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Uqorsii was greeted in the Blackbird's Cry kitchen with a sleek, industrial design and a large window that looked out into the dimly lit docking station. The heart of the kitchen was a compact, multi-functional cooking station equipped with a variety of appliances specifically adapted for space use. The station included a combination convection/microwave oven, a vacuum-sealed stovetop, and a small induction cooker. Cabinets and drawers were fitted with secure latches to prevent items from becoming free-floating hazards. Inside, shelves were organized with color-coded containers for quick identification of ingredients and supplies. These containers were vacuum-sealed to maintain freshness and prevent spillage. For food storage, the kitchen was equipped with a compact refrigerator and freezer unit. These appliances were essential for preserving perishable items such as fruits, vegetables, and dairy products brought up from supply or grown in the ship's horticultural center.

The kitchen also featured a dining area, a cozy nook with fold-out tables and secure seating where crew members could gather to eat. The chairs were designed with adjustable straps to keep astronauts comfortably seated in case of microgravity. This area was not just for eating but also served as a social hub where the crew could relax and share meals. As a special request from Captain Suleiman, a large, beautiful Ahxi tree had been planted in the middle of the common area, its glittering blue leaves standing like a beacon within the space. It made for a great view to cook.

Adjacent to the kitchen was where Uqorsii would be procuring most of his ingredients for the journey: the greenhouse, where a large, fluffy Ahnba Degota stood amidst the rows of beautiful plant life, checking the grow lights for any malfunctions. There weren't any, of course, but Ulahn Qi Ehta liked to make sure her plants had the best chance of growing big and strong.

The horticultural center aboard the Blackbird was a lush, verdant sanctuary amid the cold expanse of space. As a vital part of the ship's life support system, it was designed to grow a variety of food crops and medicinal plants, ensuring the health and well-being of the crew during long-duration missions. This biotechnological marvel combined advanced agricultural techniques with cutting-edge space engineering, creating a self-sustaining ecosystem that thrived in microgravity. Housed within a large, climate-controlled module, the center was divided into several sections, each dedicated to different types of plants and cultivation methods. The air inside was rich with the scent of earth and greenery, a stark contrast to the metallic tang of the rest of the spacecraft. Soft, full-spectrum LED lights bathed the plants in simulated sunlight, promoting robust growth and mimicking the diurnal cycles of different planets.

At the heart of the greenhouse was the hydroponics bay, beside it the aeroponics section, and in the corner of the large dome was the medicinal garden, where Dr. Haliday and the ship's scientists could engineer new medications. Integrated into the horticultural center was a dedicated lab where botanists and biotechnologists, like Ulahn, conducted experiments to improve crop resilience, study plant biology in microgravity, and develop new methods for growing food in space. Water recycling systems, integrated with the ship's overall life support, ensured that every drop was reused. Greywater from other parts of the ship was filtered and purified before being used to nourish the plants, creating a closed-loop system that mirrored natural ecosystems.

The greenhouse also featured an observation lounge, a glass-walled enclave where crew members could unwind and enjoy the sight of greenery against the backdrop of space. Here, they could read, meditate, or simply gaze at the stars, finding comfort in the presence of living plants. The psychological benefits of this oasis were as important as its practical uses, providing mental health support in the isolating environment of space travel.

It was a lovely space to spend ones life.

Captain Suleiman stepped onto the bridge, where much of the crew was admiring its spacious design. On normal ships, this area would be filled with bridge crew preparing for the journey, but on Avian ships only one role was needed: the pilot. This was largely due to Tern, the ship’s AI, which handled navigation, communication, last-minute checks, and practically everything else required to get the ship off the ground. Tern was a technological marvel. However, despite its capabilities, it was still better to have a living organism pilot the ship, not least because a human pilot provided a smoother ride. AI tended to choose the safest route, which wasn't always the best option in sticky situations.

Suleiman glanced over at Amaya Rose, who had her feet crossed atop the console as she waited for liftoff. A rebel, to be sure, but a damn good pilot. Suleiman briefly wondered how many arguments would arise between Amaya and Tern.

