Boro releases a sigh of relief as the Quickdeath's fall, just a bit disappointed that his attacks during recent melee were not as effective as he had hoped. As he stands over one of the body's evaluating it for any future usefulness,
"Hey Mr. Quickdeath, looks as though you need some Quick-eze to remedy your ailment" Being sure to collect any weapons or items left on battlefield that could be of party benefit, Boro assembles his gear together awaiting further instructions regarding the imminent celebration one would expect follows an initiation ceremony such as this.
Immediately after the second Quickdeath hits the ground, McKilin applies a hypo of stimdose to Raid and Jaguar to ensure they remain conscious until the Antitox has done it's job on the poison. He then pulls out his medscanner to double check his work and begins applying several doses of local anaesthetic to injured to relieve their suffering.
"It's down praise the first egg!" Sp'ock clicks, looking away from the twitching mass of fangs and really impressive body armour for new treats. He sees members of the party dragging wounded companions away towards medical aide, a couple just getting back to their feet, stunned expressions on the faces of those closest to him.
"We are alive, and with no casualties, well fatal ones anyway. I wonder if you could tastefully stuff and mount the head of one of these buzz saws? Would look good on the mantle, or maybe hollow it out and make a wild hat? Mental note to self, must chat with Sni'ktl about adrenaline related psychosis. Self, and other members may have issue to pursue there?" Boro is exhausted after his involvement in the party's defeat of
"Not just one but two Quickdeath's folks that's right you heard me right, two of them Quickdeath's are feeling in the need of some Quickeze right now!" He is also very comfortable with the knowledge that this party can get it on when the shit flies. Needless to say, in true military tradition he attends to the necessities before encompassing the concept of rec days immediately and sets out on a path of obliteration self inflicted. Still in shock as to how fast that Quickdeath reached him, Gloo sits swaying as he receives medical attention.
"Did you see how fast that thing moved", says Gloo in awe. "Bloody fast for a critter".
The sleek specimen of the human species approaches the victors of the ritual battle. She lowers her own spear as a gesture of deference, and then hails the group in Pan Galactic, with a rather thick human accent.
"Welcome," she cries out, "to the brotherhood of the Ul-Mor. We are now of the One, as we are of each other." Urged on by a few Ul-Mor riders, she says a few more words and then moves to congratulate each individual member. Seeing all the Ul-Mor tribes gather round and congratulate the party makes Gloo feel pretty good about the combat.
"Still reckon I shouldn't have blinked when I did" thinks Gloo. scanning his eyespots around, Gloo enlarges them at the sight of a human female down here with the Ul-Mor. Strange that, but then again, I've seen many strange things since we have been on this forsaken planet. I'm still getting sand in my pores. Gloo extends his pseudo pod to Siu-Ling and says
"Hi Siu-Ling, I'm Gloo. Nice to meet you but please excuse me while I go collapse in a corner somewhere"
"Yes, of course, idster (sometimes used as a gender-neutral form of brother/sister/mister/mistress in Dral circles]," Siu-Ling quickly reacts and helps the chubby Ul-Mor initiate to a shaded area nearby.
"I only have 3 Biocort left" McKilin reports to Sni'ktl a short while later "and Jag has none at all. Raid and Jaguar won't be much good for anything for quite some time and Con is little better. I suspect that with dose of Biocort and a couple of days rest Gloo will be able to handle light duties, but he will still be tender for some time until he can get a lot of rest or better treatment. It's your call but I am reluctant to use what little Biocort I have left, what about you?"
Sni'ktl surveys the team for signs of injury. Gloo is a bit wobbly, even for a Dral, so Sni'ktl administers a dose of precious biocort. "You'll still need to rest up well over the next few days if you're going to keep up with us. Come and see me if you have any difficulty when we strike out."
Much revelry ensues after the Ritual of Manhood as the Ul-Mor welcome their new friends into the tribe. During the feast provided by the Ul-Mor after the Ritual, Athru now reveals he has seen creatures similar to the characters living with the Kurabanda, a race of foolish creatures that dwell in trees. Athru will agree to provide an Ul-Mor escort to the edge of the Kurabanda's home.
"We will leave in three days, now eat, drink, enjoy. We are now all One!" and another shout goes up around the campfires as the celebrations stretch long into the night.
Drinking and celebration are second nature to a Yazirian. xZot prides himself on being a good drinker, even among Yazirians; in his village he was always one of the last standing at celebrations (nothing like drinking till you fall over!). xZot has always considered drinking as an extension of eating, in fact, eating and drinking going hand-in-hand has always made the cooking side more pleasurable. xZot uses the informality and casual nature of the celebration to quiz Siu-Ling on more information on how she got here and her first meeting with the Ul-Mor. Directing the conversation around to future issues, xZot attempts to establish the loyalty of Siu-Ling to the Ul-Mor versus her desire to escape this world. Lacking Sni'ktl's diplomacy, xZot can only deal with this in his own way and when out of his depth, he just nods knowingly. xZot thinks "This human could offer some skills to the group, and with several group members staying behind, we have some deficiencies this wo-man can address, roles she can fill." Sni'ktl notices that Siu-Ling and xZot are getting on well. This is a good sign for team dynamics. Sni'ktl introduces himself to the new team member.
"Hello Siu-Ling. I am Sni'ktl - chief medical officer and currently studying to become science officer. We must sit down sometime and discuss your time with the Ul-Mor."
"Hiya!" she responds with a smile, and extending her hand like a human. "Oops!" she then apologises, explaining, "I've been down here much too long, and have forgotten my manners. Anyway, as you can tell, I'm not much of a science person. I usually just blow stuff up; that's the extent of my chemistry repertoire." Trying to sound a bit more fancy-schmanzy than usual, the new found castaway retracts her hand and pats elbows with the vrusk, showing that she is a little cultured after all. Sni'ktl notices the slight eye twitch at the mention of the Ul-Mor.
"Perhaps we can discuss that later. Meantime, you look like you could use some R&R as much as the rest of us. Would you like some these mushroom samples. I've been meaning to test if they have the same effect after they've been dried." Sni'ktl offers Siu-Ling some mushrooms and takes some himself. Without words, Sni'ktl sees the human's paw like appendages reach out for a few of the 'shrooms in his own, carapaced hand. She chews noisily, her vocal chords emitting meaningless gulping noises on every swallow.
"Hey, chum," the human gets the vrusk's attention. "You got any water?" she asks, wiping the 'shroom silt from her dry, pursed lips with her bare forearm. With a distinct lack of alcoholic beverages at the celebration, Sni'ktl's supply of hallucinogenic mushroom spores is very popular with the team members as their party stimulant of choice.
"Well the Ul-Mor are being amazingly cool. Food and arsenic laced water" thinks Sp'ock to himself remembering the Ul-Mor propensity toward drinking arsenic laced water. Apparently, in high enough concentrations it acts like an alcohol on the Ul-Mor. "No thanks I might pass on that one." A chance to stand still for a while. To clear the breathing orifices and kick back. Well maybe not just yet. That human that xZot is talking to may be of use to our team. If he recruits it then I shall have to interrogate it. Not real comfortable with that hu'mans tend to display erratic behaviour, most unsettling.
Later that evening, after the initial celebrations for the new tribe members have got under way with much feasting, dancing, story telling and general festiveness, McKilin approaches xZot
"I have been speaking with Raid, Jag and Con about our situation and they have asked me to speak to you on their behalf. It's not likely that you are going to hang around here with the Ul-Mor for too long and they appear to be nomadic so they probably won't stay long either. The wounded need to stay put, we have water here and with a little food we should be able to make a go of it here for a while. I'd like to study the Ul-Mor more closely and with Jag so badly mauled at the moment, they will need a medic here so I guess I'm volunteering to stay behind." Before xZot can voice any objections McKilin continues. "One of our biggest problems getting around in the desert was logistics, we didn't have enough supplies for such a large team. With four less mouths to feed, or three if the new girl goes with you guys, you can increase your patrol range. Anyway, maybe not all the Ul-Mor will leave here and if they do, surely they will keep coming back to this place for their Rituals? Anyway they have pretty much made up their mind and so have I. One last thing, Raid wants his HoloScreen back, says that if you can spare a power pack it might come in handy hunting food. Personally I think he's just being stingy and doesn't want to loose it, maybe if someone offered to take the debt off his hands he would be willing to give it up? A note of credit or something? Talk it over with Raid."
"So McK, you are really positive that you want to stay with Raid Jag and Con and its not that you feel obliged too?" Sni'ktl finishes up his counselling session with McKilin with more of a statement than a question. His initial fears that McK was making up reasons to stay and look after the others have proven unfounded. It seems that he really does want to study the Ul-Mor. Its no surprise when McKilin replies in the affirmative.
"OK then, that's going to leave us short of a Enviro-specialist. DNR regulation 532/51B requires an experienced environmental officer on any mission with significant risks of encountering alien ecosystems. I'm no rocket scientist, but I would be obliged if you and Raid gave me a crash course in environmental science. While we're doing that, I will take you through the notes I made when studying the Ul-Mor before the caves. It may come in useful. Also McK if you could find out more about how their communication tentacle works I'd be very interested. The potential insights for the field of psychoanalysis are enormous. Could you work out if it would be possible to graft one of those limbs onto a Vrusk? If not can a synthetic version be made. When we meet up again, I'd be happy to pay for a preliminary report, a viable genetic sample for cloning the limb and basic specifications for the grafting operation. I could then take these to a good cloning lab and neuro-surgery clinic where the specialists should be able to make it happen. By the way, I made this up for you." Sni'ktl hands over a glowing digital letter of reference indicating that James McKilin is the best thing since sliced royal jelly and that anyone looking for medical staff would have to have lost all their marbles not to employ him in a very senior position.
Some time later, conversation after the mushrooms kick in becomes much less coherent. Sni'ktl hasn't been bound and gagged, yet!
"...and the whole myriad of consciousness is a swirling helix of coalescing and interconnected pan dimensional monads. A bit like how the cream goes when you stir it into coffee...."
Boro partied hard, although not as hard as he used to. Just the same, it wasn't tame. The last tangible evidence that the group had that night of Boro's whereabouts was when he was seen stumbling away
"Yeah, who's coming to the RE" and then singing "I'd love to have a dwarfen spiit with Krypton, love to 'ave a spirritt or frrreee"
"Boy, that Borovski can drink!..." Having retired from the celebrations, xZot's mind wanders over the coming trek. "This distance could be covered more easily on mounts" xZot muses. "Mental note: Talk to the group about learning riding skills from the Ul-Mor" he thinks as he crashes into a slumber before he hits the bed.
