(13) Gorram Strikes Back

The Mora Campaign (289-1119)

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289-1119 : Gorram / Lunion / Spinward Marches

    The Marquis Marcus Crestworthy asks the anthropologists what they need next.  They respond that they want to see something that's evidence of applied intelligence -- despite the readings from the NAS, there's been no visible signs that these creatures are actually intelligent at all.
    Given that the natives already have discovered the presence of the Imperials, they had just as well get all the information they can.  Further violation of the Red Zone seem rather insignificant.
    Attempts to communicate have of course so far failed... there's presumably a flashlight in a plastic box still down there somewhere, but that didn't establish any sort of dialog.  The main problem is that anytime they stop nearby, they get attacked.
    The Marquis suggests leaving them some sort of animal, as a peace offering or something.  This is a popular idea -- a hunting trip is clearly called for.  They can go shoot a herbivore (a small one, says Vonish Kehnaan) and deliver it to the village.

    Marquis Marc assembles an away team.  Akim Gavrolovitch with his sniper rifle is the obvious person to do the shooting -- he can do that in safety from the rear airlock of the gcarrier.  David Markland, the HMS Third Eye's Chief Engineer, will get his first off-ship mission as the gravcraft driver.  Robert Morris will run the densitometer -- they'll make a run over the other village (location B) on this mission too.  The senior anthropologist will run the Neural Activity Sensor for that same run.
    Sagan asks if the humans will have the same problems with brain swelling as the crew on previous missions did.  Marc implies that they might have less problems this time because it's warmer.
    The away team has three tasks: to survey village B; to hunt just north of B; to swing by location C (the Donsharid landing site) on the way to village A to drop off the dead animal.

    David backs the gcarrier flawlessly out of the vehicle bay, and takes it down to the planet.
    Robert sets up a tight-beam relay link to maintain contact with the Third Eye.
    Akim quietly cleans his gun in the back of the craft, adjusting his sights to allow for the local gravity of 0.41.
    Sagan, with Marc's permission, accompanies the mission too.  Sie is carrying hir pistol -- up to now it's been stored in the Third Eye's armory.

    The village is a little inland from the coast.  They'll make an approach over the sea, and thence inland to the village.  The pass over the village is at local dusk, to fit in with their hunting plans.  Speed will be less than 5kph at 100m.

    David skims the gcarrier over the sea, crests the coastline and head in towards the village.
    The ground around here is rough and broken.  The coast is sharp and rugged.  Small spiky vegetation grows in scattered clumps.

    The reaction at this village is quite different from the other one.  Several creatures are coming out from under the doorways to look at the gcarrier.  While this village looks much the same, the huts are a little taller, and the entrances are a little taller too.  The creatures are 1-1.5m long -- shorter and fatter -- but still have the snake-like head and many small limbs of the others.  They are moving with their front section upright (or rather, S-like) over their body, and moving on the last three or so pairs of limbs.  There's no sign of clothing, but some of them are carrying objects -- sticks, rocks.
    As the gcarrier continues to make the pass, more of the creatures come out to watch.  The anthropologist operating the NAS says that they are indeed Intelligent.  Marquis Marc orders a second pass over the village to improve the accuracy of the data, and then to go off hunting.

Private Conversation between David and Marc
(Referee and those players only)

    The sensor passes complete, David swings the gcarrier off towards the other village... but first, some hunting on the way...
    They head about 100km east of the village.  The land here is still broken, with ravines and gullies cutting through it.  They're looking for an animal, perhaps like one that they observed the other natives hunting.
    Soon, they spot one of the exact same conical beasts.  It too is around 200kg, but it doesn't look that tough.  It should be easy meat for Akim's sniper rifle.
    It's moving down a ravine.  They watch it for a while.  It just continues to move slowly down the ravine. It's somewhat conical with a tail, and ignores them while moving along.  It's pinkish, but this has a slightly deeper brown than the one that the natives hunted.

