Chapter 13: The Great Game & The Crater of the Demon Bird  13.01  13.02  13.03  13.04  13.05  13.06  13.07  (Mission Date: 62.399 - 62.397Pf, Mission Time: 101 days - 103 days)  X Points awarded

  On their way back to the jetcopter, Siu-Ling comments to Sni'ktl, within earshot of xZot,
  "I've been thinking of taking a spirit journey with Nounouche to the forests of the kurabanda, and maybe as far as the Place of True Warriors."  Still a bit light-headed from the heat flash in the heart of the mechanon hive, she checks herself, "No, wait, maybe that's... no, but what if on their way to the edestekai, the chopper drops us off near the forest?  We could have Nounouche sniff out their village."
  Unable to read the expression on Sni'ktl's silent visage, she continues,  "Then they could pick us up on the way back and we could head out to the painted deserts of the west and convene with Athru on this sathar business."  Her stride a bit more confident now, she chews on a rations bar as her blood sugar level stabilizes.
  "Ah the Kurabanda, the forests, the Ul-Mor, the One.  Real cultures, with morays, quirks and eyes" replies Sni'ktl.  The hums and whirr's and incessant logic of the Mechanons had been droll enough (not too far from some of the more authoritarian Vrusk regimes) but the lack of eyes had really gotten to Sni'ktl.  "I must say, rallying the jolly natives through bush and across plains does ring a note of appeal somewhat more dulcet than the prospect of organizing medical supplies at HQ.  And I'd be keen to see what indigenous knowledge and technology could be brought to bear in the showdown with the Sathar.  Some of the landscape artefacts on the map look they might have strategic advantage and I bet the locals know a few stories about potential battlefields that could strengthen our home team advantage."  Raising his voice, "What say you xZot?  Mind if we go see what our not so GE-free pals are up to in this defence of the home world thingy.  I'm sure McKilin, OMAC and the Eorna medics can finish up the sick bay and first aid logistics."
  Raid collects his wits and his tools, then heads back with the team toward the copters.  He does a thorough walk around pre-flight inspection of the vehicles to make sure they haven't been tampered with by the locals, then re stows the techkit and robcomkit, exchanging them for his old power backpack. 
  "Well, that went better than I thought it would.  Humility goes a long way, I guess." Con asks the technologically capable.  "How long would it take you guys to set up one of our robots with the Mechanon protocols?"
  Sni'ktl asks for Gleep's help with the Mechanon comm's protocols.
  "There's all these grovelling slave subroutines before you get in but then its short sharp logic to deal with the meat of any communiqué.  I think your tech skills will be better suited than my flowery words in dealing with this mob, especially if you mechanize it as much as possible."
  "I will surely offer my humble skills to aid Mr Sni'ktl in his search for answers" Gleep smiles up to the Chief Science Officer working busily at his datapad on the Mechanon communications protocols.  "At least no one will have to shoot at me." The dralasite tech grins
  "They seem happy with any non biological format, so maybe polyvox output, machine code or a comms bot would do it." Sni'ktl continues.  In a more collected state, Siu-Ling makes an effort to apologize to the group for her unprofessional behaviour earlier that day.
  "Didn't mean to snap at the leader guy," she manages to say.  "He just wasn't being very hospitable."  Con the enforcer turns to Siu-Ling,
  "It's all right kid, I think we have succeeded in dealing with our mechanized friends.  How are you feelin'?"
  "Ah, sweet Sui, even the best of us can lose it at times." GleepGlooup adds  "You have shown yourself more than capable in most situations.  Just don't date a robot."
  "If it hadn't been for the trapped door, this trip would have been painless."  Raid rubs his shoulder where one of the beams hit.  "A well done piece of diplomatic work.  I have a feeling we will all be glad that the mechanons are fighting on our side in this battle.  They are definitely equipped with the necessary weaponry, and it looks as though they know how to use it."
  "Where to first?" asks the woman, looking down at one of the group's maps.  "Kurabanda realms are a closer shot.  Can't think of any reason not to go there first.  We can give Nounouche some happy hunting time."
  Rallying everyone around the Jetcopters for the next leg of their diplomatic mission xZot discusses the group's options   "I don't see any real problem with splitting the group into two teams."  Acknowledging Siu-Ling's suggestion xZot continues  "It should speed up the formation of a single planetary response to any Sathar attack.  I just hope the Ul-Mor don't want us to battle anymore of those Quickdeaths to convince them." an uneasy smile cracks across xZot's lips  "We really don't need the risk of death before the Sathar get here."  Even before xZot finishes his sentence he knows that convincing the other local races will be far from easy but with the reclusive Mechanons on-side xZot's optimism is evident  "What does everyone else think?"
  Gloo gathers at the jetcopters with the others and listens in on the plans for the next trips.
  "Raid!  xZot!  Check your power levels in the helos.  If this team is going to separate, with one group going to the Kurabanda where we know where to find them and the other going to the Ul-Mor, who we know are nomadic and could quite literally be anywhere in this desert, it would be nice to know the power levels of the helos in case one team needs to mount a rescue"  The dralasite opines to his fellows  "But in any case when the teams are done we'll have to meet up again at Mawsons Rest to recharge the batteries." 
  Then the practical little Quarter Master starts checking off items on his inventory.
  "If you people use any power packs make sure you mark it so I can recharge it later.  The power clips don't matter as they can't be recharged".
  "The next question will be how we divide the group and still maintain our effectiveness."  Commander xZot continues  "Raid and I will have to pilot the jetcopters so there is a start.  Which way do you want to head Raid?"
  "I'm thinking that we can go to the Edestekai last since we'll probably have to stop by Brucebane for supplies later anyway."  Raid clears his throat in the dusty air.  "Send me to the Ul-mor with a good diplomat.  Maybe Siu-Ling could come.  She has learned their customs quite well and lived with them for a time.  They may be more likely to listen to her."  Raid is guessing that Siu-Ling would agree.  Raid is also thinking that xZot will have an easier time dealing with the Kurabanda, but he is afraid to tell his superior that he looks like a monkey.
  Sni'ktl agrees with everyone.
  "Yes Siu-Ling would be an excellent emissary to the Ul-Mor.  Perhaps I should come with you xZot to visit the Kurabanda.  I recall they need just as much coaxing as the Ul-Mor and we should split our environmental resources between the missions."  Silently Sni'ktl thinks "it will give me a chance to catch up with the acting troop.  Their impersonations of xZot really were quite remarkable."
  Siu-Ling's dry lips part.  Sni'ktl's eye clusters stare at the human as she asks Raid,
  "Can you ride a loper, there, Mr. Raid Array?"
  "I was able to ride those native horses, but didn't do so well on the lopers.  I think it was the steep saddle angle that bothered me.  It couldn't hurt to give it another go." Raid replies
  In her more informal human dialect, she then asks him, "What kind of name is Raid Array?  I mean, how'd you get it?  It's not the kind of name you get for being born.  It's not a regular name, like... Sni'ktl or Siu-Ling..."
  "Raid Array...uh"  Raid hesitates.  "I'll admit it wasn't what my parents named me, but it suits me fine for now.  I'll tell you the story behind it sometime."  He then changes the subject by addressing Gloo.  "Mawson's Rest is on the way to Ul-Mor country, so we should be able to do a quick stop and recharge parabatteries."
  Siu-Ling blanks out for a second, then cups her two remaining doze grenades, shakes her head, and continues.
  "What was I saying?  Oh, yeah, the lopers.  If you guys want to try to learn how to ride those things, we can take an afternoon and try to master it.  I can take Nounouche, and you guys take the bigger mounts. I'll have slightly more mobility, but less endurance in the long run, so don't outrun me."
  Sni'ktl can't help but notice the pallor in her gaze lately.  Looking into her eyes, he thinks he sees the pattern of Athru's Desert Oasis reflected in her irises.  She then utters a final sentence before trailing off again, "It'll give Nounouche and the lopers a chance to wander among their old stomping grounds."
  "Agreed."  xZot adds  "If you're with me we'll need to assign another Medic to accompany Raid's team.  When we get back to Mawson's Rest I think we'll need to see McKilin or OMAC and see who's up for a trip."  Pausing xZot remembers the tall forests around the Kurabanda village  "I must admit, the thought of getting some wind under these flaps is appealing."
  "Jameson," pausing momentarily "yep we better report back to him and inform him of the outcomes here."  Whilst acknowledging the chain-of-command xZot has become used to not having to report to a superior officer and is not looking forward to this part of returning to the regimented life of an employee of PGC.  "He may also have further information for us that could be useful in our negotiations."
  "Skipper, if Raid's group is going in mounted, it would be better if I went with them."  Con points out  "I have ridden in the past, and some extra fire power wouldn't hurt in case they run into trouble."  GleepGlooup casts his lot in with Raid as well
  "I believe I should accompany Raid to provide comm support."  Gleep says  "I would like to try to boost the range of the comm equipment."
  "'Raid's Group!  Raid's Group,' now it's all about 'Raid's Group'," complains Siu-Ling.  "And here I thought Nounouche and I might get an afternoon to ourselves."  She mumbles a few more ramblings in her human tongue before kicking a few rocks out of her path as she heads for the nearest bush.  "OK, so let me know when we're ready to go on Raid's Trip," she is sure to stress the last two syllables.
  xZot turns sharply toward Siu-Ling and speaks in a measured tone but leaving no one in doubt of his displeasure  "Soldier! Stop right there, Chief Science Officer Raid would be the most senior officer in that team, as well as the pilot.
  "Oh, shit!" thinks Siu-Ling right about that moment.  "That's right!"  Her eyes betray the realization as she listens to the senior yazirian
  I shouldn't need to explain to you the need for a proper chain of command.  I haven't needed to resort to enforcing a order that has been given but, I expect, no demand, that you fall into line and accept Raid's leadership if that is my decision."  xZot would have stared Siu-Ling down had she made eye contact.  Her remorseful gaze hints at the struggle to fight back a tear.  The yazirian commander turns back to the remainder of the team who, by the looks on their faces, are obviously taken back.  xZot makes a mental note to talk to Sni'ktl about Siu-Ling's recent behaviour.  He had heard about the problems with the biological cycles of human females but wasn't about to let this break up the Gang's ability to function as a very effective team when the need calls for it.
  xZot strides back to the jetcopter and rummages around in the cargo hold.  Pulling out the planetary maps that they had obtained some time ago he opens them for all to see.
