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Prelude

The first time she had ever heard the song of the blackbird was her very first morning in England. They were hauling their suitcases up the small flight of stone steps, her and her brother, whilst their father spoke to the taxi driver as they lifted heavy bags together from the trunk. It had been a long, sleepless night. Imani was very sad to leave their home in Ghana, and though Tish had put on a brave face for him she also felt the pang of homesickness. England was already so alien to her. Cold and big and distant from the world she once knew. Imani let out a heavy sigh as he dumped his bag on the top step and stared at their new front door. He tried to open it but it was locked and he let out a whine toward the taxi where their dad was, “Papa. Papa, where are the keys?”

The older man fumbled as he paid the driver with money they had exchanged at the airport, “Oh, Mrs. Johnson said they would leave them under the pot in the garden. Tish, go get it.”

“The pot in the garden?” Tish frowned at Imani, who simply shrugged. With slumped shoulders the young girl jumped off the steps into the grass and found the gate to the back yard. It was a faded red and half hanging off its hinge. Tish pushed with all her strength until it moved the dirt and opened. On the other side was an overgrown path toward the back, where she stood surprised at the humble beauty. Blooming flowers of all colors lined the wooden fence surrounding their property, but most impressive of all was a large, unusual tree. The trunk of the tree was pure white and the leaves, which hung down around the garden, were all different shades of blue. Cyan, turquoise and cobalt glittering in the morning sun. When the breeze blew the leaves they snowed across the garden leaving a layer of blue atop of everything. This was not a human tree. It wasn’t like anything Tish had ever seen before.

“Tish, did you find it? Oh.”

The deep voice of her father interrupted her awe and she turned to face him and her brother emerging from the broken gate. Imani’s eyes lit up at the sight of the blue tree, “Whoa, what is that?!”
Their dad laughed and kneeled down to them as all three gazed at this alien foliage, “Ah, I see you’ve found the Ahxi Tree. Yes, it’s beautiful, eh? Its seed was brought to Earth all the way from Hephas.”

“Where is Hefast?”

“Hephas is a planet in the Andromeda galaxy. Our sister galaxy. All the way up there.”

The two children followed his finger toward the blue sky, where outlines of spacecraft could be spotted amongst the clouds. Space travel was known, it was common even, but the concept of alien life beyond Earth was still foreign to them. Ghana had been very normal. Very Earth. To see something from another planet right before their very eyes turned the concept of space travel from myth into something very tangible. Their dad suddenly let out a whispered gasp, “Oh, look! Look kids, a blackbird! On the Ahxi!”

Tish and Imani looked and saw a small bird on one of the branches of the blue tree, and that’s when Tish heard it. The blackbirds cry. It was a beautiful, melodic song. Nothing like she had heard in Africa. It wasn’t just one blackbird but a family swaying against the blue and the breeze. “I had heard that the blackbirds took a liking to the Ahxi, but to see it with our own eyes!” her father exclaimed. Tish wouldn’t understand his excitement until later in life, or perhaps she would never truly understand the excitement of a scientist unless she became one herself, but seeing their dad's smile filled her with joy. All three sat in the grass together for a long time, tired and hungry but content just watching the blackbirds in the tree. This was one of Tish’s favorite memories.

“It is proof that all creatures can learn to love what is different and strange. Our lives can be integrated, just like this tree into our soil. Isn’t that wonderful?”





In the heart of the living room, where shadows danced with the flickering light of the television screen, a haughty news jingle began to play with the imagery of 'Frontline Galaxy' in big, bold letters cascading onto a backdrop of clips from various places within the universe. With one final flourish of graphics and music the title screen then faded into the background, where a suited olive green zonkoian man stepped forward onto the dark stage, his presence commanding attention like a modern-day oracle.

"Good evening. My name is Dal Ventus, here on Frontline Galaxy - the intergalactic news program where we cover the stories YOU want to see. Tonight we have a very special guest, someone that many of our viewers have been requesting an in depth interview with, and she has finally agreed to chat to us tonight." Dal folded his hands in front of him as the screen behind him changed to an image of a fleet of ships with the words 'Expedition Mystery' below it, "Fourteen years ago The Avian Expedition set off to explore Megalomorchen UOX-35 and find out the truth behind our universe. It was meant to be a quest full of promise, a true marvel of discovery into the unknown, with a fleet of collaborators from every race participating in this grand venture. However, disaster hit on March 28th, 3024 when we lost all communications from the first colony that had been established past the threshold. A year passed without any contact. The Avian Expedition was thought to have been destroyed, and with it our dreams of discovering what secrets lie beyond the black hole."

A slow fade into the next image appeared behind the zonkoian. It was an image of the wreckage of a ship with the words 'The Only Survivor'. Dal began to walk and talk to the camera, "That was until a ship from the expedition crash landed on the shores of Africa, Earth, containing the only known survivor of the expedition. Her wounds were severe, and it took many years for her to recover from the trauma that she had endured, but finally she is here tonight with us to talk about The Avian Expedition and what transpired the night she returned to Earth. What happened to the fleet? What happened to the crew of the Sparrow Wing? Why was she the sole survivor? And, the question everyone has been asking, how did she get back here?"

The image cut to two people sitting opposite each other in a warmly lit room. One of the figures was Dal Ventus, and the other was a human woman of African decent, however she looked...odd. Different, somehow. It was only when the camera moved closer to her face that it became obvious what was strange about her appearance - half of her was robotic. Lines indicating that of mechanical enhancement ran down her skin, and parts of her body had been completely altered with prosthetics, including her left arm, leg and left eye that looked at the presenter unblinkingly. Deep scars marked what human flesh she had left, creating a textured look not unsimilar to the skin of a craeden. "Tish Suleiman, welcome," Dal greeted with a smile, "Thank you for accepting our invitation to speak with us tonight."

Tish nodded, eyes darting around to the crew somewhat anxiously, "Of course."

"Now, before we get to the 'nitty gritty' as you humans say, how are you doing? I hear your recovery process is going well?"

"Yes. I'm doing fine, thank you. It's been a...slow two years but - "

"Two and a half years, right?" Dal interrupted. Tish smiled, "Mm, two and a half. I seem to have lost track of time."

The presenter leaned forward slightly, "Right, because when we found you, well, you were..."

"A bit banged up, eh?"

They both let out a laugh as the absurdity of the situation hit. How nonchalant she was about almost being killed, and how he attempted to skirt around the subject as if it were taboo to talk about. Everyone knew that when first responders pulled Tish out of the wreckage she was barely a human, her body torn apart and bloodied, chunks of her limbs hanging from broken bones like some sort of gruesome horror. How she had lived through that was a mystery. Dal cleared his throat, "Well I'm happy to hear that you are doing well, that you're up and walking about now."

"Me too." Tish replied.

"Yes, so, if you'd like, would it be okay to chat to you about the events surrounding your...return?" Dal asked, and continued when the woman before him nodded, "Good. So, I suppose, the first thing on everyone's mind is, what happened?"

A brief pause. Tish seemed to be considering how to best answer his question, and as she sat in silence the entire galaxy waited with baited breath for her answer. There had been rumors floating around here and there, but predominantly the details surrounding her recovery had been kept quiet, away from the media. Even the families of those connected to crewmates within the expedition weren't informed of anything. It had all been quite a mystery. Eventually she let in a breath and began to speak, "So, I guess - I guess that is sort of the question, right? I don't really know. What happened to me and what happened to the colonies are different. Myself and the crew on our ship were on an exploration mission, trying to um, map the space. Our goal was to create a sort of boundary around the first colony and slowly expand out into the further reaches. I only found out about our galaxy losing contact with them after I came back."

"So you don't know what happened to the rest of the expedition?" he pressed.

"No."

"Right, so, what happened to you? Your crew on the Sparrow Wing?"

This time she answered quickly, shaking her head and looking down with a frown, "I'm afraid I don't have answers to that, either. I don't remember. It was dark and cold, I was...trapped on the ship for some time. They say I had hallucinations due to brain damage so I'm not sure what was real and what was not."

"You don't remember?" Dal frowned, "Not anything?"

"As I said we went on an exploration mission. We were on week two, had regular contact with the first colony. There was nothing significant to note. Everything after that becomes...blurry, like someone has pinched pieces of my memory."

It was not the story that they were hoping for. Dal squinted his pale pink eyes and leaned back into his chair. His next words were cutting, "Tish, you are aware that there are grieving families who want to know what has happened to their loved ones, yes? The entire galaxy has been trying to reach the Avian. A lot of hopes and dreams went into this quest. A lot of lives lost."