The day after the celebration xZot approaches Siu-Ling,
"We are motivated to getting off this world and, with your help, maybe we'll be off sooner than later. Are you interested in coming with us? It looks like we'll be moving on in a couple of days. We could use your knowledge and skills, we don't have anything more to offer but the lure of adventure, and of course the thought of getting paid when we get back." xZot looks over the rapidly changing facial expressions of Siu-Ling realising the he knows as much of the mannerisms of a human female as a Yazirian one. Her mannerisms indicate delight in hearing the Yazirians growls and bays, for it has been a long time indeed since she has heard the sound of other Frontiersmen's voices. She steps forth to xZot, baring her fangs as is customary for humans to do when expressing amicability and general well-being. Accepting the man's offering and welcome, she pats him on the left shoulder with the back of her hand, trying to recreate the standard greeting of gratitude as per the standards of his own civilisation. She turns to see the others. Some of them wave casually, nodding, while others tend to their interests elsewhere. Having been approached by xZot, the somewhat reclusive human stays close to him, being careful to not stand out as she has with the Ul-Mor for so long. It's a good thing this group got here when it did, as she doesn't know how much longer she could've held up without others of her own kind. The primordial essence in every cell of her body is now resting, as her eyes study the other humans in the group.
"I for one am all for it." Sp'ock announces to Siu-Ling , "Welcome to the team. As a member of the security team you will have your chance to honourable combat against fearsome enemies, followed by a rather good memorial party. I have had a look at our marching order made some changes there subject to any objections."
Sp'ock approaches to begin his "Security Briefing" as he called it, with Siu-Ling
"How did you come to this planet?"
"My ship was ambushed when it arrived in the Zebulon system about a year ago. I escaped in a pod at that time and was found by the Ul-Mor in the desert."
"Do you have any idea where any of the pirate outposts are?"
"Got me, friend," she shrugs her shoulders as she answers the inquisitive Vrusk, playing with her own kneecap.
"How did you come to meet the Ul-Mor ?"
"Same way as you, it appears. One day, I got lost and was soon surrounded by a panorama of endless desert in every direction. By then I was so dehydrated that I lost my bearings, and must've wandered around for nearly two days until I passed out. When I woke up, I was in the custody of our hospitable brothers." She fidgets with an old detonator switch as she continues. Siu-Ling grooms her nails as she answers the eager questions of her new brethren. Becoming a member of their tribe upon completion of the Ritual with which you're all now intimately familiar. During my initiation, however, I witnessed the combat prowess of the four young Ul-Mor being initiated alongside me. Their multiple spear attacks were impressive, but alas," Siu-Ling's tone tends to resemble Athru's at times, due to the long duration of her stay with the Ul-Mor. "One of the young males was killed and several others wounded, as was I." The others in the group widen their eyes and optic nerves as the Ul-Mor-literate human shows off a quickdeath-fashioned battle scar on her left hip. "The current ritual involving Quickdeath's, as you all know by now, is an honour and a tribute of prestige placed upon those who are invited to undertake it. We Ul-Mor consider this a great blessing." She appears somewhat zealous when it comes to the ways of these telepathic nomads.
"You brothers, sisters, and idsters--are the only Frontier beings I have seen since I crash landed. My adopting tribe, the Clan Njb'mni, led me to the Clan Athru to watch the Ritual. Upon seeing you, feelings that I'd been suppressing even memories of New Pale came back to me like a flash. Njb'aari, the Clan Chieftain, suggested that I should go with your group, though he stressed that none of us should forget the Ul-Mor ways." Receiving some polite agreement, and perhaps some candid disagreement from the group, she looks up to the sky and finds a familiar star. "Truane," she says. "That used to be home." A few others nod and shiver affirmatively. "But now Volturnus is our mother earth."
"Tell me of your nest, the stillness and the light?" asks Sp'ock
"No idea of what you're talking about. Now you're just making crazy talk." During the evening, Siu-Ling spends her time talking to the others in the group. Though she tries to emit gestures that show her openness to everyone by default, she quickly closes up to any overly inquisitive "characters". Perhaps it is the high tide season with her, or perhaps this is a self preservation mechanism that sets in after a year of being stranded from what one once called civilisation.
"I see by your hands," Sp'ock indicates the calluses along the sides of the palm, the knuckles, etc. "These suggest your train as I in unarmed combat. It would be interesting to test oneself against a fellow adept." Looking rather sceptically at the soft framed human "Female apparently? I have trouble telling them apart."
"You're on, fella," she says as she grabs the Laser pistol hanging from Sp'ock's belt. Sp'ock immediately assumes a martial arts fighting stance but before he can strike, Siu-Ling attacks, penetrating his defences and landing and open handed blow to Sp'ock's side. He inclines his head acknowledging the hu'mans feat and counter attacks landing a similar, harder blow to Siu-Ling's side. Both combatants step back and bow to each other, Siu-Ling rubbing her side thinking that Sp'ock's strength certainly makes up for her faster speed and his superior skill definitely tips the balance in his favour
"Like Gloo here. See? He's a sport!" Sp'ock has obviously taken the challenge in the spirit intended and returns to the celebration.
"Some of these guys like to party! I better talk to Sni'ktl later about those 'shrooms he was offering around. I thought that they were for Medicinal purposes?!" thinks xZot out loud
For the next couple of days, Gloo, Con, Raid and Jaguar rest and recuperate as their wounds are treated and they recover some strength
"I think that if there is party agreement, we should levy a charge against all those group members continuing on and offer Raid a credit note to be redeemed when we return or paid directly into his Pan Galactic account." announces xZot
"You troops who've decided to stay behind have my respect for the contribution you've each provided and for your decision but if there is an issue of payment to be resolved lets settle it now" declares Borovski and Sp'ock agrees
"I am also willing to put in for the holoscreen, could be very handy."
"I agree that we may need the holoscreen and I'll put in a share." says Gloo. With no objections, xZot drafts a basic credit transfer document, keeps a copy and gives the original to Raid, authorising a 200 credit transfer from the 10 remaining team members to Raid Array's account which he duly accepts.
Later again, after discussing the riding option with everyone, xZot pipes up
"Anyway I was thinking, those two loper cubs that have been following us around, I wonder whether the Ul-Mor would consider a trade with them for some Tomar's Horses? It will really help our scouting potential, particularly in the open like this. At worst, I guess they could be loaded up."
"Grand idea," comments Siu-Ling. "Lacking a ninth tentacle, I myself have never been able to attain mastery in keeping the beasts under my heel. I have, however, come across these jackasses you described" She inhales, recalling and then telling the group a tale of a previous encounter with some of the beasts. "They take kindly to a sister with a ready supply of skraak-tree berries, or that's what I call 'em anyway. Oh," she then catches herself almost forgetting the important part. "Be careful not to get your hand too close to their mouth, or you'll experience Quickdeath nostalgia. These jackal mammals are as carnivorous as a human in heat."
Leading xZot across the Ul-Mor encampment Siu-Ling points out several of the animals to xZot.
"According to my polyvox translation, the Ul-Mor call these Tomar's Horses. I think To-Mar was a legendary Ul-Mor warrior that could ride anything with less legs than he had! Horses seems to be another translation of Loper, they seem to have a broad term for beasts of burden. I feel that the Lopers would have a better life here with more of their own. We cannot communicate with these creatures the Ul-Mor do, and this will always mean that they will never know the pleasure of a proper rider...never finding their true Oneness...."
Catching the xZot's attention, Siu-Ling warns her brethren to stay perfectly still as an Ul-Mor warrior, mounted on a Loper leads over several of the strange looking horses. "If we incite a stampede, we're done for. They're great pack hunters, too, which indicates that their social structure is hierarchical. That means they can be easily broken," postulates the human, revealing a rudimentary knowledge of non sentient psychology. "Like any other domesticated animal, we place ourselves at the top of the hierarchy, and rest our legs a bit." Siu-Ling demonstrates her prowess by leaping on the back of the creature, and using a primitive rope harness and saddle blanket, rides around the Loper and horse compound. Following agreement for his approach xZot, with Sni'ktl's diplomatic aid and Siu-Ling's experience, negotiates a trade with the Ul-Mor. Siu-Ling has been gifted with the male Tomar's Horse she now rides and in exchange for the valuable Loper cubs the team is provided with a breeding mare with a rope harness and blanket saddle. They also offer you enough water skins to provide 3 days water for both jackal-horses.
Frontier Date 63.051Pf +49
Two days later, Con appears to have assumed command of the group staying behind and before the main group moves out he requests 2 Water Packs for each of his men informs xZot of his plans. When the wounded have recovered sufficiently, they will cross the burning lands, back to the Oasis to the south and rest up some more before moving to the Oasis south east of Crisbel's Arch. From there he will try to gather more intelligence from other Ul-Mor tribes about the desert in that area.
"We will leave records of our discoveries in caches at both oases. We have another 45 days before relief is supposed to leave Truane's Star to pick us up. If we don't see you again by then, we will head back to the crash site of our lifeboat and hope they can find us. Good luck on your end" he says and shakes xZot's hand, waving to the rest of the team as they join the Ul-Mor and head off south across the Burning Lands once more.
Whilst journeying with the Ul-Mor across the burning lands, through the caves and over the desert, Sni'ktl continues to develop his relationship with Athru and tries to fathom whether the Ul-Mor have a concept of 'psychoanalysis' but to no avail. The Ul-Mor have no understanding of a concept that is totally alien to their primitive society. Sni'ktl engages in as much mind talk as possible with the Ul-Mor to learn how their mind to mind communication affects their concept of ego etc, and to trade ideas about consciousness and the psyche. He also learns that this mind communication is not a mental discipline that can be learned by Frontier races. He spends much time exploring the mental boundaries in mind communication with willing Ul-Mor partners, experimenting with open sharing of self, mental blocking, and projecting back though the mind link into the Ul-Mor psyche. Sni'ktl is stunned at the scope for mental communication.
"If only this technique were possible for all races, we could solve many of societies worst problems but alas it appears to require the biological interface of their ninth tentacle. We are One"
The journey to the Kurabanda village will be made in three stages. The Ul-Mor escort the party from The Place of True Warriors to the oasis on the south side of the Burning Lands. The party is guided through the caverns beneath the Burning Lands, as well as through the Burning Lands, a journey that takes 12 days with no unusual or life threatening encounters. The Ul-Mor will escort the party in the second stage of the journey from the oasis to the edge of the shard grass plains. The route goes southeast from the oasis, then straight east, then northeast to the edge of the shard grass plains. This part of the journey will take eight and one half days.
Frontier Date 63.036Pf +64
On the third evening of this section of the journey, OMAC has a close encounter with a Funnel Worm, when the desert sand suddenly opens up under him whilst he is in the left flanking position. Remembering the previous encounter with one of these creatures, OMAC dives away from the centre of the pit opening up below him. As he tries scrambling away from the worm it rears up and lunges at him, grabbing his leg in it's pincers (8 point to OMAC and his suit). OMAC twists and stabs into the worms body with his spear (14 points) as the rest of the team rush to his help and mounted Ul-Mor close excitedly on the scene. He stabs again but misses as the Worm closes its jaws on his leg (10 points to suit, 11 to OMAC). Boro, Gleep and Crisbel arrive along with four Ul-Mor warriors thrusting and stabbing at the Funnel Worm, it lets out a shriek, drops OMAC and disappears back under the sand. OMAC shrugs off the wounds, though spectacular he can still walk and refuses medical attention.
