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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 » Sat Apr 28, 2018 12:24 pm

Meanwhile, On the Other Side of the Galaxy... Maybe?

"And how is it that you came to speak Standard so well? And with an accent of such astounding clarity and perfect diction," Stephen asked, sitting up in his cage and assuming what his legs would allow to be called a lotus position. That they assented by a substantial creaking and cracking both reminded him of his age and that he had not eaten yet. The slow drift of roasting meat from a nearby fire laid siege to his nostrils and he breathed in deeply, allowing the invading odors to conquer his senses, "That smells delicious."

The two children looked at each other and some unknown gesture passed between them that he soon learned was the equivalent of laughter, "That's the laundry - and we aren't speaking Standard. You're speaking Gyuan."

"Your laundry? You're joking, I hope? It is not possible that I could be..."

A thought occurred to him and he began to pat his face, ears, and the back of his head. He'd steadfastly refused to allow his body to be violated by one of the modern implants that would allow instantaneous and flawless neural translation of one language to another - if some foreigner wanted to talk to him, they could damn well learn the lingua franca! But perhaps during his time in the tank; "No - I don't feel anything suspicious. No exposed wires, no lumps or protrusions."

With the obvious covered he turned to the unlikely and obscure; "I have, however, suffered a recent blow to the head. It is not unknown for individuals in such cases to awaken speaking an entirely different language and one previously unknown to them. That must surely be the reason," he concluded, much pleased with his successful diagnosis.

"We put one of these in your nose," the little girl corrected, holding up something that looked like a multi-segmented grub with short, wriggling legs. In fact it was a multi-segmented grub with short, wriggling legs and for a moment the Doctor's entire face seized up. The temptation to plug one nostril and blow was overwhelming but he held his impulse in check until the moment of mental nausea passed.

"I... I see." Then dollar signs passed before his eyes. An insect capable of accomplishing what an advanced cybernetic implant would otherwise be required to accomplish? Why, it might be distasteful but there would surely be a market; "And where did you acquire these... Disgusting things?"

The children pointed up and Stephen craned his head skyward, expecting to find that he was sitting under some tree or perhaps some bird-lizard was flying overhead and would soon drop some from its feathers or leaves. Instead there was a long dark shadow across the sun, a broad dagger shape that he instantly recognized as a space ship of some variety, "Oh."

"They come and trade with us, and give us these," she offered, extending her hand through the bars so he could examine them closer. "They'll be here soon, and then we'll trade you for something..."
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Postby Sunset » Sun Apr 29, 2018 6:46 pm

Task Force Command Briefing, Task Force Friendly Fire, Near Ozlukar Space (For What That Notion is Worth...)...

"Our objective is the settlement here," Admiral FizNaNar began, pointing to a star and then to a world that rapidly resolved in the sprawling holographic environment that encompassed the various participants. This was an all-hands meeting; Specifics would be either handed out to the individual commanding officers or instituted on an ad-hoc basis as needs arose. The ArAreBee 'stood' in the center of a ring of Captains, Commanders, and the Rear Admirals that formed his adjunct staff as a ghostly figure with only his head and hands assuming anything approaching substantiation.

"On Hydra Septus IV. It is an Ozlukar colony that has refused allegiance to the Ushtar Uzgoth. For those unaware;" He sincerely hoped no one present was, but the basics must be covered, "The Ozlukar are a civilization of slavers and warriors on the brink of several key cultural shifts likely to determine their presence or lack there-of in our galaxy. Their leader, Ushtar Uzgoth, has entered into a treaty with the Republic with our goal being a gradual cultural shift away from their current practices and towards more agreeable cultural norms. The diplomats in Special Circumstances have already launched several initiatives in this direction, with an immediate eye on lowering the impact of their various distasteful practices."

"However, not all Ozlukar pledge their allegiance to the Ushtar Uzgoth and the Secretary-General believes we have an opening there to both cement our relationship with the Ushtar Uzgoth and gain experience in Ozlukar ways and methods in case that relationship turns south. More importantly, and concurrent to this briefing, we'll be able to free millions of slaves. In that vein, this will not be a normal anti-slaver operation. Typically such operations - against a small outpost or crew - would involve a decapitation strike on the leadership. In this case we're going to turn that on its head."

"The Ozlukar are a proud warrior species. They seek out conflict and confrontation, but their leadership is tenuous and when eliminated the whole tends to fracture. We're worried that a decapitation strike will result in excess casualties among the slave population, which is expected to out-number the Ozlukar some thirty to one. Our objective will be a direct force-on-force confrontation where the vast majority of their fighting population can be eliminated in a single stroke. Notionally, this would be in their favor; An individual Ozlukar warrior is a towering brute but also relatively unsophisticated. They have little concept of modern war-fighting systems."

"Our broad tactics will be two-fold; Boarding operations against all Ozlukar ships in orbit or those currently abroad that have associated themselves with this colony. This is necessitated by the large number of slaves being held aboard these ships - fundamental to their everyday operations. These operations will take into account the bellicose nature of Ozlukar warriors; WarShips," he nodded towards the Rear Admirals who headed the various Battle Groups, "Will close with the individual ships and create an opportunity for specially-equipped ramships to close and initiate boarding operations. We are expecting significant to complete degradation of assets and replacements are already queued. What will be vital is to avoid casualties among the slaves; Boarding units are considered expendable."

"The same is largely true of the projected land engagements, though we expect our technological supremacy to reduce operational costs considerably. Your goal will be to draw the warriors out of the cities and towns. They are noted ambush fighters and the suggested course of action is to bait them out with small units that can be presumably gobbled up. Once the bulk of the warriors have been eliminated, we expect their surviving chiefs and warriors to fortify themselves in the cities; Rinse and repeat. Offer up an easy target and we expect they will take the bait. Remember that our ground forces are expendable..."
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Postby Sunset » Tue May 01, 2018 6:09 pm

Interior of the Leviathan, Interstellar Space, Southwestern Delta Quadrant...

"...what a fuckin' bummer," Alwyra grumbled, attempting to shove her hands in her pockets before realising the space suit lacked pockets. Instead it was supplied with a profusion of hooks, latches, and sticky patches - none of which were suited to her gesture of frustration.

"Don't give up yet," Timmons cautioned, his tone surprisingly optimistic despite his conversation with Captain Turbell aboard Ixutsangi and thus the arrival of Task Force Sawhorse. To her mind that would signal the end of their - her - exploration and any chance at a profitable discovery. But his steps were light even in the low gravity and a smile tugged at his lips.

The Neko glared at him, "What do you know... You're doing it again, aren't you? You've got a hunch."

"A hunch isn't going to open this door," Kedo noted, annoyance as clear on his face as it was on his wife's.

It was the largest such obstruction they'd come across in their long trek down the access shaft that linked the central hubs of the forward spinning torus' to the great engines and the rearmost control center. Despite being many kilometers long - nearly a hundred - they could keep up a quick pace during the long open stretches simply by throwing themselves along. Without air and thus without resistance, each grab or push only added to their speed.

At least until they'd come to this particular door.

"It feels like the mechanism is rusted solid," he complained, giving the handle a demonstrative pull. "You want to give it a try?"

The Commander stepped up and grasped the protruding ratchet and was just about to give it a pull when Deania stopped him, "Don't," she started, before adding, "Look."

On one side of each door had been a manual lift mechanism and on the other was a control panel. In all previous instances these had been dead - without power their lights and indicators were useless. Not so this time. All of the lights were out but one bar stood somewhere above zero, "So?"

"I think this is atmospheric pressure," she explained. "It would make sense that that would be a purely mechanical system. Simple and reliable. Commander - I think there's air beyond this door!"

Timmons took a closer look and the rest of the group crowded around to put in their own opinions. There was no way to know for sure - there wasn't even a partial translation of the alien language yet - but the concensus led in that direction.

Consensus or not, it was better to be safe than sorry, "Alright, Deanna - you and Kedo head back to the previous door, examine the mechanism, and see if you can determine how the pressure sensor works. Then close that door. If we're going to be opening up a pressurized area we don't want to vent the whole thing into space..."
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Postby Sunset » Wed May 02, 2018 9:27 am

Hydra Septus IV, Near What Might Crudely Be Defined as 'Ozlukar Space', Somewhere Ill-Defined In The Milky Way Galazy...

Overhead battle raged but on the field below all was peaceful and quiet. If, as in some galaxies far, far away, there was no such thing as 'the vacuum of space' and where one could freely walk around in the belly of a giant space worm and said galaxy was also highly compressed - enough so that one might be able to distinctly see multiple planetary bodies with the naked eye from the surface of a small moon - then an observer on this particular planet would be able to look up and both hear and observe the battle above. Since this was not, the distant slugging match between a Republic Defense Force Nebulous-Class Pathfinder and what the Ozlukar crudely maligned as a 'ship' was nearly invisible. An occasional flash was all that was visible; Not even the great bulk of the second vessel was apparent against the clean orange sky.

To call it a field was something of a misnomer as well. The Ozlukar preferred the cold and thus Hydra Septus IV was cold, with two sprawling polar ice caps and a thick band of rocky mountains and stone-strewn slabs between them. Here and there were small bodies of open water but to call the life around them 'flourishing' would be factually and statistically incorrect. What abundant life was to be found on the surface was in the form of an invasive species - the Ozlukar - and a mix of other sapients taken to slavery by those same. These congregated around the open water and thus there was very little 'life' to be found in the far wastes.

