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Sunset: Then, Now, Tomorrow (Nation Maintenance)

Where nations come together and discuss matters of varying degrees of importance. [In character]

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Sunset
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Postby Sunset » Wed Aug 23, 2017 3:41 pm

SDF-Tlokselo, Under Way, Beyond the Auracexian Sector, Orion Arm...

"Captain's Log, Stardate... Twenty-One Seventy Four Point Two Nine. As loath as I am to commit to the premise of the conventions of a Captain's Log," Captain LeCoq eyed Commander Kacha, who was suddenly paying extraordinary attention to his every action, cat eyes following him intently from across Tlokselo's bridge, "It gives me an opportunity to note unofficially that which would seem officially..." A finger paused the recording for a moment and he hunted for the right word, "Weird? Strange? Google-Eyed Conspiracy Theory? Bizarre coincidence? That works," he lifted the finger, "Bizarre coincidence. Since we began our re-survey we've come across not one, not two, but a half-dozen colony worlds that seem to have undergone a sudden and unexpected collapse. All would seem... Well, not normal, but plausible in their own way were it not for the strange matter of timing."

A press of a button and two star systems appeared in front of him, hovering holograms that he reviewed for a moment before adding them to the document, "Last week, during the course of our normal survey, we found two more. The first would have seemed to be a routine visit to a well-known industrial outpost but immediately on our arrival we picked up an automated distress beacon. In fact, we picked up the signal of hundreds of them. Hundreds of ships, shuttles, and other craft that would have normally filled the skies and orbit of this particular world. Most had sought out the nearest convenient and safe landing area while others - dozens - had crashed or come down in some unfortunate manner. That was the first sign that something had gone wrong but the second was all too quick in coming - we found no one. Not a colonist, miner, teacher, child, dentist, or official of any kind. Somehow and in some way we haven't yet determined every person on the planet or in orbit disappeared completely and without a trace."

"In Christianity - a faith in which I was raised in to the point of casual adherence - there is the concept of the Rapture. The sudden return of Christ and the ascension of the Faithful to him. On witnessing the situation for myself I was immediately reminded of that notion; One moment everyone was there and the next I could have turned around to find spoons hanging in midair above meals half-eaten. As with all things there are records and recordings and for a day I and my crew went through them in search of whatever might have happened. No stone was unturned, no suggestion too ridiculous. Even my own notion of a local Rapture was investigated," LeCoq paused, reviewed the words in his head, and continued on with a shrug; Sometimes thoughts could be messy, "And we came across nothing. It was like someone had walked into the room, turned on the lights, and everyone across the planet disappeared."

"All of that would be... I wouldn't call it fine and dandy, but as they are fond of repeating back at the Academy: The Universe is a big place and anything is possible. But this is beyond possible - it is an otherwise impossible event that would not have occurred without some kind of planning, forethought, or preparation. Everyone everywhere was simply gone. There was nothing more to be done; We filed our reports and turned it over to Task Force Sawhorse. The investigation had put us a day behind schedule and for the next three days we hurried to catch up until we ran straight into another colony with the same plot but different circumstances. It was at that moment when I became convinced that nefarious forces were at play..."
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Postby Sunset » Thu Aug 24, 2017 2:49 pm

SS Qasr, Unnamed Asteroid Field, GEC-1202897 System, Gamma-Delta Border Region...

"99 Düsenflieger... Jeder war ein großer Krieger. Hielten sich für Captain Kirk, Es gab ein großes Feuerwerk. Die Nachbarn haben nichts gerafft, Und fühlten sich gleich angemacht. Dabei schoss man am Horizont - Auf 99 Luftballons..."

Timmons smiled as the Seeker finished her tidbit of song, "I didn't know you could sing - or that you knew German. It's an apt image," he paused and looked out the window to where an enormous asteroid slowly drifted off Qasr's port side, "Given the circumstances."

Finding the graveyard hadn't been a difficult matter at all, despite the size of the search area: The titanic asteroid field wrapped around the star several times and was of an appropriate epic movie density with millions if not billions of asteroids of every size and shape slowly spiraling towards the center. Instead the navigation and communications officer had picked up a regular signal on a reasonably common radio frequency and had triangulated the source. That had led them to the asteroid they now paralleled and the source, which appeared to be a beacon built into a hemispheric monument built on the surface of the asteroid and at the center of the small graveyard that had been meticulously carved into the surface.

The monument itself was one of the first oddities. A perfect sphere carved of stone on a thin stalk and mounted on a circular plinth at the center of a great shallow bowl, it seemed to depict nothing at all though it was clearly of some significance. Laid out around this in concentric circles were fat ovals of stone that climbed the sides of the graveyard though, by the count, there were still a large number of open plots. On the surface of each stone oval laid the mortal remains of the residents and the inspiration for the Seeker's song; Crimson tear-drop shapes that brought to mind the image of a gunfight in a balloon factory. They all laid flat but the irregularity from one to another was enough to assure that they had once been alive.

"Balloon people. Red balloon people. I've seen hovering life forms before;" He had been immediately reminded of the cute insect-eating balloon pets they had encountered on their way to the Therian Hegemony, "But I can't recall any that are sentient. Assuming this isn't some kind of pet graveyard..."

The only way to find out which was which and to figure out some of the puzzles presented was to get on the ground - the asteroid that is - and after a trip through the airlock to acquire both suits and a taste for vacuum the explorers were drifting between ship and soil in a cluster. Each kept their own eye on the approaching graveyard, their own particular point of interest setting a queue for their conversation;

"I'd guess the sphere is their world - or was," Annya decided. The German Shepard was the only one not wearing a suit, though she had to in turn wear a propulsion harness to move her through the void. To her the connection between the two was obvious but there was still something odd, something just on the tip of her nose as it were.

"So these would be the former residents... But how? Wouldn't they have died or moved away when their world was destroyed?" Deania's focus was on the aliens themselves. Crumpled up as they were - and from this distance - it was hard to tell exactly what they had once looked like. Her imagining was that they had resembled an inflatable balloon with a dangle of tendrils below. But there was no sign of eyes or other sensory organs that she would have called familiar - which didn't mean they weren't there. "If they did move to another system why come all the way back here to bury their dead? And why so few? There's maybe... Four hundred places here."

"I think the suggestion is clear," Timmons answered. He was just about to touch down and he had chosen the obvious destination - a spot just shy of the central monument. "This," he put out a hand, nearly touching it, "Is the world that was and these are those that survived to flee elsewhere. When they died, they returned them here..." A sudden catch in his words and he stopped to turn around, first looking at the circle of stones and then the monument itself. Up close the central spire was as thick as an average human and he was able to easily pass under the sphere. Perhaps something else had caught his thoughts but he put a gauntlet up, "Oceans, continents, islands. This is what their world once looked like."

His toe nearly caught on something and he looked down, the forgotten thought from a moment ago brought back by a chance encounter. A circular device was set into the smooth stone plinth and as he knelt he realized both what it was and what his half-dismissed insight had been, "The transmitter. The beacon. This is some kind of display." There even appeared to be a handle suitable to a dangling bunch of tendrils and for a moment he considered opening it but there were enough lights and indicators visible to inspire the question, "It's still active. Seventy-odd thousand years and its still active. That seems a stretch unless it's not."

Annya was the one to ask, "What do you mean?"

"I mean, what if they come back here from time to time? Either to bury... Not the right term. Inter. Inter more dead, fix the place up. Why have a monument if no one visits it? Or can visit it?"

"So you're saying we might be getting a visit from the red balloon people?"

He shook his head at Deania's suggestion, "If we stick around a really long time, maybe. No - I'd say this is the kind of place that gets visited on special occasions. Like a veteran's cemetery on Independence Day;" There weren't many holidays on the Republic calendar and Independence Day was a common day to celebrate and remember both the birth of the Republic and those who had died for it. "So we might be waiting a while. But a beacon like this... I'm no engineer, but tens or maybe hundreds of years. Not thousands or tens of thousands. And after seventy thousand... You'd figure a place like this would just fade from memory after that long. Why is it still here? Unless these aren't the dead aliens on an asteroid from seventy thousand years ago we're looking for!"
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Postby Sunset » Thu Aug 31, 2017 9:52 am

SDF-Ojeni, Syphonia Asteroid Field, The Inward Frontier, Canis Major II...

"Well, there's good news and bad news," Lieutenant Commander Ingersol began, dropping his behind into the seat across from the Captain as she sat at the desk. It wasn't officially the Captain's office; With no particular interest in that kind of isolated command structure, she'd set the small room off Ojeni's bridge aside as a quiet space for those bridge duty officers who might need a quiet space to think as they worked. What Captain Blaine had been doing in here wasn't entirely clear but neither did he ask - she had answered the door when he'd knocked and that was enough to tell him his intrusion wasn't unwanted. "The Eye has finished his break-in of the Ver'Un'Guun network and, for the time being, we've got full access. Or at least it looks like full access," he ended, his tone shifting to slightly dismissive, "Eye'Tumno is still concerned we could be looking at a honeypot."

"And?"

"And the good news is that they've got a trace on the drive and energy profile of a Blishi'i Revelation of Grace-Class Explorer passing through the Inward Frontier just about the time the Paladin says it did. His information is probably accurate."

It wasn't so much suspicion as confirmation. As they had been made to understand, the BUSF's Explorer cadre operated in much the same way as Defense Force Exploration Command Explorers did - they went where they wanted, when they wanted, unless directed otherwise by their Fleet Command. Across the decidedly sparse expanse of the Canis Major II Segment that meant a lot of space to cover with the thin trail of stars that formed the Segment wrapping around the entire galaxy nearly three times to form an indistinct halo. The Blishi'i United Federation occupied only a small slice of that, of course, but for as many stars and systems as the Republic it was exponentially more space between them.

"But it didn't head into Ver'Un'Guun space and they didn't do anything more than track it." A wave of a hand and a star map - essentially the same as the map Ambassador Love had been shown weeks previous - appeared over the desktop. On this one both the position of the Syphonia Asteroid Field where the Ojeni lurked as well as the recent stations and locations she had passed through were marked as well as a dotted chain of question marks, "This is where the Ver'Un'Guun monitoring network picked up traces of what I'm presuming is the Wes'Terly's Fold Drive. At this point," he put a finger on a question mark that was particularly close to the outpost they had first stumbled across, "They get close enough for the system to pick up the ship's energy signature, and the drive signature continues to match until it passes out of range of their monitoring network."

"Which is interesting in itself," Kami noted, leaning forward across the desk to put her elbows right through the sectors marked as Union and Falk's Gambit. "How quickly do they pick up these signatures? Or are we looking at old data?"

"From what I can tell it's a sampling technique - same as our own long-range sensors. Not instant - not like TRIPWIRE, if that's what you were thinking."

"I was," she nodded. "If they had an instant identification technique... Intelligence would be all over that. Good," she shrugged, "Hate to get side-tracked by the gray-stripes. I've had enough of dealing with them for the next week!"

Not that she had much of a choice. She could delegate some interactions down the line but ultimately those interactions either reported back up to her or, in the case of the ship's Intelligence Liason officer, reported straight to the ship's commanding officer. No delegation allowed.

"So it fell off their tracking here," she stepped fingers down the line, "To right here - the Nomads."

That's what it said on the map though she wasn't quite sure exactly what that meant and she looked to the Lieutenant Commander for explanation; "Which originate from here," he put a finger through a sector marked with a purple outline. "Which makes sense, at least for the Wes'Terly. The Nomads - these sectors here, in red - are areas inhabited by... Well, there isn't a best way to put it. Pirates? Outlaws? Colonists? Nomads - it's really the best term for them. According to what little information the BUSF has, this sector," his finger tapped again on the emblem in the middle of the purple hexagon, "Was once the home system of a fairly large Empire. Capital E. Details are sparse but they were at the height of their power just before the Great War in Heaven where either the i'Halalaentariel or the Krȃng destroyed them. Or they destroyed themselves fighting one of the two, or both. Again, not a lot of details. But the survivors spread out afterwards across these sectors and since then the Nomads have been particularly hard to deal with."

"How-so?"

Ingersol sat back, "Each of those adjectives is essentially correct. Though they all hail from the same source, each enclave is decidedly their own animal. Some are pirates, raiders - whatever they need to do to survive. Others have built up little self-sufficient enclaves for themselves. Technology varies wildly. A lot of their early expansion, if you want to call it that, was via generational or sleeper ship. FTL travel has spread through their space as the various enclaves have made contact with the Blishi'i and others, but..."

