conduct salvage. This was part of my…tantrum in my cabin. We could have made a serious profit off of those two ships.”

“Unless the Zhodani ship was also diseased with that blight stuff,” interjected Dead-Hex as he washed his bowl from the meal.

“Another reason not to risk it,” nodded Kakhskha. “Lt. Ardell will provide a report we can upload along with the coordinates, vector and velocity of the Zhodani ship. We can perform a fly-by, snap pictures of the ship, its name and its condition, to warn them.”

Lt. Ardell stood straighter, “Yes, ma’am.” Anghal and Dead-Hex acknowledged as firmly. To Dead-Hex, none seemed to want to risk an infection.

Later, Chief Engineer Anghal reported to the crew that the ship was narrowing the gap from using too much fuel to perform the two-parsec jump to Apla. “We can instead jump to Rdozhinspazh only one parsec away and still have the fuel to explore the Zhodani ship.”

“We’ve all agreed that this is too big for us, Lietenant,” declared the Captain gently. “We stay on mission and hope for a small reward.”

The Engineer nodded. Dead-Hex guessed that his friend did not like the citrus aroma of the water-free, contamination shampoo any more than he did.
On the way to the Bridge Astrogation boards, Dead-Hex caught a glance of Prof. Zannun’s text composition and read it over the black-furred male’s shoulder.

Their families would never accept their dance or their joining. She was left alone in a slow, decaying solitude to contemplate this fate.
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Old August 14th, 2017, 09:02 AM
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Post Down A Peg pt. 45

“We’re lucky that mainworld Apla has a smaller Large Gas Giant in the orbit immediately next to it,” explained Dead-Hex. He was in the Commons Area and lightly picking out a somber guitar tune he had spent most of jump learning. Across from the Pilot-Astrogator at the roundtable was Kakhskha. She watched him intently as she considered the order of operations the Gatherer would take after jump breakout. It was the last day of the estimated 168 hours of jump duration. Kakhskha was expecting jump rumblings to occur soon. It was morning and breakfast was already served. The others were doling out the meal to the Proles in the nine staterooms. All pretense of High Passage had been dropped the moment Arrtha had been pulled out of her skull.

“So, we can fuel up and easily transit to Apla?” asked Kakhskha. She was carefully keeping her claws off business while listening to Dead-Hex play his twelve-string guitar. Dead-Hex no longer smelled of citrus de-con shampoo. He was once again dressed in the Seruean armor suits per the mission.

“Smaller Gas Giants require less gees of performance from a Maneuver Drive,” explained the Pilot-Astrogator. He continued to pluck the tight strings of the Duelean instrument with his claws. “When we top off the tanks, it will be less time to make it to Apla and be rid of our ‘passengers’, the illegal cargo, the freight, the Nectars you bought on Izsiqrl and maybe collect on that Zhodani wreck.” He paused his tune and noticed Kakhskha staring at him. Blushing slightly, Kakhskha’s eyes dropped to the wedding jewelry with its amethyst crystal stone. Now, she wished she had purchased a more expensive mineral.

To curb his attention on her as it was not customary for females to woo males, Kakhskha asked the male from Duelunogorrzuez, “Do you think you can handle the contraband while I sell off the Nectars, Dead-Hex?”

“According to the UWP list for Yeplzhaf Subsector,” half-smiled Dead-Hex, “and if it is accurate, we should have no trouble with the local law given that some Zhodani heavy equipment company owns Apla.” His tail wagged at her question. “But their population is very low and I think this is some kind of stopover for the company’s operations, under 10,000 Zhodani.”

“If it’s that low, Dead-Hex,” asked Kakhkha, “are you going to have trouble finding a buyer for the anagathics?”

“Since we picked up ten tons of listed ‘Ag Imbalances’, or our longevity drugs as we discovered, on a Fluid Hydrographics world and are selling them on Apla with its 30% Fluid lakes world, they match up, both in terms of Trade Classifications with the bonus of its Imbalance label. If you let me field this one; I may not be the Broker you are, Kakhskha, but I can get the drugs sold. With you simultaneously delivering the Freight and selling the legal Nectars, we should be able to cut a profit. Dunno how much, but let me work my magic and we’ll soon be gone and good to jump finally to Zhiblchins.”

