Quake

Desires For Donuts
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[01000101 01010010 01000001 01000100 00100000 01001001 00101101 00110110]

“We have reached our destination,” I-6's monotone voice came across the shuttle's internal loudspeaker as the ship touched down. The robot’s massive frame had somehow managed to cram it’s way into the pilot’s seat and was now finishing the last steps needed to secure the ship to the landing dock. “Entry to Dresden’s Orchard is successful. Please wait one moment. Accessing local Camilla security communications.” A quiet pause ensued over the airwaves as I-6 scanned for any signs their entry had been flagged as anything other than ordinary.

Nothing.

“We may begin.”

Powering down the shuttle, the I-6 drone unlocked the ship’s doors which opened with a low hiss. As the cabin's pressurization system released, the storage blocks in the back of the ship clicked open as well, allowing access to any additonal gear that the team might have stored on the ride over. Having not needed to bring anything apart from what it already possessed, the ERAD instead spent it's time securing and preparing the craft for while the team would be away. The last thing they needed was for their ship to be hijacked or inoperable upon return.

Having completed it's rounds, the I-6 drone stepped off the ship and approached Elazar and Velshia. Opening it’s right hand, a small blue holograph of Camilla City flickered up into existence, slowly rotating as select locations on the map began to pulse a faint yellow color. “I have cross referenced the images provided in the Captain's mission brief with the latest accessible layout of Camilla. These locations match or possess strong resemblances to those seen in the provided intel. Please be aware. A margin of error has been applied to the algorithm due to factors involving limited cityscape scans and other indiscernible factors. The results before you have all been filtered through to an 85 percent accuracy rating. If you would like, we may start here.” I-6 paused for a moment, allowing his teammates to view the information he had generated. After all, they were the ones who would decide what paths the mission would take. I-6 was there to simply provide assistance and support wherever he could.

“Alternatively, a second option. One moment.”The drone's gaze shifted away as it accessed the mission's intel once more.

[Accessing Jackrabbit Files.]
[Accessing footage.]
[Cross Referencing Camilla Seaside View with City Layout.]
[Generating possible matching locations...]
[Precise Location Undetermined. Provided Information Inconclusive.]
[Filtering...]
[Generating widespread area.]

I-6 shifted it's attention back to the team. “I apologize. I had attempted to extrapolate the exact location the video provided in the brief was taken. However, I am unable to do so with the intel we currently possess. For accuracy, a general area has been chosen instead based on the angle and height of the view seen in the provided footage.” In the machine's palm, a two-square-mile section of Camilla City lit up green. It wasn't pinpoint, but wherever the video had been taken was definitely somewhere within that highlighted block on the map. Fortunately for Drop-Bear, buildings didn't just get up and move, no matter how much a city changed over time.

"That is all I have for you at this moment. How would you like to proceed?”
 

Verran

Illogical
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The Good Doctor

"It's close enough and no, whether you keep being respectful or decide to start swearing up a hurricane, you don't get to use the fresher. What if you've got a lung punctured, eh? And the fact that your bone is sticking in it that's keeping you from bleeding out. Ever considered that? Or maybe whatever stress you placed your body under that made you vomit ruptured a blood vessel in your brain. Filling up with blood and just waiting for the pressure to knock you down for good. Think of that?"

The cot came rolling up with a pair of EMTs. The doctor gestured Perseus onto it. His face making it perfectly clear that there would be no disagreement. After he got on, the team shot off to the nearby medical station as they hooked O2​ into Perseus's suit. Standard protocols from time out of mind dictated that a full surgeon suite be attached to every drydock across the galaxy. Who knew how many systems skimped on such safety measures, but that was certainly not the case here.

As they made their way through the building, doctors and nurses jumping out of their way, Reginald ordered, "get an exam room prepped. Lustrian atmosphere," then asked Perseus, "so what happened. Remember how you got these injuries? Full details."
 
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muffinphobia

dancing witch
elAzAr : weApons mAster
Elazar gazed out the window at Dresden’s Orchard as it slowly grew larger below. There had been minimal interaction between himself, Velshia, and I-6 on the way down, which was just fine with him. He had no patience for small talk and likely wouldn’t have responded to questions anyway. As they descended to the surface and approached the city, he couldn’t help but think that it looked rather…ordinary. A perfect cover for someone like the Jackrabbit, he supposed, with its hustle and bustle, but the man must be confident that no violence would break out - or he was extremely arrogant.

There was a slight bump as they landed, accompanied by I-6’s announcement of arrival. He stood and collected his bag from where he’d stowed it prior to takeoff. Better to hide weapons out of sight than to mosey down the street with them and attract unwanted attention. So far, at least, it seemed that their presence had gone largely unnoticed, as the owner of this shuttle bay had clearly been paid off. It would stay that way as long as he had anything to say about it. As he descended the ramp, his eyes swept the cityscape that stretched out beyond the dock for a moment before he returned his attention to I-6 and the map being projected from I-6’s palm.

As the section of the map they needed lit up green, Elazar’s eyes swept over it. Two square miles…it was a lot of ground to cover on foot. The answer was fairly obvious to him. He took out his datapad and tapped in a few commands until the same map appeared. Using his finger, he split the area up into neat thirds. After a brief moment of studying the map further, he then highlighted a purple line that squiggled back and forth in a seemingly random pattern down the middle. To the best of his estimation, it followed the urban sprawl of the neighborhood, the ill-defined line between the nicer buildings and the shanties where shadier business no doubt took place. The perfect place for men like Lang: close enough to handle business dealings and any other…desires he had, but far enough above it all to live in the lap of luxury. The level of inequity was sickening. He looked at the other two. ”I’ll check southside,” he said, his voice low and distorted by the mask he wore. He turned and headed to the exit of the loading dock without waiting for a response, his comm already linked with theirs.
 
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Pigiron

Shipcutter
Original poster
Da janela vê-se o Corcovado // O Redentor que lindo

Perseus, even in his exhausted state, couldn't help but take in the spartan nature of human (Zharian?) Architecture. There was no artifice in it. Humans seemed perfectly happy with living in giant cubes and pillars. Every window he passed he stared out of, rubbernecking like a tourist, keeping pace with the doctor only so he wouldn't be told he was knackering again, whatever that meant.
He knew he looked like a bright-eyed youngster on their first trip away from home, but he couldn't help it. Aliens! An alien planet! An alien doctor about to do unspeakable things to his chest cavity!
Even the cheapest habitation tower on Lustre was a brass-gilded double helix of stepped cubic living spaces, great windows granting vistas of the golden sky and shining cities and oceans. Lustrian oath-bound architects swore on their souls that they would build nothing that sullied the beauty of the Lustrian cityscape. Every tower was a work of art, designed specifically to add a note to the chorus that was the city's song. Each meant to fit thematically with its neighbours. To be yet another testament to the craft.
Humans? Humans just seemed happy to impose rights angles on nature and call it a day.
It was... Inspiring, to say the least.

Perseus wondered just how much the good doctor knew about Lustrian biology. He paused, looking around, as they had walked the surroundings definitely were more... Sterile. A good sign. Eventually, they reached the waiting room for an emergency operating theatre of some sort. Bright, cold lights gleaming beyond frosted glass. The doctor was offered a mask to prevent the argon in the air pooling in his human lungs. For Perseus, bivalve tissues would take the argon and fix it, allowing it to be used in various critical metabolic processes.

Haltingly, Perseus entered through a door and a simple air circulator, basically a wall of wind, faster to pass than a full airlock, but a little leakier. Good for keeping two different atmos of about the same density separate.
The exhaustion was really piling up now. Thoughts were coming in shorter and lazier sentences. He looked at his HUD. Good atmo. Finally.
He reached up, muscle memory performing the complex series of clicks and twists necessary to break the seal on his helmet. A hiss. Fresh air, finally. Well, not quite. Recycled. But at least it didn't stink of vomit.
Steadily, with slow fingers, Perseus unhooked the different segments of his suit. Stripped it all off, down to his underclothing. Brown woven trousers over a pair of grey undershorts, dull grey socks and, of course, in a slightly flexible form-fitted metal tube around his left forearm, a computer that housed his biobank iterant as well as his PC and comms.
Stealthily, Perseus inserted the data card from his helmet into the wrist comm. Better to keep it on him at all times.

His spacesuit now lay in a smelly pile on the dull flecked-green floor, shortly after, Perseus' sweaty white shirt joined it. While he had been undressing, avoiding bending his chest as best he could, being helped by an insistent nurse when he couldn't, the doctor seemed to be using some sort of miniaturized fresher designed to rapidly cleanse his hands, readying them for work quicker and more consistently than simply washing them. Another good sign. A tray of some sort was wheeled in. A bunch of tools and tinctures, Perseus assumed. Half naked, Perseus looked around. He caught himself in the mirrored reflection of a nearby observation window. A little on the tall side, a little on the lean side. Not as wiry as his father had been at his age, that's for sure, but certainly not an athlete. He had toned up a bit after starting work at the salvage yard. He had got into the habit of frequent exercise, and there was a lot of pushing and pulling on the job.
Perseus turned and... Ouch, alright, maybe he did need to be here. Across his left side, where he had impacted the console, a purple-brown bruise marred the golden skin. Like an ink splot, across the bottom half of his chest on that side. Hurt to look at, hurt more to touch. "Wow, Dr... Wait what was your name? I don't think I caught it... This is my first time off Lustre. How familiar are you with Lustrian biology? I only ask since you're ack-" half-drunk with lethargy, Perseus was gently but firmly sat in what looked like an adjustable crash couch, only the couch seemed to form fit under his body, cushioning it and slowly flattening into a bed at the command of his doctor. "Has anyone ever told you your bedside manner leaves a little to be desired, doc?"

Quero a vida sempre assim com você perto de mim // Até o apagar da velha chama
 

muffinphobia

dancing witch
don't you dare look out your window, darling, everything's on fire
safe & sound
The council was running late - apparently still deciding amongst themselves how to approach the fact that The Cotopaxi was technically under the ownership of a third party. Gabi was seated in the waiting area outside the meeting chamber, fidgeting. How much longer was this going to take? Patience had never been her strong suit. Just then there was a quiet beep in her ear, signaling that she now had access to the dossier, at least. She slipped her glasses onto her face and said, ”BD, show it to me, please.” It appeared a moment later as a narrow wall of text about halfway up the wall beside her. She scrolled through it quickly. It looked like most of the time would be dedicated to talking about the ship, as she’d suspected, but something interesting caught her eye as she neared the end.

Discovery: cryogenically frozen life form recovered from INS Troubadour. Appears to be alive. Further evaluation by Dr. Meadows requested.

Her mouth fell open as she processed that particular bit of information. They’d found someone!? How was that even possible? Was it a sentient being that could possibly know something? Would Reginald even know how to wake whoever it was up? Cryogenesis hadn’t been utilized for hundreds of years at least…had he even seen this mystery life form yet?

She stood up, ignoring how her head swam and how she almost slumped into the wall beside her. Her curiosity was too powerful to wait until he arrived for the meeting to get answers. She pushed her glasses back to their original position and took off at a brisk pace until she reached the tunnel that connected the council building to their medical facility.

A few minutes later she had arrived at her destination. She paused and flagged down one of Reginald’s assistants. ”Henry, where’s Dr. Meadows? I have something urgent to ask him.”

The assistant replied, “He’s in exam room 4…uuh, are you okay? You don’t look so good.”

She’d barely replied with a ”I’m fine” before she disappeared down the hall lined with exam rooms. Once she’d found the right one, she knocked and opened the door without waiting for a response. ”Reginald! Is it really true that we found a cryogenically frozen-” she started to say, but the words died in her throat as she realized who else was in the room with him.

Oh. Oh.

It was very much Perseus getting a physical exam done, and he was very much shirtless. And taller than she’d realized. And muscular…

Once her thoughts caught up with her eyeballs, she realized she’d basically been ogling him and felt her face flush. “I’m so sorry!” she squeaked, her voice several octaves higher than she’d ever thought it capable of going. She turned around so fast that she nearly smacked into the door in her rush to get back out. It had barely opened before she’d slid through and practically sprinted back to the waiting area in front.

Oh. Gods.

I cannot believe that just happened.
She groaned and leaned back against the wall closest to her, cheeks still burning. She wished for nothing more than a hole in the ground to open up and swallow her. Maybe Blaster could help...
you'll be alright, no one can hurt you now
Code by Jenamos
 
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Verran

Illogical
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The Sleeper

Velshia had spent much of the trip reading. Before blast off, however, she did stop off in Engineering to acquire a method of hiding some good old computer equipment. Black Op vessels were wonderful in that everybody knew at least some sort of trick and, a short while later, she boarded the shuttle with the looks of a general drifter with a pack on her back. Someone to be hired for a day and then gone the next. Able to do those menial jobs shared all across the galaxy.

She had hoped to enjoy Orchard. Certainly not for the local civilian life, considering the raw squalor of the place, but perhaps the environment would remind her more of home's humidity. Sadly, this was far, far from the case. The industrial engine had well ruined any chance that the land could be related to home. Turning the humid air distinctively grimey. Velshia made a mental note to requisition an extra long shower upon return to the Ophelia.

But, again, most of the time had been spent reading. The I-6 model certainly had the complicated history. Hmm, she mused, I wonder how much personality algorithms can be enticed into the system. Colorful machines always made the most fun to report on. If it were allowed, she would have given the INS Ophelia a subroutine to give the most floral responses and then charted how long it took the crew to recognize all the puns. Or at least taught the AI to respond as such. Ah, alas. The rigidity of military life.

Elazar proved to be a quick read because, once again, there wasn't much on him. Which made her wonder, also once again, what exactly his clearance or history was to afford him such obscurity. As if the mists themselves had formed a great and impenetrable barrier. Yet all barriers could be torn down. Those with the mind, dedication, and faith could penetrate the mists. Velshia had shaken her head. The question wasn't a matter of capability but if she should work to do so. What Intelligence barred was not her to break. Still irksome though.

Her thoughts then turned to Lang. The Jackrabbit certainly had an interestingly broad profile. There didn't seem to be much he didn't have his fingers in. However, there wasn't anything of particular note that Captain Angstrom hadn't covered in her briefing. Well it would only be a matter of time until they found him and extracted all his personality quirks with every other drop of information. And time indeed was of the essence. Two days for the full operation. Tight time budgets made for baggy eyes! It would do. It'll do.

And, upon arrival, it seemed that they were already off to a good start. I-6 had narrowed down the location to a mere two-square miles. Simple enough to begin searching if they just accessed the various security observation fields owned by all the differing factions across the planet.

"Well done I-6!" she commended, "now all we need to do is…"

"I'll check southside," interrupted an evidently disgruntled Elazar. Disliking the planet already? And what was he planning to do if he saw the Jackrabbit? Somehow fight through an undoubtedly thorough compliment of security systems and personnel? Grab him and then rush back to the shuttle through an almost certain fire fight? Wait for allies, hopefully, to return to the vessel and then blast off through whatever defense network and ships to race their way back to the INS Ophelia? Just hoping that everything would simply work out? That wouldn't do, no it would not. Certainly, time was not on their side, but they did have two days. They could at least spend the first half of the first day gathering information. Finding and tracking his location. Marking guards. Narrowing down locations where he stored the black box as where he filmed his studio productions did not necessarily imply that his prized valuables were stored in the same place. Not to mention that having a safehouse to work from would be a wonderful commodity to have in this cutthroat landscape. In short, planning things out! Velshia sighed. Trying to persuade Elazar of changing whatever plan his solitary mind had come up with did not seem likely to succeed. She'd have to crack that outer shell and begin worming her way into the sphere called trust. Now that would be quite the project. One to take far longer than the two days in front of them. Time to start on it then. Which would, sadly, mean playing along to at least some degree.

"Alright, I'll take the north then," she commed after him with I-6 kept firmly in the loop, "but let's keep it to recon. After all, we'll want an extraction plan before we steal him from his adoring staff. And keep an eye out for a good place to hole up for the operation."








The Good Doctor

"Doctor Meadows. And I'm quite familiar with Lustrian biology. One of the ten races every first-year med student needs to learn of the eighty-seven they need to know upon graduation," he gave a reminiscent smile, "And that's if they're only general practitioners. Lucky you, I'm more than that. Unsurprisingly enough, you are far from the first patient to comment on my lack of 'bedside mannerisms.' To which I always reply, 'that is one of the many reasons why doctors employ a full staff and cannot do everything themselves.' Now, Nurse Kedamar, please take an x-ray of Mr. Perseus side. Though his overall pallor does suggest that…"

The door burst open. "Reginald!"

"Doctor, Gabi, I'm at…"

"Is it really true that we found a cryogenically frozen…" she froze for about three seconds, "I'm so sorry!"

Back out the doors she went. Dr. Meadows rolled his eyes. Already having an inclination as to what was happening. Then narrowed his eyes. She's bloomin' pale in the face! And who knows what else. Growling, he punched the comms. "Orderly Mordily Mason! Kindly ensure that Ms. Gabi makes her way into exam room three and that Dr. Crystal Maylor sees to her in short order!"

Fool woman deciding to take a jolly jaunt while looking like that. Removing himself of his glare, he accepted the picture taken by the nurse. "Thank you. Yup, broken rib. Another cracked. Nurse, do get a skin sample…no, hair sample. Run structural analysis. I want to check something. You wormholed all the way here. And I'm betting that deciding to buy the bloomin' Cotopaxi did not go over very well with the local garrison. Wherever you bought it from. How did you come here anyway?"

The nurse used her machine fingers to snip a cut off a single strand of hair and placed it beneath a scanner. All the while, Dr. Meadows punched buttons on the side of the bed. Immediately, the injured side to Perseus's body grew warm. Stimulating the body and feeding it Galcomiin to encourage the body to regrow and connect the broken structure based upon projected data of what Perseus's ribs should look like.

"Doctor," the nurse chimed in, "the results…the hair look…loose?"

Doctor Meadows perused them with eyebrows raised, "yah, figures. Hell, son, how many bleedin' holes did the two of you jump through?" He flipped the flimsy data-pad around to show him. Indeed, the cells of his hair appeared, well, loose. Like they didn't want to always just stick together.

"What you've got is called Catakorii Syndrome, or the Wormhole Wiggles. Happens when someone, like you two, jump through hole after hole without the proper shielding or breaks. Shakes your body apart bit by bit. Why the hell it does that, search me. Ask a physicist. Fortunately, your symptoms are mild. Nausea, vomiting, so on. No blood in it though. I'd be worried otherwise. You'll recover, in time, if left well alone. Probably puke your guts out a few more times, but still. Or I can stick some medicine in you. Make you go rigid as a board for about three to five hours. I'll need to know if you're allergic to anything before I can though. Nurse Kedamar, page Dr. Maylor that Gabi likely is suffering some mild to moderate Catakorii Syndrome. So, what do you want?"

Speaking of Gabi, she was yammering about some cryogenics. While waiting for Perseus's decision, he checked his pager. Huh…who knew. It came when he was on break and wasn't an emergency. Strict division between work and relaxation saw to him not seeing it. Well, this could be interesting.
 

Quake

Desires For Donuts
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[01000101 01010010 01000001 01000100 00100000 01001001 00101101 00110110]


The mission had begun, and there was little time to waste. Exiting the dock through the main gate, I-6 downloaded the city’s sights and sounds as they came, calibrating itself to the new location. All around it, the city was alive with noise and heat. Countless vehicles littered the desert planet's roads; everything from run-down mining transports heading off for excavation to carefree rich kids burning their parent's money in the latest supercars. The ERAD took it all in, unable to recall a time it had seen such a blatant display of wealth disparity. Past records of the colony claimed that the general populace had once considered the planet a 'paradise.' A quick glance towards the slums a stone's throw away all but confirmed whose 'paradise' it was now.