"But why did the Wes'Terly go there?" She looked at the map again. The trail of question-marks had tapered off more than half-way through the Nomads and pointed like an arrow right towards the purple sector, the former homeland. "Might help us figure out where they are."

Lieutenant Commander Ingersol's answer was a shrug, "We - the BUSF - doesn't know anything from the ship's logs. The Paladin was an independent soul and didn't leave any notes. But if I were to put my twenty bucks down, I'd say they were trying to find the Nomad's home system. The BUSF knows approximately where their home systems were, but this sector," he drew a finger around it, "Is as large as the Raumreich but only contains as many stars as the Ares Local Cluster. Finding their home system would tell the BUSF a lot about the Nomads history and help them to understand and deal with the tension on that border. Ultimately the Blishi'i would like to absorb the Nomads but we're talking about thousands of enclaves, all different. Except for this one common source."

"I'm surprised they haven't found it yet. The BUSF - it isn't a rinky-dink organization. Thousands of ships."

"They've tried," he countered, holding up three fingers, "Three expeditions. One lost, two bogged down in struggles with the various hostile enclaves. My guess is that Wes'Terly's commander - the Paladin's brother - thought he could sneak through alone where the others failed in numbers."

"Well," Kami put one finger on the Ojeni and another on the purple sector. "Here to here. Let's get everyone together and see if we think we can do it. If he was stopped somewhere along the route we'll never find him - not without a heap of luck. Our best bet would be to head straight to the heart and hope he made it there too. At least it will cut down the number of places to check..."
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Postby Sunset » Wed Sep 06, 2017 5:43 am

SDF-Unconquered Sun, Under Way, Halfway Across the Galaxy By Now...

"...We're pretty sure she'd headed here," Commander Vincenti indicated a patch of the slowly rotating galaxy with a mandible, the section expanding to fill the projection before a pinch and spread of the Doso's insect-like manipulators brought a single star system to the front. The Intelligence section head's chosen body was one of the more unique for his species though startlingly appropriate when one considered his duties: A flying cybernetic inside with a wasp-like appearance and two enormous eyes that tracked seemingly every move in their endless multitude of lenses. The carapace was enameled to the styling of an officers duty uniform though with a domination of gray appropriate to the Intelligence branch.

"There's a Boran & Hagh office in Verlaliskarriri, one of the primary cities on the second moon of the first planet. We had to activate a tertiary asset through our friends in the Hegemony;" An image of a feminine though unfamiliar species with stony gray skin off-set by ragged red and gray markings that gave her a particularly feral appearance. A single slowly spiraling horn swept back along each jawline towards the ear and another just rounded the skin of her nose to emerge and join a shallow crest of others that swept back to merge with a long mane of luxurious slate blue hair, "And they've passed along some interesting information. Ms. Zu - Zu - has had previous dealings with Boran & Hagh in her facing career and reports that the offices have taken on additional security measures as well as additional staff. She can't confirm the timing but that might suggest they are aware of the imminent arrival of a high-value acquisition."

"How?"

The insect considered the Secretary-General's question for a moment before buzzing slowly across the projected hologram of the planet and its moons, "She's probably called ahead, though the exact 'how' is unknown. The Vcær don't have a faster-than-light communications network outside of their home system, or at least nothing we picked up on TRIPWIRE. That doesn't mean the bounty hunter couldn't have her own gear but galactic-range comms are expensive and typically end up tying into someone's network somewhere. More than likely she sent word ahead through one of the clandestine networks that have laced themselves into our own - the Blishi'i and Republic networks that is. Even though our formal contact with the Blishi'i was extremely recent the comms linkage we provided them with is already near saturation. Information just wants to be free."

Erika sat forward in her chair and studied the image of the asset closely, using a finger to pull up a dossier and sliding down through the listing at a rapid pace, "As does my wife. Is this Zu in any position to affect her release?"

"No," he shook his head, "She's a 'T' level asset. Information gathering and corroboration only and that only with the grace of the Therian service. The Hidden Blade were particularly clear on that."

"And the 'A' level assets are off doing their own thing," she drummed her fingers on the table top, the non-question drawing an inquisitive; "Ma'am?"

"Nothing..."

Technically, as far as Intelligence (Or properly Fleet Intelligence Service) was concerned, there was no such thing as Anathema and its variety of operators and agents. That service had been established by the President during a previous administration and had reported directly to him and now to her while Intelligence passed through the regular Fleet command chain which ultimately ended at the Secretary-General's office but was subject to Senate and thus civilian oversight. There was some peripheral awareness and interaction by the two organizations but Intelligence was a hands-clean operation that did not participate in the activities that Anathema, by its very name, undertook.

"How sure are we?"

"We can't be sure, not without confirmation from the bounty hunter. At this point her ship is random-walking - irregular jumps in seemingly random directions - but we're staying on her tail thanks to TRIPWIRE. She's doing a remarkably effective job at covering up her regular movement though and I'd say she's done this before. Eradicating her drive's radiation signature, lowering the visual spectrum flare - various ways to throw trackers off. My concern would be that she's got a sense that someone - either us or someone else - will be after her and so she's got a wild card waiting. She could be random-walking in a direction that looked broadly like she's heading towards this system," he paused and looked behind him, "But close enough to another destination that a sudden change in track will put her right where she wants to be. We're keeping an eye on this, of course. Any good jumping off points pop up and we put assets in place. But right here," the mandible pointed again, "This is where the big money is."

"And for the big risk you'd want the big reward," Erika nodded agreement. "Unless she can figure out who put out the bounty and put one of these jumps close enough to make the delivery in person?"

"Which we haven't figured out ourselves. Boran & Hagh was the perfect choice; Their discretion is legendary. We've tried putting an asset inside before but the upper echelon is very tight knit and very small. And very suspicious. Its plausible that they don't even know themselves."

"Which also means that even if we get her back the contract might still remain. She'll always have that threat."

"This wouldn't be an issue if she had an Eien Node," Commander Vincenti noted. "She could simply abandon her Prime extension."

Erika sighed; It was something she'd been kicking herself for. Demi had been reluctant to even adopt the ExoCortex but the Commander was perfectly correct. With her consciousness removed to the safety of the Eien threats to her Prime extension would be laughably pointless. But for all her chic modernity that was the one aspect of near-Singularity technology the Ambassador had been unwilling to undertake. At least the ExoCortex gave her some protection from the routine dangers of mortal life.

"I'll send Admiral Villanova on ahead," she decided, pushing herself to her feet. "If the White Nile can beat her there and an opportunity to grab her presents itself then he's the man for the job. Then even if she takes a side road we can push together towards the middle..."
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Postby Sunset » Thu Sep 07, 2017 8:57 pm

Fancy Lad, Somewhere Beyond the Auracexian Sector, Orion Arm...

'Where did everyone go?'

Fancy Lad wasn't an especially large ship but, in the minutes since Meli had opened the door of her presumptive execution chamber to the corridor outside, she hadn't seen or heard any of the crew. Being that it was a space ship the only place the crew could be other than the ship was space with the outside possibility that they had - entirely without her feeling a bump or a jolt - either docked with a station and completely disembarked or that they had made planetfall and done the same.

'Or mahbe there was ah camera in there ah'n each ah'n every one o' them bastards took to the escape pods!'

At least that theory was simple enough to check. Right down the hallway was an overhead beam painted with black and yellow hazard stripes as well as an affixed placard with an arrow pointing towards just that; An airlock with several escape pod hatches built into the adjoining bulkheads. Aboard this ship it was a wonder that the placard was still in place and that the warning stripes hadn't been covered with graffiti or some strange yellow-ish mold but the opportunity to confirm or deny was there and so she took it, edging her way up to the corner and taking a finger-tip peek before slinking along the wall on her tip-toes to the first hatch, which was firmly shut. A check of the panel showed that, at least by the bay's ill-maintained sensors, the pod was still in place. Under combat conditions the hatch was supposed to open automatically to allow for a quick egress but such forward thinking was hardly ever enacted - at least to the best of her knowledge.

One, two, three, and four: All the pods were in place and a glance inside the equipment lockers showed there were still the usual collection of ratty spacesuits and environmental suits as before; 'Dumb idea ah'nyway. Where da fuck is everyone?'

Putting paranoia aside and continuing her cautious search, Meli was quickly rewarded with the truth. Only the next hallway over had a lone crewman leaning against the hatchway at the end while the faint voice of Captain Blacke could be heard beyond, "So it's back to doing what we did! We'll send out a distress signal - medical emergency, it's a classic - and if we can take whoever shows up we'll scrap em and run. If we can't, we'll fob em off with a lame excuse. If they insist... Well, I believe we've got a body to show 'em now, don't we boys?!"

Had, and for a moment Meli was tempted to charge onto the bridge and provide their scheme with a few dozen more. There was really no risk to her, even if they managed to kill her, and in that confined space the risks of friendly fire would make it all a... No, she shook her head. Fun was fun but the assignment came first...
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Postby Sunset » Sat Sep 30, 2017 1:41 pm

Fancy Lad, Somewhere Beyond the Auracexian Sector, Orion Arm...

"Ahn so I thought ahbout it a' bit. Shore, it would be fun ta charge raht onta that bridge ah'n kill each ahn every one o' them fuckahs in a unique ah'n painful wah, but les face it," she paused to concentrate, thick fingers carefully twisting together a pair of wires that were practically invisible even held up in front of her broad face, "Ah done that before."

Wire by wire and circuit by circuit the Dwarf worked her way through the maze of cables and conduits behind the access panel following instructions both precise and unheard. Popping a plastic cover off a particular pair, she nearly elbowed the former technician responsible for the maintenance in the head but he - along with what was left of him - didn't seem to mind the near-accident and she pushed him away along the wall to leave a broad streak of blood and worse along the unpainted metal. Something caught and she pushed harder against the meat of his shoulder until there was a pop and a crack and the shoulder blade detached from its customary place to dangle on whatever protrusion had caught it.

"S'ahry bout that, fella. Seems Ah'm ahl thumbs."

It was a frank miracle no one had heard her destroy the man; By now they would be deep into their plot to seduce some passing freighter into a random act of kindness. That - if true - suited her just about right. Another few connections and she finished, sliding the hatch back into place with a clatter. Whether someone would step over the body to check that no one had been messing with it and by extension the communications system it was connected to was a question she didn't wait around to answer. Pulling the odd implant she'd retrieved from the gray matter of the unexpected intelligence agent from her pocket she gave it the eyeball - her, by virtue of the presumed gender of the consciousness inside - and then tucked it away again, "Let's you ah'n Ah see iff'n we can't find a way off this rowboat!"

That was Stage Two of her little plan. Stage One and all the steps between involved placing a physical shunt between the communications console on Fancy Lad's bridge and the actual hardware it was connected to. From this point onward any messages sent would contain the contents of that shunt and both Captain and crew would be none the wiser.

Unless they checked the hatch.

Until the contents of said message came back to bite them.

"Ah'n Ah don't want them to come back ta' bite me either! So, lets you Ah'n me get off this ride before it gets too interestin'!"

Of course, if said message did happen to attract the wrong sort of attention and the wrong sort of attention just happened to show up where the Captain did not want them and if the Captain's protests fell on deaf ears just before he was summarily blown to atoms it wouldn't really hurt her, as it were. Meli's consciousness was safely ensconced for eternity in a bubble of not-this-universe. The implant and whoever was hiding inside wasn't.

No matter what the Captain of the Fancy Lad knew or thought he knew, both Meli and her unseen masters were willing to bet that whoever was on the centipede shaped curl of metal in her pocket knew more. With that particular tweak in her orders in mind, she turned from the maintenance hatch and its careless attendant to a search for escape. The life pods she'd passed earlier sprang to mind but they had two quick drawbacks; A lack of any kind of faster-than-light drive and the utter shit that was the state of maintenance and repair aboard their carrier. Either could leave her adrift for days, weeks, or even years.

"Ah'n while the idea o' some poor unfortunate bastard comin' across a driftin' escape pod and findin' me naked corpse inside does strike me ah's ah might bit funny..."

She'd do something terrible to herself, of course. The hatch would open and first the worse smell imaginable would fill the nostrils of the recovery party. As soon as they finished emptying their stomachs on the deck, they'd empty them again as they looked inside to find the shriveled and desiccated husk of a female dwarf with some distinctly uncomfortable and likely necessary bit of the pod's engineering shoved up her ho-ha, "Ah'n then questions would be ahsked and my meat locker would ah'n every one oh' their minds!"

Passing the turn to the life pods she kept them in mind as a secondary possibility but the next sign dangling from the ceiling was more likely, "Landing Bay, that oh' way."

