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Old July 27th, 2019, 09:44 AM
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Default Core of Coreward

Core of Coreward
By the Pakkrat

Begin Captain’s Log:
155-1105
Aeghzisung (Provence 0240) A200776-C As Ni Va VDzF

When entering the Vargr Extents, check your privilege.

I didn’t want to keep a Log on this ship. It still does not feel like a home to me. I had the Thuegueus II hastily constructed for vengeance, a weapon against those who had ambushed us, killed my friends and crew members and destroyed my real home. Now, the 200-ton Empress Marava-class Fast Far Trader was a ship of mourning as we took our escape leave of the Third Imperium. I had the vessel hastily built using unauthorized funds from a megacorporate credit chip card belonging to Naasirka, LIC. The Thuegueus II is still a weapon, combat turrets, combat software, combat cabins, combat drives and computer. And still she begs to be used as such.

And I took my revenge upon the pirates who ambushed us, left their ship freezing on a polar icecap and had the Bounty Huntress sent after Miss Lidus Ka arrested for murdering my crew. Why did I still feel hollow and cheated? It’s me again, Ri Dzuerrghksungkorokoutou the Captain-Owner of this ship of vengeance. We’re on a coreward tack through the Dzarrgh Federate. Our current mission is to deliver home our fallen comrades to their homeworlds as part of what Uessae Noedhin says that Humaniti calls a “Bucket List”. We have a mission, a ship, the means, and two target worlds. One of the worlds is my homeworld of Tuerrg.

Just after jump breakout we were accosted by a 100-ton Vargr Scout. Instead of letting ‘Jack’, the Ship’s Computer file for a set of SensOp-Comms tasks do the talking as I had when we were confronted by Humaniti vessels inside the Third Imperium, I got on the horn myself by getting up from my position on the Bridge as Chief Engineer, the only Engineer (needs two given our huge drives really). I probably sounded like a Terran wolf to Miss Lidus Ka our only Vilani and only Human crew aboard. That’s her sitting at Astrogation. I barked and growled in my native Logaksu at the Scout who was near to challenging us. I invited the border-running, Dzarrgh Federate Scout to scan the Thuegueus II armaments and drives. This ship would run circles around the Vargr Scout being that the Thuegueus II was built at a Tech-15 shipyard and was a weapon more than a Fast Far Trader.

Though the Vargr Scout’s commander did not attack, neither did he apologize or welcome us to the Dzarrgh Federate. I was already a Spacer citizen of the loose, fair-trade confederation polity. I was in effect returning home with this vengeance hull. The other captain had judged a book by its cover in scanning our class first without taking a second look to confirm our triple turrets brimming with beam lasers and 4G maneuver drive. Look before you start barking.

My First Officer who has the con on the Thuegueus II tilted her Aekhu Vargr head pelt in jet black at me with a question on her face that demanded an answer. Ex-Naval Captain Uessae Noedhin from Deneb Sector was the Master and Commander of this ship even though I had her built and was still listed as Captain-Owner. She did not speak Logaksu, one of many languages of the Vargr Extents. She spoke Gvegh, Aekhu, Anglic and had a few curse phrases in Vilani. “I took care of him, Uessae,” I said nodding. “More bark than bite.” Uessae nodded with half-satisfaction and put her claws back on the helm controls to vector us toward Aeghzisung Plains Downport. There were orbital parking beacons, but we chose to land instead. A Vacuum world has no atmosphere and thus no weather to cause us Turbulence.



“‘Jack’,” I spoke to the Ship’s Computer, “remind me upon docking to purchase translation software, Logaksu to Anglic.”

“Compliance,” answered the Computer. Addressing the ship with dead crew members names was no longer new to me, but still caused some unspoken consternation with Uessae and a little less with Miss Ka. Uessae had lost her fiancée, so I did not use Ofo’s name on any command files. Miss Ka still felt guilty for chartering my Vargr Trader which led to the deaths of three of my crew.

Since I no longer had a Charter, no longer had a megacorporate credit chip with seemingly endless, aryu-level funds at my claw tips, I had to use this weapon of a starship to afford this coreward journey home. The Thuegueus II has 33 tons of available space as the class was designed around its cargo hold, the breadbasket of Fast Far Traders. With a four-parsec range, we could expect less jumps to reach the homeworlds of Grunt and Jack to lay their bodies to rest. Ofo’s corpse, I am sad to report was too far gone to gather after the missile strike to Turret #2 on my Vargr Trader. I let the desert sands of Naasakiira bury him and my inherited ship.

Uessae Noedhin was far more familiar with Humaniti hulls and had eased nicely into the helm of the Thuegueus II. All the controls, consoles and board were in Anglic, so it was me who had to slow down and read my Engineering boards more carefully as we attained final approach to the Downport.

Touching down and shutting down her consoles, Uessae looked at Miss Ka who nodded back at the Aekhu Vargr. Then she addressed me. “Lidus and I are going to double-occupy, Ri,” she announced using my name instead of my nickname of ‘Fixer’. Nicknames were dying out on this new vessel.

“Oh?” This was new, a Human agreeing to double-occupy with a Vargr. If anything, I thought that Uessae might have chosen to do so with me, but for the gender thing. I mean, I can keep my paws to myself. I’m just a shut-in Engineer really.



“What brought this on?” I asked the two ladies.

“We’re going to need credits and to do that, Lidus and I are yielding up one of the cabins for Passengers, Ri.” She added my name as if her explanation was a foregone conclusion.

If any ethnicity of Vargr can tolerate proximity to Humaniti, it is the Aekhu, perhaps only outdone by the distant Irilitok who I once read in History class were enslaved for about a millennium to Humans. I nodded in assent. Arguing with two ladies against one male Logaksu was not going to go in my favor except to garner High Passengers.

“BuddySystem up then,” I acquiesced. “Shotguns only and in bandoleers, right?” The two ladies nodded as the bridge was stood down. We then went our ways to conduct business on Aeghzisung. This would be our first stop of many to deliver my dead friends home.

The Vargr Extents is far more open-minded about wearing armors in port. Law Levels are still in effect to prevent unwanted weapons, but no one took a second look as I loped through the Downport in my relatively new Combat Armor-11. I still had not decorated or repainted the military-grade protections, perhaps in my Pack colors or heraldry. I hear that Corsairs and Army-types do that. Funny to see me in such ego trip decor, right?

Being a Vacuum world was the second reason why the Aeghzisung port Security did not molest me. One airlock breach and its everyVargr for themselves in the Extents.

Being low on funds and without the Naasirka corporate card, I played it safe as I stood at the Commerce terminal and kiosk. One High Passenger and 31 tons of Freight were the safest bet until I could reacclimatize to Trade in the Extents which lemme tell you is far more cutthroat and looser. Haggling is both a pastime and a religion among us Logaksu.

“Hoy, be that yer Impy piece of scrap at the end of the terminal?” asked the leader of a small group of Logaksu Rowdies. I didn’t look up as I was in the middle of Passenger and Freight contracts.

Addressing anyone dressed in Combat Armor-11 can be the cover on a book that these port Rowdies did not fully read. They did not see the Merchant and saw the armor.

“Yeah,” I answered while pressing the COMMIT button on the Commerce terminal. “What of it?”

“Listen, bloke,” said the Rowdy leader, “if ye want to make it past the first few Corsair Bases in this subsector, ye might like to get a new paint job.” And that was my Rumor for this port, a reliable recommendation to action.

“I’ll take it into consideration. Got any schemes what will look fashionable?” I turned at last to the receptive Rowdies. I had boosted the leader’s personal charisma by asking his opinion.

