Chapter 7: Phaon
(Prologue: Obviously I failed to communicate that
Ballynena is a very small village, numbering only just under a hundred occupants.
Obviously, there are limitations as to what can be bought or sold in such
a locale. Two major developments have occured, or failed to occur. The party
has been unsuccessful in trying to relieve themselves of the ground car.
Also, combining the sum of party funds, plus funds that Bug has donated,
everyone is now outfitted with a sleeping bag, framepack and thermal blanket
as well as food, and water. Much of the equipment is obviously used and
not in the best of shape. Also, Bug has bought a local topographical map,
and a water purification kit, assuming water can be found enroute to be
made us of. Assume that all travel debts have been taken out of party funds.
All character cash holdings are at this point brought down to zero. Electronic
credit holdings are unaffected nor are they able to be accessed as Ballynena
has only one credit transfer machine, and it is malfunctioning.)
Raymont sat down next to Solo, obviously tired and fatigued from the heat.
Joe was not far behind.
"It was a wash," he told Solo.
"Damn," Solo muttered. "What are we going to do with the
"Obvious," Raymont told him. "We drive it until it stops
or stalls, then we dump it."
Joe came up to the two of them. He could guess what they were talking about.
"Well, at least I tried," he told them.
Solo scowled, chewing on a piece of sweetroot as if it were a cigar.
Raymont, without asking, grabbed Solo's glass and drank the full measure
of its contents. Sighing, he leaned his head back, wiping the glass across
"Dia, it's hot here."
Bug and Thorn dragged their goods back to the inn. Thorn was dying for a
drink and Bug was positively cooking.
Seeing them, Jessine came out to help.
"Where did you get this stuff?" Jessine asked.
"We took the party funds and bought it," Thorn told her. "You
can thank Bug for throwing in what else was needed.
"How much do we have left?" Jessine asked.
"Give me a break," Thorn sneered. "It took everything we
had, plus our bargaining for two hours to get just this much.
Jessine looked the stuff over.
"Some of this looks pretty used," she said suspiciously.
Thorn glared at her. "You want to complain or do you want to help?"
Jessine shook her head, and without any further talking, the three of them
finished carrying the supplies back to the inn.
Having gotten out the last of their equipment, Joe closed the rear hatch
of the groundcar. The rest of the party members squeezed out of the right-hand
side of the vehicle. The left side was so dented now that the doors wouldn't
open. While the others set about gathering branches, Bug, who was last out
of the groundcar, sagged against one of the wheels.
"And I thought the bus was crowded," he wheezed.
"Well, that's the last of it," Jessine reassured him. "From
now on we walk."
"How long is it now?" Leon asked, heaving what looked like an
incredibly heavy log against the right side of the car.
Solo raised his hand over his eyes, scanning the horizon.
"Over a thousand kliks," he replied. "We'll be walking for
Thorn, who had finished piling dried leaves over the car paused to take
a drink out of her water bottle. Wiping, the sweat off her brow, she turned
to the others.
"Well, might as well start. The sooner we get going, the sooner we
get there. Which way?" she asked Solo.
He pointed off through the trees.
Not waiting for an answer, she set out. The others quickly gathered their
things and took of after her. Bug effortlessly glided on his anti-grav to
catch up to Thorn. Raymont paused to put some final touches on the car's
camouflage. Then, picking up his pack, he waved a final goodbye to civilization
and trod off, following at a quicker pace to catch up to the others.
Phaon Prime climbed higher into the sky while the party baked below it.
Sticking to the shade of the trees when there were any, they trod on, putting
their first miles of wilderness behind them. Ahead of them, the wasted scrubland
seemed to go on forever.
The sun, now burning red through the atmosphere, hung over the distant plains
as if taunting the party, pausing for a moment to test their endurance with
one last lingering kiss of heat. Jessine, her clothes caked with sweat,
bowed down to catch her breath, leaning her arms on her knees. Raymont stopped
beside her, taking a drink out of his water bottle. He offered her some,
but she shook her head. Both of them looked toward the horizon. Though the
sun was setting, it wouldn't start cooling until after sundown. To their
right, Phaon minor could already be seen, looking like a bright star.