There was, however, a box. Actually, there had been a flash of light but now there was a box. There were also two men, both of a particularly uniform appearance except for the numbers on the left side of their carapace armor; One was 519, the other was 300. Neither was possessed of a face and their hands were as decidedly bland and this marked both as REDSHIRTs and thus not technically 'men' though their appearance could be broadly settled as 'masculine'. Whether they had arrived with the box, before it, or after was also a question in doubt but both now worked around the exterior of the box.

"Any idea what it is," 300 asked - he had no mouth but the voice appeared to come from where a mouth might be - turning the dial on a latch and then stepping to the next.

"Won't know until we open it," 519 replied, though his 'voice' was more like 'hers'. She was standing at a control panel built into the box, blank fingers on the buttons and waiting for 300 to finish his work. "With all this happening out here," she looked around, the eyeless face swiveling to take in the stark grandeur of the surrounding terrain, "We're free to break out the toys - or so says my sources - so it could be anything. Some kind of Special Projects test - that's my guess."

A last 'click' and the dials were all turned, "Which means it's probably a bomb or some kind of..."

Her fingers tapped at the controls entering command sequences and there was a 'hiss' and another 'click' as the dials all retracted and the latches all sprang free before swinging smoothly upward to retract into integrated housing. Another touch and the top of the box separated from the bottom along a variegated action line roughly a third of the way from the ground and 519 circled around to join 300, who had stepped away from the container. The top rose higher and higher, rolling up along internal rails until it had cleared eye level and the pair could see just exactly what was inside.

There was nothing inside.

300 ducked and stepped closer, looking up under the top section as it reached its full height just in case something might be stuck there or perhaps the box had been deposited upside-down. But there was indeed nothing and she stepped back with a 'Huh,' "Nothing..."

A tap on her shoulder drew her attention and she looked over to 519's blank face, which was looking up at the top of the box with a peculiar expression despite being expressionless. Following his gaze she found herself looking up at an odd figure that was now standing perched at the edge, looking down towards them as if it were a gargoyle on the roof of some ancient cathedral. From the neck down it looked like a penguin - Aptenodytes Patagonicus, for those of a precise nature - but circling its neck was a long cape of some dark gray material and from the chin up it wore a cowl with two pointed ears.

From behind the mask two black eyes glared down at them until 300 asked the right question; "Who are you?!"

"Who am I," it replied, its voice as hard and gravelly as the surrounding rock, "I'm Batman..."
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Postby Sunset » Thu May 03, 2018 2:18 pm

RDF Training Academy Twenty-Six, The Southern Continent, Ares, Ares System...

"Hold on a second," Cadet Rafael interrupted, holding his hand in the air just long enough to attract the Commandant's attention before crossing his arms across his slender chest, "You want us - the cadets - to determine how the next class will be admitted? To make it harder?"

Commander Sheldon eyed the young man, one eyebrow raised; There was always one, and Constiene Rafael had taken it on himself to be that one. It was a part of Academy life that he secretly enjoyed and subtly encouraged but of course the chosen one would now be his victim, a constant target for abuse and derision. If history was any indication, Cadet Rafael would soon enough be Captain Rafael and the lives, fate, and fortune of hundreds of millions would be in his model-perfect hands.

He couldn't let his ego threaten the safety of the Republic!

Disregarding that his behavior would also suffice to inflate his own, Sheldon issued his challenge, "Suggest. As in suggestions. As in there is little likelihood that your ideas will be put into practice and that ideas from a late-night brainstorming session fueled by alcohol and hot wings and made by those with more experience and influence than your own will be used instead. Still, that is the challenge issued by Director Silaco's office and occasionally - very occasionally - ideas generated by these challenges have made it into regular practice. Certainly none from this class."

"Given that, I'll repeat myself: Your challenge is to suggest ways to improve the current application process..."

"Scenarios;" That was Rafael again and Sheldon's eyes drifted back to lock with his just as he swept that mane of so-perfect shoulder length feathers back from his face with his talons, "Cadet..."

"The current process emphasizes the physical too much," the chimera went on. "It is now possible to rent an athletic body only for the purpose of passing the physical portion of the application process. Or to have your own modified, assuming enough individual wealth. While the process of depositing the application itself presents an intellectual challenge, this too has been essentially bypassed due to a familiarity and a repetition of process by the academy commandants. The simple solution and suggestion would be to add more obstacles but these fall prey to the same problem."

"The solution is to put the applicant through a randomly generated scenario that will simulate one of the many challenges potential officers are expected to face. Kidnapping by a hostile power, a crash landing on an unknown world; All of these are scenarios that can be studied but require individual creativity, action, and determination. That is where we should start, with a suggestion of various scenarios that can be accomplished in two or three days, endurance being an important trait as well..."
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Postby Sunset » Fri May 04, 2018 7:02 pm

A Virtual Beach, The Eien...

"...I'm sorry."

Erika stopped and turned to look at the woman who walked beside her, her fingers laced through the other's. Demi's face was half-hidden by her hair as it flowed over her shoulder but she thought she saw a sideways glance in her direction, though her partner kept looking straight ahead to where the endless beach disappeared into a virtual horizon, "Sorry? Why would you be sorry? I should be sorry."

"Why should you be sorry," was asked then answered in turn. "I went to that bar - that's what started this whole thing, wasn't it?"

"You can't blame yourself for the rain just because you didn't wear a jacket. The bounty was arranged by the Sh'Dos, the bounty hunter paid the bartender to slip something into your drink. If you want to blame anyone, blame Stephen Ambrose - he woke the Sh'Dos up."

Her answer seemed to satisfy - or at least mollify - and for a long while the pair walked on, twin pairs of footprints appearing in the sand behind them only to be washed away as the thin breakers reached up the beach. From time to time something would appear in the distance; A palm tree, a sailboat, a sunbather laid out on a towel. But by the time they could know what it was, whatever it had been had moved on to once again leave them alone on the beach.

"How's Nathyn?"

"He's fine. Alex has been taking care of him while I've been dealing with things here... Well, not here," she raised their paired hands and pointed to the sun, "There. You can come out whenever you want, you know. He's been asking to see you."

That was the signal for a long sigh and the impatient release of the other's hand, "I should. But..."

"But?"

"But I feel safe here," she confessed, wrapping her arms under her chest and staring down at the sand. "Like if I go back outside I'll put someone else at risk."

A half-dozen answers ran through Erika's head but none of them sounded like they'd draw her out of a self-imposed isolation; It was impossible to know whether they'd answer Demi's concerns. A hundred more footsteps passed and then a faint smile crossed her face.

"You know, if you don't come back out, I'll have to promote Ambassador Forsteri to fill your position..."

"...God damnit - I'll be ready in ten minutes!"
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Postby Sunset » Sat May 05, 2018 1:14 pm

Interior of the Leviathan, Interstellar Space, Southwestern Delta Quadrant...

Commander Timmons was, as others once put it, a 'really big dude'. Previous to his transfer to the Exploration Command he'd been a Marine and that had been back in the days of individual augmentation. Now Marines were a different sort; Fully cybernetic extensions inhabited by an individual safely stashed away in a secondary holographic interface, each one provided with the very best systems the Republic could conjure from its technological arsenal. Action and reaction speeds a thousand times human-normal, strength of a hundred men, built-in weapon systems that could reduce a charging anything to free-floating molecules. Among Men they were Gods; Timmons had some combat nano-systems, engineered muscle mass, and reinforced bones. As far as he was concerned that should be enough...

"On three," he grasped the stuck ratchet opposite Kedo Maric, squatting just so to put both his legs and arm into it, "One... Two... Three! Puuulll!"

The lever bent.

In space there wasn't something like staggering back. Instead the two released their grip and a little bit of push left in their toes sent them cartwheeling backwards to stop at the ceiling; "Well, shoot - I'd say someone doesn't want us getting in there."

"Someone?" Alwyra's ears perked up, an interesting feat given they were nearly pinned flat by her helmet. "You mean there's someone alive on this ship?"

He shook his head, though her sudden enthusiasm was infectious enough to put a smile on his lips, "I'm not going to say no, but I don't think whoever sealed this door was trying to keep us out. Nope," he jerked his thumb over his shoulder towards the other end of the access corridor, "They were trying to keep that guy out. They figured out that the command deck was compromised, but they wouldn't have had any way to know that a comet was about to wreck their day. No - whoever sealed this door has been dead for centuries, millennia even."

That was still a big question; How old was this vessel? How long had it been wandering the stars? Their guide hadn't given them much more than a location and a suggestion. There were some clues; Most of the large torus' that presumably housed most of the population were still spinning but these would require little power once they were spun up - without any drag and with something like magnetic bearings they could be kept up by something like a small electric motor paired to a solar panel. Depending on how rugged that system was, it could last for dozens to hundreds to thousands of years.

Past that there was the question of distance. According to the star charts, the closest star was only three point something light years away. The ship wasn't pointed in that direction but the comet would have changed the ship's orientation. It could have come from that system or hundreds more back along the same path - that was something to investigate...

"Commander..."

That was Captain Tarbull and Timmons held up a hand, though that didn't stop the rest of his team from taking their own crack at the door mechanism, "What is it, Alan?"

"Do you have some way to get out of there quickly?" There was a pause in his voice and Timmons turned to sweep the corridor for an exit that was not there, "There's a situation developing out here - faster-than-light inbound, a lot of them. We're trying to establish just who but..."

"How long?"

It was a question worth asking. With most faster-than-light drives the Captain's warning would have taken longer to transmit than it would take for the inbound to arrive; "Ten seconds."

It was a split second decision; They could run, or they could hide. It might even be nothing, but something gnawed at his stomach as sure as the hunch that there was something here worth looking into.

