Gabi could practically see the gears in his mind turning as he considered her plea. Maybe she should have stuck to her normal methods of persuasion instead of honesty. It felt…weird. She held her breath as he let out a deep sigh. ”Alright, you got it,” he said, though he sounded like he was already seriously doubting his decision.
She couldn’t believe it. The relief was palpable both on her face and in her voice as she said, “Thank you. You won’t regret this.”As long as I can keep you away from Aster. And anyone who wants to ask you about Orion. And anyone holding a gun… she added silently, propelling herself away from the control box as he made a move towards it. She looked over his shoulder as he worked, hoping to make some sense of what he was doing, but the different screens he accessed all flashed by too quickly. Out of her depth, indeed.
”She’ll wake up at her own pace. Walk-err, float with me. We’ll figure this out together.” A decidedly foreign feeling settled in her chest at those words. She was accustomed to operating alone. She’d spent all those years in the far reaches of the galaxy by herself, and as soon as the crew for The Cotopaxi had been assembled she’d gone off on her own again. Together. With him. She swallowed around the sudden lump in her throat and floated after him in silence, not trusting herself to speak at that particular moment.
By the time they were passing by the AI core, the moment had passed and she was able to answer his question about bookmarked locations in a steady voice. ”Yes. The Zharian system. The crew’s waiting for me there,” she said, a small part of her hoping that he’d consent to coming along once he had finished getting the ship flight-ready. It couldn’t hurt to ask…could it?
They drifted further down the corridor, but Gabi paused as they approached an all-too-familiar door, allowing him to get ahead of her by a decent amount. ”After you,” he said. She took a deep breath and nodded, then propelled herself the rest of the way down the corridor and slid the paneled door open.
It was as if Zama had never left.
The quarters looked as though a bomb had been set off, but unlike the rest of the ship, it had been left that way purposefully by the occupant. ”A tidy room is basically a signal that the occupant has an empty mind,” he had liked to say whenever her mother would get onto him about it. Underneath the mishmash of clothes, books, and various electronic parts was a simple yet open floor plan. The quarters had been separated into two distinct areas, one being the entrance and main living area, which took up about two-thirds of the space. The bedroom was separated from it by a low wall that didn’t quite reach the ceiling. She knew the only item of furniture there would be the bed that Zama had slept in. Fondness and nostalgia welled up in her heart as she remembered him allowing her to sleep there after the numerous nightmares she’d have. Looking back on it now, she was starting to doubt that’s all they had been. The feeling vanished as quickly as it had appeared as she looked around the living area, trying to remember where the captain’s safe was located. The door they’d just come through was on the far left of the room, with all of the furniture being to their right. A desk was situated behind two comfortable loveseats, not that they were visible. The desk was the only somewhat uncluttered surface in the entire place. Her eyes drifted around the room. ”From what I can remember, the safe is behind a panel - here?” she said, drifting to the wall perpendicular to them. She knocked on a spot a little less than halfway up and nothing happened. On her third try, a panel a little to the right of her first guess slowly slid open, as if protesting at being disturbed. Bingo.
”He...didn’t give me the password,” she said, the realization striking her as the words left her mouth. ”Dammit.” Maybe that meant the secondary access key wasn’t here. But it was also equally likely that he had withheld the information on purpose in an attempt to set her up for some kind of moral epiphany. ”Hold on.” She switched comms to the channel she had open with BD. ”BD, do you read me?” His cheerful answering chirp was a relief to hear - a little bit of normalcy on this very bizarre day. “Try to get ahold of Zama for me, please. I need the password to his safe.”
She waited a few minutes for a response, wracking her brain for possibilities and even trying a few, but much to her dismay it wasn’t any of her guesses: her birthday, the date the Resistance had been founded, 1234, 696969…she was on the verge of asking Perseus if he knew when Orion’s birthday was or if perhaps he had a catch phrase when BD hopped into the channel. He is saying he doesn’t remember, he chirped. ”Like hell he doesn’t,” she grumbled. ”Thanks anyway.” She switched back to the public comm.
”Unfortunately I think this is a dead…end…” she trailed off, as a conversation she’d had with him just prior to leaving came back to her.
”Someday, I think you’ll be ready to be captain,” he’d said to her as he stood on the loading dock, watching her load the last of the equipment onto her personal shuttle.
“First of all, I may not find The Cotopaxi. Secondly, I’d be a terrible leader,” she’d replied.
“You may surprise yourself, on both fronts. Someday, you’ll find it. And someday, you’ll be ready to lead.”
“We have you. Nobody needs me for that.”
“I won’t always be around, Gabs. Someday you’ll have a choice to make.”
She huffed in irritation and switched the keypad to the alphabet. If she was right about this…she typed in TODAY and hit enter. The safe beeped its affirmation and swung open.
She's ready to shoot // She'll weigh her best shot // She's ready to shoot // Her neck feels hot // She wants it to be a one-hit // She wants that a lot
Perseus followed Gabi into the room, and... Wow. "Your Uncle's an uh... Organized chaos kinda guy, huh." Perseus prodded at a book, causing it to steadily rotate as it floated in the air. The titled came into view. A realist's guide to leadership.Realism and Leadership. Not two concepts I would associate with anarchists. It may be time to take another look at your dislike of the Resistance, Perseus. Maybe there was some youthful rebellion mixed in there...
Perseus let himself steadily float through the room. It was like being suspended in another man's life and memories. There was an almost... Voyeuristic sense to his being here, that made him slightly uncomfortable. He looked around for something to push off, seeking to send himself out of the room. His eyes found a desk/shelf type furnishing that was clearly attached to the floor, but as he reached for it, he noted that unceremoniously floating just above the furnishing was some kind of dress uniform. The name stiched into the breast: Captain Burnett. Oh, cool, it even came with a fancy hat. Perseus grinned as he brushed it aside. he looked back at the desk and... And saw his father.
It was an old-fashioned printed photo of a group of laughing people. All different races. The old crew. The old resistance.
They had all been so young... Nobody ever mentioned that. They barely looked like adults. Like students on a gap year. Had Orion really been that lanky when he was younger? He looked wild, free, unfettered. Wearing one of the old bulky Argon fixing facemasks. They all looked so... so carefree.
They had brought an empire to heel.
Incredible. No matter what anybody said about their politics... Incredible.
It was sat on the magnetized surface of the shelf, alongside another frame. Absent-mindedly, he reached out and took the other, looking at it. There were a couple of kids on there, maybe eight or nine, with Hyde. Wow, they looked similar. Almost the same, and there was definitely a resemblance to Gabi. "Hey Gabi, you got a twin?" Perseus said, a photo in both hands, turning to show them to Gabi just as she opened the safe.
Ripping the seams off of acceptable human behaviour // My baby's got a gun, she's going to use it for her saviour
NOTE: All Internal operations of the I-6 or it’s AI that you are reading about are being translated from it’s internal operating code for the reader’s convenience and storytelling purposes. These are marked in brackets and are in a seperate font. The AI is not actually speaking to itself or verbalizing it’s actions internally or otherwise as it does not perform thoughts and actions the way our brains do. Just a heads up~
Located in the back of the laboratories aboard the INS Ophelia was a small room only a few meters larger than a rich man's walk-in closet. Originally intended for storage, it had since been repurposed as a maintenance dock for the Emergency Response & Assault Drone (ERAD), designation: I-6. Equipped with an Artificial Preservation Capsule and an accompanying computer running a maintenance and repair loop, the space had been used to house and manage the Ophelia's lone AI Security Officer for almost two years.
