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Messages - Whalecow

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1
And now I have a migraine...
PAC Providence, classified patrol route, Western Neutral Rim.
Bridge. 1500 hours.

Icari: …The f-ck!?
Claude: That’s what I said! …Well, close enough.

Icari glares at Claude’s face on the monitor with an expression of both shock and doubt. This is another Alliance trick, no doubt.

Icari: What idiot would bring back the Prototypes?
Claude: (grins) Here’s hoping his game makes up for his brains, whoever it is.
Icari: And Kryska… Kryska f-cking Stares… has just been convicted of high treason? (rolls her eyes) You came up with this piece of sh-t trap on your own, didn’t you?
Claude: Um… trap? I don’t follow, and usually I am pretty good with traps.

A handful of crewmen snicker on the bridge of the PACT carrier.

Icari: (sighs) Assuming I believe all this sh-t you want me to swallow… what the hell do you expect us to do?
Claude: I need you to come with me and help spring Kryska from that prison barge. It’s heavily defended, but maybe together we can knock it over?
Icari: Bullsh-t.
Claude: No, seriously. I called you because you’re the only other person I know who would help Kryska, (grins) since you and her have that thing.
Icari: (gets red for a second) Wh-what the hell, Claude!?
Claude: Oh, nothing~. I couldn’t call anyone else I know because they are all busy or incommunicado or bound by political constraints.  Please, you need to hurry. I already showed the readings I sent to you to Serenity’s fleet. Those that aren’t coming are ditching us and going down to the planet’s surface. Someone’s gonna tell someone else, and we’re gonna be under heavy time pressure to get this done. I took the time to call you up because I knew you’d help. Or… or I thought you would.
Icari: Constraints…? (shakes her head at the unexpected grasp of vocabulary) These images and readings could be faked. We could be destroyed upon arrival.
Claude: But… but… that’s not what’s gonna happen! I just want to get Kryska back! When she left, I got promoted to admiral. But I don’t want that. I just… I just want her back. Please… she’s… she’s the only one who will know what to do now… and I miss her.

Claude had always been emotional. But as Icari saw her there, head bowed and tears falling from her face, she knew it was serious. She looks around at her crew. 7 ships and thousands of crewmen, their lives all in her hands. When had she been saddled with all this responsibility, anyway? She closes her eyes. If this is a trap, those thousands could die in minutes. If this is legit… the action of a PACT fleet against an Alliance battle group. could spark an even greater ferocity in the war all across the Western Rim. She opens her eyes again, and realizes everyone is watching her. Hell. Are galaxy-altering decisions really made this short-notice? From a war of endurance against the Alliance to a shadow war against the new Prototype threat in 5 minutes or less. Icari nods as she realizes her own thought process had made the decision for her.

Icari: Fine. We’re in.
Claude: (lights up) Seriously!? YES! Thank you, thank you!
Icari: You can thank us after the job’s done. Just give us the coordinates.
Claude: Right! Sensors, get them those coordinates!
Alliance sensors: Ms. Trilleo? That’s communications’ job?
Claude: Ooooooooh. Then whose job is it to keep the internet working?
Alliance sensors: That would be technical department.
Claude: Huh. Well how about that?

Icari rolls her eyes in an old yet familiar long-suffering fashion as the intercept coordinates appear on-screen and Providence’s navigation officer notes them down. This was going to be one long mission…
[close]
Yi's decision
GammaTech Industries, Weinan, Western AEGIS.
GammaTech HQ. 1505 hours.

Ava: You have? Well, that was much quicker than expected.
Yi: How so?
Ava: I am told the Phalanx is impressive, that’s all.
Yi: It is, indeed. People have and may continue to kill for it. But business requires both intuition and decisiveness, something your captain knows all too well.
Veronika: And boss of Torpedo Dealer Group, too.
Ava: (rolls her eyes) Whalecow and KTKM are hardly similar.
Veronika: Like two sides of same capitalist pocket-change piece, like Smith said.
Yi: (raises her eyebrows in surprise) Smith? The security chief or the… other guy?
Ava: (hesitates for a moment) The captain said you could be trusted implicitly. Mr. Smith is the leader of the Phoenix Corps. We came at odds during our last operation and cost him nearly 65% of a Private Military Group.
Yi: (breathes out the name quietly) The Phoenix Corps…
Veronika: Is there becoming of problem, chairperson lady?
Yi: We have… a past. (looks at Ava carefully) Whalecow has talked at length about you when we’ve spoken. You are to be trusted as well. The Phoenix Corps… are the reason I am an orphan.
Ava: …!?
Veronika: Chert…
Yi: What… what is your relationship with those people?
Ava: He came to us with an offer. The captain and the other first officer are going to see what he wants. I didn’t want him to go, but-
Yi: (puts a hand to her temple) I just hope Mr. Underhill was an exception, and not the rule.
Veronika: This does not affect our chances of getting the shiny metal cans, yes?
Yi: (shakes her head after a moment, slowly) …No. I doubt your captain will come to a significant arrangement with them at any rate. He knows what they’ve done to me, even indirectly. He’ll make the right choice. Besides… (looks them both in the eye in turn) Faith and trust is not something to be discarded at the first sign of questionable circumstances or stress on the relationship. I have decided to provide the Alliance for the Defense of Freedom with the Phalanx armor design. They must, however, be purchased wholesale. Lend-leases are confusing business, and I am certain they will used more properly as fully ADF-owned material.
Veronika: What is price then, comrade Wang?
Yi: Mmm… We will sell them to you at cost. With adamantium armor, that’s still one hell of a sale. 2.93 million credits.
Ava: Damn, that’s-
Veronika: Sold. Pleasure doing business with you.
Ava: Wait, I was supposed to be in charge!
Veronika: Protecting from price markup, first officer lady.
Yi: (grins slightly) You two would make an excellent team.
Ava: I sincerely doubt that, madam chairwoman.
Yi: (shrugs) We’ll send a transport up with the armor bases. Once that’s done and the merch is paid for, they’re all yours. Give my regards to the captain, Velora, and Chief Smith. And I look forward to broadening the ADF’s use of GammaTech goods and services.
Ava: I am certain the captain would approve. Well… (gives a bow) It has been a pleasure. We’ll be going now, if you please.
Yi: (bows back) The pleasure was all mine.

Ava nods again and Veronika gives an old commie salute as the two turn to walk away.

Yi: (calls back) Oh, and Ms. Crescentia?
Ava: (stops for a moment) Yes, chairwoman?
Yi: I wanted to get even with Phoenix for months after the… incident. The reason I have been so successful since is that for the sake of my people and the people everywhere, I found a way to let it go.
Ava: I… see. Is this going somewhere?
Yi: (takes a deep breath and lets it out) I just wanted to share some advice. A little something of my father’s. “A peaceful future can be grasped only by those willing to forgive and move beyond the past.”

Neither Ava nor Veronika have any response to this, and instead they nod in unison and head out the door. It would be a long and quiet journey back to Legion for both of them.
[close]
Hunted
Sharr‘Lac, Mnemosyne Abyss.
Command level. 1510 hours.

Arcadius had been watching Chigara tap away at a panel labeled in ancient Ryuvian for the past 10 minutes as several metallic creaks sound from below them, about 15 seconds apart and each one coming closer.

Arcadius: (sighs) I’ll bite. What’s trying to kill me during THIS 15-minute interval?
Chigara: (keeps working) Ravager.
Arcadius: I’m guessing that’s not some sort of energy drink.
Chigara: (rolls her eyes) Leftover relic from ancient Ryuvia. One of the most dangerous things they had. Highly adaptable, heavily armed and armored with adamantium.
Arcadius: Guess there’s a reason it hasn’t found us yet.
Chigara: I’ve been encrypting the Sharr’Lac’s sensor data so it can’t use that to find us. It has to do its own scans by floor. Won’t hold it for much longer though.
Arcadius: And it between us and the hangar, huh?
Chigara: That is… (sighs) …correct.
Arcadius: Well… I’ve faced worse odds.
Chigara: When?
Arcadius: I’ll… let you know when I think of it.
Chigara: (rolls her eyes again) Wonderful. To get past it, we’re going to have to move fast. It’s already adapting to overcome the sensor encryption. I’ll rig up a program to keep doing what I’m doing, and if we time it so that the thing is as far away from the lift as possible when we go down it. If we’re lucky, we’ll reach the hangar before it breaks the encryption and learns our location.
Arcadius: (nods) I have a transport waiting. We’ll want to get off this thing as quick as possible.
Chigara: (hesitates for a moment) Alright. Get ready.

A few seconds pass, and as something below them creaks once again, Chigara presses a button on the control panel and rushes toward the lift, Arcadius on her heels. The lift car moves down at a seemingly very slow speed, and somewhere around halfway down, the two catch a brief glimpse of… something… facing away from them down a corridor.

Arcadius: What the hell was THAT?
Chigara: The Ravager that this station’s sent to dispose of us.
Arcadius: How many of those things are aboard?
Chigara: 7 more in storage, but I was able to remotely disable their activation function. Should be just that one and us.
Arcadius: That’ll be more than enough for us. We need to go, NOW.
Chigara: …

At last the doors open even as a muffled, agitated roar echoes down from somewhere above them.

Arcadius: Woah. Big daddy ain’t happy, is he, Chigara? …Chigara?

As the creaking noises resume coming down toward the hangar deck, Arcadius turns to find Chigara running at top speed across the debris-cluttered space toward a windowed hangar control room with a flight of steps leading up to it.

Arcadius: (runs after her as the noises of a furious Ryuvian war machine overhead grow steadily louder.) I am getting WAY too old for this…

He hurries through the door to find Chigara tapping at yet another keyboard on the room’s main terminal. Her brow is furrowed as she stares intently at the screen.

Arcadius: Chigara… what the f-ck!? We need to get out of here!
Chigara: No.
Arcadius: What do you mean, “no”? We’re going to get stabbed or shot to death or something if we stay for two more minutes!
Chigara: Then go.
Arcadius: What?
Chigara: (stops for a moment and exhales deeply before turning to look at him) I’m not leaving. If I go, someone will just come along and take all this lost technology. And then the galaxy will burn and it will be MY FAULT for allowing it to happen! I’ve locked the elevator down. You still have time.
Arcadius: We can come back with the ADF or something after we get out of here, we can-
Chigara: NO. I’ve been having communications. Ghost blips on sensors. I… have had visits in my dreams.
Arcadius: …Visits…?
Chigara: It’s the Prototypes! They’ve been haunting me since I came back, and the instant I and my defenses leave, they move in. Do you know what they can do with a Sharr’Lac!?

The room goes silent for an uncomfortably long time, save for the constant sound of crumbling metal from above.

Chigara: Exactly. And I don’t care if you don’t believe me, or if you leave me here or not, I’m not going!
Arcadius: How the hell are you gonna stop this thing then?
Chigara: I can hack the defense turrets in the hangar. There are a disturbing number of them. Hopefully enough will work to get rid of that giant metal beast. If not… (shakes her head) So go. Leave me. It won’t be the first time, and if I live through the next 10 minutes it won’t be the last. I-I’m done running!

Chigara turns from him and keeps working. After a moment though, she pounds on the terminal with both hands in frustration.

Chigara: It… w-won’t work! I-I’ve failed again…
Arcadius: (puts a hand on her shoulder) …
Chigara: (turns on him suddenly, in tears) WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE!?
Arcadius: I didn’t come to get some stupid technology or even another scientist for the ADF.
Chigara: …
Arcadius: I came to get you, Chigara.
Chigara: Why do you care? You left me before!
Arcadius: I f-cked up then, Chigara. I was careless, and the Prototypes got to me. But never again. I swear.
Chigara: …Fine. How do we do this?
Arcadius: (stares at the screen for a moment) Half the plasma coils are fried, and the other half are too heavily encrypted.
Chigara: So we’re going to die. Is that it? Like I said, I can’t leave.
Arcadius: We can replace the encrypted coils with the fried ones. Odds are the security measures have been burned out, but this type of coil is highly prolific and can still operate for a brief time even fried with a good jumpstart.
Chigara: Then what do we do with the fried ones?
Arcadius: We can take those from somewhere else. Odds are they won’t have encrypted all of the power sources in the room. But… (looks up at the ceiling) …all this is going to take time we don’t have.
Chigara: Well… I’ll just have to suit up and stall it in Liberty. (finishes with the terminal) I’ve managed to invert the defenses’ targeting settings. As soon as everything’s ready, just press the big red button to arm them. They’ll do the rest.
Arcadius: But… that thing could tear you apart!
Chigara: (grins slightly) Then I guess you’d better hurry.

Without another word, the two set about the task at hand. Chigara rushes out the door and practically flies down the steps while Arcadius pries open a floor panel to reveal a tangled web of cords, adapters, and fried and healthy plasma coils. His hands start to move, and he occasionally looks out the window to check on Chigara’s status.

Solomon crawls through the narrow ventilation duct, glad for once of his small size. He goes even faster as he thinks of the riot-ready slaves awaiting his end of the job with Fontana just outside the central compound’s gates.

Arcadius’s daughter unceremoniously drops her lab coat from her shoulders and pops the cockpit on her ryder.

His heart beats a mile a minute, freezing suddenly as his fingers grasp at an air vent just in front of him as he realizes he’s there. He draws his weapon, a small multi-tool, before unscrewing the air vent cover from beneath. It falls free and clatters to the floor, alerting the solitary New Imperial guard seated below him. In a flash, Solomon realizes he’d forgotten his weapon back at the slave barracks. F-ckf-ckf-ck he thinks as the guard turns his head upwards and his eyes widen in shock.

The maze of mechanical components is nearly impossible, and Arcadius finds himself taking up way too much time as Liberty roars to life.

Solomon: L-look out below!

The guard cries in pain when Solomon lands on him. In a desperate attempt to take care of this guy, Solomon hefts his multi-tool and drives the fine-point screwdriver into the guard’s neck. Blood spills everywhere as eh at last approaches the terminal. His goal, however, is the wiring and circuitry below.


Liberty’s laser cannon goes live, and a steady hum fills the air when Chigara kicks the rest of her “warhorse” into action.

The engineer rips open the access panel and stares in disbelief at the maze of wires and circuits. All he has to do is short out the right choice components and the gates outside would swing wide open. The multi-tool’s welding attachment ignites as Solomon contemplates which set it could be in the huge mess before him. Suddenly, an alarm fills the still air.

Comm: Prisoners rioting at the gate. Prepare the pepper-gas!

In a panic, Solomon touches the flame to a random component. He feels the worst pain of his life strike the right side of his face as red and orange engulf him.

A wall of the hangar tears open as the Ravager comes into view, a nearly 8-foot-tall monstrosity armed to the teeth and emanating an evil red glow from two “eyes” on its front.

Cries sound over the alarm when the first pepper-gas canisters strike the slaves just outside the gates. Solomon, right eye unable to open, tries to stand up, but collapses. He’d never felt so helpless in his life.

Arcadius can only look on when the Ravager cries in rage and charges toward Liberty, cannons firing from two of its arms. Liberty flies up into the air, only to be stricken by a blade of pure energy that forces it to the ground again. Chigara barely manages to get her ryder out of the way as a second blade slices into the deck where her head had just been.

The slave is weak as he crawls with both hands toward the still-sparking panel. Everything was barely recognizable after the explosion in the heat dispensation system. Solomon hears, faintly amongst the other cries of frightened and enraged slaves, a cry of help from Lynn. His face takes on an icy calm as he picks up the discarded multi-tool and the torch springs to live once more. And in that moment, everything else falls away.


The Ravager at last catches Liberty and slams it against a wall with a strength belying its relative size. It laughs in malicious triumph as it cleaves the broadcast dish from the top of the ryder.

Chigara: F-father! Help me!

His face takes on an icy calm as he retrieves the multi-tool from his pocket. And in that moment, everything else falls away.
[close]

2
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. It has been forever but I have finally managed to bring together the next bit of the plot and such. So, we'll do this as an Ava-response and Yi-background thing and then hopefully by next week I'll have the results and interludes typed up and ready to go. Enjoy!

It began with a celebration...
4 years ago.
GammaTech Industries, Weinan, West Central Neutral Rim.
GammaTech HQ. 2000 hours.

Yi sits at the table, puzzling. She looks out the window, back at the room, then to her parents. At last, she draws her unequivocal, most educated conclusion on the situation at hand. She is bored.

Yamota: (speaks to some random and apparently important man she’d never heard of) I’m sorry, Mr. Underhill, but the auction will not begin until tomorrow… if it does at all.
Underhill: (annoyed) Bah. You invite us out here to get your power armor and you don’t even know if you want to sell! How the hell did you stay in business this long?
Ifina: (interrupts with a calm voice) By selecting our clients carefully, Mr. Underhill. They must be ethical, well-connected… and be trustworthy, i.e. not using such an obviously fake name like “Underhill”.