"I am aware. My brother was on the expedition with me." Tish retorted. "So you don't know anything? Not what happened to you, or to the expedition, or to your crew?" he kept pressing, but she only shook her head, "There was nothing significant about the planet the expedition landed on as home base? Nothing....strange?"

The woman tilted her head, "There were a lot of strange things beyond the black hole, but nothing that hadn't been reported by the communications team. I've read all of the logs sent by the expedition and it's as they say, it was a beautiful, mysterious stretch of space. The planet we landed on, uh, Cubecarro, was the most habitable planet within the perimeter of the white hole, the um, the exit of Megalomorchen. We spent the last decade setting up home base there and slowly expanding out our reach. I was part of the reconnaissance crew." Tish sighed, "It was a normal day like any other. I don't know what happened next other than what the investigative team told me, which was that they tracked my ship to the outskirts of Earth where it had suddenly appeared on the radar, but I don't know how. Apparently a violent stream of debris had hit the ship and I came crashing down to the surface."

"I see..." Ventus leaned forward again, a glint in his eyes, "You said the doctors told you that your hallucinations were a symptom of the brain injury you had received, correct? If you were injured during the crash then wouldn't your hallucinations be a symptom of...something else? Were they even hallucinations at all?"

"I - I don't know. What I remember is all - " a pause, "Crazy. Fantastical. Nonsensical."

Bingo. The interview was intriguing once more and it was obvious by Dal's expression that he had hit a jackpot of a headline, "Was there anything of note in these images? Something that might have been a memory mixed up in all of the trauma you had endured?"

Tish was silent for a moment. A long silence, like the one at the start of the interview. Her gaze seemed to be searching, sifting through realities. Then, as serious as ever, she answered, "Well, there is one. I woke up on the ship to the sound of alarms. The power was on reserve and oxygen was low and it was so cold and so dark. I couldn't even see stars out the window. Then, just as I felt myself drifting back to unconsciousness I saw a blackbird outside. It was flying out in space - just flying where no living thing should be - and the last thing I remember as I passed out was the cry of the blackbird, singing to me."
 
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Subject: Departure Notification: The Blackbird’s Cry RS
April 25, 3026

Dear Crew Members,

I trust this message finds you in good spirits and ready for our imminent voyage aboard The Blackbird’s Cry RS. With preparations underway for our penultimate adventure, I am reaching out to share the specifics of our departure.

We are scheduled to depart from South Eeddin Docking Port 6, located within South Eeddin Space Station, at approximately 06:00 AM SEST on the 9th of May 3026. This departure time has been carefully selected to ensure optimal conditions for our journey ahead.

Please note that these times and dates will be automatically translated into your NTC (Native Time Calendar) upon receipt of this email. I encourage each of you to make the necessary preparations and arrangements to ensure a smooth departure.

Our journey will undoubtedly be fraught with trials, but I have every confidence that together we will weather any storm that comes our way. Each member of this crew brings unique skills and perspectives to the table, and it is this diversity that will be our greatest strength as we navigate the unknown. As always, safety and efficiency will be our top priorities. Let us approach this journey with unity, preparedness, and a sense of adventure.

Thank you for your dedication and commitment to our mission. I look forward to setting sail with each and every one of you.

Fair skies and following stars,

Tish J. Suleiman
Captain, The Blackbird’s Cry RS




May 9th, 3026
04:10 AM


Here it was—the moment Tish had diligently anticipated. Despite having faced this situation before her nerves fluttered just as fervently in her gut. Yet, this time, she wasn't merely a crewmate; she was the Captain. The idea seemed utterly surreal. Who could have foreseen, fourteen years ago, when she first embarked on the Avian Expedition, that she would find herself back in the Milky Way, gearing up to venture into the black hole once more? Was she truly as deranged as the tabloids claimed? Beyond the black hole, beyond the bounds of the known universe, lay a galaxy so profoundly alien that she grappled with the notion of its reality. Was any of it genuine, or merely the product of her fractured mind? Perhaps they had all perished already. Perhaps she was guiding her crew towards inevitable demise—

"Captain Suleiman," a voice broke through her spiraling thoughts, pulling her back to the present. In an instant, she found herself transported to the heart of South Eeddin Space Station, a shimmering behemoth amidst the cosmic expanse. Stationed outside Docking Port 6 she felt the gentle vibrations of the metallic hull as it groaned under the weight of each arrival and departure of spacecraft. Though it was early morning, time seemed to blur in the perpetual glow of the station's lights. Workers moved in droves, their silhouettes weaving through the labyrinthine corridors with practiced ease. Command consoles, tended to by cybernetically enhanced technicians, buzzed with activity, their deft fingers navigating holographic interfaces to choreograph the incoming and outgoing traffic. It was a symphony of motion and noise.

“Captain?”

Tish caught sight of the familiar purple orb of the Blackbird's ship AI, Tern, in her peripheral vision, a cybernetically enhanced asset now part of her toolkit. The AI model installed in all Avian ships remained consistent, yet each possessed a unique personality and memory. Upon her return Tish had felt a sense of unease conversing with Tern, as he had been a steadfast companion on the Sparrow Wing, however this iteration of Tern had no recollection of her past. Over time Tish forged a new bond with the updated Tern, eventually adapting to their altered dynamic.

“Yes, Tern?” she replied.

“Two of the sponsors have arrived at the terminal, Nylara Zoven and Quil’tar of Krostava.”

Captain Suleiman extended the holopad in her grasp to a member of the docking crew who was busy loading supplies onto the Blackbird. Checklists, signatures, verifications — it had consumed her time since yesterday. If she had to complete one more CAPTCHA, an archaic human system causing bewilderment among androids, she might just reach her breaking point. Taking a break to converse with some of the mission's sponsors sounded like a welcome reprieve.

“Very well. Tell Officer Kingsbury to begin the boarding process when he arrives.” Tish glanced back at the Blackbird’s Cry in the hangar, its sleek shell surrounded by workers making last minute preparations before takeoff. It was almost time.
 
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The very same Kingsbury stood not far away, watching Suleiman with an unreadable expression. It was not any exaggeration to say that without Matias' help, this expedition would not be leaving today. His contact with his new captain had been digital up to this point, but she had been impressed with his work, enough to make him first officer without even one face-to-face meeting.

To both items, a man in a similar position might feel pride or even simple satisfaction. Matias felt neither.

Instead, his heart was filled with confusion and anxiety. Outwardly, he radiated neutral professionalism and the mask he wore never slipped. But the letter he had received, the one that had started this journey he was embarking on... It made him nervous.

Matias was not used to feeling nervous. He did not like it.

He looked up at The Blackbird's Cry, and nodded to himself. The ship was impressive, even from the outside. Here in the dock, its engines were tucked inside its wings, but Matias had seen what it looked like in full display. It was quite possibly the fastest and most advanced ship ever built.

...and if their expedition failed, it was likely it would be the last of its kind. At least until the memories of their failure were lost to history.

Well, either way, it was time to get to work. With a steady stride, Matias closed the distance to the ship's main entrance, and snapped a salute.

"First Officer Kingsbury, reporting for duty," he said, his tone all business.
 
"Welcome, First Officer Kingsbury," The ship spoke back to Matias with a kind, male voice, "My name is Blackbird AE-TERN v16.1. I am this ship's artificial intelligence and will be serving you as both crew and assistant. You may call me Tern."

Although this was not his first encounter with the AI - it took a myriad of installations into Matias' personal communication systems to get Tern hooked up to him - it was his first, official introduction to what would be a steadfast companion in this journey. Tern was the best in the market and specifically designed for the Avian Expedition.

"If you have any questions I am happy to help. Please make yourself comfortable. Boarding will begin in 40 minutes time. Captain Suleiman has instructed me to inform you that she may be late for this process, and to start it without her."
 
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Hector awoke in the comfort of his serviceable hotel room at the South Eeddin Suites. It wasn't the fanciest hotel in the entire station but it hit the sweet spot hovering right above affordable. Also, don't listen to what nobody says, it's the best joint for breakfast this side of the galaxy. They always kill it with the French Toast.. You pile on those goldberries the Zonkoi love so much and you're set for the morning. And speaking of the morning....waking up this early wasn't something Hector was accustomed to. But today was a special case, of course. The Blackbird's Cry. Following the breadcrumb trail left behind by the Avian Expedition. The Avian Expedition was originally his dream. To be accepted as an engineer onboard a ship for one of the most ambitious undertakings the known galaxies had ever seen.