"I can look after this for now" he says as he applies an antiseptic and some plastiflesh "Let's keep going"
Frontier Date 63.034Pf +66
On the fifth day of travelling across the desert, the team and their Ul-Mor guides are forced to take shelter during another of the Volturnus sand storms, the storm blows over that same day and the column of travellers continue for another two days. The third stage of the journey requires crossing the shard grass plains in the directions indicated by the Ul-Mor. The Ul-Mor will not accompany the party on this part of the journey, and the party will have to choose its own direction across the plain. Athru and his Ul-Mor have led you to the edge of a great plain covered with a strange looking grass. Athru now tells you that he and his followers are needed elsewhere. He says that the Kurabanda can be found by travelling across the plain in an east-northeast direction. He wishes you luck and bids you farewell.
The shard grass grows to a height of 1-1.5 meters and has a glasslike sheath around the main stalk. This sheath is razor sharp. The shard grass is extremely dense. Movement through it even if party members use knives or improvised machetes to cut a path, is at the rate of only four kilometres per day and is likely to be painful.
Frontier Date 63.031Pf +69
Borovski awakened from a comatose state with the most incredible backache after crash landing upon his resting place in a unsightly ending to his celebrations. He pondered over how he, of the Dralasite race, complete with the capability to physically modify body shape, could still find it near impossible to get a good nights sleep on this planet. Preferring not to not to engage in any physical activity due to the somewhat jaded feeling the celebrations hold over him, Boro commenced training with Thrown Weapons and at xZot's recommendation, persisted in trying to attain the Riding ability. His training regimen whilst travelling with the Ul-Mor was hugely successful, impressing the Ul-Mor with his natural gift for riding a Loper. Boro approached xZot about securing a mount for the journey and with Siu-Ling and Sni'ktl's aid xZot managed to trade the two Loper cubs for a full-grown Loper instead of a Tomar's Horse.
On the day of our encounter with the Funnel Worm, Siu-Ling took her spear and stabbed at the small crater left behind by the beast, emitting a few battle cries after the vermin disappeared, eliciting some strange looks from the other team members at her 'Ul-Mor like' behaviour.
Sni'ktl, clicks to himself in satisfaction thinking back to when he trained in Enviro Science with Raid and McKilin. In the end he hadn't needed to offer any credits at all to them to acquire an Enviro-kit. Happy to pay up to twice the going rate to McKilin or Raid for this item, Sni'ktl easily persuaded them to hand over one of the kits he now reached for and began gathering data on the Shard Grass.
Getting used to her new mount, Siu-Ling names her Tomar's horse "Nounouche" [pronounced noo-NOOSH], which means 'beast of great spirit, noble mannerisms, and stout appetite' in the concise human dialect common in New Pale.
"Damn, riding those creatures is a lot harder than I expected." curses xZot "A couple of times there I was lucky I could utilise those gliding techniques or the landings could have been painful!" Continuing to begrudgingly respect these creatures, xZot is forced to except the fact that, at least for the moment, he will have to continue to walk. "Two feet and a heartbeat is all I need." xZot reminds himself as he nurses his bruised ego.
"Anybody have a spare gun? I'm pretty good with projectile weapons." Siu-Ling asks. OMAC shakes his head
"We only have my pistol" he taps the autopistol jammed into his belt "and GleepGlooup's gyrojet pistol. There might be a spare laser Pistol, check with Borovski, he is Quarter Master"
"Do we have any reason to deviate from this east-northeast path?" Siu-Ling asks xZot, who appears to be in charge. "If not, I suggest we waste no time, as this place looks as though it would be far less hospitable by night."
"None that I can see Siu-Ling, the horizon doesn't contain any features to indicate what's ahead. I think the quicker we cross the better. I was thinking of crossing these plains in a single-file formation. I thought that this might reduce the chance of being cut to pieces. What do the rest of you think? I think that no matter what formation we adopt, we are going to receive at least some damage from the glass shards. Maybe the Vrusk exoskeleton will offer some protection and therefore should lead? Also, if this travel will takes a number of days, then I think we might need to look at rotating the lead character to spread this initial damage around. With a mounted character in the group, presumably near the front, we should have the benefit of a little extra height to survey our surrounds from and this should reduce the risk of being surprised. Although, to anything in our path, a group of characters moving across a grass plain should stick out like the proverbial dog's balls!"
Sni'ktl hears xZot suggest that the Vrusks take the lead through the glass plains. While Sni'ktl's skin is thick, the shards of glass look nasty enough to cause him trouble.
"Hold on there xZot" says Sni'ktl, "what about your metal pal here. He's not done much for us yet. I imagine his bulk and tracks would do a fine job of breaking through the glass fronds. I seem to recall that he's a dab hand with a broom too, so he could clear the broken shards form the floor. He can work while most of us rest with one or two of us making sure he doesn't get into too much trouble. Point him in the right direction and we can follow at a leisurely pace. Surely the robot is the best trailblazer through the shard grass. We could have one team on a shift baby-sitting it while one other team rests and one keeps watch at the camp and another produces water and hunts food."
Siu-Ling, eager to train Nounouche to hunt with her on his back, agrees to rotate the lead position with xZot's robot.
"If we encounter small animals, I will either try to train Nounouche to hunt with me on his back, or simply let him chase the creature on his own." Siu-Ling confides to xZot. She goes great lengths to understand the jackal-horse and attempts to form a bond with the animal but eventually decides to simply let him chase the creatures on his own when she realises that she lacks the required Animal Training skills.
"I wholeheartedly support training these creatures." responds the team Commander. "If no one else is successful in riding this spare horse, I was thinking of trying to train it to scout, hunt, find water, or something else other than just using it as a pack horse. We have the robot for this at the moment."
"Brother Athru," Siu-Ling calls out to the Clan leader, speaking to him in words. "I bid you my thanks for your guidance, in the temporal as in the spiritual. May your skin be smooth, and your mind at peace. Will you link with me once more before parting?"
Sni'ktl Scratches. The area on his head where talking tentacles once connected itches as the Ul-Mor depart. Sni'ktl feels separation pangs and an instinct to follow the Ul-Mor caravan. He analyses these feelings and reminds himself that his compatriots are also ONE. He makes a note to meditate on these feelings later so that he can come to terms with separation from the tribal core.
"Hey I wonder whether that shard grass could be employed as a thrown weapon, mmmmmm..." muses Borovski, then "Bloody oath get that rust ridden bucket of bolts in here to clear a path and did anyone ask the Ul-Mor if they knew how far these plains went for? Four kilometers per day could take a while."
"The Ul-Mor method for marking time seems a bit vague by Frontier standards" answers "Siu-Ling apparently it's a bit longer than a week but not as long as a month if I understand correctly."
As the group makes its way through the punishing shard grass, Siu-Ling alternates between riding her Tomar's horse, Nounouche and walking alongside it, gently pulling it by a rudimentary bridle fashioned of a form of local leather, in the traditional Ul-Mor weaving custom. She approaches Borovski on one occasion and asks him,
"So what's your story, brother?" In addition to reacting to her teammate's anecdote, she also attempts to engage in a conversation about the supernatural.
"It is that great Oneness that is both the end and the means for us Ul-Mor." Those in the group less affected by the Ul-Mor experience begin to perceive Siu-Ling as a bit extreme in her assimilation to Ul-Mor norms. "She's gone native," says one Frontiersman to another towards the far end of the formation. She occasionally tries to spear small animals inhabiting the grasses and feeds them to Nounouche, preferring to eat vegetables when available.
Sni'ktl spends much of the first day travelling tending minor cuts and scrapes inflicted on the various team members, Siu-Ling takes a rather nasty fall in the afternoon, injuring herself and her mount (9 points each). Sni'ktl informs her of the teams depleted medical supplies but is forced to use a dose of biocort on Gloo when he stands on a sliver of shard grass and the wound badly impedes his ability to keep up with the rest of the team. The robot and Borovski's Loper mount also suffer the depredations of the shard grass (10 points to robot and 9 points to Loper).
Toward the afternoon of the first day's march through the shard grass plains, you push aside and work through the next strands of the shard grass, you see a clearing before you. The shard grass has been completely flattened, as if by a huge weight. There are broken shards all over the ground and a few stalks as well. This clearing is about 6 meters wide, and extends in two directions like a corridor through the shard grass. As one direction is East-North East, the team turns in that direction. Movement along the path is at a much greater pace and no damage is suffered for moving along the path. The paths themselves are not perfectly straight, they in fact are several little paths that wander through the grass in the same general direction.
Frontier Date 63.030Pf +70
The next day, the team quickly covers 8 kilometres before lunch when the track takes a turn to the southeast and xZot calls a conference to decide the best course of action. Movement along the paths is much faster and less harmful but now the track turns south instead of north.
"...oops, sorry Gloo, that was a geoprobe, not a dralasite aqueous pressure monitor." Sni'ktl tries to keep on top of things. Treating scratches here, testing shard glass there.
"Hmmm. I like the fact that in these flattened areas that we can pick up the speed a bit, the sooner we cross the better I will feel. However, I am a little concerned at the thought of what might have made these paths. I mean, anything that makes these shard plains it's home must be tough." xZot pauses as he pulls another small shard from his hide, "While the path went the way we wanted to go, it was too convenient to pass up but now I am not sure it is still worth following. Who knows where it goes? If we stay on this path we are bound to meet whatever made it. Personally, I think it might be better if we blaze our own trail and continue the most direct route even though this will be slow going. What about the rest of you, what do you think? Sni'ktl, can you tell anything from the crushed shards? Any indication if it was some sort of animal that created these paths and whether the paths were formed recently?"
When xZot asks Sni'ktl about the paths Sni'ktl realises it is important for team moral to gain some confidence in understanding their situation.
"Yes xZot the paths... of course I'll get on it right away, that should be straightforward." Sni'ktl ponders the situation. It could be a migratory herd of glass grazers or a path cleared by machines. Perhaps the circular area is a landing pad, it could be ritual form of clearing undertaken by the local natives or it could be natural phenomena. Sni'ktl names this phenomena the Cullet Circles for now. Sni'ktl runs tests on the crushed glass, scanning around for bio residues. Hoping to assess whether the glass is broken in an even mechanical pattern he measures the straightness of the paths and when all else fails, puts his ear to the ground as Raid taught him that this makes it look like you know what you're doing. He reports his findings to xZot.
Careful to keep her wounded mount calm, Siu-Ling moves the animal to the back of the formation and walks alongside it, keeping its thirst well quenched while petting it. She has taken it upon herself to try to train this creature.