The “Mr. Underhill” opens his mouth, finally gets the jab, and the closes it. He gets as red as a beet before turning and walking quickly away. As soon as he turns, Ifina looks at Yi and gives her a goofy smile and a conspiratorial wink. 16-year-old Yi giggles. At least mother was not as boring as most of the people here. In the center of the room sits several smaller tables, with the remains of the steak dinner on the plates of those that could not finish them. The delegates sitting all around had come for a shot at purchasing certain GammaTech prototype technology. Blades, projectile weapons… father had not yet decided on what to do with the Phalanx armor, but he would before the night was up. In fact, father would probably withhold every other item except on individual purchase transactions. The deals themselves, Yi knew, would range from sale of designs to simple right to buy when GammaTech made the products themselves. She sighs. Bored again. She attempts to mitigate her boredom by standing up and scanning the room for what feels like at least the 10th time. As her eyes move across the room, her ears pick up fragments of conversation.

Noble: (ticked, speaking in Ryuvian accent) …And that’s why you’re a disgrace to Ryuvia… to your birthright!
Alliance Captain: (rolls his eyes and yawns) There’s nothing you have that I could want, “father”.
Noble: (points to the purple-haired man nearby) And those socialist pigs do?
PACT Rep: (rolls his own eyes) …
Alliance Captain: The pigs are the ones rolling around in their own filth. (shrugs) Make of that what you will.
Noble: And all you do is shrug. Are you forgetting that you killed your bloody brother? Your own family!
Alliance Captain: (looks him in the eyes) It was to protect my crew. They are my family now.
Noble: F-ck your crew! You f-cked the future of your whole damn nation!
Alliance Captain: (getting annoyed) I think you and your “nation” should go and-
PACT Rep: (interrupts in a calm, collected voice) Comrade Whalecow. Would you mind getting us more vodka from the table?
Alliance Captain: (hesitates for a moment) Yeah… okay.
Noble: (calls after him) That’s right. Run away like you’ve been doing for the past 11 years!

The Alliance captain stops for a moment, clenching his fists, before unclenching them and wandering off. Yi quickly averts her gaze as he walks past her. Whatever was going on, she was frightened at the prospect of a man murdering his brother and showing no regret. As soon as he is out of her immediate sight, she continues her scan around the room. Leaning against one of the pillars is Yamota’s personal bodyguard, David. Next to him is Katelyn, the new girl from one of their offices further to the galactic north. The two talk, a complicated game of Katelyn receiving nonchalant and uninterested replies until she finally hits on David’s latest hobby. At last Katelyn mentions radio-controlled starships and that sets David off talking. They are both laughing their asses off in minutes. Yi smiles. David had always been polite enough to her, though in a decent sort of way. And Katelyn had practically been her best friend since she’d arrived a few months ago. Any time when she was not on duty and Yi was not practicing or studying, the two were practically joined at the hip.

Katelyn: I saw a nice Peregrine-Class fighter in the company store.
David: (grins) Have it.
Katelyn: And the Delta-Class bomber?
David: That too.
Katelyn: Jeez. What kind of raise did you get and how can I get one? (chuckles)
Yi: (smiles and speaks to herself) Just say please.

Katelyn apparently senses Yi’s gaze because she looks up and smiles. Yi returns it with a wave of the hand. Yi catches, out of the corner of her eye as Katelyn returns her attention to her crush, the Mr. Underhill from earlier speaking to a few armed men near the corner of the room. She frowns a bit, and one of the armed men looks up and whispers to Underhill. He turns to make eye contact with a glare so surprising that Yi gasps a bit before he leaves the room with his men in tow. She stares after them for a moment, until she is startled by a slight tapping on her shoulder. She jumps and quickly turns to find herself face to face with Uncle Song, a smile etched on his features.

Song: (laughs) Somebody’s jumpy today.
Yi: J-just nervous, I guess. (looks around the room) There are a lot of, uh…
Song: (interrupts) …Dangerous-looking fine ladies and gentlemen here?
Yi: Yeah, kinda.
Song: (grins) Don’t worry about them, kiddo. Your old uncle Song is here to keep you safe.
Yi: (hugs him) Thank you, Uncle.
Song: My pleasure, sweetheart. (releases her from the hug) Although you had still better be careful. A few of these people are dangerous.
Yi: Like Mr. Underhill.
Song: Where did you get that idea? These people are here because they are credible or work for credible individuals. I meant people like that Alliance captain. Got access to his complete records. Red all over them, and not the kind that can be attributed to fruit punch. Wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him, and take my word for it. If anything happens, he is not to be trusted with keeping you safe. I will see to that responsibility myself, as vice chairman of the company… and as your (favorite) uncle!

Yi laughs as Song ruffles her short hair with a large hand. Her uncle nods to her, smiling, before walking down the steps and beginning to make the rounds with the crowd. She then hears the sound of a spoon being rung against a glass, turning to find her father giving the signal for everyone to “sit down and listen up”, as he liked to say. Yi returns to her seat and plops down in it, putting her elbows on the table, her fingers intertwined, and her head resting on the latter, staring up at her father. Of all the people she’d ever met, he was the only one that could make her listen to an entire speech and care about it no matter the topic. She enjoyed listening to her father speak.

Yamota: (clears his throat as the room settles) Hello, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to thank you once again to GammaTech Headquarters, and thank you all in advance for the interest in our company. I will skip to the point. You are all here because my vice chairman Wang Song and I have decided to potentially sell our most advanced power armor frame design, the Phalanx. This will be the first time this product has sold, and it will most likely be the last. We do not sell to governments freely, however, but very rarely, and I will be deciding tonight who I may consider… if any of you… to take part in the auction. In fact, I only do this at the request of my brother. I apologize for the trouble, but… People say we are not inheriting this galaxy from our parents, but borrowing it from our children, and if that’s true, you do what you do with all borrowed things: Return it better than when it was received.

Yi mouths the last sentence to herself. By now, father was surely renowned for that statement. A screen comes down and  father starts to list off the existant and potential features of the power armor frame in question. Despite herself, her mind begins to wander as the technical whys and wherefores pass Yamota’s lips. By the time she was old enough to handle this company, that armor stuff would probably be long-gone.
[close]
Loss
Yi awakes with a start to find mother staring down at her and smiling playfully. She looks around to find the chamber empty, and Mr. Han the custodian sweeping the floor.

Ifina: (sighs) You fell asleep on us midway through the presentation. You didn’t have any of the wine again, did you?
Yi: (rolls her eyes) I keep telling you, mother. It wasn’t the wine last time!
Ifina: (grins) Whatever you say, dear.
Yi: Ugh. Anyway, where’d everybody go?
Ifina: To their quarters to wait for your father’s decision. I’ll be joining him as soon as I put you to bed, honey.
Yi: (sighs begrudgingly) Fine.

Yi drags herself off the table groggily and she and her mother head out the main doors and into the elevator. As it descends one floor, Yi at least says what needs to be said.

Yi: I was up late last night stargazing with Katelyn.
Ifina: Oh? What did you see?
Yi: (yawns) Constellations. Just the usual ones. The scarab, the arrow… (pauses for a moment) Katelyn said she saw something else, though.
Ifina: And what might that be.
Yi: (giggles) A whole crapload of star systems that wanna buy our sh-t.
Ifina: (rolls her eyes as the elevator opens and they walk down the hall) Well, she’s not wrong. Maybe it’s her way of encouraging you to… “reach for the stars”.
Yi: Mother. That’s horrible.
Ifina: Your father liked it.
Yi: He has to like it or you won’t cook his favorite pork chops anymore.
Ifina: Maybe.

The two hang a right at the end of the hallway and enter Yi’s bedroom, a good-sized space with a bed and small walk-in closet, among other things. Mounted on the wall near the bed are her 18-year birthday presents: a pair of foot-long metal sticks with a point on either end, a loop on the sides for the fingers so that they would fit on the inside of her hands. Something to earn, her father had said. Yi takes off her pants and top, crawling into bed as her mother approaches the nearby bookshelf.

Yi: Aren’t I a little old to be read to before bedtime?
Ifina: Maybe it’s just to make me feel better. Now what kind of story do you want?
Yi: Mmm… One about destiny.
Ifina: (smiles) And selling sh-t to the stars?
Yi: Maybe.
Ifina: (sits on the bed with the book as Yi finally settles herself) Okay, how about this one… “Jianjue Gongzhu”.
Yi: Don’t remember that one.
Ifina: I actually just had it delivered from off-world. A poor man on Ryuvia Prime had to liquidate his whole stock when his library closed. He should be fine for a while, though. I paid him enough for it. Heh. Ahem. On to the story.

As mother begins reading, Yi closes her eyes and imagines the story happening before her.

Ifina: In a land long ago, there lived a wise king and his wife, the queen. They loved each other, and they loved their kingdom. It was small, but prosperous, and the people were very kind. What they treasured most of all, however, was their daughter, the princess. She was the jewel of their life, and the light of all who lived in the palace. All except for her uncle, the king’s brother. He was jealous of the king, and his daughter, who would eventually gain the throne. So he hatched a plan to take the kingdom for himself. One night, when the kingdom was sleeping, the brother of the king sent assassins, who killed the king and his wife in their sleep. Next, the assassins came for the princess. However, she, unlike the rest of the palace, was wide awake. She had also been trained by her father in the way of the sword. She fought desperately against the assassins, and barely managed to escape with her life, running off into the nearby forest, bleeding badly from a stab wound. Eventually, she collapsed, able to go on no longer. Fortunately, she got lucky. Along came a small band of hunters and brigands, those cast out by society. They saw the princess’s clothes and realized the same had happened to her. They took pity on the orphan child and nursed her back to health in the forest. At first, she was frightened of these men that had killed both man and beast in the past, but they showed her an unexpected kindness. They had done those things by mistake, or by necessity… but they were shunned anyway. The princess had nothing left but her life… so she decided to gamble with it on this band of ruffians. She swore to them that if they helped her regain her throne, she could repay their kindness by restoring them to society. They agreed, as she knew they would. They entered the castle via a secret passage known only to the princess and her parents. It led to the throne room. As she stood there in the shadows, blade at the ready, her uncle approached with his personal guard, the likes of which she had never seen. Uncertain, she looked at her new friends, the forest ruffians. Their leader looked at her with a confident grin and a wink, betraying a confidence he perhaps lacked in his heart. But it was enough for the princess. She leapt from the shadows. Her uncle scoffed at her, proclaiming that she had saved him the trouble of hunting her down to secure the throne. Battle was joined. The new king’s men were strong, but the princess’s new friends were even stronger. Eventually they were slain, and her uncle pressed his back against the wall, begging for mercy. The princess knew in her heart that she couldn’t kill him, even if he had tried to hurt her. Seizing the opportunity, the uncle raised his blade to strike… and his head fell from his shoulders and rolled across the floor. One of the brigands had come to her aid. He knew the uncle had betrayed her and torn her apart, dishonoring her with no regrets. In the end, he had decided that his friendship with the princess… was worth doing even what she would hate him for to keep her safe. Ultimately, the princess understood this and was very grateful. The next day, the princess was declared queen, and she took the bandit that had saved her as her husband, not caring what he’d done in the past. All that mattered to her was what he had done for her. All that mattered for him was that she had given him the chance to do it.
Yi: (tearing up) And they all lived happily ever after?
Ifina: (closes the book and puts it back on the shelf) And they lived on together. And that’s good enough.

Yi sits there thinking for a long time. Eventually, mother sighs, gives her a kiss on the forehead and wishes her a good night, walking out of the room shortly thereafter.

----------
The evil king hauls off once again and Yi barely parries the blow. Her arm feels like it’s going to come out of her socket as he makes another wild slash. Her blade goes flying from her grasp.

King: (laughs evilly) You’re finished, princess!

Yi awakes from her nightmare as the dream-king buries his blade in her chest. She sits up straight in bed with a start, cold sweat all over her face. That had been awful. She shakes her head and sighs.

Yi: Lights.

The lights in the room turn on and Yi gets out of bed, walking toward the window and looking out in contemplation as she often does. In the distance, the factories are mostly dark, everyone but the managers having gone home for the night. Dark clouds collect overhead and a slight drizzle falls to the ground. She sighs again. She knows she’s got to grow up some time, but no one was rushing her, that was for sure. The future chairwoman’s eyes then focus on the weapons on the wall. As she had in the past on nights like this, she goes to the wall and unfastens them, quickly putting the loops over her fingers, effectively attaching one to either hand. She lets the cool adamantium pressing against her hands and arms comfort her for a moment before giving them a swing, little more than a short, quick stab in front of her. It was a difficult weapon to grasp, but she’d been training with replica, dulled emei piercers since she was a child. Perhaps she is still a child, she muses to herself as she settles into a fighting pose and begins a routine of her own design. The strikes, however, are those of a trained professional… not a child. Eventually, she is sweating and yawning so hard that she can barely stay awake. The scream she hears in that next moment, however, send the adrenaline rushing.

Yi: M-mother!?

She hurries to the door and is about to open it when a voice comes from the other side, hurried and gruff.

Man: We got the first two targets. You! Take care of the girl.

The sweat flowing down Yi’s body turns cold, and in a rush she turns off the light and flattens herself against the wall just before the door opens, light from the hallway spilling in. In walks a large, burly man with a helmet. Yi stares at him for a moment. Or rather, stares at her terrified reflection in the side of his shiny helmet. She finds herself able to act once more when the man turns to her, knife swinging toward her. And act she does. Yi launches herself at the thug’s throat, a piercer quickly breaking through his jugular. His scream of pain is muffled by the gurgling of blood as he throws her off. She hits the deck hard as her would-be assailant falls. Her vision swims and she struggles to get up as another man enters the room. She can only grunt as she is kicked hard and slides across the room, tears forming due to the pain. Her foe walks slowly toward her, and Yi looks down only to discover her piercers had been lost during her “flight”. Her murderer- she now thought of him as her murderer- reaches down, grabbing her by the throat. Up he hoists her, her vision continuing to swim. She barely feels when the big man slams the back of her head against the nearby window.

Man: (malevolently) Going to be unfortunate that Yi jumped out this here window to commit suicide after her parents’ deaths…
Yi: (choking) K-kack… M-my parents…!

She can say nothing more as the man commences with slamming the back of her head against the window, repeatedly and with extreme prejudice. Even while traveling in and out of consciousness, she is able to sense when the window gives way and shatters behind her.

Man: Heh. A pity really. Hundreds of years you’ve been in business, all to end in one… split… seco-

The man is cut off… when his head explodes. The unfortunate thug’s brains fly everywhere, including into Yi’s face. The dead man’s grip goes loose and she finds herself tipping backwards through the broken window. Suddenly, a hand grabs hers, and she is quickly hoisted back up, barely retaining consciousness. She is dimly aware of a man putting her arm over his shoulder and one of his arms around her waste to keep her upright. She also becomes conscious of the fact that one of the voices she now hears is familiar.

Alliance captain: (as he holds Yi) Nice shot, Smith.
Alliance soldier: (lowering the shotgun, chuckling) Good catch, sir.

Both groggy and terrified, Yi pushes the captain away and dives for her piercers, quickly putting them on and rising shakily to a fighting pose as the other two stare at her quizzically.

Yi: St-stay back!
Alliance captain: (raises his hands) Um… what?
Yi: Don’t play idiot!
Alliance captain: (smiles sadly) There’s never any playing involved.
Yi: Just shut up! You’re here to kill me and my parents… just like you did your brother!
Alliance captain: (sighs and shakes his head) I only did what needed to be done to preserve the lives of my crew.
Alliance soldier: Look, kid. It was him or us. And the captain’s brother was a murderous douche-bag. (shrugs) He chose us.
Yi: (shakes her head to stay conscious) Th-then why are you here!?
Alliance soldier: To save your life, genius.
Alliance captain: Had my first officer watch this floor. Was afraid something would happen. Just wish… we could have been faster.
Yi: (shakes her head for no reason this time and collapses onto the bed) You saved me… so I guess I won’t stab you. Wait… what did you mean “wish we could have been faster”?

The two look at each other for a moment. Eventually, the captain speaks.

Alliance captain: Yi… I’m so damn sorry. We got here too late. Your parents… your p-parents are dead.

Those words hit Yi like a freight train. It is several seconds before she catches up enough to cry, anguished tears of sadness and rage. When the captain tries to put his arms around her for comfort, she slaps him across the face, her rage winning out.