It was a dream that never came to pass, unfortunately. It wasn't entirely unexpected, given his circumstances, but to say it was disappointing would be selling it short. Everything else seemed to fall into routine. Same old, same old. Hopping from city to city on Earth, hopping from colony to colony, out of things to prove. He was there already. He just had to wait for the opportunity to catch up to him. Or maybe not opportunity, but...destiny? Sounds stupid, but he knew what awaited him in the future...and it sure wasn't fuckin fading into obscurity. So when the call came from Captain Suleimon, he didn't hesitate to answer.

After all, The Blackbird's Cry was in the same league as it's older siblings. State of the art, sleek design, designed by the keenest minds for engineering in the galaxy. And he was gonna sail to the other side of the stars on it. Finding his way to Eeddin from where he was last stationed at though....that proved to be a little bit of a hassle for one reason or another.

He had a couple of contacts who had worked in Eeddin from previous jobs that were able to get him set up there a few weeks in advance before the Blackbird's maiden voyage. With a room to himself during on of the stations busy seasons and a part time job working on the power grid, he had a good gig going. He wasn't too keen on being forced to spend most of April there, but it was the only opening and he wasn't gonna miss this chance. Besides it was just some light work, nothing to crazy. Even if he got under some people's skin...one in particular.

Hector quickly hopped out of bed and opened the blinds on the window opposite the door. He was greeted with the sight of a vast galaxy before him. Another reason he always liked this hotel. Can't go wrong with a starside view. He slammed his fist against the window and smiled, an odd mix of emotions on his face. "Let's get it," he whispered. This was the day. THE day.

***
With his bags tailing him on a hovercart, Hector checked out of the hotel at about 4:45 am. Walking past the lobby, he paused stopped to greet two of the people who helped him land this job. No doubt here to see him off. The first, an old Vleeboe who was currently hunched over his meal as if guarding it with his life. Any particularly vile looking bowl of green bile. It was in no danger of theft from anyone present, but maybe the Vleeboe was unaware of that. "Hey, uh, Marzeek...?" Hector began in a puzzled tone as he addressed the vermin. Marzeek was an old friend of Hector's uncle. If there was a job opprotunity open for him, all Hector had to do was ask. And seeing as this might be his last job working under him, Marzeek saw fit to get Hector some work providing upkeep for the station's power grids.

"Hmm?" the Vleeboe replied, a viscous green liquid dripping from his maw.

"The fuck is that?" Hector asked, gesturing to the bowl.

"Hrrk, shitling!" Marzeek insulted. "It porridge. Too stupid to see?"

"Get the fuck outta here, 'that's porridge'," Hector sneered. in response.

"Is delicacy! You no understand!"

"Motherfucker, it's GREEN! It's got an eye in it, that shit's blinking," Hector began listing out the issues with the meal in question one by one before putting his hands up. "Hey, you know what? You do you, man. You wanna eat some nasty ass toilet water and call it porridge, I won't judge. You not my problem anymore."

"Bastard! Always quick words...no die where you go, boy," the Vleeboe chuckled, standing up to dap Hector up.

Hector couldn't help but laugh as well. "'Preciate you, Marz. Good luck with the family. I know by the time I get back, you'll be what, a great-great.....great..."

"Hwee!" Marzeek chuckled. "Joke none! Just leave!" he laughed as he returned to guarding his unsavory meal.

And that just left the one leaning against the doorframe. Anvela Datir. Zonkoi were always tricky to deal with, but Hector found that Anvela was always pretty upfront with him regarding his stay on Eeddin. Of course, the fact that she owed him a favor probably had a part to play in granting him lodging arrangements on short notice. Eeddin was a busy station, so to take up room for nearly a month in a hotel was pretty big ask. He could tell she resented him...more than a little, but he was always willing to look past that if she was. Especially today. As he approached he, she held up a plastic bag, handing it to him with an overly sweet smile on her lime green face that told him she couldn't be happier to see him out of her hair...or horns in this case.

Hector shook his head. "What's this?" he asked taking the bag with confusion.

"Your favorite breakfast. I had the hotel staff prepare it for you once I remembered you were finally leaving," Anvela mentioned, every word punctuated with the right amount of venom. Universal translators were a modern marvel to be capable of pulling shit like that off.

Hector peeked into the box with suspicion. "You sure you didn't poison it?" he asked.

"Much as I would like that, that would not be honoring the agreements of our deal," her smile widened.

"You paid for this," Hector stated flatly in amazement.

"I did..."

Hector closed the box and smiled. "You always said, you didn't fuck with me, but I saw right past that shit. I know you'll miss me, " he mocked, drawing a cigarette from the pack in his pocket. To his further surprise, Anvela raised her own lighter and lit it for him to which he responded by raising his eyebrows. Her continued to smile sweetly, leaning her face in close to his and as Hector leaned his forward in turn...he felt the barrel of a blaster against his ribs. Without a moment's hesitation, Hector launched himself out of the way as a stream of laser firewent through his jacket and burned a hole clean through the front desk. The android manning it somehow finding the means to give the two a distraught look despite having a completely featureless face.

Hector raised an eyebrow as he glanced back from sizzling hole in the counter to the smirking Zonkoi woman and back again toward's the counter, his cigarette nearly falling out of his mouth. "Damn..."

"I know, right? ...I said I'd only give it one shot. Very good human, you may leave now," Anvela raised the gun with a wink. "We'll pick this back up if you ever show yourself around here again."

Hector opened his mouth to respond, but instead reached into his other pocket, placing a pair of shades on his face and giving off a slight shrug and a smile as if to say,'Fair enough. Lookin' forward to it.' Marzeek could not help but snort into his 'porridge' over the events that unfolded. Hector gave one last wave of thanks to the hotel staff as he loaded his bags into one of the automated cabs parked in front of the hotel.

As the cab's doors lifted open, Hector took one last peek at the bag of french toast Anvela had offered him and looked back up at her. She offered her a a little wave in response before making her leave. Exhaling smoke, Hector rolled his eyes and tossed the bag in the trash before shutting the door and taking off. Next stop the docking port no. 6.
 







Kavum-Galahad has been off-world (regarding Hephas, at least) many times. Each and every journey had been in the pursuit of chivalry, a meaningful cause, and justice. All with a chance of it being their last, never to return home to hero's welcomes and the many friends they've made again. This time is no different from any of the rest. If failure reins on the horizon beyond- if this is their last journey, then…

The death will be glorious all the same!

With this fervor, they rise long before Eedin's crack of dawn. Like the rest of their eventual compatriots, Kavum-Galahad does have breakfast- insofar as consuming a bunch of water, at least, which suffices well enough for the Rindikan form.

There is the matter of purpose, still, which Kavum must fulfill before leaving for the docking station and crossing the point of no return. Why they are here.

Alela must receive their farewell, first. She does not reside near South Eedin in any capacity and thus cannot wave them off herself. Before Kavum leaves their temporary abode- a well put-together suite room- with their strikingly few belongings, they must, of course, address the matter. It would be a great shame for Kavum to perish in the beyond without having given a goodbye!

Kavum sets their holopad upright on an adjacent desk- smooths out their cape, and records her a quick message farewell, visuals and all.

"My lady Carlisle!" They start, putting an armored fist against their chestplate with a clang of metal against metal, posture upright into full military attention. "It is near the stroke of dawn, and thus that I shall finally disembark on the grand adventure to retrieve your dear sister, and, I dearly hope, the rest of the expedition."

Kavum has never met Winona Carlisle, but they know what they look like- someone similar in face to their dear friend, but not quite exact. Alela had the foresight to give them a few pictures before they leave for the purposes of identification. Kavum only hopes that she will trust in her sister's unique, stalwart friend once they find her.

"Worry not for my safety, dear friend- I am more than capable of smiting all and any wicked beyond the threshold!"

For effect, the blade reveals itself, hand shifting pieces and extending out of the arm into their signature sword. "They shall face the, ahem- 'business end' of my blade if any hold protest!"

Kavum's speech is accompanied, as with most talking they do, with grand gestures. In their enthusiasm, they forget themself- and a swing of the arm to emphasize their point brings the blade slicing into an endtable, which they cleave clean in half.

If Kavum could blink in surprise, they would. As that is currently impossible for them, they instead simply stare down at their mistake for a few moments before speaking a much less enthused, "oh dear."

Either way, they send their message- and after a very long and apologetic exchange with the front desk (in which Kavum-Galahad throws far more funds than they likely need at them to repair their blunder), they are off for the hangar.

Upon arrival, they gaze up to the Blackbird's Cry with great pride, immediately moving over to the ship.