I got a few schemes from the Rowdies, who were really advertising for their family business in the drydock. There was available: Mardi Gras Hell, Flame War, Tye-dye, Jaws of Life, and more silly names given to me in Logaksu my native tongue.

To make nice, I purchased a new paint job, settling on Corsairs’ Teeth, a paint pattern of jagged diamond shapes of black, red, yellow, white and a ship title in my Pack’s medium green against the white background on the hull. AFT-BS44 Thuegueus II is named after a hardy species of hardwood tree that grows throughout the Vargr Extents.
Since Aeghzisung is the Federate side of the interface worlds between them and the Third Imperium, I was able to wind my way through the ship registration and transponder swap process. This new ship hull was not unknown, just a little odd this far into the Extents even with a Vargr paint job.
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On assignment: Dhillourr (Gzaekfueg 1413) B110A7A-G Hi In {5} (D9F+3) [8F3F] 102 F9 V VRo5

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Old July 27th, 2019, 09:54 AM
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I was two bites into a steak hoagie in the Downport restaurant when the first Charter hit the table before me. It came in the form of a UPP Card, the Dzarrgh Federate hard impact plastic kind with Federate heraldry in the upper corner. "How much to bump a High Passenger for a Charter to Kirg, Merchant?" A younger, sharper-eyed Logaksu stood before me as I ate. He was dressed in a Navy uniform but wore the chained cloak of the Federate Emissary Corps. The shiny rank of Naval Captain was almost concealed on his shoulder.

The thirty-something Captain introduced himself while I recalled from memory that Kirg (Provence 0831) was just two parsecs from Grunt's homeworld. But Captain-Emissary Aenkounaenge "the Hack" Nothokfekkhouz didn't need to know that. Haggling is also about not showing your hand before all the bets are committed.

Between bites as I kept calm, I read on the UPP Card: 3 Navy, 1 Emissary. Captain ranked in just 12 years and skipped over to become a diplomat and only 34 years old. A pair of dream careers. And only 34. Some kind of prodigy maybe?

The guy had Vargr Charisma in a full house but not a royal flush. In looking at his skills, I instantly deduced why he was a success story. Computer-2, Electronic-1, Gambling-1 (not a thing to list really), Ship's Boat-1, and Grav Vehicle-1. This guy may have held the rank, but Ancients he was no Naval starship captain. He must have "hacked" his way to the top.

"My ship isn't going directly that way, but-" I got out before "the Hacker" cut me off with his military bravado and charisma.

"KCr60, and if you want more, I can do Working Passage until Kirg. I'm on a mission, Merchant-Captain." This young upstart with a rank he didn't deserve had done his online homework at least.

I didn't have to bump anybody from High Passage. I still had one open cabin in case the ladies could not cohabitate.

"What's the Op, Captain-Emissary?" I knew his uniform and add-on. I originated from deeper inside the Dzarrgh Federate than Kirg.

Sitting down across the table from my steak hoagie, the Hack looked twice, once over each of his shoulders. "It's Codename: Destiny, Merchant, and I shouldn't be telling you this, but things are gathering there on Kirg later this year."

"Oh?" I still had not committed.

"I've been travelling in the Third Imperium all this past year, gathering easy intel."

"So? The Federate is on good terms with Corridor Sector Imperium." I purposely stayed nonchalant in this haggle.

"Not forever, if you had read Destiny. Things are moving and not just in the Dzarrgh Federate, Merchant. I am to bring my gathered files back home to Kirg for-....a summit of Provence polities with - get this - the Vaenggvae Corsairs." Hack had lowered his canine Logaksu to almost a whisper at the last name.

It was rude table manners, but I asked with my mouth full, "Why me?"

The Captain-Emissary sat back and wagged his tail, "I dug up the fastest ship in port this week. Your Thuegueus II came up. So how 'bout it? Care to give a clandestine Hack a subtle but fast ride to Kirg?"

"I want the sixty up front as well as you on SensOp-Comms," I countered.

The younger Logasku in a pair of uniforms slapped his claws on the table. "Done!" he exclaimed. "When do we leave?"

"Next week, after my hull is repainted." It took the wind outta his sails, but Aenkounaenge "the Hack" Nothokfekkhouz stayed his course. We parted so he could gather his personals and luggage. I finished my steak hoagie finally in privacy.

The Hack won a free seat on my ship as I learned afterwards that he was paying from a Naval account. After three jumps, I would have to hire him, perhaps as ITech and SensOp, a job on a ship that pays less. Perhaps there was truly a mission driving the lad. I didn't have to bump anyone, and the ladies managed to hit it off with a schedule that meshed well with mine. I won KCr60 right off the bat and landed both a hacker and an Emissary, two useful skillsets that would grease our way further coreward into the Vargr Extents.

But this is the Vargr Extents. I wasn't required by interstellar law to hire Hack at the full rate. If he was really on an Intelligence mission, he'd agree to any rate that moved him closer to Kirg. This made me wonder what his payoff was at the Kirg finish line.

I got the young Captain to open up about Vaenggvae Corsairs. Prestigious band outta the Glory of Taarskoerzn. Big guns for a bunch of pirates plaguing both the Extents and Corridor Sector. And now they sought to do business with the Federate, Irrgh Manifest, Glory and maybe others? Vengeance still festered in my heart. I admit it. I wanted that Bounty Huntress to suffer for murdering my friends in cold blood. If this young buck was telling me the truth....

As the paint job, Corsairs' Teeth was being finished, I bought two tons of industrial Tin to fill the cargo hold. The ladies had been Ancients-knows-where these past days but returned first with Uessae leading. They must have really had a time away from me. Up the ramp to the gate and airlock they came smiling and friendly. "Watch," I saw Uessae mouth a whisper to Lidus Ka. I saw Capt. Hax0r down the pipe and still in the concourse terminal as the ladies approached. Uessae stopped before me. Miss Ka was a step or two away still. "Well, Ri?" challenged the ex-Navalman Captain.

"Well what?" I asked genuinely paused at the Aekhu Vargr female's demanding question.

"Ophh! Don't jinx us, Ri!" giggled Uessae. Then I saw her sick out her rump and move her tail aside. I had totally forgotten the custom! I had forgotten to beat the first crew to report back to my ship. And I had forgotten it long ago, back when I had the Thuegueus II hastily slapped together in anger. I was caught. Uessae had lost her mate-to-be but still had the humor to make me slap her rump as the first crew to return. I hesitated with Miss Ka in full view of the moment. To make matters more urgent, Hack was lugging his stuff up the gantry and he too could see me challenged by a crewman. Three seconds that ticked off were a painful and yet teasing eternity for me. Uessae had not lost herself in mourning Ofo.

Seeing those pretty, sapphire jewel eyes gaze over her left shoulder at me with her rear end out at me, I was undone. I needed to let go of this anger somehow. This was Uessae Noedhin, fellow Spacewolves and Master and Commander of this ship. She retained humor, a light heart while keeping with her straight-and-tight-laced, corseted ship operations charisma. Sure, I was being teased, challenged even. But in those three seconds, I realized that they had seen my need to blow off steam. A little frivolity and friendliness amid a Vargr superstition was indicated.

As the charismatic zenith of my ship, Uessae was also the 'alpha' who could set the mood as its heart. I smiled and my tongue must have lolled out as I swatted her armored rump with my claw. "You-..."

I was cut off by Miss Ka's confirming giggle. "How odd!" the Vilani woman said aloud, heard by Hack just arriving.

Lidus Ka had always already boarded my Vargr Trader and likely had never seen this custom. Uessae must have explained it to her and my weak-kneed, mini-beats were supposed to be much rougher on crew. I was a shut-in Engineer without the balls to really lay into Uessae who doubled my charisma.