"Who's your mamma, Nounouche," Sni'ktl overhears Siu-Ling asking the beast as it bares its fangs in a carefree smile, panting patiently while looking down at the shards of grass beneath its hooves. Realising this could be projection of human mothering instinct Sni'ktl tests his hypothesis
"How's your bubba goin' there Siu-Ling? I could put a bit of plastiflesh on to cover 'Nouche's wounds if you can settle him down for me."
"That'd be great, partner!" Siu-Ling expresses her appreciation for her teammate's gesture.
Once the plastiflesh is applied, Sni'ktl talks more with Siu-Ling endeavouring to establish a baseline psychological profile for future reference. He also establishes that Siu-Ling's psyche includes a strong notion of being a markswoman. Knowing better than to dismiss this as human-female organ envy Sni'ktl concludes that it would help Siu-Ling's integration to the group if she were better able to play a role in line with her persona - even if not directly in line with her skills. Sni'ktl is also feeling a bit guilty about giving Siu-Ling mushrooms without explaining the likely effects.
"Siu-Ling, you are clearly more used to using ranged weapons than I, and I am having enough trouble lugging two tech kits around." Sni'ktl offers Siu-Ling his laser pistol "Please take this, every time I use it I seem to make an impressive scar in the landscape but I achieve precious little else. I'm afraid its batteries are a bit low, you should ask Borovski for some more of those power pack thingies."
"Now you're talking!" says the enthusiastic human, somewhat squealing as she marvels at the shine of the plastimetal handle. Almost immediately, she turns to Boro and bums a spare clip from her new chum. A deafening silence falls over the group. Quickly xZot continues
"OK, maybe we should continue down this path for a bit, at least until tonight. We can re-assess the situation then. Being able to travel much faster in these paths means we can double back if we need to and not lose a lot of time. And of course, this will be much less painful". xZot glances around studying the faces of the others, yazirian humour is sometime lost on the unprepared. Looking briefly at the sky and then back to his chronocom xZot continues
"At least we should know how far off course we are and as long as we stay alert for whatever made these paths, we should be fine." Almost without thought xZot's hand brushes his pistol; the charge is low, he knows every shot will have to count.
"Our directions from the Ul-Mor were general at best, but we should be alert for ambush. Despite what Sni'ktl thinks, I'm not sure this is a natural formation."
Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch.
Everyone's nerves are on edge as the team progresses round the pathways. xZot has asked everyone to be alert, but what for? Sni'ktl has heard of strange phenomena of this type in folk myth. The human Crop Circles associated with the cult of the Led Zeppelin. The yazirian Cloud tunnels, dralasite slime bud streams and of course the vrusk Royal Jelly fissures. Perhaps that is why everyone is so silent.
Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch.
Sni'ktl remains silent too. Waiting for whatever awaits us around the next bend. He continues studying the shard grass and the pathways for any clues. The soil type underlying is sandy, the shard grass appears to very efficient in it's water gathering and usage, growing thicker in some places and thinner in others probably like most plains grass types.
Movement along the path is much faster and no damage is suffered by team members whilst moving along such paths. Shortly after lunch Borovski calls over the chronocom from his position atop his Loper mount. "Looks like something up ahead a couple hundred metres I think." Sp'ock signals to Crisbel to take the point position. The Yazirian quickly moves off down the track, flicking the power switch on the Holoscreen and blending into the surrounding terrain. Only the occasional shimmer of the Holofield betrays his position as he moves down the path. A short time later he reappears and reports that a small herd of 15 strange looking, elephant sized creatures appear to be grazing along the path.
Excited at the prospect of confirming some of his new theories, Sni'ktl suggests observing the creatures for a short time from a distance rather than turn back straightaway. After an hour or so of observation it becomes obvious that the creatures are indeed large herbivores with an unusual 'steam roller' type organ. This organ is actually a huge, cylindrical, hide covered mass of bane and cartilage attached to two frontal limbs by ball and socket joints. The organ is used to crush the shard grass on which the creature feeds. The mouth of the creature is located on its underside. The crushed shards from the digestible shoots of grass are sucked up into this mouth. The animal has four normal limbs used for locomotion. The two eyes of the creature are located on the head near the large ears. The head does not have a mouth. The animal also has a thick hide that protects it from being cut by shard grass.
Over the past hour it has also become apparent that the herd is grazing in a generally northeastern direction and whilst they are travelling slower than the team along a cleared path, this pace is definitely faster than cutting a new path through the shard grass, and much less painful.
For the last three evenings, Siu-Ling has been spending her sunsets in prayer, engulfed in the experience of reflection and meditation on the Grandeur of the One. In full lotus, the agile swan-woman hides her eyes under the ebony hair that falls from her down turned face as air flows freely and evenly through her respiratory system. The chirping of lil'uns, little brothers, members of the One, all of them, part of the greater thing of which all is made. She opens her eyes, the twilight sky before her. The darkening of the sky on Volturnus is by far the most spectacular wonder of the Frontier by her reckoning. She ponders on her situation. Days ago she was among her kind; never had she felt a part of something more than then. Now, she'd found camaraderie with these fellows admittedly, drunks, 'shroomers, twisters, tweakers, gobliners, poppers, and strut-heads--and with Nounouche, who is quite a gentleman once you get to know him.
Siu-Ling cautions against clearing our own trail.
"At the rate at which we were going before, we'd never get out of this damned growth. What's our bearing? Who's got a compass on 'em?"
"No, I don't have the compass, who's got it?" answers Crisbel.
The agitated human rests her spear on her foot, looking around her. Readying her new pistol, Siu-Ling double checks its loaded clip and hooks her spear onto Nounouche's harness, keeping an eye out in all directions from time to time. If need be, she whispers to the jackal-horse to soothe its nerves, seeking a position near the front of the group in case the critter decides to sprint out of a stampede's way.
"Just like I said, a natural phenomena!" says Sni'ktl, keen to reassure the team that someone knows something about this alien environment. He consults his compass, the one item in the envirokit he is fairly confident about using.
"Looks like they're going our way too."
Crisbel sits down to remove the pieces of shards from his feet, which he obtained during his reconnaissance. Sni'ktl notices this
"Hey Crisbel do you need me to give your feet some attention", Crisbel replies
"No thanks Sni'ktl, I'm tough, I can handle it. Why did you give your weapon to Sui-Ling? I suppose anyone can shoot better than you even though she is female"
"OK so OMAC the hero doesn't need medical attention and can shoot straighter than a pulsar flume. Well I gave her the laser pistol so I wouldn't have to shoot you with it next time I find you slacking on the medical roster. Thank you for your feedback though medic."
"xZot," suggests Crisbel "As the creatures have a thick hide, maybe we could shoot one of them and make some sort of boots out of the skin to protect our feet, that way we would be able to make our own direct track. Otherwise we could somehow round them up like cattle and force them to move the direction we need to go."
Nounouche growls occasionally at the sound of the rollers' stomps.
"Easy, young one," she says to the two-year-old adult, offering it a small drink from the animal's designated canteen.
Sni'ktl commences a study of the "Drum-Nosed Glasers". In addition to basic records for DNR, food value, adaptability etc Taking particular note of how they choose a direction to move in. Is there a bull that guides the herd? It would appear so based on initial observations. Do they follow contours? Do they change direction due to noises? These questions can only be answered with time. Although the herd is currently headed in a convenient direction, Sni'ktl would like to be able to correct their course if they veer off, hopefully without starting a stampede. Sni'ktl asks Siu-Ling for her help with the study. Of all the party, she seems to have the best affinity for animals.
"Although you may want to leave Nounouche with the party when we go closer since he looks like he would love to exercise his hunter instincts on this mob."
"I don't think a single Tomar's Horse would have a chance in the world against those critters." Replies Siu-Ling, glad to be of help to Sni'ktl. "Let me know what you need. Nounouche's actions are beyond my control, but I will try to keep him safe and calm if possible."
Sni'ktl reports the findings to xZot and recommends that the herd be left alone as much as possible so they don't stampede. He also makes plans to adjust the herd direction if needed, e.g. throwing rocks off to one side, moving Nounouche downwind, sending a person around with a holoscreen to make flickering effects or sending the robot round one side based on what he and Siu-Ling determine will gently encourage a direction change.
"I recall during early training in the psychology of herding worker drones," states the Vrusk "while some of the principles may apply to the Drum-Nosed Glaser it is unlikely that electro-prodding and Queen endorphin sprays would work in this case."
xZot peeks around a column of shard grass at the Rollers (or are they Drum-Nosed Glasers? Jeez, make him an Environmentalist and he goes around and names everything!). After studying the creatures for a few moments, xZot turns back to Sni'ktl
"I think you're right Snik, the longer these creature head in the direction we wish to go, the safer it will be for us. I must admit though, I'd like to see these things stampede! Ha, can you imagine that! " Noting the vrusk equivalent of a scowl cross Sni'ktl's face xZot quickly moves to correct himself. "Of course, they'd be no use to use if they stampeded off in the wrong direction I know but it would be a sight to see is all I'm saying."
The team trudges on through the stands of shard grass, gathering samples and data for Sni'ktl and making notes on xZot's roughly sketched map. Later that day, in the early evening; xZot, having done his best to spruce up the ration meal that now sits heavily in his stomach, reflects on the day's events.
"It is unfortunate that we have little fresh produce at our dispose, just these dried rations. I always think that the calming effect of digestion is not as effective with processed foods as with a freshly prepared meal, even though they may both provided the same nutritional intake." xZot speculates "I wonder what nutritional value this glass-grass has to sustain a creature of that size?"
Sni'ktl's Personal Log
"I think the stress of being science officer and chief medical officer is getting to me. I snapped at OMAC today. I miss McKilin, he was always very pro-active with the medical care. Now with OMAC as my only assistant I am learning that I have to give clear military style orders or nothing gets done."
xZot had previously noted that Sui-Ling has been very quiet, glancing at her now he sees the distant look on her face. xZot's own brief association with the Ul-Mor is still fresh in him memory and reflecting on this, he has some insight into the feeling of separation that must now plague her mind. Endeavouring to comfort Sui-ling as best he can, xZot makes his way over to the edge of the camp when she had taken up a position close to her mount. As xZot approaches he studies the Nounouche for signs of his current disposition, whilst failing in his attempt to ride a Tomar's Horse, xZot is nonetheless still respectful of these creatures; failure to take caution around any animal of this size would be foolish.
"Sui-Ling, you have been very quiet? Are you unwell? I can appreciate how you must feel since the separation from your surrogate clan, the Ul-Mor are a highly organised race with refined communication skills; Look around at us," xZot motions around at the other member of the group "we can't offer those things but we have good people, some a little strange maybe, but good all the same. There are two things about us you can count on, we're committed to each other and we're committed to getting off this planet."