In front of it, they drop to a respectful kneel like an oathsworn knight giving prayer. If this vessel is to transport them for their long, arduous journey, then it is only proper to give it grace on behalf of the Rindikan's Blessed Anvil. Kavum-Galahad speaks at the ship itself with zeal. "Hark, our beautiful chariot! The Blessed Anvil has surely fashioned your make in divine visage!"






 
It was an early and painful morning for Khaazik Craule, and that was mostly because of his night of drinking and a punch or two he took to the helmet. Rattled his brain a bit, but when is it not a little shaken up? Sometimes it's a punch, sometimes it's a hunk of flying debris, many times it's earth shaking explosions. Kind of here or there and usually depends on the planet he's on at the time. Civilized world? Expect punches. However, this time around he couldn't wait for the... justice system to get his act of self defense all sorted out. He got an emergency contract for a security gig, and he was pretty keen on getting off-world fast.

He was armed, geared and packed, his usual militant armor fastened to his body and his prized auto-rifle slung over a shoulder. The rest of his things were either in the duffel slung over the other shoulder or the thick case held in a hand, leaving only one free. He was running through alleys, doing his best not to be out in the open for too long at any given time. He was slipping through shadows, occasionally bumping into the odd fellow that might be doing the same.

He had traveled three blocks, passing various super structures or underpass access points, before the communicator wired into his suit began to blare in his ear. He winced from the sound that he had always meant to change, but forgot to do so after a while, so it would never be done. He answers the call to silence the noise, an unfamiliar number displaying in the heads-up display bound to each of his helmets lenses, but the voice that comes through was entirely familiar.

"Khaaz, where're you hiding? I thought we'd agreed that we'd handle these sorts of things the right way. You've been so good about that until now. You know you can't just skip off."

"Harper! Hey, fella! Listen, I get that I slipped away at a very unfortunate time, but I had to get moving. Got a job, y'see?" the Craeden says as he starts picking up the pace.

"Damnit man, someone's in the hospital!"

"Uh, yeah. The guy that threw the first punch is in the hospital, what's new? Harper, do me this favor! I'm a veteran, your brother is alive thanks to me, so you owe me. After this, we can call it even! Sound good? All good? Okay, byyye!"

The fellow by the name of Harper tried to speak only to be cut off as the call was cut with the press of a button. Khaaz chuckles softly about the whole situation. He'd pay Harper back for this... maybe. Needless to say, he was trying to make use of the last little bit of debt that he could out of Harper, though at this point Khaaz probably owed the human captain instead of the other way around. Captain Harper does a lot to get Khaaz out of trouble with authorities, but until now they've always gone through the appropriate channels and done things legally. It's not as if Khaaz has ever really been completely in the wrong after all. Sure, he tends to instigate a lot of fights with comments about matters concerning the odd planetary war or something of the sort, but he has never threw the first punch.

He was certainly the one to throw the last punch though. About eighty percent of the time for sure. If you've never gotten knocked out during a fight, you're living a fairytale. Besides, it builds character.

Though he was running his quickest, the authorities and their quick efforts of tracking him down were nothing to sneeze at. Before he knew it, he could see armed officers running down streets in search of him. Seems Harper hasn't managed to call the search just yet. While Khaaz was reveling in his confident sneaking skills, his lurking was interrupted as an officer somehow managed to sneak around him and shouted the usual at his back, being their department and a quick "stay where you are!" Like hell that was happening. Khaaz does the opposite and starts running as the officer starts speaking into a communicator, likely calling for backup.

"You guys do know... that I'm... going on a trip, don'tcha?! Might not... even see me again!" Khaaz shouts between breaths at the officer as other officers begin to enter the alley to join them in the chase. They didn't bother to respond. They're doing their jobs, and Khaaz couldn't blame them for continuing after him. However, he's had these kinds of dances with authorities on other worlds, and he knew how to get around. He's always got his little ways for if things ever got a bit too heated.

As he rounds a corner, he looks at a woman sitting on the ground, adorned in rough clothing, but not the usual tattered rags one would expect on a homeless sort. She was properly dressed, but only just so, that way she blended in with her surroundings. Khaaz knew who she was though, and he tosses a currency card at her feet.

"The usual, missy," he says with a salute and she offers him a grin in return. She presses an elbow into the wall behind her and from high up a line drops towards the two. He wastes no time catching the line and she wastes no time pressing the small button behind her again which yanks the line up, sending Khaaz into the air with it. He was a good distance up before the authorities round the corner themselves. They continue on, having expected him to try and take a bunch of twists and turns most likely. When he was high enough, Khaaz steadies his ascent, using his armored legs to stabilize himself against the stone wall all the way up to the rooftop.

The moment he was there, he started moving, keeping a tight hold on all of his things. Surprisingly he hasn't lost anything yet. Though if anything were to go missing first, he would rather lose all his clothes over his weapons.

The rooftop was littered with people as he made his way through all the different folks gathered in this place. It belonged to an organized crime group. Nothing crazy, they simply offer transport for those that need to travel under the radar of the authorities. Just what he needs. Although they didn't tend to like vet's or anyone that's seen combat or might have interfered in their off-world dealings. So...

"Zip travel, gun jockey. That's all you're getting," is what he was told and begrudgingly accepted. He'd take what he'd get at this point. Anything to get off-world, even a sewer boat ride. However, zip travel annoyingly tested his limits when it came to heights. It was essentially getting hooked up to the lines traveling between the different buildings and then using them to get about. Nothing other than a few straps to keep you from falling. And fearing that his gear might get caught or something and send him plummeting to the ground, he is always as still as possible for these.

From there it was a few hops until he was close to his destination, and from the sound of it, the authorities have eased up on their hunt for him. After a short jog, he would manage to get to the ship he was assigned to. He didn't know much, if anything, about the ship, and he didn't care. He got paid to act as security or soldier and that was it. He trusted his sources to provide him legitimate jobs and nothing strange or fishy. Although no one could guarantee just where this job would take him. If it's anything entertaining, then it would be a nice assignment.

"Please let there be a good fight to be found. Something interesting. Been stewing on this world too darn long," he says out loud to himself.
 

  • NERAEIS
    May 12th, 3016 EY




    “Smoke, ash, water… Siblings, lift up thine BLOODIED EYES!”

    There was a low rumble of thunder in the distance, followed by the flickering of lightning in the air, obscured only slightly by the heavy smoke that clung perpetually in the air, as well as the light fog brought on by the heavy downpour of rain.

    A legion of red eyes turned towards the sky, black hair slick and matted from rain, beads of water cascading down their skin. Brother Kontrealieus observed the gathering before him, all kneeling in the shin high waters of the ashen swamp that surrounded them. He stood upon a raised, square dais, constructed of finely cut, and intricately engraved, black stone. The base was wider than the top, sloping upwards like a flat-topped pyramid. At the front of the dais, attendants were gathered, cloaked in ceremonial garb and carrying mazer bowls.

    “It is a fortuitous day to be baptized in death, for it was a day much like this that we were touched by the Grace of Strength! Daemons, the Dark Angels! Those Onyx Emissaries of the great truth of the universe! Thus, it is with great pleasure that, to perform this holy sacrament, Sister Akina Romveidt!"

    A low thrumming of deep voices quietly chanted battle hymnals, playing archaic and old instruments to accompany, as a tall, shaven head woman approached the front of the dais. She walked with grace, head held high, proud, confident, and purposeful. Sister Romveidt turned to Brother Kontrealieus, giving a nod of thanks.

    “My thanks Brother Kontrealieus. Siblings, we are a people who come from every race, and from every creed. Once upon a time, this may have been things that would have divided us. After all, for tens of thousands of years, these differences had done just that. But 300 years ago, as we are all intimately aware, something changed for us living here on Neraeis. Something more powerful than anything ever encountered before brought us together, united us like never possible before."

    The legion of red eyes turned from the sky, and now to their sister before them. They knelt, unflinching, the droplets of rain that trickled down almost disappearing from sensation. In place of that feeling, most now only felt that metaphorical welling up of fire inside them.

    Pride. Determination. Resistance.

    "Yes, as Brother Kontrealieus said, we were touched by the Grace of Strength. We ALONE in this known universe, we were chosen by the Daemons, to hear their message, their universal truth:"

    Bright lights illuminated the surrounding legion, a growing rumble of engines as spacecraft that had been parked around the soldiers roared to life. Bright, white spotlights from the ships, their weapons of war, tools of Strength.

    "Strength Rules All. The strong are the true inheritors and rightful heirs to ALL that they desire. As those who have been touched by the Grace of Strength, we are not merely inheritors of all that we desire, it is owed to us by BIRTH RIGHT!"

    The attendants began to pace through the columns of Deimosians; soldiers, pilots, knights. Upon their heads, the attendants spread a thin paste.