At that, Kakhskha smiled and wagged her tail. She had plans to go shopping again, “I’m taking Lt. Ardell with me to see about the finders’ reward and go shopping. I need a hand computer that can connect with a Wafer.”

“Arrtha?”

With a shrewd cringe, the beige female smiled. Then the jump rumblings began and the two got up and prepared for jump precipitation.
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Old August 14th, 2017, 10:25 AM
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Post Down A Peg pt. 45a

215-1105 Apla (Knoellighz 0521) E5A3310-8 FL Lo ZhCs
http://wiki.travellerrpg.com/Apla_(world)

Dressed in his Seruean bodysuit mostly sealed with an oxygen supply, draped with the desert robe and topped with the Psi-Shield shemagh; Dead-Hex made his way through the local night after a long day. He had skimmed the Gatherer for fuel, landed on the gypsum powder Downport fields and spent most of the night trolling for Low Passengers and hunting down a buyer. Finding a purchaser for “Ag Imbalances” was only the first step. Upon the initial offers, the buyer wanted to look at the goods and when the Vargr displayed and explained the ten tons of Pharma, things became very quiet until Dead-Hex could seal the deal and acquire a Zhodani credit chip-card with the funds.

In this backwater Downport, the Pilot-Astrogator could find no such speakeasy establishment. The stares from the local Proles were answered with his shrugs and friendly tail wagging. The entire colony was drying up. Shops were in closeout sales with Everything Must Go signs. The people were seeking passages and Dead-Hex had learned why.

It was public knowledge leaked to Dead-Hex for free, that if a colonized world of the Zhodani Consulate failed to top 10,000 Humans, then it was a poor choice for settlement. The empty lots, once holding displayed heavy machinery had already been emptied, the products lifted from the mainworld.

The powers that be were removing their Prole workers from the mainworld. This seemed to make no sense to the Pilot-Astrogator. The Universal World Profile had stated that Apla, despite its Exotic atmosphere, was extremely abundant because of its four Gas Giants, two planetoid belts of different types and the Fluid Sea adjacent to the Downport coast. The Zhodani were pulling out of Apla and the local population was already dwindling to a bare-bones four thousand Proles and Intendant managers. The entire colony was in the end-stage of shutting down operations and relocating its people to other, more successful systems. But this did not give Dead-Hex a reason for the Consulate’s population policy.

There were barely any services at the Downport. Dead-Hex failed to find a groundcar across the gypsum flats to where the Gatherer stood on its landing peds. He was forced to walk. By the light of the airlock door lights, he encountered the release of the Prole prisoners. He had hoped to miss this. To the male from Duelunogorrzuez, Kakhskha was being merciful. A full ship of passenger funds had been lost due to the Proles’ failed hijacking. And now the Captain was letting them go on a bout of forgiveness. He was also ashamed to think this way because it showed a lighter side of Kakhskha that Dead-Hex only saw in private or times of extreme duress. That thought brought back anger over Arrtha. It made him ask himself what he would do with the Wafer demon if he had been its victim.

The Proles were carrying a body of their own number among them. It was not hard to guess that one of the sleepers had died in Low Berth. It was the first loss Lt. Ardell had suffered since Dead-Hex had signed on with the Gatherer. She had been so very careful and skillful in awakening the Low Berth passengers. The Pilot-Astrogator stopped to listen as Kakhskha addressed the Proles at the business end of the crew laz-pistols.

“We’re releasing you here on Apla with enough oxygen to make it inside and some funds to take you wherever Rimward you were planning. It’s not much. But if you want it, answer me this. Are there any more copies of this Wafer?”

The male Prole, the cowed default spokesman answered, “No, ma’am. Arrtha made sure there was only one of him recorded.”

Dead-Hex could see Kakhskha’s balled fist around the flat black Wafer in her claw. She gripped it tighter. The female from the Ascendancy Pact glared hard at the Zhodani. Then her ire was held in check for the demon she had confiscated.