"Good morning, Eichkern, Naomi," a voice sounded from behind the two. When they turned around, they saw it was their Captain, Tish Suleiman. She flashed them a warm smile. "Ready for takeoff? Sorry for the early morning alarm, but I guess it doesn't really feel like a proper flight without it being at the crack of dawn, eh?"

The Captain was casual, warm, and jovial. She used their first names, never bothering with honorifics or titles. It was like conversing with an old friend.

"Best buckle up now. Ten minutes 'till takeoff." Tish passed them with a grin and hurried toward the First Officer, who stood at his station making last-minute checks. "Good morning, Matias."

Everything felt a little bit more secure when Officer Kingsbury was around. Though they had never met in person until now, they had spoken over the phone and exchanged hundreds of emails. He was the pillar that kept this whole operation going. She was forever grateful for his presence on the Blackbird.

"Tern, has everyone boarded?" the Captain asked.

"Yes, Captain. Dr. Ginifred Asrani was the last to arrive."

Tish Suleiman nodded and looked toward Matias, "Well, I suppose we should get this show on the road."


Deep within the bowels of the Blackbird was a labyrinth of advanced technology and machinery, an expansive room stretching out beneath a high, reinforced ceiling lined with thick conduits and cables. The air hummed with the steady thrum of the ship’s powerful engines, a rhythmic sound that spoke to the massive energy being generated and controlled within this technological heart. Engineers stood amidst the blue glow of the main reactor, a towering structure encased in layers of translucent alloy, through which a pulsing hum emanated. This core was the primary source of power for the entire vessel, harnessing energy from a contained fusion reaction that provided both propulsion and electricity for the ship. Surrounding the reactor were numerous control panels and monitoring stations, where Hector Jordan and Haulrruxyy watched the ship come to life before them, faces illuminated by the soft glow of holographic displays.

The walls of the Engine Room were lined with intricate networks of pipes and conduits, carrying coolant and other vital fluids to various parts of the ship. These pipes were meticulously labeled and color-coded, ensuring that any maintenance or repair work could be carried out quickly and efficiently. One such pipe was labeled mustard yellow, with the word "Hangar" etched into its surface. It wrapped around the walls of the ship, through the corridor, and into a large metallic door that opened into the ship's Hangar and Storage area. This incredible space spanned several decks, with a high ceiling supported by a lattice of reinforced beams and structural supports. It was designed to accommodate a variety of spacecraft, vehicles, and cargo. At the heart of the hangar was a large, open space where smaller ships and shuttles were docked. Along the walls, rows of storage units and supply lockers contained everything from spare parts and tools to emergency equipment and survival gear. Within these storage units, a certain stowaway hid in the darkness, listening to the echoes of voices that carried through the air vents up toward the research rooms.

Those voices spoke excitedly as the scientific crew buckled up for liftoff within the main laboratory, the centerpiece of the research area. It was a spacious, sterile environment with sleek, white surfaces and large, interactive touchscreens lining the walls. The lab was divided into several specialized sections, each dedicated to a different field of study: biology, chemistry, physics, and xenology. In one workstation labeled 'Astrophysics', Nikola Sokolov watched as a human scientist who reeked of alcohol attempted to chat with a large, beetle-mound Ensindijee whose station looked like an archaeologist’s. His eyes caught a suit of armor rushing off toward the medical bay, where Kavum-Galahad was overseeing security measures that should have been handled by Medical Security, who was mysteriously absent.

Kavum-Galahad stood outside the medical bay at a holographic screen, punching in a few numbers. Inside, Dr. Anagra Haliday sat calmly, looking over some files as her drones buzzed around her. Soft, ambient lighting provided a soothing atmosphere within, and the Security Chief was tempted to ask the good doctor where her personal security was. However, his hand hovered over the door as an announcement began to play overhead.