Yi: (shouts) You should have been here faster, you son of a B-TCH!
Alliance soldier: Hey, hey! Watch it!
Alliance captain: It’s okay. We SHOULD have been faster.
Alliance soldier: (bends down to inspect a corpse) What are we supposed to do now?
Alliance captain: Only thing we can do. Make sure the f-cking murderer pays.
Yi: I… I would like that. I w-want to kill them myself!
Alliance soldier: Kid like you shouldn’t have to do that. We’ll take it from here. Alliance law is clear on what should happen now.
Alliance captain: This isn’t Alliance space. We have no authority h-
Yi: Then as the next chairperson of GammaTech, I hereby place a bounty of… 100,000 credits on the heads of whoever the hell did this!
Alliance soldier: I still don’t know…
Alliance captain: Come on, Smith. We’ve played vigilante before.
Alliance soldier: (thinks for a moment) Okay, I’m sold.
Yi: Thank you… thank you so much… C-can I have your names?
Alliance soldier: (as he reads a small piece of paper) Chief Smith.
Alliance captain: Whalecow, SAC Hephaestus.
Yi: I’m Yi. Wish I could say it was a pleasure.
Smith: It’s about to be even less of one, darlin’… (hands Yi the paper)
Yi: (mumbles as she reads) Take care of Wangs, be quick. S-Song will pay well!?
Whalecow: (turns away and makes both hands fists) A traitor.
Smith: You still want his head?
Yi: (resolutely, coldly) He took my parents away from me. Even if he is my uncle, he needs to pay.
Whalecow: We’ll get on it then.
Alliance commander: (pauses at the door)  Captain! There’s been a break-in at docking bay A-3! One ship’s been launched, but a second is being assaulted now. Wish we had more ground support.
Whalecow: Velora! Who’s on that ship?
Velora: Probably a member of the CEO family. Accessible only to them. Should we give chase?
Whalecow: Yes. Have Lieutenant Commander Dereddi lay in a pursuit course. (thinks for a moment) Did Cosmos follow us here?
Velora: (grins) They’ve been shadowing us since Delaney III.
Whalecow: (smiles mischievously) Tell her if she returns with the VIP on that ship alive, there’s 100,000 credits for the taking. And if they get a little rough, I’ll throw in an extra thousand.
Velora: With pleasure. We better get to the docking bay, though. Seems a certain delegation is attempting to make a run for it.
Yi: Underhill.
Velora: Right. And we’re going to need all the help we can get.
Whalecow: (draws his blade) Say no more. On the way, call up Fontana and tell him to get his big red ass to the party. There’s prey to hunt.
[close]
Confidence. Solidarity.
GammaTech Detention Facility. 0200 hours.

The high-security doors close behind Yi as she proceeds into the facility’s atrium, past the nearby benches and potted plants to the reception desk, where a middle-aged woman who looked like she’d been awoken from a deep sleep less than ten minutes ago is sitting, rubbing her eyes frequently. The new GammaTech chairwoman looks to her right and left. Yes, the Alliance and two PACT soldiers are still there, as well as her own man, David. They’d been with her all night.

Yi: (walks up to the desk) Good evening, ma‘am.
Receptionist: (looks up for a moment as her sleepy eyes widen) Ms. Yi… are you okay?

Yi knows evidence to the contrary includes not just her bodyguards but also her  bloodshot eyes and near-immutable frown. After a moment, she finally manages to lie.

Yi: I’m doing fine. I heard you have a… a new prisoner that requires my attention.
Receptionist: Wang Song, madam. My child… I am so sorry.
Yi: (smiles sadly) Going to have to have apology boxes distributed all over the galaxy at this rate.
Receptionist: (shakes her head) I hope he gets what’s coming to him. Anything you do, you have my full support.
Yi: (nods) You are very kind, ma’am. I am glad you are here.
Receptionist: The guard here woke me up when everything went crazy. I am the only one currently working here with the ability to do all the logistical task-making for so many prisoners. Of course, the vast majority are going to the government for investigation, but we have special permission from the governor to question Underhill, his surviving lackeys, and Song.
Yi: Just Song will do. We know what Underhill was doing and his men are more or less just pawns. (thinks for a moment) Is there anyone else here for the interrogation?
Receptionist: (sighs) A young girl and a bunch of thugs came in earlier and handed Song directly to us, as well as a lot of his followers. They demanded to be there when you arrived to ensure they got their cash. They mentioned you by name. It was against procedure to let them in, but then an Alliance captain arrived and vouched for the riff-raff, so against my better judgment I let them all in. I hope that won’t be a problem…
Yi: Probably not. (shakes her head) I’m ready to see Song now. (turns to her guards) You four stay here.
David: Alright. But if you need anything, just shout.
Yi: (wryly) The walls are sound-proof, David.
David: I… have good ears.
PACT soldier: Be cautious, chairwoman. Don’t hesitate to do what you need to for answers.
Alliance soldier: Never thought I’d agree with a Red.
Yi: I appreciate your concern… but I will be fine.

Yi proceeds to the elevator, pushing the button for the lower level. The doors open and she steps out of the lift. As she walks down the corridor to the door at the end, she realizes what she’d become within the span of about three hours. She’d always had a bit of difficulty with decision-making, but now suddenly decisions came to her like a snap of the fingers. Something else bothered her as well. All her life, he’d been Uncle Song. Now, her mind sees her only as “Song”, a foe to be dealt with, a risk to be expunged. Or is that just what she’s telling herself? The fresh moisture collecting in her eyes serve as evidence to the latter as she finally reaches the end of the hallway and pushes open the door, the voices from those within suddenly audible.

Whalecow: …Because it would be unfortunate if you killed a ship-full of innocent pawns.
Girl: Anyone that died up there should have read into their jobs and saw that this Song f-cker was a piece of sh-t.
Man: (grins) Some employers aren’t as open or pleasant to work for as you, boss.
Girl: (sighs) Knock off the smile before I have to give you a second one, Cutter.
Whalecow: (laughs) Horrible time for a reunion, but- Ah, Ms. Yi.

The Alliance captain nods to her as she steps into the room. The “riff-raff” turn out to be a man of average height with a bit of stubble on his chin who nods as well, and a large, burly man that fixes her with a blank expression. The girl, however, puts a hand on her hip and raises her right eyebrow, unimpressed, as Yi approaches the one-way window.

Girl: So you’re the newly wealthy heiress. Hell of a way to claim your fortune.
Yi: Um… yes, I suppose…?
Girl: (shakes her head) Whatever… look, I know this night’s probably been sh-t for you, so I’m just gonna take my cold hard creds and get out of your hair.
Yi: We’ll… go up to the HQ and get your money right after this.
Girl: Okay, what’s the issue? Are you really so out of it?
Yi: Please forgive me… but I’m not exactly used to this. I know I’m going to be dealing with a lot of different people from now on, and I’m sure you’re experienced and good at your job… but you look like a child.
Bulky man: (grins slightly) Wrong move, girlie.
Girl: (unexpectedly ticked) And who the f-ck are you to judge!? You’re like a little toddler that just got ahold of mommy and daddy’s toys!

The odd and ironic feeling that Yi may be out of league with this kid is drowned out by a both sad and angered fury that she struggles to keep down.

Yi: F-ck. You.
Girl: I’m gonna-
Whalecow: No, you’re not, Cosette.
Cosette: (turns to him, hands already at her sidearm’s holster) And who the hell put you in charge?
Whalecow: The girl’s under my protection now. She won’t be touched.
Cosette: I should slit both your throats and be done with it… (sighs) After this is over then… Chairwoman Yi. (grins like a shark) Make the show good and maybe I won’t demand extra.
Whalecow: Just… be careful in there, Yi. I know his type. He’ll make it seem like his actions were justified… like he did it for your own good and that you mean the world to him. He’ll say you will fail as a leader. Don’t believe any of it. Not even for a second.
Yi: Okay…
Cosette: (bitterly) And if that doesn’t work, imagine the looks on your parents’ faces when he stabbed them in the throat.
Yi: I… y-yes, thank you.

Yi turns away from them then, toward the door. She keys her admin code above the knob and a light flashes green as her hands close on the knob and a retinal scan confirms her identity. She waits a full twenty seconds, taking ten deep breaths in and out as she imagines the others staring at her back. At last, she turns the knob and swings open the door. It swings shut behind her when she enters the room. There are several ceiling lights above her, and the walls are a bare silver-gray metal made of the same material as the small table and the chairs on either side. A small retina-encrypted compartment on the wall, she knows, reveals several tools for… more messy forms of interrogation when they are- if rarely- needed. She recognizes the man in the chair facing her as Song, though the bruises and cuts on his head and right arm inform her that Whalecow’s extra thousand was very well invested. The broken left arm that the cast now covers fills her with a sort of guilty pleasure, and she passively notes the restraints holding his good arm and both his legs to the chair.

Song: (grins pleasantly despite his wounds) Won’t you… have a seat, my dear?
Yi: (as she takes a seat) …
Song: (stretches a bit, wincing) The sibling-killer’s pirate friends did a real number on me. Also got three broken ribs in addition to all this.
Yi: …You deserve it.
Song: H-hey! That’s not the way to treat your favorite uncle!
Yi: That sibling-killer is a better uncle than you, and I met him 6 hours ago. (shakes her head) No family of mine would send assassins after me.
Song: (stops short) I… I didn’t want them to hurt you. I swear! I was only trying to do what’s necessary for the company. When I died, you were going to inherit the company anyway. Please… you have to believe me.
Yi: (pulls down her top enough to reveal the strangulation marks) …
Song: (with wide eyes) …
Yi: I also had to clean off my face to get the chunks of brain off of it. That Chief Smith sure knows his shotguns. (shakes her head) You’ll be lucky if you hang for this. And the company is mine now anyway.
Song: (recovers) And you think you’re ready? (chuckles for a moment) Not without what I needed to teach you. It’s going to fall apart the way your parents were doing it.
Yi: Because having a chairman that murders people in their sleep is the right way.
Song: Listen closely, child. Your mother and father were too soft. Yearly raises for everyone, extra money on quadruple-redundant safety protocols… Do you know how much cred we’re dropping double-armoring and triple-bolting our ships with only a slight price increase?
Yi: The company is prospering, Song. As it has for a thousand years before us. We… we helped humanity out of the damn dark ages!
Song: Maybe it’s prospering now… but nothing lasts. That softness only grows over time. I’ve seen it more times than I can count. In as little as a hundred years, GammaTech will be too deep in the red to ever come out again. And why? Because you believed in your parents and wouldn’t listen to your dear uncle who did what was necessary to keep you safe and secure. But I can help you avoid it, dear girl. Please… if you’ll just let me out…

Yi suddenly feels as if she’s having the worst migraine in her life. Then, she remembers what the pirate girl had told her. Almost unbidden, her parents appear before her, knives stuck in their throats. They utter no sound but look upon her as they had in life. There is no anger, no disappointment. Mother smiles at her with confidence, and father’s right hand, balled into a fist, rests on his heart. Solidarity. The images fade and she returns to the “real world” to find her right hand, emei piercer in place, resting beneath Song’s throat. At last, she finds her own voice.

Yi. NO.
Song: But think about the futures of everyone you’re throwing awa-
Yi: I SAID NO. I should kill you right now…

The sheer anger written all over her face fades, and is replaced by something else. Confidence. Solidarity. For the first time since her mother had kissed her goodnight just hours ago, a faint smile finds its way to her lips.

Yi: (quietly)…But then you wouldn’t live to see how wrong you are.
Song: Oh no… you can’t…
Yi: (louder) Captain Whalecow, please see to it that Mr. Wang Song is taken to a secure prison cell with a screen. He’s gonna watch the next hundred years or so and see just how right my parents were.
Cutter: (before Whalecow can respond) No. I’ll take him. Richter, let’s go.
Bulky man: Fine. (totes a shotgun) Untie the S.O.B. and let’s get cookin’.

Cutter nods and enters the room which Yi opens. He moves to Song and quickly undoes the restraints. As soon as the last one is undone, Song reacts violently, attempting to punch Cutter full in the face. The bulky man known as Richter raises an eyebrow as he catches the fist before it can touch Cutter.

Cutter: (smiles) Ah, good. You gave me an excuse.
Song: W-wait-

Yi decides she likes Cutter as he grabs hold of both Song’s shoulders and delivers a headbutt to the bridge of her uncle’s nose, spinning the now-dazed man and marching him out of the room.

Richter: (to Song) Cutter don’t like child-killers.
Cutter: You’ll be lucky if you don’t have an accident on the way to your new home, asswipe.
Whalecow: (to Cosette after the two have gone) You must be proud.
Cosette: Don’t tell them I said this or I’ll kill you, but I do genuinely enjoy watching them work sometimes.
Whalecow: (chuckles) Everyone has hobbies. A guy on third watch on my ship has a habit of making statuettes out of the teeth of slaver bosses. Got a gold one of the ship itself. Not a bad piece of work.
Yi: (forces a smile) Not also your dentist, I hope.
Whalecow: Hahahahahah. Nope. The anesthesiologist.
Yi: Oh… wow.
Cosette: Ugh. Hearing you two make small-talk is worse than getting teeth pulled WITHOUT the anesthesia.
Yi: Right. Your money.
Cosette: Kid catches on quick. Maybe you’ll do better than horrible after all. Maybe we’ll take some of your sh-t someday.
Yi: (shrugs) No offense, but could you afford any of our weapons?
Cosette: (grins) Who said anything about buying? (flatly) But don’t underestimate us. We could buy this planet out from under you if you gave me a week to get the cash together. But I won’t.
Yi: (wryly) How charitable of you.
Whalecow:  While you two ladies take care of business, I’m gonna go make sure Song is okay.
Cosette: Cutter and Richter are professionals.
Whalecow: (grins as he leaves) I’m more worried about your domestic staff.
Yi: Now… your cash. Follow me, please. Sorry about the “kid” thing.
Cosette: (waves a hand carelessly) Just give me the credits and I’ll let it go just this once. (after a moment) So out of curiosity… what’s next on the agenda for the big G-Tech? And don’t think I won’t be watching.
Yi: (responds after a bit, a small grin appearing on her face) We’re gonna sell sh-t to the stars.
[close]
The Legacy Of The Phalanx
1 Week Later.
Shrine. 1400 hours.

In the end, the mourners were many, Yi decided. Around her are gathered close friends and family, in which she included both the Alliance and PACT leaders. They’d both stayed with her this past week, giving gentle encouragement. She ponders what relationship the two actually had. For ideological “enemies”, they certainly worked together well. She shakes her head. None of her business, she thinks as she looks around. The good-sized group stands in a small, recently erected area of the Wang Burial Shrine in the middle of the forest, a buffet and tables set up a few yards away for after the ceremony. She focuses her attention on the young woman that approaches the podium, before which lay two opened coffins, within which lie the bodies of her parents. She’d gotten choked up the first few times, but now she can stare at their cold, lifeless eyes and feel nothing. Was there something wrong with her? The woman reaches the podium and turns the microphone on. It was Katelyn. Who else should it be? She’d stuck by Yi through all of this, no matter how forlorn and depressed Yi had gotten. Last night, they’d snuck out here and become sworn siblings in the old, traditional fashion, and Yi suspected she would never regret that decision.

Katelyn: Hello, dearly beloved. We are gathered here today to celebrate the lives of two of the best people this galaxy has ever seen. Their names are Wang Yamota and Wang Ifina. Together, the two of them brought prosperity to their people as the Wang family has done for more than a thousand years. And should the next generation of GammaTech be even half that which these two were… and I have no doubt this will be the case… I can easily see the company going on to prosper for another thousand years. They never wished for long goodbyes… (chuckles sadly) In fact, the both of them insisted against them many times over. So… from the bottom of my heart… I just want to say that all the people of GammaTech loved them dearly as our own mothers and fathers. I know I did. And they saw us as their children and treated us such. I also know that for their sakes, we will continue to love their daughter as we did them. And finally… may they find peace, and may their souls be caught up in and bring joy to the lives of a million planets, circling a thousand stars, and may they dance upon the solar winds.

Despite herself, Yi starts to cry again, as well as many of the assembled. She doesn’t stop as Katelyn thanks everyone for attending and leaves the podium, Whalecow shortly thereafter grabbing her hand and leading her to one of the tables. She finally sits down and manages to regain her composure with a recently acquired iron will. She sits there for a while, accepting sympathies, hugs, and pats on the back that were most likely sincere but all seemed hollow to her. Eventually, the crowd thins and even Fontana leaves, leaving she and Whalecow as the only two left at the table. Suddenly, his comm device beeps, and a look of surprise briefly crosses his face as he presses the button and a stern-looking, gray-haired Alliance admiral appears just above the device. Yi listens in while pretending to look elsewhere.

Whalecow: Ah. Admiral Grey. A pleasant surprise. You haven’t called in a while. How are the kids?
Grey: (rolls eyes) Your location. What is it?
Whalecow: Uh, sir? Weinan.
Grey: Still there? Didn’t hear anything about negotiations. How are those going?
Whalecow: Negoti- Oh! For the power armor, right?
Grey: What else would they be for? Tell me you’re concluding them with the new chairwoman right now.
Whalecow: W-well… we’ve sort of been working on keeping the company together and making arrangements for the fune-
Grey: Wasting your time! It’s fine to be helpful, but Alliance captains don’t have time to waste. War with PACT is inevitable, boy. We don’t have time for babysitting.
Whalecow: And suddenly you care about how we spend our time? Know what, forget I said that.
Grey: (annoyed) Get that armor by any means necessary, or you’re going to be out among the scum of the galaxy until the day you die.
Whalecow: Permission to speak freely, sir.
Grey: Yes, yes, granted.
Whalecow: (calmly) I’m not going to rob a child blind after she’s had her parents killed and she’s been strangled and nearly tossed out a window. And if you have a problem with that, you can kiss my ass.
 