Unfortunately for the locals, Operation Burning Sands' mission directive wasn't to fix the deep-seated power and economical issues of the desert colony, or I-6 may have attempted to formulate an actual solution right then and there. Instead, all processing power was directed towards locating the Jackrabbit. The Empire viewed the information he possessed as priority one, which meant their A.I. viewed it the same way. Passing through the crowds of Camilla City, the drone made it's way downtown mostly unbothered. It's towering physique drew attention from the occasional child or passerby, but for the most part the Assault drone was simply one of the many faceless, mechanized citizens that occupied the city streets.

As I-6 stepped across the road and into the first of many shopping districts, it was immediately bombarded with countless advertisements and promotional holograms offering the latest in fashion, technology, and experiences, The audience for many of these stores was clear, as simple items like clothing and footwear were found tagged with prices rivaling annual paychecks for the common man. I-6 performed general base scans on a few of the ads as he passed, noting how they all seemed to run on the same basic looped hardware. Easily manipulatable, it thought. For a city that offered the best to the rich, it seemed to skimp out on the smaller, more basic things. These oversights would likely prove useful in the future.

Pathing through a series of open-air malls and back out into the main city, I-6's gait slowed, coming to a full stop. The drone's red marker was now blinking in the green square, designating that It had arrived on location. Glancing around for where to begin, the machine observed a blue, two-story pillbox building with the letters CCPD embossed in bold lettering across the building's facade. Camilla City Police Department. This was a good place to start. Lang wouldn't be found here, but the station would likely possess records and documentation of the crimes in Camilla City with which the team could use for assistance. All the drone needed to do was gain access to the precinct's filing system. Unfortunately, it couldn't just walk through the front door without drawing attention. Taking up a corner position out of the way of foot traffic, the droid's eyes swept the exterior of the building, searching for cameras and other security measures. As it did, a plan of attack began to come together.
 
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muffinphobia

dancing witch
elAzAr : weApons mAster
Elazar drew up the hood on his jacket as he walked, careful not to spend too much time gawking or glaring at one thing in particular. It was a difficult task because truthfully, he loathed almost everything in sight. How could any proper leader allow their people to sit in filth and rags amongst stalls with items priced so unbelievably high? He brushed past a salesman offering a large spool of silk that looked rather suspect in quality. Searching for the Jackrabbit like this wasn’t going to work for him, not at all. He’d become too enraged. He stopped walking just long enough to reach into the bottom of his pack for a ration package. As he made for the exit, he allowed it to slip from his grasp and land at the feet of a young girl who was eyeing an exotic fruit vendor’s wares hungrily.

A moment later he had exited the open-air market, doing his best not to dwell on what he’d seen. He instead angled for a building that swept high above the others, his eyes on the pavement under his feet as he circled around to the alley between it and a neighboring structure. Once he was safely out of sight of the general public, he took out his datapad and consulted it - he was approximately halfway inside his third of the map, his red dot blinking steadily on the purple line he’d drawn earlier. His eyes darted around the shadowed alley. There was no one in his direct line of vision, and no security cameras that he could see. Excellent.

He activated a protocol via his datapad and stashed it away just as two small hidden compartments on the bottom of his pack opened, revealing thrusters. He caught the power dial before it had a chance to fall to the ground - he really needed to fix that third compartment - and secured it to his wrist. His eyes turned skyward now, looking for a vantage point that would be somewhat obscured from the street’s view. After a minute or two of searching, he finally saw it: the building’s penthouse floor was supported by statues of gigantic, ugly beasts. Each beast appeared to share the same squat torso but had at least seven heads atop long and twisted necks. Open mouths full of sharp teeth screamed down at the city silently. Massive tentacles also adorned each monster’s body. It was…disconcerting, to say the least, but the nook between the monster’s back and the balcony was the perfect spot. He sighed and turned the dial to its lowest thrusting capacity. It would have to do.

The jetpack had been designed with secrecy in mind, so it made little noise as he ascended to his query and carefully maneuvered his way into the nook. Once he was close enough, he disengaged the thrusters and grabbed hold of the tentacle nearest to him, using it to boost himself up over the thing’s shoulder and into the nook. He looked around as soon as he had a secure spot, but the quick scan of his surroundings didn’t reveal any astounded onlookers. Satisfied, he reached into his pack and pulled out a pair of binoculars. It wasn’t the most complex method of information gathering, certainly, but it could prove useful. He began a scan of the closest storefronts, looking for any sign of unusual activity.
 

Presea_cousin

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Blazing Hair Runi

"Ship orbit is being maintained. Relative position between the planet and star is steady."

"Jammers and reflectors are fully functioning. Ship's visibility is zero."

"Emissions are dispersing widely. Ship's footprint is zero."

"Excellent work. Keep the ship steady." A firm voice came from the head of the bridge, a raised platform looking down at the rest of the bridge stations. Currently at the head was the Ophelia's XO, Runi Kindler. Her bright neon red hair waving slightly as she walked along the bridge, her eyes flitting between the different monitors and readouts. In front of the bridge was a large screen with a simulated 'window' that looked out onto the front of the ship and a distant Dresdan's Orchard which they were currently maintaining their position from. Captain Angstrom was giving the briefing to the strike team, so Runi was holding command over the bridge. Not that there was too much to command. Right now it was just glorified guard post duty. As long as their position remained incognito and nothing came close to approaching them, there wasn't much to do on the bridge. Out of the corner of her eye, Runi was already catching one crew member playing 4D hologram solitaire. She ought to reprimand them. In fact, they probably wouldn't have even attempted sneaking something like that if Angstrom was on the bridge. But Runi decided to let them have that. In fact, in her mind..

Bored. Bored. Bored. Bored. Bored. Bored. Runi sighed. It had been five years since she had attained her coveted rank of XO. A dream position she had wanted since she first joined the Navy and even tried to blatantly blackmail her way into on her first ship assignment. It was always a fun memory to look back on. A teenage girl fresh out of the academy trying to blackmail her way into the second top position through a blatant lie. Still it was something she aspired to and worked towards her entire career and now she had it. She had the privilege of staying on the bridge of a ship that was, for all things relatively considered, motionless.

Runi completed a lap of the bridge, ending back at the raised section with the captain's chair. She plopped into the elaborate swiveling seat, the arms of the chair lined with consoles, readouts, and holographic dossiers that would display whatever file the current in-command needed. She pulled up one of the screens and began flickering through some of the ship's documents. She went over the details of the current mission to hunt the Jackrabbit, the strike team having deployed hours ago and probably made planetfall by now. The current plan was to let them take action on their own and await contact by them. Too many communication attempts from the Ophelia's side had the slightest, very large emphasis on slight, chance of being intercepted and jeopardizing the mission. So again, not much to do from the bridge side of things.

Runi's free hand tapped against parts of the chair as she tried to figure out if there was anything she could do to add to the mission. Read intercepted communications? No, they already had other officers doing that. Most of it was just chatter about stocks, economics, disputes over docking and import charges, nothing useful yet. Mobilize additional personnel to send down the planet? No, that was the exact mistake Angstrom was avoiding with sending down the infiltration squad. Mobilize additional personnel to just be ready? Oh, that was called a drill. They did that today already. The redhead drooped her head for a bit and sighed before raising it and assuming a half-proper, half-bored slouch position on the captain's chair, legs crossed, one arm propping up her head. It was going to be slow for awhile. She prayed godspeed to the infiltration team. Or at least for an asteroid to get somewhat close to the ship so she could order a laser fired at something! Bored. Bored. Bored. Bored. Bored.
 

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Pigiron

Shipcutter
Original poster
Da janela vê-se o Corcovado // O Redentor que lindo

Perseus had frozen when Gabi burst in, his eyes growing wide. He heard her announce something about cryogenics, let out a cute little strangled yell, and run off. Perseus just screwed his eyes shut as Gabi ran away, having seen him in all his sweaty, half naked glory. Okie-doke. Suppressing that twenty seconds. Aaand suppressed. Perseus straightened up on the bed-couch thing, wincing at a shooting pain in his side, and got on with the medical inspection.

"So, uuh... Apologies for questioning your expertise, Dr Mead-ow!" The Nurse gently held Perseus still as she took an X-ray scan with a small handheld medical scanner, running up and down the brown and purple bruised area. Dr Meadows demanded an orderly to put Gabi in her own inspection room, proceeding to order various densitometer and other scans on Perseus. Perseus sat still for a moment. hold on... cryogenics?" Perseus opened his mouth to enquire, but shut it again when the doctor took a look at the various scans, a pensive and concerned look coming over his augment-pocked features. "Hell, son, how many bleedin' holes did the two of you jump through?" Dr Meadows sighed, his usual gruff demeanour showing what Perseus hoped wasn't dire concern. "I uuh.... We had four homeworld mil-pol Frigates on our tail, because... You know, I'm not sure why? Why would they have a vested interest in seeing the 'Paxi decommed? It doesn't make any sense- oh, sorry. Right. We uuh... Look we had to pull five simultaneous wormhole jumps.... with no atmo..." Perseus winced slightly at the look the doctor was giving him; "And-I-know-that's-not-healthy but it was that or-or be blown outta the black! The frigates tracked us through some of the holes, I'm sure! They have tracking capability. If we hadn't made several jumps, we would have been caught, or worse, led them right here!"

"What you've got is called Catakorii Syndrome, or the Wormhole Wiggles." Perseus winced as realisation dawned. He had seen the results of acute Catakorii's during some late-night morbid gal-net searches and... There was a distinct dread that crawled up his spine. He was glad the doc had Gabi locked down for an inspection. It was suddenly very apparent just how lucky He and Gabi had got. With a suddenly dry throat, Perseus croaked out a: "Whatever you think would be best, doc, but if you say I should be fine after a few days... I'll happily take it easy. I don't like the idea of being locked up for hours on end."

Quero a vida sempre assim com você perto de mim // Até o apagar da velha chama
 
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Pigiron

Shipcutter
Original poster
Captain Bernadette Angstrom
Ship time 1924 hrs, 03/01/5032
Dresden's Orchard System, Planetary Lagrange point L1 Flickering_cursor.gif




Captain Angstrom leaned back slightly, slightly lidded eyes dispassionately observing at the live holographic feed of first officer Kindler, wandering about the bridge. The captain didn't need to be a mind reader to see that her first officer was feeling the monotony of the captain's current stratagem more than most. Ruri was a battle-leader, more than anything else, and every step of her climb up the ladder of command had been bought in the blood of the empire's enemies. Angstrom allowed herself a moment of nostalgia for her field service days; almost subconsciously her arm wavered and ran like wet paint, extending into a limb somewhere between the wing of a bird and the front limbs of a praying mantis, the two switchback segments slightly curved and bristling with a saw of thorns on the inside edge, stretching and flexing with the slight shudder of nanite-built musculature. Casually inspecting the limb's current shape, Angstrom spoke in her usual crisp voice. "Computer, end first officer Kindler's shift early and request her presence at the officer's mess. Append message: We haven't had a chance to talk recently, let's take dinner together." The bridge would survive on its own for a while, what with military policy dictating the chain of command. Her hand snapped back to its human shape, receding and compacting in a few moments.

Angstrom permitted the humanoid cleaning borgs to enter her office as she left it. The corridor to her office branched off of the command corridor, and the command corridor was short, by design. It led up to the bridge to the fore, to the command staterooms to the aft, with all the necessary command offices, essentials, and amenities in between. Angstrom only had to wait for a moment, as Officer Kindler strode out of the bridge, her eponymous mane flowing behind her,

"Ruri, good evening. How are you doing? I know a holding pattern isn't precisely your favourite posting." Angstrom turned and began striding toward the officer's mess, subvocally sending commands to the ship's computer to prepare her meal. "what will you have? I've got the line open." as Angstrom passed on the first officer's order into the computer, the pair walked into the warmly lit lounge-cafe area. One of the "night" shift officers, taking breakfast ahead of their shift, spotted Angstrom first. A shout of "Captain on deck" was belted out, and a flurry of activity unfolded as various officers saluted and those not sat at mess snapped to attention, a clear "as you were." and the five or six officers in the room continued eating and socializing. In the moment of silence a series of molecular printers could be heard quietly working in the kitchen, weaving meals from vats of organic slurry, transforming unpalatable carbon-gruel into cooking to rival the finest line chefs in mere minutes.

The captain proceeded to a wall table, choosing one that commanded a good view of the door and the rest of the room. Once they were sat, they didn't have to wait long for a serving drone delivered their food. "I've been reading a study on an imperial terraforming candidate. A planet on the edge of empire space. Sintris, it's called. Its people are barely out of the stone age. Suffering unbearably, I'd imagine. The entire planet is a desert, and a senary star system means no, or at least very few nights..." the food arrived, and a small blue Volturnian lobster, still steaming, arrived for Angstrom. "There is an... insect, on Sintris. It's called Werel'Khol in the native tongue, with Imperial scientists deigning it the basking albatross-mantis..." Angstrom cracked open the shell, but didn't eat any of the flesh, laying out carefully cut strips alongside the empty carapace. "It's top side is covered in a silvery carapace, to reflect the heat of the suns. Its underside is the warm ochre of the Sintris sky."Angstrom continued to gently dissect the Volturnian lobster in front of her, still pensively holding off on taking a bite; "They survive the heat with a rather interesting air-cooling system. They have a large mouth that is almost always open. Their lungs function at dual purposes, not only for respiration, but also as a sort of biological air cooling system for their organs. They only close their mouth to dive and hunt other Sintris bird-analogues, and to eat of course." the husk of the Volturnian lobster now entirely shucked, it was neatly set aside. "If they fly too slowly for too long, they die. They are beings built on the idea of constant progress, constant forward momentum. For a time, I wondered why the idea felt so familiar, and then I remembered your progress through the ranks." Angstrom broke into a smile, dipped a length of the lobster's flesh in a small bowl of dark sauce, before finally taking her first bite. She chewed, swallowed, and proceeded "I feel like you might need an outlet, of some sort, while we're in this holding pattern. Would you agree?"
 
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Verran

Illogical
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The Sleeper

Velshia hummed pleasantly as she meandered the streets. Fiddling with buttons on the inside of her straps. Keeping one eye out for either the Jackrabbit or his layer and the other eye on learning the lay of the land. Unfortunately, only the clergy back home had the right to paint the third eye, the eye of dreaming, upon their head. So, she was forced to rely on only her two eyes to find a safe house. The squalor all around barely even touched her. It wasn't the idea of being above it or more important than it, but just the simple facts that she could not do anything about it, currently, and that any emotional attachment to it would not help her achieve the mission objectives.

A smile grew on her lips as memory lapsed across reality. Blurring the lines of the dilapidated road with the large, towering trees along with dense clusters of pools. Mist and fog swirled around. Crowding in about the girl swished her arms through them.

"Velshia." Her Mother's voice penetrated the land-ridden clouds. Immediately, Velshia snapped her arms back into a meditative position. "You must not get distracted, Velshia. The mists swirl and delight. When you revel with it, so too will everyone know your revel. To stride unobserved, you must become as the mist, as the forest. Align your world to the world and those who walk in that world will only see the blinding fog. Even when you stand straight before them."

"Yes, Mother." The child Velshia didn't truly grasp what all that meant. Not yet. But she knew enough to get started and so she pondered the mist. She didn't lose herself in it. Did not marvel. Instead, she considered how it swirl, swayed, and occluded all eyes. Hours passed and still Velshia sat, rigid as a board, eyes closed. Then she began to sway. Flowing with the invisible ghost of an untouchable breeze that still drifted the mist ever so slightly this way, then that. Her breathing a mirror to the soundless breeze.

"Very good." Her Mother's voice slid through the mist. "One day, little one, we shall teach you to be mist with your eyes wide open."

Velshia shook her head with a chuckle. What would her parents say if they knew she were reminiscing on the job? Well, to be fair, she didn't need to even imagine it. Very stern words would be winging their way to her ears. With these thoughts buoying her up, Velshia immediately dragged her head down. Her four arms clutching her pack tightly to her back. Velshia's feet became a furtive shuffle while her eyes darted around with equal parts fear, depression, and desperation. Velshia, Akorra, needed a job. And needed it yesterday. There hadn't been any work in the last city over last month. But here. Here had to work, it just had too! There wasn't anywhere left to go…

Akorra, the drifter of three years, ever since the Kuadar corporation collapsed under a gang war, desperately sought work. Hard laborer, bartender, bouncer, mechanic, anything! Well…almost anything. Not a…slut. Never a slut! She wasn't some cheap whore who spread her legs for a crust of bread. Akorra's stomach growled. Warning her that that day wasn't too far off. Not anymore. She'd find a job here, she was sure of it! Desperation was the mother of drive and no one was more driven than she was right now.

Then, she saw it, light from the heavens it seemed as, blazing in the window of glitzy decayed establishment were the simple words: HELP WANTED! Yet, even as Akorra's eyes stared hungerly at it, she hesitated. True, she needed work. But her pride still held in one field and if the help wanted was in that field… Furtively, Akorra scurried towards one of the windows. Trying to peer inside. Not tinted! Success.

Inside was one of the most garish nightclubs ever laid eyes on. A broad, raised dance floor stood in the middle of the room. From where she stood, Akorra couldn't quite see the top of it, but knew what it must be due to its size. Scattered below it and on balconies on the second and third floors were numerous tables. Crowded together with barely enough room for anything Velshia's size to squeeze between. The floor and walls were a dark purple, hiding who knew what stains. The walls glittered as preschooler's glue project but was probably meant to be stars. To offset the shadow of the purple, bright, neon flashing lights that struck out through the dim. Drunk, or high, customers probably found it psychedelic. Akorra found it nauseating. A broad bar stood at the far side of the room, below a shielded DJ box. Scattered about were various doors. Some, undoubtedly, led to the employee sections. Others would be VIP. Akorra shuddered to think as to what happened behind those doors. Still, the lack of poles suggested that this wasn't a stripper joint. At least the front of house wasn't. But that was enough for her. Its name was the "Dancing Bunny" with the neon symbol of a person with terra's rabbit ears on their head, high kicking.

Akorra slipped inside the closed club and was immediately accosted by a massive bouncer squeezed into body armor. Uncomfortably, Akorra noted that the brute had not only a stun stick, but a fully automatic weapon on its hip. Not that it really needed either as the monster had enough muscle to crush Akorra's skull between two of its seven fingers. However, of all its brute strength, Velshia noted as Akorra's eyes darted once to the hulking face as rugged as broken granite, it was not a dullard. Intelligence sparked behind those black eyes.

"Closed," it grunted.

"I..iwansomwor," Akorra mumbled to floor. Clinging tightly to her pack.

"Closed. Leave."

"I want some work!" Akorra desperately shrieked as the bouncer took a thundering step closer. Both trying not to cower and raise her arms to ward off a blow that seem sure to come.

"Hmm. Stood ground. Enough. Come. Vedice like you." The bouncer took earthquaking steps towards the bar and Akorra scurried after. Both terrified of the creature yet more frightened of being left alone in the shut down club. A number of the workers' looks were less than kind and more than a bit hungry. Through the doors next to the bar and through a short maze of halls to a rear elevator. Up three floors and then out onto a poshly laden hall. Yet they didn't go through the richly emblazoned blast doors at the far end of the hall. Instead, they turned aside to a door that could have led to a broom cupboard and, instead, led to an equally cramped office without a window.