“Take this credit chip-card,” Kakhkskha ordered, “and pray our paths never cross again.” At that she turned to the arriving Dead-Hex and took the funds from the sale of the longevity drugs and gave it to the Proles. At that, any tie with either the Proles and the drugs was removed from the Gatherer’s ledger. “Go on to the concourse.”

The Proles left. Lt. Ardell watched them leave as the rest of the crew climbed the ramp up to the starboard side airlock. Inside the ship, Kakhskha quietly asked Dead-Hex, “How much did you get?”

“I did well,” answered the street-smart Duelean Vargr. “I landed 147,000Cr for the entire ten tons.”

“And it was all on that card I gave them, right?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Dead-Hex had not enough time to skim any funds for his back alley deals from the card. It earned him a hug. It was worth it.
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Old August 14th, 2017, 11:46 AM
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Post Down A Peg pt. 46

216-1105 Apla (Knoellighz 0521) E5A3310-8 FL Lo ZhCs

A window view from my pandemonium opens to the world outside my Wafer. I take a split-second to see the time-stamp on the computer I am slotted to. Dammit. They’ve connected me to a computer, hand-held by the looks of it. The input-output is a camera mounted on a TL-8, Zhodani hand-computer. I can sense an audio line leading out from the device. I can see space with stars and the orange glow of a nearby star. I try the usual question via the connection, “What is the date?”

The camera pans as the person holding the hand-computer comes into view. Through the window into my pandemonium I can see Kakhskha looking at the camera, at me. She’s activated my Wafer, in space and on a hand-computer. She is suited up in the bodysuit I wore when I was her. She is standing on the outer hull of the Gatherer. What is she up to? Behind her is the strange Canopy opened, each panel capturing whatever fuel this ship uses in its Collector Drive.

“Arrtha,” the beige female says to me with a voice over the audio line, apparently to a microphone. I can’t hear her otherwise. “Why don’t you have an avatar on the screen?”

“I don’t remember what I look like, Kakhskha,” I admit. It was another flaw in the recording that I don’t remember my apprearance. I only know that I was a male, Vargr Corsair, now long dead by the time-stamp in the corner of the window I can see framing the beige female. She looks irksome. I pan the camera to a wider view quickly so I can get a better appraisal of my situation. I won’t last long in a computer. I degrade faster if I’m not jacked into a Vargr host. Beside Capt. Kakhskha are Lt. Ardell and Lt. Anghal, the three female crew aboard the ship I was to hijack.

“No matter,” my former host declares. “I wanted to speak to the personality who I take partial responsibility for slotting. I only wanted to be fluent in the Zhodani language. Instead, I was possessed and used, by a hijacker pirate.”

“Kakshkha please,” I get nervous in trying to talk. There is a fierce glare in her brown eyes. I think I’m in trouble. “I had no choice as to who I was to hijack. I’m just the Wafer. Don’t hate me for what I am.”

“You are a demon, like Dead-Hex says. You threatened me, threatened my crew, used my body against my consent and tried to take over my ship.”

“I don’t recall actually harming anyone, Kakhskha.”

The device’s camera pans until an orange solar body comes into view. It is huge and I think it’s a Red Dwarf. I’m not up on my astronomy.

Her voice is angrier though I can’t see her face with the camera turned toward the Dwarf star. “Maybe not physically, Arrtha,” says Kakhskha over the connection, “but I will carry the memory of you for the rest of my life. My crew has to remember that your behavior in my body was because I was trapped behind you, unable to scream for aid, unable to so much as move a muscle. I suffered, Arrtha. I have nightmares in which I pull the trigger of my weapon on Dead-Hex or the ladies or Zannun.”

I get nervous and try to placate her though it’s clear she has a threat of something on her side, “D-do you want an apology? This is what I am, a Hijacker, Kakhskha. I didn’t ask to be put in you. What-…what are you going to do?”