They had been hiking for four days and they were, with the exception of
Leon, already exhausted.
Raymont, having caught his breath, turned back to Solo.
"Any idea how far we have to go?" he asked.
"Kid, you ask me that every day," Solo complained. "We'll
get there when we get there. It's going to be a few weeks."
Joe stumbled up to them, having caught only the last part of the conversation.
"A few more weeks! I say we turn back. That ship's been waiting there
all this time. Let it wait. And if the miners find it, I say they can have
it," he gasped.
Leon, having outpaced them once again, once again returned to urge them
on. Bug glided by his side.
"Come on you people!" he yelled back. "It will take us forever
to get there at this rate."
Thorn stumbled up the group, glad for a chance to rest. Hearing Leon, she
felt she had to make a statement.
"Give me a gun and I'll shoot him," she wheezed.
The party travelled on for another three days, and then when they came upon
a stream, paused to take a couple days of rest. Though they were tired,
their bodies were hardening, getting used to the travel. Still, it hadn't
been easy and they all sensed that it wouldn't be getting any better.
The land they had travelled through thus far had consisted of tall dried
grassland speckled with stands of oak trees. Occasionally they had come
upon doubtful pools of water and, having little choice, made use of them,
though being careful to purify the water first.
While they rested, off in the far distance, Thorn spied a caravan travelling
back north. It was miles away and they couldn't make out any details nor
did they know if the caravan had seen them.
Solo discovered that Bug had brough along a global positioning system relay.
Using it against the maps, he tried to make out how much progress they had
made. When asked how they were doing, he replied that they didn't want to
Raymont squatted, staring at the sparkling sun glinting off the waves in
the water. The broad little river gurgled its way almost due west, cutting
through the soft soil of the scrubland in its course. Having espied the
greener grass and taller trees, the party had sent Raymont ahead to scout
it out while they rested behind. They had been travelling for two weeks
Hearing a noise, Raymont turned around and spied Thorn who, it seemed, had
also left her pack behind and decided to follow Raymont. A large silverfish
broke the surface of the water, jumping for a seed floating in the air.
Thorn and Raymont both laughed, each surprised by the splashing fish.
"Look," Thorn whispered.
Raymont looked to where she pointed and gasped. A huge bipedal herbivore
was bowed down and was drinking from the stream. Raymont didn't know what
it was, but it was beautiful, with glistening short brown fur, its head
crowned by thick rugged stone like antlers paired on either side of its
"If I had my gun, I could get us some meat," Raymont whispered
back to Thorn.
"You wouldn't shoot such a beautiful animal, would you?" she chided
Raymont was about to deride her comment, but then looking back at the animal,
seeing it with her eyes, he had to admit that he also found the animal beautiful.
Just then, it stood up, sniffing the wind, and taking both of their breaths
The animal stood more than six metres tall and both Raymont and Thorn, though
mesmerized by the sight, were more than a little concerned lest the animal
sense their presence and turn and attack them.
Just as they thought this, the beast turned to look in their direction.
Sniffing, its large liquid black eyes sought them out and it splashed through
the river, its long thick neck weaving as it approached them.
Thorn cried out and crawled backward on her hands while Raymont cast his
hands about for a rock. Unconcerned, the animal towered over both of them
and gazed down at them in curiosity. It bent its head lower and while Raymont
didn't dare to move, sniffed at the hair on Raymont's head.
A keen mournful call was heard in the distance and the beast turned away
from Raymont and, lifting its head up to the sky, bellowed out a loud reply.
Raymont could see the powerful muscles in its throat working. Despite its
volume, the sound was musical and powerful in a primal way. The animal seemed
to have forgotten them and it turned, its large tail swishing and its forelegs
bent up, tucked under its chest. In two splashing strides, it was gone.