Before the admiral can respond, the captain cuts the channel. He looks sheepishly at Yi.

Whalecow: Heh. Sorry about that, Ms. Yi. Not real popular with Alliance leadership these days. Well, I’d better be going. Got a lot of fringe that needs justice, equality, and blah blah blah.
Yi: (impulsively) You can have the armor!
Whalecow: (double-takes) Wait, what?
Yi: The Phalanx armor. Take it. I don’t want it. It killed my parents.
Whalecow: People killed your parents, Yi. People that have been dealt with. When the Alliance roars to life, it is a force to be reckoned with. In the end, they wouldn’t be able to properly develop the Phalanx because the necessity is just not what that would require. Save it for someone who needs it… someone who’s neutral and benevolent… someone like you.
Yi: (nods solemnly) Thank you again, for everything. If you ever need anything, just ask. GammaTech’s doors are always open to you.
Whalecow: (chuckles) Wish I heard things like that more often.

----------
GammaTech Industries, Weinan, Western AEGIS.
GammaTech HQ. Present Day.

In the end, Yi had spared Song’s life. Underhill was sent back where he’d come from, and he’d been reported dead due to an “accident” the following week. She’d never found out why Cosmos had been there, though her and Whalecow’s presence had been more than helpful. The Phalanx armor went back into storage, and remains there to this day. Most of Song’s surviving crew were cleared of suspicion and returned to work, and as weeks turned to months and months to years, it quickly became evident that Yi was every bit as capable as her mother and father had been, and stock prices showed it. She arouses herself from her memories to find Veronika’s glorious propaganda speech freshly concluded. She is about embarrassed at the realization that she’d pretty much daydreamed through the last 40% of it. Instead of blushing, she sighs as Legion’s first officer begins to scold the small woman.

Ava: I mean, what are we doing? We’re trying to do charity and we can’t just spout propaganda.
Veronika: Ach, is of no taste, Ms. B-tchy Ceran Lady. This film, is of classic.
Ava: (sighs and turns to Yi) I’m so sorry, chairwoman Wang. Veronika is… not from around here.
Yi: That’s alright. (grins) I find her mannerisms amusing, even if the presentation was a bit… dated.
Veronika: Not dated, is made with best of Far Far Away Modern Tecknowledgey.
Yi: I could find you a deal on equipment that would perhaps perform a bit better. We have a good selection.
Veronika: Is of thanking you, but that is something head boss KTKM must approve.
Yi: I see. Now then. (turns to Ava) You are here for the Phalanx, correct?
Ava: That is our mission, yes.
Yi: You must be aware of the reasons behind its being locked away? It could be dangerous in the wrong hands, and as you may know, people would and have killed to get their hands on it. I trust your captain well enough and I believe in the mission of this “Alliance for the Defense of Freedom”. I would like to give this armor base to you… but what can you offer me to assure me of the soundness of this decision?
Ava: Well. There are many reasons, but I’ll focus on the main ones to streamline things. As a small paramilitary force, the ADF will use them, and use them well. In addition, these would be the very first power armor the ADF is investing in, so it will likely by the basis for further development going forward. As you are aware, things are growing even more dangerous out there lately, and we desperately need additional technology and resources to keep up.
Yi: I hear you keep up well, Ms. Crescentia. Many planets have accepted your protection.
Ava: Correct, and we need this armor to help ensure their safety and the safety of the rest of the known galaxy. Even our veteran soldiers may not be up to all situations. (hesitantly) And… while the ADF does spend a significant amount of domestic and martial budget on GammaTech-made products, I think this would go a long way toward establishing a stronger relationship between us.
Yi: (nods) I would be more than happy to help fuel your mission. Will… that be all?
Ava: Originally I had charts… diagrams… a PowerPoint presentation… but the captain made me promise to keep it short.

Yi nods again and retreats back into deep thought, her eyes wandering idly out the window and toward the detention facility.

Yi: (turns back to the ADF reps) I greatly appreciate it, and have made my decision.
[close]

3
IMPORTANT NOTE: In order to get this long-delayed post out as soon as possible, I will not be going into any real detail about missions that no one on the thread selected. There will, however, be an extended debriefing on them when the time comes. The visit with the Phoenix Corps will take place during the mission phase. The adventures of Claude and Kryska, meanwhile, will take place in the middle of this post as previously planned. So the elements of this post will be opening negotiations with GammaTech on Weinan, what’s going on with the Serenity, and Chigara and Arcadius aboard the Sharr’Lac. Those last two could be fairly… heavy, if you know what I mean.

----------
GammaTech Industries, Weinan, Western AEGIS.
GammaTech Landing platform. 1100 hours.

The shuttle ride had been fairly quiet. Ava had stayed up in the cockpit next to the pilot, while Veronika had stayed as far from her as possible, though this got little more than an eye-roll from Ava. She had gotten used to it over the years, though her recent experiences with the ADF had been a refreshing change. The first time when she actually has to do anything comes when the shuttle descends into Weinan airspace. The pilot double-takes at the incoming transmission, and confusedly tells Ava that the governor himself wants to speak to them. She tells him to put the communication through, and finds herself face-to-face with a middle-aged man of moderate build. He bears a certain air of authority, though the commander bears in mind that this often means nothing.

Governor: Hello, there. My name is Governor Tarrus, and I am the administrator for this lovely little planet. You are with the ADF, correct?
Ava: That’s right, sir. First Officer Crescentia. F.S.S. Legion.
Tarrus: Ah! I thought I recognized you from somewhere. It’s a real pleasure… though I admit I expected more of you to come, and much quicker.
Ava: We have things to take care of. No time for shore leave right now, and the accommodations on our vessels are enough to last us as long as necessary. Maybe some other time.
Tarrus: (nods) I understand, Ms. Crescentia. You’ve already been cleared to enter our space, of course. May I ask where you’re setting down?
Ava: We’re headed for GammaTech HQ. I have an appointment with the chairwoman.
Tarrus: (grimaces) What could you want with those xenophobes?
Ava: Xenophobes? The captain said he knew this “Yi” personally.
Tarrus: (rolls eyes) The only people he doesn’t know are the aliens from beyond the fringe.
Ava: (smiles ever so slightly) Perhaps. Rest assured, Mr. Tarrus, I can handle “xenophobes” well enough… whatever you mean by that.
Tarrus: I just mean that they’re the only major business on an AEGIS-aligned planet that has not signed on. That and a lot of them seem to think AEGIS is doing it wrong. Right now we have soldiers staring them down from just outside the gates of that huge compound they’ve got down here. And they are staring back.
Ava: (raises an eyebrow) That doesn’t seem like such a great idea…
Tarrus: It’s the only way we can respond quickly enough if they try something.
Pilot: We’ll be in GammaTech airspace in 30 seconds.
Ava: Why would they… (shakes head) If there’s nothing else, sir, we’re going to have to cut this conversation short.
Tarrus: Very well, Ms. Crescentia. I hope you have a pleasant stay on Weinan. Just… try to be careful with GammaTech.

The transmission cuts. Ava sighs and stares out the viewport, awaiting their destination. 30 seconds pass by, and then a minute, and still the shuttle continues to descend.

Ava: Ah, pilot?
Pilot: Yes, commander?
Ava: You said we would be there in 30 second about 90 seconds ago.
Pilot: (grins) That’s right.
Ava: Are we still on course?
Pilot: Yup.
Ava: Then why the time issue?
Pilot: Well… just seemed like you really wanted to get off the phone.
Ava: (thinks for a moment, and then nods) Thank you, Mr…
Pilot: Declan. Declan Mazik.
Ava: A pleasure, Mr. Mazik.
Declan: Yeah… not really. (laughs) I’m just a pilot.
Ava: We all have our place.
Declan: Won’t ever catch me complaining about mine.

All is silent for a moment.

Ava: So… what was your job in your… previous life?
Declan: (grins without taking his eyes off his instruments) I appreciate the interest, but we really are about to arrive now. (chuckles) I promise. Maybe on the way back. We’re getting a hail… (presses the accept hail button)

The screen comes alive with the image of a young woman. She does not hesitate before speaking in a subtle PACT accent.

Officer: You are now entering GammaTech airspace. Tours are not beginning for another 2.5 hours, so I will assume you have business.
Ava: That’s right. Commander Crescentia. F.S.S. Legion.
Officer: (face lights up) Ah, my apologies! I, um… only skimmed the arrival schedule for today. The chairwoman has been very eager to speak with whoever the ADF sent.
Ava: The captain is elsewhere. I will be handling the negotiations, along with a… colleague.
Officer: Okay, sounds good. I’ll inform the chairwoman. In any case, you’re clear for landing. Navigate to landing area 3-C and choose a free berth. Oh, and welcome to GammaTech.

The officer gives a salute and closes the channel. Momentarily, the landing area comes into view. It is one of 9 such landing zones, and they find their way to a clear space in area C, one of 9 as well. As soon as the shuttle touches down and powers off, Ava gets up and walks through the door to the passenger compartment, not even stopping as she waves to Veronika who gets up, mumbling in a foreign language what is most likely something unpleasant. The two exit the shuttle and find themselves confronted by another of GammaTech’s personnel… Or rather, the same one that spoken to them moments earlier, Ava notes.

Officer: (smiles) Hello again, Ms. Crescentia. My name is Katelyn. The chairwoman sent me to bring her to you myself.
Ava: (nods) Thank you. Let us begin, then, shall we?
Katelyn: Of course. Right this way, please~!

Katelyn leads the two, whistling a small tune all the way, out of the landing area and down an underground hallway to a lift. It takes them to the top of a large wall, from which an observer can see a large amount of manufacturing facility between them and the outer wall. On the inside of the wall is a rather well-appointed tram-system, which the trio step into and ride for a few short minutes.

Veronika: What you whistling, lady Katelyn?
Katelyn: (thrown off a bit by the accent) Just a tune my father taught me. “Never saw the sun… shining so bright. Never saw things… going so right. Noticing the days… all of them gone. Nothing but blue skies… from now on…”
Veronika: We have song like that in Far Away Space. But we sing deeper and to tune of bass guitar.
Ava: Well, you seem to enjoy your job at the very least. How long until we get there?
Katelyn: Shouldn’t be long now… Ah, here we are!

The tram stops near a large gate that leads into the manufacturing area. It would seem this place is built with manufacturing in the outer walled area and administration and utility functions in the inner area. An elevator takes them down to ground level, the windows on the side making the enormous central tower look even more impressive than it was. The gate, however, is open, and mere feet from several nervous guards are soldiers in government uniforms. Katelyn notices them looking.

Katelyn: The outer area is open to the public except in emergency, and that includes the military. The inner gate could technically be closed, but the chairwoman’s policy is to keep it open. Insurance, she says, in case the workers ever come running for protection at any point. We are not undefended either. There are vehicle bays and hangars under this place, and massive guns can deploy from several points along the walls.
Ava: An impressive system, but I always preferred the mobility of a good starship under my feet.
Veronika: That we agree on, at least.
Katelyn: Well, space isn’t for everyone… (steps through the enormous doors to the central tower) …We here on the ground make do.

All around them are well-tended gardens maintained by artificial sunlight. Scattered about the room are fountains and statues of past chair-people. Katelyn stops at a large statue of a man and a woman.

Katelyn: This is Yamota and Ifina Wang. They were the last chair-people before their daughter, Yi. A lot of us still mourn in our own ways… (sighs and looks at them) But you’re not here to mourn. We’re nearly there.

They cross the room and walk past a lobby area before boarding a final elevator. Inside is a soft piece by a classical composer, and all about are chairs and small couches. Katelyn sits down and takes a stretch, Veronika shortly following suit, Ava, however, unused to this odd luxury, stands there awkwardly until the doors open on the top floor. There is a small hallway with doors on either side that lead to a large door with black windows, probably one-way. A man in combat armor leans up against the wall next to a thumb-scanner, rifle held with both hands behind his head. He winks at Katelyn and opens the doors as they pass, Katelyn rolling her eyes and blushing a bit in response.

Veronika: (grins) Well, well. Comrade Katelyn have crush.
Katelyn: (laughs) We’re past that stage. That’s David. We’re dating.
Ava: (raises an eyebrow) Congratulations, I guess…
Katelyn: Thank you. (looks forward as they enter) Madame Yi, our guests have arrived!

This room is large, a giant window overlooking everything on the back wall. Dwarfed by its size sit’s a very young woman, no more than 20 or 21. Her hair is an odd combination of silver and a very light brown, and she has it cut fairly short. Her eyes are a chill blue and by most standards she would be fairly beautiful. Her outfit is modest, little more than a silver-gray jumpsuit with a vest overtop. On its right side on the upper chest-area is the symbol of GammaTech: An equilateral triangle with sides of bronze, silver, and gold. She drops her data pad on the conference table and gets up, smiling softly at her guests.

Yi: Thank you for volunteering, Katelyn. A small bonus has been placed in your account. (laughs) Treat David this time.
Katelyn: (smiles back) Thank you very much, Madame.

Yi nods at Katelyn and she turns and makes her exit, Ava swearing she could hear her say “Nailed it!” under her breath. Rather than make a big deal out of Katelyn saying she’d been assigned the job, she focuses all her attention on Yi, who smiles at her and uses both hands to motion to the whole room, the couches and chairs on the sidelines included.
Yi: Have a seat anywhere you like, ladies. I don’t deny people courtesy, least of all to the friends of one of our many heroes. (grins) And then let us begin. Business awaits.

----------
SAHC Serenity, in orbit above Xeneva II, Western Neutral Rim.
Main Hangar. 1450 hours.

Claude arrives in the hangar just as the sound of locking handcuffs fills the air. She searches for the source to find the guilty pair on Kryska, wrists bound behind her. Several seasoned Alliance soldiers stand around her, a mix of annoyance and aloofness on their features. A second shuttle lands next to the one that had brought them, and two more soldiers exit, followed shortly by Admiral Grey himself. So surprised by the display is Claude that she stops short, half the hangar away from them. The captain was mad at Kryska, of course, from the fight they’d had just a half hour earlier, but curiosity had gotten the better of her, as was her custom. When Gerard had informed her that the admiral was here to see Kryska with a prison barge in tow, she’d been in her quarters, sobbing; the weight of what she’d been doing and all her responsibilities had finally come crashing down, it would seem. But all the same, she had to investigate.

Grey: (walks up to Kryska before speaking, looking down from his superior height) I am disappointed, Ms. Stares.
Kryska: (looks down at her feet) …
Grey: Do you know why I am disappointed?
Kryska: Treason, sedition, conspiracy…
Grey: (cuts her off) To name a few, yes. Do you know how serious these charges are? These charges which can all be proven swiftly and summarily?
Kryska: (looks up at his chest, not daring to make eye-contact) Well, sir. Penalty of death would be a moderate sentence, I suppose.
Grey: (sighs) Don’t call me “sir”. I am ashamed of you, girl… but your appraisal of the law is sound. At best, you will be in a prison or work camp for… at least until I’m dead. That way I won’t have to see hide or hair of you, traitor. And we Greys tend to live a long time.
Kryska: (thinks for a moment before looking Grey in the face) What are my exact charges?
Grey: Bah. Just a few include espionage in league with that socialist fool, Harrison.
Kryska: (grins slightly) I suppose he’s not such a lame duck now.
Grey: I’ll deal with him in the same manner I’m dealing with you now… and soon, you can rest assured.
Kryska: I see… espionage, huh?
Grey: (sighs) Yes, yes, what about it? Are you going to insist you’re innocent or some such foolishness?
Kryska: (looks him in the eye, at last, an unreadable expression on her face.) If the penalty for espionage in a war zone is death, what would betraying my people to the Prototypes get me?

Grey is silent for a moment, his glare getting steadily more intense as he keeps it steadily on Kryska. When he finally speaks, it is in such a voice that it may have caused ringing in Kryska’s ears.

Grey: HOW DARE YOU IMPLY THAT I HAVE SOLD OUT THE ALLIANCE! (recovers after a moment, his voice getting very quiet and adopting a low growl) You will be placed on that prison barge prior to our departure. You will be fully interrogated. When they reach the penal colony at Serpente I, you will be charged and sentenced… perhaps I will add false-witnessing to it as well. (stops for a moment and sighs) …But maybe not. Your service to us was good… while it lasted.
Kryska: I betrayed a lot of good people for you, Grey. Friends. I’m just lucky it didn’t catch up to me until now. (shakes her head) I’m just getting what I deserve, and it was a long time in coming.
Grey: (turns away) Good. I expect a quick passage through the prosecution system then. (to the soldiers) Take her back to the Safeguard and then get underway. Captain Chapman has his orders regarding this new prisoner already.