The three females come into view as Kakhskha pans the camera back around to her and the other two. She says to me, “Like Dead-Hex said, Arrtha. You’re a bad, bad demon. You can’t even apologize to us because you think it’s your nature to do what you do. Sad. Is there anything left of the original in your Wafer, demon?”

“Hey now,” I say trying to backpedal, “You put me in you. I did what I was supposed to do. I wasn’t going to harm-“

“Oh but you did, Arrtha,” growls Kakhskha. “You did harm me. You harmed us. You won’t be forgotten easily. But because you are a bad, bad demon we brought you out here say goodbye.”

“Whatever you are planning to do, Kakhskha, I’m not going to be able to feel it or suffer from it. So, can we talk about this?”

Kakhskha looks to her fellow, suited-up females. With nods from Lt. Ardell and Lt. Anghal, she says to me with finality in her voice. “Arrtha?”

“Y-yes?” I ask.

“The computer you are jacked into has a battery that will last your entire, coming trip. Remember us on your way down. You’re fired, Arrtha.”

With that, the computer is thrown from Kakhskha’s gauntleted claw and into the emptiness of space, tumbling over and over and for the next few days; I have only time to come to some form of peace as I get closer to the Red Dwarf. In that time I scream, try to find some function in the computer to stop my descent into the hell ahead of me…and fail. I begin to fear.
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Old August 15th, 2017, 08:37 AM
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Post Down A Peg pt. 47

Dead-Hex conferred his findings over the slow and deliberate withdrawal of the population on Apla. Over the course of the jump from Apla to Zhiblchins (Knoellighz 0321), the Pilot-Astrogator sat in the Galley and occasionally peeked at Kakhskha who was listening to the presentation while simultaneously cooking First Meal. He related the strange and often illogical policy of the Zhodani Consulate to forego a solar system that had failed to attain a minimum population. With the charts he had purchased displayed on his Portable Console, Dead-Hex outlined the target world that Matron Sanghthaglla Thazdthoth had tasked the Gatherer crew.

“When we look at the Universal World Profile of Zhiblchins,” the Duelean Vargr continued, “We can see, like Apla, the mainworld Zhiblchins revolves in Orbit zero along with three Gas Giants and six other planets. Note the lack of a planetoid belt where as Apla had two belts. Those revolve about yet another M5 V Red Dwarf primary. The Habitable Zone is right up next to the Dwarf and that is where we most often find mainworlds of these slow-burn stars.”



Lt. Ardell was involuntarily patting her foot, her claws clicking the deck plates. This was boring news to the Medic, Marine and Counsellor of the Gatherer. However, her spirits to remain attentive to the presentation seemed to lift in Dead-Hex’ eyes when dinner arrived from the Galley. Zannun was the most attentive as he was a Scholar. Taking his Collector Drive anywhere new was a chance to gather performance data for his design. Chief Engineer Anghal listened but occasionally sneaked peeks at what was on the menu this evening.

“Go on,” said Capt. Kakhskha who distributed meals to each of the crew. “I’m listening. We need to cover this because Zhiblchins is the Capital of Yeplzhaf Subsector and where the Matron sent us to gather the reasons for the retraction of the Zhodani Consulate border from Riadr and Etlieejibia subsectors.”

“Zhibhlchins may be the Capital,” agreed Dead-Hex, “But what is strange is the question as to why the Zhodani Consulate has retracted the border to put this Capital just outside the new Crystal Wall of Knoellighz. This secret change in the border can’t stay a secret for more than a year. These charts are showing not just unsuccessful attempts at settling worlds. They include worlds that are being marked for reservations for exploitation later. But back to Zhiblchins.”

Dead-Hex continued his presentation between bites and found the crew tilting their heads in trying to understand his speech while eating. “Zhiblchins has an A-rated Downport, but despite the high-technology of the system, its population is too low for an orbital Highport. We’ll have to land on the planet’s surface to get our mission answers for the Matron. That means we will need excuses for jumping into Zhiblchins system, approaching the mainworld, landing and doing business. Thankfully, that’s the Captain’s job.”
“I will have our Professor help us in that,” answered Kakhkha. She then nodded for the Pilot-Astrogator to continue the presentation.