Thorn and Raymont ran up to a small hill beside the river. Looking out,
they could see that there was a small herd of about a hundred and fifty
of the animals, some large like the one they had seen, some smaller, some
obviously young ones.
They ran, not seemingly from fear, but for the sheer joy of running, and
as the herd headed away faster then a groundcar, they felt the ground vibrate
under their feet and the sound in the air was like dull thunder.
Thorn turned to Raymont, joy expressed on her face. "That was wonderful!"
Raymont, who had been directly under the animal was about to correct her
when, once again following her eyes, he watched the herd disappear in a
huge cloud of dust which blew away from them to the west. Looking below
him at the shimmering water, he felt the adrenaline, which had not yet left
his body and he realized he had to agree with her.
"Yea, it was great!" he nodded, smiling.
Thorn turned to look at him and then at the river below them. It was hot
and the water beckoned. Laughing, Thorn began to tear the clothes from her
body as she ran back to the river.
"What the" Raymont watched her naked body plunge into the water.
Splashing, she swam towards a deeper pool under a series of rapids. The
Sun glinted off the sides of silverfish, swimming underneath her.
Laughing, Raymont tore off his own clothes and running, dived into the water
Laughing like children, they both began to splash each other.
The party was resting. Having seen what looked like the green grass and
taller trees bordering a stream in the distance, Raymont was sent on ahead
as a scout, leaving his pack behind. A little later, Thorn got up saying
that she was going to go along as well and, leaving her pack, followed quickly
to catch up to Raymont.
Joe turned to Solo, who was checking the maps and g.p.s.
"How're we doing?" Joe asked.
Solo nodded. "Not as good as I would like, but we should start coming
up to the hilly country," he told Joe.
Raymont and Thorn were gone long enough for Leon and Bug to engage in a
game of chess when a loud bellowing sound could be heard in the distance.
"What the hell was that!" Jessine cried out, startled.
"I don't know," Joe replied, "But it sounds like it came
from the river."
Everyone looked at each other. It was Solo who voiced their thoughts with
Looking toward the river, everyone could see a huge cloud of dust rising
and blowing toward the west.
Without speaking another word, everyone reached for their weapons and, leaving
their heavy packs behind, raced in the direction of the river.
Leon was the first to come upon Raymont and Thorn. Solo and Jessine came
up next, followed by Joe. Except for Leon, they were all gasping for breath,
sweat stinging their eyes. Glistening below them was one of the most beautiful
rivers they had ever seen. Sweet green grass swayed gently in the hot breeze
while standing Willow and Ironwood trees towered beside them. Thorn was
swimming in a deep pool below a series of rapids, laughing while she splashed
water on Raymont. Raymont was lying naked, sunning himself on a rock. Away
to the west, the dust column was travelling quickly, receding in the distance.
There was a subtle sound and everyone could feel a slight vibration in the
"Well," Solo looked at his companions, "I guess we'll camp
here for a few days." Having said this, he gave a loud "YIP!"
which startled everyone and ran toward the river while tearing off his clothes,
and dove in. He was greeted by Thorn with a series of splashes and he set
in to defend himself with the same.
Shrugging, Jessine, Joe and finally Leon stripped themselves and ran down
to go skinnydipping (naked swimming) in the cool waters of the unnamed river.
Having awakened early, as was his custom, Leon scanned around their riverside
campground. They had taken to not leaving a guard, since they were all tired
after hiking and since there never seemed to be any danger. Leon blinked
his eyes, looking at the scattered equipment lying on the ground. Then he
"We've been robbed!" he told them.
But Joe, who got up rubbing the sleep from his eyes, told them, "No,
it looks like tree rats."
"Tree rats?" Solo asked. "You mean those brown ferret like
things with the long tail?"
Joe nodded. "When I went camping as a boy, we used to be plagued by
them. They're an introduced animal called Focarin Tree Rats. They've become
quite a problem in some parts of Samnia. They like to steal shiny things
and their paws are quite dextrous, like human hands. And they're very curious
and intelligent. I had a friend who used to have one as a pet."