The soldiers salute, and Grey just stands there looking away from them.
Grey: (turns) What’s the holdup?
Soldier: (still saluting) Uh, sir…
Grey: (hurriedly salutes back, annoyed) Well, get on with it!
Soldier: Yes sir!

The soldiers, many of them slightly scared now, rush to get Kryska on the shuttle they’d came in, Grey’s personal guard getting on his own shuttle. Grey, finally aware that Claude is watching, turns to her.

Grey: Girl! What are you doing just standing around!? You’re the captain. Get to work!
Claude: (rapidly turns to leave) Uh, yes sir!
Grey: Oh, one more thing.
Claude: Wh-what is it?
Grey: In the absence of Rear Admiral Stares, you are being field-promoted to rear admiral position in her place. Be down on Xeneva II within the next half hour to finalize things. That’s an order, REAR ADMIRAL Trilleo.
Claude: Y-yes sir, o-of course sir!

Claude keeps walking, distantly aware that Grey has boarded his shuttle which is rapidly departing. Her focus is no longer on him, however.

Claude: Jeez. Rear Admiral… just like that. Rear Admiral Claude Trilleo. Rolls off the tongue. If only mom could see me now. She’d take back everything she’s ever said about me never amounting to anything. Ah, but… why’s Kryska under arrest? Eh, doesn’t matter. It’ll sort itself out. Wonder how many men find rear admirals sexy? Probably a lot. Forbidden fruit. Heeheehee. Although… what was Kryska saying about the prototypes? Should I believe what she says? Should… should I care?


For the first time in recent memory, she puts a hand to her forehead, thinking hard. Her thoughts are interrupted by Marissa Peters from the third watch, who seems to have been listening from behind the hangar door’s threshold. Claude had never paid her too much attention. A nondescript face and a near-flawless track-record, though Claude had rarely ever paid much attention to the latter.

Marissa: Congratulations, Rear Admiral Trilleo. Heh. Name rolls off the tongue.
Claude: (giggles) That’s what I said.
Marissa: So… how’s it feel?
Claude: I guess it feels… fine? I’m still a bit dazed, but that’s nothing new! Heeheehee.
Marissa: (grins) Want to play a game with me?
Claude: Um… okay. I’m always up for a little fun.
Marissa: I will say a word or phrase, and you will give me the first pronoun that pops into your head.
Claude: (furrows her brow) What’s a pronoun?
Marissa: Well… (thinks) It’s a word that adds quality to a different word, such as “calm”, “clean”, or something like that.
Claude: (uncertain) Well… okay. As rear admiral I guess I need to “broaden my horizons” as Kayto was always saying.
Marissa: Okay. Let’s get started. First word: Solar Alliance.
Claude: Hunky!
Marissa: (raises an eyebrow) Second word. Serenity.
Claude: Um…Giant?
Marissa: (sighs) One more. Rear Admiral.

Claude is about to say something akin to “sexy”, but something makes her stop with her mouth open. She closes it for a moment, and then opens it and speaks a word that may even surprise her.

Claude: …Dirty.
Marissa: (smiles sadly) That’s a good answer, Ms. Trilleo. (stops leaning on the wall and starts walking) Walk with me, Admiral Trilleo.
Claude: (starts to follow her) Where are we going?
Marissa: To take care of some unfinished business.
Claude: (laughs nervously) That’s not ominous at all.

----------
SAHC Serenity, in orbit above Xeneva II, Western Neutral Rim.
Admiral‘s Quarters. 1460 hours.

The two enter Kryska’s quarters. It occurs distantly to Claude that they are her quarters now, and she should technically be moving in soon and promoting Commander Furamora to captain in her place. Marissa goes to the drawers in the nearby desk beneath the computer monitor.

Marissa: (looks at her for a moment) Don’t just stand there. Help me search the room.
Claude: (surprised) Oh! Uh, okay.

Claude looks around the room. The two things that stand out most are the firearm and holster sitting on the bed and a perfume bottle on the nightstand.

Claude: Heh. She kept the perfume I bought her. Doesn’t look like it’s been used… still, surprised it wasn’t promptly thrown in the garbage. I really was reaching with that one, wasn’t I?

She opens the drawer on the nightstand to find nothing but medications to aid in sleep.

Marissa: Anything yet?
Claude: No. Would help to know what I was looking for though. Did she have a porn collection you wanted to loot or something?
Marissa: (looks at Claude) Are you sure you saved the galaxy?
Claude: Um… Well I think I got a medal for that at some point that men find attractive.
Marissa: (sighs) Just keep looking.

Claude shrugs, the usual goofy smile on her face as she crosses to the dresser and starts opening the drawers, only to find two data cards in the uppermost one.

Claude: I found something. Do you think it’s-
Marissa: Don’t say “porn”.
Claude: But I wasn’t!
Marissa: Yes you were.
Claude: …Maybe…
Marissa: (sighs again) Just plug one of them into the computer.

The computer is simple enough to operate. Claude puts the first card into the slot and the computer powers on, asking whether to play it or not. Without hesitation, she presses the enter key. The screen turns to a feed from a science drone. Claude recognizes the Quadrivium colony almost right away. All is silent for a few moments, save for the ADF and PACT forces completing a freighter escort, and Claude yawns a bit… and then is snapped back to attention as the space around the probe begins to swarm with ryders and pilots she remembers all too well. Prototypes. She watches it up until one of them notices the probe and promptly sticks a blade through it. It takes a while to click, but eventually Claude understands and her look of shocked confusion is replaced with a look of shocked contemplation.

Marissa: Kryska was telling the truth about the prototypes, Claude.

Claude doesn’t register Marissa throwing out the system of rank altogether, but instead quietly replaces the first data card with the second in the slot. Waste not, want not. The black screen is replaced with an image of Kryska, her eyes revealing the same level of sleep deprivation they’d had for the past week. The recording begins to speak almost immediately.

Kryska: Hello. This message is for Claude Trilleo. If you are not her, please do not listen further. (waits for a few seconds) If you are her… I don’t know whether you’ll get this message or not, Claude, or if I will have the courage to give it to you given how I’ve been treating you lately. And I am sorry for that. I also don’t know… if you’ll even care. Maybe you shouldn’t. I’ve done a lot of things in the past for “democracy” that most would find repugnant, to say the least. But I am recording this knowing that if you are seeing this, I have most likely been discovered and arrested for treason against the Solar Alliance. Don’t come after me. Not only do I not deserve it, but I don’t want you to get in trouble. I know you’ll be able to manage the office of rear admiral in my place. (smiles) And I know what you’re thinking. “Didn’t Asaga pull this sh-t once?” I don’t want you coming for me. I don’t want you defying Grey solely for my sake… (chuckles sadly) And I don’t want to be wedding-carried out of there. It may not mean much, coming from me… but Claude, I have come to know you in ways I never would have expected. Most people see you as I once did. Loud, rash… awkward. But Claude… I have seen what most of them didn’t. Courage. Loyalty. And everything else that lies below the surface. I’ve made this recording so you would know: Admiral Grey has recreated the Prototype project, and it is slowly and quietly tearing this galaxy apart. I know not what you will do with this information, but know this: The Alliance I once served is gone. The greatest hope for democracy now lies in the hands of the Republic of New Solaris. Do what you will, but do not endanger yourself by coming after me. And rest assured, no matter what you do, I will always be proud of you… whether we’re friends or not. Goodbye.

The screen goes dark, and Claude keeps staring at it anyway. A tear drops from her eye and lands on the desk. Marissa puts a hand on her shoulder.

Marissa: I am with the Solar Republic. We’ll try to get her out when the time is right. Only… I don’t know when that’ll be.
Claude: (stays silent for a long time before speaking) What’s the escort on barges like?
Marissa: (confused) Um… In a war zone like this, it’ll be maybe a command cruiser, a carrier if they have the resources, and a couple destroyers.
Claude: And what do we have? We have Serenity… some of those little ships that like to make ryders into confetti…
Marissa: Right, and the light cruiser Strider… you’re not planning on intercepting the prison barge, are you?
Claude: How long until we would catch up with them?
Marissa: Even our slowest ship is much faster than a prison barge. If we’re lucky, maybe an hour.
Claude: (grins) Then that’s when your “time is right”, Marissa.
Marissa: But the people in Serenity’s fleet are Alliance officers. They won’t just attack their brothers in arms because you say so. No offense, but I’m not sure your words carry even a fraction of the necessary weight.
Claude: (goofy smile) We’ll just go with the Claude specialty then!
Marissa: (sighs yet again) And what would that be?
Claude: (grabs the first data card and heads for the door) We improvise!

----------
Sharr‘Lac, Mnemosyne Abyss.
Command level. 1475 hours.

45 minutes. Arcadius had been sitting here, replacing wiring in an access hatch in the corner of a command trench, with his daughter on the other side of the room. He hadn’t uttered a word since he’d taken the wrench with a thank-you and set to work. 45 minutes of silence. Arcadius holds back bitter laughter. He could open his mouth and inspire millions upon millions to rise up in armed rebellion… but he couldn’t bridge the gap with his own daughter. At times, he was privately jealous of Whalecow and his daughter. But then he always remembered: Nozomi’s trust had never been broken like Chigara’s. And unlike Chigara, Nozomi had known that someone out there cared for her. In the end, Whalecow had come back for her… something Arcadius had failed to do for Chigara time and time again. In the end, however, he and Whalecow shared something in regards to their children. He’d be there for her now, no matter what. 45 minutes… 45... minutes. As he continues to work on the wiring, memories come, rushing unbidden, back to him.

Solomon looks at his watch again. 45 minutes spent waiting here for her. He knew she’d come though. She always did. Thunder rolls overhead, as he sits on the hilltop overlooking the slave complex. He belonged here… but it didn’t. New Eden was better without it, he imagined… and it would be again. Ah, there she is. A young woman with short brown hair and the beautiful face he always remembers walks up the path towards him. What he always remembers in his dreams though is the smile… the very same one that she, having just noticed him sitting there, radiates now. He doesn’t stop smiling back until she is on the hill, safely in his arms.

Solomon: L-lynn…
Lynn: Solomon. I was afraid you would have left by now. I had trouble getting away from the guards this time. One of them wanted me to fix their antique watch… (sighs) Why couldn’t we have been enslaved by smarter people?
Solomon: C-careful… y-you’ll jinx it… (laughs)
Lynn: (smiles wearily) Solomon, you really should get rid of that nervous stuttering. Not only do people not listen when told by a stuttering person to revolt, but our kids will end up with it too.
Solomon: Y-yeah… o-our kids. I-I need to t-talk to you about that…
Lynn: Oh. Not this again.
Solomon: Lynn… I-I’m an old man… you’ve got your whole life ahead of you. Y-you shouldn’t waste it on m-me.
Lynn: (rolls her eyes) You’re only 53, and I’m already 29... If you take into account how we live twice as long now when compared to millennia ago, it’s like you’re only 26 and a half.
Solomon: B-but that makes you 14 and a half…
Lynn: (sighs) I was hoping you’d miss that… but no. I fell in love with a smart man.
Solomon: (smiles nervously) Y-you keep saying that, b-but I have yet to meet him…
Lynn: (chuckles) Look in a mirror. Seriously though, it won’t matter much longer how old we are.
Solomon: Wh-what do you mean, Lynn?
Lynn: (closes her eyes for a moment, then opens them) Solomon… I’m pregnant with your first.
Solomon: (raises an eyebrow) M-my first… what?
Lynn: (rolls her eyes again) Your daughter, genius.
Solomon: Oh. Oh… O-oh sh-sh-t.


Solomon stares straight ahead for a long while, digesting the news. The gears in his head are spinning. Not only for what this means for him… but what it means for what must be done.

Solomon: H-how could this have h-happened!?
Lynn: Two words. Vod. Ka.
Solomon: O-oh my g-god…
Lynn: Nope. Was all you. (punches him in the arm) Looks like you’re a bigger man than they take you for.
Solomon: …
Lynn: But… you know what has to happen now…
Solomon: The timetable… w-will have to be moved up.
Lynn: Yeah. Fontana will be ready.
Solomon: Fontana’s always ready. H-how long until you s-start to show?
Lynn: Two months, if we’re lucky.
Solomon: Y-you see th-that compound? (points to the slave complex)
Lynn: What about it?
Solomon: J-just you wait… 45 days f-from now… (breathes in, breathes out) It’s going to be a b-big damn c-crater…


Despite himself, a smile forms on Arcadius’s face. The crater still existed to that day… and so did his daughter, despite all the odds. He’d been heartbroken when he’d heard Diode had been destroyed. No survivors, the reports had said. But he knew that Lynn would have wanted him to go on. He’d just known. Arcadius sighs and returns to work, his thoughts drifting to the young adult tinkering with an identical wiring system just on the other side of the raised command area.

----------
Sharr‘Lac, Mnemosyne Abyss.
Command level. 1480 hours.

Examine… Cut… Replace… Solder… Chigara’s hands work their magic at a near breakneck pace. She always felt better when she was fixing things. Machines were simple… and it kept her from focusing on her own messed up life, one that had gotten even more complicated since HE had come back into it. Examine. Cut. Replace. Solder. She didn’t know for sure why she was mad at him. Perhaps for abandoning her all those years. But then, she was sure he had a good reason. Her anger was more of the frustrated sort. You know it’s not entirely logical, but you’re angry anyway. And sometimes, for whatever reason, despite yourself, you do everything you can to stay that way. Examine Cut Replace Solder. She had come out here to continue her work… but also to get away from the people. Some people were fine… but others… others would hurt her… and it wouldn’t be on purpose and it might not even be their fault, but it would happen. Examinecutreplacesolder… Examinecutreplacesolder…

Examine… Cut… Replace… Solder… Chigara’s tiny hands work as best they can at as good a pace as she can manage. The defense cannon capacitor had been acting up for days now. And without it operating, Diode would fall that much more easily if this “New Empire” The grown-ups talked about ever turn their attention Diode’s way. Chigara had never felt worried, though. The masked man protected them, after all. He’d visited many times, he and his purple-haired attaché. Each time he’d promised that his people would defeat the New Empire, and each time news of even greater victories had followed. Occassionally another boy just a few years older than her would come with them. He would always speak in a strange accent, and always seemed a bit awkward around her. She’d asked the masked man why he was like that, and he had told her that the other boy was not bad, just dealing with his own problems. She shakes her head. Best keep at her work. She is midway through the next cycle when the red lights begin. Usually, that meant trouble in the labs, but it was always contained quickly. A few technicians and a soldier rush by.

Chigara: Wh-what’s wrong!?
Technician: Don’t worry. Just an energy imbalance with a black hole experiment. It’s happened before.
Soldier: Keep working on that gun. If Arcadius and his Compact ever fall, we’ll be next on their list, and I want to see the look on the Empire’s faces when a station this size opens fire with the force of  an exploding star. That’ll wipe the smiles off REEEEEAAAAAALLLL quick. Hahahahahahah.

Chigara just shrugs. She’d never known much about that kind of thing, and she’d never cared to. She is about to get back to work when an overcoming dread grips her. Suddenly extremely nervous, she looks around. Nothing but warning lights… warning lights that should have stopped by now. Almost reflexively, she looks toward the nearby escape pods… then shakes her head. Last time she’d freaked out and taken an escape pod, they had scolded her severely. But… mother always said to listen to her gut, no matter what, and her gut said to get into an escape pod and push the big red button. Chigara sighs, already anticipating the timeout that would surely follow, as she opens the door to the escape pod and dives in, pushing the button as soon as it’s enabled. If there really was a problem, the others aboard the station would soon follow her anyway. The pod flies free and breaks from the station, leaving a trail of blue engine glow in its wake. Behind her, Diode Starbase sits, completely fine.


Chigara: (shakes her head) I am in so much trouble…

Her wrist holocommunicator chimes. She presses the button, and, as expected, a miniature version of Lynn Ashada, her mother, appears before her, an annoyed expression on her face.

Lynn: Chigara… I figured that was you. What are you doing out there in that pod? The station commander says we’ll be fine.
Chigara: S-sorry, mother… b-but you said if I ever g-got a horrible feeling…
Lynn: (sighs) …You should listen to your gut. I remember. I’ll… talk to the station commander. Just sit tight. We’ll send one of the utility ryders out to get you.
Chigara: O-okay, mom. I-I love you.
Lynn: (smiles softly) I love you too, sweethea-


Suddenly, the transmission ceases… and in the distance, Diode Station… and the planet itself… ceases to exist. First the station explodes, and in its place grows a void of sheer blackness, which rapidly grows and swallows up the planet itself. In a shocked panic, Chigara feels the tugging at the pod… a moment before the pod manages to break free. It continues flying out into empty space, even as the girl stares for a long moment at what had once been all she’d known… and in the next moment she breaks down. The tears flow for what feels like hours, and out there nothing but the space dust and the solar winds bear witness to her agonized sobbing. If she notices anything change, she doesn’t care enough now to acknowledge it. All the same, the sound of a utility loader grabbing onto and moving the pod is difficult to miss. The pod had gone dark a while ago, so when the hatch is opened, Chigara is temporarily blinded. The greater shock comes when a pair of big, meaty hands grab her by the shoulders and heave her out of the pod, summarily dropping her onto the cold metal deck. She becomes distantly aware of her “rescuer”, a thin man of average height, and a young girl, all standing over her.