At present, the drone was undergoing it’s biweekly optimization in accordance with it's ERA AI protocol. The ERAD functioned as a powerful tool that operated on high alert at all times to keep the crewmembers of the INS Ophelia safe. Unfortunately, this service came with a high maintenance requirement to ensure it's operating system and physical body stayed in proper working order. Two hours had now passed since the I-6 had gone into sleep mode for repairs, and four more hours of tests and code reinforcement were still upcoming. As the diagnostics ran, the monitor nearby filled with correlated walls of encoded text, stopping only when a message from the ship’s main computer shot across the screen. Immediately, the tests ceased and the code was submitted to the I-6’s AI. •[Message Received.] •[Maintenance Suspended.] •[Maintenance Log Updated.] •[Initiating Drone Reboot.]
A low hum filled the room as I-6 whirred to life. Galvanic actuators and their respective sensors came online as energy from the robot's core surged throughout the AI's metal housing. The glass door on it’s pod slid out and back, allowing the machine’s monstrous, seven-foot frame to sit up and awaken, promptly registering it's current situation. Recognizing that there was no immediate threat, I-6 began updating itself on the ship’s status, it's eyes flickering from a neutral grey to a deep gold as it scanned through the necessary systems.
•[Opening Channel S1.] •[Initiating Surveillance.] •[Accessing INS Ophelia Security System.] •[Cameras Accessed.] •[Beginning Shipwide Scan.] •[All Crewmembers Present and Accounted For.] •[Accessing Security Reports.]
•[Accessing Medical Reports.] •[Cases Requiring Immediate Assistance: 0] •[Cases Requiring Immediate Interference: 0] •[INS Ophelia State Grade: Satisfactory.] •[Returning to Standard Operations.]
With the base scan complete, the massive droid emerged from the maintenance capsule and headed towards the exit, it’s cooling system's hoses forcefully disconnecting with a loud pop and hiss. It was ready for action. The ERAD's tools and equipment had already been self refreshed prior to entering the capsule and now the drone was ready for a return to service. Opening the door with a simple digital signal to the ship, I-6 exited it's hub and stepped out and onto the main floor of the Imperial light cruiser's laboratory wing. Around it, scientists, machines and other lab crew were busy at work. To a stranger he might have been a sight to see, but as I-6 frequented this location often for his repairs, he had become a commonality and thus little attention was drawn towards the massive machine.
“Hello, I-6.” One of the young lab technicians behind him greeted the droid, a clipboard and pen in hand. “I, uh, gotta get around you. There’s a thingy on the table there...” he pointed awkwardly over the drone's shoulder. “Uhm..sooooo...maintenance was quick today, huh? Seems like you were in and out,” he chuckled.
“Yes.” I-6 replied flatly. The two held an uncomfortable silence as the tech waited for the machine to move...or reply further. Or do literally anything. The security drone was never the easiest being to talk to, even when compared to other machines. After a moment that seemed to last a lifetime, I-6 moved. "I Am Needed Elsewhere.Good-Bye.”The droid exited the Lab’s main doors before the tech could respond, turning and heading out into the halls on it’s way to it's next location: the Captain’s office.
The same moment that Gabi’s eyes landed on the secondary access key she heard Perseus ask a question. ”Hey Gabi, you got a twin?” he asked.
Bile rose in her throat. Where on earth had that question come from? Did he have mind-reading powers or something? If so, she was in for a world of embarrassment, considering some of her thoughts about him. ”What?” she croaked, looking over her shoulder at him. ”Oh.” He’d found the pictures, that was all. That was…fine. Better than the alternative, anyway. She removed the keycard from its position in the safe and slowly floated closer to take a better look at what he held.
The first was an old snapshot she was familiar with: the old crew, some of whom she’d grown up with. Her parents stood towards the back of the group, smiling, and Hyde stood directly next to Orion. He’d only pointed his best friend out to her at least a thousand times over the years. The other photo…it had been taken a few months prior to her parents’ death. She and Hyde Jr. looked happy, normal, and healthy, identical wide grins on their faces as their uncle stood behind them, a hand on each of their shoulders. Something in her expression shuttered closed as she looked at it. ”I did,” she said shortly. She hoped he would take the hint and not ask any more about it. ”We should take this one with us,” she said, picking up the first photo that he’d discarded, sliding it from its frame, and securing it in her side pocket. ”Is this what you need?” she asked, holding up the keycard.
Captain Bernadette Angstrom
Ship time 1300 hrs, 03/01/5032
Dresden's Orchard System, Planetary Lagrange point L1
The doors of Angstrom's office hissed open. The captain sat, her hands resting in her lap. They were a similar shape at the moment. The only obvious difference was the surface of her right hand. it was flawless silver, reflective, like quicksilver. Where before her chair had been reclined, now it was ramrod straight, her posture, impeccable. "Come in. Apologies for the short notice, but time is of the essence in this matter."
Before her sat a glass topped holoprojector desk. Currently, it displayed a translucent rendition of the Empire Aquila, the symbol of the empire. A great eagle, sheltering loyal planets under its mighty wings, talons sharp and fierce, ready to tear the enemies of the people to shreds.
Behind her, curving around the back of the room; a starscape, bordered on the left by the corona of the yellow main sequence star that presided over the system (filtered down to comfortable level, of course.) and bordered on the right by the curved, silvery-metallic surface of the stellar shade's sunward side. It was not a window, of course. Simply a high resolution screen. Only a fool would install structural weak points in the hull of one's own ship.
After the perfunctory salutes and acknowledgement, Angstrom waved a hand. Between the desk and the three crewmembers were three chairs. Two were similar to the chair in which Angstrom now sat, one built more like a high-strength stool, able to bear the impressive weight of I-6. "Please, sit." Once everyone was seated, the doors firmly closed and locked, Captain Bernadette Angstrom began to speak, her voice clear and crisp, with a very slight Juliet-Region Imperial accent. "What I am about to tell you is classified top secret. If a word of this gets out to anyone, even fellow crew members, it could mean the start of a long and bloody war. I trust all of you to maintain infosec, but it doesn't hurt to reiterate. Now:" Above the table's surface, the Imperial Aquila flickered out of existence, and a man appeared, rendered in a quarter scale. Late thirties. Grey hair swept to the side. Cybernetic augments around his chin, hairline, and neck. Most of it Clearly Black market, middling quality. His legs, however... Sleek, top of the line. Clearly Imperial in origin. A picture-in-picture zoom expanded off to one side, and zoomed in on the individual's legs. Marketing material from a core-world advertisement began to play, showing athletic looking young men and women running fast as a car down an open track, jumping high into the air to high five each other, and other feats of athleticism. As the Captain spoke, additional images were displayed, showing various examples of the elements surrounding the man. "This is Juzibar Lang, AKA the Jackrabbit. A well known figure in the Dresden's Orchard underworld. He operates out of Camilla city, an ocean-side area, one of the most populous areas on the planet. It is believed by local authorities that he is responsible for a large smuggling ring, as well as being connected to the local Yakuza families. Extortion, prostitution, corruption and information brokerage have got Juzibar into a very comfortable position."