After Uessae caught her forward motion and straightened, the two ladies embarked. The young buck who was grinning at me remarked in sarcastic passing, "That was so cute, Merchant-Captain." I wanted to smack him so hard...

I would learn later on the outbound flight from Uessae at First Meal that Miss Ka had inquired of her as why we did not observe jump dimming custom of the Vilani. Uessae had explained about our Vargr custom of the ship Captain required to physically beat the first crew to report back to the ship, to show charisma and authority to the other crew arriving for duty. But I, being a shut-in never struck a crew hard enough to merit more than a satisfied smile. And with betrothed Uessae-...

"You hit like a girl," Uessae finished for me with a smile on her canine face.

I turned from my usual beige facial to red-beige and stayed that flushed as we put away dishes and dug out our Red Wizard console for post-jump.

During jump transit, we played Red Wizard. Hack joined the Spacewolves by inputting his Ident-string, loading a Profaner that made diabolic Ofo's avatar look like a choirVargr saint. We paused in virtual 'town' to pay silent respect to the avatars of Ofo, Jack and Grunt who stood there in breathing loops, awaiting their players to log on. We did not have the heart to disband them.

xXKommandar Hax0rXx had apparently been playing Red Wizard for years as he plowed through our chosen zones on macro actions alone.

Meekly, Miss Lidus Ka on the second day in the hole asked if she could play with us. Saying that she was now crew and feeling left out, possibly because she was Human, Uessae pushed a set of goggles and gloves to the Vilani woman.

"Here. Let's down-spec and enjoy the journey, not powergame. This is to burn time in jumpspace not race for the finish line."

I nodded in agreement, not unwholly because I was going to no longer be the lowly Alchemist in the back ranks. Hack downplayed it in understanding the desire to play the game over Winning. "Everyone starts out small," he nodded in welcoming Miss Ka. And Lidus admitted to liking being grouped under the Spacewolves name though we could no longer be an all-Vargr group.

Because she had liked Jack, Miss Ka chose to play an Artificer added to Hack's Profaner, Uessae's Godstriker, and my rinkydink Alchemist bringing up the rear.
__________________
Virus: When you care to infect the very best.
Empress Wave: Not something done in a local stadium.
Incoming Code: tc 23- mt+ mgt++ tn++ t20- t4- t5++ tp? tg- th? to~ ru+ ge- 3i+ c+ jt- au+ ls+ pi+ ta he+ kk hi+ as++ va++ dr+ ith? vr? ne? so+ zh+ vi+ da+ sy~
The Pakkrat 0608 X58738-8 S va++ so+ zh+ vi+ da+ 534
On assignment: Dhillourr (Gzaekfueg 1413) B110A7A-G Hi In {5} (D9F+3) [8F3F] 102 F9 V VRo5

Last edited by The Pakkrat; July 27th, 2019 at 12:28 PM..
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Old July 27th, 2019, 09:54 AM
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On the last day of jump transit but well before jump rumblings, Hack spoke privately with me. He congratulated me in being willing to let the ladies play the more exciting professions in Red Wizard. Where he had come from, females were teased and relegated to auxiliary roles in Red Wizard. "You're a gentleman, Merchant-Captain," he declared to me.

"Ri. Call me Ri. This isn't a military ship despite the Third Imperium armaments and software and Uessae's hard knocks on the bridge."

I of course explained to Hack that I had originally balked at playing Red Wizard, that I had taken the profession that seemed to parallel with my role as the Steward-Purser aboard my previous vessel. Sure, I will eventually get to brew some kick-tail concoctions and spin gold and other philosopher stone items, but I was also the last to log on.
__________________
Virus: When you care to infect the very best.
Empress Wave: Not something done in a local stadium.
Incoming Code: tc 23- mt+ mgt++ tn++ t20- t4- t5++ tp? tg- th? to~ ru+ ge- 3i+ c+ jt- au+ ls+ pi+ ta he+ kk hi+ as++ va++ dr+ ith? vr? ne? so+ zh+ vi+ da+ sy~
The Pakkrat 0608 X58738-8 S va++ so+ zh+ vi+ da+ 534
On assignment: Dhillourr (Gzaekfueg 1413) B110A7A-G Hi In {5} (D9F+3) [8F3F] 102 F9 V VRo5
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Old July 27th, 2019, 09:57 AM
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170-1105
Lloezoers (Provence 0238) BAC3312-B Fl Lo K[Naval Base] VDzF
I thought that the new paint job was supposed to take advantage of captains who judged a book by its cover. As we skimmed for fuel, an 800-ton Vargr Frigate, long and sleek pulled up beside us for an in-depth scan. It was the string AFT-BS44 designation on our transponder that had attracted the Frigate to inspect us on the possibility that we might be smugglers taking advantage of our four-parsec jump range or our 4Gs of acceleration. I invited their captain to come aboard and see the Tin and sealed Freight, but a Vargr version of a Signal-GK caused him to peel off and respond.

Under the droning noise of perpetual corrosive rains striking the Downport domes I paid Berthing, Life Support, got paid for the and Freight after letting off our High Passenger who had thought us needs for playing a heavily-instanced fantasy game made by Human developers.

As a Tramp trader, I was rewarded with snickers from my buyers of Tin. Let them laugh. For while I had to sell at 130%, I didn't have to tell them that I had purchased the two, afterthought tons at 40% still garnering a profit. Their laugh was that I should have taken on more Tin than Freight. I didn't have to tell them I was poor in leaving the Third Imperium.

As in starting Miss Ka out in Red Wizard: cub steps.

Low Population worlds, especially ones with Corrosive atmospheres tend to be chemical plants and refineries. The outbound Passengers came up nil. The Freight available was a single ton. I took it. I was looking hard at the imbalance of Armored G-Carriers at KCr70 base and decided it was a gamble given our next destination.

They must have seen me licking the glass, so a pair of Logaksu Off-worlder Merchants offered to sell me Tech-9 guns and armor but only off-planet claiming the Corrosives were bad for the products. I didn't bite. Though the two Merchants were responsive to me and my Imperium ship, I didn't want to risk poking my nose into smuggling illegals or fomenting conflict. A weapon even at rest begs to be used.

Outbound, the Thuegueus II passed a Vargr Packet being serviced by a 30-ton Ship's Boat. Genuinely Friendly, we took heart that this might be the start of a friendlier charter despite the 'wild' Vargr Extents.

I sat at Engineering on the bridge because I had yet to turn Engineering into my Vargr Cave on this weaponized Fast Far Trader. I then overheard Miss Ka ask Uessae, "Why have we not yet seen a Corsair?"

Rather than admitting she did not know the answer, Uessae turned to me in deflection of the question.

"Against the backdrop of Provence Sector's dense accumulation of Important worlds, we are chicklizard feed to prey upon, Miss Ka." I continued to explain with, "Just as the Aekhu have an edge with Imperial integration and dietary versatility, we Logaksu for millennia since Lair have been the logistics experts, the caravan masters, the travelling crafters. We know and keep track of systems with Corsair activity. Hence why our course is zigzagging into the Vargr Extents. Our gift to our species, I guess."

"That cannot be 100% foolproof," huffed Uessae.

"It isn't, but here we are."

“I’ve installed the language translator software,” I reported to Uessae the first evening in jump between Llozoers and Khon. “You can test it with me or Hack should you like. It has an add-on that will teach my language if time is taken to sit down and interact with it.” Uessae smiled, adding a tilt of her head. I had noticed that as Master and Commander, she had disliked being out of the loop whenever I or Hack were on the Comms and blabbing away with other starships or System Traffic Control of each world.