"They've taken the glowchip from my reading lamp!" Thorn screeched.
"It's useless! I can't believe I thought they were cute."
"Hey, they've stolen the gamechip out of my computer!" Solo bellowed.
"They must've come into the tent while we were sleeping."
"Not to mention ruining at least ten ration packs," Leon added.
"Natural thieves," Joe shook his head.
"I'm glad you can be so blase, professor," Raymont added. "I
found this in the river." Raymont handed Joe his laser rifle.
"They've taken its targeting scope!" he screamed. (-15 O.B. to
Solo came out of the tent, his face grim and sober. In his hand was his
cigar, mauled and mostly eaten. He cradled it like it was a dead pet. "They'll
die for this!" Solo vowed.
Henceforward, the appearance of a tree rat was neither cute nor amusing.
It only brought about an immediate retort of weapons fire until it was found
that they seemed impossible to hit, being incredibly fast.
(Now you folks get to do some work. For any item not already mentioned here
that you have on your character list, roll a percentile dice. For items
weighing more than a half a kilogram, any result of 01-10 results in the
item being damaged so that it has a -15 effectiveness, if applicable, from
missing parts, being chewed or otherwise damaged. A 66 result means the
item either disappears or is destroyed. For items weighing less than a half
kilogram, a roll of 1-10 means item disappears or is too damaged to use.
If anyone rolls a 00, the tree rats have left them something in trade from
their nests. Let me know if this happens. Also, let me know of any significant
losses. If unsure of an items weight, make your best guess or roll. JK)
On the twenty-third day after having set out, the party had at last begun
to enter the hilly country spoken of in the geo disc back in Dicey's bar.
Solo and Bug, consulting the G.P.S, gave them all the sobering news that
they had come less than half way and that the next half would be more difficult
As it climbed, the scrub country became more rocky. Often, abrupt cliff
faces or dead end canyons would force the party to backtrack and search
another way through. Always, using the g.p.s, Solo endeavored to keep them
going the right direction. But as there were no trails to follow, they were
forced to weave their way through the hills, often in a day making little
more than a few miles progress towards their goal, though hiking maybe ten
to fifteen miles overall.
Raymont was able to glean a few additions to their provisions. His hunting
skills were pitiful, but he found that there was a burrowing type of animal,
looking something like a shelled mollusk with three eyes and a rat tail,
that was plentiful. Bug, through examination via his multiscanner, declared
that it was edible, though the meat turned out to taste like chewy mud.
Still, it was a way to supplement their meagre rations. Joe especially was
concerned that they would have enough food once they had reached the site.
On their thirty-fifth day out, Joe turned to Solo in their tent.
"You know, Solo, perhaps we should think about turning back. We only
have about forty days rations left. Even if we reach the ship, we won't
have enough food to stay very long."
"What about sending one of us back for more rations?" Leon interjected.
Solo, who was absently watching a winged reptilian raptor hovering in a
thermal, scanning the ground for small prey, stated, "I've thought
about that." He turned to Joe and Leon.
"I was thinking there might be salvageable goods in the ship. If any
of their galley sections survived intact,"
"What about those miners?" Raymont proposed. "Certainly they
must have supplies."
"What? Do you think they're just going to volunteer to give them to
us?" It was Thorn's voice. She was listening from the other tent where
she, Jessine and Bug slept.
"Well, maybe we don't ask," Raymont pointed out. "Maybe we
just go and take them," he blandly stated.
"I know you're assuming that these miners are just a bunch of push
overs," Thorn rebutted, "But did it ever occur to any of you that
they are just as good, possibly even better fighters than we are?"
"That's true," Joe agreed. "Some of these frontier folks
are really tough and seasoned. They made great guerilla fighters during
"Could all of you shut up!?" Jessine growled. "I'm trying
to get some sleep and all of this can wait until tomorrow."
That got Raymont going and pretty soon both tents erupted into arguments.
Solo ignored them all, his eyes focusing on the raptor. It had dived, but
had come up empty and now was back riding the thermals watching for other
prey. Try and try again, he thought.