By now several pictures were being displayed. long-distance photos of the man bowing to some yakuza don or another. Various Brothels offering partners of all races, shapes and sizes to the various johns of Camilla city. Two large men, one Lustrian, one human, in the process of smashing the front windows of a diner. Night vision shots of Mule-class Civilian shuttles, the type commonly used for ferrying illicit cargo, seemingly landed in the ocean, meeting with small speedboats off the coast in the dead of night. finally, an image of the man himself in the middle of giving a horrible kicking to some unfortunate subordinate, rage apparent on his face. "Now usually this particular class of scum wouldn't be on our to do list. The leadership of Dresden's Orchard elected to refuse the empire's offer of support, and after several decades of mismanagement the governing bodies have been corrupted and widely deposed by several megacorporations, both human and foreign. However, it seems he has stumbled on to something the powers that be cannot ignore." The images moved aside to show a recorded video of the man himself, looking smug and confident at a desk, a tablet in his hand, sat in a large, mafioso style chair, framed by a window showing a bright vista of the Camilla city seaside. "Key code niner-eight-six, Triple-zero-five-two, H-A-I-L-M-A-R-Y, Epsilon Epsilon Alpha." The smug smile never left his face, even as he spoke the words known only to very few Imperial record keepers; "Now I know what you're thinking, that sounds like the public comms key to the Troubadour's core computer! Now how could this dashing young man have access to such information?" The man leaned forward, wearing a grin that the man probably thought looked roguish but actually looked slightly deranged; "Anyone that wants to know of the whereabouts of this little black box of history can send offers direct to the dark-hypernet loci displayed on screen, now! The bids will be made public, so don't be stingy, Chölais!" The feed cut, freezing on the man's slightly unhinged grin.
The data that had been displayed up to now was collapsed, stored, and put in the mission dossier accessible by Elazar, I-6 and Velshia. Replacing it on the table appeared a lifelike scale rendition of an area of Camilla city, specifically the border of a business district and a shanty town.
The juxtaposition between the large causeways and skyscrapers on one side with the dense shanty town on the other was striking. As was the tall wall and security checkpoint that interposed them.
For a moment, Angstrom paused, surveying the cityscape. It had been generated by the ship's computer from security camera footage and other localnet data. It was as recent as they were going to get.
"You may be wondering why I called you three in particular." Angstrom proffered; "I know each of you to be extremely capable individuals. You'll be on your own down there. We can't risk being located in this system. I chose you three because I know that both Elazar and Velshia are very capable strategists, with vast understanding of their fields. I know that both I-6 and Elazar are extremely capable when it comes to combat, which must be a possibility while planetside. You'll have to plan your own strategy for getting the intel that the Jackrabbit has. Whatever works. Chase him down and beat him till he tells you. Slice his computer. Slice his mind. As long as you get the information, I don't care. I trust each of you to act in the best interests of the empire." Angstrom paused, looking to each of them in turn. "Most importantly; paramount to this job is discretion. It doesn't matter what you appear as, as long as it's not Navy. If I sent out a team of our marines, they would stick out like a sore thumb amongst the multi-ethnic population. I-6, after you're dismissed report to the drone bay to have your registration numbers removed from your chassis. Velshia, I need you to take whatever gear you can carry with you. Talk to engineering to see if they can diguise it somehow. Elazar, report to the Marines. I've informed them that you'll need exo-suit elements that can be stored in a duffel bag when not in use but will allow you to move at high speeds." Angstrom finished her shpeil and stood, placing a single silver hand on the surface of the table, amongst the rolling waves of the hologram. "Any questions?"
The I-6 drone downloaded the mission briefing, encrypting and storing the information through back channels on its' secure server. Factoring in a series of probabilties and precise margin for error, the ERAS AI determined a high mission success rate based on the target and the team the Captain had built. The mission was straightforward. Lang was a problem for the Empire, which by association made him a problem for the crew of the Ophelia. Necessary measures would be taken in accordance with Angstrom's orders and the machines operating parameters. Shifting it's head to Elazar and Velshia, the medical drone rapidly scanned them both for any health problems, it’s expressionless eyes turning a shade of neon green for a few seconds. •[Supplemental Operators: Tordren. Elazar.]
-[Status: Alive. Temperatures and Health: Acceptable.]
-[M. Subroutine 1A: Maintain Current Status.]
-[Crewmember Preservation Priority Order Initiated.]
Following Angstrom's last instructions, the I-6 rose from it's seat. Questions were unnecessary as it could draw any additionally needed information from the Lang and mission dossiers. Offering a stiff salute with it's two right arms, the machine turned to leave, the door behind it hissing shut as it crossed the threshold. •[Access Shuttle Bay Maintenance Computer.] •[Shuttle Maintenance Status: In Progress.]
-[Access Civilian Shuttle Alpha Operations.]
-[Initiate Ping upon Completion of Maintenance.] •[Initiating Angstrom Registration Removal Order.]
Back out in the hall, the ERAD moved quicky, pushing past crewmembers and other machines as it rode a series of elevators down to the drone bay. Upon arrival, a quick signal shifted the bot’s maintenance order to “Priority” and the drone was quickly ordered to place itself in the corner designated for minor maintenance. Seconds later, a X0-4 maintenance bot rolled up. Not much larger than the average human, these blue, hydrant-shaped machines came equipped with over 30 different arms and were designed for highly technical and detail oriented operations. Recieving the work order from the computer, the X0 bot sprung into action, it arms moving across the ERAD in the blink of an eye. Following a quick cleaning, I-6’s designation was stripped away from it's exterior with the application of highly corrosive liquids and some minor metalwork. A small repaint and the security bot was ready to go. As it moved to leave, the message it had awaited came through. •[Shuttle Status: Ready.]
I-6 headed towards the ship, forwarding the ping to it's teammates that the shuttle was ready to go.
On her way to the office, Velshia sent a quick message to her staff and rescheduled their meeting. Ten seconds into the Captain's briefing, Velshia knew she was going to have to reschedule again. It was a touch humorous that part of the code to the computer core of the Troubador included an ancient human prayer often used as a phrase for a desperate last attempt. Felt a bit on the nose. However, intelligence must think the threat of Mr. Lang credible. That the code he spoke was both accurate and he knew where the black box was. It still feels like a long shot, thought Velshia.
The plan hangs on Mr. Lang telling the truth. Of course, why wouldn't he? It stands to be quite the profitable venture. If he's lying, he stands to lose quite a bit. Any bidder for this item will certainly be filthy rich and likely equally as powerful. Unless he wants to gather numerous enemies in one place as this is quite the bait. However, if he allows, or demands, remote bidding, that nixes that idea. Yet this is all academic at the moment. First things first.
"Yes, captain. A few questions. First, are we certain this intel is accurate? Second, what's the timeframe for the operation? Third, what are our funds for the operation? Fourth, what are our covers?" Velshia stated. Strictly speaking, most of the questions were not necessary. It could be easily provided before departure. And the fourth question was thrown out to distance herself from any covert operations. Any opportunity to collect any intel on her enigmatic Weapon's Master and her thoroughly decorated and scarred Captain was a delightful one.
Still, now she was mildly more annoyed at Intelligence. The refusal to provide more information on Elazar would make it far more difficult to formulate proper plans. On the other hand she was familiar with the I-6 drone design, function, and trended behaviors, but made a mental note to read up on it again anyway. We'll need disguises, her thoughts hummed. Unfortunately, she couldn't provide much. Undercover work was annoying when the one's own side was part of the operation. Routine protocols and all.
TIME TO GO // TIME TO GO // TIME TO GO// TIME TO GO!
The bridge was a mess.
A railgun round had torn through the right side of the bridge, leaving a large tear that gave a view of Lustre far, far below. The comms console... had been where the tear now was. Well then. no long range comms. One of the arms on the captain's chair was melted, like chocolate under a hairdryer. The Pilot's cockpit at the front of the bridge and the bridge engineering console were in one piece, but there was a very concerning tilt to the nose of the cockpit, like someone had put the ship together like a giant Kalikan set and forgotten to give the cockpit's nose the final quarter-turn.
Perseus made some subvocalizations to have his suit use its newfound connection to the ship's distributed computer systems to bring up the ship diagnostics and.... oof.
SHIP DIAGNOSTICS OVERALL STATUS: LIMP MODE ENGAGED. IMMEDIATE REPAIRS REQUIRED
POWER Main Reactor - FUNCTIONAL. SERVICE OVERDUE.