That week in jumpspace, I finally got around to unpacking my salvaged stuff from my Vargr Trader and personalizing the Engineering station in Engineering proper. It wasn’t yet my Vargr Cave what with everything still labeled in Anglic, but I would get there eventually.

Another hurdle was that the Engineering section’s open space was much larger than on my spartan Vargr Trader, that I had trouble filling up the area with MINE. Someone, and I bet I know who, used a magnet and a sign placed upon Engineering. It said:

OLD FART’S DEN - KEEP OUT!

It is true. I am the eldest on this ship. But the sign did spur me to look in the mirror for gray hairs.
__________________
Virus: When you care to infect the very best.
Empress Wave: Not something done in a local stadium.
Incoming Code: tc 23- mt+ mgt++ tn++ t20- t4- t5++ tp? tg- th? to~ ru+ ge- 3i+ c+ jt- au+ ls+ pi+ ta he+ kk hi+ as++ va++ dr+ ith? vr? ne? so+ zh+ vi+ da+ sy~
The Pakkrat 0608 X58738-8 S va++ so+ zh+ vi+ da+ 534
On assignment: Dhillourr (Gzaekfueg 1413) B110A7A-G Hi In {5} (D9F+3) [8F3F] 102 F9 V VRo5
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Old July 27th, 2019, 10:01 AM
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178-1105
Khon (Tuglikki 3235) A00048A-C As Vi Na K VDzF
Almost a Low Population system, the greatest draw to Khon was its hoopla and hype about being the “Khon Beltway (to Tuglikki)”. A Naval Base nestled in the only planetoid belt had grown beyond its original britches and become this caravanserai expanding beyond the safety of the outpost. This in turnout of Belters, Outpost Merchants and then the beltstrike of heavy and rare earths turned Khon into a boomtown.

For the Thuegueus II, it cost less fuel and time to breakout of jumpspace with four Gas Giants to choose from, (I had reminded Miss Ka to pick the one closest to Khon Beltway). We skimmed fuel without problem since our 4Gs of acceleration can handle almost all known Gas Giant sizes.

At a population of 50,000 Dzarrgh Federate citizens, Belters and resupply lines, Khon had done well for a Beltway that size. Such was the richness of the only planetoid belt and the clout of the local Naval Base that Khon had attracted commercial lines to pass this caravanserai.

I almost missed the logo on the Vargr Packet that had been converted into a liner. What was Gzugo Lines doing here so far spinward of their normal stomping grounds in Windhorn Sector? After having Hack zoom in on the Packet, the Captain-Emissary looked up and over his shoulder at me and whispered, “See? I told you things were moving. Change is coming.”

The Comms officer of the Gzugo Lines Packet looked like he’d been shot when I asked him his cargo and destination. Going in opposite directions, us on final approach and them outbound to jump point, it seemed an innocent curiosity. But the Third Officer (I could see his rank pips on his lapel on the visual link) stammered, “V-VIPs and our destination is classified, Merchant-Captain.” At that the conversation was cut short. Uessae had to dodge planetoids as we slowed to dock and the Liner was close to jumping.

When someone says a buzzword like classified, it’s either military, government, or something extra-shadowy. I was starting to take a second look at Hack’s story about change coming to rimward Provence Sector.

For Uessae, Miss Ka and I this was our first world of Tuglikki Sector. Khon sat right on the border between it and Provence. Hence the ‘gateway’ hype here.

As part of the advertisement to attract business here on the Sector border, Berthing was a cheap Cr100 but our smaller hull was displaced from hangar landings to an external docking ring of parked tramp traders.

BuddySystem again in this new Sector, Miss Ka agreed to be escorted by Hack while Uessae and I conducted Commerce at the local kiosk terminal. Unlike most Traders, I like to stretch my legs and do business instead of using the SysNet online while inbound. I know it saves time, but as the Chief Engineer, I am usually too busy with Jump Drive cooldown and other chores of Engineering involving docking. Now, if I wasn’t the Engineer...

“Let’s get a fridge magnet for Tuglikki to show all the Sectors we’ve traveled,” suggested Uessae. A silly decoration, like some attainment of exploration, but I nodded to her. Business was lighter as I had not taken on much Freight out of Lloezoers.

Khon Beltway must have been in the quiet season, with all its Belters out in their claims and blasting away at planetoids because the concourse was quiet and peaceful. Passengers and Beltport staff only were seen. Weapon possession was prohibited, and the detectors were built into and nested within the docking arm gantry. We must have been scanned four times for weapons. While our armors were still allowed on this Asteroid world Beltport, it was claws and fangs only, (save for Miss Ka who stuck close to Hack).

Monitors wide and tall scrolled advertisements for various worlds of Tuglikki Sector, resorts, diversions and Capitals of the Sector’s pocket empires. I say pocket, but to us Vargr almost all polities less than a subsector in size fit in the pocket of a Sector like Tuglikki.

I bought a new Hand Computer-11 from an electronics shop on the border module between the Beltport and the Startown modules which reached into a planetoid and deeper into the residential modules within.

Uessae and I ate dinner together in a restaurant. Was it a date? I paid, so yes? Seemed silly for us to be on a date while wearing Combat Armor-11. But in a Beltport where accidents or a slip of operations can be disastrous, seeing sophonts in Vacc Suits 9 through 13 are common. Some off-duty Security a couple of tables over gave me the Cop Eye for wearing military-grade protections in a welcoming boomtown Beltport. Well, if they had said anything, I could claim it was my only Vacc Suit I owned. Whatever.

So, on the outbound, I can say this about Khon. It will be growing in the years to come. The system is in a prime location as we Logaksu have known for some time. Location is everything.

As we vectored to the jump point not far away, we witnessed a 30-ton Slow Boat escorting a damaged Vargr Packet on a haggard final approach. Noncommittal, the Packet was overdue due to a misjump and we could see the damaged and exposed Jump Drive. How long had they been in the hole? They had no time for pleasantries though, so we moved on to our own jump.

After a romp of zero-g handball in the cargo hold during jump transit, Uessae caught me resting after play before the sealed caskets of Grunt and Jack. I had stolen glances at my fallen friends from across the hold. Done panting, she sat down and fixed me with her sapphire eyes framed in that silky black pelt.

“Let go, Ri,” she said to me. “You cannot mourn forever. Travelling is dangerous. They knew that. We have the Traveller Gene because we broke out of normality. Live in the now, Ri.” I nodded and we picked up to head for the showers.

On Day 4, Uessae was a blessed with an “Epic drop” in Red Wizard. Her Godstriker walked about virtual civilization with us while wearing the Amulet of the Dakhaseri, some Vilani-based belief system where the souls of the departed look down upon us from the stars, watching and trying futilely to interfere or influence the still-living. I could see Uessae’s charisma exuding from her avatar in Red Wizard. Miss Ka seemed awestruck that the game had made a reference to Vilani beliefs.
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185-1105
Kuronraer (Provence 0232) B556789-A Ag K VDzF
At our breakout in Kuronraer, it again became obvious that changes were coming to the Dzarrgh Federate. The Vargr Packet being escorted by a 50-ton Cutter-Gunship had us on the bridge of the Thuegueus II looking at Hack who said nothing but looked smug. We were witness to the bright jump flash of the departing 600-tonner. Then we were involuntarily escorted inbound by the same Cutter-Gunship as a "lucky courtesy".

My mood soured after: Berthing Cr600, Life Support Cr8000, Payday Cr12,600, and then I really stepped in it.

I had just signed over Cr15,600 for frozen Meat rumored to be in future demand on Kirg which made sense given Hack's smug look back at us, when two Police Officers decided they didn't like me. Maybe they too were having a bad day. Or perhaps I was still in my Combat Armor-11 while loping about the Downport on a rather pleasant Ag-world.