  "We are over here at the moment" pointing near the Sathar artefact "and Mawson's Rest is over here.  I realize that we will be flying over Ul-Mor country and will be very close the to Kurabanda during our return flight but we need to get back to Mawson's Rest first to recharge the parabatteries, take on fresh supplies and organize the teams before we tackle anymore diplomatic missions."  pausing as he casts a glance toward Siu-Ling  "This will also enable us to reunite with Nounouche and the other mounts.  Don't forget that we have an operational Explorer in the garage there as well.  After rethinking our options I don't think it will be necessary for Raid to take the Jetcopter if some of the team is mounted as it will be easier to just take the Explorer out, it can carry more supplies and can accommodate more passengers than a Jetcopter."  Running his finger over the map to illustrate the flight route  "If we fly back this way we may catch sight of the Ul-Mor on the way and this will reduce the time that team will take finding the tribe when they head out.  As we know, time is of the essence people."  xZot looks around the group to make sure everyone is following him and then continues.
  "Apart from Nounouche I think Borovski's Loper is the only other mount at Mawson's.  I'd be betting that Borovski would be keen to stretch his, and his loper's legs after being cooped up while we've been out here.  I think the team to go out to the Ul-Mor should consist of Raid driving the Explorer with Con, and probably Jag for medical support, as passengers, with Siu-Ling and Borovski on mounts."
  Recognizing the look on Gleep's face xZot ploughs ahead  "Meanwhile I can take a Jetcopter with the second team to see the Kurabanda.  Gleep, I have a few jobs for you.  I will need you to retrofit a radio from Mawson's into the Explorer and train someone, probably Borovski, to use it.  This will allow us to maintain radio contact regardless of the distance between the two teams.  I'll need you to also fit and operate a radio in my Jetcopter and come with me to the Kurabanda.  My team will consist of Sni'ktl, Gleep and Gloo since this is all that will fit into the Jetcopter.  I'd like to take Crisbel as well but the only way I can see that being possible is if someone rides in the cargo hold.  I think it would have to be a Dral given the space limitation but I couldn't ask any of you to do this so it looks like Crisbell, you might have to wait at Mawson's for our return.  Depending on how fast everything happens my team may have time to fly down to Volkos to bring Jameson up to speed and get back before Raid's team returns.  We can all then re-group at Mawson's and head back to Brucebane before contacting the Edestekai.  Any questions?".
  "Alright then, let's move out!"  Gleep says
  "Sure boss, anything you want."  He then saunters away and can be heard to mutter, "Pretty Mean Stuff, Power Mad Sycophant, People Making Scenes...."
  Raid climbs into the pilots seat and warms up his engine.  "So, do you think we can get back before Zebulon sets?"
Siu-Ling's mind had been wandering as of late, and she had been rather forgetful.  On one occasion, she had an unexplainable fear that blood
would rush down the shower faucet if she turned it on.  It took her almost a minute to reason her way through such a delusion and now this.  As she moves to board the jetcopter she says
  "I'm sorry, Sir." she sniffs  "I, I don't know what came over me."  She gives Raid a glance of remorse as well, though she abstains from speaking any further.  Pallor returns to her face, as the tingling sensation of her blood pressure dropping returns.  This is more than just the lunar cycle, she suspects.  Speaking up to ease the tension of the moment Gloo pipes up
  "Well boss, I can ride with the cargo no problem here," he grins  "I should show people how to recharge the batteries and packs as well" He continues.  Gloo then moves off to the jetcopter to make room.
  The team board their jetcopters for the flight back to Mawson's rest.  GleepGlooup takes a seat up front next to xZot watching his every move and asking pointed questions, obviously keen to add a pilots licence to his resume.  As the team flies back across the desert surface toward Volturnus the conversation turns back to the leg of their mission.  Gloo ponders for a moment over the thought of taking the explorer and mounts.
  "I personally think taking the explorer and mounts is a bad idea," he begins  "Just how far are the Ul-Mor from Mawson's rest?  How long will it take the mounts to get there?  They'll need to stop and rest long before the explorer, not to mention we will most likely have to take extra food and water just for them, and also wandering through the desert wasn't without meeting wonderful beasties trying to eat us.  No offence against the beasties, but like you mentioned we do have a time constraint here, anyway that's just my thoughts on that."
  xZot nods silently as he too considers their options.  How can we transport Nounouche and Borovski's loper by jetcopter?  He wonders to himself.  Maybe a sling under the jetcopter might be achievable but it doesn't seem that practical and may even be dangerous for those creatures, especially if they panicked.
  "Good point Gloo."  Raid answers  "Those funnel worms could get the explorer stuck if one caught us off guard, or worse yet bring down a rider and mount.  And don't forget the sand-blasting we took from the dust storms either."
  Eventually xZot answers their questions aloud
  "I think we need to wait for input from Commander Jameson, hopefully he will shed some light on this problem."
  Several hours later the teams jetcopters arrive back at Mawson's rest to be greeted by the other members of the Black Hand Gang, Commander Jameson and a delegation of Eorna.  Jameson quickly debriefs the team before introducing the Eorna who have come with news of the other races.  Several of their people have already approached the Ul-Mor relating a basic version of events involving the Sathar so far.  This should give the saviours of Volturnus, as they are now beginning to refer to the Gang, an better chance of convincing these would be allies to join the alliance.  The Eorna ambassadors say the Ul-Mor have decided that the Eorna are distant ancestors who have taken a new form of The One.  In addition they are able to plot the location of Athru's tribe at a peak to the south west of Raid's Landing.
  When the Eorna complete their report the X-O, Mr Sp'ock approaches Commander xZot
  "I insist on returning to active duty." The Vrusk officer states  "As Executive Officer I am needed in the field at my commander's side" he enthuses "With GleepGlooup's increased technical capability we can now field another pilot so we can take both jetcopters to the kurabanda village while Raid commands the Ul-Mor expedition.  Attaching OMAC to Raid's team and McKilin to your team will also give us two medics in each team" he adds significantly "or an extra person for vehicle security if need be."
  xZot carefully considers his 2 IC's recommendations before giving any final orders to his troops before they embark on the next leg of their journey.
  "It will take until tomorrow morning before the radios are fitted to the vehicles" Commander Jameson interjects "and it might not be a bad idea to let that crazy dralasite practice a couple of take off's and landings before you go."  He smiles, jerking a thumb at GleepGlooup who is busy practising forming a jetcopter cargobay sized cube.
After some meditation Sni'ktl is pleased to have found a handle to Siu-Ling's condition within his own experience.  He completes the foot-note describing Siu-Ling's recent symptoms as "Uno-psychosis" a possibly knew phenomena, the only known instance being induced by mental contact through the Ul-Mor with the One.
  "I need a break," thinks Sni'ktl "all this analysing has raised static on my antennae."  Picking up his all-weather blanket he walks out into the Volturnus desert towards the warmth of the human's campfire and the sound of merry laughter.
  An informal briefing session has begun around the campfire with the recon team sharing their recent adventures with those who had remained at the ex-pirate outpost.  The gaunt figure of Commander Jameson joins the group with the still injured Mr Sp'ock at his side, both deep in conversation.
  "I will get right to work getting the radios properly installed."  Gleep pipes up  "I want to make sure they aren't going to fail on the way.  After I get the radios in, I want to take a jetcopter a few clicks out to verify the gain over distance.  I should be able to interpolate the expected maximum range and it will also give me some stick time."
  Before setting out on the next mission, Raid spends several hours helping his tech buddies reprogram a robot to act as the team's mechanon interface.  Raid feels a little uncomfortable with his designated rank and makes a conscious effort to not appear authoritative, especially around Siu-Ling after the recent incident.
  "Remember, as soon as we make contact with the Ul-mor again, the ball is in your court.  Science is my speciality.  If any major decisions have to be made, I'll be listening to your advice."  He pauses then adds as an afterthought  "And we always have our radiophone if we need to contact xZot and the others."
  "'Uno-psychosis'," Siu-Ling ponders after hearing Sni'ktl's diagnosis.  "I think I just need a nap."  Which elicits another round of laughter from those gathered around the fire.
  "Oh great." The enforcer says to no one in particular. "Saviours.  Deliver them from the wrath of the Sathar.  No pressure there."  What could pass as doubt soon gives way to inspiration and motivation to overcome the diabolical Sathar.  "Then by all means, we must not let them down."
  "Hey, what is this, a 'Let's Slot xZot' competition?" Siu-Ling asks her male and neuter colleagues as they bash the yaz in his absence.  "I appreciate the support, but he was right, I was out of line.  Even if he is a fuzzy air monkey!" she giggles.
  Sni'ktl suppresses his laughing fit and decides that it is time to leave.  The good humour of his comrades has left his antennae drained from all the keening (Vrusk laughter involves such rapid vibration of the antennae as to pass unnoticed to slower eyes and lower pitched auditory systems).  All signs of stress static purged from his body, Sni'ktl arranges his blanket behind him, dons his sungoggles, shapes his antennae into ear points and scrunches up his mandibles in a surreal and pale/fair/striking (delete according to disguise skill role) imitation of xZot.  As his finger hovers over his holstered laser pistol he says
  "Time to go and get some air under these flaps", in an impersonation that bears a semblance of similarity for the xZot slotters with its amazing authenticity.
  After deliberating over Sp'ock's recommendations xZot calls the gang back together to brief everyone on the next leg of their diplomatic missions.  Commander Jameson's presence results in xZot addressing the group in a more formal tone than usual.
  "I won't keep you long, time is running out while we stand here talking.  Raid's team will be taking the Explorer to meet the Ul-Mor.  It is fortuitous that Athru's camp is considerably closer that the last time we met them.  Borovski and Siu-Ling, you will need to prepare your mounts for the journey.  I realize they haven't had much work recently but we could do without any injuries from being thrown off before you even reach your destination.  Some preparations for the long trek ahead will be essential to minimize injuries to both yourselves and the mounts.  Jag, you and OMAC will be going with Raid in the Explorer.  I am sure your medical skills will be of assistance but remember OMAC, Siu-Ling will be call the diplomatic 'shots' when the team meets up with Athru.  Don't give her any grief, she will need to keep focused on the task at hand."  OMAC grunts and nods in reply as xZot shoots a glance a Gleep and cannot suppress a thin smile.