"What is it?" a man's voice scratched out from a mouth with a balding head. Tufty brown hair lay plastered with too much grease upon his skull as he looked up. "I'm busy, Rauncorn."

"Job applicant," the bouncer, apparently called Rauncorn, said.

"Eh? Where, ah. Dwarfing them as always. You! Front and center," his command held surprising force behind the weak face. Akorra obeyed in an instant. He walked about her. Eyeing her up and down with the same appraisal as a merchant examining for counterfeits crossed with a vulture eyeing a potentially delectable carcass. "Hmm, yes. Pretty enough. After a bit of cleaning. Name?"

"Akorra Renshar."

"Age?"

"Twenty-three."

"You're eighteen."

"Eighteen."

"Held platters? Served drinks?"

"Yes."

"Danced?"

"No, never!" With a sudden whip of defiance.

"Hmm, so that's how you stood. We'll see how it lasts. You start tonight. Boarding is half your pay so…seventeen Katucks a-day you take away. Unless you have other living arrangements…"

"No! Here is fine."

"Good. Now get down to the third floor for examination and your room. Put her with El."

It was just before they reached the elevator that it happened. The door slid open and twenty armed and armored guards spilled out. Clearing the room with professional mercenary grace and aiming at least three guns at her. Akorra immediately shrank to Rauncorn's side, but Velshia was only mildly interested in the guards. Far more intriguing was the two people being guarded. Or, more likely, the one being guarded who had had an escort on his arm. The Jackrabbit leered at Akorra before comfortably adjusting the escort's position and bellowing, "Oy! Buzzard! Get out here!"

Out scurried Mr. Buzzard with a simpering, "yes Master Jackrabbit?"

"Get drinks and entertainment sent up. I feel like lounging before tonight's entertainment. The numbers are going up and up and I feel like treating myself."

"Yes, Master," Buzzard bowed.

Akorra and Rauncorn remained rooted to the spot as the guard squad, escort, and target made their way into what Velshia now knew to be the Jackrabbit's personal suite in the club. If Akorra weren't so terrified, Velshia would have smiled.

***​

One thoroughly embarrassing cavity exam later and Velshia stood alone in her room. "Wondrous are the gifts of Cassadrel, who, unseen by the mists, drapes boons upon her beloved," she hummed. The room was a cramped hovel for two with the amenity of a bathroom attached as an afterthought. It didn't have a window. Didn't want people jumping to their deaths when it became too much. Better to work them into oblivion. There was no question of being observed and the answer had already been rebuked. Taking a half-hour of being in various positions across the room had given the cameras all the footage she needed to loop endlessly. Certainly, her roommate, El, would need to be looped in. But, for now, this was enough. The engineers of the INS Ophelia had done their work well. Breaking down and disguising the various computers that she needed inside of gel-food packs, rustic sleeping bag, and other such oddities that, while they had been searched, scanned, and sorted from her bag, had not been torn apart to reveal the computerized innards. As ever, people believed what they saw.

Velshia was now waiting for the response from the rest of her team while twiddling on her pad. Checking up on all the various free hotspots her programs had flown to. Data mining everything of relevance. Others began launching probing attacks against numerous firewalls for monitoring systems, security scanners, high profile accounts, taxi systems, waste management, anything that could begin to formulate into plans just beginning to percolate in her mind. 99.8% of all her attacks against hardened systems had failed. No surprise. You didn't survive here without a decent firewall and all her attacks, so far, were pretty much spam. Nothing that could be easily traced and easily blended in with the uncountable billions of cyberattacks from all the gangs, criminal organizations, "legitimate" corporations, and everything that attempted to pass as law enforcement. Again, no one survived without at least a decent firewall. The only one she had determinedly sliced into was this…establishment. And not fully. Its bank accounts, VIP rooms, and the Jackrabbit's personal suite were thoroughly robust. And that suite was a borderline cyber fortress. Probably a literal one too. The camera system for the club wasn't and she had everything outside those shiny, secured gems. Speaking of the Jackrabbit and his protection, those twenty guards were visible, so it was a question as to how many were not visible. After all, only the supremely hubris beings or the supremely well-protected would be so brazen with both their claim and their body.

Velshia smiled. She was certainly rather enjoying herself. Would it be best to follow the little hare or to try and intercept him as he moved between fortresses. Undoubtedly, he had his own, personal entrance to the club. Velshia was likely smack dab in the middle of his turf. Perfect! Maybe they aught to penetrate the fortresses after narrowing down the locations of the hare's homes. She had signaled the team, covertly, the news and lay out her current work schedule. It would be best for them to show up as a rich patron with his, or its, personal security. Then they could discuss some plans, right under the gross hare's nose! The simplest would be for Elazor to be a crude, grasping patron who Akorra couldn't quite say no to. Yes, that would be simplest and account for most wild cards. One card that wasn't accounted for was El. At that moment, her proximity senser pinged a silent alarm. In a flash, the pad with stowed away and, a moment later, the door burst open. Akorra whirled and scrambled back in alarm as a ball of energy in the form of a human shot into the room with incoherent words of excitement.

"Ooo, hello! Rauncorn said I had a new roommate! I'm Elle, or El. It's a delight to meet you! What's your name? What are you? Oops! Sorry! Rude, rude El. Where are you from? How'd you come here? It's amazing here, isn't it! All the glitz and the glam. And aaaallll the famous people come here. It's only a matter of time before someone sweeps me away, don't you think? Up into the shiny high rises. Said it to my previous roomie, Natallia. Said it to her, 'just hang in there for a few more weeks and you'll be swept up too!' Happens all the time here. Yes it does, it does indeed. Only a matter of time for me! Well don't be a stranger, cause they're friends I haven't met yet and I'd love to have met you!" spilled in a torrent from El's mouth.

Velshia was almost impressed as to how a bastion of naivety had somehow lasted this long. Akorra fumbled out, "I'm…uh, muh name's Akorra."

"Akorra. Akorrrra. Oh, how delightful! We'll be fast friends, I'm sure. Have you seen what we wear? Let's get it on. Need to make sure you're ready for tonight. Who knows, maybe tonight will be the night for you or me!"

Velshia let El ramble on as Akorra got swept up in the tidal wave of energy. El was young. Human with a small face but large amber eyes and the beginnings of an hourglass body. Mousey brown hair framed numerous freckles around her eyes. Allowing the camera in the room to record normally, Velshia mentally added El, the 'roomie,' to her web of possibilities. 'Strangers were friends you just haven't met yet.' A quaint notion that was almost mirrored by an idiom of Intelligence: 'strangers were assets you just haven't figured out how to exploit yet.' Velshia smiled on the inside. This was going to be simply wonderful.
 
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Quake

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[01000101 01010010 01000001 01000100 00100000 01001001 00101101 00110110]


An hour had passed since I-6 had began its surveillance of the police station. Within that time, it had located a glaring weakness in the department's operations: dropbots. Originally designed for basic autonomous jobs, the Camilla City station had employed these flying beetle-shaped machines as street security, outfitting them with cameras and non-lethal deterrents. Every thirty minutes, these drones had returned from their designated patrols and plugged themselves into exterior ports on the station, downloading all the footage they gathered up into the department's record system. I-6 had seen dropbots put into service in a similar manner before, but they had been used for assistance with securing private organizations, not policing entire city blocks. It was possible that Camilla City's central branch simply didn't have the manpower for actual patrols, but dropbots were hardly an upgrade. Was law enforcement really that low of a priority for the rich citizens of Camilla City? The lawlessness the AI had seen in the short time on the planet all but answered that question.

Slipping into an alley off the main street, I-6 laid in wait until one of the flying patrols came around the corner. The moment it did, the AI snatched it out of the air, forcing a virus into the machine's top port before heading further back into the alley so as not to draw attention. The ERAD was a large machine, but it was deceptively quick. A few buzzes and garbled beeps later, the patrol bot's defense and alarm system finished shorting and it's engines idled out, sorting itself into standby mode. What I-6 had done was nothing special. Dropbots were notoriously unsecure; older models even moreso. Anyone with a webpad and a brain could hack one, which made using them for law enforcement all the more questionable. Regardless, I-6 would have it's questions answered soon enough. A few moment's passed as the two machines synced together, blue pulses emitting from their visual ports in rapid succession.

•[Access Granted.]

It was time to begin. The first step I-6 took involved a scan of the individual machine’s video logs. Nil. I-6 scanned the system again, searching for hidden files or records hidden behind firewalls or special keywords. Even though the patrol drone had just finished an upload to the department's main system, there should have still been stored backups or at least residual files. And yet, the results remained the same. Perhaps CCPD protocol directed that the drones delete their own files upon upload for security reasons. I-6 delved deeper, checking the specialized coding files for such an order. Dropbots of the same model all shared the same base codes, but would always have specialized coding and software installed by their owners depending on the type of job they were performing. Storage dropbots held filing orders, cooking dropbots had recipes, programming dropbots had troubleshooting orders, and so on. There was always something, even if it was just an error.



•[Accessing Coding 255.]
•[Generating Technical Code: 131_1_1E Security.]
•[CCPD hardware 001.]
•[Generating Available Orders.]
•[Results Returned: 1.]
•[Accessing Directive...]

Having read the single order, It became clear to the ERAD what was going on. It had been fooled. These weren’t security dropbots. They were just the base machines coated in paint and stamped with a CCPD branch logo. They weren’t even connected to the department's database, and their single line of code had been looped, causing them to repeatedly fly from point to point at regular intervals. The AI had suspected something was off, and now it's theory had been confirmed. The whole thing was a sham meant to make the city appear safe and secure. If I-6 wanted real information, it would need to manually enter the police facility and download the information from the main hub. The process seemed simple enough. If the dropbots were any representation of what the local law enforcement had to offer, than the ERAD could likely just brute force it's way through the building. Unfortunately, Velshia's orders had been clear. They were only to observe and gather information. I-6 would have to find another way.

As I-6 finished up with the bot, Velshia's message came through, paired with the information she had uncovered. The ERAD immediately shifted gears. The local law enforcement was no longe a priority. Lang had been located, and getting him was all that mattered. I-6 suspected any information he discovered from the police database would likely lead to Lang anyways. Either way, it was time to act. Downloading the last fragments of useable information, I-6 set a time delay on the drone, leaving it on the ground nearby. In a few moments it would reboot and continue it’s ‘patrol' as if nothing had happened. I-6 turned and left the alley, slipping back into the crowds as it headed north. With a location in mind, it wouldn't take long to reach it's destination. There it would rendezvous with Elazar before heading to the nightclub to carry out the next phase of the plan. The AI quickened it's pace.

The dropbots had been a waste of time...

01010000 01100101 01110010 01101000 01100001 01110000 01110011 00100000 01110100 01101000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01110111 01101000 01100001 01110100 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 01111001 00100000 01100011 01100001 01101100 01101100 00100000 01100110 01110010 01110101 01110011 01110100 01110010 01100001 01110100 01101001 01101111 01101110 00101110

 
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muffinphobia

dancing witch
elAzAr : weApons mAster
Only about twenty minutes had to pass before Elazar realized his chosen method of information gathering was faulty at best. He grunted in irritation and began the work of wiggling himself out from behind the statue he’d hidden in. Once he was free, hanging off the edge of one of the gaping mouths with his fingertips, he activated his jetpack once again and carefully maneuvered to the ground. A few moments later his boots had touched grimy pavement once again. He deactivated the jetpack function altogether and the thrusters disappeared, along with the activation button as he tossed it somewhat carelessly back into his pack. His failure, even though minor when considering the larger scope of the mission, displeased him. It wouldn’t do to be taking missteps so early on, not at all.

He needed to reconsider his strategy. I-6 and Velshia had not yet made contact, and considering they hadn’t been planetside for all that long he did not disturb them. Surely one of them was having more luck. Instead, he wound his way through the crowded streets, looking for a hostel or an inn, anywhere that he could set up without drawing too much attention to himself. He’d nearly made it back to the landing bay when he finally spotted it: a rapidly blinking neon “Vacancy” sign in front of a sad, squalid building that was smushed between two skyscrapers. It was as though the engineers of the city had simply forgotten it. He took a deep breath, crossed the street, and stepped inside.

The sight that greeted him was somehow even more depressing. The entire place was dimly lit and dingy, a low ceiling hanging overhead. Everything in sight, from the walls to the sparse furniture scattered about the tiny lobby, had probably been white at some point but was now various shades of beige and brown. Elazar swallowed around the rage-induced lump in his throat and stepped towards the reception desk. A bored-looking Zharian was seated on a tall stool behind the counter, her beady eyes glued to a small television set in the corner without really seeing it. From the glazed expression on her face, he guessed her to be under the influence of something.

”Can I help you?” she asked without looking up, boredom coloring her tone.

“I need a room for two nights.”

“Fine. Fill out the paperwork,” she said, pushing a datapad across the counter to him. He thought he saw a small bug crawl out of the small cooling vent. “I’ll need an ID and a copy of–”

“No,” he said flatly. He pulled up his sleeve and held the bracelet comprised of his Biobank’s vines over the owner’s rather sad-looking plant, initiating a transfer worth double the rate. She finally looked up at him. “Two nights. No questions.”

Her eyebrow arched slightly, but she merely turned away, reaching for the wall of keycards behind her. After a moment she selected one and activated it by tapping it against her desk. ”Room 16. Don’t you be bringing any funny business into my inn.”

Elazar accepted the keycard and turned away without further comment. A hallway to the left of the reception desk led him to his room, which was situated next to a fire escape. That could prove…useful. He let himself inside and almost immediately the edge of the bed made contact with his shins. He cursed quietly as the door swung shut behind him. The room was unbelievably tiny. He barely had room to shuffle around the edges of the bed to what he assumed was the door leading to the restroom. A bare, flickering lightbulb above a surprisingly clean sink and toilet confirmed his thoughts.

He dropped his pack on the edge of the bed, choosing to ignore how it caused a puff of dust to rise up into the air, and reached behind his ears in order to disengage his mask. There was a hiss of pressure being released and then it had come free. He tossed it down beside his bag and stepped into the restroom, looking into the mirror. The face that glared back at him was a perfect copy of his sister’s, though his hair was shaggy and black where hers was longer and dyed dark blue. Or at least, he assumed it still was. He resisted the urge to put his fist through the glass and turned the light off as a ping from his datapad reached his ears.

He slammed the bathroom door shut and dropped onto the edge of the bed, causing another, bigger puff of dust to explode. Coughing, he reached into his pack and pulled out the ‘pad to see an encrypted message from Velshia. Excitement sparked in his chest at first, but the further he got into reading it, the more he began to wish he hadn’t opened it at all. It was excellent news that she’d located the Jackrabbit so quickly, of course, but her plan of action for gathering intel left a lot to be desired in his mind. He highly doubted he’d be able to play the part of handsy, flirtatious patron well short of actually getting hammered out of his mind. But…she’d gotten them this far. Resigned, he scrolled to the bottom of her lengthy report and typed a single word in response: Tonight.
 

Presea_cousin

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Above Lustre, a small shuttle pulled out of hyperspeed drive and flew above the planet. It had a specific destination in mind: The Lustrian Scrap Yard. "Cirele Putt, Log XII. We have just exited hyperspeed and are approaching the scrapyard where, according to several of my sources, who shall remain anonymous, a very infamous ship was about to be scrapped. The Cotopaxi!" The captain (as well sole resident) of the shuttle spoke into a recorder around her neck as she flew closer to an array of floating wrecks and debris. "However, just a few short hours ago, footage leaked of what appeared to be the Cotopaxi warping away from the scrapyard. How did this happen? How is it possible that ship still flies? And where did it go? That is what I aim to answer.." As she got closer, she sent out a communication towards the scrapyard. She had set up a meeting on there with the foreman, under the guise that it was a documentary for recycling and scrapping operations when really she just needed a way in. However the answer she received was different than what she was expecting.


"Shuttle Hi-pixel, please turn around and leave this space area." A very authoritative voice spoke back after answering her communication. Oh dear, guess she should've expected the Lustrian military was still present.


"I have a prior appointment with the foreman. If you would just allow dock-"


"Shuttle Hi-pixel, leave this space area. The scrapyard is currently under investigation. It will not be taking any visitors! This is your final warning."


Cirele furrowed her brow and sighed. "Understood, shuttle Hi-pixel out." She said as she lowered her speed and began to move away. She flew out at a different angle to get around some of the debris and that's when she spotted them: Lustrian Frigates. And ones in operation, not there for scrap. They were in position near the scrapyard, turning away any reporter ships away as they performed their own investigation. Well this had derailed her plan a bit, but it certainly made the entire area much MUCH more enticing..


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About an hour later, Cirele was headed back towards the scrapyard. But this time not in her shuttle, that was on a programmed course around Lustrian space until she sent a signal for it. No, now she was just in a space suit, clutching onto one of her camera drones that been fitted with thrusters to act like a space version of a sea scooter. Her metal signature now much smaller, the scanners wouldn't be able to differentiate her between all then scrap floating around. It was much slower going, but she had gone through worse on investigations. To fill the time, she had downloaded what official statements had been made regarding the Cotopaxi. Of course everyone was suspecting a new Resistance might be involved. The Lustrian government had made statement of "these were the actions of a single individual, who is thought to have recovered it for its value as a historical artifact." That made some sense. It was a famous capital ship after all, a museum exhibit would be more fitting than the scrap heap. But that was doubtful. Cirele wondered how many people were even buying that story.


Now moving freely around the scrapyard, Cirele skirted around the various disabled ships and spare debris. Despite the Lustrian's efforts, trying to lock down such an open and scattered scrap area was near impossible, allowing Cirele to weave between all the wreckage to reach the heart of the Scrapyard. She avoided the main building which was obviously filled with government officials taking all kinds of photos and other 'protocol investigation' stuff, and instead headed to where she saw some sparks lighting up. It led her to right what she was looking for: A scrap worker. He seemed to be using a plasma torch to cut a ship's hull by hand, seemingly while the larger machinery was under inspection.


"Excuse me." Cirele spoke through an open transceiver frequency, a local one meant to mimic talking in a normal atmosphere. This meant that the worker would be able to hear her even in space. The worker soon turned around, a look of surprise that someone had come out to him. He seemed like the naïve sort, the type to not immediately sell her out, so she truthfully introduced herself. "My name is Cirele Putt, from the Putt-om Line newsblog. I'd like to ask you some questions."


The worker put down his scrapping equipment. "Ummm, sure. I'm not really all that important, but I'll try to answer."


"Excellent! So first off, your name? Don't worry, yours will be kept confidential, this is strictly for my own records."


"I'm Takeo Nulli. I'm a salvager here on Lustre."


"Great, so.." Cirele got serious. "What do you know about the incident yesterday of the Cotopaxi disappearing?"


"The Coto- oh, that ship that flew off. Ummm, I don't know if I'm allowed to talk about-" there was a soft >thunk< against Takeo's helmet as Cirele had just tossed a container of galactic credits. Clearly a bribe, which Takeo grabbed immediately. "Okay, so I didn't get a good look at the ship myself. I only started here a few weeks ago. In fact, I'm technically on probation right now after a near accident-" That explained him taking the bribe. Poor guy probably needed every credit he could get. "But one of my superiors was in charge of breaking it up. I think he went inside it, I don't know why, maybe inspection? Checking for explosives? Oof, I need to remember what our protocols are. But anyway, after he got on, our station started picking up chatter about Lustrian Defense Forces coming for him."


"Do you know why? Was he a known criminal or something?"