Girl: Dammit… is this what you stopped us for?
Thin man: I saw a signal for an escape pod. When you see those signals, you investigate! It’s what you’re supposed to do!
Girl: It could have been a trap, you idiot!
Bulky man: Can’t say it matters now, Miss. Here she is.
Thin man: Whoever she is.
Chigara: (finds her voice) H-help me…
Girl: The little b-tch knows how to speak. Excellent. Now who the hell are you?
Chigara: Ch-Chigara Lynn A-Ashada…
Girl: Goooooood. Now where are you from?
Chigara: D-Diode…
Girl: (stops for a moment) …F-ck.
Thin man: We saw Diode go on our long range sensors while we were out here doing… business-y things. And I directed the scanners this way and boosted power, only to find you, Ms. Ashada.
Bulky man: Well… at least she’s safe… and not New Imperial.
Thin Man: Why does it matter where the hell she’s from, Switchblade? The pod has 90% of her salt and water contents in it! We need to get her re-hydrated. NOW.
Girl: (sighs) Do what you have to if it’ll keep her out of my hair. Cutter. (points at the thin man) You found her, so she’s your responsibility.
Cutter: Right, boss.
Girl: And Switchblade. You too.
Switchblade: Aw… fine.
Girl: There! That wasn’t so hard, you lazy ass. (She leans down to within inches of Chigara’s face.) My name is Cosette, and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll do what you’re told. Do that, and stay out of my way, and we’ll get along just fine. Get in my way or get sloppy, and…
Chigara: (sniffs) …
Cosette: (stares at Chigara) …Fine. You’re in enough pieces already. (walks away, gesturing at the surroundings with both hands) Welcome to the flying hellhole I like to call “Chateau De La Cosmos”. Enjoy your stay.
Switchblade: (as soon as Cosette is out of earshot) When did she start calling it that?
Cutter: Wanna call her a liar?
Switchblade: Hell no.
Cutter. That’s what I thought. (reaches a hand out to Chigara) Let’s go. We need to get some water in you before you become the most adorable prune the galaxy has ever seen.
Chigara: O-okay…


Their footsteps echo on the metal floor as Chigara is led away from everything she’d known into… whatever comes next.

The footsteps continue, and Chigara looks up startled to find Arcadius staring down at her.

Arcadius: Um… I said I’m done with my side.
Chigara: (belatedly looks at her work) Oh… m-me too.
Arcadius: Great. So what now, do we pull a lever or something to make this thing work?
Chigara: (sighs) A lever, really?
Arcadius: My chosen field was engineering, not computers.
Chigara: It’s a large red button.
Arcadius: …
Chigara: What?
Arcadius: Nothing. Shall we?

Arcadius holds out a hand and Chigara grabs it, quickly hauled afterwards up to the command area.

Chigara: (absentmindedly) Those two conduits needed repaired before the main power to the command deck could come online. All that’s left is a restart on the main engineering panel.
Arcadius: The power core is still good after all this time? Jeez.
Chigara: (walks toward the center of the room) Well… “good” is relative when it comes to things made 1 to 2 millennia ago. The ancient Ryuvians sure did build things to last, though.
Arcadius: (chuckles) I know a few people that would beg to differ.
Chigara: (shrugs) I just deal with technology. Easier than politics.
Arcadius: (follows her over) I can’t argue with you there.

The two arrive at the engineering console, a sign labeled “Restart enabled” flashing with dull blue light, the red button below the sign blinking as well. Without either pomp or circumstance, Chigara brings her hand down on it. Suddenly, her face is lit by a scanner, which rapidly turns from blue to red after a moment.

Speaker: [Warning: Security breach detected! Alert level: Red. Maximum response is in progress.]
Arcadius: What’s it saying?
Chigara: It is saying, to put it lightly… “Here comes trouble”.
Arcadius: Well, it’s official.
Chigara: What?
Arcadius: (smiles wryly) I miss the New Empire.

----------
Sharr‘Lac, Mnemosyne Abyss.
Deep Storage level. 1490 hours.

The voice of the Sharr’Lac’s A.I., conveniently translated for the reader’s benefit, echoes in the darkness.

A.I.: [Warning. Access attempt by …2... unauthorized personnel. Running situational awareness scan… results. All crew dead and/or missing. Enact removal process Red-One for preservation of the Emperor’s technology.]

There is a stirring. A red light comes on as a massive bulk arises from its millennial slumber.

A.I.: [Removal process Red-One in effect. Ravager Unit RGR-01 fully operational. Commence removal.]

----------
That will be it for the briefing. That talk with Smith will be up soon. The only two ADF members writing this time will likely be I and KTKM. Posts should be done within the next two weeks in order to set a good pace. Thanks!

4
Maaaaaaaaaaaybe....

5
Is it bad that Deeox has a salty roleplay character named Victoria?

6
General Chat / Re: The 30 Question Hot Seat - Whalecow
« on: January 01, 2016, 07:15:07 am »
Quote
30) What was your first VN? What attracted you to it?

30.1 [because hey- its becoming tradition..] ) Do you have a boner?

30. Sunrider. Free on Steam. And here I am today.

30.1. Are you volunteering? No, I do not have a boner.

Whalecow gets up from the chair and makes his way toward the exit. Ava stands at the door, eager to say what has been on her mind for the past two weeks.

"Idiot."

7
General Chat / Re: The 30 Question Hot Seat - Whalecow
« on: December 31, 2015, 10:44:26 pm »
Quote
29) What superpower would you most like to have?

Did we have that one before? I hope not

There was a similar one, but this was technically original.

29. I would want the ability to be a Planeswalker from Magic: The Gathering. My favorite colors have always been blue and red. Nothing more fun than denying something's existence.

8
4 Days Later. In Orbit Above Xeneva II. 2 Days After Alliance Liberation.
SAHC Serenity. Bridge. 1400 Hours.

The small green planet on the viewscreen had been an easy victory. No local defense forces- the system had been barely out of the dark ages of space travel. The local populace had decided PACT was enough. Perhaps the lack of ADF presence in the system had been the final nail in their coffin; The small PACT fleet had been utterly destroyed, and only debris remains floating aimlessly through the system. The assault itself had been sudden. In fact, the fleet had only received the orders one day in advance, a byproduct of Admiral Grey’s latest suspicions of spies in the ranks of the Alliance. Once, Kryska muses, she might have scoffed. Now she’d sooner airlock herself.

Claude: Imagining all the sexy, muscular Tarzans down there, Krys?

The odd question startles the rear admiral. She turns to the captain, surprised.

Kryska: Um… that would be a dedicated “no”, captain.
Claude: Aw, come on Krys! Enough of the captain stuff. You know my name’s Claude!

To the average bystander, the conversation is innocent enough, but to Kryska… Suffice to say she hadn’t slept well the past week… or the two months before that for that matter. And recently, her thoughts had been much heavier lately… and she, prone to losing her temper.

Kryska: Yes. Everyone knows your name, CAPTAIN Trilleo.
Claude: You say it like that’s a bad thing! Hee hee hee!

Kryska turns, annoyed, to find Claude flashing her yet another of her goofy smiles. Her temper is not lost. It is practically loaded into a missile casing and blasted into Xeneva’s star.

Kryska: It might as well be!
Claude: Wh-what are you saying, Krys?
Kryska: Shut up! Just drop the Krys and shut up!
Claude: But… whyyyyyyy?
Kryska: I’m trying to run a fleet, and you can’t even run this ship right! The poker games, the booze… the noises coming from your quarters at night… I swear you’ve slept with half the men on the goddamned ship!
Claude: It’s not a big deal! I just want these people to have some fu-
Kryska: Fun!? This is a WARSHIP! People ARE DYING! AND ALL YOU CAN DO IS ACT LIKE A F-CKING TAVERN SLUT!

Claude is nearly in tears, and Kryska’s face is as red as a tomato at the peak of ripeness. A few crewmen and women look on… though the majority look away. Over the past few days, they’d seen this coming… though none of them had ever learned why. Kryska looks away, fixing her eyes on the planet outside. And then she speaks to the captain in a low, grave tone that would give even a Reaper pause.

Kryska: This is what’s going to happen. You’re going to adhere to the fleet regulation manual EXACTLY. You will not deviate. This is your final chance, captain. If you fail, you will be removed from this vessel clapped in irons. You will take some responsibility for once, and you WILL take your job seriously. Is that understood?

The rear admiral waits for the response for a good ten seconds. When none comes, she turns once again to Claude. The captain glares angrily at her, eyes still wet. At last, Captain Trilleo speaks.

Claude: Crystal, SIR. Marissa Peters from third watch wanted me to personally hand you this note. Also, I came to give you a message from his esteemed Admiral Grey AS PER MY RESPONSIBILITIES . You’re going down to the surface at 1450 hours to finalize things. BE THERE.

With that last sentence, Claude grabs Kryska’s hand by the wrist and deposits the small piece of paper in it… then she turns and runs off the bridge as fast as her legs can carry her. Kryska can only stand there, watching her go. Then, careful not to make eye contact with anyone, she uncrumples and reads the now badly-disfigured note.

“Scatter the bread; the picnic’s started by the pond. -MP”

The rear admiral closes her eyes and sighs before opening them again and walking off the bridge. The distance from the command chair to the elevator feels kilometers long. The crew look away, pretending to be busy or struggling to become so. All except Gerard Radley, the weapons officer, whose venomous glare follows her movements from the chair to the elevator until the double doors close and thus hide her from his gaze.

----------
SAHC Serenity. Admiral‘s Quarters. A Few Minutes Later.

Kryska practically tears into her room, locking the door tight behind her. She’d already eaten the note in the elevator, but she had no longer needed it. She tunes the IP settings on her PC to the appropriate location and frequency. She doesn’t have long to wait; The duck waiting for his bread at the pond appears on screen in moments.

Harrison: Rear Admiral Stares. You got the message.
Kryska: Right, Harrison. Make it quick, though. The admiral wants me down on the surface in less than half an hour to finalize an occupation.
Harrison: …On Xeneva II.

Kryska raises an eyebrow, but Harrison just smiles.

Harrison: Don’t be too surprised. The crew of the RNSSF Minuteman know their stuff.
Kryska: Whatever. I assume since you’ve contacted me, your “opportunity” has come a bit early?
Harrision: That’s correct. Minuteman will send a shuttle that will set down in the jungle. A few friends of ours on the surface will make sure you get there safely. The coordinates are 148.9437 degrees longitude, 43.8573 degrees latitude, Solar Alliance standard measurement, of course. I assume you’ve made arrangements to bring the captain with you. Claude, was it?

Kryska shakes her head sadly. Harrison furrows his brow.

Harrison: What’s wrong, Kryska? You don’t look so good.
Kryska: *sighs* Nothing, it’s just… I don’t think Claude will be coming with me. I haven’t spoken with her about this… and I don’t think I will. She’d never follow me anywhere ever again, anyway.
Harrison: She’s your friend, dear. We’ll find a way to get her out, and she’ll come.
Kryska: I’m not so sure anymore. She wouldn’t leave the Alliance even if I begged her to, now.
Harrison: Take Meg, my receptionist, for instance. After twenty hard years, she’s still here. Even shot someone once for me. In my experience, friends don’t leave friends over harsh words or mistakes. True friends have a habit of being friends no matter what.
Kryska: Even when everything I’ve ever believed in burns in hell?
Harrison: Especially then! Ah, but listen to me ramble on. There’ll be time for that when we’re toasting freedom over that ‘94 I mentioned. See you soon.

He grins and gives a two-fingered salute, which Kryska repeats exactly before the transmission cuts. She takes one last look out the viewport at the planet slowly rotating below. Suddenly, she catches movement out of the corner of her eye. A small frigate, port side spitting fire and metal, rushes out from behind one of Xeneva II’s moons, its distinctive bright red and gray coloring betraying its allegiance. It is pursued by several small Solar Alliance destroyers. For a moment, the Solar Republic frigate looks as though it will escape as it breaks for open space. Kryska’s eyes widen as a massive Alliance battleship warps in less than 5 kilometers away and in an instant a spinal cannon slug rips through Minuteman’s center. The explosion from the reactor breach has it in a million pieces the moment after that. She is still staring at the fresh debris field when the wall comm buzzes. Tearing her gaze from the window, Kryska presses the button below the speaker.

Kryska: Rear Admiral Stares.
Radley: Skip the sh-t, Stares. Grey’s here. He wants to see you personally in the hangar. Now. Sounded like you were in hot water, and I hope he cooks you well-done.

Kryska grimaces as she imagines what it would feel like to be a hot-dog in a pot of boiling liquid.

Kryska: Before the day is out, you might get your wish, lieutenant.

With that, she releases the button, severing the connection… breathing in and out heavily as the next vessels emerge from hyperspace: A heavy cruiser, a light carrier, and several destroyers. Their escortee: a large, rectangular, flat-bottomed prison ship. Kryska hangs her head, defeated. She unstraps her hip holster, firearm still within, and places it on the bed. She goes to her dresser and opens the top drawer. The data cards are still there. Kryska reaches for them… but stops. She hastily closes the drawer and marches out the door for what would most likely be the final time.

V: The Lines We Draw In The Sand

In Orbit Above Weinan. Western Edge Of AEGIS. Moments After Arrival.
FSS Legion. Meeting Room. 1450 Hours.

Whalecow: …And thanks for the report, Ava.

The captain removes his gaze from the star chart-embedded table to look down at his data pad before sighing and lifting his eyes to take in the rest of the room and its occupants.

Whalecow: Report on the status of Legion and the command fleet. The former is down to 78% effectiveness even after the field repairs we’ve been performing. Not even Cera, it seems, has the knowledge to restore it fully. The rest of the fleet could use attention as well. Repaints, rewiring, replacement cores… Times have been difficult, especially due to that raid over Diomedes III. The pirates turned out a lot worse than we did, though. Heh. Scratch another few dozen hostile ships, at any rate. And thanks to our dear friends from the Void, capturing one of their vessels was almost stupidly easily.

A few nods and some clapping are directed to Astral and Zephyr, who had been asked to this meeting after the victory over the “Hyenas”, as the pirates called themselves. Any laughing the latter were doing quite readily ceased after the duo’s boarding pod had landed. The two nod in return, silent.

Ava: In the coming weeks, a battle group will be dispatched into the Fringe to follow up on the data we recovered. Hopefully by month’s end, there’ll be one fewer group of idiots with nukes running around wild space.

Spy: Right! Eventually it’ll just be Cosette!
Cosette: Watch it. Those are quantum warheads
Spy: You don’t have a license for those either, sister.
KTKM: Licenses not important when you have friend, excuse, and cash, comrades. Speaking of cash… Cosette, why you never buy from TDG?
Cosette: Didn’t want my boys blowing themselves up. They’re b-tches, but they’re my b-tches.
Spy: Aw, Cosette’s a dog person. You take ’em for walks too, your highness?
Cosette: Ugh… look, Don’t make me regret coming back from the dead. It was quieter there.
Whalecow: That’s seriously got to be the worst joke I’ve ever heard. In very poor taste, at least.
Velora: Guys? If you could please shut up a minute? We’ve got an appointment on the surface in a half hour.

She looks at her digital watch.

Velora: …25 minutes.
Ava: We at last agree on something. Recent events have caused some… changes… in our plans, which the captain and I have had time to discuss only recently.
Nozomi: Over wine, I bet~
Ava: Th-there was wine. So what?

A confused look and a small blush cross Ava’s face as Whalecow chuckles.

Whalecow: Dammit, Zo. Was just to celebrate her staying with us, and Ms. Steele sent me some Arcture ‘93.
Nozomi: A new challenger approaches with gifts of service and wine!

The room devolves into a torrent of laughter.

Whalecow: We haven’t had nearly enough fun lately, have we? I’ve arranged for a little something to remedy that early next week. But for now, back to the salt mines. As most of you know, we’re here at Weinan to ask the chairwoman of GammaTech if there’s any way we could get our hands on a highly flexible power armor platform they’ve been keeping locked up for the past few years. We’ll need that to begin application of technical data that’s recently fallen into our hands. Last time I was here, it was to bargain for the Alliance… not only did they refuse to sell the armor to any of the major factions, but an assassination quickly ended negotiations. The only heir to the company, Chairwoman Wang Yi, has kept the company together rather well, and she is the one we need to talk to if we want the armor. It shouldn’t be too big of a deal, though. We’re friends.
Ava: It’s been decided that I’ll be taking that responsibility, as well as commanding Legion and most of the fleet for the near future. If any of you would like to accompany me, the offer’s open. Just don’t get in the way. While I’m in negotiations here, the captain and First Officer Velora…

She pauses for a moment, a combination of concern and annoyance evident on her features.