  "Gleep, I am very impressed with your cube forming abilities but if you can demonstrate that you are up to the task, I am prepared to give you a shot at piloting the spare Jetcopter.  Sp'ock has indicated a strong desire to join our team and Crisbel's talents could also be indispensable, so with the additional members in our team the use of both Jetcopter's will make the transportation issues much more simple.  As for today, I want all the Tech's working on the radio fitting or the robot reprogramming to get these task completed before we leave.  On a lighter note, I'll be preparing a meal for everyone in the mess tonight.  The opportunity to eat something other than rations has me motivated and I'm sure everyone is looking forward to a night's sleep in a real bed.  We better make the most of it, it may be several days before Raid's team reach their destination.  They'll be scratching sand out of every orifice before they return.  Any questions?  all right, let's get to it."
  Con had gathered around with the rest of the team, listening to the words of the leader.  When xZot didn't call his number for the trip, disappointed, he moved off, away from the rest of the team to make sure his equipment is in proper working order.  After realizing that Con was omitted from the roll call xZot quickly moves to correct his error.
  "I think that you should go with Raid to the Ul-Mor.  I will let him know of the inclusion in his team.  Your experience and talents will be required in defending the explorer and rest of the team in the event that trouble breaks out.  While OMAC may also be providing military support, his medical skill will be needed and this may reduce his involvement should team be attacked.  In the meantime, while everyone is working on the radios and robots, I need for you to make sure the explorer is sufficiently stocked with ammo and weaponry.  Check with OMAC first but I think he stored his recoilless rifle in the jetcopter, you should grab it and store it in the Explorer, you never know it might come in handy."  xZot heads to the store room with his quartermaster to check on the food situation.
  After hearing xZot's inspiring speech, Gleep starts towards the 'copters to finish up with the radios.
  "I will check the work on the Explorer next."  He says and as he is walking away GleepGlooup lightly sings an old song he heard as a young bud.
  "Yes, we have no bananas..."
  "Make sure that there are sufficient rations in the Explorer for both the mounts and Raid's team."  xZot voices to Gloo "They may need a few things just in case they run into trouble on their trip, they have plenty of room so don't be frugal."  Gloo listens to xZot's requests on supplies.
  "Well in order to give them the food they will require I need to know just what they plan on feeding these beasties.  If it's from our supply then just how much do these things eat?  I'll give them 20 days worth unless that's not enough."  He ponders aloud    "As for letting Con have the RR remember it only has 25 rounds available here, the rest were left at Brucebane.  So do I have this right for Raids group there's Raid, Jag, Omac, Siu, Boro, and Con.  For your helo it's you, me, Sp'ock and McKilin and for Gleep's express is it going to be Crisbell, X'anthe and good 'ol Snikkers?"
  "Correct, except that McKilin and X'anthe will be staying here to co-ordinate things here at the base in our absence."  Gloo looks around making sure they are out of the others hearing range.
  "I mean far be it for me to criticize your unit organization but if this group is getting split into two groups shouldn't your X-O be in charge of the explorer group?  Not to diminish Raids abilities or anything."
  "As you know, Sp'ock didn't come out with us last time as he was still recovering from the injuries that he had been carrying from earlier battles." xZot answers  "Since our return Sp'ock asked particularly to accompany us to the Kurabanda.  As you've seen, Sp'ock takes his role as X-O very seriously and I don't generally question his motives on operational issues.  Incidentally, as you know, I support an open command structure and encourage questions about our actions.  Lets just say that Sp'ock's military background means that he approaches his duties with a far more regimented style, it might not be wise to let him think that you were questioning his responsibilities.  Raid has proven himself very capable and he is well supported on this trek.  Any problems that might come from his actions will be reviewed on his return and will, no doubt, reflect on future assignments.  I wouldn't worry about it too much if I were you."  Gloo listens to Xzot and adds
  "Ah I see, was curious was all.  Well if McKilin and X'anthe aren't going would it be feasible to ask them if they would mind lending their defensive suits out to somebody who doesn't have one?  We have spares for others but for humans we are out and with the majority of them going to see the Ul-Mor who seem to like rituals involving the ever loveable and snuggley quickdeath."
  xZot looks at Gloo as if trying to read any ripple of emotion on ids face
  "A re-allocation sounds reasonable to me.  Although you should be prepared for a reaction from X'anthe, especially if you are thinking of loaning her suit to Siu-Ling."  A thin smile cracks xZot's dry lips "I am sure she will ultimately accede to your request without  having to push it, but be prepared for a bit of lip.  X'anthe can be a fiery one!"
  Gloo starts to turn around but stops and mentions
  "By the way Con still has your techkit.  We have room for it on your helo and I'm sure he's tired of carrying it across the planet.  If you'd like I can get it from him".
  "I had forgotten about my kit.  Just stow it in my `copter and you are right, I am sure Con will be relieved to be rid of it."  The young yazirian commander nods back.  The 'younger brother' approach to his leadership has been incredibly effective on Volturnus.  The more physically capable members of the team have automatically protected the weaker ones who in turn, have carried the vital skill sets to overcome the intellectual obstacles.
  "A wonderful synergy" he mutters to himself as the ever practical dralasite continued his observations.
  "Also, I will be keeping the rest of the grenades unavailable until the sathar have arrived, unless of course we can get some from either the Eorna or the Mechs."  xZot nods and the dralasite heads about his duties as xZot heads off to the galley.
  Looking around at the food supplies xZot is some what disappointed that he doesn't have time to prepare anything too elaborate, instead he elects for a simple but hearty stew using fresh local wares.  He also grabs the ingredients to prepare some fresh baked sweetbread as a treat. xZot reflects on the fact that he has never been able to bake like his mother despite his many attempts.  He doubt's that too many people will complain; particularly since his outburst with Siu-Ling.
  xZot had noticed that everyone has been smiling at him for no apparent reason and he has even caught a couple of people chuckling at the sight of him.  It had somewhat unnerved him to the extent that he had been checking to make sure his suit was securely fastened or that he hadn't developed a rip in an unfortunate location.  He had also checked that he didn't smell too bad.
  "Maybe Sni'ktl had prescribed something to alleviate the tension that had been mounting in the past few days" he thinks as he dismisses his concerns as paranoia.
  After getting the needed info from his commander, Gloo refills all available water packs collecting the empties from all team members and the various cargo holds and distributes the water packs with the extra food among the vehicles.  Gloo then goes about the task of recharging all parabatteries.  While recharging he makes sure the drivers of the vehicles are present and shows them how to recharge the parabatteries.  After making sure even the bots batteries are fully charged, Gloo then moves on to the power packs, making sure everyone's power packs are full.
  When Gloo approaches Con about xZot's techkit the big enforcer is more than happy to be rid of the kit and gladly turns it over.  Once that is done, Con joins up with his assigned group and helps prepare for the upcoming mission.  Con later joins the rest of the team for xZot's meal.  Con takes his meal off to the side where he has semi privacy.  Con does, however participate in the companionship of team getting involved in discussions about the mission at hand, football, or life in general with his team-mates.
  xZot notices the dejected look on the enforcer's face, maybe he is not looking forward to another trek into the desert xZot thinks.
  "Con, is there a problem?" genuine concern is evident in xZot's voice "A bit too much sand in your suit?" xZot chuckles in a effort to lighten the mood.
  "Yeah Skipper.  There is.  All these local folk.  Before I joined up with the Gang, I let my friends down.  My failure got one of them killed, and the other one."  The big warrior almost chokes up, a rare display indeed from the courageous soldier  "I never found out what happened to her."  The trooper looks directly into xZot's eyes,  "Skipper, these people are counting on us.  If we fail them."  He pauses again to compose himself  "I fear what the Sathar will do to them."
  "So do I" xZot answers looking the human in the eye then continues with a big grin  "But who else is there?"  With the conversation done Con grabs his gear
  "Thanks Skipper."
Frontier Date 62.398Pf +102
The next morning a final check is made of all equipment, supplies, weapons and ammunition.  The drivers, pilots and riders check their vehicles and mounts and both patrols leave on their assignments.
  Raid makes sure a fully stocked techkit along with water and food supplies are in the explorer before rolling the heavy vehicle out of the outpost and onto the desert.  Raid also keeps one or two ropes, with end loops, tied to the explorer exterior for emergency extraction's.  With Boro and Siu-Ling riding close at his side, Raid drives slowly and recrosses the ancient canal, then heads southwest to skirt the shard plains at a respectable distance.  He is counting on good information from the Eorna to avoid dust storms, and to quickly locate the Ul-mor camp.
  "Someone, Con or Jag, could ride on the explorer's roof as lookout.  Be watching for sand shark and funnel worm signs.  In the event of a dust storm, the animals could take cover behind the vehicle with a tarp for extra protection."
  "Roger that!" replies Jag as he climbs onto the roof of the vehicle and takes up the lookout position.
  Leaving all his weapons except grenades in the jetcopter and take the Star Devil Captain's eye patch and heraldic shield with him as gifts for the Kurabanda King.  Sni'ktl climbs aboard the jetcopter.
  "I suggest we head straight for an audience with the king, perhaps xZot could lay on some kind of feast where we give over the presents and present something like a straight forward case."  The pilot commander smiles wryly at his Chief Science Officer, oblivious of his suggestion and totally deaf from the noise of the jetcopter engines as they power up beneath them.  Less than an hour later, both jetcopters are settling safely to the ground near the forest edge as close as possible to Auramada's village.  xZot's squad disembark from the choppers and head into the forest toward the Kurabanda settlement.
  Upon arrival at the Kurabanda village, xZot and company are met by a party of 10 Kurabanda warriors.  The warriors immediately recognize their old friends and escort the player characters immediately to Chief Auramada.
  After some initial chat, Auramada demands to know why the Black Hand Gang are here. 
  "Your majesty," Sni'ktl begins "your meeting with us at short notice does us great honour and we present you with hard-won trophies as befits your strength and courage.  We also bring news that another great enemy would come here to enslave all the races of Volturnus and lay waste to your beautiful forest.  An alliance is forming to defend Volturnus from this new evil.  Please hear the petitions of my comrades and share with us your wisdom on this matter."