    Akim prepares his gear and moves back to the rear airlock.  He hooks himself on with a safety cable, cycles the airlock, and looks out on the surface of Gorram.
    He won't be able to get a long distance shot because of the jagged course of the ravine.  He'll have to shoot at around 100-150m range.
    It's no problem for Akim shooting this thing.  His shots plow into the pink body.  It stops moving, and flicks its tail around vigorously.  Akim keeps shooting, targetting different locations in search of the brain.  It continues to thrash around as he pumps even more shots into it.  His knowledge of biology doesn't help him predict where to shoot.  Perhaps he needs to get closer.
    "Pilot," Akim calls back to David, "Bring me closer."
    "Oops!" says David.  He backs the gcarrier closer, but rather closer than he'd intended.
    Akim watches as they close on the beast, wondering whether to pull out his sword.  When he's about 5m away, it's clear that this is not a good situation.  He grabs his sniper rifle and fires the remaining six rounds into the creature, shooting from the hip.
    The creature's tail whips towards Akim as he hammers it with bullets.  The opening of the gcarrier protects Akim somewhat, but the beast packs a heavy punch.  The tail slams him into the side of the airlock as he empties the rifle's clip.  The last thing he remembers as he slips into unconsciousness is a sharp pain in his leg as the last sniper round destroys his own knee.  The sound of the shot echoes from the rough Gorram terrain.
    From the cabin, they hear the gun discharge, hear a loud bang as something hits the gcarrier and slews it to the side, and through the rear camera they see the creature collapse to the ground.

    "Akim?  Akim?" Robert gets no answer.  His console shows that Akim's link has broken at the survivalist's end.
    David parks the gcarrier as Robert dashes back to the airlock.  He hits the interior door release and there's a rush of air as the gravcraft vents into the thin Gorram atmosphere.
    Akim is badly hurt.  There's blood all over the airlock, and his right leg is missing just above the knee.
    Robert hauls him into the main compartment.  To his untrained eye, Akim looks dead.
    "Akim's bought it!" calls Robert to the Third Eye.  "There's blood everywhere.  His leg's gone!"
    "Did the monster kill Akim?" asks Helia Sarina.
    "Looks like it.  Can the Doc help at all?"
    Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead says he needs Akim here on ship, now preferably.
    Mich asks the Marquis if he is permitted to get more power out of the engines.  Marquis Marc declines.
    Helia flicks the controls, flips the Third Eye upside down for negative aerolift, and hammers into the atmosphere towards the gcarrier at the far side of the planet.  At a full 2g, even under Helia's expert hands, it'll take almost 20 minutes to rendezvous.  Of course closing speed will be horrendous, but the Marquis trusts his pilot to match speed when they get there.  His pilot is playing with her yo-yo while making the most of the airframe configuration in the atmosphere.
    Helia flips the Third Eye around, and the gcarrier slips into the vehicle bay.
    The emergency medical team, lead by Baron Bridgehead, is ready to meet them.  He rushes in to examine Akim.
    "He's dead," says the Baron.  "Let me see what I can do."  But it's no good.  It's been too long, and with only TL15 equipment available there's no way to drag him back to life.  Akim is dead.
    And they don't even have the animal carcass.

    The crew is stunned.  The Marquis considers rethinking strategy.  David goes off to get drunk.  Jenny starts cleaning up the blood and gets started on the minor repairs needed to the gcarrier.  Vonish starts preparing a meal for the wake.
    Akim had not recorded a religious preference when he joined the Extraordinary Circumstances.  It looks like the Conspiracy won in the end.  Nobody actually saw him die, after all...

    The Marquis is very reserved at the wake.  The other noble, Baron Bridgehead, has never been reserved when alcohol is concerned, and helps ensure an appropriate wake for the 41 year old conspiracy-survivalist author from Capon.  Vonish's meal is truly superb.  It's a good send-off.

    Marquis Marcus Crestworthy, as Captain of the HMS Third Eye, makes a small quiet speech in remembrance of Akim.  He hits the switch.  With a puff of air, the body of Akim Gavrolovitch drifts away from the ship and towards cremation as he enters the atmosphere.