    A mix of ash, water, and purified blood. All of which came from the ashmires of their home.

    "Siblings, I give you this sacrament, this Thanatos Baptismos: your Death Baptism. But Strength itself has already blessed our people, each and every one of us!"

    She lifted her hands towards the sky.

    A young Deimosian soldier, only 18, felt as if everything, everywhere, were all happening at once. The weight of his soaked hair. The trickles of water down his black skin. The smooth, sticky sensation of the baptismal paste. The weight of the charred sword wrapped around his waist. The black helmet gripped firmly between his hands, sat upon his lap.

    He turned his gaze down to it, turning the eyes away from him as he lifted it, and donned it over his head.

    "The fools who seek to conquer us think they're attacking our home. They haven't learned yet, my siblings. The universe, and everything in it, is ours, OUR home."

    The legion rose to their feet, and Eichkern felt himself restrain himself from fumbling with the hilt of his sword.

    Thousands of Deimosians, each and every one present, brought their fist over their chests in salute.

    "Ours, and ours ALONE!"





Pictures
Fancy Eichkern.pngEichkern Baren Vanderdrecht Reddest Eyes.png
Lady Romveidt.png
Aleksia Lan Jaegherlin.pngAleksia Lan Jaegherlin 2.png
 
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The South Eedin spaceport was certainly a spectacle. It certainly couldn’t compare with the planet-wide sprawl of the VOC - at least, what little could be seen from the Venutian surface - but even Dr. Haliday could tell how rare it was for a station like this one to so immaculately replicate a terrestrial city. Truly, the engreint had outdone themselves with its construction.

It was a shame she couldn’t see any of it. The check-in gate between ports 8 and 6 didn’t offer much of a view.

The engreint security officer grunted as he passed a pair of boarding passes over a scanner again, refreshing the images on the holo-terminal held by the small robot perched on his shoulder. The surface of the datapad in the officer’s opposite hand shifted, its sleek nanobot screen reforming to reflect the text of their ticket information. The robot looked between its terminal and the pair of boarders before beeping at its companion again. Brrrrrr bee-bee br-br-br. The engreint huffed, holding his datapad up to his face to scan the protruding text with the sensitive tendrils of his star-nose.

“Two passengers,” he repeated, voice rumbling low in his chest. “One human, one chalcidean.” The robot warbled an affirmative. The engreint lowered his pad, eyeless face turning toward Dr. Haliday and her companion. He leaned in close to Rhyssa, breathing deep. “Human?”

“That’s what it says!” Rhyssa replied cheerfully.

“Don’t smell human.”

“I mean, obviously!” Rhyssa insisted. “I’ve been stuck on a tiny ship with this thing the whole time.” She jerked her thumb at Dr. Haliday. “Venus ain’t exactly close, you know! Ain’t it only natural her stench would rub off?”

The engreint exhaled slowly. Rhyssa leaned back as the tendrils of his star-nose wiggled toward her, trying to feel her face.

“Now, now, sir, is there really any need for this?” the zonkoi pilot Pendi Ayrim cut in, pressing himself between the two. It hadn’t been easy to find a pilot willing to transport the pair of them off Venus without passing through Veneralia’s checkpoints, but he had proven himself worth every credit. “Surely you’re familiar with how tightly controlled departures from Venus are, such a worldly man as yourself. If the manifest says human, she must be human, no?”

For her part, Dr. Haliday stayed where she was, wanting no part in the scene playing out before her but keeping a close eye on her companion. Rhyssa slipped around the pair as Pendi continued to argue her defense, the head of the tiny security robot spinning around to watch her go. She came up alongside it behind the officer, peeking up at the holo-pad in its mechanical hand. The bot tilted its head in what could’ve been confusion or curiosity, looking between her and its pad before tilting the screen so she could see better. Rhyssa pointed at the screen, asking a question about what it displayed while her opposite hand shifted slightly.

Rhyssa froze, the engreint jerking suddenly. His eyeless face whipped toward Dr. Haliday, taking short, deep breaths. “What was that?” he interrogated.

Dr. Haliday held her gaze on Rhyssa for a moment, then turned away. “Nothing,” she replied with a voice that could’ve been a sigh. “I apologize for the confusion with our documentation, sir, but we are due to meet our flight soon. Perhaps we could hurry things along?” Rhyssa sulked back over to Dr. Haliday’s side, face expressionless yet somehow looking whipped regardless.

Pendi leaned back in between the engreint and his clients, all smiles. “As I was saying, sir, you have my utmost assurance that any possible incongruences have been checked not only twicely but thricely. There is no possible chance but that these fine ladies are exactly who they say they are; I’m simply not in the business of escorting any sort of mischievous or otherwise unseemly individuals. It wouldn’t be good for my reputation, and would be the utmost betrayal of such fine institutions as your own.”

The officer leaned in close to Pendi, star-nose tracing the lines of his face for a long moment before the engreint grunted and shoved the boarding passes into the zonkoi’s chest, pushing him back a step before moving away.

“Ah, I knew you were a reasonable sort, sir!” Pendi cheered, handing the passes off to Dr. Haliday. “Thank you for all you do for this station, truly!” Then, under his breath, “Stubborn I'm uncultured.”

“Well, madam, I suppose this is where we part ways,” he continued, turning to his former clients. “I hope my services have been to your satisfaction.”

“Thank you, Mr. Ayrim,” Dr. Haliday said, tilting her head slightly in an imitation of the bow she’d seen some zonkoi do in the past.

“Oh, no thanks necessary!” he replied, returning a proper bow of his own. “All that matters is the check clears! Now, I hope you both have a pleasant space flight, and may Ghelmrem Spacelines be your first choice for all your transport needs!” Pendi spun around with a flourish as he spoke, waving them off before waltzing back toward the other port.

Rhyssa watched him go, then turned and started for the gate to port 6 before freezing again mid-step. The engreint officer looked over from the check-in terminal, but said nothing. Dr. Haliday’s head turned to look at her, remaining silent to the various other passengers passing through the lobby. Rhyssa’s head tilted slightly back, but likewise remained silent.

They stayed like that for several long moments, neither moving or seeming to say anything as crowds moved around them.

<What Take>

<No Take Stop Me Before Take>

<No Lie Me>

<No Lie You>

<No Do Child You Risk Big Caught You>

<No Caught Me>

<Caught You Do Child You More Time>

<Understand Me You No Fun Only Do You Say Understand Me You>

<No Pout You Know You We Do Big No Caught You Break Big Many>

<Understand Me You Understand Me You No Teach You Me Understand Me You>

<No Understand You Me No Take You Understand You Me>

“Ugh, fine! Stop scolding me, already!” Rhyssa exclaimed suddenly. Some of the passersby turned to look, but otherwise kept walking. “Come on, then, if we’re in such a hurry!” she shouted as she started storming off. “Because this is soooooo important, right?!”

Dr. Haliday sighed as she watched the girl rush through the gate. She stood still for a moment as the girl vanished into the crowds, wondering not for the first time if bringing her had been a mistake. Certainly the girl had no desire to leave Venus in the first place, yet she had insisted on coming with Dr. Haliday anyway. Perhaps it would have been better to refuse, and leave her back on Venus? The girl was immature and impulsive. If she didn’t do as she was told, it could cause trouble for the other members of the crew.

She sighed again, the claws of her feet clicking against the floor as she moved to follow the girl through the gate. It was too late to worry about what-ifs. Dr. Haliday would just have to keep an eye on the girl, same as she always had, and hope it would be enough.
 
It had been something like a year that Uquorsii had been serving as a 'culinary operations specialist' at Avian Expedition Mission Control. That's fancy speak for a run-of-the-mill linecook who spends more time scrubbing dishes than making them. All things considered, it was a good job and apparently a fantastic foot in the door to bigger things. He must've stood out enough to get reassignment orders - ignoring that the first choice had probably declined - aboard the RS Blackbird as the 'head chef slash culinary director'. More big fancy words but at least this time with the opportunity and pay to match.

Anyway, that was months ago. Present day saw the Craeden zipping up the last of his possessions - hopefully he hadn't forgotten anything, probably had - and hoisting the bag over his shoulder while two of his roommates from the employee dormitory watched on. "Big gig goin' into the stars all on your own, huh? Too cool for us now?" A short and stocky human woman with wild curls had her hands on her hips in the doorway. A taller human man joined her, leaning into the room. "Couldn't pay me enough to do it, to be honest. Stuck up in a metal box in the sky and having to cook for a bunch of regular explorer types and be in charge of keeping up on inventory? Mm mm... I wish you the best of luck." He shakes his head. Uquorsii walks over and grins, patting them both on the shoulders. "Yeh yeh... laik yu juhhhs kahn wayt to geh rid a mi." Melancholy laughter twinkles in his eyes. It was always hard to move on from a place he'd met good people in but, for cliche's sake, one door closes another one opens.