"Target my position, then aft about two kilometers. There's a bulkhead there..."
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Postby Sunset » Sun May 06, 2018 6:53 pm

Liquid Design Studio, New Vancouver, Mars...

"...a roll-bar?"

"That's what they called it," the lead designer shrugged, throwing himself into a bean-bag chair in the middle of the meeting space. A handful of others - three women, two men, and one from a species that didn't quite fit into either were either already gathered around or making their way in from the various offices where they did their actual work. "There's precedence... Sorta."

Concentrating for a moment, he conjured a floating hologram of first one ship and then another and another, "Equinox, Opposition, and Aphelion-Class. The Dornie asked for a 'Defiant with a roll-bar' so I think these three are the best place to start. Opposition is basically a Defiant, if better in... Basically every way. But do we really want to put a roll-bar and flashing lights on an Opposition? It's not very creative and," he sighed, "I'm not sure that it would be good for our brand."

It wasn't that the nation or residents of New Dornalia were disliked; If one was to take an unguided tour through Republic history they would find many of the same eccentric behaviors and outright weirdness that populated the other. It was simply business. It was also simply business that had brought the contract offer to Liquid's door in the first place.

"So I'm thinking we go for a not-Defiant with a roll-bar, which is where the Aphelion-Class comes in. The look is similar, and we can re-draw the volume to give the same displacement. Then we're not just tacking a roll-bar on an existing design. We're happy, they're happy, the RDF is happy - but will they go for it..."
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Postby Sunset » Mon May 07, 2018 8:26 am

Meanwhile, On the Other Side of the Galaxy... Maybe?

Doctor Stephen Ambrose watched the ship approach with a calm sense of professional detachment written across every fiber of his being. This was just another space ship after all; He built the damned things (Well, owned the company...) and he designed them (Well, employed the designers and engineers...) and so he knew everything there was to know about them. There was, as he reasoned, exactly zero reason to panic or even to ask questions, really.

It was, to be admitted, an interesting design and he couldn't admit to having seen anything like it. In general shape it was the standard broad triangle or arrowhead but as it approached the little island village he saw that it was much smaller - and thus closer - than he'd first estimated. The general composition was as a thick lattice of orange and brown cables and something immediately tripped in his expansive brain. No less and no more, it resembled the circulatory structure of many species with either brown or orange being the arteries and the opposite being the veins.

This marked the approaching vessel as some manner of bio-ship, a concept he'd heard about but had not pursued. The few ships produced by Ambrose Military Industries had been of a more traditional design and cheap to boot; Expensive service and maintenance contracts had been a major source of income.

It was now hovering directly overhead and he could see now, nestled in the delicate web, clusters of odd magenta ovals that he assumed were the ship's systems - weapons, crew quarters, drives - though they were all identical in size. The vessel had stopped entirely and he expected that any moment now one of the pods would detach and land, disgorging whatever strange aliens inhabited the vessel.

"You can stop shaking the cage and screaming now," the little girl said, her voice as calm as the sea after a storm.

Stephen detached his hands, "Ah, yes. Thank you. Merely a... Meditative exercise among my species."

"Sure," she shrugged. Along with her brother, she had settled back onto her elbows to look up at the ship while the adults of the village seemed to completely ignore it, going about their tasks without the slightest indication that it was there or that they were, according to the girl's words, about to receive the bounty of heaven from the hands of the gods themselves.

Or something to that effect, his memory of the adjacent past having been momentarily paralyzed.

"Here they come..."

As he'd anticipated, one of the pods detached from the underside of the ship to drop towards the ground. There was no gout of flames nor ominous hum but rather it seemed suspended - as if a large purple booger - by a thick then thin blob of black smoke that seemed as tangible as his own shadow. The capsule touched down as gently as one might like just a few feet away from the cage and without so much as a rattle of the bamboo-like bars.

Getting to her feet, the girl went over to the pod and put her hand on it before lifting it away again. For a moment he thought he saw another shadow there of the same black stuff but then it was gone, replaced by an orange outline of her hand under the skin which was then filled with light. More lights of the same brilliant neon raced through the shell to form what he easily assumed was a hatch and this was proven true as the purple interior was sucked away to leave the interior filled with a dark shadow.

The hatch flowed away and vanished to leave the shadow behind but this too vanished and the girl grasped the edge of the pod to lean inside and look into the shallow bowl in the bottom, "This looks okay. We'll take it," she said, seeming to talk to no one in particular.

That signaled a general rush to the pod by the villagers. Or it might have been a rush anywhere else, but here it was a particularly slow and admittedly agonizing process that took place over the next several hours with one or two coming over, looking over the contents, and taking this or that. It wasn't until the late evening that either everything was gone or everyone had taken something. This gave the Doctor plenty of time to make his peace with the world and sit in the middle of the cage, rocking back and forth while clutching his knees and sobbing.

"Trinkets... Bobbles... You would trade the greatest mind in the galaxy to an unknown fate for... Colored beads?!"

The girl shrugged as she threaded the little pieces of glass onto vine cords and then around her neck and then began construction of another to wear around her upper arm, "They didn't seem to think you were worth more than that."

"And what is next," he asked, the last villager slipping out of their hut and returning with a handful of metal forks.

"Time to go..."

The nearby villagers turned from their tasks and approached the cage, splitting in half to grab the closest pair of corners and tilt it back. Stephen stood and stared at the open pod, "I will face my fate with... Hurk!"

A black shadow had summoned itself inside the capsule and, as fast as he could speak, a tendril had reached across the space to grasp his bony body in fingers of steel. His breath left his chest and his feet rose from the ground. As smooth and gentle as one might like it swept him into the capsule to release the iron grip as the purple fluid once again filled the interior and his lungs filled with the ominous substance.

"...at least death doesn't taste like green apple..."
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Postby Sunset » Tue May 08, 2018 12:20 pm

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

Elbow by elbow, Doctor Kraus crawled up the steep hillside to leave both his dignity and the occasional scrap of his clothing behind. His feet pushed him ahead where they could, scrambling to catch on this scrub tree or that clump of grasses until eventually he neared the crest and stopped. Atop his head and fixed firmly around his chin was an old-fashion army helmet - Vietnam Era - complete with both cloth cover and a pack of cigarettes and further sporting a crown of branches stuck into the brim. This bobbled about as he moved, having the exact opposite effect as intended.

"Observation report... Day six," he whispered, creeping just to the edge so that he could see the distant rocky ledge that marked the hidden entrance to the research facility. "No major movement..."

Around his neck he carried a pair of binoculars of similar vintage and, his feet finding a safe place to brace, he put these to his eyes and focused intently on the marked spot. Like his formerly white lab coat and trousers gone below the knee, they too sported the signs of abuse. Paint had chipped off here and there and he'd broken one of the straps to secure it with several passes of duck tape.

Why would anyone call it duct tape? The adhesive cloth backed with a rubber strip would clearly pose a fire hazard if used too close to a heat source while cold air would cause it to crack and disintegrate. It was a mental argument for another time, however, and he slowly swept the field glasses from side to side looking for anything out of the ordinary, especially from the hidden guards.

He knew they were there, of course; He'd tripped over one at one point when he'd been outside having a smoke. The UHCVs - Unmanned Humanoid Combat Vehicles, often pronounced Ucivs (Also clearly incorrect - he stuck to the complete acronym or not at all!) - were the perfect choice for guard duty. They could stand motionless for hours, days, weeks on end. Occupying a modified suit of GhostDragon-type power armor, they were also invisible to the naked eye unless one happened to look very, very carefully.

The solution was to watch the vegetation around them and he focused on one particular fern that sprouted from between a gap in the rocks as it wavered slightly in the breeze. Just half-way along the cluster of fronds he thought he could detect a faint line where the projected image on the outside of the armor didn't quite match up, "Guards are still in place - no action towards this officer seems imminent."

Which was just about the least useful statement he could add to the imaginary report. The UHCVs would be accompanied by their gestalt-drones; A pair of heavy rifle drones and a quartet of the small black drone spheres that acted as both scouts and interceptors. The first would be operating under optical camouflage as well while the second could conceal themselves in any number of nooks and crannies. In fact there was one silently hovering overhead at that very moment as it moved through its regular patrol route.

But neither it nor the guardians cared. They had picked him up the moment his feet broke a twig on the far side of the hill and then their visual, thermal, and electromagnetic sensors had detected him as soon as his helmet had crossed the crest of the hill. In a thousandth of the time it would take a human to do the same, they had identified him as an authorized individual and gone back to not giving a single shit. If someone checked the logs they would see the various entries but that was about as far as his presence was recorded.

"Observation complete," he finished, dropping the binoculars and putting a slight scratch across the lenses that would both drop their resale value further and prove bothersome during future scouting missions. "Site Director Kuzniak seems to have holed up in the facility, likely afraid to fully commit his forces while I have the advantage of surprise. There is no sign of what might be happening inside - who knows what terrible plots he has laid?"

The easy answer would have been to ask Meri, but when he'd given strict orders for radio silence she'd responded with a giggle and he hadn't heard from her since. Whether that meant she was safe or whether she and baby Fredrick had fallen into the hands of the Site Director; There was only one way to find out...
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Postby Sunset » Wed May 09, 2018 10:13 am

SDF-Ojeni, Heaven's Gate Nebula, Canis Major Extra-Galactic Segment...