Life Support Heat Exchange and Management - DISABLED.Dry dock repairs required.
Atmospherics - DISABLED, FULL BREACH.Dry dock repairs required.
Liquid Recycling - DISABLED.Dry dock repairs required. Nutrition Replication - DISABLED.Dry dock repairs required.
FTL SYSTEMS Hyperdrive System - DISABLED. Dry dock repairs required.
Wormhole Conduction Array - WARNING. GUIDANCE SYSTEMS UNAVAILABLE. DESTINATIONS LIMITED. Dry dock repairs required.
DEFENCE SYSTEMS Railgun - DISABLED.Dry dock repairs required.
Mass drivers - DISABLED.Dry dock repairs required.
LRPD Laser point defence array - DISABLED.Dry dock repairs required.
CRPD Plasma lance point defence array - DISABLED.Dry dock repairs required.
INFORMATICS Sensor Suite - DISABLED.Dry dock repairs required.
CPU MAINFRAME - DAMAGED.Distributed backups active. Partial system function maintained.
AI core - CRITICALLY DAMAGED.Full replacement required.
REALSPACE MOTILITY SYSTEMS Main thrusters - Thrusters One and Three FUNCTIONAL. Thrusters Two, Four, Five and Six DISABLED. Dry dock repairs required. Partial Thrust available.
Manoeuvre thrusters - 12/38 FUNCTIONAL. Dry dock repairs required. Partial rotation/translation available.
"Alright Gabi, if you hop in the driver's seat-" Perseus pointed to the cockpit "I'll man the engineering console-" Perseus walked over to the engineer's console, "Alright, I don't know how much the Coto can take, so we're going to gently-" "Perseus?" The whisper cut through Perseus' train of thought like a knife. It was Takeo, speaking quietly to him through a secure channel. "Perseus, as soon as you exercised rights to that derelict, we had a ton of radio chatter. I... I think the local defence force are coming for you. I... I don't know what to do. The foreman's telling us to shut up and get inside, but I-""Thanks. Run." Perseus muttered as he cut the feed. Perseus barely registered Gabi's slightly worried voice; "Perseus? Is everything okay?" as he shifted, trying to ignore the stone that just appeared in his stomach. He silently abandoned the engineering console and with practised grace moved himself to the tear in the deck, holding himself steady as he floated over the gap in the hull.
Far off, down below, the golden fog and silver clouds roiled in their beautiful dance. Home.
Three dots broke through the smog and clouds. They spiralled out of the atmosphere in a triple-helix, circling outward. One by one, the dots flashed the gold denoting the activation of Arumite armour's laser mitigation fields. "Oh no." Perseus' eyes widened with fear. The frigates would be here in seconds. "NEVERMIND, GABI, JUST PUNCH IT. STRAIGHT AHEAD!"
Perseus bodily threw himself back to the engineering console and impacted it as Gabi put the two functional engines to the test. The Cotopaxi reared and bucked like an old horse, ushered into motion after who-knows how long asleep. She moved grumpily, with little acceleration. But move she did.
Pulling himself around to the console's large screen Perseus punched in the chief engineer override for a random wormhole destination, his hands shaking. This was either going to be their salvation, or a grisly, unknown demise.
>>>OVERRIDE ACCEPTED. RANDOM WORMHOLE CONDUCTED.
Gabi wouldn't have had time to react. The wormhole appeared in front of them, a spherical hole in spacetime, an interstellar shortcut.
The World went wiggly, and for a moment, Perseus remembered why these things were still called wormholes. Because when you went through one, it was like you were the worm.
Perseus caught his breath as he tried to remember the warnings about exposure to higher-dimensional wormhole vacuum, before promptly putting it in a little mental box labelled "problems for later". One wormhole wouldn't be enough. Lustrian Frigates were capable of wormhole tracking almost as quickly as it took the Cotopaxi to create them. They would catch up in mere seconds.
Random wormhole creation was a dangerous, desperate, and foolish thing to do. It could put you in the middle of a star, past the event horizon of a blackhole, or worse, you could end up missing, never found again, stuck in the higher dimension wormholes pass through in your eagerness to bend spacetime like a greetings card.
Only one thing was more dangerous than random wormhole creation. One thing more foolhardy, more desperate.
Making multiple random wormholes in quick succession. Folding spacetime like an accordion and making more wormholes than anyone should be making in any region of space at a time. creating a sickening rollercoaster-pretzel of galactic proportions.
And, of course, that was what Perseus was planning to do.
The next wormhole was ready in three seconds, dead ahead.
Lustrian Frigates were capable of wormhole tracking almost as quickly as it took the Cotopaxi to create them. Almost.
The world went wiggly-
Space whales, great pink and white things the size of planets, flashing by in shoals larger than a solar system-
The Cotopaxi heaved-
A yellow nebula fizzing around the ship, thick as soup, a great shock of deceleration-
Perseus held his breath-
A black hole, too close for comfort, in the middle of devouring a red giant-
Perseus looked to Gabi, wide eyed. He was crying now, but also smiling. Another jump and-
A canvas of stars, galaxies, in every direction.
A pause. Were they safe?
The entire galaxy would get a blip of background undulation in the spacetime-gravity field, a little series of zigzags, on every gravitometer on every planet. Like a pair of black holes in a far off galaxy kissing. Gabi and Perseus were announcing themselves to the galaxy. We're here. And we're not afraid to do really, really stupid shit. Watch out empire, the Cotopaxi rides again.
Perseus vomited in his suit.
 - Kalikan is a Lustrian mechanical toy, Sort of a mix of Lego, Meccano, and a pet. Each set comes with an animal-level AI core that can be programmed to make exciting toys.
TIME TO GO // TIME TO GO // TIME TO GO// TIME TO GO!
Gabi didn’t allow herself to breathe until they’d lost the final frigate on their tail. It was nothing short of a miracle that the ship had held together and that she and Perseus weren’t floating in space somewhere. She glanced over at him and, for a moment, forgot that they were in the middle of a wormhole. It was difficult to find words to describe the expression on his face, but when he smiled she couldn’t help but smile back. She wished they weren’t wearing suits so she could reach out and brush the tears from his face. But then the Coto wobbled violently as they were dropped into the middle of space and the moment was over. She was thrown back in her seat rather hard and exhaled as she slumped for a brief moment. Her eyes slid back to the very nauseous-looking Lustrian in the chair next to her. “You okay?” she asked, but then he vomited in his suit, answering her question. “Oh! Gada!” she swore. “I’m so sorry. We’ll get you cleaned up when we arrive.”
Perseus made a soft "Guh" and nodded, mumbling "That was the dumbest thing I've ever done," though he let out a small chuckle "but I feel so-cough so alive right now." Perseus let out a soft chuckle, straightening up a little, visibly pulling himself together. He turned, and with a noticeable effort took a deep breath, wincing slightly at what must be a truly heinous smell. "You ok? All your bits in the right place?"
Gabi’s eyebrows knit together in concern. He really didn’t look good. Finally, she said, “I’m fine. I just need to open one more wormhole to get us there.” She sat up straighter and returned her attention to the control panel, pulling up the readouts on the various facilities around the ship. It was…not great? She didn’t understand most of it, but from what she could tell the AI was toast, along with the hyperdrive and other important functions. How long would it take before they could even use this bucket of bolts? Had she turned Perseus’s life upside down in the course of one afternoon for no good reason at all? She cast him a worried glance and sighed. She could ask him about it later, once they were truly safe on base. She punched in the coordinates to Zhar and watched as the final wormhole opened ahead of them, then carefully guided what remained of The Cotopaxi through.