"Well, how do we climb up that?" Raymont and the others had collected
together, staring at the cliff walls of the plateau that confronted them.
It's rocky face promised many ways of possible ascent, but none of the party
were experienced climbers. Solo and Bug were again studying the contour
lines on the topo map.
"Looks like we can have an easier climb if we head west," Bug
"How many kilometers?" Jessine asked.
"About seventy kilometers," Bug replied.
"Oh Great!" Thorn said aloud. "Just great." But after
saying as much, she was the first to set out west. Leon followed her and
then the others, without saying a word, set in behind her. They party had
been fifty-one days out and had not even come to the plateau.
On their sixty-sixth day since setting out, the party wearily trudged the
expanse of the upland plateau. Like the scrubland outside of Ballynena,
the plateau was a flat dry plain, but the air was obviously thinner, the
soil harder and less hospitable. This showed itself in the grass, which
was shorter or sometimes absent altogether, and in the trees, which were
twisted dwarfs compared to their lowland counterparts. The party found they
tired faster in the thinner air and were now faced with rationing, both
food and water. Raymont, his feet feeling heavy and leaden on the cracked
baked ground, actually found he missed those mud tasting mollusks that had
once been so plentiful. Here there was nothing except parched soil and the
Sun that had beat on them all so hard since they had started.
On their seventy-seventh day after setting out from Ballynena, the party
continued to climb into the high mountains of the Draaksama Range. The mountains
were dark, as if composed of volcanic rock and their uppermost peaks, when
not veiled in clouds, were starkly white with snow. Though water had become
more plentiful so that they no longer had to ration it, their food was almost
gone. They all felt gaunt and hollow inside, and each of the party, looking
at her/his companions saw the spectre of starvation staring back at them
through the eyes of their fellows. Bug, not having had enough food for days,
had gone dormant. Leon carried his cocoon like bulk in his pack and everyone
feared that the fragile alien would be the first of their company to die
enroute. What frightened everyone was that he wouldn't be the last.
Leon had been the one to find them. One evening, having stopped early to
rest, he had noticed that one of the rocks nearby seemed to move, albeit
very slowly. Turning it over, he saw that it wasn't a rock, but a spiderlike
insect that was grazing on the lichen that grew on the stark boulders around
them. Making only a cursory multiscan check, the party set about trying
to find others. They weren't plentiful, but there were enough and they were
easy to catch. Boiling them, they found their taste slightly bitter, but
filling. They cracked open their legs and ate the grey meat like a delicacy.
Even Bug, who was induced to come out of his coma, was able to eat a little.
Setting out the next day, the party continued to climb, but then had to
drop down in a somewhat perilous descent into a small valley, then cross
that only to climb again. It was a pattern that was repeated many times.
Each time they thought the summit was just over the next rise, it always
turned out to be farther than they had assumed. By this time, they were
eighty-seven days out from Ballynena.
Eight days later, they at last found the Tramsamere River. Travelling along
its valley, the party found more abundant fodder in the denser vegetation,
including wild dwarf spinecones, which seemed like a feast. Even Bug didn't
object. Following the coarse of the river, everyone seemed excited by at
last finding the prospect of their quest. Solo kept his eye glued to Bug's
g.p.s, which he carried in hand now.
Though they doubted they would have found it had they not been looking,
having come upon the coordinates of the site, the huge gash in the mountainside
seemed obvious. A large amount of scree from pebble to boulder size had
slid downward to carpet the valley, forcing a slight change in the River's
course. Also, a waterfall could be seen erupting out of the mountainside.
A more spectacular series of falls could be just seen in the far distance,
at the head of the valley. Judging by the map and Solo's remembered coordinates,
they had arrived. Looking at the map, they knew that beyond the summit of
the mountain was an large crater lake.
Everyone immediately set about looking for the site.
Leon found the cave. Inside, Onzlo's bounty revealed itself in the form
of two heavy earth movers, both anti-grav.