The other good news - as Lieutenant Commander Ingersol had then relayed - was that the shockwave was essentially gone. Like an explosion in atmosphere, it too suffered from the laws of physics; the larger the area effected - in this case a near-perfect sphere - the less powerful the effect. For Ojeni and her crew this was double-useful since they could now safely navigate the area and use the same math to determine the initial power of the gravity shear wave.

"...which was incredibly powerful," Thomas said, reading off a series of numbers that was eye-watering or lust-inducing if one had an explosive fetish. "More than enough energy to move a whole star system, star and all. Based on the spike in the sphere we've observed..."

The wireframe in the central holo-sphere disappeared to be replaced by the galaxy, which then rapidly retreated as a bright red line shot out along the conjectured line of travel to spear a far-distant galaxy.

"...they may have ended up here. 'May,'" he emphasized. "The spike data is too fuzzy to make anything but a best-guess."

"Wow. Well, we're not going to go check," Captain Blaine decided, turning from the sensor officer to the helmsman. "That's way outside our remit. We'll pass it over to Fleet and they can decide if they want to send a ship to search a whole galaxy. Helm, take us to the Wes'Terly - cautious approach."

There was a wince to her order. After the battle at Outpost Ner'Purish no one among the command staff would put Ojeni at one hundred or even ninety percent readiness - even after the repairs provided to her at the BUSF outpost. Her goal was to ease her ship and her crew through the last stage of this mission and return post-haste to Republic space for full repair and replenishment. There was little chance that they would discover the old empire's homeworld and its secrets now; Recovery or rescue of the Wes'Terly was their best hope for a successful conclusion.

"On our way," the Lieutenant announced, the roll of the ship against the stars of the forward display tightening her grip on the chair; "Alright. Commander, I believe you have a shift to finish out - I'll be in our quarters..."

'Unless something happens,' had been left unsaid but it was only when her alarm went off to begin her own shift that Kami realised the passage of time. Sleep had come as soon as she'd touched the bed and her dreams had been empty. A fresh uniform was pressed into service and she only spared a glance for Sloan, now asleep beside her, before heading to the bridge.

"Captain..."

"Lieutenant," she paused, giving the night shift duty officer a chance to gather herself. It was a complicated project from her perspective but the Trilat pulled their panoply of limbs together and half-stepped-half-rolled from the command chair to perch on the rail that spanned the back third of the bridge, "What have we got?"

"A lot done." One arm gestured to the main screen where the Wes'Terly hung in the lower corner just as she'd expected. "On Commander Sloan's orders we let you sleep and proceeded with a search and rescue operation as soon as we arrived. Our fighters were dispatched to survey the wreck and ship's shuttles were dispatched with engineering and Marine teams to clear the wreck."

"And?" There was a trace of disappointment in the Captain's tone, though not at the Lieutenant. It was just what she would have done but she would have liked to be awake to give the orders herself. "What's the status of the wreck? Any survivors?"

"Paladin Postribr will be pleased, I think," was the reply. "Commander Eye'Tumno's crew were able to follow the active BUSF beacon to a cache of active life support units. It appears the majority of the crew survived, though they have not yet determined if his brother is among them. The Commander is determining how best to bring the units back to Ojeni so that Doctor L'lang can conduct a full examination prior to deactivating them."

"Good work, Lieutenant - any chance that you've alreay informed the Blishi'i?"

"No, Captain - I've seen SpaceBalls..."
Last edited by Sunset on Thu May 10, 2018 12:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Sunset » Thu May 10, 2018 1:40 pm

Shadowport Zid's, Coreward of the HSE, Delta Quadrant...

"So this feller..."

Zid had disappeared. Likely enough he'd anticipated the question and either didn't have an answer or wouldn't give it and the simplest course of action had been to slip off his chair and back into the crowd; Vanishing like a ghost. Meli sat back with a sigh, the others turning to look around for their elusive host before giving up one by one.

"Well," ScLappi said, folding his thick fingers in front of him, "He warned us - don't go looking for them. I suppose that means that we'll go looking for them, won't it?"

The nervous-looking man held up a hand, "Um, I know I'm maybe not really involved in this conversation, but why would you go looking for these Kul'Drathi anyway? They sound like, well," he looked around the table, first to the towering sauroid and then to the pig-like Doctor ScLappi and finally to the hyper-muscled Dwarf, "Bad people," he finished with a wince, shrinking into his shoulders as he said it.

"Ha! Well, yer rah't friend," she laughed, his body visibly deflating as she answered, "This ain' no conversation fer you. But ain' nothing worse in it for you. A'hl pass yer order off and we'll get you someone purty - can' say she'll love you, but love 'ain all looks," she nudged the ugly creature next to her, "Ra'ht?"

"Certainly, if I suppose I should be offended."

"Nah, but unless these Kul'Drathi came in ah'n hauled off this feller in the past few hours, we're gonna hav'ta find someone who saw them, or him. So if you'll excuse me," she slid off her chair and crossed the aisle to where the next table sat open except for a single customer in a threadbare suit. Hopping up opposite him, she did her best to pull the chair closer before giving up and switching from place to place until she could turn to something barely resembling whispering distance.

Poking a pair of fingers between the hard flesh of her breast and the black mesh of the tactical vest she wore, she pulled out a few black credit sticks and spread them across the table in front of her, "So, I'ma guess you overheard tha' little conversation, rah't?"

The Valinor nodded subtly and she returned it before going on, "Now, this fella Zid was talkin' about. One stick says you know who he was, two says you know what he was, and three says you have a good idea why these Kul'Drathi were after him. Four ah'n five say you know know where they went."

A careful hand reached across the table to slide one, two, three, and four to his side of the table under his fingertips; "He was Alphus Bonz, a former regular at this establishment. He was a freelance prospector; His regular habit was to make some small valuable find and return here to spend his new-found wealth on cards. He was the regular victim of those gentlemen over there," his gaze shifted, just far enough to indicate the table in question before returning to her.

"Who make it their habit to part the foolish from their coin - not consort with hostile aliens. That," he pointed with a finger at the last credit stick, "Is yours. I would suggest you use it to pay the overdue docking fees for the Rusty Scabber, which is still in the hangar if my information is correct. Which it is..."
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Postby Sunset » Fri May 11, 2018 6:19 pm

Republic Defense Force Research Annex, CORE IV Deep Space Station, Somewhere in the Galactic Abyss...

Heidi Ballenger stepped lightly - It had been a good habit to pick up. CORE IV was the latest of the enormous deep space stations slash strategic mega-weapons to enter active service but to put it as 'completed' would be a dramatic overstatement. Some areas, such as the titanic Tesseract drives and their attendant power cores were vital to the station's operations and were thus one hundred and ten percent done. Others, such as the great assembly and maintenance bays, were of a very low priority - there were no wars on, or even on the horizon, and so they were mostly framework and conduits with the work to be completed 'when they had time.'

Then there were the intervening spaces. These were the sections of the gargantuan hull that were marked on the schematic as being 'set aside for future use'. Well, sometimes that future use was right now, sometimes it would be decades in the future, and sometimes it would be as temporary as 'tomorrow' and then gone the day after!

The Research Annex had been one of those spaces set aside for future use, until last week when someone had decided that the best place to put her research segment was aboard the station. It was the ideal location for something dangerous, after all, with lots and lots (and lots and lots) of wide open space where things could safely go wrong. Equipment had been requisitions and fabricated, modular housing had been hung from the station's branching super-structure, and then she and her team had been transferred aboard in the literal blink of an eye.

One minute she'd been fighting goblins and demons deep in the Mines of Thonar and then she'd been giving her Guild Master a feeble excuse for why she'd be missing the Raid and then she'd woken up in a body that felt as familiar as childhood - though maybe she was a little thinner and had a few more curves here and there. Hey - everyone lied on their Extension Requisition Form A-27, right?

All of that left their research space a little sparse - often just a bare platform hanging off another platform with some piece of equipment in the center and not even yellow hazard tape to form a railing. That was absolutely okay by her; The space felt like the secret laboratory of some power-mad super-villain, though they weren't exactly trying to blow up the world.

'Well, sorta;' "So here's the basics..."

Colonel Punji was new - he was a real flesh-and-blood transfer from the Akashan Union's Military Research Directorate - and they were meeting so she could give him the five minute rundown. His expertise would be vital; He knew the Union's HNNVPPC (Heavy Naval Neutral Variable Particle Projector Cannon) inside and out. Next to him was Llyanii the Unwise - she too was outside talent, this time from the Federated Imperium of Kajal and was an expert in the WALNUT (She didn't remember what that stood for - 'It's Classified' was her easy answer) mounts used by both the Republic and most of the other Triumvirate space forces to keep their gun batteries safe and sound.

"...the Defensive Technologies Division has come up with a new shielding system based on some techniques we'e picked up here and there. They call it the Segmented Shield Array, and it basically creates a mesh of smaller shields around the generator. Instead of successive hits depleting the entire shield, each segment is independent of the adjacent segments. Take one down and the greater whole remains, with the caveat that an unlucky or lucky shot - depending on which side you're on - can go straight through. Now, since the math is against a lucky second shot, it's a sound idea depending on the platform in question."

Taking a moment's pause, she stepped over a gap that led to nothing in particular and then around a naked support beam that had been painted with black and yellow warning stripes just a few minutes earlier, leaving a patch of wet paint that she rapidly rubbed her hands together in an attempt to remove.

"Anyway, part of the system resembles WALNUT in how it works; Each segment is projected from a generator node with the generator itself mounted inside the ship - you can't knock out the generator unless you punch through the shield, the ship's structural integrity field, and the armor it supports. What we;" And by that she meant 'she', "Were thinking was that we could possibly do this one better. What we're going to try to do is figure out how we can link the WALNUT mounts to these shield nodes and so fire from outside of the shield envelope."