“Zhiblchins has a 3 in the Size digit of the UWP, giving us a rough estimate of a smaller world about 4800 kilometers in diameter. Gravity will be lower and we’ll be able to run faster and jump higher. But don’t step outside without your Filtered, Compressor masks as the atmosphere is very thin and – it says here, tainted – pollution is most often the culprit. We’re looking at a world with only 30% water coverage. At least it’s water and not some other fluid as on Apla. The charts claim the world has a population of about 600,000 Zhodani, high enough to keep the world as an upcoming ‘Client State’, but the reasons are still unknown. The entry for Zhibhlchins says their world is run by a feudal technocracy, so we will see various planetary elements run by those who are best educated on that asset of the mainworld. It’s like an oligarchy except that we’re talking about the Zhodani, psionic Humaniti with a set caste juxtaposed over this feudal technocracy.”

“Wow, Dead-Hex,” interjected Lt. Ardell. “You said ‘juxtaposed’.” The group snickered and giggled but not Kakhskha who merely smiled at the Duelean male.

Hmmph,” continued Dead-Hex, “Like Apla, Zhiblchins is lower law stringency, probably because the Zhodani Consulate is known for the most law-abiding, efficient tyranny in all of Charted Space. Even though we can carry our laz-pistols under our desert robes, let’s hope we won’t need them. Wearing our mind shield scarves is not a bad idea.”

Prof. Zannun, who had finished his meal first spoke then, “The Zhodani do have a mental law enforcement group, the Tavrchedl’ who maintain law-abiding stability on worlds like this one. Even if we do wear these shemagh given to us by the Captain’s Matron, should they take attention to us, the Tavrchedl’, if I’m not mistaken about Psi-Shielding technology, will hear only a static interference. This will tip them off that we are actively using technology to remain unreadable.”

“The Professor is right,” agreed Kakhskha. “We cannot merely rely on these head-scarves. We have to act in line, stay mercantile or scientific in the case of Zannun and his Collector designs to be advertised. Those who are out and about on Zhiblchins’ Downport will need to appear calm and peaceful.”

“There will be only a lip-service Extra-territoriality at the Downport,” added Dead-Hex. “Only aboard the ship will we find any true security of body and mind. What’s that old saying? ‘Be careful of what you say among others and be mindful of what you think when you’re alone’. Well, pups, that goes double among the Zhodani. We will be lucky to see any Vargr here. If there are, then they’re probably from Anghal’s and my home polity of the Infinity League.”

“You said high-technology, Dead-Hex,” noted Prof. Zannun, who appeared to change the subject before the Ascendancy Pact crew, Kakhskha and Ardell could say anything insulting. “Are they as high as Serue rating?”

“I haven’t heard of any Zhodani world in Knoellighz Sector that rates as high as Serue, Professor,” smiled Dead-Hex. “Serue is on the top of the mountain in technology from my travels. Now on to aryu.”

“Ar-what?” asked Lt. Adell.

“Resource Units, Lieutenant,” corrected Dead-Hex. “Or R.U. for short. The term gets shortened even further by us Merchants to aryu, the overall production capability of the entire system in question. Zhiblchins puts out 600 Resource Units, aryu, per year. This much less than Serue, or Duelunogorrzuez or even Roethoeegaeaegz. The figure is dependent on population, the system’s raw resources, technology rating and how efficient the labor force is at producing that number.”

“Why is this important to us, Dead-Hex?” asked Anghal the Engineer.

“It might show us why Zhiblchins is Important.”

Kakhskha piped up by explaining, “Importance is the Merchant's way of deciding which trade routes we take. It’s also how a Capital gets chosen, be it a subsector, sector or polity Capital. We need to know these things as it affects commerce, politics and it may be a clue as to why the border was moved further Spinward than the rest of Knoellighz knows. It may be that these UWP stats are showing us that Zhiblchins is the best the Consulate can offer in Yeplzhaf Subsector.”

