Iwaku World - The Red Raccoon Dog

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The early morning was dark, even at the altitude that AFTA City resided. Clouds hung over most parts of the city, to include the mooring dock on the outer ring where the Red Raccoon Dog was being loaded. Shadowed figures moved within the fog, their way lit by the sickly orange glow of flood lights. Within the Red Raccoon Dog, it was organized chaos, with her crew rushing about to attend to their various duties..

The bridge of the Red Raccoon Dog was by no means cramped. The vaulted ceilings reached high above the heads of the crew, and there was plenty of room inbetween the various stations which lined the walls in a semi-circle around the captain's chair. The decor was a mixture of gothic and modern, with a beautifully crafted view port spanning a semi-circle shape at the forefront of the bridge. The crew was currently running through their initial checks, monitoring the vital organs of the ship in preparation to cast off.

"Sir, beginning transfer from dockside linkages to prime power now."

"All diagnostic systems reporting green, sir, but I'm still getting that funny 'Go' light from the aft Head. That thing hasn't worked for weeks. It's sealed off right now with hazard tape, in fact. Something about a technician nearly getting sucked through one of the toilets, sir."

"Cargo reports that the PAX and packages have embarked successfully, Captain." The third voice was from Lieutenant Weber, the R.R.D.'s First Officer.

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The Red Raccoon Dog's Captain stood there stroking his chin for a moment before responding. "If that's the only thing wrong with our diagnostics equipment, ignore it; we don't have time." He wandered the bridge for a moment, taking a look around before pausing next to his chair. "Lieutenant, have our 'guests' settle in and advise them to remain in their living areas until we reach Iwaku. Also, close the cargo bay doors and put the RFID tracker information on screen two."

As ordered, the information appeared on one of the four gargantuan screens overlooking the view port of the bridge. "Aye, sir. Oh, and sir, we're getting a call from AFTA Control. They've relayed a message that reads, 'You're an hour late! Get your ass moving!!' from the Contessa's Minister of Defense."

"About time we get some feedback." Tain settled into his chair lightly with a smirk. "Fine then, are we on prime power? Then give me power to all grav repulsors and disengage mooring lines. Weigh the grav anchor and apply quarter power to turboprops one and two."

As his crew carried out his orders, he pressed a button on the arm rest of his chair. "All hands, this is the Captain speaking. Prepare to cast off."

The entire vessel trembled, and the massive arms which had been secured to the side of the airship shot away from it with a hiss, retracting into the sheaths which held them on the mooring dock. The ship bobbed and swayed slightly for a moment as the gravity repulsors beneath the vessel took the responsibility of keeping her afloat, and the comforting hum of the Fenrir fusion reactor thrummed throughout the air surrounding her. Two of the turboprop engines on her port side came alive then, their propellors whipping the clouds surrounding them into wisps as the Red Raccoon Dog slowly eased forward, up and away from the dock on her starboard side.

"Wonderful job. Up trim fifteen degrees and give me full power to all turboprops."


The sleek ship lurched gracefully, light on her toes as the other turboprops came alive and pushed her forward. She rose gently through the fog, brushing it aside delicately as though drawing aside a curtain to pass through. The thrum of her engines filled the air as she slowly passed the quiet towers of AFTA's residential sector, most of the citizens still fast asleep on the dawn of their weekend. A few lined the balconies here and there, watching the R.R.D. as she left for fates unknown...

"Once we've cleared AFTA airspace and reached cruising altitude, engage cruise engines and make for Iwaku." He paused. "And transfer that RFID tracker data to my cabin. Lieutenant, the bridge is yours..."

The R.R.D. disappeared from AFTA's sight after piercing the heavy wall of clouds surrounding her. A lone figure lingered upon their balcony for a moment before turning on their heels to wander back indoors. There wasn't anything left to see; the fate of the R.R.D. was up to them now.

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Months earlier...

Warm rocks spun with timeless grace. The various crags and pits in their surface shadowed and illuminated each in turn by the sun above. Some drew closer together with each lazy rotation, while others grew further apart.

The relative peace of it all was shattered by a number of shapes tearing through the obstruction-heavy 'floating garden'. At their head was a sleek but massive vessel, marked "Red Raccoon Dog" in blood red scrawl on the side. The hull was covered in smoking trails of scorch marks and jagged rends in the plating here and there. She had apparently been running for some time now. The other vessels tailing her cut through the air with streaks of energy and bolts of particle accelerated energy, occasionally kissing the hull of the lone vessel.