When Fancy Lad had arrived and departed from the would-be slave market it had done so on its own six feet but that didn't preclude the possibility that it carried various flavors of sub-craft. It was even possible that one might be faster-than-light capable but the first obstacle would be the control room which was located on just this side of a large airlock helpfully marked as Landing Bay.

"Which probably means there's not a 'Two'," she guessed, pressing herself up against the wall and edging up to the hatch. It was slightly ajar and - pausing for a moment so she could hear carefully over the sound of her own breath - she listened until the creak of a chair or something similar told her the room was occupied. She'd done it often enough to know that she couldn't just force the doors to the bay and steal a ship; Somewhere in that room was a control panel that would open the outer hatch and the inner hatch in the opposite order. The problem as it unfolded was simple: Either she'd have to persuade the operator to open the outer hatch for her or she'd have to kill them then figure out how to open the hatch on a timer so she'd have enough time to enter the bay, pick a ship - assuming there was a ship in there that would meet her needs - and then learn to operate its controls before all the air was sucked out of the bay and the craft free to go.

Or she'd be sucked out of the bay and sent tumbling through space forever, "Ah'n me with nothin' to shove up mah ho-ha..."
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Postby Sunset » Mon Oct 02, 2017 1:42 pm

A Quiet Graveyard, Unnamed Asteroid Field, GEC-1202897 System, Gamma-Delta Border Region...

"...it doesn't, but this looks like writing Commander." Deanna knelt on the dusty gray surface of the asteroid, finely crushed rock dusting up over the shins of her boots as she kicked up a small explosion in the negligible gravity. "Right here, along the base of the burial slabs."

Next to her Annya too knelt, drawing up on all fours as she put her muzzle close to the indicated scrawl. Alone of the group she was not wearing a spacesuit; Her body was a complex cybernetic prosthetic though she no longer resembled a sleek German Shepard but rather a very fluffy variant as her hair floated around her in a puffy cloud. Through electronic eyes the markings appeared to be nothing more than random decoration but something tickled across the surface of a silicon mind. There was a pattern there, though it was very narrowly so.

"It is. It might be... Maybe," she looked at the cluster of tendrils that draped down from the deflated ball shape of the dead alien's maybe-torso. She could imagine some distant stone worker draping tentacles dripping with acid over the surface and slowly etching out an epitaph to the dead on its smooth bezel. Sniffing around the edge, she went to the next monument with a cloud of ash-fine stone kicking up behind her. "There's more on this one. But the auto-translator isn't picking it up."

The closest written language she could think of would be the curving script of Arabia but even that was simple compared to this if it was writing at all. A half-dozen strings wrapped and curled around and through each other in what could be decoration or what might instead be a carefully complex scripture. With no immediate recognition she went from slab to slab, edging around each while the translator recorded the images and began to compare and contrast them as it built up a database.

"There's more over here," Timmons called out, looking up from the narrow plinth that held up the smooth globe at the center of the graveyard, "I'll..."

'...Qasr to EVA - This is Captain Tillis; Commander Timmons, Ms. Maric...'

There was a note of urgency in the Captain's voice and the Commander stood, looking over to where Alwyra also now stood over the body of one of the vacuum-preserved aliens, "Go ahead, Captain!"

'Sensors have picked up a ship on approach to our position, unknown design. We're working on establishing communications but we're not picking up any response.'

The Commander stopped and looked around, an odd expression on his face. The rest of the team was on their feet now and Annya was already hovering above the surface and turning to point herself towards the distant Qasr. It would take several minutes to cross the gulf if they had to make a run for it but Tillis' tone suggested the risk of a hostile encounter; "Can I see it? And can you prep a shuttle to pick us up?"

Suddenly the decision to go out individually seemed a poor one but his anxiety was put aside in a moment as the transmitted image of the approaching ship appeared as a floating hologram inside his helmet. He'd seen similar designs but the sleek appearance didn't suggest a warship or hostility though looks could be deceiving. The overall design was of an inverted 't' with sculpted and swept edges between the two draped wings. Fitted between the two curving sections was a built-up area at the bow and this was lined with what would have to be windows. The aft was a single solid glow that suggested main engines while mesh-covered segments along the other edges were thrusters of some kind. Here and there cut-outs pierced the wings and mechanisms of some sort were on display. More importantly was the glimpse of something familiar along the edges unmarked by thrusters or drives; A crawling script that was immediately recognizable by proximity.

"...what are the odds. Hurry that shuttle, Captain. Let's hope they don't have a prejudice against visitors..."
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Postby Sunset » Tue Oct 10, 2017 10:04 pm

Special Projects Research Tower, Landor City, Terra Incognito, New Latin System...

"...its a special gun," Doctor Thola held up the monstrous pistol to show it to the Director, his voice full of pride. "And it shoots special bullets."

The weapon was indeed monstrous. Quite a few weapons had had their bores compared to the size of a fist, or the girth of a finger, or any number of other anatomical reference points, but few actually had such a thing outside of vehicle-mounted weapons. Newton's Third Law for one and then simply need was another - a bullet or beam only needed to be so big to inflict traumatic damage on the average body. Some weapons certainly required large bores - often as a shroud - for the emitter itself but in the case of the Doctor's pistol the comparison was apt. Just behind the barrel, its muzzle as wide as a baby's fist, was a titanic cylinder that clearly contained just four equally sized rounds. The grip was molded to give an extraordinary amount of support to the firer and even this was supplemented by the mounting points for a short wire stock.

"And what does this special gun of yours do, Doctor," Katryna asked, hefting it and dialing down her own machine-level strength to that of an average human so she could appreciate the balance or distinct lack there-of. "Seems clumsy."

"It is! But there is a story. You see, I've been considering many different things and one of these things that came to the forefront is our sense of compassion and the high value we put on life and consciousness. Certainly we kill - we create many things that kill - but we do not kill without need. We are also at an advantage there; We cannot die. Our bodies may be broken, torn, exploded, detonated, but what is vital about us will remain. At least until Doctor Brilla proves a method around that and then doubtless a defense against it. But I digress - we have the ability to grant mercy where others do not. Others cannot because they would risk themselves to do so. They express it behind other words but that is the fundamental nature of it. They kill because they must, even if they are themselves brutes."

Working the mechanism, Katryna ejected one of the enormous shells and held it up as example, "Then what does that make this?"

"A carrier. You see, inside of each of these shells is a dormant, nascient ExoCortex. The latest generation. The tip is a powerful armor-piercing warhead but it is designed not to burrow and explode but to pierce and slow, allowing the delivery of the ExoCortex to the body. Once inside, it activates, determines the species of the individual, then burrows to the appropriate location and activates its consciousness migration protocols. Admittedly that part is a little painful."

"So we shoot em, make them immortal, and then... Collect them for transfer to the Eien. Raises some ethical questions, doesn't it? What if they don't want to be immortal?"

Thola bobbed his furry head, "Yes, yes. It certainly does. But I believe the human phrase is 'It is better to ask forgiveness than permission.' Or easier; The phrase works in either case. Those who attack us do so at their own peril - they already accept the specter of death. We are offering a chance for that decision to be reversed, to show mercy where none was expected. There is a hubris there, but it should be our goal to be better than our enemies in all things. Both in life and in death..."
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Postby Sunset » Wed Oct 18, 2017 2:40 pm

SDF-Ojeni, The Nomads, Canis Major II...

Captain Blaine stopped, looked to her right where Commander Sloan was similarly looking to her left with the same peculiar expression on her face, and then back to the screen, "I'm sorry - I might have missed something in translation there. Can you repeat that?"

On the other side of the screen the woman - at least by the seeming majority of humanoid body forms - looked to her own crew in something of a similar fashion and then turned back to the Captain, "...we will take this ship Ojeni for our own, and you for our own. What was unclear? How are your translators deficient?"

"It doesn't appear they are deficient," Kami answered, rising to her feet. "I'm just not sure why you think that asking for directions should suddenly turn into a question of you taking my ship?"

"Your ship?" There was something akin to laughter from the opposing bridge and Kami smiled; Perhaps it was all a joke, but then again - perhaps not. Whatever attempts she might make to come into the situation without prejudice there was a predatory feeling in the air from the moment they had made contact with the harsh-angled ship that now hung motionless a few hundred thousand kilometers away and the appearance and garb of the opposite crew did little to offset that feeling. The female members of the crew were dressed in something of an armored one piece swimsuit with sections of heavier armor over their shoulders and legs while a sword of alien design and a similar pistol hung at the waist or across the shoulder and at the opposite hip. A display of some kind was worked into a raised section of one pauldron but neither armor nor weapons did much to cover what would normally considered to be explicitly sensual if not sexual bodies. Least anyone complain the males were as briefly appareled; A heavy belt and a clout at the waist with both armor and weapons as well.

The smile didn't seem to work and the predatory air lingered, forcing a more definitive statement, "The Ojeni is my ship, and sails freely under the flag of the Republic of Sunset. Now, do you," she began to repeat before being cut off.

"We do not know this Sunset Republic, nor do we know of you, Blaine who called herself Captain. By right I will take this ship and these people for my own," her opposite replied, her tone now firm and without any trace of give. "Prepare yourselves and my ship for my arrival!"

She began to rise but Kamilia now interrupted her in turn, "No. I think we'll be going. Someone else will be happy to give us directions..."

"No?" Again laughter and this time she joined it with her own short, sharp bark as she fell back into her own chair. "No? Chattel do not say no. Helm, bring us to bear on Ojeni. Gunnery, bring forward railguns to full power, arm tactical warheads, full volley. Hangar, launch all fighters... Gunnery," she held up a pair of fingers, "Fire on my mark..."

Kami went stiff. Perhaps it had been a misstep on her part but judging by the smooth action behind the Captain this was not the first time they had undertaken similar orders and now she too spat orders of her own, "Tactical - Lieutenant Calindra. Threat assessment?"

"Negligible," the Coatlicue replied, "Power output is in the low end of the threat band. They look meaner than they are," the oil-skinned humanoid continued, her tone firmly declarative. "Multiple fighters launched - again, negligible threat. We out-mass them by several factors."

It was one of the key differences between planetary and space combat thinking but one of the more important ones. A small, aerodynamic plane would be better in atmosphere because it would be able to better maneuver and move through that atmosphere. Less mass, less drag, more lift... Most of which was completely the opposite in space. Without an atmosphere and thus without drag a ship of any shape would be able to go faster, further, as well as carry more and better weaponry than a fighter. That difference only became more extreme as technologies advanced and early space combat fundamentals like delta-v became less of an issue. That the Nomads - these Nomads - were still utilizing fighters seemed to say much about their technological prowess, "Manned or un-manned?"

That question was directed at the Sensor Officer and Lieutenant Commander Ingersol's answer was immediate, "Manned. Small, agile..."

"...fire."

Captain Blaine ignored her and with apparent good reason. A moment later Lieutenant Calindra answered, "Incoming rounds destroyed, four for four. Care to try again?"

"Well, Captain," Kami looked back to her rival, "Hear that? Care to try again? Lieutenant, launch our fighters. Perhaps a duel - your fighters against my fighters;" Decks below and behind the deeply recessed bridge there was a clunk and a thud as armored bays on the underside of the Explorer swung open and a pair - their only pair - of Super Aggressor Fighter-Drones dropped free to veer suddenly and sharply towards the incoming wave. "I win, you give me directions. You win..."
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Postby Sunset » Thu Oct 19, 2017 12:18 pm

The Ee'jeelaqj, Orbiting the Eeyr Monument, GEC-1202897 System, Gamma-Delta Border Region...

"...because we prefer it that way, Commander Timmons," the one floating next to him replied as the explorer too floated gently on the slow currents that moved through the winding chamber at the heart of the Ee'jeelaqj. "Aside from a chance encounter with a civilization such as yourselves, most of those who are capable of traveling the stars in this area of the galaxy are both violent and short-lived. They do not share our perspectives and they cannot and so they tend to see every encounter, every transaction, as an opportunity to either win or lose. To win or lose is a concept we took many, many cycles to even comprehend. Comprehension is slow to our people; When we reproduce, many hundreds of spawn leave their mother to drift on the clouds but yet only few of these will slowly grow to develop the intensive network of neurological cells required for sentience and even this will take thousands of years."

The blood-red orb turned and drifted away, Timmons following slowly behind it. Here and there he could see the others following their own guides as their interests and questions led them here and there. Despite their professed preference for solitude the Eiryuj had been surprisingly gregarious once contact had been made, their own advanced translators easily bridging the gap in communications before the Qasr's high-end but still commercial-grade systems had been able to. By all his reckoning they were an advanced people and that had prompted his question as to why they were not more well-known among the galaxy.