  Sni'ktl stands aside while his comrades speak.  As planned with his comrades, he observes the king's emotional responses closely and scritches two legs together when the king likes what is being said and scratches his aureoles when the king is unimpressed.  Initially  xZot takes his diplomatic lead from Sni'ktl during the meeting with the Kurabanda but now he steps forward to plead their case.
  The chief tries to display his wisdom and authority whenever possible and Sni'ktl gets the distinct impression that he dislikes being told what to do, or being made to seem ignorant.  Of all the Kurabanda, he is the most easily insulted.  On the other hand, the battles with the space pirates have taught him that there are "demons" who come from the stars and must be destroyed.  This is obviously how he interprets what xZot tells him of the Sathar.  Once xZot has made known their request, Auramada pauses, considers the situation for a while, and then renders this decision:
  "It is much that you ask of us.  The Ul-Mor were our enemies long ago.  The Edestekai are no friends of ours.  Yet you suggest we should trust them as allies in battle.  No sane chief would accept such a proposal.  There is, however, one way for you to get what you want.  That is to retrieve the Sacred Idol.  For he who holds the Sacred Idol is chosen by the gods to lead the Kurabanda in battle.  The Sacred Idol was stolen many years ago by a demon in the form of a large bird.  It was taken to the Demon's Temple in the forbidden area.  If you go there and bring back the Sacred Idol, I and all my people will do as you ask."
  Auramada offers the squad a guide to the "forbidden area' and such food and other assistance as the Kurabanda can provide.
Meanwhile, across the desert sands...
  As night falls, Raid studies the star patterns overhead and compares them with a compass to aid in navigation.  The rising and setting sun provide another check to back up compass readings.  The only sign of steady progress for most of the trip is the relentless addition on the explorer's odometer.
  Frontier Date 62.397Pf +103
The explorer chews up the kilometres and even though the team is slowed by the pace of Borovski's loper and Siu-Ling's mount, they reach the site of Athru's camp early the next morning.
  Upon contact with the Ul-mor Raid breathes a sigh of relief and shuts down the engine.  He lets the riders of both groups meet at a distance to avoid spooking the animals with his oversized vehicle leaving the diplomacy to Siu-Ling.  Nounouche's eager canter slows to a cautious approach as Siu-Ling guides him to halt.  Raid squints and puts a hand to his forehead to block Zebulon's sunlight to get a better view of the interchange.  The woman's feet touch the ground and she pauses for a moment, as a senior loper approaches.  Riding atop the mature female mount is most likely Athru, dressed in the ceremonial plumage of his people.
  She approaches the Ul-Mor.  The loper drops and rests on its underside as Siu-Ling takes a few more steps forward.  A tentacle extends to meet her outstretched arms.  The embrace comes slowly, followed by the insertion of Athru's spinal tentacle into her own neurology.  For a moment, all is silent, and dark.  It is as if she has never left.  Athru is with her in the darkness, as are the thoughts of her others.  It is as if planets were aligning before her.  It is as if she were inside a womb, her mother's resonating voice wrapping itself around her like a blanket of warmth.  And she is home.  Raid ducks his head from the sunroof, turns to his passengers and asks in a low tone,
 "Is she crying?"  The woman's rhythmically shrugging shoulders and bowed head suggest so, though Athru's tentacles appear to be moving in a comforting manner.
  Raid's team has arrived safely at the Ul-Mor settlement and been greeted by Athru, an Ul-Mor chieftain.  In the discussions that follow, Athru explains to them via Siu-Ling's mind link their good fortune in arriving in time to witness the Great Game, one of the most important rituals of the Ul-Mor.  Athru also points out the new forms of The One assumed by tribal members who have finished their existence as Ul-Mor.  This sort of talk continues for some time.  When Siu-Ling begins to explain the importance of their mission, Athru asks them to wait until a council of Ul-Mor elders can be assembled. 
  Later that day, after much catching up between old friends, Siu-Ling explains the nature of the Sathar threat and asks that the Ul-Mor join with the other races of Volturnus in order to combat it.  The Ul-Mor seem to be able to understand and sympathize with the character's hatred for the evil Sathar, although space travel and the use of advanced technology is beyond the Ul-Mor's understanding.  It would seem that prior to the teams arrival, the Ul-Mor received a similar story from the Eorna.  The Ul-Mor have decided that the Eorna are distant ancestors who have taken a new form of The One.  Once Siu-Ling has explained the situation to Athru, he breaks the mind link and confers with the other Ul-Mor elders who have been waiting patiently as Athru communicated with Siu-Ling.
  The Ul-Mor wave their tentacles about, in what may be a series of elaborate gestures.  Athru utters some kind of chant which your poly-vox cannot translate, and the Ul-Mor elders establish mind links themselves.  After a debate, during which all the elders seem to become highly excited, Athru returns and communicates the following:
  "We have heard of the great danger from the sky.  Our ancestors with the long tails have told us.  Truly it is a mystery why The One would take such an evil form.  The Ul-Mor are strong!  The Ul-Mor will fight the evil.  But we do not fight with silly Kurabandas beside us.  We do not fight with arrogant Edestekai beside us.  Ul-Mor fight alone!  We do not like silly Kurabanda and proud Edestekai.
  All the elders of all Ul-Mor tribes have met, for the ancestors have requested that we fight alongside these others.  The request of ancestors is not a thing to be taken lightly.  This is our decision.  We will fight with you, and with the silly Kurabanda and proud Edestekai only if one of you proves worthy to lead us.  To do this, you will take part in the Great Game as representatives of the tribe of Athru!"
  Athru further explains that there are five Ul-Mor tribes represented in the Great Game, each with four warriors participating.  If one of the four team members does not win, it will bring great dishonour to the tribe.  However, to prove worthy of leadership in battle, it is not necessary that a player character win the Great Game.  It is only necessary that one of them remain mounted at the end of the game.  Finally, Athru asks the players if they would rather ride lopers, as the Ul-Mor do, or strange beasts called horses, which were sent by the ancestors for the player characters' use.  The Tomar's horses are fitted with saddles appropriate for the members of the party.
Con turns to Raid,
  "If you need someone to represent the team, I'll be more than happy to do it."
  "Are you good with a ball?  That would be great if you are, although we only need to stay mounted.  Let's decide who our four best riders are then,"  Raid smiles at Con.  "If you think you can beat the Ul-Mor at their own game well then I say go for it!"
  Con flashes Raid a confident look.
  "I had some success in youth football.  I'm big, strong, not the fastest, not the slowest either.  Oh yeah, I can ride a little bit, I mean a little bit."  Then all seriousness returns to the face of the enforcer.  "But I have the heart to beat these guys."
  Raid thinks for a short time after the Ul-Mor have described their ritualistic game and its rules.
  "OK people, listen up, here are the rules used by the Ul-Mor when they play the Great Game:
  1.) Spectators are not normally allowed to participate in any way in the Great Game.  However, if the sand shark attacks a dismounted player character, any spectators can attack the sand shark in order to save the endangered players.
  2.) The object of the game is to ride from behind the first stake to the other end of the filed, go around any of the three stakes at that end, come back down the field, pick up the ball, and carry the ball back behind the first stake.
  3.) The winner of the game is the first rider to get the ball back behind the first stake.  However, in order to win, that rider must at some time during the game have ridden around one of the three stakes at the far end of the filed.
  4.) The ball can be taken from the set-up square only by a rider counter who rides around one of the three stakes at the west end of the filed before touching the ball.  After the ball has been taken from the set-up square, any other rider counter may handle the ball without first riding around the stakes at the west end of the filed.
  5.) Riders are permitted to knock other riders off their mounts, but riders are not allowed to use any kind of weapon against other riders. Weapons can be used when necessary to defend against the sand shark.  Ul-Mor riders are armed with spears; player characters can carry any weapons they wish.
  6.) Any rider who is knocked off his mount is out of the game.
  7.) If all riders are knocked off their mounts, the last rider to hit the ground is declared the winner.
  8.) If the rider carrying the ball is knocked off his mount, any other rider may pick up the ball.  The ball may change possession any number of times.
  9.) The game ends the instant any player gets behind the first stake with the ball and wins."  Raid sweeps his gaze around the Black Hand Gang Team.
  "Umm alright Con.  You're captain of our team, since you're probably the best rider we have.  Choose your three team mates, likely Boro, Siu-Ling and Raid and come up with a game plan.  I think the Ul-Mor want to be impressed.  Let's not let them down.  I can ride one of the horses myself, but never really had the discipline for sports when I was in school."
  "OK Raid.  Give me some time to pick the best personnel and watch some of the warm up drills to get a feel of the game.  I think I would be able to handle a Tomar's horse better than the other type of mount.  I'll assemble the team then will plot strategy."  The enforcer approaches Siu-Ling.  "Siu-Ling, if I may have a moment of your time.  I was wondering if you would be interested in joining us in the great game.  Your experience with the Ul-Mor would be of great benefit to the team.  Any input you can contribute to our overall strategy would be most appreciated.  Let's see if we can put out a quality team on the field."
  Siu-Ling casually smiles and leans towards her con specific as she relates a brief ethnography of ul-mor culture,
  "The Ul-Mor are, I'm gonna use the pronoun 'we' even though I know my body's human, we're like cells, you know?  Part of a tissue that is still a smaller part of an organ, and so on.  The synchronicity of will and purpose among what we would call in Pan Galactic, individuals, is simply the One manifesting itself collectively.  Athru can tell you all about it.  Link with him.  It's like understanding the wordless thoughts and motives of your host.  Because biological Ul-Mor, now it's they not we, are much more integrated in thought and purpose than us, they will have a co-ordinating advantage over us.  Maybe we can get a few of them on our team.  I'm pretty good with the hand-eye sports, but not a great runner.  I still haven't been able to master the loper, but maybe this'll be my opportunity to sink or swim," Siu-Ling adds to the conversation.
  Borovski volunteers immediately to join the team, apparently football fever is contagious and Con now has a spring in his step as he casts an eye over the obstacles arrayed around the playing field.  As he strolls back to his team mates he hums softly under his breath a popular, twenty year old theme song, from a holovid about some fictitious Zamra player from Gran Quivera.  Jag and OMAC take up a position along the sideline, OMAC, eyeing the telltale mound of the sandshark in the playing area is unconciously stroking his carefully oiled Recoilless Rifle.