Takeo paused to think. "Well, this scrapyard IS kinda a place for wash outs, college drop outs, and the like. But I remember hearing he was a graduate, so no, not a criminal."


"Okay, then do you know why the defense forces were after him?"


"Maybe they wanted to stop the salvage on the ship? After we received communications from the forces, our boss told us to get inside the scrapyard outpost and not to move or talk to anyone. Though I think I heard them ask if anyone was with him. Maybe there was another reporter like you or something here earlier?"


Cirele jotted that down, though she would be miffed if there was a reporter out there getting to scoops before she did. "Okay, and then afterwards the ship flew?"


"Warped. Opened a wormhole right in the scrapyard. Actually we're surprised that didn't tear any of the outpost apart."


"But Lustre has really advanced technology, surely they would've tracked it down easily then."


"I don't know any further details. I know the Cotopaxi warped, the Lustrian ships warped, but then the Lustrian ships came back here empty handed. Then they asked us pretty much what you're asking me now, but no one else here has any other information."


"Hmm, so it must've done something to lose them after the first warp.." Cirele scratched the top of her helmet, despite it not really doing anything. "One last question: What was the name of this superior that went aboard the Cotopaxi?"


"I guess I can say it. I assume Lustre will make a statement asking for him eventually. His name was Perseus. Perseus….Galaxy? Giant? Something that begins with a G. Perseus G. Pretty sure he was Lustrian."

~*~*~*~*~*~


Another hour later and Cirele was back on her ship, having activated a beacon so it could pick her up again from the fringes of the scrapyard. she had said goodbye to Takeo, given him a few extra credits for all the trouble, and assured him his name wouldn't make it out. She looked over the transcript her mic recorded as well as some post-interview notes she had made. There was definitely a story here with the Cotopaxi, but she was missing too many details. Why did it still work? Who really took the Cotopaxi away? And how did they outmanuever several working order frigates? And the big one: Where was it now? Cirele looked at the clue of a name she had. No announcements had been made yet regarding a wanted 'Perseus G.', but she had some search engines combing through news articles and databases to try and find anyone by that name. Meanwhile she was left with a choice. Should she publish that she knew it was someone named Perseus G.? Hmm, but that wasn't much of a headline to identify the name. And that Takeo kid was right, it might become public knowledge soon anyway. Cirele sighed as she put her ship into autopilot and afterwards pulled up a keyboard and began to write.


[The Putt-om Line]

Article 213

"Resistance Ghost Takes Flight"



Late yesterday, above the cloudy skies of Lustre, the famed ship of the old Resistance, the Cotopaxi was scheduled for scrap. The Cotopaxi is most well known for its roles in the Empire/Resistance war 30 years ago as well as taking part in the Paranoia War against the Khivux. After peace summits were held, the Cotopaxi had fallen in obscure mystery, disappearing from the public eye. Many tall tales tried to explain away the disappearance. Some thought it was thrown into a sun. Others theorized it was dismantled to look for cutting edge Resistance tech. And some thought King Regulus Brandt of the Neydis system bought it for his Magic-Galaxy theme park.



All were proven wrong when the Cotopaxi made an appearance at none other than a scrapyard of all places. But just before this fabled ship could be torn apart to be recycled into non-perishable food cans, a wormhole warp was initiated from it and it warped away, disappearing into myth once more.



Is this a sign of a new force? Is this just the work of artifact bandits? Or was the Cotopaxi a ghost all along? Stay subscribed as this intrepid reporter pursues this 'ghost' across the universe.



Nothing really grounding breaking in the article, but Cirele was keeping what little cards she had close to her chest. The Cotopaxi disappearing was going to be news everywhere. The real scoop was going to be finding it after this point. Cirele pushed her keyboard away and leaned back in her chair. It was going to take a lot of combing around to find a lead..
 

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["Missiles locked on. Impact in 15 seconds."]


"Deploy countermeasures!"


Yf-29b-fighter.webp
There was a scream of engines as a black jet zoomed across a desert landscape. Following it were three other fighter jets of a much different design, two of them firing missiles that were rapidly closing in on the black jet. The pilot of the black jet, Sorrin, turned the two throttles in his hands, manipulating the two wings and thrusters of his jet independently. A quick button press and several flares shot out the rear of the ship, intercepting most of the missiles as the rest impacted behind Sorrin, missing completely. Sorrin boosted his speed more, pushing his engines even more as the fighter group sped towards what looked like an abandoned refinery. It was a mess of tall towers, construction cranes, and webs of scaffolding, an absolute nightmare for fast moving fighter jets. And Sorrin headed right for it.


There wasn't a lot of room to maneuver, but Sorrin found enough gaps in the scaffolding to allow him to just squeeze through. The 'Variable' in the Imperial Variable Fighter name came from how the ship could shift its parts, allowing for movement that couldn't be done with standard jets. Sorrin made full use of it, weaving through the metal structures, the wings of his jet rotating to let him move sharply up, down, and even go vertical. A quick look behind him and he spotted a ball of flame and flying metal. One of his pursuers had tried to follow closely behind him into the metal jungle and had ripped itself apart. The other two veered away, taking a more roundabout path in opposite directions. Good, he had split them up. Another upturn of the throttles and Sorrin flew out of the scattered scaffolding and into more open air. He veered left, spotting one of the fighters heading behind a large smokestack. Sorrin then flew the opposite way around the large structure, readying his trigger. After he made it close to halfway around, he began firing, laser blasts coming out of the gunpod on the underside of his jet. The enemy fighter came out from behind the smokestack to immediately find itself under fire, the lasers ripping draining its shields before ripping through it, sending it spiraling into the ground.


Sorrin took his jet completely around the structure before finding the third jet. It was on the opposite side of the refinery by now, looking like it had lost Sorrin and was trying to rescan for him. He decided to take advantage of this and brought his jet in low, skirting just above the abandoned buildings and scaffolding. He began looking onto the jet, missiles priming to fire. He closed the distance to make sure there was little chance of it evading, only a few miles off from it. But as he was focusing on the distance and keeping his missile lock, he missed one metal girder sticking up higher than the others. It hit near the tip of his right wing, not damaging it much, but it threw off his flight enough for him to start turning suddenly. "Shit!" Sorrin pulled his throttles aside, trying to compensate for the new spin, but he was flying too close to the ground and one of his wings was starting to rip through more scaffolding, threatening to throw him into a spin. Sorrin desperately launched his missiles, the ballistics firing out of their ports towards the enemy fighter. The missiles met their target, destroying the other fighter just as Sorrin's left wing collided with a sturdier building, tearing off and throwing Sorrin's jet into a spin. The young pilot threw a switch and initiated transform sequences. The Phantom Wing swung legs out from underneath the fighter while the remaining wing swung out into an arm. The transformed fighter soon hit the ground spinning, Sorrin moving the arm and legs to try and roll with the impact and catch the ground to stop himself. The mechanical hand gripped at the sandy ground, slowing the mech down before it came to a stop on its hand and knee, the damaged wing side sparking.


[[Simulation Ended]]

[[Tallying Assessment Scores..]]


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Sorrin closed his eyes, fell back against the back of his seat, and took a long exhale. The simulation pod he was in returned to a neutral position as the simulated screens in front of him began to display how his simulation went. Sorrin felt his hands shake a bit from the close, even if fake, call. He had been really reckless with that flight and knew he wouldn't have ever attempted that in real combat. But it reinforced the idea in his head that he needed to keep a better idea of his jet's spatial presence. He opened his eyes as the simulator gave his final results. Well that wasn't good. He took so much damage with that fall, his jet wouldn't have taken off again in that scenario. Although he did have perfect marks for his marksmanship and elimination of the enemy fighters, it wouldn't have done him any good if he had been stranded there. And that one fall was the only damage he had taken the entire battle.


Sorrin opened the simulator pod and stretched, looking around the room. The simulation room was a dark room with several pods in it, a few others occupied with other pilots honing their skills while they were on standby. Sorrin decided he needed a break and headed through a door to a connected break room, a small respite good for long practice sessions. He got a sports drink from a fridge and opened his phone. No new messages and no new orders. Most of the ship was in standby positions while the infiltration op was going on. Sorrin guess that even though his jet could be modified to be unmarked, a state-of-the-art unknown fighter jet was still too conspicuous to scout out Dresdens Orchard, especially to look for a single man.


He gulped down his sports drink while he tried to imagine himself on the mission. Well without his jet, Sorrin wasn't particularly strong or fast. Or well versed in a specific combat or weapon. He couldn't really see himself on a stealth foot mission like that. He smirked a bit as another thought came to mind. He REALLY couldn't see Jlita on a stealth manhunt mission. For a scout, she was way too loud. Her idea of a manhunt was probably shouting 'Mr. Jackrabbit!!! Where are you!!?!!'


~*~*~*~*~*~*~**~*~*~*~

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"Mr. Jackrabbit! Where are you!?....and that's how I would probably find him." Jlita laughed, followed by a bunch of laughter from the other crew members who were sharing a drink with her. The group was gathered in the mess hall and just discussing possible ways they would've solved the manhunt if they were sent down, all the answers pretty much pointing out why none of them were chosen for the mission. Jlita took a drink of some non-alcoholic beer as she continued. "I mean yes, it's stupid. But it's SO stupid, it would surely flush him out or illicit some reaction."


"And what'll you do if the reaction is to gun you down?"


"….shoot first." Jlita laughed as the group shared another laugh. The group enjoyed their conversation as it drifted from one subject to the next. Jlita sighed as she did wish for a bit of action. Maybe she should hit the practice room for target practice or some other exercise? Jlita's lips curled a bit as she got a better, more mischievous idea. "Excuse me everyone. Think I'll stretch my legs a bit." She said and left the mess hall.


Some walking and elevator rides later, Jlita walked into the main hangar. The room stretched wide, housing a variety of shuttles, fighters, and ground vehicles that could be deployed based on the situation. That meant, of course, that it was the largest and tallest "room" in the ship. And Jlita had her hoverboard with her. She threw the large board down, the anti-grav pads on the bottom kicking in, the board hovering roughly a foot off the ground. She stepped on, her boots locking onto specific spots to keep her onboard. She smiled as she felt the familiar feeling of being almost weightless, a disconnect with the floor beneath the board.


"You know you're not supposed to be riding that in here." A passing engineer said to her, though the wry smile he had meant he knew what her answer to that was.


Jlita grinned. "And what are they gonna do? Turn this ship around?" She grinned before she shifted her weight forward and the anti grav shifted, her board speeding forward. Her long ponytail whipped behind her as she ramped off some nearby storage containers and rode up a rail that was normally for transporting supplies. She kick flipped off it, flipping in the air down to ride a different rail, then flipped off of that one to land back on the main hangar floor, weaving between various supplies, landing gear of ships, and other people. The hangar crew was pretty much split into two groups now: The half that were enjoying the show and cheering her on and the half that were trying to get out of the rambunctious scout's way.
 
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Perseus, the following day.
The larger than life shadowy figures sat, wreathed in digitized anonymization filters, gazing at Perseus with imperceptible eyes. The room was slightly larger than necessary, the hologenerator seats spaced a little too far apart, making Perseus feel very small. What is one man when held up against a movement that routinely beats impossible odds, slays giants, and went head-to-head with the emperor without flinching?
One of the voices spoke, an impenetrable fuzz of anonymization buzzing over its voice, making it impossible to tell what gender or even what species they were: “We’d like to start by thanking you. Your assistance is highly appreciated in returning the Cotopaxi to its rightful place. We have heard agent Burnett’s report, and I don’t believe it’s hyperbole to say that if not for either of your actions, we may have lost the Cotopaxi forever. Regardless of what happens next, you have made allies of the New Resistance, and I’m sure regardless of what the Lustrian media may be saying about you, your father is proud.” Perseus should have felt relief at these words, but couldn’t shake the feeling that he was some specimen under the microscope, being stared at by a huddled group of particularly grim looking scientists.

“Your purchase of the Cotopaxi means that the Biobank, and thus the Empire, have no way to assert that the ship was unlawfully recovered, regardless of what the Lustrian government and some Imperial sources may be trying to imply.” Uh oh. The Lustrian government was trying to imply that he had taken the ship unlawfully? Would he be treated as a criminal if he went home? The frigates should have probably tipped you off, Perseus.
“However, we would like to make you an offer for the Cotopaxi. It would allow you to wash your hands of this endeavour, should you wish, and move the Cotopaxi’s cryptotitle to a more… Politically expedient biobank account. We would pay handsomely, of course. Not just for the ship, but also for the ordeal you have been through to return it to us.
Perseus swallowed, trying to quell the bubbling indignation rising from his stomach. After everything, they wanted to… Toss him aside? Set him up in a nice Zharian condo maybe? Pay him off into silence and obscurity now he had played out his role as a good little errand boy?
Perseus cast a glance to where Gabi stood beside him, trying to gauge the expression on her face, all the while suppressing the feeling of betrayal creeping in from the wings; Was it really all just an act? She stood there, stony faced, but there was a hint of… not surprise, indignation maybe? There was a slight set to her jaw, a slight widening of her eyes… Perseus was beginning to get the impression that Gabi wasn’t nearly as stoic as she seemed on the surface. Where some wore their heart on their sleeves, Gabi wore hers under a thick layer of bulletproof armor. What did you expect? She’s an infiltration agent. Of course she’s guarded.

The realization that maybe this wasn’t all part of a grand plan cheered Perseus up a bit, but he didn’t want to lose this opportunity. He didn’t want to be left behind when Gabi went off to save the universe, or whatever it was the Resistance was planning.
A lump formed in Perseus’ throat. Before it stopped him from being able to speak clearly, Perseus cast a gaze around the room. “Could you give me a couple’ days to think about it?”

Gabi
Gabi continually snuck sidelong glances at Perseus as they walked out of the chamber. She hadn’t been this angry in a long, long time. How dare the council treat him this way, like he was some kind of hostage she’d taken on their orders and now he was free to go. She resented the implication that she’d somehow…what, worked her feminine wiles on him and that was the only reason he was here? Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. He’d come with her because he’d recognized it was the right thing to do. End of story, and now with this move the council was indicating all too clearly how little they trusted outsiders, no matter what pretty words they had said to him.

As the door to the council chamber slid shut behind them, Gabi turned to him and honestly had no idea what to say. Part of her felt like she had to explain that she’d had no idea about the ambush that had just taken place, but where would she even begin? The silence stretched on and on until it started to become awkward. She opened her mouth and what came out was the exact opposite of what she’d intended to say. “Let’s get out of here,” she blurted. She almost took it back upon seeing the expression on his face, but now that she’d said it, it didn’t seem like a bad idea. He’d just seen the worst the Resistance had to offer. Maybe showing him the best parts would help, and just maybe…it would convince him to stay. After all, he had said he would consider the council’s offer, and she wasn’t ready to say goodbye to him. Not even close.
“It’s beautiful planetside. Let me show you.” A plan was rapidly starting to form in her mind. She approached the nearest window and pointed to the landing dock. The Cotopaxi was situated at the very end, a hulking mass of parts in the distance, and closer to their end of the dock stood a few hoverbikes that looked a little worse for wear. “Meet me there in ten minutes. You’ll want to change so we blend in with the tourists.”

Perseus
Perseus was wearing his Argon-fixing respirator for the first time in… Well, since he got it, now he was thinking on it. It was more advanced than the model his father had been wearing in the old photos they had found on the ‘Paxi, with the ability to not only supply argon for a solid week before needing a refill, but act as a filtration mask and, if necessary, supply oxygen for a similar stretch in hazardous environments. It’d work a treat in the Zharian core and in the human-standard atmo of the Zharian surface. As Perseus pulled on his now mercifully clean civilian clothes, he ruminated on Gabi’s reaction to the council’s manoeuvring. It didn’t feel like she was taking him out to show him what a lovely place for retirement Zhar could be… It felt more like she was encouraging him to see the sights. Maybe she just wanted to spend some time with him, and was looking for an excuse…?
Nah, probably not.
She was a Burnett. Whole systems rose and fell at the whims of her family. Most likely just throwing him a bone, so he didn’t leave Zhar with only memories of grumpy doctors and spooky anonymized councillors.

And what a memory it turned out to be.

The hoverbikes were great fun. Following Gabi out of the core was like navigating a maze where the way out, more often than not, was a hologram pretending to be a cliff face, or a black curtain hidden in the wide shadows of a cave wall. Turns out that the bigger passageways are reserved for the bigger ships, the hoverbikes had to make do with weaving through smaller passageways. After many twists and turns, the pair broke through to the surface of Zhar, flying through a roaring waterfall to hang in place above the foam flecked sapphire water of a lagoon.
Perseus looked around, dumbfounded.



It was empty. Completely empty. No hab towers. No vehicles going back and forth. Perseus felt… not agoraphobic, not really, but his lizard brain had a strong inclination toward scrabbling back to the cave and hiding from all this… All this… Nature. It’s nature. Untainted. Undeveloped. It terrifies you because you’ve never experienced it before. Your brain is telling you there are monsters in every shadow. Because Lustre… Lustre is dead. At least, compared to this world. Lustre had experienced ecological collapse after ecological collapse during the industrial and early space age of the Lustrians. Lustre was used up, turned into a factory world, and nobody on Lustre seemed to care all that much. But Perseus realized; no matter how beautiful you make your cities, no matter how perfect the symphony of towers you build harmonize with one another, the wild chorus of nature untamed would always be the original orchestra.
Perseus rode to the white sand of the beach, shut off his hoverbike, causing it to settle down, nestling a groove into the sand. Sliding from the saddle of the machine, he walked up to a nearby tree, reaching out and touching it. Growing under its own power, not in some hydroponics lab.

Perseus took a deep breath, feeling the cool wind off the water, listening to the rustling of the trees, taking in the earthy aroma of the soil. Letting out the breath, Perseus opened his eyes, clomping around, happiness etched in gold on his face. “Thanks for bringing me up. Where to next?"

“There’s a train station that way. It’ll take us into town,” Gabi said, pointing south while also avoiding looking at him for some reason. “Over the water?” “Yes. It’s safe, I promise,” she said. “Uh huh…” Perseus looked out over the water. The landmass in the distance was behind a slight haze of sea mist, the waters in between reflecting the afternoon sun in a rolling, sparkling blanket. The waves weren’t too bad.

Shortly after, Perseus had got his bike hovering again, and they were underway, skimming across the water’s surface, a haze of vapour trailing behind. Perseus followed behind Gabi, and occasionally she sat, her cropped leather jacket snapping in the current of the rapid journey, haloed in rainbows of her own making as she weaved past and over waves on the water’s surface.

The shore was well in view now, the long grasses and white sandy beach approaching fast. Spotting a winding train track on the hillside past the shoreline, Perseus charged forward, taking his hoverbike up to a more daring speed, and in what felt like no time at all it was grass and dust, rather than water, that was striking the material of his slightly damp trousers. Gabi had turned, now travelling down a dirt road running parallel to the tracks. Ahead was a small, rusted box of a building beside the train tracks, paired with a small stone platform weathered by the salty sea breeze. The brown iron turned out to be a garage, and a short while later, the bikes were secreted away, and a train had come to collect them. It was an old model… Ancient. Huff puff, wheels on rails, that type of thing. Perseus raised an eyebrow to Gabi as they climbed aboard, passing their Biobank bracelets over the fare reader. “Are the Zharians fond of steam power, or something?”