"The idea is both to increase platform survivability and weapon coverage. Right now the WALNUT mounts have a limited arc of coverage; Sure - they can fire directly past the hull, but this 'jump distance' is only a few meters. If we can funnel it through the generator nodes, we'll be able to bring the entire ship's HNNVPPC complement on-target, any target, no matter where it is in relation to the ship."

"At tremendous additional energy cost," Punji chimed in, his tone sour. "You cannot get something for nothing, Ms. Ballenger."

"You're right - we can't. But first we'll need to find out if we can make it work. If we can make it work, then we'll start looking at whether that's a cost we can afford to pay..."
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Postby Sunset » Sat May 12, 2018 6:09 pm

RDF-Ojeni, En Route to Port Ha'Bainda (Blishi'i Star System), Canis Major Extra-Galactic Segment...

"...thanks to the hard work of my crew and some good luck, we've managed to find the Wes'Terly and recover the majority of her crew. A few are up and walking already and Doctor L'lang reports that most should be on their feet by the time we make port."

Another day and a half; It had taken a day to affect the rescue and then another two before they'd been able to re-establish communications with Fleet and relay a connection through to the Blishi'i High Command. The massive gravetic 'explosion' might have dissipated but its effects were still present across the sector with even the most basic signals fading in and out as the whims of space-time took them. It had taken their call longer than she'd thought to find a destination but in the end it had left her facing High Paladin Sinuriyu, a familiar face from their encounter at Outpost Ner'Purish, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.

"Excellent news, Captain," the Blishi'i answered. "Your Republic seems determined to make fast friends of the United Federation; We thank you once again. But not all news is good, I'm afraid," he continued, his impassive tone seeming to fracture slightly. "Our offensive against the Ver'Un'Guun went well; We were able to destroy two of their Synthesizers before they were able to rally sufficient forces to turn us back. It is a blow they will never recover from. But," his scaled face sagged, "In their desperation, the Ver'Un'Guun launched attacks all across our borders."

"Independence came under attack, along with her escorts, and she was destroyed. Paladin Postribr and his crew fought well - they will be remembered."

Kami nearly fell back into her chair, catching herself on the armrest just as her leg touched the seat, "I... I'm sorry. Paladin Postribr..."

"Will be missed; Our war with the Ver'Un'Guun has cost us all but this may well be the end of it. We will need time to repair and rebuild but if fate is on our side we will end this and the Ver'Un'Guun forever..."
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Postby Sunset » Sun May 13, 2018 12:21 pm

Boarding Team One, Ozlukar Warship, Hydra Septus IV, Near What Might Crudely Be Defined as 'Ozlukar Space', Somewhere Ill-Defined In The Milky Way Galazy...

Ensign ReReqEz felt the approach of the Ozlukar far before he saw them or - thankfully - smelled them. Their massive footsteps shook the deck of the corridor where he waited and their massive gulping breaths were like a slow tempest that heralded the arrival of some mythic titan. Already he could 'see' them, though he couldn't yet see them, electronic reconstructions running through his vision as his suit sensors cross-referenced each other to determine their location against the greater maze of corridors and rooms that wound through the ship. Counters on each showed an approximate guess as to when they would come into engagement range and the closest were only seconds away now.

Two seconds times a thousand. The closest warrior bellowed and charged, its movements as slow as treacle against his time multiplier. For the first encounter he'd be running at the highest available speed, his thoughts, reactions, movements electronically accelerated to the point where he would have time to play a hand of cards between bullets.

Apparently the Ozlukar still used bullets. Big bullets, but still bullets.

Something started to come around the corner, a huge multi-barreled cannon nearly the size of the Ensign's GhostDragon (Mk IV, Block III) powered armor suit. The first large hand appeared and he drew a target around this, tasking it to the point defense drone still set into his shoulder armor. According to the sensor feed there were a half-dozen more warriors behind the first so there wasn't as much time as he might have liked to size up his opponent; The drone fired and the behemoth lost its hand, the cannon dropping as the warrior stared down at what was left of his forearm. A second target just under his chin and the drone repeated, the shot tearing out its throat.

ReReqEz ran another check of his surroundings, in particular checking for the lesser life signs that would indicate a slave. For every one of the hulking warriors there were twenty or more of their unwilling servants aboard; Compared to the compact efficiency of a Republic WarShip the Ozlukar vessels were mostly air. Nothing was on the sensors and he lined up the next shot on the torso, bringing up his arm-integrated weapon as the momentum of the dead warrior brought it into the open. Right on its tail were the rest of the boarding party but...

The cannon fired and he watched as the monster fell apart in an ashen rush. The now-empty armor hit the floor and he fired again, this time with the point defense drone and into the expanding cloud of momentarily dis-associated hydrogen and oxygen that had formerly composed the majority of the warrior. Both ignited, one feeding the other as a fireball picked up the charging crew and threw them back the way they had come and into a tangle of the dead and dying. Ammunition cooked off to add to the chaos and ReReqEz gave himself five-hundredths of a second to enjoy the effects before charging forward to come to a halt just at the corner with his armor safely behind cover.

Poking just his arm around the corner, the puddle cannon fired again and the whole pile sagged and then detonated to send empty pieces of piecemeal armor flying around the room, deadly shrapnel scything through nothing at all before clattering off bulkheads and whatever equipment the room contained as a slow-motion patter. A helmet whipped towards the corner and the little black sphere fired, obliterating it before it could nick the pilot's paint. The next group of warriors was seconds away now and he pulled back, waiting for them to enter the room before greeting them with a repeat performance...
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Postby Sunset » Mon May 14, 2018 12:40 pm

Interior of the Leviathan, Interstellar Space, Southwestern Delta Quadrant...

Floating free inside the vacuum of the access corridor, the team could neither feel nor hear the follow-up shot but they could see it; A bright spark of light at the end of the tunnel where the particle beam fired by the Ixutsangi pierced the hull, tearing away the tube just before the distant airlock. That was their signal to madly throw themselves towards the distant opening, arms, legs, tails, and paws flailing.

"Alwyra;" The voice of Captain Tillis broke in on an open channel, "I've ordered Qasr to the hole they just made. We'll put the shuttle bay under you - you'll just need to jump..."

"And you'll want to make it quick," Captain Turbell added, "Our guests have arrived and they look fighting mad. I'm putting us between them and the Qasr but hurry - there are a lot of them."

Beyond the shattered hull of the wayward leviathan the unknown contacts had begun to arrive, brilliant holes tearing away at the vacuum to grow larger and sweep back over the sinuous hulls of unfamiliar warships. That they were ships of war was clear; Turrets sprouted in profusion while clusters of oval depressions marked what were likely launchers of some nature. Each ship was sleek and gracile but with a predatory edge and this was enhanced by their color scheme, a sandy brown with deep and bright red markings. For the moment they had piled up a good distance from the elder hulk and the attendant Republic starships, which had leapt into motion as soon as the imminent arrivals were noted.

By virtue of size and rank, RDF-Eugene V. Debs - dwarfing the other ships in the flotilla and the largest of the unknown contacts - was the lead ship and already the inter-ship communication channels crackled with updates and information feeds as her crew attempted contact. That left Captain Turbell and the rest of the crew of the Ixutsangi to wait and watch as the helmsman of the even smaller Qasr first flipped her upside-down and then carefully backed her into place against the underside of the derelict. Her shuttle bay doors swung open and Turbell was just the slightest bit faster on the draw than her captain, "Timmons - how much further? Your ride is waiting..."

"...five hundred meters, maybe four-fifty. Almost there..;" But chatter on the main channel drew his attention; "Translation complete, codex established, incoming transmission - voice only..."

"Who are you, and what are you doing with our prey?"

The voice mirrored the ships, supple and aggressive, and he remembered the images Timmons' team had sent over of the dead saboteur. Tapping at his console, he tagged them to the conversation on the internal network so that Admiral Isfahan aboard Eugene V. Debs would have a point of reference.

"Admiral Isfahan," the Ju-Docri replied, his melodic voice a counter-point to the harsh question, "Republic Defense Force. We're investigating a derelict ship; Who are you?"

"Defense? Then you too are prey..." "Admiral, they broke comms - attempting to re-establish..." "Unknown ships have broke formation and they are accelerating..."

"Sensors, Tactical - How strong are they?" The Admiral's voice was calm, even as those around him scrambled to prepare for whatever came next. If there was an answer, it didn't come over the general channel, "Then we'll see if we can't blunt their fangs. Destroyer element, circle to attack; Target the largest ship and engage to destroy..."
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Postby Sunset » Tue May 15, 2018 7:54 pm

The Docking Bays, Shadowport Zid's, Coreward of the HSE, Delta Quadrant...

"Tha' say possession is nine-tenths o' the law. Tha' also say tha only death ah'n taxes are inevitable. So," Meli leaned against the side of the Rusty Scabber, her meaty hand just on the frame mounting the boarding hatch, "If both ah' true, then taxes'n'fees ah'r half-o possession, raht? Which means tha' this ship," she put her fist through the hatch as casually as one might reach into the fridge for a frosty beverage, "Is mahn. Or at leas' nine-twentieth mine, if my math is right..."

Muscles bunched and her bicep bulged and the hatch came away clean to the savage sound of metal giving up its death wail. This was momentarily followed by the deep crack of a gunshot and the splattering ricochet of lead shot off the adjoining bulkhead. Tweelie hissed and Doctor ScLappi looked momentarily startled but the Dwarf merely tossed the door aside to bend over and peer inside.