Meanwhile, over at the Kurabanda village...
  xZot ponders briefly over Auramanda's decision but recognizes that there is little choice
  "If retrieving the Sacred Idol is the only way of uniting the Kurabanda behind the cause, then so be it.  Make the necessary arrangements and we will leave as soon as possible.  Time is definitely not on our side."  Assembling his team xZot reviews the information that the Kurabanda can supply about the location and details of the forbidden area and what is known about the demon in bird form.  "How long ago was the Sacred Idol taken?" xZot questions the guide  "Maybe if we are lucky this demon won't be expecting an attempt to recover the item."
  Gleep tells xZot
  "It might be best to park the copters before we actually get near a large bird.  It might take offence at another flying object."  xZot acknowledges Gleep's suggestion
  "I agree.  We are not set-up for aerial combat so this must be avoided at all costs.  I am hoping that we can get into the area unnoticed and retrieve the Idol before we are discovered."  xZot, together with Gleep, discuss with the Kurabanda guide the possible locations for setting down the 'copters so as to draw as little attention as possible.  Taking on the necessary supplies xZot ensures that there is sufficient room in the 'copter for the guide and his equipment and, after completing the pre-flight checks, he gives the orders to move out.
  Sni'ktl stretches out in the jetcopter, a feeling of satiation following the feasting last night.  xZot and the Kurabanda chefs had really pulled out all the stops and the Kurabanda sure know how to enjoy a feast.  Sni'ktl looks forward to the task ahead.  The giant bird sounds like an excellent new example of Volturnus fauna.  Probably a species that collects bright objects like Sacred Idols and takes them back to the nest or bower.  Such a bird's bower would certainly appear to primitive cultures much as a demon's temple.  Sni'ktl sets aside all his belongings except his enviro-kit, med-kit and sungoggles.  Anticipating a peaceful mission he reclines his seat and reflects on the previous evening's celebrations.
  "Moving out boss."  I will suggest we fly nap-of-the-earth to draw as little attention as possible.  If we see anything else flying, we probably should land right away and stay in the copters so we aren't taken for worms.
  When the Black Hand Gang talks of plans to fly to the forbidden area, Auramanda objects strongly.  He explains that flying over the area is extremely dangerous; this is one of the reasons the area is forbidden.  All Kurabanda who have tried to hang glide in the area have been killed by the Wind of the Demon, a strange disturbance of the air which upsets any type of flying device.
  xZot nods his acknowledgement of the Kurabandas chieftain concern but has faith that the jetcopters will probably be better suited to the job than a Kurabanda glider.  The commander orders his birds aloft and the pair of jetcopters and their motley crew lift off heading northwest for several hours.  xZot's still damaged engine begins to show some sign of wear as it lags behind the second flyer on this trip.
  Sharp eyes first spot the huge crater from a distance of about 5 kilometres.  It is indeed huge, extending to the horizon.  As you fly nearer to the rim of the crater, you see some enormous explosions in the air ahead of you, over the crater itself.  These explosions appear as sudden flashes of fire which last only a few seconds.  They seem to be occurring randomly.
  You see near the centre of this huge crater that there is an even deeper crater, a crater within a crater.  In the very centre of this second crater, a rocky pinnacle, stands, towering toward the sky to a height of more than 100 meters.  The rock tower itself does not appear to be more than 10 meters in diameter at the top; at the bottom it is much larger.  The explosions nearby, along with the dangerous up and down drafts the pilots have noticed, will make it impossible to get all the way to the rocky pinnacle and back by air.  Some part of this expedition will have to be made on foot.  In the back seat of their respective choppers, Mr Sp'ock and Crisbel are holding on for grim death as the pilots plot their courses toward the fiery turbulence ahead over the crater.

Shark Attack
Back at the Ul-Mor encampment...
  Having adequately prepared Nounouche and the Gang's other mounts, Siu-Ling enters the open arena.  The sounds of Ul-Mor zummas and trumpets are heard as the sand shark is ushered into the arena.  Siu-Ling sees the animal in the distance, the ominous slithering forming dust clouds that the wind disperses.  A fleeting moment of hesitation overcomes her, though her physical state is much more balanced than it has been as of late, and she urges the Tomar's Horse forward.
  The animal neighs and bucks a bit at the scent of the shark.  Siu-Ling exhales, seeing a favourable route to the north.  Yes, she will head towards the northern hill, a mere mound, but it should give her enough of an opportunity to make a visual assessment of the game and allow her to accelerate back down the hill should she have to.
  "Steady, boy!" she whispers to her agitated mount.  "I'll tell you when."
  Con positions himself to start out from behind the post and advance along the wing in between the the first pool and the hill.
  "Just wave and tap your ear to signal us to use our chronocoms."  Raid suggests.  "If we hold the chronocom hand to our ear, we should be able to listen over the sound of the game."  Raid goes over his basic strategy in his mind.  #1 - Head straight up the middle, with minimal small manoeuvres to avoid obstacles, at normal speed, keeping at least one opposing rider between himself and the sand shark.  #2 - The instant the sand shark goes after someone, use a burst of galloping speed on his Tomar's Horse to round the centre pole then come back down the field at normal speed looking for the ball.  #3 - save a final burst of speed for a last minute gallop to end the game in one move.  "Saving that last burst of galloping speed is crucial" Raid figures to himself aloud.
  Borovski nods in agreement as he takes a position on the left flank mounted on the only Loper in his team.  The various Ul-Mor teams join Con and Co. on the start line ,chirping excitedly to each other and the large crowd gathered along the side lines.  OMAC and Raid wave and call encouragement from the crowd, OMAC's Recoilless glinting in the sun.  Raid leaves his holoscreen off for the moment, and keeps his machete in easy reach.
  When the signal for the start of the Great Game suddenly blares across the playing field from the assembled Ul-Mor musicians, the Ul-Mor and their loper mounts surge forward toward the stakes at the other end of the field.  As the riders are forced into the choke points several of the Ul-Mor come to blows attempting to dismount each other.  None of the Ul-Mor make any attempt to defend themselves, preferring to go on the offensive and dismount their opponents.  As Con struggles with his mount to keep up with the Ul-Mor and their lopers he sees one of the warriors fall to the sand in front of him.  Siu-Ling manages to avoid the melee by heading up the hill in front of her but the slope slows her advance and she begins considering urging her mount into a gallop.  Borovski watches as a second Ul-Mor warrior hits the ground in front of him, then throwing caution to the wind guides his own mount through the back.  The brave Dralasite makes a half hearted attempt to knock the Ul-Mor victor from his seat as the startled warrior realizes Borovski slipped through the gap.  The members of Athru's clan roar with approval as Borovski opens a minuscule lead on the nearest riders.  Jag joins in, jumping up and down and flapping his wing like membranes as he encourages his wobbly friend while OMAC keeps his eyes trained on the sand shark now moving toward the nearest riders.  Surging up and off the ground the sand shark manages to bite one of the Ul-Mor riders who keeps his seat and tries to manoeuvre around the creature.
  The excited crowd roars it's approval as the Ul-Mor warriors and the Black Hand Gang riders continue across the Volturnus sand...
In the air approaching the massive crater...
  After a quick assessment of the area from the air, xZot heads as close to the centre of the large crater as possible.  With niggling doubts over the reliability of his 'copter churning around in his head, he elects to put down in an area that is not too hazardous for safe navigation on their way out.  Gleep follows xZot's copter in, constantly watching the air around and the ground below for problems.  The Dralasite asks the rest of the team to be watching the sky for large flying objects.
  "I am going to try to avoid flying in over any bubbling craters."  Gleep says to no-one in particular.
  As the sheer scale of the crater size sinks in xZot rethinks his initial plan.  Circling around to get another look xZot can only look on grimly as his mind grasps the enormity of the crater that spans out in front of him.  Deciding to approach from the north xZot turns his 'copter and moves lower to avoid detection.  Following the outer crater rim until he reaches a point north of the rocky pinnacle xZot lets up on the throttle, slowing briefly as he looks around and then radios to Gleep to follow him in.  Banking sharply he turns his copter toward the centre.
  "It may, after all, be a hasty departure." xZot says to no one in particular.  He then motions to Gleep to following him in to land, selecting an area that hopefully, isn't in a frequent flight path used to get in and out of the area.  xZot manoeuvres his 'copter for landing, using as low an approach as is safe and making every effort to bring as little attention to themselves as possible.
  "These spontaneous gaseous disruptions are decidedly random and unpleasant" reports Sni'ktl.  "Much as it irks me, it seems that we will have to set down, walk and climb to our destination.  In case you haven't guessed, the obvious roosting site for a large bird is the central pillar.  Even if it isn't, we would be able to spot it from there.  If someone could carry my med-kit I think I can manage the walk."
  Once back on the ground, and as everyone is bundling out of their seats and grabbing their equipment, xZot relays to the Kurabanda guide to stay with the craft until our return.  After trying to instil the basics of chronocom communication into their guide, xZot shrugs his shoulders and goes back to the 'wait here for us' dialogue, electing to leave any future tuition to Sni'ktl.  Turning to grab his kit xZot springs out of his seat and with a short trot catches up with the others.
  After conferring with Sp'ock, xZot motions for Crisbel to take up point and with a quick signal he indicates for everyone to move out toward the centre.  xZot settles his sungoggles a little, hoping for a more comfortable position, and holstering this stunstick he grabs his rifle connecting it to the power backpack and quickly re-checking its settings.  Scanning the terrain ahead makes xZot feel uneasy.
  "All this seismic activity will make the ground unstable.  We'll need to keep an eye out for signs of recent activity.  If the ground becomes too bad we will need to use the rope to keep use connected."  A thin smile cracks xZot's lips  "Between us being swallowed by the planet and being blown up by it, this should be a great trek!"  xZot stays close to Sni'ktl to rely on his reports about the landscape around them.
  "Ah this is the life" thinks Sni'ktl as he examines another thermal gradient.  "A real challenge to sink my mind into.  It's so good to be out in the field again exercising body and grey matter.  Ooooh...Ooohh my, that is interesting!" he exclaims.  Snik curses himself for not borrowing raid's Envirokit.