"Thanks, xZot. I appreciate the welcome. The last few days have been quite trying, though, my brother. Oh, and the name's Siu-Ling, not Sui-Ling. The last sap that called me that got a rush-service frag-grenade enema."
"Err, sorry about that Siu-Ling. I have a bit of a habit of slurring and my Pan Galactic can be a little rough at the best of times." xZot attempts to cover his mistake. "I know what it can be like, I regularly remind people that the "x" is silent. In my younger days back on Hentz, the bullies taunted me about my name and played their regular game of 'Let's snot xZot!' Children can be so cruel."
Siu-Ling puts her hairless hand on xZot's furred shoulder and responds,
"Hey, not a problem. Actually, my name's not Pan Galactic; it's a pre-colonial human name. Back in New Pale, there was a fairly anti-integrationist sentiment in the human community, so we were never given Pan-Galèzè names, as the planetary dialect calls them." She admires the grain of the Yazirian's membranes and comments, "You know what'd look stabbin' on those? Maybe some tats. You ever thought of piercing them right here?" Siu-Ling points to the top of the left membrane, near the group leader's cuff. "Sometimes I wish I were yazirian, but it's enough being Ul-Mor."
"Yes I think Tat's and piercing would look good on xZot." mutters Sni'ktl to himself "I would do it myself except I think OMAC may have more experience in that area."
xZot hopes his gesture of reassurance is not misinterpreted as pep talks were never his strong point. Seeking to lighten the mood
"You might not understand why our Chief Medical Officer advocates his dried fungi at parties but you weren't there at the last party when Gloo and Borovski regaled us with the Dral equivalent of singing followed by a flatulence competition! Or was it the other way around? I couldn't really tell." xZot is still chuckling to himself as he makes his way back to his position
"Yes, we are a strange lot now that I think about itů"
Frontier Date 63.029Pf +71
One day after first encountering the rollers, the team encounters a herd of 50 spitters (Spitters are reptilian herbivores found in herds on the shard grass plains of Volturnus. The creatures feed on the grass by shooting a stream of highly corrosive acid from their mouths. This acid breaks down the hard outer shells of the shard grass in a few seconds. The spitter can then eat the shard grass safely. The spitter's thick hide protects it from being cut by shard grass grazing in a large clearing. The ground of the clearing is covered with the acid used by spitters to dissolve the shards on shard grass.) The spitters are grazing peacefully.
Rather than risk another incident or further injury to his team members, xZot orders the scouts to take their time and pick the widest, safest path around the spitter herd (or whatever name Sni'ktl is likely to quickly label these beast with!). Careful positioning of both Boro's Loper and Nounouche further help in keeping a safe distance between both the BHG and the spitter herd.
Frontier Date 63.028Pf +72
Early in the morning, two days after encountering the roller herd, they change direction and head due north, but there in front of you, continuing east and northeast is another, older roller path. With the path no longer blocked by a roller herd, you again pick up speed across the plains. Travelling at more than 20 kilometres for the next two days until the path eventually peters out and you are once again forced to hack your way through the shard grass with machetes. Two more days of struggling over the shard plains, Sni'ktl and OMAC are kept bust tending minor cuts and scratches. Everyone is once again subject to the vicious cuts to some degree and several Skiensuits are threadbare. Gloo is struggling to keep pace as his wounds seep and ooze.
Frontier Date 63.024Pf +76
At last you can see before you the dense forest spoken of by the Ul-Mor as the home of the Kurabanda. The trees are huge, often 50 meters tall. The trees have broad, flat limbs from which sprout tendrils and smaller roots, that anchor the trees to the ground far below. At ground level the roots and tendrils of the trees are so tangled together that it is impossible to pass between the trees.
As you work your way through the last patches of shard grass barring your way to the edge of the forest, you see the searing blast of a laser pistol and hear a scream of agony! Immediately the air is filled with the sounds of battle coming from the trees directly ahead of you. As you look around, high in the trees you see the body of what appears to be a monkey fall from one of the trees to the ground far below. Among the many shouts and screams, you hear a deep voice rasping,
"Take that, you furry little creep." The voice comes from a Human who is standing high in the trees near the spot where the monkey fell. Even at this distance, (about 10 meters) you can see that the Human bears the unmistakable red tattoo which indicates membership in the Star Devil's band of space pirates!
Siu-Ling, concerned to keep Nounouche out of harm's way, ushers him near a tree and tethers him to it. At a quick jog she moves to the pirates' left flank. With the laser pistol set to 5 SEU's, at which point, she pauses to see how the rest of the team deploys.
Boro dismounts and tethers his Loper to a nearby tree using it as a marker for his entry point on the pirates' right flank. He moves to ascend the tree via its vines utilising his three upper limbs to full benefit. Two pseudopods are wearing the shock gloves and the third holds his machete, the intention being to perform a surprise attack from behind without mercy on each individual enemy, proceeding in a northerly direction.
"It represents the best way of getting access to the friendlies so we can combine to rip off some pirates as far as I can see." Boro announces to none in particular.
"Oh dear, they're getting all excited again. A fire fight in the trees! Is it just me who thinks there's a few elements of risk here? There'll be tears before bedtime and a biocort bath to boot. I hope one of these pirates is toting a full medkit. OMAC you head up and look out for Gloo, he can't take much more damage, I'll stay on the ground in case anyone falls"
Sni'ktl tries enter the trees at ground level, below Borovski's position and quickly finds any movement impossible through the thick tangle of thorns, roots and branches. He actively avoids line of sight with pirates and tries to spend as much time as possible behind solid tree trunks. As he begins to climb into the trees, heading north west. He has biocort in one hand and a nightstick in the other.
Sp'ock quickly surveys the fight brewing in the trees over their heads. He hears Sni'ktl order OMAC to Gloo's assistance and adds
"A wise move, but OMAC if you would assist Gloo up into the trees at grid reference L17. There may be more pirates out here at ground level. Gloo is handy to have around, but we will require a medic more. Siu Ling once you have that horse under control, take Bruce with you and enter the trees at grid reference C17. From there you will climb to C15 where you should have clear sight of at least two hostiles. Bruce if you can keep any pirates from ambushing Siu Ling and see how you shape up as a sniper as well. If you draw too much fire fall back, your attack is a diversion anyway, do not risk unnecessary damage. Boro, you, me, Sni'ktl, and GleepGlooup will enter the trees at grid reference U17 and conduct a flanking move on these amateurs. We will climb up and move through to U12 where we will again climb up and move on to S12 and engage. The idea is to move as quickly as possible overwhelm the flank and nail their commander. We four will attempt to close and melee the left flank. Push them out of the trees and into the fire of the rest of you heroes." He points out xZot, Gloo, OMAC and Crisbel, "You guys will go in line abreast from L17. Climb up and into the treetops, move forward until you find a position to shoot from at take 'em on. Crisbel, you and xZot, if you will. As Yazirians you may want to explore the possibility of gliding to advance if needed? Keep your options loose. Stay focused and survive. That's the plan. Move out you apes!!"
Crisbel responds "Yes, Sp'ock I think I should enter at C17 and move ahead to C15 before Bruce and Siu Ling make a move as I can activate my Holoscreen and act as a scout for the both of them. Siu-Ling and Bruce, I'll move out ahead and report back to make sure there is no danger before you move forward."
xZot listens to Sp'ock's plan. Agreeing wholeheartedly, xZot turns to Sni'ktl and breathes a sigh of relief. "I recognize that this planet continues to affect us all but I was worried that Sp'ock's lapse into solitude may have affected his ability to fulfil the role of Military Commander. I'm glad to see that my fears were unfounded."
Seeing the wisdom of Crisbel's plan, Siu-Ling stops and waits for the scout to survey the situation, praying that the One keep them safe on this day. Siu-Ling agrees to the Holoscreen idea, and follows afterwards with a silent approach, still with the careful aim at 5 SEU per shot. Crisbel checks his gear ensuring his equipment is workable, he sharpens his machete against a rock, as it will be required to cut through any heavy vines. The big Yazirian activates the Holoscreen and makes his way through the trees using his wings to glide from tree to tree, branch to branch, vine to vine on his journey into the unknown pirate enemy territory. Climbing into the trees xZot looks around, seeing Kurabanda spread around on various limbs of this tree, he moves to position himself at the top of the tree on the right between two of the Kurabanda.
OMAC retrieves the bow and arrows from the fallen Kurabanda as he heads for the tree to take up a position between the two southern most Kurabanda warriors.
As the team climbs the first 10 metres into the trees the pirates and Kurabanda exchange fire. The Kurabanda on xZot's right hits one of the human pirates in the tree to his north with a well-aimed arrow. Both pirates in the north tree returns fir with laser pistols and miss. The Kurabanda to xZot's left puts an arrow into the tree near the Yazirian pirate and the next two Kurabanda fire at the Vrusk pirate, hitting him once. The three non-human pirates return fire but are all ineffective and both humans move east through their tree 10 metres. The Kurabanda warrior to the south then gives an amazing display of the creatures speed and agility through the Bachanda trees, darting and swinging south east down into the tree occupied by Sp'ock's squad and travelling a full 30 metres to the western edge of the tree. The pirate he's closing on draws a bead on one of the other Kurabanda in the tree with xZot's squad and shoots him with a laser pistol, wounding him and enraging the whole group. The two pirates to the north are keeping a low profile at the moment.
Bruce's judgement, climbing the first 10 meters is poor, a rotten branch snaps under his feet and he crashes back to the forest floor suffering some minor cuts and another tear in his almost useless skiensuit (5 points). The rest of the team have no problems climbing the first 10 metres clear of the thick undergrowth.
Sp'ock's squad reach the top of their tree after scaling 20 metres as the Star Devils and the Kurabanda keep up their duel. The four Kurabanda in the tree with xZot's team let fly another volley of arrows and the vrusk pirate is lightly wounded a second time. The Kurabanda to the south leaps across into the tree with the southern pirate and shoots him in the side at close range with an arrow. The pirate yelps in pain and fires back wildly in the direction of his attacker. The pirates in the central and north tree fire on the Kurabanda and the warrior to xZot's right takes a severe wound to the chest from a laser blast, almost knocking him out of the tree, fired by one of the humans in the north tree.
Just as Sp'ock's squad is about to move forward Borovski's branch gives way underneath him. He lashes out with his pseudopods grabbing wildly at the nearest object which unfortunately is one of Sni'ktl's feet, pulling him off balance. Not realising until it was too late, Borovski had grabbed hold of the hapless Vrusk with all his considerable strength and they both crash almost 20 meters through the branches to the mass of thorns and roots bellow (Boro 13 points, Snik 10 points - half to the suits). xZot's squad in the centre and Crisbel's squad on the right flank, continue their climb. Once again Bruce slips in the first 10 metres, this time on a wet branch, fortunately the result is not quit as painful (3 points).