“Now for the military side of this presentation,” segued Dead-Hex. “Note that in this stellar cluster, the Zhodani are protecting all the really Important worlds just Coreward of us. I’m talking Military and Naval Bases. The Zhodani merge the two into one. See that Iachtiazchtivr, Jdedolrefl, Chtialchtachtiesh and Rdozhinspazh have valuable worlds. A Garden world, a Rich world, two A-Starports, (one with an orbital Highport); all four of these worlds were given very expensive installations. And now that the border is moved back, they can’t just up and tear them down or abandon them. The Vargr from all over would gladly plunder what they could. These worlds are just too expensive to lose. So, they get to join the ‘Client States’.”

No one interrupted Dead-Hex at the mention of the worlds. He had a better command of Zdetl than Anghal and the Pact females did not speak the Zhodani tongue. “So, the Zhodani are going to be a little surprised, as they were with me on Apla, that we’ve somehow managed to penetrate the currently-perceived Crystal Wall of Knoellighz. Let’s not tip our ship has a Collector Drive if we can avoid it. Rather, we can advertise for a design if the Captain and Prof. Zannun need to misdirect the reasons for our presence. Humans are attracted to shiny things, I hear.”
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Post Down A Peg pt. 48

Jump Space to Zhiblchins, Day 2

Kakhskha opened the pantry in the Galley on the second day of jump transit to Zhiblchins and was treated to a shock. She stood there for a full minute taking in what she thought she was seeing. Then her claw fished out her personal comm and keyed a ship announcement, “Medic to the Galley. Medic to the Galley please.” Then she began rummaging through the stores of food. All too soon, she found that everything had spoiled. Checking the refrigeration unit, Kakhskha saw that only the First Meal had failed to spoil. Something was in the pantry or the larger Galley that had caused the stores to go bad. The crew was without food for the remainder of jump except what was left over from last night.

“What’s wrong, boss?” asked Lt. Ardell, but it did took her less time to see what had gripped Kakhskha in disbelief. “What the Ancients happened to the pantry?”

“I dunno,” muttered Kakhskha. “But we don’t have enough food for the remainder of jump. Get the Passengers into our empty Low Berths with our apologies and prepare for rationing and fasting. Break out any survival consumables we might have in the Clinic, Ardell.”

“Did you look at the expiration dates on the meals?”

“It looks like someone was cutting corners back on Serue during our last Maintenance and Life Support resupply.” Kakhskha began double-checking everything in the pantry.

“What’s going on?” asked Dead-Hex who entered the Commons Area and curiously looked in on the two females.

“Except for last night’s leftovers, Dead-Hex,” said the Captain gravely. “We have no food. Our nine Passengers will have to finish their trip asleep. Ardell will see to putting them down until we touch down at Zhiblchins. We are now on minimal consumption, fasting and rationing. The only thing not spoiled is First Meal leftovers and our water supply. This is going to be a rough six days or so. Once we breakout, I'm having Zannun signal distress.”
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Old August 17th, 2017, 07:09 AM
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Post Down A Peg pt. 48a

Ardell’s stomach grumbled in pain. Her friend and Captain, Kakhskha had warned the Medic not to skimp on herself. But Ardell was the ship’s Medic. Over the course of the past five days in jump, the timber wolf colored female from Nouon had doled out sporkfuls of First Meal leftovers and run intravenous lines to keep up the crew’s electrolytes and other fluids. Though Vargr physiology meant that they could endure fasting for longer than even Humaniti, this jump was rough. She had recommended everyone perform as little physical activity as possible to conserve energy and to drink water often. But despite the survival techniques, she had forgotten to look to herself. And now she had become the one to suffer the worst of starvation’s first signs.

Now, on the sixth day Ardell was desperately hungry and though hydrated, she felt she could gnaw her own arm off. She lay in bed and thanked the Ancients when she felt the first rumblings of the Jump Drive as the ship’s jump transit was coming down to the last hour. She recalled the Captain’s orders when Kakhskha had seen the youngest Vargr aboard weakened. Water kept the body working, but lack of food energy had sapped her strength. Ordered to bed she had admonished the Medic.