Drifting closer to a bubble that bulged out of the chamber wall, he was not surprised as it rippled from the edges to the center to become an enormous display, many times taller and wider than he stood tall; "The Eeyr Monument is what remains of our previous home. Many generations ago it was a giant that swirled with color and life, a place where we evolved over eons to our particular biology. Time - the cycles - moved slowly here with each generation changing so little as to be imperceptible. Tens of thousands of your years and as long as this Monument has been visited by the Eiryuj. Eventually our world became unstable and broke apart but we had advanced to the point where we were able to flee, to find a new world. One world."

"What must that be like, Commander?" Fyieae asked. "I have heard a hundred answers from a hundred species but each time the answer is different and so I ask again. For you and your Republic, what is it like to need so many worlds where the Eiryuj, in all our numbers, only require one?"

The explorer pondered his answer for a minute, "Do we need more than one? Yes, and no. That's a complex question. Humans seem to have an innate need to expand and grow, to find new places. So do many of the other species we've encountered; We reproduce quickly, at least in comparison to the Eiryuj, and we've always needed someplace new to put those people. How many of there are you?"

"Many trillions; I could not give you an exact number. As you have likely done, we too have created ways to increase the number of Eiryuj that a particular volume can support. Life in abundance."

"So why are there so few graves here," Timmons turned back to the display, "Hundreds..."

"Because this is where those few who survived the trip to our new home are returned when they die."

Timmons counted again; Even from here there were still dozens of empty plots, "And that many are still alive?"

There was something like laughter from the translator, "I am still alive! As I said, we prefer it this way. While I am unlikely to live until our new home again falls apart, I was one of those that crossed the stars the first time, though I was barely in my first millennium. Then I was considered adventurous, a perfect choice for the endeavor, and I still am in my own way. It is I who proposed this monument and I, who by suggestion, appointed myself to journey from our home to drape the bodies of the dead on the place they were born. Adventure, of a sort and suitable for one of my age. You may have suspected it, but many of those aboard this ship are my children and by extension as adventurous as I once was."

"Would you ever like to see it, Fyieae," the big man asked, looking across at his smaller companion. "The rest of the galaxy, the universe?"

Again there was translated laughter, "Are assumptions also common to the shorter-lived species? You assume we haven't because you have never seen our ships before but I repeat myself - we prefer it that way. How simple would it be for one of your own ships to approach a star with the darkness behind them and take in all the stray emissions of the civilizations on their rocky abodes and then leave, never heard nor seen?"

"So you have. And likely most pass over your own world because..."

"Correct. Though we had visitors who stayed once. Most who come across our system are in search of resources - the minerals and elements our ships like yours are made of. When we chose our new home it was plentiful in these but in an act of cosmic fortune it lacked a world like your Earth. A world that would support what many of you consider life. We took what we needed as this ship attests but much was still left. Many years ago another came across our system and, with our permission, stripped it of what minerals and elements were easily harvest able. That word has a different meaning to us, but for the short-lived species the idea of laboring for a millennia to construct a single ship is far, far too long. There is enough for our needs but not enough to interest outsiders. Some still come - I have asked my questions a hundred times - but they then leave again with our request to leave us alone..."
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Postby Sunset » Fri Oct 20, 2017 6:11 pm

Dr. Saryan Brilla's Studio Office, Special Projects Research Complex, Landor City, Terra Incognito...

"...at first I was willing to write off your suggestion of the star itself as a weapon..."

"Commander Brown's suggestion," Saryan corrected, though Dr. Birdwell continued without acknowledging the correction; "...since the star in question is already artificial in nature. Of course its structure would be far more regular than the bulk of observed stars, but that is to be expected when it is created and in a specific way and method. Moreso when one considers the outside mechanisms required to create one in such an unusual shape - the mobius toroid. However, as I have been occasionally accused of being a scientist, I decided to take a closer look at some of the field interactions as well as some of the more esoteric inferences and while your suggestion is a radical simplification, it is at least a simplification of a plausible hypothesis."

No matter her budding opinion of her fellow physicist, Clarince Birdwell was certainly the right mind for the job. A hawk-nosed man whose beady eyes and straight-back shoulder length hair did his surname incredible justice, his reputation as an expert on stars of all kinds was impeccable. Supplied with the sensor data from SDF-Columbia - the first ship to encounter the iWe's star-home - and all of the subsequent imagery as well as data from the Republic's miniature recreation and current streams from an array of sensors, the Doctor had returned with something like an answer in a fortnight despite claiming to be both busy and above such imaginative notions.

"First, for any star one should expect to encounter a defined structure. Cells, super-cells, granularities, and the like. But in examining the artificial toriod, I discovered that the cellular structure had been subverted into a laminar flow - not simply a laminar nature, as had been suggested. Instead the flow has been shaped into a mobius loop similar to the appearance in that, if one were to follow the loop through its many millions of kilometers, one would eventually arrive back at the same point. This looping structure is also interesting for another reason, though I must admit it is inspired by your suggestion. Most technologies along a similar vein have tried to do more with less. That is, they have utilized super-conductors of various manufactures to lower the amount of current needed or to move it from here to there more efficiently or faster. These technologies are typically very cold and the colder the better, however it is achieved."

"Instead, the iWe have chosen something of a brute-force approach. More power, less efficiency. In a one-to-one comparison it would make a more carefully constructed system more potent, though when one is talking about a system on the level of a star... There simply are no comparable systems in existence. One might put forward various doomsday devices or super-weapons designed to 'kill' a star but such are typically flights of fancy. Stars are simply too large and too chaotic to influence. Their very nature makes notions of destabilizing them or some-such implausible, at least without enough antimatter as to render the preceding discussion moot. I digress, however..."

A careful gesture and a series of prepared holograms appeared, "What is interesting about this plasma 'wire' is that it accomplishes much the same function, and that leads me to the next point. This is not a weapon; It is a system. Looking at the star alone might give a certain limited impression, but I've looked closely at the field interactions between the star, the current, and the stations. Their placement and position, as well as the orientation of the star itself, is no mere happenstance. It is all carefully aligned with the local space-time matrix. A weapon? Yes, but so much more. It is interesting that our own version lacks these key details..."
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Postby Sunset » Sat Oct 21, 2017 10:23 am

Docking Bay Control Center, Fancy Lad, Somewhere Beyond the Auracexian Sector, Orion Arm...

"A Type-37C? Well, don' he know how ta pick em?!"

"Oh, he does," the old pirate shook his head with a laugh. "That's his baby too. As he's put it, he's made some special modifications of his own over the years, she'll do point-five past light, all that jazz. Now, if you ask me, it was Craters who made most of those quote-unquote 'special modifications'," he declared, holding up his fingers to mark the end and beginning of the two words. "Craters has always had a touch with ships ah'n systems..."

"...why do thay call him 'Craters', Gramps?" Meli interrupted. "Dunna seem rah't fer the name o' ah'n engineer!"

"Gramps? Ha! Speakin' of nicknames, I like that one myself," he responded with a slap of the knee, settling back into his chair with the characteristic creak of its ancient metal spring and his own spine, "A'h think I'll take it. But Craters... Sure, it would be a bad name for an engineer, but not a young one. Poor kid had the worst case of Verniian acne you ever saw. It was so bad most 'o us figured that's why he ran away. Didn'a stop us from teasin' him though. This isn't a soft life and some 'o us got more than some purple-orange bumps on our foreheads to angst about. But the Captain, he knows talent and Crater's turned out to be a damned fine engineer. Keeps to himself though, little bit like me. Unless they've got some reason to make a landing, I'm all alone here, cep't for the rare purty girl like yerself who drops by," he added with a wink, one eye dropping for a moment into the shaded depths of the Dwarf's over-ample cleavage.

All alone, just like Crater... Who was now smeared across a bulkhead next to an anonymous maintenance hatch, if she was attaching the right name to the correct acne-scarred face. Not one to cry over spilled milk, she continued alone in her conversation with ol' Gramps, keeping one eye on the clock and the other eye on the door behind him. Whatever his self-professed desire for companionship, the old man was more than willing to go on at length for nothing more in exchange than an agreeing nod and the occasional leer down the open front of her bra-tight vest.

"Yep, a damned fine machine," he jerked his head towards the bay window where, in the lower landing bay itself and surrounded by a dozen other ramshackle shuttles, landing craft, and assault transports she could see the glittering green, yellow, and gold of what must be Captain Blacke's Type-37C. "Course, he don't take it out much. Don't want to get it dinged up, you see. Only when he's got some young thing to entertain or an impression to make. Not that we do that much anymore; Spend all a'r damned time shuttlin' around that spy lady. Oh sure," he gave her another wink and a disconnected nudge with an elbow, "Everyone knows she's a spy, though she tries to keep it under wraps. Only on the Captain's orders though - not a word when we're in port, not even when we're drinkin'. Else he'll cut our tongues out himself," he finished with a laugh.

Meli tried to look taken aback, "Would he?!"

Gramps made a show of a shrug, "Most o' the time his bark's worse than his bite, but in this case... Dunno. Ah was just wakin' up from my nap a few minutes ago when Ah heard him squalkin' over the radio about killin' some feller. Didn't quite catch the particulars, but the Captain knows me. If A'h need to know something, he'll come tell me his-self! If that speaker ain't one of the pilots I don't pay much attention to it," he laid a bony hand on the console. "Got enough to pay attention to without worryin' about every little complaint."

"Have you met her?"

"Who? Oh! The spy lady? Nah," but there was a bit of a twinkle in his eye, "Though I wouldn't mind. Neither would half the crew, a'h reckon. I was here when she came aboard," he half-rose from his chair and pointed out to one corner of the hangar bay, "That's her ship right there, under that tarp - and she's a damned fine looker herself. Damned fine..."

Meli got up from her seat and went to the console, hopping up to balance herself on rigid arms on the edge of the too-high control center, "Which one?"

It was an honest question - the outer rim of the bay was nearly lined with tarps and covers over crates, piles of spare parts that could have been ships, and ships that might have been piles of spare parts. Balanced like so with her legs tight and her bum tighter, she had to present an interesting and distracting view for the old pirate. A thought had come to her by his mention of the lady spy's ship; While the Captain's yacht might only be fit for a jaunt, the spy had likely made her own way to Fancy Lad where she'd used it for cover.

"That one, in the corner." The spring grated as he stood and stepped up to point one skinny arm over her shoulder while the other rested on her waist - to help her balance, of course - though maybe the hand was a bit lower on her tush than it needed to be. She didn't stop him and he pressed just the bit closer so she could follow the line of his finger to an oblong canvas tucked into the convenient corner of the hangar door and the right-most bulkhead. "Seen plenty o' purty Human girls, but can't say A'hve ever seen that particular ship before. Pretty sure Ah'd want to keep that one out'o'sight if I could!"

"Now I wish I'd kept her hand," Meli half-whispered absently.

"What was that?" Gramps looked down at her sharply; "Oh, I said give me a hand, would you?"

"Oh! Well, sure, little lady!"

Dropping back to the deck, she took another look over the bay and towards the little ship in the corner. It was her best bet, she decided then and there, though there was still the question of getting to it and now the question of getting inside. Doubtless the craft was locked and the most likely variety would be some kind of bio-identification - and a hand would do nicely for that. Of course getting into the bay and leaving was still a problem but Gramps seemed amiable to giving her a way out, though he might not realize it yet, "Can I take a look? I love taking a peek," she added, her tone just the little bit flirty.

"Ah don't know," he answered slowly, looking to the door that was still ajar. "Ah don't know if the Captain would be thrilled to find us pokin' around;" The plastic clip that held the top of her vest together came apart with an audible 'click' and what had been a long tight line was now half as high but flanked by acres of soft flesh on either side; "But what the Cap'n don't know don't hurt him, rah't? Ah'll show you around, shore!"

Leaning past her, he tapped on the console and she turned to pay close attention as he did, though whether he noticed in his haste wasn't important at the moment. Ideally she wouldn't have to return to the control room but if she did, knowing how to work the console would be useful.

"Ah'n there we go. Ah've locked out the console so we don't get sucked into space, just in case some damn fool comes in and finds me not here and wants to play around. Now, lets you and I go take a look at that purty little, uh," he looked down at her sideways and she looked back up at him, innocence fluttering across her face, "Purty little ship."