Gabi shrugged. “No. They’re fond of cashing in on nostalgia,” she replied, causing Perseus to chuckle, “Oh, of course. I guess any species that figured out steam probably had some kind of transport analogous to steam engines. Universal appeal…” Perseus sat down, across a little train table from Gabi. He looked out the window, a pensive but contented look on his face, resting his head on his hands, a cheek cushioned on his interlocked fingers. “Convergent technology. Convergent evolution. Sometimes I wonder how many races are out there, and how many of them are like us… Lustrians, Zharians, Humans… We’re almost uncannily similar. We’re indistinguishable in the dark.”

The train ride lasted around half an hour. The Zharian countryside rolled by, all tide pools, lagoons, and white sand, with trees that grew leaves exclusively at their peaks, contrary to what Perseus had seen in holovids. Gabi informed him they were like “palm trees” from human worlds. It was astonishingly beautiful, like an archipelago of a hundred little islands, with the train track running over a built-up sandbank that beelined through the cerulean water.
Eventually, Perseus started seeing signs of civilization; huts with thatched roofing, jetties and piers. People waved to the train as they relaxed in the shade of thatched lean-tos and parasols, avoiding the heat of the midday sun. A young man rocked back and forth in a hammock, wicker hat covering his face. A woman watched her children frolic in the shallows. More examples of olive-coloured Zharians and humans scrolled by the window. None of them seemed particularly bust, or driven, but every single one seemed happy. The thought came fully formed, bursting into his mind like it had been carefully composed by his subconscious and was being printed out and handed to him by some neural process. Maybe I never had to do anything to set me apart from my family.
It was apparent that the Galatea family were workaholics. Desperate for acclaim. But he had seen his sisters crying in each other’s arms. He had watched his brother’s pre-presentation jitter-breakdowns, the lanky genius cradled by his father. He had watched his father… Replace… Things. Things that Made him wonder if the stony resolve might crack the moment Orion’s children were out of sight, and the collected neurosis built up over years of reality-defying perfectionism impacted with the cold silence of an empty home.
It was not a fun life. It was not comfortable, it was not entirely healthy.
Accomplishments spoke for themselves, but who spoke for the inventor?

All Perseus really had to do to separate himself, to make himself a truly unique Galatea, was… Relax. Take it easy. Not spend every waking minute as an obsessive Type-A personality with a hero complex.

The words came out before he could stop them.
“Do you ever resent your dad?”
Perseus thought about correcting, couching, or appending. But no. She would know what he meant. Of all the people in the universe, she would know.

Gabi glanced at him quickly and then looked away. “Sometimes. I wish he would have thought more about who he was leaving behind. But he was so in love with my mother that I can’t really blame him.”

Perseus thought about his mother. Hazy, saccharine memories bubbled up from early childhood. The piggyback rides through the workshop, the smell of engine grease and iron shavings, the warmth of her arms, her joy, and, eventually, her absence.
“We don’t always choose our time to leave…”

The train rolled to a stop, the Zharian horizon blocked by a slightly more built up township and railway station. “Speaking of, let’s get off this thing.”



The pier was lined with businesses of all sizes and descriptions, from a warehouse selling exotic sea animal parts to an open-air market with delicious scents wafting off of it. Gabi led Perseus past all of it to the very end of the pier, where a seaside bar was situated on the sand. She walked over to the bartender and ordered for herself, then looked at him inquiringly.
Perseus thought for a moment, spoilt for choice with all the drinks listed on the blackboard behind the bar “Gatofruit juice, no alcohol please.” the appended statement about alcohol came a little quick. Perseus didn’t want to be a stick in the mud, but it had only been a couple years since the… Rough times. Better to play it safe.

Perseus sat with Gabi for a while on the pier. What started as halting chatter steadily developed into animated discussion. They talked about places they had been, places they wanted to go, childhood crushes, old galnet shows… It was nice.
The Late afternoon approached evening as Gabi made good on her promise, taking Perseus to see everything Zhar had to offer; they swam, they ran, they climbed, they explored. Gabi led him by the hand up the hilly cobbled streets. They bought various inconsequential things at the overpriced Zharian stores, Gabi picked out a new set of clothes for Perseus from a Zharian bazaar, nothing too flashy, a cream shirt and a pair of shorts, but it was a lot warmer than the trousers that were now safely stowed away in Perseus’ pack.
They went swimming and exploring in seaside caves, explored reefs beneath the water out to sea, moving like ungainly sea creatures amongst the disinterested fish.

As sundown approached, Gabi hurriedly took Perseus to shore, leading him to an area of the beach that gave a good view of a large cave mouth, sat just at the far end of the white sands.
As the sky took on a bloody orange hue, Perseus couldn’t help but stare at the sunset, so different to the gold and silver sky of his home.
“Beautiful” Perseus whispered.
Gabi nudged his shoulder silently, and in the twilight of the Zharian evening, as they sat on the cooling white sand of the beach, she pointed at the cave mouth down shore.
The sky was still. All was quiet. And then, suddenly, a flurry of motion. The cave mouth spewed out ten, twenty, thirty, more little creatures than Perseus could count. Silhouetted against the orange sky They flew oddly, not birds, clearly. Following each other in a formation that seemed to be following a curved trail in the sky, the swarm chattered and chirped as they made their way across the sky.
“What are they?” Perseus said, quietly, as he watched the swarm curve around, travelling inland.

“Bats. They feed on insects. They fly together like that for survival - if they stay in a group they’re less likely to be killed,” Gabi replied, sounding a little preoccupied.
As the sun set, Perseus closed his eyes, Enjoying the feeling of steadily cooling sand beneath his hands, the last dregs of sunlight hitting his face. sighed with contentment. He needed this. His life had been one twist after another recently. Having a break, even just an evening, where he didn’t need to worry about the future, with someone that he didn’t have to worry about impressing, or proving himself to, was therapeutic. Cathartic, even.
“This was amazing, Gabi. I don’t remember the last time I had this much fun.” Perseus paused after the statement, realizing how true it was. The day had been defined by happiness, not achievement. It was… A shockingly rare example.

The sun slid over the horizon, and just as it slipped under, a flash of green light flickered, for a moment.
Then, as the sky grew darker, one by one, the stars began to make an appearance.
Perseus lay back.
The waves lapping at the shore and the soft sounds of Gabi beside him where everything he could hear.
The treeline was far enough away that his entire view was taken up by the heavens. He felt Gabi settle down beside him.
He could fall up, and away. Up into the darkness of the sky. Float amongst the stars in his shorts and shirt. Up, up and away. No more resistance, no more Galateas. No more Empire.
The stars grew in number, twinkling like a thousand pinpricks in the firmament.
For the first time in a long while, Perseus didn’t want to be anywhere but where he was right at that moment.

Gabi
“There’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you,” Gabi said without taking her eyes off the constellations above them. “It’s going to sound crazy, but…I already knew you when we met in the shipyard.” She paused, trying to find the words to explain. Finally, she continued, “Once I decided to check Lustre for the ‘Paxi, I started seeing your face when I’d sleep. Sometimes you were with me, here on Zhar, and sometimes you were with…with my brother.” She paused again, taking a deep breath. If she was going to spill her guts she might as well go all-in. “He defected to the Navy a few years ago. But...anyway. It went on like that for a couple of weeks. I didn’t think much of it - thought they were just dreams - until I met you that day. I’ve never been so shocked.” As she’d been talking, her hand had been unconsciously inching closer to his. “And now, well…I don’t know what to think of it. Some other coincidences that didn’t make sense before are starting to add up now,” she said, thinking of the day she’d found Blaster.

Just then, the back of her knuckles brushed his, and before she could think about it too much she threaded her fingers through his. “I do know that I’m glad you’re here,” she said quietly. She finally took her eyes off the stars and turned her head to look at him, at his contemplative expression, and immediately felt a little guilty. “I’m sorry. I know it’s a lot. If you could keep all of this to yourself, I’d appreciate it.”
“Yeah, absolutely. Honestly-” Perseus paused, before a warm, slightly amused expression came over his face; “Honestly you could say pretty much anything right now and I’d be okay with it. I don’t think I’ve ever been this happy.” Perseus breathed out, “Kinda sad, I know. But your secret’s safe with me. So what do you think these dreams meant?”
Gabi shook her head. “I don’t know. I don’t know how to know,” she said. After a moment she reached over with her free hand and brushed a patch of sand from his face. Doing so caused her to scoot closer. “Thank you,” she said in a near-whisper, not even sure what she was thanking him for, really. Their faces were closer than ever and on the wildest of impulses Gabi started to lean in…

Only for the commlink she’d silenced earlier to be manually overridden by someone on base. “HEY LOVEBIRDS!” Blaster squawked through her earpiece. She gasped and in an instant had pulled away, pulled her hand from his grasp and had scooted frantically backwards by several feet. “You geniuses forgot to turn your trackers off. I know you’re out there playing hooky. The doc’s looking for ya. Wants to check your symptoms. Morons,” he muttered before disconnecting.

Gabi sat up and ran a hand through her hair as unwelcome reality started seeping back in. She checked the digitized watch on her wrist and sighed. “We should go,” she said as she stood. She awkwardly scuffed at the sand with the edge of her boot, unable to make eye contact with him. What had possessed her to do that? Had she ruined any budding friendship they’d been building? Surely she had. But…he was the first person in a long time who had stuck by her and made her feel understood. She almost started to apologize, but instead she swallowed and turned away, making a beeline for the hoverbike.




This is a terrible idea, Gabi thought as she watched Blaster pace back and forth in front of a group of new recruits. Terrible. Perseus stood towards the back, and she was doing her very best not to look him in the eye, since this was the first time she’d seen him after their escapade that had ended so abruptly. Instead, she was standing a few feet behind her questionable fox friend, leaning against a support pillar in the Resistance’s rather dilapidated shooting range. Blaster had ironically been begging to lead a safety course for months, and the council had granted it…on the condition that he’d be closely supervised. Joy of all joys.

”Now, I know what you’re all thinkin’. ‘Whoever let Blaster run this is a moron,’ am I right?” the fox said with a demented giggle, but then suddenly his expression turned serious. He waved the blaster in his hand over his head. ”But only one person gets to blow stuff up around here: ME! The rest of ya have to know how to handle these so you don’t kill or maim each other.” He paused. “I mean, unless you guys wanna get a fight club goin’, we could make some real serious cash. There’s this guy with rabbit-lookin’ legs and he–”

“Blaster,” Gabi said quietly, a warning note in her voice.

He let out an aggravated half-groan, half-snarl and shot her a dirty look over his shoulder. “Fine! Killjoy.” She responded in kind with a rather vulgar hand gesture. Blaster turned his attention back to the recruits, who collectively looked a little more anxious now.

“Okay. Step one. Keep track of what condition your weapon’s in at all times. Can you fire it if it’s plugged up with Atraxian slug slime? NO! And while we’re on the subject, use your common sense, if you got any. Don’t take the blaster out of your holster unless you want to fire it at someone. Don’t take off the safety unless you want to fire at someone. Don’t AIM IT AT THE GUY NEXT TO YOU UNLESS YOU WANT TO FIRE IT AT HIM!” Blaster screeched the last part at a young man who had been doing exactly that. He returned the weapon to the table it’d been laying on with a sheepish expression on his face. The fox wasted no time in quite literally chasing him out, threatening to chew his ears off as he went.

Once he’d returned to the front of the group, he continued on as if nothing had happened, still waving the blaster around for emphasis, directly contradicting the words coming out of his own mouth. “Step two. Let’s say you have a legitimate target. Let’s say you have the safety off. Keep your finger off that trigger until you aim and you’re ready to take the shot. Otherwise, your nasty little pointer finger should be on the barrel, like so,” he said, demonstrating on his own blaster while also aiming it at Gabi. She cleared her throat and raised an eyebrow at him. ”It ain’t my fault you’re standin’ in the way. Now, step three. Know every inch of your target. Know what’s in front of it, next to it, behind it, inside it, whatever! I don’t give a crap! If you go shootin’ willy-nilly you’ll hit something you’re not supposed to. Believe me, I know,” he muttered. “Now, my assistant-” Gabi snorted loudly “-and I are going to safely place a weapon at each station. When we’re finished you can pick one. But for now FREEZE!” the fox said, giggling when the younger recruits complied to the point where they appeared not to be breathing. Man. This was the best day.

Once the weapons had been situated to his satisfaction, he said, ”Step up, fresh meat, but don’t you go touchin’ those until I say.” A few of the youngest members let out huge gushes of breath and did as they were told.

In the scuffle of recruits moving around and talking to each other, some making nervous jokes, Gabi approached Perseus. You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. Watching can be just as valuable.”

Blaster, who had been passing behind them, interjected. “Oh, sure. What’s the best way for a surgeon to learn how to operate? It sure ain’t to practice, it’s to watch someone else practice.”

“That’s not the same and you know it-”

“The hell it ain’t!”

“The level of precision that doctors have to have isn’t nearly comparable to aiming a blaster-”

“To you, maybe! You’re a terrible shot!”


The two continued to bicker back and forth.

Perseus cleared his throat, “I’ll be fine. How hard can it be? Measure twice, cut once, right? Just got to treat the weapon with respect.” Perseus seemed to be treating the weapon with a *lot* of respect. Maybe a little too much. He hadn’t picked it up yet.

Blaster stuck his tiny tongue out at Gabi. “See? He gets it. Now get to practicin’,” he said, picking up the weapon and shoving it into Perseus’s hands, clearly oblivious to the Lustrian’s discomfort. Gabi lingered for a moment, eyeing her friend worriedly, before she followed the fox to ensure he didn’t haze any more newbies to tears.

The training was going about as well as it could with a group who had never held real weapons before. Some were hitting the target with a reasonable amount of accuracy while others were missing it entirely. Blaster and Gabi were walking up and down the line, offering advice where they could. ”No, no, no! I said USE THE SIGHT! Not use YOUR sight, which is clearly lacking! A lot!” Blaster was yelling at a recruit, his tail swishing around madly in irritation.

Gabi skipped down a few recruits and stood behind Perseus for a moment. He appeared to be struggling, as most of his shots weren’t anywhere close to the target. She waited until he had put the blaster down on the table and then tapped him on the shoulder gently. “Do you mind if I show you a few things?” she asked.

Perseus didn’t jump, exactly, but was adorably sheepish as he very obviously swallowed his pride, turning and cheerfully smiling. Gabi couldn’t help but smile in return - how could she not? “I can’t imagine anyone I would be happier making a fool of myself in front of,” he said cheerfully. He turned, picking up the weapon like it was some kind of alien insect. “Remember to take the time to line up your shot. This model is great because if you push this button next to the safety-” She hesitated for a minute, then admonished herself (this is just a training exercise, not some kind of date, chill out) and placed her index finger over his, guiding it to push down on the button she was talking about “-it activates a laser you can use. Your opponent won’t be able to see it. And your grip is a little off, too. You need to use both of your hands. It helps with stability.” She reached down and took the back of his hand in her fingers, trying to be as gentle as possible. She placed it over his other one and made a few adjustments to his fingers, then dropped her hands quickly as if they’d been burned and stepped back a few paces. “There. Try now.” She frowned. “And take a deep breath first. You seem a little jumpy.”

Perseus seemed to pause, slowing his breathing to prepare for the shot. He steadily squeezed the trigger of the blaster, already an improvement on the clawlike grip he had on it previously. There was a shrill fizz as the plasma round arced out of the weapon, striking the target slightly off-centre, right through the heart. She grinned. “That was amazing!” A few appreciative whoops could be heard from the recruits in the bay next to them.

Perseus
Gabi had expertly advised Perseus while unknowingly causing his heart to skip a beat. It was lovely of her to be so eager to set him up for an impressive shot, and the advice had clearly been on the mark, but all Perseus could think about while they stood together was the feeling of her hands, warm and light, carefully but firmly embracing his, her pale human skin the color of clouds during sunset. As she guided his posture, the only thing on his mind was the faint smell of peppermint, wrapping his brain in cotton and turning him into a mute robot, capable only barely of moving following the simple instructions she was giving him.

The shot had been a fluke. He was sure of it.

Swallowing, he tried to reset the posture and try again, he breathed out steadily, loosening himself up, squeezing the trigger slowly-
VRRRRRR-
His wrist comm vibrated with a message, sending his shot wide of the target.
Perseus sighed, hoping at least Gabi hadn’t seen.
The message was from the councillors. An invitation. Looks like they had run out of patience. Perseus couldn’t exactly blame them.

The meeting room was set to have a bit of a nicer atmosphere this time. The walls were screens, apparently, now set to look like a beautiful window view of the Zhar sunset, rather than the foreboding black they had shown previously.
“We hope you have enjoyed your time on Zhar’s surface. Regardless of your decision, you’ll be welcome there at any time.” The figures shifted slightly. Some leaning forward, affixing Perseus with that same impenetrable stare; “But time grows short, unfortunately. New developments have arisen, and we need your decision.”

Perseus had let the possible routes percolate in his mind. He had tried to imagine what decision would result in the least regrets, and with that in mind, the choice was obvious. “I’m not going to sell the ‘Paxi to a bunch of shadowy figures I don’t know. No offence.” There was a flurry of motion from one or two of the counsellors, but Perseus hastened to add; “But I do want to help. And I can understand why it would seem risky to you to have some nobody Lustrian owning your flagship, so how’s this…” Perseus let the words flow, words he had run through in his mind since Gabi had looked into his eyes as they lay on the sand. Something had clicked, then. The dominoes were already falling, he was just along for the ride. “On the proviso that I’m hired on by her to work as the chief engineer for the Cotopaxi… I’ll hand ownership over to Gabi.”

Gabi
It was difficult to suppress a smile as she imagined the looks on the faces of the council member’s faces at Perseus’s unexpected condition. Based on the way their shadowed images had frozen, she knew they had muted to discuss amongst themselves…wait, hold on a second…

As the full implications of what he’d said caught up with her, she did her best to maintain a neutral expression, but her heart began to beat wildly. He couldn’t mean it, could he? He’d been so on the fence about the New Resistance up to this point, and based on everything that had happened she could hardly blame him. And she hadn’t even agreed to be captain yet - she could hardly hire him if the position wasn’t hers to give away. She glanced at the frozen members to ensure that they were still deliberating amongst themselves, and then turned her head slightly to look at him. “Are you sure?” she whispered. When he nodded, she bit her lip. This was the point of no return, then. She took a deep breath and turned back to the chamber, clearing her throat. “Perseus’s terms are more reasonable than we could have hoped for. And…in addition to what he’s offering, I’ll officially sign on as captain.”
Together, right?
 
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Verran

Illogical
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The Good Doctor

Dr. Meadows nodded. "Well then, you're good to go! Hop up and try not to twist your body too much while your bones reconnect. When you do vomit, make sure there's no blood. If there is, means your body isn't recovering properly and your cell adhesion is failing. Start turning to mush if left alone and it sure as hell means I'm injecting you with Hatalico. Basically cell-cement. Forces your cells to hold together 'till they heal properly and is what makes you stiff as a board. Shouldn't be a problem though. Not unless you've have Hemophilia or something else that prevents clotting. Also, do not take Advil or any medication that makes any part of your body more 'slick' so to speak. Got it? Good."

***​

General duties done for the day, Reginald bade the front-desk goodnight and ambled out of the hospital. He did not head home, however. Lighting a cigarette, he nodded to the two soldiers standing outside the shuttle, and boarded. The two followed in complete silence. Ignition punched and off they launched. Council business. He'd read the blurb. From the get-go, he didn't like it. For one, it was council business. Reginald was what he called a simple man. He liked to work at the hospital. He liked to help people. He liked a good smoke and a good drink at the end of a day accompanied with a game of cards. He liked being a grump. He loved his kids. Council business only occasionally involved a couple of those items. Funny, Imperial business had been mostly the same.