  "If I had a vaporscanner or geoscanner I could try and identify any tell tale indicators of upcoming eruptions, worms, sand sharks or gaseous phenomena.  I guess random means they could appear at ground level?"  As if to confirm his theory another explosion rips through through the air several hundred metres away but even at that distance the sound is deafening and the whole team flinches at the wave of warm air that sweeps over them.  The vrusk scientist continues his speculations as though he were lecturing a room full of eager students.
  "The Craterlands may have been formed ages ago by the impact of an enormous meteorite." The vrusk muses. "I have no idea what that is though." he points toward the floor of the crater.  The entire bottom of the craterlands appear to be a sea of large toadstools.  As Crisbel steps off to lead the team across the field of toadstools he helps answer Sni'ktl's question.
  The fungus gives way and Crisbel begins to sink into the muck, just as if it were quicksand.  He quickly throws himself onto his belly to avoid sinking into the muck.  Apparently the fungus itself is rooted in the mucky bottom of the craterland, where a stream eventually empties itself, creating soft, muddy bog.  Struggling to free his rope from his pack, Crisbel eventually manages to throw one end of the rope to his companions who proceed to haul him free of the muck and mud.
  Taking a few minutes to examine the terrain again the team members observe some more detail.  There are occasional outcroppings of small rocks scattered among the fungus on the crater floor.  These rock outcroppings occur every 10 or 20 meters.  The rocks appear solid and should support the weight of team members before starting to sink in the muck.  The rocks are one means of crossing the craterlands floor.  Then Sni'ktl points out another option.
  "The underground rivers which flow through the area bubble to the surface in narrow streams, see over there and there?"  The vrusk indicates the water flow and compares it with the map provided by the Eorna.  "They look to be about 8 meters wide at their widest point.  These streams follow the course of the rivers shown on this map."  After measuring the speed of objects suspended in the water with his time piece the science officer adds.  "The current is slow, about 4 kilometres per hour.  Perhaps a rudimentary raft?" he speculates.  xZot weighs up the options and asks for input from his friends before making his decision"
Raid shifts right to avoid the hedgehog and a pair of Ul-Mor ahead of him.  Digging his heels into his mounts flanks, Raid pushes his horse into a gallop.  He sees an opening between several Ul-Mor riders then breaks through the gap and ducking he takes the lead heading up the middle of the field.  Executing almost a mirror image of Raid's manoeuvre, Con draws alongside his team mate both humans grinning from ear to ear.  Siu-Ling decides to spur Nounouche along as well, galloping over the hill trying to draw away from the nearby Ul-Mor riders.  On the left wing Borovski continues his advance down the sideline on his loper and smiles to himself when he spots his galloping team mates from the corner of his eyespot about to overtake his lead.
  The Ul-Mor riders urge their mounts forward with several of them hot on the heels of Raid and Con.  Siu-Ling and Borovski also have Ul-Mor warriors breathing down their necks.  A tussle between two Ul-Mor directly behind Borovski leaves another Ul-Mor player dismounted as the Sand Shark nips at one of the Ul-Mor near the centre of the playing field.
  Raid continues racing down field, ignoring the gasp from the crowd as he rides over the ball in the centre of the field.  At the last moment Raid swerves his mount to avoid the wall at end of field and heads toward the centre stake.  Con opts for the more spectacular course of action and leaps the wall ahead of him, edging slightly in front of Raid but still further away from the central stake.  Following Con's lead Siu-Ling also decides to vault the wall and make up for the lost momentum from crossing the hill at the start of the Game.  While Borovski maintains his progress down the left flank two more Ul-Mor come to blows near the middle of the field behind Raid and Con.  Both Ul-Mor manage to retain their seats but by now Athru's clan are almost apoplectic at the progress of their tribes representatives.
  Then suddenly the sand shark launches itself at one of the unsuspecting Ul-Mor, dragging the unfortunate rider from his saddle.  A cry of despair goes up from the crowd, quickly followed by the sound of modern weapons fire.  Groans turn to cheers when the spectators realize that OMAC has fired his Recoilless Rifle from the sideline, hit the sand shark (75 points) and probably saved the Ul-Mor's rear tentacle, if not his life.
200 kilometres north of Athru's camp...
  "Hey Snik!  Just what do you think is causing those air bursts?"  Gloo asks from his seat in the helo.  Looking out at the crater and the explosions  "Is it just me or does this sound just plain weird?  A giant bird flies all the way from there" he points to pinnacle of rock in the centre of the huge crater "to the village, dives into the forest for this shiny statue then flies all the way back to its roost, which just happens to be in the middle of the mother of all anti-aircraft emplacements.  Meaning it takes its life into its claws every time it leaves home," he again points to air bursts.  "Its not exactly flying the friendly skies there."  Gloo turns around and rummages through the cargo
  "Ahh yes, here it is.  One envirokit."  The dralasite Tech takes the kit over to Sni'ktl  "Here ya go Snik."  Gloo then returns to the helo and sits down.
  "Thanks Gloo" says Sni'ktl hefting the envirokit  "I would forget my head if it wasn't plaswelded on."  Sni'ktl takes some readings to confirm his suspicions about the river and the air bursts.  "Sorry Gloo, I can't get an immediate fix on what's causing them.  I would guess there'd be a pre-burst indicator that this bird could spot but I'm jiggered if I can detect it.  Maybe it flies really high in the outer thermals to get above the bursts then does a tight spiral landing on the pinnacle.  I'm not sure I'd fancy trying that in a 'copter though.  A large avian like that would have a short life span.  I'm betting these explosions are the most risky thing we need to worry about" concludes Sni'ktl optimistically.
  "Well it's got to be a combustible gas of some kind that reacts to the atmosphere, and when it reaches critical mass, boom".  Folding ids arms and tapping a pseudo pod alongside ids 'face'.  "Which comes to another point, since its combustible and all over the place what are the odds these laser weapons create armageddon when they are fired?  So I think it would be rather prudent to test the weapons first before we fire them in that death trap, 'cause this is one Dral who isn't in the mood to spontaneously combust when id fires ids weapon."
  Sni'ktl continues gathering and analysing his samples while Gloo wonders.  Geological phenomena is not one of xZot's strong points so he listens intently to Gloo and Sni'ktl as they hypothesize about the nature of the air bursts.  The dralasite grabs one of the depleted powerclips from the helo
  "No sense wasting a full clip".  He puts it in laser pistol, sets it on lowest setting and walks away from the others.  Staying away from crater Gloo aims towards the pinnacle.  He looks over at the group  "Unless one of you would like to sacrifice yourself in the name of science?  No?  Yeah, yeah leave it to the Dral."  At the sound of the word science Sni'ktl looks up to see Gloo about to squeeze the trigger.
  "No!!" the Science Officer cries out excitedly.  Gloo, xZot and the rest of the group are startled by Sni'ktl's sudden outburst.  Gloo lowers his pistol as the group gather round Sni'ktl and his equipment.  "The fungus is not based on an oxygen/carbon dioxide cycle."  The science officer explains  "Instead, this fungus gives off two gasses as a result of its metabolism.  The first is hydrogen, which forms into huge pockets as it rises in the atmosphere.  This free hydrogen is the reason for the explosions which occur frequently and randomly in the craterlands area.
  "Isn't there ANYTHING on this planet NOT trying to kill us!!?" Gloo quips as xZot nods in agreement.  Ignoring what has become the Black Hand Gang's mantra Sni'ktl continues his analysis.
  "The second by-product of the fungus is nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas."  Sni'ktl smiles at his companions  "The intoxicating effects of that could be quite lethal in this dangerous and alien environment." the vrusk concludes.
  After watching Sni'ktl analyse the samples and Gloo almost blowing up the entire team with premature laser pot shots across the crater, xZot discusses openly with the team what their next move should be.
  "I don't like the looks of those rock outcrops, they don't look very stable and I don't feel like a swim just at the moment."  He casts a glance at the now drenched form of Crisbel as he tries in vain to dry out.  "As long as it isn't unnecessarily hazardous I think we should relocate to a site where we can take advantage of one of those steams"  xZot motions toward the bubbling springs that mark the commencement of the flow.  "Are there sufficient materials to construct two rafts?"
  "Boss if your looking for opinions I'd go the water route, a raft seems more stable than overland.  Especially if that bird decides we'd make a nice meal if we're spotted."  Gloo opines, Mr Sp'ock agrees with the stocky dralasite as do GleepGlooup and the other frontiersmen.  Sni'ktl quickly re-packs his equipment and the team follow their commander back to the waiting aircraft.
  xZot returns to the 'copter and prepares for the short hop to the north-east corner of the crater.  Flying low, and with everyone on the lookout for potential air bursts, xZot cautiously navigates the 'copter around the rim to a suitable landing zone.  After landing and securing the 'copter, xZot motions to everyone to fan out and collect the materials for the rafts leaving xZot to rummage through his techkit for some of the other necessary items.  xZot's mind wanders back to times past, remembering the simplicity that was his life as a child.
  "It's been some years since I've build a raft." he recalls the lazy afternoons playing with the Masters' children.  "Never did like getting wet." he murmurs.
  Crisbel volunteers his length of rope and xZot augments the raft building material with several metres of uninsulaated wire from his techkit and the team quickly assemble some rudimentary rafts to navigate their way through the clogged waterways.  The current is slow and carry the unpowered rafts at about 4 kilometres per hour.  The journey through the swampland takes almost four hours, during which time most of the team succumb to the effects of the laughing gas.  All except Mr Sp'ock, who remains his impassive self and Gloo who, much to his own chagrin, appears to be immune to the nitrous oxide.
  The adventurers reach the central crater, an even deeper pit in the middle of this weird area.  As you stand on the rock ledge which forms the rim of this deeper, central crater, you see that its bottom is covered with the same fungus you have seen throughout the rest of the craterland.  Also scattered about are a few outcroppings of rock.  Here and there, there are a few hardy but obviously dying bachanda trees.  In the centre of this crater stands the rock spire.  Somewhere on or in that shaft of rock is the Sacred Idol of the Kurabanda, and perhaps the creature who stole the idol is there as well.
"Iiiiiieeeerrrk iiieeer eer ii" Sni'ktl sniggers.  "Yup Gloo ii...ii... ii.... ii.... immune iiieeerk.  You obviously don't it iiieeerrk er.. er... ii... ii... iieerk."  Few races are considered to have as irritating a laugh as the Vrusk.  The Black Hand Gang can only thank the stars that Sp'ock continues to stoically resist the effects of the gas.