It didn't take long for the pair to wind their way through the crowded hangar deck to the corner where the tarp stood guard over its contents. In a full evacuation or landing the bay would turn into a chaotic nightmare of ships of various maneuverabilities taking off and trying to make their way through the single door without losing too much paint or essential hardware but for now the space was quiet. Gramps led her around to the far side of the man-high ship and for a moment Meli thought he'd read even more into her offer than she'd written out but then she noticed the step protruding from just below the tarp. He stooped with an audible creak and undid one of the hooks lashing it to the deck before pulling back the corner, "Here we go. Can't reckon I've seen it or markings like this before."

The Dwarf nodded and looked up to where an engine pod hung off the side of the ship. There were strange letters on the side and for a moment she focused on them before putting up a thick hand to trace them out, "Can't say I have either."

But perhaps someone on the other side of her head had and she stared at them for a moment so whoever might be watching could take a good look as well. The large bell of the engine was matched by a smaller intake cowling on the front and this earned a comment from Gramps; "Atmospheric engines. Ain't no need for an intake in space. She must have some other drive somewhere, or some fancy combo-thing. Looks stealthy."

Indeed the whole ship was angles and slopes with few curves to be found. The body was a long tear-drop with a bit of a point to the nose and a quartet of atmospheric maneuvering fins hung just behind the engines. Two more short vanes stuck out from each of these, and there was a hatch just in front of the intake cowling. More important to Meli was the access panel mounted in the center, a tiny square of black glass. That was the only marking on the entire craft, if one might consider it so, with the rest of the surfaces being painted or made from some dark gray alloy. A thought occurred to her and she put her hand in her pocket, rubbing her fingers along the nooks and crannies of the implant. With some luck...

"Let's see what it's like inside," she reached out a broad thumb.

"It's gotta be locked..."

There was a subtle click and his jaw dropped, "Well I'll be damned. All this time a'hn she forgot to lock it?!"

The interior was just what one might expect to find in a military craft outfitted for extended use. A crash seat covered with ribbed black fabric would serve as both bed and pilot's chair while a display console wrapped around it and a complicated-looking control stick was mounted on a rise that could rock back to sit between the legs. Over their heads and to the front was a view screen with the console itself sitting at shin level for enhanced visibility. Behind it there was a small space with enough room for another chair that folded out of the wall and a matching table while lockers ran across the back. The contents of those might prove interesting later but for the moment she threw herself into the chair and sprawled out, dwarfed literally by its size.

"Sure is cozy. Room for two," Gramps added, barely poking his head inside before it felt just the opposite, "If you don't mind getting cuddly."

There was a click and he looked down to find Meli's second catch at the bottom of her vest dangling free; "I don't mind," she looked up at him, "But before we do, I've got a favor to ask..."

His jaw worked for a second and she rolled on her side, still looking up at him as she wrapped a foot around the control stick and drew it up into the crook of her knee, "What kind'o favor?"

"Before we get... romantic," she lowered her eyes and closed the trap, "I'd really like the stars as a backdrop..."
Last edited by Sunset on Wed Oct 25, 2017 12:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Sunset » Sun Oct 22, 2017 5:19 pm

The Medical Wing, AMI Industrial Complex, The Moon Minamoto, Hachiman Orbit, Ares System...

A groan was the first sign of life from the bed where the Doctor laid, though it was not the groan of satisfaction or pleasure but instead the kind of deep, back-of-the-throat groan that might herald a near-miraculous recovery between the patient's rib cage and the back spike of a fire ax. Given the meaty crunch, the certainly accidental twist as he looked down to realize the full extent of his injuries, and the outright gush of blood onto the moon's subterranean surface, there had been little doubt that the accidental victim would have been or already was as dead as a door nail. Sufficiently distracted thusly, he had had little cause to complain as his bony ass was tossed unceremoniously over the shoulder of the closest Minion - 15 - and rushed to the medical wing for treatment.

Might.

But one followed another and despite whatever skill or lack-thereof that accompanied the surgeon's intrusion into his chest cavity (and definitely without any divine intervention - the Doctor did not believe in such things and they, to his delight, did not particularly like him either) he yet lived. Eventually his eyelids opened and he looked around the room that had been apportioned to him. Or at least straight ahead, which limited his field of view to the nursing station across the hall. There the small staff congregated between rounds and events and, again at least for the moment, he listened in to their chatter as his vital lifeline on the world. Tubes led here and there into his arm, his leg, and more distressingly right up his urethra, but more ominous was the dull ache on the left side of his chest precisely where his heart was. His strength was not yet sufficient to move but another few hours after his eyelids opened his lips cracked and he was able to wheeze out the words that would change the course of events - at least at the nursing station.

"...note to self; Clone some prettier nurses. And then fire the fat one..."

It was a glaring oversight and someone - possibly he - would have to pay for it. Someone had neglected to make sure that the nursing staff...

"Wait a moment. I have a nursing staff?"

With great effort he shifted his head from left to right to take in the enormity of the situation. In point of fact and through the windows on either side of the room he had a medical ward with all of the assorted machines beeping away, and the nurses attending to patients, and doctors engaged in reckless shenanigans and trysts of convenience, and...

"I'm dead. I, the great Doctor Stephen Ambrose, am dead. This is clearly a delusion created by my sub-conscious mind as the brain chemicals empty from their glands into my circulatory system and overwhelm the receptors. Too much late night television," he hypothesized, turning back to the nurses station. "I'm pretty sure I recognize her," he tried to lift his arm but it fell weakly back to his side. "Makes sense. I'm dead and this is my final hallucination. Well, fate, I - Doctor Stephen Ambrose - am ready for oblivion!"

He dropped his head back and closed his eyes. Hopefully oblivion would not take very long because, in addition to the aching pain in the left side of his chest, there was also a strange feeling of pressure at the base of his skull. As if something or someone had burrowed in through the base of his cranium and was currently taking up residence there. It wasn't particularly painful but when one is already dead - as he reasoned - everything was an inconvenience on the road to his final destination.

"...Doctor?"

"Go away," he complained, though there was a sudden odd thought, 'My voice sounds stronger... And aren't my lips cracked and dry? More hallucinations, one supposes. Since I'll only experience it once, I suppose I must be scientific about these things,' "I'm dead and I would like some peace and quiet for once. Especially from you, Agent Sixte..."

His eyes opened in a flash and he tried to sit up, an action made all the more impossible by the smooth transparent sides of the bio-regeneration tank he floated naked in. A mask was over his mouth and nose and a hose coiled around to the back of his head where it drifted snake-like to the top of the tank to disappear into the apparatus. Beyond the wall of the tank was his own laboratory and he was thus not floating in a bio-regeneration tank but instead inside one of the fast-cloning tanks that lined the back wall. In front of the tank stood Agent Sixteen, resplendent in her black vinyl catsuit that was split open from crotch to throat but otherwise fitted with seemingly useless armor panels as well as a profusion of weaponry on her arms, waist, hips, thighs, forearms, shins, shoulders; In fact, everywhere but the long not-all-that-exaggerated line of cleavage was bedecked with some manner of death, destruction, or the prevention of such. Beside her but just a step back stood Miss Nineteen, the latest iteration of his laboratory assistant, who this time had a distinct Asian flavor to her appearance though the familiar clipboard was still clutched in her hands as she scribbled away at the virtual surface.

"...I'm not dead, am I?"

"No, Doctor," Nineteen answered, not even looking up from her note taking. "You were dead though, for approximately seven minutes and thirty seconds. The non-regulation twenty centimeter spike on the fire ax pierced your rib cage just under the third rib, pierced the heart muscle, and sufficiently disrupted it as to induce cardiac failure."

"...am I a clone?"

The question and the obvious answer was suddenly terrifying to the man who had, in point of fact, cloned every person in the room at some point (including himself) but mostly with the intention of replacing what he considered a faulty unit - cloning himself had been done as a frat prank. Now the possibility that he - or at least the previous iteration of his consciousness - was dead-dead was morally outrageous. There could be only one Doctor Stephen Ambrose and, if he were not it, he would make sure the deed was done properly!

"No, Doctor. Yes, Doctor."

"Which is it?!"

"You are you, Doctor. In assessing your condition, I determined that enough time had passed that further delay would result in permanent brain damage. Thus I was forced to resort to migrating your consciousness..."

"WHAT?!" His fists came up and he banged as hard as he could on the glass, only managing to injure his metacarpals in the process, "YOU IMPLANTED ME WITH AN EXOCORTEX, DIDN'T YOU! YOU BITCH!"

There was hardly a flinch, "Yes, precisely. It was the most reliable and reasonable course of action to save the greatest mind of this or any age. I think put your body in cold storage, cloned a new heart, and connected the ExoCortex to a conditioning simulation to prepare you for re-entry into your body."

"...the fat nurse," his eye twitched as he sagged away from the glass to drift lower in the tank. "At least the brainwashing and torture has proven itself valuable yet again..."
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Postby Sunset » Mon Oct 23, 2017 11:04 am

Special Projects Black Site 1097A, The Southern Hemisphere of Casablanca, The Bogart System...

"Whew, so..." Claire stopped and waved the smoke away from her face for perhaps the hundredth time that day and thousandth time on this particular project, "I think what we really need to do is figure out a way for these things to fail gracefully. Because they are going to fail," she pushed the broom ahead of her, bits and pieces of now-scrap scraping along the pock-marked concrete floor as she swept them into a neat pile, "Over and over and over..."

On the other side of the wall that separated the cavernous underground test chamber from the staging area was a wall filled from floor to ceiling with adorable kittens. Except they weren't kittens, of course. Each was a chassis that would serve as a test-bed unit for the next in a seemingly unending series of experiments that would, hopefully, end up with a unit capable of 'casting spells' and not blowing itself to pieces every fifth, sixth, or first time it tried. Aside from being absolutely and undeniably the cutest thing you've ever seen they were also the one bright spot in Claire's otherwise spotty tenure. In order to avoid copy-y-right-y problems with the so-called VoltAnts, she'd come up with another concept entirely. Instead of a group of color-coded robo-ants that could link together to then blow themselves up, she'd designed a chassis that would then house different modules in the chest, arms, and legs. This allowed her and her small staff to hot-swap modules in and out as they made progress or just randomly guessed at some idea that might prevent the inevitable.

"I think we're lucky they haven't just blown us and everything else up along with them," Karl, one of her subordinates, suggested. He too was cleaning up the remnants of the previous explosion, this time with a long handled mop and some hot water to scrub down the ceiling. The whole task could have been handled by a robot but it was Karl's reasoning that it gave them something to focus on so maybe, hopefully - and before the entire site was destroyed - they could unlock the deductive powers of the subconscious mind in solving their collective problem. "How does an explosion fail gracefully?"

"Some kind of designed weakness - a point where things can give but not fail catastrophically. Guns - the old chemical style - used to use that to their advantage..."

Claire pushed her mop upright and leaned against it. In some places in the galaxy such weapons were still popular; Relatively simple and easy to maintain and manufacture, they continued to work fine right up until the point where some jerk with electronic-assisted systems figured out that they could shoot down the incoming projectiles with their own fast-as-light-or-just-a-bit-slower directed energy weapons. The onboard computer would determine the projectile's course, snap-aim a micro-turret at it, and even if the projectile wasn't outright vaporized the dispersed mass would be significantly less potent than the carefully designed and fabricated penetrator or slug. Marine battlesuits - GhostDragon Mark Fours - were essentially immune to kinetic weaponry until velocities reached substantial fractions of the speed of light as their own point defense and expert interdiction systems could knock a large volume of rounds out of the air or simply destroy the weapon system itself as soon as it was identified as a threat.

Neither here nor there but a distracting thought; The notion that she put back to the front of her mind was the idea of somehow using the failure instead of losing the unit, "Equal and opposite reaction. That's how a lot of the old guns worked. The force of the explosion in the cartridge would force the bolt back and move a new round into place, or the expanding gases would operate a piston that would do the same thing... There's a couple other solutions, but if we could figure out a way to channel that energy into work of some kind..."

"But then you're adding more complexity to the system," Karl pointed out rightly. "A system that's already prone to just plain ol' blowing itself up when it does fail."

"Right - and where we've been concentrating our attention is stopping the explosion in the first place. But what if whatever is causing the explosion isn't really that bad? I once saw a show where they cracked a safe - blew it up, really - with a very small explosive by just putting water in the safe. The water increased the effectiveness of the pressure wave and blew out the walls where, if you had just the explosive but no water, there would have been only a little bang instead."

"Okay, then what I'll do is run a series of tests in a sequence we know will fail, monitor the failure, and see what's happening. Doesn't that seem like something we should have been doing all along?"