“Ardell, hun,” the Nouon female remembered the order, “get to bed. Though I’m rated as a First Aid responder, I’m not up on reviving our Passengers. You are the best physician and valkyrie I’ve seen and if you starve to death, we may as well give up the fight too. I don’t think our Passengers will survive awakening under my care. Go to bed.”

Ardell was angry with herself. How can one take care of a platoon, a crew or Passengers if she could not take care of herself first? If she ever set foot on Serue’s sands again, she was going to bark the Starport Quartermaster until he was a mewling pup for shorting the ship’s supplies. The food had indeed expired and gone bad at an accelerated rate. Only what was kept in the refrigerator had managed to survive. Now nearing jump precipitation, the crew limped about like starving zombies from the holovids horror section. Minutes of the jump rumblings became hours of endured anticipation.

Thankfully, Zhiblchins was a high-tech world and the Zhodani hopefully would have spacecraft who could respond to the Gatherer’s medical distress signal upon breakout. Never again would she allow the Galley to trust the Maintenance and Life Support crews without her supervision. She would not wish this experience on her worst enemies.
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Old August 17th, 2017, 07:52 AM
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Post Down A Peg pt. 49

Day 7, Jump Space precipitation

Dead-Hex could not fathom how he had lasted this long. Of the five crewmembers of the Gatherer, he had suffered the least. He tried to come up with excuses as to how his body had outlasted the others these past six days without proper meals. Though he had water and was properly hydrated, he could go for a double-slab of steak – who cares where from. With the Captain, Anghal and poor Ardell laid down and the onboard artificial gravity shut off to ease a body’s energy usage, Dead-Hex stood by the Drives in Engineering. He waited until his Portable Controller told him the ship had precipitated from jump.

Prof. Zannun was just as bad off, but because he was from a Desert planet, the black-furred male had been no stranger to conservation behaviors. Dead-Hex had left the Professor on the Bridge to signal medical distress the moment of breakout. The Pilot-Astrogator had come down to Engineering to toggle the Jump Drive to the Maneuver Drive upon arrival. Then he could haul tail fast back to the Bridge and make a hasty vector change for mainworld Zhiblchins as Zannun called an emergency request to local traffic control. He watched his Portable Controller which was synched to the ship’s Sensors. The moment was coming when the jump rumblings would cease as the bubble of roiling hydrogen melted away to normal space.

<<JUMP PRECIPITATION>>

The mottled gray and black male blinked his eyes to make sure of the Sensors reading. Then he shut down the Jump Drive now on cool-down and rerouted power to the Maneuver Drive. Slinging the laptop-sized device, Dead-Hex pulled himself dorsally to the hatch from Engineering and into the axis corridor. Slamming the hatch down after passing though it, he kicked hard from the wall to float forward. Trained in Zero-G maneuvers, the male corrected his path down the corridor with light touches on the walls he came near in his trajectory.

With grasps, light kicks from walls Dead-Hex made the Bridge iris valve. It opened to the voice of Prof. Zannun who as already on Comms calling for aid to the system. For while the Gatherer had arrived in Zhiblchins system, Dead-Hex knew that it was another 32 hours until planetfall. He was going to push the Drives to their limit, such was his hunger. A very hasty commute was in order. The Pilot-Astrogator was beyond hungry and he knew the ladies were in worse states. He silently prayed to the Ancients in the back of his mind that they had taken their sedatives to sleep through the worst of the hunger pangs. Never before had he felt remotely religious until now.

Strapping in to the spacious helm chair, Dead-Hex grabbed up the controls and throttled the ship’s Maneuver Drive to maximum acceleration of three gees.

“To anyone within range of this signal,” called a weakened Prof. Zannun, “this is SJL-3A32 Gatherer, a Vargr Surveyor ship precipitating out of Jump Space at 100 Diameters from Zhibhlchins. We are calling a Medical Distress Alert and request any ship with medical and spare consumables intercept us. Please respond. This is a live Medical Distress Alert….” His call was in Zdetl though for obvious reasons, his Vargr accent was evident in the calling as was his weakened condition.