Sp'ock and GleepGlooup begin moving through their tree and finding the going much easier moving sideways than upwards they head due west toward the Kurabanda and his human pirate opponent who both trade shots to no avail. Borovski and Sni'ktl untangle themselves and climb back into the tree, trapped amongst the under growth, there seems very little option but to get up at least 10 metres in order to be able to at least traverse somewhere. The other two squads head for the top of their trees while the battle rages on. The pirates blaze away with their laser pistols again, this time striking the Kurabanda in the centre and the wounded warrior again, this time in the leg.
The twice wounded monkey like warrior shouts in rage as he draws his bow and shoots another arrow into the wounded human pirate to his north. Then the pirate commander reaches the edge of the central tree, rips a grenade off his bandolier and hurls it toward the Kurabanda on xZot's left. Not recognizing the threat of a lobbed grenade, the Kurabanda ignores the missile that lands virtually at his feet and explodes, sending sticky tendrils in all directions and completely entangling the mystified Kurabanda warrior.
"C'mon lads, this is more fun than whipping the peanut heads, let's get some genuine Kurabanda fur raincoats!" The pirate leader laughs loudly and shouts out encouragement to his band of cut throats as he unslings the sonic disruptor he carries over his shoulder. While Crisbel climbs the uppermost section of his tree another rotten branch gives way under his weight but rather than fall, he glides west unseen under the Holoscreen and grabs hold of a lower branch at the edge of his tree (c 15). Siu Ling tentatively reaches the top and peers down at Bruce who just can't seem to get the knack of the whole climbing concept. Falling for a third time before the 10 metre mark and finally shredding the remnants of his skiensuit in the thorny undergrowth (14 points, 5 to the suit). xZot also has trouble with rotten branches, obviously a natural phenomena in these trees it would seem, and extracts himself from trouble by gliding to a branch at the edge of the tree 10 metres below and between the entangled Kurabanda and the wounded one.
"Friend, having a mutual enemy in these pirates we should work together to defeat them." xZot says to the wounded Kurabanda not knowing whether he is understood. OMAC and Gloo, deciding not to push their luck for now, begin traversing west rather than continue climbing and draw abreast with xZot, heading toward the western perimeter of their tree.
Still unseen by their pirate foes, although possibly heard with all the crashing about by falling Frontiersmen, the remaining members of the three squads aloft, travel west through the trees. Boro and Sni'ktl are now 10 metres behind and below Sp'ock and Gleep heading west. Crisbel has climbed across into the low tree in no mans land, Siu Ling is moving west at the top of her tree and Bruce has managed to get off the ground and reach a point still 20 metres below Siu Ling. The Kurabanda in front of Sp'ock's squad shoots his opponent again with another arrow and ducks back behind a tree branch avoiding the return fire. The three remaining Kurabanda in the central tree fire another volley of arrows and again the wounded one hits his target. The pirates return a salvo of laser blasts hitting the two Kurabanda warriors in the southern half of the central tree, the one in the middle is severely wounded and drops back from the edge of the tree.
Trying to reinforce his statement xZot draws his Pistol, turns the setting down to it's lowest, leans out of the tree and takes a shot across the lower trees at the Dralasite pirate in the tree opposite then ducks back into the tree for cover. At least xZot feels more at home in the trees, the advantages of nimble flight can really come into their own in an environment like this.
"Times like this I wish I had my Zamra with me." xZot's reference to the Yazirian duelling weapons of old, goes largely unrecognised.
Seeing the Kurabanda line begin to waver, the pirate leader, climbs down into the low tree between his position and the Kurabanda tree. He stops when he sees the telltale laser beam and spots xZot in the tree in front of him, bringing up the Sonic Disrupter to bear on xZot's position. OMAC and Gloo reach the tree line as the pirate spots xZot and both draw weapons.
"How many George's are there in this platoon?" OMAC asks as he holsters his Auto Pistol for later use and notches an arrow to his bowstring. Gloo unslings his Laser Rifle, flicks the setting to 4 looking around for possible targets.
Like all plans of action this one was only ever going to last until the first shot was fired, now comes the test of determination. Sp'ock's mind wanders back to his military theory classes at Kra K'ow induction centre for the military.
"You who aspire to leadership in the military, and thus to the company will be trained here. Not only to plan the death of your opponents in large numbers. But, what to do when your plans fall apart because of a woeful lack of co-operation by the enemy."
Sp'ock just wished that he had paid attention instead of daydreaming about the female in the hyper cubicle in front of him. "Could have learned something useful. But, what the hey!" Flicking on his chronocom
"Whoever that is firing from the centre. Keep low, you are the net we want to push these guys into, not an assault group. Keep them focused on you, but if the neighbourhood gets to hot fall back drag them after you, we'll collapse their flanks either way."
"Confidence. Command must be confident at all times." Sp'ock fingers the useless laser pistol on his hip, eyeing Boro to see how he his shaping up. Like a barrel with evil intent at this time. Good. He casts a look at Sni'ktl and Gleep. Moving okay.
"Damn the movement rate, three trees ahead.!" Why anyone would find this encouraging is strange, but silence will be vital soon and the instructor did mention something about gung ho type pronouncements he thinks to himself as he continues moving west. The soft zap of laser can be heard in the distance to Crisbel's left.
"xZot must have contact over there I hope they're alright" As Crisbel perches on a branch sipping the water from a groove in one of the small branches above his head, he tries to contain himself from bursting into fits of laughter after watching Bruce fall from a wet rotten branch only to fall smack bang on to a lower branch landing in the straddle position directly on his gonads.
"Heyaar, eheh Bruce Mate, are eheh you alright?" Crisbel chuckles to Bruce over the chronocom "I will be in a couple of minutes I just need to rest for a minute." Crisbel tries to sound genuine "Do you want me to come down from here and give you a few lessons on climbing?" Bruce embarrassed from his actions replies
"No, I'll be right thanks Crisbel, I'll be right in a couple of minutes. Thanks for your concern." he grimaces and once again slips on a mossy section of tree trunk as he fails to get into the tree branches. Crisbel laughs again to himself and remaining under his Holoscreen, moves carefully toward his unsuspecting target in the tree ahead.
OMAC draws back his bowstring and unable to get a clear shot at the pirate leader, takes a shot at the Vrusk pirate, embedding his arrow in the tree trunk by the pirate's head.
Her initial intention was to shoot down pirates from the ground, and then detain them if they were still alive by the time they hit the ground, but the thick undergrowth frustrated Siu Ling's. Given her current position, she reassesses her priorities.
"Not falling!" She mutters to herself as she goes through a mental checklist. Avoiding Kurabanda attackers, especially if we are perceived as aggressors, since they probably cannot tell us apart from the pirates yet. Hitting the closest pirate with 5 standard energy units' worth of laser per carefully aimed shot, until the target is either dead or otherwise disabled. Switching to another pirate until all hostiles are eliminated. Getting back down to the ground. She moves west through the tree in support of Crisbel.
As xZot ducks back into the tree he notices what he recognises as the Pirate leader climbing out to the smaller tree below him.
"Maybe I should have waited until the others were in position, but it's too late now." The resulting re-assessment of the situation triggers xZot's body to attempt a Battle Rage. Looking around in his tree for some backup, xZot surveys the wounded Kurabanda around him "This doesn't look good. Hmm." He sees Gloo and OMAC firing from their positions.
"Is that a bow OMAC is using? The guy's gone feral! And hey, I'm no George in this jungle, Tonto!" Activating his chronocom he signals to Gloo "I think I need you to rain some of your fire-power down on their leader if you are in position Gloo, I don't like the look of that thing he is pointing at me! Maybe we can turn the tables quickly and put them on the defensive if we can drop this guy now." xZot turn's his attention to the leader below him. Seeing that he is somewhat out on a limb, so to speak, xZot points his pistol at the brazen pirate leader and opens fire again, shooting a few leaves and little else. Gloo's shot with the laser rifle is more effective and he scores a hit on the pirate leader and immediately brings an involuntary groan as the telltale flicker of an Albedo Screen shows around the now grinning pirate (25 points to screen).
The wounded Kurabanda to xZot's right launches another arrow and again strikes his human target but all other 3 remaining Kurabanda miss their marks.
"Thanks Boro, I really needed a shortcut to ground level" says Sni'ktl as he makes his way back up the tree. Sni'ktl moves through the lower branches continuing with Sp'ock's flanking party. Having given his blaster away, Sni'ktl is ready to help where he can with first aid and as a last resort with his nightstick. Sni'ktl is most amused by the chrono-banter coming from the northern party. He speculates that their humour may be due to the odds they in particular face and the fact that they have no medic.
"No George's here only us monsters he replies" his humour completely lost on most of the party. "Anyone got any solvaway to free the monkey men? They are probably more useful than us in these trees."
Suddenly another blast of laser fire spews from the trees occupied by the pirates and OMAC grunts as he is singed by a laser blast (11 points) and almost looses his grip on the tree branch. The pirate leader continues his maniacal laugh as he continues to close the gap between himself and his prey.
"Well boys, looks like we just scored our bonus this month. They look like our runaways hiding with the monkeys" he calls out to the rest of the pirates and is answered with several cries of encouragement.
Wrapping his legs around the branch he sits on for support, OMAC draws his bow again and lets fly too hastily, missing his target. Crisbel draws a bead on the human pirate in tree ahead of him and prays that Siu Ling is in position. He slowly squeezes the trigger and releases 3 SEU's from the clip at point blank range and is rewarded with a scream (14 points). Keeping her eye on the same Star Devil thug, Siu-Ling aims with her newly acquired pistol and delivers a single shot in the ruffian's direction (27 points). Surprised and severely injured the pirate blazes away and manages to accidentally hit Crisbel (15 points) whom he hadn't even seen under the Holoscreen. Shocked by the blast, Crisbel is barely able to grab at the tree trunk in time to stop himself falling into the tangled mess below.
Sp'ock and his team continue their flanking manoeuvre, closing in on the unsuspecting pirate locked in a shoot out with one of the remaining Kurabanda warriors. Gloo empties his rifle clip at the leader, striking the tree trunk instead and xZot pops off another shot into the same tree. The pirate leader howls in excitement as he levels his Disrupter at xZot and pulls the trigger. At 10 meters range, the sonic weapon tears at xZot's molecules, almost boiling his internals (14 points) and xZot almost feints from the pain. Fortunately most of the pirates are now changing clips allowing Sp'ock's team a little more time to get in position. The Kurabanda fire another volley of arrows but most of the pirates are out of sight behind trunks and branches reloading.
A few seconds later, Siu Ling repeats the firing process satisfied with the thump as the pirate falls to Volturnus' surface at considerable velocity. Crisbel makes a gesture to Sui-Ling to make a move up closer to him. Siu-Ling acknowledges however, that she is reluctant to move as she does not feel comfortable up in the trees.