Once they were out on the other side, Gabi closed it and looked out at her home, relief washing over her. The oceans were the same brilliant shade of blue, the lands the same shade of deep emerald. A delicate webbing of clouds covered the entire surface. She didn’t know why a part of her always expected it to be on fire or blown to pieces, but she was glad to be wrong. As she hopped onto the comms and hailed the base’s traffic control, she was careful to avoid the colorful commercial ships that carried innumerable tourists. Nobody outside of the New Resistance needed to know the Coto was here.
Once she’d received confirmation that they were safe to land, she began the descent to the planet’s surface. She glanced over at Perseus as they entered the atmosphere, drawing closer to the waters below. ”This is going to look, um, a little unsafe, but it’ll be fine. I promise,” she said reassuringly as they flew low over what appeared to be a still and tranquil lake. A dense copse of trees appeared on the horizon ahead of them, growing bigger and bigger by the second. Instead of decelerating, she accelerated, putting them on a direct collision course with the branches…but the Coto sailed through them as if they were made of air, and then the cloaking tech had fallen away and they were in a dark tunnel. She eased up on the speed a bit and focused on not hitting the walls, which were uncomfortably close to the sides of the ship.
Finally, they emerged onto the base and Gabi dropped them down to a slow cruising speed. Even with her suit on, the drastic change in temperature was noticeable. ”You’ll have to leave your helmet on or use a mask once we land,” she said. Some buildings were spread out on the ground far below while others had been built into the sides of the underground space itself, spread out like cobwebs. Most of the larger ones were connected by tunnels, so they didn’t have to worry about taking masks on and off while traveling in between. Everything in sight was bathed in a reddish-orange blow, and from all of the maintenance crews about, it was clear that the base hadn’t been used in this capacity in quite some time.
The landing bay was ahead, and she could see a small crowd starting to gather at the end of the closest dock. She guided the ship over to it and, at long last, engaged the landing gear. She peered out the glass for any sign of a familiar face, and saw Blaster standing in front, licking his nose. Weirdo. She stood up and started to make her way to the exit, but stopped and turned back to Perseus. ”Are you ready?” she asked, holding out a hand.
Most people would probably call Blaster’s home a hovel. It was tiny (he dug it all by himself, thank you very much, violating several safety protocols along the way), filthy (according to some people), and littered with various pyrotechnic parts and small animal bones (gotta eat somehow). It was totally paradise. At present, he had his back to all of that, too intent on the work he had splayed out on his workbench. He was elbow-deep in an experiment with a handful of remote detonation bombs. He wanted the most bang for his buck, so to speak, and since Gabi had sent them a message saying she was en route with The Cotopaxi, the time for his special skills seemed to be drawing closer and closer. They’d need every toy he could piece together! The prospect of all of the imminent space explosions had him licking his nose in anticipation.
Blaster slid the last wire into place on the detonator and carefully closed the case, his left eye twitching. Time to give these bad boys a test run. He stashed all of his tools - plus some fun extras - in his satchel and set out, crawling out of the entrance and into the open Zharian air. His home was situated several hundred yards from one of the ground entrances to the New Resistance’s “secret” bunker. Uh-huh. Worst kept secret in the entire galaxy, if you asked him. He saluted the two guards, who rolled their eyes at him in response, and scuttled inside. They’d learned not to ask to search his bag a long, long time ago. But hey, it wasn’t his fault that three of that new recruit’s fingers had been partially blown off, okay? That C4 had been perfectly stable before the kid had gone and..you know..touched it. Dumbass.
A quick walk down a dimly-lit tunnel and a turbolift ride later, and he was on base. He reached into his satchel, pulled out his oxygen mask, and slipped it on, relishing the blast of hot air that slapped his entire body as the turbolift doors opened. Nothing like an unbelievably punishing atmosphere to really get the juices flowing. Now, the only question was where to test these bombs out - somewhere not so populated, for sure. He didn’t need the Senate threatening his exile…again. Twice was enough. He eyeballed a partially empty shipyard at first, but then he saw it: an indoor children’s playground, presently closed for renovations. Perfect! Nobody would lose their snot-nosed brats, and doing a rebuild would take construction crews a lot longer than a renovation. He’d be free of tiny humans pulling on his ears for months! It was a win-win, really.
He darted from the lift to the playground as quick as he could, but he did pause behind a support pillar for a minute to dodge a patrol. They weren’t as easy to persuade as the guards outside. Once the patrol had vanished from view, he jimmied the door to the playground open and slipped inside. He was pleased to see that the adhesive of his own invention held up well as he strategically placed the charges around the room. Nobody had to know what, uh, special ingredients were in it. Nobody at all. Once four charges had been set, he hauled ass back to the entrance, his eager nose-licking habit kicking up again.
His finger was millimeters from the detonate button when a proximity alert chimed in his earpiece. Gabi was back!? AND she had fresh meat with her?? Frickin’ finally!! He scrambled up the stairs and out the door to the landing bay, neglecting to notice the grenade that fell from his satchel as he ran. He didn’t often resort to going down on all fours, but today was a special occasion as he darted between the legs of various humans and aliens to make it to the landing bay.
Da janela vê-se o Corcovado // O Redentor que lindo
The airlock didn't cycle. it had to be bullied back into place with a crowbar and a manual override. As it clicked, finally indicating they could open the outer doors, Perseus paused, feeling drained, feeling tentative.
"Are you ready?" Perseus looked at Gabi's hand for a moment. He had just travelled further than he had gone in his entire life in a matter of seconds. He was most likely a wanted criminal on Lustre now, and he worried for a moment how his actions would impact his family. No-one was going to believe that Perseus, son of Orion Galatea, the man responsible for the Lustrian connection to the resistance, just happened to be working on the ship that started it all.
His eyes raised to hers, and his expression shifted in to a kind of stoic resolve. "Yeah." Perseus croaked simply, taking her hand in his. "Yeah let's go. Together, right?" Perseus reached over and threw the switch beside him. Creaking, groaning, the doors opened.
Walking down the ramp. An underground complex this big must have taken decades. A relic from the old resistance, for sure.
He looked around at all the new faces, hoping the vomit had drained and wasn't obvious to everyone. Great first impression.
Quero a vida sempre assim com você perto de mim // Até o apagar da velha chama
Captain Bernadette Angstrom
Ship time 1321 hrs, 03/01/5032
Dresden's Orchard System, Planetary Lagrange point L1
The ICS head spoke up first, confidence apparent in her posture. The woman had Bernadette's respect, even if she did seem a little... distant, at times. "Yes, Captain. A few questions. First, are we certain this intel is accurate? Second, what's the timeframe for the operation? Third, what are our funds for the operation? Fourth, what are our covers?"
Bernadette thought for a moment, percolating on the questions. "The intel is accurate. The public comms key has been confirmed by naval intelligence. Unless he has a friend with Level Two or higher access to Empire intelligence network on the F.I.E., which we can safely assume is not the case, Lang would have had no way to access that information without having had some kind of access to the Troubadour's core, or having access to someone that had access to it. Either way, it's a lead we need."
Level two access was limited to a handful of the most trusted and high-level men and women on the First Imperial Ecumenopolis. Advisors that worked directly with the Emperor himself. Level one access required the biometrics and verbal passcodes of three members of the Emperor's inner circle of advisors, one of which had to be the intelligence advisor. The Emperor, of course, was classified as access level zero.
Level Three access was limited to Core world intelligence specialists, kept under constant scrutiny by the Imperial secret police.
Captain Angstrom herself had level four access, being the captain of a black ops ship. Her ICS head would have level five access. Velshia's immediate subordinates in informatics had level six access, and the average soldier had level seven.