They mistook me for an offworld soldier. When I corrected them, that I was a simple Merchant, they sought to arrest me. To make things worse, I had not reminded my crew to use our BuddySystem and so was alone as I conducted Commerce.

The thing you Imperials take for granted is the Extrality Line, that border between the Imperium Starport and the local, planetary government. In the Vargr Extents, extraterroriality is not a given. I had become acclimated to it during my time plying Trade in the Third Imperium.

At Law Level 9, I was also caught in the open without weapons. So, I Infought the two cops who were armed with painful stun-sticks, those electrical ones that hurt like a sonovabitch before your limbs go limp.

As a Traveller, I thought I could school some fresh out of Academy beat cops. Yeah, no.

"I wish I could say, 'you should see the other guys'," I answered to Uessae six hours later when she was allowed to visit my holding cell deeper in the Startown.

"Really, Ri?"

"They were picking on a humble Merchant Traveller, Uessae."

"REALLY, Ri?!" I flattened my ears. My tail drooped lower. "You can have a heart of gold, an icy plate of revenge, Ri, but this time you were phenomenally stupid." My eyes sought the floor. Uessae was ex-Navy and not an Advocate. As an Aekhu Vargr, she didn't hold much more than her personal charisma on Kuronraer. She would not be able to get me out of this jam. "When I said we were Travellers, Ri I did not intend for you to grow a head the size of a dirigible."

"How long am I in for?" I asked like a cub being scolded by his dam.

Uessae stepped up to the bars of the cell holding me. She looked defeated in expression. Her paralanguage made me start to worry.

Maybe it was to punish me that Uessae did not answer my question. I spent the night in the Law Enforcement HQ holding cells being annoyed by local drunks, arrested prostitutes, addicts asking for any fix I might own, and the list went on. So, it was no surprise I looked haggard the next day when I was released to Uessae who had a huge Logaksu Vargr dressed in the Naval uniform and ranked as Admiral with her.

He was taller, stronger, formal, owned any room he stepped into so grand was his Charisma and aura.

This Admiral did not need weapons. His personal charisma had everyone in the precinct office somehow coming to formality and tripping over each other to expediate my fine of Cr5000 and release me into his and Uessae's recognizance.

My Combat Armor-11 and personal stuff was zipped and locked with one of those plastic, dated locks in a thick, plastic duffle and released to Uessae.

Signatures in inkpen, stamps and staples later, we were out the front door of the HQ and into a gravcab to the Downport.

Without my armor worn, I was last up the ramp from the tarmac. The Admiral nodded to Uessse as he carried his luggage into the Thuegueus II as she stood at military attention with an Imperial salute. She is not rated in Steward. Behind me, I could see Miss Ka arriving on deck with a surprised-looking Capt. Hack in the hole and trying to catch up to the Admiral.

When I made it to the airlock door, followed by Lidus Ka at the bottom of the ramp and looking up at Uessae and I, that's when Uessae struck.

It was a Gibbs-slap to the head which caused me to lean forward from the blow. The slap was followed by a stinging claw swat to my rump shoving me aboard.

Through the threshold of my own ship and smarting, I thought only, Uessae does not hit like a girl.

Outbound from Kuronraer, I hid in Engineering, shutting in as was my wont. That was, until Uessae knocked on the iris door with a hand tool.

I was overwhelmed by her and the Admiral Laegh Oedaekukeghokhirr, Federate Navy who had even Uessae overmatched in Charisma.

Introductions, profuse thanks from me, the Admiral's passage to Kirg, and that he was volunteering to help with Medical, Engineering and Gunnery had to be laid out right there. Under the crushing weight of Uessae's and Laegh's charisma, I nodded, clasped claws and thanked him again for my release. This was the kind of Rear Admiral whose favorite gun was 'battlecruiser'.

The gathering on Kirg was less a secret now. Capt. Hack was going. And now an Admiral of the Dzarrgh Federate Navy needed our Jump-4 range to make it to what was now being called a Summit.

As the rated Medic on the Thuegueus II, I was privy to the Admiral's UPP Card. Unlike Hack who had sleazed his way to the rank of Captain in the Navy, Adm. Laegh Oedaekukeghokhirr was no slouch. He had the skills of his Rear Admiral (Retired in only 5 terms) success story. His charisma backed up that UPP just as it backed up his charisma each feeding off each other.

It is needless to say that I the Steward-Purser whipped up a grand feast for Uessae and the Admiral, with Hack and Miss Ka beaming at me as I served the crew First Meal. Can you say I was on my bestest behavior before Master and Commander Uessae? Yes, I can.

With 20 tons of Freight and 13 tons of frozen Meat, there were no sports in the cargo hold during jump transit. The Admiral calmed me down by asking that I call him Laegh, him being retired and on retainer.

Instead, we played Red Wizard with Laegh watching passively and humorously watching on a monitor jacked to the console.

"...aannd that's what a backlash looks like," declared Hack as he pulled off his goggles and his gloves, removing himself from the virtual world of Red Wizard. We had just seen his Profaner proc a magical backlash in what looked like a computer graphics supernova taking down xXKommandar Hax0rXx. I was thankful to be in the back ranks of the Spacewolves that game day.

Laegh, now dressed this day in a simpler ship work suit chuckled to himself as he had safely watched from the audience perspective. "I was recording," he declared to us. He had seen a bird's eye view of the blast in the zone we were adventuring.

"I need a smoke after that one," answered Hack who we had just seen 'die' in-game. "Or maybe a drink."

When the game updated upon the next world SysNet at Thueni (Provence 0632), any other player could breathe easier in knowing that Hack's avatar was the loser of the week or month. Who truly knew how often wizards of Red Wizard suffered magical backlashes?

Laegh rubbed his muzzle chin. At only 38 years, so much younger than I, he offered, "Your macros look good, Spacewolves, but can I make a suggestion or two?" Charisma alone said we had to give the Admiral our attention, even if he had never played before. Laegh suggested a change in positional tactics that had us use a timer to change group positions and rotate out the wizard or wizards in the front ranks ever so often. "Seems to me that your game picks on the point most often. Auto-cycling them out with a substitute may force the game to reset what you players keep calling aggro."

We agreed as a group to give the Admiral's tactics a try after Thueni.
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Old July 27th, 2019, 10:10 AM
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197-1105
Thueni (Provence 0632) B574346-8 Lo M VDzF
A trigger-digit Vargr Packet on edge was about to attack the Imperium hull of the Thuegueus II until Admiral Laegh Oedaekukeghokhirr put himself on the horn. From my hidey hole in Engineering, I heard him dress down the remote commander in his bass voice and guttural growl. It was intimidating to hear. I did not want to get on Laegh's bad side after that.

Landing at the Military Base and Downport, we learned why Thueni was Low Population. The entire settlement was built around the Army Military Base, catering to the Federate ground forces and Drop Infantry. In the Extents, the Dzarrgh Federate does not yet have Star Marines as in the Imperium.

With the Admiral as my Buddy, likely Uessae's doing, I did ship business at the only Commerce kiosk in the Downport. And I had to wait in line for it.

With only 11 tons of outgoing Freight, I bought still more frozen Meat of the local variety to add to the Meat already in the cargo hold. Uessse called me on my Comm-12, saying that she had landed yet a third Patron, (as if Hack and Laegh were not enough already). This Logaksu Broker had fallen ill, and could we please deliver his economic reports and projected war costs in a sealed attaché case to the Summit on Kirg? Mail so rarely happens in the Vargr Extents that we took the Cr25,000 job for the Broker and his profuse but stricken thanks.

Now I was no longer doubting that something was truly afoot on Kirg and all the players concerned were converging there for this Summit.