"We probably have," Claire shrugged, "But this is my first time as project lead. I'm bound to do something stupid..."
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Postby Sunset » Tue Oct 24, 2017 2:07 pm

Special Projects Covert Research Facility 74-A (Sigma), Denali, The Yukon System...

"Welcome back, Doctor Kraus." Site Director Krieger extended her hand for the customary handshake; Professionally firm grip, once up, once down, back to the middle, and release. While she did, she looked over Kraus' laboratory and found it to be much in the same condition as she had left it last night before he had arrived just this morning. She had been too busy in meetings with the other scientists and researchers on site - with Kraus gone much work long-delayed had actually been accomplished - to meet him at the hangar but there was some expectation that she would have made her way to the lab to find it already destroyed, on fire, or sucked into the event horizon of an emergent singularity.

While both brilliant and insane, Frederick Kraus was not particularly known for physics experiments so that last one had been mental hyperbole on her part.

Still, it paid to be cautious around the Doctor. She could have started her search in his quarters, for instance, as he could rightly be expected to greet his wife and young son - and now even younger daughter - before going to work but the Site Director had put that as her second choice. During his absence Meri, his wife, had decided to take up cosplay as a hobby and Francine had learned to avoid her when she was in costume; In the hundred-plus years since it had become an acceptable way to amuse oneself the hobby had undergone several radical shifts. These were no longer the days when one could dress up as their favorite animal complete with tail or as a particularly earnest ComStar Adept (possibly also with tail) but often now the costumes chosen were designed and constructed to leave a particularly lasting impression on those who viewed them - and sometimes on the wearer.

Last time she had accidentally crossed paths with Ms. Kraus in the hall she had suffered audio and visual hallucinations for the next twenty-four hours.

But for now the lab was safe. Certainly there were some additions but nothing she did not expect from the scientist who kept it as his exclusive domain. Three large robotic insects with laboratory-white carapaces seemed to be his new lab assistants with one, marked down the center of its head with a stylized green arrow, handing him a clipboard from an insect-like hand that seemed to have more fingers and thumbs than her entomology lessons would have suggested. Since robotic assistants would cut down on the number of ethics complaints leveled against the Doctor by flesh-and-blood staff she was inclined to let this new addition slide. Everything else seemed to be in place; The two rows of counter space down the center, a scattering of smaller equipment across the same, larger equipment along two walls, some tanks across the back for cloning and the like, and a small cubicle-office in one corner for the Doctor.

"How was your trip?"

"Just fine, just fine. Excellent, in fact," as he held up the clipboard to show a blur of text inside the clear surface. "There's a lot of interesting stuff out in Canis Major. A lot of opportunities for research and discovery all across the Segment. In fact, you've just caught me as I'm finishing up dictating a report to the Director."

Site Director Krieger, who had never know the Doctor to write a report in the past, took the offered tablet from him and looked it over. As he said, it was a report filled with notes on possible avenues of research and development in the Canis Major galactic segment as well as his personal recommendations for where Special Projects should establish research black sites and, amazingly beyond that, the personnel he felt best suited to undertake these proposed assignments, "Wow. Well, Doctor, I'm impressed. Canis Major seems to have made an..." She paused for a moment before repeating herself, "An impression on you?"

"Absolutely! Fantastic place. What I'd really like to see is the establishment of a site inside the Blishi'i United Federation working with their Inquisition. They bring back a lot of dangerous stuff from this so-called War in the Heavens and we'd probably learn a lot from it. Or die horribly in the grasp of some diabolic monster. But those are the risks! How have you been?"

"Good! Good... We've gotten a lot done. Doctor Polaski has made significant progress on her project, as has Doctor Zz'yi. We've done okay for ourselves. Now, Doctor, since you've been here all of six hours and I haven't had a chance to review your next proposed project..." She paused, braced herself, fixed his strange blue eyes with her own, and took a deep breath, "You did WHAT?!" She'd meant it as a joke - a not-so-lighthearted jab at his typical practice of engaging in dangerous or disastrous research right under her nose but the way his eyes lit up excitedly she knew instantly she'd hit that particular nail right on the head and she stepped back with a sigh, "All right, out with it. What did you do?!"

"Well, if you insist;" she nodded and he stepped towards the tubes in the back; "On my way back I took a quick side-trip to Sol. Throw them off my trail, you know?" Francine covered her face with her palm; "Go on..."

"I thought I'd pick up a few things. You know, souvenirs," he pointed to his t-shirt, which had a logo for a Cetacean Institute, Monterey Bay stitched across the chest before making a gesture as though he was holding something and then heaving something else across his shoulder, "Some light grave robbery, that sort of thing."

"Doctor..."

Stepping up to two of the tanks he looked up at the shadowy forms suspended in the purple goo just beyond the transparent capsule wall, "And as soon as I got back, I got started. Doctor Krieger," he spread his arms wide, "I give you," he spun around and took an undeserved bow, "Elvis Presley and Tupac Shakur! That's right - the most epic duet in musical history is about to be fucking ON!"
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Postby Sunset » Wed Oct 25, 2017 5:08 pm

What will be SDF-Procyon, Assembly Bay 4, VELMA III Solar-Industrial Manufacturing Facility, Docru Star System, Ares Cluster...

In the beginning there was darkness;

Deep inside the darkness something moved, a collection of robotic arms resetting themselves and moving themselves to the front of the cavernous bay as each found their position as musicians lifted their instruments while the conductor raised his baton. For the robotic arms - who did not care - these were new instruments with instructions on how to play and what to play fed from a distant source rather than stored in their electronic memory like a piece often played. In the darkness there would be no sheet music to play from, no cheating off the first chair. Instead the arms moved each of their own instruction to the front of the great orchestral pit to begin the symphony. A single point of light was the first note as data streamed through from points unknown, a single point that quickly became a line and then a shape, indistinct at first.

Across the far distant void gravity performed a miracle impossible at smaller scale. Under enormous pressure the fusion of one element led to another and discarded as waste heat and light, the former leaping the gap between star and construct in a heartbeat to intersect with the apparatus long-prepared for its arrival. Photons excited electrons which flowed through circuits and conduits to come together in harmony at the end of arms that moved of their own accord. Means arcane produced first neutrons, protons, electrons, and these atoms and elements built layer upon layer to create first an object and then a ship familiar and yet new in form. Familiar, but this was no construction of components and systems but instead a song woven from whole and new cloth, each part separate in purpose but united in total function. Skeleton, muscle, skin, and organs appeared one and then the other and then back again as matter flowed from the instruments of creation.

Again this was unlike what had come before. A thin line became a curve, a curve become an arc, an arc became a saucer and the spark of new creation raced along to sweep down and then up, leaving behind it a shape new but already alive. Where it passed over those spaces reserved to the scant few officers who would guide the new ship, it placed them there. The foot of a bed appeared at the middle of a cabin and raced from leg to sheet and back again, a million layers of individual atoms before an impression in the mattress heralded the arrival of boots, toes, ankles, and knees. Over the body it raced to leave behind the body of a man; The body of a man who shortly after drew first one breath and then another...

----


"...just like magic, Captain," Lieutenant Jacksyn offered, absently ignoring his previous words as he took a sip from the cup of coffee that had just arrived in the dispenser. "Any sufficiently advanced technology. Sure, I know the theory and sometimes I could probably even fix some of it, but yesterday I graduated from the Academy on Sakaldale, given my chevrons and my assignment, and told I'd be posted to Procyon in the morning. 'Get a good night's sleep;' I'll admit, I was still expecting a shuttle."

He looked down at his fingers and hand, wiggled his thumb, then took another sip of coffee. It felt like his body though in the front of his head he knew his body was - or had been - asleep in his bunk at the Academy. From here to there overnight but the only thing that had moved was his perspective on the outside universe. Back on Sakaldale there were probably robo-janitors cleaning out his room right now, taking the now-useless body of Cadet Mark Jacksyn and; "I guess they'll recycle it?"

Captain Finn shrugged. For her, it had been the same process though with perhaps more warning. A week before she'd been told by her own commanding officer, the much-respected Captain SckShaug, that she'd been selected for promotion from Commander to Captain and would be assigned to command the Procyon. With understandable excitement she'd begun to research her new command only to find that it hadn't been built yet and that, as a Nebulous-Class Pathfinder, it would be part of a new breed of ships constructed in whole and entirely from scratch. Every single element from the crew to the decorate fish swimming in the tank behind her desk would come together in a single act of creation.

"Clarke's Law," she agreed. "You had that class too?" The Lieutenant nodded and she went on, "I remember when I took it. The instructor talked a lot about how, when we're out exploring the galaxy, we'll run into things that look like magic. Things we won't understand. But how that very class was supposed to teach us to treat them not as magic but as technology we simply didn't understand yet. Everyone loved that class. He'd take some mysterious bit of who-knew-what from a civilization maybe one of us had heard about and then start tearing it down, showing us how it worked, explaining the theory and the science behind it. Then he'd have us do the same. But at the end of the term he also did a segment on our own civilization. Disguising something we consider commonplace inside a new case or with some paint and glitter and suddenly we didn't know what it was. Or at least it took us a few minutes to figure it out. That was his point though; We're becoming so advanced technologically that even our brightest minds only understand - really, really understand - a tiny portion of it."

"Sounds scary, in a way."

"A little bit," she admitted. "Better to be scared there than here though. We're about to go see strange new places, Lieutenant. Both out there," she looked towards the virtual window that showed a maybe-view of the stars streaking past outside, "And as a civilization. We can't afford the time or luxury of being scared..."
Last edited by Sunset on Thu Oct 26, 2017 9:07 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Sunset » Thu Oct 26, 2017 5:12 pm

Sanglanti Corsair Jade Sabre, Deep Space, Auracexian Sector, Orion Arm...

"First a boyfriend and now a prisoner," Agent Madison looked sideways and down to where Meli stood next to her, the Dwarf just glancing up at her before she turned back to the field-barred cell they stood in front of, "I'd say there might be a conscience in that head of yours."

Inside the cell - one of only a few in the Jade Sabre's brig - the pirate known only as 'Gramps' spread out on the lone bunk, still fast asleep under the influence of whatever method the Dwarf had chosen to ensure his unconsciousness. Or he was napping again. Whatever the method, Ivy hadn't expected Meli to arrive at the appointed rendezvous point with a prisoner, alive or dead. Her normal modus operandi was casual extermination with pirates and similar being considered ants to the boot.

Meli glanced back and an objection formed on her round face, "Nah, ain't that. No airlock in tha' lil ship. Couldn'a toss him out without freezin' mah own skin off. Ah'n if Ah'd have killed him he'd have start'd ta smell and Ah'd never git it outta tha upholstry!"

"Better, but I don't think they're going to let you keep it. You've brought back three pieces of intelligence and that ship is right in the middle. He," she pointed a finger below her folded elbow towards the recumbent pirate, "Isn't even one of the three. You've got a debriefing at some point in your future."

"Ah'n here I thought y'all were jus' watchin' through the back-oh-mah skull the whole time. Speakin' oh' back-oh-the-skull..."

"Tracking down just who our mystery woman is will take some time. The ExoCortex you recovered is widely available in the Phoenix Empire; Consumer-level cybernetics. It could have gone through a dozen pairs of hands before she happened across it. It is plausible she's a Phoenixi agent and we're exploring that but they might just disavow all knowledge of her even if we're reasonably friendly. And if they want her back, it would probably go higher than our pay grade so..."

Ivy shrugged; That was the nature of the business. Homegrown spies and intelligence agents were some of the most patriotic citizens out there. To volunteer to serve one's country with the understanding that, for the sake of that country, one's very existent and affiliation might be denied by the same took an especial amount of determination. Or a hefty amount of brainwashing. Or an equally hefty amount of cash with few strings attached. Ivy at least was the first, though she had no particular illusions about Meli's motivations.

Or at least she hadn't. Things changed and she mentally shrugged again, "That shuttle is its own mystery. I'd bet last month's paycheck that we're looking at a composite operator here. You said she was Human," she shot the Dwarf a question mark and a nod answered the question, "Or close enough. But there's a lot of Humans out there, especially in this area of the galaxy. A lot of collapsed colonies and fallen civilizations. Plenty of places for her to come from or be interested in, not to mention all the Alpha-Beta types mucking around. So plenty of places to pick up a random... super-stealth infiltration craft? Yeah, I think we find where that came from, we find out where she came from. Not that there are a lot of clues, but the techs are going over it with a fine toothed comb..."
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Postby Sunset » Fri Oct 27, 2017 6:33 pm

The Ee'jeelaqj, Orbiting the Eeyr Monument, GEC-1202897 System, Gamma-Delta Border Region...