The taller human man helped Uquorsii hoist his luggage into a taxi while the short woman watched on with eyes squinted with restrained sorrow. It was one last hug to them both and a hollar from the driver, what's the hold up?, to get him on his way. "Kip eena mi haat." He tapped his chest and slid into the backseat of the cab to be swept away to his next adventure.
The shining station welcomed him like the heavily-guarded arms of a shining station with arms. He dragged along his luggage - clearance had been given for him to carry knives on him since breakfast would be his very first order of business after boarding, thank the gods, though he still got stopped. Twice. It took a little longer than he'd hoped, so his step was quick as he left his things at loading but lugged behind his bag of essentials. As he stepped out onto the dock he let out a long sigh and raised a hand to his eyes to shield them from light. "Spays...eh...?" A giddy little anxiety twisted in his stomach and he grinned, then promptly tripped.

The Craeden caught himself at first, twisting quick enough to balance with his tail, but the unbalanced weight of the pack on his back spilled him backwards with a clank and clatter. "Aiihhhh..." He sat up, brushing concrete off his palms. How had he missed.... a whole-ass person?

Uquorsii was quick to climb back to his feet and turn his attention. "Aii shit, is yu ariht?" A snarl-like smile splits up his reptilian face, but without too many sharp teeth to show off it manages to come off more sheepish than anything else. He extends a hand in hopes to reconcile his blunder before boarding - he can only assume anyone else on the platform not currently working would be shortly joining him in flight. "Ah sari fi chroo, dat di mi faalt."
'''
Interactions: Kavum-Galahad RascalRoadkill RascalRoadkill
 
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"On way!"

Kingstra scurried over to the newly emptied table, placing the bucket down a little too hastily. The dishes inside clattered and his ears tilted downwards slightly, eyes too focused on the stack of plates in the center. On the topmost plate was a pile of food, a combination of bits and pieces of all the different dishes. He carefully lifted all the dishes, stacking them neatly into his bucket, only to scurry off afterwards back to the kitchen once more. There, he put the bucket down, took the top plate, and scarfed down the leftovers. When the plate was clean, he tossed the bucket on over to the conveyor belt that plucked the dishes and sent them down the line to be washed.

"Kingstra," a stern voice called out, causing the Vleeboe to tense up slightly.

"Manager Oglachxs," he squeaked out, clearing his throat. He wiped his grubby little claws on his apron to get some of the grease off and something to look at besides the slimy being approaching. "What need?"

"Steve has requested next holiday off. Can you cover him?" the vibrant yellow slime asked with a slight vibration. Kingstra gripped the apron and seemed to contemplate an answer. His tail swished slightly and his nose twitched in thought.

"Can, yes."

The slime nodded, tapping away at the screen tucked into its arm. Without another word, it dragged itself away to another managerial duty that needed attending. Kingstra stared at its back but with a bit of reluctance, turned away only to find a dark green Craeden staring at him. One eye was focused on him while the other followed Manager until she was out of sight. The Craeden, named Aqioursa, then practically skipped over, bouncing on its heels.

"Can, yes but are you going to?" Aqioursa asked in a hushed, sing song voice. The Vleeboe smiled.

~*~

It was still early in the day. Kingstra always liked the early shifts because he could sleep through the day. Today was different through. He looked down at the apron in his hand and then at the trash can next to him. The Waffle House stood behind him, one of the busiest spots in the area for all sorts of travelers. He looked behind him and the at the trash can once more. He tossed the apron in and walked off. He was no longer Kingstra the busboy.

Soon he would be Kingstra the janitor.
 
1000000639.pngNaomi Hart
Location: South Eeddin Space Station - The Blackbird's Cry
Interaction: Open
Mentioned: N/A

South Eeddin Space Station didn't just house The Blackbird's Cry this fine morning. The throngs of stumbling soldiers, their fatigues disheveled as they slowly made their way back to which ever ship they called home after an eventful night of shore leave annoyed many. The janitors were not too pleased cleaning up their messes anyway, not that the men were being too rowdy. It seemed like a party had gathered outside of one in particular, right next door the S.S. Eurydice. A prototype human battleship, first of her kind. Her sleek, subtle design was perfect for dropping in stealth teams, observing planet traffic, and more and these soldiers had the privilege to call her home. The rowdy bunch circled around one of their members closely, their PDAs flashing every few seconds as they took pictures, getting the woman to sign each one. She looked annoyed, her brows furrowed in a way that threatened to loosen her tight bun, but the light in her amber eyes betrayed her true feelings. Naomi was elated. This was the last time she'd see many of these men, she knew that. And instead of wasting her energy on that, Naomi focused on their jokes. She had time... probably, her main gear had already been transferred to The Blackbird's Cry, her commanding officer already handling the transfer paperwork. Not that the old man was thrilled about it. Nearby, he stood watching like a hawk as his daughter spent the last few minutes of free time she had with her brothers.

As a group, they had attempted to convince him to let them all walk her over to the new shop, but he refused. They were setting off just an hour after The Blackbird's Cry, which he could thankfully use as an official excuse. Unofficially, he wanted a little extra time with the just the two of them. Her broad shoulders held the weight of the world now. Underneath the happy, excited facade and her put together appearance, he could see it. She was terrified. He let them continue for a few more minutes as they gave her a barrage of gifts. Mostly booze, mind you, some snacks she'd probably not get to enjoy again and a physical photo. It was her crew, the ground team after a successful mission on some little astroid. They were all covered in mud and dust, there was more than one bandage in that photo thanks to her skillful hands. Maybe a few missing teeth too. Naomi couldn't help but let a few tears roll down her cheeks, holding it close to her chest when the old man finally cleared his throat and all attention turned to him. They expected him to say something, but instead he arm came, up and bent into a salute. Quickly, the soldiers followed suit. "Here's to us!" He spoke loudly, a proud smile breaking up his features as he looked at Naomi.

"Who's like us?!" The soldiers replied.

"Damn few!"

"And they're all dead!" Naomi replied alone this time, her smiled fading for a moment, salute shaking as her emotional threatened to push through and boil over. But the woman managed to keep it under control as her father broke the salute and sent the rest above Eurydice. Once they were alone, Naomi shouldered her rucksack but the old man quickly took it. He was not her commanding officer in this moment. Nor would he be ever again. Instead, Paul wanted to share this moment the way a normal family would.

******​
This normal family moment of course started with a few minutes of awkward silence. Naomi was unsure of how to do this. Neither was Paul in all honesty, the entirety of their relationship had taken place on military ships and during her career as a soldier. If she had taken a different path in life, this would have been an entirely different thing. After a few more moments of silence, Paul took a deep breath. "You're still able to back out you know?"

"I'm aware," Naomi nodded. This had been Paul's issue from the moment she signed up to...forever apparently. She glanced up at him, Paul's normally stern features softer now. "She's not crazy, you know."

"I know that. The uncertainty about what happened to the Sparrow-"

"I know you're worried. And I know it could happen again. It won't be the first time I've been on a doomed ship of it does," Naomi chuckled dryly. Paul stopped walking, Naomi only stopping a few steps later when she realized. "What?"

"Naomi...the chance we never see each other again is monumental," He spoke softly, now moving to catch up to his daughter. The Blackbird's Cry loomed above them now, the grizzled face of her commanding officer replaced with the concerned face of an elderly father. "If this was a normal expedition, you just going off to another galaxy to live a normal life, I wouldn't be as worried. But this..." There was a million things he wanted to say, his gaze moving to the ship taking his pride and joy away. Naomi didn't smile now, but her brows didn't furrow. "I'm worried, Naomi. I'm worried about you, and what future you have out there."

"You're just bummed you can't bust my ass anymore," Naomi teased, but Paul didn't smile in return like he normally did. Infact, Naomi almost though she saw his eyes begin to water. "Sir I..." She took a deep breath, and without a second thought, threw her arms around her father. He was surprised for a moment, but slowly returned it. "I love you too, dad." Paul sniffled, letting out a long, heavy sigh as they hugged. It has been a while since they shared one, she had gotten shot the last time. After a minute or so, the hug broke and Paul handed over her rucksack. He needed to get back for the final checks of the Eurydice before take off. And Naomi was...late, after all, cutting it pretty close anyway. "Be careful dad."