This was sweet music to the lupine ears of Dead-Hex who was pushing the in-system Drives to their maximum.
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Old August 17th, 2017, 09:05 AM
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Post Down a Peg pt. 50

Zhiblchins (Knoellighz 0321) A323553-D Ni Po Cp ZhSh/ZhCs
http://wiki.travellerrpg.com/Zhiblchins_(world)

Dead-Hex was close to tears when he overheard Zannun answer a hailing call from a nearby ship. He had to translate the intercepting ship’s character string to Gvegh in his head as he kept the Gatherer pushed to its fastest acceleration toward Zhiblchins. Though proficient in Zdetl as his home polity, the Infinity League had welcomed and held treaty with the Zhodani Consulate, the Pilot-Astrogator still thought in Gvegh. This was especially true since he was frightfully famished.

“2S-2S23 Predliaia,” called Zannun, “I have our position, heading and acceleration from our helmsman ready to transmit.”

Normally the ‘2S’ meant ‘SS’ but that would seem confusing in a string of characters. But Dead-Hex knew that this ship was a Scout Courier ship by the doubled-yet-different characters. The other four characters were merely performance descriptors. The Predliaia was a streamlined, 200 ton hull with slower 2Gs of acceleration and an impressive jump range of three parsecs. If Dead-Hex had to choose, and he was on the con with Kakshkha laid up in her cabin, he preferred the intercept in three hours over the thirty he had still left in the approach to the tiny dot on the TL-15 Visor Sensors. But to do so, he would have to slow the ship to two gees acceleration. Reluctantly but happier, he backed down the Maneuver Drives so the Zhodani Courier could catch up and intercept the Gatherer.

Two grueling hours later, the Courier Predliaia was coasting alongside the larger Gatherer. A transfer pulley line had been magnetized between the two ships as they drifted on minimum acceleration toward Zhibhlchins. At the airlock, Dead-Hex and Prof. Zannun met four Zhodani in Vacc Suits. The swarthy faces behind helmets nodded to the two males. The League Vargr male was thankful and relieved to see Zhodani saviors arrive.

“Permission to step further, Senior Vargr?” asked the lead, a female in the ovoid helmet. She would not pop her suit until permission was given.
“I am currently senior,” said Dead-Hex. “Third Officer Dedhekhsgourz, first mate as our Captain is laid up in her cabin. Thank you for coming. Please come in and welcome.” His and Zannun’s Charisma was much lower than the ladies, but as they were suffering, Dead-Hex nodded a bow to the lead woman. “Call me Dead-Hex for short if you like.”

“Thank you, Third Officer,” answered the woman who then signaled to the others to open their helmets. “I am First Officer Mlantia. We are here to help and trust to your hospitalilty though our Captain is confused as to how a Jump-2 starship made it this far into the Zhodani Consulate.

Dead-Hex looked to the weakened Prof. Zannun. Both were in their Seruean bodysuits but had added their Psi-Shield shemagh to preserve the mission from prying minds. It had been his idea as the suited Humans had begun transferring along the pulley line between ships.

“We’re a Seruean ship, First Officer,” explained Dead-Hex. “How we got this far past the Crystal Wall of Knoellighz is a Merchant’s prerogative and trade secret. I am a citizen of the Infinity League if it will help.”

“That term is a Vargr one, sir,” Mlantia declared. “We Zhodani do not see the Consulate border as a ‘Wall’ and we name this Sector by the Zdetl name of Tlabrieish. Can you show us to those who are suffering? Where is your Medic?”

“She’s one of those laid up, ma’am. This way please.” As the group made way through the ship, Dead-Hex explained that he had turned the ship’s gravity down to freefall as to expend less personal energy. The Zhodani First Officer nodded and concurred.

“You must be from an Asteroid world to think of such a measure,” Mlantia assumed aloud.

“Yes, ma’am,” nodded Dead-Hex. “I’m from Duelunogorrzuez. “It’s ingrained from youth. Walking takes more energy than freefall in microgravity.”
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