Ava: …Will be… visiting the Phoenix Corps.

Everyone is silent, and they have the same look as Ava. All except Astral and Zephyr, who look at each other for a moment in their own show of concern. It is Spy who finally breaks the silence.

Spy: What the hell!? You know they’ve got our number, right?
Velora: Well… this Smith character said the “offer” was still open.
Spy: I like impossible missions as much as the next person in this room, but that’s suicide.
Velora: Not necessarily.
Spy: You must know something I don’t. Care to spill your guts?
Velora: Not.. Particularly… But. It’s probable that he wants to use us somehow. If not the entire ADF, then just Legion in particular. My SpecOps experience says he won’t kill us on the spot. Worth investigating, at least. Maybe we can talk them out of blacklisting the former Antares fleet?
Rolland: Hah. We’re done with that whole sector. Just give us a week to get things done that we missed on our last little field trip. And then I never want to see that part of the galaxy again. My wife and kids agree. We’re done there.
Smith: Wife and kids, huh? We’ll find a place on Solaris for them. That’s where mine live.
Astral: …This decision is ill-advised.
Zephyr: …Not to mention worrying from where we’re standing.
Astral: We cannot guarantee your safety.
Zephyr: Or your standing with the Void should you accept any “offers” from this man.
Whalecow: I had imagined so. I don’t expect to accept any offers. However, best not to let Phoenix know.
Spy: I won’t tell ‘em if you don’t.

Cosette rolls her eyes and points at Nemesis, then Nyx.

Cosette: You two. You’re coming with me.
Nyx: *nods*
Nemesis: A mission?
Cosette: Whalecow told me that b-tch Asaga complained about attacks on Trinacria by the fan club that ripped off the name of my ryder. Infiltration’s the name of this dance, and you two qualify.
Whalecow: We’ve received the usual transmission alerting us to a meeting of the group. Came from Cutter himself this time. Something might be going down.
Cosette: Cutter, huh?
Whalecow: You know him? He seemed like a rare straight-shooter among pirates.
Cosette: Yeah. He worked in the command flotilla back in the day, when we only had to fly through one hell daily. He still commanding Eclipse?
Whalecow: The assault carrier? Yeah.
Ava: Right. “Assault carriers”.
Whalecow: Theirs was the first proof of concept. Highly adaptable… cheap… carrier and broadside capability.
Cosette: We usually called ‘em Alphas though. Leaders of the packs. Four of them were housed in my barge. Eclipse was the first. Cutter knows what he’s doing most of the time, at least. Anyway, I’m going to take care of that, and anyone that wants to come with me: Sit down, shut up, and stay close. We’ll be waiting in the hangar. Have to get Havoc squared away for this one. Retribution Battleframes might not be such a great call this time.

With that, she lets loose a sarcastic two-fingered peace symbol and exits the room, Nemesis and Nyx following close behind her.

Ender: She’s off again.
Whalecow: At last the dead man speaks! Heard you’ve been pulling too many all-nighters lately.
Ender: If it’s worth doing…
Ava: …It’s worth over-doing. My sentiments exactly. You find anything for us?
Ender: Absolutely. I ran a check through public comm channels like you asked. A ryder bearing similar features to Seraphim was sighted in several locations in the near Fringe and Solar Republic space. Last night, I worked out an equation for pinpointing the most likely sector of our missing princess’s latest haunt. I also went ahead and forwarded it to Asaga di Ryuvia as you asked.
Whalecow: Yeah, thanks. Got the call earlier. She’ll be waiting in the Lion’s Den bar on Reenova Prime.
Spy: The Lion’s Den. One of my old stomping grounds. The mead was sh-t, but the women more than made up for it! Ahahahahah!
Velora: I remember that place. Drunken Alliance soldiers after a 12-hour shift stripped down to their sleepwear are less suggestive than those people.
Spy: I fail to see the problem. Hmm. Do you ever get drunk after a 12-hour shift?
Velora: Screw you, Spy.
Spy: Are you volunteering?
Velora: Tsk.
Whalecow: You’re not sleeping with my first officer, Spy.
Spy: Aw, come on. You’ve already got the one all to yourself! Share the wealth a little!
Whalecow: I am reminded why Skylla slapped you across the room.
Spy: Don’t pretend you don’t love it!
Smith: He might, but I don’t, so shut it!
Spy: Still mad about that sit-
Smith: I and a few of my handpicked officers will meet the Empress and see what we can do.
Spy: It was nothing person-
Whalecow: Good. Take the 9th Redshirts with you. They have an intimate knowledge of the area.
Spy: Are we really going to do th-
Smith: Will do. Any backup that wants to volunteer itself, there’s your hand-written and royally sealed invitation.
Spy: …
Whalecow: Everything should be done within a 4-day-window. When your respective missions are accomplished, rejoin the fleet which will be docked at New Eden. We’ll be putting in for repairs there, and in the meantime I’ve arranged with Fontana for us to have shore leave on the planet itself. That’s also probably where we’ll be dropping our Reaper guests off. I’ve convinced them that meeting the Veniczar would be a pleasure, and by then their ship will be sufficiently repaired for them to move on. You’ll all love New Eden. Mountains, nature preserves, waterfalls… and that’s just the Wayward Isles!
Ava: Are you sure dropping our guard on the homeworld of PACT is a good idea?
Whalecow: Keep your guard up as much as you want. Just try to have a little fun for once, Ava.

Ava rolls her eyes as Velora opens up the star map, manipulating the controls to mark the approximate locations of the objectives on the table. Confront a galaxy-wide organization, save the princess, buy forbidden technology, infiltrate a pan-galactic syndicate. Just another Wednesday in the Alliance for the Defense of Freedom.

Velora: Take your pick, gentlemen.

----------
MISSION SELECTION

Note: There are three missions available, and Prince/Moralist points will be awarded based on performance, not choice of mission. Since Whalecow and Velora are going on a mission that is part of a “background story”, I will be participating with scoring in the GammaTech mission as Ava.

1. GammaTech: An Independent Industry
Location: GammaTech Industries, Weinan, Western AEGIS.
The objective here is to convince Chairwoman Yi to sell, lease, or donate the use of the “Phalanx” Advanced Power Armor to the ADF for use with recent technological finds. However, GammaTech has its own problems. Disagreements between rather zealous AEGIS-supporting Weinan Military and the fiercely independent GammaTech Security Forces (GSF) over matters of law and registration have escalated in recent weeks. Legion, as well as most of the command fleet, are on station in orbit. First Officer Ava Crescentia is currently in command of the fleet and negotiations with Yi.

2. Havoc: My Kind Of Scum
Location: Havoc Fleet Meeting, South-Central Astral Expanse.
Recent reports from Empress Asaga of Ryuvia place Trinacrian ships under assault by forces matching the description of Havoc. It is suspected that there have recently been issues between Cutter’s mercenary policies and Switchblade’s more anarchic tendencies. Cosette, Nemesis, and Nyx will travel there to investigate both the former and the latter. They will be using a small pirate frigate, “Ringrunner”, recovered from the ADF’s recent battle with the Hyena pirate syndicate as well as a small crew from Legion to command it.

3. Predator And Prey, Both In Equal Measure
Location: Reenova Prime, The Near Fringe, Lion’s Den Bar.
Asaga di Ryuvia has contacted the ADF, having received Endershadow’s message that sightings of Seraphim have been occurring in a pattern within the sector. She waits at the bar for the ADF contingent to arrive. This contingent will include Security Chief Smith, as well as the former PACT ace ryder squadron, the 9th Redshirts. Asaga, though wary of the ADF, is willing to cooperate for Sola’s sake. However, be cautious. The only thing more dangerous than the prey in hiding is the prey that does not care if they are found.

9
General Chat / Re: The 30 Question Hot Seat - Whalecow
« on: December 30, 2015, 08:44:14 pm »
Quote
27) Is there a particular cause or issue you feel strong enough about to advocate? If so, what is it?

28) What type of vehicle does Sir Whale cruise the streets in?

27. Well, I'm a pro-lifer. I'm not into stem-cell-research. I'm a socialist. I am not sure about same-sex marriage. I am a Protestant Pentecostal Christian. I believe radical feminism is stupid and by now it's gone beyond equality and we are becoming the island Wonder Woman is from. Also, I try to keep an open mind with everyone and if your views are opposed to mine it's no big deal.

28. 1998 green Saturn SL2.
http://images.gtcarlot.com/pictures/61265602.jpg
Its name is Steve, and a spider I named Sam lives in there somewhere. Once I got rear ended on the freeway at 50MPH. I needed a new bumper, but the other guy needed a new car.

10
General Chat / Re: The 30 Question Hot Seat - Whalecow
« on: December 30, 2015, 04:12:53 am »
Quote
I don't know anything about WWE either... But as you wish~

25. Egads!  (Insert Villain Name) is threatening (Insert Location Name) with (Insert Evil Machination)!  You are (Insert Superhero you would most likely be) and you save the day by (Insert Badass Plan).

26. You're live on prime time cable television!  Where are you, what are you doing, who are you with, etc.?

Then why did you ask the- nevermind.

25. Japan is threatening the world with endless Sakura games and- Ahem. Gonna go W40K on this one, although in such a scenario I picture myself as just a normal guy. "Egads! The Orks are threatening (Insert Latin planet name here) with... whatever the hell they find laying around! I am a random I.G. soldier with a flamer and I save the day by PURGE!!! ...or most likely dying first. Like a boss." I think I'd be great in the W40K universe if I managed to survive a week, actually.

26. PTCT, huh? Nah. Let's go... People's Association for Cable Television (PACT). A virtual Legion of shows for all ages! Anyway. It would be a show that has a different setting each week, but the theme is always the same: Mafia TV. The actors and actresses would have to play different characters for each episode. The winner gets a set prize in addition to their usual salary. It would be unscripted and I suppose would sort of end up like the Total Drama series with the cast-to-audience-commentary. I would be your host, Chris Whalecow. (Whalechris? Meh.) I'd probably want Wooly to co-host with me- Separate, we are the model trolls. Together, we will be Untrolleavable.

11
General Chat / Re: The 30 Question Hot Seat - Whalecow
« on: December 29, 2015, 10:31:18 pm »
Quote
20) With the power of Greyskull Belgium, you have now been turned into a smurf.  Based upon a superlative of yourself, what is your smurf name?

21) What is your computer wallpaper of?

22) Who is your man crush?

24) If you could make any anime, game, or childhood cartoon into a live action movie, with the one condition that the main role had to go to Nicolas Cage, what is the movie and cast?

25) The forum discovers your hidden secret of being a 'brony' one day as you regale us of the horrors of someone breaking into your house (Afterall, friendship IS magic!). Everything stole is replacable except your prized pony. What/who is your prized pony? (Gotta pick one. Google it *if you dont already know* :p )

20. I would be "Awkward the Smurf" (I heart Skeletor. Eeeheeheeheehee!!!)

21. http://imgfave-herokuapp-com.global.ssl.fastly.net/image_cache/1401024491625923.jpg

22. It seems yours is Nicolas Cage the Smurf. "Cagey"? I guess my favorite male actor is Scott Bakula.

23. I would make a decent movie of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Nicolas Cage would be the Firelord, as I count Ozai a main role.

24. I have absolutely no idea, though a lot of my friends are bronys. It would be one of the ones based on ATLA characters. http://orig13.deviantart.net/255a/f/2011/260/1/d/avatar_ponies_by_jill92-d4a3lhk.png I like the Mai one the best.

Quote
26) Which WWE wrestler do you relate to the most and why?

27) Which WWE wrestler would you fight if you had to pick one?

25 + 26: Sorry, I don't have one. Could someone give me substitute questions? I know nothing about WWE.

Also, Revontulet skipped a number. Was so confused.

12
General Chat / Re: The 30 Question Hot Seat - Whalecow
« on: December 25, 2015, 03:50:18 pm »
Quote
19.  What kind of Phat Loot did you get for Christmas/Related-Gift-Giving-and-Receiving-Winter-Holiday?

19. Steam cards, gift cards for food... a pair of earphones. I don't typically ask for much, which I guess balances my 12-year-old brother's insatiable appetite for tribute.

13
General Chat / Re: The 30 Question Hot Seat - Whalecow
« on: December 24, 2015, 05:53:17 pm »
Quote
15) Ever been caught by family/friends/signifcant others....looking at porn or other questionable material? Is so, what was it of and what was your excuse?

16) If you could retroactively change ANY one character or story arch from a forum rp / mafia game to completely change the outcome, what would it be?

17) What do you find to be the most annoying song/artist?

18) Following #17, you are the ace starfighter in a lone squadron defending the entire planet against a celestial terror. Given so much attention from the media, a idol troup of Forum members has formed to lavish starry eyed praise on you. Whats the name of the group, the lead three idols, and thier top  two track titles?

15. To be perfectly honest, I've steered clear of that kind of thing. If I have encountered such images, it was rarely and nobody else ever saw. To be perfectly honest, porn is not something I am attracted to. I took an anatomy and physiology college course in 11th grade, and the textbooks left absolutely nothing out. So whenever I do happen to see something you might qualify as "porn", I basically just shrug my shoulders and move on.

16. I would switch Henry over to Mafia for the old Fire Emblem Mafia game. Outcome probably wouldn't have changed much though. I killed Emmeryn. Heh. If there was one serious issue, I would say it's been the recent delay in the ADF thread. The characters and story arcs are coming along rather nicely, but the long and unplanned hiatus has been painful. Fortunately, we're starting up again shortly.

17. Justin Bieber. I mean, really. "I am a Christian now" does not make everybody forgive and forget. I would say send him back to Canada, but I know a few Canadians and they don't deserve that fate any more than we do.

18. A followup question would be who chose me for this job and why haven't they been executed for incompetence? The group would be "Why the f-ck?" The three most prominent members would probably be Spy, Ice, and Deeox, and their top two hits would be "hide your wife" and "hide your kids".

Merry Christmas, everyone!

14
Here, finally, is the EX 4 conclusion. After this, there will be a VERY SHORT break before chapter 5 begins. I named the last mission “Autumnal Winds” to signify that a figurative “winter is coming” as the Starks liked to say. I had planned on naming chapter 5 “Winter” because things would start to pick up, but so much is going on in the universe that I have decided I will split those things into the next 2 chapters. I have not yet decided what to officially call chapter 5, but first thing is first. To conclude the 4th EX and thus finally conclude the 4th chapter. My Christmas gift to you all!

----------
ADF/AMG Position. Deep Space. 3 days later.
Main Hangar. F.S.S. Legion. 1800 hours

In the cold depths of space where none have any business being sits a curious sight: the ADF flotilla (The 400 or so vessels that could show) , an amalgam of ships of various nationality and model, and close nearby, the remnants of the Antares Mercenary Group, still more than a hundred vessels strong. A number of the assembled officers in the spacious hangar look out at them now. While heavily outnumbered and outgunned by every major faction in the galaxy, seeing all these ships together seems to restore a semblance of hope to their captains and first officers as they stand there getting acquainted with each other. Shortly, Whalecow steps up to a slightly raised podium near the large blast door leading to the rest of the ship. He taps on the attached microphone a bit and gives a halting “hello there, ladies and gentlemen”. In moments, they talking has died down and he at last begins to speak, the other prominent ADF members standing near the captain.

Whalecow: Heh. Hey everyone. Sorry to bring you all here on such short notice, but there is a bit of “housekeeping” to get to before some of you return to your assignments and others of you ship out for new ones. Some of you have been on the recent supply mission to Triton, and as you may know, we’ve undergone a massive exodus of the close family and friends of the former Antares Mercenary Group. Since you’ve gone to the trouble of rushing all the way out here to the middle of nowhere, we’ll make the debriefing fleet-wide. First off will be the Triton recovery effort. I’ll be turning the stand over to Velora… and… Cosette, I guess. She looks like she’s got something to say as well.

As Velora and Cosette take the podium, the whispers about the latter’s supposed death cannot be contained. Velora makes a noise with her throat and scattered shushes resound around the hangar for a moment before the silent concentration regains its dominance.

Velora: Fellow officers, it’s a pleasure to see you all here. Like seeing the Emperor of Man’s finest all gathered in one place. Hahahahahahah. But seriously, it’s really reassuring to see for my own eyes that we have such excellent crewmen and women working alongside us. This became more than evident during the relief effort on Triton. Thanks to all of our efforts, the formerly anarchy-stricken world has been lifted out of chaos… and is now on the road to a swift recovery.

Clapping and the occasional whistle come from all corners of the hangar. Velora’s grin breaks into a full-blown smile… until Cosette elbows her aside and grabs hold of the microphone.