"You too honey," He smiled at her. Naomi gave him a quick salute before turning around to bolt to the entrance, entering The Blackbird's Cry at what was, hopefully, not the last moment.
 
Hector glanced out the window as he rode across Eeddin station, perhaps viewing it for the final time. Lotta good memories from his brief visits here. The cab hovered over various sights he has become familiar with over time. People, restaurants...he wasn't leaving this place behind, he was leaving behind a whole galaxy. Below him, he could see dozens of child sized rodents scurrying into the vents, escaping a stressed out security guard. They waved at him before making their mistake. Approximately one tenth of Marzeek's grandkids no doubt. Give or take.

It wasn't too long before the cab finally arrived at Docking Port 6. Hector stepped out of the cab, his hands in his pocket as the trunk popped open and he walked around to empty his bag onto the hover platform. A panel extended up from the cab and Hector slid a card to enter payment. He turned around to see if anyone else had arrived. He wasn't alone. There was a Craeden speaking to a lone Rindikan. He supposed it wasn't a sight one saw every day, so he'd assumed they were to be a part of the crew.

Further back he saw a human woman embrace what appeared to be a military official. Family, from the looks of it. A slightly more familiar sight. At least at docking ports back on Earth. Normally, a run in with the human brass was the last thing he was looking forward too on a long voyage but considering the high likelihood of the lady following the same career path as who he assumed was her old man, putting the past behind him might be easier than he'd realized.

Hector set the guidance coordinates on his hover platform to guide it towards the Blackbird's ramp. He plopped down onto it, himself, resting his head on the bag containing his clothes as a pillow as he put his hands behind his head. Passing the Craeden and the Rindikan, he greeted, "Hey yo, tin man! Scales! Y'all gonna keep rappin' or what? Almost time to bon voyage, ain't it?" he asked, his voice echoing as he left them further behind.

His platform catching up to the human woman's brisk pace until it was hovering slightly ahead of her. Hector turned his head towards her as he glanced up. "You hyped huh? Can't blame you. Rescue mission beyond the edge of space. Kinda shit I used to think only happened in vids," he chuckled, before he noticed another Craeden already ahead of them. "And I thought I woke up early to get here," he gave an amused shrug.

RascalRoadkill RascalRoadkill
queanbean queanbean
FireMaiden FireMaiden
 
"Good morning, Chief Kavum-Galahad," the ship responded to the Rindikan. When Uqorsii stumbled over the kneeling armored figure, Tern promptly greeted him as well, "Good morning, Chef Ketle. Welcome aboard the Blackbird's Cry RS. I am Blackbird AE-TERN v16.1, the ship's artificial intelligence. I'll be serving as both crew member and assistant. You can call me Tern."

***

Captain Suleiman cupped her coffee in her hands, her leg jiggling anxiously as she listened to the Zonkoian woman seated across from her. Beside Nylara Zoven sat a large Ensindijee, whose green, mantis-like face peered at Tish with intense scrutiny. Concentrating on their conversation was difficult, and she felt guilty for absentmindedly nodding now and then. They were major sponsors of this trip, but it had been a long, sleepless night of preparation. She took another sip of her coffee.

"Ghin Gareux is our top priority, of course. Our clients are eager to learn his fate, as is the entire universe, I'm sure," Nylara's purple eyes squinted. "If nothing else comes of the mission, you must find the Condor and investigate its black box. Nothing else matters."

Tish twisted her lips slightly. "Well, I intend to find all the ships and their crew members. I won't neglect many for the sake of a few."

"Yes, yes, sure. If you find the Condor and Captain Gareux, you may do whatever you wish after that. But remember, as your sponsors, it's imperative that you complete our tasks first—" She paused and glanced up at the mantis eyes staring unblinkingly at them. "Ahem, Quil’tar, why are you even here? What stake do the Ensindijee have in this rescue mission?"

Quil’tar's mandibles clicked together. "For the same reason as any."

There was a pause. Tish and Nylara exchanged a look of confusion before the Captain downed the rest of her lukewarm coffee. "Right. Time to start boarding. I'm not sure when I will be in contact next, but you will know when we pass through."

As she turned to leave, Quil’tar called out to her once more.

"Good luck, Captain Suleiman. When you return, I hope you are not alone this time."

The words sent shivers down Tish's spine.

RascalRoadkill RascalRoadkill
queanbean queanbean
 
Matias stepped out onto the bridge, his eyes doing a slow sweep of the area he would be spending a large portion of his time in. It would be good to familiarize himself with the layouts of the entire ship, but he didn't want Tern to give him a tour. It would stick better in his memory if he wandered himself.

Although the viewports were closed, Matias could see various displays displaying. It seemed that Tern would be able to pull up reports on a moment's notice, from any of the crewmember's stations around the spacious area. Most of the crew sat lower, like an orchestra, while the captain's seat was raised up on what could be considered the stage area. His own official seat appeared to be almost directly below the captain's, nestled among the crew.

As Matias approached his chair, he stopped with some surprise. He'd thought he was the first crewmember aboard, but here was a woman, sprawled across her seat, clearly sleeping. She had her uniform on, so to speak, although it looked like she'd slept in it. She had a cap pulled down across her face, so Matias couldn't see much.

Matias checked the station - this was for the pilot. Ah, so this must be Amaya Rose. Quite the daredevil from her files.

Matias shook his head. He'd leave her be until he knew for sure how Suleiman wanted to handle professionalism on the ship. It would be silly to reprimand her only to have Suleiman dismiss uniform dress code in a few hours.

"Oi," Amaya Rose said, tipping her cap up to stare at Matias. "How long you gonna stand there staring?"

Matias blinked. He was sure she had been asleep from her breathing patterns. Still, now that he could see her face, Matias had to agree with the profile he'd read that she was quite striking. Her eyes especially.

"I'm Matias Kingsbury, I'm the first officer," he said after a moment. "You must be Amaya Rose, our pilot."

"Aye," Amaya said, untangling herself from her chair and standing up. "So it is. Suspect you'll probably be the boss then, eh?"

"Captain Suleiman will be giving the orders, unless she defers to me," Matias said. Although taken aback by Rose's statement, he didn't allow it to show on his face. "I'm not sure why you'd suggest otherwise to be frank. Have you met the Captain yet?"

Rose snorted. "Don't need to meet her to know she ain't the boss type. Call it a hunch, boss-man." Rose's lips twisted into a smirk. "All's the same to me, though. I'm just here to fly the ship."

"I see," Matias said, perhaps a little more curtly than intended. Still, Rose didn't seem bothered by his tone. She'd already turned from him back to her chair, accompanying a yawn with a stretch. Matias repressed the urge to shake his head again as the pilot slumped back down in her seat, and yanked the cap down over her eyes once more.
 
It wouldn't take Khaazik long to find his way onto the ship. He's not the sort of fella to wait for permission before he got to work making himself feel at home. This was the ship that he was going to be working on after all. As security no less. So if he wanted to do his best job risking his life for those on board, then he needed to make sure that this was a ship he was damn well willing to protect, and that meant squeezing his stuff into a real nice corner.

He was beyond interested in the various interactions happening outside the ship and even some going on within. He is a social creature after all, no matter how often he might get on the nerves of some, but there was one thing that came before all.

Getting a sweet as hell spot to rest his head at the end of a hard day of work!

That is the most important thing. When you work in security, you need a space where you can stash your gear, be close to any and all potential action, and also be close to where meals are being dished out for the day. If he had to change his spot later because there is assigned room and board on the ship, then so be it. However, he could also just not say anything until he's caught out on where he is calling home.

"Oops, I didn't know that there was a crews quarters. Oh dearie me! Heh," he jabbers to himself sarcastically, all of his crap still hanging from his hands. Speaking of which, he was eager to put it all down for a hot second.

As he continued down a corridor, he started to pay more attention to the interior design of the ship. An interior that featured a lot of screens. Khaaz was starting to get a bad feeling. He took a few more steps, nimbly wandering in a way that helped him avoid the occasional hurrying crewmember when suddenly he was hit with a digital voice that made his scales itch.

"Fetching Personnel File..." the voice spoke from one of the monitors in the hall nearest to Khaazik. The Craeden groaned a bit as he turned to face the monitor, dropping his things right where he was standing. Suddenly, the voice from the monitor was speaking to him right in his ear. "Good morning, Security Agent Craule. Welcome aboard the Blackbird's Cry RS. I am Blackbird AE-TERN v16.1, the ship's artificial intelligence. I'll be serving as both crew member and assistant. You can call me Tern."