"Maybe we should consider delaying Okfaeng in favor of Kirg?" I asked Uessae on the other end of the call. She shook her head on the little monitor just as I felt the large claw on my shoulder. I looked up to Adm. Laegh shaking his head at me with his ears flattened.

"Bury your dead, Merchant-Captain," he said in a gentle bass voice. "Kirg can wait, especially since your ship won't have to refuel with Thueni, Okfaeng and Kirg so proximal to each other."

I nodded solemnly. A commander such as Rear Admiral Laegh Oedaekukeghokhirr knew the value of his subordinates and through Vargr Charisma respected those that had served, even those not directly under him.

He as my Buddy then dragged me, a lowly Merchant to a speech he had prepared for the Military Base trainees and cadets. I listened from the corner front row at the address as he blanketed the assembly with his charisma and encouraging words. He spoke on war, its horrors and its glories. And he closed in cautioning the commander against overreaching their unit capabilities, to cycle out with other divisions to keep the enemy from decimating the lead units and guessing at the incoming unit potential.

It was the same advice he had given the wizards of the Spacewolves. Had we inspired that advice in Laegh's speech?

The applause was thunderous and the howling deafening coming from the assembled armed forces of Thueni. Even I was roused, and I never served a day in the military.

Scratch one from my "Bucket List": attend a state address.

I felt a little more propped-up and encouraged by Admiral Laegh's speech as we headed unmolested outbound to the jump point to Okfaeng, Grunt's homeworld.

Capt. Aenkounaenge "Hack" Nothokfekkhouz later admitted to me privately that he had watched the speech using his rank and clearance. He had recorded the address and pointed me out in the audience of the recording. I was kinda touched. What had prompted him to do that?

As if he had read my mind, Hack quoted, "An army marches on its stomach, Ri. You Merchants are part of the logistics the military needs to do its job."

As if I had read his history, I deduced then how Hack had such a meteoric rise in the ranks. He understood what he had just said and had made available what his superiors needed at need. He was a quartermaster.

The Apotheosis Quest it took to bring xXKommandar Hax0rXx back to a healthy status in Red Wizard was arduous and costed the Profaner his best gear item. But we had our big gun back in the Spacewolves for another two jumps, until we delivered Hack, Laegh, and the Economy Reports to Kirg.

Uessae approached me in Engineering while I was checking on the status of the jump field. Life Support was due when we called at Okfaeng. But more seriously, she sat down and queried me with, "Just who is the Dzarrgh Federate gearing up to war upon, Ri?" In a flash, I remembered that Captain Uessae Noedhin was ex-Imperium Navy and that the Summit was likely not inviting anyone from Corridor Sector Imperium Navy. She nodded at me grimly. As a Vargr, even an integrated Aekhu, Uessae had realized the score. "This is about the Utovogh Tirades, isn't this?" she asked of me. When I had no definite, confirming answer, she looked to the deck. "No matter. Whomever attacks His Majesty's Imperium will get crushed by Tech-15 Navy. I'm sorry, Ri."

"Hey, Uessae-"

"I know you want revenge for Ofo, Grunt, and Jack, Ri. But you don't burn down an orchard because of a few bad apples. Admiral Xavier and other Admirals like my sire will keep Corridor open. The Vargr Extents will crash upon a fortress like the seas to a seawall." It was patronizing, but I accepted Uessae patting her claw on my head gently. She left me there in Engineering and returned to the Bridge to prepare for jump rumblings and jump precipitation.
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Old July 27th, 2019, 10:14 AM
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205-1105
Okfaeng (Provence 0733) A7557B-A Ag Ga VDzF
It is the responsibility and duty of the Captain of a vessel to report initially to the family of lost crew. From the Downport to his homestead in the Ag-world ranch, Uessae, Miss Ka and I delivered Grunt’s casket. As they need not be involved, I assigned Capt. Hack with Adm. Laegh in our Buddy System. And amazingly, despite the Agricultural world’s very high Law Level, we went unmolested once the Downport Security forces saw that we were delivering a casket held aloft with a grav-jack, with the Dzarrgh Federate banner draped over it.

The provincial Logaksu accent was thick as the late Army Captain Gvuedhag “Grunt” Aeng returned home to Pack Aeng. His dam cried at the funeral, unable to raise her voice in the burial howl as shovels of earth were laid upon the casket in the family cemetery. I discreetly delivered a copy of my full report and recordings and logs of Grunt’s time with us from the day he signed on with me and Jack to his death at the hands of the Bounty Huntress’ murderous Bayonet.

At our hotel room, we downloaded Grunt’s Red Wizard avatar for the youngest of Pack Aeng to see. A facial and body torso scan from any Medical console is uploaded to Red Wizard to approximate the appearance of the avatar wizard used by the player. The cubs and adolescents thanked us profusely.

Uessae clasped my arm repeatedly. She was each time attempting to dispel my anger and desire for revenge.

We were on Okfaeng exactly 24 hours. It was enough. Three hours inbound to land, twenty-four for the funeral and apologies to the Pack Aeng and return of Hack and Laegh and three hours to the jump point.

A Vargr Scout also vectored toward Kirg shared with Miss Ka their astrogation calculations shortening the time it took for her to path our way to Kirg. I did a lot of soul searching in my cabin and when alone in Engineering where I could lock the door.

213-1105
Kirg (Provence 0831) A98A733-D Ri Wa K VDzF
Gargantuan floating cities lay across the surface of the oceans like silver snowflakes on the blue-green oceans. Where there were shallows of photic zone reefs, the metropolitan, false islands were anchored by massive lines or fixed in place by variable height pylons that rose and fell with the changing ocean depths. Tall skyscrapers reached impossibly high, just as underwater structures reached down from the platforms to submersible watercraft docked to watery airlocks. The surface gravity was not immediately felt until one stepped off a ship and onto an unassisted portion of surface dock. If the space traffic was bad, the sky traffic was worse and berthing was the worst. But with Capt. Hack and Admiral Laegh transmitting their respective clearances, Uessae had the Thuegueus II down in the green water so we could exit to a stepped ramp up to the pier. Lines secured the Fast Far Trader like a watercraft. All the watercraft of the mainworld were under orders to anchor off miles from the capital city of Kirg Oek City, given only the very outermost tips for small skiffs to deliver crews and passengers from them to shore.

The weather was perfect. Who knew if that was by design via atmospheric weather control or not? A partly cloudy day with oceanic breezes pushing between the skyscrapers and the outlying districts.

It was the low Law Level of 3 listed on Kirg UWP that caused us to witness several landings of 400-ton Ueknou-class Corsairs and the 600-ton Sorrgheg Corsairs, the scourge of the Extents star lanes.

Here on Kirg and only for the Summit did outright Corsairs rub shoulders with polity Navies, Armies, overtaxed Emissaries, planetary Administrators, Merchants (hosting and running demos at the Expo), and everyVargr in-between.

Right off the ship and with Uessae as my Buddy, I sold the Meat to some hungry local buyers eager to feed the visiting VIPs anything other than the local fare of fish. So, I scored well for the 33 tons of Meats from two separate worlds for Cr148,500.

It was a crew Engineer's questions and curiosity about the AFT-BS44 Fast Far Trader that gave me an idea about the Summit. I answered his questions, recording each one on my Hand Computer-11. We spoke at length about each of its systems, armor, weapons, drives and performance. Uessae was well ready to tear off her ears as we Engineers geeked out over the Thuegueus II.

After the Engineer, Uessae and I saw to the discharge and disembarking Hack and Laegh. I had delivered the Naval Officers to Kirg, to the Summit and they landed me a perfect berth for the price.