"The sooner you can get this information, and capture or kill Lang, the better. Every minute he's out of custody is time he could be spending handing critical information to a third party. The bidding is due to end at 3pm on the 5th, just over two days' time, after which we will have to deal with additional parties tracking the location of the Troubadour's core. Our sources in the First Galactic Bank inform us that the accounts linked to the bidding are extremely active, so there's clearly a lot of interested parties. Which leads me on to the funds question. You'll find a Biobank iterant in the shuttle. it'll bond to whoever picks it up and states the passcode 'Aspire to silence'. The Iterant is linked to an account with four hundred thousand points of credit. You are cleared to use up to twenty thousand for your mission costs, and all of it for paying to secure the information. Be warned that Lang may believe he can make more than this figure at auction, and even if you pay him, you're still going to have to bring him in or end him. Consider it a... carrot to use for bargaining." Angstrom thought for a moment about the Iterant on the shuttle. a shard of the enormous Biobank hive mind organism, a planet-sized creature, sending out quantum-entangled Iterants, the modern day bank card; genetically modified plantoids, about the size of a fist, eager to bond to a user and curl around an arm or other limb. A bank card that actively avoids being stolen and can be used anywhere in the universe; no wonder they had become the only galactic bank in existence. Though of course the Imperial backing helped.
"And your cover? That, my dear head-of-informatics, is your call. The shuttle you will arrive planetside on will be unremarkable. one of any number of private skiffs that make journeys to the interstellar carrier ferries around stars in this region for FTL travel. we're inserting you on a trajectory that implies you are travelling to the planet from one such interstellar ferry. Do with that information as you will. Feel free to requisition additional supplies if you feel you need them to uphold the cover you decide on." Tordren was not stictly the espionage type, but she was smart. Bernadette was sure she could come up with something convincing.
With a long draw on a cigarette, Doctor Reginald Meadows looked over the playground at a considerable distance. Seeing the kid, Blaster, rush about filled him with a sense of nostalgia. Watching a child get up to some form of mischief that they didn't really know better about and had to be stopped. The good doctor had attempted to talk to Blaster before to no effect. He knew he was going to have to try again because placing bombs on the playground was going too far. There was only one thing to do. He called the military with the rueful reflection that there had to be some sense of galactic humor. The local Resistance garrison had the exact same number as the Imperial garrison back home. After the planetary code, of course. Naturally, given that this place was meant to be secret, most people didn't have the number. Meadows wasn't entirely sure how it worked as, as far as he could tell, the number was as standard as it could get. Probably bribes somewhere.
"Dr. Meadows," a crisp voice chimed as he completed the call, "has something happened? Does anyone need medical…"
"No, no, it's Blaster."
"Yes, Blaster. He's planted a bomb on the closed playground."
"Yah, I know. Listen, don't be too hard on the kid. He's been teased by…"
"That doesn't give license to plant a bomb!"
Meadows sighed, pinching his brows, "no, it doesn't. But the kid wasn't exactly raised with sense. How about I talk to him? Or get Gabi to talk to him 'bout it when she gets back."
"Dr. Meadows…you know I'll still need to report this to my superior."
"Yah, I know."
"Right. I've notified a bomb squad. Given Blaster's talent, we're going to go for something remote. Thank you for the information, Dr. Meadows. Oh, by the way, Gabi just returned. Channels are bursting with that she's on the Cotopaxi of all things."
"The Cotopaxi! That is news. Guess I'll go join the throng probably massing at the port."
"Heh, let me know how she looks."
"Yah yah, like you can't pull out the footage."
"See you, Dr. Meadows. Operator out."
The channel closed. Drawing again on the smoke stemming from his mouth, Meadows took a final look at the playground. His kids would have loved it. Turning away, the good doctor walked towards the port. Wondering how much of a wreck the old flagship of the Resistance was in.
don't you dare look out your window, darling, everything's on fire
safe & sound
Gabi had barely made it halfway down the ramp with Perseus before an orange blur smacked into her legs, ricocheted off, muttered a “Sorry, Gabs,” and then disappeared into the ship, a demented giggle floating in his wake.
She rolled her eyes and called after him “None of the weapons work yet, Aster!” before greeting the rebels that she recognized. Her eyes scanned the crowd for Zama, but he was nowhere in sight. It was difficult not to feel disappointed by that. A small team of technicians were standing closest to the front, eyeing The Cotopaxi with anticipation. After warning them that almost nothing was in working order, including the life support system, she watched as they disappeared into the hull. Not two minutes later one of the stronger men had thrown Blaster down the ramp by the scruff of his neck, who was muttering colorful curses about idiotic humans.
Her eye fell on Reginald then, and she felt a wave of relief wash over her. The doctor’s calm and measured personality was exactly what she needed right now. She led Perseus over to him and released his hand to give the head medic a brief but strong hug. ”How are things?” she asked him, but before he could answer, she saw a building explode over his shoulder. Her eyebrows shot up in surprise.
Blaster, who had followed them over, howled with delight. ”Real explosive!” Then he coughed. “But, uh, I hope no one was hurt. Yeah.” He began eyeballing Perseus then. ”Who’s this guy?” His nose twitched and then wrinkled. ”He smells terrible.”
Gabi resisted the urge to kick him, but just barely. ”This is Perseus. He’s the only reason I was able to bring The Cotopaxi back. I never would have gotten her working on my own.” She glanced at Reginald, hoping he’d be able to read her thoughts to some extent through her expression: I think he needs you. Though it probably wasn’t necessary. Her new friend looked terrible. She again felt a surge of guilt for so thoroughly turning his life upside down as she looked at him.
Elazar slipped into Angstrom’s office behind the hulking mass of parts known as I-6. After the proper salutations, he took the seat closest to the door and turned his attention to the screen. The man displayed was unfamiliar to him, and mostly unremarkable save for the legs. Now those were interesting. He’d be sure to take at least one back after the inevitable execution. Someone like him certainly couldn’t be allowed to live.
"Now I know what you're thinking, that sounds like the public comms key to the Troubadour's core computer! Now how could this dashing young man have access to such information? Anyone that wants to know of the whereabouts of this little black box of history can send offers direct to the dark-hypernet loci displayed on screen, now! The bids will be made public, so don't be stingy, Chölais!"
Elazar’s eyes narrowed. How dare that piece of scum treat this matter so…so trivially, like he was auctioning off a defunct blaster or a dupe of some valuable mineral. He flicked through the dossier on his datapad as he listened to his captain explain the mission, his eyes resting again on the man’s face, committing it to memory. A certain amount of grim satisfaction filled him as she granted them permission to get the information needed by any means necessary. He’d only be too happy to comply.
He listened to Velshia ask her questions, the captain’s responses, and then stood. He gave one tense nod and then exited the office, his mind already rifling through the possibilities of covers he could use. The weapons master made a quick stop at his quarters to change from his uniform to unremarkable street clothes, though he did keep the mask. It resembled a breathing apparatus to some extent, so he doubted it would raise too many eyebrows. He swung his bag, a few choice weapons packed, over his shoulder just as I-6 pinged them that the ship was ready. He took a turbolift down to the hangar, his shoulders set in grim determination. This slime would pay for so flippantly throwing around the security of the galaxy. He’d see to it personally.
Da janela vê-se o Corcovado // O Redentor que lindo
The slight panic Perseus felt at Gabi piloting them into the realistic tree line hologram rapidly gave way to awe. A secret city, beneath the crust of the planet... It was, frankly, a disgustingly huge project. What kind of people had created it? An entire planet, creating a megastructure beneath their very feet, to ensure the Resistance always had a place to return to... Perseus knew, at that moment, that he had made the right decision. Who cares what they thought of him at home? He watched as the dock got closer, and a large crowd clarified through the steam and fog of the secret cityscape. Perseus really wished he could get out of his suit. This was going to be an interesting first impression.