  Gleep, in between gut wobbling fits of chuckles, decides he will limit his load to gyrojet pistol, clips, Skiensuit, machete and one tangler grenade.
   "Whoa no.  Just hold on there with that weapon turbo."  Gloo exclaims when he sees Gleep displaying his weaponry.  "What do you plan on doing with that?  Blow us all up?"
  "Does anyone have a rope I can take up?  Maybe some pitons?"  The giggling dralastite reminds the group of his climbing experience.
   "ii... ii... ii.... iiieeerrk" cackles the vrusk Science Officer  "I'm happy to go up first with the rope" says Sni'ktl "I haven't had a good climb since the forest.  I won't be able to carry much more than the rope, the hammer and the pitons though.  What was that?  No pitons, no hammer hmmm.  Good job we got Dralasites."
  Turning to the Chief Science Officer Gloo says  "Snik, what about using sonics would?  That be a safer choice?  As for the pitons sorry, I left them in the other escape pod.  Gloo takes off ids beam weapons, except the sonic stunner, leaves the melee weapons on and waits for Sniks answer.
  "What ii eer."  Replies Sni'ktl.  "Sorry, must be the after effects of the gas."  As Sni'ktl's mind clears he thinks again about his offer of climbing the pinnacle.  "It just seemed a lot less tall and steep a few minutes ago.  Firing sonics would be safer, but then that wouldn't be a good test of the hypothesis that beam weapons are useless here.  Either test 'em or leave 'em.  Personally I wouldn't fire any laser weapons, gyrojet weapons, or projectile weapons.  We'll have enough to carry either way.  Since the gas seems to be rising, maybe we could fashion a rudimentary balloon out of some allweather blankets joined with plastiflesh from the medkit?  Or xZot could try spiral up on the thermal lift."
  Upon hearing Sniks latest ideas Gloo turns around and looks at Sni'ktl  "Boss I think that gas really has an adverse affect on some vrusks.  This one in particular."
  "Snik, Snik, Snik" Gloo says shacking ids 'head', walks up and puts an arm around Sni'ktl's neck  "I'm here for ya whatever, I really am.  Now think about it for a moment.  If the pilots in helicopters designed by the finest minds and made of the best materials couldn't get us near to the top, what makes you think a balloon made of blankets held together by plastiflesh has any chance at all?"
  Gloo gives Snik ids finest smile possible then turns around and mutters
  "Plastiflesh!  Oh man I've heard it all now, we are going nuts.  I'm pretty sure the next suggestion will be to try to inflate one of us Drals.  The only way up is the old fashioned way, we climb.  We'll need the best climber first and another someplace in the middle.  I can bring up the rear, I'm no climber but I hope I can be a strong enough anchor but we should bring a blanket to wrap the statue in as well as an empty pack to put it in.  I am not sure (about a lot of things) but I might be the best climber.  I have experience and a good dexterity.  I can lead or take the middle."  Turning to xZot  "Boss, I think we need you to make some quick choices so we can get this done.  We are working against the clock and time spent worrying about the unknown, or a certain Vrusk's aberrant nature, won't get us any closer to the top, presuming the top is our real goal here."
 Mr Sp'ock nods his assent  "I agree Commander."  The vrusk X-O adds.  "Those of you under the effects of the nitrous oxide will be severely hampered in attempting an ascent of this peak."
  xZot clutches his aching sides in an effort to hold in his laughter as he looks over the rim and across to the spire.
  "Sni'ktl, have you got anything worked out to neutralize the gas?  I don't know how well I'll be able to climb if I can't stop laughing!"
  In between chitters the vrusk CSO shakes his head in the negative.  "I could try antitox but I think that when it wears off we will be back in the same boat, so to speak.  As long as we remain in the crater we are exposed to the gas." 
  On hearing Sni'ktl's assessment Mr Sp'ock hands his fellow vrusk his compatible gas mask.  "The gas does not seem to be affecting me so you should probably try the antitox on yourself then wear my gas mask."  Much to everyone's relief the theory works, Sni'ktl neutralizes the gases effects on himself and remains lucid with the gas mask on.  After quickly checking the rising vapour currents from the currents xZot contemplates whether gliding across is possible.
  "Maybe if I jump across from the closest point, to the the southern tree.  Climb a little for extra height then across to the middle tree.  Climb up then across to the spire."  pondering for a moment he continues  "It might work for Crisbel and I but not much good for the rest of you unless we can string some rope between us and all of you shimmy across."  xZot looks around for a moment trying to gauge everyone's thoughts, he continues  "The only other way I can see is to lower the rafts down into the crater, climb down and then float across.  There will be a problem since there is no current;  again, we could string up rope to pull the raft between the rim and the trees and then the trees to the spire.  How much rope do we have anyway?  Did we grab the spare rope out of the Jetcopter?  It will affect our plans if we only have 15m of rope."
  "Rope, we have five, fifteen meter lengths of rope."  Gloo reports.  "Not to dampen any enthusiasm here but when in the whole time we've been here, have you gotten the impression I'm a mountain goat."  complains the plucky quartermaster  "I have done some climbing but jeez!"
  In between belly ching busts of laughter the young yazirian commander attempts to continue.  "Maybe when we start climbing the best we could hope for is to use it to link us all together and hope the rest of us can hold on if someone falls."
  The team begins the descent into the central crater, the going isn't particularly dangerous but awkward with having to lower the rafts in to the crater first and then extra effort required to paddle without the benefit of currents.  The team then traverse in toward the central spire.  The rocky outcroppings in this area are just like those in the craterlands as a whole.  The bachanda trees are indeed dying, and many branches tried, give way and break under the weight of a team member.  The random occurrence of hydrogen explosions is the same as the craterlands area.
  "Good thing we didn't try gliding into the trees"  Crisbel giggles after stepping of the raft and through a rotted trunk into something slimy and very smelly.  The team reaches the base of the rock which holds the item they seek.  The rock appears to be quite solid.  Its surface is rough and uneven, and there are many hand and foot holds for climbing.  The rock is approximately 120 meters high.
  Preparing for the climb xZot removes and stores his TechKit, Laser Rifle and Pistol and Power backpack, electing to attempt the climb with only his stunstick and tangler/doze grenades as weapons.  After a quick assessment Mr Sp'ock turns to his commander
  "Sir, I recommend a two man team attempt the first ascent.  With only 75 metres of rope we will need to make two pitches to attempt an ascent to the summit with some degree of safety.  Those of you still under the effects of the nitrous oxide will only endanger us all on such a climb as this.  I shall volunteer to lead the first pitch, when I reach the end of the rope, which Gloo will belay me on from here, I recommend that Gloo climb up behind me.  We will make another belay point when he reaches me and I can make the final ascent solo.  I do not believe it will be necessary for all of us to make the climb and perhaps those of you stationed on the ground can cover our backs while we climb?"
  After delivering his report and recommendation, the vrusk X-O waits silently for his commander's orders while all but Gloo snicker around him.
Back at the Great Game...
  With a roguish laugh and a devil may care attitude towards it all Con charges his mount over the wall and through the countryside of Monmouth.  Sure that Slade's men have been left far behind, Con turns and flashes a smile of satisfaction to his partner Tallas Bane.  The flashback comes to an abrupt end as Con looks back only to find Raid with him.  It all comes back to the present and the Great Game.  Con rounds the stake and spurs his mount on.
  Raid thunders around the wooden stake in a cloud of dust and sand.  He reigns his Volturnian mount in, turning down field and moving at normal speed now, he keeps an eye on Con to avoid mishaps.
  "YEEEEEHAAAAA," cries the enforcer.  Con rounds the centre stake in an unbelievably tight turn and races back towards the short wall in the centre of the field.  As he passes a pack of Ul-Mor riding in the opposite direction he throws a back hand at the nearest opponent in a feeble attempt to dismount him or at least get them to come after him.  The Ul-Mor riders ignore the human and his mount as they jostle for position to round the centre stake.
  Raid begins to perspire now as he faces the onrushing Ul-Mor and lopers.  Sweat and sand begin to collect on his face, but his headband and sungoggles keep the worst of it from getting into his eyes.  He attempts to bypass the crowding and make a jump over the low wall, watching for the bobbing heads of other riders who may be making the same jump from the opposite direction.  The surge of the mount beneath him is thrilling as Raid's horse leaps the wall.  Lopers and Ul-Mor dash past Raid ducking around him and weaving to avoid Con's wild flailing as he too urges his mount to leap the fence.
  "Ouch!" Siu-Ling barely voices as the sand shark eats OMAC's ballistic deliverance.  Without a moment's hesitation, she and Nounouche circumvent the nearest stake and make their way back to the ball.  When Nounouche's hooves clip the top of the wall, Siu-Ling gasps and grips her thighs tightly to stay aboard the beast, her adrenaline level beginning to rise at the sudden start.  On the other flank, Borovski lopes around the nearest stake and closes on the centre of the field, casually leaping the wall near Raid's right hand.
  Ul-Mor riders are now hot on the heels of Athru's team of Frontiersmen.  One rider is dismounted as he attempts leap the wall heading towards the stakes and another takes a fall from his loper as he attempts to re-cross the wall beside Siu-Ling.  Two more Ul-Mor are close behind her and two are closing on Borovski as well.  Rounding the central stake is chaotic for the Ul-Mor, a pair of warriors manage to unseat each other and a third is added to the sand in the confusion as the proud Ul-Mor scramble to chase down the foreigners.
  Although severely wounded, the Sandshark is not yet dead and as Raid clears the wall the shark leaps from the sand to bite his lower leg (8 points damage).  Startled though he is by the attack, Raid presses forward.  Con leaps the fence beside Raid and suddenly he is between Raid and the ball.  Both men close on the ball and Con easily leans down and scoops up the ball in his arm with Raid on his right.  Siu-Ling closes in behind and to Con's left as Boro races up to join then overtake the slower Tomar's horses.