Cosette: Settle down, you people! There’s no time to be airheads, here. What we just did was great and all, but there are still a sh-tload planets out there that cry themselves to sleep at night because they’re so goddamn hungry! I know you guys know what I’m talking about, and I know a number of you have experienced it first-hand! I’m not gonna stand here and diminish what we just got done, but I’m gonna remind you that there’s still a hell of a lot to do before we can even call what we’re doing for the galaxy “relief”. So let’s turn and burn, you badass sons of b-tches! We’ve got more work to do.

Slowly at first, but then more quickly, looks of determination cross the faces of the assembled, and the clapping and cheering follow closely at its heels. Cosette, for her part, is slightly surprised at the reaction, though none but the most attentive could have seen it. Velora is a bit overwhelmed as well.

Velora: I… am proud… to call you all my brothers and sisters. All the doubts I once had about our chances are gone now. The road ahead will be rough… so we’ll just have to get rougher. With a lot of skill and a bit of luck, we’ll make it. Lieutenant Commander Shields?

Nozomi nods and takes Velora’s place at the podium as she vacates it, Cosette moving a few feet off to give her space.

Nozomi: Good evening. We just got back from our little field trip through Phoenix Corps space. You’ve all been briefed fully on them already. Be really careful with them. We don’t know what they’re trying to pull! But I’m a bit off-topic. Heeheeheehee,

Rolland rolls his eyes and interjects.

Rolland: It’s all the same to us, Shields. Greetings, ADF. I am captain Rolland Deforest of the former Antares Mercenary Dreadnought “Undauntable”. You’ve probably all read already about that… incident… beyond known space. Long story short, hell broke loose, we were ordered to fight aliens for reasons we weren’t fully told, you guys came along, we decided to…stop… and then we got fired. But don’t worry, we’re fine. Even though we’ve been blacklisted in their space, our families are fine. After this is done, we’re relocating them to Defiance in the Neutral Rim. A large part of our victory was the lieutenant commander here. She got us out of quite a pinch. For this and other reasons, we have decided as a group that we will be joining you people. I have been assured we will be paid well and have the chance to make a difference as we did in the Phoenix Corps. Though this time… hopefully it will work out better. I’m worried about the future though… worried that because of all of this, the ADF may find itself on Smith’s hate-list. These people are not untrained pirates. They’re well-trained veterans of militaries across the galaxy. We need to tread VERY carefully.
Nozomi: That’s absolutely right. It seems as though no matter what we do, someone will have a problem with it. But if what we’re doing is the right thing and they still have a problem with it, I say their complaints aren’t worth sh-t!

“here-here”s and the like echo as Nozomi signals to the captain that she’s done and he steps forward once again, though the occasional looks of worry between captain and first officer all around the hangar are also in attendance.

Whalecow: Now for the reason you’re all here: You’re all aware of the system we have in place for planets that desire our protection? You’ve probably seen that broadcast from Arcture about the Elliot Ness and the 16th Untouchables. It’s unfortunate they got tied up and couldn’t make it. They’ve been carrying the torch pretty well. Initial reports say 4 pirate fleets have been destroyed already. Anyway, that torch is so bright that we’ve been getting requests from the governments of dozens of neutral planets to station patrol groups in their own system. Ava, what’s our current count?
Ava: Sir, at the moment the number of un-patrolled systems that have submitted a request totals 83 at present, and it’s steadily rising. I calculate that, with the 19 groups already deployed, by the time the requests stop we will need a total of  78 groups to patrol 127 systems in the galactic center west and all around the edges of the central Neutral Rim. 42 of these will be deployed in the “hot zone” directly between PACT and the Solar Alliance in the former area.
Whalecow: You’ve taken care of assignments, I suppose.

As the talk goes on looks of trepidation or simple suspense ferment among the crowd.

Ava: Yes, they’ll be sent to the ships that will make these groups up before they leave. And only those that have demonstrated a willingness to undertake such a task. That leaves 493 vessels to defend those 127 systems, 586 when taking into account the former Antares Mercs. Many of these will be defending small groups of systems that are close together so as to spread the manpower around.
Whalecow: Thanks, XO. Don’t know what we’d do without you.
Ava: Oh… my pleasure, sir.
Whalecow: Understand, everyone. This will by no means be easy. People that would see us destroyed will know we are a force to consider from here on out. Each of your vessels, no matter how large or small… have a target painted on your hulls. Should you require any serious repairs that lesser drydocks cannot provide, move to New Eden as soon as possible. Veniczar Fontana has offered to maintain our ships when necessary, and we do not have ready access to these facilities for ourselves as of yet, though a large drydock is currently being constructed by the people of New Ongess. You must beware that while our goal is to preserve the safety of those systems, our safety is paramount as well. Therefore I will tell you that I have the utmost faith in your discretion. Speaking of which… I have some more… sensitive… information to share.

He pauses for a moment, taking in the room. Fully half of the vessels in the ADF are present or at the very least represented by the appearance of their captains and first officers. Men from PACT, the Alliance, Cera, Ongess… all across the galaxy. He looks past them into the fleet sitting beyond. Vessels from New Eden to Ongess to Solaris to the Fringe and back again. The hour grows late. The night, dark. But given all his gaze rests upon now… how can hope fail to shine, not for but a moment before vanishing, but for what appears to be a distant yet bright future to come?

Ava: *ahem*
Whalecow: You’ve probably all heard rumors of our meeting with members of an alien race known as the Void. I’m confirming right now that these rumors are true. In fact, two of their travelers currently aboard this very vessel, as well as two others that have joined our ranks. So most of all, I urge you all not to fear. They can be trusted, at the very least, not to do us harm should we avoid doing it to them.

Part of the room is skeptical, to say the least, especially the former AMC personnel. There are quiet arguments, swapping of stories, and other expressions of both worry and reassurance. The general pervasive mood, however, is one of “These guys (meaning the ADF leadership) haven’t led us to our graves yet, so…”

Whalecow: Ultimately, all we can offer you right now is words. How we’re glad to serve with you, how we know we can pull through this hell we’ve flown into. I assure you that these are no lies, but as I said before, right now they are all just words. We can all talk the talk. Ladies and gentlemen… let’s get out there and walk the walk!

Resolute nods, cheers, and clapping take the hangar by storm.

----------
Alliance Battle Fleet. Southern West-Central “Hot Zone”.
Admiral’s Quarters. SAHC Serenity. 1850 hours.

Marissa Peters had been a perfectly loyal Solar Alliance officer. At least, until the security patrol had been out of earshot. Then she had pulled Kryska into a janitor’s closet and closed the door, bolting it behind them. Kryska had fought the urge to heed her self-defense reflex, but in the end it had been worth restraining herself. Directly employed by Republic of New Solaris President Harrison, she’d said. She said many other things as well, not the least among them how she herself had heard much about Kryska Stares, Admiral Grey’s latest prodigy. Then Marissa had nodded her understanding when Kryska looked down, a bit ashamed. Then the Republic loyalist handed her an IP address, along with it the appropriate frequency, on a small piece of paper, with instructions to eat it once it was memorized. Now Kryska sits at her desk in her quarters, in front of the monitor, paper currently on its way through her small and large intestines.

Kryska: …

The silence is oppressive as she inputs the address one tap of the key at a time: A very complicated string of numbers, symbols, and upper and lower case letters.

Kryska: Do I really want to…?

Her next action is to punch in the frequency with which to broadcast. Ordinarily she could set up a holo-feed with her target, but security with those is always questionable- Anyone watching could both intercept and trace it given a modicum of skill. This communiqué, however, is to be sent on a much older InterPlanetary Satellite frequency. She finds the required frequency situated between a cooking show and an old movie about a bunch of castaways stranded on a boat for two and a half hours. All that is left is to give the command to connect. The mic and camera on her cutting-edge desktop would do the rest. Yet unsurprisingly, she finds this to be the hardest part. Her eyes wander from the screen and she finds herself taking in the room, dispassionately… detached.

Kryska: I could stop this right now… turn in the spy… expose Harrison… It would be a service for the Solar Alliance…

Her gaze settles on the shattered frame and discarded picture in the wastebasket.

Kryska: But… would it be victory for the ALLIANCE… or for something I don’t want to be a part of?

Her eyes continue their circuit around the room, catching the small perfume bottle that had been sitting on her nightstand gathering dust for months now. A gift from Claude- to “get the boys more interested”, she’d said.

Kryska: It was a thoughtful gift, even if it was given awkwardly and I have never even thought to use it… What would she do? She’d just press the damn button without a second thought with something akin to “YOLO” passing her lips… Heh.

She turns back to the keyboard, her pointer finger hovering over the enter key.

Kryska: …But we know how that ends, don’t we? Wouldn’t hurt to hear the prez out though… right?

Suddenly, as if without her will, her finger comes down on the key, her thoughts escaping from her lips.

Kryska: F-ck it.

The screen goes black as the call connects. She waits there, staring numbly at the screen, for several minutes that to her feel like hours. Eventually the blackness is replaced by an older man with receding hairline. His eyes, however, are a clear blue. He smiles, evidently pleased to see her, in an almost paternal fashion that causes the laugh lines on his face to make more sense.

Kryska: Mr. Harrison… you’re looking well.
Harrison: As do you, my dear. It’s President Harrison, by the way. You might find it strange, but I prefer just plain “Harrison”.
Kryska: Harrison, then. You must have quite a network to be able to field an agent aboard one of Solaris’s flagships… in a war zone, no less.
Harrison: Our agents are few in number. I dislike subterfuge, and thus agents are only sent out when there is a very specific need, or unless an objective proves to be convenient.
Kryska: And what am I? A specific need? Or a convenient objective?
Harrison: A bit of both, my dear. I suppose you might classify your situation as a “target” of sorts.
Kryska: Not very reassuring si- Harrison.
Harrison: Apologies. I was using the politically correct term. What I mean is that Marissa Peters has been placed there for the sole purpose of recruiting you and your talents.
Kryska: You figured I was an easy target for facilitated defection? Even less reassuring.
Harrison: We didn’t contact you until we knew that… you knew… about Grey’s newest “allies”. And if you want to know how we figured that out, we had a small scout ship tucked away at Quadrivium for most of the conflict. It detected the launch of your science probe.
Kryska: Well we’re in contact now. What do you want? You say my “talents”, but what does that mean? Do you want me to relay information to you from Solar Alliance frontlines? Sabotage my own ship? Kill someone?
Harrison: Ea-Easy, Ms. Stares. All I’m proposing is that you use your experience in the interest of Democracy by moving from the Solar Alliance to the Republic of New Solaris, or the “Solar Republic” as our military has taken to calling us. We’ll wait for a good time to extract you, and then our scout ship still in the area will come and pick you up. And then within 2 days we’ll be toasting your newfound calling over New Solaris ‘94 in my office.
Kryska: You’re asking me to literally walk out on my ship and my nation, sir.
Harrison: A tall order, I know. But you mustn’t tell anyone about this. They may not be as ready to open their mind as you are.
Kryska: Not even my first officer?
Harrison: *sighs* Claude Trilleo. I’m not sure she would understand, to be honest.
Kryska: She understands more than you think.
Harrison: If you say so. I’ll leave the matter to your discretion then. Expect to be called… some time between 5 and 7 days from now. I guess you’ve got until then, Kryska. I hope you choose the Republic. I miss your visits.

Kryska at last manages a smile at that final statement. She wishes him a nice day. He nods and waves goodbye. The transmission cuts, leaving Kryska to stare at the now empty screen, wondering not for the first time of late what she has gotten herself into.

----------
Ryuvian Starship Graveyard. Mnemosyne Abyss.
Former PACT Shuttle “Alpha” PASC 2501. 1900 hours.

Solomon Arcadius eases the small shuttlecraft carefully through the debris field towards the distant shadow of the twice-shattered Sharr’Lac. His face is a mask that would hide his thoughts from all in the cockpit, had there been anyone else to search it.  As it is, the silence he’d grown accustomed to over the past few days remains his sole companion as the monstrous vessel looms ever larger. At nearly 10 kilometers out, the status panel lights up red. All around him, the systems of long-derelict and heavily damaged Ryuvian vessels power up, their weapons beginning to track him. While his adrenaline spikes, he maintains course, attempting to look like someone who is supposed to be there… in fact, maybe he isn’t. After a few moments, the red light in the cockpit fades as the apparently automated ancient starships power back down. The shuttle slips, unmolested, into the massive hangar bay. The shuttle’s instruments read breathable atmosphere, and thus Arcadius exit’s the shuttle via the rear hatch as is, no EV suit required. The Sharr’Lac, nearly a kilometer larger than Legion, might have been nearly impossible to navigate… except for the pillar in the center of the circular hangar which has a sign with the word “bridge” along with an up arrow scrawled with a welding tool next to the elevator doors. He shrugs and presses the topmost button. There is a soft tone as the elevator car at last arrives from the top of the vessel where it had evidently been sitting. He enters and presses the top right button on the only control panel. The doors shut, and as the car moves upward, he can only groan as it begins to play “Small World”. His misery finally ends when the doors open again and he exits onto the bridge. The center chair faces a screen. Viewports line every other wall, and “trenches” arranged in a circle from around the chair outward house the crew stations. The only other prominent feature is the capsule in one corner, wires from it entering the floor and ceiling both. While it is all very impressive, the whole of Arcadius’s attention instantly comes to rest on the barely perceptible and even sound of a socket wrench in action. He looks around for a moment, then approaches the crew pit nearest the viewscreen. Looking into it, the former Veniczar finds Chigara leaning over a conduit, the socket wrench twisting away. Though she is doubtless aware of his presence by now, she finishes in one place and, without speaking, gets to work on the next. Tools and spare parts from a variety of sources litter the ground all around the trench. The man finally manages to find his voice, having stared at her quietly for nearly a minute.

Arcadius: Chigara Lynn?
Chigara: …

She pauses for a moment, but just as quickly continues on with the socket wrench.

Arcadius: Um… This is a Sharr’Lac class vessel. Our mutual friends found some blueprints for it… could help.
Chigara: …?

Her head perks up a bit and she turns, eyeing the data card in Arcadius’s hands before grabbing it and dropping it in a toolbox, returning to her work directly after. In the brief glimpse he’d had, Arcadius notices she has grown her hair out a bit, most likely not bothering to cut it… and her eyes have been sparkling with barely restrained tears.

Arcadius: Chigara Lynn Ashada.
Chigara: …
Arcadius: Your middle name was your mother’s you know… So was your last name. We agreed on that to keep you safe from people that were after me.
Chigara: …
Arcadius: Lynn Ashada was her name. You were always more her child, you know. I have a talent for history and order… but you have your mother’s hand with a wrench and computer terminal.

No reaction from Chigara. Arcadius sighs, unwilling to give up but fearing there is nothing he can say. He turns away then, staring at the elevator door. Chigara turns her gaze to his back, a deep frown characterizing her features.

Arcadius: I picked up a few things from her… wish I could be of help. You’re restoring this dreadnought to working order. I know you can do it, Chigara. You always could. I guess… I’ll just head back to my ship. I’ll… try again in the morning.

A metal object impacts the deck by his feet. He turns to find Chigara had placed the toolbox there. She looks down at the floor, still barely composed.

Chigara: …Gr-Grab a wrench…

----------
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rp_Xdv3MX3s)

Even as a few problems are resolved, so many more surface. The ADF, now stretched thin by the need to protect numerous neutral planets requesting support, must go into the belly of many a beast before this is all over. And what of Sola? Or Kryska or Chigara, for that matter? Phoenix has risen from the ashes with their own mysterious agenda, and the Alliance/PACT struggle near the center of the galaxy continues to heat up. In the meantime, the prototypes seem to continue their both dangerous and highly secretive work without interruption. There is much to do… shall we begin?

Credits

Solar Alliance
Kryska Stares
Claude Trilleo
Harold Grey

PACT
Icari Isidolde
Fontana
Trinacrian Empire
WL2
Asaga Di Ryuvia
AEGIS
York Crescentia
Chizuru Crescentia
Elisha Daniels

Void
Glaive
Luna
Faeron
Skylla
Bladewolf
Starwolf
Dreadwolf

ADF
KTKM
Helmsman
Endershadow
Laplace
Spy
Lucca
Whalecow
Ava Crescentia
Velora
Nozomi Shields
Cosette Cosmos
Albert Smith
Solomon Arcadius
Aurora Steele
Nemesis (Traveler)
Nyx (Traveler)
Rolland Deforest

Phoenix
Mr. Smith
Ray
Leon
Claire

Unaligned
Chigara Lynn Ashada
Ember
Wang Yi
Cutter
Switchblade
Astral (Traveler)
Zephyr (Traveler)




Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.
-Albert Einstein



THE END

15
General Chat / Re: The 30 Question Hot Seat - Whalecow
« on: December 24, 2015, 11:01:19 am »
Quote
14. (My actual question) What is/was your favorite subject in school, and how does/did this subject affect your career aspirations?

14. I suppose my favorite was history. I am not sure how, but this has translated into an interest in psychology and criminal justice. Must have something to do with liking both facts and my qualitative way of thinking.

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