For another, the matter had been fairly well classified. Oh, the announcement of this find had been public enough. Gabi had come hollering to him immediately and there wasn't a classified marker on the document he read. But Reginald couldn't help but notice that the message had been both radically brief and completely devoid of any information that would declare why they needed Doctor Meadows. Cyrogentics wasn't, after all, his specialty. Hell, it was half physics and at least a quarter chemical science to begin with as was anything messing around with absolute zero. Which screamed to him exactly why they did want his medical expertise.

The shuttle hurtled over the secure field around the military base for the city. Its clearance codes ensured that it did not get vaporized out of the sky before touching down. The soldier escort led him into the compound, abuzz with the usual activity. Reginald hardly noticed. His eyes fixed upon the stately figure of Council member Lashenta, waiting by one of the entrances.

"Dr. Meadows," she greeted, "glad you could make it."

"Well, when the council says jump, I don't exactly have a plethora of options."

"Doctor, you know that you can decl…"

He cut her off, "yah, yah. Let's get on with it."

Her lips pursed. "I know that trust isn't easy, but if you just gave us some leeway. We're trying to free the galaxy. We're on the same side."

They had had this back and forth before. "You have a popsicle for me to look at?"

She sighed. "Yes, right this way."

It was a relatively short trip. Silent save for the flicks of Reginald's lighter as he lit his second cigarette and the group's footsteps. One overly secured doorway later and they entered an incredibly spartan room. Beyond the small crowd of people, it only had a single object. A metal container. Transparent to seem as glass, but Reginald guessed that the walling of the object was anything but. Something had to insulate the absolute zero temperature inside from the comfortably temperate outside. But that was what was normal. Within lay a…person? It seemed like it. Half a human head was visible. A woman's face, black hair with tan skin. Lips slightly apart with eyes closed. Fast asleep. The other half of her head was something else. Some sort of substance clung to her head. Expanding up and out to suddenly meld into a metal helm. Solidly fused together yet radically different visual form. The substance silver, while the helm a mix of black and gold. Looking across the rest of the person's body, Reginal saw that it was the same all over. A human hand with fingers covered by gauntlets. Fused together by silver. A patchwork person and armored machine. Like Frankenstein's Monster, yet the size was horribly mismatched. Grotesque.

"The hell am I looking at?" Reginald finally spoke.

His words seemed to have broken a spell of silence on the crowd.

"Meadows!" Dr. Kosovol, an imperial physics professor defector who taught at the local academy and specialized in preservatives of all kinds, said genially, "glad you made it. We were just wondering that too."

"Kosovol," Reginald returned with a handshake as he glanced around the room, "Colburn, Andrews, Johenessburg, and Kacresntia too? Seems like they pinched the lot of us for this."

"That they did," Andrews, a mechanical engineer with a cigar that seemed the width of Reginald's entire hand, puffed.

Colburn was the local military chemist. Johenessburg fit in the party as the quantum physicist, unsurprising considering who knew what that pod went through before coming here. And Kacresntia was a medical doctor. Cementing even more why Reginald knew he was called here. There was also a handful of soldiers who played the role of guards, of course Lashenta, and Admiral Tev who Reginald knew by reputation and appearance but not personally. A round of handshaking was done before they got right down to business.

"As you know," Tev took the lead in the proceedings, "this was discovered on the INS Troubadour. Dr. Meadows, I know you sold your memory chip to join us, but we need to know. Is this possibly the next strain in Imperial genetic soldiers?"

Reginald considered the individual in stasis. No clue. Even then, my field of research was WMDs. Shrugging off the wry thought, Reginald said, "Hmm, can't tell. Sorry."

He knew that a good number of people in this room, and beyond, didn't believe his tale in full. Oh, selling the memory chip that was a part of his cybernetics, certainly. That all his memory was gone, definitely not. But enough people believed him and enough of those that didn't respected his privacy that there hadn't been any serious prying into his past…yet.

Tev nodded before continuing, "well, we can't rule it out. Scans so far have been…unusual. As far as we can tell, the individual in the container is a basic, female human that is both alive and in cryogenic stasis. No obvious genetic tampering. On the other hand, wherever that armor or silver growth is, our scans can't penetrate. Which, as you can see, is just about half the body. However, a scan of the half-exposed part of her skull has revealed Khivux biomatter."

Andrew's cigar dropped with his jaw. Kosovol blanched. Colburn's eyebrows launched up and beyond his hairline. Johenessburg turned pale green. Reginald's mind was thrown back in time. "Oh please, Reg, relax," she admonished, "it's only halfway across town. What could happen? You're becoming as paranoid as the soldiers about this. I'll be fine." With an effort, he tore himself out of the memory and back into the present. Lashenta and Kacresntia were nodding gravely. Obviously already aware.

Somehow, Reginald recovered first, "is she still infected?"

"No," Dr. Kacresntia replied, "at least, we don't think so. As we can't see the other half of the skull, it's impossible to tell. But the residue from what we can see suggests that it was destroyed. Violently. Not Mindfire. We do have some on hand in the case she isn't cured though."

Reginald stared again at the woman in the tank with apparent wonder. How had she survived what had ruined and killed so many others? How had she killed the monster that had sought to feast upon her mind? How was she even alive, frozen in front of them? The seemingly sole survivor of the Troubadour. What was she?

"How did we get her from the INS Troubadour?" asked Andrews. Voicing one of Reginald's many questions.

"That's classified," stepped forward Councilwoman Lashenta, "we're working out what details to share with the public at the moment. But something this big can't be kept quiet for long. So, this is the job people. Find us a way to wake her up safe and sound. No accidents. The overall tech is familiar, but whatever is keeping it powered certainly isn't."

Belatedly, Reginald realized that the cryochamber wasn't plugged into anything. And, while he knew that a body could still be kept cold enough for many hours and still awoken, it still should have warmed significantly throughout the journey here. Yet the basic scans, which were now being passed around, indicated that the patient in question still remained at that perfectly cold temperature.

"Nor is whatever tech is covering her. Discover a way to get readings on the rest of her body as well. And, with the criminal slime, the Jackrabbit, broadcasting across the galaxy that he has the Troubadour's black box and its key, this operation is now priority one! Who knows how many people are now running the race towards the Phoenix Nebula. You're some of the brightest minds in the Resistance. Let's get to it people!"

***​

A day later, they had made absolutely no progress. At least, in the effort of waking her up or discovering anything about the substance and armor covering her. Reginald had examined and discovered that, from what was visible, she seemed to be a healthy young woman. In fact, the odd thing was that she was, perhaps, a little too healthy. Clean would have been more of the word. No, even that wasn't strong enough…sterilized, that was it. As far as he could tell, there wasn't a speck of dirt or grime anywhere. They couldn't take a blood sample, entombed as she was. But her teeth were immaculate. Scans of her exposed body showed a radical lack of pathogens of any kind. Her liver looked as if it had never seen a drop of alcohol. From what he could see of her lungs, they were pink and healthy. Yet that phrase "from what we can see" seemed to be the hallmark of all their reporting so far.

For Reginald, there were strips of utter darkness across various parts of the patient's body. Her heart was totally eclipsed and the good doctor wondered if she had an artificial one. Parts of her aforementioned lungs were covered. Bones suddenly became impenetrable black rods before returning, suddenly, to usual marrow. Andrews still had no clue on how the cryochamber was being powered. Marveling how, after connecting the device to a secure power supply as the entire room was isolated to prevent tampering, it would remain perfectly energized regardless of how much or how little extra energy he fed it. As if whatever was powering it was perfectly adjusting to the fluxuations. Both Colburn and Johenessburg were growing more and more frustrated as their examination of the substance failed to produce results. "It's like it knows where we're going to look next and prepares. Nothing should be this protected! Even stealth vessels!"

Kosovol was ecstatic. Rattling off theories of compounding cold fusion to how antimatter must be endothermic to maintain such rigid temperatures. He kept arguing that they should isolate a portion of the container where the patient didn't lie and see if they could warm that up. It was agreed that they would try that tomorrow as Reginald sipped a mug of coffee. Perusing scans he had made from this morning and comparing them to repeated test throughout the day. Suddenly he did a double take.

"It's grown!" he shouted.

"What's grown?" said Andrews.

"That ruddy silver stuff. It's covering more of her exterior today than this morning."

"What?! That shouldn't be possible," exclaimed Kosovol who was positively bouncing with excitement, "it's absolute zero in there. No molecular movement."

Reginald flick at his holopad. Turning on its projector function and flicked picture after picture of data from his scans. Sure enough, a solid two millimeters all across her exposed clothes and skin had been sealed up under silver and armor. Suddenly energized, Johenessburg dashed to his tool cart, that was wheeled in by soldiers yesterday evening, and whipped up a microscope camera. Aligning it delicately along the seam of armor and clothing, he projected the picture. Sure enough, it was growing. Slow and steady yet with the unwavering progress of a tsunami wave, it was spreading across her.

"Right, well, we're going to need to keep an eye on that," Johenessburg eventually said after the wall of silver had crossed the microscope's range of vision. They all continued to look, however. Reginald knew they were wondering the same questions as the night before. What, under heaven, was this woman?

***​

"Ever get the feeling we're being watched?" asked Andrews for the fifth time today. Nobody bothered answering. After trying Kosovol's experiment by cutting into an unoccupied section of the pod. Isolating it with sheets of metal and then heating it up in the traditional way. It had worked and, encouraged by the success, they had tried to heat her same way. Only to find that the unit had remained stubbornly cold. Impervious to all attempts. During this process, the feeling had washed over each and every one of them. That an eye was on them. Looking at them with neither malice nor benevolence. An empty eye save for its sight that still saw everything. But on what scales it weighed what it saw was an utter mystery.

Reginald looked across the pod again, sighing, before suddenly freezing in place. His eyes locked onto an almost out of the way place at its base. There, small and yet visible to the naked eye was a single lens. Seemingly staring right at him.

"There," he whispered.

"What?" said Colburn.

"Camera, there…scan the pod again. Whole pod."

Andrews rushed over to the computer, typing in commands and, a second later, the pod from day 0 was placed against day 2. Jagged veins had pierced through it all. Noticeable by the fact that there seemed to be nothing. No pod, just what seemed to be empty space. Yet it certainly could not have been empty for the pod still ran perfectly. One of those lines ran right to the camera Reginald noticed. As if that had been a signal, as if realizing how much it was being detected, the substance reacted. Johenessburg exclaimed, "it's covering her!"

Indeed, at a rate incredibly visible to the human eye, it was flowing over her. Crushing the frost that coated the skin.

"Temperature's dropping," stated Kosovol, "is she waking up? Meadows, how's her neural pathways?"

Reginald rushed over to his own equipment, "they're lightin' up. All over, they're springin' to life! No, wait, stormin' stuff! I'm losing my view. She's being covered too much." Reginald looked at the woman. Eyes narrowed. What the hell is goin' on in there? Then he saw it, for the briefest instant before it was covered. He saw her eye snap open. Brown and plain. Empty of expression. Then it was gone.

Reginald never forgot that eye. And that was to his credit for it and its pair often tried to trick him. Shimmering with mirth and delight. A glittering trick to bedazzle the eyes. Reginald knew better. He'd seen those eyes before. First, in clinical observations back in university. Second, during the Paranoia War. Third, once, in the mirror. They were dangerous eyes. Terrifying as being lost in the void of space when your tether snapped. Devoid of hope. Shells of men who walked about streets without a glimmer of light at the end of the bleak tunnels they walked. Some prayed they may still find one. Some hoped it would be a train.

Nor did he forget what happened next. Adrenaline pumping into his body at the sudden events slowed time just enough as the armor erupted from the cryochamber. It didn't explode. Not really. Despite the metal hulk shattering its way through the container's walls. Each shard that attempted to fly free was intercepted. Caught by strands of flowing silver and then drawn back into the armored form. Leaving behind a broken egg without fragments.

Molding silver flowed and grew into solidified plate across its body. Yet, even as it was still forming, the woman in the machine shot across the room, grabbed the hapless Reginald with one arm, and slammed him, with remarkably little pain, against the wall.

"Dr. Meadows!" Guards were raising weapons. Safeties switching off. "Release…"

An incoherent string of sound spilled out from the machine. Pressing overwhelmingly upon the room's ears. Reginald was almost half-convinced it pressed upon his mind. His integrated universal translator recognizing the pattern of some language from the first two phrases alone but had no context. No basis. No ultimate understanding of what the distinctly machine, yet holding feminine undertone, was saying. It cocked its head, squeezing the gauntlet ever so slightly. Threatening to crush the fragile human bones beneath its machine grasp. Then, just as soon as the armor was settling into place, suddenly it reverted. Turning molten silver that gently deposited Reginald to the ground.

Drawing a breath he wasn't aware that he held in the first place. Massaging his neck. The humanoid form flowed to the center of the room. It knelt down as it spilled out into a shimmering pool of silver. Washing down off her until it finally revealed the head and body of a young woman. Serenely looking about the room with a light smile touching her face. Eyes, while not glinting, alive with gentle interest. Yet there was something strained about it. A phantom pain. Like a headache that couldn't quite be shaken off, but you pushed on through anyway. Nobody made a move towards the seemingly liquid quicksilver that still rippled gentle. As if someone had just thrown a stone into the center of a still pond.

The soldiers recovered from this sudden shift first. Aiming weapons at and demanding to know who she was.

"Apologies," she said, and Reginald dimly felt the translator in his cybernetics ping him that this individual was not speaking in Imperial Standard, but some archaic dialect found on a few fringe worlds whose words most often showed up on dockyards in the colorful language sailors employed on a daily basis.

"What?" barked a soldier. Clearly not all of them had the same level of translator program in their armor.

"Apologies," she repeated, switching again as smoothly as silk to Standard, "cryo-sleep does give quite the brain-freeze. Ice'd like to skate over the details and start again. I'm sure we'd get along, snowingly!"

A moment of stunned and utter silence passed before Reginald's brain spluttered into action, is…is she bleedin' punning!?

The blast door suddenly whooshed open. Storming in was no less than a platoon or brigade's worth of firepower in the form of marines, Admiral Ven, and Gabi herself who was, apparently, visiting today!

"Oh look," she drawled, "an avalanche."

Reginald looked back at the woman and wondered, not for the last time, who, under heaven, is this woman!?





The Ą̵̧̫̥̗͉̪̙̱̩̙̺͖͉̘͉͉̪͕̹̣̖͙͂̀̀̇̈́̑͊̔́͒̊̇͒̐̇͆̓̑̚͜͠͝͝͠Ç̴̢̛̛͕̥̥̪̠̜̘̿̑́̌͌̐̅͆͒͋̀̅̃͒̆̏̐͘͘͝͝L̸̢̤͎͓̖̤̖̯͚̭̦̞̩͚̦͙͇̓̉̓͌̑̾̅̈́̈̍͋̊̿̔͜͜ͅJ̶̡̧͈̻̗̣̖̦̥̙̺͓̩͎̱̲͎͔͖͖̩̏́͋͛̈́͛̽̄̇͊̕̕͘͝K̸̡̪͈̲̝̭̦̣̭͖̯̣͙̤̘̘̲͂̀̾͜ͅË̸̡̨̡̛̜̹̣̭͇̯̜̤̥̣͍͕̫͍̖̝́͗̇̉̋͐̉̀̈́̋́̃̅̀͝ͅD̶̛̤̀͘L̶̢̡̨̧̟̲͚͕̪͍̹̲̭͈͈̹̱̳̞̞̥̺͖̻͎̹̩͚̮̏̀͂̐͑́͗̔̊̆̃̒̈̆̋̃͂̾̍͒̓͘͜͠͠ͅK̶̨̛̫̳̖̥̫̟͓̠̣̘̠̱̪̰̣̥͍͙͇̓͊͆̒̌̍̊͆̉͑̓͗̎̂̾͆̔̈́̓̄̍̾͘̚͘͘̕͜͠͠͝


Takeda Aiko sat serenely in the middle of her pond. A lotus princess who just happened to be wearing gown of silver and, well, an extremely clean miner suit. The sleeves were cut along with the leggings. She was outnumbered, a regular occurrence. Seemingly outgunned, that depended on the day. And had woken up in a strange location without having any knowledge as to how she got there. Which really should have disturbed her but had happened so often over the course of recent history that it wasn't even surprising. Her smile slipped.

No! Stupid. She admonished herself. Forcing her smile back up and changing her line of thought back to wondering where she was.

"Who are you?" asked some bloke in fancy pants, a crisp, clean shirt, along with a few medals plastered on his chest. Must be a general of some sort. Kinda like the ol' captain of that vessel of a wandering minstrel. What was their name again…ah well. I'll remember it later. But I swear, they both have the exact same bald spot right on the top of their heads!

She knew it was a bit of a hairy subject for him. How she knew, Aiko wasn't quite certain. Just like she knew that Dr. Meadows longed to see his children again. That Private Erucus, who had been there since she began to become aware, had a drinking problem. Dr. Colburn was madly in love with Councilwoman Yokund. It wasn't thoughts that she was picking up on. Not really. More of concepts. Ideals. Manifesting themselves as understandable notions and thoughts as her brain and machine picked them apart. One by one. Until they were properly stored and sorted in her leaking mind. Or was it sorted then stored?

Answering the question, Aiko said, "Takeda Aiko."

"Well then, Ms. Aiko…"

"Takeda."

"Hm?"

"My surname is Takeda."

"Ah, my apologies. Ms. Takeda, I am Admiral Brett Tev. Would you do us the incredible favor of accompanying us and answering a few questions?"

"Of course! I'd be delighted to enlighten. Just a moment."

"Certainly, but what…" he voice trailed away. Aiko couldn't blame him. It took some time getting used to. Behind her, the liquid silver was flowing and crawling up the cryochamber. Encasing it just as it had encased her. With a rumble and scream of metal that had some marine looking fellows whipping up weapons while people in lab coats plugged their ears. But nothing prepared them for watching her armor devour the cryochamber. Crushing it into a malleable pulp before, what wasn't needed, was stored, flat within the pool. The rest fed into the insatiable hunger that was power. Out flowed a sphere. Her core. Smiling as fondly as she could, Aiko scooped up the sphere into her arms. Sheets of silver still flowed down to the pool. Connecting the antimatter reactor to the rest of the system.

"Well then," she said as remarking on the weather, "I've had a good meal for half of me. Would you have some food for the other half. I would adore some tea too." Aiko flowed forward. Not rising from her pool, far too early for that. The silver bore her forward towards the exit.

Without missing a beat, the Admiral said, "right this way, Ms. Takeda."



The Good Doctor

"Takeda Aiko," the woman said again as Reginald watched the camera footage from the relative safety of a security office one hundred yards down from the armored meeting room that Councilwoman Lashenta and Admiral Tev were sitting in. Gabi had, after making sure that none of Reginald's ribs were cracked, who was the doctor here thank you very much, begged to attend. The awakened sign of life from the Phoenix Nebula had delighted her beyond all belief. However, given that, whatever that silver stuff was, had easily eaten an entire hunk of metal. Testing to see if it would just as easily eat living beings was not something that the council was thrilled to find out. And so, to risk as little life as possible but give the guest all due respect possible, the meeting was chaired by the two leaders of this little project. Leaving the rest of the staff clustered in said security room.

Reginald couldn't make her out. She sat serene and calm in the face of overwhelming firepower. Nearly crushed his bones. And rattled off quips as breathing. All within the first five minutes. Now she sat upon her steed of devouring silver after having equally scarfed down two platters of food with indecent abandon. Nursing a mug of green tea.