"Look!" Leon produced triumphantly from beneath a tarp at the
rear of the cave. Throwing back the tarp, he revealed a stockpile of crates.
Freezedried rations and synthol, enough to last for months. Though each
meal was the same, porcama stew, the party set about to a feast unlike any
they had had for weeks. Each swore that it was the best meal ever tasted.
Under another tarp, seven work lights, ten multiscanners, two auto medkits,
a lightsaber, a collapsible shelter, five Struptor rifles, a portable computer
and one Heavy Struptor gun, minus powerpack were all stacked next to the
food, along with three cases, each of fifty energy cells and two solar charge
"Thank Dia," Joe almost wept when he saw the assembled wealth.
"Fuck Dia!" Solo blasphemed. "Thank that fat porker, Onzlo,"
he retorted, swigging a mouthful of synthol and smacking his lips. "Ahh."
After dinner, everyone rested inside the cave feeling the warmth of an infrared
heater from the collapsible shelter. They had found a sonic shower in the
shelter and each of them had taken time to bathe and freshen up as best
Raymont, who was fidgeting with an unloaded struptor rifle noted that there
was a crest of some sort on the rifle's stock. Looking at some of the other
stuff from under the second tarp, he noted that the cases, the deflated
shelter, the worklight, the computer, everything had the crest stamped somewhere
on it. Noting this, he pointed it out to the others.
"Let me see that," Leon asked for the rifle and examined the crest.
"I don't know, but I think this is a church crest," he said.
"I think so too," Joe agreed. "My uncle once came across
such a crest during the Liberation War. I only have his description to go
by, but this crest is similar."
"Was it a church crest?" Solo asked.
"It belonged to the Bishop of Galatia. The Black Bishop," Joe
told him. "It was rumoured he had helped the FitzRyans. There's never
been any proof. If it was true, it would've made the FitzRyans outcasts
in the province. The Black Bishop is the sworn enemy of the Jade-Londons.
It's rumoured, he's behind the Idorian raids."
"Then, Then that ship is a Dia Khoravic ship," Thorn pointed out.
"That's why it never appeared in the Callistan rosters. It belonged
to the church - or rather, this Black Bishop."
"And now, the FitzRyans are allies of the Darby clan, instead of enemies,"
Bug pointed out.
"Hmm," Solo mused. "Might be an even bigger investment in
this than we first thought. I don't suppose the Viscount would want the
family of his daughter's betrothed to become outcasts. I wonder what he
would pay to keep the secret."
"You're talking about playing a game that would get us all killed,"
Joe pointed out.
"What's the matter? Not game for a risk?" Solo asked.
"A risk? Yes. But what you're talking about is a certainty. Certain
death. If not from Darby or the FitzRyans, then from the Church. I'm not
willing to take any of them on."
"Hmm, perhaps you're right," Solo agreed. "I hadn't thought
about the church."
"Or about the armies, fleets and planets these people control. You're
talking about things out of our league, mister," Jessine added her
voice into the verbal fray.
"Alright! Alright, already," Solo surrendered. "Nevermind,
it was just an idea. We can talk about it some other time. Right now, let's
get some sleep."
They rested there for the night. The next morning they set out to find the
buried ship, with Raymont in the lead. It wasn't hard to find. A recent
storm had torn back part of the camouflage netting, but close up, even that
was a telltale sign. Raymont waded out through the stream up to the plasticrete
dam that Onzlo had created around his excavation hole. Raymont looked down
into the hole, noting the rungs that had been set into the plasticrete.
Darkness and cold air was all he could note. Below, the silent promise of
wealth beckoned him.
(Everyone is past the midway point to 0-2 level. You may take an advance
of three skill boxes in three different skills. Now that you are getting
skills, I will let you know that I will award your characters all their
skills for 0-2 level upon reaching that level, without need for justification.
I will however discuss with each of you what skills would have been denied
normally. Henceforward, it will be up to you to justify skill gains. This
is normally done by making at least one successful roll per box to be gained,
or three unsuccessful rolls. JK)
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