"You should come to the symposium, Ri," suggested Hack. "Uessae too of course," added Laegh. Both were arrayed in dress uniform, Laegh before Hack per rank and charisma.

And that cinched my idea like the Ancients were wielding a cattle prod at me.
I spent all night before the Summit, preparing a presentation on a memory wafer slotted to my Hand Computer-11.

Uessae had our best Imperium Naval and my Merchants jacket laundered. She and Lidus Ka talked into the night together. This was our reduced crew now. I got the sneaking suspicion that Uessae was plotting. I admit I too was plotting.

The next morning, breakfast did not help with the butterbees in my stomach. We left the food court erected at both street level and spread throughout the aboveground pedestrian tubes of the skyscrapers.

The scheduled Symposium to open the Summit lay ahead of us. Uessae and I beheld banners attracting similarly dressed dignitaries of the Dzarrgh Federate, the Irrgh Manifest, the Glory of Taarskoerzn and even the Ngath Confederation from Windhorn Sector. There were corporate banners and kiosks set up from all of the Vargr corporations I could identify on sight. And the list went far beyond my knowledge.

I had to ask, but Uessae and I got our first look at the logo of the Menderes Corporation, a megacorp from clear across the Extents. There were propaganda criers of both the Utovogh and Oekhsos Tirades against the Imperium campaigns against the Vargr Extents.

"I am glad Lidus is not here to see this side of the Vargr," Uessae said to me as we crossed. "Not all of us Vargr are this way."
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Old July 27th, 2019, 10:23 AM
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The Symposium grounds were nigh a Starport in size, an indoor stadium with a sunlight aperture at the apex. As a pair we entered through one of eight grand gates. We had to give our names and declare any weapons that were still legal to carry on mainworld Kirg to Federate Army as Security. They were fully armed and in Tech-13 Battle Dress. Once past the forest of mechaVargr soldiers, the crowding thickened as bodies pressed through bottlenecks to reach the main stadium chamber. I had never been in a structure where so many Vargr were present, armed and could start killing each other immediately. Morning sunlight beamed at an angle and its radiance was creeping slowly toward the main stage and podium.

I was having a hard time navigating the throngs of multi-polity, Extents Vargr and keeping ahold of Uessae. The ex-Navy Captain was receiving dagger-eye stares from the Logaksu around her. Here was an Aekhu wearing the formal dress uniform and insignia of the Third Imperium Navy. In guiding her, I tripped, stumbled my digitigrade stance and fell to the ferroconcrete floor. I had tripped over someone else.

“Ri!” Uessae called as my hip struck the surface. I looked up to see who I needed to apologize to and was rewarded with a shock of the worst kind of coincidence.

The actresses who try to portray her fall utterly short of reality. The charisma exuding from this female Vargr who I collided with was so Famous, (and I say that with a capital F), that none could mistake her. Her face had been displayed in every Starport-A, B, C and D in Provence, Windhorn and I guessed Tuglikki Sector too. Before and above my supine form was Nougzoel the Corsair Leader of Vaenggvae. The Corsair had no need for a Pack name. Like a stage name for a celebrity Entertainer or member of royalty, Nougzoel was far too known and yet obscure enough to have discarded her original birth Pack name. Her personal name was enough. It was feared. Vaenggvae Corsairs were feared and powerful. It must have been Vaenggvae Corsair ships we had seen descending to the watery berths the day before. A second ticked away as I was paralyzed by Nougzoel’s gaze and charisma.

In the second tick of time, I saw that Nougzoel had reacted by half-drawing her Cutlass, a wicked blade of some sort of transparent and super sharp polymer. The blade refracted the light such that a prism rainbow was played across the browns of her exposed thigh fur. She wore a flowing duster overcoat with its deep collar played back and over her shoulders to expose her head and full neck ruff. A split in the back of the overcoat let her incredibly bushy and wild tail freeze in her alert and ready to fight stance. Though I could not see her only battle scar under her overcoat sleeve, everyone who had seen dramatizations of Nougzoel knew that she had a triple claw scar across her left bicep from a famous Infighting duel she had fought for Leadership of Vaenggvae. Her face was hard at first, Nougzoel at the ready for action. The third second ticked as her entourage of Corsairs around their Leader also half-drew their Cutlasses.

Uessae came to a crouch to my aid in that second and managed to look up and over her shoulder at whom I been tripped up. Four seconds had ticked as Nougzoel the Corsair Leader saw me, saw Uessae and recognized an Imperial had come to my aid. The Corsair looked down at me and my face pleading for forgiveness.

Vargr paralanguage can transmit much to those who have grown up around it. Humans can sometimes pick out all the nuances. From my fallen position, I yielded up my neck, showed my empty claws in the most passive of gestures. My tail was curled in apology. Into her scabbard slid Nougzoel’s blade as she too leaned forward to lend a claw. The gesture brought forth expressions from Nougzoel’s entourage.

Nougzoel saw me, saw Uessae and in that fifth second ticking away yet another eternity saw straight through me, my plans and why I had brought an Imperial Naval Officer with me. As Uessae’s claws clasped my arm, Nougzoel’s famous claw enclosed the closest of mine. Back on my feet with the aid of two who were enemies to each other, the sixth second ticked as Nougzoel’s entourage stood down, their weapons returning to sheaths. The Corsair leader spoke to Uessae and I in that and following seconds. Her voice was as a venomous feline pouncer, smooth and had deep tenor.

“You have my word that I will be merciful. No atrocity under my flag and my band.” It was as if the female Corsair had read my heart, exposing my plan. Was she psionic? I did not know in that sixth and seventh seconds. But in just two seconds the Corsair Leader had deduced me, Uessae and our temerity to show publicly at this Symposium. In the eighth second, Nougzoel looked to Captain Uessae Noedhin and said, “No hate.”

Nougzoel was giving us a promise. As soon as I was balanced and closer to Uessae, Corsair Leader Nougzoel nodded at us and turned with a flourish of her overcoat and marched away with her toe claws clicking away at the smooth, ferroconcrete floor. No one else had spoken.

I was unnerved. I had collided with the most feared pirate in this region of Vargr space. Uessae had to then help me to my seat on the main floor. Admiral Laegh had reserved us seats before the stage. Not front row, mind, but a few rows back of front. I was glad to be seated being undone by the touch of Nougzoel after having collapsed in her shadow.

Vargr Charisma of every timbre and flavor were on display at the podium as speaker after speaker from polities, navies, infantries and yes, even Corsairs came to address the masses in that stadium. Each was framed in the light of the K-type star far brighter than any of the stadium lights.
I was roused once more at the encouraging speeches but also anchored to the moment by Uessae’s worried grasp. More and more as each leader-type gave their address and commitment to this Summit, Uessae was confirming that the Vargr Extents was gearing up for some future conflict with the Third Imperium.

I saw Rear Admiral Laegh Oedaekukeghokhirr speak on behalf of the Dzarrgh Federate Navy. He spoke on tactics and leadership. In his and each of the others’ speeches, I heard the word destiny spoken. It was the same word Captain Aenkounaenge “Hack” Nothokfekkhouz had used in hiring me for passage to Kirg.

The code word was confirmed when at last Corsair Leader Nougzoel, under a flag of immunity to prosecution took the podium. There were howls of pride from her bands and outlying Corsair splinter groups as the female ascended the steps onto the stage. Presentations had displayed above and behind each of the speakers. The same happened as Nougzoel spoke. Though she did not lay down distinct plans, by the time she had finished to thunderous, earthquake applause, we knew she had a plan for taking Corridor Sector. Again, Uessae subtly shook her head at me. All this bravado in her eyes was in vain before a single ship had lifted from Kirg.