"It's a pleasure to meet you," Lashenta smiled, "if I may, I'll get straight to the point. Have you ever been to the Phoenix Nebula?"

Takeda's smile seemed to flicker for a moment on the screen, "suppose I have."

Everyone started in some way back in the Security office. Gabi outright jumped to her feat. Reginald frowned. He wasn't sure how to take it. Certainly, it was what the Resistance hoped for but…did he really want whatever was there coming out? The Mindfire, certainly. It saved the galaxy. Absolutely necessary. But, what if the dreams of man of this place was truthfully their doom. He made himself smile though as Gabi looked down at him with the light of adventure in her eyes.

"What do you want with it," Takeda stated. Unphased by the reactions she couldn't see and unperturbed by the measured excitement emanating from the Admiral and Councilwoman.

"To use it to help all races across the galaxy," Lashenta exclaimed, "to ensure that everyone can enjoy their rights and freedoms of beings!"

"Wasn't the Mindfire enough?"

"I…what if it isn't next time? How did you survive the Khuvix infestation?"

"How scandalous! Looking at a lady's brain. How incredibly rude of you! Boorish I, daresay. Unlike the boars you are, I showed all the refined delicacies of a noble lady and ate it."

Reginald blinked.

"You…ate?" Lashenta murmured.

"Well, not exactly. Didn't get the flavor of it, but I bet it tastes like chicken. My mechanical half ripped it apart once the foreign matter entered my head. Broke down its parts. Analyzed it for usable proteins. Then introduced them into my body. And disposed of the rest."

"I see…"

"Not too repeatable for most others, right? So why the dear Phoenix?"

"I'm certain you've heard of the Empire."

"Of course, the delightful vessel, the Blunderin' Minstrel…"

"The INS Troubador," Admiral Tev cut in.

"It's what I said," evaded Takeda, "but yah. Imma tiny bit familiar with that one nation."

"It's quite a bit more than just…"

"Yah, whatever."

Reginald noted the steady change in tone. Ms. Takeda had become more withdrawn. Eyes starting to narrow.

"Give me a few days. To think about it," she continued.

"Of course," Lashenta grasped on the opening, "we'll set up a room for you while…"

"The room I stopped dreaming will do fine." Takeda rose to her feet. Moving towards the doors. The silver flowing about her feet and rising in bubble-like spires around her.

"Dreaming?"

Silence thicker than split-pea soup held for a second. "Even if I choose to help, there are holes in my mind. I will not have a blueprint to your Phoenix. Send your doctors to see if you please." Takeda walked out the door.

Everyone was silent. Reginald was pondering what she almost said before leaving. Suddenly, Gabi was moving. "I have to talk to her. I'll convince her, don't worry!"

"Wait, Gabi, I don't think that…and she's gone.



Gabi
The hallway was empty by the time Gabi made it out. There was only one place Aiko would have gone. A few moments later she had arrived outside the room where the dome was housed and knocked loudly. "Aiko? Can I come in, please?" she called through the steel.

Aiko lay back on a forming bed. Cushioned by the molding metal. The room was perfectly barren but not absolutely isolated from spontaneous intruders who wished to intrude upon her solitude. There wasn't any particular reason to deny further pesterings from these Resistance people. Even if was just after brushing them off. She flicked her mind and a tendril of silver slithered over to the door controls. Taking a moment to arrange her face into a humanly pleasant one, she let the door open with a, "I believe that I am Takeda, Miss…"

"Just Gabi. No miss is necessary," she said as she stepped inside. She eyed the silver warily for a moment before looking at Aiko. "I just wanted to check in on you. I'm sure all of this must be very strange."

"Hmm, Gabi, then. And no, people wanting something from me is not very strange. Just happens that you all seem a bit less…desperate? Despairing? Terrified, though maddeningly driven? And a good deal more eager? Excited? Hormone high?"

Gabi could feel herself blushing but chose to ignore the last comment. She shrugged. "A lot has changed for the Resistance since you've been asleep. We have our ship back. We found you. There are…things to be hopeful about, I suppose." She paused. "If you could have anything, go anywhere, right this second, what would you do?" she asked.

"Who ever said that I was talking about the Resistance? If I can recall… Can I? Yes, I can recall this: you've always been a hopeful bunch. Hope is what you lot thrive on. Devour it as sure as sure. Even at the height of the despair caused by the Paranoia war, you ate enough hope to be bloated. Would you feed it to me too? Tell me, Gabi, why should I trust in this hope?" Aiko ignored the girl's question. Her own dreams were forgotten nightmares.

Gabi smiled faintly. "Hope was my uncle's driving force. It isn't mine." She paused and looked away. "I trust the people on this base more than anything else, and I want to keep them safe from anyone who would harm them."

Aiko flipped upside down. The machine flowing up in an arching crescent like a comical parody of a gallows with the woman hanging by one foot with her best jester's smile in place. Arms crossed, she said "then you'd better stay away from burning birds! Stars and their remains were never safe places for children to play."

"We're not playing a game here. Neither is the Navy," she replied quietly, eyeing the gallows with a neutral expression. She was doing her best not to show discomfort.

Cocking her head, she let the thread snap. Falling headfirst into the pool of silver below. Which was only about a foot deep. Yet the machine caught her with delicate precision. Gently rotating and raising her until she was flat on her back and a mere foot away from Gabi's face. Eyes flashing with delight. "Really? I know we're playing a game. Some just have sticks so far up their butts that they call it work. Buuut, to bring our conversation to the rear-end I'll consider what you want me to declare. Call that more than fair? Course, it's fairly clear you'd enjoy a carnival of a time with someone before the sails are set and anchors be away! So hold fast! Nebulas be choppy sailing. G'day!"

Gabi couldn't help it - she gaped at Aiko for a moment. How on earth could one person be so utterly nonsensical and terrifying at the same time? She started to turn away to leave, but at the last second she turned back and said, in a rare moment of honesty, "I would, and I'd do anything to protect him. You're here now, whether you like it or not. Maybe you'll find something worth protecting, too." She turned away and let herself out, honestly having no idea if their conversation had had any impact on Aiko at all.



The Good Doctor
Reginald had just gotten the memo stating that he would be a part of the team to set sail with the Cotopaxi. To go on the legendary search for the Pheonix Nebula. If they could just convince Ms. Takeda to come along, everything would be perfect. Nodding to the guards, he knocked on her door. 'There are holes in my mind.' It wooshed open.

Takeda sat in her silver pool. Seemingly preening herself in the reflection of great sheets of liquid mirror that sat as three great fans. Lit by a warm light emanating from the large sphere that she had held onto all throughout her initial interview. Her eyes caught his reflection and, with a staged gasp so obvious as to be worthy of an elementary school play, she whirled to face him while seated. "Dr. Reginald Meadows! Coming to call so suddenly, a girl can hardly be ready for such intrusion."

"I did knock," he dryly replied. Inwardly, he frowned. Reginald felt fairly certain that he had not given her name his first name. Nor had anyone else. Although, she seemed to know a good deal about things nobody talked about.

"Oh of course! So, to what do I owe the pleasure?"

Reginald gestured at the medical equipment that was wheeling in on his remote commands. "Just a general check-up, Ms. Takeda."

"And to see if I really do have holes in my brain."

"Yes…that too. It is a rather concerning claim."

"Indeed, it is a mindful to consider. Well, get on getting on. I'll just sit here, minding my own heady business and whatnot."

"Right…" Naturally, she continued to stare at him with a slight twinkle in her eye. Waiting for him to step closer. Onto her domain. With a step that he couldn't pretend to not hesitate about, Reginald did so. Her smile broadened. He got to work. Checking eyes, ears, throat, blood pressure, breathing, heart, etc. As he went, he talked. Trying to pry a bit into the patient before him.

"So, where are you from?"

"Doctor! Asking a girl where she comes from already? How scandalous. Try asking that Council Lady Wig Lashamashten or whatever. Or that other Doctor Woman. Might have better luck there. Better age too! I'm much too young for you!"

"You are dodging the question. Now, for your medical history, answer the stormin' question."

"Aiyah, such a sharp remark! No wonder you're so popular. So kind, so caring. Yet that spiny shell cries of a soul in need of saving! Oh such pain!" Posing dramatically with each phrase.

"Girl," Reginald bore on, undeterred, "stop flailing and answer the…" He trailed off. The image from the brain scan just popped up onto the monitor. He knew that Takeda had strange black masses in her body that still could not be properly resolved. But he was not prepared to see four thin spikes jabbing straight into her brain. One was, indeed, right into her hippocampus.

"So, tell me, Doc, what's the prognosis? Terminal? Fatal? Should I apply as an extra for that one zombie show. Shambling Dead?" Her voice was light and airy. But she wasn't looking at Dr. Meadows. He also noted that the silver mirrors were now bubbling, making it impossible to get a glimpse of her face. "How's the ol' Hippo remembering? Parietal's feeling fine? Bet the Occipital is looking alright. I know the Temporal is tempted for a good ball of mochi, so that must be fine. Right?"

"You've seen this before," he realized aloud.

"But of course!" she laughed, "you're not the first doctor to peer into this girl's brain. Well, I think I'm as fit as a fiddle, as your results no doubt tell. Good check-up Doc! Play poker with ya later."

It was true. All his scans came back reporting a healthy young woman. Oddities were numerous. Blacked out bones, heart, parts of lung, spikes in her brain. Just to name a few. But the fact remained that she was healthy too. Too healthy to reasonably detain her for more tests. Yet. The word sterilized popped up into his mind again. Even then, he had enough reports to keep him quite busy for quite some time. He rose. Deciding not to press on her medical history for today. "Right…I'll send you the results tomorrow."

She waved him off. Evidently bored of teasing him.

It wasn't until Reginald was halfway out of the base before he realized that he had never mentioned that he played poker.






The Ą̵̧̫̥̗͉̪̙̱̩̙̺͖͉̘͉͉̪͕̹̣̖͙͂̀̀̇̈́̑͊̔́͒̊̇͒̐̇͆̓̑̚͜͠͝͝͠Ç̴̢̛̛͕̥̥̪̠̜̘̿̑́̌͌̐̅͆͒͋̀̅̃͒̆̏̐͘͘͝͝L̸̢̤͎͓̖̤̖̯͚̭̦̞̩͚̦͙͇̓̉̓͌̑̾̅̈́̈̍͋̊̿̔͜͜ͅJ̶̡̧͈̻̗̣̖̦̥̙̺͓̩͎̱̲͎͔͖͖̩̏́͋͛̈́͛̽̄̇͊̕̕͘͝K̸̡̪͈̲̝̭̦̣̭͖̯̣͙̤̘̘̲͂̀̾͜ͅË̸̡̨̡̛̜̹̣̭͇̯̜̤̥̣͍͕̫͍̖̝́͗̇̉̋͐̉̀̈́̋́̃̅̀͝ͅD̶̛̤̀͘L̶̢̡̨̧̟̲͚͕̪͍̹̲̭͈͈̹̱̳̞̞̥̺͖̻͎̹̩͚̮̏̀͂̐͑́͗̔̊̆̃̒̈̆̋̃͂̾̍͒̓͘͜͠͠ͅK̶̨̛̫̳̖̥̫̟͓̠̣̘̠̱̪̰̣̥͍͙͇̓͊͆̒̌̍̊͆̉͑̓͗̎̂̾͆̔̈́̓̄̍̾͘̚͘͘̕͜͠͠͝



Aiko was alone. Centered in a sphere of outward silver. Inside, of course, no light shone. It was her only method of actually ensuring privacy. Whether this 'Resistance' was as high minded about people's freedoms or not, she had no idea. Gabi wanted her to believe it. Then again, everyone seemed to want her to believe something or other. Be it Gabi, Admiral Tev, Dr. Meadows, that one council lady, the ol' captain, the ghosts in her head…

Resistance…Résistance…Kashdtok what are they resisting anyway. she stalled. The might of the Empire. Why? To gain individual rights for all people across the galaxy. Form a new government. Yadiyadiyada.

The dark closed in around her as her stalling thoughts died. Her breath hitched. Nothing could separate herself from it. Nothing was left. Not that there was much separating her from it, when she woke up, to begin with. The beginning of the truth was full in her face, but the ends were beyond her sight. Not that it mattered. It held enough of the end to make her curl up into a shivering ball of dread and panic.

"I don't want to go!"

It's time to go.

"I don't want to!"

Isn't it time to stop? Stop running?

"I just want… I don't want! Nonono!"

Running only killed them. You killed them. Coward. At least you shot some.

"No! I didn't want…! No!"

It's time to stop.

She screamed. Wanting to tear. Wanting to shred. And knowing, ultimately, how pointless it all was. That to even attempt would be pointless. Eventually, her violent shivering subsided. Her tears stopped. Aiko uncurled herself and formed a light and a compact mirror inside her sphere. A mess of a face greeted her bloodshot eyes.

"Clean it up," she commented. The suit obliged. Molding out from her pores. Wiping every tear stain from her face. Prepping it to smile. The bloodshot eyes would need a bit of time to return to normal. Nothing she could do about it. For now. Idly, Aiko wondered if she could get a look at all the medical documentation on humanity. Well, something like that will be necessary.

The path wasn't clear, but it existed anyway. She ran through all the things she would need from everyone to succeed. The bloodshot eyes eventually faded. Aiko rose, unfurling free of her sphere of isolation, walked over to the door, and opened it to peek a grin out to the soldiers standing guard. "Say, could ya get me that one lady? Lashy or whoever. Council bigwig. I have something I want to tell her."

One conversation and smuggling later, Aiko lounged about her personal room on the Cotopaxi. Personal to keep her existence just a bit more secret as the final preparations were complete. Personal because she demanded it. Aiko looked in the compact mirror. The void stared back. She sighed. Time to practice. Her doom lay in what they called the Phoenix Nebula after all. A horrible name.
 

Presea_cousin

Edgebabby
Invitation Status
  1. Look for groups
  2. Looking for partners
Posting Speed
  1. Multiple posts per day
  2. 1-3 posts per week
Writing Levels
  1. Give-No-Fucks
  2. Elementary
  3. Intermediate
  4. Adept
  5. Adaptable
Preferred Character Gender
  1. Primarily Prefer Female
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Blazing Hair Runi

Runi was already trying to combat her boredom by looking through starcharts for the nearest asteroid field when a new message came up on the display addressed to her. " We haven't had a chance to talk recently, let's take dinner together." Runi exhaled. Well it was good she didn't have to take another lap of the bridge to ease her boredom. Her stomach felt a tad knotted though as she got up to leave the bridge. She had been on this ship for 5 years already, but there would always be a little nervousness at being called to meet with your superior one-on-one. At least she was finally comfortable enough to not feel the need to bring a blaster with her just as a comfort item. She excused herself from the bridge, passing the bridge control to third-in-command. Not that it meant much for now.

Runi walked out into the hallway, already finding Angstrom waiting for her. She gave a small salute to her as she then joined her in heading for the officer's mess. She let out a small smile while the captain brought up how she clearly wasn't in favor of their current state. "Well, considering my favorite posting is 'all shields to forward maximum with all guns hot', that really can't be helped." She mused. "Don't worry, I'm not one to crack under pressure, whether it be stress or boredom." She gave Angstrom her order to pass along shortly before entering the mess. It didn't take too long for a salute to come from the present officers, and then just as quickly there were clear to continue on. Runi felt herself instinctively straighten when the salute happened, not wanting to make the chain of command look sloppy. She joined Angstrom at the far table, a good observatory location, and also away from most of the other officers. Runi remember one of her first days of being XO and she sat right in the middle of the room. So many stares.

As the food came, there was clear difference in what the two highest ranking people on the ship ordered. Contrary to Angstrom's elegant lobster, Runi's dish was a large steaming bowl of Rarrian stew, filled with potatoes, meat, and looking like something you would make a huge pot of to feed a galactic league jet-ball team (because it was). Runi thanked the drone, which was rather a habit she had developed from previous ships, and began to dig in. She had given up waiting on ceremony for the captain to start eating first, especially if she got into a long talk like she was starting to now.

Runi ate and listened as Angstrom went on and on about some newly discovered insect, all while dissecting her lobster like it was more art than food. What was this about? It certainly was an odd subject to suddenly start talking to her about during a meal. Oh no, was this the captain's subtle way of rebutting her passive demeanor while the ship was holding position? She hoped she wasn't about to get a 'homework' assignment to do some research reading of her own while they were standing by. That would be worse than the boredom! Her gaze got lost in the distance as she thought about a horrifyingly dull day-cycle of reading research papers when she realized Angstrom had just asked her a question. She gulped the stew in her mouth and patted her mouth with a napkin, a sign she had graduated a little from her more boorish manners from her infantry days. "I don't mean to trouble you, cap. I assure you any personal boredom I might feel will not hamper my duties on our mission." She said somewhat rushed, mostly to avoid any possible homework that might be thrown her way. Still, Angstrom surely had more in mind than just checking on her. "…..but did you have something in mind?"
 

muffinphobia

dancing witch
Flight to Dinaxis

Gabi glanced over her shoulder at the quiet Resistance base behind her. Judging by her wristwatch, it was just after sunrise - too early for anyone except the skeleton security detail to be awake. It felt wrong to be sneaking off like this, especially hot on the heels of her official appointment ceremony, but if she didn’t do it now…well, she never would. She shifted the pack on her shoulder and looked down to BD-13, who was hopping back and forth at her side. “Let’s go,” she said quietly. She walked up the entrance ramp of her personal shuttle, refusing to look back a second time. Everyone would still be here when she got back. They’d have to be. Right?

Once inside, she dumped her stuff on the narrow bunk and proceeded to the cockpit, activating the life support system first. Once enough oxygen was flowing, she took her mask off and tossed it into the cabin behind, seating herself in the pilot’s chair. BD-13 was already waiting in the co-pilot’s chair, his tiny extendable metal arm plugged in to the ship’s main computer. She glanced over at him. “Ready?” she asked and received a cheerful chirp in reply. “Right,” she muttered and took a deep breath. She didn’t know why she thought turning the engines on would attract any attention - the landing dock was far enough away from the residential quarters that it wouldn’t wake anyone. Still, she took off not half a second after receiving the message that the engines were flight-ready. The ship rose up into the air with a puff of dust, and she turned, banking for the exit meant for larger spacecraft.

One trip down the narrow tunnel later and she was out in open Zharian air. She was careful to avoid notice from any of the tourist crafts as she left the atmosphere, but a few minutes later saw her successful exit from Zhar into space. She glanced down at the planet below, sparkling brilliant blues and emerald greens, then turned the craft away from the sight, pointing it towards deep space. “BD, set a course for Dinaxis,” she said. Once he’d confirmed it was set, she made the jump to hyperspace, and mere seconds later there was no indication she’d been there at all, save for the messages waiting for Perseus, Reginald, and Blaster on their datapads when they woke up. I’ll be back soon. I promise.



Dinaxis was as different from Zhar as it could be. No sign of life greeted her from this distance. From what she could tell, the planet was frozen and dead, devoid of any life or joy. Well, at least she’d been right to come alone. There was absolutely no way she’d put any of her new crew at risk by bringing them here.

What little research she’d been able to do on the Dina Amor indicated that she should stay far, far away from the capitol. The royal family looked unkindly on offworlders and thought even worse of mutts such as herself. Just this once, she allowed herself to wonder what her brother had done upon arriving here - how he’d avoided detection by authorities, how he’d managed to find a tribe willing to take him in. She should have asked when she’d had the chance. She double-checked that the cloaking device was in fact on, and then asked, “BD, where is Benopsis? Show me.”