"...never was very good ah't fractions. Least we know no one gaht here before we did."

The interior of the ship matched the exterior; Ramshackle and covered with detritus, dings, and debris - all of it man-made. Or at least the layout was suited to the humanoid form, with a low-slung crash couch covered with stains both human and exotic in the middle of the cockpit. This was surrounded by various control interfaces, some of which were of a completely impromptu nature with wires and cables twisted around bare metal levers. Screens surrounded the couch on seven sides with only two being shattered spiderwebs though one was the crucial forward display. Underneath this was an old-fashioned keyboard while in the depths of the cockpit there was the usual assortment of storage compartments, a latrine, and a small entertainment suite that looked somewhere between Genesis and Virtual Boy in capabilities.

A double-barreled shotgun was wired to the structural members above the hatch and Meli looked up at this for a second before tearing it loose and tossing it out the hatch behind her, "Paranoid or prahctical? Either wa, wouldn'a surprise me if..."

She had run her fingers under the edge of the crash couch and one had touched a wire. Carefully as she could, she bent down to take a look while keeping her fingers in place. That they were not missing was a good sign, and they led in an untidy loop from a piecemeal battery pack to a plastic case with 'This Side Toward Enemy' facing down and secured to the couch by the simple apparatus of a book wedged into place, "Nahce. This guy rah'lly knew how to mahk and kahp friends. You mah't wanna step back..."

Her warning was unnecessary. A few tugs on the wires and the whole thing came apart and a thorough search of the rest of the cockpit uncovered no other booby traps. They also didn't uncover an obvious reason to search the craft but there the Doctor had a suggestion; "Allow me," he offered, sliding in behind her. "I anticipate that the reason for the former owner's sudden removal from the premises might well be found in the navigational system. Let us hope his password is as creative as his traps were."

"Ah can just pull the drive ah'n take it back to the..."

"...I'm in - very predictable, really. Just what an inveterate gambler might choose - Royal Flush, all capital letters, no space. Now, let's see where he's been and where he might now be..."
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Postby Sunset » Wed May 16, 2018 1:29 pm

Erika & Demi's House, Botany Bay, Chuh-Yu, Ares System...

"Nathyn!"

"Mommy!" The toddler rushed forward to collide with his mother's arms, the dark-haired woman scooping him up and hugging him to her shoulder before pulling him away to look directly into his round face, "How's my little man been? Have you been good for Alex and your Mom?"

That had been the compromise; Demi was and would be Mommy while Erika would always be called Mom. Demi had out-right won the other arguement - Alex had become butler amd nanny while the Ambassador was away though she had snuck him out for plenty of play-groups in her absence. There was even an artificial wood playset out on the lawn now, engineered by her wife to grow with him as well as provide plenty of seating for when the adults were using the space for their social gatherings.

"Erery day! Did you bring me lots of presents?!"

Demi laughed; It seemed like this was the first time she'd laughed in a long while and a smile spread across Erika's face as she hung back and watched the two interact.

"Because you were good," she caught his hand and tugged it around, "Or because you like presents?"

"...can it be both?" he asked, his eyes all innocence.

"How about because you were good, and because I love you, and because I missed you!"

"You got me presents!"

"Yes, I brought you presents, you little finger-ribbon!" She pushed her fringer to his chin, his own wrapped around it as tightly as a rememberal. "But some are for now and some are for later - like hour birthday and Christmas and... When's your birthday," she prompted.

"Two one seven one point five five seven," he rattled off, only missing a few of the numbers, "Is that today?!"

"No, silly - though if you tell me who's been teaching you your dates that way I'll give you another one..."

The little boy hung back, his fingers in bis mouth as he looked from one to the other, trying to determine if his answer would break some sacred trust; "Guilty, Ma'am."

Demi shifted her grip and then her weight, twisting to place him firmly in the butler's arms, "Then you, Miss Smarty-Pants, can hold on to him while I unpack and maybe - maybe - there will be something in there for you, too!"

She turned to the stairs and put her hand on the rail before pausing, "Uhm - do you know where my luggage is?"

The answer was much, much further away than either the bedroom upstairs, out in the garage, or even the lost-and-found in Atlanta...
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Postby Sunset » Thu May 17, 2018 3:35 pm

Momentarily aboard RDF-Ojeni, Port Ha'Bainda, Blishi'i Star System, Canis Major Extra-Galactic Segment...

"I'd say either these orders are the most ominous I've ever seen or the most ludicrous," Kami griped, her feet thump-thumping as she walked down the enclosed ramp that linked Ojeni's secondary hull to the greater bulk of the station's cavernous interior. Ahead and behind and in both directions other members of her crew walked, rolled, or floated along and here and there accompanied by Blishi'I civilians and officers coming aboard for their own purposes; That had been part of their orders.

Commander Sloan, who walked beside her, had a mysterious smile traced across her lips, "Did you read the whole thing?"

"No," she admitted, "I hit the summary, but I'm guessing you did. What's in there? Should I be worried, frightened, or relieved?"

Clasping her hands behind her and pushing out her chest, her partner began to recite as from a script, "RDF-Ojeni - Captain Kamilia Blaine commanding - is to proceed at all reasonable speed to Port Ha'Bainda, Blishi'i System. There she will dock and undergo two weeks of necessary repairs, maintenance, and crew recuperation as determined by the commanding officers. All BUSF personnel aboard are to be repatriated to BUSF command at this time along with all personal effects or remains recovered from BUSF-Wes' Terly."

That had been the first thing they had done, with a row of BUSF Brothers receiving their fellows at the top of the ramp as they marched out of the ship carrying the few corpses of the dead or pushing beds with those still too injured to walk ahead of them. Paladin Probistr's brother had been in this last group, his body reduced to his head, torso, and the stump of a leg by a plasma fire on the Wes' Terly's command deck.

"During this two week period, courtesy shall be extended to all visitors civilian and military, keeping in mind RDF regulations as per tours and inter-military exercises."

Which meant posting security guards outside critical areas, reminding the crew to make sure no one followed them through a door, and not leaving hatches open in the first place.

"Also during this period command staff - Captain Blaine in particular - shall do a ship's personnel roster review, recommending promotions and drafting a minimum required crew document to be forwarded to Fleet upon completion. At the end of this two week period RDF-Ojeni will depart directly for Falk's Gambit, barring rescending orders. Lastly, Captain Blaine will recover and take personal possession of certain luggage being held on behalf of Ambassador Demi Love by Blishi'I authorities and retain it in her possession until otherwise noted."

"Yeah, I read all that," Kami complained, looking around the docking lobby for the officers who were supposed to be there with said luggage, "And its all really suspicious - especially the part about the luggage!"

Sloan's slender smile grew more pronounced as her partner turned to sweep their surroundings, "You should really read the whole thing."

"Yeah, well, I didn't. I'm a terrible commanding officer;" There was a tap on her shoulder and she turned to spot a pair in the black robes of Blishi'I United Space Force Brothers heading towards them, a hover-pallet carrying a set of matched luggage trailing just between them, "Sue me. And I don't like that part about minimum required crew either - what are they planning? To demobilize us?"

"Captain Blaine?" It was half question and half confirmation and she stepped forward and almost put out her hand before remembering the traditional Blishi'i greeting; "That's me."

One of the two reached into his robe and pulled out a data pad, "Confirm here please," and he indicated a place with his thumb. She took it from him and pressed where he'd indicated, looking up just in time to see the heavy pistol his companion had produced and just long enough to open her mouth before he fired...
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Postby Sunset » Sat May 19, 2018 9:01 am

Plexus PrimeTime New with Tanya Zaldano...

"Breaking news from the edge of the galaxy," Tanya began, smoothly swiveling from one camera to the other while crossing her legs under the elevated desk that now formed the central showpiece of the set, "An apparent assassination attempt was made against a Republic Defense Force officer visiting a Blishi'i United Federation station! Captain Kamilia Blaine - considered a rising star within the Defense Force's Exploration Command - was grievously wounded when she was attacked by two individuals wearing the uniform of Blishi'i United Space Force officers. Thanks to the heroic actions of her executive officer, Commander Breeho Sloan, as well as those others of their crew that were in the vicinity, both attackers were captured and subdued."

Tanya shifted in her seat to face the camera, which shifted up to cut off everything below the desk and focus on her upper half and the outfit she was wearing, what little there was. Below the waist it had been a tantalizingly short skirt that came down to mid-thigh while above it was a sleeveless dress cut narrow at the shoulders and wide across her chest, putting a broad but tight double-curve of cleavage on display as well as this weekend's hot fashion item; A narrow silver chain that hung from point to point, dangling a line of flowing alien script between them.

The dress itself appeared to be made of black lizard skin, glossy but textured, that seemed to disappear into her own skin here and there through either surgery or craft. Adding to the effect, she had adopted these appliques at both temples and just under her bottom lip. Crisp silver earrings circled one ear along with a ring on her pinky and thumb while now-hidden spiked heels had completed the outfit. As she continued, she occasionally blinking and the observant would note a pair of lizard-eye contacts that appeared for only a second or two before fading to her regular pupil.

"A joint statement has been issued by both the BUSF and the RDF, confirming the first suspicions as to the origin of the attack. This revealed the attackers to be Ver'Un'Guun agents who, having stolen a cargo transfer from the Federation to the Republic, used that as a pretense to attack Captain Blaine. All indications point to this being a revenge attack against the Republic and the Captain in particular for her role in a recent decisive battle between the Ver'Un'Guun and the Blishi'i United Space Force. According to reports, this battle had a domino effect that led to the destruction of several key assets and may result in the destruction of the Ver'Un'Guun Empire."