The Cotopaxi landed, groaning like an old man sitting down. The landing gear made noises they really shouldn't make. Down a grav-well the old girl showed her age a lot more.
A gang of resistance engineers walked past Gabi, some of them smiling at her, some side-eyeing him. Watching them enter the ship elicited a reactionary "Hey-" but they seemed intent on assessing the Cotopaxi as soon as possible. Fair enough. As much as he wanted to keep the Coto to himself, he was going to need help. Perseus would meet them soon enough, he was sure… He hoped they didn't try to hack into the systems when he had the chief engineer privileges on him. That would suck. "Hey Gabi, could you let them know that it's not a complete Lockbox? We don't want them trying to slice the firmware when we have the keys right here."
Exhausted, Perseus took a deep breath. The adrenaline was wearing off, and now he felt like he had gone a few rounds with a Dina nomad. Vaguely, he noted a furball of a person racing around, getting under people's feet. "This is Perseus. He's the only reason I was able to bring The Cotopaxi back. I never would have gotten her working on my own." First impressions, Perseus. Perseus tried standing up straight, holding in a wince as he did so. A floating rib broken, maybe? From when I was thrown into the engineering console? Whatever, game face- "Hi. I may not look it, but I'm an oath-taken Lustrian Shipwright. I can help you get the Cotopaxi in shape. She's legally- uuh..." Perseus paused. Might be a bad idea to claim ownership of the resistance flagship while standing in the middle, literally, of a resistance planet. "Nevermind. Look I'm here to help. But uuh... First, I need a fresher. and a suit cleansing station. And an oxygen refill." Perseus trailed off, somewhat lamely, before looking around.
Quero a vida sempre assim com você perto de mim // Até o apagar da velha chama
>>>Operation Red Sands
Naval black-ops squad, callsign: Drop-bear.
Assigned agents: [HICS] Velshia Tordren, [SO] I-6, [WM] Elazar.
Ship time: 1352 hrs, 03/01/5032. Local Time: 1002 hrs, 02/07/104.
Target Planet: Dresden's Orchard
Area of Operations: Camilla city
Target: Information held by Juzibar Lang, AKA "The Jackrabbit"
Rules of engagement:
1- Maintain Imperial deniability at all costs.
No further rules of engagement. I trust your judgement. Get it done. -A
The infiltration squad, freshly dubbed with the callsign "Drop-Bear" by the randomized callsign attribution software, entered the INS Ophelia's brightly lit hangar bay, fully suited and booted. The empire's finest. To the contrary, the Pegasus-class civilian transport shuttle was unremarkable. It wasn't new or particularly well or poorly maintained. The paint on the aluminium outer hull was greying and rad-bleached in places, and its transponder was up to date and legally registered to an owner of a ship rental company that would swear under oath that it had been rented out to various non-existent persons in the past standard year. The flight plan programmed into its flight computer seemed to have been automatically charted as the ship exited a carrier-ferry hours away.
On one of the passenger seats of the shuttle, carefully cushioned in a small climate-controlled briefcase was a small plant-like creature called an iterant. An unassuming tentacle-flower, the iterant was so-called due to it being an iteration of the great plant hivemind known simply as the biobank, a one of a kind being that made up the First Galactic Bank tens of thousands of light-years away.
The nature of the BioBank's ability to use quantum entanglement to simultaneously transfer information between it's many saplings and the main body was a closely guarded secret; a secret that allowed it, and by extension the biobank's allies in the empire to control the monetary system of the galaxy. When held by an individual and told the code phrase, the plant's tentacular leaves and petals would weave themselves into a smooth, tough bracelet, only be removable if the iterant considered the owner to be doing so of their own free will.
With the flower head containing organs capable of wireless connection with certain purpose-built wireless receivers, the iterant could act as a direct line to the planet-sized main body of the Biobank.
A bank card with anti-theft and anti-fraud features built in, solar-powered, that only spent your money when it was certain you weren't being swindled. No wonder it had taken the galaxy by storm.
The Shuttle shook with acceleration as it left the hangar, the gravity slingshot action of the hangar door systems tossing the ship with much greater speed than it could create for itself. The internal artificial gravity of the shuttle counteracted the G-forces on the squad in the shuttle, turning what would have been a lethal dose of acceleration into an uncomfortable jolt, tossing them back into their seats. One final comms burst came through from the hangar bay's dock-master: "Good hunting, Drop-Bear."
The true flight path, contrary to what the computer said, was a fairly long one, it would take the shuttle five hours to reach the planet's surface without drawing attention to itself.
First, the ship had to accelerate as hard as it could while it was behind the solar shield, out of sight of the observation satellites orbiting Dresden's Orchard. Then, mere seconds before it left the surveillance shadow of the solar shield, all engines were cut. The ship's internal lights were turned off, all non-critical systems were deactivated, and the critical systems were put into low power mode. The gambit, known by many as "going dark" was designed to make the shuttle as difficult to spot as possible. Only carefully directed scanning of specific spectrums would spot the shuttle now, and it was a big, big sky.
Travelling on a ballistic trajectory, looking like no more than a particularly expensive rock, the shuttle would take a little over three hours to reach the flight path where it could turn its engines back on and correct its course, proceeding to travel to Dresden's Orchard looking for all the world like a standard civilian shuttle that had experienced a little engine trouble. The new flight path, now in line with the flight computer, would imply it had approached from a common drop-off location for non-FTL capable craft, dropped off by the large inter-system civilian carriers that were common in this sector. An hour of acceleration and an hour of deceleration later, and the ship would begin its entry into the atmosphere of Dresden's Orchard.
Dresden's Orchard was a fairly recent colony, in its hundred and fourth year. The Solar shield that had been put in place a few hundred years before habitation had begun, along with various controlled ice-asteroid drops that had turned a desert world into one that was merely uncomfortably hot. Careful genetic manipulation of local ecosystems had even created what could be called rainforests in many of the wetter locations on the planet. Seas had swelled, creating a respectable ocean, covering just over 50% of the planet's surface. At some points in it's future, it had been pegged as perhaps a resort planet, or maybe a breadbasket planet, growing hotter-climate plants (hence the "orchard" name).
However, after several bountiful deposits of silicon had been prospected in the crust of the planet, the Dresden family was bought out by various megacorporations. A hostile take-over on a planetary scale. What had started as a steadily growing colony and culture was inundated by contracted immigrants and a large population of corpo debtor-slaves.
To the tune of corporate jingles and reassurances that "nothing would change" for the inhabitants of the planet, paradise was trampled under the landing gear of hundreds of thousands of shuttle-buses, and the thick wheels of great yellow quarry-drones.
The view that greeted the infiltration squad was a planet bedecked with large cities and pocked with mining operations. Cityscapes expounding the juxtaposition of the wealthy elite and the desperate underclass, with gigantic gravity-defying towers looming over sprawling slums.
Mining run-off streaming down the brown sands of once-picturesque beaches and staining the water yellow-brown, with separate environmentally controlled coves allowing the corpos to enjoy an artificially blue-watered beach just down the coast.
As the ship descended to the planet's surface, Camilla city came into view. It was like an eye: A pupil of black and navy-blue, sparkling with the reflections of glass architecture and hovercar hoods, sat bordered on the northern side by the sparkling tended beaches of the richest districts.