A moment later, a glowing dot appeared on the glass in front of her. It indicated a point on the westernmost horizon. “Alright,” she said, angling the ship in the opposite direction. She brought it lower to the surface of the planet, as they were still too far out to see anything. “Scan for life forms,” she said to BD, who complied with a series of chirps. The report that came back was somewhat dismal: no humanoid forms, but plenty of larger, likely more menacing ones. She wasn’t sure what to do. She didn’t want to burn through all of her fuel searching the wilderness for tribes that were probably concealed anyway - she’d read about the Dina Amor’s penchant for moving underground in order to survive this time of year. She drummed her fingers against the control panel, thinking. Her only options seemed to be going lower and risking being knocked out of the sky by some manner of terrible beast, or to search closer to the capitol. Her heart full of misgivings, she swung the ship around in the direction of Benopsis. “Keep scanning. Alert me when you find someone. Anyone,” she said to her only friend on this strange planet.



After close to an hour of flying as low to the ground and as close to Benopsis as she dared, she’d just about given up hope. She dropped even lower, to the point where she was nearly skimming the icy surface of the planet, and said to BD, “Is there a cave nearby we can hide in? I need to think.” There was a pause as the droid ran a scan, but a minute later a blinking dot appeared to the southeast. She accelerated towards it, careful to keep the engines quiet and to keep any external source of light turned off. The last thing she wanted was to attract unwanted attention, from Dina or beast.

Finally, she’d landed them safely inside the small cave that BD had found. It was tempting to park at the very entrance, but she forced herself to go further inside, knowing they’d need as much protection from the elements as possible. Despite that, the glass in the cockpit began to frost over almost as soon as she’d turned the engines off. She sighed and walked back into the cabin, hunting for her space suit. She’d retrofitted it to withstand the harsh winter climate - it took any moisture from her body, heated it in the layer usually meant to protect her from space, and would then run it back through. It would also serve as drinking water if she needed it. The only bit she wasn’t keeping was the helmet - instead, she’d opted for a mask that usually part of the base’s riot gear and had attached it to the system running through her suit. It’d be warmer…hopefully.

She scanned one more time for life forms, and finding none nearby, she disengaged the ramp and walked out into the cave proper. She glanced over her shoulder at BD. “Stay here and stay warm,” she said to him through the comms. “I’ll signal you if we need to make a quick getaway.” He beeped his compliance and retracted the ramp.

She turned away from her shuttle and slowly made her way to the entrance of the cave. She’d forgotten to account for actually being on ice when she’d modified the suit, and walking now was a slow and painful process. At least the rest of it was working, though - she could feel the bone-deep, deadly chill of Dinaxis through the layers, but it wasn’t affecting her enough to make her truly uncomfortable.

Gabi stepped out of the cave and scrambled up onto the nearest ice-covered rock formation, eager to get her first good look at the planet from the ground. The sight that greeted her caused her to gasp. Snow that had been kicked up by the gentle breeze was drifting lazily through the air, bright points of white against the inky black sky. But the dazzling display of purple, blue, and green lights dancing off each other overhead lit everything around her in an ethereal glow. It was…probably the most gorgeous thing she’d ever seen.

A proximity alert chimed in her ear and her eyes snapped to the dim landscape, scanning for whatever it may be. Nothing. Maybe the extreme cold was messing with her sensors…

But then there was an explosion through the ice beneath her feet, knocking her several hundred feet away from where she’d been standing. As she sat up and looked back to the spot, she realized with horror that she hadn’t been standing on a rock. No, it had been a hibernating beast that was now very much awake and very much ready to kill her. Its bright blue eyes glittered in the darkness as it growled and paced closer to her, then bounded forward in an all-out sprint.

Gabi’s eyes widened in horror, and her blaster was in her hand and firing at the thing before she’d had time to think twice about the noise it would make. The blaster didn’t help - the shots merely ricocheted off its icy armor. She turned and began to ran, shouting through the comms “BD, we need to leave!” before one of its massive, thick arms collided with her and sent her skidding across the ice again. She rolled onto her back and sat up, unsheathing her knife, and stabbed it into the monster’s closest claw as it came dangerously close to her. It howled in pain and retreated a few paces, clearly shocked. Purple blood oozed onto the ice and snow. She took advantage of its hesitation to put more distance between herself and it, but she could hear it not far behind her as she finally made it back to the cave…

A bright blaze of orange exploded ahead, temporarily blinding her. She could hear shouting - shouting? - and BD’s frenzied beeping. Someone knocked her knife from her hand while someone else pinned her arms behind her. Once her eyes adjusted, she realized she was surrounded by about half a dozen people. They averaged around seven feet tall, towering over her, but she couldn’t tell much else about them, as they were wrapped in heavy, dark layers. Only yellow eyes were visible through a slit in the fabric covering their faces. One was warding off the ice monster with a torch while the other four were eyeing her warily. She imagined the sixth, the person holding onto her from behind with a grip strong enough to break bone, was equally tense.

The hooded figure directly ahead of her, the tallest of them all, had finally banished the beast. It turned back to her and barked in the harsh, guttural language of the Dina Amor, “Who are you?”

It had been years since she’d spoken with any fluency, but after a moment of trying desperately to remember she said, “I am called Gabi. I seek answers.”

”There are no answers here. Only death. Return to the stars in your metal tube,”
the male Dina replied, gesturing to her ship, which loomed behind the small group.

She shook her head. ”No.” A wildly stupid idea sprang into her mind, and she said to her captor, ”Uncover my face.” When the Dina hesitated, she began trying to shake it off herself, causing him to grunt in irritation and finally comply. Once the mask was free from her face, it had the effect she’d hoped it would: there was an uneasy stirring amongst the small gathering, hisses of surprise and dismay. She thought she heard someone mutter the one word she’d never needed to hear so badly: Elazar.

Her nose was already starting to turn red in the exposed elements, despite the fact that they were somewhat sheltered in the cave. She turned her gaze back to the leader, who had gone very still. ”You trained my blood, once. Train me now.”

The leader snorted in derision. ”You are a woman. You cannot learn the ways of labi rata.”

She shook her head. Her face was quickly becoming numb. ”It is my mind that lacks. The suthasa…I cannot control it.” This set off a new round of murmuring, this time sounding markedly more suspicious.

There was silence for nearly a solid minute, but then the leader stalked towards her, the ice and snow crunching underneath his boots. He knelt slowly, retrieving her mask, and pulled it unceremoniously back over her head, covering her eyes. He leaned forward and said quietly in her ear, ”You may come to regret this request, offworlder.”



It was difficult to say how long they’d been walking, or where they were even going, really. All Gabi could see was the dark interior of her mask. But the strangest thing was happening - the air around her and the small raiding party seemed to be growing warmer, not colder. Clearly they’d retreated further into the tunnel instead of leaving it. She had about a thousand questions she wanted to ask her captors, but she felt it would be wiser to stay silent at this particular moment in time.

Finally, after what felt like at least an hour, the group came to a halt. Someone reached for her mask and ripped it off, allowing her to gaze at what waited for them. As she gazed at her surroundings, she was awed not at how different it was from where she lived on Zhar, but how very similar it all was. Her assumption that they’d gone further underground looked to be accurate - the inky black night sky was nowhere to be seen. Instead, she was standing on the edge of a cliff of sorts. A distant rushing sound suggested water was somewhere far below. Directly iIn front of her stood a questionable-looking drawbridge, and beyond it, an underground village. It was smaller than the Resistance base at Zhar, but the buildings she could see were all constructed of the same stone-like material, and in all honesty, they had been crafted quite beautifully. Everything was lit in a dim greenish-blue glow emitted by what appeared to be glowing rock formations. Gabi eyed one of the rocks and then looked at her knife, which was currently sitting on the hip of their leader. It was difficult to see the rocks at this distance, but she would have bet anything that they were made of the same material.

The leader caught her looking at the knife and leered at her, misunderstanding her intent. ”I would like to see you try it, offworlder,” he said. ”Come.” He strode forward and grabbed her arm from his companion, then hauled her over the bridge and into the city.



The Dina Amor did not take Gabi to a cell, which was…odd. Instead, he led her to the edge of the village, where some of the smallest buildings were situated. He paused in front of one that had a myriad of strange symbols carved above the door and raised his fist to knock, but before he could, it swung open.

The elderly Dina Amor female standing there wasn’t exactly what Gabi had been expecting. Her captor had made it sound like some sort of terrible beast would be waiting for her here. Instead, the tiny, wrinkled woman led the pair into a darkened room that honestly smelt kind of funny. As they sat on mismatched wooden furniture, she was able to take a closer look at the woman and realized with a start that her eyes were a milky white instead of yellow. She was blind.

”I have been waiting for you, girl,” she said in a low, gravelly voice.

“I…” Gabi trailed off, unsure how to respond. Finally, she settled on an answer that felt right. “I think I was lost.”

The old woman laughed, the sound a sharp bark. “Was? Oh, foolish girl. You remain so.” She turned her head to where the male sat, and Gabi couldn’t help but wonder how she knew his location. ”Leave us,” she commanded him, and after a suspicious glance at Gabi he complied. Once the door had swung shut, she fixed her eerie, sightless gaze upon her. ”Who are you?” she asked her.

Gabi almost said I thought you knew that already but didn’t want to come across as snarky. Instead, she replied, ”I am called Gabi, I -”

”No, no, no. No. I saw you speak to Dmitri. I know your name. Who are you?” she asked, almost agitated.

Gabi was silent for a while. Finally, she said, ”I do not know.”

The woman smiled toothlessly. ”And this is the first lesson, girl,” she said, satisfied. She finally turned her gaze away, to a woven basket that sat beside the low couch. Her gnarled fingers pushed the lid aside and dug through it for a moment until she lifted out a flat, rectangular box with a slim opening cut into the side. It was roughly the length and width of a human hand. Maybe it was Gabi’s imagination, but she thought it emitted a very faint glow, similar to the rocks outside. The sightless gaze had once again returned to her face. ”Now, place your hand in the box,” she commanded.

Gabi’s eyes drifted down to it, and she immediately felt wary. Was this some kind of trick? Their quiet way of disposing of offworlders? But that didn’t make sense, one of the raiding party could have easily taken her down in the tunnels when she was blindfolded…

The old woman’s lips twitched, as if reading her thoughts, and it was a sense of reckless stubbornness more than anything else that drove her to comply and shove her left hand inside. Nothing happened for a moment, but then a bolt of blinding, unimaginable pain shot through her arm and into her very brain. If she’d been standing outside of her body, she would have seen her eyes roll back into her head.

Instead, she was in a nightmare.

She stood on the bridge of The Cotopaxi and every alarm the ship had was blaring. Red and white lights flashed off every surface imaginable, and at her feet lay the corpses of the bridge crew. Some of their heads had been smashed in brutally and others had been decapitated altogether. She was breathing hard as she ran after a cloaked figure, and somewhere behind her she could hear Aiko cackling…

But then she’d barrelled through a door that was supposed to lead to the corridor, but instead she found herself on the surface of Zhar. It was a beautiful, picturesque day on a seaside cliff not far from her home. Now, she was dressed all in black and sitting in between the Dina Amor male and Perseus in a neat row of chairs. Ahead of her, her uncle lay in a casket, his eyes closed peacefully. Tears were rolling down her cheeks, and she stood and walked to the cliffs. As she gazed over, she could hear Reginald shouting, but instead of turning to face him, she jumped…

And landed in the med bay of The Cotopaxi. Next to her were her parents, though they appeared younger than she’d ever remembered seeing them in life. Her mother lay on one of the bunks, cradling a baby, and her father was next to her in his wheelchair, holding its twin. ”What should we call them?” her mother was asking. In the background stood her uncle and a Lustrian who looked very much like Perseus. Before her father could reply, Gabi felt a sharp jerk behind her navel, and then the group was gone. Instead, she was alone, but she was now the one in a bunk, and she was aware of holding something light. Her heart stopped beating and she looked down at the infant in her arms. It looked to be a boy. He opened his eyes, but they were too bloodied for her to see what color they were. The boy opened his mouth and wailed, an unearthly sound, and reached to her with a hand made of dark claws, not chubby flesh…

Everything went dark.

”We’ll find it. I swear to you we’ll find it,” a male voice said. It sounded familiar, but she couldn’t place who it belonged to.

Just as quickly as it had begun, it was all over. She was back on Dinaxis, covered in a layer of sweat, breathing heavily, as if she’d just run for several miles. The blind woman had at some point pulled the box from her hand and was returning it to its wicker basket. She wasn’t looking at Gabi. ”What…what was that?” she asked, her voice weak.

The woman turned back to her. ”The beginning,” she replied simply, and reached for Gabi’s left hand, the one she’d stuck into the box so recklessly. She turned it over gently and revealed what was now on her palm: a tattoo in the shape of an eye, surrounded by the same strange symbols that were over her front door. It glowed a faint blue. ”You are one step closer to a true Daraaka.”



One week later

It had started with small tests. She’d ask herself silly, mundane questions before going to sleep. What would the raid party’s leader - Dmitri, she’d learned his name was - eat for breakfast the next morning? That night, she dreamt he’d been leaning on the support pillar outside the old woman’s small house, sinking his teeth into a piece of particularly dry-looking jerky. The next morning when she stepped out, there he was, chewing the salted meat with a bored expression on his face. The resulting exhilaration had caused her to smile so widely that he’d looked at her like a madwoman and turned away, muttering something about offworlders.

She’d tried something more complex next. What was the old woman telling Dmitri about her? That night, she saw their conversation. The old woman was telling him of the progress she was making, encouraging him to leave with her, saying the New Resistance was the key to freeing the royal family from the Empire…

That next morning, she’d wrenched the front door open and stomped up to Dmitri, who had been heading for the village center. ”Why do you hide from me that you are royalty?” she demanded. It would have been bloody useful to know!

He’d stared at her, clearly nonplussed, before bursting into laughter. ”You did not ask,” he’d said, and at seeing her murderous expression relented. He’d briefly explained who he was: the oldest of nine siblings and heir to the Dinaxis throne, though that position was currently precarious. He’d left royal life behind to better understand his own people, but as a result it was causing somewhat of a rift between him and his father. ”Perhaps it is time to let old things die. Perhaps the crone is right, and I should see more of these metal tubes and offworlders,” he’d concluded.

Now, however, it seemed like his opportunity to leave Dinaxis was about to quite literally disappear. The old woman and Dmitri had taken her to the very edge of the village where she’d initially been brought in seven days earlier. They’d stepped past the protective roping and now stood on the jagged rocks, the dropoff to the invisible waters below a mere foot away. Gabi craned her neck and tried to see over, but it was pitch dark.

”Scared?” Dmitri taunted.

”No,” she automatically lied. Other Daraaka had done this and lived - or, most of them had, anyway. The ones who were meant to walk the path, her mentor had explained. It would be fine…probably. She took a deep breath and then took a step forward until she was at the very edge. It was tempting to look over her shoulder at the pair of Dina, but she was tired of appearing weak. Instead, she screwed her eyes shut and jumped.

Then she was falling, falling, falling…



Another week later

Gabi gazed into the fire burning in the hearth of her bedroom, lost in thought over the events since her arrival. The cliff diving had been the breakthrough she needed - she was so close to being able to control the visions when she was awake. Soon she wouldn’t have to be submerged at all to See. Suddenly, there was an abrupt knock on the door. She looked up, startled, and stood, crossing the small room to pull it open. Standing there was the very last person she expected to see. Perseus!? she blurted, stunned. Her friend said nothing. “What…how on earth did you find me? It isn’t safe here, you need to-”

“Gabi,” he interrupted her quietly, and the next thing she knew he had stepped into her room, grabbed her by the shoulders, and pressed his lips to hers. She froze for a moment, too shocked to do much of anything else, but then she threw her arms around his neck and wound her fingers through his short hair, kissing him back in earnest. Some distant part of her brain was screaming at her, asking what the hell she thought she was doing, making out with her best friend, but she ignored it and pulled the door closed as the pair continued to kiss…

A loud, authoritative knock startled Gabi into sitting upright - she’d been slumped in her chair by the fire, fast asleep. She looked around in confusion for Perseus, but she was alone. Good gods, she thought, standing up and hurrying over to the door. She paused for a moment, staring at the wood, then held her breath and gently swung it open.

Standing there was Dmitri. “It is time to leave,” he said. He took note of her stricken expression. “What is the matter?”

She looked away. “Nothing,” she replied and closed the door. She shoved what few belongings she’d brought along into her pack and dressed quickly. After dousing the fire, she swung her pack over her shoulder and followed the prince outside.



She’d been careful to time their arrival so that it would be the middle of the night Zharian time, but a lone figure was waiting for her at the end of the dock. Her breath caught once she was close enough to realize who it was, and her hands shook so badly she was barely able to complete the landing procedures properly. You need to calm. Down, she admonished herself as she rushed to the back anyway, disengaging the ramp as soon as it was safe to do so. Be cool.

But that of course flew out the window as soon as she was out. She couldn’t help it - on seeing Perseus standing there up close, she dropped her pack and threw herself at him. She knocked into him with enough force to send them both back a few paces and wrapped her arms around him, squeezing tightly. It was difficult to keep a big, ridiculous grin off her face as she drew back to look him in the face. His expression was a mixture of relief and surprise, but he was clearly just happy to see her again after her two-week disappearance. It felt good to be so open with her affection for him while still being able to hide behind the guise of being glad to see a friend after a very long and very weird journey. “You didn’t have to come all the way down here. You were going to be my first stop anyway - I have so much to tell you,” she said as she released him. Behind her, BD-13 and Prince Dmitri were coming down the ramp, the latter looking around suspiciously while the former was chirping happily.

Perseus opened his mouth to respond- “If you think you can disappear for a fortnight and not have me waiting up, you’re-” At the sight of the man walking off of Gabi’s shuttle, Perseus’ train of thought seemed to get derailed, his eyes narrowing slightly. “New recruit?” he said, a little reticently.

“Oh - sort of,” she said, glancing over her shoulder at her new companion. She turned back to Perseus. “His name is Dmitri. He’s a prince from Dinaxis - that’s where I’ve been all this time. The royal family has been thinking about pledging Dina troops to our cause, so he asked to come along and observe.” The seven-foot alien approached the pair then and barked something in the Dina tongue. “He doesn’t speak any Common Tongue,” she explained.

Perseus’ eyes locked to the taller Dinaxian’s. “I’m sure we’ll get along like a house on fire.” Perseus offered his hand to shake.

Dmitri stared at Perseus, then down at his hand, then looked at Gabi and asked a question. ”What is this demon man doing? Does he wish to attack?”

Gabi immediately looked offended. ”He is not a demon! And no!”

”Red eyes are belonging to demons.”

”Not always! He’s just a person, like you. Shaking hands is how we say hello here. It would be rude not to.”

Dmitri seemed to consider her words for a moment, and then finally took Perseus’s right hand in his left and shook it vigorously, as if he was trying to shake water off of it. Almost despite himself, Perseus let out a bark of laughter “Ok! Alright, I get it.” Any pretense of frostiness seemed to melt away for a moment, as if Perseus had come to some kind of conclusion. “If Tall, Dark and Frosty here wants someone to show him ‘round let me know. I’ll see if we have any translation software lying around the Resistance localnet.”

“Thank you,” she said with a small smile. The strange group then set off for the mess hall, Gabi filling Perseus in on what had happened to her while Dmitri stalked behind silently. BD was only too happy to bring up the rear - he was glad to be included at all.
 
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