Inside, the Captain was strapped into his chair on the bridge, surrounded by an automaton crew. "Why haven't they stopped chasing me yet?"

"Fucked if I know dude," Came the reply, assisted by speakers arranged on the bridge. "You're sure you didn't piss someone off?"

Tain grit his teeth slightly. "I'm sure, alright?! I was just doing business and these bastards followed me out of port." He braced himself against the arm of his chair as the RRD swung a hard arc around one of the larger floating rock islands. She accelerated to slingshot around it and gained a brief respite from the hail of weapons fire for her efforts. Nearby, the navigation console of the ship smoked and occasionally spluttered sparks. A chain reaction started from a stray round had instantly destroyed the console, along with the automaton manning it. "Listen, I need your help. I'm punching in my coordinates to you now. Nevermind plotting, just find me a jump hole, quick!"

Or I'm fucked, Tain thought. Jump holes were a secondary option at best. They were tears in the fabric of reality. While each one was more or less a shortcut to somewhere else in the world, they could be extremely unstable at times. Tain only hoped they would be somewhat stabilized at the moment. Either way, he had no choice. These bastards were out for his blood.

"Alright, alright, one second... I'm pulling up the navcharts."

A cascade of particle energy flew past the bridge, punctuated by a heavy series of tremors that caused the whole ship to rattle as though someone had hit it on the side using a skyscraper as a hammer. The automaton manning tactical turned eyes like flashlight on Tain and spoke from its voice grill with a gruff and emotionless croak. "Impact detected. Damage to starboard secondary hull plating. Damage to starboard pressure lines. Damage..."

Tain's teeth rattled with the impact as he hung onto the armrests of his chair, unable to keep the fear and urgency from his voice. "Faster better than slower!!"

"I got you!! I got you! Change course to the following coordinates!"

The automaton automatically entered in the new course information upon receiving it. But the 'bot manning tactical was still looking at him. This should have been an extremely bad omen for Tain, but in his frenzied confusion, he found himself pulling a 'what do you want' face even though it had no way of recognizing it. After a short moment, it spoke again. "Launch detected. Warning. Launch detected. Incoming Mark LX Nova Torpedo. Incoming Mark LX Nova Torpedo. Incoming HR-51 Cluster Missile."

He was a split second away from loosing every swear word he had in his vocabulary, but he had no time. He gave a cursory glance to the sensor feed underneath the vessel to check for obstructions, and determined that it was going to be close... "HELM: CUT POWER TO GRAV PADS THREE THROUGH FIVE! Tactical: loose ECM package three, maximum spread! Helm: down trim thirty degrees and cut propulsion! Give me full propulsion and power to all grav pads on my mark; stand by!"

"Standing by."

Outside, a small ventral hatch opened behind the RRD's bridge tower and blasted a large cylindrical container into the air. The device began to list slightly then suddenly came apart into multiple pieces, showering metal fragments everywhere, along with a full spread of flares and several ECM transponder beacons running full blip sequences to confuse radar. The blue sky went white for a moment when the Nova torpedos contacted the countermeasures, one detonating the other instantaneously. The blast radius also took care of the cluster missile which wasn't too far behind.

"Propulsion! NOW!" The vessel lurched slightly as the twin jets fired up again. Tain breathed a sigh of relief upon looking at his sensor readout. But this time the automaton at helm was looking at him. "Oh Go-"

"Brace for impact."

The tip of a tremendous spinning rock swung into the belly of the RRD, causing a terribly shriek to fill the air. It tore a deep gouge into the hold before releasing the ship, causing the contents to begin to spill out into the open air. A few of the pursuers fell back to circle where the goods had fallen, clearly intent on collecting.

Back inside, Tain was surprised to still be alive. He glanced at the damage readout, discouraged by the warning klaxons ringing in his ears. But the jump hole was just a little further. He grit his teeth with desperation and deftly maneuvered his stricken vessel around the next series of rocks, weaving in and out of them to the annoyance of his pursuers. The weapons fire waned as more broke pursuit to gather up the RRD's spilled goods. When she finally reached the jump hole, there was only a handful of interceptors still following.

The rift in reality cascaded with energy and seemed to swallow the light around it. As the Red Raccoon Dog drew closer, its shape began to distort and bend... until it was finally sucked into the hole itself, disappearing with a twist. The pursuers slowed and gradually stopped just shy of the jump hole's outskirts, turning away after a moment. The RRD had survived.