"Siu Ling, I know you want to keep on the ground but it's to thick to get through down there, I don't think my machete will cut it, literally! At least up here we can move quicker and have a better line of shot, maybe you and Bruce should stick to the lower branches, so if you fall you won't get injured as bad, Hey Bruce, Ha Ha.' Bruce looks up, failing to see the funny side of Crisbel's' humour as he begins to move westward along the branches.
xZot and Gloo continue to engage leader, amazingly both xZot and Gloo light up the Albedo Screen this time (34 points to screen) OMAC and the Kurabanda continue firing arrows and mostly just keeping down pirate heads as they return fire with more blaster fire, wounding two of the Kurabanda again, the leader actually shooting the entangled warrior.
OMAC, ignoring the chatter around him, draws his bow and fires another shot at the Vrusk pirate. Three of the pirates in tree opposite return fire at OMAC and he grunts in pain as another blast sears his chest almost driving him out of the tree. Barely clinging to consciousness he drops his bow and reaches for his autopistol, a cold glint in his eye.
The pirate nearest the fallen Star Devil sees Siu-Ling's second blast and begins moving north to investigate as Crisbel, remaining cloaked by the Holoscreen, climbs into the tree recently vacated by his pirate victim. Suddenly the curious pirate calls out a warning to his fellow rogues.
"Hey! There's someone back here with a Holoscreen! Watch your backs!" The two pirates in the tree south of Siu-Ling and Bruce, hearing the warning, turn and start moving north. Bruce decides to push his luck and climb upwards to meet the new threat closing in on Siu-Ling's position. From her perch at the top of the same tree,
Siu-Ling sights the pirate alerted by her shooting and squeezes off another shot, frowning to herself when the shot goes low and the pirate leers back at her.
"I can't take damage like some of the others" xZot thinks to himself "I'm not that healthy to start with! And I underestimated the speed at which their Leader moves." Turning around xZot dives to the east, allowing his wing like flaps to fill with air as he glides away from the Leader and down to the ground near the robot. Looking for cover, xZot listens to the chronocom for indications of the status of the north and south groups moving around behind the pirates. He sees Juramanu, the entangled Kurabanda, twist his head toward Ermorada, the leader of the Kurabanda, and calls out something in their language. After a quick exchange, Ermorada calls out to the other Kurabanda who immediately break off their attack and move back for shelter from the Pirates withering fire. The Dralasite pirate fires another blast into Juramaru and the Kurabanda goes limp in the tangler threads. The pirate leader laughs again.
"We got 'em on the run" he howls and fires his Disruptor at the limp form of Juramaru, killing the helpless creature. Having temporarily drawn the enemies fire, xZot retreats back into the tree for cover.
"When we close the gate on these guys, its going to be a blast fest!" The thought of battle makes xZot's heart race as he feels the lust of battle rage building inside him. The merciless slaughter of the brave but helpless Kurabanda warrior seems to have been the trigger to unleash xZot's primitive ancestry, the yazirian Battle Rage quickly consumes him as he turns to climb back into the tree.
"Hey, you guys should stop hiding behind that limp-dick with the Screen! And hey, why has he got that power cable stuck up his butt! He looks like a Glam-Girl!" yells xZot, making reference to the transsexual dance troop often referred to as "The Robutts". Mumbling to himself "I really hate the smell of burning hair, especially my own..."
Realizing the futility of using his Laser rifle on an Albedo Screen, Gloo swaps to his Sonic Stunner and pops a quick shot at the Disruptor toting pirate leader, missing completely.
Sp'ock and his squad having climbed into the tree occupied by the pirate on the right flank, continue closing in on their unsuspecting target as his attention is drawn away by the withdrawing Kurabanda.
"Looks like they are bugging out over here too." The pirate calls out to his leader as he advances after the retreating Kurabanda.
OMAC swings up his autopistol, still unable to get a clear shot at the pirate leader he aims for the closest target, the Yazirian pirate, firing a burst that slams into Yazirian, severely wounding him and driving him under cover. The other three pirates in the central tree fire again at xZot and OMAC but score no hits. Gloo fires a second shot with his sonic stunner, this one more accurate, unfortunately "Swag" Raston shrugs off the effects of the stunner and returns fire at Gloo with his sonic disruptor. Gloo takes the beam full in the chest and all but collapses as his internals are torn apart by the sonic pulse. xZot, hearing the cries of his companions but seeing only red, keeps climbing toward the pirate leader. The Kurabanda stop and stare at the Yazirian as he surges back toward the battle, then turn back themselves, spurred on by shouts from their comrade who watches as Sp'ock squad enters the fray.
Having seen the pirate in front of him advance after the Kurabanda Sp'ock decides to continue his flanking movement ordering Gleep, Boro and Sni'ktl to neutralize the pirate and catch up to him as soon as possible. GleepGlooup complies by swinging around a tree branch, spear in hand, thrusting at the surprised pirate. The spear penetrates the pirates side and he cries out in pain and shock. Sni'ktl moves to follow Sp'ock, confident that the dralasites will account for their opponent. As if reading Sni'ktl's mind, Boro reaches Gleep's side grabs hold of the pirate with the pseudo pods wearing the shock gloves and discharges the gloves, then strikes downward with the machete in his third pseudo pod cutting down the pirate.
Hoping to draw his opponent away from Siu-Ling, Crisbel moves west through his tree, cursing the give away shimmer of the Holoscreen but the pirate ignores Crisbel's shadowy form now that he has spotted the female figure of Siu-Ling. He raises his laser pistol as Siu-Ling empties her clip into the tree over his head, he fires but Siu-Ling ducks aside and the beam zaps harmlessly by her head. Bruce continues his careful ascent, reaching the branches safely beside Siu-Ling. He draws his laser pistol and hands it to Siu-Ling
"Here, looks like you know how to handle one of these better than I do." Before Siu-Ling can respond he turns to engage the approaching pirates, spear in hand.
"Crisbel" OMAC calls over his chronocom "Get that Yazirian trying to bug out, we need their ammo!" then realizing the seriousness of Gloo's predicament, he moves to Gloo's side, blazing away at "Swag" Raston with the rest of his clip. Despite his grievous injuries OMAC's accuracy seems unaffected and for the first time, "Swag" reels under a hail of bullets. The three Kurabanda also fire a volley of arrows at the pirate commander from his flank distracting him as Gloo pulls the trigger again on his Sonic Stunner and the injured pirate falls unconscious from his perch to the forest floor below. xZot, consumed by his Battle Rage continues climbing to the top of the tree, memories of his Zamra contests as a youth flooding back as he prepares to glide once more into battle.
Crossing from his flanking position into the tree just behind the pirate firing at Siu-Ling, Crisbel swears as OMAC's voice comes booming out of her chronocom and the pirate turns to seek her out. Having lost the element of surprise, but hoping the Holoscreen will give him those extra couple of seconds, Crisbel fingers his pistol to maximum setting and fires at his foe just as the pirate makes out his shimmering outline. The Star Devil was dead before he even felt the hole burned clean through his chest by Crisbel's blaster, toppling into the tangled shrubs below. Siu-Ling takes the offered pistol from Bruce and takes aim at the pirate closing on Bruce just in time to see Bruce take a hit from a laser beam in the side. Siu-Ling fires and misses but as the pirate ducks aside Bruce lunges forward and stabs him in the leg with his spear.
Sp'ock urged his squad on, trying to get behind the main group of pirates before they spot his command, Sni'ktl close behind him followed by Boro and GleepGlooup. Two of the pirates in the centre spot GleepGlooup moving through the tree to their south and open fire at him. He avoids any injury but the Dralasite pirate manages to get a clear line of sight on Kurmanada, one of the Kurabanda, and shots him out of the tree. The poor warrior never even seeing his killer.
Realizing that they have been outflanked and having suddenly lost four of their number, including their leader, the pirates in the central tree turn tail and run. The two pirates to the north are now engaged with Siu-Ling and Bruce who both hit their attackers Siu-Ling with the pistol borrowed from Bruce and Bruce stabs again with his spear. Seeing the extent of Gloo's wounds and suddenly feeling his own, OMAC decides to use the last two doses of biocort on each of them as the rest of the team deals with the remaining pirates.
Crisbel manages to swoop around and catch the fleeing, wounded Yazirian unaware, finishing him with a blow with a machete. Bruce also stops his attacker with another spear thrust and Siu-Ling, switching to her spear once the pirate gets close, manages to get a thrust between his ribs although not before taking another blast from the pirates laser pistol. The Dralasite, the Vrusk and one of the Human pirates manage to escape and disappear into the dense forest.
As the sounds of combat die down and the dust settles, xZot glances around at the trees conducting a quick head count.
"So much for not getting injured." Mutters xZot, relieved to see everyone has survived another battle with these pirates. Siu-Ling moves to untie Nounouche and soothe the poor lad as soon as the pirates start to escape. She does not mount the Tomar's horse, but rather leads it by its bridle for now as she moves to search the dead pirates clothing for ammo and other goods.
"They may have healing powders, or something like that, we can tell them." After quickly searching the bodies of the pirates the team collects their loot.
"Here is a complete list of everything useable from the dead pirates." Reports Borovski "1 x sonic disruptor, 1 x frag Grenade, 1 x albedo screen, 1 x power beltpack 22 SEU, 6 x laser pistols, SEU clip 20 charges x 2, SEU clip 16 charges x 4, SEU clip 12 charges x 2" GleepGlooup returns to the collected loot. Looking over the loot, xZot reaches down and grabs the Albedo Screen and Power Beltpack that charges it. Donning the equipment he grins
"There has got to be some benefits in being the leader around here."
"For the first few days," Sni'ktl suggests "the most wounded character should get the screen. Otherwise, please no-one take any more damage!"
"That there sonic disruptor looks like a mean piece of equipment" announces Gleep "that and 2 clips would be good." He says, eyeing the new weaponry, then hefting the sonic disruptor checking it's weight and sights. He checks that the clip loaded is fully charged and collects the other full clip as well, daring anyone to challenge his selection. xZot watches GleepGlooup eye off the sonic disruptor and then hefting it around.
"You know Gleep that you are not even properly trained to use a Beam weapon like that." xZot stares into GleepGlooup's black eyespots reminding him that the Gang's survival takes priority here "Not to put too fine a point on it but you should stand in line, bud. Your opinion is noted and summarily overruled. There's a few others with Beam skills in the Gang already, notably Gloo and Crisbel are the most experienced. Gloo has the rifle at the moment so I'm leaning towards giving it to Crisbel. Based on the carnage that he dished out just a few moments ago, I expect he will put it to good use! Maybe you should grab a couple of pistols from the pile and get some tuition from some of the others. If you acquire the skill, then maybe we can talk about the disruptor later. Grab those couple of fully charged SEU clips though, you might need those extra charges as you get used to the new pistols. How many pseudo pods do you usually have anyway? I think the other SEU clips should be split up with the four 16 charge clips going to Sp'ock, Gloo, Crisbel and Siu-Ling and the two 12 charge ones going to Crisbel and Siu-Ling as spares. Gloo you should also grab the spare clip off Borovski, you probably need it more than anyone just at the moment. If no one else wants a pistol, then Siu-Ling you are more than welcome to carry the rest. Remember, they are part of the Gang's loot to be sold and broken up later if not required before we get off this world; but I'll be betting that they'll look better on you than on anyone else! Let me put it this way, I don't think anyone would hassle you while your packin' that many pistols!"