"Good morning, everyone. This is Captain Tish Suleiman speaking. We are five minutes away from liftoff, so please take your positions and prepare for the journey ahead."

No time. The Rindikan made his way toward the Security Bridge where Eichkern and Naomi were preparing for liftoff. At the heart of the area was the Security Operations Center (SOC), a command hub equipped with advanced surveillance and monitoring systems. Large screens covered the walls, displaying real-time feeds from security cameras strategically placed throughout the ship. One of those screens displayed a Vleeboe with a mop chatting to a red-haired, hazel-eyed human woman in one of the ship's corridors.

In said corridor, the Captain's voice echoed against the metal walls. Rhyssa Krogmann and Kingstra Slezarak paused their conversation to listen to the speech reverberating throughout the entire ship.

"As we stand on the brink of another journey into the unknown, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the incredible efforts and dedication that each of you has shown in preparing for this mission. The Blackbird's Cry is more than just a ship; it is a testament to our collective spirit, our ingenuity, and our unwavering commitment to exploration.

Today, we embark on a journey that will take us beyond the boundaries of our known world, into the vast expanse of space where few have ventured before. Our mission is not just to travel across the stars, but to seek out new knowledge, to push the limits of what we understand, and to bring back discoveries that could change the course of our future. Most importantly, our primary objective is to rescue the crew of the Avian Expedition and discover the source of its downfall. I cannot promise you that it will be easy, but I am determined to investigate every inch of space for those innocent lives. We must save our brethren."

The Captain's words reached the kitchen and horticultural area, where Ulahn Qi Ehta and Uqorsii Ketle stopped to listen.

"Each one of you plays a vital role in this mission. From our skilled engineers ensuring the integrity of our systems, to our brilliant scientists ready to unravel the mysteries we will encounter, to our fearless pilot who will guide us through the challenges ahead—your expertise and dedication are the heart of this endeavor. We are a diverse team, united by a common goal. There will be challenges, there will be moments of uncertainty, and there will be times when we must rely on each other’s strengths to overcome the obstacles we face. But I have no doubt that together, we will rise to meet every challenge with resilience and determination.

As we prepare for liftoff, I ask you to remember why we are here. Why YOU are here. Each of us has our own personal reasons and goals for embarking on this journey. As your Captain, I promise I will do everything in my power to realize those dreams. It is my duty and my honor."

Up on the bridge, Khaazik Craule watched the Captain, the First Officer, and the pilot with studious eyes. They hadn't noticed him, too busy with preparations. He witnessed the doors of the docking port open into the vast expanse of space, that beautiful dark ocean of stars preparing to swallow them whole. Why was he here? What was his goal? Only he knew.

The anticipation throughout the ship was electric, reaching the bridge and coursing through the veins of Tish Suleiman and Matias Kingsbury, who stood on either side of their pilot, Amaya Rose. As the Blackbird's Cry inched forward, Captain Suleiman finished her speech:

"So, let’s make our final preparations, take our positions, and brace for the adventure that awaits. May our journey be safe, our discoveries be profound, and our spirits be strong.
Thirty seconds until liftoff. Let’s make history, Blackbird crew."

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Hector, in the process of raiding the fridge down aboard the engineering deck, found it surprisingly well stocked. Grabbing a soda, he found a bench where he could sit comfortably and drink while he idly flipped through a datapad to go over the ship's engine schematics. He would've put on some tunes as he did so, but the captain's voice came blaring over the ship's speakers so he figured he'd ought to give her a listen. At least for now.

She wasn't a half bad orator. A decent trait for a captain, Hector figured. Speech was good enough for him to listen throughout the whole thing at least. Remember why he was here. He took a sip of his soda and briefly stared blankly into the can. He remembered.

Not long until liftoff. Hector couldn't help but grin like a little kid. Showtime was about to commence. At Suleimon's behest to make history, he raised his can in toast. As much of a salute as he could mister before tossing the thing into recycling. "We fuckin' made it..." he smiled to himself as he felt the hum of the engines and the floor rumbling beneath his feet.

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