On the other side, Tain was grateful to his makeshift navigator for getting him out alive- for being alive in general, in fact. The RRD had docked at a frequented port town not far from the jump hole's exit. But his eyes were bloodshot as he gazed into the open sky below. He leaned up against the bulkhead and rested his temple against the cool metal. The breeze from outside blew through his coat and his vacant gaze stared through the empty hold of his ship, which was separated from him by a tremendous, ragged hole. His cargo was gone. He was ruined.
The Red Raccoon Dog's captain had exhausted his options. He scoured through the last of his physical navcharts, searching for a port that would allow him to dock without a large fee, preferably one where he could work a few contacts and work on getting the ship repaired, along with an advance on payment in order to get his business rolling again. But for each contact he perused, he quickly found that he had either left on questionable terms or owed them money for loss of cargo. The situation was dismal, and the navcharts now laid in a pile not far from his chair on the bridge.

Tain rested his chin on the palm of his hand as he leaned against the armrest, thoughts wandering as he gazed into the stream of dark clouds rushing by. He was on his way to the floating city of AFTA, the only good chance he had of making a deal... though in honesty it would be pure mercy rather than an actual negotiation, if they accepted his proposal. He had friends there; or he hoped that he still had friends there. The Contessa was surely still the one in charge. He just had to hope that she was not busy, and that she would hear him out. He wasn't certain that she would. Their parting hadn't been on the best of terms. Even though he had not directly contributed to the fall of Moonwings, he hadn't helped the situation either.

Even with the cruise engines mostly intact, it took all day to reach AFTA from where the jumphole had dumped the ship. It was evening now, and the skies were illuminated by a bluish tint which originated from a partially concealed moon, with stars peeking through the waning light of the skies above. The damaged yet still sleek hull of the RRD cut a swath through the darkening clouds as her running lights that had survived the prior engagement flickered rhythmically, casting a green and red glow about the ship as they flashed. It was an oddly peaceful scene, or would have been if anyone had been around to pay witness to it. It had a certain poetry to it. But whatever poetry was to be found was instantly dwarfed as she cleared the last of the heavy cloud cover, passing around it to reveal AFTA City.

It was as though someone had cut a tremendous hole in the clouds and placed a shining jewel at its center. The city was a massive circular shape, with several docking rings which looped around the "base" and gradually decreased in size as they reached the bottom of the cone which extended from the lower half of the city. Ships could be seen at a steady pace, each one sporting their own set of illumination to lend to the already busy scene as they approached and departed the golden-illuminated docking rings. The upper levels were dotted by spires of varying sizes and shapes, each one as unique as the next. Light from windows, light from traffic signals, light from passenger vehicles, light from signs; the city glowed. It was breathtaking. Tain found himself feeling a sharp sting of nostalgia as he swept bleary eyes over the view.

The RRD's white-hot cruise engines slowly waned into a reddish tone of color as they decreased their output. The captain punched up a communication link with the traffic coordinator as his ship crossed the expanse of empty air surrounding the city. "AFTA Control, this is merchant vessel Red Raccoon Dog requesting permission to dock." He was surprised to find his voice hoarse.

"Red Raccoon Dog, we have you on our scope and have received your ID information. Docking permission has been granted; please report to customs directly after your arrival. You've been cleared for ring three, gate 58. Welcome to AFTA, Tain. We were wondering when you'd show up."

"Than... thank you." Tain felt confusion wash over him. The woman's voice hadn't been familiar, had it? He was so tired. It could have been, but he wasn't certain

Flaps rattled and struggled to open as the RRD approached her gate. Thrust vectoring flaps covered the jets of her cruise engines and redirected the energy to slow her approach, as the two turboprops spanning from either side of her hull spun up to further assist the process. Stricken though she was, she was still quite graceful as she pulled into the space prepared for her. A docking boom reached out to cup her bow, catching her to bring her to a halt and guide her into position. Mooring clamps extended from their compartments and reached up to grip the side of the vessel, drawing it closer to the dock.

Tain strode from a hatch on the side of his vessel onto the waiting docking ramp, trying not to look as tired as he felt. He had to find the Contessa, then somehow convince her retainers that he had to see her. Despite the deliberate focus he felt at the moment, he still felt strangely comfortable with being back. He would have to see what the Contessa had in store for him...
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