"Thanks, xZot!" says Siu-Ling "I'll be glad to carry those guns, and yes, as our Ul-Mor brethren have taught us, there is no sense in considering any of this private property, as we are all part of the One."
"Wot no Medkit!" exclaims Sni'ktl looking over the Star Devil plunder. Sni'ktl looks again specifically in case a med-kit has fallen in the undergrowth or under a body. "Siu-Ling," he calls out to the human female "would you mind if I carry a laser pistol and a clip, the one with 12 charges in?"
"Why, certainly! Help yourself," she offers. "I'm only carrying these to stay in shape. The weight helps my muscles to stay toned. We humans are prone to obesity, particularly down here," she pats her left ass cheek and smiles, handing the vrusk a well crafted pistol.
The fight is over. The surviving Kurabanda approach the party cautiously, with weapons at the ready. You see that they are monkey like folk with furry torsos, who stand 1.5 meters tall. Each of them is wearing some type of amulet or necklace. They are extremely cautious, but not hostile. The Kurabanda stare in stony silence at the party for several minutes, studying their appearance and equipment, but without touching anything.
"Oh well at least this new lot don't seem to be trying to kill us yet." Sni'ktl observes the Kurabanda and endeavours to smooth the way during interactions with the party. The Kurabanda stare in stony silence at the party for several minutes, studying their appearance and equipment, but without touching anything. The silence is broken by OMAC standing over the body of "Swag" Raston
"What the fuck are you looking at?" as he pockets the frag grenade hanging from the now dead pirates' belt. "Well that's your last fall out of the ugly tree, loser." After retrieving his expended arrows OMAC sets about cleaning his auto pistol and loading his last few rounds muttering to himself. "Ya know, they should do a Holo Vid on me, 'cause I'm so fuckin' good!"
Watching the Kurabanda take up positions in the trees around them xZot is careful not to give these creatures a reason to now turn on us. Carefully controlling his now subsiding battle rage xZot listens to Ermorada speak. xZot indicates to Sni'ktl to respond on behalf of the group, deferring to his diplomatic expertise. Maintaining his grim stoic appearance, xZot hopes that the Gang's help in saving Kurabanda lives is evidence enough to buy us some respect.
"Why don't we offer the beasts to be slaughtered for a feast in honour of the Kurabanda warriors?" says Gleep "We can't take them with us anyway, we might as well get some use out of them while we can." Totally uncaring to Siu-Ling's distressed state, "It's us or them!"
Holding back a reflex like urge to grab the dralasite and offer id to the Kurabanda as a sacrifice, Siu-Ling manages to control her primate instincts and tries to appeal to the sentient's sense of compassion.
"Brother, have you learned nothing from the Ul-Mor? These 'beasts' are part of the One, just as we are. To slaughter them would be to surrender to the darkest lusts of our unenlightened origins. If and when the day comes that we return to the 'civilized' worlds whence we came, we shall again be surrounded by the permacrete walls of the endless prisons we call cities, and the invisible perimeters we call borders, and..." Her soft tone trails off as she places a five-fingered hand on the semi-morphous dudeling. "I'm sure these animists can be reasoned with," she adds, sighing, somehow not fully believing her own words.
Finally one of them speaks! In Pan Galactic! In the stunned silence that follows, movement in the surrounding trees announces the arrival of more Kurabanda, more than dozen more warriors have arrived and although not appearing hostile, have taken up positions all around the Black Hand Gang.
"Who you?" asks Ermorada, the Kurabanda in charge. Pausing for a nod from xZot, Sni'ktl replies slowly
"We are the enemy of your enemy."
"Why you come?"
"We are stranded here after a fight with the Star Devils." Answers Sni'ktl, this time noticing that Ermorada isn't addressing him directly but looking towards xZot for his answer. Sni'ktl quickly recalls some basic lessons from his youth whilst training in Psycho Therapy and decides to take an obviously secondary position behind xZot's shoulder, answering on his behalf
"Where you come from?"
"We come from above the trees, above the sky and from a place where people work together to fight a common foe. Take us to your leader". The Kurabanda seem slightly miffed at the alien looking Vrusk's mention of a place above the trees, a concept they are obviously not familiar with but seem to accept his answer none the less. Turning back to xZot, Sni'ktl suggests
"xZot, whatever else we take, I suggest we bring along the Star Devil patches from these pirates" suggests Sni'ktl.
"Yeah these might come in mighty handy" says OMAC as he cuts loose the Star Devil patch from the pirate leaders vest and stuffs it in his pocket.
"Also, make sure we get all those patches and any other distinguishing items from the pirates." xZot orders the rest of the team. After receiving satisfactory answers to his questions Ermorada simply states
"You come with us now."
When it is clear that Ermorada is satisfied with your 'credentials xZot assembles everyone to prepare for the trek. The thick undergrowth means moving through the Bachanda Tree branches and that means leaving behind the recently acquired mounts as well as the maintenance robot.
"It is a pity to have to leave the robot and mounts behind. The 'bot is carrying a lot of our stuff that we are now going that have to spread around all of us." xZot continues "Maybe we can program it to clean for the Kurabanda? It is not going to be doing much else otherwise and I could use the training. If only we had the time..."
At an opportune time xZot approaches Sni'ktl to talk to Siu-Ling about Nounouche and to comfort her about her loss, wouldn't want anything rash happening now would we. The Kurabanda attitude towards the mounts and robots is of indifference, simply not an issue they have ever had to deal with. They don't seem to understand any emotional attachment to these things and quite happily will leave the mounts behind but their actions insist on all the team members accompanying them to their village. xZot powers down the robot as Siu-Ling bids a teary farewell to Nounouche, being the typical human that she is, before setting him loose to find his own way back to the desert and hopefully, his herd. The slim human straps two laser pistols to her hip belt, and puts the other two in her bag to carry. Making sure that she has at least one pistol loaded, she changes the SEU setting to 3 and tries to keep up with the others, avoiding contact with the Kurabanda ushers.
Sni'ktl's further attempts at communication are stifled as the Kurabanda show no interest in conversation during the trip through the tree branches. Sni'ktl notes the discipline of the Kurabanda culture and concludes that the Kurabanda have a culture not dissimilar to human feudal cultures of the first eon.
"xZot, it would seem that our new friends are a highly structured parochial culture." Sni'ktl informs xZot of his early findings. "I would like to ensure that we do not arrive at the point of a spear." Through his empathy with the warriors, comprehension and darned good manners, Sni'ktl ensures that the Kurabanda see in the party, all they would expect in a party of visiting dignitaries. Warriors walking proud and tall (with the aid of anaesthetic, plastiflesh and stimulants), xZot the leader etc. Not having any objections to the proposed plan, Gleep follows Sni'ktl's lead on the journey back to the Kurabanda village.
Ermorada, the wounded warriors and the new arrivals then escort you several kilometres through the forest to their village. Built in the tree tops, it consists of about 50 huts, open buildings of various types and one Long House. The team is escorted to a hut with several bow armed Kurabanda standing guard. During the entire trip and their short stay in the hut none of the Kurabanda will engage the team in any sort of conversation. Female Kurabanda bring water and some roasted meat and a Kurabanda shaman arrives to perform a strange ceremony.
Sni'ktl observes the Kurabanda for any evidence of medical ability. How do they treat wounded? When the Shaman enters your hut later at the village and conducts his ceremony Gleep suggests to Sni'ktl that this is probably their version of "E.R." the weekly Holo series.
After a five hour wait, you are taken to a large open platform, built on several bachanda branches. You see that there are several hundred Kurabanda gathered in almost silent attention in two large groups, one on each side of the platform. Many are warriors, but there are also women and children. You are led by two guards through the centre of this crowd toward a large chair in the front centre of the platform. Seated on this chair is an obviously old Kurabanda. He is resplendent in a head-dress made of hundreds of coloured feathers, and his chest is covered with at least a dozen amulets, pendants and other pieces of jewellery. His chair has numerous little wooden idols carved in the sides and at the top. Around him are a dozen female Kurabanda.
Entering the Court of the Kurabanda King Sni'ktl notices the architecture, the display of military power, and above all the body language of the "king" and his attendants. The Black Hand Gang stride victoriously down the carpet. As the party stop at the appointed distance from the king, xZot throws down the Star Devil patches torn from the clothing of the dead pirates. In very broken Pan Galactic, the King begins asking a series of questions, waiting for a full answer before moving on to his next question
"Who you?" Sni'ktl's responses use his new found empathy for the Kurabanda and his Vruskian comprehension to dress his responses with the tones and body language expected by the Kurabanda.
"We are the enemy of your enemy." Says Sni'ktl as he spits on the Star Devil Patches.
"What you do in forest?"
"Our brothers among the Ul-Mor told us of the Kurabanda in the forest and that you may seek allies against the Star Devils.
"Where you come from?"
"We come from above the trees, and above the sky from a place called outer space." Siu Ling steps up beside Sni'ktl adding a spiritual angle as only she can.
"We are brothers, all of us, born and hatched of different mothers, but sharing a common bond". Sni'ktl continues
"What you want? Why fight the Demon from the Sky?"
"We are a scouting party come to see what happened to a previous scouting party. The Star Devils must have them. We have seen the bravery of your warriors and have fought alongside them. We honour those who have died in fighting the Star Devils." The warriors amongst the Black Hand Gang show their deep respect for the fallen Kurabanda with a military salute. Sni'ktl concludes
"We need to get back to our friends above the sky so they can come and help us wreak justice on the Star Devils. Our interests are as one if you would see the Star Devils banished not just from the jungle but from the whole world."
Auramanda, the Kurabanda Chieftain, orders a large feast to be given in honour of the party. He presents party members with small gifts (large gifts would be considered insulting) and gives them the freedom of the village. During the feast he also reveals that there were two other people like the party members, who once stayed with the Kurabanda but were captured in a raid several weeks ago by the "Demons from the sky." Auramanda tells the party that the two others are being held prisoner in a "Demon" outpost, and will offer the party a guide to take them to the outpost should they wish to rescue their friends.
Over the course of your stay with the Kurabanda, Sni'ktl undertakes a detailed study of their culture, excited by the prospect of dealing with a second sentient race on this unique planet. During the following days all the team members at one time or another are subjected to the Kurabanda penchant for practical jokes. Their "Snipe Hunt" gag lasts an entire day and by sunset has involved the entire team and a fair portion of the local population.
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