"Additional comments from the RDF and BUSF were still being prepared as of this broadcast, but there is considerable supposition that the assassins did not act alone and that there is a leak either in the BUSF or the RDF that pointed these agents towards the impending cargo transfer. Unfortunately for investigators, both agents committed suicide shortly after being taken into custody - our contacts within the Blishi'i United Space Fleet confirmed that this is standard procedure for captured Ver'Un'Guun officers of all rank."

"The joint statement went on to further note that the Secretary-General's office holds the Ver'Un'Guun entirely responsible for this attack. It makes no note of possible repercussions but the Secretary-General and the Defense Force rarely issues red-line statements or warnings..."
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Postby Sunset » Sun May 20, 2018 12:21 pm

Outside the Leviathan, Interstellar Space, Southwestern Delta Quadrant...

Alien ships leapt and bounded, alternately chasing the heels of those ahead or surging past them, each attempting to be the first to reach the smaller prey that seemed to rush willingly into their jaws. They were all lean predators, sleek but hanging here and there with claws and talons. First one and then the other they darted forward, gaining speed all the while as the precious distance between the three and the dozen faded away. Here and there they fired, weapons built for the purpose or a finger too eager, brilliant beams sparkling in the darkness or a flight of missiles dispatched as an arrow loosed too soon.

Their prey would not be taken easily but still they rushed forward, the trio of destroyers bobbing, weaving, and rolling this way and that to let the chance beam pass harmless or responding with a rattle of interceptors as missiles closed. Soon both would be in range of the other, the established leaders among the pack already opening their hatches to throw dense volleys of missiles chased by their equal in beams towards the small ships. These responded with their own, torpedoes churning from their launchers in great gouts. Both sides braced, the first for the kill and the second for the impact.

It was as missile and torpedo passed that the great ship chose to speak, the dense beams of its guns racing past both to find themselves in the midst of an alien flock made dense by chance or by design. Where they fell and for a moment they brought death, one and then the other torn apart by the passage to continue forward in a cloud of now-borne wreckage. The small ships split and broke, one spiraling away as energy tore through shield and hull while the others fired frantic into the trail of missiles that followed them, but they had already taken their own revenge as their target went by, body pierced with a hundred glowing arrows.

"Not the exchange rate I would have liked," Admiral Isfahan admitted, scanning the holosphere in front of him. Already the enemy were reacting, twisting and turning to come together to chase down the little destroyers, their captains answering with volleys of torpedoes from aft launchers but the enemy sensing the kill to pursue relentlessly. "Destroyer section, swing across our front, evasive priority. We'll see if we can't repeat the trap."

All around the dreadnought the lesser ships under his care were forming up into a rough line of battle, recovery cruisers and supply ships mixed together to turn lesser guns into greater. Whether they would get a chance to use them was of substantial question; Already a second destroyer was being pummeled by chasing shots, the supple ships of the enemy gaining on the pair with every moment. At this range and angle a hit from his guns were not assured but he ordered the fire anyway and crisp beams lanced out to only dissuade a pair of pursuers to a slower advance, dodging and weaving themselves in fear of the killer's guns.

Again he swept the sphere, "All speed towards the destroyer segment," he ordered, just as the second of the smaller ships began to shred away. There was a pop and suddenly a half-dozen more targets appeared, escape pods deployed either in gambit or frustration, but the aliens pressed through to ignore them. The odds were still even...

The range was closed.

From the great ship torpedoes began to fly in volleys staggered and continuous while the lesser ships under her wings offered their own accompaniment, beams following and passing to fall among the enemy in a deadly harvest. Ship after ship went down in flames as predators focused on prey to their own detriment, seemingly unconcerned with death as their own number dwindled. Then it was done, the last destroyer evaporating as missiles tore it asunder.

"Admiral..." The warning call came from the sensor station, "We're getting more faster-than-light contacts - a lot more!"

"How long?"

Did it matter? Revenge had been taken, the last of their unsought enemy falling to the massed beams before they could turn to run. The answer to the Admiral's answer was seconds and he looked to the numbers; Three ships destroyed, a little more than a dozen of his own, and his the only warship remaining. That left few options and orders to issue, "Prepare to withdraw; Scuttle the damaged ships. Hold departure for my order," he decided at the last.

Beams lashed out to put the wounded destroyers to their final rest. Their crews were safe; They lived elsewhere. But it would not due to leave them to fall into enemy hands. His concern now was with the titanic derelict and what secrets it held, "Commander Timmons, you have ten seconds to tell me why we shouldn't leave."

The answer wasn't as quick as he'd wanted; "We found a pressurized compartment - there might be people, someone, still alive aboard."

As the new arrivals emerged, Isfahan weighed 'might' with 'are' and came to a conclusion, "Hail them - see what they want." At worse it would give his ships another moment to settle their retreat.

"Hailing them, Admiral... They are responding."

"Who are you, and what are you doing here? And what has become of the Grosh Ner Grat? The hunters of ancient prey," the computer added, completing the translation.

The tone was different but the ships were the same and Admiral Isfahan kept his reply brief, "Admiral Isfahan, Republic of Sunset. We were investigating this derelict when these ships - the Grosh Ner Grat - declared us prey and attacked us."

"Are you of the Hrleweth? The ancient prey," again the computer filled in.

"No."

"Then you are not prey;" The distant ships began to wheel and turn as one, pointing back the way they had came, "The Grosh Ner Grat are no more, and we have no need to hunt..."
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Postby Sunset » Mon May 21, 2018 9:53 am

Once Again Aboard RDF-Ojeni, Port Ha'Bainda, Blishi'i Star System, Canis Major Extra-Galactic Segment...

"Oooh... Did someone get the plates on that truck?"

With another groan, Captain Blaine tried to sit up, tried to pull herself to her feet, but she couldn't so instead she opened her eyes to find herself laying on her side, the open expanse of the ship's medical bay dominating her vision. Just kitty-corner to her, Doctor L'lang rummaged through one of the tall cabinets full of miscellaneous medical supplies, his form half-hidden by the open door. There didn't seem to be anyone else in the room but she still couldn't roll to the other side so instead she called out, "Doc? Doctor L'lang? I'm feeling a lot better - can I go? I've got work to do..."

"...really?" His apple-red face appeared and he looked at her, a bemused expression stitched in the expression of his wrinkled face. A crown of thin hair surrounded his bald pate and a pair of half-spectacles perched on the bridge of his very short nose. "You're ready, then, are you? Well, let us do some quick tests, hmm?"

Finding what he was looking for - or at least finding something else - he tucked his hands into the pockets of his white jacket and ambled over to her, "Can you wiggle your fingers? Hmm? Your toes?"

She tried only to find that neither worked. Then she tried to shake her head and again, nothing happened, "No..."

"No? Well, let's check these." He pulled a light from his pocket and tugged back her eyebrows with an oddly-shaped thumb, shining the light into each eye for a half second. "Seems fine. Try your fingers and toes again."

"...no good, Doc," she admitted after trying again for what seemed like a whole minute. "What happened? Why can't I move my..."

Reaching over, he rolled her over onto her back and then tipped her up, except that there was nothing to tip her up onto. In the reflection of the transparent wall that separated the medical bay from the corridor outside she could now see that she was just a head with a wide collar around the stump of her neck, "Eeep!"

"You certainly took that better than expected," he said, an impish grin just at the edge of his mouth. "The XM255 is an interesting weapon; It is essentially a miniaturized version of the Blishi'i' space-fold drive that generates a very intense gravity shear along the line of travel for short distances. In some ways you were very luck, Captain. The shot only disrupted the organs in your torso, tearing your heart, lungs, liver... Well, let's just say there was a lot of blood when they put the donut on you. A bit further north," he rapped two knuckles on her forehead, "And it could have destroyed your ExoCortex."

"A sobering thought;" But not that sobering. She was still here, after all. "So what's next?"

"We grow you a new body. It's already half-way done. Commander Sloan thought it would be better to just let you sleep - according to her, you've not been getting as much as you should. So I just put your head out on one of the beds while we waited. A bit of a mistake on my part; Several would-be patients have turned around and left as soon as they saw it laying there."

"...nevermind. I was going to ask..."

"Hey, you're awake! Good;" The familiar voice she could hear but not see was that of Commander Sloan, who walked up beside her and picked her up to tuck her Captain unceremoniously into the crook of her arm, "We've got stuff to talk about!"

"Like that I'm a disembodied head about this far," she tried to stick her tongue out, tried to purse her lips, but neither would reach, "About this far from your boobs but can't do anything about it?"

"How would you like to go bowling," Sloan asked, holding her out from her body, her fingers grasping her hair in the usual arrangement. "We can go bowling."

"When did you get so... So... Whatever you're being."

"When I had to do the work you were supposed to do," the Commander countered, swinging her head back and forth for a second before putting it down on the bed. "Because you didn't read the whole assignment briefing."

"How did that get me shot by... Hey - someone shot me! What happened to them?!"

"Ver'Un'Guun agents," Doctor L'lang answered, turning her head so she could look at him. "Aided by someone in the Blishi'i High Command, no doubt. They intercepted the shipment of the Ambassador's luggage;" "Now safely in our cabin;" "And disguised themselves in order to carry out a revenge attack. They killed themselves almost as soon as they were captured. I've been discussing the intricacies of Ver'Un'Guun biology with my counter-parts; Very interesting."