"So in our galactic game of 'connect the dots', we've gone from the Dragon's Eye to the Circlet to the true homeworld of the Kion and now here. It's not quite following little Billy's adventures through the neighborhood, but if you were to pick one place to go next..."

It was a calculated gambit and, of course, another one of the Commander's famous hunches. Fyieae was amiable and much had been discussed about both the Eiryuj and his millennia-long wanderings. It was an interesting exchange of perspectives; From one who might have only lived a hundred years to one who might live a hundred thousand and back to one who might now exist in some self-recognized form until the conceivable end of time. His guide had shared few details about the civilizations he had observed from the outside but there were broad themes and generalities, many of which were already half-known to the Commander. The many desolations of the Kion-in-Exile figured high among these as well as a distant memory of the beginning of the abortive Krȃng invasion. But with a promise secured to leave the Eiryuj alone, most of his questions and their answered details centered on Fyieae's civilization until the end of their time together.

"One place, you ask? A harder question than the elemental composition of our homeworld's atmosphere. There are so many."

For a long while there was nothing but a pause from the floating orb, the slowly movement of currents and the occasional puff of air indicating his slow thoughts. Finally he spoke again, the sound as always seeming to come from all around as the balloon-body itself acted as the resonator, "I have my choice and I feel it is appropriate but know that it is based not on knowledge but - as I say, appropriate - mystery. Many long years ago the Ee'jeelaqj came across a construct in deep space - a ship, though more than that. Based on its speed and trajectory, we guessed that it was something similar to the slow ship that carried myself and the few who now inhabit this monument to our new homeworld. An investigation proved this not to be the case; They had overshot their objective and were now doomed to continue through space until some accident brought them to another star and a suitable world. Such misfortunes are not unknown."

"A tragic fate," Timmons agreed. "So what was the mystery?"

"The mystery was life. Such a construct, even on so vast a scale as this proved to be, should be lifeless. Those within would be best held in stasis of one kind or another - at least for those of the lesser-lived species. The Eiryuj are a rarity in this as we made the journey entirely awake. Our metabolisms are slow and," there was the something of a laugh, "Our thoughts are often also so. However, we detected the signs of life aboard this construct and active life at that. But to investigate further we would have been required to dock and my crewmates would not tolerate such a suggestion. We stayed to watch but eventually our interests turned and we went on our way. But where we would not - you would, Commander..."
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Postby Sunset » Sun Oct 29, 2017 7:59 pm

The Doctor's Laboratory, AMI Industrial Complex, The Moon Minamoto, Hachiman Orbit, Ares System...

"...a consulting contract from a pharmaceuticals company operating out of," Miss Nineteen turned the clipboard back from where it had been facing the tube where the Doctor still floated less-than-serenely, quickly scanned through the text, and found the name, "Siristad County, Colonial Republic of Earth. They seem to be fascinated with some of the side-effects of SEXYE and have asked for your expertise in applying them to their own products."

"Hmmph," but after a moment an eyelid flickered open and the Doctor drifted closer to the glass. His assistant flipped the clipboard again and he read over the document himself, lips barely moving, "...seven years ago? One might think they would have worked out the mysteries of cross-adjusting nucleoli-peptide self-replication for themselves!"

It was a simple point of fact; Most requests for the Doctor's expertise - aside from the very rare charity case or attempt to dick with someone he didn't particularly like - were either rejected out of hand or consigned to the eternal round-file in the lower corner of Miss Nineteen's translucent blue clipboard. As to his own memory, there had only been two replies to the inevitable supplications and one had resulted in something of a kerfuffle in Roania while the other one had ended in considerable unpleasantness when the petitioner had attempted to stomp out the flaming paper bag on his doorstep only to find it filled to the brim with the most viscous, foul, noxious, and very nearly corrosive dog shit that the Doctor's Minions had been able to collect from the local park before placing it there. Still the proposed stimulant intrigued him especially given his current, unfortunate and much confined, situation.

He reached up and tapped his chin - or at least the mask that still ran across mouth, nose, and of course the stubble of his chin, "And they have not managed to bring a product of this nature to market yet?"

Though she'd done the required research before suggesting it as a way to relieve the Doctor's self-inflicted boredom, still Miss Nineteen turned the tablet again and tapped in a search while studiously ignoring the Doctor as he stared down the top two buttons of her blouse, "No, Doctor. They seem to have waited patiently for your response."

"I'm not particularly surprised," he admitted, taking his eyes off the cleavage to look past her and to the far wall, lost in thought, "It truly would take someone of my genius to create such a miracle cure. The techniques involved," he reached out and tried to write on the liquid-cloaked inside of the tube, "No, no, this won't work at all. I will require a way to make notes, Miss Nineteen. Urgently. Contact..." And he reeled off the name of not only a relatively unknown supplier of medical equipment but the specific sales agent and their number and extension, "She will be able to ship a replacement panel with internal touch capability to us overnight. The usual names and usual accounts, of course. Once it has arrived the delivery agent is to be liquidated."

Nineteen looked up at him, a 'why' almost formed on her perfect, pouting lips. Then the conditioning kicked in and some small portion of survival instinct in her hind-brain screamed the fate of her predecessors, "Of course, Doctor."

The 'why' was no longer important. Once the panel was delivered and the strange little gray contractors had undertaken the installation the delivery boy would be shown the door - minus the comfort and safety of an atmosphere on the other side. She scribbled down the contact information - a useful side-benefit of the operatic conditioning she thought she'd been subjected to thanks to a rather clever piece of genetic programming inserted into her DNA - and returned to Doctor Ambrose, "Shall I take notes until then?"

"Mmm, yes, though I expect the delivery before dinner. She's never failed me before and, to her credit, she really hates that young man. But to the subject of REWIND... Yes," he jabbed a finger into the air and attempted to turn and pace before the cable attaching face mask to the roof of the small chamber reminded him forcefully of the small space, "I have already come up with the name for this miracle product, though I have not yet concocted what it stands for. In fact, I will leave that to you, Nineteen. A side-project. Something," he swirled the finger around, "Science-y. But how it works," Stephen dropped his hand to his waist and clasped it with the other behind his back, swinging back and forth in imitation of an action he could not - to his considered frustration - perform, "We already have some of the elements in inventory, as it were. Portions of SEXYE will allow it to operate across a variety of species... The Roanians..."

"The Roanians?"

"Mmm, yes. The Reixanxi specifically. In my previous dealings with them, I was made aware of their ability to reshape themselves as they desire - even so far as to change their gender or other normally-surgical procedures. No small uproar occurred when a Prince - or was it a Princess? - of the ruling family decided to change their gender and throw the entire Imperial line into disarray. Quite fantastic, and I applaud her... His? Whatever the correct pronoun, it was an act of inspired chaos! But that ability, bestowed as some portion of their biology, might be pressed into service in the matter. What I propose is a method to harness that transformation and allow it to be used as something of a 'saved state restoration' - a rewind, as it were..."
Last edited by Sunset on Sun Oct 29, 2017 8:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Sunset » Thu Nov 02, 2017 12:37 pm

SDF-Ojeni, The Nomads, Canis Major II...

"...she seemed nice. And the directions she gave us seem solid! We'll see where they lead us though," Kami finished, stepping up to the end of the line in the main mess hall. Sloan was right behind her and as she craned her head to look towards the counter and the menu written out in flourescent green marker on the board above it she felt a sudden jab in the kidney. Turning to look over her shoulder, she found her executive officer standing there with two fingers pointed and a thumb crooked before the blonde blew a trace of imaginary smoke off her notional pistol; "Sure - after you ordered her engines cut off."

"Something something 'I won't honor you with such a challenge'. Was her own fault - cultural differences. She'll be fine..."

"And again, as I recall, she didn't start talking until you told her you'd gladly send out a general distress call on her behalf. On the frequencies they were communicating with."

"Doubtless some of her own people would have shown up to help her!" The younger woman shrugged, "I was just being polite."

There was a brief interlude while both stepped up to the counter and placed their order. There was no cutting in line aboard Captain Blaine's ship and neither was there any special privilege for the Captain when scratch food was being served up in the mess. Out of one, it took her a moment to decide on another before she was presented with a tray already bearing entree, salad, and her drink. With Sloan right behind her, she sought out a table already occupied by a pair of junior seaman, "May I?"

It was still poor form to refuse the Captain, however, and the two slid into their chairs next to the already-occupants. It would have been her normal practice to engage the sailors in conversation - Marines, actually, as both were wearing the black pinstripes issued to that service - but she was already in the midst of one and she looked up to the Commander as soon as she had a bite half-way to her mouth, "Or they would have killed her."

"Probably. That's what our information from the Blishi'i said - the Nomads are an area of extremes. Pick a trait and dial it up to eleven. She wouldn't even listen to you because she didn't know you. Makes you wonder how she gets to know someone in the first place... Shoot them, then say 'hello'?"

One of the two next to them raised his finger to interject. Both were male, with one having the dense bulk of a linebacker and pointed ears and the other the goldenrod yellow skin that marked the short fellow as a Xypndi, "They could develop their reputation organically from birth. Every significant action and interaction is spread through their various cultural elements. Which would then mean that discussion of the deeds and misdeeds of others would be an important point of conversation. If that is the case then it is likely they have a very hard time establishing relationships outside their social structures, making them more insular and leading to a self-sustaining cycle."

"What he said. So we just gotta find the nice, friendly ones..."

"And hope the assholes didn't kill them all already. Though if you want to get all sociological, the assholes would have then killed themselves off. Maybe there is some movement between the various circles?"

"Maybe you," Sloan pushed her plate forward, "Should eat faster and then we can go find out!"
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Postby Sunset » Fri Nov 03, 2017 4:56 pm

Katryna Silaco's Condominium, Outside Landor City, Terra Incognito, New Latin System, Dinner Time...

"...you know this won't be like Hogwart's, right? No magical adventures, no ancient secrets waiting for a plucky young wizard to uncover?"

Aviandri nodded and then shook her head, short hair whipping out in a quick pink and purple halo, "Yes, I mean, no! I mean - It won't be Hogwarts;" She'd read the book and while the classic piece of literature was enchanting (though obviously not in a magical way), she'd also done her research elsewhere. "They don't have schools. Well, they do, but this wouldn't be a school. I'd be an apprentice to Sorceress Amarith and study under her until I decide on a specialization or achieve proficiency."

That would be Amaril's mother and the elder woman was both an achieved spell-wright and a generalist in the wide panoply of the magical arts. As a potential apprentice the girl would receive a firm grounding in the art; That is, if it was even possible for her to learn. The possibility of her daughter traveling to far-away Menelmacar aside, there was the question of Aviandri's status as a natural being. Both siblings had adopted the ExoCortex with little more than the shrug typical of the technophilic Republic but magic was, well, magical. Despite the conclusions that Katryna had come to from her own expanding knowledge of holographic boundary manipulation, there was the possibility that whatever this magic was, it was either sideways to what she was researching or in some manner lateral and that it would somehow require a whole elfy-elf. There she would have to admit to some level of selfishness; Through her daughter there was a lot to learn about the underlying fabric of the universe, even if she wasn't able to achieve the same mastery as a typical apprentice.

"And you're willing to spend the next however-long away from your family? Away from your friends here?"

"Mom," Aviandri rolled her eyes, "This is Menelmacar, not some dump on the periphery of civilization. Half of my virtual friends are from there - they have the internet, you know!"

"...probably claim they invented it," Katryna noted with a smirk but her interruption was short; "Mom... I can be home in two hours. Or by hologram. It would be like going to school, just not here."

Though being an apprentice would be a lot more intensive - and demanding - than being a student. Home in two hours she might be but it would be more like one or two weekends a month or whenever her mistress deemed reasonable to her studies.

"Alright," though Katryna cut off the small squeal of joy before her daughter could even utter it, "Alright, your father and I will discuss it. No promises..."
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Postby Sunset » Sat Nov 04, 2017 3:50 pm

Fiona Lava Field, The Far Wastelands of Casablanca, The Bogart System, Ares Super-Cluster...

"Do they know where this will all end up?"