Various auxiliary and support leaders took turns of lesser charisma to present their assets in Nougzoel’s genius. Each stated their commitment and contribution to what she had just termed on stage as the “Destiny Alliance”, again cinching the term as a codename.

When all in that stadium thought every presenter before the three-dimensional, holographic presentation projector had spoken, my name was called next. I had, through Admiral Laegh posted a need to present the night before. I had done so behind Uessae’s back. She stared wide-eyed at me when I stood. Spotlights swung about the main floor until I was bathed in luminescence.

“Merchant-Captain Ri Dzuerrgksungkorokoutue of the Merchants Guild, Dzarrgh Federate,” called the announcing emcee. My knees trembled. My ankles creaked as I stood.

Uessae gripped me hard and hissed, “Ri, what are you-?”
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I had never and to this day have never spoken to so many Vargr of disparate allegiances. I could feel the weight of so much Vargr Charisma and attention as I made way to the stairs up to the stage. At the fourth step, I froze. I was frozen with fear. I was frozen with causality. I was paralyzed with what Uessae might see as betrayal of our friendship. I could see how my words might be seen as aggressive to the Third Imperium. There was a murmur through the stadium as the masses waited for me to attain the podium. I was stuck. I was committed. I could not take another step.
It was Uessae who had padded up behind me and helped me toward that next two steps onto the stage. Together we made the zenith. She escorted me to the podium and then stood to one side and behind me as I began. My prepared projection posted on the 3-D above me.

Before Corsairs, Federate, Glory, Manifest and Ngath Confederation and everyone else I had to squint against the streaming daylight in my face to see, I laid a speech of caution upon them all. My transcript is forever recorded so I shall paraphrase.

I acknowledged that the Summit had in its possession intelligence on Corridor, its Bases, ports, and Depot. Hack had brought that to the Summit. I acknowledged that each polity had an astounding amount of military and support assets. Laegh had contributed the Dzarrgh Federate’s support. I acknowledged the economic projections and war costs approximations. The Broker who had hired me to deliver the sealed case to the Summit had been finally handed over by Adm. Laegh. I acknowledged the Corsairs of Vaenggvae and their vanguard to pierce and penetrate into Corridor Sector. No one polity of the Extents could be so bold to alone attempt a wide operation like this proposed and future.

“You have seen much intelligence, but at the core of this is the challenge you will face in the Third Imperium Naval forces. I have not seen a single presentation on the Tech-15 specs you will pit your forces against. I have Traveled the Third Imperium. I have brought to you what you will fight.” Behind me were posted the specs on the AFT-BS44 Fast Far Trader Thuegueus II upon the projector. “Of course, you see a simple and small Trader. Look deeper and see the technology that the Third Imperium takes for granted. Each system in my ship comes from the finest shipyards of Corridor. They produce hulls of this caliber on a corporate and even civilian level. See how each technology builds upon each other and the cohesion it has? You will dare to fight against this.” I listed each and spoke of how I had procured the Thuegueus II a weaponized Trader ship. I compared it to what actual warship hulls might be.

“I bring you this intelligence as a Merchant, not to discourage or slow this Summit or bog down this Symposium. I present this data to prepare you for the conflict, to minimize casualties on both sides. You have heard Corsair Leader Nougzoel’s commitment to leading this expedition or incursion, however you see it. You heard her state her commitment and condition of leadership on the avoidance of unnecessary bloodshed. This data I present will help you save yourselves and your foes, to reduce needless destruction. Heed her command and condition, honored Assembly.” There was no gain of charisma in my presentation. Nothing to gain for myself. No vengeance or even justice.

“If the Destiny Alliance chooses to raid the orchards of Corridor, at least try to avoid burning them down in the conflict to come. More will be the spoils if you are victorious.” Only I could hear the sniffing of tears from Uessae. I had used her metaphor in this presentation. I could have heard a cub cry on the far side of the stadium so quiet was the gathered.

It was Corsair Leader Nougzoel, seated on the front row among her entourage who first began clapping her claws. I could not see her from the glare of the star and the spots targeted upon me behind the podium. She was followed suit by her Corsairs. The applause grew. The speech and presentation were settling into the logical core buried in the passions of those present. Only once I had finished did I remember that this Symposium was swarmed by media drones who recorded and transmitted the Symposium to the system and within a week to every world within jump range.

I bowed in completion and carefully stepped back to Uessae. The two of us supported each other as we made way off the stage.

Though it was less than other, charismatic dignitaries, I was mobbed by news media reporters. Questions came at me rapid fire. How did I come to so quickly own the latest model of Imperium hull? What did Uessae and I rate the fighting capacity of the Corridor fleets? What was the Merchants Guild doing poking our noses into military campaigns? I fired back at that last question. "An army marches on its stomach," I said flatly and with no pride or charisma.

Media drones dotted the skies above the Thuegueus II the entire time we stayed in Kirg Docks Downport. To the wake of reporters begging me for an interview, I purchased four 8-ton Armored Vehicles which had to be craned down to the Fast Far Trader floating at the dock waters.

A barking Vargr Packet captain boasted, but was noncommittal on the Comms, saying his ship could take on and defeat the Thuegueus II in battle. I did not challenge him as our two ships had to separate far enough for jump.

Yawning, Miss Lidus Ka put down the goggles and gloves after our successful implementation of Admiral Laegh's tactics advice had put each of our Red Wizard avatars to the test on the front rank. Now at the end of Day 1 in the hole, the 26-year old, Vilani woman retired for the night.

"I am proud of you, Ri," said Uessae. "You gave my warning and did not betray your home Federate. Thank you for listening to me even if the Vargr Extents does not." It is good advice for a Vargr of higher charisma to compliment or recognize the efforts of lesser Vargr. As a commander in the armed forces, Uessae knew this unspoken rule well.

"Thank you, Uessae," I answered.

Her facial expression, nodding head and a tail wag said in Vargr paralanguage, You're welcome.

On Day 5, the Master and Commander arrived in Engineering and questioned me.

"You never said you were a card-carrying member of the Dzarrgh Federate Merchants Guild, Ri." Uessae stood with her hips tilted in a feminine but challenging stance. Her arms were folded before her chest, (her top few centimeters of suit zipper were lower and exposing her major black neck ruff). Her sapphire eyes were in inquisition mode but her voice more friendly.

I had only enough time to shut down the boards filled with Vargr porn in my Engineering Vargr Cave before Uessae had barged in on my domain. I deflected her attention from the dormant consoles to answer her with, "It's why I never haggle over crew pay or fight for that Extents plus-or-minus 25% on Freight or commodities. Guild bylaws to standardize rates and to stabilize markets."

"It doesn't appear on any ship documents, Ri. Why?"

"I have said that this isn't a military ship or even auxiliary or support vessel. I don't like spouting titles or entitlement in general."

This is the generic mindset as to why my personal charisma had not changed on my UPP card in years. And Uessae could now see it saying, "Well, you need to stick up for your attainments you have earned, Ri."

"Yes, ma'am," I answered in hopes it would remove Uessae from my den.
__________________
Virus: When you care to infect the very best.
Empress Wave: Not something done in a local stadium.
Incoming Code: tc 23- mt+ mgt++ tn++ t20- t4- t5++ tp? tg- th? to~ ru+ ge- 3i+ c+ jt- au+ ls+ pi+ ta he+ kk hi+ as++ va++ dr+ ith? vr? ne? so+ zh+ vi+ da+ sy~
The Pakkrat 0608 X58738-8 S va++ so+ zh+ vi+ da+ 534
On assignment: Dhillourr (Gzaekfueg 1413) B110A7A-G Hi In {5} (D9F+3) [8F3F] 102 F9 V VRo5

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