"Hokay, so they're dead. I was still the one they shot. Not my fault," she added firmly. "What about the last thing I asked you? Are we being demobilized? What's with the weird minimal crew roster thing?"

Sloan shook her head, her long blonde hair snaking from side to side, "Nope - even worse. You better enjoy your downtime while the Doctor grows you a new body, because when we get back..."

"What?"

Sloan knelt down next to her, crossing her arms and settling her chin on them to fix her friend with an evil look, "We're going back to school!"
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Postby Sunset » Tue May 22, 2018 2:23 pm

RDF-Shiva, Singularity-Class Station, Shiva Orbit, Ares System...

"...we've run every test we can think of a dozen times and every one of them comes back the same, Director - she's definately who - or what - she says she is."

There wasn't an immediate answer and Commander Helmsley continued to lean on the bulkhead that was mounted with the one-way window that divided the greater cell block from the cell behind it. Or at least it looked like a window; Like most windows it was really an ultra-high definition display linked to a very small camera in the cell, though there was an actual convex window in the high ceiling where a guard could look down on the entirety of the prisoner's cell. These were both very small and very thick, which hadn't stopped an Ozlukar in the next wing over from trying to punch his way through.

"If she's beating the tests, she's doing an awful good job of it. The other one," he motioned with his coffee cup towards the far end of the cell block where a high-security unit was actively guarded by a pair of Marine armor suits, "She busted out of her skin after the first week. Hasn't said anything since. Any idea what happened to them? Where they went?"

Katryna shook her head, "No. We're looking, we put everything we had on it - best guess is they went extra-galactic. Miss Nineteen over there was poking around in the GEC database, and we have her IP address flagged on a couple systems listed from deep-shot expeditions. Galactic-Class Ultra-Long Range Explorers from ten, fifteen years back. My guess is that they looked at the rest of the galaxy, figured that they wouldn't have anywhere to hide, and split as soon as Villanova's task force figured out where they were hiding."

That was something of a wonder to behold. The Sh'Dos had taken everything with them when they left and that had opened up a big hole inside Anuke, under the southern continent and deep under what had formerly been the ol' Ambrose homestead. Really, really deep. It hadn't taken long for the core to start bubbling back in to its former domain and her teams had spend those days pouring over the space to learn everything they could. Which didn't end up being much.

Speaking of; "Didja see that her boss showed up on TV this morning? Something about crashing into a Kentucky Fried Panda and now he's claiming he's from the distant past."

Katryna nodded, "I did. New Dornialia. That's why I'm here. Two reasons, actually. We're going to cut them both loose."

The Commander's eyes shot wide and he almost blew coffee all over her, "Both of them? This one I can see, but that one..."

"I know. But our best guess is that when that one runs," she nodded to the cell down the hall, "And she'll run... She'll either run straight towards the others or at least give us some ideas how to find them. They might have gone extra-galactic but before then they were willing to kidnap my step-mother. Why? Infiltration? Extortion? Mom's guessing the latter - hold her hostage to get us off their planet. But until we know for sure, get them pinned down, they could well come back. Not a lot of entities out there with our level of technology, Commander. That's a concern."

"And the other one?"

"Oh, she'll run right back to Doctor Ambrose, and she hasn't done anything wrong. All the paperwork checks out - legitimate business until that one got her claws into it. So we have to."

"Mmm," he took another slurp, "You notice that she looks a lot like a certain someone? So did the other," he looked at Katryna meaningfully. "At least until she popped out of her skin like Gregor Samsa..."
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Postby Sunset » Wed May 23, 2018 7:16 pm

Industry Secretary Jin's Office, Mars, Sol System...

"Since the beginnings of the industrial age - indeed, since Homer first wrote 'automaton' on an ancient scroll, there has been a gradual decoupling of one portion of the economy from the other; The creative from the industrial. Now," Secretary Jin leaned back in his chair-pod and laced his fingers under his chin in a more human-like gesture than his foreshortened naga-like body would suggest, "We have reached the stage in our civilization where people - you and I and everyone else - is no longer strictly necessary. An artist may conceive our latest starship but the design itself is detailed by an expert system that knows where each conduit and compartment must go to maximize the vessel's effectiveness. Computers paint, robots extract the minerals we use to make other things, and now..."

The Qoyat leaned further back and looked to the ceiling, where a false skylight showed the Martian sky and the single remaining moon as it blazed across a sky filled with hundreds if not thousands of ships of all shapes and sizes, "Not even that is strictly necessary. We can produce matter in endless amounts from the light of the stars. Finished goods and products created from beginning to end by the works of our own hands and now we no longer need these hands. It is my job to shepherd our economy, to tend to its needs, to patch what requires it and rebuild what is absolutely broken. But even in my few short years of service..."

There was an electronic calendar embedded in one corner of his desk and he glanced at it before doing some mental arithmetic, "Has it been that long? Then in my years of service, the economy of the Republic has changed in ways that few could predict. It is now possible to find employment purely in the virtual realms, but not as a customer service agent or other conventional career, but as the companion to another, or a fixture in some game - and to thus earn enough money to sustain one's intelligence inside strange places beyond space and time."

"In times past the notion of work - individual work and thus production - was strongly tied to a nation's status and then that of its currency, with that cycling into more complex systems where the value of a currency determined part of a nation's industrial demand, which in turn indicated its status as a power. Now that this is no longer true, we must look to the future and to what our future notion of economy will be. Or will it be? If we need more resources, we simply tell the systems in place to supply more and they accomplish that on their own. No direction is needed, except where they might somehow conflict with the desires of another power. Even that..."

"With the completion of the Wave Two VLEMAs that will no longer be a concern. Indeed, it is possible that the VLEMAs will themselves be something in the far future for others to squabble over when our civilization has become what it will become and they are no longer needed. But when they are completed, Republic industrial capacity will increase not ten, but nearly three hundred times. Our material needs will no longer require that word; Instead they will be our material desires. But already we are moving beyond the material, but yet we still have need for trade, for commerce - for connection with the civilizations aside from our own."

"Our currency must have value, some measure of its importance and thus our own. As I see it, the way forward for the Di-Coin is as a representation of our material capacity - or of the energy that goes into it. But in addition we must recognize this disconnect between these segments of our economy. Thus I am recommending that the number of di-coins in circulation be tied to our industrial capacity, while each individual be allotted a certain amount of this capacity that they can then buy and sell or use themselves to both accumulate wealth and represent capital needs. According to projections, when Wave Two is complete Republic material capacity will outstrip our current needs by many times."

"At that point, I anticipate that a Wave Three will begin, but even Wave Two will result in many times what the most extravagant citizen will require. Thus I suggest a yearly allocation of one hundred thousand kilograms worth of matter to each individual - essentially one hundred thousand Di-Coins. This allocation will be made available on-demand, with additional work able to unlock additional allocation based on Prime hours worked. This allocation is deliberately below the projected Wave Two capacity, both to disguise the actual amount and to encourage participation by the individual..."
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Postby Sunset » Thu May 24, 2018 6:21 pm

RDF-Procyon, Far Eastern Beta-Gamma Border Region...

"What do you mean, she opened the box?"

"I mean, she opened the box," Lieutenant Jacksyn repeated, increasing his pace to match the Captain's own. They weren't quite at a dead run yet, and not even at a jog, but a hitch in her gait meant that any moment she'd skip the second and go straight to the first. They had already passed out of the portion of the ship normally frequented by the command crew and into the maze of twisting passages - all alike - that were used by the REDSHIRTs as they went about the monotonous duties of changing the occasional fuse or moving this or that into or from the ship's stores. They'd already passed a few of the non-sentient drones, paying them little heed as they rushed along.

"Which box? And why did she open it?"

"One of the black boxes - she said she could open it because..."

Because she wasn't here. Captain Finn understood the logic, even if it was stupid logic. Lieutenant Pomplovich was just like all the other members of Procyon's crew; Her consciousness was housed in an ExoCortex in the Eien and connected to an Extension in the Prime universe. In theory she should have been able to open one of the assorted boxes that were labeled with warnings such as 'Do Not Open: Permanent Madness. This Means You, Idiot' in bright neon stickers. The Prime extension would be doomed to madness but it wasn't her - in theory.

"Right, so she opened the box. And then?"

"Then she tried to kill me."

Which explained the missing arm, as well as all the blood. The Lieutenant seemed to be handling it well so she was ignoring it. Instead, she was racking her brain for the proper procedure. There'd been a briefing on the black boxes and what to do if someone was so stupid as to open one but she'd largely ignored and then forgotten it - possibly because she'd been under the same assumption. There were safeguards, protocols - and sure, there might not be any consequences to opening one of the boxes, but she wasn't going to do it. The other sticker said 'No User Serviceable Parts Inside' after all.

Why take the risk for no apparent reward.

Then something popped into her head and she stopped, practically in her tracks, "Okay, so she opened the box. The first thing they said to do was call them, immediately. And then not look in the box, no matter how much the person who might have looked in the box will try to make you. And," her memory was returning, "They'll try to trick you into looking into the box. So be careful when going around corners and opening doors. So change of plans," she turned around and looked back down the narrow corridor, "You and I will fall back and make the call and we'll send in the REDSHIRTs to apprehend her."

"So what's in the box anyway?"

"Actually, they were pretty specific. Some toilet paper tubes, some... Procyon?" There was a chirp; "Lock down the maintenance supplies. And all crew quarters. Has Lieutenant Pomplovich left her last location?"

"Negative."

"Okay, so, next - what was that number again..."
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