The man - familiar in form though not in spirit - took a seat on a random up-welling of hardened lava that had some vague resemblance to a chair. His back touched the shimmering hot rock but there was no hiss of burning skin nor was there the slightest indication that his chosen rest was even hot. Certainly the elaborate suit of crystalline armor that he wore - if 'wore' was the appropriate term; He had seemingly shaped it himself, scooping up handfuls of the hottest magma and smoothing them over his bare skin with nothing more instrumental than his own fingers until they rivaled the finest complexities in personal protection yet seen - would have protected those places where it replaced his tan, aquiline skin but he wore neither helmet nor gloves and yet his long dark hair remained smooth and lustrous. He crossed a leg at the knee, bracing one atop the other, before turning his face towards the star-streaked heavens and lacing his fingers behind his head and on a small weave of hair that somehow managed to keep the trailing rest in place.

The question seemed without answer until a particular vibrant patch of nothing but air next to him spoke, "Do you? Your question has two different answers, you know. To put you and I on parity is to muddle the question; To their thinking we are - or might be - but to you and I... You've been through this before so you are better suited to answer; Where will this all end up?"

"Three endings, three different answers. But for them, this will be their first. Perhaps. They wander left and right from the path but yet, like us, they still stray back to it. You were more direct," though this generated a bemused laugh at some joke unsaid. The iWe were notorious for their lack of direct answers when questioned by one of the younger species or for the occasional direct but not directly useful interaction. Meddling, as they called it.

"We had the greatest need. Well, need is a particularly selfish answer. We faced extinction from the moment of singularity; They will only perish from this iteration if they step far from the path or some nefarious power discovers their answers. Some people are idiots."

"Do I get any guesses as to who?" The man laughed, but he did not make offer. Instead, "But you have still tied your own hopes to theirs. That is what I meant - do they know where you will take this?"

"Take? We're giving them the chance you haven't been able to give us. Or won't. Sometimes I wonder why we have these conversations, you and I," the patch of air finished, accusation in its tone. But in response the man held up just three fingers and the air went still, "Ah, claims of experience. Interesting that you do not offer proof - no matter how often we ask."

Sitting forward in his self-imposed chair, the answer was honest, "We can't. To us, your predicament lies bound in the very nature of the universe. The only way is to unravel it. Perhaps they will find a way, perhaps not, but even if we still had it, would you be able to restrain yourselves? Or worse, restrain others? There are many who would doom uncounted many times their number to answer some delusion of destiny. You've tied your end to theirs and that is the way it must be."

How the air shrugged was a question hard to answer but shrug it did, "For now. We've got a long time to find an answer."

"Perhaps. You know they watch you, even now? It is a dangerous game you play; You hope they provide an answer but you also hope that they do not simply leave you behind before they do..."
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Postby Sunset » Sun Nov 05, 2017 4:07 pm

GEC-1399002, Canis Major Segment, Outer Rim of the Milky Way Galaxy...

Someone had once done the math and it was a pretty simple equation; Thanks to the technological advancements made in the past two centuries, it would still be nearly three hundred years before the residents of Ares would be able to see the first episode of Star Trek as broadcast for television. Not that they would be able to see it - the intervening light years of deep space and thousands of stars would have diffused and absorbed the signal to such an extent that it would be essentially invisible against the galaxy's background radiation. The example was sound, however, and it was why GEC-1399002 had been chosen as the site for the first Baby VELMA deployment. Located across a nearly-empty gulf nearly ten thousand light years wide, it would take almost a hundred thousand years for the lonely star's last light to reach Sol before it blinked out and who was to say who or what would see that moment?

Or even care.

Perhaps there would be a galactic war between then and now; Millions of sentient species extinguished for some strange notion of dogma, commerce, or simply a lust for power. More hopeful were those who felt that a Great Singularity would sweep the stars and all sentient peoples would ascend to some form of enlightened immortality. Given another hundred thousand years and the generally deleterious effects of sentient life on the natural universe it was not beyond imagination that new species would evolve and arise to take the place of those who had come before and that perhaps - like others who had gone before - the current residents of the galaxy would watch their progress with some unknown mixture of interest, malice, humor, or perversity. Maybe - perhaps - the construct that would shortly spread around the star and snuff out its light would still be there to provide puzzle and mystery to the explorers of a hundred thousand or even a million years hence.

Whatever the future, for the moment the system was empty except for the solitary star. Many millions of years ago it had either ejected or consumed every body other than itself and now stood alone which was why it had been selected. Perhaps when it did disappear from the night sky of some distant world it would be assumed to have died, the mystery of its death not heralded by some great burst of gamma rays or the slow pulse of a newborn quasar. Seconds later it was not; A single ship appeared, dropping out of whatever form of faster-than-light travel carried it in a quick burst of dazzling but ultimately harmless radiation. That too had been why the system was chosen; There was no one else to see the ship emerge as close to the star as it dared and slowly move out to the very edge of the star's gravity well where the force of the solar wind would keep the coming construct from edging too far one way or another.

One by one, thin spars began to uncoil from the otherwise-anonymous hull. Even that had been selected for secrecy; If someone did by any chance of the imagination come across the ship - ships - as they did their work the design could only be traced back to a rather amateur piece on an obscure art-sharing site. The spars themselves would be more familiar though; Each had a half-ball joint on both ends that linked to another and then to another, creating the tell-tale shape of a partial Hoberman Sphere as they unfurled black cloth between them. The last piece was deployed from the belly of the ship, an automated construction unit that would make more spars and more units and more cloth, exponentially increasing the coverage until the star would eventually disappear from the heavens and its light would serve the growing might of the Republic...
Last edited by Sunset on Sun Nov 05, 2017 8:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Sunset » Wed Nov 08, 2017 7:52 pm

Sanglanti Corsair Jade Sabre, Deep Space, Auracexian Sector, Orion Arm...

"...tha' who-athri?" Meli looked up from her magazine but only to confirm that Ivy - Agent Madison - was looking in her direction and not to some invisible other listener in the otherwise bare room. According to the template-painted label to the outside and left of the hatch, it was officially a maintenance storage area and by the racks and shelves filled with miscellaneous spare parts it had only been re-purposed from that official use by the addition of a folding chair she had purloined from somewhere - why would a Sanglanti corsair even have folding chairs aboard? - and an empty crate of SPRAT from the kitchen. Convinced that the taller woman was talking directly to her, she dropped her eyes back to the holographic page in front of her and, flicking a finger across her tongue, turned the page, "Who'er they?"

Ivy sighed. She'd just explained all that but clearly the Dwarf hadn't been listening or, as likely, just didn't care. Still it was up to her to try, "You weren't listening, so I'll start again. They were able to track down the source for the ExoCortex implant you found on Fancy Lad. It was a second generation consumer model out of the Phoenix Domain and was only on the market a few months before being replaced with their third-generation upgrade. Turns out a lot of these were then sold on to outside parties in a dumpster sale. From there it went all over the place until ending up in the head of our dead spy."

"Rah't, sure, good work. Ah'n this has somethin' to do with these who-arthi? Who 'ar they?"

"They are our new assignment. Or figuring out who they are is our new assignment. They hooked the unit up to a diagnostic tool; They figured we could just read the contents out and we'd know just who we were dealing with. Turns out that the consciousness that's inside isn't Human, Dwarf, or any other configuration we've heard of."

Meli dropped her magazine slightly and looked over the top, "But she was. Had the tits 'ta prove it too. Explains wha' she didn'a wanna fuck though - ah'n tha' explains why she was screwin' that jerkwad oh' a captain. Jus' layin' there lahk ah' dead fish prolly. So she was one oh' these who-arthi?"

"KulDrathi," Ivy corrected, "And yes. They plugged the implant into a body simulator hooked up to a generic environment and she did not like that one bit. Translator didn't pick up what she was saying before she clammed up, except for KulDrathi. We tracked that down but... Did I mention that Fancy Lad is gone?"

"Gone?"

The operator leaned back against the hatchway and smiled, "Gone-gone. Your little prank with their communications system worked. First time they tried their false distress signal a couple civvie ships picked it up and relayed the whole message to an Auracexian patrol cruiser. All three showed up and when Captain Blacke tried to talk his way out of trouble they opened fire - point blank - with the connection still open. The look on his face is circulating all over the 'net."

"Ha! A'right, so we'er gonna track down these KulDrathi ah'n find out why they had a spy round here?"

"Actually, we're going to track down the KulDrathi and find out who and where they are. We've got exactly two mentions of the name in our database and nothing more. Both are starport conversations from agents on the ground - rumors and gossip. Neither do us a lot of favors since one was picked up on a shadowport just outside the HSE and the other..."

Meli held up a finger, "Wait a second. HSE ain' nowhere near here. Tha's up in Delta, for all tha' nothin' they do, ain' it?"

Sarcasm dripped from Ivy's voice, "I'm shocked you even know that. Back of a cereal box?"

"Nah. Hue-Hue's ah'r spess dwarves. When it comes ta' porn, you start with wha' ya are. Then ya' get ah' lil kinky so spess dwarves rather than tha' proper kind," she finished, pointing to herself as Ivy's lips curled into disgust; "I didn't need to know that. The other contact was only a little closer though, and coreward. Best guess is that's where they are so that's where we're going..."
Last edited by Sunset on Thu Nov 09, 2017 4:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Sunset » Thu Nov 09, 2017 6:59 pm

SS Qasr, Interstellar Space, Southwestern Delta Quadrant...

"...I think we're gonna need a bigger boat."

"I think you're right," Deanna echoed the Commander (Retired, Reserve - at least officially) a moment later, "We're gonna need a bigger boat. Or a smaller shark!"

Timmons gave a little laugh, "Okay, or a smaller shark."

He didn't need to ask why one or the other; Following the coordinates provided by the Eiryuj had led them directly to the object of interest and so close that they had all immediately suspected the ship was being tracked by the object of interest though no sign of the Ee'jeelaqj or her likely sister-ships could be detected. What they had found and easily enough could be adequately described as a leviathan. Even kilometers were nearly meaningless when describing the voyager though, as the Seeker's comment implied, there were reasons to think it had at some point come into contact with something of similar size. A single long core ran from one end to the other but around this slowly circled dozens of fat torus' that could be easily guessed as habitat areas while at one end an enormous cluster of cylindrical drives once pushed the ship up to speed but now could barely be distinguished from the background temperature of the galaxy itself. There didn't seem to be a control center at the other end - just another torus - but in the middle of the ship four of these had been damaged, almost as if a bite had been taken out of them, and had ground to a halt as they churned whatever separation mechanism they had formerly used into rubble.

"Why a bigger boat or a smaller shark?" It was up to the Amirah to ask the question that would lead to the answers to the pop culture question and the big explorer turned to her; "A bigger boat because there could be millions - even billions - of people on that ship, if they are lucky. There's no reason to provide artificial gravity like that," he reached out a finger and pointed to one of the rotating rings, "If you don't have someone or something on board that needs it."

"Wouldn't they be in hibernation? Cryo-sleep?"

"There's no reason to provide artificial gravity for someone in cryo. Maybe hibernation, but that would imply blood flow or something like it and I'd suspect whoever this was - or is - they would have been dead long ago if that were the case. That damage," he circled the titanic shark-bite with the same finger, "Would have knocked them off course and they were lucky it didn't just destroy them. A ship that big," he ticked from one ring to another, counting up those that remained, "Depending on the population density you could have ten to twenty million per, maybe more. A billion? That's not a whole planet - not Earth at least - but I'd already put my money on an evacuation, not a colonization."

"Maybe whoever they were evacuating from did that?"

It was a good point and a good question from Alwyra and Timmons turned to the Neko, "Could be, could be. If it was, they gave up the chase a long time ago. A kid with a BB gun could have taken her out by now."

"A kid with a BB gun in an EVA suit," Deanna pointed out. "Not exactly Quinn on the mast of a sinking ship with a thirty-ought-six."

For not the last time everyone turned to stare at her until Kedo asked the question, "How do you even know what a thirty-ought-six is?"

The only answer was a reasonable shrug and the group returned to the screen, leaving the question of the Seeker's apparently exhaustive knowledge of Humanity and its minutia behind them. That returned them to the answer to the two questions, "We'll need a bigger boat because, if there are people on there, we've got a duty to look to their safety. Even if they just need repairs and some technical work, Qasr isn't in any position to provide it. We've got enough spare parts to repair a bulkhead - not to rebuild a habitat for a few million people. Because I don't think they are ever getting to their destination."

"You said that Fyieae said there were signs of life and it sounds like you're saying we should just call in the cavalry and skip the exploration..."

"No," he held up his hands and shook his head, "No, I'm not saying that. We should, but let's get over there and do as much legwork as we can before they get here. Hell, even when they do. This is like exploring the Circlet - plenty of something for everyone..."
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