All around it, like a brown iris, like a scab of corrugated iron and slapdash desperation, the shanty towns of debtor-slaves, workers, miners, and everyone else. Still beyond that, the sclera of dusty savannah, stretching out, crossed by dusty roads to the great gouges of quarries and crust-mining complexes. The Shuttle descended, down to a shuttle-dock on the planet's surface. Little more than a hexagon of six asphalt hexagons, surrounded by a razor wire-topped concrete wall, it was within the walls of the rich district, barely. The owner knew they were coming, and had been paid ahead of time, thinking them just another load of travellers here to pick over the paradise's corpse.
The shuttle landed with a clunk, being clamped down to the berth.
Local Time: 1523, 02/07/104.
Good hunting, Drop-Bear.
Reginald looked up at the settled wreck of the craft. Definitely in need of a good fixing. Reminded him vaguely of his first house with Marian. She had cackled with delight over the project. Always one to save…Reginald shook his head. Clearing it before the fog of memories stole over him again. Returning to the present to see Gabi and a Lustrian disembarking. That Gabi wasn't alone was, in and of itself, surprising. Not by much, though. It was too much to hope that gaining the Cotopaxi would have been a clean and simple event. Well, the lass was back and the fellow who was brought along must have won enough trust from her to still be around. Security would handle the details.
The details that did begin to catch his eyes, after giving more than the slightest glance, immediately concerned him. The man was standing there, borderline swaying on the spot with vomitus in his helmet, and while clearly trying to move his chest as little as possible. Who knows what they went through getting that hulking shell of a vessel back here. Gabi looked fine enough, but only a proper exam could make certain of that. And the Lustrian, Perseus Gabi named him, seemed to think it was the appropriate time to give a speech! The doctor pinched the brow of his nose wondering, not for the first time, at the lengths people would go to just not deal with injuries.
Shunting himself forward as Perseus trailed off, Doctor Meadows ordered, "Alsevy, I see you in the crowd. Get the cot and couple EMTs from the med-station. And you!" he pointed a jabbing finger at Perseus, "enough knackering and follow me while you can walk. Giving a soddin' speech while looking dead on your feet to every eye, no bloomin' wonder you want an 02 refill."
Briefly accepting Gabi's hug and ignoring the explosion for the instant, he bellowed at the crowd, "clear the stormin' way! Doctor's orders." Satisfied with the affect, he turned back to the duo and said to Perseus, "c'mon son. This way. Nice and easy. Cut your knackering introductions and start telling me how you feel. Scale of one to ten, what's your pain. Ten being the worst and one being when a playground scrub flicked your nose."
Suddenly whipping back to the growing crowd. Some filling the void he had shouted open. Gawkers, the lot! "Officer Telebran, control this crowd and keep us a path! Cotopaxi's not going anywhere unless she's blows up on the platform so stop jaw-dropping and get shepherding! And you!" pointing his finger at Blaster in his turn, "You better pray that no one was hurt in that blast or the council's words will be least of your worries young man! Gabi, I want you at a medical station in no later than half an hour! Don't care how storming important this news is. The full report can wait until we all know you don't have yet another skull fracture!"
Turning back to Perseus as he gently led the way down and into the milling, though path-clearing, mass of onlookers, "alright son. Beyond the chest pain, how's your breathing? Short of breath? Feel like you're breathing through a straw? Cot'll be here soon and we'll get you properly looked at and patched up."
Da janela vê-se o Corcovado // O Redentor que lindo
Perseus blinked as he was thoroughly shut down by the old man. He didn't quite know what so say, so instead just mutely sort of... did as he was told. "I uuh. Sorry, thought I should explain-" Perseus was cut off by another demand he stop 'knackering', what did that even mean? Was it a human thing? Perseus listened as the man parted the crowd with nothing but the force of personality, before asking Perseus to put the pain to a number. It didn't hurt that bad if he kept his shoulders square and didn't move too fast, he supposed; "Uh, sure, four or five, I guess? It's not that bad, sir. My breathing's fine, just hurts to breathe deeply."
Perseus knew he was ruddy with embarrassment as he was led through the crowd. His hopes that nobody would notice the brownish-ness in his cheeks as being a sign of embarrassment was quickly squashed when he realized that at least a quarter of the crowd was made up of Lustrian men and women. Led through the group like a naughty schoolchild, Perseus just put on a gruff mask and got on with it. "How far is the med-tower? Respectfully sir, I'd really prefer to use the fresher first before I get inspected. I'll be careful, I promise." As Perseus was led away from Gabi, he gave her a slightly concerned look. It wasn't meant to mean anything, he just wasn't keen on splitting away from her. Nevertheless, Perseus was lead through the crowd, into the hidden underworld city beyond the landing area.
 Lustrian hospital equivalents are med-towers, tall special-built habitation towers that are designed with compactness and rapidity of ingress in mind. Most Lustrian architecture is built with modularity and urban environments in mind, thus most buildings being some sort of tower. Reginald, being a worldly doctor, probably knows what Perseus means.
Quero a vida sempre assim com você perto de mim // Até o apagar da velha chama
don't you dare look out your window, darling, everything's on fire
safe & sound
Watching Reginald take control of the situation gave Gabi a sense of solace, something she hadn’t felt in a long, long time. Here was an actual adult who knew what to do when things were falling apart. She suppressed a smile as she watched him admonish Perseus for knackering. The look Perseus shot her over his shoulder as he was led away caused something in her heart to clench, but she smiled reassuringly at him. ”I’ll find you later,” she called after him as Reginald commented on her multiple skull fractures. ”And don’t exaggerate, doctor. The Pertcann-9 incident doesn’t count.” As the two disappeared, she exhaled, finally feeling the effects of the adrenaline-packed afternoon. It was…disconcerting, to say the least, that she felt this fiercely protective over someone she barely knew. She took the idea and shoved it into a dark corner of her mind for later examination.
She made a quick trip back into the ship to relay the information about the lockbox to the engineers and then exited again to find some rebels still milling about. An irritable pair of security guards was questioning Blaster, who was of course denying any active involvement. ”Sure, something could have fallen out of my bag! Or maybe it didn’t! It’s the wild west down here!” She rolled her eyes and approached the clusters of people loitering about. She answered their questions as best she could without giving any classified information away and promised everyone would have a chance to see the inside of The Cotopaxi when it was safe to do so. After some time, the landing bay emptied out save for essential personnel.
Exhaustion had been sneaking up on her with every step, and now it was all she could do to stumble back to the squat, ugly cluster of buildings where crew quarters were located. The second she was inside, she tore the helmet off her head, though the recycled air of the halls wasn’t any fresher than what was in her suit. She tucked it under her arm and walked about halfway down the hall with its harsh, unforgiving light and walls that had once been a porcelain white. Now, they were stained from dirt and age. She activated the keypad by her door, typed the code in, and stepped into the cool darkness of her room.
It was extremely obvious that nobody had been occupying this space - most surfaces were covered in a thin layer of dust. She had never considered this to be a true home, so it was sparsely decorated and only contained a bed, a desk, lamp, and a datapad. At the end of her narrow bunk, however, her belongings from her shuttle were heaped in a small pile, along with…”BD-13!” She smiled at the droid, but it quickly turned to a frown when she realized his antenna was bent at nearly a 90-degree angle. ”What happened to you?”
Fox man. Said he needed a conductor, he chirped in a series of beeps.
”I’m sorry. I’ll replace it after this meeting, I promise” she said, though she longed to lay down and sleep for a while. On top of being so tired she did feel a bit dizzy. Instead, she showered quickly and dressed in a pair of standard-issue navy coveralls that most rebels wore around the base. She set a pair of tinted glasses atop her head, securing the stems behind her ears, and set off, making a quick stop in the mess hall for coffee. Reginald had Perseus to worry about, he wouldn’t notice her putting off a med bay visit…probably.