This was an unfortunate, but legally required, feature of the soldiers gear. Direct access to his personal records on behalf of Siege Star Corp, wired directly into the internal chip of his helmet. That also meant direct access to his communicator, biometrics, daily reports and everything else that could possibly be taken from his equipment. It's a pain in the ass, but again, legally required. If he took a job without these features available to his employers, he was as good as a felon.

Khaaz breathed a sigh as he stepped over to a monitor, close enough that the nose of his helmet was almost pushed up against the screen. It was like he was trying to get up in the artificial intelligence's face... which was impossible, but he'd damn well try.

"Of course the ship would have an AI. What a pain. Good mornin', ya jumble of code. Tern? Whatever. Are you tellin' me that I'm going to have to live with you yappin' in my ear for the whole mission?"

"It'll be my utmost pleasure to assist you in your duties going forward in any capacity that you require, Agent Craule."

"Not going to be needed, Code. I can handle everything on my end just fine. Now leave me to find a good place to hunker down, yeah?"

That was all that could be said between them for the time being. It seems that Tern decided it best to leave Khaaz alone for now too, as the AI's voice didn't sound again in his ear. The soldier was happier for that too. Sure, he might have been a bit cold, but what does that matter to a colder machine? That, and Khaaz had his reasons for disliking machinery, especially artificial intelligence.

He had a sizable scar on one shoulder that was the result of being too comfortable around tech. A series of death bots for crying out loud. During a time when people tried to bring back the use of robotic armies to fight battles. Not-quite-automatons, as in they didn't have the same sentience as the robotic peoples. However, even with an army of killing machines, you sometimes needed fleshy soldiers with boots on the ground. There was an incident where an attempted breach of enemy systems was hit with a counter-breach. Before Khaaz even knew it was happening, one of the bots on his side pointed its gun at him and fired a powerful shot. Thankfully the breach was halted before it could get a better aim in, but the shot was still fired. The round tore right through flesh and bone.

Doesn't take a genius to understand that it was one of the worst injuries of the soldiers life. Nearly lost his arm.

Khaaz shakes his head, dismissing the memory for the time being. He had better things to occupy his thoughts, like a sweet new place. He could fit just about anywhere, so long as it had air flowing into it, it was livable. So when he came upon a hatch built into one of the walls and pressed a button beside it, he was happy to see it open into one of the interior bulkheads of the ship. It was the perfect little space for him. It was close to everywhere he would need to be as well, at least he thought so. He hadn't yet fully explored the ship, so it wasn't a certainty if this place would work out. Still, that didn't stop him from shoving all his belongings into the small space.

Finally relieved of his things, he could stretch and move on to more important things, like getting a feel for the crew. Where better to do that than the bridge? He starts making his way to where he thinks the bridge might be. He could ask Tern for a layout of the ship, but he'd prefer getting that from a living, breathing crewmember.

It doesn't take long for him to reach the bridge, but he takes a moment just silently moving step by step along the wall, just looking around a bit. He wasn't looking to make a splash right off the bat. Don't want anyone immediately hating him, especially because you find a lot of bigwigs on the bridge of a ship.
 




Kavum is still kneeled down in front of the ship- quiet and silent thanks to the Blessed Anvil to maintain the sanctity of the Blackbird's Cry for their journey beyond the black hole. However, remaining stationary on the ground near the ship's entrance makes it rather inevitable that Kavum both impedes foot traffic- and proves to be an obstacle to their comrades.

They feel something collide with their side- it's a rather light impact considering that it hits solid metal and hard plastic, but they can at least acknowledge it. Kavum's head perks up as somebody tumbles over them and onto the ground, and they spring up to their feet to assess what's happened.

"Oh, dear!" They exclaim, but the individual is on their feet before they can offer an armored hand to help him back up again.

If Kavum could blink in confusion, they would, but unfortunately the lack of eyes prevents that. It takes a moment for Kavum to parse Uquorsii's pronunciations, but after listening for a moment, they seem to understand most of his words well enough.

"I am alright, yes! Are you, my friend? Quite the fall!" They say, and clasps a friendly hand on his shoulder. "No need for apologies! I should not have paid my respects right in front of the gateway!"

Kavum-Galahad turns their head as they are spoken to, and raises their hand to greet Hector. "Hello! Yes, I am quite ready!"

Then, they direct their attention back to Uquorsii, removing their hand from his shoulder and placing it on their own chest. "It is nearly time to go! Are you prepared, my friend?"

Kavum peers up and turns to face the ship once more as the Blackbird's Cry addresses them and their newly-met companion. They call out a, "good day, Tern!"- regardless of whether it's something the AI is even capable of acknowledging.



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South Eeddin Space Station

May 9th, 3026 EY


  • South Eeddin Space Station
    Approaching Docking Port 6





    Eichkern felt his entire body thrash as he sat up with a gasp in the cab, realizing he'd fallen asleep. After he took a moment to catch his breath, he realized they were still driving.

    "How long was I out?"

    "Not long, only about ten minutes." The voice that replied came from beside Eichkern.

    He jolted again as he grabbed at his waist for a pistol that was not in fact holstered on him, but was instead holstered inside of one of the bags in the trunk.

    "Who are you, and how did you get in here!"

    The figure raised his hands in the air in mock surrender. "No need to worry yourself Eichkern, I'm a friend. Or at least, I hope to be." The figure spoke in a level, but pleasant tone.

    The clothes stood out to Eichkern immediately. A crisp black business suit and trench coat, and a black fedora styled hat, like from some ancient detective story. The one thing that Eichkern didn't recognize was the fact the man wore a black cloth mask over his face, obscuring everything about the man, except for the bright red eyes, and the black skin around them.


    "So the Intelligence Service? Akshara telling me wasn't good enough, you had to come here and... Threaten me? Not really a winning strategy to get me on your side." His words were bitter and filled with a sort of resentful venom.

    The figure chuckled slightly, slowly shaking his head.

    "That's ah... Not precisely true Eichkern. My affiliations are ones that you aren't currently familiar with. Nor is Akshara, though depending on certain events, I may be speaking with her soon as well."

    Eichkern allowed his body to relax slightly, but was still on edge. He almost felt like cursing the cab driver. Not really a professional thing to do, letting a random stranger into the cab to harass a passenger.


    "Still haven't said who you are, or what you want."

    The stranger shrugged. "This, this is what I want. Just a little chat with Eichkern Baren Vanderdrecht. As you indicated, you had a rendevouz with your friend Miss Jaegherlin. Well, I suppose that goes without saying, you're here, getting ready to board the Blackbird's Cry. But it's why she reached out to you that is what interests... Us."

    Eichkern sighed in slight annoyance, looking eyes scanning the interior of the cab to see if there were any threats to himself. Didn't seem like it.


    "Then hopefully you know that I don't really know why they asked me to go. I'm going for the adventure, more than anything else. If I can help a few of the victims of... Whatever happened, then that's just an altruistic little bonus."

    The figure nodded. "Indeed, they've been rather sparse on the details, haven't they? And sadly, I can't be much more helpful than that myself. But, I'm sure you're already well aware that there may be ulterior motives. I'm just here to ask that, whatever you find on the other side of Megalomorchen Eichkern... Keep that fact in mind."

    The figure turned his gaze outside the window of the cab, as he signalled to the driver to get ready to pull over.

    "From what I know of your time in the Red Knights, you've conducted yourself admirably, demonstrated high morals and ethics. You seem to care about people, about the wellbeing of others, whether they're different from you, or the same. Which is why I'm pleased its you going."

    The cab came to a stop, and the figure opened the door. "Eichkern, when you're on the other side of Megalomorchen, when the time comes to make decisions... We ask that you make the right ones, as you always try to do."

    The figure stepped out, and Eichkern sat forward to stop him.
    "Who's 'we'? 'Us'? I'm really starting to tire of all this crypticness lately!"

    Despite wearing a mask, Eichkern could still make out the vague shape of the man's lips pulling up into a smile. "You'll find out eventually Eichkern, should you live long enough. Take care of yourself Brother."

    The door closed, and the cab began to drive off again.

    Eichkern rolled his eyes and sighed. It was too early in the morning, he was too exhausted, and these freaking Deimosians were being far too weird for his tastes.

    He looked towards the cab driver, who maintained his gaze ahead of him, not glancing back at the passenger. Eichkern almost wanted to glare, but figured it would not improve his situation. He glanced around, saw the ID tag for the driver, the drink tray, and a sticker on the dashboard of a flag, black with some red stars.

    Eichkern absent-mindedly wondered what planet it was for, if perhaps it was some kind of vacation spot or something. Must have been nice to commemorate it like that. Or maybe just a dumb tourist trinket.





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