  Eight of the Ul-Mor contestants have now been eliminated but the remainder are now realizing the advantages of riding the faster lopers.  Although the horses can beat a loper over short distances, in a sustained race like this the loper has it's own advantages.  Another rider is dismounted behind Siu-Ling attempting to leap the wall bat several others actually overtake her.  One Ul-Mor catches Con attempting to drag the man from his saddle.  One of the three remaining riders in the centre throws caution to the wind, leaping the wall behind Con and closing up quickly behind the struggling riders.  The other two Ul-Mor in the centre take the safer route around the centre wall.  Both Ul-Mor riders behind Borovski jump the fence and funnel between the sand pit and centre wall.  As they come up behind Raid they jostle for position to get around the science officer and one them is knocked out of his saddle.
  A loud report from the sidelines and another cheer from the audience on the sidelines announces the end of the sandshark.  Borovski twists his head around to see the sandshark had attacked and dismounted one of the straggling Ul-Mor riders.  OMAC, seeing the Ul-Mor had been disqualified and looking for some target practice, decided to save the Ul-Mor any further injury.  A second shot from his recoilless rifle finished the mauled creature and might provide some fresh meat for this evenings victory banquet.
With a human, almost feral, cry, Siu-Ling spurs Nounouche to a hasty gallop.
  "Give it Timeon's 3rd, Bébé!  Aieeeeah!"  Drawing attention to herself, she not only makes herself evident to Con, but also hopes to give him a fraction of a second advantage by distracting their honourable opponents.  "By the Waaaaaaaaan!" she yells as Nounouche sprints at unprecedented speeds, slowly putting distance between them and the other riders.  Keeping her eyes focused on Con, she occasionally looks forward to make sure that her faithful steed is avoiding the pool to the east.
  Con notices that the opponents are on his heels.  He looks to Siu-Ling and sees that she is well covered.  Looks to Raid, covered as well. Con sees Boro open.  Con spurs his mount, moving to his right alongside Borovski and launches a lateral pass to his dralasite team mate.  The pass is good and Boro takes the catch, urging his mount forward toward the finish post.
  The spectators go deathly quiet as they try to take in this unprecedented tactic of passing the ball.  Two seconds later they are all shouting and cheering again for their teams.
  Seeing Con pass the ball, Raid spurs his mount ahead at a gallop straight toward the Ul-Mor's hedgehog obstacle.  Late as it is in the game, Raid decides to take a risk to get into a good position.  He leans low and forward as the Tomar's horse jumps over the spears.  He leaps the barrier and now has a clear lead on the other players but his horse is now spent, it's pace dropping almost to a walk.  Raid steadies his tired mount and looks back, waving for someone to pass him the ball.  He urges the poor horse onward toward the middle stake.
  As Borovski charges his loper toward the finish post he is funnelled into the centre of the field by the hedgehogs.  The remaining Ul-Mor riders close in around the lone dralasite.  One of the Ul-Mor attempts to dismount Borovski but the determined dralasite fends off the blows.
  The entire race finally comes down to the last few metres.  The Ul-Mor spectators are going wild as the Black Hand Gang claw their way to the finish post.  Even though Siu-Ling and Raid have both exhausted their mounts they manage to position themselves behind Borovski and block Ul-Mor riders as Boro struggles to get clear of the Ul-Mor pursuers.  Con uses his last burst of speed to gain Borovski's flank and intercept a third Ul-Mor tackle but a fourth Ul-Mor gets through to attempt a last ditch dismount.
  Siu-Ling is struck hard by her attacker but as she looses her seat she manages to grab her opponent and drag him to the sand with her.  Raid uses a different technique but the result is the same as he too takes another Ul-Mor out of the race as he is unhorsed.  Con drops his tackler as Borovski fends off the final assault and heads for the post.
  A micro second later Borovski thunders past the finish post, the ball held high with Con walking his mount behind.  Two remaining Ul-Mor hot on their heels but too late for the glory also finish the race.  The assembled tribes of the Ul-Mor go absolutely crazy with excitement.  As Siu-Ling and Raid walk their mounts over to congratulate Boro they are swamped with Ul-Mor.  Con and the other two Ul-Mor finishers are enthusiastically welcomed for finishing the race but all the glory falls on the humble dralasite victor.
  Already young Ul-Mor are using toy balls to imitate the new passing and catching technique as the adults admire and praise the new alien proponents of their Great Game.
  Siu-Ling makes her way out of the crush so she can walk Nounouche casually to the water so as to not cool him down too quickly and notices Raid and Con joining her, both with huge grins at the teams success and the adrenaline rush of the game.  Soon after they are joined by Borovski, Athru and some of the senior Ul-Mor tribal chieftains.  They are all universally impressed by the team's performance.  Athru announces that had one of the players merely finished the race he would have encouraged the other tribes to join his in the coming battle.  Borovski victory has changed all that.  The other tribal chieftains don't need convincing after what is being described as one of the best Great Games in living memory.  That's a very long time for Ul-Mor.  They have decided to name this year the "Year of Borovski Getmeov", the highest honour to be bestowed on any player of the Great Game.  A victory feast is to be held in their honour as the Ul-Mor begin to make their preparations for war.
Meanwhile, back at the Crater of the Demon Bird...
  As Sni'ktl pulls the Vrusk gas mask around his torso he thanks Sp'ock for the loan as the lithe Vrusk X-O ascends.  He is not sure if he has been heard.
  "I guess he can't spare a limb to wave an acknowledgement" thinks Sni'ktl as Sp'ock's eight legs work efficiently to carry him up the sheer pinnacle.  "I guess we just wait then."  Sni'ktl unrolls his all-weather blanket in case it is needed to catch falling idols or other objects.
  xZot waits for a break in his current laughing fit then, grabbing his sides, he adds what he can to the debate about the climb
  "Unfortunately I must agree.  Hee hee hee hee.   In this state neither I, nor this other very happy pair, are going to be much use to you Sp'ock.  It looks like it is just Sni'ktl, Gloo and yourself who are going up the spire."  Turning slightly xZot notes that Sni'ktl is settling in, unrolling a blanket.  "Sni'ktl, aren't you going up the spire after Sp'ock and Gloo?  Hee hee hee hee.  As you know, you are now one of the few that isn't affected by the gas.  Hee hee"
  As the others commence their climb, xZot adjusts his goggles and scans the area for any signs of trouble.  He casts a glance up at the disappearing forms of his friends as they slowly make their accent.
  "Crisbel, you and Gleep keep an eye out for any bird-like creatures.  Hee hee hee hee.  As far as I can see, any problems we are going to have will probably come from a distant hostile and I think the disruptor and gyrojet pistol are our only 'safe' range weapons, given the gasses around here.  Hee hee hee hee.  Unfortunately, all this laughing isn't going to help your aim but those guys up there are going to need some support if things go bad."  xZot looks back up at the climbers for a moment then he turns back to his watch.
  Gloo follows the X-O to the pinnacle and gets gear ready, making sure the sonic stunner is handy.  He reluctantly leaves the laser rifle and hand axe behind and makes sure his pack is empty to carry statue if need be.
  "Well Sp'ock, after you." Gloo watches as the X-o climbs up.  "This could be interesting." and starts up after, keeping an eye out for the bird that's supposed to be in the area.  Mr Sp'ock begins his ascent, the vrusk looking even more alien as he takes what appear to be extremely awkward positions beginning his climb up the rock pinnacle.  Picking his way carefully and placing several feet in seemingly precarious positions, the vrusk X-O gradually makes his way upward.  After almost half an hour he reaches the extent of his rope and takes several minutes to secure himself and the end of the rope around a convenient rock outcrop then signals for Gloo to follow up after him.
  Taking Gloo's weight whenever the dralasite reaches a difficult move and occasionally calling out assistance for the dralasite, Mr Sp'ock talks the inexperienced climber up the route he has just taken. 
  When Gloo reaches ids final point in the climb he gets secured and takes his stunner out.  Mr Sp'ock double checks that Gloo is safely tied into his belay point before he begins the second and final pitch up the spire of rock.  Gloo watches Sp'ock climb on up to top.
  "Don't take all day now sight seeing."  He calls to his partner.  "I hope this goes fast.  I really hate it up here."
  It's then that the thing everyone feared most takes place.  From out of the sun comes a screech followed by a pair of claws beneath a pair of the largest wings on Volturnus.  Unable to avoid the claws, Mr Sp'ock grunts with pain as the claws slash across his unprotected back.  His chitinous shell cracking under the force of the blows (23 points)
  "I can see it sir" mutters Crisbel, indicating the winged creature above "but it's out of range of this." he finishes, patting his sonic disruptor.  Up above them, Gloo zaps off a shot with his stunner but is blinded by the sun and misses.  The volturnian eagle swoops around for another attack as Sp'ock deliberately draws his machete.  Using one hand and several feet to steady himself he prepares for the next pass.
  The huge bird swoops in for a second attack which Sp'ock manages to avoid as he strikes back with the machete, injuring the bird (20 points).  Gloo squeezes off a second shot, this one much better aimed but the bird is unaffected by the sonic beam.  The eagle comes around for a third attack and now both Sp'ock and Gloo are ready for the creature.  As it flies in toward Sp'ock, the vrusk slashes again with a well aimed blow at the bird's head.  Gloo fires a third shot and hits again.  Neither is sure who knocked out the eagle but everyone cheers when the unconscious birds drops like a stone to the foot of the spire, landing with a sickening thud.
  Saddened at having to slay such a marvellous creature Mr Sp'ock turns back to the task at claw.  Continuing his climb Sp'ock reaches the creature's nest is beneath a rocky ledge at the top of the rock.  In the nest are two large eggs and a strange statue carved from crystal.  This statue must be the Sacred Idol of the Kurabanda.  Sp'ock waves down to the rest of the team, then remembering he has the technology, flicks on his chronocom to let xZot and the others know of his find.  An hour later Sp'ock and Gloo are safely back on the ground and the team begins the trek back toward their jetcopters.  With the sun begin to drop toward the horizon, in between giggles, xZot suggests that they use the jetcopters to get out of the craterlands before stopping to make camp for the night.
  "Tomorrow we can return the idol to the Kurabanda and, assuming all goes well, meet up with Raid's team back at Mawson's Rest.


1 Experience Point

2 Experience Points

3 Experience Points

Bonus Points - e-mail

Bonus Points - Special

OMAC, Crisbel

Borovski, Sp'ock

Siu-Ling, Con, Raid, xZot, Sni'ktl, Gloo, GleepGlooup

Siu-Ling, Con, Raid, xZot, Sni'ktl, Gloo, GleepGlooup


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